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When I started calling myself a ‘legit’ writer, I sought out a lot of people in the industry. Those adventures never went the way I wanted. More often than not, I left the meeting frustrated that I didn’t get what I asked for.
No one gave feedback on my query letter, but they’d tell me how to construct a good story. As much as I had failed in my perceived mission, I got the tools I needed to plot my course long-term. They were all fruitful meetings.
What held me back and made me frustrated was the need to achieve a finite goal at the expense of a broader one. The Law of Attraction, prayer, and to some extent Being Positive are all finite, specific requests. They’re the north star – fixed high above everything else. How would it be to set sail, when you could only utilize that one star — glossing over the waves, the angles of the wind, the sounds of the boat, and the salt in the air?
What can you ask the wind?
Can you make demands of the sea and be understood?
Fixating on one specific want may make you miss the aid you need, and greatly annoy your friends who deal with your venting.
I met my agent, Lynn Brown, completely by accident. At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, I did agent speed dating. Basically, you have three minutes to impress the agent you sit with. Not only was Lynn not planning to take queries at that conference, she wound up at speed dating as a place holder for someone else. While on line for a more well-known agent, I caught a glimpse of something shiny — her earrings, she always has fabulous earrings — and wandered over to her table. I just wanted to practice pitching my book. I had no idea who she was, and the agent’s name on the table clearly wasn’t hers.
She wasn’t planning to take submissions, and I took a risk hopping out of a long line to pitch to someone who wasn’t on my list. Neither of us had any expectations; but we discovered we have the same vision.
I couldn’t have planned that.
Whether it’s the business side — like marketing and networking — or the intuitive side – like listening to your characters — a wide net helps more than a narrow one. Hell, making friends follows this model. So too does the flow of your story. You can’t know where a relationship will lead. All you can do is keep your eyes peeled and mind open — ready for whatever comes.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
“But, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover, life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.”
― Marcel Proust
Two quick updates before I skitter back to the secret lair:
1. I’m going to be a speaker at Baycon in May! This year’s theme is close to my heart. From their web site: “2014 will see the 32nd incarnation of BayCon as we celebrate Honor – among enemies, the knight and the shadowknight – and all the other ways we find our own ethos of Honor.” More importantly, it falls on Memorial Day weekend, and there will be a march to remember the fallen men and women of the US military. The gravity of the holiday is somewhat tempered, for me, by the fact I’ll get to stand alongside some truly talented and innovative folk. Be sure to check them out and follow them all on Twitter.
2. My fantasy novel (the first in a series of four) has been picked up by an agent.
You guys, I couldn’t have done it alone. Lauren, Carson, Loretta, REDdog, Tom, Drew, Margit, shoe1000, and everyone else who has been reading this blog… Y’all are the ship and the star to sail ‘er by. I’m overcome with gratitude. Thank you for hanging out with me and keeping my spirits up through this process.
Tomorrow, our work begins in earnest; but tonight — we celebrate.
Today’s post is part a Writing Process Blog Hop I was invited into by one of my favorite bloggers, Lauren Sapala.
As part of the Hop, I’m answering four questions about my personal writing process and then passing the baton on to four other bloggers who smear their mad mental wanderings all over the walls.
Here’s my take on my (mostly) private writing life:
What are you working on?
I am finalizing a science fiction story about a woman sent to recover an objet d’art from a gang of thieves. When she discovers the artwork is actually a human being who can make dreams into a reality, she’s forced to choose between the safety of her crew and the independent thoughts of the human race.
How does your work differ from others in the genre?
It’s difficult to answer, because I feel as though I haven’t read enough to make that kind of call.
I will say this: I’m dark, but not cynical. I love gritty, hard stories. I love breakneck pacing and lots of action. I want people to suffer — but I want them to suffer and learn. I want them to suffer and grow. I want them to suffer and still find goodness within themselves. I’m not willing to sacrifice the last tiny sparkle of hope for the sake of shock value.
Why do you write what you write?
For this particular story, I was inspired by Facebook’s privacy controversies. Whenever we ‘like’ something, we get recommendations related to the original topic, and as a result we limit our horizons rather than experiencing that which rises from the chaos of random exposure. We shove ourselves further into self-contained bubbles. On top of that, we post anything and everything that’s on our minds from photographs to vague wishes about love. We volunteer for that trap. It made me wonder what happens to individuals — to our souls — when we submit our thoughts and dreams irrevocably to a collective.
How does your writing process work?
I speed through edits and critiques at any time of day; but when it comes to new material I can’t start until 8pm. I depend on music to orient me. When there’s a certain scene I’m trying to complete, or emotion I’m trying to capture, I need to make sure I’m listening to something that resonates with what I’m trying to express. For this story, I’ve been going back and forth between Hybrid and Joseph Gergis. Gergis got me up to 5,000 words in a single night. I need him to make a new album already.
Now, I pass the baton on to these four insanely talented writer friends:
Fantasy From the Desk of Laura Stephenson
Laura’s book, “A Complete Guide to Being Evil” is a fun story about death, devils and dirty dealings. Her blog is full of videos about writing, reading, and process. Somewhere on my blog is a picture of her murdering me while she’s dressed as a Norse goddess.
The Art of Almost by Tom O’Connell
Tom’s brilliant blog is an exploration of craft from all angles: the reader, the critic, the student, and the archivist. Check out his flash fiction and guest-speaker recaps. You’re sure to crack a grin.
Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons by Lillian Csernica
Kind and dedicated author Lillian Csernica blogs about challenges of maintaining a professional writing career while being a good mother for two special needs sons. Lillian writes romance, fantasy, historical fiction, as well as some sci-fi and horror.
