Jan 20 2011

Editing for Editors, or…

A Chapter A Day Keeps The Housework Away

Fiction at its best!

This fall when I was teeter-tottering between novel #2 and novel #3, I signed up for a Margie Lawson class meant solely for writers on defeating self-defeating behaviors.  But of course, it started in January when I’d already beaten the devil on my own (my devil is the television. I now do not turn it on during the day)

There is no inspiration like editor rejections with some chewable feedback.  My agent, Jason Yarn, and I had one of those agenty-authory chats about the feedback, chewed on it together, spit some of it out. (We didn’t ignore the compliments, but those don’t help you make it better!) We talked about not only what needed tweaking but how to do it, where it might work within the three-hundred pages and what was next. Lucky for me this isn’t a page-one rewrite, it’s a preening, digging, setting some new things in motion.  I worked on Chapter 1 and sent it back to Jason for his thoughts which were, in a nutshell, keep-on-going- so-we-can-get-this-puppy-back-out-to-a-new-batch-of-much-more-intelligent editors (Ok, that last part is me talking, not Jason). Jason said let’s not give them ANY reason to say no.

So, on-going I keep.

During this editing process, which will continue for another three weeks, and then again when Jason sends back my revisions for a final polish, it’s all I’m working on aside from you know, silly projects I actually get paid to work on. I intermingle it all throughout every day by setting my iPhone timer. That way I can keep my eyes off the clock.

Hence, there’s little time for baseboard dusting or furniture fluffing. Can you sense my disappointment?

I start the day with “real” work from about 6 am til 10 am.  There’s coffeeing and lunch-making and showering and carpooling in there too, but lots gets done. Then, I read the chapter du jour and highlight areas for change. I go back over the chapter and make changes. Then I usually eat lunch and read email, Facebook and any number of blogs and websites I love. I also watch TV.  Then I go back to the manuscript and reread what I changed.  It’s usually, well, not so good, which frankly baffles me because when I wrote it was genius, you know?  It’s amazing what a spicy chicken sandwich and some baked chips can do for your internal editor. I revise the revisions.  Then I probably have to tend to the dogs or read a submission or edit for a client or write an article or essay or blog post.  Or all of the above.  Later, after some afternoon snacking and time with my teenager, I go back to the chapter.  There’s always some tweaking and sometimes I have to trail backwards to make sure what I changed in Chapter 4 is consistent with Chapters 3, 2 and 1.  Then I close the doc and know that in the morning I’ll go to the next chapter. And when it’s all done I’ll re-read and fine tune the entire manuscript before emailing it to Jason.

Personally, I can’t think of a better reasons than twenty more chapters to leave the mopping ’til another day, can you?


If you’ve never heard of Margie Lawson, click here. If you’ve never heard of Jason Yarn, click here and here and here.  And if you’re really concerned that my house not get swallowed by dog fur tumbleweeds, rest easy. My dogs aren’t shedding. It’s winter!

Sep 19 2009

Eat before you write

I’ve been reading a lot of online query samples lately — in addition to my everyday obsession reading of publishing industry blogs and websites.  The deeper you dig the more you find, y’know?  And while I am not a professional query-er, as a writer and editor I now have a theory.

Do not name your characters after food.

It makes the reader hungry and then he or she can really not focus on what he or she is reading.  And the hunger is as distracting, if not more so, than the silly name.  And I don’t mean an affectionate nickname that you drop into your ms once or twice – I mean – there are folks who, when writing books for adults, use food names.  In my opinion these does not generate a warm, familiar feeling – just hunger pangs in addition to brain pains associated with the question “why”.

My thoughts? Perhaps these writers were hungry when they came up with the name.  Maybe writing is like a trip to the grocery store  — something you should never do when you’re hungry.

Nix the following if you’ve named your characters Gumdrop, Pumpkin, Sweet Tart, Pork Chop, Devil Dog, Applesauce, Lemon Drop, Shortcake.  There were some less tantalizing selections as well — like Little Potato (I like me my potatoes, but it’s not as gastronomically alluring).

And yes, some of these were really used in real queries.

I know it worked for Olive Oil – but still!

May 28 2009

A recipe for rejection

I got two — count ‘em TWO rejections this week for short submissions to literary journals.  I’ll be honest the rejections don’t impact me much as I go down my list of where to send next, and instead of chalking it up to writing that sucks, I assume the piece wasn’t right for that pub or that editor on that day.  And I move on.  I think when I query my WIP it will be a whole new world of rejections.  Really looking forward to that.  Not.

But a new blog friend of mine has taken rejection to new heights.  Culinary heights.  With every rejection she posts a Rejection Recipe – complete with pictures.  Who could ask for a better way to get out of the rejection section of your brain?

So not only do she and I share a middle name, and not only is she a librarian — two facts that would endear her to me without food — but she has artfully combined gorgeous and delicious in one place.  Gorgelicious. (Pun unintended, but delightful, nonetheless, yes?)

When I query I plan to tell all right here — changing identifying details of course.  I don’t know how I’ll feel or what I’ll do with each one, but I do know I won’t bake — although those days might very well involve chocolate.

