Monday, January 30, 2012


It happened today. I received my first rejection letter. It was worded so politely that I almost felt compassion for the agent. She, the agent, let me know that she was overwhelmed right now with her existing case load, which may be or may not be true, but which is a really nice way of saying not interested. (I'm sure that me being a new author poses a heavier weight for her than bringing on an established author.)

Funny thing is that I thought I would be devistated, but I'm not. I didn't even flinch. I'm not sure that I feel anything. Maybe it's because I'm tired, but I suspect it's because I've read so much about other, many well-known, authors who had to go through this rite of passage. All I thought was okay, next...

So, needless to say, I'll go to the next agent, and the next, and after six months or so, if I can't find someone is willing to represent me, I'll go the e-publishing route. 

With that said, I've just taken another step in the process.  And I survived.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading Killer

Because it's been such a long week, what with my 9-to-whenever real job, editing my novel, beginning a new exercise routine, and planning the shindig for a friend's 50th birthday, tonight I decided to treat myself and just read. I enjoy murder mysteries, and this one is excellent, which to me means that the author is a good writer and that I don't figure out the mystery half-way through. But damn, with all the editing I've been doing, focusing on each and every word in my novel and how it affects the sentence/paragraph, I can't just sit and read anymore. I edit.

In the novel I'm reading, the detective says, "Drugs do very strange things to people." And I stopped, literally was pulled out of the story by the word "very". My first thought was that it wasn't needed, that the sentence can stand on its own without that modifier. "Drugs do strange things to people." And damn it, I lost the thread of the scene.

This isn't new, just magnified a hundred times. It started with POV-shifts and adverbs when I was taking writing classes. When I learned the rules of writing, I started noticing when authors would break those rules. But now, it's gotten to the point that I can't just read anymore, I critique.

With that said, I'm going to turn off my laptop, try to still (or maybe kill off, at least for the evening) the editor in my brain, and just read. Hopefully Detective Banks will catch the killer before I get into a struggle with my internal editor and give up reading for the night.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Easter Egg Hunt in Hell Goes On

One of my teachers, Ann Hood, said that when it comes to editing, there are two types of writers.  One has to go back and add things in--that's Barbara--and one has to go back and cut things out. Guess who falls in that category?

I spent the weekend, literally, sitting in my rocker, cutting words, and cutting more words. The problem is that I can't just cut words. Contrary to what Barb says, I can't just go through and cut a bunch of adjectives. There aren't that many. Really. So to make cuts, I am having to re-write sentences and paragraphs, and in a couple of instances even re-think/re-write scenes.  It's kind of like re-writing the whole book.

And I still have a ways to go.  This is a long, tedious process, and definitely not the fun part of writing.  The good thing is that I am really focusing on the emotions and trying to show them.  I've also tightened up my dialogue, significantly, which is proving difficult considering that most of my characters are Southern.  We Southerners love to embellish. 

So I hope this is making my writing stronger.  Oh my God, I hope so.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lovely Compliment on my Writing

I'm not going to write a lot tonight because I still have the Easter egg hunt from Hell going on, but a friend is reading my work, for the first time, and he said that last night he was just going to read the first couple of chapters, but that after two, he kept reading, that he didn't want to stop reading after just two.  He said the characters annoy him, frustrate him, and he wants to see how they change, if/how they get better. 

I hope he's not just being nice--he says he's not, because I asked him.  But seriously, these are likely the best compliments a writer can get.  Not only did he want to keep reading, but my characters created emotions (yes, annoyance is a type of emotion) in a real human being, not just in the other people in the story.

I wish I had a picture of two crows--you know, two for mirth--because that's what I'm feeling, like this thing could really happen.

