IWSG: Celebrating

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Right now I’m caught between the desire to land an agent or [reputable] publisher and the option to self-publish. This is mostly due to my own impatience, but it also comes in part from feedback I received from an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. My current manuscript is a YA contemporary update of Hamlet, and the agent said that’s already overdone. That I should go choose a lesser known Shakespeare play to rework instead. She said I could then sit on my current manuscript so I’d have it if whatever fresher thing I wrote took off, or that I could self-publish it. The gist was: it’s good to have another manuscript banked. At the same time, there are no guarantees. And it wouldn’t necessarily work against me to publish it myself since they wouldn’t technically be a series.

Well. I’ve got a couple agencies still reading the manuscript, so maybe not all hope is lost. But if everyone passes . . . I don’t know what I’ll do. At least I’ve outlined a couple more Shakespeare books to write as well.

Question of the Month: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?

Depends on the achievement. If I land a contract (or agent, or option, though those things have then fallen through), we usually go out to eat. If I just finish a draft or something, I don’t do much of anything special. Maybe eat a cookie or something.

SFWC 2018: Meet the Fiction Agents

I wasn’t pitching this year, but I was still curious to hear what the agents might have to say. The participating agents were: Lisa Abellera, Amy Cloughley, Taylor Martindale Kean, Laurie McLean, Mary C. Moore, Patricia Nelson, Monica Odom, Nicki Richesin, Ken Sherman, Gordon Warnock, and Carlisle Webber. I’m not too proud to point out many of these have already passed on Hamlette. Also, many are from the same literary agencies, which I felt limited the scope of the discussion. [Abellera, Cloughley and Moore are with Kimberley Cameron; McLean, Warnock and Webber are from FUSE Literary.]

After introductions, it went straight to questions.

Q: What do you look for in a writer?

Nicki Richesin: Professionalism, no ego, an understanding that a project may not sell. I want a long-term writer, not someone with just one book.

Monica Odom: Someone with business savvy and connections they can leverage. A platform.

Patricia Nelson: Willingness to revise.

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes writers make in pitching?

Carlisle Webber: They pitch or query too soon, before the book is ready.

Gordon Warnock: A good book is worth waiting for, so take the extra time to make it right.

Laurie McLean: Querying every agent they can find instead of doing their research to see if the agent even reps their genre. Stalk agents on social media to get a feel for them. Look at AgentQuery.com or join PublishersMarketplace.com for information. And don’t send to 100 agents at once. Do batches of about 10 at a time.

Q: Can you clarify some of the genre definitions, like “literary” versus “commercial” or “upmarket”?

Patricia Nelson: Literary tends to be about a character’s journey. Commercial is more plot focused. Upmarket is a blend of the two.

[I’ll step in here and say that upmarket usually has elevated language but a genre plot. My novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller was billed as “upmarket espionage.”]

Q: An author asked that, since she’d produced a book trailer and had a Facebook following, was it worthwhile to pursue traditional publishing?

Laurie McLean: I used to think people had to pick a path. If they self-published, then that was it, that was all they could do from then on. I’ve since changed my mind. Publishing is a ladder; there are many rungs. Each book is a new choice. I’d suggest setting a goal: “I’m going to query X number of agents, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll self-publish,” or, “I’ll query for X months, and if that doesn’t work I’ll self-publish.” That said, each agent feels differently. Not all will want to consider a self-published author.

Patricia Nelson: Self-publishing is like a sailboat. You have a small crew, or maybe you’re even sailing alone. You can’t go as far, but you can move faster and turn on a dime. Everything is up to you. Traditional publishing is like being on an ocean liner. Lots of people to help you, and you can go farther, but it’s much slower and hard to turn around. You don’t have much say in where it’s headed.

Q: If I’ve published with a small publisher, what are my chances of getting an agent and a traditional deal?

Amy Cloughley: You’ll need a brand new project if you want to change houses, but at least you have some experience in publishing now.

Q: I’m not sure if my book is fiction or creative nonfiction.

Monica Odom: Whenever I hear “creative nonfiction” I can’t help but think, “So you’re lying…?”

Nicki Richesin: You need to be reading more if you don’t know where in the bookstore your book belongs.

Gordon Warnock: And we want authors who can write more than one book [in one genre]. So ask yourself where you want to “live” in the bookstore.

[Guilty as charged. I’ve written several books now, but as I hop genres, I know I’m difficult to market.]

Q: Since several of you are from the same agencies, is it okay to pitch more than one of you?

Nicki Richesin: If only to practice your pitch, sure.

