I said earlier in the week I’d post my queries, before and after my workchop with CJ Redwine.  I’m not looking at my notes (from more than a year ago) to see why I did this–I’m just comparing the two because I don’t think that would be fair to those who have paid for and benefitted from the workshop.

Below, the very first query I ever sent out.

A very public flighty heiress and a TV exec with a past he’d rather keep private work against each other to create a talk show while falling crazy in love.  ON A BET is complete at 82,000 words and targeted as a single title contemporary novel with comedic elements.

Justine Montgomery is a tabloid baby, daughter of a television tycoon and a beauty queen.  She is compelled to ask her estranged father for help when her mother mortgages her grandmother’s home.  Her father proposes a bet: if she can produce a talk show, he’ll pay the mortgage and finally give her a job.  If not, she’ll marry the creepy ex she despises.

Once Justine agrees, her father offers Sawyer the promotion of a lifetime to just sit back and let Justine destroy his show.  Immediately at odds and deeply attracted to one another, Justine and Sawyer travel together to find an aging movie star to play co-host.

Can Justine and Sawyer’s growing feelings survive a controlling father, a drunken co-host, tabloid stories, a crazy ex-boyfriend, and enough emotional baggage to sink the Titanic?

This is my first novel and I am working on a new manuscript now.  In addition, I have two other novels connected to this one outlined.

I would be pleased to send you a partial or the full manuscript upon your request.  I appreciate your time and consideration.

Here, my basic if-they-don’t-ask-for-anything-else query.

Justine Montgomery is an infamous heiress, the daughter of a divorced beauty queen and TV magnate, and a tabloid disaster.

She’s never finished a thing she started, but now that her mother dumped the news in her lap that she mortgaged the family home and foreclosure is only a week away, Justine has little choice.  She must make a bet with her father to either produce a talk show without quitting or marry her creepy ex so that her father will pay off the mortgage.  Just Justine’s luck, her creepy ex is the son of her father’s late business partner, and Justine’s father wouldn’t believe the ex did wrong if he watched it happen.

Justine’s co-producer, Sawyer, is under strict orders to watch her fail so that Justine’s father can see Justine settled and out of the tabloids. Justine. however, grabs Sawyer’s interest like no other woman. Her life is messy, and she may just be crazy, but he can’t seem to stop thinking of her.

Justine must persevere beyond the disaster of a drunken co-host, the bitterness of a rejected ex, the controlling actions of her father, and the half-truths she and the man she may just love are telling one another. If she can’t stick it out and find a way to make her show a hit, she’ll forfeit her dreams, end up married to a man she despises, and lose the man who could make it all worth it.

I’m currently a social worker in West Virginia with a B.S. in Social and Behavioral Science.  I’ve always found people and relationships fascinating and witty banter sexy.  Romance has been a perfect fit and, at times, a wonderful respite for me.

On a Bet is a contemporary romance complete at 81,000 words.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

In the first paragraph (original), you’ll notice I moved the name and length to the last paragraph (final).  This brings my reader (the agent or editor, in this case) right into the story.  I see right off that  my original query shot straight out of the gate with a cliche (*shudder* “crazy in love”).  Beyond that, it isn’t deep enough.  Check out my the last query: she’s a person, with a name and parents and a past.

In the second paragraph of the original query, I introduced my heroine and her GMC.  I did the same thing in the last query, except I went deeper.  I explained why these things matter and are relevant to her.

The third paragraphs are, again, similar.  They both introduce my hero and his own dilemma.  But instead of glossing over it (original), I delved into exactly how he feels for her.  On comparing the two, I do see that I’ve removed his goal (promotion) but left the motivation and conflict.  Is this something I should slip back in there?  (She writes, as if slipping info into a query is not at all like adding a unicycle to an already stressful tightrope act.)

And paragraph four is where the change shines.  In the original I ask the hypothetical question, can their feelings survive?  In the last query, I detail exactly what’s in the way, what’s on the line, and, most importantly, what happens if she fails.  Now it matters.

