Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009 - And Good Riddance

Yes, I completed my novel. And the kids remained healthy and happy. Other than that, 2009 goes down as the worst year since 1980, when my girlfriend was killed by a drunk driver, and 1983, when another girlfriend broke my heart into teensy-weensy tiny shards, stitched it back together, and broke it once again with piercing finality. TMI? Screw it, it's Thursday.

2009? A recession-wracked financial train wreck, Travener's life savings flitting out the door like so much laundry lint. A maddening search for an agent. Stress, worry, gloom.

So, 2009 -- fuck off and die.

2010's gonna be the year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Free to Good Home: A First Line

Here's a great first line for a novel, for anyone who wants it:

I'm the guy who always gets the shopping cart with the gimpy wheel.

You can credit me in the acknowledgments. You're welcome.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Book Rocks

I finished editing the ms. on the computer (still have the printed-out red-inking to do) and made very few changes. Unbelievably enough, found one error ("somber" when I'd meant "sober").

More important, I like my novel, you know? I hadn't read it all the way through in four months and I found myself as I "turned" the pages wanting to know how it all comes together -- even though I know how it ends! I laughed at the jokes. I mean, maybe I'm completely delusional, but after all the self-doubt occasioned by so many rejections, it's nice to once again feel good about what I've written -- a solid, entertaining novel.

Take that, agents.


Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Four Freaking Months Already!

If nothing else, this search for an agent has given me a perspective on how slowly things sometimes move. And I used to work for the government! My ego, always fragile, has been ground beneath the hobnailed boots of the soulless agent wielding the form rejection. My sanity, to which I am tethered by a thin thread, has been tested by multiple attempts to craft the perfect, exactingly perfect, query letter. My hair has gotten a little thinner on top because I keep pulling it out as I try to divine the essential key to unlocking an agent's heart and mind.

Oh, well, what's to do except plunge on, right? It's The System, after all, and you can't beat The System. Sure, sometimes you can, but usually you wind up with something worse, viz., the Bolshevik and Iranian revolutions.

Inspired by some suggested edits by cyberpal Lt. Cccyxx, I took the red pen to chapter one, line by line. I didn't change all that much but did flick away an unnecessary phrase here and there, rearranged some sentences. Generally, "polished" the already beeswaxed verbiage. I'm halfway done with editing the ms. on the computer and will print it out for the, uhm, I don't know, thirteenth or fourteenth time and red-ink it chapter by chapter. That, and having the kids home, will keep me occupied for the next couple of weeks.

Then, the new year...and The Plan. (Cue eerie music.) More on that in a later post...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Cure for the Blahs -- Writing

Spent the morning revising chapter one. Didn't change much, but tweaked, polished, cut some excess. The whole week's been crap up to this point, but now I feel revivified. Hope to get the same effect as I go through the other 28 chapters. And just a few days ago I didn't want to think about the book anymore. Moral of the story: I'm a mass of contradictions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Plan B...Or Is It Plan C?

K.M. had some interesting things to say about my query after I won a critique in a contest she had on her blog Moomurs. The dilemma being, as I see it, how much to give away in a query, how much to hold back to pep up the intrigue level. Anyway, in addition to Query Version 4.0 I now have Version 4.0B and come January I'll split my querying between the two versions and see what difference it makes, if any.

I've also decided that I need to really redo my synopsis in a narrative fashion to replace the sort of blow-by-blow type I've now got. That's my holiday writing task.

What most concerns me, though, is my first chapter. I like it. My beta readers liked it -- or at any rate, none of them told me it sucked. But is it turning off those agents who've had partials and fulls or the first few pages? Or is it something else? The elusive "voice"? Or ... or what? Without any feedback, I don't know.... I might rewrite the whole thing and only do myself damage. It's exceedingly frustrating, my dear friends.

I am going to go through the whole manuscript again over the holidays, in addition to doing another synopsis. One of my friends finally coughed up a list of errors/oddities he'd found, and though I'd been through the ms. at least a dozen times, I'd missed a couple of real dumb errors -- writing "surgical sutures" when I'd meant "surgical tubing" and saying someone had a "kung fu mustache" when I meant "Fu Manchu mustache."

I mean, that last one is pretty embarrassing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some Fucking Christmas Present, This...

Well, my full just got turned down. Excuse me while I mutter, "Fuck, fuck, fuck." While "you're a good writer" is included in the rejection, the rest is all boilerplate, so I think we can rest assured the "good writer" crap is just part of what is a form rejection. Once again, no way to know if the agent read one page or ten or the whole thing, or none of it, or even if it was just his assistant, an intern, or who the fuck knows, his next-door neighbor doing the reading. Seriously, I'd almost rather get something that said, "Listen, this is one fucked-up book. Do yourself a favor and take a course in computer programming or something."

On the "bright" side, this agent usually takes six months to get around to dealing with fulls, so at least I didn't have my hopes strung out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How Can You Laugh...

Don't know why I have the blahs this morning. A couple rejections dribbled in over the weekend in the mail, but that's hardly novel. (Ha. A pun.)

Should be in a good mood: the house is all Christmasy now, with a nicely decorated Fraser fir and the usual mantelpiece stuff.

Can't explain it, but...blah. Blah. Down on the ground.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If You Don't Hear Within 24 Hours...

Here's some interesting stats. From my admittedly small sample, it seems if you're going to get a positive response to your e-query, it's going to happen almost overnight. Of the five (count 'em! five!) positive responses to e-queries I received (2 partials, 2 fulls, 1 send-me-a-chapter), four were received within one day of sending the query; the fifth took 12 days. The overall median response time, positive and negative, was 4.5 days. About 70% of responses were received in a week or less. The longest took 43 days to dribble in to say fuck off. This is, of course, counting only those agents who bothered to respond.

Make of it what you will.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Query Vacation

I'm on query vacation till after the holidays. Feels weird not to be sending anything out.

In other, somewhat disturbing news, I seem to be losing interest in my book. It's not that I don't think it's good, not that I'm going to stop querying it, I just...well, I just don't like thinking about it much anymore.

Is this normal, you think?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tag, I'm It

OK, so Amber "tagged" me, which means I gotta answer the questions below. In turn, I'm gonna tag Jenn and Too Cute so now they gotta do the same. If they want.

