Monday, January 31, 2011

Friends Are Like Oxygen

The title of this post is bitten from my most excellent friend Candace Ganger. We have a beautiful love/hate/jaded relationship ...

Okay, honestly there isn't much hate, but there is a lot of love, and plenty of jade. Candace recently signed with an agent, and deserves all our congratulations, so please stop by and tell her you're not worthy.

She also happens to be one of the most talented writers I know. No one can write a metaphor (like the title of this post) that is instantly equally beautiful, powerful, poignant, hopeful and hilarious. If you don't know this chick you're straight trippin'. Not to mention missin' out.

And now getting to the point I do have some bad news. It's not cataclysmic, but it isn't good. After the best two weeks of blogging I have ever had I now have to take a real, actual, major break. It has nothing to do with you, dear readers, because I love you hard like the Marlboro Man loves a nic fix, but it has to be done. I have no choice.

I can't go into much detail online, but my job situation is changing, and I'll be spending this whole week either training the people who will replace me, or being trained for whatever they expect me to do next.

I know, it sucks, but I promise there will be good news to come. In the meantime I will be posting funny videos all week (or at least trying to) so that you all don't forget about me, or how much I love you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Carolyn Abiad's Query Critique


Okay folks, same query as yesterday, but with my thoughts, advice and jokes. I'm sure you can figure out that my feedback is in red.

Dear Obviously you know to put their name here. First name is okay, but Mr. or Ms. and their last name spelled correctly is better,

I’m seeking representation for Burnt Amber, a YA fantasy complete at 75,000 words, inspired by the tragic fairy tale of Byzantine landmark, KizKalesi. The older voice and bittersweet ending will appeal to Kristin Cashore fans, and my experience living in Turkey helped me enrich the story with authentic details. (Insert reason specific agent will appreciate BA.)

Now I know the jury is still out on this, and there is plenty of advice for either side, but my suggestion is to save all this housekeeping info for the end of your query. It is better to get right to the story. A smart agent is going to infer a lot about your genre from a good hook anyway. That being said there is no question that certain agents prefer it one way or the other, so try to find out which one they want and then tailor your query to their preference.

Sybil isn’t a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, a Sultan, or an entitled Istanbulite who thinks his sappy guitar ballad will melt her American heart. She’s perfectly capable on her own, when the sun is up, but at night a Crusader haunts her dreams and leaves her seeking answers her adoptive parents can’t provide.

This isn't bad. Your hook could have more punch to it, I think, but as is it's pretty damn funny. It could work like that if the voice and style of your novel are just as irreverent and hilarious.

The second sentence I'm not sure of. I mean the phrase about her parents is great, it set up just the right amount of backstory, but the rest ... I'm not sure you need it. It's too vague, and if the Crusader is the same as Haydon, mentioned below, then I would skip it. If not, then I'm confused.

Another thing that would be great would be more about Sybil's character from the get go. In my own query I call my MC a "15 year old reluctant juvenile delinquent" before I ever get to naming him, er - I just double checked and it's actually right before and after. Anyway, point is, in those 6 brief words you know so much about who he is that you can probably already begin to picture him. I would always suggest putting your MCs age in if your novel is YA. The profession/status/background/whatever description is probably less important, but if you can figure out a clever way to work it in, you'll be starting off quite strong.

With two weeks left in her semester abroad, Sybil meets a fortuneteller with a unique tattoo similar to one she’s had for as long as she can remember. The connection might explain her premonitions and links her to enigmatic gypsies who channel the djinn. Her psychic awareness skyrockets when she bumps into Haydon, a familiar stranger who would look really irresistible in chainmail. She discovers that he shares her clairvoyance, but he also triggers a fiery energy she has trouble controlling -- the same djinn energy the gypsy warned her to keep secret at all cost. That should say "at any cost" or "at all costs" Aggressive amber orbs and visions plague her when she tries to forget him, so she’s tempted to try a short fling regardless of the consequences…until she connects a fanatical priest with the Maltese cross from her nightmare and everything suddenly makes sense.

You have some very strong points in this part. I would say that the best part of your story (keeping in mind I haven't read it) is the unique premise and the setting. Each of these tastes of conflict are good, and would stand up fine on their own, but all bunched together in the query like this it doesn't work, and it get's too confusing.

I'll try to break this down sentence by sentence. The opening clause is great, it's lets us know why she's there, what kind of position she's in (as in temporary) and that she's probably either a prep student from a nice school, or a very young college student. The fortune teller part I'm not sure about. I'm sure it's important to the plot, but we can't tell how here, and you never come back to it except to say that it triggers everything else. It's also kind of vague.

You then introduce her power, which I think is done fine, but when coupled with the possible romantic interest, the heightening of her power, Haydon having similar skills, and then it all linking back to the Gypsies and the Djinn (which BTW I think sounds like a freaking awesome story) I get lost in the shuffle. I don't think you need all these details. I would skip over Haydon sharing the clairvoyance, it sounds cool, but you need to trim and tighten this anyway, so you may have to skip everything that isn't critical. I would also try to bump the part about the warning up into the same sentence as the discovery of the Djinn. I mean I understand why you linked back, and it does kind of work, but you've just simply got too much going on here, IMHO.

I would cut "Aggressive amber orbs and visions plague her when she tries to forget him, so she’s tempted to try a short fling regardless of the consequences…" and then focus on that last clause. It sounds like this is the antagonist, so we need to hear about him. And what nightmare and what cross are you talking about? The way it is introduced here makes it sound like we already know about them, which we don't. Also, you've already hinted at the possibility of romance (in a very funny, clever way, I thought) and we don't need a reminder.

Sybil learns that her biological mother risked everything to help her escape the chauvinistic clutches of the djinn world, knights and all. So she isn’t happy to be thrown back into it and discover that she’s not only been married to Haydon since she was five years old, but she’s the lost Queen of Cilicia. She just wants to get back to her old, predictable life. Instead she’s sucked into a power struggle with her djinn father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.

I would cut the marriage and the part about being Queen. This is kind of getting into synopsis territory. Those sound like great plot twists and you don't have to give us everything in the query. I think the first sentence is good. I also think your summary is pretty good.

Overall you're off to a great start. I know you already know this query is a bit long and that's fine. I think the bigger problem is a lack of focus. Try to consider these main points:

Who is the character, and why would we care about her?

What conflict arises that she must overcome, and what are the stakes if she fails?

What choice must she make in order to succeed, and what is the cost of failure?

More djinn lore along with Turkish customs and places described in the book can be found on my blog at www.carolynsnowabiad.com. Recently, the blog site of Turkish national newspaper Milliyet featured a post recognizing my positive portrayal of the advancement of women’s rights in my piece about former Turkish Prime Minister, Tansu Çiller.

Thank you for your consideration of my work,

Carolyn Snow Abiad

The rest of this is fine, I would still move word count and genre to the end here, but I would also customize that for each query.

Okay. So the rules here are simple, you absolutely do not have to agree with me, you just have to be honest and try to help Carolyn improve this query as much as possible. I am not an expert by any means. I'm way better than I was when I started, and I may be better than some, but that doesn't mean I know everything.

Also, I'm pretty good at knowing what to cut, and what might need to be changed, but I am not very good at suggesting how to change it, or what might make it pop a little more. If you readers could please help us out here, it would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much for visiting, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Carolyn Abiad's Current Query

Today and tomorrow I'll be doing a sort of minor query workshop for my friend Carolyn Abiad. Old followers will be familiar with the format but I've picked up a lot of new followers recently thanks to my girl Shannon (hi guys), so I should probably explain.

Before I go on let's all make sure to go find Carolyn. Check her profile, but more importantly just be sure you visit her blog and become a follower.

