Agents, Contests, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Five Years of Querying

I’ve become a huge fan of the memories that pop up on Facebook. It’s a fun way to look through old photos, videos, and the occasional comment. Anyway, on July 3, a writing-related post showed up that made me smile and shake my head at the naive Michelle of five years ago, but it’s appropriate to this post, so I’m going to share it. Here’s what I put on Facebook July 3, 2011:

Novel update: For those of you wondering, the novel is finished! At least for now … I’m going to start submitting to agents when we get back from vacation. Once I find one, there’ll be more revisions, then once it goes to a publisher, more revisions. It’s a very long process! So now I’m writing the next one…

Well, I was right about it being a very long process! That particular novel, which was then titled ESCAPE FROM THE UNDERGROUND CITY and you can now find as THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES under the Writing tab, eventually got shelved. I’ve since queried three other novels and currently have a fifth novel out with agents. I sent out that first batch of queries for CAVEBOY on July 11, 2011, and one year later I posted what I’d learned. It’s become a tradition to add to my experiences each year, and I now have posts for two, three, and four years of querying. I try to keep the points new each year, but it’s getting harder :). Here we go!

No matter how optimistic you are, you’re also a realist. I start every morning thinking, “This could be the day an agent offers representation!” But whenever my Gmail dings, I tell myself it’s a rejection. Why? Because even though I believe that offer will eventually come, I can’t get my hopes up every time a new email comes through. I’ve been disappointed too many times. One day, when I have that how-I-got-my-agent story to tell, I’ll share the statistics. I mean, this is a five years of querying post, so you know that adds up to a lot of rejections!

As your friends sign with–and leave–agents, you get an inside look at those agents and start to form opinions about them. I mentioned last year that the caliber of my critique partners and beta readers has gotten higher and higher. It’s because we started out together years ago and many of them have gone on to sign with agents and even be published. As that’s happened, I’ve listened to their experiences. A few have quietly parted ways with their agents. They’ve shared the details with me behind the scenes, and in a few cases I’ve removed agents from my list. But for others, it was simply a matter of that writer and agent not being a fit–not necessarily an issue that would apply for me or other writers. The best testimonials, of course, are the writer friends who recommend their agents highly.

The more connections you make, the harder it is to enter contests because it’s more likely you know the organizers/judges. In year one, I learned the benefit of contests, and I still think contests are a great strategy to get in front of agents. The thing is … I’ve really tapped that contest market and made excellent connections. So it starts to become awkward. There are contests I can’t enter at all because my friends are running them and others where my choices are limited because my CPs have connections to them. There are always Twitter pitch parties, though!

You start to feel almost ambivalent when you send out queries. I remember the buzz I felt five years ago when I sent out my first batch of queries, how anxious I was to check my email for responses. It’s dulled significantly over the years. I still felt it somewhat when I started querying my fourth manuscript, but with the fifth one, even though I knew it was my best work yet and had the highest probability of anything I’d written of garnering agent interest, I found myself less concerned about how each individual agent would respond. My sense of worth in my writing ability wasn’t so attached to their interest in my manuscript. I’m not sure if that means I’ve achieved some level of zen or peace or what. To be honest, it kind of concerned me that I wasn’t caring enough. Don’t worry, though. I still care about the submissions!

You might have to turn down an opportunity because your gut says it’s wrong. Maybe it’s an agent you thought would be a fit–because you shouldn’t be wasting an agent’s time with a query if you wouldn’t consider signing with him/her!–and then you talk and realize you have a different vision for your manuscript. Or maybe you receive one of those if rejections. Some of you understand what I’m talking about. An agent (or editor) says, “I’d be willing to take another look if you do x, y, z.” It can be a heady email because it means the agent loved something about your work. Here’s someone who believes you have potential, so of course you should do whatever he/she says! Except … make sure that if involves changes you can live with and believe in, because it’s still your story. Only revise if you agree with the suggestions. If you don’t, walk away, no matter how hard it may be. If you can’t overcome your doubts, it’s probably not the right fit for you. But if the changes resonate with you, by all means, revise away!

