Query Writing and Other Torture Devices

Monday, July 20, 2009

1 Chiming In
This is the dirty little secret of novel writing--

When you come to the close of a WIP, it's time to start about writing a query for it.

No one - ever - just reads a manuscript because you write one. The act of putting all those words on paper means nothing. It doesn't mean you can write. It doesn't mean it's a real book. It doesn't mean anyone has to read it.

In the space 250-300 words, in a business letter, you have to convince them that they WANT to read it by being such a GREAT writer that they WANT your words on paper to become a book, sell it and hopefully make you both very successful.

And those 250-300 words are TORTURE. You think it's hard to write a book? Try condensing that book into two short paragraphs without losing the voice or the plot or a single element that makes it unique. Leave no question as to what the book's about, but make sure you don't give it all away. Pique the reader's interest so they want more.

Keep it simple. Focus on your main character and your main plot. Lead MC through MP and keep him/her active. If he's funny, make the reader laugh and never tell them he's funny. If she's nervous, make her twitch, but don't point it out by calling her nervous. If it's a "heartwarming tale", then query better not leave the reader cold.

Try writing a query for a book in print - one you're familiar with. (It's easier than doing your own and gives you an excuse to stall while feeling productive.) Once you have something that resembles Spark Notes of the Cliff's Notes of the Abridged version, you're good to try it on your own story.

Then the real nightmare starts -- summaries.

Early Writing -

Thursday, July 16, 2009

0 Chiming In
It can be anything from cringe-worthy to the building blocks of a new novel if the characters strike a chord, but it's always interesting to dig up something I wrote years ago. Mainly things from high school (as I didn't keep too much that predated those years), there's the occasional piece of scribble from when I still used crayons. (Hawaiian Dave!!! Which could make a cute PB if I clean it up and get rid of the sick man illustrations...)

I found what, at the age of something-teen, I thought was a novel - though it's barely 180 pages in what looks like 14 pt. Curlz font. It turns out I was ahead of my time - the currently over-used "portal" theme was the focus (and title) of this one. The writing's painful, but some of the characters are actually decent and I think they'll find their way into one or two of my WIP -- like the son of a football wannabe named Packer.

There are no fewer than three unfinished screenplays abandoned in my early attempts at screenwriting because I had no idea what I was doing - or how to craft a story (though I think they're pretty good for a kid of something-teen.) With some polish, and major editing as one is over 100 pages long at the halfway point, they might actually turn into something worthwhile.

I've got a box full of old term papers that I kept for who knows what reason. (Okay, so I kept them in case I had to do a paper on the same book in college, so what?) There's a card file of novel analysis that they will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands before I give it up -- like my AP history notes. I sweat blood over those horrible little cards, and I'm not letting all that work go out with the garbage, even though I hated most of the books I had to analyze.

And then there's the poetry...

There are almost ZERO professional poets out there. Not too many people that I know of like to read poetry (they'd rather hear it set to music on the radio with a great baseline). So why does just about every kid to ever take a class in public school seem to have poetry squirreled away somewhere just waiting to get tripped over like a forgotten landmine?

(I really think this is how those Poetry "contests" where the "prize" is a book you get the honor paying WAY too much for manage to continually find new submissions. There are millions of people out there who think rhyming two words at the end of two sentences equate "poetry")

I think I'll close this with a haiku I wrote in 10th grade that I still kind of like. (Don't worry, you don't have to like it, too.)

An ear-splitting screech.
Dark wings beat a moonless sky.
NightHawk finds his prey.

Feeling Guilty for Feeling Bad

Saturday, July 11, 2009

0 Chiming In
I hate feeling bad. Who doesn't, right? No one wants to feel less than 100%.

But right now it's worse because feeling bad means not writing. It's hard to string together prose (or even a blog post) when it feels like something's boring into the base of my skull. At least with a blog post, I don't have to edit my work beyond making sure the grammar is decent.

So, in an effort to feel not so guilty about today, I've gone over some things in progress and hit serendipity. Two of those WIP that have been sitting sketched on my PC for untold weeks and months can be combined into one stronger storyline. They just sort of clicked today. AND the story found its voice (rather, I found its voice) and main character. To my utter shock, it's not who I thought it would be.

I'm not sure why this happens, but so far the story I thought was YA turned out to be better suited to adults, and this one - which I thought was decidedly adult - now has a younger POV.

What had been an ensemble story of five+ threads I couldn't figure out how to weave together just found themselves knit around a teenager who is the focal point of the whole story. That's what was missing: cohesion. I knew this kid was in the story for some reason, but I couldn't make her fit with the others until today.

Hopefully, when the horrible grinding at the back of my head stops, I'll be able to tweak what I already have of the story, stitch it to the other one, and come up with something wonderful. It all came down to figuring out what my mysterious stranger mumbled as he lay dying:

"Come and find me, Mandy."


Thursday, July 9, 2009

0 Chiming In
There's a dirty little secret no one tells about inspiration... it's not as important as you think it is.

People like to say they were inspired to write this or that, and it's true to an extent, but if you wait for inspiration to strike, you won't be writing much of anything. At all. Ever.

Inspiration is great for coming up with a premise. Just today, something my mom said YEARS ago clicked in my head and the entire structure of a contemporary YA novel downloaded itself into my brain. I was inspired.

But when it comes to plotting and then writing an actual story or novel, sooner or later, it becomes work. You have to train, and sometimes force yourself to write everyday - even if it's just a little. This is the point that so many people fall away from their "dream" because in the dream it's easy. It's meant to be. All you have to do is put pen to paper or hands to keyboard and the words just flow.

