Ugh, Pictures

Okay, I’m going to have to do something I’ve been dreading since I wrote my biography: I’m going to have to have a professional picture made. I hate, hate, hate having pictures made. I am not photogenic at all. But pictures of me from my medieval wedding are just not going to cut it anymore. So, after we get back from vacation–and I scrape up some cash–I’m going to have to go have my picture made.

Speaking of pictures, I’m bumming because there’s no picture to go with my short story. Yeah, it’s just a short story, but I think it doesn’t look very interesting sitting there on Amazon without a picture. I’ve found one I like on Shutterstock (it’s $19, which means I’d have to sell 53 copies of my story to recoup the cost), and another on deviantART (I’ve got a message into the artist to see what it would cost to buy). It’s rather hard to find a picture of a dragon which is not evil-looking, much less gold.

Book Two: Mixed Reviews

I know I haven’t posted in a while. A lot’s been going on in my life and it’s been hair, teeth, and eyes everywhere at work more often than not. My husband read my second book and he had mixed reviews. He likes the characters and the story in general, but has a problem with Kalyn being romantically involved with someone so much older. I told him, “Anselm’s 790 years old; it’s not like she’s going to catch up to him.” He still thinks I need to go back to my first book and up her age by a year or two.

So I’m waiting for some of my female readers to read through it and give me their opinions. So far, in theory, neither is averse to this May 2009-December 1219 romance, but as my boss pointed out, women, in general, are  all about romance, and the particulars aren’t quite as important. I know I don’t really see a problem; it’s a loving, permanent relationship. Sex is incidental, not instrumental. All around, it’s a better relationship than many that older women find themselves in.

Still, I’ve put a hold on sending out query letters for a while. What if it does turn out that I need to up her age (as silly as that is; absolutely nothing about her character will change, just because she’s a year older)? I’m starting to think that I might want to wait to query until I get all three books more or less done and get feedback on them, because I can always go back and change things like someone’s age while they’re still under my control, but once published, they stay published. Then the only option, if the agent and/or publisher pitches a fit about a sexually active 16 year old, is to take that out of the second book. And then it messes up everything. Better to up her age than change the plot that dramatically.

One benefit to waiting longer to query is to let the current vampire fad die down. The market is saturated, and I know that counts against me in a major way.

So, that’s where I am now. The road to getting published is never a straight path.

Book Two, Soon in Proof

You may have noticed that my blog has grown rather quiet over the past two weeks. That’s because I’ve been engaged in the final edits of the first draft of my second book. This morning I ordered my first proof.

Why am I going forward with my second book when I don’t even have an agent for my first one? For one, I am a big believer in writing when I have an idea; if I wait, I lose the idea. If I waited however many years until my first book gets published, I might forget everything I had ever planned to do with my second and third. But, primarily, it’s easier to write than to agent-shop. My book does not reject me. In fact, I get a high over finishing it, and then I get more highs as friends and family members read it and give me feedback. Sending out queries is a very depressing activity, and there’s only so much rejection you can take before you have to stop and do something else for a while. So, while I’m waiting to get un-bummed, I might as well write books two and three.

Stats and Formatting

How many of us have heard something along the lines of “you have as much chance becoming a professional [insert sport here] player as you have of winning the lottery” ? Some of us may have even had parents or teachers crush that dream when we were still young enough to believe that is possible.

I am coming to the conclusion, though, that getting published is the same way. I have now seen two agencies say they take 1% or less of all people who query them. One agent said she gets 1,200 queries a month, ten months a year. That’s 12,000 query letters a year, but 120 or less will be selected for representation. Yes, you must have a good book and a good query, but there’s also an element of luck in there–meeting the right agent at the right time in the right market.

Here are some formatting rules that I have seen for submitting requested materials to an agent or publisher:

  • 8.5 x 11 page
  • Double-space
  • Left-justified (not full align, as it would be in a published book)
  • Put your name, page number and book title on the bottom of every page (use footer)

Most agents want the sample / synopsis (if they want it at all) pasted into the body of an e-mail. I have seen one agent ask for this to be double-spaced, left-justified, so if you have full formatting capabilities on your e-mail, do it. (I don’t think you need to double-space your query letter or bio, but yes on the synopsis and writing sample.)

