Friday Scorecard

by Richard Perkins

Submission StatsI got my first request for a partial manuscript from an agent today. That was promising after getting two rejections earlier this week. I’m still sending out queries, chipping away at my list of prospective fantasy agents a little bit at a time.

The running totals are posted in the table to the right. The reply times have been faster than expected so far. I suspect that’s because most of the replies I’ve received are from agents who accept submissions via email. I expect that the reply times will jump back up once I start receiving snail mail responses.

Feedback for The Guardian’s Hand is starting to roll in. If preliminary comments are any indication, I’ve got a lot more revision in store for me on that manuscript. Sigh. Ah well…  all part of the process.

Resume makeover

by Richard Perkins

jobhuntAs if finding an agent for Renegade isn’t difficult enough, I’m also searching for a day job… still. The last year has been a rough one for job seekers. Unemployment rates in California have been above 10% since January and don’t look to be dropping below that threshold anytime soon. The renewable energy market hasn’t fared much better than any other.

In the face of such dire market prospects, what’s an out of work engineer to do? Keep free-lancing, re-tune the resume, change up my search strategies, and try again, that’s what. I’ve decided to change my resume from a chronological format to a hybrid functional format, sometimes called a combination format. The new resume will begin with a focus on my career skills and achievements, and end with a condensed summary of my work history.

So expect a fresh look to show up on my Resume page sometime soon. Maybe the face-lift will help me land some interviews with the Bay area’s renewable energy technology developers. Once they get past surviving the downturn and start getting serious about hiring again, that is.

Friday Scorecard

by Richard Perkins

Submission StatsI’ve decided to start tracking some numbers on my search for a home for Renegade. They’ll be pretty depressing, but maybe they’ll help some other aspiring authors know what to expect when they start shopping around manuscripts. Here are the numbers I’ve decided to track: queries sent out, partial manuscripts requested, full manuscripts requested, offers, rejections, and reply times. Since I’m just starting this search, there won’t be a lot of data yet. There will be a lot more by the time I’m done, though. If there are any other numbers you’d like to see, drop me a comment.

In other news, happy birthday big sister!

The epic agent quest continues

by Richard Perkins

Agent_SlushpileNow that I’ve got beta readers working on The Guardian’s Hand, it’s time to get back to work finding a home for The Renegade’s Door. I wrote a post about finding a literary agent a few months ago. I’m hip deep in that process right now.

My first challenge was putting together a compelling query letter to send out to prospective agents. I wrote a draft letter and sent it out to some readers to get feedback. I revised it and then submitted it to my online critique group, The Critters Workshop. They shredded it (but in a good way). I worked all my critters feedback into my final version this week and then started customizing it for each of the entries on my prospective agent list.

Customizing a query letter, you might ask? What’s that about? Every agent wants something different in their submissions. Some want to start with a well written query letter before they’ll ask for a partial or full manuscript sample. Others want a letter, 5-10 pages of the manuscript and a synopsis of the full novel. Some only accept snail mail submissions. Others prefer email. Some want attachments in their submissions, while others want everything in the body of an email.

They want to know something about your novel (like who the protagonist is, the challenge he or she must face, and how he or she overcomes it). They want to know something about you as an author (like what you’ve previously published, if anything). And they want to know why you chose to query their agency or better yet, one particular agent within an agency. So you have to do your homework. You have to find out what the agent is looking for in new clients, what books they’ve sold recently, and make a connection between that body of work and the project you’re selling. All of that in a one page query letter that’s not too dry and boring to get through.

Sound like a challenge? It is, especially when you consider that most agent’s acceptance rates are pretty far south of 5% of their submissions. It’s a numbers game. If you want to get picked up as a new author, you must query widely. My first round list has about 25 candidates, and the odds are good that I’ll have to make a second round before I find an agent.

However, if you send out form query letters, you’re most likely to get form rejection letters. You have to tailor your requests to each agent you query, at least a little bit. I sent out two query letters this week and plan to send out a couple more each week until I see some results or lose hope… ;-)

In other news, there’s still no progress on the paying gig front. The market is starting to turn around though. I’ll be sending out more resumes again, when I’m not sending out query letters. I’m skipping NaNoWriMo this year. I need to recharge a bit before starting another writing marathon. Maybe in the spring I’ll be ready to start a new project. I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing an urban fantasy for a change of pace.

