Keeping Score: January 18, 2019

Ever had a week where you feel like a failure? When even the things that go right don’t go right enough to balance out the things that go wrong?

That’s what this week was for me.

Not on the writing front, thank goodness. But in my day job, in the work that keeps me fed and clothed and housed. This week it felt like nothing I did there was good enough, for anyone, and it’s had me looking forward to the weekend like nothing else.

Thank goodness for my writing. Even as I work through the Breakout Novel Workbook, finding flaws in my novel, I don’t feel defeated. I feel energized, like I finally have full control over something. There’s no committee going to tell me to leave a scene as-is to meet an arbitrary deadline. No coworker to stomp on my dialog choices because they think things should be phrased differently.

No, this novel is mine, like nothing else is. I can do what I want with it, fix it the way I want to fix it, polish it until it gleams.

It’s a powerful feeling, and a solace during such a hard week. Editing this novel is going to be a lot of work, but it’s work no one can stop me from doing.

Keeping Score: January 11, 2019

Again, no words written this week. Staying focused on editing the novel, and submitting existing short stories.

One of the stories I submitted last week has already been rejected by the market I sent it to; I need to pick another market and send it back out, hopefully by the end of today.

Otherwise, I’m still plowing through the Breakout Novel workbook. I’m still managing to get through about one exercise a day, though some of them are longer (and thus harder) than others.

Each time I feel like skipping one, I push myself to work through it. And I feel like skipping them a lot; this is adding up to a lot of work. But I tell myself I’m in no rush, I’ve got no deadlines. And I’m the only one who can fix my story. If I don’t put in the work to make it better, no one else will.

And the exercises are paying off, so far. Even the frustrating ones end up generating some good ideas. Sometimes it takes a few hours for things to shuffle around in my head and then suddenly click into place, but that’s ok. Those sorts of lightning-strike insights I wouldn’t have otherwise are exactly why I’m doing this.

Keeping Score: January 4, 2019

Absolutely 0 words written this week.

But! I’ve not been idle. I submitted two short stories (to different markets), and I’ve been making progress on editing my most recent novel.

The week of Christmas I was able to do a first read-through, making notes as I went. I ignored things like word choice or sentence structure, and looked for higher-level problems: scenes where the characters’ actions were inconsistent, or the physics of the place didn’t match up, or where the timeline didn’t make sense.

I found a lot of problems that I’ll have to fix. But I was happy to find that I still like the characters, and their story, and want to make it the best version I can.

So this week I cracked open my copy of Writing the Breakout Novel: Workbook, by Donald Maas. Jonathan Maberry recommended it at one of the last Writers’ Coffeehouses; he told us that he buys a new one for each novel he writes, and works through it as part of his editing process. So I’m giving it a shot.

The book is basically a writing workshop in written form. Each chapter describes a writing technique, a way to improve your manuscript, and ends with exercises to push you to use that technique in your own novel.

I’ve gotten through 6 chapters so far, and while I balked at first (“don’t you tell me my protagonist isn’t heroic enough,” my internal rebel snarled), when I forced myself to work through them, the exercises generated a lot of new ideas for the book. Nothing too radical, as yet, but definite ways to make what I’ve got better, to make my characters’ personalities clearer and my scenes more interesting.

So I plan to keep going, working through one chapter a day. That’ll put me on track to have it completed by the end of the month, at which point I can start collating all these ideas and plan out the editing passes I’m going to make on the book.

The goal is to have all the editing passes finished and it ready to submit to agents by the end of the year.

Wish me luck.

Writers Coffeehouse: December 2018

Another great coffeehouse! Since it’s December, we had a bit of a holiday pot-luck: people brought EggNog (spiked and not-spiked), cookies, candy canes, and wine. They also collected Toys for Tots, and even lit the first two candles of a menorah in honor of the first night (upcoming) of Hanukkah.

Lots of people had just wrapped up NaNoWriMo, so there was a lot of good news to go around. Biggest news was probably Henry Herz getting published in Highlights for Children, which is (apparently) a wickedly hard market to crack.

My notes are below. Congrats to Henry and all the NaNoWriMo winners! And, as always, many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting us, and Jonathan Maberry for running the Coffeehouse!

  • the one golden rule: no writer bashing; like or dislike the twilight books or da vinci code, but they opened doors for thousands of other writers and injected billions into the books industry
  • san diego writer’s festival: april 13th, central library, similar folks to the festival of books
  • option prices have dropped a lot since the recession; standard is now $5K, but can include lots of extras, like five-star treatment to get to set, executive producer credit (paycheck per episode), royalties per tv episode, etc
  • remember that your agent is a business partner; don’t be afraid to contact them, but don’t think they’re your best friends, they work for you, and you can learn a lot from them; agents love writers that are business savvy
  • nov and dec used to be a bad time for agents, but since it’s the slow season, it’s a good time to submit to them; ditto pitches to editors of magazines for articles to write
  • “we’re looking for original stories, not original submission practices”
  • when selling anthology to publisher, need a few big names on there so they feel that it’ll definitely sell
  • maberry: budgets 10 min out of every hour for social media; has a lot of pages and has to manage them, and manage his time on them
  • henry herz: got article accepted into highlights magazine! very hard market to crack
  • january coffeehouse will be about pitching; will also do sample panel
  • on a panel: they’re looking for a celebrity, need people to be a little larger-than-life; sometimes audience will ask questions they know the answers to, just to hear a celebrity say it
  • being a panelist is a skill; you need to be a slightly different version of yourself that the public will accept as “writer”
  • neil gaiman is naturally very awkward; had to hire an acting coach to script out appearances so people will get to see the “neil gaiman” they come to see
  • pitching, being on a panel, these are all skills you need to practice, but they *are* skills you can develop and improve, even if you’re a complete introvert
  • exercise: pick your favorite novel (or movie), and pitch it as if you wrote it; something you know well enough to do without notes
  • need to be good at it and comfortable with friends so that when in front of agents you aren’t so scared and vulnerable
  • people are more comfortable with peers than with people that put them on a pedestal
  • recommends using donald maas’ workbook on writing the breakout novel; the way it’s intended is after a first draft is done, makes you drill deeper into the book
  • also: don’t revise until after you’ve waited a month and then also read the whole thing through again
  • finally: do revising in waves; handle one change at a time, to make them manageable
  • unsure whether to make book a mystery or fantasy? write the book you’d have the most fun writing; if unsure of audience, pick the one you’d have fun writing for and go all in

