Friday, April 29, 2011

Catharsis and Enlightenment

Last night, I had a bit of a meltdown. I’m sure you can imagine what it sounded like: “Aw, my writing stinks! I’m a horrible writer and a horrible person! I’m ruining Bob, absolutely ruining him!”

Now, in my defense, I was tired, and I’m generally not my best when I’m putting together a revision outline. Honey Bear wisely told me to go to bed, and I did. And this morning, I had an epiphany: I’ve been doing this revision-outline thing all wrong.

In the past, I’ve organized my revision outlines by chapter. I’ve made a list of all the changes I want to make within each chapter and added a short list of general changes to the top of the outline. Then I’ve picked someplace to start (which is rarely the beginning), fixed that problem, and moved on to another item in my list (which is rarely the next one).

There’s no method to my madness--I just change whatever I feel like changing whenever I feel like changing it. I try to start with the biggest problems first and work through to the smallest ones, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. Last night, for example, as I was going back through my outline, I was getting bogged down in the little chapter-by-chapter issues and forgetting the big picture.

To put it another way (and to use yet another cliché), I was getting lost in the trees and losing sight of the forest.

The feedback our betas give us is invaluable, but if we want to make good use of it, we have to learn how to separate major issues from minor ones. I’m still relatively new to this whole beta-reader thing (Bob is the first manuscript I’ve written that anyone but Honey Bear and my mother has read), so I’m definitely still developing this skill myself. Last night was just one more lesson in the all-inclusive education Bob has been giving me.

All of this has been a really long way to say I’m going to try organizing my revision outlines by topic instead of by chapter. That way, I’ll be able to see at a glance the major issues I want to tackle. Then I’ll add bullet points under each of those big issues to flesh out the specific changes I plan to make. Hopefully, this will lead to less meltdowns.

Or maybe not:)

P.S. For more information about the revision process, check out Kayeleen Hamblin’s awesome post, “Pulling the Weeds.” Whether you’re a writer or a gardener (or both), you’ll appreciate her analogy.

P.P.S. Some of you may be wondering about my “Interview with an Agent” series. I’m still working on it, so no worries, but this spring has been tricky. Lots of agents are agreeing to do the interview, but they’re taking a bit longer to get back to me than they have in the past. This probably means they’re busy signing clients and making awesome deals, but I’ll keep plugging away!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fear

The notes from my latest round of beta readers are starting to come in, and as I’ve spent the last few days going through them, I’ve realized that I’m a lot closer to the end of this revision than I am to the beginning. And that realization has filled me with one thing.

Fear.

Fear that all these agents will end up saying no. Fear that, after all these months (and almost years), Bob still won’t be good enough. Fear that, after years and years of writing, I’ll be right back where I started.

It’s irrational, I know. On the one hand, I can see that I’m closer now than I’ve ever been before, that the writer I am now is a hundred--a thousand--times better than the writer I was three years ago. And I know that the changes I’ve made and will make to this latest draft of Bob are the changes I needed to make. But on the other hand, I worry that it still won’t be enough, that published books all have some special, secret Something and I’m still trying to figure out what it is.

I probably feel this way precisely because Bob is so much better than anything else I’ve ever written. I’ve invested so much time and energy into this project that I really don’t want to believe all my effort’s been for naught. The other day, Honey Bear said, “It’s like you’ve got nine slow pitches coming at you, and they’re all right across the plate,” and I replied, “Exactly! And I don’t want to mess them up!”

I like to think I’m not the sort of person who is paralyzed by fear--that I’m the sort of person who attacks it--but this revision has definitely made me slow down, take a step back, and think things through a little more. With these pitches coming at me nice and slow, I definitely want to take my time to swing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Query Update

Well, after spending the last half-hour crunching some numbers and putting together a couple of handy-dandy graphs, I decided it might be best to wait until I'm done querying Bob to share all of that with you. (But I promise to post them sooner or later, since I'm too much of a math nerd to keep them to myself:) )

Total queries: 56
Pending queries: 1
Non-responses: 4

That pending query hasn't quite reached the three-month mark, but I'm sure it'll turn into another non-response in another couple of weeks. In all honesty, if I hadn't been in the middle of a big revision, I probably would have followed up with at least a couple of those non-responses (and I still might sometime), but for the time being, it is what it is.

In other news, I picked up another partial-turned-full request last month as well as another R&R. When I informed the agents that I was currently working on a revision, they both said they'd be happy to wait. And just so I don't leave you completely statistic-less, here are a few more numbers:

Minimum response time (requests): 0 days
Median response time (requests): 12 days
Maximum response time (requests): 92 days

Minimum response time (rejections): 0 days
Median response time (rejections): 15.5 days
Maximum response time (rejections): 96 days

If you compare these response times to the ones I reported in December's query update, you'll find that both maximum response times are a lot bigger than they were back then, but that makes sense, since I've been querying Bob a lot longer now. Interestingly, however, the median response times are still both relatively small, which suggests that those maximum response times really are outliers. (In fact, I heard back from both of those agents after I followed up with them.) These data suggest that 50% of agents respond to queries within about two weeks, which is actually pretty good.

