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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Query Push

I had quite a few people ask me if I had submitted my query letter and opening pages to the agents who had requested them at the Backspace workshop. 

The answer is yes. . .and no.  I did send a few via email a few weeks after the conference, and I received auto-replies that those agents were not accepting queries until after the new year.  A little disheartening, yes, but I decided that this time gives me the opportunity to make the tweaks to the book that were inspired in New York.  I'm taking advantage of these weeks during the holiday to do just that, and I plan to have a shiny and improved new query letter and manuscript to launch after January 5th!

And in reply to everyone who commented or emailed me protesting changes in the story--no worries! The basic plot will still be there, I'm just trying to make it more streamlined (and having read the earlier version, YOU will always know all the little details that might not make the cut).  Thanks as always for your support and encouragement.  It keeps me writing!

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Remaking My Baby

Since I left New York last month, I've been working on re-vamping my first book.  This is entirely different process from proofreading and editing; this is changing some elements of my basic story line that will ultimately make the story more succinct (and consequently, shorter).

I tend to be someone who likes information.  When I'm reading, I like to have all the details about the characters, and consequently, when I write, I give lots of details.  I want to explain why Tasmyn hasn't had a boyfriend prior to the beginning of the book, and why her parents are so protective of her. I'm learning that those details can be shared more gradually and more subtly.

I'm not doing much new writing, more rearranging and re-blocking.  Thank heavens for computers and all the benefits of copying and pasting.  It's still a pretty time consuming chore, trying to make sure everything that I change jives with the rest of the book and the subsequent books.  So far, so good.

It's not as painless as it might seem.  Some parts of the story are really special to me or I feel strongly add significantly to the overall plot.  I spend a good deal of time debating over what must go and what can stay.  It's not unlike trying to give your precious child a makeover.  Really, would you enjoy trying to change anything about your baby, even those things that might not be perfect?  

I'm aiming to be finished this revamp by the beginning of January so that I can do a big query push, using the contacts I made in New York at Back Space.  The query letter is ready to go; all I have to do is put in the new word count once everything is done.

I'm also going to add my short story credit to the query letter, and I'm hoping to have a definite publish date on that anthology very soon.

Fingers are crossed that 2011 is a very good year.




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Monday, November 22, 2010

Genre Rules

Writers create out of our own experience--frequently.  So it stands to reason that even books within the same genre are not going to be cookie cutter perfect--they're not going to follow the same rules.  And yet it was clear to me after my recent seminar experience that some agents will reject books that don't fit genre norms.

For instance, one group of agents reading my query and opening pages commented that in young adult, the parents have to go.  That really struck me.  In my books, while the parents aren't central, they are definitely part of the story, because they are part of my main character's struggle.  So much of young adulthood--which in the publishing world encompasses readers of high school age--is comprised of the coming to terms with parents that the idea of their absence is really absurd.  And it's not hard to find examples of YA lit that include parents or parental figures as central characters.

I don't really think that the majority of agents would reject a truly intriguing story simply on the basis of breaking these so-called genre rules, but for some, it might give them pause.  On the other hand, most of the agents were intrigued with the idea of a new twist on any genre.  So it basically comes down to walking a fine line between being wrong and being groundbreaking.

What do you think?  As a writer, what genre rules do you see, and do you view them as unbreakable?  As a reader, would you not pick up a book because it had some differences from other books in the same genre?

Writing Seminar Wrap Up

I'm a week out from my first writing seminar, and I've had time to digest and think.  Time for a little wrap up!

Some of the most positive things I brought out were connections with other writers. Listening to people share their stories, some of which have been years in the writing, creates a certain intimacy.  We found a common ground.  I've been in touch with a few since the end of the conference, and it's been interesting to hear what they took away from Backspace.

As I wrote before, so much information was conflicting that it's hard to say what solid facts I gleaned.  Even the agents themselves admitted that much.  It was definitely clear that the world of publishing is in flux, and agents are reluctant to take too much risk on new writers.  One agent intimated that they're selling far less these days than they did five years ago.

It was definitely a bit of a wake up call to many writers.  Non-published authors tend to see the journey in steps:
1.  Write the book. 
2.  Query agents. 
3.  Get an agent. 
4. Get a publisher. 
5.  See book in bookstore with adoring fans buying up every copy. . . 

We're not altogether wrong, but some writers don't understand that the leap between steps three and four is nearly as big as the leap between steps one and two.  In other words, some of us are only looking as far as getting an agent, when we need to realize that the process of publishing can be much more involved.

And the 'bad' news is that there really isn't anything we can do to up the odds.  Of course good writing is paramount, but sometimes even good writers don't get published. We can edit and polish and follow all the rules, but if our story doesn't fit the genre, or if that genre isn't selling, or a hundred other 'ifs'. . .well, that can keep a good book out of the bookstores.

It wasn't all doom and gloom.  There were some really positive stories of authors who are about to launch their books, and some agents were very encouraging.  It's possible.  It's just a lot harder than some writers expected.

Next post:  What are the genre rules and can they be broken?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Backspace Day Two

After the relief of the workshops on the first day and the amazing information from the panel discussions, I was excited about the second day.  My same group of writers was staying together for day two with different agents, and we had made some good tentative connections.

I found one of the very few flaws in this format for the seminar:  on day one, everyone received critiques and advice on their query letters and opening pages.  Those attendees who lived locally were able to go home, make revisions and reprint them.  Those of us staying at the hotel faced more obstacles in doing that.  I was able to make the changes to the query letter since they were minimal, and I could simply read the changed letter aloud, but there was neither time nor resource to re-do the first two pages.  So at our workshops on the second day, some of the writers were reading completely revised material, and some of us were reading our original submissions.

Two of the agents we had met the day before were also part of our day two workshops, but on this day they were reviewing opposite material (for instance, if they had heard our query letters on the first day, on the second they heard our opening pages, and vice verse).  It was interesting to hear their take on how our work meshed.  Did the opening pages live up to the promise of a good query letter?  Or did our queries eloquently capture the story introduced in those first two pages?

It was also interesting to hear the sometimes-opposite advice given on our material.  Some of the writers who had done revisions were exasperated when their newly-amped worked was criticized--for being the opposite of what they had presented the day before! 

I think the most overwhelming lesson I learned from the entire seminar was that it's all subjective.  We heard stories about authors signed who had sent in abysmal queries.  We heard agents say that they choose which queries they will read strictly by the title, and others who said titles meant nothing.

And here is what else I learned:

--Never ever begin your story with someone waking up.
--Each sentence should both move the story forward and provide backstory.  If it can't do both, it must do one or the other.  (Comments on this one??)
--No info dumps
--The first line is paramount.

