And Alas…Pitching Queries

I was talking to a friend last night about how much time has passed since I starting writing this series of books. What’s weird is that it feels like very little time has passed actually. I’ve never once struggled to complete a story or agonized over how to begin a sequel. I’ve been lucky that my ideas come naturally and I manage to round out a book as if it’s simply a fun little game. But when I look back at this time last year I realize I was finishing Call Me Emily. Yes, a year ago. And what I always thought about writing was that an author would finish her book, do some quick edits, and then send it to an agent where she would find herself in a lucrative contract almost immediately. Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.

Although I have spent the last year working on two more books, I have also poured over Call Me Emily numerous times and had friends review it. Finally, after many months it’s ready. (Can we all do a quick celebratory jump-clap combination?) The next step is to write an unbelievably excellent query letter and send the manuscript or part of it to some agents.  Sounds pretty simple right? It’s not.

Each agent has their individual requirements for a query letter as well as how and to what degree the manuscript is presented. Think of it like going on an interview. Only, you have to write a specific resume for each person who interviews you. And you have to bring with you individual portfolios specific to each interviewer. And hope, fingers-crossed, that you got it right. Then, to make it even more difficult, take your pretty-little face out of the equation. So, an interview in-effect, without you there; just your work. And it MUST speak for itself.

I plan to do all of this and hope, again fingers-crossed, that the agents actually respond to me. (Sometimes they don’t.) Luckily for me, I believe that one agent will. He or she will read Call Me Emily and feel the magic I felt when I wrote it. Because, it truly is a great story. And, when I write the query I’ll write more than simply, “it’s a great story,” I swear.

So, come January, after agents return from holiday, I’ll send out queries. Wish me luck!

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Sensory Detail vs. Small Action

Recently I learned the difference between sensory detail and small action. And that statement makes me a little sad since I am in the process of writing a series of books. (Meaning, I should already know this.)

When asked about sensory detail I thought, “Of course I have plenty of detail.” Then I reviewed my manuscript again, only to find I had no idea what I was talking about.  To put it out there, sensory detail is defined by answers.com as “sensory details are ways of describing things using the 5 senses.”

I’ve italicized an example from Call Me Emily below:

The morning light was orange and yellow as it cast through the trees and onto the sidewalk.  As I ran, I watched sunlight dance across my feet as I tried to keep the pace and avoid the expansion joints in the sidewalk. I know, it’s a little obsessive compulsive, but it’s a fun game  to keep my mind off the fatigue of running.  Making a turn to go up the hill, I spotted another apartment complex I hadn’t seen before; or was it condos? I couldn’t really tell because everything kind of looks the same around here: beige stucco buildings with white molded trim. The fresh cut grass and the sound of  Rainbird sprinklers ticking was a nice addition to my run. I looped around and followed the sidewalk back to my apartment complex. The sun was further up in the sky now, and  streams of light were beginning to warm up. Yep: it was going to be another hot day.

This paragraph has quite a bit of description to bring the reader on that run with Emily,  but it’s the scents and sounds that pull it together. See? Sensory details rule!

***

Small action is just that; action that is small. It doesn’t contribute to the story but instead slows the reader down. It’s bad and you don’t need it (to keep it simple.)  See the passage from Call Me Emily below:

“Where’s the bookstore?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s in the next building. I can show you after pictures if you want.”

“Sure, that would be great.” When I got to the front of the line I handed the photographer my paperwork.

“Emily Parker,” he said reading it aloud. “OK dear, have a seat.”

I didn’t say anything and tried my best smile. I knew it wouldn’t look great since none of the muscles in my face would relax at all. Whatever.

The card went into the laminator and popped out the other side with a loud thump. I picked it up as the photographer handed my paperwork back to me. I was, officially a college student. What a trip. I waited for Allison as she went through the same routine, then we headed out of the library to the bookstore.

Allison led the way to the bookstore. We went out of the library, down the ramp that led right to the bookstore. From the outside it looked the same age as the library but had wood siding instead of stone. It was far more rustic and smaller. We walked up the steps, went inside, and were immediately surrounded by the buzz of voices and cash registers.

You see the repetitive and unnecessary nature of the last paragraph? Good, because I didn’t. This is why I read things many times and sweet friends and family point out potentially disastrous bad habits.

Isn’t learning a wonderful thing?

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The One-Sentence Summary

I recently was challenged to write a one-sentence summary of my books. I say that I was “challenged”, making it sound like a live person came to me and actually challenged me, but that wasn’t really the case.  I was reading a blog I often frequent by Rachelle Gardner.  She’s a literary agent that offers some of the best literary advice I’ve found on this huge thing we call “the internet.” On this particular day in May, her post offered a contest to see who could come up with the best one-sentence summary, also known as a logline, hook or pitch. She asked that it be around 25 words (but not more than 45) that capture your novel; almost like a snapshot.  So I thought, humm, how hard can that be? Then I started.

The guidelines asked that I include a character, their conflict, what’s at stake, and the action.  I started with my first book, Call Me Emily. It was about 9:00 in the evening. Then it was 11:00. If I were some mad writer with a typewriter, there would have been crumpled paper everywhere and my head smashing the keys so loudly that I would have woken up my husband. But my little laptop is surprisingly quiet, and even pounding the delete key over and over didn’t wake him. Finally, the next day,  I bounced a couple of my ideas off some friends, but came up empty again. I skipped over Call Me Emily and went on to write pitches for Emily Calls It and Meet Emily. And those one-sentence summaries only took me about twenty minutes to write.

So what this exercise taught me, is that you can’t write a one-sentence summary if you are at all conflicted about the story you are trying to pitch. I took a closer look at Call Me Emily, evaluated my story, and made some changes. Once I gave myself permission to really dig into the story and change things up, the summary practically wrote itself. Well not exactly, but you get the picture.

So here are my one-sentence summaries:

Call Me Emily

When Emily leaves her small town for a big city college, she thinks she’s got it all figured out, but when manipulation, vanity and pleasure enter her life (AKA Graham), she must decide if she can stay true to herself.

Emily Calls It

Emily continues on her path, returning to her home town seeking solace and clarity, but encounters more romantic drama making finding herself a challenge.

Meet Emily

When Emily returns to her home town years later for an event, it doesn’t occur to her who might be in attendance, and how Christian might lead her to question all of her past decisions.

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Round One … Round Two Constructive Criticism

The editing process is something I never really thought about when I started writing. Pen to paper and fingers to keyboard is a journey, an escape. You know. Fun and relaxing. The feedback, editing and re-writing; not so much.

When I first discovered that I wanted more than just me to read my work, I sent my initial draft to a friend. (Enter, round one.) If it hadn’t been for her I would have never written two more novels. The positive feedback was so encouraging that I kept writing. But I wondered if she was hard enough on me. The answer is, probably not. In order for the story I feel in the inner most depths of my soul to find it’s way onto paper in a well written and delivered novel takes hard work, time and above all listening.

Round two brought me an accomplished writer; a published author. Her time was limited but she managed to dissect my work even further. When I opened up my manuscript I saw her plethora of comments. A sea of red notes, additions and deletions. For a fleeting moment it was hard to read all that red but without those notes how could my work grow? Exactly, it can’t. So I took in every red line she left me as a gold kernel of wisdom. A gift. I read her words, digested them and really listened to what she was saying with each comment. I think, no scratch that, I know I’ve already learned from all of it; both the encouragement and all the read ink.

So while the writing process has been joyful I embrace the editing process and say “bring it on.” And “give it to me.” It will be a lot of hard work but it’s worth it if I can bring this story to life and share it with all of you.

And to all of you lovely people who have taken time out of your schedules to read my manuscripts, thank you. Without you I would still have two pages of a short story that could have been great.

-Laura

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