Archive for query

Wrong direction?

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Trina

Agent search update:
So far I’ve querried eight agents to represent my young adult novel and received four rejections. Four queries are still out. I’m finding this process very different from submitting stories to magazines for publication.

Many agencies state something like this on their Web site
“We will make every effort to respond to your e-query within 4-8 weeks. Occasionally, it may take longer. We respond as quickly as possible, but we receive a large volume of submissions. Due to this large volume, we are sometimes not able to respond to every query personally. Therefore, if you have not heard from the agent you queried within 8 weeks, please assume that we are not interested in your work. PLEASE, DO NOT CALL TO FOLLOW UP!”

I can no longer say, “No news is good news.” If I hadn’t gotten a rejection, I used to know my work was still under consideration. No so with agent queries. In addition to not responding, many agents won’t even tell me they have received my query. They don’t want me to contact them to find out. So I wait in limbo land hoping for a bite on my query.

Meanwhile, there is a hole in my publishing credits. I have several story publications, but none in the young adult genre of my novel. That’s something I need to change. I have submitting a couple of chapters of THE MAGIC QUILT to children’s magazines. I am also going to write a couple of stories for young adults and submit them for publication. I have hit a snag there. While I have read children’s and young adult novels extensively, I haven’t read many stories for children. As I begin the process of familiarizing myself with the story market for children, I’ve found that the stories I am reading are BORING and unrealistic! Many are rewritten folk/fairy tales or myths. All have a moral message. Even contemporary or historical stories tend toward peachiness. Yulk. I can’t imagine writing anything that uninteresting. I’m just beginning to sample the market, so I hope it gets better.

I am going to continue polishing my query and synopsis, and submit my young adult novel to agents, but I’m also starting my next novel. I’m not giving up on the first, but I’m going to move ahead.

Which brings me to my next dilemma and the topic of this post: what is my next novel? I have so many ideas for adult fiction. But … as I previously posted, I don’t enjoy writing for young people as much as I enjoy writing fiction for adults. I love reading psychological and medical thrillers for adults, which is what I want to write.

After reading two of my stories, one of the women in my writing critique group noticed that in both stories my writing was strongest in the scenes involving children. This gives me pause. Should my next novel be for young people? Writing for children requires a different mind set than writing for adults. In writing from the view point of a twelve year old, vocabulary, parents and the young psyche have to be considered.

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Agent search

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , on October 8, 2008 by Trina

I have compiled a list of the top 20 agencies that I would like to represent me in finding a publisher for my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT. Now that I’ve done my homework, I plan to contact my top five agents and then use any feedback I get from those submissions before contacting others. I’m hoping to get my first queries out this week. I want someone knowledgeable with the young adult market and historical fiction/fantasy. It is important to me to find the right match for my book, someone who will be passionate in marketing it. Because I also write adult fiction, I am hoping to find an agency that represents both young adult and adult fiction. I am a little scared to send out the first query because it is such a big step.

There are so many sources of information on agencies in books and on the Web, it was hard to know where to begin searching. I had a few recommendations from fellow writers, which I used to start my list. After floundering a bit in all the available resources, I decided to use CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, but I found only a few agencies there. I moved on to Agent Query and used that site to grow my list. Now I have my top 20, but I’ve got to narrow the list even further to my top five.

So far I have:
• searched each agency’s web site carefully and read the agent’s blogs, if any.
• read each agent’s submission guidelines so I can send them what they want–a query, sample chapters, outline, synopsis–and how they want it–electronic or snail main
• looked up recent sales for the specific agent at the agency I want to represent me in PublishersMarketplace to be sure the agent is a good match for my book.
• checked in Predators and Editors to be sure there are no black marks against the agency
• Searched for each agent in Association of Authors Representatives (US) or the Association of Authors Agents (UK).

I am ready to begin contacting agents. Wish me luck in finding THE MAGIC QUILT a good home.

New computer angst and bad writing

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2008 by Trina

It’s been about two weeks since I’ve worked on my novel in progress. Not because I’ve been a slacker, but because I was forced to change directions, temporarily. About two weeks ago Harry’s computer crashed, at least we thought it did. He sat down to the blank screen of death and when he tried to manually turn it on–nothing. He tried unplugging it, but when he plugged it back in, his PC made a moaning whirring noise—not good. Turns out, it was his on/off switch. He decided it was more economical to buy a new computer than pay the hundred bucks to fix it. Since Harry works for IBM, he could get a refurbished PC for a little over twice what it would cost to fix his old one.

