Life Circumstances of a Writer

I’m a writer, but my full-time job is not writing. Thinking back upon my life thus far, I can remember nearly always possessing a love of writing but in addition to other loves. When I was a kid, I enjoyed writing but also wanted to be a doctor. As I went through school, I enjoyed my English electives but chose to major in the sciences. In college, I was inspired by one of my professors to become a doctor (not the type that I or my parents were originally thinking) and eventually went all the way to earn my Ph.D in Biological Sciences (I have the scars from field work to prove it). Now, so many years later, I enjoy writing fantasy even though I’m an Associate Professor of Biology. To date, I’ve published 4 novels and 1 nonfiction book, but the professor life remains one of my full-time jobs, and raising my family is my other full-time job. Peoples’ life circumstances are different, and I am friends with several full-time writers, many writers that also are in occupations related to writing, and lots and lots of others that are in occupations, including parenting, not necessarily related to writing.

Occasionally, I stumble across writing advice that honestly irks me, and then I have to take a step back (i.e., run away) and remember to breathe (i.e., not scream). I take this moment to remember what I just said above: everyone’s life circumstance is different, and not all advice for writers applies to you. For every writer that celebrates the end of summer because it means kids are back in school, there will be writer-teachers that mourn the end of summer because it means going back to to work — or writers that can’t empathize with this because they don’t have kids. For every writer that depends on the support of a partner to take over the household and/or kids so they have more time to write, there will be writers that don’t have partners — or writers that don’t have partners that are able and/or willing to take over the household and/or kids. And so on. And so forth.

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So yes, I have a full-time non-writing-related job and am a parent. Originally, I was going to title this blog “If Your Full-time Job is not Writing…” BUT this won’t apply to every writer (and I don’t want to irk anyone). So ultimately, this is my blog post about acceptance of who YOU are as a writer and YOUR life circumstances, whatever they may be.

Here are things that have helped me navigate the trickiness of life and all it has to offer:

  1. Regularly reevaluate your priorities. Writing does not always have to be on the top of your list today. It does not have to be on the top of your list tomorrow. Your life circumstances might require that you shift priorities from season to season or even day to day, and this is okay.
  2. Do not compare your progress, success, situation, or life to others. You work the way that is best for you. Period. Comparing your situation to someone else is not productive — you set the standards or bar for yourself, not anyone else. 
  3. Create small, realistic goals for yourself. Adjust whenever needed. Keep your goals attainable and within your control. “Selling X books within a month of book release,” or “Hitting a bestseller list by the time I retire,” are examples of goals that are not within your realm of control. “Write 5K this week,” “Revise three chapters today,” or “Critique a beta read by the end of the month,” on the other hand, are great goals that are within your control.
  4. Cultivate a different enjoyable go-to activity for those hard-to-write days. Hitting those writing goals provides us with a great deal of enjoyment, but everyone has those days when the words become a thick sludge and simply refuse to come out. Everyone. Instead of depriving yourself of the specific enjoyment of hitting your writing goal, shift your efforts to something that also provides you with joy.
  5. Allow yourself breaks from writing — “as long as you need.” “As long as you need,” is the response that one of my writing group sisters gave me when I told them that I needed to take a writing break. I’m filled with gratitude for this level of understanding, which brings me to the next point.
  6. Take care of yourself. Orly Konig’s post yesterday shared 4 wonderful ways to protect your writing boundaries. In addition to your writing boundaries, you need to protect yourself too, your mental and physical health, and your sense of well-being. This may require saying “no” or forgiving yourself for taking necessary breaks. 
  7. Take time to remember and reflect on why you are a writer. If you’re here on Thinking Through Our Fingers and any of this resonates with you on a deep level, then you are a writer. Even if you don’t write today, tomorrow, for weeks or months or years, you are a writer. We all have reasons why we’ve embraced this difficult and often frustrating trade, and it’s emotionally helpful to remind ourselves of why we write. 
  8. Ignore writing advice that doesn’t apply to you. Instead of being irked by writing advice that doesn’t apply to you (as I tend to do), move on. You will find your way — a way that works for you and others in similar life circumstances. Or maybe just for you. ❤ 

HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

 

Introducing Evil: Crafting a Villain

I love a good bad guy. Always have, always will. For me, and for many other readers, the strength of a story lives or dies on the strength of the villain. After all, why bother rooting for a hero who doesn’t have to overcome anything? Where’s the fun in watching Frodo casually pop over to Mordor, toss the ring into the fires of Mount Happy, and then back home to the Shire again in a single, uneventful weekend? That’s barely a flash fiction story—and not a very interesting one at that.

