Sunday, May 18, 2014

Adventures in Fiction Writing! Part Seven: AMASSING YOUR LITERARY ARMY

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it must take an army to publish a book. An army of dedicated, bespectacled, grammar-correcting nerds who come out under the cover of darkness to further their nefarious literary schemes.

...I wish.
That would be cool, wouldn't it? Sword-wielding publishers? But alas, the reality is much more mundane than that. It DOES take an army of dedicated folks to publish a book, but it's an army of regular (albeit bookish) people. There are no moonlit meetings or secret codes. Publishing folk connect through query letters, conventions, and the occasional twitter pitch party (see #pitmad, #askagent, and #twitterpitch among others).

Finding and reaching out to your literary army can be daunting. It's time-consuming and more than a little bit intimidating. But there really are no shortcuts. Well, at least not for regular people. There have been a few previously self-published authors who achieved such stunning success on their own that agents literally courted them. (Amanda Hocking is one, Ania Ahlborn is another.) But they are the exception. Most of us writerly types have no choice but to roll up our sleeves, swallow what's left of our pride, and query.

If you've been following my Adventures in Fiction Writing series from the beginning, you'll already know how I feel about query writing. I'm sure many of you feel the same. But we need to get over ourselves. Literary agents are not monsters. And believe it or not, they want us to succeed just as much as we do. It's true! Our success is their success. Without writers, there could be no literary agents.

So take a deep breath and get ready for the query-go-round. Here's how I'm doing it. This is just my way. There are a million others. And I'm new at this, for all I know, my way might suck. But I'm giving it a go.

(1) Research literary agents who accept submissions in your genre.
(2) Make a list of 20-30 of those agents, noting their contact info, websites, and social media reach (especially twitter!!)
(3) If you're not already on twitter, GET ON TWITTER.
(4) Follow all agents you plan to query on twitter. 
(5) Write your query letter.
(6) Write it again.
(7) Write it some more.
(8) Show query letter to beta readers.
(9) Rewrite query letter.
(10) Begin submitting.
(11) While you wait for responses, follow all the writerly types you can find on twitter. Follow all the writerly hashtags. (#writetip, #wordmongering, #NANOWRIMO, #JUNOWRIMO, #pubtip, #AmWriting, etc, etc). You WILL NEED the moral support, and you may learn of a twitter pitch party you can take part in.

A word on twitter pitch parties.
Think of these as the cyber version of an elevator pitch. It's your opportunity to grab the attention of a bunch of literary agents with one well-crafted tweet. Think it's hard to write a 140-character hook for your book? Hell fucking yeah it is! But it's not any easier to write a query and synopsis. And how often you can pitch a whole mess of agents at the same time? These are fun, low-pressure ways to query. DO IT.

Sometimes I think I sound like the PR department for twitter. Oh, well.

Anyone out there struggling through this stage of your adventure in fiction writing? Leave me a comment and tell me how you're dealing with it!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Adventures in Fiction Writing! Part Six: 20 Things to Do to Kill Time While Waiting for your Beta Readers

Originally this post was going to be an introspective look at how impatient I get while waiting for feedback on my #WIP. But then I said to myself:

"GRRRL, nobody wants to hear you whine."

And I was right. Nobody does. Especially not me. So instead I put together a list of things impatient bitches like me can do to distract ourselves while we wait for that all-important reader feedback. Hopefully it will help some of you. I'm pretty sure it prevented the untimely death of my lovely and infuriating teenage daughter.

(1) Bake a banana bread. It's widely regarded as impossible to be anxious or angry while mashing bananas.
(2) Read someone else's book. But nothing serious. Choose something light or fluffy or fantastical. You know what I mean: the sort of literary junk food you usually deny indulging in.
(3) Get all your friends together--NOT including any beta readers who also happen to be your friends--for a night of drinking and gaming.Cards Against Humanity is stupid fun. It's pee-your-pants-because-you're-laughing-so-hard funny.
(4) Go smurfing for pseudoephedrine. It worked for Walter White.
(5) Forget that. Spend a weekend binge-watching Breaking Bad instead.
(6) Try a new shade of nail polish. Try a different color on every finger. When people ask about it, respond with something completely irrelevant and judgemental, like:

"I hope one day you can grow beyond your racism."

