I worked on my agent query letter yesterday.
I am finding it truly difficult. It’s not just the logistics of paring my novel-in-stories down to 100-200 words that give enough info to pique an agent’s interest but without giving everything away—though that is challenging.
It’s also the idea that I am committing to sending these 60,000 words out into the world. Once they are out there I have no control over how people react or respond. That’s a little ( okay…a lot) unnerving.
There’s also this other piece of the puzzle that dawned on me yesterday. I don’t like asking for things. The query letter is all about asking an agent to take time out of their already hectic schedule to read my book. I am asking them to help me get it published.
I understand it’s their business and they are in the market to take on a book they feel passionate about and they have a vested interest in getting it out into the world. But it still feels like I am asking for a favor.
So, instead of letting all that stop me like it has before, here’s what I did:
I felt all the feelings: nervous, scared, excited, vulnerable with a little bit of guilt and dread thrown in.
I breathed through it all (thank you yoga).
And I revised my letter. I read other successful query letters and decided what fit best for my voice and the voice of my story and I just did it. It’s still not quite right but it is getting there.
I’ll let it sit for another day and read it again with fresh eyes. Meanwhile, there’s this YA novel that I am about 40K words into…
Image via Pinterest
January found me wanting me to make yet another resolution to get more serious about my writing.
Usually this involves a detailed list of projects I want to start, finish, revise and submit by certain dates throughout the upcoming year. It ends up being a fairly grueling schedule that sucks the fun out of writing before I even begin.
This year I decided to try something different. At the end of the year, I participated in an online “Renew & Review Writing Challenge” with Jill Jepson. It helped me to look over the past year to see what worked and what didn’t in my writing life. It also helped me to clarify what I wanted my writing life to look like for the next 12 months. What I loved was how we focused more on intentions rather than goals. Goals are product, intentions are process. Goals are future, intentions are present. It just really resonated with me.
When January rolled around, I took a four-week hypnosis workshop at my yoga studio designed to align us with our resolutions for the new year. I showed up each week with the intention to show up to writing practice and life, to all aspects of it:
My writing life will continue to flourish in 2014 by showing up daily to my creativity and writing; being comfortable with not always knowing what comes next; allowing myself to play; giving myself permission to succeed or fail; being present to and grateful for the process.
These intentions held a much more fluid space than the rigid goals I’d normally set for myself. I showed up to my writing and yoga practices, letting one nurture the other. I listened to the meditations from the hypnosis workshop each night, letting the words flow into my subconscious, letting them work their magic.
It all worked. We are halfway through the year and I have a new relationship with my writing life. In six months I have:
– Finished revising my novel-in-stories
– Wrote an agent query letter
– Began rewriting a second novel
– Jotted notes for a YA novel
– Participated in a 4-month apprenticeship for elephant journal in which I wrote 19 personal pieces, edited close to 60 and gained an in depth knowledge of social media
– Became an elephant journal columnist once the four months was up
– Started my own writer Facebook page
– Rededicated myself to building a Twitter audience
All of these accomplishments are great. Seriously, I am super proud of myself. But it’s not even the main point. The main shift I’ve experienced is a more fluid relationship to my writing, to showing up to my work. Much less angst and reprisals. More joy and compassion.
And I think that is filtering into all the nooks and crannies of my life.
I can’t wait to see what the next six months hold.
How about you? Any intentions or goals for the summer? For the rest of the year? I’d love to hear about them.
These are some pix of the state of my office while frantically finishing my novel. Notice my essentials: chocolate, Starbucks and an empty wine glass.
On Thursday, March 15 I finished and submitted a draft of my novel-in-stories to this contest. I’d seen it in the December issue of Poets & Writers and wished I had something ready. My awesome writing group convinced me that I could definitely get my current work-in-progress done by the deadline. I had my doubts, but I focused and worked hard almost every day, putting in nine hours that final day. I learned a lot over those three months of intense work.
I learned that:
– it is incredibly satisfying to be able to say “I wrote a novel” rather than “I’m writing a novel”
– I can work and write in an incredibly focused way, especially with a deadline prodding me
– I work best in forty-five minute sessions, followed by fifteen minutes of some other mindless task like dishes or folding clothes or browsing through the bookstore, letting the scene/story percolate
– when I am immersed in my writing but not drowning, the story is always simmering. I go to bed thinking about the characters and story and wake up thinking about them.
