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Joey’s small press adventure

Moving on to my second recently-published friend, Joey (not his real name).

In the interest of full disclosure, I really don’t know Joey all that well. We just kind of happen to travel in the same circles and, in passing, we discovered we had both graduated from the same writing program, only a handful of years apart.

Now, Joey’s specialty is poetry, and though I don’t tend to read much of the stuff, I do appreciate good poems when I happen upon them, and I have to say Joey’s work seems pretty darn good to my untrained little eye. And my untrained little eye must be on to something, because Joey’s poetry has won at least one small-but-significant poetry award for emerging artists. He’s also just been recently published by a small, but very well-respected literary press.

While it’s possible that Joey happened to know someone who knew someone at said small press, and therefore he somehow had an ‘in’ with them, chances are he didn’t and he actually got in the good ol’ traditional way: By submitting his work. A few months ago, he proudly announced that his collection of poems had been accepted for publication. He got an advance, a contract and all the traditional bells and whistles. The publisher even threw a book launch for him, and has had him out on a mini-book-tour with another handful of poets. His poetry collection is available for purchase at any regular old bookstore.

Being a poet, it’s not surprising that Joey didn’t bother with agents and the querying process in the traditional sense. He knew where he stood in the market and he approached the handful of respectable small presses that were likely to be interested in his work.

Like with Diane, there’s no point comparing Joey’s work to mine. Diane and Joey are evening wear and cultured pearls; I’m slacks, funky shoes and silver rings. And I’m OK with that. I, in fact, like it that way. My writing may still have some residual literary flair from my days at writing school, but that’s all it is: Residual. And flair. May aim is to tell a story. I like having a plot with a discernible beginning, middle and end. And though I like words, and I’d like to think I’m reasonably adept at stringing them together, I have no illusions or even intention of writing literary fiction, much less high calibre poetry.

Still, since learning of Joey’s experience, I’ve started considering small presses a lot more seriously that I had in the past. I mean, while Joey’s publisher is high-end literary, obviously not all small presses are created equal. So, I started doing some research and I’ve even come up with a handful of small publishers that may actually be a pretty good fit for the novel I’m currently shopping around. But like I said in my previous post, I’m not quite ready to take that step just yet. I still have those fulls and partials out and I can’t even say I truly regret the relentless querying I’ve put myself through–never mind how harrowing, heart-breaking and thankless it’s been at times. The thing is, deep inside, I still think going through a literary agent is what’s going to be best for my book and my writing career in the long run. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit.

Do I wish the odds weren’t so stacked against me? You bet I do!

Do I wish the traditional publishing industry didn’t move at the speed of tortoises slugging through a swamp of crunchy peanut butter? Well… Duh! Don’t we all?

Am I tempted at this very moment to just start querying small presses, even when I still have a handful of fulls and partials out there in Agentland? Uhm… Yeah. But like I said in my previous post, I’m also sorely tempted at times to just go the Diane route and self-pub. And who knows? I might end up doing just that. But not yet. Because, even as my impatience is sometimes borderline asphyxiating, I just have to force myself to stop and really, really consider what I think will be best for my career. Because I’m not talking about this one book I’m currently shopping around. I’m talking about any and all others that will come next. I’m talking about what I’m working on right now and what I’ve been working on while querying this novel; I’m talking about what I will be working on next year or the year after that. Because the day I stop writing altogether, the day I fully, truly give up hope… That’s the day I give up my soul.

OK, that came out a little more melodramatic that I intended. But it really is true. Giving up my dreams would mean dying a little. Resigning myself to failure. And I’m really not ready for that. Not when I’ve got people who still believe in me–which just humbles me into believing in myself.



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Thank you, PitchWars!

A few weeks (and couple of posts) ago, I was bemoaning the overabundance of form rejections in my little world because… how is anyone supposed to fix anything if they no longer have a clue HOW to fix it? Especially since we’re not talking about a rushed first or even second draft. No, no: At the time of that posting, my novel was on its seventh draft, having already undergone multiple revisions and benefited from the invaluable feedback from several kind and super smart beta readers. So… Those form rejections? They were telling me squat. It was starting to make me really cranky. And depressed. And despondent.

