Monday, January 30, 2012

Quick Query Responses

Hey! Hey!! How come only one person (well, two including moi) is signed up to show off that little used wedding china in my completely, totally, incredibly un-frivolous and fascinating wedding china blogfest? Get in there! Don't make us look sad and lonely! I shall be very upset if I have to feel sad and lonely.

Last Thursday on Twitter, two agents (Sara Megibow and Ann Collette) looked at queries, and then tweeted their first reactions. It offered a fascinating view into what and why agents reject or ask to see more--on a speed round basis. I've copied them for you here so you can see.

Sara Megibow
Sara Megibow of Nelson Lit did 10 queries in 10 Tweets, with the hashtag #10queriesIn10tweets.

Her first tweet started with:
I have high hopes - we've seen some great queries so far this January! *dives in* #10queriesIn10tweets

#1 = pass. Poor writing. The opening pitch paragraph was one long run-on sentence.

#2 = pass. Some interesting elements, but strung together awkwardly. Awkward query means awkward writing in book.

#3 = pass. Again, weak writing. Long awkward paragraphs that aren't succinct and don't clearly explain the story.

#4 = pass. We dont represent nonfiction. Kristin repped one memoir (won the CO Book Award) Memoir maybe/other nonfic no

#5 = pass. Too generic. The pitch reads like this (NOT quoting here): the hero has many adventures.

#6 = pass. Writer claims this book defies genre. If bookstores can't shelve/market it, then publishers can't sell it.

#7 = ACCEPT! Not the most unique concept, but very solid writing (writing wins every time). Young adult paranormal.

#8 = pass. One of those rare cases where I pass entirely based on concept. Brutal (disgusting) and violent. Not for me.

#9 = pass. Cancer story. I've seen a lot of these. TONS of heart, but not well enough written to stand out. #sad

#10 = pass. Self pubbed trilogy wants agent to shop to NY. I don't do this (someday maybe). Other agents might.

Ann Collette
Ann Collette of the Rees Agency did 12 queries. Her request rate was the same.

#1 Vague statements, cliches, a saccharine tone, and no writing sample all added up to something I knew wouldn't suit my edgy taste. Pass.

#2: Mystery. Author's trying too hard to pull off a tough guy voice, but it backfires. Instead, it reads artificial and overworked. Pass.

#3:Mystery.The first few sentences reveal this is a new author who has yet to learn how to show vs tell. Leaden prose sinks this query.Pass.

#4: Mystery. Author made mistake by starting query w/ generic statements; hook came too late. Writing sample confirmed lack of focus. Pass.

#5. Cozy Mystery. A careless quality to the prose (same words used repeatedly in the first paragraph) signals sloppy editing. Pass

#6: Horror. Author tries hard to be mysterious, but is vague & confusing. He doesn't understand what to hold back & what to reveal. Pass.

Not sure what happened to #7. Sorry.

#8:Thriller. Arrogant protagonist is alienating. Arrogance can be compelling, but when it starts a book, it's not engaging for readers.Pass.

#9: Horror. Query contains misused words -- author clearly doesn't understand what they really mean. There's no need to read further. Pass.

#10: Family saga riddled w/ random capitalization, misused apostrophes, awkward description, and characters that you can't tell apart. Pass.

#11: Impact of an arresting first line diluted by sloppy, repetitive language in rest of query; no sample inc & I won't ask for one. Pass.

#12:Women's fiction.Told right away character must undergo major surgery, but I need to care about her before this can have any impact.Pass.

And her final tweet on the matter: Even though Today's Twelve is done, we just opened a query where the text of each paragraph was a different color. NEVER, EVER DO THIS!

Monday, January 23, 2012

All About Web Space for Authors

Today I'm over at Roni Loren's Fiction Groupie blog for my monthly column on women's fiction or marketing. Come join me there! I'm talking about Web Space for Authors.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

My gravy boat, the very same used in the show.
Just a quick and dirty GRR this week. But here's an interesting tidbit: last night I was watching episode 6 of season 1 of Downton Abbey--on my Kindle Fire (I am in love with this show, it is scrumptious in every way) and there's a scene where the kitchen staff is preparing the dinner and they're taking up plates and things and one of the things they take up is a gravy boat--in my wedding china pattern! Yes! Same one! Bit of a problem there in that my wedding pattern probably wasn't available in 1914, but hey. Still. (It's Wedgewood.) Perhaps a more troubling question is why I have a wedding pattern at all since such things seem a tad outdated. Well, look. They aren't. And to prove how lovely fine china can be, I'm having my tea this morning using my china. So pppbbbbbtttt. (I realize I'm razzing myself, actually.)


