Writing Wednesday: The R&R Roller Coaster

Writing WednesdayWhen I was a kid, I loved going to Cedar Point. I love the sights and sounds, buying $3 slices of pizza, spending $20 to win a small stuffed animal, running around thousands of acres of pavement with my friends. Here’s the thing, though: I had a heart murmur, a condition that prevented me from riding any but the most tame rides. Before I knew about that, I was just too short. But I could feel the excitement in the air, and I imagined what it would be like to get on a roller coaster every time I went to an amusement park.

I did eventually get to ride a couple coasters, and let me tell you, the experience was harrowing, to say the least. Aside from the actual iron monsters that hurtled me up and over and around peak after peak at breakneck speed while I held on for dear life and wished I’d never stepped foot on them, my pursuit of publication has been one long roller coaster ride, filled with ups and downs. I’m sure most writers can relate.

Today the specific coaster I want to talk about is the Revise and Resubmit, or R &R coaster. The R&R and its accompanying revision letter can feel like a blessing and a curse. Last Wednesday I received my first R&R on the full I submitted to Blurb to Book. It’s taken me this long to sort out all the feelings associated with it. Here’s how the roller coaster went for me:

A couple of fellow contest entrants and I were discussing the lack of news and speculating when another contestant announced privately that she had received an R&R. I was surprised but didn’t think much of it. The ladies and I were talking about the feedback we received from the previous round, and it was my turn to say what my feedback was. I went to my email to pull a quote and there it was: a new email from an editor with the name of my Blurb to Book entry on it. The roller coaster rolled downward and picked up speed along the way. The air whooshed out of me. Was this the end of the line?

I cast my eyes to the end of the subject line and saw the reassuring shape of a paper clip. There was something attached. So not a form rejection, and the very least. I read over the email quickly, my heart plummeting as I read that she was sorry that they weren’t making an offer on the book. HOWEVER–that shimmering beacon of hope of a word–if I was willing to CHANGE ALL THE THINGS, they would be happy to reconsider it or another manuscript.

OK, being honest, it didn’t say CHANGE ALL THE THINGS, and certainly not in all caps, but that’s what it felt like. Reading through the attached letter–pages and pages of single spaced, bullet pointed suggestions–was the part of the roller coaster where your heart is beating so fast and you’re being jerked around so many ways and pulled into so many loops you’re not sure which way is up but you ARE sure you should not have gotten on this ride.

ALL THE FEELS. Feelsville, population 1. You get feels and you get feels–everyone gets FEELS!

What are these feels, you ask?

The first feeling I had is “what in the world did they actually like about this story?” Getting a letter pointing out all the things that didn’t work can be overwhelming. It makes you wonder if they liked YOUR story at all. What had they seen in what I sent them that they didn’t want to change? How in the world did I get this second chance if this book is that terrible? Maybe I should just give up writing. I can sell all my stuff and sit around in a sweat lodge until I receive some sort of enlightenment on what I’m ACTUALLY supposed to be doing with my life. I’m a horrible writer. It’s all over. Lights. Growing. Dim…

The second feeling. How dare they? I sent them a masterpiece–literary perfection! So what if I thought that many of these same things weren’t working. I mean, really, some of these suggestions. Well, you can rest assured I’m not doing that. My character would never do that. This is just not going to work for me. They just don’t understand my genius. Self-publishing, here I come!

The third feeling–I’m a little too close to this. Maybe I should put this letter away for a while, send it to my critique buddies for a different perspective. In the meantime, I’ll just wander over to the store and buy ALL THE FOOD and eat ALL MY FEELINGS. SN: Feelings taste pretty good with caramel, y’all. Like salty sweet goodness.

Now that I’ve had time, second opinions, sugary goodness, and a change in perspective from the ever wise Mr. Perfect, I peeked at the letter again. Hmm…not as bad as I thought. Yes, I knew that wasn’t working like I wanted it to before I hit send. No, I don’t think my character would do that normally, but if I did it this way it could work…

If this were the stages of grief, grieving the loss of the book I thought I was writing, I think I’d finally be at acceptance. I wrote my heart out. The manuscript still needs work. But they like it. And it’s not impossible to fix.

How have you dealt with a revise and resubmit letter?

