Querying – Savvy Little Tip?


I sure do like some spreadsheets and charts

I’ve queried four manuscripts. As my craft developed, my stories moved closer towards marketable, and my aptitude for the actual querying process grew, the request rates slowly climbed.
1st queried manuscript = 2%
2nd queried manuscript = 3%
3rd queried manuscript = 7%
4th queried manuscript = 32% (so far)

That’s an unbelievable increase on the 4th one, like, BOOM. Even now, I’m floored by it.

The core of what writers must do is (we know, we know, we know) craft an amazing story. Solid hook. Identifiable conflict. Unique voice. Unforgettable characters. Consistent worldbuilding. Tight dialogue. Emotional resonance. [Insert a seemingly million other requirements here]. The writing has to be not just strong, but irresistible. And, let’s be honest, the story needs to possess the promise of $cha-ching$ flowing silently beneath the words.

The writing is the most important part, but it’s far from the only element we have to master. And every separate skillset only comes with practice. You know: effort, rejection, frustration, painfully starting over with a fresh manuscript, bringing the scars and callouses and wisdom into the process the next time. Trying again.

This time around, when preparing to query, I became conscious of something I’d been aware of, but never purposefully honed in on—the most common sample lengths agents ask for.
– 5 pages
– 10 pages
– 1 chapter
– 3 chapters
– 50 pages

This little lightbulb went off. Towards the end of my revisions, I focused on making sure those breaking points were loaded with as much tension as the narrative allowed at that point in the story. My goal: to (hopefully) leave the agent thirsty at the end of the sample, to spark that desire to request more pages. Which is the point.

We know to do this at chapter endings. But check this:

When querying, we need to treat the end of each of those sample lengths the same way we would a chapter ending.

For what they’re worth without context, examples of my breaking points:

5 pages

I sighed, and she pulled me closer to stain my cheek with what was left of her cherry-red lipstick.

“Katers demands I hang out with her tonight,” I said, pulling away. “She’ll tell me if I need to quasi-freak-out over this unholy union or totally Astro-freak-out.”

Olivia nudged me from behind, jangling my keys.

Gma pointed at me. “Check in with your daddy first.”

10 pages

I pretend-counted on my fingers. “If we’re including wicked stepsisters, crazy stalkers, and secret boyfriends, then that’s, oh, I’d say, four-point-five. Ish.”

Katers rushed towards me and grabbed my sleeves. “Boyfriend? Why is this the first your supposed best friend in all of creation is hearing about this love connection?”

Love. Ha.

1 chapter

The shadow in the greenhouse shrank to normal size, then the light went out. I grabbed my suitcase and rushed to the house, inside, up the stairs, and into the dark bedroom designated as mine. I peeked through the curtains. Axel Chicory, formerly known as Daddy, looked so inconsequential, a lone silhouette crossing the big lawn.

The New Moon floated directly above him, but its magic had already run its course.

I let the curtains fall closed between us, then locked my bedroom door.

3 chapters

Setting my journal in the grass, I focused on the other book. Plain, black cover. Not the unnamable blue-black of the night sky. Truly boring black. I hooked my finger under the cover’s edge, half-expecting the wind to pick up or a meteorite to land in the orchard when I opened it.

But nothing happened.

So I turned the first blank page.

And then another.

Until I found words.

This journal belongs to:
PIPPOPOTAMUS

I jettisoned the book and jumped up, smacking at my bare legs where the blasted thing touched them.

50 pages

The Heart of Joven.

Gpa had the young whiz-kid architect design the house around it. Ten sycamores planted by my Great-Gma decades earlier. Her hands began the grafting, and Gpa’s continued shaping it when she joined the stars. Axel and I had even touched and whispered to it. Four generations of the Chicory family recorded in the growth rings of a single being who had outlived two generations already.

The third was too busy to love on the tree. The fourth was too scared of screwing it up. Also, too wounded by the mere sight of it to look at it a nanosecond longer.

