Overnight Success Can Take Years

Today started the next phase of my “get rich quick” scheme of becoming a world-famous mystery writer. Hey, so far so good – I received a free cup of coffee this morning at my remote office, aka Starbucks. I can’t complain. Today’s goal: set up my Query Tracker (QT) search parameters and start building a list of potential literary agents who may be open to representing me and The Apple Pie Alibi.

After successfully querying the database, I diligently started working through the 149 agents who matched my search requirements. I decided to check the QT profile first, then if it looked promising, visit the agent’s website. After a cursory view, if I still had an optimistic feeling (okay, maybe naive?) I would add said agent to my preferred list. The idea being once I had made it through all 149, I would have a much more specific list to send out the query/synopsis/first [insert number] pages of the novel, along with any available bribe money.

The first agent on the list? Mysteries were, in her words, not primary, not secondary, but “something we accept, but are not actively seeking…”

Moving on.

The next two agents? They only accepted queries by snail-mail. Also, no email address. No website. My dad is 88 and he has an email address. And he spends many hours a day researching from his computer.

Moving on.

The next agent has promise. In fact, I will spend more time this weekend performing a more thorough view of the agency profile, but what piqued my interest so far is the agent’s blog. And no, the aforementioned agents did not have blogs, either.

For a good, and very realistic account of what authors and agents go through as they walk, run, trip, stumble, and/or mosey down the road to publication, check out literary agent Sarah LaPolla’s story here. It will show how becoming an overnight success can easily take years, and often has nothing to do with the writer, or the novel itself.

Meanwhile, the query search continues…

 

 

Writing a book was the easy part?

After one total rewrite from third person to first person, and six more revisions based on feedback from readers (and one very, very nice editor!) I am satisfied my 80,000 plus word, cozy mystery, The Apple Pie Alibi, is worth your time and a few of your dollars in trade. It isn’t the next Sherlock Holmes novel, not even a Nero Wolfe tale, but it is a decent story with a beginning, middle, and end. The characters have arcs, the story itself has structure. and the protagonist undergoes a meaningful change by the end thanks in part to her battling her nemesis – no, not the killer, but her own ego and immaturity.

And it’s still a fun read.

So now for the hard part, meaning what happens next? Fortunately, I have some options. I could self-publish through Book Country. These folks have been awesome in providing feedback and the discussion boards are something to behold. If you are a new writer, I highly recommend checking it out. Good people.

I also have a line on an illustrator looking for work. And wouldn’t it be cool to put out a nice book with the extra creativity of an artist? I think so. If I chose the BC route, this would be up toward the top of the to-do list.

I could always submit the manuscript to the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel competition. This has potential, and it’s free. Bonus points for the annual convention being not too far away from where I live. Huzzah, Amtrak!

Or I could bang my head against the wall a thousand times revamp my query and synopsis and go about trying to gain representation from an agent. Wait a minute. Do authors still need agents? Why, yes. Agents, while not as essential as in years past, still maintain the keys to many a gateway. And considering publishers, the bigger ones anyway, still prefer to use agents to reduce the size of the slush pile, why ignore this important avenue leading to publication and distribution? I would love to do this. Wouldn’t we all.

So here’s the gouge: I will spend the next few days thoroughly checking the entry requirements for the Minotaur/Malice Domestic contest to see if I can submit the manuscript and still shop it to agents. I believe this to be the case, but I need to see it in writing first.

Then, it’s off to QueryTracker, Writer’s Digest, and The Mystery Writers of America to investigate which agents and presses are interested in cozy mysteries and accepting inquiries.

This should make for a fun, and most likely sarcastic series of posts. What do you think?

Stay tuned, amigos.

 

Writers and Community – A Good Thing

One of my Creative Consultants.

One of my Creative Consultants.

Many envision the writer as:

- the loner

- the hermit who sleeps during the day and types at night on an old Underwood portable

- the person no one has actually seen, yet like Bob Newhart, has Moo Goo Gai Pan delivered to his door at Thanksgiving instead of having the traditional holiday feast. Okay, that was a stretch. But I loved the episode.

In the morning? The woman who owns the house finds a small bag of trash sitting outside the writer’s door.  The rent check is taped to the door, just above the knob. The fortune from the cookie is crumpled up, and it sits next to the empty bag from Number One China Inn. A wine cork rattles around the empty rice container.

And most people think this paradigm works for writers. I am sure Stephen King must work in this manner, as does J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith.

Really? This only works in the movies. And if the writer is a man, then add an ex-girlfriend into the mix, as well as an unscrupulous agent or gambler. If the writer is a woman? Well, Hollywood hasn’t figured that out yet. I am sure they will eventually, as long as a thin and voluptuous actress can play the part.

