Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How many queries does it take to get representation?

I'll admit I'm a numbers geek. I find statistics comforting. Recently, I put up a post about Persistence versus Denial, asking how many rejections a writer should get before giving up. And I had the most visitors I've had since I started blogging. The number of hits and the comments tell me that I'm not the only one looking for some hard numbers.

Because I am also a research geek, I've done some searching. And I've got some numbers for you. QueryTracker has a page listing their success stories. And on this page, they have links to interviews with writers who have gotten representation. Many of these writers have revealed how many queries they sent before getting their agent. I went through and tabulated the numbers from the last 30 interviews (where the writer answered that question). So here it is, sorted alphabetically by genre...

118    FANTASY
46      FANTASY
4       FANTASY
60     MG
60     MG
53     MG
59     MYSTERY
30     ROMANCE
40     ROMANCE
25     ROMANCE
45     YA
47     YA
100   YA
26     YA
60     YA
102   YA
32     YA
50     YA
39     YA
106   YA
150   YA
20     YA
32     YA
75     YA
96     YA
24     YA SF

And since I admit to being a stats geek, let's break it down.

The average: 57 -- This means the average writer gets 57 rejections before getting an offer of representation
The minimum: 4 -- OK, I'm totally jealous, but really want to read that book.
The maximum: 150 -- Actually, this writer admitted it was between 150 and 200! Talk about perseverance!
The mode: 60 -- The most often recurring number.
The median: 47.5 -- The middle of the road, throwing out the highs and lows.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I feel SO MUCH BETTER!

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm a Cover Girl!

OK, not really. But sorta!

The woman on this cover is not me, but Darcy Bussell, British ballerina. But see that little banner on the upper right hand corner? The "Compelling Mystery Serial" that starts today? That's me!

I'm in the depths of querying my novel (and have been for months) and we all know that means rejections. So I must take my joy and successes where I can. 350,000 people will be reading this magazine and maybe my story.

So.... yay!

Now I have to get back to working on the next serial. And framing the cover to put on my wall. It will make a nice change from the rejection letters.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do computers make for better writers?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to be a writer, you had to dust off your typewriter and stock up on ribbon and correction fluid. Or, even more arcane, pens and paper. It took physical, not just mental, effort to complete a manuscript, edit it, and then RETYPE or rewrite the entire thing. And then you had to physically mail it places.

We all know that the advent of computers and email accounts means that it is so much easier to be a writer. Write something once and boom, you can save it, edit it, and email it to every inbox out there. It's making for more writers.

But does the computer make for better writers?

I'm sitting at my desk working on part 2 of my latest serial. (OK, I was. Now I'm writing this. Must stop letting myself be distracted by Blogger.) As I wrote a paragraph, I decided the second sentence worked better as the last so I clicked and dragged it in to place. MUCH better. And that got me thinking...if I had been typing or handwriting my work, would I have made that change, scribbling in the margin or ripping the page out of the typewriter and starting fresh? Would I have kept going, making a note to fix it the next time through? Would I have forgotten about it? What if I changed my mind and wanted to move it back?

I write exclusively in Word, with the exception of crooked fragments written in a bedside notebook in the middle of the night. I can't compose on paper because I am a better writer for having a fluid medium with which to write. I try not to edit as I go, but for me, composing is a dynamic process. I write things down as they flow and then sit back and reorder them so that they work.

My computer makes me a better writer. I honestly don't know if I could complete a novel if I didn't have the technology.

What about you? Do you compose on the computer or long hand? If you use technology, do you think you would still be the writer you are if you had to use paper or a typewriter?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Persistence versus Denial

First of all -- 50 followers!! Woo-hoo! Thank you all for visiting. It's great to have you here.
I was recently reading a blog comment where someone wrote they had just received their 100th rejection. My first thought was "Maybe that person isn't a good writer and should just get the hint and give up already." But that thought was quickly followed by admiration of the persistence that writer showed.

How many queries do you send, how many rejections do you get before you give up? When is it dedication and tenancity, and when is it just not facing facts that it's not going to happen?

Janet Reid says to query widely, to query every agent that represents your genre. After all, you are searching  for someone who loves your work, a very subjective task. Poll fifty people and you'll get fifty different favorite books. So if you query 100 agents of the 750 agents in NYC alone, you're only hitting 13% of the agents. Doesn't sound quite so desperate when you think of it that way.

But then again, others get representation after querying 10 or 20 agents. Is their writing that much better? Did they just get lucky? You hear stories of sucess after of rejections, but how many bestselling authors own up to getting rejected by 100 agents before securing representation?

