Friday, December 30, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Circumstances

"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them."

~George Bernard Shaw

Don't you love this quote? It says that no matter what, you can go out and accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish! Nothing is insurmountable. Nothing is big enough or strong enough to hold you back forever. Finding or making the right circumstances might be hard... maybe even extremely so, but it can be done.

I'm not a champagne drinker, but these cookies kind of have a champagne-y feel to them. So, I raise my cookie in a toast! Here's to finding or creating the circumstances you need in 2012!

Photo credit and recipe link

Have an awesome and safe New Years, everyone! I'll see you bright and early in 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

To Write Them Down or Not to Write Them Down

At a writing conference (well, a symposium, actually) about three years ago, I heard someone on a panel talk about ideas. Sadly, I cannot remember who it was. Someone in the audience raised their hand and asked if this author kept a notebook of all his great ideas. The man said he didn't write down any of his ideas. He figured if it was a good idea, it'd stick around. If it didn't stay with him long enough to use it, then it wasn't an idea worth using in the first place. I found his answer completely fascinating. What a great way to weed out the bad ideas, and to discover what the really great ideas are!

Yeah. It took me a couple of years to realize that, fabulous concept or not, it's just not how I work.

Writing is a lot of problem solving. A million little problems present themselves in every manuscript, and your job as a writer is to find the best way to solve them. Some are huge enough that they affect the direction the entire plot is headed. Others are small and only affect a single scene. All of them have to be solved, and chances are you have a dozen of these little issues bouncing around your head at any given time, hoping for their chance to be solved.

Sometimes I'll be sitting in the car, waiting for my daughter's art class to end, and I'll figure out the perfect solution to one of the things bouncing around in my head. The solution that makes everything right. That missing puzzle piece. And then she'll hop in the car and we'll start chatting art, and the idea slowly slips away while I'm not looking until later that night when I think, "Now what was that perfect solution again?"

Does that mean it was a bad idea? No. It means I was forgetful and easily distracted and darn it, by now I should know better than to turn my attention away from it before it's either inked forever in my brain or inked forever on paper! Because for me, the really good ideas like to wander down those brain hallways that rarely get used, then they tend to get lost.

So what about you? Do you know when something is a really good idea because it tends to stick, or do you have to write good ideas down if you want to keep them?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Way We Are: Figuring Things Out

Has everyone had a good holiday season so far? I have been loving it something fierce! But now we're on the downside of it and I just really wish it would last another week or two or seven. Not only has it given me lots and lots of chances to spend quality time with family, but it's given me time to clean and to WRITE! As I'm working through a first draft, it got me wondering....

Where are you when you get your best ideas?

I'm not talking about that initial spark of an idea for a new story. I'm talking about figuring out that missing puzzle piece. That idea of how to work your next scene, or where to take a certain character's arc, or how to have your character figure out that last piece of information they need for the ending scenes. The million things you have to work through as you are writing. Where is your best place for getting that kind of inspiration?

For me, it's most frequently in one of five places. In the car, in the shower, while on a walk, while making dinner, and while folding clothes. So... I guess the places where my body is busy doing something, but my mind is free to wander.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I love this time of year! My hubby has work off, my kids are out of school, and I'm off work (one of the perks of working at their school). The next few days are going to be full of family, games, the making of gingerbread houses, family parties, nativity reenacting, wrapping, a special dinner with the Christmas plates, and if my daughter gets her way and it actually snows, sledding. But before I go party like it's almost the end of 2011, I just wanted to wish you all---

So whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, I hope your next several days are filled with everything that makes you joyful, excited, and give you a feeling that all is right with the world.

I hope you all have an amazingly wonderful holiday season. See you guys next Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Gift of Lists

I got an early Christmas present.

I'm a little giddy.

My mom, knowing that I'm a list-maker, gave me a stack of special papers from her work that they were going to throw away. *gasp!* You know how the checks that businesses write are bigger that personal checks? They were the papers that you tear off from the bottom of those checks. I tell you, they are the PERFECT SIZE for lists!

She saw how I salivated.

Then later she stopped by and saw about eight lists on the special papers currently in use in my kitchen. (From where I'm sitting at my desk right now, without moving anything, I count 1...2...3...4.....13 of these lists covering a variety of topics, all in different stages of crossing outs.)

So then, because she's so awesome, my mother gifted me the mother lode.

