June 30, 2011

The Writer's Oath

I promise solemnly
to write as often
and as much as I
can, to respect my
writing self and to
nurture the writing
of others.
                   - Gail Levine

June 26, 2011

The Break Continues

So sorry not to post lately, but now that I'm finally down with these two upper level classes for school, I'm taking it easy :) See you around the end of the week!

June 21, 2011

My First Personal Rejection

Well, I've done it. I've received a request off the most amazing query letter I've written for LET ME OUT. I've sent that version of the query to three agents and I got one request. Before you say, "Yay!" listen to this story.

The request came through last Wednesday. So I spent all day perfecting my first five pages to send to the agent. I had them perfect. I was ready to send. But I was doing this on my work computer, which I can't get my email on, and so I needed to take the file and transfer it to my computer. Hello, flash drive. The file transferred effortlessly, but when I plugged the flash drive into my laptop...something was wrong.

I've seen it before and I almost started to cry. ".docx" format LOVES to corrupt itself. And yes, the file was corrupted. I couldn't open it on my laptop or on my computer, and my IT Dept. couldn't do anything for me.

Those perfect 5 pages were gone.

So I started again, writing down everything I could remember about the changes I'd made. Two days went by and I still hadn't replied to the agent request. On Friday, I had done as much as I could. The pages didn't have that perfection they'd had before, but they worked and I needed to get them to the agent.

I sent them off.

And I heard back today.

I received my first personal rejection. The pages didn't pull her in as much as she hoped they would.

What that means: my query does it's job, but my pages don't. What I'm going to do about it: find a critique group.

I've already run the MS through BETA readers, but now I'm looking for that group dynamic.

Do you use a critique group? What are some of your pros and cons to using one?

June 19, 2011


Anne Claire's post over at A Novel Idea led me to Pinterest.com yesterday. Why do you ask? Because of this!

These are my character's for the third book, BLEED IT OUT! And they're all in one place. This is just my board, the only one for right now, but I plan to make a board for each WIP so I can refer to them often and not have to open dozens of files on my laptop to get the photos I want.

This website could be a great tool for writers. You don't have to only put your characters up there. You can use it for setting, motivational photos, inspirational...anything you want! There's also a social factor where you can become friends with other users.

How to start:

1. Go to www.pinterest.com
2. Request an invite
3. Wait less than a day to be invited to join. (It's a brand new site, they probably don't have a lot of room just yet, but they're working on it.)
4. Join with your Facebook or Twitter account.

5. Start pinning!

June 14, 2011

Half the Year in Review

Remember all of those resolutions you promised to meet this year? I only had two: to query my second novel, LET ME OUT and focus on my career. I queried in March, but I’m finding it’s a continuous process. I’ve received answers to 75% of my queries and when one comes back rejected, I send out another. So I can’t really say that I’ve accomplished my goal yet, but I have focused 100% on my career.

This year I…
Wrote 3 articles that have been published in numerous newsletters all over the US for Romance Writers of America (my first publishing credits).
Worked on my bachelors degree in English Literature (because that’s never-ending it seems).
Submitted one of those articles to Writer’s Digest for their October 2011 issue (have not heard back yet, but I’m proud I did it).
Became co-editor of The March of Crime, newsletter of Southern California Mystery Writers of America chapter (because I don’t have enough to do!).
Started revisions on my third novel, BLEED IT OUT (which is still kicking my ass, thank you).

How are your resolutions coming along? What were your goals? Have you met them already?

June 12, 2011

Still Breathing

First, my cousin found a really great resource for writers. Procrastinating Writers Blog. Go there. Sign up for her newsletter and receive weekly advice on writing. This last Friday's newsletter was a great piece on writing during your "good hours". Check it out!

Second, I'd just like to thank those who stopped by this past week to hear from my awesome guests, Anne and Carolyn. These are the two women I look up to the most in this industry. They give me hope and always teach me something new. I hope you were able to learn something from them.

