As to your material I’m afraid I will be passing — I’m just not
enthusiastic enough about the concept of your story to feel that I’d
be the right agent for the project. I realize it is difficult to judge
your potential from a query; nevertheless please know that I give
serious attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I
Sorry I couldn’t give you a more positive reply. Thanks for thinking
of me, though, and best of luck in your search for representation.
Though this seems like a personal reply at first blush, look closer and you can see it’s a form rejection. I only say that as a point of interest, because this is the only thing I am really allowed to expect in the way of negative responses. Ms. Jackson seems like an excellent agent for sci-fi/fantasy, and her form rejection is kind and respectful, which makes me want to query her again in the future if I don’t end up with someone long-term before then.
It was a disappointment to receive this, to be sure, but a more minor one than you might expect. The Lord has been working on my heart a lot in this area. As I reevaluate my priorities, I remember that first in my life is Him, second is my husband, and third, my daughter. My career, as it were, comes at the very end of the list, even after taking care of the home. And lest those who don’t know me think me a quiet, mousy push-over (my husband will laugh when he reads that), know that I am anything but, but wouldn’t have my priorities any other way. Of course, I still value my writing career and will continue it (for I passionately love to write and always will!). I am simply able to rest in my lack of immediate success, because I know I am being faithful in the things that matter even more.
And now – with the evening breeze sweeping over the porch and a latte at my side – to write.
It came to my attention – via a reader – that the last installment of “Bloodlines of Epheria” was a touch confusing. It was unclear whether or not Sifani was going to talk to Ileniel right then and there, or if she was going to wait, and why she would even choose to wait in that case. Therefore, I’ve composed a second version in which Sifani converses with Ileniel immediately after he arrives. This is a taste of what the writing process looks like for me – lots of small yet very significant adjustments, often made according to the feedback of a reader I trust.
If you didn’t read the original version in the first place, go back and read that one first, as it contains the first half of the following scene, which is integral to the story.
That said, here is “Bloodlines” part 11, version 2.
“Whatever you say, Len.” Immediately, Sifani was seized by the impulse to put her father’s old friend to the question, right then and there. She warded it off – it took more willpower than she expected. “Has Jatan seen you, yet?”
Ileniel wagged his dark head irritably, sparing a sidelong glare for Lorin. “No. This brute decided to waylay me before I could even dismount Rush – the heavens alone know why.”
Lorin met Sifani’s eyes significantly. She raised her brows, suddenly understanding. He wanted to give me the chance to talk to Ileniel before anyone else got to him! A warm smile overtook her expression of surprise. Deities bless you, Lorin!
Lorin, abruptly seeming embarrassed, took Rush’s reins in hand and let the mare nuzzle him as he walked her back to the stable. “Whatever my reasons for ‘waylaying’ you,” he told Ileniel, “the moment I saw you I remembered you weren’t worth the trouble.”
Ileniel sniffed disdainfully, glancing between Lorin and Sifani. In the awkward silence, he brushed at the stiff sleeves of his tunic, lips twisted in distaste, as if Sifani’s hug had soiled them beyond cleaning. “You’re in a fine mood today, Sifani a-vinna Leyone. What’s put the extra sprig of mint in your tea?”
She stood still, staring at him ingenuously, her hands folded in front of her.
Abruptly, Ileniel narrowed his eyes. “You want something from me, don’t you?”
“I need to talk to you. Now.”
“Bah, the dust that Rush kicked up hasn’t even settled! Can’t this wait?”
“Lorin and I have been doing some thinking, Len.”
“Well, now, that’s something n—“
She cut him off. “I need to know: why did you run?”
For a moment, Ileniel looked genuinely confused, so she elaborated. “After I tore down the Head Counselor’s home, why did you leave the band, Len? And don’t try to tell me you were tired of it. Our work was only becoming more involved, and we were just getting a true grasp on the nature of the epheria. Yet, you ran scared.”
At this point, Len’s eyes darted back and forth. “That’s ridiculous,” he asserted, but he looked a cornered animal, deciding whether or not to bolt, or whether or not he could. He never had been good at hiding his feelings.
Sifani opened her mouth to ask about her pa and mother, but found that the words caught in her throat. She had imagined this conversation many times in the past days – she was always speaking with confidence and force, wresting the truth from Ileniel with the skill of a veteran soldier. Now, however, such an approach seemed…inappropriate. This was, after all, her family.
