Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Changing Perspectives

So I'm querying again.

Shot that sucker right out there. So for now we'll sit back and see what we see. I hadn't realized it's been since October 2009 that I last sent out a query. Since then the novel has gone through three major revisions.

Last night, just for kicks, I took a look at the original draft from September 2009 and cringed. It's horrendous. Completely infantile. I can't believe I was arrogant enough to actually send that out into agent-land. It's hilarious when you think about it.

When you start your writing career in a vacuum, everything feels right. Your family tells you how great your stuff is. The words flow and before you know it, you think you the next great American novelist. It's funny to look back at those original words. They're awkward, overly-complicated and the writing style was so over-grammatically correct it was stiff as a board.

But what was there was passion. Probably more than I have now. There was a lot of feeling in that story, and it reflected in the plot. The basic concept was great. How do I know? More than a few professionals have told me so.

Haha, but therein lies the rub. I had to learn how to write my great story. And that took time. Make no mistake; I'm still learning to write. There's a reason the average time to publish is around eight years and a hundred queries sent. Make no mistake about it, this shit is hard.

So as I stared at the draft email containing my query, my finger paused over the 'send' button. I was fearless the first time I queried. Back then I treated the endeavor like I do with any request: the worst they can do is say no. In 2009 it took me two seconds to hit that button.

But two and a half years later, the stakes are higher. I've got a boatload more experience and learning, not to mention the scars earned from the monthly exchanges in Kelley Armstrong's Online Writing Group. In 2009 I wasn't afraid of failure because I had truly nothing to lose.

Enter 2011 and a different perspective. I am afraid of failure. Strike that. I'm not afraid of failure; I'm afraid of lack of growth. I'm afraid I'm no better than I was in the final months of my tour in Iraq in '09.

But I am better than 2009. There's no question there. Remember, I looked at that old manuscript and laughed. I have grown. This round of queries is a test to see how much. The goal is still to get picked up and published by 2015. So this time I did hit that 'send' button, it just took twenty seconds longer than the last.

Hey, the worst they can do is tell me no.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And He's Coming Down the Final Stretch!!!

At least that's what it feels like. Isn't it horse-racing season or something? Kentucky bourbon and fancy hats? Show's you what I know of about that culture. My knowledge of thoroughbreds is limited to what I learned watching Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and Racing Stripes. *snicker*

But my post-beta WIP is heading towards the finish line. I've made it through the wild forest of debilitating partner-critiques and a massive rewrite. The second. A little perspective on this one: This marks the third calendar year I'm working on this novel. It's also the last. I should have been smart and let it go after one; should have chalked it up as a tremendous experience and accomplishment. It was my first novel. While spending a year in Iraq, I started with an idea and turned it into my 150,000-word opus.

Then I committed myself to learning the craft, joined a group and spent another year getting beat apart by my fabulous critique partners. I still had faith in the characters and plot from my creation, so rather than move on to something new, I took another stab. A year after that, my 150K opus was a 72,000-word YA novel a little more carefully aimed at my target audience.

But reality and a few friends slapped me back to reality. A couple of harsh critiques exposed some rather serious flaws in the plot. So back to work. For the last three months I've been hacking and slashing. Deleting poor material and replacing it with words more relevant to the core plot.

In the next week it will be done. I'm into the third act of the manuscript which survived the beta-round fairly intact. I'll get it done, do a final edit then move on to the queries.

But for Mason Ramsey (my MC) and his gang of friends, this is probably it. Barring some serious feedback from an agent or publisher that would lead to another round of edits, I'm retiring my beloved WIP. In the last several months I've had too many good ideas, and eventually even the marketplace will leave my novel behind. C'est la vie.

I'm ready for that, ready to move on. As I've been told by writers much wiser than myself, eventually you have to admit you've done your best and put it on the shelf.

Until then I'm going to enjoy this final stretch. Finishing a novel is like finishing a marathon. There's miles and miles of isolation and pain followed by that final high as the end comes in sight. In spite of all the mental fatigue and frustration, you still manage to get up on your toes and drive towards the finish line.

Okay, that's enough. Move on. Nothing to see here. Time to fire up some Daft Punk and get to #amwriting.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Quick Update and Good Advice

I've been unfairly punishing my blog in a poor attempt to punish myself for not finishing my edits. I've pretty pushed off everything creative to focus on finishing the manuscript. Yet somehow, the no-blog-until-complete policy feels a bit misguided.

