#35 Query Corner – Alisha in the Sundarbans

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

In this Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book, Alisha follows a talking tiger to a world run by a gigantic phoenix dragon — who wants to keep her as a pet.

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:

What a great mash-up, it definitely sums up the story and gives us a good feel for the voice — and the environment. Plus, with ownvoices being actively sought, your voice is a wondrous thing.

  1. It’s so hard not to give all the context when querying, but you need to keep a little more to the stakes. You just need a little streamlining.
  2. I’m not sure that you need the paragraph explaining the story’s context. It’s up to you if you leave it in, or if you think the story is strong enough on its own.
  3. Don’t forget the word count!
  4. NOTE: I’m not huge on loglines and descriptive text at the beginning of a query, but in this case, the queryiest was replying to a twitter pitch contest, so included the tweet’s text made sense.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Alisha is a ten-year-old girl who lives a simple life in an Indian village by a mangrove forest, until she meets a blue speaking tiger. The daughter of a fisherman, her dreams go beyond living in the village. Alisha has read all the books in the school library and writes wildly imaginative stories to escape her mundane daily life.

She follows the tiger into a cave that leads to a strange new place, the kingdom of Roshanban. The tiger tells her she has an invitation to meet the Maharajah. Along the way she learns that she needs to complete challenges made specifically for her. The challenges require Alisha to overcome cultural barriers and become who she truly is. Upon completing each challenge she is rewarded with a gold and blue fragment, curved on one side. Before she can face the other challenges, she is captured and taken to the intimidating red queen, a gigantic phoenix dragon who cages her along with other ‘exotic’ pets. Will she able to escape? Will she be able to complete all the challenges and meet the Maharajah? Will she ever make her way back home?

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am of South Asian descent and grew up on folktales from India. I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


You can see how the comps are great for this story! Sometimes, it can be a stretch, but the plot and setting elements are clear when you see the query. This just needed a few tweaks to make it shine.

My Revision:

Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a 60,000 word middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Ten-year-old Alisha’s simple life in the village on the edge of the mangrove forest comes to an end when a blue tiger says hello. Alisha might have read all the books in her small Indian village’s school library and written dozens of her own imaginary tales, but none of them come close to the reality.

The tiger gives her an invitation to meet the Maharaha of the kingdom of Roshanban. Following the tiger through a cave into a strange new world, Alisha is told she must now prove herself worthy. As she struggles with the challenges, a gigantic phoenix dragon captures her, presenting her as a caged pet for the intimidating red queen. Torn between traditional and modern wisdom, Alisha must learn when to let each guide her if she’s to escape the queen, complete the challenges, and meet the Maharajah. If she doesn’t master her true self, Alisha might never make it home.

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


What a great story and an amazing pitch. It got a lot of agent interest. Now? Here’s to hoping one of them says ‘yes’.

Best of luck to Q35!


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

#34 Query Corner – Emilia Afloat

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

When a sorcerer steals her father away, Emilia cobbles together a crew from her siblings to escape her home island and rescue her papá.

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:

Your story definitely draws me in, and I love the world building is immediately evident. With Ownvoices being actively sought, hopefully your hard-earned perspective can help someone else know that they’re not alone.

  1. Try to start closer to the inciting incident, the query needs to show stakes — not background.
  2. The “I’m sure you have many submissions…” is a bit apologetic. Don’t be sorry for querying — it’s an expected part of the process. I suggest the more standard, but equally gracious. “Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Mx. __

Fifteen-year-old Emilia Marcela Noble is known as the abuelita of the island. She dedicates her days to chores she hates: delivering magical plants, fixing shirts, and cooking meals for her siblings. At least she has sailing lessons with her papá and a plan to someday leave aboard the ship he wrecked against the Aolan shore seventeen years ago.

Then soldiers arrive from far-off lands, capture her papa, and set sail for the other end of the world. Emilia cobbles together a rescue crew from siblings who don’t know a binnacle from a barnacle and Milo, the biggest nuisance on the island. As she captains The Urchin across great oceans, stories exchanged on starry nights and kidnapped children from island ports paint a picture of the power-hungry sorcerer who took their papá and is after even more. Between navigating storms, negotiating with pirates, and knitting terrible sweaters, Emilia will have to decide just what she’s willing to give up to bring her papá home.

