Friday, January 30, 2015

5 Tips for Writing with Emotion

I'm not naturally an emotive person (though my  husband might beg to differ), or a hugely emotional writer. In fact, one of the most common notes I get from my writer's group is: what did this character feel when this happened?

For me, adding emotion is something that I have to consciously layer in as I write.

But I've discovered a few tricks that can help writers (including myself) create a richer emotional response in readers. (Confession: most of these tricks actually have their roots in classical rhetoric, which argues that you can't persuade a listener without swaying their emotion. They work surprisingly well in fiction too).


1. Help readers experience the emotion with the character (i.e., show, don't tell)


In Thank You for Arguing (the book I use in my college course on rhetoric), Jay Heinrichs argues that emotions are based on experience and expectation--particularly, our beliefs about what has happened and what will happen. The more vividly you can help an audience experience something, the more strongly they will feel. This means putting your readers in the character's head as closely as possible (more on that in a minute), but it also means drawing on familiar emotions in potentially unfamiliar situations.

Take, for instance, this scene in Chris Crowe's lovely Death Coming Up a Hill (told entirely in haiku). In this scene, the main character recounts how, at six, he discovered his parents don't love each other. He's just thrown his arms around his dad, and he wants his mom to join in a kind of group hug:

. . . I looped
one arm around Dad's neck and
reached my other arm

around Mom's. Feeling
their love for me, I tugged to
pull them closer, to

knit us into a
tight group hug, but Dad leaned right
and Mom leaned left, and

I spanned the distance
between them like a bombed-out
bridge.


A lot of readers might be familiar with a situation where their parents don't love one another, but by using a vividly described and homely scene (a group hug) even readers who haven't experienced this situation can feel the emotion in the scene.

2. Connect with the character through deep point of view


Deep point of view is basically an extension of the previous point. We feel more for characters when we are in their head--any time we're reminded that we're not in their head, we feel distanced from the characters and from the emotion in the story. Words that distance readers include "think, feel, saw, heard"--any words that draw attention to the observation of an action, rather than the action or thought itself.

Both Linda Clare and Chuck Palahniuk have excellent posts on how to improve deep point of view.

3. Show characters struggling to maintain control

This one may seem counter-intuitive: if we want readers to mourn with the character, we should show the character weeping copiously, right?

Wrong.

If you've ever been to a public speech where the speaker wept openly, you'll understand what I mean. Witnessing intense emotions often feels invasive, and most of us shy away from it. On the other hand, when we see speakers struggle with that emotion, we're more likely to be moved. Cicero knew this. So do current orators and good storytellers. A few years back, I listened to Obama's speech at the memorial for the Arizona shooting victims. When he got choked up--but did not actually cry--my own eyes filled with tears (which was hazardous, since I was driving on the freeway at the time).

If we see the character trying to resist a powerful emotion, it invites the reader to feel that emotion for them. This works not just for sadness, but for anger, frustration, a whole slew of emotions. The Writing Excuses podcast has a great episode that expands on this idea.

4. Don't announce the emotion you want readers to feel

In Thank You for Arguing, Heinrichs argues that telling audiences what they should feel basically inoculates them against that emotion. If you tell listeners that you've got a joke, they're less likely to find it funny. Telling them that your experience will make them so angry won't actually make them angry.

Same thing goes for writing. I see this all the time with beginning writers in my writing classes, who want to make me feel the agony of some childhood experience by telling me it was "so sad" or "so tragic," but ultimately I don't feel sad or tragic. Instead of signaling to readers what they should feel by naming the emotion, invite them to feel it by describing the physical sensations of the emotion instead, or depicting an action that betrays the inner emotional state.

Take, for instance, this scene from Jandy Nelson's I'll Give you the Sun, where one of the main characters has narrowly escaped death by bully squad:

"I take out the charcoals from my back pocket. They somehow survived the ordeal in tact. I sit down and open my sketchbook. I black out a whole blank page, then another, and another. I press so hard, I break stick after stick, using each one down to the very nub, so it's like the blackness is coming out of my finger, out of me, and onto the page. I fill up the whole rest of the pad. It takes hours."


Without once labeling the emotion, Nelson allows us to get into Noah's head, to feel the frustration and desperation he feels.

5. Choose language and metaphors that evoke emotion

This should be obvious to any writers, but our language is saturated with emotions. Metaphors are even more powerful (Kenneth Burke argued that whole philosophies could be contained inside metaphors).

