The Jagged Man is Finally Out

I had tweeted about it on Twitter, and posted about it on the Jagged Man website, although I had mentioned prepping it for publication here, it occurred to ma a few minutes ago that I hadn’t officially announced it here on my writing blog (too many websites to take care of).

So, I just want to officially say: The Jagged Man was released as an e-book on January 26, 2015. The final cover is below. Click on it to go to a page with some lots of details about the book, and links to vendors. Buy a copy. You’ll like it, and you might keep an old guy off the street corner with a coffee can and a sign.  (8^)

final cover for The Jagged Man, e-book version

final cover for The Jagged Man, e-book version

Posted in publishing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Je Suis Aussi Charlie

I am also Charlie. If you haven’t heard about the Je Suis Charlie Movement yet, you haven’t been paying attention to the news. If you’re honestly clueless, have a look at this page before you read further, or just Google “je suis charlie.”

As a writer, and someone who has been involved in theater, the subject of censorship has always been on the edge of my awareness, and it’s possible that I have sometimes written material while the voice in the back of my head was whispering loudly “Your audience isn’t going to like that, that’s going a bit too far.” Hopefully I ignored it, and it didn’t alter what I wanted to say, but the voice was still there.

The staff at Charlie Hedbo must have been aware that they were pissing people off frequently. It seemed to be the magazine’s raison d’etre, but they continued to publish in spite of the threats and dangers. Some of the best responses to this senseless act has been from other cartoonists. One that (in my opinion) got to the heart of the matter was David Pope of the Canberra Times with this cartoon.

Cartoon by David Pope (Canberra Times) in response to the Charlie Hedbo massacre.

Cartoon by David Pope (Canberra Times) in response to the Charlie Hedbo massacre.

Other examples of responses from the world of cartooning can be seen here.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cartoonists-respond-to-paris-massacre-with-powerful-drawings/

More eloquent voices than mine have already weighed in on the issue, so the only thing I want to say is that we live in a world filled with craziness, and it’s a prime example of that craziness when people are murdered because they said (or drew) something that pissed someone else off.

So, in closing, I would like to raise my pencil to those who feel compelled to be assholes because they were offended by something someone else did or said.

Pointing my pencil at assholes

Pointing my pencil at assholes, Je Suis Charlie, image photoshopped by Michael Sirois

If anyone has any comments, positive or hateful, post them below.

Michael

Posted in censorship, Je Suis Charlie, publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being a Self-Publishing Virgin is Scary

For the past several years I’ve submitted queries (although not nearly often enough), and pitched my novels at conferences, with no success. Okay, I lied at least a couple of times in that first sentence.

In 2002, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, and realized I was able to push past the length of a short story. In the years since I’ve written two novels that I consider essentially complete and publishable, and have partially completed three others that I believe have commercial potential. Beyond that I have sketches and partial outlines and ideas for a few dozen more. That’s all true. So, where do the lies come in?

I have submitted queries to agents for two of my novels, If a Butterfly and The Jagged Man, but I really haven’t submitted them to very many agents, and mostly to agents I pitched verbally at one of four Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conferences (2011 to 2014). The reception for both of them was generally favorable, but was eventually rejected by all of them. Is it possible I could have been signed by an agent before now if I had queried the market very thoroughly, sent more queries to agents I hadn’t met at conferences? Sure, it’s possible, and I have thought about it, but now the publishing landscape has changed, and I’m not sure I want to go the traditional route anymore.

I’m at the stage now where I don’t want to wait forever to find an agent, wait for them to find a publisher (if they ever do), then wait another year to eighteen months after that for the book release. If I were still thirty it would make sense to give that a concentrated shot, but I’m not (and I have it on good authority that age reversal isn’t an option). As I do with most situations, I tend to overthink things because I like to be prepared for any eventuality. It does cause me to spend a lot more time in preparation, but I have far fewer surprises that way. I have been exploring the idea of self-publishing for probably a couple of years now, and I think I’m finally ready to make the leap; but even though there are a lot of wonderful websites out there with tons of advice, so much of it contradicts the rest of it that I don’t want to make a mistake. Here’s what I’m planning to do.

I will, I think, publish the first novel I completed (If a Butterfly) after I’ve published The Jagged Man (because Jagged Man is a thriller and Butterfly is mainstream, more complex, and much longer). I’m seriously considering publishing Butterfly in two parts (Journeys Begin and After the Storm). There’s a natural dividing point about halfway through, producing two 120,000 word books instead of one 240,000 word book.

