The Business Side

I love to write. There are, in fact, few things I would rather do than write.  At the same time, my goal for writing is to get published. Yes, I could probably write stories for the rest of my life and be happy, but I’ve discovered the joy of sharing my stories with others. That’s important to me, too.

A few weeks ago, my eleven-year-old daughter grabbed the editing copy of my latest novel, The Sign of Psyche, when I wasn’t looking. She started reading and wouldn’t give it back. Within three days, she had devoured all 86,800 words. I think she was a little surprised she liked it.

wp_20160914_007

The next week, she read three books of my YA fantasy series. She blasted through 320,000 words in seven days. As the author of those books, it felt like the best kind of validation. This kid is a reader who set the school record for Accelerated Reading points (641.6!) in 5th grade.

I had planned to participate in NaNoWriMo this November. Now, however, I think I’ll focus on the other side of writing: the business side. I have five complete novels sitting on my computer. They’re revised and ready to query. Writing a sixth while the others sit won’t help me get published.

As much as I love to write, I also want to share my stories. That means I need to get down to business. It means researching literary agents and writing query letters. It feels a little less exciting than crafting new stories, but it could lead to the most exciting thing of all: representation and eventual publication.

I have six queries out at the moment. So I’ll cross my fingers and hope some of those agents shows interest in my query. In the meantime, I’ll research a few more and get ready for another round.

~Christopher

From Revision to Querying

This evening, I finished revising my fourth novel this month. In my last post, I talked about how I revised and reduced the word count of my first novel, The Lesser Betrayal to under 100,000 words. Well, after that feat I went ahead and revised The Betrayal of Hoqra, Incursions, and Rifted. It seems like revising never ends. I find things to fix every time I read one of my manuscripts, whether its reworking a sentence or restructuring whole paragraphs.

All four novels feel pretty solid to me right now. But, in the past, I’ve felt that way about my novels before revising the heck out of them. If I don’t stop, I’ll revise forever.

It’s probably time to set the revision process aside for a while and query like mad. I’ve done some agent research, and have several candidates who might be interested in The Lesser Betrayal.

Time to write some emails and hit send.

~Christopher

Yet Another Query Draft

I’ve said it before. Query writing is challenging. I wrote another draft of my query letter for The Lesser Betrayal about a month ago, and sat on it without looking at it. I wanted some distance before I looked at it again. Distance is helpful for gaining perspective.

I’ve revised this thing hundreds of times. It’s hard work that takes a lot of thought and care. Words are a premium. Every word in a query needs to count.

When I read it again earlier this week, I was surprised to discover I liked it. I mean I really liked it. It’s short. It shows who the main character is. It shows what she wants. It shows who or what is blocking her. It gives the stakes by showing what she must sacrifice.

The paragraphs about the story are 213 words. The bio line is 29 words. The title and word count line is 12 words.

So, here it is. All 254 words of it.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Long ago, Ashura’s ancestors were cursed with mortality. Now, Tellia is a world divided between mortals and immortals. But divisions among the mortals also run deep.

Ashura is a mortal who is training to be a warrior. Like all women in the Queendom of Hoqra, she has trained since childhood to guard her home from the mortal kingdoms that want to destroy the only land where women rule. When her older sister is killed in an invasion, Ashura’s one desire is to protect the family she has left.

But Ashura is torn away from her family when she’s claimed by the powerful Order of Shifqu and forced to leave Hoqra. The master who claims her teaches Ashura another way to protect her family. If she can help the Order break the curse of mortality, she’ll do more than protect them: she’ll save her family from death.

Attempting to end the curse, the Order of Shifqu sends Ashura to kill the latest-born immortal princess. Ashura fails and is captured. Instead of being executed, Ashura is shown such kindness that she questions both her mission and her definition of family.

Now, Ashura must choose which family she will betray. Her only path back to Hoqra begins with murdering the princess she has come to love.

I am a member of SCBWI, and an active participant in a writer critique group. I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University in 2014 and 2015.

The Lesser Betrayal is a young adult high fantasy at 109,600 words.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

It might need some minor tweaking, but it seems query letters always do. If you have any suggestions for improvement, I’d love to hear them.

Christopher

Query Draft #100? Who’s Counting!

IMG_0760

Laughter is the best medicine, or so the proverb goes. I need a little laughter these days. I’ve been hard at work crafting the query letter for my novel, The Lesser Betrayal, and it has been exhausting. Worthwhile! But exhausting.

My brain is completely fried.

