Thursday, October 30, 2008

Finding Treasures in the Strangest Places

We practically skipped fall here. One day we are wearing short sleeves and capris, and the next we are pulling out turtlenecks and ear muffs. Craziness, really.

So the kids' rooms suddenly look like their closets threw up piles and piles of clothes as we pull out the winter ones and try to find boxes for the summer ones. Goodbye shorts. Goodbye sundresses. Hello sweaters and sweatshirts.

This morning, as I piled the kids in the car in thirty-degree weather, I frantically shoved my way through the hall closet praying there were winter coats heavier than a hoodie that could keep my precious ones from freezing their tootsties off on the way to school. The fun thing about this?

All the way to school the kids were searching through the pockets finding treasures that had been packed away for months. The lost spiderman glove. The joker's ski hat tucked in the sleeve. Candy from Valentines. Pennies picked up off the sidewalk for good luck. Loads of Kleenex, some of which were actually clean.

Is there any better way to start a morning than finding things you didn't even remember you'd lost? It almost made up for the frost on the windows in October.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I'm watching Eli Stone tonight. I love this show, if for nothing else for the uniqueness of the premise: a lawyer that has visions - from God, or an aneurysm; it's unclear which. There are some stories I so wish I'd thought up: this is one of them. It is the fresh and completely undone take on what thousands of shows and books and movies have tried to do before: Taking on the underdog. Doing what is morally right, despite the fact that no one else understands.

I don't have visions. But I do have stories circling through my brain. Voices whispering. Characters finding their feet. There is a burden of baggage that is not my own. Like the feeling every time I begin a new book, it's like standing on the edge of a cliff about to jump. I'm beginning to feel the excitement that every new story brings with it. The hint of something great. Of something maybe bigger than me.

I feel sorry for people who are not writers, who do not hear the voices and feel the weight of a story that needs to be written down and shared. I was worried for a while I wouldn't hear it again. It was drowned by the hundred queries and agent bios for a short time, but as soon as I let go of that, they came back. Whispers. People. Stories.

The show ended with a line I think everyone want to hear someone say to them. So I'm saying it to you, whatever it is you do. Listen to the voice. Hear the calling on your life. Go after it.

"You're going to take long strides on the face of the earth, and with every step, you're going to change the world."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Change Is in the Air

Do you see something different?

It's those restless genes of mine... This is the cyber version of moving furniture around!

The funny thing is that I hate it when other people change their blogs... at least at first. I know y'all through your blogs. It's your internet face. It's who you are. So when you go changing, it makes it seem like you aren't the same anymore. Like a friend who comes back from vacation with a nose job and drastically different color hair.

And yet here I am, doing it. A complete face-lift.

I'm not really shaking off the old. It's more like I'm trying to find a face that's more me.

Stick with me as I tweak here and there and find my comfortable place. I may look different, but it's still me!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is Anybody Waiting to Tell Their Story?? It's Awfully Quiet In There

Fall is in the air. The weather is cooling down, almost to freezing at night. Short sleeves and capris are being exchanged for sweaters and jeans. The leaves are changing colors and falling all over my yard and driveway so that walking through them is like wading through deep waters. It feels like change is on its way.

I like the seasons so much because I am restless by nature. If we aren't moving every year, I'm moving furniture around. I like clothes for about five months and then I'm ready to switch out to something different, even if it's the same different I wore the past three years. I like routine, but I like change, sometimes, too.

My life is following the seasons this year, and as the leaves are falling and life around me is shifting in the slightest, subtle ways, my writing is too. In September I shifted writing to querying, giving myself until the month of November to query like mad, and then begin the process of writing again. A new season, a new book. It sounded so easy.

But like any change, I can look forward to it, welcome it with open arms, and then, once it arrives balk like crazy at it! Because change is hard, and often uncomfortable. And I miss what I'm leaving behind, even if it did drive me nuts and I am getting tired of it.