What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
Last thing: my novel. I still have an Ali Baba-type story I wrote in third grade lying around some place.
Write poetry?
Not since high school.
Angsty poetry?
See above.
Favorite genre of writing?
That I write (suspense, thriller) or that I read? I'm a very eclectic reader of commercial and literary fiction.
Most annoying character you've ever created?
All my characters are endearing. I'm the annoying one.
Best plot you've ever created?
The one in my novel. The latest one, I mean.
Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
The last two paragraphs of my novel. You don't see it coming.
How often do you get writer's block?
For years at a time.
Do you type or write by hand?
Type. I don't have the patience to write longhand.
Do you save everything you write?
Alas, yes.
Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abadoned it?
No. Once you're dead to me, you're dead to me.
What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
My novel. The latest one, I mean.
What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?
I have no idea.
Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
What's you favorite setting for your characters?
How many writing projects are you working on right now?
One, sort of.
Have you ever won an award for your writing?
Only in my imagination.
What are your five favorite words?
"Lie back and enjoy this." (Heard only in my imagination.)
What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Many -- but not in anything I ever finished. Perhaps a lesson in that.
Where do you get ideas for your characters?
Life, movies, images in my head.
Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Other than my dream of getting published, no.
Do you favor happy endings?
Yes, but with some ambiguity.
Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
No. I have always been able to write well. Whether I can write fiction well is another question.
Does music help you write?
Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.
"His touch was electric."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Meaning of Rejections

Editorial Anonymous has a very funny post on the "meaning" to be divined from form rejections. I give it four stars.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sex, Sex and More Sex

Ha, that got your attention, didn't it? Expressing my love of certain female attibutes over on Tinn Lynn's Sweet Niblets blog (it occurs to me as I write this that I was praising a certain sort of sweet niblets), I recalled the most recent Bad Sex Writing Award.

I will never win one, because, despite the potty mouth and being comfortable with sex itself, I feel uncomfortable writing about it. My sex scenes, such as they are, are tame. She takes off her bra and hurtles herself at him...and then the next thing you know it's over and they're resting in bed smoking cigarettes and talking forensic crap. That kind of thing. Just like in a PG-13 movie.

Dialogue I can do. Writing about sex I can't (Sierra -- I mean, "won't"). I figure if I ever have to have an honest-to-gods sex scene I will steal it from the one in Snow Falling on Cedars, which is both lovely and erotic.

What about you? Any hot sex scene in your MG novels? Any paranormal zombie/vampire sex?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Publishing Tortoise - An Advantage?

It has occurred to me that the fact the publishing industry moves with all the dispatch of a glacier made of molasses might be an advantage in the current economic environment (which is to say, the current fucked-up recession). By the time we get an agent to review our query, ask for a partial, get around to reading the partial, ask for a full, get around to reading the full, sign us, send us some revision ideas, wait for our revisions, review our revisions, come up with a submission plan, and finally get around to submitting our work to editors, the economy should have perked up considerably -- if the history of past recessions is any guide -- and publishing houses should be looking to increase their lists. (Actually, given their long lead times, if the publishing industry acted like any other, publishers should have been increasing their lists this year in anticipation of increased demand next year.)

Because frankly, if history betrays us and things actually get worse, we should drop all our current projects and start writing nothing but post-apocalyptic novels like The Road.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OK, Now I'm Feeling...Full

TGIF (Thank God It's a Full)...request, that is. Two days from e-query to request. Long-term outlook still down in the dumps, for lots of reasons, short-term outlook definitely perkier: I no longer feel like the most untalented wretch around. Before anyone, especially me, gets too excited, this is an agent with a reputation for taking a long, long, long time to review manuscripts. Still, it definitely beats the continual drumbeat of "no" or worse, the dead silence...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

100 Fraking Days

It's now 100 days into the quest, and I'm no further along than I was on Day 2 -- one partial out there. The difference is that on Day 2 I had a sort of giddy, enthusiastic optimism, and now I feel like I'm adrift on a leaky life raft without oars or sail, hustled hither and yon by currents I don't understand, powerless.

Excuse me as I try to get a grip and remind myself that I'm an adult.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tales From the Slush Pile

This piece in Seattle's alternative weekly The Stranger by The Rejectionist, entitled, "A Good Author is Hard to Find," regales the reader with tales of the misbegotten and miserable that the agent's assistant must contend with. It's fun reading. But it also prompts the question: for those of us (which clearly includes the regular followers of this blog) who can, you know, write, who use proper spelling and syntax and grammar and don't have a hellacious premise, why the fuck is this so hard?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Got Nuthin'

Since I've been in a frak-this sort of mood for the past few days, I began to wonder if I'd still want to write if I hadn't read The Cruel Sea in ninth grade -- because it was immediately on finishing it that I decided I wanted to be a writer. I suspect I would. So then I began to wonder what impelled others to write. You tell me. Did you have a Cruel Sea-type epiphany of your own? Was your desire to write the culimination of a long journey? Or have you just always known you wanted to write?

Despite my current state of humorless blahness, I know I have a lot to be thankful for. Being lucky enough to be born in what is, despite its many imperfections, the most gloriously wonderful country in the world. Two smart, well-adjusted kids whom I love more than life itself. Stuff like that. Happy Thanksgiving to my loyal followers -- and anyone else who drops by today.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Born Under a Bad Sign

No sooner had I posted my chipper, "Jennifer Juniper"-inspired post (see below) than Donovan's little ditty was blown out of my brain and a darker tune started playing. Into my in-box came an e-mail from the agent who'd had my full for over two months, containing a form rejection. No feedback. No way to know if she stopped reading at page one, page five, page fifty...or even read it at all. A serious bummer of a day followed. If I'd had a tube of cookie dough I would have eaten all of it. So much for the "perspective" I so gamely claimed to have found just a couple of days ago. I'd feel better about this if I had another three or four or five partials or fulls out there but as we all know, I don't. Tell 'em how I feel, Starbuck...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jennifer Jackson vit sur la colline

I don't read agent blogs much anymore. After weeks and weeks of reading about what to do and what not to do with queries, I don't think it's likely I'm going to miss some new, essential, invaluable nugget of info. I rely on other blogs to highlight anything I might want to read. And I don't really worry about what my royalty statements are going to look like (I should be so lucky).

I do still read Janet Reid religiously, even though she had the audacity to form-reject my query (Version 1.0), because she's still funny and takes no prisoners and I admire that. I check in with Nathan Bransford every so often (I am the only person in America who hasn't queried him), particularly his "This Week in Publishing" feature. But mostly I confine my publishing-related blog reading to Literary Rejections on Display, the Rejecter and the Rejectionist (notice a trend?).

However, I always check Donald Maass Literary's Jennifer Jackson every Friday afternoon (she too gave the boot to Version 1.0) for her "Letters From the Query Wars." If you're not familiar with them, they usually read something like this: "# of queries read this week: 275, # of partials/manuscripts requested: 0."

Even considering that Jackson is, thanks to her blog's notoriety, one of the most-queried agents around and further that some not-insignificant portion of her queries comes from the clueless and semi-literate, the fact that she requests a partial or ms. only once every two or three weeks (i.e., one out of 500-800 queries) gives me hope that maybe my query success/failure rate is not so bad after all. And that is why, as the week goes by, I'm wondering, Qu'est-ce que tu fais, Jenny mon amour?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

90 Days, 90,000 Words of Crap

If you'd told me 90 days ago that by this point all I'd have gotten out of my query quest is two partial requests, one full request, and a boatload of rejections, I'd...well, I don't know what I'd have said to you, but I wouldn't have believed it. Not that I hadn't read some stuff indicating the process could, you know, take some time, but...well, that wasn't relevant to me, right? I mean, my book's different, you know....

