Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds and *The Sharkives*

I've been aware of, but haven't been following, literary agent Janet Reid's Query Shark blog. Last week, however, I stumbled across a post saying she'd made the entire blog downloadable for the asking, so I asked.

If you're unaware, Ms. Reid critiques query letters sent to her for that purpose on the blog. I don't know her M.O. for choosing the letters, but if yours is chosen, she gives great advice, as would be expected of someone who reads thousands of queries each year.

The author of the query letter is then invited to revise it two or three times. Each time, Ms. Reid further coaches the author on how to improve it.

She recommends reading the whole kit and kaboodle. I printed up a large chunk, which used up one ream of paper, duplex printed. If I were to print the rest, I'm looking at another 300 sheets of paper, duplex printed. It also used up a laser ink cartridge. (Granted, it was a starter cartridge for our new laser printer.) The reason there's so much data is that the comments are included.

I read through the first 1000 pages and feel I've learned enough that I'm not going to print up the last 600 pages.

Some of my observations:

  • If a large percentage of query letters that agents receive are as bad as these, it's no wonder that agents reject, as they say, 99% of what they receive. Almost all of the letters are simply dreadful, even if the story they're describing seems to have some interesting qualities. 
  • The Sharkives are entertaining to read for Ms. Reid's brilliant, snarky, razor sharp wit and her (im)patience in coaching the author to bring out what their story is really about. Her wit reminds me of my husband's, although her barbs are on a different subject than my husband's would ever be. 
  • In addition to Ms. Reid's observations, the people who comment frequently have some very useful things to add. 
  • The people who comment have also formed a cult following. When they're not critiquing the queries, they're generally shooting the breeze in a highly literate, entertaining manner. 
  • Other times, they're majorly kissing up to Ms. Reid about her brilliant, snarky wit. (And yes, she is brilliant.)

Given that, I suppose it was worth wading through 1000 pages, using up a ream of paper and a laser ink cartridge.

But then something else floated my way via an email from RWA, that is ultimately, I suspect, more useful. Or perhaps both should be consulted in crafting a query.

It's a book by Michael Hauge, Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. Though his 200-page book is geared toward the face-to-face pitching of scripts to agents and buyers in Hollywood, there's a wealth of information that could be translated into pitching a novel to an agent via a query letter.

My recommendation? Read Michael Hauge first. It takes only a couple of hours to breeze through what he has to say. Then move on to the Sharkives to read about common mistakes made in query letters, and how to improve them.

The principles Ms. Reid expounds are exactly the same as those that Michael Hauge puts forth. The Sharkives have the added benefit of actual, gawd-awful query letters that go through a succession of changes to make them sparkle. Sometimes they never do, because the author's overall writing skills just aren't there yet. Those are the sad ones, because their idea sounds good, but you just know that the novel is written at the same, non-publishable level as the query letter.

Other times, and rather infrequently, even after three or four revisions, Ms. Reid will declare of the letter, "By George, I think you've got it." And then everyone does a lot of high-fiving, and congratulating of the author.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Seven Reasons to love The Journal 6 for blogging and everything else in your life

There are far more than seven reasons to love The Journal 6, but I wanted to show you just a few. Being a former librarian, the need to be organized is an overriding desire in my life.

I love to blog, but have always wished there was a streamlined, user-friendly way to organize my thoughts. Now, I've finally found one in TJ6. I can organize not only my blog, but many other things as well.

1. The first screen shot on the right shows how I can now see a calendar and the date and title of every blog post I've done in the past four years. I find this far more valuable, and useful, than the labels in Blogger. However, each post is also cross-referenced with labels, should I want to look at my posts from a different vantage point, which I'll show you in another screen shot.

2. The second screen shot shows a monthly calendar of the title of every blog post uploaded during that month. I love the visual, at-a-glance feel of this.

3. The third screen shot, at right, I will admit, isn't particularly useful, but if I want to see how often I posted, or to notice posting patterns, this shows every post I did over an entire year. If I click on a date, it will take me to that day's post (as does the first calendar, above).

4. The fourth screen shot shows one of several calendar trees I've created. I'm currently importing blog post ideas that'd been stored in Windows Explorer for the past couple of years. There are hundreds of them, as well as hundreds of possible images that coordinate with post ideas. The image on the right shows the images I've collected and have categorized under the title of "writing images."

If or when I need to ramp up my blogging frequency (meaning, if or when I sell a book), it will be completely doable for me, and fairly easily. Most of the post ideas cover the broad topics of "How to Write" and "How to Succeed." I've spent thousands of dollars, and had a lot of education in how to succeed, and how to be a coach (via Landmark Education); I can speak with authority on this. Another viable avenue would be to write more about personality types, however I haven't, as yet, collected ideas for that. I'll see what I feel like doing when the time comes. I'll probably do a bit of all three broad categories.

5. The fifth screen shot shows, not the blog, but simply my daily calendar/journal in which I write my thoughts and cross-reference to To-Do lists.

Calendar areas of the journal such as this and #1 are expandable by as many different types of calendars as you want to keep. Or, you can keep everything in a single calendar. I like separating my life from my blog.

The calendar will also alert you as to appointments, birthdays, and so on, just like any interactive calendar.

