Category Archives: writing process

Monday Morning Musings: Millennial Writers, Quit Hitting Refresh!

Not for the first time, it’s been dawning on me lately that my status as a millennial writer may be putting me at something of a competitive disadvantage.

I’m not referring to my relative (though rapidly disappearing thanks to student loans and the looming inevitable death of all we hold dear) youth, or the metric ton’s worth of crappy expectations and stereotypes previous generations have dumped upon mine. I’m simply pointing out that my patience level is, shall we say, not high. In this business, that’s not exactly an asset.

A twenty-first century writer’s true nemesis, you understand, is not crass commercialism or an uneducated public or even a literary archrival. No, it’s that danged refresh button.

“Come on, come on, it’s been like half a day already. Has she seen my e-mail? Surely she’s seen my e-mail. Read the query, read the query, READ THE QUERY, READTHEQUERYREADTHEQUERYREADTHEQUERY!”

It’s just so freaking easy nowadays for millennial writers like me to click back and forth between windows, hitting “refresh” on blog stat trackers and e-mail inboxes every 30 seconds.

“What do you mean there’s only been 10 pageviews so far? That was a brilliant post! How do all those spam marketing sites with people who can’t write in English get so much flipping traffic, anyway?”

We may be getting a tad obsessive. Also, that little nervous habit is cutting way too much into our writing time.

There is no way I would have survived trying to make a career of writing back in the good old days when everything always got lost in the mail both ways. If I make a change to the blog settings, my brain does know that it’s unrealistic to expect such minute tweaking to instantly boost my readership. Does that ever stop me from frantically doing CPR compressions on my refresh button? Heck no.

Nor does my complete lack of control over when other humans send e-mails even slightly make a dent in the number of times I’ve checked my messages since lunch (approximately 347, in my not-so-scientific estimation). There’s an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that opines, “The longer you wait for the mail, the less there is in it,” and right now I really feel like reaching through my screen and giving my inbox a good bopping.

Sure, the usual advice given to millennial writers in my situation is to write something else, or query someone else,  or do something else. And I’ll totally do that, right after I refill my coff–REFRESHREFRESHREFRESH! Whoops.

How do you avoid mashing the refresh button?

Kate

Freelance Friday: Why Don’t More Literary Agents Take Multiple Queries?

 

In my agency hunt yesterday, I came across a set of submission guidelines that asked new writers for two pieces at a time instead of one. Of course, this is children’s literature, not the next blockbuster trilogy, but author wet dreams notwithstanding, an open invitation for multiple work samples is still a rare request. In this maddening technological age, I can send a new story halfway around the world in a matter of minutes, yet writers are still somehow expected to wait as long as six months to be rejected so they can start the whole hellish process all over again with new material. We’re not even supposed to mention all our other works in progress, the literary etiquette gods have decreed, unless one of the gods first smiles upon us and bothers to ask.

Having been a frazzled news editor in a past life, regularly beset by pesky denizens who never read past the jump and could not write their way out of a square room with one door in it, I remain firmly convinced of the value that gatekeeping roles bring to any publication. My sympathies lie with the agents and editors who must routinely contend with general douchebaggery and entitlement disguised as “artistic personalities.” Yet for the thousands, if not millions, of writers aiming to publish, and publish professionally, the textbook industry wait times are nothing short of demoralizing. Nobody normal can afford to spend half a year getting ignored or rejected by agencies, more months getting turned down by publishers after an agent has finally come on board, and up to several years in revisions, preproduction, and marketing before something hits the shelves. For all the publishers busily saying they want diverse books and new voices, there seems to me to be a relative lack of acknowledgement that being able to support one’s writing habit while the cogs continue to grind so painstakingly slowly is often a rather privileged position.

Sending out more than one project to the same agency at the same time, or at least not having to wait for a response to the last query before sending out a new one, sounds pretty darned good. In theory, it allows for better rounded and more accurate evaluations of new authors’ writing abilities. If they’re going to reject our work anyway, they might as well be thoroughly devastating about it, right?

In practice, though, that would probably make for a gigantic slush pile. How many of us have zombie manuscripts hidden away that we might drag out for just such an opportunity? And how much longer would it then take for one starving agent (let’s call her Greta) to get around to reading our own works of sheer brilliance?

I guess I’ll recommend keeping the communal slush pile at its current size, instead of campaigning for the construction of Word Vomit Mountain.

But Greta, could you get a move on, please? We’re kinda going broke over here.

Thanks!

Kate

Writers Wednesday: A Query a Day (Keeps the Crazy Away)

Book draft done? Check.

Bank account empty? Check.

Want a publishing contract? You bet I do. I need the check!

It’s time to start querying agents, which I’ve been doing all week. If you caught Monday’s post, you already know I’m shopping a children’s picture book around. I can’t draw my way out of a Pictionary box, so of course that means anyone who buys this book is also going to have to get an illustrator involved to help move my stick-figure-impaired behind along.

That’s the bad news. This won’t be a fast process, and I’m not going to get paid tomorrow. Or, as it turns out, the next day or the next day or the next day. I’ve heard it could be years before I see any green stuff. Better not rest on my laurels, such as they are. (Such as they are being my niece’s excited response to the little plot twist at the end, followed by a not-irrelevant inquiry regarding the addition of still more animals to her imaginary future menagerie.)

