Archive for October, 2014

Beta

Before I start sending out query letters to those agents I’ve carefully researched, selected and spreadsheeted, I need to get my actual manuscript spiffed up and ready to send out a moment’s notice. Because when those requests for the full manuscript start pouring in I do not want to be caught cramming.

I still have not received all of the Beta Reader responses I am expecting, so I am waiting to make any changes to my story they call for. However one especially thoughtful Beta Reader (Thank you, Sandra!) went waaaaay above and beyond, and actually gave me about 20 pages of grammar and punctuation notes. And I am so very grateful, because I would have had to pay quite a lot of money to a professional editor to do that for me.

However, in my noobie brilliance, I provided my manuscript to my Beta Readers in a non-standard format so that it would be a) easier to read, and b) take way fewer pages to print it out. Then I slapped on a placeholder cover, some questions for my Betas and a table of contents, and converted the whole thing to a PDF for easy distribution. The thing is, all of Sandra’s beautiful notes are page-specific – that is page specific to the PDF. So it is much easier for me to make those corrections before I convert it to proper manuscript format, and completely change all of the page numbers forever.

But what, precisely, is “proper manuscript format”? Opinions vary. And that concerns me, because it shouldn’t be based on an opinion. I think it stems from the very real fact that different agents and publishers have different standards, or at least offer different definitions. After a lot of researching I have finally settled on the following definition (reprinted from The Editor’s Blog; theeditorsblog.net):

 

font:  Twelve point, Times New Roman (or Courier New, if you insist), black

margins:  One-inch marginson all four sides

indent:  Half-inch paragraph indentations (this tab is pre-set in MS Word) for the first line of each paragraph (even the first paragraph of a chapter)

space:  Double space; no extra line spaces between paragraphs

align:  Align left (not justified). The right edges will not be uniform or even.

page numbering:  Number pages beginning with the actual story (don’t count or put page numbers on the title page)

scene breaks:  Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the number sign # in the center of the line

page header:  Include your last name, your title (or keywords from the title), and the page number in the page header of every page except for the title page. Align the header to the right, so the information doesn’t interfere with the text of the manuscript. (Jones/Taming the Monster/1)

chapters:  Begin chapters on new pages (insert a page break or format using styles). Center the chapter title, even if it’s only Chapter One (or Chapter 1), about 1/3 of the way down the page. Skip a couple of spaces and begin the text of the chapter.

end:  Center a number sign # on an otherwise blank line one double-spaced line down from the final line of text of the final chapter or epilogue at the end of the manuscript. Or simply write The End. You want agents and editors to know they’ve reached the end.

italics:  Use italics for italicized words. (A former practice was to underline to show italicized words, but that’s no longer necessary unless an agent or publisher requests underlining.)

character spacing:  Use a single character space only, not two spaces, between sentences. If you forget this one, nobody’s going to turn down your manuscript because of it. It’s just a good habit to get into, especially for those of us who learned on typewriters and always added two spaces between sentences.

Include a title page—

contact info:  Aligned left and single spaced, near the top of the page, include contact information: Your real/legal name, address, phone number, e-mail address. Follow with the word count. Alternatively, you can set word count apart by listing it at the top of the right side of the title page.

title and author:  About 1/2 the way down the page, centered, enter the full manuscript title (all caps or mixed caps); on the next double-spaced line, type byor a novel by or a story by; on the next double-spaced line, add your pen name or your real name plus your pen name—Alexis Chesterfield writing as Billie Thomas

agent:  If you have an agent, include the agent’s contact name and information beneath your name (yes, skip a line)

page header:  Header information is not included on the title page. The title page is not included in page numbering.

sub-genre:  For some genres, including romance and sci-fi, you can include the sub-genre, such as suspense or Regency. Include this information either above or below the word count.

So this means I’m going to have to remove a lot of spaces, both character spaces and line spaces. I lay out magazines professionally for a living, and so I am formatting text for easy reading in a printed publication, often according to the particular style of the given publication. These are trade publications, with articles that are usually only of interest to members of a certain field or niche, such as defense lawyers, or dry cleaners, or ambulance drivers. To anyone else, in-depth articles about the fine points of new law, for example, would be quite dry. Sometimes these articles are very long a wordy. To make these long articles more readable, I always use two spaces between sentences and an extra space between every paragraph. And don’t indent paragraphs, since they are already visually separated. This is pretty standard for many magazines.

When I wrote my novel and prepared the manuscript for my Beta Readers, I naturally used these same methods. Now I’m going to have to find and remove all of the extra spaces and add indents. I’m hoping I can accomplish most of this using Find and Replace.