Writing Wednesday: 10 Things You Might Not Have Known About my Blurb to Book Entry

Getting a late start this morning. Please excuse my post tardiness!

I’ve been reflecting on my Blurb to Book journey as I’ve been busy selling my self-published book at a conference and getting back into revisions for my manuscript. It’s been a wild ride thus far. I thought it would be interesting to share a few things about my Blurb to Book manuscript and journey thus far.

1. Always the Last to Know is part of a series. This is the…4th story in the series that I’ve started. I entered the second story I attempted in the series into So You Think You Can Write last year as Love Thy Enemy. Set in a fictional small town in northern Georgia, the Always books (as I’ve been calling them) are deeply emotional stories about God’s forgiveness and love and how He truly is a God of second chances. I’m hoping that Love Thy Enemy, and the many other stories I have set here, will eventually be published along with Always the Last to Know.

2. I started Always the Last to Know a couple days before I entered Blurb to Book…along with the 5th story in the Always series. I was torn between entering my 3rd story, or starting fresh with one of my other Always ideas. I whipped up blurbs and first pages for Always the Last to Know and book 5 and a blurb for story 3 and sent them to my critique buddies. My critique buddies both picked Always the Last to Know.

3. My main characters are Cordelia Adams and Winston St. James. My inspiration for Cordelia is January Jones from Mad Men and Winston’s is a hot tan guy I found in a Google search for men with hazel eyes. I used pictures for each on previous Writing Wednesday posts.

5. This story deals with some heavy issues–infidelity, fertility issues, custody disputes, etc. The original idea for the story called for a widow trying to adopt a child to be faced with a soft hearted cop who has to tell her she may not be able to adopt the baby she’s come to love. The infertility angle evolved from a combination of influences. One was a study I was doing on barrenness in the bible for a non-fiction project. The other were the comments on a blog I like. The blog’s author asked people to write down things they wanted her to pray for them about. I was so shocked at how many of these women were struggling with infertilityAs I began to research the topic, I found that miscarriage and infertility were a lot more common than I knew. The next thing I knew, Cordelia’s character started opening up to me about how fertility issues played a part in her decision to adopt.

6. I had to change a *major* plot element to the book which meant adding a *villain.* In my original synopsis and ending of chapter three, I had my hero doing something that has repercussions for later in the story (in other words, it bites him hard in the butt). The editors thought that it made him look bad to have him do it. But it had to be incorporated somehow because what he uncovered had to come out in order for the black moment to be as black as can be. So I pulled out my cast of characters for the series and found a minor character who wouldn’t mind getting his hands dirty in order to win. It turns out having another character do the dirty work gave me another angle I could exploit. It’s different than what I planned, and exactly right for this story (and maybe a future one).

7. Speaking of the editors’ advice, another suggestion of the editors really strengthened the story. They thought the characters were too antagonistic in the beginning. I knew I needed to keep the tension high and show that they were on different sides, but being able to add in some attraction and connection. Figuring out how to soften them helped me to dig a little deeper into Winston’s character. I originally wanted him to be more laid back, the type to crack jokes, but that didn’t fit with the book or who Winston turned out to be. By really examining his motivation as well as the goal, I found that Winston wouldn’t be so antagonistic toward her or as threatened by her claim to the baby. This allowed his character to be more calm and levelheaded in the situation (and a little of his humor peaked through to try and diffuse a tense situation).

8. I cut a scene–then used it anyway. This time around, I’ve decided to do a Cutting Room Floor document that houses all the parts I cut out of the original manuscript. I had a scene in chapter two where Winston is working that I cut because I knew it was important to keep th two main characters on the page at the same time as much as possible in the beginning. I wasn’t going to use it, but then I realized that it revealed a lot about Winston’s past and why raising his niece is so important to him. He sees a lot of himself in a character he encounters in that scene. Moreover, I found a way to use that encounter to help Winston resolve some of his emotional conflict later. So I put it back in a couple chapters later.

