When it happens to you

When I saw the message in my inbox, I was excited. I had been waiting for this issue of a well-known magazine that caters to indie writers. Three months earlier, I had submitted “Morven” for a review and now, here it was.

I was devastated when I read it.

Yes, I had expected better. “A Question of Time” received 4.5 stars; “Riverbend,” 5.0.”  But “Morven” received a mediocre 3.0.

I had never received any  review less than a 4.0.  How had this happened? All my readers had told me this was my best book ever. I suppose the praise went to my head, making this review that much more of a bitter pill. How could the reviewer have so misinterpreted the scene she damned with faint praise?

I have blithely written before in this and other places that a writer should not take a bad review to heart. The reviewer may have had a bad day. She may not really like the genre she was critiquing.  And so on.

Yet I know this reviewer had plenty of time to read the story, so one bad day would not have influenced her. And the magazine carefully pairs the story to reviewers in that genre. So those excuses were empty.

Is it a poorly-constructed story? Were my readers and friends attempting to spare my feelings? Should I send it out for another impartial review? Should I even care?

I am nearly finished with the sequel and the first thought I had after reading the review was, “I should just quit now.”

But after two days of moping, I decided I would not stop so near the finish line. I will complete the novel and then go over it to make it the best writing possible. Beta readers will be asked to give their honest opinion. I will make changes even if they hurt.

Looking back, it wasn’t a bad review. It just wasn’t a good one. I can take it in stride and let it encourage me to do better.

And I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

Writing with joy

When I saw that Canadian author Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, would be in North Carolina to kick off her book tour, I knew that I would go, no matter what. I immediately signed up for tickets, thinking the venue would be crowded. (It was.)

I, along with some friends who are also big fans, drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fearrington Village, where Penny was to speak. The  event was held in a building aptly called The Barn which can hold 500 people. We went in early to get good seats. So did 500 other people.

The wait was worth it. Penny is delightfully candid, humorous, and forthcoming. But there was one thing she said that drove everything else from my mind.

She had suffered from writer’s block after the publication of her first book. She eventually sought help from a therapist who told her she should not worry about editors, publishers, reviews, her family, or anything else, but write simply for the joy of writing.

Louise Penny

I haven’t got writer’s block — or do I? I dutifully put words on the page, but all the time I am thinking, why bother?

I haven’t got a nibble on the book that precedes the one I am writing. If it doesn’t get  published, the sequel is useless.

I could self-publish, which I have done, but I am of two minds about this. If it isn’t good enough for an agent to jump on, maybe it isn’t good enough to self-publish.

Then I read about authors who only self-publish and are doing very well, thank you.

So I got to thinking about why I am writing in the first place. To be rich and famous? Maybe, when I was younger, but it doesn’t appeal to me now. I have a good life and I’m content.

I have fans, and I cherish them. But I’m not writing just for them, either.

I think back to my first books, and how much fun it was to create my stories. Of course it was validation to get a contract from a publisher, or a good review from a reader. But the real joy was in the writing.

I need to get back to that and finish my book because it brings me joy to see it grow and develop. And yes, I want to share it once it is finished, not for praise or money, but because a story isn’t really complete until it is read. So I will look at other options for publication while knowing that this isn’t the reason for writing, but the final step on the creative journey.

So now that Louise Penny has, by a few words, changed my entire outlook, I say thank you. Thank you for seeing clearly what I failed to see: that you aren’t going to want to write if your writing fails to bring you joy.

 

 

 

This is what I know for sure

Today (Sunday) I am doing the program for our monthly writers’ club meeting. Many of you realize I write this post well before Sunday, when it is published. So today is Friday in the real world. You can see I have let it slide just a little.

But that isn’t quiet true. I have been thinking about it ever since one of our members asked if I’d mind sharing my publishing experience. What can I say about a journey that started 20 years ago and is still ongoing? I did confess last week how easy it is for the hopeful beginner to get scammed. And that’s because, as beginners, we know nothing.

I certainly didn’t. Back in the day, convinced I had written a great novel (it wasn’t), I sent off my manuscript to any publisher I thought would take a look. I got the names and addresses from the  Novel and Short Story Writers’ Market at the local library. I would go inside, pull the book, sit at a table, and copy addresses down.  I’d take my manuscript to the post office, weigh it with the required SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), and again without the SASE, and put the exact postage on each envelope. The SASE was so the publisher would return my ms. Although I painstakingly made a copy, if rejected I’d want to send the original out again. And again. Oh, how I hated seeing those manila envelopes pop up in my mailbox. What I wanted to see was a long, white business envelope.

