I’ve been pretty quiet over the past year about my book. So what’s been going on? When’s my book getting published? WHAT’S GOING ON??
I’ve been pretty quiet over the past year about my book. So what’s been going on? When’s my book getting published? WHAT’S GOING ON??
My life goals typically look like this:
Basically, my lists are now-oriented. I’m not a big fan of Bucket Lists or Life Goals. Why? Because I want attainable goals that I know I can accomplish. I want to dangle the cookie just within reach, because then I’ll fight for it. I don’t want to hang the cookie on a distant star in outer space where I can only see it through a very expensive telescope that I can’t afford.
There’s a metaphor in there, I promise.
Anyway, my goal lists are always concrete and reasonable. This goes for things like basic human functions, and larger scale goals that are linked to my passions.
So when I set the goal as a wee child to publish a book, I knew I had a lifetime to do it. It was my cookie in the stars. But as I grew up, I broke that goal down into cookie-on-a-string tasks. Here’s a brief list of goals I set:
Things are crazy. This place I’ve found myself is crazy. Setting goals makes it seem less crazy and stressful and makes it seem possible. It makes it achievable.
At times, it’s incomprehensibly and phenomenally lightning fast. Sometimes it trudges like dregs of unmixed hot cocoa: delightful and painfully out of reach. Sometimes its simplicity is astoundingly sharp.
Sometimes I get to write blog posts about the hundreds of tiny steps and goals, the relentless and torturous ambition, and the unending thrill of finally being so close to my sky-cookie that I can taste it.
And guys? It tastes like starlight.*
…in which I chat about petty (temporary) theft, chapter breakout summaries, outdated technology, talking with potential new clients for my agent, and the art of multitasking.
I don’t have enough energy to squeal with the amount of delight currently contained within my VERY SOUL.
But guess what?
I’M GETTING PUBLISHED.
Can we take a moment to faint? Okay.
When you’ve regained consciousness, come back to me.
Come back to me and hear the story of the FOREVER SECRET PUBLISHING JOURNEY.
I wrote a post about this months ago, but it didn’t contain nearly enough gifs or squealing. So I’m rewriting it on the fly.
*attempts to reign in the gifs*
This story is filled with SECRETS AND SECRETIVITY started back in December. That’s when I got the lovely bombshell from my agent that about a day or so after going on submission, we had our first offer. Then we had plural offers. Then I was at auction.
Those exclamation points are my emotions. As soon as we got that offer and then plural-offers, THE NAMELESS QUEEN was going to be published. It was just a question of where. Like a bomb you know is going to go off, if that analogy helps.
Pete Knapp, my illustrious agent, did some negotiations, which I picture as a high stakes poker game in a New York warehouse where the dealer is an enthusiastic, well-contained auctioneer throwing down pages of my manuscript like playing cards. Pete exchanges poker chips with terms written on them in black sharpie, non-nicotine (probably cotton-candy scented) smoke clouds the air, and there’s a lot of small nods and winks.
[There does not exist a gif for this, but there should.]
In reality, it was a lot of back and forth emails and other business-up-front type of things. The party in the back was me screaming with excitement far away in Michigan.
We settled on the basic terms. I chatted with some editors on the phone. I made a decision.
Well, then there was a lot of waiting. And secrecy.
Sometimes things move fast (like getting an agent, going on submission, and going to auction in a number of days), and some things move slowly. In my case, it was a question of contracts.
If you’ve never heard the term “boilerplate,” just know that when it’s being revised, it takes an infinitely looping eon for it to get finished. But that’s okay! Because book writing is both a fast and a slow industry. So while the contract was being worked on (I like to think the contract got a trip to the spa and got a Swedish massage or something, sipping a delightful drink), I started the SEQUEL.
Because YES! The deal is for TWO BOOKS!
THE NAMELESS QUEEN will have an as-of-yet Unnamed Sequel! (pun completely intended)
So while I was waiting for my edit letter and for any news on the contract, I made a decent 1/3 – 1/2-ish dent in the first draft of the sequel. And let me tell you, things get COOL. Familiar faces, familiar world, and a dash of the unexpected!
