Anatomy of a Denial Letter

Usually there isn’t much to a denial letter. They tend to be single-celled organisms consisting of one line of text with some variation of, “this isn’t for me.” However, last week I got a really good denial letter (if one can consider such a thing to exist). It is always gratifying to hear why the manuscript you slaved over for eternity and the query letter that took nearly as long to perfect aren’t “for” someone. So today I am going to share this more detailed denial along with some of my thoughts.

“–There is a lot of telling instead of showing. Telling informs the reader but also distances him/her from the story. For example: “She listened to music” is very different from “She tapped her leg to the beat of her favorite song.” One tells while the other immerses the reader in the moment.”

I think this makes a very valid point. Definitely something to look out for while editing. Although, I think this might a more prevalent problem in the beginning of Capacitance as I was not truly in my narrative stride. Good red flag to go back and look for!

“–There is a lot of backstory–information given solely for the benefit of the reader that does not fit with the character’s natural thought patterns. Decide what’s essential, what you can reveal later, and what you can cut. A lot of the internal and external dialogue is unnatural. Try to write the way real people think and speak”
How does one find the balance between drawing the reader in and not giving too much backstory too soon? The struggle! However, I am getting this a lot when I do get feedback–that too much of the plot happens too soon. It seems to be conflicting advice sometimes. One guideline will say “immerse the reader in the story” while the other says “don’t give away too much too soon.” Frustrating, but since I have heard this critique more than once a restructured opening might be something to consider. I really disagree with the latter portion of this section. Yes my character’s internal and external dialogue is more elevated than what today’s average person uses. However, this is a world building element. The students of the University (especially Meditrinum users like Mara) are more elevated than the average being. They are smarter and more mature and thus use speech that might come as “unnatural.” Perhaps I need to drive this point home in the text–the University is selective and its students are above average. Unfortunately no non-University characters come into the text for awhile; maybe that could be something to add for contrast.
“–Your character’s name is overused. Use the name sparingly, especially when “she” would suffice.”
Solid editing advice. I never would have thought of this problem on my own, but when I read it I definitely felt like it was a true statement. I will definitely scan the text and correct overuse problems.
–Adverbs are overused. Adverbs should be used quite sparingly in fiction writing. It’s considered a “no-no” in the publishing world.Β 
I had heard this once before, and hearing it again saddens me. I love adverbs, but lesson learned. I will go back and revise accordingly.
“We think your story idea has merit and encourage you to continue revising it.
We wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors!”
Nice end note that doesn’t feel like it is part of some automated response! If only all denial letters were like this… πŸ™‚

Keeping It Real

Just a moment ago I was composing a tweet and it inspired today’s blog post topic. For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (you’re missing out! πŸ™‚ ), here is the tweet minus the ubiquitous #amwriting hashtag:

“Sometimes I worry about needing to keep my story too realistic and forget that sometimes characters need to be larger than life.”

As I was typing the tweet, I was impressed and surprised that I was able to gather that thought into 140 characters. Thus, I realized it is a topic worthy of a blog post. As I write I find myself wondering if the binds my characters get into and–more importantly–get themselves out of are too far-fetched. This is writer’s self consciousness manifesting itself in a new way, and it must be battled. However, there are so many times in books or movies where I find myself rolling my eyes as the main characters find themselves embroiled in some fantastical situation or achieving feats that are simply hard to fathom. Am I the only one that does this?

So I think it is a fine line to tread. While I certainly don’t want my story to be boring, I don’t want to add one harrowing situation+dramatic save too many and have readers become skeptical. Hence the last portion of my tweet. Characters are supposed to be compelling. Stories are supposed to be entertaining and transport us to new worlds. Every story needs to have a bit of magic. Magic doesn’t have to be spells and wizards. Magic can be the heroine grabbing the rock that conveniently appeared to be jutting out of the ledge she was just shoved off.

In conclusion, I am going to try harder to embrace the license we as writers are given. The license to use our magic and weave a tale that entertains, compels and allows readers an escape to imagine the impossible.

New Week, New Strategies

This week I am starting off with some new strategies for querying agents. Referring to my post on writing dystopian, I feel like it is going to be difficult to find the agent that is searching for that particular genre. However, they are out there, I just have to find them!

Today I googled “literary agent dystopian,” and got some hits. While I didn’t check out many links today, I did find an agent who loves dystopian worlds and immediately made out a query letter for her. I think this is a better strategy than I have had previously where I would search good agencies and then go to whatever agents were available there, regardless of whether they specifically said dystopian. I also plan to use this strategy with the New Adult category. Since that is a growing genre, surely I will be able to find agents specifically searching for it.

Another new strategy I am using quite frequently is the Writer’s Digest new literary agents spotlight. I am on the fence about new agents. For one, they have less experience than more established agents. However, they are more actively building their client base. For me, it’s definitely worth a shot. I am a young writer with little experience and if a similarly young agent wants to take a chance on me, I’ll take a chance on them. I will definitely be referring to the new literary agent spotlight list from now on. Not only for the agent information, but also because it leads me to other agencies to explore. For instance I clicked on a new agent profile, then linked to her agency website and from there ended up querying another agent and heading over to a new agency’s website that was listed in the bio of the agent I queried.

Using these new strategies, I am looking forward to heading into a productive week of querying and writing. Happy Monday!

My Week: SCBWI, Queries & Even Some Chapters

The end of the week is here and the end of summer is coming. But while these things come to an end, I am still looking towards the future with optimism! My biggest news this week is I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). While at the conference in Austin, I learned that the New Adult genre is technically still considered young enough for me to be considered an SCBWI author. I am very excited that I finally took the plunge and joined a writers association, especially one with such a vibrant and exciting community as SCBWI. They have a conference every summer in Los Angeles which I have heard is great, so I definitely will look into attending that in 2016! At the very least, my query letter is looking much better since I can include SCBWI membership in my credentials!

I did send out a fair amount of query letters this week. Not a huge amount, but I stuck to my small goal of 2 per day. I am really liking that pace. I don’t get overwhelmed by querying, but the agents reached out to steadily adds up. Plus, by not sending out a huge inundation of queries, this gives me time to tweak my letter as I go and see how different variations ofΒ  it work. With that being said, I got a denial in my inbox this morning, so more fuel to the fire to succeed there!

As for writing, that is still rolling on quite slowly. That routine is the hardest to get back into. On Monday I was feeling under the weather and was still trying to write a chapter and the general feels were “I just can’t.” So I stopped mid chapter right before Mara was going to have a big block of dialogue. I was really glad I did that because the next day I came back and got at it and came out with really good text–certainly better than it would have been had I tried to write mid throbbing headache!

I hope everyone has a great last weekend of August! πŸ™‚

Writing for a “Dead” Market?

I’ll admit it, I’m writing dystopian. The first step is admitting you have a problem. While many people still thoroughly enjoy this genre, the market for it from a publisher’s perspective is (as far as I can tell) pretty dead. The number of denied queries I am amassing speaks to this fact. So what does a frustrated writer do in this situation?

First of all, it’s even more frustrating because I understand the situation completely. Knowing the principles of basic supply and demand as well as the way trends go, it makes total sense that savvy literary professionals such as agents and editors are not jumping at the chance to grab more titles that boast corollaries to the wildly popular (currently) Hunger Games and Divergent. Instead agents and editors want to snatch up the next big craze, which will certainly be in a totally different and unexpected genre.

So I get it. But I don’t want to stop writing the story I am trying to tell. I didn’t decide to write about Mara and Runey because I wanted to write the next Hunger Games. Despite what the genre may suggest, I am not writing for a trend. The story came to me and clamored to be told, so I am telling it, despite its marketability with literary professionals. I have read many articles and blog posts that say “shelve your dystopian/paranormal projects,” but I disagree. Personally, I don’t like to leave work unfinished. Especially something as near to my heart and soul as my writing. It would feel like more of a failure to shove Mara and Runey in a drawer than even if they never make it to the bookshelves.

Thus, the writing goes on. So does the querying. I have nowhere near exhausted my list of possibilities for getting published. Somewhere out there is surely an agent who will be as enthusiastic about my project as I am. I just have to be persistent until I find that person. Writing novels and querying is also good practice. Should this project end up shelved once it’s finished, at least I got the great experience of writing a trilogy and getting to know the professional side of the business. It will be great experience for my next book. πŸ™‚

There is hope when writing in a “dead” genre. One of my friends that I met at the Las Vegas conference wrote a paranormal romance novel (the same genre as the supposedly played out Twilight sensation), and she just landed a book deal with publication coming in 2016. Read about her story here: http://linkis.com/www.cmmccoy.com/blog/p4Ia8 . And if you’re writing in one of these hard to sell genres, I would love to hear your story/strategy! Above all, never give up on your self as a writer or your story.

What’s In A Name?

The names of characters in the books we read…they can stick with us, become household terms, and conjure specific images in one’s mind. Snape, Frodo, Othello, Gatsby…all names which, for most, relate back to the stories they came from. These memorable names have turned these fictional figments of an author’s mind to an almost independent entity in the minds of their readers.

However, finding those great names can be really difficult! If someone asked me what a big insecurity I have about my trilogy is, I would definitely say the characters’ names. Although the names of characters often becomes a moot point in the publishing process as editors and publishers usually opt to change the names, the names we as authors initially give our characters are all important. They set the scene. Give a title to the voices clamoring around in our head to be put on paper. And, sometimes, make us squirm uncomfortably every time we type the character name.

This little qualm of insecurity about characters names has haunted me before, and causes me to hesitate when a new character is due to be introduced. I want to get it right the first time, but, if I don’t, I almost always end up going back and changing it. For me, insecurity over names is mostly prevalent for secondary characters. I tend to try and name them too much to their characterization, so sometimes the names are overwrought. Conversely, with my main characters, I have already known who they are even before I started writing. The names Mara and Runey floated into my head with the image of the characters themselves on the day I first imagined the concept of Capacitance. Travers was a little more difficult and I questioned that decision for a long time, but ultimately I think it fits.

So, as Shakespeare once famously asked, what’s in a name? The answer–for authors, anyway–would be, quite lot of meaning. It’s the title we officially give these products of our creative imagination, it adds to the complexity and tone of our story, and it is how we resonate with the characters. However, just like Shakespeare’s rose, the depth and dimensions of the complexity of the character, make them just as interesting and compelling, no matter what name is ultimately decided upon. Happy Monday! πŸ™‚

Mixed Friday Feels

It’s Friday once again…this week, this month, this year have all flown by so quickly! While this week was not much progress as far as pages written, I consider it to be a very productive week as I am finally (finally!) getting out of vacation mode and back into the true swing of things.

I sent out a couple queries yesterday. That’s something I have not done in awhile, and it was done not a moment too soon. Today (just over lunch actually) I received an email from the agent who had requested my full MS at the beginning of the summer. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that I will not be rounding out the summer by gaining representation from that particular agent. Thank goodness I got this denial today instead of yesterday. Instead of feeling too discouraged by it, I am focused on this new round of queries and energized by getting myself out there again.

Yesterday I also got the chapter of Resistance that had been holding me up finished. This was thanks to re-reading as I was stuck on a certain detail that I couldn’t remember what I had set up earlier in the story. When I went back and read, I found the piece I needed. Also good: this chapter was longer than five pages. I like to keep my chapters short (to make the book more addicting, i.e. “just one more chapter!”), but almost all of my chapters in Resistance were ending up being five pages long. Now that the story can flow more, I should get a few longer chapters to throw in the mix.

So all in all, it was a weird week, but a good week. I am feeling less burned out and hopefully that feeling continues to subside. I mentioned on my Facebook page that I am done posting sample chapters of Capacitance–for now! Show me some love on FB, and here on my blog and I’ll reveal more chapters. It’s up to you guys! πŸ™‚ I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Re-Reading: A Helpful Exercise

I think there are two schools of thought on going back and re-reading an in-progress manuscript. Some would say that it alters the natural flow of the story, while others would say that it can be a useful tool. I have never subscribed to one particular opinion or the other–not spending extensive time on re-reading, but gaining confidence every now and then by skimming back over a chapter.

However, this week, I must say I wholly believe it can be helpful to go back and read what you have written so far. Especially if you are feeling stuck or down on your confidence. Going back and revisiting the scenes you’ve created can be empowering–if you did it before, you can do it again. Plus, if you’re like me and have been taking big chunks of no-writing vacation time, it’s been awhile since you’ve written those first chapters! Revisiting refreshes the story line.

Since I don’t write with an outline, re-reading was especially helpful for me as I work to get back in the flow. When I wrote Capacitance, I was writing a chapter a day quite steadily, thus the structure of my story was easy to keep fresh in my mind. I would frame chapter by chapter, knowing innately where the storyΒ  had been as I improvised, so to speak, on where it would be led. I started Resistance over a month ago, so the segue from chapter to chapter is much more disjointed. Going back and re-reading helped with this as I try to get back on a more rigorous writing schedule. During the course of the re-read, I also uncovered a fact about the story which I had been needing to double check to proceed with writing.

All in all, the re-read was empowering and helpful. It reminded me that I am a good writer as well as refreshing some facts I need to keep at the top of my mind to continue the story.

Battling Burnout

I must admit, I am suffering some burnout lately. Since being a writer is an intrinsic part of my nature as an individual, it is hard not to let personal stresses affect the artistic side of me as well. When I get down, my confidence gets weak and it’s easy for old insecurities and habits to take over. Chapters loom way too large in my mind and seem so daunting that the words never make it to the page. My story feels like it is becoming repetitive in the plot buildup. Questions of what should happen next in the story? Am I making the right plot move? give way to the ultimate decision to sit and think on it longer. Thus words are trapped in my mind, leaving me feeling lazy and unfulfilled, compounding the stress I already am experiencing.

On top of this, I have not been putting myself out there in the querying world as much as I should. Part of it has been due to travels, but also a part of it is this same burnout. Denials do affect me–as much as I say they don’t! It’s more of a subtle, underlying effect that builds up and eats away at confidence in my novel. Lately, I haven’t even gotten any denials. And I still haven’t heard back from the agent who requested my full. This strange silence is ominous, and also has taken my focus off of contacting agents.

I know I need to hone in and start getting my focus back and beat burnout. I need to start making querying goals for myself and meet them. I will start small and build up so that I don’t get overwhelmed. Re-reading my work has always been a confidence booster for me, so I will go back and read the eight chapters of Resistance that are finished so far. That should hopefully not only give me confidence in my storytelling, but also spark some confidence in the trajectory of the plot line. Once I get in the flow of producing chapters and continuing work to get myself out there with agents, I know I will feel better. I’m learning that as an author, not only will seasons create slumps, but personal stress will reduce output. What’s an artist without a melancholy stage, I suppose?

Stay tuned tomorrow for a special blog tour post and a chance to win an Amazon gift card, sponsored by Inklings Literary Agency! πŸ™‚

Updates in Life and Writing

Hello all! I have been gone for quite an extensive amount of time as I was on my family vacation to Colorado. It was a great time and my Dad, Uncle and I ended up summiting nine 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft. high!). While I did not get any writing done during the trip as my time was spent either climbing, eating or sleeping, the trip was great for meditative purposes. Being in Colorado was also interesting for exploring more of my setting. This is a fact that I tried to make rather subtle in the books, but the setting is based on a post-apocalyptic Denver area. I have always loved Colorado and the mountains, so I wanted my book to be set here in this MidWest/Rocky Mountain region. I don’t digress down this line of thought often as I like readers to engage with the characters rather than the history of their setting. However, I like to think that the Midwest would be the obvious place for a post-apocalyptic world to be set in–a major world crisis or war would wipe out the coastal metropolises, thus people who survived would be centrally located. This is about as far as I will go right now on that line of thought as I do want the history and what happened to create the world Mara and Runey live in now to maintain an aura of mystery so readers can ask and fill in their own questions.

While my thoughts on the trail didn’t focus specifically on Resistance itself, now that I am back I feel like some ideas and themes have really settled themselves in for me. Taking a break from the story was definitely a good thing; as I have mentioned, it has gotten very dark and getting away from that for a bit was good mental relief. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say this book is causing a lot of pressure for me. Resistance is the last book in the trilogy and i feel like there are a lot of loose ends to tie up in a powerful, elegant and gripping way. This is a trifecta that is hard to achieve. However, by setting the scene of the first few chapters as so dark and heavy, I think I have done the first step in giving the right tone for an elegant yet gripping finish. Now I just need to get back in the swing of writing! This is my first year of being a serious author, and I have learned a lot so far. One of the most important things I have learned is that I am definitely going to be a writer who has “seasons.” There will be times of the year (summer!) where I don’t get as much written, and I need to accept this. It doesn’t make me a better or worse author and it doesn’t make me lazy. Finding a balance between life and writing is a delicate process and I am gradually learning to realize that my winter page output is simply going to be more than that of my summer output.

Finally, I did contact the agency who had requested my full manuscript. Their submission guidelines said to do this if two months had passed without a response after a manuscript request. I have heard that you aren’t supposed to be too hasty with follow-up as it takes agents a long time to get through their piles of slush, so I was very glad the agency website had such specific guidelines about when to touch base. I haven’t gotten a response yet, so the waiting continues! Some things in my personal life are starting to come together for me, so I am hoping the agent hunt can be another thing falling into place! Wish me luck! πŸ™‚