Live Through Us at The Burrow


November 2014

The Dreaded Query

Learning how to write a query letter can make you give up, if you don’t resort to pulling out all your hair and screaming profanities at innocent bystanders. Most helpful pages are way too long and complicated, and all of them are contradictory. Reading all of them over and over will help, but takes a long time to truly process it all. Reading samples will help.  Lots and lots of samples. Following agents’ blogs will help even more. Here’s what I have learned so far:

1-A query is a letter asking a literary agent to read your manuscript and represent you to publishers. You can research what literary agents do quickly and easily.

2-Although agents are not absolutely required for publishing, get one.

3-This letter is a business proposal/letter; treat it like one.

4-Work on your query letter like it was your manuscript. I just finished my query for my second agent. It took me four hours to edit the first query, making it better and personalized. It’s 291 words, and that includes my contact information.

5-Personalize each and every letter. You will spend a great deal of time on each draft of your letter. Each draft for each agent will defer from each other significantly enough to be able to tell them apart. Go to the agent’s website. View their client list. Look at the books they represent and see if yours is comparable. Do NOT say in the letter, “My book is like XXX.” What if it’s not in their eyes? What if it’s worse? What if they have a romanticized version of a book that you could never live up to? Nope. Don’t do it. After you see that your work in comparable to what they are looking for and/or represent, go to their fb or twitter page. See what they’re saying. Follow them, etc. The query I just sent out, I wouldn’t have, until I followed on twitter and found a site stating exactly what they’re looking for…and there you go. Will I get it right this time? Only time will tell.  When you do personalize the letter, tell why you chose them.  Don’t say “I saw on your website.”  An excellent example of things not to say can be found in this poem by a frustrated agent.  Mention where you got the information.  For example, I put “XXX agency tweeted that you want XXX.”  I also looked up their wishlist and found my genre at the top.  I perused their fav books and decided mine would fit in.  I CONCISELY told the agent that.

6-Every genre is different, and every page will tell you to format your query differently. Good luck finding the right mix of matching your draft with the right agent. This is a game where the rules are constantly changing depending on who’s playing, and no one likes playing it.

7-Here is a popular website to learn from, Query Shark. An agent critiques query letters sent in to her and blogs the results.

8-Don’t include the end of the book. WHAT? Don’t end with “What will she do next?” either, but end with something that doesn’t give it away. For example, here’s my synopsis:

Sir Clanks-a-Lot is a gallantly clumsy knight. So it’s no surprise he forgets his pajamas while hunting with the King. Unfortunately it rains, rusting his armor and making him clank constantly. During his quest for oil, he meets a princess whose need for oil is greater than his. This hero puts her needs first, forgetting about his own.

If you’ll notice, I tell you the plot without ending it. One site said to show what drives the protagonist, not what they do. Here is one resource saying to utilize the four C’s in your pitch. Tell the beginning of the book, not the whole thing.

9-Some people say to put personal info in it (your own personal info), others don’t. Good luck with that. Wish I could help. Again, some of the agents have blogs and/or tweet what irritates them, etc. Go on NOW and start following agents in the genre of what you write or are currently working on. That way, when you’re ready to query, you won’t have to wait to learn enough, or risk sending out queries in ignorance.

10-Some of the not-so-obvious: Make sure all your tenses match (probably best to use all present, even if you’re book is past tense). Be as concise as possible. This is a one page letter.

11-Don’t quote from the book. Yeah, I know, I did in my hook in my previous post, but I shouldn’t have. My second draft doesn’t quote from my book. (I made a lot of mistakes in that draft, but it was still better than the ones before it!). Use Times New Roman 12. Skip a line between paragraphs. Do not indent paragraphs. This is because e-mail can do weird things, and indents are often lost. Single space the letter, double space the sample of the manuscript. Include ALL contact info, including social sites and webpages, in the signature.  Do not use italics.  ALL CAPS THE TITLE INSTEAD.  This is also due to e-mail issues.  NO QUERIES ARE EVER ATTACHED!!!  Those are immediately deleted.  (Would you open a letter with an attachment from a stranger?)  Everything is just pasted right into the e-mail.

