Monday, August 24, 2015

The Query

For all of us writers, I feel for you. Writing a query is crazy hard. You've spent forever writing your 300 page novel and now it's time to sum it up and make your characters sparkle in 250-300 words.

Last month I attended the super fantastic DFW Writers Conference and had the opportunity to learn from some agents and editors exactly what they are looking for in a query!

YAY! And let me say, they all wanted different things. So. There's that. Do your research! :) Most only accept email queries, so keep that in mind.

It's time to roll up your shelves, pour a cup of coffee or glass of wine and get to it. You might have to write several queries slanted to the agents and editors of your choice.

Top tips:

1. Most of the agents said they read queries after work. Some said right before they shut their eyes! Your words must grab them! Keep them awake!
     *Make it interesting. 
     *Be precise and keep it short.

2. Give your title, word count, and genre up front. (These agents wanted this information first. Some may want it at the end. It's a gamble!)

Dear Mr. Bob Jenkins,

I'm querying you because of your interest in contemporary romance. My NA romance novel, SAVING WAVES is complete at 73,000 words.

3. NO cliches! NO questions!
     *Don't ask if your character can survive the hellish plot you've planned for them. 
     *Don't open with a boy meets a girl and they fall in love.
     *DO show why your characters are unique.
     *DO share why your story is distinctive.

4. Share the story. Sounds crazy, but the agents said sometimes they read a query and have no idea what the book is about!
     *Start with setting. In one or two words. 
     *Introduce the main character.
     *Give inciting incident. 

Sara desperately needs a peaceful vacation after a turbulent college freshman year. She goes to her aunt's beach house in California determined to find solace on the waves, and connect with her dead mother's favorite sport. On her first day out, she slams into Ryan, breaking his board.

     *Move onto stakes.
     *Share motivations. 

Back on the beach, Sara apologizes for ruining Ryan's board, but he's furious. He rips her a new one in front of all surfers. Now there's no way anyone will want to teach her to surf, dashing all her hopes of finding tranquility on the waves and closure with her mother's passing.

     *How will the character try to get what she wants?

Sara is determined. She returns to the beach the next day, and surprisingly, Ryan says hello. He agrees to work with her, if she'll buy him a new board. Sara takes her chances and gets a job at the surf shop where Ryan works. As the two connect over cash registers and waves, they open up about their troubles and find that their feelings for one another are as steamy as the noontime sun on the beach. 

5. End with a short bio. Add anything pertinent to your novel.
     *Your education.
     *Work history.
     *Publishing credits such as short stories, articles, or books.
     *Memberships to writing organizations.
     *A fun detail about you that relates to the agent or editor you're querying.

SAVING WAVES is a standalone novel. I'm a member of RWA and own the online dating company, Surf's Up. Several of my articles on dating and surfing have been published in Oceanside Times. 

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sara Surfer

(Total word count = 240)

6. Format it like a business letter! And remember to reread, double-check it, test email it to yourself, etc. 

I also read a ton of back cover copy and book blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon. Nathan Bransford has awesome query tips. Check out his mad lib query and explore his site. Query Shark recently posted an amazing query workshop. It's a MUST READ! Go read it now!

And breathe. Don't sweat it. I just sent out a batch of queries and later found an error in one. Agents are people. They understand. Just do the BEST you can!

If all else fails you, get some random strangers or the baristas at Starbucks to read it and see if they can figure out what your book is about. :) Or ask your CPs and writing buddies. 

We love to hear from you! What query tips do you have? Share the love! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

World Building(Blocks)

Into the Realm of World Building!

The biggest payoff of comprehensive world building? The more you KNOW your world, the easier it will be to weave setting and voice into your text without the dreaded info-dump.

There! My number one take-away. :) Read on if you want to know more about the world building techniques that got me going.
This level of world building is new to me. My last fantasy took place solely in the woods. As a geeky kid who spent a lot of time in the woods looking under rocks, catching toads and such, that world came pretty easy-peasy. But with this WIP, I've got castles, taverns, stables, and a plethora of other places where I *wish* I spent more time. I started this story with a cast of characters and a basic plot, but when I tried drafting a chapter outline-- I couldn’t.  I didn’t know the world I was dropping them into. To complete an outline, I realized I needed more detail in four areas; what became my very basic world-building blocks: geography, history, technology/magic/paranormal, and culture. 

4 STEPPING-OFF points that got me started: 



This is was the first area that tripped up my outlining. I have two feuding parties. Were they a day’s-ride away from each other, or a week-at-sea away from each other? I needed a map. I tried drawing a map.  I learned this is not my forte.  Luckily, sites like Wikipedia really helped with this one. It turns our very own planet has plenty of inspirational islands, continents and borders- both geographical and political. The accompanying articles on Wikipedia also provide lots of ideas for goods, trades routes, locations for cities, etc.  

Whether you’re on a space station, pirate ship, horse carriage or land speeder, it helps to know where you are, where you’re going, and what could stop you.  