9. I keep having characters that run to think about things and sort out their issues. This is the second book it’s come up in. This is especially funny because I’m not a runner. I used to run all the time in high school. Give me my Nikes and my headphones and I was golden. But now you can’t pay me to run. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

10. I saved a confession for last. I stopped writing after every deadline. EVERY. DEADLINE. It was fear. I entered my first page and I wrote for a few days but then stopped. I didn’t have a lot of hope that I’d make the next round. I hadn’t made it past round one of a contest since high school (which were apparently my glory days–a sad commentary). There were over 300 entries and only 75 spots. The last few days before the Round 2 announcement, I started writing again. I was thrilled to see my name in with others moving to the next round. After that, I wrote and rewrote until I had three chapters and an acceptable synopsis to turn in at the 11th hour. Then I stopped writing. Again. There was no way I would make the top 30 and be invited to submit the full manuscript. My target goal was to get to the round with feedback and I had done that. Again, a few days before the announcement, I started writing again. I really liked the story and I wanted to know what happened next. Then I found out I made the final round. After celebrating, it suddenly sank in that I had to finish a book in two months–two busy months. Between ladies days, a singles’ conference, finding out I need to move at the end of this month, finding a new place, busy season at my job, and other turmoil and upheaval, time has moved swiftly. I’m still scribbling away, making sure I’m putting my best work on the page. I’m ecstatic to have made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I do know that by August 30th, I should know the fate of Always the Last to Know. Either way, it’s been a fun ride and I’ve learned so much about myself and my writing process.

Writing Wednesday: The Whole She-Bang!

Bernardo Velasco--my hero inspiration for Always the Last to Know

Bernardo Velasco–my hero inspiration for Always the Last to Know

As many of you already know, I was one of the thirty people lucky enough to move on to stage 3, the final stage, in the Blurb to Book contest sponsored by Harlequin’s Love Inspired line editors. To say that I’m gobsmacked and “chuffed” as my friends across the pond say is an understatement. To say that I’m terrified of messing up such a golden opportunity also goes without saying. When I entered, I had a vague notion that this could lead to “the call,” but that seemed ludicrous since I hadn’t made it past the first stage of a contest before (though I came close with the Valerie Parv Award contest). My only conscious goal was to make stage 2 and get that most precious and rare golden egg in publishing–feedback. I knew no matter what, if I made stage 2, I’d finally know what’s not working. So when stage 3 was announced and Always the Last to Know was there, yes, chuffed, gobsmacked, deliriously happy…but also paralyzed with fear and petrified off “stuffing up” a golden opportunity. I should also mention here that while I’m a zealous writer, I’ve only finished *mumbles*…fine…I’ve only finished one manuscript before. So now I’ve got to finish my second manuscript in about two months. How am I going to get from a proposal to the whole shebang?

*Synopsis. The best thing about submitting a proposal was the synopsis. (You will never hear me say THAT again, so take a screenshot of this). It forced me to think about the story as a whole and come up with a framework for the story. I now have more than a vague notion of where I’m going. I know what the black moment is and how it’s resolved. Now I just have to write it.

*Feedback. That promised feedback? It. Was. GOLDEN. The editors zeroed in on a few things for me to consider going forward that have already made the story much stronger. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to address everything in the feedback, but the suggestions flow well with the story and there aren’t many of them. I know I can use what the editors said to make the story better. And the editors also pop in on the boards to answer questions.

* The Harlequin Boards. Speaking of the boards, there has been a craft discussion on motivation that I’ve gotten a lot of useful information out of, and there’s a back to basics bootcamp coming up through the SOLD! blog. Harlequin has a lot of resources for writers to help us write our best books, and I’m going to utilize them.

*My awesome co-workers/resources. I’ve already tapped coworkers for baby knowledge and advice on all the legal stuff I need to incorporate in this story, and everyone is still willing to be pumped for information.

*Writing routine. The way I completed my other romance was simple: I wrote in the morning, I edited at lunch (and maybe added some words if I was in the zone) and reread the previous days work in the morning before going at it again. I made no major revisions during the first draft. I had fun with the story. I tried not to worry too much about what I was putting on the page in the morning so long as I got something on the page. When I finished the first draft, I read it through once like a reader and just made notes. The second time through I revise. If I was successful using this approach, I can be successful using it again. Right? Right!

*Critique Buddies. Having someone to send pages to and get an honest opinion is something I don’t take for granted. Turning over my writing daily to a co-worker was a big part of what made me accountable during the writing of DJ. Not only that, but it made it fun. Seeing how invested someone was in the story and the characters was great motivation to finish the story (and start the next one).

