My Query Stats

One of the questions people ask me when I shout humbly tell them the good news that I’ve just signed with a literary agent is:

How many times were you rejected?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this question. Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. Because not long after I signed with my agent, I actually sat down and went through emails, spreadsheets, and query tracker and figured out just how many rejections I did receive. It’s kind of complicated, because this is the second book I’ve queried. Because not all rejections were as dramatic as non-writers may think. A lot were just non-responses. And because with my first book, after I did a major overhaul I queried some of the same agents twice (to no success).

So I’ve broken it down below:

First Book: The Road Unraveled

First Query: June 14, 2012
Last Query: June 23, 2014
Total Query Length: 2 years (this doesn’t include time off I took to revise. Several months in this two year span were spent on revision)

Responded with Rejection from Query: 71
Closed – No Response: 39
Partial Requests (later rejected): 4
Full Requests (later rejected): 3
Total TRU Rejections: 117

There are a lot more rejections for this one because, as I mentioned, I submitted to some of the same agents more than once. Still got a “nah.”

Second Book: Less to Carry

Pitched at conference (a wee bit before it was ready for querying): July 19, 2014
First Query: October 13, 2014
Last Query: September 1, 2015
Total Query Length: 1 year, 1 month

Rejections from Query: 34
Closed – No Response: 27
Partial Requests (later rejected): 4
Full Requests (later rejected): 5
No Response after a Full Request (yeah, that happened. Fun.): 1
Revise and Resubmit: 1
Total LTC Rejections: 72

Combined Total Rejections for Both Books: 189

Offers of Representation: 1

And that’s all I needed!

(Hidden moral of the post – Keep. Going.)

How I Got My Agent

SIGNED, sealed, delivered….

I’m yours! That’s what I essentially said to Stephanie Kip Rostan of the Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency when I sent in my literary agency agreement. Yes, I mean what you think I mean – I signed with a literary agent today!

Let me back up.

In late August, I received an email from Shelby, Stephanie’s assistant, who told me that she and Stephanie were both reading and LOVING (I’m not taking any creative liberty here, she actually used all caps) my book. She asked me to keep her posted if the availability changes, and that they would try to get back to me in the next week or so.

So naturally, I cried.

I’ve been querying my book, Less to Carry, for quite some time now. I started pitching it an a conference in July of 2014, and besides the two or three times I had to take a break for major revisions I was sending queries, requested partials and fulls that whole time. Before this book, I queried my first book, The Road Unraveled for two years before shelving it.

So yeah, I was NOT used to hearing that anyone loved my book except for my mother, my boyfriend, and my closest friends. Just hearing that actual professionals in my desired industry were loving my words was this huge, important moment in my life. I also knew, instinctively, that an offer was coming. In my head, I adjusted the “week or so” to two weeks, as I know that the industry rarely moves as quickly as you think it will and current clients always take priority.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but I was floating. Nine days after I got the email, I got engaged. That helped distract me. In fact, it bought me an extra week (so three weeks since the original email) before I followed up with Shelby. She told me Stephanie was getting caught up with some stuff but was still reading my manuscript. A month later, I hadn’t heard back. I followed up again and got a similar response. I waited two months through the holidays this time, knowing that most agencies (and the entire literary world, from what I’ve gathered), shuts down at this time.

As most writers who have crawled through the querying trenches can understand, after you get rejected so many times (So. Many. Times.) you develop a pretty negative self-narrative. You come to expect rejection. And more than not wanting to be a pest during the holiday season, I didn’t follow up because I wanted to delay the rejection. I wanted to hold onto that glimmer of hope.

Nevertheless, the shine had dulled. I prepared myself for the day I would check my inbox and get an email like “Hey, sorry, we meant to send that original mail to someone else. Your book was meh,” or “Sorry we jumped the gun on that email, we read the ending and it completely ruined the book for us. And there’s no way you can fix it. It’s just too terrible.”