Chuck Wendig gives us 25 things Writers Should Start Doing. As always with Chuck, it's no-nonsense and right on. I have one to add: make shorter lists. Short attention spans, you know.

Meghan Ward has a fun post on not being too digitally connected: how not to be an iphoney.

Suzanne Johnson writes on Roni Loren's Fictiongroupie blog about her writing process-- from draft to done.

Jody Hedlund tells a way to get discovered by ereaders. Quite frankly, I've been waiting for a post like this, because for all the world changing into ebooks--even I read pretty much exclusively that way anymore--I haven't a clue how authors would find readers.

A post after my own heart: Janice Hardy tells us how plotting can be helped by playing video games.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Other You

It isn't often I come across other Sierra Godfreys (fellow blogger Sierra Gardener comes close). Well, thank goodness for Google alerts! If for not that wondrous service, I might never have found this You Tube video of myself singing some song called Lotus Flower Bomb.

Alas, there were no explosions, as promised in the song title. I felt a bit cheated.

This isn't actually me, of course. For one thing, this singing and teenage (I think) Sierra Godfrey is cute, whereas I more closely resemble a gargoyle. For another, I would never in million years post such a thing on You Tube. (That's only because back when I was a teenager, there was no You Tube. I shudder to think how I would have misused the tinterweb when I was a teenager. As it was, when I was a teen we had to dial up--dial up!--and sometimes wait in a queue for entry onto an archaic bulletin board service that was decorated with ASCII text drawings. It's the equivalent of hiking twenty miles through the snow to get to school.)

Mr. Sierra pointed out that perhaps young flower bomb chanteuse Sierra Godfrey has Googled herself and my blog and site has come up. In which case, we sort of know each other now. Sort of. (She was going, "Holy zombie kittens. THAT came before ME?" to which my reply must be a rather devious-looking arched eyebrow and a "Quite. Quite.")

Have you ever run across other versions of yourself in this manner? Tell me about it. Also, be careful--because I just read an article yesterday about how employers are searching applicants' social media pages (mainly, Facebook and Twitter) and in some cases where you've cleverly put up deflector shields of privacy, demanding your username and password. (In that case, you must run from the employer. Do not stop at Go or collect $200.) Moral of the story: you could be denied a job because some teenager with your name posted a You Tube video and it did not involve exploding lotus flowers despite the name, thereby making you look like a liar.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fantasy and sci-fi: what are your favorites?

I've been a reader forever, and it remains my most favorite thing to do. I love stories, I love characters, I love being delighted by them all. A well-told story delights me like nothing else.

As a writer, I write women's fiction, mostly because I like reading the genre and I like the room it affords for expressing stories and feelings about women and their journeys. I would say that in general, my reading habits run mostly toward women's fic. That isn't to say I don't enjoy a wide variety of other genres, though.

Probably the genre I've read the least is fantasy and sci fi. There are many reasons for this--but they might all boil down to that I'm worried they'll be silly or overdone. And if the characters have unpronounceable names like Ghuufaxychixyxylp then I'm not reading it. I'm slightly afraid I'll become a Dungeons and Dragons player and howl at the moon (not as a werewolf, you understand, just as one of those people who gets carried away with fantasy). But I have read (and enjoyed!) mainstream things, like:
  • The Lord of the Rings books
  • Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series (really liked the concept of those books)
  • The Game of Thrones series (amazingly, all of them)
There might be others but I am having a massive brain and writing block this weekend and seriously, this post nearly didn't even happen because I couldn't pull anything out of my ass--like, I stared at the blank post for a long time tonight. 

What I'm hoping is that you'll tell me what your least read genre has been. And also, if you've read a lot of fantasy or sci-fi, you'll tell me what's good and why I shouldn't be afraid of it. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Google Reader Roundup

It's back! The Google Reader Roundup!

  • How to make a book trailer, from Emily Danforth. Bookmark this. When I make my book trailer some day, I'm going to hire ASkars to star in it and smooch me in bed. Without a lot of clothes on. He will want to do the shoot for free, of course, because it's me.

  • Via my uncle Vince, this delightful short about what books do at night when we're not around: in the night bookstore.

