2021 Querying and Project SkyWIP

It’s been a long time! There’s not much to update but that I’d taken a break from querying after sending some out in September/October of 2020. It didn’t look like a good climate so, after not making much headway, I decided to wait. I don’t normally focus on timing so much, but I had the benefit of my previous query experience for this one.

So I started a couple of weeks ago, at the start of February, dripping out some queries while I work on my new project! In order to help get some distance from the book so I can be in a better place craft-wise to eventually pen its related stories, I’ve been pursuing a project that reflects a lot of childhood loves but reimagined for an adult audience.

I’m unimaginatively calling it SkyWIP, and it’s my personal tribute to everything that got me through some difficult years as a teenager. I initially started working on the concept in December and started writing in mid-January. Currently, I’m 25k words in and it *MAY* be worth querying by the end! Either way, it’s been a refreshing manuscript to work on, and freeing in a way that the first book can’t be given the latter’s heavily-developed universe, characters, and timeline that spans several books.

So we’ll see what 2021 has to offer! So far, it’s started strong in the query trenches with a few bites, so I’m glad I hit pause when things were looking shaky last year.

Finally #amquerying

After some cut passes, and a few more cut passes, and some painstaking decisions, I wrangled my 179k manuscript down to 149k.

It definitely feels stronger, reads smoother, somehow maintains solid pacing, and has some pretty amazing beta feedback from fresh and old eyes.

With that, I’ve yeeted out my first set of queries. Not 100% sure if timing is good right now in agent land, but after two years of studying craft, rewriting, editing, revising, restructuring, enhancing themes and reversals, and bringing out my character perspectives more firmly on the page, I couldn’t really wait much longer.

It feels ready. I’m excited.

Full rewrite = COMPLETE

So, at the end of July, I was able to announce reaching a major milestone. The full POV and structural rewrite I’d started in early 2019 was FINISHED. The omniscient POV is gone and the manuscript is now told almost entirely from the perspectives of my two protagonists: Dyanna and Venerio.

I struggled so much with it and it was a real learning curve to write in third limited. Thankfully, it seems to have worked. Unfortunately, because of the very prominent mental health themes, switching to third limited ballooned my word count. Lots of mental and emotional roller coasters as my characters navigate depression, PTSD, identity and symptoms of psychosis. Who’d have thought that would massively increase my word count?? ^^;

So, now I’m blitzing through a word cut pass and getting some feedback from a round of betas on the newly-rewritten full (so far, so good!). The total came to nearly 180k words, so I’m going through squeezing out whatever I can to get under 150k. After that, I will be querying. I’ve gone through about 35% of the manuscript and shaved 11k words so far, so hopefully I can get another 20k off as I work my way through. I’ve had to cut a chapter I love, but at least I’ll have a lovely, polished deleted scene to offer someday when the time comes!

Over the coming weeks, I get to start putting a query list together…. I don’t know whether to be excited or terrified.

Challenging times

So, for anyone who still exists and reads this, yes: this is my first post in a very long time. I work full time, I’ve been eyeballs-deep in revisions for 18 months, and I can’t update this as often as I’d like (I don’t know what useful or interesting stuff I can put here that others haven’t done better already).

Back in January, I’d set June 2020 as my query deadline for SoMES. The deadline that would see it in agent inboxes after the massive overhauls I’ve been working on for what seemed like forever. I had a plan: first approach the agents who’d requested the full or partial back in 2018, then query new agents and maybe a few requeries of top agents.

The first chink in my determination armor was finding out, after I casually asked on twitter, that my top #1 agent choice wouldn’t accept requeries even for overhauled work. It’s fine, but I’d had this agent in my head during all my revisions. That agent was the first person I wanted to send a new query to (this agent didn’t have a partial or full, but had invited my query over two years ago through DVPit).

Oh well, I thought. I’ll just try others when the time comes. Disappointing, but entirely fair and reasonable. I’d shot myself in the foot by querying too early. I’d waited too long and was too scared/anxious to seek out writing communities, meaning I made every mistake a new writer could make. I didn’t even know such a vast community existed when I wrote my first three drafts of SoMES in 2016-2017, only succumbing in April 2018 when I found out about DVPit and decided to finally make a twitter account. For context, I lived in Scotland and figured any local groups would all be crime and thriller writers (the UK has a bizarre obsession with crime, thrillers, and political drama, and fantasy agents are few and hard to come by, so I didn’t expect to find much help from local writing groups where people would be writing in a completely different genre). I’ve learned a lot since then and all thanks to you all.

