Yesterday I received some encouraging (!!!) news in regards to my manuscript that I am attempting to get published. Check out the video.
So the next step for me is to get signed with a literary agent, which is much more in-depth and difficult than it sounds. How does that work, you say? Here’s what I’ve learned so far, rapid-fire style:
-A useful website called www.querytracker.net where writers can search for literary agent names, who their clients are, what genres they represent, etc.
-Searched online and Twitter using the hashtag #mswl (which stands for Manuscript Wish List) and identifying in the results who said “contemporary realistic Young Adult” is a genre they are interested in
-Twitter in general: Many literary agents are active on Twitter and often give tips about writing, publishing and what they are looking for, which is helpful. Plus Twitter can somewhat be a way to get a sense of an agent’s personality, (though I realize online personality or way of saying things is not always the same as face-to-face).
-The Book of Everything Publishing, aka WRITER’S MARKET. This resource book comes out every year and lists all literary agent names, agency names, contact information, submission guidelines, etc.
-Literary agent websites
-Blogs that feature interviews with literary agents, such as www.literaryrambles.com
Based on my research (we are talking hours and hours of research to identify who may be a good fit for me and my story), I created a list of literary agent names that I feel may be a good fit for me/me be a good fit for them.
So what happens after you identify potential literary agents to represent you and your work?
Like fishing, you gotta hook ‘em.
When a fiction writer finishes (yup, we’re talking actually completes the story) their manuscript, the next step is to query agents. The verb “query” is defined as “to ask a question about something.”
Basically, a query letter is a one-page letter (nowadays it is an email) with one purpose: to grab the literary agent’s attention to want to read sample pages of your manuscript.
This is not easy.
You have one page to describe a story that is close to your heart. Your manuscript pages have your blood, sweat and tears on them (metaphorically speaking, hopefully). But the query letter is a test, in a way:
Can you determine the important parts of your story?
Can you reflect the heart and plot of your story in a few paragraphs? Can your main character’s voice come through in a few sentences?
Can you effectively identify what genre your story is in, why the agent should care about the story and the main character, the stakes, why your story is unique? Are you being clear instead of leaving the agent confused at the end of your letter?
Literary agents not only expect you to submit your manuscript to multiple agents, they want you to submit to multiple agents. Like I said, it’s all about finding the right fit for both the agent and the writer.
The reason query letters are so important is because agents receive thousands of query letters. One of the agents on my list recently shared her 2015 statistics.
You guys, this agent and her colleagues read and responded to 29,000+ queries.
Of those 29,000, wanna know how many debut authors this particular agency signed?
So yeah. You need to put your best foot forward, in both your story and your query letter.
Another method gaining traction for submitting manuscripts is online “pitch” contests via blogs or Twitter. This is how I received a manuscript request from an agent yesterday (see video above).
The agent reviewing the pitches (requirements: title of manuscript, word count, genre, 100-word pitch, first 100 words of the manuscript) is one of the agents I had on my list of possible good agent matches, which is why I submitted.
But overall, one of the most common and popular way to submit to an agent is to write a query letter, which I am doing, as well.
Rejection is part of this process. It just is. Even J.K. Rowling, author of the amazing Harry Potter stories, was rejected. I’m not saying this to make light or excuses of inevitable rejection; I am saying this because it is a fact.
I do want to be honest in this journey, so I will continue to share the good and the bad. It’s all learning, it’s all growth, and though it’s an emotional rollercoaster, I suppose riding the rollercoaster is better than sitting on the park bench watching....
Here is an update in Lindsay’s Journey of Achieving Her Dreams.
Navigating this road to getting published is like driving a tiny clown car with stick shift on a busy highway loaded with semi-trucks. I have no idea how to drive stick shift, and I do feel like a clown sometimes.
In winter of last year, I turned to my husband one evening after a day of frustration and said, “I think I’m going to hang it up. Writing. I shouldn’t feel so anxious and uncertain before writing. I should skip to the keyboard with butterflies floating behind me.”
I thought that if God made me to be a writer, the writing should come easy every time. I should be excited every time. I should have sweet words flow out of my fingertips like nectar.
I’m not sure why or where I got this notion. But in my angst and frustration, I went looking for nuggets of inspiration–-quotes, tweets, blogs, anything—from other authors via social media. My search led me to this important conclusion:
All (if not most) authors and writers feel this same self-doubt and uncertainty at one point or another.
This realization was a huge game changer for me.
I thought I was the only one who often felt anxious and nervous to write, who dragged myself to the laptop, questioning if I could do this and the quality of my writing. But lucky for me, I saw amazing young adult authors and others I admire like Sarah Dessen and Emery Lord and and Jessi Kirby and Elizabeth Gilbert (she even wrote an amazing book called BIG MAGIC that addresses those anxious feelings) share their frustrations and uncertainties about their craft. They were honest and lighthearted about their difficulties.
I realized I wasn’t alone, and when you realize you aren’t alone in your feelings or situation, you often become empowered. Relieved. Inspired.
I continued to drag myself out of bed in the mornings or go to coffee shops on weekends, plugging away at the story and soothing myself with self-talk on days when the doubt tried to creep in. I’m grateful for other authors who shared their vulnerabilities because their vulnerabilities allowed me to feel more secure in mine.
The truth is this: I have anxious writing days more than I don’t have those days.
But then there are days—or moments, honestly—when it’s not as hard and it doesn’t feel like I’m in a clown car and I do think my story has potential. I love those days. Those days give me gas for the engine. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of hit shows like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, recently did a TED Talk (it’s amazing; watch it here) and calls that feeling “the hum.”
And so, I press on and find the hum and remember that this is my dream and writing is one of my favorite things. Anxiety and uncertainty are just parts of the process for me. It is what it is.
Nowadays, I am in the editing stage with my manuscript, getting it in the absolute best shape I can so it is ready to go out to literary agents. A literary agent is an agent who represents writers. Their main objective is to sell a writer’s written work to publishing houses (nationally and globally), as well as to producers and film studios if possible.
Honestly, I’ve been in the editing stage for quite awhile. To give you context, the first time I had a finished manuscript (meaning I had completed the first draft of the story from beginning to end and held the entire printing manuscript in my hands) was Memorial Day Weekend 2015. I took some time away from my manuscript after that (borrowing Stephen King’s advice) to give myself distance in order to gain perspective.
I picked the manuscript back up after getting married in November, and I’ve been full-steam ahead ever since. From the first draft I printed on Memorial Day weekend to now, I’ve created six to eight drafts. The core of the manuscript and the story has remained the same, but the first draft involved a lot of cutting and editing and re-wording.
I have never tried to get published nor completed a novel before, so I am taking my cues from writers I admire. Stephen King’s advice to writers is “Write with the door closed, edit with the door open.” Darcy Patterson wrote, “The function of the first draft is to help you figure out your story. The function of every draft after that is to figure out the most dramatic way to tell that story.”
The quote that I often repeated in my head as I wrote my first draft was by Shannon Hale: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles.”
So right now, I am trying my best to create and smooth out these sand castles.
Often in journalism and the publishing world, word count > number of pages. My original manuscript was over 81,000 words (300-some pages) and the target "sweet spot" word count for a young adult manuscript (according to literary agent Jennifer Laughran in her very useful blog post here) is 45,000-75,000 words.
So I cut 11,000 words from my manuscript, sifting through scenes, asking myself, “Is this scene needed? Can I say this in a more efficient way? How does this add to the story?” Like a hair stylist, I clipped and cut, smoothed and straightened, fluffed and finished until my manuscript was in a the 68,000 word count range (about 245 pages).
I haven’t edited alone. Another tip I’ve picked up along the way from successful writers (and once again Stephen King’s book/autobiography titled ON WRITING) is to give your book to beta readers once you feel you’ve gotten your manuscript in the best place you can. Beta readers are non-professional readers who “pre-read” written work specifically to look for errors or confusions and to provide feedback.
When novelists write, often times they become so immersed in the story, they don’t see the forest for the trees. Beta readers offer a fresh perspective, finding those trees and showing them to the writer.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a handful of amazing people with diverse and different perspectives who have provided helpful feedback and insight on my story. There were several mistakes with my manuscripts that the beta readers identified so far, and I am very grateful for each of them (THANK YOU, BETA READERS!) They are helping me smooth my sandcastles.
Once I gather all of the beta reader feedback, I will make edits accordingly. Then it will be time to send out to literary agents, an intense process I will outline in another blog post.
It’s surreal for me to even be at this point. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Book publishing is an intense process that involves many steps and many people. There’s room for error. There’s room for doubt. There’s room for subjectivity. Good writing doesn’t mean it will get published.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
I was 4-years-old when I wrote my first book.
(Does it count if I told my preschool teacher the story and then she wrote my words down? That's a form of ghost-writing, right? )
Let's say it counts.
Even as a shy-ish, blonde-ish, little girl wearing headbands with large bows and printed jean dresses, I had a tendency to process my emotions through storytelling. When I experienced one of the first "traumatic" events of my mere four years that fall, I spun the tale with an imaginative twist to my preschool teacher, Mrs. Schexnaildre. She wrote my words down for me.
And so, my first book was born.
And then another.
Sitting in a tiny chair using my tiny voice, I "wrote" (and properly illustrated with orange stamps, of course) three books in Mrs. Schexnaildre's preschool classroom. I lovingly refer to the trio of stories now as "The Bear Witch Chronicles."
Three Things These Tales Do NOT Include:
Three Things These Tales DO Include:
Take a look at this picture. You tell me if I was a bit scarred from that experience:
What's up with the witches fascination? Right?
Looking back now, it's clear to see little Lindsay was trying to make sense of all the lessons (and scares) life had to offer:
Lesson 1: Beware of the Wicked Witch of the West. She's Legit. Sort of.
I was obsessed with "The Wizard of Oz" film. I loved Dorothy and her snazzy red heels. I was dazzled by Glinda the Good Witch and her pink ball gown and her bubble mode of transportation. The Scarecrow was funny and the Tin Man was sweet and the Lion was gruff and tough.
But the Wicked Witch of the West?
Nope. Little Lindsay was NOT a fan of that Wicked Witch of the West.
Her green face scared me. Her scowl spooked me. Her cackle haunted me.
"She's not real," my mother reassured me. "Don't worry."
That October, my parents took me to a family Halloween party.
All was well until it wasn't.
I remember sitting in the yard and looking out at the long driveway. I remember a figure clothed in black running down the driveway with a long broom and a black pointy hat and a green face.
I remember immediately realizing the Wicked Witch of the West had found me at the Halloween party.
Insert instant tears.
I clung to my mother, who brought me inside with the other terrified children. Turns out the "Wicked Witch of the West" was a neighbor getting into the Halloween spirit. Sitting safe on my mom's lap in the living room couch, I still remember the neighbor's green face smiling at me in her black cloak, broom in hand, reassuring me, "It's okay! I'm nice! See?"
It was all so terrifyingly confusing for me. Three whole books worth.
Lesson 2: Teddy Bears Trump Witches
Obviously. Hence why I still own my oversized Mr. Hersheys the Teddy Bear.
Lesson 3: Celebrate with Coffee
One of my favorite lines I've ever written is in the story "The Teddy Bear that Ate the Witch." Following the teddy bear's adventure where he defeats and eats the witch, he celebrates by "Going home and having a cup of black coffee."
As Teddy should.
As we all should.
Because a good cup of coffee is a great way to round out a day. Especially if that day involves witches.
There's lots of morals to the story here, but at the end of it all, I'm glad Mom saved these masterpieces, and I'm proud of little Lindsay for voicing her fears.
Here I am, more than 20 years later, still trying to do the same.
Have a great weekend!