Sunday, 28 April 2013

What they don't tell you about Queries.

Lately I have been drowning in queries. Writing them myself, critiquing friends, learning more about what makes one great. I thought I knew, but it wasn't until recently that I learnt the trick to it. Thanks largely to the lovely Rachel Pudelek who helped me see the way.

You see my query strategy is very conservative. I don't do query bombardment and send out a hundred queries and see what comes back. I send three - five to agents I have carefully chosen. Why? Because if I don't get a request or requests I know something is wrong and want a chance to improve before I send to more agents. Also if I get feedback I want to implement that and try again. If I query all the agents at once, I just can't do that. But it means that when I'm fishing in such a small pool, I have to make sure my query really stands up.

With everything on the Internet about queries (never start with a question, never compare to bestsellers, never write a query from the POV of your character, don't tell agents how great your book is or how much your mum loves it, open with a hook, FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES) I noticed that there is something I don't see addressed properly. The few things that make an acceptable query (but one that probably won't get requested) into a totally banging one. 

It's all about voice and being direct. Most people don't want to give everything away because they don't want the query to be a spoiler. They want to there book to remain mysterious. Most people use terms like chaos, hidden magical word, extraordinary destiny, challenge, mysterious powers, conflict, but they mean nothing without context.

Forget it. Be explicit! Agents and editors want to know what your book is about. It's your job to tell them and pitch it in a way that showcases your voice and grabs their attention. You can end with a question but be sure the rest of your query lays it all out. For me the hardest part is the pitching. I have some examples to help with that. Seeing a before and after is what made it click for me.

So here are some examples of query synopsis open lines and how they can be improved.

Vague reads like;

"When Sarah realises the man she has been dating for six months is not the man he says he is, it threatens to break them apart."


Direct and voicey;

"When Sarah discovers her mild mannered boyfriend is actually an ass-kicking super spy, everyday problems like whose turn it is to wash up get traded for more practical matters; like staying alive."


Vague reads like;

"When sixteen year old Alexandra finds out she is not human she must fight her strange new urges."


Direct and voicey;

"Finding out she's a blood guzzling vampire is a real downer for sixteen year old Alexandra. She would really prefer not to drink her cute new boyfriend to death."

In each instance we have traded vague terms for direct ones and injected attitude. Now sit down with your query and swap all those meaningless phrases for ones dripping with voice and purpose!

Hope this helps. Got any query tips?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

For love of reading

Hearing the old adage 'Writers are readers first' has got me thinking a lot lately. Yeah, I was a reader first. But now... I'm a writer first. Yeah, it makes sense that a writer must love reading and I certainly do, but something has changed - something that might make me unpopular to admit.

Overall, I enjoy reading much less now...

What? Yeah before you digitally slap me and walk away forever hear me out. It's not that I love books any less; it's just that my expectations have risen. The more I learn about craft, the more ruthless I become in perfecting my own writing, the more the writing pulls me out of a novel.  

Gone are the days where my satisfaction was derived solely from the plot and characters. I used to choose carefully and as a result would love about 60% of everything I read, like about 30%, and dislike about 10%.  Now you could almost flip that figure. Now, I see all the little things I would edit out, all the things I do not find acceptable and all those things jerk me from the story. I can't turn my editorial brain off. Now writing technique and a writers voice is what gets me; even more than the plot and characters.
I firmly believe that reading is critical to improving craft, and I learn something every time I do. I learn the most when I read something that sucks me in until I have read the very last page. Now I download samples before I purchase a book to make sure I connect with the writing.

Aside from it becoming harder to find books to fall in love with, another downside to forming a more critical eye is I no longer feel right reviewing books on Goodreads and Amazon. I know that I am looking at things more harshly than the average reader. I don't want to be criticising other writer's hard work or belittling their success, and I refuse to review anything other than my actual opinion. I still rate, but I tend to only review if there is something I love so much I just have to share, or if it's a Aussie writer, a new writer, an independent or small press, because they rely so heavily on word of mouth. Word of mouth is a powerful thing and I feel compelled to share a book I love, especially if I feel it's a bit of an underdog.
So what to do if I just love something and LEARN heaps from it? Well, I think I'll RECOMMEND it here on my blog. A recommendation is a more comfortable thing to do than review. And I can share what I have learnt!