It’s clear that writing villains is as big a challenge as writing heroes is. But whereas the hero is usually introduced right in beginning of the story, the best moment to reveal the villain is a little more complicated. Should one do a full reveal in chapter one, or wait until the hero reaches the “boss level” towards the end, or somewhere in between?

Time to pack up.png

The answer, like so many when it comes to storytelling, is “it depends.” There are pros and cons to introducing your main villain early on, as well as waiting until the end. If you’ve got a really strong villain, for instance, it may be worth an early reveal so that the reader gets to see as much as possible. On the other hand, revealing a villain too early can mean that the reader becomes desensitized or even bored. It’s a delicate balancing act, for sure. So while I can’t tell you exactly what will work best for your story, I can share some examples of great villains, when they were introduced, and what effect it had on the story.

Let’s start with Darth Vader, because Darth Vader. Now, forgetting all the prequels, and taking Star Wars by itself, Vader is one of the first major characters introduced on screen at just 4:42 into the film (yes, I checked), before we see Princess Leia put the Death Star plans into R2D2, and long before we meet Luke Skywalker. In fact, by the time Luke shows up, we’ve already seen Vader break a guy’s neck with his bare hands. We look at this kid Luke and think “He’s gotta go up against THAT?”

Another example of introducing a villain early is Rene Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He shows up just as Indiana Jones has made his harrowing escape from the jungle temple with the golden idol. Belloq’s first words are “Doctor Jones! Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.” Indy responds, “Too bad the Hovitos don’t know you like I do, Belloq.” This crucial scene, placed within the first few minutes of the story, introduces us to both the protagonist and antagonist. In fact, they introduce each other to us. We learn Indiana Jones’ name from Belloq, and visa-versa. We learn that not only do they know each other, they’ve also got a long and storied history with each other.

Some villains don’t look or act like villains when they are first introduced. When Edmund first encounters the White Witch in Narnia, she doesn’t appear threatening in any way. Instead, she makes Edmund feel cozy and safe and offers him as much Turkish Delight as he likes. Similarly, Annie Wilkes literally saves Paul Sheldon’s life in the beginning of Misery. And Long John Silver befriends young Jim Hawkins at the beginning of Treasure Island, with no hint as to his murderous intentions. It’s only later when their true motives are revealed that we see just how frightening these characters really are.

Other villains don’t try to hide their agendas at all. IT is seen early on as a clown in a sewer drain—I mean, come on: Pure. Evil. Shakespeare’s Iago hates Othello with every fiber of his being, and he doesn’t care who knows it (apart from Othello, that is). Don John, the bastard brother of Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing calls himself “a plain dealing villain,” and revels in causing chaos for no other reason than it amuses him. Richard III tells us in his opening speech: “I am determined to prove a villain . . . and hate the idle pleasures of these days,” and then goes on to prove it to the audience with gusto.

On the other hand, there may be a benefit to waiting a while before revealing your villain. In Jaws, we don’t fully see the shark until well into the third act. But there is absolutely no mistaking the shark’s presence throughout. We see the shark attack a girl in the opening scene, and every time we are shown the water thereafter, we just know the shark is out there somewhere. The tension keeps building to almost unbearable levels at times, never knowing exactly when and where the shark will next appear. The same psychological effect is also at play in the original Alien, which is basically Jaws, but in space. We only see the Alien in flashes and glimpses, but we know it could be around the very next corner, and so we pull the blankets up to our chins and wait in delicious terror.

Or consider how Moriarty is revealed in the first series of the BBC’s Sherlock. Early on, and for the entirety of the first two episodes, Moriarty is just a name, a shadow, a few lines of text on a screen. But this master criminal, who is every bit as brilliant, as calculating, and as complex as Holmes, continues to be a growing presence and increasing threat in Sherlock’s world. Moriarty’s reveal as a villain is an agonizingly slow burn, a crescendo of terrible inevitability that leads to their first confrontation near the swimming pool in the episode “The Great Game.” And it was most definitely worth the wait.

