Querying Tips

Sending out query letters to literary agents is an exciting, yet terrifying, time. Will they love my book? How long until I hear back? What can I do to increase my chances for success?

These questions will at some point cross your mind during the process. The querying stage can be a tough one. There’re plenty of agents out there, and I believe what makes the process even tougher is finding the right one to champion your work. You want an agent who believes in you and your writing. One that can give you confidence, advice, and guidance. You should envision yourself working with an agent for the length of your writing career.

So, no pressure, right?

In truth, it’s easy to fill your mind with doubts during the querying process. Rejections almost always come first, so be prepared to thicken your skin. But don’t despair just yet! Countless authors, even the most successful ones, have been where you are now. Many received dozens of rejections before finding success. (Google some if you need the support)

 

As you prepare to give this process your best, here are a few tips to improve your query letter:

 

  1. Research agents before querying them.

I can’t stress this one enough. The more you know about agents, as in who they represent, what they’re on the lookout for, what they want included in the query letter, the better off you’ll be. I’ve read many blogs / articles written by agents where they describe queries that feel impersonal. Agents want to know why you’re querying them specifically. Typically, you can explain this by revealing how one of their clients inspired your work, or that your story goes hand-in-hand with the kind of book they’re on the lookout for. Anything that shows thought behind your query will help!


 

  1. Query in batches.

I strongly suggest sending no more than 5-7 queries out at one time. The thing is, you don’t want to burn all your bridges at once. Imagine sending a batch of 50 queries out, then later finding some misspelled words, grammatical errors, or that you thought of a better, more compelling, way to pitch your story.

You don’t want that kind of mistake hanging over you.

Also, querying can be a lot like trial-by-error. If your first batch doesn’t deliver any requests for your manuscript, then you may want to revise it before sending the next handful.

Lastly, own your rejections! They sting, sure, but they’re yours. The best thing you can do is learn from them.


 

  1. Allow your peers to read your queries.

Anyone who you trust to give honest feedback should be considered. You want to see if your query hooks them, as in they want to read your book based on the 3-5 sentence pitch. Personally, I suggest finding other authors who are going through / have gone through the querying process to look over your letter as well. They have insights! See if you can pick up on some dos and don’ts.


 

  1. Familiarize yourself with helpful websites.

There’re tons of websites out there that give invaluable information to querying authors. They range from examples of successful query letters to specific wants from agents.

Here are a few I found especially helpful:

 

The MSWL website is a must when you’re trying to land an agent. This site allows you to see what agents are looking for. If you’ve written the next Narnia, then type that in the search bar and BAM! You’ll get a list of agents who say they’re looking for the next Narnia. Also, you can familiarize yourself with editors at publishing houses. They’re on the MSWL website too, and your future agent will appreciate it if you have a couple of editors who may be interested in your book.

 

Query Tracker is a great website for learning response times. Many authors post on the website about how long it took to hear back from specific agents. Now, of course this doesn’t mean the agent you’ve queried will take 3 months to respond just because another author experienced that, but it can help with realistic time frames.

Another useful aspect to Query Tracker is authors will post if an agent is currently closed to submissions. You don’t want to query an agent who’s not accepting queries, for that’s an automatic rejection.

 

This one is a big one. Almost every agent has a profile on PM. You can find out an agent’s list of clients, past book deals, current likes and, more important, dislikes, and what he or she requires with each query. I suggest paying for the membership to PM so you can experience all its features.


 

As I said: querying can be exciting and terrifying. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sure-fire formula to get you an offer of representation, but take it from me. The day I signed with my agent was one of the greatest days of my life. It validated the years of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication in a single phone call. Continue writing. Keep fighting. You’ll get there before you know it.


 

Don’t forget to follow Cody on social media to stay up to date with his writing.

The Five Stages of Plotting

Plotting, in my opinion, is one of the most crucial stages when it comes to writing a novel. It’s during this stage a writer can explore their story, characters, world, etc., well before he or she dives into writing it. I know for some, plotting may seem tedious or grueling, but those will feel like pats on your back if it saves you from having to rewrite your novel because of a plot hole, ‘better idea’, or an undeveloped detail.

 

So, how should you plot to avoid making the listed mistakes above? Consider the following tips:

 

First and Foremost:

The very first thing I do to begin plotting is I write the back-cover snippet on the first page of the journal I’m using to plot in. (Yes, I’m old school. Journals over laptop!) I use this as my statue, as the lighthouse to keep my intended path and story arc clear. It can and may change as the plotting continues, but even then, it will be the bare bones of my story. Now, if you’re thinking you don’t know your future story well enough to write the back-cover just yet, that’s 100% okay! I would then suggest leaving the first page blank and returning to write that piece when you’re ready for it.


 

Beginning and Ending:

After writing the back-cover goodies, I then use page two to write 1-2 sentences to describe the opening scene, as well as 1-2 sentences to describe the ending. Clearly these are two vital pieces of a story. If you can’t hold your readers’ attention from page 1, then they’ll probably put your book down long before reaching the ending.


 

Scenes:

Use the next sum of pages to write 1-4 sentences about the scenes, or chapters, of your story, labeling each with a title. Chances are if you feel so strongly about the story in your head to now partake in the prep work that comes before writing it, then you have several major scenes in your head already. Write them down! Don’t worry if they’re half-developed. There’ll be plenty of time to bring it to life later. At this moment, you should be more concerned about not forgetting pieces of your story.

Can you write more than 1-4 sentences about each scene/chapter?

Of course! Typically, the more you write about each scene/chapter, the smoother the writing will be when it’s time to do so. Write as many details as you can.

*Also, don’t worry if your scenes don’t flow chronologically. That’s only a minor issue to fix, which I’ll explain later.


 

Characters and Settings:

After doing, in my opinion, the hardest and longest part of detailing your story by scenes, you’ll then want to explore your characters and settings.

For characters: I suggest making a page for each major character in your story, and a half page for minor ones. Write down the details you know of your character, such as age, descriptions, voice, tendencies, personality, who he or she is related to, birthplace, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of to let you get a feel for your character, as well as putting the finer details of him or her down so you won’t forget them later. If you need more than a page, then use as many as you need. Again, the more you flesh out now, the better off you’ll be later.

For settings: Look back through your scenes/chapters. Any place you listed on these pages should be further detailed here. Try to think of the places your main character(s) will visit/spend time at, and then go from there.


 

Making it Flow:

Here comes the fun part. Now that you’ve explored your story by describing the beginning and ending, detailing the scenes/chapters, and explored both your characters and settings, you’re ready to put the pieces together.

So, with a blank page(s) on hand, write down the titles of your scenes/chapters. Once you have all of them down, try to number them in chronological order. Most likely you’ll see some gaps, some scenes/chapters that don’t flow together. This is good! Because now you can come up with the scenes/chapters that can connect them. Seeing the holes now will prevent them from appearing later. And, my suggestion is, don’t rush this part. Think of ways that will smooth the arc of your story, ways that make sense for your story.

*Personally, I REFUSE to move onto the writing process if I’m not happy with the way my story is laid out. If I can see issues in the plotting stage, then there will certainly be issues during the writing one.


Of course, there’re numerous ways to plot a story. Don’t hesitate to do a little research in order to find the method that best suits you and your style.


 

Follow Cody on social media for more news about his writing.

http://www.twitter.com/CodyNowack

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October 2018 Q and A

Q1. What inspired you to write flash fiction? And what was the inspiration for Asteroids?

