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.ย 
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… ๐Ÿ™‚

The Dreaded “R” Word

I’ve come to a depressing but expected realization that is part of every writer’s journey–I need a rewrite. After getting denial after denial, it is time to look at the manuscript itself. I got an especially detailed denial earlier this week which contained some great, constructive feedback and I realized I am making some mistakes in my writing that turn agents off to a manuscript in a second. But..more on that next week.

I have to admit, it is a really daunting prospect to rewrite Capacitance. Even during college, I was never good at revisions. I wrote my papers really solidly the first time around and turned them in–usually for an A. So this will be a challenge for me. Obviously, trying to stand out and get published in a sea of query letters (not to mention the over-saturated dystopian genre), I need to do more than a really solid first try.

In the feedback I have gotten, a couple of themes are really standing out to me, and that is what first clued me into the idea that I might need to rewrite. It might be just a few first chapters that need to be restructured, it might need to be more. I am nervous about starting to try, worried about diving in and making it all worse. I’m sure these are normal fears that every author goes through, but they are tough to overcome!

So that is where I am at right now. I am not going to continue querying until I at least have the first three chapters rewritten. Then I can see if those get more results. Before I can start rewriting, I have to put myself in a strange position of distance from the material while at the same time examining it closely. It can’t be “my baby” as Iย  have to think critically, but I also will be turning it over and looking at it from all angles.

It’s kind of like overcoming writer’s block a second time around, but I know I will overcome it and take on the challenge!

Beauty & Simplicity–James Herriot

About this time last year, I was out of things to read–a mournful and derelict feeling for a book addict like me. I was moping around my office disconsolately and asked my Dad what he would recommend to read. He went over to the office shelf and pulled out All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. At first I was skeptical. A book about a vet? I won’t be interested in that, I thought to myself. But Dad insisted it was a good read, and I being desperate for a read, took it off the shelf.

Almost immediately I was taken in. Herriot’s simple prose in which he tells his story is compelling and entertaining. His insertion of humor is wonderful. It feels like you are sitting with someone listening to their stories. The organization of the story is anecdotal, so the story line is not continuous, but this adds to the overall effect of familiarity the story presents.

Overall, I would recommend Herriot’s work to anyone–even if they are as skeptical on the subject matter as I was. His work serves to remind us all that sometimes the extraordinary can be found in simplicity.

Keeping It Real

Just a moment ago I was composing a tweet and it inspired today’s blog post topic. For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (you’re missing out! ๐Ÿ™‚ ), here is the tweet minus the ubiquitous #amwriting hashtag:

“Sometimes I worry about needing to keep my story too realistic and forget that sometimes characters need to be larger than life.”

As I was typing the tweet, I was impressed and surprised that I was able to gather that thought into 140 characters. Thus, I realized it is a topic worthy of a blog post. As I write I find myself wondering if the binds my characters get into and–more importantly–get themselves out of are too far-fetched. This is writer’s self consciousness manifesting itself in a new way, and it must be battled. However, there are so many times in books or movies where I find myself rolling my eyes as the main characters find themselves embroiled in some fantastical situation or achieving feats that are simply hard to fathom. Am I the only one that does this?

So I think it is a fine line to tread. While I certainly don’t want my story to be boring, I don’t want to add one harrowing situation+dramatic save too many and have readers become skeptical. Hence the last portion of my tweet. Characters are supposed to be compelling. Stories are supposed to be entertaining and transport us to new worlds. Every story needs to have a bit of magic. Magic doesn’t have to be spells and wizards. Magic can be the heroine grabbing the rock that conveniently appeared to be jutting out of the ledge she was just shoved off.

In conclusion, I am going to try harder to embrace the license we as writers are given. The license to use our magic and weave a tale that entertains, compels and allows readers an escape to imagine the impossible.

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 ofย  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! ๐Ÿ™‚

Reading, Writing and…Well, Who Needs Arithmetic Anyway? ;)

It may sound cliche, but I feel as if my best education in writing has come from the books I’ve read. In today’s MFA culture, sometimes the degree one has seems to count for more than practical experience. While a master’s degree in creative writing would certainly be valuable, I think its important not to discredit the hands on learning that books offer an author.

I have been reading since I was very young and it has always been my preferred escape rather than the sports or video games that my contemporaries engaged in. I don’t believe there has been a time in my life where I haven’t had a book I was currently reading. In college, my reading list became somewhat dictated by my English professors, but the point is, I kept reading.

Thus, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to write one of these stories like the ones I have devoured constantly. And, when the time came (after so much writer’s block!), I found it relatively easy to let the words flow and trust that they would fit themselves into at least decent construction of a novel.

I think this osmosis of writerly learning is best demonstrated by how I have navigated through writing a trilogy. Characters popped into the storyline and filled in little gaps, complicated the plot, and I had usually not premeditated their arrivals all that much. When I started writing Inductance, it was second nature to me to gloss back over some of the major events from Capacitance in the first chapter, to refresh readers (even though I personally let my eyes skim over these reminders in books that I read).

As well as giving one a sense of how stories are crafted, a lifetime of readership can provide the wealth of random and seemingly useless knowledge that a true writer will have accumulated in their gray matter. I can’t tell you how many times I have spouted off with some random fact or known the answer to a trivia question in a board game, and when questioned how I came by that knowledge my answer was, “from reading.”

So, if you’re a writer, don’t spend so much time trying to get your book on the shelves that you forget all the other titles alongside it. And even if you aren’t a writer, never underestimate the mind expanding nature of a good book. ๐Ÿ™‚

Colleen McCullough & Historical Fiction

Today I am actually in the office and on track with my blog to spotlight an inspirational/thought-provoking work of fiction or book I have read! Finally…first one in a long time! Usually, I glance over at my bookshelf for some inspiration and today my eyes fell on the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough. It is fitting to write about her as she passed away earlier this year, and I could and definitely will have more to say on her other works, but for now I want to stick to my personal favorites–her historical fiction seven book series fictionalizing ancient Rome from the time of Gaius Marius to Caesar Augustus.

First of all, it is important to mention that McCullough was an incredibly brilliant woman–she was a neurophysiological researcher at Yale who just happened to write beautiful novels in her spare time. Thus, the research and brains behind the undertaking of the fictionalization of such a huge chunk of history were formidable.

It is clear that McCullough immersed herself in her subject. Not only are most of her facts historically accurate, but it was apparent she tried to interpret the character of the individuals through their actions left on the historical record. To great effect, in my opinion. It is surely difficult to convey a character that was a real living person and do that character justice despite the lack of written records, but McCullough does brilliantly. Through seven books following major historical characters, you find yourself as a reader coming to know these people well and caring about them intimately. This speaks for McCullough’s strength as a character creator in general.

While you are becoming immersed in the characters, you are learning history. This is the greatest achievement of historical fiction and why it can be so valuable to write it well and accessibly for the public. And why readers should give historical fiction a try. It’s a chance to broaden your knowledge and be entertained at the same time. McCullough puts forth a great effort to be accurate; each book is followed by a note explaining any deviations from the true path of history (she incorporates some historical rumors into fact for her stories), and why she chose to believe these rumors to be true. Usually her justifications make sense and show a lot of research behind them. She was an author who took her writing seriously.

After reading the series, I was so taken by the history of ancient Rome that I wanted to research it on my own and test McCullough’s factual reliability. I read biographies of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Caesar Augustus. I found myself getting bored while reading said biographies because I already knew all the material–McCullough had really stuck to the facts and portrayed them, while in an entertaining manner, in incredible detail!

In conclusion, historical fiction would be an interesting challenge as an author. Colleen McCullough has definitely inspired me in this regard because her books are both highly informative and very well written. I love history and research and it would be very rewarding to discover and bring back to life historical figures from the past as McCullough has done in her Masters of Rome series.