If you click on the picture to expand it, top right corner you'll see a dropdown box that says "No Tags." Tags are the same as Labels in Blogger. I have probably a hundred tags that I can use to label and cross-reference everything I put into TJ6. So when I want to find something in particular across all of my TJ6, I just search by tag.

6. The sixth screen shot shows the various categories I've created, so far, for TJ6. I have my blog and my daily journal; To-Do lists; blog post ideas; blog images; books read and/or reviewed; contest entries.

There's also what I call my Holding Tank, where I dump stuff that will then be sorted into other categories as time permits. Currently, I'm planning to retrofit my daily journal, meaning I'm going to insert journal entries from the past two years (which I've been keeping in a Word file) into it.

This, as everything in TJ6, is as expandable as you want it to be.

You can control how you want the journal to look. Like any word processor, you can fiddle with fonts and colors and so on.

I had mentioned in a previous post that I can write a blog post in TJ6 and upload it to Blogger directly from TJ6. This is true, but with one caveat: I need to upload images from the Blogger platform. Apparently if you use Wordpress, the image will be uploaded as well as the rest of the post. Still, I don't find this to be much of a problem. I upload the post, then immediately go to Blogger and upload the image.

7. This is another example of reason #4, but instead of showing how I organize blogging ideas or images, it's a screen shot of some of the cover images of the 300 e-books I have on my Ipad. I've also organized the books into about 30 categories, which are in lists, however looking at titles is a more interesting way for me to remember, sometimes, what I want to read next, and I have a record of all of the images in TJ6 for handy reference.

So, enough about my cool new software tool. Does TJ6 look like something that would be useful to you? Do you use something similar? If so, what software works for you?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Sometimes it's nice to own a couple of Kenworths

I've been feeling disconnected to my blog and to my writing over the past few days. Here's why ...

Yesterday, I spent 3 hours building (re-building) a brick retaining wall on the back patio. The wall has undergone some changes over the years. It started out as 12' long, reaching only to the spiral stairway that came off the deck. A few years later, we added another 12' beyond the stairway.

Unfortunately, the access to the septic tank is located in the embankment that the retaining wall holds back. 

Every five years when the septic tank needs to be pumped, the shrubs get torn out; the wall gets dismantled; the bank gets dug out with our bucket tractor--all due to the fact that the lids to the tank (were) 4' underground in the 6' total embankment depth. What a headache! With constant replanting, the embankment looked sparse, then great, and then horrible, over and over again in the 30+ years we've lived here.

Finally, I convinced hubby that something's got to change. 
I called Roto-Rooter and asked them to bring out some taller culverts when they came to pump the tank. 

After getting the septic tank pumped yesterday, this time, we raised the culverts over the tank, so that hubby will need to dig down only 2' to get to them. He could probably even do it by using only a shovel. Next time, there will be no need to rip out the wall, scoop out all the dirt, and so on. I've even talked him into terracing the bank, which will take some work, but not an incredible amount.

Those bricks are heavy! I'd estimate 15-20 pounds each. But it's done now, and so we can start filling the dirt in again, and creating the terrace.

But that's only part of what needs to be done. For the past three years, we haven't had a deck. Not that we ever used it much. My son-in-law doesn't remember us ever using it, and he's been in the family for 16 years. He's wondering why we want to build a new one. For one thing, there's a new, $1200 sliding glass door that opens to a 10' drop-off. Pretty good reason to build one.  

But also, as I said to him yesterday, when I asked him if he wanted to build the deck, "Dad and I are getting older. I'm retired. It's possible that we (or at least me, if not Dad), might  want to sit outside and read, or maybe want to eat outside, sometimes."

That we seldom sit outside might seem odd to suburban or city dwellers. I think it's because hubby doesn't see any particular draw to it. He's a farmer, and during three seasons of the year, farmers spend most of their time outdoors to begin with, so why spend more? For me, it was because I worked full time and was seldom home. When I was at home, there were too many other things that needed to be done, to consider sitting outdoors for a few minutes.

So the big project this week (and in the coming weeks) is outdoor work. I already replanted the 30' x 4' flowerbed that runs along the north side of the house. It's been a mess for the past two years, since hubby re-roofed the house, and then last year, when we put in all new windows and new siding.

I need to design the new deck. It's probably going to be just a simple deck with a pergola and some retractable shades that can add shade to the pergola's "roof," as well as to the West and East sides of the deck. Sun exposure was another reason our former deck was never used. With a southern exposure, it was never cool or shady, however there was shade on the patio beneath the deck.

Accompanying that, I'll be pushing some dirt around to create the dual terrace on the newly redesigned embankment. We'll need to rent a packer to pack the dirt down, so that I can build a second retaining wall. Then, next summer, I'll plant perennials. Or maybe annuals. I might start growing plants from seeds in the basement, under grow lights, like I did many years ago. It might seem hard to imagine, but I used to spend 20 hours/week gardening. But then I realized I wasn't making any money at it, and so I decided to pursue full time employment instead.

Driving home from Lewiston the other day, I was marveling at how sunny and warm it was. The hillsides look so green and beautiful. For the first time in a dozen years, I will get to enjoy my summer!!!! For the first time in a dozen years, I won't be cooped up in a library all day long, 12 months of the year.

Now, I've finally earned the freedom to enjoy my summers again. Even if it means being up to my elbows in dirt.

I'll give you my writing update in the next post. Yes, I actually did make a tad bit of progress on that front over the past week.

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