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The Blog of Anya Harker » musings

Is admitting your first book isn’t THE ONE.

 

Trust me, I’m still trying to come to terms with this realisation. It’s a hard one to come to, to put something you’ve loved so dearly into a drawer and decide you’ll pull it out again at some point… or maybe never again. I’ve sadly hit that point with my first second novel.

 

The first was the easy one to put aside. It’s the book I wrote in high school and I found it again the last time I was home. I flipped through it, shuddered, and threw it in the back of my closet where it will never again see the light of day. I know it’s there and that’s enough. The fact is, we all have our “first” novel. The one we never admit we wrote, but, like all writing it was a learning experience.

 

Then there came the second book. The one you pour your heart and soul into. For me? This is an idea that’s been running around my brain for the past ten or so years. It started in high school, I attempted part of it for NaNo one year… but it wasn’t until last year that I actually sat down and wrote it from start to finish. It went through edits. It went through more edits… and then it went out into the wide and scary world of agents.

 

I have to say — it did well there. I got a LOT of rejections, but I did get a fair number of requests too. And while the agents who read it liked it, there was never that push to take it and me on as clients. Maybe it’s just not ready — or maybe the market isn’t ready. I’ll be damned if I know and I’ll drive myself crazy trying to figure it out.

 

So, for now, my beloved manuscript is going to sit in the proverbial drawer on my harddrive. It’s a hard blow to take, especially when it’s something you’ve loved for so long. But… it happens, even to the best of us.

 

Now, bring on novel number three. Here’s hoping it’s  “the one”.

Over the past six months, I’ve been getting a lot of emails as I venture into the world of querying. Most often, I see the emails of “thanks… but”. Those are some of the worst — especially when they come from agents you’d think would be perfect for your manuscript. You also learn a lot — not to send off a bazillion queries at once when the query isn’t perfect.

 

You learn to head to other sites that offer peer review. You learn to take the criticism and the hurt and put it into writing bigger and better drafts. Soon you have a version of your query that sparkles so brightly it shines as the diamond in the slush.

 

Then, you start hearing the exciting words.

 

Can I see a partial?

Can I see the first 50 pages?

Can I see the first 30 pages and a synopsis?

 

Those words are great and exciting, especially when you’ve gotten nothing but rejections sitting in your inbox. Still, the greatest words ever to appear in an email have to be:

 

Is your novel still available? If so I’d love to consider the full.

 

It still is enough to make me grin. And so you, my awesome readers, what are some of the best emails you’ve gotten while going off on the grand journey that is publishing?

So I was tagged earlier today to do this, and just got home and so here is my offering! If you haven’t seen this around and about, here’s what you do:

1. Go to the seventh or seventy-seventh page of WIP.
2. Count down seven lines.
3. Copy the seven sentences that follow and post them on your blog.
4. Tag seven other authors (on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr–up to you!).

So… here we go, from AVALON RISING. I chose the seventh page to give you a nice teaser from Chapter One.

Seven years ago, she had stood six feet to the right of this plot of grass on the day they buried her mother. The landscape hadn’t changed much in the intervening years, though the trees were a bit taller and there were a more headstones dotted around. Gwen remembered that day being much the same as it was today: unseasonably cold with dark clouds hanging low in the sky, threatening rain at any moment. The bright flowers resting on the lid of her father’s casket stood out in contrast to the ominous backdrop.

“He was so young…”

“I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

Gwen clasped her hands in front of her black patterned skirt, squeezing them as hard as she could.

So there you have it!! Now, instead of tagging folks (as I know mosts of my friends have already been tagged), if you wind up doing this, I will link to you if you comment with your link!

Awesome QTers:

So right now, it’s been fairly slow going. My opening is polished and I’ve been steadily editing while trying to balance my fun work, my internship, and that pesky thing known as law school. I’d send out a couple of queries once a month, just to see how I was faring.

And I’ve been rejected.

