Tag Archives: writing

Repped!

This is a post I’ve been waiting to write for over half a year — no, scratch that, five years! Ever since I finished my very first novel in 2009.

I am officially a repped author!

Many of you know I’ve been neck-deep in the agent querying process since this past December. Here’s the breakdown of my querying statistics to date:

  • Timeline: December 5, 2013 — July 21, 2014
  • Queries Sent: 89
  • Rejections: 41
  • No Response: 47
  • Partial Requests: 2
  • Full Requests: 4
  • Offers of Representation: 1

I’ve evolved in many ways since I started writing books and querying agents, and I thought this was the perfect time to look back at my learnings regarding querying over the last half decade or so.

**

While I’m quite proud of Queer Greer, the first full-length novel I’ve ever written, I am not proud of my decisions with it once I thought it was finished; this is true for my second book, Choice, as well. I barely tried looking for representation for either, likely knowing in the back of my mind I was nowhere near ready for such. In fact, looking through my emails from October 2009, I queried a mere two agents I found through AgentQuery.com only after I had already gone the self-publishing route with both.

What the heck was I thinking?!

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Those queries read more like pathetic first drafts of cover letters for a summer job in high school than what I intended them to be. Not surprisingly, I never got a response from either agent I queried (if you can even call it that…).

**

By mid-2012, Queer Greer had been picked up by an independent publisher, given a full, professional edit and a cover enhancement, simply through a connection made via Twitter.

I was working on the third draft of my Malawian-based novel, Vuto, and trying to decide what to do with it after I finished.

I had a great feeling about this third book and I wanted it to have a chance to succeed. So, I returned to AgentQuery.com once more. This time around, I sent out over 40 queries, even submitting to the embarrassment that often comes with having a query up on Janet Reid’s Query Shark. But when you’re trying to get serious about writing, you treasure all the constructive criticism you can get.

Even with help from the Shark, I made some major mistakes at this juncture as well. Some of the comments agents were making about Vuto in their replies to my query included:

  • “I do admire the quality of the writing and the execution and I’m sorry it wasn’t a fit for me.”
  • “Your writing is strong, but unfortunately I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project.”
  • “This is fascinating and has potential but the structure renders the reading experience a choppy one. Have you considered other approaches?”

What I should have gotten from these comments was that I was headed in the right direction and that I should not give up yet. With the last comment and question, I had an agent on the hook — if I was willing to make some structural revisions. Instead of seeing the hope and possibility in these responses, all I saw were rejections and an agent who didn’t like what I’d written in the way I’d written it.

When I got my first full request, it was from one of the best agencies in New York and I was on cloud nine for the few weeks it took them to read it.

Then, this:

  • “I regret to inform you that we will not pursue representation. While your work certainly has merit, it simply isn’t right for our list. Please don’t be discouraged…I urge you to seek another opinion if you have not already done so.”

Reading that now, I must resist the urge to slap myself across the face. A prestigious agency was telling me I was on the right path, that my writing “has merit” and to keep querying. What did I choose to do instead? Crowdfund on Kickstarter to raise enough money to go the indie route once more.

While there are definitely a lot of positives to independent publishing and I do not regret the books I’ve personally taken this route, it’s one indie pubbed novel in a million (maybe more) that takes off to commercial success; it’s a rough road requiring a substantial investment from the author upfront, and there are no guarantees that you’ll be making that money back.

 **

For my fourth novel, I aimed to learn from everything I had and hadn’t done previously. I sent out just under 90 queries to agents I’d found through the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, WritersDigest.com and by looking into the agents representing authors with similar styles to my own. I worked and worked on my query letter until it was where I thought it needed to be to attract attention.

Two months of query emailing later, amid what seemed like daily rejections, I received my first request for a partial; a week later I got two requests for fulls from two other agencies. By four months in, there were four agents considering various lengths of my novel, helping me wave off 37 rejections and 39 unanswered queries like I’d never sent them out in the first place.

One agent asked me if I’d consider removing the point-of-view of one of my characters entirely, restructuring the entire work to be told from just one protagonist. At that point, I looked back over those old rejections for my previous books and realized that I was standing at a precipice — turn around, refusing to change a thing, and move further away from my goal; or take the jump, hoping for an as-yet-to-be-seen bridge to appear beneath my feet. This latter choice involved cutting my book in half and rewriting about 40,000 words or so — no easy jump to take, no matter which way you looked at it.

