Saturday, May 31, 2014

WRiTE Club

Today is the last day to enter WRiTE Club people, so get those 500 word flash fiction pieces together and send them off.

Go here for details, and Remember The first rule of WRiTE Club is to talk about WRiTE Club, so spread the word on entering, but remember to keep your writing anonymous.



I'll see you there (wearing my mask of course!).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Post For Writers: Revise and Resubmit

It’s funny, we writers always find time to talk about revisions but almost never talk about the revise and resubmit. I think we don’t talk about it because there’s a lot of pressure to keep your pre publication journey off the internet. To be clear, I understand why there is a push to keep private parts of your pre-pub journey off the internet. The internet is forever the way the bog of eternal stench never smells like daisies. But I also think part of the reason we writers don’t talk about the R and R is that some of the feels that come with it might sound ungrateful.

This is not the case. There are two warring feelings in an R&R: dissapointment that it wasn't already good enough (you know, the rejection), and hope that the writer can do enough to turn the R&R into something bigger). Often the disappointment is the part that shows more clearly to others.

The Revise and Resubmit:

When a writer first gets a revise and resubmit, the first thing they can process is that it’s a no. The rejection part is (usually) really clear, but then the comments go on. This means—for a typical Revise and Resubmit—all the words that come after the part that says no, are colored with the Rejection Glasses (you know, the glasses worn by that jerk of a voice who says things like “you’re no good” or “you idiot, why did you send that manuscript before it was ready” or my personal favorite "What made you think you had the talent?").

Now, I’ve gotten strangely long and personal rejections in the past, so there is the feeling of “IT’S OVER, and “THIS AGENT/EDITOR DOESN’T LOVE ME,” and “MAY I CRY INTO MY ICECREAM NOW???” Because, really? rejection sucks. There’s no amount of sugar coating that helps. Rejection hurts. Sometimes, it doesn’t phase us, sometimes it was The One (only now it clearly isn’t because The One wouldn’t reject us, so how could our judgment be so off??), but it hurts. There’s a sting. All rejection hurts, even the ones we’ve told ourselves are for things we didn’t really want.

So the writer gets a rejection that goes on to talk about the book a bit. Sometimes this is really short. Sometimes, it’s really long. Either way, there will be something in the email that says the author is welcome to resubmit should changes be made. (Hint: if it doesn’t contain an invitation to resubmit, usually in those words, it isn’t a revise and resubmit!)

The first feels after reading this range from “Why would I ever resubmit to the person who doesn’t even understand my novel?” to “OMG, thank you for this opportunity, I promise not to blow it!” These are normal responses.

But then there are these other feelings that crop up in here that people don’t usually talk about. When a revise and resubmit comes across the desk, sometimes we feel like “This is only a revise and resubmit because the agent/editor feels sorry for me and doesn’t want to give me a full rejection,” the “even if I revise and this goes somewhere it’s not a real win, it’s not the same as the person whose novel got fifty bazillion full requests and had agents fighting over her.” Somehow, an R&R feels like it’s not worth as much (this is false), and sometimes it even feels like it’s a cheat or an unearned leg up, like you couldn’t get on the horse without a mounting block (and had got someone to hold your horse ta-boot).

These feels are normal, but they are also lies.

I don’t know what agents are thinking (ask one hundred agents and you’ll get one hundred responses), but I know it wasn’t “I feel sorry for this writer so I’ll give this hopeless case one more shot at it.” Nope. An R&R comes from a different place. It comes from an agent/editor thinking they could really get into your book, but there’s something—usually something fixable—keeping it from happening. And so they’ve asked for a second chance at a manuscript.

Even if you—the writer—feel pitied, this is not pity from the agent. The revise and resubmit is “This has a lot of potential, and I see how it could be awesome.”

So what’s the first thing you should do after receiving an R&R?

Sit on it for at LEAST 24 hours. Maybe longer. You need enough time to get over the bellyache that comes from eating something ill advised (margaritas and chocolate chip cookies, are my rejection dinner of choice). Then, after 24 hours, go back and reread the comments.

