Anatomy of a Denial Letter

Usually there isn’t much to a denial letter. They tend to be single-celled organisms consisting of one line of text with some variation of, “this isn’t for me.” However, last week I got a really good denial letter (if one can consider such a thing to exist). It is always gratifying to hear why the manuscript you slaved over for eternity and the query letter that took nearly as long to perfect aren’t “for” someone. So today I am going to share this more detailed denial along with some of my thoughts.

“–There is a lot of telling instead of showing. Telling informs the reader but also distances him/her from the story. For example: “She listened to music” is very different from “She tapped her leg to the beat of her favorite song.” One tells while the other immerses the reader in the moment.”

I think this makes a very valid point. Definitely something to look out for while editing. Although, I think this might a more prevalent problem in the beginning of Capacitance as I was not truly in my narrative stride. Good red flag to go back and look for!

“–There is a lot of backstory–information given solely for the benefit of the reader that does not fit with the character’s natural thought patterns. Decide what’s essential, what you can reveal later, and what you can cut. A lot of the internal and external dialogue is unnatural. Try to write the way real people think and speak”
How does one find the balance between drawing the reader in and not giving too much backstory too soon? The struggle! However, I am getting this a lot when I do get feedback–that too much of the plot happens too soon. It seems to be conflicting advice sometimes. One guideline will say “immerse the reader in the story” while the other says “don’t give away too much too soon.” Frustrating, but since I have heard this critique more than once a restructured opening might be something to consider. I really disagree with the latter portion of this section. Yes my character’s internal and external dialogue is more elevated than what today’s average person uses. However, this is a world building element. The students of the University (especially Meditrinum users like Mara) are more elevated than the average being. They are smarter and more mature and thus use speech that might come as “unnatural.” Perhaps I need to drive this point home in the text–the University is selective and its students are above average. Unfortunately no non-University characters come into the text for awhile; maybe that could be something to add for contrast.
“–Your character’s name is overused. Use the name sparingly, especially when “she” would suffice.”
Solid editing advice. I never would have thought of this problem on my own, but when I read it I definitely felt like it was a true statement. I will definitely scan the text and correct overuse problems.
–Adverbs are overused. Adverbs should be used quite sparingly in fiction writing. It’s considered a “no-no” in the publishing world. 
I had heard this once before, and hearing it again saddens me. I love adverbs, but lesson learned. I will go back and revise accordingly.
“We think your story idea has merit and encourage you to continue revising it.
We wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors!”
Nice end note that doesn’t feel like it is part of some automated response! If only all denial letters were like this… 🙂

New Week, New Strategies

This week I am starting off with some new strategies for querying agents. Referring to my post on writing dystopian, I feel like it is going to be difficult to find the agent that is searching for that particular genre. However, they are out there, I just have to find them!

Today I googled “literary agent dystopian,” and got some hits. While I didn’t check out many links today, I did find an agent who loves dystopian worlds and immediately made out a query letter for her. I think this is a better strategy than I have had previously where I would search good agencies and then go to whatever agents were available there, regardless of whether they specifically said dystopian. I also plan to use this strategy with the New Adult category. Since that is a growing genre, surely I will be able to find agents specifically searching for it.

Another new strategy I am using quite frequently is the Writer’s Digest new literary agents spotlight. I am on the fence about new agents. For one, they have less experience than more established agents. However, they are more actively building their client base. For me, it’s definitely worth a shot. I am a young writer with little experience and if a similarly young agent wants to take a chance on me, I’ll take a chance on them. I will definitely be referring to the new literary agent spotlight list from now on. Not only for the agent information, but also because it leads me to other agencies to explore. For instance I clicked on a new agent profile, then linked to her agency website and from there ended up querying another agent and heading over to a new agency’s website that was listed in the bio of the agent I queried.

Using these new strategies, I am looking forward to heading into a productive week of querying and writing. Happy Monday!

My Week: SCBWI, Queries & Even Some Chapters

The end of the week is here and the end of summer is coming. But while these things come to an end, I am still looking towards the future with optimism! My biggest news this week is I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). While at the conference in Austin, I learned that the New Adult genre is technically still considered young enough for me to be considered an SCBWI author. I am very excited that I finally took the plunge and joined a writers association, especially one with such a vibrant and exciting community as SCBWI. They have a conference every summer in Los Angeles which I have heard is great, so I definitely will look into attending that in 2016! At the very least, my query letter is looking much better since I can include SCBWI membership in my credentials!

I did send out a fair amount of query letters this week. Not a huge amount, but I stuck to my small goal of 2 per day. I am really liking that pace. I don’t get overwhelmed by querying, but the agents reached out to steadily adds up. Plus, by not sending out a huge inundation of queries, this gives me time to tweak my letter as I go and see how different variations of  it work. With that being said, I got a denial in my inbox this morning, so more fuel to the fire to succeed there!

