Tag Archives: advice

Writing: What Your Writing Teacher Never Told You About Querying

Alright, buckle in folks, time to pour some tea and make a salt circle that is probably going to get me in loads of trouble later. But there’s some things that current professors don’t know about the querying process, because most of them have had agents for at least the last five to ten years, and thus aren’t aware of some of the new quirks. Let me tell you the myth as I heard it. Be prepared for lots of rejections, insert Stephen King story about the railroad spike here. Feel lucky to get even one agent’s attention, and then you can shop later once you have proven your books sell. Your relationship with your agent should be like finding a spouse, so feel free to be a little choosey and patience.

Let’s tackle this bit by bit. Let’s start with the rejections. I am going to say 60 to 75% of the time, you aren’t going to get a response at all. The silence is meant to be a rejection, but for those with outrageously long wait times, that can be painful as all get out. Sometimes, you’ll at least get an auto-response saying that your query was received and here’s how long you’ll have to wait, but don’t bet on it being accurate. The only part that is accurate is expect lots of either returned or ignored type rejections. There’s even more agents now than ever, so you’ll have a huge field to go through. You definitely need to verify every agent that you run across–there are a lot of predators out there taking advantage of the high numbers of agents.

As for lucky getting an agent… Okay, here’s a weird trend I noticed. Very rarely did anyone I hear squealing on Twitter or QueryTracker say they got one agent. Because the next step after one positive reaction…is tell everyone else that you got an offer. It became clear to me that agents rushed to anything anyone smelled at being decent. All it took was one offer, and you could end up with nine or ten offers because one person took the time to decide your book was worth something. It’s a lot like the pitch events on Twitter, with all the agents flocking to whatever someone else liked. It seems like a lot less investment in one person and a lot more following the pack. But because of this, and publishers only putting out a few new books a year and trusting too much in their best sellers and putting all their money in one basket, it’s a lot harder for good books to get read at all.

As for being choosey and patient, well, I agree with the patient part. I was perhaps overly patient. But choosey? That depends. As part of getting your query letter, synopsis, and first fifty pages prepped, you definitely also need to really boil down what you need from an agent. In my case, I had to have someone who enjoyed some element of fantasy. Everything else, I was a lot more flexible on, but I was aware of the “tags” in case it was on someone’s no list: LGBTA+ friendly, romance could go either way, female protagonist, young adult. Know what an agent absolutely has to have an interest in, and then be aware of the other aspects of your book in case it will turn an agent off. I would also look at other writers’ critique of querying an agent on Twitter or QueryTracker. Writers will usually post warnings, such as people never getting back to you even after you give them a full, or warnings of stuff going on in agent’s personal life so have extra patience. But after that? Keep the field as broad as you can. Once you are out of agents, you are out.

Back to me being too patient. I figured out in my process where my line in the sand was, and that was communication. I would wait and wait and wait, as long as the agent kept in touch with me and told me that they weren’t going to meet the deadline they gave me, but here was the updated one. I would wait for months if not a year if you kept in contact with me. Why? Because I understand that life happens. I’ve had the flu twice this year already, and I lost every pet but one last year. I know it dearly. As long as you are talking to me, I will give you the time you need. But ignoring me when I ask for updates after you’ve missed the deadline is now my newest pet peeve ever. I highly recommend that you figure out where your line is, so you can approach queries without it being a frustrating process. As soon as your line is crossed, withdraw your submission and move on.

I’m not really bitter about the querying process. Do I think it’s antiquated? Yes. Do I think it could be a lot better managed? Yes. Will I do it again for White Dragon, Black Lark? …Eh. It’s going to depend on if it is long enough to actually be considered by agents as a book, since most don’t represent novellas. It stands a better chance than Ten, which is the stepping stone of a series and it appears that agents aren’t playing with series anymore. But I will definitely be approaching querying from a different stand point, now that I know how things have changed. I’ll probably do the pitch events first for an initial interest, and then start combing Query Tracker.

Look, getting published is hard. It’s a constantly evolving game. I’m not mad at my professors for not preparing me–they are out of that game, and have been for a while. They all have agents, and can even play against them if they need to because they have the experience and contacts to do so. But someone starting out in this business doesn’t have that, and everywhere you go digging, you’ll find people looking to charge you hundreds of dollars to prep your book for agents, and that’s just crap. Unless your grammar or plot structure is just awful, it isn’t going to do anything except slap a coat of paint over a barn that your agent (if you do get one) will ask you to rebuild anyway.

