Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Do Your Worst

Originally published on my website on 11/23/10 (www.lisalregan.com)

I read an article in Writers Digest once about how to beat writer’s block. I remember exactly one thing from that article which has served me well through the years. It was a quote from Raymond Carver. Incidentally and probably unfortunately for me, I haven’t read anything by Raymond Carver. I hope to remedy that one day. Anyway, the quote was this:
“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

In other words, to jumpstart your story, put something outlandish in the mix and see what happens. You might not keep it in the final draft but it might just get the juices flowing again. I’ve done this both literally (i.e. an actual man coming through the door with a gun in his hand) and figuratively (i.e. something completely outrageous plot-wise) and it really does work. This is probably the best piece of advice for jumpstarting your story I’ve ever read.

I tried doing that with WIP-1, the work I’m totally stuck on, but the problem with that book is that there are lots of men with guns coming through doors and lots of outlandish things going on so I actually can’t think of anything unusual enough to jumpstart THAT story. But I’m still working on WIP-2.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had writer’s “block” per se. I’ve had paralysis for sure. I’ve had crises of confidence which caused paralysis. I’ve had awkwardness. That happened to me last night. It’s been a very bad few days for writing—holidays coming up, family things to take care of, work, sick child—so last night I thought, “Let me just get one small scene out of the way.” It was almost all dialogue, how badly could I screw that up? I was very tired, knew I should go to bed. I knew that if I was going to spend fifteen minutes writing a scene there were probably fifty other things I SHOULD be doing other than that. Housework left undone. Bills left unpaid. Emails left unanswered. But that’s the thing. If you never take that fifteen minutes, your book never gets written.

So I did it. I got out my pen and paper and went to work. It felt horrible. It felt like the most awkward piece of writing I’ve ever done. But I kept going because I know that I can edit it or even write a whole new version later. Incidentally, I reread it tonight and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. Most of it will probably end up in the final draft.

That leads me to the second best piece of advice about writing that I’ve ever read and this one I’ve read in various forms from various sources and basically it comes down to this: just keep going. Push through. Keep writing. Just do it. Get it out. Get it on the page. It’s good advice. Because you’re going to spend hours and hours revising and editing later before you come up with a viable draft. So do your worst.

Have a man walk through the door holding a gun and then do your worst.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Perfect Writing Space

Originally published on my website on 11/10/10

When I was in high school I had this desk that was built into one of the walls of my bedroom. As I recall, I chose that bedroom because the desk was built into the wall. It was pretty cool. It was a decent size too. I wrote two novels at that desk. Crappy, young adult novels that actually dealt with some pretty adult themes. (I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could finally start writing about adult stuff.)

If you’re the single person who reads this blog (hah hah) then you know from my first post that between 18 and 22 I had a “crisis of confidence”. Those were college years for me. Well they were college/stop to work/go back to college/stop to work/go back to college while working years. I lived in a number of places and during that time I always, always had a desk. It was usually in my bedroom. I never used it. Not to write anyway. I piled lots of stuff on it. The ubiquitous desk was always good for holding my stuff. But I didn’t write while sitting at the desk.

Since I was eleven and started writing I have always—with the exception of a few scenes from Finding Claire Fletcher—written my fiction longhand and typed it up later. I’m just more comfortable that way. So during the crisis of confidence years I wrote most of my stuff sitting in bed. Later on when I had my first grown-up apartment with a spare room I set up an office. Someone bought me a great desk. I set it all up.

And then I piled stuff on it.

It was shortly after I got that desk that I started writing The Space Between which I consider my first complete adult novel. It will forever remain under my bed. It was quite long and very much all over the place with far too many characters and too many subplots but geez, it was fun to write. Did I write that book in my brand new office at my brand new desk? Nope. I wrote it sitting on the couch, sitting in bed. I was completing my undergrad at the time and to supplement my income I would house/dog-sit for friends. I wrote a great deal of that book sitting on other peoples’ couches or their decks or in their backyards. Sometimes by their pools. I wrote that book on pieces of looseleaf paper that I kept in a folder.

After I finished that book, I moved into another apartment and I moved my great desk into a new room that got lots of light. I set it all up and then piled more stuff on it. I bought myself a “writing chair”. It was quite comfortable but not so comfortable that you’d fall asleep in it. I set it near the desk and that’s where I wrote the beginning of Finding Claire Fletcher.

