I don’t always use my vocabulary to its greatest extent, but I’ve definitely been the that lady people have arched an eyebrow at when I used the right word, and they thought I was using a ten-cent word to sound superior. Sometimes, I just like to be precise.
I like words. I like knowing the connotations that distinguish different options in my thesaurus.
I’m what you might call an amateur etymologist — a person who studies words, their meanings, and the history behind them. I’m a huge fan of the website etymonline.com (just be sure not to confuse me with the bug-loving entomologists.)
For the whole of society, people have been continually creating new words, when the ones they had just wouldn’t do. We see it every day with new technologies and new slang. Tons of the so-called greats they teach you in English literature have done it. From Dickens, to Milton, to the ever-famous-for-it Shakespeare.
Now, I’m sure there are experts that will argue with me. And I know the French are quite particular about allowing new words into their language.
But, for me? If you use a word, and people can understand from the context what you intended, it’s a word.
Maybe they can tell because they recognize the root word that you’ve just verbified.
Maybe they can tell because because your actions demonstrated its meaning.
Science-fiction and fantasy writers often find themselves inventing dozens of terms for their magic or technological systems.
But, you don’t have to be in a make-believe world for a made up word to have meaning.
Language exists to convey a thought — a concept. If you’ve successfully conveyed your meaning, that’s all it takes for a word to be real. At least to me.
What’s your opinion on created words? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Can’t live without them?
The road to traditional publication is a long one. Once you (and your beta-readers) have taken your novel as far as you can, it’s as polished as you can make it, and you’re ready to share it with the world, the next step is typically finding a literary agent with a process known as querying.
While these are the common definitions for these terms, they are not uniform across the board, and you may find people using these terms for different things.
For those who’ve never queried a novel, here are 9 terms you’ll probably encounter along the way.
What exactly is querying, is probably the first question you have in this process. I’ve talkedaboutthisextensively, but querying is the process by which you select an agent, compose a query letter, send it to the agent, and then wait for a response. Many agents ask for more than just a query letter. On the agency’s submissions page, they will describe what they want. A query package may include: X number of pages from your manuscript, a synopsis (1-3 pages), a pitch or logline, knowledge of the target audience, or more.
Originally, people would mail letters to the agencies. Some agents still accept mail, but most have moved to email or even electronic forms.
2. The Query Letter
In America, the query letter is typically 3-4 paragraphs, 2 describing the story’s main character’s stakes and goals, 1 with the manuscript’s stats and any comparison novels, and 1 with a short biography of any relevant information.
If the agency you’re looking at requests a cover letter, it’ll be similar to a query letter, but the story part of the letter will typically just be one to two sentences.
A ‘comp’ or ‘comparison novel’ is a novel that gives the agent a feel for what your manuscript is like. Traditional comps are typically less than 3 years old and in your genre, avoiding any wildly popular novels. (You don’t want to say you’ve got ‘The Next Hunger Games’ or something of that nature.) You can also use older comps with things such as “the court politics of BOOK A with the humor of BOOK B.”
4. Pitch or Logline
While pitches can be longer than a traditional logline, your pitch, or ‘elevator pitch’ is the 30-second version of your story, something pithy and tweetable. This is ineffably easier if you have something that is “high concept”. “She’s a war-hardened soldier, he’s a street-rat who’s made it big as a chef, together, they fight crime.” Or “Cinderella meets Pitch Perfect in a futuristic rags-to-riches battle of the choruses.”
5. High Concept vs Low Concept stories
High concept stories have easy to describe plots and those pithy pitches. Low concept stories are typically more character driven than plot focused, and harder to condense.
6. Slush Pile
Despite the name, a slush pile is neither a stack of slushie drinks, nor plowed snow piled by the side of the road. Any unsolicited query (or, in the short story world of magazines and anthologies — unsolicited submissions) is dubbed part of the ‘slush pile’. Agents have author clients that they are beholden to, and only a small percentage of their time is spent looking for more clients. Often getting dozens to hundreds of query letter submissions a week, the slush pile can easily get away from a busy agent. Reading these piles is sometimes even relegated to interns and agents-in-training.
Submissions are when you send the full story to a publisher. If you’re looking to publish a short story, you’re going to be ‘submitting’ to them, not ‘querying’ them. When you have an agent , (or if you find a publisher that accepts unagented manuscripts), they’re submitting your manuscript to the publishing houses on your behalf.
In the old-school world of physically mailing your manuscript to agents, printing was also rather expensive. So, most authors who wanted the manuscript returned to them if the agent said ‘no’ would include a “self-addressed and stamped envelope” — a SASE for the agency to return the manuscript at no cost to the agency.
Sadly, in the querying process, this doesn’t usually mean “rest and relaxation.”
Some agents don’t say “no” or “yes” immediately. Some see potential in a story, but might email, asking for changes to be made, without offering representation, but asking to see the new version. These are known in the querying industry as “revise and resubmits” or – R&R. Some agents will give feedback without asking for a resubmission, so read carefully whenever you’re given advice. Standard practice is not to requery an agent with the same manuscript — unless it has undergone a massive overhaul. And, even then, it’s suggested to try different agents.