Lastly,

*the story. This is a story I really want to tell, and I feel like I’m at a place in life where I can tell it. There’s just something about this fictitious town and its cast of characters that has just grown on me. I have a few of the other stories started on my computer, and I will finish them, even if I don’t sell Always the Last to Know. I’m writing the kind of stories I want to read, with characters I care about. I want other people to get to read these stories, too. They can’t do that if they remain buried on my hard drive. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’ve never had an opportunity like this before; far be it from me to waste it being too scared to try.

What tricks and tips do you have for writing until you reach The End? Share your advice and stories in the comments section.

Writing Wednesday: Revising the Life into Your Story

Welcome to Writing Wednesday!  This is my little corner where I update you on my writing and discussions going on in the writing world of interest, share call stories of fellow writers, and generally geek out over all things writing. I hope you enjoy this installment!

word count

My current word count on my #Blurb2Book entry, Always the Last to Know

If you follow me on social media,  you’re more than aware that I  was one of 75 people selected to  move to stage 2 of the  #Blurb2Book competition hosted by Harlequin’s Love Inspired Editors for all three lines. A record 326 people entered! Needless to say I was ecstatic when they picked my first page and hundred word blurb to move on to the next round.

I’ve been working on the proposal due May 1st, which consists of a cover letter, synopsis, and the first three chapters of my story. This is a new process for me. I’ve only written two synopses, and only one of them was written before the book was finished. I usually edit the previous day’s work before I start the next day, but now I’m having to revise as I go, a completely different prospect. I need to have three complete chapters that balance depicting what’s going on now with hinting about things that won’t happen for chapters without seeming ham fisted and amateurish without having the benefit of having written the story and knowing exactly how it ends on the page.

Revising as I go has me thinking a lot about my revision process. I think I’d make an excellent editor because I think writing revision notes is my super power. My critique partners think my drafts are really good, but that’s because I revise much better than I write. So what do I do in my revision process to make my manuscript sparkle?

  • I print out the section I’m working on. I can do some light editing on the screen, but for proofreading and revising, I need to print the pages. Sorry trees! I do recycle when I no longer need them.
  • I read through the pages and make notes in the margins, usually first thing in the morning. I go with my gut. Sometimes this means I write “fix” or “make this better” because I don’t know how to fix it yet. I may write “add in emotion” or “show he’s upset by his actions.” Sometimes this is me highlighting a phrase I want to change or circle words that I repeat too close together so I know to find a different way to say something.
  • Unless it’s a proofreading correction, I don’t make any of the changes right away to the saved manuscript.
  • I make sure I know why something isn’t working and indicate it in my notes. There may be more than one way to fix it, so I need a way to determine which changes address the underlying issue.
  • I edit in red. It’s a psychological thing. I feel like my manuscript has been attacked and is bleeding; it’s my job to heal it. I have to treat each nick and cut. (See? That wasn’t as morbid as you thought going in, was it?)
  • The biggest secret to my revision process? I revise as a reader, not a writer, in the first pass. I don’t read for structure, check word count, or check items off the story arc checklist consciously when I make revision notes. I’m a reader first. I’ve read more than enough of these books to know what works for me in a book. If this were a book I bought at Wal-Mart and I read this, what would I think? Is there something missing I should know? Is there something here I’d skim or skip altogether? Did the end of that sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter make me turn the page or would I put my bookmark here and put a load of clothes in?
  • Bonus: My best kept secret? I make a “cutting room floor” document for every story I start. I put everything I cut out into that folder. That way if I need to add that backstory in later, I can. I can make a newsletter containing a deleted scene or something if the book is published. No matter what I do or don’t do with these words, I never truly lose any of them. This makes me feel better about deleting them from the manuscript, and the manuscript gets to be better without all the dead weight.

Revising as you go is a hard thing to do. But knowing my characters and the big plot points makes it easy to decide what to put in and what can be left out or added to a later scene. So far this process has worked for me. Let’s all pray it continues to for a long time.

