Fans of Argent Glass will be happy to discover that I've been plotting the sequel. My readers over on Wattpad convinced me to turn my stand-alone into a series. I ended the story with a hook that begs for more (they say) and though I never intended to write it, the sequel is now in the works.
I've actually been plotting it in my head for a couple months now. Plotting, for me, always starts there. I let an idea percolate for a long time. Some ideas fizzle out while others bubble and burble so much that I suddenly find myself scribbling notes on slips of paper and napkins and the corners of pages in my activity log at work. After a while, the number of notes starts to feel claustrophobic. I find them on my dresser, the dining room table, the kitchen counter, the desk (aka the top of the dogs' kennel - yes they share - they've established rules about who gets to use it when just like my teens do with the Xbox). Eventually, I consolidate my notes into a single pile that then gets organized in OneNote. (Have you seen my OneNote page that talks about using OneNote to edit a novel?)
Once my notes are somewhat organized, I start to see the backbone of the story. I could probably start plotting the storyline from here, but I like to work with a visual, so I sketch the story arc. I use a combination of the Hero's Journey and a prototypical narrative arc. If you aren't familiar, go check out Well-Storied's explanation of the Hero's Journey at https://www.well-storied.com/blog/heros-journey.
You can also find a sample arc that's pretty similar to what I draw at Middle Country Public Library at https://www.mcplibrary.org/story-arc/.
I take a clean sheet of paper and with a pen, draw an arc. Kind of looks like a bell curve but the bell's been struck on the left and it leans to the right. Then I lay out some dotted lines... the inciting moment, the half-way point, the climax, etc.
That's the base. Clean. Fresh. Ready for ideas. Ready for all those slips of paper to be origamied into the full-fledged plot of a story. I use a pencil for the rest of this exercise which can take weeks or even months, and often, is never fully completed because I move to the computer to finish. It’s easier there because, by this point, whole scenes start prickling in my brain and I can dump them into the outline where they fit in.
My paper story arc is usually heavily covered in lead on the left side and middle of the page, where ideas come quickly and easily for me. Since my stories tend to evolve out of dreams, there is often one scene that I know I want in the story. Sometimes it ends up being the inciting incident and other times it's the climax. Discovering how my character got to those points is a matter of asking a lot of questions and writing those answers on the story arc diagram. On the right hand side of the page, though, there’s more white space.
Over the course of whatever amount of time it takes, I keep writing until I get to: some things happen, blah blah blah, and my main character overcomes the challenge/bad guy. Plot complete. Level unlocked.
Sounds good, in theory, but that blah blah blah bit has always been a sticking point. Endings have always evaded me in the process of plotting, and so I've ignored them under the guise of "I will figure it out when I get there" in true pantser fashion.
Well not today, family. This week, a friend of mine, Philip Ide, dropped a post on his Facebook timeline that was a game changer for me. (Go check out Phil. He's working on some sci-fi books and he's amazing. He made this calculator for "calculating the orbital characteristics for any orbit around any gravitational mass" - which makes him crazy smart in my book because I'd never think up such a thing much less actually be able to sit down and create it.
Geeky geeks or geeky sci-fi writers can find the Orbital Calculator on his webpage at https://philip-p-ide.uk/doku.php/blog/articles/software/orbital_calculator
Or go over and chat with him on his Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/authorPhilipIde/
And now back to our regularly scheduled program. The game changer. Here's what Phil posted.
"The story must finish with [the main character] doing something that nobody else can (or will), and which dramatically changes the end."
(Speak up if you know who said that so I can credit them.)
On some level, I knew that. I've extensively studied the craft of writing novels for at least five years now and I'm an avid reader who started a love affair with books the moment my mother introduced me to the library over fifty years ago. But seeing it spelled out this way, at this time, when I've been hung up on creating a dramatic ending for Argent Glass 2 (actual title to be determined), struck some nerve that turned on the ole light bulb.
I don't mean the ending immediately came to me. Remember, that’s not how I work. First, the sentence percolated. I wrote it on the top of a page of hand-written notes related to the story. Then, just as I was conveying the idea to my number one fan (my husband - y'all can fight for the title later)...
BINK! The ending fell right out of my lips.
And, half a second later, another sticky note was covered in scribbles.
I haven’t talked much about my personal journey from writing to publication, other than with some of my closest friends and family, and even that has been limited. Those who are closest to me all know that I started writing a few years back and some have read my stories, so they know I have a dream of someday holding my own books in my hands. They know I look forward to the day when I can sign a paper copy for some adoring fan or answer questions about why I wrote the things I wrote. But not very many have followed my path from day one to today.
Day one of my official writing journey (not the one where I journaled about the births of my sons or the annual family newsletter) was joining my soon-to-be good friend Alexandria Sure at my first write-in for NaNoWriMo. It was a small eclectic local user’s group held at a local eatery and run by an amazingly warm and welcoming municipal liaison who has volunteered for many many years and who, to this day, makes every person who joins feel like they instantly belong.
Back then, Alex and I were more casual acquaintances than friends. She had discovered my penchant for writing and asked if I would considered reading and editing a novel she was working on. The following November, after several editing and critiquing conversations, she invited me to join NaNo, and the rest, the parts where she and I became author sisters is, as they say, history.
