Query Submissions and other tales of horror

I don’t even know where to begin.

Part of the problem is that I’m half watching Hang ‘Em High, which is completely uncalled for because I’m not interested in Hang ‘Em High.  I actually caught myself thinking, “Clint Eastwood is really attractive.”  It was similar to that awkward moment when I caught myself thinking that Sharky and Bones from Jake and the Neverland Pirates were attractive.  The difference is that Clint Eastwood actually is attractive.

Anyway.

So, I gained three pounds.  Yeah.  It was probably the obscene amount of cheese and cake I ate this weekend.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that my recent purchase of a new bathroom scale was the most colossal waste of twenty bucks seen since The Hubs lost twenty bucks after thirty-seven seconds of playing Mississippi Stud at the Islandview Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Because, look, I don’t know who came up with the term “lean muscle.”  It should be called “inappropriately heavy muscle.”  I’ve been working out.  I’ve toned up and, according to the scale, porked out.  The Hubs said, “Muscle weighs more than fat.  Don’t  you want to be strong and toned?”

No.  This kid liked being weak and waif-y.

I’m digressing again.  And really, who are all these people in Hang ‘Em High?  It’s like, a cast of thousands.  And a surprising amount of dead cows.

So, I got the score sheets back from the writing contest I entered my first chapter in way back in January.  They.  Were.  Brutal.  Brutal.  I was mortified.  But the most horrific?

Out of four judges, not one realized it was about the Civil War.  Two out of the four assumed it was Regency.  Even after clothing descriptions (including key words like “hoopskirt” and “corset”) and uniform descriptions–including but not limited to the fact that the general wearing the gray wool uniform was named Jeb Stuart.  And was referred to as Jeb Stuart.  The cavalry general.  Jeb Stuart.

Granted, not everyone gets quite as excited about the Civil War as I do.  Obviously.  But, it was enough of a virtual kick in the mouth for me to do some editing/adjusting/brainstorming to the very beginning of Chapter One.  As in page one, paragraph two.  It was actually only a minor tweak, but I love it.  It improved the chapter tenfold.  Plus, it blatantly confirms something that was only hinted at in a later chapter and, I think, adds conflict.

Which is good, because according to one score sheet, what I had written was ten pages of zero conflict.

I had a hard time deciphering the actual “lack of conflict” because none of the other judges felt that way or, if they did, they weren’t bothered enough to comment on it.  So, I honestly have no idea.  I thought it had conflict.  My beta readers thought it had conflict.  But here’s the gist of it: it proves that reading is subjective.  One judge loved it.  Two thought it was good but not their genre of choice.  The last one said they would shut the book after the first chapter  because it was boring.  I took their comments and applied it to my chapter.

And then I sent out my first official round of queries!

I’ll be honest.  I screwed one up and addressed it to the wrong person.  I got everything else right: submission requirements, specific subject line, carefully written query letter…and then wrote the salutation to an agent from another agency.  Fail.  But, the other seven I sent out were good.  So…we’ll see what happens with that.  You know, in several weeks.

And since response time is several weeks, I officially started work on my next novel.  At first, I felt like I was cheating on my characters from my last novel.  No Elizabeth?  No Jeb Stuart?  As I’m getting to know this new main character, though, I’m pretty excited.  She’s a pip.

So yeah.  It’s been a random few days.  But if nothing else, I was stoked to find out my contest entry made it to the finals before being shot down in a blaze of glory and suggested non-conflict.  It’s all good.  It’s progress and, in theory, the comments helped improve it before I sent it out.  Right?

Oh, and I’m apparently an abuser of exclamation points.  I talk with gusto.  I watch Jeopardy!  Not Jeopardy.  This is frowned upon in publishing I guess.  Who knew?  Not me!  I mean.  Not me.

23 Comments

  1. I remember when I first started sending out queries. I started small with maybe 7 and then got braver and sent more and more. I even had a file of the rejections on my computer until it got too depressing and I just lost count. I did get a few partial requests, but nothing substantial. Then, I wrote Catching. Sent out more, got nothing, but it’s my first published novel, so my point here is that maybe Anything You Ask of Me isn’t going to be the one that gets your name out there, but you’ve made a big accomplishment… YOU WROTE A NOVEL!!!! Always remember that :).

    1. I have a query tracker spreadsheet lol. At the end of the day, I love how Anything You Ask of Me turned out. I love the characters and what happens. So, even if it never gets published–or takes 20 years to publish–I’m happy. In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing one of the two new novels I started this weekend. Or both. Because I have so much free time lol.

