Friday, November 6, 2015

Writing Tips: The All-Powerful Synopsis

  What strikes fear into the heart of most writers? The. Dreaded. Synopsis. Thun! Thun! Thun! It’s all right, don’t worry, we’ll tackle it together. First off, a synopsis isn’t a blurb, or what you might read on the back cover of a book to get a feeling of what the story is but leaves you salivating for more. A blurb is enticing, like the elevator pitch or hook, and a great marketing strategy to hype up the contents so that when a reader sees that blurb, they want the book NOW. I’ll talk about blurbs in the next Writing Tips post, but for now:

  A synopsis is very different and is required by many agents and editors. Why? Because it tells them what the entire book is about, including the ending, and sets up characters and what drives them, world-building, clear conflicts both externally and internally, resolutions, the entire arc of your novel. Why is it so dreaded? Because you must compact an entire manuscript into a few pages! Some agents, for example, are specific in wanting 1 page, 2 page, 3 page, 5 page, 7 page, 10 page…you get the idea. My suggestion is writing a concise 1 page, single space synopsis and expand if an agent is particular for a longer version. Read carefully, because most agents will say “up to…” certain amount of pages. So don’t waste your time if you have a terrific 1 pager.

  But what does a synopsis do? It tells the prospective agent/editor the entire story and therefore, any major plot holes, let downs, lack of characterization/world building/tension, depth, structure, etc. It will tell them if the story stands out, if it’s something they can work with, if it’s something they’re going to spend several hours reading to determine if they want to represent/publish you. Essentially, it keeps them from wasting too much time on a manuscript that may not work out and enables them to sort through their slush piles to get to the juicy stories they’ve been waiting for.

  DO write in third person, present tense, active voice (despite how the actual book is written). DO include major characters, major plot points, endings, anything that is vital and cannot be left out, but space is premium here. DO introduce protagonist, conflict, and setting in the first paragraph. I was once told to all caps the character’s names the first time I mention them, not sure about that, but I do it anyway to let the agent/editor know this is a new character being introduced. DO mention emotions, reactions, outcomes. Make them feel as if they’ve read the book without actually having read it yet. DO edit. DO proofread. DO send it to critique partners, beta readers, or anyone who reads books to not only catch errors but spot odd sentences, boring parts, rambling areas, etc. You should be accustomed to having a second, third, fourth, or even fifth pair of eyes reading everything from query to manuscript by now.

  DON’T be mechanical with he did this, she did that, then this happened, and that occurred…use active voice! DON’T go into every detail/character/event. Premium space, remember? DON’T include dialogue, or if it’s absolutely pertinent to the story arc, make it brief. DON’T ask rhetorical questions or try to the get the agent/editor wondering. There’s no time for that. DON’T try to get fancy with frilly things or sections or anything other than straight from beginning to finish paragraph form. Seriously, don’t. Now’s not the time to elaborate on how beautiful and artistic your writing can be. Be simple but effective.

  See? It’s not so bad. In fact, I now plot out my entire manuscript in synopsis form, roughly one paragraph per chapter, to send to my agent so that she can see the entire picture and let me know if it’s something we can work with or not. It honestly helps me to wipe out insignificant aspects that doesn’t push the story forward and fix plot holes. It helps me, as the author, to see the entire book on a few pages. So get into the habit of writing synopses. Even when you land an agent or editor, you’ll still need them!

  Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inside a Writer’s Head

  The inside of a writer’s head is a weird place. We’re creative, and everything, image or sound or feeling, ends up translating into a million words manipulated and re-aligned into hundreds of coherent, provoking tales. We tell stories, but we also build worlds, societies, characters, conflicts, resolutions, and so on. We are researchers who spend hours getting details right and tying up loose ends and making the impossible plausible. We become emotionally tied to the events and backstories of our novels, crying over our characters, falling in love with them, and celebrating them. Writing is our lifeline. When reality tightens it grip on us, we bleed our emotions into the written word to release the pressure.

  We are also problem solvers. I recently wrote and polished an entire 95k word novel and found out that it wasn’t going to work. So I came to terms with it and shelved it. But it called to me, because it’s my blood, right? I need to do something to work it out, and thus the major revision came into play. And I mean such a revision that it shifted genres. As I worked through the scenes that needed re-working, I went through the entire ms and ended up jumping around because once I changed this and that, I figured out how to change other things so that it ended up becoming a seamless story that didn’t read as if I had butchered and glued it back together, but read as if this new story had been the original intention all along.

