Showing posts with label Air Pirates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Air Pirates. Show all posts

Writing Status

Those of you who saw my post about my super ridiculous September may want to know how I made out. Here are where things stand on all things writing and a few other things.

I'm on schedule for Torment. At least I should be. I'm pretty happy with what I've gotten done, anyway!

I wrote a novella. Specifically, I drafted and revised the novella known as "Post-Edo Bladerunner" on the Works in Progress page. It is out of my hands for now. With luck, this will be a thing you can read in the near future. We'll see.

There may be another story for you to read soon. Specifically, this one, but that is also out of my hands. I'll let you know.

Air Pirates is no longer on submission. For those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time, I know this is really sad news. Though honestly it's been nearly four years since I got my agent; Air Pirates has not been on submission for that entire time, but it has been for a lot of it. I'm sure most of you already figured out it wasn't happening.

We got a lot of great feedback on Air Pirates, and at least one editor wants to see more of my stuff (an editor I really, really, really, really, really want to work with). But a lot of people expressed that -- while they loved the world and the characters and the story -- the category and genre of the thing was kind of hard to pin down, which means it would be kind of hard for them to sell.

Air Pirates is not dead. I love that world way too much. There is a major revision in its future (maybe even a rewrite?), but we'll see. What happens to Air Pirates depends on various career things that are out of my control over the next several months. Speaking of which...

Post-Apoc Ninjas is on submission. This novel has had its own bumpy ride, but I have learned a lot of things from the Air Pirates feedback and other soul-crushing critiques, and so I've revised the crap out of it. The result is something my agent loves (and if preliminary feedback on the Post-Edo novella is an indication, the critiques may also have leveled me up as a writer). Now that thing my agent loves is Out There.

Don't get excited yet, though. Publishing is slow, Tricia and I are cautious, and, well... you know what happened with Air Pirates. The point is I'm still writing and things are still moving.

The Thai government is happy with us. Or at least they're leaving our home alone, which in bureaucracy terms is the same thing.

No children died while my wife was gone. Though there was a fractured bone incident, but that wasn't my fault, and I handled the crap out of it.

Though it was a close thing.

Was there anything else you wanted to know?

AMA: If You Could Make Any Game...

The aftermath of my trip to California has kept me ridiculously busy, but I've finally snuck a little time to answer another question. And it's a good one.

Samuel asks:
You are currently the project lead for Torment: Tides of Numenera for InXile Entertainment. With that in mind, if you could be the "boss"/project lead for any type of Compute role-playing game, and decide everything about it's setting and design, what would you make?
(Clarification: I am not Torment's Project Lead. That distinction belongs to Kevin Saunders. I'm not even sure it's a job I'd want. I am Torment's Design Lead, in charge of gameplay systems and Numenera adaptation. And sometimes Colin and Kevin even let me write stuff.)

With that clarified, I'd make the game that I started 11 years ago: a space trader game set in my own Air Pirates world. If you know what both of those are, you can skip to the end. Otherwise...

A space trader game is an open-world (or at least pseudo-open world) space simulator in which the player is the pilot of a relatively small, outdated starship and must work his way up to some awesome, customized super star destroyer of his own design, by trading goods, accepting missions, and taking risks.

Often the game world has a number of factions the player can take missions for, gaining the goodwill or ire of each, and unlocking special missions, ships, weapons, etc. Many such games also have a story you can follow (or ignore). My favorite space trader games, in reverse chronological order, have been: Wing Commander: Privateer, Escape Velocity, and the BBS text version of Trade Wars.

Air Pirates is the world in which my single published story "Pawn's Gambit" is set, as well as the novel that got me my agent.

Air Pirates is not set in space, and it has almost nothing to do with space. It's really all about the airships and the pirates (hence the name). So that's the first thing I would change from the space trader formula: it would be set in a world and not in space.

The second thing I would tweak is I'd focus it on story and reactivity. I wouldn't remove the open-world aspect of it entirely, but for me that would be a side game. The story and the characters would be what was important, along with giving the player multiple really interesting ways to get through the game the way they want to.

Will I ever get to make that game? Probably not. But you asked, Samuel, and it's fun to dream.

Got a question? Ask me anything.

What I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging

I hate having only First Impact posts go up, but I am trying to make money at this writing thing, so. Anyway, here are some of the things I've been doing in the last few weeks instead of blogging.

Designing an alignment system. Basically codifying all of human experience and emotion into little boxes so we can tell the player things like, "You're Lawful Good." (Note: We're not using Lawful Good.) FUN LEVEL: High.