Again from Jandy Nelson:



I’ll Give You the Sun | Jandy Nelson
From Penguin Teen's Tumblr: http://penguinteen.tumblr.com/post/95918207641/ill-give-you-the-sun-jandy-nelson


The simile here is a homely one, but it perfectly captures that sensation of lightness.

Obviously, there are exceptions that can be made to any of the tips above. But I've found them to be helpful in adding emotional layers to my writing.

What about you? What techniques have you found helpful for amping up the emotion in your writing?

______________________________________________________


Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she's often found reading. She's represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Life of Collaborating Writers

We are thrilled to welcome David Powers King, who collaborated with Michael Jensen on their new release Woven.


When it comes to storytelling, sometimes two heads are better than one. That was the case when Michael and I decided to team up and write a ghost story unlike any we’ve ever read. We spent five years writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more until we had what readers now have the chance to experience. We learned many valuable lessons about successful collaborative writing along the way. Thinking of partnering up to write a novel with someone? Here are five tips:


1. Have an idea that both authors are excited about: One-sided collaborations are dull, and it will show in the writing. Be involved in the creative process. Outline the story together. Brief before and debrief after each chapter. Encourage each other on a regular basis.

2. Know who you’re writing with: A collaborative project can bring out the best or worst in people. A good way to make your partnership work is to clearly define your goals with each other. Decide how you want to divide your earnings, the order of your names on the cover, who does what in your collaboration, and the means to leave the project if things don’t work out—and then get it notarized, even if this project is with your best friend.

3. Decide what collaboration style works for you: For WOVEN, we used the Lead Writing style, when one author writes the first draft while the other edits and rewrites as needed. You can also use the Turn Writing method, where authors take turns writing chapters. Or, if you’re together, you can come up with the text in the same room while one of you is the scribe, or take turns as the scribe. There are many combinations for any situation. Find what works for you.

4. Check. Your. Ego: The #1 killer of collaborations is ego. Writers can easily be carried away by how awesome they are. It’s okay, and healthy, to bump heads with your ideas, but it is very dangerous to suggest that you know better. Instead, focus on the story. What is the best choice for the story? Never take things personally and commit to work through it. You will soon find a solution better than your first ideas.

5. Spend time together: As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes a dull collaboration.” Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but it’s a good idea to interact with your collaborative partner outside of the project. Go to the movies or writing conventions together, and remember your partner has a life beyond your collaboration. It’s fun to partner up for a story, but it’s even better with a friend. Five years of collaborating Michael has “woven” us into a long-term friendship.

A good collaboration can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding experience for you and your co-author. Hopefully these will help if you are planning to write a novel together. Good luck!

Rafflecopper Giveaway Link (One of 5 copies of Woven – signed by both authors): a Rafflecopter giveaway

Michael Jensen is a graduate of Brigham Young University’s prestigious music, dance, and theater program. Michael taught voice at BYU before establishing his own vocal instruction studio. In addition to being an imaginative storyteller, Michael is an accomplished composer and vocalist. He lives in Salt Lake City with his husband and their four dogs.

Photo credit: Michael Schoenfeld





David Powers King was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to become a writer. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. He now lives in the mountain West with his wife and three children.

Photo credit: Katie Pyne Rasmussen




Monday, January 26, 2015

The Life of a Revising Writer

I get to offer the next topic in our "Life of a Writer" series. Today, I'm talking about revising.

For many of us, there is a decent amount of celebration when we write THE END. It signifies a conglomeration of ideas, determination, Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard (BIC-HOK), and is a momentous accomplishment. If When you find yourself in this situation, shout it out for people to join with you in celebration, because you earned it.
Used with permission

Then, resist every single idea that creeps into your mind to submit to agents.

Did you read that? Are you listening? Do NOT submit.

Drafting your story was like dating. It's fun and exciting, you get to see new things, have new experiences, work through some minor quibbles.

But really, your work is just beginning. It has been said that writing is rewriting, and of all the truths that have been uttered in the world, that one is the greatest. Don't believe me? See what 20 great authors have to say about the matter.

Revision is the courtship, the time when you are sitting down with your manuscript and exploring what it will take to be steady and consistent presence in your future.

I suggest a few steps to help with the matter.