I don't have an answer to this and I'd love to hear some opinions. How far do you go? How many rejections do you get before you give up? Have you heard stories of someone securing representation and getting a book deal after high numbers of rejections?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flirty Blogfest

I thought it would be fun to participate in Critique_This_WIP's Flirty Blogfest. My entry comes from Woman Overboard, my chick-lit WIP (which, in all honesty, has been IP for a long time). The MC, Junia, is on a cruise, trying to change her patterns of falling for bad men.
       I took off my shoes and slid my feet into the turquoise pool. The water was warm, and the ripples I created threw lights all around. It was hypnotic. For a moment, I did nothing but watch the glowing water. I reached into my bag and took out the pack of paper that I always carried for origami emergencies. I folded a little duck and released it across the pool. As it rocked on the waves, I folded another and sent it on its way. Before long, there were six little ducks serenely floating on the now-still water.
      “You're going to block the filter with those.”
     A voice in the dark made me jump so high I almost fell in. I looked around and saw a man in a staff uniform moving toward me. I was about to apologize when I saw him give me the up-and-down, lingering for a moment on my cleavage, which he had a good view of from his position above me. I deliberately gave him the up-and-down. What I saw was worth looking at. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair that curled up just a bit where it brushed his white collar. His blue eyes matched the glowing water and he watched me with a slightly arrogant smile. I knew his type. There was something about the glint in his eye that told me he was used to women checking him out.
     “I'll retrieve them.”
     “Even that one?” he asked, pointing to one at the middle of the pool.
     “Even if I have to swim for it.”
     “In that?" he nodded at the satin skirt I'd hiked up around my knees.
     “No, I guess I'll just have to take it off.” I held his gaze.
     “Now there's an idea,” he said with a different glint in his eye. He sat down on a deck chair and held out his hand. “I'm Max.”
     “My name is Junia,” I said. When I took his hand, warmth shot up my arm and through my body. I swear the water around my legs almost started boiling. But there was no way I was going to show him that. I quickly folded a boat and launched it toward the flock.
     “Neat trick,” he said.
     “You're welcome. Will you make me one?”
     I studied him for a moment, trying to decide what to make. I took a sheet and carefully, willing my hands to be steady as rocks, folded and refolded it. I handed the shark to him, which he took with a smile.
     “And what about you?” he asked.
     Again, I studied him silently before starting on another sheet. It took quite a few steps plus another sheet of paper; he watched me without speaking. I plucked my little boat out of the water and added the new figure before holding it up. He took one look at the man holding the spear and burst out laughing before falling back on the lounge chair, hand to chest as though he'd been speared himself.
     “Are you trying to tell me something?” he asked, propping himself up on one elbow. He looked gorgeous. Must resist!
     “Not at all,” I said sweetly. “Now if you'll excuse me,” I said, standing up and gathering my skirt in my hands, “I have some waterfowl to retrieve.”
     “Allow me,” Max said, and in one move, was off the lounger and dove into the pool, shoes and all. He surfaced, gathering the bobbing birds carefully while treading water. He swam back to the edge and held them up to me.
     “You know,” he said, shaking the water from his thick hair and chiselled cheekbones, “there aren't many women who could get me to jump in a pool with all my clothes on.” He stood up and his white shirt clung to him, showing a stomach a six-pack would be jealous of.
     “That's me,” I said with a coolness that belied the heat I felt inside. “Junia Wetherby, manipulator of men and paper.” With that, I turned and walked away from the pool, leaving him laughing in the cool, blue water.

Friday, May 14, 2010

All in my control

Happy Friday!

On Saturday, we are supposed to go on a boy scout campout. So, of course, it is absolutely throwing down the rain here in San Antonio. Serious rain. Like 4 inches in the past two hours and now many of the roads in our area are flooded and impassable. I am SO not sleeping in a tent on the ground tomorrow night.

A few days ago, I sent off part one of the serial I am writing on spec for a British woman's magazine. I heard back from the fiction editor saying that she and the editor-in-chief loved it. They enjoyed it so much in fact, that they asked if I could make it four parts, instead of three. I, of course, said YES! And then went back to my synopsis and said hmmmm...

The trick with serials is that each part must end on a cliffhanger note. After all, you've got to hook the reader enough to make them remember your story and want to shell out the cover price next week and the week after to see what happens. So making my story a four-parter is not just about expanding the story, but doing it in a way that gives a new cliff hanger at the right time (3800 words per part).

As I sat at my computer trying to figure out where the story could go, I found smiling. What was that feeling creeping over me? I barely recognized it. In my six months of revision, I hadn't experienced it in a while. And then I remembered -- it was that gleeful, god-like feeling of creating a world, characters, breathing life into them, making them do what I want them to do, putting them in horrible or wonderful situations and seeing how they deal with it.

