Bare List on Looking Back [Excerpt]

At any given moment, I have twenty or so works scattered around my office, stuck in a limbo between WIP and forgotten. I write a lot, almost everyday and it’s not exclusively on actual works in the rung. An idea will flicker across my brain and I give it a moment to shine. This is from a writing prompt years ago, a short little number that morphed into 50,000 forgotten words. It made me laugh after a harrowing start to the day, so I thought I’d share:

I was making cupcakes when the world ended. The world as I knew it anyway. It was at that moment I realized this is what adult looked like: wearing Grinch pajama pants perched on one leg licking homemade buttercream directly off the beaters at midnight on a Tuesday. There was no reason for me to be in this position, other than that I wanted cupcakes and I always had the stuff on hand to make it happen. This was just how I was choosing to use my free-will, on peanut butter cream. Just because I could. It was different than all the “I’m free” moments before it. This wasn’t a beer with my boyfriend at 3 a.m. the night before finals that I “could” do, but if my parents asked about it I would have told them I was up studying with my girlfriends all night long. That was now obviously the choice of a child with an overly optimistic view of the future and little concern for life beyond whatever magical moment she had fallen into. Now, I was a grown woman already loathing the overly dramatic effect I illogically assumed these cupcakes would have on my thighs and planning a 5 a.m. workout to cancel out midnight baking. I was operating with forethought and full awareness of consequences. I was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, an adult.

 

Bare List on Exclusively Querying

Exclusivity. It’s major. Whether its a business or personal relationship, exclusivity is a milestone that involves a lot of work and trust to maintain on both sides. In writing, however, exclusivity can be a misunderstood privilege, especially in the beginning stages of forming a relationship with an agent or publishing house.

I know many aspiring authors who query on an exclusive basis. Actually, a conversation with a peer is what led to the post today. My friend is a talented young writer whom I believe will see her work in print one day, but that day may be very far away because she practices exclusive querying. Exclusively querying means reaching out to agents one at a time, and not reaching out to the next until 1) You receive a response from the first agent or 2) you pass the time deadline specified by the agent to be considered a pass. It’s an old school practice still proliferated by an insanely small number of agents, and it can cause a lot of trouble for aspiring writers because:

  1. It may take you EONS to be published: Most agents request a period of at least four weeks and as many as four months to respond to your query. While I’ve seen responses in as little as twelve hours, it’s generally at least a week or two and I have had responses up to four months after the initial query. Let’s average it out to a response/pass time of 1 month for easy math. Most industry experts recommend you query at least 80 agents and I’ve seen recommendations for over 100. With those numbers, you’re looking at almost 7 years before you even get involved with an agent! You guys, you deserve better than that. Writing/publishing is not a sprint, but no one has time to spend 7 years querying.
  2. It can take away your power: Exclusive querying puts all of the power in the hands of potential agents. Querying your novel, especially your first, can feel a lot like applying for your first job. You send out your resume (query) praying that a company, almost any company (agent) finds you (your manuscript) employable (publishable). The truth is, you are not applying for a job. You are selling your work. Think of it like selling your home. When you put it on the market, you’re not inviting in buyers one at a time. You want as many qualified leads in the place as possible. In an ideal world, multiple buyers will be interested in your home so you can get maximum value out of your home. Having any agent interested in your work is a compliment and a blessing, but having multiple allows you to really focus in on the aspects of the client/agent relationship that are most beneficial to you and your work.
  3. You are receiving agent feedback in non-actionable numbers: When you query in batches (maybe 5-10 at a time) you get small doses of feedback to make changes where necessary. For example, let’s say you query 7 agents. By the end of three months, if no one requested further materials, you probably need to work on your query. If you only query one agent and they don’t request further materials after three months, it could mean you have a problem with your query or it could mean you just weren’t right for that particular agent. More data means more information to base revision decisions.
  4. It’s totally unnecessary:  It’s 2018. Very few agents request or expect exclusivity in querying. In fact, the majority advocate against it. While there are a few that still request the exclusive, they are the tiny minority. Like, minuscule. So, if the agent is not even expecting it, why would you give it?

Too often, I see authors participating in this outdated system because they think it is expected of them. Here’s the thing though, exclusivity is a big deal. Of course there are still some agents who want it. Knowing they have exclusive eyes on your work means they don’t have to worry about: taking their time to read and evaluate, bidding against another agent, getting rejected by you. It does not mean the agent is bad for wanting the exclusive. If they have the client base and income to justify being that selective in manuscripts, why not? While if an agent requests an exclusive query, you should honor that, you don’t have to submit. That is in your control.

