Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Query Letter Blues

Confession Time: I've come to the conclusion that my query letter sucks.

As detailed in an earlier post, Elizabeth Lyon holds to the 30% rule: if you don't net a 30% return on your queries, re-write the dang thang. After all, it's your query letter that stinks, not your novel...

So, I've sent out 10 queries, and I've received four polite, kind, and professional rejections so far. The good news is that the turn-around time was pretty swift. The other good news is that I haven't yet received the full 10. And the final good news is that when I've received that eighth rejection, I'll know that I need to re-write my query.

In the mean-time, I'm contemplating posting my query here and asking for your professional opinions. On the other hand, I'm not certain how that would be perceived in the publishing world -- and although I am a newbie, I don't want to act like an amateur...especially if there are negative consequences for such openness.
What to do?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Short Cut Dangers

[Author's Note: This post addresses not only my writerly view but also my world view. As in, a belief that informs my daily life.]

Today it occurred to me that there ought to be a warning sign for aspiring writers: Do not take the short cut.

It's not that short cuts do not exist. They do. In fact, there are many, it seems, who can attest to this fact. And it's not that short cuts in and of themselves are bad. They're not; they simply exist. And it's not that in a fit of mad querying I've turned slightly green at those who've found the short cut, bypassing the long line of weary travelers, and attained the golden crown of publishing. I haven't; at least not yet.

It's just that I believe in the power and energy of the long way, the narrow path, the school of hard knocks, the lesson of the journey over the destination.

That deduction could be a cop-out. Or an excuse. Or justification for yet another rejected query.

But it's not.

In a Literary Lab post on Pain, Gain, and Avoiding Both, Scott G.F. Bailey writes,

"...the longer-term benefit is that we become better writers when we struggle and suffer and fix our mistakes. Usually, we learn enough to not make that particular mistake ever again, which saves time and effort the next time we sit down to write."

Of course, to take his quote out of context, not only does the struggle improve the writer-in-training but it also improves the character-in-training. As in the character of a man or woman's soul. And how noble is that? (After all, for what other purpose do we wander here on planet Earth?)

What prompts this introspective contemplation? A look backwards, actually. Where was I a year ago? Two years ago?
  • A comparison between my first (two-page, single-spaced) query letter and today's (three paragraph) leaner, tighter, meaner version.
  • A comparison between my first tedious and meandering synopsis and today's streamlined and focused version.
  • A comparison between my first big-on-idea, short-on-connecting-threads novel and today's completed (60,000 word YA urban fantasy) novel.

Does it mean I've arrived? Heavens no! I'm still on this journey. But when I realize the amount of knowledge I've gained, the skills I've acquired, and the mental synthesizing of great gobs of publishing voodoo, I'm -- quite frankly -- moved to amazement.

Thus, I have to say that I'm thankful for the journey. And gratified beyond belief that I didn't find the short cut. After all, it would be so bloody embarrassing if that first attempt at spinning YA brilliance had been published.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Resolution Resolve

It's time for the mid-year check-up. Nope, I'm not talking vision or dental or even blood pressure. I'm not talking about taking your car in for an oil change. (Hmmm...that reminds me...) I'm talking about New Year's Resolutions.

What? in August?

Hear me out :)

Every January, whether formally or informally, written in ink and signed in blood or off-the-cuff, wink-wink, here's-what-I'm-thinking brain clouds, most of us resolve to be better people. Some of us are even serious about it. Although cliched and hyped, the truth is simple: reflecting upon where we've been and where we are and where we want to be helps us to achieve our goals.

So where are you? Come January, many writers resolve to be better writers. Or send out 100 queries. Or land a book deal. Or pound out 1000 words a week. And you? What was your New Year's Resolution?

I, on the other hand, made no writerly goal. At least not one I put into print. Instead, I decided that I wanted a six-pack.

Sadly, I must publicly admit that I will not be posting my own abs this coming January, as previously indicated. Looking on the bright side, I am maintaining a decent exercise program and spending a great deal of time hiking or in the gym. Life is good.

But Why do Resolutions Fail? Here are some of my thoughts.

1. We don't set realistic goals: Actually, it's not the goal that's the problem. It's the fact that often we don't set up a series of mini-goals that lead to the ultimate goal. Creating a series of steps allows us to have regular victories, each one ensuring that we're one step closer to the goal. I didn't really do that: I simply created a work-out schedule that would lead me where I wanted to go -- but I didn't pre-determine any mini-goals or time limits.