I’ve gone through countless drafts, revising minute details, or scrapping the whole thing and starting fresh. All the while I’ve tried to answer the questions Janet Reid (still can’t thank her enough!) gave me at the Midwest Writers Workshop this past July. Those questions are: (1) Who is the main character? (2) What does she want? (3) Who or what is blocking her? (4) What does she sacrifice?

It has been incredibly helpful – absolutely necessary – to focus on answering those questions. Yet, what I’ve learned so far is that answering the questions is one thing. Using them to craft a query letter is quite another.

Admittedly, my biggest problem is trying to add too much detail to the query. I’ve done my best to cut it down to the necessary stuff. But even then, I’ve had to reword each sentence hundreds of times. I’ve had to save it, close it, and set it aside at times in order to clear my head.

It’s mind-boggling to craft a query letter. But I think I might be getting close to a decent product.

Below is the most recent draft at 292 words. It’s just the guts of the query, not the full letter.

++++++++

Long ago, Ashura’s ancestors were betrayed by the immortal father of all people and cursed with mortality. Now, Tellia is a world divided between mortals and immortals. And divisions among the mortals run deep.

Ashura has trained to be warrior since she was fifteen segments old. Like all women in the Queendom of Hoqra, she will guard her home from the kingdoms that want to destroy the only land where women rule. When her older sister is killed in yet another invasion, Ashura’s one desire is to protect the family she has left.

Ashura’s plans are ruined when she’s claimed by a master of the powerful Order of Shifqu and forced to leave her family. Yet, in the Order, Ashura discovers another way to protect her family. If Ashura can help the Order break the curse of mortality, she’ll do more than protect them: she’ll save them from death.

Ashura’s mission is to kill the latest-born princess of the immortal Children of Ainariel. When she is captured in the middle of the attempted assassination, she expects to be executed. Instead, Ashura is forgiven and shown kindness. The benevolence of her enemies causes Ashura to question her people’s version of the curse.

Then, Ashura is healed of the curse and given immortality. She realizes her people have been wrong about everything. Ashura’s enemies become her friends.

When the Order of Shifqu attacks the princess’s village in force, Ashura’s former friends become her enemies. Ashura must choose to protect the Children of Ainariel, or let the Order kill them. If she fights the Order of Shifqu, she’ll sacrifice ever seeing her family again. When every choice she has is a betrayal of some kind, the best Ashura can do is choose the lesser betrayal.

++++++++

I’m going to sit on this one for a while. I’m going to read it again in a day or two and see how I might be able to tweak it or clarify something. Writing a query letter is a LOT of work. For me, it’s proved to be the most difficult part of the publishing process. But I know when I get it right, it’ll be worth all the brain-frying effort I’ve put into it.

Christopher

The Not-So-Dreaded Query

I know I haven’t posted in over a month, but things have been busy. I moved from Fort Wayne to Mount Vernon (the one in Indiana) at the end of June. I started my new position as the pastor of First United Methodist Church. I’ve been learning a new job with new people in a new town. The transition has been a big adjustment for my family. So yeah, life has been busy.

But I got to sneak away for part of a week and focus on writer stuff.

The Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University was incredible! From the day I registered in February, I wanted to get professional help with my manuscript and query letter. On the last day of the workshop, I got to sit down with two literary agents and discuss my query.

First up was Janet Reid, the Query Shark. Janet is amazing and encouraging. She’s a great critic. She was able to point out all kinds of things that didn’t make sense in my query. I really appreciated the time I spent with her.

I didn’t take many notes because I was paying close attention to the things she pointed out in my query, but Janet took my notebook and wrote down four invaluable questions:

1. Who is the main?

2. What does she want?

3. Who’s blocking her?

4. What does she sacrifice?

She told me that once I answer these questions, I can craft my query letter around them. These four things have to be in the query. They’re the most important pieces.

I can’t thank Janet enough. This was exactly the kind of guidance I needed.

Second up was Brooks Sherman. He asked me some tough questions that made me think. His comments were helpful, too. My query was too general. It left too many random ideas hanging out there, and too many things were left unanswered. I really appreciated his feedback. It helped me understand how I can clarify my query.

The last question Brooks asked me was the best one, but also the most difficult. “Do you think the problem is with your query letter or with your manuscript?” I really wanted the answer to be the query letter. That’s the answer I gave before we ended our session together.

But as I sat down with his notes in my hand, I started to wonder about my answer. Then I pulled out my notebook to look at the four questions Janet Reid had written down. All of her input was still fresh in my mind. I needed to figure out the answers to her four questions.

The answer to the first question was easy. “Who is the main?” Ashura is my main character. The whole story is told from her perspective.

The second question was the one that bugged me. “What does she want?” I was pondering that question when Val and Christine, two members of my Noodle Friends critique group, sat down at the table and started discussing the questions with me.

You see, I had an answer for question #2, but I was starting to think it was the wrong answer. Val and Christine questioned my answer, too. They didn’t think the one I had given was correct.

I realized that I had answered the question according to part of the plot rather than the character. As soon as I recognized that, everything began to come together in my mind.

Once I answered question #2 correctly, questions 3 & 4 were easy to figure out.

I also realized the problem was with both the manuscript and the query.

I had created this amazing, vivid main character, but I wasn’t listening to her. Ashura tells us what she wants in the story, but I had shoehorned in a different answer. A wrong answer. Even when I was asking the right question, I was giving the wrong answer. That’s what threw everything off. It’s why my query letter didn’t make any sense. It’s why I needed to revise my manuscript.

I saw Brooks Sherman in the hotel lobby after the workshop and thanked him for the questions he asked. I’ve emailed Janet Reid to thank her as well. They both pointed me in the right direction in slightly different ways, and it felt so good to finally have that.

I know I can do this whole query thing. It’s not something I dread anymore.

I’ve been working on the four questions Janet Reid wrote down, and I’m confident I can craft a great query letter. I’m weirdly excited about it!

Thank you, Janet Reid!

Thank you, Brooks Sherman!

Thank you MWW15 staff, interns, and volunteers!

This is why I love going to writing conferences. This is why I can hardly wait to spend part of next July in Muncie, Indiana.

When I get this query letter hammered out, I’ll post it. It’s going to take many drafts, but I’ll keep tinkering and revising until it’s right.

Christopher

The Dreaded Query

As a writer who really wants to get published, I’ve learned that a query letter is absolutely necessary. There are no shortcuts. But, at first, it’s daunting, intimidating, and fearful. How on earth do you boil your 100,000 word manuscript down into roughly 250 words? (Hint: You don’t!).

The whole thing sounds impossible, and I’ll admit the learning curve has been a struggle.

I haven’t sent any queries to literary agents in months because I didn’t have a query letter that would be worth an agent’s time. But lately I’ve been working hard to fix that. Crafting the perfect query letter is a process.

The very first query I sent to a literary agent is, thankfully, lost to human history. Though it would not surprise me if that agent printed it off and framed it on her wall for the days she needs a good laugh.

The earliest draft of a query letter that I still have for my book, THE LESSER BETRAYAL, is the piece of garbage pasted below. This was my 2nd draft.

Now, remember, I had no idea what I was doing. I really was trying, but I was clueless. Still, you’re allowed to laugh while I throw up in my mouth a little. When measuring the weight of stupidity, this query letter breaks the scale.

===(NOTE: The novel had a different title back then)===

Dear [agen’s name],

According to your agency’s website you are actively seeking new works of young adult fantasy/sci-fi. I am excited to introduce my novel, The Blade of Shifqu.

Ashura is a young assassin in the Order of Shifqu who is sent into the heart of enemy territory to kill a princess in order to remove an ancient curse upon her people.

Ashura’s story begins as she presses her attack on the princess whom she has been sent to kill. When a guard surprises her with his quickness and strikes her down, she believes she is dying as she loses consciousness. Ashura then begins to relive significant moments of her life, all the while assuming that they are simply an unexpected part of her death experience.

Upon waking and finding herself surrounded by her enemies, Ashura realizes the horrible truth that she has been captured. She tries to fight them, she wants to survive and escape so that she can finish her mission to kill and go home. But when she discovers friends among her enemies and enemies among her friends, her world is turned up-side down. She struggles with walking the path the Order of Shifqu has laid out for her. She must decide if her people’s curse can be cured by murder, or if there is another, less violent, way. She also wrestles with becoming the person others expect her to be, and becoming the person she is.

Ashura’s story is about the struggles of friendship, love, finding the courage to become her own person, and ultimately having the strength to walk the right path even when it’s not what she thought it would be.

The story is set on a planet called Tellia, and Ashura’s journey crosses several continents.

The Blade of Shifqu is a complete fantasy manuscript at 85,600 words.

I have had several of the middle and high school youth in my youth group read chapters as I completed them and the response has been incredible. Every time they would see me they wanted to know if I had completed another chapter so they could read more. Other test readers for my book range in age from 9 to 65, all with very positive critique.

I currently work with children, youth, and families at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I am a 1999 graduate of The University of Findlay, and a 2003 graduate of Duke University. I have written extensively for presentation (speaking) and teaching (confirmation curriculum for 8th graders), but never for publication. The Blade of Shifqu is my first work of fiction.

