Monthly Archives: February 2010

Book cover giveaway!

Want to win a cover design for your WIP? I definitely do. SophistiKatied is hosting a contest — head over there to enter or to just peruse her awesome graphic design skills.

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AW Exposed: Jim Clark-Dawe

I’m so excited to introduce this week’s interviewee. Rather famous on AW for his critiquing skills, he prowls the query forum, fondly known as Query Letter Hell (QLH), to poke and prod our shapeless messes of words into things that resemble query letters. Today, he talks about his own journey to publication, his “results-oriented” approach to critique, and the best way to craft a perfect query. Thanks for dropping by, Jim!

AW Identity:
Screen Name: jclarkdawe
Post Count: Somewhere around 5k. About 80% of them in QLH.
Favorite Forum: You need to ask?
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? It’s hard to separate out. Most things are learned from a variety of sources, combined with past knowledge, to form a new whole.

About:

In real life, you are… You mean AW isn’t real life? I’m going to have to talk to Mac about that.
Book title(s): EQUINE LIABILITY, published back in 2001. It’s sold through and my publisher and I discussed a reprint about two years ago. However, in looking at the market and economy, we decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Unfortunately for the nation’s economy, our decision turned out right.
Genre: Legal/Animals

You’re AW’s query king. All of us (including myself) have been in your debt at some point or another for tearing our query to shreds — and making it lots better. What’s your best advice for a stunning query?

A stunning book. It’s that simple. A query isn’t going to be much better than the book, unless you fake it. Most people are trying to query their first novel, and they’d do better putting it in a trunk and starting a new one. Then again, I tried selling my first book. Query sucked, book sucked. When you’re ready to start sending out queries, put your manuscript to one side and ignore it while you write your second book. It’s going to be a lot better than your first one.

Meanwhile with your query, just keep sending it out. You’re either going to sink or swim, and most likely sink. But you try drowning enough times, you’ll probably learn how to swim. Or give up.

On the flip side, what are the most common query mistakes you see in Query Letter Hell — or, excuse me, the Query forum?

Thinking that 200 words is easy. A lot of people have a schedule where they allot time to edit their book, then figure 200 words, maybe a week, then query, and in three months they’ll have a publisher. It’s not likely to happen, although it can. If you are writing commercially, as opposed for your own amusement, you need to start thinking about marketing from the beginning.

On average, how many drafts do you see writers working through before their query is ready for submission?

Absolutely no idea. And most people don’t post all of their versions, which is a good thing. Some people do it in a couple, others can be back and forth for a year or more.

Any encouragement for writers who are struggling through the millionth one?

Queries come when they’re ready. The more you try to force them, the less likely they are to come. As with most writing, queries involve a mixture of conscious and subconscious thoughts. But people in QLH are usually trying to force it, and that doesn’t work.

How has critiquing others influenced and improved your own writing?

Simple answer is when you look at someone else’s writing and think something is crap, you realize the same thing in your book isn’t going to smell any better.

It’s hard to distance yourself from your own writing. But analyzing someone else’s work can help you learn how to do it to your work. As you critique someone else, and see something that isn’t working, you have to ask yourself why. And then when you look at your own work, you can apply it.

Parts of editing can be easily taught and learned. Grammar, sentence structure, and POV are rather mechanical and have certain rules to guide you. Pacing and voice though are difficult concepts to explain, and even harder to figure out. Until you start criticizing someone else because the author had an inconsistent voice, or you tell someone that something is dragging, do you start to develop the ability to see that in your own work.

Talk about your own query letters. Are you on your own quest for representation? If so, how’s it going? If not, what stage are you in right now?

With EQUINE LIABILITY, I didn’t use an agent. There were only five publishers who would have been interested in it, and all were small. The numbers generated from it weren’t going to be amazingly high and there was no possibility of foreign sales. So the contract was very straight-forward.

After that, I tried writing a couple of novels, even finishing one. About the only positive thing I can really say about it was it got finished. About three years ago, I started writing THE NEXT STEP, which I felt had some serious potential. Queried it to about 130 agents, and landed Irene Kraas. She submitted it to editors at Penguin, Warner, Harper, Holt, and a few others. Response was consistent that the writing was good, but the lack of plot would make it hard to sell.

