March 2013 Archive
I have another special treat for you guys today, a guest-post by my web-designer and writer, Letitia Englund. But first! the winner for last week’s query-critique giveaway is Carrie-Anne!! Everyone else, remember that if you contact Lauren and mention my blog, she’ll give you a 10% deduction on her prices
Writing for the web is different than writing for any other medium. Simply put, writing for the web means you write for an audience of scanners rather than readers.
And no, this is not a post about writing for digitizing devices or robots. Although that could be kind of an awesome topic to cover.
What I mean is the majority of us (79%, according to older but well-known research) are simply not interested in reading word-for-word online. We may do this in our offline lives, but on the web we generally want to get in, get out and get on to the next thing.
So we scan.
We look for headlines
We look for emphasis.
We look for bold text.
We look for content that is quoted or otherwise made to stand out.
When all else fails, we decide tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) and generally move on without remorse. Why we do this is unclear – perhaps the information superhighway is speeding along so fast, we’re afraid to slow down – but online scanning is a habit well-ingrained for many of us.
In fact, you may only read 20-30% of the words in this post!
What does this mean for web writers**? Be a ruthless editor on the web. Instead of including more content, more details, more descriptive words or marketese, aim for less. Focus on what you really mean to say and make every word count.
When in doubt: spread it out. Don’t be afraid to break up long sentences, paragraphs or whole posts and pages to create some breathing room. Use well-placed spacing and any of the formatting tricks noted above to guide your audience to the key points.
The more you respect your readers’ time and attention by working with their instincts, the more likely those readers will find your content enjoyable and want to come back for more.
**Of course, this presumes that you are writing in hopes of attracting an online audience and selling something (your stories, your knowledge, your products/services). Different cases may call for different approaches!
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed Letitia’s post as much as I did. I also have to include the fact that she is extraordinarily creative! She recently opened an Etsy shop called Sock Doll Stories. I have one of my own and sent one to a friend for her birthday- go check them out!
Queries are hard. It’s a fact of life, of nature. Queries are really, really hard.
But why? They’re just short summaries of a novel, right? You wrote the book, so summarizing it should be a piece of cake! Right? Wrong.
Queries force you to creep inside your novel, to learn how its internal mechanisms function, to grasp at its still-beating heart. To write a truly spectacular query letter, you need to know your book from the inside out—what makes the characters tick? What conflict drives the plot? And what, for the sake of all that is holy, is at STAKE?
Juliana has been kind enough to put together a bunch of excellent questions about queries and querying. I hope you find my answers helpful! I’ll be checking in for the next week to see if you’ve added any of your own questions, so don’t be shy!
How do I open a query? What should the first line be? – ImJustCasey
You’d be surprised how many people don’t address their queries to a specific agent (or spell the agents name wrong!)
Once you’ve done that, you have a couple of options. Some people choose to jump straight into their novel summary, while others feel more comfortable giving a short introduction to their manuscript first. Both options are perfectly fine, but if you’d like to open with something, you have a few options.
If the manuscript was requested (either during a contest, on a blog, or at a conference), feel free to reference this fact. Something as simple as “Thank you so much for requesting my query via #PitMad (or at the Writer’s Digest West Conference, etc.) Below you’ll find….” And then whatever it is that you’re including (query, pages, synopsis, etc.)
If you’re querying without having been requested (which is totally fine…no shame in being discovered in the slush!), then you can start with something as simple as “I am seeking representation for TITLE, my WORD COUNT + GENRE. Below I have included…” and then whatever it is they ask for in their submission guidelines (found on the agency website).
What are the vital elements of a query: ie, format, biography, stakes?
A good query will include THREE ELEMENTS:
- a brief summary (2 paragraphs or so) of your book
- info about the title/word count/genre.
- a short bio containing information that is RELEVANT to your novel. Are you writing a non-fiction book about water skiing? You better mention that you have an Olympic medal in aquatic sports. Or whatever. Shut Up.
