So tonight I have a question to all who follow my blog: should I create a writer’s facebook page? Before you all rush down to the bottom of the page and type in a resounding “YES!” the reason I hesitate and am asking you all is that I am still unpublished and without an agent.
I did read in an article in Writer’s Digest that published fiction writers should create one to cultivate readership, but what about an unpublished one? How many of you have a facebook page, and would you mind putting in a link to it so I can see what you do? Who are other writers who have facebook pages that you follow, and why do you follow them?
I’ve looked at some established authors on facebook, such as Timothy Zahn and Laurel K. Hamilton, but I’m a long way towards being that established, lol.
As promised, here’s the next part of How I Write My Novels. If you missed part 1, click here!
Writing the First Draft
There’s no other way to say it, I love this part more than any other! With all of the pre-writing done, I pick up my laptop, go to my favorite Starbucks, and I start writing from the very beginning.
Usually what happens is I have two windows up, one with my transcribed plot progression (not sure if synopsis is quite the right word) and the other is which ever chapter I am working on at the time. As I go along, if I need a reminder about where I am taking the story or characters in that chapter, I look back at the other window, and then I continue writing.
For The Sword of Dragons I also have other documents on my laptop that have basic descriptions of who characters are, major cities or other locations, and descriptions of certain objects. These files help me to ensure I keep continuity within the novel as well as from one novel to the next. They are what are called “living documents,” I update them as I go along, they are constantly changing. I have the feeling I’ll soon have something similar for my new novel :)
This is also the part when I get to know my characters the best. All of the little nuances, all of the reactions, the emotions, this is when they come out, as I write the story. I find that I can’t really plan these too well, because then they come out feeling artificial. They just happen!
When the characters move me and drive me, that is when my best work is done. I also discovered in The Sword of Dragons book 2 that my chapter outlines are not hard and fast rules. If I have ideas to change or add things in as I go along, I do not hesitate, because when I do this, it’s usually my unconscious mind saying “this is boring, but do it this way instead, and it’ll be better!” For instance, book 2 was originally supposed to be 36 chapters (not counting the prologue and epilogue) but when I finished writing, it ended up with 4 additional unplanned chapters!
Since I’m not yet living off of writing (although that has become my goal), I can’t do this every single day, so I usually end up going to Starbucks every Saturday or Sunday (or sometimes both) and I spend at least 4 hours there writing. This usually lets me get at least 2 chapters done, depending on their length, but when I’m on a roll and the writing takes on a life of its own, I can write upwards of six chapters!
The point is, I write on a schedule. I do this for a few reasons, first of all because I love to write so I don’t mind writing on the weekends :) But second, if I don’t write regularly and just treat it like a ‘whenever’ kind of thing, I’ll start to slack of for whatever reasons. This keeps me going, keeps me from falling behind. This allowed me to completely write book 2 of The Sword of Dragons in just a handful of months! Imagine if I could do this full time! :)
The First and Second Proofread
Note that not once did I mention proofreading while writing the first draft. I used to do that, I used to write a chapter, and then stop and re-read that chapter to proofread, but I attribute this, at least in part, to the troubles I had writing my first couple of novels (including the one I finished in 2004 and will never see the light of day!!)
That is because it interrupts the flow of storytelling. Not everyone might experience that or agree with me on this, but I strongly advise against stopping to proofread every chapter.
Once the first draft is complete, I’ll usually let it sit for at least a few days while I allow the high of completing a full novel to wear off :) My first proofread is done on the electronic version, on my laptop or desktop PC.
Reading something electronically is an entirely different experience than reading a hard-copy, or at least it is for me. My first read-through of my manuscript usually results in minor changes, some typo and grammar fixes, etc. But once I print out the manuscript for the second read-through, I go to town on it! Figuratively speaking…
I don’t actually do this right away, once I finish my first proofread (which I seem to do in a couple of days) I let the novel sit for at least a couple of weeks. This gives me some distance from the story and characters, so that I can come at it with a fresh perspective.
When I’m ready for round two, I print it out, and I read it with a red pen in hand. That red pen also acts as my bookmark, because I find reading the hard-copy takes me a lot longer. I don’t know why I go slower, but it also means I catch a lot of things I didn’t catch before. I also write in notes for any additional paragraphs or sentences or scenes I want to add. Some of the pages look pretty red by the time I’m done with them!
I can’t stress this enough to all writers: don’t be afraid to make big changes to your manuscript during your proofreads! If your mind is saying something doesn’t work, trust your instinct!
The final parts are pretty cool, in that I get to have eyes-on it from others. While I saved this part for last, beta reading can be done at any time after completion of the manuscript. For book 1, I let friends read it only after it was a polished product. For book 2, I sent the chapters to my friends as I finished them, and then sent revisions during the 1st proofread. (I’m still working on proofread #2).
Thank you to my friends Nick and Natalie for being my beta readers for two novels now. You two are awesome!!
Be warned: your beta readers might have things to say that you don’t want to hear. But remember that they don’t know the story inside and out like you do, and if they say something seems wrong or is off or is confusing, so will almost every other reader out there. Heed their feedback!!
When all is said and done, I usually do one more hard-copy proofread, and inevitably find more typos, grammar errors, etc. Since I don’t have an editor, this is the part when the manuscript is fairly polished, and is ready for query letters to be sent out.
To be honest, without an editor, you could proofread for the rest of your life and still find things to improve. There comes a time when you have to call it good and start to try to find an agent. Don’t let your work become stale or stuck in ‘proofreading hell.’
I’ve heard some folks say that they start to feel down after they’ve finished writing a manuscript, like coming down from a high, but by diving into the proofreading, I find I really don’t have that sensation. Especially since by the time I’m on proofread #2, I’m already deep into fleshing out the story for my next novel :D
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed these articles!
Today I went to the Denver Comic Con, which in and of itself was an awesome experience. It was my first comic con ever! But something even better happened, and may just be what I needed to launch my writing career!
Browsing the Booths
As I was perusing from booth to booth, I came across a few local writers and publishers and began chatting with them. I was amazed at the friendliness of everyone to begin with at this convention, but when I told those in the writing and publishing booths that I’m a writer looking for an agent and publication for my first novel, they were all very friendly and were more than happy to give advice.
One of the publishers told me something I didn’t expect: “Agents are a thing of the past.” I found that to be curious, but was on my way to a scheduled event so I didn’t have a chance to ask him why he thought that. The research I’ve done indicates that if you want mainstream publication, that’s one of the best ways to go. In any case, I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland
The best part was when I went to Kevin J. Anderson’s booth. He wasn’t there, but as I was talking with one of the booth attendants, I mentioned my interest in both sci-fi and fantasy, and he pointed me to a novel by David Farland, The Golden Queen. The attendant told me it was a perfect blend of sci-fi and fantasy, which intrigued me, so I decided to buy it. The attendant also mentioned the author would be back in the booth later and would be more than happy to sign my copy.
Right towards the end of the convention I decided to go back and see if I could meet David Farland, and sure enough he was there, and he happily signed my copy. We started talking, and I mentioned I was a writer looking for an agent and publication.
I was completely taken by surprise when he gave me his contact info and told me to get in touch with him! He’s going to give me tips and pointers about finding an agent or an editor, among other things, and then we talked for a good fifteen minutes about finding the right agent for your work and some of his experiences with agents.
Agents Are Still Imporant
I mentioned to him what the one publisher said, “Agents are a thing of the past,” to which David said no, that is not the case. With self-publishing becoming so big, its true that many authors may not need or want an agent, and if you are an experienced writer who really knows the ins and outs of the industry, you might not need an agent.
But for first-time writers who don’t know the industry, an agent can help you navigate the waters in the beginning. Someday you may out-grow needing an agent, so to speak, but for anyone looking to get mainstream publication, an agent or an editor is still your best bet when you’re just starting out.
I hadn’t expected the bit about an editor, I had always thought that an agent was the only first step you really could take. So I intend to research how to find an editor, and to ask David as many questions as I can.
What surprised me most was when I read his brochure. He teaches writing workshops regularly, and some of his past students included Stephenie Meyer (I may not like her work, but there’s no denying her success) and Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time series.)
So I am excited to have met David and I am looking forward to learning from him! I know that I have so much to learn still, and I doubt I’ll ever stop learning :)
I received an email today that positively made my spirits soar!
At this point I’ve only submitted my query letter to six agents, I haven’t “shotgunned” it out to more because I was sort of testing the waters. This was, after all, my very first query letter, and I knew it would need work.
One of the agents I submitted to was Pooja Menon at Kimberly Cameron & Associates. Most of the agents I’ve submitted to only wanted a query letter or the letter plus a synopsis, but this agency also wanted the first 50 pages of my manuscripts.
All of the other agents I’ve submitted to so far either didn’t respond or sent the standard copy/paste rejection letters, but Pooja sent a personalized response.
In and of itself I find that a little encouraging, that’s better than anything I’ve ever received previously, not just for this novel but for everything I’ve ever submitted for publication in the past. But it was her response that made me smile. She specifically complimented my writing and said she thought the story was interesting.
Unfortunately it wasn’t one she felt she was right to represent. I don’t know if that’s a standard sort of way of saying “Sorry, not interested” but on the whole her email was highly encouraging :)
Writers more experienced in the search for agents might not think much of this, but I will definitely say that for me, this was a huge boon, and I am very grateful that she took the time to write a personal response!
