Cutting Words…

I’ve been mentally MIA for the last eight days. Why? I’ve been up to my eyeballs in a fairly significant revision of my manuscript, Where Poppies Bloom. Without getting into all the details, someone recently advised that I cut back the length of my manuscript (originally around 86K), which would, obviously,  pick up the pace. Fifty-ish pages, she recommended. That’s somewhere around 11K words, incase you’re counting.

I’ll admit that it sounded impossible at first. I didn’t think Poppies was dragging. I didn’t think it was wordy or over-written. And my scenes! All the beautiful scenes I’d spent hours planning and writing and editing… some of them were going to have to go. Heartbreaking, I tell you! But, the more I considered it, the more I started to look at this revision opportunity as an interesting sort of challenge.  

So, I copied and pasted the entire 328 page story into a new document and went to work. I figured if I could cut at average of ten useless words per page, I’d be a third of the way to my goal even before chopping full scenes. In an effort to keep myself from becoming completely overwhelmed, I focused on that and dove in.

As I read (and cut), read (and cut), I became very, very critical. Unnecessary dialogue tags were first to go. Next, too-detailed descriptions, then over-expressed emotions. I deleted instances of telling when I’d already shown (I do that sometimes… apparently I worry about being thorough). Finally, I trimmed the beginnings and endings of character conversations in an effort to get to the meat of what was really being said.

When that was all said and done, I took a long, hard look at my scene outline. I figured out which scenes could be deleted entirely (honestly, there weren’t many), which scenes could be combined to streamline the story, and which scenes could become a quick paragraph of exposition. Then I went back to work.

When it was all said and done, I’d trimmed just over 11K words (49 pages) from Where Poppies Bloom. I’m currently three-quarters of the way into a final read through, just to make sure everything still flows, and I have to be honest: I’ve never loved this story as much as I do today. While it was in great shape before, it’s SO clean now. It moves quickly and the suspense is that much greater. I truly believe the revision I once thought was impossible might be the greatest thing to happen to this story, and I’m so glad I took on the challenge.

Care to share your most helpful hints for trimming word count?

Tales from the Trenches: To Be, Or Not To Be…

… Prepared, that is.

So, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m querying. Several amazing agents are in possession of my full manuscript, and we’re nearing the time I should begin hearing back from some of them. In the back of my mind, I’ve had this cheerful yet persistent voice reminding me to prepare a list of questions to ask should one of these agents want to speak to me about my manuscript and possible representation. Promptly, a darker, more pessimistic voice sneers, “Don’t do it! You’ll jinx yourself!” Then, last night, I had a little epiphany.

With it being awards season and all, I was thinking about the actors, directors, singers, and producers who take the stage to accept awards. They fall into two pretty distinct categories: Those with a prepared speech, and those who wing it. While I’d rather watch the winners who are flustered and weepy and completely unprepared, it’s the winners with the succinct, heartfelt, well-written speeches who come away looking like professionals. And that’s what I want to be should I ever have the pleasure of speaking to an agent on the phone: Professional.  

So, I’ve buried the fear of jinxing myself and assembled a list of must-ask questions so I’ll be prepared if I happen to get that oh-so-exciting phone call. Here they are:

1. How close is my manuscript to “ready?” What are its strengths? Weaknesses?

*2. What do you think my comp titles would be?

3. How collaborative do you intend to be? What kinds of editorial/revision ideas do you have for my manuscript?

4. Do you represent a book, or an author? How do you see us working together in the future?

*5. Would you expect me to only write for one age group (YA) or in one genre (contemporary)?

6. What are your submission plans for my manuscript? Do you already have houses/editors in mind? How many will you submit to at a time?

*7. If my manuscript doesn’t sell in the first round of submissions, will we go on subsequent rounds?

*8. Are you willing to sub more than one manuscript at a time? In the same genre? In different genres?

9. How are fees and charges for submission charged ? What kinds of charges should a client expect to pay, and how is it accounted for?

10. What’s your disclosure style during the submission process? Will you give me all the details of editor feedback, or just the most constructive criticisms?

11. What is your communication style? How quickly are you usually able to respond to client inquiries? What is your preferred method of communication?

