Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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Look, I’m aware that I’m approaching “elderly” status. I’m 52, and my favorite music is 1940’s big band swing. I get it it; I’m not the most modern of fellows.

Despite this glaring fact, I still feel I am pretty liberal with regards to my writing style. I start sentences – nay, paragraphs – with “and.” I use slang. I just finished a novel written from the POV of a 12-year-old, complete with contemporary girl-speak and everything. I’m by no means a stodgy grammarian who blanches every time someone forgets an Oxford comma.

But I do have a limit.

I hate how much our language – both spoken and written – has degraded to the lowest common denominator. There was a time when people wrote letters and cultivated a mastery of the English language. You see glimpses of it in historical dramas like Downton Abbey. Schools taught children to write well. This is no longer the case.

I read a rant today from a fellow writer, complaining how she had been reprimanded by her writing professor for offering respectful critiques of two of her peer’s work – the kind of friendly constructive criticism every serious writer embraces in order to grow as a writer. According to the professor’s methods, critiquing is prohibited and nobody is allowed to point out issues in a fellow student’s work to let them know what they should polish. Only positive feedback is permitted: “I like this because…” or “this flows nicely…” No feedback of any substance, nothing a writer could use to improve.

The professor is teaching that if you show your writing to others you’ll be rewarded with compliments. This is the same ethic that removes competition and “winning” from team sports, because losing will crush children’s fragile egos. That way they will be totally prepared when they go out into the real world and everything goes their way, like it does.

What do you get when you don’t teach the difference between good writing and bad writing? Or even speaking? Former Major League Baseball player Oscar Gamble is famous for dropping this gem during an interview a few years ago: “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do.”

Then there’s texting. I still like to write in complete sentences when I compose an e-mail or even a text. I realize I’m wildly out of fashion. I’m old, remember? But I truly believe the shortcuts people use in texts have completely overtaken writing and speech.

See, simply substituting letters for whole words (“CU” for “see you” or “LOL” for “laughing out loud”) wasn’t enough. Someone had to invent a whole group of little symbols (they’re called emojis); hearts and smily faces and hand gestures. So rather than take the enormous amount of time out of your day to actually spell out “I love you,” people can now show their devotion by texting just three characters: I (heart symbol) U. Because finding the little heart is so much quicker and more efficient than typing in four letters.  And it really shows you care.

The other day somebody whom I respect as a writer posted a comment in a writing forum which set my teeth on edge: “I heart you.”

There isn’t an emoji for a heart available on this forum (or in most e-mails, etc.), so people are now spelling out “heart” as a substitute for the symbol.

What?  So now a five-letter word is being used as an abbreviation for a four-letter word?

I get that this person was being cute and stylistic, but this is not the first time I’ve seen this, and every time I do it makes me think the writer is just ignorant. So I asked, is this a thing, now?

Yes. Apparently this is a thing, now. Because reasons. Language evolves and I should just roll with it, even embrace it. But this wasn’t explained to me in English, precisely. The exact response was:

I heart linguistic evolution, and find this particular trend to be totes adorbs.

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Where’s Duke Ellington when you need him?

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Two weeks ago I wrote here about the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.  Two days ago my blog was reposted on the popular writing site, Critique Circle, that I wrote about here one week ago.  The post generated quite a lot of discussion, with strong opinions on both sides, including first-hand experience of both types of publishing.

One strong argument in favor of self-publishing included a link to Hugh Howey’s recent post, The Glut Is Good. Howey argues that there is nothing to fear from the presumed over-abundance of cheap e-books flooding the market.  Rather, he proposes, it is actually good for the market, because there are fae more choices available and afordable to the average reader.  This is, in turn, good for the market in general, because more readers means more future sales.

Howey makes a good point.  His assertion that there has never been a better time in history for literature may be correct.  The rise in popularity and quantity of digital titles certainly makes reading and aquiring books accessible and convenient to many more readers than ever before.

But that doesn’t mean you must want to provide those 99 cent e-books. I know I certainly don’t.

Others argue that this glut of cheap digital books means the print book market is dead or dying. There has certainly been a decline is printed book sales since 2010 when the digital market exploded (and incidentally Borders went out of business).  Digital books are on the rise with no sign of stopping, so traditional printed books must be on the decline.

Well, despite the dire predictions it appears the trend is reversing itself.  Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly just reported the numbers for 2014 in For Books, Print Is Back.  And the numbers are encouraging.