You never know for sure if something will work until you try it. There may come a time when you want to try a creative element with a manuscript–maybe write it out of order or write it all in tweets or–ahem–include screenplay scenes. It might be exactly the right thing for your manuscript. Or it might not. Sometimes you have to put it out there to the people who know the market (agents/editors) to get a true read on it. But if you are trying something unique with your manuscript, keep a close eye on your feedback and be prepared to revise if it turns out the market isn’t ready for your text-messages-from-your-dead-cat manuscript. (Hmm … that might be funny!)

Just because an agent has never requested from you before doesn’t mean they won’t now. I’ve said the opposite of this before. There’s an agent who requested three of my previous manuscripts and didn’t even reply to my current one, but that’s okay. It’s obviously not her thing. But to prove my current point, multiple agents who’ve rejected all of my previous manuscripts have requested this one, so you never know. It’s always worth trying an agent again because maybe your current project is the one that will finally get the agent’s attention.

It’s okay to return to a project you really love. I’ve shared elsewhere about how I haven’t been able to let go of my second project, which is now my work-in-progress again. I felt sort of guilty at first, like it might be a waste of my time to focus on a novel I’d queried extensively and ultimately had to shelve. But I kept having new ideas how to fix it, so I gave myself permission to return to it, and I’m so glad I did. With three more years of writing experience to bolster it, I know it’s a much stronger novel. Now it’s just a matter of deciding what to do with it!

If you have the means and opportunity to meet your online writing friends in person, do it! You know those critique partners who read your manuscripts multiple times, suffer through your email rants, and generally are the best cheerleaders in the world? I have several of those in my camp, and I’ve been working with them for years, but until a couple of months ago, I’d never met any of them in person. NESCBWI was the perfect opportunity to meet not only one of my longtime CPs, but also a number of other writers and published authors I’ve chatted with online. I wouldn’t give up the emails, Twitter DMs, or gchats for anything, but the in-person time was so valuable. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it every year, but it’s now my mission to travel around and meet up with my other CPs, too!

So that’s what I learned in year five. I guess I’ll start working on year six lessons tomorrow, because I’m definitely not giving up! What have you learned on this querying journey? Anything you’d like to share?

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Tweeting Tomorrow

Last fall I wrote a popular post featuring two contests that were happening on the same day–On the Block and #PitMad–and I’ve revived it the last couple of times #PitMad popped up, but I decided it was worth updating the post to only cover #PitMad, so here goes.

In case you’re new to the Twitter pitching circuit, #PitMad is a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in the past and received requests. It’s a great opportunity to discover agents who are interested in your premise–since that’s all you have room for in 140 characters :). On the eve of this opportunity, here a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have three solid tweets–or one amazing tweet–prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run these tweets by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure they make sense and will draw interest. You are only allowed to tweet three times. It can be the same tweet, although if you’re only using one, it had better be so spectacular it’s worth not trying out two other variations. Because you never know how a different wording might strike one agent’s fancy and not another’s.
  2. Your opening pages are solid. Rarely does an agent ask for a full from PitMad. It’s likely that if an agent or editor likes your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages first, and as with any querying experience, that first impression is all-important.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. As with the opening pages, agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent likes your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every like you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best opportunity ever. I get how much of a thrill it is to have your pitch liked by tons of agents–or even just one. I think every contest or pitch opportunity that’s coming up seems like the most important, best ever–whether that’s Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, PitMad or the other Twitter pitch fests out there–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Make sure it’s ready. Agents will assume it is if you put it out there.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. Since I’m not in a position to pitch tomorrow, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Querying, Quick Tip, Revising, Writing

Quick Tip: Visualizing Your Feedback

One of the hardest decisions to make as you start receiving feedback on agent submissions is whether you should stop querying and revise. The tricky part of the equation is that the publishing business is subjective, and it’s challenging to sort through the comments you’ve received and determine whether they’re leaning toward “Yes, you definitely have to fix this!” or “It’s a judgment call.”

It’s even more complicated because agents don’t always comment on the same aspects of the manuscript, and you’re more likely to receive feedback on what didn’t work for them than what they loved about it. However, it’s important to take note when they do comment on the positive because, again, what one agent loves may be what another agent doesn’t.

I’ve found it especially helpful to look at feedback visually by making positive and negative feedback charts in Excel. I’m not going to share feedback on my current manuscript here on the blog, but in order to show you what I mean, I’ve created charts for the old manuscript I am revising. I should mention, though, that this manuscript was initially a middle grade novel, and after a revise & resubmit from an agent, I aged it up to young adult. The feedback on these charts is from both versions so it’s a bit skewed, but it will still give you an idea.

