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Writers write, right?

I had another epiphany recently about how much legitimate competition there is in the publishing industry.

I'm amazed by the number of writers who don't write. What? You read me.

After reading numerous blogs, perusing my many writing loop and online course emails, and attending meetings with other writers, I've come to the conclusion that there's not as much writing competition out there as you might think. At a recent meeting, when asked how many pages they'd written since October, the majority of the writers hadn't written more than 5-10 pages. In THREE months!

At that rate it will take them at least ten years to write a 300-page book.

Don't get me wrong, there are good reasons why people don't produce. Work, family, illness, vacations, and all of the things that make up life chip away at writing time. I get that, but in the end, if you want to write a book, you have to sit down and WRITE IT.

It seems to me that if you're putting in the time to finish a book, query it to agents, and improve your craft, you're ahead of most of the other writers out there.

Some stats to note: Of the approximately 10,000 RWA members, about 19% are published (in book-length fiction) and 22% have PRO status (completed a manuscript and are actively submitting to agents/editors). That 41% is the real competition in the romance industry.

If you read enough agent blogs, you'll also realize that many of the queries they get can be dismissed out of hand for dumb things like lack of personalization, querying for a genre the agent doesn't represent, telling the agent you're the next big thing, or not following submission guidelines. If you remove those uneducated submissions, the pool of viable competition shrinks drastically.

I'm not trying to imply that getting published is easy. But I was cheered to realize that the playing field isn't as big as I thought. If you really want to get published, first you have to be in the game. Make sure you're part of that 22% who've made PRO, and your chances will go up dramatically. Make that your goal this year. If you're already PRO, start and finish another book this year. And query it.

Never give up. Good luck!

UPDATE 4/15/10: Based on correspondence with the PRO Liaison (who has access to much more accurate numbers than I), I have updated the PRO number from 12% to 22%.

Back stretch

It's only day six of 2010, and I'm already having to learn flexibility when it comes to my new goals. It seems that when I'm a bit stumped in my writing, and feel unable to add another word to the scene I'm working on, I play instead.

How will Steve and Libby get out of this one? I don't know. I'll check email. Maybe I'll get a good idea. Yeah, right. Usually the only good idea I get is to respond to comments on my web post, or update Facebook. Speaking of which, hang on, I'll be right back…

I've had to find a way to avoid temptation when I'm less than motivated to move forward in my book. So, yesterday, I moved backward instead. I made a list of fill-in scenes for earlier parts of the book that need to be written. Then I picked one and wrote it.

[NOTE: Here's where the beauty of Scrivener comes in. I can easily move scenes, add in placeholder scenes with synopses, etc. See this link for my post on Scrivener. If you're writing on a Mac, click the link at the right and get it NOW. No, I don't get paid to say that, I just LOVE the program.]

I was still adding to the story, just out of order. My mind re-engaged. Beautiful prose abounded. Well, prose of some sort anyway.

Another trick I used was to start revising already written scenes from earlier in the MS. Now that I know my characters better, and understand how their story will unfold, I could fill in missing pieces of characterization, deepen the emotion of certain events, and just notice areas where there needed to be more…something.

This works for me because I tend to write concise scenes with the minimum to get the job done (and sometimes not even enough for that). My scenes feel very bare bones at times. For those who tend to puke all over the page for 200,000 words and then cut like crazy, I guess it might not be as helpful, unless they're trying to work their way down to a certain word count.

The last thing I've decided to do is give myself small rewards. Realistically, if I can't do any fun stuff until I've finished my 1000 words, I'll probably cheat. Especially on those days when putting in 1000 words is like shoveling snow. It looks easy but takes four times longer than you expect. I will not be able to wait ten hours to check my email or read a few blogs.

My new plan is to allow 30 minutes of “play” for every 3-400 words I write. I'm starting tomorrow. We'll see how it goes. This too may need to be flexed.

Do you flex your goals at all?