Almost across the board, sales of printed books rose over 2013 for those outlets reporting.  Children’s books, in particular, had impressive growth last year.  Board books alone rose over 17%.  Hardcover and trade paperback books saw increased sales, too.  Read Milliot’s analysis — it is encouraging and has charts.   Howey didn’t have charts….

So for those of you still weighing your options, look to the future of print and don’t fear the glut.

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There is a survey posted today on the front page of one of my favorite writerly websites:

You’ve decided to write your first novel. What’s the single best way to learn how to do it?

o Take a class.
o Join a writers group. Get some advice.
o Read a good book on how to write a novel.
o Just write! Tell your story as you think it should be told.
o Read some great novels, from a wrier’s point of view.

I’ve actually done every one of these things. And each of them has made me a better writer. I would recommend any of these as a way for a novice writer to improve his or her craft. Or all of them. But one in particular stands out in my experience as absolutely necessary.

Join a writers group. Get some advice.

All of the rest – even taking a class – are fairly solitary endeavors. And what you need to be a successful writer (besides good ideas, devotion to craft, commitment, and a better-than-basic grasp of your language of choice) is feedback from other writers. All of the theory in the world will only get you so far. You need people to actually read what you’ve written and tell whether it is working. It’s all well and good knowing you aught to have a hook at the beginning of chapter one, but it isn’t as if there is a list of them somewhere you can choose from. You have to craft it. And once you’ve done it, how do you know if it is any good? Just because you think so? You’re the novice, remember?

To quote Nanny Ogg, “There’s many a slip twixt dress and drawers.”

So it will serve you well to surround yourself with fellow writers, hopefully writers engaged in the kind of writing you yourself are pursuing – young adult, historical romance, science fiction, whatever. Otherwise they may not represent your target audience, and may not be able to render useful advice about whether or not your vampires are scary or if Penelope’s bosom is heaving properly. Plus the structure of meeting weekly or bi-weekly provides a tremendous motivation to produce pages of story, which is often hard to muster when one is only writing for one’s self.

There’s an even better reason to find a group of like-minded writers, a reason most novice writers fail utterly to grasp: the real value in the critiquing process comes from giving critiques. There are a number of reasons for this. Writers often reject sound advice if it means tossing out their favorite lines, ideas or characters. Critique groups are fallible; you may get conflicting advice, or your readers may simply not “get” what you are trying to convey in your story (although if they do not, that is in itself often a problem). But when you read the work of other aspiring writers and identify the problems – or triumphs – you begin to see what is working and not working with your own writing.

So where does one find such a group, I hear you cry. Fear not; there are thousands of local writers groups of every genre and experience level looking for new members. Professional writers associations, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, will even help you form one if you can’t find one to your liking.

But, really, it’s even easier than that. You’re already on the Internet; just click here. This will take you to that writerly website I mentioned earlier, the one with the survey. The site is call the Critique Circle, and it has been around for over ten years and has over 3,000 members. The site is designed specifically for writers to submit their work for peer review, in categories ranging from children’s to romance and fantasy to horror. And the critique process works well because it is based on a point system – in order to submit your own work you need to earn points by critiquing the stories of others. People are polite, helpful, and for the most part able to render meaningful advice (in my experience). Plus there are dozens of writer forums where you can discuss your genre, your story, your premise, or your characters. You can ask questions in the research forums, and somebody is bound to know something useful. Many of the members are published authors, from all over the world. The site also contains a whole boatload of useful tools for helping your story along: a name generator, writing exercises, a word meter for tracking your progress, a submission tracker, and many more.

I personally filtered my entire novel through this site, to my very great benefit. I can say with complete clarity that the advice I received consistently improved my chapters and my story, and my finished manuscript would not be nearly as good had I worked on it alone.

Oh, and it’s free. And anonymous, if you want.

So if you’re serious about writing, particularly about writing a novel, find a critique group and dive in. The sooner the better. You have nothing to lose but poor writing.

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Let me state two things up front: I have not published a book myself (although I am poised to do so), and I have definite opinions about which route is the best fit for me. So that may color my analysis. You have been warned.