So anyway. Today Carolyn is going to introduce herself and share her query with us. She knows it may need a little work, that's why she's here, but today isn't for critiquing her query, so please save your thoughts for tomorrow. Tomorrow I will post the feedback I have for Carolyn, and then ask you all to chime in as well.

For now I'll let Carolyn take it away:

The Broker/Realtor description of myself is: Multi-lingual Ex-Expat, Transplant, and Trailing Spouse. My husband is a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Any one of these labels comes with corresponding issues, but together...well, my writing is cathartic. :)

I've been fascinated by KizKalesi for a long time. Many years and three different starts later, I found Sybil's voice while researching the girl who might have inspired the fairy tale. And then things took on a life of their own and the castle became a metaphor.

The name of my blog "Serendipity" comes from the Persian Tale of The Three Princes of Serendip. The story is representative of the way ideas seem to link together for me and ultimately relate to my writing. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, my "propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated."


And here is her query:

Dear,

I’m seeking representation for Burnt Amber, a YA fantasy complete at 75,000 words, inspired by the tragic fairy tale of Byzantine landmark, KizKalesi. The older voice and bittersweet ending will appeal to Kristin Cashore fans, and my experience living in Turkey helped me enrich the story with authentic details. (Insert reason specific agent will appreciate BA.)

Sybil isn’t a fan of “Once Upon a Time” and she’s certainly not interested in a Prince Charming, a Sultan, or an entitled Istanbulite who thinks his sappy guitar ballad will melt her American heart. She’s perfectly capable on her own, when the sun is up, but at night a Crusader haunts her dreams and leaves her seeking answers her adoptive parents can’t provide.

With two weeks left in her semester abroad, Sybil meets a fortuneteller with a unique tattoo similar to one she’s had for as long as she can remember. The connection might explain her premonitions and links her to enigmatic gypsies who channel the djinn. Her psychic awareness skyrockets when she bumps into Haydon, a familiar stranger who would look really irresistible in chainmail. She discovers that he shares her clairvoyance, but he also triggers a fiery energy she has trouble controlling -- the same djinn energy the gypsy warned her to keep secret at all cost. Aggressive amber orbs and visions plague her when she tries to forget him, so she’s tempted to try a short fling regardless of the consequences…until she connects a fanatical priest with the Maltese cross from her nightmare and everything suddenly makes sense.

Sybil learns that her biological mother risked everything to help her escape the chauvinistic clutches of the djinn world, knights and all. So she isn’t happy to be thrown back into it and discover that she’s not only been married to Haydon since she was five years old, but she’s the lost Queen of Cilicia. She just wants to get back to her old, predictable life. Instead she’s sucked into a power struggle with her djinn father’s rival and faced with a choice: bigamy with a chance at regaining her humanity…or a future cut off from both worlds forever.

More djinn lore along with Turkish customs and places described in the book can be found on my blog at www.carolynsnowabiad.com. Recently, the blog site of Turkish national newspaper Milliyet featured a post recognizing my positive portrayal of the advancement of women’s rights in my piece about former Turkish Prime Minister, Tansu Çiller.

Thank you for your consideration of my work,

Carolyn Snow Abiad

So that's it for today. Please say hello to Carolyn in the comments, and tomorrow we'll see if we can't polish Carolyn's query until it's as awesome as her story.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Medley of Topics

Okay. So today I have a few things to announce. Or mention, whatever.

First of all I completely forgot to mention my good friend Shannon Messenger's contest yesterday. She's been doing a series on queries, and yesterday she listed several excellent resources for getting help with yours. There is also a contest in which two lucky winners can earn a tandem query critique from Shannon and myself. So if you need help with your qeury, go visit that link above, follow Shannon's blog, and leave a comment before Friday night turns into Saturday morning.

Second, I'm still kind of feeling a little hung over from Alex's music blogfest. It was such an awesome experience. I found so many new blogs, got to know the bloggers I already knew better, and even had a few new people visit my blog. I do feel remiss for one thing though: not mentioning one of my favorite bands in my own post. I can't believe I forgot about The Pixies. Frank Black? Kim Deal?

The Pixies had a unique mix of hard rock, almost punk, and melodic, poetic vocals. Kurt Cobain is known for crediting them as one of his biggest influences, and we all know what he did. Now I know Frank Black is the front man, the mastermind, the one who wrote almost all their songs, but I can't help but love the Kim Deal tracks the best. The ones where she sings, and co-wrote the lyrics and the music. I'll just share two of my favorites here quickly:





They have a lot of other good songs. Wave of Mutilation is a great one. Look them up if you're interested. They're pretty old. MTV still played music videos when they came out.

Third, the winner of yesterday's copy of Michelle's Homework Helpers book is Shari! I don't have your email address, but I will visit your blog to let you know. You will need to send me your mailing address and let me know which retailer you would prefer I use. If you don't claim your prize by Friday, it will go to Lenny Lee*!

I guess that's it for today. Tomorrow and Friday I'm going to be sharing and then breaking down Carolyn Abiad's query. She has an amazingly unique story, so you should definitely come back to take a look at those posts. In the meantime you should visit and follow Carolyn's blog, Serendipity.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michelle McClean's Blog Tour

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Michelle McLean's new book: Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers. Before I let her take it away I just want to say thank you. Michelle was one of the first authors I "met" after I started blogging, and she has been very helpful and supportive ever since, so thanks Michelle!

My daughter is not only a high school student, but also an aspiring writer, so I asked Michelle to post about how her book could help writers of all ages, and levels of experience.

I'll have some exciting news after her post.

Take it away Michelle:

While Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers is geared mostly for junior high, high school, and early college students who need help on writing assignments, there are a number of features included in the book that will help any writer. Especially a beginning writer just learning the ropes.

Time Management

Managing time well is something every writer needs to master. Most writers will have a “day job”, along with family, friends, and other hobbies and “real life” activities. With so much going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. One of the key tips I stress in my book is to break projects down into small, manageable pieces, and just take them one at a time. This makes a large project (whether it be an essay, a term paper, edits on a novel, or writing the book itself) a little less overwhelming.

Proofreading

Proofreading and editing are activities that any writer is going to need to do. Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers includes a chapter on this topic, discussing why it is necessary to proofread, giving fun examples of common mistakes, and illustrating the different types of mistakes you should be looking for.

Researching

If you are a student writing a paper, it’s a given you’ll have to do some research. But somewhere down the line, every writer is going to have to research something. Depending on your genre, you may be doing a lot of research (if you are writing a historical, for instance), or you may just need a few specific details, like the title of a popular song or specific features of some electronic device. Either way, if you want to be a writer, there is going to be some form of research somewhere in your future. Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers includes a chapter on researching tips, discussing several ways you can research without ever leaving your home.

Organization

No matter what project you are working on, it needs to flow in a logical and organized manner. Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers illustrates techniques for organizing and writing essays and papers, but these processes can be applied to any project you are working on.

No matter if you are a student in need of some essay writing help, a teacher, parent, or homeschooling parent looking for a guidebook for your kids, or a writer looking for a few tips, Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers is a handy tool to have around :)

Before I get to my announcement let me show you where to find Michelle:

The Operation Awesome Blog: http://opersationawesome6.blogspot.com

And where you can find Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers:


Now, here is some exciting news: before you go off to buy your copy, stick around. Get as many people to come and comment here as you can. Every person who comments after and including the 50th comment will get one entry into a randomizer.org contest to win a copy of the book. Feel free to comment as often as you want to bring it up to 50, but you're only getting one entry per person after that.

I'll be paying for this book, in order to support Michelle so that she can keep her promotional materials, so I will contact the winner and let them select a retailer of their choice.

P.S. My buddy Shaun David Hutchinson, author of The Deathday Letter, will be featuring Michelle on his blog today as well. Please stop by over there and say hello. He's really cool and deserves the traffic.