I'm sure I'll have other thoughts in the next few days, but these are my initial impressions.  Now it's time for me to pack up and leave NYC. . .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Backspace Day One

I am happy to report that I survived the first two workshops and emerged neither bloody nor bruised. 

Registration began this morning at eight, quite the challenge for a non-morning person like myself.  We gathered for a general session of welcoming remarks and discussion on what agents really want.  And then we dispersed to our various workshops, where we read aloud our query letters and/or opening pages to a room full of fellow writers and agents.

My group was lovely.  I enjoyed the ideas and writing of the other group members, and I learned SO much from the agents.  They were critical without being cruel, and their suggestions were definitely on target.  My query letter was very well-received, with a few ideas to tweak it; as for my opening pages, it was a sort of good news/bad news scenario.  Both the agents really liked the idea and my writing, but suggested that I jump into the action more immediately and try to weave the back story (that made up my first few pages) into that action.  I was actually thrilled with the input and can't wait to put it into practice.  I'm only disappointed that I won't be able to do a re-write and print out new pages for tomorrow, so that the agents who hear the queries and opening pages then can critique my new ones!

All of the agents have been extremely friendly and approachable.  It's been a real boon to be able to put names and faces together.  The only drawback to the entire day has been a confirmation of what I've been thinking all along:  the rules were made to be broken.  What one set of agents told us to do, the other set denied.  Include your word count?  Put the title of the book at the beginning of the query?  Set ages for young adult and middle grade?  It's all a matter of opinion and personal preference, just as I had suspected!

I'm ready for the last two sessions of the day and then the bonus evening session about social media, the web and marketing books.  But already this conference has definitely been worth it.

More to come tomorrow!

NYC and Backspace

Well, folks, here I am in New York City, ready for the conference to begin.  Of course, I'm a little nervous:  I'm about to take my work into a room full of agents and let them flay me live and in person. Can you spell FUN? Oh, well, it's all part of the creative process. . .

Backspace did send out some interesting blog links leading into the conference. Shame I didn't have them a month ago, when I could used those suggestions to make tweaks here and there, but reading them did give me some more insight into where I may be able to improve my first book.

The biggest for-instance is the opening scene.  Originally, my book opened with my main character Tasmyn getting the news from her mom that the family was moving yet-again, seguing into their drive from Wisconsin to Florida.  When I did revisions last spring, I cut that and opened with Tas waking on the first of school.  Now one of these blogs suggests that an opening scene that begins with the character waking up is the kiss of death.  ARGH!!!!! 

The positive is that I already have an idea about how I can change that if it truly doesn't work for anyone.  The negative is that I am setting myself up to hear lots of agents tell me something I may already know but didn't have the opportunity to adjust before I printed 34 copies of the two opening pages. 

I'm resigned to this.  The point is that I haven't even attended one workshop, and already I'm learning!  Pretty cool.

I'm off to prepare for the day and will try to blog another update later this afternoon.  Wish me luck!

Monday, November 8, 2010

NaNoWriMo Update AND NYC T-2

This is a double subject blog--wow.  You know it's a busy week!

NaNoWriMo has been happening for a full week now.  I am happy to report that I am well over 10,000 words, and I am feeling good about what I've written.  It's different from anything I've written before, and it's fun to stretch some new muscles.  I'm not quite on schedule to finish by the end of the month, but close enough to make it happen by writing a little more here and there. 

If you are a writer and you've never tried NaNoWriMo before, I highly recommend it.  Next year I'd like to get more involved in our community encouragement; it just hasn't been possible this month, with children getting engaged, life happening and trips to NYC. . .

. . .which brings us to our next subject.  We're less than two days out from our departure for the Big Apple.  I'm happy to report that 34 copies of the query letters are printed, as our 34 copies of the first two pages of my manuscript.  My bags are mostly packed or ready to be packed. 

Today I received the final schedule from Backspace, so I know the agents I'm going to be meeting at the conference.  It's pretty exciting!

I seriously covet your prayers for all the flights and for the conference itself.  And I'll be keeping in touch as much as I possibly can!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo

Pencils at the ready, people!  (Yes, I know, most people write on word processors these days, but it is hardly a picturesque phrase.)  It's nearly November, and you know what that means?  National Novel Writing Month!!

I've been following NaNoWriMo for years, but I haven't actually participated yet.  Once I began writing, I was always mid-novel in November and didn't want to interrupt that process to write 50,000 words that wouldn't help me with the current project.

But this year, I'm feeling it.  There are quite a few ideas that have been percolating for a little while, and I think it's time to get them down on paper--I mean, on the computer.

If you're not familiar with NaNoWriMo, here's how it works:  you commit to write 50,000 words between 12:01 AM on November 1st and 11:59 PM November 30th.  It's supposed to be in the form of a novel.  It doesn't have to be a complete novel, but it does have to be completely original writing--meaning that I can't incorporate the 10,000 words I've already written for book 4 of the King series into the NaNoWriMo project.  The point is to compel you to WRITE--something.  Even if it's not the greatest masterpiece or the most polished thing you've ever written, you write something.  Anything.

For more information and to register, go to http://www.nanowrimo.org/ .

So. . .who's going to join me?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

T-20 Until NYC

I can't believe that we'll be heading north to NYC in less than three weeks.  Yikes!  I'm not sure if I'm more nervous about the flight or the conference.

(Regarding the flight:  I am actually doing some very proactive work to prepare for a calmer trip for me, and your prayers are coveted for all of that.  Thanks!)

I've received some more information about the conference, and I have to admit that I am both excited and a little anxious.  I've been placed in the young adult groups (meaning that I write YA, not that I am a young adult--let's be clear about that!!).  Some sessions will critique query letters, and others will critique a work sample (the first two pages of the MS).  We have to send ahead these items, so I've been polishing both of mine, sending them to trusted friends and writers for their ideas.  I think they are both about ready to be sent to New York.

The format of the workshops will have the writers (that's me--gulp!) reading aloud whatever we're focusing on, either the query letter or the sample.  The agents on the board will listen and stop us when the piece stops 'working for them'.  I have a horror that they will stop me at the first line!

And above and beyond the whole 'am I a good enough writer' anxiety is the worry of being a Floridian in NYC.  I love my adopted home state, but I have to admit that I'm afraid it's sucked out any fashion sense I might have had when I lived in the northeast!  Here we live in shorts, simple tees and flip flops.  I know how to dress, but I don't feel as though I'm in touch with what's the right thing to wear when.  Plus it's New York in mid-November--it's gonna be cold, baby!

The conference organizers suggest business casual wear, so I am trying to put together outfits that fit that criteria.  I don't want to be a fashion diva, mind you, but neither do I want to look like the hick in the city.

So there are all (well, nearly all) of my NYC conference phobias.  I'll keep you posted as we move forward and of course, I'll be posting from the conference as well.  Get ready for a virtual trip to the big city!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Author Idols

Do you have an author idol?  Or maybe even more than one?  I do.  These are the published writers (AKA PWs) who have inspired me in magnificent ways.  At first, these PWs made me want to read more and learn more.  I'm remembering Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott,  Margaret Mitchell, Catherine Marshall and Ayn Rand.  An eclectic group to be sure, but they were all strong and well-written women.

But then, my PWs began to inspire me to do more than just read; I wanted to write, too.  I was never more excited than when I was spinning a story.  Finding out that I could do that was pretty incredible!

What's really cool is that now I can connect with many of my author idols on the internet.  I 'visit' with Karen Kingsbury, Janet Evanovich, Diana Gabaldon and Anne Rice on Facebook; I have a Tweeting relationship with some other PWs.  They share stories, tips and ideas, and their encouragement sometimes keeps me going when I'm feeling that I'll never see my own work in print.

I owe all of these amazing writers a huge debt of gratitude.

Monday, October 11, 2010

And now for a musical interlude. . .

One of my author-idols (more on that in another post) introduced me to something I'd never considered in my writing process:  inspirational music.  Now I should clarify that I'm not referring to religion here; I'm talking about tunes that inspire my writing--muse music, perhaps?

While writing my first book, I put together a rough playlist that I felt reflected the story and the characters.  But as the plot line developed and changed, my musical needs changed too.  By the time the book was finished, I had to create a whole new play list, revised to mirror the new twists and turns.

I was hooked!  Thanks to some writing friends, I found Pandora, a site where I could make my own stations based on my favorite bands.  I discovered so many new songs and groups that my iTunes library has exploded.

Music can lead me out of my writing valleys and more than once, a song has inspired a character's actions or dialogue.  Imagining a song being sung by one of my characters gives me insight into mindset and motive and can actually change my plans for the story arc.  Sometimes I've listened to a song in amazement at how closely the emotion reflects one of my character's feelings.

So when I hit a block or a slump, I go back to the music.  I listen to my playlists, and I immerse myself in the songs that remind me why I like my characters.  It's a gentle way to bring me back to the story and help me remember that writing is not only my passion. . .it's something that feeds my soul.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Writing Slump

I've heard of writer's block, that dreaded affliction that makes it impossible for a writer to--well, write.  I've experienced it rarely, to my great fortune.  But what I do see now and then is writer's slump.

I'm in one of those right now.  Writer's slump is tricky, because sometimes it masquerades as life; going two or three days without doing any serious writing can be blamed on extra chores, visitors or sick children.  And then one day, you realize that a week has passed without any forward motion on your latest work.  That's when you know you're in a slump.

For the last few weeks, my life has been extra full.  There have been some intense school days, field trips, impromptu trips for family members and just the daily craziness that IS my world.  I get on the computer at night and answer email; I might be inspired to update the blogs, but as for my regular work?  Not so much.  I open it up, read the previous few paragraphs and realize that the inspiration isn't flowing. I might write a line. . .maybe two. . .but it's just not happening.

A slump is worse than a block in some ways because it's insidious.  It's easy to explain away the lack of writing.  But the truth is that when things are really flowing, no amount of busy-ness is going to keep me away from my book.  I'll stay up late at night finishing chapters, hide away and write for hours, carry my computer everywhere and write wherever I can.  I'm almost living in two worlds, one foot in the land where my characters dwell and one in the real world.

The slump will end one of these days.  I'll find myself in the mood to write and suddenly the words will come, almost too fast for me to keep up with them.  That's a good day.

Until then, I'll write when I can and try to be patient with myself.  No slump lasts forever!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hit and Run Queries

When I first began querying, I made a fairly big production of it.  I had all my books of agents and publishers laid out, with the ones I'd chosen to query first highlighted.  I wrote the letters carefully, agonizing over each word and phrase.  My husband kindly made me address labels so that the envelopes looked professional.

I wasn't too disappointed when I received the first few rejections.  I knew that was pretty standard.  And some of the letters have actually been a little encouraging.

Lately, I've been less formal about the queries.  With the understanding that the more queries out there, the more likely one is to find the right agent, I've been working on getting letters out via email whenever I have a little bit of time.  I call them my hit and run queries.

I've stopped being quite so worried about everything being perfect, because I realize that when my letter reaches that right agent, perfection won't be necessarily required.  (I learned that from Query Shark.)

Probably the most discouraging part of my recent querying has been lack of response.  I know I'm not alone, since so many writers have shared this frustration.  Agents are being so inundated with queries that they simply don't respond to those they don't intend to pursue.  It's exasperating, but it's the way it is.

So I'll keep up my hit and runs, and keep the faith that pretty soon, one of them will hit pay dirt.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Routine Writing

One of the most frequent questions established (read: published) writers are asked involves their writing routine.  I think it's mostly because the general public sees writing as a very unstructured occupation that can be accomplished at any hour of the day or night; maybe it's the fact that popular culture portrays authors up all night toiling next to a single candle in a dark room.

Most writers answer that question by claiming to have a pretty strict regimen. I myself love Janet Evanovich's reply (as found on her website):

I drag myself out of bed around six, shove myself into the clothes laying on the floor and plod down the road after the dog. I eat a boring breakfast of skim milk, orange juice and healthy cereal because when I wake up I always think I'm Christie Brinkley and it seems like something Christie would do. Then I shuffle into the office I share with a really rude parrot. The dog follows after me and flops onto his bed to take a nap. (Next time around I want to be my dog.) I stare at the computer screen for about four hours, sometimes actually typing some sentences. I chew gum and drink green tea to keep myself from falling out of my chair in a catatonic stupor. At noon I'm suddenly filled with energy and rush to the refrigerator, hoping a pineapple upside-down cake with lots of whipped cream has mysteriously appeared. Finding none, I make a tuna or peanut butter and olive sandwich. I go back to my office and visualize myself getting exercise. I play an amazing game of mental tennis. In my mind's eye I look great in the little tennis dress. Very athletic. When I'm done playing tennis I stare at the computer screen some more. When nothing appears on the screen I drive down to the local store and buy a bag of Cheez Doodles. I eat the Cheez Doodles and manage to actually write several pages. When I'm done with the Doodles and pages I wander out of my office looking for someone to whine at because I just made myself fat. (I'm only Christie Brinkley in the morning. In the afternoon I'm Roseanne.) I alternate typing and whining for the rest of the afternoon until about five when I emerge from my office, once again hoping for the pineapple cake.


Of course, Janet has the benefit of many years of successful authorhood.  And her kids are grown, so she's got that freedom, too.  But she does set a good example for all of us who just starting out or who are still struggling to find that rhythm of writing. 


