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!