So may I start with my most recent favourite read After Hours by Cara McKenna. Beware, this is a saucy read. Much more explicit and dare I say filthier than anything I would write, but it is a great raw contemporary romance. I am in love with contemporary and this was done well.
After Hours defied cliché's. The hero is alpha but not the wealthiest most senior person in the story. In fact his working position ranks below the heroine. It taught me so much about how to create a redeemable arrogant alpha and not subjugate a heroine for loving him. I also learned a little more about balancing exposition, back-story and internal dialogue. I have been so ruthless with these in my own work that my writing has become perhaps too lean. McKenna did a great job of weaving these in without inviting to skim or bogging things down.  I adored her voice, and she kept her writing fresh.

How has writing changed your reading experience?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Plot Control

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, it can still be a challenge to keep on top of your plot. I am a little bit of both. I start with a concept which is usually a single scene that pops into my mind and then the plot follows. I do an outline and the first scene and go from there adding new ideas to my outline as I go.

But once you have forty plus thousand words in a WIP it can be difficult  to keep that wandering plot in hand. So how do you make sure you have your plot and character arcs, your conflicts and reactions, your disasters and recoveries, unfolding in the way you intended?

Well, one tool I have discovered is Scrivener. I know many of you already use it, and for others it might be a bit of a learning curve. Not everyone will feel comfortable using it. But, Scrivener has taught me something important about how to approach a WIP. The best thing about Scrivener for me is the ability to break a WIP into synopsized parts on a corkboard.

In this way I can see all the scenes in my WIP in a snapshot. I can rearrange sequences and even chapters, I can see my character and plot arcs, I can see my conflicts/obstacles and the reactions and resolutions all in a glance. This allows me to see what is missing, going off track or out of place. I can also add a synopsis for new scenes where they are needed.

If something like Scrivener is not for you, why not try taking a real corkboard, a giant sticky note pad, and write a one or two line synopsis for each chapter (or scene if you are really keen). You can then pin them on your cork board and analyze, rearrange, and make additions and subtractions to your plot in a glance. You can keep it live by updating your sticky notes as you go.

How do you manage your plotting?

photo credit: MyTudut via photopin cc

Friday, 12 April 2013

Author interview with Juliet Madison

I am delighted to have the lovely and gracious Juliet Madison as my first author guest. She has answered questions about her new book Fast Forward and shared some wonderful writerly experiences.

Q. First of all I'm so thrilled you agreed to join us, Juliet! Could you tell us a little about your debut novel 'Fast Forward'?
A. Thanks for inviting me! Fast Forward is a romantic comedy with a magical twist. Here is the blurb:
Aspiring supermodel, Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.

Trapped in the opposite life of the one she wanted, Kelli is forced to re-evaluate her life and discover what is really important to her. Will she overcome the hilarious and heartbreaking challenges presented to her and get back to the body of her younger self? Or will she be stuck in the nightmare of hot flushes, demanding children, raunchy advances from her husband and hideous support underwear forever?

Q. Were there any challenges in writing a time travel? 

A. I wanted to have a story that wasn’t too far into the future so that it still resembled the world we know, but with a few cool additions! It was somewhat challenging trying to get my head around what the world might be like in twenty five years. I wanted it to be realistic but still innovative and surprising. I first had a think about the technology that’s been introduced in the last twenty five years and it is amazing how far it has come, yet there are still things that haven’t changed much, or at all (like shopping trolleys! Why can’t they make fancy new ones that go where you want them to and don’t get wobbly and don’t veer off on their own down the car park when you’ve packed it with too much food?).

Because my story was a romantic comedy and not a sci-fi, I didn’t have to get bogged down into the actual process of time travel, so that was easier. In these sorts of books and movies, the time travel just sort of ‘happens’.

Q. So I hear you are working on a YA? How are you finding the transition from Adult Fiction?

A. Yes, I am! I’ve had this Young Adult idea for quite a while and have only recently been working on it seriously. It’s a romantic paranormal... There aren’t any vampires or werewolves or creatures of any kind, it’s very much a ‘real world’ human story with a paranormal twist that is integral to the plot. So far I’m finding it fun to write, it is a slightly different process to writing a book for adults, as I have to think ‘what would a teenager say here?’, and ‘what would they do?’. I find I have to draw on the memory of my own experiences and emotions at that age to try and make it authentic. Sometimes that’s fun, sometimes not so much! I never planned to write YA, but a story idea came to me in a moment of inspiration and I knew I had to write it.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

A. It evolves with each book, but generally I start with an idea or story premise, and usually a title too, and then I write the first scene to get an idea of the voice of the story and character. Then I work out the ending, and then jot down notes on how to get the characters from A to B. I like plotting and knowing where things are headed, though I don’t mind getting pleasantly surprised along the way too. I try to remain flexible and adjust the story as needed. I don’t usually get long periods of time to write, so I have to work in bits and pieces of time, but if a story is urging me to tell it I sometimes stay up really late to get as much down as I can! (This happened with Fast Forward). I like to write on my Alphasmart NEO which is a portable word processor, because it is light, has no internet or distractions, and has an everlasting battery. At the end of the day I plug it into my computer and it transfers the words to a word document for me.

