Summer Roundup!

This summer has simply flown by, and I’m appalled we’re nearly halfway through August already. My writing has ebbed and flowed these past few weeks but I’ve been staying busy, even if it hasn’t always translated into words on the page. Behold:

June

To celebrate the release of The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth by Roc, including my story “Against the Wind,” I participated in the anthology’s book launch in Santa Fe (which I talked about last time). There was also another author event a bit closer to home in Albuquerque at Page1 Books. I joined editor S.M. Stirling and fellow contributors Jane Lindskold, Emily Mah, Victor Milán, and John Jos. Miller.

Milan, Miller, Lindskold, Me (answering a question), Stirling, & Mah

Milan, Miller, Lindskold, Me (in orange), Stirling, & Mah at Page 1 Books in ABQ.

I’m so happy to be a part of this anthology, and am still thrilled with the review of my story in Open Letters Monthly.

July

I spent most of July on the East Coast, three weeks plus recovery time. There I visited with friends and family but also used the trip as an opportunity to attend Readercon in Boston. I’ve heard tremendous things about the convention over the years and decided my travel dollars would be better spent attending Readercon instead of this year’s Worldcon, which has been mired in controversy after controversy.

I had a wonderful time at Readercon, particularly the part where I got to hang out with some of my SF/F writing friends and make new ones. I was also able to meet Bart R. Leib and Kay T. Holt of Crossed Genres Magazine and thank them for not only publishing me twice in one of their anthologies as well as their magazine, but also giving me my first pro sale. So that was a special moment as well.

While I was in Boston, I also met with my agent Lana Popovic where, over a delightful lunch, we plotted world domination—er, rather discussed my next project. She’s closed to queries at the moment, but I highly recommend her if you are looking for an agent with a strong editorial eye and market savvy.

When I returned to New Mexico, I learned my short story “Jump Cut” published in the Journal of Unlikely Cryptography earlier this year had been nominated in Lady Business’s Short Fiction survey from Jan to March 2015.

2015-Q1shortfiction

A heartfelt thanks to whoever nominated my story! I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know about this site, but I’ll be participating in the Lady Business’s quarterly recommendation periods to come, and I hope you will too!

Finally, the end of July saw the release of Vic Milán’s The Dinosaur Lords from Tor. I got a sneak peak of the book while it was being workshopped, and know you are in for a treat if you like Dinosaurs and epic medieval battles!

dinolords

August

This month has been thankfully quiet so far, allowing me to get back into my writing routine and get caught up on things. However, I’m looking forward to participating in my local convention Bubonicon at the end of the month.

Bubonicon47

The theme this year is “Women of Wonder” with co-guests of honor Tamora Pierce and Catherynne M. Valente, toastmistress Mary Robinette Kowal, and guest artist Ruth Sanderson. August 28-20th at the Albuquerque Marriott Uptown.
I also want to mention that The Future Fire magazine is celebrating ten (!) years of publication! They published my story “Digital Ligatures” last year, and I encourage you to check out their stories and support their crowdfunding campaign by preordering the celebration anthology.

TFFX

That’s it for me. Happy writing!

Realizing Representation

Once you achieve something that you’ve been working toward for a long time, it can take a while for the realization to sink into your bones. You have to keep reminding yourself that you’ve succeeded. That it’s time to look forward to the future, to whatever comes next.

In the last week or so, I’ve had many of those pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moments, usually whenever I get the urge to pull up QueryTracker or the latest post from the Guide to Literary Agents blog that appears in my RSS reader. That’s when I have to tell myself I’m no longer in the market for an agent.

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photo courtesy of Bridget Lewis of Flickr

I’m still trying to absorb all the nuances of what’s happened and what’s yet to come. I never would have dreamed my story of “the call” would include three compelling offers and two nerve-wracking weeks of PS3-playing to keep me from checking my email. Or that my love for the manuscript that got me my agent would be eclipsed by my excitement for my current work-in-progress (that I’m very eager to get back to after writing this post).

Within a few short weeks, everything has changed, and yet I’m still me, with the same insecurities, the same hopes and dreams, and the same stories in my head clamoring for attention. But I have an advocate now to make the journey forward a little less fraught. And that is an amazing thing.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to announce I’m now represented by Lana Popovic of Chalberg and Sussman. I know I’m in good hands for this book, and I hope our partnership flourishes going forward.

I didn’t get to this point alone. Lori M. Lee, Fran Wilde, Christopher East, L. Blankenship, Catherine Schaff-Stump, Laura Snapp, Christopher Cornell, the Critical Mass writing group, and my husband Eric all provided me with support, encouragement, and most importantly feedback, on this winding road.

