Nanowrimo, libraries, and literary agent

The backstory:

It’s Nanowrimo again. I’m being a rebel.

For a year now I have been preparing to send out one of my novels. The novel has waited patiently in “revision” mode as I have worked on a query and fretted and done nothing. I have done nothing!

Over the summer I attended Osfest, a writer’s convention, where the wonderful writer panelists explained that I just need to jump in. They gave me great resources which I admit I have not been diligent about tracking although I do check them every once and a while.

The Inciting Incident:

On Thursday, I was sick and left work early, but it was too early to go home because the cleaning lady was at the house, so I stopped by the library. I have been carrying around my “revision” project in paper format. So when I have time, I pull the project out and work on it.

Something you should know about the library that is close to my work: it is The Story Center. Pretty enticing name for an author, right? The library focuses on writing, publishing, printing, and reading. More than other area libraries, The Story Center brings in speakers and holds workshops on writing, offers their own certification, and has even assisted some local authors to be published.

So there I was, hacking and barely standing with my manuscript under my arm. I needed a table, silence, and a trashcan for all my tissues. When I walked in, a poster popped out of nowhere. I almost walked into it because I had my nose in my phone and my mind on sickness. “Writer’s Conference.”

During Nano, the last thing I am usually looking for is a conference. There are only 30 days to get a novel written and who has time to do that between work and real life? But this one has big bold letters saying “AGENT.”

I haven’t seen a lot of local events with agents. I did attend an event with MARA last month with an acquisition editor, but see paragraph two. I have very little experience or knowledge of the publishing community and have not been good about expanding my base. When I see an event that says “editor” or “agent” and even “author,” I’m trying to find the time to attend.

Plus, work shuts the office at 5, the talk was scheduled at 6, and I would be ten minutes away (versus the 50 minutes if I was at home). So I went. And it was great.

The Event:

Sorche Fairbank from Fairbank Literary Agency spoke.  On Friday, she discussed the basics of the publishing world. Some of it was review for me, but getting an agent perspective was different than what I have heard from editors and authors. She had handouts with resources for how to find agents, how to write query letters, how to improve the chances of being discovered. It was a great talk, and I left more energetic than when I arrived.

So even though I should have gone in to work on Saturday, I rearranged my schedule to attend the conference workshops on Saturday.

What I really liked about the program was how interactive it was. These were workshops not just panels. The presenters were approachable and knowledgeable.

The last session on Saturday was a panel, but it was very useful. In the last Saturday panel, the first pages of people’s manuscripts were read aloud and the panelists (an agent, an editor, and an author) reacted to the writing. I submitted my writing which was terrifying as well. This was the first time I heard someone else read my writing.

–Side note: Hearing someone else read my writing, even I cringed with the amount of detail. It didn’t surprise me when the panelists indicated I had too much detail in too little space. One of the overall points the panelists made clearly through the examples was that all the writing needed to be edited down by a significant amount. They said 10-30%. One thing the panelists did not say that became clear to me is that agent/editor/reader reaction is highly subjective. Some of the pieces that I lost interest in kept their attention. Some of the pieces I wanted to hear more of they stopped early. Either I don’t have a sophisticated ear, or the publishing industry is like the mass population and vary in what they enjoy.

–Second Side Note: If I cut 30% of my words from the longest of my pieces in “revision,” I would be at 45k. Maybe I am writing novellas instead of novels? I will have to figure out how to develop more complex plots. Somehow. Eek.

If I could have changed anything about the conference, I would have placed it outside of Nano . . . but then again, I had writing time built into this month whereas other months I may not have been able to rearrange my schedule as easily. So maybe I wouldn’t have changed the timing at all. I did make it afterall.

The Resolution:

I resolve to:

  • finish my revision but to pay more attention to detail and backstory
  • ask someone to read my piece completely and ask them to react to questions on pacing, detail, and hooks
  • write a query letter on all my “finished” pieces at least ten times — from a blank page using the worksheets provided at the conference
  • create a list of at least 60 agents
  • send out my query to 10 agents at a time 2-3 weeks apart and track responses

I have no clue how all this will go, but it’s time to move on or to find someone who can help me with the revision process better. In the last four years I have gone from perpetual starting of novels to completing the novels I start. (I hear that is a success in itself.) I have tightened my outlining so there are less chapters/scenes that get cut because they have no purpose. I thought I was making progress on how to revise, but after hearing reactions to my first page, that may have been false hope. So now it is time to send things out. If they are not picked up, I will trunk each piece and try the next. Onward and upward hopefully.

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