Getting ready to query

Now that Urban Mythos has been birthed and revised, I'm starting to focus on query letters and such. As a result of  coming in as runner up on the July Secret Agent Contest over at Miss Snark's First Victim, I've got a partial manuscript out as well as an "invited query"+10 pages from an agent who only accepts queries by invitation. So, that's good news.

I focused like heck on getting a two page synopsis together (Thanks, Frankie!!!) and then a reasonable query letter (Thanks everyone on WDC!). After several revisions, I'm happy with the results. However, I've got another query letter on YALitChat's Query Kickaround for further critique. The good news is that the early word is quite positive. Some tweaking was required, but nothing major.

While repaying the critiquing favors and/or paying it forward, I noticed a lot of writers making the same mistake I made with my initial query letter. (the first draft). It looked and read like a mini-synopsis. Since I wrote my synopsis first, the transition to query letter took a few tries, and as evidenced by what I read on YALitChat, the same thing probably happened with some other writers. The queries suffered from too much detail and too many characters. They didn't focus on the hook, the character and the conflict.

Also, the last few nights I've been doing more agent research. If you click on the  Pubs and Agents tab atop this blog, you'll note that I have a very deep list of YA and Middle Grade publishers and literary agents. I've developed this list over the years and add to it periodically. I've been going through my list, cross checking with some other excellent resources, such as Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles, where she spotlights numerous agents. Check her blog out. It's amazing.

I've got some criteria I can share for what would make an agent a match for me:
  • Represents Young Adult
  • Has sold Young Adult
  • Is interested in genre fiction, specifically fantasy, and especially urban fantasy 
  • If I met them or heard them speak at a conference, what did I think of them?
  • Do their tweets, blogs, interviews give me a positive impression. 
  • Based on interviews or anything else I can find, make sure there is nothing subtle to make me think Urban Mythos would not be for them.
Here's a great example of this last bullet point. A certain agent for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect was quoted as saying he/she did not like books that opened with the narrator introducing themselves by name.  Urban Mythos opens with the following dialog: "My name is Zydeco and I am a recovering mythological creature." Technically, I don't think this agent was referring to how I opened my novel, but I'm not taking any chances.

For each agent that seems like it's a possible fit, I add them to my list on querytracker, and if I've got interviews or other research I've done, I'll add links to those findings in the notes. Lots of agents are not taking submissions until the summer is over, so querying will be light this August. I'm going to post the query on YALitChat's Agent Inbox to see if there are any nibbles.

And that's about where I am. The journey continues.


Another Paint Job

I couldn't help myself. There I was fiddling with the blogger designer, and the next thing you know, here's this shiny new layout. Darn those distractions! The only tricky bit was getting the tweetme button just right.


Primary revisions complete

I meant to post this a while back, but things have been a bit hectic around here, what with spending every night working on a synopsis and query letter for Urban Mythos. Now that's out of the way, I can finally focus a bit more on sharing overall progress. As the title says, the primary revisions of the book are done. I've been following my revision process for the most part. And like any "process", it changes over time. That's a good thing. You can't just invent something and expect perfection off the bat.

You can't set off to create any sort of framework, be it writing, revisiing, software development (my day job). If you do, you'll fail every time.  These kinds of things have to develop over time. They come about organically through experience.

Great. So now that I've rationalized not following my revision process verbatim, let's check the progress.

Revision Round #3 - Grammar and Dialog
  • Judicious use of MS Word spell and grammar check. Correct as needed.
  • Read the book out loud, or use tools like ReadPlease to read the book to me.
  • Immediately fix the obvious grammatical issues.
  • Immediately fix the horrendous dialog that the ear makes far more obvious than the eyeball. 
It took a few weeks to get through this round and when I finished, I realized that after the decrap-ification of round #1, this was probably the most important bit of revising I'll do. If decrap-ification ensures that the book is sensible and consistent to the author, this round catches almost everything else. The most important piece is the reading out loud. I used ReadPlease this time, and that android in my computer helped catch any number of issues:

  1. Misspellings (the easy part).
  2. Run-on sentences.
  3. Awful dialog.
  4. Pacing issues, both within a sentence-- when to add or drop a comma--and spanning a scene--when to chop up long sentences or combine short ones.
  5. Repeated words and phrases.
  6. A milieu of misses
I read along while the computer speaks, and I cannot begin to tell you how this helps. Issues jump off the page as do ideas on how to fix them.

