So much to learn

It’s been eight months since I decided to sit down and write a novel. It doesn’t feel that long.

It’s been, say, seven months since I decided that it might actually work. I initially didn’t tell more than a few people I was even doing it because I was afraid it would peter out and end up incomplete.

And it’s been six months since I declared that particular dragon slain; it was done, I told people. Done!

Of course, it wasn’t. There’s revising. There’s editing. There’s revising and editing again. There’s tweaking.

And there’s a whole industry to figure out. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the first real turn-offs for me was seeing how many agents tell you right on their websites that they don’t respond to the majority of people who send them queries for representation. They don’t send form letters or thanks-but-no-thanks or anything else; they just tell you that if you haven’t heard from them in some predetermined amount of time, anywhere from two weeks to four months, then just assume they’re not interested. They don’t want you to re-query or nudge them or anything; if they don’t like your work, they just don’t tell you and pretend you don’t exist, and don’t particularly want a reminder.

None of them put it quite so rudely as I just did, of course; they’re more professional than that. But from a writer’s point of view, that’s how I heard it.

They’re not all that way, of course. Some of them are apologetic about not being able to respond to everyone, at least; and it seems many of them do at least send out form letters. (I’m not speaking from personal experience, here; most of the agents I’ve queried are still reviewing what I sent them.) From an objective viewpoint, though, I do get it. These people get hundreds of queries a month. And I’m sure some of them are downright terrible and don’t warrant a response (though it would still be polite). And I get that if they sat down and wrote a response to each person, they’d probably never get through all of the submissions in the first place. Still, that sort of passive rejection doesn’t feel right, somehow. And that’s why I’ve sent my earliest queries to agents who do appear to respond to a high percentage of contacts, even if it’s to say no.

I’ve also been intrigued by those agents who take the time to blog about how the industry works. It’s invaluable. I was reading one the other day that posted a whole list of questions authors should be asking when an agent offers to represent them. I never would have thought of half of them on my own. Sure, perhaps web research at that juncture would have revealed them to me, but as it stands now, I could get a call tomorrow with an offer of representation, or at least a request for a full manuscript that leads to an offer within a week, and I’d be scrambling to prepare. (I still would, actually, but at least I have that blog as a starting point!)

Only now am I starting to appreciate how vast and complex this industry is. It’s a little intimidating, sure, but I’m also excited about it.

The waiting is the hardest part…

So, I’m still waiting on that second agent. And the truth is, I don’t know if I want a yes or no.

That feedback the other agency gave me was good, and I’ve started incorporating it. So now I have two versions of the book sitting here – one I’ve sent out, and one that’s a little better. Not only did the feedback inspire a change at the beginning of the book, but also gave me a great idea for the end of the book, too.

And the stuff I did at the end (which I’ll do regardless, since the agent I’m waiting for hasn’t seen the end) sets up the book for a possible sequel. 🙂 Which is something that should probably go in the query letter.

To be honest, I’ve been a little too busy with work and daddyhood to think much about waiting for this agent. It’s been more than a week; his website said if I don’t hear from him in two weeks, I won’t. (I know there’s a valid reason for that, but when they all say it, it seems more intimidating, somehow.) So in a few more days, it won’t matter what I do to the book. 🙂 That said, though, it also means I haven’t sent this new version out, in part because I haven’t finished it yet. Basically, what I’m doing is taking a scene that’s in Chapter 1 out of it. Well, two scenes, really. One of them, while interesting, really isn’t necessary for the story. And the other one is, but it doesn’t have to be in Chapter 1. So I’m looking for the best place to move that, and to filter in the few tidbits from the other unnecessary scene that do have to be shared somewhere, but can be done in other ways.

I guess it’s fine-tuning. I’m not sure I’d have believed how many minor tweaks could go into a 93,000-word story if you told me that before I started.

I heard back from an agent!!!

Of course, it was to pass on my book. But, I got a reply within a day of my first email! Hey, it’s a small victory, but I’ll take it.

So, I finished my second, more significant revision of the book, got it all formatted, and emailed queries to two agents. I didn’t truly expect to hear from either of them, particularly so fast, but one did reply with some good feedback. Told me what she liked and why she was passing, and she’s right; there are things in the first ten pages (which is all they asked for) that probably shouldn’t be there. I hadn’t thought of it the way she said it, so I’m grateful to get that feedback. Of course, it’s still an agent checked off the list, but that’s life.

I have to say, the initial writing was so much more fun than the various revisions. And I knew that; as a journalist for 20 years, I’ve always felt better about the stories that didn’t need major revisions. When I have to back up and rewrite a second draft, I get uncomfortable; can’t tell you why. But if I don’t hear from this second agent (one that said if I don’t hear from him in two weeks, I won’t), I’ll consider making a few more changes. Fun, fun!

And it’s done, again!

Apparently, I edit in bursts. Over the past several weeks, I finished a revision of the book, my second one. But unlike the writing process, or even the first edit, I did this one in the matter of days. As in, a day here, a day there, often with more than a week mixed in.

I did four chapters of it about two weeks ago. Five days later, I did four more. Then, it was another eight days before I got back to it; I finished the last eight chapters over the past two days.

This isn’t necessarily a good way to do this. For one thing, after eight days the changes I made to lines of dialogue and minor plot points aren’t as fresh in my mind; I sincerely hope I didn’t miss something. But at this point, I think I’m ready for a fresh look, preferably by a professional editor. So, yes, I’m to that point again. Which is great. And perhaps the most daunting part; finding an editor and an agent. Wish me luck!

More editing!

So, one suggestion I’ve heard is that I should have someone beta-read my book. I sent it to two people, and one replied really quickly, with some great suggestions about what I could improve.
Which is great, of course, but it also means more editing! I’m finding the editing part of this much harder (and harder to find time for). I guess when I’m writing, I’m more motivated to break away to do that than I am when it’s editing. I guess that’s why they call it “work.” 🙂

Wonder what’s next

At long last, my book is “finished.”

I use quotes because I know it’s not really finished. But, I’m done with the first major round of editing and I’ve sent it off to a couple of beta readers. Of course, I’ve already thought of a somewhat significant revision I’m considering making. I wonder when writers truly know they are really finished. When it shows up in print, perhaps? 🙂

Now I get to figure out how to find an agent, which sounds like a rather daunting process. Maybe it won’t be, once I get into it, at least the basics. So far, though, I’ve skimmed a bunch of websites, all of which seem to have a different set of advice. In some ways, that’s okay; it means I’ll just have to do my own thing and see what happens. A friend is also wading into this novel-writing thing and he already has conversations going with three different agents. That gives me a bit of hope!

Anyway, the real key, I think, will be to stay motivated for this part. Writing, and even editing, come naturally to me. Chasing agents, not so much. But I guess I only need to get it right once, so here’s hoping!