Is anybody else querying a manuscript right now? Have you seen similar trends in your statistics?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Break!

We're visiting family in Utah for the break, and for the first time in a long time, I haven't even attempted to write while on a trip. (This probably has something to do with the fact that Bob is still with beta readers, but let's ignore that for a second and just pretend I have amazing self-control.) I'm one of those if-I-don't-write-a-little-almost-every-day-I-start-to-go-a-little-crazy kind of writers, so vacations can be problematic. But this vacation has been so jam-packed with excitement that I've hardly had a minute to even think about my writing, much less sit down to work on something.

How do you handle vacations? Do you enjoy the break, or do you try to squeeze a little writing in here and there?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Jenny Bent

Welcome to another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent”! Today’s interview features Jenny Bent, founder of The Bent Agency. Check out the interview, then check out her blog, then hop back over here to ask her any other questions you have. (Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. The format’s a little different today, so make sure you read them.)

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

JB: I get about fifty queries a day, sometimes more, and usually will at least glance quickly at the pages, unless it's just an entirely inappropriate query. I probably request one full every three to five days. Read this post by one of my interns, because your chances are actually better than they seem.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

JB: Distinctive voice, strong characters, tight pacing.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

JB: Pacing is usually a really big problem.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

JB: You just answered the question! ;) If I really like it, I request revisions. If I love it, I offer representation.

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

JB: When I call, I very much hope that the author has done his/her homework and so knows about my list and the kinds of the books I represent, and that should cut down on some of the questions. (By the way, hands down best resource for researching agents, bar none, is Publishers Marketplace. Pay the $20 fee for a month and do your homework by searching Deal Lunch for an agent's deals.)

But she should definitely ask the following:

*Do I see foreign rights potential? If so, how do I sell those rights (sub-agents, in-house person, combination of both)?
*Do I see film potential? And if so, how would I sell those rights (same as above)?
*How much editorial work do I see as necessary? When would I be able to get back to her with the notes?
*Will I send copies of correspondence from editors during the submission process?
*How accessible am I for phone calls, e-mails?
*Will I work with her directly or will her primary contact be an assistant?

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JB: Three books are out right now:

BENT ROAD by Lori Roy
THROUGH HER EYES by Jennifer Archer
THE WELCOME HOME GARDEN CLUB by Lori Wilde

Another one, THE ART OF SAYING GOODBYE by Ellyn Bache, pubs in June.

All female authors, all voice-driven, very tight plots and pacing. Different genres (literary suspense, young adult, romance, women's fiction), but they have these things in common.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JB: I would love more high concept young adult, dark creepy romantic suspense, and literary suspense, and women's book club fiction.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JB: Always, always electronically. Guidelines on my website: thebentagency.com.

Thanks again, Ms. Bent, for these answers. I especially liked the list of questions to ask an offering agent. I’m sure we’re all taking notes and hoping we actually get to use them someday:)

And now for the best part. Like I mentioned before, we’re doing the interactive interview a little differently today, so here’s how it’ll work: Instead of answering questions for a specific amount of time, Ms. Bent is going to answer THE FIRST TEN QUESTIONS posted in the comments. For the sake of fairness (and in the interest of not taking up all of Ms. Bent’s Friday), PLEASE LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONLY ONE QUESTION. (That means you can’t do what I did and ask multiple questions at once.) If you do ask more than one, I’m afraid we’ll have to banish you to the Dharma Initiative’s latest research facility. And when we reach the ten-question quota, I’ll leave a note in the comments, and I will delete any additional questions left after that.

Have at it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LDS Writer Blogfest: "Opportunities to Do Good"

Welcome to the second annual LDS Writer Blogfest! LDS is short for Latter-day Saint, which is short for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church). Two weekends ago, we heard messages from the apostles and other general authorities who direct us, and today, a bunch of LDS writers are blogging about their favorite talks from General Conference. I’m going to share a few thoughts from Henry B. Eyring’s talk, “Opportunities to Do Good.”

First off, I thought I’d share a little bit about the speaker. Henry B. Eyring is the First Counselor in the First Presidency, which is the highest governing body in the Church. He graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor's degree in Physics, then received his Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Business Administration degrees from Harvard University. Before he was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he taught at Stanford University and served as president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). Maybe that’s why he’s usually one of my favorite speakers at General Conference--he’s so used to lecturing:)

President Eyring started off by quoting a hymn we often sing, “Have I Done Any Good?”

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help, was I there?
Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.