Apr 14 2009

Does it matter how an agent says no?

The Not Series will continue tomorrow.

I’m not playing/working/slaving along in Nathan Bransford’s Agent for a Day event, but I did pop by to see what was going on. I read one or two queries out of fifty. But what fascinates me are the comments. Readers are “acting as” agents, sending pretend rejections or asking for pretend partials or fulls.

It’s fascinating!

Not in what is being requested or not, not in the styles of queries and the variety of books being pitched, but in the variety of ways Agents for a Day are wording their rejections. If it’s a form rejection, without personalized feedback, do you think it really matters how an agent says no thank you? I don’t. This isn’t the case if someone is going to take the time to comment on what’s working or what’s not, or if they’re going to say they like it and it’s not right for them. But it seems to me that these readers have gone to a lot of trouble (bless their virtual hearts) to come up with a nice sentence or two that comprises a generic rejection.

Personally, if it’s not going to be a yes or a fabulous no (and we’ve all gotten some fabulous no’s) then I’d rather just have it plain ‘n simple.

Here are some random examples:

- Thank you for your submission, but this is not for me. I wish you luck in finding a home for your manuscript.

- This is one of those letters I loathe to write as an agent, because you have a great hook. Subjectively, however, the material in TITLE REDACTED is not something I feel I could zealously represent as it would deserve.  I have no doubt, however, that you will be snatched up quickly, and I truly do wish you the best of luck.

- Thank you for your submission. Your premise sounds interesting and well-developed. Although I’m confident that your search for an agent will be fruitful, I don’t think I’m the best person to represent your work.

- Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, I will have to pass at this time.

- Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately it’s not what I’m looking for. Best of luck in your search for representation, and keep writing!

I will add here that many who are participating are adding a bit of “reasoning” at the end of their comment – why the pitch doesn’t interest them. I’d think that with a real agent the feedback would be taken to heart, but something like “the hook doesn’t get me” isn’t specific enough. I know most standard form rejections offer no insight at all and leave us, the writer, to figure it out, or not, on our own. While I always prefer a personalized rejection that offers insight — I think a short, straight-to-the-point form rejection is preferable to something that rambles on the perils of submissions, suggests continuing to query (duh) and then rejects.

But then again, I’m not playing along.

I’ve had enough rejections of queries and pitches to wallpaper a small country room and a form rejection is just that, a form rejection.  It’s always nice when they spell your name right, but other than that, it has no impact other than no, because it offers no information.  I’m not saying I want someone to be mean or snarky, but no is no, and a form rejection is just that — a form.  It doesn’t matter to me how it’s worded.

Does it matter to you?

Posted under Submitting | 12 Comments »
Apr 02 2009


If you haven’t seen the Bookends blog lately, there are over 200 comments to their response to the Twitter disaster/phenomenon known as #QueryFail.

Been under a publishing rock?  #Queryfail was the brainchild (or brain fart, depending on your POV) of a Tweeting literary agent.  Other agents signed up and they gave live examples of queries on Twitter and said why they “failed.”  Hence, QueryFail.  The “#” is the way you follow a thread on Twitter.

#QueryFail got tons of negative attention — people saying how agents were blasting poor writers for stupid queries and doing it on the www.  For me I thought it was like preaching to the choir — because the writers on Twitter and reading all the blogs were not the ones making absurd queries and requests.  I believe if you don’t like it, don’t read it.  BUT, people were appalled.  Writers were screaming (virtually of course).

So now there’s a place writers can say all the awful things about agents they want to say.  And I have to tell you that most of them are pretty darned awful.  Not surprisingly, the comments are anonymous and no one is naming particular agents — just referring to “this agent” and “that agent.”  Personally, I’d like to know who this and that are — so I can one day go into the query process with my eyes wide open.  I know there are sites that offer warnings — but this would seem like a fabulous opportunity for writers to out the agents who were rude and made a writer cry at a conference (I saw that several times in the 200 comments), the agents who were drunk and unprofessional (yep, saw that too) and the ones that hold manuscripts for months on end and the ones who consistently lose emails containing fulls and partials.

It’s a bitch session over there, and I feel like it’s a blind one – giving lots of crap without cleaning it up – meaning – there is no substantial information and no way to clean it up or change it.

That being said, I’m going to go back and read more.

Mar 27 2009

A contest in three sentences

Today I’m subtracting.

Yesterday I told you about the book Six Sentences, Volume 2 and today I’m here to tell you about a contest in THREE sentences.

The Knight Agency is nuts generous and brave to host the Book In A Nutshell Competition.

Just (ha! JUST!) pitch your book in three sentences with a total of no more than 150 words by April 20th and on May 1st they’ll contact 20 winners and ask to see more of their work.  In the comments section of the blog post they answer a myriad of questions from reader/writers so look there for details.

I think it’s rather straightforward, if not a pain in the wrist to figure it out.  We all kvetch about queries and the elusive logline, because it’s so little space to say so much about 300 pages.  But again, when forced to clip and cut, it’s amazing what’s left at the end.  Um, yeah, the main idea of the book. Go figure.