So, this last week of October, I am staring change in the face. Another book. I've waited for inspiration this month to hit, but it's more like a slow moving tortoise. Bit by bit I am getting characters, a feel of setting and smidges of interactions. But no real plot. And no real conflict. And I'm waiting for these guys to start talking to me, but they're pretty darn quiet and it's driving me mad! Is it possible I'm going to have to start them off on the road before they'll pick up the journey as their own?

And then, the New Writer's Handbook lands with a plop on my front porch, my glowing query printed in black and white, a small footnote spelling out that the novel referred to is "under consideration" at the time of publication. Ouch! It's not anywhere near consideration. It's under my bed chatting with the dust bunnies ashamed to show its face. But as I read the query again, all that love I felt for it came back. It was a great plot, I think. It had some great characters, I remind myself. Why did I give it up? Because three agents read it and commented that it just started a bit too slowly for them. Because in trying to spiffen it up, I lost my voice. I tried to make it what others thought it should be, and not what I wanted it to be. And after only 16 queries, I gave up. I put it away as my "starter novel." The one I cut my teeth on.

But the publication of the query reminded me that I wasn't the only one who thought the idea sounded good. Three of sixteen agents thought it sounded good too.

So now I am wondering: Do I try to kickstart a story that has no plot and no driving need to be told yet? Or do I dig out the book I buried as dead and try to revive it, imbue it with the life I've learned by writing my last book? Do I take the first book and revise, or take the idea and start all over with it and write a new book based on the same plot with the same characters? Do I wait a little longer for another story to gnaw at me?

Because the last time I was in this place I threw myself into pirates. Oh yes. A YA pirate novel based on the life of Blackbeard, with elements of fantasy in it. And just as I got rolling, SOME KIND OF NORMAL came busting through the gates demanding to be told.

I'm waiting for the demanding, but it's awfully quiet in here!

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing

Last night I was going through pages I had sent my review group of the end of my book and came upon a comment that gave me a good laugh, and also gave me pause to remember why I wrote it, and how far research and development of diabetes has come, and how thankful I am. And it's Friday, after all. Time to list the good things in my life, and believe it or not, as far as diabetes is concerned, there is a lot of good.

The section of writing was this:

It takes less than ten minutes to drive to the church, where I park illegally in a handicapped space and march directly to the kitchen. The hospitality committee is exactly where they always are this time each week, their gossiping echoing down the halls off the sanctuary, which might as well be called the sanctimonious. I forget which SAT week that one was.

They stop the gabbing as soon as I fill the doorway.

“The devil has arrived,” I say, staring them each down. Yolanda. Gloria. Brenda. Vickie. Dina. Jen. Dot. Erin. Alicia. And two dozen angel food cakes.

The amusing part that my critique partner caught? I used the names of several of my group members in this! And yes, I did that on purpose. Hey, if Nicholas Sparks can name his main characters after his kids, why can't I throw in a few extras named after the people who have helped me along the way?

While I stopped to chuckle at the comment my partner left ("I like it that Jen and I are on the hospitality committee, but angel food cake is not my specialty…"), it made me reflect on why I wrote this in the first place. Because the truth is, I am not a fan of angel food cake myself. But it is one of my early memories of living with a type 1 diabetic.

You see, my sister was diagnosed before me - by twenty years in fact. I could write a post someday called "Everything I learned about diabetes I learned from my sister," but the fact is that everything has changed so much since that time. And when it came time for birthdays, my mother made angel food cakes, with barely-pink tinted cool whip lite frosting that looked like clouds. Angel food cakes were, at the time, the promoted cake of diabetics. Low in sugar, low in fat. And low in taste, I thought.