    1. Aw, thanks!! Truth be told, this past weekend–on a whim–I started a more humorous contemporary. We’ll see what happens with it. I cranked out three pages when I should have been editing. I notoriously have a hard time with plot development in contemporary. I have no idea why, especially since I feel like me life is one big contemporary plot development. Guess we’ll see what happens!

      1. Lol, thanks!! Cornhole is just weird. Though, I’m weird so you think we’d share a mutual fondness….

        ….I’m hoping this contemporary I’m working on shows more of my humor. Humor is hard to translate into historical fiction!

      2. Shortening of my first name Justine and (unmarried) surname Moore. A friend of mine had a mooing cow for his ring tone attached to my number. He enjoyed me ringing! Now I’m Justine Allen, but lets keep justmoo 🙂

      3. I always secretly wished I had an awesome nickname. Heather isn’t really a name you can make a nickname from. My childhood best friend’s brother called me Heath Wad….but I don’t remember the actual rationalization behind why, lol. Randomly my nickname at my day job is Curley. Also not original.

  2. my suggestion about queries: send out as many as you can stomach. when you get a bite or two, rest. it will take many more than you can stand to find the right match. good luck. armour up.

  3. As the great novelist Eudora Welty once said: When you submit your work and hand it to someone else, it’s like walking into a room naked and turning slowly around.

  4. I remember reading somewhere that one frustrated writer – eager to prove that editors and agents weren’t infallible – sent in the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice. And, as expected, it came back with excoriating criticism…

    Writing’s got to be hardest gig around: even the people who are supposed to know what’s ‘right’ often don’t agree. Possibly because there are no right answers – only opinions. Unless what you’ve written is truly awful, it’s presumably a matter of shopping around until you find someone whose opinion coincides with yours.

    So keep trying. If people don’t get the point, be more obvious. There is sometimes no limit to the amount of obvious you have to be. It’s probably even worse with people who aren’t paid to read.

    I do not have the authority of authorship, or possess so many rejection slips I could fold them into cunning shapes and make a life-size replica of the Taj Mahal. But if you really, honestly, think your book is good but you can’t find a publisher who agrees, think about self-publishing. Then the readers can decide. Speaking as a reader, I look at some of the writing that gets published and think that either
    a) What is rejected must be truly horrific or
    b) How many really good books are left on the slush pile to make room for this… stuff?

    Self-publishing is on the up-and-up, it seems, and it would be a waste of all that work not to let your book get out in the open. If lots of people read it, then you will have learned something. If nobody reads it, you will also have learned something.

    Good luck, though, whichever path you choose!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words!! Self publishing is something I think about. I guess the one thing that stops me is the nagging concern of: is it just really bad? It seems like most agents aren’t able to respond because of time constraints and I get that. But it always just leaves the question if they didn’t like it because it was bad or because they just didn’t love it enough to pursue.

      Granted, I’ve only gotten two rejection letters. Several lack of response which I assume are rejections. It’s probably too soon to confirm failure. But, we will see what happens. I am so happy with the way my novel turned out. It’s sometimes a bummer to work on other things because I enjoyed writing it so much!

      I’m excited to see what happens, whether it be an agent, a small press, or self publishing. There’s so many options out there, it’s just a matter if finding out what fits best!

  5. I agree with Jen. I’ve had great fun self publishing. It’s a challenge, but worth it (in my case not great sales yet, but surprised the hell out of every person I know!)

    1. I am really debating the self publishing route or small press. I know there’s a market for historical fiction and since I do Civil War living histories, I’d have some marketing opportunities. So, I don’t know. I also don’t know why I don’t know. Maybe a nagging terror of being rejected by readers?

      It’s a good time to be a writer though. There are so many opportunities and options!! I’m just perpetually indecisive!

  6. Have you had your book read by someone who will give you an honest, critical response? Someone who has read a lot in the genre and can give you a reasonable comparison of the standard of your writing compared to the standard of other authors’? It’s scary to give your stuff to a complete stranger, knowing that they have no reason (like, for example, you cook their meals or iron their shirts) to be nice, but just knowing a reviewer has no reason to be nice can set your mind at rest – regardless of what they say.

