* This blog post was originally published last year on my main blog. So much has changed, including the abysmal query letter, but I decided to post the original for prospertiy sake.
Since this is a blog about me and my quest for publication, I should explain a few of the words that you will see regularly while you waste your time checking in on my life. This post will also double as a sort of, How to, which is why it will be broken into two parts. As I learn this process, I will be forcing pearls of extremely limited wisdom onto all of you. Take my advice, don't take my advice, print out my advice, burn it, then piss on it...whatever works for you.
Let's just jump right in, shall we? Here is a short list of words you will see me use from time to time. I have a feeling some of these will be accompanied by not-so-creative curse words in the future.
1.) Beta. This person is probably the most important (besides the writer themselves) in the early development of a novel. A beta reader is a person that reads your draft and gives you feedback on a macro level. They're the ones that will inform you if your plot is too confusing or if a piece of dialogue feels forced and unnatural. A beta will let you know if the story needs more drama, less action, more sex, less sex because its for kids you creep etc. They will help with your consistency and timelines. They can ask you questions that will open up entire plot points that you hadn't even thought of yet. Beta readers are, and I can't stress this enough, indispensable. It's very easy to miss big problems within your novel when you are so close to it. It all makes perfect sense in your head because you thought of it, you wrote it. Having someone else to catch the issues you aren't even aware of is extremely important to the process.
Typically, a beta is someone close to you that you trust. You have to know that they will be honest with you. Your beta should be able to tell you if your novel sucks and they should be able to do it in a way that won't make you give up. It also helps if they are in the target audience, but anyone willing and meeting the above criteria will do.
My betas were my teenage sister (hello target audience!), my mother, and my husband. Just with the first read through, I had enough feedback to realize that my story needed to be broken into two and that the world I had created needed more detail. Upon an edit and in certain areas, a re-write, I realized I had a much better novel than I did before. Three betas is a little short though, and only one of them was in my target audience. I needed more.
Enter two more suckers that took home my novel after a family vacation and are in the process of reading it now. Their advice and feedback will be extremely valuable, not only because they are both creative and intelligent, but also because they each possess a shit ton of writing skill and that makes me extremely fortunate to have them to go to. Having other talented writers read your work is very important. They will point out issues that non-writers may not be able to pin-point. (I'm waiting on pins and needles to hear back from them. Its seriously nerve wracking as hell, sharing your work with people that can probably do it better than you can, but you can't grow and learn as a writer without other writer's feedback.)
That made five betas, which is pretty good. However, there is another very important piece of the YA novel audience that I had yet to tap into. The stay at home mom club. Moms read a lot of books. The type and range of books varies, of course, but typically SAHM are very open to mainstream YA novels. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter etc. (Also something called Shadow Hunters which I have yet to check out, but am extremely excited to do because I've heard there is some great LGBT relationships in it) All of these series are written for young adults, but are also consumed vivaciously by adults. Adults like my friend across the street, a thirty something mother of two who reads a lot and likes me enough to read my novel.
That makes six betas. Each from different walks of life, different ages, and writing skill level. That is a good representation of what your beta group should look like. (I'd have liked to get a few more teenagers, but unless I solicit my novel outside of the local high school, I don't really know how to go about this. Besides, I'm told waiting outside of school to ask kids to do stuff for you is frowned upon.)
So, Beta? Damn important. They will not, however, be dotting your I's or crossing your T's, that is the next persons job.
2.) Editor. There are a lot of different types of editors. Proofreaders, line editors, copy editors, developmental editors....I think that's it. Typically, you are going to pay for this service.
If you don't have trusted betas you can rely on, a developmental editor will be your next step after you finish your final draft. This is basically a paid professional beta. I got mine for free, so I won't be spending money on this one.
Then you have your proofreaders. Proofreaders correct superficial errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and formatting. I also got this one for free in the form of my supportive and self-sacrificial husband. If one of your betas has an English degree or is just really good at knowing when to use a comma and when not to, see if they would be willing to proofread your novel as they beta it for you. I did happen to look into how much it would cost to have my book professionally proofread, though. I was quoted at $970.00 for 97,000 words and this was on the cheaper end, because my husband had already gone in and pointed out the most glaring errors. So, I'm skipping the proofreader.
I'll discuss the rest of the editors as we get to them on my own personal journey.
3.) Since I am (for the time being) opting for the traditional publishing route, the next term you should know, is Agent. I shouldn't have to explain this one because Hollywood has made it so you are now probably picturing some strange combo of Ari Gold and Jerry Maguire. This is not really an accurate description of a Literary Agent. Instead, picture Meryl Streep on a chaise lounge, wearing a pair of horn rimmed reading glasses and sipping a ridiculously expensive bottle of Chardonnay. Or, Octavia Spencer, nodding along to a particularly dramatic confrontation you've written, while zoning out and missing her stop on the metro. Picture John Boyega gushing excitedly to his boss about how freaking awesome your book is. Or, as always, picture a brood of old white guys that use a series of grunts to communicate their thoughts on your pedantic manuscript.
Any of these descriptions would work fine to describe a literary agent. Once they have agreed to take you on as a client, the agent's job is to shop your book around to publishers. These days, most publishers won't take unsolicited manuscripts (that means material they didn't specifically ask you for) and you have to have an agent with a relationship to the publishers pimp out your novel for you.
