Blog

The Weight of Doubt and Exhaustion

It’s been a long time since I blogged. Then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything, truth be told.

There’s a complete and utter exhaustion that comes with caring for someone with a long-term illness and until recently, I was really good at pretending it didn’t exist.

Enter wall.

See that wall? I’ve hit it. No lie—it hurts.

We are, I hope, at the end of this long medical journey (at least the immediate journey), but since I never seem to be able to say that with any degree of certainty, it’s really hard to believe it even now.

And after five months, I’m mentally depleted. So, no new rambling blogs, no new pages in my current manuscript, no edits on the last one, and no queries on my old one. I’ve been thinking (a *lot*) about writing and editing, but honestly, it just scares me right now. I’m 100% positive that it’s due to my mental state from playing home-care nurse for so long, but I’ve reached an awkward position as a writer that I haven’t been in for quite some time, the place where I begin to contemplate if it’s worth pursuing publishing at all. The stage where my brain whispers that I’m not good enough, that my stories aren’t interesting, that my plot lines are too predictable, that my characters aren’t worth following.

I know this voice in my head and I usually tell it to shut the hell up and sit in a corner to think about what it’s done. Then I tell it that it’s going to stay in that corner until it figures out how to play nicely with the other voices. (Okay, that just sounds creepy…but you get the point.)

But lately? Lately I don’t have the energy to police what my children are eating for dinner (Frozen packaged pierogies? Again? Sure, whatever keeps you alive, kids!), let alone to police my self-deprecating internal writer’s doubt.

I know this will pass. So in the mean time, hey—I wrote something. It’s a blog post about absolutely nothing, but it’s 365 more words than I’ve written in a very long time.

Fresh Paint

Egads, has it really been over three weeks since my last blog post? How does time slip away so quickly? (Also, who actually says egads?)

Oh, let me count the ways…

  1. We had more hospital time recently. After his initial surgery, my husband ended up with an infection which necessitated a drain. “Drains are great fun,” said no one ever! It’s been an issue on and off for seven weeks. Read that again. He’s had a drain in his body for seven weeks. Seven. (And we were told at the beginning that it would be two weeks and gone.) Complications made it necessary to change drains repeatedly and we’ve been back and forth to Philadelphia six times since mid-July to keep tabs on the progress. Supposedly, we’re looking at having the drain removed next week, but I’m still waiting for someone to rip the rug out from beneath our feet once again. It seems to be par for the course.
  2. Remember my post about PitchWars—the contest that’s kind of like The Voice for writers? I didn’t get in. This is no surprise to me as there were nearly 3,000 writers vying for mentee positions and only 150 mentors. (I’ll let you do the math on that one.) While disappointing because PitchWars would have been a great opportunity to get extra eyes on my manuscript, not getting chosen as a mentee hasn’t deterred me in the least. I’ll keep querying this manuscript (as I have for the last couple of years) while I revise my most recently finished manuscript and work on my newest WIP. It’s all part of the job.
  3. Critique Partners. While I didn’t get into PitchWars to get mentor eyes on my manuscript, I did manage to hook up with hundreds of other amazing writers. I now have not one, not two, but three new possible critique partners. (That’s a lot of reading!) Right now, we’re in that crazy “first date” stage. We’ve exchanged first chapters and are determining our compatibility as critique partners. In a CP, it’s really important to find someone who recognizes the flaws in your writing, but who also recognizes the potential. You want someone who will cheer you on while also letting you know why a particular paragraph isn’t working or a character isn’t reacting the way it seems they logically should. Furthermore, it’s a must to have a critique partner who actually enjoys your writing and doesn’t feel it’s a chore to read your work. But perhaps most importantly, you want someone who is encouraging in every way. The last thing a writer needs is someone who will pull them down and stomp on their heart. (Really. Writers do enough of that to themselves.)
  4. School. School has been so quickly approaching that it’s taken everything I’ve got not to fight against it. I’m going to refer to the last three months as The Summer That Never Was. Because that’s how it feels. Between the rollercoaster of medical visits the past four months, all of our summer plans went out the window. (2018 had better make it up to us!) And so this last month I’ve been busy preparing for the kids to go back to school. School supply and clothing shopping completed, my kids were ready and excited for their first week back. So far, so good. (We’re three days in and no one has complained yet, but give it time. I’m betting they will by next Tuesday.)