1. Get the Characters Consistent First

Sometimes, mid-drafting, we discover issues with the story line. Love interests shift, magical systems solidify, and the landscape itself manifests itself as a tangible thing. We can see these are the big problems, and as such, want to fix them first.

Resist that.

Yes, these are very important elements that need to be addressed. But doing so before knowing how the characters will grown and change with each of these elements is as effective as putting out a fire with a holey bucket. You will probably get the job done, but it is not an efficient use of time. Knowing, for certain, who the characters are first will allow reactions to be more authentic, will allow consequences to climb higher and the reader to become more engaged.

2. Resist the Temptation to Jump Around


In our multi-tasking "I can do it all" kind of life, we sometimes bring these habits to our manuscripts. There will be times, when you are in the middle of a tricky scene, that you will think of a way to fix one later. The problem is jumping straight there and tweaking then leads to another place you could maybe work and soon, you have spent a lot of time on revision without being able to fully recognize your progress.


People, this leads to frustration.

Select a process that works for you and practice the discipline to follow through. Once I have my characters sorted, I explore the timelines, the individual and combined character arcs, as well as the overall pacing of the story. And when the ideas of how to fix something else pop in, as we all know they will, I jump to that section in Scrivener and leave myself a note.

Truly, I have notes all over that say, "Hey! She really loves (spoiler)." Or, "This is when the (spoiler) happens." Acknowledge the idea, write down enough to remember it, and then stick to the task at hand.

There are still other methods of how to revise. Laurie Halse Anderson prefers to create a revision roadmap, while Laura Harrington (with Beyond the Margins) offers her own ten suggestions.

3. Find the Fillers

I have great CP's who help me find my fillers. In my first book, I had HUNDREDS of justs. And my characters all love to laugh, giggle, shrug and sigh. In drafting, these are our hints to ourselves of emotion that needs to be conveyed. But they are very telly, and do nothing to convey characterization. This is a more precise revision (and one that desperately needs the search function).

Have patience, take the time you need to convey your characters in the way you've dreamed. I highly recommend these books as guides of how to be more precise in word choice, especially of the emotional variety.

4. Find a Way to Still be Accountable

In the fury of drafting, it's easy to track progress. Word count wins and is celebrated (or cursed. Yes, I'm looking at you 10k a day people.) But when it comes to revising, it is easy to feel like we made huge amounts of progress when we completed merely a page or two. There are people who track their revision by pages, I prefer to do it by chapter. Either way, set yourself a goal, keeping in mind that a proper work through cannot be as fast as drafting was. If tracking pages or chapters doesn't seem to work for you, set due dates for yourself.

When will you hit the mid-point?

When will it be complete?

If you are the kind who is lenient with your own due dates, find a contest to enter, sign up for a pitch session, and let the external motivators work their magic.

And then?

Read through again and send to other readers for more feedback. Do not set yourself up for heartbreak and rejection by jumping in before you and your story are really truly ready. Just as we would expect time and thought and consideration would be made PRIOR to a marriage proposal, we need to give these same things to our story.

-------------------------
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Life of a Self-Published Writer

Happy Friday! If you've been following along, some of the contributors to this blog have been posting as part of our special "Life as a Writer" series. Here are the previous posts in the series if you want to check them out:


And today it's my turn with: The Life of a Self-Published Writer

I've been a self-published author since 2012. Since that time, I have been asked these three questions (or variations thereof) approximately 1,403 times: "Are you ever going to query?" or "Why don't you want an agent?" or "Will you ever consider going traditional?" I know that some people view self-publishing as a stepping stone to publishing via the "traditional" route with an agent. Or let's be real -- some even view it as being inferior to going the agent route. However, self-publishing is a viable option for me and for a lot of writers that I personally know, and I am quite happy with my self-publishing life.

And so my answer to these questions goes something like this:

Self-publishing WORKS for me. 
Self-publishing is FUN for me. 
(And I'll keep self-publishing it until it doesn't work or until it stops being fun.)

Maybe some day I'll post about why I decided to opt for this route in my writing career, but as the point of this post is to focus on "The Life of a Self-Published Writer," here are some things that you should know about this particular way of life:

1. YOU are the publisher. But that doesn't mean you need to be alone in this business.
As the publisher, you are responsible for all of the stages of publishing. Among other things, this includes proofing, editing, print/ebook formatting, cover design, submission, and marketing. There's a steep learning curve, and yes, it can be overwhelming if you are truly doing everything yourself. However, lots of successful self-published authors hire editors and proofers, hire cover designers, and have street teams to help with promotion. And lots of them opt to do some or all of these things by themselves.