 

While I was waiting to receive my manuscript back from my editor, I didn’t want to stop my daily writing, yet I knew writing another book during the waiting period wasn’t how I operated. I like to finish one story before jumping to the next. It’s a way to keep myself connected to my characters, as well as staying submerged within the world I’m writing about. So, to keep my “writing muscle” strong, I would write daily short stories that incorporated the elements I enjoy writing about. They typically ranged anywhere from 5 to 10 pages. After about a week I began researching avenues that would allow me to share some of the stories I felt were good enough to share, and that’s when I stumbled upon a handful of magazines and websites that paid writers for flash fiction. Now, I had to trim my stories down to meet the requirements. Flash fiction is usually 1,000 words or less, so I had to say farewell to any words that didn’t add to the heart of the story. It was difficult, though I’m usually not one to over describe with flowery language, but my style is definitely more descriptive than what I turned over to the editors of various flash fiction magazines.

 

The idea for Asteroids wasn’t hidden deep within me. The topic of teen suicide prevention has been an aspect in my life since high school. I was involved with a few organizations that did, in my opinion, a tremendous amount for the community, including for the families that lost their children to suicide. I wanted Asteroids to reflect how the smallest of efforts, words, and actions can impact those who may be battling a war within themselves. A war that many, if not all, of us are blind to. Every suicide I can recall, rather it be someone I knew or a celebrity, creates an outburst of the comment (or one similar), “I had no idea he or she was suffering.” And that is the root of Asteroids.

 

 

Q2. What would you say is the hardest aspect of being a writer?

 

My mind instantly began squishing my thoughts into slivers after considering this question! But to pick only one answer. . . . I think training myself to write when my motivation seems to be on an extended vacation is extremely difficult. In my experience, motivation for writing a book comes on strong in the beginning, then quiets once the process starts. Of course I’m thrilled to explore and tell the story that I spent weeks, if not months, plotting, but that alone really only counts for so much drive. It becomes about dedication, work ethic, and the simple act of sitting down and writing when life tempts me with a thousand other things. Also, I feel this is true for many because as the author of the story, you know (or should) what comes next, the twists, and how everything ends. It’s a great thing to know, but if the first page is Point A and the last page is Point B, then digest the idea of running a marathon with the pace of a snail.

 

 

Q3. Do you plot and outline before writing a story?

 

I do! I find the more details I have fleshed out about the story, characters, and setting(s), the faster, and sometimes better, I’m able to write. I do the hard, slower work of crafting how the story will flow before I ever begin writing it, which then allows me to write without the nagging question of “What happens next?” popping into my brain every 5 minutes. What has worked well for me is if I’m not 100% happy with the story after plotting, then I don’t move onto writing it until I am. I’ll spend the time and dissect why I’m not happy with it. Usually I can fix it by editing some of the details, characters and their backstories, etc. I believe I’ve saved myself an abundant amount of time by doing this because the risk of getting 50-75% into the story to find out it just doesn’t seem to work isn’t a worry for me. I know the story works. I know I’m happy with the details and characters because I groomed them during the plotting stage.

 

And yes, I have tried writing by the seat of my pants. It’s a great skill for those who can do it! But I simply couldn’t. I, on multiple drafts of the same story, would get close to finishing the manuscript and realize I had thought of better plot points, characters to add (or take away), and many things in between. And once you change one thing, it can cause the need to change a ton of things.

 

 

Q4. Why do you like to write fantasy?

 

I’ve actually been asked this quite often over the past 8 years. I think those who grew up with me ask this the most because I really wasn’t into fantasy as a child. It wasn’t until I was approaching 20 that my mind became infatuated with magical stories. But to answer your question, I write fantasy because I get to explore new worlds filled with anything my imagination can create. As long as I’m able to make the world make sense to the readers, then nothing is off limits. I get to find out what it’s like to fly on the back of a dragon; how unbreakable a mental bond can be with an intelligent creature of my choice; what magic can be used for.

 

 

Q5. Are you working on a sequel to the book that publishers are currently considering?