As previously stated, this WIP has two feuding parties, so history is a big one for me. Knowing the background and points-of-view of both parties is important for authentic voice and story continuity. 

There are likely very unique circumstances that led all our protagonists to where they are in life. Generally speaking:
WHY is their world the way it is? WHO is in power? WHO wants to be in power?

I drafted a timeline for my world, it’s very over-arching and dates back about 300 years, because that’s when my inciting incident (aka feud-fuel) occurred. I also needed to chart out the political/social hierarchy of the two groups.  Nothing is concrete, of course. Much of this “structure” could change by chapter three. :)

Technology, Magic, and the Paranormal

As Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal/Horror writers, we dabble in the fantastical because it’s FUN. Mermaids, psychic aliens, cursed relics—these things are imagination candy. That said, there should be boundaries, right? It’s no fun if a protagonist can cast a spell to save the adventure party whenever needed. Magic should probably come at a cost.  Same with technology. Most readers like a nugget of reality to draw on. In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton gave us dino DNA encased in amber. In Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card allotted for the passage of time on Earth while Ender traveled through space. In The Monstrumologist series, Rick Yancey creates a frightening balance between myth and science. 
"The Monstrumologist" by Rick Yancey (2009) Simon & Schuster. 

Will the gods play a role in your world?  Aliens? Bacteria? If so, become an expert. It’s about consistency in your writing, which leads to the reader buying in. The more familiar you are with these elements, the easier it will be to drop details into your story without the dreaded info dump.  


This is where you can fill a notebook with cool and unique nuggets that make this world your own. Think slang, clothing, food, art, music, social structure, values, customs, religion. My experience was that bits of culture presented themselves to me while I hammered out the above three areas, but once I had a better grasp on those elements the ideas for culture really started coming. 

But maybe for you, the cultural mores of an imagined society are enough to build your world around. What works for you? Is there a book you think epitomizes excellent world creation? Share with us below! 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Conference Ready!

image by Sebastiaan tur Burg via Flickr

This week I'm attending a wonderful conference in my area. It's the DFW Writers Conference hosted by the DFW Writers Workshop. They're a wonderful organization and have helped many writers hone their craft.

I like to do a couple of things when preparing for a conference. Here's some quick and easy things to keep the anxiety low.

1. Realize all the people attending are human beings.

That might be difficult for some people. I understand. But once you mentally realize this, speaking to strangers becomes easy. They too make mistakes and have bad hair days. No one is perfect! Embrace that!

2. Prepare pitches!

I like to have several pitch options. By creating a one sentence, one paragraph, and two paragraph pitch, you have lots to chose from! Use the one sentence pitch for mingling with other writers, agents, and editors. If they seem interested in your idea, go with the one or two paragraph pitch!

Nathan Bransford has great advice about writing these pitches on his blog.

3. Have some business cards with your information.

Cards are an easy way to share your personal information with others. An email address and blog or website are all that's necessary. Most attendants won't call you or send you anything in the mail. Be aware that you probably don't need a thousand of business cards. Twenty or so should be fine. If you run out, don't panic! People have cell phones. They can take your info, or you can write down theirs. Plus, you don't want to pass them out to everyone. Trust me, you don't want to be that weird, crazy person everyone talks about afterward. :)

4. Remember to have fun!

Yes! It is possible! You can have fun at a conference, even if you're an introvert, which most writers are! You're not alone! Other introverts are just as scared as you. Smile. Be polite. It'll be great!

5. Research the agents, editors, presenters or keynote speakers, and authors! *winks at Rina*

You'll want to know who to pitch! And it doesn't hurt to know about their latest project, random fetish, love (or hatred) of coffee, or favorite color. You might find something you have in common (other than you're love of books) that'll make a great conversation starter. If there are multiple classes, a little research on the presenter will help you decide which workshop to take.

6. Don't badger agents and editors.

Be yourself. People will like you! You don't have to pitch every agent and editor you see. Ask them about their airplane ride, the weather, or their favorite book. Put them at ease. It might lead to something great. It might just be an enjoyable chat. Don't panic! You can always query them later.

7. Take notes.

You're there to learn. Pay attention! Be a student for the weekend and absorb wisdom from the awesome authors, agents, and editors that are there for you. If you listen, you might get published!

That's about it, folks. If you have any other great tips, I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, June 15, 2015

For the Love of Writing

It's summer and things can get crazy! Here are some quick tips to get you in your writing zone even if it's just for 10 minutes.

1. Get to a place where you can write. Hide in a closet or go to your room. If you must, hide in your car. Lock the door.
2. Write for a minute or two about anything. Exercise those brain muscles to get in the zone.
4. If you hit a wall... Go to places you've never gone to before. Explore the limits of your imagination.
5. Break some writing rules. We all know them. Do something new and unexpected!
6. The writing is gonna be a little weird. That's okay! You're writing!
7. If you don't have any ideas, try fan fiction. Hey... 50 Shades of Gray...
8. Stay in your place for the time you've allotted. Ten minutes can fly by! Keep your butt there.
9. If you stayed and wrote, then CELEBRATE!

