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In a Nutshell, Three Elements to Launch 2012’s Writing Year:

1. The third annual Writer’s Digest Conference begins tomorrow (January 20) at the Sheraton in Manhattan, and I am extremely excited, as usual! Those of you who are familiar with this blog understand my affinity for this particular conference and the impact that the first conference in September 2009 had upon my publishing decisions relative to my second novel (Separation of Faith). That first conference also marked the motivating moment for the launch of this blog, among other social media outreach activities.

Throughout the multiplying years in which I’ve been pursuing this literary dream, I have no idea how many sizes and shapes of conferences I’ve attended. A bunch, for certain! And a number of those were actually produced every year by Writer’s Digest in conjunction with Book Expo America (BEA), the publishing industry’s annual convention event. But Writer’s Digest broke away from BEA in 2009 and began holding their own conference. And that’s when everything changed for me. You can read about the reason’s for the metamorphosis in this blog’s Launch posting (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/).

Since then, the WD conference has become the best one out there, in my opinion. For writers in search of the truth about the publishing world and practical information/tools that help us navigate through that world, this conference is “the” place to be. If you’d like to explore the conference agenda and sessions, here’s a quick link: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&. And for those of you with a sustained interest, I’ll be blogging throughout the three days, giving you the inside scoop from the sessions I attend and from other attendees and presenters with whom I have the opportunity to chat.

Regarding the Pitch Slam session on Saturday afternoon, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be pitching. Part of that decision will depend on how I’m feeling (see point #3 below). If I do pitch, I’ll be focusing on my nonfiction project, which isn’t finished (nonfiction books don’t need to be finished before pitching, but I’d prefer that mine were). Still, if I’m feeling empowered by Saturday afternoon, I might run the project by a few of those agents just for the practice. At this writing, I’m fairly certain that I want to move forward with that project on my own, publishing an e-book first followed by print options. I’ll know more about that direction once the conference is over, since I’m attending several sessions on how writers can navigate the wild and ever-changing publishing world on their own. Stay tuned for my blog posts on the subject as the conference unfolds. If you happen to be at the conference yourself, please let me know so we can connect somewhere!

The opening address will begin at 4:00 p.m. EST. You’ll be on my mind! 🙂

2. New Year’s Inspiration can be found almost everywhere we look as writers. People in my life are constantly telling me about someone they know who’s in some sort of jam that could be tweaked and woven into a novel’s plot or subplot. And I recently sat at the pharmacy for 90 minutes where I observed no less than a half dozen interpersonal scenarios that could be spun into fun stories. If we’re alert, there will never be a shortage of material. But as 2012 gets underway and we are all still focusing on our resolutions, I’d like to share a few links I’ve been collecting that I hope will offer you a nudge, an idea, or a little inspiration, if you’re in search of such things.

Please let me know if you find anything helpful in these lists. Since creating consistency in my writing routine is one of my 2012 resolutions, I have the “Reboot” list posted on the wall close by.

3. Where Am I in the Treatment Part of My Life? Currently, I’m in the middle of Round #5 (of 6). The effects became noticeably cumulative, beginning with Round #4, so I’ve been struggling a bit, especially through the holidays. But the good news is that #6 will happen on January 30, followed by the standard three weeks of not-so-hot, which will then be followed by … nothing else! Yay! When this process began with Round #1 on October 13, today’s point on the calendar looked like a millennium away. And yet, here we are, about a month away from being completely finished with the process. And I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference, which I wasn’t sure I could make even a few days ago. Lots of blessings to start the New Year!

Two more photos are attached, both of which were taken a week before Christmas. These images seem to be a good way to mark the progress of this journey within a journey.

All the best to each of you as the New Year becomes fully launched. Wishing for each of you that your dreams come true in 2012! Talk to you soon from the conference!

Holiday Thoughts & New Year’s Wishes

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This past Monday, November 28, turned out to be an extraordinarily long day.

And yet much progress was made on the new book!

Although the arrival time for my chemo appointment on Monday was a couple of hours earlier than normal–which would have led one to believe that the day might end an equivalent number of hours earlier–alas, that was not to be. Because last week was Thanksgiving, lots of people like me opted not to have treatment on that Monday or on Thanksgiving Thursday (the only two days of the week that chemo is administered). Instead, a whole gaggle of us shifted our appointments to this week. That, as you might imagine, led to a backup of gargantuan proportions. I arrived shortly before 10:00 a.m. and left the chemo suite that night at 7:30.