That’s it. But! I also recommend including a tailored message to the agent (ie I’m querying you because you said you were interested in Dragon tales, and by jove, I’ve written one!).
Is it true that your query should be personalized for each agent?
How do you write a query when your book has multiple POVs? – similar to @RebeccaEnzor’s question
This is so tricky, isn’t it? I’m going to admit to you guys that I have yet to do this. In fact, my current ms SIGHTLESS is told from the pov of a 16yo, but the novel is interspersed with chapters from her mother’s pov. And yet, I chose not to write a multi pov query. I decided that since the 16yo dominated the majority of the novel, it was unnecessary to include her mother’s pov in the query.
However, if you’re writing a novel that is split evenly between two characters (or even 70%, 30%), you may not be able to do that. Juliana and I were discussing this very issue, and she showed me a great query that was written from a single pov, but managed to make it clear that there were many POVs in the novel. You can check it out here.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, then you can include both points of view. Again, you have options. Some people like to write their query from the pov of an actual character. If this is your style, then you’re going to have to dedicate one paragraph to each character, and make sure that a) both characters have distinctive voices, and b) your paragraphs aren’t repetitive. Honestly, this is so difficult to do well, that I think you might want to skip it unless you think it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary for your novel.
The other option is to address what’s happening to both characters from an omniscient pov, focusing on the MAIN CONFLICT to organize events. It’s tricky, and I highly encourage you to make sure your final product makes sense by showing it to critique partners (or to me!)
Ultimately, it’s a balancing act, and you have to decide which option works best for your novel and your voice.
What’s the ideal word count range for a query? And the max number of sentences allowed in a query (does it matter?) – @ifeomadennis
I’ve heard it said that the ideal word count is 250 words, but I think this is, once again, dependent on you and your query. Less is always more in terms of word count, but don’t freak out if you’re at 300 words or even 225. Just make sure you’ve said everything you need to say, and not a word more.
How should a writer detail expertise in a certain period, especially if a history buff who researched a lot, not a professor? – @ConniDowell
If you mean, how do you make it clear in your summary, then my answer is: just write the novel summary, and let the research shine through. If you’re writing historical fiction and you’re including a specific location and historical events/people, I think it’ll be self-explanatory that you’ve done your research.
However, if your question actually pertains to your bio paragraph, then you can include your interest in a given area of study. Don’t go on and on, though. Just mention that you’ve spent quite a lot of time researching Ancient Egypt, and that your research played a large part in the creation of your novel, in particular the characterization of the Pharaoh. Or whatever.
I’d love to hear about historical fiction queries. Should one detail whether certain places and events are real or imagined? – @ConniDowell
If a place is real, I think the agent will recognize it. Same goes for invented places—if the reader doesn’t recognize it, they’ll assume its imaginary. Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution, so if you’re still not sure it’s clear, you can always say the setting was “inspired by REAL CITY HERE” when you get to the penultimate paragraph of your query (you know, the one where you give the title, word count, and genre).
What’s a good way to go about researching agents and finding the agent that’s right for your book?
Ah, I love this question! Researching is one of my favorite parts of this process, after the writing itself. Here’s what I’ve found:
- Websites like agentquery.com and literaryrambles.com are GREAT resources for finding agents.
- I found a bunch of agents via Twitter (you follow one agent, you get a suggestion to follow two more…etc).
- You can also buy books, but that’s really not necessary. Or cheap.
- You should also find out who represents books that are similar to your own. I’m working on a YA fantasy project, so I found out who reps J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Jennifer Bosworth (Struck), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and on and on.
- Another way to get an agent is by entering contests on blogs. I found most of these through twitter. Even if all the agents ignore you, you’ll meet people who can be VERY helpful critique partners. I’ve made some great friends this way, and I rely on them a lot when it comes to feedback.
- Yet another way to get an agent is through twitter hashtags. Keep an eye on #pitchmaddness or #pitmad. Basically, you write your book pitch in 140 characters or less (this part sucks, take it from me) and if an agent likes it, they’ll ask you to send them a query. It’s still the query model, but you already have an “in” that way.
