Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to Stand Out While Querying

Agents are getting more query letters than ever before--we've all heard or read that, right? So how do we make ourselves stand out? How do we go from this

to this?

It takes more than a yellow sweater and a grin to become the item of the week (though I
did buy the sweater--I love cheery colors). None of us would consider the tacky tricks: nonstandard paper--possibly pink and/or scented--mailed with chocolates or packaged in a heart-shaped box covered with gold foil. We aren't the ones urban legends are made of. Yet we've all heard the stories. And while we need to follow the rules, we all want our work to rise from the slush pile. We want to be an agent's lucky find. So let's share what we know. I'll go first! ;)

One well-known, respected children's agent who spoke at a conference I attended this year stressed how important it is to approach agents and editors the right way. He emphasized using a professional tone in query letters. Writing is a
career choice; we need to treat it as such. Thus, my first point is to be professional in the query letter.

Look at the letters agents share at conferences or on blogs--letters that worked, somehow intriguing them. A few were a little risky, but all the letters I've seen were professional. Our professionalism should show in our formatting, our word choice, our sentence structure, and our tone. The challenging part is doing all of that while slipping in some voice, giving the letter some flavor. And since we're trying to sell ourselves as writers, we're expected to rise to the occasion. Many aspiring authors (like me) don't have amazing bios that
say we're professionals, so we need to show what we haven't yet earned the privilege to tell.

Next is something we've all heard, but it bears repeating:
don't submit your work until it's ready. It's tempting to rush to get your work out there as soon as the manuscript is finished. So many people do this. (Unfortunately, I've been one of them. Ack!) Stand out from the crowd by submitting a superb, clean manuscript that makes an agent sit up and take notice. I'm fully aware this is easier said than done, and it sounds like, "Just write an awesome book!" But what I'm saying is slow down. Time gives us so much perspective on our own work. We need to hold on to it until we truly believe we cannot make it any better. We already put so much time and heart into each manuscript; let's not waste it by submitting too early.

Stand out from the crowd by being profes
ional at conferences. When I was at a conference a couple years ago, a panel of industry professionals prepped us for feedback we were all about to receive. They stressed not crying, arguing, and carrying on. It makes you wonder what they must see, doesn't it?

In teaching, we learned about positive attention and negative attention. Remember the kids in school who caused scenes to get any kind of attention from the teacher? Now think of the people at conferences who follow agents and editors into bathrooms and elevators.
Yeesh. 'Nuff said.

Research agents as well as you can without becoming a stalker.
I do this whether I'm in the query phase or not because I eventually will be actively querying. I collect names when I read about deals in PW Children's Bookshelf or wherever, writing them down to research in my spare time. Keep in mind what you need to pay attention to. What have they sold? Are they members of the AAR? If not, why not? Does their agenting style match your needs? Do their clients say great things about them? Once you know about the agents, it will be easier to properly approach each one on your list, possibly mentioning books he or she sold, books you really have read and can converse about intelligently. (Nathan Bransford touched on this yesterday.)
Remember that you don't want to query every agent out there or you'll be wasting your time and theirs. Besides, querying an agent is kind of like asking someone out. If you were looking for a date, having a pulse wouldn't be your only requirement.

Don't gossip.
In 2008, I attended an author-agent team's session on communication in professional relationships. You'd be shocked to hear how catty and loose-lipped some writers are about agents and editors. Of course, it eventually comes back and bites them. Which leads to blogging: if we don't have something nice to say--well, you know the expression. Just as writers research agents, agents research writers. As Austin Powers might say, "Oh, behave!" Besides, writing or saying something mean or hurtful just isn't nice. Think good karma.

Try to remain positive.
When agents open query letters, they aren't just trying to clean their desks. They're looking for new clients! They want to be swept off their feet by our work. I picture them like miners, swishing their pans, hoping to find gold.

And hey, one more thing. Vicki wants me to remind you to never take rejections personally.

Vicki and I

Okay, I don't actually talk with the mannequins at Old Navy. I don't even talk with the ones at Macy's. The most important thing you should keep in mind is I don't hear voices from any mannequins. Yet you can't deny that Vicki makes an excellent point. The only thing a rejection means is that one person didn't fall in love with your work. Good for you, though, putting yourself out there!

