One of the necessities in fiction writing (well, any writing … but especially fiction) is self-editing. Before anything gets sent to an agent or editor or even a writing buddy (hi Ann!), it's always best to have things as polished as possible. And this means shoving one's ego out of the way.
As most people know, I'm enamored to the point of obsessed over the intricacies of homesteading skills and rural living. Naturally this reflects in my books.
Currently I'm revising the Amish romance manuscript Plain Protection in accordance to changes made in the synopsis. This is the time to smooth out problems, improve dialogue, and make sure the story progresses at a suitable clip.
So whenever I get too involved in describing how to can peaches or milk a cow, I have to ask whether it's appropriate to the plot or not. After all, I'm not writing a do-it-yourself manual, I'm writing a story.
During the blitz of NaNoWriMo when participants have to slam 1666 words per day on the page or they fall too far behind, writing intricate explanations of various components of homesteading is fine and dandy – even welcome, because it helps make word count. But when it comes time to start editing, out it goes. Choppity chop chop.
And oh, it's painful. Of course everyone wants to know how to make mozzarella cheese, step by step! is my cry of agony. But I'm wrong, because those step-by-step instructionals don't advance the plot. So…choppity chop chop.
I just ordered a book I saw recommended on my agent's website entitled "Self Editing for Fiction Writers." I haven't received it yet so I can't vouch, but let us hope it makes the choppity chop chop part a little less painful.
Great news! I now have an agent – Bob Hostetler with the Steve Laube Literary Agency. I owe this honor to some extraordinarily good luck and the grace of God.
I've dabbled in fiction for years under a pseudonym. Never got anywhere; but anyone who writes will understand it's both a blessing and a curse: a blessing, because writing skills are a gift from God; and a curse, because even in the face of decades of rejection, one can't stop writing.
Last November, I NaNoWriMo'd my way through an Amish inspirational romance. (That's National Novel Writing Month, by the way, in which participants write a 50,000 novel in one month.) I've long been fascinated by the Plain People, and Amish romance seemed like a good fit. NaNoWriMo ended, I made my word count, and I figured that was the end of the matter.
But then in December, my dear friend and writing pal Ann Malley called with an urgent recommendation. "You need to join ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) right now!" she exclaimed.
It seems she'd gotten wind of a wonderful writer of Amish romances named Cheryl Williford – published with the Harlequin Love Inspired (Christian) line – who was part of a critique group ... and whose goal was to help other writers get published with Harlequin.
Now Harlequin has been an elusive goal of mine for, oh, about twenty years or so. I can't even count the number of manuscripts I've sent their way, to no avail. The slush pile is notoriously difficult to breach.
But hope springs eternal, so I duly joined ACFW and cyber-met Cheryl Williford. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say this meeting has been a game-changer.
Cheryl is one of those rare individuals who "cracked the code" of the abstract Harlequin formula. She did this by carefully studying what they published, then writing a book and pitching it at an ACFW conference several years ago. She was the only one – the only one! – taken on as a new author from that conference.
Her success as a Harlequin author has been stellar. When she invited me to send her the synopsis and first three chapters of my Amish manuscript, I wasted no time.
Cheryl was kind but firm. She critiqued my writing in a way I desperately needed. Under her guidance, I polished the synopsis and three chapters. And polished them again. And polished them yet again. Cheryl and I went back and forth half a dozen times until she deemed the proposal ready to send to her agent, Bob Hostetler -- under my pseudonym.
Yes, her agent is now my agent.
After that, things moved very fast. Mr. Hostetler sent me a sample proposal and asked me to put my own proposal into the same format. I did so and sent it back. He informed me (in the nicest possible way) that the Marketing section was pathetic and needed shoring up. Specifically, I needed to get on social media to widen my reader base.
Now, social media – with the exception of my long-running blog, Rural Revolution – is something I've proudly disdained all these years. I have no interest in it. But that doesn't cut it in the publishing world. If I wanted to get published, I needed a platform.
Ironically I have a platform for my nonfiction writing. A huge one. An enormous one. But since I was attempting to build a fiction platform from scratch under the pseudonym, I had nothing. For some reason I had it in my head I needed to keep my fiction and my nonfiction writing completely separate, that no cross-over could be permitted.
Thus began my week from Hell. Don (my husband) and my friend Ann pushed and prodded and guided and advised. I signed up for media accounts I'd literally never seen (Instagram? Pinterest?) and attempted to navigate the confusing waters of this massive industry to which I had never paid attention before. I created a website under my pseudonym. I emailed authors and requested interviews. I emailed other authors and asked if I could write guest posts on their blogs. In short, I frantically, desperately tried to create a platform where none existed ... all the while ignoring the 1.5 million visits loyal readers made to my Rural Revolution blog each year.
Of all these pathetic, amateurish attempts to create something from nothing, Facebook was by far the worst. Yeah sure, it's influential and far-reaching. It's also invasive and persnickety. It wanted to know everything about me, information I didn't want to give because I don’t think it’s any of their business. It has "security" requirements I couldn't even accommodate (texting me a code? We don't have smart phones and I don't have the faintest clue how to text!).
It all came crashing down when suddenly Facebook locked me out of my infant account and subsequently "disabled" it. Research revealed (a) it's almost impossible to reinstate a disabled account and (b) it's almost impossible to set up a Facebook account under a pseudonym.
When this happened, I broke down and sobbed. Here I was, trying so hard to improve that Marketing plan in the proposal, and it seemed I was stymied in everything I did.
Gently my husband suggested I do the obvious: stop trying to write fiction under a pseudonym and just use my real name. After a pity party and a good cry, I agreed. So did Bob Hostetler, the agent, after requesting his opinion.
In retrospect, I don't know why I was so worried. My wonderful Rural Revolution readers have been following our homesteading exploits for 11 years now. They've watched our children grow up. They've seen our trials and tribulations, our successes and triumphs. Why on earth was I concerned they would be disappointed if I broadened my writing into sweet and inspirational romance? What a foolish notion.
So I revised the proposal and, as a result, was able to include a Marketing section that absolutely kicked butt. I sent it to Mr. Hostetler, and after 24 nail-biting hours, he accepted me as a client.
Mr. Hostetler doesn't let the grass grow beneath his feet. Before I signed the contract, he suggested I withdraw another manuscript already being considered by a small publisher, indicating he'd like to look it over for a future project. On the current Amish proposal, he had it sent to several relevant and respected publishers within a day.
It doesn't stop there. I have years -- decades -- of unpublished writing under my belt. Many of these projects are perfectly fine and can be polished and sent right away. I have a dystopian novel I wrote but never did anything with. I also have a couple more nonfiction book ideas I can pitch at Mr. Hostetler.
In short, I've put my writing career into the hands of a competent professional, and I'm still getting used to that idea.
So, thanks to the influence of some very dear people, the support of my Rural Revolution family, and by the grace of God, I'm looking uphill toward another phase of life, the opening chapters of what I hope will be a long and profitable fiction writing career. Things are never dull!