As writers, especially newbies, we often feel at the mercy of agents, but as the creators of our work, we also have power in it. You are the sole decision maker in whether or not you want to offer exclusivity. Believe in your work enough that you can confidently represent it until you find an agent that believes in your work as much as you do.

Am I saying you cannot exclusively query? Absolutely not. My friend is still exclusively querying. While she understands and appreciates the business-side of the exclusive, it’s something she is more comfortable with, some agents she is interested in do ask for it, and that’s her right. It’s her manuscript, it’s her business, even if it makes me want to beat my head into a brick wall. I would ask the same of you. In evaluating whether or not you will participate in an exclusive (at any stage of the process, whether it’s query, ROR, sales, etc) make sure you understand your power in the relationship. Make sure you are making the decision because it is best for you and not because you just want someone to take your work.

If you have queried exclusively, I am very interested to hear your experience and reasons in making the decision. Non-exclusive is my experience, but I know there are a lot of paths to publish and I’m always open to hearing about those.

*SIDE NOTE* I could not bring myself to press publish on this post without clarifying that while I do not advocate for exclusive querying, I also do not recommend mass querying either. Querying more agents at a time does not necessarily equate to getting published faster. In the above example for instance, if you query 30 agents and all straight pass on you, chances are there was a problem with your query that could have been fixed after 5-10 queries that now you don’t have a chance to fix before sending it to another 20 agents. Most agents evaluate in short spurts. They’ll start with a query, then five pages, then fifty, then the manuscript. (There are different versions of this. Some may want a query and five pages, some a query and fifty. Others may go straight from your query and five to the whole manuscript). This kind of rolling submission gives you a chance for feedback and revision at every step and that’s an asset for you. If you’re not getting hits off your query, change the query. If you start getting hits on that but rejected on your sample pages, take a hard look at the sample pages and so on. 

Alright, that’s it. I’m done now. Happy querying!

 

Bare List on Schedules

As we all dust the residue of 2017 off our shoulders and slam into 2018, it’s important to build a schedule for success. I can speak personally to the importance of daily schedules because I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for weeks, and y’all it is not a good idea. Every December I swear I will abide by my schedule, every December I fail. Mistakes are made. LEARN FROM ME. Do not do this. Set a schedule and keep it.

Scheduling is incredibly important for everyone, but especially in writing. Jobs dependent on creativity and self-accountability require routine scheduling for success. It seems counter-intuitive. I know I have said the words “you can’t schedule creativity”. Now, those words make me cringe because:

  1. You will not get anything done if you allow your creativity to schedule your productivity – If you wait to write until you feel so inspired to put words on the paper that you can’t stand it anymore, you’re not going to be writing half as often as you need to, and it’s going to take years, decades to finish a project. You have to sit down and write it out sometimes. You have to suffer to pull scenes together that aren’t totally working, muster through dialogue you haven’t totally figured out, calculate timelines, etc. It’s not all magical words brought forth by pixie dust. It’s a spark of inspiration ignited into a fire by determination.
  2. You totally can schedule creativity – While you cannot schedule the spark, you can dedicate time to produce. You can designate time in an environment most fitting for you to get down to business and force yourself to create. Make sure you’re making note of all your sparks and bring those with you to the table when it’s time to work. The more you do this, the more you’ll train your brain to open up during these times.
  3. There is a lot more to writing than creating – I talk about this a lot so I know you’re getting sick of hearing it, but there’s more to writing than writing. There is a lot of administrative work including emails, queries, edits, marketing, etc. To be successful, every aspect needs attention.

Like a lot of people, I have a lot going on. I have a family, small business, and writing career. Writing is a grind in its own right, but when you add in the real world in which we are all functioning, it’s almost impossible to survive without an established schedule.

To make your schedule, I suggest starting by dividing work into categories. For myself, I use:

  1. Administrative: Updating writing and marketing calendars, scheduling, emailing, strategy, negotiations
  2. Creative: Brainstorming, new project creation, project overhauls, first round edits
  3. Maintenance: Minor/late edits, tactics implementation, social media

Within those categories, I divide every item into one of two categories: Big/Hard or Small/Easy. Not glamorous titles, I know, but they get the job done. Small/easy projects are what I think of as “check-off” items, i.e. responding to emails, setting up meetings, making a schedule, sending, sending out query ready material, article creation, etc. Big/Hard projects include manuscript production, overhauls, strategizing campaigns, etc. Anything that almost certainly cannot be accomplished in a single day and is sure to be mentally taxing.