Hopefully the news will sink in soon. In the meantime, please accept this GIF-free post as testament to the exciting next stage of my writing journey, whatever it brings!

How to Survive Your First Worldcon, Part One

Over Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Worldcon in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to go for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important one was to slowly increase my visibility in the field by networking with my writing colleagues.

The view from my hotel balcony.

I had no idea what to expect, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned so you’ll be better prepared if you plan to attend an event like this in the future.

1. Never Take Off Your Nametag

This could be my own issue, but I’ve never been a fan of nametags. Whether it was the first day of school, my work as a waitress back in the day, or attending work conferences, my initial impulse was always to whip off the tag as soon as possible.

Do not do this. The whole point of conventions is to meet like-minded people, right? But unless you already know someone’s a writer, it can be tough to spot one out in the wild. At a convention, if you see a nametag, you can be reasonably sure they’re a serious SFF fan or writer or both, whether you are crossing the street between the hotel and the conference space, hunkering down in the hotel lobby for the free internet, or getting a drink or a bite to eat in the hotel lounge. So this is one of the few times where it’s okay to let your freak flag fly.

The nametag also makes introductions easier and seeing a printed name (as opposed to just hearing it) can reinforce retention.

That said….

2. Be Prepared to Reintroduce Yourself A Lot

You will be meeting a lot of people. And just as you will have difficulty keeping everyone straight, the people you meet will also have trouble putting the name to the face. If they don’t remember you, don’t take it personally. Be gracious, and if the opportunity presents itself, remind them that you met them the night before at a party or last year at another event or that you share a TOC together… whatever it is that will help jog their memory and put you into context.

 

You want them to remember your face, your name, and something pleasant about you—not how you gave them a hard time for not remembering who you are from a 15-second introduction. That just makes them feel guilty, and they will then avoid you to avoid experiencing that negative emotion again.

3. Dress to Impress

I’m not talking business casual. Personal hygiene is important to handle (especially in Texas in August). As Mary Robinette Kowal said in a panel on schmoozing, you want to be the best possible version of yourself—whatever that means to you.

For me, that meant wearing clothes that had a consistent feel, styling my hair in a similar way, and wearing the same necklace and bracelet combo across the days at the convention so that people would recognize me, even if they didn’t know my name. Think of it as professional branding.

4. Ribbons Ribbons Everywhere

As this was my first con, I didn’t realize there were special “ribbons” you could affix to your nametag. These little pieces of fabric were issued to people who had pub’d in certain magazines or talked to certain con personnel or supported a particular author or whatever. I later found out there was even a ribbon for attending your first Worldcon. Many people (though not everyone) had them. I even saw one kid walking around the convention hall with so many ribbons they dragged along after him.

As with the nametags, the ribbons provide quick visual reinforcement in identifying people in your “tribe” and often served as a source of small talk. Now, I’m not saying I was ignored because I didn’t have any ribbons—I wasn’t. But it did reinforce my newbie status because I had no idea how they worked.

The exception of course were the bright green ribbons identifying the panelists and invited guests to the convention. Which leads me to….

5. Pay Attention to the Social Hierarchy

At the con, I was pretty insignificant compared to the writers further along in their careers and the editors and agents that were there. And the ribbons often reinforced this.

Unlike other cons, there were no pitch appointments offered. The only way to get an agent or editor’s attention was to either get introduced by someone they respected or small talk your way into their hearts.

Both are hard to do and are extremely dependent on luck, your social abilities, and the kindness of your colleagues.

People can sense desperation. If someone powerful has a bad opinion of you, it could haunt you the rest of your career. So don’t be that person who stalks the important people all over the con or the person who turns into a squeeing mess the second you get to talk to your writing hero, dream agent, or whathaveyou.

Instead, be sure to act courteously, and if at all possible be interesting. You may not get an opportunity to talk about you or your work, and that’s okay. Take the long view. You want to leave people with a favorable impression no matter what because who knows what could happen the next time you meet them.

Stay tuned for Part Two next week!