As much as I tried to think positively, I couldn’t imagine the situation turning out any differently for me. Having only ever been rejected, I slowly started to believe all the negative voices in my head, that this would be another disappointment, in fact the largest one I’d experienced because I had been so close. I busied myself finishing the first draft of my next project, but I had to do a little soul searching: was this the right path for me? It inspired this post, about deciding to just going to keep right on going, to keep on climbing that tree no matter what obstacles I encountered.

So after the New Year, I decided to bite the bullet and follow up with Shelby. And again a few weeks later. I came thisclose to adding a more professional version of “If she’s going to reject me, can we just get it over with?” But I refrained. I didn’t want to screw up the juju. But I braced myself. If I was going to get rejected, it would be okay. I still had a few agents left to query, and if God forbid, I had to give up on this manuscript, I had another one in the hopper ready to work on. It would break my heart, but I had done it before, and I would keep doing it until I got it right.

A week after my last follow-up, as my (now) fiance and I were driving down to the tasting at our wedding venue, I got an email from Stephanie herself. She said A.MAZE.ING. things about my book and told me she was very interested in representing it. She asked to set up a time Monday for us to talk on the phone.

And I cried again. Big, fat, happy crocodile tears.

I couldn’t even read the email to my fiance for several minutes I was so blubbery. I was shocked. Speechless. I would have an agent. This was happening. To me. This happened almost three weeks ago; I’ve since spoken with her and a few of her clients, told all the people closest to me, and signed an actual agreement, and I still can’t believe it. The amount of times I’ve done a crazy little happy dance in a bathroom stall or in my office while I thought no one was looking is countless.

Now I know this is just the first step. The road ahead of me is still going to be hard. I still face more revisions, rejection from publishers, and harsh reality checks. It’s going to be hard. I know only enough to be a little scared of not knowing how hard it’s going to be, if that makes any sense. There are no guarantees in life, and certainly not in this business. I’m not quitting my day job or burning any bridges. But it’s a step. An honest to God step, and if I hadn’t kept going, kept pursuing, kept writing even on the days when I honestly couldn’t see the point, I never would have gotten here.

On Editing

All the writers in the world are about to collectively balk at this statement, but I’m going to say it anyway:

I’ve come to really enjoy the editing process.

Let me clarify that:

Once I know what edits I’m going to make, I really enjoy the editing process.

The worst part about editing (or about starting a book, or starting anything new, really), is not having a clue what you’re doing or if/when you’re going to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. For some people, this part is thrilling. For me, it’s torture, but I was the kid throwing up on the first day of class every year up to seventh grade (maybe college) because I was so overwhelmed by the change in routine. I have a hard time with the beginning of things.

The great thing about editing (once you know the edits you need to make), is you already have material right at your fingertips. No more scratching your head to figure out how the book should end. You already know that. No more wondering who your characters are at their core – you (should) already know that too, although perhaps one of your revisions is you need to communicate it a little more effectively in your next draft. It’s all there in front of you, just waiting to be marked up with a red pen!

And the best part is, with each stroke of the delete key, you are actively improving upon your manuscript. That’s a very satisfying feeling.

I’ve developed a system for editing that helps me feel a little less overwhelmed by the process:

1) Once I’ve typed the words “The End,” (which I don’t actually do, but you know what I mean), I walk away from it. For at least two weeks. I can start on a new project or a short story just to keep my writing muscles from lapsing, but I can’t do anything with that finished draft for two weeks. I need to cleanse my palette in order to come back to it with fresh eyes.

2) I make a list of things I think might be problematic. After two weeks, you’ll think of some. Trust. I’ve learned while writing a draft to make a spreadsheet with each chapter having its own line. I keep track of word count and pages as well as major happenings in the story. This is a HUGE HELP in editing. It helps you recognize plot holes, extraneous chapters, and remembering all the little details that will need to be incorporated somewhere else if you decide to remove/change a chapter. When it’s time to start editing, I go right to this spreadsheet and add the column “Edits” and then insert where I think the problems might be and how to fix it. Now you basically have a roadmap to editing, and all you have to do is go through and do it!

3) Each new draft I do actually goes through TWO read throughs. The first is electronic. I literally open the document and start reading it, line by line, cleaning up crappy sentences and moving around backstory so I can bleed it in rather than flooding my reader with it. I also have my above referenced spreadsheet open so I can keep in mind more major edits I need to make.

4) After my computer revisions, I print it out and bind it. I wait at least one week (again, cleanse the palette and come back with fresh eyes). Then I read it with my trusty red pen. No matter how many times you electronically edit your book, you will catch so much with that red pen it’s almost embarrassing. This also helps you put yourself in your reader’s shoes–although not totally, because you know things your reader doesn’t know and it can be hard to “forget” them–because you’re actually holding the book in your hands.

5) Make the edits I red-penned in the hard copy.

So that’s how I edit. It’s intense, but having a system (even if it’s drastically different from mine) really helps! The above process doesn’t mention feedback from others, which is intentional. I always do a second draft BEFORE I send out to beta readers. Reason being, not even my worst enemy deserves to have to slog through my crappy first draft. The third draft is when I basically repeat this process but using the feedback I’ve collected from others. See here to read more about receiving critique.

Quick Tips for Writers

I’m skipping the preamble today in an effort to keep it quick. Here are some tips that have helped me as a writer:

 

  • I’ve said this before, but if you are in the querying phase, write something else. You have heard this before, and rolled your eyes. How can you focus on something else when any day now you will be getting the news any day now that you will be taken on by an agent who is going to magically change your life? The short answers:
    • The querying process is long. Each agent can take up to three months to answer even just a query letter.  Trust me, you’ll go nuts with the waiting if that’s all you’re focused on.
    • Even if you are lucky enough to land an agent (I hope you are), your world is not going to automatically change. There is a long road between signing with an agent and actually landing a publisher, and then another long road once that happens.
    • Agents are interested in representing authors, not just one book. They want to know you’re serious about a career in publishing, which means they’re going to want to see that you’re working on another project, and maybe even have a plan for your next few books.
  • Don’t check your email or any social media until  you’ve done your writing time for the day. If you get a rejection in your email, how good is your writing going to be that day? Unless you’re someone who is motivated rather than deflated by rejection, (which I’m not), I’m guessing probably not so great. If you go on Twitter – poof, you’ve just spent an hour reading about everyone else’s writing time.
  • At any phase, don’t finish writing at the end of a chapter or section of a chapter. Always take that extra minute or two to write a few sentences into the next part. It makes starting up the next day SO much easier!
  • Feeling stuck? DON’T go on Facebook or Twitter. I find it worth repeating that social media is like a black hole for inspiration. But DO try switching tacks. For me, every time I get stuck I take to pen and paper and just write notes until something usable comes out. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier for me to “sketch” out different ideas on paper than on the computer. Or even just walk away from the computer for a set time limit, like five minutes. Do a quick doodle. Put on your favorite song and dance. Do a cartwheel. Jiggle your brain a little, maybe something great will shake out.
  • If you’re having a bad writing day, push through and do a little anyway. Even if you delete it all the next day, you’re keeping your writing muscle strong. Also, when I have a particularly bad writing day the next day is always AWESOME. So there’s something to look forward to.
  • Don’t send out too many queries at one time. If you happen to get a helpful rejection (don’t hold your breath for that, but it happens more and more as you get closer to getting an agent), you may want to consider a major revision that will take some time, and you don’t want to have already burned through your top choice agent list and have no one left to turn to when the revision is complete.
  • I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the interwebs, but when I’m feeling low and a little hopeless (happens to the best of us, people), I practice signing my name with little notes to my readers, like I’m at a book signing! It really lifts your spirits. And just in case that whole law of attraction thing is real, it shifts you back to attracting good things instead of bleak things, like dying a frustrated failure.
  • When you’re done writing your book, do Ctrl + F for the word that and eliminate at least 75% of them. You can also do this for just and really. Also search for all the numbers (start with 0 and work your way up to 9) and make sure any number under 100 is spelled out. Please correct me if that rule is not correct. Also, go drink some champagne or something – you just wrote a book!
  • Most people will tell you to join a critique group. I know I should do this, but I haven’t found the right fit for me yet and so have found crit partners on Twitter so far. I’m going to tell you join a book club. You already know you need to be reading A LOT (you know that, right?), so why not read with the pleasure of knowing you’ll get to discuss it at length with a small group of your choosing. You’ll learn what people like and don’t like about books (so, a critique group of someone else’s work), and you’ll probably end up reading something you wouldn’t otherwise have read, which just expands your toolbox.

Hope one of these was helpful to you!

On Receiving Critique with Grace

Recently I was accepting into the Womentoring Project (@WomentoringP), and I’ve been working with the lovely and generous mentor, Louise Walters (@LouiseWalters12), author of Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase. I was at a point where I had revised my MS many times and had gotten a lot of interest from agents based on my query and sample pages, but ultimately was rejected without much helpful feedback as to why. I was so excited that she chose me, and a little unsure what to expect. She gave me some great, honest feedback about what was working and what wasn’t, and I was super grateful…

After about a week.

Guys, it’s never easy to get critiqued on your work. It comes from your heart and soul, and showing it to others is the literary equivalent of having a baby and then asking someone if they think it’s pretty. It’s hard. It’s scary. And no matter how professional and gentle and diplomatic the response you receive, and no matter how much positive feedback is sandwiched around it, anything that varies from “It’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen!” is crushing to the writer’s ego. So when I first read the feedback, my confidence went into a nosedive. Despite all the nice things she said, I only focused on the things she said needed work, and for a couple days I was completely miserable. Because 1) I knew she was right, 2) It became clear (without her saying so outright) that the beginning of my book needed a major overhaul, and 3) Because I had no clue how to do it.

So, first, even though my heart was stinging and my mind was cycling through horrific, unkind thoughts about myself and my abilities, I shot off a quick email thanking her so much for her feedback. After all, if you’ve ever beta read someone else’s work you know it’s more work than just reading pages. It’s like reading a book but without the fun of it, because you’re looking out for everything from the major things like character development, continuity, and plot points to the little things like grammar and punctuation. And if the writing style isn’t your cup of tea, this can be quite a chore. Even though I was despondent, I wanted her to know I was appreciative of the work she’d done.

Second, I got good and truly depressed. See above re: ego.

Third, after a couple days of that, I tried something new: I made myself stop thinking about it. In the state of mind I was in, I wasn’t going to be able to make any kind of good decisions about how to move forward. I kept opening the file only to tearfully close it again a few minutes later. So, I said to myself “Self, it is not for you to solve right now,” and I mentally pictured myself physically tucking it into a distant, dark fold of my brain (that I imagine also understands how a car works and all the different rules of football), and left it there. Every time I started thinking negative thoughts about it, I said “Ah ah ah. Not yet,” and pushed it back down. I set a time limit, that I could live in this state of denial for up to two weeks, while I worked on another project.

Miraculously, after one week I was sitting and watching TV, giving myself permission on a Friday afternoon to be a lazy bum, and it came to me. I suspected all along I would have to rewrite the beginning, but suddenly this idea wasn’t so daunting. Suddenly I would start here, move this chapter up, move this chapter back, cut out this chapter, add this scene instead, etc. As Louise told me in her feedback, “I know it sounds like an awful lot, but all novels are an awful lot of work and it can take a long time to get them right.” Reading through her feedback with rested eyes, I was able to hold on to more of the positive things, and the negative didn’t seem so bad. Because 1) I knew she was (still) right, 2) I had accepted the fact that the beginning needed a major overhaul, and 3) I knew exactly how to do it.

So I made a list of all the edits I had to make, chapter by chapter (lists do for me what Valium probably does for other people), and I set to work. Slowly but surely, a new draft came together. And, after much editing, I sent off a new copy to my mentor. About a week later, I got her feedback. She loved the new beginning, but mentioned a few entirely new overwhelming things that needed work. And of course my mind went immediately to “HowdoIfixthisit’stoomuchIcan’tdoitmybookiscrapI’mafraudI’mgivingup,” but this time I remembered my process. I thanked her so much for her hard work, I allowed myself to be mopey that the MS needs more work for only one day, tucked it away for another, and this time I only needed that day and a half before I started my list.

The message here is: it’s okay to be sad when you realize your MS isn’t perfect, and frustrated that there is more work ahead on something you’ve already poured so much of yourself into. You’re human. You’re a creative, you have ALL the feelings. But if you really believe in your MS (or if you did ten second before you received your critique), it’s not okay to give up on it. Give yourself a minute, dust yourself, and get back in the ring.

 

 

 

On the Querying Process – Rejection

You’ve written the query and three versions of the synopsis (1, 2, and 3 pages). Revised them. Revised them again. Threw them out. Started again. Revised the new versions twice. Sent them to Twitter friends (thank you, lovely Twitter friends). Revised them based on feedback. Twice.

That sounds like a lot of work, right? Distilling the essence of your beautiful baby (your MS) into a page of marketing speak? It is. There’s a lot of “it’s not fair!” that goes on during this process. In fact, most writers consider writing queries and synopses the bane of their existence. We’re writers, creatives. We don’t want to worry about being salesmen. Luckily, I have a marketing background which makes it a teensy bit easier. But only a teensy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoy this process, but one thing I can say for it is at least it’s an active process. Just like when something really heavy strikes us anger is often what comes up first because it feels active and powerful. While we might feel lost sometimes when doing a query and a synopsis, lost for the right words to describe our literary child, it’s not the hardest part.

I’m actually torn between which is the hardest part – the waiting or the rejection. But more on the waiting later.

Rejection sucks. There’s no other way to look at it. It sucks. Everything I’ve read tells me it gets easier, but I’m finding the opposite. It’s getting harder.

Why? Because I’m getting closer.

With my first novel, I was a complete newbie who knew nothing about the process. The fact that I had finished writing an entire book length work and was actually ballsy enough to let people read it and send it out into the agent world was enough to make me proud. When the rejections (or crickets, in lieu of a response) rolled in, I wasn’t too surprised. I was actually kind of excited, because it meant that someone had read something I had tried to put out, even if they didn’t like it. It made it real. It was the first step. Of course, after dozens of rejections, revisions, and more rejections that came it eventually lost its luster, caving in to a general hopelessness. But I could feel good that I had tried my best.

My second book I have higher hopes for. My writing has grown up a bit, I’ve learned a lot more about the process, I know what agents are looking for. And I truly love the story I’ve written. The characters feel more real to me. The dream is more alive than ever. So the rejections, when they come, are more crushing.

It’s also because I’m more focused on the kind of agent I want, so the agents I do query are people I really wanted to work with. It’s like when you do speed dating and walk away without a connection it’s disappointing but not a big deal, because it was a crapshoot in a room full of strangers. But when you go out with someone you’ve had a crush on for months and then they don’t call — that’s the stuff that sends you right to the Ben & Jerry’s.

The worst part is, 9 times out of ten you get a form rejection, so you can’t gain any valuable insight that can help you improve. (Side note: I am not on my soapbox demanding that every agent should send a personalized rejection to every querier. They do not have time for this, so I understand. See, agents? See how easy I am to work with?) But I’ve been told, and am really starting to believe, that when you do start getting those personalized rejections you’re getting closer. It means your hook is strong enough that they wanted to read more. It means your sample pages kept them reading, even if not for as long as you had hoped. It’s the next step.

But that doesn’t make it any easier. If a game is neck and neck and your team is thisclose to winning, the moment when the other team scores and you realize you’ve been defeated is absolutely flattening.

There are two pieces of advice I can give to querying writers, with the disclaimer that I am not yet published and therefore you may not care what I have to say. But for your sanity’s sake, just listen up.

1) When you’re querying, start your next book. The querying process is long, my friends, much longer than you can imagine, and if all your eggs are in your querying book’s basket, you will go insane. Like legit, rocking in a corner, insane. Shed all the excuses to start a new project (“I want to see if anyone likes this one before I waste time on another one” is common. I used this one for a bit). No. Ignore this. If you are a writer and this is your dream, you need to write. Not only will it help you stay connected to the writer inside, it will help improve your writing. It will give you a sense of control throughout a process that you have almost zero control over. And no matter how good a writer you are, your craft improves with time and practice. So if your book (God forbid) doesn’t find a literary home in the end, at least you’re still moving toward the target.

2) There’s a way to frame rejection, but you have to believe that there is something at work larger than yourself to find it helpful, and that is this: Every rejection you get clears the way to the agent who will be the champion of your work. There are tons of agents out there, all of whom bust their butts for their clients. But even if you think one of them is your dream agent and will be the one to launch your stellar career, if they don’t fall in love with your work, then you aren’t, in fact, the right fit. You don’t want someone who has lukewarm feelings about your book! You want someone who is in love with it as much as you are (more even, given the writer’s slant toward self-hatred), so they can sell it! So for every agent you get a rejection from, try being grateful that something even better is out there for you.

Advice on Writing Your First Novel

So you’ve decided to finally start writing that novel. Congratulations! Whether your dream is to be a bestselling author or you’ve just kind of always wondered if you could do it, it’s quite a journey that will teach you a lot about yourself (if you’re willing to learn).

I am currently working on my third novel. At the time of writing, I am not yet published, so I am not going to tell you that following these tips will land you on the bestseller list. But I do know what it’s like to be writing that first novel, and there are things I wish I would have known when I started.

You can do it!

I know this is a little cheerleader-y, but embarking on such a daunting project can be a serious case of mind over matter. Just like any goal (from losing weight to going back to school), it’s going to take time to achieve it. It might not be the Great American Novel. It might even suck! Don’t let yourself get bogged down in questioning yourself. You can complete a novel. If you don’t think you can, walk into any Barnes & Noble in the world and just THINK about all the people behind the books that line those shelves. They all had to write a first novel, too. And they all finished one, (probably more like six) before their pile of pages was bound and displayed proudly on those shelves.

Schedule the Time

People who don’t write (this might still be you at this point) have a somewhat romantic notion of what it is to be a writer. They think how nice it must be to be walking along and suddenly have an urge to write that is so powerful we have to stop and spend the next 36 hours hunkered down with our chosen writing device (in this fantasy, it’s almost always a pen and paper). That sounds lovely. It’s also complete propaganda. Because in real life, you have bills to pay. Dinner to get on the stove. Relationships to tend to. You can’t drop everything just because you’re inspired (although maybe you can carve out ten or twenty minutes here and there if you’ve really got the itch). And to be honest, even though I truly love writing and feel like it’s what I’m meant to be doing, 99 times out of 100 I would rather go home at the end of the day and space out to Wings on Netflix (and that’s not even that good of a show), than turn my computer on and write. Once I’m doing it, the time flies, hence why I still do.

Now, a lot of writers have a word count goal, and I think this works well if you are writing full-time. But for those of us who have day jobs, especially those of us just starting out, it’s probably more realistic to have a time goal based on the other things you have going on in your life. I have to write for AT LEAST an hour a day, and if the words are really flowing I’ll extend it. Some days I write a paragraph in that time. Some days I write three pages. But on the days where only a few sentences come out, I’m not staying up all night just to churn out 950 more crappy words. This leads me to my next point.

You’re Allowed to Care about Your Quality of Life

There is a popular school of thought out there that if you really want something, you have to basically make yourself miserable and give up everything you love in order to get it. Some people think the idea of balance is complete crap if you are really committed to your dreams. I call bullshit. Trying to strike a balance in your life, by scheduling time for all the activities you love (including some Netflix time, and, you know, SLEEP), doesn’t mean you’re not committed. It means you want to be happy and healthy. It might take you a little longer to get to THE END, but hey you didn’t completely destroy your relationships and your body while you holed up in some room hunched over a keyboard, so you still WIN. And be honest with yourself, do you really think you’re going to keep something up if you feel like you have to sacrifice everything else that makes you happy? Don’t think so.

Do What Works For You

I did a whole post on the wonders of Twitter for writers. I do think it will be great tool for you as you’re writing (AFTER your hour is up though, right? Right.) for the sole purpose of connecting to other writers who can encourage and inspire you, or even serve as resources for your book or beta readers when you’re finished. But I urge you to take it all with a grain of salt. Behind every 140-character post, there is a human being. And that human being is coming at writing from their own perspective. From what works for them. (Including me!) There is no one trick or secret to writing the perfect novel. There is no right way. Some people are plotters; before they even sit down to write the words Chapter One, they know everything that’s going to happen in their story. That’s great! Some people are pantsers; they “fly by the seat of their pants” (at least I think that’s where this comes from), not knowing where the characters will end up too. That’s great, too! Me, I’m a combination. I sketch out a few things I know I want to happen, but when I try to plot out every little thing and every character arc, I freeze. I end up stuck in that land, doubting my ability to write because I can’t see everything ahead of time. Once I learned this about myself, I started doing a little of each. I plot out a little, and then I write, and a lot of times the story goes in a completely different direction than I thought it would. Then I plot a little more, and then I let it fly. You have to do what works for YOU. If you’re feeling stuck, try switching to the other method.

Just Write the Damn Thing

In the end, no matter what your style is, no matter what your goal is, just write. Block out all the noise, all the self-doubt, all the statistics that say you’re not going to make anything out of it, and especially all the worry about the end reader. All that stuff is for your second, third, fourth and umpteenth draft. For the first draft, your job is just to write the shit out of it. Let your fingers fly, and don’t worry so much about getting every sentence exactly write, every punctuation mark perfect.

I have two post-its by my desk. One says “It doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what editing is for,” to remind me when I’m being too finicky about sentence structure or the exact right way to describe the specific shade of blue my character’s eyes are. The other says “You’re getting closer. Every day you’re one step closer than you were the day before,” to bring me back to Earth when I’m stressing about getting to the end.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither were any of the great books of our time. Do what you can. Every day is not going to be a spectacular writing day. Sometimes you’ll get stuck. Sometimes you might even put it down for awhile (my first book took me over two years to write because I kept abandoning my writing schedule when life got in the way). But as long as that story is in your head (or better, your heart), and as long as it feels good when you’re in the flow at least some of the time, stick with it. And feel free to whine about it on Twitter occasionally. We all feel you.

 

 

A Writer’s (Very Basic) Guide to Twitter

I’m not going to lie. I used to hate Twitter. I had an account. I posted links to my blog posts on it. And that’s about it. Turned off by the endless self-promotion (which, of course, I was totally contributing to), I never checked my home feed. I followed people who followed me back. In short, I was a passive user at best.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m checking Twitter twenty times a day or that I think in 140-character witticisms, (at least not with any regularity). But I have been awakened to the powers of Twitter, especially the power Twitter has to connect writers to each other.

Writing, as you know, is a solitary business. When it comes to doing the work, however you get that work done, it’s all on you, baby. Whether you accomplish your daily word count goal sitting in a bustling coffee shop or in a sound-proof bunker somewhere, it’s not a team sport. You have to force your fingers to keep tapping away at that keyboard. The words, the dialogue, the genius plot twists–they all come from inside your own scary little brain.

Couple that with all the feelings—oh my, the feelings—that come with writing. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the confusion. The sting of rejection. And even (because it’s not all bad) the occasional victorious thrill of “Hey, that was a pretty good sentence,” or, “Wow, I accomplished a lot today,” or the ever elusive “Holy s@#% I got a full request!” It can get pretty lonely. And you can share that stuff with your family and friends, but they can’t really understand, and they’re quite frankly probably sick of hearing it.

That’s where Twitter comes in. A place for us creative types to share all those feelings—again, SO many feelings. A place to commiserate and congratulate (and secretly envy) the people who are in pursuit of their dream. A place to share resources that may make the journey that much easier. A place to educate each other on the market, the industry, the secret (Good God, someone give me the secret) to getting published.

I mean really, that’s pretty fabulous.

