Thursday, March 24, 2011

Suggested Links

Just a compilation of suggested links, which I'll add to as time goes on:  BookEnds Literary Agency Blog - the writer had a lot of very helpful articles on everything from writing queries to what to expect when you're publishing. QueryShark - if you're working on writing your query, READ THIS.  It made all the difference for me.  While she's harsh, the author is good, and being able to see her feedback on other people's work means you won't have to swallow the same kind of feedback on your own.  Assuming, that is, you follow her advice. Romance Writers of America - Join, and you'll have access to their lists of romance agents, articles, writing contests, local chapters, and much more.  Great networking tool, and if you intend to be a professional writer, you should join a professional writing association. Heart of Carolina Romance Writers - The local chapter of the RWA for me.  Actually sitting down with published writers and talking to them?  I can't stress enough how much that helped me.  Really.  I learned as much during a tea and dinner as I learned in three weeks of research, and most of it was entirely informal.  Of course, if you're not a romance writer, you oughtn't join, but I'd suggest finding the equivalent of your genre.  Not in North Carolina?  The chapter does make exceptions for writers who live in states without a local chapter.  Of course, I'd probably suggest going for the closest state and asking them if you can join.  That way, you'll have a chance of being able to attend in person a little more often (theoretically, anyway.  I know  - it's hard making the time to go to meetings!  But try.  Trust me on this.) NC Writers - Where will you find your genre-equivalent of HCRW?  Check here (or your state's writing network).  What's the benefit of writing conferences?  Getting to meet an agent in person, talking to other writers, general networking, and taking seminars that will prepare you for the next step. Virginia Kantra's website - she's been highly recommended to me by all of the members of HCRW as having excellent articles about writing, and those that I've read so far have been helpful.

Query: Again?

I've hacked.

I've slashed.

I've trashed and started from scratch.

I've irritated my friends, annoyed my best editors, read QueryShark (, read the BookEnds Blog (, looked up author advice, trashed again and then dug through the trash for bits I wanted to save after all, only to throw them right back in there.

And I've come up with Query Version (mumble-point-oh).

This version is much tighter, more gripping, and shorter.  It's still more than 250 words (the query rule of thumb,) but not much more.  Also note that I have my title in all-caps (POSEIDON'S DAUGHTER); that's standard form for queries. 

I also worked on showing, not telling, my characters' personalities.  That's important: telling is passive, and showing is active.  I don't need a lot of background; I just want the agent to read the letter.  So I cut out most of the plot, offered my two main characters, the love connection, and their biggest problems.  Do I say that Lygos hates politics and doesn't want to stop being a general?  No, I say
"he’ll have to join a new Council, taking up the most disgusting profession he can imagine: politics.
Same idea, but here you get into his head and find yourself saying the word like it's profanity.  And that tells you just how much he hates it, without having to say "Lygos hates politics."

I also don't specifically say that POSEIDON'S DAUGHTER is a time-travel romance.  But do I have to spell it out?  No, you catch on immediately with the questions that also indicate Carol's confusion, and her exasperation/disgust with having to deal with a dead body minus her typical tools.  That's showing. EDIT 10/3/11: I've been advised (by the professionals!) to clearly state the time-travel up front, because many agents who do paranormal have preferences for or against specific subgenres such as time-travel. Since time-travel is not a central theme, I'm call it "a fantasy romance with elements of time-travel."

Will this query work any better than my last versions?  I don't know for certain, but I think it has a much better chance!  If you're working on writing your own query, I highly suggest hitting up queryshark and reading through the advice and feedback they've put together for writers.  It takes a lot of reading, but it's worth it.  As for me... Cross your fingers and wish me luck?

And on a random note - finally got around to fixing the "mysterious sinking island" loophole.  Poor Aegadon.  One day you're a mile-wide island ten miles off shore; the next, you're one fourth the size and 95% closer.  Either way, you get sunk.  Splash!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reinventing the Query-Wheel

Yesterday, I went to the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers' meeting.  It ran from 1-3, and involved a published novelist and college instructor giving a presentation about editing your own novel.  I learned a couple of things - for me, most notably, 'find your favorite phrase, then SEARCH AND DESTROY!'  In other words, find out the one phrase you like too much and have a tendency to throw in several times, then go through and get rid of all but one occurence in the entire novel.  Ouch!  That's going to be hard.  But I know I play favorites to a couple of phrases, so it's advice I'll heed.

