Querying, Revising, Writing

When Is It Time to Revise?

There’s a time to query.

There’s a time to wait.

There’s a time to … revise?

I started querying DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN in April, entered a little contest called The Writers Voice in May, queried a bit more for the first two weeks in June, then decided to wait. You see, I had quite a few submissions out at that point, and honestly I was afraid to keep sending out queries without knowing if my manuscript was really ready. I thought it was, or I wouldn’t have been sending queries out in the first place, but after the mistakes I’d made querying my earlier novel–too many too soon–I’d much rather err on the side of caution with this one and give it the best possible chance.

Over the next two months, a bit of feedback trickled in, but none of it lined up. And that’s when I came to the question of whether to revise or not. The agents didn’t mention the same issues, so were their comments just a matter of taste or something I needed to fix? I decided not to do anything for the moment.

Enter WriteOnCon. I came away with the basic idea that if an agent loves your work enough, it’s ok if it isn’t perfect. They’ll work with you to get it where it needs to be. So I started querying again. I also had a couple more people read DUET, and reader feedback confirmed for me again that it was ready for agents.

But. A couple of comments I’d gotten in the forums at WriteOnCon kept niggling in the back of my mind, so I revised my first page–of course after I’d already sent out some queries. The comments weren’t necessarily new, but it was the right time for me to hear them and figure out what to do with them.

I think that’s a big part of knowing when to revise. Sometimes a valid comment doesn’t make any sense to you, but when it’s said in the right way at the right time, boom! You know what to do. This really came into focus for me a couple of weeks ago. I entered #GUTGAA and received three votes to go on to the agent round. However, one of the judges said she’d had reservations about voting for me because DUET sounded too old and because of a Bugs Bunny mention in the first 150 words. I’d heard both of these comments before, but two months ago I wouldn’t have known what to do about it or even if I should do anything about it.

From the beginning, my query worked. I received a number of requests off of it. But just because it was good didn’t mean it couldn’t be better. Thanks to WriteOnCon, I now had this idea that friendship has to be a major focus of MG. One agent even said he wouldn’t consider an MG if friendship wasn’t mentioned in the query. Well, friendship is a huge part of DUET, but I’d never figured out how to put it into the query. But now, because someone in a position of power told me it gave them pause, I figured it out, and the query has much more of an MG feel than it did before. I know it’s stronger as a result.

The same goes for the Bugs Bunny mention. There’s a scene in my novel where the main character goes into an old Looney Tunes cartoon. I’m confident I’ve handled it well in the actual manuscript as none of my readers have had an issue with it. However, this judge brought it home to me that it was an issue in the first page. All the times someone said before that MG readers wouldn’t know Bugs Bunny and I ignored it because I knew it was fine in the manuscript, it didn’t occur to me that the first page was the problem. It was a simple enough solution to take out that reference and leave it for later. I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out sooner. I guess we writers have hard heads.

But wait, I have an even better example. The first day of the #GUTGAA agent round, I received a rejection from an agent who’d been considering my full. Her reason was exactly the same as the very first agent who rejected DUET. Now, I have to back up a bit to say that this first rejection completely baffled me. Her issue with the manuscript was what I thought was the very best part of it. We’re not talking about a single chapter here but a major chunk that makes up the premise. I dismissed it pretty much out of hand because I just didn’t get it. But when this most recent agent said it, I’d had four months with that other one swirling around in my head, and suddenly a light bulb went off.

All this time I’d assumed the section she mentioned was the best part and worried about the rest living up to it. But that was just me being blind. Those parts had come so easily to me I didn’t work very hard on them when I revised, instead focusing on the other subplots. Looking back at my first draft, those sections didn’t change much. While I ignored those easy parts and felt insecure about the rest, the opposite actually happened. And when I looked at it that way, yet another agent’s comment came into focus. So I now had three agent comments in line.

Well, you can guess that this is when I figured out I did need to revise. I spent the week of #GUTGAA going through those parts of the novel and beefing them up. I know the manuscript as a whole is the better for it. It would have been nice if I’d figured this out when that first agent mentioned it, but I wasn’t ready to apply it then. And I truly believe that if any of the agents who read that version had loved my writing and premise enough, they would have worked with me on it. Instead, I’m grateful they gave me feedback that has helped me get the manuscript to the next level.

I received an agent request the last day of #GUTGAA, and that agent has the shiny new version. I also followed up with an agent from that first contest and got the opportunity to send her a revised version, so I’m feeling pretty good about it right now.

So am I done revising? Probably not. If I do get an agent with this version, I’m sure they’ll have changes. If I don’t, I’ll probably get feedback as to why not. It might not make sense to me at first, but I’ll keep chugging along until it clicks.

So where are you in the journey? What has made you decide to revise?

Querying, Writing

The Querying Quandary: When to Wait

A couple of weeks ago I posted about why it’s so hard to get your first novel published, and I said I was having a different experience with the novel I’m currently querying. It’s because I have more experience this time. The key? Patience.

I am not a patient person, but I learned in my last querying experience that it’s vital to success. Unfortunately I learned that too far into the process with the last novel. Here’s how I’ve done it this time, and keep in mind that I’m still in the trenches.

November 2011 – Wrote DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN during NaNoWriMo.

December 2011-January 2012 – Revised, revised, revised!

February 2012 – Sent to two beta readers, then revised.

March 2012 – Sent to a third beta reader, then revised.

April 2012 – Finally gave the novel to my husband and mom to read. They had no comments, and they usually do.

April 2012 – Sent out an initial round of queries, mainly to test the query letter itself. I had two requests from this batch, both from agents who received the query only, so I felt confident it was strong.