I found over 200 agents this way, all of whom represent YA Fantasy (which is what I’ve written most recently).
Pro Tip: If you plan on writing in more than one genre or for more than one age group, then make sure the agents you’re querying are open to this. No point is querying an agent who ONLY represents non-fiction if someday you plan on writing a novel for Middle Grade readers.
How important is it that [the agent] be located physically near you? Same coast? Same continent? Thanks! – @Swan Mountain
Not important at all. If it was, we’d all have to move to NYC (not that I’d mind…)
Last: give a quick and dirty tip for making a query shine!
Write it, then put it away in a deep dark corner of your computer and leave it there for AT LEAST a few days—a week if you can stomach it. You’ll be amazed how much more clearly you can see the query after some time apart from it.
Lastly, as Juliana mentioned, I’ve started my own query critique business at laurenspieller.com. Stop on by and see me sometime. I’m happy to help with all of your query-woes ;)
Thanks Lauren for tagging me in The Next Big Thing meme–this has been one I’ve enjoyed reading on other blogs! (Including Jaye’s, which you all should check out. She did her post on Sing to the Wind, which comes out in 2014!) Lauren’s Next Big Thing is about her new young adult WIP titled DIVE. How awesome of a title is that?!
What is the working title of your book?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
After a tribe of his own kind, Cadaver Dogs, slaughters Jacob’s village, he’s left to fend for himself in the desert filled world of the future.
What genre does your book fall under?
CD is (in my mind) post-apocalyptic YA.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Honestly, I’ve never been one to think too hard on actors for my characters, but I can post pictures about Jacob’s most striking feature- his eyes. In CD, all Cadaver Dogs have beautiful amber eyes, much like a dogs.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am represented by the dream-agent Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Agency.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Hmm, if I’m remembering correctly, it took me a few months to write the first draft of CD. Since then, it has gone through a few major revisions, each taking about a month to complete.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I gave the comp. title of The Forest of Hands and Teeth when I was querying. It has a similar feel of a journey book.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by two thoughts before I started writing CD. The first was the question of: What would the world look like if a drought swept over the earth and never went away? And the second was: What if people could smell as well as dogs?
Interestingly, I had never heard the term ‘cadaver dog’ before. I heard it on the news one night and immediately started researching. These dogs are trained to locate human remains and are used in disaster areas- how incredible is that?!
Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed researching the dog’s scenting abilities and figuring out how to incorporate that into my writing.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Most obviously, I think the unique setting and the fact that much of my book centers around Jacob’s scent abilities will interest readers. But my very favorite part of the book is a small girl named Sam who has a very big secret…but I’m going to refrain from saying anything more on that
And now it’s time for me to tag another writer! I’m passing the torch onto my lovely super-CP Ari Susu-Mago whose writing always gives me the chills.
I won’t go into the boring details, but a few nights ago I hit a wall–a wall that said, ‘You have overworked yourself!’
So, I gave myself yesterday off and relaxed my brain (it was wonderful, I highly suggest this!) and then I wrote myself a list for encouragement (which I also highly suggest doing!). Having this list has been a great help in finishing my MS and helped me to doubly realize that it’s okay to feel discouraged so long as you take a break and then keep working.
And without further ado, here’s my list!
1. This is a first draft, it’s allowed to be bad.
2. This is a first draft, you have time to fix the holes.
3. You are in no rush.
4. This is your book, your writing. Be happy with it.
5. There is, and always will be, room to grow as a writer. This will always be the case no matter how far you go. This will always also be a source of enjoyment and struggle.
6. The Doubt-Monster will always follow you but this is not a reason to panic.
7. In the end, you are the one who’s in control.
What do you do when you’re overworked? What else would you add to my list?
I have two exciting posts coming up, including a guest post by my website designer Letitia Englund and My Next Best Thing post that I was tagged in by Lauren Spieller that will highlight my MS. Be sure to stop back!