After completing round three, my confidence in this book is absolutely brimming. The feedback I've received from my critique partners at the YA forum on WDC has been equally positive. When I compare this book with my first book and the feedback I've received, especially around voice - let's just say I've traveled light years.

When I look at the remaining rounds of my revision process, I hesitate.

Revision Round #4 - The automaton editor - bring on the pain
  1. This is where I take the book chapter by chapter through manuscript editing software. I've used AutoCrit and been quite happy with the results.
  2. This isn't so much about grammar or spelling, but more about finding repetition, clichés, poor sentence pacing, readability, etc.
  3. This is tedious and painful. The Terminator is not kind.
  4. Revise appropriately.

I'm thinking of giving round four a miss primarily because of how deep the revisions were from round three. A lot of the benefit of the automaton editor above: finding repetition, clichés, poor sentence pacing, readability... Heck, I've gone through that in detail already in round three and I feel excellent about it. I think I may run a couple of chapters through, just to see what it finds, but it's otherwise coming off my list for now.

Revision Round #5 - One last look - one rule - no MAJOR changes allowed
  1. Gather any additional feedback and revise as needed (see round #2)
  2. One more MS Word spelling & grammar check.
  3. Final read through and tweaks.

Obviously this round goes on until the book is published. I'll continue to solicit feedback from my critique partners, and my immediate family and very close friends who will get a look at the book. When an agent discovers the book and my general delightfulness *WINKS*, the feedback will continue. And then when the book is sold, there will be an editor as well. So, round five's definition will change a bit. Also, the "no MAJOR changes allowed" rule will need to depend on who is giving me said advice.

Meanwhile, it's awfully hot out. I've finally cooled down from mowing the lawn this morning. It's time to get some reading done in the A/C and maybe play a half hour of Simpson's Road Rage on the Wii.



I submitted the first 250 words of Urban Mythos to the July Secret Agent Contest hosted by the awesome Authoress. Lo and behold, I won Runner Up!!! The secret agent turned out to be Danielle Chiotti from Upstart Crow Literary Agency. And those magical 250 words have drawn interest elsewhere as well.

Which means....

I am in a frantic mode of polishing up my queries and synopsis. I am synopsifying! Yeesh.


Mythos is now Urban Mythos

The first bit of interesting news for those that follow me is that I've retitled Mythos as Urban Mythos. It's a kind of catchy play on words. The key revisions will be completed today (a neat trick, considering my daughter and six other eleven-year-old girls will be occupying my house during Rachel's birthday sleepover). I'll definitely post an update on this, but suffice to say, rounds one through three of my revision process are complete.

At this point, I'm convinced  the book is in the kind of shape where I can now divide my time up between writing and refining the core of a query and a synopsis, while spending some time on revision round four. There is nothing quite like having your book read to you, even if by a deranged robot living within your computer. If only Jim Dale would donate his time.... *sighs* With experience comes a keener eye (and ear) for some of the less obvious issues such as repetition, cliche, pacing, etc. In years past, I relied on tools like AutoCrit.com to help me there, but right now, I'm feeling less obliged because of how pleased I am right with the book in its current state.

The book is still up for my critique partners at the YA forum to continue providing me the most excellent feedback a writer could ever receive, and so I will continue to tweak here and there, until such time as I must stop.

So, wish me luck with the tween girl set giggling, singing Karaoke, and generally being eleven year old girls as my son and I try to avoid being covered in nail polish. Of course, I did pop Sweet Caroline on their Karaoke DVD. I may need to join in.


