Querymania Is Runnin’ Wild!

Exciting news, folks – I’m back in the query trenches again! (screams internally) We’ve all been there before and some of us will be there again. It’s difficult. It’s demand. It’s downright  daunting. But in the end, we all hope it will also be rewarding. It’s taken about a month for me to get the letter for THE RADIANCE OF BLACK into something worthwhile (in my most humble of opinions, at least), and I think it’s as good as it’s going to get.

I thought, while it’s timely and topically, why not write about query letters this week?  So without further delay, I’m going to outline what I think are the essential things a powerful and engaging query letter should have AND I’M GOING TO DO SO USING WRASSLIN’ GIFS!

OOOOOOOH YEAAAAAAAH!

*snaps into Slim Jim*

THE HOOK

Bayley Dancing

The first thing you should lay out in your query is The Hook or logline. This is the so called ‘Elevator Pitch’. Basically what you want to do is show what this story about and what sets it apart from all the other hopeful manuscripts floating around in the literary purgatory that is The Slush. You want something catchy here, something that pops from the page. Something enticing that will make your would-be agent read onward. A story they NEED to know more about. I’ve read numerous articles about how some agents will just read logline and if it doesn’t hook them, that’s it. One. Two. Three. You’re out. But if it does hook, they read on. Your query lives to see another paragraph. I think The Hook is the make or break part of the query. The rest of it might be awesome, but if you don’t set the tone with something exciting, then you might find yourself already fighting a losing battle.

THE HERO

Bayley Entrance Gif

Your Main Character, who carries the weight of your story on his of her shoulders, whose journey the reader will follow throughout the course your manuscript. You basically have to boil down the very essence of his or her personality – their hopes, their dreams, their foibles, their quirks all into a single paragraph. This had always been incredibly difficult for me. I like to think I write some pretty nuanced and layered characters, so describing everything about them in like three sentences just kills me. But I’ve done it. The most important thing to emphasize here is what drives The Hero and why they’re driven. That’s seems like a lot to convey in such a small space, but you can distill his or her persona into the simplest, yet compelling terms. You can. ITS JUST THAT EASY!

THE STAKES

Sasha Banks Champ

Once we’ve established who The Hero is and what their motivations are, we must next delve into what goals drives those motivations. These are The Stakes! Whether it be personal redemption for transgressions of the past, revenge for some crime committed against them, some legendary item The Hero must procure to save the world or reconciliation with a lost love. Whatever it is, big or small, there must be some goal presented The Hero is working towards. Why should the reader care about The Hero if we don’t give them a reason to? There must be some gravity here. Even if The Stakes are not something as grandiose as TOTAL GLOBAL ANNIHILATION, you need to express why they’re important to The Hero. It’s another difficult thing to do in only a sentence or two, but it can be done. You need to focus The Hero’s journey on one particular point, one singular goal that he or she must achieve or else everything they are, everything their life has led to up until That One Point has been all for naught.

THE VILLAIN 

Sasha Banks Boss

So now we have The Hero and when know what he or she must achieve in the Stakes. but we need to know what stands in the way of The Hero meeting their goals. This is, of course, my favorite part of the manuscript. The Villain. I think it’s debatable whether or not The Villain needs to be explicitly named, or if just mentioning their existence and the threat they pose to The Hero is enough. For THE RADIANCE OF BLACK, I named my Big Bad (The Ghastsire) in the query. One, because I think the name is wicked cool and Two, because it felt a little vague just mention him as some nebulous evil force lurking in the darkness. Either way, you need to make The Villain a legitimate threat, a true menace to The Hero and his or her goals. There really isn’t enough room to go into The Villain’s motivations like The Hero, but you don’t really need to. You just have to give a quick reason why they stand in opposition to The Hero and how they plan on doing it.

THE EVEN MORE STAKES

Sasha Hit Bayley

With all these pieces in place, there’s only one thing left to add – MORE STAKES. In the last paragraph you really want to drive those stakes home. What will happen if The Hero doesn’t accomplish the goals you’ve set for them? If The Villain prevails, what ruin will be wrought upon the world? This is the final sell. This is the climax of the query letter. Tie everything that came before into one perfect little plot knot. Once an agent is finished reading these last few sentences, the should want to NAY, MUST NEED TO read this book to know the outcome of these stakes. Again, it’s just that easy, right?