In any case, I find that I still am having trouble writing a revised query letter to submit to agentqueryconnect.com for further critique. I seem to be stuck on coming up with a good hook, so I’m going to do some research, find examples of good hooks, and see if it sparks some ideas for me.
There is one thing I struggle with consistently when it comes to the world of writing: how to describe my stories.
When someone asks me “What is your novel about?” my mind immediately turns blank. It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had, and it happens to me almost daily! Someone recently reminded me of a Doctor Who quote that applies: “You know when someone asks you what your favorite movie is, and suddenly you forget every single movie that’s ever been made?”
However, it goes beyond this. This isn’t just a “Jonny-on-the-spot” blank moment, this is a struggle that has extended into writing query letters, and is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles I face at the moment to finding an agent.
What is a query letter?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a query letter is a one-page presentation of your story and yourself that you send to literary agents in an attempt to garner interest in your work and, eventually, land an agent to represent you and your work.
Query letters have a basic formula that all writers are encouraged to stick to. Trying any other format has been described as ‘trying to re-invent the wheel.’ There’s no need, the wheel works fine just as it is, and if you try to sell a reinvented wheel to GM or Mitsubishi, they’re just going to laugh at you and go pay lower prices for regular wheels. Agents expect a specific format to your letter, and I have read that if you don’t stick to that basic principle, most agents will not even finish reading your query.
The format is simple: Hook, Mini-Synopsis, and Writer’s Bio.
No, the Hook isn’t afraid of ticking crocodiles. The hook is supposed to do just that: hook an agent’s interest and, for that matter, everyone else’s. In one sentence (some leeway on that, but generally speaking it’s one of those rules you want to try to follow) you have to make your story seem interesting and unique, and give the agent a reason to keep reading. If the hook doesn’t catch the agent’s interest, most likely he or she is going to stop there and send that dreaded rejection letter.
This is exactly what it sounds like, a very short description of your story and the characters. How short? One paragraph. How hard is it to condense your entire story into one paragraph? Well, for a real challenge, try to describe Lord of the Rings in one paragraph. Added difficulty: it has to be in such a way that it seems interesting, and isn’t just another fantasy epic that’s like the 50,000 other ones already out there.
For published writers, this area is probably easy. Describe your writing credentials. Essentially, you’re trying to tell the agent why you’re worth the risk. For someone who has nothing professionally published, this is pretty difficult to fill out (but that doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your query letter!)
My Struggle Writing a Query Letter
My first query letter is time stamped July 2013. I have probably gone through 2 dozen revisions (including a few complete re-writes) and am still struggling to make it work! I owe a lot of the progress I have made to articles such as this one.
I do realize that part of my struggle is my tendency to over-think and focus in on the details too much, but when you only have a paragraph for your mini-synopsis, focusing on the details is your worst enemy! I also struggled with writing a 1-page synopsis, which some agents require for submissions on top of the query letter.
Until recently I’ve posted my query letters on my personal facebook page and asked friends and family for critiques, and they have been invaluable with helping me fine-tune it. And yet I knew it still needed improvement. The two agents I sent the latest revision to rejected my story, and I had the feeling that the query still needed work.
So I went to the forums I’d been lurking about for some time at Agent Query Connect. I finally created an account and started responding to other writers’ posts, and then today I finally posted my own query letter for critique and advice. I braced myself for the worst, knowing they would be brutally honest, and hoping for nothing less than that same brutal honesty!
I was not disappointed :) Only two writers have critiqued my query letter at the time this article was written, and their critiques all touched on similar points. My query letter is generic, it describes a story that sounds generic, and leaves the characters as unknowns.
This helped me to realize something. In my query, I’m focusing on the story too much, and not giving enough attention to the characters. Naturally I need to talk about the story, specifically the catalyst for the story, which is the titular Sword of Dragons, but for a moment, go back to the example of the Lord of the Rings. When you think about the novel or the movies, what are the first things that come to mind? Does the One Ring come to mind first? Sure, its in the title, but is that all? For me, it’s the characters that I think about more. Frodo’s bravery stepping up to take the ring. Samwise’s undying loyalty. Gandalf’s fireworks and his love of Hobbits. Aragorn’s steadfast leadership. Merry and Pippin’s mischief. Gimli and Legolas’s friendship.
The characters are what make stories worth reading. The characters are what stick with us when we walk away from a story. They are the ones who live in our hearts forever.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Realizing just how important characters really are, I intend to attack my next revision (or rather, rewrite) with the idea that I want to make the characters the focus. The Sword of Dragons is the catalyst, yes, but the characters are the ones who make things happen, who fail or succeed.
