I’m still here!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. I’m sorry about that, but things have been crazy. Today I’ll update you on what I’ve been doing and what’s next for me.

The last time I wrote, in mid-February, I announced that I’d signed with a literary agent. Shortly after I posted that blog, I received my agent’s editorial notes on my manuscript. Then we had a phone call to discuss my revisions. The edits took me about two months. Initially, I was nervous about making the changes, but I also recognized that the book would be so much stronger when I was finished. I’m currently awaiting her comments on the revised version. I’m guessing there will be at least one more round of edits, but hopefully, I did a really great job and the next set will be smaller changes and not take as long. My biggest worry is that I made the book worse, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case. I was so confident when I sent the revisions back. Fear is making me second-guess everything. I told my agent I was willing to do whatever it took to get the book in the best possible condition to go out on submission to editors and I meant it. While I wait, I’m trying to work on my next book—“trying” being the operative word. Authors are always encouraged to keep writing throughout the “waiting” process, whether that means while in the query trenches waiting to hear back from agents, when they are out on submission with editors, and in my case, waiting to receive my agent’s comments on my edits. It is so hard to work on one book when the fate of another book you’ve poured your soul into rests in someone else’s hands, but the advice is good. Once I’m writing my new book, I momentarily forget about my other one, but getting myself to the computer is the hard part.

On another note, my restricted diet is not doing enough to sooth my stomach discomfort. I’d resigned myself to feeling 80% of how I used to feel (on a good day) and then decided it was foolish to assume there was nothing else that could be done to increase my comfort level/decrease my discomfort level. I shouldn’t have to settle, so I went back to my GI doctor hoping she’d be able to recommend something else I could do in combination with the diet to increase my comfort, for example, medicine. After a second examination, she thinks I have something called SIBO—Small intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. It sounds gross, but there is a treatment that seems to work on a lot of people in the nature of an antibiotic called Xifaxan. It’s supposed to reset my flora to where it was before the suffering began. I’m not sure I understand the scientific lingo, but if it makes me feel better, I don’t really care. I’ve been in chronic pain for almost two years now and it’s negatively impacted so many aspects of my life. I will do just about anything to feel healthy again. I’ll most likely have to stay on a restricted diet, but I might feel 90-95% instead of 80%. The diet is not so bad. What’s bad is depriving myself of so many foods I previously enjoyed and still feeling crappy. I’m starting the antibiotic next week because my doctor stressed eating very carefully while on it and for two weeks after. I wanted to fully enjoy Memorial Day Weekend and author friends coming into town next week for the Book Expo America conference (“BEA”) and that means having some cocktails and eating in places where completely controlling my diet is not possible. After next week, I will fully commit to putting myself in the best possible condition for the antibiotic to work. Wish me luck!

Memorial Day Weekend is coming to a close. I had a great one. I spent time at my rooftop pool reading, I got a full-body massage at Bliss, I went for drinks with one of my dearest friends, and I relaxed. I go back to work tomorrow for two days and then I’m off again on Thursday and Friday. I have so much to look forward to in the coming week thanks to BEA and BookCon that two days in the office seems completely bearable. Famous last words!

IMG_0483

IMG_0534

Me and my friend Dee!

That’s all for me. I’ll try not to wait three months before posting another blog. In the meantime, I hope you’re all having a wonderful long weekend!

Advertisements

I got an agent! (Part Two)

Yesterday, I told you why I decided to seek an agent after so many years. Today, I’ll share a little bit about what it was like for me in the query trenches.

I’d hoped to start querying in September, 2018 but revisions of the book took me longer than expected. My next goal was “by Thanksgiving.” As it turned out, I wasn’t ready until early December. I considered waiting until after the new year but since so many agents on my list were open to queries and I was ready, I chose not to wait.

Over the course of the first week, I sent out about 25 queries. I worried this time around would be no different than when I’d queried my first book—no requests. But I got two requests for the full manuscript almost immediately. But then I got my first rejection on a full two days later. I received several partial requests within the first two weeks, followed by a rejection of one of them soon thereafter. It took three weeks for any of my queries to be rejected flat out but once the first came, many more followed. But then there were more full and partial requests to remove the sting. This time was VERY different than a decade ago and it was dizzying!

