The Journey to Agenthood (Agentdom? Agentedness?)

May 28, 2009 at 9:03 AM | Posted in Agents, Authors, Editing, Life, Publishing, Queries, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 14 Comments

Okay, so I was asked by a few of my fellow Twifties to type up a post about my experience over the past few weeks. When I asked what to write about, they told me just to write a story, so that’s what I’m going to do. Here’s my story for any who might be interested.

Here’s the short version: I got an agent!

But, come on, let’s face it—no one wants the short version in these matters, now do they? So let’s get on with the story, shall we?

Let me start by saying that this did not just happen over night. I didn’t just write a novel and suddenly get an agent, as many might believe when learning that I’m just a few months shy of eighteen. On the contrary, I’ve been writing for many, many years. Since I’ve been able to spell, I’ve been writing stories. I wrote my first full novel at ten, which I later realized was a Harry Potter rip off. I wrote another at thirteen (also a Harry Potter rip off), and there were several unfinished manuscripts littering that path along the way. But let’s fast forward, shall we? Kids are cute and all, but you’re not reading this to learn about my childhood. So, at sixteen, I wrote my first non-rip off novel, A Face In the Crowd. It was contemporary YA, and I was so proud of it when I finished. For that novel, I started doing research about publishing. I learned about the dreaded query letter, I discovered that to be published by a big house you need this elusive thing called an agent, and I found a little website called AbsoluteWrite that helped me along the way.

I sent out a few poorly written queries for A Face in the Crowd, but not that many. Each and every response was a rejection—not a single request. So I quit and decided to revise my query letter to try again later. In the mean time, I started a new project called The Duff. I posted a few of my sample chapters on AbsoluteWrite, and the response was fantastic. So much helpful criticism! And I was quickly falling in love with my main characters, and I had others telling me they loved them too. This support pushed me to write more. Looking back and rereading, I realize that A Face in the Crowd, while not bad, is not up to par. Perhaps I’ll revise and rewrite in a few years, but I’m not planning on it yet. Besides, Lauren Myracle claims to have written five novels before getting her debut, Kissing Kate published, so I’m very happy I didn’t get discouraged back then.

Anyway, I finished The Duff, which, in case someone missed the memo, stands for designated ugly, fat friend (horrible, right? Seriously, I know guys who use this term!), and I quickly sent it off to three fantastic beta readers I found on AbsoluteWrite, as well as forcing two of my best friends to read it. Most of the feedback I got was positive, but they did have a lot of construction, and I spent about a month editing everything before I started to query. This time, my query letter was better. I had lots of help from AbsoluteWrite members in polishing it. Believe me, without them it never would have gotten out of the slushpile. Just thinking of my early drafts makes me want to cry and hide under a chair. But once I felt confident in it, and in my manuscript, I started to send to agents.

To say my querying experience was, um, interesting, might be an understatement. I began to send out queries in early, early April. I sent out seventeen in total. But I hardly got any responses. I waited and waited, but not even a rejection popped into my constantly checked inbox. I was starting to think my queries weren’t sending properly, and I was so worried! Then I got the first response—a request for the partial! But don’t get excited just yet. That’s not the end of my story, kids. While waiting to hear back about the partial, I received 3 rejections. Then another request from an agent I hadn’t even sent sample pages to. I was feeling good! Feeling great, in fact! Two requests!

Then, the very next day, the same agent asked to see my full manuscript, so I was very, very upbeat…until the weekend. The day after sending off my full, I was rejected by the first agent, who didn’t connect with my main character based on the partial I’d sent. I was heartbroken, but I tried not to show it. So when I had an email on Monday from the agent with the full, I was sure she was rejecting me, too. I just knew it.

Well, you see, I’m a writer. Not a psychic.

Let me sum up what would likely turn out to be a rambling fit of giddiness by saying that I got a phone call the next afternoon with an offer of representation. From a great agent, at a great agency, who DID connect with my main character.

Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. For a slight bit of perspective on The Duff, I’ll say that I started the first draft on January 6, 2009 and was offered representation on May 12, 2009. Coincidently, May 12 is the birthday of one of my best friends who read, and loved, The Duff, so that was a present to both of us. But I can’t help thinking of all those unanswered queries. At last count, 12 still hadn’t been replied to. Now, I almost look at it as fate. Only a few agents seemed to receive my query, and one of them happened to be the right one. I never thought I’d be grateful for a server malfunction (which is what I’m chalking this up to), but stranger things have happened, I guess. So you want to know how the story ends? Honestly, it hasn’t yet. I signed the contract and just finished up some revisions on The Duff, though nothing major. Actually, my agent didn’t want me to cut anything, which was a relief, but also a surprise. The revisions were just added scenes and extended subplots, really, and I sent the new version to her this weekend. I’m waiting on her reactions to the new version now. Once it’s approved, we’re off to a quick polish edit, then she wants to start submitting to editors.

