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I belong to a writer’s group whi...

Posted Sep 29 2008 10:08pm

I belong to a writer’s group which has thousands of members (no exaggeration) so there are varying degrees of success on the list in a very competitive and difficult industry. I’ve been a member for a few years and the older members remember me freaking out about writing a book proposal for about 2 years.

I couldn’t get my act together and bucked the book proposal idea for 2 years. I took several classes on writing a book proposal including one torturous class where everyone went around the table and talked about their project and the instructor just sat there most of the night. I paid $750 for that horrible experience. Thanks so much. I then went on to write the entire book and looked into self-publishing to avoid the dreaded book proposal.

The group, which tends to eschew self-publishing, was none-the-less very supportive of me as I spun around on the floor like Curly from the 3 stooges going woo woo wooWRITING A BOOK and FOUNDING A PUBLISHING COMPANY in order to avoid the book proposal. Founding the publishing company was an expensive, time-consuming and ultimately foolish move in my effort to circumvent the process. I would, obviously, do anything to get out of doing what I needed to do. I call it needing to smack your head into the wall until you say ouch and realize that smacking your head into the wall is not a GOOD IDEA. Then you have your “duh” moment and move away from the wall.

But when I finally decided to bite the bullet and go back to square one…I sat down and wrote the book proposal because, truth be told, I didn’t want to self-publish…I wanted to be published by a traditional publisher. That had been my goal and you guys know I’m all about the goals. So suck it up and write the book proposal. And whine the entire time (that’s what I did) and wonder if anything is going to come of it. It’s one thing to put time and energy into what you’re doing, it’s another to wonder and let self-doubt undermine the whole process anyway.

So I sat down and wrote it and then spent a few months honing it and then started to write the query for agents. I studied and studied and studied and edited and refined and revised both the proposal and the query. I followed advice from agented writers and read books and researched the long thankless road to getting an agent and a publisher. It’s hard to get an agent and it’s hard to even get the attention of most agents. Not only do they receive tons of dreck each day but they only have room for so many clients on their roster. So like acting or singing or doing anything in the creative arts world, your chance of being rejected out of hand is pretty high.

Long story short, I sent out the query in a very methodical and limited fashion as is suggested by “ those who know “—only a few agents at a time. I would receive some feedback and revise and send it out again to a few…had several agents who requested the proposal (even getting that far is considered good)…and, after reading the proposal, two agents called me to offer representation. (woo hoo!) After considering the offers of representation, I signed with a very good agency. While the process “seemed” to go quickly it really was the culmination of a year-long process of writing the proposal and query and researching agents.

So now I’m on the other side of this process giving back to the group the way it was given to me. I posted my successful query to the group, got a lot of kudos on it and a lot of new writers coming to me asking me for help with their queries and proposals or if it’s fiction, their queries and synopses and outlines.

So I’ve been giving back to the group and to a whole lot of new writers privately. The feedback I tend to give most often is “ tighten, tighten, tighten.” You have ONE PAGE to wow an agent and you want that writing to SNAP CRACKLE AND POP off the page. You have one shot, one page…get it right.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I go on and on a lot of times (in fact I’m doing it right now)…but I didn’t do it in my query because you can’t…you simply can’t. It’s about brevity and concise, tight writing. And you can’t edit enough.

So I spent some time this week reviewing some of the queries other writers sent me and gave feedback which was, for the most part, graciously accepted. Yesterday I told one writer that she really needed to tighten it up. It was about my 4th review of her query and it still had a long way to go which is fine…some queries can take weeks and weeks…mine did…before it’s good enough to send out. But she said to me, “ That’s all I’m doing. That’s the best I can do.”

Uh no.Wrong answer. Wrong attitude.

As a writer you have to believe you can do better. ALWAYS. And you will always get feedback and not a lot of it is going to be wonderful. My agent sent me corrections to my proposal about a month ago and it looked like someone bled all over it. There were also some comments like, “ I don’t know what this means …” Fabulous times if your agent doesn’t know what you’re saying. But I sat and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. You have to have thick skin and you have to be ready to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite ….