I didn't feel that way because I have a huge ego. I'm wracked with insecurities. (And not just about writing.) My usual way of describing my novel to friends gushing over my "success" as a writer is to proudly aver, "Well, it may be 90,000 words of crap, but it's 90,000 words."

Here's the funny thing. I seem to have developed perspective. So this is all the farther I've gotten in 90 days? Pfftt. C'est la guerre. That full request from early September that I haven't heard a peep about? Ah, maybe I'll nudge in January. Or February. It may take another three months just to gin up one more request for a partial? Feh. It's like I've just accepted this crazy system as...normal.

"The Waiting Is the Worst Part"

So says Nathan Bransford who lasted a week and a half before freaking out about there being no replies in his in-box to his queries about his novel. As someone in the comments said, if only all agents were trying to pitch a book, maybe they wouldn't make the rest of us wait so long.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Titles -- the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I just finished reading a novel entitled Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. When I saw that title in the library, I had to pick up the book. How could I not? Titles sometimes work that magic on me -- The Yiddish Policemen's Union and When Skateboard Will Be Free are a couple others that drew me in. But most titles are pedestrian, dull or worse.

What about you? What titles do you find entrancing? How much thought have you given to the title of your own book?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'm a Big Dope

Evidently misreading the bios on one agency's website, I sent a submission to someone who only handles foreign rights and is not, in fact, an agent. Duh. A metaphor for much of my queryquest.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Some Rejections Don't Faze Me

So, Mr. Big Shot Agent with a backlist as long as your arm whizzed an e-mail rejection my way as soon as my snail-mailed submission came over his transom, and I just nodded and updated the stats box, my spreadsheet, and my QueryTracker list and that was that. I was much more upset that I didn't win the state lottery.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Livin', Lovin', She's Just An Agent...

It occurred to me, as I was thinking about the things I dislike about the agent search, that there must be something I like about it. Hate is the flip side of love, right? To achieve karmic balance in the universe, something must be enjoyable in this quest.

First, a quick reminder of what I hate/dislike/am frustrated about (as if you need one): waiting for a response (patience is a virtue I apparently do not have); agents who don't respond at all; not knowing if your rejected query was seen by an actual agent or only a 19-year-old intern; not knowing, if you've sent along a chapter or two or three with your query, whether the agent/intern looked at the writing before rejecting you; having one's publishing hopes attached to the very narrow thread of a single query letter. I'm sure I could go on and on.

That's the easy part. Now, what do I like about this process? Feedback, certainly -- I only got it once, but it was helpful, and nice to know there was an actual human on the other end. I've learned an awful lot about how publishing works ("works," is perhaps more accurate) in a short space of time. I've enjoyed reading agent blogs, even the snarkiest of them, and am grateful for their advice. Feeling that I'm part of a community of writers trying to get published. The grueling nature of the process has forced me to focus harder on my query letter and which agents to target (I can't say I've enjoyed that, but it has been useful).

So, what about you? Got anything good to say for this crazy system of snaring an agent?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hooray for Holly Root

A loud round of applause for Waxman Literary's Holly Root, for writing this sensible piece demystifying the query process and telling everyone to chill out a little. Here's some pithy quotes:

If you really read and adhered to every.single.thing. every agent said online you would never finish a book or a query letter....

I have heard from so many writers who are terrified of "offending" agents or breaking some rule. Nothing about this process should be anywhere near that scary.... It's publishing -- not nuclear disarmament. I am an agent, not Emperor Palpatine.

OK, let's agree not to make her regret writing this by all querying her at once.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Now?

If you've been reading this blog awhile you know that I was determined at one time to keep 20-25 queries "out there" at all times. Well, this has dwindled to seven, as you can see. (Technically there are still 25, because I went back on my resolve to count as rejections those agents who haven't responded in a dog's age -- by the way, that's a weird expression, isn't it? -- and moved them into their own category, "Lost at Sea." I did this, I confess, because the number of rejections in the old stats box was depressing the hell out of me. It's psychologically comforting to keep that number down, even if it requires legerdemain and bogus accounting practices.)

Anyway, as I was saying -- what now? I sometimes feel like I'm going to run out of literary agents to query, though I've got this huge effin' list of unqueried agentes de la genre de mysteries y suspense/thrillers, so I don't know WTF I'm worried about. Still, I can't work up the enthusiasm to cut and paste the query letter into an e-mail or print it out and make up another SASE. I don't want that pile of rejections to get bigger -- even though they're not really rejections of my book, just my query letter. So I'm just sitting here like a lump on a log -- another weird expression -- and doing nothing. Nothing at all.

UPDATE: Well, you can see I got off the log and sent out a few queries. WTF. It can't hurt, right?

Monday, November 2, 2009

17 Things You Don't Know About Me

As promised, here are 17 things you don't know about me. If you haven't already done so, check the post below to see if you won a Big Litowski Golden Pin Award.

1. I do not currently own a dog.
2. I am distantly related to Sam Houston.
3. I grew up in Tucson.
4. My favorite movie is not The Big Lebowski; it's Bladerunner.
5. I once watched the July 4th fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House.
6. I have never been thin. Ever.
7. I drink scotch, never bourbon.
8. My favorite Beatles song is "Norwegian Wood."
9. I rode in an elevator with Sophia Loren and was very rude to her.
10. I have lived in or visited 42 countries, not counting airports.
11. The best decision I ever made was taking my family to New York to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
12. My favorite color is purple.
13. I speak Italian.
14. The one thing I really hate is hypocrisy.
15. I have never had sex in a car; once on the beach, though.
16. If I had it all to do over again, I'd be an archaeologist.
17. My favorite meal is corned beef and cabbage. Seriously.

Friday, October 30, 2009

And the Award Goes To...

Welcome to the first annual Big Litowski Golden Pin Awards! Following in the footsteps of Tina Lynn at Sweet Niblets, I've decided some of my Followers and regular readers deserve some special recognition. Here, in no particular order, are the winners!

The Firstest With the Mostest Golden Pin goes to
Abby for being the first to find, comment on, and become a Follower of The Big Lit, making my day, something she still does regularly with her insightful commentary.

The Thoroughbred Golden Pin goes to
Amber, the Louisville Filly, who always cheers me up with her humor and sensibility.

The Intellectual Soul-Mate Golden Pin goes to
David, our UK ally in the query wars, for elucidating so well the tribulations of the writer's life.

The Are You Experienced? Golden Pin goes to
Jennifer for loving Hendrix and for her always empathetic notes.

The Inspiration Golden Pin goes to
Tina Lynn. This is really a three-fer: (1) for inspiring me to give out these awards; (2) for inspiring me to name 17 Things You Don't Know About Me (coming soon to a blog post near you!) and (3) for having the nicest damn smile ever!

The Best Blog Handle Golden Pin goes to
Too Cute to be Very Interesting. This is self-explanatory.

The Miss Snark Lives Golden Pin goes to
Dawn because she never fails to crack me up with her wicked sense of humor. Also, her blog has an adults-only disclaimer. I mean, fuckin'-A, Dawn!

The Voice of Reason Golden Pin goes to
Jm Diaz for always grounding me in reality when I need it the most.

The Wise Owl Golden Pin goes to
Steve for his infrequent, but invariably sage, advice and counsel.

The Best Blog Name Golden Pin goes to
Literary Cowgirl. I mean, "Horse Shit, Stilletos and Rosin." You gotta love it. She should also get some kind of award for most interesting background: infantry soldier, bronc rider, pipeline worker, survival instructor, writer...!

The Fellow Fed Golden Pin goes to
Lt. Cccyxx because he understands what it means to be inside the belly of the Beast. He should also get an Honorable Mention for his blog handle, though I can't figure out how to pronounce it.

Thanks, guys -- I love having you along for the ride.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Query's 100 Percent Success Rate!

As I mentioned in an update in the comments to the previous post, I snapped off Query Letter Version 4.0 last night to an agent with a reputation for quick responses. I woke up this morning to a request for a partial. So -- woohoo! Version 4.0 is far!

UPDATE: Of course, now I'm afraid to look at my e-mail, terrified he'll take one look at my first few pages, say, "What load of crap is this?" and reject me. (How's that for self-confidence?) I want this heady feeling to last at least a couple of days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Query Letter, Version 4.0

OK, so I redid it -- again. Put back a little of the mystery I'd taken out before, threw in a couple of new elements, tried to put a bit more conflict in there... Oh, who the fuck knows if this is better or not? I sure as hell don't.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

There's Too Much Confusion. I Can't Get No Relief.

Well, my dear baker's dozen of readers, as the song* says, "there's too much confusion." In August I sent out 29 queries to a batch of agents, some of whom, in retrospect, were probably not an appropriate choice for my novel. I did this with a query which, in retrospect, I concluded was weaker than it might have been. I got three positive responses -- a success rate of over 10 percent.

Since August I've sent out 26 queries to a better-targeted bunch of agents with what I sincerely think is a better query letter. The result? Nothing, nada, nil, bupkis, zilch, the sum of fuck-all. A success rate of -- the math is easy to do -- zero percent.

WTF? What conclusion should I draw from this? If I'm ever going to get some agents to actually, you know, read the damn thing, should I be sending out the flawed query to a randomly chosen batch? Am I supposed to sit down with the "bad" query letter that gets good results and the "good" query letter that gets bad results and tell them to settle their differences, mate, and produce some shiny baby masterpiece of a query letter? Should I target my agents by tossing darts at a list of their names? I mean, seriously, WTF?

* Bob Dylan, "All Along the Watchtower"

Friday, October 23, 2009


Well, if'n you check the stats, you'll see the verdict on my outstanding partial is finally in, and it's November Oscar (i.e., No). Bah. I suspect my dissing was part of a general housekeeping but of course there's no way to know that for sure.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Query a Day Keeps the Nuthouse at Bay...

I couldn't stand it. I had the query heebie-jeebies, that antsy feeling that comes when you're not flinging queries into the void and just checking your e-mail a hundred times a day to see if something, anything, anything at fucking all, has arrived.... So I broke my resolve not to query more for awhile and fired a single salvo -- to California this time, my first non-NY agent target.

I'm good for now, but I'm an addict. A query addict. I need rehab.

Anybody got the address of Queryholics Anonymous?

UPDATE: Well, this is...interesting. Not fifteen minutes after I sent the above-mentioned query, a form rejection came screaming in from another agency. It's as if I prodded the cyberbeast into action. Hmm...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Months In...

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of the third month of The Quest. (The word "quest" always reminds me of the movie Quest for Fire, summed up neatly by comedian David Steinberg as, "Caveman goes off in search of fire and discovers fellatio.") Anyhoo, some reflections.

There are innumerable frustrations and disappointments in The Quest -- the waiting, the self-doubt, the rejections, the not-knowing if your query's been dissed by an assistant or an actual agent. The only part of it I actually hate is the non-response: bad as a rejection might be, it's preferable to an e-query sitting out in cyberspace like a big matzoh ball, completely unremarked-upon. I still say there's no excuse for this, as I did in this post.

From all the reading I've done on the internets, it's clear agents have their different styles. Some allow queries to build up like an enormous mound of autumn leaves, then every so often plunge in and purge the pile. Others never take more than a day or two to respond. Others just close themselves to queries periodically and work all the way through their backlog. Hard to say which style, if any, is superior. One does wonder if the slowpoke agents don't miss the occasional blockbuster or literary gem -- you snooze, you lose, right?

For me the angst of the search is compounded by the fact that I quit my very well paid day job with the Very Important Organization to devote myself to house-husbanding and writing while the spousal unit decided to embark on a real-estate career just in time for the biggest crash in real estate since the Great Depression (thank you, Wall Street). For a lot of complicated reasons having to do with my VIO pension, it almost doesn't pay for me to go back to work, especially if it's part-time (two school-age kids at home). So. It's just one more aggravation to add to the mix.

Still, there's nothing for it but to plod on, yes? We know it's partly a numbers game -- finding the agent who handles your kind of fiction, likes your "voice," isn't too busy with other projects, didn't just sign someone whose work is remarkably similar to yours, didn't get to your query at one a.m. after slogging through 300 others... So, onward, ploddingly, we go.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Naming Your Characters

During my I-have-no-future-as-a-writer despair yesterday, I recalled something my friend B. (he of "your detectives are dumb" fame) said, namely, that I had given a too-obviously evil name to the main villain. What he didn't know is that I picked the villain's surname more or less randomly from a frozen food product.

I recall reading many years ago Kurt Vonnegut saying that he found the names for his characters from the phone book. That's more or less what I do too, though I also look at book jackets. Because my novel takes place mostly in L.A., I gave it some polyglot texture -- some Hispanics, a couple of Asians, one Iranian. I try not to get all politically correct about it or anything, but I don't want everyone to have a WASPy name. Not everyone's last name can be Cavendish or Wilson or whatever.

So -- how do you choose your characters' names? Do you try to assign them names with a symbolic purpose or something that sounds cool or are you just tossing darts at the phone book?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oh, Optimism, Where Have You Gone?

Fourteen rejections in a row since the last positive peep (the request for the full), not counting the ten I just wrote off. Four this week. All form rejections, so no way to divine meaning from them. As the number of rejections piles up and the number of queries outstanding dwindles, the doubts grow. Maybe I can't write. Maybe I can write but it makes no difference in this lousy economy. Maybe I should have held myself to writing a straightforward, banal whodunit instead of going all angst-ridden Martin Cruz Smithy. Maybe this whole writing obsession just isn't worth the aggravation. Maybe I could get rid of it with hypnotherapy or Freudian analysis or yoga. Or something.

Blah blah blah.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Achy-Breakies

Feeling better -- no cough -- but still got the achy-breakies and a killer headache. This flu, whatever strain it is, is no fun. A tip for you parents out there: our pediatrician has already run out of flu vaccine, as have a number of local pharmacies. I was able to find a pharmacy that still has some and am going to bushwhack the kids this afternoon and take them in for shots. So if you're planning on getting your kids flu shots, get on it now before there's no flu-juice left.

