Morgan’s 2021 Resolutions

Now that we’re firmly into January, it’s time to determine what my goals for the year are.

Last year was intended to be a year of querying/submitting, revision, and networking.

Thusly, I listed my goals:

  1. Revising
  2. Querying and submitting
  3. Blogging/Vlogging
  4. Reading
  5. Writing
  6. Beta-reading
  7. Conventions

As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?

This year? This year my focus is on writing, revisions, and querying/submitting.

As always, I like to set SMART goals –

  • Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
  • Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
  • Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
  • Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
  • Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2021, but some items may have specific dates associated.

So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.

Morgan, a long-haired brunette, is laying on a carpet, legs in slippers kicked up behind her, writing in a notebook.

Behind her is a table and a bookshelf.

1. Writing

Finish my NaNoWriMo space fantasy! Preferably by April. At least the rough draft.

I’m not sure if I want to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. I skipped it last year. But, I really like participating in NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.

2. Revising

I managed last year’s goals to finish my revisions before Balticon! And then was query-shy in the wake of the 2020 querying climate. And I managed to at least edit my middle grade fantasy.

Remembering, of course, that rewriting IS writing, this makes revision half of my writing goals. But? The final goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.

So much to polish!

This year’s goals? Revise three of the short stories I drafted during my NaNo-Of-Shorts back in 2019.


3. Querying & Submitting

I’ve talked a lot about the differences between querying and submitting, but basically — one is to get an agent to sell your book, and one is to publishers to buy your stories. Typically, writers submit their own short stories, but publishers usually want agents to submit full length manuscripts.

Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.

Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.

This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to actively submit at least 6 short stories to at least 3 markets each markets. Plus? At least the first round of the submissions needs to be by March (for the stories that are already prepped). And query my YA fantasy 3 times a month, unless revising.


4. Blogging/Vlogging/Podcast

You are my supporters, my community, my friends. You cheer me on and watch me learn and grow. As always, blogging helps keep me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.

Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. Since we all know how much I hate ending a streak, I’m going to keep at it. You’ll be seeing my a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.

I’ve also started a podcast and weekly live-stream. I plan on taking a week or so off between seasons, and no more than one live-stream off a quarter (unless double-booked with a convention).

Morgan taking a selfie while sitting near the front of a room full of chairs. (She's at a writing panel at a convention)

5. Conventions | Writer Groups

My goals here are: to panel at 3+ conventions, attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Staff Balticon and maybe another virtual con..

Ravencon pushed out my panelists dates from last year to this, I’m staff and panelist for Balticon again (May), and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in Washington DC. My panels were well received last year, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be accepted back. (All of my panels were topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, where my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).

Plus, I’m running social media for Balticon’s parent group. So… there’s another time suck!

What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?

First, it’s a greater reach for my blog/vlog/podcast that’s supposed to lead to a larger audience when I do get published. It’s a great way to network and meet more writers and readers who like the same stuff I do. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.

But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun? Or part of your social media addiction?

Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.

And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!

Quote on a grey board on a brown shelf with books behind it.
“And to think, some of life’s best stories haven’t even begun”

6. Reading

Thanks to this year being what it was, I managed to read 46 books, with 35 of them being physical and nearly all of the physical books being from the pile that moved into the house with me.

So? I’m upping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – to 36 books! Three a month is less than I’ve achieved the last couple years. Plus, half of them should be physical and already on my to-read bookcase.

7. Beta Readers

This year, again, I’m going to try not to beta-read more than 3 full manuscripts for others.

I will need the short stories I’m preparing for publication beta read. As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

I’m still a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales.


In Summary

This year, I’m starting off with my focus on drafting, not my usual revision, but plan to do a lot of querying and submitting. The middle of my year will be rather convention heavy, but by October/November, I should be back in the writer’s seat. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging and podcasting throughout the year.

Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.

We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2021 foresight.


What does your plan look like for 2021

Did you build in flexibility?

And, how SMART are your goals?


