Friday, February 20, 2009

Inch By Inch

Did anyone used to sing this song in school? Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow...

The song popped into my head today when I hit 33k words on Happiest Days of My Life. I've mentioned here before that this book hasn't come as easily to me as Time of My Life or The Department, and I'll be honest that this fact has had me worried. I've always thought that my "process" was fully digesting my characters and regurgiating them back on the page. Quickly. With the words flying out of my fingers.

But it just hasn't been the case this time around. So...imagine my delight when I looked at my word count and discovered that I'd actually created something substantial. My 700 word days, though I much prefer 2k word days, had actually stacked together and yielded something pretty okay. And I sort of like this perspective: building the ms brick by brick rather than floor by floor, which is sort of what I've done in the past. It's okay to switch things up, to have your process shift as your writing style evolves. Sure, I figured that I'd actually be done with the ms by now, but I'm not, and as long as I keep chugging along, I'll get to The End long before my deadline.

I've been struggling with whether or not this slower process means somehow the ms isn't as good or is doomed for suckage, but in rereading the pages, I don't think so. I just think this one, this book feels different, and hey, as long as the end product is as strong as I want it to be, it really doesn't matter how I get there.

Anyone else write a book in a different manner than an earlier one? Did it yield better or worse results?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on Querying

So my lovely agent shot me an email yesterday about some work-related stuff, but then also commented that she'd read the blog entry re: queries and that I'd, and the folks in the comment section, got it exactly right. She even noted how she STILL, even to this day, remembers my query letter, along with those of a few of her shining star clients, several of whom posted comments yesterday. (Rock on, gals!) So it really is a matter of writing just the right query letter that gets your foot in the door. Keep at it.

On that note, the always-awesome Larramie emailed me last night to say she'd dug out the query letter for The Department of Lost and Found from the archives here and was kind enough to email it to me. She was actually doing this at the request of a fan over at The Divining Wand, where Larramie helps grant people's wishes, but nevertheless, she beat me to it. And thus, here is my query letter from The Department. I think, even now, four years later, it really hits a lot of the elements I was discussing yesterday: it gives a taste of the plot, it really demonstrates my own voice, there is no passivity in it - only action and forward motion from the very get-go.

As I said yesterday, I got a LOT of positive feedback from this query, so I hope it proves helpful for a few of you guys!

Dear XX,

Natalie Miller had a plan. She had a goddamn plan. Top of her class at Dartmouth. Even better at Yale Law. Youngest aide ever to the powerful Senator Claire Dupris. Higher, faster, stronger. This? Was all part of the plan. True, she was so busy ascending the political ladder that she rarely had time to sniff around her mediocre relationship with Ned, who fit the three Bs to the max: basic, blond and boring, and she definitely didn't have time to mourn her mangled relationship with Jake, her budding rock star ex-boyfriend.

The lump in her right breast that Ned discovers during brain-numbingly bland morning sex? That? Was most definitely not part of the plan. And Stage IIIA breast cancer? Never once had Natalie jotted this down on her to-do list for conquering the world. When her (tiny-penised) boyfriend has the audacity to dump her on the day after her diagnosis, Natalie's entire world dissolves into a tornado of upheaval, and she's left with nothing but her diary to her ex-boyfriends, her mornings lingering over the Price is Right, her burnt out stubs of pot which carry her past the chemo pain, and finally, the weight of her life choices - the ones in which she might drown if she doesn't find a buoy.

The Department of Lost and Found is a story of hope, of resolve, of digging deeper than you thought possible until you find the strength not to crumble, and ultimately, of making your own luck, even when you've been dealt an unsteady hand.

I'm a freelance writer and have contributed to, among others, American Baby, American Way, Arthritis Today, Bride's, Cooking Light, Fitness, Glamour, InStyle Weddings, Lifetime Television, Men's Edge, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, Parenting, Parents, Prevention, Redbook, Self, Shape, Sly, Stuff, USA Weekend, Weight Watchers, Woman's Day, Women's Health, and,, and I also ghostwrote The Knot Book of Wedding Flowers.

If you are interested, I'd love to send you the completed manuscript.

Thanks so much! Looking forward to speaking with you soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question of the day: Do you have to have connetions to get an agent? It feels like everyone who lands an agent has some sort of in.

Huh. This question has popped up a few times as of late in my inbox, and it surprises me every time.

For the record, I had absolutely no connection to my agent when she signed me. And I can think of several friends for whom this is also true. Do connections help? Absolutely. Referrals are a great way to get your foot in the door (though no guarantee), and obviously, sure, if you know someone who knows someone try to milk that. But what matters at the end of all of this is whether or not you've written a strong manuscript. And even BEFORE that, what matters most critically is how kickass your query letter is. I cannot stress this enough.

A friend recently sent me a query letter, and I suggested a few tweaks which he totally implemented. He sent me the revision, and it totally rocked. And from what I've heard since, he's had a lot of success in agent interest because of that inital letter. It was witty, biting, interesting and made you want to read the rest of the ms. You have to GRAB AGENTS FROM THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE, because if you don't, even if the rest of your letter is the most incredible thing they'll read, they likely won't even make it that far: there are too many other queries in their inbox.

So how did I land my agent? I wrote what I think is a kickass query letter (which I'll try to find and post at some point). It generated a lot of interest, and I was fortunate to have a selection of all very good agents. No connections. No referrals. No calls on my behalf. My letter spoke on my behalf, and you can be damned sure that since I was sending it out into the world as a representation of my work, it was awesome. End of story.

Other authors: did you find your agent via connections or all on your own?