If you can steal ten minutes several times a day, and if you make it a plan, you might have a shiny first draft done by the end of summer!

We can do this!

How about you? Do you have any secrets to stay on track with writing during the busy months of summer? Let us know! We love hearing from you!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Capturing Your Character's Voice

Have you received feedback from your critique partners that says something like:

Love the story, but I'm just not connecting with you main character.


The plot is great, but the voice isn't coming through.


Exciting chapter! But... The character seemed a little flat.

If you have, then a unique voice in your manuscript might be missing!

What should you do?!?

Rewrite the entire novel?
Rewrite all the dialogue?
Rewrite the chapter?

Take a deep breath. And before you hit the delete button, try one of these.

1. After the deep breath, go here. Dig deep and discover your main character. If you have multiple POV characters, you'll need to do this for all of them. Then take another deep breath, drink some coffee (or favorite beverage of choice) and get to work giving your character a voice of their own!

2. If above doesn't help, try a character interview. Here's one. Or make up your own. What do you want to know about your character that your character isn't telling you? Take a couple of days, week, a month to sift through the possibilities. After all, you're the creator!

3. Chat with a trusted critique partner or writing mentor. Have them give your WIP a look-see. Ask for advice. 

4. Call your mom. She'll tell you you're awesome. 

5. Try, try, try again until you get right. You're the best judge of your work. If you're not satisfied, give it another go! Don't give up!

We love to hear from you! What do you do to deepen character development? Do you have a favorite character chart? Has your WIP voice fallen flat?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Words, Glorious Words

There are bunches of reasons why I decided to start writing, but I today I’m going to stick with just one: WORDS. I love ‘em. 

When I hear something funny, a beautiful description, or a phrase that skillfully encapsulates a feeling, I’m smitten by both the content and by the arrangement of words themselves.

There’s so many ways to say a thing! When you’re trying to perfectly capture a specific sight, sound, or emotion, the vast options of words, and the millions of ways you can arrange them, can be exciting. It can also be a bit paralyzing at times, though.

It’s like dumping out all the pieces of a hundred different puzzles onto a table, and then trying to fit together a single matching row.

When I’m stuck and can’t for the life of me land on the right word, one of the first things I do is look over my words list. Yup, that’s right. I collect words. J  The words come from all over—people speaking IRL, T.V. shows, books—and the words I keep can stand alone or be an entire sentence. 

Of course, I don’t use other people’s constructions in my work, but sometimes I need inspiration that only a fantastic sentence can provide.

I keep a list on my phone that’s simply titled Word List. (Super Original, I know.) Here’s a few things I’ve put aside for future consideration:



A devil’s expression

Trying out the shape of his mouth on my lips

The list goes on and on, and my friends have grown used to me saying “Ooh, that was good. It’s definitely going on the list."

So tell me, do you have any word fetishes, like maybe you sleep with a thesaurus under your pillow? Or…um, something. ;D  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

When One Change Makes All the Difference

Well, hi there! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I come bearing something preeeeetty awesome.

It's a real, live book! And I wrote it!

I really, really love this book. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. You know how writers often refer to stories as “books of their heart”? That’s what PLAY ON is for me. But a lot of work has gone into this little book over the past two years, from its original draft to the final product. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

Take a look at this picture:

Never mind the Lego photobombs. Those Post-It tabs? After a year's worth of editing, those are the only scenes left over from the original draft. In case you can't tell, that's 13 scenes. Out of, um, a lot.

I’ve written before about whether we want our stories to be good enough, or great, and this is kind of a continuation of that post. I’d say that most of the time, our first drafts are anything but great. There are some people who write AMAZING first drafts (and those people clearly have the favor of the writing gods), but for the most part, our work can be improved.

While I was waiting for my first edit letter after selling PLAY ON, my editor called me and asked, “How do you feel about cutting (insert major character here)?” My initial reaction, to be quite honest:

She explained her reasoning (which made complete and total sense), and after sleeping on it, I agreed, even though it meant essentially rewriting the story. Because, as I quickly learned, sometimes we have to part with beloved characters/scenes/subplots to really bring out the heart of a story.

She saw PLAY ON not for what it already was, but for what it could be. And that’s why having outside eyes on our work is SO important. We become so close to our stories that we often can’t see something that may be keeping it from reaching its full potential.

So. Let’s say that someone—a CP, a beta reader, or even you—suggests that a major change needs to happen to make your story better. Maybe a character needs to go. Maybe it’s a chapter. Maybe you need to open a blank doc and get to re-writing (points to above picture). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

- Be open to change.

- Think about what really matters in your story.

-  Decide where you want your characters to go, and how you want them to get there.

- Don’t be afraid of the delete button. (And if you are afraid, create a separate doc to place all your scraps in.)

I know how difficult it is to even consider a change that may mean more work, but when you end up with a story that you're so incredibly proud of? It's worth it.