Maybe it is. I think if you’ve built your letter right, building each one of these blocks on top of the last, you can condense an entire book in to a few compelling paragraphs that will entice the reader and have them wanting more!

So what does everyone think? Is this a good summation of what makes stong query letter? Am I completely off base and should just tear up my own letter so that it never sees the light of day (uh oh it already has!)? Do you love these Wrasslin’ gifs as much as I do?

Let’s hear it!

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All By My Big Self

BabyMeridaAdorable

There are a lot of things I’ve learned since going indie with STORM IN A TEACUP and planning to follow with the rest of my UF books for the foreseeable future. I’ve learned that just because you can check your sales every day (or erm…hour) doesn’t mean you should. I’ve learned that Amazon’s algorithm is an interesting little beast. I’ve grown a renewed appreciation for math and data that I thought died a horrible death in high school algebra class.

On Friday I enrolled myself in KDP Select, because frankly, the handful of Barnes and Noble sales I’ve gotten were just about enough to fit in both hands. Within a day, my rank had catapulted into the 5,000s and then into the 2,000s, and I was ranking in my browse categories for the first time with this book. Today I’m ranking in the main UF category around Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne and…and….okay. O_O

And the other huge thing? I realized that Storm had passed 1000 sales.

None of those things happened with my debut.

For me, the biggest thing right now is a strange sense of pride. Not strange in that it’s weird to feel proud of selling 1000 books, but strange in that I can most liken it to accomplishing a new, difficult task for the first time as a child. Like learning how to tie your shoe, or getting your legs to cooperate in the triple jump in track practice. It’s also somehow like the way I felt living in Poland when I would be talking to a native Polish speaker in Polish and realized after an hour that all that time had passed and I was understood. We had had an exchange of ideas in a language I wasn’t born into. With Storm, it’s a sense of looking out there at readers and knowing somehow I reached them. I did this. I made a thing. I got to them myself, and they’re responding.

There’s been a sense of relief this weekend that is hard to quantify — after fourteen years of knowing writing was the thing I wanted to do and ten of grasping my way toward publication and six of writing full time in addition to a full time job, seeing my book selling steadily feels the same of having someone confirm that they saw the lights flicker too. I’m not imagining it. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s not all in my head.

A sense of maybe, of possibility, of hoping.

None of this is to say that this happened all because of me — far from it. There are 80 people who saved me in December, and a couple hundred more who form a community that I could not have gotten through 2014 without. Those people sharing and reviewing and talking about my book is the only reason others outside that sphere are finding it. I’ll never stop being grateful for that.

The relief and the “I made dis” doesn’t come from having poofed something into existence and had people flail at it. It comes from a decade of working within a framework where if I wanted to share my stories with readers, I had to be a camel and fit through the eye of a needle, because they only existed on the other side of that little metal hole.

The relief and the “I made dis” comes (belatedly) from realizing that a needle is a narrow object, and it doesn’t take all that much to, you know, walk around it and get to the other side. That may sound like utter bollocksy common sense to you all, but…well. Let it never be said that my tenacity hasn’t ever taken skin off my back.

I’m still trying to thread that needle with other projects, but I can’t quite explain the relief I feel knowing that my books can find readers without it.

There are many roads to readers, and mine may have been a bit roundabout and still ongoing, but I found one. I feel like a big girl now.

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Three Things That Are Rocking My Writing World

Since this blog is primarily about writing, for writers, I’m going to share a few things that are making my writing life easier right now:

POV1) Diving Deep into Deep Point of View – This month-long, online class, led by Rhay Christou over at Margie Lawson’s Writer’s Academy, is one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my career. (And it was relatively cheap, only $60.) I’ve read books on Deep Point of View before, but there’s nothing like breaking it down in a lesson format and actually applying it to your own work. Plus, you get to learn from Rhay’s feedback and she is obviously a master at Deep POV.