Among the million things we need to nail as writers-seeking-to-become-traditionally-pubbed-authors, this little piece is a secret weapon. I mean, it’s not a magic bullet. Nothing is. But it’s the savvy thing to do, a special tool to add to the toolbox we’re slowly filling. I believe it played a part—even if a small one—in that ridiculously unbelievable request rate. (Still reeling!)

We all need every hint, trick, key, and password we can get our hands on. Yes? I hope this one maybe helps you.

Invisible Ink! Yesss this manuscript garnered A LOT of requests in its 5 weeks in the trenches. And, maybe, perhaps, it has even gone beyond simple requests. 😉 Pretttty sure there will be another EXCITING post late next week…

Whittling Down To The Beautiful


C2 - Alchemy lab - After

My partner and I run a business together: buying & selling antiques, doing shows, Ebay, repairing old pieces, creating new designs from vintage/antique components. Part of this process is the old “Buy Low, Sell High” tactic. So we hit auctions, thrift stores, Craigslist, junk shops, and antique stores. We scoop up anything with potential, flip the ready-to-go pieces as quickly as possible, and slowly work on the pieces that need TLC or creative reworking.

The needy pieces are less expensive, of course, and we always have more plans than time. (Sound familiar?) So, the easy pieces sell quickly, and the time-suck ones tend to pile up.

About 2 months ago, we decided it was time for a purge. We wanted to move to another location, get a fresh start. Opportunities arose, and as daunting as the overwhelming task seemed, we lunged at them.

Now, this meant a few things:
– Downsizing from an 8,000 sq ft building with our loft, storefront, storage & workshop to an adorable 1000 sq ft house
– Decision-making on what to let go vs. what to keep
– Re-imagining our lives with these changes in mind

Our action plan, at its root, challenged us to decide what things were most valuable and to let the rest go. Sounds simple, right? But this wasn’t just about ~things~. It also included our hopes, dreams, emotions, attachments. The decision rippled through every aspect of our lives: relationships, family, friends, finances, location, business, etc, etc…

Some choices hurt. We mourned the potential of soon-to-be-lost things. But we knew to get to our end goal, we had to be merciless.

[Roll over each pic for a caption.]

So here we are, on the other side. Feels.so.damn.good.

Yes, this is a story specific to me, but not solely. ALL you readers are insanely intelligent. You’re boss at drawing analogies, reading words someone else wrote & drawing personal significance from them. I encourage you to do that.

Maybe for you, this post is about a change or move or purge you need to make in your own life. Maybe it applies to the fear of the draft looming in front of you or the scary-ass revisions staring you in the face. Maybe it’s a bit of inspiration for redesigning your life (or just your creative space) by sifting ALL THE THINGS down to the beautiful.

It’s tough. It hurts. It’s hard work.

It’s worth it.

Fool-Proof Anti-Distraction Plan


distractions

Not that anyone ever gets distracted by electronics, social media, obsessive phone checking, tumbling down research rabbit holes, etc…

But—just in case—Miranda July has a creative suggestion for how to overcome these distractions & be productive.

http://www.nowness.com/day/2011/7/26/1533/miranda-july-the-future

Goldilocks On Editing: Eat From All 3 Bowls


goldilocks1

Not-Goldilocks says: AFTER DRAFTING, WAIT BEFORE YOU EDIT OR THE UNIVERSE WILL RIP APART AND YOU’LL RUIN EVERYTHING IN ALL OF EXISTENCE EVER AND YOUR EDITS WILL SUCK AND THAT WILL BE TRAGIC [ALSO UNIVERSALLY DESTRUCTIVE WHICH ISN’T EVEN FAIR TO ALL OF EVERYTHING] AND JUST WAIT DAMN IT WAIT.

^You’ve heard that, yes? [Maybe in a less hyperbolic manner…] We writers should not edit our first drafts right away. We’re too close to them. The words and ideas are too fresh. We need to let them rest / chill / simmer / mellow / fester / [insert similar passive verb here].

This, like all advice, is subjective. And, well, it is advice, but it is not law.

In a similarly subjective manner, I’d like to toss my Goldilocks-esque thoughts in the opinion pool. [Because, honestly, all “advice” is opinion. My opinion can sink or swim. I don’t mind either way. Because the Universe will continue to do its thang, regardless.]

