Wow, friends. This has been one hell of a rollercoaster, and I’m acutely aware that this is just the beginning of my journey, and not the end of a rather long tunnel. Word of warning…this is a long post, as it spans 21 years.

My writing career began with fan-fiction (as it normally does). I had a group of friends in Secondary School (shout out to Colaiste Muire, in Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland), and we would write and swap fan-fiction back and forth. I was hooked. I’d always been an avid reader, but maybe I could write my own books. The concept for my first ever attempt at a manuscript sparked from a run-of-the-mill history project. Then another, and another, and another. Holy moly. Too many concepts and no idea how to finish any of them. (Amirite?)

That is, until I made the decision, in 2007, to move with my husband to the United States. Just us. He’s from New Jersey. But packing my entire life into two suitcases, deciding what mattered enough to take with me and what stayed behind…that was a whole other can of worms. I couldn’t take the people who mattered most—I doubt my sister would’ve enjoyed traveling by suitcase—so I packed a few books, photos, as many clothes as I could fit, and went on my merry way, visa in hand.

It wasn’t until I arrived that I realized how soul-crushingly lonely it would be. Good God. I was reared on American TV and movies, and I thought it would be an easy transition, but it absolutely wasn’t. I didn’t fit in (still don’t), I didn’t understand the customs (meh, I’m getting a bit better at that), and I certainly never felt a sense of belonging. I used to be outgoing, adventurous, ridiculously happy, and extroverted. But I’m not that Maria any more. I’m the girl who spent too much time explaining the differences between our worlds, the girl who smiled when something harmful—or hurtful to me or my culture—came up in conversation. I’m the girl who spent too much time reflecting, only to learn about the woman I’ve become.

And let me tell you, she is driven. She is ambitious. And she never, ever, gave up.

What better way to while away the time in a foreign country, with only my husband for company, than to revisit my lovely book babies? So I focused on that first concept, the unfinished manuscript that came to me when I was fifteen. I wrote, and I wrote, (for anyone who follows me closely on Twitter, you’ve already guessed what manuscript this is). When I finished, I had a 487,000 word garbage fire (YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT), and I did what every newbie does. I Googled ‘How to get my book published’, and reader…I gasped. If I wanted to see my book in an actual book store (book shop for my cringing friends and family reading this), I needed an agent? As in, like actors have agents? I thought you just wrote a book and sent it to publishers and then they’d give you a cheque. What sorcery was this? And, wait…I needed something called a ‘query’? Oh, for the love of God! But I knew I’d spent so long on the damn thing, I had to figure it all out.

So, I studied. My long-time alpha reader (hi Kelly!) and I met up at Barnes & Noble and I gave her the rundown on what I needed to do. Part of the query letter is the metadata (technical information like comps, market, genre, etc.) and that meant word count as well. Okay, cool…except it wasn’t cool. Kelly suggested (manic laughter) that we should find out how long books are. I know, sounds really stupid, right? I’ve been reading for as long as I discovered books, but had no idea how page count translated to wordcount. We Googled.

My manuscript—Adult Historical Fiction—was as long as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, plus appendices, with an additional 2000 words tacked on for kicks.

Well, that was okay—mY BoOk WaS dIfFeRrEnT. I queried it (LAUGH OUT LOUD).

2009 Book One: Queries Sent: 201 (including agents from the UK and Ireland)

Requests: 2

Not even a 1% request rate. I did manage to garner two full requests (I don’t know how, the query was 3 pages long!), but I quickly realized that the only thing to do was to—sigh, oh baby Maria—chop it into thirds, right at a really great cliffhanger.

Everyone loves a good cliffhanger, especially in a series.

*Facepalm*

And I queried it (Book One of my Epic six-book series…because that 487k first attempt was legit book one of a trilogy) at 110,000 words.

2009 Book Two: Queries Sent: 211 (found a few more agents for this one…these numbers include agents in the UK, Ireland, and Australia)

Requests: 22

10% request rate! Cool! That’s the magic number for request rates (warning: this number is only a sweet spot if your genre and age group are actively being acquired. The market shifts constantly, and is fluid). While I was querying, I decided to revisit other projects, and finished another. Great! I knew how to query, so I’d query that one! And the next, and the next! Lots of rejection.

Then I went back to the rewrite of the massive tome I’d queried and…

Reader, I cut it, and I revised…again. I re-wrote all my submission materials (I was really getting the hang of this query thing), and I submitted widely (in the 200 range). Requests started to flow in, and I knew This Was It.

This wasn’t It.

Neither were the other manuscripts I was querying (simultaneously…don’t do that, by the way. Only query one project at a time).

Frustration settled in. Not connecting. Didn’t vibe with the voice. Didactic. I didn’t connect to the material, the concept, the world. YOU MARIA, I ACTUALLY HATE YOU. I didn’t get it.

I’d been writing forever. The best papers you’ve ever read, the dissertation of a champion, and I had been editing for academic writers for years. I knew how to write. I was a great writer. But technical writers—and copyeditors—do not good fiction writers make. It takes work, hard work, and dedication. I knew then that I needed to branch out, to study, and start Developmental Editing (which was something I was good at, but at the time, it didn’t speak to the academic writer in me). I had to really dig in, study craft, understand the beauty of storytelling, and that’s when things started clicking. (I am now in LOVE with Developmental Editing…as most of you know). My eyes finally opened…and I started thinking about that damn, behemoth of a manuscript.

Now, to do a little math here, I began that manuscript at age fifteen, and I was twelve years into the process. Well, one day I had an epiphany—one that really hit me in the gut—and I knew then that I finally ‘got’ it. My massive manuscript? All the revision, the entire plot, could be summarized in a few paragraphs and I should’ve started my story where it ended.

*EXPLETIVES!*

Alright. I rolled up my sleeves. One last try, and then I was done. I had other concepts I was working on, and querying. It was time to figure this out.

I re-wrote again…slowly. It took maybe eighteen months, but damn, it was good. I was pretty sure I had a winner. I was heavily pregnant when I finished, and my due date was fast-approaching (just like my #RevPit 2020 winner, @SasaHawk Oh hi! Agents, watch out!). The plan was to query everywhere before our son was born, and I did.

I was drowning in requests.

Queries Sent: 153

Requests: 62

A 41% request rate. Anyone who knows anything about query stats knows that number is whoaaaa. This Was It.

This.

Rejection.

Was.

Rejection.

It.

Rejection.

But this wasn’t ‘it’. I was closer—the writing was so much better, but I was pissed, and suffering from postpartum depression (yay!), so I took time off.

Fine. I was done with this manuscript. Over it. It was time to move on, and query The Other Things, and while I queried them, I wrote a romance.

It was bad, but I wrote it. I didn’t query it, because I knew it was bad (progress!), and it was really just a way to get back in the saddle.

Then, someone at work (hi Brittany) handed me a YA Fantasy and said I had to read it. But…YA is for kids, right? Reader, I was so wrong. It was one of the most exhilarating reads of my life, and I begged her for more recommendations, and more, and more, and a new concept formed.

A YA Sci-fi/Fantasy. I finished it in about eighteen months, and I could see the growth in my writing. I could sense it, and I felt this one was different.

In 2018, (19 years since my writing journey began, and 10 years into querying), I entered RevPit (oh, the irony), and had requests…and got on the shortlist…and one of my best friends in the whole world rejected me!!! Okay, so Jeni Chappelle wasn’t one of my best friends back then, but I never let her forget she did that, just saying.

I was going to shelve the manuscript without querying, and then something happened. Jeni slipped into my DMs to gush about my manuscript. Excuse me? You…you loved it?? She said it reminded her of a certain huge NYT Bestseller, and my confidence soared.

Reader, I queried it (and Jeni and I became fast friends). Here were my query stats for that one:

Queries Sent: 75

Requests: 48

A request rate in the sixties. YASSSS! It. Was. Happening.

It was not happening. The market had shifted. This was new for me, this idea of the market shifting. Before, the writing wasn’t quite there—not connecting, not vibing with the concept, the words, the story. But now the writing was there, and…the market had shifted?

Fine. Whatever. (I am the definition of tough-skinned crone after all this. No tears, just business!)

On to the next, this time a YA Dark Fantasy that took a deep, dark dive into who I am. I bled onto those pages, and just let it all out.

Queries sent: 64

Requests: 47

A 73% request rate??? Holy forkballs! I DID IT! I DID IT! But…when I got the first offer (May 2019), I had to turn it down, and part of me died.*(Note below)

I took a few months off, and then started querying again.

