Monday, January 16, 2012

Draft Done!

Notice how I didn't title this: Book Done!, because a book is never done until it is on the shelves. Even then, there could still be mistakes. I was recently going through the Hunger Games and found a typo. (But we will forgive Ms. Collins and her team because they produce amazing books.) What I mean is a draft is done. And the draft of a novel goes through many stages.

The First Draft
I am a pantster (most of the time). I figure out the overall concept for a story in my head and start writing. Often, I write 50 pages, decide it is crap and start over again...several times. Eventually, I get through it, and sitting on my hard drive is piece of fiction that is mostly crap. But I do have a good idea of the sequence of events, how I want things to end and the overall persona of the characters.

The Second Draft?
Sometimes, at this phase, I decide the original idea is beyond crap and not even worth saving. At this point, I set it aside and start something new...50 pages at a time. If I decide the first draft is worth a second go around, I rewrite it. Yep, that's right. I may take a few pages of my first draft to my second draft, but the majority of it is completely re-typed. I only use my first draft to identify what's working and what isn't. The ideas that are working, stay. The ones that aren't are changed.

The Third Draft
Now I have something I can work with. Again, there is some serious rewriting to be done here. Often complete chapters. This is also the stage where I go, "I don't really like this character." And I rewrite all her dialogue and scenes. I start looking hard at where I want my chapters to end, and even though the events may stay the same, I'll change the character's motivation for making them happen.

The Fourth Draft
This is a decent draft, something I'm not embarrassed to associate with my name. The editing in this stage is minor: formatting, correcting typos, making sure names and dates match up. I also look at my paragraph and sentence beginnings and make sure they don't all start with, "I." This draft I've read through fairly quickly, so I can also spot places where I used the same decriptive phrases, and I wrack my brain for another way to describe curiosity besides, "a raised eyebrow."

The Fifth Draft
I've just gotten my draft back from my Beta readers. I read their comments, cringe at all the typos I did miss, curse at some of the things they've said and then I put it away. Days later I go back and fix everything they suggested because they're right. Once those are done, I take one last look to make sure everything's in place and THEN I send it to my agent. We might have discussed concepts before now, but this draft, draft 5 will be the first time she sets eyes on it. And while I'm waiting for her comments for draft 6, I go right back to the top and start something new.

A lot of time might pass between drafts, but at every stage there's a sense of accomplishment and pride that you've done something, made it better, and eventually it could be great. So keep writing!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bad Query Update with Comments

You can view the query in its original horridness in the previous entry.

Dear Sir/Madam,
Are you writing to a hermaphrodite? Most unlikely, and if you were, you probably wouldn't know that from researching their website (which you obviously didn't look at or you would know the agent's name.) Always address queries as Mr. Smith, or Ms. Jones.

I have just finished... Never say you "just finished" it sounds like you typed "the end" five minutes ago and then dashed off a query. Whether you did or didn't, that is the impression the agent will get. Expect a form rejection. ...my 145,283 word... Way too high for YA. The optimal word count is 50K-90K words. I know. I know. YA books come out all the time that are 400-500 pages, but they don't start that way. Your agent and editor will probably add about 50+ pages, so to avoid the rejection pile, edit down to the most important content or split into 2 books. As for the specific word count, this might not get you rejected, but I'm sure the intern pouring through queries will roll her eyes. 145,000 is sufficient to say. ...YA paranormal romance fiction novel. It's redundant to say "fiction novel". I started it for NaNoWriMo and finished it last night. Well we suspected it hadn't been edited. Now we know for sure. It will appeal to both fans of Harry Potter and Twilight because of the passionate romance and magical elements. I'm convinced it will be a million dollar bestseller. My, my, aren't we the confident one? Everyone in the entire world will read it, and you, having only written one novel, already know everything about publishing. Your novel isn't a lottery ticket, and most debuts (the ones that sell) get an average of $15,000 for an advance. If you're going to compare your work to anything, make sure it fits. Most of the time, I opt to leave comparisons out and instead insert a line as to why I am querying said agent. Where I found her name and why I think we might be a good fit.

What would you do if you found out you were adopted and your real parents were merpeople? ACK! Rhetorical question alert. You're trying to be a writer, so write. Don't make your readers guess, describe to them the emotions associated with this circumstance. What's even worse, is the answer to this question isn't addressed in the rest of the query.

