Posts Tagged ‘literary agents’


It’s been thirteen months since me and my mentor/friend/writing partner Kim Williams-Justesen began writing our collaborative horror novel. Although technically finished several months ago, we are now in the process of revising the final draft. Currently, we’ve been spending anywhere between two and four hours on each chapter and have worked most days of the week. In a novel that contains a total of twenty-four chapters, that’s a lot of hours. (But as I write this, we only have two more chapters to go!)

Although the final round is probably the most arduous part of this process for me, it’s also the most rewarding.  Since writing the words The End, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel front to back, but I’m guessing this must be the fifth or sixth time. Needless to say, I would have expected to be sick and tired of this novel by now. I would have expected that whatever passion I’d begun the novel with would have flickered out and died months ago. Strangely though, that isn’t the case. In fact, as we have labored to tighten and refine the novel, my passion has been not only been reignited, but it has climbed to greater heights than ever. I think it’s because this is where writers get to see their work come together, and can view the novel as a whole rather than in fractions. Also, the final round is your last shot to prevent embarrassing yourself before you place the manuscript in the hands of your trusted Beta Readers~ and these are the reasons why I believe this the most important part of the process.

The final round of revisions is the time to address all of the things that bothered you in the previous readings. This is where you must tackle those irritating little, (and sometimes big) weaknesses you’ve been putting off. This is where you add lines, subtract passages, sprinkle detail, rearrange dialogue, fill  in the plot-holes, fine-tune your characters, slaughter your “sacred cows”, and scrutinize all the text in search of grammatical errors and technical blunders. Kim and I currently live several states away from each other, so for us this requires a lot of sitting in front of the computer Skyping and IMing. Currently, my computer sits on a black ottoman in the middle of my living room where I sit on the floor to work. This has given me leg cramps, back aches, and neck and shoulder pain… not to mention a likely addiction to dramamine, given a ridiculously elevated proneness to motion sickness which I seem to have been born with. But that’s okay. This is where the real magic happens.

I went into the final round of revisions with a very clear, singular goal: to heighten the emotional impact. I decided that if something in the story was supposed to have a creepy effect, I wanted my skin to crawl. If a certain scene was supposed to make me feel sad, I wanted to be on the brink of tears. And if something was meant to be sickening, I wanted to feel the bile rise in my stomach. I decided I wanted to know what each character looks like, how each room smells, and mostly, I wanted to feel what every character was feeling.

As we have yet to be finished with these final edits, I can’t be sure how well we’ve done our jobs, but given my own emotional responses as we’ve fine-tuned the story these past weeks, I’m pretty confident we’re damned close to having what we want. In fact, just earlier today, due to my own mounting nausea, I had to take a breather from a particularly graphic scene and ask Kim to please not expound anymore on the topic. I don’t squirm easily, so to me, that’s a good sign.

As an added plus, the final round can reveal some wonderful new concepts. Today, I think Kim and I stumbled upon our perfect working title. As we were rewriting a scene, Kim wrote this beautiful passage that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and both of us paused a moment, thinking the exact same thing. The project that began as An Evil Heart and soon became Gallery of Dolls, is now about to take a new name entirely: Beautiful Monster. Not that a books title won’t possibly change (or be changed) down the road, but I think it’s important to have a strong title. I liked Gallery of Dolls, but it always sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls (a novel written by Jacqueline Susann in 1966) for my taste. Besides, I think the phrase “Beautiful Monster” in and of itself, is as contrasted as the personalities of our two main characters and therefore a pretty solid title for this book. Plus, to me, Beautiful Monster just kind of pops.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I haven’t been doing much blogging lately due to the demands of Beautiful Monster (I really do dig that title!), so I just wanted to take some time today to keep the connection in tact. Blogging is a bad habit to break!  In the meantime, my third novel is underway (with a much bigger set of balls now), and due to some weaknesses I’m just realizing, I plan to take my first novel, The White Room off the table for a few months to revisit it and give it some upgrades. I predict that in the next five to seven days, Beautiful Monster will be fit to be looked over by some Beta’s and from there, it’s just a matter of fixing any errors they might find, and then sending it out the door to find a home. By this time next year, my goal is to have three (maybe even four!) full-length works circulating throughout the world of agents and publishers… and to be well into the next big literary adventure.

