Beginnings

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Why are beginnings so hard? I’m working on Part 2, which is it’s own book. Once again, the beginning is a convoluted mess. I would like to just cut it out and move thirty-five pages in, after a natural break in the story. But if I do that, I’ll be skipping over a lot of emotional development of my character. His choices wouldn’t make sense without it. I would also skip a very important near-fatal accident that is referenced multiple times later on. Oh, and the reader would miss my MC’s learning to play an instrument, which is pivotal to Book 2. Hrm.

Sounds pretty important, right? Then why does it seem so unimportant when I read through it? What do I skip? What do I include? And how do I reintroduce everyone just enough to jog a reader’s memory without annoying the readers who don’t need their memories jogged. Why was Book 2 so easy to write when every part of Book 1 is so hard?!

Don’t Start Your Book This Way . . . Unless You Are Wildly Successful

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I just read an interview of several agents. All of them said they didn’t want to see any more beginnings with characters waking up or looking in the mirror. Oh dear, I thought, my book starts with my character in the morning, already awake and he doesn’t look in the mirror, but still. Maybe I should change it. Again. So I looked at some other books to see how they begin and what do I find?

The Hunger Games begins with the MC waking up.

Divergent begins with the MC looking in the mirror.

I don’t know if those were the openings sent to agents or publishers, but obviously there are some exceptions to the rule. :-)

Query Tips

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While we’re on the subject of queries, here a few tips based on what I gleaned over the various writing and agent blogs and resources.

250 words or less for the entire query
Agents have differing opinions on personalization, so go with what that agent requests or if they don’t say, go with your gut
Don’t include too many characters
Say what the main character wants, what the obstacles are, and what the stakes are if she fails
Match the tone of your story unless it would be gimicky
Don’t be gimicky
Don’t use first person
Use only one POV (didn’t find this out until draft 49. :-\ ). Mention others, but don’t synopsize them
Don’t sound too much like a movie trailer
Don’t reveal the ending (you want to entice the agent to read on)
Be professional but let enough of your personality through that you don’t sound like a robot or an answering machine (that’s the part I have trouble with)
Best sum up of advice: you are synopsizing the first 20-50 pages only

Research the agent, address the letter specifically to that agent, and follow the agent’s guidelines.
Include genre and word count (rounded to the nearest 1,000—I finally found that somewhere).
Include comp titles so the agent has an idea what he or she is reading. I had trouble with this until I figured out you don’t have to include something similar to your work. You can, but if, like me, you can’t find anything, include what you think your readers would also like. Sadly, these comp titles are supposed to be recent. Hopefully three years but five years at most. That ruled out Lord of the Rings and Sabriel for me. I finally went with fans of The Avengers movies. That was something else I learned. Comp titles can be TV shows or movies.

A lot of this is probably subjective by agent. Thankfully, agents know that queries are harder to write than books and that we often are terrible at it. So do your best, but if agonizing over it keeps you from sending, just send it! (that was the best advice I found)

Rejection?

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I don’t know why we call it rejection. That’s so harsh. I got a (very polite) form letter, but I believe what it said: that agent just wasn’t a good fit for my story. She had written last October that she might not take on any new sci-fi as the sci-fi market is saturated with dystopian right now. My story is more fantasy than sci-fi, but it does have sci-fi elements. I just really liked that agent and thought I would give it a try. I know my writing is good and that I have a compelling story to tell. Not to say I won’t do any more revisions–I know agent and editor revisions are part of publishing. But I also know the story is ready to shop around.

So, one agent down, ninety-nine to go.

Writing the Synopsis to Find the Heart of Your Story

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I did what I imagine most people do, and I waited to write the synopsis until I was almost done with the book. After all, until I was ready to market, I didn’t need a synopsis, right? Well, I discovered that in honing my synopsis I actually learned more about my story and what the heart of the story was. I would recommend writing a synopsis somewhere in the middle of drafting, when you know the story well enough to have an idea what the theme/core/arc is but before it’s to the point you won’t want to revise if you discover the arc is different than you thought.

I have about 50 synopsis drafts. About half of those are full-on, start-over drafts and not just revisions. The first drafts have a lot of setting and back story. The middle drafts are focused on what I call the external plot—the events of the world. Finally, my last drafts focused in on the internal plot—my character’s inner conflict. That was a challenge. My MC has a couple of inner conflicts, and I had to figure out which is the one that drives the story.

I also had trouble with making his story sound compelling. I think it’s super compelling and heartbreaking, but how to get that into one to two paragraphs and less than 250 words? The MC is a young man who just wants to be accepted for who he is. His whole life, he’s been told he won’t be accepted unless he is as great as his father. He finally thinks he has a chance to do both—to be like his father and to be judged on his own merits. But the man who gave him that chance turns against him. Super compelling and heartbreaking. Especially because I know all the motivations, ha ha. I hope that an agent finds it as compelling as I do!

(Alan Cumyn, I remember more about your lecture than the cheese sandwiches!)

Workshop Invitation

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A week after I submitted my query, I checked my email. I didn’t have an email from the agent, but I did have one from the event coordinator of my SCBWI chapter. She asked if I would lead a workshop this spring! I am so excited. I have wanted to lead some workshops or classes, and this is the push I need.

According to the theme, we’re supposed to include a creative life aspect. I am thinking of including art—drawing or painting or something. I’m an amateur artist, but I love to incorporate drawing into my creative process. I hope that I can do something with it that would be relevant to both PB authors and novelists. I’m contemplating storyboarding, but I’ve actually never done that, so we’ll see. (Unless you count the story being told in scenes drawn in detail over a couple of years as a storyboard.) Maybe we’ll do something on scenes . . .

Query!! (the longer version)

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I am officially in the business of getting published. I don’t say trying to get published because I am confident that at some point (it might take awhile), I will be published. :-D Last Friday, I sent my first query to an agent. I had thought I would be obsessive about checking my email and that I would be worrying every second of every day. Especially because the agent sounds like a really good match. To my surprise, I’m pretty calm. Maybe it’s because I don’t know of anyone who signed with the first agent they queried. I am checking my email every day, just in case.

And I know, I should be submitting to multiple agents. I will. I just have to research some more first. I am so very, very happy about having a decent query that I just had to send it off right away. I hope the query and first pages will touch someone because (of course, I’m biased), I think it’s a really good story that needs to be told. Obviously, or I wouldn’t have written it. But it isn’t just fun. It’s compelling. It makes me cry. And laugh. And that’s after 25 drafts. That says something, doesn’t it?

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