There was one person who knew everything as it happened, whether it was a form rejection, a pass on requested material, a partial/full request etc. I often apologized for sharing every little thing, but to me, they were all big things. But for the most part, I kept the process to myself. As excited as I’d get about a full request, I knew it didn’t guarantee an offer of rep. I didn’t want to get mine or anyone else’s hopes up.

Each rejection caused a wave of sadness, hopefulness, and fear. Whether it was because it “wasn’t right for their list,” “not what they were looking for at this time,” or they “didn’t connect to the [insert: characters, voice, story] as much as they’d hoped,” it stung. But I became very adept at talking myself off the ledge. (My friend helped too.) I understood that in order to offer representation, not only would the agent need to love my book, but she’d need to feel confident she could sell it, and she’d have to feel passionate enough about it to do the work without any guarantee of ever getting paid. Those are major hurdles to clear! Each agent who wasn’t intrigued by the premise or didn’t “get” the book allowed me the opportunity to find the one who did. I wanted the one who did! And you can only sign with one. Sometimes it takes a lot of time (and queries) to find the right match. The only thing that guarantees failure is giving up too soon!

I had some bad days. In one twelve-hour period, I received four form rejections. It made me question whether it was ever going to happen for me. But in the same week, I had my first phone call with an agent as well as a request for a call with a different agent who ultimately became my agent—Melissa Edwards from Stonesong Literary.

I found Melissa on Twitter when she’d tweeted that her #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) included high-concept approachable romantic comedies. I had one of those! Further research disclosed she’d sold a lot of books to Big Five and other major publishers. Ideally, this is where I wanted to land. I also liked her personality. Since I’d be working closely with her, a nice disposition was important.

I queried Melissa on December 6th. According to her website, she only responds to queries when she is interested in reading more material. I hadn’t heard from her by the time I left for my annual writer’s retreat to California on January 15th, but when I landed at San Francisco International Airport, there was an email from her requesting the full! My writing tribe cheered the request. I was thrilled. But during that vacation, I also received a form rejection from one agent and a rejection on a partial from another. Dizzying!

When I got home from my trip, I queried a few more agents. Then I decided to pause the process while awaiting feedback on the fulls/partials I already had out. I didn’t want to exhaust my full list of agents in case the consensus was that the manuscript needed extensive revisions.

Then, on Thursday, January 31st, Melissa sent me an email. She asked a few general questions but didn’t comment on my book. I assumed she wouldn’t have engaged me in conversation if she hated the manuscript or was even lukewarm about it. But what did it mean? I answered her questions and spent the next twenty-four hours analyzing what she must be thinking and waiting for her next move. She wrote again on Friday to tell me she’d love to have a call to discuss my book and was I available the following week? Um, YES, I WAS AVAILABLE! We scheduled a call for the following Tuesday at 10 a.m. (February 5th)

I knew that a request for a call didn’t necessarily mean she was going to offer representation. It was possible this was an R&R call—a revise and resubmit. I braced myself for either one, but I hoped so hard it was “The call!” In the meantime, I spent all weekend reading posts online and watching videos on Youtube about questions to ask so I’d be prepared.

Finally, Tuesday arrived. My hands were shaking, and I thought I might throw up, but by the time we ended the call, I had an offer of representation! Melissa loved the book and she shared my vision for it. With each question she answered, I became more and more excited about the prospect of signing with her. But I didn’t accept her offer that day. She knew there were other agents reading the book and she gave me two weeks to let them know I’d received an offer and give them a chance to either offer as well or step aside.
At this point, I had four other amazing agents reading the full. I also had three reading the partial and several other outstanding queries. After I did my happy dance and emailed my best friend to tell her the news, I notified the other agents of my offer and gave them until February 15th to get back to me. Everyone was so gracious. Those with the full promised they’d finish reading and get back to me quickly, many requested the full, and several politely stepped aside.