I’m doing a final polish on Jagged Man now, and am working on dedication pages, and an Author’s Notes page (this book required a lot of research). I’m using Scrivener for the final edits and prepping it for e-book conversion, and I finished designing the cover last night (after quite a few failed versions). Some of them looked very nice in the full-size versions, but horrible in the thumbnail sizes (muddled and not distinct). I think this one will work very well, though. Here’s what it looks like, full-scale and thumbnail size.

The current cover (the one I'm most likely to use) for the e-book version of The Jagged Man.

The current full-size cover (the one I’m most likely to use) for the e-book version of The Jagged Man.

 

Thumbnail version of The Jagged Man cover.

Thumbnail version of The Jagged Man cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If anyone has some specific advice, pitfalls to watch out for, etc., I would greatly appreciate hearing about them.

Michael

Posted in Agents, Conferences, indie, publishing, Research, self publishing, Solutions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Into (and in) No Plot? No Problem! Again

The newest (Revised, Updated, and Expanded) version of Chris Baty’s wonderful book, No Plot? No Problem! has just been published. And I’m in it — again. How cool is that!

Twelve years ago I participated in my first NaNoWriMo. That first time was a disaster, but (at the same time) not a disaster. I found out about the event on the day it began in 2002, on the morning of November 1st. I heard about it on an interview on NPR, while I was driving to work. It sounded like something that would be interesting and challenging. I had always wanted to write a novel, and had taken several stabs at it before, but gave up each time. It had always seemed to be too big an undertaking, too massive a project.

I had just started a new job at Rice University a couple of months earlier, and I had no idea what to write about, but when I arrived at Rice that morning, I logged onto the NaNo site, and committed to participating. No one else was in my building yet (I usually drove in fairly early to avoid the worst of Houston’s rush hour traffic), so I  stared at my laptop and thought about what I could write about until 9:00, when my coworkers started to show up at our offices.

As I worked, I kept trying to figure out what to write about. I was struggling so hard to decide, I wasn’t even able to start. The Word document I opened on my laptop earlier (the one that was now buried behind the website I was designing)  was as blank as my thoughts. Just before lunchtime I decided that writing about anything was better than not writing at all. So, while munching on my sandwich, I wrote a few paragraphs about a young woman who was beginning her first day of work at a major university, in a job very similar to mine. An image of a seriously evil person started to form in my mind (a sociopath who had been alive for a long time, maybe centuries), and I knew this woman would become a threat to him somehow and would find herself in danger. I realized I was writing a thriller. I even gave it a name, Into Each Life. The name didn’t stick, though. I may reuse it someday.

“Okay,” I said to myself. “One word at a time. I can do this.”

I knew I needed to write an average of 1,667 words each day in order to reach NaNo’s goal of 50,000 words in a month. I only wrote 428 words that first day, and they were terrible, but I kept going, writing early in the morning and after I got home at night. My biggest mistake that first year was deciding that I needed to have my facts straight before I could write about them, so I spent some time each day researching. This (of course) caused my word count to go up on some days and down on others. Mostly down.  Four of the days I wrote nothing at all. I only broke the 1,667 word count goal twelve times during the month. The highest word count was on the final day, when I was faced with writing 14,222 words in order to reach 50,000. I wrote 3,483. My final count was 39,255 words.

I wasn’t thrilled with losing, but I was happy that I had tried (and I had a good start, nearly 40,000 words down, only xx-thousand to go). I still thought I had a good idea for a novel, but — after rereading what I had written — I realized that the quality of my writing was crap. I tried to revise and expand on the novel for a while, but, discouraged, I gave up in mid-December, deciding the book was hopeless. The next year, I started thinking about NaNoWriMo during the spring, and did a bit of brainstorming. I took notes, puzzled through various possible scenarios, and decided I didn’t like any of them.

It was summer before I came up with an idea. I was daydreaming, sitting in an airport, when a fly buzzed past me. I started wondering what a fly’s life was like. I remembered (incorrectly) the Edward Lorenz quote, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park, will there be hurricanes in China?” His actual quote is, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?” My first thought was that I could follow the effect of a butterfly’s flapping wings as it generated the storm on the other side of the world. The thought lasted about ten seconds, until my rational brain kicked in and decided that would make an intensely boring book, but I kept fiddling with the idea.