Thinking about what makes RPG combat interesting. There is quite a lot of debate in the hardcore CRPG world about whether combat should be turn-based or not. Part of my job has been to think about this a lot. FUN LEVEL: Medium (only because I'd rather get into specifics, but I can't yet).

Writing design docs. Fact: if we don't document it, it gets forgotten. FUN LEVEL: Tedious (but like our producer told me and Colin the other day, we don't get to do the fun stuff until we actually have money to do it).

(Anyway, tedious is a relative term. The most boring game design task is way cooler than anything I did for my Office Space job. I just want to think up cool stuff all day and have someone else write it down for me, is all.)

Writing Kickstarter copy. You'd be surprised how much work goes into a major crowd-funding campaign. I mean, look at a typical big-budget Kickstarter. Someone has to write all that stuff. FUN LEVEL: Tedious.

Planning Kickstarter videos. FUN LEVEL: High (until they start talking about my video update, then Abject Terror).

Iterating. I get an e-mail asking what I think of a design doc. I critique said design doc. What do I think of the latest concept art? Review and reply with my thoughts. Music? Videos? Someone's possible response to a forum question? Review and respond. Oh, and also respond to all the critiques of my stuff. FUN LEVEL: Surprisingly High.

Waiting on Air Pirates. Submissions, man. FUN LEVEL: Zero.

Revising Post-Apoc Ninjas. FUN LEVEL: Really slow.

Playing chess online. Our producer, Kevin, saw this drawing and said he might challenge me sometime. I can't let him win. FUN LEVEL: High.

Playing games with the kids. We raise gamers. I can't imagine why. FUN LEVEL: High until their attention spans wear out (so about five minutes).

Fending off tiny tyrants. This one, in particular. She gets mad at me when I work. Or cook. Or read. Or do anything except give her 110% of my attention. FUN LEVEL: I don't like it when she screams at me.

Driving. Yeah. I'm basically a soccer dad. FUN LEVEL: Usually High (this is where I come up with ideas).

So... what are you all up to?

State of the Writing

It's been a long time since I've given you guys anything like a regular status update. I mean, there's my Works In Progress tab, but (a) who reads that? And (b) that only covers things with names.

So here's where things stand.

AIR PIRATES (being the novel that got me my beloved agent) is on submission. I've gotten some very pleasant-sounding feedback, but you know. When I have an announcement here, you'll hear it.

POST-APOC NINJAS (being the novel I talked about last month) is being revised. Of course the novel I drafted the fastest would take the longest to revise, but at least it's moving.

EVANGELION-ISH is a sci-fi novel I'm going to write after the Ninjas are revised (and the Pirates, if necessary). It has an outline. The two people who have read that are excited, so I guess that's a good thing.

SECRET FANTASY PROJECT is something I can't talk about yet. But it's cool. Unfortunately it's also back-burner, which means I'm spending as much energy trying not to think about it as I am actually working on other things.

TOP SECRET PROJECT, the nature of which I cannot even tell you. But rest assured it's awesome and exciting, and with luck I'll be able to talk about it in a couple of months.

This is on top of getting kids to school, making them food, and sometimes sleeping. I don't know how I got so many projects all of a sudden, but at least it increases the odds you'll get to read one of them eventually. Though it does mean a lot of drawing and remix posts. Sorry :-/

(And to answer the question "How do you do all that?": awesome wife + very poor single-tasking*).

So what are you up to?

* Being the more accurate term for "multi-tasking."

Getting Unstuck

I've been working on revisions for Post-Apoc Ninjas, and it's been taking way too long. I once again have questioned whether I really should be writing, whether I deserve an agent, whether Air Pirates is some kind of one-hit wonder. I keep thinking if Air Pirates doesn't make it, Ninjas will be my next shot. Which means it has to be not just as good as Air Pirates, but better. And it's not.

But that's totally unfair. Of course it's not better. I've been working on Air Pirates for 4 years. It's been through dozens of beta readers and two or three major revisions. Post-Apoc Ninjas has only been through one very rushed draft.

But that didn't help me get unstuck. Here are some of the things that did, eventually, get me through it:
Pen and illustrations
courtesy of K. Marie Criddle
  • Read books on writing.
  • Think about the story 24 hours a day.
  • Create a dozen text files full of brainstorming and trying to work things out, with titles like "Random Revision Thoughts," "More Revision Planning (Invasion-Focused III)," and "Revision, Take Whatever" (You think I'm joking?).
  • Write plot points on index cards and shuffle them for no reason.
  • Use Awesome Pen of Power.
  • Make ridiculous, masochistic Twitter bets.
  • Make even more ridiculous punishments.
  • Take really long drives alone, like say: drive your daughter to her mountain village 2 hours away.*

I did finally get unstuck, and though all of these things helped (especially putting off reading BEHEMOTH), the only way I got through it was to never give up.

