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 Work In Progress. Part 1: Technology vs. Creativity

Hey there, writer? Whatcha doin’? Surfing the Internet? Caught up in some devilishly clever blog post that has promised to give you the secrets of the craft in one easy-to-read, bulleted list with some fancy-schmancy graphics?

 

I see you.

 

I’m glad you’re here, actually, I DO have some important advice in this my first lesson on finishing your work in progress.

 

Get off the Internet and back to your writing, you filthy animal.

 

Ok…wait! Not right now…just hear me out. I promise, I’ll be brief (500 words or so…Look! Only 420 left! 418…)

 

Fewer things deter the creative process like the multi-faceted distractions we face in our interconnected world. The phone, social media, the addictive thumbs-up ‘likes’ and sympathetic sobbing emojis. Constant information streams into our overworked, underfed brains; the lies, the truth, the barrage of sight and sound that, when boiled down, amounts to so much nothing. So much noise.

So shut it down.

That’s it.

That’s all. Part 1, in a neat little nutshell. Expand? Ok, but only because you asked…

Do you want to write more? Then disconnect. Grab a pen and paper and sit your ass on a park bench or in a coffee shop with your phone and laptop “conveniently” left at home.Stop Wasting Time

 

“But…but I can’t just write! I won’t be able to spell check or word count (320 left) or research the typical milk production of a Nubian goat in April!”

 

First of all, my little perfectionist, rough drafts don’t need to be spell checked the moment words hit paper (shocking, right?)

 

Secondly, one page of average handwriting has about 250 words give or take. You’re welcome.

 

Third (ly?), you sound like someone who could use my patented “Blah Blah” technique to avoid distraction in the middle of your writing flow.

Not familiar? Well, don’t search it on line (Jesus, haven’t you been listening to me?) It’s a secret I share with only my closest creative misfits, lucky you.

When you don’t know a factual detail of some part of your scene, insert the words “Blah Blah” into the space and move on.

Image result for images eye roll

 

Did you—did you just roll your eyes at me?  Watch it…I will mom voice you so hard…

Observe:

“Victoria knew that the Nubians would produce at least blah blah of milk next month, giving her blah blah bars of homemade soap to sell.”

It also works if I’ve forgotten a secondary character’s name but know that scrolling back to find it will dry up the good stuff that’s pouring out:

“ ‘You’re a handful,’ Mr. Blah Blah said and scowled over the drag pole fence.”

Don’t fiddle with your flow. Let the unnecessary lay in wait and avoid the pitfall of jumping on the Internet to do some ‘quick research’ which will curtail your thought process and take you away from your work (16 hours of baby-goats-in-pajamas-videos later and I’ve forgotten evil exists in the world. Good for sleep, bad for fleshing out antagonists.)

When the creative dust has settled into a beautiful, uninhibited outpouring of ingenuity go back and find your ‘blah blahs’ (they stick out like sore typos, especially being ‘repeat’ words) and you can designate a specific, allotted time to research and check them.

 

There it is.

But in my forty or so words left, I should give you at least one bullet (I believe I promised it somewhere up there.)

  • More than just in your writing, consider disconnecting in your life. Be present in the world around you, not face down in a screen. Your writing will be better. Your life will be better. Power down for at least an hour a day. No phone, no television, no laptop, no screen. Live through your eyes, your ears… all those messy, beautiful human senses your mother worked so hard to make for nine months. Notice the vibrancy of color in nature, the way wind feels against your cheek. Listen to your own breath. Taste your food. Powerful writing comes from living with powerful intention.

 

Ok, now you can leave me. I apologize for surpassing the mark. What can I say? I didn’t want to mess with my flow.

Go work on your book. Your poem…your passion. Come back and let me know how it’s going.

I’m signing off for the day, but I’ll get back to you when my creative dust settles.