One caution: It’s okay if you decide to wait a while before revealing your main villain, but make sure your protagonist has something to overcome early on in your story. Bilbo Baggins doesn’t meet the dragon Smaug in chapter one of The Hobbit, but he does have to deal with all manner of dwarves, trolls, goblins, spiders, and other obstacles along the way to Smaug’s lair.

In Lord of the Rings, Sauron, like Jaws or the Alien, is more of a presence rather than a corporeal entity through most of the story. In fact, he’s little more than a giant flaming eyeball on top of the tower of Barad-ur. But like Jaws, Sauron’s evil is felt everywhere, and infects potentially everyone. Nearly every creature the Fellowship encounters is trying to get the ring back for Sauron, which is what makes Frodo’s journey to Mordor worth reading about.

Exactly when and where you choose to reveal your story’s villain is up to you. But wherever and whenever you do it, make sure it’s a memorable moment for your readers, because that villain’s choices are going to drive the narrative of your entire story. And you want to ensure your readers come along for the ride.

Happy villain-ing!

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

3 Ways to Add More Humor to Your Writing

 

“A joke is like building a mousetrap from scratch. You have to work pretty hard to make the thing snap when it is supposed to snap.” –Kurt Vonnegut

 

Looking for ways to add more humor to your writing? Here are three ideas!

 

humor

 

#1: Use Funny Words

Fiddledeedee

Hornswoggle

Spelunker

Lackadaisical

Persnickety

Some words are simply funny. Why? Well, they just are!

Adding more humor to your writing might be as simple as hitching up your pantaloons and yanking a bevy of wonky words from your noggin.

But if you’re you’re feeling bumfuzzled, gobsmacked, bamboozled or just plain discombobulated, don’t make a big brouhaha about it. Instead, skedaddle on over to these lists of funny words and you’ll be writing more hilarious sentences in a jiffy…

Writer’s Digest List of Funny Words
Alphadictionary’s List of 100 Funniest Words
Inherently Funny’s List of Funny Words

 

#2: Be Specific

What’s funnier?

I saw an animal chasing my neighbor.

OR

I looked out my window and spewed chunks of Crunchy Corn Bran out of my nose. Mr. Dobber, my ornery neighbor with a penchant for wearing shorts, suspenders and black socks was running faster than a fat turkey on Thanksgiving, which isn’t very fast actually. But by the way Mr. Dobber was lifting his knees to his chest as he raced through our geraniums, it was obvious he was giving it all he had. And I would, too, if a large hairy llama with a dribbling slobbery tongue was chasing me.

To write good humor you need to avoid generalizations.

Use specific words.
Create specific scenes.
Design specific characters.
Be specific!

“You describe a thing in a way that is totally different from-even the opposite of-the way people expect you to describe it. Also, if possible, you use the term ‘weasel fart.’” –Dave Barry

 

#3: Use Callbacks

Callbacks are one of my favorite devices for writing humor.

A callback is when you mention something seemingly insignificant. And then later on in the story or standup routine, you refer to this bit again in a funny way.

In one of my works in progress I have a rotten character who is a man-hungry woman with caked on make-up. In one scene, my main character sees a couple of big guys heavily strapped with knives, daggers and swords. Later on, the woman fawns all over them, admiring their muscles and such.

The next line in the story is, “Now Jasper understood why the men needed so many weapons.”

 

What techniques do you like to use to add humor to your writing?

 


 

blackanewhiterinErin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

 

Reframing “Success”: 5 Ways to be Happier as a Writer

Last weekend, I was at a writing retreat where middle-grade author Jennifer Nielsen talked about how we define success as a writer. Her talk was inspiring, as she reminded us that there are lots of different ways to measure success as a writer—but her timing was also fortuitous, because as it happened, I’d been thinking about “success” in preparation for this post.

And yes, I put “success” in scare quotes. There’s a reason for that—I’ll get to it.

I’m currently working on the last book in my contracted trilogy, and my agent has already asked me what I want to do next. While I have a couple of possible ideas, the looming question—what do I do next?—has also had me looking long and hard at what I want out of writing.

Of course I’d like to be successful. Ambition has always been a driving force for me (not surprisingly, my Pottermore results turned up Slytherin), and that’s no less true in my writing.

But what is “success” as a writer? Lots of attendees had good answers: money to supplement the family budget, connecting with readers, etc. But I realized, as I listened, that I had no idea what “success” looked like for me.

