Monday, January 29, 2007

Sweet, Hotel, Alabama

Well, I made it from Southern California to Alabama without incident yesterday. I'll be here until Wednesday on business. The bad news, of course, is that this means I actually have to work during the day. (Worse, I have to talk to people and try to convince them to buy my company's software. Now, mind you, I'm a big believer in my company's product. I don't have any trouble finding enthusiasm for it. But I am so not a salesperson!)

The good news, though, is that after I'm done working, the rest of my days are my own to do with what I will. And we all know what I'm going to do with them--write!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Craft: Internal Conflict and "Globalness"

I've been remiss in posting this week but I swear, it's because I've been working! And I mean the paying stuff that I typically put off. I put the finishing touches on a revision to a course I'd been dragging my feet on for more than a month and sent it off to my editor yesterday. It wasn't exactly fun, but it did give me a sense of accomplishment and alleviated some of my guilt.

I was in a crunch to finish it because I've been asked to go on a sales pitch trip to a potential client in Alabama next week. And while I'm not really looking forward to being away from home for four whole days (I shudder to think what I'll be coming home to!), the good news is that travel time is writing and revising time. And I need every extra bit of that I can snap up.

In between all the real work and the writing (my meters keep moving to the right!), I've been taking a "pitch" class through the Hearts Through History RWA chapter. The class is intended to help you come up with face-to-face pitches of several lengths as well as to help you write a rockin' query letter. I'm not sure yet where the class and the exercises are going to take me in terms of my pitches at National or what they're going to do to the current version of my query letter, but this week's lesson did provide a valuable reminder about internal versus external GMC (short for goals, motivation, and conflict).

In this week's lesson, we were supposed to pinpoint our hero and heroine's internal conflicts. That is to say, what character flaw does each character have to overcome in order to live happily ever after? I wrote mine up in a flash. I knew this stuff about my characters. But even though I knew it, I still didn't manage to write it the first time in a way that made the conflict "global" enough.

When I first started writing Living in Sin, I had this idea that it would be "enough" for my hero and heroine to be kept apart by external factors (difference in their social classes, her fear of losing her property if she marries a man her brother deems inappopriate for her, etc.). The problem was, my characters didn't have any flaws. They were perfect and the only thing keeping them apart was other people. Can you say boring?

Thankfully, Lacey imparted this lesson about internal GMC to me early enough that I didn't have to go back and start from scratch. I can't precisely quote her, but her main point was that both the main characters had to have internal conflicts that had nothing to do with each other. In other words, the heroine's internal conflict can't be that the guy she's falling in love with is someone her family would disapprove of. Because that conflict is specific to him, it's an external conflict, not an internal one. It's not a character flaw, but a plot complication.

The internal conflict has to be something the character would have to resolve regardless of whom he or she is falling in love with. For my heroine, the internal conflict turns out to be that she's deeply afraid of being subordinate to or dependent on another person, and because of the period in which she lives, marriage means being subordinate and dependent. In order to live happily ever after, she has to overcome this belief and realize that when two people love one another, they can depend on each other as equals.

The external plot and the hero's personal qualities are what lead her to overcome this character flaw, of course, but it's a problem she'd have whether the hero ever came into her life or not.

And speaking of internal conflicts, I think it's time to end this post. I hear my muse calling me...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Yet Another Installment of Query Madness

I promised another query letter critique today, and at last, I deliver on my promise. Today's sacrificial lamb is Leigh, one of my wonderful critique partners. You'll find the other half of this conversation over on Erica's blog. (I'll wait here while you click and bring up Erica's post.)

Back? Great!

Before we begin, I want to say that of the queries we've worked on so far, Leigh's actually went through the fewest number of revisions before we decided it was "final."

First, Leigh's comments on the process (otherwise known as how we put her through hell!):
What the heck are these 400 pages are about? That question bounced through my mind all week as I worked on my query. Suddenly my book was a plotless blur. I looked over my charts. Graphs. Notes. Index cards. Little by little it came back to me.

Through the process of digging out the (basic and obvious) plot, I realized two things:

One: A query needs to be specific but simple.
Two: It needs to have ROMANCE (Oh yeah...) and conflict.

Sounds easy, doesn't it. ;-) I still don't feel like I have found my 'magic hook' yet. I'm waiting for that perfect sentence that will have editors begging for more. Hopefully it will come to me in some unexpected moment. But I do feel like I have a solid, workable query that I can rely on.