So last August, we stopped submitting it, and I started rewriting it. I took the 48k in THE NEXT STEP, sliced another 8k from it, and then added another 38k and renamed the sucker ASHES TO ASHES. Right at the moment, I’m getting comments back from betas. By mid April, those suggestions will be incorporated into the manuscript. At that point, I’ll be running through it at least twice, including reading it out loud and another time having the computer read it to me.

I figure in May it will be going back to Irene. I’m hoping and expecting that her changes will probably be minimal, and that it will be back on submission in June. I think it’s going to be different enough to go back to the editors who liked the writing, and the plot problems are solved.

Net result of all this rejection is going to be what I think is a much better book.

When you critique a query, you get to the bottom of the problem — without sparing any words. This snarky, definitely blunt technique works, but it’s not the “compliment sandwich” that many people recommend. Firstly, why this method?

I tend to prefer results-oriented approaches. Bottom line is no matter how nice or mean I am doesn’t matter. A poster is going to get a lot more satisfaction from an agent requesting a partial than anything I can provide them with. And rejections are going to be a lot meaner than I’ll ever be. QLH should be all about results, not how good you feel.

Secondly, QLH gets a wide variety of critiquing methods, ranging from yours to the nicest compliment sandwich kind. What do you think works best, and in the end produces the best query?

Depends. But the depends is more about the writer than the style of the critique. People should focus on the message, not the presentation, of any critique. My way you have to focus on the negative, and there’s not much room to hide. Sandwiching can cause the person to focus on the positive and hide the negative. The net result should be the same, but it isn’t. But for some people, without the positive reinforcement, the negative overwhelms them.

My assumption, however, is that anyone entering QLH is ready to be professional. And although some agents and editors are good at hand-holding, many are not. Most of them are results-oriented people, looking to get through editing as quickly as possible. I can do an entire query’s line-editing in under five minutes, and most of that time is spent typing. Spending time to make a person feel good is frequently not in my schedule, and it’s the same thing with agents and editors.

Interestingly enough, when you talk with results-oriented people, like top level athletes, musicians, business people, and other people at the top of their professions, they recall the person who didn’t worry about how good they felt, but kicked their butt from here to there.

For a writer, especially with commercial interests (i.e., they want to get paid for their work), satisfaction should only come from seeing their work in print. And the satisfaction you get from seeing your words in print, and receiving an actual check, will quickly reduce to meaningless the comments on an online forum that your writing is the most wonderful thing they’ve seen.

But I’m well aware that for some people, anything negative is devastating. For these people, some of them do succeed through their natural abilities. However, they need to develop some sort of security blanket from the world. When a review gets published in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY that your book is the worst piece of crap the reviewer ever read, not only is it going to hurt, but it’s going to kill your career. If you have the internal ability to pick yourself up, great. If you have a security blanket to pick yourself up, great. If you lack both, then you’re just going to roll over and play the dead cockroach.

Without naming names if necessary, share a story from your time in QLH…

That would require that I actually remember something. That’s not likely to happen. Most of the amusing things in QLH occur off stage, in the comments and private messages (PMs) that are exchanged. And those are private. Mostly, QLH is just sad. Success is few and far between.

But I love it when I get a PM that says, “I cried when I read your critique, but thanks to QLH, I’ve now got an agent.” That’s the positive side to QLH.

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You know you’re a writer when…

You know you’re a writer when you use plot structure tools like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to analyze your love life. Is the dark night of the soul over yet?

You know you’re a writer when your friend says something hilarious and you say “WAIT! Can you say that again? I need to write it down so I can stick it in my novel” and they just roll their eyes.

You know you’re a writer when you almost tell your professor, “I don’t need to write this paper; I wrote a novel“, but don’t because you can’t bear to get anything lower than an “A” on a writing assignment.

And you know you’re a writer when you get all shivery and excited when one of the writers you follow HOLDS THEIR BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME! Alexandra Bracken is hosting a contest to win a copy of her debut novel BRIGHTLY WOVEN on her blog. You should enter. Or buy a copy. Or just be happy for her — because her book’s gonna be on shelves in one month!

“You know you’re a writer when…” is open to submissions. Got something funny or creative, send it over to me at madisonwrites (at) mac (dot) com, and I’ll feature it on the blog!

PS: tomorrow’s interview is going to be AWESOME. One hint about the interview-ee’s identity: starts with QUERY and ends with KING. Be here.

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Teaser Tuesday

Drumroll, please.

Here is the much anticipated, completely unedited, possibly horrible opening to FELL.