As for writing, that is still rolling on quite slowly. That routine is the hardest to get back into. On Monday I was feeling under the weather and was still trying to write a chapter and the general feels were “I just can’t.” So I stopped mid chapter right before Mara was going to have a big block of dialogue. I was really glad I did that because the next day I came back and got at it and came out with really good text–certainly better than it would have been had I tried to write mid throbbing headache!

I hope everyone has a great last weekend of August! 🙂

Mixed Friday Feels

It’s Friday once again…this week, this month, this year have all flown by so quickly! While this week was not much progress as far as pages written, I consider it to be a very productive week as I am finally (finally!) getting out of vacation mode and back into the true swing of things.

I sent out a couple queries yesterday. That’s something I have not done in awhile, and it was done not a moment too soon. Today (just over lunch actually) I received an email from the agent who had requested my full MS at the beginning of the summer. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that I will not be rounding out the summer by gaining representation from that particular agent. Thank goodness I got this denial today instead of yesterday. Instead of feeling too discouraged by it, I am focused on this new round of queries and energized by getting myself out there again.

Yesterday I also got the chapter of Resistance that had been holding me up finished. This was thanks to re-reading as I was stuck on a certain detail that I couldn’t remember what I had set up earlier in the story. When I went back and read, I found the piece I needed. Also good: this chapter was longer than five pages. I like to keep my chapters short (to make the book more addicting, i.e. “just one more chapter!”), but almost all of my chapters in Resistance were ending up being five pages long. Now that the story can flow more, I should get a few longer chapters to throw in the mix.

So all in all, it was a weird week, but a good week. I am feeling less burned out and hopefully that feeling continues to subside. I mentioned on my Facebook page that I am done posting sample chapters of Capacitance–for now! Show me some love on FB, and here on my blog and I’ll reveal more chapters. It’s up to you guys! 🙂 I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference 2015

I had so much fun attending the Henderson Writers’ Group Conference in Las Vegas, that I just registered for another conference next month! I will be attending the Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference June 26-28 in Austin, Texas! Since I live in Kansas (and drive a fun little car) I am going to be road tripping down south–just me and the open road, mind clear, practicing my pitch. I can’t wait!

The pitch will be important as there are 19 literary agents from big name agencies such as Trident, Writers House, and Curtis Brown, to name a few! While pitch sessions with agents are paid add-ons to the conference fee and are limited to two agents (I won’t be table hopping my pitch to everyone like I did in Vegas, haha!), the number of agents at this conference makes it more likely that I will be able to approach them in a casual setting. This conference appears to include a lot of casual settings, like cocktail hours, that could be great opportunities to meet and network with the agents and editors. I am going for all three days of the conference rather than just one day like I did in Las Vegas, so I plan to take full advantage of the opportunities to meet new people.

Considering I already have one conference under my belt, here are some things I won’t be doing this time around.

1. Stressing about my outfit. The wardrobe choices I saw at the last conference were much more casual and varied than I expected. When it comes to conferences, stay true to your personal style and you’ll be fine–worry more about polishing your pitch.

2. Bringing my entire manuscript. This is absolutely unnecessary. I know I said otherwise last time, but my aching shoulder and the entire universe of common sense would argue otherwise–everything is done through email these days. What makes you think an agent is going to love your work so much that they would be just as eager and willing as you to lug around a 300 page boxed manuscript all day? Save your posture, leave it at home.

3. Attending only business related class sessions. In Las Vegas, I stuck to the business side of writing lectures. This led to immense boredom and repetition; I had read most of the advice on the Internet due to my extensive and slightly obsessive research on query writing, agents, etc. Of course, I still plan on attending some business aspect classes as I know I still have a lot to learn, but I want to experience some writing craft sessions as well this time around.

Leave me a comment below if you’re planning on attending the #WLT2015 ! Also, I don’t believe I have mentioned this on the blog just yet, but I will be posting the first chapter of Capacitance once my Facebook page hits 100 likes. If you want to speed this process up a bit 😉 please like my page at https://www.facebook.com/emhardenburger ! Can’t wait to start sharing my work with you all!

#QueryKombat

I have posted before about writing as a “pantser,” and now I am entering my first writing contest as a pantser. I heard about #QueryKombat at the writers conference in Las Vegas, and it sounded intriguing and a great way to gain a social media presence and, potentially, agent representation. However, querying quagmire and vacation came up and occupied most of my time, and before I knew it, the contest date had arrived. Thus, my “pantser” attitude towards it all. I was not going to enter, because I have not spent countless hours preparing. This fact still gives me pause, but I think I need to throw my hat in the ring, just as a learning experience.

The #QueryKombat contest opens today (right now, actually), and contestants submit their query and the first 250 words of their MS. 64 contestants are chosen and their queries go head to head until only one winner is left. There is a judge round and then an agent round. It all sounds very interesting and certainly beneficial to make it to the agent round! If you want to learn more about the contest, you can visit this link: http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/2015/04/query-kombat-2015.html

After an intensive day of polishing my query and first 250 words, I am going to enter. I won’t deny the fact that I am a little nervous about it, but as I have said every time doubts pop up, I have to be persistent and start somewhere. Never try, never know has been a useful motto in many areas of my life, not the least in my career as a writer.

Is anyone else entering #QueryKombat? Wish me luck, and I will keep you posted!

Social Media & Being an Author

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! I was on a (much needed) vacation to California! The need for vacations to take a step back from your work is a topic for an entirely different post, but I can sum it up to this: sometimes it’s necessary to not think about your novel, to escape and have new experiences which will influence your writing, and to be in a more sublime environment so when an agent rejection pops up in your email, you take it in stride and order another wine sample! 😉

Today, I wanted to focus on a subject that has been giving me major headaches–the dichotomy between being an artist and thus trying to be a free spirit while at the same time being cognizant of the pressing need to create an online presence. This need for a writer’s platform necessitates the use of social media. Writers, as a rule, hate social media. We would rather be writing! However, our ultimate goal is to be read, and to be read and gain notice in today’s world means hashtagging and blogging our way to fame. Hopefully that prospect turns everyone’s stomachs as much as it does mine. It is a very imposing goal; in the millions of individuals out there on the internet, how do you make a difference?

It’s a question I, unfortunately, cannot answer in this post. But I do welcome good suggestions! The first step for me is simply, getting out there. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was literally: “Tweet less.” Obviously, that is not going to fly. I have been trying to force myself to tweet more lately, and have gone to excessive use of hashtags. Today, I activated a Facebook account (under much mental stress), and a LinkedIn page. I am looking into #QueryKombat, which appears to be a great way to get some exposure as well as potentially awesome contacts with agents and editors! The Internet is a crazy, intimidating place, but I hope to do my research and find some success in it.

I want to get the word out soon because I am going to be doing something very exciting here on the blog. I am going to be posting sample chapters of Capacitance! I want the novel to get exposure and hopefully build momentum. Stay tuned on chapter one coming soon!

With that being said, follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@elisemarie52), and Facebook (Elise Hardenburger)! And comment below with any tips how you got your online following started. 🙂

Rejection–A Necessary Evil

Last week I started sending out query letters. Inevitably, I started receiving rejections. My biggest surprise upon receiving these rejection emails was that the agents had taken the time to actually hammer out a rejection;  usually it was only one line of text, but it was more than I expected after reading the horror stories on various blogs of sitting anxiously for months and months, never getting a response. Thus, a quick “Sorry, this isn’t for me.” was completely more shocking than the denial itself.

I was denied by three agents last week–plus, I had the bad luck of all three denying me on the same day! Rejection is always hard to take, but I was expecting it, so I didn’t take it as hard. I began my queries with some of the top agencies in the country, and it was asking a lot to ask my query to live up to their exacting standards. But it was worth a shot. It’s always worth a shot–you never know when that one special agent will read your words and fall in love with your novel. Many blogs and websites say that finding an agent is a lot like finding a romantic partner; you have to just get each other. I’m sure most people would agree that the search for love is not supposed to be easy, and you almost never get it right the first time. Just like we’ve all had a bad date, the querying process isn’t going to be love at first sight with every agent. But just because you’ve had a bad date, or the relationship you thought was sure to be “the one” didn’t work out doesn’t mean you stop dating. Thus, rejections shouldn’t mean it’s time to stop querying–yes they are frustrating, but who wants an agent who isn’t the right fit?

In the meantime, between these “bad dates,” I am making myself fall a bit less in love with Capacitance. If I sink my heart into it too much, rejection gets all the more difficult to handle. Now my challenge is to walk the thin line between confidence and blind adoration of my novel. It is not “my baby” anymore, it is a marketable product–while I can be confident in its qualities, I cannot be overly sensitive if it is not the right product for everyone.

Admittedly, I did take a few days off from querying. Maybe that is not weakness–maybe it’s for the best, since I have gotten rather off track in my work on Inductance. However, I will resume my efforts to find and agent and get published; I want my books to be read and I won’t stop until that effort is fulfilled.

Query Week!

Today marks the day I started sending out the first of the dreaded query letters to literary agencies! While rejection is to follow, I am sure, I am glad I have finally settled on a query letter format to go with for each individual email I send. I plan on querying 10 agencies this week, and perhaps 10 more next week. I have read conflicting views–some sites say to query around 10 at a time, while others say that 50 is better for the initial round. I am starting large and working my way down; for example, today I queried agents at Trident, Writer’s House, and Janklow & Nesbit. I also sent my synopsis and requested chapters to the agent from the LKG Agency who requested them at the conference.

The most time consuming part of querying–after you have your hook and mini-synopsis constructed–is researching the agents you’ve decided to query. It takes time to narrow down which agent in each agency will be right for you and find some little detail of evidence to support this which can be added to your query letter to give it a personal touch, but I am sure that showing you’ve done your homework makes your query stand out to the agent reading it.

Here is the query letter I finally settled on sending out (excluding the personalized opening paragraph); it is not perfect, but I think I could have done a million drafts and never felt fully confident!

Mara is a university student of genetic engineering who has just discovered a deadly DNA mutation in users of Meditrinum—a genetic enhancement drug used by the government, society’s elite, and Mara herself. Faced not only with her own impending death, but the potential destruction of society as a whole, Mara’s ultimate focus is to develop a cure for the mutation before time runs out.

 

However, things get more complicated when Mara meets Runey—a shrewdly personable design student with a hidden agenda. A member of an underground government resistance organization, Runey has been tasked with the mission to find out what Mara is working on through any means necessary—specifically, by making her fall in love with him.

Under increasingly threatening demands for results from the ruthless leader of his resistance group, Runey endeavors to reveal Mara’s secrets—while keeping a few of his own. Although Mara tries to remain focused on curing the impending mutation, she finds herself growing closer to Runey. Despite her internal struggle to keep her distance, Mara falls in love with Runey and tells him about the mutation—after this disclosure life is never the same for either one as both Mara and Runey realize the stakes are much higher than they ever expected and the distinction between right and wrong is not as clear as they once thought.

 CAPACITANCE is the first of a planned trilogy set in the dystopian future on a university—creating a setting which is a marriage of the unknown and the familiar. The manuscript is complete and full or partial submission is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Elise M. Hardenburger

I googled “how to write a query letter” and found a lot of great examples; many of which were structured in short paragraphs such as above. I think this allows for points to be emphasized and clarified, allowing for a presentation with more impact. Hopefully, this is a correct assumption! Call me crazy, but I am looking forward to seeing how this all turns out–even a rejection imparts a lesson that I need to try a different tact. Stay tuned!

Writers Conference Packing List

This is a post that most likely will become a before and after comparison in two parts as I will probably need to post once I get back regarding what I forgot/should have brought. However, I noticed a couple followers mentioning they have not attended conferences, but might in the future, so I will give you a little cheat sheet summarizing my list things I plan to bring after extensively scouring the web for tips.

Of course I am bringing the obvious things: pen and paper, business cards, etc. I am also bringing three copies of my synopsis and one copy of my first ten pages. I don’t know if anyone will actually ask to see them, but I want to have them on hand–it’s better to be prepared. One other item that I stumbled upon yesterday was a One Page. A one page is just like it sounds–one page in which you state your name, bio, contact info, book title, word count, tag line, one paragraph synopsis, target audience, and series description (if applicable). I thought this was such a great idea that I immediately threw one together! I included a picture on mine, and used textboxes for blocking it out and including pops of color–best of all, I matched the fonts, color scheme and picture to my business cards for a professional, coordinated look. I plan on bringing ten copies of my one page with me to the conference as I think it will be the most distributed piece of information.

Finally, I am going to bring a copy of my manuscript. I read a lot of conflicting views on this choice, but what stood out to me was the advice to bring it along just in case. Being the type of person I am, I would simply rather lug around a 275 page manuscript all day than miss out on the opportunity to give it to an agent who might request it! My soon to be aching shoulder will probably argue me on the advisability of this decision, but I am sticking to it. On another note, I read a lot of disturbing advice saying not to stalk agents, sneak your manuscript into their bags, or corner and pitch to them in the bathroom. To me, I find this advice laughable as it is purely following the laws of common sense and courtesy…but I saw this similar admonishment on SEVERAL websites! I truly hope I don’t see any examples of that embarrassing behavior this weekend, and I can assure you all I don’t intend to be so aggressive with my manuscript. In fact, I fully expect it to stay in my purse and travel back home with me.

That’s what I will be carrying along with me in my (obviously gigantic!) purse this Saturday. As far as the outfit to coordinate with said purse…well, I haven’t gotten that far yet! Unfortunately this lack of wardrobe selection is troubling me more than my lack of pitch preparation. However, I am of the firm belief that my pitch will turn out a lot better if I am impeccably attired. With that being said, I am off to my closet to plan! I will be posting one more time tomorrow (if I am not too rushed), and then I am leaving for Las Vegas through the weekend! If anyone else is attending the Henderson Writers’ Group Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, please let me know–I would love to meet some of you!