It was a great position to be in because I already had an offer from an agent I was excited about. But it didn’t mean the next set of rapid rejections didn’t sting or make me second guess myself or the marketability of the book. One of the agents with the full told me she’d been waffling over the manuscript because she really liked it, but she didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm as the offering agent. A few more complimented the story and my writing but said they didn’t feel the sufficient level of passion required to take me on. Some said they just didn’t connect. These passes hurt, but then I remembered that I already had what I wanted all along: a reputable agent who loved my book, felt confident she could sell it, and was passionate enough about the project to take it on without any guarantee of compensation.

I accepted Melissa’s offer on Friday, February 15th. Then I withdrew my manuscript from consideration from the few who hadn’t responded yet. Shortly after, one of those agents told me she loved the book and had been about to offer representation as well! I’m not gonna lie, having another agent want to rep me was validating and felt amazing. But I had no regrets about already accepting Melissa’s offer. I’d found my one and I couldn’t be happier about it.

I received an offer two months and two days from the date I sent out my first query letter. I’m aware that my journey wasn’t long relative to many others seeking agent representation. I consider myself fortunate. I tried to mentally prepare for a much longer process. I read blog posts and watched Youtube videos by authors who sent out 100s of queries over several years before getting an agent. These authors inspired me with their success stories and persistence and implored me to keep going after each rejection. Although the wait wasn’t long in duration, it felt interminable at times. I was an emotional wreck. My mood/state of mind vacillated daily depending on whether I’d get a request for a partial/full or a form rejection. I suffered from writer’s block even though I knew the best thing to do was to work on my next book.

I know that having an agent doesn’t guarantee my book will sell. I’m sure I will worry, sweat, and lose sleep over the submission process when the time comes. (I’ll be revising with Melissa before we go on sub.) But for now, my dream of signing with a literary agent has come true and I’m going to celebrate it!

My stats:
Total queries sent: 52
Form rejections: 19
Total rejections: 34
No response: 15
Referrals to colleague: 1
Partial requests: 6
Full requests before offer: 6
Full requests after offer (total): 10
Offers: 2

Happy Release Day to THE BOYFRIEND SWAP!

Today is the day—a big day—the release day for THE BOYFRIEND SWAP!

If you subscribe to both my blog and my newsletter, you already know that, but exciting news should always be shared twice!

Haven’t ordered it yet? You can do it here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

iBooks

BoyfriendSwap_FBad

From Publishers Weekly: “Schorr mixes and matches couples with charming aplomb in this sweet-natured romcom.”

If you love Christmas movies, as in you check the Hallmark Channel guide starting in July, then hang on to your stockings, because here comes the merriest of indulgences in print. It’s “The Proposal” meets “The Holiday”. 

First meet Robyn Lane. She’s always dated struggling creative types, including her current squeeze (Perry, an actor). For this year’s Chrismukkah celebration, her parents would love her to bring someone stable, reliable, steadily employed. You know, with health insurance and a 401(k). 

Now let’s meet Sidney Bellows. Her parents already plan her professional life (she’s an attorney at her father’s law firm). If she brings her current boyfriend (Will, an attorney) to the family Christmas extravaganza, her parents will have their wedding planned by New Year’s Eve.

Leave it to a mutual friend (and copious amounts of wine) to find a playful solution: Swap those boyfriends, fool the parents, and enjoy the holidays. It’s perfect! Robyn can show off a successful attorney boyfriend, and Sidney’s high-society family won’t ring those wedding bells when they meet a flaky actor beau.

The fun isn’t in the theory, it’s in the practice. 

Will turns out to be the boy-next-door Robyn crushed on hard throughout her teenage years. Sidney’s family fawns all over Perry like he’s an Oscar-winner rather than a D-list wannabe. 

Fool the parents? Enjoy the holidays? Swapping boyfriends never sounded so good or went so bad. Take time to read this one. It’s like Christmas in July.

how I spent my “vacation” from being a published author

You might recall the blog I posted in May of 2016 when I told you how my publisher was closing its doors and my books would be temporarily unavailable. I confessed that I had no idea what would become of them, but promised I was working on it. I posted another blog in July, 2016 reporting that I’d signed a seven-book publishing contract with Henery Press, who would be re-publishing modified versions of the novels in February, 2017.

