Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Baby Author Resolutions: What I Learned From 2014

So, last year, I did this post on how 2013 changed my life. I'll admit I'm snickering a bit looking back on it, especially the part where I declared I never wanted to write first chapters again (like that would be the hardest thing I encountered in my next draft hahahahahaHAHAHA) and am slightly disappointed in myself that I didn't send cake to my editor. But then, 2014 has been a feisty year.

I won't do a month-by-month breakdown like I did last time, because last time I wanted to show how very quickly things can change in the writing business - how you can be cursing your decision to ever write a book one day and have a call with a top-notch literary agent the next. This year I wanted to share the things I learned about being a full-time author. Both the amazing freedom of it and the guilt that comes with setting my own hours. And with that in mind, I have resolutions for next year:

Give Myself a Break
I love being a full-time author. I love having full days to dedicate to writing, reading, and networking, and I realize how fortunate I am that I can even do this, because many (most) writers juggle day jobs along with their books. When I first switched from a 40-hour day job + writing to just writing, I felt like I had to use every second of the day, even when that surpassed 8 or 9 hours. I had all this time! I needed to finish another book ASAP! And it stressed me out. So I'm going to shake myself this year, any time I feel the non-writing guilt creep in, and remind myself it's okay to not be writing.

Set Goals ... and Re-Set Goals
At the beginning of the year, I had one goal: sell another book. A problem when 1) I hadn't yet written said book 2) I have no control over the actual selling part 3) I have no control over the timeline of the selling part, even if I had a completed book. If you've been following me all year, you know how evil my second book was to me. Needless to say, I did not sell a book this year, and I'm STILL working on revisions for the book I hope to sell next. So I'm making smaller, more realistic goals that don't depend on so many steps ahead of them to be complete. I may not have sold a book this year, but I finished one. And with this finished one in hand, my 2015 goal will be to get it submission-ready (meaning, it's ready to be seen by my editor/publisher). And if I can do that, THEN my goal will be to sell it.

Enjoy Every First
With Duplicity releasing this coming March, 2014 was full of exciting first things. Copy edits! Cover reveal! First pass pages! Advanced reader copies!! I met my publishing team in NYC, which was amazing, and still a surreal experience when I look back on it. (I shook hands with brilliant people. I toured the Flatiron building and grabbed R.L. Stine's newest book OFF HIS EDITOR'S SHELF.) And in 2015, I will hold my book for the first time as an actual hardcover. I will see my book on the shelf in a bookstore. I will have at least one signing. I've been stressing about the steps between now and release - the promotion part of it, the setting-up-of-a-million-things, the interviews, the OMG-my-book-is-in-the-world - but I don't ever want to forget this time when everything was new, when everything was possible.

Learn To Dance
Because life is more than just writing, and I think people who can dance well are the most fun people, and I don't want to be THAT PERSON anymore at weddings.

What are your resolutions for 2015?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Queries: What Not To Do, From Someone Who Did It Wrong

Recently, I was cleaning out my email and happened upon an old folder called "Queries." A folder that used to inspire fear and panic every time I clicked on it (and used to be called, "Do Not Open Without Chocolate"), as it holds all of my rejections from agents whom I had asked to represent me and my books.

It holds 125 emails.

But the point of this post is not to go over query numbers or how many of those were for my very first, very unready book, or that I know that folder is missing more than a few "no's." The point is, I couldn't NOT blog about being "that person" after I read one of the very first queries I ever sent:

Dear Ms. [redacted],

I am a new author seeking representation for a fantasy adventure novel I've completed at 74000 words. I am targeting a young adult/adult audience, and after reading that you represent fantasy and young adult fiction, believe that my work may interest you.

THE AETHER STONE: DARIEN'S SECRET takes place in a parallel world where wielding one of the four classic elements (Earth, Fire, Water, or Air) is as natural as breathing. That is, for everyone except 18-year-old Water elemental Trey Reaver, who has somehow managed to get the short end of that deal. If that wasn't enough, he's spent his entire life in the shadow of his exceptional sister Andi — an elite Secondary who can use both Earth and Fire — who makes even the most competent wielders look foolish. And despite his parents' encouragement that he is defined by more than the ability to dry off without a towel, Trey struggles to find purpose in a society built around a skill set he lacks.

