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Posts Tagged ‘writers’

For those of us involved in an art form, be it writing, drawing, painting, photography, music, etc., we are always perfecting our craft. I think that’s part of what entices us about these arts in the first place. We are always learning and always growing. There’s really no limitations to what we can achieve if we practice and work hard.

As an author, I can already see how much my writing style has changed over the years. I’ve made wonderful connections and good friends since I first published Prince of Light. Back then, I thought getting an agent and a publisher would be a snap. (Yes, I was that naive.) After getting nothing but rejections on all of my query letters for PoL, I felt pretty discouraged. That’s something I think we’ve all experienced: the rejection pile.

It’s a long, hard road to traditional publishing. While some small presses will allow for unsolicited queries to be sent, the major publishing houses (i.e. Random House, Scholastic, Penguin, etc.) require all of their “pitches” to come straight from a literary agent. So once you’ve written that super special awesome book and polished it to the best of your ability, you need to write and even more super special awesome query letter.

I’m pretty sure that the query letter is harder to write than the book itself. There are several amazing resources available to give you an idea of what agents are looking for in a query. Two of my favorite sites are Query Shark (written by an actual agent) and Agent Query Connect. Query Shark is a blog with multiple examples of both good and not-so-good queries. I found it extremely helpful in giving a lot of examples of what agents are looking for.

Agent Query Connect allows you to talk directly with other authors to get their feedback on your query, synopsis, first 250 words, etc. There are both published and non-published writers there, so you really get a broad spectrum of opinions. I had some great feedback when I was finishing up the query for my current standalone YA story. (Just a side note, AQC’s primary site, Agent Query, is a pretty good database of agents and publishers. You can search by genre to see which agents are interested in your specific story.)

The other day I went through a bunch of my original emails to agents, when I first tried to query Prince of Light. For some of them I literally wanted to crawl in a hole and die of embarrassment. For others, I just shook my head.

So just for fun, I decided to post one of my (not quite as humiliating) early query letters and critique it myself, based on what I’ve learned over the years. Not only can I give you a bit of a laugh, but hopefully this will give you a little inspiration and confidence in your own projects. At the time I couldn’t understand why no agent was interested. Now, I certainly do.

Here’s the original query I sent, italicized for better readability:

Dear Agent,

Celestyn: Master of every weapon he touches. Heir to the throne of the elven kingdom. Destroyer of any who dare get in his way. Alone for all eternity.

Seventeen-year-old Evanthe finds herself held prisoner in an unknown castle after an attack on her village renders her homeless. When the first living thing she meets is an imposing half-dragon, half-man beast, her only thoughts are how she can stay alive long enough to find her family. Strange and often frightening creatures seem to be around every corner (which actually makes having a dragon-man beast for a bodyguard come in rather handy). She is befriended by the handsome young mage, Delanor, knowing only that he is keeping her hidden from a dark presence that is shadowing her every movement. When she catches a glimpse of the man that is supposed to be so deadly to her, however, she finds her heart is full of conflict, for she is being sought after by the rogue elfin prince, Celestyn.

And he is by far the most beautiful being that she has ever laid eyes on.

Though she is frightened by his cold cruelty, Evanthe finds it very difficult to resist the ethereal, god-like prince. She will eventually have to choose between the two men that she has come to love and, even worse, between the few fellow humans that have also crossed into the land and the newly-made friends she has grown to care for.

PRINCE OF LIGHT is every fangirl’s dream book, containing everything from a hot elf and shapeshifters of every kind to battle scenes that would send even Percy Jackson into hiding. (Not to mention a love triangle worthy of any Twilight fan.) This medieval fantasy is complete at approximately 89,000 words in length.

While I have never had any of my works formally published, my short story entitled “Range of Vision” won an honorable mention at the 2009 Nature of Words Writing Competition and is included in their anthology. I also worked at a public library for six years, primarily with teens, which allowed me to be immersed in young adult literary fiction. I feel that PRINCE OF LIGHT would be a great addition to any young adult publisher based on the feedback that I’ve already received from both teens and adults alike.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Yup. That was it. Now allow me to critique my own work, based on what I’ve since learned about the industry. My comments are in red:

Dear Agent,
(Just as a side note, always personalize your query letter. This is just an example, so I didn’t put an actual name, but in a real letter definitely use an agent’s name and make sure you spell it right. Also? Only send one letter per agent. Don’t group send several agents at once; they really don’t like that.)

Celestyn: Master of every weapon he touches. Heir to the throne of the elven kingdom. Destroyer of any who dare get in his way. Alone for all eternity.
Ooooookay, problems right from the get-go. This doesn’t really work as a hook for several reasons. For one, it’s super generic and a little cliché. Secondly, the story isn’t even written from Celestyn’s point of view, so none of this matters. Always start your query letter with a good hook, usually just one or two sentences, that will immediately grab the agent’s attention.

Seventeen-year-old Evanthe finds herself held prisoner in an unknown castle after an attack on her village renders her homeless. When the first living thing she meets is an imposing half-dragon, half-man beast, her only thoughts are how she can stay alive long enough to find her family. Strange and often frightening creatures seem to be around every corner (which actually makes having a dragon-man beast for a bodyguard come in rather handy). She is befriended by the handsome young mage, Delanor, knowing only that he is keeping her hidden from a dark presence that is shadowing her every movement. When she catches a glimpse of the man that is supposed to be so deadly to her, however, she finds her heart is full of conflict, for she is being sought after by the rogue elfin prince, Celestyn.
This is character soup. Only main characters need to be introduced, and even then it should be kept to a minimum. Who is the main character? What are her goals? What stands in her way? None of that is really answered with this paragraph. The voice isn’t necessarily horrible, but it’s certainly not as strong as it could be.

