Thursday, February 24, 2011

My first steps

I'm not afraid to admit that I didn't think this out.  I mean, I certainly thought about it, a lot, and I even prepared financially for it.  But the fact is, I walked into full-time writing with little more planning than a small nest egg, a little practice, and fingers that wouldn't stop itching.

I just finished my first novel, Poseidon's Daughter, and am currently in the phase of trying to get it published.  If you're tagging along, you're probably curious how I got this far, and whether or not I'll make it any further. I can answer the first right here and now - in fact, I will!  But the latter is something you'll just have to wait to discover, and trust me, I'm just as impatient as you are.

How did I get this far?

I've always loved to write.  It's something of an addiction.  For me, writing involves sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal romance (i.e., sci-fi or fantasy with a little romance added in!)  Back in early November, I came to the realization that my current job wasn't netting me any profits.  In fact, I was losing approximately $300 a year, after all my bills and minor expenses.  I'm the sort of girl who likes to budget.  And I'm also the sort of girl who isn't okay with working more than full time (44 hours a week, to be exact), only to lose money.  My job wasn't bad; I was the manager of the floral department at a grocery store, and I enjoyed the 'working with flowers' part of it.  I got along well with my coworkers, and at least two of my many bosses clearly valued the work I was doing.

But, at the end of the day, "not bad" wasn't enough of a reason to stick around in a job that was losing me money.  You see, I'm something of a miser.  I LIKE to save money.  I don't indulge in partying, or designer clothes, or fancy haircuts, or expensive makeup.  I rarely go to movies, and I don't eat out very often.  So, if living on a bare-bones budget still landed me on the negative side of debt, that meant I wasn't going to be happy.  Before I'd moved into my current apartment, I'd managed to save up about 5 months worth of rent and bills.  I decided to stick with my job through Christmas (I wasn't going to leave my managers hanging right before the holidays!), and then take time off to write my first publishable novel.

We all know November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month,) and although I had a busy schedule for November, I decided I'd use my pre-freedom time to train for writing full-time.  I took an old story of about 22K words, and told myself I had until New Years' to finish it.  You see, I consider full-time writing to be something of a marathon sport.  So, just as if I were training to run a marathon, I began training to write a marathon. I wrote a little every day, more on my days off, even to the neglect of cleaning (much to my poor roommate's chagrin - she's a very patient woman, thank goodness!)  By New Years', I was just putting the final edits on my story, which had reached 103,000 words, and I finally felt ready to begin planning something for publishing.  (No, you can't read the "training wheels" story, and yes, that's my final answer.)

So I spent the first week of January, now jobless, putting together a plotline, writing character summaries of my main characters, and pretty much hashing out the world.  I'd decided back in November that my first novels would be Romance, because in fiction the most frequently books sold each year are romance - that means marketability.  Furthermore, most romance novels are less than 100K words; fantasy can be up to three times that, and sci-fi partway between.  Novel writing isn't lucrative.  In order to make a living, I need to publish several books each year.  The best way to do this is to choose a word count I can complete in a minimal amount of time - can you imagine writing 300,000 words in two months?  I can't!  I also decided that I would make my first set a series, because if a reader likes your first, they're more likely to buy the sequel.  So I read through some of my favorite publishers, and decided that if I was going to write serial fantasy romance, I should aim for a publisher who already publishes several fantasy romances.  I didn't have a clue as to how to appeal to them, but I was more worried about getting written first.

I began writing in early January (January 7,2011, to be exact).  I wrote no less than 3000 words a day, although I did allow myself to takes a day or two off each week for chores and friends.  I rarely wrote more than 3500, despite my original intentions; since I was basing my story off an actual historical time period (the late Bronze Age), I had to do a lot of research.  ("Wait, books haven't been invented yet!  Argh!  Guess I have to go back and change all references of books to scrolls.")  I made sure I had a plan for the overall series already plotted out - I dislike it when authors suddenly toss an entirely new set of rules into a series partway through.  By having an idea of what the later books in the series will be, I was able to include scenes and characters that have little use to the current storyline, but will be essential in later books in the series.  A sense of continuity in a series is very important to me; episodic books are all right, but I'd rather feel like the books are all connected.  Since I'm writing the novels, that means they have to appeal to me.

In my past writing ventures, I've thrown out continuous chapters to several of my friends for revisions and ideas.  That was a mistake, I've since learned, because nobody has time to continuously reread your works!  In this novel, I sent out a section to one person, one time, for feedback before the story was done.  By the end of the next day, I'd figured out what was bothering me and revised it myself, so much so that it was barely even the same story that I'd sent off.  I stopped bothering on getting mid-work revisions and focused on finishing the novel.

I finished the last scene of the rough draft on Valentine's day, just over a month from when I began writing, reaching 106,000 words.  I printed off the rough draft, bought stamps and envelopes, and mailed myself a copy for copyright purposes.  From there, I spent the next week thoroughly scouring the novel for grammar mistakes, incontinuities, and unecessary sections, and added several more scenes I felt were necessary.  Once I got it to where I felt it was decent, I sent to several friends for their opinions.  They're still reviewing it, but I'm confident enough in the story to begin sending out query letters.

What's a query letter?  Well, some time in mid-January I decided it would be important to find out what my target publisher requires for publishing submissions.  It turns out that they require you to have a literary agent.  That means I had to research how to get a literary agent.  I've been bad: I haven't ever gone to writers' workshops, and I don't have a membership to Romance Writers of America, and I don't really have a huge internet presence.  That means nobody knows who I am.  If I want an agent, I have to send them an "unsolicited request."  Literary agents get thousands of these a month, sometimes even in a day!  They're not going to read that many manuscripts.  Instead, they ask that you send them query letters, which have a brief description of the story (like you'd find on the back of a book), a word count, why you chose that agent in particular, and a little about yourself, including previous publications.  I polished up my query letter and have sent out a personalized copy to about five literary agents so far.  I chose those agents based on their interests: what have they worked with in the past?  If they do romance, do they also do science fiction and fantasy?  Is it only urban fantasy, or do they work with historical fantasy, too?  My first day's research uncovered five good literary agent fits, all of whom indicated that they were still building their client list.


That was yesterday.  Today I may not get much more done, as I have a part-time job of tutoring that will take up most of the afternoon, and I have to plan lessons for two students.  I don't expect to hear back from any of the agents for another four to eight weeks, but I'm not giving up and I'm not going to sit around waiting for nothing.  Next up on my block is to start planning a second novel!  My fingers are already starting to itch again, and the writing bug is as strong as ever.  So I'll keep you updated on where I go next, and hopefully, someone else will find my personal story helpful in their own journey as a writer.

1 comment:

  1. Making a blog was a very nice idea, Becky! I read through your note on facebook and made some comments in a word document. They're technical edits rather than story-writing comments, since that's what I have experience with. Can you send your e-mail address to me so I can pass it along?
    I am really excited for you. The fact that you made solid plans ahead, did heavy historical research, and met the daily word limit you set for yourself is amazing. What you posted already has me itching for me and I can't wait to read the rest of it (and have a published copy on my shelf!).