Midville, Iowa is a small town where the most exciting thing to happen is the annual tractor pull. Bad opening sentence considering the location is not important. Start with what is important, your main character. It's the perfect place for Jane Smith because she's not that exciting herself. How is she not exciting? The next sentence adds some description, but not enough. Butterfly collecting sounds somewhat interesting. I would picture Jane to be a bit of a dreamer, not exactly a boring person. I'm also wondering how old she is. The main character's age helps determine the target market. When she's not reading or chasing butterflies, she's helping her father in the cornfields. Living in a land-locked state, she never would've guessed her roots were deep seeded in water. This line isn't particularly awful, but upon further reading, the water puns start to fall off the deep end (see what I did there?) Excessive cliches and puns in your query elicit yet another eye roll and causes the agent to think your MS is drowning in them. (See I did it again, and I'll bet you're already annoyed. Just wait.)

Until she goes on a family beach vacation to California and nearly drowns in the surf. A sexy, suave and somewhat broodish merman named Finn pulls her from the water, and Jane's life gets flipped upside-down when he tells her she was born with scales.

Finn helps Jane reconnect with her fishy past, and as she learns to swim again, they splash into deep sea romance. But when it's time for her to go home, she has to decide: to stay underwater with Finn or return to her quiet life on land. The choice she makes will be forever. I understand the comparison to Twilight now because it sounds exactly like it...except with mermen. To break into the market, you need something fresh and original. Everyone's looking for new, not vampires swapped for mermen.

The only positive thing I can say about this query is it's short. Brevity is good, but this one is a little too brief. I don't care that much about the main characters and I'm wondering how this person wrote 600+ pages about a supposed boring girl and a merman. At this point, I expect 200 or so pages could be removed by deleting cliches.

I have been writing since I was seven-years-old. My first short story, Fido's Day at the Park, won my second grade fiction contest and I received A's on all of my English papers. I practice underwater basket weaving and play kickball on the weekends, and have an extensive stamp collection. Unless you have won NOTABLE awards for your writing, or have a career in oceanography that might give you unique perspective on undersea life, an agent won't care. My mother and best friend have both read the first chapters of the manuscript and love it. Is your mother an editor at Random House? No? Then no one cares if your dog, neighbor, mailman read it and loves it. You have a week to review the material. In this case it might happen because the majority of agents would send a form rejection after reading, "Dear Sir/Madam." In most cases though, agents have a 6-8 week turnaround. The specifics of their response time (or lack of response) will be posted on their website. If I don't hear from you by Friday, I will stop by the office to follow-up. This is a great way to earn a restraining order instead of a book deal.

Sincerely,
Aspiring Writer

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How NOT to start 2012

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have just finished my 145,283 word YA paranormal romance fiction novel. I started it for NaNoWriMo and finished it last night. It will appeal to both fans of Harry Potter and Twilight because of the passionate romance and magical elements. I'm convinced it will be a million dollar bestseller.

What would you do if you found out you were adopted and your real parents were merpeople?

Midville, Iowa is a small town where the most exciting thing to happen is the annual tractor pull. It's the perfect place for Jane Smith because she's not that exciting herself. When she's not reading or chasing butterflies, she's helping her father in the cornfields. Living in a land-locked state, she never would've guessed her roots were deep seeded in water.

Until she goes on a family beach vacation to California and nearly drowns in the surf. A sexy, suave and somewhat broodish merman named Finn pulls her from the water, and Jane's life gets flipped upside-down when he tells her she was born with scales.
Finn helps Jane reconnect with her fishy past, and as she learns to swim again, they splash into deep sea romance. But when it's time for her to go home, she has to decide: to stay underwater with Finn or return to her quiet life on land. The choice she makes will be forever.

I have been writing since I was seven-years-old. My first short story, Fido's Day at the Park, won my second grade fiction contest and I received A's on all of my English papers. I practice underwater basket weaving and play kickball on the weekends, and have an extensive stamp collection. My mother and best friend have both read the first chapters of the manuscript and love it. You have a week to review the material. If I don't hear from you by Friday, I will stop by the office to follow-up.

Sincerely,
Aspiring Writer


...with a bad query letter. I would like to say this is the worst, but I'm sure agents have read some that make this look quality. It's the worst I could come up with, so have fun, pick it apart and laugh because that is what I wrote it for. Later this week, I'll update with redlines pointing out all of the horrible, terrible, awful mistakes I made. You should be able to spot them all right away, but if you can't, go visit the Query Shark. NOW. I mean it. I'll wait.