Now it's your turn. It won't be long before I'm querying again so I'd love to hear any tips you can add. How can we stand out while we're querying?

here for my post on query tips!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The End of the Year, "The End" on my WIP, and an Award

After a very late start this year, we finally pulled Christmas together at our house. The tree is up, the cards are mailed, and the gifts are purchased and wrapped. I even baked my Chocolate Dipped Toffee Bits Cookies tonight!

Most of our tree decorations are up high because our dogs have been destroying our ornaments. Ack! But...remember how cute they are. Look at those little faces. And in their defense, they've been wound up because we have a naughty squirrel who lives in the yard and taunts them. We've named him Chester because he has a white chest and...well, he looks like a Chester. Think Bugs Bunny of the squirrel world: funny, clever, and hard to catch. I'll take a picture of him the next time I spot him tormenting my dogs through the windows. Ooh--maybe if I get the camera I'm hoping, hoping, hoping for, I'll snap a picture with that!

I finished the last chapter of my ultra-revised WIP and sent it to my critique group on Friday. Once I get the chapter back and revise accordingly, I'll give the full manuscript to an author friend who volunteered to read the whole thing. She's awesome and she's never seen more than three chapters, so she's a fresh set of professional eyes. Plus, you can catch different things when you read the full vs. one chapter at a time. In the meantime, I'll be goofing around with family, tweaking my synopsis and query letter, continuing my agent research, catching up on reading, doing research for my next manuscript, and spending way too much time eating Christmas cookies.
Now for the award part of the post! Thank you to Abby Annis for giving me the Honest Scrap Award. Abby has a wonderful blog, so check it out if you haven't yet.

This award has rules:

1. List ten honest things about yourself.

2. Pass it on to seven other bloggers.

Here are my ten honest things:
1. I love being a mom.
2. I'm red-green color blind.
3. I'm not good at singing, but I do it anyway. (My poor family--and dogs.)

4. I'm afraid of heights.

5. I don't like to eat meat when it looks like an animal. For example, when fish is served with a head and a tail or when pork has a head and still looks like a pig...blech. I know I'm immature this way, but generally I don't want my food to have a face. Of course, things like chocolate bunnies don't bother me. :)
6. Gap jeans are my favorites.

7. I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive, but I consider this a strength instead of an issue. Hee!

8. I've traveled a ton in the U.S., but I've done very little international travel. I'd love to go to Europe!

9. Geometry was my least favorite class EVER.

10. I'm a huge Beyoncé fan.

It's so hard to pick only seven bloggers for the award because there are so many fabulous blogs out there! I'll pass it to seven people who have never received an award from me but fully deserve a blog award:

Bane of Anubis at Bane's Blogging Blues
Karen at Novels During Naptime
Kjersten Anna Hayes at Collage Clips
Patti Nielson
Paul Greci at Northwriter
Sierra Godfrey
Stasia Kehoe at Writer on the Side (if you write children's, you need to check out her "Business of Children's Books" posts)

Congratulations everyone!

Also, congrats to Lydia Sharp who has been selected as a guest blogger for Pimp My Novel. Her article "Ideas That Sell Are Not Always Groundbreaking" will be published on Tuesday, December 22nd.

I'd like to thank my followers for making the whole blog experience extra fun and meaningful! Thank you so much for following and making comments--I really appreciate it! You guys are great, and I wish incredible things for each of you in the new year! See you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Literary Fame?

I'm kind of famous. Okay, maybe that's a stretch. How about famous in my own mind? See, my mentor and dear friend Sheila Roberts named half a character after me in ANGEL LANE, a book that made Amazon's Top Ten Best of Romance 2009! The character's name is Dawn Schoemaker. One of my critique buddies, Martha Schoemaker, was the inspiration for the last name.

Martha Schoemaker

Sheila says it's not that exciting because the character is just a walk on. It is that exciting, though. A real character in real books in real stores would have a different name if my parents had named me something else. So this is really cool!

I should probably admit that I've become a bit of a diva. After the book came out and I saw my name in print, I began to eye the characters with more page time. I even sent Sheila an email suggesting she name a larger character after me in her next book. She doesn't have to be the protagonist--a secondary character will do. I don't even care if she's good or evil--just so long as she's key to the plot.
Yeah, I guess the protagonist might be the way to go...