Last summer, I remember thinking that seven months was a really long time to wait for my book babies to be available again for sale. I didn’t know how I was going to get through it! Believe it or not, the time flew by and now the wait is finally (almost) over. The release date of February 14th is next week!

You might be wondering how I spent those long seventh months. Well, even if you’re not the slightest bit curious, I will tell you. I was a busy bee, or more accurately, a busy chicken! (Henery Press, Hen House, chicken, *clears throat* you get the joke, right? Moving on…)

Since I signed my contract on July 13, 2016, here’s an overview of how I spent my time:

  1. Edits of Blogger Girl – moderate in nature.
  2. Edits of Novelista Girl – minor revisions.
  3. Brief break from editing during which I worked on my seventh novel (due for publication in November 2017), details to be disclosed at a later date.
  4. Edits of A State of Jane – heavy lifting.
  5. Edits of How Do You Know? – minor revisions.
  6. Edits of Just Friends With Benefits – completely rewrite from the original version! Same characters, same basic premise, but a different story for sure.
  7. Brief break while I continued working on my seventh novel.
  8. Reviewed proofed ARCs of Blogger Girl and Novelista Girl for final changes.
  9. Reviewed proofed ARCs of A State of Jane and How Do You Know? for final changes.
  10. Additional round of edits of Just Friends With Benefits and review of ARC for final changes.
  11. Wrote acknowledgments and dedications for all five novels.
  12. Finished first draft of seventh novel, conducted several rounds of self-edits, and sent to beta readers.
  13. Started eighth book (third installment of Blogger Girl series due for publication in March, 2018).
  14. Revised seventh novel based on thorough comments from beta readers.
  15. Made final adjustments to my sixth novel, Kim vs. The Mean Girl, to be self-published in April, 2017 and sent to formatter. Scheduled cover artist to begin work in mid-February.
  16. Finished seventh novel and sent to my editor at Henery Press (yesterday!)

And there you have it—how I spent my seventh-month hiatus from being a published author. It was far from a break. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life. That being said, I wouldn’t change a thing. It got me to where I am now—nine days away from the big release day.

How will I ever wait that long?

Jealousy

When I told a close author friend recently how much I hoped all the hard work she was putting into revising her suspense novel would result in a sale to a prestigious publisher, a lucrative advance, and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, she expressed how much it meant to her that my wishes for her success were genuine because it was evidence of how much I truly loved her. This introduced a discussion about other authors who are not always as supportive because they are too jealous or bitter about their own journeys to embrace another writer’s success. While I am always happy for and supportive of my fellow authors, I admit it is sometimes too easy to compare their success to my own and come out lacking.

I’m friends with several authors on Facebook whose newest books were released this month by traditional New York City publishers to serious fanfare. The authors’ readings at local bookstores were packed with fans clamoring for a signed copy as well as other impressive guests such as well-known local authors, editors, publicists, etc. Reviews of their books were written up in popular magazines and newspapers, and their first week Amazon rankings hit bestseller lists in both ebook and print formats. As thrilled as I was for these authors, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy as I compared these releases with the publication of own last novel which did well by my own standards, but compared to the likes of these other novelists, not so much.

I confided my inferiority complex to a non-author friend who responded with these words of wisdom, paraphrased for the purposes of this blog: she assured me that I was every bit as much of an author as these writers regardless of the level of success achieved thus far. And she reminded me that no matter how many books I sold or how famous I might become, there would always be authors who were both more successful and less successful than I, and all I could do was keep writing. And she was right. In fact, several of my author friends have told me they wished they sold as many books as I did. One went as far as to say she wanted to be me when she grew up. The statement made me laugh, but it goes to show that the measure of success depends on the person doing the measuring.

I can’t say I won’t continue to experience pangs of jealousy from time to time, but I hope these feelings will inspire me to keep honing my writing skills so that each book I put out is better than the next. It’s unfortunate that some people, in any field, prefer to surround themselves only with people to whom they can feel superior. To the contrary, I love having role models I can look up to and learn from. And lucky for me, I have so many successful writer friends who are so very generous with their knowledge.

How do you turn potentially unhealthy feelings of inferiority into something constructive?