Alas, rejections were roughly 100%. Okay, exactly 100%.

The advent of the home computer helped a lot. Publishers and agents began accepting e-mail submissions. That saved a lot of money, but didn’t alleviate the waiting time. Sometimes I heard nothing back at all. Other times it was a matter of months. And sometimes, within a week.

I’ve been fortunate in that in all these years I’ve had only two discouraging rejections. In fact, they were so hateful and mean-spirited that I was brought to tears. I can only think the recipient was having a particularly bad day and I happened to be the one to bear the brunt of their fury. Most editors are kind in their rejections (when they bother to send one) even if it is just a standard paragraph sent to everyone alike. Some were kind enough to say, “This isn’t for us, but do keep writing and try us again.”

I’ve had acceptances from small presses, and they were a pleasure to work with even if they weren’t one of the Big New York Publishers. I never expected to hit the NY Times Best Seller List with my first novel, although it has been done. I know my limits.

I worked with one editor for nearly a year before she reluctantly passed when we couldn’t agree on the ending. That story is now in the hands of another house, which has had it in “in review” since June.

I guess the best advice I can give is first, write the best book you can, ask beta readers to give their opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and if you can’t afford an editor, at least ask a friend to proofread it. This friend should have a good command of English. I am lucky to have a friend who was a newspaper editor and is gifted with a sharp eye for errors.

That done, you should write a query letter that explains what your book is about, what the conflict is, and what genre it falls into. Hint: No conflict, no sale. And write a synopsis. This can be from a paragraph to 10 pages, so check the guidelines of whatever publisher you are going to submit to as they all differ.

Only then should you begin submitting. and for gosh sake, make sure your target publishes books in your genre. Don’t send a romance to a Sci-Fi publisher. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to check the submission guidelines for each publisher or agent. A submission can be rejected out of hand if you don’t follow the rules.

In a nutshell, that’s what I know about publishing. I’m sending out queries now, and waiting, checking my in-box just as I used to check my mailbox on the curb.

Some things never change.

 

 

 

 

Cringe-worthy confession

I started this blog as a way to share my writing journey and hopefully help my readers avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.  You know what they are: genre-hopping, revising a story so much I killed it …

Alas, the list goes on.

But one mistake I made very early on is one I seldom talk about because it makes me want to hide my head in shame. I should have known better, and yet hope makes fools of us all.

I had written a story I thought was very good. (It wasn’t, trust me.) I didn’t seek beta readers, I didn’t seek an editor. I was arrogant and thought I knew it all. Hadn’t I read every book on writing that Writer’s Digest had to offer?

I sent out a query and was thrilled when the phone rang and I had an offer of representation. The woman on the line had a cultured British accent and she seemed thrilled with my book.

Now, I thought I was no fool. Earlier on, another publisher acted thrilled with my submission, but when he quoted some lines from the book, praising them highly, I grew suspicious. I knew those weren’t the best lines and that he’d selected them randomly, which I took to mean he hadn’t even read the manuscript. I laughed and passed on the offer.

But this seemed legitimate. For a certain some of money, her company would send my story to X number of publishers. She almost guaranteed acceptance. She sent a contract which I took to an attorney to look over.

He said it looked good.

So I sent the money. It was a lot at that time, but I talked it over with my  husband and he agreed I should make the investment.

A month or so later, she called again. No one had responded but she had a new list of contacts and for an additional sum …

I asked which publishers she had sent the manuscript to. She said she couldn’t reveal that.

I thought long and hard and declined to pursue submissions with her company. Later, I came to the conclusion that she had never sent anything at all, anywhere, any time.

Lesson learned. Don’t be over eager. I makes you ripe for scams like this, and believe me, they are out there.

First, even thought the contract looked good, it never guaranteed a publisher.

Second, never ever send money to an agent. Ever. If they ask for even a modest fee, they are not your friend. Your book should stand on its own. It should be so good that they are thrilled to represent you because that means they will make money from the book and not from you.

Lots of italics, but I can’t emphasis it enough.

I am wiser now. I still make mistakes, but my hope is that I never make the same one twice.

I hope none of you make this one.

 

 

Enter Title Here

I’ve been involved in a round-robin of editing. I’m editing a friend’s new book and another friend is editing my latest endeavor. If she ever writes a book and asks friend #1 to edit it, we will come full circle.

I feel it important to ask another pair of eyes to look over any manuscript. My years as a newspaper reporter and editor taught me that our own mistakes often go unnoticed because we “see” what ought to be there.  The friend I mentioned is good at catching misspellings and typos. I am going to ask another friend to read for clarity, flow, plot holes, etc.