But, I did it.

I did the work.

I made the jump.

I still had four agents interested and I sent them out the new version, painstakingly rewritten in two months time. It was May at that point and I would have two more months to wait for their responses:

Agent #1: “It’s clear that you’ve made significant revisions to this manuscript since I last saw it, but unfortunately I’m still going to have to pass on going further with this project. My biggest concern is that with the removal of [the second protagonist’s] perspective from the novel it was less clear to me what the central conflict is — what’s making the reader have to continue to turn the pages?”

It was a bit frustrating reading this feedback considering that she was essentially saying I needed to re-insert all of the copy she’d originally recommended I cut. Considering this, it was clear we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the project and likely wouldn’t have made a good team moving forward. Fortunately, she did end her email letting me know she thought I was a “talented writer and there’s a lot to love about the premise here.”

Agent #2: “There was much I enjoyed about [your manuscript], but in the end I found myself questioning whether the multiple POV did justice to the story.”

Right there I realized she hadn’t paid attention to the most recent version of my book that I’d sent her, since there were no longer multiple POVs. This once again told me this agent would not have been the best fit either.

Agent #3: “Hey! Would you have time for a phone call at some point tomorrow?”

When this note came through, my breath left my lungs. I knew what that meant. Of course I had time to talk and, once we got on the phone, I realized Agent #3 saw my manuscript the same way I did, with the same vision and same level of passion for the project as a whole. When she offered representation, I had to let the last agent considering my project know. Here’s what she had to say:

Agent #4: “That is the best news I’ve heard all week!!”

Agent #4 ultimately declined an offer, why? Because she doesn’t even represent the genre I write in. She put in hours to read multiple versions of my book and give extensive, essential notes when she doesn’t even work in the same wheelhouse. Instead of being upset, I was so flattered, especially when she insisted that she knew my book would sell and that she “can’t wait to read it” once it does.

The next day, I let Agent #3 know that I would be absolutely thrilled to sign with her and the rest, as they say, is history. I am now officially represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary Agency and I couldn’t be more excited!

And now the work really begins. Back to editing!

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Cutting Half a Book Made Me a Writer

Thinking back to the writing of my first three novels, I must admit that the amount of words I cut in the editing and redrafting process were in the thousands, most likely, no more than that. The majority of the finished product in each case includes nearly all of the words I originally typed in my first drafts. Sure, there was a bit of cutting and massaging on further drafts, not to mention a lot of adding as well. But, to be honest, I held onto my words like a security blanket — I feared the backspace key like none other. How could I delete my hard work? Surely, each of those words were there for a reason from the start.

As my hunt for a literary agent continues, however, the lesson of when to cut has never been more clear to me than now.

The novel I am pitching was first written from two POVs, one being a woman behind bars for a murder she may or may not have actually committed; the other, a writer who puts her career on the line to prove her innocence. Over the past couple of months, several agents have offered constructive criticism that comes down to a single opinion: the half of the book from the writer’s perspective is not interesting and only serves to take the reader away from the story of the true protagonist, the imprisoned woman.

After hearing this feedback from multiple agencies that I respect, I had a choice to make: keep going with my original pitch and manuscript, and hope that some agent would think it was worthy for representation and publication, or take this advice to heart.

One agent specifically made me choose the latter. After a couple of emails in which she offered several pages of feedback on the manuscript as a whole, as well as explaining why she thought sticking with the primary protagonist would make the novel stronger, I knew there was no question in this.

And so, I started deleting. Almost 40,000 words of my novel. Cutting it in half.

I had thought this would be the most painful act of my writing career to-date, knowing how many hours, days, months it took to get all of that onto the page, perfecting those chapters. Instead, I felt a wave of relief as soon as they were gone.

Not only did I know instantly that it was the right move to make, but in the deletion of my words, I have never felt more like a writer. That may sound strange to some, but it’s the truth. To delete is to open up your work to even better words, words that weren’t just written to get your initial thoughts down, unperfected; but to get at the heart of the writing, the purpose you set out to accomplish from the beginning.