Who knew?

How do you get yourself unstuck?

* For the purposes of this post, driving "alone" and "with a teenager" are the same thing.

Revision: How to Add a Whole New Character

So when Tricia asked me for revisions, one of the things she wanted (which I totally agreed with) required adding one or two new characters. I'd never actually done this before, and I was afraid the new characters would feel flat or tacked on. Here's what I did to avoid that:

1) Define the character. This is the novel that got me my agent, so the existing characters were pretty fleshed out. I wanted to make the new characters as deep as I could -- goals, motivations, even voice -- before I changed a word. (Yes, I planned. What a shock.)

2) Plan what needs to change. I skimmed through the entire novel, making a note of every scene where the character could appear, and maybe what that would do to the scene or the whole plot if they did. Sometimes this led me down some really interesting roads, though other times I realized it would mess things up too much if they were around.

3) Write the character. For each scene in my notes above, I had to decide whether or not they did appear. This was tricky. I didn't want them to appear only in the scenes where they mattered (no chance for development that way), but I also didn't want them to have a cameo in every single scene just because I could. In the end, I decided to keep them in most scenes rather than make excuses for why they weren't there.

Ah, but how to add them . . .

           3a) Dialog. Sometimes the new character had new things to say, but most of my story was already set. Honestly, about two-thirds of the time, the new character just said things that other characters had said. I just changed the tag and the flow of conversation to support it. You'd be surprised how often -- especially in group scenes -- you can swap lines of dialog around without affecting things.

           3b) Narrator descriptions and thoughts. Whoever's head we're in needs to notice the character. Not just notice them, but have feelings about them that affect things. Otherwise why have them there at all?

           3c) Let them shift the plot a little. I wasn't about to rework whole plot points for these characters, but their presence did change things a bit. Partly, this is what they were being added for (to add emotional weight to certain of the protagonist's decisions), but a couple of events took me by surprise. It's usually good to let these things happen.

           3d) Treat it like a first draft. It's so, so hard to add words to a novel that I know works (see the part where it got me an agent). I want the new words to fit seamlessly with the old ones and to be just as awesome. But it's better to accept that they won't be at first. You'll make them good in a second.

4) Read the whole novel again. Slow. Now that the characters are in there, you have to make sure everything still flows. It's not just about continuity and details, but you have to look at the emotions of the scenes. Do the character's words and actions fit what's going on around them? Is she being flippant when she should be scared, or crying in a relatively tame moment? (Mine was).

I also realized there were places where the protagonist could be thinking about the new characters, even though they weren't in the scene. The new characters were now part of the protagonist's life, and I think this helped make them even more real.

5) Send it to a beta reader who hasn't read it before. You can send it to betas who have read it too, but I wanted someone who knew nothing to tell me which character(s) they thought I had added, which felt the most tacked-on.

I was kind of excited when my beta reader named characters that had been in the novel from the beginning. It did make me wonder about those old characters a little, but the new characters felt like part of the story to her, which means I did it right. And honestly, now I can't imagine the story without them either.

Have you ever added a character in revision? How did you do it?

Differences Between Querying and Submissions

You may or may not know by now that Air Pirates is out there on submission. Meaning honest to God editors are reading it. Submitting to editors this way is very similar to querying, but there are some differences I've noticed.

Disclaimer: This is based on my limited submissions experience so far. Your mileage may vary.

DIFFERENCE #1: Responses. I get them.
For better or worse, "no response means no" seems to be more and more common among agents. But on submissions, so far I get answers. Even better, I get semi-personalized answers (or, to be more accurate, my agent gets them and disseminates them to me). They may not tell me exactly what's wrong with the story (see SIMILARITY #2), but they give me a lot more information than form rejections.

DIFFERENCE #2: My agent does all the work.
I'm sure you all remember the scads of data I kept on my querying journey. On submissions? I keep track of nothing. I don't have to write the pitch, keep track of where I sent it and when, or follow up when responses are slow. And I like it that way.

Though I admit, I kinda miss my chart.

DIFFERENCE #3: Thinking long term.
In the query trenches, I had one focus: get an agent. But on submission, I find myself thinking more long term. For example, before I found Tricia, I had a handful of agents say they'd be interested in seeing future queries from me. That's neat, but now that I have an agent, I don't need to remember that information.*

But when an editor says something like that, it matters even if I get a book deal on Air Pirates. Why? Because this is my career now (potentially). Air Pirates will run its course someday, and even now, I need to be thinking about what comes next and where it might go.

