Critiquing, PitchWars, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying

A few weeks ago one of my writing friends posted a wonderfully inspiring tweet:

And I replied:

Technically, this statement isn’t true. If you’ve seen my posts on tracking my queries, you’ll know that I do keep track of my rejections. However, I’ve never totaled them up for all the manuscripts, and as I thought about this post, I realized it might actually be helpful to share that information. I always figured I’d save these numbers for a dramatic How I Got My Agent post, but since that hasn’t happened yet, let’s do it! But also, as I’m still querying my latest manuscript, I’m not tying any of these numbers to specific manuscripts.

Manuscripts: 6
Queries: 594
Query Rejections: 500
Partial requests: 31
Full requests: 75
R&Rs: 4

So there it is. A nice even 500 rejections. But wait! That’s only query rejections. When you add in the fact that those submissions and R&Rs didn’t turn into offers, I’ve squeaked over 600 (some of those requests were from contests rather than queries). Now, I did include queries and submissions for the manuscript I’m currently querying in these numbers, and I’m still waiting to hear on a number of those. Plus, there are a few agents who haven’t responded on a couple of my older manuscripts. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find it in their inbox and still make an offer :). (I am an eternal optimist.) Which brings me to my first and always lesson:

PERSEVERANCE

Basically, I’m not giving up, no matter what. I will keep writing until one of these manuscripts sticks. I mean, this is my What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying Post, and it’s a tradition. I’ve written one for each year, so if you’re new here, that’s already going to tell you something. If you want to go back and read the others, here they are: What I’ve Learned in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six Years of Querying.

But on to the other things I’ve learned this past year.

Being in a major contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t put a magic spell on your manuscript. Now, I want to be clear that I did not assume being in Pitch Wars would result in an agent. It’s more that I thought this manuscript would be more ready than any of the others and I would feel super-confident in my materials. I’d had multiple writing friends participate in the contest before, which is much more than an agent showcase, by the way, and so I understood going in that the main benefit of Pitch Wars was the mentoring. I’d entered Pitch Wars with three other manuscripts in the past and not been selected, with feedback varying from “You should go ahead and query!” to the sort of responses you get from agents: “Not right for me.” So when I was selected by a mentoring team (Hi, Beth and Kristin!), it felt like I’d done something right with this manuscript. I knew it wasn’t ready to query yet, and that’s why the timing of Pitch Wars was so perfect. I would work with my mentors to shine up the manuscript and start querying after the agent showcase. I was thrilled with the final product and happy with the requests I received during the agent round (I never expected to be one of the entries with dozens of requests). Where my expectations have stumbled a bit was in the querying afterward. As with every other project, I’ve questioned pretty much every aspect–query, first pages, the overall manuscript. So being in Pitch Wars didn’t magically erase all those doubts. Oh well. Fingers crossed the right agent is still considering it!

Participating in a mentoring contest brings your revision skills to a whole new level. As I started drafting and am now revising another manuscript, I’ve seen the benefits of working in-depth with two mentors. I have amazing critique partners, and they’re very honest with me when they spot issues in my work, but the difference with mentors is that they go even deeper, suggesting cuts and additions that a CP may not. As I started writing my latest project, I felt like I had two extra voices in my head asking me if I was addressing those weaknesses I’d had in my last manuscript. I believe this latest first draft was stronger because I went through the Pitch Wars revision process.

Seeing your name on the Acknowledgements page of a critique partner’s book for the first time is an amazing high. Several years ago I noticed there was a group of writers whose work I love who always thank each other in the acknowledgements page, and I thought, “Someday I will have a group of friends like that!” My group of critique partners and beta readers isn’t so close-knit that they’re all trading with each other, but several of them do chat with each other and share excitement over releases.

In any case, this spring marked the first time my name was in a friend’s book, and I definitely walked around the house making sure my husband and kids saw my name in there. There are two more coming up in the next year that I will get to celebrate as well. I don’t know how long it will be before my name is on the cover of a book, but for now I will cheer on my friends and continue reading the amazing work of the writers around me. There’s so much more to this writing journey than my work. I feel like breaking into a chorus of “We’re all in this together … ”

Find creative outlets with more immediate returns. I actually do a few creative things, but one creative outlet I’d missed recently was playing the violin, so last fall I joined a community orchestra. It was hard work. I hadn’t played classical music in years (I’d been playing only at church), so I had to practice A LOT, but experiencing the payoff of performing challenging music was very rewarding. Now that I’ve found it, I’m not giving it up. I need that opportunity to express myself creatively and see the end result.