TalkToYoUniverse by Juliette Wade
Juliette writes about linguistics and anthropology, science fiction and fantasy, point of view, grammar geekiness, and all of the fascinating permutations thereof. She also hosts Google hangouts that will tell you everything you could ever want to know about world-building! Videos and transcripts are broken up by topic.
There are a number of materials you need to have ready to go when you start pitching your work to an agent. A small, but significant part of this preparation is knowing your comp titles.
I stole a most eloquent definition for “Comp Titles” from Above the Treeline:
Comp Title: noun, Comparable (comp) titles are other already published books that are used as a comparison on which to base opening orders for a new title by helping to predict its performance.
This should be an apples-to-apples comparison; in which your work is similar in genre, target audience (kids/YA/adult), and perhaps even subject matter. Ideally, the example you choose is not only accurate, but an example of a successful book. Bonus points if it’s a successful book that the agent you’re pitching to has represented.
Sometimes it’s a clear match. I’m dating myself here, but the Bad News Ballet series and The Babysitter’s Club are pretty comparable to each other.
Sometimes you may have to fake it. For example, Ender’s Game and the first Harry Potter book both center on a young boy going off to school; but beyond that you’re going to have to make a really good argument for their similarities. Think about where these books get shelved in the bookstore (genre, age group they’re aimed at, etc), on top of what they’re actually about.
Researching comp titles is handy for both you and the agent. To the agent, the comp titles help them figure out how the book is marketed to publishers and also to the public. It indicates the business path your work is likely to follow.
Your business path is vital for your own knowledge as well. Looking for work that’s similar to yours gives you a much better sense of the market. For a lot of us, we write the stories we wish we had growing up. The market — the world, for that matter — has changed a lot since then. Best case scenario, you’ll start reading and learning from authors with whom you have a great deal in common. If you find work that’s extremely similar to yours; don’t fret. It means there are kindred spirits out there in authors — and an entire readership.
Pretty exciting, huh?
You can reverse-engineer it as well. Go to the books you really adore and grab one that has a lot in common with your own. Read the publishing information in the front. Read the author’s acknowledgements in the back. Amidst the friend and family names, their editor and agent are probably listed as well. If you can make an argument for it, that’s a comp title. Go to their website and see if they’re taking submissions.
Even if you fake it ’til you make it, getting others to read your work is the goal. If you can do that, the world is your oyster.
“We…we could be friends.’
We COULD be rare specimens of an exotic breed of dancing African elephants, but we’re not. At least, I’M not.”
— Neil Gaiman (Coraline)
“So obscure are the greatest events, as some take for granted any hearsay, whatever its source, others turn truth into falsehood, and both errors find encouragement with posterity.”
Autumn is nigh. The night gets longer, the air gets colder, and the rains come. The weather and landscape whirl like falling leaves into their last dance. Harvest time. Reaping time.
Your brain has been hard at work the past few years. You’ve got poems, you’ve got short-story ideas. You have novels to start, novels to continue, and novels to edit. How do you manage? How do you know which crops to store for winter, and which ones to toss in a pot for dinner tonight?
There are two methods I can think of: deadlines, and mosaics.
The deadline is simple. “I will finish ___ by __date.” Throw it up on a calendar, and work steadily toward it from now until then. Do it, done. Check.
The second is mosaic method. This is working on things out of order. With a number of stories vying for attention at once, you may want to try obliging them. Spend some time on a scene from your next book, even if you’re not there yet. If you saw something that reminded you of other worlds, write out a brief sketch. If you’re thinking about a short story idea, it might be difficult to devote your attention to editing. Let your intuition guide you wherever it will. Work on what really interests you now, in this moment. If you’re sad, write sadness. If you’re pissed, write violence. The last chapters will come when they’re ready.
Juggling multiple projects may be intimidating, but it’s also rewarding. Don’t feel like you need to bottle up your ideas, and most importantly: never, EVER stop. Figure out which method works for you, then keep going.
“Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you’re lucky.”
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
You are the architect of your own universe. You are the president. You are the general. You are king and queen. You are the alpha and the omega. As such, you have veto power. You can say no.
This is especially true in first-round editing.
My understanding of the writing process is in the following six stages:
1. Vomit letters onto the paper.
2. Arrange the letters into some kind of cohesion.
3. Walk away.
4. Come back and look at them again, edit until it all makes perfect sense.
5. Hand it off to someone else to read and comment on.
6. Get it back, make changes so that the picture in their head matches the picture in yours.
Everyone I’ve given my manuscript to has a different view on it. I’ve received corrections from all angles from grammar, sentence structure, stylistic suggestions, and organizational suggestions; all the way up to core concept ‘problems’. Of the five people I gave it to, only two of them liked the story.
Constructing each edit is like learning a new kata. You need to learn the moves before you learn the sequence. Once you have the sequence, you learn the rhythm, and once you have the rhythm before you learn nuance and application.
If you do all that without mastering your footwork you’ll be left without a leg to stand on.
Your foundation determines the changes you must make. Whether it’s a sense of balance, a core plot idea or a solid character, all of your decisions should remain true to that foundation.
If you want a graceful, flowing story, and your critic only likes explosive performances, then you must take their criticism with a grain of salt and move on. Hearing that you should yell louder won’t serve you, but suggestions that smooth out the transitions will. You have a responsibility to your story to train and condition it so that it can be the best it can be. Use your edits to refine and clarify what YOU want to say.
If the image in your head matches the image in your reader’s head, you are exactly where you need to be.
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
– Dita Von Teese
“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”