Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting Inspiration

Before the sun was up this morning, I went for a walk with my dogs in an effort to avoid having to walk in the heat and humidity that would be our world by nine. For the first five minutes, we were alone. It is my favorite part of our walk. The serenity of the park, with its large trees providing shade and a canopy overhead, the brook that runs beside the sidewalk, and the green grass, makes me feel optimistic. Walking allows me to let my mind wander where it will. Some of my best inspirations have come while I’ve been strolling. This morning was no different. I’d received an overnight email from another agent rejecting my book, albeit a very nice form rejection unlike some of the others that were terse and barely civil. I’ve received enough rejections to not take it personally but not so many as to not wonder why.

As I walked in the coolness of the morning, I wondered whether it was the query letter that was responsible for the rejections or the first chapter. I really wanted it to be the letter. How could I improve the query? I knew I needed to take yet another look at my first chapter to see if I could improve on it as well.

As I rounded a bend in the sidewalk, we came face to face with a very large dog (think Great Dane large) and a puppy we’d not met before. As we often do, the two humans stopped to have a chat and talk about our dogs. The puppy was unusual - he had one blue eye and one green eye - and like many puppies wanted to eat everything in sight, in this case many many sticks and twigs. After spending ten minutes talking, we went our separate ways.

Instead of going back to thoughts of this morning’s rejection email, I wanted to pay closer attention to my surroundings. I love the part in our walk where we pass by a bank of sweet-smelling Honeysuckle. We woke a Mallard and his mate, who were sleeping near a tiny pond and not happy with our intrusion and let us know it. This looked to be the same pair who were in the park last spring and summer and never ceased to be insulted by our presence.

By the time we made our way around the park, the temperature was rising and the humidity becoming oppressive. It was time to go home. In the course of a half hour, I had seen a pair of ducks, several bunnies, a gaggle of geese flying in a V overhead, lots of squirrels, and several of the people I see every morning. It was a great walk.

It’s not yet 8:00 am and my dogs are flaked out as if their work for the day is done while my day has only just begun.

I also knew I how to beef up my query letter with a better hook and the idea for this blog. All in all a very successful walk.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Whisperings in My Ear

I find myself wondering what keeps myself and my fellow unpublished writers motivated to continue writing in the face of editors telling us that only the likes of another Stephen King is likely to get published these days or agents who email rejections almost immediately upon receiving our queries.

I read the tweets of writers who rejoice at getting 250 words written the day before while another has a goal of writing 1200 words that day and still another laments a sick child and still another is depressed about having to go to work rather than being able to stay home and write. What motivates these people?

Is it the sheer joy of being able to create a world? To see that world taking shape every time we open that document? Or perhaps it is the ability to create a character, a person really, perhaps one we’d like to be. Maybe it’s the relationship we’ve created that allows us to escape a loveless marriage or partnership for an hour or two each day as our fingers fly across the computer’s keyboard and the idealized man or woman says all the things we wish we could hear in our “real” lives.

Is it the joy of having our characters “talk” to us every day telling us what to say and how they feel? Is it listening to conversations in our heads whilst we are in the shower and hoping we can remember them after we get out of the shower and dressed? Or is it finally knowing how to end the book because our character whispered it in our ear while we were supposed to be listening to someone else while sitting in a classroom or meeting room?

Perhaps it is noticing for the first time how a friend cocks his head to one side as he listens to you telling him your woes of yet another rejection from an agent and knowing your protagonist would do the exact same thing. Or is it hearing for the first time the train whistle in the far distance as it makes it way to its destination as it does every day at the same time?

Maybe it’s how your best friend raises one eyebrow as she listens to you update your story for her. And then laughing when you ask her to teach you how to raise an eyebrow so you know how your character feels when he or she does it in your book.

It may be sitting in a coffee house listening to the couple at a nearby table quietly argue and you pull out the ever-present notebook that you carry for just such times so you can write down what they’re saying. Or those two women in the booth talking about how a friend is suffering in the hospital from terminal cancer.

There are many things, I think, that motivate us to keep writing. Some large, like a kind word or two from an agent, some not so large. It doesn’t take much to keep us writing. Perhaps like myself, my fellow writers are amazed that we can write, that we have these voices whispering inside our heads, and that some day we’ll all be published.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

In learning about the publishing business, I’ve spent way too much time on Twitter. That being said, Twitter has a wealth of information about the business from writing query letters to expanding your list of subject matter experts on writing and getting published. With an expanding list of SMEs, however, comes a conundrum - who to listen to? For instance, one SME says that putting the title, genre, and word count at the beginning of your query letter is required. Then, you go to another SME, and this one tells you no, having that information at the top of your query letter only distracts from what is really important - your book. So who does a poor querier believe? Especially when you’re being told by so many SMEs that if an agent doesn’t like your query letter, you’re going to get a form-letter rejection.

All the SMEs seem to believe that you need to increase your online presence by twittering and blogging. The reasons given make sense. If you twitter and only have two followers, you’re essentially twittering to yourself. Back to the SMEs to learn how to increase your followers so you’re no longer twittering to yourself. Lots of advice there - play nice, respond to others’ tweets, and followers will begin arriving in droves. But wait. You’re following the SMEs. How do you respond to topics that you’re trying to learn about? A polite thanks for posting that? Or wow that was really informative. Sounds good? Agents aren’t likely to follow you because you’re not an industry insider and they’re busy doing their job. No one has heard of you. No one is following you. Do you see where this is going? The proverbial Catch-22.

The SMEs also tell you to not get discouraged, that a rejection isn’t personal, and your book just isn’t right for that particular agency. Some encourage you to send out multiple query letters at the same time for a particular book. Someone, they seem to be saying, is going to like your book some day.

Fifteen years ago, The Writer magazine was writing that authors shouldn’t get discouraged “too easily.” Their point was that the publishing world is a “cold and hard one for the aspiring author.” They tell us that not every author can be a Stephen King. They encourage authors to continue submitting because there are “countless authors who get accepted after thirty or forty rejections.” Some things never seem to change no matter how much things seem to change.