Query Rejection Party

Thanks to Laura Stanfill for bringing me out of hiding.  I often forget how tough it is to practice my craft and pursue publishing hopes while trying to raise four kids.  Having some response rejection to my recent equeries has really helped to put some things in perspective for me.  I do work as a paralegal from home, and the end of the month is an extremely stressful time in industry which has sadly taken much of my efforts lately.  Add that to the end of the grading period for my school aged kids, bills, and life?  Well…it leaves little room for reflection and figuring out how to fine tune any literary skills I think I have.   Life is a balancing act?  Half right.  Most of the time in my four walls, it’s a balance of chaos with no harmony to be found.  I tend to resent the word ‘balance’ since I have no concept of what it actually means.   The rest of the time I’m just trying to make sure my kids are clean, responsible, productive, and well-informed members of my community that think for themselves without having knee jerk responses to fear and propaganda.  So sure, there’s balance there…I guess.

I have had three responses to my three paragraph e-query (I sent 10, and only queries, no synopsis), and they have all been rejections.  Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, and put some effort into work (the one that actually pays money) and disengage from my characters for a bit, I realized that this was exactly what I needed to understand that my pitch was wrong.  I had been writing nonstop, then editing nonstop… then putting together the query, then, then…  I needed to step away.  It doesn’t really matter how well the book is written if the interest isn’t sparked enough to get a request for more.  So, I embraced my ‘real’ job and took any chance free time to reflect on my plot, my characters, how I was going to enrich both, and pitch my book to the next round of agents.  That being said, I don’t think I’ll go the e-query route next time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually glad that I got responses (and they were even addressed to me) so this tells me that someone at least opened the email.  I don’t know how much they read, but they at least took the time to respond.  So, keeping in tune with the Lemonade from Lemons mantra in my house, I took it as a good sign – or rather, I forced myself to find the good, and rejoiced.   Next time around (after having some feedback from people who have read my first 3 chapters, the synopsis and the query) I need to approach agents that want more than the query, because to those readers – the query wasn’t enough.  For this project, I’ll have to agree… environment and waste notwithstanding.  If the query was at least read and responded to electronically (and anonimously… for both agent and author), then perhaps packaged correctly and marketed to the right agent was sorely, and obviously overlooked.  Speaking of agents, I found that I boxed myself into a corner with the genre I was soliciting (despite any specific admiration for the agents I queried and my novel’s inclusion criteria).  Apparently, I left off a rather huge aspect of my entire story that I simply hadn’t noticed was there (did I just say that?  how long have I been writing this thing?) until my editor gently guided me to a higher concept.  The result?   It’s time to read my novel again, and perhaps bring out the red pen.  I may not use it, but I do need to read it again.  When I feel as good as I did 4 weeks ago – I’ll work on packaging 10 snail mail queries and I’ll start this lovely process of angst all over again.  I’m quite sure my attachment to the queries the next time around will be significantly different.

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Pins and Needles

I am a hot mess right now.  I’ve had my face buried in my novel nonstop for three weeks.  I took some time off after I finished my rewrite, (story needed to rest) and I’ve been polishing my query skills and have actually submitted to several agencies.  But, I digress…

The Query.  Ew.  Just ew.  What a painstaking process… I thought childbirth was difficult.  I can say that poking my nose around the blogosphere looking for tips ended in some really enlightening reads.  I found some excellent websites that any author trying to get published who is cussing, screaming, throwing a laptop out the window struggling like I was should definitely check out… First:  AgentQuery.    A million thank you(s) to (no doubt)  tireless efforts that went in to constructing this website.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been on this website in the last several days.   When you are ready to look for an agent, this is definitely the place to find one, or at a minimum is a really good starting point.  If you’re looking for dos and don’ts, they’ve got a few of those too.

Second:  Query Shark.  Highly entertaining and loaded with a lot of dialogue about common mistakes, and if you take the time to read through the vast archives, I guarantee you’ll find a shell of your own miserable query in there somewhere.  I know I did.  Thanks to this blog, I identified what was fat and what was not.  And the snark. I love it and will frequent that place for this alone.  (thanks again for helping me abandon my rhetoric… I got that from years of debating)

I tried desperately to adhere to the goal of 250 words for a query, but I just couldn’t do it… I ended up at 340, and it’s the best I can possibly do.   Is my query perfect?  Can’t say, I’m sure some agents will find plenty wrong with it.  But I’ve read it more than 500 times and have rearranged that furniture to the best possible flow and I’m happy with it every time I read it.  And that’s also the best I can do.  Will an agent be intrigued enough to request a partial?  I don’t know…we’ll find out soon since I finally bit the bullet and actually sent it out…I hope I don’t have a heart attack if I get positive feedback.