There are the obvious answers, like hitting a best-seller list, having your book made into a movie, selling x number of copies, etc. But the truth is, I’ve already hit a stage that five years ago I would have thought was successful: my first book came out with a big 5 publisher—my book is even in Target! But I don’t feel successful. I still feel wildly unsure, doubting my words and my craft. And even the measure of success I often hear—I just want my book to reach one person—doesn’t work for me. Because, if I’ve reached one person, then suddenly that isn’t enough. I want to reach one more, and then another, and then another. Most of the time, “success” seems like an endlessly vanishing summit, a trail that lengthens the higher I climb.

My friend Emily King articulated the inherent tension in writing “success” perfectly:

Anyone in the publishing industry knows that luck and timing account for more than a fair amount. Book covers, marketing, release dates, trade reviews, advances, invitations to conferences, etc. I realized as I sat with the question “What does success mean to me?” that success is ever-moving. It is a dangling carrot that motivates us to work harder and persist, no matter where we are on our personal journey. . . . In essence, success is something we chase, not something we achieve.

The intent of our heart, the reason we’re sacrificing and toiling for that carrot, and our motive for consecrating our time and talents, must bring us personal joy or contentment. Otherwise the success we experience will feel like just another step on a lofty ladder to a higher rung of achievement. We must be driven by the carrot hanging out of our reach, ambitious enough to go for it, and satisfied by what will feel like minor advances. Or at some point, we will stop fighting for our dreams.

So for me, success is finding a way to be grateful and happy with where I am today, while always keeping one eye firmly on that carrot.

This begs the question: how do we find happiness with our current progress without abandoning our goals? Here are five ideas (I should note that these are as much for my benefit as for anyone else!):

1. Find your why
Most writers, when they start writing, don’t write because they want to make money* or because they want to be famous (or if they do, they find that those goals don’t sustain them for long). Most writers start because they have a story they want to tell, or because writing fills some kind of creative need in their life. I’ve been telling stories since I could hold a pencil, simply because there’s something so inherently satisfying to seeing the story unfold in my mind.

*This is not to say that writing as a means of earning a living is bad—far from it! Many authors write to sustain themselves and their families. Only to say that money (and fame) shouldn’t be the only reasons to write.

2. Reframe the discussion
Instead of focusing on success and/or failure, maybe we should focus instead on satisfaction/fulfillment and creative play. When we (and by “we,” I really mean “I”) focus too much on success, it can rob us of the joy we find in creating. When we worry too much about failure, we lose the capacity to explore. Maybe, instead of asking, “am I a successful writer,” we should ask instead: “is writing satisfying to me? Why or why not?” If writing isn’t satisfying, it might be because we’re asking too much of it—or we’ve forgotten to play.

3. Be grateful
While goals can be an important forward-looking device, sometimes we need to look back and see how far we’ve come as writers. We need to acknowledge the good that has already come from writing, not just the imagined good we hope will come. I know authors who keep a bucket list of things they’d like to achieve as a writer, and pull the lists out periodically, not to mark how far they still have to go, but to appreciate the things that have already happened, from the mundane (the first query rejection!) to the more profound (the first fan letter!).

One of my critique partners recently forwarded us the pages we’d sent for one of our early meetings (nearly five years ago!) and my pages were truly awful. I’m grateful that I’ve grown as a writer—and this gives me hope that my writing can still improve. My life is so much richer for the friends I’ve made as a writer—even if I had never published, that would be an indelible good that came from a creative life. Sometimes I forget that.

4. Be brave
Sometimes I think we’re socially conditioned to think that happiness means the absence of fear or unhappiness. But mental health experts point out that trying to avoid stress can actually increase it by training our bodies to view all stress as a negative thing.

Part of being happy with our writing means being brave: sitting with our fear or our disappointment and then putting ourselves and our writing out there anyway. (Within limits, of course: knowing yourself and protecting your own health are also important). Brené Brown suggests telling our fears, “I see you, I hear you, but I’ll do this anyway.” (See  also Tasha’s excellent post from yesterday).

5. Tell your stories
Barbara Kingsolver has said, “Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” I find that as a writer, I’m most satisfied when the stories I’m working on are stories that are meaningful to me, rather than the stories I *think* I ought to write. This doesn’t mean that all the stories I write for myself are stories that need to go to a wider audience (Jeanette Ng has a fantastic post on the need for egotism in writing and humility in editing), but that they ought to start with something that matters to me.

What brings you happiness as a writer? How do you reframe “success” in your own career?

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.