Check this: You can edit as soon as you type/write the very last period of your first draft.

I call this “Hot” editing. I’m a believer in hot edits: hitting the words right away, while the draft is still searing hot. [My reasoning is down in the convo which follows.] I’m also a believer in “Cold” edits: at some point, once my brain and heart and soul feel it’s time to back away, I back.the.hell.away, and let my manuscript do one of those resting-verb thingies.

Some folks might need a few weeks or 6 months or eons before touching that first draft ever again. Cool. Awesome. Do only that cold thing, then.

Some folks are itching under their skin and will basically die and/or implode if they don’t dive into edits right away. Cool. Awesome. Do that hot thing, then.

This post was triggered by a convo in an online writer’s group, the #4evnos. In this little corner of the
e x p a n s i v e  Writing Universe, this is what we discovered:

Crystal Ord: Curious…how long do you guys wait before jumping into edits/revisions of a first draft? I have vowed to give it a couple weeks but I already have the itchy keyboard fingers.

AJ Pine: Welp, because I’m on deadline, I finished drafting Sunday and started editing Tuesday. 😉

Lex Martin: Yeah, it depends on other deadlines for sure. But if you have the motivation to do it now, that’s a definite bonus.

Katie Bailey: For me, it depends on the project. Often enough, I’ll do it right away, but I do have one that I’ve pushed off editing simply because I’m working my way through other manuscripts and I don’t know what it means to take a break. I mean, what?

Brighton Walsh: I’ve always done them immediately, with just a day or two off in between.

Lucas Hargis: I know some folks give the advice of: “Let it sit.” I jump in right away. Here’s my reasoning: The voice and events at the end are still fresh in my mind. Wrapping around back to the beginning with those still burning bright-white helps create a beautiful continuity. So the voice and echo of the ending can be successfully edited in the beginning. In my opinion. Sure, I step away & let it sit/breathe/mellow later. But not until a full pass or two. Or three…

Crystal Ord: Well, this all makes me feel better then. I might just jump right back into it. I’ve always heard about writers letting a manuscript rest so they can come back to it with fresh eyes…I never normally do this but thought I’d give it a try…it’s torture, haha!

Lucas Hargis: I believe some precious value is lost with a waiting period.

Allison Varnes: Last summer, I made a full pass edit after finishing the draft, sat on it for two weeks, and then made myself do it again. And again. 🙂

Crystal Ord: I just hear SO much about coming back to it later that I was starting to think I’ve been doing things all wrong!

Lucas Hargis: Maybe those folks mean “at some point” step away and let it air out?

BA Wilson Writes: I jump back in almost immediately for a full pass, because by the end, I haven’t seen the beginning in awhile. Then, like Lucas said, everything is still fresh. . . . However, I’m that compulsive type of editor/rewriter, so it will go through a few rounds before I even let anyone else look at it. When I start feeling too on top of it and second-guessing everything I’m doing, then I step away from editing for awhile and take a break.

Lucas Hargis: We share the same process, BA.

Crystal Ord: Yep, that sounds about right, BA. 🙂 That is exactly what I like to do!

AJ Pine: That’s the thing. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the process. Correct answer is always what works best for you. #peptalksbyamy

KK Hendin: I go right from drafting to editing. I don’t reread while I’m drafting so edits are kind of a blank slate, in that I don’t remember everything. Then I edit until I hate it and then send it to CPs and repeat until it’s done.

Katie Bailey: Normally, I edit as I go. It makes for a longer writing process, but the technical editing stage isn’t as intense. On the whole, I’ll often edit a manuscript right away once I’ve finished. I can distance myself enough to see if everything makes sense, but I’m still in the zone. There’s only once I really waited on going back to edit, but that was because I had another manuscript that I needed to work on and I was pressed for time.

Olivia Hinebaugh: Umm. A few days? As long as it takes to binge watch something on Netflix and read a good book.

Lucas Hargis: So you DO put a little space/time between yourself & the new words, Olivia Hinebaugh?