– I can’t read very much when I working so hard on my own writing. There’s not enough space in my brain to contain it all.
– I have several phrases and words that I like and use more often than I should
– I actually have a revision process that works for me
– that at some point I have to just let it go out into the world, trusting that I wrote to the best of my ability
I’d like to give a thanks and a shoutout to WOW-Women on Writing for awarding my story “Ripe” an honorable mention in their Winter Flash Fiction contest. I encourage any and all writers to submit. It’s a small entry fee, they keep the submissions under 300 and they award up to 20 prizes. Beyond their contests, it’s a great writer’s resource with a little something for just about everyone. Check it out!
I received my first fan letter about a month or two ago. It totally caught me off guard as it was regarding a story that had been published several years ago in a small university journal. The reader found my old blog address in the author’s bio and took the time to write to me. It was a lovely note. He had really read the story and had specific reasons why he liked it. I was delighted and disconcerted at the same time. Delighted for obvious reasons. Disconcerted for more nebulous ones. I still partake in the publishing-as-validation dance. I look at an editor accepting my work as a form of validation that yes, I am a real Writer. Does a rejection then invalidate me? No, of course not. I continue to write. I understand how subjective this process can be. I understand how many submissions I am up against. There is definitely a supply and demand element. I know these things, in my head. In that soft, vulnerable part of my heart, however, things are not so black and white. Instead, there are endless shades of gray.
On a deeper level, the letter left me feeling exposed somehow. And vulnerable. Which got me thinking about why I put my stuff out there in the first place. I write because I have to. But I don’t have to submit that work for the world to see and to like or not like. I tell myself I try to publish in order to make a connection, to touch someone the same way I have been touched by stories I have read over the years. Then, when I get acknowledgment that I have indeed touched someone with my words, I retreat. The note could just as easily have been nasty. And we all know how much easier it is to believe the bad stuff rather than the good stuff about ourselves. The ideal place to come from shouldn’t take the praise to heart, nor the criticism. I don’t know about you, but I rarely live up to the ideal version of myself. I know that if I ever receive a nasty response to my work, it will clobber me. Sure, I’ll get back up, but it will be that much harder to send out my work the next time.
In the end, it’s not about validation or rejection but of reaching out. What comes after that is out of my hands. As John Cheever said, “”I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone.”
So I am finally back to submitting my stories and now remember why I stopped. It’s kind of a job in itself. It took me almost two hours to submit one story to three journals and they were all via on-line. Add another hour, at least, if I had to print out each story, write and print a cover letter, print labels and run to the post office. Besides all the rejections I had accumulated, the time it takes to coordinate and keep on top of the submissions is why I stopped. But this is part of the writing life, getting your work read by eyes other than your own. So, submit I must. It’s just so tedious. Which markets are currently accepting work? Does my story fall within the word count ( a common problem since many of my stories come in at over 7000 words)? Can I submit on-line or must it go by snail mail? Then there is the criteria specific to my work: have I submitted this particular story to this particular journal already? Have I submitted a story to this journal during this reading period? Am I allowed to submit another story so soon? Have I received an encouraging response from this journal for a previous submission and so need to subtly remind them that they actually invited me to submit more work to them?
This involves all kinds of left brain, organizational skills, not usually a creative person’s strength. I’ve created and found some tools to help. I’ve started using duotrope.com as a resource to fins current market and as a way to track those submissions. Apparently they will even send you a notice if the response time has passed. But I am an old-fashioned gal. I still keep an actual address book as well as an actual day planner instead utilizing all the techno options available. So it makes sense that I also have charts that I created and printed all tucked in a manila folder in my filing drawer. I have one for each story, keeping track of where I submitted it, when, to whom, by what method, expected response time, result and my response (if I receive a personal rejection of any kind that warrants a follow-up thank you). Then I have a list of all the journals that I might submit to with the stories submitted written underneath, as a way to cross-reference and make sure that I don’t send a story to the same editor twice. My system works but I am not eager to work within it. I put it off. I do laundry. I mop. But ultimately I must submit my work. It’s just part of being a writer. Until I can afford to have an assistant deal with it, I’m all I have got. I am sure that there must be some other less complicated, less time consuming method for submitting stories out there somewhere if only I could find it. Some magic spreadsheet that can track and cross reference all-in-one. Or maybe I’m just dreaming.
Do you submit your work? On a regular basis? What’s your system? Do you even have a system? I would love to hear how other writers deal with this aspect of the writing life.