Braving Writing

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.

— Brené Brown

At the end of July, much like the end of December, I look forward with great anticipation to the start of a new year. I think of the things I’ll be able to do now that I have a focus, now that the holidays/summer is over, now that . . .

And then, just as I have re-re-re-re-discovered, reality and my imagination aren’t quite in sync the way I’d like them to be. I can think about what I want to have happen. I can even tell someone else what I want to have happen. And then the day job surges and the kids have activities and the spouse changes jobs and before I know it, the members of my writing group are sending pages and I’m floundering and stuck and frustrated.

While the latest disappointment in myself surged, I was listening to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong was particularly intrigued by the idea she presents in there about BRAVING for the ways we engage with others, an acronym which stands for:

  • Boundaries
  • Reliability
  • Accountability
  • Vault
  • Integrity
  • Nonjudgment
  • Generosity

Then, as she usually does, Brené spun the acronym around and asked how well we do at honoring these things in ourselves, and I realized that in my efforts to honor what I say I’ll do in my engagements, I am very quick — too quick — to dismiss commitments I’ve made to myself. And, as I’m watching writers in all walks of life transition from the footloose life of summer, I think I’m not the only one.

Braving Writing.png

The Rising Strong Process includes:

  • The Reckoning: walking into our story
  • The Rumble: owning our story
  • The Revolution: writing a new ending and changing how we engage with the world

Sure, I’d love to give you a set of steps that will help you recognize what needs to be done to transition to honoring your own work as well as you honor the work requested by others, but the bottom line is I don’t have the answers.

And, unfortunately, there can’t really be answers — at least not as clean-cut as I’d like. In order to start the Rising Strong Process, we have to have a reckoning, which includes the uncomfortable realization that we are creators of SFDs — Shitty First Drafts (courtesy of Anne Lamott), or Stormy First Drafts if you are looking for a G-rated version). I know people who have been writing for a while know this is the case when we are crafting stories, but it was a grand ah-ha! for me to realize that I was telling myself these stories in regards to things in my own life – specifically my writing.

SFD #1: I’m at the point in my writing career where no one knows, really, where I’m at in my progress (except, perhaps, my agent). People are busy and they have their own pursuits, so since no one knows what I’m doing, it doesn’t really matter if I don’t get writing in TODAY because there isn’t as much urgency right now.

Truth #1: I never started this writing journey for anyone else. I am a happier person, I feel more soul-deep satisfaction when I am writing. Besides nurturing the relationships with people close to me, there aren’t many things that make me feel the way writing makes me feel.

SFD #2: Honoring the meetings I have with other people is more important than the meetings I think about scheduling with myself.

Truth #2: If I have learned anything over the last 18 months of negotiating unstable brain and body chemicals, it is that paying attention to what I need to do for me is incredibly important. Thinking that I will be able to just ignore the pursuit of writing and then have it come back because I want it at that moment is ridiculous, I know it is ridiculous, I have learned time and again that it is ridiculous.

SFD #3: I don’t have time to write.

Truth #3: I have proven to myself and others over and over and over that when there is something I am dedicated to, I get it done. Period. I have time to write, but I choose to cruise through social media, play mind-numbing games, or just zone out in general. I know the process to engage in the work I love can take some time to transition into, but lately I haven’t even attempted to try.

While this technique is very valuable in helping understand why our productivity isn’t quite where it should be, I think it is also important to be honest with ourselves when it comes to feedback we receive from other people. Rising Strong recommends starting with the phrase, “The story I’m telling myself is . . . ”

Got a bad review? “The story I’m telling myself is . . . ”

Didn’t get as far in a contest, from partial or full request, or while on submission as you wanted? “The story I’m telling myself is . . . ”

Feel a little whisper of envy creeping in at the progress, sales, accolades, reviews, rights, etc. that a friend is receiving when you are not?  “The story I’m telling myself is . . .”

The bottom line is we, as writers, have volunteered to engage in life in a way that is going to try our dedication to ourselves, to our craft, to the world around us. We have demonstrated the courage, as both Brown and Theodore Roosevelt explained, to enter the arena, to engage in life with intentionality, to seek after something that is a little beyond what might generally be expected. And, as such, we are going to get knocked down. We might even be the one to knock ourselves down. That much is true.

The question that we must ask ourselves is how will we choose to rise?