Anyway, my point with all of this ramble? Life gets in the way. The unexpected (which really should be expected at this point) has kept me from doing the things I thought I would be doing throughout this summer.

IMG_1801And that brings me to a new point (and, consequently, the title of this post). Fresh paint. I first saw this sign when my husband was just out of his initial surgery and was being moved from the Surgical ICU wing to a regular hospital room. Six weeks later, when we came back for an emergency visit and ended up admitted because of an abscess, guess what sign was still there? Two weeks after that, when we came back because the drain had stopped working, he was in extreme pain from the abscess, and had a fever once again, it was still hanging. Three days later, and then another two weeks later still, it was there. I’d bet money that when we visit next week, that sign will still be in the same place on the same door at the end of the same hall we’ve been seeing all summer long.

Fresh paint. I’m fairly certain that the new coat of ‘fresh’ paint dried long ago. (I wonder how long the sign was up before our first visit.) The last time I saw that sign, I laughed. Somehow, in some obscure way, that sign is a metaphor for my life at this moment. That sign is the universe speaking directly to me.

There are times when it’s necessary to take on new challenges under new circumstances. And after you’ve done so, you’ll need to refrain from ‘touching’ no matter how much you want to. You’ll have to ride it out until that paint is dry. But just as importantly, you need to know when the paint is dry and learn to take control again. Otherwise, you could spend your whole life waiting for someone to tell you when it’s okay to start ‘touching’ again.

Or something like that.

Next week. Next week we go back to the hospital again. And dammit, that paint had better be dry because it’s time to start moving forward.

Misery Loves Company

So I haven’t had much of a chance to write lately between our crazy number of hospital visits in the past two weeks. Complications from husband’s original surgery have led to not much free time. Plus, there’s that pesky PitchWars thing I’ve been tweeting about.

In preparation for PitchWars, I have slaughtered my pages over the past few weeks, tearing them apart, reordering, rewriting, revising, and generally pulling out my hair until I positively manuscript-blinded myself.

Seriously.

I have no idea whether or not I’ve made my story better or worse at this point. None. Not a single clue. Because I can no longer see what I have written nor judge the quality of the words on the page.

But in blinding myself with a manuscript, at least I can take some solace in the fact that there are not just dozens, but hundreds and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of writers who are in the same boat and feeling the same way right now.

You know what they say. Misery loves company. And nothing is more miserable than a writer in waiting. (Miserable in an entirely good way, of course!)

But don’t take my word for it.

Querying (Part IV)

Hooray! This is the last installment of my querying series.

(Read: I think this is the last installment of my querying series, unless, of course, the person who is critiquing it as I type comes back with drastic changes that need to be made… Never done, people. It’s never truly done.)

I used to read about authors who said that they would have kept working on a particular book of theirs had it not been for their agent telling them quite forcefully that they were done. And I would think, “How??? But it’s perfect! How could they have worked longer on it? How could they possibly have made it better?” As a reader, it’s so easy to believe in perfection. As a writer? Never.

So, without further ado, my query as it currently stands:

 

Dear (Agent),

At eighteen, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina agrees to allow two determined escorts to accompany her on her journey for truth, but each comes with a mysterious past of his own. Her estranged childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, left their village years ago and only recently returned, harboring dark secrets behind a solemn exterior. And despite his status as a perfect stranger, a dashing captain by the name of Niles Ingram is quick to fight by Reina’s side at whatever the cost.

There’s just one problem with Reina’s two companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy and as potential suitors no less! But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s tasked with defeating a usurping general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne? For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her.

A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is a 100,000 word YA quest-based fantasy featuring a headstrong heroine who discovers that magic runs far deeper than even a prophecy could have foretold. It would best be suited for readers who enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and White Hart by Sarah Dalton. Thank you for your time and consideration. I very much hope we can work together soon.

Best Regards,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The things to note:

I’ve eliminated the reason why I’m contacting an agent. That doesn’t mean I won’t add it back in. Undoubtedly I will. But, I am using this query for PitchWars, so that means I’m not contacting an agent directly. I’m looking to work with a mentor and mentors aren’t interested in why you chose them. (At least, not up front!)