We ended right at three, and then the REAL meeting began: going out to tea with the members of the group, and later dinner with whomever was left.  In this informal setting, I got a chance to talk with several published authors, as well as quite a few unpublished authors in the same writing boat as me (finished manuscript, no publication as of yet.)  I have to say, I learned more from the four hours following the meeting than from the lecture, and it was a very good lecture.

Amongst the conversation, I discovered one invaluable piece of information: I need to rewrite my query letter.  You see, I've made one, small, fundamental mistake: I forgot my audience.  In my original letter, I've sold an interesting world and a pair of interesting characters.  There's nothing wrong with that; if I were publishing a science fiction or a fantasy book, I'd be set.  But I'm writing a romance novel.  I need to sell, first and foremost, the romance.

You know the cliche.  I'm starting over; I'm beginning again; I'm throwing it out and doing a Lady McBeth in my mind: "Out, out, damn letter!"  It's time to rewrite based on what my potential agents are looking for, and never mind how much I love my world.  If an agent doesn't see a worthwhile romance in the query, she'll never get lost in my setting or blown away by my steamy love scenes, because she'll never read the book! 

This may take a while, because the query is, understandably, the hardest part of the novel to write.  But I'll get back to you when I've figured it out.  Meanwhile, if you're a writer trying to find a agent, I suggest you take a good look at your query, too.  What genre is your novel?  Does your letter address, first and foremost, the selling point your genre revolves around? "No agent is going to sign something that won't make them money," a quote from Katharine Ashe, and an agent with a pile of letters is going to skip anything that doesn't address the selling point of the target genre.  Time for me, at least, to rewrite!

Friday, March 11, 2011


Well, it's official.  I must be a real writer now.  Why?

Because I've just received my first two rejection letters!  Wahoo!

Wait, you're surprised I'm excited?  Shouldn't I be upset, or crying, or something?  Pssh.  Every writer starts out being rejected.  It's the first step on the road to success.  Me, I think I'm going to frame my first rejection letter and hang it on my wall somewhere...

Since I've only sent out brief queries, and haven't had full manuscript requests yet in response to my queries, I haven't gotten any kinds of specific feedback.  And, I'll admit it: I've been lazy.  Instead of sending out queries on a weekly basis, I've been editing my first novel, planning and beginning writing on my second, applying for a second part-time job, and working a first part-time job.  See?  Pure laziness: If I don't get my query letters sent out, no one will ever publish my book!  Priorities, girl, priorities!  It takes (on average, based on the majority of agents I've sent letters to) about 4-6 weeks to hear back for an e-mail query.  Having sent my first queries out in mid-February, I'm doing pretty well to have already heard back from two!

What does a query letter look like?

Okay, so, I haven't had a successful query letter result yet.  But here are some important elements:

  • Correctly spell the agent's name. Use the agent's name, too, and not "Dear Agent"
  • Immediately state your title, genre, word count, and that your novel is complete (don't query an incomplete manuscript if you're a fiction writer)
  • Give a short blurb about your story. Include your plot hook (what makes your novel unique) and vivid, fast-paced, intriguing language. Don't leave your agent hanging with a question, even a rhetorical one. Every agent I've found discussing queries hate blurbs that end with a question.
  • Include a short section with your creditials (if you have none, don't pad it.) Include ONLY information directly related to your ability to write, your past writing experience, and your experience as it relates to THIS manuscript. You may also mention why you chose this specific agent, and show that you did your research.
  • Try to keep it under 250 words.
  • Sign with your real name, not your pen name.
  • Include your contact information.
Important things to note about my query: I've included my word count, my membership to Romance Writers of America, that I have no previously published works, and why I chose this literary agent/ Each letter is a little different, because I personalize to each agent.  I have been very picky in whom I send the queries to, because there's no point in sending it to someone who isn't interested in what I've written.  Yes, that's right: I research each agent before sending the query. Oh, and I have the title of the book, too.  Don't forget that!  I also have a brief plot synopsis designed to catch the reader's interest, and I spelled the agent's name correctly.

What does a rejection letter look like?

All personal information removed to protect the literary agents, here's what I got back:
Thank you so much for querying us with your project. Unfortunately, we did not feel it was the right fit for our agency. Thanks for thinking of (Agency name) and we wish you nothing but the best in your writing career.

And my second rejection:

Dear Juturna,
Thanks so much for letting me take a look at your material, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit my list at this time.  I sincerely wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and I thank you, once again, for letting me consider your work.


I have to say, the latter was a very, very nice rejection.  Kudos to this agent for incredible people skills!

Writing Your Own Query

Pretty much any agency you visit will have somewhere on their website what they want in a query letter, and there's hundreds of different sites online about how to write a query.  Here's two links to get you started:
Rejection isn't something to be feared.  It's as much a part of writing as making an outline, and probably just as essential.  Remember, literary agents get thousands of queries, so every unsolicited query is like buying a lottery ticket - even when you know your book is just what your agent would like.  Here's a glance at the other side of the ticket, through the eyes of a literary agent talking about writing rejection letters:

Have you ever sought an agent?  How many letters did you get before getting accepted?  I'll make sure to include a final count when I finally do get published.  For me, the biggest challenge is not to get discouraged.  So instead of looking at rejection as a critique of my self-worth, I consider it a necessary part of the writing process, and a chance to improve on my weak points as a writer.  Most of all, I always keep thinking, "When I get published..."  I don't give myself if's, or any kind of subjunctive clauses.  This isn't a wish or a possibility; it is something which will happen, and I just have to keep working at it until it does.  When it comes to rejection, it's all about stubborning yourself through. 

Fortunately, I'm pretty good at stubborn.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NC Writers' Events

For my fellow writers, events and links (in 2011): -> There is a conference in Greensboro, Saturday, April 30.  Details on the site.  Anybody want to carpool?  It's a one-day event, leave Raleigh by 6:30am to make it to registration.  We can crash at my place Friday night if you're interested.

Saturday, April 2, 6:30pm: Workshop (Writing2Publish) at bookstore by Whole Foods on Wade Ave.  Take beltline exit 4 towards Cameron Village; it's just off the ramp to the left.

There's also a very large conference in the fall, late Oct or early Nov.  Dates haven't been announced yet for this year, but it appears to be a huge event.

NCwriters also has links to several other NC writing associations of various kinds.

Romance Writers: Romance Writers of America.  For people looking to make a living off writing romance, or at least seriously considering publishing a romance book.  Must-join to join the next link: Romance writers of North Carolina.  Next meeting: March 12, 1-3pm, Cameron Village Library.  Jenna Black, Lisa Shearin, and Virginia Kantra are all members, FYI.  ;)  Meets 1/month.

There's a major Romance convention in NY June 28-July 1.  Will juggle finances to see if I can go.

That's my latest information on the happenings for 2011.  Since I present well in public, personally attending conferences and events will be beneficial to getting published.  Although joining professional associations is expensive, as is attending conferences, for me it's a networking investment.  I don't know personally anyone who has professionally published MY subgenre of writing (paranormal romance!), so it's up to me to make connections and get myself out there.

Fees I'll have to look at:

Romance Writers of America: $125
Heart of Carolina Writers: $25
NCwriters: $75

NCwriters April Conference: $99 (members), $150 (nonmembers)
Romance Conference: (unsure: must be a member to register.  But will also have to pay for room for stay (4-day conference!) and purchase food.
NCwriters Fall Conference: Probably more than April, since it's more than one day! 0.0

Since my budget is already strained, it's going to be interesting to see what I can do.  But I'll try!

Also, I found through these resources the following couple of articles:

A couple of useful links.  I'm now considering marketing my second novel as a Sci-fi to scifi publishers.  Why? Because if my series pans out well, I still won't be able to publish more than 2-3 books a year in from a single publisher.  So, it makes sense to switch between two genres.  Since my second book lends itself more to scifi (with a little romance) than to romance (with a little scifi), I think this is actually a good thing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Best-laid Plans...

So I've got a vague plot idea, and now I need to spin the idea into a real plot.I admit it: I'm not sure what's going to happen yet. But I do have a situation, four main characters, a villian (actually, a horde of aliens), and some of the plot set down.  Planning, of course, is my next step!  How am I planning?  Well, for me, I break it into parts.


I've begun planning detailed 'character sheets.'  If you've roleplayed, you'll know what a character sheet is: it's a summary of a character's strengths, weaknesses, attributes, and assets.  In most formal roleplaying systems, those are charted out in numbers; as a writer, it's a little more qualitative than quantitative.  But the idea is the same.  For example, my female lead: Cineraria 'Blue' Mazarine, present age 20, future age 32.  Where does she live?  Where does she go to school?  What does she like?  What does she not like?  What's her family like?  What are their names?  Does she have any quirky habits?  What are her strengths and weaknesses?  Does she have any enemies?  Who are her best friends?  What are her defining characteristics?  And what does she look like?


Since I'm working with more than humans, I need to figure what non-human species I have running around, and determine the limits of each.  This is sort of like a character sheet for the entire race, separate from the ones I do for my main characters (even if one of the main characters is of the race).

First, we've got aliens: Why are they invading Earth?  What do they look like?  How does their society function?  Their government? Do they have a religion?  How do they communicate?  How do they move?  What are their spaceships like?  What are their physical weaknesses?  Strengths?  How smart are they?  How dangerous?  What's their plan of attack?

And then, I've got the time travelers:  In this case, they're Immortals, but not like the kinds of vampire/highlander immortals you're used to: they're spirits who inhabit 'abandoned' (aka dead) bodies.  What are their weaknesses?  Can they be killed (yes, but it's difficult!)?  Obviously, they've been around a while, so why aren't they tiny and resembling ancient Sumerians?  Can they be physically hurt? (yes)  Do they heal faster than normal? (No)  Do they age? (No.)  Do people object to the fact that their loved one's body just got taken over by an immortal, before it could be buried? (Sometimes... depends on whose body gets taken!)  Do people worship them?  (Used to, but now most people don't, although a few fanatics still volunteer to surrender their bodies postmortem.  Although most volunteer bodies for a generous settlement to their families)  Has age made them mad?  (No)  What happens when their bodies die, if there's none around?  How do they take a new body?  Are they rich?  Are they political?  How is the world different with a set of immortals running around?  Can new ones be made?  How many are there, and what are their names?

Current History
Since I'm working with time, I'm also making myself a thorough timeline, including events that happen between the present and the hypothetical doomsday future we're trying to avoid.  (Hey, sounds cliche!  But then, most over-simplified plot summaries do.)  I also have to deal with difference between my characters as they are now, and who they will be in twelve years.  I've got to choose which major events will be included in the novel, and I need to decide how I'll put them in.  I'm toying with the idea of a flash-forward to start every chapter, but I usually add chapter breaks at the end of a novel, so we'll see. 

World Climate

Although I may not make a separate sheet for this, I might start jotting down notes on the politics of this world setting.  How do the immortals influence politics?  Are there any major deviations from current Earth?  If so, what?  Historical deviations?  How do most people view my non-human races?  What kinds of technology does the world have?  It's important to determine all the settings in your book, so I need to answer these questions for present, future, and even for the aliens.


I'm not here yet, but my next major step will be deciding on a beginning and an ending.  How does the story start, and where does it end up?  Everything has to lead from HERE to THERE, and any scenes which aren't necessary to do so, better have a darned good reason for existing.  I might add that stories can have several "here"s and several "there"s, with each "there" being a resolution I want in the story.  For example, in this story, one "there" is that the aliens don't kill off all of humanity; another "there" is that my male and female lead get together.  Once I have a start and a stop, I can add in the major plot points: the big scenes that get you from start to stop.  With those out of the way, we can add in the filler material that holds the story together: plot twists, resolutions, minor events that contribute to the story, necessary background info, etc.  This is usually my last step immediately prior to writing, but many people take it forward past that and work in-depth planning, right on down to the chapter.

Planning is one of those things that seems to be unique to each person, and everyone has to find what works for them.  This is my way, but I wonder, what's yours?  Is there something that works really well for you? 

Square One, Book Two: Moving Forward

I've finished a novel.  What next?

Part One: Edit!

After putting the final touches on my rough draft, and editing to my satisfaction, I sent my story off to my beloved beta readers: aka, my friends who also write and/or read romance and who've agreed to give the story a look-over.  I've already taken out as many errors as I could find and rewritten most of the scenes that I didn't like, taken out whatever extras I could excise, and added a Prologue to make the beginning make more sense.  Now what I'm looking for from my friends is for them to catch what I've missed: mostly word choice errors ("He reached into his back and pulled out a packet"... ouch!!!) and plot holes created by my rewrites.  You might think I should already have caught those plot holes (and I do wish I had!), but remember: I already know what I'm thinking, and I've all the background information on my story and my characters floating around in my head.  That means I'm actually less likely to spot little plot errors, or even major ones, because I've still got the original storyline in my head - including the parts I cut out! 

As my lovely, awesome betas read, they point out mistakes, and my job is to go back and fix as much as I can.  Some errors simply can't be fixed without a massive storyline rewrite.   For example, I completely rewrote how magic worked in the world about halfway through, and thus an island that sank into the sea had originally a reason to do so; now it just sort of happens.  It's kind of pivotal to the plot later in the series, so what do I do?  Band-aid: My mages sink it on purpose, casting a spell for that reason, in the middle of a spell-casting bonanza that I already had in the story.  Note that the island also mysteriously shrunk by three-fourths a mile, and moved nine miles inland.  It's not what I first planned, but then, the story isn't, either.

What's important is that it flows, and that it makes sense. 

I'm writing a story to be published.  My story is polished, but like all writers, there will be things that continually bother me, that just aren't good enough.  I'll keep trying to fix them, but I'm too much of a perfectionist to ever be truly satisfied with everything.  Therefore, editing will last only until I succeed in my next step: Sell!  I don't know when I'll have to stop, so fixing goes in stages, with every edit leaving the story saleable without further editing.  Remember that you should never submit an unedited manuscript to an agent.  Therefore, if you don't think your story is polished enough to be a finished product, you're not ready for selling it.  By the time it goes to agents, the only changes you should be making are minor tweaks.

Part Two: Sell!

Hey, that's the point!  I've already sent out five query letters to literary agents, but now I need to keep sending.  The publishers I'm looking at all require submissions to be agented.  Therefore, I'm looking for agents who are reputable and who publish my particular genre.  Paranormal Romance that isn't urban fantasy is a tough niche to find an agent for.  I'm avoiding agents who require a reading fee, because those are often scam artists (read Writer Beware before seeking an agent), and I'm researching each agent I find to discover what they usually publish. Remember: do your homework!  When you're looking for an agent, it's important to spell their name correctly!  And even more important is to choose people who actually represent what you write.  Don't waste their time; they get enough junk mail already.  Also, follow their instructions for submittals precisely.  If they don't want the first five pages, then don't send them: the agent won't read what you've sent, and they'll probably just delete your e-mail (or trash it, if you're going snail mail) for the crime of being unable to follow directions.

I'm also keeping an eye out for local literary agents.  Yesterday, I heard about a website (NCwriters) that I plan on researching over the next couple of days.  I also heard about a writers' support group (Write 2 Publish) that meets about once a month in Raliegh.  I went to talk to the host bookstore personally to find out more, and discovered that they sometimes have literary agents show up, plus they often have authors in all stages of publication.  They next meet April 2, at 6:30, so I'm marking my calendar.  I plan to show up with several copies of my first five pages and a book-back plot synopsis to catch interest, but I know they might not ever get read.  That doesn't mean I'd be disappointed if I got no leads.  Networking is a big part of selling.  Since I don't personally know any published romance authors or agents, I have to do a little legwork before I can hope to be noticed.  "Solicited query" is a much better place to be than "unsolicited query" - the previous has a good chance of getting at least a request for a partial (that is, when the agent asks for the first few chapters to get an idea of your writing style, but not the full manuscript), while the latter is just another e-mail in an inbox.  Here's hoping I find an agent soon, but I'm not about to hold my breath as I wait.  Instead, I'm going to hedge my bets by starting to work on another novel.

Part Three: Start planning another!

Although my first novel sets itself up for a sequel, the next story I plan on writing will be entirely different.  Why?  Because if one storyline doesn't catch an agent's attention, another might.  That's right, I'm hedging my bets, giving myself two 'rummy' cards, increasing my odds... however you want to say it!  Since I write quickly, I can complete a stand-alone novel and still write the second in the series within a reasonable period of time (four-five months for each is my goal).

This is going to be a very complex story.  I'm going to have to work hard to keep it to a reasonable length.  That means I'll need extra planning, but I still want to start writing by the end of the week... hopefully by March 7, no later than March 10.  I know some plot elements will develop as I'm writing, so I'm not too worried if I'm not perfectly ready to begin, as long as I have a starting point... I'll start writing, and let the ideas ruminate in the back of my mind while I work.  And sure, I'll have to go back and edit portions later, but that's okay.  After all, every story starts as a rough draft - it's expected to be less than perfect.  What matters is that's it's written, because you can't fix something that doesn't exist.

So it's off to lunch for me, and then a quick bout of editing before work.  Planning is this evening, and if I'm awake, a little research, too.  Wish me luck, and remember - you're not an author if you don't write!