Archives: book

My book journey so far – an accounting

 

46 (give or take) years I’ve wanted to write a novel

Nine years spent actually working on a novel

Countless times I edited and/or rewrote my first paragraph

Five-plus full drafts

14 beta readers/listeners

One time I read my entire novel aloud to my husband, Mark Funk, and sons, Casey and Charlie.

Four (additional) books on writing/craft I’ve read to guide and inspire me

About 2,200 dollars spent on professional editors/consultants/classes (online)

Ten(?) pounds dark chocolate consumed in pursuit of my art

1,240 games of Words with Friends played when I should have been working

13 blog posts written about a book that’s yet to be published

Four small presses queried

One small press that asked to see the novel

31 agents queried

20 agents who responded with a thanks, no thanks

Five agents who responded with a nice thanks, no thanks

Three agents who asked to read all or part of the book

One agent who was complimentary. Peter Knapp called my novel “quite compelling.” I love Peter Knapp.

Zero offers

All of which means I needed to find another way. Plan A – trying to get traditionally published – hasn’t worked, so I’ve moved on to Plan B — hybrid publishing or co-publishing. Yes, I will pay to play.

Am I disappointed that I haven’t been able to secure a deal from an agent and/or publisher? Yes, a little.

Could I still if I just kept at it a while longer? Maybe. But I’m 57 going on 58. I want to write more books, not spend the rest of my life shopping this one.

Is my failure to secure a traditional deal a sign that I should abandon this project? Hell no. I’ve worked too long and hard on it. That doesn’t guarantee quality, I understand, but I’ve read and re-read my novel ad nauseam, and I still like it. In fact, I like it a whole lot more now than I did in the beginning.

Bottom line: I believe my book deserves to find an audience.

I could self-publish, but putting out a professional-looking book takes skills I don’t have – cover design, for example – and I would have no way of distributing it. Book stores typically won’t consider self-published works.

The hybrid press I’ve contacted offers assisted self-publishing with some traditional-publishing perks, i.e. distribution. Yes, I’d have to pay upfront for editing and other services, but I’d have to do that anyway to produce a quality self-published book. And I don’t know enough to do everything a la carte.

So on May 1, I submitted my novel to SparkPress, which puts book submissions through a vetting process to ensure they’re publication worthy. According to their website, SparkPress “gives authors a traditional house experience, complete with an experienced editorial and production team, while allowing them to retain full ownership of their project and earnings.”

Sounds good to me. I’ll, of course, keep you all posted. Meanwhile, I welcome your thoughts.

Photo credit: Narayana Prasad

A love letter of sorts

 

Dear Mark,

This may be putting the cart before the horse as I don’t have a publishing deal or even an agent to represent me, but I’ve decided on my book dedication and, well, I’m afraid you’ll have to share it.

It’s true. There’s another love in my life, another wellspring of support that made my novel possible. I’m referring of course to Guemes.

Can you dedicate a book to an island? I say, why the hell not?

As you know, I got the idea for my novel during a trip to Guemes eight years ago. Like a good masseuse, it worked away my doubts and plot knots to release a flow of words and sentences and sometimes entire chapters. Guemes actually kept my dream alive.

Anything seems possible when you’re looking out on a waterfront view “that never changes and always changes,” as you like to say.

When I tell you I need a “Guemes fix,” you know I have a particularly thorny writing issue to work through, and you’re always generous enough to let me come out here for a few days. Alone.

You do it because you know I’ll come back happy and recharged. Guemes may be only a 90-minute drive and five-minute ferry ride from our home in Seattle, but it’s a world away from the multi-tasking, soul-sapping clamor of city life, a true throwback to a simpler time.

I know that sounds hackneyed and sentimental.  I’m not exactly roughing it in the Funk family’s Wi-Fi-equipped beach house. But it’s not a stretch to say that time seems to slow down the second you drive off that ferry onto the island.

You can’t help by sigh as you pass the Anderson store and cow pastures, a sign advertising “compost tea” and a little stand selling garden-grown produce on the honor system. There’s the community center where islanders gather for craft sales and the annual Woodchopper’s Ball. Young, old or in-between, it doesn’t matter. Everyone dances.

At the intersection of Guemes Island and Edens roads is the playground that used to be a school site. Now it’s where our youngest son, Charlie, likes to play basketball, and I like to channel my inner child on the swing set.