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I live my life these days according to an ongoing list of weekly to-do‘s that I design every Sunday night; each day of the upcoming week containing a set of challenging-yet-reasonable objectives that I cross off the list as they are accomplished. I’ve found that otherwise, my life loses direction and time passes by until one day I wake up and wonder what happened to the last week, month, year, etc. I’ve lost enough time this way to take my little to-do list very seriously at this point in my life.

It’s taken many years of soul-searching to pin down my real priorities and learn that I need to focus on those and let go of the little time-wasters that hinder me. This is, for me, the only effective way I’ve found to live. Future-based goal setting is great, but the trouble I have with that is the excuse I will invariably make: “I have plenty of time.” I’ve learned that I’m the kind of person who needs to not only set goals for the future, but also smaller goals that I need to do today which will ultimately lead me to the accomplishment of the bigger goals.

There are two kinds of goals on my list: those things that need to be done daily: exercise, eat right, read, write, make some kind of spiritual contact and go to work (on work days). Then there are the things that are more sporadic: meet with my critique group, clean the house, write a blog, query a few literary agents, meet with friends, etc. In both cases of the daily and the more intermittent to-do‘s, it becomes mind-numbingly monotonous after a while, and eventually you reach a point when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

I suppose that all of us reaches a kind of breaking point at one time or another, no matter what path we’ve chosen – and today, I hit a big one. I have the day off work, which means my to-do list is going to be extra long. I woke up and looked at the list, thinking I was ready to tackle the day. But when I saw “query five agents” at the top of the list, my heart plummeted, my spirit sank, and for the first time, I considered putting a big black X on the page and going back to bed.

Instead, I made some coffee, played with the dogs and argued with myself in silence. It’s been several weeks since I queried any agents and I know the rules: do not “query-bomb” (meaning don’t contact every agent under the sun in one blow – they know each other, they talk with each other, and they don’t like it when authors clearly don’t even know who they’re querying.) I know the rules, I respect the rules and I play by the rules.  The point is, it’s been several weeks since I queried anyone, and today it needed to be done. So in the end, I lost the argument with myself and sat down to query some agents.

Here’s what querying agents means for me: first, I need to block out a good hour or two (sometimes more) of my day. Second, I need to locate the agent, (which can be terribly tedious in and  of itself) then research what genres they accept, what kind of writers they’re looking for, and find out if they accept e-mail submissions, snail mail only, or both. Then I need to learn as much as I can about the agent and what he or she represents, and contact them according to their personal guidelines, which varies from agent to agent. Some want just a query letter. Others want a query letter with a synopsis. Some want a query letter, a synopsis and a specific amount of sample writing. Some want all of this, plus a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Some want all of this in the body of an e-mail (if they accept e-mail submissions). Others want sample chapters as an attachment. Some want you to include not only your bio and platform, but your marketing strategy plans as well. Needless to say, every agent has different guidelines – and that’s okay. The point is that this can be a very challenging process for authors, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s just part of my job. But there comes a point in which you just can’t help but feel exhausted by it all, and that’s where I am today.

I queried the five agents today over the course of about two hours. I followed all of their rules and was a professional through and through. But I was less than enthused about doing it. Counting the five I queried today, I have been through this process 135 times. Of the 135 agents I have queried, one asked to see my entire manuscript, and three asked to see the first five or six chapters. That means 131 literary agents have looked my query letter over and passed without asking to see any of my actual writing. And here’s the best part: this is not only normal, it’s expected. Statistically, I have a good seven to nine more years of this before someone takes an interest in my work. Every writer I’ve ever talked to went through this part of the process too, and they all tell me the same thing: “It’s not personal. Just keep writing.” So I do. And I do so with an unshakable determination to get better and better at my craft.

But… today… I’m creatively bankrupt and void of all inspiration.

As The White Room treks the globe, accumulating endless rejections, my other manuscript, Gallery of Dolls, is several thousand miles away being revised and polished by Kim Williams-Justesen, co-author of the novel. Also, I am at the beginning of chapter five of Alejandro (working title). The plan is to have Gallery ready for submission by the end of January 2012, and Alejandro ready by May of the same year. Under normal circumstances, thinking of the future of these books (and the ones that have yet to be written) gives me a shot of optimism and boosts my spirits. But today… just for today… I’m going to allow myself to dread my future as a writer. I’m going to accept where I am rather than fawning over where I wish I were.  Today, I wish that I wanted something simpler. Today, I wish that all I wanted from life was to get a good job, have a couple kids and settle into the comfort of a nine to five job. Today… I wish I was someone else because I know without a doubt that I will never be happy with any of those things. Today… I surrender.