First Novel Done!

It’s done!

Finished the final editing pass for the last few chapters of my first novel early this week.

So now it’s time to build a list of agents to look at, and start querying.

I’ve been going to Publisher’s Marketplace every morning, researching another agent to add to the list. This weekend I’ll pick one, get my query letter in order for them, and send it off.

It’ll feel good to get the book out there. Even if every agent rejects it. True, the rejections will hurt…but there’s no way to get published without getting some.

And, now that the first book’s done, I can turn my attention to the second novel I wrote, and start putting together an editing plan for it. There’s also the short stories I wrote over the last month to edit (one may need a complete rewrite).

So much to do, and thank goodness!

Scorecard: Second Week

Two weeks in. Had a holiday in the middle of this one, so…how’d I do?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Mostly check. 5 days out of 7 isn’t too bad.
  • Write a new short story each week: Done. First draft of “Wednesday” is complete and ready to submit to litreactor. Draft of second story is coming together.
  • Critique two stories each week: Check. This has become the easiest one to do.
  • Find a new agent to query each week: Nope again. I might need to drop this one, till the editing is done.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: On track. Hope to get feedback on “Wednesday” soon, and then will revise and start submitting. Also got a rejection back for one of the stories I’d submitted, so I need to send it out again this week.

Scorecard: First Week

Last week I set some goals to keep me on track for a productive summer.

So, how am I doing?

  • Edit one chapter a day: Check. I’m working through the novel backwards this time, to keep it fresh for my editing eyes.
  • Write a new short story each week: Not complete, but new story (working title: Wednesday) is halfway done, and I’ll wrap it up this weekend.
  • Critique two stories each week: Check. By the time the new story’s done, I should have enough points to post it to the litreactor workshop for feedback.
  • Find a new agent to query each week: Nope. Need to set aside some time next week to do this.
  • Polish and submit a new story each month: Check. I’ve currently got three short stories making the submission rounds, one of which I submitted for the first time this month.

Going for the Goal

My wife’s in Arkansas for the next few weeks, visiting her mother for her annual pay-off-the-guilt-from-moving-to-California visit.

Normally, this is a time I tell myself I’m going to get a lot of writing done, hermit-in-the-woods style, but instead end up staring at the keyboard, trying to dig up inspiration.

So this time, I’m setting goals. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals:

  • Final-pass edit one chapter in the first novel every day.
  • Write a draft of a new short story every week.
  • Critique two stories submitted to litreactor (the online writer’s workshop) every week.
  • Find a new agent to query every week.
  • Polish and submit a new story to a new market every month.

I’ve decided to go with submitting the first novel to agents. However, I’ve also joined Publisher’s Marketplace, so I can be selective about which agents I query. Less of a shotgun approach, and more of a laser.

I’m hoping the explicit, bite-sized goals will keep me focused. Who knows? They might become new habits.

Best Book Forward?

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse this weekend, another writer asked what they should do when they have four novels, all finished, each in a different genre, that they want to pitch to agents. Should they target each book’s query to a different agent? Should they mention they have other novels when querying one of them?

The answer — which surprised me — was no to both.

Don’t mention the other novels when first querying. Save that for later, if they want to talk more.

And instead of sending out queries based on the book, pick the agents you’d like to represent you, and send them the book you think has the greatest commercial potential.

Agents will want to represent everything you have. But by querying with the book that will likely sell the best, it’ll be easier for them to imagine selling your book to a publisher, which will increase your chances of convincing them to represent you.

So now I’m confronted with the question: have I been editing the wrong book?

A frustrating question to have, when I’m only one editing pass away from being totally done. And I’ve already written the synopsis. And the query letter. And have agents picked out.

But maybe I’d be querying the wrong book? Of the three, I think my most recent one’s the strongest draft. The second one’s the best story, though, and my beta readers’ favorite. The first one is, of course, the only one that’s actually done, in the sense of being a final draft.

So which one do I query with?

The End is Near

Novel edits are coming along faster than I thought. Might actually get them all done by the end of the month 🙂

It’s weird to see the novel being reshaped under my editing scalpel. I can feel the book getting better, little by little: its characters more consistent, the world more fully realized, the pacing tighter.

I’m remembering my plans for a follow-on book, and looking forward to writing it. Can editing a novel make you excited to write the sequel?