Today's post is more of an update on the writing front.

I've been in two upper-level classes this semester, which are not hard in and of themselves, but VERY time consuming. What this means for my writing: I haven't touched my revisions of Book 3 since school started. Haven't even thought about it. That might be a good thing since I was getting so close to ripping my hair out. However, I have been plotting scenes (because my brain never gives me a break) for the next project I gave an excerpt from here last week. I've been secretly doing this at work in a Word document while listening to every song on my iPod for inspiration.

These two classes end in two weeks. What this means for my writing: Hallelujah, I just might be able to to finish my revisions this year, but, because I haven't been able to work on them for 6 weeks, I most likely won't be finished and ready to pitch when the amazing Angela James, editor of Carina Press, stops by in November. I'm going to try to make it though!

How is your summer going? Any exciting projects in the works?

June 8, 2011

Queries and Submission Part II

Today I have the wonderful Carolyn Jewel, my absolute favorite author, talking to us about queries and submissions from a published author's point of view. Carolyn writes both Historical and Paranormal Romance and has a gift for writing those steamy love scenes :) 

(From Carolyn's Website) Carolyn writes because she's a bit off that way. She loves history, action movies, scary stories and fine chocolate. She is also a Microsoft SQL Server Database Administrator. This is a geek job that's not nearly as exciting as writing. She lives in Northern California with her son and several critters. A recent switch from PC to Mac allowed her to glue paper fangs on her MacBook Pro and name it MacFang.

As a published author, do you still have to write query letters for your books?
Since I have an agent, I no longer have to write query letters. I had to before I was represented, of course. What I still have to do is write a proposal. For a while, I had to write a synopsis and three chapters, which can be quite a bit of work. Then it was just a synopsis, and now it's starting to look like I can do more of a blurb type thing than a synopsis. For someone like me, who is a complete seat of the pants writer, any "synopsis" I write before I've written the book is essentially fake. Until I write the book, I do not know what the story will end up being, and I most especially don't know what the romance will be like. I completely understand why editors want those details in advance, but any editor who's been in the business a while must know there is a set of writers who don't turn in the book as pitched. They get something better, of course. And entirely different.

The book I turn in does not resemble that synopsis in any detail except maybe the names of the characters. It's torture, I mean that in all sincerity, to have to come up with a synopsis that will satisfy my agent and an editor. The most frustrating part is that all those hours and hours, weeks even, is, in terms of the book that will be published, a waste of time. It makes a sale, so it's not a waste in that sense, but in terms of writing the book? Zero use. It's like telling someone who has never, ever seen a zebra to draw a picture of a zebra.

My most recent historicals sold on the basis of something like an extended blurb -- and the first book has practically nothing in common with the blurb except for (most) of the names. We'll see what happens with the paranormal proposals that are out. My publisher wanted sample chapters for the third book in the series. I wrote them, of course, but as I knew would happen, not a single word or scene in those pages made it into the finished book (that book was the January 2012 My Immortal Assassin, for the curious.)

Are you as nervous as other writers when your proposal is being considered for publication?
Of course. I'm not at the point where my getting another contract is at all assured. And, as you all now know, my editor has what is essentially a "fake" proposal. There isn't anything I can do about it so I just put it out of my mind and work on whatever other project is on my plate. Years ago, after wondering whether I should continue to try to sell my books, I realized that even if I knew I would never be published again, I would still write stories. So if I were to reach a point where I could not make a sale (and it's happened) I would keep writing. 