See my previous years resolutions and reflections:
2017 Resolutions | 2017 Retrospective
2018 Resolutions | 2018 Retrospective
2019 Resolutions | 2019 Retrospective

2020 Resolutions | 2020 Retrospective

Morgan’s 2020 Retrospective

Despite “unprecedented times”, 2020 kept me busy. Between my dayjob, my own projects, and helping with conventions, I was, as always, completely overbooked.

Yet again, I may not have ended my year with a signed agent, but I didn’t just sit around. Okay, I literally sat around, but there’s a lot one can do in front of one’s computer these days!

I attended 3-5 writing conventions, wrote 1 short story, finally finished a very long revision, and edited my fourth novel.

Between Balticon, WorldCon, Imaginarium, and couple of Authortube Virtual Retreats, I attended 25 panels, 1 shows, 2 readings, and was ON 11 panels. Not counting all the training sessions and tech orientations I ran for the staff, participants, attendees, and my own local NaNoWriMo group. Outside of cons, I attended 3 different writing groups, participated the #authortube community, and attended my local open mic nights for writers.

This year, I did a lot more interacting in real-time virtual spaces. I love comparing numbers, so let’s look at them.

My Writing Goals Last Year

I made sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals.

2020 Goals

  1. Revising – Finish the mentor-led YA rewrite. Edit my middle-grade fantasy. Prep some shorts and poetry for submission.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (70%): Got the YA and MG done and wrote/posted a short on my blog, but didn’t edit anything else new.
  2. Querying & Submitting – Prep 5 short stories for submission, and submit to at least 10 markets — half before July.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (90%): Submitted 9 stories, 4 before July! But, only had 4 pieces prepped.
  3. Blogging and Vlogging – Don’t lose my posting streak. Maybe add a weekly Authortube check-in.
    • WIN: Kept up with the blog/vlog, and started a podcast. I tried a few zoom checkins, and ended up with a weekly livestream write-in that’s relatively popular. And did Vlogmas!
  4. Reading – Read 26 books (at least 2 a month) with at least 10 of them physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf
    • WIN: Like WHOA win. I read 45 books (4 more than last year) and a mind-boggling 35 of them were physical, with only 2 of those not from my to-read bookcase.
  5. Writing – OctPoWriMo and NaNoWriMo
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (50%): I skipped OctPoWriMo this year. But I did a lot more prep and ‘won’ NaNoWriMo. And drafted a short for Christmas.
  6. Beta Readers – Reach out for my middle-grade novel, don’t commit to more than 3 fulls yourself.
    • WIN: Got feedback from my alpha and 3 beta-readers on the MG. Only beta’d 3 shorts (including chapter 1 of a graphic novel). Working on one longer beta right now.
  7. Conventions/Writing Groups – Hit 6 open mic nights, 4 monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and attend 3 NaNoWriMo events. Plus, be a panelist at 2 conventions and staff Balticon.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (110%/70%): 5/6 open mic nights, 3/4 monthly writer meetings (but I hit 4 meetings for a different group!), tried a critique group, 2/3 NaNo events (but with it all being virtual, maybe I get full credit?), and I definitely paneled 5/2 conventions and staffed 4/1 cons.
  8. And give myself a pass if I don’t get anything accomplished in December.
    • What was that whole Vlogmas thing, Morgan? And read 4 more books? And wrote a short story?
    • EXTRA CREDIT!!

Things outside this list I achieved, though?

  • Started a podcast
  • Staffed 3?4? conventions and became a Zoom and Discord trainer/operator.
  • Vlogmas
  • Started a weekly livestream
  • Hit 10k views in one year here on the blog.

Blogging!

Top Lifetime Post

My sleeper hit, 10 Questions To Ask Your Beta Readers, from 2016 is still tops with 2,850 lifetime hits (and is published here). After a year as my number two hit, it has returned to prominence.

My Query Corner — where I rewrite queries with authors preparing to enter the query trenches, and my Author Spotlight — to help promote friends’ works — are sticking around, even if they’re not my most popular posts. I’m not hustling for entries, but will share them when I have content for them. (If you’d like to participate, please contact me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2020!

