Why I look odd: It is full-on spring here, a few days early, and I’ve got the allergies to prove it–my eyes are all pink and itchy. Fifteen years ago, I got really sick with a horrible, unidentified virus that resulted in hives, and ever since then I struggle with over-active histamines. This year even my go-to natural supplement, Antronex, is not putting a dent in the problem, and I’ve actually been taking anti-histamines. They haven’t helped much, either. If anybody knows anything that will tame them, please do share.
Fun medical test I’m taking: Here in Portland, we’ve had a big scandal with air quality lately. The Forest Service found abnormally high levels of heavy metal in moss, particularly around the locations of a couple of art glass companies that make their home here. Turns out the DEQ knew about the results and didn’t bother to do anything about it for quite some time. Political brou-ha-ha ensued! Anyway, I live near a mini heavy metal hot spot, because, wait for it, we have a bong maker nearby. So I’m taking a urine test for heavy metal toxicity, which involves swallowing some pills, peeing into a bottle for 6 hours, and then shipping it off to the lab. Fun times.
What I just bought: On a more cheerful note, don’t judge, but I just bought a spiralizer. Yep, I did. Now I can make zoodles! We’re trying to eat as many vegetables as we possibly can around here and I thought spiralizing them looked like fun. Guilt-free pasta! Check out some recipes here.
What I’m reading: The Color of Light, by Emilie Richards. Love this book. It is women’s fiction about a minister whose congregation gets edgy when she lets a homeless family stay in an empty apartment in the parish hall. There’s a love interest in the form a faith-questioning priest. I think it is hard to write about religion without a heavy hand, and this author does it well. Helps that her husband is a Unitarian minister, Unitarians being the least woo-woo of the bunch. (I should know, I grew up in the Unitarian church.)
How many scenes I have left to write in my WIP: Three. So I better go write them.
What’s up with you these days? Please do tell in the comments.
For starters, in case you missed the news, I am now officially represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Lit. Woot woot! Best news ever. It happened fast. She was the only agent I sent the query to, and it was one week from sending her the query to the phone call offering representation.
A freaking miracle.
And that's what I want to write about today–the process I went through to make this miracle happen.
But first. Let's contrast this magical occurrence in 2013 with my process in 2011 and 2012 when I was submitting Emma Jean's Bad Behavior. I sent that novel to 60 agents. Yes, 60. I was determined–or maybe just deluded. But I loved my cranky Emma Jean and I thought others would, too. Some did–but more of them, at least in the publishing world, were overwhelmed and taken aback by her. The constant refrain that I heard was, "we're afraid she's unrelatable." (I actually think she was a character ahead of her time by a year or two. Because after the book got picked up by a small press, the movie Bad Teacher and the TV show Bad Judge both came out.)
So I've now experienced both sides of the submitting process–immediate gratification and the long, painful sending out of emails, many of which never got a response, most of which got rejections, albeit encouraging ones. (If you are in the middle of doing that, you have my sympathy.) Because of both these experiences, I know the process well. And I've come up with a few hints and tips. Here's how I did it :
1. I finished the book. If you are writing a novel or a memoir, you need to have the manuscript finished before you can start submitting. (Non-fiction books are a different beast, and are sold with proposals.) Not only do you need to finish your book, you need to make it as good as you possibly can–this is likely going to mean more than a couple drafts. I wrote two drafts of The Bonne Chance Bakery, as the next novel is tentatively called.
2. I let others read it. Find either a critique group (which will often read your drafts in progress) or beta readers (who are readers you trust, not necessarily writers though they can be, who will read the whole thing at once) and get their reaction. You can find critique groups or partners and beta readers through local writer's groups. Okay–true confessions, I fell down on this step a bit. Several writers had read the first few chapters, but that was all. If I'd been following my own advice I would have sent it out to beta readers before I submitted it. And, I had some lined up. But something told me to go ahead and send the query, so I did.
3. I wrote the best f*%@ing query ever. I will admit, I'm a good query writer. You should develop this skill, too, as it will open doors for you. There's tons of advice online for writing queries, and if you have a specific agent in mind, her website may well tell you what she is looking for (mine did). Follow that advice to the letter. If you can't find it, here's a basic template:
–Tell why you are submitting to that agent (see #4)
–Devote a 2-3 paragraphs to your story, with a great hook
–Wrap up with your bio
This should all fit onto one page in letter format if you were printing it out.
4. I researched agents. Please don't skip this step. I learned about Erin through the Women's Fiction Writer's Association and Twitter, and then I haunted her agency page and Googled her. I decided she was the perfect agent for me. (Luckily, she agreed.) But I knew that she repped a lot of women's fiction writers and further, that she was specifically looking for more. And, I knew she had just opened up for submissions. If I hadn't done my research, I wouldn't have known all of this. If I had submitted during a period when she wasn't reading, my email would have been ignored. If I had sent a query through the regular mail, it would have been thrown out–Folio only accepts email submissions. YOU MUST FIND THIS STUFF OUT. Find yourself a good agent listing site, choose some likely candidates, and then cross reference to their websites to be certain you have current info. And then follow the guidelines on the website!
5. I got personal recommendations. Not this time around, but last time I did. And let me tell you, if you can write something like "Famous Author Recommended Me" in the subject line, your query is going to go to the top of the pile. A variation on this theme is to attend conferences and meet with agents there.
6. I braced myself for rejection. Okay, so it didn't happen. What did happen is that Erin read my query (itself a minor miracle–she usually sends them right on to her readers) and immediately requested the full manuscript. And then, um, in a week she was offering me representation. But don't take this as the usual way things happen! Like I said, I was ready for rejection (remember, I sent Emma jean out to over 60 agents). When you do get rejected, scream and yell and sob for a couple minutes and then take a deep breath and hit reply and ask that agent if they can think of any other agents who might be interested. (This advice only works if you've gotten a positive rejection. If its a form letter, don't try it.) You might not hear from them–but then again you could. And if you do, put their name in the subject line when you query (See #5.)
7. I've been basking….Let me tell you, after all the years I've been in this busy, to hear the words, "I am calling to offer you representation by Folio Literary," was one of the best moments of my life. I've told everybody–friends, family, strangers, grocery store checkers. This is the greatest thing ever!
8. What happens next? I signed the agency contract, and last week Erin had an editorial meeting with the two other readers she had assigned the manuscript to. She is at this very moment writing up an editorial letter. When I receive that, its time for me to focus on rewriting. And then Erin will begin submitting it to publishers. Woot woot! I promise to keep you posted!
Any questions about the process? Leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them.
And so I have. As of last Wednesday, my first indie project, a short story, is for sale on Amazon for 99 cents.
Blue Sky: A Nell Malone Story
Here's the blurb (which I will no doubt rewrite a million times):
Nell Malone's life is changing, big time. Still grieving over the death of her husband two years earlier, she grapples with the empty nest syndrome as her daughter leaves for college. But a visit to Santa Fe yields new insights into herself–and the tantalizing prospect of a relationship with an intriguing artist. A short story about loss and love.
And here's the inside scoop: Nell Malone is a character who has been with me practically since I started writing. She's a newspaper reporter and columnist with an artistic daughter and a husband who died two years earlier. He was a cop, shot while on the job, and his killer has never been caught. I've got a novel about her all laid out and ready to write when I finish the book I'm working on now. (I'm thinking it will be a great project for Nanowrimo this November. )
But this particular story has been on my computer since my MFA days (and I graduated in 2003). Since Nell seems always to lurk on the edges of my brain, I pulled this story out, drastically gutted it, updated it, and edited it. Then my writing group read it and commented and made more edits. And I went back through it again until I was happy with every word. And then the real fun began.
Let me just say, there are a few obstacles to the process of publishing a book.
First of all, you've got to find a cover. Now, let me be clear: this is a short story, as in short, not a lot of pages, not a novel. I'm very proud of this story and I love that Amazon gives me a venue to publish it. All that being said, I didn't feel I needed to invest heavily in a cover, because, well, its a short story. And I knew a custom cover would be expensive, or at least more than my budget.
So I did what one always does in such circumstances: I asked the Google.
And I found Melody Simmons. She does good work for reasonable prices. I purchased a pre-made cover on her site which happened to suit my story. It also happened to be on sale, which was a lovely bonus. Melody has a good selection of pre-made covers on her site, and she also will do custom work. I recommend her.
And then after you get the cover, you need to figure out formatting. Gee-zus. It's actually an easy process to submit the file to Amazon. They check it for spelling errors and send it back to you and then you preview it and realize that everything is wrong: tabs are wonky and things look awful. So you go back over it again, trying to figure out what you did wrong. And submit it again. And it looks worse. Finally, I got a writing friend with experience to help me with this and that solved the problem. There are also formatters that will do this for you. So that I don't have to rely on friends for help all the time, I'll probably buy this one.)
After you get all the wonkiness out, you submit it, et voila! Your book is up on Amazon. You can create your own Amazon author page, which I highly recommend, and feed your blog and Twitter onto it. You can also create author pages for their UK, German, and French sites. (A tip: keep your English composing page open and you'll be able to figure out what they are saying.)
I opted to participate in the KDP Select program, which means I'm selliing it exclusively on Amazon for 90 days (and probably forever, most likely). In return I get marketing tools such as the Kindle Countdown, which I haven't quite figured out yet, and the chance to offer my book for free. I'm still studying the best way to handle this promotion–when to offer it for free and so on.