BTW, this isn't meant to diminish all the work my other friends have done.  But you guys have read it, again and again, and are probably as tired of Maggie and her problems as I am.  I still don't know why she can't just fix her own damn problems.  Sorry, my acceptable schizophrenia kicking in again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Writing Friends

Nearly five years ago, I attended the Maui Writers' Retreat.  There is nothing like a week long intensive session on writing, where my work and co-attendees' work are torn to pieces, analyzed, and then repaired. And nothing like doing so sitting in a room all day, while there's a beautiful beach not a hundred yards away.  In one week in Hawaii, I met and built relationships with women who write like I do, who think like I do, and who understand how hard this process is, how hard it is to put yourself out there.  Relationships like those can last forever, if nurtured.  Since then, I've gone to other retreats, taken classes, and attended workshops.  I've developed a network of writer friends.  Writing is a bit like being an alcoholic.  You need a support group, but the people in your support group must understand your addiction.

Anyway, I just got back from a long weekend with Barbara, one of the women I met nearly five years ago in Maui at that same retreat. I got to meet her family, who I've known these five years, through her stories, but had, until this weekend, never met.  She and I spent the whole weekend reviewing my work and talking about writing. She took me through the plot of her story, with me poking and probing into things I didn't understand.  She also read my first chapter aloud, pointing out issues she had with it and letting me hear the flow, letting me understand how it sounds in someone else's head, because every reader brings their own interpretation to a story.  Having her read for me was an invaluable gift. 

Of course, I think I so frustrated Barb that I may never be asked down to sunny California again. In regards to changes she suggested, after about five or six times of me saying, I'll consider it, she realized that was my passive aggressive way of saying, not gonna change this one.  But I did accept more of her suggestions than not.  And her suggestions will only make my writing stronger, more powerful.  She pointed out things that were hard for me to see.  I know the story, have lived with it for nearly ten years, even though I only started seriously writing it about five years ago.  So I miss things.  For example, in my now first chapter, I bring Liz into the story without introducing her.  Barbara pointed out that someone reading it for the first time won't know who Liz is.  Honestly, the way it reads, Liz could even be the dog, instead of the teenage daughter.

I need people like Barb to beat me up, to tear my writing asunder (that's for you, Barb, knowing how you pinged me about my over-complicated vocabulary), to find the weak spots, to be totally honest.  Because, you know what? An agent is going to be brutally honest.  I love my non-writer friends, but most are worried that they'll hurt my feelings if they are blunt, if they say that sounds ridiculous or this doesn't make sense.  So I need people like Barb, people who aren't afraid, and who will help me make my work more convincing, more compelling, and maybe, just maybe, less descriptive (adjective wise). 

Just so you know that it's not a painful experience, I laughed a lot this weekend over Barb's frustration with my use of adjectives. I'm sure not all reviewers are as delightful, but she is.  One of these days, I'll get a video of Barb doing the crow dance and post it.  The crow dance is something she did at a previous weekend meeting with myself and Vivian. Barb was trying to get me to put some menace into one of my chapters, but I couldn't stop laughing when she was showing me how a crow might stalk someone.

I know, for a regular person, all this must sound pretty boring, but there's nothing like talking with someone who understands, someone whose eyes don't roll back in their head when I talk about problems with POV or tense or adverbs.  Next time you're reading a novel, think about the work that went into it, about how many people touched that story to make it a reality, and then look around and see if there's someone struggling, if there's a would-be author sitting next to you who wants to know what you think.

With that said, if you're a would-be-author and haven't established relationships like this, you should.  I can't even imagine what it would be like to go through this process without fellow up-and-coming writers there to motivate and assure me that I'm going to make it.

One for Sorrow

(While in California, I started taking pictures of crows.  If I e-publish, I may be able to design the cover, if I take enough pictures and create images to represent my novel.  This will be first of many you'll see in this blog.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Not Getting Published isn't an Option

It's days like today when I wonder why I come home to a life of more work, of writing and editing and querying agents who probably don't want to read my work anyway.  I had one long week, at my real job, and the week's not over  yet.  I won't go into it, but let's just say that anything that could go wrong, has gone wrong, and the only thing that has kept me sane is my co-workers.  They share my pain and shoulder the load with me.