That being said, I began my query with the hook, with the story. I want to make a strong case early on. I want to make a reader say, “Hmm, intriguing. Tell me more!” You might notice that I still have a bit of a “When X, then Y” thing going on. (“So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.”) I wouldn’t use this formula more than once in a query, but if it works (and it’s proven that it does), I think using it is just fine. (Trust me, though, if I could find a way to get rid of this formula, I still would.) I’ve also used specifics for the Y part of my formula. The key to a successful “When X, then Y”  is staying away from general blanket statements. The more specific you can be, the better. (Within reason, of course. It wouldn’t be any good for me to say, “When a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must figure out how the talisman works, use abilities only she possesses, and devastate an army without any backup.” That’s a little too specific.)

At the recommendation of an industry professional, I’ve also opted to add more detail about both of Reina’s suitors and I’ve given a little more of detail on how they are included in the prophecy.

Additionally, I’ve added the stakes. I thought that by sharing the tone of the novel (Hey, there’s a war going on, an evil general to defeat, and a true king that needs to be found!) that I had given enough info to make it seem obvious, but it was brought to my attention that I’d never really named the stakes. So, “For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her,” makes it pretty clear to me. The stakes? Reina needs to figure out what the heck is going on before she’s killed for her role in trying to uncover the truth. I think that about does it. (But I’ll certainly let you know if my latest critique goes over well or not!)

And lastly – my comp titles are reined in a bit (only two this time) and I’ve changed the type of fantasy I’m pitching. Is it still a “chosen one” tale? Yeah, it kind of is, but (without giving away the plot) there’s a catch and so I don’t want to pitch it just as a “chosen one” fantasy. There’s far more going on behind the scenes. For me, a quest-based fantasy definitely seemed to be a better fit over all. So make sure you know exactly where your book fits in because it makes a big difference in who will want to read it.

So that’s it! Now you have seen the 3+ year history of my querying progress. I hope that this helps you in your querying and that you see more than just form rejections in your inbox! Thanks for following!

A Thousand Years to Wait

(A little novel aesthetic I included for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT for my PitchWars family. You know, in case you’re a visual kind of person!)

 

Querying (Part III)

By now you’ve probably got a pretty good idea where I’m going with my queries. (Progressively better with each version, but still not quite “there.”)

This particular version netted me requests (both partial and full) from several agents. It’s better, but it’s still lacking.

 

Dear (Agent),

Though your website lists that you are currently closed to queries, I saw your recent tweet about opening to queries that match your MSWL. As such, I hope to interest you in TARROWBURN, a YA alternate world fantasy featuring a mystery of otherworldly proportions and a headstrong female protagonist with the power to solve it.

At 18, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and find a way to end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs and learn to control the magic. Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy. But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s busy defeating an evil general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

Tarrowburn, a 100,000 word, “chosen one” fantasy is the second novel I’ve completed, but the first I’ve written with the intention of doing something other than stashing in a desk drawer. While I have degrees in subjects completely unrelated to creative writing, writing has long been my true passion. Growing up, I was strongly influenced by the world-building talents of Anne McCaffrey and C.S. Friedman and quickly fell in love with both dragons and magic. Though it is a stand-alone novel, Tarrowburn is meant to be the first of a trilogy. Comparable titles for Tarrowburn might include Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass, White Hart by Sarah Dalton, or The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. As requested, I have included a synopsis and the first ten pages of my manuscript below. I would be happy to provide you with a partial or full manuscript upon request. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The Things I Did Right:

Hey! I’ve finally managed to remember to use all caps on my title! That only took two full years. (Did you notice that my title changed? My word count is also up again…) Also, I’ve directly addressed why I’ve chosen to send to this agent. She specifically had an item on her Manuscript Wish List that matched what I had written.

Notice that my summary paragraph is much more concise now, that I’m not bumbling around about how Reina likes being alone and misses home. Sure, those things might still be a part of the story, but they were never the focus and shouldn’t have been included in the query at all.

I’ve now listed what kind of fantasy I’m writing. It’s a “chosen one” tale. That being said, it’s also a “hero’s journey” (heroine’s journey?), and an alternate-world fantasy, so it fits into more than one tiny niche.