In the earlier years of your career, did you receive rejections for your now-published novels?
Well, I had a sort of inverted career trajectory in terms of rejection. I sold my first novel with just one query letter (it was a good timing, good luck and, as I like to think, a good book). I had an agent for my second book and that was more or less an option book that was picked up.  Between number 2 and number 3 were a lot of rejections. That book deserved the rejections. It's my only doorstop book. I wrote another book, figured out what I needed to do to make that book good enough, and it sold. Since then, I've sold on proposal and have (so far) found homes for those books. When I changed publishers, and my agent sent out the proposal, there were publishers who passed. And others who did not. That's the nature of the business.
For new writers, rejections usually mean one of two things, either your query letter is just heinously bad or your book is not good enough. Mostly it's the latter. Rejections shouldn't be taken personally -- because they're not personal. They're written by people who have read hundreds, if not thousands of queries and manuscripts and they also know what sells. Their jobs depend on knowing the market. Dismiss that expertise at your peril.

There's always a sense of frustration (why can't they tell that chapter 5 is AWESOME!) and dejection, but again, a rejection is about the writing and it means your book isn't quite good enough and you need to fix it until it is. You have to set aside that frustration and dejection and get back to making the book better.

With book #3 my rejections started at the bottom of the encouragement heap (blurry form letters, a scribbled "no" on my query letter) but as I continued to work at making the book better, the rejections got longer and more encouraging. Those rejections were helpful. "The book felt emotionally flat" was one comment that I found massively helpful. I went back through my MS and really worked on bringing out the emotion, and that effort made a big difference. I went through one more round of revisions after that (based on getting the book out to beta readers) and after that, I was pretty sure the book was good enough. Indeed, that book sold six weeks later.

As to my agent (the wonderful and amazing Kristin Nelson of The Nelson Agency), I queried her after I had parted ways with a previous agent. At that point, I had a personal request from an editor who wanted me to write for her and an option novel due to another publisher. I had three projects to pitch and Kristin asked for pages. I had offers from other agents, but I knew Kristin was the agent I needed when she told me if I'd queried her only on my historical project she would have rejected me outright. She loved the other two projects, though, and I signed with her. She told me to "just start over" with the historical, so I did. That book, Scandal, was a 2010 RITA finalist. The second book in the paranormal series I pitched to her (My Forbidden Desire) was also a 2010 RITA finalist. She had four other RITA finalist authors last year and I believe two of them won.

What aspects led you to submit to your agent?
When I realized that my previous agent and I were not a good fit and there was no resolving that even with good faith efforts on both our parts, I went to that year's RWA conference and attended every single agent panel I could. I took notes. I hung out in the lounges and bars and talked to other authors about who they were with and what their experience was like and I listened to and observed the agents who were there. I already knew what wasn't working for me so I had pretty specific ideas about what kind of agent I thought would be a good fit for me. I did not pitch to a single agent, by the way. My mission was information gathering only at that point. By the end of the conference, I knew even more about the author-agent relationship (there are many different kinds!) great information about specific agents and authors, and I had a list of top candidates. Kristin Nelson was on that list.

Anyone looking for an agent should attend conference if at all possible. Not necessarily for the opportunity to pitch, but for the opportunity to listen to agents talk about what they like and how they work. Listen to what other authors say about their agent relationships, keeping in mind the kind of writer you are and where you are in your career and whether that squares with what a given author has to say about her agent and how they work together.

Do you have any advice for unpublished writers who are in the middle of querying right now?
I think I might have already spewed forth that advice. But to sort of condense that, rejection isn't personal, use rejections as indications of how close you might be. If you're not getting any feedback besides "no", chances are you have a lot of work yet to do.  Go do that work. "High quality" rejections indicate you're getting close and you really need to look for ways to bring up the level of your writing that last bit. Each set of revisions on your book should be a learning process for you.

If you send out a round of queries and you're not getting requests for more pages, then the pages you're sending are flawed. The best query in the world won't sell flawed pages. I'm pretty sure I'm a mediocre query-er (because I have seen a lot of queries that are better than any I sent-- you can see a couple of them at my website) but I eventually sold when the pages were good enough. So, you need to figure how to fix those flaws before you send out the next round of queries.

