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Writing a Query Letter: Part 3

The Book

Welcome to part 3, writing about your book. We covered the hook in this post, and the salutation/personalizing your query letter here in part 1.

So the query letter is addressed to an agent, we’ve got that part. And you started off with an immediate hook, seducing your chosen agent into caring about your book using the main characters and the stakes.

Now we get to the book itself. You have to tell the agent what they’re dealing with, and what they will be trying to sell if they decide to represent your book. That means the picky details about your book, the genre, the word count and the target audience.

If you’re self-publishing you still need to know this, because booksellers will need a genre to list your book under and a page count once it’s turned into e-book format. So buckle down and get that figured out.

  • A note-In the catchy phrase it goes, “the Hook, the Book and the Cook” but that doesn’t mean you should follow that formula exactly and have precisely three paragraphs on just those subjects, in that order. For one thing, that would make for lots of boring formulaic query letters. How you work in the information about your book is up to you and how your query letter ends up looking. Structure it the way you want, and in whatever order works best for you.

For some ideas, here is where you go to look at successful query letters, at Agent Query Connect.com

These are the things you must have for sure, no matter what, about your book:

  1. A genre. Do some research and figure out which genre is the most like your book. If it doesn’t fit in a genre, pick the two closest and say it’s a mashup. If the age level isn’t already made clear by the genre, include that too. (Adult, YA, Middle Grade, Picture book, etc.)
  2. A word count. Is it a novella? A novel? An epic seven book series? All of those are figured out through word count.
  3. A Title. Please God, do not forget the title, in all caps.

Three things, sounds easy right? Bahahahaha no. These are harder than figuring out the hook! Here I turn to the wonderful magic of the internet, and do lots of reading to figure out what to put in my query letter. Sometimes, I won’t lie, I consider writing erotica just because it would be easy to figure out what genre it belongs to and the word counts for erotica are pretty standard.

How this might look in your query letter:

Option 1

Dear Ms. [Agent],

Let me introduce my book, [word count] [genre], [TITLE!] Example; Let me introduce to you my 120,000 word epic fantasy novel, THE WANDERING DARK ELVES.

[Hook paragraphs, etc]

-Boom, you led off with all the pertinent information and can now dive into the plot.

Option 2

Dear Ms. [Agent],

[Starts with the Hook] Example; When Agent Brian Scully finds a decomposing Alien in the backseat of his car, he knows it’s time to come out of retirement and fight for the survival of Earth. Again. [now the Book] WHEN ALIENS FALL is my 90,000 word science fiction novel for adult readers, a mix of heart pounding adventure and galaxy wide political intrigue with a dash of tentacle-laden humor.

-Second option, you can sort of wiggle the Book information right into your hook. Work it in as a natural extension of the paragraphs you just wrote about the story. This option seems to work the best.

Option 3.

Dear Mr. [Agent],

[the cool Hook]

[Now a small paragraph about you and your writing credits] Complete at 105,000 words, SUBSPACE COWBOY is a science fiction adventure story, and the winner of the Locus prize for unpublished SciFi manuscripts.

-Third option, leave the details of the Book for the very end, as you are closing. Opinions differ as to whether or not you should do this. It annoys some agents that they have to work all the way to the bottom to find this, others don’t mind it because they’re more focused on your hook and like to see all the details tied up in the end. In general, option 2 seems to be in most successful query letters.

Anyway, resources for you.

How to Figure Out Your Book’s Genre from Rock Your Writing.com. It’s from 2013, so verify what they say with other sources too.

How to Pick the Right Genre For Your Book from Write to Done, with some reasons why you should care.

What Genre is My Book? from Writer’s Life.org.

All of these are good to start with, and they suggest checking out Amazon too, looking over what they have for sale in genre and sub-genres to figure out your target audience for your story.

Once you’ve figured that out, time to worry about your word count.

How Long Should a Book Be? from Writer’s Digest. This one is also older, 2012, and we all know that publishing changes every year so also double check their numbers before you start to worry.

Manuscript Agency (in Australia)  has a good, easy to understand post: Word Count By Genre

And a great, succinct post that I really recommend, about the entire process. From author/slush pile reader Traci Chee, Query Tips: Structure

Good luck!