Adding to the unusual nature of the day was the fact that this was the first time I’ve gone through the process alone. Normally, my daughter is with me. But she had an unmanageable conflict at work, so I went solo. Admittedly, that is not my favorite way to experience the experience, and yet I was able to make good use of the quiet time by writing a substantial portion of the chapter on the “hair thing” associated with chemo. Of course, the part I wrote during the 90 minutes following the IV bag of Benadryl wasn’t completely intelligible … or even exactly legible … since I had been making notes earlier in a spiral binder and decided, for some unknown reason to keep writing instead of plugging in my mini. But those pen strokes (and, believe me, I use the words lightly) marking up and down (and across and sideways) on the page did make me laugh. And then I got serious when the Benadryl began to wear off and the chemo drugs started infusing. In fact, I wrote for the entire four and a half hours of the infusion process.

Given my previous blog comments on the subject, there won’t be any surprise to learn that this “hair thing” is a huge component of chemo–at least for me. And the more women I meet at Sloan-Kettering, the “huge-er” the subject becomes. Each person handles the trauma differently. And some, amazingly enough, don’t even use the word trauma. Yet all are deeply affected by this particular side effect, which hits every part of the body, not just the head. Eyebrows, eyelashes, everything–nothing is sacred. Consequently, the manner in which women come to grips with the situation has become increasingly fascinating. And this chapter is extraordinarily important to me, because I’m hoping to offer a small measure of help to women who might be feeling alone or isolated in the midst of the decisions they have to make and those things over which they have no control.

My goal of having this book available on Kindle, etc., by the end of December seems attainable at the moment. And I’m especially motivated now that I’ve enrolled in the January Writer’s Digest Conference (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/happy-thanksgiving-wishes-for-peace-updates/) where I’m hoping to practice pitching this new work to agents, just for the heck of it.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of me and my new hair taken with my Webcam in my office tonight. Thank goodness for the blessing of this thing on my head, because without it I look like a bald man! Seriously!  🙂  (Behind me is the glass wall separating my office from my living/dining room, in case you’re wondering about the reflection.) Hope you’re all having a great week!

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Priorities

All too often, with the legions of tasks and issues filling up the minutes of our lives every day, the truly important stuff can be momentarily overlooked or even forgotten altogether for embarrassingly extended periods of time. In the crush of 2011, I know this has been true for me. So, on this Thanksgiving–and not just yesterday on the actual holiday, but at frequent intervals throughout the entire four-day weekend–I’m making a point of reminding myself of how extraordinarily grateful I am for the following:

  • Despite a somewhat challenging list of health issues with some of us, key members of my beloved family are all still here.
  • And I am still here.
  • So are my cherished friends–some going back 20, 30, 40 years or more, and others who’ve come into my life in the last decade.
  • Memories of family members and friends who’ve gone ahead remain strong and empowering.
  • In these times of heavy financial stress, all of those I love have a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
  • So do I. And given the millions of people across our country who are missing one or more of those life essentials, I am unbelievably grateful but also feel the need to do something to help those who are suffering. Each of our communities offers a range of options for any of us looking for a way to “give back.” I’m grateful for those individuals who devote their own lives to keeping such options available.
  • Personal medical challenges are being met with the awesome skills of my physician team coupled with amazing advances in science. (And I pray that the time will come soon when every single person will have equal access to the same skills and advances. No one should suffer needlessly, die prematurely, or go broke because they get sick!)
  • My writing continues to unfold, and I still have great hope for happy surprises in 2012! To all writers out there: No one is going to live our dreams for us, so we can never stop or give up. Whatever we can see in our imaginations, we can make happen. But if we stop because we’re discouraged and/or tired of the drill, the dream stops too. So, the first thing we need to say to ourselves each day is, “Write today! Write something today!
  • There’s a little voice inside my head–which can be incredibly annoying–that is never silent and keeps saying, “Get up! Keep going!” And, in those moments when I feel like saying, “Why don’t you get up, if you think it’s so easy,” I somehow discover that my feet are on the floor and I’m moving forward. Such strength comes from a different source or place for each of us, depending upon our individual beliefs. Acknowledging that strength and power will not only keep us going as writers but as participants in life as well. I’m very grateful for that realization and immeasurably humbled as well!

Happy Thanksgiving once again to each of you and to those close to you as we now move officially into the holiday season!

NEWS FLASH! 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference Scheduled in New York City January 20-22!