There must have been a shift in Sifani’s demeanor, for when she asked Ileniel to sit down with her on the water barrels nearby, he did so without protest, though caution and suspicion remained wavering on his brow. Lorin had chosen to stand several paces away after stabling Ileniel’s mare, but Sifani waved him over.
“I don’t suppose you know – Jatan would’ve waited until you arrived to inform you.” Sifani began. “A Deity tried to kill me.”
Ileniel made a strangled sound. His hand went to his chest involuntarily. “What—?”
Sifani just nodded. “At least, that’s the best explanation we have. Lorin and I were in the epheria, and these creatures, monsters the likes of which don’t – er, didn’t – exist, just manifested there.”
Sifani proceeded to explain what had happened from beginning to end. It was a different experience, recounting the story to one who hadn’t been there when it happened. She had expected it to take on a tinge of the ridiculous in her telling of it, but instead it became more tangible and weighty as she watched Ileniel’s expression melt into slow horror.
“Gods above,” he whispered when she had finished.
“Perhaps you can guess why I’ve been waiting to talk to you, then,” Sifani said, heart beating rapidly. “I need to know why a Deity might want me dead. It could be because I’m a Reehler, though Lorin is, as well, and wasn’t specifically targeted. When I look at all the facts…well, my pa once told me that my mother was one of the most powerful Reehlers who ever lived. I know so little about her that it’s more likely something to do with her than with me.”
Her voice quieted. “You knew my father so well, Ileniel. I remember how closely he kept your company – how you would talk by the fireside late into the evenings. Friendly arguments, philosophical musings.” She could see Pa’s face, laughing, the pleasant grey pepper of stubble covering his strong neck and square jaw. She missed him – how long had it been she had last visited him? “You must’ve known more about my mother than I ever did. I only know that she was dangerous, and my guess is that when you witnessed my breakdown at the Head Counselor’s home, you thought I might pose the same danger my mother did.”
Sifani leaned forward. “What?”
“The same danger she still does, Sifani.” Ileniel would not meet her eyes, but kept them on his folded hands. “Your mother lives.”
Sifani suddenly felt as if she couldn’t breathe. Silence stretched for long moments.
“Deities,” she finally murmured, running her hands through the top of her hair. “I thought…I always guessed… Tell me.”
Can I see 50 pages and a plot synopsis as attached word or pdf files please?
I would call this a promising response, but it actually promises nothing. It was progress, though, for Ms. Blasdell to be interested enough in my query letter to request a piece of the manuscript. I’m beginning to see that writing a captivating query makes a tremendous difference in an agent’s general response. It’s the “inside cover description” of your novel, if you will. Does the description of your book really pop in the humdrum sea of queries an agent must wade through each day?
I’ll probably post my original and improved query side by side at a later point so you can see the stark difference that complete restructuring made.
Second answer received: December 30, 2012
Read as follows:
This is not for me, but thank you for the look.
Succinct, as most rejections are. Particularly disappointing because Ms. Blasdell is a staunch advocate of sci-fi/fantasy, rather than one who merely tolerates the genre as part of her job.
Anyhow, you may have noticed that my writing has come to a complete standstill of late. To make a long story short, in addition to having been engaged in holiday busyness, our little family is in the middle of a cross-country move. We’ve been packing up our house, shipping our things to the East Coast, living out of bags and tending to our sick selves/a sick baby meanwhile. I assure you, after we settle down in our new state come mid-January, writing will re-commence.
I hope you all had a warm, restful Christmas and a happy, hopeful New Year’s celebration. Until next time!
Answer received: November 27, 2012 (and here I should note that the agency does not promise a rejection notification at all, so it was nice to get one)
Read as follows:
I’ve read the material you sent and though it shows promise I just wasn’t fully convinced. You’re a thoughtful writer and you have a good story sense, I think you need to just keep working until the writing and storytelling is truly compelling. Best of luck.
You know, it really could be worse. There are some bright sides to this. One is that if I ever want to query Mr. Ellenberg again, I at least know what he’s not looking for. Two, there are a pair of nice compliments in there. As a dear fellow writer friend of mine teased, “You’ve officially made it out of John Grisham category with the first one (thoughtful writer), and Stephen King category with the second (good story sense)! You’re practically magical.” Three, this is all a good lesson in (sigh) humility, and (double sigh) dealing with minor failure.