(7) Spend an afternoon reconnecting with your younger self. Pull out that old box of toys from the attic. Play with your barbies. (Or GI Joes if you're a guy. Or a woman who played with masculine toys as a child.) Name one after that rumor-spreading bitch at work. Play through a scenario in which she develops cancer of the everything and then give her "treatments" that consist of you dousing her with gasoline and lighting her on fire.
(8) Research literary agents who represent books in your genre. Make a list of those who are currently accepting submissions.
(9) Stare at your list in despair. Cry a little.
(10) Tell yourself to man up. Expand your list to include details about what each of the agents likes to see in a query letter. Then pour over websites that offer advice on how to write winning query letters.
(11) Pour yourself a glass of red zinfandel. Take a sip. Then knock back the rest of the glass because no one could possibly write a query letter as well as the examples on the website.
(12) Pour yourself another glass. Wonder for a moment how good it would feel to write a different kind of letter to all those literary agents? One in which you tell them exactly where they should shove their submission guidelines.
(13) Throw your glass across the room. Drink the remaining wine straight from the bottle.
(14) Doodle ugly pictures of your Beta readers. Be creative with the details: give one boils and another an unfortunate facial scar.
(15) Ditch the wine. 3 am pity parties call for whiskey.
(16) Come to terms with the fact that each and every one of your Beta readers hates your guts. Or worse, hates your book.

Because that's why they haven't responded to your emails and calls. They hate your book so much that the mere though of talking to you sends them into fits of rage.

(17) Cry yourself to sleep. Wake up the next morning with a hangover. Call in sick to work.
(18) Spend the day in a bubble bath. Renew your promise to yourself that you will chill the FUCK out.
(19) Bake chocolate chip cookies. Eat the cookies in bed.

Friday, May 2, 2014

It's Not Me, It's You

Once upon a time I had a kick-ass therapist.

She was wonderfully grandmotherly. Her hair was curly and gray, she had deep smile lines that framed her mouth, and the couch in her office was covered in doilies that I just knew she had knit herself.

My therapist understood me. She called me on my bullshit. And, because she knew that I process things better when I write about them, she encouraged me to journal our process together. I wrote her hundreds of pages of my overly-dramatic ramblings and she read them. ALL of them. And on her own time. At the end of each of our sessions I would hand her a new stack of pages and she read them over before we met again, and then we'd discuss them.

My therapist was with me before I broke up with my ex and after. When my friend Cari thought I needed a safe place to retreat for a few days, my therapist secured me a spot in the county--ahem!-- "resort" for a 5-day observation period. And she was there for me when I was released.

We worked together for YEARS, my therapist and I, until one day she decided to call it quits. She said I hadn't done anything wrong. She said she still liked me. She said she still believed that I could one day find peace. But she also said that there was nothing else SHE could do for me. She had tried everything she knew. She had provided me all the study material she had. But there was just no more. She knew I needed more help, but she didn't have any left to give.

I was devastated. I couldn't imagine my future without her. I wasn't ready to do it on my own. 

She said she had a friend. A smart friend. Someone who might better be able to reach me. She could arrange a meeting if I liked. I said yes, thank you, and we set things up. Her friend WAS smart, and nice, and she and I got along well...But it wasn't the same. I stopped seeing her after awhile.

That was a few years ago. I haven't tried a new therapist since. But I'm really feeling like I should. My head can be a dark place. It's easy to get lost in there. A good therapist is like a guide, shining light in the dark corners and offering a change in perspective.

But what if I can't find someone like her? Are good therapists like soul mates: only one per person??

God that would suck.