Posts Tagged ‘getting published


100%, 100%

Today I thought I would talk about something it took me 3 novels to learn in the hopes that I can make other people’s lives easier.  I’m a pretty cautious person. I hate gambling, I hate using things if I only have a few left, I hate taking a risk with my money or time or valuables. This caution unfortunately transmits into writing. Say I’m writing a novel, and suddenly I have this great idea. Like, amazing idea, an idea that can carry a series. What do I do with this idea? Or say I had a fantastic world secret. I’d drop tiny hints, never show my hand. Used to be, whenever my brain tossed these gems my way, I would save them, play it safe. After all, I don’t want to put all my ideas in one basket, or tip my secrets too soon.

Back when I was first submitting The Spirit Thief, the criticism I got the most often was that I needed more. More secrets, more world, more cool stuff. This was very hard for me. I had so much cool stuff for the book, but I was holding onto it. After all, these were amazing ideas/secrets, I needed time to set them up properly, I couldn’t just waste them on the first book in a series! But as I got the same criticism over and over again, I finally realized that, if I wanted to WRITE all those books I was saving ideas for, I’d have to make THIS book a lot cooler. So I threw caution to the wind (or, more accurately, released my deathgrip on caution slowly and painfully before lightly placing it on the window sill) and went all in. I stuffed every cool idea I could into The Spirit Thief. I dropped big hints at the world secrets, laid everything out like a Sunday Las Vegas Buffet, lobster and all.

And it worked. Suddenly, everyone really liked my book. They wanted to read more, and so I got a chance to write a second book. And even better, despite all the ideas I crammed into the first book, I still had plenty of awesome secrets and ideas.

What I’m trying to say is that, unlike most everything else in the world, writing does not benefit from caution. Ideas are not a finite resource. In fact, the more secrets and ideas you use, the more you have. Readers read to be entertained, so give them everything. Give them fireworks and grand drama and lobster and the whole three ring circus. Don’t hold back with your novels, don’t save your ideas for later.  Spend them. Use everything you have like you’ll never write another book again. It doesn’t matter, you’ll have more ideas, better ideas. But to really write a book that will thrill and surprise, you can not be conservative or cautious. You have to give 100%, 100% of the time, because that’s what readers deserve. You are an entertainer, and whether you’re working a sidewalk or the Luxor, you have to give every performance everything you’ve got.

Break a leg!


Is that supposed to happen? or How I fixed my first novel

So I am neck deep in untangling the final mess of my third book for its April 1 deadline (so very tempted to send a 1 page manuscript ending with “Rocks fall, everybody dies.” but I don’t think my editor would see the April Fools day humor in that), and I’ve been thinking about revelations. This book has me bringing out a lot of my big guns: world secrets, power players, secret histories, truths that could break up the primary relationships of the series, all that sort of good stuff! But revealing all of this to the reader in a way they can understand and care about has been something of a challenge.

The author is in a unique, omnipotent position when it comes to their work. They literally know everything. If they haven’t thought about it, then it doesn’t exist. If they made something one way and later change their minds, then the thing changes to suit whatever the author needs it to. It’s tempting to see this limitless power as limitless fun, but really it’s a constant liability. I have to think of literally everything, and not just what I care about, but stuff other people will notice is missing if I leave it out (like how my characters never seem to eat, which I mentioned in an earlier post and have taken steps to correct by adding 200% more food to book 3). But more important than crass details like daily caloric intake or the fact that no one poops in fantasy (don’t think about that one too hard) is the information you actually want your reader to know.

At a very simple level, books are the revelation of information over time. Stuff happens which causes other stuff to happen, and you keep reading to find out what. Revealing what happens next in a way that keeps the reader reading is the hallmark of good writing, and there are as many ways to do it as there are books. Great writers make it look so simple, but as with all things worth doing, it’s way harder than it looks. For example, in my first book I had these huge, deep world secrets that were SOO COOOL (to me), and I didn’t want to tip my hand too soon. I wanted the mystery to peek out of the background, tempting people to keep reading. So I dropped subtle hints, so subtle, in fact, that no one got them.  My editor/agent/readers kept telling me to make the book bigger, deeper. I was indignant! I was deep! Didn’t they see all this amazing stuff I was doing in the background? Well, no. I saw it, because I knew it was there. If other people were going to see it, I was going to have to make the writing on the wall a little larger.

Continue reading ‘Is that supposed to happen? or How I fixed my first novel’


Writing a plot synopsis for a query letter

For a writer, a query letter is hands-down the most important letter you’ll ever write. I’ve been a professional writer since I graduated from college — marketing, advertising, business, public relations — so I’ve written my share of business letters. But no one letter stressed me out as much as my query letter. I would say, as I’m sure every other writer does: “If they’d just read the first chapter of my book, they’d love it! I’m an author, not a letter writer!” And I was a business letter writer, and I still thought this.