So that’s what I’ve learned this past year, and I’m hard at work revising the next manuscript I plan to query. Because of that lesson I already shared but it doesn’t hurt to mention again …

PERSEVERANCE!

To those of you who are persevering with me, keep at it! I’m cheering for you.

Revising, Writing

A Love Letter to My Work-In-Progress

As I sent my latest manuscript off to first-round readers today, it occurred to me it’s a lot like how you feel when you start dating someone and you’re so anxious for all of your friends to like that person as much as you do. You want their opinions, even though you secretly want them to tell you this person is perfect already. Of course, no one is perfect, just as no manuscript is perfect, particularly not an almost-first draft. Anyway, here’s the note I mentally–and now physically–drafted to my WIP :).

Dear Work-In-Progress,

I think you might be the best thing I’ve ever written! I am so in love with you right now–and so happy you’re finished!

I’ve told my writer friends about you, and they love the idea of you. Sure, they haven’t read you yet, but I’m positive when they do, they’ll love you as much as I do. They won’t rip you to shreds. They won’t nitpick about your character inconsistencies or point out where you’re completely unbelievable or zero in on your weaknesses–because in this moment you don’t have any of those. You are bright and shiny and beautiful.

Okay, I have to be honest. You probably aren’t perfect. I’m probably blinded by the glow of first love. But that’s all right. When the notes return and I must tear you apart and kill some of your most darling lines, I will return to this note so I can remember how much I loved you at the beginning. Because love is a commitment, and we are in this for the long haul.

Until we meet again, dear words …

Michelle

 

Revising, Writing

A Revision Plan of Attack Using Collections in Scrivener

I intended to write a celebratory post when I finished drafting this latest work-in-progress, but I never got around to it. I’m now nearly through my self-imposed month of letting the manuscript sit, but I certainly haven’t been idle. Even without reading through the manuscript again, I already have a ton of notes jotted in my Scrivener file. I spent several days brainstorming a title for the manuscript, but it took a morning sitting in the airport, the airline sending me constant updates about our flight, to make a light bulb go off in my brain.

“Your Flight Has Been Delayed,” the email said over and over. And while that would be pretty on the nose for my novel, it needed a slight change.

YOUR FLIGHT LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED

I guess this title would make more sense if I told you what the manuscript is about, huh? Here’s my working query, which I’ve also added to my Writing tab.

When seventeen-year-old Jenny Waters boards Flight 237 on Aug. 2, 1995, in New York, she has two main goals. First, convince her parents to let her apply to the journalism program at Columbia University. Second, woman up and kiss her boyfriend of three months.

But when Jenny and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, the airport manager informs them their plane disappeared—25 years ago. Like the universe hit pause on their plane while the rest of the world kept moving. In 2020, newspaper reporter isn’t exactly a top career choice, and as for her boyfriend, well, all his kisses belong to Jenny’s best friend. His wife. And they’re both in their forties.

As if trying to adjust to a new century isn’t hard enough, a conspiracy group called the Time Protection League sets out to prove Flight 237 is a big hoax. When Jenny’s not dealing with rumors she’s a clone, she’s fighting her attraction to Dylan, who introduces her to everything that’s good about her new present, like Harry Potter and late-night texting.

Too bad Dylan happens to be the son of Jenny’s former boyfriend and BFF. Yeah, that’s not awkward.

ONCE UPON A KISS meets Lost in YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, a 75,000-word young adult contemporary novel with speculative elements.

Obviously the word count will change once I start revising, but it’s a start.

One of the Scrivener features I plan to use as I revise is to create Collections so I can analyze certain areas of the manuscript in smaller chunks. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Scrivener, a Collection is a group of scenes/chapters that you tag to belong to a group–or Collection–and can then view separately. Any changes you make to the scenes while viewing in the Collection are updated in the main manuscript. It’s simply a way to view them differently. This screen shot shows how I used Collections to separate out the two viewpoints in my YA contemporary, AS SEEN ON EVIE. The Evie scenes are grouped together, and above there’s a separate collection for the Justin scenes.

For this manuscript, I only have one point of view, but there are several subplots I want to analyze for various reasons. I plan to create Collections so I can go through the plot points for each of those subplots and do several checks–character descriptions and dialogue, plot progression, consistency, and other details. Creating the Collections is pretty simple.

  1. Click on the scene you want to include in the Collection.
  2. Click on the little arrow next to the settings icon at the bottom of the Binder.
  3. Select Add to Collection, New Collection.
  4. Type in the name of the Collection.
  5. For any other scenes you want to include, right-click and the name of the Collection will pop up. You can then view all scenes in that Collection by clicking on its name in the Binder.