12. What are the terms of your client contract? *How is it different from contracts at other agencies? (Assuming there is a written contract…)

13. What are your commission rates?

14. How long have you been an agent? What do you love about it? Do you see yourself agenting into the foreseeable future?

15. How many clients are on your list now? How many clients would you like to have?

16. What sales have you made recently? (Assuming I can’t find this info on my own…)

17. How involved is your boss/other agents at your agency in your client relationships?

18. What do you expect from your clients as far as production in a given year?

19. What qualities do you like in a client? What do you think makes a good working relationship between you and a client?

20. When you receive a new manuscript from a client, how long does it usually take for you to get back to her with feedback?

*21. How do you handle clients wanting to work on similar projects/subject matter?

22. For what reasons would you terminate a relationship with a client? What if, for some reason, I should feel our relationship isn’t working?

*23. Would it be possible for me to contact a few of your clients?

*24. Do you have any questions for me?

* Recent additions thanks to input from a few generous and well-informed writing friends. Thanks, Kate Hart, Heather Howland, June G. and Caroline Tung Richmond! Many of the other questions were compiled with help from brilliant posts at Literary Rambles, and Writing For Children and Teens.

Okay, so those are the questions that feel really important at this totally-in-limbo stage of the game. Am I missing anything glaringly obvious? Please let me know in the comments!

Tales from the Trenches 2.0

And the querying continues…

I don’t think I talk about querying and agents and writing and publishing all that much. Mostly, I reserve those topics for my blog, or for conversations with my CPs and writing friends, who are all in varying states of the querying/submission process. They appreciate and embrace the crazy, because like me, they’re all neck deep in it. Occasionally I’ll bounce ideas off my husband, or vent if something isn’t going well, and occasionally my parents or in-laws will ask how things are going and I’ll give them as brief an update as possible. But really, I don’t talk about querying and agents and writing and publishing all that much.

Or so I thought…

First, a little background: Junie B. Jones is a hero in my home. If you aren’t familiar, Junie B. is the star of the very popular chapter book series written by Barbara Park.

Junie B. is precocious, clueless, funny and manages to get herself in to all kinds of mischeif. My husband and I read a chapter or two from a Junie B. Jones book to our daughter every night before she goes to bed. Now, my daughter is only three, but she LOVES her Junie B. Like, laughs-out-loud, constantly-quotes (“Hello. How are you today?”), asks-for-a-new-book-every-time-we-go-to-Target kind of love. Still, imagine my surprise when the other day she looked at me and asked, “Mommy, can your agent get me some Junie B. books?”

Yeah. Clearly she doesn’t *quite* get the role of a literary agent (or the fact that her mommy doesn’t have one yet!), but she knows that agents deal in books, that they’re able to do super nice things and that they might just be capable of making magic happen. And that’s probably a deep enough knowledge base for her for now. 🙂

Tales from the Trenches

Okay, so, I’m querying. And I’m going crazy. Every time I see a new email in my inbox I get a sick feeling in my stomach, something between excitement, nervousness, dread and hopefulness. I’m constantly hopping between optimism and preparing myself for the worst. My husband and other family members are continuously telling me, “Chill out. It will happen!” Yeah, that’s easier said than done when you’re so deep into this process of putting your work out there for others to judge and, in many cases, turn down. Crazy-inducing as it is, rejection is a big part of the querying and eventual publication process.  

I share the following story because hopefully I’m not the only person whose subconscious tortures them while they’re trying to sleep. The other night I had a querying nightmare. In this nightmare, I got an email from an agent who’d read my manuscript. Her note wasn’t exactly a rejection, but it definitely wasn’t an offer of representation either. It was merely a list of typos she’d found in the manuscript. Tons of them. My misspelling on the left, and her corrections on the right. How humiliating! I woke up with my stomach turning somersaults. The first thing I did was check my email to make sure the dream wasn’t some weird glimpse of the future, then I spent the rest of the day second-guessing all of the requested material I’ve sent in. Let me say, my manuscript is NOT riddled with typos. And I’ve never gotten an email from an agent that wasn’t gracious and complimentary. But still.

When I told one of my CPs about my dream, she laughed and said, “Oh, you are so in the trenches.”

Yes. Yes, I am.

Anyone else in the trenches? Crazy behavior? How do you deal?