literary agent

Figuring It Out

Sometimes I think it’s easy to convince ourselves what others want is what we want too. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to see that what we truly, deeply want is something we’ve been fighting all along. For years, I’ve convinced myself publishing my own work was a secondary choice — something I was only doing because my publisher closed their doors and I had no other choice. It was so much easier to believe that “truth”, especially in a writing community where Indie-publishing isn’t exactly put up on a pedestal.

For so long, I’ve prefaced all my publishing conversations with, “Oh, I was traditionally published, but my publisher left the business. Not my fault.” That helped me keep my chin high. I was respectable if others understood that my work was previously validated by the traditional publishing industry. I was a Real Author at that point.

But here’s the problem: I ache for respect — from my family, from friends, from complete strangers. It’s a natural thing to crave, I suppose. But I’ve let that desire overtake so many things in my life. I’ve let it fester so deeply that I’ve mistaken it for what I thought would make me happy. But it’s not what will make me happy. Respect from others cannot replace the gaping hole I’ve dug for myself — a hole filled with shame and disrespect … for myself.

2016 was an eye-opening year for me. I went through some tough changes that have nothing to do with writing and publishing. But those things have helped me see one very important thing: nobody can escape themselves forever.

I can’t count on my fingers how many friends have told me my eyes light up every time I talk about publishing my own work, and how depressed and miserable I look when I talk about querying for an agent and finally getting a publishing deal like everyone else around me. I’ve constantly battled between the two worlds. Which one do I embrace? For a long time I thought I could embrace both. I would continue to query for agents, and if those books failed, I would publish them myself.

But the truth is that I’ve only wanted to do that so people would respect me for trying to jump into the traditionally published world — a world I’ve convinced myself will make me deliriously happy if I’m ever lucky enough to be admitted. The other truth is that I’ve completely ignored the fact that most people don’t respect you for your accomplishments and supposed success. They respect you for standing by what you believe in, for being YOU instead of trying to be something you’re not. True success is nothing but a side effect of that.

So, yes, it has been far too easy to convince myself what others want is what I want too, and it took some very difficult changes for me to realize that what I want right now is something I already have. I was just too stubborn to see it until now. And what I want might change in the future, but that’s okay. For now, I’ve got to embrace what I have. Here’s to hoping you can embrace what you have too, no matter what it is.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in About Me, All Things Publishing, Self-Publishing, 6 comments

Accepting Yourself as a Blind Author

I’m deep into revisions on my novel, Out of Tune, which I submitted to my publisher a few weeks ago. I waited and waited for an answer and received a lovely editorial letter thick with the message, “Your book is great! But you need to change all this stuff before it’s ready for publication.” And it’s some big stuff. Ouch, because I thought all the big revisions I did before sending it in were enough. Wrong. So, that’s what I’ve been busy doing lately because #1, I want a publishing contract for this book so bad, and #2, I want to get this book out of my way so I can continue working on my new novel, the forgetting book.

As some of you may know, I tried to query Out of Tune awhile ago. I wrote the thing in nine weeks back in January and February, and can you believe I thought it was a great novel at that point? These were my thoughts:

This book is so good! I ADORED writing it, so it MUST be great. It won’t need that much work at all. Remember Pieces? I wrote that one fast too and it all went so smoothly, even with revisions. This one will be the same! I’m growing so much as an author. I SO ROCK! I’m going to query this and get an agent and go super-big super-fast and my life will be all sorts of happy-unicorns-and-cupcakes-sugar-induced awesomeness.

Yeah, kind of forgot that Pieces is a sequel/companion to an existing book. Characters already solidified. Backstory already completed. World already created. Out of Tune is a whole new story, a whole new world, a whole new set of problems.

I was so blind.

I was stupid and queried it way, way, way, way too early. I had beta readers for it before that, and I did some big revisions, but nothing painfully extensive. Obviously, I didn’t get an agent. I think I screwed up some good opportunities I probably won’t ever get back, so yay for me. You know what I was thinking? Really? I thought:

The more I write, the faster I should get, the less work I’ll have to do on each novel.

To an extent, that might be true, but I was blinded by that thought. I let it give me an excuse to be lazy and arrogant. So, I realized if I want a book out in any decent amount of time, I’d better submit Out of Tune to the publisher of my other books instead of chasing after different publishing opportunities for the next year or longer. And I love my publisher, so it’s not like this is a bad thing, far from it. But now that I’m slogging my way through some heavy revisions, embarrassed out of my mind that I queried this book in such a horrible state, I’m learning my lesson that every first draft I finish is going to suck. This is what I said to a friend last night:

It’s just … you know, after doing revisions like this (and it’s not like I don’t go through this with EVERY book), I go to work on a new book, and I’m terrified. I keep thinking, I’m going to do everything wrong and there’s no way to stop it. The only thing to do is just write it and then fix it later, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is.

I’m blind. In every first draft I write, it seems like I’m totally 100% blind, traveling through an unknown world, charting things I have no knowledge of, and most of it will need major reworking.