* Though you can be sure that if, in some twisted alternate universe, Tricia and I part ways, I will be scouring my Gmail archives in search of those agents.

So there are some differences, but whether you're querying agents or submitting to editors, some things never change.

SIMILARITY #1: The waiting.
Oh, God, the waiting.

SIMILARITY #2: The content of the responses.
Writing is subjective. One agent thought revising to YA was a mistake, another said it was the right way to go. And you know what? They're both right. Turns out editors have the same sorts of opinions.

SIMILARITY #3: My job.
I still write. Through all the waiting and all the responses and all the excitement and the let downs: I. Still. Write.

Describing Beauty

If you don't remember, I suck at description. But that means I learn obvious lessons all the time and can pass the savings on to you!

Today's lesson: describing someone that is beautiful.

My problem was I didn't want to just say she was beautiful (although I did that too). I wanted to show it. But how? What features are beautiful? Long hair? Sparkling eyes? Pink lips?

Turns out (and this will be obvious to most of you, but such are the depths of my sucking) that the specific features don't matter. Like that old cliche about the eyes of the beholder, what matters is how the narrator feels about the character.

And you show that the same way you show any emotion: through comparisons, thoughts, actions, etc. For example:

Sister Victoria was a dark-skinned woman in her forties. She sat cross-legged on her own cushion, wearing the same white robe all the monks wore. Her hair was black as the shadows, curled at her shoulders.

What Hagai noticed most was her eyes. They were alluring in a way that made Hagai uncomfortable, only because she was over twice his age. He shuddered.

"Ten years ago, men would dance naked in the streets just so I'd smile at them. Now," she smiled, "they shudder."
There are all kinds of features here, but we don't really know Victoria is beautiful until the 2nd paragraph.

A red-haired girl in a white robe stood over Hagai. She wasn't much older than Hagai, though she was far prettier. She watched him patiently, her hands clasped beneath large sleeves, a polite smile on pink lips.
 Hagai straightened, scratching his head. "Uh, hi."
This one comes right out and says she's pretty (which is fine too, sometimes), though it doesn't say much about how Hagai feels about her, except that he's a little uncomfortable. Either way, that has nothing to do with her features.

"You're a pirate?" Sam asked her.

"Oy, ain't you the nummer." Then before he could blink, she was in his face with a blade under his chin. "Aye, I'm a pirate. Now give me a reason to cut you."
Bottomless eyes were cents away from Sam's. The smell of garlic and vanilla filled his head. He didn't want her to cut him, didn't want her to back off either.
This one hardly has any features at all (seriously, what does "bottomless eyes" even mean?), but there's no question what Sam thinks of her.

Anyone got any more tips for me?

(And before you go saying, "How can you say you suck! Those are great!" Let me remind you that these passages are the result of gobs and scads of revisions. Whatever good you think you see in them is the result of many fabulous beta readers.)

(Maybe one of these days I'll show you what these scenes used to look like.)

When Your Agent Asks You For Revisions

To me, writing a novel -- trying to make a dozen characters and themes and motivations and goals all fit together in one comprehensible mass -- feels like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube.

It takes years, but then one day I'm all, "Holy crap, I did it, guys! I finished the cube!"

Even better, I show it off to agents, and one of them says, "That's a great looking cube. Can I represent you?" And, well, you know how that goes.

Then my agent says, "Now before I can submit this to publishers, I want you to try and put these pieces in, too."

And I'm all:

Stupid Rubik's Cube.

In Which I Work Up the Nerve to Edit Something

There's a lot of waiting coming up in the next few months, in which I have to just hope that Air Pirates is good enough. In which I have to write the next thing. The thing is, I have at least two finished drafts sitting on my computer, one of which probably will be the next thing, but I'm having trouble working up the nerve to edit them.

This is what's going on in my brain, then. Welcome to the crazy.

Brain: Work on Post-Apoc Ninjas. It's pretty good, and it has a lot of the same feel as Air Pirates.

Me: But I'd have to rewrite over half of it. It's so much work! Can't I just work on this New Shiny over here?

You'll have to rewrite that draft, too. It's less work to revise Ninjas.

But what if it's not? What if I write something that's mostly good on the first try?

Has that ever happened before?

. . . But if I rip out half of Ninjas, it'll feel like I wrote it for nothing.

Look at it this way: you still have half of a good novel.

What if I rip out more than half?

It's still part of a good novel. It's more than you had before you wrote it.

But what if I revise Ninjas and it's still not good? All that work will be wasted!

That's what you say before you start every draft.

I'd have to revise it AGAIN!

Look, what's it worth to you to write a good novel?

I HAVE written a good novel. It's called Air Pirates. Have you read it?

And how many times did you revise that?

. . . I hate you.

So long as you finish something.

My Query and a Chat With My Agent

Many of you have been asking to see my query letter. Well, today's the day. To see the Air Pirates query, along with comments from myself and Matt MacNish, go visit Matt's blog. (If you'd like to read the query without comments, I've pasted it below).

But wait, there's more! To read more about Air Pirates, how it came to be and why my agent likes it, head over to Krista V's blog (wherein also my agent makes MY NEW FAVORITEST COMPARISON EVER).

What are you still doing here? Get thee to Matt and Krista's blogs!

Oh right, the query:
For Hagai's 17th birthday, he receives a stone from his mother that shows visions of the future. The thing is, Hagai thought his mother was killed ten years ago.

The bravest thing Hagai's ever done is put peppers in his stew, but when the stone shows his mother alive and in danger, he sets out to find her. Air pirates are hunting the stone too, and it's not long before a young pirate named Sam nicks it. Hagai tracks Sam down and demands the stone back--politely, of course, because Sam's got a knife.

Oddly, Sam offers him a job. He needs someone non-threatening to consult a seer hiding among the monks, and he reckons Hagai is as non-threatening as they come. Hagai agrees, intending to turn Sam in at the first opportunity. But when the seer says Sam is the key to finding his mother, Hagai chooses his mother's life over the law.

Though Sam has the Imperial Navy and the world's most ruthless pirate on his keel, Hagai joins Sam's crew, headed toward some godforsaken island he's never heard of. He doesn't trust Sam, and the stone haunts Hagai with visions of his own death. Nonetheless, he's determined to change the future and find his mother, if it's not already too late.

AIR PIRATES is an 84,000-word YA steampunk adventure, set in an alternate world. I think it would appeal to readers of Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN trilogy. My short story "Pawn's Gambit," set in the same world as AIR PIRATES, has appeared in BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES and THE BEST OF BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES, YEAR TWO anthology.

Holidays, a Sketch

Cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy's Holidays week. The floating lanterns are stolen from Thailand's Loi Kratong festival, but the scene is actually from Air Pirates (the lanterns are also in Tangled, apparently, but I swear I stole the idea first!).

I don't expect many of you to stick around next week, what with our Earthly holidays and all. And anyway, I thought you'd appreciate a break from the only thing I seem capable of talking about anymore. Have fun. Eat much. Sleep well.

Me? I'll be revising this manuscript (Apparently you still have to work once you get an agent. Did you know this?). See you in 2012!

3.5 Years + 231 Rejections = 1 Crazy Author

(I've been using my temporary insanity tag a lot lately. That's what querying will do to you, I guess.)

So here are statistics on three rounds of querying, including some highlights and A Chart. Let's jump right in!

("Queried From" counts from the months in which I sent out queries; it doesn't count when I got responses. "Rejections" are of the query itself. Consequently, "No Response" are also rejections.)

Queried From: May 2008 - Jan 2009 (8 months)
Queries Sent: 52
Requests: 0
Rejections: 41
No Response: 11
Request Rate: 0%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (Adult SF/F Version)
Queried From: Feb 2010 - Jun 2010 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 41
Requests: 5 = 4 partial + 1 full
Rejections: 16
No Response: 20
Request Rate: 12%
Representation Offers: 0

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Queried From: May 2011 - Oct 2011 (4 months)
Queries Sent: 140
Requests: 16 = 5 partial + 11 full
Rejections: 72
No Response: 52
Request Rate: 11%
Representation Offers: 2

Obviously, I sent out a LOT more queries for this latest version. Part of that is there are just a lot more agents repping YA than adult SF/F. Part of it is I got excited/desperate sometime around my 10th request, and, thinking I had gold on my hands, started sending queries to EVERYBODY.

It didn't work though:

Air Pirates (YA Version)
Request Rate in the 1st Half of Queries Sent: 17% (12 out of 70)
Request Rate in the 2nd Half of Queries Sent: 6% (4 out of 70)

Across all three rounds of querying:

Slowest Request: 78 days (one of two requests I got after following up on a lost query)

Fastest Request: 3 hours 45 minutes

Slowest Rejection: 1 year 24 days (the query had gotten sent to the agent's spam, but she fished it out along with a number of others)

Fastest Rejection: 55 minutes. That was Michelle Wolfson, who also gave me my...

Best Rejection: In which Michelle said she recognized my name from the comments on Kiersten White's blog. The rest of the letter was a pretty standard form, but because of the personalization, I felt like she meant it. (I also started following her on Twitter. She's fun.)

So, a couple of months in, I wanted to see a graphic of the responses to my query. I'm not sure what I hoped to glean from it -- probably I just wanted to make a chart. Here it is.

(RED = query rejection/no response deadline passed; BLUE = partial request; GREEN = full request; BROWN = partial rejected; BLACK = full rejected; GOLD = offer made).

I did learn a couple of things. (1) Most agents responded on Monday (being Tuesday here and on the chart), with Tuesday and Wednesday coming in second. (2) My emotional state in any given week had a very strong correlation to the placement of green and black circles.

(The chart also makes it look like summer responses are few, but keep in mind, too, that I doubled my query rate in the middle of August)

The fact that I got an agent exactly where the chart ends was completely unintentional, or coincidental, or God telling me something. Take your pick.

Was there anything else you wanted to know? I got all this data here; might as well do something with it.

How I Got My Agent, Part II

You've all read everything leading up to this post, right? Cuz if you think querying is all excitement and roses, you should go back and read the last post.

So Tricia Lawrence is my agent, but it may surprise you that I never queried her. I couldn't have if I wanted to: she wasn't an agent until after I'd stopped sending new queries out.

Ammi-Joan Paquette was one of the first five agents I queried, being one who asked to see the YA version when it was ready. She had my manuscript throughout the entire process and sometimes felt like my only hope. (And oh my gosh, if I had known the third query I sent out would be The One, and I could have saved myself the time and pain of sending out another 137 -- Oy! Just . . . kill me now (but don't because then I wouldn't have an agent anymore)).

When Joan upgraded from partial to full, she said she had reservations but wanted to see how it ended. I tried to tell myself (with only a little success) that she would say no. And, in fact, she did. She said the same as all the other agents: very promising, but she wasn't quite passionate enough to offer representation.

But the e-mail didn't end there. Apparently, Joan had passed it onto her agency's newest agent, Tricia, who had read it with enthusiasm. Joan said I should be hearing from Tricia quickly.

Listen, if you thought sending out queries is crazy-making, you should try getting an e-mail like that. I stared at my inbox for hours at a time, tenaciously ignoring the fact that nobody in America was even awake. I was checking my inbox in my sleep. I once checked my wife's e-mail to see if Tricia had somehow E-MAILED HER BY MISTAKE.

So yeah. Crazy.

Finally Tricia e-mailed me. She told me how much she loved Air Pirates, gave me a list (yay, lists!) with specific and awesome revisions ideas, and asked when we could talk on the phone. I looked and looked for the "I'm just not passionate enough" line, but I couldn't find it. It sounded like she actually wanted to work with me on it.

From the phone call, my story sort of devolves into everyone else's agent stories: I was nervous, she loved my story, she asked where I got certain ideas, she wanted to represent me, had editors in mind, etc, etc (but imagine me dancing a little the whole time). It was like every agent story I've ever read, with one exception.

See, when I first got the e-mail from Joan, I heard a tiny, evil voice. It said, "You're not good enough for the 'real' agent so they're giving you to the new one." Totally unfair, I know, and I feel bad even admitting it. But I don't know how anyone could get over 200 rejections and not doubt themselves like that.

Tricia couldn't know that lie had crossed my mind, but she totally murdered it. She told me when Joan had passed Air Pirates to her, she was actually wavering. She almost took it back to represent me. And Joan not only passed the manuscript to Tricia, but also to Erin Murphy, head of the agency and agent for 12+ years.

Honestly, I didn't need to know all that to make my decision; I knew that evil voice was lying to me, and Tricia's professionalism and enthusiasm had already won me over. But when I heard that, it made me feel all good inside and gave me a faith in Air Pirates I didn't realize I had lost.

So next week I will get some querying statistics up, along with some other related posts. I'll try not to bore you with All New Agent Posts All The Time, but, well . . . you know.

How I Got My Agent, Part I

I don't know about you, but when I read these stories, I'm always more interested in how long and difficult the journey was (it encourages me when I'm dealing with The Long and Difficult myself). So this first part is everything leading up to the call. The part where Tricia chose me comes on Friday.

2003-2008: I wrote a novel (Travelers). I learned what a query letter is. I got rejected a lot.

2008-2010: I wrote another novel (Air Pirates). I got lots of feedback on it, learned how to delete whole chapters, and queried again. I got rejected less, but still . . . rejected.

(Side note: I also spent some time writing three short stories, getting one of them published, and drafting another novel (Cunning Folk)).

2010-2011: I revised Air Pirates from adult SF/F to Young Adult and, in May, queried it again.

Querying the YA version of Air Pirates started off fantastic. Three agents from the adult round said they'd be interested if I did revisions or had another novel, but more than that, I had the Holy Grail of the Unpublished Author: a referral.

As part of my, ahem, "networking" I lucked into a couple of beta readers who have agents and/or book deals. One of them LOVED Air Pirates (still does, I believe) and thought her agent would too. Her agent requested the full within hours.

Three weeks later, she passed.

She was really nice, and said her client was right to refer it to her, but she just wasn't passionate enough to represent it. And I learned something I thought I had already known: a referral can only get your work seen, not sold.

That rejection hurt the most, I think, because I'd put so much hope in it. Over the next month I got a couple more requests and a couple more passes (always with the same thing: "There's a lot I liked, but I just don't love it enough to offer representation."). I also wrote this post and found myself in Stage 6 of this one.

Then in August I got 8 more requests(!). I thought I was level-headed about it, but I also doubled the rate I sent out queries so . . . maybe not.

In September, my manuscript was with 10 agents. A month later, half of them had passed -- some that I'd been really excited about -- all with the same comments as the others. I was still querying, but emotionally I was in the final stages.

This is another post, because it comes with warnings I think every Professional Aspiring Writer should hear. For now, know that I got an offer that may or may not have been a real offer and probably wasn't a good idea even if it was. I turned it down.

And I realized I was sending my 140th query letter to agents I probably wasn't going to be very excited about even if they offered -- agents I might even have said no to. I stopped sending out new queries.

I was done. Yes, there were still a few manuscripts out there, but I'd lost hope in most of them. I didn't even know some of the agents who had requested them. Would they turn out to be the same as the offer I turned down? I let it go and focused my efforts on drafting another novel.

It was less than 24 hours after finishing that draft when I got an e-mail with some hope in it. (Continued here)


Three and a half years ago, I started this blog just so I could type this sentence:


I am now represented by Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She's a new agent with a great agency, and she is very excited about Air Pirates. I can't wait to start working on this thing again.

I'm aware, of course, that this doesn't change the game. I've beaten a boss, but there are more levels to come, and the princess is in another castle. But a new level comes with new abilities. I've added a new member to my party, with strengths to match my weaknesses, and . . . some other gaming analogy that I'll think of later.

I'll give you the story and the statistics later (of course, the statistics). If there's something specific you want to know, please ask in the comments so I can be sure to address it.

Until then: DANCE OF JOY!

Statistics, Milestones, and Statistics

As of this morning (last night for you in the Americas), the first draft of Post-Apocalyptic Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!) is finished, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Not because the work is done (far, FAR from it), but because drafting is my least favorite part of the process.

To celebrate, I'm posting these pre-revision statistics on the four finished novels I have sitting on my computer. (What, you don't think statistics are fun? Perhaps you've mistaken this blog for someone else's.)

I also submit these in the hope they will encourage any of you who feel you write slow: It Gets Better.

Time to Draft: 4.5 years, both planning and writing (mostly writing).
Outline: None (GASP!), but lots of notes.
Draft Length: 76,000 words.
Avg Drafting Speed: About 1,600 words/month.

Time to Draft: 19 months.
Outline: 244 words.
Draft Length: 100,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,200 words/month.

Time to Draft: 9 months.
Outline: 5,500 words (if you think I'm proud of that, read on; it gets better).
Draft Length: 48,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 5,300 words/month.

Time to Draft: 4 months.
Outline: 9,100 words (<--- !!).
Draft Length: 79,000 words. 
Avg Drafting Speed: 19,800 words/month.

I'm not quite at NaNoWriMo speeds yet, but I am finally at a place where I feel like I could produce a book a year, if I had to. You know, if someone wanted to pay me to do that (do you think that's too subtle?)

Breaking the Rules

If you've been learning the craft for a while, you've heard the rules. Don't start with a character waking up. Don't start with dialog or the weather. Don't use a mirror as a device to describe the narrator. Et cetera.


There's a book you might have heard about called THE HUNGER GAMES. You know what it starts with? Katniss waking up.

You may have heard of Natalie Whipple, whose X-Men-meets-Godfather debut comes out next Summer. (If you haven't, you're welcome). About her novel, she tweets, "TRANSPARENT opens with a flashback, then moves on to a mirror scene while she is getting ready for school."

I love that. You may argue that means Transparent isn't good, but then you haven't read Natalie's stuff and you would be dead wrong. I can't wait to read Transparent, and I love that it breaks the rules.

My own novel AIR PIRATES starts with dialog. While it hasn't gotten me an agent yet, it has generated a lot of requests which, if nothing else, tells me the beginning doesn't totally suck.

Listen, the rules are good things. You should know them. But don't be afraid of breaking them. Just know why you're doing it. Are you breaking the rule because you couldn't think of anything better, or is it because that's the best way to do what you want to do?

If it's the latter, I say go for it! What do you think?

(Hm. I just realized Post-Apoc Ninjas starts with the weather. Maybe I have authority issues?)

Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet?

A couple weeks ago, blog reader Lexi left this comment:
I'm interested in why you guys aren't self-publishing.

It needn't stop you querying agents, if you're set on that. Meanwhile, you could be making money from your writing, and if you do well enough, agents may approach you. Win/win approach.
 It's a totally valid question, and I answered briefly in the comments, but I thought it deserved a bit more explanation.

Understand, of course, that this is just why I haven't self-published yet. I can't speak for anybody else.

(1) I still believe I can make it traditionally. I got zero requests for my first novel. The next novel got five requests -- it was rejected, but three of those agents said they wanted to see revisions and/or my next novel. This round (which is really a revision of the second novel), I've already gotten significantly more interest than last time.

That tells me I'm getting better and leads me to believe I will continue to do so. Until I hit a wall (like where the statistics are no longer going up), I'll still believe I can do it.

(2) Self-publishing is still, statistically, a lot of work for not a lot of gain. I have no doubt the numbers have increased since I ran through them a few months ago, but I haven't seen a lot to encourage me. I'm still not convinced that self-publishing should be more than my last resort.

(3) Pursuing traditional publishing stretches me. I talked about this a couple of years ago, when self-publishing still wasn't quite legit. I think one of the reasons for the growth curve of (1) above is that I've actively gotten feedback and tried to get better. I might still do that if I self-published, but I know myself. More likely I'd revise less and sacrifice quality for churning out novels.

(4) Poor sales on a self-published novel could affect my chances of getting traditionally published. At least according to Rachelle Gardner. I'm inclined to agree with her. For me, making a little money now isn't worth killing the dream. Speaking of which...

(5) Self-publishing isn't my dream. I once had a friend who tried to shoot the moon on every round of Hearts. He lost points most of the time, but he won overall (and won big). But he didn't change his strategy even when I started sacrificing points just to take him down. When I asked him why he kept doing it, he said, "The game's just not fun otherwise."

I kinda liked that.

Traditional publishing is changing, we all know that. But it hasn't actually changed yet. It's still here and larger than life, and so is my dream. So I'm going to keep shooting and see what I can hit.

Besides, what's the worst that could happen?

For you, have you self-published or are you still shooting for traditional? Tell us why in the comments.

Throwing Rocks at Your Characters

They say when you don't know what happens next, or when the story is slowing down, the best thing to do is throw rocks at the characters. It means make things hard for them. Just when they think they got out of one scrape, toss them in an even worse one.

I learned this best from one of my favorite chapters in Air Pirates. Hagai (not a pirate) needs the help of Sam (pirate) to find his mother and plans to leave the town of Providence with him. Unfortunately, the Imperial Navy and another particularly nasty pirate named Jacobin Savage don't want Sam to go.

The outline for this part said "Hagai helps Sam avoid arrest then together they escape Providence." But when the time came to write it, I wasn't sure what that looked like.*

It started simple. Hagai boarded their airship just as two Navy ships showed up and starting shooting at them. Fortunately Sam and crew had a clever piratey maneuver to get them airborne fast and out of range. It was a good scene, but it felt too easy.

So I threw rocks.

They escaped the first two ships, but the Navy was ready for them. Over half a dozen new ships came out of the clouds and surrounded them. They attached themselves to Sam's ship with steel wires and started reeling them in.

It was good. It was tense, but now I had a new problem: how would they get out of it? Whenever you throw rocks, you'll run into this, but that's when you know you're doing it right. If the situation isn't impossible, it means it's too easy.

I won't tell you how they escape (hint: it gets worse before it gets better), but I will say that what started as a clever-but-simple maneuver turned into one of my favorite battle scenes in the entire book. (In fact, I had a hard time topping it for the climax...I'm still not sure I did). All from throwing rocks.

To sum up:
  • When the story is slow, or you don't know what happens next, or things feel too easy: Throw rocks at the characters.
  • Throwing rocks means: Every time the characters think they're okay, make something even worse happen.
  • When the situation looks impossible, you're doing it right.
Have you done this in your stories? How did it work out for you?

* It's true, my outlines used to be really vague. They've gotten progressively more detailed the more novels I write. But no matter how detailed your outline is, eventually you do have to make up something.