To write a better query

Over the years I have gotten better as finishing, editing, submitting and polishing stories. But queries still get me. Writing them is just so damned hard for me. I had read everything there is to find, I have copied structures, edited like hell, gotten feedback, professional editing, rewritten and personalized and yet, no matter how I try, what I am left with seems completely soulless.

That is, what I recently realized, the actual problem.

Not that I can’t write an acceptable query. It’s just a professional cover letter for your book, for goodness sake, it doesn’t have to be art.

Except, well, it kinda does. No matter what advice you might get, I think all writers know that what makes their book special is the soul of the piece, so submitting a cold query letter fails to capture that soul and therefore, will not take in editors and agents with the magic the book possesses.

Most writers can’t really conjure that magic on demand, unfortunately, and yet we expect ourselves to produce perfect queries to entice others to read our book with out it. So, how do you capture the beautiful blood sweat and tears that you have sacrificed to create your novel in a short, professional cover letter, outlining the barest bones of your living breathing novel?

Well, if you have access to one, I suggest a bog witch. Usually they are quite adept at breathing life into inanimate objects. You can also summon the faeries, but that is only if you are desperate, because, quite honestly, they charge way too much (I personally don’t want to dance for eternity or trade my first born but I don’t judge your choices).

If neither of these options are for you, then I have some non-magical suggestions as well.

  1. Talk to a friend (or if you have no friends, make up one and talk to them. C’mon we all do it)

Record yourself. Talk about why you wrote this book, who you wrote it for, what your favorite parts are and a summary of what it is about. Let yourself get passionate about the project as your talking, and then listen over what you said. If you let yourself really get into it, there will be life in those words, and you may be able to spin a perfect query from them.

2. Write the back cover summary.

No, it’s not jumping the gun. It’s doing the same thing as writing a query except without the scary query pressure on you. What do you want the back of your book to say to readers when they pick it up someday. That is just about the same thing you would use to intrigue an agent or editor to read further.

3. Write a three line pitch

Boil that bad girl down to a hard, slab of… something hard. and small. Three lines. What is this book about? why do I care? Who are the major players?

There are aliens in Philadelphia. They are eating all the cheesesteaks. Butch Mighty and his sister, Locust, are the only ones who can stop them with their hoagie powers.

When you got it down to the bones of the story, start to add the details that make your writing unique.

4. Have someone else tell you what your book is about

I’ve been trying to get someone to do this for me for years and haven’t managed to pull it off yet, but I strongly suspect it’s a great idea, if you can just get someone who’s really good at talking about books to read your book and talk about it with you. Or better yet, write to you about it.

5. Keep improving

I have had queries that worked for one agent and not another. I have had stories I thought were great get only rejections. I have gotten full requests on queries with typos (cringe, I know). My point is that i do not have the exact spell you need to create a query that makes everyone want your book. (Although I have heard this spell is buried somewhere in Neil Gaiman’s basement).  I also know some disgustingly talented and amazing writers who struggled in the query trenches for years and still had to find alternative routes to publication. Keep trying. Keep tweaking and you might find that magic combo of the right query to the right agent or editor who is right for your book.

And if you come across that spell, or the number for a great bog witch please hit me up.

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Our book is real! The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation is available Now on Amazon

Paperback

and  ebook (they should be on the same link at some point)

are now available. This has been such a weird and fun and crazy and frustrating and overall awesome process that I could not have gotten through without my fellow authors, River Eno, D R Kinter, and Susan Tulio, obviously because we all collaborated on the book, but even more we had the fantastic cover design by Adam C Allingham, the original artwork illustrations by Patricia A Carlson, and the amazon editing and publishing experience of Di Freeze, who was the only one who knew what she was doing.

We also had the fantastic Tiffany Morris to help steer us and a lot of support from friends and family and fellow writers.

Here is my first book baby. guys. She had four parents and and she’s kinda short and quirky, but we all love her and we’re releasing her to the world.

I hope she’s the oldest in the a big family.

