WriteOnCon is Almost Here!

Attention all Writer Friends!

The best news you’ll read today is that WriteOnCon is scheduled for August 26 – 27 = just over a week away!

This is a FREE online Writing Conference that helped me out tremendously last year. Anyone who is working on Anything should check it out. Heck, even if you’re not currently writing, you should still check it out because you’ll find loads of great information and tips! There will be guest speakers (you can watch the videos later if you’re busy during the day) and best of all, you can post your query letter, the first few pages of your story, and more in the forums. After you’ve done that, read what other people have posted, leave comments, and most will return the favor. I got some fantastic feedback last year that catapulted my writing into new areas that have been wickedly fun (so fun that I have completely ignored my blog lately).

Perhaps best of all, several literary agents and editors will be participating, leaving comments, etc.

So polish up whatever you’re working on (it does not have to be a completed manuscript) and get ready to post!

The website is under construction right now, but hopefully it will be up and running anytime. Here is the link: http://writeoncon.com

I hope to read some of your work soon!

-Craig

*Check out my posts about WriteOnCon from last year for a lot more info.

WriteOnCon – Great advice on queries, voice, the market, and more.

Writeoncon 2013 has ended, but you can still read all the articles, watch the videos, and get loads of great advice on everything from how to write a great query letter (check out my revised one here), obtaining the right voice for your story/narrater, trends in the market, editing tips, and tons more. Everything is absolutely free, so nothing is stopping you from learning and getting involved.

Check out the writeoncon.com posts and bookmark it. The site may provide future forums for authors to share their own work, critique others, and make valuable contacts in the writing community.

Speaking of which, THANK YOU to all those who critiqued my query and writing sample during the online convention. I made some new friends and received excellent feedback. Before I brave the slush pile, I will revise a bit, concentrating on my voice so that the narration sounds less adult and more in keeping with the Young Adult genre–a bit more intimate and closer to a teenager’s style. Fortunately, as those of you who know me well can attest, I’m ridiculously immature. So I think I can handle the teen voice better than what currently exists in the manuscript. Wish me luck!

Query Writing Tips – Strategy for Querying Literary Agents

As in any campaign, there are many things to consider when sending your query letter to literary agents.

It is also important to note that you should not query two or more agents at the same agency at the same time. Send it to one agent at that company. If that agent rejects it, you are free to send it to another agent at that same agency.

You should send your query to multiple agents/agencies simultaneously. Giving an agent an “exclusive” while you wait to hear back from her merely indicates that you don’t know how the publishing world works. You don’t need to mention that you’ve sent the query to other agents. They will assume that you have.

I recommend making a spreadsheet that includes the following: Agent Name, Agency, Date Sent, Date Responded, and Response (including any notes the agent may give regarding why it was rejected). Often the note you’ll make is simply “no request made for my book.” When an agent explains why she didn’t offer representation, I copy the email and paste it into this spreadsheet. I do not paraphrase because I don’t want to lie to myself. I worry that a month later, I might claim that the rejection was for some other reason that I like better. You want honesty. Brutal honesty might be the best kind.

You will get a lot of rejection. In fact, I just got rejected last week! But it is okay! No worries. Thankfully, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 had just come out on DVD and it cheered me up immensely. COMPLETELY UNRELATED SIDE-NOTE: the above is an animated version of the celebrated Batman Graphic Novel by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. If you like Batman, you should read it.

Writing a Brief Synopsis

The Harper Voyager contest asks for a 1500 character (letters + punctuation marks) synopsis of the novel. I had a devil of a time getting my 300-page story into a single page, but 1500 characters equals just ½ a page.

So I hacked at my one-page this past weekend. I even got some nice writers I’ve met via Twitter and GUTGAA to offer critiques (Thanks to http://maravalderran.blogspot.com/ and http://emcastellan.com/ for their help!).

