Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fellow Bloggers Provide Help

In last Sunday’s posting I asked questions about fiction genres and the state of publishing today. Two fellow bloggers, Perpetua from England and Kathy McCoy from the United Sates, provided answers to these questions. I want to share their informative responses with you because you may not have had the time to read all the comments for that posting.
         To my question about the difference between commercial and literary fiction, Perpetua answered:
In my librarian days, literary fiction was serious and sometimes more difficult fiction which was normally printed and sold in small numbers, unless it won a book prize of some kind, when demand would rise. 

Commercial fiction is basically popular fiction, often in genres such as crime, romance, thriller, which can almost be relied on to sell, often in large numbers. This doesn't mean it isn't well written, but it appeals to a mass-market in a way literary fiction doesn't.
In my response to her comment, I asked if there were subcategories of the genre “historical fiction.” Here is her reply:

Historical fiction is a very broad category, which can be subdivided into different types. There are historical mysteries (Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels spring to mind here or Lindsey Davis' Falco novels set in Imperial Rome) historical romances, such as Georgette Heyer's Regency novels (much loved by DH and me) or serious “literary” historical novels such as I, Claudius by the poet Robert Graves. I'm guessing there are probably historical thrillers too, but I can't call any to mind at the moment.

To my question about the state of publishing today, Kathy commented, as Perpetua did, from her own experience:
I understand your frustration, Dee! My agent has been schlepping Therapy Cats around to publishers for months now. A few have said "No" and more are just sitting there letting it grow roots on their desks. My agent said something about it was a shame that I hadn't published a completely new book in more than ten years so I would have a more recent, dynamic presence online. So frustrating!

So I finally decided to write some e-books inspired by my blog and see how that went—which is why I haven't been blogging for a month. In that time, I wrote Making Peace With Your Adult Children and Aging and Other Surprises. The latter makes heavy use of past blog posts and is a semi-memoir. I decided, just as a beginning, to get them converted to e-pub and professional covers done at Vook, which my agent recommended. Both are now on Amazon and other outlets as e-books and will soon be available as print on demand titles. 

I got a call from PBS Next Avenue, an online Baby Boomers magazine, the other day and the writer said she had seen my Making Peace With Your Adult Children book on Amazon and wanted to interview me for an article that will feature a link to the book and my blog post. So I'm optimistic.
This has cut down on some of my frustration in waiting for someone to buy my Therapy Cats book. There is no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing/indy publishing and my agent was very much in favor of it. (It also keeps me out of his hair!) Have you thought of trying this with either of your book ideas, Dee? Some "indy" books have been picked up by traditional publishers later on.
I certainly don't have all the answers these days in the rapidly changing world of publishing, but I'm more hopeful now. Maybe this approach is something to consider. There are ways to do it without it costing a lot. Because I chose to have Vook do the ePub conversion and also design a deluxe cover, my books cost $600 to get up and running, but sales are starting to come in. But you can do a Kindle Direct book with a Smashwords or other print on demand book for very little upfront.
Dear Perpetua and Kathy, you’ve enlightened my understanding of publishing and offered me options. Thank you. Peace.

NOTE: I won’t be posting again until I have more news about my search for an agent.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

And the Beat Goes On . . .

Hello again after a three-week hiatus. During that time, I’ve busied myself with visiting the websites of literary agencies to determine which agents represent historical fiction. As I look at what each agency represents, I’m also interested in the following genres: memoirs, fantasy, and inspirational gift books.
         Why? Because these are the categories on which I’ve been working the past few years. Let’s begin with the memoir.
         My other blog is an online memoir. I hope one day to take the postings and shape them into one or two memoirs—depending on length.
         Back in the early nineties, after the publication of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, memoirs really came to the fore in publishing. Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ and James McBride’s The Color of Water, both published a few years later, cemented the premier place of memoirs in the publishing world.

