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…

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 ::

What Are the Chances of a Book Becoming a Movie?


theatre

Confession: I have imagined my novel as a movie.

Now, don’t leave me standing here all alone, kiddos… This is pretty much a prerequisite for writers, right? Don’t blush or try to deny it. I’ve seen your Tweets. And your Pinterest boards. We’ve had conversations. You’re as guilty as I am.

I’m an extremely visual dude. When I write, the scenes play in my mind like a movie. I direct the characters in a sense, but the buggers improv A LOT.

Okay, eff it, I’ll even admit this: my friends and I sit around dream-casting my Phreak Show characters. And a few of you have even volunteered [okay…demanded] to help out on the casting call for Niko. Your amorous intentions are duly noted. [And he’s flashing his crooked smile at you right now.]

Yesterday, a non-writer friend I haven’t spoken to in a while checked in. Curious about where Phreak Show is in the process, the convo went something like this:

Dude: So what’s going on with your book deal?
Me: Not to that part of the process yet. Finishing edits with my agent and then we’ll move to the next stage.
Dude: Awesome! When do you get the book tour and 3 movie deal?
Me: [internal cackling] It’s super rare for books to actually become movies.
Dude: Then how are all these books becoming movies all of a sudden?
Me: [internal sigh] The % of books being made into movies is probably, like, 2%. Max.
Dude: Well those 2% are really getting lucky these days.
Me: [reminds self dude is a rube] No more than usual, I don’t think. And that still leaves 98% of authors dreaming about their books becoming movies, but it never happens.
Dude: Ahhhh, I see.

This kind of conversation happens all the time. So, obviously, we writers aren’t alone. It seems most folks naturally have this ingrained perception that book = movie. So I started wondering how close my random estimate of 2% really is. Enter: THE MAGIC OF GOOGLE

I submit for your enjoyment and education, the interesting [and perhaps sobering] info I stumbled upon.

First off, some hard-awesome checkpoints we can all keep in mind when writing our next novel or assessing existing ones. John Robert Marlow offers this list of:

10 things Hollywood looks for in any story:

  1. Cinematic concept that can be communicated in ten seconds
  2. Hero that a large segment of the movie-going public can relate to
  3. Strong visual potential
  4. Three-act structure
  5. Two-hour limit
  6. Reasonable budget
  7. Low fat (no unnecessary scenes)
  8. Franchise potential
  9. Four-quadrant (young and old, male and female) appeal
  10. Merchandising potential.

http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/books-into-movies-everything-you-need-to-know-almost-part-1/

This first stat sounds really promising. It’s estimated that:

85% of all movies are adapted from books

http://www.kgbanswers.com/what-percentage-of-all-movies-made-in-the-usa-are-based-on-books/22949183

But how many books does that translate to? This poster doesn’t cite a source, so the accuracy is suspect, but states:

In 2006, over 50 books were made into movies

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_percentage_of_movies_are_made_from_books?#slide=2

I have no idea how accurate this stat for 2014 is either. I found numbers ranging from 10 to 35, but CNN reports these as “all the books becoming movies in 2014”:

2014 [estimate #1]: 12 book to film adaptions for 2014

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/31/showbiz/movies/books-to-movies/

2014 [estimate #2]: 35 book to film adaptations for 2014

http://www.buzzsugar.com/2014-Movies-Based-Books-30889382#photo-33260882

So how does a book ascend to the coveted heights of filmdom? This great behind-the-scenes mechanics post explains:

Books are almost always optioned, not bought outright

http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/books-into-movies-everything-you-need-to-know-part-2/

But even if a book is optioned, there’s still no promise our friends, family, and fans can check out our stories on the big screen. Author Joseph Finder says:

Maybe as many as 90% of optioned/sold movies never get made.

http://www.josephfinder.com/blog/201101/26/how-a-book-becomes-a-movie-revisiting-high-crimes

And if you scroll down to Lesson 28 in this post, you’ll find this statement putting that estimated percentage even higher:

Thousands of books are optioned every year, but 98% will never be made into films

http://www.ian-irvine.com/publishing.html

Using IMDB & U.S. Census Bureau stats, this random gent [quite non-scientifically] calculates:

Only 1.77343% of books become movies or TV series

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100818233541AA29WXH

Feels like a snowball’s chance, right? But, hey, we can’t resist hoping. Perhaps the most important thing in this entire post is something you already know:

Writers are dreamers.

That’s part of the how and the why we create characters, build worlds, and invent delicious plots in the first place. Our dreams refuse to die.

I guess, at our core, writers are optimists. And, for those of us who are really optimistic, we don’t stop at just dreaming. We finish manuscripts. We revise the hell out of them. We send query after query until an agent falls madly in love with our words. We revise again. Even when it hurts. We suffer with impatience during the submission process. We revise those words again with an editor. We do all these things because we are ridiculously optimistic.

We hope. And we dream.

So, honestly, we can’t stop dreaming about our books becoming movies. Even if we try uber-hard. It’s just not who we are as a species. And as long as our expectations are realistic, it doesn’t hurt a thing.

Besides, being dreamers, we always have that 2% or 1.77343% to hang on to. Even if the true number is only .00001% of books becoming movies, that’s more than enough to birth a dream inside us.

Q: What are the chances of your book becoming a movie?
A: Are you a dreamer or aren’t you?

[FTR, my answer to the question-posing-as-an-answer is: Incurably so.]

This vid inserted thanks to the genius inspiration from @EsherHogan

The Ugliest Mona Lisa I’ve Ever Seen


mona lisa - ral

You know this lady.