But tomorrow is another day and I won’t give up on it. I never wanted a simple life. I never expected this to be easy. I had the luxury of walking into this business with my eyes wide open. As Kim told me over a year ago, “writing the book is the easy part.” And she was right. There isn’t much room for pity and there are no shortcuts. Nothing worth having ever comes easy and despite the rejections, I’ve had some wonderful experiences. I’ve met many of my heroes. I’ve had agents tell me some wonderful things and point me in some good directions. And above all, I’ve been able to do what I love: write… and I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of help along the way.

No, I won’t give up. The people who love me wouldn’t let me and more importantly, I would never forgive myself if I did. I’ve worked too hard for this and I’ve spent too much time to justify walking away. But more than all of that, I don’t want to give up. Today is a bad day and that’s okay… but overall, this is what makes me happy, despite all the heartache along the way.

I started this blog to document my adventures in the world of writing. I’ve always told the truth but I’ve never really said much about the strains and pains of this business because I never wanted to discourage anyone. But to maintain the dignity of my blog’s overall purpose, I can’t really forfeit the darker side, either. The truth is that being a writer has a hell of a lot more to do with sitting down, writing and maintaining a smile while the world tells you you’re not good enough than anything else. It has more to do with working than playing. It’s about getting good at your craft and playing the game. It’s about accepting that there are no shortcuts and loving the process in its entirety, despite its flaws. It’s about understanding that the dream is always preceded by the nightmare. Your job is to write and let the business of getting published take care of itself. In the interim, hold tight to the little things that happen along the way which propel you in a forward direction and prove to you that your path is true.

In New Orleans this summer, I spent some time with my best friend from childhood. He said something that I hold onto. He said, “You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer and one day you’ll be published. You always had a way of setting your mind to something and getting it. You will get this too.”

And I will. But not today… and that’s okay.


 

Of the various steps a writer should take before handing his or her query letter or manuscript over to an agent or publishing house, probably the most important one is getting raw, honest feedback from a few trusted readers. These lucky folks are called Alpha and Beta readers.

An Alpha (Alpha meaning first) reader is the first person who gets to see your work. This person has the responsibility of stopping you from further embarrassment before anyone else gets to see it. The Alpha reader should therefore, in my opinion, be your strongest critic. This person must be wholly comfortable telling you what sucks about your manuscript and what doesn’t. An education in English and Grammar is also a plus.

In my case, my Alpha reader is Kim William-Justesen, author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey! Ranger series, and co-author of Love and Loathing. Kim acquired her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing) from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2003. Not to mention, she has been circulating throughout the literary world for a good number of years, so she kind of knows her stuff – and, as it should be, she is probably harder on me than anyone else.

Kim is really the only person who gets to see my work in its most unpolished and unrefined state. However, knowing that she will be reading it, I work hard to keep it clean and neat, and to follow the rules of writing fiction, which automatically puts me in better shape. A typical page that’s been critiqued by Kim usually comes back to me with plenty of issues. Unnecessary words are called into question, 90% of all adverbs are slashed, question marks indicate a characters inconsistent voice or behavior, and of course, misspellings, grammar issues, and improper English is marked. Not to leave out issues with paragraph breaks, timing, dialogue, too much exposition, tense shifts and logic flaws. The point is, at first sight, the returned pages are often intimidating and discouraging but this is probably the most important part of the process.

After the necessary changes are made, my wife Heather is next in line. Heather isn’t really an Alpha or a Beta reader really, but (even though I am her husband), she is honest with me. Heather has a keen eye for small details that often get overlooked by me (little things like a murder scene in which the victim falls the opposite direction he should have after having been struck by a pissed she-vampire!) This is Heather’s strength and it has come in handy many times.

After Heather, my manuscripts go to a few trusted friends. Some of them are writers and some of them are not… but all of them are avid readers who know why something does or doesn’t work. These are my Beta readers.

Beta readers are, in some ways, the most important of all, because they are not looking for grammar and spelling issues. They are literally sitting down with your book and reading it front to back, and giving an opinion of the overall feel of the story. And it’s amazing sometimes what a Beta reader might catch. For example, it was my sister who caught a major discrepancy in time while reading The White Room. Speaking of sisters, family will often want to read your work, and that is good. But keep in mind that often times, they are not going to be as forthright with you as someone who is unrelated to you. That being said, I have received quite a lot of good feedback from family and close friends. Still, for purposes of critique, I rely more heavily on people who didn’t change my diapers and see me through that nasty adolescent stage!