Things start to change when Secondaries begin to disappear in surrounding towns, and his family is ordered to evacuate for Andi's safety. After a rough journey to their assigned safehouse leaves them questioning who to trust, Trey will get the chance to prove he's more than what he seems, and Andi will come face-to-face with a dark secret that changes all the rules.

THE AETHER STONE is a fresh look at a familiar but magical world, and combines elements from both contemporary and high fantasy. DARIEN'S SECRET is intended as the first book in an open-ended series (I have planned out at least four books; as the story evolves, that may increase).

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I hope I have the opportunity to discuss the project with you further.

In my defense, here are the things I did right:
  • Addressed the agent by name, and got the spelling of it, and her gender, correct
  • Sent one email per agent (no mass emails)
  • Researched enough about this agent to know she represented YA AND fantasy
  • Included my word count and genre
  • The format of the query is pretty standard - though it needs a bio at the end

And here are the things you now know not to do, because I messed them up first:
  • Don't say you're a new author. 
    • Not a huge deal, but unless you've been published, it's best to just say you're seeking representation.
  • Don't say you're targeting more than one age group. 
    • Either you've written a young adult book, or an adult book, or a middle grade, etc. Of course the hope is that your book might appeal to more than one group, but the agent is much more interested in where your book will sit on the shelves at the bookstore. The category your book belongs in largely depends on the age of the main character. If you're not sure what kind of book you've written, research the requirements for each category or confer with your critique partners.
  • Personalization is NOT "I read you represent young adult fiction so I think this YA book will interest you."
    • The agent expects that any queries he/she receives will be in the categories and genres he/she represents. Go deeper. Find an interview the agent did where she mentioned she was looking for books with some specific quality that only your manuscript and a few others would meet. Or mention you enjoy her blog posts and that [this blog post title] was particularly of interest/helpful to you. If all else fails, check her Twitter or her agent profile and find out if you share the same favorite movies (if you can relate it to the book you've written, even better!). You don't have to personalize your queries - the story wins over all - but if you're going to do it, do it better than I did.
  • Vague book pitch is vague
    • And has some rather awkward sentences, to be honest. I'd had a little help from the writing community at this point, but clearly not enough. Also, sentences like these need DETAIL: After a rough journey [What made it rough, specifically?] to their assigned safehouse leaves them questioning who to trust, Trey will get the chance to prove he's more than what he seems [How does he intend to do that?], and Andi will come face-to-face with a dark secret that changes all the rules. [What dark secret? What rules? And most importantly, what are the actual stakes? What happens if Trey or Andi fails?]
    • Basically, add details. And stakes. Stakes are good.
  • Don't use words like "fresh look."
    • Just don't.
  • For the love of all that's holy, do not say you are writing an open-ended series.
    • Unless you are George R.R. Martin, and you are not. (Yet.) Agents are much more concerned with seeing if this single book you wrote even qualifies to stand on its own - series talk comes after you sign with an agent and mention that you have grander schemes. Those grander schemes might include two or three or five books, or an open-ended series, but in a query ... I feel like it made me sound very new (which I was) and unrealistically ambitious.
  • Just thank the agent at the end for her time and consideration.
    • Looking back on it now, I feel like "I hope I have the opportunity to discuss the project with you further" is kind of ... forward. Not a deal-breaker by any means,  but anything you can do to keep from sounding overly eager is a good thing.

The other point of this post is to show you we've all been at the beginning of the line. I clearly needed to learn a few more things before this query was ready. And that's fine - it all comes with time. With sending out queries and being rejected. With realizing it's okay to get those rejections because each one is teaching you something new. As I scroll through my old "Queries" folder, I see this query morphing. Slowly I tick off each of the problems I listed above until I start entering a sea of titles that are no longer "Query: THE AETHER STONE" but "Requested Materials: THE AETHER STONE." And when I finally switched projects to DUPLICITY, I start seeing "Offer of Rep".

What are some early query mistakes you've made?

For examples of successful queries, check out Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query series!

Want another set of eyes on your query? Comment on this post with your manuscript's age group and Twitter handle, and I'll pick 3 people to win a query critique! Open to A/NA/YA/MG queries. Winner to be chosen by random number generator end of day 7/24. Turnaround time: 1 week from receipt.

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