Well, not a full week since I’d hit that self-pitying rock-bottom, I stumbled across PitchWars, a critique contest for polished manuscripts run by the fabulous Brenda Drake (for more on what the contest is all about, click here). Not really expecting much, I re-polished my query letter, proof-read my first five pages for typos, and decided to enter. The odds were a little daunting: Of almost 700 entries, only 40+ would be picked to go on to the next leg of the contest. So I wasn’t precisely holding my breath. And just as well, because I did not get picked.

But, guess what? It didn’t matter. Because, of the four mentors I’d submitted my query and first pages to, three sent back personalized responses: Short, concise reasons why they’d passed on my submission. Now, participating mentors were NOT required to do this. I was just lucky enough to pick these awesome people who took time out from their own writing to send short, personalized responses to each of the 80+ entries each of them received. And I cannot begin to say how incredibly AWESOME that is. The perspective that brought was just priceless and it made me realize that, yes, there’s some stuff really working in my query and first pages. And some stuff that still needed work…. But after getting those personalized notes I at last KNEW what the heck to tackle! And I cannot begin to describe what a difference that has made.

Within a week of receiving my responses, I was editing to beat hell, finally (FINALLY!) having a clue what to fix. The “how to fix it” part took a bit longer and a lot of mulling through the holiday season, but I sussed it out and I think my opening pages are a lot stronger now for it.

I guess sometimes all you need is a little outside perspective. I know it has made a world of difference for me and I’m truly indebted to these three amazing people who took the time to help me, a complete stranger.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean no more form rejections. I know that. What it does mean is that the book I’ll be submitting now will be a much better version than the one I started submitting a few months ago. At the very least, I feel a lot more confident about it! And that also counts for a lot.

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Pitch Wars: Thirteen reasons why a mentor should pick ME!!!

1) I’ve been writing since I was 8. My first book was a Cerlox-bound collection of five original fairy tales I two-finger-typed for my mum’s birthday, with illustrations by my dad. I still remember the little volume vividly (it had a red cover), and that it took forever to type. I don’t remember much about the stories themselves, other than they had actual fairies in them. I don’t write about fairies anymore.

2) I’ve loved writing so much for so long, I couldn’t stomach the idea of going to university for anything other than word-play and imaginary worlds. Ergo, I’ve been the proud holder of a BFA in Creative Writing and Theatre for *mumbles* years now. OK. Next!

3) My day-job involved writing and editing in the corporate world. Fascinating stuff. Well, no. Not even remotely, really. Yawn-worthy, in fact. But it paid the bills. And it turned me into a revision-maniac and a big fan of grammar. Also, that’s how I met Wonderful Husband, who’s still a kick-ass corporate writer, alpha reader extraordinaire and eagle-eyed proof-reader.

4) At university writing workshops, I was nicknamed the Queen of Rewrites (yes, my first drafts suck THAT bad. Luckily no one has seen one of those in years and no one will ever again. Not even Wonderful Husband).

5) I’m in the middle of a two-year “Writing Sabbatical.” This pretty much means that the bulk of my time and energy are currently devoted to writing, revising, revising, revising,  rewriting, revising and revising.  Oh, and querying and researching and more revising. It’s substantially more work and more emotionally-charged than any day-job, which means I’m probably insane for having chosen to do this.

6) I write YA because the teen years are the most heart-wrenching, horrific, wonderful and agonizing time of anyone’s life. Every emotion is felt tenfold, which, IMHO, is the basis of all great stories.

7) I write YA with a paranormal and/or speculative twist because I don’t know how to make the mundane sound interesting. (Plus, as a reader, I always pick the book with ghosts or time-traveling over contemporary or realism. So I write the same kind of stuff I tend to gravitate towards as a reader.)

8) I don’t have a TV. I like it that way.

9) I’m generally not a vampire fan, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an exception to that rule and a timeless work of pure genius.

10) I’ve been dancing flamenco since the year 2000. It keeps me sane. Except when it doesn’t.

11) I have a puppy and she’s the smartest, cutest, awesomest black Labrador Retriever in the known universe. IMG_0251

(Also, she’s dog-size now, but still manages to almost make me die of cuteness whenever I zero in on those warm brown eyes of hers.)


