Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thoughts on the Business End of Writing

*snort laughs* I hear the phrase "business end" and think of it as a euphemism for butt.


Sorry... no, really... this is a serious blog post. *puts on serious hat*

So, while we were down in Utah, I had an interesting experience. My mother-in-law (henceforth referred to as MIL) loves an ice cream shop that uses liquid nitrogen to make its ice cream. You sit and watch as your ingredient choices turn from cream to ice cream right in front of you. It is pretty cool. Anyway, the owner of the shop and my MIL have gotten to know each other and the owner wrote and self-published a contemporary romance, so my MIL thought we might like chatting about publishing. It was a really interesting conversation and it left me with two thoughts rattling around in my brain.

One of the first things to come up was that I have an agent, and this other author said, sounding defeated, "Oh, I tried querying. I queried 38 times!" I responded, "I queried 131 times, and I emailed back and forth with my agent for eight months before she signed me." I said it as nice as I could, but... the reality is that most writers who sign... don't sign with the first dozen agents they query. I won't say that not all do, but I could tell from this author's voice that she thought she'd failed when 38 queries didn't net an offer of representation. She was shocked and said, "Maybe I should try querying again." I won't say that traditional publishing is the way for everyone, but it just killed me to hear someone assume that they couldn't get an agent after less than 50 queries.

If you get no response, then, at the very least, you need to work on your query, but I've used dozens of different queries for the same books and some queries generated more interest than others. Sometimes, you need the right tone and so on.... Also, I researched agents thoroughly... like really thoroughly. There was about an hour of work behind each and every one of my queries. BTW, if you've never heard the story of how I got an agent, I'm going to cheat and send you to my QT story: http://www.querytracker.net/success/wendy_sparrow.php

The second interesting thing I took from that discussion happened when she asked if I was published. I immediately said, "No, I'm not published yet. My agent is submitting a novel right now." My husband jumped in and said, "Yes, you are! You've had two short stories published this year!" It reminded me of how lucky I've been to have a really strong support group--who'll jump in and remind me of my success when I forget. There has been a lot of times when I've wanted to walk away from this whole thing. Trying to get published is not all fun and games... it sooooo isn't. It's a lot of waiting and stressing and thinking you suck. My husband has always supported me in whatever I wanted to do. Whenever I show an aptitude for something, he's jumped in my corner... even when it's been expensive. (She says while typing on the laptop her husband insisted she buy when she first started writing.)

I don't know what the other author took from that conversation. Success can be measured in a lot of different ways. I have an agent. She has a published book. I won't say either of us is more successful than the other. I don't think any single path as a writer can be duplicated or mimicked to find success.

On the other hand, if I've learned nothing from my experience--things happen sometimes in their own time. And the experiences I've had while waiting my turn were invaluable. It takes time to learn to write well... time and practice. Sometimes, it takes time to get an agent or a publisher or whatever your goal is... time and often luck or fate or divine intervention--depending on your beliefs. There are aspects of success which are outside of your control so the best you can do is to keep doing. Honestly, I believe that.

So these are my Monday thoughts on the publishing world... and now I really need to finish that revision.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cutting Deep

Wow, it's been a crazy August. I just got back from a vacation with family last Monday. It was a rough trip. We managed to catch the stomach flu and one or the other kid was hurling half the days we were there. We still did a lot of stuff and saw family, but it was rough.

I finished off the revision on SECRETS for the film agent with my agency yesterday. I still have a lot of polishing and reworking to do, but I got through to the end. I connected point A to point B. It wasn't pretty. At all. I stripped the story down to the bones and then rebuilt it. The most significant alteration she wanted was for more plot. Adding more plot to a story isn't pretty. I never want to do it again. I will if I have to, but it's not fun.

When this all started, my agent, Sarah, sent me two things to help me with this revision. First, she'd compiled all the revision notes from a lot of different people including one of my beta readers and my husband. If more than two people said it and she agreed, it made it into the revision notes. The second thing she sent me was extremely helpful, but not in the way I'd have guessed: she sent me chapter notes on SECRETS and that's when I realized that entire chapters were about character development not plot development. So, my goal was to change that... to add events so that every single chapter had a significant event in it.

The frustrating thing is that when a story changes this much--you're sort of left in shell shock when it's done. People keep asking me if I've improved it, and I can't tell. It's different. It's very different. I'm not sure what to think of it. The previous story was all about the relationship between Piper and Gris. This one is about the story around them. It's focusing with a broader scope than before. I like it. It still makes me cry, but it's very different. Some chapters started from scratch.

I'd told Sarah before beginning that I expected this revision to end with about 80% new/altered material. I think it's about right. I went from 36 chapters to 24 chapters. It decreased from 92K down to 89K. It's just so very different from before. Plot points moved around or were dropped. A substantial amount of plot points were added. I stole a scene from the second book.

It's madness, I tell you! Madness!

Every time you add an event to a story, it ripples out. All the stuff early on meant that chapter 23... was entirely new. I had to toss out the next to last chapters in their entirety. They meant nothing and made no sense. The only thing they had in common with the previous novel's final chapters were the location and the same characters.