For those who don’t know, Deep POV is when you remove as much authorial interference from your writing as possible so that the end result is that the reader feels like they are in the character’s skin, experiencing everything along with them. It works in both first and third person. This was my first time writing in third person, so it’s been fun to go back and take out all the filter words and stage direction that isn’t needed. It really does make a difference.  I can’t wait to apply these same techniques to my unpublished first person MS and watch them get stronger.

This class seems to be offered twice a year (last time was in November) so if this interests you keep an eye on Margie’s site or follow Margie (@MargieLawson) or Rhay (@RhayChristou) on Twitter to find out when she’ll be teaching it again.

Me taking notes with my smart pen. The pen transmits the to receiver clamped to the top of the page.

Me taking notes with my smart pen. The pen transmits the to receiver clamped to the top of the page, which relays what you are writing to a program on your device.

2) My Smart Pen – I read an article a few months ago about a pen that converts your handwriting into text and was immediately intrigued. You see, I do a LOT of research for my historical fiction novels (approximately 12-25+ sources per novel) and that means a LOT of notes. I hand write my notes because I retain information better that way than when I type it. But when it comes time to plot, or even write a blog post about what I’ve learned, I need those notes in typewritten format. After typing up two books worth of notes but hand, I realized there had to be a better way.

Enter the Equil Smart Pen 2. It uses blue tooth technology to record your notes as you take them on your smart phone, tablet or laptop. It’s kind of freaky to write on one surface (I write in notebooks since this pen isn’t limited to special paper like some others) and watch your handwriting appear on your device. The pen uses real ink, but relies on a program called Equil Note to capture your writing. It isn’t available for Kindle and I couldn’t get it run on my Windows laptop (as soon as I can afford it, I’m switching to a Mac), but it works like a dream on my iPhone.  I haven’t tried to convert it to text yet and I do expect some blips (especially with my horrid handwriting), but anything is better than typing from scratch.

1stplace_medallion_greatexpectations_v1_20153) Gaining Recognition for My Writing – Remember that post I wrote last month about not knowing if my romantic comedy will ever get published because it isn’t easily classified as romance, women’s fiction or chick lit? Well, it may not have a book deal yet, but it did win the single title romance category of the Great Expectations contest, sponsored by the North Texas chapter of RWA. This is one of the bigger romance writing contests, so I’m hoping that having this win in my bio will help when I start querying again soon. (For those who don’t know, my former agent is no longer an agent.) Plus, I’m in several other contests.

So, what’s rocking your world, writing or otherwise? Share the happy vibes!

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Spellbound Anniversary!

Today our little blog is three-years-old!

It’s funny how things happen. We have a posting schedule and the different Scribes call dibs on days, sometimes without rhyme or reason and sometimes with. By luck of the draw I got today and didn’t even realize what day it was until I thought to check. Three years ago today we started this little blog and I’m really proud of it.

Sometimes it’s hard to be the unofficial blog mistress, but somehow that mantel fell to me and I try to shoulder the weight. But I’m glad to have this place, this little community.

I’ve met new writer friends thanks to this blog. I’ve had wonderful discussions and things to think about thanks to this blog. We’ve helped new writers find a place to spread their voice here. We’ve had adventures and celebrations. We pick each other up and cheer each other on. We share our fandoms and let our nerd flags fly! All in all, this is an awesome blog and I’m proud to be part of it.

Thank you to all my fellow Scribes, old and new. Here’s to three more years and more things to celebrate!

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The Perfect First Page

As I once more begin the arduous process of drafting a new manuscript, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the mechanics and architecture of story-telling. Of course there’s no right way to tell a story, but there are certain elements that must be in place for a story to be effective. And–if we’re starting at the beginning–the first thing we have to think about is, well, the beginning.

It’s no secret in the publishing industry that the beginning of a manuscript is of the utmost importance. To agents, to editors, and to potential readers alike. The first 250 words…the first page…the first chapter. The opening of a book is what introduces your work to your reader, and, if all goes well, draws them in and makes them keep reading. But what exactly is supposed to be going on in this crucial stage, and how do we as writers make that happen? While there’s no perfect way to do it, here are some of the things I think are absolutely necessary to nailing the perfect first page.