It’s also the start/finish of the annual Dog Island Run, a 10K loop we used to jog religiously when we still had good knees.

Remember the dogs we used to pick up along the way? There’d be our Terrier-mix, Tom, and Magic the Rottweiler; Thurber, who must have been a Great Dane-mix because he was HUGE, and Mr. B, a cheerful Golden Retriever, all ambling along like some touring kennel show. But only Magic and Tom went the whole 6-plus miles with us.

They’ve all gone now to Dog Heaven, which must look a lot like Guemes. No wonder they call this Dog Island.

Following the road to North Beach, I’m greeted by that first gust of salty air. If the tide’s out, I might see a dozen blue herons out past the tide flats fishing. We used to dig for butter clams at low tide. Now we just slip on our aqua shoes and slog through the eel grass, looking for crabs and bullheads on our way to the rocks to check for sea stars. They’re coming back!

An eagle flies over. We know where they nest in the tall trees. Someday someone’s going to discover the bones from all those turkey legs the neighbor fed them.

I’m a bit of a bird watcher as you know, and Guemes has so many. Remember how we used to be awakened by the cries of seagulls and the plunk plunk of the clams they dropped on the roof?

That was the roof that got ripped off in that winter storm. The new roof is stronger and covers a larger house. I like the remodel/addition, but I kind of miss that plunking of shells. Oddly enough, you can still hear the rain. There’s nothing like being lulled to sleep by the rain.

It wasn’t the rain but fresh island goat’s milk that helped your brother, Carl. A colicky baby, he slept through the night — for the first time – on Guemes. Your parents were renting a cabin down the way, and that blessedly peaceful stay convinced them to buy property here. The Guemes house was built in 1959, my birth year. Coincidence?

So I really have Wallie and Mary Ann Funk to thank. Did they foresee the how much their investment would be cherished by the extended family, including Carl’s wife, Mara, our boys, Casey and Charlie, and a continuous stream of friends?

We love this place rain or shine, but that windstorm last November was one for the books. The waves hit the windows and sloshed over the house. I feared we might get swept out to sea. Maybe someday, when global warming meets a storm roaring out of the Fraser River, we will.

For now, though, I think I’ll sit in front of this never/ever-changing view and try to get some writing done.

With love,

Pam

What about you? Do you have a special place that taps your creative juices? Please comment below.

My brain on hope

jump bellyMy heart is pounding right now. A third agent has asked to see more of my novel, and I’m trying really hard not to get too excited.

At the same time, I’m worried that I completely blew it because I misspelled the abbreviation for “manuscript”, using two S’s instead of one, in the subject line of my email back to him.

You see, I’m so used to getting rejected, so used to hearing crickets, so used to reading that publishing is so ridiculously competitive that a little error like that is anything but. At least I didn’t commit the ultimate sin of misspelling his name: Peter.

I just gobbled two thirds of a big bar of dark chocolate even though I really need to calm down. Maybe, because I’m so keyed up, the stimulant will have the opposite effect?

I should have a cup of (decaf) tea or adjust my high idle by going for a jog, except my persistent hot flashes make those activities seem less than appealing. Speaking of heat, I should be worried about real things like global warming and Donald Trump, not an extra S.

I’m being way too neurotic and self-absorbed here. Sorry. But this is my brain on hope.

For those of you who’ve never tried to get a book published, let me try to put this into perspective.

A fiction query to an agent typically includes a brief plot summary and the first five pages to three chapters of your novel. If an agent likes what she sees, she’ll ask to see more. Of the six agents I’ve queried, two have asked to see the full manuscript, and one has asked to see the first 50 pages (a “partial”). A fourth agent rejected it, but nicely. She said she could see how much I’d invested in this book and sent me her good wishes.

I’ve received so many form-letter NOs over the years that this nice rejection was cause for a happy dance.

So to get a favorable response from three out of six agents is really encouraging, to be sure, but it’s many what ifs away from a book deal.

What if all three agents decide my book doesn’t hold up to the first pages they read?

What if they like it, but decide they can’t sell it?

What if an agent thinks it will sell, but he/she can’t convince a publisher of that?

What if I’ve just jinxed myself by writing this blog?