P.P.S. L. Diane Wolf is featuring Michelle as well today. Make sure to visit her blog too!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Countdown - Music Blogfest!

When I first saw that Alex was holding this blog fest I told him that I couldn't take part. I didn't want to weird out any of my readers with my strange taste in music. But, he talked me into it, so here is my entry into the Top Ten Songs Music Blogfest. These aren't necessarily my favorite ten songs of all time, but they are the first ten that came into my head.

Please make sure to visit Alex's blog, to see the list of all other entrants, so that you can visit them as well.

These are in no particular order:

The Pharcyde - Runnin

Phish - If I Could

The Squeeze - Goodbye Girl

Bob Marley and the Wailers - One Drop

Tribe of Issachar - Junglist

Smith and Wesson - Sound Bwoy Burriel Remix

Lupe Fiasco - The Instrumental

Sublime - Scarlet Begonias

No Doubt - Runnin

Krinjah - Angel


I tried to put some descriptions in with the songs, but the videos got in the way. So I'll just give them each a little bit of a breakdown here:

The Pharcyde - Runnin: To me this is a hip-hop song about growing up and becoming a man. I love The Pharcyde because they rhymed about stuff like this, instead of how many guns they had, or how many drugs they sold, or how many bitches they pimped. Remember that other song by them? "She Keeps Passin me By?" These are both young adult songs.

Phish - If I Could: I don't even know exactly what this song is about, but the music is so beautiful. When that female vocal drops I just float away . . .

The Squeeze - Goodbye Girl: This one takes me back to my youth. I think I was like eleven or twelve when I got my first stereo. I owned two cassette tapes, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Legend, and The Squeeze, The Singles, 45s and Under.

Bob Marley and The Wailers - One Drop: This song isn't from that album, Legend, but it's still my favorite Bob Marley song. A lot of people think of Bob Marley and they think of Marijuana, and sure, he did sing about that a lot, certainly smoked a lot of it too, but Bob Marley also did a lot in the world to spread peace and to end racism.

Tribe of Issachar - Junglist: This is Jungle Music. Most people are going to find it disturbing or at least annoying to listen to. I get that. I'm okay with it. But, when I was in my early twenties this was all I listened to. I do love the chorus of this song. To me it's about being yourself, and standing up for others who do the same.

Smith and Wesson - Sound Bwoy Burriel: This one's kind of funny. This hip-hip duo got sued by the gun manufacturer and had to change their name to the Cocoa Brovaz, whatever that means. This track dropped before all of that happened. This song is a great mix of hip-hop and dancehall.

Lupe Fiasco - The Instumental: This one is interesting. I discovered Lupe Fiasco on the Madden Football Video Game of all places. I've loved him ever since. This song is a poem. It's incredibly deep and is a beautiful essay on society and materialism.

Sublime - Scarlet Begonias: This is obviously a crazy remix of the Grateful Dead original. I love it. It's nuts, but it's a lot of fun. RIP Brad.

No Doubt - Runnin: I've always loved No Doubt, and not just because Gwen Stefani is one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived. To me this song is about relationships, and about how love is hard work, and sometimes you have to go through thick and thin together before you truly get to know each other. This is our song.

Krinjah - Angel: This is more deep rollin, hard stepping, jump up Jungle Music. This is a different kind of love song. Most people won't get it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

THE DREAMS OF CROWS

Hopefully you all know how this works by now. This is the same query as yesterday, with Bryan's and my analysis added for your viewing pleasure. Bryan's thoughts are in the nice pale blue that blogger has provided with the new editor, and mine will be in dark red.

It's on:

Dear Mr. Bransford, I spelled his name right! Booyah!

Gangster.

I stumbled across some of your comments as a guest-host at Absolute Write and was impressed enough to trace my way back to your blog. I've been happily lurking there ever since. As a fellow lifelong fan of the Sacramento Kings… um, well, I'm not exactly a Kings fan, despite being an NBA addict. I do, however, miss watching Vlade drop dimes… and drop to the floor. True artistry is hard to find. Personalization! I’m not actually as caught up with personalization as some people – great writing and a great sounding story should do the trick. I’m not gonna go out cyber-stalking just to fill in something here. But if you know something good, why not use it? I checked in at Nathan’s blog every day, mostly just because I enjoyed it, so it seemed worthwhile to let him know this. So, hopefully the personalization showed a few things. One, I was one of his blog readers and was familiar with his tastes (and his submission guidelines). Two, it shared something we legitimately had in common, and not just something manufactured for the query (Nathan and I still talk hoops). Three, humour (hopefully). Four, a bit about me. I don’t like obsequious kiss-assing, so I went with something funny, but also something that was a bit of a dig. Vlade Divac was a basketball player known for flopping to draw foul calls on opponents, so I’m teasing a bit here. A risk? Maybe. But it’s me. I’m confident, and I felt Nathan was the sort of agent who would roll with something like this. For someone who is "not caught up with personalization" Bryan sure lays the smack down here.  This is a clinic in how to show that you know an agent, believe in yourself, and actually have something in common.  Excellent personalization isn't going to sell a poorly written novel, but it probably could get an agent to look past an average query if your pages are good. Along with your NBA devotion, I was also impressed by the diversity of your reading interests and by your emphasis on representing stories that truly appeal to you regardless of genre or form. Considering this, I thought you might be the right agent to represent my novel, The Dreams of Crows, a dark epic fantasy with literary undertones. Always a little tricky, trying to slap that label on. I knew Nathan’s tastes leaned more to the literary, typically, than to fantasy, so I thought this might set it apart. And it’s accurate enough, since it was a dark fantasy and I was hoping to get across my attempts at a more style (and character) conscious epic than was typical. Not sure I’d phrase it that way now, but…

I have a little anecdote about Nathan that should shed a little light on this. I once asked him (he still allows direct questions in his forums) whether he thought it would be a good idea for me to query my novel as a YA Rural Fantasy. Using that made up genre is obviously a play on words against the more well known Urban Fantasy. I was worried that some agents might get offended by my silliness. Nathan replied by saying that he thought the joke was funny, and then by pointing out that if I was the kind of person who came up which such things, would I really want to work with an agent who was too uptight to take the joke in stride?

Good point Nathan.

I'm not trying to say you shouldn't get your genre right, or as right as you can at least, but I just don't think we should all stress over it as much as we do. If you ever sell your novel it's probably going to get marketed as something different than you originally thought anyway.

And in theory I prefer starting with the story blurb, rather than an intro, but I figured if my personalization could make him laugh I’d be on good footing.

After killing his father, Japheth flees into the wilderness only to be captured by Legion soldiers. I was hoping this would be a good hook, as well as introducing character and conflict. Hopefully it begs a few questions, the sort that make you want to read the book and find answers. What’s up with his Daddy? And it’s also my dark little twist on the fantasy standard of the orphaned hero. He's given a choice: face a trial or join the Legion. The choice is not so simple, though, as a war between empires looms on the horizon. Japheth, however, has no desire to face the Strangler's Rope, and so he becomes a soldier, as his father was before him. Conflict, a bit of setting and world building, choices, personal conflict… hopefully this starts building interest and letting the reader into the world of the story. Embroiled in the politics of the Malisc Empire, Japheth is sent to Maresh, his mother's homeland, a place simmering with rebellion. Balanced between two empires, between love and betrayal, Japheth must find a safe path to travel, guided only by the Ghost King, an enigmatic figure with uncertain motives. Unclear where his loyalties lie, he is given little time to decide, for war descends on the city known as the White Garden. Amidst death Japheth finds his path in life and an answer to his question. He is a soldier, and his loyalty is to the men who stand at his side. Here we have the conflict (politics, rebellion and war) and rising action, a touch on themes like manipulation and free will, and a hint of the internal conflict and resolution (without giving away the climax). I’d probably want a few more plot specifics if I rewrote this. And, funnily enough, most of the stuff that’s touched on is actually part of the sequel/second book now. Hopefully a bit of the flavour of the story comes through, though. I usually try to think of the blurb as a little story itself, with a hook and conflict, rising action and climax. The query has its own dramatic arc, one that should reflect that of the novel – a wee miniature version, really. Honey, I Shrunk My Novel…

At this point I want to point out what I meant yesterday when I said that Bryan's query is a little unconventional. At first glance (especially without the analysis) it doesn't really follow the standard hook, character, conflict, choice, punchline that I tell you all about so often and try to advocate here on my blog. Part of the problem may be that the meat of Bryan's query, the story, is all one paragraph. On closer examination though, it does have a bit of each of those elements.

