Monday, February 27, 2012

Let's Not Get too excited Yet, But...

For longtime followers of this blog, you're familiar with my recent entry into the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. If you don't recall, don't know of the contest, or are new to reading my blog, it goes a little something like this:

Each year for the last five years, Amazon in cooperation with Penguin Putnam Publishing has hosted an annual contest for aspiring novelists. One winner is chosen in two categories, general fiction and young adult. These winners receive a cash prize as well as publication of their novel by Penguin. The contest is comprised of several rounds. The first round is open to the first five thousand entrants in each category.

For the last month, all of the entrants, myself included, have been waiting to learn whether or not we're one of the top one thousand entrants in each category who will be moving on to round two. This is particularly tricky to accomplish because whether or not you'll advance is dependent solely upon your ability to pitch your novel in three hundred words or less. This pitch must not only summarize your plot, it must also show character and story development as well as demonstrate an understanding of your target audience. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, that's a tall order to fill in three hundred words or less.

Well, I'm pleased to officially report I've made it to the second round with my young adult novel. Now, I'll wait another month to find out if I'm one of the top two-hundred-fifty who will make it to round three which is known as the quarter finals. This is a crucial point for writers as a portion of our novel will be posted on Amazon for customers to download and rate. Those entries with the most positive reviews will move to the semi finals.

It feels good to have made it out of round one this year. I'm pleased with the accomplishment, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Competition is tough, and it's too early to start thinking I actually have a shot. Not to mention, it's far from over.

Wish me luck and know I'll keep you posted either way. And rest assured, win or lose, I'll never stop writing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Forgot About this Part

Not too long ago, I shared the woes of trying to break into the writing biz. I was particularly down about being rejected by the first agent who’d asked to see my new young adult manuscript. It was such a letdown that I contemplated my future as a writer and professed it to be grim.

To no surprise, friends, family and fans rallied around me to offer words of encouragement. After careful consideration I decided to move forward. This is a subjective business after all. One agent’s trash could be another one’s treasure. With that in mind, I pressed on in grand fashion.

True to my over achieving nature, I took to the internet in search of a new agent and spent an entire weekend sending out query letters. Believe it or not, this is a lot more complicated than it sounds. One agent wants the first ten pages, another wants the first chapter and still another wants a three page synopsis and the first ten pages. It’s rare that they want the same thing, which means it takes time to put all of it together and conform to their submission guidelines.

When all was said and done, I’d sent out more than seventy queries. Over dinner that night, I made mention of this to my oldest child and said something along the lines of there being no way they could all reject me. My daughter fired back with, ‘Sure they can. It’s not likely, but they can.’ This from the mouth of a sixteen year old!

So far, my daughter’s been more right than I have, which I don’t mind saying bothers me more than a little. Not just because I loathe rejection but because I don’t care for having my child be wiser about me in certain things. Yes, I said it, but I digress.

Since the weekend of seventy queries, the rejections have been trickling in. Most are the standard form letter that begins with the dreaded ‘Dear Author.’ As soon as you see those words, there’s no reason to continue reading. If they don’t care enough to address you by name, they aren’t interested in your story. A few start off with ‘Dear Trish’ or ‘Dear Ms. Edmisten’ and then go on to reject me anyway. The other day, I got a rejection that left me feeling a bit floored. The following message was received in reply to my query: Not for me, thanks anyway.

Can you believe that? With absolutely no fanfare or even the courtesy of addressing me by name, this agent very bluntly told me he had no interest in my work. The lack of interest stings a bit, but I can get over it. I’ve been rejected often enough and recovered often enough. What I found appalling was the fact that he’d brush me off with such blatancy, especially after I followed his submission guidelines to the tee. I suppose professional courtesy doesn’t apply if you’re not a professional writer. Still, naughty or nice, the end result was the same; rejection. Perhaps I should respect his unwillingness to mince words.

Perhaps, but I forgot about this part. And I forgot how much I hate it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Word about Formulas

Besides being a writer, I also happen to be addicted to romantic movies. For the last few weeks, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of The Vow. Despite its too beautiful to be real actors and syrupy plot line (which to be fair has a tenuous base in reality), it’s just the kind of thing I love.

This thing I love is also true for the books I read. Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson happen to be among my favorite authors. And I’ll pick up any book that has a contemporary romantic theme and give it a fair shot. I can’t say the same about historical romance though. I’ve never gotten into these epic, sweeping romances. I like characters I can identity with.

Getting back to my excitement over The Vow, which I have yet to see due to time constraints, I did something last week I don’t normally do. I read a professional review of the movie. I have to admit the title intrigued me. I can’t recall it specifically, but it was something along the line of making sure to avoid seeing this terrible movie. There were a litany of complaints the reviewer had, but one of the biggest was the fact that the movie was formulaic.