Having Beta readers is fun too, because you get to revisit your story with a new eyes, so to speak. Right now, my friends Tom and Sherrie are in possession of The White Room. Tom is freaking out about the spider in Gretchen’s hair (a scene I’d pretty much forgotten about) and I am cracking up because I can’t wait to see how he acts when he gets to the other spider scene (insert evil laugh here).

After a manuscript has been through several hands, professional and unprofessional alike, a writer can now submit his or her manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher without fear of being rejected due to sloppy errors and lazy plot holes. Now, when you receive your rejection letter (and you will), you will have the confidence to continue submitting, knowing that no matter what anyone else says, your story is a good, strong one… and one day, the right person will see that.


There aren’t many things that are more revealing than art. Whether writing a story, painting a picture, or singing a song, we put ourselves directly into the things we create. Knowing this, many people tend to keep their creations to themselves for fear of judgment from others and/or having their work rejected outright.  The good news about never disclosing your inventions is that you eliminate the risk of being criticized. The bad news however, is far more considerable. First, if no one sees your work, you will never get any feedback. This will limit your potential because we are biased, either negatively or positively, toward our own art. Second, if no one sees it, no one can buy it. And last, but not least, whether you have a natural talent for something, a burning desire for something, or both, you owe it to yourself to take it is far as you can.

The other day a friend of mine asked me how I “overcame” the fear of rejection. It was a subject I hadn’t given hardly any thought to for a very long time. I stared at him and gave him the best answer I could – “I don’t really know.” That question prompted me to give a little more thought to it though. Truth be told, I rarely suffer from any distress over whether or not someone will or will not like my writing. However, that certainly wasn’t the case ten, or even five years ago. So, to the best of my ability, here is the story of how I got from there to here:

When I was young, I often wrote little poems and stories that no one ever saw. As I got older, I kept writing, but still kept it to myself. In my twenties, I took a temporary interest in photography. Photography was much easier to exhibit because I could hide behind the models. I still never became entirely comfortable with displaying my work though. After a few years of taking pictures, I reached a point where I felt I’d taken my photography as far as I wanted to. It was like walking off a cliff. I was left wondering, “what now?” I spent a great deal of time and energy looking for a more powerful sense of purpose, and all the while, only one thing kept happening consistently: I kept writing.  At this point, I was writing mostly poetry, and no one except a very few carefully selected folks were allowed to see it. I was terrified of what might happen to me if someone didn’t like it.

As my seriousness in writing grew stronger, so did my need to expand my confines. I vividly remember the first time I ever posted a poem on MySpace. I put the poem up and took it down three times before finally deciding to let it linger on my “blog” for a while to see what happened. I checked my MySpace a dozen times that day, waiting for the hate mail to flood in.  By the end of the day, an amazing thing had happened: nothing. No one seemed to notice whether or not I posted my poetry, and that is what gave me the self-confidence to keep doing it.

Over time, I accrued a cute little following of poetry readers who liked my work. I also made friends with some other poets and eventually I was featured on several radio shows and some online magazines. I was at the height of my career as a poet! But I was restless and had fast grown tired of the limitations of poetry. That’s when I started writing novels.

I paired up with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen, took some writing classes, devoured every book I could get my hands on about the writing process, and above all, I wrote my ass off. In the meantime, I attended writing conventions and workshops, signed up with the local writer’s league, and began to meet all kinds of writers, big names and little names alike. I didn’t have time to be terrified of what people would think of my writing.

Then, the first literary agent I ever met took a strong enough interest in my book to request my full manuscript. I was both elated and horrified. I sent her the book and for the next five months, I obsessed. When she finally got around to letting me know she didn’t feel the market was quite right for my story, I felt as if I had been dropped like a glass ball, and shattered into a thousand little shards of the man I thought I was. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty. But I had a lot of helping hands putting me back together, and was very quickly back on the wagon, acquiring rejection slips from agents far and wide.

Today, I take criticism and rejection like they’re candy-coated Klonopins, and somewhere along the way, without even realizing it, I have (for the most part) seemed to have misplaced my fear of judgment and rejection. After analyzing it a little, I’ve decided that the answer to that question, “how do you over come fear of rejection?” is that you don’t. You just plug along and take the necessary steps despite the fear. There are however, a few things you can do along the way to soften the blows.