Nevada: The Start

Let me introduce you to the Silver State

A lot of my books are going to be set in Nevada, describing it in detail, loving all of its quirks (and it’s a pretty quirky state.) It’s a place full of contradictions, but empty of people. The terrain goes from high mountain dryness to arid, rocky sand. Although there is a lot of variation from end to end of the state, most of it is variations between different kinds of desert. Water is a precious resource, and wells must be dug deep to find it.

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the state flag

I will swear that residents of this state enjoy surprising people, it’s a kind of joke against the whole world. Only in Nevada will you find the internationally famous sink of depravity that is Las Vegas and a moral conservative majority population in the same place. It’s the only state in the U.S.A. where gambling is legal everywhere and definitely the only one with any kind of legal prostitution (only in two counties, but it is legal), yet we have a religious conservative Governor. It takes individualism to a whole new level.

Since the place I call home has captured my complete interest and worked its way into most of my books, I’ll be blogging about it one region at a time, and you’re invited to come along.

Some Facts

State size: 110, 540 square miles, 85% of which is owned by the Federal government, because it’s nothing but dirt and no one else wants it. The state is bigger than the whole United Kingdom in land size, but smaller in terms of castles or politeness.

Fun fact-the Bureau of Land Management that owns & manages that 85% allows camping without fees, so if it’s BLM land you can just pull off of the highway and camp. Bring your own water. Watch out for scorpions; the little yellow ones, we don’t have the big black ones. Please don’t light any fires, it’s been a long time since the last brushfire took out most of the state and we’d like to keep it that way, thanks. If you guess wrong and camp on someone’s private property they will come out and yell at you, generally while holding a gun. Double check with a map before you try this.

Capital City: Carson City, the smallest of the three big cities here.

“Nevada” derives from the word for “snow covered” in Spanish. Most of it was part of Mexican territory until the Mexican-American war in 1848.

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State flower: The sagebrush. It’s a kind of bush with a super pungent herby smell and a silvery sheen to the leaves. The picture to the left is a close up of sagebrush.

State population: 2.891 million people. 7th biggest state out of the 50 in size, but 34th in population.

State nicknames: The Silver State (because it had a big silver boom just after the gold rush in California and because sagebrush looks silvery, you see what we did there?) and The Battle Born State (because we were approved to become a state to give the President a boost of materials and men for the Union during the Civil War, and wouldn’t have become a state so quickly otherwise.)

There is around 50,000 miles of paved road in the state, and if you stay off the two main highways it’s empty paved road. That car you’ve always wanted to go really fast in? Bring that car here.

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photo courtesy stocksnap.io and Johannes Plenio

Indigenous tribes here include the Paiute, Shoshone and Washo.

Nevada is second in the whole world for gold production right now, behind Africa. Active mines here also produce a lot of other minerals and metals.

It’s pronounced “Ne-vah-DUH” not “Ne-VAAH-duh” and if you get it wrong people will laugh right to your face. Although it is a Spanish word it’s not pronounced the Spanish way, because we’re strange like that.

Link to the Nevada Tourism website for you. Come visit, we LOVE tourists. And their money. Mostly their money.

Some Photos of Nevada

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Carson City
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most of the state looks like this. Photo courtesy Pixaby
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highway 95 near Hawthorne
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In the hills west of Carson City
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The Pine Grove mountain range near Yerington, with lots of Sagebrush
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Highway 80 near Winemucca

When a Monster Calls

You should answer, because it’s an awesome book.

This is a review of a good book, not because I’m getting paid or getting anything out of it, but because it’s great and you should give it a chance.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a hard book to read. I picked it up because I kept seeing it recommended and the premise seemed interesting. The writing is a little simplistic at times and it’s a shorter book, but I consider those good things and the prose manages to also be lyrical, almost like poetry.

It’s about loss, death, fear and the pretty lies we tell ourselves to get through all three of those things. The honesty is brutal. The pain that Conor, the main character, goes through is something that reaches out to burrow into you, the reader.

The main character is hurting and does many terrible things to people trying to be nice to him. Being so full of hurt you want to rip into someone else is not a good excuse, but it is a reason.

So why read it, if it’s so dark? Because it’s true. Everyone has felt pain like Conor’s and will feel it again, before they cause it. Everyone has lied to themselves like Conor has. And it’s a book full of hope. I’d recommend it for anyone going through a hard time, dealing with a loss, or feeling the need for a little hope.

Nothing in it turns out to be what you expect (except for the fact that Conor’s mom has cancer. That you figure out early on, even though no one in the entire book ever says the word ‘cancer’.)

The monster from the title comes to Conor to tell him three stories. They’re not what you think they will be when you start reading them. And the reason Conor needs to hear them isn’t what you guess at first. I kept reading to understand all of the many unexpected things Ness puts in there, and he ties it all up for you at the end. He leaves you with a way through the pain, which you learn along with Conor.

Just to whet your appetite, I’ll leave you with a quote from the book:

Stories are the wildest thing of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.

‘That’s what teachers always say,’ Conor said. ‘No one believes them either.’

And when I have finished my three stories, the monster said, as if Conor hadn’t spoken, you will tell me a fourth.

Conor squirmed in the monster’s hand. ‘I’m no good at stories.’

You will tell me a fourth, the monster repeated, and it will be the truth.”

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, p. 38

Books Rock My World

All of my pieces on the Books Rock My World site, in one place

A list of links to the articles I’ve written for Books Rock My World. The site is run by the beautiful Ana Jembrek from Zagreb and the community of writers there is so great. My fellow writers there come from all over the world. It’s a site for bookworms, written by bookworms, and we fly our booky flags with pride! Come on over and give it a look.

I’m linking to the articles here because having them appear on both sites is bad for Google search stuff (SEO) but I’m still proud of them. Since the site doesn’t pay writers these are written for pure fun and I love them like a redheaded stepchild.

Trope Pieces

6 Romance Tropes We Love to Hate, containing Amazing Outdoor Sex, the Damaged with a Heart of Gold character and a Dictionary of Synonyms for Engorged.

5 More Romance Tropes to Love, making fun of the dreaded love triangle and how terrible an angsty paranormal boyfriend would be, with mentions of pregnancies and Vag Magika.

6 Horror Tropes to Slasher Kill, my favorite of the trope posts. Horror is my guilty pleasure reading. Also, Chuck Wendig is my favorite recent discovery in the genre.

7 Literary Fiction Tropes to Sigh Meaningfully At, was an entertaining one to write too. Tropes are an endless font of fun.

6 YA Tropes That Make Us Angsty with first person. First person everywhere.

Book Recommendations

5 Books for Readers Who Love Pride and Prejudice, for some reason the most popular of all the pieces I’ve written there. Maybe because the enemies to lovers trope is evergreen?

5 Books for Readers Who Love Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one of Jane’s books that doesn’t get enough love. And the second chance/redemption plot is one of my favorites.

Books that Cook for the bibliophiles who want to know how to make foods from the Redwall feasts, or the chocolates from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

10 Top Romance Authors, a gentle way to ease yourself into the genre and avoid the heaving bosoms.

7 Beautiful Love Stories You Won’t Find in the Romance Section, mostly written because I wanted an excuse to plug some Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman.

14 Children’s Books That Aren’t Just For Kids, because when it comes to “children’s” books I firmly believe they should be read at any age.

For Fun

When We Said Critique, a gif. list post depicting the stages of critique. I love gifs.

10 Fun Pranks to Play on a Bookworm10 Fun Pranks to Play on a Bookworm, not embarrassing or mean ways to joke with your favorite book friend.

I’m In Love With Books, My Partner Is Not, 3 ways to work towards acceptance. This one also got a lot of responses, I think it hit a common nerve.

9 Movie Adaptations That Are Worthy Of Their Book, also hit a nerve. Whoo boy people get opinionated about their movie adaptations. The commenters were uniformly nice, but firm.

 

 

featured image courtesy stocksnap.io & Rachel Walker

 

 

We Still Hates It

Or; When It’s Tempting to Quit

This is an Insecure Writer’s Support Group Post. To sign up for the monthly blog hop, go here, and enjoy! Be sure to stop by the co-host’s pages and give them some love.