Revisions continued this year, even with the chaos of Covid causing our world to shut down. Right at the start of lockdown, when the fear and caution was at its peak, I had a miscarriage which I was thankfully guided through on the phone by the lovely, local NHS Early-Pregnancy Unit. All the while, I was putting in crazy hours while working from home (only two friend-colleagues knew I was haemorrhaging my insides out at the time). Colleagues were off sick, some were now juggling childcare for young children, and I felt I was picking up a lot of the pieces. I *still* continued with my revisions best I could. I was making such great progress and a call for betas between March-May attracted 18 readers for partials or fulls of the revised manuscript. EIGHTEEN READERS. Betas are hard to get, so I considered myself extremely fortunate that so many were interested.

Work increased.

Personal stresses compounded.

Those who know me know I’m very good at handling crises because of my background. Those who know me know I became and adult at 7-8. Those who know me know how capable I am at keeping my cool when everything falls apart. All that in mind, a few weeks ago, I had a complete nervous breakdown. I spent several days mentally and emotionally incapable of doing anything.

Throughout the entire period, I tried to continue revisions and tried to keep working (my productivity so low that I had to compensate by working early morning to late evening). For revisions, I was in the last 20% of my MS – SO close. If only I could reach the end, it would all be worth it and I could query and have it out of my hands and RELAX. I’d sit with my laptop open on my lap for hours, doing nothing at all but hope that I could get some words down.

Then, a movement began that has been long overdue. I’m not going into too much depth on Black Lives Matter in this post because I’m writing this purely so I can download my struggles from the last several months. I’ve spent two weeks actively sharing and trying my best to support those in my area back home and more widely. My private, non-writing facebook and public, writing-geared twitter account have been an endless stream of footage, information, and resources. I flagged it at work, I discussed it with family members, and I conversed about it with friends. I stood up in writing groups against those who wanted to keep things ‘non-political’ and those who dared to push back on informative posts that explained how biases and prejudices, even at an unconscious level, trickle into our writing. I argued with those who would not involve or educate themselves because they thought it ‘didn’t impact them’. I’m not saying all this to centre myself, or to justify my exhaustion (I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel for my Black friends, colleagues, and fellow writers), but to explain why *this* post is going to be my much-needed outlet for some non-BLM content at this time, since my only other social media is geared towards sharing information. I don’t want anyone here who maybe isn’t seeing my twitter (and probably no one would know my private facebook) to think this cause isn’t important. It is, and if you’re not sure where to begin, there are a lot of great threads on twitter with links and information.

In short, I’d been struggling to finish these damned revisions. My mental energy was spent.

Then, things began to kick off in the publishing world. The lead of Red Sofa Literary showed her true colors at the peak of the protests, causing most of her agents and many writers to leave the agency (good for them!). Corvisiero also decided to finally show, publicly, quite how shit they were by firing all their agents in one go (this agency has been at the front and centre of writer whisper networks as SHADY AF since before I even became an active writing community member in early 2018). That, I saw, was a much-needed reckoning long overdue, so all good.

Things picked up pace – we learned through #publishingpaidme the indefensible disparities between what support is offered white writers versus Black and other POC writers (from debuts to award-winners). That was depressing but also much-needed insight. More is coming out every day about the practices in acquisition meetings, where a writer’s appearance and marketability are discussed just as much if not moreso than the work itself. Then, the icing on the cake, Red Sofa’s director decided to come at a small number of agents and former employees for calling out her bad behavior. Lawyers are now involved because people wanted to flag to writers (who are in the most vulnerable position) that some agents are bad.

At the same time, another well-known shady agent has begun contacting both agented and unagented writers. This agent also has a history of getting daddy’s financial support to threaten legal action and silence writers and agents who speak up about his terrible treatment of clients (I have named him outright in the past on twitter, but I like his new nickname of Fart Fartlieb – if you want more details, he is an agent at the three-pronged-weapon-of-Poseidon agency).

Traditional publishing, the very avenue I’d been preparing myself for and envisioning during all my time spent on revisions, simply felt too unfair and hostile.