Finding Claire Fletcher was such a pleasure to write and the words came so fast and so furiously that I often couldn’t wait to be seated in my writing chair. At the time I was working as a Certified Nurse Assistant and a graduate assistant as I made my way through grad school. I had to work a lot of doubles which meant time away from my writing chair—time away from Claire—so I kept pieces of scrap paper in the pockets of my scrubs along with a pen. Whenever I had a break, even if I was just waiting for a resident to come out of the bathroom, I’d whip out my scrap paper and start writing. On my breaks (15 minutes before lunch, lunch and 15 minutes after lunch) I’d write on my scrap paper. I eventually did start sitting at that desk. As I said, Finding Claire Fletcher came to me so quickly that I could barely get it out fast enough so I was able to type many of the scenes while sitting at my desk.

I moved just after completing the first draft of Finding Claire Fletcher and my new space wasn’t big enough for me to have an office but I did still have a desk.

And I piled stuff on it.

I wrote the first hundred pages of an as-yet-unfinished project on a legal pad while sitting in bed or sitting on the porch. Then I went to work on Aberration. Much of that was written in the same fashion. I had to take a break from writing when I got pregnant because the pregnancy was a bit difficult. After I had my baby and established a routine I returned to Aberration, determined to finish it. After all those years of abandoned projects I am very serious about finishing whatever I start—at least getting one finished draft down on paper. My fiancĂ© and I bought a house that needed a lot of work so there was no desk this time and certainly no office. But by that time I thought “desk schmesk—I never use it anyway!”

I wrote most of Aberration in my car. If I got to work ten or fifteen minutes early I’d sit in my car and write in a small notepad that I always keep in my purse. My fiancĂ© and I would drive to the store and the baby would fall asleep in the carseat so I’d stay in the car while he ran into the store. Again I’d pull out my notebook and get to work. Even later, when I typed up what I’d written I did it sitting in bed with my laptop after my child fell asleep. That’s how all my revisions were done.

I’ve read a lot of articles about having a good writing space or writing room. Writers’ Digest did a piece a couple of years ago about it. I remember the section about Lisa Gardner’s writing room because it was really nice but also because I love her work. I would love to have an office again—a writing room—and one day when my life is less hectic and I have a little more space I will have one.

But there’s no point in having a writing space if you’re never in it. My life is busy. The writing time I get is usually time I have to steal—writing while my child is asleep, writing in the doctor’s office while I’m waiting to be seen, writing in the car if I have five or ten minutes before I have to go into work, writing well into the night after my family is asleep, after I should be asleep. I can guarantee that as things stand now even the most beautiful writing room would go unused. I think if I placed too much importance on a writing space right now, it would be too easy for that to become an excuse not to write. I can’t make it to my writing space today so I won’t be able to write. Pretty soon, a year would pass and I’d have written nothing. But I have ideas, so many ideas floating around in my head. Whole scenes, whole novels. They are in there. I just need the time to put them down on paper.

If I wait for the perfect space, it will never get done. So I don’t have a space. I make a space out of wherever I am when I can get a few uninterrupted moments. It’s not as fun as it was when I had a space and a little more time to devote to writing but it’s still exhilarating. It still keeps me sane.

The other night after my family had fallen asleep I broke out my little notebook, settled onto my couch and started writing. It was hard at first. The words didn’t seem to come very easily. It felt awkward, wooden and uncomfortable but I pushed through and after about 10 minutes it started to feel better, the words started to flow more easily and I began to enjoy writing. I would say to other writers like me not to wait for the perfect space or even the perfect time. Don’t wait for your life to get less hectic. Make the time, steal it if you have to and don’t be concerned with the perfect space. Sure, it’s fabulous if you have it and have the time to use it but if you’re unpublished and unproven and you just love to write like me, make your own space and make it wherever you see an opportunity to put some words down on paper.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Word About Word Count

Originally published on my website on 11/3/10 (www.lisalregan.com)

When I finished Finding Claire Fletcher it was 175,000 words. I made no attempt to cut it down before querying agents. I had no idea what the appropriate word count was for a crime/suspense novel (or any novel for that matter) nor did I even realize that there was such a thing as an appropriate word count for a book. I’m someone who likes long books. The longer the better. Because if I really love the book and don’t want to put it down then I’m not going to want it to end. I will want it to continue so the more pages I have to read, the happier I am! I’ve actually NOT bought books because they looked too short. I’ve picked up books in bookstores, read the back of them, thought they were interesting and then saw how many pages they were and concluded that they were too short for me. I thought, “What’s the point of reading this? It’s so short!” So when I wrote my own book “appropriate” word count never entered my mind.