Thank you for your time in considering my work. I have included the first five, double-spaced pages of my manuscript and I look forward to hearing from you.

======

Oh, the horror! No wonder the literary agent ran screaming. It’s terrible! Everything I could possibly have done wrong, well, I did them wrong. Very wrong. But I kept plugging away at it. Below is part of another draft from about midway through this whole process. It still stinks, so you’re welcome to laugh while my inner self cringes.

======

Life as a prisoner is not what Ashura expected. Then again, as one of the most talented members of the Order of Shifqu, she never expected to be taken prisoner.

Ashura’s mission to kill a princess ends in failure. When she awakes as a captive, she’s certain she’ll be killed. But Ashura unexpectedly finds herself entwined in the life of the princess’ village. She is guarded by Kostel, a former hero-turned-traitor of the Order.

Ashura hates Kostel, and she’s certain he hates her. Yet, he proves to be the truest of friends. His friendship allows Ashura to see beyond the truths she has always known. Ashura’s worldview is further deconstructed when she learns a different version of her people’s story: a version that makes everything she has ever believed a lie.

Her heart shifts. She loves the villagers. And she wonders if there might be more to her friendship with Kostel.

When the Order of Shifqu attacks the village in force, Ashura must choose between duty and love. She must join the attack and betray the villagers, or defend against it and betray her people. Faced with two treacherous alternatives, Ashura can only choose the lesser betrayal.

THE LESSER BETRAYAL is complete at 101,000 words.

======

Ugh. Okay, I might seriously throw up in my mouth again.

This draft sounds moderately better. It’s shorter, but it’s still WAY too long for a query letter, and I’m trying to do WAY too much! I’m still trying to tell the STORY, which is not what a query letter is supposed to do. A query letter is supposed to pique an agent’s interest in the story so they want to read your manuscript, not tell the story itself.

Essentially, writing a query letter is like trying to get a first date with a really excellent pick-up line. You can share your story AFTER your potential date agrees to the date. Until then, just work on the pick-up line.

The above example is not a query letter that any agent would consider. Ever. It’s trash.

This July, I’ll attend the Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University. I know how much I need help with my query letter skills (or lack thereof), so I signed up for a query critique with a literary agent. The thing is, I want this critique to go well. I want the agent to say, “This is great! What do you need my help for?” It’s not likely, but it has given me motivation to buckle down on this submission for the critique.

I’ve been working hard. Even the Noodle Friends – my writer critique group – have been working hard alongside me (Thank you, Amanda, Christine, Val, and Victor! You are truly amazing!).

The thing is, I want to craft an excellent query letter that will grab an agent’s attention. It’s the only way I’ll ever be published in the traditional manner, and that’s my goal.

I’ve written and re-written several drafts over the past few days. I think I might be close to something decent. The query below is probably the one I’ll send in for my query critique, but I may tinker with it some more. It’s close to my 30th attempt at a query letter for this book, but I haven’t kept track of the number of drafts very well. (I’d honestly like to forget most of those previous drafts).

This query draft weighs in at 241 words. It cuts out the superfluous fluff of the story. It focuses on the protagonist, her desires, and the stakes at hand in accomplishing her desires.

======

I’m writing because I know you represent young adult fantasy. I would like to introduce my YA fantasy, THE LESSER BETRAYAL, complete at 101,000 words.

Ashura is a warrioress who only wants to protect her people, the Children of Daedin, by finding a cure for death. When she fails to kill a princess of those believed to be responsible for the curse, Ashura awakes as a captive. She expects to be tortured and killed. Instead, Ashura is shown kindness and hospitality. The relentless love of Ashura’s enemies causes her to question everything she has ever known. Ashura discovers the key to saving her people from death when her captors give Ashura immortality. But the Children of Daedin are bent on destruction. They assail Ashura’s new friends in force. If they succeed, then the cure for death that only Ashura’s former enemies can provide will be lost forever. Now Ashura must betray her own people in order to save them. She will sacrifice everything—even her newfound immortality—to protect the Children of Daedin from themselves.

I am an associate member of SCBWI, and an active member of a writer critique group. When I don’t have a book in my hand or a keyboard under my fingers, I work with children, youth, families, and elderly folk at First UMC in Mount Vernon, Indiana.

May I send you the finished manuscript? Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you soon.

======

Is it good? I don’t know. I think it’s better than my previous attempts. The thing is, I’ll know I’m close to having my query right when agents start requesting my manuscript. Until then, I have to keep working on it.

I’ve learned that you can’t give up. You have to learn from your mistakes, laugh them off, and keep working until you get it right.

My query letter may not be perfect yet, but I’ll keep working until it is.

Christopher