I see him again on the northbound 17 express: rush hour traffic and nowhere to sit, rain spattering the windshield, and that boy standing in the aisle ahead of me, pretending to read Steinbeck like yesterday but never actually flipping the page.

And it scares me. The day before yesterday, he was just another passenger. Yesterday he was cute, and once I stared back when I caught him looking, fluttered my eyelashes and smiled like a fool. Today, he is terrifying. I don’t know why. I zip my raincoat, five dollars at Goodwill, up to my chin.

He doesn’t normally ride the metro bus. I pick that up right away. Number one, he doesn’t have a bus pass. Number two, he always tries to pay as he enters, even during peak hour when everyone knows to pay on the way out. Number three, he can’t keep his balance.

We stop on Market street. Almost half the bus floods out into the February rain. Shoes squeak, umbrellas pop. I squish to the side of the aisle, half leaning on some poor old lady with a million shopping bags as a bunch of people push past. The second I move, the boy pops out of his Steinbeck. He pretends to drift his gaze toward the side window, toward Ballard blurred by downpour and headlights, but his eyes flick to me. Just once. My heart sends electric shocks through my chest — oh gosh this kid is weird. His eyes are brown, brown to match his hair, which is swoopy and kind of emo. He doesn’t break the stare, and that’s the fourth reason I know Steinbeck’s not used to metro buses. Metro buses have rules: only look people in the eye if you want trouble. Steinbeck is trouble. I feel it in a tingling in the tips of my fingers and a crawling across the back of my neck.

I grip my umbrella, seventy-five cents at Goodwill, ready to use it.

The bus jerks forward and everyone shifts, grabs handholds, sits down. Windshield wipers swish faster as we move into the rain. Like magnets my eyes snap back to Steinbeck. Is he watching my reflection in the window? Or only watching the flickers of night between the reflection of my raincoat and the reflection of the passenger behind me?

Birch, I tell myself, shivering, stop being stupid.

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when we collide

My characters and I live in vastly different worlds.

My biggest problems are tests and papers and boys. I play volleyball at the beach, do homework in coffee shops, laugh with my friends until way too late.

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” my characters say.

They fight bad guys. They have secrets. They argue and push buttons and get in trouble. Although they struggle with the basic issues of humanity, just like I do, it’s on a completely different scale. Sometimes I’m jealous of them, sometimes they’re jealous of me, but mostly we’re just really different.

However.

Sometimes I do feel like our worlds collide.

For example, when I see black trucks like these on the road, I feel like Ian (a main character from TIB) is inside — listening to rap and generally being a hot bad boy. So I love black trucks. They make me swoon.

Pianos, piano music, and concert halls remind me of Luke (also from TIB). Sophie’s little brother, he’s a master piano player who lives, breathes, and thinks music. I love listening to (and playing) piano music because no matter how annoying Luke can be, in all his little-brother-ness, he becomes something much bigger when he plays.

And lastly, if I ran, I would probably feel closer to Sophie (TIB’s main character), but I don’t run.

What kinds of things make you feel closer to your characters — like your world and theirs could collide?

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You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…

Now that I’ve gotten that song stuck in all your heads…

Creative A, a blogging pal from *Headdesk*, gave this blog the Sunshine Award!

Doesn’t that picture just make you smile? Check out Creative A’s blog — she reviews books, interviews writers (I’m looking forward to hearing Alexandra Bracken, who’s going to talk about her debut Brightly Woven on March 23rd) – and also writes her own YA fiction.

Here are the award rules:

  1. Put the logo on your blog or within the post.
  2. Pass the award onto 12 bloggers.
  3. Link the nominees within your post.
  4. Let the nominees know they have received the award by posting on their blogs.
  5. Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.

Now… I know the rules say 12. But I’m going to change the rules because a) I’m not even sure I consistently read 12 blogs (don’t hate, I am a college student) and b) I would like to award the Sunshine Award to three blogs instead.

So.

Kristin Briana Otts, a fellow college student, brings lots of sunshine to the blogosphere with her hilarious Twilight action-figure photos… and exciting excerpts from her work-in-progress that I REALLY want to read someday, SEVEN.

Kirsten Hubbard, my name-sister, shares adorable baby animal pictures, travel stories, and wise words that always make me smile.

And Amna, because she wrote the funniest remix of Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me that every aspiring author should read. It’s brilliant.

Thank you for bringing sunshine, you three!

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A survey!