Now, I just have to finish fixing all of the mistakes Sandra pointed out. Then it’s off to Proper Manuscript Format Land!

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As I get closer to sending out queries to agents, I have begun to collect the names of the agents I think may be a good fit. Up
To now I have been simply saving them to Pocket, a nifty website that lets you maintain a collection of favorite websites (or blog posts or news articles or anything, really, with a web address), which you can organize by categories and tag with keywords for a later search.

But then I read Kyra Nelson’s blog on organizing your agent search, and I am taking her advice. Thanks, Kyra!

Captain (Query) Hook

If you write YA, and I know a lot of you do, I highly recommend following the YA WordNerds channel on YouTube. They are an incredibly talented group of people with some great insights. They’re also super nice and friendly. One time they were nice enough to let me vlog for them.

Today I’m linking you to a video of their’s that I think is of particular interest. It’s all about researching and organizing your agent hunt.

I actually have my own spreadsheet, and I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have one place I can go to where I can compare all the different agents I’m considering. Because as it turns out there are a lot of agents out there. I’m particularly fond of having a spreadsheet column devoted to things I like about the agent and a column devoted to things I don’t like.

Like Meghan says, once…

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So, now I know you’re not supposed to include the entire synopsis in your initial query letter.  It was still a valuable exercise writing it; I may need it later.  My understanding of the Mysterious Query Letter has grown slightly, however.  I now understand that the point is, literally, to answer the question, “Why would I want to read your book?”

They say the first 100 words of your book is “the hook.”  If so, then the query letter is the bait.

So here I am with revision #1 of the query letter for The Last Princess.  Comments welcome.

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you because I read you are seeking middle grade fantasy novels with strong female characters [or other appropriate specifics].

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier wishes her world was just a bit more like her favorite books. But life as a homeschooler has depressingly few faeries or castles. And her mom has made it abundantly clear: if Cat gets caught daydreaming one more time there will be Consequences.

But Cat has a secret. She sees elves and goblins among people the way her friends see elephants and pirate ships among the clouds. Mrs. Dalyrimple, the strange old lady at the craft fair, says that’s because the fae were real, and Cat can see their descendants because she’s one of them. Oh yeah, and since Cat has this fae-dar she could become the last Princess of the Fae. All she has to do is learn everything there is to know about the fae-born hiding among us and win their hearts before another, more sinister candidate beats her to it. Or worse, before her mother finds out.

The Last Princess is a funny, adventurous quest story full of lively multi-cultural characters and tough choices. Complete at 65,000 words, The Last Princess is the beginning of a five-book series or a stand-alone book, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm.

Thank you for your consideration.

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In the Bizzaro world of novel writing, the query letter is like the first of a series of steps to selling your novel by degrees.

Yeah, it confuses us, too.

Like with food, there’s the sample in that little paper cup. But what you don’t realize is that before you get to the sample there are a few smaller steps. Before you pick up the sample, something has to catch your attention, like a smell, or a friendly salesperson holding out the paper cup, or an eye-catching box.

But before that you have to be a little hungry, and the food being offered has to be something you’d actually ever eat. As opposed to, say, a bit of salami if you’re a vegetarian. And you have to have room in your budget to buy the product.

But before that, you have to be out at the store, doing some shopping in the first place.

Before you can sell a manuscript, you have to locate a publisher in the market for a book in the style and genre of your manuscript, or an agent willing to help you sell a book in the style and genre of your manuscript. But before they’ll buy it, they have to read it. But before they’ll read it, they’ll want to read a sample.

But before they’ll request a sample they’ll need to be sold on the idea of your manuscript.

That’s the query letter. You have to convince a complete stranger – who didn’t ask you – to be interested enough in your idea to request a sample. How you do that appears to have a wide variety of “solutions.” I read several of these and a number of successful examples, and thought I understood that you’re supposed to include a brief synopsis of your book. And so I wrote one. Not just a synopsis, but an engaging example of my style that will make the trader beg me for more.

Only now that I’ve done it, I don’t think I’m supposed to do that at all. I think I’m supposed to tease with just the character, conflict and stakes. So I’ve clearly got too much.

Which is why I’m posting it here and not sending it off the prospective agents or publishers. Here, then, is my first (failed) attempt at a query letter:

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you because I read you are seeking middle grade fantasy novels with strong female characters [or other appropriate specifics].