But I have plenty to occupy me while I wait. My high school graduation is this Friday (May 29), and I’m working on a new project, The Outcast Society. I leave for college this fall, and I’m excited to say that I’ve been accepted into the Honors Program at Ithaca College in New York, where I’ll be majoring in Writing. I plan to work my way up and get my PhD so that I can teach Creative Writing or Literature on a college level, like a lot of modern novelists do. So, anyway, that’s my story as it stands so far. I’m not published yet. It will be two years before that happens, but I’m a step closer than I ever expected to be. Like I said, this didn’t just happen over night. There were a lot of hills to climb, and still more ahead, but I’m getting there. Just remember, all of you aspiring writers, that for every million “No’s” you get, there is a “Yes!” waiting out there for you.

Best of luck!

~Blind Writer (Kody Mekell Keplinger)

***

Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Bianca knows she’s the Duff (the designated ugly, fat friend).  So when Wesley, a notorious womanizer, approaches her at a party, she knows he wants to score with one—or both—of her hot friends.  God, the man-whore’s arrogance really pisses her off!  But Bianca needs to escape from some personal drama, like her mom’s abandonment and her dad’s denial, and a steamy fling with Wesley seems like the perfect distraction.  Bianca makes it clear she’s only using Wesley, as if he cares.  He’ll sleep with anything that moves after all.  Unfortunately, the enemies-with-benefits plan totally backfires.

When her mom files for divorce and her father stumbles into a downward spiral of drinking and depression, Wesley proves to be a surprisingly good listener, and Bianca finds out that his family is pretty screwed up, too.  As sickening as it sounds, she has to admit that she and Wesley are a lot alike.  Soon she becomes jealous of the pretty girls he flirts with and his cocky grin begins to grow on her.  Suddenly Bianca realizes—with absolute horror—that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated.

THE DUFF, my contemporary YA novel, is complete at 53,000 words.  The manuscript is available upon request.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely
Kody Mekell Keplinger

A writer’s heart

May 26, 2009 at 5:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So today I was just randomly on the trampoline at home to get some much needed exercise (because I tend to lay it off too much with writing). Something occured to me as I was just bouncing and thinking about new ideas.

What was that thing?

Well, it came in a range of ways, but the first thing I thought about was what I was actually doing (the exercise, not the bouncing, lol). I knew at that very moment when I was grasping for a session of writing, but laying it off for exercise that I really didn’t want to do, that writers are actually…how do I put it? Well, to say it simply:really nice, flexible people.

Now, first reading that you may be thinking what the hell?! I’m not flexible! but if you read on, you may grasp my meaning.

If you think about it, most writers procrastinate at some point. Some of us know it as our worst quality and some only do it occasionally, but all in all, everyone has days when they think you know what? I could do this all day…(linking to writing, of course), and some which are completely the opposite.  However, there are days when you feel like you could write all the time when something oh so frustrating crops up that you just can’t avoid.

This links back to my point about exercise. Those days when you could (and a lot of the time, I do) sit and write on your laptop all day, you remember you need exercise, but then we know we need it and feel bad about it if we ignore our health. I think this makes us writers very…caring. Sensitive, maybe.

Another example is friends. We all have friends, whether they be relationships, school mates or even family, and there are those moments when you think oh no, I’ve got to go out later, but I want to write! but you go out with your mates because you care!

Which, again, links back to point about writers being nice, caring people. We sometimes wish we could write or push through an edit or wait for query responses all day long, but we often have to put them aside for things.

Because we care!

So, in my opinion, when your friends or family say something snarky like oh I wish you’d stop writing for a change and do something with me!, then you can hold your head high and say I’m not antisocial. I did____ with you instead of writing/editing/whatever.

Thanks for reading!

By It’s-Magic! – AKA Rebecca E

Voice

May 20, 2009 at 1:09 PM | Posted in Writing Advice | 2 Comments

It’s one of those English lesson words that you can never quite define, and yet you know it’s oh-so-important if you’re trying to write fiction. I’ve studied voice in class, and yet can I define it exactly? No – I’m pretty sure it’s impossible. So, if we can’t define voice, and aren’t lucky enough to have a ‘voice’ already, how the hell do we learn how to have one?