What I came up with is similar to my query, though I haven’t copied anything. Still, it starts with a similar hook, provides the conflict and stakes, but then goes farther. In a synopsis, you have to spoil your ending. That means summarizing, as efficiently as possible, the main action and resolution.

Try summarizing your favorite book or movie in 1500 characters. If you love the story, you will find this exercise painfully difficult. Then imagine you wrote the original story. And the kicker: if you don’t chop your story down enough and into a cohesive summary that still “needs to be read,” nobody will read your actual book.

On the plus side, there is a chance!

Query and Pitch Contests

I am currently involved/interested in five online query or pitch contests that could get my book into the hands of agents or publishers.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been able to post my query, first page, and “quick pitch” on a few blogs. Many writers, agents and editors have offered advice and criticism. The result is obviously good, because my revised query just made it into the final round of the Small Press Contest on Deana Barnhart’s blog (http://deanabarnhart.blogspot.com/).

If you want to get published, you should enter online contests because they will improve your writing and your chances of being discovered. Besides that, I’ve actually “met” some nice people who know loads about writing and getting published. Networking is important and, it turns out, fun and rewarding. “Thank you,” to all the fine people who have critiqued my work in the last few weeks!

“But how do you find out about these online contests?” you ask. Answer: Twitter. I use Tweetdeck (it’s free) and set up columns based on contests I “hear about” via my Twitter feed. Follow agents and other aspiring writers like me (because I know this blog just doesn’t give you enough “Craig Time”) on Twitter and you will learn about these events. If you’ve never used Twitter, don’t worry. You don’t have to “Tweet” anything until you are more comfortable with it. For now, you can just set it up (very easy and user friendly) and soak up a lot of useful information.

Check out the following:

Harper Collins Voyager: http://harpervoyagerbooks.com/category/voyager-uk/

Pitch On: http://yatopia.blogspot.com/

Spooktacular Pitch Extravaganza: http://thiswritersworldplotbunnies.blogspot.com/2012/09/spooktacular-pitch-extravaganza-details.html

Pitch Live: http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/

Good luck!

Query Writing Tips – Waiting to Hear Back from Literary Agents

Congratulations! You have sent off your masterfully written query letter and eagerly await a request (or two! Or three! Or a dozen!) from literary agents.

And then you wait for a long time. So what do you do?

ANSWER: Leave the agent alone! Do not hound the agent! If you annoy her, she will decide—before even reading your query—that you’re a pain and she doesn’t want to work with you. The agency website probably gives an estimate for how long query responses take. Some agencies only write you back if they want to see the book, so in those cases, you might not hear anything.  Ever. STORY: I just experienced this and was tempted to write again. I did receive an automated “we have received your query” email when I initially sent the query, so I know the agent “got it,” but apparently she just wasn’t interested.  So I moved on. Again: Do not hound the agent!

Give the agent whatever time the website recommends or whatever time the agent says she needs. If after the allotted time you have not heard anything, write a polite email reminding the agent about it and include the query again in that email. Be polite. Agents are busy and won’t like it if you bother them. They are working all the time.

While you’re waiting, keep researching other agents! Make lists, keep files, etc. I’ll write more about how to “strategize” in a later post.

Query Letter Tips – The Closing + Your Bio

Closing your Query Letter is the easiest part of your initial correspondence with a literary agent.

After you’ve written your greeting/introduction and hooked the literary agent with the premise and plot of your novel, you might want to end your Query Letter with a brief note about yourself.

Did you notice the word “might?” You do not have to write anything about yourself.  Only include biographical information if your experience is relevant to your book. Are you published already? Has your writing won any awards? Do you have a degree in creative writing? Are you a police officer who has written a crime drama? If there’s really nothing—don’t worry about it. Your story should speak for itself—it is the hook—not you (unless you are famous, I suppose). You don’t have to include any “bio” information because it probably won’t matter at this point. I’m not trying to be insulting here—remember that the goal of the query is to get the agent to request your story. If having biographical info will help with that, put it in. If the bio doesn’t pertain to the story, skip it.