For instance, I've hired cover designers to do covers for most of my books but have also designed one (and redesigned another) by myself. I hired an ebook formatter for my first book but then I learned how to do formatting by myself and have enjoyed doing it since. I have a wonderful street team called The Demon Horde that helps spread the word about new releases, but I also do my own promotion and marketing on social media. I do some of my own editing and proofing because I used to do freelance copyediting, but as humans are notorious for missing our own typos (see my post about TYPO, the 4-letter word here), I do rely upon the assistance of other editors. 

2. YOU have creative control. Over everything. 
As the publisher, you have control over your own writing timeline and over other aspects of the writing and publishing process. You have control over what your cover is going to look like and other creative elements of publishing. You have control over what types of marketing and promotion you do, and you're responsible for making important networking connections. You have control over pretty much everything.

Timeline: I've heard people say that they don't want control over everything, but this is the aspect that I may love most about self-publishing. I love having control over my own timelines because writing is not my full-time job. I'm also an associate professor of biology, and I have a family (with two small children) that deserves my love and time. I publish a book about once every 6-10 months, and I'm good with that.

Creative elements: I absolutely love having creative control over my book covers. I love making book teasers and bookmarks and banners. I just barely hired the model who serves as my character inspiration to pose for the cover of my next book *cue flailing* and I get to direct the photo shoot with an awesome photographer *cue more flailing.* In my opinion, it doesn't get any better than that!

Marketing: Okay, hard reality. This is admittedly my least favorite part about self-publishing. I don't like bothering my friends, but I do enjoy reaching out to readers, going to author events, and using social media to share news with my fans. There's a fine line between effective self-promotion and obnoxious spamming, and I highly recommend you read Rachel Thompson's award-winning blog post on Huffington Post, Authors are A**Holes, to see if what you're doing falls on the effective side of the spectrum. Bottom line is that authors must build meaningful relationships to be successful. All authors.

3. You shouldn't feel limited in what you can achieve. 
Self-publishing has boomed in the past several years, and it is an extremely viable option for many authors. Self-published authors go to book events and engage with their fans. Self-published authors hit NYT and USA Today bestseller lists. Self-published authors get optioned out (my YA urban fantasy series was optioned out by Off the Grid Entertainment for potential TV/movie production last year!) But I'm a firm believer that while these achievements should be celebrated, no author (trad or self-pub) should treat the "bestseller lists" as goals. If it happens, it happens. If not, you should still celebrate your achievements.

Writing is challenging. Self-publishing isn't for everyone, but neither is traditional publishing. It's challenging no matter what route you take. But in my opinion, the most important thing is to have FUN in taking on that challenge.
___________________________________

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL (coming 2015) and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors on the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT (now available for preorder at all ebook retailers).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Giving Back to the Writing Community

One of my absolute favorite things about being a writer is being a part of the writing community. When I first started writing, I was at one of the lowest points in my life--feeling lost and lonely and wondering what I was doing with my life. I had a business I enjoyed, owned my first house, and my husband and I were starting to think about a family. But I just wasn't excited about anything. I wasn't excited about what I saw when I looked into my future.

 Then I started to think about writing my first book. I did a lot of research about how to do this. I mean, do normal people write books?! It was right around that time that I discovered National Novel Writing Month and a whole new world was opened to me--that of the writing community. As I connected with people who had the similar goals, I felt like I was coming home. It wasn't just about the writing, it was that these people seemed to view life the same way I did. They understood that writers are writers down to the very core of their being and nothing in life makes sense until, at 5 years old or 55, we find our way to the page. I was home.

Since then, rarely has a day passed that I haven't touched base with "my people" in one way or another. It's writers who assured me I wasn't alone in following this crazy passion of mine, no matter how hard, misunderstood, and sometimes fruitless it can be. It's writers who encouraged me and lifted me up during the hard times, even when my hard times weren't always writing-related. It's writers who, through their blogs, critiques, craft book suggestions, workshops, conferences, and extensive online chats, taught me how to write. I don't know where I'd be in my career or my life without this amazing group of people.