    The problem with big publishing houses, as far as I can see (as a reader) is that they have their fads. You see it in urban fantasy (which is a trend in itself). A couple of years ago, you couldn’t move for werewolves. Then it was vampires. There was a brief flurry of zombie-protagonist novels (not successful since decaying corpses are not sexy) and then it was on to angels-and-demons. Even authors who’d never touched urban fantasy before were getting on the bandwagon, with mixed results. But there was a distinct flavour of “if it’s not what’s ‘in’ at the moment, we won’t publish it.” I am only an American Civil War interested person by marriage, so I don’t pay as much attention to it as I do other periods, but how fashionable is it as a period setting? It’s certainly not unknown for perfectly good writing not to get accepted either because it’s not what’s ‘in’ at the moment, or it just doesn’t hit the agent’s fancy. Which is the scary thing – you only have to look at the reviews for any book to know that they can range from 1 star to 5 stars – sometimes you wonder whether they all read the same thing, people’s opinions are so different.

    I realise that this is not either helpful or heartening…

    Regarding what to do next, two cliches apply:
    1. “The man who never made a mistake never made anything.”
    2. “You never know until you try.”

    From what I can tell, you haven’t really ‘done’ traditional publishing until you’ve reached at least twenty rejections or enough to wallpaper the smallest room in your house, whichever comes later.

    In the event that you don’t get an affirmative, you have a choice: you self-publish or you give up.

    The advantages of traditional publishing seems to be that it’s easier to get into paper-print, it’s easier to get translated into other languages, and the marketing is better.

    The advantages of self-publishing are that you get to keep the money, you have complete control over the rights to your book, and as a first-time author of genre-fiction, how much is a traditional publisher really going to spend on marketing your book? You’re probably going to have to do a lot of your own marketing anyway, so bear that in mind.

    The advantage of giving up is that you avoid the possible public embarrassment of people laughing at you either to your face or behind your back because you honestly thought people would pay good money to read THAT… On the other hand, that’s the only advantage. And it means you’ve wasted all that work in the event that your magnum opus is not, in fact, laughably bad.

    My money would be on giving your book to a knowledgeable reader(s) (representative of your market) whom you can trust to be honestly critical. If they say it stinks, then rethink. If they say it’s good, then push the poor thing out into the sunlight and see what happens.

    1. I belong to an online critique group and have for several years. The only problem that I run into is, that it’s only 10 pages at a time and you have to do 3 crits at a time. With my job and my kids and trying to find time to write, it’s hard to squeeze in time to do three crits–especially on the weekends. It’s a lame excuse, I know. I need to find a one on one partnering or something I think, but I honestly don’t have any idea where to look.

      Oddly enough, I’ve never let The Hubs or my mother read it. I know they are far too nice, lol.

      I’d like to think it’s not laughably bad. I (probably vainly) think it’s pretty good. And I know that there’s a market for it; especially because I’m PART of that market, both as a reader and a Civil War reenactor/living historian. You are precisely right though: everything seems to run on trends. The Civil War trend is…well, it’s hard to tell where it is. Some people are really into it, especially since these current few years are the 150th anniversary. But again, it’s all subjective. Some people love Regency. I think it’s boring. Personally, the Civil War is my favorite time period because of all the social upheaval, advancements in medicine, and the effect the war had on society, women, and even the act of war itself. It wasn’t a “gentleman’s” war; it was brutal. And I think we have a tendency to forget that.

      So, I don’t know. I certainly won’t give up on it–I love the characters too much and believe in the draw of the time period too much. Marketing doesn’t scare me, because I went to school for it and I enjoy talking about myself (hence….basically my entire blog!). There are pros and cons to all publishing options and I’ll get there. Eventually. Regardless of my choice, it probably won’t hurt–and will help–to find a crit partner and buckle down and edit it. Again. Because four times just isn’t enough!

      I’ll be taking your advice and looking into crits…I think that’s the way to go to find out the “badness factor.” Nah, not badness. The amount of improvement it actually needs!

  7. Maybe also consider putting a chapter or two on an online forum, for random (interested) people to read and comment on – a re-enactor forum, or something. The thing about getting writers to critique your stuff is that they’re… well… writers. They know all this stuff about form and pace and composition. What’s also useful is getting it read by someone(s) who approaches it from a reader’s viewpoint, rather than a writer’s. After all, you’re aiming to sell it to readers, not just other writers. And, like Stalin said, quantity has a quality all of its own. A dozen or a hundred people reading it and saying “This was dull” or, conversely, “This made me late for work”, can be just as valuable as one person giving a line-by-line critique – in some ways more valuable, because it tells you the likely reactions of your target market.

    But I will shut up and go away, and stop talking about things I don’t have any proper experience of!

    Best of luck. 🙂

  8. My mother told me that “back in her day” (when she was a linotype operator for a press), they were told to interject exclamation marks whenever appropriate, and that my novella had a shocking lack of them. Different times, different rules I guess.

    At least your judge didn’t tell you to chop off the first two chapters in their entirety like mine did. Weeeeeeee!

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