Except I didn’t hear, “Then wake up and do something more than dream of your mansion above.” I heard, “Then wake up and do something more than dream of your book deal above.”

Writing is such a solitary pursuit. It’s all about my queries, my stories, my characters, my words. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, so long as we keep everything in perspective, but I think my inner Jiminy Cricket was trying to tell me that my perspective was out of whack. That I’d become too me-centered rather than we-centered.

“The Lord regularly sends wake-up calls to all of us,” President Eyring went on to say. “Sometimes it may be a sudden feeling of sympathy for someone in need. A father may have felt it when he saw a child fall and scrape a knee. A mother may have felt it when she heard the frightened cry of her child in the night. A son or a daughter may have felt sympathy for someone who seemed sad or afraid at school.”

Serving others can be as big as offering your flooded-out neighbors a place to stay, but it doesn’t have to be. Serving others can be as small as donating a can of green beans to your local food bank. It can be as small as helping an elderly woman--or helping anyone--unload the groceries at the house. It can be as small as paying attention to that tiny tug on your sleeve and the tiny voice that asks, “Mommy, when you’re done on the computer, will you play a game with me?”

President Eyring’s talk was my wake-up call. I need to pay a little less attention to myself and a little more to those around me. We all have the capacity to do so much good if we will only open our eyes.

I’ll leave you with President Eyring’s testimony, which is my testimony, too.

video

If you’d like more information about the Church in general or General Conference in particular, feel free to check out lds.org, which has a great highlights reel from General Conference, or mormon.org, which is a fantastic place to go to learn more about the Church. Also, don’t miss the other LDS Writer Blogfest posts:

Annette Lyon: “Desire”
Annie Cechini: “The Spirit of Revelation”
Ben Spendlove: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Chantele Sedgwick: “LDS Women Are Incredible!”
Charity Bradford: “LDS Women Are Incredible!”
Jackee Alston: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Jenilyn Tolley: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Jennifer McFadden: “Establishing a Christ-Centered Home”
Jessie Oliveros: “Establishing a Christ-Centered Home”
Jolene Perry: “It’s Conference Once Again”
Jordan McCollum: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Kasey Tross: “Guided by the Holy Spirit”
Kayeleen Hamblin: “Become as a Little Child”
Kelly Bryson: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Melanie Stanford: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Michelle Merrill: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Myrna Foster: “Opportunities to Do Good”
Nisa Swineford: “Desire”
Sallee Mathews: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Sierra Gardner: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Tamara Hart Heiner: “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”
The Writing Lair: “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”

Finally, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. You’re also welcome to e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com if you’d like. I’m no expert by any means, but I’ll do my best.

Thank you for reading, and have an awesome Tuesday, everyone!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Always the Interviewer, Never the Interviewee...

...Until now:)

Several weeks ago, three lovely ladies asked me to do an interview, and I must say, it’s just as fun to be the interviewee as it is to be the interviewer. Definitely stop by these ladies’ blogs and say hello.

Mindy McGinnis of Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire asked me a lot of insightful questions about Bob.

Chantele Sedgwick of My Writing Bug focused a little more on me and my writing routine.

Finally, Marybk of Not an Editor asked me some awesome questions about critiquing. They really got me thinking, and I went on for quite a while about my critiquing adventures with Bob. (Sorry, Mary, for being so long-winded.)

In other news, Kayeleen Hamblin of Kayeleen's Creation Corner and I are hosting the second annual LDS Writer Blogfest next week. If you’re an LDS writer-blogger who might be interested in participating, there’s still time to join! E-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for more details.


And last but certainly not least, Perri of Lesser Apricots (don’t you love that blog name?) gave me this stylish-looking award a few weeks ago. To claim it, I have to tell you seven things about myself. I’m gonna cheat a little and just direct you to those interviews. Then I’m gonna cheat a little more and only pass this award on to one other blogger, Amy Sonnichsen of The Green Bathtub. Amy is one of my original critique partners, and she’s gearing up to query her latest YA contemporary, which I absolutely loved. Honestly, if no one offers representation on this manuscript, I'll be shocked.

Have a great Thursday, everyone!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Like I'm Heading Out the Door Without My Underwear

I plan to send the new, new Bob off to some beta readers later this week, and I must say, this is the most uncomfortable I've felt before sending him off.

I'm not doing this on a whim, mind you. Over the past eighteen months, I've learned something about myself when it comes to incorporating reader feedback: The more time I spend fixing things before I send him off to betas, the more anxious I get about sending him off to agents, which means I usually end up spending less time fixing things after I receive those betas' feedback. And that's a horrible attitude to have. I should definitely spend more time in the post-beta phase of revising than in the pre-beta phase, so I decided to send him out sooner rather than later. Still, I can't quite shake that icky feeling, like I'm heading out the door without my underwear or something.

How do you decide when your manuscripts are ready for a second--or third, or fourth--set of eyes?