One thing I might want to see more of if I was to critique this query, would be more about Japheth's character in the opening. We soon learn he's old enough to become a soldier, so he's probably at least 18, but I would like to know a little more about what kind of man he is. Clearly he's killed his own father, but I get the impression that he had good reason to do it, which is actually a pretty clever way to give us some insight into his character, but I wouldn't mind something a little more overt. Is he a moral man? A clever rogue? At the end we are told that he is loyal to his fellow soldier, and that clearly indicates that he is a good person, but did he start out that way, or did his journey change him?

Actually now that I think about it, that's really not required. I mean the query certainly has me curious, and that's a very good thing. Were I the agent being addressed in the letter I would read the pages without question.

My professional publishing credits include two previous literary stories (The Windsor Review), as well as an interview and an article on writing. I have participated in many writing workshops, and hold both a BA and MA in Creative Writing, as well as a degree in Education. I currently haunt numerous writing blogs and sites while running my bookstore, Inklings Bookshop, from its cozy home in Windsor, Ontario. Just the basics here. I’d been published, what I did for a living (particularly as it had minor relevance). Though this makes me nostalgic, as the store has gone the way of the dodo.

There isn't much to be said here. If I wanted to have such an excellent writing and publishing related bio I would have had to spent a lot less time dicking around in my twenties.

I have appended the first five pages of The Dreams of Crows. I always attach a few pages, unless they specifically ask that I don’t. Smart. Upon your request, I'd be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. Hopefully this shows I have some idea of how the system works. Thank you for considering my work for representation. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Bryan Russell

I queried this novel only once, to the fabulous Nathan Bransford, so this query has only had that one test drive. Still has that new car smell! It drew a very quick request for a partial (the man is prompt, I tell you), and then an almost-as-quick request for a full. This led to edits and resubmission on my part, and then an ever-deepening series of edits as we started working together. And that is that, as the saying goes.

So in other words Bryan is batting a thousand with this query. Must be rough. I'm kidding, but in all seriousness I think this query is an excellent example of how you can stretch the rules a little, especially if your personalization and writing credits are this good, and still catch an agent's attention. I'm going to try to get Nathan to come chime in here today, but I'm guessing, based on what I already know about the quality of Bryan's writing, that he could have mailed Nathan a napkin with a scrawl reading "please read my pages" and as long as the pages were attached, the results would have been the same.

The query letter is a very important step, and we should definitely do all we can to make it the very best it can be. But in the end, an amazing query is not going to sell a bad story, and a bad query, while it probably most often will, will not always get in the way of a good story (I have evidence of this in the archives, trust me).

Thanks so much for sharing this with us Bryan, it really is a unique look into the process. You are one righteous cat, homeboy.

Readers? Questions? Thoughts? Propositions? Please share them in the comments.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bryan Russell's Query Letter

Okay guys, so for a little more Bryan Russell, today he is going to share his query that won him an offer of representation, after revision, from Nathan Bransford (who, for those who noticed, stopped by my blog yesterday ... yes, I am that awesome).

I want to get right to it because Bryan and I (mostly Bryan) will be analyzing this query for you all tomorrow. You will see that it is a little unconventional, but then so is Bryan, and so is his novel.


Dear Mr. Bransford,

I stumbled across some of your comments as a guest-host at Absolute Write and was impressed enough to trace my way back to your blog. I've been happily lurking there ever since. As a fellow lifelong fan of the Sacramento Kings… um, well, I'm not exactly a Kings fan, despite being an NBA addict. I do, however, miss watching Vlade drop dimes… and drop to the floor. True artistry is hard to find. Along with your NBA devotion, I was also impressed by the diversity of your reading interests and by your emphasis on representing stories that truly appeal to you regardless of genre or form. Considering this, I thought you might be the right agent to represent my novel, The Dreams of Crows, a dark epic fantasy with literary undertones.

After killing his father, Japheth flees into the wilderness only to be captured by Legion soldiers. He's given a choice: face a trial or join the Legion. The choice is not so simple, though, as a war between empires looms on the horizon. Japheth, however, has no desire to face the Strangler's Rope, and so he becomes a soldier, as his father was before him. Embroiled in the politics of the Malisc Empire, Japheth is sent to Maresh, his mother's homeland, a place simmering with rebellion. Balanced between two empires, between love and betrayal, Japheth must find a safe path to travel, guided only by the Ghost King, an enigmatic figure with uncertain motives. Unclear where his loyalties lie, he is given little time to decide, for war descends on the city known as the White Garden. Amidst death Japheth finds his path in life and an answer to his question. He is a soldier, and his loyalty is to the men who stand at his side.

My professional publishing credits include two previous literary stories (The Windsor Review), as well as an interview and an article on writing. I have participated in many writing workshops, and hold both a BA and MA in Creative Writing, as well as a degree in Education. I currently haunt numerous writing blogs and sites while running my bookstore, Inklings Bookshop, from its cozy home in Windsor, Ontario.

I have appended the first five pages of The Dreams of Crows. Upon your request, I'd be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. Thank you for considering my work for representation. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Bryan Russell

So that's it. That's the query. I will share more thoughts tomorrow, but for now I will just point out that this is a clinic in how to personalize a query letter.

Feel free to share your thoughts or ask Bryan questions, but please save any of your own analysis or feedback for tomorrow.

Thanks!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bryan Russell Interview

Today I'm interviewing Bryan Russell. Before I get down to it I want to say a few things about Bryan. I know that you all give me a lot of credit for being all about helping other writers, and I do try, and I appreciate your thanks and commendations, but I could blog for decades and never hold a candle to what Bryan does for the community.

Bryan has been the Chief Moderator of Nathan Bransford's forums since long before I met him. That would be achievement enough, but if you take the time to look at what he does there, you would see that this man, while yes, also one of the most talented writers in the world, is even more so one of the most giving. He gives advice free and easy, but more so he gives it with kindness and genuine compassion. This is a rare quality in a man with his level of skill and knowledge, and I urge you, STRONGLY, to get to know him better (as long as you don't take time away from my own milking him for advice and knowledge).

He also hosts one of the coolest blog features I have ever come across. The World in Miniature is a series of flash fiction stories, many by Bryan, a few by myself, and several by other featured guest authors. He'll take submissions from anyone, as long as you're willing to listen to a little editorial suggestion, if necessary (which trust me, is worth it's weight in gold).

Anyway, that's probably enough of kissing Bryan's ass, but I would just like to add one more thing: Thank you for all you've done for me B.

Now on to the interview:

When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer, or rather an author?

Well, the writing thing just sort of happened. Once I started reading a lot as a kid, I just started writing, too, utterly fascinated by stories. But I don’t think I really thought seriously about authorship until I was in grade seven or eight. Then it really started striking me how much I loved this writing thing, and also that people actually did this in the adult world – they made a living writing stories.