I’ll admit, I feel completely foolish putting up this post, because most of this seems like it should be obvious to any author. I just thought that since I’m writing my tenth novel, I would have figured it all out by now. Apparently not. So learn from my mistakes, I suppose, and accept your blindness and keep writing anyway. Unless you’re so brilliant that you churn out perfect first drafts. In that case, can we switch brains?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Out of Tune, Pieces, Writing Process, 12 comments

Why It Isn’t About the Big Publishing Deal

I’ve been hesitant lately to write about writing here on my writing blog. Stupid, huh? It’s mainly because I feel like everything has already been said a million other places. Presenting my viewpoint isn’t going to change anything. This weekend, however, proved me wrong. I received an email from one of my readers. She had found one of my older posts and emailed me because at the end of the post was an invitation to contact me if you’re feeling down. She was pretty low, so she gathered her courage and emailed me. I’m glad she did. In our correspondence she has said I helped her a lot, but I want her to know she has helped me, too.

When I think about my existence in this world, I get discouraged. There are billions of people. I believe every single person is important and significant, including myself, but at times it’s hard to feel that way because there are so many of us. This wonderful reader who emailed me said something along the lines of how difficult it is to be so personal on her blog and not feel like anyone is listening. How do you get readers? How do you get people to beta read your novel? How do you get an agent to say yes? How do you avoid feeling like you’re being completely ignored?

Because let’s face it…writing IS personal. It is. I don’t care what you say or how thick of a skin you’ve got, if you’re writing anything worth reading, you’re putting yourself into it and that makes it pretty danged personal. So, obviously, it’s going to be hard when you want to share that writing with the world and you keep getting rejected by those gatekeepers.

Let’s talk about those gatekeepers for a second.

Are they really GATEkeepers? What kind of a gate are they keeping, and is it truly what we want? I’ve been thinking more about what writing means to me and why I do it. Why do any of us focus our creative energy on something that can take so much effort and hurt like freaking hell when we get rejected or get a bad review or any of that crap? We must be masochists or something because this chosen “career” is quite insane when you stop to think about it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t been writing long enough.

Ever since I signed with a small publisher, I’ve done a lot of soul searching about why I made the decision to sign with anyone other than a Big 6 publisher. I’ll admit right now that I stopped and asked myself, “Am I throwing away a bigger dream? Am I upset about not getting a huge advance? Am I going to regret this decision?”

I have a lot of friends who have agents and big contracts with the large publishers. It kind of hurts when they seem to get more attention than others who sign with small publishers or self-publish. I’ve asked myself a billion times why that is, or if it even matters (because that sounds kind of egocentric of me to say, but whatever). Still, recent events and conversations with close friends of mine (yes, friends with those big publishers), I’ve come to the realization that it isn’t about The Big Publishing Deal. It’s not about any publishing deal. It really isn’t. When you view it that way, those little gatekeepers aren’t keeping any gates closed to your happiness. See, that’s the problem – writers who think that getting past those gates = happiness.

I think it all boils down to impatience. I read post after post about how frustrated writers get with being rejected. “I’ve been querying for SEVEN YEARS AND HAVEN’T GOTTEN ANYWHERE!” they scream at the top of their lungs!!! Seven years! Yes, that is a long time. Still, I’ve been writing and wanting to get published since I was ten years old. That’s longer than seven years, so I should have been pretty frustrated a few years ago, right? OK, I’ll admit I have been very frustrated, just like the writers in those posts. I sent my first manuscript to a publisher when I was sixteen. I never heard back from that publisher. I never gave up. I wanted to be an author so badly that I went to college and got my degree in creative writing. It seems like everything in my life has been aimed at this career in some way or another. See, it has been a lifelong aim, a constant struggle to write better, write more books, compete against my own failings to develop this talent I’ve been given. I will never stop doing that. Ever. So if you’ve been querying for seven years and haven’t gotten anywhere, I can understand why that would be really frustrating. I can see why you might be bitter and feeling like you should give up. I don’t think you should give up, though. You will get what you want, eventually, if you keep trying. But what is it that you want, really?

Getting an agent or a publishing contract is nothing compared to finishing that first book. Getting a six-figure advancement and three-book publishing deal is nothing compared to typing the last sentence of your fifth book. It’s nothing compared to reading your own work and knowing you have put everything into that writing. It’s nothing compared to watching yourself grow as a writer and a person because of this choice to write. Publishing is a byproduct. Some of us might not be happy with anything less than a huge publisher. I don’t know why that is. I don’t pretend to know why, but I do know what I want in my writing career, and it’s not to chug up a hill toward the Big Publishing Deal. That’s not why I write. I’ll be happy with my writing and this career and these choices I’ve made no matter what. Why? Because what makes me happy with my writing is my writing. Period.

