A Super Secret Guide to Finishing Your Damn Book: Part Four…

Okay, look. I realize that I’m a couple of days late. I could go into the messy details of powder room renovations, balcony patio refreshes, banister painting and contractor calling that has overtaken my life in the last two days but I don’t want to waste the precious time we have, gentle writer. So. here I am, as my grandfather used to say, a day late and a dollar short (several dollars short, blown away at Lowe’s mostly on fifteen different paint samples of varying shades of gray–not the bondage kind, just the regular old, actual shades of gray kind). But here, nonetheless, is a final bit of information I think you should have.

If you’ve gotten through all of my previous blogs on the matter, first of all: Kudos to you, Kid! You’ve put up with a lot of tenth-grade-level writing, inappropriate swearing, probably some sort of weird butter sculpture or Robert Downey Jr. memes, and cut through all of that to, hopefully, gain some inspiration and insight into finishing your book.

So let’s say, for argument’s sake, you followed all the handy tips and tricks. Let’s say you’ve taken the time, effort and guts it needed to type those final words and sit back in front of a finished novel. You’ve let other’s read it, you’ve taken suggestion and time to fix it. Now, here you are.

You big stud. You big amazing pile of human visceral awesomeness. You should take a night off. Go have a drink, or a movie, or a hot bath, or a cat-o-nine-tails whipping. Whatever you like to do to celebrate.

Then, come back to your work space…and write a query letter.

Gulp…a…a…what? A what kind of letter? Qu—Qu—Query?

Yep. You heard me.

At some point along your journey you’ve wondered what it would be like to see your book, your blood, and sweat, and sleepless nights up on a bookshelf. Something hold-able.

Maybe some of you want to leave behind something beautiful, and tangible, and real, before you shuffle off your mortal coil. Some part of you wants to share your story, or you would have never come this far.

Getting an agent is one of the best ways to get your book shared on a large scale. But you don’t just get one (unless you’re fucking fabulous and have the superpower of Luck…)

Domino-in-Deadpool-2
Obscure nerd-worthy image of Domino.

You have to catch them (not like kidnapping–please don’t let your takeaway from this be an agent abduction). You have to entice agents, capture their attention and interest, and to do that, you’re going to need a rockin’ query letter.

Make sure to research what a good query letter looks like. Here, it’s Friday and I feel bad for being late so I did some of the hard work for you.

Agent Query

Writer’s Digest Query Letter Perfection

Jane Friedman’s guide to query letters

There are some key elements that you should in mind.

  1. Address the agent by name and do your research. Know who you are querying. Know what they’re asking for. Don’t send your erotic space opera to a Christian YA publisher.
  2. Keep it short, but snappy. After the greeting, jump into the most intriguing aspect of your story. “Victoria Sullivan threw herself out of a moving car to escape her husband. How far will she go to start over?” A query letter starts like a movie preview and it has to make an impression.
  3. Keep it under a page. Three to four paragraphs, with three to four lines each and don’t indent them.
    1. First paragraph is your greeting, brief, personal but professional
    2. Second paragraph is your project summary: Title, genre, word count, comps (which style or writer can your book be compared to).
    3. Third paragraph is your PITCH, remember this is the movie tag line, the “Sell Copy” not the “Show Copy”
    4. Fourth paragraph is your bio and credentials.
  4. Write a bio that shows you are committed to your craft. I don’t care if you’ve been published sixty times or zero. Write about your passion, any successes you’ve had, and the work you’ve done that relates to your book. Agents love new, undiscovered talent, so don’t shy away if your accolade list is short.
  5. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS follow submission guidelines, including correct genre, correct word count, and appropriate agent for your specific project. These poor agents (yeah, I just gave a sympathetic nod to them–little secret, they’re actually human too…with feelings and families and all that beautiful stuff you’ve got filling your life) slog through a lot of queries a day. It behooves them to weed out any that haven’t followed the rules right off the bat. Don’t waste their time; submit in the form, length, and manner they request.

That’s the cut and dry of it.

I will add this; if you have met an agent at a conference or workshop, mention it. Try to remember something specific about them (not creepy-stalker specific “I really appreciate how thoroughly you brush your teeth in the morning, and are those new panties?” is too personal). Try something innocuous and personal; “I enjoyed exchanging stories about our Jack Russell terriers.” or “I enjoyed meeting you at the Erotic Space Opera Conference and talking over our mutual obsession with Jean-Luc Picard.”