By the time NaNo rolled around in November I was ready. My plot had a spine. A Monarch butterfly would travel from Canada to Mexico on its epic annual migration. As it flew, it would intersect with the lives of several people, and the novel would pick up each of their stories; and, of course, there would have to be a storm to impede everyone’s progress. For a few months I read about butterflies and hurricanes, and began making notes about the various individuals I thought I might want to populate the novel with.

Being ready to write before I began, instead of trying to figure out what to do after I started, worked very well. I managed 53,098 words that time, and had a workable (but very skimpy) novel at the end of the month. It was far from complete, with tons of plot holes to fill, but structurally sound. It took me another six years or so, and some major restructuring to finish it; plus a few additional years of pitching and querying (and multiple revisions and trimming) to discover that no agent wanted to touch anything that large from a first-time author (it was over 200,000 words, trimmed down from over 300,000).  I’ve moved on to other projects, but I haven’t given up on Butterfly. I’m seriously considering self-publishing it. If you want to read about the genesis and writing of the book, click here, http://michaelsiroisblog.com/?s=butterfly (or just type “butterfly” in the search bar at the top of the page).

Anyway, this post so far has just been to show you that NaNoWriMo helped me see that writing a novel wasn’t an impossible task, so I continued participating every year. I now have two finished novels, a few others well underway, and some more in early stages of plotting and prepping.

Early in 2004, a few of the wrimos from Houston (and hundreds of others from around the country, I’m sure) received a list of questions from Chris Baty about our participation in NaNoWriMo. He was writing a book about how to write a novel in thirty days, and wanted our input. I submitted answers to his questions, and he used one of them in the first edition of the book, No Plot? No Problem! I was thrilled when I found out he used one of mine, of course. Last year, he was reworking and expanding the book, and asked me to submit some more answers to some new questions, and this time he picked two of them for the new book. Yay!

It’s a great book. Lots of tips and tricks for writers, whether you’re thinking of doing NaNo or not. Check it out here, http://www.chrisbaty.com/books/.

What’s your favorite book on writing?

Michael

Posted in Contests, Ideas, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deciding Who to Pitch To at a Writing Conference

It’s almost time for the annual Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference in Austin (June 27 through the 29th this year). I’ve signed up have a 10-minute consultation with three of the agents who will be attending. All Spring, as new editors and agents were booked to attend the conference, the Writers’ League posted information about them on their website, which allowed the attendees to begin making decisions about who to pitch their novels to at the conference.

Like many attendees, I paid extra to have private consultations with some of the agents. Each attendee (if they signed up before a certain date) was guaranteed a free consultation with one agent, but we were able to purchase extra consultations for $50 each. Once their roster of agents and editors was finalized, the WLT gave us an opportunity to select the one (or ones) we would most like to meet with. We had a couple of weeks to submit a list all of the agents and editors, ranking them by preference. They then wrestled with trying to make several hundred attendees happy by giving them their choices (or as close as possible to their preferred choices). I had paid for two extra consultations, so I started looking through the WLT website to get a basic impression of each of them. There were fifteen agents and eight editors to choose from. I’m primarily attending this year’s conference to pitch a single book, my thriller, The Jagged Man. My understanding is that editors rarely ever acquire a book through the author, almost always through an agent, so I didn’t intend to have a consultation with any of the editors. If I happen to end up in a conversation with any of them, of course, I’ll see what I can find out about the state of the market, and what they like to see in a submitted manuscript, but I don’t intend to actively pitch books to any of them.

Ranking the agents was easy in some respects, but difficult in others. I had the 2014 Writer’s Market, and the 2013 and 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, so I started by looking each of them up (or their agencies, at least). Four of the fifteen agencies weren’t listed in the 2013 guide, but two of those agencies were listed in the 2014 guide. Double marks against the two which weren’t in either year’s edition. The Writer’s Market has a very slim listing of agents, and none of the four were listed in it, but in fairness, most of the rest weren’t either.