So what does my husband’s computer problem have to do with my NIP? The answer is in this question, “Do you want a new computer too?”

“No!”

I didn’t even think about it before answering. Didn’t want to go through the hassle of transferring all my documents to a new computer—little did I know that was the least of my worries.

So, I sat waiting for Outlook to open so that I could read my e-mail, tapping my fingers on my desk top and reconsidering. My PC was slow. It had a 20 GB hard drive with 512 ram memory. My PC only had 5% free space and that was after I’d added memory cards a couple years ago to bump up the ram. Knowing that it was only a matter of time until it crashed, I backed up all my work regularly on memory sticks. I needed a new computer. Still, I waffled. Until Harry found such a sweet deal on two computers, I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m typing this post on a refurbished IBM computer with 71.8 GB of space! I have 78% free space as opposed to only 5 on my old PC. It is awesome. It took me only five minutes to transfer all my Word files (over 175,000 words) and pictures onto it. No problems there at all. File transfer is quick. Surfing the net is quick. Opening programs, booting up, all at record speed.

And that’s were the good news ends. This is an IBM PC, so it came with Lotus SmartSuite. Sorry IBM, but in my opinion Lotus Word Pro is an inferior knock-off of Microsoft Word. I refuse to use it. Likewise, Microsoft Outlook far exceeds Lotus for e-mail use and storage. So I loaded my Microsoft Office onto the new PC, no problem took about 3 minutes. However, I lost all my shortcuts and the default smart tags were driving me crazy until I turned them off. It’ll take a while to get my Word back the way I like it. Irritating, but still minor in exchange for the faster speed.

Downloading Norton 2008 yesterday was not minor. It was a three hour process. It took me that long to download all the updates I needed for my computer to be compatible with Norton. When Norton install gave me the message that I needed Windows XP Service Pack 2 before it could finish installing, I visited http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com thinking I’d spend only a few minutes. Was I wrong. My “new” refurbished PC did not qualify for the Windows XP SP2 update. I had to install other updates before I could install Service Pack 2 and then download Norton. By the time I was done, it was three hours later.

I should ‘a paid a pro to load my entire hard drive onto my “new” computer. As Samantha Jones said on Sex and the City, “Should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.” Next time I buy a new computer—probably when hell goes through an ice age—I’ll know better. On the other hand, I saved hundreds of dollars by spending my own time updating the refurbished PC.

One good thing that came as a result of my “new” PC is that in the process of organizing documents to move, I read through some of my old work. I also deleted a lot of unnecessary files. Why was I keeping ten drafts of a story? A first and last draft is probably all I’ll ever need.

Okay, so here’s where the bad writing comes in. I understand why I’ve earned 135 rejections. As I discussed in a previous post I’m a better writer, now, than I was when I earned all those rejections. And, my query letters for some of my early work sucked, big time. I tended to summarize and ramble, not hook the reader. (My stories still tend to ramble at times, but I’m working on it).

I cringe at the query letter for my first novel that I sent in 2002. It begins
I want you to be my agent. I know you represent women’s fiction, contemporary issues, and horror genres of fiction, and I think you would be the perfect agent for Within, because it is all three.

Not, “I would be honored if you would represent me,” but “I want…” I am embarrassed to have sent that query. I have stopped looking for an agent/publisher for that first novel. I realize the writing is awful. I had written an autobiography and then tried to fictionalize it. It didn’t work—duh, that’s not how you write fiction. Writing that first novel did help me to learn the art of writing fiction, though.

Here’s part of an equally bad query letter that I sent to an editor in 2001 for a chapter of the novel as a stand-alone story, Within. It is five single spaced paragraphs long. No greeting, btw, the letter just starts. Needless to say, the chapter didn’t get published.

