Thursday, July 30, 2009

Weird bookmarks ... the rebuttal

The last post referenced the Forgotten Bookmarks blog. It featured a guest post photo I sent in of my friend Amber's book stuffed with a mélange of weirdness. Amber, feeling unduly maligned, felt she needed to do a rebuttal to defend her stuffing-of-random-things-in-books to hold her place.   

So here's Amber (aka Leaping Gazelle - her code name for being tall):  

Yes - Jan is obsessed with my 'bookmarks'. She constantly admonishes me for the weird and random things I leave in them and do to them - sticky finger prints, dead mosquitoes, coffee stains, broken spines and dog eared pages are another topic entirely. I may remind her that I lend her these books free of charge. We have some philosophical differences. She believes books are to be revered. I believe books are to be devoured and stuffed with the junk of life!

Other things I have found in her books that were used as bookmarks included a strip of braided leather that smelt like sweet grass, a 'take-a-number' number from when the Indian Consulate General came to town to issue visas and we lined up to get our visas for India, and a long grocery receipt that included, among other things: paneer, cream cheese, extra old cheddar and black beans! ('nuf said).

In Amber's defense she is a voracious reader of all genres. She swears that she is not a writer, but I keep telling her that she must have been an editor in another lifetime because she is dead on in her critiques and, while she isn't in my writers' critiquing group, I use her as a reader.

My writer friend in New York, Jocosa wrote to tell me that if I don’t use: 11am Wear Open Toed Shoes as the title of my next book that she would steal it and use it for the title of her next book. I told Jocosa to go ahead and steal it as Amber, and my other friends, are used to me stealing their words ;-j

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weird bookmarks ...

We interrupt your regularly scheduled post of my 'how I got published story' to bring you a post I contributed to another web site.  
It's called Forgotten Bookmarks and it's a little quirky. I contributed this post after finding some weird stuff in a book my friend Amber loaned me. 
What do open toed shoes, shopping, manicures and a genre busting political activist band have in common? Find out at Forgotten Bookmarks. 

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The winter of my rewriting ...

So it was an amazing weekend at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. I knew agents only took on very little of what they requested, but it was encouraging to get that much attention for my work.

That winter, close to a year after I sent the original submissions of Dead Frog on the Porch, the waiting continued. At the end of December, I got an email from the Senior Editor at Publisher ‘A’ saying they “... wished they could give me an unqualified ‘yes’” but that they had some problems with the plot that they suggested could be addressed in a rewrite. On New Year’s Eve, I received a letter from the Vice President of a top New York literary agency who said that despite the manuscript’s many charms she was going to pass and expected that I would be “ … snatched up by another agent soon.” Spent some time howling at the moon “snatch me up!” then moved on. 

I did a rewrite for Publisher ‘A’ and sent it to them at the end of January 2008. I got a quick-by-publishing-standards response (March) from the Senior Editor who said she would have put me under contract but that it was a small press and they all had to agree. She had lost the vote. While I was disappointed, it confirmed that I had a publishable manuscript on my hands and my search for the right publisher continued.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sprite doesn't like rejection ...

When I rescued Sprite from the shelter I wanted her to be a writer's cat. I envisioned her laying curled up in her cat bed beside me for hours while I churned out another masterpiece. But it turns out that Sprite takes rejection personally - maybe she is a writer's cat after all.  My 11 year old niece, aka ShayCoffee, made this video of my cat eating my rejection letters from literary agents. You’ll notice some interesting spelling and use of words. Apparently, according to my niece, that’s because cats can’t spell and they have their own language. No cats were harmed in the making of this video ... rejection letters though, oh, they were harmed, they were harmed real bad!

"I love dead frogs ..."

It was getting near the end of the Manuscript Idol session and I was convinced my pages would not be selected. Then the MC started reading my opening line. By the end of the first paragraph, the audience and one agent were killing themselves laughing (which is good because it is a comedy). By the end of the second paragraph, I had a round of applause. I was in heaven. When that died down the MC kept reading and a couple of paragraphs later one of the agents, Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management in New York, got up from her seat and went to the podium. 

“Give me that. I love dead frogs.Who's manuscript is it?" She asked.

I put up my hand. The writer sitting beside me gasped. Janet grabbed the manuscript, went back to her seat, sat down, and kept reading.  