         But so many memoirs have been published since then that the genre is not as popular with publishers as it once was. So some agents no longer represent this genre while other agents will say in their listings that they do not want “misery memoirs.”  
         I’m not sure what my memoir will have going for it. Nor am I sure what thread could hold the memoir together. Perhaps I will simply concentrate on the convent years, but I admit to wanting also to share the story of my mother’s influence on my life. I would also like to share some of the post-convent stories, especially those that have to do with peace and justice issues.
         For the fantasy genre, I now have ready the first book in a trilogy. Judy King, who illustrated A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, has done stunning pen and ink drawings for Book One. I’m nearing completion of the other two books in the trilogy.  

         The manuscript for the inspirational gift book A Celebration of Angels is also near completion. Recently, several friends read it and responded enthusiastically to varied aspects of the manuscript.
         When I worked for Winston Press in Minneapolis in the 1970s and 1980s, all I knew of publishing was the developing, writing, and editing of curriculum for grade and high schools.          
         Today I know almost nothing about what’s happening in publishing: What are agents looking for? What kind of stories do editors want from agents? What are the developing trends today?
         From a fairly thorough reading of the websites of many literary agencies, however, I have learned that some agents represent just nonfiction, while others represent only certain subgroups of fiction.
         For example, many do not represent fantasy, sci-fi, poetry, Westerns, children’s pictures books, and juvenile books. Some agencies represent only “commercial fiction” or “literary fiction.” What do those two terms mean? I’m just not sure.
         I do understand that agents are effective only if they know a wide group of editors at publishing houses. They must know what those editors are looking for with regard to manuscripts. If an agent doesn’t know many—or even one—editor who is looking for a historical novel, then she/he won’t be interested in A Reluctant Spy. The agent will look upon the novel as a dead end.         
         Many editors who retire or leave publishing become successful literary agents. Having worked in a publishing house, they know enough people to approach with a proposed manuscript.
         That’s another thing I’ve been investigating on those web sites for literary agents: their professional background.
         Lots to do. I’ll report more when I get a nibble or two. Peace.

Cat Photograph from Wikipedia

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Novel's Beginning Scene

Here’s an update on what’s happened in the last week with The Reluctant Spy. I sent eight e-queries. In seven of them, I pasted in, per each agency’s web site instructions, a number of pages from the manuscript. The pasted sample ranged from five to fifty pages. I was able to send out three on Monday, one on Wednesday, and four on Friday.
         Within that same time, two of the eight agencies declined to represent the first-century Palestine novel. Still, this is just the beginning. I continue to believe that at least one or more agents will ask me to send the entire manuscript of 122,000 words. Then of course there will be the anxious waiting to see if, after reading, an agent will want to represent the historical novel.
         While all this has been going on, I’ve been considering the opening pages of the novel. Somehow the first scene has never felt right to me.
         Late last night, after staying up until 1:30 am to finish an intriguing mystery, I turned off the light and thought about the beginning of the novel I’d just finished reading. That led, quite naturally, to thinking about the beginning of The Reluctant Spy.
         Several years ago, an author asked me to read her manuscript for a historical novel. After doing so, I asked, “Do you like your main character?” The simple question startled her. Somewhat disconcerted, she admitted that she wasn’t sure any more.
         I explained that if she, the author, didn’t like the character, readers wouldn’t either. Readers need to be pulling for the protagonist. So in the first scene in which the main character appears, she or he must be shown in a way that will attract the readers' empathy and concern.
         Last night, I remembered that conversation and realized that in The Reluctant Spy I hadn’t followed my own advice—the novel begins with a scene in which Ephraim displays the darkest parts of himself to a man he considers his rival. Thus, the readers' first impression would probably be negative. That impression might color everything else they subsequently read abut him.
          Yet within a number of pages the story shows the strength of Ephraim and the burdens of his life. He then becomes a sympathetic character . . . and thus reader-friendly.
         So at 2:00 am this morning I sat here on this computer chair and began to reconstruct the first fifty pages. Now the novel begins with Ephraim showing himself in a good light so that readers will, I hope, root for him throughout the rest of the story.
         By the time readers come to the original opening scene, they will better understand why the main character is jealous and angry. They’ll understand, I hope, that like all of us, he is human. That is to say—flawed.
         After reorganizing the first fifty pages, I’ve ended up with a new first chapter and a more sequential telling of the story.

