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Haiku Contest – a followup……

June 4, 2012

Some time ago, many of you voted for me – thank you again – and I won Rachelle Gardner’s Haiku contest which earned me a free 30-minute consult and review of my first five pages with a real-live literary agent at Books & Such.

The only thing was, uhm, I didn’t really have five whole pages written. Yet, that is. Ooopps.

image from clipart.com

When I won the contest, I shot off an email explaining the “project” that I had in my mind to Rachelle. I had planned to share my blog about living in India with her with the hope of eventually turning that blog into a memoir about personal growth and gratitude.

Her response?

“Remember, you get 5 pages and 30 minutes. Be very careful with what you send me.”

Fair enough.

The truth is/was that, while I have a boat load of material written about India and I believe that a lot of it is pretty good, writing about India isn’t that appealing to me right now.

I was fortunate enough to have one of my stories about India published on Robert Lee Brewer’s blog in the Life Changing Moments Series. The story was longish, so he split it into two parts. I was thrilled. I was going to appear twice on his blog. Yeah!

Part I got positive feedback and quite a few people clicked over to my blog after reading the first entry. That was really great.

Part II – not so much.

Part II got zero comments.

Part I was all about the adventure – fun with girlfriends, pretty jewelry, temples, and laughter. Part II was about how I saw myself as an indulgent tourist in a world where so many suffered.

It was heavy on the heavy.

And, after Rachelle’s caution, I thought, “yea, maybe people just don’t want to hear it.”

After that revelation, along with some encouragement from my writers group, I decided it might be time to actually take on writing a novel.

I asked Rachelle for some extra time and began writing The Alligator Purse.

Last week, I met with Rachelle on Skype. It was an exciting experience. And, I was nervous as hell.

But I learned A LOT.

I had never met with an agent before – a fact that I am sure was crystal clear to her. And I am so glad that first agent meeting is behind me.It was like going to the principal’s office.Only worse, really. It was like being called to the principal and being asked to explain how the world began and why it mattered. All while wearing your grandmother’s underwear on your head.

A large part of the problem was that my manuscript is not finished. Heck, it’s barely started – I am in the middle of Chapter 4. So, when she asked me the plot, I stammered.

I know how I want the story to go  and I actually have most of it plotted out – however, I have never really articulated or defended it.

No time like the present, huh?

The truth of the matter is that if you are going to ask an agent to represent your story – you better be able to articulate and defend/explain it. You should also probably have a good handle on the storyline.

Yes, that probably would have been fabulous to realize before hand.

You also need to really understand these terms:

Theme – the impact of the story or what the message of the book is. Some examples of theme are: racism, family secrets, unrequited love, etc. The theme is what people will talk about when the book is back on the shelf. It is why the reader will care.

Plot – the major events in the story. It is how you tell the readers why they should care. It’s what happens to whom.

I wasn’t sure that I should tell the whole story to Rachelle.Maybe she should be surprised along the way.

Rookie Mistake.

She wanted to know the details. She said you keep secrets on a book jacket but not in a query.

As you have very likely gathered, I made a lot of mistakes in that meeting. But all to my benefit. I learned so much.

And eventually, quite accidentally, I explained my plot and defined my theme.

Rachelle was quite generous and spent nearly a full hour with me. At the end of our conversation, she answered a slew of questions – including some on the synopsis I am writing for another agent.

I don’t feel like I was a total failure. Rachelle had a lot of nice things to say about my writing and my voice and she has no doubt that I will write a novel and that it will be good. Realistically, it was highly unlikely that Rachelle was going to ask to be my agent – at least not in the light of day, when I wasn’t dreaming it  – so I really had nothing to lose in our interaction. It was a teachable moment for me.

So, learn from my mistakes, dear blog reader. Wait until you are ready to query. My best advice would be to at least have a synopsis written before you contact anyone. That way you will have articulated the plot on paper and will have thought it out thoroughly. And do not wear your grandmother’s underwear on your head.

Oh yea, and practice answering your skype call at least 6 times. Because apparently 5 practice tries might not be enough. And you might leave an agent, who is willing to donate an hour of her time to your unfinished manuscript, waiting.  For at least 10 minutes. Of course, I would never do that – I just want to caution you against the possibility of it all.

And none of this is to say at all that I regret entering that contest. It was an amazing experience.

First of all I won. So there. (and if you voted for me – thank you again)

Second of all, it got me moving on writing an actual novel and I am thrilled about that!

And, finally, when I am ready, I will start querying but I will have done (all of ) my homework first. 😎

PS. I just found another great website – Novel Writing Help.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2012 5:38 am

    Hi Ellen, You’ve had some great posts lately, I can tell you a in an upswing of creativity and focus! I can’t wait to read some of this so feel free to send a selection if you want. Tomorrow I check into the Odyssey Workshop, how I am spending my summer vacation. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks will bring. Hope you have a great summer, looking forward to sharing in August.

    • June 11, 2012 8:21 am

      Thanks Vern. and good luck in your workshop. It’s so exciting and I cannot wait to hear all about it!

  2. June 7, 2012 7:40 am

    I love the spirit behind your writing, the energy that you give off- you’re passionate about this and it shows. I also love your humor! Never a dull moment in any of your posts.

    This is the first blog I’ve written about that first meeting with an agent, it’s helpful and practical and, of course, with the reference to wearing underwear on your head- it’s funny. So, thank you! Great post.

    • June 7, 2012 11:46 am

      Why thank you! And thanks for coming along on the journey – it’s much more fun to have someone laughing along the way! That way I am not just amusing myself! And just say no to underwear on your head. Trust me on that one. 😉

  3. Connie Read Burris permalink
    June 5, 2012 11:05 pm

    I love your daring spirit and I applaud you for being a risk-taker. I read both your posts on Robert Lee Brewer’s blog and I apologize because I rarely leave comments.

    I enjoyed reading both Part I and Part II and while its fun to read the humor and lightheartedness of Part I, Part II is reality and you served as a lens into a country and culture that many of us in the United States may never visit or understand. Thank you for both. I’m several steps behind you in this writing journey and I appreciate you sharing your lessons learned in this post.

    Happy writing!

    • June 6, 2012 3:57 am

      Hi Connie
      Oh please do not apologize. That was the first time one of my posts was “out there” on another blog. I was so excited the first day when people chimed in and nervous to see what would happen when the end of the story wasn’t so light and fun. I don’t think it means the story wasn’t good – or at least good enough – I just don’t think a whole book on my experience in India is what I want to focus on – and that non-response was a good indication that my energy is better spent elsewhere. Thank so much for commenting today and best of luck in your writing journey! And thank you so much for taking the time to respond!

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