Monthly Archives: November 2009

Literary Agencies

About five years ago, I had an internship at a very boutique literary agency.  I learned the ins and outs of the publishing industry in a short nine months. 

The internship was a crash course in the nitty gritty of what authors endure to be published: sending query letters, receiving rejection letters, receiving submission requests, and all that jazz.

I read manuscripts, I rejected query letters primarily based on the bad writing, and also requested manuscripts based on plot and a well-written query letter.  I read some great manuscripts.  Two of the manuscripts I read are now published and that makes me happy.

What I learned about this industry via the internship was that writing will always be abundant and there will be fantastic, mediocre, and terrible work out there.  The goal is to weed out the fantastic and make sure this author is published.  I think for the bad writing, they should receive letters of encouragement and advice that will help them improve.  The problem with sending individualized rejection letters is that so many of them are sent at one time that there’s no time for special attention.

Bottom line: if you want a literary agent, make sure your query letter is on point.  If there is one teeny typo or you discuss your writing history when you were age x, say buh bye to that agency.  Be professional, succinct, and also make sure to stand out.  It’s terrible to say, but the query letter is like a cover letter for your work. It’s not different than writing a personal statement for an MFA application.

As a writer myself, I am dreading the day I write a query letter but very thankful I have the experience of seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly letters at the internship.

Good luck to all!

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NaNoWriMo and applications

How am I doing this?  I just reached 30K last night (behind by at least 7K to complete my goal) and I haven’t written a solid personal statement for my applications.  And on top of that, I haven’t received two of my recommenders letters.  I should have just had them send their recommendations directly to the schools.  I’m freaking out a little bit but those recommendations aren’t a Huge deal anyway.  If worse comes to worse, they’ll receive all my materials with one recommendation (or two) and then I’ll fedex the last one to them.  Well, some of them only want two anyway.

The greatest thing about the writing month is that I feel solidarity with my fellow writers cranking out that word count every day.  I know I could sit down and write 10K if I wanted, but I do other things.  I like spacing things out.  Unfortunately, tonight I did not write but I’ll make it up to myself tomorrow.  It’s all about completion.

It’s getting down to the wire.  My last week.  I have personal statements, another looksee at my manuscript and then I’m done!  Not to mention I have an interview for a publishing company (super exciting!) early in the week.

Good things happening all around.  I’ll be glad when this process is all over and I’m relaxing in San Francisco!

I’m off like a dirty shirt! 😛

That deadline is steadily approaching

I just had my last writing workshop of the year, which was amazing.  They provided me with exceptionally useful feedback for my MFA manuscript.  I feel confident about my manuscript as opposed to before.  I spent a great amount of time on this story (which is my newest piece of fiction this year apart from prior short stories I’ve written since undergrad) and it shows!  I’m so proud of myself but not until I have my high school English teacher read it.  I can’t wait to read her feedback.  She hasn’t read my work since high school.  I shall see what she’ll tell me.

And these personal statements: I want to send them all one sentence – I write because I have to.  It’s simple.  I don’t want to give them all this b.s. about how I want to change the world with my words.  The bottom line is I want to attend graduate school because I want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals, great instructors, and an environment that takes writing seriously. 

Why, grad school, you ask?  I could apply to low-residency programs, take more writing workshops with Gotham or Sackett and still be in an environment that takes writing seriously.  I think the difference is that graduate school allows an individual to focus on both reading and writing as a writer and you get more when its very concentrated.  Maybe I’m full of crap; what do I know?  I’ve never applied to obtain my MFA before.  This is my first attempt ever.  I might not even get into any of the schools I apply to!  I want to get my MFA for myself because I am taking my writing seriously for the first time in my life.  Why not get those tools from the people that are published and can support you on your journey?  Maybe I’m just plain old fashioned but for me, I function and learn best in a school setting; especially when it comes to focusing on your writing. 

I’m almost there.  Sending these out next Friday and then I’ll set it and forget it. 

Hitting the 25K mark

I’m halfway there.  I am up to 27K in NaNoWriMo and it feels so good!  But I’m also behind.  I’m sure I’ll be able to make it 35K by this weekend. Two or three hours of straight writing will help me bang it out.

I find that listening to artists like Bishop Allen, The Beatles, John Mayer, Frank Sinatra, Owl City, and the Postal Service provides with me the focus I need to really immerse myself into my characters and story.

Right now, my protagonist is sitting in a jail cell awaiting her sentence: will she plead insanity or guilty to committing the murders of unsuspecting men via poison?  She’s thinking about it and I’ve already decided on one side but with a novel like this, I find myself doing something unplanned seventy five percent of the time.  I love this exercise in writing because it has me writing every single day, all the time.  I’m writing right now and I’m not sick of it.