So this understanding of possibility mixed with a couple of my fledgling efforts in this period helped foster that goal. Having fellow students respond to my writing was really important, too – a sense of the possibility of what I could do with words. I wrote a Halloween story in which an evil spirit murdered all my classmates. And, for whatever reason, they all loved it. There was utter excitement to see what would happen next, who in the class would be knocked off. I mean, luckily I was a likeable and well-adjusted kid, so I got a great grade rather than a trip to the principal’s office and psychiatric counseling. Maybe it was because I killed myself most gruesomely of all…

Or maybe people simply like getting murdered. Who knew?

How long have you been writing seriously?

Well, that youthful seriousness started then, back in grades seven and eight. I started writing real stories, 30 page stories with real plots and characters and themes. But I was young, and it was still sort of haphazard, and that continued through high school. But I read a million things, and I kept writing a bit, and by the end of my time at Banting Secondary School I knew this was what I wanted. I went to University and got a BA and MA in English and Creative Writing, and obviously by that point I was taking it pretty seriously. Wrote a ton, and churned out my first novel attempt for my Masters thesis.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

Well, I’m absolutely a sentence junkie. I’m obsessed with words, with the rhythm and flow of sentences. There’s something inherently fabulous and beautiful to me about great prose. I mean, the uniqueness of it! Style and voice are like fingerprints, singular marks on the worlds they touch.

But, even deeper than that, is the obsession with story. My brain revolves around story, and there’s something intensely explorative about writing. I don’t write to share something I know with others; I write to discover something I don’t know. Writing, for me, is a curious act of exploration. I think my brain is tuned to narrative, and it’s how I come to understand and experience the world around me. It’s made understandable by story, by trying to understand the connection between people and events. My brain makes stories of everything – they sort of swim around inside my head non-stop. And writing is just a deeper and more focused attempt to understand and explore the world.

What is the most difficult part?

Well, I think it used to be revision, because I wasn’t very good at it. I mean, I could polish a sentence fine. But deep story revisions? No. And part of the problem was that my first drafts were pretty good. Lots of clean, (hopefully) interesting writing. And when something is pretty good it’s easier to leave it alone, to accept it. If you realize something is crappy, it’s easier to take the axe to it.

To self: “Oh shit, that’s terrible. Bloody delete the whole thing, moron.”

But if something’s pretty good?

To self: “Hey, that’s okay. On to the next thing…”

But pretty good is often not good enough. Sometimes you need great. And to get to great you have to push past “pretty good”. And that means understanding how to revise. That means challenging yourself, pushing yourself. Don’t stop at the easy spot. You gotta get to the summit. And make it down alive.

Now, I’ve gotten better at revision, and so maybe it’s now… story? The intricacies and subtleties of it, how it’s all tied together and flows along with the rising and falling of tension. It’s funny, because story is the thing we usually think we master first. We have these cool ideas, these stories in our head. Awesome! But we realize our craft isn’t there yet, and so we go about learning all sorts of things. And then we finish and our skills are dope. But we realize that this whole idea of story is trickier than we once thought, and far more complex.

Anyone who uses the word dope to mean cool and has a Master's degree in creative writing is pretty cool in my book.

Other than your current fantasy novel have you ever written any novel length works in any other genre?

Four, actually. The first was a literary novel. It had some great writing, and I like the characters and ideas and themes of it… but it was really more like a skeleton of a novel than a novel itself. I’ve thought about rewriting it at some point, using those bones as the basis for a new book.

The second was also literary, but a sort of surrealist war novel set in the near future. What would you call that? I don’t know. I still love this book, and once had a lit agent for it (she passed away from cancer), but it needs to be rewritten/revised. Which I’ll do, at some point.

The third was a literary novel as well. Pretty straight literary. But it sucked. Okay, there were a couple good points. It should, really, have been a longish short story rather than a novel. Oops. It’s trunked. And trunked to stay.

The fourth is a literary/crime novel about a woman who is kidnapped and trapped in a makeshift cell. I love this one, also. It’s more recent, and I’m still revising, but my focus is on my fantasy novels first and foremost. My goal is to be a fantasy novelist, so I want to treat that ambition in the most professional way possible. It comes first. These other books are on a catch-as-catch-can schedule

What is your favorite genre to read?

Well, I’m a bit of an omnivore, really. I read just about everything, as I have eclectic tastes. I read more literary than anything, but I also read a lot of fantasy, crime, memoir and history. Plus all sorts of odds and ends, from science to religion. I read a lot about virology. Don’t ask me why.

Did you ever play Dungeons and Dragons, the real pen and paper tabletop game?

Indeed I did. I had a vast collection of multi-sided dice. My d30 was like a best friend. It practically glowed.

I must admit I don't remember ever seeing a d30. d20, sure, d100 even, but never a d30, and I should point out, even though I look up to Bryan a lot, and consider him a bit of a mentor, I'm actually about a year or so older than him, so it's not like a difference in histories. Maybe d30 was a Canadian thing.

So I looked it up. Bryan isn't full of shit. See the beautiful, multi-colored glowing proof to the right over there. See it and marvel in the wonder that is a 30 sided die. Ahem, anyway . . .

What about computer or video games based on Dungeons and Dragons?

I’ve never been a big gaming sort of guy. We had a Commodore 64 growing up, and so I played some Gyruss and Aztec Challenge and Summer Olympics and Joust. Ah, the Commodore… I think electronic dayplanners have more power and memory now. And I played my best friend’s Nintendo some, too. Double Dragon. Gotta love some Double Dragon.

Yes, yes you do.

But that’s about it. No D&D video games. I suppose something like Zelda would be the closest.

If you answered no to those previous two questions, what first made you think of writing Fantasy? A book? A film? If you answered yes to either, did they play a part in your decision to write fantasy?

I don’t think D&D led to my writing at all. More, I think it was a writing outlet in and of itself, satisfying many of the same urges as writing a story. I mean, that’s what we were doing, really. I think my best friend and I both liked creating the interesting characters and planning adventures more than actually role-playing them.

I think my desire to write came out of reading. It started with The Hobbit in grade three, followed by Lord of the Rings and then a million other things. I devoured books. The desire to create my own stories came out of the love of the stories I read and an active imagination. Plus, I was a good student and always had extra time in class. Reading and writing were safe activities to keep me out of trouble (mostly successful… but not completely).

If you had to meet one of your characters in a dark alley who would you last want to meet, and why?

The Orchard Keeper, the antagonist from my literary crime novel. For more reasons than I could count.

And which character would you want there with you for protection?

The Ghost King, a mysterious figure from my current fantasy novel.

This is so cool, because based on the names of those two characters, I would initially assume the opposite. Very interesting.

Do you stick to any kind of concrete writing schedule? If so how many hours a day do you write?

Well, I try to write regularly, but what “regularly” means will vary depending on circumstance. Work, family, etc. Life changes, and I allow myself the freedom to change my writing schedule accordingly. The key is to do what you can. For part of this last year I was working and commuting between 80 and 100 hours a week. I had one month with only a single day off. And I have a wife and three small children at home. So obviously trying to write a ton of pages was unreasonable. Work and family had to come first. I did a bit here and there. Not much, but that was all that was available. I believe in goals and schedules, but I’m also very practical. A goal that harms you isn’t a good goal. As long as I’m not simply making excuses (and this is key), I give myself the freedom to be flexible.

Do you prefer writing novels or short stories and flash fiction?

Novels, definitely. Most of my ideas are long ideas, suited to the novel. It’s what I like most to read, and what I like most to write. I love that engagement, that submersion into a story. I certainly appreciate short stories and flash (which I write regularly for my blog), but my true love is certainly novels.

Do you outline, or is the plot all in your head? If you do outline how far you deviate from it?

