Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I finally feel like a novelist

It's only taken 7 months of work, hundreds of dollars spent on research and other resources, and tens of thousands of words written, but I finally feel like a novelist.

After Michelle & I were a few chapters into writing our book, I bought a number of books on novel writing, novel editing and novel selling.  [*Writing Geeks*  Notice my lack of Oxford comma in this last sentence.  As a former attorney I despise Oxford commas because lawyers never use them, but apparently they're a staple in fiction.  I really need to start using them, but they just piss me off.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here.  What a stupid aside.  Can you tell that I've been anal retentively editing for the past few weeks?  Well, I have.]
So, I've read a lot of books on the process of writing & selling a novel.  In all the books they emphasize that you need to start thinking of yourself as a writer.  No matter whether you've sold your first book or not, you are writing, and therefore you're a writer.

Let me take a second to explain how the literary world works.  To sell your novel, it is very important to find an agent.  Nearly all of the major publishing houses will not read submissions from unrepresented writers, and so having an agent is quite literally required to submit to them.  You may be able to submit your manuscript to smaller publishing houses without representation, but then you can kiss any sort of advance goodbye.  We'd like to get paid for our book, so once our novel is written, we will need to find an agent.  The way that one goes about finding an agent is: (1) find agents who represent the sort of books that you have written [sounds easier than it is, I assure you], and (2) send those agents whatever materials they require, 10 agents at a time.  Nearly all agencies want you to send them a query letter.  A query letter contains 2 brief paragraphs about your book that (1) give an idea of the plot and style, and (2) make the agent want to read more.  The query letter also has a paragraph about your previous writing credits and sometimes why you are interested in that agent's representation in particular.  All of this needs to be done in less than 250 words.  Moreover, many agents will ask that you submit a 1-2 page synopsis of the book, as well as the first 5-20 pages.  All agents require that the novel is complete before you query them.  If they like what they see from your initial submissions, they'll ask for the full manuscript.

The publishing industry is difficult to crack.  Out of thousands to tens of thousands of queries that agents get every year, they will take on less than 10 new clients.  You don't have to be a statistical whiz to realize that your odds of finding representation are not great.  (And once you find an agent, they still need to sell your book!)  This means that you need a really tough skin.  You will receive many rejections.  You take anything constructive you can get out of them, and just move on.  Luckily I was unemployed for a year, so I'm used to rejection.

The good news is that most queries that agents receive are terrible.  I have become obsessed with a website called Query Shark.  In that blog, literary agent Janet Reid (the Query Shark) critiques real query letters sent in by aspiring authors.  Her critiques show, essentially, how not to write your query letter.  I have learned an amazing amount from her website.  If you can write a compelling query letter, then you are well on your way to finding representation, and I feel very competent about my ability to do just that.

We are not yet finished with our novel and so we are obviously not in a position to begin querying agents, but I am editing the chapters that Michelle gives me in batches of 10, so I'm on an editing hiatus for the next few weeks.  [I just finished the previous batch.]  I figured I might as well start looking into the publishing process.  Reading Janet Reid's blog inspired me, so I wrote our Query Letter.  (I'm still editing it, of course.  It could always be improved.  At this point, I've probably spent about 10-20 hours on it, though.)  Knowing that I'd also need to write a synopsis, I decided to sign up for an online synopsis writing class conducted by a former editor.  That class began yesterday, and it's what has really made me feel like a real author.  It's made me realize simultaneously how much I've learned over the last 7 months, but also how much I have to learn.  You can always hone your craft.  Perfecting my writing is definitely something that I want to spend a lifetime trying to do.  It's so wonderful after spending so much time working on our novel to actually get some feedback (and the cost of the two week workshop isn't much more than a book on writing, so it's a deal!).

As far as how the novel is progressing, Michelle & I have written exactly half of the chapters and our word count is just over 40,000.  I am editing the chapters as we go, but we'll obviously need to do more edits once the entire book is written.  Once we are done with that, we will ask a few friends to read it, get feedback, and do one final edit before we try to find an agent.  Hopefully the agent-finding process will begin by the end of this summer.  The goal is to have the first draft done by the end of May, so it's not an unreasonable projection.  This is getting really exciting!!!

P.S.  I'm also excited that Michelle & I finally came up with a title for the book (after about 15 iterations of names that neither of us loved), but I didn't ask her if she minded if I told anyone, so I better keep it under wraps.  Part of the reason we don't want to tell anyone the premise just yet is because we want to see what their reaction will be when they actually read the manuscript.  Once we start querying agents, we will be able to tell you all what it's about.