The first, and most important thing you can do to combat the fear of rejection is to be damned good at your craft. Learn everything you can, utilize that knowledge, and experiment with it openly.

Second, give yourself permission to suck. You don’t have to be perfect. You aren’t even supposed to be.

Third, read the works of your contemporaries. I assure you that therein lies much suckiness. The point to this however, is not to scoff at your friends. The point is to stop comparing yourself to Charles Dickens.

Fourth, read the stories behind the success. Stephen King acquired enough rejection slips he was able to wallpaper his office with them… and he did. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was rejected over one hundred times. “The Wizard of Oz” was called stupid and unimaginative by critics. No matter what an agent or anyone else tells you, art is subjective. No one has the facts on what is good and what sucks. They never have and they never will.

Fifth, accept the fear. Oh yeah… I said it. Accept that you’re afraid and that being afraid is part of the game.

Finally, one of the most important things one can do to combat fear of rejection is to just keep writing. By focusing your attention on your craft and away from the opinions of others, you are putting your energy into the only thing you can control… which is you. Also, by continuing to attend writer’s events, critique groups, and submitting to agents, over time you’ll naturally build an immunity to the scathing reviews.


The prologue is that first page (or few pages) at the opening of a story which gives readers background information, establishes character and setting, and/or gives readers a quick glimpse into the central conflict of the story, sometimes in an attempt to grasp the reader’s attention enough to motivate further reading. There does not seem to be any real rules about what a prologue may or may not contain, or whether or not a prologue should be used at all, therefore, whether or not a book should or should not open with a prologue is a subjective topic. While I’ve known people who feel that prologues are no more than a lazy way to introduce information, I’ve also known people who will only read a book if it has a good prologue; so there really is no right or wrong answer.

I’ve never used a prologue in any of my stories, mainly because it never seemed called for. That being said, I personally am a fan of the prologue, but it has never been a subject to me that seemed to require any of my attention, until just recently when a good friend of mine asked me to critique the opening chapter of the book she’s currently working on.

As I started reading this chapter, I noted that as soon as I’d just begun to get involved with the present situation in the story, I was thrust backward in time, where the events that lead to the present were revealed. While there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, it felt too soon to me; I wasn’t ready to flash back yet. I finished the chapter and considered ways that my friend might more smoothly incorporate the information into the story, but found no reasonable opportunity for it. Then I read the chapter again, skipping the background information, and was stunned by how much smoother the ride was. Finally, I read the flash back, separate from the rest of the chapter, and it struck me that it would make an excellent prologue. The problem is, my friend hates prologues.

I was very cautious as I approached her with the idea of beginning her story with a prologue. At first, she was adamantly against it, but now, as far as I know, she is considering it.

It’s been said by many that a “good” writer can work background information into a story without resorting to a prologue. It’s also been said that the best way to judge a good book is by its prologue. I am sure there are literary agents out there who scoff at prologues and shove manuscripts straight into the slush-pile just because the story begins with a prologue. I am equally as sure that there are those agents who will not represent a book without one. The point is, using a prologue or not using a prologue is the author’s choice and should be a decision based on his or her own judgment.

To me, it’s a simple matter of the author’s style; some use prologues, some do not. But there are no rules for or against it, and in a business that is over-saturated by an endless and ever-changing list of do’s and do not’s, we sometimes have to keep in mind that writing, at its core, is still a form of art… and that art, for all it’s marketing rules and its potential levels of salability in the retail world, is still subjective.


       

You have about fifteen seconds to get their attention, and given the average modern-day attention span, which is about that of a coffee-buzzed gnat, it’s best to try doing it in five. This being the case, one of the most important lines ever written in a novel is the first one. For contemporary writers, the days of Charles Dickens-style, drawn-out opening passages are gone. Not that we don’t still love the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” type of opening lines of the golden oldies, but we generally adopt a different mindset reserved only for the classics; and even concerning them, that first line has to contain enough intrigue to move readers to the next sentence. This is a truth that has withstood era after era. One of the best examples I can think of to support this is probably the Holy Bible. Even though the bible goes on to confuse, bore, or entirely evade many of us in a literary sense, you can’t help but be a little intrigued by its first line. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth,” is, if nothing else, a pretty good hook. The bible though, is not a novel, so unless I am looking to write my own bible (which I certainly am not), I should probably look elsewhere for insights that will improve my own fiction writing techniques.