Thanks ladies! I am grateful for your help!
All right, here's the first version of the query letter, with numbers corresponding to Erica's inimitable comments.
My completed manuscript, The Unbound Heart, is a 101,000 word historical romance set in 1828 England. Saturated with danger, intrigue and desire, it is suitable for the...romance line.1

Threatened with the exile of her people, Onatah Elizabeth Dillon journeys to London determined to print a special edition of her late father's famous travelogues.2 A mixed blood woman-part Seneca Indian, part English-she intends to raise money and purchase her people's land. Unknown danger3 lurks in London, and Elizabeth finds herself under the domineering protection of The Marquess of Blakemore.4

Determined to solve the mystery of his brother's murder 5 and atone for his past mistakes6, Blake cannot understand why his quarry is trailing the intriguing American.7 As their ambitions blend and clash8, Elizabeth and Blake are drawn into a dangerous world of unbound desire.9

An active member in my local RWA chapter and two critique groups, I have been writing for seven years. 10 I have a BA in EnglishLiterature, with a minor in Creative Writing, from Tufts University. My poetry is published in several small literary magazines, including "4x4" and "Queen's Head and Artichoke".

I look forward to your response and have the completed manuscript available upon request. Thank you so much for your time. 11
And now, on Erica's blog, you should find the final query letter. My comments on this version are below:
  1. Yay. A hook!
  2. Great, her heroine's external goal, motivation, and conflict are clearly spelled out.
  3. And an internal goal, motivation, and conflict, too.
  4. This is funny. Hmmm, maybe the manuscript has some amusing moments in it, too.
  5. More external conflict. Hey, this thing actually has a plot! Awesome.
  6. And now we see the romantic conflict as well. Sweet. In one intermediary version of this, there was no mention of the hero at all in this paragraph and I commented that there didn’t seem to be any hint that the heroine knew he was alive, much less that she wasin danger of falling in love with him! This resolved that problem.
  7. Introduction of the hero, including his external goal and motivation. Superb.
  8. Ah, so his goal and hers intersect somehow. Intriguing…
  9. Mmmm, conflict. Juicy conflict, too!
  10. Uh-oh, the l-word. He’s in trouble now! I’m interested. Wonder if this thing is finished yet...
  11. Nice set of credentials. She’s serious about romance writing and has a contest final under her belt. She has a BA in English lit so she can probably string together a grammatically correct sentence. And, wow, some poetry credits. Not bad!
  12. Okay, now I know the target market. (Note: This query is being sent to an Avon editor with a contest entry, so it makes sense for Leigh to mention Avon here. She’d want to take out the reference to Avon if she were querying another agent or editor, since she obviously doesn’t want to limit herself only to Avon as a publisher.
  13. And it’s completed, too! Yippee!
  14. Aw, she’s also polite. Where’s her address so I can request the full?
That's all, folks. I think Lacey and Erica have one more for ya next week, but as far as I know. Unless, that is, someone else wants to play. Then again, maybe since I have a big, fat "R" tatooed on my forehead, you won't want to play with me any more!

Whee! I'm for Real!

Because this morning, I received my first real, live rejection letter from an agent:
Dear Author:

Thank you so much for sending your query.

We'd like to apologize in advance for this standard rejection letter. The volume of queries as of late has been too overwhelming to personalize our response anymore. Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and although your work sounds intriguing, we're sorry to say that we don't believe we are the right agency for you.

You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.


I know, I'm supposed to be sad that I didn't get a request for a partial. And I am, a little. But I really didn't expect to hit pay dirt on my very first try, so I'm not crushed. Now, I would have preferred to get a more personalized rejection letter that told me a little more about why my story didn't appeal to this agent, but it is what it is.

I'm pleased, though, because I now have proof I've queried an agent and can apply for PRO status through RWA. And since that's one of my major 2007 goals, any response from an agent, even a rejection, is progress.

Still, perhaps you all want to take my advice about query letters with a considerably larger grain of salt. More of which will be dispensed later today in concert with our hook/query queen, Erica Ridley. (Pssst! Trust her!)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

When Short Is Sweet

In the comments on yesterday's query madness entry, Ann(ie) said:
One truth I can pass on about query letters: brief is better.

I said as much on my blog, but let me elaborate here. The number one mistake authors make is trying to sum up the WHOLE story in the query letter. It gets long, overly detailed and makes the agent/editor think the author doesn't know how to self-edit. The (sometimes erroneous) conclusion then becomes that if the query letter is that unwieldy, the novel must be one bloated mess, so they just reject and move on.

What needs to go into that first paragraph is word count, hook, and genre, and that's all, really. They'll find out whether your writing is right for them by reading it. Get them reading your pages and if they're good enough, you're set.

I think this is absolutely right with one caveat: you can cut your description of your story to three or (at most) four sentences if you're sending your partial with your letter. The only purpose of the query letter in this case is to induce the recipient to read your pages.