The Pros of Professional Development

While the blogosphere is a fantastic resource—rife with informative posts on craft, publishing, and other aspects of the writing life—it can get overwhelming and, at times, repetitive. Not that repetition can’t be helpful in crystallizing some aspects of craft. But too much, and my brain starts saying I’ve heard this before and I tune out.
When that happens, the act of learning, of actively improving, becomes passive. For this writer, that means I start to feel complacent. Not a good place to be.
I had been feeling this way recently—after all it’s been just under a year since I attended Taos Toolbox—so when I saw my local SCBWI chapter was hosting a NY agent for an all-day workshop, I signed up, hoping to be reinvigorated.
I was nervous as I always am when owning my writer persona in an unfamiliar environment with (gasp!) strangers. For the morning session, the agent presented an overview of essential craft elements for children’s books. Then the afternoon was all about the business side of things. It was a very informative session, and unfortunately I signed a waiver that doesn’t let me get any more specific than that.
The workshop would haven been tremendously helpful for me a year or three ago. As it was, I’d say didn’t learn anything “new.” Instead, I learned the relative importance this agent placed on different aspects of craft and business. Much of the content I had been exposed to before, though not as systematically all at once. Hand in hand with the workshop, I paid for an optional critique that didn’t uncover any fatal deficiencies in my writing. So at this point you may be wondering what I actually got out of a wasted Saturday and a c-note.

1. It’s Worth Checking In Sometimes

It is entirely possible to reach a point with your craft where you simply don’t need all the handholding you once did to stay productive. The writing is going well, you’re in the zone, this one’s going to sell, and so on. And that’s all great. But when you’re holed up in your cave, sometimes you can lose sight of what your writing really needs.
By attending a workshop like I did or engaging in some form of professional development to put you and your work out there, you have the opportunity to evaluate your writing through someone else’s eyes. On the business side of things, the publishing world is changing so rapidly every day, you can’t afford to not pay attention to opportunities to help put all the changes into perspective.

2. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Knowing You’re On the Right Track

You remember that critique I got? It let me know my opening for a new project was on the right track. That is invaluable. Looking back at where I was with past projects and knowing they wouldn’t have received this kind of feedback at this stage, shows just how much I’ve improved. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can do to strengthen my story. But it’s now a question of calibration, not wholesale revision. And that’s a huge difference (and a huge confidence boost).

3. Professional Organizations Provide Superior Opportunities

Now, this assertion is grounded in my personal experience. I’ve tried a lot of different things, including:
Local, grassroots style writing groups like those you find through Meetup.com or your local alt-weekly. You can find some good individuals, but too often the group includes people who don’t know what they’re doing or have a different focus (say self-publishing when you have your eye on the Big 6).
Classes at the local community college or university. Again, you might find some serious individuals, but many of these people are just testing the waters and haven’t screwed up the courage to take the plunge. The teachers at this level can also be suspect in their ability to teach or inspire. Note, I am not talking about MFA programs and the like.
Regionally-focused writing organizations. The ones near you may be different, but the one closest to me serves as a catch-all for writers not represented by other organizations. Mine has a lot of writers writing memoir and literary fiction, and their classes and workshops cater to hobbyists and beginners.
Residential workshops like Taos Toolbox. Expensive, but being surrounded by a dedicated group of peers, and being instructed by individuals who have lived through publishing’s ups and downs is priceless.
Local chapters of national writers groups like RWA or SCBWI. These organizations are far more likely to have classes and workshops for the intermediate and seasoned writer.
I can say with absolute certainty that you get folks who are a lot more serious about learning their craft at organizations and workshops with a targeted focus like genre. Not one of the thirty people in the workshop I attended had stars in their eyes that they’d be the next JK Rowling. Everyone was aware of the years of hard work and the smart choices it takes to succeed in publishing.
Now, I’ve held off joining any of the membership organizations. Partly because it’s another cost in a field with too little money for writers as it is. Partly because I was a little too in love with the idea of the “lone writer” for a long time. And partly because I felt I had to “prove” myself in a genre before I could presume to join an organization dedicated to it. Imposter syndrome, much?
But now? I’m in a place where I’m reasonably confident in my abilities as a writer. I’m also very cognizant of what I don’t know as I contemplate what’s next for me. That’s where the support of a national organization becomes invaluable. I’m still debating which one is best for my career long term, but I can no longer ignore the benefits they can provide.

What about you? Have you had a recent professional development experience? How did it go?

Happy writing!
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Resource Roundup – Querying Your Masterpiece

You’ve finished your book, you’ve revised, you set it aside, and you’ve reread it (revised some more ad nauseam) and decide it doesn’t suck. Now what? Well, if you want to be traditionally published, you start looking for agents. Someone who loves your book as much as you do and will shepherd it through the publishing process. But to find the right agent, you need to query them, and not just any old query will do.

As in previous posts in this series (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, Crafting Dialogue, and Opening Your Story), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, many of which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup links on the sidebar.

So let’s get started. And remember, I’m talking about full-length novels. Not non-fiction, not short stories, as those both have different query letter elements that I don’t address here.

Is Your Work Ready? Are You Ready?

