I, Too, Want to See You be Brave

Sara Bareilles’ radio hit, Brave, is more than just a fun song (and a great video) – it’s a helpful piece of advice.

Remember all of you (not just writers) that you have to be your own biggest fan and supporter throughout all of your work and life. You have to believe in yourself first or no one ever will.

How was I brave lately?

I went to a writers’ conference all alone, introduced myself to writers and industry pros, put my writing in front of three industry reps, and pitched my book to an agent. That’s a lot for one weekend, I think! I’m naturally a bit introverted, so it took a lot to really put myself out there.

There was a real possibility of failure! People could have hated my writing. Hated me. Hated my pitch. I could have made a mess of my name and ruined my chances at getting published forever.

Instead, I got great reactions to my personality, my writing, and my book pitch. I’m doing something right, it would seem! I met the lovely and thoughtful Patricia Nelson of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, who gave me great advice. I also met the incomparable Kristen Lamb, who told me she loved my writing and my pitch and has offered to help me find an agent.

I lucked out so hard! But then, luck is a bad word. I worked so hard. I worked for this and I put time and love and heartbreak into a manuscript and, after lots of work, finally started to see some payoff for it!

So tell me, readers: How have you been brave lately?

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The Trouble with Editing

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I’m almost finished with a quick, by-the-seat-of-my-pants edit of my 1st draft manuscript. It goes into beta with about 7 people in just 3 days!! I’m thrilled but also feeling vaguely menaced at the same time. That’s not a lot of time to edit. Welllllll…

To be honest, I had this whole month to edit the 65,000 word piece (which is really very good odds, overall – less than 2,100 words a day to review!) but spent the first week of February celebrating the completion of my manuscript and the next week and a half sewing like a panicked woman for a hard deadline. That left just 13 days to edit the whole piece (more like 5,000 words to deal with per day). Only, wait! I also do freelance web copy writing and suddenly I had TONS of work. So now I was spending 7 hours a day doing freelance work and almost no time at all working on the novel.

Editing, one friend has said, is like being trapped in a gilded cage of my own devising.

I can’t wait to get out.

Query Letters 101: Your Query Letter

You may think you have an entire synopsis to impress an agent but really, you have one sentence. A great query letter is about so much more than a convincing synopsis of your manuscript. It’s about relating, conversing, understanding, and grabbing an agent’s attention.

  • No less than 250 words, no more than 700. Aim for about 400.
  • Don’t try to be cute and use weird paper or fonts. Stick with Arial, Cambria, or Times in 10 or 12 point font.
  • Use paragraphs! Don’t stick everything in one huge chunk of text. You’ll scare agents.
  • Personalize your letter! This sets good letters apart from great letters. While each one of your query letters is going to be 97% the exact same as the last, 3% of that should be personalized for each new agent you send it to. Show agents that you’ve put in the time and effort to get to know their tastes before querying them.
    • Always address each letter to the agent by name
    • Use one or two sentences to tell them why they are the right match for you.
      • “I noticed that you represent Gregg Olsen’s YA series ENVY. Because of this, I really think you’ll also enjoy my dark, psychological, YA thriller.”
      • “I had to query a fellow journalism woman!”
      • “I love that your nieces and nephews play such a huge role in your literary career. I hope one day, they’ll get a chance to read my novel.”
      • “I read your blog post titled ‘Be the Evel Knievel of Writing’ and it inspired me to finish my manuscript with a non-linear story structure.”
      • “I read your interview on Day-By-Day Writer and felt compelled to send you my query for _____.”
  • Use your letter to embody everything about your writing. Keep your voice and tone consistent but remain professional.
    Focus on the project you are currently pitching, even if you have been previously published. There is a place to talk about previous publications! Don’t worry. PITCH ONLY ONE MANUSCRIPT PER LETTER.
  • Be specific about plot details but don’t give everything away. You want to leave the agent wanting more so he will request your full manuscript!
  • Optional: Include the first five pages of your manuscript copied and pasted into the e-mail after the closing signoff. NO ATTACHMENTS. Some agents say not to include these pages, some do not specify. But there is always the chance that she will find herself just reading the pages anyway.
  • No e-mail blasts. It is unprofessional, lazy, and not personalized.
  • If another agent or publisher has referred you to an agent, mention it in your letter.
  • Query Letter Must Haves:
    • Personalized salutation, Personalized tidbit about agent, Title, Genre, Word count, Protagonist name, Description of protagonist, Setting, Inciting incident, Villain, Protagonist’s quest/purpose, Protagonist’s goal, Your Bio, Author’s credits (optional), Your name, Where you can be found online
  • Know your genre, type of project, and age group.

Much of this information came from an excellent class I took on LitReactor.com taught by the brilliant and lovely Bree Ogden. If you want more, sign up for some classes there!! There’s another Art of the Query Letter class coming up in February.

Check out the previous parts of the Query Letters 101 series:

Research and Glossary

Letters and Agents

Query Letters 101: Research and Glossary

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Research is Your Best Weapon

Care about your writing and your project enough to learn as much about the industry as possible. Being prepared, researching agents, and knowing the jargon is going to give you a huge leg up.

  • “Big Six” (Now the “Big 5” as Random House and Penguin have merged) – The six largest publishers: Random House, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan
  • Commission – The amount an agent receives for their services. Agents typically receive a commission of 15% for all domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales. Agents only receive commission on works they sell, and thus aren’t paid unless the author is paid.
  • Exclusivity – When an unpublished author gives an agent an “exclusive” look at their manuscript, usually for a period of time. This means the author cannot then send their manuscript to another agent during that time period.
  • Genre fiction – A blanket term that refers to books with certain familiar settings and plot conventions. Genres include romance, science fiction, mystery and suspense, westerns, etc.
  • Partial – A partial manuscript. When an agent likes a query they may ask to see a certain number of pages or chapters. If they don’t specify, just send 50 pages.
  • Royalties – The amount an author receives on every net copy sold of their book (see “net sales”).
  • **TWO TERMS THAT YOU WANT TO USE VERY CAREFULLY: Author and Book. You are not an author until you are published. Until that point in your career, you are a writer. You have not written a book or a novel until you are published. Until that point in your career, you have written a manuscript.
  • Key agencies: know the reputable agencies. Check websites such as querytracker, absolutewrite, literaryrambles, and agentquery to read up on the good and the bad agencies.
  • Contracts and Rights: You can’t know all of the different types of contracts because every agency and publisher will be a little different. But know the overall norms of contracts and rights. Such as: how much percentage is normal for agents to take on your advance, what a typical advance from a publisher is, what the royalties on a paperback, hardcover, or e-book are…etc. This will help you to avoid pitfalls. It will help you avoid agencies or publisher out to take advantage of you. You can find a lot of advice on publishing contracts on the web.
  • Comparative Book Titles: It’s good to know other published books that are similar to yours. This will help you accurately categorize your manuscript. Also, by knowing the popularity and success of these comp titles, you can adjust your publishing expectations.
  • This is a fantastic glossary of publishing terms. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/book-publishing-glossary.html

From Query Letter to Sale (In an Ideal World)

Your manuscript MUST be completed (unless you are writing nonfiction) and have gone through as much editing as is possible. You may have sent it through one or more beta readings. You may have even paid a substantive or line editor to go over your manuscript.

You will send out approximately 80 bazillion query letters to appropriate agents. Steel yourself.

An agent(s) will express interest and request a full or partial manuscript. She will love your book and offer to sign you. It’s possible that multiple agents will request your manuscript at roughly the same time; a good agent will give you appropriate time to consider which agent/agency to accept an offer from.

A good agent will keep frequent contact with you, probably via a phone or Skype call. This is a serious relationship so be sure it is the right one. Be sure they are going to fulfill all of your professional needs.

An agent will give you ample time to look over a contract and should be able to answer any questions you have about it.

Check out the other parts of the Query Letters 101 Series:

Letters and Agents

Your Query Letter

Query Letters 101: Letters and Agents

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Tonight I’m teaching a small workshop to me writing group called Query Letters 101. I suspect most of you will not be there, which is really a shame. I have every intention of dropping some serious knowledge this evening. Lucky for you, my lovely readers, I’m going to spend a few posts talking about literary agents and query letters. I hope it helps!