And of course, I ran spellcheck and took its advice 90% of the time. It has no sense of humor and doesn’t catch dialect.

Meanwhile … oh, meanwhile. I was asked for a full back in June and have been checking every day for the verdict. And, I am still sending another work out and getting really nice rejections, even a suggestion of another publisher that might take a look. I don’t want to give up hope, so I keep sending it out. I got to thinking lately that the title might be part of the problem (although I have heard editors reserve the right to change a title, I never have had one to do that).

Anyway, on reflection, it doesn’t really say what the story is about. So I brainstormed and came up with about ten alternate titles.

Here’s where I need your help.

The blurb:

Marcie Wicker is the only person, including the police, who doesn’t believe her husband, Stan, is sunning himself on a tropical beach somewhere after withdrawing every cent from their joint savings account. She refuses her father’s advice to seek a divorce and her mother’s advice to move on, and grieves that her college-age twins are letting their anger sully the memory of their father.

With the arrival of the new pastor, Adam Shepherd, Marcie realizes that she is ready to love again, but as neither wife nor widow, she is torn between accepting that Stan left her or stubbornly clinging to her belief that he has come to harm. Adam, a divorcee,  is struggling with regaining the confidence of his rebellious 13-year-old daughter and wonders if he is ready for another relationship.

When the truth is finally revealed, families are not only turned upside down, but also are made stronger.

The working title is “Wherever You May Be.”

Her are my alternates:

Missing, Presumed Alive

When He said Goodbye

When He Disappeared

Without a Word

Looking for Answers

Holding On/ Letting Go

Maybe Today

Gut Instinct

A Wife’s Heart

No One is Listening

The Stubborn Wife

Okay, no none of the above are stellar. Any suggestions?

I’d love your input! And if I choose your title, I will give your name to one of the characters in the novel!

 

 

Back into the fray

I had a wonderful birthday week. My sister came to visit from Pennsylvania and together we drove to the Golden Isles in Georgia to visit my oldest son and daughter-in-law. My second-oldest son flew in from California, making my birthday wish to have all my family together almost come true. (My youngest son and wife couldn’t make it.) Of course, none of the teenage grandkids could come because of summer jobs and/or school. So it was an adult gathering … very relaxing and enjoyable.

Since I have returned home, I’ve been busy bouncing back from yet another rejection and sending out queries and submissions. If the rejections hadn’t been so positive I might have given up, but the encouragement to keep trying is very persuasive.

And, working on my WIP. Isn’t there always a WIP? If not, there should be. It”s the only way to stop worrying about the submissions — did they get it? did they like it? when will I get a reply?

And keep dreaming and hoping for a “yes” this time around.

If writers didn’t dream, there would be no stories. Oh, they might still write them, but the results would be

These daisies didn’t succumb to the dry weather and heat while I was gone and were a welcoming sight when I returned home.

hidden in a box under the bed, read only by trusted friends and then returned to dust and darkness. So we dream up stories and then dream of them finding a home on someone’s bookshelf.

And if we’re honest, on many, many someones’ bookshelves.

This writing path has had many twists and turns since I had my first acceptance after years of writing and submitting. My first two books were accepted and published, only to have the publisher close their door.  I got my rights back and self-published, figuring all the editing and formatting had already been done, so why not? Then I self-published another because it was fairly easy and let’s face it, instant gratification.

 

My next three were accepted by a publisher, which was and is thrilling. The series was fun to write. Then I wrote another book and self published it because I was too impatient to do the necessary round of submissions.

It seems my sales are about equal for the traditionally published and self-published novels. I think there is more of a sense of satisfaction when you get that acceptance letter, but today there is no real downside to self-publishing, either. I think either way is perfectly legitimate. So if you are wondering which path to choose, it depends on how quickly you want to see your book in print. But if you do self-publish, it’s very important to have your work proofed, edited (there is a difference), and professionally formatted. See Mark Coker’s excellent guide (Smashwords) if you decide to format it yourself. And don’t forget your cover, which is the first thing a potential buyer looks at.

My, I’m full of advice! Some gleaned from reading books on getting published and some from my own experience. And, in my opinion, real-life experience is the best teacher.

Write on!

 

 

 

 

Why I don’t use my desk and other excuses

Writers often share photos of their work space:  organized desks with computer, printer, and file folders neatly aligned.