 

I am not. The book in question wasn’t written with a sequel in mind, which I believe publishers will see that as well. I do have many, many, many ideas that are similar to the book being considered, though. Some I have already plotted and have no doubt that I’ll write one day, while others need more fine tuning. But I am currently working on a YA fantasy that would technically be somewhat of a prequel to a planned trilogy. I don’t like to give much away, but I promise the world I’ve created is rooted with ancient magics, bonds, and beasts.


 

Thank you all for your support and questions. I look forward to hearing from more of you!

Cody Nowack


 

Don’t forget to follow Cody on social media to stay up to date with his writing.

@CodyNowack

http://www.facebook.com/cpnowack

Invest in your dreams

Your Dreams are Worth the Investment!

Possibly the most important advice to take in as a writer. Investing in your dreams and in you can be done in several ways, including some that naturally come with the territory, such as investing your time into reading widely and with a writer’s eye. Before I outline what I think can be essential to a writer’s success, please understand that there isn’t a ‘sure-fire’ way to landing an agent and / or a publishing contract. Rejection is always a possibility and, from the years of learning this business firsthand, is likely. But don’t despair. Some of the most famous authors of all time, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, C.S Lewis, Stephenie Meyer, were rejected 10 or more times before getting their first novel picked up by a publisher. So, think, if success-monsters such as Harry Potter and Twilight had to face rejection before success, then chances are you will, too. The one thing you must never do is give up, because giving up is a lifelong rejection.

 

  1. Read books on the craft of writing and storytelling

 

Writing a story is an art that, at its core, is miles deeper than grammar and beautiful words strung together. In many ways it’s like painting a picture or composing a piece of music. To do either of those well you typically need the basics, such as paint and brushes, or musical instruments. Think of these books as your basics, as your tools. They teach and help clear some of the haze caused by lack of understanding and self-doubt.

 

When I first began writing novels, I can recall many times when I felt like I was simply just doing it wrong, even though I couldn’t place my finger on what. I hated that feeling. It caused more days of stress than I’d like to admit. But, since my dream was and is to write books for a living, I didn’t hesitate to better my understanding on what it was I was trying to do. Even if I needed to spend a year, maybe two, to not only read these books, but to be able to fully understand their content and become proficient with their material to have it show in my work, then I was going to do it. What’s a few years when you’re considering a lifelong career?

 

These are some of the more common books on writing and storytelling:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR. and E.B. White
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

*There’re many more books that can help with your particular genre or troubled area. Don’t hesitate to Google what you need.

 

  1. Consider using a professional critique service

If you find after giving your ready-for-agents manuscript everything you can offer and aren’t sure why you haven’t received at least a partial request from an agent, then this may be the answer. As writers, we’re often too close to our work. Our stories become our babies, our best friends, and we end up ‘protecting’ them from criticism. It’s normal for this to happen, but it also can be damaging in terms of growth and success.

 

So why a professional critique? Why not just have your friends and family read over your manuscript? What about an English teacher? These, surly, are cheaper options, but cheaper isn’t always the only aspect to consider. However, before I continue, I want to say that I think it’s probably best to use the resources you have, such as friends, family, fellow authors, teachers, first before considering a professional critique. You may, after doing the suggested revisions provided by your own resources, end up with a superb story, both in quality and concept. Many authors have their own networks that work, so don’t ever count out who you have.

 

Now, if after using your own network, you still aren’t having any success, then consider getting your story to a professional. Critiques, though keep in my mind they’re subjective, can sharpen the edges of the sword that is your story, making it possible for it to cut its way through the ‘slush pile’ and into your dream agent’s hands. Personally, I benefitted greatly from a critique. The author I worked with not only provided explanations on why she was suggesting certain changes, but she also gave great insight on how a story like mine can travel the road to publishing, and that’s the priceless aspect to these services. You’re working with someone who has succeeded at what you’re trying to do. Who better to learn from?

