Practice Makes Perfect

My closest friends all know what a perfectionist I am.  They also know that I will analyze an issue to death in an effort to come to some sort of conclusion.  So, when I started to submit my writing for publication, that’s what I did.  I read and read and then read some more about writing and querying and the submission process.  I talked to other authors, combed through publishers’ websites with a fine toothed comb, all in the hopes of finding that ever-elusive conclusion:  What are agents and editors looking for?

Even after signing a contract with Bookouture, I still don’t have an answer to that question.  The reason is because there’s not an answer.  It depends.  What I can offer in terms of advice to writers is twofold:

Number one, if you are getting any constructive feedback at all, Do. Not. Stop.  Continue submitting!  I had no idea how good or bad of a writer I was when I started submitting my manuscript called Flipped for You, but I was getting feedback–good feedback.  I kept submitting and trudging through the laborious process of querying, sending in partials, and finally submitting full manuscripts only to get a rejection for one reason or another–it wasn’t steamy enough, it was too short, it was too long, it was written in the first person!!!

After a while, I started to doubt myself.  Why wasn’t I getting a contract offer?  I decided to put Flipped for You away and chalk it up to experience.  I officially called the manuscript “practice,” and I started working on another story.  But then I analyzed some more.  Maybe I wasn’t submitting in the right places, I thought.

I sat down at my computer and went through lists upon lists of agents and publishers.  I spent hours that night, and at the end of it, I had only two publishers and an agent that interested me.  I pulled Flipped for You back out, and I revised it again.  That night, I only sent it to one publisher.  (A day later, I sent it to the other two.)  The publisher that received my submission that night was Bookouture, and the manuscript that I had almost labeled “practice” had just gotten me a contract!  It’s now called Coming Home for Christmas, and it will be out in September.

The second piece of advice that I can offer is to learn about the publishers before you submit.  Make sure that they feel right.  Pay attention to their website, submission process, cover designs, and what they offer you as an author.  Don’t settle.  Your writing career depends on good choices here.  Having signed with Bookouture has been the very best experience that I could have.  I am inspired every day.  In the meantime, if you’d like an insider’s perspective on Bookouture and its fantastically creative founder (and what he’s looking for), have a look at this interview:  http://thehotpinktypewriter.blogspot.com/

Good luck to all of the writers out there!


What Comes After the Contract

Ever wonder what happens after the happily ever after?  For me, the happy ending came when bookouture offered me a contract for two of my manuscripts.  But that wasn’t the ending at all; it was just the beginning.  I like to think of the events following the contract offer as phases, each phase having its own personality like a character in a book.  The first phase is like Tinkerbelle–all warm and fuzzy with little sparkles.  This is the phase where I ran to my favorite two or three people–the only ones who knew I was a writer–and gushed, hands shaking, about the contract offer.  I felt light and jittery and mostly like I’d pass out at any minute.

But that emotion was only brief because phase two was just around the corner:  contract negotiation.  This character was the school teacher with her hair pulled so tightly back into her bun that it made the skin on her face taught, her buttons buttoned up to her neck, a ruler in her hand.  My pass-out feeling morphed to a more sick-to-my-stomach feeling as I explored topics like litigation, copyright infringement, and rights.  I waited for lawyers.  And waited.  And waited.  My house had never been cleaner.  I was too wired to read anything, and I couldn’t make any changes yet on my manuscripts, so I just sat, brushing off the Tinkerbelle dust, waiting for more.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly take any more of that phase, it was over, and we were on to the next:  revisions!  This character was the loving mother who held my hand, helped me over puddles, took care of me when all I wanted to do is be a grown up just like her.  Writing the story seems like hard work, sure, but editing was a whole new ballgame.  I learned that every story can be better, no matter how perfect you think you have it.  I had to take a story that I’d written and rethink it, tweak personalities, rework plot.  Luckily, I have a fantastic editor who knows just how to reach my ideas and pull them onto the page.  But the work is still all mine, so once the kids went to bed, with the constant clucking of the clock to remind me of deadlines, I cupped my hands on the floor and scraped together what little pixie dust was left and threw it over myself to relieve the fear that I now felt.  The truth was I still couldn’t believe that I had been given this fantastic opportunity, but now I had to prove I was worthy.

While in revisions, Tinkerbelle did come back in the form of a new website, facebook posts, meeting the other authors contracted by bookouture, and getting to spend time in the presence of the great, creative people here.  The phases to come are line edit and copy edit, cover reveal (MUCH more pixie dust!), promotion, and much more!  I can’t wait to meet those characters!

One Last Go

I’ve revised Flipped for You one more time.  It is my hope that I’ve done enough revision to make it sing.  I’ve submitted to a few more publishers, one in particular has really lovely cover art!  Also, the editor at the mid-sized publisher said he’d take a look asap.  Hurrah!

So, here we go again!  (I just love this story too much to put it away.)  Fingers crossed!