This part is hard, but every writer who gets an R&R (at every stage of the game) has to go through and make sure that they are doing it for the right reasons. There’s no amount of pleasing someone else that will help your writing. As a writer, you have to evaluate the revision ideas on their own merits, coupled with YOUR vision for the book. This is hard because being an unagented/unpublished writer sometimes feels like being a dog at the feast of publishing, just waiting for a bone to be thrown over the edge of the table (this isn’t the case, of course, I’m just getting my analogy groove on). Because we feel like beggars who don’t belong, we act like we should be profoundly grateful for every scrap tossed our way.

Trust me, no one knows your book like you do. For real. That means that if a suggestion doesn’t ring true—and I mean light your creative fire—then there’s a greater than zero percent chance it might not work for your book. It might, but it might not, and the only person who knows—you—sometimes feels like an amateur on making bookish decisions. It ain’t easy.

And now for the hard part. If you read through, and you decide the suggestions are in line with your vision, AND you have the time and inclination to try (Yes some books die from apathy), then you have to start the task of putting it together. Where the words hit the paper is a desperate struggle to maintain your vision, balance it with the revision, and hold off that naughty little devil on your shoulder who thinks it’s good enough.

Worse, the R&R may have been really short, like “You need to add depth to your world and your characters.” If you have a line like that in your R&R, that’s not a call to add a couple pages in the beginning of your manuscript and call it good. That means you have to go through the WHOLE THING, hunting down areas where your characters could be replaced by magical talking daisy, and change it. (Hint number 2: if you have a character who could be replaced by a magical, talking house plant, then you should probably get rid of the character—that’s just my opinion…or you know, talking ficus for the win).

No one envies the task ahead, but the R&R is a major opportunity. It’s also a little bit like an interview. As in, this is what working with you might be like, so don’t phone it in. The R&R is the opportunity to prove what you can do.

And the truth of the matter is, that might not be enough. I know, it hurts. All rejection hurts. And when you get an R&R that gets rejected it somehow hurts even more, but try to remember that every bit of feedback helps to shape the writer you will become. If you just had an R&R get rejected, I feel for you so hard.

Any other thoughts people have on revise and resubmits, please, PLEASE, leave them in the comments.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I’ve been hit!

Oh wait, maybe I was just tagged...

Thanks go to Mason over at Muse Riding Shotgun for tagging me in a Talk About Your Process. This is sort of my favorite topic, so watch out, author rambling ahead.

What are you working on right now?
A blog post—Oh, you mean my novel. Right. So I’m currently in the very final stages of polishing up STORM SINGER. And I mean final. Or not. The problem with all works of art is that they’re never really done. Could I rewrite it and make it better at this point? I don’t think so. Could I go through and tweak it for another twenty years? Oh yeah. I could wax poetic, but at some point, you have to declare them done and send them out into the great big world, and this novel is SOOO CLOSE. Though I might run it through another set of betas, we’ll see. I haven’t decided yet.  

How does my book differ from others in its genre?
This is both a great question and a terrible question. In my novel, people control some of the elements through music (singing specifically). In that aspect it’s very similar to Avatar the Last Airbender (Yes, I know it’s a TV show and not a book, so clearly, I’m going straight to literary hell). My story has pirates, giant sea monsters, and people corrupted by years and years of contact with dark forces. It’s different because part of it is based on ideas from the flooding of the Black Sea. Geo-historical evidence suggests that the Black Sea level had dropped WAY down before the Mediterranean Sea rose up and spilled over the land bridge between them—BIG flood. In fact, this event is suggested to be the event that the story of Noah is based off of (before people start going on about God and the bible, please remember that I’m not saying Noah’s story isn’t true; I’m just talking about factual evidence that corresponds to biblical events). Anyhow, I thought it would be neat to have something like that, a little geology based constraints. And of course there’s the whole world that’s different, complete with different mythical creatures (as well as a bunch of normal creatures like cats and dogs and humans). In the end it features a sassy protag who apparently has a really strong daredevil streak (she gets it from her mother).