1. Start with action. Okay, this needs a little clarification. By action I don’t necessarily mean a sword fight or a horse race. By action, I mean something needs to be in the process of happening. The fancy literary term is in media res, or in the middle of things. Something is being revealed. Something is going terribly wrong. Someone is in trouble. There must be a sense that something is happening, and will continue to happen.

Another way of putting this: don’t lead with extensive backstory or a detailed explanation of who and where and why. These things are important, but a paragraph of exposition on your first page may just kill your reader’s desire to continue past that first page. Lead with action; the rest will follow.

2. Introduce your main character. Have you ever read a book that began with something happening to someone, and then it turned out that character was not, in fact, the protagonist of the story? I have, and I always feel a little cheated. Your readers are going to assume that the first person they meet is your main character. So let them meet him or her. And remember, first impressions matter.

Meeting your protagonist is the first point of connection for your reader. Whatever assumptions they make right off the bat might just stick with that throughout the story. So make that first impression count, and give them a sense of who your character is and what motivates them.

How-did-i-get-here-dorothy-wizrd-of-oz3. Show us your world. When they open that first page, readers are latching onto any and every detail that will give them a sense of setting and place. What do the characters look like? What are the surroundings? How is it similar to what the reader is familiar with, and how is it different? Without details to bring the scene into focus, the reader might feel a little lost, as though the action is happening in a vacuum.

The challenge here is painting a picture…without going overboard with descriptions. Just like explanation and backstory, too much description on the first page may bore and alienate your reader. Give your reader a sense of place without resorting to a paint-by-number.

4. Give us a hint of voice. Your potential reader needs to know what makes your story different from all the others out there, and why they should read yours. That means that the style and voice that makes you unique and sets your book apart from others needs to be immediately apparent. Is your POV character always making cracks regardless of the situation? Do you rely on muscular active prose? Whatever makes you stand out, include it in the first page. Let your hard-won craft shine!

Sound hard? IT IS. Welcome to the big leagues! While there’s no perfect way to open a manuscript, keeping these points in mind will help you begin your amazing story in a way that will have readers clamoring for more!

What do you like to include on your first page? What do you like to see on other writer’s first pages? Leave your thoughts below!

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Cover Reveal: Age of Blood

Age of Blood (Ash and Ruin #3) by Shauna Granger

Hope is a dangerous thing, but powerful. Hope keeps you going. Hope can keep you alive.

But hope can shatter your world.

Kat and Dylan have found a home, but the monsters are still out there. The pox and plague still ravage the world. They have hope of finding a vaccine, but their encampment isn’t equipped to develop it.

Dylan is still too weak from the pox to leave the encampment, so Kat must decide between staying by his side and protecting her last remaining family member as he leaves to find supplies. Separated for the first time since they came together, Kat and Dylan will have to fight their own battles to save what is left of their bloody world.

Kat will have to hold on to hope that she has anything left to save and someone to come home to.

If she can survive.

AGEOFBLOODAvailable 5/5/2015

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About the series:

World of Ash – book 1

WOA (1)

There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real.

The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative and find shelter from the pox that continues to devastate the world. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive.

That is, until she meets Dylan. Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair, has nowhere to go and no one to live for. He convinces Kat there can be safety in numbers, that they can watch out for each other. So the unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – if they can survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

Time of Ruin – book 2

TORThe world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.

Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home.

But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible.

And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing.

The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

About the author:

6FTWnj-KLike so many other writers, Shauna grew up as an avid reader, but it was in high school that she realized she wanted to be a writer. She released the first installment of her Paranormal YA Series, The Elemental Series, Earth, on May 1, 2011 and has since released four sequels, with the series coming to an end with Spirit. In December of 2013 she released the first in her Paranormal Post-Apocalyptic trilogy (Ash And Ruin Trilogy), World of Ash. Be sure to also check out her newest series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels about a spunky witch just trying to pay her rent in West Hollywood. Shauna is currently hard at work on one too many projects, trying to organize the many voices in her head. It’s a writer thing.