Every Story has a Story

I’d never been this far… revisions from an editor with the opportunity to resubmit.  With suggestions like, “deepen the characters,” I found this territory new and uncomfortable.  Along with some elements of the story, I attempted to revise.  She passed.  So, I’m left with her comments to help me make the story better, and my list of publishers to whom I can begin submissions once more.

Who the heck are you?

I have toyed with the idea of using a pseudonym when writing for two reasons:  one, it would separate my two professional lives–elementary school teacher and writer; two, it would distinguish me from the other writers out there who have published books with my exact name on their covers.
So, the hunt was on to find a good name, if I did decide to use one.  I made a short list of first names that I liked.  I wanted them to be different and memorable.  Here’s what I came up with:  Nicola–means “victorious people” and I love the way it sounds.  Millie–tough to find a meaning for that one, think it comes from Emily.  Finally, Blythe, which I’ve always loved, and it means “happy.”  So, I went with Blythe.
Now, for the surname…  I found four names that I thought would be fitting for the name of a writer:  Yates, meaning gate keeper; Porter, meaning door keeper; Styles, meaning climb; and Weaver, meaning exactly that:  one who weaves.
In the end, if I do decide to write under a pseudonym, I’ve settled on Blythe Porter–the gate keeper to happiness.  Upon my google search there aren’t any Blythe Porter Writers out there in cyberspace at the moment, so my slate would be clean.  Now that I have a name if I need it, I’ll just focus on getting that contract.

How I Write

Writing fascinates me because everyone does it differently.  As I watch my students go through the process–even at the elementary level–it amazes me how they come up with their stories.  So, for anyone who’s interested, here’s how I do it:

1.  I do not follow any sort of outline, web, or prewriting.  I usually get an idea for a title first and go from there.
2.  I create characters that may fit with my title.  I start with names because a name can tell a lot about a person.  Then, in my mind (and in my notebook), I create their entire lives–from childhood all the way to adulthood.
3.  From the title, and with the characters in mind, I create some sort of obstacle or drama and place the character(s) there.  How they handle that particular drama plays out as I write.  With that being said, I am an extremely structured person, so while I let the storyline run its course, it is within a tight mental structure of intro, rising action, climax, and ending.  Every little detail that I write is mentally stored away (or jotted down) so as not to be overlooked as I tie everything together at the end.
4.  When the story is finished–and only then–I look it over once.  I write the query paragraph-summary and the synopsis (both a long and short) right after completion, so that I can get it down while the story’s fresh.
5.  After that, I do something else.  Usually I read a novel or work on another story.
6.  Once it has been a while, I read the story again and begin editing and revising.  I know I’m done when I can read it and fix nothing.  Needless to say, I’m never done.
7.  Finally, (even though I’m never finishished) I submit my work to publishers and agents.

It could take up to a month…

That was what the editor at the small publisher told me when she requested the full for Flipped for You.  This publisher is known for being author-friendly, prompt with correspondence, and providing on-time responses.  Tomorrow will be exactly one month.  I am probably the only one counting days, but it affirms my original Snail-Philosophy.  Everyone–even a small press–is overloaded.  My in-box is currently empty.

So, I’ve rolled up my sleeves and hunkered down in the kitchen more than a few times to resume my most recent novel titled I’d Rather Be Somewhere Else.  It is a welcome distraction from the compulsive e-mail checking that I do when given thirty seconds of free time.  With each manuscript I am able to apply the wisdom I’ve gained from the process of querying, corresponding with agents and editors, and revising.  As I write this manuscript, I can’t help but get excited about how it’s coming together.

Word of advice for fellow authors waiting on the process:  When in doubt, write.  And then write some more.  It soothes the wait.  At least for me.  Off to write!

Is the snail asleep?

I think I said earlier that the publishing industry works at a snail’s pace.  I’m holding firm with this belief.  I still have not heard from the publisher with Flipped for You, and it’s been so long that I’ve drafted probably three more versions of the thing, so the one that the editor has is now so old it’s probably unrecognizable.  I have sent the newest version to a smaller press, and the full is currently under review there.  Maybe I’ll get somewhere with this one.

I submitted my second manuscript, The One That Got Away to another midsized publisher.  This one requests exclusive submissions, but I have yet to receive a confirmation e-mail that they have received the query, so I’m left to sit and ponder the manuscript’s flight into cyberspace…

It is clear by these results that everyone in the industry is completely overloaded.  I will say that patience is key in this business, and that I’m glad I didn’t start this in my seventies as I may never see the rewards of my labors!

I’m currently working–although I shouldn’t use the present participle as my writing has been at a complete standstill for the last two months due to moving–on I’d Rather Be Somewhere Else.  No plans for submission as of yet.  As alterations to the new house are dwindling and the holidays loom, I suspect I’ll be back on the keys in no time, clicking away.  I’ll keep you posted on this one.  In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all!