Yes, rejection is the name of the game, but it still sucks when you wake up to an email that says “your query was engaging, but I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would”. Hell, you get to the point that a personalized rejection is better than the hated form rejection! Still, rejections suck. You soon realize that no matter how thick you think your skin is, everyone has that one area of vulnerability and they manage to slip beneath that skin and gnaw away.

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve entered several contests as well — and got no love from the agents. At that point, I started re-thinking things. Contests, I will say, are fantastic ways to get some good insta-feedback. At that point, I took a step back and changed things. The title changed. The prologue changed. I started going back over the opening chapters and fixing things, especially when I began to realize just how much my voice has changed over the course of a 76k novel.

Then… came March Pitch Madness, hosted by the amazing @brendadrake, @CA_Marshall, and @Shelley_Watters on their blogs. Still stinging from the last contest rejections, I made a last minute decision to sign up — and I am so glad I did. I waited on pins and needles to see if I got accepted into the final round. Out of 198 entrants, I was one of 60 chosen. OH MY GOD!

I tried not to get my hopes up after the last contest. So when I hit refresh on my entry at noon yesterday, I was shocked to see not one, but TWO requests on my entry for the query and the first 25 pages. I wanted to do a happy dance, but since I was at work, I had to settle for the dance in my head. It looked something like this:

Hugh Grant Does a Happy Dance in LOVE ACTUALLY

Okay, so the .gifs are a little large. So sue me. I want to use things from LOVE ACTUALLY.

At this point I entered the awesome CHALLENGE ROUND. I sat at work, obsessively hitting refresh to see which agent would come out on top. In the end, it was the amazing and awesome Sarah LaPolla who won the day with a 150 page request. It’s safe to say the happy dance I was doing in my head looked something like this:

Laura Linney Flail from LOVE ACTUALLY

So yes. I waited until today to write this post, because I’m afraid that if I wrote it yesterday, it was going to be nothing but a VERY long line of SQUEEEEEEE. So right now is the last set of eyes going over the first 150 pages to make sure they sparkle as much as I know they can. I’ll release it from my hands this weekend. But for right now, I leave you with one final .gif — because this is how I still feel, even as I sit in my law classes and try to do work.

KERMIT FLAIL

Critiques… It Gets Easier

February 4th, 2012

I have to say, at the start of this journey, critiques were hard to take. Honestly, I think it’s hard to hear “hey, this sucks” (though, hopefully told a bit nicer than that!). It’s something you’ve put your heart and soul into and something you’ve been living with for a very long time. Looking at the calendar, I have been living with this current novel in some form or another for about ten years now. It’s only within the past six months that I stopped putting it off and actually did something about writing it.

So yes, I’m protective of my baby.

The last time I wrote about critiques, it was hard to get the first major one from someone I really trusted — but after some licking of the wounds and letting the dust settle, I took an objective look and realised there was a LOT good there in what I was told. So I edited and moved on.

Now as I have my little critique group formed, when I get comments or line edits, I can’t wait to open them and start going through. I’ve finally realised that it’s not a reflection on ME — it’s just my friends making my work even better. They’re removed from it and know when things need to be tightened up and smoothed out.

Critiques? Bring ‘em on! All I ask: don’t send them at midnight or so — because it’s hard to go to bed. It’s like knowing there’s a present under the tree that you can’t WAIT to open — but you have to wait until Christmas Morning.

So, since I’ve now gotten a handle on critiques, someone tell me when rejection letters get easier?

What’s My Genre?

January 3rd, 2012

As I get ready to start the submission to agent process in the next couple of months, I realized I hit a bit of a stumbling block: genre! Yes, I know when that magical time comes that I have an agent and an editor they will know best where to file my book — but at the same time, I need to have some idea of what my genre is for when I query agents. I don’t want to be THAT PERSON who queries 500 agents blindly without knowing what genres they do and don’t represent. I’ve done my research, baby.

However, that still leaves me with the question of what in tarnation do I call this thing? Fantasy? Paranormal Romance? Urban Fantasy? It’s So Good It Doesn’t NEED A Genre? Well… maybe not so much with the last one. Ahem.

The problem is, my book has a lot of elements of ALL those genres.