My first batch were all e-queries, which of course doesn’t cost a thing, but also means I may not get a response.  If I want a nice rejection letter I’ll have to send it to an agent that prefers snail mail and include a SASE.  No response to e-query = rejection.  Let the waiting game begin.  I can always obsessive-compulsively edit my novel and synopsis until I hear something…

Exhilaration

I can’t believe it.  I have read and edited more than 54,000 words in just a few days.  Once I got past the daunting task of introducing my characters and developing them just enough so that readers can relate, the plot just kind of spilled out of me.  I understand why writers lock themselves away in seclusion to finish their work… if I weren’t filling sippy cups, fetching snacks, and doing laundry, and, and… I just might be done by now.   Each time I look at the clock, another 45 minutes has gone by and it only feels like a few.  Whatever has infected me with creativity, please don’t go away.

I have developed a nifty trick for injecting first person humor that before was misplaced, or was drowning the plot.  Funny really…. it seems so blatantly obvious to me now.  I feel like I should be thanking someone for my newfound passion, but I don’t know who deserves the honor?  All I know is I’m more than halfway done and my story and characters are becoming a real part of me.  When I’m not telling the story, I miss it.  When I’m not thinking about how to develop the characters further or fill a plot hole, I feel guilty.  I haven’t felt like this in a very, very long time.  I’m nearing the climax now and have lots of moving parts to tie together…wish me luck.

Change is good… no matter how painful

With summer vacation about to come to an end, and school about to start, I feel the winds of change blowin’ my direction… however hot they may be (and in South Texas, they’re damn hot).  If I’m to be completely honest, I’d say the changes necessary are both pivotal, and needed.  While I juggle a full time career with raising four kids, ages 2 and a half to 14 (40 if you count my husband), and try to manage to give myself some small piece of sanctuary ever so often… I’ve found that I am totally exhausted.  Daily.

I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t admit that it all starts with what I put in my mouth.  I know this.  I positively know that I can support very good health by eating foods the my species has eaten for a very long time, and staying away from those that have proven to be destructive and degenerating.  By doing exercises that improve circulation and nervous system health, I can achieve homeostasis.  I know this, because I’ve done it (but that’s not all I’ve done).  I see how easy it is to buy convenience foods, not necessarily fast food but still food that’s more convenient than it is nutritious, and I think I’m starting to see how the addiction starts.  Yes, it’s addiction (step one, admit you have a problem).  The food makes you feel so physically bad (and you justify the way you feel to placate your habit) that you don’t have the energy for anything that isn’t convenient.  I have to stop this cycle, or everyone in this house will suffer.  I’ve got to find a way to juggle my life’s demands, and still do the one thing that let’s me be me… and that’s to write.  And write what I want to write.  Funny… I was stressed beyond the horizon over money when I wasn’t working full time… but I was in love with my novel.  But I digress…

I threw back in with some rebels of like minds, and I am writing a bit… but honestly, the subject matter is bringing me down.  Some things in this world are just not going to change in my lifetime.  Do I really need to task myself with delivering a message that some people don’t want to hear?  Seems easier to pay it forward when I can, and take care of my own, because no one else is taking care of me (not even me) .  It’s been more than 3 months since I started rewriting my novel in 3rd person omniscient. I confessed to my daughter today how much I missed my characters… you know what she said?  “Me too.”   They had become part of my life (and hers), and I feel like I just abandoned them when they needed me the most.

I said in one of my first posts, that some of the best advice I’ve gotten when I completed (or so I thought) my manuscript, was to let my book rest for at least a month…. six is ideal.  I finished my manuscript in February.  You do the math.

Eternal Thoughts of the Spotless Mind

I am wrapped up in life lately, and it’s been a fairly distorting experience.  I’ve managed to stay away (for the most part) from toxic internet venues, but now and then, I slip.  I’m human.  It’s hard for me to understand why some people feel the way they do, and oftentimes I give them more credit than they deserve.  Most of the time, I’m not skeptical enough of their motives.  Then when I’m too skeptical, I look in the mirror and see a tin foil hat upon my head… there’s no winning – so why bother?

So, while having extra money and putting food on the table is no doubt gratifying…I feel empty.  I’ve done well at work and being the co-dependent personality that I am, I often function better when I make others happy.  While that may carry some level of nobility, I always manage to find some sort of self loathing in everything I do.  So I decided that some bona-fide thought experiments were in order.  The results were deafening – if I chose to listen.  I miss my book.  I miss my characters.  I miss writing.  Will I ever finish what I started?

What’s in a name?