For certain both ways of getting your book to the public have definite advantages:

Self-Publishing
• Author Control – when you self-publish you retain control of practically everything, from contents and editing to format, cover design and marketing.
• Speed of Publication – If you are going strictly e-book, you can have your book on Barnes & Noble or Amazon in mere weeks. If you go through a print service, you can have hard copies in several months. Whereas, through traditional publishing it may be as long as two years before your book hits the street.
• Retention of Rights – When you self-publish you (usually) keep all rights, and can do whatever you want with the book at any time. With traditional publishing you have to work within the rules set by the publisher that has retained the rights.
• Inventory – Because you are controlling the printing process, you never have to face a warehouse full of unsold books. Print-on-demand allows you to print only what books your customers order.

Traditional Publishing
• Legitimacy – Many people consider (rightly or wrongly) traditionally-published books to be more “legitimate” than self-published books. Books published by major publishing houses carry more weight – even if the author is unknown – than books published independently. This carries over to brick-and-mortar bookstores, where you will rarely find self-published books for sale.
• Editing – Publishers provide in-house editorial services that will save the author the expense of hiring a professional editor to catch all of the inconsistencies and correct all of the punctuation and spelling errors even the most thorough authors sometimes miss. These in-house editors also have a very good idea what is selling right now and can help tune your manuscript to better fit your audience.
• Publishing Cost – If a traditional publisher accepts your book, they will be covering all of the costs of printing and publishing, and assuming all of the risks therein. This can save thousands of dollars over self-publishing book, where you have to pay up front for the books you print.
• The Paycheck – Most traditional publishers pay the authors of the books they produce an advance on expected sales, then additional royalties based on actual sales. Royalties range from 7.55 to 15% of total sales worldwide.

Simply comparing facts, however, is never enough. You wouldn’t do it when choosing a car or a home or a piece of furniture. There are a lot of other factors at work here. For example, the other day I ran across this post in one of the writing/publishing groups to which I belong: “Finally, my YA Romance is on Amazon, but now what? I don’t have a clue as to how to sell this book!” To me this is very odd, and at once I knew I would never read this book or seek out this author. How do you get to this point in your writing career without ever having considered how to market your book? This author went on to inquire about how much sex is acceptable in a YA novel. Wouldn’t you have asked this question before you wrote your novel? I think this example illustrates precisely what is wrong with the self-published market.

The key thing about the traditional publishing route is that before your book will be accepted by a publishing house it has to be well-written, polished, marketable, and likely to appeal to a specific audience. In other words, you have to know your craft and do your homework before you can get your foot in the door.

Not that some truly awful books have not slipped through — maybe because the author is already famous for something else, or because the topic is controversial or timely or is very similar to a recent book that was a huge success. Because those things will sell books, too. But probably none of those conditions apply to your book.

With self-publishing, none of the qualities of the publishing house gatekeepers are there, so anything — and everything — can get through. And does. The market is saturated. There are tens of thousands of e-books out there, many of them by authors who have no idea how to write a good book. Imagine if your local BevMo carried every beer brewed in the kitchen of a hobbiest, every bottle of bathtub gin, and every vintage of backwoods White Lightning? Without tasting every one, how would you know which were any good? By the label? Because the really good ones can afford to hire a professional artist to design their label? To some degree, yes. Because you can effectively dismiss those with cheap, amateurish labels. I know — “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But when seven-eighths of the books have covers that look like they were Photoshoped in an hour by someone who just bought the program yesterday, you can reasonably suspect that their lack of polish and attention to detail extends to their writing, as well.

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To miss-quote Anton Ego, “A great artist can come from anywhere, but not everyone can become a great artist.” To be sure, there are a lot of truly wonderful self-published books. But how do you know? Well, word-of-mouth, good reviews, sales ranking, etc. in other words, marketing. A traditional publishing house is banking — literally — on the success of your book. It is in their best interest, and within their considerable power, to market and promote your book. They have publicists, contacts, and a well-earned reputation. And the money to back it all up. To be sure, even with traditional publishing, you are expected to pound the pavement and get the word out, go to signings, and meet with librarians and booksellers. But with self-publishing you’re on your own.

In case you haven’t paid attention, I lean toward traditional publishing. And I knew this when I started writing my current book. So I did my research, learned everything I could about what sells and what doesn’t, and sought as much help as I could to learn my craft and perfect my story. So that when I was ready to submit, it would be not only acceptable to a traditional publisher, but good enough to make them invest in it.

I’ll let you know if I succeed.

