First queries are out! And how I feel about that . . .

It’s never as simple as just being excited. I think Sue from this SNL skit sums up how I feel about my first round queries. So if you have two minutes, or even one, please watch this video. Sue has me in stitches. Why? She is one crazy woman. Excitement turns to panic attacks, overzealous joy and inappropriate reactions…And I think you may be able to relate to these emotions she suffers while excited.

So what am I most excited about? Is it the hope? Am I proud of myself for finding the courage? Am I seeking validation?

All of these. But I’m also excited about the prospect of finding someone who will appreciate my eccentric characters. And when a connection to my characters is a connection to me, finding someone who understands me is pretty exciting on its own 🙂

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Critiques: The truth hurts, but it will gain you entry into the Feedback Protection Program

I made the decision a month ago to enlist professional assistance with my query.  I felt I was gathering conflicting feedback on all aspects of selling my MS, where the only certainty was confusion.

Over the past six months, I’ve been building my own understanding of the submission process, querying and pitching. I’m not going to lie: it’s been a tough six months. But it’s six months that I will never have to endure again. Of course, I’ll always be learning. But that learning curve, like a child introduced to the complexities of the English Language and school bullies, will never be so steep again.

I needed a gauge. A reference by which I could work from. Rewriting and rewinding and spinning and freakin’ cartwheeling ideas in my query was only costing me time on whine and money on wine.

But here’s the thing. Unless you’ve been round the block a few times and caught up with the cool kids for a smoke, you might be surprised at how your work is viewed objectively. It’s daunting. And demoralising. And yeah, I’ve swallowed the subjective angle to make myself feel better. But I needed to accept that there are aspects of my MS, query or synopsis that are confusing and need work.

So, just as an alcoholic has to admit  that they have a problem in order to progress, I needed to accept how far along I was in the process. And just like those brave alcoholics, I have my own support network: The Feedback Protection Program.  And without my honest critique partners who support me when I’m down, I would need a drink also.

So  initially, it set me back days. And after those days of WTFing, I realised it’s going to set me back months.  But if I’m lucky enough to get a partial or a full request, I don’t want there to be any surprises that I didn’t plant throughout the plot.

And that could set me back years.

 

 

 

 

Are you a storyteller or a writer?

Of course, you want to say both, but it’s never that simple. As you research writing, what will red-flag you as an amateur or an industry professional, you learn the tricks of the trade to increase your chances of being published. For discussions sake, lets say that sticking to these will ensure your tent is firmly pitched into the writers camp. But you find successful exceptions to these rules: authors who can tell a great story without staying true to the accepted writing conventions. And damn, do they tell a good story. And yes, I used an adverb in this paragraph.

As a reader, I’m not too bothered as long as my interest as held. I even don’t mind if there’s no prose, the author used an alternative dialogue tag to said and, god forbid, when they are referring to a blue dress, it’s just blue. So why is it that we strive to hit all those literary buttons simultaneously with every finger that isn’t cramped with RSI? Respect from peers? Publisher interest?

Who is driving this train anyway? The readers. But how often do we listen, and how often are we too busy talking about how we don’t understand how Fifty Shades is so successful because the writing is an affront to the craft? The woman made money because she had everyone hanging on every chapter she released, and you know what? Even though the readers were pushing that train along, inevitably it was the non-readers who got that baby rolling. And why? Maybe because they didn’t have to worry about how it was written, they just wanted a good story. We all talk about hitting those markets, but with people reading less every year, the market I would love to hit? Non-readers. True story.

On my first draft, I was telling a story – just get the story out. But I believe that by my final draft, my book turned into a novel, my storytelling into writing. But my final question is this: should we let the craft of writing interfere with telling a good story?

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?

 

 

Pitch this! My query research

I prefer for my blogs to be article in quality, but I have so much to say I have to cut to the chase. No opening, no pictures, just the facts. Well, the maybes.

I thought there was a standard with queries – a formula that I could follow that was adopted universally. I am a woman of rules and black and white lines that cannot be crossed. I need a framework to work with before the only frame I’m associated with is one of the Zimmer variety. I understand there are  hard and fast dos and don’ts with querying – and I’m glad there is at least that, because it means I can discard some avenues. Like with grammar. You can play around with whether you use the oxford comma – as long as you are consistent – but there is no question whether someone’s name earns a capital.

I have my head around the opening line, the researching of agents so that you can personalise  the query, the need to mention word count and genre, what you should and shouldn’t include in your bio. These always seem pretty clear. Although when I read things like: your opening sentence should be one line – just add this, this, this, and oh, this.

Where the most work lies for me is the pitch. Which part is the pitch? The whole thing? The logline? The hook? The 1-3 sentences that sums up my book? The opening sentence? ( Is this where my logline goes????) The blurb-like synopsis that follows my logline?