 

Probably my favorite opening line is that of Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone with the Wind. That first passage, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but seldom men realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were,” is, to me, a brilliant starting point; not because it thrusts the reader into the heart of some on-the-verge-of-death conflict, but because it is so thick with insight into human nature, and as well, gives us an immediate but subtle sense of duality and arguably, deceit. Scarlett O’Hara herself is the conflict, and that alone presents a whole new breed of hook.

 

Mystery can also be a good approach. Stating something that intrigues a person, yet doesn’t say much at all about what’s happening, can (if done well) propel the reader forward with a strong level of interest. Human beings are, by nature, very curious creatures, and a writer who knows how to strike the precarious balance between not enough information and too much information can carry a reader quite a long way on this tactic alone. A good example that comes to mind which uses this technique is the opening line of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: “It was a pleasure to burn.” How can you not continue reading something like that?

 

In The Servants of Twilight, Dean Koontz begins with the passage, “It began in sunshine, not on a dark and stormy night.” This is a strong opening for several reasons. First, it’s ominous. By saying, “a dark and stormy night,” we know something bad is going to happen, and we all love it when bad things happen. Second, it’s mysterious. We don’t know what “it” is, and we really shouldn’t care, but somehow, we do, (probably because we know it’s something bad).  The third element of this opening line that strikes me (and probably my favorite part of it), is that it gives the middle finger to the dark and stormy night cliché that so many horror stories depend so heavily on. With this line, Dean Koontz is taking fear to a whole new, far deeper level by telling us (as if we needed to be more afraid) that really horrific things can happen just as likely in the broad daylight as anywhere else. Thank you, Dean Koontz.

 

Shock value, is of course, also an option. Using shock value as an opener is probably the riskiest approach because you chance offending, and thereby losing, the reader right off the bat. In a way, I respect this approach though because if the content of a novel is going to be offensive, at least its author is being respectful enough to let you know upfront. Still, it can’t be said that shock doesn’t do a pretty good job getting, and in the best cases, holding an audience’s attention. The opening of Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth is a shining example of that. With the novel’s opening line, “Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over,” we are either immediately hooked, or immediately offended. Whether or not it was Roth’s intention to shock the reader, only he knows, but there’s no denying it’s an eyebrow-raiser. This line, as far as I’m concerned, pretty much has it all: mystery, sex, shock, profanity, and self-confidence; all this in nine words, and with a poetic edge to boot.

 

Regardless of how I choose to begin each story, I have to keep in mind that the first sentence needs to pack a little punch, and that it doesn’t get any easier from there. In my experience, an interested agent will ask to see five to thirty pages of a person’s work in order to determine whether or not a submission is a worthy investment of their time. I recently re-wrote the first four pages of my third manuscript because as I reread it, I realized I’d given the reader very little, if anything at all, to hold onto. My initial intention was to start in the heart of the action, and while this is often times a fine idea, it was, in this case, not working. So I challenged myself to compact as much into the first five pages as I could, while still moving the story forward. In five pages, I tried to reveal a sense of who my character is, what normal life is like for him, and that some kind of conflict is on its way. This, while introducing a couple of characters, laying down a setting without going too heavy on description and detail, and moving the storyline forward at an interesting and engaging pace, without relying on back story and too much exposition, is no easy feat. But it can be done.  

 

In an era when people are tapping their feet, impatiently waiting for the microwave as it heats up their frozen dinner; when folks are rolling their eyes and looking pointedly at their watches in the less than ten seconds it may take while the internet uploads an entire library’s-worth of world history on their computer screens, there’s no time to dawdle. You have fifteen seconds or less to get their attention. Make it count.

 


    

     We all choose different paths in our approach to the business of being published according to what it is we want, and these days, there are more options than traditional publishing, in which the writer seeks a publishing house to represent his or her work, usually at the cost of several years of rejection, and/or having one’s self-esteem beaten down and battered to a bloody pulp by a series of professionals who may or may not know what they’re talking about.  Now, we live in an age of indie art where writers can publish their own books.  There is conventional self-publishing in which the author fronts the money to have his or her book put into print, and is solely responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of the book.  Also, we now have print-on-demand books in which a publisher prints whatever amount of books the audience requires and the author puts no money upfront as the cost is taken from the sales of his or her book.  There are branches of each of these methods of self-publishing (some more appealing than others) extensive enough that a writer these days has far more options than he or she once did, and personally, I think that’s pretty wonderful.   However, despite the fact that I am currently standing in that terrible position where it feels like the whole publishing world is standing in line to get a chance to tell me I’m not good enough, traditional publishing is the path I have chosen.   