Why I love constructive criticism?

Can you -show- not -tell- her

 

Criticism is most often thought of as a negative. Who wants to hear that their outfit is unflattering, their singing voice is out of tune, they lack rhythm when they dance, are a horrible kisser—that in sum, they suck? As a person, I much prefer compliments to insults, and I really don’t like when people provide unsolicited opinions, especially when they are unfavorable. But there is a difference between flat-out insulting someone and offering them constructive criticism—insulting someone most often serves no purpose but to make the person who delivers the jab feel good, but constructive criticism is usually delivered with the hope and intention of helping someone get better at whatever it is they are doing.

I don’t like insults, but as a writer, I have learned to LOVE constructive criticism, so much so that I seek it out from people I know won’t hold back. It stings to receive negative reviews of my published novels, but I have learned to embrace negative feedback for my drafts. I didn’t always have such a lovefest with constructive criticism. I took it in stride and learned from it, but I credit loving it to one of my author friends who, when she asks me (or anyone) to provide feedback, she asks us to rip it apart and she means it. She never gets offended or hurt by it and, to the contrary, is excited about the hours or days of revising ahead of her because it means her finished product is going to be even better for it. At the end of the day, we all want to write a top-notch book and sometimes it takes (more than) a few tries to achieve it.

When I hand a manuscript off to my beta readers  and later my developmental editor, there is a small part of me that hopes they’ll come back and say, “This is perfect. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. Don’t change a thing.” But the fact that I choose extremely critical beta readers and ask them to be completely honest with me belies that desire. I know these readers will spot things in the manuscript that, as the author, I can’t see anymore because I’ve lost objectiveness or I’m too close to it, and they will bring all of them to my attention. They won’t stroke my ego for fear I won’t like them anymore. They point out pages where the story might drag. They might tell me that I’ve lost my characters voice on Page 43. They remind me that my character’s friends and families have lives too. They tell me when my character is being too bitchy even for her or when she’s uncharacteristically behaving like a doormat. My beta readers show me the places in the manuscript where I need to flesh out how a character is feeling or what is going on in the background. They remind me to use my five senses. What does it smell like on the school bus? Are they eating anything at the restaurant or just talking? They say, “Your characters blush too much” and “Stop using the word ‘beam’ so much!” “This character is supposed to be mean, she hasn’t really done anything to evidence that yet.” “This character seems kind of crazy. Is that your intention?”

I seek out these comments before the book is published because I’d so much rather hear it when it can still be fixed than after the book is up on various platforms, and readers are writing reviews that say “The characters blush too much,” “The story dragged in the middle,” “The main character never thought about anyone except herself.” I don’t always agree with my beta reader’s comments and I trust my instincts, but I’ve learned to see the difference between not wanting to make a change because I’m lazy and tired and not wanting to make a change because I truly believe the novel is better off without it. But either way, I would rather know how readers might react and be given the opportunity to fix things rather than be blindsided by a bunch of reviews that say the things my beta readers and editor were too bashful or afraid to bring to my attention.

In the same vain, I have a side business of conducting manuscript critiques for other authors and I am extremely critical in my work. I tell my potential clients this up front. I would never attack their work or provide feedback in a cruel manner, but they are paying me to help them write the best book they can and I can’t take their money without pointing out every potential weakness I find. What they do with it is up to them, but I like to assume other authors will want to hear everything negative a reader might say while they still have time to fix it.

One reason my later books have been stronger than my earlier books is because I have honed my writing skills and become a better writer, but another reason is that I have embraced negative feedback on my unfinished product and purposely relied on tough critics to tell it like it is.

And that, my friends, is why I love constructive criticism.

Throwback Thursday Blog – I Choose Happiness!

