I knew it had to be done, but it’s something I put off for many months. Almost a year in fact. I wrote another novel in the interim. 

It’s not like I simply had some polishing to do, so it wasn’t like ripping off a band-aid. (Unless that band-aid was fifty feet long.) The novel I put a year of my life into had grown to 135,000 words. Or about 50,000 words too long. In some genres that’s a full-length of a novel. 

How was I going to remove 200 pages of brilliance? After all, every sentence–nay, every word–was a stroke of genius. Wasn’t it?

The good thing about stepping away from my novel for a year was exactly that. I was a year removed from what I’d written. And much to my surprise, it was not all brilliant.

So how did I kill 50,000 words?

First up (obviously) was the bloated 12,000-word section of backstory. I cut it down to 2,400 and I think it reads much better now, although I’m still glad I wrote the full 12k. It helped me flesh out some characters and understand them more.

I then cut a lot of extraneous scenes and details. It was a bloodbath. Entire tertiary characters were completely obliterated, left like bad actors on the cutting room floor. Most of this was in the first half of the book as my writing tightened further on. That was another 15,000 words or so.

The rest was simply cleaning up my writing. I deleted nearly every dialogue tag in the book. That probably knocked out a couple thousand words.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” Russell said. “These words are just in the way.”

I also wiped out a lot of smiles and nods and other mannerisms that the reader doesn’t need to read. They can picture it without me forcing it down their throat. Their imaginations can add their own smirks and head tilts. If I need to state that Bill and June looked at each other and shook their heads, that means my dialogue sucks.

A slaughter of words is what my novel needed, and that’s what it got. It’s now at 87,000 words. A perfectly acceptable word count for a first novel in crime fiction.

Zoom. Zip. Four months just flew by.

There was another edit, of course, and Chapter Nine is no more.

Its chewy bits remain scattered throughout the first chapter, but most of it is in the bin where it belongs. It was a massacre of darlings.

And it felt good.

But the time for feeling good is over, because I’ve decided to give Pitch Wars a shot.

What is Pitch Wars?

From some of the accounts I’ve read, Pitch Wars can be a wonderfully brutal and harrowing experience.

Excellent.

I’ve gone through the list of this year’s mentors, and there are four I’m looking at. So now it’s time for further research, planning, and plotting. And online stalking.

One of the agents I queried required a query (what a mouthful) follow a very specific format, so I found myself copy and pasting lines from my synopsis.

After reading and re-reading the query, to ensure it ticked all the boxes, I realized this letter sounded better than my synopsis. Therefore, I was soon copy and pasting lines from my letter into my synopsis.

I deleted a few words. Then I deleted a few more.

Feeling like I was at the controls of a power juicer, I watched pulp fly from my synopsis as it went from 477 to 456, ultimately resting at 282 words.

I look back at that first synopsis and shudder.

Apologies for all the juice analogies.

It’s been a long road so far, but I feel like I’ve just pulled out of the driveway.

After polishing my first three chapters, drafting my synopsis, fine-tuning and personalizing each query letter, researching and selecting the most suitable agents, I sent off half as many queries as intended. The goal was six, so three more to go.

Reading comments on Query Tracker is helpful, as they give a good idea of what to expect in terms of rejection content and turnaround. If I hadn’t read the comments, I may have felt a little defeated when my first rejection came just 10 hours after I sent it.

So, armed with that tired adage of “every no is one step closer to a yes”, the rejection didn’t feel good, but it felt like something. Each hurdle, no matter how big or small, feels one step closer to being (I loathe the term) a “real” writer.

After all, it’s better to be a little known writer than to forever lament how “I always wanted to write”.

I’ve been researching/querying literary agents for the past few days, putting in around 20 hours total so far.

The (p)research I did, reading everything I could on finding and choosing an agent, didn’t make it sound simple, but didn’t prepare me for this. Maybe I’m putting too much thought into it, being too discriminating, but I don’t think so.

One common sentiment I saw often was that choosing your agent is a lot like choosing your spouse. (It should also be noted that’s a two-way street.) But perhaps the quote I like most, doesn’t come from the myriad of sites and blogs and tweets about writing and publishing.

It comes from an article about sniping defenseless animals in the wild.

I’m in no way suggesting anyone start shooting agents (unless it’s with a water pistol full of champagne while celebrating a book deal). After all, I just got started in this. But just toss the word agent in front of the quote, and it sums up everything I’ve been learning quite nicely.

(Agent) Hunting requires research, patience, flexibility–and a willingness to fail.

It couldn’t be truer. A few days ago, I decided to start my first batch of queries by contacting a half-dozen agents. I would aim high, personalize each query, and send them off.  Apparently not learning from my experience thus far, I naively thought: “This shouldn’t take long.”

Even so, I decided to give myself ample time, planning to send (only) two queries a day. Perfect. I’d have six queries sent off by the weekend. 20 hours later… I’ve sent two queries. One yesterday and one today.

Getting back to the hunting quote, the 20 hours are the result of research, and it is definitely requiring patience (and persistence). I’m sure quite soon I’ll encounter flexibility. And I’m counting the days until I get that first rejection!

That should test my willingness to fail.

If the world can’t even agree on universal units of measurement, the shape of power outlets, or how to spell wi-fi, why would literary agents agree on a standard submission format? It stands to reason they differ on what they want. Some ask for the first chapter, some ask for the first three, while others ask for none. Some want a synopsis, some don’t. But they also differ on how they want it, so there is no single answer. The only thing people seem to agree on is 12pt Times New Roman.

Now that I had my “final” draft ready, my query written, the synopsis painstakingly crafted, and a few agents researched, I was ready to send my submission. Still, it was best to take a few minutes to double-check standard formatting rules. This shouldn’t take long.

Reading endless articles and posts about what agents consider ideal, I came across:

“The ideal emailed submission includes… a covering letter, with a synopsis and the first three chapters attached as two separate files.”

“Your safest bet is to include sample pages in the body of the e-mail, under your closing line several spaces.”

“Don’t send attachments. Links to a website [URLs] are ok.”

Remove all [URLs] links to websites.”

“In a day and age when gender is no longer binary… the safe and courteous way to address the agent is:” Dear Jane Smith.

“Dear Ms. (or Mr.) Last name COLON. No first names, no nicknames.”

“Simply use the first and last name.”

It goes on, and on, and on… so I won’t.

Everyone agrees that your manuscript must be double-spaced. But what about if pasting it into the body of the email?

Yes, it should be double-spaced. But also, no, it should really be single-spaced. Double-spaced is easier to read on devices, but also, single-spaced is easier to read on devices.

Awesome.

Eight hours later I was ready to send my first query.