The agents’ websites were the next stop. One of them was eliminated almost immediately. The website was very unprofessional. It was a free site, hosted on Tripod, filled with ads (not for the agency). The site consisted of four poorly created pages, in which the owner referred to the agency as a “start-up,” but said it was founded in 2007. If you’re still a start-up after seven years, you’re doing something wrong. One of the pages was also flagged by McAfee as containing “dangerous” content (usually links to phishing sites or Trojan horses). No thanks. [Just out of curiosity, I went back to the WLT’s page of agents yesterday, and clicked on the link to the same agency a minute ago. The link had been changed. The agency now has a new website, which looks much better on the surface, but still contained sloppy content (like “For Project That Don’t Meet Our Requirement Now”). They also seemed to have partnered with a publishing house, which offers “platform acceleration” (which I interpreted to mean SEO for a fee). For me, the answer was still, no thanks.] It all seemed too iffy, so I put this agent at the bottom of my list, even below the editors.

The Jagged Man is an adult thriller, so I next eliminated two categories, any agents who only handled books written for children or YA or MG wouldn’t be interested, and agents who only dealt with non-fiction also (although I would revisit the non-fiction agents later for another reason). Two of the agents were specifically dealing (according to their bios), only with various forms of non-fiction, and one of them was only looking for YA or MG. Those three drifted down to the bottom of my agents list. There is no point in pitching a thriller to an agent who has no interest in representing that genre. I now only had eleven agents to choose from.

I had one other eliminator that had nothing to do with their bios, but concerned the agency they worked for. I had already queried (sometimes based on last year’s pitches at WLT 2013) some agents or agencies who were on the list again this year. I had already pitched and queried If a Butterfly and Jagged Man to agents at two of the agencies, and had promised to query Jagged Man to the owner of a third agency that had an agent coming to this year’s conference. I wouldn’t try to pitch those three agents, so I only had eight more to look at.

Next, I looked specifically for the word thriller. Two of these eight agents did specifically mention wanting thrillers in their bios, so they floated to the top of the list. Two of the other agents mentioned liking “high concept novels,” and “genre style plotting and literary quality writing.” They fell into place at three and four. I honestly don’t remember how I chose one over the other, they were so close. If I saw other elements in any of the other agents’ bios that intrigued me (length of experience, well-respected agencies, or phrases like “drawn to writers who are formally inventive,” “push boundaries,” and “an eclectic list of books”), they fell next in line.

I finished ranking them, putting almost all of the agents at the top of the list, followed by the editors and then the one lone agent that I knew I would never query on my own anyway.

A little over a week ago I received the notification of my assigned consultations. They gave me my top three picks, although I would certainly have been happy with Number Four as well. Does that mean I will only talk to those three at the conference? No. These three will be expecting me, and will have slotted ten minutes of time for me. The others I will pitch during Saturday evening’s cocktail reception, or when I can catch their attention for a few minutes during the day.

Is mine a perfect system? I seriously doubt it, but most of what we do (in trying to market ourselves and our work) is a crap shoot anyway, right?

I have one other tip for pitching at conferences. After you’ve researched ten or fifteen or even twenty individuals, it’s very difficult to remember who was interested in what genre, or other information you might need when you introduce yourself, or even who they are. You wouldn’t want to walk up to Ms. Smith, and call her Ms. Jones, right? I prepare a cheat sheet before I leave for the conference. It looks like this.

An agent cheat sheet

A sample cheat sheet to help you spot agents at a writing conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Names and faces have obviously been changed, but each agent’s name is color-coded to remind me which book I’m pitching. Their picture reminds me who they are. The green stands for agents who might be interested in my thriller, the blue stands for people I might pitch a proposal to for my non-fiction travel book, and the pink is an agent I thought might be interested in either (and I’ll decide which one to pitch to them probably at the last second).

To paraphrase Lionel Barrymore, “Writing is easy. Pitching is hard.”

How do you feel about the idea of pitching a book? How do you approach the process?

Michael

Posted in Agents, Conferences, Pitching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My Review of Larry McMurtry’s Latest Novel on WLT’s Blog

I was privileged to be able to do an advance review of Larry McMurtry’s latest novel, The Last Kind Words Saloon, for the Writers’ League of Texas’ blog, Scribe. It’s a fictional account of the events leading up to Wyatt Earp’s and Doc Holliday’s gunfight with the Clanton’s at the O.K. Corral.

You can read the review here. http://writersleagueoftexas.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/members-review-7/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Evolution of the If a Butterfly Pitch: Life Cycle Two (2012)

Here’s the final pitch I used for the 2012 WLT Conference again.

The mainstream novel, If a Butterfly, is like Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon — but with a butterfly; and it has sex in space, kidnapped butterflies, and radio deejays going postal.

