Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alexis Bares Her Writerly Soul

Today I'm opening myself up. I'm going to share with you a writing process in which I'm currently submerged. I'm sharing the good and the bad... and the embarrassing. This process has been arduous, uplifting, depressing, at times overwhelming. It has taken research, planning, a willful refusal to give up, and a certain inclination toward OCD. The process to which I refer:
Submitting Your Work.

In early March of this year, I completed {for the sixth time... don't judge me} my manuscript. It's something I'm proud of {most days} and something that, despite my best efforts, refuses to let me give up on it. {I've written and re-written it over several years, learning for the first four re-writes, then fixing my mistakes and paying for my hardheadedness for the next two}. I realize that as my first novel its chances for failure are high. But I truly believe it has potential to be something great. I'm passionate about this story, and I believe I'll have readers who feel the same.
My only hurdle? 
Translating that passion into something I can convince agents and editors to invest in.

So, in July 2011, I attended Thrillerfest with my fellow Peas, where I pitched my story to a number of agents. It was an incredibly intense experience.

Now, I'm the first to admit, I can get in my own way when I'm speaking about anything important to me. No matter how much I prepare, no matter how well I know what I want to say, inevitably, in the moment I'm supposed to speak, my emotions go on attack. Nerves build nests in my throat. Adrenaline sparks behind my eyes, short-circuiting my brain so that the message meant to pass to my tongue comes through static, and falls jumbled off my lips. My heart climbs toward the nerve nests like a cat hunting a bird, as an evil voice starts running commentary on scenarios, all negative, of how this will play out. I scramble to ignore all of it -- to remember the wording I worked for hours to perfect in the hope that I can salvage it from the scraps I've already spewed into the open air...

But somehow, on that day, after one or two flubs and desperate scrambles {that still resulted in requests for partials, thankfully} I got my shit together. By the end of the two hours, having seen a total of twelve agents, I had ten requests for pages, and two requests for the full manuscript. It was exciting. Thrilling.

I had never had this much success in pitching my book before. I'd submitted queries for version three or four back in 2008, but I'd known they'd fail not long after I sent them out {thanks to the criticisms of members at AbsoluteWrite}. And fail they did. But that was 2008. I'd been through several revisions and one very deep self-relfection-inducing writerly-wake-up-call since then. I know now the importance of a synopsis -- for myself as much as for the pitch -- and how the hell to describe my story in a single paragraph. {And hearing, in person, those Agents' reactions to certain parts of my pitch was a huge help in perfecting it}. And it seemed to make all the difference.

So, in August, after some major polishing to the requested pages {just, ya know, to be sure} I sent off my work to the first ten agents.

Over the next few months, I racked up six rejections. I took it in stride {for the most part}. Each rejection praised my characters, the world I'd created, and, most importantly, my writing.
...With the exception of one, whom I could only describe -- even before the rejection -- as scary and kindof a *insert bad word here*. This agent addressed me as MISTER Lampley, then had the audacity to say I was rejected for my writing, which, based on his excellent attention to detail *I'm being sarcastic* he definitely did not skim *still being sarcastic*. {Like I said, "for the most part"}.

They just couldn't risk a chance on the story because of the market.

Now, I'll be honest, even though I was prepared for rejections, and even though they were {all things considered} really positive ones, I started feeling rather dejected. How do you fix that? Tell me there's a gaping hole in the plot or you hate a character. I can work with that. But how do you fix, "I loved it, but the market..."? I still had a re-working of the end of my book to deal with, but instead of dealing with it, I slumped. Despite my rock-solid conviction {built over years of work and dreams} that I was doing what I love, that the hard work was worth the reward I still couldn't see on the horizon -- I started questioning myself. I let doubt in. And that doubt led to several months of inactivity. I started a couple stories, momentarily filled with the excitement of a new project. But I never got past the first few pages.

And then, on February 28, M sent me an email.
Subject: "Do this!"
Inside was a link to a contest, for which the deadline was just two weeks away. The contest was open to those with a completed manuscript in any genre, hosted by an agent who, I knew, was on my list of potentials. I still had those edits for the last chapters on my to-do list, and wasn't feeling totally confident, given that I would need to go through the entire thing for proofing with M's notes {which she'd nearly finished on the entire manuscript} but I knew the opportunity shouldn't be passed up.

So I asked her the one question I needed to know: "But is my book actually finished?"

To which M responded {in short}:
"Alexis, my writing partner, my dear, my friend. I do this with utter compassion and love.  *slaps you once firmly across the face* Please, wake up!
I mean... you've finished it 212 times!  ...  Make one push through for proofreads -- tighten and clarify just a tad (something you could certainly do by March 15 if you set your mind to it -- I've seen you accomplish much more in shorter time).  ...  And in the immortal words of Jeannie Holmes... Pull your head out of your ass. Trust the story. Trust yourself, and WRITE damn it!"

Whether it was the metaphorical slap in the face, or Michelle's innate confidence in me, or Jeannie's immortal words of writerly wisdom... I did get my head out of my ass and write.

It took almost the full two weeks and one "sick day" to finish the chapters and proof/edit the entire thing, but I did it. And I felt really good. Scared. Nervous. But good. I was once again confident in my ability as a writer. I entered the manuscript into the contest, and, since I'd finally reached the milestone of completion {again}, I sent the manuscript to the two agents who'd requested it at Thrillerfest.

The contest winner has since been announced, and it wasn't me. I've heard back from one of the two agents with my full manuscript, and am waiting, with hope, for the other's response.

In the meantime, with hope for the future but being mindful to stay realistic, I had begun the exhaustive task of writing out my Agent List. I went through my Writer's Digest Guide to Agents {not the actual title} and wrote out all the Agents I could potentially submit to, including what they were looking for and how well that fit with what I wrote, where to contact them, submission guidelines, etc. Though I started the list more than a month ago, I'm still not finished. I wanted to be sure I picked the right agents and agencies for me, so I've been going back through the list, looking up each agency, and gathering more/up-to-date information on each one. It's a time-consuming process. And an interesting study in how quickly my emotions can change. Looking through agency submission guidelines and agent bios has become a reflection of the entire process. One agent bio will have me thinking I'm sure to be exactly what they want. Another will have me thinking my big break will be with that other book I've started. A third will have me questioning why, on earth, I'm even going to all this trouble in the first place.

But if this process has taught me nothing else, it's that this flux of emotion and belief are just that: fluctuations. You're gonna have your ups and downs. It's a roller coaster. And it's up to you to decide if you want to take the ride. No matter how down I get, no matter how hard things are or how bleak my prospects look sometimes, I still want to take that ride. Even if all I gain is the memory of the experience {and a solid metaphorical slap}.

*Peas Out*


  1. Great post! I feel you. The importance of friends & fellow writers is priceless for that much needed occasional slap in the face, kick in the rear. Keep writing, keep submitting, it will all be worth it one day. (Hopefully sooner than later)

  2. I agree...you must keep writing, keep submitting, and the right agent will come along...maybe when you least expect it.

  3. kburke, Thank you! Haha! They certainly are. I absolutely agree and do not plan to stop working toward my goal. :)

    And thanks, mom :)