I don't actually remember the last time my mom made an angel food cake for a birthday. My sister left for college three years before me, and somewhere in the time between when she left and I was diagnosed, diabetic care changed by drastic measures. Today, I can have whatever cake I want. Ice Cream. Chocolate. White layer with raspberry filling. Okay, in moderation for sure, smaller pieces than I might if I weren't diabetic, but still: the options are there. And they are there for a variety of reasons, which bring me to this Friday post:

These are the good things about being a diabetic today:

1. Short-acting insulin. When my sister was a kid, she took one shot a day, and the insulin lasted that long, peaking at certain times and falling at others before finally petering out. She had to eat when it peaked, and not eat when it didn't, and eat a certain amount and not any more or less than that, because otherwise her blood sugar would rise or fall dangerously high or low. It's a tightrope to walk, especially in the school system when you have no control over when your lunch is.

Today, I eat when I want. The insulin hits within ten minutes of taking it and leaves within a few hours - about the same amount of time it takes food to hit my bloodstream and be processed. If I want a little, I take a little. If I want more, I shoot up a little more. And if I'm sick or just not hungry, I don't have to eat. It sounds simple, something everyone takes for granted. But for a diabetic, it's an awesome thing!

2. Blood testing meters. When I was diagnosed the first thing they did was give me a meter and show me how to prick my finger and test how much sugar was in my blood. If diabetes is about your body not being able to process glucose on it's own, and taking shots of insulin to cover that glucose, it only makes sense that a diabetic would need to know exactly how much glucose is there to know how much insulin they need. But it wasn't always like that. Back in the day, not that long ago, it was all a guessing game. I don't ever remember my sister having a meter. Which probably explains why she's seen the back side of a coma more times than I can count, and I haven't.

And can I add here that I love that most meters now can calculate that number within five seconds? It used to be much longer, which is a pain when everyone is tapping their fingers at the dinner table or honking the car horn ready to back out of the driveway. It's inconvenient enough to have to do it ten times a day. At least now it doesn't take that long!

3. Carbohydrate Counting. I feel like this is a superpower. I am carbo-count-woman! With a single glance I can calculate how many carbohydrates are on that plate! Half-cup rice: 15 carbs. 15 Doritos: 15 carbs. Slice of bread: 15 carbs. Small tortilla: 36 carbs. Bacon: NONE! Slice of cake: a gazillion. Okay, my powers are a little limited, but still, I'm pretty good at math now, adding and dividing in my head. 45 carbs on my plate. 1 unit insulin for every 15 carbs. I need 3 units.

When my sister was a kid (do you see this pattern?), it was all guessing, just like the blood sugar. She took a certain amount of insulin, and then guessed about how much food she's need to cover it. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes not. Sometimes she had to eat more than she wanted, because by golly the endocrinologist told her she had to take 8 units (her ratio is different than mine) and then cover it with food. Now, I do the opposite. I figure out the food, and cover it with insulin.

4. Pumps. Insulin pumps, to be exact. The size of a cell phone, it clips on my pants or skirts and delivers a constant stream of insulin. No more shots!! Well, there is a needle to put the tubing in my abdomen, but that's only once every three or four days. No more not being able to have spontaneous meals/snacks/ice cream etc when I'm out because I don't have insulin or syringes with me. It's like a mini-pancreas! Except I still have to do the math right... it's not that smart! Yet.

Every time I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, I remember my sister and how it was to live with diabetes only a few decades ago. Research, technology, progress... it's all a very, very good thing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I've Been Published!

No, not my current novel. That would be a three exclamation point title!

This is, interestingly enough, something I never set out to publish. It's my first query, which I submitted to Jessica Faust in her pitch critique and which I received, if I may be so humble, rave reviews about.

Jessica's critiques caught the eye of Philip Martin, editor of The New Writer's Handbook, and he asked if he could include her advice about writing query pitches, and my submission as an example of how to write a pitch. How cool is that?!

The New Writer's Handbook is a terrific resource for writers, one of those books that can sit on the desk and be reached for over and over until the binding is worn loose and the cover worn thin. Here is the official write-up:

The New Writer’s Handbook, Vol. 2 is an all-new collection of articles (now in bookstores) to refresh and upgrade any writer's skills, with tons of advice on craft and career development. It delivers an eclectic mix of expert how-tos, stimulating pieces on creativity and professional issues, and broad encouragement for aspiring and experienced writers alike.