I'm so tired, but more of my real life.  I have dreams sometimes of being able to write for a living, of being able to support myself from something I love doing.  Yes, the publishing part of writing is stressful, but the writing part is blissful, while my nine-to-whenever job these days is anything but. 

In one of David Morrell's classes, he spoke about how writers are odd, that a writer must love being alone for long hours a day, every day, and that most people--normal people--would find it a horrific existence.  To me, it sounds heavenly, especially right now. 

The older I get, the less I like people.  I've gotten to the point where I get claustrophobic in crowds.  And my tolerance for corporate BS, has gotten down into the nano-range. So what is the problem-to-symptom relationship?  Am I getting better at writing because I'm becoming a recluse, or am I becoming a recluse because I love writing?  I know that I am in my element, sitting here in my Granny's rocker with my laptop, and two furry felines alway nearby, always watching over me.

So, you see, not getting published isn't an option.   Even if it only gets me a year or two closer to retirement, it is worth the stress of the publishing process.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Publishing Quandary - Part Three

My friend, Joanne, another would-be author, forwarded a newsletter to me from The Big Thrill, a web site for thriller readers. This month the list of e-published books is longer (not by a huge amount, but still longer) than the traditionally published books. 

After reading my blogs on the publishing quandary, she also mentioned, that for her, e-publishing and self-publishing are two different animals. She wrote: "Self-publishing had a bad reputation - and to me that involved paying for your own printing of books.  E-publishing is really a necessity to stay up with technology."

This is true.  Self-publishing does have a stigma attached to it, one that reflect badly on the author, while e-publishing is being pushed in many areas, because devices such as Kindles and smart phones are so prevalent these days. In her email, Joanne mentioned that the RWA (Romance Writers of America) is supporting the e-publishing wave.

That brings me back to traditional versus e-publishing. 

I believe one of the reasons e-publishing has caught on so quickly, and with such vehemence, is that new authors have a pretty tough time getting an agent/publisher to even recognize them.  Traditional publishing houses are complaining about how e-publishing is taking their business, but many of the authors who have gone down the e-publishing route have done so because they can't get anyone in the traditional publishing world to even acknowledge their existence.  J.K. Rowling may have chosen to go e-publishing if it had been around when she was trying to get an agent. (Remember, she got turned down more than ten times before she found someone willing to represent her.  And those agents are now kicking their own butts.)

We'll see how it goes for me.

I started writing before e-publishing was around, and for me, it still holds some of the stigma of self-publishing. [If you don't believe me, try a random sample of the badly-written, poorly-formatted free e-books on Amazon. Yes, there is a diamond here and there, but not very many. Just because you can get published, doesn't mean you should get published.]   I guess I want to know whether I'm good enough, whether I can get accepted into the good-ole-boy's club of publishing, which means at least attempting to go the traditional route. 

Due to some networking, I started with an advantage. I was given a lead by one of my teachers, but if I don't hear anything from that agent within a month or so, I'll start doing cold-call-query letters. If six-eight months passes without a bite, then my need to be good enough may just fly right out the window. I'll have no fear of going the e-publishing route, and if that's what it takes for me to get published, I will do it.

Finally, contrary to popular belief, e-publishing isn't free. You do pay something up front, as with self-publishing.  For my book of 110K words, with everything I would want included (virtual cover, Amazon one-time edit, Amazon promotion, and so on), I would need to put up somewhere between $8-10K before a single word I wrote hits the whisper-net. Plus, right now, I don't know if the work done for that $8-10K at Amazon would transfer to another e-publishing house, say Barnes & Noble.  This could get very expensive, very fast, but if you saw my previous post about royalties, that up-front money could be a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to what I could make e-publishing if my book becomes a block-buster.

Hence the quandary.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Waiting Game

Now the waiting game begins.  I put the query letter in the mail this evening.  It will be picked up from the post office box at 11:30 am tomorrow (I checked), and will take, with first class postage, two, maybe three days, to get to New York, not counting Sunday.  Add another day minimum for the mail room shuffle in the agent's building, and... And I'll already be a nervous wreck, even before the poor agent has my envelope in hand. 

Let me state that patience is not one of my virtues and that fear does nothing to improve on that situation. All my demons will be dancing tonight, and in the weeks to come, swirling round, taunting me and telling me that there's no chance in hell that this agent, or any other for that matter, will want to represent me.  The pity party will go on and on and on.

Unfortunately, for any writer querying a new/different agent, the odds are not in our favor. Based on what I've read and heard, I have at best a 50% chance that the agent will even read my query letter--I'm sure they get hundreds, maybe thousands a week. Mine could be on the bottom of  a stack the height of the Eiffel tower or could slip behind/under/into a desk, or another dimension. Or the building could catch on fire, burning only my query letter.

If, by some stroke of luck, the agent receives and reads my query letter, I may have a 25% chance that s/he will be interested.  Those two percentages already cut my chances of getting a nod of approval down to 12.5%.  Much of that 12.5% is based in little things. If, by another, different, not-the-same stroke of luck, s/he hasn't just had the worst day of their life, and they like what I've written, you would think it's in the bag, right?  Nope there are still a hundred other factors that could get me shot down, such as: is s/he in the mood to take on a new-new client (you know, someone who has yet to fall off the turnip truck)?  Does the firm have an opening for a "women's literature" writer? Although  I did confirm that this agent works in the literary fiction genre, most firms only have so many slots per genre.  And then there's the money angle, because that's why an agent is working, to make money.  Does s/he think my book will sell? It can be the most well written book on the planet, but if it's not sell-able... well, these guys gotta make a living, which means representing authors who will sell books.

I'm thinking, if fate is on my side, if all the cards line up, if all my monkeys are in the barrel, I may have a 5% chance of scoring this agent as a representative. 

If you haven't read Stephen King's book On Writing, I strongly suggest you do. The first half of the book is a memoir of how he came to be a famous writer.  He tells a compelling story, not glossing over anything. When he was a teenager, he kept all his rejection slips impaled on a nail in the wall in his room. J.K.Rowling was rejected by more than ten different publishing house (all kicking their own butts right now) before she found one to represent her.  The list goes on and on, much like my pity party.  Check out:

I don't know whether to be encouraged or discouraged by these tidbits of information.

Just in case, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Huge Leap

My first query letter goes out tomorrow. This is a pretty big step for me as I've always been the type to write something, and then be too lazy, or maybe lackadaisical is a better word, to do the work to shop it around. I also have this huge issue with rejection. I know, who doesn't?

Tonight I went out and bought a ream of 70# linen type paper (geeze, it's almost thick enough to be card stock) and the envelopes to match. Very classy, especially for me. [Those of you who know me just keep your comments to yourself about my level of class.]

So yes, for once in my life, I'm taking this writing stuff seriously. Scary, I know. Especially for me. I haven't put this much effort into something since college. Which may either point to the fact that I'm good at my job or that I think I'm good at my job.

Anyway, I wrote the following query letter (if you don't want to know the ending of the novel, stop here) and am sending it out tomorrow. Query letter format is as follows: one page that starts with something that will grab the agent's attention, includes the gist (short synopsis) of the story, and then ends with what I like to think of as the "I love me" paragraph. Remember that you lose lots of lines to the formality of it being a business letter. So this is not an easy task, especially for a full length novel. That's why there are classes and weekend workshops and books devoted to writing a good query letter. It is your foot in the door, and the shoe on that foot better shine.

I've deleted to whom I'm sending it, but if you feel so inclined, and aren't worried about knowing the ending, pretend that you're a literary agent working with some major publishing house, and let me know if you'd be interested in my book based solely on this query letter.