This is on my mind right now because we're about to begin our new school year.  Homeschooling is a full time job.  I plan the curriculum, set up our schedules and keep the kids on track.  As I'm planning our daily routines this year, I'm working to build some Mommy writing time into our days.  It's not easy, but I need to make it happen--I get antsy when I have to go too long without doing some serious writing.


I'm realizing more and more that it's a matter of priorities.  For now, educating my children has to be my focus, but writing comes next--and I'm wiling to do what I need to in order to make that happen.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Another step on the road

I did something today I've been considering for quite a long time.  I registered for a writers' conference.

I know this is something that many websites and books advise writers to do, but until now, I haven't felt it was the right time or the right conference.  There have been several meetings in Florida, but most of them are skewed to local writers or to a specific genre that doesn't match my own.

Last month, I realized that Romance Writers of America had its big annual conference right here in Orlando.  I'm not a member of RWA, since what I write isn't strictly speaking romance, but the more I read, the more I realized it might have been a good move to attend that meeting.  It would have been so close to home!  It was too late to register by the time I heard about it, but this was a wake-up call to me:  it's time to make this move.

I began researching conferences, conventions and meetings.  One of them really stood out:  the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar, in New York City in November.  What really struck me was that this seminar doesn't have the typical author-agent pitch sessions, where the author tries desperately to sell her manuscript; instead, Backspace offers mixers and workshops where the authors can get to know the agents and vice verse.  The idea is that authors will have a better grip on which agents they should query, and agents will potentially meet new authors.

This impresses me, and it's also a better fit for my own personality.  What clinched it was seeing the list of agents involved:  there were many familiar names on the list, agents I hope to query or have seen on Twitter or in other blogs.

So I've screwed up my courage and registered, and it appears that I'll be flying to NYC in November.

Gulp!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Things that make me happy I'm a writer. . .

A few weeks ago I sent my first book to a friend.  Now, you have to understand that this is a really hard thing to do.  It's like sending my children out into the world and saying, "Please judge them."  I trust my friends, but I hate the idea of putting them into the position of having to say. . ."Oh. . .well. . .it was. . .good. . ."

Anyway, this sweet pal emailed me that not only was she enjoying the book, her sons were, too.  That is music to my ears!  It makes all the writing angst worthwhile.

And then this week, one of my writing group friends called me.  I had taken her copies of my first two books last month.  She was calling to tell me that she had finished the second book and loved it--she said she couldn't put it down. She wasn't just saying it; she wanted to read the next book and she was really raving!  It was the kind of call every writer dreams of hearing.

Kind words make all the difference.  Kind and genuine words give me the impetus to keep writing.

These are the things that make me happy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Book Finished!

In theory, I finished my third book while I was away on my week o' writing.  But actually, it needed a few bridge chapters and some polishing and editing.  I finished it--REALLY--early on Friday morning, about three o'clock.

It was kind of exhilarating.  I remember when I finished Fearless; I really couldn't believe that I finally done it, finished an entire book.   I ended up playing with it for quite a while before I was satisfied with it.  I was naive enough to think that once I had finished the writing, the hard work was done.  And then I began learning about querying and agents and publishers. . .HA!


Breathless seemed to move along a little faster, but I was still pretty happy when it too was finished. And I was excited to begin the third book, but because it's a little darker than the first two books, it was harder to write.  So the relief I felt when Restless was officially wrapped was huge.

I'm also looking forward to beginning the last book. . .in a dreading kind of way.  I love these characters, and I'm going to be really lonely without them, even with a long line of other characters waiting in the wings to have their stories told.

But regardless, it feels good to have three books under my belt.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inspiration versus Desperation

Do you tweet?  I've been Twitter-pated since shortly after Twitter appeared on the social network scene.  I find it a small but satisfying challenge to state feelings or events in that little 140 character window; my goal is to get as close to 140 as possible without going over.

Anyway, I follow several agents and publishing companies.  One of them writes a blog with a weekly featured called "How I Got My Agent".  You'd think that would be something good for a writer to read and follow, right?

Sure.  So I've read some of them.  And each one I read, I would think. . ."Hmmm.  That didn't seem like a very tough process for that one.  Well, maybe it's just a fluke."  But no.  The next writer would share a similar story.  I didn't really catch on until I checked out some of the dates in these columns and realized how fast things are happening for these lucky folk.  What made it worse was that I recognized some of the names of the agents who were signing the column authors.

This is very depressing.  It's the kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head against a wall and ask myself why I'm continuing on what sometimes feels like a futile quest.

I know that the blog doesn't feature this column to make non-agented writers desperate.  I know it's supposed to inspire us.  And maybe it's state of mind that makes me see the agent-glass as half-empty.

Whatever, I've decided to stop reading that column and focus on inspiration.  I'm checking out writing conferences and trying to decide what will work best for me this year, because one thing I am learning everywhere is that it's who you know that makes a difference.

And I'm reminding myself of something I wrote a few posts back:  I would be doing this--writing--even if I knew I would never be published.  I'm doing it for love of the process.

And it would be awesome if someone else loved my process, too!

Friday, July 30, 2010

And Yet Another Version of the Query Letter. . .

A few posts ago I mentioned a website called Query Shark.  I've been reading it pretty carefully, which is required before I can submit one of my query letters for the Shark's brutal tearing apart.  There are over 160 entries, and very few of them are 'wins'.

And because querying is a highly subjective business, some of the letters that were hits struck me as not all that different from the ones that were misses.  It's hard to internalize the rules when they don't seem to apply all the time.

Still, the Shark is pretty open about this.  She admits that even if a letter isn't perfect, if it has voice, she likes it.  She wants us to lead with the hook of the story.  Keep it brief, keep the sentences concise, leave lots of white space.  Include the word count, but put it and other book info at the bottom of the letter.  Don't forget to include your contact info.

So I've spent a lot of time soaking up those rules, and I retooled my query letter for the umpteenth time (actually, I rewrote it two more times:  I like them both, but one is shorter and leads with the action of the story, while the other is a little longer).

I'm letting it sit and marinate for a bit, and then take a deep breath and submit it to the Shark.  I might even send it out to some agents, too, as the wait for the Shark can be pretty long, and there's no guarantee she'll actually print it on the blog.

So. . what do you think?


Tasmyn Vaughn just heard her classmate planning a murder.  The problem is that Nell Massler didn’t tell anyone that she intends to perform a blood ritual; she only thought about it.  It was Nell’s misfortune that Tasmyn can hear the minds around her.

Now Tasmyn has to figure out how to stop Nell without revealing her own secret.  Acting on what she hears in someone’s head is foreign to Tas.  Her parents have built their lives around guarding their daughter’s ability, to protect her from possible exploitation.  They’ve established very specific rules about not listening to anyone’s mind.  But Tasmyn is fairly certain that preventing murder should trump all those limits.

