Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Have a Dream...Too

            For as long as I can remember, I’ve led a charmed life.  Not in any tangible way.  I’m not wealthy.  I’m not famous.  I’m not even popular.  But I have always had all those things in life that truly matter.  That make a person fulfilled and happy.  Growing up, I had two parents that loved me and put their children before all else.  I had two brothers who were always kind to me—well mostly anyway—one of whom treated me like a best friend for many years.  I had the best education in wonderful schools, mostly private Catholic institutions that instilled a feeling of belonging and spirituality.  I got to travel and I lived in many interesting locations, exposing me to different people and cultures. 
            When I was barely an adult, I met the most incredible loving man in the world who gave me the most precious gift another person could ever give:  a child—two, in fact.  I’ve had the great fortune of raising one of those amazing children and he is so smart and articulate, kind and generous, loving and supportive.  And my husband is what every woman in the world wants in a man.  I hit the jackpot.  There’s no other way to put it.  And while there are, of course, many other things I want, I do, in fact, have everything I need.  So I am happy.  Content.
            Lately, I’ve been watching the American Idol judges whittle their list of hundreds of aspiring singers down to the top twenty-four.  I watched as the last forty or so walked that long, lonely course up to the final judging platform.  It was inspiring to see the faces of those who made the cut, but it was the faces of those who did not that struck me most.  It affected me more this time than any other because I finally realize what it’s like to have a dream.  A really big dream.  One that seems nearly unattainable.  One that means so much, my entire identity is wrapped up into it.  So when those who were cut stood from their seats and took that long, even lonelier walk back, their faces wet with tears and their hearts crushed with loss, I understood and I cried along with them.
            Because I have a dream, too.  It is a modest dream when compared to Martin Luther King’s or John Kennedy’s.  I don’t aspire to unite the world or solve a lifelong dilemma.  I’m not trying to cure what ails us as a species, make buttloads of cash, or become well-known.  I just have this little dream of becoming a published writer.  But that dream starts with a smaller dream—or rather two smaller dreams.  The first, I’ve already accomplished.  I wrote a novel.  My first in what I hope is a long line of them.  When people hear for the first time that I completed a book, they smile and say, “Wow!  That’s amazing!”  It was quite an accomplishment for me and making it the best it can be has been even more so.  But while I once told myself if nothing ever comes of it, I will still always be proud, it really doesn’t ring true any more. 
I want the whole dream.  So the next step is finding a literary agent who loves my book and wants to represent me.  I did not know about this when I started writing.  I did not once during all those months even think about the next step.  I just wrote.  And when I was finished, I jumped on the Internet and researched the next step.  Boy, was that ever disheartening.  There are so many stores out there of aspiring writers who have been crushed by the system, their dreams destroyed and their hopes dashed.  Reading all that felt like a glass of water was being thrown in my face.  Or maybe more like a five gallon bucket of ice water.  But I’ve tried to keep in mind that I really don’t have anything to lose.  I have the product, my book.  No one can ever take that away from me.  Now, I just need to be persistent.  To not give up.  To not let the process beat me down with every rejection I receive. 
I can tell you, that is a difficult feat unto itself, not letting the rejections beat me down, I mean.  To be perfectly honest, when I finished my first draft and made my first round of revisions, I did what countless other aspiring writers have done:  I started to query for an agent.  I did this before I even had my first round with a critique partner.  I didn’t query many agents, mind you.  Just a small handful.  And it was more about feeling out the process than anything else.  But I did get a few rejection letters.  Four or five, I think.  And it did hurt.  I won’t lie.  But I learned quickly the proper way to go about it all. I worked with several critique partners and polished my little novel to a spit shine.  Then I wrote my synopses—four of them, I think.  And lastly, I wrote my query, summing up 85,000 words into roughly 260 in order to ignite some spark of interest in as many agents as I could. 