The Daily Squirrel: Robert's view

If he married the widow, he'd never have to rob another bank. No more unreliable getaway drivers, run-ins with the cops, or weeping tellers. No more running. He could live the good life and it would be legal. It almost seemed unfair.

Mary Weatherly was in decent shape for a forty-something. And with her cash, he could overlook a few wrinkles and gray hairs. He could get it up for her, no problem. If she kept him happy, he might not even have to keep a girl on the side.

“What about Rita?” John raised an eyebrow at him.

“What about Rita?” Robert asked, picturing the hot woman he'd shared a bed with for over a year. “She doesn't have any money.”

High Resolution

Happy 2010! I hope you all had a great holiday. My household is catching up on laundry and email as we recover from a great trip to visit family in Phoenix. And, like many of you, I'm thinking about goals.

Even though resolutions for the new year have become cliché, I find it helpful to evaluate past goals and set a new course for the year to follow. Goals help me see more clearly how productive I've been, as well as where I want to go.

In a November post, I listed a daily plan that I'm using to be more productive. It includes micro goals that get me through each day and help me take advantage of my most productive/creative hours for writing, while saving my “slump” hours for other tasks.

Based on the last two months, I've tweaked the daily plan to be more realistic, but still challenging.

2010 Daily Writing Plan

  1. Write 1000 net words/day, at least 6 days/week, and track in Scrivener
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (judging, query letters, synopsis, CP readings, etc.)
  3. Post blog entry including Daily Squirrel, at least 6 days/week
  4. Limit email to three times/day unless daily goals are met
  5. Work out before 7:30 am, or during afternoon/evening
  6. Limit FB and blog reading to 30 minutes/day, unless daily goals are met
  7. No fiction reading unless daily goals are met

Writing Goals for 2010

  • read one writing craft book/month
  • enter Floater and possibly Diego's story in GH and Maggie's
  • attend RWA National Conference (pitch Floater and series?)
  • complete and polish three single title MSs

1/31 – Finish rough draft of Floater (and come up with better title)
2/28 – Finish first major revision of Floater (using Maass & other books)
2/28 – enter Floater in Great Beginnings Contest (finish and apply Hooked)
3/01 – Start next book for DEA series (Diego's story)
4/01-4/15 – Touch up Floater after CP feedback
5/31 – Finish rough draft of Diego's story (before we move in early June)
6/XX – Move to ???, trip to Europe (try to write/revise/brainstorm at least 30 minutes, 6 dpw)
7/15 – query at least five agents with Floater
7/31 – create pleasant and creativity-inducing writing space in new home
7/31 – Finish major revisions on Diego's story, get CP feedback
8/01 – start another book (TBD, part of series, or other idea)
9/01-9/15 – Touch up Diego's story with CP feedback
10/31 – finish rough draft of 3rd book
11/30 – Finish major revisions on 3rd book

What are some of your goals for the new year?

The Daily Squirrel: interview

John forced himself to sit still even though he wanted to adjust his tie, wipe his brow, and fiddle with his gold pen. With a baby on the way, he needed this promotion more than ever. And, dammit, he was the right person for the job. At least his wife kept telling him so.

“What makes you think you're the best candidate for plant manager?” Helen, his long-time boss and good friend, asked in a cool, professional tone. He knew she'd be impartial, but damn, couldn't she at least smile to put him at ease?

“Well, I've decreased the operating costs and increased productivity in my area at least ten percent annually for the last five years. I also spearheaded the new product line roll out, which was on-time and under budget. And my department has the lowest turnover rate in the entire company. I'd like the opportunity to do the same for the entire plant.”

Amazingly, his voice sounded confident, even as his hands trembled in his lap, hidden from view by the conference table.

Helen glanced at the two men sitting to either side of her. “And we'd like to give it to you,” Helen said, finally giving him a smile. “You've got the job.”