I’ve used comp titles that are more within the scope of my novel, other books that include kick-ass, teenage heroines who generally don’t take any crap from anyone.

 

Things I Didn’t Quite Do Right (Also known as Things I Did Wrong): 

My first paragraph is wrapped up pretty well, but I’ve been told that, “I hope to interest you in TARROWBURN,…” doesn’t relay confidence. One reviewer told me that they thought I sounded like a waitress in a fancy restaurant, trying desperately to pitch the night’s special. “I hope to interest you in this evening’s special dish of braised beef tips served over egg noodles in a delightful mushroom sauce, with a side of steamed broccoli lightly drizzled in garlic butter.” (Now I’m just hungry.)

Another told me that I sounded almost like a used-car salesman. (Shudder!) And a third said that she understood what I was going for (humble and polite), but that it sounded instead as though I doubted my own work. Yikes, that definitely isn’t what I want agents to think!

My second paragraph is better at summing up the story, but still hasn’t quite relayed the stakes or the urgency in its entirety. I think I’ve done a better job of that in my most recent query, but we’ll get to that later. Someone pointed out that I mention both companions are featured in the prophecy, but I don’t say how. I assumed that my next sentence, “But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two…” made that connection clear, but sometimes it’s easier to make a connection when you already know what’s going on. It’s not nearly as simple when you aren’t already in the loop on the particulars of the story.

I’m guilty of having a bit of amnesia in my last paragraph. I’ve forgotten (again) to put the title of my work in caps. (Twice, in fact.) You’ll notice my word count went up again. I did a little more world-building as I revamped the book and brought it into the YA realm where it belonged.

While I finally used the right kind of comp titles, I’ve used entirely too many of them. I’ve also done something that can be seen as a bit pompous (which is ironic, given my “humble” opening). I’ve used a best-selling series as my first comp title. Agents don’t necessarily advise against this, but if you’re going to use a bestseller, be sure that your work really does match the voice/setting/characters of a book you are comparing it to. (I would definitely advise against using Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games as your comp titles together! Nothing screams “cocky” like using three separate bestselling titles with extended movie series.) This is why I also chose lesser known titles as my other comps.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if you’re going to use comp titles, use more recent books. It shows that you read within your genre and that you’re familiar with what the genre currently offers.

I also don’t need to say what authors really got me into my love of of the fantasy genre. While it’s good information and might show my style a bit, it doesn’t really mean anything in the long run and it’s something that I could always discuss at a later date. Again, the agent wants to know about my book, not about me and my loves.

So this query is better and it did get me several requests for manuscript reads from agents. But I still think I can improve, and as I’ve taken on the challenge of submitting to PitchWars, I’ve decided to rework it again. That’s a post for another day!

dragonflight-by-michael-whelan

Anne McCaffrey’s dragons (and Michael Whelan’s artwork) will always be one of my first fantasy loves!

Querying (Part II)

After a year and a half of constant rejection, I finally revised my first query into something a little more focused. It’s not quite as rambling as my first and it seems like maybe I knew a little bit more about what was going with my own book on at this point.

Dear (Agent),

I viewed your recent manuscript wish list requests via manuscriptwishlist.com, and I hope to interest you in The Tarrowburn Prophecies, a 95,000-word fantasy novel featuring a mystery of otherworldly proportions and an independent female protagonist with the power to solve it.

Moreina di Bianco is a small town village healer and nothing more…or at least that’s what she’d like to believe, but visions that plague only her serve to remind her on a regular basis that she’ll always be different.  Despite her second sight, Reina is one of the few citizens in the kingdom of Castilles who doesn’t believe in the thousand-year-old White Sorceress Prophecy.  How could a talisman and a lone woman save the kingdom from the war that has raged on for four long years, a war that looks ever more desperate with each passing day?  So, when ironically unforeseen circumstances declare Reina the White Sorceress with the ability to rescue the kingdom from the grasp of a power-hungry General, she’s forced to accept the truth within the prophecy’s words and must take fate into her own hands.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions.  They, too, are featured in the prophecy.  But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s faced with ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science and a Master’s in Business Administration, but writing has long been my true passion.  After eight years in the pharmaceutical industry, I moved into the world of animal welfare where I currently work as a nonprofit marketing director for Humane Pennsylvania.  I do plenty of writing in this role, but none of it fiction.  In my opinion, the only thing better than snuggling puppies and kittens is writing fiction, and I endeavor to make it my lifelong career.  Additionally, I currently write part-time as a freelance writer for blogmutt.com and writeraccess.com.  The Tarrowburn Prophecies is my second novel, but the first I’ve written with the intention of doing something other than stashing in a desk drawer.  Please note that the full manuscript is currently under review with another agent who understands that I have continued querying while she reviews.  At your request, a synopsis and the first 50 pages can be found below (in a larger font for hopefully easier-on-the-eyes reading).  Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