         I’m pleased with this decision, which was made on St. Michael the Archangel’s feast day—Michaelmas. That’s significant to me because just this past Thursday I found a slim manuscript about angels, which I’d written in 1995. Reading it again, I found myself wondering if it held any promise.          
          Perhaps Michael is now watching over me and has helped me find the right beginning for The Reluctant Spy.
         For many years, I’ve believed that I had fourteen guardian angels—my own, given to me at birth, and thirteen others, whom other humans had declined. All of them have stood by me in difficult times.     
         This week I, along with Michael and those fourteen guardians, will continue to send out queries. But I’ll be even more hopeful because the beginning is right. Peace.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not Much to Report

Hello All on this lovely day here in Missouri. This past week, I polished the generic query letter, the synopsis, and the first fifty pages of the manuscript.
         But somehow, no matter what plans I have upon awakening, I never get done all that I need to do in order to start sending out queries. As the saying goes, “Life happens.” And while it’s happening, I’m napping, walking, dealing with a headache, doing errands, simply staring off into space . . . or reading mysteries!
         I did go to a number of agent web sites this past week and read them carefully to determine exactly what materials each agency wants beyond the query letter. Also, I read the lists of authors each agency represents. If I discover an author whose books I’ve read with pleasure, I can add that to my query and personalize it.
         So now I have a list of 8 agents to whom I hope to send queries this week. I’ve found 104 agents who represent historical fiction and I’ll write to all of them if need be in my search for someone to represent The Reluctant Spy. My hope of course is that several will ask to read the entire manuscript. That may be an unrealistic goal, but I’ve always believed in dreaming big.
         I won’t be posting again on this blog until I have something to report. That may or may not be next Sunday. Please just keep those fingers crossed for me. 
        No need to take your treasured time today to leave a comment. I know
and so appreciatethat you'll rooting for me. Peace.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Agents, Here I Come!

Hello on this Sunday morning here in Missouri—a morning that reminds me of autumn in Minnesota. The hot-tempered weather has cooled off: a good day for writing.
         Many of you wished me abundant sales at the fair last Sunday. So you may be as disappointed as I was to have sold only two books. But that fact has a flip side: I met several vendors who gave me ideas for other local fairs, like those held in hospitals and schools. So now I have some research to do.
         In 2011, the trade paperback publisher of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story sent me the final 600 copies of the out-of-print book for the price of shipping. I still have 400 copies in the garage. That’s a lot of fairs, folks!
         Now to the present.
         I spent the past week critiquing a manuscript for a first-time novelist. Back in July, I’d done the same. After that reading I encouraged her “to situate” her scenes by providing details so that readers could visualize where something was happening. I also recommended the use of detail when writing dialogue so that “talking heads” would not confuse readers.
         The author sent the manuscript back to me for review in early September. As often happens, in an attempt to show facial expressions and body language, she had added too many details. Moreover, the timeline was confusing, and in at least one crucial scene she missed the opportunity to create drama.
         I completed my reading, critiquing, and slight copyediting on Thursday. The next day, she and I went through the manuscript on the phone for 3 ½ hours. I explained what still needed to be done—most of which could be accomplished by the deletion of words and the condensing of some scenes. Having words to cut is always easier than having to add words.
         Because this is a young adult novel, it is supposed to be only about 75,000 words. The present manuscript has over 100,000. So the author welcomed the cutting I suggested.
         As we’ve worked together in July and again this month, I’ve come to admire her dedication and maturity as a writer. She’s committed, open to advice, and professional enough to take those recommendations that work for her and to discard the rest.
         She also has a reserve of fortitude and tenacity—necessary virtues when seeking publication. In recent weeks, she’s persevered and sent out eighty-five query letters to agents. Yes—85. Two have asked to see her manuscript.
         I don’t know how you are responding to that ratio, but I’m impressed. Getting an agent is so difficult today and two of those eighty-five intermediaries between author and editor have asked to see her completed novel. That’s great news.
         She plans to do the cutting and have the manuscript ready to send out by early October. I’m so hoping that one of those two agents will want to represent her writing.
         Having completed that project, I’m now going to return to my own query letters to agents. The book 2013 Guide to Literary Agents lists 104 agents who represent historical novels. I have my query letter ready; I’ve visited agent websites; I’ve selected the first few to whom to send a query. Now the journey begins.
         This week I hope to contact several agents to seek their representation of The Reluctant Spy. Start visualizing!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fairs and Writers