Maybe the new character should be a super hot, rich author who rules the New York Times Best Seller List.
Or...maybe I should leave Sheila alone, continue to be thrilled and honored about my walk on character, and work on my own writing. I can focus on honing my craft, finding an agent who will fall in love with my work, and being a strong critique partner for the ladies in my group. Then I can maybe get my full name on real books in real stores: on the cover.

If you'd like to see my other brush with Sheila-fame,
here is her book trailer for ON STRIKE FOR CHRISTMAS. We filmed it in 2007. I'm the one who is wrapping gifts with adorable kids buzzing around. The kids, by the way, aren't mine, though I promise mine are adorable, too. (I felt bad, pretending to be mad at my faux book trailer children, but they were little troopers and understood we were acting.)

P.S. - Ack! I just watched the trailer and I like my hair better in 2007. Of course, I was 2 1/2 years younger... I've been growing it out, but I'm thinking I may go back to my 2007 'do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Fire! Save yourself--and your manuscript!"

Today I have a guest blogger: my husband, Jim VanderMeer. He'll provide some tips and suggestions to lower your chances of ever losing a manuscript. You see, he's a computer guru. Seriously. If you don't believe me, check out his bio.

Just so we're not all business-business-business today, here's a picture of us in Hawaii.

No laughing at my glow-in-the-dark legs, okay? That would be rude, and I want my blog to be a happy place. :)

Without further ado, heeeeere's Jim!

Backup vs. Disaster Recovery - What's the Difference? (And Dawn asks, "Why should we care?")

If you treasure your manuscript anywhere close to how Dawn treasures hers, you should have both a backup copy as well as a disaster recovery plan (in the event of--yes, a disaster).

A good backup and disaster recovery plan should include at least four levels of defense against the unexpected.

Level One - Your original manuscript.
You need to be aware of where you are keeping the original manuscript, your precious gem. For example, is it being saved to a hard drive on a laptop? Also, how old is your computer?
Risks to your original manuscript include:

  • Power loss if you are not working off a computer such as a laptop that has a battery
  • Hardware or system failure: hard drive/computer crashes or you experience a UAE (Unrecoverable Application Error), GP fault (General Protection), or accidental shutdown of the computer (see power loss)
  • Accidental deletion or overwriting of a document (We are human, after all...)
  • Theft: everything is gone
Level Two - Word auto save/recovery feature. If you have not enabled this, do so and set it to five (5) minutes or less. If possible, select a backup location that is different from where you keep your original document. If you work on a machine that is on a home network (or any type of network), then set the auto save location to another hard drive. Dawn has this set to every five minutes (or every five sips of a Vanilla Frappuccino).
  • This will give you added protection against UAE's, GP and/or accidental shutdown of the computer, etc.
  • Allows you to quickly recover and not lose more than five (5) minutes of work (in theory)
Level Three - Backup. You should backup your manuscript at least once a day. There are several ways to do this.
  • Manually copy your manuscript to another location--preferably a different hard drive or computer.
  • Utilize backup software to backup the directory containing your manuscript(s)--I know you have more than one...
  • For the more technically savvy, create a script that copies your documents to another location at the click of a mouse. Dawn does this daily to ensure that there is a backup copy on an external hard drive plugged into the main computer - her script name is "dawnstopclickingthis.bat".
Level Four - Disaster Recovery. This is more than just a backup of your manuscript; this is a plan to get back in the saddle and get writing again. Remember, the disasters you are planning for include:
  • Fire or flooding - both are bad for computers
  • Theft - laptops are highly prized and easy to carry off
  • Power surges - too much power for the computer is a bad thing just like too much caffeine for Dawn in the morning is a bad thing (for Jim and the dogs!)
Your disaster recovery plan should include the following (at a minimum):
  • At least once a month, burn a copy of your manuscript(s) to a DVD, CD, or thumb drive and store this in a secure location--preferably a fire proof safe, a safety deposit box, or a physically different location (e.g., a friend's house)
  • Ensure you have a surge protector between your computer and the wall outlet
  • Obtain personal property insurance to replace your computer and the software (such as Office or Word)
  • Complete an inventory of applications and documents that are on your computer
  • Develop a plan for replacing your existing computer as well as planned (scheduled) upgrades to your computer's hardware and software (OS)
Dawn's disaster recovery plan is constantly up-to-date and ready to be implemented. It consists of one word: "JIM!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Feelin' Full of Myself Today