Oh, and this isn’t everything, I’m sure. But I do hope this helps. It is most unfortunate you can’t take a class in college “How to be an author”, but you can’t. You have to spend a great deal of time perfecting your writing, and also how to get paid for it. Crazy, but true. These may all seem ridiculous and petty to some of you, and that’s fine. But you wouldn’t go to an interview in jeans and a tank top. Consider this the same thing. If you’re ever going to conform, do so on this.

Getting Ready for Publishing

UPDATE: I no longer advise people to utilize Scribophile. While it can benefit the beginner, it is limited in its ability and caused more trouble for me than aide. While I know of one or two authors who find it benefits them to continue using it, most of the others that I know have moved on or never used it in the first place.

It’s time for me to strap my big girl boots on and try (again) to get published.  I tried years ago with two books. One was Bub the Tooth, and the other was Sir Clanks-a-Lot.  Now, I’ve recently joined an online social group for writers, Scribophile.  Scribophile allows you to post work for critique by other writers in exchange for critiquing others.  You choose which works you critique.  ALL genres are included.  Some of which I had never even heard of, like flash fiction. Please visit this site for a more comprehensive review of scribophile.

    Enough of that. So, I submitted Sir Clanks-a-Lot (hereby called SCAL) for critique.  There is absolutely no incentive whatsoever for complimenting a work.  In fact, you are urged to find everything you can.  Bear in mind, SCAL is a picture book.  Now, please forgive my bragging, but if I never get this thing published, this will be my only chance to brag ever.  I got three reviews.  One was a young mother, one taught daycare for 10 years, and another presently works with first graders.  All three loved them.  Here is some of what they said:

What a cute story!  I taught daycare for ten years and I can really see myself reading this fun story out loud to a group of preschoolers

Congratulations, Debby! What an original and delightful idea! As I hope you can see from inline comments, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    I am currently working on my query, which is pure torture.  Apparently every writer hates doing them, so that makes me feel better.  Some sites say to make it all professional, dry, to begin with “Please read my XXX word manuscript about blah blah blah” and to NEVER try to be cute with a “hook line.”  The other half says the exact opposite.  Start with a hook line (mine is)-

“Fear not my princess in distress!  I will help thee!  I am Sir Clanks A Lot, at your service!”

Sir Clanks-a-Lot and the Coconut Islands thrills children and adults alike as they read of his hilarious and clumsy adventures.

-and then bore them with professionalism while keeping with the wording of the manuscript.  I tried the first way 2-3 years ago when I first submitted SCAL.  It didn’t work, obviously.  Now I’m trying the second way.  And since I can submit query letters on scribophile for critique too, I should be better prepared this time.  I’ll blog again after I get that all figured out.  Wish me luck!

Plotting Your Story When Nothing Else Works

plotting your novelFor those following my blog, you know I’m a writer. If you don’t by now, I’ve done something seriously wrong in my blogging. I am on my fourth, yes fourth, book. None of the other three have been published, yet, and in fact, only two are actually “finished”. During my current project, I have discovered a few things. I have learned how I write. I learned what I need to do to get a story on paper. I thought I would share these recent lessons in the hopes that you may benefit from it as well.

I would just sit down and write books out. Very little, if any, plotting involved. Plotting for me was like running on a yellow line. Imagine making your feet hit that line all the way down the road. You would eventually seize up and fall over. Well, I would anyway, breaking something in the process. But I recently learned how to plot or outline a story.

I had read countless articles and books on story arcs and planning your novel and how to plot or outline, etc, but none, I repeat, none of it helped. I tried to make it work. I tried to make it make sense, but it never would. Then, I found this. Scroll down to the second one, the one that says “Plotting Worksheet with Prompts”. Now, the worksheet without prompts was just as useless to me as any of the other “tools” I have tried. It was like reading French. The prompts made all the difference.

When I first started working it, I couldn’t answer half of the questions. I wanted to allow myself to sit back and say, “My story is different. It doesn’t need that. Who wants a cookie cutter story anyway?” But I couldn’t. No, I had to answer those questions. That one worksheet on that one book took two days. It made me ask really hard questions that I didn’t want to ask because I knew I wouldn’t like the answer, or lack thereof. It made me face the fact that some aspects didn’t make sense. I had to completely redo the main events. I now have an actual working outline of book one and have started on the other books’ outlines and questions.

She has another worksheet on that same page, “Characters Chart Template”. I used that too. Like I told my husband, I don’t have to include all the info in the book, but I have to know it. Those details make them real to me. And when the characters are real, the story is real too.

After answering these very difficult questions, I was able to go ahead and start plotting the other books in the series. I have spent many days doing this and feel like I’m spinning my wheels. But this is a very important part of the writing process. I am also learning patience…supposedly.

I will add one more piece of “advice”. I didn’t jump in and answer these questions before writing anything at all. If you are anything like me, that will never work for you. If it does, then go for it. But I had to write 27,000 words before I could begin to answer those questions. Those words were several scenes, my own questions and notes and ramblings. At least 70% of it can be used in the final product. And I had to write those words to discover who my characters were, how they related to each other and the world around them, their personalities, what they wanted, what was going on, and who the bad guys were. These were not wasted words.

Since doing this, I now have the tools to go back and make those two unpublished books sellable and finish the third. This isn’t anything I can jump on today, but it’s good to know that I can when I’m ready. I hope this helps you somewhat in your plotting. Every writer is different, but every writer has to ask those horrible, horrible questions “Why? Why not? How?” that make the story make sense.

Back in the Writing Saddle

I had a project that took me until the 31st to finish. I knew it was going to take that long, but it was still very difficult. Why? I had to give up my writing time to do it. I would spend all my free time doing it instead of writing. This was very difficult. I had finally gotten a routine going. A few hours here, a few hours there. I had a good schedule of almost predictability and regularity. Things were going really well.

Then, in the middle of the project, I had to have oral surgery. This was a good thing, although a set back. I was actually quite fearful, because the last time I went under, I completely lost my mind when I came to. It wasn’t pretty. So, prior to going in, I apologized profusely to everyone for what I was afraid I might do when I came home. Although the surgery had complications and unpleasant consequences, I didn’t go insane. In fact, I wound up losing a pound or two and discovering how my diet was affecting my anxiety.

It was so difficult not to write at first. I wanted to really badly, but couldn’t. I eventually forgot about it and learned to enjoy myself. And then, the inevitable happened. I became accustomed to the new routine. When the time came that I could write again, a few days ago, I just couldn’t get motivated. I took a day off to transition and relax. But that was the end of my excuses. I was just too lazy.

This year has been very difficult. I’ve had to deal with a lot of health issues, becoming bed ridden on about four occasions. But wait! This year isn’t over yet! That’s right boys and girls, I have the ability to add more to my adventures in health care. A few days ago, I had finished my arms workout and was getting ready for my step routine. I came into the living room to hand something over to my husband before putting on my shoes so I don’t kill my feet on my homemade wooden exercise step platform. Alas, exercise was not to be for me, for I quickly turned and stubbed my toe on the couch, hearing a loud crack. I knew it was broken, but waited just in case.

That night the pain kept me up a great deal and was radiating up my foot. I was fearful I had broken more than just my little toe. The bruising and swelling was getting worse. Now, Arlis can’t drive, my car is in Knoxville, and I’m stuck with the truck, a stick shift, with a broken right foot. I was correct when I said standing is harder than pushing a small pedal, but only just. I went to the hospital, got taped up, and had the vehemently unjoyous experience of riding in a Wal-mart shopping scooter. I was mortified! My family had no trouble finding me. All they had to do was listen for the crashing noises and backing up BEEP!!! Getting to the truck was difficult and painful. My dad and aunt took pity upon me and brought me crutches yesterday, all the way from Knoxville. They’ve been a Godsend!

So back to being lazy. Here I am, stuck in a warm bed on a cold day with snow on the ground and a broken foot. Sounds like writing Heaven to me. But I couldn’t write. It took me hours to finally psyche myself up enough to freewrite enough to get started. It wasn’t the writing that was the problem, it was the catching up. I had to figure out where to start, where I left off, who was doing what, and what was going through which characters’ heads. It was painful. But I finally did it. I’m taking a small break now, but I’ve written over 2000 words and hope to finish the chapter tomorrow.

It feels so good to be back in the writing saddle again!

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