Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Statistics: Queries Received vs. Offers Of Representation

Here are some interesting, if not exactly uplifting, statistics from agent Suzie Townsend regarding # of queries vs. # of offers she made.

Basically, of 5.530 writers who queried her within ten and a half months (a staggering number in itself, IMO, seeing as it's approximately 18 queries per day), she offered representation to sixteen. Which is probably quite a lot for a single agent, but put into more numbers means she was willing to take on 0.2% of all people who queried her.


Why on Earth do I believe that my novel is even close to good enough to get into those 0.2%?!

After an initial panic attack, accompanied with loss of all hope and the five-minute consumption of two bars of milk chocolate, I realized there are several not-to-be-overlooked factors that gave me back hope.

First of all, just because one agent doesn't like your material, doesn't mean another won't. There are a lot of agents out there, and if I've given it my all, and my book is supposed to make it into the published world, I will find the right agent for it sooner or later.

Secondly,  I define when I've given it my all. I can call it quits if I don't snag an agent after the tenth revision. Or the twentieth. Or the fiftieth. It's up to me when I bury my pulishing hopes for my book. Of course, making it the best it can be for the first round of querying is the best thing to do. But sometimes a little time and distance, or an agent who read a partial or even the full ms but then said "sorry, not for me" can add a new perspective, make me see ways to improve again. And again. Until I know for myself that this story is never going to be found on a shelf in a bookstore with a legitimate publisher's brand on the cover, I can keep going.
(On a side-note: I don't mean to say I'd send my fiftieth revision to the same agent I've sent it to the other 49 times! That's why I send out queries a few at a time. Staggering the queries is the key, so that when you get good feedback or the inspiration faery hits you over the head with her idea-stick, you still have enough agents to send your new version to up your sleeve.)

Thirdly, if not this book, then maybe my next one will make it. Since I mostly write for the enjoyment of writing, creating worlds, developing characters, there's always going to be a next book for me. Even if it's only a new one every two years, even if I currently only have one to shop around.

There will always be a next book. And my writing will improve with every one. So chances are good that one of my stories will wow an agent and/or an editor one day.

Still, it's a good thing there aren't any exact numbers to be had on that chance. For now, I'm content with doing what I enjoy most.


Monday, December 27, 2010

A $20 Bill - Value Of Our Lives

What a beautiful post to remind us that we are always worth the same - priceless - in God's eyes, no matter how low we've fallen, how worthless we seem to ourselves. He loves us, unconditionally, unequivocally, completely.

Thank You for that!

Karel Novosad

Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas

We're having a beautiful white Christmas! The first I can truly remember. And it's not just a little powder dusting, either.

Our back yard this morning

The town of Backnang, where I grew up

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Rudolf Can Teach Us

Everybody knows Rudolf the red-nosed Reindeer's story. Here's a very short summary.

Rudolf was different. The other reindeer laughed at his glowing red nose and didn't take him seriously. Until one day Santa spotted Rudolf, and recognized this reindeer's potential as guiding-light for his sleigh, and Rudolf was granted the great pleasure of being Santa's top dog - err, deer. From then on the other reindeer loved Rudolf. And he did go down in history.

What does this little story show us? 

There are many ways to be different in life. Being eccentric, having same-sex tendencies, walking around barefoot even in winter, talking to trees, not wanting to be rich, not shaving, doing extreme-sports, not wanting children... basically anything that varies from the norm. But what exactly is the norm? To me, 'the norm' is a very fluid concept. And the best thing about it: you can define it for yourself. It doesn't matter what others' versions of the norm are. So long as you like and know the strengths of your red-glowing nose (there are always good things about being different, and not just because the world would be boring otherwise) you can enjoy it. 

Your difference can make you shine - if you let it. It makes you an individual, makes you stand out from the norm. You are wonderful, you are beautiful, you are awesome. The others will catch on to your awesomeness sooner or later. As Santa and then the 'normal' reindeer did with Rudolf's. Just don't try to hide it. Santa would never have discovered Rudolf if he'd smudged dirt over his nose. You are worth being loved both in spite and because of your differences. They make you you. And knowing who you are is cause for a celebration, because so many people these days are lost in their lives, trapped by the confinements and demands of society. 

Define your own demands for your life. Define your own norms. Stay true to them. Then you'll be free of them. And happy. 

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In It For The Long Wait

Well, that was easy enough. In response to my email about being unable to grant her an exclusive at this time (see previous post), Ms. Agent #2 asked me to send it anyway, so long as I let her know when/if I receive an offer, and not to make a decision until I do so. 

I agreed, of course, and sent her the first three chapters immediately. Now all that's left for me to do is wait. Good thing I have my master thesis and my next work-in-progress to keep me occupied, or else I'd probably chew my nails down to the quick. 

On another note, both agents 'passed' the Preditors and Editors check with flying colors. I did some research on them before I queried them, of course, and they seem reputable and trustworthy. P&E is a great site for confirming that impression. Unfortunately, it seems P&E is currently being sued, though it isn't specified on the site what exactly for, just that somebody wasn't happy about P&E giving out information they'd prefer to keep hidden from writers. Theoretically, that can only be one of the preditors, right? But you never know. There are, after all, a lot of shades of gray between black and white, and I definitely can't claim to know what's going on there. So I'll just say that I hope P&E will not have to close down as a result of this prosecution.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Request - Exclusive Submission

So this morning I mailed off the partial submission an agent requested last week, complete with SASE and hopefully enough US stamps for it to arrive back here sooner or later. My awesomely wonderful distant US relatives whom I met on Sunday brought me a whole stash of forever-stamps, no charge. THANK you!

And the best of luck to you, my first three chapters. Make me proud. 

Other than sending off the partial, my day wasn't good. It wasn't bad exactly, it was just one of those why-bother days. Why bother taking an umbrella when cars sloshing through the street are just going to spray you from beneath? Why bother trying for the umpteenth time to make light of the same social network analysis software that has been nya-nya-nya-ing you for the past three days? Why bother eating yummy food you can't taste and which hurts your throat on the way down? 

And then, this evening, half an hour ago, I get another email. From another agent. Who wants another first-three-chapters submission. This time via email.

Squeeeeeee! Now I'm definitely...

There is a... well, not a catch, exactly. More of a snag. This agent requested a three-week exclusive. Obviously, now that I sent my material to another agent just today, I can't grant her that. But I don't want to begin a possible agent-author relationship with a lie by telling her this is an exclusive, either. I also don't want to not send her my material. In fact, I want to send it to her very badly. 

A classic dilemma. One I couldn't solve without more information. 

Once again I turned on my trusty googlopedia (incidentally, how did people deal without the internet and stay sane?), and surfed the net for advice on this kind of situation. There's quite a lot, since I'm not the only one this has happened to (not that I'd expected that). 

Here's the suggestion I liked most and used, a little altered, to answer Ms. Agent #2:

"Other agents are currently reading the proposal and another is reading the manuscript, so I'm unable to grant an exclusive at this time. I'll be happy to send the material on to you anyway, and should I receive an offer, I'll contact you before making any decision."

I hope she says, 'sure, I'll look at it anyway'. Mainly, though, I'm extremely grateful. Another submission request in one and a half weeks! This means I'm on the right track, that my query's getting agents' attention. 

And I know that my novel matches - nay, surpasses - the query and will find somebody who'll want to represent it. Even if it's neither of these two agents. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pantsers And Plotters

The following topic has been coming up a lot in author and blogs lately: what is it better to be as an author, a pantser or a plotter? Is one or the other easier/harder? Pros and cons of the two? I've evolved into sort of a mix, which is why I thought I'd blog about this subject a bit.

J.K. Rowling's Plot Outline OOTP
A plotter is an author who draws up an outline, jots down information about characters, story line, world building and plot. A plotter is basically somebody who knows a little or a lot about his/her story, before actually beginning the writing process. From what I’ve read, J.K. Rowling is a plotter – which, I think, is clearly visible in the wonderful story arch she creates throughout her Harry Potter series.
Here's a guide to plotting like J.K. Rowling

A pantser is an author who just starts writing based only on a single idea about plot, character or world building, without a clue about plot, characters and their development past this initial idea – these develop as the author delves further into the story, flying by the seat of his/her pants. Ergo, pantser. Apparently, Stephen King is a pantser. Since I haven’t read any of his books, I can’t really judge whether this is noticeable or not.

I used to be a complete pantser. I’d get an idea in my head, and would have to write about it. Hundreds of pages developed from there; wonderful characters, intriguing worlds, twisted plots – that usually ended up petering out and disappearing in the Quicksand of No Solutions.

Even with the first (and so far only) book I’ve finished, I started with nothing but an idea for the world and a possible character in it. The plot developed quickly, spreading off in several different story arcs, with characters introducing themselves left and right. By somewhere around 100.000 words, I had about five plot threads, twenty ‘important’ characters, and – once again – no solution to the problems.

My love for the main characters and the world I’d created, and the effort already invested in this project, stopped me from abandoning it. I vowed that I would finish this story, even if it was the last one I ever wrote. And believe me, there were times when I was ready to take another vow to never to start writing again once this was done.

