Morgan's 2020 Resolutions

As January firmly establishes itself, I’m finally ready to talk about what 2020 is going to look like for me.

Last year was intended to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.

Thusly, I listed my goals:

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

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 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 2020, 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. Revising

Last year’s goal of revising 3 full manuscripts was… ambitious. I clearly was thinking more about what it takes for me to edit (clean up a draft) than about what it takes to get feedback from others, integrate it, and polish the draft till it comes out in my voice.

The manuscript I had ready for querying last year is in the middle of revisions with my wonderful mentor. But? The mentorship officially ended last April, and, although she generously volunteered to keep at it with me, she has paying work that, of course, comes first. So? We’re working through my novel 30 pages at a time.

My hope is to have the revisions done by the end of May, when I hit Balticon. But, life happens. So, what can I do to speed up the process on my end? Make sure that the next 30 page chunk is as ready to go as I can make it before I get feedback from the previous section.

I’m cutting a secondary character’s role in the last 3rd of the journey, and changing the nature of the last leg of the journey quite a bit, so I already know a large part of the plotting changes. Plus, my mentor keeps reminding me to add visuals. As I’ve said before, I worry about what’s in the character’s head and the action. I forget people want to see the world itself. So, that’s my revision priority.

But, of course, there’s going to be some downtime.

To fill that in, I’ve been nudging my alpha reader who has my middle-grade contemporary fantasy (the school play story) and should hear back in the next week or so.

Also? Last year also included writing some short stories and some poetry. Between revising my middle-grade story and getting those shorts and poetry ready for publication, I’ve got a lot to work on.


2. Querying & Submitting

If you haven’t tried to get your work published before, this item might seem confusing. What’s the difference?

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.

Why do you need an agent? There are many publishing houses that do not accept unagented work. Agents understand what your contract should look like and what is negotiable. Plus? The agent’s job is to know the market — and thus know what your book needs in order to best sell it — and to whom. Typically, you query 5-10 agents at a time.

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.

When you’re sending a cover letter and your story to the place that will actually print/publish the piece, it’s called a submission. Typically, submissions are exclusive (unless the guidelines state otherwise), so you have to wait to hear back before you can send to another publisher.

This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to get at least 5 stories ready for publication and submit them to at least 10 markets. At least half of those submissions should be before July, just to make sure I don’t forget to put myself out there.


3. Blogging/Vlogging

With you, I’m finding an audience and, I hope, creating a community. You are the people whose queries I help polish as you look for an agent, whose books I add to my massive to-read pile, the people I feature in my Author Spotlights. Blogging puts 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. So? I’d hate to break my posting streak! Thus, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.

I’m already off to a great start with this, but when I have them lined up, I’ll also be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.

I’m thinking of adding some Authortube videos of my massive to-read pile, or maybe an occasional brief weekly check-in since those were popular during NaNo. I just need to find a time that works every week for those, so I can schedule them in advance and make them interactive.

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”

4. Reading

I did great on this one last year, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. I had a lot of travel, and managed to hit 41 books, but there’s no guarantee this year will as generous. I even managed to read a decent amount of physical books — but a lot of those were new or re-reads. Not as many from my to-read pile as I’d like to admit.

So? I’m keeping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – a little more than two a month. This time? At least 10 of them should be physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf.

So far? I finished a short story collection I bought over the holidays AND read a book that’s been with me since before I moved. Not a bad start!

5. Writing

Yet again, writing is so far down my list!

I can hear your thoughts, your concerns. What’s wrong, Morgan? I thought this was your writing blog. Why isn’t this more writing focused? Do you want to be a blogger/vlogger more than a writer?

Well, first? Rewriting IS writing, and revisions are tops on my list. The goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.

More writing right now just means a larger backlog of things to be polished.

But! Never fear, I will be doing OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then 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.

6. Beta Readers

I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on my middle grade novel, hopefully before August. Last year’s goals of having revisions of two different manuscripts done by May AND July were unrealistic.

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 considering joining a local critique group and feel that short stories work much better in those venues than a full manuscript. Especially since I’m more interested in feedback on my pacing and characterization than the chapter itself. I guess it’s arrogance, but I think I know where my problem points lay.

On the flip-side, I’m now a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales. I’m also a regular beta-reader for my dad (who’s retired from a day job and enjoys filling my inbox). Not to mention, I have a few critique partners, and writer friends who have been known to reach out for feedback. I will try not to commit to more than 3 full length betas this year.

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

7. Conventions

Actually, maybe I should have changed the name of this goal. This should be all the in-person writing goals. I aim to attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Two+ conventions.

I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in New Zealand (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon again… and this time was accepted! And? I think they approved the panels I suggested (topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, and that my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).

How do I know they approved them? They recruited me to be on their Programming team! (Apparently, after attending nearly 30 panels a year for the last 5 years, they suspected I might have opinions about what makes a good panel and who are the good panelists.) So, that’s another time commitment.

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

First, it’s a greater reach for my blog and vlog. Plus, a larger audience when I do get published. Hopefully, a way to make more friends and supporters. 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!


In Summary

As is becoming my trend, the first part of my year will be focused on revisions, the middle on conventions, and the end on writing. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging 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 2020 foresight.


What does your plan look like for 2020

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

#32 Query Corner – BENTLEY ONE

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

In BENTLEY ONE, a set of elementally-aligned college students set out to find what’s scaring off its ghosts.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

The story sounds like it might be interesting, but I can’t know from your query.

  1. The query needs to introduce the Main Character and their Goals and Stakes.
  2. The query should not talk about the process or why you wrote the book.
  3. Beta-readers and following the guidelines should be a given, thus don’t need to be discussed.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical. The finished novel is 63,000 words.

BENTLEY ONE explores the haunted campus of Bentley University located in Northern Pennsylvania. BU has several ghosts, one more prominent than others.  Someone or something is drafting the ghosts into servitude. The novel develops the friendship of the students who set out to right what is wrong about the campus.

While college was many years ago for me, the setting for BENTLEY ONE is inspired by a similar, real-life university, where I majored in mathematics and minored in writing, with an emphasis on creative writing. This is my first novel.

I have put BENTLEY ONE through multiple rounds of beta reading (including readers in the target demographic) to clean up plot points and address confusion. Most recently, I have had it professionally edited to prepare it for agent submissions.

According to your guidelines for submission, I am including the first 10 pages of BENTLEY ONE for your consideration in representing me.

All the best,

Q32

My Revision:

Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for my supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical. The finished novel is 63,000 words. [Pretty good intro. Although, trying to redefine something like ghosts as ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘supernatural’ may be stretching. Perhaps you should look at agents who are actively looking for or are open to Supernatural fantasy?]

BENTLEY ONE explores the haunted campus of Bentley University located in Northern Pennsylvania. BU has several ghosts, one more prominent than others.  Someone or something is drafting the ghosts into servitude. The novel develops the friendship of the students who set out to right what is wrong about the campus. [This is telling, not showing. I think we can pump it up.]

While college was many years ago for me, the setting for BENTLEY ONE is inspired by a similar, real-life university, where I majored in mathematics and minored in writing, with an emphasis on creative writing. This is my first novel. [You don’t want to emphasize inexperience, and unless it’s an #ownvoices novel or the plot involves a specialty of yours, this isn’t needed.]

I have put BENTLEY ONE through multiple rounds of beta reading (including readers in the target demographic) to clean up plot points and address confusion. Most recently, I have had it professionally edited to prepare it for agent submissions. [This is expected — except ‘professionally edited’. This suggests that you need a lot of work to polish drafts, and often agents (or the acquiring editors they’re selling to) will have you do revisions upon acceptance.]

According to your guidelines for submission, I am including the first 10 pages of BENTLEY ONE for your consideration in representing me. [Unnecessary.]

All the best,

Q32

The queriest took my advice, but admitted the trouble with illustrating the main character was that this was a multiple point-of-view tale! With a few more passes, we ended up with a query the queriest was happy to use.

The Final Query:

Dear [Agent],

I am seeking representation for my 61,000 word supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical.

Miguel leaves campus at the end of his freshman year with all its friendly ghosts in place, haunting in their normal haunts. When he returns after the summer break, he knows something is definitely wrong – all the ghosts have disappeared!

Linda, CJ, and Frankie are elementally aligned students, looking for an earth-aligned person to complete their own investigation into the missing ghosts. Also investigating the disappearing ghosts, Miguel is easily convinced to join forces with them. When they discover an ancient, powerful spirit, calling herself ‘The Queen of Disks’ is not only taking out ghosts but controlling an army of grey-hoodied students, the foursome realize it’s not just the spirit world in danger. If they can’t stop the spirit, she just might end up controlling more than just a school.

Despite my own college’s severe lack of actual ghosts, I graduated from [SCHOOL], with a major in mathematics and a minor in writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q32

With a little more focus on the meat of the story, and a little less on how the novel came together, it looks like Q32 is well on their way to finding an agent!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

#31 Query Corner – LIFE FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

LIFE FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE: FROM SOCCER MOM TO ADDICT AND HOME AGAIN is a memoir about a life torn apart, lost, then picking up the pieces.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Life From The Opposite Side sounds like a very personal, but fascinating journey. The initial query read a lot like a blurb though — lots of trope phrases, few details. My suggestions:

  • For queries, plot matters! Avoid high level descriptions-instead, be specific when detailing decision points.
  • Make sure to vary your sentence structure
  • Personally, if I don’t have a personal connection to the agent, I don’t try and stretch for one, or state the obvious (i.e. My genre is on your wish list) and just skip that portion. But some agents really do like it, so that part is up to your discretion.

Queryist’s Original:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna’s 15-year marriage crumbles in a single night (why?), she is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. When she meets Micah on a dating website, (don’t start 2 sentences in a row the same way) she becomes trapped in a world of drug addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse. Will Glenna find the strength to get away before she loses everything she holds dear? (Very TV guide, little feel for the voice of the story)

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by
[PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely,
Q31


My Revision:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna catches her husband 
(cheating on her/discovers he’s gambled away their life savings/abusing her for the last time? Or is he the one who abandons her?), she finds herself at the end of a 15-year marriage, and is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. Wanting to feel wanted, she joins a dating website, where she meets Micah.

Glenna is swept away by Micah’s charm and in her eagerness to prove herself worthy, doesn’t walk away when he offers her drugs. As he drags her down into a world of drug addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse, Glenna begins to lose herself. Glenna must find the strength to get away before she destroys her own life, and that of her sons
 (or lose them to CPS? her ex? to drugs themselves??).

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q3
1


The queryist was pleased with my suggestions and after another round of revisions, here’s the final (for now at least) draft.

The Final Query:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna catches her husband cheating with a younger woman, she finds herself at the end of a 15-year marriage and is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. Wanting to feel loved again, she joins a dating website, where she meets Micah.

Glenna is swept away by Micah’s charm, and in her eagerness to prove herself worthy, doesn’t walk away when he offers her drugs. As he drags her down into a world of addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse, Glenna loses her way and everything she holds dear. Glenna must find the strength to get away before she destroys her own life and the lives of her children.

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q31

It sounds like Queryist 31 has come a long way. Thanks to her for sharing her very personal story, of both her downfall and her growth. Best wishes in the query trenches!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

#30 Query Corner – ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE is a Women’s Fiction novel about several generations of women in a single family – unlucky-in-love and dealing with the consequences.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE sounds like a solid generational women’s fiction novel. I’m curious about what choices the main characters make and what the consequences are. My suggestions:

  • For multiple points of view, make sure each main character has a distinct voice. (Pick no more than 3)
  • Avoid cliche phrasing–instead, be specific when detailing decisions.
  • List your awards if you have them – but if you have many, make sure to cull to only the ones that would be broadly recognizable. (This queryist did so)
  • Personally, if I don’t have a personal connection to the agent, I don’t try and stretch for one, or state the obvious (i.e. My genre is on your wish list) and just skip that portion. But some agents really do like it, so that part is up to your discretion.

Queryist’s Original:

Dear Ms. AGENT,

On her wedding night, Annabelle beds a stranger. Not every bride feels beautiful. Unloved and ignored at her own wedding, Annabelle succumbs to the attention of an attractive older man. The next morning, her apologetic new husband explains he stupidly mixed booze and Benadryl. Now, Annabelle must decide to confess her own indiscretion or forever hold her peace.

Maybe she should have expected this. Annabelle hails from a long line of women saddled with bad circumstances and sunk by bad choices. Annabelle’s grandmother, pregnant at seventeen, married her domineering high school boyfriend, but ultimately fell in love with his younger brother, who fathered her second child. Annabelle’s mom struggles with manic depression but fights every day to be strong for her children and her marriage. And Annabelle’s aunt always chooses the man most likely to break her heart, until she finally picks the man who ruptures it, when he dies much too young.

Annabelle may have inherited bad relationship karma, but if she can learn lessons from the strong, but flawed women she loves, she may be able to alter fate and find happiness.

ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE is contemporary Women’s Fiction complete at 74,000 words. The story unfolds via multiple POVs.

Ms. Hazelwood, because you are willing to help with queries, I hope you will find this work a good fit.

My debut novel, TITLE, was published in MONTH YEAR by PUBLISHER. It was positively reviewed on PLACE and PLACE. I’ve had essays published by NEWSPAPER, WEBSITE, and WEBSITE. My novella, TITLE2, won the AWARD award in YEAR.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Q20


Before I even said anything, the queryist had second thoughts and revamped their query for me. The second attempt was paired down quite a bit, but detailed out too much.

The Queryist’s 2nd Attempt:


Lucy Gaines, a young mother, lives alone with her daughter while her husband recovers in the hospital from a manic-depressive episode. Isolated and frightened, she finds solace, stability, and love in the arms of her husband’s younger brother, Larry. The day she discovers she’s pregnant with Larry’s child is the day she learns her husband is coming home.

If she chooses loving Larry, the only true happiness she’s ever known, she could destroy her entire family and her husband’s fragile grasp on health. But if she stays with her husband and raises the child as his, she risks a web of lies that could haunt them all.

Years later, when Lucy’s granddaughter beds a stranger on her wedding night, it may be the bad relationship karma that Lucy sowed. Now the bride must determine why she made her crazy wedding-night choice and if she has the wherewithal to fight for her marriage. 

My Revision:

Dear AGENT,

Lucy Gaines, a young mother, lives alone with her daughter while her husband recovers in the hospital from a manic-depressive episode. Isolated and frightened, she finds solace, stability, and love in the arms of her husband’s younger brother, Larry. The day she discovers she’s pregnant with Larry’s child is the day she learns her husband is coming home.

Years later, unloved and ignored at her own wedding, Lucy’s granddaughter Annabelle succumbs to the attention of an attractive older man. The next morning, her apologetic new husband explains he stupidly mixed booze and Benadryl. Now, Annabelle must decide to confess her own indiscretion or forever hold her peace.

Lucy’s family may have inherited her bad relationship karma, but if Annabelle can learn lessons from the strong, but flawed women she loves, she may be able to alter fate and find her own happiness.

ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE is contemporary Women’s Fiction complete at 74,000 words. The story unfolds via multiple POVs. Ms. Hazelwood, because you’re willing to help with queries, I hope you will find this work a good fit.

My debut novel, TITLE, was published in MONTH YEAR by PUBLISHER. It was positively reviewed on PLACE and PLACE. I’ve had essays published by NEWSPAPER, WEBSITE, and WEBSITE. My novella, TITLE2, won the AWARD award in YEAR.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q3
0


The queryist was excited and we went a few rounds until we ended up with a query they were happy with.

The Final Query:

Dear AGENT,

When Lucy’s husband was committed to a mental hospital, she never expected to fall for his younger brother. But during those long, lonely months when her husband is away, Larry becomes first her handyman, then her best friend, and then more. The day Lucy discovers she’s pregnant with Larry’s child is the day she learns her husband is coming home. Lucy must choose between raising her daughter with the man she loves or rebuilding her life with the man she pledged to love a decade ago.

Forty years later, Lucy’s granddaughter, Annabelle makes her own reckless choice. Neglected by her inebriated husband on their wedding night, Annabelle succumbs to the attentions of an attractive older man. When her new husband apologizes the next morning, Annabelle must decide if she should confess her own indiscretion, abandon her hours-old vow or forever hold her peace.

Lucy, Annabelle, and the other women in the family may share the DNA of bad relationship karma, but their family bonds could prove to be the strength each needs to alter their fates and find lasting happiness.

ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE is contemporary Women’s Fiction complete at 74,000 words. The story unfolds via multiple POVs.

My debut novel, TITLE, was published in MONTH YEAR by PUBLISHER. It was positively reviewed on PLACE and PLACE. I’ve had essays published by NEWSPAPER, WEBSITE, and WEBSITE. My novella, TITLE2, won the AWARD award in YEAR.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q30


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!