PepperHarvestI brought in the last of our autumn harvest this week: a few eggplants and enough peppers to can. I cleaned up the vegetable plot and transplanted the winter crop from its seedling trays. This winter we’ll have radishes, beets, and carrots (if the carrots cooperate). We’ve also got arugula and red and silver swiss chard in the leafy greens family, and a nice row of garlic in the ground for the spring. Happy Halloween everyone!

Manuscript Revision – Step 4

by Richard Perkins

typewriterWell, it took much longer than I’d hoped. But I’m finally finished with the red-lines on my manuscript. I’ve also settled on a working title! The second novel in the Renegade’s Legacy series is called – (drum roll please) – The Guardian’s Hand!

I’ve even thought of a working title for the concluding volume of the trilogy, but you’ll have to wait for that. (I haven’t even started writing the final story yet, though I do have some of it outlined already.)

That means I’m hip deep in the fourth and final step of my modified one-pass manuscript revision process. Time for another blog post. This is the type-in step, where I transcribe all my re-writes, cross-outs, new pages, and often indecipherable scribbles from red ink into usable electronic format. You’d think this would go pretty quickly, wouldn’t you?

Sadly, no. I have red ink on pretty much every page of the manuscript. All two hundred sixty seven pages. Skipping this step is the reason many authors have moved to electronic revision instead of hard copy. Sadly, I can’t quite do major reworks in soft copy yet. Maybe some day I’ll move into the current century. Until then, I’ve got new writing between the lines and new writing in the margins. There’s new writing on the back of many pages, and sometimes even whole new pages inserted to accommodate, you guessed it, new writing.

Let’s just say the manuscript is bloody, poor thing. Author Holly Lisle (from whom I borrowed nearly all of my modified one-pass revision method) separates her manuscript into three piles: unedited pages, pages with markups on them, and clean pages that don’t require revision. My answer to that is: wow, an entire first draft page that doesn’t require revision? I’ve got a long way to go before I reach that caliber.

I’m about half way through the write-in step and horribly behind schedule. I apologize to my volunteer alpha-readers, but there are miles to go before I sleep, as they say. Miles and several days of type-in. Then I can finally get the manuscript into their eager hands so people with fresh eyes can tear it apart.

Trust me; there’s gonna’ be a lot of tearing on this one. Possibly even some swearing. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Cheers!

Manuscript Revision – Step 3

by Richard Perkins

Well, you’ve put it off long enough. You’ve set your manuscript aside, let it collect some dust, forgotten most of the details, and read it with fresh and critical eyes. You’ve scratched down your themes, plot summaries, and character arcs in your little notebook. Now it’s time to wade through your draft manuscript.

It’s never gets any easier, no matter how well you prepare. Author Holly Lisle calls this step the slog with good reason.  I can’t describe the process any better than she does, so I won’t try. You just have to work your way through the writing, scene by scene. You have to give up your attachment to your own words, slash anything that doesn’t advance your theme or develop your characters, and tighten up the prose everywhere else. It’s exhausting, and I’m not very good at it. It’s easy to lose steam, especially if the project needs a lot of work.

Case in point: I started my red-lines for Eliza’s Story on September 6. I chose a target completion date and calculated how many pages I’d need to revise each day to reach it. I stayed on plan for exactly… wait for it… 4 days. Yep. You read it here… 4 days before I was sure that the story was crap and would never amount to anything.

Evidently, this is pretty common for unpublished authors. Published authors aren’t immune either. Knowing that doesn’t make the process any easier though. I did push through the wall eventually, and regained some lost ground in the last few days. Sadly, I still have a long road to travel and only a few days before visiting family brings my progress to a screeching halt again. The chart below shows the whole sorry tale.

JulNoRedlines

Will I finish red-lines before the weekend? Will I get revised copies out to my eager beta-readers? (At least, I hope they’re still eager…) That’s the plan. Well… plan is a strong word. Let’s just say that’s the strategy, and leave it at that. Wish me luck!