The worse news, of course, would be if I didn’t manage to sell it at all. Luckily for me, and other sales-averse, people-averse, poverty-averse writers out there, it turns out that we can hire somebody to do that. Cue rainbows, expensive dancing unicorn coffees, and baskets of puppies.

These magical, glorious people are called literary agents, and they live far, far away in towers guarded by dragons and evil queens who don’t want us to hire them. That’s what I’ve gathered, at least, because they don’t seem to be a talkative bunch, and there’s a gazillion other writers out on ye olde world of the webs confirming that jumping on the next hot author commodity (me, duh) and showering her with champagne and gold and glitter is somehow not the only item on their lengthy to-do lists. It might even–gasp–not be the topmost entry. Say it ain’t so.

Literary agents are mystical beings who live far, far away in towers guarded by dragons and evil queens who don’t want us to hire them.

A fair bit of snooping led me to at least one clue to harnessing their magic, however. It’s called a query. Since there are a kajillion posts already out there on writing query letters, and I’m bored just thinking about it, I don’t feel like writing another one right now. Go here and here and here and you’ll get the idea. Just remember query and agent and magical unicorn salespeople.

I’m keeping the query process manageable by spacing them out. One a day, two max. That leaves me the rest of my day to write, haha, I mean chase toddlers and beg them to eat their cereal instead of chucking bowls at my dog. More to the point, it gives me opportunities to review and revise my query letter several times a week, increasing the likelihood that I’ll remember to actually target the right person and do this cool thing called “following submission guidelines.”

Happy submitting! I’m off to chase more unicorns.

Kate

Monday Morning Musings: When Life Throws You Lemons, Add Sugar and Whiskey

 

If you’ve been following the blog over the past year, you’ll know I originally set out to have a rough draft of my debut novel ready for revisions by February 2017.

And then life promptly threw us a few curveballs. I battled a medical issue. We let a foreign student move into our home. Work got stressful.

I kept changing my story setting, and topic, and characters, and genre. Eventually, I had four or five projects going. I lacked focus, to say the least.

That’s when things really got crazy for a few months. When we finally came out the other side, I was no longer a high school mom. I was a kindergarten mom with a houseful of little ones. I had just published my first gourmet cooking column, and now I hardly had time to warm up leftover mac and cheese. None of my kids wanted to eat my fancy food, anyway. My column went on temporary hold, although I’ve maintained the connection well enough to revive it when things calm down.

In the past year, I’ve gone from a childless wife working from home to an exchange parent to a foster mother of three. Yet somehow, I’ve dreaded having to admit failure on this one. I didn’t get that dream project done by my self-imposed deadline. I can’t stand blown deadlines.

What I do have is a handful of miniature beta readers. The children’s market is the fastest-growing segment  of American publishing. While my primary goal of completing a full-length novel that anyone will actually want to read remains unmet for now, my secondary desire–to pursue a publishing deal this year–is still achievable.
To that end, I’ve pulled out an existing project, run it past my tiny critics, revised the story, and begun querying agents. A children’s picture book proposal isn’t exactly the same thing as a full-length manuscript, but it’s a start, anyway.

You know what they say. When life throws you lemons, add sugar and whiskey.

Kate

Freelance Friday: Pitch Freelancing Jobs You Want

 

If you want it, you’ll have to pitch it. Photo via VisualHunt.com.

A short time ago, I reached out to an old business contact on a whim and pitched an idea that I’d been mulling over for a few months.

I got an enthusiastic reply and found myself setting up a meeting with the contact’s managing editor. By the end of that conference, I had talked my way into a paid freelancing job. It’s a small one, but it’s recurring work I didn’t have a month ago.

As I drove home, I was struck by a simple truth.

You don’t land the freelancing jobs you don’t pitch.

Don’t misunderstand. You can certainly get good-quality work through referrals and word of mouth, if you’ve built a solid reputation for yourself and your output. Any skilled freelancer can. None of that work, however, is particularly likely to be any of the dream assignments floating around in your head, especially if you’re just starting out. Your clients are coming to you with their own agendas, needs, wants, and ideas. If you’re content to keep taking whatever projects are sent your way in order to keep the lights on, terrific. That is a perfectly reasonable, pragmatic position, but today’s post is not for you.

Today is about your goals. Your client list. Your dream projects. Your career five or 10 years from now. What do you see yourself doing?

You don’t land the freelancing jobs you don’t pitch.

If your answer is not, “The thing I am doing now,” what are you doing to get yourself there? Truthfully, you must do something. The jobs you really want are highly unlikely to simply land in your lap. You must organize your portfolio, take stock of your skill set, and identify the clients you want to work for and the jobs you want to take on.

You must do your homework. Then, you must pitch. Present your case to the target client. Why does the client need this assignment done, and why should you be the person who gets hired to do it?

Your prospect might say “no” to today’s pitch, but you won’t know for certain until you ask.

When you don’t ask the clients you want for the work you want, the answer will always be “no.”

If you want to land your dream freelancing jobs, you’ll need to go out there and pitch them.

Kate