Another agent on the panel, Jenoyne Adams of Bliss Literary Agency International, said “I love dead frogs too.”

It was amazing. Both asked me to submit my full manuscript. Out of 30 manuscripts read at the Manuscript Idol session, all but three were rejected. Mine was one that didn't get rejected! 

Then I went to my scheduled agent appointment. It was with Michael Bourett of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. He had already rejected my query from the summer (because he doesn't do comedy), and I hadn’t gone through my mail before coming to the conference (I blame those three dead moths in my mailbox). When I told him what had happened with the other two agents he said he would read my manuscript and asked what else I was working on. He was interested in the, yet unfinished, story about my grandmother. So I had two agents who requested my full and a third agent joined in when he found out the other two were interested.  

That evening several people came up to me and said, 'hey, you're that dead frog woman, congratulations.'

I sent the stuff when I got back Sunday night and checked out their web pages Monday.  Janet Reid had made a reference to dead frogs on her blog. Pretty wild! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Manuscript Idol"

Saturday afternoon there was a “Manuscript Idol” session. It consisted of a panel of five agents and a MC. Writers had the opportunity to submit the first two pages of their manuscript. I threw in a couple of pages of Dead Frog on the Porch. The MC would start reading and would stop when one or more agents said they would reject the manuscript.  I watched in horror as most manuscripts didn’t make it past the first two paragraphs, some didn't make it past the first sentence, before they were rejected. It was a real eye-opener for me and I think every writer aspiring to be published should sit through a session like that. The agents would reject something based on one word, a cliché, over use of adjectives or adverbs, change in voice, or too much back-story. 

My stomach quavered, like I’d eaten a too hot vindaloo, every time the MC started to read a new manuscript. I was terrified that he would select mine and considered sneaking up and grabbing it back. Since I had had so much positive feedback, I couldn’t imagine what they would criticize and couldn’t bare the thought of negative feedback. I was simultaneously terrified that he wouldn’t select it and I would miss having my pages heard by some of the top agents in the US. Then the MC started to read my manuscript ...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Things start to get interesting ...

I heard from a well-established Canadian publisher (let’s call them Publisher ‘A’). The Senior Editor apologized profusely about how long it had taken them to respond (close to a year) and they requested my full manuscript. Around the same time, two American agents requested my full manuscript. I also heard that a personal essay I wrote, about how much I hate yoga,  “No Sweaty Enlightenment for me” would be published in The Globe and Mail (November 2007).

Then I went to the Surrey International Writers Conference (SiWC) and things really got interesting. People came from all over the world for it. There were 700 people there and 70 workshops on writing. In between running to workshops you are able to book appointments with editors and agents and have one Blue Pencil session. I had an editor appointment on the first day, the pitch went well, and she requested a chapter. My Blue Pencil session the next day with Eric Walters went well.  He said it was “good stuff” and gave me the names of some editors to send it to. Coming from a children’s author of over 50 books that was a great sign, and very encouraging. It was only the second day and I was walking on air as I made the twice-daily trudge, through the Surrey rain, back and forth to my hotel. Little did I know the best was yet to come.   

Friday, July 10, 2009

Three dead moths take up residence in my mailbox as the clock ticks ...

Over the next few months, everyday when I came home from work I would hope that maybe today there would be something in my mailbox, a request for a partial or a full manuscript, a letter of acceptance, anything but my self addressed stamped envelopes with a rejection letter. But everyday it was the same; I would lift the ill-fitting mailbox lid (thank you handyman!) and find the same thing … three dead moths in my mailbox. 

That summer I took time off work to write. I focused on my middle-grade novel based on the life of my grandmother when she came from Russia in the early part of the 1900s. I started sending queries out to agents, seeking representation for Dead Frog on the Porch. I figured that at some point I would run out of Canadian publishers and would need to access the American market. 

So the clock ticked on early registration for the SiWC conference and I flip flopped. My writer friend implored me to go, especially since I had a manuscript finished and I could meet with editors and agents. When the early registration was extended to October 5th, I took it as a sign from the publishing gods and signed up. I scrambled to find a flight and a hotel. Then things started happening.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Request for a full and the ghost of conferences past

When I got back from India in February 2007 there were a few rejections and one request for the full manuscript. I sent that in straight away and started waiting for a response. Surely, they would read a requested manuscript faster? After two months, I followed up with a phone call. They said it was with the reader and I’d hear soon. Soon I did hear. That was Monday and by Friday, it was back in my mailbox with a standard rejection. It didn’t feel like anyone read it.