It took me over a year to write that first novel, and another year to edit it. I researched querying and failed miserably at it because, for all the research I did, I just didn’t really “get it.” I thought my queries would race out the door into the hands of the waiting agents and they would call me immediately. I didn’t realize I was driving a horse and buggy and they were thinking, “Cute horse” instead of “Great story.”
My queries were lackluster and didn’t really capture the essence of my story the way a good query would. My biggest failure, though, was not that my queries sucked, it was that I gave up. I didn’t do enough homework. I sent out only a small number of queries and decided my book wasn’t that good. I gave up.
Rather than continue to query, I decided to put the novel on Wattpad, a reader/writer platform where I had seen another author friend have what I considered amazing success. She now has three books available in paperback for one series and continues to write other great stories that teens love.
Wattpad, though I didn’t have the success of my friend, was both a good move and a bad move. I learned more about my story on Wattpad than I had from all of the beta readers with whom I had initially shared my story. Wattpad readers are great for pinging – you can ask them what they think about a chapter or a character and they gladly share their opinions – but they also have a knack for pointing out small details that helps an author laser in on things that can be make a story stronger. You often get their comments in real-time as they read the chapters, so you can sometimes see where they are confused or reading something into a character or setting that you didn’t intend.
After six month of having my story on Wattpad, I knew how to fix a weak spot in the ending. It was something I had known all along was wrong with the story, but was blind about how to fix. My story is better thanks to my Wattpad readers.
On the other hand, having my story on Wattpad has all but taken the option away for querying that story. Many agents will not touch a book that has been published anywhere, whether that is Amazon (which is all I thought “published” meant), your personal website, or a platform like Wattpad. Learn from my mistake, friends. If you think there is any chance you might want to go the traditional route of publication, don’t put your book out there on a platform, yours or anyone else’s.
(A possible exception: Wattpad has started their own publishing arm. Those books that do really well on the platform or that catch the eyes of the powers that be may get a proposal for representation. Some stories are being optioned for movies as well. At this time, those books are rare, but it could happen and I don’t want to downplay was an amazing journey those writers who have gotten publishing deals on that platform must be having.)
In the third year, and the fourth, and all the years since, I have continued to drop everything in the month of November to bang out words and, barring one year when I broke a finger just days before the event kicked off, I wrote 50,000 words toward novels to be completed. I now have a backlog of novels that need editing.
I’m proud to say that even being mildly depressed during the pandemic (who wasn’t?), I managed to complete and edit my year two novel, Key of F, and am now querying it. This time, after a ton of additional research and some really hard work that took a whole lot of hours, I think I am at the point where I have a pretty solid query. Or at least I think I finally get it. I have some solid comps, determined who my intended audience is, know how to write and personalize my query letter, and have worked out a synopsis. (My synopsis still needs work – clearly, my learning process is not over.)
This time, I’m vowing not to give up. Or maybe I should clarify. I’m vowing to give my queries a good college try. That means, I will keep querying agents that I think will be a good fit and whom I think I would like to work with. I have started a list of “dream agents” but my dream agents aren’t necessarily a good fit for this story, so I have a long list of people to research. Research for me almost equates to stalking. I look at their agent page on their agency’s website, check to see if they have their own website and/or blog, read their blogs if they do, filter through their Twitter feed, and dig for any interviews they may have sitting out there. I check to make sure their name and their agency isn’t on a shadow ban list or Writer’s Beware. The goal is to make sure they will represent my book well AND that they will be a person I will enjoy working with. Doing this thoroughly takes a couple hours, sometimes three or four because some of them have incredible amounts of information and resources that they have shared on their blogs. I have gone right down the rabbit hole with some of them, only stopping for lunch or to make dinner for the family.
Anyway, I did my homework and found a dozen agents who look like phenomenal matches. They seem to be looking for the type of story I have written and I like the things they say and do. Queries were sent.
Then it’s the waiting game. I queried some agents through the holidays (some take much deserved breaks from queries at that time) and know to give a little extra time for answers. Some don’t reply and post that information on their submissions page so you know if you don’t hear back in six or eight weeks that it is a No. It’s been around six weeks at this point. I received a couple form letters back thank me for my submission and notifying me that this wasn’t what the agent was looking for at this time.
I started back through my list to find more agents. A couple weeks ago, I queried a couple more. For good or bad, I tweaked my query. I think it improved and I had some people in a Facebook group review it to tweak it a little more. One more rejection came back from the first group.
Yesterday, after a whole day of researching, or stalking if you will, I queries six more agents. After reading some resources posted on one of the agents website, something clicked. It may have been the combination of taking an author advertising course, talking through a friend’s key word selection for her book, and the agent blog post, but I finally found a good comp for my book. I finally understand what a good comp is. My queries improved a bit more.
I feel like I’ve upgraded from a horse and buggy to a Mustang Convertible. I know there are fancier cars out there than the Mustang Convertible, but I’m enjoying the wind in my hair right this minute. Next week, I’ll get back to researching.