12) I don’t particularly like talking about myself, but love talking about (with?)  my imaginary friends… erhm…  characters. And with my cute dog-size puppy.

13) Writing is my life and it would be nice to be able to share that with the world someday.

Supplement (by The Lab) —  Another bunch of reasons why you should pick my Mommy:

She gives excellent belly rubs and really knows how to scratch behind my ears.

She’ll stop in the middle of her writing to give me a wonderful warm cuddle just when I’m starting to think I’d like one.

She runs all her plot ideas by me. I think her book is pretty cool, even though it features absolutely no Labs or dogs of any other kind (I’m trying to convince her to change this in her next book, but she’s a little hard to get through to… Humans! Sigh.)

Other awesome potential mentee bios:

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The six-month mark

Ok. I do suck at the upkeep of blogs… But, believe me, if there was anything exciting to report, I’d be here in a jiffy! As things stand, though, I’ve been using my time to do some actual writing, instead of writing about writing! At the same time, I figured it was about time to give a quick update on how these first six months of chasing the dream have gone for me:

On Revising

  • Fully revised Book One of the trilogy I’m currently working on, including full rewrites of some parts after some extremely useful pointers from my beta readers.
  • Polished, repolished and had alpha reader do one more read through to check for spelling, typos, grammar, inconsistencies, etc. Manuscript deemed “polished” at about the seventh draft, all in all.
  • Minor revisions of Book Two of said trilogy. Will need more revisions before this book can be out to the betas

On Writing

  • Started full on crazy writing mode of “draft zero” of Book Three. (Draft zero = really, really messy first draft). It may be messy, it may be crazy…. But it feels good to write, to really, really write again
  • Clocking in at about 5,000 – 6,000 words a day. Still no clue how anyone can get to 10,000 words a day. Between time limitations and wrist strain, that goal seems still unattainable for me. I have been known to do 10,000 – 12,000 words’ days, but they’re certainly more the exception than the rule.

On Submitting

  • Have about four different versions of a query letter for the first book, peppered around about 25 agents at this point. Mostly have received form rejections, but I do also have two partial manuscripts out and two fulls out with agencies right now.
  • Now that agents are back from Book Expo America (BEA), I’ll be getting ready to send the next round of queries.
  • Continue to hope that the right person will see my query and read my stuff at the right time.


  • Beta-read a fellow writer’s manuscript (met said fellow writer through the FANTASTIC, wonderful and incredibly helpful forums at Absolute Write Water Cooler)
  • Currently madly typing out about 8 -10 pages of beta notes
  • Offered feedback on about a half dozen query letter drafts posted on said fantastic, wonderful and incredibly helpful forums

Wow. And that’s on top of being a wife and puppy mum, struggling not to fully alienate my friends and feeding a flamenco addiction. So, I was feeling down about not having accomplished enough, but I think I am not doing too, too badly… I still have NO idea how I would have been able to accomplish a fraction of all that while still working full-time and doing all the other life stuff I need to do!

All in all, a busy half year so far… Can’t wait to see what the next few months will bring.

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A little experiment

Given that I’m still suffering from Query Block, I decided to try something a little different today.

Like I’ve done dozens of times, I visited one of the most awesome query-writing resources out there, Query Shark. Only this time, I wasn’t looking for formulas or tips or anything. This time, I just wanted to sample a few mixed entries–both those whose many failures had been pointed out by The Shark, and those which had earned her stamp of approval.

Now,  I didn’t do this to argue The Shark’s pointers or tips, or to make myself feel better about my current inability to revamp my own ineffectual query. No, no. I just wanted to imagine for a moment what it would be like to be an agent myself and get a couple hundred of these mixed queries in my inbox every day. I wanted to see where I would stop reading and why.

The result?

If I had been an agent receiving these queries–even the good ones, I probably would have only asked for pages for about three or five from a sampling of a few dozen. Let me tell you why:

For me, other than skipping the queries with glaring spelling mistakes and/or brutally dreadful prose, I didn’t care much for whether the query was considered to be “good” or not so much. Basically, I just found myself just gravitating towards the stories I actually wanted to read, informed by nothing other than the fact that I’ve been a voracious reader since I learned by ABCs.