Once you have projects organized, assign items to your daily designated times. For myself, I designate Mondays for Administrative and Easy items. I get out my writing calendar and mark priorities for the week as well as adjust for the month, review my monthly focus to make sure everything I’m scheduling is aligned with goal, and knock out easy-off items across the board that I can knock off the list. I choose Monday to do this because I try to look at Monday as the start of my work week (though work often finds its way into my weekend) and I feel mentally more prepared being organized and I get a nice rush of accomplishment marking off small items and I can ride that adrenaline into Tuesday, which is marked for big tasks. My logic is that I get through a lot on Monday so I can afford to focus on mentally draining projects on Tuesday. I break up the big projects with little projects and workouts at designated hours because you need that for big days. Wednesday, my focus is Maintenance. Big or little projects doesn’t matter. I’ve set the goals for the day during my designated time on Monday and I just balance the big and little projects. Thursdays, I’m about Creation. There are really no small projects in creation, so I’ll mix the day up by throwing one or two of those in and Fridays are to double down on my monthly focus. Whatever I’ve decided is my hero for the month shines every Friday. That’s what works for me, when I work it. You can play with it and see what’s the right fit for you.

Now, interruptions to the schedule happen. Life and writing are about adapting and moving forward, but it’s easier to keep your balance with a steady foundation. Even if you lose your way occasionally *raises hand* it’s easier to get back in the swing of things and make forward progress if you have something to go back to. So, I know it’s annoying, and you don’t want to do it. I know the creative pixie in your head is flipping me off and telling me to eff a schedule cause she works at 3 a.m. damn it. I get it. I do, but tell her to get with the dang program because there’s work to be done and she really owes you since she’s living rent-free in your head anyway.

Tips, scheduling advice? I’d love to hear it!

 

 

 

Bare List on New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy 2018! After finishing out 2017 by focusing on friends, family, and finishing projects, I’m back and looking forward to a new year with you. In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to share some resolutions for new and seasoned writers.

These are not a list of lofty goals that equate to broken promises by February 1st, but a list of guiding principles to help make you (and me) a better writer by December 31, 2018.

  1. Pick a monthly focus – Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s creating, revising, researching, editing, querying, community building, meeting, marketing, negotiating, conferencing…the list goes on. To be most effective, all of these must be a priority at certain times, but to prioritize all equally everyday leads to subpar results and burnout. Instead, choose a single priority for every month. Maybe January is editing, February is Community Building, and March is Querying. While you will still be accountable for all of the other responsibilities each month, your focus will be priority one. Not only will it help keep you focused, the change in priority will help keep your routine fresh. Because writing/publishing timelines requires adaptability, I suggest planning in three month intervals. After every quarter, reassess your progress and goals and create the next three focuses accordingly.
  2. Create a writing calendar – Whether it’s online or pen and paper, go ahead and make a calendar for the coming year. In addition to all of your writing dates (deadlines/conferences/seminars/speaking engagements) include any personal dates (vacations/family obligations/recurring extracurricular activities/birthdays/anniversaries/etc.) Being able to see where your time will be limited will help you manage your time the most effectively.
  3. Organize your WIPs – Most of us have a pile of works in progress awaiting love and attention. Take the time to prioritize these works. Separate the “promising for publication” from the “needs a total revamp”. Make sure you have easy access to the stories you truly love and decide what two or three works will be your priority for the year.
  4. Read something outside of your comfort genre – As writers and readers, we tend to find a home in a select few genres. Example, I live for literary fiction, crime thrillers, speculative fiction, and biographical humor. I read it. I write it. I love it. The problem is that reading ourselves into a corner can stunt us. While characters, plot development, language, and even formatting tend to be consistent within a genre, they can vary dramatically across them, and that’s why it’s great to gain experience outside of your literary comfort zone. An autobiography can be improved by the influence and imagery of literary fiction, horror epics could take lessons from the quick and cunning dialogue of the cozy mystery, etc.
  5. Do something outside of your comfort zone – Attend an event with people you barely know, run a race, host an online fundraiser, read an excerpt of your story to a group of strangers, jump out of a plane, hell go to the grocery store on the other side of town. Just do anything, big or small, divergent of your normal operating procedure. It will help expand your outlook and imagination.
  6. Get physical – You don’t need to join a gym, run a marathon, or become a crossfitter, but do something regularly that works your body. Not only will it help relieve your joints and muscles of the toils of hunkering over a computer all day, it will help improve your mood, focus, and creativity.
  7. Call that project done – You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve read it 1,000 times, each time painstakingly scrutinizing every single word, each time changing something ever-so-slightly in the hopes that one day it will be perfection. Here’s the deal: It will never be perfection. At some point, you’ve got to let go of that dream and send your work out into the world. Is it the story you want to tell? Is it edited to a professional standard? Then it’s time to get it out into the world. Give it one more read through, and start querying.
  8. Follow agents – Don’t reach the querying stage and send your work blindly into world hoping someone, anyone, hits. Start researching agents. Lookup the agents of your favorite writers, attend writing conferences, follow them on social media. Get to know the people that you hope to be working with one day. This can prevent you from querying unsavory agencies as well as give you added confidence in your representation.
  9. Write – This may seem like a given, but it can be so easy to get caught up in the administrative aspects of the career that the writing, the very thing that got us all here, gets put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Write often. Write on your current projects, write new ones, write words that you never wish to see the light of day. Just keep writing.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with words and purpose!

