Category Archives: Inspiration

What I’ve Learned: Querying… Again

A few years ago, I attempted to query my first novel. It was nowhere near ready, but I wasn’t enjoying my job and took solace in the idea that I could find an agent, become a writer, and then quit! While the fantasy was not realistic, it was satisfying and I embarked on an elaborate querying process that yielded no results.

Now, I’m entering the query process again with a much more polished manuscript for my third completed- but fifth overall- novel. This process has inspired me to pull out my old excel charts and query drafts to get an idea of where I went wrong and how I can do better this time, besides the fact that I’ve simply written a better book. My last novel was a little dry in the beginning, not nearly as edited, and more stereotypical YA fantasy. Querying resulted in only a few requests for a partial and nothing beyond.

I’m very early on in the query process now (drafting my query and writing my synopsis while my beta readers read my novel), but I’ve already learned so much from doing this process again, and doing it right this time.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. Before you even write the book, look at what agents DON’T want 

If you’re writing a dystopian- stop. If you’re writing fantasy with a european inspired setting- maybe stop. Every agent I’m looking at now is asking for multicultural or non-european settings. This is something to consider seriously for us YA fantasy writers, who are in a flooded market.

Pay attention to the way the market is moving. Do a little research before you put your heart and soul into writing a novel. If you just read 5 fairytale retellings, probably don’t write one. After Cinder came out, literary agents were all asking for a fairy tale retelling, and boy did they get them! Within a year or two, the market was fully saturated. By the time you’re reading them off the shelves at Barnes and Noble, agents have moved on. Do a google search for literary agents and see who wants what to get an idea, but just remember that these things can change rather quickly.

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2. Really- and I mean reaaaaaallly- edit your novel.

No ones first draft ever popped out perfect. Hasn’t happened. Will never happen. Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, has talked a few times about how she hates writing first drafts, because she just wants to get to the editing. I thought this was hysterical, because I love the first draft, and the editing- not so much. But I’m guessing the reason why she loves editing was the reason why I didn’t like it- you see all your mistakes! You see the inconsistencies, the typos, and the characters who disappear from the story.

This is the time to fix those plot holes, make sure everything is tight and that no boring chapters remain! I was merciless with this novel, cutting out whole chapters and serious conversations because I didn’t want to read them when I was editing. If you don’t want to read them, then agents sure as hell won’t want to read them either!

3. Choose your beta readers carefully.

What I did wrong the first time was give out a copy of my book to any friend or family member who said they wanted to read it. What I learned? Some of my friends asked me several times for a copy of my book- then never read it. Don’t get me wrong, my first unedited novel wasn’t good, but it still stung. Then I also asked a family member to read it who gave me silly, rather insulting advice. She compared my main character to Katniss for reasons I still can’t understand. If she’d said my novel was super slow or needed some serious plot changes? Then sure, I’d get that.

A new critique partner of mine shared this awesome video with me, by writer Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about how you need to be so careful what readers you ask for advice, because often they will “diagnose” and “prescribe” things for your novel without understanding. She cautions us writers against listening to this and recommends beta readers focus on the feelings they get, rather than getting too specific about problems and fixes.

I learned the hard way that my beta readers should be: 1) people who actively read your genre and will give you the kind of advice you’re asking for. 2) people who write your genre! I found some awesome new beta readers through twitter and the lovely hashtag #ontheporch. I recommend giving it a try!

4. Don’t avoid the synopsis.

Last time, I didn’t want to write a synopsis so I started by querying agents who didn’t require one. This is a) lazy and b) silly because some of the best agents ask for a synopsis! And other agents might ask for a synopsis with their partial request.

Also, writing a synopsis is great exercise as a writer. Condensing 90,000 words into 500 is hard! It was incredibly painful cutting out all my subplots and side characters (some of my favorites!), but it was an important exercise to see if the main story and main characters can stand on their own. Guess what? They can!

5. Have a hook in the query letter.

My first query letter went the standard route of introducing the book without any hook. Well, as I’ve mentioned, the story I was telling was dry, so I had a hard time summing it up into anything exciting. So I just didn’t. I didn’t take the hint that maybe the novel wasn’t ready. I just decided to write a not-so-good query letter with no hook.

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   6. Make sure your opening pages are your best pages.

Polish up those first pages that agents are asking for. Ask betas to spend extra care on the first 50 pages, but the MOST care on the first 10 pages. And when you’re done with listening to your betas and editing those pages, go over them again. And again.

One day, I’ll probably dust off that first book and fix it. It had some real gems within it, but overall it’s not great. The first pages are particularly slow. I was so tired of that book at that point that I just wanted to move on to something else. I wrote a few other novels in between, before I wrote this one. I knew writing this book that the first pages had to hook the reader. So I did! And after a year of working on it, I went back and added even more excitement to the opening pages, because I could and knew I should. I start off big, with a dramatic moment that sets the tone for the whole novel. And so far, my beta readers have loved it.

 

I wish all of you luck with your own querying process! I’ll share updates as I go!

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Cameryn

Obsessions: A History

I’m so obsessed with Reign, the Mary Queen of Scots drama on the CW. Like SOOOOOO unhealthily obsessed. I love it. I can’t get enough. I just recently discovered it, and I DEVOURED both seasons. Now I have to wait 3 months until Season 3! I can’t stand it. But it got me thinking about some of the strange, all-consuming obsessions that I’ve had in my life. Here they are:

1. Green Day

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This was a die-hard obsession of my 8th and 9th grade years. I wore WAY too much eye makeup and black nail polish. Listening to such angry music all the time made me kind of hate my (very good) life! I figured that out eventually, but I still nurse a little crush on Billy Joe Armstrong.

2. Veganism

My junior year of high school through my freshman year of college, I was obsessed with all things vegan. I read a massive number of books and got really into cooking elaborate vegan recipes. I stayed vegan until my senior year of college, when I studied abroad in Italy, and was left with no choice but to consume mass amounts of gelato.

3. Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra

1/2006

BEST SHOW EVER! I don’t know if this obsession really ever died, but the first time I saw  it, I skipped class to finish the final season with my roommate! We could not turn it off and ended up attempting to beatbox the end credits after each episode.

4. Greek Mythology

In 6th grade, I was introduced to the world of Greek mythology and I immediately fell in love with the archetype characters. I quickly began constructing my own stories using the gods and goddesses as characters! This obsession faded into obscurity for a while, but last year when I read Goddesses in Everywoman, the obsession was unleashed again! Now, I find myself thinking “she’s such an Athena” on a regular basis.

5. Harry Potter

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Who wasn’t obsessed with Harry Potter at some point? But for me, this is a lifelong obsession that continues on. I am a 23-year-old woman who goes on Pottermore. I have -yikes- 4 pieces of Harry Potter art hanging in my apartment. (In my defense, though, I have several gallery walls worth of art.) I also love listening to the Harry Potter audio books when I’m driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles alone. The 5 hours fly by. That’s only like 1/3 of Goblet of Fire!

6. Red Hair

When I was little, I had a red-headed Barbie named Courtney. And the obsession was born. Later, Satine from Moulin Rouge fed my love of red hair.  Needless to say, I have been a red-head since my Dad gave me permission in high school to die my hair.

7. Buffy

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I resisted Buffy for a long time. I’ve devoured every other Joss Whedon show, but I was nervous about Buffy’s cheesy ’90s special effects. Boy, did I get over that fast! The first time I watched Buffy, I would get off of work and calculate exactly how many episodes I had time to watch before I had to go to bed. It made me want to start wearing cross necklaces, and I finally understood the strong and silent type. Hello, Angel!

Those are my craziest obsessions. What have your greatest obsessions been?

50 Books in 2015 – Part 1 of 3

I decided at the end of February that I wanted to participate in the 50 Books challenge, which simply means that in 2015, I will read 50 books. With April over, I thought I would share what I’ve accomplished in the first third of the year! It’s been a rough one, but I’ve still managed 17 books. So here’s what I’ve done so far.

January

1. Heir of Fire

2. Slayers

3. Slayers: Friends and Traitors (Book 2)

4. Trial by Fire

5. The Jewel

February

6. The Red Queen

(Rough month for me, I was really off my reading game!)

March

7. Inferno

8. Quiet

9. Zodiac

10. The Shadowhunter Academy (short novel)

April

11. The Dead Key

12. The Elite (re-read)

13. The One (re-read)

14. The Bane Chronicles

15. City of Glass (re-read)

May

16. City of Heavenly Fire (re-read)

17. Dragonfly in Amber (current)

What’s next? God Loves Ugly (for non-fiction) and Percy Jackson (for fiction). I’ve heard excellent things about both books! My biggest recommendation so far is Trial by Fire, by Josephine Angelini. It is a very unique, alternate reality fantasy! I can’t get over it! (Also, it’s pretty sexy. Just sayin’.)