Just over three weeks ago, I began sending out those query letters.  Mostly in limited batches of five to seven.  I researched each agent to make sure I was querying only those with an interest in my genre, the thriller.  I found out what each agent wants to see in their query package, be that a letter only, sample chapters or even a synopsis.  On the second day of querying, I received a request for a full manuscript.  This was actually my second request for a full, but the first was kind of cheating as my friend asked if her agent would look at mine and she did as a favor, but it was not to her liking and she passed.  The second request hit me like a ton of bricks—albeit, really nice bricks.  I thought, cool, my query letter is good then.  Well, this is a subjective business as so many agents are willing to tell me.  And they tell me in the form of…you got it…rejection letters.
To date, I’ve received about 14, total.  They kind of slide off my back now, but each and every one of them serves as a lost opportunity, a burned bridge, if you will, because I can never go back to them.  They are forever beyond my reach now.  So I do sink a little lower every time I receive a rejection letter.  That pool of possibilities grows that much shallower.  And now I am beginning to question that query letter I thought at first was pretty good.  Maybe I will have to revise that, too.  Maybe it is too vague.  I did get my first request for a partial.  The first fifty pages.  The tiniest of smiles pulled up on my lips when I read that request yesterday.  That’s a big shift from the five minute long screaming happy dance I performed when I got that request for a full three weeks ago.  I think I am becoming jaded.  My head is slipping into that place all those aspiring writers have before me, believing that the chance of ever finding representation is so miniscule, so impossible as to be laughable. 
But then I read this blog yesterday.  It was written by aspiring writer, Claire Legrand, and expresses her joy, which feels palpable through her words, at finally acquiring an agent.  And it was not an easy or pretty experience for her.  She went through hell, but she never gave up.  She found her agent while querying for her second novel.  And now she might even have a chance at selling her first as her agent is standing behind her.  I cannot tell you what it meant to read her reaction to landing an agent.  It felt like that tiny speck of hope inside me suddenly puffed up like a kernel of popcorn in the microwave.  In her last post on Monday, Claire explained just how difficult the process had been for her.  Her final message was one that my friend, Lisa has been telling me all along:  “Don’t give up.”
And so, no matter how many rejections are piled up on my shoulders, I vow to not give up until I have worked my way through a very long list of agents who rep my genre of fiction.  And by then, enough time will have gone by that I can start all over again because no one will likely even remember me.  Lisa did that and she landed her agent.  So what the hell.  I want that moment like those finalists on American Idol.  I want to scream and cry and jump up and down knowing I have come a little closer.  Because I have a dream, too.                     

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I Blog: Following My Journey

           Last week, I wrote a post on blogs I love to read.  This week, I want to touch on why I blog myself.  To be honest, I never really had much interest in reading blogs or writing one either.  When I finished writing the first draft of my novel, The Mistaken, last summer, I started researching how to get published.  I found websites and blogs that shared all kinds of interesting information on writing, finding an agent and getting published.  The best blogs were those maintained by literary agents like Nathan Bransford and Query Shark’s Janet Reid, and writers like Anne Mini and Natalie Whipple.  Many of them mentioned how important it was to have an Internet presence such as a blog where agents or editors could check you out.  I thought, what the hell.  I can do that.  But I really didn’t know what in the world I should talk about.  And who would ever want to hear what I had to say anyway?    
I began checking out other writer blogs, people like me who were considered aspiring writers, yet unpublished.  (By the way, I hate that term “aspiring writer.”  I don’t aspire to write.  I do write.  I aspire to be published.  Big difference in my mind.)  A lot of them seemed to be simply daily journals, log accounts of their days, their lives, their families.  And while they might have been well written, they didn’t really interest me much.  I didn’t care about their “chipmunks,” their “rugrats” or “ninjas” or whatever they referred to as their children.  I wanted to read about their writing experience, their journey to become published authors. 