I guess my point – if I even have one today – is that I think a lot of writers (and yes, I might be talking to you, I might not) have their priorities completely screwed up. Publishing is a fantastic, amazing, worthwhile goal, but is it what will make you happy? I can guarantee you that as I’ve watched my friends self-publish their books, get big huge deals, small deals, mid-size deals, every kind of deal you can imagine, I haven’t seen their true happiness come from any of that publishing stuff. I’ve seen more happiness come from starting another book, getting better, being proud of this craft that is 100% personal when it comes right down to it.

So as I’ve stepped back and looked at my small publisher, I get a huge smile on my face because they are the kind of people that help me grow as a writer. It has been worth the TWENTY-ONE years of work to get to them. They are perfect for me because they have helped me grow as a writer. They aren’t just my publisher, and that’s one of the reasons why I knew in my gut that I wanted to sign with them. For you it might be a bigger publisher that helps you grow as a writer. Or it might be that you choose to publish your own work. It’s different for everyone, but the point is that you need to figure out why you’re really doing any of this. I might end up with a bigger publisher later in my career. That will be great, but that’s not what will make me happy. It’s that 100% personal, gut-wrenching hard journey that makes me happy, not the destination…and never a hand opening a gate.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 37 comments

All About Queries and Publishing Terms!

Pub Speak: A Writer's Dictionary of Publishing Terms

I’m really excited to be a part of Tracy Marchini’s blog tour for her new e-book Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms. This book is a valuable resource if you’re a writer who wishes to know more about the publishing world, whether you’re published or aspiring. Talk about a handy tool to have with you at a writer’s conference!

Today Tracy was kind enough to answer some questions for me regarding the querying process. I hope you find her answers as helpful as I did!

What is the number one most important thing you feel agents look for in a query?

I think the number one most important thing agents look for in the query is clarity.  They want to see that the author can hook the reader, explain their idea and tell us a bit about themselves in a clear, fluid way.  I would say voice or the writing itself, but the truth is that query letter writing and fiction writing are two completely different styles, and so it’s not always a fair assessment.  But if the query letter is confusing, or the plot summary raises some red flags, then it’s less likely that an agent is going to request to see the manuscript.

Do agents hate really long queries no matter how well they are written? I can imagine that sifting through queries all the time gets to be so tedious, and if I were an agent I think I’d favor brevity.

This is going to sound strange, but… query letters have first impressions too, and anything with a staple would give me a small pause.  There are very few query letters that need to be longer than a page.  If you find that your query letter is reading more like a synopsis than a pitch, then maybe what you really want to do is write a one page query letter that follows the traditional format and then include a separate one to two page synopsis.  This is a much better first impression, I think.

Do you have a general word count for queries that seems to work best?

I don’t really have a general word count, but you can’t go wrong with:

– A one to two line hook
– One to two paragraphs summarizing the plot
– A paragraph about the author
– A closing line or two

I’ve often had complicated formats for my novels, such as multiple story lines from different characters’ points of view. Does an agent want to know if a novel has story lines like these? For instance, in my novel, Monarch, I never mention in the blurb that it is told from other view points, even though they are essential to how the story plays out. I focus on one character only – the person most readers would say is the main character. My main question is how in-depth should a writer go when talking about the story? Does it matter as long as it is clear? 

I think it depends on the story.  If you have written a murder mystery and we occasionally hear from the killer, then I think you could write the query from the sleuth/main character’s point of view.  But if you’ve written a dual voice novel, where the two characters start as strangers and are brought together for some larger purpose, then I think most agents would want to hear about both characters’ motivations and the fact that it is a dual voice novel.

Writing from multiple characters’ POV is very difficult, kudos for accomplishing it!

But I think that most books should be able to summarize the important facts in a paragraph or two. If you can’t summarize what your story is about in that time, it does make the query reader worry that perhaps the manuscript isn’t ready yet.

What advice would you give to very new writers querying for the first time? Would you recommend waiting to query on a second or third written book instead of a first book? 

I think the best thing a new writer can do in regards to querying is to read the blogs (like Nathan Bransford’s, Janet Reid’s Query Shark and for children’s writers, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations) and learn as much about the process as possible.  If you’re in a writing group, ask them to look at your query letter or find a conference or consultant who can give you a professional critique before you submit.  While you’re researching how to write the letter, you should also be paying attention to etiquette — when should you follow up?  How long does a particular agent or editor require if it’s an exclusive?  What is the proper etiquette if two or more agents request exclusive partials?

Assuming they wrote, edited and rewrote the best first book they could, I would encourage an author to submit because they’ll learn an awful lot about the process. I think it’s wise to keep in mind that most author’s first books don’t sell, but that shouldn’t stop you.  It’s like the lotto, “Hey, you never know!”

Tracy is a freelance writer and editorial consultant. Before launching her own editorial service, she worked for Curtis Brown, Ltd. for four years.  In this role, she developed and sold an original book concept for the Ogden Nash Estate (Line-Up For Yesterday), negotiated and sold audio rights, pitched merchandising ideas, gave editorial feedback on client and prospective manuscripts, and provided author care.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 8 comments