Why do I write what I write?
I just can’t help myself. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Or maybe that’s not really what the question is asking. Maybe the question means: Why do I write the kinds of stories that I write? I can’t even get close to answering that. I write the stories that keep me up at night. I have to commit them to paper or I’d go crazy. With STORM SINGER, pirates hijacked my book and went on a dark romp through monster infested waters. With Accidental Godmother, the story rattled out of me like it was dictated from on high (it wasn’t and I’ve rewritten it into a different story: Watch this space for coming attractions). There’s a story behind every novel. There’s a different why for each one, so this is one of those impossible questions to answer. I write what I write because I couldn’t stop (and I’ve tried).

How does my writing process work?
I guess this is the kicker, my writing process doesn’t work. It limps along painfully. It comes together, but for something to work it needs to have predictable outcomes. And seriously, I don’t understand my process. I know what I want, but it doesn’t work that way. Example: I have this novel that I wrote. Then I rewrote it. Then, because it wasn’t enough I wrote it again. Then I edited it forever, sent it off to betas, rewrote a bunch more of it, then edited it again. Then I queried. Within 10 queries, I knew I had a problem and REWROTE IT AGAIN. Edited, edited, edited, then entered some contests. And then, because I hadn’t gotten enough pain, I did a big revision after that. Seriously, I feel like there might be a way to make that novel even better with just one more revision. (yeah, really, but I’d have to read through it with fresh eyes to be sure).

If I have to go down that road every time, I might tear my hair out (hope I look good bald!). One of the things I can’t stand is inefficiency, which is rough. Writing and publishing is NOT about efficiency. Which brings me back to, My Process Doesn’t Work. It’s inefficient, and tangled, and terrible and beautiful and full of love and grit and not enough grace. It’s late nights and early mornings, stolen moments and navel gazing hours. Process is nothing and everything. If I had one that really worked, it would be amazing, but that’s just it: as soon as there’s a formula that works, it stops working. So each novel is using a tank to plow the fields and hoping the flowers come up again (come on rain!). Because sometimes, my process feels like begging for rain in the desert. I suspect, I’m not the only one to feel this way.

Right, well, I’ve rambled on a bit, (and seriously, I could go on, maybe I’ll save it for IWSG in June). So I’m going to tag ElizabethPoole (The Liz with Zombies) and Sarah Ahiers. (I don’t know if I was allowed two, but I’m a rule breaker, so I’m tagging two!).

Monday, May 12, 2014

On subjectivity, contests, and personal taste

Let me start off by saying that I LOVE contests. I’ve met many of my very favorite writer buddies from participating in writing contests.

Second: writing contests give pretty much zero indication of how good your manuscript is, or how far along in your journey you are.

Last week was the big Writer’s Voice blog hop and team picks. A very exciting time for many writers, and I joined in. I went to Every. Single. Entry. And I made notes. I ranked them all as if I were playing agent (by the way, this is a very excellent way to get better at writing, read 150 queries and their corresponding first pages; some writing just zings). And then I watched—and cried!—as the Team Coaches went through and picked. (How did they miss those beautiful gems? Oh, my pretties, I wish all my yes picks had been picked by coaches!)

If you’ve ever wanted a lesson in subjectivity, do this. Read all the entries in a contest, and just pick out your favorites. You’ll be amazed. I picked out almost 20 yeses (as in, yes, I would definitely read on to the next page to see how this one went). I had a bunch of maybes, and a bunch of nos.

And then the coaches made their picks. Out of the 32 picks, only 8 of them were my yeses (leaving 12 of my pretty yeses—one with exclamation points!—riding pine with me). Of the 32 team members, 16 were maybes from me. And the remaining 8 were all Nos in my book.

As in, Nope, there was no way I’d be reading on. None.

The thing is, and this is important when it comes to writers querying agents, it’s not enough to write a story in the genre that the agent represents. The story also has to be something she (or he) would potentially love. I don’t know why, but stuffy sci fi stories that spend too much time being technical bore me (it’s the math, as soon as I’m doing derivatives in my head to figure out if the writer has a clue what he’s talking about, I’m just not in the story anymore). If I were an agent, and someone queried me with a FTL explanation story, I would probably reject it even if the writing were really spectacular—even though I really like science fiction. This is what people mean by personal tastes and subjectivity (also, I’ve read a bazillion FTL explanation stories, so it’d have to be super special).