           

I anticipate separating out the love story, friend drama, conspiracy group, and interactions with other people who were on the plane with her will help ensure those plots all have their own mini plot arcs and then fit into the overarching story. I love that Scrivener makes this easy to do.

What tricks do you use to ensure your subplots hold their weight within the overall story?

Writing

Quick Drafting Tip: Make It Your First Priority

Hello, friends!

I opened up my blog today and realized I hadn’t posted since mid-February. Tragic!

However, it’s because I’ve been faithfully drafting as promised, and I’m up to 32,ooo words. I’ve set my target for 75,000 words, so that means I’m at about 43 percent. I feel pretty good about this as according to my outline, I’m three scenes away from the midpoint, so it looks like I’m on target. Of course, I won’t necessarily end up right at 75,000 words. I input it as my target for my last MS and ended up with a very short draft, but I think that had to do with writing in reverse. After my Pitch Wars revision, during which I added several scenes, it was 70,000 words.

Enough rambling, though. The reason I decided to post today was to give a quick tip about how I’m surviving the drafting stage. (Sorry to those of you who fall on the love-drafting, hate-revising side of the spectrum.) I mentioned in my previous post that I put an end date in Scrivener, and it then calculated how many words I have to write each day to finish. It comes out to about 1,800 words a day.

Really, it’s simple.

Drafting is my main priority, and I’m not allowed to do anything else until Scrivener dings that my project session target has been reached.

Which means:

 

 

 

 

For me the worst offender is Twitter. I can’t even open it until I’ve finished drafting for the day. So for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I’m not tweeting as much lately. It’s especially hard on a day like today, when there’s #PitMad going on. I didn’t make an exception. I scheduled all my pitches yesterday and waited to check on them until I finished drafting.

And to make sure I’m not tempted by notifications popping up on my phone, I turn it face-down on my desk.

The only break I allow myself is checking my email, but unless it’s something urgent or left over from the day before, I write it on my to-do list to handle after drafting is finished for the day.

Anyway, that’s how I get through drafting each day, and by mid-April, I will reach the end of this draft and go celebrate with a super-sized cupcake or some other delicious treat.

How do you survive drafting? Or are you one of those weird people who loves it?

Writing

It’s Drafting Time!

A few weeks ago I posted that I would start drafting my new project on Monday, Feb. 12, and I wanted to report that I have, indeed, started drafting. Anyone who’s been following my blog for a while knows this is my least favorite part of the writing process. I would much rather be revising words already on the page than staring at a blank one. However, I have plotted this project out in quite a bit of detail, so I expect to keep drafting at a steady pace.

I drafted my last manuscript, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, completely in reverse. I started with the first last chapter and worked backward. I really liked that process and thought I would do the same with this new project. However, as I was plotting I found myself jumping around, throwing in a scene here and a scene there. So far I am drafting from the beginning, but it’s possible I will jump around a bit. That’s the beauty of Scrivener. Since I already have my scenes/sequels all planned out, I can pop from one scene to another.

Everyone has a different drafting style and mine isn’t even the same every time, but for those of you who are interested, here’s my approach this time.

1. I outlined in Scrivener using K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL as a guide. She has a couple of posts on her website explaining how to do this, but she does much more extensive outlining than me. I basically make sure I’ve included all the major plot points, and then add the scenes in between. (There are more scenes under several of these flags that you can’t see.)

2. I follow Ms. Weiland’s scene/sequel structure. You may notice that of the scenes you can see, there is always an even number. That’s because there is a scene and then a sequel. I make a note card for each one.

These scenes and sequels have nothing to do with chapters. I don’t worry about chapters until I’m finished drafting. Sometimes they work great for chapter breaks. Other times I end up combining scenes/sequels into a single chapter and/or breaking up a scene into two chapters. It’s all about where the best break is to keep a reader intrigued.

3. After I finish deciding my major plot points and filling in all the scenes and sequels, I set my drafting goals. I do a modified fast-draft, meaning I set myself a deadline and draft a certain amount of words each day no matter what. In Scrivener, I select Project, then Show Project Targets. There are two sets of targets–the session target (each day) and the draft target (overall). I’ve set my draft target for April 12. Under Session Target, you can choose which days of the week you plan to write. In my case, I only write during the week while my kids are at school. Then I click OK and set my overall manuscript target. Each day, it automatically adjusts my session target depending on how many words I write.