  Now when I look at my work, I’m not sad that I had once loved this thing and couldn’t share it with the world. Instead I see an amazing product that came out of a lot of hard work.

  There’s also a lesson in here somewhere…oh, yeah…don’t give up. Just like in all things in life, don’t ignore the issues, or pretend they’re all right when you realize they aren’t. Maybe you have to step away for a few days, weeks, months, years…but problem solve to fix the error. It doesn’t matter if it’s a major overhaul or small details. Just do it right. You’ve already put your heart into these words, just make sure you go the extra distance to do it right.

  Here's to happy and healthy writing.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Writing Tips: How to Wirte a Bomb-Diggity Query Letter

 I was chatting with some agents about no-no’s in a query, so I thought I’d write a little post about what to actually include in a query. For aspiring writers, when trying to get an agent, or even an editor if you want to bypass or don't need/want an agent, a query letter is your first point of contact. You have to be professional. Agents aren’t your buddies. This isn’t the time to write like you text. Behave in a way that you would when seeking employment…decent employment…at a well-known and respected company…that has the potential to take you places.

 First off, address the agent by name with a Mr. or Mrs., and once in a while, a Dr. if applicable. You should know wether your agent is a man or a woman because by the time you write a query geared toward them, you would have read their website, perhaps internet stalked them for interviews, panel quotes, Twitter wish lists, etc. Remember how annoying it is when someone gets your name wrong? Spell those names correctly! Double and triple check!

 The letter itself should be about three to four paragraphs long. The first paragraph can either dive right into a hook or pitch that should snag their attention and tell them what the book is about and leave them wanting more. That’s a lot of pressure to put into an opening line, isn’t it? It is, which is why you need to take the time to perfect that hook. Imagine if you were riding an elevator with a dream agent and you had five seconds to wow them. This is your pitch. Pitch it well. If you’d read somewhere that they were looking for this exact thing, mention where you read that. If you’ve met them or someone recommended you or the agent themselves requested a query, mention it here. A lot of queries happen because of pitch sessions, meet and greets, contests, etc.

 The next paragraph or two should be a quick synopsis introducing the main characters, wonderfully weaving in the main plot and conflict. This should read like a book blurb, or that intriguing bit of info on the back of the book. Imagine this agent has picked up your book and reads the blurb. Will it make them want to open the book or put it back on the shelf? Be clear and pique their interest. Read lots of cover blurbs to get an idea of execution.

 The final paragraph should be a mini-bio telling the agent a little about yourself and your credentials, but only things that pertain to your novel and writing. Have an MFA in writing? Include it! Have a PhD in genetics and you’re writing about a sci-fi that deals with DNA? Say so! Your momma and the entire neighborhood raved about your book? …Uh, no. Leave that out. This letter is like a resume. Keep it professional and pertinent. Here’s the time to mention notable writing credits, awards, platforms, professional writing organizations, etc.

 End with a thank you and a polite sign-off. Include your name, email, phone number, and if this is a snail mail query, a mailing address.

 Sometimes, agents request a sample to be attached to the query letter. This will be in their submission guidelines. The first page, first three pages, first ten pages, first chapter, first three chapters, entire manuscript, synopsis, whatever it is. Mention in your closing paragraph that you’ve included material. Unless otherwise noted, always copy and paste in the email. Agents, like most people, are wary about attachment emails from strangers.

 And those are your basics for writing a query letter. No gimmicks. No randomness. No creepiness. No over-powering flattery. No flatness.

 Is it a lot of work? Yes. It may take you days or weeks or months to perfect your boiler plate query letter, to be tweaked and personalized for each agent, but it’s worth it. You may have only one chance at getting their attention for this book. This should set the precedence of how your relationship will go and tells agents about the type of writer you are. Are you going to be sloppy, put in little effort? No. You are not. You’re going to take your time, then send it to writer friends for feedback and critique. You’re going to take time to carefully read agent websites and guidelines and make sure they represent your genres and styles and have sold books that you wished you had written or love reading. Because that means your agent has similar tastes, and that’s important. Take out more time to find interviews and wish lists, and sometimes agents have lists of things they don’t want to see right now. Pay attention. Don't waste their time, don't waste your time.

