Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book three

Still slogging away at book three. I only have a week and two days left at my company, and I hope to be at the 70,000 word mark by the time we move. Right now, I'm starting to get worried about actually DOING it - moving six hundred miles away with no job and no plans to look for one in the next four months. Especially with the recession.

So I'm writing like crazy; if I can get this thing finished and polished in the next three months, then I'll have two queries to pitch - not just one. Hopefully, something will work out.

He says, in abject terror.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BACK - and the Query Shark!

I wrote this yesterday figuring I'd post it last night. Now it's being posted today:

Big thanks to AT&T for confusing February 12th with "this very instant" and cutting off my internet (and VOIP) while on hold with the cancellation department. Bigger thanks to AT&T for their inability to reconnect my service without being directly inside my apartment. Four Internet free days doesn't seem like Chinese water torture, but I couldn't wait to get to work every morning so that I could check my email. Fingers trembling as I waited for the computer to boot. And that's sad.

[Editor's note: THREE more hours on hold today. The tech didn't ever show up. It's finally hooked back up. Total time on the phone: 5 hours. Oh, and I have to call back to get service canceled.]

Monday, I came in to find that the Query Shark posted my query! Even better - even though the query was pretty god-awful, she said she'd read the book anyways. This is huge; this made me feel delighted.

Since the query was based on my second, far-shorter draft, I've been updating it. I really don't know how to write a good query, and the only way I can get better is through critiques. Sure, there's advice all over the internet. Most of it is conflicting.

Here's some advice I've heard on writing queries:
* Get in and get out in as few words as possible. You just want to introduce your work.
* No gimmicks, unless they work.
* Include a bio.
* Don't include a bio, unless you've been previously published.
* Pretend you're writing the back cover of your book.
* Be professional, be curt. Don't pretend you're writing to a friend.

So after several tries, I pretended I was a librarian and asked myself what I'd write. I summarized the book's set-up and themes. And it was DULL. No positive responses, except from the Query Shark.

After a few rejections, I rewrote the query and polished it up a little. Same thing, but I traded the tight suspenders for a decent belt. It read a little better, and this is the query that netted me a critical response (though positive!) from the great literary agent.

Last night, I completely scrapped and rewrote the query, looking at some of the suggestions from the Query Shark. Some people found parts of the setup confusing. The biggest complaint, and the truest, was that it was BORING. And it was. I didn't have a 'voice'; I was writing a book report. So I rewrote the query, pretending I was my main character: how would HE summarize the book?

It's still geeky and uses too many 25 cent words. But I think it's a lot better. I'm going to send the revision to the Query Shark and see what she makes of it - knock on wood, she'll let me know what works and what doesn't.

My wife is waiting her turn to get online. Four days is too long.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Today, it is finished. I celebrate with drinks. Next, my wife will read it until she is so sick of it she shouts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day eleven

Nearly done writing for now - on track to finish by tomorrow.

I originally planned to keep this journal vague, since I wasn't sure anyone would want to read about my personal life, but - looking back, I'm going to really regret not talking about how excited I am about the Obama presidency. In Texas, my wife and I are one of the very few who aren't die hard conservative Republicans, so they didn't broadcast the inauguration at the office - in fact, no one talked about it. So I had to wait until I got home to check it out.
It felt like I was dreaming. I've been excited about Obama for the last few years (since his speech at the DNC back in the day), but thought he was such a long shot. Watching him take the oath, I thought, damn it, sometimes things DO turn out for the best.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day Ten

I finished filling in the gaps in the book, but there's still a lot of work to do. When I finished the book, I was at 68,500 words.

Over the next couple of days, I'm going to go over the book again, cut the stuff that's fluff, and fill in any confusing transitions. Hopefully, I'll be at 70,000 by the time everything's said and done. Then I'll print one last copy and put the book aside until we're comfortably moved in to Nashville.

Thirteen more days of work, and they're dragging. I've already figured out a work schedule once we move, and I have the next two projects lined up. Hopefully, by the time July comes around, we'll have a better idea of where we are and what will happen. By the end of February, this book should be completed and a revised query will go back to Very Helpful Literary Agent; by the end of March, the rough draft of book two should be finished, and by the end of May - if everything goes well - I may have a third project well on its way.

I'm so excited about life right now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day seven

The agent sent me the email a week ago, and since then, I've gone into manic mode - sixteen thousand words as of this afternoon. Every morning, I wake up thinking, "Oh God, I have to write again," and it doesn't go away until I've finished.I have no idea if any of it is any good or if the book is any better or worse; I can't wait to be done and distance myself.

The good news is, we have officially signed on the dotted line for the new apartment. The moving company has been contacted. I have three weeks and a day left on my job; tomorrow, I'll write my letter of resignation. Or copy / paste, whatever.

I can't wait to be done with the day-job office for a while. I've had a four month break in the past ten years; I could spend the rest of my life without the computer-geek job...

Friday, January 16, 2009


Sorry for the title. Imagine little twinkling bells.

