The querying process: trust your instincts

As I submerge myself in this world of querying agents and receiving rejections, I started to take it as part of the common writing process. I no longer feel bad for the rejections coming from literary agent’s, in fact, I think they are making me stronger and more resilient.

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In the meantime, I’ve also started to experiment with different query letters, manuscript summaries, and even decided to change my first chapter. I feel happy on the latter. I was never happy with having a prologue. For some reason, I thought my story really needed that prologue. However, once I decided to challenge this idea, I put my hands on re-writing the first chapter, integrating in it the prologue. It worked so well that I couldn’t believe it! I regretted sending queries to agents that had to go through my prologue (when they requested the first chapters or pages in the query letter). But well…sigh… one learns from these mistakes. It is not like I’m an expert or a published author.

I also took on revamping my query letter and summary – for those that request it. From the beginning, I knew they weren’t the best possible and I attributed this to my story being so complex that I couldn’t describe it in a couple of paragraphs, but I later discovered they were totally improvable and I twitched them a bit until I felt prouder of them.

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I’m still going through my list of agents I want to query to. I’m not doing them all at once, neither one by one. But if the rejection trend is here to stay, then I’ll start pondering about self-publishing, which is not that bad according to what I heard. My only worry is that traditional publishing helps you get inside bookshops which is what I always wanted. It is not that I don’t trust the digital channels, and don’t see the potential in it, but there is a sweet spot in my heart where I want to see my book in a shelf in a bookshop. Who knows how things turn around. I’ve witnessed quite amazing events happening in my life.

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In the meantime, if anybody is out there in the process of querying, writing query letters, preparing summaries, trust your instincts and make sure you are really proud of them.

What happens after the manuscript is done?

There comes a point in time when you realize that the manuscript is ready to go out there. Or at least you want to believe that. My fantasy manuscript is ready and I’ve already started seeing publishing options (I’ll check first the traditional options and if not, self-publishing). The process is long, so what happens in the meantime?

I could have waited and concentrated my energy for the fantasy manuscript to reach its end-result: the published book. But for some reason, I decided that while I wait for replies on query letters, I could start working on a new project. Therefore, I’ve started a new manuscript on a new different story, based on an idea has been nagging me for some time and I didn’t want to wait anymore.

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I realized that as I get more into this writing process, the better I feel. I spent a lot of time on my first original thriller manuscript (which was left incomplete several years ago – it is still lying there, dormant), but the story had too many plot holes, and the characters were too simple. Perhaps, I’ll come back to it some day, with a refreshed and more interesting approach- or a complete revamp. In the meantime, if you count that original manuscript, the recently finished fantasy one, then this would be the third time starting the whole process of writing a new story. And I feel it gets better with time. I’ve also realized I’m definitely not a plotter, not a pantser, but a mix of the two.

When I started my fantasy manuscript, I found an interesting technique that I’m considering this time too. I started writing as a pantser, wanting to know where the characters and story led me to. But then I realized that if you keep as a pantser, you face the risk of entering an endless journey with no direction. So I stopped, and came back to analyze the story and characters. This process worked very well during the fantasy manuscript. Characters were one of my best improvements and I feel very proud of how they developed in my fantasy manuscript. Still, the story plot became too complex at some point, and there were some editing rounds where I had to “patch” some massive story plot holes.

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In the new manuscript, let’s call it the “dystopian” one, which is more or less the genre of this one, I feel more confident about “sketching” characters, letting them being, and experimenting changes. I think I got a better hold on that process. Now, I want to improve the process for developing my storyline. I’m planning on introducing a bit more “plotting” on this manuscript to not lose as much track of it as it happened on the fantasy one. However, I’m definitely not planning on becoming a rigid plotter, killing my creativity and adaptability to change.

I’ve already written the first 45 pages of the dystopian manuscript .They were mostly done in a pantser “state”. Then I stopped. Now I’m going through these 45 pages to give it more structure. I want to still be able to fly with the story, let my writing spirit be free, but with a bit more of structure. It is working rather well until now.

In addition, I’m starting to do deeper editing from the start. I want this first manuscript draft to be in a more decent readable state than my previous manuscripts where the first draft was barely readable. I hope this approach works better so that future editing rounds are not as hard and time consuming than previous ones. Also, I’ll start searching for beta readers in an earlier stage. Feedback is important. It is tough on writers, but we need it. Let’s see how my new writing approach works now.

And you, do you feel your writing process improves with each project?

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Writing after editing/copywriting

I decided to give it a go to professional editing of my manuscript. After getting a good hunch on a video from this editor, I paid for it and waited an external/unknown person to finally take a look at my manuscript. I wasn’t expecting much as I knew I had picked a considerable affordable service. I thought it would be mostly about grammar, spelling, punctuation, verb tenses, sentence structure, word choices etc. The type of editing that I worried most about since English is not my first language. But I was surprised to get a very detailed feedback about the story itself.

The feedback included very good points about plot holes that I hadn’t thought about. Twists in the story that didn’t make much sense or that could be better explained. I absolutely loved that part. My fantasy story has many characters in it, so having someone deeply connecting all characters’ reasons and subplots was great. She was able to find small details of parts of the story I had completely forgot or contradicted. I loved this copywriting part more than the editing one. I came to understand that this is actually called developmental editing which involves checking story inconsistencies, discrepancies, factual errors, etc.