Until I started querying!

I learned the hard way that the range for a book like FCF is between 80,000 and 110,000, the shorter the better. Looking back I’m shocked that any agent would request my manuscript at 175,000 words but 4 or 5 agents did and a couple of them really liked it. Of course they said it was far too long. I cut it down to 132,000 words and had no luck querying.

When I finally got it down to 108,000 words I used the same exact query that I had been using all along and within 2 weeks of querying I had EIGHT requests for the manuscript. As I said, I used the exact same query I had used when it was 175,000 words and when it was 132,000 words—the only thing I changed in my query was the word count and the response I got was a lot better than it had been before.

So for those writers out there who are as long-winded as I am—it might help to really cut your book down. You might think it cannot be done. You might not WANT to do it (I didn’t!) but it can be done and your book will be better for it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Agent John Doe

This was originally published on my website on 10/29/10 (www.lisalregan.com)

As I said in my Agent Jane post, I started querying for Finding Claire Fletcher April 12, 2006 and the book was 175,000 words long. I had looked up a number of literary agents and agencies on the internet. I queried Agent Jack Doe at a particular agency.

On 5/1/06 I got a letter from Agent John Doe saying that Agent Jack no longer worked for that agency but Agent John would be happy to read my manuscript. I was genuinely surprised. From everything I'd read, sending a query to an agent who was no longer at that agency was akin to throwing your query directly in the garbage. I sent my manuscript to Agent John immediately.

On 6/23/06 I got an email from Agent John who said that in many ways the book was a home run. He did, however, have significant concerns. Then he laid them out in a lengthy email. I had known that the book was too long and that was one of the problems. The other problems he listed should have discouraged me but instead I felt excited. Reading his suggestions I could instantly see all the places where the book could be improved--greatly improved. I wrote him back and asked if he would be willing to read a revised draft of the book based on his suggestions. Agent John emailed me on 6/26/06 saying he would be happy to do so.

I revised the book significantly--changing plot and cutting it down to 132,000 words. On 8/23/06 I sent it back to him. On 9/26/06 he emailed me back saying that it was much better--he just wanted to put together a list of editorial suggestions to smooth it out. He said he'd have his comments to me by the end of the month.

On 11/2/06 I emailed Agent John to see if he'd made any progress. He wrote back that day and said he had not. I emailed him again on 11/20/06 for a status and he said he was on vacation but would get to it when he returned. He emailed me on 12/11/06 to say he still hadn't gotten to my book.

On 1/17/07 I emailed him again for a status. He wrote back immediately saying he hadn't gotten to it yet but he was opening his own agency and wanted to take me with him as a potential client. I agreed. I emailed him on 2/20/07 for a status. Agent John emailed back immediately to say he had not gotten to my manuscript yet. I waited until 4/20/07 to check in with him again. He wrote back immediately assuring me that I was still on his radar but he was very busy and hadn't gotten to it yet.

I waited six months and emailed him on 10/3/07 and again on 12/13/07. On 12/14/07 he emailed me and said that my manuscript was within view on his desk but he hadn't gotten to it yet. I emailed him again on 3/14/08, 6/13/08 and 8/27/08 to see where he was with it and got no response. I emailed him again on 10/3/08 and he wrote back that day saying that since it had been so long, he was going to pass. At the time it never occurred to me to ask him to refer me to another agent.