I’ve read on a lot of sites that, right now, paranormal and dystopian are a hard sell. Well, don’t care that much about dystopian as that’s not what I’m writing. However, I don’t know if I’d classify a book about magic and sorcerers as paranormal — it’s more of a fantasy book. BUT! on the other hand — my book does have romantic elements in it as one of the main plotlines… which doesn’t exactly follow fantasy either in my experience.

I also realize that calling it a paranormal fantasy romance would make me look like a right idiot trying to throw the manuscript and all the genres at the wall and hoping something would stick.

Tonight I was doing some reading over at the Query Tracker Forums and I came across a few interesting threads regarding genre — namely, one I hadn’t thought of: Urban Fantasy. I always had a preconceived notion that urban fantasy was the gritty fantasy set in the middle of a city… like, something that would be set in Harlem, NYC. Reading this thread, however, gave me a whole new appreciation for this genre.

In general, it seems like “paranormal” is generally applied to paranormal romances. Those are stories where the plot revolves around the failure or success of a relationship, so the conflicts and complications come from the interpersonal dynamics between the main characters. Urban fantasies can definitely have romantic elements, but in those stories, the main characters are generally teamed up and working together to overcome some outside obstacle bigger than their relationship.

An easy way to think of the difference is to ask yourself, “Are my main characters opposed and working hard to get together, or are they together and working hard to face an outside opposition?” — LisaAnn

I think I’m in love with this litmus test.

Urban Fantasy does have that little requirement of having a contemporary, real-world, urban setting (as opposed to Fantasy’s wholly imagined landscape), but I think most of us tend to have a sort of real-world setting… even if that real-world is imagined. Hm… a bit of a double-edged sword there, isn’t it? Don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call LORD OF THE RINGS an urban fantasy novel, but I know I’d call THE FEVER SERIES (by Karen Marie Moning) a UF.

Looking at my plot, yes there are romantic elements in it — but in the end they’ll be working together to face an outside opponent. The romantic elements aren’t all there is to the story. A large part? Yeah, I’d say so — but the ultimate end is defeating the bad guy rather than the romance elements of “together-break-up-together-break-up-together-forever”… thing.

Of course, you read another blog and they say that urban fantasy is something dark and gritty — like how I initially pictured Urban Fantasy to be. *throws up hands*

Maybe it is time to throw a bunch of things at the wall and see what sticks.

Well, it’s December 31st and in a few hours I’ll be heading off to the theatre to perform in yet another New Year’s Eve concert. I’ve been a part of these NYE concerts for so many years, it seems odd to contemplate a New Year’s where I won’t play “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and ring in the New Year’s with actors I’ve known for more than a decade.

And yet, who knows where I’ll be next year?

This year has been such a roller-coaster of emotions for me, and I really don’t know where to start looking at what shaped me this past year. I’m embarking on a new and (I will admit) terrifying journey into the world of publishing. Yes, it’s scary to think of putting yourself and your work out there in the hopes an agent will like it and your writing and sign you on. My manuscript is going through edits with my wonderful critique group and my query letter is sitting, polished, in dropbox and waiting to be sent out.

Yes, it’s scary as all hell.

While I’ve been home, I’ve come across a few things I wrote in high school (ugh!) and even books I made as a child. I’ve been writing my entire life and honing my craft as I’ve gone from picture books in elementary school to fanfiction in high school and college — and it’s time I followed my heart and went back to my creative lifestyle. It’s where I’m truly happiest.

Since I decided to push myself to really make a go of writing, I’ve managed to complete a short story, an entire novel, plot out several more, and be asked to participate in an upcoming eZine launch. I’ve been invited to write for Bleeding Cool on several occasions, and will be one of the bloggers in an upcoming YA Blog to be launched in the new year. Let no one say that, when I finally set my mind to something, I go at it with both guns blazing.

Thus, as this year ends, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few thank yous to the friends who have helped me through these past six months to find where I need to be.

So first of all, the biggest thank you in the world goes to my bestie, Kris. I don’t know where I’d be without her, and I certainly know she’s the one who has pushed me to finish this draft and will make sure I don’t chicken out and not submit this thing to agents when the time comes.