Here’s the thing about querying – once you send your query on a particular project to an agent and they reject it, you can’t query them about that project again. That might not be the way all agencies work, but you’ll find it’s true more often than not. So, I could revisit the manuscript before I query anyone else…but the question is, how long do I work before I call it “ready?”
My former professor and writing mentor Mel Odom suggests that I keep querying until I’m completely out of options. He’s always telling me to move on to my next novel, and if this one never gets published, I can return to it and tinker with it again a few novels into my future.
Then there’s my husband, who is much less easily-discouraged and generally a much faster worker than me, who says he thinks the best course of action would be to revise the manuscript now before querying again.
I say that I need a luscious piece of dark chocolate, some iced coffee and an episode of “Dr. Who?” before anyone even thinks about mentioning writing to me again.
I thought some of you might be interested in what it looked like for me to write my first novel.
I began my 130,000-word fantasy novel for school…kind of. “Writing the Novel,” the much-anticipated class required for OU’s professional writing degree, started in the fall. However, I jumped in to my novel the summer before.
What can I say? I couldn’t wait! I spent the summer hammering out a general outline, plus the first few chapters of the book. So:
Summer ’10 – I wrote the outline. The outline was not comprehensive – if anything, it was a mere skeleton of the story. It included the backstory, introduction, a handful of central plot points that moved the story along, and the conclusion. The outline continuously guided me to the next big thing, but hammering out the murky places in between was a do-as-I-go process.
August – December ’10 – I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. Even when I hated it, I kept going. I didn’t edit as I wrote – my professor insisted we would get too hung up on little mistakes, and probably not finish the manuscript, if we didn’t simply plow through. He wanted us to prove to ourselves we could do what seemed so out of reach – finish – before we nit-picked at details.
I finished the required 50,000 words demanded for class halfway through the semester, but I was only halfway done with the novel.
January ’11 – May ’11 – I wrote the ending, since it was required for class whether or not we had completed the manuscript, but I was about four to five chapters shy of actually completing the first draft of my novel.
May ’11 – June ’11 – First draft, complete! I took a break from the manuscript for a little while, then moved on.
July ’11 – September ’11 – I began the draft number two, which meant running a wide-toothed comb through the story to fix glaringly obvious mistakes, fill in plot gaps, add in chapters that needed to exist and didn’t, and rewrite scenes. It was pretty frustrating at times.
September ’11 – I found out I was pregnant! Chris and I were extremely joyful. However, I experienced profound sleepiness at all hours of the day during the first trimester of my pregnancy. After that, I pretty much dropped writing until after the baby was born, so distracted was I by this new phase of life.
Fast forward 8 months…
Our first child, Ellie, was born!
Fast forward 1 more month…
I decided to jump back into novel writing full-force. Not least because enough people were speaking doom and gloom over my life, and how it was going to crawl to a standstill once the baby was born – I really wanted to prove them wrong (And I did! HA! Take that, you naysayers)! My awesome husband made sure to give me a solid three hours to write, twice a week, away from the house at a coffee shop while he cared for the baby.
June ’12 – September ’12 – I finished the second draft, which meant the novel was really, truly finished and in a complete, coherent, readable form. I was pretty excited about this, and psyched myself up to send off the manuscript to an agent.
September ’12 – Beta Reader 1 suggested significant structural changes. I had a meltdown, after which I ate an entire banana split all by my lonesome. I sent a query letter to one agent to test the waters. I haven’t heard back, yet. If I don’t hear back from him, I’ll return to the manuscript and make the suggested changes in *deep breath* DRAFT THREE, and that will definitely take a few more months at the least. As I am fond of saying, blarglesnorfs.
October ’12 – I’m waiting to get feedback from Beta Readers 3 & 4 (2 just emailed me with an extremely comprehensive commentary, which was simultaneously awesome and overwhelming), as well as hear from the above-mentioned agent. Until then, I’m working on the serial that I’ve already mentioned far too many times in previous posts.
And that, my friends, is what it looked like for me to write my first novel. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a relationship, but – as I know on my more clearheaded days – worth every minute. I’m a much better writer for having completed the project, and it’s an accomplishment to have finished at all. As the fortune cookie paper taped to my laptop reads, “Do not let great ambitions overshadow small success.” So, even if nothing ever comes of the thing (eh, it could go on Kindle, at the least), here’s to the acquired skills that I couldn’t have learned in any class or workshop, skills that come from practice.