Guess what? This query is still pretty wild and it’s way too long—this time over 400 words! You probably noticed that I did a little work on the manuscript since the last version. (My word count is about 4k higher than the last query as a result of the first time an agent gave me feedback!)

First off, in this version, I started with the reason why I contacted this particular agent and it’s okay. Nothing flashy here (notice no comments on personal appearances). It’ll do the job, but now I find I usually like to give a little more detail in this paragraph, like the fact that the agent and I share a love of Outlander or that this agent just mentioned on Twitter that she was looking for kick-ass heroines and alternate world settings. Something along those lines.jamie-fraser-picture-outlander

The hook is still too long and too “un-hooky.” (Sure, that’s a word.) I still ramble a little, albeit not quite as much as before. After nearly two years of querying, I still hadn’t figured out the heart of my book and how to present it! (More on this in an upcoming post.)

The worst part of this query, though, is the fact that I’ve made my bio nearly as long as the two preceding paragraphs about the book itself! Typically, you want your query to contain a sentence or two about you, but this is definitely more important if you have publishing credits to share. No one cares what my degrees are in, where I previously worked, that I liked snuggling kittens and puppies, or that I wrote another manuscript and don’t want anyone to ever see it. This information is completely irrelevant. (Okay, most of it is completely irrelevant. Degrees are good, but they don’t determine your success as a writer.) Also, notice I still haven’t used caps when mentioning the title of my work.

My thought at the time I was using this query was that agents were interested in knowing who they would be working with just as much as as they were interested in knowing what the book was about. Wrong. Yes, of course they want to know who they will potentially be working with, but at this stage of the game, they don’t care. That’s for future emails and phone calls to determine. Right now, the only important information they need to know is the premise of your story. And if you can’t manage to sum that up in the neat, little package of your query, they’ll have to pass.

So, work that hook!

Captain-Hook-killian-jones-captain-hook-33583000-1000-1324
(No, not that Hook! Although…)

Querying (Part I)

Any writer can google how to query, so contrary to the title of this post, I won’t be teaching you how to query. There’s tons of information out there regarding how to query a literary agent — what to say, what not to say, how to say it, and how to say it well.

No lie. Querying is hard. In a previous post, I wrote about how long it took for me to get my query letter to the point where I finally got more than a form rejection as a response. So what I aim to show you in this series of query posts is the difference between my beginner query, my “better” query, and my most recently revised query (that was said to be “solid” by established writers).

Are you ready for my beginner query? Prepare yourself. It’s pretty bad.

 

Dear (Agent),

Translating prophecy is a tricky and inexact science, and one in which Moreina di Bianco doesn’t exactly place her faith, so when she finds herself at the center of a thousand-year old prophecy, everything she holds dear is suddenly threatened.

When Reina is chosen to accompany the White Sorceress candidates in their search for the infamous Faranzine Talisman, she quickly agrees to help. What she doesn’t realize is that her own life is about to take a drastic spin, and turning back won’t be an option. When the talisman unexpectedly chooses her as its wearer, Reina must not only accept the truth within the prophecy’s words, but also must find a way to save the kingdom from the malicious grasp of General Bruenner – a daunting task for a village healer who doesn’t even believe in magic.