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My first book, The Last Princess, is about a 12-year-old girl who discovers that she’s descended from faeries, and that her mother is really a 500-year-old nymph princess. In the sequel, The Last Faerie Godmother, a botched wish sends the girl back 500 years into the body of her 13-year-old mother, in 1500’s Ireland.

This presents something of a problem. I have never been to either Ireland or the 1500s.

While she’s there, she finds herself caught in the middle of a familiar story she can’t quite place. It will turn out to be the story of Cinderella.

But not quite.

A few weeks ago I shared the story of Fair, Brown and Trembling, a traditional Irish fairy tale. With a few minor differences and the addition of a whole new (and rather brutal, if not unlikely) ending, it is basically the story of Cinderella we are all familiar with. Three sisters, the oldest two eager to marry a prince and both of them jealous of their younger, prettier sister, who they bully and oppress.

The Names

I’ve been taking great pains to learn everything I can about the period so that I can paint a fairly accurate — or at least convincing — picture. One thing I can tell you with certainty is that there were never three Gaelic princesses in the Middle Ages named “Fair,” “Brown” or “Trembling.” So the first thing I did was try to find traditional Irish or Gaelic names with those meanings.

The first two were simple enough. Fiona is derived from Aoife (pronounced ee-fa), meaning “fair or radiant.” Ciara (pronounced ki-ra) means “dark or brown of hair and eyes.”

“Trembling” turns out to be more problematic. Bheith ar crith (veth er crith) is Gaelic for trembling, but there are no names derived from it. Nor does it make a very convincing nickname. Delilah is a biblical name, originally meaning “delicate, weak and languishing.” But I need to work on that nickname.

The Kingdom

The fairy tale takes place in the kingdom of “Tir Conal.” There was, in fact, a territory in ancient Ireland – a kingdom, actually, from 464 to 1607 – called Tyrconnell or Tír Chonaill, which is now part of a larger territory called County Donegal, in Northern Ireland. This was one of the last of the many, many small kingdoms of Ireland, most of which fell to the English well before the 1500s. However there was still a King of Tyrconnell at the time my story takes place.

The king in Fair, Brown and Trembling is King Hugh Cúrucha. My search yields no such king in the historical records. However, to my distinct advantage, there seems to be a gap in the records between King Máel Sechlainn mac Domnaill in 1247, and King Manus Ó Donnell who died in 1564. Although I did learn Manus’ father’s name was Hugh. Again, I’m not trying to tie this story to a particular king, and I doubt Hugh O’Donnell had three daughters named Fiona, Ciara and Delilah. But it’s nice to know I’m not too far from reality.

The Castle

For this story, since Delilah is going to be the primary servant in the household, I imagine a fairly intimate castle.  A number of actual castles used by the kings of Tyrconnell (mostly the O’Donnells) still stand today. But several of note were in use at the time my story takes place. In fact, the story specifies that the king and his girls lived in Ballyshannon, which is a real place that still exists, and there are ruins of a castle known to have been occupied by the O’Donnells there.  The ruins are very minimal — none above ground — so I’m going to have to make my castle up.  But there were over 1,500 medieval castles in and around Europe that still exist in one form or another; I think I can find enough details to create my own.

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The Fairy Godmother

Trembling’s “fairy godmother” is described as a henwife, which as I understand it is a servant who would have been in the employ of the king to take care of the live poultry. She does seem to have magical powers, however. But her origins, her relation to Trembling and her motives are never revealed. This is where my story will intersect. In my story the henwife will actually be my villain, a high faerie (Sidhe) who wants to rule the pesky humans and put them in their place.  At first she tried to seduce and marry the king (the father of our three princesses), but he jilted her and now she is bent on revenge. Her plan is to destroy the kingdom by manipulating the pliable youngest daughter into marrying a prince she can control (more on this below). So, in the greatest fairy tale tradition, she will have disguised herself as this old woman and pretended to be Delilah’s friend and confidant. Her faerie godmother, to be precise.

The Prince

The prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling is never named.  He is only ever referred to as “the son of the king of Emania” or “the prince of Emania.”  The only references to Emania I can find is “Emain Macha” (Old Irish), currently called Navan Fort.  According to Irish mythology it was one of the great royal sites of Gaelic Ireland and the capital of modern Ulster.  Emania is mentioned most prominently in the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, an epic hero similar to Hercules.  This has suggested to me that in my story, the prince will actually be a false prince, invented by the villain and based on this legendary hero.  He will, in fact, be a goblin with a glamour cast over him.