The tree of death bites its master

My glorious post on my neighbor's evil cottonwood tree has a just, if not happy ending. Shortly after I piled a whole bunch of cash back into my two year old central a/c unit because of the spawn of the neighboring tree, the tree stopped cottoning. Two days after the repairs, I put a filter/cover on my outside condenser unit which, I am sure, had a direct correlation with the tree completing its cycle of terror.

But that's not the really excellent news. This past weekend, my neighbor had an air conditioning repair truck in his driveway. Here's hoping this ends with my neighbor cutting down his own tree of moral turpitude.

In a strangely related development, I found the video for Christopher Walken sanitizing Greased Lightnin' on Saturday Night Live a few years ago.


My neighbor's cottonwood tree must die...

Let me preface this post with the following soliloquy:


Here's the deal. My neighbor has a giant and theoretically gorgeous cottonwood tree in his backyard. Certain cottonwood trees "cotton", meaning they spread what appears to be little balls of seedy, sticky cotton nastiness. If you were to stand in my backyard in late June, it would seem like wintertime, what with the white stuff gently falling from the sky. The sky, in this case, is my neighbor's yard which is several feet above mine.

This process is occurs in late June and lasts up to two weeks. When we bought this house five years ago, there was no cotton and I could no more identify a cottonwood tree than the different varieties of plums without a sign in the supermarket.

Starting the following summer, I discovered the "joy" of cotton wrecking my backyard. This mutant tree from the lower bowels of Hades cottons for a heck of a lot longer than two weeks. I can't use my backyard for about a month because the gook gets all over everything, and it's not easily cleaned. It gets in EVERYTHING. The grass, the garden, the house, the deck, the dog, the barbecue. When I cut the lawn through the white stuff, it flies up in the air and gets in my eyes, thus ticking me off further.

Three years ago, I discovered the cotton was getting into the air conditioning condenser unit and within a year, despite my frantic attempts at cleaning it, the AC died. One year later, I forked over a massive pile of cash to replace the old central air conditioning with a fancy shmancy new unit of total efficiency.

This brings me to yesterday, the hottest day on record - 103 degrees in my little oasis of Northwestern New Jersey. I woke up and thought, jeepers, it's warm in here. After wandering over to the AC vent, I noted with several choice words that the air flowing out was warm as heck. It wasn't the circuit breakers. It wasn't my imagination. The two year old, freaking expensive condenser unit outside wasn't running.

So, I call the guy who installed the unit two years ago. Because it's about to be the hottest day on record and my AC is broken, the guy and his company are on vacation this week. This, I later found out, is entirely common in the world of AC contractors. They go away during July 4th week.

Eventually, I got somebody else to show up. They opened up the unit and found a shopping bag's worth of cotton inside the darn thing.... AGAIN. As I said before, ARGGGHHHH!!!! Naturally, cleaning it out wasn't enough, I had to sweat (figuratively and actually) while the guy tried to figure out why the condenser wouldn't start up again. Perhaps I needed to fork over another paycheck? Please no.

Eventually, he figured it out, and replaced a burned out part (from overheating due to the cotton) that probably cost $1.50 to manufacture, but cost me $350. Between the site visit, the cleaning and the repair, I wrote a check for nearly a thousand bucks. *GRRRRR*

In some states, cottonwood trees are considered "nuisance" trees and you can forcibly have them removed. Not in New Jersey, of course. So, I've ordered a filter to wrap around the condenser unit, which I'll have to clean weekly.

If you are in the hills of Northern New Jersey one night, and you hear an axe chopping wood, followed by maniacal laughter and police sirens, you may have found me.


Revisions - Incorporating Feedback

Last night, well after the fireworks were finished, I completed revising Mythos based on the many critiques of my wonderful friends at the YA Club on Writing.com. These folks have been reviewing chapters since the very first one I posted last fall. As they came in, I read each one, thanked the reviewer profusely and, many times, commented on one or two salient points they made. That was it, though. I filed the critique away, refusing to look back on what I'd written until the first draft was complete.

