Cool Green Ink

After the Writing: A Different Type of Work Begins

While I enjoy writing and revising--probably way too much--I also enjoy what comes next: Finding an agent or publisher.

Finding an agent to represent your work is nice because it gets your toe in the doorjamb of editors' offices. If an editor receives a manuscript from an agent, it's like your work is getting an endorsement from another competent editor. That's because agents won't agree to represent you unless they think your work is going to sell. (Why would they choose to represent so-so work?) There's an understanding that your agented work has already caught someone's attention in a good way, someone who is knowledgeable in the publishing industry and often a former editor.

Not every agent will be the right fit for you. Some agents don't represent mysteries or crime fiction or children's books, so if you've written one of those, and you send it to the wrong agency, you're wasting everyone's time.

As a result, finding the right agent is an extension of your research. Just as you often have to conduct careful research to write a book authentically, you have to be meticulous in your agent search. 

While there are a number of viable resources for finding agents, I purchased the Writer's Digest guide to Literary Agents. I work my way through the listings, finding agents that express an interest in the kind of work I'm trying to sell.

Once I find a good fit, I go to the online web site to make sure the agent is still in business or if there are any updates. Sometimes agencies will stop accepting cold submissions for awhile (they get hundreds a week, in some cases), and this information may only be available online. I also look at the bios and wish lists for all the agents at the agency, finding the one who seems the best match for my book.

After finding a good fit, the next step is to make sure you give the agent exactly what is requested. In some cases, it's just a query letter. In other cases, it's a query and 5 oages. or 10. Or the first chapter. Or the first three chapters. Some only allow responses via special electronic submission forms on their site.

And of course, you want to make sure your query has plenty of sizzle--and no spelling or grammar snafus.

Then comes the waiting. Some respond quickly--in a week or three. Others may take months. Still others never respond. Thankfully you can almost always submit to multiple agencies simultaneously.

It's a lot of work, and there will almost certainly be rejections, usually polite. "Sorry, but this isn't right for me. Better luck submitting elsewhere." I always remind myself of a todbit I heard somewhere...that John Steinbeck was rejected 114 times before his first acceptance. Submitting to editors and agents is a winnowing process, and luck favors the perseverant. 

Luck also favors the perseverant who has a good story to tell.

The Big Writing Questions

I led a writing roundtable at Carroll University a few weeks ago, and wishing to tailor the experience to the needs of the participants, I asked the young writers in attendance what their big questions were concerning becoming a writer. The questions haven't changed much in the past ten years.

Or twenty.

Or thirty. And perhaps longer.

While certain narrative styles may wax or wane in popularity, particular genres may fall in and out of favor, the Big Questions seem to remain the same. Here were their biggies:

How do you get published?  Everyone wants the magic answer. There isn't one that qualifies as a guarantee, although there is lots of practical advice that can increase one's chances. You've got to keep writing. (And reading.) You've got to submit. You must be a fierce and meticulous editor and critic. Humility and a willingness to learn and change helps. Getting objective feedback can be invaluable. And you have to have the courage to submit...and keep submitting.

How do you overcome writer's block?  Truthfully, I never get writer's block. I think being a voracious reader and a lifelong learner helps. The more data you can input, the more you have to work with. Lots of writers engage in habits that block them from moving ahead with their work, and I've actually written a blog entry about it that you can find in the WRITER'S TIPS archive here. But I'll offer one example here: I occasionally would encounter student writers who would sit staring at a blank page, not because they had no idea what to write about, but because they didn't know how or where to start. I would ask them, "Do you know what you want your main character to be doing later in the story?" Their answer was invariably yes. "Start THERE," I'd say. "You can always come back and write the beginning later when you figure it out." And off they'd go. Half the time, they'd never come back and write the "beginning," because it would turn out that the action they started with worked even better as a jumping off point.

How do you find time to write?  I find that we can make time for what's important. I try to write every day, putting dedicated time into the schedule. If I were training for a marathon, I'd set aside an hour or so every day to run. Writing is a kind of marathon. And if you only run a couple of times a month, you're going to have a tough time completing that race. So it is with a novel or other writing projects. Even when my children were toddlers, as soon as they were in bed at 9:30, I'd sit down to write for a half hour or an hour. You can get a lot accomplished in a year if you do that at least 4-5 times a week.