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The question for June 7, 2017: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

And the answer is: yes. Many times. It’s driven me to write a full on embrace the insanity post as Gollum from Lord of the Rings, which you can find here.

This writing thing is hard. I know it sounds like it shouldn’t be, what’s so hard about putting your butt in a chair and writing/typing? Doesn’t matter how easy it sounds. Sounds are deceiving.

Writing a book is like . . . translating in a language you only know a few phrases of while trying to write an attractive guide book to place you’ve never been. Wrestling an octopus to make it give up nuggets of inspiration, which have to be torn out of its cold, dead suckers. Balancing on a high beam juggling dictionaries while the audience throws bananas at you. Remembering obscure rules while listening to an important phone call. All at the same time.

Once you’ve done all of that, you have to get your work out there. To be honest this is the point which has driven me to give up before.

You can self-publish-which is like standing in the middle of a steaming jungle PACKED FULL of animal screeches and wailing away in your own imitation howler monkey noise hoping to get noticed, while no one notices. There’s just too many other sounds around you.

You can traditionally publish-which is like hacking your way through the jungle with a dull machete, Darn Good Book clenched between your desperate teeth, avoiding the poison darts and bouncing boulders until you reach the Mystic Temple of Publishing.

Does any of that sound fun? Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s a slog full of thankless work and being rejected, which always hurts. The urge to give up is sometimes overwhelming. Add in a life outside of writing, a job, all the stresses that happen daily and the big ones that come once in a while to knock your life over sideways and you start thinking, why even continue?

So what makes me come back to it? I’m not 100% sure. Part of it is how much I love stories, and how much I want to be a part of that world. Some of it is that I want to write, no matter how hard it gets. A little bit of it has to do with the fact that I can’t not write. It’s just there and wants to come out, whether anyone ever reads it. And the rest, I suspect, has to do with the fact that I am full of boneheaded, visceral, built-in stubborn. For some reason, all the rejection just makes me more determined that I will do this.

How much of this sounds familiar to you? What makes you want to quit? What is your reason to keep writing?

Writing a Query Letter: Part 2

How to write The Hook in your query letter

On to the next part! Are you having fun yet? For part 1 of the series: Writing the salutation, go here.

I’m not 100% certain where the catchy phrase “the Hook, the Book and the Cook” came from, but it’s a familiar one to people writing query letters. One of the earliest articles I found with this phrase was written by Michael Larson (find it here), so I’ll give tentative credit to him. If you know the origins of this querying advice, please do let me know!

There are different ways to write a query letter, and I’m sure more will be added as Hook, Book, Cook becomes old-school. For now this seems to be the way to go, so it’s the way this series will tell you how to write a query letter.

All queries contain the hook into the story, the basics of the book, and the cook who made it (that’s you.)

Let’s dive into The Hook

Some advice you’ll find online says to start out your query letters with personalized stuff about the agent. “According to your profile/ms wishlist/twitter you’re looking for [books] in [genre]” or “After seeing that you love [this thing] on twitter, I have a story I think you will really enjoy” are two examples of this, although the ways to do it are endless.

After much stalking on Queryshark, plenty of reading on Agent Query Connect.com, trawls through many agent/editor blogs and being rejected 100% of the time when I started my own query letters that way, I am confident when I tell you: DON’T START WITH PERSONALIZATION. Start with the hook.

(The only exceptions: When you have been referred to the agent by a colleague, you met the agent or heard them speak at a conference, or they requested your material in some way, then you can lead off with that. Otherwise; NO.)

Janet Reid, the Query Shark, is explicit about this. Your query is a sales pitch. Vamp that story up with all kinds of fancy glitter, hooker red lipstick, and mile high shoes. Go all Broadway on it. It should make the person reading your query think that they would really, really like to know what happens next. So dive right in and invite them to want to know more. How do you do that? You put a big hook on the sucker.

The ways to do this vary.

  • Start with an enticing sentence hook (a tagline). Basically, boil your entire book into one emotion evoking sentence. If you have the knack and it works for your book, go for it. Then flesh that out a little with another 100-200 word paragraph about your plot.

Examples of a tagline: Don’t go into the water (from Jaws). In space, no one can hear you scream (Alien). An adventure 65 million years in the making (Jurassic Park).

jaws
Agent: Officially Hooked
  • Start with a slightly longer hook (a logline). Two or three sentences that introduce the main character, the conflict, and why the reader should care about the conflict. Then flesh that out a little with 100-200 words on your super cool plot.

Example: The Lord of The Rings A Young hobbit named Frodo must destroy an ancient ring before the evil Lord Sauron who created the ring uses it to conquer and rule the world.

(Here’s a helpful post for you on the difference between taglines and loglines from Writers Helping Writers.)

  • Dive right into your Hook with the first paragraph. Even if you start with a sentence long tagline, you still need to sell your book and that means getting into the plot. You want the reader to keep reading, so you need to include the main characters and the stakes for them. How you do this will depend entirely on your book. Just like you did in your novel, lead off with the action. Do not summarize your entire plot, if they want a summary they will ask for it. And, on the other end of the spectrum, don’t be so vague about everything that they’re left with no idea of what your book is about. Remember; Main Characters and Problem. Leave them wanting to know how you’re going to solve that problem.

Example: for Jurassic Park-A team of scientists lead by Dr. Alan Grant visit the island owned by secretive billionaire John Hammond and his genetic engineering company. When they arrive they discover that Hammond and his team of unscrupulous scientists have managed to do the impossible. They have brought dinosaurs back to life. Now Dr. Grant and his team have to survive the island known as Jurassic Park while they discover how terribly science can go wrong.

Read lots and lots of examples of successful queries to get the flow of this. You’ll have to do it for your own plot, of course, but having an idea of where to start is helpful.

Some extra resources for you:

Developing the Hook from Writer’s Digest.com

What Makes a Good Book Tagline from ThoughtsonFantasy.com

 

 

 

3 Ways To Be The Best Critique Partner Ever

We’re talking bacon-wrapped level of awesome.

A good critique partner is a critical part of writing a book. What made sense to you when you wrote it might be incomprehensible to others. The things you thought were clear could be covered in mud from another perspective. You are too close to your darling words to realize which ones are boring or unnecessary, no matter how harsh you think you’re being on yourself when you edit. Other eyes on your work are needed, and that means finding a critique partner/group.

As relationships go, getting critiqued and giving your own in return is unique. You’re sticking a hand out knowing it will be slapped and knowing that you may be trading some hand-slapping in return. Being able to do this without causing harm is a skill.

Here are three things to keep in mind to be the best critique partner you can be when it’s your turn.

1. Be Specific

“I didn’t like this part, it’s boring.” is not as helpful as something like “This part moved slowly, could you take out some of the stuff (here) and (here) to tighten it up a little? Or maybe you could add a little more conflict with (stuff).” Even worse, saying “I liked it.” Well, that’s good to hear but what did you like? The characters? The conflict? The plot? The dialogue? The print type? The perfectly executed semicolons and em-dashes? There’s no way to know from a statement that covers absolutely everything under one umbrella.

You are a fabulous beta reader when you can point out specific problems instead of smothering with generalities.

2. Be Kind

While you’re being specific there’s no need to go in with needle sharp accuracy. It’s sometimes a thin line to walk between pointing out something that does not work and pointing out how very much it just doesn’t work.

A lot of critique partners use something called the “compliment sandwich.” Start with something good. “I really like your dialogue, it flows naturally and (character) seems so real.” Insert the problem you found, remembering not to be too harsh. “But, the descriptions were on the wordy side and I noticed three or four adverbs per sentence.” Add something else helpful or kind. “I found this awesome website that helps edit out adverbs and passive voice, can I send you the link?”

Never, ever let yourself forget that the person you’re critiquing threw their heart and soul into what you’re reading.

3. Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Grammar and spelling are important, but keep yourself focused on the overall plot while you go. If it’s a choice between nit-picking and moving the conflict along, I’d go with the plot. You are reading this as a stand-in for the general public that will hopefully buy the book. If the story is lagging, needs some tightening, needs clarifying or isn’t working as written it’s up to you to help catch it. Unless they asked for line edits, assume you are looking for plot.