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for awhile know that the first Writer’s Digest Conference held independently from Book Expo America took place in New York City in September 2009 and was the source of my original epiphany. The entire direction for publishing my second novel changed as a result of that conference, and this blog was launched on November 4, 2009 as a direct consequence of what I learned there.

If you’d like more detail on that epiphany, please check out the Blog Launch Posting at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/.

During last year’s conference (WD‘s second), I blogged while I was there. If you’re interested in my bird’s eye view and perspective, you can find those details beginning at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/writers-digest-conference-day-1/ and then in the eight consecutive posts thereafter.

Is your interest peaked? I honestly believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, conferences for all writers, but especially for writers in search of both the truth about the publishing business as well as guidance. Here are some links for you to explore about the highlights of the 2012 conference coming up this January:

Despite the fact that I will still have one chemo round left to go and might not be feeling at the top of my game, I wouldn’t miss this event! And I’m already registered! So, if you decide to attend, please let me know. I’d love to meet you while we’re there!

Progress on My Write-a-Thon to Complete My Next Book’s Draft in 26 Days

Well … I cannot tell a lie. (This is for my nonfiction project centering around my breast cancer.) I was supposed to begin the actual writing part of the process on November 1 (see initial details on my 26-day project in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/). However, I actually began the writing-the-book portion on November 13. And I haven’t been following the “script” line for line each day.

Before I began this project/method/experiment, I had already written four chapters of this new book, and I had outlined my vision of how the chapters would flow. But the excercises in the first half of Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander helped me look at the work I’d already done from a different perspective. Consequently, when I began focusing on the book, I realized that a lot of organizational changes needed to be made. Some of the chapters I’d envisioned were no longer relevant (or, more importantly, interesting), while other topics emerged as significant.

For example, I had not planned to spend any time at all on treatment options, because every woman’s situation will be different and, more importantly, I’m not a doctor. (The primary target audience for this book will be woman who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.) However, I am now going to spend a chapter on chemo–not on the chemo itself but on the impact that the process of going through chemo can have on the woman’s life and on the lives of those around her.

Making this even more complicated is the fact that I did not have chemo for my breast cancer. Instead, I’m on a drug called Arimidex for five years (three and a half more since I’ve already been on it for almost 18 months). But I am going through chemo now for this newest cancer (see info on my weird situation in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/ )–and I’ve discovered that what women go through as a result of chemo is fairly universal, regardless of the type of cancer she’s fighting.

On that note, one entire chapter of this new book will be about hair! 🙂 Without giving anything away, just let me say OMG! This entire “hair thing” has, without question, been the worst part of the whole experience for me to-date. My own hair is now completely gone, and although you’ll never see a picture of me bald, I am including at the end of this post a few photo angles of me with my “new hair.” You can compare this “updated me” with the last photo I posted of me with my real hair at  https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/new-take-on-where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years/ (scroll to end of that post). And, in summary, the minute I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see “me,” my emotional equilibrium returned, and I felt immeasurably better. The many steps along that journey will be in the book. Just let me say at this point, though, that I had no idea how unprepared I was for that aspect of chemo–and I’m hopeful that what I’m writing will help at least one other woman navigate those steps with substantially less trauma than I put myself through over almost two months.

Another Interesting WSJ Article on Self-Publishing

On October 31, one of those cherished family members I mentioned at the beginning of this post sent me a link to “Secret of Self-Publishing: Success” by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. Any writer considering/exploring self-publishing as an option will find this of interest, whether you’re a new writer trying to decide which way to go for your first book or whether you’re an established writer who’s curious (and brave).

This is just the one more perspective now that self-publishing has become a legitimate path for authors of all genres to get their work into the hands of readers. I’ll be interested to hear what you think: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203554104577002230413747366.html.

Okay–Here Are My “New Hair” Pictures

Keep in mind that none of this is growing out of my head!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’ll be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and putting up my tree! 🙂

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First let me tell you that I’m writing this post on my iPad, one of my least favorite things to do on this otherwise magical box. But when I returned home at eight o’clock tonight from this first marathon chemo day, there wasn’t any Internet connectivity in my apartment. My wireless connection is working fine, but I can’t get online. Too tired to try further diagnostics, especially after experiencing connections problems today at Sloan-Kettering in the “Chemotherapy Suite,” I decided to use the iPad.

The reasons I don’t like to do blog posts on my iPad begin with the popup keyboard, which is not designed for any sort of power typing. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who learned touch typing in school and who now feels a bit grumpy at being forced to use two fingers on the iPad keyboard. But this isn’t the only problem for me with respect to my blog posts. I like to put phrases in Bold to help blog readers skim the key elements of the post, and I also like to use Italics for emphasis. I’m sure there’s some way to do those things with the iPad, but I don’t know how yet because I assiduously avoid using the iPad for blogging–except on days like today when I promised a post and have no other equipment choice. (Thank goodness for 3G!)

At any rate … Today was long but incredibly uneventful. And given the history of the past seventeen months, “uneventful” was a happy surprise. My daughter and I arrived at Sloan-Kettering a little before eleven o’clock this morning (Thursday the 13th), and she brought me home at 8:00 tonight. The first three hours involved a mixture of tasks–vital signs, a lengthy consultation with my oncologist, then the IV insertion, which took place after Melissa and I had been led into my “private room,” an upscale and well-appointed version of a room in an ER.

The first thing that was delivered through the IV was a 15-minute infusion of Benadryl. This was on top of the five steroid pills I had to take on Wednesday night and the other five I took at 11:15 this morning. This is all designed to avoid, as much as possible, any chance of an allergic reaction to the chemo drugs.

The next infusion was a 45-minute bag of an anti-nausea drug, which was on top of the anti-nausea pill I took at 9:30 this morning. The purpose for all of that is self-explanatory and also deeply appreciated!

Bags of saline were periodically dripping through a separate tube throughout this whole preparatory process.

Once the preliminary infusions were complete, the first chemo drug (called carboplatin) was started. This is the drug that attacks and obliterates the DNA in any lingering cancer cells, and the infusion is very slow, over almost four hours. For the first hour of that drip, I was still a bit stupid and slurry from the Benadryl. But as those effects wore off, I was able to enjoy the lunch that Melissa and I ordered for delivery. We didn’t eat until almost four o’clock, and now we know that, in the future, we need to order when we first get into the chemo suite. (Novelists learn lessons similar to this as well when they do things like introduce a new character well into the story, only to realize that the rest of the entire book–and possibly some of the earlier chapters as well–needs to be reworked or even rewritten to accommodate the new character.)

Finally, about six o’clock, the carboplatin bag was empty. But before I could start the second chemo drug called taxol, which basically destroys the tubular structures within each lingering cancer cell–a structure that facilitates the cells’ uncontrollable, unchecked division and reproduction–I had to take three more steroid pills that guard further against allergic reactions. The taxol renders the cancer cells’ internal structure totally broken, destroyed, and useless–forever. And the infusion is very fast–six times faster than the carboplatin! The entire bag was empty in half an hour.

Then one nurse gave me a bunch of instructions for stuff to do at home, along with filled prescriptions for additional nausea pills. This nausea thing used to be a really big problem for chemo patients, so the medical community has worked incredibly hard to come up with solutions. And, so far, I feel great. But I also know what to do if I feel something unpleasant start up. Well, here’s the surprise lesson for the day: This is not a nausea caused by a flu bug or something, when eating is the last thing you’d want to do. Chemo nausea is caused by drugs. Consequently, eating a small amount of anything is supposed to make you feel better right away. If you don’t, you have pills at hand to help making riding the wave tolerable. This appears to be one of the greatest advances that helps chemo patients sustain their normal quality of life as much as possible during treatment. And, so far, I’m feeling great.

Another nurse then removed my IV (which had been inserted almost painlessly, by the way, by yet a different nurse at the start of the process), and Melissa and I were free to leave, with our five bags full of electronics equipment, reading material, my 26-day Write-A-Thon project, scarves, coats, etc. (Honestly, we looked like we were planning to stay until Sunday!) We walked the five short New York City blocks to the parking garage, and thanks to a small volume of fast-moving traffic, we were across the bridge at my place in New Jersey within half an hour.

Not much work was accomplished, I’m afraid, on my 26-day book project, although I think I remember trying to open the instruction book and operate a yellow push-button highlighter during my several goofy Benadryl hours. But now that I know the drill, I’ll be able to plan more effectively for the time that’s actually available during the five remaining 7+hour chemo stays.

AOver the next three weeks, I will learn how the cycle of the two chemo drugs will work on my body (and mind), and how I’m going to feel at the different stages within the three following the initial infusion. For example, there could be some leg aches and pains during days 4-6. Or there could be nothing. But if there is something, I have pills for that too. Then, in three weeks, I’ll return to Sloan on Thursday, November 3, for the second of six iinfusion marathon days.

By then, most of the unknowns that can be so scary will have be revealed. My current hair will be gon,e and the new variety will be rotated on my head, depending on my mood. Finally, the official start of my 26-Write-A-Thon will be at least three days behind me–and I’d sure better be hard at work.

Once again, the publishing and writing journeys are merging here, and all things imaginable remain possible. Writers and cancer patients must never stop believing in that imagination! We’ve all heard the saying paraphrased here, which invites us to believe that, if we can vividly visualize something happening, we can actually make that something happen. Plenty of hard work is required, though, because dreaming is the easy part.

Ah, but how sweet and magical are those dreams that inspire us, that light the fires beneath our passions, that carry us forward over and over again to publishing success–to cancer survival! And I’m here to report to new cancer patients, who might be a few steps behind me in the process, that I believe you’ll find the first chemo day not to be anywhere near as frightening as you’ve imagined, while you watch as many of those scary unknowns begin to fall away! I’m also here to tell new writers, who are circling around the start of their first books, that once you plant yourselves in a chair, I believe that the words will indeed begin to flow out of you. And different sorts of unknowns will begin to reveal themselves at an ever-increasing level of enjoyment for each of you.

In my next post, I’ll fill you in on one of the writing exercises in my Write-A-Thon’s “training period.” The exercise was obviously designed for writers. But today, as I was hooked up to infusion tubes for almost five hours, I saw how valuable the steps would be for cancer patients as well. So, stay tuned.

Meanwhile, have a wonderful fall weekend!

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The comments on my Agent Conundrum post the other day have been really interesting. And after responding to one of them, I realized that what I’d just written might make a useful post. So I’ve copied that response below. Your feedback, as always, will be eagerly awaited.

From the onset of this blog (November 4, 2009), the mission has been to track the Journey, warts and all. So I felt that sharing a real-time query/rejection scenario might be especially helpful for writers stumbling across my post/blog who are in the earlier stages of their own Journeys. Setting our expectation levels to coincide with reality is such an important part of the process and is key to maintaining our sanity as we navigate the madness.

When I was getting started with my first novel (The Truth about Cinnamon) over twenty years ago, the publishing world (and, in fact, the world in general) was vastly different. There were no cell phones, no social media outlets, no email, and no way to contact agents and editors (who were still taking unsolicited manuscripts and queries back then) except by snail mail. So, I spent countless days/weeks/dollars in postage sending stuff out: query letters, the first three chapters, whatever the current Literary Market said the agents/editors wanted to see.

I still have all of those rejection letters/postcards–and a handful of individuals actually responded with suggestions, indicating that they saw some promise in my writing and my story but that one thing or another needed to be fixed/amplified/etc., before resubmitting. The time those individuals took to offer some tangible help is still remembered with gratitude. (Absolutely no one seems to have the time to do that anymore.)

But the most revelational moment in those early years of my Journey came when I acually made a trip from Atlanta, where I lived at the time, to New York. I had a whole bunch of new query letters, partial manuscripts, synopses, etc., that I’d been planning to mail out. And, on something of a whim, I decided instead to load everything into a big bag, hop a train, and go to New York to deliver my mail in person. I wanted to see for myself what the places looked like where I’d been sending everything.

Well … the visions were staggering! In virtually every office I visited (and some turned out to be literal holes-in-the-wall), unopened envelopes of every size and shape were in floor-to-ceiling stacks all over the reception areas, the submissions appearing to number in the thousands.

The employees who greeted me at each of the front desks were astonished that I was there, because “nobody’s allowed to deliver submissions in person.” Since I had obviously already broken that rule and was standing there in the flesh with my mail in-hand, a few agents/editors were kind enough to see me briefly. But I knew when I left each office that my submission was going to get tossed into “the pile,” and the memories of that reality have guided the setting of my expectation levels ever since.

As for “the chemistry” thing, I understand the existence of that elusive, intangible element in every endeavor we undertake. Someone’s assessment of the “it” factor will inevitably influence a professional’s decision about our work. The frustration arises, however, when the agent says that all the pieces are in place–the book is well-written, the story is a good one, “nothing is missing” … except chemistry. Young/new writers just embarking upon their Journeys need to hear that statement.

And the lesson for all of us to take away from this example is that being too selective with our queries and submissions will never get us where we want to go. We need to be blitzing the entire industry with our well-written, well-developed manuscripts/books, if we’re ever going to find that one person–that literary soulmate you so astutely described–who finds the chemistry absolutely letter-perfect.

And the mission of this blog is to track at least this one Journey, winding through the valleys and over the peaks, as the search moves closer to a happy ending.

–Cheri

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Update First

On Tuesday of this week, I had what I hope will be the last of the surgeries (this makes four in nine months). But, on this beautiful Friday, I’m feeling better each day, and today was especially uplifting with the developments in Egypt (which I was able to watch since I can’t go anywhere yet). The ten days ahead of the surgery were packed with things I had to finish, including a never-ending list of book promotion stuff.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, in case you’ve wondered lately what’s happened to me and my posts.

Now, to the Agent Thing … Once Upon a Time …

Some of you may recall that when I was attending the Writer’s Digest Conference from January 21-23 in New York City, there was an afternoon called “Pitch Slam,” where we had the opportunity to pitch our books/manuscripts to agents in as many three-minute segments as we could complete (standing in long lines for each one).

The agents were all listed in our programs, with the specifics of what they were looking for in terms of genre, storylines, characters, etc. I studied the choices carefully, selecting a half dozen agents whose criteria matched Separation of Faith, which I ended up pitching to a total of three agents (and then I subsequently blogged about the experience, if you want to scan through those posts).

The first agent I pitched to asked me for a copy of Separation of Faith right there on the spot, telling me that she was going to read the book that night and let me know the next day (Sunday, the last day of the conference). The second agent asked me to send the book to him, along with a list of all the marketing and promotion activity to-date. And the third agent asked me to email to her the first three chapters (which I was able to do easily since I’d already requested the Word version of the final book from iUniverse so I could enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest).

Well, the next day (Sunday of the conference), I finally found the first agent in the sea of attendees, and she told me that she hadn’t had an opportunity to read the book the previous night. But she said she’d take a look at the story on her return flight to San Francisco later that day and would give me her decision right away. Although I was disappointed at not receiving the promised feedback, I should have known better than to expect to hear anything so quickly. So, when I returned home, I sent off the requested material to the other two agents and then got busy doing other stuff.

A week later, I realized that I hadn’t heard from the “airplane agent,” so I sent her a short follow-up email, thanking her in advance for the time she was taking. The next day, I received the following response (and this is copied exactly from her email):

Good morning, Cheri,

Thanks for sharing SEPARATION OF FAITH with me. I’ve had a chance to read it, and there’s a lot to like about your story. That said, I’m not sure I’d be able to represent it with the enthusiasm you and your manuscript deserve.

Given the quality of your work, I suspect that other agents also were interested in seeing your manuscript, and I’d urge you to submit it broadly in the hope of finding just the right agent.  

Again, my thanks for the privilege of reading your manuscript. I wish you all the best going forward.

Kind regards,

Well … if you’ve done even a minimal amount of querying, I’m fairly certain that you have a few letters that look exactly like this one–because this is a form rejection letter. And the fact that she hadn’t taken a minute to add even a few specifics or words of personalization, since she’d actually met with me–twice–was just a smidge perturbing. Believing that asking for more information was not out of line, I sent the following response:

Thank you so much for responding to me. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken, and I would be immeasurably grateful if you could give a little more feedback regarding this rejection. The story is a match to what you said you were looking for in the WD Pitch Slam program: “… ironic family dramas and realistic midlife tales, often with a twist, preferably involving strong female characters.”

If there’s this much of a match between Separation of Faith and what you’re looking for, and if “there’s a lot to like about my story and the quality of my work,” I would sincerely and deeply appreciate more specifics about why you don’t want to represent the book. What would need to be there that isn’t there now, in order for you to represent me?

Thank you very much, in advance, for a few more minutes of your time, which I will appreciate more than I could ever tell you.

 All the best,

Cheri Laser

What would need to be there that isn’t there now, in order for you to represent me? The answer to that question is, for me (and for all of us, I think), the holy grail. If we could only know what’s missing–and if we possess even a reasonable amount of talent–we would happily correct the deficiencies and then, perhaps, actually make some forward progress in this insane endeavor. So, I anxiously awaited her answer which, I must admit, did come quickly:

Hi Cheryl, [Note that this time she refers to me as Cheryl, whereas the first time I was Cheri …]

Very simply, I wasn’t drawn in to the story the way I need to be in order to represent any given work. There was nothing missing from the manuscript–it was well-conceived and well-written, and yet I wasn’t captivated by it. These things are a question of chemistry–what may not engage one agent may well sweep another away.

Best of luck in finding the right agent for your story!

Kind regards,

Nothing missing … well-conceived … well-written … met all of the listed criteria–but … these things are a question of chemistry. Okay. That certainly clears everything up.

Are we to actually believe that, no matter what criteria is listed under the agents’ names in the various how-to-find-an-agent guidebooks, what they are really looking for is “chemistry”? I guess we’ll each have to decide that one. And if we think that is true–that a well-conceived, well-written book, in which nothing is missing, can’t make the cut unless the criterion of “chemistry” is met–then each of us needs to also decide how much time, money, energy, and emotions we want to invest in trying to satisfy something so elusive and random.

The second agent, by the way, who requested a copy of the book and my promotional activities, also sent a rejection this week. But his was more personalized, in that he actually acknowledged and remembered meeting me. And when I looked back at the conference program, I saw that his stated criteria wasn’t as close a match as I’d thought in the midst of the Pitch Slam.

So, that leaves the third agent, who requested the first three chapters. “It’s all about the writing for me,” she said, as my Pitch Slam session with her was concluding. “It’s all about the writing.” I haven’t heard from her yet.

And, like something tied to a bungee cord, I keep bouncing back up, filled with anticipation and the hope that good news might be forthcoming … eventually. We’re all like that as writers, you know–ever the eternal optimists. And we have to be that way, always believing in possibilities, always hopeful, never giving up the dream.

There’s a whole new generation of really great writers in our world, who are out there writing really great stories every single day. And that collective group of us is able to define who and what we are, all of us enjoying wonderful company with each other. As I conclude this post, I’m very grateful that I’m a writer rather than an agent, because-despite the frustration expressed above–I think that getting up each morning, looking for chemistry instead of good writing and good stories would make for a string of really long days.

Hope you all have a fabulous weekend! –Cheri  

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Hi! This is just a quick post to let you know that a few minutes ago I uploaded two more chapters of Separation of Faith (#s 8 & 13) to Scribd for free review: http://www.scribd.com/doc/47571868/Separation-of-Faith-Chapter-Eight and http://www.scribd.com/doc/47571870/Separation-of-Faith-Chapter-Thirteen.

The non-sequential choice is designed to give readers a glimpse of the characters and story from two perspectives–the contemporary view as well as the flashback. Reading Chapter One, which is also on Scribd (http://www.scribd.com/doc/37208052/Separation-of-Faith-A-Novel-1st-Chapter-for-Free-Download), along with these two additional chapters, will take readers far enough into the story, without giving very much away, to decide if you/they have any interest in going further.

Hope you enjoy stepping through the three windows into the novel.

By this weekend, I’ll be caught up on my reading and will publish a post with lots of new tips and suggestions that might be helpful and of use to you. I’ll also let you know which of the new things I learned at last weekend’s conference I plan to implement first into the Journey. There was so much presented that a few days are needed to assimilate everything.

What a great event that was! And I hope that all of you can find a way to attend the next Writer’s Digest Conference. You won’t regret the decision, I promise!

Note: Still no word from that San Francisco agent who asked for a copy of my book during the Pitch Slam session. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something from her. In the interim, the other two interested agents will be receiving the materials they requested within the next few days. And so we continue to move forward, no matter what! 

Have a terrific week!

–Cheri

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“The More Things Change …” by Benjamin LeRoy (respected publisher–Tyrus Books–and one of Publisher’s Weekly to “50 Under 40”)

–No matter what the current trends are, the one thing that never changes is a writer’s dedication to the craft.
–The goal should be to create something that lasts, surviving all the trends.
–The center of publishing power and activity is not, after all, in Manhattan, because real life occurs everywhere else, especially in small town/rural America.
–As writers and publishers, the best and most powerful stories are about regular people sometimes living through extraordinary circumstances–and we should be telling those stories with empathy, quiet and civil voices, and respect for each and every individual.
–There are lots of compelling stories about everyday people living through extraordinary circumstances, but those stories are not being told due to all the push for fantasy, vampires, and high-action events. The movement is on to bring those trends to a close.
–Make your stories real about real people.

Note from Cheri: My comment here is that this speech/fellow touches on the whole subject of character-driven versus high action and the pickle authors can get themselves into by writing to trends. By the time the writer finishes the book and starts pitching, the trend will either be over or on the way out. So, focus on the craft–which is a constant–and think about writing stories with longevity that aren’t tied to a trend. He’s also obviously trying to push for a return to high quality character-driven stories, and apparently his publishing company (Tyrus Books) looks for those sorts of submissions. He’s definitely in the minority–but he offers writers like me a glimmer of hope.

