I’m taking off my pants because I’ve lost the plot

After almost a year of resistance, and a number of years pantsing, I decided to look into this plotting business. Why have I resisted for so long? You’ve probably heard the word organic when it comes to pantsing. I like to let the ideas flow naturally from page one and see where my characters take me, rather than suffer a structure. And hand on my heart, I was worried anything to the contrary would come across as contrived. It’s a harsh word and one that has plagued me. I’m a fairly stubborn person, and I guess I’ve stuck to these thoughts as a way of protecting myself from the truth: my MS needs a revamp, and it’s going to take some plotting research to do this.

I think if I were more experienced, I’d know how to wear my pants well and keep them on. If I’d read plotting books, looked into character development, or  had already written a book or two, I’d be well armed starting page one. All the critical elements would be top of mind as I forge on.

But I’m a green writer, whose pants need some readjusting. Starting from page one is not hard, but knowing where to take that plot is another story altogether – a story that may be a much harder sell.

So my green-writer status became obvious while thinking about how to change the start of my MS. If my MS is not being requested based on my query and  first few pages, then I assume both are letting me down. But to know where to start, I need to think about the plot. After reading some plotting material online and also Save the Cat by Blake Snyder ( and now First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke), I found that that my MS lacks depth. And to fix or analyse my plot, I need to know where my character begins on their journey, where they end up on their journey and how the plot will take them there.

For me, it’s helped to look at my story like this. MC is at point A and wants X. To get X, they must move to point B and the inciting incident helps them get there.

From here, I can write a query blurb and this should (hopefully) show that my book has conflict and growth. And I’m not going to write my new beginning until I can do just that!

Even armed with just those elements, I could have saved myself years. I was so scared of plot outlines because I thought I would have to write down every scene. But I haven’t beaten myself up too badly about this late revelation. After all, all of this makes sense because I have written my book and spent months and months researching querying. It would have been like picking up a book that helps you translate another language from English – when you don’t know English….

So this is where I am at: looking at my character and where they start their journey – what is the one thing they need to change to help them achieve their goals. It’s a tough one but a good question to ask, and a great place to start 🙂

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Personalising Queries

So I’ve been hounding my CP’s lately about personalising queries. I spend a fair amount of time researching agents to see if they are a good fit for my MS. Sometimes, I find agent interviews that help me understand what they are after and can mention these at the start of my query. But often, when I look at successful queries online, they get straight to the point.

And then when I do find a compelling reason, like they are after a strong female protagonist, I worry that I’m sounding too arrogant. Oh, really, Lorelle? Well we will be the judge of that…So should we be limiting our opening sentence to include books they currently represent? But even then, we have to be careful that we aren’t insinuating that ours will compare.

So there is a fine line between gaining the edge and falling over it, and I’d love to know what writers think about personalising a slush-pile query.

Do you have success without it? Do you find you have a template that is successful and adaptable to most agents for that first sentence?

I don’t have a problem diving straight in, but you do hear that agents are wary of a query that looks like it has been sent to 50 agents at once.

Of course, I use the agent’s name in the salutation, but is that, as well as meeting submission guidelines with sample pages etc, enough? Or in this day and age of quick and accessible communication, is brevity beauty rather than beast?

Query Lesson Part One: hook and voice breakdown

And I mean breakdown as in, ‘Let’s break this down for everyone,’ not ‘Breakdown? Excuse me, who are you and how did you get into my house? Oh, you’re my husband? YOU THINK THAT MAKES IT OKAY!??’

I’ll try and make this as brief as possible. I’ve been practicing hard for this post. 75K words became a 1-2 page synopsis, a 150-word blurb, a 35-line logline, then a 140-character twitch ( my name for a twitter pitch. Fitting, don’t you think?)

And I’m going to post on this again after I’ve been querying agents for a while – process what I’ve learned. I hear you, though. If you’ve done all your research, there should be little to learn. Well, we know there’s a difference between a hook and a hook, just like there’s a difference between a happy ending and a happy ending. You know what I’m sayin’….

So we all know the basics. I’m not going to just hand over the curriculum, the same as I wouldn’t let you into my house until you’ve offered me a drink. You heard me correctly.

I’m going to offer a piece of advice that will have you curling your lip at the screen, rushing from the house through closed windows, and hissing while covering your eyes as though I’ve cracked a blind open and it’s vampire week in the editing process.

To get your hook on the right track, it might help to keep track of twitter and blog pitching competitions – even if you don’t compete. Why? It can really help with your hook. Monitoring the competitions really highlighted what my hook was lacking, why my concept, as awesome as I thought it was, will be overlooked: voice. And it might just be my ability to focus on information that I’m interested in and forgetting things like, ‘it’s time to pay the mortgage,’ but I think agents seem to appreciate ‘voice’. If you look at the hooks that do well, the twitches that get traction, they have this way of pulling you in with their voice. I’m in awe; I am still unable to compete as I should.