Mine is not like that. I am not even going to take a photo of my messy, disorganized and paper-strewn table (yes, a gate-leg table that may or may not be an antique because I  can’t remember where or when I acquired it). It gets progressively worse when I am working on a book because I don’t have the patience to put things back where they belong.  At any given moment, it holds the printer and computer, a stack of CDs I seldom play, a

calendar, phone, several 5 x 8 yellow tablets for notes, a coffee cup filled with pens, my camera, and and a glass of iced tea, a church bulletin, a flashlight, and my external hard drive because I learned the Lesson of the Lost Files the hard way.

 

I do have a desk. It is bare. I add this picture to show the reason why it is bare. I have three cats and during the day one or two of them are draped across its surface. I don’t put anything on the desk because within minutes of said cat(s) jumping on top, objects are swiped off and onto the floor.

They don’t jump on my table either because there is no room for them or because (my favorite reason) they see all the stuff on it and realize they are too inherently lazy to push it all off.  Also, the desk faces the windows and gets the afternoon sun.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy formatting my book. That has been accomplished, and now I am trying to come up with an alternate ending for the one that was rejected. So I am not so much writing as thinking. I don’t believe non-writers realize that when writers are sitting gazing off into space that they are actually working.  My hope is if I turn the story over in my mind often enough I will come to an Aha! moment and visualize the perfect ending.

And, I have been sending out my completed ms. to agents. I am by turns either hopelessly optimistic or bleakly despairing of ever again publishing another book. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and if I don’t at least try, the result will be a big, fat nothing. It’s hard to have faith in yourself and your story-telling ability, which is why I occasionally re-read my reviews so I can tell myself that somebody out there likes my books.

I don’t know if all authors are this neurotic. I suspect most are. What other professions depends so much on someone else’s opinion, which may or may not be objective?

Meanwhile, there are days I just wish I were a cat. Basking in the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing.

 

 

The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

Have you ever had a let-down that left you sobbing in your pillow?

I’m sure you have, way back in your angst-driven teenage years. But we get older and learn to ride these disappointments into the sunset with a brave grin on our faces, hiding the fact that we don’t know where we are going from here.Image result for woman crying cartoon

I have spent the last couple of months back and forth with an editor with a pretty well-known publishing house. Not one of the big 5, but respectable. She loved the story but hesitated on the ending. If I would re-write it, she’d take another look.

So I sweated out an alternate ending and got–a rejection. It was a very nice rejection and she gave me some invaluable advice on further revisions. But I guess it came down to that she lost faith in my ability to give her what she was looking for.

I can totally see it. I plan to take her advice and revise yet again, and submit elsewhere. And if you are a beginning writer and just now sending queries, you should know that getting a personal, two-paragraph reply is relatively unheard of. Any rejection that isn’t a form letter with one impersonal sentence, is gold.  The sender isn’t just saying no–she is telling you that you have a good story, it just needs work.

On to the other book in progress. I submitted the first 500 words to a workshop in mid-January. The idea was that other participants critiqued my entry and I critiqued several others. It was very worthwhile in that I got some great suggestions as to how to make my beginning stronger. The first 500 words are critical to engage the reader, as writers have been told from the get-go.

So now I have two books I need to work on before I submit (again!)

The moral of the story is that disappointing news can become the platform from which you leap to greater things. And when people gently point out what you’ve done wrong and suggest how to make it work, you don’t sob into your pillow.

You get busy and use the advice you’ve been given because you know, deep down, that you are not perfect. And the only way to get there is to be humble and accept this help, which was freely given, as opposed to arguing that your book is publishable as is and those editors and other writers in the workshop don’t know anything.

I have to admit that the person who doesn’t know everything is me. But I’m learning.

 

 

Nothing new under the sun

Every writer likes to think her ideas are unique. We try to come up with plots that are original, or at least a new twist on old ones.

I was reading a book yesterday and the heroine, orphaned and on her way to live with an aunt she barely knows, stops at an inn. She decides to go no farther, but to marry the older, dour innkeeper in order to gain a home of her own.

Well, deja vu all over again. My latest release, Riverbend, has an orphaned heroine who  marries an older dour man in order to escape having to throw herself on the mercies of a distant relative. And both heroines fall in love with their husbands.

There is also a witch who has all the other slaves terrified of her. I have a witch who terrifies all the other slaves.  In the book, the witch is old and ugly, while mine is young and beautiful, so there the similarities diverge.

I haven’t finished the book I am reading to see if it parallels mine in any other ways, but I’ve read enough to realize my idea wasn’t so original after all.

Then I was watching the TV show, The Good Doctor, and in the story, conjoined twins are separated, but one’s heart was working for both her and her twin, unknown to the doctors until they were separated.