I'm not sure you should try for quite that degree of "lightness" if you're querying an agent/editor to get a request for a partial, though. Agents and editors differ in whether they want only a query letter or whether they'll take a partial and (typically) a synopsis along with the query.

My guess is that it behooves you to have two versions of your query letter: one that accompanies your partial and one that tries to convince the agent/editor to request your partial. Both should be short, sweet, and hooky, but the first can be a lot shorter and sweeter than the second. Because if the person you're querying doesn't have your pages, a single paragraph about your story may not be sufficient to convince her you can string enough sentences together to produce an actual book-length novel.

I do have a much shorter version of my query letter that I plan to use when I submit to agents who'll take the partial up front. It goes like this:
What's a duke's daughter to do when her ideal man arrives on her doorstep in a most unsuitable package? Why, live in sin, of course! Too bad the object of her affections will settle for nothing less than "I do."

Living in Sin, a completed 100,000 word single-title historical, finished third in the 2006 Golden Rose and is a finalist for the 2006 CONNections Award. I am a member of RWA and several specialty chapters. I hold a Master’s degree in Classics from the University of Chicago and write technical training materials by profession.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

I think it's pretty hooky, sets up the conflict nicely, and is definitely short and sweet, but could I really get away with something that short if the agent wasn't getting my pages with my letter? I'm thinking no, but then, I'm a rank amateur at this and have never sent an unsolicited partial or received a request for a partial from a query (I'm still waiting on my first attempt), so maybe I'm all wet and I should use the short-but-sweet route for everyone.

Thoughts? Opinions? Raw tomatoes?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Return of Query Madness

So, when Lacey, Darcy and I posted our queries a couple of weeks ago, we promised to, help anyone who sent us a query letter. Our first vict...volunteer is Beverley, whom we've known since we all participated in Avon's FanLit contest last year.

Here's how the process went, in Beverley's words:

If anyone ever tells you that writing queries is fun you can be sure of one of three things:

1. They're lying.
2. They've never written a query.
3. They're lying.

Okay, I'm only kidding because I'm sure that for some (I don't know who these crazy people are), it can be very fun. But if the rest of you are like me (a first-timer who didn't know whatthe hell I was doing and didn't really even know what to put in a query), it's a special purgatory. I slaved for an entire week on this ONE PAGE LETTER and did so many revisions I stopped counting. Thank God for the people (and they were many including, of course, Lacey and Jacqueline) who didn't want to see me completely humiliated should I have sent the original out to any of the publishing houses.

And thank goodness I learned something about GMC before starting my 2nd draft!

Just as a reminder, this works like it did before: the original query letter is posted here, while Lacey's comments on it are on her blog. Click here to bring up Lacey's post in a new window so you can read them side-by-side.

In An Honorable Rogue, a sexy Victorian 100,000 word novel, 1 Millicent "Missy" Armstrong2 has known since the age of thirteen who she would marry and when.3 Five years later, the when has arrived, and the who—sinfully handsome, Lord James Rutherford—is one of her brother's closest friends4 and an unapologetic rogue.5 But getting one of London's most eligible bachelors to the altar proves more difficult than she imagines and Missy finds that the road to love is one fraught with the unexpected.6

Once compromising Missy Armstrong would have been one of the worst things that could happen to the heir to the Windmere earldom,7 James Rutherford. The fact that it isn't7 only intimates the incredible predicament he finds himself in when Lady Victoria Spencer claims that he is the father of her unborn child. Not only does James have no memory of the night in question,8 he has no desire to wed. But before a full blown scandal can erupt, the truth behind Victoria's false claim is discovered, freeing James to do the honorable thing.9 What he doesn't expect is the response he receives.10

With rumors of an affair between James and Victoria still swirling thick in society's air,11 Missy is heartbroken and insulted when in a reluctant proposal of marriage from the man she loves,12 James makes it clear that she is not to expect fidelity. Unwilling to share him with other woman, Missy declines. It is only with her refusal that James realizes the love he has long taken for granted. So the tables turn and James, long pursued, becomes the pursuer in a game where the only winner can be love.13

Every writer begins as a reader and I am a testament to that fact having been an avid reader of historical fiction for twenty-five years.14 I am a member of RWA and I belong to the GRW chapter.15 I am currently at work on my second novel.16

Thank you for your time and consideration.17

And now we have the new, improved, and much trimmed version below. The new version of the letter is posted on Lacey's blog with comments courtesy of Darcy below.

  1. A hook!
  2. He sounds like a very bad boy.
  3. Good, conflict.
  4. This restates what I already learned in the first paragraph, but I’ll keep reading.
  5. She’s going to court him? Unusual.
  6. Decisions, decisions. More conflict.
  7. More conflict. Hmmm, can these two get together?
  8. Tough for a rake to do, I wonder how he manages?
  9. He IS a very bad boy!
  10. Lots of potential for conflict and a sustainable plot here.
  11. Great, she’s serious about this.
  12. Hard at work on the next one – and it involves characters from this one. Series can be good for business.
  13. I already know it’s complete from the first paragraph, but it’s nice to know she’s ready to send it at a moment’s notice.
  14. Nice closing.