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I got great feedback from character development which actually surprised me. In a previous attempt with a first manuscript of a different story, my weakest point was character development. That story is on standby as it needs lots of rewriting. But most of the feedback that I got from the few beta readers, back in those days, was that characters didn’t feel multidimensional and there was no evolvement in their personalities, no growth. That really caught my attention, and when I started writing this new manuscript, I focused on writing good characters. It paid off, and I’m truly happy for it. It made the whole process feel that it had potential.

I still have to work fixing some parts of the story but it doesn’t feel like an impossible job right now. It feels very tangible and I’m already in one-fourth of the total manuscript length of this new round of revision, and it is only been a week since I started. I feel encouraged but mostly proud of my fictional characters.

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Writing in a bad year

2019 has definitely been a year to remember. Two dear aunts, sisters from my Mom, passed away. My beautiful dog, Dana, who was with me for more than 14 years, also passed away. There was a fire, caused by short circuit on the TV plug, that devoured my Mom’s room and almost killed her. My closest aunt had an accident with a huge wardrobe falling and splitting her head badly. My country went into political turmoil for almost 3 weeks, with almost a civil war in the making. Mobs of delinquents attacked people on the street, beating them to death, setting on fire everything they found, including houses. Three weeks I deeply wish nobody goes through anywhere in the world, days we lived in panic, enclosed in our homes or trying to battle attackers when there was still no police to defend us.

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The year is almost coming to an end and although there have been good times in this year, good trips in the middle of everything and other experiences, I cherish this year as the personal growth has been insurmountable.

I’m heading at this moment to WordCamp Guayaquil where I will be speaking about “Wanting to be a blogger and finding time,” in other words about time organization. I would have never imagined a couple of years ago talking about time manage skills. Me, the person who used to procrastinate as nobody else and could never find time for anything. I wondered a couple of times if I’m the best person to talk about this, but I feel I’ve grown so much in the last years, specially in this year that I thought I would share my experience.

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Writing and working full time has been a challenge. I must be honest I only commit an hour and perhaps an hour and a half, the most, to working on my current manuscript. I haven’t been the best at keeping this schedule every day. There are days when I don’t write, and even weeks. But I haven’t give up. It doesn’t matter how slowly I move forward. I’ve committed myself to keep doing it.

At this point, my goal of finishing the review of my manuscript by the end of the year doesn’t look promising. Probably, I’ll end it by the end of January or even February of 2020. But it doesn’t matter, I’m still doing it, little by little, step by step. Besides, I don’t have an agent or a publishing contract that says I have to finish by a specific date. It is true I wish I could have it by the end of this year but nothing will happen if I don’t.

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In a bad year, I could have just plainly written little. My attitude could have been different. Perhaps that would have been the case when I was younger. But my determination has gotten bigger this year. Without it, I would probably have never finished reviewing the first round. I would have never gotten great beta readers and the inspiration the keep writing. Somehow a bad year has make my desire to keep on writing stronger. It has kept me afloat amidst all issues, knowing that there is a greater goal out there for me and that I’m still moving towards it.

Life is about going through problems and obstacles, otherwise it would be pretty boring and we would never grow. Writing on a bad year has actually been a positive experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Writing on a bad year has proved to be good.

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One paragraph at a time in a never ending editing process

I finally finished my first manuscript of a fantasy novel I’ve been working for almost a year. I learned many lessons the last time I worked with a manuscript, one is that finishing the first manuscript is only a small step in achieving a readable book. Numerous rounds of editing and revision come after this, and they can become endless. They are not the nicest part of writing a book, at least not for me.

Last time I learned that before going into heavy editing, it is better to have a manuscript that you like, one where you feel satisfied with the story, the plot makes sense, you like the characters and they are likable. I learned that you have to be happy with what you wrote. You will need people who read your work, people who will criticize the plot, the characters and tell you how does the story feel. You will probably get lots of suggestions and you might need to rewrite chapters a couple of times more. Last time I understood there was no need to get into heavy editing if you were still working on the story development.

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But for the first round of people who will read your work, you have to have a manuscript that is readable. This is the reason I felt I needed one round of revision for plot consistency, character check, setting description, and at least decent writing – a writing that will still be workable and can , of course, be improved.

I’m not going for restructuring sentences, changing verbs, or more in depth editing, but it is still taking time. A lot of it. Somehow my first manuscript has managed to end with around 110 000 words or around 410 pages, and even though I’m doing a “quick revision” it still takes time. I still have a full time job and other activities, but I’m trying to find at least one hour a day to work on this. In an hour I usually deal with 5 or 8 pages, which means it is taking a lot of time. I told a friend I would be giving her the book for her critique around February, but it is already March and I haven’t reached the middle of the book with this “quick editing.”

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However, the writing process works this way, there is no easy path. Each day I’m a couple of pages done. A couple of pages more than yesterday, one paragraph more than before. I feel like doing tiny steps, but at least the steps are being given. And If I’m a couple of paragraphs done each day, then I guess it will come a time when I will finish the manuscript. One paragraph at a time. After all, writing is about the process itself.

And you how do you deal with rounds of editing?