If you have writing questions you'd like me to answer in this blog, send them to rvick@wi.rr.com

When that writing project fizzles out...

A good friend of mine recently confessed to having trouble moving ahead with her writing. 

Saw a quote the other day, “you’re either writing, or you’re not.”

"Im decidedly on Team Not Writing these days," she wrote. "I’m so committed to Team Not Writing, I’m at the gym right now instead of taking advantage of the quiet house. Between a writers block I can’t seem to get around, and characters that have gone rogue and are doing unexpected (and unacceptable, in my eyes) [things], I’m ready to throw in the towel. How do you get unstuck?"

First, let me say that this friend is a superb writer. I've read her stuff, and she has what it takes to grab a reader and tell a compelling story. Thus, competency is not the issue.

Second, the precription for un-stuck-ness may differ from person to person. However, I'll share a few items that keep the gears whirring for me.

- I like to have multiple projects going so that if I lose steam on one, I can move to another.

- I've visited this point before, but it's so important: When emerging writers write a story, they often paralyze themselves by wanting it to be perfect. I've seen students stare at a blank page for twenty minutes because they couldn't think of just the right name for their protagonist. I've seen students who know what they want the protagonist to be doing ten minutes from now, but who can't figure out how to START the story. My advice: Write the ten-minutes-from-now scene. You can always come back and write the opening of the story later. (Because as everyone who has visited Uncle Rod's Cool Green Island & Writer's Retreat knows that "writing is rewriting".) And at least half of the time, writers find that once they have written the ten-minutes-from-now scene, they don't need a different opener, because that's where they should have started in the first place.

- Let your characters go rogue. Let's face it, in real life, people make poor decisions, act impulsively, take up crummy habits, do things that WE completely sensible and moral authors would never think of doing. The fact that they are different makes them human and interesting rather than cookie cutter clones of the author (or cleaned up representations of what the author would aspire to be).

- I've sometimes tried to write in a different form (try writing and submitting a short story rather than plugging away at that novel) or genre (try romance, sci-fi, fan fiction, etc.) just to freshen things up. My greatest success came in a genre I had never attempted until I was 51.

- Get some feedback. Join a writer's group...or form one. Get some friends together for coffee, wine, or peyote and have them evaluate a section of something you're working on. Take all feedback seriously--though you don't have to agree with or act upon it all. Getting out of the writer's vacuum can sometimes breathe new life into a project.

- Take a merciless look at your story arc. I've sometimes found the inspiration lagging on a novel when I've added plot elements or characters that really aren't necessary. Or if I've taken the plot in either conventional directions, or in the direction I--rather than my characters--would be inclined for it to go.

Hopefully these six items will privide some help. Even if you're not on Team Writing right now, signing up again requires no more than a single keystroke.

Time waits for no one; it merely laughs

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Annette Langlois Grunseth | Reply 24.08.2018 10.42

I can soooooo relate to this, Rod. It's my writing day, too. I am laughing at my computer screen! You are so kind and patient with your fam & interruptions.

Mary Klein | Reply 14.10.2013 21.58

You my friend, are blessed! You have put such a positive spin on what could have been a terrible tale. You must have good work yet to do in this world.

Mary Senneka | Reply 09.10.2013 11.00

Other than moving to Muk-town, how can I get you to be my son's teacher?

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Latest comments

24.08 | 10:42

I can soooooo relate to this, Rod. It's my writing day, too. I am laughing at my computer screen! You are so kind and patient with your fam & interruptions.

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07.06 | 21:36

This is my first twitter sign up. I am sure I will be wowed by your intellect. Twitter away.

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04.08 | 17:44

Hi mr rod vick,
Thanks so much for the books and the free book i finished them all, and they were all so good. THANK YOU
jaia

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14.10 | 21:58

You my friend, are blessed! You have put such a positive spin on what could have been a terrible tale. You must have good work yet to do in this world.

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