So, there you have it: a much improved, much hookier query letter that spends more time on the romance than the plot!

We have a couple more query letters in the pipeline that we'll be posting soon. In addition to my blog and Lacey's, however, we'll be adding cross-posts to Erica Ridley's blog. Erica's a member of our little critique circle and rocks at writing hooks. I am not exaggerating here: Erica managed to hook the redoubtable and notoriously unhookable Miss Snark in her last Crap-O-Meter and also liked Erica's first three pages. Ignore Erica's advice on queries at your peril, I say!

So, keep your eyes peeled. More fun is headed your way. (This is fun, isn't it?)

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Best-Laid Plans

If any of you watch my word meters (which I update diligently any day I write, even if I don't blog), you may have notices that the Write-O-Meter for Lady Libertine has stalled at 1,700 words, but the Revise-O-Meter for Living in Sin has been moving steadily toward the right.

I know, I know. I said I was going to write Lady Libertine and worry about revising Living in Sin later. But a funny thing happened on the way to that plan: Living in Sin finaled in another contest and I got so excited about my query letter that I absolutely had to send it to an agent. And even though I don't expect a request for a full from either of the contest or the agent (I believe in underexpecting and overdelivering!), if I were to get one in the coming weeks, it would be so not ready.

After fretting for several days over my manuscript's utter unreadiness for prime time, I realized I had a pretty good feel now for what should go and what should stay, as well as where I needed to tweak to ramp up the romantic conflict. So I decided to set Lady Libertine aside for a couple of weeks and focus on getting Living in Sin down to something approaching a saleable word count. I'm hoping for 105,000 words in this pass, but suspect it'll wind up being closer to 110K. But then I'll hand the whole stinking mess over to my wonderful critique partners for additional suggestions, and maybe on a final pass, I can get it to 105K or even 100K.

So that's what I'm doing with my time. What're you up to?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Penis Envy

No, I don't suffer from it. Well, except when it comes to the purely plumbing-related aspects. Penises are certainly convenient when you have to take a pee in the forest or alongside the highway!

Really, this is going to be a post about romance novels, I promise. But first, I have to tell you the story that got me started thinking about this topic.

Last night, I was getting my almost-5yo son out of the bathtub when he started repeating, in a sing-songy sort of voice, "Oh penis, oh penis, I love you so much."

Naturally, this made me laugh which encouraged him to repeat the phrase several more times, much to the amusement of his 7yo sister. After reflecting that most men probably feel this way about their penises to at least some extent, I finally thought to ask him why he loved his penis so much.

His response, delivered instantly and without a hint of irony, was, "Because it's so big."

People, he's four! No four-year-old on the planet has a big penis, okay?

But of course, this whole episode got me thinking about penises and, well, size. Courtney blogged a while back about the tendency toward "dick inflation" in romance novels: the hero always seems to have larger-than-average equipment to go along with all his other larger-than-life attributes. And perhaps there's some truth to the notion that size does matter. I know it matters to men. But do women really prefer men, bigger packages? Or is that more of a masculine fantasy?

At this point, I will interject with my personal opinion: It's not the pen, it's the penmanship. And guys who are convinced they have awesome pens, in my admittedly somewhat limited experience, tend to have lousy penmanship.

Question is, am I in a minority of women here? The emphasis on the impressive size of the sex organs of the heros of romance novels would imply that I am. Most romance readers are female, after all, and if big dicks weren't popular with women, it's hard to imagine writers would keep sticking them in their books (or their heroines, for that matter). If women don't care one way or the other, then it seems to me that romance writers are feeding the male obsession with making their penises larger, which is in turn responsible for a large portion of the spam that winds up in my email. And frankly, it seems to me that even men with substantially more there there than the average guy still all want to be John Holmes.

When I write love scenes, I try to concentrate on emotion and physical sensations in addition to stage direction. What I don't dwell on so much is describing my characters' physical attributes. There's really nothing less erotic, in my humble opinion, than a heroine who's getting out her mental ruler to assess the size of her guy's erection before doing the nasty.

So, please, if you don't care how big the hero's dick is as long as its sexy and emotionally satisfying when he gets it on with the heroine, will you let the romance publishing industry know? Take a stand against penis envy in all its forms, I say, including the ones that drive insecure men to watch videos like this one (shudder) or consider cosmetic surgery (bigger shudder).

Believe me, you'll be doing society (and my inbox) a favor!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Query Letter Strikes Again

Lest you think you are suffering from deja vu, let me assure you that this really is a new post. Those of you who joined our little query letter workshop last week may remember that Lacey posted a final version of my query letter on her site while the comments on it resided here. That came after the complete (and somewhat brutal) deconstruction of the original version.

I think I may have mentioned, however, that I wasn't completely happy with that "final" version. It was okay, but the first paragraph just didn't reach out and grab me by the throat. Ergo, I figured it wouldn't grab an agent or editor by the throat, either. So, I pondered and fretted and then I happened to stop by Annie Dean's blog to discover she was doing her Workshop Wednesday post on hooks. And Annie is so clever, she came up with a great hook for Living in Sin inside of about ten minutes. I posted a couple of versions of that hook here last week.

With that hook rolling around in my head, I took a fresh look at the opening of my query letter. I ultimately decided I couldn't use it as my opening sentence, so I had to come up with some way to set up the conflict in the first paragraph without giving away that hooky sentence before I'd even started. After tossing around several ideas with my intrepid critique partners, here's what I came up with:
What’s a duke’s daughter to do when her ideal man arrives on her doorstep in the most unsuitable package imaginable? Lady Rosalind Brighton isn’t sure, but marrying him isn’t it!

Rosalind is facing the unwelcome prospect of being the oldest debutante on the ton’s marriage mart if her thoroughbred breeding estate doesn’t start turning a profit by the start of the Season in just six weeks’ time. Her brother is determined to see her wed to safeguard her future, but to Rosalind, matrimony means surrendering everything—her possessions, her independence, her very person—to some fortune-hunting suitor.

Into the breach steps brash and ambitious Patrick O’Brien, a racehorse trainer with a reputation for handling horses and ladies with equal aplomb and a penchant for pulling the odd swindle. Their business partnership may save Rosalind from the fate she abhors, but his easygoing charm and infectious enthusiasm for life could prove a more serious threat than bankruptcy ever did.

Soon, Rosalind finds herself contemplating behavior no virginal Victorian lady should know about, much less engage in. Imagine her surprise when her desire to live in sin is blocked not by herself, but by Patrick’s unyielding sense of honor. Who would have thought a straight-laced spinster could con a con man out of his heart?
I left out the credentials and last paragraph since they haven't changed. (Well, okay, I added the final in the CONNections Contest, but other than that, they're identical to what I had before).

So, what do you think? Better? I think it's a significant improvement, myself, but I'm open to hearing otherwise. If you have any suggestions to really make it stand up and sing, I'd love to hear them. (That second sentence still bothers me a little, so any thoughts there would be especially appreciated.)

Also, while we're at it, I want to thank the willing, volunteers who've already stepped up to play future rounds of, Critique the Query Letter. We have a couple of letters already in our possession and as soon as we have "final" versions, you'll find new samples on Lacey's and my blogs.

Stay tuned...

Monday, January 08, 2007

I'm a Finalist--Again!

Two minutes ago, I received this in my inbox:

Congratulations! Your Historical entry, Living in Sin, is a finalist in the Connections Award and is on its way to the final round editor judge for placement. Good luck!!!
The final round judge is Tessa Woodward at Avon, who is supposedly looking for Regency and Victorian-set historical romances.

I've been waiting a long time for this announcement. Now, I get to wait some more. Oh goody! (I think.)

On the very plus side, I guess my query letter can list another contest final for my manuscript. That's gotta be a good thing, right?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Let's Do Queries, Day Three

In our third and (as far as we know) final round of Query Letter Madness, I get to take a crack at Darcy's query letter for Notorious. As before, pull up the corresponding post on Lacey's blog to see the original query letter as well as my comments on the final version posted below:

1) This is a great setup that puts the conflict right out there from the get-go, but the last bit is a tad awkward. It sounds like the hero is going to pursue the heroine with some sort of weapon called "a reputation as a cold-hearted prude!" Since the very first sentence in the next paragraph tells us the heroine is a widow, that information probably isn't necessary, so he can just be pursuing a "cold-hearted prude."

2) Can't see anything wrong with this. Tells me right up front I'm going to be looking at a Regency-set historical. If I represent that genre, I know it's up my alley. If not, I'll reject, but not because I don't like the query or manuscript. Nice!

3) No reason for "is entering", which is passive sounding; "enters" will do just fine. "Clouds of rumors" is another slightly awkward phrasing. Otherwise, this is good. We know the heroine is a widow whom people suspect might have killed her husband. Not sure how her father's "outrageous lifestyle" fits in, but maybe we'll come to that later.

4) Okay, I know what her goal and motivation for being in London is, but so what? The reason it's "so what" is because I don't get any sense of why her search for a half-sister is going to result in any conflict between her and the hero. Why can't she search for her half-sister and fall in love at the same time? And there's nothing here to support the first sentence claim that she's a "cold-hearted prude." I need a little more about her before I can care...

5) Wow, that sentence is a mouthful! What does the hero's role as a libertine have to do with the heroine? And is the man his best friend's sister wants to marry suitable? "Flush out" implies the other man is somehow not up to snuff and the faux courtship is intended to prove that. Also, does the hero have a name, or is he just the Earl of Romsey? This wants breaking up and a bit more detail to flesh out the GMC.

6) At first glance, it appears that Violet is the hero's best friend's sister. So why is there a problem? The faux courtship turns real. How does that interfere with the hero's desire to shed his libertine status or the heroine's search for her sister? There's about enough conflict here to last, oh, twenty pages.

7) Gives me title, word count, and market. But wait, she's a newbie.

8) And it took her more than a year to complete a 95K manuscript. Kinda slow...

9) Okay, there's a potential for a series here, but if this book isn't very good, the fact that she's got another one using the same characters isn't encouraging.

10) Nice credentials here. History is a perfect subject for a historical romance writer to have studied and she's a member of the romance writer's organization so she's plugged into the market.

11) The technical writing credit is good. I know now she can string a few sentences together, likely without butchering the language. Not sure what her project management and volunteer work have to do with anything, though. Seems like she has her hands in a lot of pots, though. No wonder it took her a year to complete the manuscript she's pitching!

12)And she's polite...

Overall, this query letter is pretty darned good. The question is whether the "hook" at the beginning and the two subsequent sentences are describing the same story. On a first read, I can see an agent or editor being intrigued. On a second, however, I think she might reasonably wonder where the 95,000 words worth of conflict is going to come from.
And now, we have the new and improved version (comments on Lacey's blog!):

What would happen if the ton's most notorious rakehell pursued Society's most cold-hearted prude? 1816 London is about to find out.1

Fresh from a short-lived marriage to a wealthy merchant, Violet Cavanaugh enters London Society under a cloud of gossip about her husband’s death and her deceased father’s debauched lifestyle.2 Ignoring her notoriety, Violet sets out to find the half-sister she has just learned about – the only person with the potential to be true family. Instead, she finds the Earl of Romsey, her father’s former protege.3 Julian Masters is exactly what she abhors: an unrepentant profligate certain to break her heart.4

Weary of his role as a libertine, Julian would prefer to toss his London life altogether, but he has one last favor to complete before settling into anonymity at his estate.5 He’s promised to engage in a faux courtship with his best friend’s sister to bring the toe-dragging duke she wishes to marry up to scratch.6 When he meets Violet Cavanaugh, however, all of Society can see the fireworks that threaten his plans and her heart.7

Notorious is a completed 95,000 word Regency-set historical. I hold a Bachelor's Degree in History and am a member of RWA. My professional background includes technical writing. I currently serve on the editorial board for an international women’s organization magazine.8

Thank you for your time and consideration.
This concludes our query letter posts for the time being. But stay tuned! There may be more to come in the weeks ahead.

Also, if anyone out there has a query letter she's just dying to have ripped apart in public by the Query-cizers, post a comment or drop a line and we'll work out a way to have at you!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Coupla Shout-Outs

Yeah, I know, I know! Way too many posts in one day. But, my travels through the blogosphere have revealed news I simply must share.

First, Ellie Marvel's Birthday is included in Secrets, an anthology now available at Amazon (and possibly at a bookstore near you). Sadly, the Amazon page doesn't do justice to the cover, so I suggest you click here instead. For those who don't know (or haven't figured it out by clicking here back there), Ellie Marvel is another persona of Jody Wallace, aka Typing Slave for meankitty. I've already put this baby in my shopping cart, but I have to find another $15 worth of books to buy so I can qualify for Super Saver Shipping. (Yes, I'm terminally cheap.)

Second, Annie Dean has sold her Average Girl's Guide to Getting Laid! (In a somewhat interesting coincidence, the heroine's name is Ellie. Hmmmm.) She hasn't revealed yet to whom or release dates or anything wunnerful like that, but it's good news and worth sharing. Also, while I'm at it, Annie's got a bit of free fic she's been posting serially to her site, Loser's Waltz. My favorite bit? Well, so far at least, it has to be what Annie makes of the phrase "man-made materials." I'll let you read and find out exactly what!

Anyway, just wanted to hand out some congratulations and blow kisses. No, I swear, it's not that I hope to ride on your coattails! (Okay, maybe a little...)

Here's My Line, Round Three

As if you weren't already sick of reading about my book, but Annie Dean's Workshop Wednesday post on taglines got me thinking about my "one-liner" again. What I had before, though clever in its way, just didn't work very well. Annie made a great suggestion which I tweaked a little to arrive at this:
Who would have thought a straightlaced Victorian spinster could con a con man out of his heart?
I like it because it uses the best line from the query letter, sets the period (Victorian), and lays out the conflict (her uprightness against his naughtiness--even though he's really a very good, noble guy!).

The only thing that concerns me about it is the use of the word "con", which I know is 20th century and American. I doubt many people know that, but it trips me up because I know it! The non-anachronistic alternative here would be "swindle a swindler" but I think that looks too much like the same word twice!

Annie also suggested it could do without the word Victorian, which is helpful but perhaps not necessary. And then we get the nice, alliterative line:

Who would have thought a straightlaced spinster could con a con man out of his heart?

What sayeth the masses?

Let's Do Query Letters, Day Two

So, here's the next installment in our cross-blog, almost-a-workshop query letter process. Today, Darcy (who doesn't have her own blog yet) takes her shots at Lacey's query letter. To see both sides of this, you'll want to open Lacey's blog and resize it so the two sit side-by-side.

Here are Darcy's comments on the original query letter:

1) Dark and mysterious are pretty vague adjectives and a little cliché (perhaps more than a little). As a first sentence, this doesn’t hook me, nor does it tell me anything interesting about the hero.
2) A hero who’s looking for a friend? Snore.
3) Isn’t that what we all want? So far, this hero doesn’t strike me as particularly exciting.
4) Good, tells us important facts about the heroine. Probably not the best intro line to the heroine, but I’ll keep reading.
5) This sentence is totally unnecessary.
6) I’m not at all drawn into caring about the heroine and her conflict (which I’m still not sure about). Most of this paragraph is about her father and since he is neither hero nor heroine, I don’t care.
7) Now this is a much better description of the hero. Mysterious is better used here (without dark it loses its clich̩-ness) and wallflower tells us a lot about him. And sexy Рbring him on!
8) I’m curious how they develop an “easy friendship.” I see they have conflict because they have two different sets of dreams: he wants a friend and she wants her “unknown” relatives to see past her dark skin. But wait, both want people to see the real them on the inside. Seems like they have exactly the same dreams…their conflict ought to last about five minutes.
9) She can write a book or so once a year. Seems a little slow. And she’s new at this. But nice to know she’s hard at work on the next one.

Overall, this query doesn’t give strong enough pictures of the main characters and their romantic conflict. There also isn’t much plot information. The premise is interesting, but it falls flat without the story and characters to back it up.

Now, we have the new, improved query letter below. This time, the comments are on Lacey's side of the house:

Jonathan Hart, Viscount Rader, is weary of his position as the ton’s scandalous wallflower.1 Determined to overcome his notoriety, he resolves to marry a gentlewoman who can aid his transition from cold aristocrat to approachable luminary.2 But choosing such a woman proves impossible. His silent attention is drawn to the unsuitable but deliciously exotic Lady Kit, 3 and soon she seems to be everywhere he turns.4

If Kitha Wallingford ever thought about the life her father abandoned, it was to wonder how the respected Shawano warrior had ever been the privileged son of an earl.5 Now she knows why he fled. The English are a stodgy lot, and her handsome new neighbor is the worst of them.6 Shy Lord Rader proves an irresistible target for a female used to having her way with men.7 She sees his reserve as a challenge, and stalks him until the obstinate man has no choice but to relent.8

Jonathan’s dream of respectability is dashed the moment he beds the little hellcat. After weeks in her passionate company, forever with anyone else looms like eternity.9 But the minx refuses marriage, saying life is too short to worry about tomorrow, and his deepest fear is unburied.10 His frustration turns into purpose, and the huntress becomes the hunted. It takes murder, manipulation, and a healthy dose of laughter to help his caramel beauty realize marriage isn’t about what might be, but about what is.11

If You Asked the Devil to Dance, my 100K word Regency-set historical, is available in full.12 I’m currently working on the second novel in my Romance with Color trilogy.13 I’m the president elect of my RWA chapter, a winner of Avon’s FanLit contest, an engineer by day,14 and open to editorial suggestion.15
This concludes Episode Two of query letter madness. Stay tuned for more in the exciting saga of Beat Up the Query Letter.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Let's Do Query Letters!

Last week, Lacey mentioned that she, Darcy, and I had been writing (and rewriting) our query letters. Well, this week, we've decided to share our process with you, our loyal readers and fellow writers. I know some of you aren't daunted by queries (for Jody, it's the "sucknopsis" that induces panic), but Pam, bless her heart, actually asked for pointers.

Keeping in mind that our queries will probably change many more times before we're successful at this, you can get a sneak peek into our efforts by click here pull up both blogs side by side. Then you can follow along with the comments on my first attempt at the query and read the final version on Lacey's blog.

(Actually, I have to admit in the spirit of total honesty that this wasn't my first attempt. The first attempt was written at 2am one morning when I couldn't sleep due to a hacking cough. It was about as good as you'd expect something written at 2am to be. Which is to say that, except for a couple of clever sentences, it was pretty darned bad!)

In this version, I tried very hard (and very unsuccessfully) to work in that "high concept" sentence I sweated over a couple of weeks ago. You'll see why it didn't stay...
Dear Agent,

Lady Rosalind Brighton knows knights are more interested in winning castles than princesses, so when her knight turns out to be an Irish racehorse trainer, she faces a thorny dilemma: defend her castle or surrender her heart.1

Being on the shelf may not be fashionable, but it suits Rosalind.2 Marrying, after all, means giving up everything she values: her possessions, her independence, her very person.3 Unfortunately, avoiding matrimony may prove harder than she thought.4 Her thoroughbred breeding estate has been sabotaged to the brink of financial ruin and her brother, the duke, is threatening to put her back on the London marriage mart if she doesn’t right the ship before the start of the Season in just six weeks’ time.5

Into the breach steps the cocky and ambitious Patrick O’Brien.6 His proposal for an unorthodox partnership could save Rosalind’s estate, but his easygoing charm and infectious enthusiasm for life pose a more serious threat than mere bankruptcy.7 She knows she shouldn’t trust him despite his unexpected penchant for altruism.8 Not only is his former employer the man who’s been bad-mouthing her stock, there’s also Mr. O’Brien’s pesky little predilection for pulling the odd con job…9

Living in Sin, a single-title historical (100,000 words) set in early Victorian England, finished third in the 2006 Golden Rose contest sponsored by the Rose City Romance Writers chapter of RWA.10 I am a member of RWA as well as the Hearts Through History and Beau Monde specialty chapters.11 I hold a Master’s degree in Classics from the University of Chicago and write technical training materials by profession.12

Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Now, in addition to the comments on Lacey's blog, let me point out that as I read this again, my immediate impression is "Too long, too wordy." Bleah. This needed work! Fortunately for me, Lacey, Darcy, Janice, and (most especially) Lacey's genius brother, Luke, came to my rescue!

The new version (posted on Lacey's blog) works because:

1) Flipping the last sentence around (not to mention shortening it to the very basics) makes a nice, neat thread: Marriage, marriage, marriage - problem!
2) Ah. By including "the odd swindle" as a characteristic of the hero, his "con man" status doesn't seem to come out of nowhere later on.
3) "Partnering" sounds a lot more businesslike, and "fate she abhors" is some pretty strong wording. She's clearly been driven to desperate measures.
4) Oh! That's what his charm and enthusiasm is endangering. I was wondering :-)
5) Uh-oh. England, we have a problem!
6) And an internal conflict!
7) Now that's just a great line. I mean...story question. Ahem.
8) Nice and short. Same credentials, just tightened until my ADD brain can conceive of them all at the same time.

I should add that I'm still not completely sold on the first sentence and, hey, I'm open to suggestions from the public at large.

Stay tuned for our next round of query madness tomorrow, when someone is going to post a query letter on Lacey's blog and someone else will beat it up here! (We're still discussing who's doing the posting and who's doing the beating.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New...Book?

I suppose it's utterly appropriate to begin a new book at the beginning of a new year. I managed to bang out a rough synopsis of Lady Libertine last week and send it to Darcy, Lacey, and Janice, critique partners extraordinaire. They all liked it. Yay!

Now, my most persistent Waterloo as a writer has always been the inability to stick to one story until it's actually finished. I almost inevitably get bored with the story I'm currently writing because a thousand new (and, naturally, better) ones pop into my head and demand my attention. For years, I discarded stories and started new ones almost as often as I did laundry. I've never had problems starting stories; finishing, now that's another story.

So, why am I so daunted at the prospect of writing Lady Libertine? Why do I find myself staring at the blank computer screen, writing a couple of sentences, finding the words don't take me anywhere else, deleting them, and then staring at the blank screen again?

Of course, I have no idea why. Maybe I'm just not completely ready to move on from the book I just finished, although I have to say that the synopsis fell out of my head so easily that it's hard for me to believe that's the issue. More likely, it's just that I've been writing Living in Sin for so long (it took me exactly ten months!), I'm not sure how to tackle writing anything else.

Whatever it is, it's a new and odd sort of writer's block for me. I never have trouble with new beginnings. I suppose there's a first time for everything!

The cure is simple, though: just write! It's good advice. But I was never much of a one for following good advice...