  • A really great post from Carrie Heim Binas on the hard work it takes to write--or, as she more eloquently put it, blood on the page

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blog Spam and How to Spot It

A few weeks ago I talked about how Google rankings can be gamed--which is why it would be inappropriate for an editor or agent or publishing professional to rely solely on such things to determine an author's worth. Today I'm going to show you one of the ways to up a Google ranking--and not in a good way.

If you're a regular blogger, then you've probably gotten your share of spam on your blog--maybe even emailed to you. These are emails disguised as interest in what you do. On my design blog (which is tied to my freelance business), I regularly get comments from spammers like this:

"Admiring the persistence you put into your site and in depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information. Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account. My site is [redacted]."
This is total BS, of course. It's a fake comment intended only to build back links to their site in order to puff up their SEO reports. For the most part, it's easy to recognize spammers because of their consistently poor grasp of grammar and off-topic comments. But spammers are smart enough to know they're slightly stupid. And they've taken measures to address that. Now spammers try to be personal and friendly and trick you into thinking they're really reading when they are not.

When I uninstalled the Intense Debate comment system from my blog---I was really bummed to do this because it meant losing all of your wonderful comments for over a year, but Intense Debate took a dump  and prevented several of you from commenting, and then it prevented me from deleting spam. That was the last straw. So it had to go. The spam that did it was the one from some printing guy that said this on the post about author web sites:

"I am actually thinking of getting my business cards done. It´s essential for Pro bloggers, I should say. Would love to win this. I´m a follower of our blog."

Kay, it's not "our" blog, and there's nothing to win. And note the crazy apostrophes. Then the guy used a different name (but same email address--duh) to post a follow up comment thusly:

"Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for. I found your site in google. And I will be back next time, thank you."

Right. Delete. Delete.

This spam disguised as friendliness and compliments is fairly easy to spot. But it gets more insidious, I'm afraid. And here's where I really want to warn you.

I received an email from someone off the blog. This means an actual human stopped, looked around for my contact info, and wrote me this email (even if it's a template email):

[extra space that indicates she pasted from a template, redacted]
Just wanted to drop you a note expressing my appreciation for your blog. As a blogger and freelance writer myself, I’m always excited to come across a blog that’s both a pleasurable read and an informative resource. [so far so good, I'm thinking, and even rather flattered.]
[extra spaces redacted]
Although I blog mostly for [redacted], I absolutely love writing guest posts that interest me. I have been reviewing your site and what look like your most popular posts and think I have some twists to those that your readers would like. I’m happy to provide you with content that you can use as you see fit and only ask for link back to my site [redacted] so that the readers can find out more about me and hopefully will subscribe to my blog.

Below you can find some of my recent published Guest posts:
[8 links redacted]

Thank you for your time!

So this person was really nice. And it sounded totally above board, right? The kicker here is the lack of specifics, like the really vague "I have been reviewing your site and what look like your most popular posts and think I have some twists to those that your readers would like." And then, of course, the link back to her site which is not writing-related at all. Nor would it be of remote interest to you.

So I wrote her back. I asked what the "twists to those posts that my readers would like" would be. And she replied saying they would be "5 strange things writers should watch out for" except they weren't strange and were pretty basic items. Maybe freshmen in high school might find them useful. In short, not appropriate for my blog, and definitely not appropriate for my readers. I'm not going to heap ridicule on the lady and name them or her.

So what was this lady doing?

Mike Chen, my Atmosphere Websites partner, insists she is from something called a "content farm" that basically has people do "guest posts" and write real articles with links back to their site to up their SEO rankings. I couldn't believe anyone actually puts man power into that because it sounds so trivial, and does it really result in actual sales at all? Who knows.

The amount of both comment spam and email spam I'm getting these days has increased--and I can't believe it has anything to do with how popular my blog is. Turns out it isn't. It's because I'm a smaller blog and these guys think their links are more likely to make it in. Insidious!

Anyway, to sum up:
  • Watch for grammar and typos as a giveaway that the complimentary comment is spam
  • Watch for odd spaces or backward apostrophes--backward apostrophes are a sure sign of a user from another country
  • If anyone leaves a link to anything that is not writing related, delete it, even if it's benign like "Nice list, some inspiring and laterally thought up designs in there. I do agree that it was a bit long, especially with duplicate examples." No.
  • Watch out for vague praise and any request in which the giveback is a link to their site--unless it's writing related, obviously. And even then, what exactly are they giving you?
Keep it strong, people. Our blogs are not fodder for building links back to other people's crappy business web sites. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

I totally used a Mormon ad for discipline

My 5 year old son, the whippersnapper, has been doing that thing kids do when they reach a certain age of awareness...and no, I'm not talking about messing around with his business (he's already discovered that). I'm talking lying.