And he is by far the most beautiful being that she has ever laid eyes on.
While perhaps an interesting factoid, this doesn’t actually bring about a conflict, so it’s kind of pointless.

Though she is frightened by his cold cruelty, Evanthe finds it very difficult to resist the ethereal, god-like (Ugh, why so many adjectives?) prince. She will eventually have to choose between the two men that she has come to love and, even worse, between the few fellow humans that have also crossed into the land and the newly-made friends she has grown to care for.
Too much description, not enough plot. And again, there isn’t any conflict until it’s mentioned that there are other humans in this world.

PRINCE OF LIGHT is every fangirl’s dream book, containing everything from a hot elf and shapeshifters of every kind to battle scenes that would send even Percy Jackson into hiding. No. Just…no. (Not to mention a love triangle worthy of any Twilight fan.) SWEET BABYBACK RIBS, NO. I am truly ashamed that I sent this to agents. And that I thought it was good. This medieval fantasy is complete at approximately 89,000 words in length.
All the final line should say is “PRINCE OF LIGHT is a young adult medieval fantasy complete at 89,000.” If you have some comp titles, that’s fine, but it’s not a requirement. Also, always round up or down your word count when writing a query, and do capitalize the title for this part of the letter. At least I got that part…

While I have never had any of my works formally published, my short story entitled “Range of Vision” won an honorable mention at the 2009 Nature of Words Writing Competition and is included in their anthology. I also worked at a public library for six years, primarily with teens, which allowed me to be immersed in young adult literary fiction. I feel that PRINCE OF LIGHT would be a great addition to any young adult publisher based on the feedback that I’ve already received from both teens and adults alike.
Honestly, I didn’t include any of this information when I sent out the queries for my newest project because none of it matters. Unless you have a previously published work, and sorry, most self-published books don’t count, just leave out any credentials. (I’ve been told the exception to self-published books is if you’ve sold 100,000 copies or more. But that’s SOLD, not just downloads.) If you have a lot of short stories published or the like, that seems to be semi-okay to send along, but in that case it seems to depend on the agent and their personal preferences.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
I think this is pretty much the only line that I got halfway right.

So there you have it. And as I mentioned, this is my so-called “improved” version. It’s just so…bad. Not because the writing is bad, because structurally it’s pretty sound, but because I didn’t know the business. Agents receive literally hundreds of query letters a day, so it is absolutely vital that you make your story stand out from the slush pile.

It’s helped to see how far I’ve come, which is why I sometimes go back and view my earlier writings. As I continue to work on book two in the Prince of Light series, I already have an idea for the description, which is light years ahead of where I was when I finished book one. (And yes, that book really will get finished at some point. I promise.)

To my fellow writers, I have to encourage you to NEVER GIVE UP. Your first book may never get published, traditionally or indie. That’s okay. Keep writing and keep reading. If this is your passion and it’s what you know you want to do, learn all that you can and just keep going. You will improve.

Best of luck!

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This year I was finally able to take the plunge and participate in the Twitter Pitch Party called #PitMad. Basically, it’s a one-day opportunity for authors to pitch their books to agents who follow the thread. If the agent is interested, they’ll favorite your tweet and request further material.

I had heard of this event and saw others who were involved, but this was the first year that I finally had a complete manuscript to work with. So I decided to take part, because I had already been mulling over a few pitches in my head, and I figured this was a good way to see if an agent really would be interested in my standalone novel. I have to say, it was a really fun experience!

These are just a handful of the things I learned, plus some basic guidelines:

Make sure that your book is finished. I know that seems redundant, but treat this like you would a query letter to an agent. Don’t pitch an unfinished project.

Think about what you want to say ahead of time. Again, just like with a query letter, you want this to be polished to the best of your abilities. There’s a lot of competition out there, and the internet is forever, you know.

Look at the Twitter feeds of your favorite agents. They have really great advice and will often state exactly what they’re looking for in their next project.

Be professional. Don’t feel bad if no one favorites or retweets your posts, because the writing world is very subjective. Just because no one looked at this time around doesn’t mean that no one ever will.

Be courteous. There are rules in place for a reason, so don’t tweet your pitch every five minutes. It will only make everyone (and I do mean EVERYone) hate you. They generally suggest one tweet per hour, or six total, depending.

Make time in your day for this. Think of it as an online conference, if you will. Agents are taking time out of their busy schedules to check this out, so take time out of yours as well. Doesn’t have to be all day long, but be prepared to spend some time there.

Overall, I would highly recommend participating in something like #PitMad if you enjoy social media and are in the market for an agent. Honestly, even if no one shows interested in your project, it’s HUGELY helpful and eye-opening to see what other authors are writing and what agents are looking for specifically. I saw so many amazing pitches it nearly made my head spin. There is so much talent out there just waiting to be had! Plus I made some great connections with fellow writers and garnered a few more followers. People were so encouraging.

If I had to do it all over again, I would take my own advice and set aside a full day off of work for this. I thought I was pretty well prepared for it, but there were minor things that made me realize that I could have done better. Now I know.

Best of luck to the authors who did participate this year, and I hope someone walks away with a book deal! If you’re interested in participating in the future, the next PitMad is going to be on June 4th, 2015. See Brenda Drake’s post for even more information on it.

I’m looking forward to seeing who will show up next time!

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