Archive for April, 2016

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Look at my lovely chains; I have two of them:

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I know – one’s longer than the other.  I can explain that.

Over on my bestest critique website (Critique Circle), one of the writers proposed a writing chain for our WIPs.  The game works like this: starting on a given day (in this case, April 1), anyone who wants to participate must write at least one new sentence on their work-in-progress every day.  For every consecutive day you do this, you get to add one link to your chain.  If you skip a day you have broken your chain, and you must start a new chain the next time you write at least one new sentence.

I haven’t broken my chain, yet.  Thank you very much.

The other chain is something different.  I’m doing this one on my own, but I got the idea for it from the first chain.  Starting on April 5, I have been sending out one new query every day.  In the past I always found the idea of composing a good query a bit daunting.  To do it right, you really want to research the agent, check out their tweets, see if they have a blog and read it, look for any interviews they have been the subject of, and for sure review their page on their agency’s website to see what they are looking for and what they are definitely not looking for.  Plus, you know, what to include in your query letter and how to format it.  Most people send them out in batches of 5 or 10 at a time. I’d only done a couple of dozen total in a year of querying.

But there is this brilliant concept invented by Jessica Sinsheimer (@jsinsheim): Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL).  It started on Twitter as a yearly party where agents would tweet what kinds of books, specifically, they wanted to represent.  But it quickly became very popular began to be updated all day every day.  Fast-forward to the present, and the official Manuscript Wish List website (www.manuscriptwishlist.com) is completely overhauled.  It is a place where agents can now post their entire profile – including their wish list – and it is completely searchable.  It also includes links to each agents official agency website and Twitter profile.

So, given this, I just pop over to the MSWL site on my lunch hour, filter for agents who represent middle grade, and run down the list until I find one looking for what I’ve got to offer.  Then I scroll through their Twitter feed, peruse their submission guidelines, and do a quick search for their blog.  Armed with this quickly-gotten information I can customize my standard query to punch up those aspects of mine and my daughter’s manuscript that match what this particular agent is seeking, then include our bios, a synopsis and/or chapters according to their guidelines. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang, Betty Boop!  One new query sent.

Done this way, a single query is no big deal, and I can produce a new one every day.  See, I’ve done this many:

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I’ve already started getting feedback on these queries, mostly rejections.  So to help keep track of them I created these notations:

Q = Query sent.  P = Agent passed.  R = Agent requested a partial.  F = Agent requested a full.

With this shorthand in place, my query chain actually looks like this:

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I don’t know how long I can actually keep this up.  There are only so many agents on the MSWL site that I like or who are looking for a book like my daughter’s and mine, so eventually I will come to the end.  At that point I will have to start looking elsewhere to find them.

Unless, of course, the inevitable happens and one of these agents offers to sign us.  Hint, hint?

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I imagine people write children’s novels for a lot of different reasons.  The joy their books will bring.  Freedom from the restraints of adult novels.  The chance to write for an unjaded audience.  Money.

Wielding the limitless power of a god, with total control over the laws of the universe and the fates of every single person within it.  Am I right?  Anyone?  I know you’re out there.

The problem with being a serious writer (or a god, I imagine) is when your creations take on independent lives and start to edge down paths of their own choosing, in utter disregard for all of your careful planning and clever machinations. What cheek!  What blasphemy!  But you can rest easy in your lofty perch because you know you can smite them with a gesture, crush them between your mighty fingers and sweep them away like so much detritus.  I’m still talking about writing, here.

It’s painful, sometimes. We all have our favorites, and when they turn against us erasing them can be heartbreaking.  It’s an occupational hazard.  However there occasionally comes a time when you have to stop and take a second look before you unleash your wrath.  Because every once in a while your creations — your characters — will be smarter than you.