Duet positive comments

As you can see, some agents commented on the emotional journey being a strength, Duet negative commentswhile others felt I needed to work on character depth. Also, one agent complimented my pacing, but another had issues with it. Subjectivity–the bane of every writer’s existence!

For this particular manuscript, I didn’t need a chart to know I had to fix the alternate reality scenes and the voice. The other issues? I needed to figure out how to keep the positive and address the negative. It took me a couple of years to figure out how :). My point is, visualizing your feedback can help you decide whether a particular issue is something you need to step back and address or if it’s a matter of opinion. Because if you are getting positive comments as well as negative on a particular issue, it might be the latter. Perhaps the next agent will be the one where all the pieces fit together just right.

If you’re struggling with contradictory feedback or just want to see how your comments line up, try making these charts. It’s also nice to go look at that positive chart for an ego boost!

If you have any other ideas for sorting out feedback, I’d love to hear them.

Querying, Writing

The Search for Solid Comp Titles

As writers, we’re often told to include comp (or comparative, for the non-writers) titles in our queries letters. But it’s tricky. These titles can’t be too well-known, or we’ll look ridiculous. Or arrogant.

“I’ve written the next HARRY POTTER! HUNGER GAMES! TWILIGHT! DIVERGENT!”

No. You haven’t. Sorry. Or even if you have, there’s no way you can predict that.

At the same time, if you choose a novel that’s too obscure, the agent may not recognize it and the comp may fall flat. It’s a tough line to walk.

Then there’s the option of movies and TV shows. Some agents are fine with them and others aren’t because they want you to demonstrate a knowledge of the market. So, basically, you have to customize your comp titles based on each agent’s preference.

I’ve had a particularly difficult time coming up with comp titles for my current manuscript. The best comp title for it is a movie from 1998–The Truman Show. It’s a well-known movie, but I still felt like I needed to have book comps available as well. And that’s where things get tricky. Because the story is more than just this single plot line. It’s told from dual points of view, and includes scenes from the show in a screenplay format and blog posts. So that gives me even more possibilities to search for comp titles. For example:

  • Reality TV: Although the best-known title is probably A.S. King’s REALITY BOY, Heather Demetrios’ SOMETHING REAL is a better match for voice and tone.
  • MC discovers his/her life is a lie: I’ve searched far and wide for a title that would fit this scenario, and most of the titles I’ve found are either fantasy, sci-fi, or thrillers. As deep as I’ve scoured with my searches, I’m afraid anything I find now will be too obscure to use :).
  • MC is a liar–preferably a male voice: I’m reading one right now that I’m hoping will fit this category, but it looks like it will veer away from contemporary as well. There are a lot of girl liars in contemporary YA!
  • Format experiments: I have a number of options I could use for this, but it feels more important to use one of the other two comps instead.

My point in the examples above–particularly those two where I’m struggling–is that if I use the wrong title I could give the wrong impression. Sure, I could insert a thriller title where the main character finds out her life is a lie, but that would imply a different tone for my novel. And although I could choose a comp title where the female character is the liar, I’d really rather keep it as the male character, since my whole query focuses on the lies my boy MC has told. I tend to think it’s better to use no comp titles at all than to use titles that will give the wrong expectations for my manuscript.

What about you? Have you struggled with comp titles for a particular manuscript? Did you finally find the right ones or just forget about it?