If all life is connected, and a butterfly flaps its wings, will a ripple-effect cause a young woman to fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, or did one of her multiple personalities cause the fall?

An astronaut on board the International Space Station has difficulty resisting a Russian cosmonaut. Is it because her husband researches butterflies, or could it just be because the cosmonaut is so charming?

When a married couple, driving across the country, accidentally kidnap a butterfly, does that put them in the path of a hurricane? Or cause them to have a wreck with a frustrated deejay?

These characters and others are all on journeys. Some of the journeys are remarkable, and some of them do seem to be ordinary, but others just can’t be explained as coincidence.

Did I mention the sex in space?   If a Butterfly.

175 words (06-21-2012 version)

———————

Compared to the 2011 final pitch, this one was nearly a hundred words shorter, but how did it get to that point?

Obviously, if I had known the phrase, “sex in space,” would garner such a negative reaction I would have substituted something else (maybe “hurricanes,” or “multiple personality squabbles”), but I was satisfied with it when I arrived at the conference. Aside from just whittling the size down, I felt it was one of the best representations of the story I had created so far.

In the past, when people asked me the inevitable question, “So, what’s your story about?” I would start by saying, “During a Monarch butterfly’s annual migration from Canada to Mexico, when other characters cross its path and interact with it, the novel picks up that character’s story and follows it. Eventually all the characters are connected in various ways.” It always seemed the easiest way to explain the plot, but it’s not accurate. That was one of my original ideas, but it didn’t work out that way. The novel (in its current state) actually begins with the other characters first. We’re already following their stories by the time our butterfly interacts with any of the characters. The butterfly is still a catalyst for some events in the story, and the connections all still occur, but not in the original linear way I had anticipated. Plots change — what can I say?

After the first year’s round of pitches, and the first few rejections by agents, I regrouped, re-edited a few sections of the book, gave it a thorough trimming and polishing, and rewrote the pitch. Many times. My typical process when writing a pitch is to start with a (usually overly-long) description of the main characters and plot. It can be as much as two or three double-spaced pages (anywhere from 500 to 900 words). Then I work backwards, eliminating the unnecessary, and trying to make the book sound as interesting and/or exciting as possible (without fudging the truth, of course).

Example: In my second book, The Jagged Man, I have four main characters (Two protagonists, and two bad guys). One of the bad guys is the Jagged Man (an 8,000 year old sociopath). He obviously has to be mentioned in a pitch, but the other bad guy is an assistant of sorts, integral to much of the plot, but no one needs to know about him at this stage, so all mention of him gets dropped from the pitch. In the first draft of the pitch for Jagged Man, I went into a lot of detail about the two protagonists (they work at the same place, Rice University; they begin dating each other partway into the book; one of them is helping the other with some tech stuff related to an ancient papyrus about a sinister “jagged man,” etc.).

All of that has to be reduced to a couple of short sentences or phrases, so a hundred words or more becomes (in the intro to the pitch) “Sarah, a brainy techno-geek, and her historian boyfriend, John, match wits with the Jagged Man, an 8,000 year old sociopath, whose Dorian Gray metabolism has let him reach the 21st century looking like he’s only forty.” Only 36 words for the initial description of the three main characters. Gradually, the rest of the pitch gets shortened that way until it’s 200 words or less, hopefully describing just the essence of the book in an accurate, attention-grabbing way.

Then, a couple of months before I’m going to need to give the pitch, I record it and put a copy on my iPod and burn another on a CD, and walk around the house, and/or listen to it in my car, over and over for several days, until I start absorbing the content naturally and get used to my own voice speaking the words aloud. At that point I also begin to notice phrases that don’t sound quite right, or things that are missing. Usually ten or twelve revised recordings follow, trimming the whole thing down to under a minute. I try to be finished with that at least a month before the conference, but I have sometimes made changes a couple of days before I leave for Austin (where I have given all my oral pitches so far).

[Note: 6-23-2014 — I did it again. I made a few changes to this year’s version of my Jagged Man pitch yesterday, so I only have a couple more days to learn the new version before I leave for Austin. Not a good idea.]

Do you have a particular process that works for you when you’re constructing a pitch?

Michael

Posted in Agents, Pitching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evolution of the If a Butterfly Pitch: Life Cycle One (2011)

In the previous post, I showed you the pitch I used for my novel, If a Butterfly, at the 2012 Writers’ League of Texas’ Agents and Editors Conference. This post and the next one are to show how it evolved.