What she doesn’t know is that Nell has been messing with witchcraft under the tutelage of their chemistry teacher. When that teacher begins to show interest in the powers she suspects Tas possesses, Nell’s jealousy leads her to choose Tasmyn as her next victim.

While Fearless, complete at 114,000 words, can stand alone as a young adult urban fantasy, it is part of a planned quartet.  The first and second sequels are also complete.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Writer Worry

Why am I up at 2:08 AM working on my blog? 

Because I am a victim of writer worry.

Once upon a time, I didn't have this.  Oh, sure, I lay awake at night worrying. . .about my children's health, about whether or not homeschooling was working for us, about paying bills, all those regular, mundane sort of worries. 

But now I lie awake thinking about my characters.  What Tasmyn did in the last chapter--was that in keeping with who she is?  What would Michael do if this happened?  Should I flesh out Amber a little more?  Is this all a tremendous waste of time?  Will I ever see these books in print, outside of doing it myself? 

And why don't I blog more regularly?  What can I do to promote my writing?  From all sides, tweets, blogs and books, I'm reminded that plugging my own writing is essential.  What am I missing?

Should I go to a writers' conference?  Which one?  What will I do if I submit my work for review and they trash it?  Do I trust their opinions, or do I keep at it?  How long is too long to keep the faith in this work?

How can I make my query letter better, more effective?  Why didn't someone tell me before now that you never submit a prologue with sample pages?  Is my book doomed to failure because it doesn't start with a bang?  Aren't there other books out there whose story develops smoothly and slowly (I am thinking of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series--I've never read books that developed at such a snail's pace as those). 

That's just a small sampling of what runs around my brain at midnight, after I turn off the lights. 

So the bigger question is this:  why do I bother?  Why not just forget this if it causes me so much angst?  Let it go!

Ask a mom why she continues to care about her child after he has broken her heart.  Ask any new parent why he gets up five times a night to feed the baby.  It's the same answer.  No matter how troubling, no matter how sleep disrupting or anxiety-provoking, I love it.  I couldn't abandon this now.

So I'm heading back to bed to catch a few hours of sleep and hope that my head will quiet down.  If it doesn't, I'll be playing my favorite going-to-sleep game:  re-write the query letter in my head.

'Night, all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Week of Words

I am safely back home after my six days of writing.

I wrote over 33,000 words.  I finished the third book--well, at least I wrote the end of it.  I'm still working on a few bridge chapters to link the main part to the end.

For three days, I literally did not have face to face human interaction!  I wrote as long as I wanted, without having to stop to make a meal.  I slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry.  It was amazingly freeing.

I know that I'll go back and edit those chapters, but the fact is that they exist now.  Editing is easy enough once the words are written.  I'm happy with the outcome, and I'm excited already about what book 4 is going to bring.

I have to admit that in the midst of this total immersion, I began to have quite a few doubts and insecurities. I was alternating writing with some query and agent research, and that can be extremely depressing.  For every fairy tale writer story (think JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer), there are hundreds of writers who have worked for years without even a glimpse of publication possibilities.

I love to write.  This week, I'd sit down at the computer in front of my story and look up to find that four hours had passed without my knowing it.  Someone asked me recently if I would keep writing even if I knew that my work would never be published.  The answer is yes, because I love it and I believe passionately in my characters and their story.

But just as parents know that their children have to venture into the world at some point, I have a dream for my stories.  I want others to read them and share this world with me.  That means publication has to be my goal.

So I'm back to the dreaded query task.  I've found some interesting sites (Query Shark, anyone??).  I'm trying to learn, even while I am careful to remember that no one has the perfect answer to the query quandary.

I'm still working toward a strong yes, fingers crossed and feet firmly on the ground.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Party Time!

I'm at the end of my first full day of 'just keep writing, just keep writing. . ." and it's been an incredible day.  I spent it totally within my characters' world, and truthfully, each time I came up for air, I was surprised to see that I wasn't at King High or Lake Rosu or at Marica's house.

Yes, this is a luxury.  Yes, I am truly blessed to be able to take this week.  Don't think I'm not really, truly grateful.

So what does a writing day look like?  I got up this morning, grabbed the computer and pulled up my current book.  I did some back reading, refreshing in my mind what I'd written in dribs and drabs over the last few weeks.  And then I switched on the tunes (God bless Pandora!) and started writing.

I got up and moved around every couple of hours.  Grabbed some water, a handful of M & M's (the pretzel kind--YUM!). . .took 1/2 hour to do some yoga, just to keep the oxygen pumping to my brain. . .I wasn't the least bit tempted to go outside to the pool, since every time I looked out, it was raining!

Right now, I'm on dinner break, eating some warmed over potato skins and fresh cherries.  And what do I do on my dinner break from writing?  Well. . .I write my blogs.

Good thing I love what I do!

I came to a really awesome conclusion today:  I actually do love what I do, and guess what?  My books really truly are good.  Women are sometimes conditioned to denigrate their own work. You know, someone compliments us and we reply, "Oh, it's nothing.  Just a seven course dinner.  Just an exquisite prom gown.  Just a great homeschool curriculum.  Just a three hundred page book. . ."  But if we don't stand up for the merits of what we do, who will?

So. . it was a productive day.  And now all that's left of the cherries are the pits, so it's time to get back to work.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Impatience. . .

Impatience has been a pretty constant state of mind for me lately, at least when it comes to my writing.  I haven't heard from any agents I've queried for a few weeks (although I did receive a sweetly personal rejection from one agent recently).  I have some exciting ideas for my characters, and I'm anxious to get them down on paper, but I haven't had more than a few minutes at a time to do it. 

And so. . .impatience!

I don't think I'm alone in this.  Don't call the men in white coats yet, but my characters get really antsy when I don't have time to move them forward on a regular basis.  I think they got spoiled when I was able to devote pretty much all of my waking time to them.  Now I'm trying to fit them in between my kids, my husband and myself, and they're a little sulky. 

Sigh.  Get in line, folks.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel.  I'm taking radical action. 

Next week I am going away.  By myself.  I'm taking writing vacation, going about 30 minutes from home, staying in a resort where no one knows me.  I'm not taking a car, so I have to stay put.  It will be me, my laptop and my music.  (Oh, and maybe some pretzel M & M's  and a bottle of wine.)

I have a really big goal, and that's to finish the third book in my series.  After that, I'm hoping my characters will simmer down long enough for me to really put my attention toward more regular queries.

I'll keep you all posted on how the writing goes, as long as the characters let me work on anything other than their story.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Agents are People, Too

A recent comment from a reader really made me stop and think.  I talk about agents and publishers from my own very specific point of view--that of a writer trying to get published.  I know I have made a few somewhat bitter remarks--not here, I hope, but aloud, to family and friends--about the seeming futility of my publishing quest.  

But what about those agents?  Surely I know, somewhere in my heart, that they aren't all villains, sitting in dark offices, rubbing their hands together in glee at the idea of crushing the dreams of yet another aspiring writer.  I know that, in the paraphrased words of my sister's fourth grade teacher, "agents are people, too!"  (She actually said something far more icky and gag-inducing that had nothing whatsoever to do with agents.)  They have full and busy lives, and they are working to find the books that will sell to publishing houses for the highest price and thus bring THEM income, too.  I know that they are courted by thousands of writers, and I know that they must get really sick and tired of reading unsolicited queries.

Although my books are not necessarily faith-based works (that's a complicated subject, and one I'd love to address later), I do feel that I was led to write them.  And before I send each query, I pray that it would reach the hands exactly the right agent and then editor.  So while I have to admit to feeling a little disappointment with each rejection letter or total lack of response, in my heart I know that it really only means I haven't queried the right agent yet.

I'm going to try to stop thinking of agents and publishers as commodities and remember that they, too, have responsibilities and needs.  I'll even try to stop whining about how tough it is to write the perfect query letter (emphasis on the word try!).

And agents and/or publishers, please, feel free to share any insights or suggestions in how we writers can treat you right.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Life Gets In The Way!

When I first began writing seriously, it was as though I were treasuring a precious secret, not unlike a newly pregnant woman who knows the world will find out sooner or later but is happy to keep it to herself just now.  I loved the writing process; I loved my characters and I loved my story.  Any time I could steal away, be it late at night or early in the morning, I was writing.  It was a heady experience.

It was also a unique time of my life.  We had lived in central Florida for about a year, but we hadn't yet made an friends or social connections.  Things were pretty quiet.  I wasn't driving kids to classes or activities.  The freedom was amazing.

But as often happens, life changed.  Suddenly we had friends, we had commitments. . .and finding dedicated writing time became more of a challenge.

I managed to finish the first book (writing in the stands during baseball practices, in the middle of the night and in various doctors, orthodontists and dental offices) and then somehow also wrote the second.  But I have to admit, I'm finding the third a little more complicated.

This year my life has been busier than ever.  My second daughter just graduated from high school at our local homeschool convention.  We have house guests coming for the month of June.  We're getting more involved in our new church, and that's all in addition to the normal activities of homeschooling, helping my oldest daughter and my husband with their papers, housework and child rearing.

And then add in the additional writing opportunities and commitments.  I'm writing several blogs and articles for online publications, not to mention query letters, summaries and synopses.

It can be really overwhelming.  I'm yearning to get back to some simplicity in my days so that I can dedicate my more wakeful hours to writing.  This summer looks promising.  My goal is to have book three finished by the end of the summer and to have an extraordinary amount of queries out in the world by the end of June.

For now, I'm in Augusta, Georgia visiting friends, and I've realized that even when I don't have time to actually get words onto the page, I can still do character research. . .the world is full of inspiration!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Group Effort

Being a writer can be a lonely job.  Putting words down on paper is immensely satisfying, but without readers, those words don't mean too much.  And yet allowing just anyone to read your precious story is terrifying.

I was already two-thirds of the way through my first book when I "met" another fledgling writer on an on-line fan forum.  (Okay, full disclosure:  it was a Twilight fan forum.)  We were both interested in finding others like us, women who were beginning to write or beginning to write again, and to that end we put together an on-line writing group.

We found a small group of other women with similar goals.  At first, we just shared our how-we-got-here stories; why we write, what we write and the joys and frustrations of the whole enterprise.  It was such a relief to not feel alone, to know that others were experiencing the same things that I was. 

After a few months, we all bravely took a collective deep breath and shared our writing.  For most of us, it was the first time we'd allowed anyone else to read our words.  It wasn't unlike sending a child out into the cruel world for the first time; it was a very anxious time.  What if no one liked the chapter I shared?  What is they found it inane and stupid? 

Happily, that didn't happen for any of us.  We persevered, and we continued to share.  Well over a year later, we've fallen into a rhythm of submitting chapters or pieces and critiquing each others' work.  We're growing slowly and recently added our second critique group.

It's a great comfort to be able to vent the frustrations of querying, of writer's block and of the hundreds other heartbreaks, large or small, associating with writing.  And of course it's also very heartening to have a built-in cheering squad when things go very right!

Good to know that no matter how the writing is going, I know the group has got my back.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Dreaded Rewrite

One of the first things any book, web site or expert will tell a would-be author is that editing must be ruthless, and the author must be willing to slash her own work.  I'm a fairly decent self-editor, and I correct both as I go along and at the end of each chapter.  When I submit pieces for critique with my writing group,  I get another set of eyes to check for typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes.

But beyond that kind of editing, it's imperative that an author is willing to cut out unnecessary sentences, paragraphs and even. . .gulp. . . chapters.

It's harder than the uninitiated might think.  For me, each word that I wrote is considered and completely necessary.  How could I think of chopping anything out?

After about six months of submitting, I decided to revisit some of my early chapters.  There was a very good reason for how those chapters are constructed, and I hated to get rid of any of them.  But. . .ruthless, right?  So I cut out one chapter altogether and combined another two.  I was pretty happy with it.

But it's been another six months plus, and lately I've been thinking that it's time to get the (metaphorical) scissors again.  Here's my reasoning:  many agents request the first fifty pages along with a query letter, or if the query or summary interests them, they'll ask for the partial--again, about the first fifty pages.  So those fifty pages carry a pretty large responsibility:  they have to basically sell the entire book.

I like my opening chapters.  In them, the reader gets to know my main character and narrator.  There's a lot of backstory.  However, are they essential?  Could they be cut even more/

I've decided the answer is yes, and that's my project for this week:  to re-write the first chapters of Fearless.  I'm actually pretty excited about it.  With any luck, it will not only be more cohesive but also will cut down the all-important word count significantly.

I'll report back soon and let you all know how it comes together!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Help is Out There

When you're a new writer, just flushed with the first joy of seeing a vague story line morph into a real manuscript, you're looking for any help you can find in getting this book into print.  That's why most bookstores have a shelf devoted to just those kinds of books:  how to find an agent, how to get your book published, how to write a query letter, how to promote your book. . you name it, some other author has already written a book about it--and gotten it published!


The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published pretty much says it all.  This book takes you from writing to promoting.   How to Get A Literary Agent is more specific, but it contains pages of good information on why you need a great agent and how to go about getting one.

And of course, don't forget the on-line sources.  Just search literary agents, how to get my book published or anything along those lines and see the hundreds of web pages out there.

The problem with all of this information is that it doesn't all agree.  Each source has a different take on writing query letters, for instance.  One instructs writers to be very business-like and formal, while another offers casual, off-handed letters as examples of a successful query.  And each swears that their letter is the only one that will open that elusive agent door.

Well, they might not all be right, but each book has at least some good advice.  And one time or another, one of those letters is going to be the right one with the right agent.  At least I hope so.  If not, I can always write another book:  How to Write a Million Query Letters and Still Remain Unpublished.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Query Me This

So I jumped back into the saddle today.

Actually, I had planned to tackle queries on Saturday. I sat outside and pulled up all my find-an-agent websites. I started listing names, query requirements and contact info. And the longer I looked, the more depressed I became.

I went inside to do laundry, thinking as I switched clothes from washer to dryer about my other options. I could just ditch the whole agent idea and start working on self-publishing. I could just publish it as an e-book.

Glumly I went back outside and clicked over to Facebook, where I saw that Anne Rice had just posted something. Her status read, "It has always been hard for new talent to break into publishing; but people are as hungry for new voices, new stories, and new ideas as they have ever been. The arts have never been easy. One has to be willing to try and try again."

Try and try again. Okay. So I took a deep breath and decided I would. . soon.

And today was soon. I found a new listing of agents, and then on one of my regular group sites, I saw a new agency. One of the agents seemed promising, so I worked for quite a while on a new query and emailed it off.

Each time a writer sends off a new query, it's like sending a little piece of her child out into the world. We all know the world is a hard, cruel place.

This particular agent prefers exclusive submissions, so I won't be sending another query out until I hear from him. . .or three weeks, whichever comes first. Some agents don't bother to send rejections anymore, so I don't hold my breath.

But it's a beginning. . .a new one.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alternatives

So we've established that the process of finding an agent can be extremely painful and discouraging. In days gone by, before the advent of computers and the internet, the only real option for a writer who could not find an agent or a willing publishing house was something called the vanity press--in essence, an early form of self-publishing.

Today, those vanity presses still exist, but self-publishing has lost much of its early stigma. It's easier to publish and promote your own book, thanks to a wide variety of web sites. These sites can guide a writer from the very first steps of editing through layout and publication, not to mention publicity and marketing. Sometimes this kind of self-publishing is just what a book needs to garner a bigger market; if an author generates sufficient buzz, an agent and/or publisher might be more willing to risk a contract.

Another choice is e-publishing. Publishing your work in electronic form is even easier than print self-publishing, and it's usually free as well. With the advent of all the electronic readers, e-books may open more doors for authors than ever before.

It's a bold new world out there. Writers need to be just as bold.

I've been looking at these options myself. It would certainly be easier on the pride than the query/rejection cycle. I haven't actually done it yet simply because at this point it still feels. . like giving up.

But give me a few more months, and I may be hawking my own self-published books!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Do I Need An Agent Anyway?

This is a very good question. And I can answer it inasmuch as it seems to me, and not without a certain amount of prejudice.

Once upon a time, authors who had completed manuscripts sent their treasured darlings directly to publishing houses. Editors would read the manuscripts and offer publishing contracts to those deemed worthy. Of course, those who had contacts--authors who were personally acquainted with editors or could be recommended by friends--had the advantage over others who were unknown.

The rise of the literary agent principally came about for two reasons: one, editors simply became too overwhelmed by the sheer volume of manuscripts received; and two, as the publishing world expanded and became more complicated, it behooved writers to have a professional representative to handle contracts and negotiations. So in the beginning, agents were designed to benefit both author and publisher.

And in a large part, agents today continue to represent the best interests of both parties. For the as-yet unpublished author, though, it can seem as though literary agents exist merely to confound her dreams--to be the stalwart guards at the gate to publication.

Agent Nathan Bransford states that "[they] are the baleen to the publishing industry's whale." True enough! And in order to slip through those filtering teeth, writers aspiring to be published must write the perfect query letter, summary and sample.

Consider that agents receive between 5,000 and 20,000 (or more) submission per year. Think about how distinctive a letter would have to be in order to catch the attention of this tired agent. Discouraged yet?

And yet. . .somewhere in the neighborhood of 170,000 books are published each year in the United States alone.

It can be done. But there are two important questions.

The first is, how is it done?

And the second is, should it be done?

Stay tuned for some thoughts about those questions.

Monday, April 5, 2010

So. . what's your book about?

I get that question quite a bit, and frankly, it makes me squirm a little. I'm not sure if it's because I feel silly writing young adult fiction when I am so obviously NOT a young adult or if it's the subject matter itself.

But the truth is, I'm proud of my books. I think they're well-written; I think the characters are interesting and well-rounded. I enjoy spending time with them. They've surprised me from time to time.

You see, I'm one of THOSE writers. I know I've read about authors who claim that they are in total control of every word that issues from their pens or computer keyboards. That's not me. When I first began writing Tasmyn's story, I only knew a little bit about her. I knew she had recently moved from Wisconsin to a small town in central Florida. I knew she was about 17 and had been raised very protectively. I knew that she was going to meet an incredible boy who would change her life.

But then some other characters began speaking. I met Michael, and it turned out he has two very cool parents who are important to the story. And some of Michael's friends have also become more vocal than I expected, especially two named Anne and Jim, who had their own little plot line in the first book.

And my original antagonist has not been exactly as I had planned, either. She's actually so interesting to me that I'm thinking she may get her own book some time down the road.

I may eventually post some chapters on here, depending on how my queries are going. Until then, if you're curious, ask me (there's a comment feature below) and I will answer any questions.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

What's It All About?

So what does a query letter look like? I'm so glad you asked (channeling Sheldon from BBT):

Dear Agent Whom I Am Dying to Have Represent Me: (Okay, I don't really write that, but they all read the subtext)

Being able to hear the minds of those around you might sound like a good idea. . . but would you really want that ability? If you were a seventeen-year old girl, would you honestly want to know what your classmates were thinking? And what might happen if you heard something that wasn’t just annoying. . .but downright deadly?

This is the basis of my recently completed 120,000 word novel, Fearless. Tasmyn, a high school junior who has grappled with this dubious gift all of her life, moves to a new community. Her talent has isolated her, both by necessity and by choice, but here in the mysterious town of King, Tasmyn meets Michael, the high school’s golden boy, who amazingly seems to think that Tas is his soul mate. To her joyful astonishment, she soon has not only a boyfriend but also a group of friends who like and accept her.

But before Tasmyn can bask too long in the wonder of this change of events, she accidentally overhears some very troubling thoughts that hint at the darker side of King. Nell, another classmate, has been hostile to Tasmyn from their first meeting. Her unspoken--but horrifying--plans force Tas to make a choice that may save a life but could also expose her own secrets.