     Before I began this journey, I first gave a lot of thought to what it was I wanted from this.  I knew that if I was going to pursue this path, that I was going to be in it for the long haul, and that I would need to be willing to go through whatever level of hell I had to in order to get to where I wanted to be.  I suppose this explains the several-years reluctance in which I shied away from this whole “writing thing” as if it had fangs and a thirst for blood, but nevertheless, this is the path I have chosen.      

     After fully understanding all of the various avenues of publishing, I firmly settled on traditional publishing because I knew that, although I would meet far more resistance, going the traditional route would ultimately lead me down the paths I wished to wander.  I realized that even if I failed, I’d be far happier having given it all I had than not having done everything in my power to make it happen. 

     That being said, there are several disadvantages to traditional publishing, not the least of which is the possibility that you might never see your book in print.  Agents and publishers are flooded by manuscripts on a constant basis and it’s very likely that your pride and joy will be buried, overlooked, forgotten or never even looked at.  To break into writing the traditional way, you need to have a firm faith that one day, someone will see your work and have a strong enough vision for its possibilities in the market.  You need to believe that your writing is strong enough to stand out among the abyss of other talented author’s books.  Above all, you need to be patient and you need to keep writing.  If you’re going to take this route, it’s not enough that you’ve written a book.  Now you need to write the next one.  And the next one.  Eventually, you will have a pretty vast library of material for an agent or editor to choose from, and if you can get their attention once, they’re going to want to see more of your work.

     I’m lucky.  I have that faith.  I suffer terribly from other various personal insecurities, but there is one place I have total faith and that is in my writing.  At a soul-deep and cellular level that is impossible to explain, I know I’m in the right place, doing the right thing.  I may not be published next week or next year, but it will happen.  Despite the fact that thus far, I’ve garnered six rejections from agents, and been (so far) ignored entirely by another dozen, the towel isn’t feeling anywhere near heavy enough that I think it needs to be thrown in yet.

     What someone traveling down the traditional path needs to understand is that rejections aren’t personal.  This is not an attack on the author or their work.  This is an agent giving you respect enough to admit they don’t have the vision necessary to take your work to the heights it could reach.  I have yet to meet a rude agent who tells me that I suck and I really need to just give up.  In fact, the agents I’ve corresponded with have been encouraging, pleasant and professional.  A few of them have taken a sincere interest in my book and offered some good advice.  In that way, this is nowhere nearly as brutal as I had expected… but then again, I’m pretty new still.

     I’m sure I’m headed for some far harsher dealings, but I’m tough enough to be told no.  The fact is, I don’t have to have this right now.  Whether or not I ever get published is, as far as my writing’s concerned, inconsequential.  I will continue writing, and then writing some more, whether or not it happens.  I’m okay waiting for the right agent, the right publisher.  I believe with everything I am that somewhere out there, exists someone who will have that vision for my work which will carry it to the places that I can not.  I’m not an editor.  I’m not a marketer or a publicist.  I’m not an agent or a publisher.  I’m a writer.  It’s my job to write the best novels I can, and to trust the other professionals to do their jobs the best they can.  I don’t mind being told that I need to get better at my job, so long as it’s by someone who knows what my job entails.  As far as I’m concerned, it would be arrogant of me to write a book and think it was good enough to impact the market without getting some serious professional input.  So I’m not going to go down that route.  I’m going to do my job and I’m going to do it well. I’m going to continue getting better at it until, one day, I can be where I set out to be.  But it takes time.

     And as that time goes by and my rejections pile up, I am encouraged more and more by other writers to self-publish.  But I won’t.  I know far too many people in this business who are successful to not have faith in it.  And besides, I respect the business.  Despite the neglect it’s awarded me thus far, and despite the abuse that it will surely hurl at me in the future,  I love this business too much to walk away.  I couldn’t do it anyway. I am learning good business and good ethics.  I am learning how to effectively write some truly knock-out, wicked good stuff.  And above all…  I am meeting my heroes… the ones I looked up to when I was a kid.  It’s an honor to be among them.  Who am I to turn my back on that?