The 60-plus articles are chosen from best pieces of advice published mostly in the previous year in books, magazines, and online. Contributors include Tess Gerritsen, Lois Lowry, Ira Glass, and many other bestselling and award-winning authors, plus leading journalists, writing teachers, editors, agents, and literary bloggers.

In an inexpensive paperback edition, it serves up an annual professional-development seminar. For more info, visit

The editor, Philip Martin (Milwaukee) directs Great Lakes Literary (, and LitWave marketing for writers ( He is an award-winning independent writer, editor, and publishing consultant. For more, visit his blog at

The query I wrote for this was for my first novel, the one which this blog is named after, which has since been shelved for the time being. This entry in the handbook may not be a novel, or a short story, or something I can even proudly point to in my new query letter as a publishing credit, but still, it's my writing. And it's darn good at that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Guide To Publishing: Part 3: Finding an Agent for Your Novel

There are probably dozens of ways of finding agents to query. When I first started thinking of writing as a career, many, many years ago, the only way I knew was Writer's Marker, an annually published book that was probably out of date before it hit the shelves. I put my writing aside for a decade (or two) for my career and raising kids. In the meantime, the world moved on!

The advent of the Internet and blogging has drastically changed the availability of information and the timeliness of it. Hundreds of agents are at your fingertips, if you know how to find them.

The following is a list of websites that offer access to names of agents, including what they represent and, in some cases, personal remarks by others who have queried them. Some require registration but all are free, at least to some extent.

Absolute Write
Agent Query
Publishers Marketplace
Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR)
Writer's Free Reference
326 Fiction Literary Agents
Preditors and Editors

I'm sure every writer has their own way of choosing who to query, but I'll give you my quick rundown, which is thorough but time-consuming.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with a list of the agents and their agencies. It's important to have both because I want to make sure I'm not querying two agents at the same agency at the same time, generally considered a no-no. I may write down several agents from a single agency, and then query them one at a time. I have columns for the date I query, what materials I send (chapters or pages, synopsis, marketing, in general whatever that particular agent requests). I also have a column for the date of reply and what the response is, and a place to jot notes that might be pertinent, including if I choose, in my research not to query that agent. That way I know I already did the research and decided not to query them for some reason and I don't repeat all the research a week later forgetting about it.

For example, I've come across several agents that look like a perfect fit... except they say they don't rep children in peril. My main character's daughter is fighting off death. After coming across the same name several times and thinking, "Why isn't she on my list? She's perfect!" I find that nugget that says in small letters what I keep forgetting. Now my list tells me that I know about her and have ruled her out for this reason.

I started with Query Tracker because it is a great organizational tool. I punched in what kind of fiction I was writing and it generated a very long list of possible agents for me to add to my own personal list. I go through the list name by name. One of the great things about Query Tracker is that it also has links on each agent page for their AgentQuery Page and their Publishers Marketplace page, as well as the Preditors and Editors and their agency home page if they have one. It's one stop shopping! I can do a ton of research right off this page, as well as see comments other writer's have written about them.

If they look like a good match, I'll go ahead and mark them as a possible on my Query Tracker list and on the Excel spreadsheet. Now I have two lists going. The reason is because Query Tracker offers valuable options and information I come back to time after time, but it's incomplete. I often get names from other places as well - agents that go on my Excel spreadsheet but are not included on Query Tracker.

When I have a good size list, enough to really begin the process, I go down my list one by one, Googling the agent names to find interviews, comments, authors they represent, blogs... anything that will give me a better idea of what they are looking for and how I might fit into their client list.

It's not uncommon for me to have six windows open on my computer (thank you Mac!). By the time I send the query out, I'm confident the agent I'm sending it to is reputable and a reasonable fit.

It's not really important, I suppose, how I go about the process. You will find your own rhythm, your own way of creating your list of dream agents. If you find better resources, let me know and I'll add them here.