Lastly, sign off by thanking the agent for her time and say that you can send the completed manuscript at her request. Make sure your contact info is on the letter/in the email somewhere.

Hit send.

Query Letter Tips – The Introduction/1st paragraph

Be polite and professional when writing a Query Letter to a Literary Agent.

After your formal greeting (Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. ____,) the first paragraph is a brief explanation of why you are writing to this particular agent. Do not send the same email to a bunch of agents! Personalize each one! If you have a personal connection with the agent—state it in sentence # 1. Be polite and professional. Show that you’ve “done your homework” by mentioning some reason why you think she (not just anyone—but this particular agent) will like your book. Maybe you read something in her blog? Maybe she listed a book that is similar to yours as one of her favorites. Maybe she represents an author whose writing is similar to your own. Whatever. Just tailor it to that specific agent.

Some people like to compare their novel to one or two that the agent represented or liked. Don’t compare your book to bestsellers—it comes across as pompous. Instead, prove that you know your market/genre by comparing your novel to lesser-known gems. It is also fine to compare your book to movies or television shows.

Whether you do the “comparison” intro or not, your first paragraph will need to provide context for your novel, stating what genre it is in (or where it would be found in a book store), the word count (rounded to the nearest thousandth), the title, and be sure to mention that it is complete.

The second paragraph begins describing your novel by providing your hook (see earlier post). This section of your query could be a few paragraphs but should not exceed 250 words (this rule can be bent, but try to stay under 250).

Query Letter Tips — Researching Literary Agents

Before you send your Query Letter, you need to find the right Literary Agents.

Once your book is absolutely the best it can be, you need to find literary agents who specialize in your genre. There are several websites and books that it can help with this (Publishers Marketplace, Writer’s Market, the Guide to Literary Agents, Jeff Herman’s Guide, plus many more—check your local library!).

Do not send your query to an agent who does not specialize in your genre—even if you’ve heard great things about that agent. Why not? Because the agent will stop reading your letter the moment he/she (note: I will use “she” from now on) determines that it isn’t in her specialty area (genres).  More importantly, the agents will ignore you because they can’t help you. Agents know their genres inside and out, but they don’t know every genre. They, like you, probably don’t like every genre. Agents are people with particular tastes. In addition, agents develop relationships with certain editors. Editors, like the agents themselves, have niches. Agents will often represent several genres, but no agent represents all genres. An agent who specializes in mystery may not be able to sell romance because the agent may not know anything about romance or have any connections with romance editors—so don’t waste your time or theirs by writing to them. The only possible case when you might send your query to an agent who does not rep. your genre is if you have a personal connection with that agent. In that case, maybe the agent will do you a favor and recommend your book to another agent who can help you.

You will need to do a lot of research. Start with the above books and websites, but search the internet. Once you’ve found an agent who might be interested in your novel, go online and find out as much about that agent as you can. Google her. If she is on Twitter, follow her. You can learn A LOT about people on Twitter including what they really want, their pet peeves, likes VS dislikes, etc. Also search for interviews with the agent, see if the agent has a blog or website, etc. Once you know your audience, you’re ready to write the rest of your query (the paragraphs about your novel will probably stay the same—see my post about “Query Writing Tips Part 1 – Your Novel”).

Check the agent’s website/agency website to find exactly how she wants to receive queries.  Do not deviate. At this stage, they are looking for any excuse not to read your book (even though they want to find a great book). If you can’t follow directions, you won’t get read.

Query Workshop – Critiquing My Old Query Letters

I’m going to share three older versions of my query and explain why each fails. I will be brutal with my old self. Spoiler Alert! – I survive this process and emerge stronger.

QUERY # 1:

Scottish teenager Alanna O’Connor would be thrilled that her favorite mythological characters were coming to life . . . if they weren’t trying so hard to kill her. Alanna teams up with the newly arrived (and completely baffled) King Arthur to stop the nightmarish invasion, but what they find along their journey will challenge everything they believe about the world and themselves.