 Will they take anywhere from one minute to several months to reply? Yep. Is that fair? Well, again, like sending out resumes for a highly sought after job, one agent might get thousands of queries a year and you need to stand out. You’re after them, so you put in the effort and let it show in your query.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Desiderata for Approval

 There is an innate desideratum in all of us, and at some point that was/is approval. From a parent, sibling, significant other, instructor, boss, social or religious leader…we have the need to either seek or crave acceptance. I remember when my name was added to a plaque in the school’s trophy case for literary and artistic excellence. I went to the awards ceremony with my neighbors because we were all nominated for something. Some in sports, some in academics, others in the creative reaches. Imagine my delight when they called my name and handed me a two-foot tall trophy, and then my stupor when I tried to walk off stage twice, and twice they said, hold on…you have another. I went home with three trophies that night. It was the talk of the school that week, but not the talk of the family. Poetry? Art? Well, those are just hobbies. Does that sting because you hoped for approval?

 Let’s say that you strive to do good things and are a good person and by someone’s standards are knocked down and ripped apart, do you let it get to you? Is the judgment and lies from people who are jealous, envious, or even just annoyed by your gifts going to burrow beneath your skin? Will people with power over you abuse and forsake their positions and responsibilities to belittle and drag you down the rabbit hole (because at some point, if it’s constant, it will make you a little crazy)? Is the color of your skin, your culture, your gender, your economic and educational status the target of misogyny, bigotry, or defamation of character?

 These aren’t trick questions. These things will always be true. Someone, whether close to you, a stranger, an insignificant acquaintance passing you on the path of life, will do or say hurtful things. They will not give you approval. But here’s the thing…don’t seek approval from them. Why? Even if they mean something to you, even if the mere thought of not being accepted cripples you, it doesn’t matter. There’s a bigger scheme of things, a giant canvas where these negative blotches are hidden by the beauty of the picture as a whole. Make sure that what you add enhances this beauty because that is the only way ugliness will not prevail.

 Why am I even talking about this? Because you’ll most likely face these things in one form or another. Knowing this world, most likely dozens of times over. It may be in response to your writing, or it may be in reference to a million other things in life.

 Remember that you can always try to be a better writer or a better person or a better student or a better worker, but not by the standards of pointless people. Don’t write or express your passion or do anything for the sake of the wrong people. They don’t get that privilege. Point. Blank.

 We seek or expect approval sometimes. Encouragement is a desideratum of the human psyche. But you don’t need it from worthless people who think “impunity” is their middle name. You really don’t. You can pursue and accomplish dreams without them. You kind of have to, right? That’s the point here. They don’t want to support you, they'll do anything to drag you down, so you do it without them. And when you think you are alone, you’re not. Because there are nurturing instructors and communities and fellow creative minds and true friends who appreciate you. Ignore the naysayers. Forget the haters. Stay focused. Move forward. Enjoy and explore your dreams. Because when you fight for it and keep fighting and are doing the right thing, you’ll get there and success will taste sweeter when you look back and see the carnage left behind by hatred, the carnage that never consumed you.

 The desiderata, then, should be approval from the right source, happiness, and a healthy and productive psyche.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

RT Rewind

I attended my first RT convention, which also happened to be my first industry convention. Seems a little strange, doesn’t it? Authors should be attending conventions like these, even if it’s on a much smaller scale. It’s a way to get inside information about the business, like what editors and agents want, what publishers are doing, how to market, and writing craft. It’s a great way to get into pitch sessions or meet editors and agents face to face, as well as other writers. Network. Network. Network.

Being my first RT, I hosted a few reader oriented events, but for the most part, I devoured whatever I could, from welcoming events to writer-geared panels to reader-oriented activities to social events. I felt like an in-betweener. A published author but also a rabid reader, and a newbie on top of that. I saw what the giant book fair was like and oh boy, was it huge, and the major signing event Friday night was a bit chaotic because I didn’t expect anything like it. The panels and workshops were as I expected and helpful, and the social events didn’t send me into a corner.