It's a daunting process, but you don't have to do it alone! Many of these websites offer the chance for writers to interact with each other, exchange information and recommendations and lessons learned, as well as encouragement. Sometimes agents even get involved with them, stopping by to explain a problem that seems to crop up or update what they are looking for.

My advice is not to pick one website and stick solely with that one. Research widely, query widely, hope hugely!

Good luck!

Friday, October 17, 2008

How To Get Your Novel Published: An addendum to Part II: The Query Letter

Yesterday I focused on what agents want out of query letters, but there are plenty of other places to get valuable help as well.

The very first resource I found was AgentQuery. It's an outstanding overview of queries, along with do's and don'ts and suggestions about how to make a query intriguing. It also has links to other websites, including query letters that have garnered an agent.

Which leads me to this addendum. It's not just what agents say that interests me. It's what they do. What kind of letters are they truly, actually responding to?

Here are some authors who have posted the query letter that landed them the agent and a published book:

Nicholas Sparks
Various Romance Authors
Lynn Flewelling
Sara Rees Brennan
Simon Haynes (From here there is a list of links to other author queries in what is known as "The Query Project")
Heather Brewer

(If you are an author and have landed an agent and would like to post your query here, or have me place a link to it, I'd love to do that!)

The thing to be careful of here is that there are many reasons someone may have gotten requests from an agent. It could have been that the plot overshadowed bad querying. It could be that the agent had some connection with the material (which is, actually, ideal if you can find that, the way I tried to find agents with some connection to diabetes).

Times change, too. With the acceptance of email, agents are getting hit much harder with queries. People who wouldn't invest in the money for stamps for 100 agents two years ago might well send out 100 emails today, and an agent who used to get 20 queries a day may be now getting 100. The more competitive the field, the more you need to WOW them, the less sloppy you can afford to be.

Here is another interesting post
about querying and breaking into the publishing world by a new author, David J. Williams, whose tongue-in-cheek approach to this topic made me laugh - in that sad, I-want-to-cry-because-it's-so-true kind of way.

And just for fun, because it's Friday:

Here's a great satire on writing the query letter

And here's what agents do on Friday night.

Phew. I think I'm done with queries. Next up, finding agents.

What if I were a writer?

I don't usually take online quizzes, but this one was too fun to refuse. Scary how accurate it is!

You Should Be a Film Writer

You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.

You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.

Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.

And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How To Get Your Novel Published: Or Part II: The Query Letter

There is a great Steve Martin saying my family loves to quote:

"How to get a million dollars without paying taxes: first, get a million dollars..."

The preface of this series of posts on How To Get Your Novel Published starts with this same philosophy: How do you get your awesome, fantastic, publishable novel published? Write an awesome, fantastic, publishable novel.

I'm not going to go into this aspect, but I am going to assume you have done that, or are in the process of doing it. The question is, how do you get that fabulous novel into the hands of a publisher?

There is the route of do-it-yourself publishing. There are plenty of places who would be glad to take your money and publish for you with little question. I wrote a post some time ago about weighing the options in self-publishing. If you're interested in it, it's here. For now, I'm going to focus on the more traditional publishing method: obtaining an agent.

Barring personal contact with an agent, through a writer's conference or a referral, the way to get an agent to read your manuscript is by sending them a query letter. A query letter is a short introduction of yourself and your book meant to get an agent's attention and get them wanting to read more.

If you Google "How to write a query letter" you'll find hundreds of websites on the issue. What I decided, after going through A LOT of them, is that the best way to know what an agent is looking for is to go directly to the source. In the end, I don't really care what magazine articles and writing websites say; I care about what an agent says he or she wants.

Many agents will list on their websites what they want in their queries, and if they have a blog, that's even better, but here are the most helpful ones I've found. From the mouths of agents:

Nathan Bransford gives a simple template here and dissects a good example here and here.

Agent Kristin Nelson explains the basic components and dissects one that caught her attention

Agent Rachelle Gardner reinforces that all agents pretty much want the same thing.