I got an email the other day from someone who had the first couple of chapters of my manuscript, and he said “You have a voice, which is the absolutely essential component of writing talent – the rest can be learned.” Great, I thought – I know what that means, and I’m really happy he thinks it! Then I thought for a moment; it’s the essential component of writing…yet I still can’t define it! It’s something I apparently have, yet I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is. So, I decided to find out, so I can explain to myself – and any other writers out there who have been stuck on this wishy-washy concept of ‘voice’ – exactly what it is.

Despite trying my hardest, I still can’t define voice. But I have come up with some tips on finding, and developing, your voice – which I intend to follow! So, from everything I have read, these are the three golden rules I’ve come up with:

  1. Don’t think about it.  Kinda makes this post a little pointless, right? Well, hopefully it’s not completely redundant; voice is, clearly, important. But if you just keep writing, without agonising over what voice is and how to make yours ‘better’, some sort of style, some sort of voice, will appear. You may not be able to see it, but it’ll be there – after all, all writing has to have some sort of style, right?
  2. Write anything and everything. Don’t worry if it’s stuff you’re never going to use, if it’s not your usual genre, if you think it’s a load of rubbish – when you have spare time, write! That way, you will have lots of examples  of your writing to look over and work out what your voice is.
  3. Ask a friend/beta reader/someone you trust to read through your work. Think about the sort of things you’d look for if you were analysing the voice of a book, and ask them to do the same to your work. Get them, to write down what genre they feel it is, what sentence structures you commonly use, what words are common features to your writing. Is it funny, sarcastic, sad? Do you use lots of figurative language, or is it all very realistic?

I hope this can help someone, and it’s at least sort of organised my thoughts on voice – and if anyone can come up with a good definition of ‘voice’,  please let the rest of us know!

The Editing Process

May 18, 2009 at 8:35 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

With Andra being pulled from submission, I now have two novels in editing. Not including Black Diamond which is on the shelf for possible rewrite.

So how does the editing process go? You’ve finally accomplished your dream after hours of pouring your sweat, blood, and tears into a story. “The End” sits at the very bottom of the page. So what comes next?

Some people give the finished manuscript a rest. I, on the other hand, like to jump into editing the same week, sometimes even the same day. Not sure why.

After the rest, everyone has their own editing process. I’m trying to establish my own. With Andra, it was everywhere. I ran it through an edit, betaed, two more edits, more betas, another edit, another beta, submitted, another edit with critique group…it was just a mess.

Here are three things I normally associate with the editing process:

Rewrite: Mostly this is done when a story needs a complete overhaul. Sometimes it’s just a chapter that is rewritten so it makes more sense, or to change a major plot point.

Revision: A read-through for grammar and spelling mistakes, plot holes, character problems, unrealistic dialogue, and all the other things that go along with an early draft. I do a lot of these.

Betas: Someone to read over your story and offer comments. See my post on beta readers for more information.

So what’s your editing process? Do you have a set number of edits that you perform before sending to betas or agents?

Little islands

May 7, 2009 at 8:31 PM | Posted in Authors, Life, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 4 Comments

Since I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light when I was ten, I have been religiously quoting John Donne. “No man is an island!” I say, and I automatically get brownie points with teachers. “No man is an island,” and my sister gives me that blank goldfish stare. “No man is an island, Mom!” and she rolls her eyes and tells me that I read too much.

But you know what I realized today?

It’s true.

Tonight my friend invited me to a poetry reading given by her and her writing group. We live in a small town, and as my friend laughingly admitted, “This wasn’t very well publicized.” And it wasn’t. There were only a handful of family members in that room, munching on chips and salsa while their nieces and sons and cousins recited poetry. But my friend was genuinely happy to see me, happy that I took time out of my day to watch some incredibly talented kids read their essays and poems. And while I was sitting there, something occurred to me.

This is what life is about.

I think we, as writers, are more prone than others to become “islands.” We justify our loneliness as hard work and determination. “We are WRITERS,” we say. “We’re working on the next great American novel! We’re finishing up our short story anthology! We’re trying to become the next J. K. Rowling, dang it!”

Guess what? It’s not all about that.

Sometimes it’s about giving back. Going to a poetry reading to support local writers in your area. Taking time to critique a friend’s manuscript. Encouraging a kid’s dream even when no one else thinks he’s got it in him.

You’re not an island. You’re a human being. You’re part of a community of human beings that is full of dreams and passions and beautiful gifts to give. Don’t isolate yourself by saying, “I’m too busy for community. I’m trying to get published.” Publication will send a book out into the world. But generosity and love? That will produce life.

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