See, I’m not an out-going person. I kept repeating this at RT, only to be told that most writers aren’t. RT is one of the few times we can be because the environment is so welcoming and forgiving. You could start up a conversation with anyone standing in line around you, any random person who walks by. Shoot, I saw Charlaine Harris (yes, that Charlaine Harris) at breakfast, and I just went right up to her and started chatting. Everyone was friendly and easy-going because we were there for the same reason: our love for books. Wether writing them, reading them, publishing them, representing them, marketing them, or buying them. We connected. That’s how comfortable and welcoming RT is.

My schedule was packed from 6:30 am to midnight, there was always something to do, and most of the time, more than one thing to do. The mornings were about information mixed in with fun and giveaways, depending on which workshops or events you attended. Lunch comprised of meeting up with old and new friends.

With Sari Sisters, Mina and Sonali, rockstar author Sona, and Kishan.

With Entangled authors, the amazing Lynn, and rockstars Anna and Rachel.

The afternoons moved along quickly with more classes and the evenings exploded with large crowds at the watering hole, AKA the bar, before the nightly party.
The "watering hole".

Amid all these events, I met reviewers, a ton of authors both established and aspiring, readers, publishers, editors, and even cover models. I roomed with my good friend, Anna Banks, and we had some time to catch up and chat. I became close to a lot of authors I admire. I met my agent in person for the first time, which was a blast.

With my amazing kick-butt agent, Miriam.

I connected with some of my favorite authors. Some of those author highlights were Ann Aguirre, who is hilarious (in case you couldn’t tell from the sparkly unicorn hat)!

Kiera Cass (and that adorable bun she rocked all weekend), Sara Raasch (because I can’t think of a title that doesn’t sound like hers, we’re going to just use the same title), Sona Charaipotra (who I can text in the middle of the day about random stuff), Sonali Dev and Mina Khan (the world’s biggest sweethearts!), just to name a few.

Kathy and Brendan Reichs, I mean who doesn't love Bones?

Charlaine Harris at breakfast, as I mentioned earlier FYI, yes, that's me straight out of bed to get breakfast (of course I put on pants and brushed my teeth), but I don't even care that I was so exhausted from a week at RT and had puffy eyes. As my friend told me, Are you sure you’re not a dude, cuz you got some balls (from cotton balls to donut balls, I really don’t understand her infatuation). 

My biggest meet was the incredibly talented Meg Cabot (who absolutely rocked those six-inch adorable wedges). I loved her Princess Diaries and she is just as friendly and easy to talk to as anyone.

Of course, there was also a lot of swag. I mean, I’ll need another suitcase to get this stuff home. I’d expected maybe eight books, but I’d received over forty not counting ebooks! There were so many totes, bookmarks, postcards, candy, snacks, even jewelry, and other things. Yeah, it was one heck of a takeaway.

But, I have to say that the biggest moment was the teen-day party and seeing all these teenagers fangirling/fanboying and getting misty eyed as they stood in front of their favorite authors. It was truly precious and I was impressed to hear what lengths some of these teens took to get there, to know that reading is not a lame and dying activity, that it is alive and well and thriving.

So, to all the people who rally around books, keep writing, keep reading, and never let the power of a good story fade. I hope to see you at next year’s RT convention, which will be in Las Vegas April 12-17.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Where You'll Find Me During RT 2015

 The RT convention is almost upon us, and this year it will be held in Dallas, TX. where I'll be out and about doing all sorts of things. Like workshops, panels, and of course parties. This is my first time at RT, so if you'd like to meet me in person, there are definitely a few times where I'll be hanging out waiting to chat with readers.

  Wed. evening at 4pm, I, along with a few very talented and friendly authors, will be at the bar and lounge enjoying the company and inviting readers to sit down and talk with us. Here's your chance to ask some of your favorite authors anything you'd like.

  Thurs., from 2:45-5pm, come hang out with me and my fellow Entangled authors to play Candy and Spoons and win lots of prizes, including books! I've never played spoons, so you'll probably beat me at the game!

  Sat. 2-3, join us for pizza and chat with your favorite Fierce Reads authors!

  And, don't forget Saturday is the BIG day for all readers. The giant book fair, and yes, it is giant, but no worries, this year, the authors will be in a giant room, but divided by genre and seated alphabetically. It's the fan-tastic day to meet your favorite authors and get lots of autographs, books, and goodies. It's also teen-day, so if you're a YA fanatic, you can't miss this!