Agent Noah Lukeman wrote a book downloadable for free called How To Write A Great Query Letter

The Rosenberg Group says the same thing in their own way.

The Knight Agency has a page entitled Writing a Solid Query Letter, with extra links to other sites.

Andrea Brown Literary Agency lays out some do's and don'ts when writing a query.

Folio Literary Management posts what they expect on their submissions page.

There's no question that writing that great query letter isn't easy, but it isn't mysterious either. Every agent asks for basically the same thing:
  • Title of book
  • Genre of book
  • word count
  • very short synopsis or pitch
  • your bio
That's it. The difficult part is making those 300-400 words stand out among all the others. To help hone that skill, check out the following agent suggestions:

Jessica Faust of BookEnds Lit ran a pitch contest that evaluated dozens of pitches - that part of the query that sells the agent.

Daniel Lazar gave an interview and pointed out a few lines from queries that made them stand out, and how voice was conveyed through them.

Some agents, writers and articles advocate personalizing your query in the first paragraph. How do you know the agent? How did you find them? What books that they've repped have you read or liked, or which ones is yours similar to? Some agents will say they don't even look at that... they skip over to the part about the book.

Personally, I'm not sure it makes a huge difference. I've gotten requests from generic openings, and rejections from what I thought were powerful openings. Still, I do it as often as possible. It takes a lot of time to find that connection with an agent, especially after you've run through your top five or six. But I do it for me. Because each time I take the time to find out what it is that makes an agent perfect for me, I believe it myself. More than just a name on a page, more than a list of books and publishers and authors, the agents become "a great fit."

This is important because each rejection feels like the best agent drifting away, the next one not as good. Not as perfect. Until I make myself do the research to find out that they read the same books I do, they are native Texan like my main character, that they donate their services for a benefit for diabetes. Suddenly, they are the best.

Maybe if I believe it, they will too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How To Get Your Novel Published: Or Part I: How It All Began

When I was in high school I had the privilege of attending what was called Governor's School. I suppose on some level this was more a sign of geekdom - this being "selected" to go to summer school and being honored by it - but as the month-long program I attended was for the arts, I counted it as my summer of growing up.

I'd been away at summer camp here and there before this, but only for a week, and always with lots of conscientious adult (and semi-adult) supervision. But Governor's School was an entirely different beast. For one, it was held at a college. Mine was Radford, which was as far on the other end of the state as could possibly be, and, in the mountains at the edge of West Virginia, it might as well have been a different world.

(My husband passed through there once, on his way from Texas to D.C., and stopped for the night. He loves to tell the story about how he couldn't understand a word anyone said.)

Another reason it was different was that they treated us like college kids. Sure we had a curfew (midnight, I think, which was quite the treat!), but mostly, except for in class, we were on our own. Coming and going, on and off campus, wherever we liked. Classes were sporadic, a few a day, often taking place outside where we would be sent off to complete independent study assignments like rehearsing a scene from Midsummer's Night Dream in the woods, or to the recording studios to make commercials and do voice-overs.

And in class... well, suffice it to say no one treated us like high schoolers. Looking back I think all of the "teachers" (who were more like starving artists in need of a paycheck) were thrilled to usher us into adulthood. We had long philosophical conversations, many extremely heated, about things no high school teacher would have tolerated. We saw movies no public school district would have sanctioned. The artists had freedom to create, paint, draw, sculpt whatever tickled their fancy. The dancers explored decidedly edgy forms of dance. Us theatre folks performed plays with none of the restriction imposed by an administration. It was liberating, in a very non-90210, non-gossip girl, non-risque kind of way. After all, it was the 80s.

It's funny, some of the details I remember of that time. Bacon in the cafeteria for breakfast. Hanging out at the Barstow Theatre watching West Side Story. Getting the lead in a dance show, despite being the resident wallflower of the theatre department. Doodling quotes all over my notebook during the philosophy class.

And this is what lead me to this post. Those quotes. Even after all these years (over twenty!), I remember those quotes. Some deep, some funny, some provocative. Like the one I thought about tonight.

"A critic telling an actor how to act, is like a virgin telling a whore how to make love."

I'm sure it sticks out because it was the first time I had ever written the words virgin or whore, and it felt a bit rebellious to do so. But I loved the sentiment. It was sort of an in-your-face saying that gave me the right to tell someone who criticized me, Hey, if you're so good, you get up here and do it!

It's this reason I've batted around the idea for the next post or two for a while, going back and forth between whether I should or shouldn't. You see, the last year or so I've been finding out how the publishing business works. Almost exactly one year ago, I was finishing the first draft of my first book, and someone told me, "You should get that published."

Actually, I'd never thought about that. I wanted to write it, sure, but publish? That seemed so... well... real. But then I did start to think about it, and I started to search the Internet for how to go about getting published. And I learned it ain't so easy.

When I finished the final version of my book in January, I attempted a very half-hearted stab at finding an agent, and quickly gave in to the more enjoyable activity of writing another book.

And now, I am here again. And in the last year I have learned a lot about the process of getting an agent, although what comes after that is somewhat still a mystery to me, since I'm not there yet. But finding all that information, all that how-to-find-an-agent stuff, took a long time. It's there; it just isn't all in one place.

And that made me begin to wonder if I couldn't do that. A very modest compilation of what I've learned, websites that help, how I go about finding the 100 agents on my list and sending queries to them. Not to actually give the advice, but to compile links to the advice, so that someone, like me a year ago, wouldn't have to muddle through it all alone, picking up on the important information little by little, making lots of mistakes along the way.

So I've decided to do it, with the encouragement of one of my writing partners. I'm walking a fine line, I realize, trying not to be the virgin telling the whore, or even the virgin telling the virgin. After all, I don't have an agent yet. But I do have a lot of information.

So over the next few days I'll try to post as much as I can, from the beginning through choosing an agent. If I miss great websites and information you know of, feel free to drop me a line or include it in the comments, and I'll add it in.

Really, everything I'm going to include you could find yourself on Google. That's mostly how I did it. And I recommend you do. Google brings up a treasure trove of tidbits, thousand of sites I can't list here. But if you need a start, or another way of doing it, I'm here for you. Me in all my unagented splendor, at your service.

Tomorrow: the query letter; after that, where to find agents and what to look for. After that, who knows?

Ah! The fun begins...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Random Thoughts from the Query World

I am querying, in case you haven't gotten that far in this blog. And this, I've discovered, can be a very interesting process. And, if I'm willing to put my own self-esteem on the back burner, it can be pretty funny, In that ironic, what-they-heck-are-they-thinking kind of way.

Yesterday I was filling out one of those on-line submission forms (which I hate, by the way, because they don't allow you to personalize and tell the agent exactly why they are perfect for this project). This particular submission form, unlike most generic agency forms, was on a particular agent's page. Apparently each agent in the agency has a form on their own page, thus allowing you to query a specific agent instead of the agency as a whole. Which is a huge plus.

Except this form asked, at the end, if this was a multiple query.

I stared at this question for an impossibly long time. Did she possibly mean was I querying any other agent, anywhere? Surely not! Who only queries one agent at a time? If you are suppose to query 100 agents before you give up, I'd be dead before I got to 30 at the rate they are responding.

So I went with the logical conclusion and decided she meant, "Are you querying anyone else in this agency at the same time?" I checked no.

Then on the next agents' website, the submission guidelines read as follows:

"We usually respond in 6-9 weeks if we are interested. If you haven't heard back from us by that time, feel free to query elsewhere."


So maybe I should have checked yes? 40 times?

Monday, October 6, 2008

In Which I Examine My Grapes to Make Sure They Aren't Sour

After an exhausting last week - mostly just because nothing about the week was routine - I am taking time today to get caught up and back on track.

So what am I doing?

