Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Tale of Publishing, Part II

This was supposed to be a short, straightforward entry about the query process, and then something very important, and interesting for bad reasons, came to my attention.

The query process can be frustrating. It is sort of universally acknowledged as awful, terrible, degrading, deflating, and discouraging. It can be all those things. But it doesn't have to be. 

I found the query process to be exciting and encouraging. It took me years to find my agent, but along the way I had enough requests and interest to let me know that I had solid ideas, and writing that could be polished into something publishable, if I just kept working. Of course, I got many more nos than yeses. Way, way more. But every request for a full or a partial, every "please send more" was enough of a boost to keep me going through all the polite declines. 

EVERYONE gets nos. 
In fact, I wore my first No as a badge of honor. I printed it out and tacked it over my desk. Every writer in the bookshop has been rejected. Even the published hear nos. The nos never end. 

It's just part of the business. 

How you respond to the nos is entirely up to you. 

Be a little peeved, consider it part of the process, and shake it off. 
Or, take a moment to be understandably disappointed, have a cookie, or a glass of wine, or a stiff shot of whiskey, fire up the laptop and find another agent to query. 

But what any querying writer definitely doesn't want to do is create a blog and then write extensive, snarky dissections of each agent that rejects the work. Last week, it came to the attention of the Twitterverse that someone was doing just this thing. I'm sure there are others.
Just - don't do this. 

Maybe the best advice for writers just setting out on their journey is to plan their response to rejection. Have a comforting ritual all lined up for when the inevitable happens.  Because there's no use getting angry and mean. It does no good. It can't help the process, or the writing, or the eventual career of the writer in question. 

Agents aren't in the business to be big 'ol meanies. They are not the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. They're in the business because they love books, and writers, and are willing to help you with your career for free for possibly years before you might sell a book. They are on our side, fellow writers. We're all in this together. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Tale of Publishing, Part I

This morning, an enormous padded envelope arrived on my doorstep, containing the first printed pages of The Star Thief. For those who don't know (as I didn't, until just a few months ago) at some point before your manuscript becomes a book, all the pages are formatted, printed out, and sent to the writer for a proofread. I don't print out working drafts of my manuscripts. I've only done it once, at the request of the agent. So to see the work as a physical thing, rather than just a file on a computer, is super exciting!

As I get closer to The Star Thief being a real live book, I've decided to go back and do a few posts about how I got here, from the beginning.

I'm one of those writers who's been crafting stories since I could hold a pencil. But when it came time for college, I picked theater and fine art instead of English as a major. Still, by the time graduation rolled around, I was starting to think I really wanted to try writing something for publication.

But... what???

I did very little writing in college, simply because I didn't know what I wanted to write about. So I did what you should do when you want to write, I started reading as much as I could. I graduated in spring 2002, and then got married at the end of the summer. On the way home from my honeymoon, I picked up a few books in the airport. One was the paperback of Prisoner of Azkaban. By the time I got through the first chapter, I already knew. I was going to write for kids. I started to recall all the wonderful fantasy stories I had loved as a kid, but had left behind when I became Serious about Art. But once I rediscovered children's books, and middle grade in particular, I suddenly had All The Ideas. I had characters and plots and settings and adventures, and I went home, got a job at a Barnes & Noble, and started trying to write a novel.

And yes, that was quite a few years ago. There was a bit of a learning curve!

How about you? Did you always know what you wanted to write? Did you find your niche? Or are you still looking?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Love Stories vs. Not Love Stories

So, I'm in the middle of my pre - publication year. My debut novel, The Star Thief, is still many months away from it's big premiere. There is plenty to do to prepare, but in writing life, it's time to get into new projects. 

One of these potential new projects involves a love story. I've been ruminating on what kinds of love stories I find interesting, and what I do not, paying attention to anything that stands out as wow or eeewww. These all apply equally to books as well, but for this post, I've given some examples from films. 

What's Wow?
Genuine connection. Two characters with enough in common that you can see the bond growing between them even before they realize it? And not just matched-on-paper, but with fully realized personalities that would (or already do) compliment each other? Yes. I'm on board. I will cheer for this couple.
See: Drinking Buddies, The Drop, Before Sunrise, Sideways, Defending Your Life

Longtime love. This one is hard to find, because Falling in Love stories are just so much more exciting than Staying in Love stories, but there's something wonderful about a deep connection that has survived a real duration of time. I love a pair with enough history together that they really know each other, and accept one another, even through conflict. 
See: Only Lovers Left Alive, Before Midnight

Mutual attraction. When a pair is really right for each other, and they both feel it, however long it takes for their feelings to be revealed, even if they don't end up together. 
See: Before Sunset, Tin Cup, 10 Things I Hate About You (even though it treads dangerously close to many of the Eewws, but we can blame that on Shakespeare. Once they spend time together, they do really like each other)

Authenticity. Do these seem like real people? Can the reader or viewer relate? Are they experiencing real human emotions, instead of pantomiming chemistry and connection that isn't there? If an on-page or on-screen couple has a moment I can relate too, or that reminds me of something I've experienced, I'm that much more invested in their story. 
See: Adventureland, Last Night, and Drinking Buddies (again)

What's Eeww? 

Insta-Love. Sigh, boo, shrug. Especially with underdeveloped characters. Instant Attraction or Instant Interest, sure. Absolutely. But to portray that as True Love before the characters even know each other is lazy and kind of gross, if you try to apply that idea to real life. 

Relationships as the Defining Character Trait. Does the hero/heroine ultimately exist only to be In Love or part of the central couple? Booooooring. Not fun. Even pretend people need to be a little complex, or why are we bothering to watch their story?

Stalking, Coercion, Ignoring the Concept of Consent - basically most things that go on in Romantic Comedies. When one person A is in love, and person B is not or doesn't know how A feels, but B's feelings and what they want is completely ignored for the sake of the plot. For instance, when the girl is with a gigantic jerk, but doesn't know it until Hero Guy explains this to her? Hate this. When girl and guy clearly don't like each other, but just don't realize they're destined to be in love? Hate This Too. When protagonist hears a firm "No." from Love Interest, but proceeds anyway, sometimes aggressively, sometimes at Love Interest's expense, this is once again gross. "Convincing" someone to be in love with a speech or a Grand Romantic Gesture? Equally gross. Breaking up someone's wedding? Go to Romance Jail until you learn to act like a person.
Surgically Sterile Breakups. This is one of the overlooked deadly sins of romantic entanglements in fiction, which is weird, considering how often the Love Triangle dynamic is invoked. When character A spends an entire narrative torn between B and C, but then the alternate graciously steps aside at the last minute, so that the True Lovers can be together? This may be the biggest fantasy of all. Breaking up is often hard. The only reason to make it painless is to avoid making the protagonist look bad. But this is also avoiding a way to make a character complex and real. 

Petty Misunderstandings. I have a hard, nigh on impossible time caring about a couple if they are so terrible at communicating that they are kept apart for long stretches by something that could have been resolved with one conversation. (Single exception being Jane Austen, as rules of social etiquette from the 18th century are about the only legitimate reason for these kinds of misunderstandings.)

Anything else? What makes a good love story for you? Any you'd love to recommend?