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

So there are a couple of amazing opportunities out there tomorrow for writers who have a manuscript ready to query. One is the incomparable Authoress’ new On the Block contest, a progression from her very popular Baker’s Dozen contest. The other is #PitMad, a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in both of these in the past (well, Baker’s Dozen) and actually received quite a bit of interest on my last manuscript for both. I may even still be waiting on a few agents to respond … ahem. Anyway. On the eve of these opportunities, I thought I’d throw out a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have a solid logline/tweet prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run it by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure it makes sense and will draw interest.
  2. You have a solid first page/first pages. In the case of On the Block, being selected rests on that first page, so it’s very important where that 250-word sample ends. But the first pages are important for PitMad, too, because it’s likely that if an agent or editor favorites your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages before a full.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. This point is more for PitMad as On the Block will end up being a certain number of pages, but agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent favorites your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing. And maybe with On the Block you think you could get away with submitting your logline and first page tomorrow and then tweaking the manuscript before the go-live date. Well, perhaps you could, but what if you get into those tweaks and discover there’s more work to be done than you realized? You shouldn’t be gambling with those agent opportunities that way.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad or On the Block!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner or–since I expect this may be the case for a number of writers out there–are waiting on feedback from a PitchWars mentor who promised it, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. This particular point is more for PitMad than On the Block, which is agent-focused. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every favorite you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Another PitMad comment here and just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best contest ever. I get how much of an honor it is to be selected by Authoress for one of her contests. I was there last year in Baker’s Dozen, and it was an honor–but I also was ready with that manuscript. I’m sure this new contest will be equally prestigious and exciting to see your entry singled out and bid on by more than a dozen agents. I think every contest that’s coming up seems like the most important, best contest ever–whether that’s PitchWars, The Writer’s Voice or this new On the Block–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Authoress (and I assume Jodi Meadows again) only see your logline and first page, so they don’t know if the rest of your manuscript is ready. YOU are the only one who knows that. Don’t submit if you’re only doing it on the strength of your first page and not the entire manuscript.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone submitting to On the Block or pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. When I have this current manuscript ready, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Querying, Quick Tip, Revising, Writing

Quick Tip: What’s Happening on Page 20? 50?

A wise critique partner of mine once got to page fifty of one of my manuscripts and said, “Think about what’s happening here. This is page 50!” And although it was still a fairly early draft, I realized she was making an important point. When you’re ready to query a project, agents have varying submission guidelines, and while you need to ensure that every page makes them want to keep reading, there are key points that are even more significant because they may mark the end of what you send to an agent. So as you’re writing/revising, make  a note of the following:

What’s happening at the end of page 5?

At the end of page 10?

At the end of the first chapter?

At the end of page 20?

At the end of page 25?

At the end of the second chapter?

At the end of page 30?

At the end of the third chapter?

At the end of page 50?

At the end of page 100?

Hmm … when you think of it that way, it puts it in perspective how important those opening pages and chapters really are, doesn’t it? The truth is, an agent is going to stop reading as soon as he/she loses interest. That might be on page eleven, so you can’t slack off just because it’s not one of the key points. My point here, though, is that you should be aware of these milestones in your manuscript and make sure they have an extra zing that ensures an agent or editor has to ask for more. I keep a Word document with a list of these key points in my manuscript and update it after each revision in case anything has changed and I need to make adjustments.

That’s all for today. Just a little tip. Anyone else have thoughts on this idea?

Agents, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying

It’s here! I have officially been querying for four years. (Actually it was July 11, but since that’s a Saturday this year, we’ll just consider it today.) And in a strange coincidence, four years ago I sent off my first round of queries and then we packed up and drove down to Springfield, Mo., to visit family. This afternoon, we are driving to Springfield for a family wedding (although I have not sent off a round of queries, so it’s not completely the same). Anyway, I’ve experienced many ups and downs during the process and learned a ton. You can read about each year in succession, as I try not to repeat the lessons of previous years in the current year’s post. Here are links to the others:

What hasn’t changed is that I remain optimistic. I know I will find the right fit for my writing. So without further ado, here are the new things I’ve learned in the past year.

You don’t have to spend as much time researching agents … because you already know them so well. I’ve gotten to the point where many of the agents are like old friends. I’ve been over their profiles, watched their Twitter feeds, read their interviews, etc., so many times, that I know their preferences like the back of my hand. So when it’s time to send out queries, I don’t have to spend a lot of time reviewing before I put together a query for them. Sure, I still check the agency website to make sure nothing’s changed, but I don’t have to spend the hours I used to scouring the internet for information about them to make sure I get the personalization just right.

The caliber of beta readers and critique partners you work with gets higher and higher. The longer you’re in the writing community, the better the chances are that the writers you know have gone on to get agents and even publishing deals. For my last manuscript, I had three pre-published authors and two agented authors read for me. (And after reading, another reader got a book deal, and another landed an agent.) Most of these were writers I knew back when we were all unagented. We started out in the same place, but we’ve grown together. I figure it’s only a matter of time before I see my name in the acknowledgements page of a published novel :). That’s the nature of this long journey.