I’ve been crazy busy and unfortunately, did not have time to write a blog post this week. (In all honesty, I am so inspired by my fourth novel right now that I didn’t make the time to write a blog post this week.) So, I decided to re-post a blog I wrote several years ago for Throwback Thursday. When I wrote this post, I made a decision to be happy and the message I deliver in this blog is still relevant to me today. So are my feelings about dating, although I’ve had a few relationships since this post was originally published and at least one of them was good. And it’s very interesting to read my thoughts as an unpublished author writing my very first novel when I am now writing my fourth novel after publishing three. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this blog post. I’m pretty proud of my younger self 🙂

I treat myself to a hump-day coffee at Dunkin Donuts every, well, every hump-day. My law firm provides free coffee of which I take full advantage on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays but since it’s not that good and I love, love, love Dunkin Donuts coffee, I treat myself on Wednesdays. It’s not that I can’t afford to buy myself a coffee every weekday but doing it only on Wednesdays makes it kind of special and I actually look forward to Wednesday mornings because of it.

Pursuant to recent laws in New York, places like Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Starbucks, etc. are required to provide the calorie content for all items available on their menus. I used to eat a muffin at Dunkin Donuts every Saturday afternoon for brunch. My favorites were chocolate chip and blueberry. Well, thanks to this new law, I am now aware that a chocolate chip muffin at Dunkin Donuts is over 600 calories and a blueberry muffin is well over 500. (Even the low fat muffins are 425!). Needless to say, I have not eaten a muffin since that law took effect. (It’s not that I don’t over-indulge sometimes, but I usually burn between 600 and 800 calories at the gym and just don’t want to waste it all on a friggin muffin. A great burger or slice of pizza – abso-friggin-lutely, but a muffin?) So, imagine my surprise when I get to the counter at Dunkin Donuts to order my medium coconut coffee, extra light with half and half and three Equals to notice a 100 calorie Angel Food Cake muffin on the shelf. 100 calories seemed awfully low in comparison to the other muffins and so I was a bit skeptical. I asked the woman behind the counter if they were any good. She said “yes. try one for yourself.” Then she handed me my coffee and a free Angel Food Cake muffin. In response to a simple question about the delicious-ness of the muffin, she gave me one – for free!

I am a member of book-club. We meet one Wednesday night a month and discuss a different chick-lit book. After we discuss the book, we inevitably discuss men and it’s so much fun swapping stories and dating nightmares with other women in their 20s and 30s. Since some of the women are happily married or involved with someone, hearing their stories also restores my faith in relationships. Anyway, since I am writing a chick-lit book myself, I (of course) shared this information with my fellow book clubbers who are anxious to read it.

One of the girls in my book club works for an agent and, although the agent does not represent books of the chick-lit genre, she has offered to let me pick her brain when I am ready to begin my agent search. In addition, she has already told me about helpful websites for finding an agent like http://www.agentquery.com. Finally, since she herself has published a book, we stood outside after our last meeting and talked for a good 15 minutes about the process. Another girl in the club works for a publishing company. She sent me an email last week that she attended a conference and picked up business cards from various editors and agents to give to me. I didn’t ask for her help – she simply gave it to me.

The muffin was kind of gross and, despite assistance from others, getting my book published is a lofty aspiration. My point in sharing the above is simply to remind myself that there are some really nice people out there and perhaps rather than feel an ache in my gut because someone I cared about has shown himself to be not so nice after all, I should instead feel warmth in my heart as a result of random acts of kindness bestowed onto me by strangers and new friends. Focusing on the people who have let me down or made me feel bad about myself does not make me happy. Being on both the giving and receiving ends of a random act of kindness, and even simply observing one, however, makes me very happy. And you know what? I like being happy. You might be thinking “Duh! Of course she likes being happy” but while I give a lot of credence to those times when I feel sad, disappointed or just plain hopeless, I tend to take those moments when all seems right in the world for granted. Rather than bitch about the guy who didn’t bother to keep the door open for me when I was behind him leaving the gym, I’ll think about the person who smiled and thanked me for holding the door for her at Dunkin Donuts since her hands were full. Rather than whine about the friend who won’t talk to me anymore because I missed her party to go to S. Carolina, I’ll remember the impromptu invitation I received from another friend to go out at midnight on Saturday night. (I took her up on it, stayed out late, had a blast, kissed a boy and spent the night HAPPY). I want to start embracing every moment of sheer happiness, however fleeting, because it is those moments that make life worth living. It is those moments that not only give me hope for the future but often make me forget about the future and concentrate on the here and now.