In other news, followed this link to a hysterical New Yorker parody of a modern publishing marketing plan.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yay, a Rejection!

Why, you may ask, am I celebrating the arrival of another rejection (snail mail, sent late August)? Because after so many weeks of nothing, something happened.

Still sick -- stay away from me!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Ordinarily I only blog about the agent quest, for a couple of reasons: (a) lots of other people blog about other stuff, and (b) I have nothing interesting going on. I will make an exception today to note that I am sick as a dog with some kind of flu and hope you avoid it, whether what I have is of the swineish variety or not.

The curiosity: the average time agents took to respond to my e-mail queries has been 7.92 days (not counting those I wrote off for no response at all). The median was actually shorter, like 6 days. But it's now been 28 days since I've gotten any kind of response at all to the rest of my e-queries out there, only a quarter of which date to August. What gives, I wonder? Do these longer response times mean anything? Or is it just a random walk?

Excuse me while I cough. Wash your hands when you're done reading this. Ack. Ack.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Road to Twilight

I was reading the comments in Nathan Bransford's blog and someone mentioned how you could take solace in reading Stephanie Meyer's road to publication on her website -- she admits her queries "sucked" and she didn't have an idea what she was doing, ad inf. Except when all is said and done, her road to publication was swift and serendipitous, summed up in this sentence: "And that's how, in the course of six months, Twilight was dreamed, written, and accepted for publication."

Six months. Written, agented, accepted for publication...

Six months.

Don't Just Stand There, Query!

Had nothing better to do so, WTF, I blasted out three more queries (now playing: Version 3.1), two by snail mail, one into the ether. It's like querying has become my job or something.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Raft of Rejections

A good first question: what's the collective noun for a bunch of agents? I've chosen "raft," in the sense of a grouping of waterfowl sitting together on the water, as the collective noun for rejections, but agents... Hmm, a "murder" of agents, as in a murder of crows? How about a "query" of agents?

Anyhoo, as promised, I decided to move a query of agents from the "waiting to hear from" column to the "rejected me" column -- ten in all. Arguably I could have moved a few more in, or left a few out.

I could have put these ten in a separate category, like QueryTracker's "Closed/No Response" option, but I think it's better just to call a spade a spade and count 'em as rejections. I felt a certain relief at writing them off that way, sweeping them away, the kind of feeling you get (or I get) after straightening up all the crap that's accumulated around the house and vacuuming the carpet.

Plus, it opens up space for more querying if I so decide!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Start Working on Your Next Book!

That's the advice a lot of agents give you about what to do with your time as you wait for the rejections to flow in -- get started on that next book of yours. took me, uhm, decades to finally write a book that I consider publishable. As much as I like to think I have another in me -- and I do have a really vague idea for a sequel -- I just don't know if I can stand the idea of writing another 90,000-100,000 words completely on spec.

How does my huge stable of readers feel about this?

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Turns out one of the agents I queried back in August is/was no longer with that agency, so that reduces by one the number of agents I'm waiting to hear from. And perhaps opens a slot for a new query to someone else!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apropos of Nothing...

I mostly missed Battlestar Galactica when it was on the Sci-Fi channel, only beginning to watch it half-way through the last season. I'm now watching the entire series, one episode a day, as I "exercise" on my stationary bike. (Insert plug for Netflix, which I joined specifically to rent the series.) What a great show -- smart, literate, well-written, well-acted.

Absolutely nothing going on with my queries -- no rejections, no nothing. It's The Big Chill in my in-box.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

When 7 X 6 = 45

In about a week's time, it'll be six weeks since I sent my first batch of queries off into the cyberverse. Because I did so on a Friday evening, I'm actually going to consider six weeks to be 45 days instead of 42. At that point, I'm going to rack up a number of rejections for the ol' stats. I've pretty much written off all those first 18 queries anyway (except, of course, the one that garnered the request for the partial). I guess I won't count as rejections those who insist they respond good or bad, but in my head they're already rejections. I still have an untouched list of 100 or so agencies -- plus any number of different agents at the agencies I've already hit up. So, in short, it's easy to see how I could be at this for a couple of years yet.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Synopsis Sucks

There, I said it. My synopsis sucks. It bites. It's more useless than George Bush's brain.

I'm content with my novel, though filled with self-doubt, as any decent writer ought to be. I'm happy with my query letter, too, though whether the book idea it explicates is attractive to agents is another matter.

But my synopsis... After cutting and cutting and tweaking and tweaking it still comes in at more than 2 1/2 double-spaced pages. If I cut more, there goes more of the critical aspects of the protagonist's backstory, there goes more of critical aspects of the plot, there goes the twist ending....

I'm going to take another whack at it today, starting fresh with a blank sheet of paper, and see how it goes. I'm not too thrilled at the prospect and not too hopeful that the result will be worth it. But it's either that or go out and take the chain-saw to those old tree stumps, so...

UPDATE: Well, I chopped half a page off. From the comments, and some reading I did on the internets, there doesn't seem to be any great consensus on how long the synopsis ought to be, or what it's worth. The agents interviewed in this Poets and Writers piece mostly disdained synopses, saying they never read 'em. So, fuck it. Mine stays as it is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Day, Another Milestone

Received my first rejection from a snail-mail query today. After my current wait-and-see hiatus runs its course, assuming, mirabile dictu, I don't receive The Call in the interim, I think I will send out more snail-mail submissions. For one thing, close to half of the agencies on the humongous list of possible targets I've compiled accept only snail-mail queries while up to now only 10% of my queries have gone through the mail.

More than that, though. There was something more genteel, quainter, about the rejection-in-the-mail than its electronic counterpart. Easier to take, less impactful (to use a neologism I dislike), less angst-inducing than that unread e-mail sitting in the inbox, staring silently at you like a snarling cougar about to spring. Old-fashioned in a good way, like those ice-cream parlors from a bygone era they have at Disneyland/world.

Plus, the little form rejection was printed on a nice card, which makes a helluva nicer collectible than a printed-out e-mail.

Rationality - Overrated?

Some recent "commentary" got me thinking about a couple of things. One, what a tragedy it must be to be born humor- and irony-challenged. Two, how rationality and irrationality can inhabit the same mind at the same time.

Fundamentally, I'm a very rational person. Scored a perfect 800 on the analytical part of the GRE. Spent many years working for a Very Important Organization, regularly being promoted to positions of greater responsibility, etc. Always balance the checkbook. That sort of thing.

So of course the rational part of me, which is usually dominant, knows that finding a literary agent is likely to be a long slog that may, in the end, prove futile. But something in the process brings out the irrational side of me -- which is, I think, closely connected to the creative side. How can you write fiction, after all, if part of you is not just a bit irrational?

So, the impatience with not hearing back from agents sooner. The frustration with the query system (even though the rational side of me already acknowledged how, from the agent's perspective, it makes perfect sense). I think the immediacy of e-mail contributes to this irrational take on things. We send our query -- the lorry-load of our creativity, aspirations, fears -- off into cyberspace and it's delivered in a nanosecond, and then...and then...and then... In contrast, we expect snail mail to take time.