The story spins familiar archetypes into an unexpected adventure, challenging Alanna and Arthur in ways neither would have thought possible. Their worlds fall apart as Alanna discovers that she has a mysterious connection to the appearing legends and that she had somehow caused their arrival. Meanwhile, Arthur realizes he retains the collective memories of all the legends told about him—a fact suggesting that he isn’t a man at all, but rather a fiction made flesh. Although both struggle with an identity crisis, Alanna and Arthur must work together, battling increasingly dangerous monsters, while trying to stop the mastermind behind this mythical siege.

The first line is good (and the rest of my queries all have some variation of it) but “mythological characters” is vague. Which characters? Humans? Beasts? Greeks? Egyptians? This needs to be more specific. The details sell.

The bit about “what they find along the way . . .” is both cliché and vague. The sentence doesn’t actually tell you anything about the plot. We don’t know what they found, what their “journey” is (journey is vague anyway), what they believed first, how or why it gets challenged, how or why the world changes, how they change, etc. It is a horrible sentence.

In paragraph 2, the first sentence is just as bad as the one before it and for the same reasons: vague + cliché. More clichés arrive in the next sentence with “Their worlds far apart.” What does that mean? What worlds? How unoriginal can I be? We also find out that there is a “mysterious connection” but this is not explained, so again, it is vague. The bit about Arthur isn’t too bad, though. At least it is fairly specific—even if we don’t understand what it means or why it is important to Alanna and the overall plot.

Then I dive right back into clichés: “struggle with an identity crisis,” “must work together,” “increasingly dangerous monsters” (like what? Need the details!), an unknown mastermind, and whatever the heck a mythical siege is (I do know, of course, and maybe you can imagine it is a bunch of mythical characters invading Alanna’s hometown, but we still don’t know what kind of characters/creatures, so this is hard to picture).

In short, I would not request this book and I wrote it! Just for fun, I may challenge myself to write a query with MORE clichés than this one, though that may be impossible.

QUERY # 2

Teenager Alanna O’Connor’s world is shattered when her dreams for adventure come true . . . and come to life. Alanna teams up with newly arrived (and totally baffled) King Arthur to discover how these legends are breaking into our reality and to stop the myth invasion before these monsters lay siege to Alanna’s hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Their quest calls into question everything they have ever believed about themselves and their world. Nothing is as it appears . . . and Alanna discovers that she is ultimately responsible for the tragedy threatening her home.

The first sentence is different from Query # 1 but still works.

The 2nd sentence starts off strong but then falls into trouble with “these legends” because we don’t have the details of which legends/characters are invading. While it isn’t clear how they are “breaking into our reality” or even what that means, that bit might be okay. Yes, it is vague, but the full explanation is complicated and I don’t want to get bogged down with that in my query, so I might let it slide. It can be better, so I should work on it.

Lastly, the end bit in this paragraph where I tag on that the story is in Edinburgh is clunky (though the detail of where the story is set is nice and was missing from Query # 1).

The entire 2nd paragraph is vague. It tells us nothing. Scrap it and start over.

I should also point out that Query # 2 is very short. It clocks in at about 90 words and the query should be 200 – 250 words.

QUERY # 3

When sixteen-year-old fantasy fiction fan Alanna O’Connor sees Vikings, medieval knights, and mythological creatures step from a void into her hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland, she thinks it’s a miracle . . . until they try to kill her. All her drama—being stood up on her birthday, designing a new tattoo, even the rush from meeting an interesting and potentially decent teenage boy—falls aside as she fights for her life and sanity. Terrified and plagued by the thought that she had somehow caused this myth invasion, she teams up with the one person she hopes she can trust: the newly arrived (and completely baffled) King Arthur. While battling warriors and beasts, they develop a friendship and make some important discoveries: Arthur has fractured memories and is a fictional version of himself and Alanna was born in the mysterious Otherworld that is home to the attackers, her parentage a mystery. Rattled by these bombshells, Alanna and Arthur confront their fears, defeat the legion of monsters and the evil wizard, and step into an enigmatic future.