The whipsnap has begun outright lying when asked if he's done something. Now, I should know better than to ask--especially when I can tell he's lying. But sometimes I genuinely don't know what happened--even if he lies about it. Example: is that water on the couch pillow, or did you wipe your nose on it?

It struck me the other day that I no longer trust the whipsnap because he lies almost every time he tells me something. It wasn't a good feeling, but it was true--I have lost trust in him. I've tried threatening that I always know when he's lying. I've tried explaining that owning up to something you did is easier and faster. I've tried changing my language to not use the word "lie" and focus on the positive ("Why don't you go back and use soap this time" vs. "Did you use soap? Don't lie about not using soap.")

Nothing worked. Until I remembered that awesome ad from the 1980s from the Mormons, or Church of Latter day Saints (LDS) as they like to be called. Do you remember the one? It's about the boy playing ball and he breaks a neighbor's window, and it's Mr. Robinson and he goes "Whooo broke my window?" and they sing a magnificent and rather catchy song about telling the truth and how it's so much better. It starred Alfonso Ribeiro (who must have been highly impressed by the experience since he went on to play Carlton Banks with such squeaky clean aplomb). Remember? Here:

So, I told the whipsnap the story of a boy playing ball. I made it all dramatic, and made Mr. Robinson quite upset, and even spoke the lines of the song. The whippersnapper was enthralled. I had his attention. I described the boy coming forward and saying, "I broke your window with my ball, and I've come to confess." And then how the boy still had to pay for the window, but he felt better inside, and Mr. Robinson was so happy that the boy told the truth. Turns out, those LDS folks knew what they were doing with that. It was hugely effective, and made a big impression on the whipsnap--without even having seen the ad!

Later, when I asked him if he'd used soap when washing his hands (he hadn't, he'd been in the bathroom 2 seconds), he automatically said "yes." I reminded him how the boy who broke the window felt better for telling the truth and the whipsnap said, "No, I didn't use soap." I praised him for telling me, and then directed him to use soap.

God, this childrearing business is tiring and difficult. Good thing there are old Mormon church ads as parenting aids out there. I'm just wondering how the Schoolhouse rock "I'm Just a Bill" ad will translate?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Setup vs Catalyst

My mother and stepfather, who are bibliophiles, have a massive amount of books, and whenever we visit I am drawn to the shelves. Last time I visited, the suggestion that I look into PG Wodehouse was made. So I picked up one at random (there were tons, like are of every author in that house). I am not unfamiliar with PG Wodehouse, who is most famous for the Jeeves series. My mother read him a lot when I was young, and I've read some his short stories, which were witty and enjoyable. But never a novel. I picked up A Damsel in Distress and flipped it open. It began like this:

Inasmuch as the scene of this story is that historic pile, Belpher Castle, in the county of Hampshire, it would be an agreeable task to open it with a leisurely description of the place, followed by some notes on the history of the Earls of Marshmoreton, who have owned it since the fifteenth century. 
Immediately I closed the book. A leisurely description of the place! With notes on the history of some earls! Nooooo! I remarked to my mother that this opening line was very off-putting, and the reply was that I obviously didn't know good literature. Well, that's BS--and opening with that kind of malarkey is no way to begin a novel and pull in a reader. That's pretty clear.

But neither I, nor my mother or stepfather, knew that the rest of the passage actually negates that first line, and the story does open with some action rather than the dreaded "leisurely description." Such is Wodehouse's wit that he continues,

Unfortunately, in these days of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with the smooth swiftness of a jackrabbit surprised while lunching. Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.

Exactly. (And how much do you love the term "picture palace"? I'm guessing that means movie theatre.)

If you've ever read Les Edgarton's book Hooked, which is about how to write catchy fiction today, then you know Les suggests the very same thing--that you must "get off the mark with the smooth swiftness of a jackrabbit surprised while lunching."