But not only have I been rewarded by the kindness of others--giving back has been just as fulfilling. The further along I get in my journey, the more I try to return the favors that have been extended to be over the years. First, because it makes me feel even more tied to this community I love. Second, because I know how hard it can sometimes be to bridge the gap from beginning to intermediate and intermediate to advanced writer. Third, because for me, there has been nothing more fulfilling than knowing I'm helping other people follow their passion and get excited about their own futures. The writing life is full of ups and downs, but it's a beautiful journey most people never get to experience. 

Sharing your experience with others makes it even more beautiful. No matter how long you've been writing, there are always ways to give back.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Blogging. I've learned probably 90% of what I know about writing and publishing from blogs such as these. Even if you're just starting to learn about the craft, there are always people hopping on the train behind you and who have yet to learn the lessons you already have. Share what you know.

Offer Up Your Specific Skills. Most writers are not just writers. Some are lawyers, life coaches, runners, stay-at-home parents, or like me, tech junkies. Whatever particular skills you already have can help other writers, from giving tips on balancing writing and fitness or writing and parenting to offering publishing legal advice or creating writing tools.

Critiquing. Sometimes the hardest part about being a writer is trying to figure out what you're doing on your own. Giving objective feedback on another writer's specific strengths and weaknesses can help them move forward leaps and bounds. And you'll learn a lot from reading objectively too.

Volunteering for Writing Organizations. Most writing organizations are completely volunteer run and every single position is important. They are always looking for help.

Creating Connections. If you come across a romance-writing friend who needs a critique partner and you write fantasy, reach out to your other romance-writing friend and see if they'd be interested. If a friend has a research question about the medical field, ask your doctor cousin if you can pass on the questions. These seemingly little things can make a huge difference.

Just Being There. It's hard to balance writing and life alone without taking on additional responsibilities, I know. But most of the time, the best thing you can do for other writers is let them know they're not alone--you've been there, you understand, and they'll get through this too. And, more than that, you'll be there to congratulate them on their successes along the way, just like they've done for you.

In what ways do you give back to your fellow writers? What has the writing community meant to you?

---------------------------

Jamie Raintree writes Women's Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing--her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women's Fiction Writers Association.

Monday, January 19, 2015

To Watch and Learn: What Movies and Television Can Teach Us about Writing

We all know by now that if you’re going to write books, you should be reading them as well, right? That there’s no better way to learn the craft than by analyzing the words of others? Good. Keep with that. Read every chance you get. But you know what else you should be doing? Watching television. Yes, that’s right. And movies too. Each one is an entire lesson in storytelling jam-packed in the space of a couple of hours.

Since I started writing, I can’t simply tune out while watching anything anymore. I have to analyze. One of the more severe cases of this affliction happened to me recently while watching “Willow.” I hadn't seen it in at least ten years, maybe more, even though I’d loved it while growing up. I was happy to find that I still love it, but there was one thing that really bothered me this time. I mean really bothered me. It had never bugged me before, but that was back when I could sit and enjoy a movie without worrying about whether or not everything about it made sense.

Warning: If you've been living under a rock and haven’t watched “Willow” yet, but would like to someday, stop right here. *puts on best pirate voice* Thar be spoilers ahead.


Everyone good to go? Okay.

So you know how Sorsha abruptly changes sides after the battle with the trolls at Tir Asleen? I mean, okay, I get how she’s supposed to have fallen in love with Madmartigan, but I didn’t find the build up to that to be very convincing. It just seems so sudden—one minute, she’s a strong supporter of her mother, Bavmorda, and extremely antagonistic toward Madmartigan (despite his love-spell influenced creepy poetry and attempt to force-kiss her in the tent . . . gee I wonder why that ddidn'twin her over right away. Oh wait, it kind of did. Thus you find me sitting here unconvinced). Then they fight trolls-turned dragons. Then BOOM! She’s in love with Madmartigan and on the side of the good guys, betraying Bavmorda to help them out.

This can’t be right, I thought, as I watched Sorsha switch sides at Tir Asleen. Something appears to be missing here. Well as it turns out, something was. After the movie was over, I checked out the bonus material on the DVD, specifically the deleted scenes with Ron Howard’s commentary. And guess what? There’s an entire side story about Sorsha’s father that was cut for the sake of length. Sorsha didn’t betray her mother because she fell in love with Madmartigan. She did it because she found out her mother had encapsulated her father in ice at—guess where? Tir Asleen. She sees him frozen there, and that is her motivation to take down Bavmorda.