PS – I’ve only had one vote so far on my Thunderdome style title combat. Unfortunately, I just discovered that the leading title contender is already in use (by an erotic fantasy of the sword and sorcery variety, no  less). So Guardian’s Path has been disqualified and Healer’s Touch has been booed out of the arena. It’s back to the title well for me I’m afraid.

Migration day

by Richard Perkins

UnderConstructionHey folks. I’m migrating to my own dedicated server today. There may be a glitch or two in the process, so bear with me!

But fear not! I’m still revising Eliza’s story (though more slowly than I should be). I’ve even got a working title now! Or rather, two working titles: The Healer’s Touch, and The Guardian’s Path.

Think of it as Thunderdome: Two titles enter; one title leaves. Vote for your favorite in the comments section!

Manuscript Revision – Step 2

by Richard Perkins

writerI finished the critical reading step of my revisions a few days ago. Now it’s time to move on to step 2. Author Holly Lisle calls this step Discovery, in her one pass process, and I think that’s as good a name as any.

In a nutshell, this is where you remind yourself why you wrote the book in the first place. What’s it all about? You take out your notebook and write down the theme you were trying to capture in one concise sentences (15 words or less). If you have any sub-themes, you jot them down as well. You create a micro-summary for the entire book (25 words or less). This might be the way you’d describe the book to a new acquaintance at a dinner party, or a sound-byte in your elevator pitch. Then you describe your main character’s journey in a single sentence: what they do, why they do it; how it changes them, and why readers should care. I have a couple of major supporting characters in this novel that could use the same treatment as well, so I’ll have to generate at least 3 of these character arcs. Finally, you write a paragraph describing the story (250 words or less). Think of this as the rear jacket blurb that shoppers at the bookstore will read when deciding whether or not to buy your book.

If all this sounds like a lot of work to you, you’re right. It is. This method really forced me to think about my first novel in unfamiliar ways: the ways an editor, publisher, or reader might. Talk about a mind-bending experience. I think aspiring authors need to think about their work from those perspectives if they’re going to have any hope of getting published.

You might wonder why you should bother with all this discovery activity. Why not just get right into the editing and get it out of the way? You discover in order to organize your efforts. Writing, like most creative enterprises, is a somewhat chaotic and anarchic process. Editing is not. Readers need scenes that progress understandably, connect to each other, and mesh together to bring the story to life. They don’t have access to all the background inside the writer’s head: just the words we put on the page. Once you start the meat of the revision process you’ll be scrutinizing each scene to find out if it suits your theme and sub-themes, if it advances the plot and the development of the characters, if it’s important, and if it’s vitally connected to the rest of the story. Before you dive in, it’s helpful to lay the groundwork for your success, to create a cheat-sheet that you’ll refer to as you’re revising.

Some authors do this work as preparation before they start to write the novel. I think Holly Lisle is one of them. If you’re that kind of writer, then this step will largely be a job of transferring and refining your pre-novel notes. If you’re not, then you’ve got a bit of discovery work ahead of you before you jump into revision. Give it a try. It’s worth it.

Manuscript Revision – Step 1

by Richard Perkins

Revision ToolsRevision: the word that makes aspiring authors cringe almost as much as synopsis. No doubt about it, revision is both painful and challenging, but a critical process to master for anyone who dreams of getting published.

In previous posts, I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of Holly Lisle’s One Pass Revision Process. Renegade’s Door wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in today without her method. With my current project, I’m… tweaking the process based on my experience with Renegade and an online critique group called Critters.

The picture above shows the essential tools of the revision trade: a hard copy print out of my manuscript, a blank notebook for notes and spare scribbling pages, and a comfortable pen with plenty of green and red ink refills (or two other colors of your choice). Why two ink colors? I’m glad you asked!

I think the One Pass method could benefit from a reading step. And not just reading, but critical reading, the way a critter would review a new manuscript submission, with fresh eyes. A critter doesn’t know the theme of your novel, or the character development arcs, or the timelines. They have to discover those story elements through your writing. If you’ve left big plot holes or timeline inconsistencies, she’ll be confused and ask questions. If you’ve written dialog that sounds stilted, he’ll circle it and note that it didn’t work for him. If you’ve changed character names or motivations without warning, a critter will catch that too. That’s very difficult to do on your own work, which is why I put the draft aside for three weeks after I finished it. I wanted to forget about it, so I could experience it the way a new reader would.