Paragraph five is the obligatory “About Me” section–difficult when you’re unpubbed.  Difficult as in terrifying and intimidating.  Instead of focusing on my inexperience (in the original) I tell more about who I am and why I love writing romance.  If you’re grasping for something to put in there, it might as well sound like you’ve given it some thought instead of just sticking it in there and hoping they don’t notice.

And the final paragraph sticks those novel stats back in there instead of giving the original’s obvious info (naturally, I’d send them whatever they wanted–be it a partial or handwriting the whole thing on parchment and walking it to their office).

I found it really interesting, comparing the two, that they have the exact same number of paragraphs.  I guess I did figure out the basic set up, at least.  But I also see bare bones in my original and a lot more meat in the final draft.

Still, agents aren’t knocking down my door–I welcome any ideas, comments, whatever.  And feel free to share your experiences in the comments!

On Kathy Carmichael’s awesome site, she has a form to aid in creating a short synopsis and plotting your story.  You should go download that now.  I’ll wait.

She suggests, on the first page, to list ten events that will help change a character’s core belief and to keep in mind the stages of change.  This opened up a whole new way of looking at structuring character arc for me so I wanted to share what I’d found on the stages of change.

The earliest stage of change is known as precontemplation. During the precontemplation stage, people are not considering a change. People in this stage are often described as “in denial” due to claims that their behavior is not a problem. If you are in this stage, you may feel resigned to your current state or believe that you have no control over your behavior. In some cases, people in this stage do not understand that their behavior is damaging or are under-informed about the consequences of their actions.

via Stages of Change – Precontemplation Stage.

We’re going to be dealing with 4 of those stages, so it would make sense, I think, to divide this arc into quarters.  For example, the precontemplation stage would be the first 1/4 of your story.

During this stage, people become more and more aware of the potential benefits of making a change, but the costs tend to stand out even more. This conflict creates a strong sense of ambivalence about changing. Because of this uncertainty, the contemplation stage of change can last months or even years. In fact, many people never make it past the contemplation phase. During this stage, you may view change as a process of giving something up rather than a means of gaining emotional, mental, or physical benefits.

via Stages of Change – Contemplation Stage.

Of course, our heroes and heroines will make it past this stage because that’s what makes them heroic.

During this stage, you might begin making small changes to prepare for a larger life change. For example, if losing weight is your goal, you might switch to lower-fat foods. If your goal is to quit smoking, you might switch brands or smoke less each day. You might also take some sort of direct action such as consulting a therapist, joining a health club, or reading self-help books.

via Stages of Change – Preparation Stage.

What’s key here is small changes.  Our hero or heroine isn’t ready to full on commit yet, so explore ways to make small concessions to change.

During the fourth stage of change, people begin taking direct action in order to accomplish their goals. Oftentimes, resolutions fail because the previous steps have not been given enough thought or time. For example, many people make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and immediately start a new exercise regimen, begin eating a healthier diet, and cut back on snacks. These definitive steps are vital to success, but these efforts are often abandoned in a matter of weeks because the previous steps have been overlooked.

via Stages of Change – Action Stage.

There’s another stage, maintenance, but I think that stage comes after the HEA.

To me, it makes sense to structure your characters change, and that what it’s all about–the character’s journey–in a way that is scientifically proven to be how real people handle change.

Again, you should check out Kathy’s site or follow her on twitter (linked above) because she is clearly brilliant.

I want to land an agent and be published, you want to land an agent and be published.  I scream, you scream, we all scream for representation.

Rejection is simply part of the process of being a writer.  It stings, it’s hard to get past.  But what’s the other choice?  Quit?  If that’s an option for you, then it’s probably the best course of action. Most of us, though, can’t imagine a life that doesn’t involve writing.  So, it’s not that quitting isn’t an option in the “I’m too tough to quit” way, it’s that it’s not an option, period.

But what should you do?  When do you take it to heart, when do you wonder if it’s you or them, when do you make (God help us) more changes to your MS?

  1. If you’re not getting any requests for fulls or partials, work on your query and synopsis.  You’ve got a solid story, but if no one thinks it’s “right” for them, then you’re missing something.  Start there.  Send it to a crit group.  Do research on query letter and synopsis writing.
  2. If you get a request and you still get a generic no, go directly to beta readers, crit group, or crit partners.  Explore everything to see if you can make your story stronger.  But stand by your story.  If you know that’s how it was meant to be written, believe in yourself.  There’s a middle line.
  3. If you get a rejection with feedback, by all means, consider it strongly.  But not too strongly.  Take a step back.  Read your story.  Can you see where the feedback can be coming from?  Again, go to the betas and critique sources.  Evaluate.  Stand by your story.  It’s the same idea, but this time, you at least have something specific to look for.
  4. Most importantly, don’t give up.  Ever.

All this to say, don’t resent the challenge. Stop complaining about how difficult it is. Nobody cares.

via So You Can’t Seem to Land an Agent—Now What?.

I wrote a novel and finished it well over a year-and-a-half ago.  I submitted it to Carina Press (cross your fingers for me–still haven’t heard anything*).  It was a stand-alone book, but I knew when I wrote it there were two related books to be written.  I jotted down notes as they came to me and even wrote a loose outline.

And then I moved on to the next story.  Because why write sequels to a book that may never be published?  Except, now that I’ve sucked it up and found some guts, I’m subbing it to agents and the previously mentioned publisher.  In my query, I mention the two other connected books.  Now, I feel an obligation to have a more formal (and fleshed out) synopsis prepared for the other two books.

I’ve mentioned this before: how difficult it is to walk away from a WIP and then try to pick it back up.  I write everything down.  I haven’t lost anything between then and now (and I consider myself quite lucky in that).  But it’s still difficult to find that thread, those characters, that plot and breathe life into it.

Because that’s what we do.  We give characters and stories a life of their own.  It’s why the characters talk to us (sometimes nag us and yell at us) and it’s why we know the story isn’t “right” even though we’re the ones “in control.”  (Yeah, right.)

I’m listening to music, which always inspires me to write and the old playlist brings me back to that place.  But how do you do it?  Do you switch between WIPs?  Do you put things that aren’t working away for a time so you can come back with a fresh view?  Tell me what works for you.

*Update: Finally heard from Carina Press, after 7 weeks.  My novel was placed with an editor for possible acquisition and my full read, but they decided against acquiring it.  While this was very disappointing I did get some very good feedback and important constructive criticism.  I’m very grateful they took the time to do so.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I struggled with writing a synopsis.  You know, struggled as in fought for my life against a rogue polar bear kind of struggle.  But I did it.  (Yay, me!)

Now, I’d like to write the next one while the story is in progress.  The story is fresh in my mind, I know where I want to go with it, and why not have that one bloody thing done?

Now, anyone who reads this blog will also know I am big on spreadsheets and templates.  How can I make this thing easier?  So, I created a very brief but self-explanatory template for a synopsis.

You are welcome to try this template–who knows, it may help you.  Keep in mind: I write using a 4 act structure.  I think the template could easily be modified for 3 act, but… just so you know.

Synopsis Template. | Find it on the Downloads page.

 
Update 09.03.2011: I updated the synopsis template.  Turns out, I know a little more than I did a few years ago. ;-)

Yes.  You read that correctly.  After much nail-biting and teeth-gnashing online, I wrote a synopsis.  I’m tempted to use lame web animated fireworks.  That’s how proud/excited I am.

Want to know how I did it?  Fine.  I’ll tell you.  But, I suspect, it’s one of those things that you can read a dozen articles about, but eventually you just have to hunker down and write the damn thing.  Much like writing a book.