Note that PG Wodehouse makes this clear, but then takes his time getting to his action by dint of this kind of opening. You might wonder what the point is in noting that his readers need action or else they'll throw him aside (as I did) and go out to picture palaces, when in fact by mentioning it, he slowed down the story. Since Wodehouse was no dummy, my guess is that he knew that readers, while wanting action off the bat, don't want explosive action.

That is, we want to be drawn in. We want some setup. In Save the Cat, author Blake Snyder says we need an opening image and a setup before the catalyst. We need a little time to become acclimated in the new world before the explosion occurs.

That said, the action should still be clear. The jackrabbit should still be off and running. It just shouldn't be exploding right yet.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you want some setup in your openings when your read--or do you want your catalyst right up front? How do you write them? Any examples?

And by the way, I'm totally going to read the rest of A Damsel in Distress. Update: for those of you who have Kindles, A Damsel in Distress is free. Yes. Check it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Crash Into You Release!

I bring you a rare and special Tuesday post to celebrate someone who has been a generous and giving friend to me, and I'm so thrilled for her. Today, Roni Loren's debut novel, Crash Into You, was released. Crash is erotic fiction and while I'm not usually a connoisseur of that genre (not that anything's wrong with it all, in fact some spice is where it's at some days, you know?), Roni is a really great writer so I know the book will be good. I knew this way back before she wrote Crash. So buy it. Celebrate this girl. There is a reason she's got over 1600 Google followers on her blog, Fiction Groupie.

It's cause she's good.

And if you take a picture of yourself with the book while making a Blue Steel face, you'll be entered to win a gift cert. Note that when *I* publish, I'm going to have people choose between saying "Um, earth to Marcus I was making' a joke" or screaming "Orange Mocha Frappacino!" in their pictures because that scene involves ASkars. :)

Here's my Blue Steel face. Admittedly, there was a camera/operator mishap. The actual Blue Steel face has me looking like a gargoyle. It would break the blog to post it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Unexpected Things Make Good Scene Endings

Do you watch the HBO show True Blood? You should, and not just so you can feast your eyes on Alexander Skarsgard, whom I manage to go on about here on the blog just about weekly. The show is a master at the cliffhanger. Each episode ends on such a "ahh!" moment that you're left going, "Nooooooo!" when the credits roll. Would that we could do that with our scenes in our novels.

Last week I talked about not having your characters saying "I love you," a nugget I took from James Scott Bell's book The Art of War for Writers. That book is full of short, pithy, and very helpful writing tidbits. And here's another. James (probably not Jimbo) suggests that when you're stuck on how to end a scene,  make a list of 10 things you think reader would not expect to have happen, and 10 things they would expect. Ideally, one out of all those will jump out at you as being the right ending. You may have to twist things around to get there--hang on and I'll explain.

I thought about one particular chapter in my long-suffering* WIP in which my protagonist meets her love interest. The love interest departs the scene, and then my protag meets a friend and they talk in a garden. It's a fairly boring scene, mostly because it's informational, and the most exciting thing--the love interest bit--has already happened after the first page of the chapter. My protag and her friend talking at the end of the chapter makes for booooring reading, especially because I didn't know how to end it. Example:

 "Um, sure, yeah, let's meet for coffee later."

Awful. So, I made a list. I am abbreviating it to 5 here so you get the idea.

Expected things
1. The girls talk and make arrangements to meet for coffee.
2. The girls agree that the day has some nice weather.
3. The girls pick their nails and look around.
4. The girls talk about the hot love interest from the beginning of the chapter.
5. The girls hint at some family problems, but don't really get into it because they just met.

All of these suck. Let's look at the unexpected things.

Unexpected things
1. The girls gets eaten by a T-Rex that jumps out of the bushes.
2. The girls spontaneously combust.
3. A jet airplane lands on the lawn, clipping off the girls' feet.
4. The mean aunt of the protag finds the girls in the garden and yells at them.
5. The love interest, previously not introduced in the scene, interrupts the girls' tete a tete and then leaves with an innuendo.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. By switching around the events of the chapter and shortening the utilitarian garden conversation scene, I've got a much more interesting thing happening-- the love interest arrives, is met, and provides some interesting conversation for the main character to think about. Plus, it's not expected that these girls talking would be interrupted by someone very interesting.

Although, obviously, what should happen is they spontaneously combust.

What do you think? Have you tried this?

* it suffers directly because having two small kids, one of them a baby who doesn't like to sleep, takes a toll on writing time. 18 and they're out, 18 and they're out.