And now I’m doings edits on THE NAMELESS QUEEN, and polishing it to a shiny rock. It’s mega-levels of excitement. And the deal has finally been announced!!!! YAYYYYY!
I’m still early on this road of books and authoring and authorial booking of booky authory things. But it’s a long road, and I’m going to enjoy the journey! Somewhere ahead, we’ll get to do final revisions, the cover release, the proper publication date announcements, and all sorts of exciting fabulousness!
Looking at any process from the outside is simple. I come at this from two perspectives: having explored a hefty portion of the “Writing a Book” process and having made my first real “Process Tree” for my job as a Technical Writer.
The process I’m making at work is how our team handles documents that we are rewriting and remodeling. Outsiders think the process goes like this, a one-step process:
Our team makes stuff more awesome.
And even I was fooled by its outward simplicity. I thought it went like this:
Draft > Layout/Design > Final Proof > Publication
It turns our the process vaguely (and pixelated) looks like this:
As you can see, it’s way more complicated than it first seems. It goes more along the lines of:
First Draft > First Proof > Content Consult > Design/Layout > Final Proof > Interactive Test > Storage
So I figured, what other process in my life did I at one time think (oh-so-naively) was simple? Only to then discover, en medias res, that it was anything but?
Writing. A. Book.
I thought it was a one-step process. Like “update documents” was a one-step process, right? Write a book. Easy peasy. Well, easy until I was in the thick of things. Then, of course, it got more complicated. I figured, okay, it’s a FIVE step process:
Write book > Revise book > Get representation > Get published > Write more books
I thought it was straightforward. Let’s explore how wrong I was. Without getting too far into the weeds, let’s see what this process actually looks like.
This is what the process looked like after about an hour of process-mapping. And I only made it up to the “querying” stage before it all exploded.
Here are the basic stages (probably): Drafting Zone (orange) > Revision Hell (blue) > Query Trenches (purple) > Agent Land > On Submission > Editor Land > Pre-Publication Stuff > Publication Destination > Post-Publication Road
And because I love a good terrible-rendition of my process, here’s a brief idea of what my person journey through these stages looked like for the first book I wrote/trunked. Note that this process took me a culminating of 4 years.
And here’s the one that actually made it (purple), when I finally got my awesome literary agent. I spent a good deal of time in the Revisions, and you can see a bunch of other trunked or unfinished books along the way. You should always be spending more time in revisions than anywhere else, I think:
I’m thinking maybe I’ll do a flowchart for each major stage (at least the first four, since those are the ones I have managed to get through) and post them separately. Thoughts?
As always, I begin my post about query letters by pointing you directly at a better, more awesome, and more reputable source than myself: the almighty Query Shark (and what she says about effective queries).
I’ve been working on doing a How To Write a Query Letter type post for a while. Before you can write the query, you have to know what goes in it. It’s like cooking. You need to decide on the ingredients before you start cooking, or else you end up with a mutant half-breed cake-steak-soup.
So. I decided to distill it down to its basic form. The most basic form looks like this (a la Query Shark):
This is a lovely and superb tool. If this helps you, then that’s AWESOME! It helped me. But as with most advice, I tweaked it a bit after a couple trials and errors didn’t seem to capture the whole conflict.
The goal in a query letter is simplicity. Introduce the character/world, give us the premise and stakes, and the terrible decision the MC faces. It takes a lot of trial and error.
Because what if you’re not quite sure how to articulate what your character wants? What if you’re more of a visual learner? Do you find it easier to follow a flow chart?
Adapted from the above sharkly process, is the following visual flow chart:
Don’t freak out! It’s a lot of blue, but it’s not that complicated. You just fill it out from top to bottom. Whiteboards are good for this, but I’ve also included a text format below that you can copy/paste (also in blue).
Essentially, Sharkly Step 2 (what does your character want) is broken out into the choice they face and what makes that choice difficult. Then, Step 3 (What’s stopping your character from getting what they want) is captured in “Obstacle that complicates MC’s choice.” Then Step 4 is broken out into the complicated choice/consequences.