I’ll have an entry ready when I hit 35K.  Hopefully, it’ll be this weekend.  Even though I’m doing MFA applications and I could set this aside for awhile, I know I won’t finish.  I’m dedicated to writing 4K a day.  2K is not going to cut it anymore, especially since I’m behind by a few thousand words.  I want to be ahead of the game!

I also need a good case of R&R so off I go to watch The Chipmunk Adventure.  I love this movie to death! 

The many nuances of the application process

Can someone make this process into a science?  The constant double checking of materials is never ending and the personal statements are all over the place.  Why can’t graduate schools use the common application the way it was for some undergraduate applications?

I thought to myself, “Why is this so frakking stressful?  I didn’t do any of this when I applied to college the first time around.”  Then I remembered – my school adviser mailed all of my applications off.  I didn’t do all this administrative work before and I hate it now.

Today, I spent the whole day visiting my school websites to figure out their personal statement requirements.  The good thing is, most of them want a 200-500 count personal statement while only two ask for a 2-5 page minimum.  Why can’t they all ask for uniform personal statements?  The most important part of the application is my work of art anyway.

But I do have to say that the binder I allotted for all my application materials has significantly helped me through this.  I write a note on each MFA checklist per school and stickers on the schools that accept online personal statements, which makes my life a whole lot easier when I mail out supplemental materials like the manuscript.

As for my manuscript, reading the speakeasy forums on the Poets and Writers website has significantly silenced any self-doubt that was constantly chatting in my head during this process.  I don’t know if  the doubt sprung from being critiqued by a friend who was trying to help that shot my ego into bits; being unemployed due to department lay-offs; having an interview for a publishing intern position and unsure if publishing is even something I genuinely imagine myself working in; or having cabin fever because all I’ve been doing is editing my manuscript for this application.  For the past week, I was pregnant with dread, self-doubt, and anxiety.  I always feel this way when my work is critiqued by a friend (but I never feel this way after a writing workshop critique) and when I’m about to embark on a journey that is bigger than me.

This Saturday, I attended a Write it Right! workshop administered by the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.  This class focused on the functions of basic grammar starting with the noun and ending with bracket usage.  The last hour of the class is a little fuzzy because I had stopped paying attention after semicolon usage.  The class was very helpful; I feel confident and comfortable using the semicolon and comma in most sentences, like this one.  In this class, the people in attendance were from all walks of life – more older than younger actually.  One girl mentioned she was accepted into the Sarah Lawrence program and had to withdraw because it was so intense.  My hypersensitive emotional state during this process was stimulated when she mentioned her experience; am I ready to dedicate my full attention to writing in an MFA program?  After reading the speakeasy forum, I have the confidence to answer this question with a simple: Bring it on!

Writers have different experiences when they obtain their MFA degree.  If and when I am accepted, the only thing I am certain of is that I’ll be surrounded by writers that can help me shape my writing.  I’m taking my writing seriously for the first time in my life.  It’s now or never.

Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop

Because my application deadlines are approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to enroll myself in another writing workshop. 

My first experience with the Sacket Street Writer’s Workshop was pleasant and constructive the first time around so why not go with what works?

The location of the instructor is in Bushwick – which being a native Williamsburger I had never visited before.  The residence is quaint and just right.

Our discussions, especially the fact that we have to bring in written critiques, are productive and extremely useful. I can’t say I’ve had the same attention in a fiction Gotham workshop.

I am in the throes of revising my portfolio piece and have since been critiqued once.  I find the whole process so harrowing which makes me apprehensive and anxious.  Is my writing even good enough for myself?  I know my passion is writing and its not something I’ll ever give up if I am rejected from my schools. 

If anything, this process is an excellent exercise in revision.  This manuscript has been revised four times now.  And I only have two more weeks to work on this and work on personal statements which I really have not. 

I’m screwed.  But with the calmness I had throughout the GRE process, I’ll make use of the time I have and make it happen.  Being frantic doesn’t work for me and I’m not going to start!

Revising, revising, revising.  Ack!

National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo is underway and I’m doing it for the second year in a row. 

Last year, because I started two weeks into November, I wrote 5,000 words a day.  Although I did complete my novel, I did get sick due to lack of sleep and exhaustion.

This year, I am committed to writing 2,000 words a day.  So far, I’m succeeding diligently and at a healthy pace. 

I didn’t do anything with the novel last year but I have ideas on how to revise it, which is great.

There’s something electric that’s motivating me to complete this novel again this year.  The fact that there are ton of people completing this task with me and the wonderful write-ins where a bunch of folks write together.  Where writing is a solitary activity, this non-competition makes it a social activity in which writers support each other. 

I know everyone participating in NaNoWriMo is feeling revved up and writing furiously every day.  The midway point will be the time to drop off and give up on the novel.  But keep going!  You can write your story right!  At the end, you will have the biggest feeling of accomplishment that’s concrete in your hands.  There are so many writers out there who start novels and never complete them.  This month is a time for completion.

Join me for 23 more days of writing oblivion!

National Novel Writing Month