18 November 2009


The world seems to be in Christmas mode already.  Everyone sort of bypasses Thanksgiving.  No one ever decorates for Thanksgiving (except my mom), we don't have cool Thanksgiving songs on the radio, people don't go around saying happy thanksgiving for weeks before the holiday actually occurs.  And working in retail, it's even worse.  So I thought I'd take a moment to do a Thanksgiving post.

Here are some things I'm thankful for:
  • My husband, who is supportive of me in all my quirky writing habits, even if he doesn't understand them.
  • All the rest of my family, especially my little brother who's a freshman in high school and just underwent his second spinal fusion surgery.  He's braver than me, I think.
  • Having a job that pays my bills, no matter how stressed it makes me sometimes.
  • My adorable dachshund Button who makes me smile every day.  Even when she uses the floor as a toilet.  And chews my clothes.  And wakes me up at 3am to go potty.  She makes me happy.
  • All of my old friends, people I went to high school and college with, who keep those lines of communication open with this slacker who never emails or calls.
  • All of the great writers I've met through Authonomy and AQC, who will encourage me when I need it and give critical feedback when I need it, and who inspire me to be a better writer.  I'd name names, but there are too many and I'd forget someone and feel bad.
So those are some of the things I'm thankful for.  What about you?

13 November 2009

Review: From the Query to the Call

I recently told you about the ebook I purchased, From the Query to the Call, by Elana Johnson.  This is my review, but first I wanted to mention that Elana has just snagged herself an agent!  Congratulations Elana, you definitely deserve it.  Can't wait to be able to hold one of your books in my hands!

Okay, back to her ebook.  I absolutely dread writing query letters.  For Confessions of a Non-Believer, I actually formulated the basic query even before I started writing.  The whole concept just fit very neatly into query format.  I got lucky there.  But Sorry's Not Enough has been a very different story.  It's a very character-driven novel, and while the plot elements (such as the love affair between two people suddenly going very wrong when they're placed in the roles of student and teacher) certainly garner interest, it's really the emotional journey of the characters that's the most important aspect.  Every time I tried to get advice on my query, I got lots of advice saying "sum up the plot" and "cover the important plot points" or "what happens in the story?" and in trying to answer those questions, the query would end up bogged down in pointless details.  When I tried to focus on the emotional elements, people would say "but what happens?" or "too much psycho-analysis" and "do you really know what your book is about?"

Well OF COURSE I know what it's about! 

So, needless to say, query-writing is a high-anxiety activity for me.  I've read a few of Elana's queries before, and had seen her in action critiquing (very insightfully) other people's queries.  I had high hopes for her ebook, then.  And I can happily report that she did not disappoint.

I expected 20, maybe 25 pages of advice on writing a query, but NO.  The book delivers 63 pages on everything from what a query is/is not, why you need one, and how to write one.  Then, it goes on to discuss researching the best agents for your novel, strategies for submitting and surviving the wait, as well as the rejections, and finally, how to handle "the call" when an agent is interested in representing you. 

It is an interactive ebook, with links to the websites of writers whose query letters she uses as examples, websites to help with your query, and websites to help with agent research.  There's also a link to a set of worksheets to help you craft your query.

The query advice is much more than vague statements about what each paragraph should include - which is much of what I'd encountered previously (e.g. Start with a one or two sentence hook, then give a brief summary of the plot.....etc.)  Elana breaks down the query into small, definable, non-threatening parts and dissects them - there's the hook, the set-up, the conflict, and the consequence.  She explains the purpose of each section, and gives examples from her own and other queries.  As the book progresses, you can see the query taking shape from the examples she gives.

One of the best pieces of advice I took from the book is to write the hook last.  I've always tried to crank out a great hook first, which was stressful.  Using the worksheets, I answered the questions necessary to write the hook, but didn't write it until I had finished writing the rest of the query.  It was actually much easier to come up with a hook at the end.  I also had a major a-ha! moment when she pointed out the circular sense of closure that should come from the query - take the hook, add on your consequences sentence, and that should be your book in a nutshell.  Not sure why that never dawned on me before, but it was a great moment.

This book also helped me realize 1. I need to do more research into the agents I submit to, and 2. I need to expand my potential agent list!

So I still have a few minor tweaks to make on my brand new query before I send it out, but if I get a good request rate after I send some out, I'll share it with you all.  Meanwhile, I highly recommend From the Query to the Call for any writer who wants to craft a strong query and who need a little bit of guidance on what to do once you've got a killer query.

Don't forget to check out Elana on her website, and her blog.