Friday, June 19, 2015

Adventures in Querying: Receiving the First of Many Bloody Noses

We've all had that dream. No, I am not talking about the dirty bathroom dream where all of the stalls make the use of an outhouse at the yearly fair seem like a delightful prospect. Nor am I referring to the dream where you are walking naked through your old high school during peak rush hour and you can't seem to find your locker. I am talking about the dream so many writers have about sending out their first query letter. It usually goes something like this.

You send out the letter to the big-wig agent. (It is of course your first attempt.) They read it and immediately call you up and offer a billion dollar contract for your stupendous piece of literary art. You, without hesitation, accept the outrageous offer and within months find yourself on the set of the movie adaptation of your book. Okay, so the dream might vary a smidge for some, but the concept is pretty much the same. There are no disappointments, and there are certainly no bubble deflating rejections.

We writers want to be heard. We want an audience for our stories. The problem is, there is a universe of noise that stands between us and the people we so long to connect with. For many, the agent is the one who helps us navigate through the rivers of crap. The hard part is finding someone willing to take the risk on our work, and timing is everything.

Cold, hard reality check in 3, 2, 1...........

Unfortunately, none of us are clairvoyant. We can't know what the "right time" is for the agent we hope is the "right fit". Oh sure, there is that lucky writer soul that comes along and strikes at the perfect moment just after morning coffee but before the bran muffin hits in all its unforgiving glory. Just like there are people who get record deals because the executive happens to hear them singing in the bathroom stall right next to them. (I am so NOT that person.)

The reality for the rest of us is that luck like that doesn't exist. We have to work our butts off to get noticed. We have to jump up and down, find the right words, and sometimes make asses of ourselves to get any attention. And sometimes that means we are going to get punched in the nose for our efforts at some point in time.

The other night I got one of my bloody noses. Its not really the first bloody nose I have received, and I sure as heck know it won't be my last. It still stung. My heart still hurt a little. My eyes got teary, and for a moment...just a brief little moment, I felt bad about the blow.

I got the email late at night - sent at 10:21 p.m. I was up reading someone else's book on my e-reader when the notice came in. I should have left the email for the morning when I would have been more equipped to handle what I had read. The thing was <true confessions here>, I had been waiting and hoping for weeks, so my curiosity got the best of me. The next thing I knew, my face was bloodied, and I found myself sitting up in the middle of the night wondering what I had done wrong.

The letter wasn't particularly bad, but it wasn't particular good either. It read much like what you would expect from someone returning an entrée they weren't satisfied with. I don't think I will forget the line I am afraid I will be passing. I could almost see the crinkle of distaste in the agent's lip. I have said the same thing after finding a hair in a dish. No thanks, I think I'll pass.

Needless to say, it took me a while to get to sleep. I had to staunch the blood flow before my head hit the pillow. I knew I wasn't going to bleed to death, but when you get hit with disappointment after such high hopes, it is easy for things to spiral out of control, especially in the middle of night. I grabbed my Kleenex, and I started thinking.

The story I am trying to sell is different from the current market stream. There are no vampires, werewolves, or zombies. There is no magic in the story at all. Just a gritty teenager and a really bad ass story with a lot of heart. (Gotta defend the story here folks. Bear with me.) My point is, sometimes "different" isn't what people are looking for. Some of the biggest names in the business got turned down when they first sent out their queries. Their big breaks came during chance encounters at writers' conventions after being turned down time and time again. Or it came when they ditched convention and self-published. So the query letter isn't always a guaranteed win.

So where does that leave me? You might think right where I was before I sent out my letter, but you would be wrong if you took that path of assumption. In truth, I am better off than I was before I hit the send button on my computer. Yes I got a little banged up, but the truth of the matter is, I believed enough in myself and my writing to take a risk. I received a 'no' from the agent, but that doesn't mean it is the last time that agent will ever hear from me. As a matter of fact, sometimes being gracious and a bit tenacious is the best response in the face of a rejection.

The very first thing I did was send a 'thank you' note to the agent while the tears were fresh. That person did after all take the time to read through the stuff that I sent out. Courtesy is quickly becoming a lost art, so a positive response on my part certainly can't hurt. It might even make a lasting impression.