Did you enter?  Will you?

And if you’re not ready to enter it’s a fabulous exercise in minimalism — feel free to give it a shot right here.

Mar 25 2009

A writer’s dream (or was it a nightmare?)

I woke up a few mornings ago, stepped over the dog on the floor and headed to the kitchen to let out the dogs that were not still asleep.  There are three dogs here, and the routine is pretty set.  It was still dark, as is what happens this time of year, and all of a sudden I remembered my dream.

Secret Agents.  Lots of mystery.  Intrigue.  Anxiety.  Excitement.  Nervousness. The secret agents were elusive yet glamorous.  There were gadgets, guns and fast cars. I wasn’t part of the dream, but I was very involved.  I awoke a little tired.  There were some chase scenes.  Lots of hiding.

Oh, and the secrets agents at the center of this James Bond-esque dream?

Literary agents.

No joke.  Even as a writer – I don’t think I could have made that up.  And I thought – who would understand?  Hell, who would believe me?

Then I remembered all of you!

(There is blog that hosts Secret Agent contests. I’ve never participated, but I do read that blog)

Jan 10 2009

In living color

I’m a visual learner.  It took me over 40 years to put a name to it, but there it is. To process something I need to see it, even if I picture it in my head.

Don’t tell me, show me.

So when I found myself with lots of projects bouncing around in my head the calendar wasn’t cutting it.  Lists and spiral books and notes on napkins were starting to annoy me.  I was writing everything down but it was all moderately discombobulated.

In the least likely of places – the grocery store – I saw it.  A white board.  Not big, not small, rimmed in pink it was perfect.  I also purchased markers in various colors. I would not only be organized, I would be color-coordinated.  Things would change. I would not have to try to remember anything – it would all be there for me to see.

I can scan the board and play the “pick a project” game.  Or I can sit down at my desk with something specific in my mind, get it done and also get the satisfaction of wiping it off the board when I done, or adding a writers necessary words, “Follow up.”

It has also helped in showing me not how overwhelmed I am, but how fortunate I am to be busy doing things I enjoy.   I also am enjoying not having to try to remember everything on my own — and the colors — they make me happy.

The blog section of the white board?  It’s pink!

How do you organize work, fun, kids, writing — whatever?  If it fills up your time and your head, how do you keep track of it?

Dec 12 2008

Landing on your ass

You know when you were little (or maybe not so little) and you went to sit down, and someone pulled out the chair and you landed flat on your ass?

What did you do?

Did you sit there stunned, feeling sorry for yourself?  Did you laugh and get back up, hang on tight to the chair and sit your butt where it belongs?

It’s like this query workshop over at Backspace where I got decent, good and discouraging feedback…all from the same person.  And to top it off, each agent’s feedback was completely different and that threw me for a loop, landed me right on my ass.

So being true to the form of being a One Minute Martyr or OMM (I allow myself limited time to ever feel sorry for myself) I turned their words upside down and inside out, wallowed in the pity of not sweeping the agents off their feet — and then I got up and got back on my chair.

What would you have done?

Dec 09 2008


I’m waiting.

Aren’t we all?

No, but I mean I’m really waiting. In a waiting room of a car dealership while the highly trained mechanics give my car the once-over.  Last night I waited while my daugher ice-skated.  Before that I waited for her come out of school.  Earlier in the day I waited as the powers of Backspace commented on my query letter.  I’m often waiting for water to boil or to hear the ding of the microwave.  I wait to hear back from editors.  I wait in line, on the phone and I even wait sometimes as my computer connects to the internet.  When the kids I travel East in a few weeks we’ll wait to our board our flight.  As writers we wait for both time and inspiration.

I guess the key is how we use our time while we’re waiting.  Nothing wrong with doing nothing, I’m a big proponent of the art of relaxing.  But I do have an aversion to waiting when I feel like I’m wasting time.

Like I said, I’m waiting for mechanics to check out my car.  I’m also blogging.   And watching Oprah.  Gotta love a car dealer waiting room with a flat-screen.  Last night during ice-skating I watched my daughter which is fun, but not for 45 minutes. So I also read a book.

I think that any time I’m ok doing nothing it’s not wasting time.  It’s the waiting — when you’re only looking forward and not looking down and side to side and behind you — that waiting is a problem.  When you’re not looking at today and you’re always looking at tomorrow.

I got stuck in my last round of writing classes because I always waited for feedback before I continued writing.  I stopped taking classes and wrote and wrote and wrote.  There are sometimes physically ways to manage waiting…sometimes it’s not that easy.

I waited for agent opinons of my query letter in that Backspace workshop…and I got feedback…and continued waiting.  Now I’ll wait for others’ opinions of the feedback and rewrite, and then wait for more feedback.

In the meantime I’m waiting for my car, which I’ve just been told will take “a little over an hour” and cost me a little over $140.

So I’ll keep typing, watching Oprah and waiting.

How do you fill the time that you wait…and better yet…how do you feel the waiting space in your day and in your head?