Well kiddies, I think we can wrap up this little project on finishing your work in progress. I’m not saying there isn’t more (so, so much more) about writing and publishing to learn. But I’ve got limited time and it’s Friday; I’m sure ya’ll got more fun things to get to.

Write that query letter. Find yourself an agent (go local and small, independent and new agencies are more open to building their own portfolios) and offer them a chance to be a part of your journey. Until next week, when I PROMISE to be on time, write on.

picard
Make this query letter so…

A Super Secret Guide to Finishing Your Damn Book. Part Three: The Down and Dirty of Feeding Your Creation to The Wolves of the World.

Hello, gentle writer. I suppose it goes without saying that after you’ve written your book and streamlined it into a gleaming beacon of fine-as-hell storytelling, you could easily stop reading this blog. You may even wish you could. But there is one more thing I’m going to need you to do…

Resist the urge to tuck that book safely away in a drawer.

Unless of course, all you want for your book is for it to sit on the dusty shelves of your den and no other eyes need apply. That’s cool.

We probably didn’t want to read it anyway, right? Your story? The shining soul child of your imagination and hard work? The obsession that’s kept you awake at night and in the zombie zone of blank-eyed stares over your cornflakes, morning after morning while your brain builds the magnificent steel girdle of plot and your vibrant right hemisphere stretches the skin of detail and beauty across the iron bones to make something quite unique and amazing. Nah…We don’t want to see that. Who would?

Were you able to pick up on that sarcasm? It’s tricky in Cambria 12 font to really capture the essence of my meaning. Here, allow me be to be perfectly direct.

Show me your work! (Channeling Cuba Gooding Jr.—“Show me the Story!”)

It’s quite possibly the hardest thing you’ll ever do (besides killing your darlings? Why yes, even harder than that!) Being a writer is a parade of progressively harder choices and leaps of faith…but then again, so is life… hang on to your self-help hats here, she’s getting deep.

Yeah, it is scary. Because we’ve learned well by this point in our lives that when we put so much love and heart into our work it’s gut-wrenching to hand it over to someone who can’t possibly understand the grit and soul we put into it. They might misinterpret. They might not ‘get’ it. They might declare us wrong, or awful, or in desperate need to change our dreams.

Nobody wants to face that possibility. You are not alone in this fear. And let’s face facts; there are jerks out there. Legit, bonafide A-holes. Those that are quick to cut down creative efforts (especially when they get to hide behind the curtain of anonymity in some trolling-Wizard-of-Oz’s mother’s basement.) They LOVE to give a good criticism, because of their own fears of failure and are stung by the twinge of jealousy when someone else is bold and brave enough to create and share.

It’s a sad state of affairs but your work can become fresh meat for the slathering-mouthed, teeth-gnashers of the world.Wolf / Gray Wolf / Timber Wolf - eating White-tailed deer prey

You Are Not Alone. You aren’t the first they’ll try to tear down, and you certainly won’t be the last.

Do it anyway.

Why? Why torture yourself? Because, there are good people out there. People who love stories and story-tellers. People who understand it’s a process and that when you come to them with open pages and hearts that they are taking on a mantle of trust. Trust that they will be kind, but honest. That they will work WITH you to make the story better. They will point out things you’ve been too close to see. They will point out things they think could use clarification. They will show you the loosened bolts and torn canvas so you can repair your creation. They will point out the beauty, the grace, the delicate details that gave them shivers or tears and it will embolden your spirit to fight for your creature.

Sharing your book is a monumentally important part of finishing your book. It will teach you what you didn’t know about your writing. It will teach you what works, and what needs work.

My challenge to you, frightened artist cowering over your pages like a hunched Gollum in the dark defending a scarred band of metal, is to offer up your precious. The beauty and the joy of creating are in the sharing.

gollum

I’ve had my cut of criticisms, hard and dirty. Mean. Some of them made me wonder if the person had even read my writing or just made assumptions based on my genre and lack of MFA gilding. I’ve wanted to take match and tinder to 8 years worth of my life on the front lawn while screaming profanities in the general direction of certain publishing houses. But I didn’t. I cooled down and let myself say these words to my disgruntled brain.

bookburning

“What are they seeing? What is slowing my writing/impairing my message? What can I change while still being true to my work?”

Opening the wound is to lay your ego out on the ground beside your creature and do the work that needs to be done. This is not an actual child. It’s an idea. And all good ideas can always get better.

