Positive Thinking Versus the Rejection E-mail

People say the biggest challenge when running a marathon is the mental block.  It’s that voice in your head. You know the one:

running_legs“You think you can run 26 miles? Are you crazy? Go back to the couch before your lungs explode and your legs fall off!”

I haven’t run a marathon, so I couldn’t say if it’s that or the whole running thing that makes it difficult. But I do believe that your attitude and mindset have a huge impact on whether you reach your goals.

I bring this up because I recently received my first rejection from an agent. Don’t worry—the drowning of sorrows in a vodka tonic or twelve is almost complete.  Just one or two more should do it….

Actually, I was not devastated by the rejection at all. The agent politely informed me that there is a glut of paranormal books out there right now and she didn’t think she personally could sell mine. Since I am writing in the paranormal genre, she is not the right agent for me. And that’s fine. In fact, I’m excited to have a rejection under my belt. Kind of gives me some street cred in the writing world. (Not quite the same kind of street cred as knocking over a liquor store, but it’s something.)

How do you deal with rejection? How do you overcome obstacles that stand between you and your goals? I’d love to hear from you!

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Tips For Writing a First Page that Rocks

In my last post, I described the Sisters in Crime meeting I went to where a panel of authors read and critiqued members’ first pages. Here’s some of their advice about how to make sure your first page hooks a reader or agent.

1. Less description, more emotion

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This tidbit came up more than once as the first page submissions were read out. That detailed description of the wallpaper in the heroine’s guest bedroom? No one cares. Readers are looking to connect with a character and a story. Descriptions should be sprinkled in at appropriate times.

2. Start in the middle of the action.

A recurring comment from the panel was some variation of, “If you cut out the first three paragraphs, you’ve got a great page.” Which the writer may hear as, “Just cut off your right ear, you don’t really need that.” Painful but true. Readers don’t need a lot of build-up to become engaged. In fact, with too much exposition, they get bored. Start in the action and save the explanations for later.

3. Readers should know early on what’s at stake.

If the main character finds herself on a speeding bus with a bomb on it, would she use the time to reminisce about moving to LA to pursue an acting career? This confuses readers because they don’t know what the story is about. Is it the bus or her quest to be an actress? On the first page, and the first chapter, stay focused on the conflict that drives the story.

4. Write for your audience.

People who don’t like epic fantasies may not choose to read your epic fantasy, even if your first page puts Tolkien to shame. That’s okay. Don’t try to write a book that will please everyone. Know your audience and write the best book you can for them.

1419618-unicorn2 Fantasy

romance-jan2 Romance

live-free-or-die-hard Live Free or Die Hard

Some other fun tidbits about the market:

  • Vampires have been done (no, really) so if you’re writing a vamp novel, you need a twist that makes your story unique.
  • Thrillers set in the Middle East are still selling.
  • The Holy Grail is the YA novel with a male protagonist. Everyone wants to find it but it’s notoriously hard to hook teen boys into reading, so the standards are quite high.
  • YA novels rarely involve the protagonist’s family. They’re mostly about the character forging her own identity.

Other tips for hooking a reader/agent? Please share!

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Sisters in Crime, Northern California. It was called “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down,” and members were invited to submit the first page of their manuscript to the panel of three distinguished authors. The page was read aloud and the panel gave their critique and opinion as to whether they would keep reading, and whether they thought an agent would keep reading as well.

The three panelists were Sophie Littlefield, Gillian Roberts and Keith Raffel. When the meeting started, I’ll be honest, I was a tad nervous. Okay, I was really nervous, and had been the entire drive up from Oakland to Marin. Yes, the critique would be anonymous, but it would also be very public.

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I spent too much time tamping down my Inner Critic as it tried to predict all the ways the panel could tear my writing apart, and ignored said Critic when it suggested I grab my page out of the purple box and run for Mt. Tamalpais with it. Instead, I sat in the second row and waited for the impending doom. At least if mine was one of the first to be critiqued, the ordeal would be over and I could relax.

Of course, mine wasn’t first. No, mine was second to last. The penultimate submission. Which gave the Inner Critic a good two hours to mess with my head.

criticize_bloggers    But that’s not actually what happened. (For one thing, my Inner Critic does not sound like Simon Cowell.)

In reality, I enjoyed the session. I loved hearing other people’s pages. This is a talented group of writers, and I heard many story beginnings I would’ve loved to read more of. The panelists were encouraging and constructive with their feedback. I told myself I wasn’t crazy to think I could do this writing thing. And I was right. The panel liked my first page.

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They suggested moving a line around and had some questions (when you’re writing about huldras, questions are inevitable), but the major feedback was that this fit right into the urban fantasy genre and that it worked. Hearing that felt great.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the most helpful advice I learned from the panelists about the market and what works in the opening page.