Your Two Cents: How do you tackle revisions?
XOXO,

Erica

The Fear of the Known World

In case you aren’t aware, this year’s Harlequin/Mills & Boon sponsored mega writing contest, So You Think You Can Write, begins taking submissions of first chapters and pitches on Monday. As you may know, I entered one of my inspirational romance WIPs in the contest last year on the very last day that you could submit, not expecting much. I didn’t make it into the top 50, but I made a ton of writing buddies. I threw myself into NaNoWriMo with a completely different type of manuscript and started taking the possibility of a writing career seriously. It was this contest that started it all for me. One year and a slef-published Christian non-fiction book later, and I again have the opportunity to enter. I’m a year better and wiser. I have a new WIP that scored high in a contest this year and that all of those judges are confident would catch an editor’s eye. You would think I’d be falling all over myself to hit the submit button. Except…

…the sales of that four year labor of love, Altered before the Altar, aren’t exactly soaring. I have no idea what I’m doing, marketing wise. No one is buying it, and I don’t know how to fix it. The things I do know to do, I can’t seem to get myself into position to do–get reviews, garner attention through guest posts, host giveaways, etc.

…I’m a nobody. Nobody knows about my blogs, twitter, facebook, or Instagram. No one is beating down my door to represent me or buy my books. The people who matter in publishing have no idea that I even exist. I haven’t gone up in followers/friends very much in all of my posting and commenting. I’m just as stuck and below the radar on social media as I am in real life social situations.

Of course, none of this has any real bearing on my reluctance to participate in SYTYCW2014. All of this was true last year, minus the book I can’t seem to give away, let alone sale. So let’s get to the real reasons, shall we?

…I’ve racked up three rejections and an almost contest final in romance submissions. That’s a real stab in the gut. All of the feedback for the submissions is the same: promising, but not quite there yet.

…I have an even greater chance of not making the second round this year. Instead of a Top 50, SYTYCW2014 has a top 25. My chances are half as good as last year for getting to the second round. If the same number enter as entered last year, that’s over 650 authors vying for 25 spots, or a 1 in 26 chance.

…The timeline is much tighter. SYTYCW2014 will announce a winner nearly a full month sooner than last year. If I make the second round, I have less than a week to get the complete manuscript turned around. There’s not as much time for revising and editing and such this time around, so whatever I enter has to be written, revised and edited before they pick the top 25 October 6, or about 3 weeks from now.

…I know what to expect. I know my work will be seen by editors and other participants. I know that feedback can be brutal. I know I can get to the Top 25 and not make the Top 10, or make the Top 10 and not win. I know that they could still contact me after the contest if they want me to submit my full, revise and resubmit or etc. I know how hard, how improbable, but still so possible all of this really is. I know what needs to be done better this time around in my writing. And it’s scary me stupid.

…I am still finding things in the story I need to fix. There are still places where the motivation needs to be clearer, the conflict stronger, still places that can be wrung out for more emotion. There are still a couple of places I don’t want to go with it but I have to go with it to make it a real contender. I don’t know if I have it in me to take it to that next level.

But there are some good reasons for me to enter this year:

…my writing is stronger.

…Everyone who has read even a chapter or two of this story loves it. I knew from the moment I had the idea for this story that these characters were the kind that don’t let go. The idea feels fresh and the conflicts feel impossible to overcome initially. It has the makings of a great story.

…because all of the judges in the Valerie Parv Award Contest think this story should be in front of an editor (even the published author, who pointed out the areas for improvement as well as the things I nailed).

…because of that contest, I already have a synopsis (and pointers on how to make it stronger).

…because this might be one of those defining moments where everything changes and nothing is like it was before.

…because I know I’m not going to give up on this dream. If no other copies of Altered before the Altar get sold, or everyone hates it; if I don’t sell a romance for another five years, and when I do the reading public pans it; if the only thing about my writing anyone could say at my funeral is “at least she isn’t writing anymore”–I’m going to keep writing and reaching for this dream.

So, anyway, I say all of this to say: I’m entering my first chapter in SYTYCW 2014 this year.

XOXO,

Erica

We Had a Good Run…

The results are in, and your illustrious writer…did not make the top 50. 😦

Although this news was disappoining, I wasn’t exactly shocked. I’m glad that the contest brought me back to this story that I love so much, and got me up at 5am to get words on the page. I’m glad I was able to add nearly twelve thousand words to my manuscript in just five days–and quality words, at that. I received some very encouraging comments that confirmed my strengths–characterization, description, dialogue–and made me more aware of my weaknesses–shifting POV at random times, not starting the manuscript in the right place, etc. I’m grateful for my personal cheerleaders who are STILL proud of me and are still sure they will be getting an autographed copy of my book when it’s released someday.