So I thought, that’s what I will focus on, detailing my trials and tribulations, my joys and heartaches, my quest to become a published writer.  And since it has been a rather emotional journey thus far, I found it easy to dig within myself and write about things that have affected me along the way.  It’s been a surreal experience, so I blogged about how I first got started on this wonderful trip and why I decided to take it in the first place, what I have discovered about myself along the way and who has influenced me.  I discovered my book’s theme, how music influenced my writing and having faith in the process.  Months later, when I was finally done with the revisions, I blogged about querying for an agent (a work in progress) and how much I missed living inside my story every day.  I even, ashamedly, blogged about my jealousy at the ease of which some celebrities find success in publishing.  (Sorry about that one!) 
I don’t know who reads my blog or if they are interested in those things, but I found when I read about similar accounts by other writers, I was buoyed by their tenacity, their unfailing faith that they would make it even though it is a painfully long and disheartening process.  Sometimes, though, just reading about how difficult it is for them makes me believe it will never happen for me, getting published, I mean.  But I won’t give up.  A part of that “not giving up” is continuing to blog every week or so.  Sometimes I just don’t know what to write.  I do keep a log on my phone when a blog idea pops into my.  I will roll the idea over in my mind, especially at night, even when I’m sleeping.  That’s a habit with me, dreaming about I should write about, be it my book, my revisions or my blog. 
A few of the writer blogs I read have a great many followers, folks who have signed up to follow their progress, read their writing and ramblings.  I think it’s cool that Natalie Whipple has 1300 followers even though she is not yet published.  1300—wow!  And Adam Heine’s Author’s Echo blog has about 150 followers.  (He’s amazing, by the way.  Very knowledgeable.)  Now, they have been blogging for five and four years respectively while I have only been doing so since last October—five months to date.  I do have four followers though, four generous people who I don’t know and, for whatever reason, have chosen to follow me—a nobody, a complete unknown.  And I am most grateful for those folks.  (I thank you from the bottom of my heart, really.)   
I don’t know how to cultivate more followers.  I am more or less a complete technical idiot and don’t know how to make my blog appear like I want it to.  I don’t know what gadgets are or how to insert photos and manipulate them.  I just picked a basic (and free since I’m a poor, struggling “aspiring” writer) template and added a bit of content—posts and pages.  I joined Networked Blogs through Facebook upon the advice of one of my followers, Laina Turner.  That has brought me quite a bit of traffic.  At least I think so, since I am a complete unknown.  And hey, I even got my first comment from someone I don’t know personally (no offense to my wonderful friend, Lisa Regan, who sometimes offers me encouraging feedback.)  That was exciting for me.  Silly, I know.  But hey, I am a complete unknown, a nobody.  I love getting comments no matter who they are from. 
I’ll keep working on this blogging thing, especially since I am now querying for a literary agent.  When I send out batches of queries—I’ve sent out about 28 so far—I tend to get a bit more traffic.  I think, wow, someone with power and influence might have just read words that I wrote!  And then I kind of panic and think, wow, someone with power and influence might have just read words that I wrote!  Oh no!  What was I thinking?
           This whole writing kick is such an unknown monster to me.  I am enjoying though.  I’m not technically proficient at it, my education was focused on architecture and design, not creative writing, but hey, I like to think of it as being intuitive for me, like playing the piano.  I’ve never taken a lesson, nor can I read music (at least not easily or well), but I can play some rather difficult pieces by Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven.  I have an ear.  I can pick a song out on the keyboard just by listening to it and sounding it out.  Hopefully, I will find an agent who feels the same way about my writing.  In the mean time, I will keep blogging and hoping that others will like what I have to say or at least get something from it.  And maybe a few more will follow me along the way.  It would be nice to have a few more companions because I think my journey will be a long one and I could really use the company! 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Blogs I Love to Read

            It has become a habit for me when I wakeup each morning to grab my iPhone off my nightstand and, before I even get out of bed, peruse my favorite blogs.  I read mostly writer, literary agent and publishing blogs.   I have my favorite blogs bookmarked to my homepage so all I have to do is click and read. 
I always start off with my favorite, Lisa L. Regan.  She doesn’t usually post more than once a week, but I check anyway, no matter the day, to see if she has written anything. Lisa is a writer, like me, and has written two books.  One of them, Finding Claire Fletcher, is now out on submission to various publishing houses and waiting to be picked up.  It is a fantastic read.  I met Lisa through former lit agent, Nathan Bransford’s blog forum.  She answered a post I made requesting a critique partner and we became fast friends.  In fact, she is one of my closest friends ever.  She has taught me a lot about writing, editing, critiquing and querying, as well as what it means to be a genuine friend.  She is the shoulder I always cry on when the process of writing and querying becomes too much or when I get bad news.  She is also the one I turn to when I have good news or just don’t know what to do next.  She blogs about all things writing, querying for an agent, good books to read, as well as her personal history.  I have come a long way because of her and cherish every word she writes.  We consider each other writing soul mates.  Check her out if you have the chance.
            The second blog I check out is Bookends, a literary agency blog.  I find Jessica Faust shares a lot of good information about querying for an agent and writing in general, as well as the life of a literary agent, all of which I find helpful and very interesting.  And her posts are generally very brief and to the point.  She has a long list of topics on her blog that any writer would find both helpful and fascinating.  And she's a no-nonsense kind of gal.  I really like that in an agent.
            After that, I tune into NatalieWhipple’s blog, Between Fact and Fiction.  She is another writer.  She writes Young Adult fiction, mostly fantasy or paranormal stuff, which is not really up my alley, but she is very personable and witty and she often writes about the trials and tribulations of writing, landing and losing an agent, being out on submission and rejection.  All the things I am most interested at this time.  Her insight is valuable and I take strength in her tenacity and fortitude.  And now she is aspiring to create a place where we writers can meet and hook up with critique partners who work in our specific genre.  I wish she had done that back in October.  Oh well, my loss.
            Next comes Dystel & Goderich’s blog.  They are a literary agency and usually have multiple daily posts about agenting and querying for an agent, as well as all things related to the publishing business.  It’s nice to have so many different perspectives to read among. 
            Others I read from time to time are The Rejectionist, who just left her position as an agent assistant to pursue her writing career.  She is hilarious and gives a lot of insight into the whole querying process.  I’m sad that I did not start following her earlier.  I also love Kristin Nelson’s  PubRants.  She is also a lit agent and she rants about all things associated with the publishing industry.  I really like her even though she rejected my query.  Her agency doesn’t really rep my kind of book, but I thought I’d give her a shot any way. 
A few others are Jennifer Hubbard (very sweet), Betsy Lerner (very tough), Adam Heine (very funny) and most especially Nathan Bransford whose blog taught me so much before I knew of anyone else or had any clue as to what I was doing.  He is the god of all agent bloggers though he quit agenting and now works for CNET.  He is very popular with 5000 followers.  (I have 4, all of whom I am eternally grateful for.)  And on weekends, I always go to literary agent Janet Reid’s Query Shark where aspiring writers send in their queries in progress for public humiliation and evaluation.  Too funny and actually very helpful.  By example, she tells you exactly what you should not do when querying for an agent.  Last weekend, she wrote an example of a perfect query, using the Bible as her work.  Both hilarious and insightful.    
            Last, but certainly not least, I read and follow Anne Mini’s Author! Author! blog.  She’s like Nathan Bransford on steroids.  A lot of steroids!  I only wish I had discovered her first.  She is a writer who grew up in the Bay Area, like me, and now lives in Seattle, also like me.   Her memoir, A Family Darkly: Love, Loss, and the Final Passions of Philip K. Dick, won the 2004 Zola Award, the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association’s highest honor for a nonfiction book. She has also won numerous writing fellowships.  Anne, also an editor, has been blogging since 2005 and has covered and recovered every topic you could ever think of regarding writing, editing, publishing, querying and agenting, as well as a myriad of other related topics.  Her blog archives are so extensive and thorough, she could publish it into a virtual encyclopedia on all things writing.  I’ve been trolling through her posts for months and I’ve barely scratched the surface on all the things she knows.  And what I love best about her is that whenever I post a comment, she always writes back.  ALWAYS!  I absolutely LOVE her!  Her posts do tend to be rather long, but I find I get sucked in every time because she is so thorough and knows exactly what my questions will be.  I can tell she’s been there and done that.  Every aspiring writer should definitely check her out.
            I do have others I read occasionally and I am always looking for other blogs related to writing, agenting and publishing.  Let me know if you have one I should follow.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Going All the Way

            First, an update:  Last December, I had a referral from my friend to her literary agent.  Respectfully obliging her client, the agent, who received my query through my friend, requested I send her my full manuscript.  After having it for nearly a month, however, she politely declined.  I was hoping for some feedback, but I understand she is a very busy agent and most likely could not afford the time.  I am still very grateful for the read and opportunity.
            Yesterday, I began the long process of querying for an agent in earnest.  I sent out 11 queries (10 email and 1 snail mail.)  I was a nervous wreck the entire time, checking and rechecking the addresses and the salutations to make sure they matched, confirming I had the proper materials within the body of the email or attached them as requested, and just generally making sure each email was professional and touched on the reason I sent it to that particular agent.  Each time I hit that send button, my gut twisted into knots.  But I made a good start for my first week and I felt good about it, no matter my nerves.
            I walked out of my office and got cleaned up to go to the post office so I could mail my standard query.  When I was leaving, literally walking out the door, my phone chimed, announcing I had a new email.  As was usual for me, I opened the email, which was sent to my Gmail account, the same one I use to send out queries since my Hotmail account screws with the formatting. I saw that it was from one of the agents I had just queried.  I opened it, expecting to see either a confirmation of receipt or, more likely, a rejection, though since it was only an hour after I had sent it, even that would be unusual.
But low and behold, it was a request.  For a full manuscript, no less.  Well, my first reaction was to scream and jump about the room like a complete lunatic.  My seventeen-year-old son thought I was being murdered or something.  I know it seems silly to react so, but it was a request for a full after only one hour when this agent’s website noted to expect replies in 6-8 weeks.  So I was a little happy.  Go figure.   
            Now, I respect this agent more than you could know.  That’s why she was included in my first batch of queries.  And while I realize this is an astronomical long shot, it felt really good to have a response to my query.  It told me that it was a decent query, one that sparked the interest of a very important agent.  I can only hope and dream that there will be others who respond likewise.  Honestly, it was quite a shock to have a response at all, especially from someone who has been so influential in the business.  I am quite humbled by it.  Especially, again, since it came only an hour or so after I sent it. 
I can’t help but wonder what it means.  Was it the query itself?  Did she read my synopsis or included chapters?  What piqued her interest exactly?  I don’t know.  I wish I did.  But I am just grateful to have another set of eyes on my manuscript.  I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground, knowing that it is not at all likely that she would ever choose me, but an aspiring writer can dream.  
Now I have to keep plugging along and prepare my list for the next batch of agents to query.  Every time I hear that chime, I will wonder if it is someone sending me a rejection, which, from what I hear, is the most likely response.  I know from reading all the writer blogs and talking at length with my friend and writing soul mate extraordinaire, Lisa Regan, that I will likely receive hundreds of rejections and perhaps a few requests for partials thrown in.  I’ve been trying to prepare myself mentally for this long, arduous and challenging process.  I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks and months will bring, but at the same time, I am terrified because this is the biggest dream I have ever held for myself.  This is not about making money; writing novels does not lend itself to this purpose.  I just want someone to read my book, to enjoy and remember it.  Just having written it is an accomplishment and I am proud of it, but I want more.  I want to go all the way!