Although he rejected me before Agent Jane did, I knew in that case as well that he wasn't going to offer representation. Again, it was pretty clear after six months that he would never get to my manuscript. But what did it cost me to email him every few months and check in? Besides, I was still querying other agents, still working on revisions and living my life. Overall Agent John was extremely nice and gracious and for the most part prompt in responding to my inquiries. In 2010 I queried him for my second book but got no response at all.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Agent Jane Doe

This was originally published on my website on 10/27/10 (http://www.lisalregan.com/)

I sent out my very first queries for Finding Claire Fletcher on April 12, 2006. I’m quite embarrassed to say now that the book was 175,000 words. That’s right. 175,000 words. That is not a typo. While I had researched how to write a good query letter, I had not researched book length. Later, much later when many opportunities had passed me by, I would learn that the ideal length for a novel is between 80,000 and 110,000 words. From everything I’ve read the shorter the better.

Still I sent out a handful of queries that day. On 4/25/06 I got an email from Agent Jane Doe’s assistant, asking for the complete manuscript. I sent it immediately. On 4/27/06 I got an email from Agent Jane asking if she could talk to me on the phone. That day we spoke on the phone. She said she was halfway through the book. She loved it, loved how gritty it was. She had a few suggestions which I agreed with. She said she’d be in touch.

On 5/1/06 Agent Jane emailed me to say she had finished the book and had some editorial suggestions. She wanted to put together some notes for me. I was fine with that. On 5/17/06 she emailed to say she had started the notes but hadn’t finished them yet.

A few months went by. I got a list of suggestions from another agent (see my post about Agent John Doe to follow) which I used to revise Finding Claire Fletcher. On 8/23/06 I emailed Agent Jane to see if she’d read the revised version of the novel since I hadn’t heard from her in 3 months. She said sure and I sent the new draft along.

On 9/29/06 I emailed her to see if she had had a chance to read it. (I had cut 43,000 words by the way). She emailed me back that day to say that she hadn’t but would get to it over the weekend.

I didn’t hear from Agent Jane for a couple of months so I emailed her on 12/13/06 asking if she’d had a chance to review the new draft. She said she had not and would get back to me sometime in January.

A year went by. That’s right. A whole year. I was having a baby so I wasn’t overly concerned with what was going on with Finding Claire Fletcher although I did continue to query other agents.

On 12/7/07 I emailed Agent Jane again and said, hey remember me? You never got back to me. Will you read the new draft or what? She wrote back asking me to send it to her again which I did.

On 1/9/08 I emailed her to see if she had made any progress. She responded the next day that she would be in touch with me in a few days. I emailed her again on 1/17/08 because I had not heard from her. She wrote back that day saying she was in the middle of my book and would get back to me soon. She suggested at this point that I query other agents since she did not know when she would be able to get back to me. I had already been doing this. I had already figured out that Agent Jane was a lost cause but still, when you’re a desperate aspiring writer you’ll take any avenue that is open to you. I figured as long as she wasn’t rejecting me outright, it wasn’t costing me anything to continue pestering her.

I waited till 4/28/08 before emailing her again. I asked if she had read it. She said she was “the absolute worst” because she had not read it but she had just had her assistant send it to her Kindle. Agent Jane would be in touch.

On 6/28/08 I emailed again for a status and got the same thing—she hadn’t read it but it had just been sent to her Kindle.About 9 months went by. I revised Finding Claire Fletcher again. I had also written another book and had been querying other agents but once I finished my second book, I figured I’d give old Agent Jane another try. In terms of Finding Claire Fletcher, getting representation with Agent Jane was a wash but I figured she might like the new book. So on 3/17/09 I emailed her—gave her a brief history of our correspondence and pitched the new book.

On 4/22/09 she emailed me back saying she loved my writing and would love to take a look at the new manuscript. I sent both manuscripts to her. On 6/29/09 I emailed her for a status. On 6/29/09 her assistant wrote to me to say that Agent Jane was reviewing my submissions and would be in touch.

On 7/1/09 I got an email from Agent Jane saying she was reading Finding Claire Fletcher but that she was stuck on how to sell it. She said it was too violent. She wanted to know how I would classify it and who the readership would be. She said she was starting my second book. I wrote her back that day listing several authors whose work I thought was comparable (including one of her own bestselling clients) and who I thought was likely to read it. I also gave her a lengthy list of bestselling authors whose work is far more violent than my own and gave her specific examples from about five or six books. I also suggested to her that the violent content could be toned down if necessary although I wasn’t sure that it should be toned down anymore than it already had been.

On 9/1/09 I emailed Agent Jane for a status. The next day I got an email from her assistant saying she was still considering my submission and would be in touch. I emailed Agent Jane again on 11/2/09, 12/2/09, 1/6/10 and 2/8/10.

Finally on 2/9/10 I got another email from her assistant asking if I had made revisions to either book and would I please re-send both manuscripts.

Come on now.

Anyway, I finally got the rejection on 2/12/10 almost four years after my initial query. Agent Jane said she liked both books SO MUCH (her emphasis, not mine). She said she felt torn because she was not sure how to sell them. (Although I queried her because I had read three books by one of her clients who was a bestseller and whose books were very similar to mine). She regretted not being able to offer representation, said it was not an easy decision to make and that she’d been trying to make a decision for a long time. (Really? A long time? You don’t say.)
She referred me to another agent who read Finding Claire Fletcher and rejected me in two months. He just didn’t fall in love with it, he said.

In all honesty I knew that Agent Jane was not going to offer me representation after the first six months. It’s like dating. You know what’s really going on when you’re hot and heavy with someone for a month and then they stop calling you. You don’t expect to marry that person. When years pass and you’re the only one calling it’s pretty clear that the “relationship” isn’t going anywhere. But as I said, I had nothing to lose. She didn’t reject me. Other than the five minutes it took me every few months to send her an email, I lost nothing. Of course I’m really not sure why she wouldn’t just reject me up front. Only Agent Jane can answer that. But it wasn’t as if I was sitting in front of my computer for four years with bated breath, waiting for her to get back to me. I was meeting the man of my dreams, having a baby, working full-time, writing another book, revising and querying other agents.

Agent Jane is just one of my experiences in Literary Agent Purgatory or what I referred to in my last post as A REALLY LONG TIME.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Where I Learned to Write

Originally published on my website on 10/8/10 (www.lisalregan.com)


During my agent search, which gratefully has come to an end (Yay!), I found an agent’s website where they asked querying writers to include in their query “where you learned to write”. As a fiction writer this is pretty interesting to me. Where did I learn to write? The best answer I can come up with is: everywhere.

My father has long had this philosophy about education that goes something like this: "Wherever you go, the education is there. It's up to you to get it." He meant that whether you go to a swanky private school or your neighborhood public school, education is going to be offered but that it's not necessarily up to the school or the teachers to make sure you are absorbing everything they have to offer or to make sure you're getting the most out of what's there--it's up to YOU to make sure you're absorbing it. It's up to YOU to make sure that you are getting the most out of what's offered. When I got to college I really saw this at work because I was a diligent student and so my experience during a semester at Community College of Philadelphia was equally as rewarding as it was during the semester I spent at Bucknell University. I'm not saying some schools aren't better than others and I'm sure that's not what my dad was getting at either. The point he was trying to make was that the quality and quantity of your education depends largely on you and how much you want it.

I never took a writing class but I figured out how to write. Like my dad said, the tools were out there--it was up to me to find them and study them. I learned a few things in school--I had English classes just like everyone else but when I was in high school and really discovered my love of writing it was up to me to hone and develop my skills. It was up to me to find out more about writing well. I approached a couple of teachers over the years, mostly at the insistence of my parents. I had written a few short stories and my folks thought that the teachers at school could help me somehow. But the teachers in high school could not be less interested. I got blown off quite a bit. My dad's words came back to me. It's out there. It's up to you to get it. So I read books about writing. I read the kinds of books that I wanted to write and tried to figure out what made them so good. I subscribed to Writer's Digest.

During high school I lived with my mother and stepfather while school was in session. All of my parents were great champions of me pursuing my writing. In my sophomore year I had written a terrible young adult novel and I was really in the throes of writing crappy young adult novels. My stepfather was away a great deal of that year for work. He usually came home on the weekends but for about 9 months he was in North Carolina on a job site. For my birthday that year, he made a special trip home, driving the 9 hours through the middle of the night so that he could surprise me the morning of my birthday with my gift--an entire SET of books on writing put out by Writer's Digest. There were about 8 of them and he had bought every single one of them. It took me awhile but I read them all.

In college I learned a lot more about writing and I did learn it from my teachers: Dr. Elaine Atkins, Bill Baker, Dr. Glyne Griffith, Dr. Julie Vandivere, Dr. Tina Entzminger, Dr. Ervene Gulley, Dr. Stephen Whitworth and the professor who taught me the most about writing: Dr. Danny Robinson.

Of course now I'm not writing great literary works--I'm writing novels and I'm writing them for fun. I'm not trying to be the next Nathaniel Hawthorne or the next Ralph Ellison. I'm just telling stories. But I learned to tell stories from a number of places and people. Whenever I read a book I am learning something about writing. I like to take my time when I read a book (which is not always easy if the book is a real page-turner) because I like to watch what the author is doing in the book so that I might learn something new about the craft. I hope I never stop learning. I hope all the things I learn will make me a better writer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Query Stats

This was originally published on my website on 9/29/10, a little over a week before I landed my agent:

Finding Claire Fletcher
Started Querying: April 12, 2006
Total Number of Queries to Date: 130
Total Number of Fulls Requested: 8
Number of Referrals to other agents: 2
Number of Personalized Rejections Based on Query Only: 4
Number of Drafts the Book Has Been Through Since 2006: 4

Aberration
Started Querying: March 17, 2009
Total Number of Queries to Date: 85
Total Number of Fulls Requested: 4
Total Number of Partials: 2
Number of Personalized Rejections Based on Query Only: 4
Total Number of Drafts: I’m revising now!

I read once that you haven’t even gotten started finding an agent until you have 125 rejections under your belt. So it looks like now that I’m at 129 with Finding Claire Fletcher, I am finally beginning.

When I finished the first draft of Finding Claire Fletcher in 2006 I had no idea how flawed it was. Sure, I knew it needed work but I was too close to it. I only knew that I had loved writing it and I believed it had some potential. This was before I started reading agent blogs, before it occurred to me to look around online for critique partners. I don’t remember there being as many online resources in 2006 as there are today. I asked my friends and family to read the book and they did but only had good things to say. They probably didn’t want to hurt my feelings but they didn’t realize that holding back was hurting my writing and I care more about my writing being good than I do about my feelings getting hurt.

I did three weeks of intense research on how to write a query letter and I came up with one I felt would work. I started querying April 12, 2006. Within two weeks I had two requests for full manuscripts. Within a month I had three. I was so excited. I checked my email every ten seconds. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t concentrate on anything else. This was it! After reading so many horror stories from other aspiring writers I hadn’t really believed I would find an agent so soon but they wanted my book and they liked it.

Agent A contacted me after I had mistakenly sent my query to the attention of an agent who was no longer with the agency. He asked if he could have a look at Finding Claire Fletcher. I sent it along. After a few months he sent me a long letter that started out with “In many ways, this novel is a home run . . . “ Then he went on to give me a long list of suggestions/concerns about the plot. Maybe I should have been crushed but I was elated—when I read his suggestions I could see the flaws in the plot and other areas and I immediately envisioned how to fix it. I have always said that I just want the work to be the best that I am capable of producing—I don’t care how I get there. It’s about the work, not about me. So I read this email with a growing sense of exhilaration. I wrote Agent A back and asked if he would read a revised version based on all of his suggestions. He graciously agreed.

I tore the book apart and changed the second half of it completely. I resubmitted it to Agent A. When he got back to me he said it was definitely much improved but he had some editorial suggestions/concerns that he wanted to put together and run by me. He said he wanted to make sure we were on the same page before he signed me as a client. I didn’t say this to him—maybe I should have—but I thought, “Well as long as you don’t suggest something outlandish like putting UFOs in the book, I’m going to go with whatever you say!”

Later Agent A started his own agency and asked if he could take me with him as a potential client. Of course I agreed because that seemed so promising. Three years passed. I kept in touch periodically to see where he was in terms of his list of editorial concerns. I was last on his list of priorities—clients come first—and that was okay. I understood. Agent A was extremely gracious and honest with me and I always appreciated that he took the time in his initial rejection to give me so much feedback on my work. But after three years I pressed him and he passed altogether.