I want to do what makes me happy and right now that includes spending time with my friends and writing, writing and more writing. It currently does not include going on dates with strangers I’ve met online and so I’m not going to do that right now. What’s great about that decision is that I can change my mind at anytime and, at such time the thought of online dating makes me happy again, I’ll do it. I’m not removing my profile and if I hear from a guy who really captures my interest, I’ll go out with him because THAT would make me happy. But, for now, I either want to be excited about someone or nothing at all – none of this lukewarm nonsense for me – it does not make me happy. Quite the contrary, it stresses me out. I’ve been reading lots of posts from girls/women really excited about the guys they are dating and that’s what I want. And until someone excites me again, I’d rather not bother. And to be honest, I do think a romantic interest is more likely to find me when my priorities are elsewhere. I would much rather spend my evenings curled on my couch with a glass of cabernet, or at a bookclub meeting, or in a coffee shop writing on my laptop or at a bar/restaurant with my friends than on a date with a guy whose online profile seems “decent”. I’ve just had enough of the online thing and the thought of forcing myself to give out my phone number and chat with some guy I don’t know just because he looks sort of good in his pictures, is somewhat age appropriate and also likes baseball does not currently make me happy. Maybe that’s because I’ve been disappointed lately and am disheartened at the entire process but the reason is irrelevant. If it doesn’t make me happy and will not improve the lives of those close to me or anyone else for that matter, I’m just not interested.

There are so many things in life that leave us without a choice in the matter – for everything else, I choose happiness!

Hope to have a fresh blog for you all next week! In the meantime, what made YOU happy today?

The Hardest Part – continued.

In my last post, I blogged about the challenges of writing a fiction novel. I acknowledged that writing a book is not easy. The requisite skills aside, it takes a true commitment. For me though, the emotional highs I achieved while writing Just Friends With Benefits were well worth the sacrifices I made to put in the time. I loved writing the book so much that even when I had no idea if it would ever be published, I began writing a second one.

While I was writing the book, I joined various groups for authors, like the New York City and Chick-lit chapters of Romance Writers of America, and I befriended someone who had also written a novel. It was through my association with these groups/friend that I learned about the publishing process. I thought it would be as simple as sending my completed manuscript to various publishers. Think again, Meredith! One cannot simply email or even snail mail a manuscript to a publisher! Like dinners at the White House or a wedding, one needs an invitation (unless her last name is Salahi, Wilson or Vaughn.) The most common gatekeeper to the elusive invitation is an agent who will act as the go-between for the writer and the publisher.

So that means I simply send my completed manuscript to an agent, right? Wrong again. Agents receive upwards of 100 requests a day to represent authors and do not have the time to read each and every hopeful’s manuscript. Instead, most* people seeking representation must submit a “query”, seeking permission to forward their manuscript for review. (I write “most” people because there are some lucky writers out there who are actually approached by agents instead of vice-versa and there are others with connections who probably do not need to write a query letter. I don’t know much about those people since I am, unfortunately, not one of them.) A query is one page letter which typically includes a personal greeting to the agent, a teaser about the book and a brief biography of the author.

You would think writing a biography was easy, however, no agent cares that I am the youngest of three girls, and grew up in Chestnut Ridge, New York. My only background of relevance is that which is related to writing. Since I had no publishing credentials nor true writing experience, my biography was very brief and to the point – “I am an active member in Romance Writers of America. Just Friends With Benefits is my first novel.” Less is more when you have nothing substantial to say!

Most agents who only represent mystery writers will bypass queries regarding self-help books or romantic comedies as will agents who are longer taking new clients. Although the research into what agents were most likely to take interest in my book was time consuming (I spent hours in the book store reading the back of other books in my genre to see who the author thanked as being “best agent ever” and several more hours on http://www.agentquery.com and individual agent websites), it was nothing compared to the drafting of my teaser, i.e. “Hollywood Pitch.”