4. I start drafting! As you can see above, I’ve drafted two days and went a little over today :). I’m not 100 percent tied to my outline. I have some empty scene/sequel note cards at the bottom of my Scrivener file in case I decide there’s something else that needs to happen. There’s also the possibility I’ll get into it and something I’ve planned no longer makes sense. But having this road map gives me direction. I feel so much more confident drafting with an outline than I did when I used to draft with no idea where I was going.

I’m excited to be working on something new. What’s your drafting strategy? Do you work with an outline or wing it?

 

 

Writing

Procrastination, Thy Name is Michelle – Part Two

I titled this post and realized it sounded super familiar. Well, that’s because I wrote it in August 2016. And before that, I wrote a post about how procrastination was the first step in my drafting process. That being said, the August 2016 post was very effective in motivating me to move forward on brainstorming and ultimately drafting what would become the manuscript I’m currently querying, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. I honestly can’t believe it’s been that long since my last first draft, but in the past year and a half, I also completed an R&R (more of a write a whole new book and resubmit than a revise and resubmit) for another MS and participated in Pitch Wars for SECRET. So there’s a reason it’s taken me a while to get to a new project.

In any case, I actually have started brainstorming, so I’m not completely ignoring the fact that I should be focusing on a new project while I’m waiting to hear from agents on the existing one. However, in my usual fashion, if there’s any excuse to do something else–volunteer work like Girl Scout cookie mom or library coordinator duties, make new charts in my query spreadsheet, scroll through Twitter–I choose that over my brainstorming and planning.

I really thought I’d be better about it this time. As much as I hate drafting, I planned my last MS out so well that it wasn’t as much of a trial as usual. I think now maybe the problem is that the planning is sort of like the drafting. But I need to get over that and get moving because I am excited about my new idea. I’m not quite ready to share what it is here other than to say it is YA and will involve a touch of the unexplainable.

As in 2016, I’m using the blog as my drafting accountability. Barring anything that might arise with my existing project, I will finish brainstorming and plotting this sucker out and start drafting on Monday, Feb. 12, which should result in a draft by early April.

So now that I’ve distracted myself with this blog post, I’d better get to work. Please do hold me accountable!

PitchWars, Writing

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Aesthetics

In the days leading up to Pitch Wars, mentees posted various novel aesthetics on Twitter, and I thought it would be fun to compile them all here on my blog.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my idea for this manuscript started with the setting in the middle of the novel. We were on our annual family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer (2016), and I looked over and spotted this abandoned house. My writer brain started asking all these questions about it, and of course I took pictures. That was my first novel aesthetic for what would become YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

I knew I wanted my characters to be siblings, a sister and brother. I had come up with a somewhat sketchy plot, and then in September 2016 I attended a daylong Girl Scout event with my daughter, who was a Daisy at the time. Now, I should mention that I am not a fan of the outdoors, and this event involved all sorts of outdoor activities. So when the next event was canoeing and they said they needed a parent volunteer to stay in the knife safety pavilion while troops came through for the demonstration, I jumped at it. There were two teen Girl Scouts leading the demonstration. I helped out for an hour and was privileged to listen to these girls, both of whom were Girl Scout Ambassadors. I asked them questions in between troops, learning about what it meant to be a teen Girl Scout and how rare it is for girls to stick with it.

My main character, Dora, is modeled after one of these girls, although of course I didn’t take any pictures of her. Instead I searched the internet for a photo to stick in my character file. Then I searched out pictures of the other characters who feature prominently: Dora’s brother, Sam; the love interest, Jay; Dora’s best friend, Wren; and, of course, the babysitter, Marie. I love how her picture looks like a mug shot–or maybe a passport photo since they won’t let you smile anymore.

Dora
Sam
Jay
Wren
Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally made a novel aesthetic ages ago, I thought about the images that are most associated with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, and the two objects that are always mentioned in my pitch are Dora’s fishing knife (the murder weapon) and the downstairs freezer (where they stuff Marie’s body in a panic), so it’s appropriate to include those in any photo representation of my manuscript. But even before those two objects come into play, there’s the matter of an ill-advised text Dora sends.

There was a prompt during the Pitch Wars countdown to show your opening scene. My novel opens with Dora working as a roller-skating carhop at the Cosmic Diner, which is loosely modeled after Sonic. She has an encounter with her ex that involves a blue raspberry slushy and his lap …

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a call for the final scene, but considering my novel has quite a few twists, I’m not willing to give that away :).

Do you have any stories behind your novel aesthetics? I love looking through them. It’s so wonderful to get a glimpse inside everyone’s story world.