Yes, there are days like that. On my best days, I can knock out 20,000 words in a matter of four or five hours (that's about one quarter of a novel). On an average day, I used to hit 12K. Lately it's been closer to 2 - 5K. But at least it's something.

Don't worry about inspiration. Do the work and make it as good as you can. The rest will take care of itself and no one will know the difference in the end.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

1 Chiming In
So, today I got a rejection...

This wasn't the standard "not right for me" kind of form letter from a prospective agent, it was a straight from the editor rejection of my picture book. So, what to do now?

The short answer? Try again.

The lovely editor who rejected the MS did so with a full edit of it - and there's just not much to say about that other than it's a special editor who goes through the work of someone they're not going to purchase in an attemtpt to make it stronger. Picture books are pretty short in general (This particular one was a bit long as it was written to specifics of being at or around 1,000 words. Most of them are more like 250.)

This is one of those times that it's tempting to scrunch my face up and cry a bit, but there's no reason. The book was - and is good - she liked it, but it didn't fit their list. Even if it had been a stinking mess of overripe garbage, it still wouldn't be worth whining about because the book is not me and I am not the book. I'll go through her suggestions, probably take most of them, and send it out again with a stronger product and therefore a better shot at success.

So, thank you Shari.

Thank you for your time and consideration and the effort you volunteered that you didn't have to give. I'm grateful for it, and while it would have been nice to have a PB published (in hard back!) I'm happy with what I got. The next time it's going to be that much harder for an editor to turn it down thanks to your input.

Multiple Storylines

Sunday, July 5, 2009

0 Chiming In
I'm sure I'll get the hang of this blogging thing sooner or later, but for now, all I can think to do is ramble a bit about the few things I do know. One of those is definitely multiple storylines going on at the same time.

At present, not counting the picture books - of which I have too many to count at the moment - and not counting the completed vampire novel and its sequels (as I want to get book#1 sold before I finish its sequels, though there are some in progress) I have more than 10 storylines on my computer. Now these aren't all fleshed out novel material yet, but they have the potential to be.

What I usually do if I get a tangent idea while working on a WIP is to put it in its own file for later use. If it's a detailed idea, I'll write a first chapter so I feel bad if I don't go back to it at some point. Currently, there are 5 first chapter finished stories in their own folders.

1. A dark YA about a society living in the light 24/7 for fear of what lurks in the darkness beyond.

2. A YA fantasy/semi-romance about a girl who goes to stay with her aunt (and the aunt's boyfriend) and discovers some interesting secrets from her family's past.

3. A YA urban fantasy about the child of love and war (not Cupid) who's a bit too much of a daddy's girl for mom's liking.

4. I'm converting a screenplay into a novel about a scientist who ends up haunted by his own success.

5. A straight out fantasy in another universe revolving around a ceremony of extinction.

6. Something that will probably end up in the Urban Fantasy category, though just barely. It's a more realistic way of approaching the fantastic.

7. A contemporary story of a group of assassins - based on a fantasy setting, but in real life.

8. An urban fantasy about a group of immortals. (no fangs, no fur, just really long lives)

Wow... that's 8 instead of five (though I think 7 and 8 are destined to be combined at some point...)

Make that 9

9. An unusual MG fantasy with elements from different genres - geared toward boys.

OOps, 10

10. Another MG (contemporary) fantasy about a boy who lost his sight in an accident and gained a new awareness of the changing world around him.

11... okay, seriously, if I don't stop now, I'll have too many storylines to even know which one to work on.

11. Reality based YA about a kid with a developmentally challenged cousin and the summer he spends at the cousin's house.

See what happens when I brainstorm? It turns into a mental gully-washer.

For practical purposes, I try to focus on no more than two ideas at a time, but it's not always easy. Just a couple of days ago, I looked at one of my partial pieces and got a whole new perspective on it. The POV changed and the whole thing came back to life (that might be a pun if you knew what the story was about ;) )

Gotta go try and work out another few thousand words now, before another dozen ideas take root.

Oooh... roots - maybe something with plant people....

Annoying Characters.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

0 Chiming In
Have you ever written one? As of today, I have. So I'm writing this entry as a way of telling my motormouth to watch herself. (No, I haven't lost my mind. I'm just venting...)

This means you, Anne-Marie.

I know you're a chatterbox, and I love you for it. You can vomit information with the best of them, but I have to be honest, Sweetie.... you're annoying people. You're an info-dump waiting to happen, and because of that, you're getting censored for content.

Annie, you are hereby put on a word restrictive diet.

If you feel the urge to explain everything you see - fight it.

If you want to repeat yourself 27 times because you like to talk - don't.

If you know all the needed information and are just itching to give the characters a convenient and easy "fix-it" pass - I will cut you from the story.

This is your last warning. Cut it out, or you're out of the book. 'k?


Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with my sanity to reattach all of the hair I pulled out over trying to fix my WIP today.

The Secret to Hopeful Success

Thursday, July 2, 2009

0 Chiming In
  1. Apply butt to seat and hands to keyboard.
  2. Inspiration is overrated.
  3. All those wonderful ideas do you no good in your head.
  4. Execution of those ideas is key.
  5. Rough drafts are trash - always - therefore, they can be terrible so long as they get written.
Off to put #1 into action. I'm creeping up on 30,000 words in my WIP, and I'm pretty sure I can break that level by the weekend. (If not sooner... hoping for sooner.)