And as a bonus, three ways being a critique partner will benefit you:

1. You Will Develop an Editor’s Eye

As you diagnose someone else’s plot and pacing, it will become easier to do it for your own story.

2. You’ll Get a Leg Up and Over Writer’s Block

Being surrounded by abstracts, ideas and solutions as you help work through problems you find in another manuscript will make you more agile working around your own. At the very least you’ll get some mental space to let your mind work through a plot point you’re stuck on.

3. You Will Get a Solid Grip on Technique

Finding the darlings for other authors to kill off, you’ll develop the discipline to hunt down and kill your own. As you critique by being specific and offering fixes, you will have the techniques and tricks you find fresh in your own mind to apply to your story.

Good luck with your critiques!

A Three Step Path to Acceptance When Your Partner is Not a Bookworm Too

I’m sitting on the couch, laughing because this part of the Terry Pratchett book is hilarious. In some place like a library or coffee shop I would get strange looks, maybe a smile. From my partner . . . not even a glance. He’s so used to it he’s learned to tune it out.

We’ve been together for ten years and in that time I have learned that when I want to talk books, recommend authors, or geek out over the written word I can count on his reply being a blank look. He is a mechanic and has an amazing amount of spatial-visual intelligence. Besides working on anything with a motor (and I mean anything) he welds, fixes anything a handyman could, and works with wood. I have three beautiful bookshelves he’s made over the years. Still doesn’t mean he loves books as much as I do.

It took several years, broken down into three steps, for me to reach the point of acceptance for this basic difference between our personalities. If I can help someone else get to that point, this article will have done a good thing.

Step 1: Try every method you can think of to get your soulmate reading.

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leaving books out like

You’ve already asked them what books they like to read because yes, you definitely build your perception of another person based on what genres and authors they love. When your significant other listed just three or four books that they like, you assumed they must have forgotten to list the hundred or so others that you would have.

After you’ve moved in together you realized; they weren’t joking. They don’t read much, or read for fun at all. This is fine, you can fix that by introducing them to the wonderful worlds that are in books! Recommending a book you think they will like? Check. Pretty much ruining the whole plot by describing it too much in an effort to interest them? Yep. The oh-so-casual leaving the book out in a conspicuous place? Done. The check-up nudge to read the book you recommended, followed by a switch to another book they might like more? Check and check. Because your partner is a wonderful person who wants to make you happy, they try the book. And DNR it. Followed by the next one. DNR. Got one chapter in. Finished the first half, and stopped.

Step 2: The dawning realization that your other half will not turn into a bookworm by osmosis.

Describing the books did not work. Rhapsodizing about amazing authors caused no change. The books they started for you and never finished did not make them a believer. They did not find a favorite author. When you have some down time together, they have a million other projects on tap. The thought that they might not ever become a bibliophile like you has started to creep in.

It takes an adjustment to understand that someone you love is just not into reading like you are. For you books are comfort, the characters are friends, they open your world and expand it, lift you up when you’re sad, make you feel, make you learn. For your partner . . . they’re a chore. They may discover one or two books that they enjoy and read the whole thing for you, but books will never be their go-to activity. So what do you do now?

Step 3: Accept that you are the reader and your partner is not.

At this point it may be time to stop trying to share your love of books and savor the other activities you like to do together. Not every single interest can be a shared one between you, and that’s part of a relationship. It’s possible that while your love might not want to read the novels they would enjoy hearing what you like about them.

Tell them what’s so cool about the book you’re currently into, and why.

Delve into the ideas behind the story that fascinate you, without making them read. They might not be into the turning pages part but they do enjoy talking to you.

Appreciate the fact that they don’t mind letting you dive into a book while they watch their favorite show. Or the way they let you take up all the flat surfaces in the house with your books. More shelf space for you, right?

Recommend books for them to buy for your birthday, and say thank you.

You two might never be that super cute scene from Disney/Pixar’s Up where Carl and Ellie are reading together in their separate chairs, but they let you fly your bibliophile flag with pride and that’s pretty cool.