It’s lovely and sunny outside, and I have about five million things to do since I didn’t touch a single stack of homework over the holiday weekend. Sounds like a perfect time to ramble through this survey, which the lovely Kristin Otts tagged me to complete. If I don’t get anything done, I blame her 🙂 although I do love surveys so much more than homework. Thanks, Kristin!

1) What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?

THE INBETWEEN was the last thing I completed, but if you want a more technical answer, the last thing I wrote was  about 2,000 words of FELL last night.

The first things I wrote were stories from first and second grade. Those two years, I had two lovely teachers, Ms. Mathis and Ms. Shields, who loved to write and loved to encourage their students to write. I wrote all sorts of stories about my cat Whimsey, and my family’s vacations, and horses (I was obsessed with horses). They’re all laminated and bound and certified by the words “Room 5/6 Publishing”… and in bookcases back home.

2) Write poetry?

Once upon a time, when I was an angsty high school student…

3) Angsty poetry?

Oh yes. Who hasn’t written angsty poetry? (If only for the sole purpose of later laughter…)

4) Favorite genre of writing?

I love mysteries. Love, love, love.

5) Most annoying character you’ve ever created?

Possibly this guy named Tad, who appeared in THE THRILL SEEKERS as a nerdy, annoying (ANNOYING!) and unwanted sidekick for the main characters.

6) Best plot you’ve ever created?

I suppose TIB…

7) Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?

If I told you, it would no longer be a twist.

8 ) How often do you get writer’s block?

I don’t think I believe in writer’s block — yes, I am one of those people. I don’t know what I believe, because sometimes my stories stop short, but I think that’s because of the internet and/or my own distracting life…

9) Write fan fiction?

Never.

10) Do you type or write by hand?

Type.

I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts; plus I’m one of those neat-freak people who has to make everything they hand-write, including lecture notes, look PERFECT. Too much pressure… so I revert to the computer, where all typed letters look perfect without effort.

11) Do you save everything you write?

Yes, even scribbled things on sticky notes. Check out my closet back home — it houses a *neat* stack of papers from as far back as the first novel I wrote.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?

I incorporate abandoned ideas into new ideas, but no, I’ve never completely gone back to an abandoned idea.

13) What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

THE INBETWEEN.

14) What’s everyone else’s favorite story you’ve written?

Same.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

TIB could classify as both…

16) What’s your favorite setting for your characters?

Morrow, the setting of TIB, is misty and woodsy and beachy — and (I think) quite creepy. It used to be my favorite until FELL came along. Now I love the Seattle of that world … full of traffic, sirens, and rainy nights and streetlights.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Only one — FELL.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Well… no.

OH just kidding, I totally did. I won the Creative Writing award my senior year of high school, and I will always remember what my teacher said as she presented the award: that I had “delicate genius”. I’ve never been quite sure what that meant, but I think it sounds cool.

19) What are your five favorite words?

Rain, tumble, green, squish, love.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

I think Chloe, Sophie’s sidekick and sometimes-best-friend from TIB, sounds the most like me, although we don’t share too many personal similarities. I guess I’d have to say Birch from FELL if only because she and I share the whole fire-nightmare connection.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?

People around me.

(Yes, people around me, be afraid — but not too afraid, because you’ll only end up as a minor character with a changed name and changed hair color. Major characters just ARE the way they are.)

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Not usually. Most of the time I write based on reality — TIB has a few little conversations/interactions that my friends see and go, “hey, didn’t that happen to us?”

But FELL will have several of my fire nightmares.

23) Do you favor happy endings?

I’m not sure how to answer this question. I favor them in books I read, but not necessarily books I write. Books I write must end the right way (the way that grows, changes, and challenges its characters), and that is not always the happy way.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yes, especially when my mistakes are underlined with red and green squiggles. I can’t stand red and green squiggles.

25) Does music help you write?

Sometimes. I have playlists for TIB and FELL (although FELL’s only has one song so far). But I like quiet, too — the kind in coffee shops, not libraries.

26) Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops in your head.

I see him again on the northbound 17 express: Rush hour traffic and nowhere to sit, rain spattering the windshield, and that boy standing in the aisle ahead of me, pretending to read Steinbeck like yesterday but never actually flipping the page.

And it scares me. The day before yesterday, he was just another passenger. Yesterday he was cute, and once I stared back when I caught him looking, fluttered my eyelashes and smiled like a fool. Today, he is terrifying. I don’t know why.

~ from FELL

Well, that was fun. Time to write a paper or two. I tag Laurie.

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