Things got exciting in May when I entered The Writers Voice Contest and was selected for Krista Van Dolzer‘s team. Krista critiqued my query letter and first five pages, helping me tighten them up. When the contest went live, I received three votes from agents, which equaled three requests. That convinced me I should contact the other agents who had been interested in my previous manuscript, just in case I received an offer.

At this point, I knew my premise was strong. Now it was time to figure out how strong my first pages were. I continued to query, but instead of doing batches, I sent a new query whenever I received a response–whether a request or rejection–so that I always had the same number of queries out. I received requests from queries with and without first pages, so I still felt good about my query package.

I’ve had a great request rate, which is amazing. But I know what it’s like to waste my chances with agents. I’ve done that before. What if the rest of my novel doesn’t stand up to the opening? I think it does. Based on my experience so far, I know I would get more requests if I kept querying, but here’s where the patience comes in with my entry for June.

June 2012-? – Waiting.

After sending about 20 queries, I decided to wait. Of course I’m hoping one of the submissions I have out there will turn into an offer, but if none of them do, I don’t want to have wasted any more chances with potential agents. So I’m waiting to see what kind of response I get from them before I send any more queries. If they all come back as rejections (hopefully not!), I’ll revise and get feedback again before I send more queries.

Waiting is SO HARD! I limit myself to checking my query email three times a day (although I cheat a bit any time I pick up my phone and see there’s no new message on my Gmail app). I only check QueryTracker once a day, and I try not to stalk the agents’ Twitter feeds too much.

In any case, my caution to the querying writers out there is to be patient. Make sure your query letter works. Then make sure your first pages work. Then make sure the partial/full works. It’s easy to ride on the high of early successes and then crash due to overconfidence. Been there, done that. So this time I’m waiting.

Who’s waiting with me? Anyone else have a different strategy?

Pitching, Querying, Twitter, Writing

Twitter Pitch Party, Anyone?

Now that the agent round of “The Writers Voice” is over, I’m turning my attention to Thursday’s “The Writers Voice” Twitter Pitch Party. Basically, you post your pitch between 12-6 p.m. EDT on Thursday, and agents will request from it. If more than one agent requests, you have to pick one. Click here for more info, but I think it’s now up to five agents participating.

If you didn’t see Becca C.’s post about Building Your Twitter Pitch, go read it now! She compiled excellent advice from multiple agents and writing experts. I couldn’t have said it any better, so I won’t try.

It’s so hard to convey plot, character, stakes and voice in just 140 characters–134 with the required hashtag (#WVTP). It’s different than a one-sentence pitch. You can be creative with the format and punctuation to an extent. The point is to make the best use of the character limit. Most of all, the pitch needs to make someone want to read it.

I’d love to get your feedback on my Twitter pitch, but I’m also opening up the comments to anyone else who wants feedback. I’ll post mine first. Let’s polish those Twitter pitches!

Writing

The Writer’s Voice

Thanks to Krista Van Dolzer, Brenda Drake, Cupid’s Literary Connection and Monica B.W. for hosting this contest!

DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST

MG Magical Realism

43,000 words

QUERY:

Thirteen-year-old prodigy Miranda Harper craves the kind of perfection that goes beyond hitting all the right notes – like she’s inside the music. Thanks to her new violin, she achieves her goal, but it’s more than she bargained for. A flawless performance of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” lands her in a flying chariot piloted by a six-and-a-half-foot Valkyrie delivering a dead soldier to Valhalla. She’s sure there shouldn’t be dead bodies inside the music.

Miranda snaps back to reality, only to battle exhaustion and a reluctance to play for several days. She decides the Valkyrie incident was a hallucination, until the magic strikes again during a Halloween concert. This time her world goes black and white, and a dress-clad psycho chases her with a butcher knife. As a bonus, the scratches Miranda gets during her escape come back to the real world with her.

With each trip into the music, it’s harder to return and the side effects get worse. Miranda knows she should stop, but perfection is addictive. The euphoria of one extraordinary performance is worth a few days of exhaustion and some minor injuries. But when she discovers continuing to play the violin could trap her forever in an alternate reality, she must decide what perfection is really worth.

Complete at 43,000 words, DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST will appeal to fans of Lindsey Leavitt’s PRINCESS FOR HIRE series and Jacqueline West’s THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE.

FIRST 250:

Perfection.

I knew it wasn’t really possible. Near perfection, yes. Total perfection, no way.

I’d learned that lesson after years of playing the violin. Something that sounded flawless to the average person was bound to have minuscule errors.

A tone so slightly off pitch that even someone with a highly trained ear couldn’t tell.

A note played a hundredth of a beat too soon.

A bow pulled at the wrong speed to produce the right sound.

A measure performed in mezzo piano instead of pianissimo.

Joshua Bell, classical music superstar and my idol, once said: “ … when it’s perfect … I feel like I can do no wrong. I could change my fingers – do it on a different string – because I have that much concentration. Also, you feel like you’re inside the music.”

That’s what I wanted to feel – that I was inside the music. That I was the music.

I especially wanted that sensation today, my first day as concertmaster of the youth symphony. Miranda Harper: concertmaster. I loved the sound of it. I should have had the title last season, but Dr. Kamensky said I needed a year to observe. It probably didn’t help that my first year was the previous concertmaster’s last year before going off to college, and it would have really sucked to be bumped by a seventh grader.

Instead he named me principal second violinist. At least we played some Mozart. Good old Wolfgang sometimes let the second violins outshine the firsts.

Now it was my turn to shine. And we weren’t playing Mozart today.