Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Qualities of a Dream Agent

Like most aspiring authors, I spend a lot of time thinking about literary agents and writing the right query letter to get their attention. But occasionally I think about things from the opposite perspective. If I attain my goal of signing with an agent, I'm going to be working with them for what I hope is a very long time. So I started brainstorming a list of characteristics I want in a literary agent:
  1. Someone who responds to communication.
  2. Someone who responds to communication promptly.
  3. Someone who explains to me what they're doing in regards to my career.
  4. Someone who doesn't work with absolutes. I've seen more than one agent blog or tweet or say in an interview that they will not tolerate semi-colons in their clients' work. Other instances include rules like "no ellipses" and "no adverbs". I get that none of these things should be used profusely in writing, but if I someday write the most perfect semi-colon sentence ever, I'm not going to split it into two sentences because of some silly rule.
  5. Someone who answers my questions about the industry with patience and compassion.
  6. Someone who will seek help from colleagues instead of giving me advice that isn't backed by experience.
  7. Someone who isn't afraid to take risks and encourage me to do the same.
  8. Someone who can control their anger.
  9. Someone who never makes me their last priority. Even if things go terribly, I still would like to come before spring cleaning.
  10. Someone who is always honest with me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Suggestion for the DSM-5

Here's a suggestion for the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
The Query Crazies. I could even be a test subject, because I have it. I wasn't sure at first. I thought maybe I just needed exercise, so I went swimming. This helped while I was in the pool, but once I got out, it was back to spinning brain, restless mind, hopeless soul. Melodramatic, I know. Let's call that one of the symptoms, too.

I know exactly how I got to this place. A few days ago, one of the agents who requested my manuscript turned it down. My immediate response was one of relief. You see, I've started writing my next book, and it's turning out to be science fiction. Several of the agents I queried for Mina (including the one who just rejected the MS) do not represent science fiction. If they had offered me representation, we would have had to have an awkward conversation about that. Anyway, I sent the agent a brief email genuinely thanking them (yes, I use they/their/them as gender-neutral singular pronouns) for their polite and prompt response. I didn't cry or immediately fall into despair. I didn't even feel the need to immediately call Derek. I thought I was fine.

Then, for the rest of that day (this email had arrived by the time I woke up) I was useless. I couldn't focus on anything for long, and I grew increasingly anxious about the remaining MS request and how long it's been since I've heard from that agent. I worry that the longer it takes, the more likely I am to get a rejection. If that's not true, I'll happily accept proof to contradict it. That would mean another MS request from one of the remaining agents on my list. I'm starting to grow hopeless. I see Mina floating on lifeless waves, never to be read by anyone but me and a few loyal beta readers. Perhaps it wasn't good enough. That's probable, and over time, I'm sure this hypothesis will become easier to accept. But it's not easy to put away a year's worth of work and be grateful for nothing but the learning experience. A lot of times, I think people use that phrase as a euphemism for "you wasted your time, but I don't want to be the one to tell you that." I know I've learned a lot. Still, if you had told me a year ago that I was working on a "practice novel" I doubt I would have put so much effort into it. There was a goal associated with that book, and I'm slowly realizing that I will not reach that goal.

My response to all of this despair has been mixed. The logical side of my brain is telling me to write the next novel ASAP so that it's ready to query by the time Mina is 100% rejected. This is actually a feasible goal. The entire novel is outlined and I'm very excited about it. The problem is the emotional side of my brain. It's telling me to drop my head like Charlie Brown and drag my feet around listening to sad, slow piano music - to wallow, basically. I know wallowing is a waste of time. But I wonder if it's also a little like mourning in that it's necessary. I am mourning, in a way.

So my plan is to let myself feel the grief of failure for today and today only. I will be quiet and somber and try to let it sink in deep. I will play video games and clean the house to pass the time. But tomorrow - TOMORROW, the logical side wins. I will write, and I will finish this next book so that I have something new to put my faith in.

And to remind myself that I have accomplished some good things (albeit not things related to writing), I'm posting a picture of the Christmas gift I embroidered for my best friend's daughter. I'm very pleased with how well it turned out. The recipient was kind of indifferent. Of course, she is only 2 years old. But her mom loved it, and I think that's what I was really going for.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Realities of Querying

I'm about as deep into querying as you can get right now. The biggest news is that I got two full manuscript requests a few weeks ago. Everyone was so excited - friends and family, husband - but the news has gotten stale and it sucks to have to keep telling everyone, "No, haven't heard anything yet." Other queries are being rejected through simple expiration. Those are the most disheartening because you don't even know if anybody read or even received it. I'm so grateful for written responses that on two occasions, I actually sent the agent a quick email back to thank them.

One thing I've noticed is that in the two cases where the agent response was a good one, they used my actual name. One of them even referenced the title of my book. All of the rejections I've received sans one have been addressed "Dear author" and none of them have said anything personal. That alone kind of sucks because it leaves me wondering why I was rejected.
Is my query letter bad? Is the pitch incomplete? Do I sound ignorant? Is the genre not something you actually represent (despite one website or another saying you do)? Did you just not like the premise of the book? Does it seem inappropriate for the age group I've written it for?
I don't have a clue why a single agent has rejected my query.

I know that all of this is just part of the game. I've researched the publishing industry like crazy. I've read author blogs and autobiographies and wikipedia entries and interviews. I've read agents' and editors' blogs. I pay for a subscription to Publisher's Marketplace and I scan Publisher's Lunch everyday to see if there's any news that might be relevant to my querying process. I've read through the sad, sad threads of other neglected queriers on Absolute Write. I've actually learned to avoid that site. I find that it's kind of like looking up diseases online and then developing hypochondria that you have something. People mostly share bad news or horror stories of agents not getting back to them for 6 months or more. It's hard enough hauling around my own bad news. I don't want to read about anyone else's.

So that's my update. Not crying-sad, but definitely sober. While I'm waiting for this querying thing to wrap up, I've started to write the next book. I think it will be far better than the first and I'm very excited about it, although anxious about how much time it will take. In characteristic Dani Fashion, I want to finish it like, tomorrow, so that I can query it and increase my chances of securing an agent and a deal because THAT would mean the fruition of a dream - that I can keep writing because it will be a job, and not just a hobby.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Contemplating Tense & Perspective

It's been a few weeks since I blogged, so let me catch you up: 
I worked hard on querying, revising and synopsizing (that's a verb, right?) up until December 20th. I was working up until the minute Derek and I had to leave for the airport. A bit stressful, but ultimately it was a good plan because I was able to relax over Christmas. I saw old friends, exchanged gifts - and got sick!

I started coughing the day we got to Michigan and it quickly got worse. By Christmas Day, I was hardly eating and my cough was terrible. My mom and Derek both proposed going to urgent care, but that felt a little dramatic, given that my central problem was a cough. I waited until we got home to see my doctor. She saw me for five minutes and prescribed antibiotics. I'm still taking them. I don't think they've helped. My saving grace was that Derek was home until yesterday, so he did the majority of the dog-walking and the cooking and the errands while I slept for 13-14 hours a day and coughed until I gave myself a headache. Yoy. Today is my first day on my own again and I've done fine, just moving slower than usual. The pug has been impatient with me.

I thought I would take advantage of this post to put down my writing goals - not necessarily for the year, but for the foreseeable future. (I hope most of these things happen before the end of the year.)
  1. Finish revising Mina.
  2. Send remaining queries.
  3. Learn Scrivner.
  4. Write Safira.
  5. Query Safira by summer, assuming Mina does not find representation.
These are only the goals I can control. Of course, I also want to sign with an agent and get a book deal (or two!) but those goals are really out of my hands. I can accomplish the short list above without anyone else's help.

One good thing about being sick that I forgot to mention is that I had time to read! I read The Night Circus, which I pre-ordered before it came out and have had on my bookshelf ever since. I finally read it last week and the timing was perfect. I loved how Erin Morgenstern changed perspectives and time periods so often. It really gave the reader the feeling of being omniscient and following a group of people over a long period of time.

I hadn't decided what perspective and tense I wanted to write Safira in until I read this book. I'm not going to do exactly what Erin Morgenstern did, but I was inspired by her style. She went back and forth in time, writing from the third person in the present tense. For Safira, I'm going to write chronologically, attempting to link the chapters together to create a cohesive timeline. I'm going to write in third person past tense, changing perspectives often but trying to stick with my MC about 50% of the time.

I know past tense is a little out of fashion right now - most of the things I've read since The Hunger Games came out have been written in present tense - but past tense just seems right for Safira. Past is the natural tense for telling stories, and it would give me the flexibility to be retrospective.

Cheers to a New Year and a New Book!