Just because an agent requested from you before doesn’t mean that agent is still the best fit for you at that agency. I understand the knee-jerk reaction to go with the agent you’ve been in contact with before, the one who’s shown an interest in your previous work. BUT, it’s possible that agent isn’t the best fit for what you’re writing now or for your complete body of work. I did some serious thinking before I started querying my last project. My first instinct was to go with the known, but the more I studied the bios and interviews, the more my gut told me to go with Agent B at a couple of agencies, even though I’d had requests from Agent A. And you know what? I got a request from Agent B.

This can also be something to consider with all the moving around that agents do. If Agent A has requested from you before but Agent B moves to Agent A’s agency and you’ve always really wanted to work with Agent B, don’t automatically think you have to submit to Agent A because of that past correspondence. Make sure you’re submitting to the agent who is the best fit for you now.

You might think you know the agents out there who are the best fit for your work, but you really don’t. I realize this point may seem at complete odds with my first point, but hear me out. I participated in a few pitch contests this past year, and I was shocked by a few of the agents who expressed an interest. A couple of them were newer agents I just didn’t know much about yet. But some were agents I knew about and just hadn’t considered because I’d pushed them further down the list for previous manuscripts. But you know what? I shouldn’t have done that.

Querying is about what’s the best fit for my career now, not in the past. I’ve changed as a writer over the past four years. I started out focusing on middle grade, but it turns out I have more of a young adult voice. I realized I was ignoring agents who didn’t do middle grade; that was a mistake. Because my current MS was YA, my next MS was YA, and the one I was considering after that was YA, too. So … the MG issue probably isn’t coming up anytime soon. My point is that you shouldn’t discount agents or curtail your list too much. Now, I’m not saying send it to agents who don’t rep what you write. Absolutely don’t do that. But make sure your priorities fit your current career goals and not your past goals.

The more thoroughly you research agents up front, the fewer requests you’ll get further down your list. I’m not saying you won’t get requests from the agents you don’t include in your first few rounds because some agents just don’t put much information out there about what they’re looking for. However, if you order your spreadsheet the way I do, you start with the agents you think are most likely to be interested in your manuscript, so your request rate is likely to be higher in your earlier rounds of querying. Don’t let that discourage you! I’ve learned there are always a few agents who surprise me in later rounds of querying and move up to earlier rounds when I query the next manuscript. (I wrote a whole series of posts on How to Research Agents. If you click on the first one, it includes links to all of them.)

You can tell by the rejections when you’re getting close. I heard this truth back when I first started querying, but I didn’t understand what it meant. I get it now, because the tone of many of the rejections has changed. Often they arrive with a tenor of hope: “I know another agent will snap you up soon!” This might sound like a really nice form rejection, but I know it isn’t because the rejections on the earlier manuscripts carried the more generic “Another agent may feel differently.” (I actually mentioned this in the Year One post!). Now, just because several agents say this doesn’t mean it will come true, but it still gives me hope. Maybe sometimes I go back and read through those rejections for a pick-me-up :). I’ve never said that before!

You start to consider other options. Don’t get me wrong–signing with an agent is still my goal. However, my mind is more open to other possibilities and other paths to publication. I know I’m not alone in this. I have writer friends who have been querying for years without signing with an agent who decided to submit directly to publishers or even self-publish. I still believe that if I keep at it, eventually I’ll succeed with an agent. But I’ve also started to realize that the path may not be as straight as I expected it to be. For someone as linear as I am, that’s a bit difficult to wrap my mind around, but I’m getting there.

You have greater confidence in your gut. I’ve written about this separately, most recently in a post on subjectivity, but I’ve gotten better about knowing when to implement feedback–whether from agents or CPs–and when to file it away. In the early days of querying, I was likely to jump on the tiniest bit of feedback and revise, regardless of whether I was 100 percent on board with it. Today, I’ll set aside feedback that doesn’t resonate with me, even if it’s from someone I greatly respect. In many ways, it’s harder to ignore honestly given feedback you can’t buy into than to use it, but I’ve been on the end of revising a way that didn’t feel right to me before, and that resulted in an MS that didn’t read right for anyone. I’m not sure you can get to this point of trusting your gut without those years of experience, so my guidance here is more a reassurance that you will get there.