So, I have come across the following summaries:

A logline – one sentence ( although someone did mention two sentences..which confused me)

In my original logline, I reveal the whole concept of the book. Should I hold back and make it more general? Will they read this and then say, well I don’t need to bother being hooked now because you just served me the bait on a bed of seaweed, accompanied with a glass of brine?

This is something you can tell your friends, right? When they ask that really personal question, ” What is your book about?”

If I told them my original logline – the one I would pitch to agents –  there would be no suspense for them in the first quarter of the book.

Does that mean I don’t use this as my logline?

So I can make it general: Glory, an urban fantasy of 74000 words,  is the story of a girl who is forced to accept her role in a supernatural life when she discovers she has no control over her emotions uncovering evil.

That’s pretty general, but I can tell people that and they know the type of book it would be.

I can reveal more – but it gives the whole mystery away…..Not telling!

A 140 character or less pitch

Twitter, I’m guessing?   Now I get it. So glad I am nutting this out with my post!

I’ll put this one on the back-burner.

A one to three sentence summary

When I tried this, I still ended up revealing the concept of the book that is a mystery up until 25%. It’s certainly not what I would show a reader. I have yet to compile this one. I still don’t know if you reveal everything here. I’m losing it!

A blurb-like summary.

Is this synonymous with  the 1-3 sentence summary? I have seen mention of three to ten sentences here…

This, I understand. They say blurb and I know that this is what a reader will see. But I have seen queries where they don’t use language like I would see on the back of a book. ie they are really abrupt and to the point.

Like this: John wakes up to find his wife dead. But she isn’t dead, she’s just sleeping. Thankfully, he has the cure for that and kills her. When he takes her body to add to the rest, he notices that his favourite one is missing. He didn’t even tell Max about that one. How did he know where this one was hidden? John will not rest until Max has returned the body to it’s rightful place, but will Max hand it over when he finally has the only thing John has ever wanted?

That’s not my book lol That’s not any book – thank God! But it doesn’t sound blurby to me.

Blurbs to me are like:

Mae never thought there was anything strange about the three Sinclair brothers living across the street while growing up. Her crush on Gage Sinclair was normal teenager behaviour – even if he happened to be the middle child – but when Gage returns after a four-year disappearance acting cold and distant, Mae will learn there is nothing coincidental about their childhood association.

When Mae’s emotions begin to spike to uncontrollable levels, she realises she has bigger problems than Gage’s indifference. And losing consciousness after barrelling towards a stranger on auto pilot, sensing evil, only adds to her concerns. Gage is involved. He must be, because it’s only this incident that peaks his interest in her again.

As Mae struggles to makes sense of her emotions and the role she is forced to  play in a secret life of murder, she will have to decide if working closely with Gage will protect her from danger, or whether Gage is the very danger she should be seeking protection from.

This is mine. I worry it’s too general, too mysterious.

A 300 word synopsis

This is where I was getting my wires crossed a few months back. I thought this was the pitch in a query, where you held back enough to entice the agent. I think that if a synopsis is requested for this amount of words, it includes the whole plot, but is to the point, including main characters and main story – no sub-plots.

A detailed 1-2 page synopsis

This one is fine. Probably requested after interest has been shown with your query. More detailed than 300 word synopsis. One agent in Austalia mentioned 300-1000 words.

So you can see why I was confused a few months back with regards to what goes into what and what is revealed.

 

I think that what I will do is something like this in terms of structure.

Dear [full agent name]:

Paragraph one: Opening sentence – showing research of agent and why I’m approaching them

                             Logline – including word length and genre.

                             Maybe intended audience and writing style here.

Paragraph two: Blurb-like summary

Paragraph three: Bio

Thank for time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Me!

Please jump on board if you see I’m off track somewhere 🙂

 

 

Your book deal breaker: What element of your book would you refuse to change?

Whether it’s a relationship, a job offer or a book deal, there are certain issues we may not want to compromise on. There are normally issues that we can work together on – change them a smidge – allowing us to walk away from negotiations with a smile on our dial.  But is there one issue – one absolute issue – that you would refuse to negotiate on?

In a relationship, marriage, sisterhood, partnership, fellowship, broship, froship- whatever you want to call it-  we sail along through our honeymoon period believing that nothing will rock the boat. But as we sail out of the hallucinogenic-inducing fog that addles our brain with irrational expectations and false promises, we move into the choppier, eye-opening seas of realism that seem to stretch into an infinite distance. Things are going to get rough, and unless we steady ourselves, the ride is going to be long and painful.

