Monday, September 29, 2014

The day I understood subjectivity

With a few awesome contests coming up soon,* I want to take a minute to talk about subjectivity. It took me a while to really get it.

Everyone says that querying is subjective. That publishing itself is subjective, and that a rejection of the work is not a comment on the writer's ability, the plot, the writer's worth as a human being, etc.
Most writers I know either don't really believe it or don't find that information to be much consolation. If it's subjective, subjectively, what don't you like about it?

But, finally, over the summer, I really got it. I mentioned in my Getting the Call post that I submitted my manuscript in Query Kombat this year, hoping to get some feedback and make some friends. I did get some great feedback and made some awesome friends. But after the agent round, I found something more important for me in that contest: I finally understood subjectivity.

Some of my favorite entries were knocked out of the contest in the first round. That's okay, it happens. I read the comments on many of the entries, and I was really surprised at the way judges voted - and the reasons they gave. Some voted the way they did because their personal experiences did not reflect the experiences of the character described in the query. Some voted for one entry over another because the basic topic didn't appeal to them. Most weighted their vote toward the first 250, not the query (when I personally was picking favorites based on the queries - more information).

During the agent round, the entry I personally most wanted to read didn't get requests. Other entries that aren't a genre I enjoy got multiple requests. Because it's subjective. Not everyone reads what I read. The agents aren't looking for what I was looking for. Maybe they already have something just like the amazing entry I'm (still) desperate to read (months later). Maybe they're not the best at selling thrillers or MG fantasy or whatever genre it is, and another agent would do better. Or maybe an agent randomly rejects all entries with a red-headed main character. There's no way to know. And it doesn't matter, because the point is - it's subjective. And when you get to a point where the work is polished and ready to go, and all the feedback is based on personal preference, you're ready. The work is ready. It just becomes about getting it in front of the right agent at the right time.

Whether you're querying agents, on submission with an agent, or submitting to small presses, keep that in mind: All you can do is put your work out there. Keep going until you get it in front of the right person at the right time. Once you find that right side of eyes, it's all worth it.

* Pitchslam is coming up soon, Nightmare on Query Street begins in October (I'm a mentor!!) and PitchWars is ongoing, although submissions are closed until next year. And there are always others.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Killing Time in the Trenches

I've got many friends still in the query trenches, experiencing the roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and downs. There's also a TON of waiting. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

When he started querying, he still had hair.

So now, I offer a list of ways to keep from going crazy while waiting for news.
  1. Make a to scale Lego model of Hogwarts.
  2. Teach yourself a new language. Read Harry Potter in that language.
  3. Start a blog about the differences.
  4. Watch every episode of Doctor Who (old and new). There are a lot of them. 
  5. Blog about your Doctor Who-watching experience. Pick something - maybe you want to detail the foods you ate while watching the show, or make up a special drinking game. As long as it's time consuming, go with it.
  6. Knit yourself a sweater. Sure, it's spring (sort of), but you've got a long wait ahead of you. Don't know how to knit? Perfect! What better time to learn?
  7. Get a pet. I could watch my cats run around in circles for hours. And dogs need to be walked a couple of times a day.
  8. Fall down the rabbit hole of the internet. Read up on all the old stories at the Urban Legends website to determine which are fact or fiction.
  9. Finally beat 2048/Candy Crush/whatever new game is out there.
  10. Offer to beta read for a friend. Having something else to focus on is hugely important.
  11. Vent online. The writer's community on Twitter is amazingly supportive. Just be careful what you say and the level of detail you give.
  12. Read the entire works of William Shakespeare. 
  13. Download the classics - most of them can be found free on Project Gutenberg. You can also put them on a tablet, phone, or computer via Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
  14. Do a full back-up of your hard drive. Or maybe two. Just in case.
  15. Get a part-time job. No seriously. When I was querying, I thought about applying at Taco Bell.
  16. Learn the lyrics to that really fast song from Hairspray.
  17. Take up yoga. Seriously, you probably need it.
  18. Create a blog and make crazy long lists for no reason.
  19. Watch every episode of every Star Trek. There are like a zillion. If you still haven't heard back, it could be the apocalypse.
  20. Start your next project. That way, when the agent calls and says, "What else are you working on?," you'll have a coherent answer.
Most importantly, take care of yourself. Hitting refresh constantly won't make the answer come any sooner. It'll just make the waiting more unbearable. So, take a break, walk away from the computer, and relax. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Writer's Envy

I'm not talking about when someone else lands an agent before you or gets a six-figure deal (although it would be perfectly natural to be a little jealous in those situations). This post is about jealousy when your friends all get to write and you don't.

