Thursday, January 31, 2008

Q Tips

Several people I know are ready to submit their squeaky-clean, polished mss to an agent. In about 99.99% of cases, agents initially require just a one-page query letter that describes the project and relevant info about the author. If the agent likes the premise, they might ask to see a partial (the first three chapters or 50 pages) or the full manuscript. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Well, if you browse around the many forums, blogs and loops, it's clear just how many other writers are agent hunting. How do you make sure you don't shoot yourself in the foot?

Write a sharp, well-targeted query, of course.

* A polite, clean, spellchecked, grammar-checked and straightforward letter says more than scented stationery or flowery fonts.
* Indicate which genre the book falls in and the word count.
* Never say you've written only the first three chapters and you're just "testing the waters." Write the book, the whole book, revise it properly and then query agents.
* Mention any of the book's contest wins or finals. If you're lucky enough to have a long list of these, choose a couple of the more recent and/or more prestigious competitions.
* Don't talk about how much your greengrocer/grandmother/daughter/pet bird liked the book.
* Be modest--never say you've written the best novel in publishing history or that it's a surefire bestseller.
* At the other end of the scale, don't tell the agent your book has been rejected by dozens of agents and you're querying them because they're your last hope.
* Pitch one book at a time. If you've created a series, talk about book 1 and mention it's part of a series but hold off on describing books 2 to 17 or whatever.
* Don't be a smart alec or be too familiar, even if you read the agent's entertaining blog every day and feel as though you're BFF.
* Follow the agent's guidelines (eg. send a SSAE; don't submit to multiple agents at the same agency at the same time, etc).
* Most importantly, write a compelling paragraph (or two) about the project. Try to infuse the same tone/voice used in the manuscript. It's the plot and the writing that captures the agent, not necessarily your qualifications. Unless of course you're writing non-fiction; a credible platform could bolster your chances.

When formulating my own queries or elevator pitches, I analysed several published back-cover blurbs to get an idea of what constitutes a hook, something to grab attention. Have you ever looked at a blurb and thought, "That sounds brilliant! I have to read this"? I felt that reaction when I read Amazon's editoral description of Jennifer Lynn Barnes's upcoming YA series, The Squad: Perfect Cover:

Bayport High’s Varsity cheer squad is made up of the hottest of the hot. But this A-list is dangerous in more ways than one. The Squad is actually a cover for the most highly trained group of underage government operatives the United States has ever assembled. They have the perfect cover, because, beyond herkeys and highlights, no one expects anything from a cheerleader."

Those four sentences tell me the essentials: who, what, where and why. (If you're like me and find this sort of plot irresistible, you can pre-order Jennifer Lynn Barnes's book here.)

For more resources on query letters, check out:
Call My Agent, a blog by an anonymous Australian agent.
Agent Query's article on formatting the letter.
Agent Nathan Bransford's blog post on the anatomy of a query letter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are You Going to San Francisco?

I'm already preparing for the Romance Writers of America annual national conference in July/August. This time it'll be held in gorgeous San Francisco, which means many of us in Romance Writers of Australia can afford the slightly cheaper airfares to the West Coast. One way to offset the cost is to apply for a scholarship awarded by the lovely ladies at Romantic Inks.

On offer to RWAmerica members is a scholarship to attend the 2008 national conference in July/Aug. If you haven't already paid the registration fee (US$425), you can give it a shot. All you have to do is write a 1,000-word essay on what makes you a deserving recipient and upload it here.

Full details are available through the link above. The rules in a nutshell: You must be a financial member or RWAmerica, be able to cover your own hotel, travel and meal expenses, have a polished full ms ready to go, and not be published in trade or mass-market paperback in the last five years. The deadline is midnight Feb 10, EST. Winners will be announced on the RI blog.

Good luck!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recycle or Retire?

My list of gadgets to covet now includes Apple's new ultra-svelte MacBook Air. So, what'll happen to my old iBook if I do get a new laptop? I'll recycle, of course. One Apple customer has converted their iMac from this:

To this:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Press Gallery

My talented friend Stephanie Kuehnert, author of the upcoming I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, was interviewed by Chicago's Forest Park Review. Read the whole article here. Go, Steph!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Good Vibrations

My hair's frizzy, my head is thumping, but I don't mind 'cause last night we saw Brian Wilson perform in Sydney's Domain. We danced in the rain and sang off-key at the top of our lungs.

Brian's band was incredible. Hearing their perfect harmonies and instrumentation, I could almost pretend I'd gone back to the '60s. They played Beach Boys favourites, like California Girls, Wouldn't It Be Nice, I Get Around, Fun, Fun, Fun, and God Only Knows. Thankfully, they didn't play Kokomo, but here's a little video just for my good friend Brett, who saved us a place on his picnic rug.

And for everyone else:

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Good News All Round

The first week of 2008 is shaping up very well.

Finalists in the prestigious Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award include three of my favourite writers, Annie West, Anna Campbell and Amanda Ashby. Hmm, there must be something fortuitous about having a name that begins with 'A', eh? See the full run down of nominees here. I'm picking out my next purchases from this list.

Speaking of purchases, lovely Wendy Toliver's debut, The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren is out now. There's a great interview with Wendy about how she came up with the concept of the book on Sara Hantz's blog. Sara herself is up for the Aussie Author of the Year Award. Click on this to vote for her. And in a couple of days, Tina Ferraro's second release, How to Hook a Hottie will be out. Cute cover, Tina.

Finally, I just found out I WON a contest, Romance Writers of Australia's Selling Synopsis competition. It's my first-ever win, so I'm rather excited. Congratulations to the place-getters--Bec Sampson, Nikki Beynon, Fiona Gregory, Donna Allen, and Jennifer Reid. Nikki's partial was also requested by the editor judge, so keep your fingers crossed for her.

What's your good news story for this week?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happily Ever After

One of my New Year's resolutions is to read/re-read more classic literature. A friend and I were talking about the bleakness of Wuthering Heights. This discussion reminded me of an assignment I was given in high school--make like Emily Bronte and write an additional chapter for WH.

To me, this was wrong on so many levels. For one, it's pretty cruel to ask a bunch of 17-year-olds to emulate Bronte brilliance. Second, Em herself would've run screaming into the moors at the prospect of having her novel debased by a bunch of 17-year-olds. Third, Catherine and Heathcliff's tumultous story already had a masterful beginning, middle and end. Tacking on another chapter felt like flogging the proverbial dead horse. Gross.

So here's a new assignment, as a writer, how do you know it's the end of the line for your story? And do you tie up all loose ends or do you like to leave some dangling? Do you write alternative endings and see which one works better?

While you ponder, here's a little treat from Kate Bush:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's actually Jan 1, 2008 here but I can't figure out how to change the time zone settings.

In the lead-up to the new year, I had my own series of unfortunate events. Nothing tragic. Just annoying.

1. I bought conditioner when I needed shampoo.

2. Bought book three in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series instead of book two.

3. After purchasing conditioner and book three, I hopped on the wrong train and ended up far from home. It was actually on this journey when I realised I'd bought the wrong things.

4. Inspired by a Project Runway marathon, I bought some fabric and started making a cute '50s-style sun dress. Unfortunately, it's been so long since I've attempted such a feat that I'd forgotten many aspects of dressmaking. I cut the fabric on the wrong side, which I think means the dress is inside out, if that makes sense. Certainly, it isn't making any sense to me and I have a feeling this dress is going to the bin.

5. On New Year's Eve, I put on my brand-new and v. pricey emerald silk dress, went out for cocktails and immediately spilt a magarita all over my lap. After that, we went to an Indian restaurant, where a dollop of raita slid off my fork, down my arm and onto my dress. Later at home, I spilt sparkling shiraz on the dress. Soon after, the dress got caught on a dining room chair. Now there's a centimetre-wide hole in the dress and it's beyond repair.

Goodbye, 2007. May 2008 be jinx-free.