Writers are given a special gift -- the ability to control things. In a corporate time management workshop I attended years ago, we were told "You can control everything except for two things: time and other people." As a writer, I get to control just that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some lives to play with.

And you? Do you get that feeling of power when you write?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five Questions, Five answers

Laurel at Laurel's Leaves tagged me to give Five Answers to Five Questions. I've seen this meme around a lot recently and I'm glad Laurel tagged me because I'd already been thinking how I would answer. The 'five years from now' question really has me wondering because I never end up where I thinking I'm going to.

What were you doing five years ago?

  • Settling into our new house in Leeds, England
  • Watching both my stepmother and my mother-in-law battle breast cancer (and win)
  • Trying to convince the paediatrician that my son’s food aversions were not ‘just a phase’
  • Writing The Shadow Scribe with some purpose for the first time
  • Setting up a music program at a Mommy and Me-type group

 Where would you like to be five years from now?
  • Writing for a living, whether as a published author or a freelancer, so that I can be there for my children when needed and still contribute financially to my family’s future. And of course, do what I love.
  • Taking a family trip of a lifetime to Africa
  • Supporting my children as they move into middle school and high school
  • Traveling to Japan for several weeks on my own
  • Getting a higher writing degree (MFA, MA, PhD?) so I can teach writing

 What's on your To-Do list today?
  • Pilates
  • Work on part two of my serial
  • Make an appointment at the spa to finally use my gift certificates from November
  • Take my daughter for testing to see if she skips kindergarten
  • Water the flower beds

 What snacks do you enjoy?
  • Guacamole and chips
  • Nutty chewy granola bars
  • Life cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Frozen raw cookie dough chunks

 What five things would you do if you were a billionaire? (I'd actually do these if I were a millionaire)
  • Fly first class. I’ve had enough of international flights in coach with two kids.
  • Buy up land in cities and suburbs and put it in trust so we have green spaces, not half-empty strip malls.
  • Have homes near all of family members (UK and US) so that visiting becomes easier
  • Give vast amounts of money to research into Autism, mesothelioma, and breast cancer
  • Set up/donate to existing foundations for bringing the arts (music, art, theatre, and of course, writing) back into schools.

I suppose I should tag others now. I personally like tags and awards, but worry that if I tag or award others, they'll be all like "I don't have time for this stuff!" So let me know in the comments -- how do you feel about tags and awards? Do they make blogging fun or is it just one more thing you don't have time for?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Story Idea Generators

While The Shadow Scribe is out on query, I need to move on and keep writing. I know I should start the next Big One, but I just can't bring myself to do it yet. I started a long post on why that is, but it was too heavy for a Tuesday, so we'll save it for another day.

Instead, I'm moving on to some short stories. I am lucky to have a relationship with a weekly British woman's magazine that publishes short stories. Woman's Weekly have published two of my stories (2006, 2009) and part one of my first serial will hit the newsstand next week (serials run 3-4 parts of 3800 words each). (If you want to see some excerpts, head on over to my website.) WW recently OK'd another serial idea  so I just sent the first part for their approval. As I wait for word from the editor (yes, one more reason to refresh my inbox 30 times an hour), I need something quick to distract me.

But the question is "Where to Start?" Most of my short story ideas just come out of the blue but sometimes, like this week, I needed a jumping off point. When that happens, I turn to a story idea generator. At first, I was skeptical of the generators, which randomly pair up character, conflict and setting. Some go as far as adding themes, beginnings and endings. Results can be cliched, strange, or just plain nonsense. But for me, the results make me think.

A few months back, I used Cally Taylor's short story generator and it gave me: a business man, a playground, regains consciousness. Naturally that begs the question of what a businessman is doing in a playground. A pedofile? A devoted father? A developer looking at tearing it down and building condos? After musing on that for a moment, the idea for "Know Thyself," my first three part serial was born.

This weekend, I turned to the Seventh Sanctum Quick Story Idea generator. While some of these combinations were way too out there for me (lighthearted tragedy about an unbalanced princess?), I kept seeing the character of "ethical smuggler." It gave me a story idea - hopefully perfect for a 2000 word short for the magazine - that will be my project for the next few days.

The nice thing about short stories is that they give more immediate gratification. I know I won't be editing my story for months at a time. I know that if the magazine rejects it, I've only wasted a few days, not years of my life. And they pay. So I get to feel like my writing is contributing a little to my family.