Taylor Martindale Kean: You can pitch and decide who to submit to. And you can check guidelines; some agencies allow you to pitch another agent if the first one passes, but some don’t.

Q: What if I want to pitch myself to an agent rather than just a book? Like, I want an agent to help with my overall career.

Carlisle Webber: I wouldn’t talk to you if you didn’t have a fresh project. You need to have a product to sell, not just yourself.

Taylor Martindale Kean: Maybe in nonfiction? You’d just need a proposal and you’d be pitching your experience.

Patricia Nelson: An agent only gets paid when he or she sells something, so you need something to sell.

Laurie McLean: That said, some agents will sell just the sub-rights to a project. Meaning, if the book is already published, the agent might just sell the audio or film rights.

Q: How many clients do you have and how did you find them?

Gordon Warnock: We work with as many as we can. If you want to increase your odds, aim for newer agents at established houses.

Amy Cloughley: Not all our clients have works coming out at the same time, there’s an ebb and flow, so we can sometimes add new clients when we’re not too busy.

Lisa Abellera: I have only 8 clients. Two of them I found in the slush pile as an intern and chased them down again once I was an agent.

Wow. Wouldn’t it be nice to be chased by an agent? That was effectively the end of the session. I hope some of these questions and answers provided insight into what agents look for and how they work. (And if noticing Ken Sherman didn’t answer any questions, you’re right!)

SFWC 2018: Some Insight

The great thing—well, one of the great things—about this conference was the number of opportunities to talk to industry professionals and gain some insight. In particular, I was trying to figure out what to do with my YA novel Hamlette. I’ve sent it out to some agents, and there have been nibbles, but so far (barring one incident I’d rather not rehash) no real feedback that I could use. Here’s the little bit I have received:

  • One agent was “afraid to fall in love with it” because it was too close to something else on his wish list, and so if he took mine on he wouldn’t be able to take on that dream manuscript if it were to ever cross his desk.
  • One agent said she didn’t have time to read this manuscript but was intrigued by my description of planned follow-up manuscripts and said she’d like to read those if I didn’t find representation.
  • One said she thought it was “a crazy fun concept” but the way the narrator directly addresses the reader didn’t work for her.

That last one gave me pause, of course. She didn’t say, “If you change it, I’d love to see it again,” so I guess it wasn’t a revise and resubmit.

Okay, so I while at the conference I met with Rusty Shelton and asked him whether I should just scrap this blog and my existing author identity and start over. He said no. (I was honestly surprised by this!) He said, “You have a half-built house. Why start over and have to lay a whole new foundation?” When you put it that way . . . He and I brainstormed some ideas that I look forward to putting into practice soon.

Then I met with independent editor Amelia Beamer and poured out my story of woe. She was so kind to listen, and so sympathetic. I told her I just didn’t know whether to keep trying to find an agent for my manuscript, or if I should self-publish it, or maybe just trunk it entirely. I told her about the agent that didn’t like the one aspect of the manuscript. “I’ve received a number of rejections,” I told her, “but none have specified why. Maybe they all hate the direct address and just didn’t bother to tell me?” Amelia pointed out that that could be true. Or not. I could try to change the manuscript for this one agent, but as she didn’t ask for revisions, I should be sure I’d be changing it because I honestly thought it was good advice. (I’m still not sure about that.) Then she told me, “The publishing industry will take your little piglet that you’ve nurtured and turn it into sausage. So be sure you’re okay with that. Else, write something you’d be okay with seeing turned into sausage.” Which I thought was a very good and vivid metaphor.

Next I had a chance to speak with an agent who shall remain nameless. Sufficient to say she’s an agent who only handles children’s and YA. I laid out my dilemma, told her the feedback I’d had from other agents. I wasn’t trying to pitch her so much as understand what wasn’t being said, or what the market might be for my book. She pulled up her email and showed me that she had 11 queries in her inbox referencing Hamlet. In short, Hamlet is overdone. I mentioned that one of the agents (the one with the wish list) had suggested Merry Wives of Windsor, which I have in fact outlined as a potential project. This agent told me that might be a good way to go because it’s a much fresher, lesser-known play. “Sit on the one you have, and maybe it can be published later.” I asked if it would hurt my chances if I self-published this one. She said no, since the books I’m considering writing—these Shakespeare updates—aren’t really a series with the same characters throughout.

So now I’m really trying to decide what to do here. But I least I have a clearer view of my options.

This morning I went to a session about children’s book marketing and was flattered when Penny Warner remembered me. (She’s delightful btw.) She asked me what I was working on and I told her, then also told her what the agent had said about there being too many Hamlets. Naheed Senzai was sitting next to Penny and said, “Find another agent.” Penny pointed out that everyone in the room could write a version of Hamlet and they’d all be different. “Figure out what sets yours apart.” But I don’t know what sets mine apart since I don’t know what those other 11 manuscripts look like! Still, the encouragement was much appreciated.

Other takeaways included the idea that my paperback books should be made by IngramSpark while my ebooks should probably be Kindle exclusive. Many thanks to Penny Sansevieri for that.

I realize much of this relates specifically to me and my project, but it goes to show how key these conferences can be, how important. Here is information I would otherwise not have had. Here is fresh support. Here is new perspective. I still have many decisions to make, but it’s so nice to learn and connect and get a bigger picture. If you are an author and have an opportunity to attend a conference, I highly recommend you do so.

Reviewing 2015

There are still a couple more days. More could happen. But here’s my 2015 so far:

72 rejections*
1 script optioned (that then lapsed)
1 book contract
1 new Sherlock Holmes story released
1 film premiere
1 shortlisted story
1 R&R (revise and resubmit) from an agent
1 potential agent who hasn’t signed me yet

I could also add that I’m co-writing a script with a couple guys, though that seems to have fallen by the wayside in past months. I’ll check in with them again after the new year. Aside from that project, though, I’ve more or less stepped away from screenwriting and am focusing on my prose projects.

I also attended a couple writing conferences. One local and then the DFW Con, which was amazing. I would definitely recommend that conference to other writers.

Sufficient to say 2015 was a good year. A lot of progress. And the rejections, well, those just come with being a writer.

2016 promises to be interesting, too. Peter will be released on January 15 (go pre-order on the Shop page! the Kindle version is discounted until release day!), which seems like a fine way to start the year. Hopefully it will set the tone for even more progress as the year goes on.

My goals for 2016 are pretty simple:

1. Finish the revision on Changers
2. Find an agent or publisher for Changers
3. Get “Aptera” accepted somewhere (it’s the story that has been shortlisted for an anthology)
4. Write at least one more Sherlock Holmes story
5. Help Peter find an audience

I put Peter last not because it’s least important—far from it—but because it’s the most difficult of the goals to quantify. The other four can easily be checked off, but the Peter thing is about marketing and just trying to get the book out there. Which I’m working my tail off to do, but . . . It’s harder to say if/when one has been successful at something like that. Maybe once Peter has some reviews or has been featured on some blogs?

I’d like to do a signing at the very least. But first I have to convince the publisher to do a print version of the book.

I’d also like to attend at least one conference this year, maybe two. It would be even more amazing if I were to be a guest at a conference, but I don’t know if I’m at that level quite yet.

Finally, increased meditation is a bit of a goal for me this year as well. Keeping up with my exercise routine but also making time and space for . . . quiet. Listening to myself, getting in touch with my intuition. Tuning in. I was recently guided to do this, and I think it’s important.

Also, to improve my posture.

I guess there’s a lot I want to do in 2016! I’m actually quite looking forward to this year.

*The rejections are combined book (Peter and Changers) and script rejections.

The Wheel Turns, the Scales Balance

Yesterday (or early this morning, depending on where you are) there was a New Moon in Libra, the sign of the Scales. A New Moon is the beginning of a new cycle; the Full Moon is the culmination of a cycle. That doesn’t necessarily mean things start and end in two weeks, although it might. But it really depends on what project or goal is being started. It might take a month (a whole Moon cycle), or it might take those six months until there is a Full Moon in Libra.

In any case, I definitely got a taste of things. I had both good and bad news and some in-between. Very Libra, very balanced.

The good news: a short fiction piece of mine will be featured on the February 10th episode of No Extra Words.

The bad news: an agent who’d asked to read some of Changers gave me the “just didn’t connect” line yesterday.

The in-between: the small publisher looking at Changers acknowledged receipt and said it might take a few months to get back to me. They asked that I let them know if the status of the manuscript changes.

Also, I made great progress on the Peter edits yesterday and finished them up this morning. The manuscript is back with my editor now.

So, yeah, balance. Better to get good and bad news in a day than just bad. Hopefully there will be more good ahead as well.

Waiting.

(But not for Edward.) <—Points if you get it.

Sometimes I have to sort of make a list of everything I’m waiting on. I don’t know why, or what a list is going to do to help me. Really, one should kind of forget about the stuff their waiting on and go on and do other stuff while one waits. Unless it’s for fast food. In which case, it’s best to stay there and keep waiting.

Am I making sense?