The previous fall a member of my writer’s group went to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC), outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. She raved about it and told me I had to go the following year. I waited anxiously until the registration opened in July. I was determined to be the first registered. But I wasn’t. For some reason I hemmed and hawed. I’d been to a lot of conferences and found most of them to be aimed at beginning writers. I didn’t know what I would get out of it.  

I also vividly remembered one conference I went to in Toronto years ago. I attended the editors’ workshop. A panel of editors sat on the stage in an auditorium that felt like a high school gym. There was a distance between the editors and writers that was not to be breached, lest an editor came in contact with a lowly writer. One editor in particular bellowed what not to do: “don’t mail me a bowling pin with your query and tell me that I’ll be bowled over, don’t tell me that you wrote for your high school year book because that doesn’t count and i don't care, don’t tell me that your grandchildren liked your story ….” There was no interaction between the editors and writers, not even a question and answer period. So that’s why I had in my mind when I thought of going to a conference. I didn’t think it would be worth my time and money. Boy was I wrong!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Let the stalking begin ...

Using all my finely honed stalking skills, I tracked down the editors who had given me the positive feedback 10 years earlier. Many still worked for the same publishers. I wasn’t opposed to phoning and/or listening to the list of staff on the phone tree to find out if they still worked there. I sent the new version, mentioning that they had seen an earlier version and gave me encouraging feedback that I took to heart in the rewrite. Then I did extensive research as to which other publishers to send to. The Canadian Children’s Book Centre has a list of publishers on their site.  I went through the whole list and researched each publisher (which is so easy now that they invented the internet!). Some didn’t take unsolicited submissions, some didn’t do middle grade books, some were distributors or self-publishing companies, and so on. I found nearly 20 publishers that I thought would be a good fit. I studied their submission guidelines and attempted to give each of them what they wanted (i.e., some wanted query with synopsis and sample pages, others just query etc.,). I started sending out submissions. I would go to great lengths to get the name of an appropriate editor. This included extensive, and often obsessive, Google searches. Sometimes I would phone for the name of the appropriate editor, sometimes they would give me a name and sometimes they wouldn’t.   

That was November of 2006. I was leaving for India for a month in January of 2007 and wanted to have the manuscript out there circulating while I was gone.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The early days

I started writing fiction seriously in the early 90s. I took a class from Barbara Greenwood in Toronto  and I was in Peter Carver’s writing for children workshop through George Brown College for a couple of years. I also started my own writers’ group. I’m a big believer in writers’ critiquing groups and wrote an article called "'What do I know from Kosher?' Lessons Learned from a Cross Cultural Writers' Group" (which I will post when I figure out how to post a pdf).  Writing groups are not without their challenges and an alternate title was “Writing groups I’ve loved, lost, and ditched.” 

Dead Frog on the Porch is my debut novel but not my first manuscript. I started by writing a time travel based on the life of my late grandmother who came to Canada from Russia in the early 1900s. I am still working on this novel; the next draft will take it from a middle grade time travel to a whole different genre. 

I'd received some good feedback from publishers on my Dead Frog on the Porch manuscript when it was initially sent out about ten years before, but I knew I needed to do some rewriting.  I did a major rewrite and sent it to my writers' group. After getting their feedback, I did another rewrite. It was ready to go. This was the version I started sending out. Agonizing over the query and the synopsis came next. It felt like I had spent nearly as much effort writing the query as I did the manuscript!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The journey begins ... again.

The journey to that moment started two years earlier in November 2006. Actually, it started much earlier. But I won’t begin with the fact that I started the manuscript 15 years ago. That that time in my life included a move across country, five years of downsizing at my job, buying and selling a couple of houses,  completing a masters degree (which included field research in an Aboriginal community) and continuing to work full time.  I’ll start with the recent past. About three years ago I decided, after temporarily abandoning a non-fiction book idea, that I would go back to writing fiction. If I only had so much time why not do the writing I wanted to do? So I pulled the Dead Frog on the Porch manuscript out of the drawer and took another look at it.