Bare List on Authenticity

Writing for publication can be a difficult road to navigate. The path is fraught with feedback from everyone from peers to publishers and that can make it tricky to create something publishable while staying true to yourself. At times, it’s tempting to sacrifice a piece of your work or characters to be more palatable for publication or to mask or dilute your own voice to appeal to the masses.

Beta readers, editors, agents, reps, etc. will have have changes they want made to be able to better enjoy or market your novel. Some of these changes will be benign and easily incorporated. Hell, many of them should be made. All of us, pros and rookies alike, have room to learn and grow. No work is perfect and no one makes it straight through the road without making changes.

Sometimes, however, those suggestions alter the course of your work and characters. Occasionally, you’ve written a story about a dog and the agent wants a duck, metaphorically speaking. When you feel like you are in a situation that you have to make a serious change to the essence of your voice or your work, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Am I being authentic? 

Whatever you put into the world will be scrutinized. It will be picked apart word by word. You will see things about your work that are hurtful, cringe-worthy, and downright cruel. It will be easier for you to weather that storm and stay strong against those attacks on your work if you know you were true to yourself in it’s creation. Similarly, people will love your work. It’s the best damn part of writing, unless you feel like you’ve compromised yourself or your story to make it happen. Authenticity is your shield against evil and conductor of glory. 

Because writing is a subjective field, agents and publishers might not always be on the same page as you when it comes to your novel. They may see a lot of promise in your work, but have preferences that are not in line with the core of your work. It is okay and even encouraged for you to step away from a representative that does not share your goal. It doesn’t make you a bad writer or them a bad agent, it makes you two people who are not aligned on a vision and that vision is crucial to your final product. Let them go find another author in line with their interests and goals while you find an agent more in line with yours.

Is this to say that you need to walk away whenever your agent gives you advice? Absolutely not. There is always room for improvement. ALWAYS. Your agent/editor/publishing rep have a wealth of information about your market and have every reason to give you advice and guidance to make your novel shine. In fact, if there is a shared vision across your team, those edits and revisions are going to add value to your voice and reinforce your authenticity.

No matter what you do, someone will hate your work. There is no universally loved piece of literature. If people are going to hate anyway, let them hate your truth, because only by doing that will you have the chance to reach people who love and need it.

 

Bare List on Queries and Christmas

The holiday season is in full swing. Prophet’s Day, Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Wright Brother’s Day…the list goes on. Pretty much everyone has something to celebrate this time of year, agents included. What does this mean for the novel you’ve tirelessly edited and re-edited until it’s final ready for query? Most likely, it means it’s on ice for the next month or so.

What? How could this be? It’s ready for the world, surely someone will look at it! Someone might, but the opportunities are much smaller this time of year. Many agents close for queries over the holidays for a number of reasons:

  1. Agents are people, too. I know it’s shocking, but as it turns out agents are living, breathing human beings who enjoy the opportunity to be with their families over the holidays.
  2. No one likes starting a new year with a full inbox. The last few weeks of the year can serve as a great excuse to not only spend time with family, but catch up on the work that’s been piling up all year. Closing for queries during the holiday season gives agents a great opportunity to catch up on work while not worrying about queries going to the competition because so many people close during the holidays.
  3. They just want to. Everyone deserves a chance to kick on an autoreply a couple of times a year. When you’re an agent, receiving thousands of queries a year, shutting down for a couple of weeks/months is a totally logical move to be able to manage your work flow.