When Kari walked into the doctor’s office Mom and Dad looked very serious. “Kari you have spherocytosis. It is a hereditary blood disease,” Dad told her. “That is why you’ve been sick lately. Your mother has it. That is why she had her spleen removed when she was nineteen.” Kari felt a weird emptiness in her stomach like she was riding a roller coaster. Her hands were sweaty. She knew she was scared. Kari knew her mom had a scar on her stomachf rom her chest to her navel.

This is from “Spherocytosis,” which is a chapter from the novel, Within. It is a true story of an adolescent hero. The story is set in Florissant, Missouri. Kari and her eight-year-old sister are diagnosed with spherocytosis, ahereditary blood disease. The disease and surgery to have her spleen removed are described from Kari’s thirteen-year-old perspective. Kari is a true hero. Kari is the oldest of five sisters. Kari’s mother is “sick” from apersonality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia. Kari and her younger sister take over the caregiver roles of their younger siblings. Kari’s youngest sibling is born in this chapter. …

The letter went on for three more paragraphs like that. Why not just hit the editor over the head. It would probably be less painless. Wow! I’m laughing so hard at myself right now I’m crying. Talk about repetition and wordiness and telling, not showing. I didn’t notice “a hereditary” in the second line and three glaring spacing typos in just the first two overly long paragraphs. The writing in the chapter isn’t any better than the query. It is not surprising I wasn’t getting published.

I’ll end this post with part of the last paragraph from the horrible “Spherocytosis” query letter.

I have taught middle school for thirteen years, currently in North Carolina. I have a bachelor’s degree in education from the State University of New York, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude. I have a master’s in Reading Education, also from SUNY Cortland. I have written math and science curriculum for Orange County School district in North Carolina and DeRuyter School District in New York. I have …

Gad zukes! I have … I have … I have … learned a little bit since 2001. Notice I didn’t list a writing class in my credentials. Should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.

Perfecting the perfect pitch

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2007 by Trina

It may not be perfect, but I think this pitch for my young adult novel THE MAGIC QUILT will hook a sixth grader:

Standing on the Lexington Green in the midst of the battle, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. The metallic smell of blood and gunpowder is heavy in the air. Katharine is a shape shifter who has traveled back in time, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water have yet to be imagined; her new friends are dead or in peril. She must make a choice: She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil shifter, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose— an alligator, a dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

I took advantage of a pitch critiquing opportunity on Book Ends blog. Whether you’re published, unpublished, have a pitch appointment or are pitching through an equery, every author needs to be able to summarize his or her book in as little as five words, but no more than three sentences (or so). In other words, you need to capture an agent’s, editor’s, or reader’s attention quickly.

So I submitted one paragraph from my query letter intended to grab an agent’s attention. Click here to read the post. I had read that one of the best ways to write a pitch was to read the backs of books in your genre — wrong in this case, BTW. So I modeled mine after the back cover of Harry Potter. I was pretty proud of it:

Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother, but all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

This is the response the agent gave:
I like the beginning a lot. I think the first three sentences are terrific. What a great Harry Potter-like book without going straight to telling us that. However, this is another case where the ending lost its fire. I guess I’m not sure I want to read about a wizard who ends up in Boston. Where’s the magic? Where’s the army of insects? The fun of a wizard book, or of any fantasy, is the fantasy. In your description of what’s actually going to happen you neglect to tell us about the fantasy. Since it seems your target is probably a younger audience, my question to you is would a 12-year-old (for example) be interested in reading about the “strength to face her destiny”? or are they more interested in reading about evil wizards and magic quilts? That’s what we want to hear about in the last sentences.

This is a comment from the post, and most other comments took a similar vein:
Harry Potter indeed. That pitch is a word-for-word madlibs of the actual back cover copy of the first Harry Potter novel:

“Harry Potter has never been star of a Quidditch game, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives announcing that Harry has been chosen to attend Hogwarts, an elite school for the training of wizards and witches…” (front flap, Arthur A. Levine Books)”

At least the querier knows what works, but I think she loses points for originality.

Shocked and surprised by the reaction, I’ve now got to start over on my pitch — good thing I didn’t send that pitch to an agent. I need to remove the parallels with Harry Potter because THE MAGIC QUILT is more than a fantasy, it is an historical fiction/fantasy, set in 1775 Boston. The Harry Potter series is not historical.