First drafts are first drafts for a reason. I’d venture to guess that many — if not most — novels published by the major publishing houses today have barely a glimmer of their first drafts in them. Writers must be willing to use that backspace key if they want to come away from their desks with the best versions of their stories to share with the world. No longer do I fear it — I embrace it, knowing that the next 40,000 words I write are going to be that much better for it.

 

  • Queries Sent: 88
  • Rejections: 35
  • No Response: 17
  • Partial Requests: 2
  • Full Requests: 3

 

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Filed under Advice, Writing

Kickin’ Around Kickstarter

This past week I’ve been doing a lot of research into Kickstarter projects as I begin to move forward with the publication of my third novel, Vuto. There are many ways to go about a Kickstarter campaign, but I’ve noticed two specific tropes thus far that seem to make the difference between success and failure on this platform:

  • A kick ass video
  • Fabulous rewards

In my research, I also found some amazing projects that I’ve gone ahead and supported. The first is an album by music artist Dani Shay. You may recognize her from America’s Got Talent (Season 6) or The Glee Project 2.

Image courtesy of insidetv.ew.com.

Image courtesy of insidetv.ew.com.

I find her extremely talented and would love for her to come out with a full-on album. She created a fantastic video and is offering some pretty incredible prizes to those who back her, including artwork she’s created, clothing she’s worn on television, a personal visit on your birthday — and for backers who pledge $5,000 or more, a live acoustic show in your home.

I’ve also been looking over fiction projects specifically, especially those that have been successfully funded or are well on their way. It seems like a vast majority are in the sci-fi genre, which was a bit off-putting to me as Vuto is anything but.

One such project that has been gaining popularity this week is “STABBERS – The First Young Adult Novel for ADULTS.”

Image courtesy of travisbetz.tumblr.com.

Image courtesy of travisbetz.tumblr.com.

Travis Betz, a writer/director, is the creator of the project — which equates to him creating a really wonderful video for this project. Aka, a video I don’t have the ability to create! Travis presents himself as a very creative and likable guy in the video, however, which definitely adds to his chances of being funded. I’m hoping I will be able to do the same, even without video editing skills.

Then there are the “Most Funded” projects, most of which exceeded their fundraising goals, some by astronomical amounts. One project here that I found intriguing was “Robin writes a book (and you get a copy).”

Image courtesy of news.cnet.com.

Image courtesy of news.cnet.com.

In this project, the video was nothing overly special, mostly just Robin Sloan in front of a camera talking about his past writing and this project — where the idea came from and why he wants to write this book. The minor editing and effects he includes seem fairly simple — perhaps something I could do with the current software on my Mac. Like Travis, Robin presents as a likable guy. All of these aspects came together for Robin, and the $3,500 goal he started out with ended up landing him a whopping $13,942 instead.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Along with the simple video Robin created, I was also struck by the low cost of each of the prizes he offered — from $1 for a PDF of the book up to $59  for multiple signed copies of the book and your name in the Acknowledgements. This was one of the lowest ranges for rewards I’ve seen, with many others offering prizes past the $400 or even $1,000 marks. This makes me wonder what I should offer my own backers and how high those prices should go.

I think I still have some more research to do before I’m ready to set my project to LIVE in Kickstarter. I’d love to hear from you before that point, as well!

Readers, have you ever funded a Kickstarter project? What do you look for in a campaign that encourages you to donate? What kinds of rewards would make you open your wallet? Please share below!

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NaNoWriMo 2012?

I hadn’t planned on taking on the challenge this year as I still have last year’s manuscript (Vuto) to polish up for my next round of queries. But, as I was driving home yesterday, I had a vision of a plot line that got me so excited, I think I just may have to tackle NaNoWriMo 2012 in less than two months.

Title:

The Pileup

Tentative plotline:

A newscaster interrupts the television lineup to report on a terrible crash on I-95 involving at least 7 passenger vehicles and one tractor-trailer truck. It is unclear what caused the pileup and what injuries – or worse – have been sustained by those involved.

We go to the back of the pileup, focusing on the passengers in the last vehicle, going down the line, chapter-by-chapter, unveiling the lives of those in each car/truck and the damage the accident has wrought on all – getting worse and worse the closer we get to the first car.

I know exactly what causes the wreck and the fate of the driver inside – but I won’t reveal that here now.