How do you get voice into that hook? Great question! I guess like when you sleep in past 6am and realise your kids are at your mum’s, you know when it’s not there.

So I finally have my hook with voice. And where does it go? Thank you to some great critiques, I know to sit it proudly up top, before my blurb to give a little taste of what’s to come. Because if I say my book has light humour and darkness, but the hook doesn’t reflect this, won’t we have to go back to rehashing the whole ‘show vs tell’ debate? Although I believe this may be one of those arguments where we all get ready to sit on one side of the see-saw and look at the other side waiting for someone brave enough to sit on the other side…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Approaching agents online: is there a protocol?

If you have done your homework, you know that there is an accepted way of approaching an agent with your query. This process takes a long time ( in my opinion), and it is only once you have all the information in hand that you can look back and think, ‘Ah, I get it now. Why did this take me so long?’

Not only is there a structure for your query to follow, but there is an etiquette surrounding your approach, your response and your professionalism. No different than a resume for a job really. I mean, if you didn’t tick the right boxes and if you didn’t hold the experience the employee is after, they would pass you over for the job, right? And most times, they wouldn’t call you to tell you that, or to offer advice on where you went wrong. Submitting a query should be no different; it’s not as though we are approaching the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld…follow the rules, don’t be too chatty, get to the point, move to the side and wait.

With pitching competitions becoming so prevalent online, and writers following agents on twitter for information on the literary industry,  are we breaking down the barriers? Are literary agents more approachable? Do we have a more direct route to information?

I follow agents on twitter, and I believe I have only responded to one of their tweets. In my head, I changed my tweet a number of times, resulting in a much wittier response that would never be read. My clothing can’t withstand that sort of sweating pressure again. I could just tweet sans clothing, but I would prefer to withhold a response.

But could I approach them directly regarding query information? Regardless, this is what I would do after: Oh my God…Did I use the conjunction comma in the correct place? Do they prefer the oxford comma? DID I JUST SAY ‘SHOULD OF’ INSTEAD OF ‘SHOULD HAVE’??

In most cases, information on their querying process is available on websites, publishing sites, query sites. So should we feel comfortable in treating them as we would a fellow writer we follow, an author we follow?

 

Selecting a literary agent: enjoying the power for the first and last time.

I don’t mind a good giggle. If I get a belly laugh, I consider it a great day. Explaining how agents and publishers work to my Dad gave me a good giggle. Not a belly laugh, though; I’m not that disrespectful to the industry. So, it was a good day, not a great one.

Although I’ve been having a hard time summarising for my blurb, I think I did okay at summarising the submission process within the literary industry. I guess I didn’t need a snappy first sentence to be judged on, he allowed me more than 20 words before his attention was lost and he decided to speak to me even though I haven’t been writing since my brain could form creative ideas. That’s a good quality in a Dad. He also used to pick me up late at night from the city when taxi’s wouldn’t. Another great quality in a Dad. Now if I could only get him to become a literary agent, build up a network of contacts and get a handle on the publishing industry, I would have the best agent ever: one that would drive me home after events and make sure I’m tucked up safe in bed. I think they exist.

So back to the good giggle. When he paraphrased back the writer, agent, publisher relationship, I was not only proud of his listening skills, I was excited that it sounded as crazy out loud as it did in my head. Just like my MS. But that’s okay because I’m aiming for crazy.

Be that as it may, crazy or cockameme, this is how it works and I will respect that. I respect loads of people that I giggle at, and with, and it’s okay as long as they know it and I can handle them giggling at my expense. I’m sure loads of people will be giggling at my attempts at submitting my work, but then again, I hear these people are too tired to laugh – or maybe that’s why they laugh: they are so overworked they’ve gone loopy. That’s the agent I want. Hardworking, loopy and can drive me around. I’m narrowing this down…

I’m at the part of my post-submission process where it’s time to select an agent. This is pretty exciting; it will be the first and last time I’ll be on this side of the selection process. After I send these off, the power will be lost forever. So I need to enjoy it. But how do I select an agent that’s right for me? What would ensure they are on my top ten list?

When sending queries, your opening line should mention why you chose them specifically and that you have done your research. It would be nice if you could just mention that they accept your genre, but you need to go beyond this, I believe. But stalking author acknowledgements for the agent they thank… Is that the best way to select them? Do they want another similar author on their books where they will need to pitch you both against each other in a particular market?

Publishers may only have one opening for a book of a certain genre. So if that agent has two of me on their books, wouldn’t me and my other me be fighting for that spot? So based on that, is my excel spreadsheet full of agents of my favourite authors only good for polishing up on my basic excel skills?

I have the books and websites where I can research agents, the questions you would ask if they want to represent you. But other than saying: you fit the brief because you are an agent with a license to…well no license actually. How do you set them apart? Who will be my taxi-driving, great-listening, loopy hard worker?