Emilia Afloat is a YA fantasy standalone with series potential. This 80,000 word story merges the fierce family ties of Natalie C. Parker’s Seafire with the magical twists of Tricia Levenseller’s The Daughter of the Pirate King Duology.

I attended [SCHOOL], where I completed a semester of research sailing on a tall ship. My own asexual identity and five years of teaching middle school students inspire me to tell stories with queer heroes.

I am sure you have many submissions to review, and I deeply appreciate you taking the time to consider Emilia Afloat.  

Best regards,

Q34


The query was clearly very close – it has all the component parts and the story was clear. My main mission was to streamline it a touch — lightening the backstory without losing the context.

My Revision:

Dear Mx…..

When foreign soldiers steal away her papa, fifteen-year-old Emilia Marcela Noble’s quiet life as the island abuelita ends. She hated delivering magical plants, fixing shirts, and cooking meals for her siblings, but had always planned to leave someday on her own terms — aboard the ship her papa wrecked against the Aolan shore seventeen years ago.

With a crew cobbled together from siblings who don’t know a binnacle from a barnacle and Milo, the biggest nuisance on the island, Emilia knows it’s up to them to rescue papa. As she captains The Urchin across great oceans, stories grow about the power-hungry sorcerer who took their papá and is after even more. Between navigating storms, negotiating with pirates, and knitting terrible sweaters, Emilia will have to decide just what she’s willing to give up to bring her papá home.

Emilia Afloat is a YA fantasy standalone with series potential. This 80,000-word story merges the fierce family ties of Natalie C. Parker’s Seafire with the magical twists of Tricia Levenseller’s The Daughter of the Pirate King Duology.

I attended [SCHOOL], where I completed a semester of research sailing on a tall ship. My own asexual identity and five years of teaching middle school students inspire me to tell stories with queer heroes.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Q34


While this tweaked query didn’t get Q34 the mentor they were querying, it did get them a request for more pages — which is exactly what a good query should do. The pages themselves have to get you the rest of the way there.

Best of luck to Q34! That mentor might have said “no”, because the story was already there.


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

#33 Query Corner – THE WITCH IN THE ENVELOPE

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

THE WITCH IN THE ENVELOPE, is a dark twist on the legend of St. Nick, Nick and his Watchers aren’t here to leave toys — they’re here to keep Mara, the vengeful witch, from kidnapping children to fuel her magic.

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:

In keeping with my love of retold fairy-tales, this one hits the mark for me. The story sounds like a lovely festive romp – with dark vibes. The origin story comes through strongly, but there are some things we can do to make Q33’s query stronger.

  1. Queries should fit onto one page. Your query is about two pages long so we need to trim it down.
  2. The query needs to introduce the Main Character and their Goals and Stakes. It’s tempting to give all the context in the query letter, but this isn’t the place for backstory.
  3. ALWAYS, always, always sell one book at a time. This book NEEDS to have been written to stand alone, but it’s fine to say that it has “series potential.”
  4. Be specific. Stories have patterns and themes — that’s how the marketers can make a business case. But? When querying agents? Specificity is how you stand out.
  5. The query should not talk about the process or why you wrote the book. (NOTE: Unless your chronic illness is part of an #ownVoices thing, I would leave it out until I’ve enticed an agent, and then bring it up.)

Queryist’s Original:



Dear Agent,

The Witch in the Envelope is a not so Always Merry and Bright twist on the legend of St. Nick, his elves, and the North Pole. With hints of dark, paranormal fantasy and notes of swoon-worthy romance, Watchers aren’t here to leave toys, but to save children from the vengeful witch, Mara, and restore their home, Cristes Adventus.