Writing for a “Dead” Market?

I’ll admit it, I’m writing dystopian. The first step is admitting you have a problem. While many people still thoroughly enjoy this genre, the market for it from a publisher’s perspective is (as far as I can tell) pretty dead. The number of denied queries I am amassing speaks to this fact. So what does a frustrated writer do in this situation?

First of all, it’s even more frustrating because I understand the situation completely. Knowing the principles of basic supply and demand as well as the way trends go, it makes total sense that savvy literary professionals such as agents and editors are not jumping at the chance to grab more titles that boast corollaries to the wildly popular (currently) Hunger Games and Divergent. Instead agents and editors want to snatch up the next big craze, which will certainly be in a totally different and unexpected genre.

So I get it. But I don’t want to stop writing the story I am trying to tell. I didn’t decide to write about Mara and Runey because I wanted to write the next Hunger Games. Despite what the genre may suggest, I am not writing for a trend. The story came to me and clamored to be told, so I am telling it, despite its marketability with literary professionals. I have read many articles and blog posts that say “shelve your dystopian/paranormal projects,” but I disagree. Personally, I don’t like to leave work unfinished. Especially something as near to my heart and soul as my writing. It would feel like more of a failure to shove Mara and Runey in a drawer than even if they never make it to the bookshelves.

Thus, the writing goes on. So does the querying. I have nowhere near exhausted my list of possibilities for getting published. Somewhere out there is surely an agent who will be as enthusiastic about my project as I am. I just have to be persistent until I find that person. Writing novels and querying is also good practice. Should this project end up shelved once it’s finished, at least I got the great experience of writing a trilogy and getting to know the professional side of the business. It will be great experience for my next book. ๐Ÿ™‚

There is hope when writing in a “dead” genre. One of my friends that I met at the Las Vegas conference wrote a paranormal romance novel (the same genre as the supposedly played out Twilight sensation), and she just landed a book deal with publication coming in 2016. Read about her story here: http://linkis.com/www.cmmccoy.com/blog/p4Ia8 . And if you’re writing in one of these hard to sell genres, I would love to hear your story/strategy! Above all, never give up on your self as a writer or your story.

What’s In A Name?

The names of characters in the books we read…they can stick with us, become household terms, and conjure specific images in one’s mind. Snape, Frodo, Othello, Gatsby…all names which, for most, relate back to the stories they came from. These memorable names have turned these fictional figments of an author’s mind to an almost independent entity in the minds of their readers.

However, finding those great names can be really difficult! If someone asked me what a big insecurity I have about my trilogy is, I would definitely say the characters’ names. Although the names of characters often becomes a moot point in the publishing process as editors and publishers usually opt to change the names, the names we as authors initially give our characters are all important. They set the scene. Give a title to the voices clamoring around in our head to be put on paper. And, sometimes, make us squirm uncomfortably every time we type the character name.

This little qualm of insecurity about characters names has haunted me before, and causes me to hesitate when a new character is due to be introduced. I want to get it right the first time, but, if I don’t, I almost always end up going back and changing it. For me, insecurity over names is mostly prevalent for secondary characters. I tend to try and name them too much to their characterization, so sometimes the names are overwrought. Conversely, with my main characters, I have already known who they are even before I started writing. The names Mara and Runey floated into my head with the image of the characters themselves on the day I first imagined the concept of Capacitance. Travers was a little more difficult and I questioned that decision for a long time, but ultimately I think it fits.

So, as Shakespeare once famously asked, what’s in a name? The answer–for authors, anyway–would be, quite lot of meaning. It’s the title we officially give these products of our creative imagination, it adds to the complexity and tone of our story, and it is how we resonate with the characters. However, just like Shakespeare’s rose, the depth and dimensions of the complexity of the character, make them just as interesting and compelling, no matter what name is ultimately decided upon. Happy Monday! ๐Ÿ™‚