Reina’s only help on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, as well as a dashing Captain who claims to be her protector…oh, and her second sight, which she insists is nothing more than a slightly heightened sense of perception. As if discovering the key to unlocking the talisman’s untold power, ending a war, and placing the rightful king on the throne weren’t enough of a challenge, Reina is also forced to address a most unpleasant section of the prophecy – the part regarding two suitors. For a quasi-hermit like Reina, the only thing more overwhelming than losing her much coveted solitude is the prospect of losing it forever, but Reina soon discovers that there are things more important than solitude, and that sometimes home can be found even afar.

The Tarrowburn Prophecies is a 91,500 word fantasy novel ideally suited for readers who enjoy tales such as C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy or Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Though it is a stand-alone novel, it is intended to be the first of a trilogy. Initially, I decided to contact you based on your profile on AgentQuery.com, and upon reading more detailed information on your submission website, my decision was confirmed. Like you, I have a diverse background, having worked in many different professional atmospheres. Thank you so much for your consideration! I’d be happy to provide you with a copy of the manuscript upon your request, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

Okay, so do you see the issues with this letter? I cringe just looking at it!

First off, it’s way too long and cluttered, and it rambles without focusing on the conflict and the stakes. It’s almost 400 words! (About twice as long as it should be!) There’s a lot of description here, but not much focus on what the book is really about. There’s no need for me to talk about Reina’s love of solitude. Is she a bit of a hermit in the book? Maaaaaybe. But that’s not really essential to the heart of the story. Why is the part about two suitors in the prophecy so distasteful to Reina? This query makes it sound like she wants anything but to fall for a guy, but in reality, that wasn’t it at all. (It’s because she’s so focused on figuring out a way to end the war!) I could go on, but you get the point. There’s a lot of ramble in this query.

Next, I made a rookie mistake in my first paragraph with the “…everything she holds dear is suddenly threatened.” In trying to hook your reader, the last thing you want to do is use the word “everything.” There is quite literally almost no possible way to be more vague. Then, I went with, “For a quasi-hermit like Reina, the only thing more overwhelming than losing her much coveted solitude is the prospect of losing it forever, but Reina soon discovers that there are things more important than solitude, and that sometimes home can be found even afar.” Really? Was losing her solitude that bad? Honestly, it wasn’t even a major part of the book… Why was I so stuck on this theme?

My point? Sometimes what we think the book is about isn’t really what the book is about at all. When I was writing this character, I wanted to invoke a sense of longing for home, a sense of loneliness, of a desire to return to the mundane, everyday life, but it wasn’t what the story was about. I hadn’t yet figured that out at the time I wrote this query.

I also used a lot of the formulaic “When X happens, then Y is the result…” Just look at my second paragraph. Surely there were better ways than utilizing the much overused “When X…” And yet, I used it not once, but twice…in one paragraph.

When I mention the title of my work in the final paragraph, I forgot to put it in all caps. You work should always be listed in all caps. (This is something I still have issues remembering even today!) This is not the most horrendous thing I could possibly have done, of course, but using the caps lock for your manuscript’s title is a good way to make sure it stands out right away and it’s generally accepted as the proper protocol for query letters.

Lastly, my comp titles are all wrong! To be fair, this version of my query went along with a very early version of the book in which I had the wrong age range targeted. I was trying to squeeze what was essentially a YA book into an Adult category. No wonder it wasn’t working for me. (And no wonder I had no idea how to summarize what it was really about!) When I finally admitted to myself that I needed to revise my entire manuscript to fit into YA, I was in a much better place, both with the book itself and with the query.

And for the love of God, please do not, under any circumstances comment on an agent’s appearance. That’s just…creepy. I am absolutely mortified to admit that I did this when personalizing an early query. (Like, so mortified that I want to crawl under a rock and never come out.) The agent had said something about her unruly curly hair on Twitter and I ran with it. I shudder when I think of what kind of creep I came across as. So… Just. Don’t.

I try not to be too hard on myself because I know learning the querying process is all part of becoming a writer, but I still cringe when I read my earliest query. And I honestly feel like I just published a couple of nude photos of me! (But then again, I just told you how I commented on an agent’s appearance. Notice how I didn’t post that query.)

If you learn can from my mistakes, it was worth all my discomfort in putting this out there! And perhaps this will help you gain a chance at getting something a little more personalized than the dreaded form rejection!

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 9.02.16 PM

(Yep, that’s one I received on 2/14/2014. Feeling the love? Not so much.)