The Story

Instead of the traditional Royal Ball, where all of the single women of the kingdom are invited to meet the prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling the princesses hunt for husbands at Sunday Mass. The Church was very big in Ireland at the time of my story, and great cathedrals abound. So this fits quite nicely.

Three times the henwife dresses up Trembling in amazing outfits she creates with magic, and sends her to Mass on beautiful horses, to be seen.  But she must not enter the church, and must race home before anyone gets too close.  She even loses a shoe, and everything.

The ending gets tricky, however. In Fair, Brown and Trembling, the young bride is betrayed by her older sister (who had been engaged to the same prince before he met Trembling). She pushes Trembling off a cliff into the sea, where she is swallowed by a whale with dubious magic and odd eating habits. According to the story, the whale comes in on three consecutive tides and throws Trembling up on to the beach, where she can’t leave due to the whale’s “enchantment,” then the whale swallows her up again each evening. She has to convince a young lad who wanders by to tell her husband, the prince, to come kill the whale.

I need to change this  to something more believable, more workable as a plotline, but still something that might be “interpreted” by a storyteller as written.  I also need to incorporate my main character, and I want very much to have them both end up in a castle dungeon together.  If I put the villain’s castle on a cliff (like many actual Irish castles), the dungeon could be at sea-level, and she could escape onto the secluded beach, but be unable to climb to freedom.  She could get the attention of the boy, and make up the story about the whale to explain her presence.

It’s all coming together quite nicely, and I think I’m off to an excellent start. I can weave this narration quite neatly into the major plotline of my novel, which is about a war between the light fae (led by my girl in her mother’s body) and the dark fae, led by my villain with her goblin minions.

Watch this space….

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All of this NaNoWriMo talk has made me acutely aware that I am not being nearly as prolific as I was when in the throes of finishing the manuscript for my novel, The Last Princess.  I was in a great hurry to put a period on my WIP by a certain date, and I had all kinds of tricks and processes in place to accomplish it — monthly word-count commitments, submission deadlines for my critique group, and so on.  It was exhilarating, uplifting, and gave me tremendous self-confidence every time I turned in a new chapter.

To be sure, I never came close to approaching 50,000 words in a month (more often 6,000), but it was steady, sustainable progress, and I could just squeeze it in between my two jobs, quality time spent with my wife and kids, a few household chores, and if there was any time left over, sleep.

But now, while thousands of writes are churning out pages of prose like snow falling in a blizzard, I am combing my manuscript for typos, fine-tuning my query letter, compiling a spreadsheet of likely agents, and watching my e-mail for the last few stragglers among my beta readers.  I am, in fact, not producing anything.

Oh, I’m also researching my next book, The Last Faerie Godmother — which will be set in Ireland in around 1500, and will incorporate an obscure fairy tale — but this isn’t exactly “progress” either.  Most of what I’m finding is about what life was like in medieval England, which is about 200 years too early and 600 kilometers too far east.  And until I can reconcile the differences and “see” the setting, I’m not comfortable putting pen to paper.

So I’m not writing.

Someone asked me why I’m not using NaNoWriMo as an excuse to hit the ground running.  I said,

The flavor wouldn’t be there; many of the ingredients would be missing. If I did, it would be like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people without quite knowing what I was going to cook and before thawing the turkey. Making thanksgiving dinner for people I care about and who I hope will want to come back for more next year should not be a damned cooking show. I do not propose to slam everything together with a giant timer ticking away over my head, flailing around ingredients and hoping I don’t lose a finger in my haste. People could get seriously ill if I forget to, say, take the giblets bag out of the turkey. And who want’s a watery jello mold?

Novels are hard; I can’t just squeeze one out like toothpaste from a tube.

Having said that, I think if I was single, only had one job and could devote several hours every day to nothing but writing, I would probably start churning out pages, if for no other reason than to keep the writing muscles limber and because maybe 25% of what I produced would be actually useful or lead in useful directions.  But I can’t hope to produce 50,000 in a month.  6,000 was already an accomplishment.

So where does that leave me?  Vaguely guilty, to be honest.  Instead of writing I’m enjoying reading, which I firmly denied myself while I was producing chapters.  It smacks of avoidance and wasting time, even though I know I need to come out of my self-imposed literary solitude every once in a while.

So what do I do with this guilt?

I embrace it and hope it keeps me on my toes long enough to get going on my next book.

 

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.