Archive | June, 2010

How To Get Over Summary Hatred: A Rant

30 Jun

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Last week Vanessa wrote a really fantastic post about the premise and synopsis.

This week I’m going to rant about the summary, because although she gave awesome pointers, I still couldn’t get over my feelings for them until very recently. And this is how.

So let’s start.

Summary. A dreaded word. Every time I hear it my heart sinks. Just three days ago someone found out I was writing a book, and of course the first question out of his mouth was “What’s it about?”

As if it’s easy to explain something you’ve been pouring your time and energy into for three years in less than ten minutes. I said five sentences and the guy nodded importantly, stated that “it sounds just like Chrysalids”, and then went on to talk about how much he loves John Wyndham. When I tried weakly to tell him that I’d never read the book, he said that I should and then started explaining it to me. Oh he was quite the artsy type, and knew oh so much about classical American fiction and indie films and was a drummer for a few bands including his own. The more he talked about Chrysalids, the more I realized that actually, it didn’t sound anything at all like what I was working on. The more I listened to him, the more embittered I got.

Why the hell would you ask me what my book is about if you don’t even care?

That’s the first thing I hate about summaries; the people that hear five words and think they know everything. Here’s the second: the back of the book kind.

No matter how much you try, no matter how wordy you get, you will never be able to get across your whole novel in a little blurb of text on the back of the book. My novel isn’t just about some girl going to an insane asylum when people think she’s crazy. That’s just how it starts. For me to try to explain the whole plot, all the twists and connections between three separate groups of people, the not so coincidental moments that fit perfectly with history, I’d have to retell the whole novel. And by that I mean I can’t. You’d have to read it or listen to me paraphrase it. I can’t tell you what it’s about in a few paragraphs.

But then a couple weeks ago I realized something that helped me get over my dislike of summaries.

Who would want their whole book to fit on the back cover? Who would want to say everything their book says in a couple sentences and in that way do it justice? Because if you can say everything that your book is, talk about all the growth your character goes through, and show how clever you are for figuring out the plot that you did, I’m sorry but wouldn’t that make your novel really…shallow?

Why would anyone want to be able to successfully retell their novel in five minutes? If you can write what you wanted to write in a couple of sentences, you wouldn’t have wasted 80 000 words. You wouldn’t have wasted three years of your life. There is merit to the length that you chose your book to be.

But then again you hit the brick wall of “The Summary”.

Here’s the tough love of the whole situation: You have to get people to like the summary, and then the book. There’s no way around it. You just have to write it. Take the steps Vanessa and Savannah gave and do the best you can. Take solace in the fact that even if you didn’t explain everything, there will then be so much more for the reader to discover. There will be so many things that they’ll be in awe of, because of how simple the back of the book sounds in comparison. The next time they talk about it, they will the ones telling their friends that the summary doesn’t do it justice, and you will the one with the obnoxious indie kid on your side. Take the juiciest bits you can, if you must, isolate the most marketable points, and get it selling. When enough people have read it, you’ll be comfortable in knowing that you’re not anymore the only one that knows the full skill it took to write it, and think of it this way:

An effective summary is better than a good one.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She just graduated high school and is on her way to university where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.

