Owning It

A large part of succeeding as a writer boils down to your willingness to put in the time. Can you accept sitting at a desk, dreaming up worlds, typing (or scribbling) the words, and getting it done? The answer to these questions has always been a resounding yes for me, but I tend to fail when it comes to putting in the face time.

I did just that this weekend. I put in the face time and met dozens of wonderful writers and agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. It was fabulous. I participated in PitchSlam, in which authors are given one hour to pitch as many agents as they can in three-minute segments. (Truly, it’s any introvert’s nightmare.)

But you know what? While I was nervous going into my first pitch, it melted away quickly. Why? Because I discovered something as I delved into conversation with these agents. I found myself admitting something surprising. Out loud.

I love my book. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the interactions and the quirks and the personalities. It was a fun book to write and I had fun writing it! And when you enjoy your story, I think it shows. You start to enjoy talking about it and telling people why it’s something they’ll want to read…which makes it a lot easier to pitch.

Proof? I pitched 6 agents and all 6 made requests for partial manuscripts (requested lengths varied). This may or may not result in progress moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point? When you love your work, it shows. 

Writers. Friends. I have one piece of advice for you. LOVE YOUR WORK. It’s yours. You wrote it because you loved it. 

Now own it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 11.22.14 AM
So many fabulous writers. Dinner on a Friday night.

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!

All In.

Before kids, my husband and I each had a full range of hobbies to fill our time. (Amazing how those hobbies dwindle when parenting takes precedence!) Back in 2005, my husband went deep into the world of online Texas Hold’em and enjoyed throwing live poker parties (with real cards, real chips, and real stakes) at our house once a month. I guess it was a good thing that he was always good at it, or I would have lost my mind in addition to our money. Personally, I’ve never been one to understand a gamble. Why in the world would I put my hard-earned money on a bet, with no certainty that I’d make any profit? I’ve always preferred the solid return on investment that comes with hard work and dedication.

But sometimes, just sometimes, life’s about taking a gamble. So I paid my registration fee and I’ll be at the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop this Saturday, learning from other writers and getting tips from agents and editors. This is a big deal for me for a few reasons.

1. I’m a major introvert. The very idea of going to a city I’m not all that familiar with is daunting in and of itself. (New York is the exception to this rule. I don’t care how loud my anxiety screams, I will always be ready for a trip to NYC. Because really – theater, art, culture.  Need I say more?) Generally speaking, though, just having to navigate the public transportation system to get myself to a specific location in a major city sets my heart into irregular palpitating thuds. To top it off, I’ll be around people (a lot of people) all day long.

2. Big Changes. Attending a conference means that I’ve crossed over from treating writing like a hobby and a dream and started viewing it as an honest career. To be fair, this is the second conference I’ve planned to attend, but this one is much bigger than the last one! It’s a big change in mindset and one that’s necessary to being successful as a writer. After all, if I can’t treat myself seriously as a writer, how can I expect that anyone else will?

3. Forgoing Reward. Go ahead. You can read it again. “Forgoing reward.” As I write this, my dearest husband is on an all-expenses paid trip in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, a trip I should be enjoying with him. Instead, he took a fishing buddy. Why? Because part of being dedicated to writing is committing myself to the job. I booked the conference before we knew about the trip and I’ve committed. So he can go right on and enjoy the amazing Caribbean cooking at the all-you-can-eat open air buffet, sip his strawberry daiquiri made with rum too high quality for US import, and snorkel in the crystal waters to his heart’s content. I’ll be too busy tackling a dream to think about the Caribbean. (And maybe I’ll just stop at the liquor store for some daiquiri ingredients on my way home.)

4. Pitching A Manuscript. As icing on the cake—I’m pitching my book to agent Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agency in person, someone I’ve been following on Twitter and admiring for months now. If I’m honest, it’s turned into borderline stalking. (Eric, I’m sorry! I love your tweets!) And part of the reason for my extreme nerves here is that Eric is not only a literary agent who’s constantly championing his authors. He’s also a YA fantasy author himself, so he knows the genre and he knows exactly what he likes to see in the genre. So, you know. No pressure.

So that’s it! I’ll be one big ball o’ nerves until it’s all over Saturday night, but it’ll be worth every minute! I’m pushing my chips to the center of the poker table and calling out, “All in!”