For those of you who don’t know, there’s a formula for a romance. It goes something sort of like this: boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl face many obstacles in their love, boy and girl may even separate because of aforementioned obstacles and finally boy and girl get back together and live happily ever after. This is a tried and true formula that is often panned yet continues to spawn successful books and movies. Agents and publishers and critics sometimes spurn writers or moviemakers for not bucking the system, but fans make us pay if we do.

Last week, I came up close and personal with this very thing. My young adult paranormal romance trilogy has been thriving on line for the last year. Last week, I released the final chapter of the final book, the ending of which failed to tie up the story line with a neat little bow. While I resolved the crux of the conflict that’s plagued the story since book one, I left some questions unanswered. I did this by design to allow me the chance to create a fourth book if I so chose. I’m here to tell you I’ve been taking what I don’t mind saying is a ridiculous amount of heat for this decision, and it’s been interesting.

Up until the posting of the final chapter, fans have been largely supportive. They’ve offered me rave reviews and boosted my ego and lifted my spirits when I doubted my talent. I suppose you could say what I’ve encountered in the last week is my first brush with the other side of fame. The adoration has given way to contempt. The heart of the complaints is that fans feel gypped because I had the audacity to end the story before the actual high school graduation. I’ve also received backlash for failing to write a nice Harry Potter style flash forward to give fans a glimpse of the characters’ future lives. I’ve been accused of ending the story too abruptly and without sufficient action. I’ve even been berated for failing to reveal the contents of a gift that was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter as something to be opened later. Everyone whose lodged these complaints, and I’m here to say the numbers are higher than expected, has begged me to revise the ending and give them an epilogue to tell them both what was in the box and what happened to everyone in the future. I’m remiss to do that for two reasons. The first is that I don’t want to pigeon hole the story. The second, I’m not ashamed to say is a matter of principle. Now I don’t want to because I’m so irritated that people have focused on what I consider to be minor things.

So, I bucked the system. I resolved the conflict and left some unanswered questions. My idea was to leave it open for the possibility of a fourth book without having written myself into a corner because I had to the epilogue when I ended the third book. On an interesting side note, I had the epilogue in an earlier draft and took it out so I could avoid falling into the formula trap. I bucked the system and challenged the formula and I’m paying it.

So, here’s what I have to say to all those critics who call us formulaic and tell us to think outside the box: formulas exist for a reason. They work. If you want us to challenge the formula then you better be prepared to explain the dip in our popularity and our sales. If you don’t want to do that then please get off your formula soap box.

Monday, February 6, 2012

That's just What I Needed

Last week, I wrote a sorrow filled article discussing the woes of my latest rejection. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow given that I’d gotten closer to that offer of representation than I’d ever been before. In fact, it was such a blow that I publicly contemplated my desire to continue pursuing this dream. The amount of feedback I received on this subject was astounding.

As expected my family and close friends all gave me the pep talk. You know the one I mean. It goes something along the lines of not giving up and how hard it is to make something worthwhile happen. Given the closeness of our relationship, I’d expect that reaction. I think it’s safe to say I’d even be a little offended if I didn’t get that pep talk. It would be somewhat amusing to have one of my family or dear friends tell me to go ahead and throw in the towel if I want to. Of course, they didn’t and I wasn’t surprised.

It was the reactions of my devoted fans that warmed my heart. For those of you who are wondering how it’s possible to have fans when mainstream publication has thus far eluded me should refer to my prior posts about my online publications. Countless fans, who don’t know me personally and have no emotional investment in my happiness, boosted my ego by sending me messages expressing shock and disappointment that I’d been rejected. So many of them have long asked for my books to be in print so they can own copies to hold in their hands, and they couldn’t believe I’d been denied that opportunity once again. Like my family and friends, they encouraged me not to give up, but it was more in the form of very flattering begging.

With as down as the rejection had me last week, it was wonderful to hear so many kind words from total strangers. Whether or not it’s caused me to reconsider my decision not to pursue mainstream publication remains to be seen. I’ve always said it’s not in me to quit, and I’ve been saying this with regard to this particular dream for seven years now. There are days, like the one I had last week, in which I feel as though I really will die trying to make this dream a reality.

At any rate, the lavish praise from the fans reminded me of something. Although writing makes me happy, I truly write for them. I don’t write for an agent or a publisher or the norm of society. They demand my writing and I supply. It’s a simple as that.

No matter why I write or what I decide, one thing’s certain. Their ego strokes were just what I needed. Thanks everyone!