Umm … yeah. In my as-yet unpublished book, there is a scene where conjoined twins are in danger because, you guessed it, one’s heart was working for the other unknown to the doctors until they get too far into the operation to stop.

It just goes to prove that there are no plots that haven’t been written over and over again. The trick is to give them a fresh look.  I once had an acquisition editor send me a scathing reply to a query because I used the old “secret baby” plot line. Overdone! She was tired of  this stale and unbelievable story. And yet I read books with this very same, or variation of, the secret baby.  It works for some because they know how to give it that original twist (while I obviously did not).

So, don’t worry if you find yourself reading a book with an uncanny resemblance to your own. Just figure out what they did that was different.

As a footnote, Frenchy is much recovered. So much so that I am having a hard time catching her to give her her twice-daily dose of antibiotic in her ears. And she has gained at least a pound because she is eating like a little gray pig.

 

 

 

 

 

Claiming your title

I attended a library event last week and a woman came up to me and asked “Is your new book out? I can’t wait to read it.”

Pretty heady stuff! I’d like to say I ran home and finished the book, but alas, I am not one who can write 40,000 words in one day. Not even in a month with my 1,000 words a day schedule.

The important thing I took from this encounter was that someone recognized me as an author. When I first started writing, I didn’t admit to anyone that I was writing a book. I didn’t even talk about it with my family. Oh sure, my husband knew because I had to explain why I was huddled over the typewriter for hours at a time.

Yes, you read that right. Typewriter. Later on, a word processor, and finally a clunky takes-all-the-room-on-your-desk computer. But I still didn’t tell anyone. And when the book was published I announced the news to my family and close friends. I didn’t know a thing about marketing, blog tours, reviewers, or any of that. I did do a book signing at the local arts council and thought that was the height of public relations.

I got a little more aware of how things worked with my next book. But still, when asked what I did, I’d say “I’m retired” or “volunteer work.” I did not say,”I write books.”

When friends called and asked if I were busy, I’d answer “no” even though I was deep in edits. “Just puttering,” I’d say.

Why is it so many of us are hesitant to admit we are writers? How many of you say “I am an author” with confidence?

It was only this past summer that I had the courage to walk up to complete strangers and hand them a bookmark and say, “I’m a writer and I’d love you to take a look at my books.” Some looked a little taken aback, but all were friendly and a few promised to check out my website. I don’t know if it made me any new fans, but what it did was validate, at least in my own mind, that I am an author.

acac_08-12-12

Me at a book signing for my second published book. I still didn’t think of myself as an “author.”

I wish I had thought of myself as a professional from the minute I wrote “Chapter One.” Or after my first sale. But I didn’t. It took me a long time for my inner self to claim that title.

I think it comes from fear. Fear that the announcement will be met with looks of incredulity from our friends, snickers from our relatives, disbelief from acquaintances. Fear that when you mention your book title they’ll say, “How many books have you sold?” Or worse, “Never heard of it.”

I don’t think selling million books or having your name on the New York Times Best Sellers list is the benchmark. Does a baseball player get to say he’s a professional only after he’s made so many home runs? Or a lawyer after he’s won X number of cases?

I haven’t yet come to the point where I will let the phone ring when I am working. But when I’m asked if I am busy, I will say, “Hey, I’m writing right now and I’ll call you back.” Or, when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can answer, “Working on my book” without fearing ridicule.

It doesn’t sound like a big step, but to me it’s enormous.

If you have written a book–actually sat down and typed 80,000 or so words–you are an author. It doesn’t matter if it is published or not. From the moment you wrote “The End” you can claim your worth.

Yes, you need to have it edited, proofed, find a few beta readers to give you some feedback. This is because you are a professional.

You may never get it published. Or you may decide to self-publish. That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you wrote a book and you are an author.

 

 

 

 

 

Making the pitch

Having missed several RWA chapter meetings, I decided to attend in February. First, I missed being around my writer friends. Just being in proximity with other writers gets me fired up to work on my novel (which has been sadly ignored of late). Second, the program was to be given by an agent, and she was taking pitches.

I have a book I have been querying for longer than I want to admit. I like the story, and I think readers will, too. I just need to bring it to someone’s attention. So I practiced my pitch all the way to Charlotte, which is roughly one and a half hours driving time.

The morning program was interesting as she talked about what agents look for and what turns them off. Then she said something that really caught my attention.

She described a book she loved, but had trouble getting to editors because the main male character is a preacher and the female is a piano player for the choir. And yet, it wasn’t an inspirational novel. It took her two years to find it a home.

