Writing Journey Update, 2/11/2018

Because of a massive reduction in my work hours and some changes in my oldest’s education needs, I’ve had more time to write lately, which has been wonderful. I won’t go into too much detail about the identity crisis that I faced as that transition took place, but suffice it to say that there was a period where I was very frustrated and not sure what my purpose in life was supposed to be: if it wasn’t to work to help provide for our family, and it wasn’t to homeschool my 14-year-old, which I had been prepared to do to help him recover from a disastrous first semester of 9th grade and to help him learn how to compensate better for his vestibular neuritis, discalculia, and ADD, then what was it? Well, it’s still possible that I’ll be homeschooling him for 10th grade, and sending him to summer school if he doesn’t get his grades up, and I’m working with him everyday to help him do that. Until we know for sure that he’s going to be able to stand on his own academically, it seems my purpose in my life has once again become being a stay-at-home mom. It is a role I still enjoy, although it’s different now than it was before I worked at BYU. Coaching an adolescent through middle school is not easy. I’m freelance editing now, and I started an etsy shop to sell the fancy cards I make.  I still read a ton (obviously) and write.

In fact, I started writing three new books, which is to say I crafted query letters, character bibles, and beat sheets for those books. A writer usually writes a query letter to send to an agent to ask them to consider representing him or her to publishing houses if that writer wants to get traditionally published, especially by a medium to large press. They write it after they’ve written and revised a book, had it critiqued, beta-read, etc. It generally contains the nuts and bolts of the book the writer is asking the agent to represent, in a couple of paragraphs, along with the writer’s credentials. I started with the query letters this time so that I could make sure each book had a strong, emotionally-centered conflict, and that the stakes (what the main character stands to lose if they don’t get the thing they’re striving for) were clearly defined.

The character bibles are dictionaries, if you will, of all the traits (physical, mental, etc.), histories, and beliefs of each of the central characters in a book. And the beat sheets are basic outlines of the plots in 15 short blurbs.

When I had those completed, I had to decide which one I wanted to write most, which one was calling my name most. As it turned out, it was the sequel to Stranger in My Own Head, the book that I’m querying now. I just queried my 115th agent for that book, and am still waiting on a response from one of those agents who requested my full manuscript . So that’s what I started writing. Five weeks ago. And I’m almost done!

That’s unprecedented for me, to write almost 10,000 words a week for five weeks. I can only hope that that means that this book, this series, is meant to be published. I’m certainly doing everything I can to educate myself on the craft of writing: presiding over Utah Valley Writers, having a critique group, looking for beta readers, going to writers’ conferences, continually reading books on the craft of writing, etc. I still really, really want to get traditionally published (as opposed to self-published), to get what I write to the point that it’s good enough to be published in the highly-competitive book market these days.

So to those of you who have cheered me on, who have encouraged me to continue even when I felt like I was crazy for doing so, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please continue to do so. I’ll get there some day. Meanwhile, I’m still enjoying the journey, even if it’s not what I expected it to be.

 

Moving Forward, Ever Forward, on my Writing Journey

I’ve written two books and am working on getting them published traditionally, focusing very much so on the second one. But these are the odd I’m up against, as provided by Berrett-Koehler Publishers:

  • While the number of books being published every year has exploded (more than 300,000 traditionally published as of the end of 2014, and 700,000 self-published in 2017), overall book sales are shrinking. They were less in 2016 than they were in 2007, even with e-books taken into consideration.
  • Because of the explosion of books published and the declining total sales, each new title gets less and less sales.
  • For every available bookstore shelf space, there are up to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space.
  • Each book is competing with more than thirteen million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time.
  • the book publishing space is in a never-ending state of turmoil

Make no mistake: I’m fully aware that my odds of getting traditionally published are slim, and of making any money should I get published even slimmer. That’s why I say that writing is my particular form of craziness. The authors of the books you read have to all share that craziness to a certain extent as well.

So why do I keep trying? Because it’s hard. Because other writers are fascinating people to be around. Because using my imagination to create something as substantial and emotionally compelling as a book is FUN. Because it’s a way for me to push for progress in my life even if other things feel staid or stagnant.

This week, that progress took place in my election to the position of president of a 35-member writers club called Utah Valley Writers, and in meeting and hopefully starting a great working relationship with a new critique partner. Liz Stone, a fellow YA sci-fi writer and aspiring author, read the first 50 pages of Running and provided some great feedback.  In exchange, I read the first twenty pages of her manuscript, titled Broken Authority. Having a good critique partner and beta readers is so, so helpful. You don’t even know!

My Latest Writerly Activities

It’s been a while since I last posted for two reasons. The first is that I was preparing for and attending a writers’ conference, called Storymakers. As you may or may not know, I’m working to get published myself.

 

The brief version of my writers’ journey:

  • wrote angsty teenage poetry in junior high and high school
  • edited high school literary magazine because (I guess) there were a lot of teenagers writing angsty poetry in the mid-80’s
  • got a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, then a master’s degree in Public Administration while working at a nearby nonprofit writing grants
  • wrote one young-adult science fiction/fantasy book, called Forced
  • joined a writers group and started attending writing conferences
  • pitched and queried Forced to 50 agents over the course of two years. Got some interest from them, but ultimately, no one picked it up.
  • wrote a second book, Running, a YA sci-fi
  • attended fourth Storymakers conference, where the first chapter of Running didn’t win anything in the contest I’d entered it into
  • felt horrible
  • pitched Running to an agent who didn’t request any pages beyond the first 10 and synopsis she’d already seen
  • decided that I should never write anything ever again
  • heard the word “brilliance” somewhere in said agent pitch, and received some very helpful, constructive feedback
  • started to feel hopeful, at least enough to decide to revise Running and pitch it to 60 agents
  • received awesome feedback on my first 10 pages from author Annette Lyon, through Eschler Editing
  • heard an amazing keynote speech by author Jennifer Nielsen, who said that the great thing about writing in Utah is that, as writers, we’re not all competing for a limited piece of the readers’ market “pie,” we’re working together to “grow the pie.”
  • decided I’m not only going to finish and pitch Running, but that I’ll write the other three books that are lining themselves up in my head, after that.

Sorry…I thought that was going to be the short version. Really, it is, when you take into account the fact that this journey has taken place over the course of 30 years and during a whole bunch of real life. This year’s Storymakers conference, like the ones before it, breathed new life into my writing journey.

What I Did at Storymakers

Met Nikki Trionfo for the first time, and got a copy of Shatter signed by her.
Bought WAY too many books!
Watched James Dashner, who wrote the Maze Runner books (among others) have to share a Naughty Shirt with Sarah M. Eden, another great author whose books I have enjoyed. I won’t try to explain why they had to share the shirt.

Also, the agent with whom I met, Nicole Resciniti, was so helpful. Because of her and Annette Lyon, who edited the first chapter of Running for me, and Lisa Mangum, who edited my pitch, I’m excited to keep working on Running. Hopefully, it’ll be ready to query in a month or two!

The second reason I haven’t been able to post is that I read a book that I didn’t want to review here until its writer did more work on it to make it really shine.  It’s not that I’m super picky about the quality of writing in the books I read, but I don’t like to review books negatively outright. If I really can’t connect with the characters or the plot, if there’s something fundamentally wrong with the writing, pacing, premise, or plot, I’ll reach out to the publisher or author, depending on who initiated contact with me for a book, and provide feedback in constructive ways. When I say “fundamentally wrong,” I don’t compare those things against my imperfect writing or knowledge; I compare it to the standards provided in the many writing classes I’ve taken and books I’ve read, and even then, realize that it’s still, ultimately, just my opinion. And when I say “constructive ways,” I mean that I point out the positive things, and when I point out the negative, I do it in such a way that I provide specific suggestions for improvement (e.g., “This paragraph would have been much more dynamic if the author had shown a character stomping his feet or ramming his fingers through his hair, instead of saying that the character was angry.”) Hopefully, I’ll get to review the improved version of that book for you all down the road!

I’m reading Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, which I’m very much enjoying, and hope to have a review of that up soon! Stay tuned!