The reason I broke it out like this is because the initial conflict of the story generally persists throughout the entire book. It just gets properly tangled up and escalated, which is great! And I wanted a way to show that shifting conflict in the query letter without giving anything huge away.
A couple notes:
Let’s pretend I numbered my handy flow chart:
Let’s do a quick example, eh?* (mild Star Wars: Force Awakens spoilers ahead)
[BLUE SPOILERS ZONE]:
*huge disclaimer: this is by no means a comprehensive analysis of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In fact, I’d say that Finn has an equally vital role in the story. If you want a practice run, try going through the flowchart for Star Wars: The Force Awakens as if Finn were the main character.**
**If you do this, totally post it in the comments section!
[/END OF SPOILERS ZONE]
After this, it’s a task of reformatting these things into the body of a query letter so that it flows and builds tension. The goal is to get an agent to say, “Man, I have to know what happens next!” Now, I know I’m not a Star Wars expert, and I left out any number of proper nouns that would have elevated my Pro Status. But this is just a rough outline (and a first draft of a rough outline at that), so take it with some salt. Not that much salt. Just a pinch. Just enough to sweeten things up.
Next Post: Compiling a Query Letter — In which I go over how to put the above elements into a query letter and smooth it over. And I’ll probably be using the above starry example.
Before we can talk about how to write a query letter, we need to talk about what it is and when to do it. Depending on where you are in your journey and how much of your soul you’ve devoted to the internet, your understanding of a query letter can be anywhere from “what the spetz is a query letter” to “the query letter and I have a long inglorious history of mutual destruction and loathing.”
Note: This is Step 5 of the 17 Steps to Writing and Publishing
So if you’re at this step (or peeking ahead), you’ve already gotten your book as good as you can get it.
A Query Letter is proof that you can write. It is a one page email that you send to literary agents and try to convince them to love, read, and ultimately represent your book.
It goes a bit like this:
That’s the query letter.
BUT that’s not the only thing you include in the email. As mentioned above, you must THEN include in the body of the email, the first X number of pages that their submission requirements ask for, if they ask for any. Sometimes they also request a synopsis, which you’ll add to the body of the email as well.
Best advice: before you write the book. A query letter, as you’ll see from the Query Shark link below and the bullet list above, is basically the back cover of your book. It’s what entices an agent to read your pages and hopefully become so enthralled with the character and premise that they request to read your full manuscript.
Straight up truth: The query letter gets you to the heart of your story. It gives you that marketing pitch that makes people perk up and take notice. And sometimes, sad as it is, we can write entire books without ever truly getting to the heart of the story.
Writing your query letter first will provide a LOT of guidance for when you actually start writing.
When you’re reading to start sending query letters to agents, that’s called “querying”. How do you know when you’re ready to query your book?
That’s a tough question. My best answer is: after you’ve already done it once and realized you weren’t ready. And yes… I might be speaking from personal experience. Very yes.
I, like many many other writers, queried my book too soon. And I eventually realized that the first book I wrote wasn’t going to be the first book I published. I thought I would be more devastated by that. I’d spent so long working on Book One (even jumping into Book 2 and Book 3), that I figured the failure would crush me. But it didn’t. I knew that I wasn’t the type of person to write one book and be done. I knew my life would be filled with books, OVERFLOWING WITH BOOKS. I knew I would get better in time.
The moment I knew I was ready to query was when I realized I was close to the limit of what I could achieve through revisions. I knew my next step would be to query it, and if no agents were interested, I would move on.
So how do we answer the question of when do you query? When you reach the end of your revisions. And if it’s still not ready, it’s time to move onto the next project and double down on your efforts. Somethings, like most things, just take time.
Good question. I’ll walk you through writing a basic query letter in an upcoming post, following the bullet list above.
Until then, learn how NOT to write a query letter by reading The Query Shark Archives. Seriously. Read it. All of it. I did. Twice. And it really helps. Because there’s nothing better than learning by example (except learning by experience, but the goal is to limit the number of times you facepalm because of a silly mistake you made).