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TashaTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Querying Is A Numbers Game

The internet is filled with resources on how to query, how many queries to send at a time, and how to write a query letter. But today I want to talk about something that I haven’t seen discussed nearly as much:

The fact that many querying writers shelve a manuscript without actually having sent out all that many queries.

Let’s start by talking about job applications. I know, totally unrelated, right? But bear with me here for a minute. My husband graduated from college in 2010, with a degree in computer programming. Because programming is a field with immense turnover and an average employee job length of three years, and because he’s done a few years of contract work, he recently started his fifth job in that space of time. Some of these jobs have come without much effort or application, but some of them have come after months of intense job searching.

In the latter situation, when he’s actively putting out applications to companies he doesn’t have connections at already, we’ve discovered that it takes a certain number of applications put out in the ether before things reach a critical mass, at which point things really start to move and he finally ends up with a job offer.

In my experience, querying is much the same. If you pay attention when writers who’ve recently signed with an agent share query stats, you’ll notice that much of the time, they’ve sent at least fifty queries for that book—and often much more than that. I know a fair number of talented writers who’ve signed with big-name agents… but only after they’d sent a hundred or more queries.

While preparing for this post, I asked a group of agented authors about how many queries they sent before signing with their agent. The responses ranged anywhere from 4 to 125. For those who went on to sell that book, there also was no correlation between how many queries an author sent and how quickly the book sold to a publisher; many of the ones who sent the most queries sold within weeks, while some who sent the smallest number of queries got the largest number of publisher rejections. It’s also pertinent to know that for many of these authors, the book that ultimately landed their agent was not the first book they’d queried.

Personally, I sent 43 queries on my debut, which is a fairly small number for my track record—and the only reason it was so relatively few was because I got an agent very quickly after the first #DVPit contest, which made things move much faster than they otherwise would have. On the book I queried before my debut, though, I sent more than 110 queries in total before finally shelving the book.

Why am I sharing all these stats? Because so often, I’ll talk to aspiring authors who are feeling overwhelmed by the query slog and hear that they’re considering shelving books after a relatively small number of queries. Many shelve before reaching the 50-query mark, and a good number shelve even before that, at 30 queries or less. But if you consider that the vast majority of authors send several dozen queries before signing with their agent, and some send a hundred or more, shelving a book when it’s been seen by such a relatively small number of agents isn’t giving the book a true chance.

Viewing querying as a numbers game also helps take the personal sting out of rejections. When you query expecting to have to send out a lot, it’s easier not to get attached to each individual agent you send to, and easier to move on again if you receive a rejection.

Of course, using this query strategy leaves two important questions:

1. How do you know you’re not just throwing away your queries on a book that’s not strong enough?

The answer to the first question is a matter of pretty simple game strategy. I’m a small-batch querier: I typically send 5-10 queries at a time (usually closer to 5, since sending queries takes time!), then wait to see if I get requests from that. A 20-25% request rate while I was querying was usually my sign—if I had that many requests, I could be fairly confident that my query was working well, so I sent out more. I’d send out one or two more queries every week or two, provided I was still getting requests. Over several months, I’d build up to the point where I had a few dozen queries out in the world—at which point, I’d start to get responses on the fulls I’d sent out to the early requesters. Full rejections can be a perfect time to pause, evaluate feedback given, and figure out if it’s time to revise before moving on with more querying.

2. How do you even find that many agents?

Since I write young adult and middle grade, my favorite resource when I’d get ready to query a new book was the Literary Rambles blog, which has a database of literary agents who represent picture book, middle grade, and young adult titles. I also would make note of Writer’s Digest New Agent announcements, check the acknowledgments of my favorite books or Google my favorite authors to see who represented them, and pay attention when my friends talked about the agents they were querying. I also highly recommend QueryTracker as a resource to track and organize queries. For my first queried book—which got sent to only a few agents because it was clear early on that I wasn’t getting any requests and I’d had specific feedback from several industry pros saying that my book just didn’t stand a chance in the current market—I literally kept track of the agents I was querying on a sticky note. I do not recommend that!

So, if you’re querying and starting to get discouraged because you’ve hit twenty, thirty, forty queries—or much more—without an offer, take heart! Remember just how many successful writers didn’t land an agent until they’d sent out a lot of queries. Take those rejections, archive them, eat some chocolate… and send out more!