So, in a quest to gain an agent, I have started the dreaded Query process.
4.) Query letter. This is basically a letter to an agent that introduces yourself, summarizes your book, and gives you an opportunity to sell your novel to them. You have one page to do this. That's roughly a few hundred words. Three hundred words that could see you to your path of becoming a published author, but also three hundred words that could royally fuck over your chances at ever seeing your work in print. It could go either way. Sometimes agents allow you to send in a sample of your work (usually 10-25 pages) along with your query letter. I like this, because the stress of coming up with the right way to introduce, not just my novel, but myself, is daunting to say the least. As I've stated before, I'm not huge on the whole self-promotion thing. Even so, it has to be done.
Here's what my first query letter looks like.
Dear _____ ,
I am seeking representation for The Elementals: Awakenings Part I (96, 126 words), the first in a series of fantasy YA novels that I feel redefine Young Adult tropes and clichés with progressive and diverse characters and story-lines.
On day one, they were a family. A mother, a father, a set of twins. A girl named Charlie and boy named Tirigan. They are not human. On day three, the twins are alone and they are now the most powerful creatures on Earth. On day forty-three, Tirigan kills for the first time. It will not be his last. Charlie takes her first life one week later. On her deathbed, she will have killed thousands.
When everything they think they know is ripped away from them, Charlie and Tirigan are forced to enter a world they didn’t even know existed, leaving the ones they love behind.
Family. Power. Friendship. Destruction.
It all begins on day one.
This novel is a result of my own frustration while reading Young Adult novels. I was tired of reading about the same love triangles, over and over, that always left me feeling irritated with the protagonist. I was numb to the clichéd orphan who was special for some reason that didn’t really make any sense. YA novels have a certain formula that helps them stay entertaining, relevant, and profitable. My series capitalizes on this formula, but reinvents it so the story-line feels fresh and original. There is a wide audience for a novel such as mine, and I believe they have been waiting for story like this.
Thank you for your consideration.
Desperate and willing to do anything
Just kidding. I obviously signed my real name.
Casting Couch Veteran
I wrote first query letter because this process, according to those who have gone through it before, is destined to be a long one. They say until you've queried and been rejected by one-hundred agents, don't give up. One hundred agents. One hundred query letters. One hundred opportunities to get your hopes up and then watch them crumble around you like pieces of your now forgotten self-esteem.
You're supposed to send out waves of letters, say maybe six to eight at a time, then wait for feedback. Sometimes you'll just get the standard impersonal rejection. That looks like this,
"Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time. As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.
Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors."
It was signed not by the agent I queried, but by something called a, "Submissions coordinator and Associate agent." This means it didn't even get past the lackey. Great. Fine. No skin off my back.
Sometimes, you'll get a more personal rejection. See below.
"Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of The Elementals: Awakenings Part I. I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped. What with my reservations, I’d better bow out.
Thanks so much for contacting me, though! I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck."
Yikes. That one hurt. Not completely drawn in? Well, considering she was given the prologue and only the first five pages of the first chapter, I would argue that this agent is jumping the gun with her criticism, BUT I do appreciate the feedback, because it leads me to a very important part of the query process.
I'm going to get rejected. I'm going to get rejected a lot. I'm going to get rejected so many times, I may start to consider throwing my laptop off my roof. The kicker too, is that I'm going to get rejected over things that don't even make sense to me. For example, my prologue is fucking amazing, thank you very much. Its mysterious, informative without being wordy, it sets up the entire series in a unique and interesting way. But, for whatever reason, this agent didn't vibe off of it. I can respect that. In fact, I don't want an agent that doesn't get excited over my series. I want someone who reads the first chapters and can't wait to get more (like the proofreading editor I sent a sample to and my sister who seriously won't stop texting me for new chapters.). I want my agent to be excited about my series. I want someone who is going to be banging on publishers doors demanding they read my novel. You have to have a thick skin to be a writer. Not everyone is going to like or understand what you write, and that's okay. I'm confident enough to know I've written something good. I'm humble and wise enough to know that not everyone is going to like it and that there is always room for improvement.
On the plus side, agents definitely make mistakes and they don't always know a hit when they see it. J.K Rowling was rejected by over forty different agents, before finally landing hers. Then, the agent that signed her, told Rowling not to expect to make any money off of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. There are hundreds of stories like this one. Best selling authors that were rejected many, many times before someone decided to say yes. C.S. Lewis had a plethora of rejections. C.S. freaking Lewis. I want it on record that I am not comparing myself to J.K Rowling or C.S Lewis. I feel it important to point that out.
I've only done one wave of queries so far. I sent queries to five agents and I've heard back from two. I sent them out on the fourth of September, so I still have a couple weeks before I can assume that those I don't hear from, aren't interested. Then, I'll change a few things to my query letter, maybe actually put in the acronym I purposely left out the first time, and send out the next wave. If that one doesn't get any hits, maybe I'll rework the summary. I'll continue this process until I've either landed myself an agent or typed myself into an early, but restful grave.
Or, maybe I'll have a go at self-publishing. I hear it's all the rage now.
So here endith part one of this little vocabulary lesson. Part two will come once I've landed the agent of my dreams. Then, the real editing process begins.
Hopefully, part two will come very soon.