I do outline, though the looseness varies. I’m never a particularly tight outliner. I have a rough plot in mind, though lots of elements will simply be discovered in the draft process. I tend to have a timeline of scenes, but also blank places that will be filled once I get there. I give lots of room for deviation. First drafts usually stay roughly on the track of the outline. Revisions, however, can take the story far afield. My current novel has changed drastically from its original incarnation.

How many novels have you written?

Seven, all told. My first novel was a fantasy that was almost as long as yours, which I wrote for my Masters thesis. And then I have the four Lit novels I mentioned earlier, and the two books of my current fantasy undertaking.

What is your biggest strength as a writer? Your biggest weakness?

Always hard to evaluate yourself! I try to convince myself I’m becoming a well rounded writer. I’m confident in my writing on a sentence level, in terms of prose style. I’m confident in dialogue. I’m confident in my imagination. And I’m always trying to work on story, on crafting something better. Pacing, conflict, tension. What will make a story better? How do we put all the great parts together and make it work?

I can't vouch for Bryan's novels, but if you go read his flash fiction and short stories you will find a master of diction, rhythm, cadence, and style. He clearly puts a lot of thought into his wrangling of language, and it will leave you awed.

Who is the best author you have only discovered in the last year?

Ryszard Kapuscinski. He’s a Polish journalist who traveled the world and wrote about what he saw, often putting himself in the middle of wars and hotspots and revolutions. A brilliant observer, and an elegant and incisive writer. His work, simply put, is great literature. I wish there were more such writers following in his steps.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A plug! Over at the Alchemy of Writing I publish flash fiction every week, and I’m always looking for great new submissions. Any kind of story. Under 500 words. The world in miniature…

The link is www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

Okay, I know I already promoted it a few times, but I will take one last opportunity to strongly urge you to go follow this blog. You will NOT regret it.

Fun Random Questions for The End (I stole this interview idea from Jen at Unedited, though I made my own questions up). Which would you rather be?

A Jedi or a Ninja? A Ninja. With a lightsaber.

That's actually hilarious. I was asked a similar question once, I think it was whether I would prefer a lightsaber or a Katana, I replied that I wanted a curved lightsaber. You can read more about it here.

A Tolkien Elf or a Martin Maester? Elf. I like immortality. Think of all the stories I could write just hanging out at Elrond’s house?

Drinking a Labatt’s or a Molson’s? Labatt’s, though I can’t drink either of them anymore. More’s the pity.

Damn. These questions were supposed to be funny. Sorry Bryan.

A rich and famous author or a poor but critically acclaimed one? Hmmm. I don’t need to be famous, but an end to my flirtations with poverty would be nice. Critical regard is also nice, but if I write the stories I want to the best of my ability, and I’m happy with them… well, that’s all the critical regard I really need. Though if someone wanted to give me a Nobel I’d take it.

So wealthy but obscure then? Nice, I could deal with that.

Watching Hockey, Football, or Futbol? Futbol, most certainly. I’m odd. A Canadian sports lover who doesn’t like Hockey all that much. But I’m sort of addicted to futbol and basketball. I like football a lot, too. But my wife doesn’t. This, um, curtails my viewing.

I forgot about Basketball. You'll learn more about the trinity that is Basketball, Bryan Russell and Nathan Bransford tomorrow, when Bryan shares his query with us.

Running or Hiking? Running, but I’m all up for hiking, too. Give me a mountain. Okay, a small hill.

Reading or writing? Two sides of the same coin. Flip and we’ll see.

Thank you so much for answering my questions Bryan, it's really been a pleasure knowing you this last year now, and having you visit my blog.

Readers please say hello, and let Bryan know in the comments if you have any questions!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Interviewed by J.M. Leotti

Morning readers. As promised the interview of me by Janîce Leotti (that's pronounced like Janeese) is up on her blog. Before you go visit I just want to say that Janîce is an amazing writer and relatively new blogger who I only discovered recently.

It was her short story, flash fiction really, The Prop, which I first saw, where else? On The Alchemy of Writing. Anyway it was this wonderful little bit of creative writing that introduced me with to her with a bang. I would suggest you go read the story, it's great.

Once you're done, you can go read the interview. You can find it here. Don't forget to comment and then follow her blog when you're done.

Thanks!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Disappointment

The title of this post has nothing to do with writing, thank god. I'm just disappointed by a terrible weekend of NFL football. Only one of the four teams I was pulling for actually won their game. And it's especially sad that I was only pulling for the New York Jets because I hate the Patriots.

Oh well, moving on before I make any enemies. I've got some great things coming up this week. I'm going to be interviewing Bryan Russell, who is the closest thing I have to a mentor in my so called writing career, and he is going to be sharing and analyzing his query as well this week.

Then, at some point, as soon as I can respond to her questions, I will be interviewed by JM Leotti, over at her blog, Restless Spirit. I intend to interview and promote her as well, over here, but I don't think I'm going to be able to fit that post in this week.

Anyway, I'm off to do some writing before I have to get to work. Scroll down for an awesome drawing of me by Vic if you haven't already seen the post from this weekend.

P.S. I notice I've gained several new followers over the weekend. Welcome! I will try to make it to all of your blogs as soon as I can.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dezmond's Party!

Today is Dezmond's Party! I'm coming all dressed up, thanks to Aspiring_X. Thanks Vic! You rock.


Man, I wish my hair actually looked that nice! Thankfully at least my beard actually is that awesome.

Friday, January 14, 2011

CRACKED

Today we're getting back to the bread and butter of what makes the QQQE great: Queries. And not just talking about queries in a vague, nebulous kind of way, but showing you actual real world examples of queries that worked! Huzzah.

Today's guest blogger is K.M. Walton. She will be sharing and analyzing the query that landed her an agent for her debut novel CRACKED. Before you read on, please stop by her blog and become a follower.

If you haven't seen the other entries in this series, or simply don't remember them, this is how it works. Kate's query will be in normal text. Her analysis of why it worked, and why she did things a certain way, will be in blue text. My own thoughts, or stupid jokes at my own expense, will be in red.

If you are interested in reading the other entries, a new page has been added to the top of the blog. Click on Successful Queries.

Take it away Kate!


First, thank you to Matthew for hosting my query. And before we dive in, I’d like to say that Matthew is one of those rare human beings that continuously give and truly expect nothing in return. Each of his posts shows this to be true…a genuine compliment, a bit of encouragement, a kind word – all just good stuff.

Kudos to you, Matthew and I wish you well on your writing journey.


Thank you Kate, you're too kind!

Now, onto my query that worked (or shall I say ‘finally freaking worked’)…

This query letter was like my 900th draft. I had posted this sucker on Absolute Write…Evil Editor…and put it through the “Elana Johnson treatment” – otherwise known as – From the Query to the Call (best book on query writing out there). My point is this, get serious feedback on your query letter – put it out there in reputable places and take the punches to the chin – and finally, take advice from sound experts (of which I am not) or people who have had success with their query – don’t take everything you read to heart. At the end of the day, it’s your query letter. You have to love it and feel confident that it captures your book in a captivating and professional manner.


This is great advice. I think the number one most important thing I can say about trying to perfect your query is: don't do it alone. Call on your friends, call on willing strangers, call on anyone who can give you a second pair of eyes. I for one was way too close to my project for way too long. It wan't until I got advice and help from others that my query even really began to take shape.

Dear Ms. LaPolla:

I am an active member of #YALitChat and read today that you are now an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. Congratulations on your new job! Now on to my query…

A bit of personalization to start off with is always good, but it has to be 100% true/genuine, otherwise the agent’s first impression of you is that of a lying doofus. And that’s not good.

Very true. Some agents will tell you to get right to the story, and leave the personalization for the end. There is plenty of advice out there arguing for either side. Just try to keep in mind that each agent is a person, and has a personal preference for how they like to see query letters. Try to find out what that is if possible.

