The Path To Failure

I have another secret to share, come here. Closer… closer… STOP! Right there.

Look around. Do you see everything around you? This, my friend, is the path to failure. This is where dreams are broken. This is where it all falls apart. We call it life, sometimes adulthood, but what it really is the graveyard of our hopes.

Okay, you can back up now.

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Shake that negativity off. Take another deep breath and look around. You see this?

This is the path to success. This is where all your dreams come true. This is where everything works for you like you are a Cinderella whose fairy godmother took over the mob and took out those two step-sisters years before you ever had to scrub a floor.

Do you know what the difference is between the path to failure and the road to success? There is none.

There is only one road.

Some days it looks like you are careening towards failure. Everyone else took the express route and found their Prince Charming, their book deal, their million dollar dream and you are still scrubbing floors and writing books by candlelight as you weep into your ink-stained hands.

Suck it up, Buttercup, this is what success looks like before they photoshop it.

It’s hard work, long nights, gut checks, honest chats with friends, and getting knocked back on your butt ninety-nine times. And then you stand up for that hundreth time and punch back. Failure is success that quit. Failure is what happens when you stop standing up when you get punched down. Failure is a step on the long road to success.

Cry if you must. Take a deep breath, look out at the scenery. Take a detour and check out the little things. Then get back on the road and keep going because that’s what turns failure into Success.

If you quit because of a rejection letter, or because you didn’t get the job, or because you failed the first test in a class you aren’t giving yourself a chance to be brilliant. Believe in yourself a little bit longer. Stand back up. You’re getting there.

There Are Three Rules To Writing A Novel…

… and no one knows what they are. Or so says the infamous quote seen on mugs and hats everywhere people want to make money off of frustrated authors.
I’m not saying these are the missing three rules, but they’re my best guess for the time being.

1- Write it all down. Too many young authors dismiss an idea by saying “I’ll remember it later” or “it’s a stupid idea.” You won’t and it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s fanfiction, or parody, or something you wrote just because it sounded funny – write it down. Write it, edit it, and polish it before you judge your work. As long as you agree to learn from your mistakes there is no wasted time, and more than one author has become famous writing “just for fun” while they waited for the perfect book to come along.

2 – Assume your reader is intelligent. They want to read your book, don’t they? That proves they’re intelligent. So trust your reader and don’t hammer them over the head with needless details. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and give your reader a minute description of a car unless this car is radically different than the common definition. And get so lost in your love of words that you alienate your reader. Yes, a book set in ancient Rome would be more accurate if you wrote it in Greek and Latin, but far fewer people would be able to enjoy your work. Your readers are intelligent, don’t make them jump through hoops to enjoy your writing.

3- Start editing at chapter three. After your first draft is finished reread starting with chapter three. Many authors use the first two chapters to set the stage and establish characters. If you can start reading at chapter three and enjoy the book the readers don’t need those first two chapters. You may need them as an author, but your audience doesn’t. Of course, if you read from chapter three and nothing makes sense pat yourself on the back, you started your story in the right place!

There, now when someone tells you that no one knows how to write the perfect novel you can smirk knowingly and say,”I do.”

What three rules do you believe every good book follows?

Previously Published June 2012

Finding Your Strengths

All writers are not created equal.

Some are gifted at world building, others excel at pacing, some write witty dialog without breaking a sweat (looking at you, Whedon). Whatever your skill, you should identify it and make the most of it?

Why?

Let’s pretend that your greatest strength is dialog. And then you write a book with a character that never speaks to anyone. Everything is description and inner monologue. Guess what? That book is not going to snap the way your previous books did.

Worse, your readers who come to you looking for a specific style of writing might be turned off.

Think of writing a book like you would plan to dress for a photo shoot; even if you’re changing the style of the clothes you still want to accentuate your best features.