I just woke up from a series of dreams about my youth - which is what I'm writing about. It's strange; the more I write, the more memories are stirred up. It's like someone's flipped a switch in my brain: everything I thought I'd forgotten forever is coming back.

I can't stop thinking all the time.

It is a little unpleasant.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It gets tough

The writing's still going strong, but I'm running out of additions fast. I planned several new sections - only instead of getting, say, five thousand words from a section, I'll get half that. It's not that I'm a lazy writer. It's bad estimating; I still don't know how many words fit a scene.

I finished the fourth chapter today. I planned to get there around 61,000 words on Monday. Instead, it's Thursday, and I'm not quite at 57,000. That's an enormous gap.

What to do? I could try rewriting the sections, but I'd just pad them - and that's bad, in my book.

I could add new scenes, but it's not going to be easy since I've already made a framework and started filling it in.

The agent suggested I get to a *minimum* of 60K words, preferably 75K. I know I can hit the first mark. The second ... might not happen.

It's discouraging.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ten Word Story

Authentic psychic meets doubting skeptic. Love follows: a happy medium.

That was awful, wasn't it? Puns are shameful and unfulfilling; a tryst in a dark closet.

My day

Today, I:
(a) wrote a thousand more words than planned on the book.
(b) saw a little girl dressed as a pirate - then an entire crowd of children dressed in Halloween costumes. It's January.
(c) got mooned.

What an extraordinary day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day two: reconstruction

Sometimes, it's not easy to write.

I usually try to hit 2500 words a day, and once we've moved, I'm going to shoot for 3000-4000. I figured by the end of next week, I'd finish the rewriting and could focus on editing.

The problem: today and tomorrow, I have long dentist appointments in the morning. Which means working overtime, which means less time to write.

Which shouldn't be that much of a problem. But I didn't get to write nearly as much as I wanted to today because I spent most of my time reconstructing the book. It was originally a seven part book (each day of the week was a different part) with a prelude / epilogue. But since I need to go with a two week time span, it's now a ten chapter book with short stories between each chapter.

I went through the book (along with the ideas I had for rewrites) and picked out what I call "linchpin events" - things that happen that are extremely important to the plot of the book. Each chapter now has one linchpin event. Then I figured out the days of the week - what needs to happen when, and what day of the week that event should fall on. For example, there's a scene where my main character hangs out with a classmate - has to happen on a weekday, according to the book's internal logic. And it has to happen after another linchpin event.

Which is boring. Sorry.

So I played literary sudoku for three hours this afternoon, figuring out when those events occur, then moving around minor events to balance out the days and to fit into the book's new timespan. I took my lunatic shorthand notes and then wrote a summary of the new book to keep everything in place in my mind. Tonight, I plan to do the actual copying and pasting so that tomorrow I can get back to writing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Revisions, revisions

My wife and I finished the month-long revision of the book today. It seems moot, since I'll be writing an additional 50-60% over the next two or three weeks, but it really does help. I know that most of the pruning is done, and it's easier to mimic the clean style. I think I'll need to expand so that the book happens over two weeks instead of one. The problem is that I originally wrote the book as a diary: seven days, seven entries. Now, that structure is gone. I have to take all of this text and make it into something completely new.

The easiest thing to do, I think, is to create a map of everything that happens in the book day by day, and what needs to happen *when*. In other words, I can't make the kid have the dramatic break-up speech before he's asked the girl out.

That way, I can take the original seven days and make them fourteen - writing additional segments to stretch the days out.
Sounds painful. But I'm excited, like, Christmas-time excited.

The first answer

Spectacular, wonderful, magnificent, incredible news!

Saturday night, I reworked my query letter after reading through a few posts on Query Shark. Of course, after finding Query Shark, I was too excited to revise and THEN email; my brain went into stupid mode and I immediately sent her my query, and afterwards, I rewrote it.

Because after reading a few queries, I had a better idea of what agents want. I read over my query and thought, "This isn't going to excite a sixteen year old - or anyone else. It has all the charm and cheer of a drunk's bar lament. This is going to attract Eeyore and Roast Beef."

So I rewrote the letter by rearranging it and trying to write a hook in the first paragraph. When I was done, I wanted to try out the query letter on someone new.

I went down my list of agencies and grabbed the next two to research. I went through their websites, found a couple of agents, and read through their blogs.

One seemed perfect for the book. I sent her a query and crossed my fingers.

And yesterday afternoon, she replied with a polite "no" - with the caveat that she'd be glad to reread if I changed a few things.

The changes aren't trivial. I need to expand my book from 48,000 words to a minimum of 60,000, preferably 75,000. I need to delete a few things, and I need to rework the opening section so that it grabs the reader.

I can do that. It may take two or three weeks to write and another couple of weeks to revise, but I can hit that goal before I move. It will mean putting the third book on hiatus, but I'm okay with that; I hit the halfway point last Friday and I feel comfortable with taking a break.

I'm excited because I found an agent that caught my eye and who took the time to read through my query / first few pages, give me a few pointers, and suggest revision and resubmitting. And she's right on every point.

Not a form letter, and not an apologetic "this doesn't fit my needs right now."

I was so excited, I could hardly sleep.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The weekends

It's the weekend, which means it's time to work on the "finished" book. As far as I can tell, that's an oxymoron. This thing won't be finished until it's on a shelf somewhere.

During the week, I do the actual grunt work - putting words down on the page for the third book. It isn't pretty. When I write, I don't care about prose, dialogue, or consistency. Those come later. All I care about when I write a rough draft is: am I advancing the story?

In a couple of months, when I'm writing the second draft, I'll post an original paragraph and a revised paragraph to show the process. I don't know how other writers work. I just know how I write, and if I don't get my thoughts quickly down on the page, I end up with dull. Once I have the frame of the story assembled, I can decorate.

So Monday through Friday, I type the grunt work; so far, I'm hitting my goal of 2500 words a day, five days a week, and the story's still on track. By the time we move in February, I should have it finished.

I spend the weekends polishing the second book and sending out queries to literary agents. This morning, I looked at the next eight names on my list of agents and looked at their websites - did they seem like the kind of people who might publish my book? I don't want to waste their time and look like the kind of writer who sends out queries en masse.

Then I edit my basic query letter and try to personalize it to the agent I'm sending it to - mention how I found them (usually through The Writer's Market) and why I think my book would work for them. Out of my eight names, five looked like good bets. One only represented black authors, and a couple didn't look like they worked with young adult books (which is, by the way, what I've written.) I sent email queries and marked them off my list.

I haven't sent any snail-mail queries, and I don't know if that's a faux pas in the writing industry. I'm a computer science major, and whenever I look at an author's biography I'm discouraged when I see something like "So-and-so has been a journalist for ten years / teaches literature at a New England university / is a popular columnist." They've been working in the general 'writing field' (I'm so sorry for sounding yokel) for years. They have a general idea of what's going on; I'm not sure if there's an etiquette I haven't learned yet.

In any case, after I finish sending out the query letters, I polish the second book. My wife's been working on going through the latest manuscript for the past month, and by the weekend she has another large chunk finished. I think she'll be finished this weekend or next, which is exciting. She hasn't read the new ending yet. I look through what she's suggested and (usually) take her advice. Polishing may be the most satisfying part of writing. The book's finished, the characters and story are fleshed out, and I only need to rub down the rough edges.

The projects

I'm working on two projects. In the right corner, weighing in at 50,000 words, is book two, which I'm polishing and sending to literary agents. In the left corner is book three, which is halfway through the first draft.

There's a good reason for this.

When I finished my second book, I thought, great! It's through. Now to send out to a couple of agents and let them fight over it. When the dust settles - and that may take at least a week - I'll sit back while my agent teases publishers. Why, in a few months, I'll sip champagne at a cocktail party and laugh about my book's success!

I waited a couple of months, spent another month polishing it, and gave it to my wife to tear apart. The manuscript is covered in scribbles, cross-outs, and notes. When she'd polished it enough that I felt comfortable with sending it out, I did - to exactly one agent.

Six weeks later, I still hadn't heard back.

Fine, I thought, that's simple enough, and sent out several more queries. A week later, most had been rejected via form letter.

If you're a first time writer and looking to get published, here's something I wish someone had told me before I started: it is not easy. You will be rejected. Many times. By everyone.

Agents get many, many queries. It's inevitable that yours will be rejected. And rejection isn't fun.

Which is one of the reasons why I'm writing a new book as I query agents: because every time I get rejected, I tell myself that this next book will knock them off their feet.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The first, second, and third books

Remember the first thing you were proud of writing?

I was fifteen, a freshman in high school, and I wrote a stream of conscious story - I don't remember what it was about, but I passed it around to a few friends in class. Everyone was impressed; it's easy to impress freshmen. Hey, I thought, writing is easy!

Over the next twelve years, I wrote a little every now and then. I posted a few stories online, kept a personal blog, and one day, I was going to write a novel. Except I never did. I'd get an idea, I'd write a couple of pages, and then I'd forget about it.

Only one day, I kept writing, and I finished my first book.

This blog isn't about that book. That book was garbage. The story of this blog begins a week after I finished rattling the keyboard.

At first, I thought: this is great. Let's get this published. And then I had a good night's sleep and realized that I'd have to start again at the beginning, because no one would ever want to read it.
It was a learning experience. A forty thousand word learning experience. Writing isn't easy; writing is - sometimes - about doing a lot of work with no payoff.

The next week, I started my second book. I slowed down; I plotted, I planned, I thought. It took me three times as long to write my second book, and then came revisions.
Five months after I started writing it, I finished it and started the next.

My wife and I are moving to a new city and quitting our jobs. Instead of being smart and finding new work, we're taking off the first few months to get my second (and third, eventually) books published.

I'll document our progress via this blog. I hope that other writers attempting to publish their first books will get something out of my eventual success or probable failure.