In real life, writers need community. I associate with several. In the past, when I lived closer to them I was a participating member of the Hampton Roads Writers. Now I keep up with social media maven/writer/tribe leader Kristen Lamb, who has written quite a few books for writers about the need for community. Need to know about “how” to write or what “not” to do? Her group, the WanaTribe, is for you. And they are just plain quirky enough to be a real fun bunch. I have also recently joined the Mystery Writers of America. There is much to be gained here from these professionals.

Life wasn’t all kittens and puppies, though. At one time I posted material on another online writer’s web-community, one which shall remain nameless, but it did not work out too well. It was poetry heavy and novel light; but this was not the problem. The issue was the members would read your posted material, then add a comment such as “I loved your work. It was awesome! And here’s a link to my latest and greatest material. Thanks in advance for reading it!” The whole site was a self-serving vehicle to get as many people as possible to “like” your work and post comments about how great you were as a writer. When you didn’t reciprocate? You were taken out of the loop and no one would read your new stuff. And if you posted constructive criticism? It never went well.

I became the online hermit for a while after that experience. And I don’t even like moo goo gai pan.

Then I found Book Country, a writer’s community sponsored by Penguin Books. At the time they were looking for a second round of beta testers so I volunteered. No regrets since.  All genres welcome and there’s a map page to steer you toward the one you want. Diverse discussion boards are included, covering everything from the business of writing to character development to software and tech updates. The site moderators are very engaging and take Book Country and the members seriously.

I have been workshopping my latest novel on Book Country for a few months. The feedback I have received has been invaluable. I still have a ways to go before I would consider the novel “done” but it is at least readable for now. In fact, I was blessed with a gift from the site editors – my novel, The Apple Pie Alibi, was chosen as one of the editor’s picks for June – and they did a short interview with yours truly.

For a guy like me, being introduced on their website (and their Twitter feed) as “Mystery Writer D.J. Lutz” was very affirming.

And it all happened because I decided to stop ordering the moo goo gai pan and come out of the room at the top of the stairs.

If you are a writer, don’t just report on life – be a part of it. Join a writer’s community. If you don’t have one, try Book Country. Or find another. The point is – writers can become better writers by learning from other writers. And that means joining a community.

Put down the chopsticks and get going!

What’s genre got to do with it?

You can't have too many books. No, you can't.

You can’t have too many books. No, you can’t.

This is the second in a series of posts written to motivate you and help you prepare for November’s National Novel Writing Month, or as it is called in the vernacular: Nanowrimo 2014!

Have you a favorite genre? If you look at your bookshelf, are the majority of the books of the same ilk? Nowadays, I guess a better question would be more concerned about the books on your tablet or eReader, but the concept is the same.

People tend to favor a few genres over all others. Some people love mysteries and romances, but will never entertain the thought of reading science fiction. I know one person who is a strict non-fiction’er. Hey, it works for them.

Me? I tend to go with mysteries, although I do like thrillers (and there is a difference.) I have read science fiction in the past, as well, enjoying the thought-provoking, fact-based drama created from the imaginations of the writers. I also appreciate non-fiction, as long as it is not slanted with the agenda of the writer. But romance books? Yes, they are a top seller, but still – not for me; and please don’t ask me to write any. It would suck be bad. Very bad.

As a writer, you don’t need to worry about genre – unless you want your readers to come back.

Genres come into being once someone creates a literary form to which the readers can relate. And by that, I mean they enjoy reading the form well enough to buy and read the books. Again and again.

Readers shop for whatever appeals to them. If they love to read romance novels, they might look at the Harlequin website, perhaps even the Carina Press site, since it is the eBook haven connected to Harlequin. If Carina puts out your book for sale, and people buy it thinking it is a romance novel, your protagonist (usually the girl, but not always) better end up with her knight in shining armor by the end of the story. If they aren’t getting married, they better be well on the way. End your tome with the boy skipping town with the protagonist’s best friend, leaving her a crying mess? Expect complaints. Expect sales for your second book to be lower.

But wait. Isn’t this blog series about preparing for Nanowrimo?

Yes, it is. And genre has a lot to do with it. As a writer, either new, old, “aspiring” or published, you must know the basic forms used in your chosen genre. I write mysteries. Cozy mysteries, in particular. If you are not familiar with the form, these are stories with a few essential rules. First, there must be a crime, preferably a murder, and it usually will have occurred either at the start of the story or just before the story begins. There also will not be any real graphic violence, cursing language, and most definitely no overt sexual themes and descriptions. Think Angela Landsbury and her television show, Murder She Wrote. Even better, it’s Agatha Christie. There, I think you get the picture.

If I were to write pages upon pages of forensic minutiae regarding Chef Pierre’s fatal knife wound from The Apple Pie Alibi, and then go on to give you a kiss by kiss commentary on Winnie and Parker’s activities when she discovered him sitting in his patrol car outside her house late one night, well, it might sell books, but it would not be correctly advertised as a cozy mystery. Publishers spend time (meaning money) on advertising, marketing, cover design, and more, trying to convince the general reading public to purchase a book. If the cozy mystery is really a contemporary adult-themed thriller, the money, more correctly stated: the publisher’s money will not have been used to the best extent possible. No one will be happy.

You are the author. You need to know what genre you are writing. Think of it this way. Would you go to a surgeon who doesn’t always know the names of the sharp tools at his disposal? “Excuse me, nurse, please hand me that pointy thing over there, you know, the one next to that shiny thing?” I don’t think so.

Pick a genre, read the genre, and know it inside and out. Preferably before you start writing!

I do not wish to say you have to choose one genre and never stray from it, but for Nanowrimo purposes you will need to write in just one genre.

Trust me, agents and publishers will look at you with a big, nasty stink-eye if you present them with your Regency Romance Steampunk Mystery Novel containing elements of paranormal western ninja themes.

How to learn about your genre?

This is the fun part. Go to the library. You know, it’s that old building with all the books in it? Since the Dewey Decimal System may be foreign to many of you, I will not bother with numbers such as 813.087, especially since the fiction section tends to be separated from the rest anyway. But, if all else fails, ask the person behind the desk. They are probably a librarian and they love questions like “Where can I find [insert name of author, title, subject]? “ And if you find a card catalogue? Now we’re talking! Browsing through the drawers is more fun than shopping for shoes. Of course, I hate shopping for shoes, but that’s not the point.

Okay, go ahead and do a search on the computer. Be that way.

Anyhow, check out a few dozen books in your chosen genre and start reading. After a while you will see a pattern of recurring themes. Make note of these and put them to use once you start outlining your Nano-novel.

The point is: you can’t write what you don’t know.

Of course, if you are brilliant, you may want to create your own genre. But that’s a story for another day.

Genres. Pick one – know one – write one!

 

Next up: Why the main character must be awesome – but never perfect.

Prepping for Nanowrimo 2014

http://s3.freefoto.com/images/11/22/11_22_1_web.jpg

http://www.freefoto.com/download/11-22-1/Sun-Dial

Tip 1 in a series designed to assist you sprinting to the finish line this November as you type with abandon during Nanowrimo 2014.

Set aside time for your writing.”

Who has enough time? To do anything? And do it well? And still have friends and family speak to you when it’s all over?

You do, that’s who.

Let’s start with the basics. What is enough time to write?

For me, a productive writing session takes at least an hour. This includes the time needed to:

  • Find a secluded chair in a coffee shop, bookstore or library. A power source nearby is a bonus.
  • Think up polite responses to questions such as “Hey, are you writing something? Are you a writer, then? Have you been published? What are you writing now? Do you know [insert name of famous best-selling author here]?” It happens. I am polite; sometimes I get creative. They get used to me and leave me alone. Eventually.

It helps if I buy a cup of coffee every once in a while, assuming I am in a coffee shop. Hey, they gotta stay in business, too.

  • Set up the laptop and try to connect to a wireless network. Easier some days than others.

No network nearby? That’s okay. Less distraction; more writing.

  • Make sure whatever I write is saved to an online storage service, such as Dropbox. All it takes is one massive computer crash. I speak from painful experience.

Again, no network access? I’ll use a flash drive.

I reserve 5:30 – 6:30 am every weekday for writing. Saturday will often be a little more lenient, giving me a few hours to write. Sunday? Depends; it’s a long story.

With advanced planning, I can usually get a solid 45 minutes of actual writing during my hour.

Does this schedule work? It did for me; it may or may not for you. Working in this fashion, I finished Nanowrimo just under the November 30th deadline with a 52k word first draft. Here it is, six months later and my draft has changed numerous times, finally ending up as a 75k word completed novel.

“But I have responsibilities. I don’t have any spare time, not even an hour a day.”

Yes, many of us have children, spouses, and pets. Then there’s always the cooking/cleaning to do, and you can’t totally dismiss the job we use to earn money needed to pay rent. I hear you. I get you. I am with you.

So keeping in mind these other responsibilities, I found the best results come from having a regularly scheduled time for my writing. My family knows this time is reserved; and since it is so early in the morning, they are sleeping anyway. They don’t even miss me.