I made the mistake of thinking that a query letter was different than any other business letter. It is and it isn’t. It is different in that you’re pitching your book (and you have to summarize it). It isn’t different in that you want to be as professional as possible. Agents love dealing with professionals. So as much as you may want to, keep the unseemly begging, pleading, and angst-filled prose in your computer where it belongs. Believe me, I know, this is hard to do when your budding writing career is on the line.

But how did I write my synopsis paragraph for Magic Lost, Trouble Found? I did what everyone else does — I tried to include everything. I soon found out that “everything” doesn’t fit in a paragraph, and it just made my book sound like a jumbled mess. What I had to get at, what I had to dig down to, was the core of what my book was about. Here’s the link to my agent, Kristin Nelson’s analysis of my query letter. I did a brief intro of why I was writing to her, got right to the pitch, and then did a brief, professional wrap-up. In my pitch, I used the tone and voice of my book (my big selling point), and hit only the high points of the plot. A good exercise to do this is to gather up your favorite novels that are in the genre in which you write. Now read the jacket or back cover copy. That’s what I went for: a combo of big-picture plot summary and marketing promo copy. Give it a try with your own pitch paragraph and see if it works for you.


The unexpected perks of publication

So we all know the obvious perks of getting a contract with a major publisher: a fantastic editor, outside verification of worth, money, your book in print (with a cover and everything!), etc. All of these things are the utmost peak of awesome, but there are other great parts of being with a publisher/having an agent, little perks no one tells you about… For example:

Perk 1: Free Books!

So I happened to mention to my editor at Orbit several months ago that I was excited about reading Soulless. Low and behold, what should appear in my mail box a few days later but a lovely ARC of Soulless! Friends, there is nothing more awesome then getting to read a great book… MONTHS before anyone else.  And that’s just one example. Sometimes books would just appear in my mail, awesome books, FREE awesome books by awesome people like Jeff Somers and Amanda Downum! Seriously bad ass, that’s what free books are.  This is not to be missed!

Perk 2:  Meeting Other Authors!

The first thing that happened when I got my agent (other than me nearly having a heart attack) was getting intr0duced to our own lovely Diana Rowland who, in turn, invited me to come and join her and some other bad ass people on a group blog (which is about to get a large influx of new bad ass people, stay tuned!). This kind of stuff (while not always on the level of awesome as joining the Magic District) seems to happen all the time once your name enters the published pool! My agent has introduced me to authors, so has my editor, my agent’s assistant, my editor’s assistant… it’s like they’re all in on this vast conspiracy to link authors together! Which is great because fantasy authors tend to be pretty awesome and interesting people you want to hang out with. I always thought that meeting other writers was something that happened slowly as you built a name, but it turns out they start you right out of the gate, which is great because your fellow authors are some of your best resources as a rookie. Amazingly awesome.

Perk 3:  Calls from New York!

Maybe I’m a total nerd, but there is nothing that makes my heart go pitter patter like pulling out my phone and seeing a 212 area code, then excusing myself because “I’ve got to take this call from New York.” Maybe it’s pretension, but it’s this stupid awesome feeling of “I’ve made it,” even when the call is just “hey, send us that form” or something equally banal. Bonus points when it’s your editor calling because she had this amazing idea that really is amazing, or because she wants to discuss things like cover art… squeee!

Sure writers don’t get health insurance, paid vacation, flex time, or 401ks, but there are other unique perks to the job that are not to be over looked, including the most important of all: being able to make a living writing stories you love AND having people read them. Can’t beat that with a stick right there.


The one that worked

Back when I was searching for an agent, there was nothing I obsessed over quite as single mindedly as my query letter. I wasn’t alone in this, everyone who had a book they wanted to get into an agent’s hands was freaking out over the things. They were the first test, the first blood on the sand, and, as someone who has great troubles with brevity, a personal agony that had to be conquered.

Of course, there are tons of sites for working on queries. I enjoyed Evil Editor and the late, much lamented Miss Snark in particular. But those sites particularly focused on what is wrong with a specific letter, so I thought I’d take a break from pontificating about writerly things and post my query letter as an example of a not-so-perfect missive that actually worked.

