End Goals

Sorry I’ve been gone for a while.  You can assume that when I’m not blogging as much, it also means I’m not writing as much.

College Life has kinda got me like:

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I can hear your response:

drama-queen

Okay, yes.  I’m being dramatic.  I only have 2 finals this week, and neither one will be that painful.  Hopefully.  I’m really enjoying college, and I’m also really ready for break.

So. Writing.  I’m still writing The Sequel, just not as fast as I’d like to be. (This is the sequel to my finished-and-edited novel, The Sound of Color.)  I’ve been reading a ton, and not super motivated to write.  I’m feeling very un-motivated.  I think this is why:

I don’t feel like I’m moving forward.  There’s a voice inside my head going what’s the point in writing the rest of this series if it’s never gonna get published?  And I think this has to do with the Querying Phenomenon.  Let me explain.

In all other parts of the writing process, it’s fairly easy to see your progress.  For example, in writing the rough draft, you can see your word-count go up.  You can measure that your plot is moving forward.  You have an End To The Story, and each paragraph you write gets you closer.

Same with re-writing.  Each scene you cut or add is a tangible step towards the finished story.  Okay, editing can seem endless.  But you know that the novel will only take roughly four or five “passes” before it’s “done,” or at least “good enough.”  (Four to five is my own personal number.  You may have your own, and that’s cool.)  With each editing pass, you can feel the story getting stronger, better.  You’re streamlining, adjusting, and you can see the Final Product take shape before your eyes.  There is a clear end to editing.

But querying?  Not so much.  There’s this far-off day when maybe an agent emails back, asking for more chapters of the story.  There’s this impossibility that perhaps they’ll like that chunk enough to ask for the whole story.  And then, perhaps, per-maybe-haps, they will sign you on.

And even after that, there’s more work.  More edits.  And finally, finally, you get published.

Getting an agent… it just seems so improbable.  Agents get tens of thousands of queries each year, and they might take on two or three new clients in that year.  So the “getting an agent” thing is just hard.  And it’s not like “oh yes, once you send out the magic number of 43 query letters, you are certain to get an agent.”  Nope.  Your first query letter could land you an agent.  Or your 402nd.  Or you could sent out 1,000 and never hear back from an agent, except for “no thank you.”

If I just knew how many query letters my personal novel required, I would have finished by now.  Like if I knew it was going to take exactly 78 query letters, I would have sent out those 78.  But as it is, there is an unknown number between zero and infinity.  It’s hard to make a single query letter, or even ten, seem like a substantial stepping stone compared to an unknown infinity.

That’s not to mention that each and every query letter requires about half an hour of research.  It’s a lot.  And it’s not really fun research.  It feels like half an hour down the drain when they reply a week later saying, “This sounds delightful, but most fantasy novels should be over 100,000 words.  Your isn’t.  So thanks but no thanks.”  (I got an email back basically saying that.)

And just when I was feeling ready for another round of queries, the holidays hit.  Most literary agencies close shop in December and January, so I can’t start querying again until then.  So, here’s my goal.

By February 1, 2017

  • Finish the re-read/edit of TSOC that I’m doing now
  • Re-evaluate (for the 100 millionth time) my query letter
  • Write my synopsis (because some agents are evil and want an amazing query letter AND a flawless first ten pages AND a 1-2 page synopsis.  Yay.)
  • Be ready to send out fan-tab-u-lous query + first 10 pages + synopsis when necessary

Also, if time:

  • Finish the rough draft of The Sequel.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you’re doing finals this week, best of luck.  Study like Hermione Granger is watching you.  Be kind to yourself, and be kind to others.  Remember that stories are important.  Your story is important.  Someone out there needs to read it, so please keep writing it.

I’ll be over here studying, reading, and writing.  Oh, and also drinking coffee like this:

this, my friend, is a pint

I’ll see you when I’m on Winter Break.  And as they say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.