Besides, they will end up knowing the plots of books you care about anyway because there are always movie adaptations to go see together.

picture courtesy stocksnap.io and Jessica Ruscello

In the Time You Don’t Feel Like Writing

art in a time of darkness

Hitting a slump in the writing lately. How can I care about my pretend worlds when the real world is so messed up it hurts? Twenty-two people are dead in Manchester, for no reason other than hate. Twenty-two families are dealing with pain I can’t imagine. So many attacks have been carried out, just in the last two years. Too many people are dead.

The orange cheeto fart that I didn’t vote for is busy chipping away at every program that gives my country worth, hacking down the taxes that pay for my husband’s job (public city employee) and my own (public school teacher), and making the country look exactly as stupid as our allies have always suspected we are.

It’s so hard to set that aside and work on creating stories full of hope. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any point in doing it.

Luckily for me there are people like Chuck Wendig, who have words of encouragement and a call to carry on. He writes to remind us why it’s worth it. His article is incredibly NSFW (lots of cussing, be warned) but it’s full of fire for you if you’re feeling the same way. He wrote it back in December 2016 but it’s still very relevant. Find it here, and keep on doing art. As Chuck says in his post ” . . . grab the rope. Add your own knot. Pull yourself along and help others to do the same.”

 

 

photo courtesy stocksnap.io and Alejandro Escamilla

 

 

Writing A Query Letter: Part 1

The salutation

Since I’m in the process of writing one and getting back in the trenches, there’s no reason you shouldn’t benefit from all the research I’ve been doing for your own query letters. This will be a multi-part series.

First of all, some Quality advice on Querying from the site Agent Query.com. Their article links to my other go-tos for this, namely Writer’s Digest and Query Shark. Everything you need, on one easy to navigate page=win for you. Plus, Agent Query has a whole part of their site dedicated to successful query letters. Reading examples of what worked is invaluable, at least to me, as a starting point.

Let’s jump right in to writing the very first part of a query letter; the salutation.

Is it really that important? Well, yes. This would seem like a self-evident, common politeness rule that would be easy to follow without being told, but you would be surprised how often it’s not. I hang out a lot on the “Queries” tab at mswishlist.com. As agents read through their slush pile they tweet their reaction and why they passed or requested. It’s like peering through the window into their thought process, and incredibly helpful. Most of the examples I’ll be using of what not to do are from these tweets.

Do: “Dear Ms. [Agent’s last name]”

Don’t: Fw:Fw: Obvious Mass Query to any and all literary agencies

-Their name is on the agency website, just above all of their submission guidelines and the genres they represent, which you have of course read carefully. Right? A mass forward generic email is conspicuous, lazy, and sort of disrespectful. Never mass forward.

Do: “Dear Mr. [Agent’s last name]”

Don’t: “Dear Fabulous Fantastic Agent Who I Know Will Love My Book”

-Think of it as a professional business letter. If they become your agent, it will be a business relationship. Trying to be cutesy or humorous in your salutation will backfire on you, because it’s not professional and plain writing doesn’t convey that it’s supposed to be funny the way body language would. It just doesn’t work. Never try to be funny.

Do: “Dear Mrs. [Agent’s last name]”

Don’t: “Dear Mrs. Jane Doe, it’s so cool that your maiden name was the same as mine! I looked you up on those personal info sites, there was a lot of neat information. How do you like living in Greenwich?”

-AAAHH! Creepy! Yes, personalize your query letter to the agent you are querying. If their agent profile lists them as “Mrs.” or makes a clear reference to kids and hubby, a Mrs. is appropriate. No, do not take “personalize” to mean “stomp down personal boundary fences and channel your inner stalker.” Never be a creeper person.

Do: “Dear Ms. [Agent’s last name, spelled correctly!]

Don’t: “To Whom it May Concern”

Similar to a mass forward. This agent is spending a large part of their working hours reading through queries. At least let them know you’re interested in talking to them by saluting them with their correctly spelled name. If you end up working together, their name will be somewhat important to get right (just sayin’). Never make it obvious you didn’t put forth the bare minimum of effort to be respectful and personable.

To summarize: Be professional. Take the time to learn their last name and how to spell it, and use that. The salutation is not the time to demonstrate how you’re a rule breaker, or really funny.

Another good resource to begin with: How to personalize your query letters from Agent Carly Watters’ Blog

 

picture courtesy: stocksnap.io via Alisa Anton