Liddy Erickson has had a very special bond, that might seem strange on a human level, with Will Jamison from the moment they met. Soon after he moved in down the street, Liddy was plagued by vicious nightmares. She stopped believing they were just dreams when one morning she fought to wake. Dripping in sweat, a scratch on her chest from the witch’s claws barely missing in their attempt to rip her heart out, was raw and very much real. The only person she ever told was her best friend Will who disappeared along with his family shortly after. Her nightmares immediately vanished, but so too did her memories of Will.

Eight years later, it’s now 1998 and seventeen-year-old Liddy is self-conscious about the radical changes her body went through over the summer. Previously, she enjoyed blending in. Now, she garners the attention of just about everyone. Luckily, no one has mentioned the transformation of her eye color from blue to bright violet. Thankfully her great group of girl friends help her to feel more like she belongs instead of the outsider she feels she is. Dedicated to her education and future career, nothing will stop her from moving out of the Chicago suburbs; something she has always felt called to do. However, the new transfer student is stirring up past heartbreak and strong desires, a palpable and familiar connection tempting Liddy to rethink her plans.

As her memories begin to resurface, Nick, a mysterious stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher and, hopefully, the Princess of the realm Cristes Adventus. His claims of secretly protecting Liddy from a witch—who seeks to kidnap children to strengthen her magic and torture Watchers— are suspect when evidence implicates him as the enemy. Can Nick be trusted or is he actually the one behind the disappearances and threats to her life? When Liddy finds a loved one in mortal danger at the hands of her nemesis, she must decide if she will disobey a direct order and trust her gut if she is to save them from a fate far worse than death.

Currently I am a disabled stay at home mom. Previously, I was a high school teacher and diagnostic cardiac sonographer. I have an invisible, chronic illness that came on suddenly in 2017. Reading (and any other visual motion stimulation) causes me great pain amongst other debilitating vestibular dysfunction symptoms. However, with the encouragement of my husband, family, and friends, I have not let that get in the way of pursuing my dreams of becoming a traditionally published author. I work hard and I am looking forward to partnering with you.

The Witch in the Envelope is a YA, historical (1990s), low fantasy novel complete at 112,180 words. This is the first in an intended series and will appeal to fans of: a literary version of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper and Seeker by Kim Chance, and a splash of nostalgic childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

I am so thankful for this opportunity,

Q33

000.000.0000
IG, FB, Twitter: @[q33Handle]

My Revision:


         Dear Agent,

The Witch in the Envelope is a not so Always Merry and Bright twist on the legend of St. Nick, his elves, and the North Pole. With hints of dark, paranormal fantasy and notes of swoon-worthy romance, Watchers aren’t here to leave toys, but to save children from the vengeful witch, Mara, and restore their home, Cristes Adventus. [This should be combined with the stats paragraph.]

Liddy Erickson has had a very special bond, that might seem strange on a human level, with Will Jamison from the moment they met. Soon after he moved in down the street, Liddy was plagued by vicious nightmares. She stopped believing they were just dreams when one morning she fought to wake. Dripping in sweat, a scratch on her chest from the witch’s claws barely missing in their attempt to rip her heart out, was raw and very much real. The only person she ever told was her best friend Will who disappeared along with his family shortly after. Her nightmares immediately vanished, but so too did her memories of Will. [Backstory? Or phase 1 of the novel?]

Eight years later, it’s now 1998 and seventeen-year-old Liddy is self-conscious about the radical changes her body went through over the summer. Previously, she enjoyed blending in. Now, she garners the attention of just about everyone. Luckily, no one has mentioned the transformation of her eye color from blue to bright violet. Thankfully her great group of girl friends help her to feel more like she belongs instead of the outsider she feels she is. Dedicated to her education and future career, nothing will stop her from moving out of the Chicago suburbs; something she has always felt called to do. However, the new transfer student is stirring up past heartbreak and strong desires, a palpable and familiar connection tempting Liddy to rethink her plans. [Is this the real start?]

As her memories begin to resurface, Nick, a mysterious stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher and, hopefully, the Princess of the realm Cristes Adventus. His claims of secretly protecting Liddy from a witch—who seeks to kidnap children to strengthen her magic and torture Watchers— are suspect when evidence implicates him as the enemy. Can Nick be trusted or is he actually the one behind the disappearances and threats to her life? When Liddy finds a loved one in mortal danger at the hands of her nemesis, she must decide if she will disobey a direct order and trust her gut if she is to save them from a fate far worse than death. [Solid tale, but so much detail, it reads closer to a synopsis.]

Currently I am a disabled stay at home mom. Previously, I was a high school teacher and diagnostic cardiac sonographer. I have an invisible, chronic illness that came on suddenly in 2017. Reading (and any other visual motion stimulation) causes me great pain amongst other debilitating vestibular dysfunction symptoms. However, with the encouragement of my husband, family, and friends, I have not let that get in the way of pursuing my dreams of becoming a traditionally published author. I work hard and I am looking forward to partnering with you. [Chronic illness is rough and you’ve clearly worked hard to get where you are. However, unless this is #ownvoices, you may want to wait for agent interest before disclosing this.]

The Witch in the Envelope is a YA, historical (1990s), low fantasy novel complete at 112,180 words. [Round to nearest 1,000] This is the first in an intended series and will appeal to fans of: a literary version of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper and Seeker by Kim Chance, and a splash of nostalgic childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl. [Good job having a recent comp mixed in here.]

I am so thankful for this opportunity, [This sounds like you don’t think you’re deserving, and you are!]

Q33

XXX.XXX.XXXX
IG, FB, Twitter: @[Q33_handle]


There was a lot to unpack. The query showed there was a great story — but had a lot of synopsis and background that could be trimmed to let the story shine. I trimmed it down a lot, just to show Q33 what it might look like. To give Q33 a framework to flesh out.


My Re-write:


Dear [Agent],

17-year-old Liddy Erickson plans to keep her head down and escape the Chicago suburbs gets sidetracked with the arrival of a cute, new transfer student — who reminds her of a childhood friend. That’s when Nick, a stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher and, hopefully, the Princess of the realm Cristes Adventus.

Nick claims he’s secretly protecting Liddy from a witch—who kidnaps children to strengthen her magic and torture Watchers— but evidence implicates him as the enemy. As Christmas draws near [a hint at the santa theme], Liddy finds [her brother/new crush/whatever] in mortal danger at the hands of [the witch]. Faced with a fate far worse than death, Liddy must decide if she can trust [Nick]’s orders to save [whoever] or disobey [Nick’s] a direct order and trust her gut.

Currently I am a disabled stay at home mom. Previously, I was a high school teacher and diagnostic cardiac sonographer.

In this dark and witchy twist on the myth of Santa Claus, The Witch in the Envelope is a YA low fantasy novel complete at 112,000 words. With series potential, this should appeal to fans of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper and Seeker by Kim Chance, with a splash of nostalgic childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q33


And then, after a few rounds of revisions, Q33’s final (for now) query draft.


Dear [Agent],

A not so Merry and Bright twist on the legend of St. Nick, Nick and his Watchers aren’t here to leave toys — they’re here to keep Mara, the vengeful witch, from kidnapping children to fuel her magic.

Seventeen-year-old Liddy is self-conscious about how much she changed over the summer, but at least no one mentioned the transformation of her eyes to glowing violet. Dedicated to her education, nothing will stop Liddy from moving out of Chicago’s suburbs, except maybe the cute new transfer student, who rouses a familiar sense of connection in Liddy.

That’s when Nick, a stranger with a distinct melodic chime to his walk, approaches Liddy with an outrageous notion that she is a Watcher that can help save Cristes. As Christmas draws near, Liddy finds her friend near death at the hands of Mara. Liddy must decide if she can trust Nick’s order or risk it all by trusting her gut to save her friend.

The Witch in the Envelope is a YA, fantasy romance novel complete at 112,000 words. With series potential, this should appeal to fans of the high school melodrama Dawson’s Creek, the paranormal adventures of Keeper by Kim Chance, and the childhood dark fantasy, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q33


We’re almost there, and hopefully, Q33 will find the right agent to take them all the way to publication.


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

They Want What? The Difference Between Blurbs, Queries, and Synopses!

All industries have their own specialized terms, and even inside an industry, different people can want things done different ways. In the publishing world, you hear a lot about blurbs, queries, synopses, and more.

Now, I can’t tell you what ALL agents, publishers, and readers are looking for, but I can point you in the right direction.

High Level Distinctions

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the big picture.

For the most part, blurbs are what you find on the back cover of a novel. (Or want to, what’s with this trend of bigger-name-author quote on enjoying the book, without saying ANYTHING about the book, not even the genre??) What you see in the Facebook ad as you scroll past.

Queries, if you’ve been to my blog before, you should know, are what you send a literary agent (someone who helps you find and negotiate with your publisher).

And synopses? Those are for agents or publishers, to find out how the plot progresses.

Three different tools, for three different tasks, all describing the same story. But, they all go about it in very different ways.

The Blurb

Blurbs are your seasoning, without much substance. Blurbs push the secretive, trying to give away only enough to entice the reader to pick up the novel.

This is where you’re going to see all the cliches pop out, “a man on the run”, “a woman with a deadly secret”, “will it come back to bite them?”

Rhetorical questions are perfectly fine, here. In moderation. All things in moderation.

Blurbs spark interest, but shouldn’t give anything away.

The Query

Queries are nicely seasoned but have definite substance to them.

As I may have mentioned here once or twice, queries should be told in 3rd person, present tense. They should be about two paragraphs, maybe as many as four if you have multiple protagonists.

And? They should take the agent to the first major plot point, setting up the rest of the story.

They do NOT give away the ending.

How is this different from the blurb? In a query, the agent wants specifics. Readers are looking for ways your book is like things they’ve already read, agents are looking for ways your book differs from others in the same genre.

How is this different from the synopsis? A query is focused on the main character(s) – who they are, what they want, and what stands in the way. The stakes are the entire point of the query.

Some agents like a query that starts off with a logline/pitch. A single sentence (try to keep it to 2 lines or less), that almost summarize the story. These overlap a lot with so-called elevator pitches and work best with “high concept” novels. “Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book” (good luck!). These are what you can tweet during twitter pitch parties or say when someone asks you “what you write?” during a party.

Other agents prefer you skip the logline, get right to the story, and then give a brief stats paragraph (genre, wordcount rounded to the nearest 1,000, any novels/writers you’d compare your work to), plus, your brief bio.

Your bio should be shorter than the story part of the query. If you have no publishing credits, do what I do: brief and simple. “I write from my lair in the DC metro area.” Occasionally, I add a hobby or so, if my reading of the agent shows they have similar interests, or if the hobby is something displayed in the novel.

Just remember who the query is for and what it’s supposed to do, and you’ll be in good shape.

The Synopsis

Synopses have substance, but are light on the seasoning.

The synopsis is all business. WHO does what, WHERE. You can give motivations, you can add a little description. But you need to detail the major plot points and completely give away the ending.

Different agents/publishers ask for different length synopsis. Anything over 1-page is single-spaced. (Hence my insistence that 2-page synopsis don’t exist. They’re just double-spaced 1-page synopsis)

I’ve seen agents ask for 1-page synopses, 3-page synopses, or a full-synopses. So? I have 3 versions. My long one is 5 pages.

To write my synopses, I often just build my query up — adding the ending/etc, for the 1 page synopsis (plus, caplocking the first mention of any proper noun — person or place). For my full synopsis, I write a 1-3 sentence description of what happens in each chapter, then edit it for clarity and flow. My 3-page synopsis is my 1-page combined with my 5-page edited down, until they meet in the middle. This is usually the synopsis I like the best and what I’ll send unless otherwise specified.

The synopsis shows your plot and pacing, often delving into character development as well. It needs to be coherent and clear, more than it needs a strong narrative voice and descriptive imagery. If you can do both, more power to you.

If your query is strong enough, the agent or publisher is going to want to look at your synopsis to learn more.


By keeping in mind exactly what each is for, you’ll soon find that you too, can keep blurbs, queries, and synopses straight in your head.


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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