QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, January 30, 2009

QT Weeky Roundup

Contests + 1 Webinar

Amazon.com's 2009 Breakthrough Novel Award contest opens for submissions on February 2; submissions are only open until February 8, so get ready to submit!
Don't forget about our Suggestions Contest.  We want to hear all about what you'd like to see on the QueryTracker.net blog -- and we're even handing out a free first-chapter crit to one random suggester.  Get all the details here.

Interested in learning more about the children's market?  Want a chance to have your first page critiqued by an insider?  Find out more about Alice Pope's February 12th webinar here

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the Link Lotto contest!  This week's winner is Vicki Tremper -- congratulations, Vicki!  This was our final round and the contest is now closed, but we still encourage you to link often and thereby help others find out about both the main QueryTracker.net site and our blog!

New Agents 

Patrick has added new agents to the database. You can always check when new agents are added by clicking on LITERARY AGENTS > NEW & UPDATED AGENTS from the main QT site.

1. Hannah Brown Gordon at Foundry Literary + Media reps
  • Fantasy
  • Historical Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Women's Fiction
  • Young Adult
as well as several types of nonfiction including
  • Biography and Memoirs
  • Celebrity, Pop Culture, Music, Film and  Entertainment
  • Current Affairs and  Politics
  • Science and  Technology
  • History and  Military
  • Narrative 
  • Psychology
2. Kate Hordern at the Kate Hordern Literary Agency in the UK
3Thomas Willkens at The Jeff Herman Agency, LLC reps tons of different types of nonfiction
4. Marsha Philitas at the L. Perkins Agency reps
  • Erotica
  • Romance
  • Women's Fiction
Coming Next Week

We'll take a look at another great QueryTracker.net feature and bring you Part 2 of Heather Dyer's tips on writing a stellar novel synopsis. Just in case you're still struggling to compose that one-liner for your elevator pitch, guest blogger Michelle McLean is going to help you out. And that's just the beginning, so don't miss next week with the QueryTracker.net blog team!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Suggestions Contest!

The QT blog is off to a rollicking start, thanks to our wonderful readers and some awesome publicity from bloggers and even agents!

And now… we’d like to hear from you in our SUGGESTIONS CONTEST.

Which posts have you found most helpful? What do you want to see in the future? How can we improve? Give us your best advice and we’ll choose our favorite tip for a GRAND PRIZE of a first chapter critique, given by one of the QT Blog authors. So put your best ideas in the comments of this post. Feel free to make more than one suggestion.

The contest will end one week from today, so spread the word!

We’ve had several subscribers contact us to ask if they can link to a specific article or quote it. We are flattered and encourage links. Many of our articles are available for reprint. They can be found at the addresses below:

Five Writing Resolutions You Can Keep

7 Personality Characteristics You Need to Get Published

From Grief to Gold – Turning Bad Memories into Good Writing

Writing the Query Letter – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Succeeding as a Writer: Confidence and Determination

Also, the website Archetype Writing is a great resource for writers.

Thanks for all of your support and kind words. We love to hear from you, so keep the comments, messages and suggestions coming!

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quantum of Synopses: Novel Synopsis Basics

Publishing your debut novel can certainly seem like an impossible mission. Since you’re following the QueryTracker.net blog, you’ve clearly realized that you’re going to need a special agent for this mission.

And, my little QT's, you need to supply that agent with the requisite bag of cool tricks.

Naturally, your gripping, marketable and, totally polished novel will be immediately available. And, of course, after Elana’s series of posts a couple of weeks ago, your killer query is ready to go as well. But there is one other item you need for your special agent Awesome Proposal Kit.

Yes… THAT item.

More overwhelming to write than a 100K word novel!

More fearsome than the dreaded query letter!

Run, don’t walk… it’s the SYNOPSIS!

But, honestly… the synopsis is not all that scary. I'm going to cover the basic structure of synopses today and the next post will address how to make your synopsis ROCK.

So, here are the rules of engagement:

Formatting: Agents may request synopses of varying lengths depending on their preferences. You should absolutely respect those requests. For a one-page synopsis, use single spaced block text, as you would for a business letter. For synopses longer than one page, use standard double spacing, just as you would for your manuscript.

Point-of-View: Regardless of the POV for the novel you’re marketing, a synopsis is written in third-person, present tense. So, “Dorothy and her friends plan to murder the Wicked Witch of the West,” not “Dorothy and her friends murdered the Wicked Witch” or “The scarecrow, the tin man, and I plan to murder…”

Characters: Focus on only the most relevant characters in your synopsis. Minor characters should be referenced by role, rather than by name. For example, “Scarlett tricks her younger sister’s beau into marriage" rather than "Scarlett tricks her younger sister SUE ELLEN's beau FRANK KENNEDY into marriage.” For main characters that must be identified by name, the first mention of the name should be in all caps. This makes it easier for the agent or editor to remember which character is which (after all, they’ll only have a couple of pages to get to know a whole book’s worth of new characters).

Plot: The synopsis is a way to evaluate your story from a big picture standpoint. Does your plot make sense? Do the events unfold naturally through an effective story arc? Is your ending a satisfying resolution to the story conflicts? The agent needs to know that your basic story works, and that means you have to tell the WHOLE story. Which is not to say you shouldn’t be brief—you don’t need to include every subplot. But you MUST reveal the major conflict’s beginning, development, and resolution. And that means INCLUDING the ending in your synopsis. The query letter is for teasing; the synopsis is spoilerific. Tell the WHOLE story.

Language: As you distill your manuscript down to a few pages, your word choices become critical. The synopsis is not the place for unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. It is also generally not a place for excerpts and dialogue passages. The language in your synopsis should be clear, concise, and easy to read.

With so many rules for such a short document, it can seem impossible to compose a synopsis that does everything it needs to do and still manages to be interesting to read. I’ll be addressing some tips on how to accomplish that goal in my next post.

So stay tuned!

ETA: Part II of this series on Synopses, Writing a Novel Synopsis That Rocks, was posted on 2/5/09

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Elevator Pitch

Greater than the anxiety of sending a query letter is the knee-dissolving prospect of pitching your book face-to-face to that uber-agent.

My advice?  Be prepared! 

One of the highlights of a writers' conference is getting to meet agents in person to pitch your book.  The workshops are great and so is meeting new friends, but the pitch sessions are why most writers spend hundreds of dollars to go to conferences.  

Mistakes writers make in the pitch sessions: 1) Not being concise, 2) not being prepared, and 3) failure to read the agent.

1)  Be concise: If you are pitching to an agent at a conference, it is understood that you have a completed novel or non-fiction proposal.  The pitch should be a brief, and I mean brief, summary of your project.  You get ten minutes with the agent usually, but ten minutes is a long time to listen to someone prattle on about their book.  Really.  Put yourself in the agent's shoes.  I've heard several agents say the same thing in workshops: Keep it short and let the agent ask questions.  This way, they are engaged and can find out things about your project or you that interest them.  

2)  Be prepared:  Distill your book into a pitch well before the conference.  Don't wait until breakfast the day of the appointment.  

I spent a great deal of time at the last conference I attended watching other writers pitch.  I was amazed how many were unprepared.  Some went on and on, speaking in circles about their project while the agent looked around the room trying to stay awake.  Others had memorized an intricate and detailed five-minute summary of their book.  While some made it through with robotic precision (yawn), others became flustered and had to start over several times, like a kid reciting the Preamble to the Constitution.  The pitches that had the greatest result with agents were the ones that were brief and conversational.  Some of these writers were more at home speaking to an agent, but most of them had a natural, conversational pitches because they had spent a long time preparing and practicing the pitch.

You can have the greatest pitch ever, but if you don't practice out-loud, it will sound stiff.  Find someone to practice with.  Have them ask questions about your book.  Practice! Practice! Practice!  

3)  Read the agent.  This is the hardest part.  You are so nervous you can hardly see straight, much less read someone's body language, but you need to be aware of your audience.  

I watched while agents politely endured ten-minute monologues about projects while shifting in their chairs, covertly sneaking peeks at their watches and gazing longingly at the door.  The writers didn't even notice--they droned on and on, oblivious to the reception their pitch was receiving.  In one case, the agent tried to interrupt a writer to ask a question, and the writer was so engrossed in his recitation, he didn't notice she wanted his attention until she tapped him on the shoulder.  

The pitch is about describing your project and having a conversation about it.  There is a live person across the table from you--take advantage of that.  A full one-sided description can be done in a letter.  

Okay, so why is it called an elevator pitch?  Because it should be short enough to deliver on a standard elevator ride.  Brief.  

Everyone should have an oral pitch for their book whether they plan to pitch to an agent at a conference or not.  

I'm asked all the time what my book is about.  I have several versions of my pitch that I apply in different situations. One is about a minute long, which would be good for a conference pitch.  I have a 30-second pitch I use in situations where I am with someone who is genuinely interested in my project. Another is a one-liner I use when someone is asking to be polite or trying to make conversation.  I call it my "party" pitch.  I love my books, but most people don't want to hear me go on and on about them.  The one-liner discharges the duty on both sides.   I recommend you create one.  

Now for an example of a 30-second elevator pitch!

Jessica Verday is a fellow QTer and one of the nicest people ever.  She was kind enough to let me use her elevator pitch for her book THE HOLLOW, which is coming out in October 2009 from Simon & Schuster.

THE HOLLOW is a modern day ghost story that follows sixteen year-old Abigail Browning in her struggles to deal with the sudden death of her best friend, Kristen.  A death that people say might not have been an accident.  When Caspian, a mysterious and gorgeous stranger, shows up out of nowhere at Kristen's funeral, he encourages Abbey to look further into the situation.  

Just when Abbey feels like she might be able to deal with everything, a hidden diary makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend.  Torn between her grief and anger, Abbey sets out to uncover the truth behind the secrets Kristen was keeping from her.  Along the way, she'll stumble upon the buried past of her famous town and learn that some secrets are kept for a reason, when she inadvertently comes face to face with the real Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Now, if I were an agent across the table from Jessica, I'd be asking questions at this point, wouldn't you?  The oral pitch is concise, informative and intriguing.  I want to hear more. 

Here is Jessica's "party" one-liner:  

A dead friend, an old grave, and a local Legend haunt a sixteen year-old girl.
The challenge!  I'm going to post my 30-second pitch in the comments and encourage you to do the same.  It should be under 150 words.  Jessica Verday's word-count is 149 and my pitch in the comments is 119.  Feel free to post your one-sentence pitch also.  

Seeing other pitches helps us improve our own, which is what QueryTracker.Net is all about--helping writers improve their craft and make the quest for an agent less complicated.  

Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Creating Your Query List

Okay, today we're going to go over creating a list of agents to query. Before you can send a single query, you need to research and find the agents that are a good potential match. Using QueryTracker.net, this is totally easy to do.

You must create a username and password first. If you're already a member, sign in.

If not, see those teeny tiny blue words under the login name QTblogger? Yeah, click on those. It's free to join, although the premium features rock, so you should sign up for the membership. It's only $25 for an entire year.

Okay once you've signed in, you can now create your personalized list of agents you'd like to query. You can view your query list by clicking on LITERARY AGENTS and then MY QUERY LIST.

Here's the QTblogger's query list. We are so going to get published. Doesn't our title rock?

You can see we've named one list for our manuscript "Memoirs of a QT blogger," one folder titled "Hold," and one folder titled "Top Choices." You can have multiple lists for multiple manuscripts. Believe me, I do. Anyway, you can edit the names of your folders by using the pencil next to the name.

Then you can fill out the details of your manuscript. This helps every member of the main QueryTracker.net site, one of the top reasons so many people find QT useful.

Return to your Query List and click on the little picture of the binoculars.

This will automatically take you to the search feature, allowing you to search for agents. Fill out the information you want the database to search for. The less you fill out, the more agents will come up. I simply put in Young Adult for the genre and USA for the geographic region.

Click search and viola! You have agents to pick from. You can see links to publisher's marketplace, agent query, google, AAR, the agent's website or blog, how they accept queries, everything you need to make an informed decision.

Once you decide you want to add the agent to your query list, click on the left side where it says, "Add this Agent to my Query List."

The screen now changes to have a yellow circle with a check in it.

You can also watch the agent by checking the box. Or add the agent to a specific folder by using the drop-down menu. Query Priority is available to Premium Members only. Make sure you click "Save Changes" before you navigate away from this page!

When you go back to your query list, that agent will be there. It's that easy!

You don't have to wait until you're ready to query to start building your query list. In fact, it takes almost as much time and energy researching the agents to query as it does to write the novel itself! So start building your query list now, even if you're not quite ready to unleash your novel on the world.

Friday, January 23, 2009

QueryTracker.net Weekly Roundup 1/23/09

Another week has come and gone. Exciting things have happened.

Things That Are:

Writing Query Letters. It seems everyone is focusing on this right now. Here's some link soup for letters and comments I found so insightful and useful that I printed them and added them to my files. I study these winning queries and use them as a guide whenever I sit down to write my own.

Kristen Riggle's Query found at Agent Kristin Nelson's blog
Courtney Milan's Query found at Agent Kristin Nelson's blog
A Query Letter by J.B. Stanley found at the BookEnds blog
A Query Letter by Bella Andre found at the BookEnds blog
A Query Letter by Karen MacInerney found at the BookEnds blog
A Query Letter by Gail Oust found at the BookEnds blog

I find it intriguing that agents are taking time to address the query letter. In January. It's almost like they're saying, "Get it right this year." Make your query the best it can be. The agents who point out specific things is a big help--and is rare. Take advantage of these posts to better your own query letter. (Hey! That rhymes!)

Patrick has added new agents to the database. You can always check when new agents are added by clicking on LITERARY AGENTS>NEW & UPDATED AGENTS from the main QT site.
Kendra Marcus of Bookstop Literary Agency
Craig Kayser of Movable Type Literary Group
Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
Ellen Twaddell of Elaine Koster Literary Agency LLC
Minju Chang of Bookstop Literary Agency

Things Made of Awesome:

Leah Clifford, a long-time QueryTracker member and forum board moderator, gave her first interview this week! The interviewer, Karen Kincy, is an agented author conducting "Writers on the Rise" interviews. Congratulations Leah!

One of QueryTracker's first forum members, Jessica Verday, has just received her ARC! It has nothing to do with Noah, just so you know. It's an Advanced Reader Copy--basically her book. She has a post with pictures on her blog. Totally awesome, Jess!

This is an awesome post on how to get published. It's short, sweet, and totally made it into my file of things I'll be referencing often. Check it out. Seriously, the critique sheet is brilliant.

Things Made of Win:

Authoress revealed the Secret Agent for this month. Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary made kind and insightful comments on all 51 entries. Congratulations to the first, second, and third place winners. If you haven't jumped over to see what she's got going on over on her blog, you're really missing out. The first chapter critique is coming up next week.

Colleen Lindsey of The Swivet hosted a fun contest pitching a book in 140 characters or less. That includes spaces, punctuation, everything. Basically a twitter post. Click here to see the winning tweet. It was sheer brilliance.

Victoria Strauss, a contributor to the Writer Beware blog, has received the SFWA Service Award for her work in protecting aspiring authors. Check it out! Congratulations Victoria!

This week's winner of the QT Link Lotto is…Mary Jensen!
She posted a link to QueryTracker on her blog. Check it out. Congratulations Mary! Also, word to the wise, the contest runs through next Thursday, January 29, with the last winner announced next Friday, January 30. Click here for more details. Tweet your friends, spread the word!

That is all. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Familiarity Breeds Authenticity

Even though I write paranormal fiction that contains elements far outside the realm of possibility, it is essential that I make the story believable.  I increase believability by grounding my stories in settings with which I am familiar.  This familiarity breeds authenticity.  

My novel, SOUL PURPOSE, centers around a girl who can intervene on behalf of hindered spirits and help them find resolution to the problems that keep them earth-bound.  I set the story in Houston and Galveston Island, Texas--two places with which I am familiar.  The Texas Gulf Coast was perfect because I needed ghosts for my story.  Part of the plot centers around The Great Storm of 1900.  8-10 thousand people died in that storm.  Plenty of ghosts!

The research was a blast.  I took my kids to Galveston Island and we explored.  After visiting a museum dedicated to The Storm, we found the perfect cemetery, hotel, and restaurant for my book.  Once again, familiarity breeds authenticity.  

My century-old story world came roaring to life (with a little too much authenticity, thank you) last September in the form of a hurricane named Ike.  Ike was similar in intensity to The Storm of 1900.  Fortunately, we now have radar, satellites, radio and television to warn us that entire communities may be swept away.  No such system existed in 1900 when my book takes place.  

The effect of Hurricane Ike was similar to The Storm of 1900, but the death rate was negligible thanks to modern technology.  I've been through several hurricanes in my lifetime, but this one made the others look, feel, sound and smell like babies in comparison.  I sat hunkered in my boarded-up house experiencing some of the same terror my characters endured.  I can't wait to finish my sequel.  Talk about Familiarity!  

Show and tell time!

It shocked me how similar the pictures of the devastation from The Great Storm of 1900 and Hurricane Ike are.  I got witness first-hand my story world from 108 years earlier.  Here are a couple of examples of then and now.  They are frighteningly parallel.  

Surveying the damage on wheels 2008 and 1900: 

Searching through the debris 2008 and 1900: 

Whether you set your book in your hometown or outer space, try to find an element that is familiar to both you and the reader.  Familiarity breeds authenticity. (You just knew I was going to say that again, didn't you?)  

Have a great weekend, everybody.


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part II - Put the Critic on the Stand

A Note from Carolyn (Archetype): Today's article is a continuation from yesterday.  It teaches you to use top secret therapy techniques to defeat the Inner Critic, that nasty little voice that tells us our writing is no good and we'll never get published.  Be sure to visit Part I!

All of us have an inner Critic; unfortunately, its voice tends to be particularly strident when we sit down to write. “You’re no good at this,” it says. “Your ideas are stupid. Why would anyone want to read what you wrote anyhow?” Or maybe it waits until you’re actually pounding away at the keys. “That’s not the right word,” it announces. "You’re doing a terrible job of getting what’s in your head on the page. How can you call yourself a writer?”

Yesterday we talked about how the inner Critic undermines our writing, and how to start identifying when it's talking to us.  Today we're going to talk about how to really fight back.
Exercise 2: D-E

After you’ve filled up your A, B, and C columns (see Part I), you’re going to add the D and E columns.
D stands for Dispute.
In the D column, you're going to pull apart the Critic's assertions and dispute them.
The D takes some effort, but it’s worth it; if you’re able to practice, this will become second nature.
Questions to ask yourself as you dispute the Critic’s claims:
What evidence do I have that [what you wrote in the B column] is true?  (Be sure to tackle one Belief at a time, not all of them at once!)
What evidence do I have that [what you wrote in the B column] isn’t true?
Is there another explanation?
What would I tell a friend if she said these things to me?
What would that mean about me if this were true?
What effects are these thoughts (the Critic’s words) having on me?
Is it reasonable for me to be so hard on myself for this?
What would happen if I changed the way I was thinking?
If it’s really a problem, what can I do to make it better? (Should I take a class? Join a writing group? )
Pretend you’ve got your Critic on the stand in a court. How are you going to convince a jury that it’s a liar?

E stands for Evaluate Effects.

In the E column, you're going to check in to see how you feel.

Activating event
Evaluate Effects
What happened?What’s the Critic saying to you?

What is it trying to make you think or believe?
Your feelings as the Critic talksLooking at the Critic’s assertions more carefully and disputing them Checking in to see how you feel.
Example:Example:Example:Example:See below
Received a rejection slipI don’t know why I even bother sending out queries, I always get rejection letters. Obviously I don’t have any talent and I just look stupid to everyone who sees my work. I should just give up and admit I’m no good.Hopeless, depressed, hurt, angry, worthlessWhat evidence do I have that I'm a failure? well, all these rejection letters.

What evidence do I have that I'm not? Well, my friends say they like my stories, and I did win that award back in college...

What if I never got published? Would it kill me? No, but I'd feel bad. I guess I have to focus on how much I enjoy writing...
Well, I bother because I really care about my writing and would like to get published. But I write for myself first, because I enjoy it. As much as I want to get published, it's a process and I'm going through the same thing most writers do--even the ones I admire the most! I just have to keep working to get better. Maybe I could go to that writing conference I heard about...

Secondary Gain

One of the toughest things about Disputation is that it’s much easier (and in a backwards kind of way, a lot more fun) to wallow in self-pity. I genuinely believe that sometimes we need to wallow a little, but put a limit on it. If you take more than a day or two, you're just avoiding the problem.

Also be careful not to take your frustration out on a partner or friend. Wallowing for a little while is fine. Torturing someone else with your wallowing isn’t.


After you’ve put together your Disputation, re-evaluate how you feel. I like clients to take an extra step and re-write the original critical statement into something more balanced and positive. For example, if your original statement was something like “I’m a miserable failure as a writer,” after your disputation you might realize places that’s not true (or that it’s not as bad as you're telling yourself), so you rewrite the thought as “If I never get published, I’ll feel sad, but lots of famous writers got hundreds of rejection slips; what made them special was that they never gave up in spite of that. Even though they sometimes feel personal, they’re not rejections of me or even necessarily true rejections of my work--they’re just telling me that my work isn’t right for that publication right now, not that it’s terrible. I need to keep looking to find my work the right home.”

Whittling the Critic Down to Size

Remember, the Critic has spent a long time teaching you to believe a lot of bad things about yourself and your writing, and it will take time and practice for you to learn new thinking patterns. When you think something over and over, your brain actually aligns molecules in such a way that it’s easier for that thought to occur. The only way you’re going to disconnect that chain of molecules is to refuse to go over and over and over that thought. Instead, you create a new chain that says something more realistic.

You may want to practice these new statements a few times a day. Stick them on the bathroom mirror or over your writing desk. Say them out loud. Tell the Critic.

Remember those old cartoons where a big scary shadow would appear on the wall and the hero would cower in terror, only to have a teeny little mouse come around the corner? That’s what the Critic is like. It casts a big scary shadow, but if you shine some light on it and confront your fears, you’ll find that the Critic itself is just a little pipsqueak.

And now you have the skills you need to handle that pipsqueak!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part I - Track the Problem

A Note from Carolyn (Archetype): Many of you know that I'm the QT Blog Team's resident psychologist.  Over the next two days, I'm going to teach you to use top secret therapy techniques to defeat the Inner Critic, that nasty little voice that tells us our writing is no good and we'll never get published.

The Inner Critic can be the writer’s worst enemy. Each time we sit down to work, it feeds on our insecurities, reminds us of past failures, and criticizes everything we put down on paper.

Until now you’ve probably thought, like most people do, that the Critic’s sinister whispers should be brushed away so you can try to get back to work. But brushing them away is the worst thing you can do, because you’re not dealing with them. And that means they’ll just come back.

Imagine a room with a floor that “settled” a little too much, and now everything is tilted in toward the middle. If you drop a basketball on the floor, it will roll to the middle. You can push it back toward the wall, but as soon as it loses momentum or hits the wall, it’s going to roll right back.

Now imagine yourself sitting right in that sunken spot in the middle, and imagine ten basketballs. If they settle against you, it’s hard for you to write (they roll over your keyboard or paper, they bang into your elbows), so you have to push them. Even if it’s a really big room and the basketballs are leisurely, repeatedly pushing ten of them away is going to keep you from getting much writing done. You’d be better off dealing with the problem directly: gathering up the basketballs and getting them out of your way.

The Critic does the same thing as those basketballs. It keeps you so busy trying to ward it off that you don’t get much done.

So let’s talk about how to pick it up and get it out of your way.

Our Secret Weapon: The ABC Model

The inner Critic doesn’t just torture writers; it’s also responsible for clinical depression and anxiety. (It’s no coincidence that mood disorders are more common in writers than the general population.) But psychotherapists know just how to deal with the inner Critic; in fact, even the most vicious Critic will fall before cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT) when they’re wielded by someone truly determined to be the victor.

So, that's what we're going to use. Our secret weapon: the ABC model.

We use a chart for our homeworks in CBT. There are 5 columns, which we’ll label A, B, C, D, and E. For right now we’re just going to worry about B, though.


Exercise 1: A, B, & C

B stands for Beliefs

The first thing you’re going to do is spend some time writing down all the nasty things the Critic says to you in the B column. Even the things that seem small and silly.

Often people say, “It makes me feel bad and I want it to go away, and you want me to pay more attention to it?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to do. Remember, you need to take detailed notes on what the villainous Critic is doing if you’re going to beat him (or her). Be sure to include any phrase that uses the “hot” words the Critic likes best: should, shouldn’t, must, mustn’t, have to, can’t, etc.--words that make us feel stuck because they don’t leave room for alternatives.

Once you start to pay attention, you’ll notice that the Critic knows just which things will make you feel the worst, and it repeats those things the most. Part of what makes it so virulent is it knows your deepest insecurities and fears, and those are what it uses against you. It’s successful because you’re afraid those things are really true.

Worse, it’s stealthy enough that most of the time you’re not consciously hearing what it’s saying to you.

You’ve been listening to it for so long you hardly even notice its voice. Instead, you assume that your reactions or fears are based in objective reality.

Especially because it uses insults that are hard to defend against. For example, it’s hard to argue with “You’re not creative enough” because it’s hard to define what creative enough really is.

Don’t be afraid to pull out your list and add things as they occur to you. And don’t be surprised if your list is several pages long. That means two things. First, you’re doing a good job with this, and second…well, you’re a writer. Of course you’re going to write quite a bit!

C stands for Consequences

As you work, write down any emotions you’re feeling in the C column; that is, the emotional consequences to the beliefs in column B. Some statements might make you angry, some might make you sad, some might make you anxious. Just write it all down, and don’t worry if you’re repeating the same emotions beside different kinds of Critical thoughts.

What’s the Critic saying to you?
What is it trying to make you think or believe?
Your feelings as the Critic talks

I don’t know why I even bother sending out queries, I always get rejection letters. Obviously I don’t have any talent and I just look stupid to everyone who sees my work. I should just give up and admit I’m no good.Hopeless, depressed, hurt, angry, worthless

A stands for Activating Event

Now try to pinpoint when the Inner Critic bothers you most. Did you get a rejection slip? Did you see a writer on a talk show? Did you realize your writing time is coming up?  Write those things in the A column.

Activating event
What happened?
What’s the Critic saying to you?

What is it trying to make you think or believe?
Your feelings as the Critic talks
Received a rejection slipI don’t know why I even bother sending out queries, I always get rejection letters. Obviously I don’t have any talent and I just look stupid to everyone who sees my work. I should just give up and admit I’m no good.Hopeless, depressed, hurt, angry, worthless

So you’re going to be cataloging three things:

A stands for Activating Event (what happened?)
B stands for Beliefs (what you thought, what the Critic said to you)
C stands for Consequences (how you feel)

Come back tomorrow for the next step in defeating your inner critic!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From Grief to Gold

Turning Bad Memories into Good Writing

You pen the most heartbreaking scene of your entire novel, sure your story will move readers to tears. When you’re done, you read back over what you've just written… and not only is it totally lacking depth, it’s so overwritten that it’s comical. The only tears anyone will be shedding are tears of laughter.

You’re devastated. You need to be able to write sad stuff, and you want to write it well. But how does one do so? This article will show you ways to utilize your own misfortunes in order to make your writing more believable.

Every one of us has lived through some sort of difficulty in our lives. It is normal to want to put memories of these times behind you, never to be revisited. But bear in mind that these events have shaped who you are. Furthermore, there are ways to tap into your misfortunes and use them to your advantage.

You can take yesterday’s tragedy and turn it into today’s inspiration!

First, you need a recollection to draw upon. This could be:

• Loss of a spouse, family member, or pet
• Bullying, harmful teasing, or other painful childhood memories
• Loss of a job, your health, or even of a sense of safety
• Any difficult times from your life

You may wish to compile a list of these so that you can refer to them for writing purposes. (If you are new to this type of memory-tapping, be sure to start with a benign recollection. You can work your way up to more difficult memories later.)

Now let the magic begin! You’ll be surprised by how truly simple this is.

Sit somewhere comfortable with pen and paper in hand, or at your computer with your fingers on the keys. Think of a scene in your story that needs to be written, or perhaps rewritten. Now select a memory that contains the mix emotions you want to portray. Close your eyes. Take a deep, relaxing breath.

Keep in mind that this memory can no longer hurt you; in fact it can help you, so don’t be afraid. Put yourself back in time, back into your own shoes (or someone else’s!) and let the recollection run through your head like a movie. Allow yourself to really feel what occurred.

Now, open your eyes and immediately start writing the scene for your story. Don’t worry about errors, just let the emotion pour out. If necessary, slip back into your memory for a refresher. When you are done, read back over what you have written. You might be surprised; the depth of your grief has been translated into depth in your writing.

Let me give you an example of how this technique worked for me. Several years ago I needed to write the separation scene of my two main characters. I was very attached to them. They loved each other. I had hoped (along with them) that they would spend the rest of their lives together. But it wasn’t to be. After writing a lovely day for them that included their first kiss, I put on a very sad song. I closed my eyes and thought about a time in my life when I had been permanently separated from one I loved dearly. I thought about what it would have been like had I been given the chance to say goodbye. And then I wrote that goodbye, with all the tenderness and sorrow that would have been mine if I’d had the chance.

There is a bonus to this kind of writing exercise – you may notice your own grief easing.

Baroness Karen Von Blixen-Finecke lost her father to suicide when she was only nine. Her marriage ended in divorce, she suffered lifelong health problems, and the love of her life died when his biplane crashed. Her beloved coffee plantation failed and she was forced to return to the land of her birth. It was only then that she began writing. She adopted the pen name Izek Dinesen; Out of Africa is considered by many to be her most acclaimed work. I think she said it best:

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.
Now, go tell your story. The world is ready for it… and so are you!

Suzette Saxton is a freelance writer with both fiction and nonfiction publishing credits. Besides writing for the QueryTracker Blog, she loves to write books for children of all ages.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Need a Reply-- STAT!

Okay, my gang of QT's...

As promised, we'll be taking a close look at the features of the QueryTracker.net site that actually involve... um... tracking queries.

First, let's quickly run through HOW to track your queries on QueryTracker.net.

The first thing you need to do is choose an agent you plan to query and add them to your query list. I've added a few of the New & Updated Agents to the query list for our imaginary manuscript, Memoirs of a QT Blogger.

So after following Elana's tips to construct the perfect query, I would send it off to my agent of choice by their preferred query method (be sure to check which methods are accepted by the agent on the agent's Overview page, which Suz discussed last week.)

The next step after sending off your query letter is to track it. This will not only help you keep track of whom you've queried and when, but will also contribute to community data that can help you interpret patterns in agent responses.

So let's track that query. First, go to the "My Query Status" tab on the agent listing (you can also access this tab by clicking on the query status symbol next to the agent's name.)

This is where you will enter data to track your query. Notice the yellow checkmark symbol by the agent's name. This indicates that the agent has been added to your query list. When you start tracking your query, this symbol will change to reflect the current status.

So, I check the listing and see that this agent takes snail mail queries. I pop my letter in the mail and come to QueryTracker.net to log it:

Using the dropdown menus, I select the date and method I used to send the query.

Now my status symbol will change to reflect the pending query.

Be sure to hit the Save Query button after entering your information!

Then comes the hardest part... waiting for a reply. :)

Luckily, our imaginary response came very quickly! It's a partial request. Yay, hypothetical US!

Now to mark our good news in the QueryTracker.net database.
Your status symbol will now change again:

Once you get your submission off to the lucky agent, you'll update the submission side of the My Query Status tab in just the same way.

Tracking a partial or full request is fun, but you should track EVERY response you receive on queries sent. Why, you ask?

Because every time you record your query responses in QueryTracker.net you are also creating data points. And the data from all the 11,000+ strong QueryTracker.net members gives you access to powerful information in the Agent Reports & Statistics tab.

So let's take a look at the stats available for queries. The full basic query report shows how many QT users have recorded sending a query to this agent, what method they used to send it, and what the responses were by percentage overall, and by method of query.

In this entry, for example, you can see that this agent receives most of her queries by email, requests to see the manuscript about 22% of the time, and overwhelmingly requests a partial or a proposal, rather than a full manuscript from the query.

There are several other reports available that can give you even more information. You can break down the agent's request rate by genre or by manuscript length. You can also track the responses to those requested partials and fulls. But perhaps the most useful information is the Query Response Time report.

Once you've chosen "Query Response Times" from the dropdown menu and clicked "Generate Report," you will see a chart like this:

The chart shows that this agent has a very quick response time for emailed queries, averaging just 6 days for a postive response and 11 days for a negative one. The response times for snail mail queries are significantly longer. This information is helpful in judging whether you should resend a query to an agent you have not heard from.

If you'd queried this agent by email and 2 months or more had passed, chances are fairly good that internet goblins are involved. But for many other agents, 2 months or more may be standard. Having this data available can help you decide when you're considering re-querying.

There are also a lot of very cool reports that are only available to premium members. Tune in next week for the details on those.

And keep on Tracking!

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

QueryTracker.net Weekly Round-Up 1/16/09

Well, this wraps up another week for the QueryTracker.net blog gang! A lot of awesome stuff going on in the past few days, so here are the current highlights:

Through the Booking Glass...

In publishing tidbits... several cool things to check out on industry blogs this week:

House of (Literary) Representatives...

In agenting news:

  • Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, formerly with FinePrint Lit, has now joined Nancy Coffey. You can read an interview with Joanna regarding the move on Colleen Lindsay's blog.

  • And somehow in the midst of slogging through over 3000 submissions to the Firebrand Query Holiday, agent Nadia Cornier found the time to build her own website, which you may want to keep an eye on.

In It to Win It...

In contest news:

Amy Simonson
Check out her blog at amy-thewriterscloset.blogspot.com.

Amy has won a year of free QueryTracker.net Premium Membership

  • On Wednesday, Archetype touched on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The contest starts in just a couple of weeks, so if you're planning on entering it's a good idea to get started on your pitch and decide where (between 3000 and 5000 words) to end your opening excerpt.

There are several videos available through CreateSpace regarding the ABNA.

  1. For basic planning information
  2. For publishing tips
  3. For creating online previews

  • Finally, on Miss Snark's First Victim, the current Secret Agent edition of Are You Hooked? is in full editing swing. Be sure to stop by and read the entries as well as the feedback. And remember to tune in on Monday when the Secret Agent's identity and the winners will be revealed!
QT Success Stories!!

In my opinion, there is no greater resource for finding a literary agent than QueryTracker.net. And, as proof, I present THREE new success stories from recently agented authors!

Have a great weekend, QT's! I'll be back Monday with an in-depth look at the query stats features of QueryTracker.net.

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.