Are there any other terms you’ve run across when querying that those not in the trenches are unfamiliar with?
I’m back in the querying trenches, sending out my beloved manuscript that I’ve worked over and polished and revised oh so many times. Sending it out and hoping for someone to want it. To love it the way I do.
There are many emotional states that a querying author goes through. So, let’s explore a few of them through song.
1. Picking the (hopefully) right agents to query
When you decide you’re ready, you’re usually feeling pretty good about the state of your entire query package — from your opening pages, to your pitch, to your query letter itself. So, you’re researching all the agents. When you find ones that take your genre, that mention your favorite books and/or comp novels for your own manuscript as either favorites or novels that they represented themselves. Whose online biography and social media sounds like they’d be just right for you…
That’s when it’s time to not throw away “My Shot” (Hamilton)
I am not throwin’ away my shot Hey yo, I’m just like my country I’m young, scrappy and hungry And I’m not throwin’ away my shot
2. While You Wait For That Agent Response
Okay, if nothing else on here BLATANTLY ages me, this song choice probably does. Especially this version. But this is what strums through my head when I hit send to that agent that I carefully picked, carefully selected.
Letters To Cleo’s “I Want You To Want Me”:
I want you to want me. I need you to need me. I’d love you to love me. I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
3. When You Get That Rejection From That Agent You Thought Was PERFECT
You did your research. They sounded perfect for you.
That’s when your heart starts singing lyrics from The Cardigan’s “Lovefool”
So, I cry and I beg for you to Love me love me Say that you love me Fool me fool me Go on and fool me Love me love me Pretend that you love me Leave me leave me Just say that you need me
4. After You Get Yet Another Form Rejection Letter
By now, you’re starting to feel a little panicked. Frustrated. No. More desperate. Surely, some agent has to like your stuff. Right? Maybe you just haven’t found the right one.
That’s when it’s time to break out Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”:
Don’t you want somebody to love [YES] Don’t you need somebody to love [YES] Wouldn’t you love somebody to love [Obviously!!] You better find somebody to love [ I’m TRYING! Hmmmm, maybe this isn’t the right song.]
5. When You Decide You’re Not Giving Up, Today
You’ve gotten rejection after rejection, but you believe in your story and you’re not ready to give up.
That’s when it’s time to break out Rachel Platten’s Fight Song.
But there’s a fire burning in my bones Still believe Yeah, I still believe …. I’ll play my fight song And I don’t really care if nobody else believes ‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
This isn’t all the emotional states of a querying author — not by far. What songs do you tie to your emotional state when you send out your manuscript and ask someone to love it.
I am a huge fan of serendipity. That moment when you realize something about your world or your character or your setting that makes what you’ve been planning and your story all seem inevitable.
This post isn’t about that. This is about when you realize everything is wrong.
Sometimes, it’s a huge plot hole, when you realize what you had planned for isn’t going to work and you have to change it. Other times, you think of something better — to improve your characters, plot, or pacing. Or, if you’re pantsing, something might have come out of the blue and now you have to set it up properly.
There are of course, several approaches to this.
Because we’re writers. And none of us do the same thing the same way. Sometimes, we don’t even do it the same way twice ourselves.
So, without further ado, let’s talk about the four ways an author can handle an unexpected realization that ruins things they’ve already written.
1 – Ignore the Idea
Maybe you’re a planner and this was not in your outline. Therefore, you will ignore it and write the story as planned.
Perhaps, you’re a pantser and the idea will take far too much much effort to work in.
Sometimes, it’s a brilliant idea — but it’s not the story you wanted to tell.
In any case, if you don’t make the change, you don’t have to do the work. Just barrel ahead and leave things as is. (Assuming, of course, it’s not a gaping plot hole.)
Although… many writers have found, when they have an idea that strikes the right chord for their story, ignoring it will cause their story to actually fight them. Either the words stop coming, or that dang story idea keeps trying to work itself in at any opportunity.
2 – Make a Note, Then Ignore It
If you’re writing away, a big change like this could derail your momentum. Or, maybe you just hate switching between editing and writing modes? Either way, some people just make a note and keep writing.
Where do they make the note? Wherever makes sense to them. It could be in a notebook, a draft email to themselves, in the margins of a printed out page (if you print each chapter as it comes out or something), or, in the margins of the electronic document.
No matter where the note is made, the idea is that it will remind the writer of the edits to come, and they can move forward with the story.
But, without knowing how the details will be set up, it can be complicated to just start writing as if that note had been true for the entire story. Thus? Some writers will keep writing with the wrong details, so that when they come back to revise, all the changes can be made smoothly and congruently.
3 – Make a Note, Then Incorporate It
You’re still writing away, still not breaking your momentum. You’ve added a note, so you know where to edit up to. Now? All you have to do is make the change and move forward as though you’d always intended your world or character or what have to be that way.
Details are often less intrusive than one might fear. Fixing that detail and reviewing what you had before might re-energize your writing.
Or? It might bog you down. Some writers, once they start editing, need to fix everything. Thus, even if your goal is to get your rough draft finished, you might end up stuck in editing-hell, doomed to keep thinking of new things to fix and never moving forward on your manuscript.
Only you can know if you’ll be pulled into that trap.
4 – Rewrite the Whole Thing!
Sometimes, your idea is just so novel, so pivotal to the story, there is only one option if you want to see it play out properly. Throw out the entire manuscript (or, you know, save it to your drafts folder and open a new document. Never, ever, ever throw out a manuscript!) and start from the beginning again.
Feel free to steal, without reservations, lines, scenes, or chapters from the original, but make sure everything is reworked and made fresh.
Sure, it might be a lot of work, and some writers struggle with writing if they feel like they’ve already written this scene, but sometimes, it’s the only option.
Writing a manuscript is hard work. It takes time, effort, and creativity. Hopefully, with these four options, you can find yourself a gameplan next time your drafting runs off the rails
Let me know if there are any options I missed! Have you ever had to use one of these to get a manuscript back on track?
Since I love talking about writing advice, and I love pointing out that all writing advice should be taken — but only if it works for you, welcome to my new, irregularly scheduled feature, where I’m going to be talking about my favorite snippets of writing advice — and why they’re both right… and wrong. Or, you know, basically what the title says. I’m gonna talk about how they work for me personally, plus, exactly where they break down (for me).
1. Write What You Know
Authenticity sells. If you know how something works, or what this character would sound like, what that character would eat, and all the little things in between, then your story is going to flow more easily. You don’t have to do research for things you already know. You’re already immersed in this aspect of your story.
I write fantasy. I’m nudging my way into science-fiction. Some of you write thrillers and crime novels — and not all of you who do are killers and criminals! I’m pretty sure.
Where this piece of advice shines best is when you take aspects of things you know fully and integrate it into your story. Maybe it’s giving a character your own day-job, or a character with your sister’s personality. Perhaps it’s adding your own dislike of baths for a character, or that thrill of a beautiful sunset while taking your dogs for a walk. Something that lets your reality into your story world, so it will ring all the truer for it.
But, what if your world is vastly different than the one in which you live? You might be writing in some caveman level fantasy world, or the future where the last of humanity leans on powerful machines for survival when our sun burns out, but there’s some things that will still hold true. Humanity. You know people who are kind, or mean, are clever, or just go with the flow. And by incorporating that level of humanity into your characters, making people in wildly difference scenarios react like people your readers know and love (or hate), you’ll be writing what you know, and making the story that much more accessible for your readers.
2. Write Every Day
While some writers can get away with only writing when inspired, for most of us, finishing a rough draft — not to mention the revisions and edits and polishes that take it from a concept in your head to a polished novel — takes a lot of application of butt-in-chair.
One of the best ways to get in the habit of writing is, surprisingly enough, to write. This is the theory behind NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. You’ve got a daily and monthly wordcount target to meet, and that encourages you to prioritize your writing. The best way to create a writing habit is to write every day.
And for some of us, it works. They writing like breathing.
The rest of us are not automatons. Life happens. Family happens. If we prioritize our writing over our day jobs, our families, and our health? We’ll end up burnt out and living alone on ramen.
For me? I’ve learned how to get 50,000 words written in November and it involves letting a lot of things in my offline life slide — like laundry, dishes, and socialization. Especially since I still have a day job. For me? It’s doable for a month, but then I’m typically burnt out and catching up on what I let slide until at least January.
So, in the off-season, you’ll find me working on my writing 2-5 times a week, not every day. Letting the habit slide can make my writing struggle, but when I get back on track, a slower pace is healthier for me. It’s up to you to know what works for you — and recognize your circumstances can change. What worked for one story, one time in your life, might not work today.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
You might be telling a story, but you want to show the readers what’s happening, not tell the readers about what’s happening.
You want sentences like:
“Jaime,” she said, shaking her head, “why can’t you ever be on time?”
Jaime’s teacher was fussing that he came in late.
Not everything has to be on the page. The reader needs to see when things change, when decisions are made, when characters are pushed toward the tipping point. They don’t need to see every last meal and potty break. Sometimes, it’s okay to tell a little. In brief sections.
Here’s an example from one of my works in progress. I used to show a lot more, but in this example, I’m telling:
The air smelled crisp and right when I woke, with the muffled sound of a heavy rain pattering into the ground above. Pilgrims were expected to work for their bed and board on late harvest days like this, so we spent the day cleaning, canning, and helping the Lunadats lay in stores for winter.
Sure, I read up on how to can fruits and vegetables, but the scene showing it happening only showed off my research, it did nothing to advance the story.
Those are the top three snippets of writing advice I keep hearing, plus how I’ve made them work for me. I infuse my writing with aspects of reality to ground it, I write when I can and try to make it a priority — in ways that don’t leave me burnt out, and I’ll tell instead of show when the scene won’t advance the plot.
Are there any bits of advice that you swear by? Any that are never right for you? Let me know in the comments below!