Oftentimes while revising, we’ll find we need to cut material for the sake of word count (I actually usually need to add material because my drafts are short, but that’s a post for another day). The lesson I took away from watching “Willow” is that, while cutting scenes, make sure you aren't weakening your plot or characters. Choose what you cut very carefully, and if it does take important information away, find a way to weave that back in more succinctly somewhere else. If I hadn't watched the bonus material, I never would have known that was what had happened in this case. I wouldn't have learned that, though revisions usually serve to strengthen a story, if you’re not careful, they can also make a strong plot weaker.

I've learned a lot about writing from several television shows as well. Want a good example of character development over a long story arc? Watch “Supernatural” and keep track of how each major event affects Sam and Dean over the long haul. The Winchester brothers of Season One are most certainly not the Winchester brothers of Season Ten. Want some great examples of witty, snappy dialogue? Watch pretty much anything from Joss Whedon. His dialogue bits are jaw-droppingly brilliant at times. I’m not exaggerating. My jaw has literally dropped. Want an example of I-did-not-see-that-coming plot twists and raising of stakes? “Doctor Who” can be pretty good at that.

My examples are all fantasy and sci-fi because that’s what I write and enjoy the most, but I challenge you now to look at your own favorite movies and shows, then figure out why they’re your favorites. Look at some of the ones you don’t care for as well and figure out why they aren't working for you. Study facial expressions, demeanor, how shots are framed, how locations are used to enhance the atmosphere of a scene, how props and conversations are used to foreshadow future plot points. Watch bonus material and interviews with the writers and directors to discover why they chose to do things a certain way. Then take what you've learned and see how you can apply it to your own writing.

And the next time someone accuses you of being a couch potato as you press the “play next” button on Netflix for the umpteenth time, you can tell them that no, you’re actually working. Because you really are. Just . . . don’t forget to turn the television off once in a while and read some books as well. And, oh yeah, write.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband.
 
A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here

Friday, January 16, 2015

The life of a querying writer

The life of a querying writer is--if I'm totally honest--one of the hardest part of my writer life to date. Part of that comes from the inevitable roller-coaster ride that is querying. A writer friend compared querying to going through the stages of grief--and while it does have its fair share of rage and denial, it's not all downhill. (See what I did there?)



Actually (and please don't stone me), there's a lot to querying that I like. I like the sense of anticipation, that clean-slate moment where anything is possible. It's a lot like dating, actually. Though I'm happily married and I don't *want* to be single again, there is a little part of me that will always be sad that I don't get to experience the magical anticipation before a first date. And while I'm happily agented now, I have to admit that I do miss (a very little!) that same sense of anticipation before sending out query letters.

If you're just getting started on the query roller-coaster, here's what the trajectory looks like:

1. Researching agents

I started researching agents long before I was done revising my manuscript. I keep my query-related stuff in an excel file, so anytime I saw a new agent alert on Writer's Digest that looked promising or a great agent interview on Literary Rambles, I'd make a note of the agent and a link to their submission guidelines. Query Tracker.com, Agentquery.com, searching #mswl (Manuscript wish list) on twitter or the blog compiled by Jessica Sinsheimer at http://manuscriptwishlist.com/ are all good places to look for agents who might rep the genre you write.

2. Writing the query letter (and synopsis)

Let it be said--I do not love writing query letters. Condensing a 100k novel into 100 words or so is incredibly painful, for nearly anyone. Luckily, there are some great resources online to help with this, including these:

Shallee McArthur's helpful 4 Cs of Query Letters

Susan Dennard's tips on writing great queries

Susan Dennard's tips on writing a synopsis (hands-down the best synopsis tips I've seen. It made writing a synopsis not exactly pleasurable, but do-able)

Also, query letters are things that should not be attempted alone--get feedback on it before you hit send! Once I had a decent query letter, I sent it to some trusted CPs who tore it apart. I rewrote it multiple times before I hit on a version I liked.

3. Hit send

For many querying writers, this is one of the hardest parts. We stare at our computer screen. We scrutinize the font (it can be helpful to send a sample email to yourself before sending it to an agent!), we check for mistakes. We take a deep breath, hit send . . . and then see the typo we missed. Try not to freak out about this too much--it happens to the best of us.