A stack of bliss 14 1/2 inches high.

I could've died, I was so happy.

You're looking at that picture and salivating right now, aren't you? The mere thought of having the ability to make that many lists, all the while having perfectly-sized papers right at hand, makes you feel you're in heaven.

Wait... what? Not all of you salivate over list papers?


I don't understand. They're list papers! You can write lists on them! And they're the perfect size! If anything's worth salivating over, trust me: it's THIS. (Back me up, list makers. We are in the majority, after all... Right?)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Emoticonally Stunted

I like to think that when I come across a word I don't know while reading or in conversation, I

a) Intrinsically know what it means
b) Look it up
c) Use it myself.

When it comes to emoticons... Not so much. I pretty much only have these at my disposal:

:) to show I'm happy
(or sometimes a :o) for extra emphasis)
:D to show I'm really happy
:( to show I'm sad 
:'( or :') to show that made me shed a tear
;) as a knowing gesture (but honestly, I always wonder if maybe people take this as a "just kidding," thus negating my comment.)

..... AAAAAAAAand that's it. My emoticon vocabulary is seriously stunted. And let's face it. Sometimes you're leaving a comment on someone's blog, and you just need something more than a smile, frown, or a wink. I need an arsenal! Not a plastic bow and rubber arrow!

Are you an emoticon intellectual? Help a girl out?

Or are you as emoticon illiterate as I am?

(And will someone pretty please explain what the letter J means?)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Choose Hope

"Once we choose hope, everything is possible."

~Christopher Reeve

Quite a fitting quote for the season, no? Yes, we should prepare for the worst. It's what helps us to be prepared for everything, after all. But never forget the HOPE FOR THE BEST part! It's one of the most important parts of all! It's what keeps you going. It's what helps you to do your best. It's what gives you motivation and drive and self-confidence and peace. It's what makes everything possible.

I hope you all have an abundance of HOPE this holiday season. (And, you know, forever after that.)

Photo Credit and Recipe Link: Secret Life of a Chef's Wife

I love you guys! Have a fabulous weekend.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shelving Beloveds

When I decided to be a writer, I wrote a few novels. Books that taught me about plot and pacing and character development that were never meant to be read outside a very specific audience of people I knew and loved. After I reached a certain level, I dove into the deep end of the writing world and began to write the first novel I had ever written with the goal of publication. I fell completely in love with the characters. I loved the setting. It had a magic system that was different and so very much fun. The book was awesome and I was completely and totally invested in it.

After writing The End, I took a step back and looked at it. Since I had immersed myself so fully in learning about the craft during the ten months it took to draft it, I knew that the end was written much more skillfully than the beginning. Revising was going to be a huge job. I also knew I had reached a skill level where I could do it.

So as I looked at this completed draft I loved on my left, and the promise of a new story in a blank document on my right, I asked myself what might be one of the most important questions to ask yourself.

If I queried this book and all my publication dreams
came true, is this the book I want to lead with?

As you sell books, you build an audience. That audience will keep coming back to you for largely the same type of book. Think of some of your favorite authors— the ones you keep going back to. If they suddenly wrote a vastly different book and you got it because you loved the author, you’d likely think, “What the heck kind of book is this?! This is NOT what I signed up for!” More or less, right? There are authors that have genre-jumped and done it well, but they also have to do a huge amount of new audience building along with it. So you’ve got to think, is this the genre I want to write in for a while? Is THIS the book that I want to have as the first book to represent me as an author?

For that book that I loved, the answer was no. It wasn’t right.

I don’t write fast. So I knew that the decision meant a time sacrifice as well. That my dream of publication would probably be pushed back by my decision. (At the same time, though, I knew that going through the massive job of polishing a book to perfection that might not sell would also slow my journey.)

But I bit back a tear, gave it a hug, thanked this book I loved more than cheesecake and summer sunshine for being the embodiment of what it took to get me where I was, and gently placed it on the shelf. It still sits there now, selflessly sacrificing for the greater good its chance to not only live dust-free, but to be read by more than four people.

Yes, it stung to shelf a book I was in love with. But do you know what? That book is fine. I’m fine. And I fell even more in love with my next book.

And there’s really nothing quite like a blank document and the promise of a new book that you just know is going to rock.

How about you? Have you ever shelved a book? Tried to shelf one and couldn’t part with it? Not to the point where you’ve had to make that decision yet? I want to know!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Way We Are: Writers Conferences

I love writers conferences. I love immersing myself in the writing world and being surrounded by people who love this crazy thing as much as I do. I love the chance to learn from authors who really know their stuff. I love eating, drinking, sleeping my craft. I love the camaraderie.

So what about you? Are you a conference goer?

Have you been dying to go to one, but there's something that's been stopping you? Or have you chosen not to go to conferences?

What have been some of your favorite conferences to go to? Which conference are you looking most forward to going to in the next year?

Gosh. I am so very much in the mood to go to a conference RIGHT NOW. Who's with me?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


(Admit it all you Words with Friends players: you want to play squawk almost every game. Like down at the bottom where you can play it across a TW and a TL or two. Am I right?)

But enough about that-- I'm guest posting today over at the Crowe's Nest! I'm talking about my theory on muses and how they're... you know... claustrophobic. With illustrations! Because, really, you can't talk about claustrophobic muses without drawing little pictures to explain yourself, right?

The link: Crowe's Nest

So Ca-caw! Ca-caw! (That's code for go check it out.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Wish List

Has you family been bugging you for ideas of what to get you for the holidays? Do you have writers on your list, and don't know what to get them? Never fear! I'm here to give you ideas!

First, one of my favorite ideas ever. For any shower brain stormers: Aqua Notes! It's a special kind of paper and a special kind of pencil that work IN WATER. Even under water! It's brilliant, I tell you.

This is a bookshelf. How's that for personality?!

Can't seem to stay away from books even when you go to bed? You can take the book with you, and snuggle up with it all night long.

You know how, when you are really in the writing zone, the hours just disappear and suddenly it's the middle of the night, or nap time for the little ones is over? And you just wish time would stop so you can keep going? Or are you fulfilling all of your other responsibilities and have a story churning so fiercely in your head that you can't stand the fact that you can't get away for a few minutes to get it on paper? Then you need a Time Turner!

Ever suffered from Writer's Block? This handy block has 786 ideas to jump-start your creativity. (Does it look like it weighs about a ton to anyone else?)

How would you like a life-sized sculpture in your house? This one was practically MADE for writers. Why? This cool guy is made from the parts of a typewriter! No joke. How cool is that?

So there's this guy who makes 3D sculptures out of books, and they are amazing! Click on this link to check out some of his masterpieces. They're brilliant!

This is a working computer. Placed inside an actual book. Incredible, right? If that doesn't make you feel like writing, I don't know what will.

Writers everywhere will be dying over these shoes! Oh, wait. Maybe not writer's everywhere.... Maybe just me. They're just so clever!

More writer's blocks! These have pictures or words on all sides. You can rearrange them in tons of different ways, and the ones showing can inspire vastly different stories!

Need a party dress? One that says "I love to read?" This one was made out of a book!

Looking for a handbag to go with the dress? These were each made out of actual book covers! Each one is unique. Kinda like that dress.

I saved this one for last, because it actually warms my heart. An "It takes a group to raise a writer" notebook. Doesn't it just get you *right* here?

What are you hoping to give or get this year? Any of these things strike your fancy? :)

P.S. Thank you so much Prerna Pickett! She blogs at Sands of Writing, and just awarded me the Blog on Fire award, and the One Lovely Blog Award. I'm so flattered, Prerna!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Who is Going to Stop Me

Crazy thanks to Cherie from Cherie Writes for the Beautiful Blogger award! I really appreciate it, Cherie.

I have to admit: I felt a little guilty after yesterday's post. Okay, it may be that I'm a little methodical when it comes to writing and writing-related things. I'm not that way with everything, though. Like if I'm going to buy a camera, I'm not going to research to find the best one. I just hope someone I know has already done the research enough to make a recommendation, or I choose the one that LOOKS the best. If I need to choose a doctor, I'm pretty much going to choose the one that either a) has the coolest-sounding name or b) has the easiest to remember phone number. (Oh, admit it. You've chosen this way before, too. Right?)

SOoooo, I know what it feels like to have the methodical way feel daunting. Unreachable. Frustrating. I sincerely hope that yesterday's post didn't make anyone feel those things! Here's the thing I had hoped to accomplish: that my theory would go into that holding bin in your mind reserved for querying, along with everyone else's theories you've read about, where it can tumble around with the others. When it comes time to use query information, you empty the bin and see what sticks. It could be someone's entire theory. It could be the parts of five different people's theories that work best for you and your personality. The important thing is to use the parts that work FOR YOU. Whether that be all the things I did or none of the things I did.

Then, just do it! And while you're at it, think of this quote that I absolutely love.

Does anything more need to be said? I think not.

But do stop for long enough to stare at these pretties. Because oh, my goodness. I can't stop with the staring at the pretty.

Photo credit and recipe: Secret Life of a Chef's Wife Lime Linzer Cookies

Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How did you pick which agents to send your ms to?

There are a lot of ways to research agents. In fact, you should click here to go to the excellent post Literary Rambles has on researching agents. Then check out part 2 and part 3. Casey McCormick shares a lot of really great information here, and she's really thorough. (Plus, Literary Rambles is incredibly helpful in researching agents. If you're researching, they'll likely become your bffs.)

Here’s the thing. It’s HUGELY IMPORTANT to research well. Don’t just plan on spending an afternoon coming up with a list. It takes more time than you’d think to do it right. I’m not sure I had the best system, so take this for what it’s worth– just something that worked for one person.

The thought of trying to come up with a list of agents that were really good felt completely daunting to me. Then a friend clued me into an easy way: Publisher’s Marketplace. ( I signed up. It’s $20 a month, which is pretty steep, but it seems like the first 5 days were free, and you could cancel before the five days were up. I don’t know if that’s an all the time thing, or if it was a special I just happened to get in on. I guess you can try it and see. (It's important to note, though, that after a couple of months I canceled my membership. When I signed up again around the time my deal was going to be listed, I did NOT get the five days free again. It must be a one time thing. So don't do it until you are ready. :))

In PM, you can select Deal Makers on the left-hand side, change the type to Agents, then select your genre, and it will show the top 100 deal makers for your category. Incredible, right? I thought so! I know that PM doesn’t list all deals made, but it shows most and seemed like a way to get a really great list. I copied the list and pasted it into a new document. Then I used Google to search for them. Most showed their agency’s site, and most had interviews somewhere. Literary Rambles had almost every agent I looked up, and their information is INVALUABLE. Those girls rock. If you don’t want to go the Publisher’s Marketplace route, you might be able to find everything you need there. (And remember those links from above. They tell you how to go the non-PM route.)

So, I read all I could about each agent, copying and pasting any info relevant to them that might help me personalize a query into the file with all their names. Then I gave them a ranking between 1 and 10, based on how well I thought their personalities matched up with mine, and on how much they seemed to like books like mine. Then I moved only their names and rankings into a new file, so I could see all of them at once. And just so you know, this step takes FOREVER. But it's also hugely important. Just because an agent is right there at the top of the dealmakers list doesn't necessarily mean they are going to be a good agent for YOU. There are a LOT of agents. The one who will represent you best might not even be on this list at all.

I've read a lot of great advice on how to choose who to send your query to first. Query a couple from your top tier, a couple from the middle, and a couple from the bottom. That way, you can see what kind of response you get from your query, and you can tell if it’s not doing the job. Test the waters. Adjust as necessary. Excellent advice!

But it’s also not what I did.

[Caution: take this with a grain of salt!] To start, I chose three agents that were great agents that represented my genre, but didn’t feel like a great fit for me, and queried them first. Why? Because it’s hard to figure out how to word the top personalization part! And it’s hard to click “send” on those first few! Those were my practice ones. Then, I went for the ones at the top of my list of researched agents. I figured, why not start with the ones that might be best for me? I did it, though, because I knew that my query was the absolute best I could make it. If querying from the top, middle, and bottom let me know that my query needed adjusting, there really was no where for it to go. If my query wasn’t good enough, then I wasn’t ready. So if it was the best I could make it, and I was SURE of that, there was no reason not to start at the top and move my way down. (This could be a dangerous method to use. Keep that in mind.)

So then, you just go to your handy list where you've copied all the pertinent info you've found (like stuff that says they are looking for books just like yours), and you can use it to personalize the query.  You know-- things like, "I read in an interview that you are looking for ____, so I think you may be interested in my _____."

So, there you go. ONE person's way they researched. I know there are a lot of other ways, and a lot of people swear by Query Tracker. If you have a great way you researched, please let us know in the comments! That way, anyone trying to figure it out can have more suggestions. 

(And have I mentioned lately that you guys rock my world? Because you totally do.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Way We Are: Querying / Blurbing

It seems like I've been talking a lot about queries lately, so I'm curious where everyone is in the whole process. So I thought we'd take a little informal poll. (If you are in Google Reader, you'll have to click through to get to the poll.)

If you are Indie publishing, just pretend each word "query" is the word "blurb."

I've made the poll multiple choice, so if you are in different stages with different books, you can mark multiple stages. (If you'd rather not say where you are for fear you'll be jinxed or something, ;) just know your answer in the poll is in no way tied to you. Feel free to share or don't share whatever you want about it in the comments.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How can you find good critique partners?

Back to the question posts. I was asked, How can you find good critique partners?

Okay, this I’m not an expert on by any means. I know there are sites that match up critique partners, but I don’t know enough about them to recommend which are better than others. (Update: But there are plenty of experts out there! Just check out the comments. Such great advice!)

I’ll tell you how I got mine, in case it helps you find some.

One of my CPs is Erin Summerill. She was one of my bffs years before either of us became writers. When I decided I wanted to plow forward at full steam, I wanted a buddy to do it with. I knew that Erin had enjoyed writing a little before I met her, so I decided to try to talk her into plowing ahead with me. Turns out she had been closet writing! And she had already gotten to the same I want to do this for real place I was! That "talking her into it" took about as long as it took to get out the words "Wanna be my writing buddy?" (P.S. Talking one of your friends into writing is a great way to get the ultimate kind of writing partner.)

Erin and I took a semester-long class together where the teacher split us into writing groups for critiquing. We got to test-drive our group, if you will, during the semester. One of the guys in our group, Jason Manwaring, worked really well with us, and the three of us managed to also snag someone else we really loved working with-- the teacher’s aide, Rob Code. It’s been three years now, and the four of us still meet weekly (unless that’s not possible) and submit a chapter at a time. (P.S. Going to writing classes is a great way to meet writers with the same goals as you.)

Another of my CPs is Jessie Humphries. She lives six hours away from me, but she was one of 450 people at a conference Erin and I attended, and we happened to sit by her at lunch one day. Jessie pretty much rocks, so it wasn’t hard to become friends. We both started blogging at the same time, so we became a mini blog support group and later, critique partners. We send each other our completed manuscripts. (P.S. Conferences give you great chances to chat with other writers who are also serious about writing.)

Another CP is my friend Marie Criddle. About a year and a half ago, she guest posted on a blog I regularly read, and I followed the link to her blog, where I discovered that she is BRILLIANT and so much fun. I stalked her for a long time before I got up the guts to email her. We discovered that we got along great, and eventually traded manuscripts. She lived a couple of states over, but I actually got to meet her in person once before she moved across the ocean. (P.S. Reading blogs is a great way to get to know other writers.)

So, I found my CPs in a friend, a writing class, a writer's conference, and through blogging. I guess the answer is, get to know as many writers as you can, through whatever means works best for you. You’ll find people you love to chat with and chances are, if you love to chat with them, you’ll love the type of stuff they write, too. But I'd highly recommend becoming friends first. It'll make everything go so much easier.

How about you? Do you have critique partners? If you do, how did you find yours? (If you're looking for CPs, check out the comments! Everyone will probably fill in all the gaps I missed.)(P.S. Thank you, commentors!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Query-- What Worked For Me

First off, a huge thank you to Lynn(e) Schmidt from The Submission Process for the One Lovely Blog award, and to Richard at Writing and Living by Richard P. Hughes for the Great Comments Award. This was awesome. Thanks, guys!

Okay, onto more questions from that one post a couple of weeks ago. I got a lot of questions about queries in general. Tomorrow's the question about finding critique partners, and Thursday's is about researching agents. Next week-- probably Tuesday and Thursday-- it's how to know when your manuscript is ready.

I have been putting this post off for a very long time. Why? Because I am NOT, by any sense of the word, an expert on queries. (They're those little one page letters you write to get an agent to request to see pages.) Eventually, though, I decided that I'd share what worked for me. Who knows? Maybe something that I learned will help you. Or... sharing might make you think I'm a little insane. If you do, that's okay-- I felt a little insane doing it. If it starts to make you feel discouraged, though, STOP READING. That's seriously my biggest fear in sharing this. I don't want anyone who is preparing to query to think that you have to do everything I did. It is simply what worked for me. Queries are massively important. And they're hard. But regardless of that, YOU CAN DO IT. You may need to remind yourself of that a few (hundred) times.

If you're a writer, you need to write queries.

Fact of life. If you choose traditional publishing, you'll need it to get an agent. If you choose Indie publishing, you'll need it to sell your book. (If you are Indie publishing, just replace every word "query" in this post with the word "blurb" in your mind. :))

Writing Queries

I'm not going to write about the nuts and bolts of writing queries, because there are people who HAVE made themselves experts that you should go to.

Nathan Bransford is one of them. He's a former agent and an author, so he's read thousands of queries in his lifetime, and had to write a few himself. Click this link to go to Nathan Bransford's awesome post on writing queries.)

Another expert is Elana Johnson. (I went to Google Images and typed in "query letters," and Elana Johnson's picture came up. I'M NOT EVEN KIDDING.) Not only is she an amazing author, but she is an amazing person. She wrote an eBook on query writing, AND IT'S FREE. Because, yes, she is just that cool. Click this link to go to Elana Johnson's blog with links about query writing, and to download From the Query to the Call.) This book was a lifesaver to me! I used it as a bible as I wrote my query. Then, when I got requests, I looked in the book, and it told me exactly what to do. How to respond, what to change the subject line to, how to format my ms, everything. Then, when I got an email from an agent saying let's talk, it told me what kinds of questions to ask. Seriously. Download this book. It may make you want to hug Elana Johnson in the wee hours of the night when you've got questions and she saves you. I'm just sayin'.

The Hook

Ahh, the hook. They're awesome, and the experts will tell you that you need one. It's the thing that grabs you and makes you want to read more. For some books, it comes easy. It's even easy to get it in the voice of the book. For some books, it's REALLY HARD. Even though I thought of mine for more months than I'm willing to admit, I never came up with one. Is it simply impossible to come up with a one-sentence hook for some books? Um.. probably not. I'm just saying it was impossible for ME to come up with one.

So what do you do if you can't for the life of you come up with a hook? First, know that it isn't the end of the world. Then just tell what you need to in your query in the best way. Make that first line really interesting, even if it isn't something that could stand by itself as a hook. Just focus on making it the best you can.

Queries are important. Really important. Give them their due.

Some agents don't care as much about queries. Generally, if they don't, they'll say so in interviews, ask for short queries with the first five or ten pages pasted in the email, and they'll put most of their focus on the pages. THEY ARE NOT IN THE MAJORITY, THOUGH. Most agents think that everything they need to know is in that one page. They can tell if your book is going to be all over the place. They can tell if the writing is going to be strong. They can tell if it's going to have grammatical issues. They can tell if the conflict is engaging. They can tell if the voice is compelling.

Um... a lot to accomplish in one page, no? Don't let it stress you out or discourage you. DO let it compel you to give it your all. Think about how long you spent drafting and revising your novel. It would be a sad thing indeed if an agent who would've been perfect for you and that book turned it down based on a query letter that wasn't as well written as the book, right?


You will get rejections. Also a fact of life. They're not about you. And a good portion of the time, they're not even about your writing! I like reading YA dystopians. Does that mean I like EVERY YA dystopian? Nope. Is it because some are not well-written? Nope. Well, sometimes, but not always. The point is, some books will resonate tons with you, while others won't. Even if they do with other people. It's the same with agents. You want your book to go to an agent who it resonates with! Besides. Sometimes they may love your book, but they don't have the contacts to sell it. That's no good either. Neither situation has anything to do with how good your book is. And it DEFINITELY doesn't have anything to do with how awesome you are.

What I did.

I really struggled with my query. I had a character with a strong internal struggle greatly influenced by her town, and a strong external struggle involving her town that was greatly influenced by people outside her town, and a unique setting that played strongly in both conflicts. It was incredibly hard to figure out what to include in my query, what to leave out, what brought out my book's uniqueness, and what weighed down such a short description.

I went to a conference last May, and had signed up for a query class with Elana Johnson. As part of the class, she had everyone email her their query beforehand so she could critique it. I rewrote a query a couple of times, and sent it to her. It stunk, and I knew it. I also knew that every critique only has the ability to raise it's level one or two. So if I sent her a query that was a 2, there was no way it was coming out of the critique as a 10. But the query was due, and it was the best I could get it. I knew that the critique wouldn't get me there, but it would get me closer.

Then I took it to a couple of guys in my writing group. They helped me really narrow down what needed to be in the query, and what I could leave out. Sometimes, it REALLY helps to get some outside perspective on that.

After that, I rewrote it a few (or maybe a dozen) more times, then had an editor look at it. (I'll talk more about him next week when I talk about manuscripts.) He suggested that I get my query condensed to 7 or 8 lines in my word processor. Not sentences. LINES. Ugh. Knife to the gut. I worked and worked and worked on it, and finally got it down to 8 lines, 140 words.

In late May, I took an online webinar from Sara Megibow, who used to read all 150 queries the Nelson Agency got every single day. One might say she's a bit of an expert. After her class, I rewrote it some more, then sent it to her at the end of June for a critique that came with the class. After I got her critique, I rewrote some more.

And through it all, I sent it to my CPs several times. I sent it to my friend who's great at grammar. I sent it to my sister enough times that I'm pretty sure I violated some anti-torture laws listed in the Geneva Convention.

But I finally got my query to where it was technically right!

In September, after a lot more tweaks to my query, David Powers King had a giveaway on his blog, and he offered to critique anyone's query. I decided to send it to him, because having someone who knows this business who DOESN'T know your book is very valuable. (Seriously. If you ever get a chance to enter your query somewhere, do it. Maybe put on a few layers of skin first, but do it.) It came back with some great suggestions, and LOTS OF QUESTIONS. After reading his questions, I realized that my query wasn't leaving the reader intrigued so much as confused. In my brevity, I had left out too much information.

So I started with a blank screen, and all the knowledge I had gained with the last couple dozen attempts, including those phrases burned into my mind that were the most efficient wording to SHOW a lot of the things that I needed to show. I just wrote. I didn't care about word count, I just told the story in the voice of the book. When I was done, it was 235 words. Almost 100 more than my one that was technically right.

But the thing was: this query was EMOTIONALLY right.

Even though it didn't fit in eight lines. Even though it didn't start with a hook sentence.

That's just it. You need to figure out what is right for YOUR BOOK specifically.

So after more than five months and what felt like a billion revisions, was I 100% confident with it? Heck no. I still worried that it wasn't nearly good enough. What I did know was that it was THE VERY BEST THAT I COULD GET IT. I knew that working on it more would not make it better; it would make me less sane. Plus, I knew that the quality of my query matched the quality of my book, and that's a good indicator of when you're ready to query. I knew in my gut I was ready. And sometimes, you just gotta go with your gut. So I clicked send.

Should you spend five months on your query? You're probably much faster than me, and can accomplish the same thing in a month or possibly even a couple of weeks! The important thing is to make sure the quality of the query matches the quality of the manuscript. Your gut will tell you when you're ready.

And then don't be afraid to click Send.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Not be Forgotten

Many thanks to S.L. Hennessy from Pensuasion for the Versatile Blogger award and to Jillian at Writing on a Limb for the One Lovely Blog award. Thank you so much, ladies!

"If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
Or do things worth the writing."

~Benjamin Franklin

Let's face it. Both writing things worth reading and doing thing worth writing take a LOT of work. But I have to admit, at least for me, it's one of the driving forces to keep working at this thing we do. Is it for you? The thought of a part of us living on forever. To have our words and our stories be alive long after we are dead. To create something of worth that will stand the test of time. Whether your goal is to have your words read by your future grandchildren / great grandchildren / great great grandchildren, or in even in the hopes of having them someday sit on a shelf in the Library of Congress, that thought can help spur you on through really tough times.

Right? It isn't just me, is it?

Speaking of doing things worth writing about, one of the most awesome people I know has a website that's definitely worth writing about! When she cooks, choirs of angels come down and sing praises. (Although I suspect it's partly because they want to get a whiff of the amazing aromas.) You know those nuggets of wisdom that you want to make sure you impart to your kids? One of mine is that if you ever get a chance to eat her food, NEVER TURN IT DOWN. Her website partner (another friend I'm lucky enough to know in real life), is a food photographer, so everything is so. darn. pretty. And coolest thing ever: they are is doing 12 Cookies of Christmas! I can't even tell you how excited this makes me! So today's cookies are brought to you by Secret Life of a Chef's Wife. I hope you enjoy staring at their truffle center as much as I do.

Choco­late Chipo­tle Truf­fle Cook­ies

Have a FABULOUS weekend, everyone!