  1. I went through my book and summarized the turning points and points  of conflict.  This was 12 pages long.  A crazy length for a synopsis.  Some editors or agents will take ten.  Some will take five.  Most want 1-2 pages.  But don’t despair!
  2. I included my GMC in the first paragraph or two, when introducing my characters.  It’s the easiest way to explain who they are, what they want, and what’s in their way.
  3. I highlighted my turning point scenes.  If you’re not writing to turning points, here’s a clue.  Those I trimmed a bit, but mostly left intact.
  4. What was left, the ‘in-between’ I pared down, summarized, but with a goal of maintaining my voice throughout.
  5. Look for what must be included, look for what must be included that you can say with less words, and look for what is not absolutely essential.  Don’t include subplots, don’t include dialogue (more than a line, but I advise against it).

Things to remember: Write in present tense.  Include the ending–don’t ever leave a hook and suggest the editor/agent read your book to find out.  Practice–just like writing, it’s okay if it’s bad at first.  You can fix it.

Found the first agent I’m going to send the new and improved, dedicated query to.  FYI: I found a list of agents here.

Here’s my first quandry: I planned to submit to a publisher who requested a query, a 10 page synopsis, and 3 chapters.  I buckled down and got my synopsis finished.   This agent wants a query containing a one or two paragraph(!!!) synopsis and the first 3 chapters/50 pages.*  Now, I love when agents will accept pages.  I feel like I’ve skipped the request for a partial and gone for the good stuff.  But how am I supposed to condense 10 pages into one or two paragraphs?

I wonder if the agent is referring to something more like back cover copy as opposed to a synopsis, which–as I understand–tells the entire story.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could input some info and some website would generate award-winning, sure-to-get-pubbed back cover copy? *sigh*

Update:  Sent it today.  Also found a very cool website for tracking submissions and finding agents–litmatch.net**.

*Another update: I’ve adapted my query into one that includes a synopsis by using the first 2-3 paragraphs of my synopsis if they ask for a brief synopsis in the query.  Maybe that will help you.

**Litmatch.net is now authoradvance.com.

Listen to me. No, seriously.  Stop what you are doing, stop twittering or IMing or going through your email and listen to me.  I think I’ve got the long synopsis thing kicked.  Or, a first draft of the long synopsis kicked.  Or maybe the outline of a long synopsis which I can use to create a nice long synopsis.

Whatever.

Listen to me when I tell you this: do not ever, for any reason, no matter what, put off writing your synopsis/query letter for an embarrassingly long time because those things are scary.  The whole thing is scary.  You’re going to wimp out now?

You will so regret that.  Take. It. From. Me.


The best synopsis help I’ve found so far: Lisa Gardner – Tricks of the Trade – Conquering the Dreaded Synopsis Workshop.  You can find that on her Writer’s Toolbox page–just scroll down to the lecture series.

 

I just ordered some books for my daughter because she’s become hooked on Nora Roberts and somehow I’ve managed to keep one or two books of a trilogy and be short the rest.  So I rounded out about four trilogies for her and placed my order.

So you know, I’m a clicker.  I’m one of those people that will totally start out on a page about, say, rabbits and end up on a page about how to make a quilt out of old t-shirts.  That being said, I innocently clicked on the recommendations for me link.  And I saw this. (Digital How to Write a Great Query Letter–no longer available.)

I thought.  You’re mocking me, Amazon.  You know I’m working on that damned synopsis / query letter stuff and you put this up right after I just made one of many purchases.  Screw you, Amazon.  No.  Really.  I mean it this time.  We’re so over.

And then I looked again.  It’s a free download.  Why?  Because the writer is awesome and wants to give back to the writing community.  I downloaded it.  Amazon and I agreed to never speak of this little misunderstanding again.  I’m still reading, but it looks pretty good.  So…. go download it!

I know, it’s Wednesday, and I totally had every intention of writing this awesome blog, because I am in the midst of my creative process, and I’ve got good stuff to share. But it’s the first day of school, and yesterday was the day before the first day of school and freshman orientation, and the day before that was middle school orientation, plus I work (somehow), so I just didn’t get to it. Not that you’d trust me, anyway, given the run-on of the previous sentence. So, I’m linking you to an article I’ve been meaning to read for two weeks. Seriously. It’s been open that long.

Article: Writing A Synopsis by Vicki M. Taylor.

I’m off to the doctor.