4. Hope

I don't think I realized quite how much hope feels like terror until I started querying. After hitting send, there's this glorious space where anything is possible. Sometimes that hope lasted all of an hour, in the case of notoriously quick agent responses (Query Tracker can give you some idea of general response times). Other times, it might last months, especially if you have a partial or full manuscript out.

5. Obsessively checking my email and/or twitter

This was my second time querying, so I was smarter and wiser and set up a separate gmail account for writing-related stuff. That way, I didn't freak out every I got a new advertisement in my regular account.

I still spent a lot of time looking like this:


I actually made checking my email a reward to keep from refreshing all the time--i.e., if I finished a round of grading I could check. After I fed my kids dinner, I could check. It kept the need to constantly refresh from taking over my life.

And then there's social media. Twitter makes it easy to follow a majority of agents--and it can be hard to resist the temptation to read into every tweet an agent sends. "She says she wants cake! Maybe she just read that scene in my MS where they *eat* cake." This kind of thinking can make you crazy pretty fast. Try not to do it (I well know it's easier said than done!) And don't read anything into agents following you on twitter either. Sometimes it means something (i.e., an offer is pending). Sometimes it doesn't. Trying to guess the difference won't do anything but make you more anxious.

6. Reacting

For all that we spend hours as writers imagining how our characters will react to things, I think we (or maybe it's just me) do a pretty poor job imagining how we'll react to something as high-stakes and stressful as querying. For most writers, even successful ones whose querying lands an agent, we go through lots of rejections. Some I was able to shrug off (basic forms), but every single full-rejection I got hurt. A lot. Though ironically, the most painful rejection was off a partial from an agent I really admired that I queried really early in the process.

I think it's important to remember that there's no right way to react--let yourself feel disappointed, sad, angry, whatever. One writer friend wrote some lovely rejection haiku to assuage her feelings--if this helps, do it! Just don't actually *send* it:
And then, of course, there's the bounding-off-the-walls celebratory high from a request--especially a full request from an agent you've dreamed of working with. I found, though, that the highs didn't last long, and weren't enough to sustain me over the long haul.

Make sure you have a good support network in place--writer friends, family--people who love you and support your writing. Query fatigue is a real thing. It's easy to get tired and downright despairing, and you'll need people to help lift you.

Remember, too, that rejections don't mean that you are worthless or your writing terrible (though it can often feel like that). Usually they just mean, "not this agent, not right now." Think of how you feel when you enter a book store and can only afford to buy one or two books--there might be lots of books that were interesting, some that frankly weren't your type, but only one or two that really tugged at your heart. Agents can't represent everything--that doesn't mean its personal.

7. Shake it off--and move on (aka, rinse, lather, repeat)

Some writers, myself included, adopted a strategy of "revenge querying"--that is, for every rejection you get, send out another query. Or two. Grieve if you need to, but keep moving forward. Do more research, get new eyes on your query letter and pages if you're getting lots of rejections, revise, and hit send again. Then breathe. Let yourself hope some more.

8. Write something new

Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do when I was obsessing over my book baby and agent responses (or non-responses) was to write more. But brainstorming a shiny new idea--even writing a few pages in a new WIP--are great ways to combat querying fatigue.

And there's nothing like a shiny new idea to remind you why you started writing in the first place. I'm currently on submission, and writing not only helps distract me, but it keeps me from putting all my eggs in one basket. I will write other good things--I'm already starting to.

9.  Hitting "the End"

For a querying writer, querying ends one of two ways. Either you get THE CALL, or you decide to shelve the book.

The first, of course, is exciting and what every author hopes for at the end of their round of queries.

But the other is okay too. Some books aren't quite ready. Sometimes the market isn't ready. I got an agent on my second round of queries (third if you count the cold query I sent to Tor when I was 20); I have a writer friend who got an agent on her 10th book. But I'm still glad I queried that first book. I learned a lot about the query process and about agents I admired (and agents who weren't for me). I learned more about revising and my own writing strengths and weaknesses from the feedback I got from agents.

More importantly, I learned that setting a book aside wasn't the end of the world. It's not a failure unless you let it become one. For me, it's just one more milestone on the road.

And besides, everyone needs a good query rejection story. It's part of being a writer.

If you've queried before, what was querying like for you? If you're about to query, what questions do you have?

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she's often found reading. She's represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.