When an agent is sending a rejection (or a contest host), it’s not a remark on your person or even your writing. I know, that part is hard. We all feel terrible when we get rejected, even when it’s something we legitimately didn’t want. Rejection hurts, but I’m trying to say that there might be more to being rejected than a bar you have to jump over.

The query trenches are a tough place, but it’s about so much more than just having a story in the represented genre that’s “good enough.” I know you guys are probably starting to wonder when I’ll pull out my crystals and do an aura cleansing (totally valid just not my thing), but I can honestly say, there’s no magic mark you have to make like with sports. In fencing, just get more touches than the other guy. In hockey, put the biscuit in the basket more often than the other team. But in writing, you have to hit that magic mark of making someone fall in love with your work and be in a marketable category (whatever that means today!).

So, to my fellows in the query trenches: chin up. You may be closer than you think. You may be farther than you’d hoped, but wherever you are, you are in it. Play the game, and know that what you learn now will be with you longer than your querying attempt. Good luck, and if you're feeling the sting of not making the cut for the Writer's Voice, just remember that 12 people are roaming around feeling sad today, but they had YES!!!! written in my book. It only takes one (from a publishing professional, I'm afraid I'm not very helpful there).  Query widely!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group: Where'd my bootstraps go?

It’s time again for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. If you haven’t heard of these, by all means, jump on the Linky, and go visit Ninja Captain Alex. This month’s co-hosts are Mark Koopmans, Joylene Nowell Butler, Elsie, and Lisa Buie-Collard!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about something that doesn’t usually plague beginners. When you first write a novel, well, it’s hard. But when you get to the end and you make it all shiny and wonderful, there’s this feeling that your next one is going to be even better. And the one after that? I mean, you learned so much from the first one, surely the third will be KNOCK-THEIR-SOCKS-OFF levels of awesome.

Maybe that’s how it works for some writers. Maybe the sky’s the limit. Maybe the learning curve only goes up for some people. I’m just not one of them.

When a book goes through its progression—roughdraft, edit, beta, edit, beta again, edit, query, edit based on feedback, contest, edit based on more feedback, query, edit again because you got used to editing—there comes a point where the book starts to feel like it’s good. The requests are more common than the rejections (at least until they turn into rejection). The book begins to feel good. It’s broken, but the bandaids are all there, and you love it, and it’s the best thing you’ve ever put together.

And then, because the advice is to write another book, you find yourself staring down that same road again—roughdraft, edit, beta, edit, beta again, edit, query, edit based on feedback, contest, edit based on more feedback, query, edit again because you got used to editing.

It’s a long road, but you start plodding down it.

It doesn’t take long before you wonder: Will this book ever be as good as the last one?

Was the book I just shelved the best work I’ll ever do?

Have I already peaked?

This could be from all the articles that keep cropping up about how women felt most successful at 34 (umm, no, and thank you, I’d rather not repeat my “success” of that year). I know this is hyperbole, but it makes me wonder if everything has peaked. Have I reached the best I can make? Is *this* as good as it gets?

I know that those are ridiculous thoughts. I’m only having them because the road is long and painful, and no matter what I do, there are no shortcuts. I have to hit every bump on a long and painful road. Every bump.

What my mind is really thinking, is “If this one wasn’t good enough—and it hurt like hell to get it that far—how can I know that the next one will be worth it?” Let’s face it, some projects break our hearts. The book that was magic—the book that made you believe in magic the way you haven’t since you were a child—and it gets close, achingly close, only to be told no. No, the magic wasn’t enough to carry it all the way through to the promise land. The book of magic will die in the trunk along with the lesser creatures of your literature past, the fan fic from childhood, the vampire ridden paranormal romance that was basically Anne Rice meets bodice ripper, the portal fantasy featuring a boring girl with a boring life who is suddenly the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD! Your book of magic, the book of your heart is going to join Those Books.


And there’s no guarantee that the next book will get any farther than the one cohabitating with fan fic. But this is writing. If I wanted easy, I would have picked something easy. The only way for this book to get better is to bump down that dusty road. Edit. Read. Beta. Edit. Edit. Read. Beta. Edit. Rejection. Request. Feedback. Edit. Edit. Edit.

Time to dust off that broken heart and get back on the horse. Bootstraps found.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Observations from The Writer's Voice Slush Pile (and an opportunity for feedback!)

Whew! Yeah, it takes a while to read through 159 entries and pass judgment on them, but that’s just what I’ve done.

I know, some of you out there are saying, “But Rena, you’re not a judge.” This is correct. I’m a writer seeking representation, but the last time I dug through a big slush pile, a few things jumped out at me. Two years ago the trends were first person present tense. They were everywhere. Now? Not so much (though many first person present still do the dreaded double verbing, more on that in a bit). (though there were a ton of aliens taking the place that paranormal creatures used to have, so that was interesting)

This time around what struck me most was how some pages DEMANDED my attention, and others just sort of shuffled through the line. What was amazing about the pages that really caught my attention was that they weren’t the usual sort for me. I’ve always called myself an explosion sort of girl, so when something opens with action, I feel like that should grab me. Standing on the edge of a cliff, about to fall to certain doom? That should totally be my wheelhouse, and yet those openings just didn’t do it for me. No idea why (sweet mother of science, I hope I’m not developing a mature palette after all of these years!).

So onto the main event:

I ranked all of the entries: Yes, No, or Maybe. I had grades of maybe (yes maybe, no maybe and maybe), but for this reporting there’s only three flavors.

Yes: 18
Maybe: 77
No: 61

Entries by Men: 19
Entries by Women: 133
Unknown: 7

Genres of the Yes
Adult contemp
Adult Sci Fi 2
Romantic Suspense
YA contemp 2
YA Historical
YA Thriller 2
YA Sci Fi 3
MG contemp 3

So what landed someone in the No pile:

Note: If I’m writing about it here, then there was more than one person who did it. As in more than three. If you think I’ve picked you out specifically in my comments here, just know that’s not the case. There were at least three people who did it.

This time around there were two things that drop an entry into my no pile (As in No, I wouldn’t keep reading this). The biggest reason to land in the no pile was a concept I wasn’t that fond of, coupled with writing bad need of an edit. This is my opinion by the way, but if your first page is sprinkled with double verbs and words like ‘that’ and ‘just’ in your first page (in a first page contest!) then it’s VERY likely the rest of the manuscript is going to be like that. I know, some people don’t understand why I’m so anti double verbing, or what it is that I have against the word that (which I use all the time). In this case, it showed a lack of polish.

Double verbs—I was sitting, or I am running—drive me insane because there are specific uses for this construct. In the past tense, I was sitting, it indicates that the person narrating is in a reminiscent sort of mood. This is the older person reliving their past (e.g. I was sitting on the porch, waiting for the mailman, when the man of my dreams strolled down the lane). That’s fine if you are having a character have a stroll down memory lane, but once you do it every turn, you’re sticking the narrator between the reader and the story not once, but twice (it’s filtered through the narrator who is experiencing it and the older narrator who is telling it). And you’ve given something away: the narrator lives to the end so they can tell the story like this. No bueno. In present tense, the problem is that it’s just lazy. I am running. Why not I run. And this next bit is personal to my tastes, but I am running reminds me of those guys who call sporting events. “Hasek blocks the puck and passes it up to Datsyuk. Datsyuk is carrying the puck. He’s looking to make a pass.” This could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Other reasons for landing in the No pile: I get worried when I read a query for something sounding like one genre and being told it’s another. Paranormal romance was the big culprit here. There were all kinds of genres being listed instead of the obvious one. So, if your MC is abducted by aliens who give her werewolf like powers, but it’s scientifically explained, this does not automatically make it science fiction. If the main plot is about how your MC falls in love with someone despite her mutations, it’s romance. And if your query spends more than half its time talking about the romance, I’m assuming that romance is more than half the book, it should be listed in the genre.