  1. How One Writer Uses Trello To Track Her Creative Process
  2. They Want What? The Difference Between Blurbs, Queries, and Synopses!
  3. Querying and Agents: Now I’m Confused
  4. Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels
  5. How to Self-Edit That Lousy First Draft
  6. What’s In A Name? Characters in Fiction
  7. Top 11 Ways NOT To Respond When Getting Feedback
  8. What Cons Are Looking For In Panelists
  9. Choices To Make With Beta-Readers
  10. Black Lives Matter

My Top 5 YouTube Videos! in 2020

Unlike last year, most of this year’s top 5 are actually from this year! Not sure why Youtube likes to push my Mythology post, but I’m not sad.

  1. Querying & Agents: Now I’m Confused
  2. Better Beta-Reading – A Virtual AuthorTube Retreat Panel
  3. Morgan’s Lazy Sunday Afternoon Write-in (Dec 27th edition)
  4. How To Create A New Mythology (old – a perpetual favorite)
  5. Novel, Novella, or Short Story?

My Top 3 Posts of 2019

  1. Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention
  2. So You’ve Decided to Write A Novel – 7 Tips To Get Started
  3. Making the Asexual Textual

My Top 3 Posts of 2018

My Top 3 Posts of 2017


My Top 3 Posts of 2016


My Top 3 Posts of 2015


Social Media Stats

While this isn’t really writing related, I know I like to see how other people do it, and I like stats and tracking progress, so, probably more for me than you, here are my numbers for 2020. I tried to be both engaged and engaging, while still invested in upping my content creation in all mediums. As always, some weeks were better than others. Honestly? Some MONTHS were better than others.

Followers

First off, I really dove into the #AuthorTube community on Youtube. Most of the other stuff was automated though, so far less engagement on my part.

Between all my social media accounts, I added 3,068 followers, about in line with 2018, and about half of 2019! This year? My Facebook Author Page grew the most, followed by twitter. Percentage-wise, though, my Youtube channel did the best — and has the most interaction — I no longer feel like I’m shouting into the void there.

Content

This year I maintained my streak of blogging once a week, and almost hit twice a week, plus I kept up with the vlogging and started turning the vlog into a podcast. (My Goodreads stats are books added to my library, the last 3 years are the books I’ve read.) (My FB page wouldn’t give my year stats and stopped letting me scroll in mid-2016, so, those stats are incomplete, but I can compare to the last 3 years.)

As targeted the past two years, I maintained my average of posting on Instagram twice a week. And started posting at twice a week to Pinterest – mostly automated from my blog and youtube channels. Tumblr content is just Instagram and blog reshares, and LinkedIn is just blog reshares.