Even if I do get an agent who manages to get me a book deal, that doesn’t mean automatic success in the way most people think of success. Most first-time novelists usually don’t end up hitting it big. They keep their day jobs and write in the evenings and on weekends.  Maybe by book three or four, they’ve built a modest fan base, but most can’t live off their words alone.

I’m one mile into an ultra-marathon. Still, you have to start somewhere.  Color me guardedly optimistic. The champagne can wait, but I might have a beer and savor the moment.

Have you ever wanted something so bad you dared not imagine it? Please chime in below. Oh, and if you’re not a subscriber, but would like to be, head on over to my contact page and sign up. The “subscribe” button should actually be working now.

Photo credit: Mark Funk

The Waiting Game

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I’ve written and rewritten my book.

I’ve given it to beta readers.

I’ve read it out loud to my family. 1

I’ve worked with three professional editors. 2

I’ve laid the foundation for my author platform.

I’ve researched publishing options, pitched agents and entered one fiction contest. 3

And now . . . I wait.

I don’t like to wait.

My lack of patience may have something to do with turning 57 and spending five years on my first book. I want to get it out there in the hands of readers — readers I don’t necessarily know.

But these things take time. Agents and small publishers are buried in queries from aspiring authors like me. I can expect to wait at least a month for a response, if I get any at all. If no one bites and I don’t win that contest (both likely), then I’ll send to another batch of agents/publishers/contests, and keep repeating the process until I hit gold or give up.

Securing an agent or even a publisher doesn’t guarantee success, of course. An agent has to be able to sell my book to a publisher, and a publisher has to be able to sell it to readers. (Actually, I will have to do much of my own book promotion, or hire a pro.)

That’s traditional publishing. I’m giving it two seasons. If I can’t interest anyone in my book by, say, Thanksgiving, I’ll likely pursue a hybrid option that’s a cross between self-publishing and traditional.

Given how hard it is to wait – I know I’m not alone in this – I thought it might be helpful to make a list of things to keep me busy while I do the equivalent of drum my fingers on the table. Those of you out there who have just “finished” a major, life-consuming project might find this list helpful as well.

To do:

  1. Get reacquainted with my husband, two sons and our dog. It’s not that I’ve been absent. I just haven’t been wholly present.
  2. Tidy up. The house has pockets of clutter that need clearing out, and I have hair that needs cutting or shaving. After a winter of editing, I look like a cavewoman.
  3. Read books that have absolutely nothing to do with the novel I just finished, starting with The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name, by my old college friend, Craig Tomashoff.
  4. Write short stuff. A short story or essay will feel like a sprint after the marathon of the novel.
  5. Train for another triathlon season. I’m one creaky, out-of-shape (and possibly typical) writer body right now.
  6. Eat less sugar. Some writers hit the bottle. I reach for the sweets. Dark chocolate is my favorite, but I’ve been known to eat stale Halloween candy in a pinch.
  7. Drink more water. Water is life.
  8. Step away from the computer and email. I. Must. Resist.
  9. Revamp my website and beef up my social-media presence to prepare for the eventual public launch of my novel. (This may make it hard to do No. 8.)
  10. Give back. I’ve been so fortunate to have the time and support to write my book. Now it’s time to pay it forward.
  11. Move on. The first book is done. It’s off to college, never to return, like my oldest son. . . . Oh, who am I kidding? It, like Casey, will be back with loads of dirty laundry and requests for cash. Even with a publishing deal, I’ll have to do more editing, spend more money, and promote, promote, promote. (I’ve heard that writing the book is the easy part.)
  12. Finish what Anne Lamott calls the child’s draft of NOVEL NUMBER TWO. Telling myself it can be horrendously bad will hopefully silence my inner critic, who has no business poking her nose into my creative process.

What about you? How do you play the waiting game?

 

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Notes:

  1. Yes, I did finish reading my book to my kids and husband, and the experience was invaluable both for the weaknesses it highlighted and the confidence it gave me (They liked it!).
  2. The three editors I hired were Lish McBride, for developmental editing, Martha Brockenbrough, for story synopsis/query help, and Emily Russin for copy editing.  Lish and Martha are both at Nothing to Novel. It was all money well-spent.
  3. My platform, so far, consists of an author website, this blog and pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve researched traditional and indie publishing options, queried maybe 20 agents so far and have entered the Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest.

Reading aloud to my teenage sons will cost me

Mark reading to kids color (2)

In happier times, my husband, Mark Funk, reading to (L to R) Casey Funk, India Bock, Pierce Bock and Charlie Funk

My boys used to love books and stories. I would read to them in the evenings before bed or in the car on long road trips, or sometimes out on the front porch when the sun was just right — not too hot or glaring.

I read them all my childhood favorites as well new classics, including all seven Harry Potter books and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

Of course I hoped that sharing my love of reading and language would instill in them the same. But mostly I read to them because it was fun, effortless bonding, and they seemed to need and enjoy it as much as I did.

Then they became teenagers.

When my older son, Casey, decided he no longer liked being read to, we were into the third fat book of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, which I thought was lot to invest in a story without the payoff of an ending.

Charlie, my youngest, stopped letting me read to him half way through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series. He’d just go see the movie, he said, as if that were the same thing.

After that, my offers to read got about the same response as my telling them to clean their rooms. They didn’t even want me in their rooms, let alone sitting on or by their beds. It was like I had mother germs.

I mourned the loss. In the evenings, I’d pace the house, restless, looking longingly at my favorite cozy spot on the love seat next to the fireplace, the abandoned book-in-progress on the end table.

“Are you sure I can’t just read a few pages?” I’d plead.

“No, Mom. Can you leave me alone?”

I knew not to take it personally. They were starting the separation process on the road to adulthood. I understood that. What I didn’t understand was their abandonment of books and reading altogether (unless it was absolutely required by their teachers). I thought all those hours of reading to them would plant the desire to read on their own. It didn’t.

“I hate reading,” they tell me now. Hate is a strong word meant to push my book-loving button, but knowing that doesn’t make their protestations any easier to take.

I hold out hope they’ll come around. They’re still drawn to narratives, just not from books. Most of their attention and free-time is now sucked up by screens — movie, television, computer and cellphone – playing games, watching Netflix, seeing the new Star Wars movie, or reading and composing the shorthand text and Skype messages that substitute for human conversation.

The other day, I quizzed Charlie, now 16, and his friend about reading. (They put up with it because I was buying them lunch.)

What did they like to read? The friend had read Jurassic Park a while back and enjoyed it more than the movie. Okay, there’s hope, I thought, until Charlie reminded me that he hates to read.

I persisted. Did they have friends who liked to read? No, not really. Okay, maybe a couple of girls they knew, but no guys.

Why? Because boys would rather play sports or watch Netflix, and the “nerdy boys” would rather play video games. Charlie said he would rather sleep.

When I pointed out to him that his dad is a male person who loves to read, he said, “Yeah, but he’s old.”

Finally I stopped torturing them and let them finish their food.

As a writer about to send a young-adult novel – my first – into the world, I could choose to be depressed by this conversation. But I refuse to believe it’s as bleak as my son and his friend make it out to be.

The world is full of readers, and they’re not all girls and senior citizens. Which leads me to consider something so bold some might say it’s crazy.

Many a successful writer, including Steven King, has said that you really should read your work aloud to hear the draggy, clunky bits.

That gave me an idea. If I have to read my 85,000-word novel aloud, I may as well read it to someone, preferably a young adult, maybe even a couple of young adults, who would give me feedback on what worked and what didn’t.

Now, I know that the two young adults I have in mind would need some incentive, say, in the form of a large bribe. They’ve already flatly refused to read my draft on their own.

“Maybe after it’s published,” is Casey’s stock answer.

“That won’t help me,” is my stock reply.

So, after much negotiation, he and I finally settled on price: $200, half of which is to be paid up front. Charlie, of course, wants the same amount, but in cash (no bank transfers for him).

Will they be honest in their feedback if I pay for it? Yes, I believe they will. They’ve never tried to spare my feelings.

My best writer friend thinks I’m nuts, and I only told her about the reading aloud part, not about my reluctant audience.

In my place, would you pay your kids to read to them? In my sons’ place, would you take the deal?

Feel free to chime in, even if you agree with my friend that I am indeed insane.

In my next blog post, I’ll report back on what went down . . . if I’m not crying in my pillow.

What really happened when I hired an editor

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When you’ve edited and re-edited ad nauseam and you’re too close to your novel to see it objectively, it’s time to take a break or call in a professional. This summer I did both.

Sick to death of my book and discouraged by the prolonged silence that greeted me when I sent it out to agents, publishers and even some test readers, I was wallowing in self-doubt. My novel sucked. I’d just wasted four years. I would have nothing to show for my writing life. Boohoo, woe is me.

Honestly, I don’t know how my family put up with me during those dark days.

Fortunately, it being summer, my days weren’t literally dark. I was getting out regularly to run, bike and swim with my triathlon-training group. I lived for those workouts. They cleared my head, cheered me up, and gave me a feeling of accomplishment. If nothing else, I could say I swam out to the buoy and back.

The teammates who knew I was working on a novel asked me about it. I told them I’d finished it, bracketing the word finished with finger quotes. I said I’d sent some queries out to agents and small presses, but hadn’t heard back from any of them.

This didn’t surprise me, and I said as much. Agents and publishers can take months to respond, if they respond at all. Most don’t bother.

Meanwhile, a short story based on my first two chapters was getting turned down by literary journals – not an encouraging sign. As time wore on, I began to think less about agents and publishers and more about editors. Maybe I needed to pay someone to do a content edit of my book and tell me what was wrong with it. At the very least, I knew this person would have to get back to me.

“Why don’t you call Lish?” suggested my coach, the awesome Denise Geroux.

Turns out Denise’s sister-in-law is Lish McBride, the author of four young-adult urban fantasy horror novels: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer; Necromancing the Stone; Firebug and Pyromantic (forthcoming 2016). She is also one of three professionals behind Nothing to Novel, which provides individualized support for aspiring novelists.

With her books, her teaching experience and an MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans, Lish had the credentials I was looking for. She was also local, well versed in the YA genre and remarkably affordable at $525 for a full-manuscript consultation. Some of the bids I received were well into the four figures. (Editing is expensive, but a good editor is worth every penny.)

Lish wanted to see my first 10 pages. This initial consultation would show me the kind of work she did and help us both determine if she was the right fit.

I have to admit, I was a wee bit nervous sending the beginning of my book to TeamDamnation, Lish’s email address.

She writes horror, after all. Would she be bored to death by my realistic and relatively quiet story?

Any doubts I had were put to rest by the detailed line-edit I got back. Far from being bored, she told me that a lot was happening in my first 10 pages. Too much. I needed to slow way down, expand some summary into scenes, add sensory and time/place details, and show more of my protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. She also thought I could use a better title than The Leaving Year.

While I was disappointed she didn’t like my title, I was thrilled with her suggestions. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me, but this was the kind of feedback I needed.

I sent her the entire manuscript, and waited none too patiently for her “notes” to come back.

Less than a month later, they showed up in my inbox along with my marked-up novel. I swallowed hard and opened the first attachment, her letter to me.

Lish didn’t start off by saying that she loved or even liked my book, and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t paying her to do that. If I wanted praise, I could go back to my mother.

No, she started off by advising me how to take editing, not just hers, but edits in general. As a former newspaper reporter, I was no stranger to editing, even harsh editing. Still, I appreciated her sensitivity.

“It can be overwhelming and disheartening (to receive an edit),” she wrote. “Any time that happens, take a deep breath and remember that you finished a draft of a novel and anything that needs to be fixed, you can handle. For some perspective I usually do about eight drafts of a novel, not counting copy edits. Some authors do more, some less. I’m finishing up my fourth book and I still get overwhelmed and discouraged every time I read my editing notes for the first time.”

With that introduction, I expected her to break it to me gently that my novel sucked, but she didn’t. Her advice was constructive and her comments kind, but not overly so. She noted what she liked as well as what needed more clarity or fleshing out. Her edits were heavier at the beginning because she didn’t want to keep repeating herself on some common problems. Also, she thought I hit my stride as the plot progressed.

She had many more observations, pretty much all of them spot-on. At no point, did she suggest I burn it and start over.

Once I’d digested her margin notes, we met for coffee, and she spent two hours answering my questions and, truth be told, reassuring me.

She’d been there, done that: the despair, the self-doubt, the painful cutting of much precious prose and even an entire villain. It’s a process, she added, so no effort spent working on your book is wasted.

Until, of course, you reach absolute burn-out blindness with your words and can’t tell up from down.

Now that I’ve had this months-long hiatus and Lish’s edit, I’m ready to tackle Round, um, whatever. I’ve lost count. But my faith is restored, and I will see this novel through. Mark my words.

Photo credit: Laura Ritchie