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Do What I Say…

… and not what I do.

Story time.

Yesterday, I’m working on querying.  I think I’ve sent out a grand total of about 15 query letters so far, and only about 2 with my SHINY NEW QUERY.

So.

Shiny new query.

Me, researching agents.

I’m researching this one agent (‘stalking’ might be more appropriate?) to find out what she likes.  Because if at all possible, it’s good to personalize your query letter a bit.  Show that you’ve done your homework.  And also that you’re not just mass querying.

Anyways, there I am, researching this agent, getting excited.  Because she likes the same things I like.  She says she grew up with brothers (like I did).  She says she’s looking for pretty much exactly what my novel is.  I spend ten minutes reading and re-reading her profile page on Manuscript Wishlist, already envisioning her as my agent, becoming the champion of my novel.

I’m thrilled.  You know, it just feels right.

So I start a new email, and copy in my shiny-new-query that I’m really proud of.  Play around with the wording of my introduction and conclusion, personalizing it and making it sound interesting.  Making myself sound professional and yet relatable.  Perfect it.

Read over it one more time, scanning for typos or errors.  I check and double-check that everything is perfect.  I’m biting my lip with anticipation.

I hit send.

Then switch back to my other browser window, with agent’s information on it.

And my heart stops at what I see.

Please copy the first ten pages of your manuscript into the email.

Guess what I forgot to do?  Copy the first ten pages of my manuscript into the email.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooo…..

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So, let this be a lesson to all of you querying-peons out there:

Don’t forget to double- and triple-check the submission guidelines.  Agencies all ask for different stuff.  Some just want a query, some want a 3-page synopsis, some want the first 3 chapters.  Some want the first 10 pages copied into the email.

There’s about a 100% chance that even if this agent reads and loves my query letter, she will delete my email because I failed to follow her instructions.  As she should.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bang my head against the wall some more.

(And then get back querying, being extra extra extra careful about the submission guidelines.)

 

College and Queries

Hello from UNIVERSITY!  I’ve had a week of classes, and I love the college environment.  It’s new and strange and exciting and fun and crazy and I miss home but I’m having a blast.  Also, my college has a spectacular, brand-new library.  So studying and writing and working is really fun there.  Also, there’s a coffee shop IN THE LIBRARY.  Life is amazing.

So what have I been up to?

Writing some.  But mostly, working on my query letter.  I found an amazing website called agentqueryconnect.com where you can get your query letter critiqued, and where you can critique other people’s queries too.  It’s similar to Critique Circle’s forum for Queries and Synopses, but Agent Query Connect is used a lot more.  More people, more critiques, faster turn-around.  You can revise your query letter and get the revision critiqued the same day.  It’s been super helpful.

I have a new-and-improved query letter.  (Yes, I’ve said that about my last 3 versions.)  But this one feels better.  It feels more right.  I started from scratch and built from the ground up.  It’s more streamlined, more efficient.

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I’m excited to start sending it out to agents again.

But it’s not all chocolate chips and cappuccinos.

Query letters are hard.  There’s a fine line between not-too-many details and not-enough details.  You have to capture your MC, the plot setup, the conflict, the stakes.  You have to try again and again and again, each successive version taking you closer to your goal.

You have to be willing to try and fail magnificently and try again.

Query letters, basically, are the worst thing ever.  Querying stinks.  It’s painful and annoying and it takes forever to get it right, and there’s no way of knowing if you’re on the right track until you find yourself published one day.  The querying process is punctuated with failures and rejection and crazy hope and perseverance and feeling like you want to give up.

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No one likes querying.

But I have a friend who texts me encouraging things sometimes.  And last week, I woke up to a text message from her saying this:

The reason people give up so fast is because they tend to look at how far they still have to go instead of how far they have gotten.

And then later she sent me a text saying this:

You didn’t come this far only to come this far.