By 2011, All I really knew about pitching I had read in books or online. The basics were that you had to catch the agent’s attention right away, and then keep them hooked with ever more interesting bits of your story until they said, “Yes, that sounds wonderful. Send it to me right away so I can make you famous, and we can make a fortune together.” Or words to that effect.

Having been an actor for over thirty years — from about the age of fifteen until I was in my forties — auditioning (pitching) for a part (to sell my book) by now seemed like a natural process to me, but in the past I had always (unless the audition called for improvisation) used a script that somebody else (the playwright or screenwriter) had written for me. Here, I had to write my own script, and I had no idea what I was doing.

I had some guidance from the things I had read. Tell your story, keep it short, make it exciting, don’t give away too much, highlight your writing style, etc.

——————————-

One of the earliest I pitches I wrote for it was done for a Pitchapalooza session, held on February 11, 2011. It was 195 words long (edited down from around 300), and ran just under a minute if I talked very, very fast. Here it is.

During a Monarch butterfly’s epic migration from Canada to Mexico, nine disparate lives are examined as the butterfly intersects some of their paths, and we see how each life can touch another, and see the extraordinary effect such chance encounters can have on those around us.

ROBERT MEYERS, a research biologist, copes with his crumbling marriage. His wife, DEE, an astronaut on the International Space Station, tries to resist a charming Russian cosmonaut. DICK and JANE JARVIS take a vacation, unaware they are heading into a hurricane. LAURA BENSON, a teacher, wants to witness the Monarchs’ migration. BILLIE CROWDER becomes lost in the Grand Canyon when one of her multiple personalities takes over. Disc jockey, ROCK JACKSON, helplessly watches his life spiral out of control. STELLA LAMBERT, a widowed quilter, struggles to become accepted in a new place. And a British student, JASMINE WILLIAMS, visits America while trying to give up drinking.

Some of their paths coincide with the butterfly’s. Some paths diverge in new directions, but connections are made, and various disasters are either averted or diminished. The journey ends with everyone feeling differently about life, wearier and sometimes battered, but a little wiser.

At least one of the character’s names changed after that. Looking back on it, it seems a bit vague and wishy-washy. Fortunately, I wasn’t picked at the Pitchapalooza session (it’s done randomly), so I had a chance to rework it.

——————————-

A month after that (3-13-2011), I had already made several changes (not necessarily for the better). This was the first pitch I tried to create for the 2011 WLT conference, but it never made it to the conference. The approach I was taking with this one was to have two pitches ready, an intro pitch, followed by a secondary pitch that explained the book more completely. Part One is the elevator pitch. It’s 109 words, and probably runs less than thirty seconds. Part Two is an expansion of Part One, and is what I planned to say if the agent let me keep talking. It was an additional 262 words (maybe another ninety seconds). It’s doubtful they would have allowed me to natter on that long.

Part One:

Nine people and one Monarch butterfly become connected during a September filled with usual and unusual journeys. During the butterfly’s epic migration from Canada to Mexico, a couple on vacation drives through a hurricane, a dissipated disc jockey implodes on the radio, and a woman with a split personality gets lost in the Grand Canyon, one attempts to give up drinking, another has sex in outer space, and others do some bizarrely normal things. These nine people become connected as the butterfly intersects some of their paths, and we see how each life can touch another, and see the effect such chance encounters can have on those around us.

Part Two:

It’s September 2003. America shifts its focus from a war in Afghanistan to a war in Iraq as a Monarch butterfly begins its 2,000 mile journey from Canada southward. At the same time, nine people begin month-long journeys, some of distance and some of understanding.

ROBERT MEYER, a research scientist, studies butterfly migrations, knowing his marriage has ended in every sense but the legal one. His wife, DEE, an astronaut, is on board the International Space Station, attempting to resist a charming Russian cosmonaut. DICK and JANE JARVIS embark on a driving vacation, unaware they are heading into a hurricane. Other characters are on their own journeys. BILLIE (with an E) CROWDER, a woman with multiple personality disorder is lost in the Grand Canyon (a problem compounded by BILLY, with a Y, her primary alter, who thinks the people searching for her are out to get him), a disc jockey, ROCK JACKSON, tries desperately to keep his life from spiraling out of control, LAURA BENSON, a teacher in Ontario dreams of going to Mexico to see the Monarchs begin their journey north, STELLA LAMBERT, a widowed quilter, is struggling to become accepted in a new place, and a British student, JAS CALDER, visits America to look for a university for her graduate work, but has promised to give up drinking while she’s there.