Another hard thing about this revision is I've been sending Sarah six chapters at a time as I finished them so she could make sure I was on the right track. Sending chapters from a book that was incomplete... nearly killed me. I never send off chapters to people unless I'm really not sure it works at all... and then I just send it to my sisters usually... very close beta readers... not someone I'm trying to convince that I'm a good writer. I just finished my Kindle read-through to look for major plotholes and typos... and it makes me sick that I sent off "rough draft" chapters to Sarah. *shudders* My rough drafts aren't hideous, but they aren't anything I want to show anyone... ever... at all.

Anyway, I've been a bear to be around this summer while I was working on this. This was a tough revision.

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." ~Hawthorne

*Wendy hugs a dead writer* Yes, Hawthorne... yes, exactly.

I'm hoping to finish off this revision completely and email it to Sarah tomorrow. (This will make me a wreck while I'm waiting for her reply.) She is talking about sending me a hardcopy of revision notes which, frankly, scares the crap out of me and will be my first real experience with a gritty red pen editing type deal. I might go out and stockpile a case of Mt. Dew for that. It might be the only way.

In other news, my kids start school in a week and a half, and my husband will be in Hawaii all week on a business trip. Fate, you crazy minx... you do like to mix it up, don't you? This week should be interesting. (In the previous sentence, "interesting" actually means "likely to suck hard, hairy, grimy rocks." So, that's interesting, huh?)

I have more in my brain to blog about, but I need to get to this revision and knock it out. So, some other time... *blows kisses*

If you know a writer, go give them a hug because sometimes writing isn't fun and I don't know why we do it other than it's in our blood. I just hope this is what Sarah and the film agent wanted because... well, this was some damn hard writing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Truth is Much Stranger

I had an odd experience today. I spent time at a playground with a child whose father's body had just been found after he committed suicide. This sweet little four year old didn't know that somewhere else in the city adults were white-washing his father's image... because his father is the son of a local celebrity. I watched this child play in the sand and laugh and have fun... and have no idea that outside of the playground his life would change forever. Such a cute kid. Such a sad legacy he'll now receive.

I'm somewhat disgusted by the scrubbing this news story is receiving actually. Can you even call it news when they've highly-saturated it with spun versions of events and when they're actively deleting any comments that address the facts? It doesn't seem like nonfiction at the very least. Let's call it an opinion piece rather than a news story.


It's made me realize that news is horribly impartial.

I'd already started feeling that way after watching the London Riots rocket across Twitter while the mainstream news channels kept it quiet and buried for so long.

Still... this child is only four... and just barely four... and his father was selfish. By the time the journalists and publicists have scrubbed everything, I'm curious who'll be the victim... the four year old who now has no father or the man who made that choice.

Reality isn't pretty. I learn something new about human nature daily... and most of the time I'd rather not. I was still somewhat reeling from the riots. Mob mentality scares me.

Anyway... it was a strange day. I was glad I wouldn't be breaking the news to anyone. I was just there for moral support and to share pretzels. (I'm good at sharing pretzels.)

In writerly news, I'm almost done with my revisions. This has been a really severe revision. I've only got a few chapters left, but the revisions have snowballed throughout the story so the conclusion is going to be a far cry from the previous version. I hope it works. I think it works. I'm still nervous though. I've made so many changes.

I should try to get my brain to be quiet so I can get some sleep. Night.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Obsessive Side to OCD

I can't sleep. I'm exhausted. I want to sleep. I had a good workout at the gym. I got far too much sun. I spent the day watching my kids and my sister's kids while my husband and sister worked on her treehouse. By all rights, I should be able to fall into my bed and go to sleep right away, but I can't. My brain won't let go of one event that happened today, and it keeps going back again and again and again.

So, my sister painted her house in latex paint... and it's been really hard on my lungs and allergies. When I went to her house last night, it was bothering me still... even though it's been days since she painted. So, today, I was on the fence about going back. My husband told me that it'd be okay if I stayed home. I wanted to stay home. On the other hand, my sister has a two year old and having the older kids watch a two year old didn't sit right with me, so I went.

My sister's two year old is a wild child. He is trouble... boxed... canned... compacted... with a capital T. Trouble. So, I was checking on him frequently and trying to keep him out of too much trouble. One of the times I went to check on him, I found that he was downstairs with all the other kids... which was good. They were all engrossed on DSs or playing. On the other hand, the two year old had thrown my sister's little tiny dog into the aboveground pool before going off with the others. I dragged the exhausted dog out of the pool (because the sides were too slick for him to get out.) The dog collapsed in the sun for a long time to reheat and recover... but he was fine.

I'm not fine. I just keep thinking, "What if I hadn't gone outside to check on him?" "What if I hadn't gone today?" "What if...?"

My brain won't let it go.

I just want to turn it over and over and over in my head.

I can't sleep even though... technically... nothing bad happened.

I live my life in careful mode. I examine everything from every possible scenario several times. I plan for the worst possible eventualities.

It's not good. It's not easy. It's not fun, but that's how I live my life. That's what OCD means to me. I have to be extra extra extra careful because the world is full of people who won't be as careful... and bad things happen when people aren't careful. Bad things.