I still have hope that maybe one of those editors saw something in me that has intrigued them, that they will reach out to me once the competition is over and ask for a full or partial. The editors have gotten the email addresses of people they want to follow up with from whom they were strongly considering requesting a full manuscript. The major takeaway for me was that I put my work out there to be seen by 50 editors and I didn’t die. I wrote my first pitch and I didn’t die. I don’t know how far I got in the selection process before I was cut, but editors sat around somewhere discussing my story, my characters. Hopefully the story and characters stick with the right person and I hear something, but if not, I have gained a few tips for revising from some of the tweets and posts of the editors in the last few days.

Another great takeaway from this experience is to follow my instincts. I wrote in my last post that I wanted to have the manuscript start somewhere else, but I didn’t have time to revise it before I posted it. I wasn’t as confident in where it started, and I knew I needed a couple of days to make it the best I could. I even contacted the contest help people to see if I could revise the first chapter if I was picked to submit a full because I knew that the opening this book needed wasn’t the one it received. I was right. I now know that I should listen to my instincts. I’m a really good writer. Years of awards and A’s on English assignments can’t be wrong. I can be impulsive and occasionally get somewhere because of it, but I know that revising wisely is what takes my writing to the next level.

Yesterday in the shower (where all the best thoughts/ideas originate), before the finalists were announced, I remembered something my favorite English teacher Mrs. Jackson said to me about a paper that was eventually published in Prize Papers. I gave her my initial paper to critique for me, and she laid into it. I had never seen so much red in all of my life. I was so dejected. She wrote on that paper “this is good, but you’re a better writer than this. Go deeper.” She said that I was holding back and wasn’t being honest. I walked around with a sour face for the rest of the day, but I knew she was right. So I rewrote that paper and not only received an A, but the teacher asked if she could share it with the class, and encouraged me to submit it to Prize Papers. In the shower, I realized that there were still some depths to plumb in this story. I needed to go deeper. Now I have that chance.

I say all of this to say, I am not giving up hope. I’m using what I’ve learned to make my manuscript better and I’m pushing forward. I hope that anyone else who has experienced rejection or didn’t make the cut will do the same. Revise. Rewrite. Start over. Go deeper. Do whatever it takes. Just keep going.

XOXO

Erica

So You Think You Can Write?…I Did!

You guys, sorry for the LONG hiatus, but I’ve been busying doing a few writer things I think you should know about. First, I’ve been writing reviews over at HarlequinJunkie.com. I have loved Harlequin romance novels since I was a teenager, and I jumped at the chance to review their books on a site. I get at least nine books a month to review, which means my plate is always full of exciting new books to read and review. You can find my reviews by looking for reviews with a tag of “Erica.” My latest review is of A Beauty Uncovered by Andrea Laurence. I will be establishing a page where I will provide links to my reviews, etc.

Secondly, I did something slightly spur of the moment and submitted my 2011 Camp NaNoWriMo romance to Harlequin Mills Boon’s So You Think You Can Write Competition. There are over six hundred entries, and only 50 full manuscripts will be requested, so I don’t know how far I will get, especially since I didn’t let myself think too much before I wrote the pitch and hit submit on the last possible day, but I really believe in this story. If it doesn’t win and I don’t hear anything back from editors by the time they have followed up after the contest, I will publish it here. If you want to read the pitch and first 5000 words (and leave me some comments!), you can read it here. Stay and check out some other first chapters; I’ve read a few really good ones myself.

Lastly, I have been trying to finish my final edit for the book before I pass it to an editor for the final FINAL edit. It’s hard letting go, but I can see that the parts I’ve finished have been polished as much as they can be before I cross the line into over editing. I am hoping to have it turned over in another week or two.

Between all of this and increased work responsibilities, I’ve been neglecting my blogs, but I wanted to let you all know what’s going on with me and pledge to be a much better blogger. I will return at least once a week for Writer Wednesdays, to share progress, ponder writer issues, and just hear all about what’s going on with all of you. Promise.

XOXO

Erica