One No closer to Yes

I got my first rejection letter–well, email–today. The worst kind: a form letter with no personalization at all. Well, now I've lived through that. As the positive thinking experts would say, “I'm one ‘no' closer to ‘yes'.”

I actually thought I'd be more upset, but I think my many months of conditioning through reading RWA articles and listening to my chapter mates helped me go into this with realistic expectations. The odds of getting a request from an agent aren't very good. I've read enough agent blogs to know that it depends on my query letter, timing, luck, the agent's mood, what's on the agent's desk right now, whether Scorpio is rising…

All I can do is hope for some personal feedback at some point, and keep honing and sending that letter. And most important of all, keep writing! I'm almost halfway through my current project, so if I don't get requests for Counting on You, maybe Floater will fare better.

I'm not a big believer in fate, or superstition, but I've had enough experience to believe that things happen when you're ready for them. Maybe I need to write a few more books before I'm ready. But, I'm also not giving up. I sent out more than one letter.

Maybe the next agent will read my query during a full moon and be struck with the urgent need to see a complete manuscript. Could happen.

The Daily Squirrel: rejection? 😉

She spread the thick, rough paper flat on the table, smoothing the creases with her warm palms. Everything she'd ever done had led to this moment, and she squeezed her eyes shut, afraid to look, knowing that one paragraph, one sentence…one word, would change her life forever.

No rest for the query

After a week of back-and-forth with my CP (thanks, C!), I finally got my agent query letter honed to a point that I’m satisfied with. Could it be better? Most likely. But, at some point, I just have to get it out there.

After reading articles about specific agents, trolling their blogs and websites, and talking to other writers, I picked out several agents that I think would be a good fit.

My main criteria:

  • Does she represent the subgenres I’m interested in writing?
  • Does she have a flexible approach to working with an author?
  • Is she interested in supporting an author through career changes and growth?
  • Does she take email submissions? (optional, but highly desirable for environmental and cost concerns)

So, today I took the next big step toward publication, and sent those letters (emails) out there in hopes of enticing an agent to ask for my MS. Exciting and scary.

So, the long wait begins. Now back to work!

Query Letter Purgatory

Have I mentioned how much writers hate crafting query letters? Yes? Oh, fine.

Well, maybe it's just me, but trying to boil my story down to 2-3 paragraphs that will catch an agent's eye is excruciating.

Today, I spent some time perusing blogs by literary agents Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson, looking for inspiration. I also looked at agent Janet Reid's Query Shark blog. All of these are great resources for the aspiring writer looking to understand the mind of an agent and what he or she is looking for, but in the end, the most help has come from my awesome critique partner, Christine. (Thanks, C!)

I will get a decent letter out there soon, and then the long wait will begin.

While I'm waiting, whatever shall I do? Hmm. Maybe I should write a book…

Back to Work!

Okay, celebration over. It’s time to get back to work. (Productivity guru Brian Tracy would be so proud.) Winning doesn’t mean anything except that a few people liked my writing enough to vote for it. If I want to get that writing published, there’s work to do!

With helpful feedback from my awesome critique partner, Christine, I am working on a query letter to send to several agents. Writing query letters almost ranks up there with writing synopses on the list of Things Writers Hate to Do, but I’ll muddle through. It has to be done, and it makes sense to capitalize on my recent win and get those letters out ASAP.

But then what? Well, I need to keep working on the next book, of course. Even if an agent snatched up Counting on You and sold it instantly (insert wishful thinking here), one book doesn’t make a career.

Ultimately, I’m a writer–whether I ever sell a book or not–and writers write. Huh.

So, after the painful 20,000-word cut, I’m back to plotting, character development, and writing scenes for my next story, tentatively titled Floater.

Floater is a new challenge for me because it’s romantic suspense, something I haven’t tried before. Figuring out how to create an interesting suspense plot, plus weave in the sexual tension and keep it all moving, is a fun challenge.

Ask me how I feel about it in a couple of months. 😉