So how do you find your strengths? Here’s four quick questions that will help you find your best angle…

1) What do you like writing best?
If you find the descriptive scenes just flow, you might have a knack for world building. If you always know where to end a scene for the right dramatic tension, congratulations, you’re one of the lucky few who has a talent for pacing.

2) What scenes do you think of first?
If the dialog comes before the character description, you probably have flair for dialog. If you know your characters better than you know your neighbor, you are a natural character builder, and I bet no one has ever called your characters “flat.”

3) What do your reviews say?
Look at your critiques and reviews say? Do they mention lush worlds, colorful characters, or snappy sass? That’s your talent!

4) What do people ask for your advice about?
When someone sends you a message and says, “How would you do this?” you know you’ve found your strength.

Previously Published January 2016

How To Be A Good Critique Partner (reprint)

Critique groups abound, especially as NaNoWriMo wraps up. The crisp, cold weather of winter combined with the frenzy of writing a novel in a month spawns writing groups like there is no tomorrow. New writing groups are wonderful, but not all critique partners are created equal.

The horror stories about bad critique partners turning a book into a chimera are all over the place. If you have nothing better to do one day, ask me about it on Twitter when I’m in a talkative mood. I have stories. But this post is about how to make yourself a better critique partner.

1) Know the Expectations
Before you start any editing project you need to know what the author wants. The wrong critique at the wrong time will kill many a good book before it’s finished. Ask the author before you start what they want. I offer levels…
— “Just a look” where I read it over and give a thumbs up or down. This is perfect for rough drafts and cheering on an author struggling to complete a project.
— “Look for plot holes” where I read and point out inconsistencies in the plot line, plot holes, and correct basic spelling and grammar errors with a note (ie – note: comma before proper names in DL)
— “Shred it” where you nitpick every single word and flaw. This is an edit for a final draft. Every word and movement is under the microscope for nuance and meaning, and I only do this with an author who is subbing the piece in the next 6 months. I wouldn’t attack a first draft like this ever.
— “Final Edits” reading the piece out loud and looking for grammar and spelling errors exclusively. This is for a clean copy that’s days away from being submitted. It’s not uncommon for authors to add a spelling error while editing.


2) Know the Audience
Before you can critique you need to know where the manuscript is headed. As a critique partner the book isn’t written for you, it’s written for a reader somewhere out in the great, big world. You need to be the reader’s advocate and make sure the book turns out well enough that someone who doesn’t know the author can enjoy it.

3) Know the Market
Fuss all you like about artistic rights. If an author wants to publish a book they need to know the market expectations (word count, content, common tropes, ect) and so does their critique partner. A good critique partner is going to red flag a mid-grade manuscript that goes over the 60,000 word limit. You also need to be familiar with the genre your partner writes in. What happens if you and your buddy both write horror and then, one day, your partner decides to write epic fantasy YA? You either start reading epic fantasy YA, or you find your buddy a new critique partner who knows the genre. Trust one who has been mismatched with critique partners before, it’s not pretty when someone edits a sci-fi manuscript with YA expectations. *shudder*


4) Trust The Author -or- Don’t Cut To Early
Never tell an author a scene doesn’t need to exist until you’ve finished the book. There’s a habit in writing groups to rip and shred before reading, and it doesn’t work. Yes, that opening line needs to be amazing, but the only legitimate comment you can give about the validity of an opening chapter is, “This works, I’m hooked.” or “I’m not hooked yet, I’ll keep reading and maybe there’s a better opening.” (Hint: check chapter 3)

5) Leave The Voice
The novice mistake of critiquing is to rewrite the book in your own words. Resist the urge. Every author has a unique voice, don’t squish it into oblivion because you’d compare love to a summer’s day and the author compares love to a rosy sunset.