My heart sank. My lead characters are a minister and organist, and the book is not an inspirational. It is about two people who want a second chance at love, but are torn apart by family obligations and expectations. They do get a HEA, but religion and/or redemption have nothing to do with it.

After the business meeting and lunch, I bravely took my turn at the table to pitch my book. The moment I said “minister” she shook her head.

“I know,” I said. I didn’t even try to explain that my book was different–mainly because I hadn’t read the other one yet. (I did read it later and it was funny and sassy and nothing at all like my book).

My five minutes up, I was about to thank her and leave when she asked if I was working on something else. I quickly mentioned the historical I am sooo close to finishing and she said she loved historicals, especially that time period, and to send a query when I finished it.

So–I drove home with mixed feelings.

The lesson here is this: Don’t ever be discouraged by a rejection. You may not get a face-to-face explanation of why it didn’t pass the test, but chances are that the agent or editor has already published a book very similar to yours. It has nothing to do with your writing style or the book’s qualities. I once got a rejection from an editor who didn’t like first-person stories. No other reason. So don’t give up. Acceptance depends on so many variables. It does get discouraging, but there is always another chance.

You just have to be ready to grab it when it comes.

And since I did love the book-that-got-there-first, it is “The Happy Hour Choir” by Sally Kilpatrick (Kensington).

 

 

 

Whose head is it, anyway?

One of the first issues a writer faces is deciding in whose point of view (POV) the story will be told.

And one of the most-often heard criticisms of a manuscript is “head-hopping.” In other words, jumping from one character’s head to another in the same scene.

Editors hate this, so my advice is Don’t Do It.

Multiple POVs was a time-honored format years ago. Notice I said years ago. Today you rarely read a book that tells the story through more than two characters. I’m not sure why multiple POV (along with Omnipotent POV where the reader knows what every character is thinking and feeling because the story is told by a god-like narrator who Knows Everything) has lost favor, but neither of these POVs will get you a publisher unless you are already a big name and sell many, many books, in which case you can do as you like.

A beginner, though, had better stick with the current format, which is to limit the number of POVs and make a scene change every time a new character is thinking or speaking. You recognize the shift by this device:

*****

Some writers shift between POV by alternating chapters. This works well, too.

I’ve read that one exception is bedroom scenes, when the characters’ thoughts can be tossed back and forth like the ball in a tennis match. But you still need to make certain the reader knows whose thoughts are whose.

I’m revising a manuscript that started out with multiple points of view. I thought it was necessary in order to present information the reader needed to know. However, on re-reading (and several rejections) I decided to change it to a single POV, the heroine’s.

The result is I have limited myself to sharing information that only the heroine can know.  It is similar to first-person POV, when the narrator is speaking directly to the reader. In other words, “I saw, I heard…”

This means cutting many sections of the manuscript. Hitting “delete” is hard, but it has to be done.

So how does the heroine get her information, and indirectly, the reader? I have one scene where she overhears something critical to the plot. That’s a trick I try not to use more than once, since it is about as overused (if necessary) as the “letters that were never delivered” device.

The result is dialogue, which I love to write. People tell her things, or don’t tell her things, which is just as revealing. For example, the hero refuses to discuss his past, which alerts both the heroine and the reader to the fact that he has something to hide.  Or sometimes the other characters don’t even need words, their actions tell her what she needs to know.

It’s slow going as I have to rethink many passages before I can rewrite them. Or decide if they are necessary at all.

I hope it makes for a cleaner manuscript. It’s harder to write, but if it improves the story, it will be worth it.

 

 

 

 

Why write?

A few years ago, before I ever published a book, I confided to a friend that I had received a disappointing rejection. (That may be a redundancy: what rejection isn’t disappointing?)

“Isn’t it enough that you wrote a book? Does it matter if no one reads it?” She clearly felt that was an accomplishment in and of itself, and that I should not push the envelope any further.

I should point out that this woman was an artist. We were in her studio, where her paintings, some complete and some half-finished, hung on the walls or were displayed on easels.

“Do you plan to leave your paintings here and never sell them to anyone?” I asked.

“Of course not! They are meant to be seen.”

“And books are meant to be read,” I said.

This was some years ago. I don’t know what happened to her. She was one of those people who are in your life for awhile and then drift on. But I still remember the conversation.

Books are meant to be read.

Lately I have been a little discouraged. I have achieved that enviable state of being a published author, but to date I am not read by very many people. There are too many books out there, all clamoring for the public’s attention. I haven’t thousands of dollars to invest in promotion and, probably naively, have depended on the promotional opportunities I could afford and word of mouth.

