Groupie: by Susan Daugherty

Groupie: by Susan Daugherty

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Step Five in My Writing Journey: Query Your Heart Out

This topic overlaps with Step Four, in which I started to talk about the query but was sidetracked onto agents...those who you will send your query letter to! You can agents who you think will be interested in your book by researching book agencies. Each agency may give you a clue as to what books they are looking for- for example one whole agency may be for romance only or young adult books. However, most agencies seek a wide range of novels and have different agents who specialize in different areas.

Therefore, you must sift through numerous agencies and then through numerous agents at each agency to find the ones who say they are accepting queries for your type of novel. Each agent will give you a little blurb about themselves and what they are seeking, what interests they have, and often what books they have had success in publishing so that you can try to match with the right person. It can be daunting to try to choose the right  person at an agency... most agencies insist that you only query to one agent and if they pass, it is considered a pass for the whole group.

I used QueryTracker to help me sift through the many agents out there and found it to be very helpful. After signing up with a username and password, I put in what genres my novel fit (for me, I used contemporary womens fiction, romance, new adult) and the tracker gave me a nice, long list of agents who were seeking these types of books. I could click on each link to read more about the agent and their agency and decide if they were a good fit.

Why not just send to each and every agent out there that remotely seems interested in your type of book? First, it is very time consuming. Second, if your query letter is not up to snuff and is getting passed on each time, it is best not to have sent it to every choice you have. You can see how your response is from the first 5 agents and perhaps you need a rewrite before you send it to more. Also, if you send it out to twenty agents but your top 3 are slower getting back to you...but you've heard something positive from number what? Do you go with that agent that was not at the top of your list or put them off while you wait to hear from the one you really want?

Why did I say it was time consuming? Isn't the query the same form letter that you send to each agent that tells a bit about your book and about you? In theory, you write your query letter about your novel, but the problem is that on each agent's website, they also tell you what things they want you to include in your query. Some are very specific and you wind up rewriting the whole thing! Some insist that it be only 3 paragraphs after you have mastered a 5 paragraph letter that another agency had recommended. Some limit the word count. Some have you fill it out online via Submittable, which makes you start all over. You must also address it to each person and tell them why you chose to send it to them, hopefully with convincing reasons. The agents want to know why you chose them and that you did not just send out a form letter 'to whom it may concern' to fifty agents.

I looked up advice on writing the query and there are many options there as well. Some experts say to start with information about you and then talk about your book. Others say you only have two seconds to grab their attention so you better start talking about your tagline right away. They want you to be creative and show your novel off but not to be cliche. It is a fine line, my friends. I even took my query letter to a writing conference to get feedback from actual agents. Three agents looked at it and all gave me different advice... It can be downright maddening. Your hopes and dreams of having your book published hinge on an agent taking the time to read your one brief letter that you have to pray is set up the way they like it and grabs their attention. If I were to fix the letter the way one person preferred, the other 2 would not like it and vice versa.

Now you can see why I said this was the hardest part of the process. Imagine completing a novel and all the editing... but what good is it, if you can't get the novel in front of any agents due to an imperfect query letter. And there does not seem to be a way to write a perfect query letter because the varying opinions from the professionals.

I did manage to get some responses to my query letters! In the next entry I'll move past the dreaded querying and into the next phase of the writing process.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I am so pleased to announce that I will have a book signing for those who have asked! My amazing team at BenchMark has offered (insisted) on hosting the event. I hope to see many of you there with your books in hand, or you can buy them there as well... just in time for Christmas!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Step Four in My Writing Journey: The Very Important Middle Man

One would think that sitting down to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and actually writing a book from beginning to end would be the hard part. Wrong.

Okay, perhaps the never-ending editing that requires a fine tooth comb to go over every word, sentence, phrase and paragraph countless times. And, yes, you continue to find errors and issues each and every time, even though you are sure that you nailed it perfectly on the last edit! This phase also involves having others edit with you in the preliminary stage. Preferably a writers group or other friends who are writers or avid readers that will also go over each page and make corrections. Perhaps this is the hardest part of the writing process? Wrong.

The winner of this prestigious honor is the grueling process of querying to literary agents.