Okay … conference is over! And what a great weekend! Maybe next year a bunch of us could all attend together.
Meanwhile, GO JETS!!!

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Successfully Promoting Your Book
Panel: Kevin Smokler, Brent Sampson & Kate Rados (Moderator)

First Point: Timing. How far ahead of book’s pub date do you start planning the promotion of your book?
–Never too soon.
–At least start. Too many authors still don’t understand that authors are the ones who need to market their books in order for people to know the book is out there and then to buy it.
–Authors need to make themselves familiar to their reading base even if they don’t have a book to promote yet.

When do you stop promoting?
–When you start annoying people.
–When you’re no longer bringing your best self.
–When you need to start working on your next book.
–There are two forms of promotion: active and passive modes. Establish great key words that will allow the search world to continue finding your book when you’re no longer in active mode.
–Don’t engage just because you feel you have to engage.
–Don’t be a blatant self-promoter without any passion or meaning behind your activities.

Platform
–Needs to answer this reader question: Why am I reading this book/talking to you other than the fact that you’ve written a book? What is unique about you?
–Being a helpful member of an online community will cause that community to support your efforts and your book.
–What motivated you to write the book? What is it about you that makes you stand out? What are the things that make you a writer?
–The first stop for any author is knowing who you are.

Amazon’s AuthorCentral (amazon.com/authors): Create an account even if you don’t have a book yet. A major tool to help authors promote and sell their books.
–BookTour.com is part of the AuthorCentral site.
–Authors who have books published need to open a BookTour account, and then create your events.

How to Start Setting Up Events?
–You, books, people, food, alcohol=the beginning of a book tour. Draw on the “low-hanging fruit” such as organizations you belong to, your church, friends who will let you use their houses/apartments.
–Patronize your local book store first as a customer, then as an author. Let the book store know you can bring in 25 people because the book stores are always looking for more/new business.

What do you do at the events?
–Create a unique theme or gimmick to engage the audience and also attract the attention of the news media.
–Try not to fall into the traditional pattern of just reading and then signing books.
–Your event is competing with everything else people can choose to do for a night of entertainment.
–Ex. If you have a cookbook, there’d better be food at your event.

When should authors hire out for publicity?
–Ask what a publicist can do that you cannot do?
–Not all books need a private publicist.
–Before hiring, do a lot of research on publicists. Find out who they’ve worked for, what kind of publicity they’ve created, etc.

What is a blog tour?
–It’s a virtual tour online. Authors appear on someone else’s blog. The content is worked out between the author and blog owner.
–Book bloggers love books and promoting them.
–Research bloggers to find out how they want to be pitched and what their audience looks like, to make sure the blog/blogger is a match to you and your book.
–Much greater payoff than in-person events.
–Even after the tour is over, the event will have an ongoing Internet life.

Campaigns that have been especially effective:
–Twitter campaign by Rebecca Skloot (sp?)
–The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Got in his car with thousands of books and drove around the country. He sent a copy to the CEO of Mazda. Had Enzo T-shirts and other props.
–Come up with fun ideas that tie into the book.
–Overlying quality needed in authors: be giving, nice, pleasant, charming, sincere, etc.

Panelists were asked what they would do if they could only do one thing to promote a book.
–Write a blog.
–Build a blog/Web site–one place where readers have one place to go to find out everything about you and your book(s).
–Find the most unique aspect of your book an “hammer at it relentlessly.”

Is it worth the time spent to try and get newspaper reviews?
–Newspapers need to get books prior to pubication in order to do reviews. Authors are up against huge competition. Securing reviews is hard and rare and not worth a huge investment of time. Work instead on getting endorsements/quotes from other authors.
–Pursue people more famous than you are to help you with things like writing a Foreword.

Amazon Reviewers–Search them out by group and approach them about reviewing your book.

Do book club events using Skype.

Time to move on to closing Keynote Address.

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When I saw her this morning, she apologized because she went out last night and didn’t get to my book as she had hoped. She said she plans to read it on the plane today (she’s from San Francisco), and she said I will definitely hear from her very shortly.

So, the wait continues a little longer … and tomorrow I will send the requested material to the other two agents who responded positively to the pitch.

Now I want to clean up the drafts of the last two sessions of the conference today for you. And my ride home will be here shortly. Hope to get the final conference posts published for you this afternoon so my mind will be free and clear for the Jets’ game. After finishing those post, there will be no more work until tomorrow morning. 🙂

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