Whatever the reason, you cannot query an agent that is closed. I’m going to say that again because it is wildly important: DO NOT QUERY AN AGENT CLOSED TO QUERIES. Whether they’re closed for the holidays or at random points during the year, you must not send your manuscript to a closed agent. “But I’m so in love with this agent and I want them to see my work right now and I know they’re going to love it!” They’re not. Unless they’ve specifically requested your materials, which puts you outside of the unsolicited queries category, an agent is not even going to see your work if you send it while they are specifically closed for queries. Your hard work will be sent into the recesses of cyberspace as part of a mass “delete”.

How will I know if an agent is closed? It will be listed on their agent page on the agency’s website and their social media pages. 

If you are interested in working with an agent currently closed to queries, it is in your best interest just to have patience. I know, there’s that damn word again. Patience. Get used to having a lot of that as a writer.

Not all agents close during the holidays, so if you are not tied to a specific list of agents, you can submit to any that are not closed. That said, you need to use the same discretion that you would in more open seasons of the year. Research your agent/agency to ensure they are interested in receiving your work. Don’t sling your novel at anyone just because they are open. That’s another quick way to get rejected. You still need to make sure they are interested in your genre/voice/plot/etc.

I know you’re excited to get your work to the world, but don’t let your enthusiasm trump your good sense. Instead, grab a glass of eggnog and use this time to read, get started on another project, free-write, perfect your query letter, do the dreaded synopsis, or conduct a FINAL final revision of your current manuscript. Oh, and also, get in some time with family. Those guys are important, too.

Happy Holidays and Merry Querying (or not)!

 

Bare List on Rejection

“Have you ever been rejected?” asked a friend over dinner a few nights ago. “Yes,” I answered without hesitation. Her eyes widened with shock, not just because she’s an awesome and supportive friend who has always loved my work, but because to many people, books just appear. The outside world doesn’t see the struggle of writing: first drafts riddled with red ink, outlines crumpled in the trash can, rejection emails to fill an inbox.

Maybe my friend was shocked because I admitted my rejection so readily. Wasn’t I embarrassed? No. Rejection is a part of writing. In an objective field, a triangle builder for example (no, I don’t think that’s an actual profession but you see the point) rejection may be avoidable. Does it have three sides? Three angles? Congratulations! You’ve built a triangle. Bonus payout if it’s equilateral. Writing, though, is a subjective field. Criticism and rejection are inherent.

It’s totally understandable that my friend didn’t know this because the outside world and new writers don’t often get the chance to look behind the curtain. We hear stories of how 100 agents passed on Harry Potter, but all we see now is the billion dollar franchise it has become. We look past those “failed” queries because all that’s presented to us is the success. Few writers, myself included, talk about the rejections we receive. We will inundate you with news of our first publication or new release, but we are not posting those rejection emails on a daily basis. Which is why I’m talking about it now. Writing is rejection. Know it, accept it early, and respect it if you’re on the outside of the industry looking in. 

The rejection will begin as soon as you begin the journey to bring your work to the world. You will query agents who will not be interested in your work. Most likely, a lot of them. There is no exact number that you need to query, but most “experts” say at least 80 and I’ve seen up to 120 recommended. That’s a lot of rejections. Can you handle it? Yes, you can, because you’re a writer and that means having courage and resilience.

Even if you are of the lucky .01% that have your first query picked up, you will face rejection as a writer. Someone will hate what you create, and most likely they will be very vocal about their position. In fact, the more people love your work, the louder the voices of the haters will be. 

Rejection is the vehicle through which we improve our craft. Queries getting rejected? Revamp that letter. No one wants more than the five pages? Take a break to make those first five pages pop. Agents keep passing after reading the full manuscript? Take their feedback (there will be feedback if they’ve bothered to read your entire work) and put it to work. Popular critics panning your latest publication? Use their critiques to improve your next work (or ignore them, because, again, it’s a subjective field so you are not obligated to agree with them, especially if there are more critics lauding your words).

Most importantly, don’t take rejection as a sign of failure. Is it deflating? Of course. No one enjoys getting rejected, especially for something that we have given so much of ourselves to, but this is your opportunity to learn and grow. This is the “paying your dues” of the writing world, and honestly, being rejected makes being accepted all the more sweet.

So, writers embarking on a career in this terrifying field, embrace the rejection. Cherish it as a battle wound in a hard fought war, or check on openings as a triangle builder.

Have a rejection story? Share it because I promise, you are not alone.