I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my progress :) Until then, thanks for reading! Click “Like” below if you liked this article, and click the “Follow” button if you want to know when I’ve posted more articles!
Welcome to my first blog :) My name is Jon, and I’ll be your tour guide on this crazy writing adventure!
Up front I want to tell you all what this blog is going to primarily focus on, and that is writing fiction, the trials and triumphs of trying to find a literary agent, and eventually getting my first novel published.
I hope that my blog will be helpful to other aspiring writers, but more than that I really wish to start making a connection with everyone out there who’s willing to follow this blog! I don’t just mean other writers, but anyone and everyone! I want to connect with my readers, and as passionate as I am about writing, I know that this blog will be a personal journey that I am excited to share with you all!
For starters, I will be writing blog entries on how I go about writing novels and short stories, including telling about my endeavors as I write them. I also will be discussing the process of finding a literary agent, which includes the (sometimes painful) process of writing query letters and synopses.
Something else I want to do on this blog is write short stories within the same universe as the novels I am currently trying to publish, called The Sword of Dragons, and post them here for all to read!
So while there isn’t much here yet, please subscribe to my blog, because I guarantee you that there is a lot to come!!
I also would like to encourage everyone to feel free to leave comments. Introduce yourself for starters! My only stipulation to everyone is to please, please keep things civil. I want this to be a blog people from all walks of life feel comfortable coming to :)
The Story So Far…
I talk a bit about my writing endeavors up to this point in the “About” section (see the link in the header), but I wanted to cover some specifics about my current project, and where I am right now in my quest for publication. If you aren’t able to finish reading to the end of this entry, don’t worry, it’s a bit of a long story, full of evil things like writer’s block and dozens of drafts of query letters :)
The Sword of Dragons has a decade-long origin story! Longer, actually. When I was in junior high, I came up with a science fiction story called Star Dragon Legion. While a future sci-fi story, it also involved magic and dragons. Before you roll your eyes, remember that I was very young and very inexperienced as a writer :) I never finished a novel for the series, but I wrote numerous short stories.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school, I was required to do a senior project, and I chose to do mine on writing a short story and trying to get it published. The short story I wrote was entitled “Star Dragon Legion – Sword of the Dragon”. In it, the protagonist was required to complete a trial by retrieving a fabled, powerful weapon, the titular Sword of the Dragon.
I never did get it published, and to be frank, it was pretty poorly written, but I learned a lot during my project, especially because I had taken my first creative writing class!
Sometime during my freshman year of college, I came up with the idea to take the basic principle of Sword of the Dragon and turning it into a full-on fantasy novel. By the end of my sophomore year, I had finished, and that summer I sent it to a publisher.
It was rejected, and before I sent it to another publisher, I decided to do another round of proofreading. By this time I had moved on to a 4-year college for my junior year, and was in the middle of a great creative writing class! I had already learned so much, and so when I tried to read Sword of the Dragon, I realized how badly written it was. I couldn’t even get through the first chapter!!
So I shelved it. And some time later, I started a rewrite. Shelved it. Started another rewrite, and shelved it again. It wasn’t until 2008 that I began what would become the final version. By then I had graduated college and had numerous creative writing classes under my belt, so my writing style was considerably better (even today I still think the early chapters are well-written!) I got about halfway through the novel, when… DUN DUN DUNNNN…. Writers block hit.
Evil, accursed writers block! For the next couple of years, I struggled with writers block, and between 2008 and 2012 I only wrote 2 chapters in The Sword of Dragons!
2012 was the golden year for me. Something changed that summer, and I picked up Sword of the Dragons again, right where I left off, and started writing like mad!
Sometime near the end of 2012 is when I finished the first draft, and I spent the next few months proofreading and getting friends to read through it. During this proofread, I also renamed the novel to The Sword of Dragons, and by extension renamed the weapon that is the catalyst of the novel.
Next came the hardest part of all – finding a literary agent! Which I am actually still in the process of doing. By now I’ve gone through at least a dozen drafts of my query letter, and have written a few synposes. I’ve submitted to only 6 agents at this time, all of whom have rejected my story. I didn’t feel ready to “shotgun” out my query letter, and have continually tweaked it. In a future blog post, I will be discussing an extraordinarily helpful website for query letters, and is where I plan on submitting my letter for peer review before I shotgun it out to several more agents!
In the mean time, I have written the second novel in the series, titled The Sword of Dragons – Burning Skies. It took me about 4 months or so to write this one, I have really found my groove in writing! I am still going through the proofreading and editing process, which I will discuss in future blog entries as well :)
There’s a lot more to talk about, but I feel like this is long enough for an initial blog entry. You all will get to know me and my tale a lot better as time goes on, don’t worry!
Thanks for reading :)
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.