So just go in with open eyes, and try to see what is trending or starting to trend for agents. I’m not saying write to trend, that’s near impossible. But it will at least let you know if you need to sit on a manuscript until series are big again (or give up and go self-published with that bit), or if fantasy has gone down a weird path you can’t follow and you need to wait for it to swing around your way again…or maybe the weird path is your way and you need to hurry and finish! Keeping your thumb on how the query game is changing is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Otherwise, you are going to come in confused from the start like I did.

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Writing: Thoughts on Love Squares and Other Shapes

Maybe it’s because I was sucked into Miraculous Ladybug Season 1 like the sappy nerd I am, maybe it’s the fact that Caley (through no fault of her own) ends up in a love-shape drama. But I’ve been pondering on this trope, and why it is awesome and yet awful all at once (because it can be both!).

Why are these things so friggin’ popular? Well, some of it is that I believe we (both the writers and the audience) like to see the characters suffer before they get their chance at happiness. Otherwise, there isn’t much investment in what happens in the end. There is also the fact that no matter how well you do your job to convey the characters, they are still moderately malleable to the reader, who may see the protag better with Love Interest A or Love Interest B or the random character in the diner in chapter three–which is how shipping wars are born. It is the reader’s prerogative and can’t really be argued with (George Lucas tried).

The hardest part about writing a love-shape comes in two parts. On one hand, you have to keep the feelings conveyed as being sincere. If the reader/audience stops believing the love interest really cares for and about the protag, the ship is sunk. This can, however, be a useful tool for the second part–resolving all sides of the love-shape-of-choice. No one can be left hanging alone and heartbroken, but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. You also have to either ease the audience into getting in the same OTP boat (fat chance) or use a shocking event to drive a big wedge between participants.

I am very cautious about the shocking event part of the trope. It can be a good plot point, or it can come out of left field entirely. A good example of the latter is the original Star Wars trilogy, thus my digs at Lucas. The shippers weren’t letting Luke/Leia go, so she was turned into his twin sister (and the writer has since tried to retcon this as being his original intent, which makes it worse really). Did it make Han/Leia easier? Yes. Did it make a  lot of sense? No, but it’s Lucas. Lucas can’t keep any of his shit straight.

As much as it kills me to give the series any good press, the sparkle-vampire series actually did a better job of the surprising event. The wedding put a nail in the werewolf-shippers’ coffin, and while its way of resolving all the sides was full of ick, she did resolve them. This doesn’t comment on any of the other numerous problems, but the writer knew how to manage the relationships to milk the drama. I will say her stand alone book (last I checked it was stand alone, anyway), The Host, actually handled the resolving the sides a lot neater, and in a way that was both sad and satisfying.

This gives shows like Miraculous an interesting twist. One of the sides is suddenly two, and makes things so much more complicated. But this can quickly go from humerous and cute to stressful and frustrating for the characters and audience members alike. I think ending the love-shape is a clear sign the series is ending as a whole, because it resolves a plot-line and eases some of the tension. But you could phase it into new drama, depending on the situation, making it more of a season-ender than series as a whole.

Now we get to the worst example of that. Comic books. I don’t care if it’s DC or Marvel, they are notoriously bad about breaking up characters in established relationships on a whim, whether it’s by killing characters for emotional impact, moving the survivor on, and then bringing the victim back to life, or just causing really dumb out of character responses to drama, it’s a vicious cycle. Now, I will say that some of the characters, they make it actually work–Remy and Rogue have never exactly been “easy to handle” in terms of personality, and both are hot-heads. Them going hot-and-cold makes sense. And if the Bartons had divorced much earlier (rather than the shitty timing of it, especially with Bobbi coming off of a form of PTSD and the list is a mile long on the bad set up here), they also would have made sense–they got married within days! Obviously that didn’t happen, but you know, benefit of the doubt here this once.

But others are just flash fiction for no reason. Why? Because some writers just don’t know how to keep the tension going if they are in a long-running series. And that’s fine! If you don’t know how to handle them, you don’t know. But that’s what blogs like this for, and others who are more knowledgeable than me. My biggest advice is this: remember that love squares are tricky to manage, so plan accordingly. Know how it’s resolving, and when and in what way/fallout if you can. If you get an unexpected extension, evaluate what happened previously with your love square. Are there still underlying trust issues? Did someone go from attracted to one person to another, because that’s grounds for serious jealousy problems. Does someone have bad habits or experiences that are coloring the relationship? Falling in love and winning their affections in return isn’t the solution to your problems–it’s only the beginning.


