Let me tell you first that I made a typo as I typed the title of this post. Instead of “horses,” I typed “hores,” which made my eager-for-the-cheap-joke mind go straight to “whores.” Sounds like a fascinating blog post, but fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not one I am qualified to write.

Now then. Back to our regularly scheduled post.

I’ve been in love with horses for most of my life, so it’s little wonder my first novel features a bunch of them. Horses have taught me a ton over the years, but who knew they’d teach me about writing? It’s the patience thing.

Yes, you have to be patient with horses no matter what, but a few years ago I started studying natural horsemanship. If you want a crash course in patience—and I mean an advanced degree—try this. Ideally, you have to outwait a HORSE, and horses have all the time in the world and know it. I used to think I was a pretty patient person, but my horse ran circles around me, patience-wise. But practicing natural horsemanship and having to think like a horse has upped my patience quotient a thousandfold.

What does this have to do with writing a romance novel? As I journey along to get my book published, I’ve found that patience is a valuable arrow to have in my quiver. For one thing, just like when you’re looking for a job, you are, by and large, never the hiring person’s priority. Filling a position is typically a back-burner kind of thing. It’s the same with agents who are looking at your work—they don’t get paid to read queries or sample pages, they get paid for taking care of their current authors. Sure, yes, of course they want to find the next J.K. Rowling or Michael Chabon or (fill in successful author name here), but it’s a tough slog through the slush pile. Agents take months to read what you send them, and that can range from two to twelve months. Or more.  I learned at a recent workshop that it takes two-to-three years to get a novel from manuscript to bookstore shelf. And that’s AFTER you find an agent! In other words, traditional publishing is not for instant gratificationists.

With luck, my horse has prepared me for the wait.

Thanks for your support!

  • I am not published yet. I do not have an agent yet. But I feel like I’m making progress because two things that have never happened before happened recently.

    But first, an update. I am rewriting the beginning of THROWN as per the recommendation of Sara Megibow, the agent who looked at it a coupla Sundays ago. It’s not QUITE there yet, but it is coming along nicely.

    And now the first new thing. I emailed Gail Fortune, the agent from Talbot Fortune who is reading THROWN. I couldn’t help myself. I had to do something because although I am learning more patience from doing natural horsemanship (and that may well be the topic of a future post), I am going slowly mad. It’s a good lesson though, since the world of publishing moves at a glacial pace. In a way, it’s rather pleasant, since so much of our world is about instant gratification, with e-books, smartphones and just about everything “on demand.” Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I asked Gail about querying Sara, and also asked, in a roundabout way, about THROWN. That wonderful Gail emailed the very next day and said she’d likely finish in two weeks and would call me to talk about it. I couldn’t ask for more than that. VERY excited to talk to her—well excited and scared, as Little Red Riding Hood sang in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” (Pardon that reference, but Stephen Sondheim turned 81 this week. And I love him.)

    The other nice news. My friend Joanne Kennedy, whose third novel COWBOY FEVER just came out, graciously asked to read THROWN. She asked this, knowing full well she had looming deadlines for her own novels, since she is a full-time writer (how jealous am I??). She hasn’t finished it yet, but thought it might be a good fit for her publisher, Sourcebooks. Apparently they like horses and humor (well, not like Mr. Ed…), and I know my book has horses (five), and I pray that readers will think it has more than five giggles in it. This means that I have to write a synopsis—the dreaded synopsis—but I am up for it. Needless to say, I was completely flattered.

    More steps along the path.

    Thanks for your support.

  • My first agent workshop is now in the history books. I attended it yesterday morning, which would have been daunting on the first day of Daylight Savings Time if I weren’t so darned excited. I had no trouble getting up. (Just ask Galley, who got his full and proper walk before I left.) I went extremely high tech and extremely low tech: I took my iPad loaded with my query letter and my manuscript; and I had my trusty Moleskine notebook, the one that helped me capture memories from my trip to Italy, ready to receive notes. (I hate typing on the iPad—since I can’t feel a keypad, I make all kinds of mistakes.) Further armed with a latte, I was ready to learn learn learn. Sara Megibow of the Nelson Agency here in Denver taught me and 29 of my closest writing friends as much as she could about publishing in the time allotted. I know a bit about the business from having worked in it for ten years, but that was more than a decade ago and I wasn’t in the editorial department at Warner, so my information was tangential at best. Now, with the increasing popularity of e-books and the burgeoning self-publishing craze, the publishing world is changing quickly. Sara told us scary statistics like last year she signed nine authors and sold five of the nine manuscripts to a publisher. Those nine authors, mind you, were culled from an initial query-letter pool of 36,000. Eek! In other words, it hasn’t gotten any easier to get your book published. She spoke to us about elevator pitches, or a two-sentence description of your book, kind of like an expanded logline on a movie poster. We went around the room and spoke aloud our elevator pitches for our books, and she liked mine! She had no edits. I was overjoyed. I was glad and happy. Being a copywriter doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to write an elevator pitch, but still. But. Later we lined up to show her our work or whatever else we wanted to show her. One hopeful author told me Sara had requested the first 30 pages of her manuscript. When I got to the front of the line, I was practically trembling, and it wasn’t from the latte. I handed over my iPad and stared out the window, praying to the literary gods to smile upon me. Apparently, the literary gods had neglected to turn their clocks ahead and were still asleep. Instead of asking for my first 30 pages, or the whole manuscript, or dropping to the floor, hugging my knees and begging me to sign with her on the spot, she, um, told me she thought I started my story in the wrong spot. She was very nice about it, mind you. Lovely, really. But my book wasn’t wowing her. Her socks remained firmly in place. Sigh. There went my glad and happy. (I actually watched the poor things slink out of the room.) But, as I told a friend, at least she didn’t tell me I’m a talentless hack and should burn my manuscript. I’ve been obsessing over where to begin, now that I must take a fresh look at my book. The journey continues…

