Twelve months of moving forward. Writing, editing, reading, researching, submitting. The Year that is 2020 presented trials, tribulations, and triumphs on many levels. Today, I pause and reflect on the ways I unfolded my creativity and determination, one petal at a time.
January – Working a Network
Thanks to the power of the Wheaton College alumnae connection, I reached out to Ashley Sweeney ’79, an author of historical fiction, for advice on next steps toward publishing. She bowled me over with the offer to Pay It Forward and became my writing mentor. Step One: she read, critiqued and red-lined my manuscript finding plot holes, character inconsistencies and urged me to dig deeper into emotions and consequences.
February – Preparing a Pitch
While Ashley read and red-lined, I tackled assignments for a writers’ conference I had been accepted to attend with author/agent, Paula Munier, and author/editor, Michael Neff. On February 26th we checked into a lovely B&B in St. Augustine. Over a four day marathon, we discussed plots and characters as well as identified key words and book comparables to use in an agent pitch. Beyond receiving excellent feedback from editors on my pitch, I learned the time span of my novel was too long for a debut author. I needed to chop thirty years.
March – Learning New Words
Coronavirus. Covid-19. Wuhan Flu. Never would I have imagined as I edited two chapters about the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic that I would be living through history repeating itself. Chaos spread across my office floor as I re-organized chapters while outside, chaos spread across the country and around the world. I found solace and focus hibernating in NH immersed in Eliza’s story as we celebrated Women’s History Month. How appropriate as chapters about women in history lay around me.
April – Writing The End, Again
Am I done now? No. Not yet. More advice from Ashley indicated the manuscript could benefit from a developmental editor. A what? An editor specializing in line edits to tighten the writing, improve the pace, and correct inconsistencies. Hello, Ellen Notbohm. Wow, am I glad Ashley introduced me to you. While Ellen noted my manuscript would take up to thirty hours’ worth of work, her sample edit indicated I had the bones of a good story. Ellen says of Eliza: “That girl’s going places.”
May – Playing the Waiting Game
While Ellen worked over Eliza out in Oregon, I sat hyper-ventilating and twiddling my thumbs on Cape Cod. To occupy my mind, body, and soul, I began walking three miles a day listening to books on Audible. What a treat! And now, another fun task to ponder. Should I get lucky enough to reach that milestone, who would I cast to narrate Eliza’s story?
June – Doubting My Authority
With massive edits back from Ellen, I dove into that red-lined word doc like a typing maniac. The resulting effort defined Eliza’s third-person close POV throughout the pages, plugged a few plot holes, strengthened her emotions and reactions, inserted additional scenes and re-wrote my ending. At the same time, I finished reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and sat in on a Zoom chat with her. I had avoided reading the book due to the controversy swirling around it and the concept of cultural appropriation. I’m glad I heard Jeanine’s perspective. Yet, the controversy raised a flag for me. What authority do I have to write the life story of a woman doctor? Yes, I’ve researched topics and perspectives, from reading first-hand accounts from the Woman’s Medical College archives to interviewing medical students, to following posts from #womeninmedicine. But, is that enough for my writing to be true to those pioneering graduates of the Woman’s Medical College in the early 1900s?
July – Making a Switch
As editing continued, I kept returning to my opening chapter. Grabbing a reader’s attention within the first five pages marks one of the basic lessons I learned from my creative writing class, workshops, and feedback. For two and a half years, Eliza’s story began with the arrival of a piece of mail. Is that truly a strong, inciting incident? Or, are the actions and reactions which occur in Chapter Nine a better place to start? My epiphany hit me like a slap up alongside my head. Yes. Move Chapter Nine to the opening pages. Set Eliza’s character arc up from the first paragraph. Show her empathy and anguish. Pull readers in to set them on a course of cheering for Eliza for the rest of the book.
Social Media Update: Achieved 500 followers for my Facebook Author Page. Building a following, even before you publish, is important to show agents and publishers your ability to market yourself and your book. With an anticipated reader profile of Women ages 50+, Facebook is the best option to reach this audience. I’m on the right track.
August – Sending Eliza Off
Out into the world, Eliza headed into the hands of beta readers from California to Illinois to Georgia, from Oregon to North Carolina, and in my backyard of Cape Cod and Massachusetts. Through careful vetting and consideration, I assembled a group who I knew would provide me with honest and thoughtful feedback. At this stage, I needed a wider circle than friends and family. I needed male readers for their perspective on the way I presented male characters. Women in medicine would check the accuracy of the medical scenes and the authenticity of a woman’s perspective and reactions (see doubts above in June). Other writers would zero in on plot lines and holes, character arcs, POVs, conflicts, and resolutions. Avid readers would comment on the overall likeability and marketability of the story.
September – Crossing the T’s and Dotting the I’s
Bouyed by beta readers’ feedback, I applied the final tweaks to Eliza’s story. Now, am I done?? One more stop – copy editing which is different than a developmental editor. Thanks to the wonderful Wheaton connection, I again found a professional to help me. A Class of ’85 alumna lives down the road from me on Cape Cod. Despite the continued grips of COVID, we met outside for a long, leisurely coffee and chat. Lisa Goodrich willingly took on Eliza to correct typos, grammar, punctuation, and any other inconsistencies or errors still appearing after six drafts – “You’ve already used the hummingbird wings metaphor”. Lucky for me, she fell in love with Eliza’s story. “I am totally hooked” and turned the 350 pages around far quicker than she estimated.
October – Dropping the Beads
Dropping the what? Based on an idea I saw on Twitter among its active writing community, I started my #submissionjar. Different color beads symbolize each step in the process of querying and submitting your story pitch to agents. On October 21st, I dropped the first bead into my jar after hitting send to the first agent on my carefully targeted list. Per the detailed directions on her agency’s website, I sent my query letter, a brief synopsis and the first ten pages of my manuscript (see why those first few pages are important?). And, then the waiting game began, again.
November – Curbing My Enthusiasm
With no response from the first agent, by the second week of November I decided to send queries to others. Elation arrived in my Inbox when I heard from two that they wanted to read the entire manuscript. Hallelujah and Praise God! Now, how in the world do I rein in my excitement while I await their responses? Get back to walking and riding my stationary cycle and bring along other Anxious People with me. (If you haven’t read it yet, Anxious People by Fredrik Bakman is delightful.) P.S. I’m humming in my head, “All I Want for Christmas…is an agent contract”.
December – Reflecting on My Journey
Here I sit, three years after I wrote the first chapter of Eliza’s story as the final assignment for my creative writing class, reflecting on my writing journey. I traveled to locations (Philadelphia, Newport, and Boston) for first-hand research to help my settings come alive with color and a sense of place (thank goodness that stage occurred pre-Covid). I clung to love shown by family and friends who inquire about my progress. I connected with amazing authors, editors, readers, and social media followers for guidance and support. My blurred eyes and muddled brain grew weary, analyzing how to improve the words on my pages. Eliza sits patiently and quietly on those pages waiting to come to life in the hands of an agent and then a publisher. May we both see that day come soon. 2021 is going to be a great year. I just know it.
CURRENT STATUS: Submission Jar as of December 30, 2020
- Submitted Query to Agents = 23
- Full Manuscript Requested, Still Waiting = 1
- Full Manuscript Requested, Pass = 1
- Not Interested = 3
- No Reply, Still Waiting = 18
- Additional Agents Identified and Ready to Query in January = 5
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