Then there are my two Danas — same spelling; different pronunciation. One who is my guinea pig for reading and I’ve left completely in the dark; the other who I have talked and talked to in order to figure out what direction my plot is going in.

And then a huge thank you to my pro-friends: Aimee, Jules, and Jesi — who let me ramble on and are there to talk me down off the ledge and offer such wonderful advice. ♥ And a special thanks to Mr. Tony Lee — who introduced me to so many amazing people in London and also has always been there with a witty remark or kind word of encouragement.

To my critiquers: Erin, Alexa, Nuri, and Jate. ♥ Your suggestions are invaluable.

But most of all — thanks to you guys. My friends and family with all of your support, it means the world to me. To those of you who I’m just getting to know thanks to QT or other corners of the internets, welcome. Thank you… for everything. (And I’m sure I’ve probably left someone out, but that’s what I get for writing this after a 4+ hour rehearsal. So if I forgot you? I’m sorry. ♥)

When the clock strikes midnight, 2012 will be upon us. May those of us who are struggling to get noticed and find our niche in the publishing industry find everything we’ve wanted in the upcoming months.

Happy New Year!

The fact that it’s a synopsis, that’s what’s hard!

Honestly, until I sat down to actually write one, I thought this would be the easiest part of the journey. In my infant days as a writer, I assumed the hard part was going to be getting the 75,000 words down on paper and not giving up halfway through. Then when I hit my stride and was writing anywhere between 5-8k a day, I found that it was the (forgive the term) easy part of the whole process. As I sit in B&N helping a friend of mine plot her novel I realize that plotting is something I love to do and comes fairly easily to me as well. I’m at a point now where I look at a picture and can craft a story around it.

This is, however, more of a curse than a blessing. It’d be fine if I wasn’t trying to balance school on top of writing (or as I think my parents would rather hear me say “balancing writing on top of school”), but right now I don’t have time to plot out fourteen different ideas! But I digress.

While I let my novel sit and percolate in my brain for a while before I begin the hardcore edits, I thought I’d use the time to work on my query letter and synopsis. Even the dreaded query letter wasn’t horrible to write… once the idea came to me. Several drafts later, it’s in a drawer waiting to be used and I’m happy with it.

Finals are starting now and I’m turning to the synopsis as a study break… or so I thought. The deeper I get into this, the more I’m realizing it’s turning into more work than the take-homes themselves! How do you take something that’s 75k and parse it down into only 3-5 paragraphs? One of my professors suggested that I make them five veeerrrryyyy lllloooooonnnnngggg ppppaaaarrraaagggrrraaappphhhsss (in his words) but I don’t think an agent is going to like getting three thousand word paragraphs. ;^)

So that is my goal at some point… to get my SECRET PROJECT down to a measly 3-5 paragraphs. It’s not going to be easy, and there will probably be a lot of crying coming from my corner of the world that has nothing to do with law finals. Hopefully, once it’s done, I’ll have cracked the magic secret of writing the perfect synopsis.

More likely, I’ll be sitting in a corner, rocking, and wondering how on earth I got this done in the first place.

Pros and Cons of Navel Gazing

December 3rd, 2011

Navel Gazing: Excessive introspection,
self-absorption, or concentration on a single issue.

Sure, we all hit this point when we’re writing when you know that AMAZING scene is coming up soon and you can’t wait to reach it. It’s not such a bad thing to skip ahead to write that amazing scene because you’ll come back to where you were later. Right?

… Right…?

Well, as I (and I’m sure many of you have figured out) skipping ahead is a very dangerous habit to get into. Why you may ask? Well, I’m about to tell you… from my own personal experience of course. Again, personal experience. If it works for you, then scroll on by this.

This blog is thanks to Alexa, by the way.

1. You’ll only write your favorite scenes. This is probably the most dangerous of all the reasons navel gazing is so very, very bad. When you keep jumping ahead to write your favorite scenes, you’re going to wind up having a set of scenes that mean almost nothing because you’re missing everything in between. They may be amazing scenes, but without the rest of the novel, you won’t have anything.