Publishing is a tough and competitive industry. It’s HARD to get the attention of an agent, let alone get signed and get published. You want your query to SING and have the agent or publisher think, “ I want more of this …”

Well, after working with some writers who are not there yet, I have to think they’re not going to be there. I would love it if they surprise me, but it seems they don’t want to put the work in.

I remember being in the gym a long time ago and a trainer saying to someone, “ If it were easy, everyone would be in shape.”

And it correlates to absolutely everything. If it were easy, everyone would be an author. If it were easy everyone would be happy. If it were easy, everyone would….

For many years my motto was, “ Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” and I did it. I worked through the grief, I set goals, I worked and worked and worked.

Like the guy in the Melody Beattie story I found out everything there is to know: 1) I’ll never know everything there is to know and 2) I know how to stop the pain.

Does true comfort with your self and true happiness take time and a lot of work?

Yes it does.

It is possible?

Yes it is.

It’s not easy to get up each day and work through the crap while letting in the good and setting goals and boundaries and grieving and not contacting and getting out there in life.

None of it is easy.

You can take the attitude: “ That’s all I’m doing. That’s the best I can do.”

or you can regroup and push on and push through another day.

The worst scenario is when you don’t know that you don’t know. I was in that place for years. I had NO CLUE what was wrong or what the answer was or even that an answer existed. When I found out, I started to do the work — the excruciating, very hard, overwhelming at times work. And almost every day questioned myself if I was making progress at all…if this work was taking me anywhere….anywhere at all.

There were times my personal life-changing work made me feel like the odd person out…I was doing the work to try to fit in, not to be more peculiar… what the heck was this?

There were times when I felt as if I was speaking another language than everyone on planet Earth.

There were times when I was immersed in things: historical work, journaling, affirmations, goal setting, boundary setting, that most people in my life had NO CLUE about….and it was hard…here I am once again: the Martian child.

I shared this with a friend of mine who had done work and come out on the other side and he said, “Yes, it’s lonely at the top.” And sometimes I had to realize just that. I was going somewhere most people don’t go…I was getting right with myself…I was getting right with my life…I was going somewhere…to bigger and better things…

And I was DRIVING THE BUS. Be grateful that you are NOW driving the bus and are not being led around by the nose by your unfinished business and raging issues and weird chemistry with crazy people. You are NOW driving the bus of your own life…isn’t that wonderful??? It is. Scary yes…confusing sometimes yes…but wonderful.

Most people see life as what happens to them. I see life as what I make happen.

When you have that attitude, everything is harder and easier at the same time. I have control over what happens to me and how I feel each day…and it’s marvelous.

If it were easy …if the answers were easy to find and the work easy to execute, everyone would be happy…and you know that most people are not happy. Most people aren’t happy in their own skin let alone out in the world or in relationships or with other people.

If you think, “ That’s all I’m doing. That’s the best I can do.” then you will be settling for less. You will get what you strive for. You will get what you put up with.

You have to give yourself credit for working hard.

You have to spend time lavishing praise and rewards on you for what you are doing…but you also need to be honest and figure out if you are working as hard as you can and if not, if you’re willing to put up with a lot less than you really want and if you are, why is that?

I was fine with this writer saying “That’s all I’m doing. That’s the best I can do.” if she understands that chances are she won’t get an agent. But if you want an agent, you’ll do what you need to get one. The chances of landing one is slim…so the work you put into it has to be great.

The higher the odds against something, the harder you need to work.

Getting over a relationship, getting honest with who you are and what you’ve been in relationships, learning new ways and figuring out how to be fabulous is not easy…but if you put in the work the rewards will be beyond your wildest dreams.

Don’t phone in getting better.

Work at it

strive for it

get good at working at it


don’t give up the day before the miracle happens.


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