~ ~ ~

agent company
agent address
agent address


Dear agent-name,

Counting Crows (working title) is a completed, women’s literature novel of approximately 110K words. It is forty-two year old Maggie MacAllister’s coming of age story. As if being born into a family of witches in a small Georgia town isn’t enough to brand her a social pariah, she came home from college with a PhD, baby Liz, and no husband. In the fifteen years since, she has allowed the Jacob’s Creek crusade of whispers to mold her life into a wretched existence.

As the self-decided scientist in a family of witches, Maggie attempts to impose logic on a situation of legendary proportions, the MacAllister family curse, but try as she might, a stroll through the family cemetery is proof enough that any man who loves a MacAllister woman dies in the prime of his life. So Maggie commits to being single, but when her sixteen year old daughter, Liz, nearly dies from a self-administered abortion, Maggie is thrown together with JD Seaborne, an attractive, younger man with a teenage daughter, Desi, and psychological ghosts of his own. Despite striving to protect JD from both the curse and the neighbors’ censure by pushing him away, they become emotionally, spiritually, and eventually physically entangled. When she ends up pregnant, Maggie struggles to make the right choice. With help, she finds the courage to face her demons, to open her heart and life to JD and to her family’s legacy of magic.

Having grown up in a small-town in middle Georgia, I understand the weight of social expectations, especially within the narrow confines of life defined by polite manipulation. Today I live in the big-city of Seattle and am a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association (PNWA). I have certificates in Literary and Popular Fiction from the University of Washington. One of my bachelor’s degrees is from the University of Georgia in Classical Culture. I have also attended three of Ann Hood’s classes, two in Hawaii and one in Guatemala (where Ms. Hood taught with Joyce Maynard, Hope Edelman, and Francesco Sedita).

These experiences have helped me conjure up my first novel, a modern day, literary love story woven with myth and enchantment that I hope you will enjoy. If you would care to read a synopsis and several chapters of Counting Crows, please contact me. I have enclosed a SASE. Or feel free to call / email me. And thank you, so much, for your time and consideration.

Many Regards,

Nellie Williamson
email / phone
blog address

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

I sort'ov achieved what I promised.  I edited like crazy the past several days, worked many hours, spent more than ten hours yesterday alone editing. (Sad I know, but I skipped the NYE partying this year for a higher goal.) In the past week, I've cut literally hundreds, actually several thousand words, but there's still work to do.

I'm now at 115K words, and in my query letter, I claimed that my novel is "a completed, women's literature novel of approximately 110K words". 

Just so you know, this cutting words is not as easy as it sounds, unless you're some type of horror-movie-slasher.  Each word in my novel is a beautiful baby that I brought into existence.  Deleting them is like killing kittens.  Maybe worse. Let's just say, it's a horrible, horrible experience because writers do tend to fall in love with their own writing.

But I've gotten down-right maudlin. To get a agent/publisher to pay attention to a new writer, a novel should be 110K or less no matter how dear those sweet little kittens are. (And how is that even possible? to write a novel of less than 110K words?) So sadly, even if my novel, at 115K words, is the next Pulitzer prize winner, I have to cut it down to 110K words or less because as in any other field of work, newbies have to play by the rules, have to prove themselves. There is no stretching the rules on POV or tense or word count for a new author.  So I'm playing the game, trying to meet the requirements, because I want to get published, the traditional way.

Yes, right now, I'm leaning toward traditional publishing. I started writing this d*#ned book before self-publishing was in vogue, before it was acceptable or the new way to go.  I want to prove myself, the old fashion way, by getting an agent and publisher.  I know it's crazy these days, and I may end up self-publishing, but for me, there's something to be said for being "accepted", for being admitted into the good-ole-"author's" club.

With that said, I'm sending the query letter this coming week, and will use the time in between to keep editing. I'll keep killing kittens until I get my novel under 110K words.  Muhahahahahahaha. 

Yes, all this stuff makes a body a little crazy.