Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pay Attention

In my never ending quest to grow up, I'm trying to stop and really listen. Paying attention isn't easy when you're busting at the seams to show everyone how amazing you are. Or how amazing you think you are. Ok, so 40 is no time to grow up, but I can learn to pay attention.

I'm getting replies back to my queries for a freelance editor. I approached the mailing with all the seriousness of a college application. I'm sure that every email will arrive, that it's the most exciting thing that any of these prospective editors will get all day, and that they'll write back with the following message:

"Graeme, I know there's a God because I reviewed your website and what else can I say? Let me get an agent on the phone because the bidding war has already started!"

Well, I got three bounced emails, a few replies, and some emails are just waiting out in cyberspace where it's probably getting cold enough for a blanket by now. Bounced? How is that? Well, some of the emails were incorrectly addressed (my fault) and some were bounced because the editor never updated their email address. So of the 17 emails I wrote, I've heard back from five so far. Two can't do any editing, one was so impersonal I know it's not a good match, one was so-so, and one sounds really good.

Since my goal is to find one good editor, my search may already be over. But I'm going to give it until the middle of next week before making a choice. Just like I believe there isn't just one agent for me, or just one publishing house, I know that there are a lot of good editors. What I'm looking for is a clear understanding of what I'm paying for, a realistic deadine for the job to be done, and a good working relationship with someone who's as industrious as they are responsive.

Now I have to go do some writing, research, or procrastinating on A tornado just hit downtown Atlanta. How often does THAT happen?

Friday, March 14, 2008

I Want Patience and I Want it Right Now

WARNING: thsi bolg containes typsos


So I just finished my first set of emails to freelance editors for my book, "The Abominable Plan of Dr. Rasp." I'm naturally very impatient and want someone else to "figure out" all the messy stuff, like polishing the book. Fortunately the universe has a great sense of humor and I'm stuck dotting my i's on my own. This all started though, becasue I blew a submission to an agent I'd been courting for two years.

Yes, stupidly, I didn't fully proof my own text for my website, and it bit me right on the ass. They rejected the book based on the one page they read - a page with typos in it. Of course I railed because "they're just typos" but agents use simple mechanics as a screening tool. If you can't get your ass organized enough to do your own math, then how will you show up on time, make it through a book signing, or a host of other challenging situations? It's akin to showing up late to a meeting.

So instead of writing even more agents, I got one friend to proof the book, and another to proof my pitch letter to freelance editors. Yes, a work-for-hire editor. I'm taking a step backward because I want to put my best foot forward. Eventually. In a formal move to address my own impatience, I'm purposefully taking more time than I want to take. As much time as it takes to draft a letter, to interest an editor. (And embarrassing as it might be, out of the list of 15 or so that I wrote to, three of them have already come back as undeliverable because I made typos in the email addresses! Proofing, proofing, and more proofing is still needed.)

What's good about this? I realize that I have a horrible, blind weakness in the fine, technical part of my writing. Why is that good? Because it's just math. Someone with a finer eye than mine can find ALL of the mistakes where I might never be able to. How often do you have the luxury of knowing that all your mistakes can be corrected?

So now that I'm not chomping at the bit to go directly to publishers or agents, why pay someone? I mean, what about a writer's group? Or friends? It's debatable. First of all, I don't have a lot of free time, not the kind it would take to read the work of three or four other writers. Second, friends are just that: they know me too well to do the sometimes-difficult work of a professional. And third, a trained editor is going to contribute a wealth of knowledge from a perspective that will allow me to polish the book to publishing-industry standards. And although everyone I know reads, none of them work in the publishing industry. But because we all read, we assume that a casual reader can do the same job as someone who might seem a little pricey on first look. Where we wouldn't give a computer to a friend for a repair job, we want to be able to give our manuscript to someone with no professional experience.

If you can find someone who you really click with, who will edit for free, then do it. I'm just at a point in my life where I do not want to have to spend six months combing through Craig's List for experienced (but free) readers only to wonder if I'm really getting my money's worth. No pun intended.

Now I'm not completely tied to the pay-for-evaluation service, but I'm completely ready to invest in my career. Just because writing is a virtually free pursuit does not mean that there are not expenses that are worthwhile. Conferences is a great example. I've gone to three conferences, and after air fare, hotel, registration and food, I've easily spent a couple thousand dollars. So $500 for a close read of my book doesn't really seem like poorly spend money.

And since I'm on a roll: Writer's Groups. I joined one, and it wasn't a great experience. While the book is in mothballs right now, the experience is still freshly unpleasant. Most importantly, I do want to find a group, but I recognize that it's important to trust my instincts. From the first moment I stepped into the room, I felt that something was off. More valuable than any critiques I recieved was the lesson in knowing what was good for me and my book, and what was not. A second group was more helpful, but too large for in-depth work, so the search continues. People have recommended on-line groups, or trading via email, both of which I'm looking into. But if I never find a writer's group, it doesn't mean that my writing won't shine. But I will miss a sense of community that I know I would find rewarding and fun if I'm unable to find a group.

Perhaps I should break this blog up. To further the topic I started with - patience - I wanted to talk about the time the overall writing process takes. I finished the bulk of the book months ago. I'm on my 9th draft now, but what has taken lots of time is the business of writing. And I know that I've barely scratched the surface. Writing to people I met at the last conference I attended. Researching prospective editors, agents, and publishing houses. Exploring websites to see how other people are working. Working and reworking my own website and my submission materials. There is so much to do that for the moment I've stopped writing. I don't feel like I can move forward with the book I've written until I have some handle on how to begin placing it. Part of that is slowing down enough to do something like placing the book with a freelance editor BEFORE even thinking of submitting to agents or publishers. That has taken weeks of time and is another investment because it has already begun to streamline itself. In the beginning all the information was new and overwhelming. But now I have a way to organize the information so that it grows without drowning me. And as I write to people, I get a better sense if I'm a good match for them with this project. Some people are not right for this book, but I put them down for the next couple I'm working on. So already I've begun to gain a little ground for the next time I have to do this.

When I started this book last year, I don't think I realized how much work it was going to be to just get the damn thing to leave the house. I would say it's easily half the work. But it's the only way to do it. Something stuck with me from the recent SCBWI Westside shmooze that I went to. And that's to really get my hands dirty. Do the research, the hunting around, the emailing, and just see what comes of it. It's more like play than I've made it and that's where the fun is. In the spontaneous discovery, the coincidences and the finds. Just like writing itself, the business of writing can be like a treasure hunt of its own.