The Part Where She Asks for Reviews
Anyway, the story is available for purchase, and at the price of 99 cents, who can resist? If you do buy it, I would SO appreciate a review! Reviews rule the world, as far as the kings of Amazon are concerned, and I've not been good about asking for them. (If you've read Emma Jean and feel like leaving a review, that would make me happy, too.) So if you do decide to buy the story (and bless you if you do), writing a review would be awesome, too. It's a really easy process!
Here are some of the other posts I've featured about Amazon:
“I have three kids under the age of 5 but I managed to finish this book in under a week because I couldn’t put it down.” Molly, 5 Star Amazon Review
“This well-written, funny, poignant, amazing book has opened up a whole new fiction genre for this lover of dystopian fiction.” Samantha, 5 Star Amazon Review
“I just spent a weekend with Emma Jean and had such fun!” Jenni, 5 Star Amazon Review
Here’s the synopsis:
At age 48 (43 according to her blog, Life, Full Tilt) best-selling novelist Emma Jean Sullivan has longed for a baby for years, but after she and her husband Peter are unable to conceive, she staunchly vows to become the standard bearer for all childless couples. And she succeeds spectacularly. Emma Jean’s novels, up until recently, have sold millions, and she enjoys a rabid baby-hating fan base. But now she confronts a dilemma larger than any her heroines have faced: she’s pregnant. And the baby’s father is not her husband.
Through no fault of her own (he was just so damned adorable), she began a passionate affair with Riley, a fetching airplane mechanic she met at a book signing in LA. The rapturous relationship reorders her priorities, and she realizes that her life isn’t quite so blissful as she formerly believed, though she struggles valiantly to maintain her marriage and her sham brand throughout her wrenching travails.
Her husband is busy embezzling Emma Jean’s money and completely uninterested in fatherhood, and her lover has his hands full with problems of his own. Not only that, her latest novel is a miserable failure, and a Vanity Fair reporter, who plans to out Emma Jean’s pregnancy to her fans, is stalking her. What’s a suddenly broke, failing, middle-aged pregnant novelist to do? Why, flee to a glamorous resort town, of course. There, Emma Jean seeks privacy to figure out her next move—and finds unexpected spiritual and emotional solace.
And don’t forget–we authors love reviews! Please consider taking a few minutes to write a review (not just for me, but for all authors.)
I'm about three chapters into a new novel and the other day when I was making some notes on themes and events to come, the thought occurred to me that I'm writing a Remake Your Life plot.
I made that name up, but these kinds of plots are staples of women's fiction. For various reasons, the protagonist's life falls apart, usually in unexpected ways, and then she has to go about finding a new one.
As I made notes and pondered, a rough basic outline of this kind of story came to me and I jotted it down. Here it is:
1. Everything falls apart, and/or the protagonist loses everything she's held dear.
2. She has no choice but to start over again, often in a new place.
3. There, she's a stranger in a strange land. She has to navigate in these strange new surroundings and it is often puzzling.
4. But slowly, she settles in. And bit by bit things begin to go well.
5. However, there is still more to be learned. Any lingering issues left over from the problems at the start will now rear their heads to be solved.
6. The heroine's actions come back around to haunt her, good and bad.
7. The choices the heroine has made in the second half of the book are now what truly count because these are the choices she has made as her new, wiser self.
8. The heroine uses these new found traits and skills to manage the final crisis.
9. Often, but not always, she returns home triumphant.
This is also a variant, of course, on the heroine's journey.
What do you think? What did I miss? What did I get right? Have you ever written a lot like this? Guys, why aren't there more novels with plots like this for men?
I'd love to hear your opinion.
*Don't forget to sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter. In return, you'll get a free Ebook called Jumpstart Your Book with a Vision Board. It will help you envision plots like the one discussed here!
One of my faithful readers, novelist Heather Justesen, is having a wonderful week full of giveaways over at her blog this week. Check it out here.
Heather is the author of the newly-released, The Ball's In Her Court, and she's got another book coming out this summer. Gotta love that. Here's a brief summary that I snitched from her website (in the interest of promotion, I don't think she'll get too upset with me):
She's got a great job, a loving group of family and friends and basketball skills like you wouldn't believe, but Denise DeWalt's life is far from perfect, and she's about to come face-to-face with a past she hoped to leave behind forever.
Twenty-six-year-old Denise thinks she's come to terms with her childhood in the foster care system, but when her old nightmares return, Denise realizes that she must deal with her past once and for all if she ever wants to move on to a brighter future with Rich, the only man who can see past her former life. As Denise's search leads her closer and closer to the one person she hoped she'd never have to face again, she begins to realize that her future depends on just one person–herself.
This emotional and inspirational love story proves that life is full of unexpected twists and turns–especially when it comes to facing your demons, fighting for love, and finding happiness for the future