I’m writing this posting on Saturday afternoon, but it will appear on my blog tomorrow. Here’s the thing, today I did my walk, then baked a chocolate zucchini cake for the family picnic, and then drove over to St. Mark’s Catholic Church on Lee’s Summit Road to set up my display for tomorrow’s fair.
         When I got back home, I caught up with reading and commenting on blogs—finally got through my list of 70 for the week and learned so much about the wonderful bloggers whose writing takes me away from this desk and into other states and countries and times. In a few minutes, I’ll take a shower, get dressed, put the cake in the car, and drive to the picnic where I’ll probably go way over the 26 points I get a day on Weight Watchers.

         Now what does all this have to do with a writing blog?
         Tomorrow—Sunday—from 8 am to 2 pm I’m going to be sitting behind a table at St. Mark’s Church selling copies of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story and A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Companion Book. Also I’ll be selling two books by E. C. Stilson, The Golden Sky, a memoir, and The Sword of Senack, a fantasy.
         When Dulcy’s first book was published I did this fairly often, but that was twenty years ago and I’ve neglected to attend fairs since moving here to Missouri. So this is a first for me in my new home state. I want Dulcy’s stories to reach many readers and for that to happen, I have to do my part. All writers do.
         The rental of the booth space at the fair was $50. In moving from Minnesota to Missouri four years ago, I misplaced the small easels that I’ve always used to display books. So in August, I meandered over to Hobby Lobby, a craft store, found them on sale, and bought six for $18. 
         Thus, I have $68 invested in the fair. I’m hoping that I’ll recoup that money with Dulcy’s two books. I’m selling the books for $10 apiece or two for $17.
         If four people bought both books, I’ll have the $68. Any more sales would be gravy! And if seven people bought just one book apiece, I’d make $2 beyond what I spent. Hip! Hip! Hooray!
         Of course, I’m hoping I’ll sell more books than that but I saw the other booths being set up today and there are some interesting and lovely things to buy. We all have only so much discretionary money, and I don’t know whether the attendees will be readers who love cats. We’ll see.
         So wish me luck . . . and an abundance of sales!        

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Belief Behind a Query

Hello again on this rainy Sunday morning. I can almost feel the pores of the hard-packed earth absorbing the moisture, yielding to gentleness. The rain gentles both the ground and us today. And so I’m thinking again of how the word fascinating gentled my own held-fast inflexibility with regard to my opinion of all I wrote.
         All that is except for Dulcy’s first book—A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. In 1989, Dulcy gave me our story; I simply edited her words. Because she, not I, wrote it, I believed in that book from the beginning.
         In fact, two days after she began to channel it through me, I stood in the doorway to my Stillwater office and said, out loud, “This book is going to be published. And it’s going to be published by Crown. And it’s going to touch the lives of many people.”