Why does this make me hit the no button? Either, the writer knows they’ve written a paranormal romance, and they know the market for that genre is really REALLY tight, or they don’t. If they know, then the real path isn’t to accentuate the romance in the query letter. Develop other lines, because the surest way to upset a reader is to tell them about how a story is all about space ships and genetic mutations and then make it all about romance. That’s the whole point of genre labeling. I don’t go to the romance section to read about Rockets, and I don’t expect the romance crowd to come to the sci fi section to find true love. Genres are your friend, even if it’s super crowded. If the writer doesn’t know that they’ve written a paranormal romance and dressed it up in super shiny Magic Realism clothing, then I worry about how many other traps they’ve fallen into. This is all about confidence, but if you write, you must read. You need to know what else is out there like yours (this is why I read slush piles whenever they’re available, how else will we know what we’re up against in the slush?).

What got you in the maybe pile:

Okay concept, okay writing. Nothing spectacular. Totally competent. And yet, somehow, my time wasn’t demanded of me (I’m a working mom, you have to demand my time). So there were lots of really good entries that land in the maybe pile because they aren’t for me, they started in the wrong spot (or with something that I really didn’t want to read).

Or really good concept, but very lackluster writing.

Terrible concept with really good writing.

At the end of the day, your creature feature has a ton of competition (and I’ve read a bunch of them!), and even if your writing is really great, I’m not that interested in reading another Interview with a Vampire (or Twilight, or Walking Dead, or Teen Wolf, or Buffy The Vampire Slayer—Unless Joss is writing it, that is, and then yeah, I’m totally reading that one). So yeah, even if the writing is too good to just toss it into the No, sometimes, it’s just not going to be enough to knock one of the Yes entries off their thrones.

And to get a Yes:

The writing had to sing. I don’t know how many of you can see it yet (if you read enough slush, it become apparent), but some manuscripts just sound like the stuff you would pick up in the book store. There is a rhythm, a cadence, to the way they read. The words are the perfect balance of not too many to slow me down, and not so few that I’ve gotten lost along the way.

*Sigh* I wish there were something more to say about that, but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. But here’s the thing: that perfect balance is DIFFERENT for EVERYONE. Yeah, I know. Like for real. I’ll read something and it will just punch me in the feels. Great writing, lovely concept, brilliant execution, and I hand it to my BFFs don’t like it. Go figure.

The other way to get a Yes was to have a SPECTACULAR concept—one that made me go into fits of apoplexy because I couldn’t read the post RIGHT NOW!!!!—coupled with almost there writing. As in, just a few bits of trouble.

So that’s it from my end. I’m going to post after the 10th to talk about subjectivity, when I compare my Yes pile to those who get picked for the contest. The last time I did this, I was shocked to discover that an entry that yeses with exclamation points next to it in my book, didn’t make the final (and one where I’d written in capital letters NO) did.

I know people are probably wondering where they landed on my scale of Yes No Maybe, but, I rarely tell the actual rank. I will if you ask nicely, but seeing as how I am just one writer in a sea of other writers, my opinion doesn’t really count for much. However, I do have comments on EACH and EVERY entry (unless it’s locked up under tumblr. Cursed tumblr). If you want to know what I thought of yours, leave me a comment with your entry number and your  email (write the word at instead of using the sign, and you can ask me to delete the comment later if you wish). This isn’t confidential (feel free to post it somewhere else while saying disparaging things about my parents’ marital status if you like), but I prefer for the option of privacy to be yours (this is why I don’t tweet my feedback; there is nothing worse than expecting someone to love your work and hearing in a public venue that it wasn’t the case). But pretty please, don’t come back at me with your hurt feelings. I’ll try to say constructive things, but feedback can really sting. I know what it’s like to write a novel. I know what it’s like to have the core of a novel completely destroyed because it’s basically a retelling of XYZ and there are fifty billion of those on the market right now. Please also keep in mind that I’m just one person. I’m not even an agented writer. All I have is years of experience, and the knowledge of what I do and do not like.

Good luck everyone.