The second offer came eight months later, but I found myself in the same damn pickle, and had to turn that down as well.**(Note below)

The time between May 2019 and March 2020 were some of the darkest days of my life. I suffered horribly with my mental health, and became very quiet on Twitter. The people closest to me reached out, but I just couldn’t talk about it. Someone—two someones—had offered me my dream, on a plate, and then I screwed it all up by making the gut-wrenching decision to say ‘no’. It just broke something inside, and I didn’t think I’d come back from that. Where had the crocodile-skinned battle ax gone? This is why it’s so important to have people in your life who understand the pain—the blood, sweat, and tears that flood this industry with disillusion and paint it with despair. This isn’t a hobby. This is a life force, the thing that keeps some of us breathing. That support rarely comes from family and friends, (them: write book, send to publishers, lots of monies…right?!), but from the writing community. And I am so grateful that I have an incredible team behind me. They pulled me up. Dusted me off. And I know I made the right decision for my career. @Justine_Manzano @Megan_Manzano @SouffleLumiere @jenichappelle — I would’ve given up without you.

Rejections trickled in on the rest of the requests out for that manuscript, as they do, but this time it was: ‘This isn’t a debut, it’s more of the next book you sub once you have a foot in the door. Therefore I don’t think I can sell it at this time’.

Then, Covid hit (maniacal laughter). I had been working on a Middle Grade concept (because I needed sunshine and distraction. I’d even written a chapter of it back in December of 2019), and people (mostly Jeni) were encouraging me (read: yelling at me) to do it. Go for it. Nothing to lose.

“But my writing is too dark for Middle Grade.”

“I’d never be able to nail the voice.”

I was furloughed and remote learning with my kiddo (who turned seven in July! Happy birthday, kiddo), but I had a vague plan. I’d re-write that YA Sci-fi/Fantasy from 2018, because I had a clear vision for it, then I’d re-visit that behemoth manuscript again (yes, yes, stop yelling at me. Jeni did enough yelling, thank you), because I realized I didn’t actually have the skills to take on the concept before. Now, I have them. I should give it a whirl!

*CUE JENI YELLING SOME MORE*

She talked me into the Middle Grade, so I wrote. But by wrote, I mean spent most of my time on Twitter, or glued to the TV watching the apocalypse unfold. I wrote about half, and then it was mid-May. Three months, maybe 23,000 words. Not bad given everything, but man, I mean, what was the point? I’d just keep writing, get requests, then rejections. It’s an endless cycle.

Enter @SierraPung— oh hi, Sierra! We were chatting one day, and I was down and out, and she said, give me your first ten pages, because I’m about to do a positivity pass! (For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a cheerleading read of pages, where only the great things are pointed out. I never *personally* liked them, because I’m a masochist and generally don’t trust anything but scathing feedback of *my* work). But, Sierra’s a ray of sunshine, and she’s awesome. So I said: Oh, Lord. Fine. I sent them to her. Color me surprised when she then wanted everything I’d written so far, because it was actually…good? I was rejuvenated, and waited to hear back from her. I wasn’t disappointed. Her notes, her enthusiasm, it was everything I needed to finish, and I am now a reformed lover of positivity passes.

She set a deadline: Another chapter by Friday…or else. Yelp!

But I didn’t send her a chapter by Friday (three days away). I sent her the entire, completed manuscript by the following Thursday (ten days later). Finished. I wrote half a book in ten days. (It’s Middle Grade, don’t get too excited).

I waited. She had created such a buzz in our Twitter circle that I had more people than I could handle volunteering to beta read. My CPs (Critique Partners) were busy until August—justifiably so (everyone go check out The Order of the Key by Justine Manzano. It launched in July!)—so I sent it to my group of volunteers.

I normally don’t send out a first draft, but it was clean, and I wanted to give myself enough time to revise before the fall querying season (summer isn’t the best time to query, folks).

So, I waited for feedback (hopefully scathing so I could rip it to shreds and re-write it…because that’s what I’ve always done). In the meantime, I made sure Jeni had time to fit me in for a critique (she’s very busy and important), but she didn’t have an opening until mid-July (for the best friend she once rejected. Roooood).

Feedback was minimal—from EVERYone. Even from Jeni. So, I polished up my first draft (typos, a few small things here and there), and wrote my query and synopsis. Then I did what everyone does: I sent a few test queries (3), then revised the query and synopsis based on response.

With my actual first draft in-hand, I said screw it. Everyone’s behind due to Covid anyway, so maybe agents would finally see my submission around September/October, right in time for Halloween (my Middle Grade is a fun vampire-centered story). If I waited until September, they might not see it until Christmas.

Fine. Plus, #SffPit was coming up, and I love a pitch party! I knew it would be quiet on the agent front (summer plus Covid), but I wanted to see if readers had an interest in my story.

Here was my pitch:

STRANGER THINGS but VAMPIRES

12yo Sophie loves vampires. Literally. Her moms + bffs are vamps. But when Mama gets sick & turns evil, Sophie has to find the cure. That means exposing a conspiracy + stopping a mad scientist—all w/o breaking curfew #SFFpit #MG #FA #LGBT #F

As expected, the event only had a few agents in attendance, but holy moly, the writing community loved it! And thank you all so much.

I did get a few agent likes, and sent off my requested materials. By the afternoon, those likes had turned into full manuscript requests, so I spent the rest of the day meticulously querying my entire list of agents (don’t do this, send in batches of five and re-evaluate after each group). I quite literally was so done with everything that had happened last year that I threw caution to the wind. It was a short list, and everyone, and every agency, on it was vetted.

Reader, four days later I had an offer of representation. And that started an avalanche of requests that resulted in multiple offers from some incredible agents and powerhouse agencies.

Queries: 38

Requests: 27

That’s a 71% request rate.

And now I am overjoyed to announce that I am represented by Amy Giuffrida (@kissedbyink) of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She came to our call with a plan, with complete enthusiasm for my backlist, a passion for my work, and we just…gelled. I am 100% confident in her ability to get things done, and am overjoyed to be part of #TheATeam. Here’s to the next chapter, and hopefully a much shorter time in the sub trench (at least in comparison to the query trench)!

Everyone’s journey is different, and mine is but one in an ocean of dreams. So, keep dreaming, dreamers, because if you work hard enough, and smart enough, you can do anything you set your mind to.

Career Stats:

Time in the Query Trenches: 21 years.

Words written: 3.2 Million.

Requests Total: 362.

Rejections: 1003.

Bottles of wine earned: Infinite.

That’s it for now. To the future, friends!

Cheers,

Maria.

Editor, & Revise & Resub (#RevPit) Board Member

Notes from Earlier:

*This is a wonderful person and a great agent, but I’m still not taking questions about why I turned them down due to my own Mental Health. There are lots of excellent reasons to turn down offers of representation

**Same note as above…with focus on MH.

A few weeks ago I was asked to expand on ‘telling’ emotions in prose, vs ‘showing’ emotion through Deep POV. Buckle up, buttercups. 
Telling emotion in prose: He was angry
Showing emotion in prose: An angry flush stained his cheeks and he balled his fists.In the first example, we name the emotion, but also show the reader what that emotion looks like. This is just one way to show vs tell when it comes to emotion, and it’s generally the first layer.
 
Telling emotion in prose: He was angry
Showing emotion in prose: He flexed his hands, balling them into fists as a crimson flush stormed up his neck.In the second example, we use angry/ready-for-battle language (stormed) instead of naming the emotion, but understand he’s angry. This is the second layer when showing emotion.
Both of the above examples are simple show vs tell. Show vs tell is a hot debate, and I get it. Trust me, there are places where you should absolutely tell instead of show–time skips, laundry lists of description that tell us every miniscule detail of what the character is doing. But when it comes to emotion, show is King. Writing is, however, art, and you should always write from your heart. But you can’t truly write from your heart if you don’t convey that emotion to the reader. Show is how you do this.
So, it can take years to master show vs tell (DAMN IT, MARIA), or months (PHEW!). That all depends on you, and the work you put in. But then there’s yet another layer to tackle.
That next layer is Deep POV. Deep POV is where, regardless of first or third person, the reader is firmly inside the MC’s head–who the MC is, their personality, their wounds, trauma, their evolution as a person, their wants, desires, and feelings.
I’ve seen so many arguments about Deep POV. ‘Oh, it’s a YA thing *eyeroll*’. Untrue. It’s as present in modern Adult genre fiction (AND EVEN LITERARY) as it is in any other market. When you understand it, you can recognize it anywhere. So, why is it used?
In today’s publishing climate, with so many books available through e-book, self-pub, Indie, and Traditional publishing, it’s VITAL to hook that reader and suck them in from page one. We’ve become a society used to ‘want it NOW’ & a short attention span. I’m aware this isn’t true for all consumers, or readers. I grew up on classics, 19th century gothic, and even King. I still enjoy most of those books. But because of the shift in consumerism, publishing shifted, and now 30 pages of setting a scene means alienating the majority of readers.

