Saturday, March 27, 2010

What's It All About?

So what does a query letter look like? I'm so glad you asked (channeling Sheldon from BBT):

Dear Agent Whom I Am Dying to Have Represent Me: (Okay, I don't really write that, but they all read the subtext)

Being able to hear the minds of those around you might sound like a good idea. . . but would you really want that ability? If you were a seventeen-year old girl, would you honestly want to know what your classmates were thinking? And what might happen if you heard something that wasn’t just annoying. . .but downright deadly?

This is the basis of my recently completed 120,000 word novel, Fearless. Tasmyn, a high school junior who has grappled with this dubious gift all of her life, moves to a new community. Her talent has isolated her, both by necessity and by choice, but here in the mysterious town of King, Tasmyn meets Michael, the high school’s golden boy, who amazingly seems to think that Tas is his soul mate. To her joyful astonishment, she soon has not only a boyfriend but also a group of friends who like and accept her.

But before Tasmyn can bask too long in the wonder of this change of events, she accidentally overhears some very troubling thoughts that hint at the darker side of King. Nell, another classmate, has been hostile to Tasmyn from their first meeting. Her unspoken--but horrifying--plans force Tas to make a choice that may save a life but could also expose her own secrets.

Fearless is the first of what I anticipate to be a three-to-four book series; I am presently almost half way finished writing the second book.

I have noticed that you are interested in representing young adult novels. If you would like to read my full manuscript, I would be happy to send it to you.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Very truly yours,

Like most authors DYING to get published, I belong to several groups that give info, support, encouragement and reality check to desperate--I mean, struggling writers. On one, you can submit your QL for critique and review, and when I posted the one above, I received a lot of very helpful comments. First of all, who knew that the term "recently completed" would send all agents running for cover? Apparently they read that as "unedited or revised". Hmm. Also, I was advised to reduce my word count dramatically. So I did go back and ruthlessly slash. . .words. I revised even more. And I think I brought it down a couple thousand words. But not enough to make a real difference. What I wrote is integral to the story, and until someone who reads it through tells me otherwise, it's all staying.

Based on the input from my fellow writers, this is my latest QL:

Dear Agent Who Would be Perfect to Rep My Book:

My 117,00 word young adult novel Fearless is an urban fantasy in the tradition of both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise and Nora Robert’s paranormal offerings.

Like most teenagers, Tasmyn Vaughan doesn’t always agree with her parents. But Tasmyn’s differences are a little more complicated than the average high school kid. She’s struggling to come to terms with her unique ability—she can hear minds—even as she adjusts to life in a new school and the wonder of having her very first boyfriend. Tasmyn’s parents always try to protect her from the possible exploitation of her gifts, and they’re not sure that her new independence is a good idea.

To complicate matters, not everyone is thrilled to welcome Tasmyn to her new home. Nell Massler has been messing with witchcraft under the tutelage of her chemistry teacher, and when that teacher begins to show interest in what powers she suspects Tasmyn possesses, Nell’s jealousy compels her to some radical action—including a blood ritual that might cost Tasmyn and her friends their lives.

Although Fearless can stand alone, the book has series potential, and in fact I have completed the first sequel.

I write for an on-line parenting magazine. My short story Analine’s Pearls was awarded second prize in the 2009 Writers-Editors Network International Writing Competition.

I think at this point, never having to write another QL (I have many more variations than what I've shared here!!) will be reward enough for finally landing an agent and publisher.

But--forward! Onward and upward. Right??

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why We're Here

Okay, people, we're here to get serious. I've blogged for years now, keeping friends and family up to date on my own crew's adventures. But this one is just for me. . .

. . .and maybe for you.

Two and a half years ago, I started writing a book. I've always been a writer, but up until that point, I had mostly completed short stories, non-fic articles on parenting, homeschooling and travel, and homeschool curriculum. Fictional characters always ran around in my head, but they rarely made it onto the page--or if they did, their stories fizzled before they finished.