Twelve-year-old Cat Brökkenwier wishes her world was just a bit more like her favorite books. But life as a homeschooler has depressingly few faeries or castles. With her tameless hair and her dad’s nose she’s hardly princess material, anyway. Besides, Mom is completely over the whole fairytale thing. If Cat gets caught daydreaming one more time there will be Consequences.

But Cat can see elves and gnomes and goblins among people the way her friends see elephants and pirate ships among the clouds. Mrs. Dalyrimple, the strange old lady at the craft fair, says that’s because the fae were real, and Cat can see their descendants because she’s one of them. Oh yeah, and since Cat has this fae-dar she might be the last Princess of the Fae. All she has to do is learn everything there is to know about the fae-born hiding among us and become besties with that creepy old ogre-born who lives across the street.

Without her mother finding out.

When a pair of goth teenage dark elves threaten Cat with a knife, it stops being a quest and becomes a mission. Enter Bone-Breaker the Goblin, a changeling boy who can control the mind of anyone he touches. He’s using his power to build an army so he can enslave the humans and become the Prince of the Fae. And Cat’s in his way.

Cat doesn’t have an army. She doesn’t even know what kind of fae she is. Then when her dad returns home from abroad all of the pieces fall into place and she realizes the terrible truth. She’s a troll. Clumsy and friendless, and definitely not princess material. But Bone-Breaker has taken a hostage.

Finding strength in her new identity, Cat confronts the prince with a trick up her sleeve – trolls are immune to magic. But when he touches her she discovers her mistake too late. The changeling’s charm overwhelms her, until she hears the shouts of encouragement from all of the fae-born she’s met and befriended on her quest, who’ve come to cheer her on. Including her mom.

Cat punches the goblin, breaking his nose and his spell. His army abandons him and the fae-born choose Cat as their princess. And Mom confesses the truth and her secret past.

Cat’s mom was born a wood nymph 500 years ago. She had been the last Princess of the Fae, but abandoned the crown when war with the dark fae nearly took her life. She grew lonely when her people dwindled until finally she used a wish to become human herself. And she vowed to shield her daughter from the dangerous world of the fae. But Cat’s heart and guile convince Mom to support her, and together they embrace Cat’s very different, new life.

The Last Princess is a funny, adventurous quest story full of lively multi-cultural characters and hard choices. Complete at 65,000 words, The Last Princess is the beginning of a five-book series or a stand-alone book, and will appeal to fans of Emily Windsnap or The Sisters Grimm.

Thank you for your consideration.

Love Thy Brother®

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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This post will be a bit of a departure for me. Those of you who are regular readers or who have popped in once or twice to see what I have to say will know that I usually talk about my middle grade novel. Sometimes I talk about the process.

This is one of those. Kinda, sorta.

A few months back I confessed to my addiction to my iPhone and how I use it for everything, particularly with regard to my writing. Well, over the weekend I just enabled myself. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

As it is, between my iPhone, my wireless keyboard and my Dropbox account, I can write just about anywhere and anywhen. I even write my blog on my iPhone, and find and download the illustrations, too. As for research, I use a combination of ebooks, Wikipedia, good old-fashioned web searches, which I save very conveniently and tag using Pocket or Evernote. Right now I’m reading The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. In iBooks I can highlight the passages I want to remember (in multiple colors) and make notes, which I can search through later. Is it any wonder I never want to put my iPhone down or leave home without it? Oh, and there’s games.

Am I bragging? Yes, I am.

But the one dark spot in all of this technological glory has been the fact that I could not easily print from my phone.

“Aha!” I hear you cry.

Okay, first of all, calm down.

Second, I’ve filled that void. And for only $100.

Meet my Brother®.

Brother_HL-2270DW_Compact_Printer

Our eight-year-old inkjet printer finally expired peacefully in its sleep, last week. So I drove down to my local office supply store and picked up this brilliant little laser printer. He prints at 1200 dpi. He prints on both sides of the page, so we save paper. He’s completely wireless, so no more standing in the corner holding our laptops at the end of the USB cable to print anything. And for $32 I get toner that will print 1,200 sheets. The inkjet cost me $65 for all the colors and I got a couple of hundred sheets if I was lucky.*

And I can print straight from my iPhone. Which, to be honest, it completely cool. It even reformats everything to the proper paper size without me having to do anything. This will come so in handy the next time I need to print off a Groupon. Or an e-mail attachment.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have stuff to print.


*Sorry if I sound like a commercial. I’ve been watching a lot of Top Gear, lately (on my iPhone), so this kind of running specs list is coming very naturally. Imagine I’m writing this with an English accent.