Q. What is it you love most about being an author?

A. Seeing what started out as a little spark of an idea become a finished book. I love creating something from nothing, and bringing a fictional world and characters to life. Apart from this, I love interacting with other writers - I’ve made so many good friends in this industry, it’s great!

Q. Please tell us a little about your journey to first getting published. The highs, lows and how you made it!
A. It took me three years from when I started writing seriously to when I first got a publishing offer. I feel very lucky, it can be a long road for many, but it’s a road that’s worth travelling on if writing is your passion. It’s been both exhausting and exhilarating, and now that I’ve started there’s no going back. Fast Forward was my third completed manuscript but my first to get published. I had good feedback on my first (plus a few rejections) and an offer to resubmit, my second racked up some rejections too (but later got a publishing offer), and my third, good ol’ Fast Forward, got twenty rejections before being accepted for publication by Harlequin Australia’s Escape Publishing. Joining RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) has played a big role in helping me get published, as I have learned so much through them and they provide many great opportunities for writers to get into the industry. One thing I’ve loved is meeting other authors, it’s great to know there are other people around who think making stuff up is completely normal! And one thing I’ve learned is that you have to keep working, keep writing, and keep improving. Published authors still have to wait on submissions, stress about rejection, and manage both writing and marketing in their busy lives. But I wouldn’t change a thing!

Q. Finally, what is the one thing you would like the prospective readers out there to know about your stories?

A. I aim to write both humorous and heartwarming fiction, so if you like a story that can have you laughing-out-loud one minute and tearing up the next, you might enjoy my stories. I guarantee a happy ending too (though there may be sad moments  -see above mention of tears!), and always try to put some kind of uplifting message or idea in the book that readers can hopefully take away with them and feel good about themselves and their lives - hence my tagline: Experience the magic of life and love. :)

Escape Publishing, Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes/iBookstore, Kobo, Google Play, B&N/Nook.

Connect with Juliet online:


Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Writer Inspiration

Since it is Easter, I thought I would get into the spirit and today share some writerly inspiration.

I recently heard some tales of success that warmed and inspired me right to the bottom of my heart. We all like to hear that people have made it. It is even better when we here about the struggles others have faced before they were able to attain their dreams. It reminds us that we can do it, and pushes us to keep dreaming and never stop believing.

<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->Last week Bestselling romance writer Maisey Yates shared an inspiring tweet about her writing triumphs. She was able to write herself out of a trailer and food stamps into a better life.

<!--[if !vml]-->

<!--[endif]-->It was certainly inspiring but what was even more heartwarming to me was the way other writers stepped up to share their own experiences.

JoAnne Ross tweeted about the twelve rejections she had on nine books before she sold three in six weeks, and Lisa Hendrix tweeted about not having a car to drive to a RWA conference and needed friends to take her.

<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->And if my cup of awe and hope were not already overflowing I heard for the first time the story of  Debbie Macomber's journey to publication and success. It kind of redefines triumph over adversity. I suggest you ready it for yourself.

But to summarize, Debbie who is dyslexic with only a rented typewriter, a high school education and multiple rejections was reaching the point writers face where we can make the decision to keep going or to give up. She chose to keep going, but her challenges did not stop.

After saving all her money to attend a writing conference her MS was made fun of by the editor leading a critiquing group and she was advised to "Throw it away."

Instead of falling down into a pit of despair, Debbie picked herself up and spent a precious ten dollars - Oh did I mention she was also a wife and mother experiencing financial hardship - and sent one last MS to Silhouette which resulted in her first sale!

So, now that I've heard these stories it's become a whole heap easier to pull up my big girl tights and get on with it. I feel blessed that these writers have been kind enough to share these stories and I know they will form part of the fuel of my determination.

Heard anything that has inspired you? Please share I would love to hear.