Guess what! I just went running and IT'S TWENTY-SEVEN DEGREES OUTSIDE. Brrr! This may seem downright toasty to hearty people like Paul Greci, but to me it is dang cold. By the way, the thought of Paul's post when I was considering skipping my run was one of the motivating factors that got my butt out the door. (Thanks, Paul!) I also knew how much better I'd feel after the fact since I'll be sitting all day. The final push: my buddy Debra and I are running later this week, and I don't want to be a slacker and not be able to keep up. I'll show you a picture of Debra and me from last summer.

Don't we look warm?

I have to confess here that I only run two miles. It's what I ran five years ago and what I plan to run five years from now. While my husband and Debra sometimes train for distance runs, I'm totally satisfied with two miles. This may make my running feat today seem less amazing, but don't let it. I'm totally feeling full of myself, and I don't want anyone to burst my bubble. Did I mention the thermometer said it was just over twenty-four when I got home? It did. And I'm feeling cool (in more ways than one).

Now I'm ready to edit chapters and leap tall lattes at a single bound.

Leave a comment if you'd like to tell me how brave I am, facing the cold the way I did. If you don't think it was a big deal, I guess it's okay if you comment anyway. ;) Okay, I'm teasing. Kind of.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Holiday Cookie and Blog Swap

Cookie Swap:

Jennifer Shirk is doing a virtual cookie swap at her blog. Click over and read the rules! To enter, I need to post my favorite cookie recipe here on my blog, a recipe I would make for a cookie swap--and probably will this week!

The cookies I'm entering are sooo yummy. Let me warn you: these cookies are highly addictive. In my opinion, they're the best cookies this side of the Mississippi. And that side of the Mississippi. I'm not bragging because I didn't create the recipe--it's from Hershey's. (Usually, I don't even like to cook. This is one of the reasons my hubby says my species is
hotelus-restaurantus. The other reason is I hate camping but love hotels!)

Heeeeeere's the recipe!

Chocolate Dipped Toffee Bits Cookies


*2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

*1 teaspoon baking soda

*1/2 teaspoon salt

*1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened

*3/4 cup granulated sugar

*3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

*1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*2 eggs

*1-1/3 cups (8-oz. pkg.) HEATH BITS 'O BRICKLE Toffee Bits [The Hershey Company has it written this way, with the apostrophe in the wrong place. I will not take responsibility for such a gross misuse of punctuation!]

*1-3/4 cups (10-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY'S MINI KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates [I can never find these, so I buy a 19.75-oz. pkg. of regular Hershey's Kisses, use half, and eat the difference]

*2 tablespoons shortening (do not use butter, margarine, spread, or oil)


1. Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease cookie sheet.

2. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in toffee bits. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheet.

3. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

4. Line tray with wax paper. Place chocolate pieces and shortening in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave at MEDIUM an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chocolates are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred.

5. Dip about 1/3 of each cookie into melted chocolate. Shake gently and scrape cookie bottom on edge of bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place on prepared tray. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Store in cool, dry place with wax paper between layers of cookies. About 4 dozen cookies.

Blog Swap:

I'd like to direct you to two great blogs you may or may not have already discovered.

1. Artist/author
Nancy Coffelt has a blog named Because I Say So. I enjoy the art and the writing over there. I met Nancy at a workshop in 2007 where she was on the faculty. Among her successes is the picture book FRED STAYS WITH ME! It's a must read.

2. I recently started following
Glass Cases. It's a blog written by an assistant in the publishing industry named Sarah. I recommend you check out her very first post while you're over there. It's very cool.

If you want to participate in the cookie swap, go over to Jennifer's blog and check out the contest. Tell me if you enter! She has a prize and everything, so I'd like to know my odds. ;) If you want to participate in the blog swap, use the comments section to share the name of a writing/industry blog you enjoy!