Coming Tuesday 2/26! Four stories by Four Authors.

With four genres: romance, fantasy, horror, and fictional realism, we think there is something for everyone. The members of Writers Block, DR Kinter, River Eno, Susan Tulio and LCW Allingham (ah! that’s me!!)  have put together their first anthology.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A Collection of Utter Speculation

CRO
This message, carved into a tree, was the only clue to the fate of the colonists on Roanoke Island. For centuries, stories have circulated, theories were explored. But to this day, no one is really sure what happened to those first English settlers in the Americas.

These stories may offer a clue:

– A road trip through dystopian United States brings adventure and danger, and perhaps answers about the mysterious disappearance of the settlers.
– Gods of different worlds converge but their people may not blend as well as they do.
– A history teacher’s quest to liven up her lessons leads to a startling discovery about love, roots and the fate of the missing colonists.
– A young mother thrust into leadership struggles to establish peace between the English and the Natives of Roanoke. But a greater threat lurks in the dark forests that may consume them all.

Four stories from four authors, all exploring the fate of the missing colonists. Are any of them the answer to the greatest mystery of the United States?

Probably not.

So mark your calendars for Tuesday if you want a paperback or ebook copy! Link will go live at midnight!

The most destructive inclination

It’s been written and rewritten. Hours and days and months years of work and now you really really like your story.

There might be a typo you missed. Maybe an awkward phrase you never noticed, but damn it is good, and you are tired of it. An agent or editor will understand. Nothing is ever perfect, right?

Only a writer knows how much work goes into even a short piece of fiction and how freaking redundant it gets to keep editing.

But while the writer may be DONE with a story, often times the story is not done.

In our exhaustion and our excitement, our inclination may be to release it into the world when we hit this point. What will be will be.

That inclination would be wrong.

Not only wrong, but counterproductive. If you submit work that isn’t up to par, your work will be rejected and that source will never again be available for it. If it’s bad enough you may be putting future submissions with that publication as risk as well.

No matter how done you may think you are, you need a second, third, forth and maybe even eight set of eyes. Because no matter how hard you have worked, your eyes are not objective. Typos and misspellings will hide from them. Plot holes and confusing sections will be filled in by your brain and elude your edits.

No matter how much work you have put into your manuscript, you will be blind to flaws. No matter how long you have done this, you need help. No matter how excited you are about the piece, you have to be patient.

Writing is a long game.

Rushing to submit will only make it longer.

If you have made it as perfect as you can, if you feel like you are literally going to scream if you have to work on it any longer, by all means, take a break! Send it to some trusted readers. Go work on something else.

But stomp on your inclination to release it to the publishing world. It could destroy your chances completely.

 

 

 

You’re always moving forward, unless you give up

There is nothing quick about being a writer. Writing a book takes a long time. Editing a book can be just as long or longer. Publishing takes forever. Making money… I think you get the point.

In this very long process, it is easy to get discouraged. In fact, it’s pretty much standard. When you finish writing a novel and realize how much work it needs, when you spend years editing and it’s still not right, when you can’t find an agent, a publisher, when your self published work languishes, literally at every step you are going to be discouraged because it feels like after all this work and all this time you are stagnant.

This is only emphasized by the fast furious flurries of activity, writing and editing binges, critiques, contracts, launch parties, that seem to consume everything while they are going on.

With these big exciting milestones, it’s not always easy to see the little steps in between. They are frequently eclipsed by the waiting game that plays such a prevalent role in the path to becoming published author. But if you find yourself discouraged while you wait for these big things, it’s time to scale back and look at all the little things that you have been ignoring, because that is where the real progress is made. Even if it doesn’t seem like progress.

Because another reason we get discouraged is that these little steps can feel like they’re going backwards. A bad critique, a failure to impress with your novel, a query rejection.

But they are all pushing you toward what you want, as long as you keep going. Each failure is an experience to learn.