After finishing my second draft about a week ago (see my decrap-ification post), I broke open the folder of reviews. There were sixty-nine of them. Yes. 69. Inappropriate comments aside, let me just say that I felt a strange mixture of delight and horror. I had a ton of feedback on nearly almost every chapter I'd written! There's going to be lots of grammar corrections! Woo-Hoo! People are going to tell me if the characters and plot held up! Yay!

Yes, that was the "delight" portion. Onto the horror.

Sixty-nine reviews? That's a lot, isn't it? Have you ever decided to walk somewhere instead of driving, thinking, This won't be bad at all, only to find out about 60 minutes into your walk that you're not even a tenth of the way there? Yeah. This is a lot of feedback and advice to sort through, and often it feels like you are miles from your destination. You may get on a roll where a couple of reviews are primarily grammar related, with some easily fixed plot flaws or unrealistic dialog. And then you get to the killer review -- the one that points out a horrific and difficult-to-fix plot flaw, requiring you to rewrite five chapters. Or the one pointing out that your characters, who have been so consistent for ten chapters, suddenly act completely out of character. I mentioned this in my Triangle Effect post on The Crew. It's right then that you put your head on the desk and wish the teacher would just say it was nap time.

As far as revising based on critiques, like I implied, grammar is the easy bit. Loads of people are better at grammar than I am. It saves me so much time. Fresh sets of eyes always seem to find the repetitive use of words, the adverb misuse, etc. It's a huge help. As for comments on characterization and plot, well, these are the bits that sometimes cut deep. Let's review what revision round #2 is all about.

Revision Round #2 - Incorporating feedback
  1. Gather all the critiques from the critique group (in this case, my YA writing pals on writing.com).
  2. For any editing/grammar nits, revise appropriately.
  3. For the "big issues", like characterization, plot, setting, voice, etc., decide if I agree with these points. 
  • If I agree, revise appropriately. 
  • If I don't agree, but several others do, consider that I may be wrong and revise appropriately. 
  • If I don't agree, but only one or two others do, the author wins. (Stephen King rule)

Each time an excellent reviewer pointed out a "big issue" as stated above, I immediately struggled with what to do about it. After a few moments of mental anguish and indecision, I returned to the three bulleted "rules" above. Obviously, if I agreed with their point, I revised, no matter how difficult. Review number sixty-nine offered one such colossal "big issue" (thanks Laura), but I concurred with the assessment. It required quite a bit of work to redress, and hopefully I've done a reasonably good job.

As for the reviews I disagreed with, well, emotion tends to get involved. The "rules" are meant to help you avoid emotion. Still, as writers, we tend to be a smidgen, um, protective of our babies.

Across the many reviews, there were a number of issues with which I disagreed. However, when multiple people raised the same issue in one fashion or another, I forced myself to revise. Heaven help someone if they tried talking to me while I was making that revision. *winks* All is fair in writing and revising, however. So, if only one or two people raised an issue with which I disagreed, I merrily passed it by, not even waving in my rear view mirror. When (not if) my fellow writers whose chapters I've reviewed disagree with my comments, they should philosophically run over my foot as they drive off, leaving my comments in the dust at my squashed shoe. I'd expect nothing less.

I can't thank these wonderful people enough: Laura, Airdale, Dezi, Tania, Vicky, Kurt, Ralene, Richard, Frankie, Mireyah, Annie, Dawn, and Ceri. Each of you have helped me make this novel better in so many ways. Thank you!!!

Now, I'm on to revision round #3! The good news is that I took care of step 1 already.

Revision Round #3 - Grammar and Dialog
  1. Judicious use of MS Word spell and grammar check. Correct as needed.
  2. Read the book out loud, or use tools like ReadPlease to read the book to me.
  3. Immediately fix the obvious grammatical issues.
  4. Immediately fix the horrendous dialog that the ear makes far more obvious than the eyeball.