Yes – I think NaNoWriMo ’12 is a go!

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Shattered Souls by Daniele Lanzarotta Blog Tour: Character Interview

Welcome to a special post. Today, author Daniele Lanzarotta has provided us with an interview with her character, Travis, from her newest book, Shattered Souls.

Take note: this interview is part of a blog tour and there are giveaway items to be had! Comment at the end of this blog post for a chance to win one of the following: a Shattered Souls poster, a signed bookmark or a signed paperback copy of the book itself. All giveaways are US and international, ending on May 31. Winners will be announced on June 1.

Shattered Souls synopsis: It has been 30 years since Lexi made her choice. With time, many things have changed, but others… never will. As her past comes back to haunt her, one vampire is destroyed, and Lexi is the one blamed for his true death. She is now being hunted by her own kind, and as much as Nicholas tries to protect her on his own, that is not enough. He needs help, and he values her far too much to ask for help from just anyone. They encounter ghosts of their pasts, face their worst fears, and above all, heartbreaks strong enough to shatter souls beyond repair.

INTERVIEW WITH TRAVIS OF SHATTERED SOULS and the IMPRINTED SOULS SERIES

Alison: Hello Travis and welcome. It’s great to have you here to answer some questions from your fans. Our first question for you is how did you and Lexi meet and become so close?

Travis: Hi Alison. Thanks for having me. I met Lexi when we were in high school. I was sort of new in town. I was actually working that night, and then I saw her in the deserted parking lot and went to see if everything was okay. I guess you could say that we just hit it off. One thing led to another… every time we talked and everything that happened from that point on, just brought us closer together.

Alison: Any piercings or tattoos with some good stories behind how you got them?

Travis: *laughs * I have one tattoo with one crazy story! The tattoo is a five-pointed star on my back, which is meant for protection. I actually got it when I was 15 or 16. My mom was so mad, but it was a weird family tradition. Everyone on my dad’s side of the family has it. I thought it was silly at the time, but I later found that it wasn’t silly at all. 

Alison: We know that you have ancestors that have had a certain history with vampires. What has your personal experience with vampires been like in the past and how has it affected you?

Travis: Even though I have an ancestor who is a vampire, I didn’t even know they existed until after I started to hang out with Lexi. I love her to death, but she attracts trouble like no one I’ve ever met. Even in high school, she spent more time with vampires than humans, so it was only a matter of time before I found out. My personal experience is that most of them are trouble, but then there are the few who I got close to. The bad thing is that you cannot surround yourself with the good without attracting the bad ones.

Alison: You’ve had trouble in relationships due to your family vampire history, haven’t you? Can you talk about how vampires and your knowledge of the world have caused trouble for you romantically?

Travis: Eventually, I realized that even though the tattoo protected me, the ones I got in a relationship with were always at risk. Once I got attached to someone, I would get worried about their well-being and let them go.

Alison: How have your family and friends dealt with your sexuality?

Travis: I never hid who I was. I am who I am and I always felt that people could either deal with it or move on. For several years, in high school especially, my parents were in denial. I’m not going to say it wasn’t hurtful, but after a while it was funny to watch Mom try to push Lexi into my bedroom.

School was tough. I had just started dating someone openly and then, next thing I knew, my family was moving. Even after the move, I didn’t hide who I was. Being on the swim team, the guys felt weird around me, so I didn’t even bother making new friends until I met Lexi.

Alison: Do you have any words of encouragement for others who have had trouble coming to terms with their sexuality or come across negativity when they’ve come out?

Travis: I know it is easier said than done, but stay true to yourself. The ones who really matter will be there for you… even if it takes them a little time to adjust, which was the case with my parents. It is one of those situations where you’ll learn who your true friends are. Just remember that there is always someone out there that you can talk to. For me, that person was Lexi.

Alison: Does being in a world of vampires change the way you are perceived or the way you perceive yourself?

Travis: In a way, it does. I guess I feel more comfortable in their world… more accepted. I believe because most vampires have been around for so long, they view things in a different way. The challenges that I encountered with humans in relation to my sexuality were never once an issue with any of the vampires I ever met. It’s weird to think that some humans can be crueler than the vampires who they believe to be monsters.