I’m a little behind on the numbers, but it’s been a rough few months! As anyone paying attention can probably tell, April afforded me a lot of reading time. Here’s why, in one word: unemployed. So it’s a trade off! Yay, books!

My only concern with my current numbers is that I included a few book I was reading for the second time. I checked out a few places online and everyone seems to count rereads, as long as they haven’t counted those books for a previous challenge, and they read the books cover to cover.  I’m counting them, with the stipulation that I state they are a re-read. Who else is participating in the 50 Books Challenge? I’d love to follow your progress! Also, if anyone is as obsessed with reading as I am, let’s be friends on Goodreads!

How I’m Getting Back in the Creative Game

I recently wrote about pulling creativity out from a bad job. This is something I’m just getting started with myself. I’ll admit: I took some time off of writing. I didn’t want to, but struggling with work and family problems, I was too exhausted to think of anything creative to say. It’s a bad excuse, and one I wouldn’t accept from anyone else, but there it is. Now, I’m back. And here’s my game plan.

1. One hour a day- minimum. This used to be my pattern. Even if I had to be at work at 6 AM, I would still get up an hour early to write. I’m going back to this. It’s important to my mental health. This time I haven’t been writing has been unfortunate. Some people are morning writers, and others are night writers. I have a friend who swears by scheduling one night a week as Write Night, and she writes not stop all evening. Every day works better for me, in order to form a solid habit.

2. Pour my problems into my writing. No matter what’s going on, I’m going to use the emotions and problems to fuel my writing, rather than take away from it. This was something that I used to do, but I reached a level of exhaustion I’d never experienced before, and I stopped. That was stupid. Never again.

3. Don’t get stuck in the editing swamp. Always be on the first draft of something. I don’t know about you, but first drafts are just good for my soul. I get all excited as ideas flow into my brain, about this chapter or that character. I need that excitement and creativity in my life! So instead of ignoring Project B for 6 months to edit, I’ll edit Project A as I write Project B.

4. Take a backseat. I’ve always been a pretty ambitious person. I decide I want something and put all of my energy and focus into getting it. Recently, this hasn’t served me so well. I get focused on something I think I want, spend years trying to achieve it, and then realize it’s not going to make me happy. So now, I’m trying to take a more laid back approach. Go slow and see what works. This applies well to writing because I’m not going to rush through rounds of editing to get something to a publishable state. I’m going to take my time. I’ll still write every day, but not push myself to meet word count goals. I’m going to let my work marinate.

Do you have any writing rules for yourself? Let me know!

How to Draw Creativity from Unlikely Sources: The Bad Job

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” -Orson Scott Card

Often, people think of their day job as the necessary evil to make their creative dreams possible. I fall into this trap myself. And I have a particularly tough day job. Every day, I work a minimum of 12 hours. Yes, that’s not a typo. I often work between 12 to 14 hours a day. 5 days a week. For months on end. It’s the unfortunate truth of the television industry.

There are a lot of tough aspects about my job: the long hours, the low pay, and the constant contact with a few people with MASSIVE EGOS. (I’ve worked on 8 different tv shows, and let me tell you, it’s not the people at the top with the big egos. The people at the top of my show are all awesome! It’s always people in the middle, who are grasping for power.)

While my case of long hours might be extreme, almost everyone has unique problems with their job. I love the short story Orientation as an example of crazy workplaces. Office Space is of course a great example, as is this clip from NCIS.

Here’s how I use bad bosses and ridiculous jobs to fuel my creativity:

Writing it out. The simplest, and maybe most effective, way to process what’s going on when you’re starting to feel a bit crazy. I’m no nonfiction writer, but it’s nice to pound out my problems on the keyboard.

-Using character motivations and emotions from the day. When I go and sit at my keyboard, it’s impossible for me not to fuse something about my current situation with what I’m writing. Whether it’s simply a single line, or a motivation for an entire scene or story, putting your current feelings on the page is a great way to write emotion. The reader will really feel them!

-Live through your art. Dreaming about wild adventures and daring romances is the perfect escape from the narcissistic drone of your boss behind you as you take on the same repetitive task for the day. (Corporate accounts payable, this is Nina speaking. Just a moment.)

-Dream a little harder. Wanting out of a particular situation can be inspiring to work harder to move on. Take action, make changes, and get ready for your future!

If all else fails, your bosses can’t be as bad as these guys, right? (Although mine would definitely compete with Miranda Priestley for craziest demands.)

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