Because I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I had been – no clue, meant no solution, which meant to ‘The End’ – I sat down and thought about what I had so far, what I wanted to happen on a grand scale (world), and how I wanted my characters to develop. I wrote these things down, then brainstormed possible plots to get where I wanted to go. And, surprisingly, wonderfully, several story threads suddenly fell into place, as if that was how they were meant to be all along.

I wrote down the key points, twists and turns that would take me to ‘The End’, then continued writing. When I was done, I had >140.000 words, meaning it took me only 40k to finish once I’d ‘plotted’; most of which was at least usable in its basic form, whereas a lot of the first 100k I had to erase completely – I mean, several whole story threads weren’t relevant anymore.

This made me realize something. Pantsing is great to get things started. But it’ll only get me so far. And it means a lot of work for me once the first draft is complete, because a lot of things that seemed important to me in the beginning, simply isn’t necessary.

Which is why, with the new novel I’ve started and intend to finish (again because I love the world and adore my characters), I wrote out the baddy’s intentions, the heros’ hopes and dreams, relationships and trials, as well as the world’s premises. Within these boundaries, the plot almost played out by itself, and I wrote it down, too. So I knew a lot about my characters, world and plot before I actually started writing – and I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to write along the plot already mapped out in front of me.

I did make sure of one thing while jotting down the plot: I didn’t make it too detailed, but kept to the basics, the bones if you will, of the story. This way it doesn’t get boring – and things aren’t set in stone, which is important for me, too. I enjoy it when my characters surprise me, or events happen that I hadn’t foreseen, things I have to deal with in a way that will keep me going in the general direction I’m heading in.

I once compared writing a novel to making a new friend; now I’m comparing it to life itself: it’s nice to know what you’re headed towards (i.e. your goals and dreams in life), but exciting not to know the path you’re going to take to get there.

So, basically, a healthy mix between pantsing and plotting is best for me.

What about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Submission Request, Panic Attacks, And Fate

I am totally, completely, utterly ecstatic. I feel like I've won a billion dollars, been proposed to by the love of my life and was granted a lifetime supply of weight-reducing Milka chocolates - all on the same day.

An agent has asked for a partial submission! *squeeeeeeee*

Friday night, I got an email answer to one of my queries (the one from before the first person POV version), asking for a snail mail with my material. I walked on air the whole weekend, while frantically (finally) perfecting the requested three-page synopsis and formatting my first three chapters according to AgentQuery's formatting tips.

On Monday after work, I printed out the pages and floated to the post office to get one honking large envelope that would also hold a smaller, yet still big enough for my material to be sent back in, SASE. I also asked for American stamps to put on aforementioned SASE.

And my floating feet grew cold and reconnected with the ground in a resounding thump.

Doh. American stamps aren't to be had at a German post office. The nice clerk behind the counter informed me they can only offer some sort of online-system, which sounded extremely complicated and a lot of work for the recipient, i.e. the agent I want to make it as easy for as possible. So I need simple stamps, not some fancy rigamaroo that confuses the heck out of users and will frustrate Ms Agent, making her turn the unread pages into Christmas confetti - if she even gets and/or accepts them.

I went home, got behind the computer and did some research. Turns out even finding somewhere online to send foreign stamps to you at a decent price is, well, impossible. AgentQuery suggests http://www.usps.com/, which was the only source that looked reputabel, capable and fairly cheap - but they don't send things internationally anymore (I'll email AgentQuery about that). I'm no slouch when it comes to using the computer and online stuff, but the UPS page boldly showed me my limits in that area. When I finally closed that site I wasn't even sure which way was up or down. I tried calling a UPS subsidiary in the area, but of course by then it was rather late, and they weren't open anymore.

So there I was, ready to hyperventilate, when another doh-worthy thought hit me. On Sunday, this coming Sunday, the in-five-days Sunday, I'm meeting relatives of mine, who are - and this affirms again my strong belief in fate and that we are in the right places at the right times if we let God guide us - Americans, coming to Europe for the holidays.

I immediately shot them a desperate email, begging them to bring a legion of stamps for me (more than I need now, just in case/hopefully I find myself in the same situation again in the near future). Being the wonderful people they are, they answered in the affirmative a few hours later.

Returning me to my blissful state of gravity-defiance.

Merry Christmas to me!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Query Revision, First Person POV

I went through another round of query revisions today. I changed something major by writing the whole thing in first person point of view. I have no idea whether that's usual or particularly accepted. Right now I think it's the best one I've come up with so far, but I'm holding my horses. Two rejections in as many days in response to my last revision has dampened my mood a tiny bit. A 'mosquito testicle' bit, as a true Swabian would say. I want to let my enthusiasm cool down enough so that reason can have a say in the mix before I send it out to more agents.