How NOT to Query: A Guide

29 Jun

By Sammy Bina

~~~

As an intern at a literary agency, I’ve had the opportunity to read through some of the query letters authors send us. I’ve seen some really spectacular ones, and I’ve read some that made me cringe. I’ve noticed a general trend in the queries we reject, most of which contained problems that could have been easily avoided. We recently critiqued a bunch of queries here on the blog, and hopefully you guys learned something from our comments! As an addition to that, I thought I’d put together a guide on how NOT to query.

Rule #1: Don’t let yourself be unprepared.
This might sound like common sense, but hear me out. You’d be surprised how many authors are not prepared when they first begin querying. The most important thing is that you have a complete manuscript ready to go, should an agent ask to see it. Don’t start sending out query letters once you’ve written a decent partial. If an agent reads it and wants to see more, they’re not going to be happy when they find out the rest of the story has yet to be written. So make sure you’ve finished your story, and polished it up as best you can. Never send a first draft. Have people read over your work (if you need a critique partner, we even have a section for those here!), and make sure they’re people you can trust. Grandma’s probably going to tell you your work is the Next Big Thing, but Grandma also lies. Find someone you know who will be brutally honest (if that’s Grandma, all the better), and heed their advice. That way your manuscript will be shiny and perfect for when Awesome Agent asks to see it.

Also, make sure you’ve written a synopsis. A lot of agents are going to ask to see them, and you can’t leave it out just because you think yours sucks, or you didn’t feel like writing one. It can sometimes be a deal-breaker while reading your partial. An agent or intern will read through your work, and if they’re not completely sold at the end of 50 pages, they want to see a synopsis. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to doubt you, so make sure you send it.

As a side note, don’t write a ten-page synopsis. 2-4 pages, double-spaced, is the norm. If your synopsis is longer than your first chapter, you have a problem.

Rule #2 (which goes hand-in-hand with #1): Don’t send out a premature query letter.
If you need some suggestions, scroll through our comments during this month’s Query Week. Trust me when I say that the first draft of your query letter is probably not the one you want agents to see. Write it, then have people read over it for you. If they’ve never read the book, even better. If someone who knows nothing about your book can’t make sense of your query letter, it’s a safe bet an agent won’t be able to, either. Use your friends and family as guinea pigs. Personally, I went through four or five drafts before I was really happy with my my own letter, but I made the mistake of sending out the earlier drafts. Don’t do what I did. Wait until you’ve got something solid before you let Awesome Agent see it.

Rule #3: Don’t mass query.
As some of the ladies here have already mentioned in the past, it’s best to send queries out in small batches. Agents aren’t fans of queries were the cc box is a million miles long because an author couldn’t be bothered to individually contact them. You want to personalize each query letter to the agent you’re sending it to. If you refuse to add that extra 2-3 sentence paragraph at the end of your query, and just want everyone to see the exact same thing, at least address the letter to the individual agent. When you’re a female agent who receives letters addressed to “Dear Sir” or “Dear Editor,” it’s pretty obvious what you’re doing. You lose your credibility, and you’ll most likely end up with a rejection letter. Personalizing an email or letter takes about ten seconds, and it will only help to make you look good. And don’t we all want to be pretty?

Rule #4: Don’t query agents who don’t represent the genre of your manuscript.
If your book is science fiction, you don’t want to query people who represent mystery. You’ll look foolish, probably end up annoying the agent, and you’ll most likely wind up with a form rejection. Just because someone’s a literary agent doesn’t mean they represent every kind of fiction (or non-fiction). Agents have personalized tastes, just like everyone else.

Rule #5: Don’t send unsolicited materials.
Seriously. Don’t do it. This includes pictures, family trees, character listings, business proposals, artwork, random excerpts from your manuscript, or any part of your manuscript at all. If an agent wants to see your work, they’ll let you know. Until then, you just have to sit around and twiddle your thumbs. Waiting sucks, but take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one doing it!

Rule #6: Don’t use fancy paper.
I know you want your letter to stand out in a sea of slush, but pretty paper isn’t going to compensate for a poorly written query or novel. And even if your query’s good, the pretty paper still gets a raised eyebrow. It’s just going to get recycled anyway, so stick with the standard 8×11 white printer paper. It’s professional and standardized. We like standardized.

Rule #7: Envelopes. Get the good ones.
Obviously you’re free to use whatever kind of envelope you have on hand, but let me just tell you that the self-adhesive ones are the best. You know, the ones that have the tape you just peel away? When you send a SASE, and it’s hot out, other envelopes will seal themselves shut in the mail. Then interns like me have to take sharp objects and slice them open, only to tape them back together. And trust me, you probably don’t want to make me use pointy objects.

Rule #8: Don’t query from prison.
Stranger things have happened.

To be fair, the person may be a good writer. But if you’re going to query from prison, please be professional. We don’t need to know what you’re in for, or how long you have left until you get out.

Rule #9: Don’t forget your SASE.
Or your postage! If you forget your envelope, or didn’t include postage, you probably aren’t going to get a response, and then you’ll spend weeks wondering what happened to your letter. I’ve seen people send money with their envelopes, but not every agent is going to be nice enough to actually take your letter to the post office and mail it. So make sure you put the stamp on your SASE yourself.

Rule #10: Don’t be aggressive.
You know that phrase that goes “B-E aggressive!” that people tend to use when they’re joking? Don’t. Don’t be aggressive. Not when you’re querying, anyway. Make sure you give agents plenty of time to get back to you. Typically, it’s perfectly acceptable to resend a query if you haven’t heard back in two months (unless their guidelines specifically tell you they don’t respond to queries they aren’t interested in). Don’t be that person who checks in every week or two to see if an agent’s read your query. By the time they actually get to it, the agent will have already formed a mental image of you, and it probably won’t be a good one. I know from experience how nerve-wracking waiting can be, but just keep yourself busy while you wait. You’ll come across as professional, and you’ll be glad you did in the long run.

And that’s it! Keep in mind that your query letter is the first thing an agent sees. It’s the first impression they get of you and your story. Like any job interview, you want to be polite and professional. So follow the agency’s guidelines, and don’t get over-zealous. Rules are there for a reason, and in this case, they weren’t made to be broken.

~~~

Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, majoring in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, working on a YA paranormal romance, and interns at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington, DC. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

28 Jun

By June Hur

~~

In real life, there is likely no one woman who will mention on a dating site that the qualities she’s looking for in a man is: A troubled past, a dark secret, and an icy demeanour. And yet why is it that so many women enjoy reading about such Byronic heroes (a.k.a The Bad Boys) in romance novels? I suppose there is something very romantic about reading of how the heroine becomes the sunlight to the hero’s wintry life, and is able to pave the way to his redemption.

While the Byronic hero is a popular characterization, it is by no means an easy figure to create successfully, for some writers go too far with the stereotyping, and some seem to think that all one needs to do is “mention” that their hero broods and is cynical to qualify.

The heroes created by the first category of writers tend to have a tragic past and a dark mentality so melodramatic that it borders into Plain Cheesiness. In this case, moderation and subtlety is the key. The heroes created by the latter category of writers make the character so 2-D, in that he does not fit his character description—being described as a brooder and a cynic, and yet acting more like a charming dandy. Merely branding the man as being restless, moody, and rebellious does not a Byronic hero make. Action should accompany description.