I’d spent years writing and editing with the goal of SoMES, a book and series very dear to me, getting an agent, then being on sub and selling to a publishing house, and then eventually being published and marketed. I began to ask myself what the point was.

Agents are increasingly allowed to operate in shadows then bully those who voice concerns about their beliefs, behaviors, and practices.

Editors and publishing houses are allowed to critique a writer’s appearance and background when considering the work.

Minority writers are chronically and systematically undervalued, underpaid, and undermarketed. They are rejected for an agent ‘not connecting’ with the material. They are rejected for nonsensical reasons. I have an entire post’s worth of garbage commentary I’ve received from those in the industry relating to my own work from people just like that: people who couldn’t connect. People who wanted my story of someone coming to terms with major aftereffects of trauma to be transformed into a standard tough/strong-woman fighter book. People who told me, back in 2017 and just before #metoo kicked off, that the concept and characters had no future in fantasy and that I should scrap it and consider writing children’s books (yes, I actually have this in writing from someone).

So, in short, all this led to me finally setting SoMES aside.

I closed my open SoMES file on Monday and haven’t opened it again. I haven’t thought about it when I woke up nor in my final minutes before falling asleep. I haven’t taken notes or visualised my remaining scenes that need rewriting. I haven’t been puzzling out the final bits and pieces I need to change in that last 15%. I haven’t been reading or rereading or editing what has already been revised. I haven’t added to my to do list of final adjustments for my last 2 polishing passes.

I have done nothing.

I don’t know when I will pick it back up, but I think it will be when I have faith in both publishing and myself again. I wanted June 2020 to be when I was free of this manuscript and, in a way, I guess it was.


In case you haven’t noticed, I can be shockingly bad at keeping a blog updated. I had a personal one years ago that I updated twice a week, but that was more about my life than writing. For this one, I’ve geared it towards writing, but then when I think of something writing-related to blog about, I decide I’d rather just use that time ACTUALLY writing and progressing my projects.

That being said, I’m working on being better. My last post was that I was doing Camp Nano, and so I might as well say that was a success. I achieved my goals and got a lot of *quality* revisions done! Then things kicked into gear with my trip to SD Comic Con (where I attended lots of industry panels, which were amazing), falling unwell after getting back, lots of changes at work, trying to juggle some beta commitments (and dropping a few balls there), then my two-week excavation in Croatia, then some weddings and social commitments that mean here we are on the cusp of November.

I’m planning some specific goals for November as people jump into NaNoWriMo, and may be able to open WoS up for a couple of alpha readers if anyone is keen on sneak peaks at SoMES’ sequel. I hope everyone is doing well, and happy Diwali for those celebrating (my visit to India coincided with the holiday and it is now something I remember each year).

Camp Nano Accountability. Week 1.

I set a goal of two hours a day, no more than 3 hours in one day (or sitting, really). So far, I’m at 17 hours so am surprisingly smashing my Nano goals.

As someone who always puts absurdly-high thresholds on themselves for success, it is a strange feeling. Is this what setting achievable goals feels like? Am I just an extremely awful person to myself most of the time by constantly setting myself up for failure with lofty expectations I could never hope to achieve? Who knows.

I always heard to shoot for the moon so you can land amongst the stars, but I guess constantly missing the moon can take its toll on someone’s mental health and wellbeing, so maybe the time has come to shoot for the stars for a little while.

Anyways, I’ve been using this Camp Nano to build some good writing habits. One issue I always faced was being able to use my lunch at work, because working between a home MacBook and a work Windows used to see me sending umpteen versions of my MS back and forth via email to myself, to the point I couldn’t remember which was the most up-to-date or whether I’d finished copying all the edits I wanted from the last work version.

This time, I’ve tried to keep it simple. I am doing edits for camp, so I’ve taken one scene or chapter that I want to work on, emailed it to myself, then opened it in a fresh word doc on the work computer. Over lunch, I turn on tracked changes and tinker around. When I’m ready to go home, I email that file back to myself and copy what I liked into the master on my home computer.

This had unintended consequences.

Knowing I wanted to focus on X scene in a given day made it a lot easier to focus. I spent my walk to work imagining how that scene might be enhanced in the context of my revision pass goals, and this has brought great results. Edits are slow. I’ve been working on one chapter this entire week (that means those 17 hours have been spent on a handful of scenes), but they’re GOOD edits.

I’m not sure I’ll complete this entire pass over Nano, given I’ve spent so much time on one chapter, but I’ll definitely meet my camp goal. And that’s enough for me.

Camp Nano

I’m still alive.

After a very long break, I’ve begun revising again. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through a revision pass, the first of potentially six targeted passes. Each one has to be slow, given I lose my edge and quality of work the more I try to do at once, and I also have to juggle a lot of non-work stuff and a full-time job in financial services. So I’ll probably finish sometime in the next decade or so. Hopefully.

Then I can stand back and see if I’ve improved or destroyed what I started with.

I’ll be editing the beta readers page to open back up for 2-3 fresh pairs of eyes, so get in touch if you might be interested. In the meantime, I’ve set myself a 60-hour goal for July’s Camp Nano to put towards these passes. Hopefully I’ll finish the first pass completely, and maybe be able to start the second. I want to average 1-2 hours a day, and no more than 3 in a day, to keep my focus and avoid getting sloppy.

If anyone else is doing Camp, let me know what you’re working on.

Hiatus and Feedback

In case you haven’t noticed (and I wasn’t expecting you to), I have taken a bit of a hiatus.

I’m not doing anything on social media and haven’t been working on my manuscripts. I hope this will pass, but I had a conversation today with an author that made me think on the writing process enough to share some thoughts.

The process really is different for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Of course it’s different. Obviously. Writers follow many different paths at every stage.’

Yes. It’s something we hear over and over again. But sometimes it’s more subtle than that. Sometimes those different processes come up in ways we don’t notice, especially when it comes to giving or receiving advice and feedback.

I’ll be honest, I sometimes struggle with feedback. It can take a week or two for something to click. And sometimes, more recently in particular, I dig in my heels and don’t want to make certain changes. That has always been part of my process. But I have also jumped on feedback, rushing to make changes because I knew how well the result would be.

Now don’t take this as resistance to feedback or change overall. I have been majorly revising for 2.5 years. I don’t have a social life anymore and I haven’t enjoyed a lot of old hobbies in years.

You’ll never meet the characters I already cut, or read the lines I loved but scrapped, or the chapters and scenes that I held onto for a while but eventually caved and rewrote. You’ll never know some of the embarrassingly-bad structural issues and pacing problems I faced for a few drafts. On the flip side, you won’t hear the well-intentioned advice that I ignored, even though, if I shared it, the book is now in a place where it would be clear why I did ignore it (where it wouldn’t have been clear at the time, because it was still too rough on-page). You won’t see the changes I made and then UNmade because they didn’t work.

So don’t take my comments as being work-shy or not committed, because I didn’t come all this way by sitting on my butt (figuratively– technically, I did because I don’t have a standing desk).

But sometimes there are things you don’t want to change. Things that could alter the core of what you are doing, or sacrifice parts of characters which you want the reader to see. This industry is subjective, but some things are more so than others.

Battling with feedback feels like it could be parenting. You’re wondering if you’re doing a good job. You read lots of books, you speak to your fellow parenting friends, you look online. You try to judge how best to teach, discipline, and show emotion and support while tailoring your approach to the personality, character, and needs of your offspring which are not necessarily the same as other people’s offspring. Some need stricter schedules and more firm boundaries, others flourish with a less hands-on approach. Using the wrong method can have unintended consequences. You’ll get advice everywhere, and sometimes people will push their advice with good intentions because they know it worked for their spawn.

But, like with writing, some stuff is more subjective than others. For example, there are different ways to teach a toddler based on their personality. But you definitely don’t want to feed them cleaning solution because it will 100% kill them. The former is variable, but the latter is fixed. One you can adjust, the other you can’t.

So how do you distinguish between the feedback to implement and the feedback that is safe to ignore? Or the process to use if you’re unsure? We hear about killing darlings all the time, but not about determining which ones to save. If you kill them all, do you still have a book? Which hill do you die on? When is it something that improves your story and when do you stand your ground?

If I find any answers, I’ll be sure to share.

SoMES is off for edits

No, I’m not dead. Yet.

It’s been busy at the day job for *checks calendar* four months[!?!], and I’ve been juggling a handful of beta reads while trying to finish revisions ahead of my edit slot on April 16.

Except, on Friday, I double-checked our email chain and realized my overtime-weary-brain misread the date. Edits would be READY by the 16th, but I was due to send the MS on the 8th.

So, while I thought I had 11 days to do some specific bits and pieces, I actually had 3 days. I also was extremely unwell with the flu.

*cue wacky music montage of me sitting in bed, delirious, and staring at a screen for 3 days*

I met Jami on a Facebook group last year and she helped me with my query in May 2018. I got good vibes while we were corresponding on the crux of my MS and how best to present this in query form. Between late-2016 and early-2018, I’d created so many versions of my query. Each came from a different angle in an attempt to focus on the things that are typically found in a query (characters, STAKES, plot, conflict) but none of them were the right angle.

Jami found the right angle.

And it fit so well, clearly and accurately demonstrating the real story at the heart of SoMES.

From this, I created the blurb that lives here on my website. It was such a successful blurb, attracting so many beta readers and full requests from industry professionals, that I knew Jami would be my go-to person for a full edit.

*cue pennies falling into the penny jar between May 2018 and today*

Today is the day and my MS is away!

I’d hoped to add another scene involving my antagonist. (Now, if you’re someone who has beta read SoMES, I can hear your screams of “WHY?!”)

It’s been a huge challenge depicting a real and present threat from an antagonist who is mostly absent or far away. But I have a specific scene I’d like to squeeze in somewhere in the middle, if there’s space. Since I didn’t have time, I’ll see what Jami says about the MS as it is first, and whether it’s necessary.

So time to sit back and wait.

Bracing for Betas (Part 1 of Beta Feedback)

You’ve written a book.

Yep, you either plowed through a single draft or painstakingly edited 18. Either way, in your eyes it’s ‘ready.’*

*Note: whether or not your book is ACTUALLY ready will vary considerably.*

So, you look for readers.

You post on facebook, twitter, writing groups, whatever. You call your pals and your family (Bad Idea #1!). Maybe you just hover and silently freak out because you’re too scared to actually give it to anyone yet (Bad Idea #2!).

Either way, you get up the nerve and put out the feelers.

Nothing happens. Well, this could be for a few reasons:

  • You didn’t give enough info. You need, at a minimum, to have your genre, age category, and word count. While it helps to know if your protagonist goes on an adventure, we need to know if that’s going to be a child scheming with their pals, a teen defying their parents to go fight a demon overlord, or a group of adults thrust into gory battle and steamy sex. I need to know if I’m committing to a 70k manuscript or a 150k one.
  • You’re asking for a beta when it may be clear you need a Critique Partner. The two are not the same.
  • Your blurb isn’t pulling its weight (ENTIRELY SEPARATE POST TO COME). A two sentence ‘Person encounters conflict and must do plot or world will end’ is not nearly as specific as, say, the blurb I made for SoMES.
  • Your blurb has too many cliches and not enough original content to balance them out (I maintain cliches are not bad, but you need to show what makes it different). Or your blurb is filled with rhetorical questions (Bad Idea #3!).
  • Your posts/tweets are annoying. Don’t worry, odds are this is not you cause it takes a REAL SPECIAL mix of arrogance and delusion to achieve this, but I’ve seen some condescending people out there acting like their work is a divine gift. Or they talk about all their editing experience and how well-written their book is while their posts are riddled with basic errors.
  • You emphasize snark in your characters or voice. *Note: this is a purely subjective pet peeve, so feel free to ignore*

Then– at last!– a comment/tweet/response appears.

Someone is ready to help. Time to send your manuscript (Bad Idea #4!)– No, a few chapters, as a tester to see whether they’re a good fit. In your heart, you hope they fall in love with it and come back with lots of praise. In your brain, you know it’s about to be ripped to shreds; the only thing you don’t know is how many and whether you’ll be enough to cobble them back together into a cohesive story.

Whatever comes next, you’ve taken a vital step. Be proud! Stay in contact with your beta(s) and try to get a small group of them so you have balanced feedback and can see patterns. And that way, if you end up with someone excessively critical or abusive as a beta, their feedback will stand out from the other (hopefully) better ones. Having one person slate your idea or concept feels a lot worse when you only have one beta. Having one person slate your idea or concept when you have six others that enjoy it makes that one dissenter a little easier to deal with.