Friday, September 17, 2010

The treasure trove called Internet, and how it got me seriously started

All Hail the Internet! Without it, I’d still be writing stories as a virtual recluse, not even considering letting anybody read my stuff. Through the internet, I found my writer’s group, which got me started. And through the internet, I’ve found out so much about writing, editing and publishing, I would never have even heard of otherwise. Sure, there’s a lot of slush out there, too, but conducting research in the infinite spaces of the web from your desk at home is so much easier than going to limited libraries, or following a faint trail of knowledge by phone. Separating the slush from the helpful stuff is the trick, but anybody with enough perseverance can get there.

The nice thing about writing is that authors (usually) are happy and willing to help each other in getting their stories out to the public; they are colleagues, not rivals; there is no competition when it comes to imagination – the possibility that somebody else has come up with the exact same idea and story you have is practically zero. So there are a lot of authors, editors and agents who voluntarily share their experiences and advice on the internet; all for the low low price of your own monthly internet fee.

Once I realized this fact, I went out into the world of bits and bytes, of websites and forums, of communities and blogs, and did what women do since men left the caves to hunt: I gathered.
By now I’ve gathered a lot of information, and found several sites – mostly blogs – I go back to regularly. (See my Blog-List and Favourite Links)

At one point I stumbled across a link to a site that sent my little writer’s heart a-flutter. Agent Query, “the internet’s most trusted database of literary agents” – over 900 of them. It’s a site that devotes itself to connecting writers with agents; it’s easy to understand, and quick to make use of.
At the time I found it, my novel was finished, and had been locked away in a folder on my laptop for over half a year – every 200k words of it.

I knew that the story was way too long even if I wasn’t looking to publish it, but I didn’t have the heart or desire to start tearing it apart, tweaking it, completely taking out characters I’d become fond of. So it sat there, locked away in its folder, and if I hadn’t stumbled upon that’s where it would probably still be. AgentQuery showed me an easy and seemingly magical way to find fitting agents, and gave me the much needed boost in courage and willpower to take out the behemoth novel, dust it off, and edit. ‘Edit’ in this case meaning mostly erasing.

I went through the story once, brought the word count down to about 150k. Still too big. Sure, there are lots of successful books out there with a larger word count, but as a newbie and UF writer, the chances of getting an agent to bite are higher when he or she isn’t smothered by just the thought of such a whopper. Plus, I knew the story itself would be better if I could take out every unnecessary word, scene and character that had slipped in during my first draft.

So I went through it again and ended up with about another 25k less. Now began the really hard work, the heartbreaking decisions. The third run-through extinguished another 10k, though it took me longer than with the two previous ones combined. Combing through and taking out whole scenes is hard. Writing out a whole character even harder. But every author who has ever written or blogged about this self-editing process says it’s worth doing it; polishing a story like this will make it better. Nobody’s chomping on the bit to read another tome like ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.

So polish I did - and still do. The process isn’t done yet, but I’ve brought it down to a word count that might not send every agent scurrying for cover. I typed up a query, found five agents on AgentQuery who seemed right for me, and sent it to them. Now, while I wait, I’ll keep polishing, so that the next wave of agents I send the query to will be confronted with an even smaller word count.

Life is all about fits and starts and opportunities. Finding the writer’s group got me started on a novel that I saw through to the end. Finding AgentQuery got me started on publishing said novel (at least trying to). And ‘discovering’ the limitless reaches and boundless opportunities of the internet made any of it possible in the first place.

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