  RT will be loads of information and fun for me, and loads of fan-girling (or fan-boying) and goodies for you! So what are you waiting for? Join the fun. See you at RT 2015.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

You Have an Agent...So What's the Big Deal?

 I've heard many questions and comments about getting an agent, and I wanted to take a moment to address them and why landing an agent is actually a pretty huge deal.

  What does an agent do?
  To be short and simple, an agent gets your work through the door of the major/traditional publishing houses (what we call the Big Five: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster). These houses will only look at manuscripts that come to them via an agent, whereas smaller houses and some imprints will directly accept author submissions.
  Agents know the right editors. They've built relationships and rapport with numerous editors and know what their tastes are, what they're looking for, how to pitch to them, etc.
  Agents know the market. They know what will sell and where it will sell best. They can guide their clients toward those projects when clients pitch ideas to them.
  An agent will help polish your ms before prospective editors ever see it, giving it the best chance at being acquired.
  Contract negotiations, because most authors don't know the legalese or how to negotiate well, and agents can negotiate the best deal possible, including ancillary subsidiary rights such as foreign, film/TV, electronic, etc.
  Agents are pillars of support. Don't whine and continuously cry on their shoulder for everything, but they support you from initial idea to fleshed out manuscripts to deal signings to whatever issues you may face afterward with your publisher. And they do it professionally and effectively. They are your go-to person.

  Do you really need an agent?
  No. There are many successful authors who make it on their own through smaller publishers/imprints and self-publishing, but most who go that route do not make it "big" (not that having an agent means you'll make it "big"). It's up to every author for what fits them and where they want to take their career. However, if you want a professional in your corner who knows the market, can get you into the major houses, and do all the things mentioned above, then yes, you should look for an agent.

  Do you pay agents?
  Nope. A legit agent makes a small percentage off their client's work. Hence why they work so hard at getting your work into the biggest houses with the best deals possible.

  How do you get an agent?
  With a lot of hard work, research, help, and humility. The hard work is actually writing and polishing your manuscript, synopsis, and query. The research is learning how to write those things as well as researching each and every agent for your genre(s), and there are hundreds. I went through Query Tracker, a reputable database, forum, and supportive community. As well, QT cross-references agents with Predators and EditorsAgentQueryAAR, and Publishers Marketplace to name a few. SFWA is also a good source, but with research, you'll find lots of resources. You will also want to look at each agent and who they represent and who they have sold to, and if those things mesh with your goals. Reading their website is a must, and it helps if you can find them on interviews, panels, and social media sites where they toss out what they're looking for. Help is finding critique partners to tear apart your ms, synopsis, and query with constructive feedback, as well as other authors. Humility because your ms will get doused in red marks, but take it with a grain of salt, apply if you see its worth, and be grateful that someone is taking time out to help you. You obviously believe your book is amazing, so it may be hard to handle if someone tells you otherwise. You will get lots of rejections from agents before/if anyone says 'yes'. Furthermore, you will get rejections from editors and some negative reviews from readers, but it's part of the business and by the time you have a book out there, if you've done all these things, then you won't curl up in a corner and much...because your skin will have thickened over time.

  How long does it take to get an agent?
  As mentioned in my previous post, it took me three months to find my new agent, but it generally takes anywhere from a month (rarely) to several years. On average for one book is 6-12 months if that book lands an agent. It may take several books to get an agent if at all. Agents are busy with their own clients, they get tons of queries to sort through (which may take three months), partials and fulls to read (which may take an additional 6 months). Each agent is different in their response times.

  How hard can it be to get an agent?
  This depends on your craft, the market, and which agents you're submitting to. There are no hard and fast rules and numbers. Some authors need a lot of work on their writing skills and will go years of querying a dozen books to land an agent, some have great craft and timing and will land an agent within a few months.
  Agents receive a ton of queries, and only a small percentage of those turn into requested material, and only a fraction of those will turn into an offer. Take for example my agent. She receives tens of thousands of queries a year. And she signs 0-3 new clients a year. That's less than 0.00015% chances of signing with her.
  So...yeah...getting an agent is a pretty big deal, to me anyway. It was facing the odds and winning after a long, long road.
  But it's not the end. It's just the beginning.