Account Break Down

  • WordPress – I started this blog in April of 2015.
    • This was my best year yet on the blog! For the first time ever, I hit 10,000 views in under a year! I grew at a steady pace.
    • Some of it was consistent content and regular Author Spotlights. But? When I look at my source referrals, this was the year that Google search results were my number one, rather than links from my own social media. While my search results referrals have been steadily growing, the bump 100% corresponds to a link from prowritingaid.com referencing my perennial favorite “10 Questions to Ask Your Beta Readers”. So, yeah, the importance of bigger sites referencing you actually do matter a lot for SEO (search engine optimization).
Activity on the blog
Blog referrals
  •  Twitter MorganHzlwood – I joined in March of 2016.
    • I could be more engaged. But, I think I’m comfortable with my level of engagement. I’ll ramp it up if needed. I’m still just posting and responding to my notifications. It’s a good way to avoid the drama that twitter can be prone to.
  • Youtube – MorganHazelwood I joined in April of 2017
    • I definitely stepped it up this year and my stats show. I got 7,677 views, added 154 followers (for 352 total), and hit 689.7 watch hours. (Yay! They started giving annual stats!)
  •  Tumblr MorganHazelwood – I joined in June of 2016
    • I basically stopped using except for resharing my blog and pinterest.
  •  Instagram MorganHazelwood – I joined in 2015.
    • I continue to attempt to be more intentional in my posts. Making 1 text post for every 2 image posts. (or reversed in OctPoWriMo). And making sure to vary the types of images.
  •   Pinterest MorganHazelwoo – I joined in 2015.
    • I’m sharing my video post weekly, and my blog post but not much else. I should join some group boards? Or something like that. I did make that inspiration-board for my space fantasy NaNoWriMo project, though.
  •  Facebook PagesMorganHazelwoodPage – I joined in 2015.
    • “Writing About Writing” continues to reshare my alt-text added reshared memes — bringing me MASSIVE readership for those posts. Otherwise, though FB still often shows my posts to fewer than 10% of my followers. It’s annoying, but I’m not paying. I’ll just keep reposting on my personal page as well.
  •  Facebook MorganSHazelwood – I joined in 2013.
    • I think most of my growth was from the conventions I worked this summer and facebook suggestions.
  •  Google+Morgan S Hazelwood – I joined in 2013
    • Dead.
  •  GoodReads Morgan Hazelwood – I joined in January 2016
    • I read 46 books this year, beating my target of 2 books a month significantly! Again!
    • I rated all of them, but only reviewed 1. I try to review indie books more, because they don’t have a following.
  • Reddit – Morgan Hazelwood  – I joined in January of 2017.
    • I got 5 karma all year.
    • I had 1 post, and commented on a 6 discussions. If I want to be active here, I need to be more active
  • Discord – morganHazelwood#1975 –
    • I’m on like 5 convention discords, 4 active writing discords, my voice acting group’s discord… Not really tracked here for any good social media use, but it is somewhere I spend in chat rooms. And writing sprints.

In Conclusion

I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

Some of that was external. I don’t think anyone expected 2020 to look like it did. When other people are helping with your revisions, you can be limited to their pace and availability. I was wary of the conditions into which I was considering querying.

Some of the issues were the consequences of decisions.

  • I’m still running 3 Facebook PitchWars support groups and administering another SFF writer’s group. Plus, stepping up as part of the #authorTube community. Helping out with Concellation AMAs. That takes time, energy, and spoons.
  • I helped run two conventions and helped staff another 3. I paneled at 3 virtual cons and 2 authortube events.
  • I decided to do my best to keep up with at least 5 different types of social media.
  • I really like 9 hours of sleep a night, even if 7 is more standard.
  • I still have scheduled social time with friends on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Add in my blog post writing and uploading Wednesday nights and con meetings…

I’ve been prioritizing keeping up with my self-imposed schedule over actually writing. I’m still a bit burnt out, but I have goals. Last year’s intentional breaks turned into working conventions — except December. This year, I’m going to take intentional breaks. At least two weeks off of everything TWICE but the blog/vlog/podcast (not including December).

However…

I DID get some writing done, finished revisions on 2 books, grew my vlog, created a podcast, helped make virtual 3 conventions happen in a year unlike no other, staffed 3 others, was on 12 panels outside of my own vlog, and read an average of 3.8 books a month.

I may have fallen short, but… as I quote Les Brown every year: “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”


How well did you do on your goals?

Did quarantine side-track you or free up your time?

What Does a Form Rejection Mean When Querying A Novel?

I’ve queried before.

I’ve queried this story before.

Thirty-six rejections in, this story has been decently queried, but has not blanketed the literary agent world. (Especially since I find myself revising the entire piece every ten rejections or so.)

One of those revisions was based on a revise-and-resubmit, one of those times was based on finding a writing mentor who could help me bring my writing to the next level.

After I finished my latest round of revisions, I queried five agents back in July. The most recent rejection arrived just last week — two months after I’d closed out the agent as “no reply means no thank you.” But, closure is kind.

Why haven’t I queried more? Well, I told myself I was finishing the revisions on my middle-grade story for Pitch Wars. I was prepping for my NaNoWriMo story. And I wanted to see how my new query and first pages worked.

All I’ve gotten is a stack of form rejection letters.

How to handle rejection

  1. Indulge in self-pity — Not forever. Not even for a week (unless you really need it). But? For a night or two? Wallow in it. Let yourself grieve over the hope that has been shattered and eat chocolate or junk food. Complain (privately) to a few trusted friends.
  2. Distraction — Got other projects to work on? Books or shows to binge? Maybe you’re also moving, or helping school your children. There’s always stress-cleaning your house from top to bottom and re-alphabetizing your bookcase (forgetting this sorted-by-color trend). Distraction can help a lot.
  3. Track it — If you can, see every rejection as a step closer to publication. Maybe you’re going for 100 rejections. Maybe you’ve decided if you hit a certain number without getting an agent, you’re going to self-publish. So, update your querytracker.net account, or your spreadsheet, or wherever you’re tracking who you’re querying and from which agency (because some agencies only allow one query for all their agents combined). Some people paper walls with printed out rejection letters, or add a bead to a necklace, or in some way commemorate every rejection on their path.
  4. Assess — What is the problem? Do you have a writer friend you can trust to tell you? Can you glean anything from the rejection? Some tell you something… others, are just polite form rejections.

What can one gleam from form rejections?

A form rejection tells you… nothing. Although, there are a few different things one can think.

  1. The query is badly written and not pulling people in. But… I felt my query letter was solid, if not amazing. Although, it is easier to write someone else’s query, I feel confident in my query writing skills.
  2. The query is well-written, but the story is trite and no one is interested. Maybe. I’m my own target audience, but sometimes, from a higher level, a lot of fantasy quests can feel repetitive.
  3. The first ten pages let the story down, and that’s why no one wants more. It feels weird to say this, but… the last time I read through my story, my first third of my book even impressed ME, and I’m the one who wrote it. Although, the one revise-and-resubmit did suggest more backstory before the inciting incident, and maybe I am starting too quickly, before you care about the characters?
  4. Maybe 2020 was a horrid time to be querying, especially young adult fantasy. Agents were too wary and not picking up much of anything. I mean, it can always be the market, right. My book is on the cusp of YA and adult, should I do a few edits so I can query it in the wider adult fantasy market? Should I just wait a little for people to recover from 2020 and then send out, as people feel more eager for new stories?
  5. Those five agents weren’t right for the story, but the right agent (and publisher) are out there waiting. Possibly! This is what I keep telling myself. Maybe I’ll start querying again in mid-January, waiting a week or so after the agents re-open to not get lost in the flood, probably a Tuesday morning, after the coffee’s kicked in, before the lunch hunger starts to distract them…

Querying is scary. There’s very little solid feedback — thanks to both outlier writers-of-yore-and-today who argued and harassed agents, as well as the massive number of querying writers these days, as technology makes the process more accessible than ever. One has to have faith in one’s writing abilities, confidence that the story can stand on its own, and the perseverance to see it through.

Best of luck to all of you in the query trenches. If you’re self-publishing, I salute your bravery! And? Wish me luck in 2021!

The Day After The End Of Winter

For the holiday, here is a re-imagining of the origin of Santa Claus. This is an early draft, but be warned, it is not a feel-good piece. The fae drive hard bargains.


The icy winds gusted and Nic pulled the coat of his uniform tight about him. The thick red felted wool and the warm, white fur lining did their best, but nothing could stop the North Wind, not fully. Yet, to the home of the North Wind was where he needs must go to claim the favor owed him.

Jessica called out, nearly to the next clearing, despite the calf-high snow. “Hurry, Nic.” Her red locks, long faded to silver were tamed into a neat braid down her back, but nothing could mask her beauty, the kindness of her heart. Her own matching coat was a bright bit of cheer in the grey, wintry countryside, her blue eyes bright and full of hope. Beside her was their daughter, Estelle, with her long, dark hair swirling in the winds, her great green coat open, with the carelessness of youth. Estelle had asked for something less flashy, less bright, and Jessica had obliged.

Estelle. Their wise daughter who had thought long and hard when her parents had shared their fears with her. Who had researched every option, until the day, with sad eyes, and gentle words, explained the favor they must ask, told them the words they must use, and showed them the path they must take. But, then again, Estelle had grown up with the small fae who labored in the workshop and knew their ways far dearer than even her parents, who had worked with them, all these long years.  

Nic had held his hope and his mission so dear to him, it seemed both were slipping through his grasp. If this didn’t work, everything they’d built would be gone, and his legacy swiftly forgotten. Nic shook his head, hastened his steps, and rehearsed the words in his head, for the twelfth time that hour.

It might have been hours or moments, in the way that time passed in that place and in that space, that they reached the birthplace of wind and snow and ice, the home of the North Wind, his Queen, and the fae that favored their lands. Nic couldn’t help but watch in wonder at the frost sprites, their cold beauty glimmered as they danced on the breeze. A mountain of snow beside the path opened one white eye as they passed, and the couple drew close, Jessica holding Nic’s arm, as they passed the threat and promise of the snow troll. Estelle wandered a bit further from them, studying the icy land.

His daughter paused in the glow that was neither day nor night in this place, though they knew the time was drawing close. There, in the twinkling twilight, she slid off her mitt and raised a bare hand to the dancing frost crystalline fae, who alit upon her hand. With a gentle motion, Estelle lowered the fae to her shoulder, then re-gloved and stretched her legs, easily catching her parents. As she drew closer, two more dancing frost fae settled upon her other shoulder.

The old couple dared not look back. Instead, they stared at the path ahead, seeing the future they had hoped to avoid writ in the dead trees that lined the path, icicles glistening in the sun, decorating the corpses, that would never wake again, would never see the warmth of spring. Then, the trail changed into something different. A ring of evergreen trees circled a clearing, and in the middle of the field sat a sleeping tree of hawthorn.

“We’re here,” Estelle spoke with an exhale, filled with… was that exuberance and relief?

Nic and Jessica exchanged a worried glance, this was a sacred and powerful place. The danger was greater now. Jessica squeezed Nic’s hand, and they continued forward.

The tree was ringed in stones, and many a stone were covered in fae of all sizes, perched upon them. But to the center of the path lay the thrones of ice, and there, in all their awful and awesome wonder were the Winter King and Queen of the Fae. When they speak of the fae, they speak of slight creatures, of their childlike appearances, but the North Wind was neither. His long flowing white locks curled into his beard, such that none could tell where one began and the other ended. His cheeks were rounded and across his immense shoulders draped a silky blue robe, lined in fur, and embroidered with dazzling silver — or was it frost? 

And his queen? Cut from ice, she had the slight appearance that one expected from the fae, but writ large and a face that knew at once both youth and the world before humanity breathed its first. Her gown was the dancing white and silver and blue of frost, swirling about as the wind. The only thing she wore not of magic were her white, elbow high gloves.

“Has another come to beseech us this night?” She stood and her court stood with her. Those who were too small flittered up into the air. The King and Queen a head above all, rising easily eight feet high.

Nic, remembering his daughter’s words of warning, did not fall to a knee at the fae queen’s feet. They appreciate respect, but to set one above yourself, is to find oneself bound for life. With a gentle nod and soft clearing of his throat, Nic spoke in a tone that would never be yelling, but could be heard across a workshop floor, “I come to claim a favor owed.”

A snort of laughter echoed out in a blast of wind from the King of Winter. “Owed?” He rose to his feet. “What mortals claim a favor owed?”

“We are Nicholas and Jessica of Patara. We have brought renewed belief and favor to the start of winter, belief and favor that strengthen Winter,” Nic’s voice boomed out. In the corner of his eye, he saw his daughter nod ever so slightly.

“We have heard of you,” the dazzling Queen gently rested a gloved hand on the arm of her consort. “Speak your favor and we shall determine if your deeds warrant such a boon.”

Nic knew his hand trembled and Jessica squeezed it gently as she stepped forward. They were in this together.
“Lady Winter, Lord Winter, we demand three things. A small demesne that touches the world. Large enough for the workshops and workers. The ability to deliver our works in one night. And for the work to go on, properly tended for as long as it favors winter.”

Lady Winter’s tinkling laugh joined her husband’s icy chuckles, and the court laughed with them.
When the queen finally caught her breath, she held up a slim, gloved hand and her court quieted instantly. “Those are large requests for two small mortals.”

“But,” Nic found his tongue again, “for every year we do this, more humans praise winter, praise fae dealings in winter. And your own power grows. Would you give it up that easily?”

“A small demesne is an easy thing, but the others…” The Queen sounded thoughtful, despite her sharp voice.
The King stared at the couple, and then past them and his lips curled with a calculating slant to them. “How is it that you two mortals found your way through the ice and snow to the court of winter. Someone’s been telling secrets they shouldn’t.”

Nic and Jessica both shivered in the gusts of wind that buffeted them. The blue-clad king strode toward the couple and it was all Nic could do to hold his ground until the king passed them and put his thumb on the chin of Nic’s daughter, raising her head.

“Wait!” Nic said, raising an arm to wrench his daughter free, whatever the cost.

“Don’t,” Estelle spoke sharp and clear. And with that Nic froze.

Estelle, in her green coat, wasn’t shivering. The frost sprites never moved from her shoulders. “My King,” she began and Nic’s heart froze. She’d warned them never to claim the King and Queen of Winter as their own.

Something was wrong.

“My Queen,” Estelle stepped back from the King’s soft touch and knelt. “Their boon is fair, but needs a thing to seal the bargain, does it not.” Her hair danced in the wind.

“No,” Jessica whispered too quiet for any but Nic to hear as the winds roared.

“I was raised by humans and by fae, I’m as changeling as any you might want for your court. My humanity for their boon?”

“You don’t have to do this,” Nic moaned.

Jessica’s sobs were silent, but she choked out, “we can find another way.”

Turning her bright, blue eyes, eyes to match her mother’s to face her parents, Estelle looked sad… and eager. “It was the only answer, and it will work. I promise.”

“Hmmm, to have one such as you, willing and welcome in my court? Let us talk. Walk with me, child.” The queen gestured and the only daughter of Nic and Jessica obeyed.

The North Wind found his throne once more, and the fae-covered stones tinkled with chatter as they all waited in wonder and fear of what would come next. In the center of it all, alone in the court of the North Wind and his terrible queen, the two humans held each other tight and waited until the queen returned.

“Nic and Jessica of Patara, your boons shall be granted, your sacrifice accepted. Estelle is your star no longer, she shall be my heir and not yours. You can serve all the children, but never yours again,” the queen decreed and her consort laughed his icy gusts. “First, we grant you our northern-most demesne. Secondly, you may re-enter the human realm, but only for a moment at a time.”

Nic opened his mouth to protest, but the queen held up a hand.

“A moment for them. You can never interact with the human realm again, for once you enter it, time for the humans will stop until you depart, or until such a time as the bargain is ended. Your deliveries, of course, can be done then. Thirdly, for so long as you dwell at the demesne and continue your annual raising of human faith and belief in the fae of winter, the bargain shall hold and you shall not age.”

“Estelle?” Jessica’s voice with thick with unshed tears.

“You are your own legacy. I promise, this is what I want, Mother,” Estelle said, as she slid off a pack from under her coat that Nic had never suspected she’d carried, looking full of her things. No wonder her coat wouldn’t close.

“May we have a moment?” Nic asked, ready to beseech the queen, if that’s what it took.

The icy queen softened the slightest and gave a sharp nod. “A moment.”

Estelle went to her parents and they wrapped her in their arms, as tears softly trickled down their cheeks.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Nic asked. “You know we would never have asked this of you.”

“It’s the only way and the best way. This way, I can rule here, and you two can continue being amazing for all the other humans. I know the fae and I know my bargain. You would have lost me eventually, anyway. And this way, I’ll be here, where you can always find me. And you two can go on, as you always have,” Estelle already had a touch of ice about her. “Besides, a sacrifice works best when it’s willing. This is both for you two, and for me. I will send messages with the little ones, so you’ll always know I’m safe– well. Always know how I am. And, she has said that I may visit you the day after the end of each winter. I love you both, but you love your work and would do much for your legacy. Now you are your legacy. Take this as a blessing, please Papa?”

“Oh, Estelle, my little star,” Jessica snuffled and held their daughter close.

“Love you,” Estelle whispered, and Nic and Jessica whispered it right back. One final squeeze, then Estelle stepped back.

“And the bargain is sealed,” the queen said, as she took Estelle’s hand. Then, before Nic could blink, with a blade made of ice and magic, the Queen sliced his daughter’s throat open in a single swipe. The blood sprayed across the white snow and ice as the warm body landed with a soft thump on the ground. The smell of iron filled the air as the hot blood steamed on the ice.

Jessica screamed. Nic wailed. The pair tried to rush to their daughter’s side, but the snow wound about their ankles and held them fast.

Nic bellowed, “how dare you!”

“She was to live!” Jessica cried out.

All the pair could do was watch, though, as the queen’s attendants lifted the body, dark hair rustling in the breeze, as it had when Estelle stood there moments before.

“And she shall, when the first ray of dawn touches the ground, in the human realm, she shall awaken, mortal no longer. You have had your goodbyes, you have your bargain, now be gone. There is work to be done.”

A jingle of bells caught Nic’s attention and he turned just a moment, to see what new fae approached. It was a bright sleigh of red, pulled by a team of reindeer, but no driver nor passenger could be seen. Nic turned back and to his shock and dismay, he and Jessica were alone in the woods, not a clearing to be seen. Surrounded by fresh, white snow.

A voice whispered in his head, sharp as ice, the sleigh will take you to your new demesne.


And now, every year, Nic and Jessica work their hardest to fulfill their end of the bargain and wait for the day after the end of winter.

Querying and Agents: Now I’m Confused

While I consider myself rather well-versed with the querying writer’s life and expectations, I recently ran across something new and worrying.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, literary agents are well-read people, familiar with the industry, who are versed in contract law and help writers find a publishing house. While you can go it alone, the larger publishing houses often do not even accept submissions from un-agented writers. Querying is the process by which we entice the agent with the characters and stakes of our story, let them know where our story fits in the market, and include any relevant biographical information. It’s a one page letter that works almost like a job application — only, if the agent selects us (with that lovely external validation) — they’re working for us, to promote our writing.

Back toward the end of October, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo, waiting to hear that I did NOT make the cut (again) for PitchWars, when someone in my Middle Grade Waves PitchWars support group (middle grade is what comes before YA books, but after chapter books) mentioned that they’d queried an agent… and the agent had:

a – gone on twitter to complain about someone querying outside of business hours
and
b – rejected them promptly

Wait. WHAT?

First of all, email is asynchronous communication.

Secondly? Queries are business emails. No querying writer should ever expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. But, that might be the time of day that the house is quiet and they can put their thoughts together and work up the nerve to send the email.

We should never expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. In fact, most of us expect our query letters to be filtered into a ‘queries’ folder and only looked at when the agent has finished dealing with their pre-existing clients. Maybe just before lunch on Wednesday, or Friday evening before they head out for the weekend. Sometimes, we suspect agents just set aside a day, maybe not even once a month, where they go through and clear out the queries that are pushing ‘past due’.

An immediate response was never an expectation most of us even thought could be a possibility.

So. Now I’m not just worried that my story isn’t ready, or that my query needs work, or that the market is oversaturated, no matter how good my story and query are. Now I get to obsess over timing of my email!

I’m already factoring holidays, school schedules, and elections into the mix. I usually hold off if there was just a pitch contest on twitter, because I know agents usually bump those to the top of their queue because they seem a bit more time sensitive.

How do I handle this?

Was this just one agent? Do I just assume an agent who dislikes this is not the match for me? Or is this more a common pet peeve?

Maybe I’ll start prepping my query letters and schedule them to submit on Tuesday mornings. Not Monday, because they’ll have all the weekend backlog, but not so close to lunch that they’re hungry and distracted…


Agents — is this a common practice?
Do you feel frustrated when you get emails outside of regular business hours?

Querying writers — what else have I missed about properly timing my query letters?
Anything else I should be stressing about?