If your queries get requests for pages, partials and fulls, then you're doing something right. If you're close, the rejections will almost always have a reason besides "no" and those reasons should point you in possible directions for things you need to improve.

I'll end this with one of my favorite rejection stories. Before I was agented, I was querying agents and editors on Book #3 (the doorstop book). I queried Ballentine and got a blurry form rejection many weeks later. I sighed and moved on. Six months later, I got a second, unsolicited even blurrier rejection from them. Yes, I got a slush rejection. I guess they wanted to be absolutely sure I knew they didn't want my book. Heh. OK wait, I have another rejection story. Quite a while later, I queried a Very Famous Agent on a project. Nine months pass, and during that nine months, I had heard zero from that agent, which I took as a rejection. I found an agent and sold that very book. Then I got a nice email from the Very Famous Agent that said he'd read my query, [some nice words] but the market for that kind of book was terrible and he just didn't think it would sell.

So there you go. Publishing is a crazy business.
I want to publicly thank Carolyn for taking the time to answer my questions! You can visit her website here and see all of her awesome books here. My Dangerous Pleasure was just released on May 31st, and is the fourth book in her Witches and Demons series, which I can't get enough of!

June 6, 2011

Queries and Submissions Part I

 To start off the week of guest posts and interviews on the querying and submission process, I have the lovely Anne Gallagher of Piedmont Writer here. Thanks for contributing, Anne! Let's jump right in.

NOTE: Forgive the formatting. Word doesn't like to play nice with Blogger.

    1.     Where did you learn to write such fantastic query letters?  
Lol.  Thanks.   Lots and lots of practice.  I usually go through 10 tries to get it down to 250 words or less.  Then I shoot it to a couple of trusted friends, and see what they have to say.  And I always send it to someone who doesn't read my genre (romance) to see if they would read the book based on my query.  It doesn't hurt to get a different writer's opinion.  Also, Rick Daley's site http://openquery.blogspot.com is a great, great place for feedback. 

2.     How long does it typically take you to write your query letters? 
The first one is pretty quick, usually an hour.  It's the 2nd, 3rd and consecutive ones that take the most time.  It's all about word choices.  Concise is the key.  And less is more.  It doesn't have to be 250 words.  I once saw a query on Query Shark that came in under 100 words and Janet requested the manuscript it was so concise.  It was also a fantastic query.  The Hook, Conflict, Motivation, and Goal for the main character are really the essential things to have in your query.  Anything else is just filler.

3.     Where do you collect your list of agents and publishers? 
I've been using Query Tracker for the most part.  I like their feedback and comments sections so I can see how long it will take for most agents to get back to me.  And they have a handy-dandy sign in so you can keep track of what you've sent and to whom and what happens to it.  It's a great tool.  If I get a wonky feeling after going to an agent's website, I always check Preditors & Editors.  Another must have tool in your writer box.

4.     What qualities do you look for in an agent? 
How long they've been in the business is number one.  I usually won't query anyone who's been in the business less than 5 years.  (But that's just a personal choice.)  Also if they're AAR.   Or the company is.  I also read their blogs (if they have one) and try to get a general feel for who they are as a person.  I also like to take a look at what they've sold in my genre, and their latest sale.  If they haven't sold anything in a year, then I pause and wonder why.  If I really like them, I then do a little research to find out why.  Perhaps their current list of authors hasn't written anything, or is already on a publishers list.  Perhaps they're not taking on new clients.  You never know.

5.     Does the agent’s website have an impact on whether that agent will be added to your list? 
Absolutely yes.  If it's too fussy, or takes too long to load all the goo-gah's I won't bother.  If I have to hunt for information and still not find it, (like how long it will take for them to get back to me), if there is no bio, or what they represent, I'll pass. 