There were times when I worked for the VIO that I labored long and hard on a thoughtful, analytical Very Important Paper, sent it up the chain of command, and then...and then...and then...

The difference was that I had worked long enough for the VIO to know the multiple layers of black holes that existed within it into which my paper might well have disappeared. While I know on an intellectual level that the process of seeking an agent is lengthy and full of its own black holes, I haven't experienced it long enough yet to prevent the irrational part of me from hoping that I might get some kind of real answer to my aspirations before my kids are in college.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Query Letter, New Queries

So I came up with QueryLetter 3.0, which reversed a couple things and gives away more of the plot. And so, to test it out, I fired off four more e-queries this morning. Which also brings my total queries to a nice, round figure -- 50!

Let the insanity continue...

UPDATE: went to the grocery store, came back to find that 3.0 had already garnered its first rejection! That was quick.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One Month In...

One month into the quest, I've learned a few lessons: (1) this isn't going to be fast; (2) this isn't going to be easy; (3) I'd almost rather get a rejection in the in-box than have nothing there; (4) I probably should have sat on my initial query letter for a couple weeks and/or had some friends critique it before sending it out; (5) it's almost inevitable that you'll still be tinkering with your ms. even after you've said "No more" for the fifth or sixth time; (6) agents expect writers to be too attuned to their system; (7) too many writers are completely clueless about what agents want; (8) the Absolute Write Water Cooler can be addicting; (9) half the people in America with computers are writing a novel; and (10) a lot of the folks in (9) can't write their way out of a paper bag, if their comments in (8) are any clue.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stroking the Agent's Ego

I read a bunch of "Advice from Agents" in the Guide to Literary Agents blog yesterday and was struck by the number who said make your query more effective by showing you've "done your research" by mentioning you're querying them because you love some of their clients, mentioning them by name.

This strikes me as awfully needy. Yes, do enough research so you don't send your paranormal fantasy to someone who only handles non-fiction or your thriller to someone who only handles kids' books. Don't waste the agent's time, in other words. But, do we really have to assure them we love their clients, most of whom we've probably never heard of?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Waiting for Godagent...

Well, I've hit the four-week mark on the original bunch of 18 queries I sent out 8/21, of which 10 have garnered no response. Only three of those 10 promise an answer by now -- one in all cases, and two only if positive. I guess I'm not ready to officially write those two off just yet since we all know deadlines in the agenting world are, uh, flexible. With some 28 queries still out there, though, I feel I shouldn't query anymore for awhile. Too bad, because I've sort of grown accustomed to firing one or two or three off each week.

Now all I can do is sit and wait. It's pretty awful.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Got the Crap Scared Out of Me!

Remember that request for a full I got last week? There was an e-mail from that agency in my in-box. I thought, "Oh, fuck, they've passed on it already!" (Getting two other rejections in the last two days didn't help.)

Turns out the assistant was just thanking me for sending it.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

911 Writers Block

No brilliant insights today -- or any insights, frankly -- and nothing in the in-box but Arctic emptiness. I did, however, stumble across this: 911 Writers Block . Very funny and worth a look! (Be sure to turn on the sound.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Note on Stats

Some of my readers, all eight of them -- wait, I forgot the guy who posts as "Anonymous" -- all nine of them, may have noticed a change in the statistics under "The Writer Abides." I decided that the request I got to see the first chapter -- the one that led to the previous posts on the First Five Fucking Pages -- didn't really constitute a partial request. One chapter's not enough to consider a partial, am I right? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

(By the way, I knew Ben Stein way back in 1970-71, when he was a resident lecturer at Porter College, UC Santa Cruz. He was just as much a pretentious jerk then as he is now, but he had a mass of curly, black hair that was even longer than mine. And mine was pretty long in those days.)

(If you don't know who Ben Stein is, he's the guy famous for being the boringest-teacher-in-the-world in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.)

To Query More, or Not to Query More: Part II

I'm coming up on four weeks soon for some of the queries I sent 8/21 without hearing a peep. Should I take at face value the agency that says they respond "within two weeks" but only if positive and move them into the reject space? Or should I allow some slack time before deciding it's over between them and me?

How many queries are too many? Is there a downside to sending out another five, ten -- hundred? How many can I have out there at any time? 25? 30? 50? I can't really see how it could hurt to send out more, unless I think my query letter sucks (I don't know what I'd do differently with it).

So I'm going to be conservative and send out just five more. Should be some rejections rolling in any day now, right?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Looking for a Literary Agent Is Like Going on a Blind Date

I realized today that the writer-agent dance is a lot like being single and looking for a mate and in particular, like going on a blind date. Both agent and writer presumably want to find someone who makes their heart go pitter-pat, the writer so he can get published, the agent so she can make a living.

The query is like the first, blind date. Most of the time it's not going to work out. You realize you have nothing in common. You don't set her heart aflame. Doesn't mean you're a bad person (i.e., your book idea sucks) or that your dating skills (query letter) are inept. You just weren't meant for each other, for any number of reasons.

A partial is sort of like a second date. Maybe there was something she saw in you on that first date that intrigued her enough to go out with you a second time. But maybe she isn't bowled over on the second date, even if she wants to be. She realizes you're a smoker, or a Republican, or a vegan or you just don't get her juices going (your partial didn't work for her). So she turns you down for the third date (the full ms.).

The third date is kind of make-or-break. When you get to the front door, either she invites you in and you sleep together (representation) or she says something like, "I'll call you some day," ("I just didn't fall in love with your novel, and that's what you need from an agent") and you go your separate ways, each to his or her next blind date.

The only difference is that the writer in this scenario is so desperate that he or she will start up a relationship with just about anybody...

Friday, September 11, 2009

How Long Is Too Long?

No, you dirty-minded scum, I didn't mean that. I'm talking book length here. Sheesh.

When I started out, I figured my book had to be 100,000 words. That's about the average novel, right? When the first draft came in at 77,000 words, I thought, jeez, how am I gonna come up with another 23,000 words? The second draft came in at 90,000 and I thought, whew, that's close enough.

Then I discovered that 90,000 words as counted by computer is not 90,000 words in the world of publishing. They figure word-count by counting pages, assuming 250 words per page. So my manuscript, which ran to something like 414 pages (if done in 12-pt Courier) was actually, in publishing-land, 103.500 words! Like magic. Then I discovered that 100,000 words (or, "words") is actually maybe too long for a novel, especially one written by a first-timer. That 70,000 words, which seems awful short to me, is actually OK, 80,000 better. 100,000 is OK but pushing it. Much more than that and you're in big trouble. (I think it also depends on the genre.)

Confusing. I'm jabbering on about this because I did a quick "fix" to the "B. problem," as I like to call it (see previous post) -- basically threw in another suspect (called him Benny Stencil in an homage to Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil from Pynchon's V., which I happen to be re-reading at the moment). Another red herring, if you will. And it wound up taking the ms. from 89,000 words (I did some cutting on the third draft) to 92,500. As the computer counts. I do the ms. in 12-pt New Times Roman now because it looks nicer and only prints out to about 365 pages. And I've printed it out a lot.