This is a huge question. You can feel like you’re ready. You can envision your name in print, see your novel on the bookshelf, have already made a list of the celebrities who will play your characters in the movie version. But what about your book? Is it ready?

Alternatively, your book may be ready but you aren’t. You keep tinkering with it, hoping for perfection, while days, months, years tick by along with any chance of breaking into the marketplace. In one case, it’s the cart before the horse. In the other, it’s insecure writers holding themselves back.

Not sure if you are ready? Take a look at Jody Hedlund’s How Can Writers Know They are Ready for Querying? where she talks about things writers can do to determine whether they should be querying or not.

Your Story and the Marketplace

It also helps if you have a sense of where your story fits in the marketplace. This is why you must know your story’s genre (what section it should be in at a bookstore). It is also why some agents may ask you list comparable titles in your query letter. Not sure where your story falls? Book Country has a great genre map that displays all the different subgenres within genres like Romance, Mystery, and Science Fiction.

What about the line between literary, commercial and genre fiction? Miss Snark provides a great overview of the distinctions here. Nathan Bransford’s What Makes Literary Fiction Literary? is also worth a look.

Then to make things more complicated “upmarket” fiction is also on many agents’ wishlists these days. Chuck Sambuchino of the Guide to Literary Agents Blog says it bridges commercial and literary fiction in What is Upmarket Fiction? Defining the Classification. Another blogger calls Upmarket Fiction the Non-Genre Genre.

Different genres have different story conventions, different word counts, etc. For a great overview of word counts for different genres, take a look at Mystery Writing is Murder- Word Counts and Colleen Lindsay’s Word Counts and Novel Length.


Submission Checklists

Still think you are ready? Then take a look at these checklists (ranging from micro to macro issues) to ensure your manuscript is up to snuff before you submit:

Preparing Your Pitch

The pitch section of your query letter is the most important element. Full stop. Not the credentials or the ass-kissing as to why you are querying this agent in particular, although that can sometimes help.

Note that for some agents, the sample pages might actually be more important than the pitch, so be sure to take a look at my earlier Resource Roundup post Opening Your Story, but in terms of the query letter itself (not your whole submission, which may include things like synopses and sample pages), the pitch is uber important to get right.

The pitch is the part of your query, generally up to three paragraphs (depending on who you talk to), where you describe your story. It is a sales pitch – you are trying to sell the agent on your story, convince them that it is the best thing ever and they want to see the whole novel right now.

Think of all the backjacket copy you’ve read over the years, and try to model your pitch on books in your genre, emphasizing in particular the main character(s) and conflict they’ll face in the book. The tone of the pitch should also match genre expectations and hint at your authorial voice.

It’s a tough order for just a couple of paragraphs. How do you distill a whole book’s worth of action and conflict into just a few lines? The answer is you don’t. As Roni Loren says in Single Best Piece of Query Writing Advice I Ever Received, you write your query based on roughly the first third of your novel. The query pitch is all setup. It’s that teaser trailer that makes you want to see the movie even more.

The more attuned you are to strong pitches, the better your query will fare out in agentland. The Miss Snark’s archives are full of query pitches and one agent’s brutally honest impressions of what works and what doesn’t. Query Shark and the BookEnds Agency’s Workshop Wednesdays also provide critiques to queries people send in for feedback. Valuable stuff if you haven’t nailed your own pitch yet.


Query Letter Basics

But let’s back up a minute. There are other elements of your query letter besides the pitch. Take a look at There Are No Rules’s 5 Elements of Query Letters and Guide to Literary Agents’s Breaking Down the Query to get a sense of how the whole letter should look. Nathan Bransford’s post How to Write a Query also provides a nice overview.

Have your query written? Make sure you haven’t made these mistakes: Rachelle Gardener’s Top Ten Query Mistakes and JM Tohline’s Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents.

Knowing what your book’s comparative titles are is also important, especially for those agents who specifically request them in their guidelines. As agent Suzie Townsend says in The Art of Pitching:

Comparable titles tell me the targeted audience for a manuscript, it gives me a better idea of whether I might like it, it gives me a better idea of where I might sell it, how I might pitch it, how editors could pitch the book to their sales team. AND Comparable titles also tell me how well-read the writer is when it comes to their own genre.

Any way you can personalize your query for each agent can also help you stand out of the slush pile. But beware. As kidlit agent Mary Kole says, “Just like with citing comparative titles, if you’re not going to do [query personalization] well, don’t do it at all.”

Want to see queries that get results? Check out the Guide to Literary Agents blog’s Successful Queries series. Agent Rachelle Gardner also provides a nice overview in Anatomy of a Winning Query.

And remember, there’s always going to be contradictory query advice out there, as Nathan Bransford talks about in this post.

Do Your Research

One author claims that a well-written query, sent to well-researched agents should result in a high percentage of requested pages in How to Ensure 75% of Agents Will Request Your Material.

That may seem like an obscenely high percentage considering the number of literary agents out there, but one thing is true: The more research you do on agents, the better sense you’ll have of whether or not they’d be a good fit for you and your novel. And do yourself and agents everywhere a favor – if they don’t represent what you’ve written, take them off the list.

Writers in the Storm’s post Hunting Agents and Jill Corcoran’s post Researching Agents provide a great overview of how to find information on agents.

You could always purchase the current copies of Writer’s Market or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, or sign up for services like QueryTracker or AgentQuery. The Guide to Literary Agents blog also has series call New Agent Alert, which is a great way to stay on top of up and coming agents.

But no matter which agents make your list, be sure to cross-reference them with the list of agents at Predators and Editors to ensure they are on the up and up.

Managing the Process

You’ve got your query and your list of agents. You are ready to go. You could just go ahead and blitz all agents at once. No one is stopping you from doing that. However, for most agents, you get one shot, and you want to put your best foot forward.

That’s why most people recommend sending your queries in batches or waves. Pick a few agents and send them your stuff. Then wait to see what happens. This can be a long process, but it builds in time for the writer to receive feedback on their query or pages so they can then tweak them for the next round of querying. See Nathan Bransford’s definitive post The Batch Querying Theory and Agency Gatekeeper’s The Middle Way – A New Method of Timing Your Queries.

In addition to you query, agents sometimes want to see your opening pages or a synopsis of your work. A synopsis is an overview of your story’s plot, written in a specific format.Writer’s Digest’s Your Essential Synopsis Checklist provides a great starting place. Remember that some agents will want to see a long version or specify a shorter one, say two pages. I recommend having a couple of different versions of your synopsis ready to go for when you start querying.

It can get tricky trying to keep track of when you sent which query to what agent, especially when agents all have different response times (or nonresponse times as the case may be). The Writers in the Storm post Organizing This Mess – The Great Agent Search Part 3 provides an overview of using subscription-based tools like Writer’s Market or do-it-yourself Excel worksheets. PS. I’m using Excel and it’s going just fine.

Following Up, Requests, and Other Query Etiquette

When sending an agent a requested partial or full, it is a good habit to paste your original query letter into the document. That way if the agent is reading your partial away from their email – more and more true with the prevalence of ereaders – they still have all your contact and query information at hand.

Getting Past the Gatekeeper’s post On Checking In is a great resource for writer’s wanting to follow up with agents. This particular agent also believes that each writer gets one revision, if they go about it correctly (Getting Past the Gatekeeper’s “Here’s my revision, will you read it? How to Submit a New Draft). Follow her advice if you realize after much revising and hand-wringing you’d like to send a new version of your materials to an agent.

And remember, each email, each interaction you have with an agent, should be polite and professional, because at the end of the day, regardless of your dreams, publishing is a business.


The Call

What happens when you send the right query to the right agent? The agent will call the author and offer to represent them. Go ahead and cheer – after all this is a major accomplishment. But don’t let your joy overwhelm your common sense. There’s still work to do.

In fact, you should have a number of questions in mind when speaking to the person that will potentially represent you and your novel:

Most agents understand that they aren’t the only agent you’ve sent materials too, so do not be afraid to ask for references from current clients. You also want to give yourself enough time to contact other agents to see if they are interested in throwing their hat into the ring. BookEnds’s post You have an offer… is a good resource for this process.

Getting the call is a moment many writers dream of. But as agent Scott Egan cautions, Getting the Call Means Your Work Gets Harder, so be sure you are ready.


Don’t Give Up

The long query slog got you down? One blogger urges writers not to complain publicly, or stop writing, or get too impatient while waiting to hear back from agents in The Three Most Important Things Not To Do When Waiting To Get “The Call”.

Need help deciphering your rejection letters? Perhaps Adventures in Children’s Publishing’s The Writer’s Rejection Dictionary can provide some insight.

Alexis Grant’s post What I Learned from the Query Process provides a great overview of querying and ways you can learn from it.

What happens when you get close after countless rounds of queries and revisions? AuthorAllison Winn Scotch tackles this in Setting Aside a Beloved Manuscript.

Tinker with your query, trunk the novel and try something else, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

Other Resources

And as always, if you have any querying resources that you have run across, please share them in the comments. Thanks!
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