Which leads to me to confess I haven’t written a word in weeks. Some part of me wonders if it is worth the time and energy to produce yet another book that only a few people will read.

Or maybe I should keep writing, if only for my own satisfaction. Maybe, as my friend suggested, it is enough to have written it in the first place.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about it being published, although that would be nice.

And if others read and like my stories, that’s a bonus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Drawing Board

After receiving and acting on the suggested edits, I submitted “A Question of Time” to “my” publisher. I say “my” because she has published the first two books in the series, but that doesn’t guarantee she will pick up this one (fingers crossed).

So now I embark on a new project that is really an old one. I started a historical novel more than 10 years ago. It has gone through many metamorphoses through the years, the last being a spin-off from the original to elevate a secondary character to the forefront and telling her story.

I had eight beta readers and they loved it. I submitted it and received on of the most scathing rejections I think anyone has ever gotten. Sinking into my chair in humiliation, I tried to forget about it and concentrate on my other WIP.

But I couldn’t. I love the story, its mystery and hints of madness. So I dragged it out again (figuratively, as you can’t drag something out of a computer file).  I decided to try again.

This time, I’m limiting POV (point of view) to just one character. That’s a major change in itself, but I am also making her more mature, which will in turn change her viewpoint about the odd things going on around her. And instead of killing off another major character, I am going to let him live. Redeemed.

That’s a lot of revising and I doubt I will keep much of the original work except for some descriptions and key plot points. It might as well be a new story, except…it isn’t. front cover

Do you ever find yourself unwilling or unable to let go of a story because it won’t let go of you?

I don’t often indulge in shameless self promotion on this blog because I value my readers. But if you are interested in my books, here’s a link to my Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/sandrabruney

The e-book version of “Angels Unaware” is 99¢ until the end of June at which time it will go back to $3.99. Just wanted to let you know.

And now back to my heroine and her misadventures.

 

 

Image

Nothing is guaranteed

Having finished “A Question of Time,” the third and final book in the Question trilogy, I sent it to an editor. Not the publisher, because I know I have typos, grammar issues, and plot holes.

Well, I don’t actually know this because obviously if I did I would have fixed them. But I’m fairly certain they exist — I just can’t see them.

No author can proof his or her own work. I think that’s a cosmic law. We just don’t see our own mistakes, which is why an editor is the next logical step on the road to publication.

Even then, I can’t be sure the publisher will accept the complete manuscript. I have read of authors being dropped in the midst of a series and going on to find another publisher or self-publish in order to finish it out. There are no guarantees in this game.

Meanwhile, I’m working on something completely different: a short story. I haven’t written a short story in several years, so this is a change of pace for me.  I believe writers should try different disciplines just to keep their minds sharp. For the same reason, I will occasionally write a poem, or an essay.

I was going to say I think of these as practice sessions. But that isn’t quite true, because each story, poem, or essay is complete in itself, not steps toward writing a novel as learning the scales are necessary steps before performing “Fur Elise.”

Or maybe it’s all practice, even that first, second, or 100th novel. Who has written the perfect novel? Hands up, anyone?

As I said, there’s no guarantee we will ever be successful, however we measure success. That doesn’t mean we should give up.

Maybe it isn’t the destination, but the journey after all.

 

Beware the scammer

You have probably been told never to send money to an agent.  I repeat this mantra because I wish I had heard this when I first started out.

In the dark ages before personal computers, I wrote my stories on a typewriter (for those of you too young to know what one is, look it up). Then I took it to a stationary store that had a copy machine and paid to have a copies made so I could send my stories to various publishers and agents. The manuscript went into a manila envelope (or a box if it was a large manuscript) with an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) inside.

I trudged to the post office and had the clerk weigh it for me, so I knew how much postage to put on the SASE  so the publisher or agent could return it. Because I had paid for that copy and if the publisher or agent didn’t want it, I did.

Of course, I hoped it wouldn’t be returned. I never wanted to see that big manila envelope wing its way back to my mailbox. I wanted a  #10 envelope containing an acceptance letter and a contract.

My hopes and prayers when answered when I got a call from a woman with a very distinguished British accent. The agency liked my work. If I would send them X amount of dollars they would send it to X number of publishers. The money was to cover the cost of paper, printing, and postage.

I talked it over with my husband, who was as clueless as I was. It sounded reasonable to him, so I sent the check.

In the following weeks I received more calls. They’d had some nibbles. I shouldn’t give up, but I needed to send more money.

