Thursday, August 24, 2023

Back again with another random thought

Yeah, I've been quiet for a while. Several of my followers have asked me if I have stopped blogging. The answer is, only temporarily. I have been writing, just not here. Actually, that is not exactly correct. I have a couple of blog posts started, mainly to remind myself of some random thought I might want to expand on later. I realized I was using my blog to procrastinate. Convincing myself that it was writing practice. And yes, while that is true, it was stopping me from completing my book. 

Writing the first draft is exciting and fun. Each new revision is a little less fun. Imagine reading the same book repeatedly? It is no wonder it becomes very boring. It is hard to believe anyone would be interested in reading it. I now have a novel almost ready to query. I sent out a few queries to agents already, mainly to get some practice in that diabolical exercise. 

Querying agents is a whole other skill and very scary. Not what I expected. The hardest part is pushing that send/submit button. Because as sure as eggs...Oh, there is a saying we used when I was growing up that I am betting no one uses in the US. So many of them! I tire of seeing glazed eyes and saying, "you don't say that here, do you?" I blogged about that here.  

See Power Thesaurus 

But of course, I digress. As sure as eggs is eggs, I will have forgotten some important detail and once you hit that submit button, the query is on its way, there is no changing it. Hence the idea of getting in some practice. Part of the problem is that they all want queries presented in slightly different ways, email, through an online form, first chapter, first ten pages, first twenty pages. 

I selected about 150 agents. Divided them into three groups and then selected ten from group three. Those least likely to want to even read my query, let alone my book, to use as practice. Meanwhile, I sent my query package — that is, my query letter, synopsis and first twenty pages, to an editor to get some professional feedback and, hopefully, help to polish it. So I am not querying my top choice agents. I will wait for her response before getting serious with the queries. To keep myself busy, I started on my second novel. 

Of course, being me, I sent the query package off to the editor early, and she is a professional. She sticks to her very precise schedule. I expect to get her feedback and suggested edits in about two weeks' time. 

It took me over a year to write the first book, mainly because of multiple false starts. In three months, I had completed the second one. The first draft of the second book, that is. Yes, there'll be a bunch of revisions and editing to do now, but I'm happier with the first draft this time and hopefully I've picked up some skills along the way. I am still following classes and webinars online, hoping to do just that.

It surprised me to get several rejections back in response to my test queries. Not surprised at the rejection, amazed that I got any response at all. A few of those rejections were very kind, personalized notes; rather than a standard form letter.

There are so many 'helpful' hints online on how to write a good query letter, one that will lift you above the rest of the slush pile. Things like, say something personal about why you area querying that specific agent. Eh...because she is on the list of agents accepting unsolicited queries in my genre? What else can I say? Only one agent I researched mentioned her favorite books, and one was a book I had also read. Most represent authors I have never heard of. So the suggestion of 'I am querying you because you represent [some author]' doesn't work. I guess I could say that, but it would not be true so no, I won't.

If the query letter isn't so boring that they continue on to read the synopsis, and if that catches their attention, they will read the first how many pages they asked for, varies between ten and fifty, then it has to be good enough for them to want to read more. 

So, having sent my query package to a professional editor, and having paid the first half of a reasonably large fee. Sent out some practice queries to the bottom of the list choices of agents. I suddenly realized that my first page will hook no one, particularly not someone who spends their working day reading boring queries and even more boring first pages. I rewrote the opening ten pages. Now, I am happier with it, but still not sure it is good enough. But I know for a fact that every writer feels the same about their writing. I have to stop second guessing myself, wait for the feedback and then look at it again.

What I find confusing is that, of all of my alpha and beta readers, only one hinted that the opening pages were boring, and I took that advice and updated them. Just not enough. My critique partner was definitely the one who I would have expected to have pointed it out to me. She got the updated version. But then she really didn't give me much in the way of valuable feedback on anything, come to think of it. I wrote about that here. After reading her manuscript and supplying what I thought was fairly detailed feedback, I had to chase her down for just a response. Then, what I got was a couple of generalized comments, which did help, but clearly not nearly enough. In fact, I got better feedback from my beta readers. But, when it comes down to it, it is my job to get it right. 

Now, with two completed novels, I am still not sure if I am good enough to be published. Yes, I could self publish, and if I send out queries to all of those agents on my list, and no one wants to represent me, I probably will end up self publishing. I just know that I won't do any marketing. That is definitely not something I have any interest in doing. So, my novels will disappear into the abyss to join my first book, a memoir: Peeling the Onion.

I wrote Peeling the Onion as a therapy. (See post here). And I only self-published it because my son and my husband both nagged me into it. I knew it would never sell to an agent and didn't even try. But now it is out there. And, even without marketing, a few copies sold. I even got some nice reviews on Amazon. And one not so nice review, but at least that reader took the time to review it. And for that, I am very grateful. In fact, I blogged about that too, here. Since then, I have learned a lot about writing.

Now I have some extra tools to help me. I have installed the Speechify extension in my browser. I load my manuscript to Google Docs and let Speechify read it out loud to me. That picks up a lot of typos and other errors. Apart from Grammerly, I also have the ProWritingAid app. These work in the browser, in Word and in my editor of choice, Scrivener—this is an editor specifically for writers. It is a bit of a learning curve but powerful. ProWritingAid picks up way more than Grammerly. The beauty of these tools is that as they correct me, they are also teaching me. Of course, I am still avidly following each new webinar on The Writing Mastery Academy. And repeating many of their classes, all of which are great.

So, on to book number three. In theory, I should improve with each book. And even if I don't, I have got to keep writing. For one thing, I absolutely love it. And for another, what else would I do? It is the only thing that has kept me sane since I retired. Particularly this year. The first half of the year, when the weather was ideal for boating and fishing, my husband was not well enough to do either. Now, as his health improves, the weather is way too hot to spend any time outside. Thankfully, I have my writing. How do retired people survive without something to fill their days?

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