The agent liked the details in the first three sentences, but she wanted a hook that would capture the attention of a twelve year old. So, I thought about what I would want to read if I was twelve. I dug out an old pitch I’d used in a query before I decided Katharine should travel back in time only to 1775 Boston, instead of visiting China past and future America. (I needed to cut the book, and by focusing on the American Revolution I accomplished that). Here’s the old pitch:

Katharine, an unpopular sixth grader, seeks solace by talking to animals and wizards until she discovers a way to escape her unhappy life–through a time portal in a magic quilt. Each square leads to a different period in time and Katherine suddenly finds herself face-to-face with some of the most adventurous and dynamic figures in history, including Marco Polo, Paul Revere, and Pocahontas. Katharine must lead the war against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who is one-step behind her throughout the novel.

This young adult novel goes further than fantasy in its accurate portrayal of history, especially 1775 colonial America. In addition, Katharine faces the separation of her parents, and abuse from her alcoholic mother, resulting in the involvement of social services in her family’s life.

This pitch is too long, and I’m sure it will NOT hook a twelve-year-old.

So here’s a first rewrite of my pitch.
Standing on the Lexington Green, twelve-year-old Katharine is oblivious to her own danger of being run through by a bayonet. Having traveled back in time through portals in her magic quilt, to a world where electricity, cell phones and bottled water haven’t even been imagined, her new friends are dead, or dying, the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air. She must make a choice. She can save her friends and turn the battle toward freedom or destroy the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, in whatever form he might choose, whether an alligator, dragon, or a tiny cockroach. As a musket ball whizzes by her head, she decides.

A second:
Twelve-year-old Katharine felt no shame about standing on the Lexington Green crying. Wouldn’t any wizard who transported herself back in time directly into a battle where being run through with a bayonet, or shot with a musket ball are real dangers? Now, with her friends dead, or dying, and the metallic smell of blood and gunpowder heavy in the air, Katharine must lead the war against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who is one-step behind her throughout the novel.

A third:
Katharine is twelve years old and a wizard in training, learning how to transmutate into animals, travel forward and back in time, and defend herself against the evil wizard, Dr. Ziegawart, who has promised to kill her before she can destroy him. Leaving her unhappy home behind, Katharine travels back in time to 1775, Boston, where protected by defense sorcerers in the form of black cats, she finds herself caught up in the magical world of spying, espionage, and rebellion that will free her friends from tyranny.

A fourth:
It started as a normal afternoon, Katharine was late getting home to watch her sister, except that Katharine has just heard animals talk and seen time turn back. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? As if in answer to her question a large yellow dog looked through the window at her, and said, “I’d best transmutate.” Several black cats walked around the house, their bright yellow eyes scanning the yard, surrounded by clouds of billowing black.

Of course, if I use the third or fourth pitch, I may be accused of madlibbing Jonathan Stroud or Madeleine L’Engle.

I can’t decide which pitch is best, so I’ve asked my husband, marketing writer Harry Calhoun, to choose and/or write the best pitch for me.

Harry says:
I actually like the first one best. Katherine being in danger in the midst of battle is certainly more interesting than her crying. I think the third one is your second best, and the last one deals too much with what happens in the early part of the book. Also, is it true that her friends are “dead or dying” in the battle? That’s scary!

Yes Harry, it is true that some of Katharine’s friends from 1775 were killed in battle. I couldn’t write the novel any other way and keep it realistic. Such is the reality of war, heavy sigh. In the battle at Lexington, eight Massachusetts men were killed and ten were wounded, with only one British soldier wounded. Here is a scene from the final chapter of THE MAGIC QUILT.

Katharine steeled herself. Joe lay dead, his shirt and the grass he lay on saturated with his blood, the metallic smell of it in the air mingling with the smell of gunpowder. She smoothed his blond hair, closed his eyes and surrendered her childhood. She looked at the battle scene through the eyes of an adult.

She counted seven minutemen lying motionless on the ground— their sightless eyes looking eerily at no one. One wounded man crawled toward a house leaving a trail of blood in his wake. There was too much blood; he wasn’t going to make it. Nine other men lay bleeding, but at least they were moving — they were alive.

I’d love to hear your opinions of which is the best pitch.