Being as savvy as a two-day-old  kitten, I did.

By the third call, I began to suspect things were not on the up-and-up. I regretfully said no, and then began wondering if I had blown my Big Chance for a few hundred dollars.

And then the world opened up. I bought a personal computer. I read on-line blogs about writing. I joined critique groups and writers groups. I attended writing conferences.

I wasn’t alone any more, fighting my way blindly to the to goal. I had help.

The first time I heard someone say “Never send an agent money” I knew I had been seduced by a cultured British accent.

I suspect they are out of business now, because stamps and paper and copy machines are no longer a necessary part of submitting. Or maybe they have found  new way to scam gullible newbies. I don’t know.

It was a painful, embarrassing, and expensive lesson for me and that is why I want to repeat the words I wish I’d heard way back when: Never pay an agent. If you are good enough, they will take a chance on getting their money from their fees.

Now editors. Editors a different story and if you are serious about your work you will hire one before submitting anywhere, and especially if you self-publish.

That money is worth it.

 

 

 

Never Give Up!

When asked what the best advice I can give to aspiring writers, I often answer “persevere.”

And it doesn’t matter now far along the writing path they are, the answer still holds true.

First, finish the book. Too many writers get bogged down because they aren’t sure where the story is going or because they lack the craft skills needed to make their book publishable.  The manuscript gets stuffed in a desk drawer and never sees the light of day again.

Which is a shame, because it might have been a great story if the author had dug a little deeper in her character’s motivations and goals, or if she had attended that workshop on character development offered in a nearby city, or signed up for an on-line course on plotting. It might mean ripping up the pages and starting all over, but it is a necessary part of writing.  If you intend to go to Charlotte and take a wrong turn on I-485 and end up in Gaffney (as I once did) do you sigh and stay there–or do you turn around and this time follow the directions?

You get the point.

The second place writers falter is when the story is finished, polished to the best of their ability, run by their beta readers, and gone over by a competent editor.  Maybe fear of rejection keeps them from sending it out and the story dies there.

Or they send it out and get a rejection. And another. And another.

This is where many authors end their journey. “It just wasn’t good enough.”

Wait! Didn’t several people they trusted tell them that it was good enough? Haven’t they  heard the stories about the Famous Author who got a gazillion rejections before his blockbuster, NYT Best-Selling Book, was published?

“I don’t have time to do all that,” the Aspiring Author whines just before throwing in the towel.

Yes, I know. I felt that way too. But then I sent the danged story out one more time

Because I believed in it and I knew in my heart someone else Out There would too.

I could have given up any time along the way. But I persevered.

And you should, too.

http://www.sandrazbruney.com

 

 

 

 

 

Handling rejections

Everybody gets them. I’ve had more rejections to submissions than I can count. I also have had acceptances, so it balances out in a cosmic sort of way.

When I get a rejection I think, “It wasn’t a fit for this publisher/agent/editor.” Or maybe it wasn’t the right story at the right time, or some other reason that makes me feel better. I once got a really scathing rejection from an editor that was so horrible I deleted it like squashing a cockroach. I decided she was suffering from a particularly bad case of pms the day my manuscript landed on her desk. Because, 10 beta readers had loved the book. So I knew it wasn’t as bad as she claimed.

Anyway, we get them and we get through them. Not everyone loves what you write. I’ve been fortunate to have readers give me good reviews on my published books and have even received a fan letter or two. Honestly, one fan letter equals about 10 rejections on the emoticon scale.

So when I checked my sales report the other day I saw that someone had bought a book and then returned it. Now, this is a book I have listed for 99 cents because it is a supportive book for people contending with cancer and I am not looking to make money from it. Many readers said it helped them get through it, and bought it for friends and relatives who had just been diagnosed. It is also a personal journey, so having the book returned was more of a rejection of me than a rejection of my writing.

Yes, it hurt that it was returned. For 99 cents. I wouldn’t have bothered. I have bought books that I put down after the first three pages, but I never thought of getting my 99 cents back. Too much trouble. Which means this reader really hated the book and wanted it off her Kindle or Nook like I want spoiled food out of the refrigerator.

The up side is, I checked my listings just to make certain he or she didn’t post a 0-star review on the page. They didn’t, but I did discover my latest book is listed. I was excited about that as the publisher hadn’t let me know the release date. There have been a lot of changes going on — new name (Astraea Press is now Clean Reads) with a new website and logo, so I am not upset about falling through some crack. I’m just happy it is available.

And I hope no one buys it and returns it. I had enough rejections before getting it published.

 

 

 

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