Platform Upgrade

My Dear Followers,

One of the things often discussed at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference was Platform. Knowing this is a hot topic, I began working on my website before the conference. I considered branding beginning with, what should my domain name be? It’s commonly suggested that authors use their names as their brands. For me, this was a dilemma in itself, considering how many “Taylor Ross”es there are in the world. (I’m friends with two on Facebook alone, and went to elementary school with one of them.) My mentor told me I was lucky to have two middle names and thus two middle initials to choose from, but I didn’t jive with his suggestion that “Taylor W. Ross” is as memorable as “George W. Bush,” and the gmail account that I wanted for my other middle initial was taken.

While it would be impossible for me to know how or if it’s helped me, I’ve been grateful to have a gender-neutral name (once I got over the playground taunting of “that’s a boy’s name”—this was before the days of Taylor Swift), so I was reluctant to announce my gender by using “Lauren.” However, I am writing a book about women, for women, so ultimately I decided to use my feminine middle name. Thus, taylorlaurenross.com was born.

I have learned about web hosting, FTP, uploading various WordPress themes, and Filezilla. I managed to export and import all of my previous blog posts, and create a static homepage. I had a professional author photo taken. Now, I am proud to say, my website is live.

From now on, I will be posting to the blog over at taylorlaurenross.com. My dear followers, it has been a pleasure to write for you, and I am so grateful for your support in my writing journey. I would be honored if you’d follow me over at my new site.

Taylor Lauren Ross website

Next up: a Father’s Day post with more on my experiences at the Santa Barbara Writing Conference, including my BIG NEWS—on the requests I may or may not have gotten for partials—and later, a phenomenal reading list from the SBWC and advice from Stephen Chbosky, writer of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, novel and movie, and Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone series, often known as the alphabet mystery series.

Moving a Mountain

I had a mini-critique of my novel D4 last night (big THANK YOU to the committed, persistent writers who’ve been with me every step of the way). While there was some praise for changes well-made and some comments on changes that didn’t work, it is amazing how much of the central dialogue has remained the same since the very first draft – discontent with the ending. I have changed the ending three times, and while I feel I’ve gotten close to what I want to write, I still haven’t left with my readers with the satisfaction they crave. I don’t know what will change in the next draft, but it will soon be time to dive in again. I’m going to read D4 over to myself, give a few days to process, and then it’s back to work.

In the meantime, I was supposed to be researching agents. My mentor continues to tell me to focus on the craft, for I can’t pursue an agent without the draft that is the ultimate in what I’m capable of producing. But I feel like I’m floundering, meandering, getting lost in writing without any sense of direction or goal. He agreed it might be pertinent at this point to at least begin compiling a list of potential agents.

I find this task incredibly daunting. Perhaps that is why I’ve been procrastinating the research for so long. Where to begin? How to begin? Easier to put it off another day while focusing on my craft.

Agent Research

I’ve heard it’s useful to peruse bookstore shelves, looking for books like yours, and read the “acknowledgements” sections, since writers always thank their agents there. This is getting harder and harder to do, of course, as the bookstores keep disappearing. My mentor suggested that, just as it worked well for me to set up an amount of time, at the same time, every day, to write, I should also set aside a time each day for agent research, and I’m beginning to do this. I’ve brought up agentquery.com, and I’ve pulled my dusty Writer’s Markets from my shelves. As my grandfather used to say, “How does a man move a mountain? One stone at a time.”

On the Novel Process

I got some great feedback on the finished first draft of my novel (pictured above). I met with a friend of a friend who is a producer, and he said he liked it, to send him the revision and potentially talk about a partnership – he was already “soft pitching” the idea! I’d like it to be a book before it becomes a movie, but I’m not complaining. And I hear having it optioned as a film might not hurt for having it published as a book.
            I attended a class at UCLA Extension called “How to Find and Work with a Literary Agent,” taught by Aimee Liu. Heard some stuff I already knew (perfect spelling, get names right, agents look for reasons to eliminate you, etc.) and learned a few things, too (how to do your homework when searching for agents, the importance of selecting and building a relationship with your agent, the usual percentage breakdown of royalties, what a contract typically looks like, etc.). There was a panel of three literary agents and when I went to speak with one after the class, she told me to send her a query. This was incredibly encouraging, and while I don’t necessarily want my book to be Young Adult, nor have I heard back from her, the process gave me a lot of experience. I found several useful websites, namely agentquery.com, which led to useful example query letters. I drafted and re-drafted my letter, not to mention continual revision of the first chapter.
            Revision is a grueling process. As I began to work on the novel as a whole, I found myself getting lost. My mentor suggested I create an outline, with chapter summaries. That turned into a small project in itself, as I listed characters, wrote out scene chronology, plot summary, and character development for each chapter. It was, of course, incredibly useful in seeing the big picture and understanding where I might need to add/delete.
            I’ve heard that revision is an endless process. Indeed, whenever I “finish” editing a chapter, I already have a list of things I want to change. Then I get feedback from my writers’ groups and have a whole different perspective, with a new set of challenges.

After reading a draft of my first chapter, my former professor told me I might have “literary chick lit” (I inwardly jumped for joy), and recommended I read Election. He likened my protagonist to a character in that book named Tracy. As I read the book I kept saying to myself, “just one more section, just one more” and then I’d finished it. Tom Perrotta has brilliantly hooked one section into the next, simultaneously interweaving several subplots, making it impossible to stop reading. The other thing I loved about this book and would like to do with my own writing, was how true it seemed, the path the characters took and where they ended up. Each character matures, has an arc. It is by no means a happy ending. But it feels complete.
According to my readers, my first draft had an unhappy and incomplete ending, so I have a lot to learn from Election. At the UCLA Extension class on agents, I learned that in the original “Pretty Woman” story, he doesn’t come back. Of course that would never sell. So it was rewritten, and he came back like the night in shining armor upon his limousine chariot, and it became a classic. So many of my readers want a final act, a redemption sequence for the protagonist. I’m not sure yet what I want to do, but as I revise, I’m thinking about it.