You only get one shot with an agent and if you fail to interest her with the query, it doesn’t matter how great the book is because she’ll never read it. So how do you take a 300 page novel, describe it in one paragraph, and intrigue an over-worked agent to actually want to read it? It took me many, many attempts until I created something I truly believed was a good “hook” for my book. I tested the query out with friends, on message boards and with agents. When the first batch of agents didn’t bite with my first attempt, I re-worked it – again and again until I got decent feedback. This is part of the pitch I ultimately used ( I can’t show you all of it because if you haven’t read the book, and I hope you intend to, it might give some of it away). You might recognize it from the back cover.:

“When a friend urges Stephanie Cohen not to put all her eggs in one bastard, the advice falls on deaf ears. Stephanie’s college crush on Craig Hille has been awakened 13 years later as if soaked in a can of Red Bull and she is determined not to let the guy who got away once, get away twice.”

Those two lines took me forever and a week to write!

Once the query letter is drafted, you’re ready to go, right? Not so fast. Some agents also require you to include a brief synopsis of the book, outlining the plot in more detail and giving away the ending. (These requirements are collected during the all important agent-research stage.) But sometimes they want the synopsis to take up only one page. Sound easy? Well, it’s not. You try compressing a 300 page novel into one page. And some agents want a 3-5 page synopsis. Still others want 5-10 pages. What’s an aspiring novelist to do? Write a one page, three page and ten page synopsis, that’s what! And each version must be engaging and witty in its own right and not just a play by play of the book. Like my “hook”, I also tested my synopsis on message boards and used the feedback to tweak it to my version of perfection.

With my completed manuscript saved on my computer, I emailed my query letter and, where required, concise yet compelling synopsis to my well-researched group of agents, crossed my fingers and held my breath.

It was around that time that I went to a few seminars regarding selling manuscripts and acquiring agents and learned that my genre (“chick-lit”, “Humorous women’s fiction”) was no longer a hot ticket with editors in New York Publishing houses and therefore unless you had prior publishing success in the genre, had connections or an established fan base, or somehow got the attention of Oprah Winfrey, your chances of securing an agent were very slim. I found this hard to believe since so many readers still love a good, light, “chick-lit” read, however, the proof was in the amount of rejections I received from agents saying that my story “was not right for their list” or they were “regretfully passing on my novel” without ever reading any of the pages. Only a handful gave me a shot but ultimately passed.

At this point, I had three choices: 1) I could reach out to more agents, 2) I could stow away my manuscript in my mom’s basement never to be looked at again (I don’t have my own basement) or 3) I could cast the net wider into small-press and electronic publishers who didn’t require agents. I had a strong feeling that my luck with agents would not change unless I added a vampire or ghost to my novel or turned it into a pure work of romance, neither of which I considered a viable option. But I had worked too hard and believed in my story too much to simply throw in the towel. And so I chose option 3, researching different publishers. I had to eliminate the ones which were not open to submissions, others that were not opened to my genre and others that had bad reputations and was left with only a handful. I sent out my manuscript and waited and waited and waited.

Fast forward months, (and about two more rejections) and I’m at my mother’s house for Sunday dinner. I randomly checked my Blackberry and saw that I received an email from another publisher. Totally expecting another rejection, I opened the email and read the phrase, “We are pleased…”. WAIT. None of my rejections EVER included the word “pleased”. “We are pleased to reject you?” That would be rude! “ We are pleased to decline contracting your novel.” Never. So, my face turning white and my pulse racing, I continued reading the sentence, “We are pleased to offer you a publishing contract for your contemporary romance novel, “Just Friends With Benefits”. It is all a blur but I think I calmly told my family I was offered a publishing contract and while they (mom, dad, sister, niece and nephew) danced around me, I stood there in shock taking it all in. (I was very happy that with the exception of my oldest sister, my entire family was in attendance because it cut down on the number of phone calls and text messages I had to make.)

So there it is folks, the story of how I published my first novel. I wish I could say that the road to publication was as pleasant as the writing process, but I can’t. Writing the book was candy compared to getting it published. But while my book was contracted by a bona-fide royalty paying, non-vanity publishing company, was professionally edited, an artist created a cover I love, and copies are available for purchase on various websites (www.amazon.com, http://www.fictionwise.com and http://www.wings-press.com – GO THERE NOW), the author’s job is still not done.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – the stresses of marketing and promoting your book.

Until next time,
Meredith