CRACKED is a contemporary young adult novel, complete at 47,200 words.

Sixteen year old Victor knows he’s weak. He’s got the most self-absorbed parents alive. His life sucks. Then his dog dies.

Sixteen year old Bull knows he’s angry. He’s sick of taking the drunken beatings from his grandfather. His life sucks too. And he likes to take out his anger on Victor.

The above two descriptions are what caused me the most trouble while writing this query. My first draft of the query had them at looooong paragraphs and sort of written in each character’s voice. Every critique I got said they just weren’t working. And not until this one critiquer said, “Write it in 3rd person – still in their voice, but about them” did I see how to tighten up and severely shorten.

Length of the query letter is absolutely crucial – your query is competing with hundreds of other query letters every single day – so if you don’t nab the agent with some solid writing in the first 1 to 3 sentences – you risk the dreaded…skip. And then form rejection. Ick. I have a ton, trust me.


This is interesting. I think this may be the first query I've featured with two main characters. Kate does an excellent job of letting us get to know them both, as briefly as possible, with just enough backstory to know where they come from. I always talk about the three C's when I talk about querying: Character, Conflict, and Choice. Kate gets plenty of character across, along with her hook, all in two short paragraphs that leave us very interested to find out more.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
aaaaaaaaaaa. Both boys end up in the psych ward in the same room.

Now, even though I had to keep part of the above paragraph super secret (my editor advised me to keep the meat of the book under wraps) I want you to know this – that was the actual length of the real paragraph, and even more importantly, this paragraph was basically the entire book…in ONE paragraph. I can not tell you how I struggled when deciding what to reference. Asking myself: What scenes are crucial? What really matters? How the heck am I going to tell my whole book in one flipping paragraph???

You know what I did? I spent some time scrolling through the novel – re-visiting crucial moments and jotting them down. Then I went to task and crafted this paragraph (and honestly, my first draft had two paragraphs – yes, my first query for this novel was WAY too long).


This is tough for the rest of us to analyze, of course, but Kate makes an excellent point here. The query letter is kind of like a key. It's just an annoying little formality that's lets you unlock the door which is getting the agent to read your MS, or at least your pages.

It is really important, and it can be a very difficult part of the process for some, but we often make it harder than it needs to be. My own query, even though it won an award on WriteOnCon, is really still too long. At 309 words, without the personalization and housekeeping stuff like word count and genre, that's just too much.


Much to their disgust they spend the next five days together, and it gets ugly before it gets better.

Buried underneath their weakness and bravado are two sixteen-year-old boys. If they don’t realize how broken the other is and how similar their pain is, they may not survive.

The parts above are where you tell the agent what is at stake for the main character. What will happen if _______ does/doesn’t happen? A super important part of your query letter and my early drafts didn’t have it.

Excellent! We're clearly missing the main conflict in that secret paragraph, but this is a very concise summary of the choice they have to make, which essentially boils down to what are the stakes, and why should I care?

Fans of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN and GOING BOVINE with their heartbreaking hilarity will enjoy a similar style in CRACKED. This manuscript recently won a national writing contest organized by Sourcebooks Inc. and judged by Dan Ehrenhaft.

I’d like to make a big distinction here – comparing your manuscript to published books is not only a very good idea, it also shows the agent that you are a reader and aware of the market in which you’d like to be published – and note…the wording you use in your comparison paragraph is absolutely crucial.

GOOD (and Elana Johnson approved) = Fans of _______________ and ______________ will enjoy a similar style in (your manuscript’s title).

BAD = My book is exactly like Harry Potter and The Lighting Thief and will outsell both of them combined. I just need someone to believe in it.


Personally I struggle with this, because I don't know of any books that are like mine, even if only in style, but it's probably just because I'm not well read enough. Keep in mind that you don't HAVE to compare your story to anything, but if you do, and you do it well, especially if you compare it to novels the agent enjoyed; it can make a big difference. Get advice on this part, because it's a fine line between sounding brilliant and looking pretentious. Kate's example is obviously the former.

I’m a member of SCBWI and have a long and lively background teaching middle school language arts.

According to your online submission guidelines, please find the first chapter and full synopsis below. Thank you for your time and consideration.

It is always, always, always a good idea to visit the agency’s website before your hit send on your query. Publishing changes daily and sometimes submission guidelines change, sometimes agents go on query hiatus and sometimes they even switch agencies or careers altogether. The worst thing is having your query sit somewhere where no one is reading it. It has to be read to get the requests!!

And this is just my personal opinion here, but in the age of email queries, I always put the first five pages of my manuscript below my email – even if their submission guidelines didn’t call for it. I figured if they liked my premise then, BAM, there would be a taste of the book. I know some out there are purists and would argue that I broke the rules. To that I say, “Whatever.” It’s not like you’re calling the agent Mr. when she is actually a Ms. (yeah did that) or spelling their name wrong (yeah did that) or pleading your book’s case after receiving a rejection (yeah did that). All bad, bad, bad writer behavior. Having the first 5 pages below my query = convenient. And who doesn’t appreciate convenience?


Oh man. I am the master of bad writer behavior, or at least I used to be. I completely agree about the first five pages. Unless an agent's guidelines explicitly say not to include pages in the body of the email, there is no reason not to.

~ Kate Walton
blog: http://skateorbate.blogspot.com
"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect."
~ Anaïs Nin

Well, that’s it. This query landed me my agent on August 2, 2010, the brilliant Sarah LaPolla from Curtis Brown Ltd. and she sold this book to Simon Pulse ~ Simon & Schuster! It comes out Spring 2012. I’m in the line edit phase with my editor, the equally brilliant, Annette Pollert, and it is wonderfully hard work – emphasis on the wonderful.

At the risk of sounding hokey or corny - Never give up your dream of being published. Ever. It took me 2.4 years to land my agent, and I wanted to give up a handful of times, but I didn’t. Dig your heels in, roll up your sleeves and either get started or keep going.

Thanks again to Matthew!


You're very welcome Kate! Thank YOU so much for sharing all of this with us. Best of luck with your edits, and I can't wait to see your novel on the shelves.

Visit me:
Email: kmwalton1@verizon.net
Twitter: www.twitter.com/kmwalton1
The Apocalypsies: http://apocalypsies.blogspot.com/2010/10/km-walton-everythings-not-lost.html
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/kmwalton

So that's it. Readers, please feel free to thank Kate in the comments, and be sure to let us both know if you have any questions!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pacing

As you probably know if you've read my blog even once this whole week Atlanta has been in the grips of a winter weather crisis since Sunday night. Things are nearly back to normal today, but there is still plenty of ice on the road. It only lasts this long because unlike any northern city I have ever lived in Atlanta does not have the infrastructure to handle winter weather, such as snowplows and salt trucks.

Anyway before I go on bitching about the weather any longer it got me to thinking about writing. Even though I spent 16 hours at work on Monday, and another 12 on Tuesday, this whole thing kind of felt like a lull in my normal, boring, over-scheduled life. The girls have had school off all week. Kelly's Longhorn Steakhouse where she works has mostly been closed. So I've been the only one really leaving the house at all, even our poor puppy Nesta has reverted to peeing in the kitchen from time to time because her back yard kennel is full of snow and ice.

Point is I wanted to try to relate this all to writing. Anyone who has read the Hunger Games knows that pacing can be so good as not allow you to put a book down. Anyone who has read the Lord of the Rings (and before you flame me I promise I am the biggest Tolkien nerd in my town, hell probably in my state) knows that between long awaited parties and a night spent at the lodge of Tom Bombadil and River's Daughter, pacing can really drag a story to a point where ... well I'm not exactly sure how to describe what happens in LOTR, because I still love those parts, but I imagine if Tolkien was not the first author I ever read as a child things would be different. When I read a book nowadays that takes hundreds of pages to get going, I get bored.