Fearless is the first of what I anticipate to be a three-to-four book series; I am presently almost half way finished writing the second book.

I have noticed that you are interested in representing young adult novels. If you would like to read my full manuscript, I would be happy to send it to you.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Very truly yours,


Like most authors DYING to get published, I belong to several groups that give info, support, encouragement and reality check to desperate--I mean, struggling writers. On one, you can submit your QL for critique and review, and when I posted the one above, I received a lot of very helpful comments. First of all, who knew that the term "recently completed" would send all agents running for cover? Apparently they read that as "unedited or revised". Hmm. Also, I was advised to reduce my word count dramatically. So I did go back and ruthlessly slash. . .words. I revised even more. And I think I brought it down a couple thousand words. But not enough to make a real difference. What I wrote is integral to the story, and until someone who reads it through tells me otherwise, it's all staying.

Based on the input from my fellow writers, this is my latest QL:

Dear Agent Who Would be Perfect to Rep My Book:

My 117,00 word young adult novel Fearless is an urban fantasy in the tradition of both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise and Nora Robert’s paranormal offerings.

Like most teenagers, Tasmyn Vaughan doesn’t always agree with her parents. But Tasmyn’s differences are a little more complicated than the average high school kid. She’s struggling to come to terms with her unique ability—she can hear minds—even as she adjusts to life in a new school and the wonder of having her very first boyfriend. Tasmyn’s parents always try to protect her from the possible exploitation of her gifts, and they’re not sure that her new independence is a good idea.

To complicate matters, not everyone is thrilled to welcome Tasmyn to her new home. Nell Massler has been messing with witchcraft under the tutelage of her chemistry teacher, and when that teacher begins to show interest in what powers she suspects Tasmyn possesses, Nell’s jealousy compels her to some radical action—including a blood ritual that might cost Tasmyn and her friends their lives.

Although Fearless can stand alone, the book has series potential, and in fact I have completed the first sequel.

I write for an on-line parenting magazine. My short story Analine’s Pearls was awarded second prize in the 2009 Writers-Editors Network International Writing Competition.

I think at this point, never having to write another QL (I have many more variations than what I've shared here!!) will be reward enough for finally landing an agent and publisher.

But--forward! Onward and upward. Right??

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why We're Here

Okay, people, we're here to get serious. I've blogged for years now, keeping friends and family up to date on my own crew's adventures. But this one is just for me. . .

. . .and maybe for you.

Two and a half years ago, I started writing a book. I've always been a writer, but up until that point, I had mostly completed short stories, non-fic articles on parenting, homeschooling and travel, and homeschool curriculum. Fictional characters always ran around in my head, but they rarely made it onto the page--or if they did, their stories fizzled before they finished.

But this time, there was no fizzle. . .this time I finished the book within five months. And then I started on the first sequel--these characters had a lot more to say and do--and I finished that one. And then I started on the second sequel.

In the meantime, once I finished the first book, I began investigating just how one goes about getting published. And I learned what I think most other unknown, unpublished writers learn: writing is easy. Getting published is hard.

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a book. I can't remember much about the plot or characters, but I do remember that in my youthful innocence, I sent the whole thing off to Harper and Row, the company that published some of my favorite books. A few months later I received a postcard tactfully telling me that the company was not reading unsolicited material at the time. Perhaps that should have been clue number one.

In the two years that I've been pursuing publication, I've learned a few things:

1) A writer needs an agent. There is no hope of being considered by a publishing house without the representation of a knowledgeable agent unless you're one of the blessed few who "knows" someone in publishing or who by some quirk of fate gets her manuscript into the hands of a sweet young intern who then convinces her boss that your story is really something special. . .

2) Finding an agent who will agree to represent you is incredibly hard. There is a process, you see. First, there's the query letter. Ah, how I have come to despise that phrase! But more on that later. If by some amazing twist of fate the agent likes your query letter, she will probably request a partial, which is usually the first fifty pages of your manuscript, and possibly a synopsis (some agents request the synopsis and partial with the query, but most do not). If she likes both of those, she will request the full MS (manuscript). What happens after that? Good question. I think the agent reads the MS and then will either offer representation or decline to do so. But since I haven't gotten to that point, I really can't swear to that.

3) The query letter. . .it's rather like the elusive Holy Grail. Google "query letter examples" and see what you find. One book insisted that QLs must be simple and straightforward business letters. Another claimed that the key was some quirky twist that would immediately capture the eye of the potential agent. Some say you must include word count; others advise against it. Most recommend a paragraph that describes your story. Sounds easy, right? Hey, I just wrote a 120,000 word book; how tough can it be to condense it down to four pithy sentences? Yeah, you try it. I've had so many editions of my query letter that I really don't know anymore which one is most appealing. Maybe it depends on the agent. Maybe I've got a perfect letter, but I haven't sent it to the right agent yet. Maybe.

4) The synopsis is another animal altogether. Here the author is called upon to tell her story--again--this time in several pages. It's not unlike those book reports we all had to do in elementary school.

At this point, I've sent out about 15 queries. Some of these have been via email, and some of them have been through the regular mail. To date, I've received about 12 rejections. . .and I'm not holding my breath on the last three.

But I have to admit something. Up until now, I've been a very part-time submitter. I'm still writing almost full-time, but because the querying is so painful, I haven't been consistent. I'll gird up my loins and sit upstairs for an afternoon, with the huge Writers' Guide to Agents and Editors open on the floor in front of me, tweaking--oh, forever tweaking!--the infamous QL, printing out page after page of synopsis and partial MS. My patient husband prints the address labels for me, and I carefully make sure I follow to the letter the instructions regarding self-addressed stamped envelopes. I head out to the post office with a stack of those ugly manila envelopes and send them on their way.

I remember the first query letters I sent. The first rejections weren't unexpected; after all, everyone knows you've got to have a few of them--pay your dues--before you get the big yes. But still, those initial letters went forth with such hope and trust. Now they creep out rather wearily, with a resigned air of defeat already surrounding them.

So if I barely make time to submit my beloved MS regularly to would-be agents, why am I starting another blog? This is my accountability blog. This is where I am going to faithfully recount my submission attempts and perhaps. . .when God smiles on me and the angels sing, perhaps one day, some good news.

I know there are other writers out there just like me. A ton of them, probably. Maybe more than a ton. I've met some of them on sites that are designed to help and encourage writers. But this isn't a writers' support group. This isn't a submission and critique site (I've got one of those too! Love my ladies on The Writer's Block!!). This is about getting my work--and maybe yours--from the laptop to the bookstore shelf.

Stay tuned.