My mood has been a bit strange these last few days.  I’m not sure why I felt compelled, but I thought I’d offer an explanation for why I’m writing under a pen name.  Two notable reasons stick out to me:  a) I’m finally to a point that I don’t really care about putting myself out into the cyber world anymore (there’s no privacy anyway, I’m kidding myself to believe otherwise).  Might as well stick yourself out there and join the fray, who cares what name you do it under…   and b)  after I finished my novel, and started looking into self-promotion, I realized that I’d need to get a web presence regardless.  I’ve put it off for a while, but finally took the plunge and reunited with WordPress.  Then came the name of my website… and my name in general.  The only problem with my married name (which is Polish), is that it never gets pronounced correctly.  Ever.  And if I want to be a published author, it helps if people can pronounce my name.  My first name is gender neutral, and I do like it, I just thought that the initials to my first and middle name would be easier to remember.  That’s the first part…

The second part has to do with my ancestry (more on that in a post to come).  I grew up in the 70s and lived in some pretty small Texas towns as a baby, and my biological father was a calf roper (still is).  My Mother would continue to search for her soul mate, and would marry twice more.   She’s now been married to my step-dad for 30 years, and I’m glad she didn’t settle until she found her perfect match.  Hill is the name I was born with, so just because it’s a pen name doesn’t mean it’s a fictitious name.

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Procrastination

I think I’m going to add an entire page dedicated to procrastination, since it’s something I positively love to do. When I first finished the meat of my novel, I let my book rest before beginning the editing process. At present, I’ve edited front to back twice now, and I’m letting it rest again before picking it up to change the narrative mode (actually, I’ve already begun this process, but I stopped at chapter 4 to clear my head).    For Mother’s Day, my procrastination “novel-resting” down time resulted in arts and crafts.  We have segments of a privacy fence that’s about 6 years old and really weathered.  When it was all said and done, I ended up with this sign.

It’s perfect for the back porch at my parent’s house and it made a fine Mother’s Day gift.  I framed the finished piece with sticks from an overgrown oleander bush that we just cut down and it turned out pretty cool.  I chose Lone Star, because it’s about as Texan as you can get, and it was the last 12 pack of beer we bought and I coincidentally needed an image as a starting point.

But before we get to my strange creativity, let me be the first to admit that I am the self-proclaimed queen of repurposing.  I refuse to throw anything out, and will burn trash in my brush pile before letting it rot in a landfill.  Three years ago, during one of our recent 100 renovations, my husband re-used material to build the kids a treehouse.  The kids love it, and we are pretty proud of the fact that we built it at a cost of less than $20 for material.   That particular episode marked the beginning of ripping and tearing out the nooks and crannies of a 40-year-old house and reconstructing it to better suit the needs of a large family.  I still have a list of endless projects I’d like to complete before I can actually just enjoy living here.  And since we don’t plan to live here forever, we have to eventually consider the fact that we’ll be wanting to sell the place and actually make a profit.  Consequently, we have to be mindful of our neighborhood, and not overbuild… so the only answer is sweat equity and repurposing.  It is possible to achieve functionality with minimal material costs that are actually cosmetically appealing as well, it just takes a bit of creativity and courage.

When I completed my novel in February, I started working on the house to clear my mind before editing and finally finished my master closet design… an achievement that would begin a decluttering episode that was badly overdue.  When the closets were all complete, the weather started getting nicer, so I took my show outside.  I spend a lot of time out there because I’m home with two small children everyday, and they simply bounce endlessly off the walls if they don’t go outside.

Several years ago, my husband bought a used hot tub that had a cedar plank surround.  We didn’t get much use out of the tub before it broke, but I sure found a use for that cedar by turning this awkward, wasted space into one of our favorite places to sit.  Salvaging material and actually doing something with it is very rewarding and needless to say, I have infinite plans for repurposing projects if I ever find the time.  I’ll know when it’s time to pick up the novel and edit / write again, and I know that I’m not ready yet.  I’ve done some spring cleaning and created some interesting spots in my house to practice my craft though, so we’ll see what happens.

Speaking of perfecting my craft, I’ve decided to write about topics that I actually have professional experience in to see how this exercise helps to develop my writing skills.  I’m hoping to gain knowledge by “writing what I know”, and also exposure by engaging others doing the same thing that I am.   I’m viewing the choice as a positive developmental exercise that actually uses my literary skill to articulate topics for which my experience stretches 20 years.  The last time I really engaged my craft, my subject matter was too polarized for me to continue its message and I’m hoping that by choosing a topic that is as second nature has having children, that it will be as therapeutic as it is informative for anyone interested enough to read it.  Admittedly, I sometimes wonder if I should have remained in that rhetorical circle and continued to engage others in spirited discussion because I often find that I become inspired after arguing my point to someone.  That’s probably just a byproduct of the lawyer in me.  Time will tell I guess.  Stay tuned.