2. We don't check in: Unless we set up regular and scheduled check points, assessing our growth and course of action, it's easy to get distracted. Formal or informal, it doesn't matter -- all that matters is that we consciously ask ourselves, Where am I in relation to my goal? What do I need to do in order to get back on the path or make the next mini-goal milestone? When I caught the flu last winter, I took two weeks off the gym and rested up. Although I got back into the gym afterwards, I wasn't as focused or as clear about my goal. I began to lose sight of why I had created the goal in the first place.

3. We self-destruct: Creating and maintaining a six-pack is hard work. Although I'm active and love the outdoors, I hate core work. And what did I do? I chose a resolution that would challenge everything I knew about myself. When the going got tough during those first few months, I'd give myself pep talks. But after awhile, and after the bout of flu, I started talking to myself like this: why do you want a six-pack? Who will even see it? After all, you don't wear revealing clothing. Why are you torturing yourself? You hate ab work. Hubby is so not worth a six-pack. I forgot why I wanted a six-pack and I convinced myself that it wasn't worth the time or effort. My work out mantra went something like: I hate this, i hate this, ihatethis, ihatethis. Not particularly effective self-talk, if you get my drift.

4. We are sabotaged: Either intentionally or unintentionally, our biggest fans are sometimes our biggest roadblocks. Ask anyone who's trying to lose weight: family, friends, and co-workers bring in snacks and always say, "Oh it's not going to make a difference. Take a bite." In the writerly world? "Oh come on, let's go to the movies: you can write later." Or, like my dear husband: A Six-Pack? *incredulous look* Wow, honey. That's a lot of hard work. Do you think you can accomplish that in a year? And, respecting my weight-lifter, totally hunky husband, I began to doubt myself and and my goal. Please understand: I do not lay blame at his feet; I simply think that it's important to be aware of possible but loving saboteurs...and then continue on our way.

So where are you? If you created New Year's Resolutions, how close are you to fulfilling them? Are you on schedule? Off the track? Thinking, "What Resolutions?"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WIP: To Discuss or Not to Discuss

[Author's Note: This post does not refer to pitching agents, practicing your pitch with fellow pitchers, or working out a complicated plot issue with a trusted colleague. It's really about yapping on, ad nauseum, about one's WIP. Seriously.]

Ever notice how two people in love just shimmer with it? They're completely attuned to one another; every thought, every caressing glance, every breath -- all ions, in fact -- reach toward their core of love. Even separated, their bodies turn toward each other, photosynthesis on steroids.

And when separated, the only conversation worth having revolves around the beauty or amazingness or dipped-in-AwesomeSauce-specialness of this Love.

I imagine each of us is equally in love with our WIPs. Or obsessed, as the case may be. It calls to us when we're driving down the street or washing dishes or playing Scrabble. Characters whisper sweet dialogue into our writer's ear. Plots thicken like grandma's gravy.

So just as lovers often do, we're tempted to talk about our passion.

And I'm reminded of my father telling me once that what is beautiful to one person is sordid to another. I think it was his attempt to cover that birds & the bees thing without getting too specific. But what sticks with me is this concept: just because I'm enamored with doesn't mean anyone else wants to hear about it.

When Douglas posted on our team blog about discussing one's WIP, I realized that when it comes down to it, I choose not to talk. Even when pressed, I tend to deflect the questions or change the conversation. I do this for several reasons, none of which are necessarily right -- just right for me.

Why I Don't Discuss My WIP

1. It's Unprofessional: I first heard this at a conference, but it rings true for me. If you run into an oft-published author, she won't rattle on about the intricacies of her latest plot. Why would she? She wants you to buy the dang book. And, frankly, it's boring trying to follow someone's retelling of a story. Contrary to what you may have heard, I have little desire to bore those I meet. Talking about the craft of writing, on the other hand, is a time-honored tradition. Chat away.

2. It May Jinx My Work: I don't tend to be superstitious, but I have noticed that once I discuss something plot-related, my energy fizzles. I've already told the story, so why take the time to write it down? It may seem a bit amateurish, but it's the truth. I don't like talking because then the magic is gone.

3. It's Freaky: I've met writers who freak me out. They talk about their characters as if they're real people, like they've just sat down to dinner with them. Some even talk about how demanding their characters are and how they know the story is finished because so-and-so isn't visiting anymore. Alrighty then. It's all well and good to get into the work; it's an entirely different thing to require psychiatric care. My philosophy? If writing is your therapy, great. Just don't share it.

So those are my rules. What works for you? What doesn't?