So here are some things I’ve learned about Twitter that I wish I had known when I first started tweeting:

Hashtags are key

In order to be plugged in to the conversations which are relevant to you, you should be searching hashtags. The most used and most broad of which is #amwriting. Type that into your Twitter search and watch your computer explode with data. It’s everything from articles about writing to people promoting their books to people just wanting to whine that they are blocked (I am not knocking this as a practice, as I certainly do this when I’ve had a bad writing day). So that means, guess what, if you include that hashtag in your post, it will show up in the search of another lonely writer who is trying to delay facing that empty page they’re supposed to fill with words. And they just might follow you! #amediting is slightly less used, although I like to differentiate between what I’m talking about, most people just use #amwriting for everything. There are also hashtags for specific genres–for example, I check #womensfiction to see what’s trending. And #amreading is helpful too, but you’re finding out what actual readers out there think of what they’re reading.

For querying writers, like me, #MSWL is my favorite, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. This hashtag is used by actual literary agents who are posting about specific likes/needs/wants. This could range from announcing they are accepting a new genre (hop on that quicklike if it’s yours), to a very specific taste, like “I’d really like to see a novel about a 12-year old boy who lives in Albuquerque and wears a yellow jacket that allows him to fly.” They can get pretty quirky, but the cool thing is that little quirk could fit your manuscript exactly (or exactly enough that you could fudge it and get their attention anyway). Other handy agent hashtags are #querytip, which just gives advice about how to construct an effective query letter and conduct yourself during the querying process; #tenqueries, in which agents give you a 140-character summation of why they did or did not request more from the next ten queries in their inbox (without naming names), and #askagent, which I haven’t quite figured out but sounds pretty cool, right? Note: these hastags are NOT to be used in your own tweets, only to be followed.

Also for querying writers, the new thing (confession, I don’t know how new it is, but I just discovered it a few months ago), are pitch contests, where you can pitch your book in 140 characters, and agents troll the hashtag to find something that interests them. If they “favorite” your tweet, they are requesting more, and you visit their Twitter feed to find out exactly what they want you to submit. It’s not like they’re committing to rep you or even read your full MS, but you have that connection through Twitter first that may make them more likely to request more, and it’s better than cold querying with no connection at all! I have participated in a few #pitmad’s, and have gotten FIVE requests for more material from that. Pretty cool, huh?

There’s some good information

Sure, you have to slog through the zillion people who are quoting from their own novels and announcing their book is on sale at Amazon for .99 (No offense to the self published writers out there, work it girls. And boys). But there are actually some great blog posts from agents and other writers about how to better your query letters, how to create better characters, how to give and receive critique, how to balance your writing life and your pays the bills job, how to format your manuscript correctly, etc. It goes on and on. By the way, if you find something you think is actually helpful, retweet it with the #amwriting hashtag so other writers will see it. The original poster will be psyched, because it means more people will read it, and if you’re posting good stuff (please don’t just retweet every post of other people’s, that is supahdupes annoying), people might just want to follow you!

You can make real friends

I didn’t think this one was possible when I first started. But I’ve actually made TWO Twitter friends who also write fiction and are also in pursuit of traditional publishing. Both of them became critique partners! We email each other semi-regularly to check in on our progress towards The Big Dream, and give each other feedback that is maybe a tad more subjective than our mothers, who think we are geniuses. (Genuisi? See, I don’t even know that, so obviously I’m not really one). I found them by throwing out some tweets about wanting more writing friends who want to talk about the process, or who would be willing to trade books, (hashtagging them with #amwriting, of course).

You can burn bridges

I know it’s tempting to fire off a tweet at a literary agent who’s sent you a form rejection, but don’t do this. Ever. Don’t even allude to it. Don’t waste your precious 140 characters complaining and displaying your misery to the world. Yes, an occasional “Blocked today, grrrrrrrrr,” is fine. I mean, be real. But always remember your profile is public. More and more agents hit the web before requesting to see what kind of person you are and get an idea of what you would be like as a client. If your feed is full of unprofessional attacks and whining, how likely are they going to be to want to work with you? My guess is not very.

It’s important to remember that at the end of every @[insert clever handle here], there is a human being. Don’t say things on Twitter you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Don’t use your Twitter exclusively to quote or link to your MS. Reply to people. Have conversations. Spread some encouragement. Retweet good information. Send an occasional tweet that has nothing to do with writing (pictures of my dog, anyone?). Be human.

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What’s your favorite thing about Twitter?

What basics am I missing? Feed me your great hashtags and tips!