2. Continuity. This figures into point number one, actually. When you have a series of scenes, you run the risk of not having everything flow together when you finally come around to writing those hated scenes. Sure, you (hopefully, in any case) have an outline you’re working with but what author hasn’t had something completely unexpected suddenly happen with your characters and suddenly it’s damage control as your characters decide to go in a direction that’s completely different than what you already had planned.

Face it. We’ve all been there.

3. Those scenes? Yeah. Those scenes. If you hated them because you skipped them, how is it going to feel when you have to write EVERY HATED SCENE EVER. And? I have a feeling your audience is going to tell it was like pulling teeth to write those scenes too.

Am I saying you should never skip ahead? No, of course not. Looking at my first draft, I had several scenes plotted out in my head and I even had the ending of this book finished when I was at the half-way point. Sometimes you do have to go where the muse takes you and write what you need to write that day. But on the other hand, it’s a dangerous habit to fall into as well. You run the risk of having to write things over and over and over again if characters screw up your well-made plans or having to write a bunch of scenes you don’t like all at once.

Instead, may I suggest a few alternatives?

1. Just Write it: Yep. Advice number one is to muscle through what you don’t like and just (to quote Earl) “git ‘er done”. Besides, when you get through the scene you’re not looking forward to writing, you’ll have a scene you want to write waiting for you as a reward.

2. why is it hated? Take a step back and look at the scene and try to figure out why you dislike it. Is it because something bad happens to the Main Character and you don’t want to make their life miserable? Or is it because the scene is an info dump and doesn’t have much action? Perhaps the reason you don’t want to write the scene is because there’s something wrong with the scene itself and it’s your muse’s way of telling you “DON’T DO IT!”. Like I said up above, if it feels like you hated writing the scene, chances are your audience will know you disliked it.

Jumping around isn’t a bad thing to do… so long as it happens in moderation.

And if you still want to jump around, navel gaze and stare at the shiny object in the corner to the exclusion of all else? Well, just let me know. I have a prodding stick with your name on it!

Peer Feedback: Yea or Nay?

November 25th, 2011

I’m curious about something: peer feedback… By people you don’t know.

I know most of us have a group of closely trusted friends we use as our critique group: those who we can trust to keep quiet about what we’re working on when we don’t want our amazing and awesome ideas to get out and have someone pull the proverbial rug out from under us and steal said precious idea.

I am, by my nature, a suspicious person. I was the one in grade school who always covered my answers, afraid someone was looking over my shoulder. I get uncomfortable even now when someone looks at my computer screen a little too long in my local B&N.

Yet, as I work on revisions and start turning my attention to the next step in the whole process, I’m starting to think more about getting feedback from my peers. Recently, I came across an awesome site/forum that (among other discussion areas) has a place for peer review.

note: what I’m about to discuss isn’t a reflection on any of the writing/author/whatever sites out there. It’s my being curious and posing a question to you all.

One of the areas of the website that has me intrigued is the section for Query feedback. There’s a part of me that really wants to post my query (when I get there, of course — I’m not quite there yet. But those who know me know that I research and prepare waaaaay before I need things) on the site and get some feedback. The writing and revising of the novel itself isn’t so bad — but as I’ve never written a query before, I find I’m worried about the tone and the format of the letter as, if it isn’t any good I’ve burned a bridge with an agent and can’t requery with the same project unless it’s greatly revised.

But on the other hand… I’m worried about tipping my hand with what I’m working on as well because the forums aren’t locked down at all. Being the law student who has done a LOT of copyright law, I know the ins and outs. I know my words are copyrightable but ideas aren’t.

Thus my conundrum: post and get feedback and risk someone sniping it OR don’t post and go at it wholly alone. Or, the third option, that there’s an unwritten rule amongst writers that you just don’t steal another author’s idea. I honestly don’t know. I know my own moral code leans to the third, but I also know not everyone would feel as I do.

And thus I ask: what would you do?

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