Interestingly, many of the “queries that worked” wouldn’t have worked for me, personally. Not because I disagree with The Shark’s assessments–this wasn’t an exercise on analyzing form and content. It was a genuine “what would happen if I received all these in my inbox today?” experiment (morbid as that may sound).

While the quality of the good queries almost invariably prevented me from just stopping reading and moving on to the next one, that didn’t mean I liked what I read enough to request imaginary pages. And having dozens of those puppies to get through, I was sure as heck not going to write a personal response to everyone. But at the end of the day, personal taste did rule above everything else when it came to imagining myself requesting pages for x, y, or z manuscript.

So, I get it, agents: There’s a reason why you do the things you do. Sometimes, “not for me” isn’t actually code for “you suck.” (Although, sometimes, I’m sure it is). Sometimes, “not for me” simply means “not for me.”

Thus endeth today’s little bout of procrastination… erhm… experiment. Let’s see what else I manage to cook up to avoid rewriting this sonofagun letter of mine…


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Returning from a wee break…

It wasn’t really a planned break… It just kind of… unfolded as such…

See, Little Miss Lab went in to get spayed last week and has been recovering since. This alone shouldn’t have accounted for the complete hiatus in my work, of course… Except that Wonderful Husband stayed home from the office to help with Pup’s first few days of convalescence, which kind of changed our routines quite a bit… And then, one day after Little Miss Lab’s surgery, I got a stupid cold, which is still dragging and has now turned into a nasty cough. Ugh.

So, needless to say, my computer kind of gathered a bit of dust over these past few days, temporarily abandoned in favour of watching movies while cuddled up in the couch with Recovering Pup on one side and Loving Husband on the other.

Oh yeah, and the fact that I recently decided that my query needed a full revamp hasn’t particularly inspired me to be at the keyboard again, either.

I mean, writing a book is hard work–we’ve already established that… Well, it’s an EFFING PIECE OF CAKE when compared to the dreaded task of writing a query letter. And you know what? It doesn’t get any easier.

I’m currently considering abandoning the task and the “business” side of things for a little bit… Just take a little time off that crappy, crappy side of things, and focus on actual writing instead (imagine that!). That might remind me why I’m doing this in the first place…

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Feeling accomplished

Back when I started this writing adventure, I said I’d have to give myself a few little personal deadlines to keep me focused… The first was to get the latest draft completed and re-revised by mid-March. Well, I finished it off last Friday, so I’m actually ahead of schedule! Now the latest incarnation of said book baby is in the capable hands (and e-reader) of Prime Beta (a.k.a. Wonderful Husband).

So, the inevitable question is at this point… Now… what?

Part of me just wants to carry on with the story, now that I’ve had the time and chance to get reacquainted with my characters–you know, start notes and rewrites for the second book, and even start developing the conclusion…

Part of me is eager to start the terrifying querying process…

And yet another part of me (a BIG one) is just paralyzed with fear about said querying process.

See, no matter how well I’ve done my research, how many hours I’ve spent agonizing over my query letter and synopsis… I’m really not looking forward to that whole thing.

Is it the fear of rejection?

Uhm… Yeah.

But it’s not the fear of the first rejection–or even of the first ten… It’s the whole… what happens if I don’t even get one ‘yes’? Or what happens if I get one yes and it’s not a good working match?

That whole business side of the writing biz is what terrifies the heck out of me. More than an empty screen/blank page. More than zombies, revenants and North Korea’s nuclear weapon tests.

There’s always Plan B, of course. Gone are the days where self-publishing was riddled with stigma. And it certainly worked for Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey and Lisa Genova–just to name a few. And there are even those who don’t get a traditional publishing deal out of self-e-publishing, but still manage to make enough out of their e-sales to pay a few bills…

And at the end of the day, that’s all I want: To make a living out of my writing and my imagination. That’s all I’ve ever wanted (other than a Wonderful Husband and a cute puppy… But there’s already check marks next to those items…)

So… ONWARDS… Hmmm…. Business letter to agents? Or rereading and making notes on the second book? Hmmm…. Decisions decisions…

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