Speaking of horses: I just watched Black Beauty for like the twentieth time. I still cry like a newborn feeling the sting of the doctor's hand on its bum. The book is one of the first ones I remember my dad reading to me and my brother that didn't have pictures in it. Through the eyes of a horse we see humanity at its best and at its worst. It had a great influence on me concerning my handling of animals. Thank you, Miss Anna Sewell, for adding such a gem to horsey novels and a gentle reminder to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

Now, on to something not very writing-related for a change. But I'm excited and need to vent. And possibly rant, but only a little.

Okay, rant first.

My car's a goner, most likely. I took it for its bi-annual check-up for the vehicle inspection sticker, without which it's not allowed on German roads. Guess what? Head lights and tail pipe need to be replaced, which would cost about 800€. My parents (whom the car belongs to) are contemplating whether it's worth paying for repairs - again. It seems this car needs repairs done at a yearly average rate of about 2000€. Can you say lemon?

My parents basically left it to me because they don't need it anymore. I don't necessarily need it right now, either. I take trains and busses or walk most of the time anyway, because it's cheaper and I can read. It's just nice-to-have when going on trips. I might need it when I start a job (when and wherever that may be), but once I have a job (hopefully by February or March next year) I can afford a car of my own anyway. If we're honest, it's not really worth repairing it again for the sake of two or three months... That, of course, is rationality speaking. *sigh* Emotionally, I feel a little blue when thinking about not getting Smartie back. I liked driving it, it's small and weird-looking and convertible, and it carried me faithfully from A to B over many years. But I guess a change is in order here, too. I'll welcome it; it has come at the right time.

So, not so much of a rant after all. Just nostalgia bringing a tear to my eye.

The other exciting thing is: I have a job interview tomorrow. I plan on blowing their minds with my awesomeness. (If he read this, Barney Stinson would be proud.)
Wish me luck. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Moving On In Querying

After waiting fruitlessly (and with realistic expectations, so I'm only a teensy tad disappointed) for a couple of months for word of the QueryShark on my query, I revised it, added a hopefully interesting blurb (though now, a day later, I'm not so sure it's not just confusing *sigh*),  and mailed five more queries of my first novel to prospective agents yesterday.

No answers so far. ;-)

I would have sent it out to more than five, but several agents are on a hiatus till January and not accepting queries at present. Which is probably a good thing, since now I haven't wasted all my possibilities just yet.

As of yet, I have only sent queries to agents who request a query letter and the first one to five pages or the first chapter of the ms. Those agents who also want a synopsis are cooling their bytes on my TBC (to be contacted) Excel-list.

The reason for this is that I haven't finished a single synopsis I've started. Summing up a 97k word novel on two pages is hard. Writing a synopsis is every writer's dread (I've read - and now have (badly) rhymed), but what makes this even more difficult is the different kinds of synopses the agents prefer. One wants a 2-page synopsis, another wants 500 words, the next 2000 words or 5 pages. Basically, for every agent who wants a synopsis, you end up writing a whole new summary of your story.

My plan is to write up three of these dreaded compendiums over the holidays: a very detailed one of approximately five pages, one between two and three pages, and a one-pager - which is hardly more than the query letter itself, but has to reveal how it all ends. Self-appointed deadline is December 31st.

Deadline for next outgoing query wave: January 9th.

I'm juggling a lot of deadlines lately, some self-appointed, others not. Obligatory and first priority is my master thesis, which has to be delivered by January 31st. The obligatory presentation of the accompanying six-week project I worked on is scheduled for January 25th. A self-inflicted obligatory deadline was NaNoWriMo, which I managed successfully a couple of days early. Then there are the synopsis and new query deadlines I mentioned above, both completely self-appointed but also completely personal and therefore just as important, or maybe even more so.

The biggest looming deadline at the end of the year, is, as always, Christmas. Or rather, buying Christmas presents for loved ones. Since my bank account is currently stuck on starvation-mode, I decided to make instead of buy. I have great ideas about what to make, but am lacking time as seriously as I'm lacking money. I suppose, in the end, it will come down to a healthy mix of a little bought and a little made.

Fascinating, really, how Christmas always takes everybody by surprise.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vid: So You Want To Write A Novel

Oh lord. Talk about delusional

Best line: "I have a gun in my car. I'm going to get it now."
Good idea. End his and everybody else's suffering before it has even begun.