I had a wonderful phone conversation with a super-agent, the result of winning one of the Query Critiques over at WriteOnCon. So while I was in the middle of rewrite hell, I got to enjoy what was probably the best twenty minutes of my fledgling writing career. Oh, and there was a Query critique in there too. Since this was not an interview per se, I won't name her here, but this particular lesson-learned was too important to sit on:

Don't rush.

She talked about one of her client who waited the better part of year to respond to her manuscript request. She met him in person, listened to the pitch and made the request. A year (or more) later, she received the manuscript and even still remembered him. Her point: she would rather the work be right than fast.

So I've slowed. Not completely, but I took a week to read and reset my inner-YA fanboy. I read Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall. Think Groundhog Day meets John Hughes, except that the story is from the popular kid's perspective; in which case it probably wouldn't be John Hughes. Maybe Lindsey Lohan. Or just forget it.

Highly recommended. Then came the guilty pleasure: Cassandra Clare's latest, The City of Fallen Angels. If you're a fan, I need say no more. No spoilers. It's solid, and stands well against its predecessors.

Okay, that's it. Someone leave a comment saying, 'Bad blogger, bad!', for neglecting my blog.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Twenty Three Hours...

...until registration for the DFW Writers Conference.

So what am I doing? First, I'm reviewing my objectives:

1. Interact with a bona fide publishing industry professional.
2. Interact with other aspiring authors.
3. Cram as many presentations as I can into a single conference.

The first one is guaranteed. I have a name and a slot. I've got my 25-word pitch and 10 talking points to keep the conversation going. I've been trying to familiarize myself with the agent's client list. It's a good mix, I'd venture to say 50/50 male and female. Query Tracker shows this individual has a good number of upcoming titles, almost all of them YA and MG. Dystopian seems to play a prominent theme. They seem to be mostly newer deals, a good things because maybe their looking to add more. I plan to download one of their clients works to my Kindle.

If that fails then maybe we spend the remaining nine minutes talking about liquor and sports.

I love the Internet and I love my writing group folks, but I'm really looking forward to meeting living, breathing writers without the safety-net of Internet anonymity. I've looked for local writing groups, but Google draws a blank. They do exist. I happened upon one doing a reading in the back aisles of a local bookstore. But they're like antelope, just the slightest whiff of outsider and they're gone. Should be fun to see bunches of them move around in packs.

I'll be watching like a lion in high grass.

There's a dizzying amount of seminars scheduled at the Con. I'm pretty sure that I'm a good storyteller; what I don't know is if I'm a good writer. So my focus is going to be on the writing: plot, dialogue, characters, etc. There's several seminars focused on querying and marketing, but I get enough of that from stalk-- err... following agents and other writers on Twitter and Facebook.

Other than that? I've printed my schedules and maps, drawn out my movements through the conventions center, and even programmed in some reflection time to make sure I've captured the important stuff.

I think I have this covered. As soon as work is over, I'll fill up the tank, throw the wife and kids into the car, then head north to Dallas. Tomorrow morning I'll be in the parking lot and walking towards registration.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Weeks to Con!

So we are at T-minus fourteen days to the DFW Writers' Conference.


That's the advice my crit-partner Julie Particka passed to me a couple weeks ago when I was on the verge of losing focus and going into a full blown noob-writer panic. I'd made a list of the million things I thought had to get done before the end of the month. Her advice:

Finish the manuscript, prep for the pitch.

Two simple things. Of course, finishing a manuscript is never easy, but I did. And for the last week I've been going over the first five chapters with a buffer trying to make them as smooth as possible.

Then comes the pitch. Now a pitch is a funny animal. It's not a document. As my other friend PJ Schnyder pointed out, it's a live interaction between two people. Conversations do not come from a script, so you have to grab their attention right from the introduction. Let the conversation flow, but be able to guide the discussion back to your stories talking points.

Okay, that sounds simple, but it's not. PJ is a sage when it comes to sales and presentations. She has years of experience making big deals. So if you have no experience, how do you compensate? Easy. Preparation. I'm going to dig out some military stuff here and go to my old buddy Sun Tzu:
'If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.'