Olivia Hinebaugh: I mean, a bit. I like to go in and slash pretty early. 😉 Because slashing is always the first since I don’t know where the plot is going to go when I start writing. haha. #pantser

Olivia Hinebaugh: One more thing to add: normally when I’m finishing a draft and I’m in beast mode, I am denying myself reading and watching anything, so when I finish drafting, all I want to do is pick back up with the old TBR pile.

BA Wilson Writes: The only reason I pause at all at the end of a novel is to drown in all the epic feels for a moment (usually the rest of the night). Then I buckle down and start the first edit the next day.

Brighton Walsh: Okay, so I write and edit almost immediately. Those are grammar and content edits, polish it as good as I can, send off to CPs/betas and do it all over again before I finally let it sit for maybe a week or two and then read it from start to finish one last time.

Natasha Neagle: Haha. I waited 6 LONG, painful days.

 

So those are thoughts from 11 #4evno writers [in the almost infinite population of the Writing Universe]. None of it is law.

We hear and read stuff like “advice”, and, wanting to do the very best we possibly can, we sometimes trick ourselves into believing somebody else’s process is Universal Law. [See opening statement.] Eff that. Do you.

Edit hot. Or edit cold. Or do both. Or make up your own temperature that’s basically anti-matter that would negate everybody else’s. You can do that.

The key, I believe, is to test out a few methods. Read about others’ processes, but don’t let those opinions stifle your very own unique way of doing things.

Find your Goldilocks method—the one that’s jussssst riiiiight for you.

I promise, the Universe won’t explode. Probably.

Much love to the #4evnos for ongoing encouragement, discussion, laughter, STICKERS, and agreeing to let me share their words here. You can find every last one of them on ol’ Twitter. Say hi.

And a simple Google search turned up a dozen other convos very similar to this one. Some folks preach cold-edits-only as LAW. Meh. What about you? What’s YOUR specific & unique editing preference? Which bowl(s) do you go for?

Formatting Tips for Writers – Chapter Breaks


Word formatting 4

I wear a ridiculous number of hats. [More metaphorically than in actuality, because I love my hair. I kinda treat it as living art.] One feather in one of those symbolic caps is this: I’m MS Certified in Word & Excel. Like, a certificate and everything.

Often, I see questions tossed out on Twitter: HELP! Does anyone know how to [insert formatting issue here]??? Also, when I CP, I find really strange formatting things going on and I’m all like: ZOMG this is a pain in the ass how do you even deal with this madness ahhhh let me help you please please I beg you no really I don’t mind please.

So, I figured, why not share a bit of the knowledge hinted at by that little certificate? Thus, as long as you loverly readers are interested & gaining golden info, I’m gonna do a series of  Formatting Tips for Writers.

I use MS Word 2010. If you have a different version, or your toolbars are set up differently, feel free to comment below or hit me up on Twitter [@LucasMight] and I’ll gladly walk you through how to format with your specific setup.

Today: Inserting chapter breaks [with a delicious, free-of-charge side-dish of Chapter Navigation]. And if you already have a manuscript, you can easily go back in and apply these steps retroactively.

Step 1 – Choose a Heading Style: When you begin each chapter, select a Heading Style. [I choose Heading 1, then change the color to black.] Type your chapter title. Once you hit enter, the style will automatically revert to your default font style.

Word formatting 3

Step 2 – Insert a Chapter Break: Type your awesome words. After the last sentence of the chapter, hold down [Ctrl] as you hit [Enter]. This will insert a Page Break so your new chapter begins at the top of it’s own page. Even after you revise, add or remove words, it will forever stay where it should.

Step 3 – Use the Navigation Pane: Let’s fast forward. You have chapters with perfect page breaks. By using the Header Style, you also have another tool at your disposal. On the VIEW tab at the top, click the Navigation Pane checkbox. A list of chapters appears as a left-hand sidebar. This makes hunting down and navigating your chapters during revision/editing so fantastically easy. If you ever want it out of the way, simply uncheck the box.

Word formatting 2

There are a ton of tips and topics I’ve seen other cry for help on, or that make my drafting, revising, CP’ing, etc so much easier. The functions are there, and I’d love to put that damn certificate to good use by passing the wisdom on.

Do you have formatting questions?
Word issues that give you headaches & keep you from actually writing?
Things that MUST have an easier way to accomplish?

Let me know via comments or Twitter. MS Certified Lucas at your service.
:: tips hat ::

How To Send Word Docs to Your Kindle


kindle2

Once upon a time, I wanted to check out what my words would look like on a Kindle screen. I hunted down the process and created my own little cheat sheet. Since that time, I’ve seen others ask if it’s possible, and have forwarded these instructions to a dozen, thankful peeps. [Maybe you’re another one waiting to happen.]

So, should you want or need this capability, here she is.

How to Send Word Docs to Your Kindle

Step 1: You should have an email associated with your Amazon account. If not, you’ll have to do that first. If so – go to Step 2

Step 2: Send an email to your kindle address. It will be the same as the email in #1, only with the @kindle.com extension [e.g. your.regular.email@kindle.com]

Step 3: The subject must be “convert”

Step 4: Attach your Word doc [You can attach MULTIPLE docs]

Step 5: Send that baby!

Step 6: Log into your Amazon account. Click “Personal Documents” on the left-hand sidebar

Step 7: It usually takes 2 – 15 mins of refreshing for the file to appear.

Step 8: Once it does, click on the “Actions” dropdown next to the file name.

Step 9: Select “Deliver to my…Kindle”

Step 10: On your Kindle – “Sync & Check for Items.”

VOILA!

Useful for:
– Personal encouragement. Just seeing your created words in that format can give you a dreamy, little boost.
– Handy access to your own words on-the-go. [You know, just like any other e-book.]
– I find errors that somehow remain invisible on both the hardcopy & computer screen.
– It keeps you from editing as you go. So you can just read. [If I find something major to change later, I scribble a key phrase on a notepad & later do a search for that phrase in the Word file.]
– [Insert your own amazing reason here]

Other tips:
– Insert an image on the first page of the file & it will display as the book’s cover.
– Others, such as beta readers, can forward the file to their own Kindles. [You know, once you pass these instructions on.]
– If your betas/CPs are comfortable with it, they can even authorize your email on their Kindle account & you can send it directly to them. They just have to pick up at Step 6 above.

I’m curious about those of you who use programs other than Word or have different readers/apps.
Do you ever use a similar process? Know of a quick cheat sheet to help others do the same?

OFFER OF REP! (and why, this time, I said yes)


The Phortune Cookie

The Phortune Cookie’s Phortune

UPDATE 4/6/15 – The story below is an amazing one! For an update on my current agent status, this post will help clarify: https://lucashargis.com/2015/04/03/querying-in-a-surreal-sort-of-way/ And please feel free to contact me if further clarification is needed.

Do you have beliefs you don’t really commit to, yet can’t really rule out as false? As in: I don’t know…aliens & ghosts & magic & sasquatches & such might be real…I’m not totally convinced, but I’m fine to not pass judgment either way. Well, I feel that way about a lot of things. [Post-modern? Trait of Gen X? Whatever.]  One such ?belief? is the concept of phate. And separate from that ideaI definitely believe in synchronicity—a kind of interconnectedness that can’t be explained by empirical or scientific means. This story is filled with [eph it! I’ll say it!] hints of magic & phate synchronicity. Like, I Skype-interviewed one of my agent’s clients about fire-breathing for some scenes in Phreak Show. And, FTR, that was before @ChristinaFerko was her client. And there was this day where this agent rejected offering me rep, only to have a phortune cookie reignite her love for the phreaks, ping her with regret, and cause this cool phoenix-from-the-ashes thing to happen. Then there was a bottle of nail polish. One of the agent’s assistants ordered a blind grab-bag of nail polishes from her favorite website. When it arrived, she eagerly unwrapped the polishes to check out her goodies. One of the polishes is pictured below. She emailed her agent-boss immediately and said: “I don’t know if you made your decision already, but if you didn’t, I think the universe is trying to tell us something… ”