And you? Have you used any story generators or writing prompt sites, whether for novel ideas or short stories? Do you ever distract yourself from your WIP by writing shorter works?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Writing is ruining my Reading

Too much knowledge can be a bad thing.

When I started college, I was in Television/Radio, which means that I know all those things that go on behind the camera and off-set. It ruined the way I watched TV.

When I got my culinary degree, I had to be Food Safety Certified. The way they train you is by grossing you out with all kinds of heinous videos showing chefs spitting in food, or cooking without handwashing after using the bathroom, or -- the worst -- waiters pi&&ing in the soup. It ruined the way I ate in restaurants.

As a food scientist, I know in great detail what that list of ingredients on the side of a package means. It ruined the way I shopped and prepared dinner for my family.

And now that I have written and revised and revised and betad and revised and revised, I know all those little quirks and grammar don'ts and pitfalls of writing. And it is ruining the way I read.

I recently finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I thought the story was intriguing, but as I read, I was bothered by the passive voice, the backstory dumps, the telling not showing. Some of this, I will chalk up to it being a translation and I think there is only some much leeway the translator has. But at one point, I caught myself thinking "Enough with the sandwiches!" because there were probably about 30 references to the MC eating sandwiches (one of my betas said something similar about my MC drinking too much tea).

For the past six months, I have had a real problem reading books without being extremely critical of the writing. In the past three months, I have given up on about six books, which is way out of the ordinary for me. I don't know if it just the books I have chosen recently or if it is because I am hyper-sensitive.

Any thoughts on this? Are you a more critical reader if you are revising or writing?

And on a side (and very late) note, KarenG, I have a $5 Starbucks gift card for you! If you send your address to the email  in my profile, I'll mail it to you. Thanks to you and to the others who indulged me and commented on my writing analogies.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baking Blogfest

I'm taking part in Charity Bradford's Baking Blogfest. Since my MC in THE SHADOW SCRIBE is a recipe developer (and so am I - see this post on how recipe development works), this is right up my alley. Here's a scene where Lara is working on a project, preparing recipes and photographs to appear on the back of a cake mix package.
     Once again talking to myself, I brainstormed a few quick ideas. “One stir-in recipe…maybe almonds and coconut. Bar cookies…a variation on millionaire’s shortbread? Something healthy, maybe with fruit?”
     After translating the ideas into rough recipes, I gathered the ingredients for the first recipe and turned on the voice recognition software, setting the laptop off to the side of the work area where it wouldn’t be splashed by anything.
     “One box cake mix, a half-cup chopped toasted almonds, a half-cup shredded coconut, two tablespoons vegetable oil, a quarter-cup water...”
     “You say something, love?”
     “Oh!” I jumped a foot and splashed water down my front. My lack of sleep made me very twitchy. The plumber stood in the doorway.
     “No, sorry, I was working,” I explained, gesturing at the laptop.
     “Right, sorry about that,” he said and walked off toward the front door, avoiding Mike coming in with the wheelbarrow. I closed the door and then went over to the laptop to delete the last exchange from the screen.
     Four hours later, the smell of chocolate filled the kitchen and dirty bowls and desserts of varying degrees of edibility covered the counters. The coconut almond cake was delicious, the bar cookies tasty but too sticky, and the so-called healthy recipe with raisins and bran cereal was disgusting. Recipe development was not a job with immediate gratification. Some projects – like this one – took me five, ten, even twenty tries to get the recipe perfect. The bedroom, my makeshift studio for the day, was in an even worse state. Plates of mauled and mangled food were everywhere, the victims of my attempts for visual culinary perfection. My hero – the food actually photographed – still sat beneath the lights getting dry and stale, looking less than appetizing.
I've done recipe development for baking and for culinary applications, but my true love is baking. When I was in culinary school, our instructor said to the class on the first day, "Some of you are chefs and some of you are bakers. Here, you will do both, but you will find you are drawn to one side or another." And I found that to be true, both for myself and the other students in my class. Why the difference, you might ask?

Cooking is on the fly, meaning that for the most part, you can change and adapt as you go on. You taste, you adjust, you immediately taste again. Many chefs don't use recipes, but go by instinct and feel. Or they start with a recipe and immediately change course to make it even better.

Baking is precision. Consider this: cookies, cakes, and pastries are all made from the same basic ingredients. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, raising agents. But you change the proportions and you get a totally different result. If you don't balance your recipe perfectly, you do not get the results you expect. And you usually have to wait for some time to find that out (an hour or so for it to bake).

UH-OH! Analogy alert! You could compare this to the difference between pantsers and plotters, right?

Which are you -- a baker or a chef?