         I just knew, deep down where Oneness and certainty dwell, that Dulcy’s book was a gift not only to me but also to the Universe. For almost two years I never doubted. Never that is until rejection letters from editors piled up. Then doubt crept in. Believing that I’d failed Dulcy, I felt guilt over my inadequacies.         
         In April 1991, a letter from the editor Jane Meara arrived. Fifteen months later Crown published the manuscript. It touched many people’s lives and continues to do so.
         But that was Dulcy’s book, not mine. And as the years passed, publishing changed. An agent became a necessity and the rejection letters once again piled up as I sought representation for my writing. Any certainty I’d ever had fled.
         During this past week, I’ve considered that one word—fascination. I know it’s the view I now have of my writing. But I think it’s also affecting how I’m crafting my query letter for The Reluctant Spy.
         Slowly I’m realizing that my lack of confidence may have tinged with doubt any query letter I sent out during the past twenty years. Perhaps the words I chose or the tone of the letter indicated that my manuscript was somehow lacking in something essential for representation and publication.
         A long-time friend once said to me, “What you send out into the Universe, Dee, is what returns to you.” Perhaps in those letters I sent out doubt, and the agents turned down representation because they doubted that my manuscripts were well done or would have an audience. I’ve sent out doubt and doubt has returned to me.

         In her comment on last Sunday’s posting, Inger wrote,

I sense your self-confidence here. A bit different from the past and, yes, fascinating. I believe that a strong belief in your novel, in that it is not only good, but also fascinating, will find its way into your letters to these agents. And they may start to worry if they don't respond, maybe someone else will, and they will lose out on a major novel. Dee, I have no idea where all the above came from, but came it did, so I will leave it there.

To which I responded . . .

Dear Inger, I am so grateful to receive these words of yours—wherever they came from. Just this morning I said to a Minnesota friend that I thought the query letter I was crafting was different from those I've written in the past. Why? Because I'm different: I believe now that I can write and I believe in my writing. And so my attitude has changed. I'm hoping this newly discovered confidence will be apparent in the query I send out. You've just delighted me with your comment. Thank you, Inger. Peace.

So there you have it—how one word can seep, gently, into the pores of a person’s life and bring change. Once again I thank Fran for that word. And I thank all of you for sticking with me through this process. I’m still working on my query letter while compiling a list of agent names to whom I’ll send it. I’ll keep you in the loop! Peace.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Snail Mail and E-Mail

Two Sundays ago, I wrote about my befuddlement over what to do with the manuscript for The Reluctant Spy—try to get it published or stuff it into the computer’s innards and let it molder for ages hence. Your responses helped greatly.
         Last Sunday, I shared with you the power of a single word—fascinating. Once again, your responses gave me the courage to make the decision detailed below.
         This Sunday I’d like to share with you what I’ve being doing in the past seven days. What I haven’t been doing is blogging. That is, reading and commenting on the seventy blogs I enjoy and try to follow.
         Because that word fascinating has impelled me to look for an agent . . . and to look in a new way.
         In the past few years, I’d done an agent search several times. That involves (1) going to a book such as 2013 Guide to Literary Agents or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents or (2) searching web sites that list agents such as Literary Rambles for children’s books or AgentQuery.Com.
         These books and lists may offer a little or a lot of information about a particular agent or agency: names, address, e-mail address, web site, genre represented. That last item is essential because some agencies represent only nonfiction. Other agencies may represent fiction but only a certain kind: literary, historical, fantasy, contemporary women’s, mystery, mainstream, young adult.
         Finding an agent takes time. Thought. Effort. Here’s what I’ve been doing in the past week instead of blogging:

·      I wrote a generic query letter for The Reluctant Spy. Crafting the first sentence and paragraph so as to entice an agent into reading the entire letter requires going over it repeatedly. When I begin to contact agencies and agents, I’ll modify that letter as necessary. That is, I’ll mention some book an agent has represented or the agency’s client list or an agent’s particular interest in some area. Finding out that info requires extensive research.
·      I studied the books and lists mentioned above to determine which agencies represent fiction, specifically, historical fiction.
·      I visited agency web sites to determine two things: the names of those agents in a particular agency who are interested in the type of fiction I have to offer and how they want someone to query them: electronically or by snail mail. Do they want only a letter? Or a letter plus the first five pages of the manuscript? 30 pages? 50 pages?

         Slowly, I’m beginning to develop a list of agents to contact.
         In the past few years when I’ve done an agent search I’ve taken the easy route—sending out only e-queries. That’s cheaper than snail mail and usually, if the agent does choose to respond, the response comes much quicker than through the mail.

          This time, I’m decided to do two things differently—bless that word fascinating! I’m going to send out snail queries and I’m going to send them not only to agencies that represent historical novels—which is what I’ve done in the past—but also to those agents that represent “mainstream” fiction. That’s a breakthrough for me. I believe that in the past I’ve been too narrow in my vision. I’m going to cast a wide net this time.
         In this coming week, I hope to continue my search and also to visit each of your blogs at least once. How can I expect you to offer your thoughtful suggestions if I don’t follow your postings? And I so enjoy discovering what you are all doing and thinking.
         I’d appreciate any thoughts you have on the process I’ve detailed. I plan to spend the month of September searching lists and sending out queries. I’ll keep you posted. Lots to do . . . and I love it!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Free at Last!

Last week I bemoaned my inability to decide if the manuscript for The Reluctant Spy was ready for publication despite the email from a friend who’d read the story and found it “fascinating.”
         This week, while tracing the arc of my writing life, I’ve pondered that word. In 7th grade I won first place in the Kansas City diocesan essay contest. I can remember Mom’s broad smile as I returned from the podium with my prize—a prayer book.
         In college I was one of twenty finalists in the prestigious 1958 Atlantic Monthly essay contest. At the time, my writing mentor, Sister Scholastica, tried to impress on me that in this nationwide contest I’d excelled among thousands of entries. But I, preparing to enter the convent, had little time for such foolishness.
         During the next twenty-seven years I became a nun, taught, and found a new life after leaving the monastery. Then, in 1985, I became a freelance editor, copyeditor, and curriculum developer. Suddenly writing became important again.  
         Four years later, the cat I’d loved for nearly two decades died. Dulcy immediately began to channel through me the story of our life together.

         Late that summer, I told a friend about this strange phenomenon. “Well, it’ll all be trash,” she said with surety. “You’ll just have to throw it away.” Her words stunned me.
         A few weeks later another friend, a published writer, read the first draft of Dulcy’s story. “Put this in a safety deposit box,” he recommended, “and don’t look at it for five years. Then maybe you’ll find something worth keeping.”
         His wife’s take on the book? “Bor-ing! Bor-ing!”
         When I expressed doubts about my writing ability to an acquaintance, she said, “Well, Dee, maybe you can’t write. Maybe you just don’t have the gift.”
         With that, my thoughts jelled: I wasn’t a writer. I couldn’t write well. I was a hack. Dulcy’s book being published made no difference. After all, she wrote the book; I simply edited it.
         I knew two things: I could edit; I couldn’t write.

         The years passed with me crafting sentences, seeking to find the cadence of words. Because no agent was interested in representing my writing, the belief that I was a word-dabbler rooted deeper and deeper into my psyche.
         Then in 2011, I began to blog. Several readers commented that my writing was good and so I’ve come to believe that I can write a 600-word story. Yet that realization hasn’t expunged my belief that I’m a rank amateur with regard to writing longer stories that demand well-drawn characters and extended suspense.  
         Recently a psychic told me that in this life I was meant “to let go.” Not of specific things—like the convent or a dysfunctional relationship with a couple who’d been friends for years or a home in Stillwater. No. She meant the mega things—those beliefs that arc my life from beginning to now. During this past week I’ve examined the belief that I’m a charlatan.  

         Now here we are today. I’ve mulled the past, recognized the belief, and read that wonderful word fascinating. It has broken through the bars of my conviction that I can’t write a novel.

         Fran’s word has, literally, freed me from a way of thinking about myself that has shackled me for years. Today I want to thank her for helping me let go of that old belief about myself and my writing. I can write. I can write a novel that will, perhaps, be published. But whatever happens, I will be grateful to this friend for freeing me.
         Peace. And Hallelujah!