Now, I’m reading Eliza’s Story for the first time. I put my mental author in a darkened bedroom and close the door so he can get some much needed rest. I’m using my green pen the same way I would crit another author’s manuscript. I’m circling weak areas and rough prose, scratching characterization questions and continuity issues in the margins, not fixing problems but just noting them for the author to address later (with his red pen).

There you have it, step 1 in my revision process. This manuscript is about 70k words. If I was reading for pleasure that would take me a day or two at most to finish. But critical reading takes more effort. Once I’m ready to start step 2, I’ll write a post about that.

Finding a peach of a literary agent

by Richard Perkins

PeachesI love the Alum Rock Farmers’ Market. The produce is fresh, local, and some of the best stuff you can find in San Jose. This time of year is a special favorite for Margot and I. Why? Peaches. I’m not talking about your canned-in-heavy-syrup peaches, or your shipped-to-grocery-store-year-round-in-refrigerated-freight-trucks peaches. I’m talking about peaches so sweet you could make a pie with no sugar. I’m talking about peaches so juicy, you literally have to lean over the sink when you bite into them. I’m talking about Peaches, with a capital “P.” Nothing says summer like that first luscious bite of golden, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and once you’ve had the real thing, nothing else stacks up.

But what do peaches, or Peaches for that matter, have to do with literary agents? Well, the same holds true for both agents and peaches: If you want to find a good one, you have to know where to look, and how to look. I’m learning both in my ongoing agent quest for The Renegade’s Door. In the hopes that my experiences might help other aspiring authors, here are some of the things I’ve learned.

Where to look

Writer’s Market publishes a Guide to Literary Agents that’s pretty broad in scope. They also have an online database that gets updated more frequently than once a year, but I haven’t used it.

Agent Query is a free online resource with an enormous searchable database that allows you to search an agent by genre.

You can also use Publishers Marketplace to search for agents by genre, location, association memberships, and many other characteristics.

LitMatch is another online directory of agents with search criteria similar to Publishers Marketplace, as is QueryTracker. There are other resources out there, but I haven’t tried them, so I can’t comment on their utility.

How to look

This one is trickier. There’s only one shortcut that works here. If you know a published author who is familiar with your work they might refer you to their own agent or another agent they are acquainted with. If you’re an unknown quantity in professional publishing circles (like I am), you’ll have do it the hard way.

The print edition of Guide to Literary Agents has many helpful articles on how to find and approach agents. That’s right, I said agents, plural. Since agents usually only accept 2-5% of the queries they receive, this is a numbers game. You will get rejected many times over before you find the right agent for you and your work. Persevere. Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing.

There are also a growing number of agents writing blogs. Start by running a Google search for literary agent blogs. In particular Nathan Bransford‘s blog is a great source of agent related information.

All of the resources above are great for generating a relatively undifferentiated list of agents for your area of writing. But as writers, we don’t  just want an agent, we want an Agent (note the capital “A”). One with the best sales record we can get in our target market. A bone fide rock star. How do we find that?

Once you have your long (very long) list of agents, there a few great online resources you can use to check up on them.

Publishers Marketplace – some agents post their recent sales here or you can subscribe to view their deals database.  If you’re lucky, some angel will have compiled a list of sales announcements sorted by agent, like Melinda Goodin’s Locus Sales Spreadsheet for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Use information like this to sort your agents by rate of success.

Predators and Editors is an invaluable resource for any writer. Visit it. Read it. Know it. If any of your prospective agents show up as “not recommended” on their lists, drop ‘em like a hot rock on a summer day.

Visit Absolute Write Water Cooler Forums and search the Bewares and Background Check thread for the names left on your list. See what other writers and aspiring writers have to say about the agents you’re considering.

That’s it. Now that you’ve got your screened list of agents, ranked by success and vetted by all the resources at your disposal, start sending out query letters. Check each agent’s submission guidelines (most of them are posted online these days) and alway, alway, always give them exactly what they want. No more. No less. Writing a good query letter is an artform in itself. Since none of my queries to date have been accepted, I can’t pretend to offer advice on that front. But check Nathan’s site, and other agent’s blogs for suggestions on killer queries.

And best of luck to you. We all need it in this business!