Query # 3 is nearly identical to the one I first entered in the GUTGAA online workshop in September 2012. The feedback I received was that it was pretty good, but could be improved in several ways (you’ll notice I followed this advice if you check out my current query).

Everyone agreed that my opening line/Hook was a winner except for the “void” part, which isn’t clear (as voids often are not). The sentence tells you about the main character, includes some details about who/what was arriving, provides the setting, lets you know her attitude, and then ends with a punch in the gut that sets up the conflict. The only criticism I got was that “fantasy fiction fanatic” is a bit of a mouthful. I agreed (plus I didn’t really like the alliteration) so I made a minor change.

I was also told to break up the query into a few short paragraphs, as one block paragraph doesn’t look very inviting. Easily fixed.

The sentence beginning with “All of her drama” is good because it gives context and provides some character details. One judge mentioned that saying “potentially decent teenage boy” seemed odd because we don’t know how she can make that judgment if she just met him, so on her advice, I simply edited the “decent” bit from that sentence. Once it was gone, I didn’t miss it.

The next sentence needs to explain why she thinks she caused the mess, but people liked the baffled King Arthur, as that sounds humorous.

The fourth sentence is overloaded with plot and has several problems. There is a lot there and not much explanation. It also does not flow and sounds forced. I considered naming a few of the warriors and beasts. One author mentioned that “her parentage a mystery” was a cliché (true) so I deleted that part, but I really needed to re-write the entire sentence. I decided to go with EITHER the bit about Arthur being a fictional version of himself OR Alanna actually being from the Otherworld. Even though Alanna is the protagonist, I decided to go with the King Arthur info because it is more interesting. Besides that, the main character usually discovers that he/she is an integral part of the plot . . . that’s why the author chose that character as his/her protagonist. Since Alanna discovering that she is important to the story is really a “normal” story element, I decided not to mention it here.

The last sentence doesn’t end with enough punch. I needed to come up with something that would really make an agent say, “I have to read more!” and this just wasn’t doing it.  The “enigmatic future” sounds nice but doesn’t actually mean anything. Additionally, it probably isn’t a good idea to disclose so much of the ending and throwing in an “evil wizard” at the end seems like a curve ball. So this sentence needed major work or just an all out re-write.

And so, without further ado, my new query:

When sixteen-year-old fantasy enthusiast Alanna O’Connor sees Vikings, medieval knights, and mythological creatures appear in her hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland, she thinks it’s a miracle . . . until they try to kill her.

At that moment, she no longer cares about her cancelled birthday plans, her latest tattoo, or even the charming teenage boy she met earlier. All her drama is cast aside as she fights for her life and sanity.

Alanna realizes that when she climbed the legendary mountaintop called Arthur’s Seat, she unwittingly helped open the doorway to Otherworld and unleashed the rampaging monsters. Terrified and plagued by guilt over the ensuing slaughter, she teams up with the one person she knows she can trust: the newly arrived (and completely baffled) King Arthur.

As they battle centaurs, goblins, and a dragon from Loch Ness, Alanna confronts the truth about what happened to King Arthur and the other characters while they were in Otherworld. Arthur has splintered memories from his legendary life that do not fit together into a single lifetime. He is a fictional version of himself and is as lost as anyone—a fractured myth who needs Alanna’s guidance as much as she needs his expertise. Alanna must put the pieces together and close the passageway between worlds before it is made permanent and Alanna’s city—if not all reality—is fractured beyond repair.

I apologize if this post was rambling. My hope was that if you understood my thought process and all the things I considered, I might help you make some of your own decisions. If so, I’m happy. I wish you all the best.