But this time, there was no fizzle. . .this time I finished the book within five months. And then I started on the first sequel--these characters had a lot more to say and do--and I finished that one. And then I started on the second sequel.

In the meantime, once I finished the first book, I began investigating just how one goes about getting published. And I learned what I think most other unknown, unpublished writers learn: writing is easy. Getting published is hard.

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a book. I can't remember much about the plot or characters, but I do remember that in my youthful innocence, I sent the whole thing off to Harper and Row, the company that published some of my favorite books. A few months later I received a postcard tactfully telling me that the company was not reading unsolicited material at the time. Perhaps that should have been clue number one.

In the two years that I've been pursuing publication, I've learned a few things:

1) A writer needs an agent. There is no hope of being considered by a publishing house without the representation of a knowledgeable agent unless you're one of the blessed few who "knows" someone in publishing or who by some quirk of fate gets her manuscript into the hands of a sweet young intern who then convinces her boss that your story is really something special. . .

2) Finding an agent who will agree to represent you is incredibly hard. There is a process, you see. First, there's the query letter. Ah, how I have come to despise that phrase! But more on that later. If by some amazing twist of fate the agent likes your query letter, she will probably request a partial, which is usually the first fifty pages of your manuscript, and possibly a synopsis (some agents request the synopsis and partial with the query, but most do not). If she likes both of those, she will request the full MS (manuscript). What happens after that? Good question. I think the agent reads the MS and then will either offer representation or decline to do so. But since I haven't gotten to that point, I really can't swear to that.

3) The query letter. . .it's rather like the elusive Holy Grail. Google "query letter examples" and see what you find. One book insisted that QLs must be simple and straightforward business letters. Another claimed that the key was some quirky twist that would immediately capture the eye of the potential agent. Some say you must include word count; others advise against it. Most recommend a paragraph that describes your story. Sounds easy, right? Hey, I just wrote a 120,000 word book; how tough can it be to condense it down to four pithy sentences? Yeah, you try it. I've had so many editions of my query letter that I really don't know anymore which one is most appealing. Maybe it depends on the agent. Maybe I've got a perfect letter, but I haven't sent it to the right agent yet. Maybe.

4) The synopsis is another animal altogether. Here the author is called upon to tell her story--again--this time in several pages. It's not unlike those book reports we all had to do in elementary school.

At this point, I've sent out about 15 queries. Some of these have been via email, and some of them have been through the regular mail. To date, I've received about 12 rejections. . .and I'm not holding my breath on the last three.

But I have to admit something. Up until now, I've been a very part-time submitter. I'm still writing almost full-time, but because the querying is so painful, I haven't been consistent. I'll gird up my loins and sit upstairs for an afternoon, with the huge Writers' Guide to Agents and Editors open on the floor in front of me, tweaking--oh, forever tweaking!--the infamous QL, printing out page after page of synopsis and partial MS. My patient husband prints the address labels for me, and I carefully make sure I follow to the letter the instructions regarding self-addressed stamped envelopes. I head out to the post office with a stack of those ugly manila envelopes and send them on their way.

I remember the first query letters I sent. The first rejections weren't unexpected; after all, everyone knows you've got to have a few of them--pay your dues--before you get the big yes. But still, those initial letters went forth with such hope and trust. Now they creep out rather wearily, with a resigned air of defeat already surrounding them.

So if I barely make time to submit my beloved MS regularly to would-be agents, why am I starting another blog? This is my accountability blog. This is where I am going to faithfully recount my submission attempts and perhaps. . .when God smiles on me and the angels sing, perhaps one day, some good news.

I know there are other writers out there just like me. A ton of them, probably. Maybe more than a ton. I've met some of them on sites that are designed to help and encourage writers. But this isn't a writers' support group. This isn't a submission and critique site (I've got one of those too! Love my ladies on The Writer's Block!!). This is about getting my work--and maybe yours--from the laptop to the bookstore shelf.

Stay tuned.