After reading my blurb about my novel on Facebook, an agent Tweeted, asking to see the full manuscript.
The Hook. The Elevator Speech. The Movie Pitch. Twenty-five Words Or Less.
The synopsis exists simply to get them to read the first pages. Don’t try to sell the whole book.
Originally, when pitching an agent (face-to-face or on phone as opposed to written contact, called the query), I said:
- Literary fiction; a girl and her backpack in Southeast Asia.
- This pitch worked from the beginning. I have never changed it.
In an envelope, the interested agent (promptly!) received the requested material; marked Requested Material on the envelope, highlighted and circled. My second paragraph, The Expanded Hook, read:
- When we met at (place and time), you requested to see my novel, The Invincible Summer, a travel adventure of primarily internal terrain. It is as much a story of learning to thrive from what life hands you as it is about using tai chi, the Chinese art of self-defense and self-examination, to survive incest.
If I was submitting over the transom, it read:
- At the advice of (drop name), I am contacting you regarding my novel … etc. Or
- I am contacting you regarding my novel …
Spoiler Alert!!!! If the plot of Rosie’s story in critical to you, read this “Vehry Intahrchesting” post last.
The Dog bounded out of the first prompt from the first writing class I ever took: Write about a magical transformation.
I remember sitting at The Rosebud Cafe half an hour before the assignment was due, furiously writing what is published, here, as Part One. I remember feeling a great deal of shame as The Dog chewed into the popular people; in the time I was writing about, kids weren’t opening fire on their classmates then killing themselves. I had to follow the story, however. Rosie was the real deal.
At the time, I was trying to sell my (still-unpublished) first novel. A young adult editor from a major publishing house read it. She didn’t want it, but asked me to try something YA. Starting with The Dog, I struggled for two years to make Roise/Lauren/Jonathan into a novel. The voice was clear. The characters were fairly clear; Lauren is still mushy. I had the plot (who does what, and how it culminates). I had chunks of fiction, but the story (what is really going on) never popped.
The short story The Dog (not YA) existed simultaneously. It always had three sections; not always the same three. I wrote Rosie and Jonathan’s brief affair. I wrote Rosie’s death. I knew Rosie had been molested, and that her perp came into the story only as much as you see in The Dog. I thought alot about the Torah stories of Rachel, Leah, and Jacob. I wrote one. Out of the blue, a call came from the editor of Jew-ish.com, commissioning a Passover shorty story. Working with that editor, what is now the second section emerged, the final section fell into place, and The Dog published, Aou-a-ouuuuu.
In the process of re-posting and summarizing here, I understand why the novel never popped. When I got that Rosie would die young, would die without experiencing love because she would not allow herself to experience her abuse, I locked down. I would not write that story. Not long ago, I took an art therapy class. My doodles focused on color. There was always an initial, purple image that came into contact with black-and-ugly. From the collision a phoenix emerged, redolent.
My artist-self wanted to vary the theme. The therapist said, “Don’t. Your ability to hope is why you survived.”
YOUR WRITING PROMPT (with apologies to Rebecca Brown’s “Writing on the Family” at Richard Hugo House, circa 1999):
Write a magical transformation. It can be a real transformation. It can be imaginary. It can be unclear.
For a short, sad, period, I felt that as long as I published one article a month, I was what I called “real.”
Jenny from Seattle writes: At what point did you think you could actually become a bona fide writer—meaning you thought you could do it professionally and even make $$ at it?
I am making up, here, that by bona fide, you mean published. Through circumstances I can hardly take credit for, I published the first article I wrote. Got paid, too; woo hoo! Three hundred dollars. As this became my introduction to publishing, being paid for my work was just the way it was.
Also early on, I made the decision that I did not want to be a full-time freelancer. Freelancers spend a great deal of time looking for work, a great deal of which is business writing (ad copy, brochures, newsletters), none of which interested me. I decided to write what I wanted and then try to publish it. I supported myself with full-time job marketing jobs (ad copy, brochures, newsletters; so there) but I did not think of myself as a sales assistant. I thought of myself as a writer.
For a short, sad, period, I felt that as long as I published one article a month, I was what I called “real.” Relatively quickly, I established myself as a regular freelancer for the then-new Seattle weekly tabloid, The Stranger, eventually going on the masthead as a contributing writer. I didn’t have the resume or training to land a full-time reporter position, but the editor, Emily White, recognized that I had a voice and a world view. She sent me out a lot, for which I remain grateful.
Perhaps four years into working full-time/writing around the edges, earning an extra few grand a year from freelancing, I apparently decided that I never again wished to earn even that little as a writer, because I undertook a novel.
I would write all night. As the birds began chirping on Saturday mornings, I would lower the shades and flop into bed, a deeply satisfied stereotype.
My friend Susan Guyette asks: How do you create your time to write?
Susan, I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you did not ask, “How do you find the time to write?” No one finds the time to write. Writers hunt down writing time. We stab it, drag it back in by the knife handle and feast, jealously guarding our bloody, juicy morsels.
I create time for my writing by acknowledging that I am a writer. Writers write. You will know if you, too, are a writer, by not writing. Try a day and a half. If you can go a day and a half without developing a mad itch, you may not be a writer.
OK, maybe three days.
The other way to make sure I create time to write is to work on something I am passionate about. Then, try to stop me.
When I first started my as-of-yet unpublished novel—a girl and her backpack in Southeast Asia—I had no real outside distractions. I was single and childless. My job existed to feed my writing habit. Leaving work on Fridays, I would write all night. As the birds began chirping on Saturday mornings, I would lower the shades and flop into bed, a deeply satisfied stereotype. I’d see friends on Saturday nights and spend Sundays doing that which was necessary to show up clothed for work on Monday morning. I would think about my novel all week, living for the moment when I could unplug the phone and plunge back in. Never once in the four years it took me to assemble a first draft did I have block.
Eventually, I met the adorable fellow whom I eventually married, I switched my writing binge to Sundays. He watched sports, I wrote. We met for dinner, where I talked about nothing but my work. The man is a saint, a saint.
When we had our first child, I didn’t write for six months. After that, see above: go nuts if you don’t. With alarming irregularity, I squeezed in a few hours, a couple times a week. My focus, however, had shifted. With the addition of our second child, I sensed I would be more like a year. It was longer. These days, my commitment is as least fifteen minutes a day, first thing in the morning, at least three days a week. I generally hit about a half-hour, four times a week.
For excellent ideas on tracking down and knifing your own writing schedule, please visit this outstanding and free website. Write Habit is run by Angela Jane Fountas, currently the writer-in-residence at Richard Hugo House.