6.     Do you review the agent’s sales list and compare your work to theirs in your query? 
No.  Never.  However, what I do do, is compare my work to other authors, not repped by that agent.  In my last query, I compared my writing to Susan Wiggs and Sandra Brown (both women's fiction writers whom I like and try and emulate).  The way I look at it, if they already have an author writing in a particular vein, then why would they want another?  How many vampire authors do they really want?  You know.

On another note, I never personalize any of my queries, unless, and big unless, I have spoken with them, or had feedback from them from a previous book.   Personalization isn't the key to a query.  You're not selling yourself, you're selling your book.  A query is a business letter and I like to keep it that way. 
   7.     Do you have a limit to how many queries you submit at one time or how many agents   
 make it to your list?  
Because I write in two different genres (romance and women's fiction) I tend to have the same list for all of my books.  And because my romance is actually Regency romance, the list is even shorter.  I have roughly around 35 agents currently.
   8.     Do you submit your queries all at once or pepper them throughout the process?  
I make 3 lists of agents.  A B & C.  A's are the agents I want to have dinner with.  B's are the agents I want to have lunch with.  And C's are the agents I want to have drinks with.  Although truthfully, because my list is so short, I would have dinner with any of them.  I then take 3 names from each A B & C, and send them out in rounds.  First round goes out, and when they come back rejected or requested, another query goes out so I always have 9 or 10 out at a time.
   9.     How long do you wait to hear back from an agent or publisher after waiting the allotted time per guidelines?  
If after 90 days I don't hear back from them, I call it a no.  No response to me means not interested.  Although I have to say, I did get a request for a partial last year after 6 months.  And I did get a partial request this year after 89 days.  So it is a waiting game and you can't be sure. 
   10.   How do you follow-up with those agents you haven’t heard from?  
I don't follow up on a query.  Ever.  I just let it go.  See #9.  The only time I ever follow up is on a partial or full request.  I find out the guidelines on the agents website, usually it's 90 days, and then I wait two weeks after that.  If I don't hear from them, I'll send a nudge note.  However, that can backfire too.  I was waiting on a partial, and sent the nudge note.  What I didn't know was the agent, had a fire at her home, and had a baby around the same time, and was trying to catch up with all her work.  My nudge note got me a form rejection.  If I had paid attention to what was going on in her life, perhaps I might be agented now.  You have to remember that agents are people too.

Hope you were able to learn something from Anne's process. I thoroughly enjoy talking to her about writing and she is always more than willing to help if you're stuck with queries. If you haven't already, head on over to her blog, The Piedmont Writer, to learn more about her and the amazing pitches she writes! 

Stop back here on Thursday for another insight into the process of querying and submission with published author, Carolyn Jewel!

June 5, 2011

Excerpt from New WIP

I managed to take a few minutes from school to write the very first page of my new WIP. No, Sara, this isn't the one you're thinking about. Tell me what you think of this hook! Leave a comment on what you think of this excerpt and stop by on Tuesday and Thursday this week to hear from my special guests!

            A quick glance toward her partner told Avery Dawson that he was very close to blowing their cover.
Anxiety had managed to work its way into her throat. Their lives depended on him delivering a perfect performance and, from the way Liam’s hands shook over the keyboard, she imagined she’d be leaving the bank in a body bag by noon. Only one element of this operation varied from the dozens of others: this was personal.

June 3, 2011

Blogger Bites!

So Anne over at the Piedmont Writer just informed me that she lost a few people in her blog roll because of the way Blogger has been acting up lately! It appears I've lost some of you as well and it looks like I've even been taken off a few blog rolls too. If I haven't been commenting on your blogs, which I do almost everyday, please let me know in the comments and I will go back and re-add you to the roll. If you want to make sure I'm following you, take a look at my profile. I beleive every blog I follow is listed there. If you're not on it, send me an email or leave a comment here and I'll fix that right away!

I know there are authors out there who use WordPress. I am thinking of switching over, but it appears to be very complicated. What are your thoughts? Are you happy with Blogger or are you looking for a way out too?