I’ve gone on about what Deep POV is. Now, how to execute. *cracks knuckles* I see this question a LOT:

“In Deep POV, do I italicize or NOT italicize thoughts?”

The answer is, if you’re executing in Deep POV, there ARE no thoughts to italicize, because those thoughts are already part of the prose. (Don’t tear your hair out. Bear with me).

‘Like hell I will,’ she thought. “Sure, Jim.”1st person: Like hell I will. This guy’s got some balls. “Sure Jim…”

3rd Person: Hell would freeze over before Trace did this guy’s work. “Sure, Jim.” (11

That’s a start. Here’s a good resource: Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.

Now, back to the original question.

We’ve discussed showing emotions. Now on to showing emotion through Deep POV. First, a how-to, then examples.

1: Learn who your character really is. Pretend you’re a therapist. Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their circumstances? On the surface, what’s their trauma?

By trauma here, I mean the thing that haunts them. An incident, a lost loved one, etc.

2. Now that you have your initial profile, it’s time to dig deeper. WHY does that trauma haunt them? This brings us into the realm of the Emotional Wound. Pick up ‘The Emotional Wound Thesaurus’ by @AngelaAckerman and @beccapuglisi if you haven’t already.

3. After you’ve read all about the Emotional Wound, and used the worksheets, then identified your character’s wound from the wound profiles in that amazing book, you will now have an in-depth idea of who your character is.

Next. Become the character. Get inside their head.

4. Now it’s time to get real. How aware are you of balling your fists? That a flush storms up your neck? I don’t know about you, but I’m not always conscious until it makes me uncomfortable. And what makes us so uncomfortable? That physical reaction triggers a memory/feeling.
Armed with your complete character profile, and now attempting to be a ‘method writer’ (like a method actor, where you become your character), You’re ready to REALLY connect your reader to your MC. Which means it’s time to revamp my early examples.
1. Ted flexed his hands, balling them into fists as a crimson flush stormed up his neck. Breathe in for Jen. Out for his baby girl. But he was the one who held them, who waited, who watched the life drain from their eyes an hour before the ambulance arrived.
2. Ted flexed his hands, balling them into fists as a crimson flush stormed up his neck. Nobody said that shit to him. Not since he’d made Billy Braiden regret his damn mouth in 8th Grade. This guy, he didn’t know who the hell Ted was. But he was about to find out.
Those were two different examples, both Deep POV, both with the same physical (visceral) show, but with two different triggers that completely changed the scene. To summarize, you need:
1. A character profile
2. Dig DEEP into your character’s wound…the thing that contributes to their trauma/prevents them from dealing w/h trauma
3. Develop character Voice
4. Connect emotion to not only the character, bt what’s happening in the scene.
5. Get in MC’s head
If you need more help with Deep POV, or any element of craft, I offer affordable one-on-one coaching sessions, and I have August availability. Just visit my homepage for details.
Signing off,
Maria.

There are so many posts circulating from bloggers and agents concerning the opening chapter of a manuscript — cut the first twenty-five pages, start with conflict, no prologues, no tropes, no cliches…

If you’re ready to tear your hair out, then read on, because I’m about to cut the noise, and break the opening chapter into bite-size pieces…and hopefully shed some light on the ambiguous statements above. No more waffle, let’s just dive right in.

  1. The Opening Line.

If you Google ‘the opening line’, the internet will bring you to a barage of sites touting the ‘best’ book openers in the history of books eveeerrrrr! Some will bring you the infamous ‘Pride and Prejudice’ opener, some ‘The Lord of the Rings’, but no matter how different the examples, or the gaping publishing time-gap between these books, all of them have one thing in common:

They force the reader to have a reaction.

Example 1:

It was just another typical day in Laura’s world. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, she dabbed her freshly glossed lips — cherry number five, Walgreen’s finest — before running brisk fingers through her sun-kissed hair. Little did she know, but her bubble was about to burst.

It’s not a bad opening, but I have little to no reaction. I have no sense of who she is, where we are, or what’s going on. In other words…we didn’t open with conflict.

Let’s talk about conflict for a second. From my musings on social media, I’ve determined most writers don’t really understand what’s meant when an agent/publishing professional mentions ‘conflict’. They don’t actually mean open your manuscript in the middle of a battle, or start in the middle of your work. What they do mean, is begin with the catalyst. The moment/thing/person that shows us who your protagonist is, by observing their reaction to an interesting/bad/rough everyday situation. A moment that catapults them on their journey–in this case, their arc journey, not necessary the inciting incident (plot journey).

Begin where the protagonist has that jolting realization, and the reader will have a reaction/make a connection to the character.

Example 2:

Whoever just drove that brand new car — what the hell was it anyway? A Rolls? A Bentley? — into the back of Laura’s twenty year old VW bug, was about to lose a limb. Eyes narrowed, she squinted into the rear-view mirror.

“Fucking Bentley,” she murmured, subconsciously running a hand through her sun-kissed hair. A Bentley meant she should probably start massaging her neck, because a Bentley meant money.

Do you see the difference? Not only do we get the sense of who Laura is, but the reader will definitely have a reaction.

2. Character Development

Two rules here. Voice, and Progressive Showing (for more on Progressive Showing, check out my post on Show vs Tell: A Guide To Writing).

Your protagonist’s voice HAS to shine through in the first few paragraphs. If it doesn’t, you’ll get the good old: “I just didn’t connect with the protagonist” rejection.

Notes on voice:

Ask yourself: What would your character say, how would they say it, and did you convey that to the reader?

Incidentally, Progressive Showing is intimately tied to Voice. It’s the art of peppering your prose with imperative information without info-dumping.

Notes on Progressive Showing:

Ask yourself: If I were in this situation, would I really begin an inner monologue cataloging everything an 8th Grade bully said to me on the 15th of September of ‘x’ year?

No. You wouldn’t. Nine times out of ten, if you haven’t mastered the art of showing, the answer will be no. And that’s okay.

Example 1:

Laura couldn’t believe this moron had just crashed into her car. How the hell was she going to pay for the repairs? The rent was due on Friday, and Mr. Smith had told her time and again that if she was late, he’d evict her. And here was this smarmy ‘I-drive-a-Bentley’ asshole, looking hotter than an Arizona summer, who probably didn’t have to worry about things like ‘rent’ or ‘food’ or ‘car payments’.

Example 2:

One tailored leg followed the other as the driver unfolded himself from the plush leather depths of the Bentley. Laura’s brow furrowed. The son-of-a-bitch was taking his goddamn time, as if he had nowhere to be. As if Laura had nowhere to be. She’d have to cancel her date with Jon — or Jim…whatever — and volunteer for overtime if she wanted to fix her rust-bucket. A girl had to eat, and Mr. Smith would be banging down the door first thing Friday morning looking for rent. Taking a deep breath, she counted to ten.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a real sense of who Laura is in the second example. In fact…I think I like Laura. And I smell a hot, millionaire romcom here…maybe I should develop these examples…hmm…

3. A Page-Turning End.

It was suggested to me, many moons ago, that the opening chapter of a manuscript should end on a high note. In other words, the reader should be left a little breathless, and in want of a second chapter. (Really, all chapters should end like that, but it’s key for an opener.

End it on a question. End it on a mystery. But whatever you do, end it on an intake of  breath.

Example 1:

The hot guy grinned, and Laura’s knees weakened.

“What did you say your name was?” he purred, gaze raking her from head to toe.

“Laura. Laura Kelly.”

“I’ll have my office call you when the insurance company comes through.”

And without a word, hot guy lazily returned to his Bentley, leaving Laura with a bad case of the ‘oh-my’s’, and an addled head. Because, if she had been with it, she would have realized that he hadn’t taken any of her information. Groaning, she banged her head on the steering wheel.

Example 2:

When he smiled, the bustling intersection fell away, emerald eyes crinkling as they lazily raked every inch of her.

She swallowed.

“Laura. Laura Kelly.”

“Laura…Kelly,” he purred, testing her name on his tongue. Reaching into his perfect goddamn breast-pocket, he produced an ivory card, holding it between his fingers like a weathered Virginia Slim. “Here. I’ll have my office contact you when the insurance comes through. You can reach me here.”

She couldn’t help the feeling that she was doing something wrong. That taking that card meant she had somehow sealed a deal with the devil.

But as he disappeared into the confines of that ridiculously expensive car, Laura turned the card over…and her heart dropped in her chest.

No-one was going to believe her. Not her Mom, not her sister, and not her roommate, Kirsty.

“No fucking way,” she murmured.

So? Which is more compelling? (PS…I really am feeling this story LOL) For me, it’s the second. What’s on the card? Is it his name? Does she know him? Know OF him? Or did she really just seal a deal with the devil?