Her name’s Mona. You can call her Mo for short. She’s kind of iconic.

She’s here today to help me illustrate this *thing* I’m going through which relates to the world of writing. No, it’s not about visualizing characters, painting a story landscape, or any such helpful advice from a novice. Sorry about that. There are plenty of other blogs with unpublished writers giving profound & sage wisdom…

The topic this blogger is tackling today is: [Well, shit, I can’t really sum it up in a single word. This isn’t Twitter; it’s a post. So eff it, I can ramble if I like.]

Let’s go with this freeform string of thoughts: I have multiple fulls out with agents, which have been out for a while. I recently nudged on one & the agent confessed that she hadn’t gotten to it yet. Cool. No big deal. Another one is past the 10 week mark, at which point I would normally nudge, but I have not because of [keep reading]. The third is in this nerve-wracking, string-a-long sort of web which doesn’t seem to have an end. I am hopeful that it will turn into an offer, but the more pages of the calendar I rip off, the less that feels like reality. So, I have just kind of turned off my wishfulness on this matter until such time as it needs to be either revived, or incinerated.

After all that, I guess what I’m trying to say is: I don’t like to feel like I’m begging.

To be candid, I totally get that agents are busy, clients come first, I’m swamped, it’s conference season–all that. And writers are always labeled “impatient”. “This is a slow process,” we tell each other. Agents say it, too. Yet, still, are we really impatient? 2 months? 4 months? 6 months? 12 months? How long is too long to wait to hear back on a full request? An R&R? At what point has the timing passed beyond simple impatience on the part of the writer?

What it boils down to is that I want an agent to *LOVE* my work. Like, SHAZAAAAM! BAM! YES I WANT IT GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT EFFIN NOW I CAN’T WAIT TO START WORKING WITH YOU AND GET THIS THING SUB-READY BECAUSE AWESOME IN MY FACE AND OMG HAVE YOU SIGNED THE AGENCY CONTRACT YET OR WHAT BECAUSE AHHHHHHH????!!!!!

Instead, thus far, I have felt less like Phreak Show is the real Mona Lisa, and that perhaps it is more like this:

mona lisa - bad

 

And, yes, my loverly invisible ink finders. I KNOW that Phreak Show looks/reads nothing like that horrid ol’ fake. I’m just sayin’ I want that acceptance, that go-get-it agent who believes in me & my story so much that s/he can’t get hold of it fast enough. A dream? Perhaps. But my life has been built on dreams such as this. And damn it, I’m not done believing in magick.

My, What a Big Tongue You Have


TonguePiercing

I imagine that whole tongue-piercing things hurts just a little.

My ears are pierced, and back in the day, so was my eyebrow. When I went in to get that piercing, a dude was getting his nipples done. He passed out.

I’m guessing that kind of hurt, too.

In the beginning, piercings are wet and raw and sore. They are, after all, wounds. Like most wounds, piercings heal over time. Scar tissue forms, the skin closes up around the opening, and the pain completely disappears.

Now it’s your job to transition from those thoughts, to this quote from Ira Glass.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

You’re smart. I’m sure you made the transition.

For the record, my gap is closing. I can feel it. There’s no telling how many canvases I’ve painted, waited a while to realize they were only ‘okay’, and painted over them. Multiple times. The same is true with words written. Millions have been set down, only to get digitally white-washed. Yes, the gap is definitely closing.

Because I have good fucking taste. And my ambition & striving won’t die.

I’m betting you have killer taste, too. Now, go lick some more stuff and discover what’s yummy.

Agents Stalk Us Too


SneakyBurglar

All querying writers research potential agents.
Oh? You don’t? tsk tsk
What a naughty, naughty writer.

Submission guidelines and genre preferences are important, but we should totally research, investigate, and weigh our findings against our own personality and professional goals. By learning as much as we can, writers can focus our search on lit agents who would truly make a great fit. There is a lot more to an Author/Agent relationship than simply querying and finding rep. We’re entering into a business partnership. We’re committing to what hopefully will be an LTR. Sure, agents choose wisely. But the writer must also choose that potential partner carefully.

Agency websites give an overview, but they don’t provide the whole picture.  We are responsible for digging deeper: interviews, current clients’ websites, recent deals, rights’ management experience, Twitter feeds, interns’ blogs, etc. Writers can’t just scratch the surface and call it a day. I mean, we can, but if we do, we’re stupid. We should discover all we possibly can and connect the dots. Read between the lines. Make an informed judgment which goes beyond, “OMFG! S/he likes [x]. I write [x]. S/he’s open to submissions. Must.query.now.”

We believe most agents research potential clients, right? Recently I discovered this is, indeed, not an urban legend. It is truth. You know how we writers joke about stalking agents online? Well, the road runs both ways. And I’m not just talking about agents checking out blogs/websites and Twitter feeds. If an agent has genuine interest, that fact-finding can expand into indepth, hardcore, hours-long, all-hands-on-deck, digital tunneling, Googling, and breadcrumb following.

Recently, an agent mentioned a part of my web presence which I had totally forgotten about—Authonomy. I posted portions of my first two novels on the site, but Phreak Show doesn’t even exist over there. This agent also mentioned online info which has nothing to do with my writing—business websites, for instance. It didn’t creep me out or make me nervous. What it did do, was enlighten me to the fact that a great agent will be concerned about an author’s public image beyond just his/her writing. A great agent will look for anything and everything a potential reader or publisher could find.

A great agent will stalk you. 

Sobering? Scary? Are you ready for that? How long has it been since you Googled yourself?