Bad things like my nephew drowning their dog because my sister has told him that dogs can swim and they've watched her put the dog in the pool to swim. Every time I've been there and they've put the dog in the pool, I've said, "Do you really think you should do that? If he gets put in there and they forget him... he'll drown." My sister has rolled her eyes at my overly careful attitude for years now... and, in so many cases, she's right. She lives her life with a lot more abandon than I do. She lets her 10 year old daughter use sharp knives and cook on the stove... and has for years. B will be able to drive before I let her do either of those things.

I'm stuck in permanent careful mode.

When this pays off... it's not a good thing, trust me. I just want to wrap the world in bubble wrap and tell them not to play with sharp objects. I just want to shake my sister for not planning for every possible bad thing in the entire world in multiple and often implausible scenarios.

I might never get to sleep.

There is this phrase: "You can never be too careful." It's a lie. You can. I'm living that phrase. I am the poster child for what happens if you're too careful. On the other hand, I also think it's true to the depths of my very OCD soul. It's true, you can never be too careful because, chances are, even if you try very, very, very hard, you'll never be as careful as me.

And that's the truth.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Prying the Words Out

So, my insomnia finally broke a few nights back... when it no longer mattered what time I needed to be up in the morning. That's the bitter irony about insomnia--you get the sleep when it doesn't matter anymore.

I'm up to my neck in the hardest revision I've ever done. Revising Secrets is like drowning slowly. I've made so many changes to characters and scenes that it keeps snowballing to later chapters... nothing can be the same in the end if you overhaul where it began. Plus, I'm meant to be adding more plot points and action, but I just don't know if it's enough. This is hard. Really hard. My husband kept coming up to check on me yesterday when I'd dragged my laptop into the therapy room to work. Every time he'd come up I'd rant at him about how hard it was and how much it kept snowballing to more revision. I was living up to the crazed writer stereotype yesterday.

Part of this is summer being what it is, though. It's rare for the kids to have a quiet "nothing scheduled" day. Every day is a new scheduled activity or a planned playdate or something. I'm insisting on down days for T because he isn't handling the strain any better than I am. We've had long keening/crying jags and last Wednesday he started banging his head against things to cope. On Saturday, we spent the day in Seattle watching "Aladdin the Musical" in the kids' first real theatre experience. By the drive home, both kids were crying and overwrought. We had a whole week of day camp for T the previous week. He was a wreck by the end of it. I was a wreck by the end of it.


Anyway, today is one of those rare "nothing scheduled" days, so I'd planned to work more on the revision. I've told Sarah that I'll have it done by the end of August, but I haven't added that I really, really, really have to have it done and have moved on to something less stressful.

This revision... this summer... this chaos... is killing me.

On the other hand, I think the kids are having fun. The parts they'll remember... will be fun. I'm hoping they forget the crying and strain and their mother hiding in the therapy room and remember the fun. I'm also confident I can do this revision. I just wish my brain didn't feel so muddy from trying to mesh the old and new and change everything while keeping the good parts.

I'm nearly to the point where I drop the old manuscript other than a few scenes. I'm not sure how to do it... at all. I don't think Sarah knows how to do it. She's been cheerleading me on Twitter and through email, but I don't think anyone really knew how to cut and yet save with this. Sarah took advice from like eight different sources and sent me their notes... but it was pointless to give revision notes throughout the story because this revision was going to change so much.

This revision/reinvention/reimagination is the hardest writing work I've ever done and most of the time, I feel like I'm floundering as I think: Does this work or am I just creating more stuff to cut?

I sent Sarah the first six chapters reworked a week ago and she approved them... but now... that seems like the easy part comparatively. It just keeps snowballing to more changes. It feels like I've got a crowbar, and I'm prying the words out of my brain. I know when I've finished it's going to take some serious work to make it flow and not look like it was crowbarred out of the muse.

It's so hard. I quoted this on Twitter but it's worth resaying: Nathaniel Hawthorne said, "Easy reading is damn hard writing." It's true. Making this flow so it reads like it did before... is hard. I think it had a natural flow before but it lacked in other ways. Trying to make sure it's not just all character development... is hard. I mentioned before how I sometimes "Clark Kent" characters. I give my paranormal characters some great powers, but then I tell their Clark Kent story. It turns out... the Clark Kent story is easier. The story about character development is easier. This... this is hard.

I think I'll need to go for a run later. Running always seems to help me clear the fog of too many voices and ideas out of my head. So do vitamins and caffeine and Vitamin D (via sun exposure)... I've been trying to get all those ducks in a row. Strangely enough... sleep has never helped or affected my writing. I do some of my best writing when sleep-deprived--even if it needs more clean-up. I'm hoping I'll get on a roll soon and it'll just turn into magic where the ideas seem to have a life of their own. I'm hoping to ease up on the crowbar. I'm hoping.

I wish I had a time machine and I could get to the end of August where I'll have this revision done, and I could just pick up the completed revision without all this mind-numbing chaotic stress... but that's just fiction... and possibly lazy. And while I am often lazy... even I don't believe in time travel. Besides, that'd totally mess up the space time continuum.