I was struggling with a scene in my daughter’s and my second novel, The Last Faerie Godmother.  I kept working at it every day, but no amount of perseverance could move the thing forward.  This happens to everyone now and again, and it often means there is something fundamentally wrong with the scene that your brain can’t see but your heart can feel.  At times like these it’s sometimes helpful to give some slack in your characters’ leashes and see where they run.

This particular scene involved the princess and her best friend spying on the members of her own court, because she suspects there is a conspiracy, or at the very least some secret being kept from her.  And no matter what I did, the thing sat there like a shapeless wet lump of clay.   So I let the characters off of their leashes.

It turns out it’s not polite to spy on your fiends, and the BFF had a serious problem going along with my plan.  And all of a sudden the light breaks through the clouds and angels sing, and the scene feels right again.  Of course, now I have to erase all of my careful planning and clever machinations, and get down in the mud with my creations so I can see where they want to go.

It’s humbling. They don’t talk about this in the god writer’s manual. But sometimes you just have to acknowledge when your characters are smarter than you.

Present,  gift. Close up of female hands holding small gift.

So I entered another writing contest the other day.

This one was on a total spur-of-the-moment whim. In fact I had not even heard of this one, so it is not on my 2016 Pitch Contest Calendar.  I was scrolling through my Twitter feed during my lunch break, and saw a tweet saying that the submission window was open NOW, so I clicked on the link to check it out.

Usually, I get ready for pitch contests well in advance.  I read and re-read the rules and submission guidelines, making sure to catch every one of the little hidden formatting requirements, etc.  Then I make a Word document with my submission in it precisely as I am going to send it, right down to the spacing and font choice and everything (sometimes they specify even these details — and failing to get them right can be an automatic rejection).

But for this contest, obviously, I had not prepared anything at all. And frankly I tend to skip contests altogether if I haven’t properly prepared.  It’s embarrassing and unprofessional (and ultimately fruitless) to rush into these things with a slap-dash entry. So what was I thinking, clicking on the entry form?

This contest was rather unique.  For the first round the judges were going to select the top 50 entries, which would consist of nothing more than the fist sentence of your novel.  That’s it.  You give your name, e-mail address, genre, and the first sentence ONLY.  I could handle this on the fly; you enter via a web form, and I just had to fill in a few fields and hit send.  What was the worst that could happen?

I got a notification yesterday that I had been selected as one of the top 50, and would be moving on to the next round of the contest: the second sentence of my novel.

This made me laugh out loud.  Because the first two sentences of my novel are:

An ogre. Obviously.

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If the judges like a minimalist first sentence, they’re gonna love the next round.

A Little Fun Motivation

Posted: April 6, 2016 in Writing
Tags: ,

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Sometimes you just need to give yourself a gift, because nobody else is going to give you one. I don’t mean flowers or new watch or anything like that.  A free gift — but one that will make you feel better.

I’m talking about a confidence boost. Because when you’re in the middle of writing a novel (even your second novel), you sometimes just  need a pat on the back. A “that-a-boy!” regardless of what you are actually accomplishing. Especially when you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing enough.  All writers go through those “I’m not good enough” days … or months. You know you’ll get past the slump, but while you’re in the middle of one, a little pick-me-up can go a long way.

But does a writer give him or herself to feel better?  I have just the thing.

Pulp-O-Mizer webpage

Meet the Pulp-O-Mizer. This dandy little website, created by Bradley W. Schenk, is a laboratory for creating your own custom pulp magazine cover.  You can writer your own cover text, in a variety of fonts and colors, and place it wherever you want. There are dozens of different backgrounds and characters, to mix and match.  And when you are done, you can save the image — for free.  You can also purchase a high-resolution version or have your custom cover printed on a t-shirt or coffee mug, or even an iPad cover.  Here’s one I made to celebrate embarking on my second novel:

Pulp-O-Mizer Wordsmith 1

I had one made into a poster and mounted it on my office door. I urge you to do the same, and give yourself a little gift. If you do, I’d love it if you’d share your creations with my readers and I, in the comment below.