Now, referring to an agent as the 'enemy' might not be a good idea, but the theory behind it is sound. Do your research. Read their recent blogs and interviews. Know what they're looking for and who they represent. Showing that knowledge is another form of showing respect i.e. you're serious about writing and you're not here to waste their time. Just make sure not to cross the fine line over to stalking.

Know yourself. Here's where it gets complicated. You know your manuscript. After all, you wrote it, but do you know where your manuscript fits into the grand scheme of the Urban Fantasy YA marketplace? Do you know how your protagonist stacks up against other similar characters? You should. That's knowing yourself.

So you've done that, you've married your novel perfectly to the agent's expectations. You're good, right?


It's a pitch dummy. That's just the conversation to get your foot in the door. They still have to read the manuscript. Which gets back to probably the best piece of advice I've gleaned after months of agent/published-writer stalking:

Write the best damn book you can.

Where am I in this process? I'm waiting for the email from the conference folks assigning me to an agent. From that point I'll go into Sun Tzu mode and do my homework. I'll craft my eight or ten talking points to suit their individual tastes. In about a week I'll push my manuscript to a couple of betas. Ideally, their comments will come back to me about the time I'm ready to respond to a request (fingers crossed). I'll make corrections and barring major issues the manuscript will go out a week or two of the con.

That's the plan. Now, remember what I told you all about plans?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Social Network Agent Stalking

What is agent stalking? When does one cross the between just-a-guy-on-a-social network to full-blown Internet stalker? When one of my followers sent me a note addressing that very question, I took a knee. (Psst--that's military-talk for taking a moment to think things over). I think first I need to define what I consider Agent Stalking. This isn't calling the dude/ette in there office day after checking on the status of your query letter. This type of annoyance is more subtle, and offspring of modern technology and popular social networking tools.

I'm a huge fan of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. A good buddy of mine at the Command & General Staff College turned me on to Friedman's wisdom a couple years ago and I've been a true believer ever since. Maybe too much so.

Friedman says that a convergence of technology and events allowed India, China, and so many other countries to become part of the global supply chain for services and manufacturing, creating an explosion of middle classes wealth across the globe. To take it another step, this "flattening" continued with social networking to make it possible for people to connect with each other like never before, breaking down social and economic barriers faster than common sense could keep up.

There used to be barriers in the publishing world. Agents used to use snail-mail to receive manuscripts and queries (some still do, tree killers). The only time you saw them is when they either chose to see you or you were lucky enough to catch one at a convention. Publishers were more scarce, making use of agents to keep the legions of aspiring authors at bay.

Enter Email. Enter Facebook. Enter Twitter. Enter my pipe dream to become a repped and published writer. Enter way too easy access to virtually anyone on the net. You have just increased your ability to make a jackass of yourself a thousand fold.

A lot of literary agents are on Twitter and I follow more than a few of them. They offer amazing advice on how or how not to break into the publishing industry. They also present quite a bit of personal information.

Like the rest of us, they want a good cup of coffee. They're looking forward to seeing their team in the big game. They make snarky comments about current events and pop culture. They rave about a cool movie, or lament spending money on a bad one. This is where they become human. And this is where, if you're not careful, I think you can get in trouble for crossing a line.

A couple of the agents I follow are very entertaining. Occasionally, I find myself shooting them a funny comment (at least I think it's funny, maybe debatable), well, because that's who I am. I apply the Golden Rule when interacting with others. I don't send anyone a note I wouldn't want sent to me, and for the most part, I think it works.

But make no mistake about it, these individuals are still the keepers of the kingdom, and they should be respected accordingly. In the Army, we have rules against fraternization, preventing lower ranks from over-socializing with those higher. We're military, we have our reasons. I joke and poke fun at my boss all the time, but I do it respectfully. I apply this logic to when I trade comments with agents and editors.

One of the comments I was sent was something along the lines of, 'You're brave sending a comment to agent so-and-so.' I think it's okay to interact with these folks. They're human, like us, and God forbid you go out there and make a friend or two. I would caution against becoming too friendly with anyone you plan to query. There's some potential for disappointment and frustration when expectations aren't met. I have no plans to query either of the agents as I don't think their client list is compatible with my current work.

Now, back to the original question. When does interaction become stalking? I'd define that as a whole lot of unsolicited content that is either disrespectful, creepy or undesired (take your pick). Tough call there. I think if you shoot them one comment a month or less you're okay. But if you fire off about twenty in a week. And they're not your Follower?


You should probably take a knee.