Indiana Writing Workshop Wrapup

Continuing education is part of most professions, and writing is no different. I love attending conferences for both of my jobs, and both for the same reason: leapfrogging.

Ordinary learning is step by step. You have an issue, so you try to find an answer.  You look things up, or consult a resource.  You try something and it works or it doesn’t. One way or another, you learn a new fact and apply it to the problem.  It’s a tedious process, and you only learn the answer to the specific issue you were trying to solve.

Leapfrogging jumps straight over those steps. You aren’t looking for one single answer. You’re attending an educational event where answers are shared freely, to questions you have and to questions you didn’t even know to ask. Industry leaders just tell you things…secrets and tricks that make whatever you do better, easier, more current, and more relevant. At the end of the day you go home with a notebook full of knowledge, having leapfrogged in your study of whatever the lecture was about.

Today’s Indiana Writing Workshop was a serious leapfrog.  Writing conferences generally feature two draws: speakers and pitch opportunities.  There are actual agents there that you can schedule a ten-minute window to pitch your book. It’s how I originally connected with my amazing agent Alice Speilburg, and it’s a great opportunity for anyone who’s trying to get a manuscript represented.

Obviously I wasn’t pitching today, but one of my writing buddies did, and she got a request from one of her dream agents.

I went for the speakers, one of whom was…my amazing agent Alice Speilburg.  She talked about the agenting process, what agents do and what they’re looking for, and her afternoon lecture was a leapfrog event on rewriting a manuscript based on reader feedback. She gave us revision tips equivalent to years of struggling alone, trying to figure out how to make sense of the comments our beloved beta readers give.

Marissa Corvisiero talked about publishing options, and about building an author platform with things like…blog posts.  So…hi, everybody. Here’s a blog post.

Thanks to the workshop coordinators, attending agents, and a big hello to all my new writer friends out there.

Keep leapfrogging. The next jump could land you somewhere wonderful.

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When Do You Write?

I’m asked that question all the time.

As a full time veterinarian, my work hours are…let’s say, flexible.  My last appointment might be at 5:40, but I might not get home ’till eight on any given night.  True emergencies, and “emergencies” (client: “Gee, Doc, he’s been throwing up for six days straight…I think he’s really sick.” me: “I agree.  He was ‘really sick’ five days ago.  I’ve been here waiting for you all week. But now I’ll just go ahead and cancel my dinner plans, so…all right then.”).  I also have a husband who likes to see me now and then, a house and yard to take care of, and usually a marathon or bike ride to train for.

Everyone’s busy.

So when do I write?

The easy answer is: I write on the evenings my husband is at the restaurant.  He’s out at least one night a week, and sometimes four, so I get some good blocks of time to sit and make words happen.

But the real answer is: All the time.

I write on my bike rides, thinking about troublesome plot points as the miles whiz past.

I write in line at the grocery.

I write in bed at night when the house is dark and quiet except for the purring of the cats who make blankets unnecessary.

The actual words only pour out when I’m sitting here in front of the keyboard, but a writer is always writing.  Noticing.  Considering.  Invisible people are constantly whispering in my brain if I’m not doing something that drowns them out.

If you know any writers, you know the look.  We get really into our own heads.  It’s not that we’re tuning you out, it’s just that our book worlds are as real to us as the tangible world is to you.  Sometimes we wander out of this world and into our own.  Sometimes we get stuck there.

So if you’re talking to a writer and they don’t hear you right away, don’t be offended.  You aren’t the only one talking to them even if you’re the only person you can see.

When do I write?

I’m writing right now.

Down in Flames

It is with great sadness that I share the news that Word Branch Publishing is going out of business.

I am forever grateful to Cathy for taking a chance on an unpublished writer and making Flamewalker a reality.  It will shortly be unavailable on Amazon.

I have some print copies to sell at my events this fall, but when they’re gone they’re gone.

So what do I do with Flamewalker now?

It’s dear to my heart and I hate to see it out of print.  There are a couple of options.  I can look for a new publisher for it and see if another company thinks they can make it sell.  This is challenging because most publishers want new works only.   It’s not right for Future House, who published Horizon Alpha.  I could get the rights to the cover art and self-publish it on Amazon and CreateSpace.  That’s never been an option for me before because I didn’t want to.  I’ve always felt that if I wrote a work and tried to place it with no success, and not one single publisher anywhere wanted to put their name on it, then maybe I didn’t want my name on it, either.  Since Flamewalker did find a publisher, I don’t have that uncertainty anymore, so I might go that route.

Or it might just be gone.

Several of my dear friends are going through this at the moment along with me, and I’m so lucky to have Horizon Alpha out with Future House right now.  They’re completely adrift and having to start all over, and at least I’ve still got a novel doing well.  I’m over halfway through the sequel with high hopes for the series. And my agent has another manuscript that might blow the doors off for me.

So I’m all right.

But it’s time to say goodbye to Khalira, at least for now.

Until later, Walk in Her Sight, Live in Her Wisdom.

 

Writing a perfect novel

My editor saved a guy’s life today.

I didn’t want her to.

I argued a bit.

Told her she shouldn’t do it.  But she convinced me, and now there’s a character in my upcoming release who should have died but doesn’t.  One life saved.

We’re in the final stages of editing Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden, which is due to be released by Future House Publishing in less than two months.  I’ve been working with my developmental editor Emma for weeks, making changes and moving things around.  Future House is much bigger than Flamewalker‘s publisher, so the editing is a lot more intense.  This will certainly turn out to be a good thing, but it’s resulted in some interesting changes in the manuscript.

One of those changes involved the guy who died in the original version.  Emma didn’t like it.

But here’s the thing:  it’s what happened.

He died.  He did.  But now he doesn’t.

And Emma is right.  He needs to live.  It didn’t work for my target audience to have this character die, and certainly not the way I killed him.

It’s led me to think a lot about how manuscripts change over the course of editing.  I’m fortunate to be the current group leader and head cat-herder for Cincinnati Fiction Writers, a critique group that’s been meeting since long before I opened my first Scrivener project.  We’re always dispensing helpful advice, telling each other how best to edit works-in-progress.  Most of the time our members are really psyched to put the group members’ opinions to work.  Sometimes they’re hesitant.

“But it’s perfect,” they’ll stammer, tears magnifying their dilated pupils.

Of course they’re right.  It is perfect.  It’s the way they wrote it because it’s the way the story happened for them, and because of that, it’s perfect.

Just like my original manuscript was perfect.

Perfect for me.

And that’s the issue.

I’m not the reader.  I’ll be buying, at most, ten copies of this thing to give to friends and family.  I’m hoping other people will also buy it.  For that to happen, it needs to be more than perfect for me.  It needs to be right for my readers.  And that means making edits.  Sometimes difficult edits.

It means killing my darlings and saving people who should have died.  It means moving chapters and deleting chapters and writing new ones.  It means changing this manuscript from those original words that first flowed from my fingertips, and turning them into something other people will want to read.

Hopefully a lot of other people.

Because this book isn’t for me anymore.  From the moment Future House said YES, it ceased to be just mine.

I’m confident that the changes Emma and I hashed out have made the novel stronger.  I think readers are going to love the new version.  The real version.  The only version that anyone besides me is ever going to see.

But deep in the dusty catacombs of my hard drive, I’ll keep the original version tucked away.  Like the Lost Ark in a box on a shelf in the middle of a government warehouse, it will hide away forever, its contents fading from memory in the passage of time.

You’ll never read it.

It’s only for me.

Because for me, it’s perfect.

 

When should you write the sequel?

A friend of mine just finished a rewrite on his first novel and is preparing to enter the soul-crushing world of querying (nonwriters: this is when you send letters and sample chapters to agents hoping they’ll fall in love with your book and want to represent you and get you a huge publishing deal).  Like every person who has ever queried a book (Every person.  All of them.  J.K. Rowling included), he is going to get rejections.

It’s not that his book isn’t good.

It is.

But the odds of sending the right novel to the right agent at the very moment they’re looking for something just like it are quite slim, and most writers find they have to open an awful lot of oysters before they find a pearl.  Agents find that same truth.

So my friend asked me for advice.  His book is intended to be the first in a series, and although everything he’s read tells him NOT to start writing Book Two right now but instead to start something new and different, he doesn’t want to.  Book Two is burning in his soul and he wants it out NOW.

I get that.

He’s invested in the characters.  He’s been living their lives for the past two years while Book One took shape.  Why not continue while he’s hot?

Here’s what I wrote to him:

Let’s think about this logically.

Your plan (like most people’s) is, I assume, to look for an agent first with the hope of getting a big publisher to buy your book.  The minimum time that will take is a few months (because there WILL be edits/rewrites based on your agent’s feedback even if you are the powerball winner who finds an agent right away), but it can take years.  And once you have an agent, publishers are currently acquiring for 2017, so it will be over a year before Book One hits the shelves.  You will want a sequel eventually, but you have a LONG time if this is the road you get to travel.

What if it doesn’t?   What if you query for at least 6 months, do online critique events, do Twitter pitch events and  writing conferences, and still no agent bites?

Then what will you do?

If the answer is: look for a small publisher on your own, then you might need Book Two.  Small publishers move much faster than large ones and can go from the “Yes we want it” to the “Yay it’s published” in a few months.  So you’ll want a sequel then.  But that’s not going to happen until/unless you’ve given up on the whole agent thing (because you will NOT submit to agents and small publishers at the same time), which I would give at least a solid year (it took me over 2 years, and it was my 4th novel that finally got her).  So you have a lot of time before you need Book Two in this situation as well.

What if that doesn’t work either?  Then you have two choices.  You can give up on it for now and write something else or you can self-publish it.  If you self-pub, you’ll want a sequel to release within a few months.  But again, that’s not going to happen for at least a year or more if you’re looking for an agent/publisher because they move SOOOOOO slowly.

You have a lot of time before there’s any need for a sequel no matter what happens.

And that’s part of why you should write something else now…you’re just not going to need Book Two anytime soon.  I hope you’ll need it eventually, but it’s going to take a long time no matter what.

That’s how publishing works.

Right now you’re way too close to this series.  You’ve lived and breathed it for years, thought of nothing else.  You’re so invested in your characters and your story that you can’t entertain any options for where the story is headed.  That could change with time and experience.  You have to give your brain time to think about it anew before you try to write another book to make sure it’s the direction you really should be going with these beloved characters.  And the only way to do that is to turn away from it for a while by writing something unrelated.

The benefits of that are many.  I would strongly suggest trying to write something new from a different narration point of view (third person vs first, for example).  You will learn a lot just from that simple change forcing a new writing style.  You will also learn a lot from creating a new character, a new story, and organizing your thoughts on that new story with the experience you earned writing Book One.  When you come back later to start Book Two, you will be a much stronger writer by having written a different book in the meantime.

It’s just like any other craft…you have to practice to improve.  We all do.  Book Two loses nothing by waiting 6 months while you write another book (which should go a lot faster than the first one did), and everything to gain.

Another thought:  there could be major changes in Book One’s future.  If an agent or editor wants it, there are going to be more rewrites.   Sometimes major ones.  They might suggest huge changes that could really alter where you’re going and what the characters are doing in the next book.  You might be wasting time writing something now that just won’t work after that process.  And you’ll learn so much from the editing process that again, you’ll be a better writer for Book Two than if you go at it now and it just becomes a continuation of Book One.

The last reason is to buoy your spirits.  I hope you’re the exception to the rule and the first agent you send it to falls in love, and the first editor SHE sends it to also falls in love.

But for most people that doesn’t happen.

I queried my first 3 books for over 2 years (starting when I finished the first one, writing and querying the others as they came to exist) before the fourth finally landed my agent.  During that time I got literally HUNDREDS of rejections on all 3 books because although I thought they were perfect, they simply weren’t ready.  If that was the only option I had, I would have been devastated.

But if you are working on something else, you have that to think about.  “Maybe I’ll never get Book A represented/published, but wow, Book B is turning out amazing and I’m SURE they’ll love it!”

See how important the clause after that comma was?

How sad to stop with “Maybe I’ll never get Book A published.”

And, sorry, but even once you have an agent it’s no guarantee of success.  The murder mystery that my agent loved and signed me for has been on submission for over 9 months now.  All the editors she’s sent it to really like it…but none have yet loved it enough to make an offer.  Even after I got my agent, I’m STILL getting rejections.

So what am I doing?  Writing the sequel to that one she’s trying to sell?

Nope.

I’m finishing another unrelated book so that if my mystery never sells, we can start with the new one once it’s ready.  And I’ve also started yet another in case THAT one doesn’t work.  You just never know.  And if one of these others is the winner, then maybe the mystery will follow once I have a name in the publishing world, so it isn’t dead…just waiting.

The final reason to write something else is the juju.  There’s just something about starting a sequel to an unpublished novel that seems to annoy the Writing Gods.  They don’t like the presumption.  I learned that the hard way two years ago when I thought I had a deal with a small publisher for my second novel and started its sequel in happy anticipation only to have the editor who had fallen in love with it tell me she’d recently learned that a romance has to have a happy ending and since my paranormal didn’t, her romance publishing company couldn’t publish it.  Really bad juju there, folks.

But with all that said, if your gut says write the sequel, there’s no one to say that’s the wrong thing to do.  If it feels right and that’s what will make you happy right now, then go for it.  It’s the only good thing about this time when you’re unagented and unpublished.  You can do any damn thing you want and nobody but you gets an opinion about it.

Just make your choice knowing all the things that could happen with Book One in the next few years, and consider this: in 6 months what you will wish you had started writing today?  Will you want to have a completed sequel?  Or will you want to have something different?

So how about you?  What are your thoughts on writing sequels?  I’d love to hear in the comments.