If you join a new crit group that tears apart a manuscript that your last crit group was praising, it’s not a back slide. You just leveled up. You’re going to learn things you never would have learned in the last group.

Your query’s been rejected again? Now you know that query isn’t working for you. Write a new one!

A reader doesn’t like your book? Find out why and determine if it’s something you can and want to fix. Maybe they are seeing something you missed. Maybe it’s not for them.

There are also little steps you take every day, cutting a few words, writing a new chapter, reading articles on writing, signing up for classes and seminars that are pretty mundane but all provide the potential of that final piece to make your work click into place.

And don’t forget the way you help other writers. Reading and critiquing the work of other authors can not only give them the benefit of your knowledge but also help you to zero in on your own strengths and flaws. Supporting other writers gives you a community to support you, people to bounce ideas off of and to commiserate with.

The milestones are huge. They tend to overshadow our little steps, but they cannot be accomplished without them.

You are not stuck, no matter how long it’s been since your last milestone. You are never stuck unless you throw in the towel forever.

 

Keep writing, friends.

 

Change the way you look at pursuing a career in writing

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe while you pursue publication of your novel you completely own it. Maybe the time and energy and hard work you put in without getting paid is something your friends and relatives and acquaintances completely accept as what must be done to reach your goal career. (if the last one is true, wow, good for you).

But while I admit I have support from many people in my life, the most important people in my life, I would say the majority of people who know what I do to attain my goal see me as a dreamer.

And while we, as a society, admire dreamers once they have achieved, on the path to their dream we collectively roll our eyes and nod slowly and tell them not to quit their day jobs for their little hobbies.

So, as writers, pursuing an actual job writing books, many of us tend to me a little more humble about our work. After all, we’ve yet to get the advances, the royalty checks, the writing engagements, the book on the shelf at the book store. What do we have to show for the hours we’ve put in, the years?

Would you ask someone who was going back to school to pursue an engineering degree why they were wasting their time chasing their dreams?

Knowledge. Refinement of our craft. Connections. Industry understanding. We writers collect all these necessary things as we pursue writing as a job, and most of us don’t wrack up 50 grand in debt doing it.

Writing books, editing books, participating crit groups, hiring editors, going to writing conference, submitting for publication, these are part of a real world classroom that is no less worthy than a college tuition for a “practical” job.

Publishing a novel, establishing a career takes time and work and energy. It doesn’t happen overnight any more than becoming a doctor does. You have to put in the work, and you have to acknowledge that, in doing so, you are preparing yourself for the career you want.

For some reason, many people think it’s a matter of writing a book, getting it published. They think the writing part is the hard part, and if you can get it done, that first book should sell if it’s worth anything and you will be on your way.

You know that’s not true. I know that’s not true. There is no reason to be humble about having to strive toward what you want.

How to find the right crit group

It is daunting joining a group of strangers and sharing your work. If you are an introvert writer like I am, it is completely terrifying, and the worst part is that it could end up being all for nothing. Not all crit groups are good crit groups. Not all crit groups are the right fit.

Fortunately you can get a pretty decent fix on whether you got a good group for you withing the first two or three sessions and avoid wasting your time and energy on a group that is not going to help you or your writing.

Here are five things to look for:

1. They welcome new members

By welcome I don’t just mean they allow them to sit in, I mean they are open, friendly and willing to allow new members to submit their work. Too often established groups will develop a dynamic of exclusion. It’s not intentional, but it also is nothing you need to waste your time with. If you join a group that treats you like an intruder, don’t come back.

2. They  are familiar with your kind of writing

You can be part of the greatest crit group ever, but if you are the only romance novelist in a group of journalists, you won’t get the most out of the group.

3. They are familiar with your genre

Even if the whole group consists of fiction writers, it is important that at least a few members understand the genre you write in. Style and technique can change drastically between genres and the best horror novel might be hard for someone who focuses exclusively on historical fiction to understand or critique.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a very productive group even if a few people don’t get your genre, but you need somebody to get your genre or you will end up needlessly feeling bad about your work.

4. They are focused on improvement

This seems obvious right? Except it’s not so much. Giving and receiving constructive criticism is actually really really hard. In order to spare feelings some writing groups fall into a pattern of praise. It’s lovely to have your work praised and to give it to others, but the reason you are there isn’t to stroke each others egos. It is to get better. If no one ever has any solid advice for improvement, you are not doing yourself any favors sticking around.

5. They look for the good

On the other side of the coin, sometimes crit groups can become too harsh. Especially in a group where the writers are ultra competitive or have been doing this kind of work for a while. A crit group should always look for the good in a piece, no matter what level of writing is presented. This isn’t just to be nice, a writer needs to know where their strengths lie in order to improve their work.

6. The writers in the group are of all different levels of experience

You may think you want to work with the people who have been doing this the longest. Or people who are of the same writing level as you. You are wrong. Reviewing the work of someone who is just starting out can give you a fresh perspective and allow you to clearly see your own writing flaws in their work. It also gives you the opportunity to impart your knowledge to help them improve, which, believe it or not, can lead to huge progress in your own work.

On the other hand, working with much more experienced writers sets a standard to work toward and also helps develop a discernment in you that will allow you to find weaker points in even the strongest writing. And writers on all levels will have unique perspectives to give your work.

 

Do you belong to a writing crit group? What are some things you have found to be an important part of the dynamic?

 

When you decide you can’t fail

Writers are notoriously pessimistic, and for good reason. It is effing hard to publish a book, no matter which route you take. First you spend months, years, decades even writing a novel, than you edit the hell out of it for more months, years, decades. Then you pick a publishing path and go down it and that, unfortunately can be and often is the most crushing of all.

If it’s your first novel or your second novel or sometimes even your twelfth, well shit, you might have to swallow a nasty big pill that it’s just not that good. And how discouraging is that when you’ve bleed your creative blood into that book for so long?

I did it. I gave up. After I realized the novel I had been writing and editing since college was just not going to get cleaned up like I wanted it to, I had too much other responsibility, I didn’t have any more energy to give it, I puttered around with my plans of being a novelist an obscure dream that might never happen.

I thought about what I would do with my life when my kids went to school. Should I go back to get my Masters? Should I become a family therapist?

Then one day I was riding with my husband, talking about this subject and something came to me. I had a lovely, short, YA fairy tale fantasy that would be perfect for the market right now. And I didn’t have a strong investment in it that would stop me from cutting it to pieces to edit. Then I could self publish and let the card fall where they may.

And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. And the more I wanted it, the more excited I got about it. And the more excited I got, the more I realized that I could finally put aside the things that discouraged me before. I could see this as a learning experience. I could accept all that came with it as a learning experience.

Well, that novel never quite made it to kindle. (or you would see it heavily advertised on this site) but I did learn. I started this blog, which gave me a place to write about writing, which also made me realize I know alot about writing. It also made me realize how much I had to learn and then I went out and learned more.

It connected me to other writers here and on twitter. It gave me access to books and authors I never would have thought to read before. And it strengthened my resolve.

I don’t want to settle. And I will not. Maybe I will go back to school and get my masters. Maybe all the work I’ve done for the current novel I’m pitching will not pay off for a long time. Maybe I need more edits.

But none of that is failure.

A book can survive an infinite number of edits. A story can survive anything. And I have more books in me. Hell I have just waiting to be edited right now.

You can’t fail unless you give up. The options are limitless in the publishing world right now and every writer should ditch their ego and embrace their eventual, inevitable success.

Prologue hate, what to do?

To be totally honest, when I first heard that many agents HATE prologues I kinda rolled my eyes. Oh great, something else to nitpick over. But when I read up on it a little more I got it, sorta. Agents and editors  must be incredibly discerning and prologues, unfortunately, are often done wrong.

This is terrible news because the book I am currently trying to pitch has a prologue that there is no way I can cut and is completely out of format with the rest of my book if I just make it into a chapter.