6) React
Ninety percent of the notes on a good critique are reaction notes. “Oh My Gosh!!! I can’t believe Character just did that!” … “Love it!” … “I laughed here.” … “I’m picturing him naked, which I know is wrong. Rewrite.” Reactions let an author know if things are working. A large, and often overlooked, portion of editing is leading the reader down a path of emotions and reactions. If the author wanted a scene to be warm and cuddly and it’s coming off with a stalker vibe, the author needs to know. Don’t get caught up in the But-The-Author-Told-Me trap. Readers are not going to have a two hour conversation about this scene with the author. They won’t know that the author wanted the guy to be authoritative and demanding. The reader will see a stalker scene, not an authoritative male being Alphahole-ish but sweet.

Do you have anything to add? What makes a critique partner great? Hit the comments and tell me all about it.

Previously published December 2012 on www.lianabrooks.com

Book Your Spring 2017 Edits Today!

I am taking on new clients between now and April 3rd to fill the rest of my spring 2017 editing calendar.

Submission Packet Critique (synopsis, query, and first 5 pages) $25
Indie Author Special (blurb, 5 twitter pitches, and first 5 pages) $25 
First Chapter
(up to 20 pages)  $50.00 and a 1 work-week turn around time
Contest Critique (first 50 pages + blurb) $100
Full Manuscript Critique $1.00 a page minimum of 200 pages
Prewrite Consult (one-on-one time to help you develop the story before you write) starting at $20
A La Carte (add-ons and package deals) starting at $5
Emergency Fee to Jump the Queue  $50
* all page counts are double-spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font, formatted for Microsoft Word *

To reserve a space please contact me at liana.brooks1@gmail.com

It happens every now and then, my regular clients hit a lull, or a life change, or find their dream agent… As much as I love hearing that one of my favorite authors has a new book deal, I hate seeing holes in my calendar. But that’s exactly what I see right now.

I currently have openings for new clients who want to have their manuscripts edited, their queries workshopped, or who need help getting a new project off the ground. This will be the last chance for new clients to schedule manuscript edits with me before I reopen in August. Because of my impending move to the Seattle area I will not be taking full manuscript edits after May 15th. I will not be taking short edits (queries, pitches, contest critiques) after June 5th from anyone except established clients.

Now for the quick FAQ –

What genres will I edit?
Science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, romance, and crime fiction for any age group. If it goes boom, bang, or crash, I can help.

What does a full manuscript edit entail?
What I offer is a content or developmental edit. That means I read through your story looking for character development, pacing, plot, and weak points. I usually read through the manuscript 2-3 times leaving inline comments, and writing an editing letter that addresses your weak areas and helps you plan your next round of editing. Because editing isn’t always easy and you still need to bounce around ideas, full manuscript clients are invited to email me with follow up questions and concerns as they edit their manuscript. Previous clients also have first pick when I open my calendar and can book up to six months in advance.

What does a query critique/indie author special look like?
Both these packages include an honest critique of your query or blurb along with helpful feedback and up to three suggested queries/blurbs for you to build on. These will look very much like the free query critiques I’ve posted on the blog HERE. Pitches are the small ads you post on social media and pitch help will follow the same formula I used for #SonOfAPitch, HERE. The turn around time on these packets is usually 3-4 days and you can add the query/blurb critique to a full manuscript edit at any time.

Why would I get a partial critique?
Partial critiques are best for authors who are submitting a few chapters for a contest, or for authors who are on a budget but can’t afford a full manuscript edit. If you’re a self-starter who can take direction and apply a single line of critique to a whole book, the partial critique is the most economical option. You’ll receive the same feedback I’d give for a full manuscript critique, but only of the chapters you send.

Can I see a sample of your work?
Yes, you can! Several of my previous clients have graciously allowed me to share samples of their writing with my editing with you. If you’d like to request a sample, please email me.

Why should I hire you?
I’m cheap, I’m quick, and I know what I’m doing. There are lots of freelance editors out there. I know most of them, I’ve worked with some of them, and if I can’t fit you into my schedule I have a short list of editors I will happily recommend you to because I know you’ll be in good hands.

The main difference you’ll see from freelance editors is a difference in accessibility and style. I keep my prices low because I know there are many talented people working on a tight budget, and I want to see you succeed. I started as a newspaper editor in 2000, I’ve been critiquing fiction since 2005, I’m a published, hybrid author who has self-published, worked with a small press, and had three novels published by HarperCollins. I’ve worked with some of the best editors in the industry. I know my genres inside and out. I know what readers are looking for. I know what agents are looking for. I know how to help you make the book you’re working on be the best it can possibly be.

 

Twitter Pitch Etiquette #SonOfAPitch

March 6th there will be a #SonOfAPitch Twitter Pitch Party! What is a Twitter Pitch Party? How do you pitch? Why do you pitch? Here’s the quick and dirty details for all the Twitter Pitch debutantes out there!

What is it? A Twitter Pitch Party is an online event organized by writers, editors, and agents around a date and hashtag. During the event authors post a pitch (or logline) for their book with the appropriate hashtag. If an agent or editor likes the pitch, they’ll let the author know. The author will then send in a query along with requested pages. These queries will get top priority from agents and editors.

How do you pitch? It’s as simple as putting your pitch on twitter with the right hashtag! Going to be away from the keyboard all day? Use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets!

Why do you pitch? Did I mention that editors and agents give pitching authors priority when reading queries? It’s nice to get feedback fast. Over 60% of my full manuscript requests came from pitch parties. Even though I wound up with an agent I found through a traditional query process, the feedback from other agents helped me refine my early query.

Do’s and Don’ts:
Do use the hashtag.
Do be polite to other authors and anyone on the hashtag (but feel free to report spam).
Do keep a positive attitude.
Don’t spam the hashtag. As a general rule, tweet once every two to three hours (4 total tweets for the event).
Don’t tweet more than one book.
Don’t tag agents with your pitch.
Don’t pitch on twitter unless you are participating in an event.

Etiquette for authors on Twitter:
There’s a lot that can be said here, but let’s keep it simple: your twitter feed is part of your brand. Everyone – from potential agents to potential readers – will see your feed. So put your best foot forward. Make sure that someone reading your feed finds the same tone there that they will in your books. You want to keep a nice balance of book-related tweets (NASA tweets for the SF crowd, Teen Vogue tweets for the YA crowd, archaeology or Victoria tweets if you write historical fiction, ect), personal-tweets (pets… people love pets), and promotion (actual ads for your book should take up less than 10% of your feed).

Even before you publish, you want to make your Twitter feed (or whatever social media feed you use as your Home Base) a place that reflects you, your style, and welcomes new readers to stop by and say hi.

What you do put on Twitter: a real avatar (no eggs!), a good bio, a link to your website/author page, retweets of things that interest you, conversations with other authors, pictures of pets, pictures of your bookcase, pictures you, information about cool stuff in your hometown (I’ll be tweeting about the Iditarod this week), information about the research you’re doing for a new book, #WIPfire with a sentence from your latest story, fun stories about two people sharing a found wine bottle on the sub ride home.

What you don’t put on Twitter are things like: your address, your phone number, nude pics, complaints about how slow an agency is responding to your query, rants about how you could do so much better in self-publishing while querying, brag posts about how you’ve never read a genre but are totally going to rewrite it because you are a genius, or hate-filled screes against anyone (with exceptions for football season and March Madness… sports rants can be forgiven).

What if an agent or editor starts chatting with me on Twitter? Be friendly and keep talking. I’ve met some fabulous people who offered me stellar advice for free just because we happened to be Twitter-friends. Done right, social media can be an amazing networking tool, especially for people who live in remote locations (like me!), are anxious in crowds, can’t get to cons, or otherwise wouldn’t be rubbing elbows with people in the publishing industry on a regular basis.

Got questions? Hit the comment box and let me know what you’re worried about.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the How-To Write A Pitch workshop, and post yours for feedback.

 

Editing Sale!

emergency-edits

Emergencies happen. Unexpected bills. An unplanned trip to the dentist’s office. Car problems. We’ve all been there.

Rather than sitting here fretting over emergencies though, I’m turning this into an opportunity. This week only, I’m opening up two new novel slots on my editing schedule, and offering discounts on developmental edits for the first three chapters of your novel, and submission packet critiques. With #SFFPit coming up, I want to make sure your opening pages are polished and beautiful.

The catch? If you want these special prices you need to book before December 12th, and the books needs to be emailed to me by December 15th.

Submission Packet Critique (synopsis, query, and first 5 pages) $25
First Chapter (up to 20 pages)  $50.00
First Three Chapters (up to 50 pages) $100.00
Entire Manuscript Critique $1.00 a page minimum of 200 pages.
Emergency Fee to Jump the Queue  $50
* all page counts are double-spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font, formatted for Microsoft Word *

To reserve a space please contact me at liana.brooks1@gmail.com

These are for CONTENT EDITS only. I will address plot, pacing, and character development. It is recommended that you schedule a Line Edit with a reputable line editor to go over your final manuscript for typos and grammar errors.

Get all the details here.
FAQ

Breaking Through Writer’s Block (the expanded post)

Originally this was written for Savvy Authors in 2013, and then Leslie brought it back November 16th because she was struggling with NaNo. Reading through it, I saw a few places where I could expand on ideas better, so here is the revised edition of Breaking Through Writer’s Block!

I don’t believe in Muses.

I’ll never blame a magic fairy’s disappearance for why I can’t get my writing done each day. But I do believe in writer’s block.

Sometimes it’s very obvious why you can’t write: there’s a cat in your lap, a kid sitting on the keyboard trying to color on your face, or the power’s gone out. In these cases, you feed the cat, distract the kid, and grab pen and paper to plot out your next scene. These are easy to see problems with equally easy fixes. Other forms of Writer’s Block aren’t as easy to identify or cure. Writer’s Block comes in three basic forms: Physical, Emotional, and Logical.

Physical Writer’s Block

This doesn’t mean the keyboard is missing, it means there is something physically wrong with the author or the environment. Fatigue, hunger, and illness all make it hard to write.

Signs you have physical writer’s block:

  • Staring at the screen yawning
  • Thinking of food but not the next scene
  • Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Coughing, vomiting, doped up on medicine
  • Distracted by things around you

When you hit a stumbling point where you can’t work, do a quick self-diagnostic and try to remember when you last ate a healthy meal. A real, all-five-food-groups meal that provides the brain with energy.

If it’s been more than four hours it’s probably time to hit save and grab some food. If you’re yawning and rubbing your eyes take a nap or go to sleep. Tired writing is bad writing.

Shivering, sweating, or distracted? Adjust the temperature or location.

Loop on cough meds? Call it a night and go watch a movie while you eat an orange for the delicious vitamin C!

Physical writer’s block is something you can walk away from. Get up, move, address your physical needs, and the words will come back. Your brain is not a machine, it can’t work at 100% for 24 hours straight. Giving your body a break is the quickest way to fix this form of writer’s block. Food and good nap will solve 90% of your problems, trust me, it’s been scientifically tested by millions of authors.

Self-care is not selfish. Beating your body up, or neglecting it, isn’t good for you in the long term. Or for your career. Authors joke about living off coffee and alcohol, but at the end of the day it is a joke. Your brain is a delicate organ that needs certain things to do its job correctly. Stay hydrated. Get the sleep you need. Take regular breaks to stretch, walk, and get some sunlight. Give your hands a nice massage after a long day of typing. And make sure wherever you write is comfortable and supports a healthy posture.

You have a bright future in front of you; you should be doing everything you can to make sure the body you’re traveling in is as healthy as it can be. (That sounded less creepy t

Logical Writer’s Block

When everything is right with the author and the environment sometimes the story creates the stumbling block.