Often we can compromise to settle the waters: I’ll nag you less if you stop doing stupid things etc etc. But there is often a point where we say, “Okay, I won’t sweat the small stuff, but for this, I won’t budge.” The deal breaker could be a hobby, your family, having four cats…Either way, a deal breaker is by nature, non-negotiable.  If you want to start playing around with my deal breaker, then I’ll start playing around with ways to break this partnership. I have to work around that issue knowing that the other party has made sacrifices, has compromised, for so many other issues. It’s a theory, anyway. There’s loads of advice on relationships and communication and there’s loads of advice on writing. Some of it you screw your nose at and some hits home. And from what I’ve learned, it hits home for a reason. Somewhere that notion was hiding, and it took that exact piece of information to coax it out. Like when you can be told 100 times from the same person to do something, but the right person can tell you once and it all suddenly makes sense.

So, onto playing ‘fantasy’ publishing and deal breakers. We hear of writers being told to take back their MS and make the MC younger so it fits the YA mold, to add more sex because that’s what this particular market wants, to meet the requirements of readers by introducing a purple-dyed sheep on page 62.  I’m listening. I’m learning. You know more than me. Throw it at me. But is there one thing – one absolute thing – that I would say no to?

Seeing that this is ‘fantasy’ publishing, I am of course assuming that this is a game and not reality. We know that flexibility might be left to yoga instructors and gymnasts if a book deal became a reality. But if this were a game, what wouldn’t I negotiate on? Probably adding explicit sexual content even though the MC’s age technically places her in the new adult age group. But to quote Manuel from “Fawlty Towers’,  “I know nothing.”

John Cleese : Please, please try to understand before one of us dies. hehe

I don’t know how to market a book or what sells. I’ve a read a lot of books and know what I like. And like most people, I’ve written what I’m comfortable with, with the elements of that genre that I love. I could up the angst, dial down the sarcasm, but would I be willing to change the whole tone of the book?

 

 

 

Repackaging my book proposal

I understand that publishers don’t have time to respond to each book proposal individually, but wouldn’t it be handy if they could tick a box so at least we know where we are going wrong?

Did my proposal even make it to an editor?

Was it my writing experience?

Was it my first five pages? My first page? Was the synopsis not engaging enough?

Was the writing not up to scratch? Did I use a dialogue tag other than’ said’? Should I have used ‘said’ alternatives? Did I use an adverb?

Was it the covering letter/query? It was the prologue, right?

Is my book marketable?

It’s this last one that I am going to delve into today. I, by no means, have the know-how on the Literary industry. This blog is more to take you on my journey: an unpublished writer uncovering the clues as she goes along. It’s Blue’s Clues, alright. It can be downright depressing, but more than that, it’s shown me how naive I am. Who do I think I am submitting to publishers directly? Am I arrogant? Am I cocky? Am I an arrogant cock? And if you’re English, you can call someone a cock and it’s all good. Has a different meaning here of course: it’s not quite as endearing and charming as cockney English and really scary to google when you want to check your facts.

I don’t think I’m making too much of a leap from my limited knowledge base to say that publishing is a business, and like any business, they need to make money. So…

Write what you love but it needs to sell.

Don’t write to a trend – but what is trending sells.

To work out where my book fits, I have to consider:

1) Young adult, new adult or adult.

2) Paranormal romance or urban fantasy.

Combinations of 1 and 2 produce very different expectations and attract different markets. Apparently romance readers have specific requirements – this is not from me, this is what I have heard over a few panels/seminars. I can’t guess what they are because a romance reader, I am not.

When I was thinking about comparable novels, authors I feel I am similar to, it became obvious that young adult urban fantasy – my pitch – is hard to find. Well, if you consider urban fantasy the way I consider urban fantasy, it is: if you took the romance out, the story would survive on it’s own. Try thinking about comparable novels and authors you are similar too. Now try and do it without saying ‘but’. It can be hard. I read on a blog once that a comparable novel will allow a publisher to forecast future revenue based on that books past sales. That makes complete sense, but if you don’t fit into a box, it’s tough. And no one wants to believe they fit into a box.

Don’t get me wrong, I have romance in my book. It’s slow burn and it’s low on angst, but it does has an emotional element where the tension builds. My original synopsis, though,  was focused around Mae, the troubles she has to face and how they are resolved. If I change my pitch to be young adult  paranormal romance, then the synopsis should focus more on the tension between Mae and Gage, rather than Mae’s journey?

Pitching as young adult paranormal romance will certainly make my book more marketable, if popular young adult books are any indication. Sex aside, I would love to introduce true urban fantasy as it’s written in the adult market, to the young adult market.

Am I selling out if I change my pitch? I don’t know, but there is a reason my favourite uf authors are writing contemporary, and I don’t condemn them for it. I know I want to sell my book, and I know I want this to be a paying career. And I do know that the shift and / buttons are wearing out on my keyboard from all these questions, so I must wrap this up.

I guess I need someone to help me sell my book, but literary agents are no less forgiving – so lets just go back to the very top of this blog and go through this again.

I’m dizzy.