Support from family and friends is essential. Feed the pets. Be nice to your spouse. Help the kids with their homework. It’ll pay off when you need the extra time later checking for continuity errors, too many adverbs, the nefarious “that” and other grammar flotsam and jetsam.

I know one writer, a man with a six-book contract, who shuts himself in his basement for three months at a time to write. If you want a six-book deal, I guess this schedule might be worth it. But his method is not my choice. It must work for him. Not sure if he gets any Father’s Day cards, though.

Have a plan and hit the hour typing! This is your hour for all activities related to your project. This would include writing, research, plotting, outlining, reading, etc. We’re only talking an hour here so use it as efficiently as you can. The more actual typing, the better.

Maybe there are other times of the day where you could find five minutes here, ten minutes there to do a bit of research. You might be able to read a book from your chosen genre while eating lunch. While everyone else is watching television, you could perhaps scribble down thoughts of characters, story arcs, and plot points.

Speaking of reading, there is a great little book about finding available time when you have a super-busy schedule. It’s called Time to Write, by Kelly L. Stone. A quick read, this book gives plenty of examples of successful writers who overcame scheduling obstacles. If you can afford one of those giant, fancy coffee drinks at your local coffee shop, then you have enough money for the book. And the book will last longer.

Finally, avoid time-suckers. Well, if you think about it, you could read Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even blog posts at other times during the day. You can grab a bite to eat five minutes before your hour. You might even reward yourself with a dinner out, after your hour.

And there is no harm in holding a family meeting the day before you start. Explain your desire to write, with the caveat you won’t be abandoning anyone. All you want is one hour a day. They can have the other 23. Then promise the family you will take them on holiday once you are a rich and famous author. (Well, it could happen, you know.)

Bottom Line: Professional writers started out just like you. If they could find time to write, you can, too! It’s all about doing the “other stuff” before, or after your hour.

Now stop reading and go write!

Next up: What’s genre got to do with it?

Nanowrimo? But it’s not even June yet?

No server access? Get out the Underwood!

Gad-zooks! We are about five months away from the next coffee-fueled, donuts-for-dinner literary slog known as Nanowrimo!

For those wondering, this is the annual “contest” where you pledge to scribe a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. This breaks down to writing 1,666.66 words per day, every day. Easy for some; seemingly impossible for others.

And for those who make it all the way? They are “winners” and get a cool icon for their website, discounts on tools and services for writers, and most importantly, they get bragging rights. I mean, really, how many people have you met that can say they have written a novel in one month? Not many, I am guessing.

Those who finish also gain invaluable perspective. They now understand what it means to write on a deadline. They know the sacrifices professional writers make on a daily basis. Those who finish also learn about their own writing skill, or lack thereof. I have participated in quite a few Nanowrimo events and have learned I can write thrillers with both military and paranormal themes, as well as mysteries. But after three or four Nano’s, I find mysteries written in first person to be the most natural voice for me.

In one sentence: You learn more about yourself as a writer. And that is probably the best takeaway from Nanowrimo. And it’s free.

So, to help those of you who either struggled to make the 50,000 word goal, didn’t make the goal, or decided you could never do it and thusly did not enter, I will use the month of June to share my own system of preparation for Nanowrimo. Just think, after this series ends, you still have four months to do the legwork before you have to type “It was a dark and stormy night…”

My Goal: Help you, the Nanowrimo warrior, finish with a coherent and complete first draft of your next best-selling novel.

How? I’ll post ten, count ‘em, ten easy-to-read steps that might just prepare you to take up the Nano challenge.

Why now? Nanowrimo takes the entire month of November. And trust me, it takes the entire month for most of us. That leaves eleven months with nothing to do, right?

Wrong.

I started my novel, The Apple Pie Alibi, during Nanowrimo 2013 and here it is, six months later and I have just revised it well enough to send it to a publisher for consideration. You think writing your novel in one month is hard? Think of the poor publishers and agents who receive thousands (literally) of unpolished first drafts during the month of December.

The more work you do now, the better the first draft will be on November 30th. And consequently, the less work you will need to do in December forward. Publishers and agents everywhere will thank you.

Next up: Finding time for your writing. It can be done!

Submission Success!

But not publication success, at least – not yet. Still, I have navigated the hoops necessary to successfully submit my manuscript (and query, synopsis, and series outline) to Carina Press!

Now the waiting begins.

Okay, waiting for the end of the waiting period is over. Back to work.

Time to start the sequel to The Apple Pie Alibi.

Oh, and for those who are contemplating submitting their novel, be it to an agent or publisher? Read the directions!  Carina Press has very specific guidelines for submission, and most of them are repeated on every link you can click on. I triple checked my stuff and am still hoping I dotted all of the T’s and crossed all of the I’s.

Well, you get the idea.

Keep writing everyone, for as one writer put it: The best advice I ever received was to shut up and finish writing the book.

Shutting up now.

A new novel shows itself unexpectedly?

So it seems that Grandma Kepler and the old police captain, J.B Larson, had just returned from a vacation on the subcontinent of India. And just in time, I might add. When the good police officer walked into the holding cell at the station, he found one prisoner dead (with a note saying “Now we’re even!” clutched in his hand) and another prisoner quite ill. To make matters worse, over half of his force had come down with similar symptoms. Things were not looking good in tiny Seaview, Virginia.

While intrepid cafe owner and girl about town Winnipeg Kepler investigated the crime, from a distance of course, Grandma Kepler whipped up some Mango Lentil Dal. She had tried some in Punjab and declared on the spot it would cure what ailed you. Doc Jones said it couldn’t hurt; and besides, it would be a few more hours before the CDC quarantine team could get to the little, out the way coastal village.

Winnie hadn’t a clue about the medicinal properties of the Dal, but at this point figured there was no stopping her grandmother. And since she wasn’t yet sick with the mystery illness, Winnie decided a little preemptive cooking was worth a chance. Her logical brain told her the Dal was no substitute for sound medical advice from a licensed physician, but the aroma alone boosted her taste buds with a nice punch of flavor.

“It’s not chicken on a stick, Grandma, but after seeing all those red spots on the sick guys, I’m up for any cure – FDA approved or not!”

How will Winnie solve the crime when she can’t even get near the body? What about her new beau, recently promoted Corporal Parker Williams? He hasn’t caught the mystery bug yet but can’t leave the station house because of the quarantine. Meanwhile, Winnie’s grandmother has infiltrated the station with a pot of Indian food, thinking she can cure all concerned – except the dead guy, of course.

“It’s always too late for the deceased,” she said.

“He should of tried the curry,” I replied.

“Well, next time, maybe he will.”

“So, live and learn, I guess?”

“Unless he…you know…”

“Unless he what?”

“Unless he’s -”

Already Dead.” The second novel in the Winnipeg Kepler series. Stay tuned – and pass the dal.

When Literary Agents Wave the Red Flag

D.J. Lutz:

Although I have been woefully behind in my reading the blogs of the cadre of fine writers on my “favorites” list, I do see their partial posts via my iPhone. Thusly, I know many of them are at the point of submitting their manuscript to agents and publishers. Here’s some great insight, from an insider. In a nutshell – you may not be as unqualified as you may have been led to believe. Enjoy!

Originally posted on The Daily Dahlia:

It’s been almost a full year now since I signed with my agent, but the thing about querying is, if you did it for long enough, I’m not sure you ever forget what it was like.

Me? I did it on and off for four years.

I got something like ten rejections on my first ms before I stopped (not that I’d normally advise giving up after that low a number, it’s just that it was far more of a “market timing” thing – NA! – than anything else), fifty before shelving the second one (what, until my most recent ms, was “the book of my heart”), and then was very lucky to find my agent through The Writer’s Voice contest with my third, for which I only sent about five queries.

That adds up to a whole lotta two things: 1) Research 2) Rejections

When I queried the first…

View original 2,138 more words

The New Weekly Writing Plan

It’s been a while since I have spent time with WordPress; not your fault, it’s me, not you. No, really. Me. The whole way.

So where have I been? No, not jail. In fact, here’s a quick recap of my life since we last met:

Writing, work, family, writing, work, family, writing, work, family. (Just kidding. Food was in there, too. And wine, but I digress.)

So where are we at with the novel? In the process of rewriting the completed “Apple Pie Alibi” from third person into first person. It’s going slower than I anticipated since I am also reading it out loud as I go.

By the way: reading your work out loud is a great way to spot poor writing. Just saying.

This week’s writing plan? More of the same. Writing from 5:00 – 6:30 AM; work from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Add in an hour commute on both ends and I’m left with a few hours with the family. On the weekends, I try to spend time on Saturdays reading the works of others (Book Country gives me an ample supply of emerging novels.)  Sundays? A day of church and rest. Except today…

New agenda items: I’ve added my Twitter feed. Between that platform and the FB page, you can stay up to the minute on my culinary exploits and writing progress. For more details on the cooking, see the new page above, Exploding Potatoes!

Enough for now. With diligence, the rewrite will be done by the end of April. Then it’s decision time: query or self publish? Thankfully, I’ve got time to ponder that one.

Until next time, keep writing, everyone. If we don’t, who will?