Sending out ten more queries (yes! TEN!) and curling up to finish a fantastic book called "Possum Summer," coming soon to a bookstore near you! One of the very best things about writing groups, aside from the great banter and friendships and the imaginary drinks at the imaginary beach house, is getting to read some amazing writing... before everyone else gets to read them!

On a totally different topic...

Entertainment Weekly magazine has a story this week on Nicholas Sparks. I've actually read almost every book he wrote (I am obsessive that way... I hoard an entire author's collection and read them one after another). I haven't read his latest, and I will say I found some of his books to be much better than others, and all of them light, airy readings. My favorite actually is his memoir, Three Weeks With My Brother.

I think I liked it best because it gave me such insight in his real life, and becoming a writer, and what it is like to have a dream but have a real life that takes precedence. And because, for the entire book, I kept thinking, "How in the world did he and his brother ever survive childhood??!!"

Much has been written about Sparks, and said about his books, and not all nice things. But what always surprises me about articles like the Entertainment Weekly one is that it leaves out what is, for me, the largest piece of the puzzle. The article gushes over his dedication to writing and the numerous movies made of his books, and the fact that he has written fourteen books in fourteen years, and isn't that something? No wonder he's so famous!

And yet, he was famous after only one book.

As a writer, the question I want to know is: how does an unknown person write a book that becomes a bestseller immediately, and go on to become a household name with a seemingly endless line of books and movies to follow? What makes him different than, say, me?

The answer my friends? MEDIA!

After Sparks had an agent, the CBS news show 48 Hours decided to do a story called The Making of a Bestseller. They followed Sparks around, sat in on his meetings, filmed his promotional dinners and, in general, created a huge marketing blitz for Sparks that was completely free. Before Sparks first novel The Notebook even hit shelves, the American public was introduced to him and the book in a way most authors couldn't even dream. Primetime TV folks.

I'm not one to ever downplay anyone's success as a writer. There's no question that Sparks works hard, is committed to writing every day and has a very loyal following. But when you read articles like this week's EW, it makes you think this is possible for anyone, anyone with a good story and a dedication to writing 2,000 words a day.

There is a certain amount of randomness in this business. One that we as authors have no control over.

I'm not complaining about it. I just think, when columnists write about how successful an author is, there should be some nod given to the cosmic circumstances that brought that author to the forefront of the American attention. Because I can guarantee, more times than not, it's not the amount of people reading the books.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ocean Deep

There is something about the ocean that draws me. The vastness of it maybe. The fact that it is, to a great extent, unexplored. That there are still mysteries in it. That it sustains life, and takes it. That it is beautiful and serene at times, and other times uncontrollably powerful.

Right after my husband and I started dating, he drove me from Texas to California to see the Pacific Ocean. He had grown up there, and I, on the east coast. As we sat the first night on huge boulders along the shore in Monterey, listening to the waves crashing and watching the sun set, he said, "I always come out here when life seems confusing or too big for me. It all makes sense here."

It's that way for me too.

I'm not near an ocean, now, but I could really use one. Instead, I turn to something else that settles my soul: beautiful words. I love reading books of all kinds, and heaven knows these days the lyricism and beauty of words is pushed aside for breakneck plots and over-the-top characters. Not that I don't love those books: they are so entertaining and easy to get wrapped up in. And they fit my dwindling attention span as my eyes can race over the words at top speeds.

But beautiful words, poetic use of language, is harder to find these days, and harder to pay attention to. It takes slowing down and taking in each word and holding the thoughts close and pondering them. Appreciating complex grammar and imagery.

True, beautiful literature is like my balm, sometimes, and so, last night when life seemed loud and overwhelming and the depression I've fought off closing in, I went to my library and pulled a book off the shelf. One I've been meaning to read for a long time but seemed too daunting to try in the tornado that is my life.

Moby Dick.

And in the first paragraph I felt like it was about me:

"I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before the coffin warehouses...I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can... There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feeling towards the ocean with me."

It is a damp, drizzly November in my soul. But as I cannot go to sea, instead I go to book, and feel the beautiful balm of words rock me to peace.