So now of course I'm worried that it's too long. That's if I decide to keep the "fix." I have no idea what those 92,500 words would turn out to be in publishing-land "words."

As I said before, I need that agent/editor to tell me what to cut, add, modify, twist, elasticate (is that a word) or demagnetize....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yoohoo! And, Oh, Crap

A request for the full manuscript today! Yoohoo!

But, my friend B. thinks my protagonist is a bit slow and partially guessed pretty early an important element around which the plot revolves. This drives me nuts. My big beta readers, my dad and friend N., loved the book and didn't think the protagonist was dumb. But B. wasn't the first to say what he said.

Hmm. Fucking conundrum. I've been depressed all morning because of what B. said (though also thinking and coming up with ways of fixing it)...and then I get super-undepressed because a serious agency wants to see the whole thing...and then sort of depressed, thinking, but maybe I should "fix" this first...but then, do I really need to "fix" it and...

Oh, fuck.

I Can't Get Me No Satisfaction

(Play the Devo version in your head.)

Garrgh. Two more rejections in the past 24 hours, both done pretty quickly. As I pass the 3-week mark and haven't heard from those agencies who promise no response if they pass, I have to wonder if that means another dozen rejections already have fallen, wraith-like and invisible, into the rejection hamper. Like every writer I exclaim to myself, "For cripe's sake, if you would just get past the fucking query and read the book..."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Non-Responders: Be Ashamed, Very Ashamed!

Had nothing better to do this morning, so I did a little cataloguing of the response times promised by those agencies I've e-queried (34 -- includes online forms). I assume the snail-mail queries will all get some kind of response, since all were accompanied by an SASE. Of the 34, only 13 promised to respond in all cases, most in 4-6 weeks. (A couple said "as soon as possible" or something similar.) Fourteen agencies said they respond only if they want to see more, most in 3-6 weeks. Six had no info on their websites whether they respond or not and one said they couldn't "guarantee" a response, which I probably ought to toss in with the non-responders.

Now, I really think there's no excuse for this. Donald Maass agent Cameron McClure discussed on her blog yesterday why she once didn't respond if she were negative -- because half the time she'd get an e-mail back arguing with her and that was a waste of her time. That's fair enough. I don't think agents should have to respond to responses to their responses to queries. But it seems to me the solutions are simple enough. One, you can use, as some agencies do, a "submissions" address for all queries and only give out the agent's real e-mail address if asking to see more of the book. Two, the agent can use two e-mail addresses, one for queries (e.g., query.[agent]@[agency].com) and one "real" address (a lot do this anyway). In either case, all you have to do is ignore or delete anything that comes in as "RE: RE: [whatever]."

Some agencies claim the volume of queries (admittedly huge) means they just don't have time to say "no." Sorry, that doesn't fly. Even if you're cutting and pasting a form rejection, it only takes a few seconds to say no. Agencies with serious IT departments could easily set up a macro -- for a form rejection, just hit "crtl - A" or whatever. The AAR could put a macro on a disc for all those boutique agencies that can't afford a lot of IT services.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Day, Another Query

What the hell, filled out the Levine-Greenberg online form. Good thing about it -- you don't have to pick an agent, and you get to send 50 pages of your ms. That gives me 25 unresponded-to queries out there, plus the one partial. Enuf for the moment.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Twelve Drafts Are Enuf - For Now

I had to laugh the other day when I read on an agent's website -- I think it was Ethan Ellenberg, by all accounts a crackerjack agent that any writer would be lucky to have -- that the prospective author should be sure to have done at least "three drafts" before submitting his ms.

Three drafts!

I have been through this mofo so many times I've lost count. I think it's at least twelve. Even on the twelfth run-through I found two typos -- "going" instead of "go" and "ext" instead of "exit" -- and a few other things I wanted to change a bit.

But I am done now. I've rewritten chapter one three or four times in the last week so it's more "First Five Pages"-worthy. If there's a typo left anywhere in the ms. I'll never find it.

In a way it's a relief, but it also means I've got nothing left to do, writing-wise, except look at the e-mail in-box and see if I've penetrated the barbed-wire barrier that surrounds agent world far enough to get someone to ask to see my book.

Or start on that second novel. You know, the one for which I have no ideas...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

To Query More or Not to Query More

I decided earlier that I would try to keep 25 queries out there at all times. So each time a rejection arrived, I'd send out another query. Now, I'm not so sure. Should I wait and see a bit? Maybe my query letter's not working. Should I rewrite it? I'm pretty happy with it and not sure how I'd redo it. But if I wait, am I just dragging out this interminable process even further? Is the problem that I'm not reaching the right agents? The solution to that is a big blitz of queries.


These thoughts are prompted by two more rejections that were in the in-box. I have to hand it to Laney Katz Becker of Folio. I queried her last evening and she was in with her "no" this morning. Considering I'm on the West Coast and she's on the East, that's a remarkably fast turnaround. I don't understand why, if she can do it, others can't. The queries that get no response are the worst -- am I just waiting, or have they already rejected me (not me, the query!) and I just don't know it yet?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Quick Thought on the Process

First, thanks to JmDiaz and Abby for commenting. I have two followers now. At least someone is reading what I write! And Abby -- Fox Glove sounds great. Did you design that cover by yourself?

To some extent, this horrible, degrading process is useful. I've tinkered with chapter one now, thanks to the commentary I received (see below), and it's probably better for it -- though maybe only marginally so. And getting a few rejections made me tinker some more with my query language, and it's probably better for it -- though maybe only marginally so.

At some point, of course, tinkering reaches a point of diminishing returns. I think I've reached that point. Substantively nothing in my novel is going to change until it gets in the hands of an agent or editor who cares about it.

It was nice to hear from another friend who read the ms. that she thought it was a real "page-turner." And she only had the second draft.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The First Five Fucking Pages II

So I'm tinkering with chapter one. I considered, briefly, looking for some entirely different way to get into the book, but don't see how that would be gripping. I'd have to make chapter one chapter two then, anyway. And, from standpoint of the soul of the opus, the action in chapter one is what sets off the entire story, not just the action-plot, but the personal journey of the protagonist as well.

So, tinkering. What I've done is to try to provide some extra oomph by giving a hint of what happens in the final chapter, when Our Hero, in jeopardy, faces a difficult choice, to provide a clear reference to Our Hero's previous life, which has brought him to the current time and place, and to give evidence of his inner turmoil.

The theory being that adding these elements will pique the interest of the reading agent and/or editor enough that they will want to read further.

Will it work? Who knows? We shall see.

Orcas Rule, Agents Suck

No, agents, you don't really suck. That was just an attention-grabbing headline (see posts on the First Five pages, above and below).

Took the kids camping for a couple of days with a whale-watching excursion tacked on. Saw four transient orcas just off Vancouver Island. The big male was flapping his pectoral fins and smacking his fluke. It was magnificent. It was a long ride out there and back from Anacortes, WA, but well worth it. And it got me away from the computer and especially e-mail for a couple of days -- ah, the bliss.

Two rejections awaited me when I got home, making nine altogether. Still, my query is running 20% at prodding requests for a partial, so that's not so bad. I think. Of course, a few of the agents I've queried are notorious non-responders, so not hearing from them may mean they've rejected me already but I just don't know about it yet. What a goofy biz.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The First Five Fucking Pages

The very nice agent who gave me feedback on my first chapter thought it was interesting and well-written enough but not unique enough to grab an editor's attention in a tough publishing market.

This is the Principle of the First Five Pages at work -- grab the reader's attention right off, show the protagonist's main problem, set the tone, yadda yadda.

Now, I get the First Five principle, I do. But, still... If you cram the whole novel in the first five pages, why are you going to read the rest of it? This is tough if, like me, you are dribbling and drabbling out both the action and the protagonist's backstory so the tension builds towards a climax at the end.

Like the query letter, the First Five principle seemingly reduces writing to an artificial, commercially driven construct.

Then again, if I knew exactly how to rewrite the damn first chapter I'd do it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Score 10 Days In

It's only been 10 days since I started querying -- I dumped 18 e-queries into cyberspace on August 21 -- and since that was a Friday evening, effectively it's only been a week. Still, it feels like a 100 years.

Things started well. The very next morning an agent asked for the first 50 pages! Visions of sugar plums started to dance in my head. Maybe this won't be so hard after all, I thought. I'll have to decide between two, three, ten agents! I'd have to lie because so many people would be asking for an exclusive look at my full ms. -- "Sorry, there's three copies of it out there already."

Of course, in the back of my head was a little voice telling me to get real. A little dose of reality came in on Monday with a couple of rejections. A few more followed. Over the weekend I was asked for the first chapter and then turned down because of it. (More on that in a later post.)

So, back to the old stalwarts -- John Grisham was turned away by eight agents! Fourteen agents said no to J.K. Rowling -- and every publisher in London!

Mostly, though, the killer has been the waiting. Is my query working? Will other agents have the same problem with the first chapter? Is my new query, used on the subsequent 12 of my 30 queries overall, better than the first? Should I have waited and re-written the query before I sent out those first 18?

Jesus, one gets consumed by doubt.

And why the fuck is it taking everyone so long to get back to me? Or is their not getting back simply a rejection by non-response, for which so many agents are famous? Haven't they worked through their backlog and gotten to me, yet? Is there any hope at all that I might know if I have any future as a writer by Christmas?

(Yes, I know it's only been a week. No one said I had to be rational about this journey.)

The score as of today: Queries sent - 30. Partials requested - 2. Rejections - 6.

The Query Letter II

Because it's the key to getting in the front door, writers obsess over the query. This is particularly true of those of us new to the world of agents and editors. And there's more than enough advice out there -- just Google "query letter" if you don't believe me.

There are several ways of handling this. You could read through
Jessica Faust's "must-read" posts or subject yourself to Janet Reid's Query Shark. You can go back in time and read the archives of the inimitable and aptly named Miss Snark.

My advice? Skip all that, go to
Nathan Bransford's blog, read everything he has to say about queries, look at the exemplars he has, choose one as your template and copy the format slavishly. That's what I did.

Oh, and don't open with a dependent clause. I'd sent out 18 e-queries before I realized that's exactly what I had done.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Query Letter

We hate it, don't we? For months, years, decades maybe, we struggle with our books, draft after draft, searching our frazzled brains for just the right word here, lyrical turn of phrase there, clever twist of plot over there, rewriting, editing, rewriting, editing until we've got the damn thing all un-typoed and "polished"...

And then we find out the way the publishing industry works the future of our creation, our future, the future of our children's hopes for college, rests on a single page of prose that must be dead-on, fascinating, extraordinary, but not too long or cute or literary, and don't get into too much detail but make sure you can capture the essence of your novel while grabbing the agent's attention and...

WTF? It reminds me of what Mr. Natural said: "Dis is a system?" (For you children out there who don't know who Mr. Natural is, Google "R. Crumb." Google "Jimi Hendrix" while you're at it.)

Alas for us, from the agent's perspective it makes perfect sense. A quick tour of writers' forums will reveal that every housewife with a laptop is churning out a romance, every dork who couldn't get a date in college has his third fantasy underway, every middle-aged woman has a Young Adult novel or a "cozy" in the works, every ex-CIA agent like me... Oops, almost revealed too much there.

So they need to cull the herd. Throw out, right off the bat, the 50% of the hundreds of queries they get each week that are written by semi-literates who can't even reach the very low bar of being able to string together two coherent sentences. Toss the stuff that's been done to death (vampires, anyone?) or won't sell (here's an idea: a cozy mystery set in the wizard land of Gonderel narrated by a vampire!). Try to figure out who they can possibly take a chance on by asking for a partial manuscript.

Still, it makes you wonder if Thomas Pynchon could get published if he were starting out today. Imagine the query for his epic, groundbreaking novel V. :

Benny Profane drinks too much but before you get all involved in that let's take a detour to late 19th century Egypt where there are some Cook's travelers and spies and references to Fashoda but then it's back to New York City and a weird crew and some alligator hunting, then off to turn-of-the-century Florence and some more spy capers and talk about Vheissu, which may or may not have something to do with V., then let's take a trip back to New York, then off to pre-war Sudwest Afrika and some goings-on with the Hereros (the reader will need to consult a dictionary to discover these are not the Bushmen) and then more back-and-forth till we eventually end up in Malta and the 1956 Suez crisis, with lots of jokes thrown in for no good reason along the way, innumerable characters whose names begin with V, which also may or may not be the V in question, in short, an inscrutable novel written in complex, paragraph-length sentences. Thank you for your consideration.

As Janet Reid would say, "Form rejection!"

Why Am I Doing This?

The first time I set out to be a novelist there was no Internet. You got yourself a copy of Writer's Market and looked under literary agents and tried to divine to whom you should send your manuscript. Unless you were clued in to the New York literary scene, you had no idea. It was like throwing darts at a board -- "Uh, I don't know, this guy sounds OK." You had no idea if the "agent" you were sending your book off to was a scam artist, an incompetent, or maybe just someone who only agented children's picture books and not the gritty, realistic sort of epic you'd written.

Now, though, the search for a literary agent has become an exercise in data-mining. You can go the the website of the Association of Authors' Representatives so at least you can be sure your agent-to-be adheres to a canon of ethics. You can check agents out at Preditors & Editors and see if they've actually sold any books lately. You can spend your days -- and nights -- researching agents and relating your experiences at the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Check forum. You can check out agents and track your queries at Query Tracker or use Agent Query or LitMatch or obsess over how quickly agents get back to you at Agent Turn Around Times. You can Google "[agent name] Publishers Marketplace" and see what it says. You can read blogs by literary agents, blogs by editors and blogs by publishers.

It can drive you fucking nuts.

So -- and I'm sure this is not an original idea -- I thought I'd set down my thoughts as I wander through this uniquely crazy process of desperately seeking someone who, in theory, wants to work for me.