As the complete novice that I've admitted to being... I had no clue what a query was. I knew somehow authors tried to get publishers to look at their book and hopefully sign them to a deal. The 'somehow' is querying to the middle man between you and the publishers who will actually edit, design, promote, advertise and publish your book for the masses. The agents are necessary and it is very rare to find a publisher that you can send your novel to without an agent representing you first. (I did cross that road and will write about it soon).

There are dozen of agents at dozens of firms-  most all of which are in or near NYC but some are scattered across the country. Their job is to sift through the piles of would-be novels and pluck up the ones that they believe have potential to be sold to the publishers. Like I said, the middle-man. The publishers count on them to weed out books and then present to them only the cream of the crop. The agents each tend to have specialty areas that they are looking for (science fiction, middle grade, paranormal romance, women's fiction... some are very broad ranges and some are looking only at very specific type of books) and in turn they also have the 'in' with the publishers to know what they are looking for and who to submit it to within the firms.

Agents are trying to stay ahead of the trends. After Twilight blew up the book world, everyone wanted to publish the  knock offs and there were vampire books everywhere... But after so long, they are moving on and if you are late to the party, no one is going to look at a vampire book anymore. They may have already moved onto zombie books for a couple of years and then onto the next trend. There is always a demand for certain books like a broad romance category- but there are still trends to follow that come and go in popularity.

So... you've got to find the right agent that is looking for the type of book you're selling and then hope they pluck you out of the million submissions on their desk and choose to champion your project and get you to the correct publisher who will also say YES!

Sound impossible? Nah, but the chances are slim and the task is daunting. What if the agent of your dreams is just having a bad day? Or has such a backlog of submissions that they pass on everything with barely a glance-  looking for maybe one keyword in your query only.

Oh yes, back to the query. That's the letter you are going to write (and personalize for each and every agent that you want to submit to) to tell about you, your project and why they should pick it all in one page.

Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Step Three in My Writing Journey: Series Shock

In my mind, I had written one, complete novel that told one complete story. It took awhile for me to wrap  my head around the fact that I would need to split it up into two 95K word books (instead of a Goliath 190K book that would never get a query glance from agents or publishers).

Poor Michelle, my writing group partner, whom I met with weekly as we edited and critiqued each other's books... she tried to tell me several times that a split of the novel was inevitable and then she had to wait patiently for me to accept the reality. As a stroke of luck, there was a great point exactly halfway through the book that was a major plot shift where a cliffhanger could be inserted.

I worried endlessly about this change, of course. It was my baby, my labor of love. I was splitting it apart and into two pieces. What if that turned readers off? Do they prefer a series? Will I get backlash for a cliffhanger? Do I need to disclose that its a cliffhanger? Is it truly a series if its two books-  not three or more books? There wasn't a neat way to make it a trilogy, unfortunately, though I did consider that option.

Ultimately, I had to take the leap of faith that a two part series was meant to be. The good news was that the time I'd spent writing had actually produced TWO books, not bad for six months of writing. It became exciting that I would have the ability to pitch two novels, that I could show I had more than one book in me, that I had the next project ready to go. I hoped agents would appreciate this

Editing the first book took priority after we had been through the whole novel as one piece. With the split, we went back to re-edit once again to be sure everything was tidy for a split book. Query writing became interesting due to the fact that it can be hard to explain that there is a cliffhanger and a second book. Some agents seemed to want stand alone novels and some wanted series. I worked hard to make the ending such as it could be considered a stand alone work, with the option to become a series with a second book.

Oh, I have now dipped into the process of querying. A process best described as HEART WRENCHING, FRUSTRATING, HORRIFIC. You think I'm exaggerating? I wish I was... That is a topic I must spend a lot more time on, so I will do that in the next post!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Proper Length for a First Time Novel

I threw a lot of information in the last post about the industry standard for a novel. Especially a first time novelist without a book deal, looking for an agent. (Let's face it- VERY VERY few novelists have any kind of deal made before writing and querying their novel. Those lucky folks may have a deal to write a long novel.) But, for the vast majority of us, we have to follow the "rules".

It can be a tricky thing because the rules are ever-changing in the book industry. There are fads and trends to deal with. There can varied opinions out there too... every single agent is looking for very particular things and finding the right one at the right time with the right novel can feel downright impossible.

Aside from these factors, there are also the anomalies that we hear of with such great popularity that we feel that they ARE the norm. Such as: Twilight. Very long book. Stephenie Meyer's first novel. It was plucked from the slush pile and became a phenomenal hit. Harry Potter: Very long book. Also plucked up as an unknown author and instant stardom. I will admit that the urban legend of books like these made me think that long novels were more of a norm.

Therefore, as I stated in my Writing Journey Part Two: I was a bit blindsided by the fact that my first novel was WAY too long. To shed more light on this topic from an expert, I have attached a link to Writers Digest talking about this very same issue that another poor author ran across. At least I'm not the only one...

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Step Two in My Writing Journey: Reality Check

    I had completed my novel in about six months, which I thought was pretty good. This is considering I also work 3 long a days a week as a physical therapist and director of my clinic and also care for (and shuttle all over the universe) my two children.
   What I didn't know at the time, was that the novel I completed was the length of TWO full novels- plus some! At 240,000 words, my dear friend who had inspired me to write as I followed her footsteps, let me in on the fact that a first novel should be 80-100K words. Well, at least I had a starting point...
    Michelle was kind enough to team up with such a newbie as myself and we began a small group editing team. She had completed one novel and had started another. Her first was on hold and she had not made headway with query submissions, so she had me begin edits and critiques of it, while she worked on mine as well.
   The main issue became: can we cut enough words to make the story into one novel? Or do I need to cut it in half and make it two novels... and is there a good place to stop the story to allow that to happen? Could it be a triology? When you write for months with your vision of this ONE complete story, it is very hard to let go. I insisted it should be kept as one full story. However, there was no way I could cut out literally more than half the book to shorten it enough. That would be impossible. Yes, there were definitely many scenes that were cut (like a knife to the heart everytime you have to let one of your babies go). Some are scenes you love- just a great dialogue banter, or a fun adjunct to the story... but when you've got to cut words and streamline the plot, you wind up slowly letting some of your favorites go. Sigh. But... no where near enough to get it close to 100K.
    When we had completed edits months later, we had the novel down to 190,000. It would be a perfect amount to split into two novels. I had to come to terms that my story was actually meant to be told as a two part series.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Step one in my writing journey: lose my mind

       Three years has gone by so fast and so slow at the same time. It's hard to believe that it was that long ago I was inspired by a new friend when she told me that she wrote her own novel. Her courage to step out of her day job in the medical field (that I also work in) and pursue her passion for writing gave me a nudge to indulge my creative side as well.
    To say that I had no clue what I was doing, is an understatement. All I  knew is that she wrote a book and then met a with a group to help her critique and edit it and was in the process of preparing to submit it to agents. Easy, right? I'd had what I considered an entertaining idea for a novel in the back of my mind for years... I would write the kind of book I loved to read. I would make it contemporary, easy to read, page turner with romance, wit and reality.
    So, I sat down and wrote a very simple and loose timeline and named my key characters... and just started writing. Oh, I knew how it would start and end. I knew a few key things that I wanted to happen between. And I let my imagination fill in all the blanks. I truly enjoyed every moment as I felt the words come to life and the story unfolded over the pages.
    I honestly only told my husband what I was doing because otherwise he'd wonder why I was glued to my laptop every night instead of Grey's Anatomy. Oh, and by laptop... I mean a tiny NetBook. Yes, folks, I'm pretty sure I deserve some kind of award for writing an entire  novel on that, if nothing else in this world. I kept it to myself until I sure I could finish the darn thing
     Finish, I did! I was ecstatic! I had to read it from front to back and make some edits... then I was ready to tell my inspirational friend that I wrote a novel. I called and blindsided her completely. She was floored that I secretly wrote a novel and was gracious to immediately offer to help me on the next part of the process.
     Here's the funny part. She asked how many words my novel was. I had never looked up an appropriate number of words for a first novel... I just wrote until the story was complete. I told her it was 240,000 words and I could feel her astonishment over the phone. She let me in on what was apparently common knowledge: a novel should be 80-100K words. Oops. I had more than doubled the recommended length and I would never be able to submit it to agents and publishers at such a length.
    Big problem. But, hey, I had written a dang book and I was excited for the journey to come! I had so much to learn. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.