I know I have this problem in my WIP. The original draft was over 300,000 words long. Actually it was longer than that, but 300k is plenty long to make my point. I had entire chapters of backstory flashbacks, and the description setting up nearly every scene went on sometimes for pages. Now, I know I'm a decent writer, in fact I'm a better writer than I am a storyteller, so it took me a long time to figure out that even though a passage may be "good writing" it still needs to go. Maybe after we're published we can get away with Tolkienesque description, but lets get that debut novel to the shelves first.

I've since begun to re-write my WIP into a first person perspective. This has done wonders for the word count, making much of the description unnecessary, but I'm pretty sure I still have issues with pacing. I don't mind if my tale has some slow parts, not every book can yank a reader through at breakneck pace like Suzanne Collins' masterpiece, but I just want to make sure that it doesn't get so slow, for so long, that the reader decides to put it down.

Thank god my crit group kicks ass and should be able to help me fix this where needed.

Have you ever had issues with pacing in your novel? Do you think about it when you outline? Or try to focus on it while you write the first draft? Or, like me, do you have to concentrate on fixing it during revision?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ehhh ....

What to blog about today?

I've actually just arrived at work, quite later than normal, because of the lovely winter storm whose remnants are still harassing Atlanta.

I need to work on the re-write of my novel. So I'm not really going to blog today.

I do have a great post coming up on Friday though. K.M. Walton is going to share the query that landed her an agent. It's going to take us all back to the good old days of the QQQE. When everything was wonderful and I actually wrote posts worth reading - or, eh, at least I hope it will.

For now you should just go visit her blog, here. She also has some really fun, interesting guest posts and interviews that I've seen. You can find them here, here, and here.

Have a great day readers!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's 11:11, Make a Wish! I Wish for ATU.



Across the Universe is Beth Revis' debut novel. I'm sure most of you are already aware of it, but if you're not, you should definitely look into it. I managed to my curious little fingers on the first chapter a few months ago, and I have to say that it is one of the most powerful opening scenes that I have ever read. As writers we all know how difficult it can be to get that first chapter just right, and Beth has perfected hers like none other.

Needless to say I have been anticipating this novel ever since. Today is the official release date, and although the winter storm here in Atlanta has prevented me from picking up my copy just yet, I intend to get a hold of it very soon.

If you're interested, I would highly recommend reading the first chapter, here, but if you're here at the right time (that being 1/11/2011, after 11:11 AM) then io9 is offering up an amazing 111 page excerpt of the novel. You can find that here if you're on time.

When it comes to books, and blogging, and friendships, Beth and I are not as close as some of the other friends I've made, but we are buds, and she is super nice, very friendly, and incredibly helpful. Probably my favorite thing about Beth is that even though she is an ultra-famous novelist, every time I email her to ask her to lend a hand in one of my query critique workshops, she always makes the time. So I just want to say to Beth, if you find time to make it by: you rule!

Here is she is with an exclusive launch video, talking about how she came to write Across the Universe:



Now, I know this post may look like pandering to some, but I'm not getting anything out of it, I just want to promote this amazing story, which just so happens to be told by someone I think is pretty awesome (yes I'm talking about Beth here, but really this could apply to the narrator, Amy, as well). Besides, you should know me well enough to know that I do not bow to the establishment, no matter how often they threaten to have me placed into cryo-stasis.

In order to share all of this exclusive content with you, I did have to agree to share a few other pieces of information. You're not obligated in any way to visit all of these, but most of them are certainly worth a look, and if you don't know Beth or follow her blog, I would suggest you remedy that, STAT.

Beth's blog: Writing it Out.
Beth's official website: bethrevis.com.
Follow Beth on twitter: @bethrevis.

There is supposed to be an amazing feature coming soon on the ATU website, in which you can explore the ship that is featured heavily in the novel, the Godspeed. I badly wanted to look into this and write about it for you guys, but my Elder/Eldest access does not appear to be granted yet. When it does go up, you can find in on the Across the Universe website.

www.acrosstheuniversebook.com

EDIT:

As I wrote this post this morning this feature was not available. But it is now! This is freaking amazing so it needs another exclamation point or two!! Seriously though, this is just about the dopest thing I have seen related to a book, in, like EVER. The interactive graphical interface on the website lets you navigate practically the entire ship, saving only a few secrets to be revealed within the book.

I have to say that the Greenhouse and the Farms sound like the coolest areas to me. I mean of course it's pretty obvious that food production of some kind would be necessary on a trip of this length, but the way Beth has set it all up is pretty sick (that means awesome if you're too old to know).

The amount of work that went into setting this thing up must have been incredible. It's mind blowing. I pray that some day a publishing professional thinks a book I've written is cool enough to do something like this with. If you do nothing else about this post go take a look at that. The link above will get you there.

END EDIT.

Become a fan of Across the Universe on Facebook:

Like Across the Universe.

I know a publishing house can seem like nothing more than big business, and we're all just lowly writers, but I do think we owe it to Penguin Teen to take a look at what else they have coming up.

Penguin Teen website: Penguin.com/teen.
On Twitter: @PenguinTeen.
Facebook Fan page: Like Penguin Teen.

If you decide you must have ATU, which really, trust me, you MUST; you can find it at your local brick and mortar bookstore. I really think we should all try to support our local independent bookstores. Mine is Humpus Bumpus Books. But if you live in eastern Montana, or on an interstellar space ship, and you just can't make it to the Barnes and Noble you can find Across the Universe online.

At the Barnes&Noble website.

This is an exciting launch for an incredible story, and Beth really deserves our support. Otherwise have a great day, and thanks for stopping by!

Graphic credit Jeremy at novelthoughtsblog.com

Monday, January 10, 2011

Barnes & Noble Gift Cards

I'm actually writing this post on Sunday night. Can you believe that? Me? Writing a post ahead of time? Yeah, me either.

But there is a severe winter storm warning here in North Georgia, and I may have to go in late to work tomorrow, we'll see. So just in case, I'm writing this post, so that I'll have something on the blog for all of you to look at.

One of the favorite things to give in our family for Christmas is gift cards, especially gift cards for places where you can get books, like B&N and Amazon.com. I'm aware that these places are big business, and I'm all about supporting independent and smaller bookstores, like my local Humpus Bumpus Books, but when it comes to Christmas shopping, and especially sending gifts to my sisters all over the country, it's tough to beat online gift cards.

So anyway, this year I got about $50 worth of gift cards. Kelly got some too as well as the kids. Kylie had spent the night at a friend's house, but Madison came with us when we took a trip to the local brick and mortar Barnes and Noble. So here are the books we all picked up:

Dad
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith
All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

Madison
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner

The best part about all of this is that all of these books (minus Harry, of course) were selected based on reviews or advice from blogging buddies. The Maze Runner has been highly touted by The League of Extraordinary Writers. I first heard about The Marbury Lens, from my bud Carolina Valdez Miller. Technically I discovered Cormac McCarthy on my own, when I read The Road, but my friend and mentor Bryan Russell also loves his work, and turned me on to the border trilogy (of which Pretty Horses is the first). Shannon Whitney Messenger is considered by many to be the master of middle grade, and it was on her recommendation that I suggested both The Familiars and Museum of Thieves to Madison.

Way to go bloggers! Thanks for the knowledge hookup on all these awesome books!

EDIT: Sunday night. I"m here at the hotel closest to the office. It's that bad. They decided to put me up in a room to make sure I would make it in. It's crazy, I know. I grew up in Minnesota, and I have an all wheel drive vehicle, but they're worried I won't make it in. So I brought the family, just for fun! I should be able to read and comment on all your blogs today, because I love you guys!