My Not-So-Meandering Path Towards Publication

It’s cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be an author. I tried to find another, better paying career path – I did, really – but nothing held my attention like writing. My eclectic employment situations over the past ten years holds the truth of that. I bounced from retail to foreclosure to secretary to data entry to property assessment to web training development. The only consistency over the years is that at every job I wrote on my lunch and breaks. Daily.

Persistence. It’s another tired but true cliché that stubborn, consistent persistence is how you break into the publishing industry. That, and a little bit of luck. My wife will the be first to tell you I am stubborn af*. And I’ll be the second.

Since graduating college, I’ve averaged writing a book every 1.5 years. Of course, some of those were rewrites – and re-rewrites – of old stories. And after a few years, I started querying. At first, it was more just to see what would happen. I made all of the beginner’s mistakes and received only form rejections.

Then I had a mini mid-life crisis. I was years out of college with nothing to show for it. It was not too late to go back to school, it was not too late to find a Real Career Path(TM)**. But if I did, if I committed to extra education and a Job That Mattered, I wouldn’t have the time or the mental energy leftover to write. I had to decide.

It was a surprisingly hard choice. I love writing, but every successive year that I had nothing to show for all the hours I put into it I felt like more of a failure. Where would I be if it never went anywhere? What would I tell people when they asked me what I did? Who was I to think that out of the thousands, millions of aspiring authors, I could be one of the few made it?

But then again, if I didn’t try, if I didn’t throw everything I had at it – I would never know.

I chose to put writing at the center of my life and treat it like a profession – because it was. I made plans and set deadlines and from there devised daily word count goals to meet those deadlines. I frequently sailed right past my personal deadlines, of course, but I was rarely more than a month off.

I set up a system of writing, rewriting, editing, beta-ing, and querying, each stage with its own expected timeframe and deadline. I returned to the metaphorical drawing board for querying, researched the heck out of it, read Query Shark’s entire archive (twice [thrice]) and revamped my approach.

My queries improved and I got a few personal rejections. I kept writing. I kept querying. And then I took everything I had learned, wrote TIC, and queried again. After two months and many rejections, quite literally one week after I had decided to let TIC go and write something new, I received an offer of representation from my now Awesome Possum agent.

I’m writing all this not to say, hey lookit what I got, but hey lookit what I did. The cliché is tired because it’s true: persistence is key***. It’s important. So is trying new things and continually (constantly) learning. Write. Rewrite. Query. And then look critically at what you wrote and move on to the next project. No word or sentence or paragraph or novel written is ever wasted, because you are constantly learning from what you’ve done.

Some writers sell their first book. Most don’t. I sold my third****. Others sell their fifth or eighth or nth. Keep going. Practice. Read. Write. Repeat.

 

* AF = as foretold, or at least that’s what the Kids These Days(TM) tell me.

** I.E. Microbiology, like my wife, or accounting – which I might have (definitely) considered.

*** Necessary caveat is necessary: the privilege & luck of having the time to write is equally important.

**** Third distinct and separate novel that I wrote as an adult and consider Whole and Complete.

 

Exciting News!!!

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few weeks because I wanted to make absolutely certain it was Official(TM), but but BUT:

I HAVE AN AGENT!

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Rainbows! Rainbows for everyone!
I am proud to be represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary Agency.

I still can’t quite believe those words. Honestly, any time the words “my agent” comes out of my mouth, I have to stop and giggle. Yes, giggle. I’m still a little how the f— did this happen?? but I know the answer to that.

And it goes a little like this:

I started writing The Impossible Contract in June of last year and finished a massive rewrite and subsequent rounds of edits sometime in March. I let it cool, then sent it to my first round of betas in April, and after hearing back from them and tweaking, sent out my first round of queries. The first round were all rejections, so I thoroughly revised my query and tried again.

Suddenly, I was no longer getting form rejections. I received a full request a few weeks in with my new query, then a partial, then another full. I was over the moon, even after a rejection on the partial, because finally I was making progress.

At this point, I started to mentally pack it in. This novel had done its job in getting me that much closer to my goal. Maybe the next one would be it. I still had a few fulls out, but then, what were the chances?

Fast forward to July 18th. I had quit my full-time job the day before because of a hundred different reasons. I was out late playing D&D, and normally I would have come home and gone straight to bed, but instead I idly checked my email. Oh, an email from an agent. Probably another rejection –

I had to read that email three times before the words registered. She wanted to set up a call for the next day. And then I cried. And then I made my wife read it to make sure I understood it correctly. I had. So I cried some more.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night.

Needless to say I convinced myself a hundred different ways that this couldn’t be The Call. That this was Something Else Entirely and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I was dreaming. Hallucinating. Had I even read that email right??

But it was The Call and it happened and, even zombiefied from lack of sleep and way too much caffeine, I managed not to scare her off. She liked my book and she liked my characters and she got the story and then I expressed my gratitude by grilling her. Hah! But she still offered rep.

It was the hardest thing not to accept right then and there because I liked her agency and knew she personally was a good fit, but I still had fulls out to other agents. The responsible thing was to give them a chance.

I withdrew from the agents who only had partials, because I didn’t think they’d have the time, and then nudged the ones with fulls. They bowed out, citing time restraints, and I was secretly relieved because in the intervening days I had already made my decision.

So there you have it! This is only the beginning – an agent by no means guarantees publication, even when they do their best and are as awesome as mine – and I have a lot of work ahead.

What’s next? Well, writing something new because this next step can take a while. Also going around and thanking every single one of my betas profusely, thanking my friends for supporting me, thanking my family for encouraging me, and thanking the public library for providing countless air-conditioned hours of writing time.

Query Stats on TIC for those counting numbers:
Total queries: 30
Rejections: 25
Partial Requests: 3
Full Requests: 4
Offers of Rep: 1
Prior Queried Manuscripts: 2
How I’m feeling:

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#Pitmad Coming Up on June 4th!

Although I have been around the internet since modems made that awful dialing noise while they connected – or rather, tried to connect – and I have been on Facebook and Livejournal and now WordPress since forever, I have had a hard time with Twitter. It’s such a fleeting, ephemeral platform, where there is no past and everything must be condensed into a 140 character soundbite.

Not for want of trying, of course. But my relationship with Twitter has been like a reverse Brokeback Mountain – I can’t stop quitting you. Now that I have a Smart Phone, though, it’s become a tad bit easier. It still seems like the shallowest of the social media forms, but maybe that’s to be embraced instead of rejected.

Plus, there are a ton of writer resources on Twitter that just can’t be found elsewhere. Agents posting their wishlists (#MSWL). Genre-related chats. Industry-related topics (#publishing). Writerly camaraderie and community (#amwriting).

But the resources I am currently the most excited about are the contests. Specifically, the pitch contests. More specifically, #PitMad.

If you are like me and have had your head under a rock for the past few years, then you should know that #PitMad is a quarterly pitch contest on Twitter wherein writers tweet their appropriately-tagged novel pitches into the ether and real live agents read and sort and favorite them. It’s one way to get ahead of the slush pile and/or seize the attention of agents not currently open to unsolicited queries.

The next #PitMad event is just next week: June 4, 2015. That is more than enough time to come up with two-three different pitches, each perfect in their own way and yet also able to build on each other.

So if you’re a writer with a completed and ready-to-query manuscript – come join me in this pitch event! You can follow me on Twitter @KA_Doore.

Stasis

I.E.: the brief reprieve that comes between large projects.

It’s an interesting time when you’ve just finished one big project, but you can’t quite start the next one. Part of this is because I’ve come to learn that when I need to query, I can’t be focused on another story. I’ve tried that before and I always end up working on that new and shiny story instead of putting my energy into querying.

Querying takes a surprising amount of time. You’d think you could just write up your generic query letter, maybe a full on synopsis, and send that out to any agent you find interesting – and that’s what I did when I first started querying, way back in the day. But I’ve learned that that method is: a) a waste of your time, and b) a waste of their time. As someone who has seen the sheer volume of queries that arrive in an agent’s mailbox on a daily basis, the last thing I want to do is waste their time with fantasy when all they rep is sci-fi.

You have to research the agents, look at their clients, their web presence, and everything else to see if they’re a good fit. Sometimes this is easy, especially when they’re explicit about what they want on their bios. Sometimes, it’s not so easy, and you can lose an hour (or two [or three]) simply trying to figure out if an agent is a good fit. Then there’s crafting the query itself – yes, you can use a catch-all query letter and hope for the best, or you can tailor them to the specific agent. And again – having seen what fills up an agent’s mailbox, sometimes just taking that extra time to not only follow the submission requirements, but also make it obvious you’ve actually looked at that agent and know who they are, can make a reeeaally big difference.

That’s all to say: querying takes a lot of time. It takes focus and research and effort. The same exact things a new novel would demand. With a fulltime job, I simply cannot do both simultaneously. I’m not complaining – I can pay my bills! – but it does leave me in a liminal state, teetering between projects.

I want to move forward, start research on the next one, but I also want to give this one the time and energy it deserves. I feel like I’m just on the edge, so very ready to take the next step. Nobody likes querying, nobody likes waiting, but it’s still necessary.

In the meantime, during all those moments where I would usually squeeze in some writing, I’d better get back to reading. I am woefully behind.

WIP Updates

I finished the edits on GW last night and duly celebrated with a glass of wine. God, I love wine. GW was the story that was out to betas over the summer, and I received their feedback in August. It’s a(n urban?) fantasy with faeries and gingerbread and a bus driving MC who is the epitome of a reluctant heroine. It’s a story I’ve been trying to write right since college.

I completely rehauled the plot in the spring after some really good advice from a friend, but I was too close to the story still when I sent it out to betas to really gauge whether I’d succeeded. So I spent a lot of time while waiting for feedback figuratively biting my nails. I also busied myself with another WIP. Always a good idea, by the way.

The first feedback I got wasn’t so good. But it was true. And it took me some time to figure out how to make it work. Then I got more feedback and I realized this was going to work. And it wouldn’t require a major overhaul! Which is fantastic, because that wasn’t going to happen. If it’d needed major reworking, I would have simply shoved GW into a dark corner and forgotten about it.

I spent the majority of September working on those edits inspired by my betas’ feedback, both big and small. And I finished the last edit yesterday with some small satisfaction. This story works. It’s not perfect – it will never be perfect – and fuck if I know whether or not it’s marketable, but it works.

Writing is such a long, arduous, lonely process. There aren’t many clean breaks between processes, and certainly little to no clear stopping points. So I’ll take what I can get. This story is Done, with a capital D.

Now, the hard part. Writing a synopsis. Writing a query. Researching agents. Plugging away with queries day after day. I hate this part because it takes away from the time I could be writing, from the time I could be creating, but it’s a necessary evil. Nothing you love is ever going to be sparkles and unicorns 100% of the time. Besides, only a successful query and agentation will allow me to have more time for writing in the future.

October will be my official Querying Month. Then when that’s done and over, I can finally start rewriting the epic lesbian desert story from this summer. That should get me through the end of this year.

TL;DR: Edits done! October = querying. November/December = rewrite new WIP. January = ???, February = Profit!