That made me stop and think.  WOW.  I’ve written a book.  And I’ve EDITED IT!  Like, WOWZER.  That’s freaking amazing.

So my encouragement to you wonderful people of Internet Land:

Don’t give up.  Don’t let the fear of failing stop you.  Don’t stop when you’re behind.  Don’t listen to the voice nagging at you saying, “you’ll never make it.”

I’m chasing my dreams.

Chase yours.

Queries and Quests

This week was a momentous occasion for me as a writer.

I sent out my first query letter to a real-live, actual agent.

It’s an incredible feeling, having a novel that I feel ready to share with a professional.  Having a query letter that explains what happens.  Having taken that first baby step out into the world of actually publishing.

I soon found myself getting really excited.  The more query letters I send out, the better chance I have of getting an email someday asking for a partial- or full- manuscript.  Someday I might actually get PAID for all the hard work I’ve put into this novel.  Wow.

Now, to be realistic, this probably won’t happen for a while.  One blogger buddy I follow has an outstanding MS, a delightful query letter, has been submitting for many months, and has come up empty (even after several full-MS requests).  So obviously I’m not trying to get my hopes up too much.  But it’s fun to dream.  To speculate.  To hope.  To reference Doctor Who:

optimist.jpg

I think that far-flung hopes and improbable dreams are beautiful things, and that they are part of what motivate us to try harder, to push ourselves, and to achieve success.

But on the other hand, I can hear Albus Dumbledore echoing through my mind:

dwell

So even though I’m really, truly excited for the slight possibility that today could be the day I hear back from an agent, I’m not consumed by that.  I’m trying to balance.

Because honestly, my first three pages of my novel could be a little tighter.  My query could be a little more captivating.  Oh, and I have another book that’s in my heart, burning to be set free onto the page.  So my goal is to dream my improbable dreams and let them be my guide, but not lose sight of the work in front of me.

And that, my friends, is something that every writer – every person who wants to accomplish great things – must learn.


 

Part of this blog is about the sharing of information.  The writing community is all about looking out for each other and helping each other out, so while I’m on the subject of querying, I’d like to share two amazing resources I came across this week:

1. Query Letter Critiques by an Actual Legit Agent

While I was looking around for more agents and agencies, I discovered this agent who posts critiques of query letters that people submit to her for suggestions.  Yes, you heard right.  An actual, legit agent reviews of actual query letters.  Link here.

2.  A Beautiful Catalog of Agents

I’ve run across several catalogs of agents (basically where you can search by agent by genre or other criteria).  My favorite thus far is http://www.aaronline.org/ because it’s clean, easy, and fast.

CREDIT for these sources is at least partially due to this video (posted on the vlogbrothers channel on Youtube)

Whether you’re writing a first draft, editing, or querying like I now am, don’t quit.  Don’t give up.  Keep dreaming, keep working hard.  Being a writer isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Query Letter Help

Hope you all had a merry christmas full of reading, writing, and relaxing.

Now, I know that you must feel REALLY BAD that you didn’t get me a present… right?  *nervous laughter*  Well, now’s your chance to give me one.

You’ve heard me rage about writing a query letter, so I think it’s time you got to read mine.  And your christmas present to me will be a shiny new critique of it!

Hopefully.

Seriously, I’m dying for some more feedback.  Sentence structure, word choice, does it make sense, general advice…  And look, it won’t even cost you a cent.

Thanks in advance, and I’ll see you all next year!


 Dear _______,

 

I am writing to you because  __________________.

 

One thing sets Star apart from the other orphans: hope.  It comes from her only keepsake, a worn journal that once belonged to her mother.  Inside the faded pages are stories and secrets of the life of a Defender – someone who is a messenger between the kingdoms, an ambassador to the different races, and a keeper of the peace.

Ever since she could remember, Star’s dreamed of following in her mother’s footsteps and joining the secret Society of Defenders.  At sixteen, she finally meets some people who might be able to help her escape her hometown and find the Society.  But it means trusting her life to two complete strangers, and they’re full of secrets too.