I hope this post cleared up a few of the finer points of the opening chapter. If not, my door is always open on Twitter, where I love receiving post suggestions! You can find me there, and I’ll be happy to answer as many questions as I can!

Until next time!

Keep Writing!

@Maria_Tureaud

 

 

 

 

 

Hi folks. I’ve seen so much misinformation out there regarding editing–what the different kinds of editing entail, and/or that every edit includes copy editing, line editing, proofreading, developmental editing, or a combination of all of these very different services. Today, let’s discuss the top 3 kinds of edits, starting with the most important, and highlight ways you can self-edit before soliciting service from a professional editor.

 

 

The King of All Editing is the Developmental/Content edit. When considering hiring a vetted freelance editor, this should be your first step. Not copy/line editing, not proofing. Development. A developmental editor looks at the building blocks (or foundation) of your manuscript, including plot, arcs, sub-plots, strength of characterization, and pacing.

 

After a developmental edit, you will be rewriting and revising to strengthen your manuscript to ensure a compelling read for agents and/or readers. Sometimes we know we want x, y, and z to happen, but when filling in the ‘how’, the story doesn’t make sense/falls flat. That’s why developmental editing is KING.

 

The self-edit method to try to strengthen your manuscript (and this should also be done BEFORE hiring a developmental editor, so they can really dig in to issues and not just scratch the surface) is to run your manuscript through Critique Partners (also known as CPs). Yes, Critique Partners, not just beta readers. CPs are writers with knowledge of fiction writing craft. Their role is to point out plot issues, holes, bunnies, and character issues. A beta reader’s role is to inform you of whether they enjoyed the manuscript and recommend it to a friend. Once you have run your manuscript past more than one CP, and have completed your revisions, your beta readers step in. After this process (which can take 3+ rounds of self-editing to nail, in my experience) you should do one more round to check for grammar/spelling/homonyms before either querying, hiring a developmental editor, or having the manuscript proofread (this applies mostly to those deciding to self-publish, or those who are going the Indi route with small publishers without in-house editors).

 

The second type of editing that’s kind of important is Copy/Line editing. Some editors offer these separately, some call both copy editing but do both in one package. This kind of editing looks at readability, style, syntax structure, grammar etc. All the technical parts  of your working manuscript.

 

A good Copy/Line editor should have a background in your particular age market and genre so they don’t compromise the voice of your characters, by turning historical vibes into contemporary, or by stiffening modern day dialogue with their 100% pure academic writing background.

 

For self-editing, I recommend the ProWritingAid software. It works better, catches more errors, and is more in depth than Grammarly. When, after this, do you know if you need a professional? If betas/CPs are still having issues with readability, it’s time to think about an editor.

 

And now, to finish, the third heavy hitter is proofreading. If you need a manuscript proofread (which I only recommend for those of you who self-publish), you need fresh eyes on that manuscript, preferably a professional who will look at each line with a magnifying glass. CPs and betas will miss a lot of what needs to be fixed, because they can be miniscule issues that go undetected as our brains tend to correct sentences as we read. They should still catch glaring things, but by now you should be on your billionth draft, and all those eyes may have missed errors.

A manuscript doesn’t need to be proofread to send to agents or publishing houses. No one will throw your manuscript across the room over a typo. In fact, a manuscript never has to be professionally edited on any level to send to agents or publishing houses, though most writers do tend to look into Developmental Editing when rejections start rolling in. This is a very specific storytelling skill that goes beyond the technicalities of ‘language rules’ and grammar.

 

But if you do hire an editor, it’s good to know what to expect from the service you choose. Eg. Don’t expect a Developmental Editor to fix your typos, or a proofreader to point out a character issue. It doesn’t work like that. Also, if you decide to proceed with multiple levels of editing, ensure you follow this order:

 

  1. Developmental edit
  2. Copy/Line edit
  3. Proofreading.

 

Half your manuscript could change after a Developmental Edit, and you don’t want to waste any more time or money to have a manuscript copy edited for a second time.

 

And remember, whether you hire a professional or not, nothing in publishing is guaranteed, and no one should ever promise you success in exchange for service. Be safe, be diligent, and be sure to vet you editors.

 

Until next time.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Maria Tureaud,

Editor.

 

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The phrase is everywhere. A simple Google search of ‘How To Write A Book’ will result in thousands of pages popping up in reference to it.

What is it? The all cryptic, all powerful, Showing vs. Telling.

If you happen to be a budding author, then you’ve most certainly heard the term. Hell, you’ve probably read blog after blog, and article after article, that attempted to explain what it means, what it should look like, and how to execute it.

But you’ve probably found nothing but pages upon pages of vague paragraphs eluding to the holy grail of getting published. You sit there, like a World War II enigma engineer desperately trying to crack the code! Trust me, you’re not alone.

So, what’s the magic formula?! There has to be one!

Showing isn’t just description–character does x, then y, then z as the sun reflects off someone’s eyeballs. I find when it comes to craft, newer writers tend to take things very literally, and until it clicks…it doesn’t click.

 

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic,” you mutter, rolling your eyes. Meanwhile, your knuckles blanch white as you grip that steaming mocha soy latte for all its worth. Mom was dramatic too, but Aunt Nina wasn’t a witch. You’d searched that creepy-ass house from top to bottom and nary a broom to be found. Determined not to read the screen, you run your fingers through damp, tangled hair before finally taking a sip of your latte. Fortified, you fill your lungs and reluctantly find yourself glancing at the computer. Damn it!

 

You’re a writer, and unless you’ve somehow nabbed a book deal from one of the ‘Big Five’, of course you’re interested.

 

Little did you know, but the tutorial has already begun.

 

There are two main kinds of ‘showing’…descriptive, and – what I like to call – progressive.

 

Let’s begin.

 

Descriptive Showing:

Pick the first page of your manuscript. Now read it out loud.

(Why is she making me talk to myself?)

My next question might seem a bit odd, but it’s very simple: Can you see it?

Huh?

If your manuscript was translated from the page to cinema…could you see it? Of course, you can see it in your head…it’s your manuscript after all!

But what about the audience? Can they see it? And by seeing it…I had a damn revelation here…what’s really meant, is: Can your readers see who your protagonist is, as well as the world around them, and how they interact with it?

 

Example 1:

Dirk was a good guy. He never did a bad thing in his life, that is, not until ten minutes ago. It was the other guy’s fault, he should have never tried to pick a fight.

Dirk had served three tours in Afghanistan. A genuine, decorated, war hero. Then along comes this guy, talking shit about Dirk’s girl, and suddenly we got a really big problem. An ‘oh-shit-where’s-Dexter-when-you-need-him’ kind of problem.

**End**

 

I mean, it’s not bad. We get the picture. Dirk’s a vet that just got back from Afghanistan, and has apparently made fist meat out of some guy…on a scale equivalent to everyone’s favorite vigilante, blood splatter analyst/serial killer!

But can you really see it? Can you actually see who he is, and the world around him? Let’s try again.

 

Example 2:

Dirk was a good guy. Even now, in the ominously dark alley, with nothing but the wheeze of his own ragged breath for company, Dirk was a good guy.

Steam rose from blood-slick hands, yet all he could do was stand there, staring at the still, silent body crumpled at his feet, as a spasm ripped through his overworked  bicep.

“I killed him,” he whispered, as a nearby cab flew over an ill fitting manhole. Whipping around, Dirk dropped to the ground, prepared for the torrent of gunfire that never manifested.

PTSD would do that to you.

**End**

 

Now, could you see that? Could you see who he was, based solely on his interaction with the world around him? Could you see how upset he was without me ‘telling’ you how upset he was? Could you see all that he had been through without me ‘telling’ you that he was a vet?

If the ‘camera’ can’t see it, then your reader can’t; and the only way to accomplish this with descriptive showing, is to use the five senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

 

Tell: The sun was shining. It was really bright

Show: The sun’s reflection off the stainless steel teapot horrified Mary. It was too early, and the glare hurt her head like a tequila fueled hangover after a holiday weekend.

Tell: Her skin was so soft.

Show: His calloused hands skimmed the silk-like smoothness of her yielding skin.

Tell: Lisa missed her mom’s cooking. Sometimes, she could close her eyes and taste that chicken pot pie.

Show: In quiet moments, when grief crept up so unexpectedly, Lisa could almost taste the flaky, buttery, crust of her mom’s famous, blue ribbon winning, chicken pot pie.

 

Progressive Showing:

Chances are, you give a lot of back story. I’m guilty of it too. We want the reader to understand the world that we have created…but we don’t have to make the most fatal of literary mistakes: The Info-Dump.

That term gets tossed around about as much as a Sunday game ball, but it can be applied to more than an incredibly detailed prologue outlining the entire history of your fictitious alien race.