  • One of the funniest people I know—Susan Wright—is from Dallas. So how fitting that I recently discovered a writing blog, Fiction Groupie, by a romance writer from Dallas, Roni Loren, whose debut novel CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat in early 2012. I was so taken with her no-nonsense post on query letters—the cover letter you send to a literary agent to see if he or she would consider reading your manuscript—that I’ve reposted the meat of it here. Roni was at a writer’s conference, and took excellent notes during a workshop given by a panel of agents who “gonged” bad query letters.

    If you’re not a writer you’ll never need this advice, but it’s fun to see what literary agents are looking for/repulsed by, and to get a behind-the-cover look at one of the first steps in book publishing.

    Personally, I hope I’ll never have to write a query letter—because Gail Fortune, who is considering my manuscript even as I write this, will love love love THROWN more than life itself—but just in case, I’ll be ready.

    1. Opening with a question.
    Most of us have heard this, but there was still a query in the bunch that did this. It got instantly gonged.

    2. Vampires
    You have to be REALLY REALLY different to get them to even consider another vampire novel.

    3. Cancer
    In and of itself, it may be an important issue in a book, but there were at least four queries where cancer seemed thrown in to up the dramatic effect. “There’s this and this and this! Plus, someone has cancer!”

    4. Too many things/issues/characters/plotlines.
    This was one that the agents said a lot. Stories that seemed to have too many different things going on, too many characters, or too many plotlines listed in the query lost their interest. Stick to the hook!

    5. Describing your own writing.
    Don’t tell them in your query that your story is fascinating, fast-paced, touching, whatever. Show them the story, not what you think of your own writing. One agent gonged out when the first sentence said “This is a fascinating story of…”

    6. Cliches and tropes
    Overused and tired phrases in the query got you gonged. If you’re using them in the query, the agents suspect they’ll be in your book. “Her life will be forever changed”…”The last thing she expected was”…”love is blind”…etc. Plus, cliched storylines as well—girl finding a diary with secrets, person finding a portal, romantic suspense where the wife suspects husband is up no good, the woman who loses her husband and goes  a small town to rebuild her life, etc.

    7. Inauthentic voice
    There was a YA one that used “awesome” “buttload” and “stupid” all in the first two sentences. It sounded like an adult trying to do teenspeak. Didn’t work at all.

    8. Stuff Happens
    Queries where there was a list of events but no hook or central conflict described.

    9. Teens and the elderly
    This is a bit random, but there were a few queries that were pitched at YA where the story is the teen gaining wisdom from an older person. They shot these down. Teens don’t want to read about old people. They don’t care what older people have to say when they are that age and so they aren’t going to want to read about that.

    10. September 11th plotline
    All the agents literally groaned. Some said it was still too close of a topic for them to personally work with. Remember, most of these agents live in NYC, 9/11 was a national tragedy but for those on the front lines realize that it’s got to be even more traumatic to relive.

    11. Going on and on and on….(kind of like this post :p )
    They want to hook, the main character(s), and what’s at stake. That’s really about it. Do not give a synopsis posing as a query.

    12. If you do the “it’s this meets this” kind of hook, don’t use two movies. Use at least one book in the comparison to show that you are well-read in your own genre.
    And don’t compare to the GIANT books. Twilight, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games—they’re used so much that the comparisons don’t meant anything anymore.

    So many queries had a whole lot of words but said nothing. It’s a tale of love and loss and redemption. Of good and evil. Of whatever other completely vague abstract concepts you can think of. That may be a theme in your story but that is not what it’s about. The agents want to know what your story is specifically about. Do not waste words talking about abstract things. Every word must give them something that you haven’t already said and that speaks to the uniqueness of your story.