Find a group of friends. Start there. Start with those that love you. Move up to those that think you’re decent enough, but aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. Give it to a few discerning hard-asses. Each step along the way, refining and tweaking, without giving up your voice or the elements that make your writing yours. No one can take that, nor should you let them.

So that’s it. The third and nearly final part of this series. Next week I’ll wrap it all up with a handy and bulleted (we all know you love the bullet lists) list of how to query your work to someone who can serve as a gateway into the realm of publishing.

Good luck, kiddo. And if all else fails and you don’t know where to turn with your work, send it to me or another writer you trust. Nobody knows the soul struggle better than your own kind.

A Super Secret Guide to Finishing Your Damn Book. Part Deux: Seeing The Bigger Picture

Bonjour!

I’m so glad you decided to come back.

How was last week?

Did you separate the amoebic tendrils of your technological parasites long enough to remember how to write, free-style? Did you get hand cramps? Keep it up, before you know it, you’ll be cleaning and jerking 7,000 words a week, vocabularian veins popping out all over the place.

For this week we’re going to zoom ahead to the future; to the cumulation of all your writing efforts and the massive chunk of story sitting in front of you. All of those beautiful words you’ve poured into a pile are just waiting for the dexterous hand of a good story teller.

Your rough draft is like a thousand pound hunk of stone. If you want to get all “Americana” on it, you could even say its akin to a 100 pound ‘pat’ of butter. Yeah, let’s go with butter.

The rough material has potential. Your story has energy and power. But if you were to send in a stick of butter to the Iowa State Fair judging committee, they’d probably to one of three things: write you a scathing review for wasting their time; send it back and write a scathing review for wasting their time; or batter it, deep fat fry it, and send their thanks for the mid-morning snack.

jabba butter
Jabba the Butt(er). No? Come on. You have no idea how many hours I spent looking at butter sculpture.

Your book, your words, your ideas deserve better. If you loved it enough to write it, then love it enough to shape it into the best it can be. And by that I mean…learn to edit your work properly. This week’s true secret to finishing your damn book is something you won’t hear from a lot of writers and here it is:

Being a great writer is 20% writing. and 267% editing. Shut up, I’m not good a public math. Seriously though, when you get your ass in that chair and throw all the good and bad down, and your mind learns to work in the space and time you give it to create, you can really accumulate a massive amount in a short period of time. But the art of writing, the finesse, the je ne sais quoi, if you will, lies in the ability to edit that beautiful mess into a story that captivates.

Que voulez-vous dire?

How does this magic happen, you might ask? If you’ve been around in the writing game for any amount of time, you’ve had the old adage banged into your skull over and over “Kill your darlings, Kill your darlings…” Yes…yes Maestro Faulkner, whatever you ask!

What does that really mean? Well–*le sigh*–it means you as a dreamer, a wordsmith, a lover of story and character…you, creator…must become a destroyer. A hard, eagle-eyed machine; disconnected from the rapport you’ve built over the years with your characters. You must let go of the personal angst, pain, and joy you’ve brought into the world enough to see its true potential. You have to take that beautiful hunk of marble (or butter) and break the rough and useless parts away to reveal the true work of art beneath.

buttered saddled cock
Yep…that’s a giant butter cock with a saddle. You. Are. Welcome. (By the way, ‘giant butter cock’ is now trademarked. By me.)

Oh, Mon Dieu!  (which literally translates to OMD—OMD Becky, regarde ses derrière!)

The practice of “Killing your Darlings” is meant to make you understand that editing is hard. That letting go of the phrases and pieces of your novel that you love, when they are distractions to the story and its flow, can be the best thing you do. Cut. Cut deep. Cut the subconscious catch phrases and passivity. Give your readers a stronger character by making them the center of the action; by putting the reader in their shoes. Stop telling us everything. Cull the useless, the distracting, the stuffy, the monologues and head hopping. Give us the moonlight glinting off of window panes.

Take that lump and make it into something where details pull double-duty and every word counts. Line by line, strike out that which does not serve purpose or cause emotion to rise in the chest. Because even the most indescript lump of butter can turn into something quite magnificent when given the time and attention it deserves.

angelic butter
Sweet, Angelic Milk Fat.

Next week…after all of you hoodlums have taken a hard look at your work and gutted it to buttery perfection, we’ll take a look at what you can do next to get that silky minx out into the world.

Until then, keep writing. Drop me a line. Tell me how you’re doing.

Does anyone really want a giant baguette right now?