I use CreateSpace.com to make proof copies of my books so I can let friends and family read them and, also, it makes proofing easier (for some reason it’s easier to catch typos in print than on a computer screen). If you want to format your Word document for print, here are the settings:

Print margin size:
Top: 0.6
Bottom: 0.6
Inside: 0.5
Outside: .75 

Mirror margins
Page size: 5.13 x 8

*Note – My old version of Word is on crack, and it confuses the inside margin and the outside margin. What you are really doing is setting the inside margin to be wider than the outside margin, in order to allow room for binding. If your word processor is not on crack, you will want to reverse those numbers.

Rejection

File:Emelyn Story Tomba (Cimitero Acattolico Roma).jpgWell, back to the Pit of Literary Despair; my partial was rejected.

I was riding a high for a little while because I was asked for it–and that made it easy to shrug off other rejections of my query letter–but now it’s been rejected, and I think that’s worse than a query letter being rejected. Because if it’s just the letter, you think, “How can a letter of 250 words or less show the awesomeness of my book, the depth of my characters, the suspense of the plot?” But 50 pages? A rejection of my first 50 pages sounds a lot more like the first 50 pages of my book suck.

File:WLA lacma The Death of Lucretia.jpgTo throw myself a bone, I have now seen two agents mention, on their websites, that they only take 1% of all people who query them. Those are the odds I’m playing every time I send out a letter: am I going to be the lucky one out of a hundred?

I have exhausted my second list of agents, which means I need to find another list. 44 query letters out, and it’s coming up on a year (Sept 8th).

File:Herbert James Draper, Ariadne.jpgGetting published is harder than writing a novel. And it’s taking longer.

 

 

Score!

I have been sending out queries again (total count so far is 41) and this morning someone asked for my synopsis and 50 pages!

Speaking of which, I joined AgentQuery Connect yesterday (it’s a free forum for writers) and read that a general rule of thumb is that your query letter should generate a 10-20% positive response. In other words, of all the agents you query, 10-20% of them should ask for more material. If you’re not getting that (and I wasn’t getting anywhere close to that before), your query letter is probably the problem.

Advice for Young Writers

On the NaNoWriMo forums, a 15-year-old writer asked for a critique of his work. I went into specifics, then offered some advice, which I think is good for any new writer, but especially someone who is young and who is looking forward to a possible career as a writer.

I wrote my first “book” (okay, it was about 20 pages) when I was in 6th grade. Here I am now, 31 years old, and I have a book written and I’m trying to get it published. I actually wrote most of a book in college. And when I look at it now, ten years later, I see how badly it sucked, LOL. Looking back on my early writing, I see some broad truths:

Life experience helps you as a writer. I sometimes surprise myself by the things that show up in my writing; things you’ve studied, people you know… it all ends up in your writing, one way or another. The more things you’ve studied and the more people you’ve met, the better your writing gets. So know, as you get older, your writing will only get better!

Secondly, read, read, read. The more you read, the better your writing will get. One, you absorb vocabulary and sentence structure as you read, which will help you as a new writer. Secondly, you can see what does and doesn’t work. I think I learned how to kill off good, interesting characters by reading “Harry Potter.” Sometimes you have to build up a character just to kill him off.

Try reading a book critically. I did this recently with “Twilight.” Yeah, it’s easy for people to joke about the fact that it sucks, but most people can’t cite why. Make sure you can enumerate all the reasons why something sucks or doesn’t suck.

And not everything about “Twilight” sucks. I could have taken a black marker to the fourth book and edited huge chunks out of it, but I actually thought Stephanie Meyer did a really good job of building the tension at the end of the book. I liked the fact that Bella made arrangements to save her daughter in the even that she and Edward died. Picking up passports, getting together cash, planning clothing–all of these things built up tension and a sense of dread and inevitable doom.

I liked it so well, in fact, I did something very similar in the end of my third book–my people spend time preparing for their deaths. And that’s something that I like to emphasize in my writing: I want my readers to be emotionally-involved in the story. I want them biting their nails with worry that someone is going to die. You can only accomplish this by having really developed characters that readers love (even if they love to hate them). I want people begging to know if Anselm and Kalyn get together in the second book; you can only accomplish this by making them and their relationship realistic.

When you write, think about making your reader emotionally involved. I think books like that are not only good reads, but they’re books you keep coming back to.

I would also add a rule that one of my English professors taught us: in life, you only get three exclamation points. Use them wisely.