So, look, back in late July I sent the first three chapters of Changers to the editor at Tor that I met at DFW Con. Now I’m still waiting to hear back from her. I’m also waiting to hear from another agent about Changers, though there is just as much chance I’ll never hear anything. And I’m waiting to hear back from the woman who seemed so keen to become my agent and had planned to have a contract by the end of September, but . . . ::shrug:: I emailed her when we got back from London but I haven’t heard back.

I’m waiting to hear whether my short story is selected for the Sirens anthology, and whether a flash fiction piece of mine is selected for a podcast.

And I’m waiting to hear from my editor regarding Peter. She emailed right before we left for London and said she’d have something for me in a week or two . . .

Sometimes, when I have so many irons in the fire, it becomes impossible for me to clear my head space and get any work done. So while I know it’s better to do just that, I find it really difficult because I so want to hear from someone, anyone. Preferably good news, of course. Otherwise I start to feel like I’m wasting all this time and energy and it’s all being thrown into a void. I begin asking myself why I bother. And then I can’t write because it feels futile.

So that’s where I’m at. Kind of stuck.

My An Agent Story

Okay, so I’m a bit superstitious and nothing is official, so I hesitate to call this a “How I Met My Agent Story.” Instead I’ll call it “How I Met An Agent.” Because even if it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s still a pretty good story.

So you may remember that my family and I went on a cruise at the beginning of August. (It’s okay if you don’t remember that; it was my vacation, after all.) The only reason this is important is because we had emptied our larders, so to speak, prior to our trip. Which meant the afternoon after we got home, I had to go to the grocery store and restock because we had almost literally nothing to eat in the house.

Now, I don’t usually go to the store in the afternoons because that’s always when it’s busiest. I prefer mornings or, in a pinch, later at night. But this was an emergency, so I went mid-afternoon and filled a cart. More than filled it, even, since stuff was ready to spill out if I took a turn too sharply.

Still, I was feeling snobbish about my food. For whatever reason that day I decided the pre-packaged cheese was not good enough. I wanted deli cheese. But when I swung by the deli, there seemed to be no one working the counter. There was just a man standing in front of the counter, and he had that dejected air of someone who’d been waiting a long time and didn’t see any end to it. I was about ready to give it up, but then I remembered I needed hot dog buns from the bread aisle (which is right by the deli), so I ran over to grab that. And when I came back, there was at last someone working behind the deli case.

I know. This is, like, the best story ever, right? Adventures in Grocery Shopping?

Anyway, I got in line. And decided I wanted some buffalo chicken as well as the cheese. (Because I know you’re dying to know exactly what I eat.) And then this woman came over and asked the lady ahead of me and I if we were in line or had been helped or what. I told her the lady ahead of me was being helped and I was still waiting.

Then this woman asked me the strangest question. “Do you make grilled cheese? Or have you in the past year or two?”

Okay, so my first thought was that she was some kind of secret shopper. I don’t know why a secret shopper would want to know if the customers can make grilled cheese, but . . . I dunno. It just felt like a test of some kind. But I said, “Well, my kids don’t like grilled cheese, but I make them for myself sometimes.” Which is true. I can’t for the life of me figure out why my kids won’t eat grilled cheese, though.

Turned out the lady had a question about the best kind of bread to use. She had a preference for wheat bread in general but remembered her mother only ever making grilled cheese on white bread. “Does it taste different on wheat?” she asked. And I admitted I don’t care for grilled cheese on wheat; it does taste different, and I prefer white. (Most of my friends say sourdough is best, especially with a sharp cheese, but then they’re all from San Francisco so they like sourdough everything.)

From there the conversation meandered as we waited for very slow deli service. The woman said something about how she traveled a lot, and how she didn’t much like the east coast, and I told her I’d lived in Massachusetts for 12 years and was so glad to live in California now. “Well, but I’m a writer,” I said, “so I supposedly can live anywhere.”

And she said, “How funny! I’m an agent.”

To which I jokingly replied, “Well, if you’re ever looking to sign a writer . . .”

She asked me about what I write, and we exchanged contact info. And we met the following week to chat some more. And I really, really like her. But I don’t want to jinx anything! Right now it’s an informal working relationship meant to be low pressure for both of us.

Still, it’s funny how things play out sometimes. Joyce (the agent) said she hadn’t even intended to go to the store that day; it was a last-minute decision on her part. And I almost skipped the deli counter entirely. All the right elements had to be in place for this strange, alchemical meeting.