I have a choice in all of this. I can either curl up into a tiny ball and cry until my tear ducts swell shut and cease working, or I can be like the badger dog and hold on for dear life. I like badger dogs. They are tenacious, and they don't give up. It is how they survive. After all, badgers are mean, and they take no prisoners. The realm of publishing that I have stepped into is a lot like the badger....mean and unforgiving sometimes....or so I have heard. I have to find a way to survive as I follow this path to my dreams.

So here's to bloody noses, however many I receive, and here is to never giving up as I count my blows. One of my favorite authors, who has been a great encouragement to me, received over fifty rejections before his first book was picked up. That's a lot of Kleenex. Guess I better go buy a few more boxes because I am in for the long haul. See you around folks!

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to connect with H.L. Stephens on Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Also check out H.L. Stephen's mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 - The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 - The Case of the Wayward Fae are available in print and eBook format. Coming Soon! Book 3 - The Case of the Monkey's Misfortune.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Adventures in Querying: The Art of Being Patient....Are We There Yet???

I thought when I saw puberty and all its trappings disappear into the rear view mirror of adulthood, I would somehow gain a greater sense of patience and a zen-like ability to wait for the things that truly mattered. As though impulse control increased the older I got. <Queue the maniacal laughter>

Though it is true I have developed a mature approach to a great many segments of life that require my patience:

- waiting in line at the store
- waiting for my refund check to arrive from the tax man
- waiting for a bathroom stall to open up when the Go-Go Bran Muffin cart is handing out free samples at the mall

There are new areas where patience has yet to become a concrete virtue for me in my adult years, however. Waiting for an answer from my query letters is one of them.

It is reminiscent of my childhood vigil for Christmas Day to arrive. Somehow I just knew that each time I looked at the calendar, it would hasten the approach of that magical morning, as though observation changed the outcome of the principles of physics and what we understood of the passage of time. I was light years ahead of Schrodinger and his crazy old cat at the tender age of five. I checked the calendar half a dozen times a day or more starting the day after Thanksgiving. The weird thing was, Christmas never seemed to get there any faster.

Having sent out my first query letters, one would think I would be afraid to look for an answer (since most people tell me I should expect at least a few dozen smacks in the face before I get my first nibble). Yet day after day, I find myself checking my email incessantly looking for the tell tale response from the agents I submitted to. It's almost sad.

I find excuses to hit the send/receive. I need to clean out my inbox (which I hardly ever do.) I need to update my settings (again, a rarity). The list of "valid" reasons is as endless as my childhood energy once was. I know I have weeks to wait, but part of me can't help it. Even if there is a rejection in the missive, I don't want to miss it - not one, single solitary word of it. Why? The answer is quite simple.

It took me years, decades really, to discover what I wanted to do with my life. I was always a writer, scribbling away on sheets of paper at all hours of the day and night when that was the mode of expression. But in the "real world", I pursued other avenues. I studied math and science. I even excelled in those areas. I got my degree in engineering. I have worked for a software company for almost a decade, but in all that time of going to school and studying the hard, challenging topics that everyone said I would fail at, I never felt that burning passion. I just wanted to prove the nay-sayers wrong, and I did. But that isn't the same as finding your one great love.

I have that passion when I write. I feel that burning ember in my breast whenever the ideas begin to flow. I feel the yearning to create drawing me like a lover, ever beckoning, always ready to embrace me. It is my place of ultimate joy. So with each query letter comes that sense of hope and anticipation. Perhaps this time I will receive an answer that will enable me to remain in my lover's arms indefinitely.

Yes, I expect the rejection, but with it comes an opportunity to learn and improve my craft, and I have a choice to pick myself up and try again. If I can weather all those years of study followed by countless years of working in a job that is not my first love, I can navigate my way through a few dozen rejection letters. I am not afraid to "make my bones". I am just a afraid of never trying and giving myself and my writing the chance they deserve. Getting a rejection letter isn't failure. Failure only comes when I throw up my hands and give up on my dreams.


If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to connect with H.L. Stephens on Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Also check out H.L. Stephen's mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 - The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 - The Case of the Wayward Fae are available in print and eBook format. Coming Soon! Book 3 - The Case of the Monkey's Misfortune.