Nail polish

“Freak Show” nail polish
[Obviously, they spelled it wrong]

FLASHBACK: I drafted PHREAK SHOW,  my third novel, during last year’s NaNoWriMo. Before the manuscript was fully edited & ready for querying, I created a page for it on this blog. Well, on January 9th of this year, an agent stopped by and left this comment:

This sounds great. One of my interns sent me this link. Please keep me in mind when your manuscript is polished and you are ready to submit to agents. ~Louise Fury

You can imagine the ridiculousness that popped and sparked inside me. (Yes?) AN AGENT COMMENTED ON MY BLOG! SHE approached ME about my premise! AND SHE’S ON MY SHORTLIST, BUT CLOSED TO SUBMISSIONS. HOLY $^*$%@<%^%?%$@#&&^*#+=?^&&!!! CRAP. NOW I NEED TO FINISH THESE EDITS. I’m an organized dude with color-coded spreadsheets, timelines of queries and all agent contact, feedback, and whatnot. I could lay out a twisting roadmap of every single email, phone conversation, DM, revision step, length of waiting between interactions, etc. But I’ll spare you, and condense it all down to a few, key elements. And what I hope you’ll take away from this is the diligence, persistence, and patience involved. – 1/9/13 – Blog comment expressing interest – 3/17/13 – Query – 3/18/13 – 5 chapter request – 3/22/13 – Full request – 4/6/13 – Phone call [But not THE call. Damn it.] – 4/11/13 – Submitted R&R #1 – 4/12/13 through 9/9/13 – Sporadic conversation, chat via email. ~~~w.a.i.t.i.n.g.~~~ – 9/19/13 – Sent email alerting to an Offer of Rep [Note: 6 months after Full sent] – 9/28/13 – MORNING: Declined to offer [And I wish I could post this whole email for you. Because awesome.] – 9/28/13 – EVENING: The Great Twitter Phortune Cookie Phreak Out Phenomenon of 2013. Followed by a series of DMs. – 10/12/13 – DM “The cookie has spoken. Let’s talk.” – 10/13/13 – Phone call. [REALLY! AGAIN!? NO OFFER!? ANOTHER MINOR R&R!? Fine, but this is my last one. I’m done after  this if there’s no offer. PUT A RING ON IT!] – 10/13/13 – 10/16/13 – Worked my ass off on rewrites of Chapter 1: CP’s, betas, the whole deal. [Thank you, people!] – 10/16/13 – Submitted R&R #2. This one was all or nothing. Phingers crossed. – 11/2/13 – A nudge… – 12/3/13 – Another nudge… And a response! “I am glad you emailed. Let’s talk today and wrap this up?” Now, I had no idea which way this “wrap up” would twist around me. But, honestly, I was straight chuffed to finally have some sort of closure either way. This process turned into a long, emotional one, and there were moments where the pendulum swung from  I HATE FURY! to OMG, I LOVE HER! with a lot of WHY THE HELL IS IT TAKING SO LONG? in between. There were multiple times when friends and loved ones talked me down from the cliff, kept me sane, prevented me from: nudging too soon (or too often), venting online, or sending some sort of ultimatum email I’d regret. Patience (damn the blasted thing) was key. Hard, but essential. Obviously, you know how it wrapped up. This past Monday, 12/3/13, Louise Fury, Phreak Show’s agent, phinally put a ring on it. But I still need to answer the why part of why I chose to accept. Because Louise loves the phreaks, their story, my words. She gets it. (And, I believe, she gets me.) She also has a vision for the phreaks—one that’s gonna suck like mad to bring about, but is going to end with Phreak Show being the best it can possibly be. I love her today. I might hate her in a month. And she might hate me back. But then we’ll circle back around, and look at our rings, and be all like: Awww! We made it! Look at our Phreaky baby on a shelf, in the hearts and hands of readers, which is the whole point. I said “yes”, because I believe Phury, her amazing team, and I share a common love for the phreaks and can work together to share their story with the world. And, come on! Synchronicity involving phire-breathing clients, a phortune cookie, and nail polish!?!? I’m pretty sure that’s, like, magic or some shit.