 

Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. Her debut middle grade novel is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

The Non-Nerd’s Guide to Comic Con

51cwj7rjrvlWe are thrilled to welcome today’s guest (and previous contributor) Kathryn Purdie and congratulate her on the release of her second book Crystal Blade. 

So you’ve never attended a comic con, but suddenly this year’s event sounds intriguing because the ridiculously attractive star of your favorite CW show will be there. So you crack. You buy yourself tickets to three days of . . . otherness . . . and now you’re getting cold feet. You’ll be entering the unknown Land of the Nerds, but you’re a cool kid. How will you fit in? And what exactly will you do at said comic con other than stand in a long line waiting for a picture and autograph with your too-gorgeous-to-be-living TV idol? Don’t sweat it. With my help, we’ll have you donning fairy wings and superhero tights in no time. (Kidding, not kidding.) So take a deep breath and read up. Here are your basic comic con survival skills:

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  • Accept you’re a nerd. If you define a nerd as a person willing to spend good money on celebrity sightings and dress-up, then guess what? You’ve already done that by buying tickets to this madness. Own your inner nerd! Be the nerd! Embrace the nerd! A secret truth: nerds have more fun. Moving on . . .

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  • Dress up. Comic Con is basically Halloween on steroids. Who doesn’t want to see that? Now you can either spend your time gawking at all the grown-ups walking around in questionably form-fitted pleather and rolling your eyes at them, but secretly wishing you’d also spent the last year bedazzling your own costumes, or you can just swallow your pride and commit to the experience. When in Rome, right? Having said that, don’t feel pressured to have the best costume in Hall A. Chances are you haven’t planned well in advance, so keep it simple. Be another Star War’s Rey, among a sea of Reys, or throw on a Superman t-shirt. In the very least, you’ll get some nods for effort from your better-dressed cosplaying clones. But if you put a little more effort into it, you’ll likely become a celebrity yourself! Everyone will want to chat about your costume and take pictures with you. Case in point: a year ago, my author friend, Ilima Todd, went as the wall from Stranger Things. She wore a 70s patterned blouse with a painted-on alphabet and a string of Christmas lights woven throughout—a simple, but super creative costume! 14225593_661261700716344_6988909043799797441_nThat was the first year she dressed up, and it ended up being her favorite comic con…all because she dared to cosplay!
  • Talk to strangers. Fans work for months on their costumes. They love compliments and being asked to pose for a picture. But please be respectful! Comic cons are filled with signs saying “cosplay is not consent” for a reason.
  • Make a plan. Comic cons are held in HUGE venues sardine-packed with Klingons, vampires, and gorgons, waiting in long lines to meet the same celebrities you are. But there is so much more to do! You can attend panels and hear special guests nerd out over their love of all things Tolkien, Marvel, or Doctor Who. Additionally, celebrities are often interviewed or on panels themselves, where you can listen to them speak for more than the ten seconds you’ll get with them one-on-one in the cattle call of the autograph lines. But if you don’t plan ahead, you might be too distracted by Captain America’s real shield or a fan’s stunning replica of R2-D2 and miss out on some of the best con events. Bonus: attending a panel is a nice escape from the crowds and a chance to rest your aching feet.

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  • Good shoes are a cosplayer’s best friend. Okay, so your Nikes aren’t period accurate to the 1920s mobster getup you’re wearing. Let it go. Your feet will thank you later. Remember those huge venues I mentioned above? That means you’ll be doing a lot of walking and queuing up for autographs and events over these three days. Happy feet make happy con-goers!
  • Bring a friend. Your first comic con will be an unforgettable experience. You’ll be sure to tell people all about it later, but sharing it with someone during the con is even better! So find the Luke to your Leia, the Thing 1 to your Thing 2, and remember two nerds are better than one.IMG_1757.jpg

I hope you’ve gone from tentative to pumped up, all by the workings of this magical article. 😉 If you happen to be at this year’s Salt Lake Comic Con, be sure to come and say hi! You can look me up on the panel schedule at http://saltlakecomiccon.com/. I may be wearing my Imperial Russian ball gown.

Maybe people will think I’m Anastasia.

Works for me!

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dfc83-webedit-11editedKathryn Purdie is the author of the YA fantasy, BURNING GLASS and CRYSTAL BLADE (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins). She lives near Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and three children. Kathryn is a trained classical actress who studied at the Oxford School of Drama and was inspired to write her debut trilogy while recovering from donating a kidney to her older brother. Find her online at kathrynpurdie.com.