Soon Star learns the real identity of these two: they themselves are Defenders, and they’re on a mission to find a magic Item that will greatly aid the Society in an upcoming war.  She helps them find the Item and they agree to take her to the Society.  Little does she know, getting to the Defender’s City won’t be easy, and training to be a Defender will be nothing like she’s imagined.  Just as she finds the title of “Defender” within her grasp, she realizes the society she’s put her hope in all these years is corrupt, crumbling, and preparing to end the peace it claimed to stand for.  Star and her new-found friends will have to turn their backs on everything they know and love to save everything they believe in.

THE SOUND OF COLOR is a young adult, high-fantasy novel complete at 68,000 words.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

If you’d prefer to leave your feedback in the CC forums instead of the comments, here’s the link to the forum where I have it posted.  (Must have a Critique Circle account to access.)

Also, if you leave a comment/ critique of it, you will get prizes!  Prizes such as views on your blog, returning the favor of critiquing your query letter, and – get this – my undying gratitude.  😉

The Six Stages of Writing a Query Letter

At first I thought about writing an in-depth explanation of what makes a good query letter.  But I soon realized that this was a terrible idea because 1) it would be exceptionally boring, 2) all of that info is already on the web about a million times over, and 3) I am not an expert at all, so why should I tell you how to do it?

Instead, here’s the process, the steps of writing a query letter.

Step One – Panic. 

Spend at least a week procrastinating everything related to querying and agents out of sheer fear and trepidation.  Writing a query letter is [hopefully] that first baby step into the world of being published, so the thought of starting is… well, scary.

Step Two – Research.  Like Crazy. 

Google.  A lot.  Read about twenty different articles telling you “how to” and “how not to” write a query letter.  What to include and leave out.  What to say and how to say it.  Next, read some sample queries, get a feel for the flavor and tone of them.  This step usually leads to a bit more panic, but that’s normal.

Step Three – Write the Darn Thing.

Take a deep breath, and bleed onto the page.  Not literally.  But it feels a bit like death, trying to condense a 68,000-word novel (that contains a piece of your soul) into an 200-word query.  Once it’s finally done, and you’ve eaten too much chocolate and shed some tears (again, not literally), then you are ready to share it.  But not with agents yet.  Oh no.

Step Four – Get it Critiqued.

This is why I love Critique Circle — there is a forum dedicated to query- and synopsis- critquing.  So, you finally get up the courage to post your freshly-written query onto the forum, and then you nervously await responses.  Emphasis on the nervous part.  If you’re not part of CC, you [hopefully] get it critiqued by other people elsewhere.  Your friends, parents, writer buddies, that lady who works at your college writing center… you get the idea.

Step Five – Re-write it.

You asked them to tear it to pieces, and they did.  So you go back to the drawing board — er, keyboard — and totally start over.  You see it improve, and it’s better, and oh look it’s actually not horrible now.

Repeat Steps Four and Five Indefinitely.  In the meantime, continue to research query letters, and also give critiques of other people’s queries!  It’s a sure way to help you get better at writing your own.

Step Six – Send it Out.

That list of agents you’ve piled up?  Start submitting.

And then turn on Netflix, have a Lord of the Rings marathon, watch all of Classic Doctor Who, or, uh, start editing your next novel, because there’s a long wait after step six.  A long wait with a lot of tears (actual tears are possible with this stage), and usually lots and lots of rejection.  But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!  A long, dark, smelly tunnel dripping with water, but a bright light at the end.  In the meantime, you’re writing the next novel, dreaming the next dream, furiously typing away at your keyboard, pouring your soul into another story.  Because you’re a writer, and that’s what you do.

Let me know in the comments what your experience is with query letters.  Or your thoughts on the new Star Wars movie.  Or on Classic Doctor Who.  Or whatever.