Stalkables:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

About the Cover Artist Stephanie Mooney:

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I am a 25-year-old graphic designer, artist, and aspiring author currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a renaissance girl — a lover of all things creative and artistic. From the moment I learned to use my hands, I was writing stories about princesses and sketching ballerinas. I guess I never really stopped.

Most of my training has been informal, and many of my skills are self taught. In 2006-07, I spent a year interning at a church in Louisiana where I worked in their art and design department. In July 2007, they hired me as one of their designers. I worked there for three years, gaining experience in graphic design, advertising, set building, event planning, and product design. From there, I began my career in freelance design.

Many of my clients are indie authors looking for affordable cover designs. I love working with authors and getting excited about their stories with them. I’m still building my web portfolio, but I really enjoy designing and developing websites as well.

Stalkables:

Website | Flickr| Twitter | Instagram

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Plagiarism Happens

So, this happened…

Perfect Man screen shot


This is obviously an Amazon listing, describing a novel written by someone named Melissa Rogers. The listing rather prominently advertises ‘bdsm’ and ‘alpha male’ tags, and for several days it was a free download, with a ranking of around 5000.

So why is this a problem?

It’s a problem because The Perfect Man wasn’t written by Melissa Rogers. It was written by my friend Amanda Byrne, aka Radiodemon. (It also doesn’t contain any bdsm, and the hero is more of a beta with strong alpha tendencies, but that’s beside the point.) She entered her story in last year’s Valentine’s contest at Literotica.com, and she won. The entire story (not just the first 18 pages as shown here in “Part One”) has been available at Literotica for free, although it will be taken down soon at Amanda’s request.

Last Friday someone emailed Amanda, letting her know a chunk of her story had been published on Amazon under three parts. A Literotica reader saw the story, recognized it, and was thoughtful enough to contact Amanda about it. (So YAY for conscientious community members.) Amanda downloaded all three parts, the first half to 2/3 of the piece, just to confirm it was in fact her story. The other two parts were published under different authors’ names, with similar cover art. All three were free, though as is apparent from the image at the top of this post, Part One is now priced at $2.99, and parts 2 and 3 appear to have been taken down.

Amanda contacted Amazon on Friday through their copyright complaint tool,and she’s sent Amazon a cease and desist letter. She’s provided them with as much information as she had. It’s her story. The story has been up on Literotica.com under her log-in. She has a copy of the cancelled check for the prize money, Amazon acknowledged receipt of her complaint, but says it takes 5-7 business days for them to investigate the situation. 

That’s five to seven days someone could be making money off of Amanda’s work.

So this makes me mad, and not just because something shitty happened to a friend of mine.

Authors have their work pirated all the time. It’s sort of an occupational hazard of publishing in the digital age.  I don’t usually get too excited when I find one of my books on a shady “download for free” site, because I figure as soon as I send off the cease and desist letter, it’ll disappear from one site and put up somewhere else.  I also figure if you’re a big enough loser to download people’s work from a pirate site, you deserve whatever malware or viruses come along with it.

But Amazon is different. Regardless of what you think of their business practices, most of us trust it as a place to shop. My experience with Amazon customer service has always been good, too, so it’s appalling to me that they’re slow to respond to the concerns of an author, one of the many who keep their machine running. It’s bad enough that losers out there would rip off someone else’s work, but when an author is lucky enough to uncover such blatant plagiarism, it’s frightening to feel like you don’t have back-up.

In a perfect world, Amazon would have pulled the listing down while they investigated the complaint, ensuring that no one would benefit from this fraud. In a perfect world, anyone stumbling on this listing would look at the ten one-star reviews and stay the hell away.

In a perfect world, cheaters wouldn’t win.

If you’re interested in reading all of The Perfect Man, I’ll be sharing the listing when Amanda publishes it for real, and if you’ve got any advice on how to avoid situations like this, or what to do when they happen, please leave your thoughts in the comments. I’m putting this same post up on my personal blog, because I want people to know about what happened. Jump HERE for Amanda’s own blog, to get her thoughts on the issues this raises.


Peace,
Liv

Posted in Creative Life, Publishing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments