QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Feature Highlight: Notes and Reminders

In the past, I've written about some of the major features and benefits of QueryTracker. But, recently, I realized I was neglecting some of the more basic tools, and so I decided to write about a few of them. And just because they're basic, doesn't mean they aren't useful.

Keeping Notes

For instance, did you know you can attach private notes to any agent or query in the system? These can be any tidbit of information you think is worth saving. And, unlike posting comments on an agent's profile, these are completely private. Only you can see them.

Creating notes is easy and can be attached to any query in your query list. Go to your query list page, or the agent search page, and click the "Notes" icon as shown below.

You can also create notes from the agent's profile page as shown here:

After adding a note, the "Notes" icon will turn green so you know a note is there.

Setting Reminders

Reminders are like notes, except they'll pop up on a day you specify and remind you to do something. You can use them to remind you to check the status of a query, or anything else you can think of. They're set much like reminders, except you click the "Bell" icon instead of the note icon. Like notes, the reminder icon is available on either the query list, the search list, or an agent' profile.

When setting a reminder, enter a short message to yourself and then specify the date to be reminded. That's all there is to it. On that date, a message will appear at the top of each QueryTracker page informing you of the reminder. If you're a Premium Member you can choose to have reminders sent to you via E-Mail.

And that's all there is to notes and reminders.

Patrick McDonald is the founder and creator of QueryTracker. Though maintaining QueryTracker keeps him too busy to write anymore, back when he did he tended to write in many different genres. Not because he was eclectic, but because he was still trying to find his niche. Though he never discovered his genre of choice, he did find his home at QueryTracker, a place where he could spend time in his two favorite worlds: writing and programming.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It's a High Stakes Game

Stakes are king, no matter where you are in the process From roughing out a basic storyline to writing a novel, from chopping and pruning a completed novel to querying it (or, for that matter, going on submission, publishing, or talking to Oprah about your book), high stakes define success or failure more than any single factor. Unfortunately, what exactly constitutes “high stakes” in a manuscript or query defies an easy definition.

In the real world, and dictionaries, stakes refer to risk and/or the degree of interest in the outcome. That’s not a bad jumping off point. What a character stands to lose (or fail to gain) if the obstacles you so mercilessly throw at her throughout act two and the three extras you surprise her with in act three trip her up create stakes for that character. But that’s still merely a jumping off point, and mistaking it for the endpoint can make even the most revved-up powerful set of stakes sputter and stall like a 1968 Shelby GT 350 that just ran out of gas.

So, what goes in the tank? Characters. Characters are what give that engine -- the stakes, or “interest in the outcome” -- the fuel it needs to move and, hopefully, pull the reader/agent along. Even the most dire, end-of-the-world, realistic, and believable stakes are only as important as the lens through which they are seen. Which is to say, they only matter to the extent we care about the characters experiencing them. Plenty of people cried about the losses suffered at the Battle of Hogwarts, an imaginary battle at a fictional school for wizards. By contrast, I’m pretty sure everyone I was in the theater with when I saw Pearl Harbor was in the uncomfortable position of secretly rooting for the Japanese by the time they finally attacked the insipid batch of characters the screenwriters threw into what had been a truly horrific, real-world battle. Independent of the characters, there is no question which stakes should and would matter more.

But stakes simply cannot exist independently of the characters. If they could, every book would have the end of the world as its “stakes” and each would be a bestseller and there would be nothing more to worry about. When it comes to querying, that presents a bigger potential pitfall for writers with objectively huge “stakes” than it does those whose stories come down to the impact on one or two of the characters. Our pulses only quicken to (at best, when everything is going well) match the pulse of the characters who are actually facing the menace, threat, pain, problems. A beautifully broken heart or the loss of a beloved dog or a wrongfully shattered relationship being rightfully mended can outpace a nuclear war any day.

The trick, when querying, is to remember that. We don’t get enough words to actually invest agents in our characters, but they’re also painfully aware of that. We DO get enough words to show them that the stakes matter to and through our characters, which is enough to get them to read those first few sample pages where they can be introduced to them. If the description of stakes accomplishes that, it’s done its job.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Engineering a Fiction Series

My current WIP is an urban fantasy serial. I thought I'd take a break from the writing to give myself a refresher course on the business side of publishing. 

Pantsing a book--or even a series--is one thing, but authors must never pants their way through their careers. Better to lay good solid track down now before I get too deep! We all know that revisions can be a trainwreck. :) 

There is a certain appeal to the sound of the words "three book deal".

I remember the first time I read those words—my favorite author had just announced a deal to keep a beloved series going with a six figure payout. I was excited to learn there were more books coming…but those words curled themselves into a corner of my writer's brain and never left. Without realizing it, I'd set a goal.

I've long abandoned the idea of snagging a six figure payout for my work but the idea of a multi-book deal never went away. At the time I had been writing my first novel and knew that it wouldn't be a stand alone book in a stand alone world.

Choosing the Series Track

There seem to be two basic models for writing a series: there is the central idea/world with loosely-linked stand alones or there is the sequentially-linked stand alone format. When deciding to develop a series, we often choose one model or the other without ever thinking—but, once chosen, that model must be followed to the end.

I'm not sure editors want to hear the words "debut author" and "series" in the same query letter. There is a lot of risk in taking on the first of a series if the book can't stand alone. But isn't that why we pitch it as a series? You ask.

It is…but if you want to sell it as a series, you need to make sure that book will stand on its own legs. In fact, every book needs to do that—stand on its own. Very few readers like picking up a story in mid-thought and the dislike being left hanging even more.

I picture a series as I would a train—I'm the engineer and each of the boxcars is an installment. They are all linked together but they are each their own.


A series isn't a three hundred thousand word novel that gets broken up into chunks. It's a collection of novels connected by themes and characters. A writer shouldn't assume that, in order to read the fourth installment of a talked-about series, a reader will run out and buy the first three books to study up in advance. No one likes extra homework.

That's why it's important to make each book stand on its own. But it’s a series! You insist. My characters have history! Yes, they do…which is why a writer must be sure the series has continuity.

When writing a new installment in a sequential-type series, you have an obligation to provide backstory. Please, do it with skill—no info dumps. Often, a few lines here and there serve as reminders of key elements to keep old readers in the loop and new readers in the know. Balance is key, however.

Continuity is also important in the loosely-linked format—you need to provide a balance of unique elements while still reminding the reader there are other stories to be explored in the series.

Once that balance is found, the stories of a series will display a certain continuity that readers crave in a series. You want those books to be like boxcars in a train: separate yet together. Continuity can be thought of as the hitches between the cars—it will help the reader view the series as a whole (good for consequential book sales) while letting them enjoy one book at a time.


Perhaps you are the writer who is enjoying writing your story and is wondering if the story has series potential.

Maybe you are exploring future book plots, possible character interactions, subthemes and story lines. The key to writing a successful series, however, isn't how far you can blow that book out—it's how well you can control it.

Once again, I envision boxcars on a train (okay, I guess I have a thing for trains. Living where I do, it's hard not to.) In this case, each of the cars are relatively similar in size and shape. Sometimes the train has a tanker or a coal bin punctuating the link up—and the change is refreshing, in a way.

I am not thinking circus train, where one car is a box full of sad clowns and the next is a cage with giraffes hanging out the top. If your series begins to look like that, it means you let an element grow out of control—either a story line got away from you or a character is growing too fast to be contained by the story. Either element will run you into trouble and cause your series to falter…just like that circus train whose engineer doesn't know there's a low bridge around the next bend.

How do you control your stories from ruining your series? You need to always be looking ahead. Keep your characters in check. Know where story lines are going so they don't diverge so hard they split the series or converge too soon in premature collisions. Keeping tight control on the series will help you prevent crashes.


Another reason you may not want to consider—but absolutely must—is cancellation.

There are many reasons why a series gets cancelled and not all of them have to do with the series or even the writing. Sometimes publishing houses change direction. Editors leave. Philosophies change. Sometimes the money dries up and the house closes their doors.

If that were to happen, where do you want to be in your series?

That's why each book must be a stand alone—if there isn't a book to follow, do you want your readers satisfied or ripping their hair out in frustration? You can always pick up a well-written series someplace else…but if you alienate your readers by leaving them stranded, they won't forgive you so easily.

Does Your Story Have Series Potential?

Little did I know, back when writing my stand alone book, I was, in fact, laying the groundwork for a potentially successfully series. My publisher has since contacted the second book and is wondering when the third will show up in her inbox. I still have the responsibility to make sure each of the other books stand on their own feet.

While any story has the ability to spin off, series need better planning. However, with a little foresight, you can evaluate your work and make the important decision of turning your stand alone into a series.

You simply must make wise engineering decision to keep your work on track.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.