The path of the butterfly and the paths of some of the people coincide, not without incident; but connections are made, various disasters are averted, or sometimes diminished, and September ends with nearly everyone safely home, wearier but wiser.

——————————-

On the next pitch, written in mid-May, about a month before the conference, I included an intro, so I would have something to say if words failed me as soon as I was face-to-face with an agent. It was 217 words (not counting the intro). Here it is.

Hi, I’m Michael Sirois. I have a mainstream novel called If a Butterfly. Can I pitch it to you?

It’s 2003. America has shifted its focus from a war in Afghanistan to a war in Iraq. A Monarch butterfly on its 2,000 mile migration from Canada to Mexico, and nine people become connected during a September filled with usual and unusual journeys.

DICK and JANE JARVIS begin a driving vacation, unaware they are heading into a hurricane. ROBERT MEYER, a research scientist, studies butterfly migrations. He knows his marriage has ended in every sense but the legal one. His wife, DEE, an astronaut, is on board the International Space Station, attempting to resist ALEXEI, a charming Russian cosmonaut. Other characters are on their own journeys. BILLIE (with an IE) CROWDER, a woman with multiple personality disorder is lost in the Grand Canyon — a problem compounded by BILLY (with a Y), her primary alter, who thinks the people searching for her are out to get him. A disc jockey in Virginia, ROCK JACKSON, tries desperately to keep his life from spiraling out of control.

These characters and others are struggling to find peace and acceptance in their lives. But will they? Will Dick and Jane survive the hurricane? Will Billie find her way out of the Canyon? Will there be sex in space? Will the deejay implode on the air?

Find out in If a Butterfly.

——————————-

By June 11, 2011 (two weeks before the conference), I had changed it again, maybe not for the better. It’s 265 words. I remember I managed to deliver it in a little (maybe ten seconds) over a minute.

What do an actress, two teachers, a scientist, a widowed quilter, a woman with multiple personality disorder, a rock deejay, an astronaut, a grad student, and a Monarch butterfly have in common? It’s September 2003, and they are all about to begin journeys, some of which will intersect the path of the butterfly on its 2,000 mile migration from Canada to Mexico.

A married couple (the actress and one of the teachers), begins a driving vacation, completely unaware they’re heading into a hurricane. The research scientist studies butterfly migrations, trying to forget that his marriage is over in every sense except the legal one. His wife, the astronaut, is on board the International Space Station, attempting to resist a charming Russian cosmonaut. The woman with multiple personality disorder becomes lost in the Grand Canyon (a problem which is compounded by her primary alter, who thinks that the people searching for her are out to get him). The disc jockey in Virginia tries desperately, with little success, to keep his life from spiraling out of control.

These characters and others are struggling to find peace and meaning in their lives. But will they? Can they? Will the couple survive the hurricane? Will the woman find her way out of the Grand Canyon? Will there be sex in space? Will the deejay implode on the air? And the butterfly – after being kidnapped, battered by storms, and having to dodge a beer and gasoline soaked bonfire, will the butterfly even make it to Mexico? Find out the answers in the engaging and humorous cross-country tale, If a Butterfly.

This one seemed to be universally hated. I think it might have been the huge number of rhetorical questions. I’ve been warned several times since not to do that. It also could have been because it was too long (I did see a couple of agents’ eyes glaze over), although I did get to discuss the book a little further with one agent. He had me send him 75 pages, and gave me a nice rejection a couple of months later (yes, there is such a thing as a good rejection). It wasn’t until the following year that the “sex in space” line seemed to bother anyone, though.

Next time I’ll talk about the second year I pitched Butterfly (2012, AKA Life Cycle Two), and try to analyze why it has been such a hard book to explain (which is why I’m preparing it for self-publication).

Have you pitched at a conference? What was your experience like?

Michael

Posted in Agents, Pitching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Final Pitch for If a Butterfly

My previous post was about starting to split a very long novel into two parts. I started working on that a few days ago, and it’s going well. There will be a few posts about that process over the next few weeks to months (depending how long it takes). This post is about the pitch I used when presenting the idea for the novel to agents at the Writers’ League of Texas’ Agents and Editors Conference in 2012, and why it (generally speaking) didn’t work. In another post (or two or three), I’ll post several versions of the pitch (I pitched it for two years, 2011 and 2012) and I’ll show how radically it changed from one year to the next. This pitch is also the final oral pitch I developed for the book. I’ve used versions of it in queries, but haven’t pitched it face-to-face since the summer of 2012.

The Pitch (as of 6-21-2012): The pitch was meant to be delivered orally, so the bolded words below were for my benefit, so I could memorize it with the emphasis I wanted to use.

The mainstream novel, If a Butterfly, is like Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon — but with a butterfly; and it has sex in space, kidnapped butterflies, and radio deejays going postal.

If all life is connected, and a butterfly flaps its wings, will a ripple-effect cause a young woman to fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, or did one of her multiple personalities cause the fall?

An astronaut on board the International Space Station has difficulty resisting a Russian cosmonaut. Is it because her husband researches butterflies, or could it just be because the cosmonaut is so charming?

When a married couple, driving across the country, accidentally kidnap a butterfly, does that put them in the path of a hurricane? Or cause them to have a wreck with a frustrated deejay?

These characters and others are all on journeys. Some of the journeys are remarkable, and some of them do seem to be ordinary, but others just can’t be explained as coincidence.

Did I mention the sex in space?   If a Butterfly.

This version is 175 words, and (if delivered correctly, and without interruptions) times out at fifty-eight seconds. The first paragraph (the hook) runs eleven seconds.

The hook is the part of the pitch where you need to grab the agent’s attention and make them want to keep listening.

One of the agents I pitched stopped me five words into the second paragraph (basically just after I took my first breath) and said, “You lost me at sex in space.” We did continue to talk about the book, but she didn’t ask me to send a query or pages.

Later in the conference, they had a panel called Final Pitch. Agents drew written versions of our pitches out of a box and critiqued them. This pitch was picked, and another agent said the same thing, that the “sex in space” line blew it for her. The agent I had pitched earlier (who was also on the Final Pitch panel) agreed, but said she had spoken to the author (me), and she thought the book was probably more interesting than it seemed from the pitch. One of my biggest regrets was not asking them specifically what it was about the sex in space line that stopped them, because that has bothered me ever since.

The sex in space is an important element in the book, but really only a tiny part of the whole novel. More sex happens between the earthbound characters than the two crew members on the International Space Station. I think one of the elements of the pitch that probably caused so many agents (this would be another post, perhaps) to reject it without seeing the material was the number of rhetorical questions that were peppered throughout.

In the next post, I’ll compare earlier (usually much longer) versions of the pitch with this final one, and try to show my editing process.

How do you prepare a pitch? Any techniques you’d like to share?

Michael

 

Posted in Agents, Pitching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Splitting a Butterfly in Two

My first completed novel, If a Butterfly, was EXTREMELY long. The first draft was well over 300,000 words, about 1,300 double-spaced pages; but — in its defense — it’s a complex story, spread across an entire continent and into outer space, and is peopled by a sizable group of characters. That hefty word count, I think, was a huge factor in keeping me from securing an agent to represent me, especially considering that I’m a first-time novelist.

I think it’s a good novel, especially now that I have polished, trimmed, and reworked it several times. It’s now a svelte 236,000 words, about 900 pages, but the same issue still exists — too long for consideration — so I decided to do something about it.

Tonight I began the scary (for me) process of dividing the book into two distinct novels, each roughly half the size of the former whole, and preparing the text for e-book distribution. I have other shorter novels in the works also (one complete and two others in process), but they’re far from ready. I thought I might as well get Butterfly out in the marketplace and see what happens to her.

I’ll do a final polish and trim after I’ve separated it into Book One and Book Two, Before the Storm and After the Storm. Fortunately, there is a natural dividing place around page 490, so I should end up with one book around 120,000 words and another about 115,000 (or a bit smaller after I trim each of them).

This will be my first time to e-publish, and I’ve resisted it for a long time, but I thought it might be better to have the book out there in the world instead of just sitting on my hard drive (and backed up on four others and multiple CD’s and DVD’s, of course).

I’ll post a brief synopsis next time (and probably also post the pitch that freaked a few agents out), plus progress reports on the editing and splitting process.

Michael

Posted in Monarch Butterflies, Pitching, Solutions | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment