4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

Most agents, especially in America, like query letters. These are somewhat formulaic introductions to your novel’s characters and plot, that give the agent a feel for your writing style and story.

(I’ve heard ones in the UK and other places like cover letters? But I fear what those might entail, and have never studied their holy scripture.)

1 – Adherents should follow certain tenants

Like most types of religious doctrine, there are different sects, but they agree on a lot of the basic tenants.

The Basic Tenants of Querying

  • Include at least 2 short paragraphs about the novel
  • Include a paragraph with the novels stats
  • Include a short author biography
  • Try to keep the query under 250 words or 1 page
  • Avoid rhetorical questions – they’re overdone and not compelling
  • Avoid ‘in character’ queries – they’re confusing and trite
What they don’t agree on? Everything else.

2 – Different Sects Have Different Rules

If you ask 20 agents what a query should look like, you’ll get between 10 and 20 different answers. Some will overlap, and some will contradict everything the other said.

Querying Doctrinal Differences

  • If the stats paragraph goes at the start or the end
  • If you should include a single pitch sentence, or just get to the story
  • If personalization is something desirable or feels like trying too hard to be friends
  • The length of the story section of the query (1, 2, or 3 paragraphs)

3 – Ritual Observance

To offer the best odds for a query to succeed (i.e. result in additional pages requested, the story sells itself), many query practitioners concoct different rituals.

  • Querying at specific times and days of the week, month, or year
  • Tweaking the query based on #mswl or other stated preferences
  • Following and commenting on the agent’s social media in the hope of connecting such that they recognize your name in a fond way when you query (in a RESPECTFUL and NON-STALKERISH way)
  • Selecting agents based on the assumed personality extracted from their profile
  • Number of queries sent at a time
  • Number of outstanding queries at any time
  • Number of query rejections between revamping pages and/or their query

4 – Heretics!

There are heretics who hate the formula and strive to stand out, to be different, to break the mold and catch an agent’s attention.

  • They’ll write from the character’s point of view
  • Send the letter as though they were writing a friend
  • Send a stream of consciousness message
  • Talk about why they wrote the book and themes, (rather than letting the story demonstrate these things itself)
  • Go on for pages
  • Write 3 lines and their salutations
  • Write in verse — iambic pentameter, haiku, or free verse

I’m not saying none of these will ever work with any agent, ever. I’m just saying, most agents like the formula for a reason. And if the agents are bored by the formula, that just means your opening pages count for more.


Do you have any rituals I missed?

Which query sect do you belong to?

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When You Ask For Someone To Read Your First Chapter

When You Ask For Someone To Read Your First Chapter

Warning: Rant Coming

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 It seems so innocuous, especially when you’re first starting out. You’ve managed to write something, you’re trying to decide if it’s worth pursuing, and you want to reach out. So, you log onto a writers forum and ask the question.

(It’s okay. Everyone does it.)

You log and you ask someone to read your first chapter.

I have to confess, when I see that plea, I just sigh. I sigh because I know the truth.

When a beginner writer asks someone to read their first chapter, I know what they’re really asking for.

What Beginner Writers Want

Well, they want what EVERY writer wants, really.

  1. – They want to be told their story sounds interesting
  2. – They want to be told they can write
  3. – They want to be told their characters are fascinating
  4. – They want to be told they’re writing something marketable
  5. – They want to be asked for the next chapter
  • BONUS: SOMETIMES, they want even want suggestions to make it better or a collaborator to bounce ideas off.

Most of all, though? They’re looking for validation.

But, unless you are an amazing writer who somehow excels, right out of the box, at this one particular skill that eludes even most professional writers, there’s a problem.

Which is?

The Problem With First Chapters?

  1. Rough Drafts Suck
  2. Stories Change
  3. Opening Chapters Are Usually Trash

Even for plotters, things can shift, the emotional core of the story might change, or you might find a plot-hole you’d missed 20 chapters down the road.

As a reader, without more story to go on, there is no way I can tell you if your first chapter is any good. You don’t even know what your story is going to look like, how can I know if it sets up your story well?

And, there’s a belief in certain writer circles (and editor circles) that the first 20 pages can usually be thrown away.

I’ve found this particular belief to be true for me, and most of the writers I know, no matter their caliber.

Don’t get me wrong, you HAVE to write your first chapter. Even if you intend to cut it, first chapters are very useful.

The Benefits of First Chapters

  1. You have to start somewhere
  2. You’re exploring the setting
  3. You’re learning how to write the characters – you’re learning their voices

But the first chapter is for YOU, not for your readers.


This goes out to a special subset of writers, usually fantasy or romance writers…

If you’re a first time writer, who’s managed to write almost 20 pages and you tell me it’s the first chapter of a planned 7 book series?

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My sigh is going to be extra heavy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to set your sights high.

But for many writers, including me, the energy and motivation for a new story idea will take you about 5,000 words in–right about where you’re at.

You’ve just written 1% of your proposed story.

Plus, there’s another problem–especially if you don’t have an agent.

You should only sell ONE book at a time. And that book?  It needs to stand alone. Yes, overarching storylines are great, but each story needs to have its own natural stopping point.

Prove to me you can write and plot for ONE book and I might take a chance on its sequel.


Do you have this reaction? Have you asked for feedback before?

 

A Starter’s Guide For Fiction Writers Trying To “Establish A Social Media Presence” Part 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Bonus  | Part 6

Part 6: Videos – YouTube+

Note: I know I’m talking about YouTube, just days after the San Bruno attacks. My heart goes out to those affected by the attacks.

I’ve talked about a LOT of social media forms. You might have wondered what could POSSIBLY be next?

Google+ or LinkedIn (Nah, although, I do cross-post my blog over there, for people who prefer those social media forms, they don’t seem active enough)

Goodreads? No, although, I’m there and in a few book clubs.I mostly use it to keep a presence, and stay accountable for my book-reading goals.

I’m pretty sure you’re all thinking “Um, Morgan, I think you’ve gone seriously overboard on this social media thing…” and you’re COMPLETELY right.

Today, though? Today, I’m going to be talking about VIDEOS. Both at Youtube and in other social media forms.


 

YouTube

YouTube is second only to Netflicks in using up bandwidth on the internet. It’s huge.

What’s more? Videos go viral all the time. New ones, old ones, quirky ones, it’s hard to know what’s going to be popular.

So, how do you get that to work for you as a writer?

I have a YouTube channel [Subscribe Here!] and, as I say in my episodes, it’s “my online blog, in video format.” So, if you’d rather listen to me ramble while doing other things, you totally can.

How To Start A YouTube Channel

A video channel should be approached like a website.

  • Pick a theme and stick with it
  • Pick an update schedule and stick with it
  • Pick a format and stick with it

(noticing a trend here?)

Step One – Check out the other Writer Vloggers

See what else is out there, see what other writers are doing, see if there’s a niche you can fill or a format you prefer for getting the information.

It’s hard to establish quality content if you don’t know what sort of options there are and what formats appeal to you.

Here’s a list of the top 15 from The Write Life.

Step Two – Set-up To Film A Vlog

Necessary equipment:

  • camera
  • microphone
  • a youtube account
  • preferably some WiFi to upload this thing, cause videos are large

Beyond that, all I use is a Logitech HD 1080p USB camera and 2 umbrella lights – all birthday presents from family – pictured above. Oh, and MS Paint.

Equipment to up your game:

  • umbrella lights
  • a webcam that isn’t built into your computer
  • a quiet space
  • video editing software
  • a microphone (maybe with pop filters!)
  • interesting-yet-not-distracting background (clean up trash, dirty clothes)
  • makeup – maybe even some if you’re not femme presenting. Minimalist suggestions are:
    • foundation to even out skin tone and get rid of shine
    • mascara to make the eyes pop
    • a touch of lip color, to define lips

Step Three – Filming

If you’re using a phone, TURN IT SIDEWAYS. No, really. Please.

I made that mistake my first time and now, for eternity, (or until I rerecord it) I’ll have those stupid black bars to my left and right–or worse, that double-image, zoomed in blur beside me.

  • 5-12 minutes is a standard video length. People have short attention spans.
    • If you have more, cut it into 2 parts! (Or more!)
  • Keep to the same format
  • Look the camera in the eye when you can try not to look like you’re reading your blog post. *looks around innocently*

I like to do 2-5 takes and just roll with the last take. I’m planning on experimenting with video editing software after I move at the end of the month.

A lot of the quality vloggers you see will have done several takes and will clip them together. BUT. They’ll change the camera angle between takes, so you get the feel of ‘time passing’ or something. It’s a format that seems to be popular, plus, it allows you the ability to cut out any dead-air time.

Step Four – Post-Processing

The easiest bit of post-processing I do is take a couple trial photos before I start my video.

Trial pictures let me

  • checks the lighting
  • check the umbrellas aren’t in the camera
  • check I don’t have food on my shirt
  • And? Allows me a couple photos to add my Vlog title to.

I literally open them in MSPaint, Impact size 48 or whatever the title on one side of me, and roll.

Yes, YouTube will give you freeze frames as the preview image, but usually, they’re the most awkward poses I’ve ever seen. Luckily, there’s a handy-dandy “upload preview” button so you can toss your new image in there.

This is when you’d cut together all those different takes from step 3. Maybe add some background music if you like that feel. Maybe just an intro bar or two of notes.

youtubeUploadButton

Step 5 – Uploading To YouTube

youtubeScheduleWhen I upload my videos, I make sure to click the drop-down and select ‘Schedule’. Once you start uploading, you can’t switch and the default goes live as soon as you hit publish.

I don’t want my videos to upload the second I’m done prepping them, I want them to post in the mornings, not somewhere between 10:30pm and 1am the night before the blog post goes live.

This is where you can add that title-added preview image.

Things I like to do with my videos:

  • Schedule them
  • Add preview image with my title on it
  • Add Tags
  • Add the video to my playlist, so people can subscribe to that [like here!]
    • You can have different playlists on the same channel
      • book reviews
      • writer tips
      • guitar playing
      • life updates
      • etc
  • Type up a short twitter-worthy shout-out to draw people in (with hashtags)
  • Give links to my other social media and the original blog post in the ‘about’ field

Things I’ve been testing recently.

  • I found the ‘default settings’ for uploads last week, where you can pre-load all your tags, all your repeated ‘about’ information, etc, so you don’t have to remember what tags you used last week.
  • How do you find out what tags you should use?
    • check out a popular vlogger who shares a lot of the same subject matter
    • in your browser settings, have ‘developer options’ turned on
    • hit F12 to view the page’s source code
    • hit ‘ctrl-F’ to open up search
    • type “tags”
    • copy-paste the list after the word [ make sure it seems to be a list of usable tags, the word may be in the source code more than once. If it’s not what you’re looking for, hit enter to move to the next entry.]

SnapChat and Instagram and Facebook

I’ve already talked about Instagram, but why is SnapChat even on this list?

For those who don’t know, SnapChat lets people message each other and the message immediately is deleted after they view it. It warns you if the other person screen-shots the message.

So, how does this grow your social media presence?

I personally don’t do it, and it may be more useful for artists, but you can upload STORIES. These are images, text, or VIDEOS that are shown to anyone OR everyone on your list–and they stay visible for a day.

If you have a following, uploading a ‘story’ or two a day can be a good way to interact and form a more personal feeling connection.

Instagram also allows stories to be shared and these are promoted posts.

And Facebook? Facebook LOVES videos. Unlike blog links, or worse PATREON links, Facebook doesn’t try to hide these as much.


YouTube and Facebook Live Video

These intimidate me, but they are growing in popularity and are given priority viewing on Facebook. If you find a time that’s good for a lot of your followers (plus, it can be viewed after the fact), it’s a great way to re-engage with your followers and be given priority viewing on both social media sites.

If you’re brave enough.


Putting yourself out there, creating content, and recording your image, voice, and thoughts for all of posterity is intimidating.

Every week, I strive to do a little better (or at least not worse) than the week before.


And that’s it.

The introduction to social media types. ALL OF THEM. (Or at least a good, wide-spectrum of them.)

If there’s any I skipped that you’d like me to talk about, feel free to ask in the comments.

If there are any tips you’d like to share, feel free to reach out!

A Starter’s Guide For Fiction Writers Trying To “Establish A Social Media Presence” Part 5

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 5: Tumblr and Reddit (The Dark Side?)

Four weeks ago, I shared my descent into social media and my guiding philosophies for interacting on the internet. Three weeks ago, I discussed the generals about creating a website and starting a blog. Two weeks ago, I discussed Facebook, Twitter, and hashtags. Last week was all about the visual social medias, Pinterest and Instagram.

Today? I’ll be discussing DARK SIDE OF THE INTERNET: Tumblr and Reddit

Or are they?

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Tumblr and Reddit are given a lot of grief about being breeding grounds for social justice mobs, trolls, and dank memes (in which dank means something between dark, cynical, and cool).

For older web denizens: they’re where the teens are, and honestly? Where 90% of the Facebook content comes from. Look at where all those reshared thought experiments, story inspiration, and other screen-shots come from. A LOT of them are screenshots from Tumblr. Or made popular on Reddit. Or both.

If you wait for them to come to Facebook, you’re gonna miss a lot of content and it’s gonna be old before you see it.


Tumblr

So what IS Tumblr? Is it a blog? Is it a quote sharing site? Or is it for reblogging memes?

The quick answer is… yes.

For the longest time, I didn’t really know what I was doing with it. I reposted stuff from my Instagram since Tumblr seems to like pictures, and I reshared my blog posts from here over there. (Or over here, if you’re reading on Tumblr…)

But, it’s just as much for resharing your favorite webcomics or your not-character-count-limited mental contemplations. And GIFs are super popular.

NOTE: It’s also very popular for…um… archives of adult imagery. Luckily, safe-search is a thing. I’ve yet to end up somewhere I didn’t intend. A big advantage to its compartmentalized set-up.

It’s a social media network, like Facebook, that’s not geared towards a specific media (unlike Instagram or Twitter), which can make it more visual, but it supports anonymity–which can make it more attractive to teens (or Russian troll farms).

There’s definitely a part of it that’s socially progressive. Tumblr’s the sort of place that encourages defining your pronouns and can be very accepting of any sort of identity that doesn’t espouse hate.  That said, the admins are struggling with censorship issues around LGBT tags as well as antagonistic alt-right groups gaining a presence on the site.

Tags are important here if you want people to find you. And if you look around, you can find Tumblrs groups to join (sort of like the ‘blog hops’ of olde…). The communities are like islands, but they share resources.

If you like something, heart it. Reblogging stuff is VERY encouraged, and shows support for the original poster — and also means that the original poster gets credit — very awesome for the artists and writers and singers on here.

Note: If you add a comment to a reblog, it’s now permanently attached to that reblog.

Like most social medias, you can follow people and their posts/reblogs show up on your feed. Don’t be intimidated, most people are quite welcoming on Tumblr.


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Reddit

Here, everything is a popularity contest. It’s like middle school.

No. Really.

Getting Started

You create an account, you join forums called ‘reddits’ and ‘subreddits’ (or ‘subs’), named /[whatever] that are organized by areas of interest, and then you either share text or links to content.

On your feed, you’re only shown links to reddits and subreddits that you subscribe to.

Then, as people read posts, they ‘upvote, ‘downvote’, or [do nothing]. Every upvote and downvote affects your karma.

The more upvotes you get, the more likely you’ll show up in the feed. You can check tabs of ‘Hot’, ‘Rising’, and ‘New’. And karma means a lot.

What is Karma

You earn karma for:

  • posting
  • commenting
  • getting upvotes

Posting new content or sharing external links are typically seen as more valuable contributions, but it depends on the quality of your comments.

NOTE: When you comment, you can reply to other comments — otherwise known as nested comments.

You lose more karma for every downvote. It’s a way of trying to keep people from being jerk-faces.

Unless the forum is about being a jerk-face. Then, friendly people get downvoted.

Although there is an overlying sense of ‘Reddiquette’, each forum has its own admins, moderators, and set of acceptable behaviors.

Overall, someone with higher karma is seen as being more of a contributor and potentially someone to watch for new, quality content. The best of them have been given Reddit Gold.

Reddit Gold

You can literally buy virtual gold that is only intended for rewarding, or ‘gilding’, OTHER people with posts you find valuable.

Being gilded (or buying that status) temporarily unlocks:

  • comment highlighting
  • ad-blocking
  • exclusive subreddits
  • a personalized Snoo (known as a “snoovatar”)

WARNING: Reddit values anonymity, tends to be hands-off, and doesn’t censor. There can be really dark reddits, and subreddits with a lot of either off-color or outright offensive content.

The communities are typically well-described though, so you know what you’re getting into before you click the links.

Like most social medias, you can follow people and keep an eye on their content.

So far, I’ve shared a little in /writing, /writing-tips, and /nosleep. /AMA (Ask Me Anything) is one you’ll see on the news on occasion, with scheduled visits for politicians or celebrities, as well as normal people with unusual experiences offering to talk about them.

Feel free to explore and I find it best to wade into a Reddit, watching the expected behavior before trying to contribute.

But I’m still learning my way around.


So… that doesn’t really sound that scary, does it? A little different, but not completely unfamiliar organizational structures.

Long form, images, links, these are the sites where content is created.

A Starter’s Guide For Fiction Writers Trying To “Establish A Social Media Presence” Part 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 4: Visual Social Media

Three weeks ago, I shared my descent into social media and my guiding philosophies for interacting with others on the internet. Two weeks ago, I discussed the generals about creating a website and starting a blog. Last week, I discussed Facebook, Twitter, and hashtags.

Today? I’ll be discussing The visual social mediums!

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Instagram

On this social media, you share an image, with a short caption and some hashtags.

Once again, I recommend using the same name, profile picture, and short biography as you do on your Facebook and/or Twitter, for that all important brand consistency.

This is a good, low-intensity entrance to social media to anyone with a smartphone or iPad. Posting 1-3 times a week is a good rate of interaction.

You can also comment on and ❤ other people’s photos.

Typically, you share a photo that you’ve taken, but you can also create images or share memes here. It’s really not set up to let you add images from a computer, though, so a camera-enabled wifi/data enabled device is required.

It easily syncs with most other social medias, sharing the links for you.

  • Personally? I reshare to Facebook, but I copy and repost to Twitter and Tumblr, because I want people to see the image, not a link back to Instagram. I *think* you see the image on phones/etc, but they’re hidden on

Uploading Images:

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Step One:

When you go to upload an image, your current camera gallery will load on default. Whichever image you select will be cropped into a square. You can pinch the screen, to zoom in or out and try to recenter the image, but if it doesn’t fill the square, preview images will clip the edges.

You can do multiple pictures, either in a collage or as a set people can scroll sideways through.

Or! You can upload a video.

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Step 2:

The app gives you a LOT of editing tools. I usually leave them alone, but you can swype to the left on the tools row for all the options.

You can change the color, saturation, brightness, focus, contrast, just for starters!

Step 3:

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The app provides a LOT of filters to select from.

They’re preset configurations for all the edit options from the previous tab. You can pick one, and then customize it by selecting the EDIT tab on the bottom left.

Typically, it’s suggested to find 1-3 filters you really like and stick with them, for that all-important BRAND idea. That way, when looked at en masse, your images will mesh well together.

NOTE: You can always hit the back arrow if you want to adjust the cropping.

Step 4:

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This is where you add the details:

  • captions
  • hashtags
  • tag people (@username)
  • tag locations (if Location is turned on, it can auto-sense these.
  • select the social medias to which you wish to cross-post

Instagram Community: Hashtags and Photo Ideas

As with Twitter, it will show you the popularity of any hashtag you start to type and autocomplete your most commonly used ones.

Some recommended hashtags are (hat tip to Alejandras Life):

  • #writersOfInstagram (selfies, or pictures of your work)
  • #amWriting (pictures of your work, or you working)
  • #amReading (pictures of the book your reading)
  • #TBR (pictures of what you’re reading next)
  • #writersLife (selfies, behind-the-scenes shots)
  • #wordPorn (images of quotes– from others or from your own writing)
  • #writersBlock (pictures of what’re you doing while blocked)
  • #amEditing (you know, what 90% of your writing consists of…)
  • #writersFollowWriters – (a recent tag, to introduce yourself to other writers and find people to follow and support!)
  • #noFilter – a way to brag about a picture that turned out great, and didn’t need any help

Images Used Elsewhere

After I drafted this post, I went to look at my feed and saw that my local news channel had asked to use a photo I’d posted on Instagram, and cross-posted to Twitter today. And offered accreditation

I swear, I’d already drafted the rest of this post before she asked.

So… that’s a thing that can happen. And… she opted not to. Maybe she’ll use it later this week?

Pinterest

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This is a social media where, as you browse the internet and see pretty pictures, you can click to save them to a Pinterest folder.

You can ‘follow’ people and see what images they save, and they can do the same for your boards. There’s also a direct message option, but I haven’t been bombarded with spammers, so it’s relatively safe.

Once again, you’re going to want a pretty consistent name, profile picture, and bio. Then, if you’re like me, you’re going to want to organize your “Pins”, the images you’re saving.

So, you can create different ‘boards’ to pin images to. You can have private boards, friends only, or public boards. Many people use them for consolidating remodeling ideas, wedding planning, or suggested styles for clothing subscription services.

The general theme is that you’re “pinning” the images up, as if to a bulletin ‘board’, so you can see them all at once.

The Plugin

pinterestPlugin

How do you save all these images?

With the quick installation of the plugin (a bit of code that makes the Pinterest logo show up when your mouse is hovering over an image, or when you tap-and-hold an image for a touchscreen), all you have to do is select that logo and a pop-up will ask you which ‘board’ you’d like to save the image to.

Ways to Use Pinterest as a Writer

I set up boards for inspirational actors/models for my characters, locations, and clothing and left Pinterest alone for a year. These are helpful for ME when writing since I tend to be somewhat less visually focused.

I’ve recently got back into Pinterest. These days, I’m also posting and/or resharing:

  • memes
  • blog post images with link-backs to my posts!
  • pictures of books I’m reading

You can browse Pinterest, or anywhere on the internet, look for images you like, and pin them to your own boards.

Use hashtags as before, but the visual is what really sells things.


The internet, especially on smartphones, is a very visual place. It’s far easier to ‘like’ a picture than write a comment.

As entries to social media, Instagram and Pinterest involve the least amount of time and effort on your behalf. Plus, they’re both used (especially Instagram) by young adults.

So, for those of us who write YA, it’s a good idea to establish a presence on a media that your future audience actually uses.