I'm about neck-deep in edits right now. I'm editing the book I found my agent with, and the nearly completed manuscript I had when she signed me. I helped my three CPs edit manuscripts for PitchWars (And they all made it! Yay!) Between my own edits and helping others, I haven't managed to write more than a few words in ages. My next project is the computer-age equivalent of a bunch of notes scribbled on a napkin.

I couldn't find a napkin-scribbling picture I liked. Sorry.

So when I go on Twitter and see nothing but "I made 5,000 words today," part of me wants to throw a spectacular "I want to write, too!" hissy fit.

That totally looks just like me. I even have adorable shoes to match that dress.

But here's the important thing: You can only do what you can do. Don't hold yourself to someone else's timeline or judge yourself by someone else's accomplishments. I've written and am editing two full manuscripts. That's awesome. And when they're done, I'll have plenty of time to write while the same people who are posting impressive daily and weekly word counts are polishing feverishly. It's not a race.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nightmare on Query Street

I said it was coming, right? Anyway, Nightmare on Query Street is a contest to help writers and agents find each other. There are currently seven agents signed up, with more to come.

1. Contests are loads of fun. Seriously, I can't talk up contests enough. Contests are like an amazing dance party for introverts who never want to leave the house.

She's probably not wearing pants, either.

That's why contests are so important: You make friends, you connect with other writers, you learn about common mistakes, you can find new critique partners, and hopefully you get some feedback (whether from the contest itself or other writers, it's all helpful). So it's worth it to do the contest, even if you're trying to psych yourself out with doubt and lies about why you shouldn't enter. Or just follow the hashtag #NoQS to connect with other writers.

2. I got my agent from a regular query, not a contest.

I know. Crazy, right?

Contests help people find agents. Regular queries help people find agents. Both are totally valid contests. Hundreds of people enter these contests. In the end, it often comes down to personal taste or a misplaced comma (did I mention that you should polish your entries)? So don't think that you HAVE to make a contest or that your life is over if you don't get any requests.

I'll tell you a secret: In my first contest, I was an alternate. Second, nothing. Third, I was picked, but got no requests. It took me until my fourth contest to get to an agent round and receive requests from agents. (I feel like I'm forgetting one. Possibly fifth.) And, still, I didn't sign with either of those agents. But I did meet one of my awesome CPs who has become a very close friend in a few short months.

So: Enter, have fun, be awesome, but don't place too much importance on it. Seriously, if you make a single friend, you win.

(Oh, and did I mention I'm a mentor? Party!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

After the Call, Part 2

(continued from After the Call, Part 1)

So, at the end of my last post, I had two offers, 5 agents reading, and a few days to make a decision. But I was torn, because I knew I'd choose Agent2 even if the other 5 all came back and loved it. I wondered if I should email the others, saying not to read after all. But that really seemed unprofessional. It was only fair to give everyone a fair shot. But at that point, I was praying no one else would make an offer. The thought of having to turn a bunch of agents down terrified me.

Thankfully, most of the remaining agents read over the weekend. They didn't leave me waiting until the last minute. A flurry of rejections, all encouraging and congratulatory, arrived Sunday and early Monday. Twitter informed me that Partial Agent was still on vacation, and she was running out of time to read the full, so I assumed it was too late.

That left one agent with the full. An agent I really liked and respected. I waited on pins and needles to see if she'd respond by midnight. I kicked myself for not asking for an answer by the end of business day so I could go to sleep without worrying about it. The message came the next day at noon, and it was a no. At that point, I was 100% firm on my decision, and nothing any other agent said could have made a difference. So I was relieved when she said no.

The thing I learned, though is this: Agents are very busy, but most of them want to read requested materials if you give them the time. When you get an offer, if there are agents out there that you really, really want to work with, it might help to ask for a week and a half or two weeks, and maybe even considering giving a reading deadline a few days before you need to get back to your first agent. If I'd gotten a final offer at midnight or had to try to do a call during working hours the next day with a 5:00 p.m. deadline, I would have been left with only a couple of hours to make a decision.