 

 

  1. Have your story edited

 

This, in my opinion, is the absolute best thing you can do as an aspiring author trying to attract an agent. Working with an editor gives your manuscript that gloss, that polished texture, and it’ll make your work stand out. As I said earlier in this post: writing a story is an art that, at its core, is miles deeper than grammar and beautiful words strung together. Editors can provide that guidance.

 

Another invaluable aspect to using an editor is that it should expand your knowledge and give you more tools for this trade, which in turn saves you in the long run because your reliance on an editor to polish your work becomes less and less. I will not lie and say editors are cheap to hire, but, in my experience, one of the smartest decisions I made when I decided to pursue writing as a career was hiring an editor. Hands down, I shaved off years of struggle by learning the many sides of writing from my editor’s reports on my manuscript(s). I learned everything from proper formatting to professional prose. Plus, my editor provided me with a tremendous amount of explanations and references. He wanted me to grasp the reasons why, and, as any editor should, he wanted me to succeed. For my success will reflect his.

 

 

Tips on finding the right editor:

 

  • Do your research.

Find an editor that you think you’ll be comfortable with. You don’t want somebody who’ll tear you down to the point where you feel like not writing anymore. I’ll admit, it always hurts to hand over ‘your baby” and have it returned to you with a list of major and minor infractions. It took me almost a week to sit down and thoroughly read just the report of these violations. But, after realizing you hired this person to do exactly that, you’ll feel your confidence skyrocket because every fixed wrong strengthens your writing. And, possibly, this editor saved you from sending this out to agents prematurely.

 

  • Look for credentials, knowledge of the publishing industry, and testimonials.

Find out any potential editor’s background. Did he work for a publishing house, or another respected level in the industry? Does he specialize in certain genres? What are past clients saying about their experience with this editor? The list goes on, but you want to make sure you’re in good hands. Many people, and I’m sure as a writer you’ve met a few, claim they have editorial background or some gift for editing. Some cases are true, but if you’re going to spend the money on an editor, don’t risk your investment on someone who may or may not prove beneficial.

 

  • Find an editor who has worked with respectable authors.

This is my personal taste on the matter, but I think it’s one most can agree on. You want to work with somebody who has bettered the works of some of the people you admire or appreciate. Imagine, your manuscript is being edited by a person who has worked with Stephen King, James Patterson, or George R.R. Martin. They’re out there, so, if you’re wanting an editor of that caliber, see what it’ll take to have them go over your work. However, there’re many great editors for hire that don’t have the top earning authors listed as previous clients. It’s up to you to find the one that is right for you and your book.

 

 

  1. Time

The obvious one, but the only one that is a requirement. No matter what our goals are in life, time will always be something that will lead to our success. I say time generically because we all need a different amount of it. Some may only take a year or less to achieve their goal(s), others may need 10 or more years. The difference can be made by work ethic, dedication, and, as always, stumbling on just the right amount of luck. As a general rule of thumb: the more time you dedicate to something, the more likely you are to succeed.

 

How should writers invest their time? By reading and writing! The more you read, especially with the eye you’ve gained from writing your own stories, you’ll become aware of all the elements that make up a good story. You’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and how you can apply the same techniques into your own writing. Also, as long as you can decipher the method to the madness, reading well-written books gives you the greatest insight on how to write.

 

Write, write, write! The more you write, the better you’ll become. Writing is like a muscle, and how do we build muscles? By working them out, often. You’ll see the growth because your mind will be able to deliver the words at a faster rate, therefore allowing you to produce more content in a shorter time.

 

Also, make a daily wordcount goal that’s achievable. That way you can earn the feeling of accomplishment often. If your goal is to have a book on Barnes and Nobles’ shelves, then you may be waiting a long time to feel like you achieved something. That’s not a healthy feeling for the amount of work you’ll be doing, and it can possibly keep you from finishing your story.

 

 

 

I hope you found this blog useful. As you probably know, there’re so many ways to travel the publishing road, and I believe we all discover our own way in time. May your trip be filled with success, excitement, and fulfillment.