So here it is, the query for The Spirit Thief that got me my agent:

Dear ,

In a world where everything has a soul, and an opinion, Eli is a wizard with an uncanny knack for getting inanimate objects to do what he wants. He’s also the age’s most famous thief, with a price on his head large enough to fund a small war. But that’s not nearly enough for Eli, he has a higher goal: earn a bounty of one million gold or die trying. Of course, “die trying” is exactly what Miranda Lyonet, the wizardess in charge of catching Eli before he ruins the reputation of wizards everywhere, would prefer he did. The Spirit Thief, complete at 80,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

When Eli breaks out of jail by literally charming a door off its hinges and kidnaps the king of Mellinor, a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there’s nothing the nobles can do. Fortunately for them, Miranda is right on Eli’s trail. But things get complicated when the kidnapped king’s older brother, Renaud, himself a wizard banished by Mellinor’s law, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. But Miranda is suspicious, would a banished prince really stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king’s rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom and framing Miranda for the real king’s death. To clear her name, Miranda must take on the traitorous prince, and for that she’ll need help. Unfortunately, “help” means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess.

I’ve included the first four pages and a synopsis of the entire work below. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Rachel Aaron
(contact info)

Man, that doesn’t sound NEARLY as good as I used to think it did.  Just goes to show, the proof is in the pages!


Admitting to an infection of words

The day I got my agent was the happiest day of my life. When I got Matt’s message on my voicemail saying he wanted to represent me, I think I almost had a heartattack. I’m not just being rhetorical there, like my chest started to hurt and the room got kind of dark, but unrelenting joy pulled me back to the land of the living. (I told this to Lindsay, Matt’s wonderful assistant, when I called back, and Matt’s first words to me when he picked up the phone were “Don’t have a heart attack, we want you to write more books!” People, life does not get more awesome than that right there.)

So I had my agent, at long last. I had a party, I told my parents. A few months later Matt sold my book and we had another party and I called my parents again. In short, wonderful times. However, from the moment I got my agent until now, I’ve been in this weird limbo. My books are all coming out together at the end of next year, so, while I am published and frantically writing book 2 of the series to meet my deadlines, I’m not really published. This is a bump in the road when I tell people I’m an author, because the first thing they say is “Oh! Where can I buy it?” or some variation. (It was especially bad when I had an agent, but the book hadn’t sold. Now at least I can give them a publisher and a date as opposed to standing there going “Well….”)

This isn’t really a new problem, though. Maybe I’m the only one who gets this way, but have you ever tried answering the question of “So, what do you do?” with “I’m a writer” without feeling supremely uncomfortable? Like everyone who writes, I always wanted to, but I stopped telling people about it because saying “I want to be a writer” is like saying “I want to be an astronaut” or “I want to be in the NBA,” everyone thinks it’s impossible and does their best to let you know just how impossible it is, even if you’re eight. But with astronauts and basketball, people may still add the old “if you try really hard, you can make it!” angle. With writing, you don’t even get that. Probably because there’s no clear path most people see to being a writer. It’s just something impossible that happens to people who aren’t you. I’m a fast learner, and after one or two occurrences of this, I began to answer that I wanted to go into advertising.

This is the weird little dance I’ve been doing all through my life, through school, through college, even after college when I really was writing quite a lot. When I was in all ways except for the book contract, a writer, I never said “I’m a writer.” Because if you say “I’m a writer” to other people, they immediately assume miles of hardcovers with your name in glossy, five-inch printing at the center, and disabusing them of this viewpoint is unpleasant for everyone involved.

These days, however, I am a published author whose book just hasn’t come out yet, so why is it still so hard. I’ll be at home writing and the pesticide guy comes by to spray the house and here I am in my pajamas, so he gives me this “you’re unemployed, aren’t you?” look, and I want to shout “No! I am an AUTHOR!” But… I don’t. I say my job lets me work from home in the mornings, which is true, kind of. It’s not like I’m ashamed, I just can’t seem to tell people what I do.

Before, when I was unpublished, admitting I was a writer felt like I was admitting I was a silly, unrealistic dreamer. Now, it feels like bragging. Look! I did the impossible! Maybe it will get better when my book comes out and I can have something concrete (or, woodpulp, as the case may be) to shove into people’s hands, “Here! I made this!” I hope so. I worked way too hard for this to keep telling every plumber or chatty UPS guy that I’m a graphic designer.

Working from home.



QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue

So I’ve been following QueryFail. (Waits for screams of horror to die down.)

QueryFail, if you haven’t heard of it, is the latest internet storm to break over the industry. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. Basically, a group of literary agents got together on Twitter and decided to offer a free service to aspiring authors: explaining how not to get a literary agent. So they tweeted examples from personal experience — poorly-written cover letters, creepy “gifts” accompanying novel samples, authors who flat-out lied and got caught. (Complete archive here, in multiple formats. If you download the .rtf, remember to read it from the bottom up!) Everything was carefully anonymous; no author identifying info was given, and most of the examples were spoken of in general terms, with the exception of cover letter quotes. (Here are some examples, with analysis, from participating agent Elaine Spencer.) Many authors were amused and pleased by this information, and considered it valuable.

Many more authors… well, went ballistic.
Continue reading ‘QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue’