|The Girl in a Picture Frame|
For some time now, I’ve had a nagging feeling that I need to rewrite the opening chapters of my novel. Exhibit A. I don’t get into the action quickly enough. Anna doesn’t attend her first meeting of the Order of Ingham and Eragame until page 104. It needs to happen within the first 30 pages. Exhibit B. The realist nature of the opening chapters clash with the more fantastical elements that appear later on. Sure Anna’s an ordinary girl, but I spend too much time harping on her ending days of high school and her transition to college. That’s not really what the book is about. Exhibit C. The word count of my book is enough to make any agent stop dead in his or her tracks. Of course there are a few lengthy YA novels out there, but the lion’s share are under 100,000 words.
I know the above is true, but for some reason I wanted to hear that from a professional before I deleted nearly two years of my life with the push of one button. I wanted an agent to see my potential and guide me in the right direction. The problem is, the agent has to want to read the entire novel, and the opening chapters have been preventing that from happening. Either that or my queries need a major overhaul. While the latter may certainly be a possibility, I have come to the realization that the former is a more urgent matter.
In a way, though, I sort of did have a professional tell me to rewrite. I attended the Savannah Children’s Book Festival today and approached one of the featured authors, a first-time YA novelist whose new book is receiving rave reviews. I asked her for advice, and she encouraged listening to agents’ suggestions and constantly tweaking and rewriting. I didn’t tell her that no agent had actually gotten as far as reading the entire novel. I was too humiliated to admit that. As I left the festival and mulled over her advice, I realized that that was the problem. No agent has requested the entire manuscript. I can’t wait to have someone tell me to make the changes that I know are necessary. I must do them myself. I must do them now.
So you’ll notice that I’ve removed the old first chapter on this website and replaced it with “coming soon.” And it will be. I’ve been stagnant for a while. I’ve sent out a grand total of four queries in the past month. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve read a chapter, let alone the entire book. But I’m feeling my mojo return. Tomorrow morning, the great rewrite will begin. Hier is naar een nieuw begin!
I’m suffering from a raging case of queryitis. Among the first symptoms of this somewhat rare and mysterious disease are feelings of euphoria and delusions of grandeur. Once the patient has experienced the onset of symptoms, he or she can expect more severe symptoms, such as mild anxiety, heart palpitations and indecisiveness. Once the disease is in full swing, the patient often experiences self-doubt, extreme self-loathing and a burning desire to hurl his or her laptop into the nearest river.
I first noticed the symptoms of queryitis after I sent out my first letter. The query wasn’t ready, and I knew it. But I was in such a holding pattern and was convinced that sending out one letter would set me back in motion. The queryitis kicked in right away, and I was practically giddy. Maybe I would be the first writer in the history of mankind to secure an agent on my first query letter. The delusions of grandeur were overtaking my brain.
Then came the first rejection, and the queryitis started rapidly progressing to the next stage. It is well known that one of the most potent cures for queryitis is scrapping your original letter and writing a new one, so I did just that. The symptoms started to ebb temporarily. This letter was better. Much better than the first. And it didn’t contain the glaring error that my novel was 117,000 pages. Yes, PAGES. I even had pretty complimentary marks from a published author. I made most of his suggested changes and excitedly sent out a few more queries.
But the symptoms began to reemerge, the most noticeable being indecisiveness. My author friend liked my voice, but maybe my hook wasn’t strong enough. Was the letter really capturing the essence of the novel? Maybe I was better off highlighting the more paranormal aspects of the book. Enter letter 3.0. But at it's heart, the book is realist. Anna is normal girl with normal problems. Sort of. Enter letter 4.0.
Now that I’m on the fifth version of my letter, I’m in the throws of full-on, incurable queryitis. At one moment, I think that my latest letter is better than all the others. In the next moment, I think that I’m the worst query letter writer to ever walk the face of the earth. I haven’t quite gotten to the stage of wanting to hurl my laptop into the Savannah River—after all, I spend more hours per week with my Macbook than I do with my husband—but I can see the appeal of giving up and moving on with my life.
And yet the queryitis persists, and I must learn to live with this gruesome disease. I have prescribed myself a nightly glass of red wine (well, two actually), a hefty dose of reading (I just finished The Hunger Games and am moving on to Catching Fire) and some shopping therapy. I will report back on my recovery soon.
