Friday, October 29, 2010

Eating the Elephant

Most writers learn about the publishing industry and all that getting published entails well before they complete, or even start, a book.  Me, on the other hand, I came into the world backwards and continue my journey in a bassackwards kind of way. I didn’t even think about these things until the manuscript was complete. The day I actually sat down and started researching what my next step should be, I discovered I would be spending a lot of hours revising and rewriting. After that, I would have to tackle the dreaded query letter, then craft a concise and interesting synopsis.  And while I'm doing this, I needed to wade through hundreds of agents and find a good match who might be interested in what I'd written. Who said writing the book was the hard part?  If I ever find who said that I’m going to flog them. Writing the book was the easy part! 

I had no clue about queries, synopses, and literary agents.  I had no idea that between 80K and 120K words was the preferred size for a first manuscript.  Who knew that shelf space and paper costs played that much of a role in getting published.  For me, a 400 page novel is a quick read.  I’m one of those who skips over the thin books and goes for the nice long read; I want to live with characters for a while. Unfortunately, I write the same way I read.  Imagine my horror when I realized I had a 270K tome that had to be pared significantly, well beyond the obvious rewrite into two books. Needless to say, the day I learned these things I felt like beating my head against the wall. I went from the sheer joy of having finished a manuscript to complete and utter despair in a matter of minutes. 

Then I remembered the elephant.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. So, that’s what I did; I focused on eating the damn elephant.  I gagged on it the first week of my new diet, then I started developing a taste for it the more I consumed. That was about three weeks ago. I trimmed all the fat from the book. If it didn’t move the story and play a significant role it got cut; if it could be rephrased more efficiently, it was. I was brutal. I rearranged, brought conflict and action to the fore; I did all the things I learned you are supposed to do. As a result, I have a much tighter book. Next, I tackled the query, where you condense the essence of the story into one or two intriguing paragraphs that will hook the reader and make them want to read more.  I never knew two paragraphs could be so difficult. That was an elephant unto itself. The synopsis may be the worst of all three efforts. Imagine squeezing a 400 page story into six, making it enticing. I wrote the synopsis yesterday, it is done, ready to send.

The elephant is nothing more than a heap of bones.  Who knows, I may decide to stew those bones for soup.  I can only hope that one of the queried agents will be interested enough to ask me to do exactly that.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Guess It's Real Now...

...because I sent out five queries last night.  As I sit here pondering my first blog entry, I’m thinking I should probably get back into the shower.  Little did I know when I got into the shower a few days back I would hear, "Go Start a Blog…NOW."  Please, NO!  I’m the woman who said she hated blogs; I’m the woman who said she’d never do a blog.   

Of course, I’m also the woman who never dreamed she’d write a novel, either. Then, I was the woman who figured she’d never finish a novel. So there you go. With the help of messages from my showerhead, I wrote and finished the novel.  After endless rounds of editing, revising, and paring (which I keep being compelled to do), I finally let it go and put it out there.  Now, I'll armor myself for rejection and, hopefully, some interest. 

This is my story, my journey of educating myself about literary agents, publishers, query letters, synopses, etc., etc., the story of my process now that I realize I actually have two completed manuscripts.  And, I might add, a Book III in my head with these same characters. You see, I didn’t plan to be a writer so I know nada about these things; I am clueless about the process.  Oh, I’ll admit, there were occasions when the thought of writing would flit through my mind.  I’d had more than one friend along the way tell me, “you should write a book,” to which I would just roll my eyes – I am not a writer (I thought).  I never seriously considered that was a possibility for me. 
Thankfully, I actually enjoy research; and I don't mind educating myself about what’s next. And the showerhead told me to document the process; so here I am, sharing with you all my excitement, frustration, and - dare I ask for it? - joy along the way.  I do not kid myself that this is going to be fascinating reading or interesting to anyone; but, maybe someday, this might be helpful to some other beginning novelist/writer, illustrating what someone else experienced.  You know, misery loves company and all that…