So what exactly makes a Byronic hero? Here are some of the characteristics that such characters exhibit:

  • a strong sense of arrogance
  • high level of intelligence and perception
  • cunning and able to adapt
  • suffering from an unnamed crime
  • a troubled past
  • sophisticated and educated
  • self-critical and introspective
  • mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
  • struggling with integrity
  • power of seduction and sexual attraction
  • social and sexual dominance
  • emotional conflicts, bipolar tendencies, or moodiness
  • a distaste for social institutions and norms
  • being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
  • disrespect of rank and privilege
  • jaded, world-weary
  • cynicism
  • self-destructive behaviour

There are two aspects that I find most interesting in a Byronic Hero: 

The Dark Past: The male character has a dark past that often gets in the way of his romantic interest. An insight into his past is crucial because it offers a psychological explanation as to why he is so cold. This draws the reader’s sympathy and makes his callousness a bit excusable. And sympathy is the key when it comes to these characters that might be otherwise difficult to like or relate to.

Humbert Humbert (from Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov) offers a perfect example: In the eyes of people who don’t know him, he is a disgusting monster-of-a-pedophile…but for the readers who’ve read his manipulating confession, the monster is humanized into a man trapped in his past for his young love, Annabelle Lee. This notorious literary figure shows us how powerful words could be…so powerful that even our morals can be seduced by a beautiful arrangement of words.

Likewise, you can make the hero as horribly flawed as you want, just as long as you make sure to also give insight into the humanness within him. Because even the most callous of human beings have a heart somewhere deep inside. And once you show us the heart, sympathy usually follows. But, for romance writers, try to stay away from anything taboo. Unless you’re 100% confident of your ability, it’s usually very difficult to get away with it. Like this one romance novel I read, in which the hero was charged (falsely, as it was proved in the end) of molesting his daughter. I found myself uncomfortable throughout the entire novel which I read for escapism.

The Damned: Among the many things Lord Byron rebelled against, religion was one of them. He turned his back on Christianity which was so engraved into his society. And in this manner he held the image of a man who had been damned. Many of the Byronic heroes I’ve read of, mainly in historical romances, believed that their life’s road was headed towards damnation. They lived with one foot in Hades; in other words, they lived a decadant lifestyle and had more flaws than the average man. I’ve always found this aspect so important in such heroes. This way the hero can be the Beast to his Beauty, offering for a greater range of changes to be seen through the influence of the heroine, and in turn, qualifying the heroine all the more as his soulmate.

~~~~~~

June Hur is the author of The Runaway Courtesan. She is currently awaiting the response of an agent who requested her full manuscript. When she is not working on her next book, she can usually be found at a book shop, searching for a Great Love Story to read and analyze. You can follow her on Twitter or through her blog.

The Supernatural Tour Part 2: Wings Giveaway!

27 Jun

Hey everyone! As a continuation of our Supernatural Tour giveaway, we have a second book up for grabs! This time it’s for a signed copy of Aprilynne Pike’s YA debut, Wings!

Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words.

Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.

In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever.

~~~

How to enter:
This contest is open internationally.
All you need to do is leave a comment and your email to be entered in the contest. For extra entries, you can do any (or all!) of the following:

+1 for following LTWF on Twitter (add your twitter name to your comment so I know you’re following)
+1 for being a fan on Facebook
+2 for following this blog – let us know if you do!
+1 for sharing this contest on Twitter – (please provide the link your tweet in the comments)
+1 for sharing this contest on your blog – just be sure to leave a link (so that we know who you are, and how you’re sharing it!)

There are 7 entries in total. Don’t forget adding your email so that we can contact you!

The contest ends at noon EST on Saturday, July 3rd. The winner will be picked at random, and will be announced on Sunday, July 4th.

Good luck!

Saturday Grab Bag: New This Month, Poll, and Mashup

26 Jun

New This Month!

Everlasting by Angie Frazer

Sailing aboard her father’s trade ship is all seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen has ever wanted. But as a girl of society in 1855 San Francisco, her future is set: marry a man she doesn’t love, or condemn herself and her father to poverty.

On her final voyage before the wedding, the stormy arms of the Tasman Sea claim her father, and a terrible family secret is revealed. A secret intertwined with a fabled map, the mother Camille has long believed dead, and an ancient stone that wields a dangerous—and alluring—magic.

The only person Camille can depend on is Oscar, a handsome young sailor whom she is undeniably drawn to. Torn between trusting her instincts and keeping her promises to her father, Camille embarks on a perilous quest into the Australian wilderness to find the enchanted stone. As she and Oscar elude murderous bushrangers and unravel Camille’s father’s lies, they come closer to making the ultimate decision of who—and what—matters most.

Beautifully written and feverishly paced, Everlasting is an unforgettable journey of passion, secrecy, and adventure.

Contributor Comments:

This debut is historical YA, with a bit of romance. While I’m hoping that it has more adventure than romance, it certainly looks interesting. But perhaps that’s because it involves boats. And, well, I have a soft spot for boats. AND, it’s historical! And everyone knows how much I love history! Historical YA hasn’t been doing so well lately in the market, but I’ve always enjoyed them immensely. It was released on June 1st, so this book is already sitting out on shelves, just waiting for me to snatch it up!

Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

Android Karenina

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters co-author Ben H. Winters is back with an all-new collaborator, legendary Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, and the result is Android Karenina; an enhanced edition of the classic love story set in a dystopian world of robots, cyborgs, and interstellar space travel.

