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?

When writers edit – why we keep missing errors

I was pretty harsh on hindsight about 9 months ago in one of my posts. I might have mentioned the word hindsight alongside words like acid, fire and brimstone. I may have also likened it to a pointy-edged object. But I’ve grown lately, and I’ve come to understand that there are reasons I miss editing errors the 1st, 10th and even 40th time around.

I think it has something to do with my capacity to hold new information. Now writing veterans don’t have the same learning curve as I, but there are probably still moments where they fly over an error because they can write without having to be so conscious of mistakes. It’s the nervous performer who often succeeds.

But in my case, when my information funnel is full, I can only fit more in when the contents start filtering through the bottom. And the bottom of my funnel is pin sized and the information is like mud….

So I’m going to take it easy on myself this time around. I wanted to berate myself for sending off queries too early. But I had done my research, am continuing to research and am learning from research. So each round, I’m going to tweak – change the first paragraph of my MS, change my query blurb, take out unneccesary words and scrutinise further.

Why didn’t I do this first time? Well, I did – as far as I could tell. But with queries looming over my head and time dragging on from my final draft ( I needed that belly laugh) I had to send those queries out.

Have you even felt that?

And now that they are out, I feel like the bottom of my funnel is now marble sized, and with that extra room, I can see things I couldn’t before.

Surely, I’m not the only one…

 

 

 

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 šŸ™‚

How important is a blurb to readers?

I had an itty-bitty blog break – just like on my 40th, I’ll have a ‘few’ wines. But like any comeback, I wanted to return with a bang and say, ‘Yeah, that’s right! This is why I blog: because I love to get stuck in, not because I have to.’ And I was bogged down in query hell where Blurb is a king who rules with an iron fist alongside his younger, less important but also unforgiving brother, Synopsis.

But since Blurb and I have had such a close relationship, I thought I would look into the true power that it wields. Does the king become the pauper when you takeĀ  it away from this kingdom of hell? Or will it shine because what makes it king will make it influential wherever it is?

So as a reader, how important is a blurb? As a writer, I’m trying to get the attention of an agent. But do the integral components I’m including, bonded together with a voice meant to create interest, translate to a reader as well? If I took this query blurb and used this on a self-published book, would it hold up?

We know there’s a time for creativity when you’re selling and there’sĀ  a time for sticking to the rules. Even with contemporary music, over all the years, we still have a verse and a chorus. And dissonance, while some people don’t mind it, we still prefer the sound of music that is harmonious – in general. So with a blurb, I guess the creativity can be included with your voice, but you can’t add this to sacrifice character, conflict and consequence – in a query.

So when you pick up a book, do you read the blurb, and if so, what is it about a blurb that pulls you in? I have to say, most times I’m halfway through a book before I even look at a blurb; my reads come from recommendations.

But when you do look at a blurb, you expect it to start like this:

Like anyone, Nancy puts her pants on one leg a time. That is, until she wakes up and finds out she has 60 legs, and the only way she’ll make it to school on time is by doubling her efforts.

So there must be a reason a blurb follows a pattern. But how important is it these days? And when you are in a book store, is it the blurb you rush to, or the first few pages?

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-submission options

So, I’m at a crossroads or is it a crossroad? If it’s angry, it’s probably safer if it’s alone. Either way, I could take a spin – a great smoke-inducing, environment-cluttering burnout – and call them the rageroads instead of the crossroads, but I’m actually dealing fine – even though I normally can’t resistĀ  playing with words and embellishing the truth… But to be truthful, I’m in the middle of an octopusroad, or whatever an intersection would be called if it where based on a thirteen-armed creature. Yep. It’s that scary.

What do I do with my time, now that I can cross step one off my list?

1) Contact local literary agents

This involves redoing my synopsis as some require a 300-1000 word synopsis and mine is only 300. Technically, I would be complying with the terms, but I’m sure they want more than 300 words.

I tried to just add more information to my existing one, but this was a bad idea. I need to start from scratch.

2) Contact overseas literary agents

I have sent off for a number of books that can help: Writers and Artists Yearbook 2015, 2015 Guide to Literary Agents: The most trusted Guide to Getting Published and The Firstwriter.com Writer’s handbook 2015.

It was also suggested that you can purchase The Directory of the American Book Publishing Industry but wow, is that expensive!

I know that I can look to the internet for a lot of this information, but I like my time away from the screen and can look at this information more clearly in book format.

3) Submit to digital publishers

Thankfully, having subscribed to QLD Writer’s Centre, I am able to see a number of digital publishing opportunities that I wasn’t aware of. Do agents also sell to digital publishers? I guess so – more research!

4) Research the submission proposal and queries further

I have ordered a few books to help here from the library. An Insider’s Guide to Publishing and Write the Perfect Book Proposal: ten that sold and why.

5) Seek out writing training

I have ordered Penguin Writer’s Manual to see what it offers.

There is also a mentor opportunity – which I have to pay for – which will also highlight my flaws.

6) Have my manuscript assessed

I did not know this service was available until two weeks ago! One I checked costĀ  about $600 for the amount of words in my MS.

Apparently, having this done, and including this, along with any other workshops attended/memberships held, in your query letter can help highlight how serious you are about your career. I should have done this!

7) Research mythology, fighting and weapons for book two.

I have a ridiculous amount of research to do for book two. While I am unsure what I should do, I could maybe take a few weeks off to solidly research.Ā  This will at least satisfy some of book two’s need for attention.

8) Continue to write book two

Really, I should still be writing 500 words a day to keep the flow, but I am struggling. I still think book one and I need some time together.

9) Network and attend workshops

This, I will try and do as they become available. As per my previous post, I am baby-stepping my way into networking. There was a lot to be gained just from an hour and a half last night! Thank you Louise Cusack!

10) Investigate publishing overseas

I’ll be seeing what I can glean from the above books.

11) Invest more time into blogging and building a platform

12) Rethink my pitch

I’m trying to sell my book proposal as urban fantasy. Upon thinking about young adult and trying to find comparative novels, it became obvious that this may be a hard sell. I have romance throughout, but I played this down. I think I need to rethink the way my proposal is packaged. I’m not selling my soul to any devil here. There are romantic elements that may make my book more marketable if I show they are there. The romance stays the same; it was always there.

13) Revamp my MS

The first ten pages has to be engaging. To me, it was, but I have to think on this again. The prologue, as well received as it was by beta readers, might have to go – even though it is short and has you wondering – who the hell just killed that guy and why! Even the synopsis might need to be changed to suit a more paranormal romance tone – if I decide to repackage.

 

In hindsight – more like, as I grab hindsight by the throat and threaten to harm it should it speak up – I should have done even more research. I felt like I’d done enough, though.

What do I prioritise?

I could treat my writing like I did my professional career as an account manager. Divide my day into increments and do a little of everything. I mean, the customers don’t stop calling just because I’ve allocated a day to paperwork. Some activities just need to be attended to – every day. Should this be book two? If you should write every day, then surely this should mean that every day I write at least 500 words. The rest of the day could be research for book two, blogging, revamping my query, synopsis and MS.

There is a lot to consider, isn’t there?

We are told to get the story out first. And now that it is out, like a newborn, the world it is introduced to is vast, unpredictable and confusing.

If anything stands out that I am missing or you would like to share your thoughts on where you are, please do šŸ™‚