Ok, I think that’s about it. I’ve been collecting these thoughts all year, and I may start collecting them for next year as early as tomorrow :). For everyone else who’s on this journey with me, hang in there! It’s all about finding the right fit for your work at the right time. And to my friends who continue to support me, thank you! I appreciate every one of you.

Critiquing, Querying, Writing

Why Subjectivity Is Your Friend

Like many writers, I have a love/hate relationship with the concept of subjectivity. It’s the indefinable reason for countless rejections in the publishing world, many of them even quite complimentary. It’s also the source of invaluable opinions from other writers who provide feedback on your work. (I’ve blogged on the benefits of multiple subjective opinions before.) And someday, subjectivity may result in both an agent and an editor who love a manuscript so much they champion it all the way to a finished, physical book you can hold in your hands. Without subjectivity, you never get there. So, all in all, subjectivity is your friend.

It’s like the children’s story we all know: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Goldilocks wasn’t comfortable in Mama or Papa Bear’s bed or chair. She didn’t like the porridge too warm or too cold. It had to be just right. And I, for one, don’t want a representative who’s lukewarm. (Wait, did Goldilocks pick the lukewarm porridge??)

But …

That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated sometimes and need to give myself a pep talk, so I figured I could pass one along to my readers as well. I’ve been thinking about this lately in a couple of different contexts.

Querying

It’s always hard to know when to query, when to revise, and when to finish querying a project. I’ve gotten better about having faith in the work I’ve put out in the world, and you know what? I can spot a subjective response more easily than I could a few years ago. I used to jump on any agent feedback I received. Now I’m better able to let it simmer, weigh it against what feels right for my manuscript, and sit on it if it doesn’t ring true to me. It’s not always easy, but then when someone else comes along a month or two later with opposite feedback? Justification! (Of course there are times the feedback does ring true, and I absolutely act on that.)

Receiving Critiques

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I receive those first comments from a critique partner, I want to dive right in.

And that would be a mistake.

Because I need to see comments from everyone who is reading for me before I start revising. The light bulb moments happen when I synthesize feedback from all of my readers, even recalling what readers from a previous round have said if I’m on round two, three or four. It all comes back to my word of the day: subjectivity. I ask a variety of people to read for me because they have different backgrounds and experiences and world views. They approach my story from different places–much as my eventual readers would, I expect–so their subjective responses are necessary to whip the manuscript into shape.

Sure, there is such a thing as too subjective. I know I have my buttons, and when I’m reading for someone and they push on a sensitive area, I note it. But you know what? As writers, we need to know about those, too, and decide if we want to address them or not. And just as with agents, it’s important to check the comments against your gut to determine what’s right for the manuscript. I incorporate much of what my CPs and readers suggest but definitely not all.

So, I’m all for subjectivity … except for that brief moment when I open an email and it makes my heart skip in disappointment. But hey, it’s temporary. And it’s never the final word on my publishing journey. I’m still waiting on that email that will make me break into a spontaneous chair dance. Plus, I’m also working on my next project. Speaking of which, I just posted a description, so you can read about it here!

And in the meantime, I’ll repeat this mantra, and you can, too:

Subjectivity is your friend. Subjectivity is your friend.

If you say it enough, you really will believe it :).

What are your thoughts on subjectivity? How well do you keep it in perspective?

Blogging

Celebrating Three Years of Blogging! (and giving away books, of course)

I’ll pretty much take any excuse to celebrate, but this blog merits celebration for me anyway. I started it on May 2, 2012, to participate in The Writer’s Voice contest, and it’s been a fantastic outlet for me to talk about books I love and share my writing journey.

I’ve been storing up a few of my finds from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale to give away all at once, so there’ll be a giveaway at the end of this post. But first, I love statistics, so I’m going to take a look at what was most popular on the blog both in the past year and over the past three years, as well as the top searches that led people here.

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. Why It’s So Hard to Get Your First Novel Published – One of my earliest posts and I completely understand why people are still landing on it.

9. About – It’s nice people want to read about me :).

8. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway! – Hey, Kimberley, check it out!

7. A BOY COULD #BLOGPITCH Logline and First 250 Words – Thanks for the signal boost, Authoress! (And in case you’re newer here, A BOY COULD is the old title for CATCH HIM BY DISGUISE.)

6. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – Kids must be reading this in school because it was in the top ten last year, too.

5. What I’ve Learned in Three Years of Querying – These annual posts on my querying experiences are always popular.

4. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – Movie connection, anyone?

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – A post from 2013 that is still getting hits!

2. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – Someone linked to this post on a Scrivener site, so thanks!

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – BY FAR the most popular feature on my blog, and I do keep this page updated, so check it out!

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

I’m betting a lot of these are the same since so many of my top posts in the past year weren’t from the past year. Let’s see, shall we?

10. My Thoughts on SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Spoilers!) – Oh, I forgot this was so popular.

9. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

8. YA Review and Giveaway: PERFECT SCOUNDRELS by Ally CarterAnd everyone wanted to win this one.

7. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway!

6. Why It’s So Hard to Get Your First Novel Published

5. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – And there must have been assignments on this book, too.

4. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF

3. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener

2. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Although there are 1,190 “Unknown search terms,” I lumped the rest into categories to see what searches most often direct people here. Even with those missing statistics, I bet these are representative of the whole.

5. Searches for me! Although I barely eked past searches for the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and questions about what happened to the huntsman’s wife in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” I don’t know, either, guys. That’s why you ended up at my blog–because I asked that question, too! Oh, and for the person who searched for “michelle human bean” … well, I’m not sure what you were trying to find there, but it made me giggle, so thanks.

4. Writing – Yay! I’m so glad people have found my blog through craft-related searches.

3. Querying – I grouped all querying-related questions into this category. My favorite was “is it really that hard to get published” (emphasis mine). I’m thinking they didn’t like the answer they found here …

2. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books – This would be why that page listed above is No. 1 for the past year and of all time on my blog. When people search for agents I have listed or just for agents who rep MG/YA, it sends them here.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – This category wins by a long shot, probably thanks to school book reports. I spied a number of theme and character searches. I don’t think my reviews will do their homework for them, but I’m happy to be a resource.

It’s always helpful to see what’s working on the blog. I am curious to know if other bloggers see the same phenomenon, where older posts are getting more hits in a given year than new posts. I’m not worried about it as my statistics show more people are coming to the blog; it’s just fascinating.

Ok, on to the giveaway! I have four books from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale to pass on to one lucky winner. Here they are:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan The Dirt Diary by Anna Staniszewski The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger

I was in a bit of a review slump when I read these, but I highly recommend all of them. To enter, click on this Rafflecopter link. North America only, please. Good luck and thanks for reading my blog!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Agents, Querying, Writing

A Prayer for My Future Agent

As a person of faith, prayer plays an important part in my life. I pray about pretty much everything, including my writing journey. I prayed about whether my manuscript was ready to query. I’ve prayed about when to wait and when to move forward. Most of all, I pray for patience. Lots of patience. Like, all the time.

It occurred to me this morning that in all of that praying, I’ve never actually prayed for my future agent. This might sound odd, like I’m getting ahead of myself, but I have faith that I’ll find that perfect agent match eventually, whether it’s next week or next year. You also might think, “Whoa, Michelle. What if your future agent doesn’t believe in prayer?” Well, if they come upon this post, hopefully they’ll either think, “Oh, that’s nice that her faith is important to her and she was thinking about me.” Or maybe they’ll shrug it off and love my writing so much they don’t care. If they really are my future agent, it will be one of those two. If this post scares them away from representing me, then we aren’t the best fit anyway. Because my purpose isn’t to convert them, just to pray for our future working relationship. They don’t have to believe the same thing I do for that. So here goes:

I pray that you love my writing so much you can’t put it down.

I pray that we share a vision for my career that results in a productive, mutually beneficial working relationship.

I pray that we always show each other respect in our communications and give each other the benefit of the doubt if there is a disagreement.

I pray that you’ll challenge me to continue improving as a writer.

I pray that we’ll work together for the long term.

I pray for your success in your career, not just with me but with all of your clients. Maybe you’ll discover the next Harry Potter? (It doesn’t hurt to ask.)

I pray for general peace and whatever it is you need most in your life outside of agenting.

Ok, I think that’s it. In the meantime, I’ll get back to that prayer for patience :).