Many of you may know this already so I’m going to try and hit the important points quickly so I don’t bore anyone. You’re obviously reading this because you know that this is an important tool to publishing. If you’re interested in pursuing the traditional publishing route (agent, publishing house, book) then this is a skill you’re going to need to polish as much as your manuscript.

A query letter is your introduction, your first impression, your cover letter that presents you to a literary agent. Your literary agent is your best tool for getting your book sold to a publisher. He or she represents you, pushes for your best interests, sells you and your work, and should help you negotiate contracts. When it comes to traditional publishing, an agent is going to be your best friend. So you want to make a good first impression with your new best friend, right? Right. That’s your query letter.

Literary agents receive hundreds of query letters every week, most of which – it’s just a numbers game – they are going to reject. Filtering through all of these letters is only one part of the job that agents have to do, so they can only budget so much time for this task. You need to grab their attention immediately and be interesting enough to hold it. This is going to be the job of the first sentence or, if you are very lucky, the first paragraph of your query letter.

You need to do some research and some thinking before you decide who to send your query letter to and this will also shape the kind of letter you’re going to write. What genre does your novel fall into? Sci-fi? YA? Literary fiction? Make sure the agent(s) you’re querying represent the genre(s) you write. Additionally, make sure your agent(s) of choice is currently accepting queries. Otherwise you’re wasting your time!

An agent should ALWAYS: talk with you via Skype or phone or even in person, be head over heels in love with your work, champion your project, be honest and forthright about their previous sales records. An agent should NEVER: charge you for their services (a 15%-20% royalty upon sale of your project is normal; an up-front payment is not normal in the industry and a red flag that something is probably wrong)

Check out the other parts of the Query Letters 101 Series:

Research and Glossary

Your Query Letter

New Year, Old Novel

publishing-book-open

My main project at the moment is completing the manuscript for “Dark of the Wood,” an urban fantasy story inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. It sounds weird, but I promise you it works. Anyway, I have a mental timeline for getting this project done and then setting it free into the world of agents and publishers.

January 31: I will have the first draft of the novel completed.

March 31: I will have the second draft of the novel completed (possibly after some beta reading).

May 31: I will have the third and final draft of the novel completed.

June 1: I will begin querying agents (I have my query letter written and polished already).

Forever(?): I will keep querying agents and annoying people and working my butt off to sell this book.

Why? Because I believe in it. I like it. I think it’s funny and dark and well-written and highly marketable. But, more importantly, I have to believe in my work because if I don’t – who else will?

Believe in yourself. Believe in what you’re doing. Work and rewrite and drive yourself crazy and talk to friends and other writers and edit and polish and BELIEVE. The hardest part about writing is just doing the darn work. So if you’re writing – you’re already succeeding.

The Ugly Duckling

or, “The Shitty First Drafts” Post.

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You’ve probably heard of the idea of Shitty First Drafts. If you’re anything like me, dear reader, you’ve probably written one. Or four. Or a lot. I dare say most writers know what it’s like to create these because they’re an inevitable part of the writing process.

The charming name for these first forays comes from Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird. The selection about first drafts is fairly famous among writers of all kinds and is widely read by creative writing students the world over. If you’re interested in reading the short excerpt yourself, here it is hosted as a pdf: https://wrd.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/1-Shitty%20First%20Drafts.pdf

My favorite bit from the piece is the phrase, “writing is not rapturous.” It is work and it is not always going to feel right or food or easy.

A friend of mine is having trouble with her first novel. Her initial passion for the project began to wane at around 30,000 words as difficulties piled up. Her plot became convoluted as she tried to fix character and story problems while she worked; rather than just finish the draft and then go back to change plot issues later, she kept trying to change things as she worked on the incomplete first draft, creating a more tangled mess as she went. Now she feels like she’s drowning in the project and is considering abandoning the manuscript altogether.

Anne Lamott tells us that in order to have a great book, we need to work through that Shitty First Draft. It’s just one step along the way. I wish I could convince my friend to see her manuscript through. I believe in her work even if she doesn’t right now.

So finish those first drafts! The sooner you finish them, the sooner they’ll be out of the way and then you’re one big step closer to the finished project you’ve been dreaming of.