Writing: Tumblr Mythbusting

So, despite the fact it isn’t linked to my WordPress website (for good reason), I do have a tumblr that I use, mostly to follow some fanfic writers. Some are pretty honest about themselves. They write fanfic to relax, or to take a break from their original fiction. It’s the latter ones that can sometimes post some pretty protentious crap, most of it things that I know are wrong.

First things first: what works for someone else may not work for you in terms of the writing process. There are outliners, there are pantsers, there are a combo (me!). I recommend everyone keep notes, even if you are a pantser, so you can keep track of what you’ve done and have something to look at. But here is why some of the most common advice that I see floating around are such really bad ideas, I (almost) have no words. I kept myself at five, or else I would be here all night. If you want my opinion on others though, feel free to shoot me an e-mail or make a comment and I might do a sequel post if I get four more (Ginny already suggested one).

Don’t use descriptions such as “the short one” or “the blonde” in place of pronouns or names, it’s demeaning/lazy/childish/etc.

Okay, no. There’s this thing in writing called tags, which are physical traits of the character that, when you put all the tags together, help you put a mental picture of the character’s appearance together and make them more than, as Deborah Chester puts it, “talking heads.” So using those are important ways to sneak tags in, because the reader eventually sort of skims over things, but their subconscious acknowledges this tag and knows who is speaking without using a pronoun or a name. And more importantly? Sometimes you have two characters that identify as the same gender in a scene. Using their names back and forth is just annoying, so you need other ways of referring to them, and using pronouns can get really confusing depending on paragraph and sentence structure.

Don’t use *insert type of language here, from made up names for artificial hair colors to she/he/they variations*, it’s not how grammar works!

I have an English degree. You know what I spent four years learning? Language evolves, and changes. Especially in story telling mediums, and double especially with the English language because ours is the language that bastardizes every language it encounters. Most languages don’t have words for someone with pink hair, so writers make it up, using words like pinkette, rosette, etc. Riders of horses know some of the strange noises/actions horses make that can’t be classified in usual language, so they make up a word to describe it. And let’s not go into how gender-specific pronouns is having to rapidly change to keep up with our new comfort in having people’s gender identity confirmed. Get off your damn high horse.

Don’t reread your stuff as you’re writing it, it will just stall you out as you spend all your time editing the same five pages!

To a certain degree, I agree. You gotta let the red pen go as your writing. But I also stand by that sometimes you need to walk away from your book. See how long it’s taken me to do Ten? That’s because at the halfway point I reread, realized my plot was getting sidetracked, and had to do some serious gutting to get back on track for the second half. If you reread every, oh, five or so chapters, it will help you see if you need to re-outline, or if you need to redo what you’ve done because the stupid thing has gone down a weird-ass road that is just all sorts of wrong. Also, you may find that a character revealed something important, and you need to make sure to make a note of it so it’s important. (Forgot Violet was afraid of horses, thank God I caught it this last time…)

Get stuck? Kill a character, it causes emotional impact and is a great way to raise the stakes!

Do you want to know why it takes so long for G.R.R. Martin to get the next Song of Ice and Fire book out? Because the dumbass (no offense, dude, this is just how much I hate this habit of yours) keeps killing off characters, gets 2/3rd of the way through the next book, writes himself into corners that only those now-dead characters could get him out of, and he has to scrap it and start over. I would die, just die, if I kept having this easily preventable problem. You want to kill off characters, fine. But if you are going to cause that kind of drama, you cannot do it just for shock value. We have to love this character, they have to mean something to us. And then when they die, there has to be a reason for it. Now, I don’t mean the person killing them has to have a good reason. I mean this needs to do something, set a fire under her pants, give him a reason to step up to the plate, give a necessary clue, something.

Have an ending in mind and stick to it, no matter what!

I agree with having an ending in mind, in the sense of your character needs to have a goal. But that goal can change depending on circumstances, on how your characters reacts to the types of pressures you put on them. If your antagonists have a plan, it may change depending on what your protagonists do. Be open to your ending needing to change as the story develops. Your main couple may not get the happily ever after if it turns out your heroine has more chemistry with this other guy. The antagonist might not get caught, just found out, which is great sequel bait. Just be open because characters and thus their stories have ways of taking on lives of their own.