Also, when asking "Can you read by this day?", give a time. I forgot to specify that I'd like an answer by the end of the business day, which is why I spent an evening agonizing over whether to go ahead and sign the contracts for Agent2, even if I couldn't send them until the next day.

Oh, and after everything was done? I emailed Agent1 to thank her for the wonderful opportunity and let her know I'd chosen another agent. Then I emailed Agent2 to accept the offer (it was super early in the morning), and I waited for a response from the first agent (which was very gracious) before posting the announcement on Twitter. You really don't want an agent who offered on your work to find out on social media that you picked someone else.

Monday, September 15, 2014

After the Call, Part 1

We've talked about Getting the Call. What happens next? (I mean, after all the jumping up and down and screaming and dancing and acting like a maniac.) Well, there's a lot of stuff that has to happen in the week between getting The Call and giving your financial decision.

When Agent1 offered, I had one agent reading a partial manuscript and eight more still reading the full. I'd also just sent a storm of queries two days earlier, and I had probably 20 or so that had been out for anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months.

I started with the agents that had requests. I put "OFFER RECEIVED" in the subject so they'd see the email next time they opened their email. Three of those agents wrote back right away, saying they'd get it done by the end of the week. But then I didn't know what to do with the agents that only had a query letter (especially those that got it less than 48 hours earlier). I went back and forth on this a few times. There were agents on that list I didn't really think I'd pick over Agent1. Some agents I had no contact with whatsoever other than reading QueryTracker and their website. I honestly considered simply withdrawing my query from the agents that didn't have blogs or Twitter, because I had zero way to determine their personality and know if we'd really fit.

Ultimately, though, I went ahead and emailed everyone. After all, if I liked them enough to query originally, they deserved a chance to look at the query before I signed with someone else. Two replied quickly to bow out. Two replied quickly to ask to read the full manuscript, which I sent immediately. (One sent a form rejection letter to the original query two months later - I guess not everyone looks for updates in their query inbox.)

Within about 24 hours, I had one offer on the table and ten full manuscripts out. Four of the agents with fulls bowed out quickly. I saw online that the agent with the partial was on vacation. It happens. If you get an offer and one of the agents you want to work with is on vacation, you have to decide if it's worth asking for more time. In my case, not knowing when she'd be back and because she only had a partial, I sent the email and figured if it was meant to be, she'd see it in time. She sent a very nice congratulatory email a couple of weeks later, and that's fine with me.

Thursday morning, a friend told me Agent2 was tweeting about a manuscript she was reading. I panicked, but soon found that the tweets were positive. I couldn't stop smiling, especially when I found an email asking if I had time to chat. Yes, I did.

On Friday, I got an email from the assistant of one of the agents still reading, asking for more time. I waited to talk to Agent2 before replying, because in my heart, I just didn't see any way I'd pick any other agent over Agent2. (I'd already told a friend I'd sign with Agent 2 even if she wanted me to add vampires to my contemporary women's fiction.) It felt weird, but after the second Call, I emailed the agent to say I really needed an answer by the deadline, but I understood if they couldn't do it. It felt weird to be turning down a big, widely-respected agent, but perfectly natural to say, "Agent2 is the one for me." Because it felt absolutely right, and I knew she was the one for me as soon I read the tweets on her timeline.

So that left me with 2 offers, 5 agents reading, and 4 days to make a decision. What next? (To be continued...)

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Querying Stats

Many people saw my Getting the Call story when it was initially published after Query Kombat. (If you didn't, go read. It's OK. I'll wait.)

Here are my final numbers.

Queries Sent: 67
Fulls Requested: 14
Full Requests Due to Offer Nudge: 2 (included above)
Partials Requested: 3
Contest Requests: 10 (not included in partials)
Form Rejection/No Response: 33
Personalized Rejection: 7
Revise/Resubmit: 2
Materials Resubmitted: 2
Offers Received: 2
Bowed out due to Offer: 10
No Response to Offer Email: 13 (These were blind queries still outstanding and not part of the "No response" above.)
Time from 1st Query to Offer: 7 months

I sent 67 queries before I got an offer. The agent I signed with received the 23rd query I sent. Note that I sent 14 full manuscripts and only got personalized feedback on 7. It's a long, hard road. But it's so worth it when you get to the end. 

Don't give up.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hey, look, I finally set up a website!

No, really, I did. And once I get the format figured out, I'll post some real content.

Meanwhile, have you heard of Nightmare on Query Street? It's an awesome writing contest, coming soon.