Alison: Well, Travis, I just wanted to say thank you for being here with us today. This has been a great interview and I’m sure readers can’t wait to see what you’re up to in Shattered Souls.

Iss

Daniele Lanzarotta is the author of YA paranormal novels, including the Imprinted Souls Series and Academy of the Fallen.

She has a Bachelor’s in business and finance and a MBA. With only a few semesters left in school, Daniele started writing as a hobby, but it didn’t take long for her to be consumed by her stories. That is her passion, and she now has several projects under way.

She enjoys reading and writing young adult novels with just about any sort of paranormal or supernatural bent…vampires… ghosts… She also enjoys watching hockey, playing rock band, guitar hero and spending time with the family.

Follow Daniele on Twitter @DaniLanzarotta!

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Writing the New Year

As most writers I know, I would like to write more in 2012. That is my overarching resolution for this new year!

Of course, the beginning of the year for me is already a hectic one as I prepare to move from California to Arizona and start a new chapter in my life. I have yet to write a single word for myself in 2012, which is enough to make me feel like somewhat of a failure just five days in! I’m going to cut myself some slack, however, as I predict that all of these changes taking place will garner in a new schedule and routine that should make it easier for me to fit my writing into my life.

What I will accomplish this year:

  • Putting out a Second Edition of Queer Greer
  • Writing the 2nd and 3rd drafts of Vuto
  • Querying agents/publishing companies for Vuto

I aim to dedicate at least five hours a week to my writing/editing projects on top of my day job. We shall see what happens as soon as I get settled into my new state!

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Filed under General Updates, Writing

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

Hey faithful readers! I am 10 days away from tackling the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge for the third time. My first year, 2008, I wrote my second self-published novel, Choice. The result was wonderful – it won the Barnes and Noble Rising Star Award and made its way into B&N bookstores across the east coast.

The second year, 2009, I started writing a book based on the life of Texas inmate Elizabeth Burke, incarcerated for the murder of her seven-week-old son. While I met the 50,000-word goal at the end of November’s 30 days, I never actually finished the novel. I will one of these days!

I took 2010 off due to work responsibilities, but now, in 2011, I’m ready to take up my pen for the third time and I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve started to plan my novel in the very basic sense – I have a potential title and heroine.

The title: Ending at the Start

The heroine: Malawian teenager Vuto (which means “trouble” in the Chichewan language.)

The plot will be loosely based on an experience I had when I was a health volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa, in 2007. I witnessed a girl giving birth, alone (as is tradition) – it was her second or third child and she was only 17 years old.

That’s all I’m giving you at this point…stay tuned as November 1st rounds the corner and I begin a 30-day writing frenzy!

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Filed under Africa, Choice, Elizabeth Burke, NaNoWriMo, Vuto, Writing

Taking Your Book to the Next Level

So this week marks my first ever book promotion since I self-published two novels in 2009. I have gone through hell and high water to promote my books over the last two years and, without a publishing company backing me, I must say it has been a very challenging thing to attempt.

For my first novel, Queer Greer, for instance, I set up my own press release and sent it to as many newspapers and magazines as I could on my own. I got a couple of reviews out of this method, as well as an invitation to speak at the largest LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) conference in the United States. Not too shabby, but I also have yet to make all of my money back from self-publishing costs.

My second novel, Choice, I went a different route. First off, I wrote it over the course of 30 days during November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Then, I decided to invest a bit more money and self-publish with a more quality self-publishing company. The result was a much more professional-looking hardcopy and a chance to be featured in Barnes and Noble stores.

While I do not regret the investment, despite being even further away from breaking even on costs than I am with Queer Greer, I do have a problem with the publicity package I purchased from that second company. Nothing came of it whatsoever, despite a press release on the book allegedly being sent to over 1,000 media outlets across the United States. I might as well have burned that money with a match.

Despite still being in the red in terms of cost output versus profit two years later, I am a great proponent of the self-publishing path. I’ve gained clout as a writer that I wouldn’t have otherwise and I intend to utilize these examples when I pitch my next book to actual publishing companies and literary agents.

If you have a first manuscript or a book idea and are not sure where to go with it, take some advice from me and Mahalo.com:

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Filed under Books, Choice, NaNoWriMo, Queer Greer, Writing