The progression of your story can either be shown, or told. You don’t have to reveal every little detail of the story.

Think of your favorite movie. How are you introduced to the main character, and the plot? Are you told everything there is to know about them? How are you introduced to their quirks?

It could be as simple as having the detective in your manuscript constantly flipping a Zippo lighter. Now, imagine that the camera zooms in on the lighter. What does that tell us? That the lighter is significant.

It could just mean that he smokes…or that he used to smoke.

Zooming in on that lighter has just raised a whole bevvy of questions.

Why did he stop smoking? Health reasons? Maybe he never smoked…maybe the lighter was his dad’s – a cop like him…

Or maybe, his own lit cigarette was the catalyst for the house fire that killed his entire family, and flicking that lighter is the only thing keeping him grounded in the here and now…

My God I’m morbid!

 

Example 1:

Lori didn’t get along with her mom, but hated her stepfather more. As bad as ‘Mommy’ had been, nothing compared to the outwardly charismatic Ryan Saleno.

He was a ‘pillar’ of the community. The Mayor of the city of Aldridge, and the man that had made her life a living hell through the grace of his fist. Her mother too. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how she was going to get through the Holidays…

**Note: There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this passage. The voice is fine, we get the idea, and we have been told about Lori’s dysfunctional family. It’s a good passage, but it’s also very run of the mill.

 

Example 2:

Passing the little coat closet by her front door, Lori paused. It really was amazing. Not the closet itself – in New York City a postage stamp would be bigger than the cubby that she shoved her jacket into.

No. The amazing thing was that still, after all these years, her heart fluttered every damn time she walked passed it. Or any closet for that matter.

“Where did you go, chickadee?”

Lori shuddered, hesitating as her fingers hovered above the bowl that held her keys. Only God knew how much of her youth had been spent in her childhood closet, hiding from his drunken rages.

The charismatic Mayor of Aldridge – her stepfather.

“We really don’t have to go, Lor.”

Turning, Lori smiled at Ricky. He was Mayor Ryan Saleno’s exact opposite, and she was grateful for that.

“I have to. For Mom.” Taking a deep breath, and grabbing the keys, Lori placed her hand in Ricky’s safe grasp. It was now or never. “Have I mentioned how much I hate the Holiday’s?”

**Note: Can you see the difference? Instead of telling the story of her dysfunctional family, we have shown the story through visual memory (sight), auditory memory (sound), and we could not only understand Lori’s hesitation, but we could almost empathize with her. The well-timed dialogue only adds to the scene, progressing the story forward, and allows us to fill in some of the gaps.

Instead of telling us the back story, simply elude to it. It adds an air of mystery, and succeeds in propelling the story along…aka, it transforms into a page turner!

It’s tough, and it’s difficult. Let’s be truly honest with ourselves – if it were easy, we would already be published.

I have come to the realization that anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can craft a novel.

Research and practice help, but I’m hoping that my own experience can help others find their way.

Remember, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and line by line : Can the audience see it?

And until they can, your masterpiece might never see the light of day.

Your story needs to be told, so take a deep breath, and revise.

Come follow me on Twitter! @Maria_Tureaud

Resolution. A decision, mental state,  or determination to resolve.

Resolve. To convert or transform by any process, through firmness of intent.

Where is your book going? How does your protagonist develop? How will the conflict be righted?

These are the questions you should ask yourself as you begin to write the third and final part of your query body.

Let’s re-cap the three elements to a successful query.

  1. The Hook – Why should the reader (in this case the agent) read on?
  2. The Conflict – What drama happens in the book?
  3. The Resolution – Where will it all end?

Before looking at your resolution and slap-happily giving everything away, remember: the query is not the synopsis.

We have to whet the reader’s appetite. Why would they want to read on if you’ve already laid everything out on the line?

Once again, I urge you all to approach the resolution like the back jacket of a book…so hop to your bookshelves…

“But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion. If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…” – The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

“One Choice can transform you.” – Divergent by Veronica Roth.

“But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?” – Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard.

“Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assasins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the Game of Thrones.” – You must be hiding under a rock if you don’t know what this one is.

So…all four are effective resolutions, but they all seem so different. What, exactly, do you put in that final paragraph?

The resolution can be a tough one, but though all four examples above seem very different, they actually do have a few things in common.

  1.  Each paragraph feels like the protagonist(s) come to a crossroads – one path leads to some sort of Hallelujah moment, and the other to their destruction. This can be a mental state or literal destruction. No, not every book has a nuclear bomb about to go off, but every book should have some sort of journey. Personal, literal, it doesn’t matter. Eventually there is always a choice. There will always be a crossroads, and the choice made at said crossroads will always determine the outcome of the book.
  2. The stakes are clearly defined – if x does not happen, y will occur. Well, Divergent doesn’t directly state the stakes, but we get the feeling that a trans-formative choice needs to take place.
  3. All four are moreish. They whet the reader’s appetite, giving a glimpse into what might happen without giving anything away.

Pulling your hair out? I know. Take a deep, cleansing breath. I don’t think I can say it enough: the query is more important than the book. You need to take your time. Research the right agents. Construct your letter effectively.

There are a few excellent resources to help you find the right agent.

  1. http://www.agentquery.com/
  2. https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
  3. https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Literary-Agents-2017-Published/dp/144034776X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496331343&sr=8-1&keywords=guide+to+literary+agents

Number 3 is my personal favorite. Ensure that you purchase the most updated version – a new list is published every year…and DOUBLE CHECK THE LISTED AGENT’S WEBSITE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! No attachments means no attachments. They want a synopsis, you send a synopsis. First 10 pages, means first 10 pages!

Once you have your agents (which should number above 20), it’s time to construct your letter.

You’ve probably read about personalization in query letters, well so have I. But I’ve also read conflicting instructions when talking about personalization, so – if you feel inclined – follow my how-to below.

How To Personalize your query letter:

These are the ONLY scenarios where personalization is a good idea:

  1. You met the agent at a writer’s conference (sorry, if you happen to be said agent’s barista at Starbuck’s, I wouldn’t mention it).
  2. Another agent recommended that you send your query to said agent. This is called a referral (in this case, DO NOT LIE. Agent’s talk to each other…A LOT. It’s best to supply the recommendation e-mail at the very end of your query…as in, after the sample pages etc. I would mention that you’ve included said e-mail).
  3. A book/author they represent absolutely changed your life (for the better…no mentions of swirling jealousy and a trip to rehab please!)

How NOT to Personalize your query letter:

  1. “I really wanted to submit to you because I thought you might like my work” – Duh. Said agent assumes you’ve already done your research and your homework, so there’s no need to state the obvious. You don’t get extra marks for finding out who they represent etc.
  2. “You like sci-fi, and this is the best sci-fi you’ll ever read” – Nope. See my post on The Author Ego. LEAVE IT AT THE DOOR!
  3. “You’ll want to jump on this, it’s a new best-seller!” – If I were an agent, I’d pass out of spite. Luckily for everyone, I’m not an agent.

So, unless some chance or contrived encounter fell under the HOW TO menu above, forget personalization *hands out tissues to mop up nervous sweat*. Relax. There’s a formula!

Here it is!

  1. Dear (insert agent’s actual name, not Dear Agent…and be professional. Use their last name and SPELL IT CORRECTLY)
  2. Immediately jump into THE HOOK
  3. Continue onto THE CONFLICT
  4. You got it…THE RESOLUTION
  5. New paragraph: *Insert book title in CAPS here*, is a work of *Insert genre here*, complete at *Insert wordcount here*.
  6. Continue with: It is *Insert comp title here* meets *insert another comp title/tv show* (you can flourish a bit here and add on things like: In a style similar to *insert author’s name* with a twist of *some other fanciful thing that sets your book apart), it will appeal to a *insert genre again* audience ages *insert your best guess here*.
  7. Optional paragraph: Biography. Note. ONLY WRITE A BIO IF YOUR BIO IS RELEVANT. Don’t mention that you’re a  dad, or a mom, or that you live wherever. Only mention the following: If your writing has won any awards, if you have ever been paid to write, if you have ever been paid to edit. If money has never been exchanged for your work, then it’s not relevant. The agent wants to see if others found your work pay-worthy. Keep the bio simple. I have a degree in *BA here*, with a passion for *insert genre related passion*.
  8. New Paragraph: Below, please find the *insert what the agent requested in their submission guidelines* pasted below the body of this letter for your perusal.
  9. New paragraph: “I truly hope to hear from you soon, and look forward to potentially working together in the future.”
  10. New Paragraph:

                       Yours Sincerely,

                      *Name*

                      *e-mail address*

                      *phone number

                     *street address*

All that being said, as this is the third and final installment of The Dreaded Query, I decided to bite the bullet and come up with a query of my own to share with you all. A round of applause to all my Twitter followers that were such great sports to participate over the last few months, but it’s time to bare my own manuscript. It’s only fair.

That being said, this series got me thinking about my own, even though I’m months away from being ready for the query stage, and I’ll probably re-work this a thousand times before I am, but here it is. My own Hook, Conflict, and resolution:

When angst-ridden Isa is suddenly freed from her subservient world, her life becomes one worth living. That is, until the Truth is revealed.

Perditio…it comes.

She is the Reaper. Tainted. The unwilling piece to the puzzle of Earth’s survival. But Isa can barely control her own anger, never mind her new found power. It’s going to take a miracle to pull it off, and her reluctant protector agrees.

Brandt doesn’t believe Earth can be saved. He’s just along for the ride, honor bound to keep Isa alive though his life is already over.

So when the past has destroyed the present, and the future remains unknown, betrayal rises from the depths of Perditio, extinguishing the flame of hope that has been kindling in the hearts of those already enlightened with the Truth.

Will Isa cave beneath the pressure? Or will the strong, powerful Reaper that she has to become rise from the ashes of the girl she once was?

Until next time, I can always be found on the Twittersphere! @Maria_Tureaud

Thanks for tuning in!

-Maria

Books are all about conflict. Think about that.

In this sense, conflict can be anything that causes a problem for your protagonist – not just wars, or serial killers, or world ending asteroids about to hit the planet (I always tear up when Tea Leone squeezes her father as that gargantuan tsunami roars toward land. Her whispered plea: Daddy! You know the one!)

Conflict can be found in a whisper, an unbidden memory as your protagonist spies a familiar face among the crowd; something – anything – that sends him or her on their journey.

Sounds like hogwash? It’s not.

Many writers map out their conflict long before they translate thoughts to drafting phase, but just as many writers don’t. Either method is fine – whatever works for you! But you have to be able to identify the conflict in your story in order to write a successful query.

Think about the books you’ve read. Every one of them has some kind of drama. Even the fluffiest of romances sport the dilemmas to end all dilemmas! So what’s yours?

Is it an actual conflict? One Ring to rule them all…

Is it a central theme? One choice can transform you…

…or…

Is it a state of mind? This is Bridget Jones, signing off…

Trust me, that last one is definitely a state of mind!

So, let’s recap the formula of a successful query:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Conflict
  3. The Resolution

When I first started this little project, I realized that a lot of writers couldn’t seem to identify the conflict in their manuscripts. Not because they didn’t know what their conflict was; but again, they seemed to focus on the details that they deemed ‘vital information’, as opposed to the snappy overview.

Boil it down. Write, re-write, and hone in on what’s really important. What will make a reader pick up your book?

In The Dreaded Query Part One, we discussed the importance of The Hook. Remember, you have four seconds before an agent passes your query based on the hook alone.

If you were successful, congratulations! You have just made it to level 2: Another six seconds! You’ve graduated to a whole ten seconds before an agent passes!

As I urged you all in Part One…think about that.

If we, as writers, can’t bring the plot together in one cohesive paragraph, the agent will assume that half your manuscript is waffle.

So, again, I would like to highlight the query of another brave Twitter follower – Christi Silver. An amazing writer, Christi is definitely worth a follow – @EditmoiSVP

Thanks to Christi for participating! Read on for her original query! The conflict is highlighted in red.

Chuck Palahniuk’s gritty tone meets Lidia Yuknavitch’s ruthless style in EXPOSURE, a 75,000-word noir thriller about a bad-girl undergrad who follows her photography professor and her own good intentions down a spiral of self-destruction in the war-torn Middle East.

Eden Saintsbury is no saint, but man, she thinks she can heal people, and she sure isn’t above using her body to do it. A Chicago poli-sci/psych double major, Eden says she has plans to one day counsel victims of war, and in the meantime she prepares by exposing herself to others’ traumas. Between classes, Eden preys on troubled souls. She homes in, uses sex to get into her captives’ heads, and once she’s in, she does some housekeeping.

Her new girl, Zoe Miller, is an empathic police sketch artist whose drawings reveal more than just her subjects’ motivations, and Eden finds herself unexpectedly enraptured. Zoe, a loner who’s swept up in a manhunt for a suspected terrorist, has no time for Eden’s ploys and soon draws the line. Reeling, Eden flings herself into an adventure with her grief-struck photography professor, Jason Lazarus, which leads her to some forced perspective in Syria and helps Zoe frame her missing suspect back in Chicago.

Exposure follows the alternating points of view of Jason, a cold and compulsive photographer who eventually falls in love with Eden’s pure intentions, and Zoe, Eden’s on-again-off-again girlfriend whose drawings bring to light the dangerous depths that Eden is willing to go to help others find their good sides.

Very nicely written, but I had trouble identifying the central conflict of her manuscript (her query was also missing a hook). Upon reaching out to Christi, and asking a few key questions, I was able to give this great query a once over.

Disclaimer: Only Christi knows the true theme/conflict of her work, and though I did ask questions, my re-work might not accurately depict the story that she was trying to tell.

Here it is, again, conflict is highlighted in red:

Eden Saintsbury may be a woman on a mission, but she’s no saint.

 A student with a soft spot for war victims, Eden finds herself in the midst of an adventure after her empathic police sketch artist girlfriend – Zoe – calls it quits; sending Eden straight into war torn Syria on the heels of her grief-stricken photography professor – Jason.

Cold and compulsive, Jason is the perfect test subject as Eden endeavors to drag him back to the light; but when Zoe’s empathic sketches take a very dark turn, the dangerous depths of Eden’s good intentions are revealed, ultimately placing them all in very grave danger.

Which version would entice you to pick up the book and read on?

Here are the questions I asked Christi to determine the conflict:

  1. Can Zoe not concentrate on her abilities with Eden in the picture?
  2. Does something happen in Syria to link back to Zoe?
  3. Does Eden ‘find’ herself in Syria due to something Jason does?

Why did I ask those particular questions? There’s method to my madness, and maybe my madness can help you.

1. I needed to find out if Zoe was central to the plot, or if she was just a character that Christi deemed important

2. I needed to discover the stakes – in other words, what’s the one (or two) thing (s) that would completely screw up Eden’s life if the worst happened.

3. How do all three of these characters link together?

Go through your query line by line, asking similar questions, and if you find yourself answering those questions aloud – as opposed to seeing those answers in your query – it’s time to start over.

The next query I want to share was missing a good hook when I first read it…and that’s about all that was missing. Sekou Smith – a guy with a hysterical Twitter feed – is definitely worth a follow – @KSekouM

Here’s his original query:

Maysar flees his former master’s hired slave hunters.

Riding the front of a sandstorm in a stolen inflatable, he crashes into the legendary Floating Library. The grandson of one of Timbuktu’s most revered scholars and himself a skilled wind cartographer, Maysar settles into life aboard the flying palace of knowledge.

But when ruthless slavers attack the Library and threaten the tentative peace of the region, Maysar realizes he has to take a stand.

This sounds like an awesome read! There’s conflict, and resolution. It’s clear, concise, and a great query example. I know it doesn’t quite follow my formula, but two of the main components were present, and it felt like the back jacket of a book – so revising with a fresh perspective was easy.

Here’s my revision, complete with snappy Hook:

If your inner peace was in jeopardy, would you risk your freedom?

Fleeing his former master’s slave hunters, Maysar steals an inflatable, riding the golden crest of a sandstorm before crashing into the legendary Floating Library.

The grandson of one of Timbuktu’s most revered scholars, and a skilled wind cartographer, Maysar settles into life aboard the flying palace of knowledge. Freedom is everything that he expected it to be, and Maysar doesn’t want to waste one more second of his life.

But when ruthless slavers attack the Library and threaten the tentative peace of the region, Maysar realizes that he has no choice.

He has to take a stand.

That’s it for another installment of The Dreaded Query. I hope the above examples can help you on your quest for a Literary Agent! And give those two brave souls a follow on Twitter! They were great sports!

Next time, we will look at the Resolution – the moreish paragraph that brings the entire query together.

Until then, I can be found on the Twittersphere – @Maria_Tureaud

And remember – crafting your query is 100 times more difficult than crafting your novel. Don’t rush it!

-Maria

I wanted to put fingers to keyboard in order to lay out a few thoughts on something that can’t, and shouldn’t, be ignored.

The Author Ego.

Humans are selfish by nature. We tend to rationalize the world around us in terms of our own existence. How are we affected? How did this happen? Nine times out of ten, most people find themselves on the wrong end of a self accountability ladder. “It wasn’t me.” “I did everything I could.” “I don’t understand.”

            “The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.” – Muhammad Iqbal.

How much, or how little, does our own behavior catalyze our current situation? The answer is simple. One hundred percent.

There are many shades of ego, but the Author Ego is the darkest. As expectations can become the graveyard of broken dreams, so too can the ego stand in the way of our success.

For those of you already ‘agented’ and published, you are doing something right. Something the rest of us are trying to figure out.

Like eighty percent of Americans, I too cultivated the novel idea that I could –well — become a novelist. So I did it. With one creative writing class under my belt, and a love of English Literature, I wrote a book.

One huge gigantic book just shy of half a million words (budding authors everywhere have sprayed coffee all over themselves).

I had no idea what I was doing, so I just kept going.

Five years of stealing an hour here, and an hour there. Of getting up at 4am to get in five hours of quality book time before going to my regular nine to five. Ego wasn’t driving me then. Ambition was.

And I did it. I finished. It was good. My hopes rose…until I ‘Googled’ the words ‘word count’.

Debut novels should typically fall between 60,000 – 90,000 words depending on the genre. Shocked didn’t even begin to cover my reaction. My book was almost five times that length!

So I did what any other newbie would do — picking a cliffhanger, I slapped an epilogue at the end and went about my merry way as I queried the literary world; and in my mind, they were welcome.

Now, I don’t want to say that I wasted large portions of my life, but I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be to break into the literary industry.

It led to a discovery: writing a book is easy. If it wasn’t, then literary agents would get back to us within hours instead of weeks, but because it’s relatively ‘easy’ to write a book, they have hundreds of queries to get through. Every week.

Anyone can write — I’m testament to that fact — but not everyone can truly craft a novel.

I had no luck getting published with that beast of a manuscript. Chopping it up did nothing for it, neither did the re-writes or revisions that followed.

I should have shelved it then. After all, it would always wait for me, but I found that I couldn’t wait for ‘it’.

My ego was damaged, and I ‘couldn’t understand’. I even came to the conclusion that there was no way these agents were even reading my sample pages — the same whine of wannabes clogging forums with their bitter, bruised egos.

Have you ever wanted Mr. Big Shot Agent to tell you the truth? Why can’t they go all Simon Cowell on us so that we can just throw in the towel?

Probably because if they did, we wouldn’t keep going. We wouldn’t grow and develop, and people like Stephen King would have never been published. (Did you know that he actually tossed ‘Carrie’ in the trash after it was rejected, forcing his supportive wife to go dumpster diving because she wanted him to rewrite it? No? True Story. Now look at him!)

My moment of clarity came in the shower — as all good thoughts do.

I realized that if I stood any chance of progressing — any chance at all — then I would have to deflate my sense of awesome and listen.

            Really listen. “I didn’t quite connect with the protagonist the way that I had hoped”.

A form rejection line that some of you might be familiar with…but have you ever read between the lines?

I dissected what was really being said, without those agents actually saying it — because if they did, I probably would have thrown in the towel.

            “I didn’t quite connect” – Dialing doen my ego fifty notches, I realized that what the agents were trying to convey was the simple yet devastating truth: I was telling instead of showing (even though I was confident in my showing abilities!), and as a result they had no emotional connection to my protagonist.

‘Showing’ — aka describing a character’s experience through the use of all five senses — connects your readers to your manuscript, creating that emotional connection that compels them to read on.

It. Is. Essential.

Without taking that step back, I never would have had that lightbulb moment, and without that lightbulb moment I would have continued on as before: lost, hurt, and angry in the face of rejection.

Bitterness is born of wasted tears, so don’t waste them. Anger becomes futile in the face of useless ‘what ifs’, so toss them away.

Instead, open your ears, pull down those walls, and really read those rejection letters, bad reviews, or critiques.

If you do, you will soon realize that you are your own worst enemy, and that your Author Ego is crippling your potential writing career.

Until next time, I can be found on Twitter @Maria_Tureaud

-Maria

 

I thought we had ten seconds. We don’t. In an interview with the ‘Writer’s Digest‘, Literary Agent Barbara Poelle stated:

“Sometimes it really is only, say, four seconds; a first line can close it down for me…”

Four. Seconds. Think about that. It has taken you months, if not years to write, craft, revise, re-craft, revise, scrap, re-write, revise, and finish your manuscript.

Everything that you have achieved through personal growth and self-development boils to down to four seconds.

You will also note that my voice has changed for this blog post. It’s a little more serious, and you would do well to take note. This is serious.

Four seconds is the time it takes to read a text message, and that’s all you have.

Literary veterans, whether traditionally published, perpetually unpublished, or published in the indie industry know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t, here are a few home truths for everyone to digest.

  1. Most new Literary Agents have 2 jobs. I’m not talking about that of agent and editor. I’m talking about agent and part time librarian, or cashier at your favorite retailer. Seems crazy? It’s not. If you’ve ever had monetary obligations then you’ll understand the need to make money.
  2. Most Literary Agents receive, on average, 200 queries a week, and contrary to popular belief, they aren’t just flouncing about from meeting to meeting, nose squarely ensconced in their phone just waiting for your query to ping their mailbox! Agents are hard working, ‘not enough hours in the day’ kind of people.
  3. Agents don’t have time set aside to read queries. They check them on the train in the morning, on their lunch break, and in between cuddles with their children at night time.

So, you literally have four seconds, because their time is that precious.

I can hear you now: “But, my work is precious! I missed x, y and z to write it, and it took x amount of (insert months or years here) to complete!

Exactly. So why do so many writers spend zero time on the query? I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again : The query is as important, if not more important than your manuscript!

You can have written the most incredible book that the world has ever been welcome to read, but no-one will ever see it if your query falls flat.

Four. Seconds. To tell your entire story? Now that’s overwhelming.

Go to your bookshelf and pick up a random book. Now, turn it over, and begin to read the back cover.

I picked two from mine.

  1. One Choice; decides your friends. One Choice; defines your beliefs. One Choice; determines your loyalties – forever. One Choice can transform you.
  2. Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family.

What do both have in common? At first glance…nothing. One is Divergent by Veronica Roth, and the other is The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

But they do have something in common: they are both hooks.

The Hook:

This is your four seconds. This. Is. It.

Imagine yourself in a bookstore. You pick up a book, turn it over, and begin to read. That first sentence/paragraph determines whether or not you read on. You’ve probably read hundreds of hooks in your lifetime. How many of those hooks enticed you to keep reading and ultimately purchase that particular book? Probably a very small percentage.

Query hooks should always be treated like the back jacket of a book. Like the back jacket, your opening sentence/paragraph should move the agent to read on, and your four seconds become ten.

Every hook should encompass the following ingredients:

  1. The premise of the book
  2. The emotional tone of the book
  3. The stakes
  4. Overview

Everything in one. The hook evokes excitement, intrigue, and a will to continue. Without it, an agent will likely pass on your manuscript, and your next paragraphs will never be read.

The formula to a successful query are:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Conflict
  3. The Resolution

Examples are my jam, so that’s the only way to get my point across…but I couldn’t just make up plot ideas on the spot for manuscripts that don’t exist.

Having reached out to the Twittersphere, a few brave souls have allowed me the opportunity to read, dissect, and re-work their queries so that we can all learn together.

This week, I am highlighting the work of @JesseSmithBooks. Thanks for helping us out Jesse Smith! You’re a trooper!

I’m just going to paste Jesse’s original query body below. I’m omitting the actual letter itself – that’s a completely different blog post – as the Hook really should be the first sentence after you type Dear Ms. Wonderful Agent. So, here it is:

Title: Arthur is Dead Length: 150,695 words

Genre: Noir fiction

Log Line: The antihero’s quest for redemption in the dark modern world of business and politics

The Hook: In Arthur is Dead, a failed quest for the perfect business model sends the new CEO down a dark spiral of bad decisions. But can he reveal his brother’s murderer, without breaking a deathbed promise? Lance Maypole narrates the story of his rise to power, his fall from grace, and his struggle for redemption in the fast-paced and sometimes violent modern world.

Alternate genres: Literary fiction, Mystery, Dark humor, Modern retellings & reimaginings, Arthurian retellings

The 1-paragraph synopsis: Lance’s competitive nature struggles with his better judgment when he meets Cindy. She is the perfect woman; but tragically, she is already engaged to his brother, Arthur. Years later, the startup enterprise loses a tremendous amount of money pursuing an elusive “Holy Grail” business model concept. Lance is left in charge of the company when Arthur departs to pursue a path in politics, running on a platform of global unification. In his absence, Cindy comes to Lance to ask for help dealing with a stalker who is harassing her on social media. Lance tracks down the “troll” and brutally murders him. Having committed this transgression, Lance begins a torrid love affair with Cindy. Everything comes crashing down when the affair is discovered by Cindy’s son, who goes by the hacker forum screen name, Mordred. Shortly thereafter, Arthur dies under suspicious circumstances. Lance suffers a nervous breakdown, and Mordred rises to CEO in his absence. Scandal, losses, new competition, and the insider trading investigation cause Gavin and other members of the Board of Directors to call for the dissolution of the enterprise. Lance returns to try to salvage the family business. In the final courtroom showdown, Lance must face Federal charges that he headed a criminal conspiracy intent on sabotaging his own company for the purpose of profiting from an insider trading scheme. After narrowly winning the court case and conducting some soul-searching, in the end Lance is reconciled to his long-suffering wife, Elaine.

