Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Time to find an Agent for my book

My writing journey has taken me five years to get to this point. I originally thought it would take me six months to get this book out, and that it would be bought up like wildfire.

I was wrong on so many levels.

First of all, it took a year before I even had a manuscript length novel to submit, and 80% of that time was spent doing revisions.

I worked on proposals and cover letters and synopses and outlines. I submitted it to half a dozen agents, and got half a dozen rejections.

It was then that I found two things.

The first was that 99% of writers who produce manuscript-length work won't ever get published. This is because either they aren't good enough, or there's not a big enough market for their work.

The second was about the critiquing world. I joined the wonderful website www.critiquecircle.com

Critique circle was an eye opener. My writing was awful. It was all tell and no show. There were grammar mistakes everywhere. It was boring. I came across as arrogant and selfish and traipsing from one place to the next like a spoiled shit.

I worked and worked and worked on edits, submitting my stuff for critiques, and critiquing hundreds of other stories in the process.

After the second year, with all the critiquing, and having read how to write books, my writing got to the level where it was publishable. Each chapter took from a week to a month of hard editing to get to that level though.

Marriage caused a major slow down in my work. I was just getting into a groove as a writer and found that I wasw no longer able to lock myself away and focus entirely on progress with the book.

A year later, a baby arrived on the scene. The demands on my creative time went from slim to almost none, and for over a year my work all but stalled. The little progress I made was often undone by scatterbrained edits, where I'd work on a section only to make it worse, or repetitive of a previous chapter.

Then, one day, I worked my way to the end of the book. A complete first draft of the entire manuscript lay in front of me. I decided to leave home for a week and just edit everything.

I took trains and boats and buses up to Spain. I returned after a week with 400 marked up pages.

I made the corrections over the next month. Then, I gave the manuscript to an editor/friend who scoured over the story.

I revised her edits and rewrote the first two chapters.

The first two chapters still make me grit my teeth. They were a nightmare. I wanted the writing to be perfect and enticing and engaging. The problem was, I didn't enjoy writing them. It was a monotonous start to my journey. It was a backpack journey across a first world country, where the meat of the book was in the third world ahead.

So I pared it down. I focused on buying the car, forshadowing on the excitement ahead, and creating a little tension by playing up any problems I had. One of the challenges of the first chapters is they differ so much from the rest of the book. The events aren't as impacting on me as other parts.

I edited and edited and edited. I took parts out, I put parts back, I tweaked and overwrote and underwrote. Finally, I had something not brilliant, but passable. The best I felt I could do for the lacklustre circumstances surrounding the beginning.

I learned a lot about writing on my journey to the finish line. For example, a cliche error the majority of new writers make is starting their book with a character waking up. This was the case so often in the critiques and edits I made on other people's work that I saw it more often than not. This doesn't necessarily mean the writing is bad, it is often quite good. The beginning simply shows lack of imagination, and if a writing cliche, it can be a warning sign for agents and publishers.

So, with the help of countless other writers, ups and downs, and persistence, I have a finished manuscript again. It's been five years since I began writing. Two years of learning the craft, and another three years of constantly interrupted progress to the finish line.

Using the Preditors and Editors website to scour through agents, I sent my first query Sunday, and received a response saying they were too busy to take me on. I take this two ways.

One: They are busy, and my query letter didn't quite turn them on enough to really want to see my book.

Two: Improve the query letter and try another agent.

Yesterday I went to the local library and checked out the book "2008 Writers Market." I made a shortlist of fifty agents to target, and from them I pared it down to a shortlist of around five to start with.

I was going through my shortlist, and clicked on one of the websites. It said for non fiction submission procedures, "Follow the guidelines in the agent's book, (How to Write a Book Proposal). By Michael Larsen.

It was coincidentally on my lap. It was a book I bought during the 'So I think I can write' stage.

Three or four years ago now, I went through the book page by page and wrote a proposal. The proposal is actually quite good, although parts of it need to be updated.

So I'm working on the book proposal now and will send a query letter to Mr. Larsen's agency today.

The proposal includes a theme for my next book. A gamble, considering I'm waiting for circumstances to pull together in order to even write it.

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