Agent B told me she loved it, loved how gritty it was and wanted to know if I would talk to her on the phone. I spoke with her by telephone and she made some suggestions in terms of revising the book, all of which I found reasonable. She wanted to know how fast I could write. When she finished the book she said that she loved it but she had some suggestions and editorial concerns. She wanted to go back through the book and make a list for me. A year passed and I didn’t hear from her although I emailed her every 2-3 months and she always responded promptly, apologizing for taking so long and promising to get to my book. Three more years passed. During that time I revised the book on my own and asked her to read the revised versions which she agreed to do. I’m not sure that she ever did. When she finally passed, she said the decision was extremely difficult for her since I was a great writer and she loved the project. She referred me to another agent who read the book and said he just didn’t fall in love with it the way he had hoped. His rejection, thankfully, only took about a month.

In 2008 I got a request for a full from Agent C who passed it to Agent D who passed it finally to Agent E (all in the same agency). Agent E told me that she thought about the characters for weeks after reading it. She too, wanted to put together some editorial concerns to share with me before proceeding.

Starting to see a pattern?

When an agent tells you they need to put together some editorial concerns, it means two things: NO as in they are going to pass on your book (they really don’t have time to do this, especially for someone who is not a client) and most importantly, YOUR BOOK ISN’T READY.
(By the way, Agent E held onto my book for a year and a half before referring me to another agent who also passed because he just didn’t like it.)

The biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is that the worst mistake you can make is submitting your book before it’s ready. How do you know when it is ready? I don’t really know.

I went out and found a number of critique partners—all great writers who were kind and completely honest—who read Finding Claire Fletcher and gave me fantastic suggestions. They diagnosed what was wrong with my book. I used their suggestions to revise AGAIN and now I think that the book is better than it has ever been. It is a different book. It feels like a different book. It is shorter, more polished, the pacing is different, the plot is different. I think it might just work this time. So I start the process anew and hope that I can find an agent who agrees with me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

History of the Would-Be Novelist

Most of this was originally published on my website on 7/10/09:

I got the writing bug sometime around the time I turned 10 or 11. I remember being eleven years old and sitting in my mother's dining room with an ancient typewriter, plugging away at my first book. Before I was out of high school I had written three full-length novels. When I say full-length I mean that they were all over 100,000 words. They were terrible of course. Really ridiculous stuff. But I loved writing them and I knew what I wanted to do not just in my life but in spite of whatever else was going on in my life. If I never publish a word I will still continue to write until I croak.

Between eighteen and twenty-two I had a huge crisis of confidence. I didn't write much and everything I did write was quickly abandoned. I have the beginnings of probably five novels from that period of time. By twenty-two I managed to push past all my insecurities and I just started writing, full steam ahead, head down, pushing through, powering ahead. The result was what I consider my first "grown-up" book called The Space Between. It was a 179,000 word opus. I wrote the entire book on pages of looseleaf, typing it up later. I was going to college full-time and working 35 hours a week but the book came to me practically whole. I couldn't get it out fast enough. Still, it took me two years to finish it since I had to write in my spare time.

Today I consider that book to be what brilliant author Heather Sellers calls an "under-the-bed" book. To me the book is just wonderful--I treasure it and cherish it--but it's not saleable. It was good practice though.Before I was even finished writing The Space Between I wrote the first chapter of Aberration. Then the very first line of Finding Claire Fletcher popped into my head and one night I sat down and wrote the first 65 pages of that book in one sitting. The main character commanded all of my attention and I gave it to her.

Again, it took me two years to write the whole book. I worked full-time as a Certified Nurse Assistant while going to graduate school and I wrote the book on pieces of scrap paper I kept in my pockets at all times. If I had a day off I spent it entirely in front of my computer--sometimes writing for 12 hours without taking a break (except to pee of course). In March 2006 I had a draft I thought was ready to be submitted to literary agents.I did a few weeks of research mostly via the internet to determine how best to land myself an agent. I labored over my query letter. Finally I started querying.

I had good responses but didn't get an agent right away. During the four years I sought representation for FCF I made three major revisions of the manuscript. I think that had the book that it is now been the one I submitted to the agents who asked to read it in 2006 and 2007, I would probably have had an agent sooner. But I kept plugging away.

While I was doing revisions, moving from a small town to a big city, finding a new job, working full-time, meeting the man of my dreams and having a baby I returned to writing Aberration which took me two years to finish. (So I am seeing a pattern here--it takes me two years to write a whole novel in my spare time.) Aberration was much more of a struggle to write; it didn't come as easily as the last two books but ultimately I feel satisfied with how it turned out.

I am presently doing a revision of that at my agent's direction.