As in the original novel, our story follows two relationships: The tragic adulterous love affair of Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky, and the more hopeful marriage of Nikolai Levin and Princess Kitty Shcherbatskaya. These characters live in a steampunk-inspired world of robitic butlers, clumsy automatons, and rudimentary mechanical devices. But when these copper-plated machines begin to revolt against their human masters, our characters must fight back using state-of-the-art 19th-century technology and a sleek new model of ultra-human cyborgs like nothing the world has ever seen.

Filled with the same blend of romance, drama, and fantasy that made the first two Quirk Classics New York Times best sellers, Android Karenina brings this celebrated series into the exciting world of science fiction.

Contributor Comments:

The newest Quirk classic is the heftiest yet, and is more sci-fi than the others with cyborgs, robots, and interplanetary travel. If you love a quirky read (and have a thing for classics), or like sci-fi, this could make a very interesting read! Definitely recommended if you liked Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Montsers. Released on June 8th, you can already get your hands on this!

Vanessa Di Gregorio

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We Want To Know…

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Mashup:

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Are there any new releases out this month that you can’t wait to get your hands on? Or any awesome links you’ve come across?

And don’t forget to check out the Book Recommendation for Shapeshifter!

Book Recommendation: Shapeshifter

26 Jun

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

I have always loved mythology, legend, and folklore. They are always so full of different cultures and colourful characters; of epic adventures and hard-won victories; of loss and heartache and the capricious whim of gods and higher beings; of magic and mystery and might. Perhaps that is why I was so enchanted by Holly Bennett’s Shapeshifter, which tells the tale of a little known character in Irish folklore.

When I first cracked open its pages, I was completely unaware that this was based off of any legend. But as soon as I read the introduction to the book and found out that Bennett had added the actual folktale at the back, I was excited and intrigued. And once I started, I could not put this book down. I read it voraciously, and it only took me a single day to finish. And that cover! Absolutely gorgeous! It’s the reason why I first picked up the book; how can you not find that absolutely enchanting?

So just what is this book about? Here’s a description taken from Orca Book Publishers:

A woman trapped in the body of a deer. A dark sorcerer in relentless pursuit. A mysterious child, found alone on the slopes of a great mountain.

This is the turbulent and heartbreaking story of Sive, a girl of the Otherworld who must flee her world of plenty to live as a hunted beast. Surviving hardship, danger and crushing loneliness, she finally finds refuge—and unexpected joy—with a mortal champion, Finn Mac Cumhail, the great hero of Irish legend. But Sive’s ordeal is far from over. She has a gift the Dark Man craves, and the smallest misstep will give him his chance to snatch her away from all she holds dear.

Set in the wild, magical landscape of Iron Age Ireland, Shapeshifter is a tale of rapacious evil, quiet courage and the healing power of love.

~~

The Irish folklore itself that this book is based off actually centers around Finn Mac Cumhail, one of the great warriors and heroes of the Fianna. Sive is mentioned in his tales as his first wife, but not in great detail. The legend goes that she was a beautiful woman who caught the eye of a dark man. She had refused him, and in his anger he had changed her into a deer. She wanders until Finn mac Cumahil and his men come across her, and they chase her. Finn and his two dogs are the only ones able to keep up, and as he bursts into a clearing, he sees the doe lying with the two dogs in the glade peacefully. After sparing the doe’s life, she turns back into her human form. He then marries her; but one day he sets off to war, and the dark sorcerer named Far Doirche appears to take her back. After she is turned into a dear once again and taken away, she is never heard from again in Irish mythology; though her son’s story continues. Holly has taken a character whose life is a mystery, and has written her an incredibly compelling story.

There are two worlds in this story: the mortal world, or Eire (Ireland), and the Otherworld, or Land of the Never-Aging. These two worlds lie parallel to one another, with doorways that connect them. Sive is of the Otherworld; and her journey takes her from her home in the Otherworld into the much harsher world of the mortal realm. And the first change that Bennett makes to the story is that she gives Sive the ability to choose to change into a deer in order to flee the Dark Man. And what an absolutely brilliant change it is. Sive is forced to give up her humanity in order to survive, and to save everyone from the thrall of the Dark Man.

The book is more of an emotional journey than anything. Though the action is minimal, the tension and suspense remains throughout; and I was never once bored. The connection to Sive, her parents, to Finn & Oisen, and even to Oran is strong. They are complex and utterly compelling. The story is truly about Sive and the people around her, as opposed to the action that myth and folklore often entail. But their characterization is much more compelling than any epic battle could be.

Holly Bennett’s prose is lyrical and wonderful. She stays true to the language and style of folklore, and never once did I feel jarred out of the story. Though written in third person, the voice was undeniably great. Sometimes this voice would stop viewing Sive to follow others, but it was never confusing. And every now and then, often at the end of a chapter, there would be sections in first person which would switch between Sive and Finn and Oisen; bits of passages where the characters themselves would remember what had happened and add their own voices to the story. I loved hearing the characters remembering the events; hearing them look back and discuss all the emotions and feelings that had been going though their heads at specific moments of the story.

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. There are so many beautiful moments in this story, and I think it is a brilliant addition of a story in Irish mythology that she was able to flesh out. There are often huge gaps in time, as they story spans across many long years; but that is what folklore does. Some might find the breaks in time to be disappointing, but I did not. Holly kept the feel of folklore alive in this way, by focusing on the important events involving Sive (for truly, the story is her own, and not Finn’s or Oisin’s). The roles they play in her life are the most important. Her story is the bridge between both the legend of Finn and the legend of Oisin.

I also know that some believe the ending to be anticlimactic; but as I said before, Bennett never strayed her focus from Sive, and the emotional journey that is her story under the terror of Far Droiche. It felt as though I were reading a legend itself, in the way that some details were left out. I loved the ending, and though there is some sadness in it, I closed the book feeling incredibly satisfied (and only wishing it had been longer!). And I am normally the type of reader who feels robbed if, at the climax, an epic battle that I expect doesn’t occur. But I was completely in love with this story from start to finish; I never once felt any disappointment.

I highly recommend this book to any fellow myth/legend/folklore enthusiasts, and to anyone who loves fantasy, great prose, and a wonderfully epic story. This book has been one of my favourite reads all year, and I promise that you’ll be just as enchanted by it as I was. Now, you’ll have to excuse me; I have all of her other books to read now!

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

QOTW: Dealing With Self Doubt

25 Jun


This week, the question comes from Kim, who asks:

How do you deal with self-doubt?

~~~

What self doubt?

;P

Just kidding! Of course, of course. Show me a writer who never doubts his or her own worth as one, and I’ll start checking him or her for batteries. Self-doubt comes part and parcel with being human, let alone being a writer. Some days, it overwhelms me. I tell myself I’m silly and naive to think I’ll ever get published–that my work is no good at all–that I’m just wasting time on this whole enterprise.

How do I deal with it? Well, I’m still working on that one. But what helps me the most is trying to refocus on my most essential question: why do I write? Am I writing to get published? To see my name out there in print and my work between covers? Do I edit and edit and edit because I dream of catching the eye of an agent and someday a publisher? Is that why I type away until the early hours of the morning?

And like always, I remember that it is not. None of those things is why I write. Of course I dream of being published. I won’t be saying no to a six figure advance and a movie deal anytime soon, either. But I write for me. I write because I have stories that beg to be told and characters that beg to breathe. My self-doubt stems from fears of other’s rejection. But if I remember that at the core of things, I write because I can’t imagine living without writing, and that all my publishing goals are secondary to that love, I can usually get myself out of my slump.

I am writing. I am, hopefully, improving. I know wonderful people who are helping me get better. I may not measure up to the great and successful writers I hear about, but I am striving to get there, and I am set on enjoying the ride 😀

The Writer Querying

~~~

Self doubt – I know I’m full of it. Whether I’m drawing, or painting, or writing, I find it creeping up on me every now and then. I always wonder if it’s good enough, or if others will like it, or if it just plain sucks. But I draw and I paint and I write because I love it. I remember that it’s not about whether or not everyone likes it – there will always be at least one person who doesn’t – but I do those things for myself first. Having a supportive critique partner really helps as well. If I start doubting my work, my CP will always mention how she can’t wait to read more of my work, and how much she loves it. And really, even when I get notes on how it can be improved, I know it’s because she’s looking out for me. So sure, I doubt myself all the time. But I write first for myself. And what is there to doubt when you write for your own enjoyment?

The Writer Working in Publishing

~~~

Oddly enough, I don’t really feel self-doubt when I’m writing. It’s probably because I spent so long writing for just myself that it hasn’t found a way to leech into that part of the process yet. So that means that when I do go to share, either by posting on FP, emailing a friend a MS, or printing out a copy to share with my family, the doubt hits me full force all at once. And it’s crippling. It’s literally terrifying having someone read what I’ve written and the better I know the person, the worse the anxiety. Even though I can logically assess the situation and know that even if someone absolutely hates everything about my work it’s not the end of the world, there’s still a frightened little girl inside of me hiding in a blanket fort. I’ve been working through my doubt slowly over the years. The more positive feedback I got, the better I was able to take criticism. I was able to prove to myself that I wasn’t wasting my time and that if I worked hard enough and long enough I could produce things that other people would enjoy. I still have trouble sharing with people I know well, but I keep reminding myself that I write because I love it and the most important thing is to do what I love.

-The Writer Revising Between Queries

~~~

Like many others, I’m sure, I get doubt about a lot of things… whether I’ll be published, write another novel, find someone else after my fiance and I split, be happy in my career, be happy in life in general, etc… What I’ve had to learn over the past few months is that we can build up structures in our minds of how we think/want life to be, but life is full of surprises and opportunities we could never plan for. I won’t end up where I think I will, but hey, it might be someplace better.

I try to keep this mentality when I have doubt, particularly about writing. Okay, this project I thought was going to be awesome, that I’m 15k into it and already sent the synopsis to my agent, isn’t going to work out. That’s okay. I try to be patient, and soon ideas for other projects come. I look at my mistakes from the past project and try to guard against those for this next project.

As for quality of writing, the only way I can deal with doubt in that area is by telling myself that I can always get better, with a little research and hard work. There are tons of quotes by people saying that nobody writes well; but some people edit wonderfully. That’s a mentality I think we could apply to a lot of situations… Could it be worse? Yes? Could it be better? Yes. Okay, let’s move towards making it better. Do I have the ability to make it better?

You must tell yourself ‘Yes.’ 🙂

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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How do you deal with self-doubt?

Premise Me This, Synopsis That

24 Jun

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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Since our 3-day-long query critique week is over, I thought that now would be a good time to talk about writing synopses and figuring out your premise(s); because they can really help you when it comes to writing your query.

See, the problem people have when it comes to writing queries is that it’s difficult summing up your 60,000 word manuscript (or however long you MS is). Heck, summing up a short story isn’t much easier! So what’s the best way to go about summarizing your novel-length work into the few paragraphs required for your query? Write a synopsis (which Savannah talked about here). Okay, so Savannah does say that using what you wrote for your query letter can help you write your synopsis; but who’s to say that you can’t use a synopsis to help you write your query letter? They’re both similar in that you need to somehow narrow your story into very few sentences. Which is hard, right? That’s why your manuscript IS 60,000 words long, after all! But though difficult, this is a skill you need to work on as a writer. And writing a synopsis is great practice for summarizing your beast of a manuscript.

It can also really help you figure out where you want your story to go, and figure out what your story really IS about. I mean, with all the sub-plots that might be lurking around in your manuscript, you need to still be able to clearly decipher what the main plot is. And sometimes, when you’re THAT into your story, you can’t differentiate. You probably tell anyone who asks that your story is about a girl falling in love with a boy, but with an epic battle between good versus evil and a long and dangerous quest involving needing to find all the pieces of the Triforce in order to save the Princess of Hyrule. And that the young hero travels back in time with a magical Ocarina and needs to go from dungeon to dungeon in order to obtain grappling hooks, and boomerangs, and all sorts of other gadgets in order to continue on his quest and overcome the obstacles in his path. And then there are zombies inhabiting the future, which is the future that will come to be if the evil isn’t stopped. And the other young man who is helping him turns out to be a woman who turns out to be the very Princess whose kingdom he is trying to save. And he wears green and lived in a tree before all of that happened. And there is a little blue fairy that follows him everywhere. And so on and so on. See, we can get a bit lost in the details of our own work. Every word and every action and every minor character is significant in our minds. Now, my reference to the Legend of Zelda aside, you need to be able to sum up your story into a cohesive and easy-to-follow synopsis. Which the above clearly wasn’t.

But aren’t queries shorter than synopses? Well, yes. But why not take small steps towards your query? Condense your manuscript into a synopsis (which, in itself, will be challenging). And then, take your synopsis and condense it into your query.

Now that I’ve talked about why switching it around and writing your synopsis before your query might be helpful, let’s move onto the dreaded one-sentence pitch. Yes, I know; no one likes summing up their story into one-sentence. It’s blasphemy, using only one sentence to sum up the entirety of your 60,000 word manuscript. BUT! Working out this pitch is your premise.

If there is one thing that I learned from my fiction editing class, it’s that your story needs a clear premise. And here’s the thing. Your premise often starts off as that initial idea, that spark that sets you writing that manuscript. Even if you don’t realize it, you probably started writing after thinking up a premise in your mind. Mine, for example, began with the idea, “What if there was a young girl who had never seen the sky?”; and sure enough, my manuscript started to form. Of course, as you build on your premise (and often, as you write and take that initial idea in new and different directions), your premise changes and grows. So now the main premise for my story centers around Danae, a young woman who risks everything she knows by leaving the caves she calls home in search of a friend in a dangerous new world, where she meets new people but finds herself the enemy. Of course, my manuscript is about more than that; but so far, the main premise is that. And while I, as you no doubt, have sub-plots and secondary parts to your premise, your main idea isn’t that much different than your one-sentence pitch. And this one sentence pitch is great practice for not only understanding your story better, but for being able to pitch it in your query. If you can sum up that monster of a manuscript in one sentence, what CAN’T you do?

Queries are often difficult, because it tends to be the first time you try to sum up your story. So if you start with writing a three-page synopsis first, you’ll have a much better understanding of the key points of your story. And while a synopsis is chronological in order (which I’m sure you know from Savannah’s post here because you’ve read it, right?), your query doesn’t necessarily have to be. But at least you know what the main events in your story are, and what happens that is useful for a hook. The one-sentence pitch will also help in your query writing, because you’ll have been able to sum it up in one sentence; so summing it up with a few more sentences, while still challenging, won’t be as daunting as it was prior to the one-sentence pitch. Because really, what’s scarier than that?

If you had asked me about what my manuscript was about a few months ago, I would have gone off into a long-winded explanation about how Danae’s people are called the Ane’a, and how they had fled to the caves years ago. And how they had once upon a time lived up in the trees, and had once been great. And how now they were forced to live hidden from the entire world, underneath the rocks in the Fog Lands, where nothing but a dim grey light shines through the cracks. And I would’ve gone on and on about all the details in my story that make it what it is. But really, the point of the query is to entice the reader enough for them to WANT to read about all the little details. Your query is a teaser. If you asked me now, I wouldn’t mention any of that. I would sum it up very shortly; I would mention my premise (with a bit more detail), and that’s all. Because really, when someone asks what your story is about, they don’t want an in-depth, scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter explanation. They want the general gist of things.

So, embrace the synopsis and the one-sentence pitch! Your query will probably look better after you practice condensing your story a few times. And then try verbally explaining your manuscript to someone. You might actually find yourself better at putting your manuscript into words.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Query Critique 9: Chains of Hell

23 Jun

Welcome to the third day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received a ton of queries, and even though we wish we could have chosen more, we were only able to pick 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!

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Query 9: Chains of Hell

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Dear fellow readers,

My name is Kairee-Anne or Rayne in the writing world, a soon to be seventeen year old writer of now nine years. The novel I am here to promote is part of a four book series call “WAR OF ANGELS”. The first book of this particular series is called “Chains of Hell”- this book will contain the later times in the Great War between the heavenly gates known as the Veil and the blood-lusting thorns known as the demonic Chapel. As of right now I have not began writing this story neither on paper nor on Microsoft word, because I am currently doing my character’s informational profiles and formats of all four books. I will however tell you the reasons to why people should read this soon to be 18 chaptered novel.

In Terisa, a world with mystical humanoid creatures with special abilities from their native tribes has been in a long, horrific war with the newest members of the demonic chapel. CHAINS OF HELL is going be about slave boy who completely has no memory of his past life. Inside his small cage, he waits for the great hero that is destined to rescue him, but just outside the castle of the Chapel leader, Virgil- the hero has no idea who this slave boy even is. Over the course of this book, the reader will experience meeting unique characters, who are now soldiers and hybrids from fallen angels, the possible chance of beautiful places of Terisa. Reader will love to finish this story because they will see the raw emotions each chapter will process and look forward to reading the next book soon after.

As for the writing experience I been through, I am basically self-teaching myself by reading other author’s works and trying to understand the world of English literature in high school to the best of my ability. The genres I usually write for are fantasy, adventure, the supernatural.

I hope you will enjoy seeing the future manuscript of CHAINS OF HELL and possibly the other four books to the WAR OF ANGELS series. Thank you for taking the time to read this, have a nice summer.

True regards,

Kairee-Anne/Rayne

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Critiques

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Savannah J. Foley:

Hi Kairee-Ann! I think when we announced the query contest you had asked if you could enter a query for a book you hadn’t written yet, as practice. That was perfectly okay, and I’m glad to see that you got your first query written and entered it!

I understand that you wrote a query for a book you hadn’t written yet, but when writing real queries you’re preparing to send out to agents the first step is to make sure that your book is already written. The thought here is that what is the point of querying if you don’t have any material available for when the agent requests a partial? No agent is going to wait for you to finish writing a book so they can look at it; as a writer your job is to make sure the book is written first. So I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear in answering your question; I meant you can totally write a query for a book that’s not written, but you shouldn’t send them out, and definitely shouldn’t mention that the book’s not written in the query.

That said, as a young writer you now have a choice to make outside of the query… do you choose to write the first book and query it, or write all four books before you query? I wrote all the books in my trilogy before I queried, but not with querying as the end goal. I wrote because I wanted to tell the story. I wrote for my fans on FictionPress. If I were older and more experienced, I probably wouldn’t have written the trilogy first, because what if I spent all that time and effort on three books, only to not be able to sell the first one? It’s fine to have ideas for a trilogy, and as a young writer writing all those books will probably be a great learning experience for you and strengthen your skills (it certainly did for me), but typically I would advise you to make your first book a stand-alone, and try to sell it before writing the others.

Back to the query itself… It’s not professional to use ‘Rayne in the writing world.’ The only ‘writing world’ an agent will care about is the published world, and Rayne, while beautiful, is only a username on FictionPress. When querying you should always use your real name. If you want to use a pseudonym, then I think you’re supposed to sign queries as ‘Jane Smith, writing as Mary Brown.’ But if you’re a debut author, unless there’s a professionally valid reason for not using your real name (like you write erotica but you’re also a high profile defense attorney or something), then you should query with your real name and you and your agent can discuss pseudonyms once you actually sign.

Again, back to the query… It’s not wise to tell an agent how old you are unless your age is relevant to the material. In this case I don’t think it is, and you run the risk of turning an agent off instead of impressing them. However, all this personal stuff should go at the end of the query; the beginning of the query is for drawing the agent in and hyping them up to read your book. You should start off perhaps with why you chose this agent, and try to get them connected to your book. Then, hit them with the plot/description, and only then do you sum up with your personal information.

You’re young, so it’s okay that you don’t have a lot of professional writing credits, but if you choose to query at this age it doesn’t look professional to talk about self-teaching. We are all self-taught to some extent, so just leave your bio brief, maybe tell the agent where you live, then close with a simple Regards, or Sincerely. Get in, get out, get them interested.

Best of luck in writing your quadrology!

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Jennifer Fitzgerald:

Your word count is low, that’s good. Agents don’t like really long queries, they like things that are short and to the point. As for to the point, the query needs to go straight to the important information about your book, not you. You also shouldn’t be selling a series off the bat, you should be selling a book that has the potential to be the first in a series, if everything goes well.

“As of right now I have not began writing this story neither on paper nor on Microsoft word,” This is far too wordy. Also you should have written this like you were really querying, in which case you would never tell an agent you hadn’t written anything because you would have the entire thing written and revised already. So pretty much axe the entire first paragraph.

The first sentence in the second paragraph is a run-on. Your writing needs to be crisp and clear. You don’t say ‘I will tell you,’ just tell them. At the end I’m still not sure what these Chapels and thorns are or what the plot is. The plot and the characters should be the main focus of your query and what you spend the most words on. Good luck writing.

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Sammy Bina:

The first (and most important) no-no of querying fiction is to query without a finished manuscript. Non-fiction writers can often sell a book on proposal, but fiction is an entirely different bag of tricks. You want a finished manuscript, and one that’s as close to perfection as possible. Write one draft, edit it, and write another. Or five. However long it takes until you think your book is in the best shape possible.

Then you can start querying agents. Make sure to let that particular agent know why you’re querying them. They know you’ve sent your letter to other agents, but it’s nice to let them know you’ve selected them for a specific reason (maybe they represent authors who write in the same genre as you, or they mentioned that they have a soft spot for hi-concept science fiction, etc.). Because your query is supposed to sell your book, not you, I’d take out almost all of the personal information you’ve included here. As Savannah mentioned, your age isn’t relevant, and the agent won’t care about your FP username. Just go with the basics: “This is my first novel, a whatever-genre complete at however-many-words.” That kind of thing. Your name goes at the bottom of the query anyway, so using your name earlier isn’t really necessary.

Because you haven’t written the book yet, I’m not sure what else to tell you. As we’ve mentioned with some of the other queries we received, make sure you focus your query on the conflict in the story. You mentioned that the reader will encounter some pretty unique characters, so mention them and how they relate to the main character(s). Also, take out this line: “Reader will love to finish this story because they will see the raw emotions each chapter will process and look forward to reading the next book soon after.” You don’t want to tell an agent how to respond to your book – let them figure it out on their own.

Good luck writing, and good luck querying!

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Tell us what you think! Never written a query before? Only heard of them last week? You don’t have to be an expert to make comments; you know what sounds good and what doesn’t. Did we miss something? Let us know your thoughts!

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Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America

Query Critique 8: Strung Along

23 Jun

Welcome to the third day of our 3-day-long Query Critique Week (say that five times fast)! We received a ton of queries, and even though we wish we could have chosen more, we were only able to pick 9 of them to critique. Let’s get started!

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Query 8: Strung Along

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Dear Let The Words Flow,

Seventeen-year-old Sarah Avery has always been a violinist. It’s the only thing in her life that keeps her from falling apart, the only thing that helps her deal when her uncle makes his way to her room at night. Now, if she could just get into Juilliard.

But getting in proves to be harder than Sarah thought. For starters, she’s missing the community service hours her high school requires her to graduate, so the guidance counselor with the overly processed hair forces her to tutor another girl in violin—a girl who starts finding out a little too much about Sarah’s home life. There’s also the problem of perfecting her Paganini caprice and from keeping the neighbors across the street from interfering in her life.

But most importantly, Sarah has to keep her audition secret from her overbearing family. Because if her uncle finds out she plans to leave him, he very well may kill her.

STRUNG ALONG is a young adult novel complete at approximately 59,000 words.

Thank you for your time,

Nita Tyndall

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Critiques

Sarah J. Maas:

I love the ideas here, and I love the strength of the voice. I think it gets a little tripped up in one line, which is WAY too long:  “For starters, she’s missing the community service hours her high school requires her to graduate, so the guidance counselor with the overly processed hair forces her to tutor another girl in violin—a girl who starts finding out a little too much about Sarah’s home life.” I’d break that up into two sentences, perhaps three.

Because the query is so short, there’s room for expansion, so I’d perhaps dedicate another sentence or two about the girl she’s tutoring—as that seems to be the tension that’s propelling the plot (in addition to the Juilliard audition).

I’d also like to see a line or two about you (the author) at the very end (right after the word count). Other than that, with a bit of expansion, I think this could be a really solid query. Good luck!

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Savannah J. Foley:

I agree with Sarah that you have room to expand, but I would go a little further by saying this query is way too short. I think you described a lot of singular events here but no action that spreads throughout the book. I get that there’s tension, but I think you need a few more active sentences, like ‘Sarah struggles to keep her two lives separate’ or ‘As Sarah’s secrets begin to expose themselves, she struggles…’ Just something that describes a lot of the action, not singular events.

Not really a big issue, but I would like to know why her uncle has access to her… maybe you could give a little more background on her family situation? Why is she living with her uncle? Are there other family problems going on? How will she pay for Julliard?

I also think you could pad out the query more with some information on the neighbors who keep interfering with her life. Are they offering assistance in any way that she has to turn down because she doesn’t want them finding out about the abuse?

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Sammy Bina:

As the other ladies have said, your query is a bit short. But that’s good! That means there’s plenty of room for improvement. I think the tone of the story is conveyed really well through what you’ve given us, and Sarah’s voice shines through and makes me interested to see more. I think adding a few more details like “the guidance counselor with the overly processed hair” to your query would be really great.

Also, beef it up. Your story sounds like it’s got a lot going on, what with her creepy uncle, nosy neighbors, and the girl she’s tutoring. Delve into those things a little more. Why would her uncle kill her? Would the neighbors helping her really be so bad? How about the girl she’s tutoring? Besides the violin, do they have anything else in common? Really get into the emotional storyline, and I think you’ll be golden. Right now it’s all plot points that, as Savannah said, are very singular, and don’t really span the entire book. Go with major themes and storylines that cover everything, rather than singular events. Save detailed plot descriptions for your synopsis.

Good luck!

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Tell us what you think! Never written a query before? Only heard of them last week? You don’t have to be an expert to make comments; you know what sounds good and what doesn’t. Did we miss something? Let us know your thoughts!

~~~

Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America