Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughts on Querying

Back in my days as a composition instructor at the University of Central Florida a friend showed me one of those e-mail forwards: You Know Your An English Major If . My favorite on the list was “You know your an English major if you deconstruct the menu at the Mexican restaurant.”

The process of researching agents and writing query letters made me think of that e-mail. I've developed a system. First I use an online site to generate an initial list of 100 or so agents interested in middle grade fiction. Then I start winnowing.

Remove the agents who aren't accepting queries. Remove those who only do YA (Young Adult). Remove those looking for Steam Punk. This usally leaves 60 agents. Then the research starts I pick out any that seem like a good match. 

Queries come next. I hate writing query letters for the same reason I am bad about thank you notes. Churning out formulaic pulp kills me. It feels so insincere. I'm getting over it a bit but I don't think I'll ever just be able to spam myself to the agents.

To write a query letter, I have to research the agent again, look at their agency, read interviews and get a clear picture of who I am addressing. This is where having an MA in Literature gets in the way.

I like seeing all these book loving people who build their careers around the written word. I get carried away reading articles and interviews. Maybe they fascinate me because most of my fellow English majors from Wofford became lawyers. These are neat people I'm looking at. No two people took the same path to being an agent. I wonder if I'll recognize a name some day as I generate list and lists. Who knows? It could happen.

Bottom line: I am enjoying this new and slightly esoteric process of querying in my own little nerd way. But it is time to stop deconstructing the menu, grab the yellow legal pad and go write.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Meet Annie

Original art by Catherine Gurri
Titus's name gets waved around an awful lot because that's the title of Book 1.  But there is someone else who is equally important.  She is also a little bit miffed that Titus gets top billing.  Meet Annie.

Once upon a time this series was a one page outline in my idea folder.  I ran it past Catherine because she is really good at telling me if an idea is half baked.  Titus was third on the project list until Catherine surprised me on her next visit with a sheaf of drawings.

Original art by Catherine Gurri
Just look at Annie.  How dare I put her story on the  back burner?  No one relegates Annie to the idea folder.  Titus can study the great Roman tacticians all he wants.  He is no match for his new next door neighbor.  Annie is an only child, she starts kindergarten in three days and is determined to be friends with Titus.  

Original Art by Catherine Gurri
Annie has always wanted to have a friend next door.  Someone she can play with any time she wants just by walking out side, just like the kids do on TV.  Titus comes off as a bit stuffy and too serious but Annie figures she can work with him.  He is wearing a giant plumed helmet after all.  He can't be that serious.

All writers need a litte Deus ex machina.  I have Grammy.  She is a former costume designer and doting grandmother who makes sure Annie's right brain gets a good workout.  When Annie tells her about the boy next door who loves Romans so much that he marches around his yard dressed like a centurion, Grammy whips together some Flavian curls out of toilet paper tubes and yellow paint.
Original art by Catherine Gurri
Titus appreciates Annie's efforts and tries to work her in to his narrative of the day.  But Annie doesn't like the role he picks for her.  She storms off, only to reappear the next day in different garb.  If she can't be Roman enough for Titus, then she'll be Scottish.  Why not?  After all, Grammy can do wonders with a tartan tablecloth and her dog Angus is a Scottie.

You have not lived until you have heard Annie belting out Scotland the Brave on her nose.  Titus gets an earful as she parades around the cul de sac in full snit.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Random Lines

I'm heading into the garden today to keep the head and hands busy.  But before I get to dirty I thought I would start a Friday tradition and leave you with a bit of randomness. 

From Titus and Annie Book 2:          

. . . lavender scented lake monsters . . .

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Working and Waiting

The waiting game just got more exciting.  Yesterday a second agent requested the full manuscript for Titus.  My happy dance has forever scarred my children and I am not permitted to dance at their weddings. 

All the attention generated by Titus lately has made it hard to focus on the second book in the series.  The first three chapters are second draft done and the other nine are blocked out in story board form.  But the conflicts still need refining.  It's a puzzle and I love this part of the writing process.  However, the brain is excited and mushy.

To stay productive while I wait, I'm going to advance a nonfiction idea I had back in May.  It will be fun to get in touch with my art history roots again and I do love research.  Here is a bit of a teaser:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Last week I received my first request for a manuscript. Hurray! This confirms that my query letters are functional and even effective. The complete manuscript for Titus has been delivered and now I wait.

On the first day of waiting
I freaked out just a bit
and cleaned all of the base boards.

So the waiting isn't that bad. Weird stuff just runs through my head while I'm cleaning. That's how Billington started so who knows what will come of this over due cleaning binge.

Obviously my husband loves the side effects of waiting. He's hoping this lasts long enough for me to redo the grout in the upstairs shower. Regardless, when I hear back from the agent who requested Titus, I will have received my first professional feedback. This is more exciting than any yes or no.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Green-Eyed Monster

Revisions while camping.

My youngest read yesterday's post and was upset that big brother got a shout out. I swear, those two can even fight over an uncooked carrot. So to keep an even keel, let me officially assure the world that my six year old daughter does plenty to help mother keep the writing career on track.

The other day I took a rare nap on the couch. Summer colds are vicious creatures. I woke up covered in business envelopes. Each was addressed and stamped in crayon, stuffed and sealed.

“Look Mommy! I got the mail. They are all rejection letters!”

What a dear. What a darling. What a preposterous precocious little so and so. I spluttered for a while at the industry of my little Electra. There were over 20 envelopes! But really, she was only trying to help.

I have been sharing the query process with the kids because I think its good for them to see an adult try and try again. Grown ups should be seen following their own advice more often.

Rejection is part of the game. I love the agent who wrote “F**k rejection” in the advice section of her blog. I pride myself on being able to open three rejection e-mails then sit down to a good writing session on the next book. But this can be hard to explain to people who ask how the writing is going.

The kids have heard me say to anyone who asks how Billington or Titus are doing that it takes 100 no's to hear a yes. So the dear darling daughter was simply trying to speed the process along. She is very sweet but I am still going to be wary of taking naps in her presence.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Short Critic

This weekend I was lucky enough to get in some writing time while we were camping. My eight year old son came up and looked over my shoulder for a while. Then he said to me very seriously, “I think that you are eroding your readers' patience.”


At least he is looking out for dear old Mom.