Rejection. I’m used to it and I’m not. When I was an ungainly 13 year old with braces and permed bangs, rejection was pretty commonplace. Even as I left those awkward years behind, I had my fair share of heartbreak. I mean, did that guy, whose name I can’t even remember, really have the flu when he declined my invitation to escort me back to my room during my senior year of college? What was he doing at a bar anyway if he had the flu?
Rejection also came in other forms. I’m quite sure I was perfectly qualified to write two-sentence descriptions of TV shows and movies for the cable guide that never called me back after my first post-college job interview. I wasn’t even invited in for an interview when I applied for a job as a lowly marketing assistant at the local newspaper, despite the fact that the last job on my resume should’ve qualified me for the position. Hell, I told myself at the time, I was actually over qualified.
But in a certain realm, the realm of writing, I’ve been more lucky. “A. You’re one smart cookie. Please come see me sometimes,” my Shakespeare professor scrawled on my “Ratios and Relationships in Macbeth” paper I wrote my sophomore year of college. (I still wonder what he meant by “come see me sometimes” and was even somewhat regretful that I didn’t follow through when he turned up in People magazine 15 years later as a philanthropic millionaire.) Even on papers that I BS’d my way through, I got the frequent comment “very well written, though you don’t seem to have a firm grasp of the subject matter.”
In the workforce, I have almost always had positive feedback on my writing. Several of my former employers have used my freelance writing services long after I gave my two-weeks notice. If that’s not a vote of confidence, then I don’t know what is.
Now, when my life feels more settled than ever, when flat irons have guaranteed no more bad hair days, when I don’t have to ask a guy I barely know if he wants to come home with me—the guy I married will do just fine, when freelance clients have come to me rather than the other way around, I find myself back in a place where I am staring rejection in the face.
Granted, I haven’t sent out that many query letters. In the world of publishing, nine query letters is nothing. Nothing. I’ve received four emails back saying no thank you, and I haven’t heard back from the other five. I know this is common. There’s absolutely no reason for me to feel sorry for myself this early in the game. Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help, a little novel that has been on top of the New York Times Best Sellers List for, oh, something like two years straight, was rejected 60 times before an agent was willing to take her on.
So I will not turn back into that girl with braces and permed bangs who was convinced she would never, ever have a boyfriend. I will just plug along and hope that someone, somewhere will give me that one chance. I have to believe it will happen or it never will.
And Jon or Dave or Dan or Michael or Adam or what ever your name was, you missed out!
Welcome to my blog, which will chronicle my journey of getting my young adult novel, The Girl in a Picture Frame, published.
To be honest, the process is completely overwhelming. I’ve scoured books and the internet to try to gain as much information as possible before I send out my query letters, which are basically the lifeline to getting published. If your hook isn’t strong, the literary agent may not read past the first paragraph. If your letter doesn’t follow the proper format, chances are it will get tossed. If it has a grammatical error, you may as well hang it up and go back to your day job.
I get it. I really do. Imagine receiving hundreds of query letters a week, all asking for the same thing. Your letter not only has to be pitch-perfect, it also has to have the perfect pitch.
It’s also daunting coming up with a list of literary agents who are a good fit for me. There are just so dang many of them! I’m a daydreamer by nature, so when I hone in on certain agents, when I read interviews they’ve given, when I check out their blogs, I have a tendency to get carried away. I have imaginary conversations with them when I’m on my way to pick the kids up from school. I envision that first call when they land my publishing deal. I mentally pack my suitcase for my first trip to meet them face-to-face.
Before I pencil in my book tour and Today Show interview, however, I need to have a reality check. Do you know how many writers actually get calls back from interested agents, especially first-time novelists without relevant publishing credits or awards? The statistics are not good.
But I believe in myself and I believe in The Girl in a Picture Frame. Writing in the young adult genre is such a natural and comfortable fit for me, and I truly think that older teen girls will connect to Anna Michaels, the book’s narrator. I also think that I’ll find an audience with women my age who are feeling nostalgic for their college days, who question the choices they made back then, and who want to live vicariously through Anna for a few hours and remember what that first kiss with the guy of your dreams feels like.
So please check back often and feel free to give me your feedback and suggestions. If there's one thing I've learned from all of my research into the publishing process, an open mind is key.