So what is a prologue supposed to do? Done correctly it sets the tone, gives a little insight on the story that is to come, outside of the general flow and format of the rest of the book.

Why do people in the publishing industry hate it? Incorrectly used, it acts as an info dump. All the backstory in a chapter that isn’t good enough to be a chapter. I have read there is a general consensus that people don’t even read prologues (I always do).

So if you’re trying to decide if you should keep your prologue, make it chapter one or cut it completely here are some things to consider.

-Is it an excuse for backstory dump? Cut it and incorporate the info into the rest of the story.

– Does it fit with the timeline of the rest of the story? If most of the story takes place in 1989 but the prologue is in 1488 keep it.

– Does it contain your hook? Make it chapter one.

-Does it tell a slightly related story that never comes up again? Cut it

-Is it a different format than the rest of your story but is very relevant to the rest of the book? Keep it.

So what’s the solution to that hate in the publishing world? How do you prevent your manuscript from being tossed before it’s even given a chance?

Well, in my case I know my prologue is needed. But it could well be that when it gets to an editor they decide to make it into chapter one. I’m not comfortable making that decision as the first part of my story follows a specific format with POV of characters and the character in the prologue isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean when I submit a sample with a query I have to label the prologue as the prologue. With only 10-25 pages submitted, the format isn’t established yet.

What are your opinions of prologues? Do you read them? Do you write them? Do you hate them?

 

Publishing: The third option

When I started this blog last year I didn’t know much about indie publishing. I’ve learned a great deal since I started. Enough to really intimidate me to be honest. I knew a little more about traditional publishing, but still have learned quite a bit (primarily that it is still as hard to get an agent for a polished manuscript as it is with a unpolished manuscript).

What  I didn’t know anything about when I started is the third publishing option.

Small presses

The hybrid of indie and traditional publishing, small presses are publishers that accept unsolicited material and have a bit more wiggle room that traditional publishers to work in niche markets.

Their common features are: Small or no advances, higher royalty percentages, strong digital presence, faster turn around from signing to publication, narrowed, targeted niche audience.

Benefits? Depends on the publisher and on you.

Just like any other aspect of publishing, not all small publishers are as good to their authors as others.

But generally with a small publisher you have some of the freedom of indie publishing without the overhead costs. The small press will set you up with a professional editor and cover artist. They will format your book for digital print and sent out ARC and press releases, organize a blog tour and consult with you on how you can boost your sales. They will take greater risks with more creative and unique niches and ideas that are harder to get published traditionally and tend to do better in the indie market.

Also, with the way the industry is set up currently, you will qualify to enter certain competitions and be eligible for certain awards that indie authors cannot enter.

The Downside? Depends on the publisher and you.

Any advance you get will not pay for you to live while you finish this book or write your next book (the entire point of advances) and small publishers frequently lack the resources to promote on a wide scale (or their niche books can’t be promotes as such) so royalties come in slowly. Some small publishers provide their writers with work editing and/or scouting new writers and writers most definitely need to heavily promote themselves (and frequently other authors with the publisher)

While there is more freedom than with a big publisher, it’s certainly not as much as doing it yourself. You are not hiring the editor or cover artist you will be working with. You are not determining what platforms you will publish with or how it will be marketed.

A small publisher might push your book for longer than a traditional publisher. A small publisher will stop pushing your book before you would if you self published. If you choose the wrong publisher, and they don’t sell your book, they still own the rights. It’s gone to you forever (there are exceptions. I just encounter a small publisher that will give you the rights back if they don’t sell a certain amount in royalties).

There are ups and downs. There are alot of factors to think about. But this is a viable option. If you have a good book but no capital for editing, cover art, formatting, marketing and do not feel confident doing those things yourself you might want to try a small publisher.

If you write niche work (S&M werewolf mysteries, extreme gore horror, fetish romance) that is not currently an industry trend, this is a great option.

I’d love to hear more information and the experiences of other authors. What do you know about small publishers? Do you think they are a good option? Tell me more!