People ask me from time to time, “How can you believe in Fate or Destiny or any of that frou-frou stuff?” But my life is made of a million little pieces of evidence; it is a mosaic constructed by the Universe, or God, or Whomever you like to think of as “Up There.” I have faith because I have seen miracles, and I have seen miracles because I have faith. It’s difficult to live with open eyes and heart and mind, but when you do, amazing things happen.

And if Joyce does become my agent, well, we have one of the best “How We Met” stories ever.

Also, just writing this makes me want to go eat grilled cheese.

DFW Writers Convention

Here in the Big D (that’s Dallas) for the writing convention and having a lovely time. It’s much smaller than the San Francisco conference, which has its pros and cons. On the pro side, I was able to actually talk to Kevin J. Anderson and Charlaine Harris.

With Kevin J. Anderson . . . And, no, I don't look at all like an insane stalker, right?
With Kevin J. Anderson . . . And, no, I don’t look at all like an insane stalker, right?

On the con side, much more limited class options and only one pitch session is included in the price of admission; there is the option to purchase more pitches, but I’ve done that with screenwriting to very limited results, so I’m not inclined to try it here.

Still, my pitch went well, and the editor requested three chapters. I’m going to polish them ’til they shine and then send them off to her.

Me Ra Koh did an informative talk on using social media. In particular, she showed us what to do on Facebook to reach more readers and gave suggestions for what should be on our Amazon author pages.

Kevin J. Anderson (see above) gave a great keynote on the “popcorn theory of success” in which he demonstrated how you never know which kernel might pop next or where it might land. In that way, keep as many kernels in the oil as possible. Don’t just put one kernel in and watch it and wait for it to pop.

There was a panel on asking agents questions, but I didn’t learn much that was new. I think agents get a lot of the same questions over many conferences. I did find it interesting, however, that most of the agents on this panel think “New Adult” is a passing fad that will probably be subsumed by the overall romance genre because most NA books are heavy on the romance angle.

The workshop on understanding rejection letters was really helpful, though. It was a workshop for people who’d queried and even had several requests by agents for their manuscripts only to be ultimately rejected. So where is the disconnect there? I learned that, based on the feedback I’ve received of how well written Peter is, and how much the agents like the story, character, setting, etc., it’s quite possible that they just don’t believe there’s a market for the book. It’s a moot point now, since Peter went to Tirgearr, but it’s nice to know that it [possibly] wasn’t me or my writing. The agents also said that, as a rule, the offer to submit something else to them is a genuine one, not just a courtesy. If an agent says, “Feel free to query me with your next project,” they usually see something in your writing and voice that they like. That makes me feel good, since I’ve had several such responses from agents.

Tonight is Charlaine Harris’ keynote and a reception. Should be fun. And tomorrow another day of workshops, though not as long. I fly home tomorrow evening, too, which means I’ll be wiped out. But so far it’s been a good conference.

Insecurities

I haven’t officially joined this whole Insecure Writers thing, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents anyway. I have seven agents reading Peter, which is nerve wracking in and of itself, but I’m mostly insecure about my ability to keep up with this site. I really, really want to finish “Hamlette” for all the readers who have been enjoying it, but my chief priority is to finish Changers before DFW Con . . . And I have production meetings for the scripts (via Skype and Google Hangouts, which means I have to put clothes on and brush my hair) . . . Ack! I’m approaching meltdown.

It doesn’t help that we’re in the last couple weeks of school. There are a ton of activities and things to get done, and then the kids will be home and my ability to write in peace will be stunted.

Yeah, I feel like I’m juggling and struggling to keep all the balls in the air.

I know I can do it, though. I know if I just breathe and focus, take each day as it comes, all will be well. It’s just so easy to get caught in the whirlwind—or make your own whirlwind as you turn circles.

Here’s to stopping and standing in the eye of the storm.

Little Update

I am still around, promise, and I hope to have another “Hamlette” at some point next week. Changers consumes all my writing time these days; I’ve just discovered I need to massively rewrite the last eight pages because it went in a direction that didn’t fit the world as I’ve built it. Shame, too, because it was a lovely piece. I tried to work it every which way to see if I could make the world fit the sudden turn that had cropped up, but no, too complicated. So the turn must be removed.

Meanwhile, I had a good week with Peter. It’s now out with seven agents, and I hope to hear something from someone soon. Of course, “soon” is relative; agents are busy, often have stacks of manuscripts to read (never mind their actual clients’ work). Three to six months is average, and I’ve heard some writers say it was more like nine months to a year before they ever heard back. I’ve been querying Peter for a little less than a year, and this revision only since February. I know I should be patient, but it’s hard! I had thought I would self-publish in June, but with new interest in the manuscript, unless all of them come back with a “no,” I’ll hold off until fall.