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…

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

When nothing shocks us anymore

Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages, just Rock of Ages. . .  Is there anything that will shock us these days? And it’s not just the material available in books, it’s the reality we’re faced with as a world. Atrocities and destruction have always been present. But today, with media, we get a bird’s eye view. Are we becoming desensitised?

And, what does this mean to writers?

1) Your unique concept may be as unique as a teenager cuddling a One Direction pillow after a Facebook frenzy.

You’ve heard it all before: it’s been done before, and then again as a space opera where the MC is a 105 year old goat herder. And I know, your goat herder has been raised on the blood of sacrificial virgins, and their goat herder hasn’t. I’m not suggesting you change your concept or try to create a new one; I still believe in write what you want to write. But we need to accept that this ship has been sailing for a while. And the more writers there are, the more likely it is we are all going to drown in an abundance of overflowing ideas as we hug each other for safety and support rather than grab the damn life raft.

Which brings me to:

2) Selling yourself – with clothes on/off depending on whether you like to write in the nude.

The writing community is so supportive, but we have to accept the reality that we have to work hard to differentiate ourselves. Maybe it’s important to clarify that we can do this with each other rather than in spite of each other. Whether it’s a twitter contest, a standout query or a title that hits the spot. You might have to sell your book as ‘Honey I Blew Up The Kid’ meets ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’ And although you’ve almost run out of words for a tweet, you’re creating a unique idea that might have people thinking, “How much money would you have to pay Buffy to kiss Rick Moranis?”

3) Characters you love vs characters you could take or leave, or leave for dead.

I’ve heard that for a death to make impact, you have to invest in that character as a reader. But how about investing in the character that’s left standing? The MC’s mother dies after years of toiling and trouble. Make that double! And to feel empathy for that MC, you want to be thinking, “I want to be here to see how he/she get through this,” not, ” Why the hell wasn’t it them!”

4) Building up suspense: charge for the milk and they may want the whole cow, too.

This one has been the latest eye-opening addition to my revelations repertoire. Being a lover of urban fantasy, I’m always conscious of getting to the action. Get to those reveals, get people interested in your concept. But how about the get-people-hooked-by-suggesting-something-and-hinting-at-this-and-that-and-revealing-at-the-end strategy. It looks long and cumbersome, but trust me that counts as one word when you’re pitching, but it might be that we need to work harder on suspense and less on the action. Look at ‘Flowers in the Attic.’ How long did we get dragged through the mothers despicable behaviour, wondering whether she could possibly be that evil? We were all on that journey, knew there was something going on. But we all keep watching, waiting for the reveal.

So, we may have to work harder, but isn’t that generally what makes us more proud of what we do? And doesn’t that also translate in our work?

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?

 

Twitter pitches gave me the pitching twitches

Have you ever seen stage make-up in the full day of light? On stage, with all the stripping lights, it looks fabulous. But when you see that same make-up on someone just walking around during the day, it’s confronting – too much. This is kind of like my introduction to twitter pitching. Pitches I believed too fantastical, too in-your-face, ended up being the life of the twitter party. In other circumstances the pitch might look out of place – like the party animal whose outlandish behaviour  at a frat party is encouraged, but that same behaviour would be frowned upon should they turn up to a job interview wearing a beer-chugging hat. But are twitter pitches as one-dimensional as this? Or like the beer-chugging frat boy who calls his mummy on Sundays and ruffles the hair of his youngest niece, is there a depth and intensity that you never saw until you gave them more than a passing glance? Yes, of course 🙂 Twitter pitching might have given me the pitching twitches, but it was a great sensation: it made me feel something again.

I loved the way my friend Jean would get all *shifty eyed* when we spoke about involving other people into the world of my book. Well now, not only am I giving the milk away for free, I’m throwing in a milking station and jean-short wearing cowboy – who likes to massage . . . It was sobering to throw my story in people’s faces 24 times in 12 hours and have people scan past it. It made me realise that there are a lot of great stories out there and that they sound a hell of a lot more interesting than mine. And it made me realise my hook is more just ‘slightly-bent’ and that it’s going to need some serious shaping to latch anyone with its curvy goodness. That can never be a bad thing 🙂

I don’t want to get into what makes a great twitter pitch; people do this so much better than I. (Check them out one day. The ones I tried are #pitchMAS and #SFFpit, but there was #pitmad a few days prior ) I do have two opportunities with agents wanting to see my query, so that was pretty awesome. And after spending two months building my query and then moaning because I couldn’t send it out to agents this close to Christmas, it was nice to finally send those first two queries and have that feeling of hope resurface. Because isn’t that what keeps us going? As corny as hope is as a concept, I would rather have the possibility of rejection, than no possibility at all. It’s exciting – like when you know you shouldn’t call the love interest who shows little interest in you, and you know they won’t return your call. But don’t you just love that feeling in the pit of your belly that makes you feel alive?