Absolutely no offense to Jesse, but I lost interest pretty early on. He fell into the same trap that we all do/have in the past. Too much info!

Trying to squish a synopsis of the entire work into one sentence is frigging hard! So hard, that we get lost in the emotional connections that tie us to our work and are unable to step away from the waffle. To us, every detail is important!

I reached out to Jesse to clarify a few points, and here is what I came up with instead.

Disclaimer: Only Jesse knows the true theme of his work, and though I did ask questions, my re-work might not accurately depict the story that he was trying to tell. Names have been changed at the author’s request.

Here it is:

Hook: In love with his brother’s fiancée, married man – Lance – consumes himself with the seduction of the business world; until he does the unthinkable – takes another man’s life in order to protect Cindy’s honor.

Conflict: When their love affair is discovered, Lance’s downward spiral into the pits of an insider trading investigation begins.

Resolution: Will he rise like the phoenix, on a blazing trail of fire? Or will his brother’s untimely murder unman his life long quest: Every Man’s Search For Immortality – the legacy of his family.

Details come in the synopsis, and only if the agent wants to pursue your work.

Which version would entice you to buy the book if you were browsing the book store?

Which version do you think would likely capture an agent’s attention?

Because the hook is so important, I’m going to highlight one more query in today’s blog post. This one comes from the desk of @Exsanguinated17 . Again, Natasha Dee has very kindly allowed me to read through her query, dissect it, and come out the other end with a revised version.

Here is her original version:

‘Proximity’ is a dramatic novel of a young rambling woman named Adrianne who finds herself trapped in the world of the undead. Her journey begins with her boyfriend shamelessly lying to her about being a vampire. She is told not to ask questions and to ‘just’ trust him; but his plan falls apart quickly when they run into Darrius, an actual vampire.

Darrius is cold and cruel from the very beginning. He does not like being mocked and that is the only reason he chose to reveal himself, even though he is in the Gold District. Gold District is a lenient district meaning they are lenient on their humans. They have Court mandated ball gatherings which are required for Protectoris and their humans. Unfortunately for Darrius and Adrianne, he is left as her Protectoris. He now has to protect their secret by protecting her; no matter how badly he wants to sink his teeth into her neck and end her incessant rambling.

Adrianne is a rambler but she is also a cutter; and not a very modest one at that. Her life has been a whirlwind of issues since her mother killed herself when Adriane was just six years old and her brother was kidnapped shortly after. Darrius soon finds himself sympathizing with her; something that he would never be caught dead doing for a human.

Like Jesse’s query, my eyes grew heavy before the end of the first paragraph. Too much detail, honing in on things that she, as the writer, feels significant as opposed to what will draw in the reader.

With this one though, I got a good sense of what the book was about, and so I re-worked Natasha’s query below.

Disclaimer: Only Natasha knows the true theme of her work, and my revision might not accurately depict the story to its full potential. Names have been changed as per the author’s request.

Hook: Emotionally broken, Adrianne is duped into thinking that her boyfriend is a vampire; until the cruel and terrifying Darrius reluctantly reveals himself – a walking, talking, member of the Undead Underworld.

Conflict: Living in the Gold District is challenging for any vampire, and left with no choice but to serve as Adrianne’s Protectoris, Darrius reluctantly succumbs to the discipline required of all Protectoris: Protect, serve, and don’t eat your charge.

Resolution: But Adrianne’s secrets run deep, and soon Darrius is forced to not only protect her from the dangers of the Underworld, but ultimately…herself.

So, here’s the thing about both queries. Initially, I found my mind wandering, but having taken the time to really read them both, these manuscripts actually interest me, and if they were on a bookshelf, I probably would read on.

But an agent isn’t going to do what I did. They won’t power through to find the good stuff, or e-mail you to ask about the theme etc.

You. Have. Four. Seconds.

I hope that this entry has been helpful. Next week we’ll look at The Conflict, and dissect another query!

Please follow the very brave @JesseSmithBooks and @Exsanguinated17 for more info on Jesse and Natasha. So glad to have had the opportunity to chat with you both!

That’s it for now. A lot more to come next week!

I leave you with my favorite Hook of all time. Though written in a simpler time, when queries were nothing more than a letter, if Tolkien had needed a hook, this would have been it. It haunted me then, and it still haunts me now, sending chills up my spine as anticipation overwhelms all else:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all,  and in the darkness bind them.

Signing off!

Maria Tureaud

@Maria_Tureaud

Right about now (the funk show brother…sorry. Couldn’t resist!) creepy music ala ‘Axe Murderer Horror Flick’ sounds.

Why? Because you’re done. Finished.

You. Are. Incredible.

You’ve developed your voice,  you have shown versus told, and you’ve gone through the rigorous revision process.

Your book is ready! The world is welcome! But if that celestial choir of awesomeness doesn’t abruptly switch to the discordant symphony from hell…well. You must be new!

For those that know what comes next, the Dreaded Query has foreshadowed every thought, edit, and rewrite since you completed your first draft.

Hang on to your hats! It’s time to break it all down…gangnam style! I don’t know where all these musical references are coming from, just bear with me!

One of three things happens when you complete your manuscript.

1. For fear of getting hurt, you shelf your work, pulling it out and dusting it off on days when you feel depressed just so that you can remind yourself that you’re awesome (I’m guilty of this).

2. You go rogue and self-publish. You rebel! You entrepreneur! (I, however, have neither the capital required to launch a successful marketing campaign, nor do I have the time to spend running a business…because that’s exactly what successful self publishing will entail. I’m not saying don’t do it, but I’m a business woman in ‘real life’. Be prepared. You get out exactly the same amount of effort that you put in).

3. You go the traditional route. You decide to try and nab a book deal. Most writers will ultimately decide to ‘give it a go’, and why not? That’s what you want, so go for it!! But…you’re going to need a literary agent. Mid-size and large publishers will not…I repeat…WILL NOT touch your manuscript with a 100 foot pole unless you have an agent. They don’t see you, or hear from you unless they offer you a contract. You are a peon, and they will only speak to an agent.

If you aren’t already familiar with the process involved from the moment you type ‘THE END’ to signing that book deal (teeny tiny expectations people! J.K. Rowling got $2000 for Harry Potter and look at her now!), I’ll run through it for you…vets, stay with me.

1. Let your manuscript rest…again. I know you’ve finished revisions, but it’s like a fine wine. The more brewing time, the better.

2. Prepare your query letter (dun, dun…DUUUNNNN)

3. Run through your manuscript one final time.

4. Wonder why you need to write a query letter.

5. Share the body of your query to strangers. Online forums and social media are excellent places for this…or you can do what I do. Walk up to random strangers in the mall, thrust my phone into their face, and ask: ‘Would you read this book?’ *Whispers* don’t judge me!

6. Toss your query and start over…what do mall goers even KNOW about books? Filthy savages!

7. Once your query is ready, you need to research!! Which agent is the best fit for your manuscript? (Online resources like Publisher’s Marketplace and Query tracker are a good place to start…but I like to use A Guide To Literary Agents. It’s published once a year, and can be found in every bookstore. 2017 is out now).

But, writing a query can be more difficult than writing the book itself. Not because it’s hard to write a letter, but because the body of the query is a synopsis of a synopsis of a synopsis of your work….written in your voice, detailing everything but nothing, captivating their attention without revealing anything (kind of like this blog post)!

Sounds impossible? I promise, it’s not.

But there’s a lot of information available out there, most of it in direct conflict with each other.

In my Twitter musings, I realized that despite all the info out there, a lot of writers were still having trouble with the query, so I reached out.

And several brave souls have allowed me to spotlight their actual queries – Yes, for real This is not a drill! – so that together we might help other writers in the same boat.

So join us for this series (I’ll attempt to blog once a week,  because good query dissection coupled with examples is every writer’s drug of choice), where we will break down the barriers, demolish the secrecy, and open the doors to one and all.

This is the Query Masterclass…which I now dub #QueryMC

If you haven’t already found me on Twitter, then come join the madness!! You could be missing out!

@Maria_Tureaud