Signs you have logical writer’s block:

  • The scene is wrong but you can’t say how
  • You can’t picture where the scene is going
  • You reread the scene and it’s boring you
  • You are ready to set the manuscript on fire
  • Your crit partner asked a question about a plot point and you burst into tears

Don’t fret, plotter or punster this happens to the best of us. Everyone will one day write themselves into a corner and not know what to do. Save your work, close the manuscript, and take a deep breath. Now is the time to do a triage.

Start with the most basic question: Why do you love this book and need to write it? If you don’t love it, put the book in the retired book folder on your computer and move on. There is no time for you to spend months writing and editing a book you don’t love.

What scenes are you excited to write in this book and why? Even if you’re pantsing this thing and making it up as you go along there are scenes you know you’re looking forward to writing. Analyze why you love those scenes. Susan Dennard calls these Magic Cookie Scenes. Every chapter should be built around a scene that you really, really want to write. The more fun it is for you to imagine, the more likely you are to write the scene. If you’re not feeling it… cut the scene and find another way to write that information.

Is the outline holding you back? This is a common problem for new authors and die hard plotters. Outlines are great but sometimes books outgrow them. Outlines can remove the element of surprise and prevent plot twists. If the book has outgrown the outline, trash the outline. Make a new one. Or don’t. Some books are better off written as spontaneous acts of creation.

Do you not have an outline at all? Grab the pen and paper. Write down the worst things that could happen to the character (make a list of about 20 – go wild!) and then decide what absolutely must happen so you can get the ending you want. Plot as least as far as your next plot twist. If you don’t like outlines try a plot box, an Excel sheet, or post-it notes on the wall. Do whatever you need to do to visualize the story.

Are your villains doing their work? Poorly written villains are a death sentence for a manuscript. Take a good hard look at your villains. Are they the heroes of their own story? Do they have good motivations? Do they have a cunning and intelligent plan? Are they doing their work or do you have a cardboard cut out and a hero punching at shadows.

Do you have all four plot twists? Plot twists should come at irregular intervals throughout the book. In a 90,000 word manuscript the plot twists would come at 10k, 35k, 60k, and 88k. That last twist at the end is the satisfying closure and the lead to the next book in the series. If everything is going according to the hero’s plan than you need to shake things up a bit. Let the hero lose a battle. Kill the beloved family pet. Burn the safe place to the ground.

If you get through all of this and are still having problems you need to consider that you may have a dead book on your hands. It’s a sad truth that 90% of what all authors write will never hit the shelves. One in ten started manuscripts becomes a finished book. One in ten finished books becomes a published work. Don’t fall into the trap of letting a dead novel keep you from moving forward with your writing. And, remember, even if you trunk this book for a year or ten you can always come back to it at a later date.

Emotional Writer’s Block

The number one cause of writer’s block is fear.

Signs you have emotional writer’s block:

  • You’ve muttered the phrase, “I suck at writing.” at least twice today.
  • You’ve just read an amazing book and know you will never compare.
  • Someone is pressuring you to quit writing and get a real job.
  • You are pressuring you to quit writing and get a real job.
  • You’re worried the book won’t be good enough.
  • You’re not sure you can handle the pressure of deadlines.
  • You’re not sure what you’ll do after this book is done.
  • You have a habit of not finishing projects you’ve started.
  • You are a perfectionist or recovering perfectionist.
  • You’ve recently received a rejection or hyper-critical critique of your work and you’re questioning everything you’ve ever done.
  • Your worrying about low sales.
  • Your obsessing over market trends.
  • You’re comparing your published work to the bestsellers and convinced your new book won’t make the cut.
  • You’ve started browsing online job forums looking for an opening as a scorpion petter.

Fear of the unknown is the leading cause of writer’s block. You get so tangled in the What Ifs and Maybes that you can’t focus on the story.

Perfectionism insists the book will never be perfect. And, I’ll be honest, no book ever is. No author alive looks at their published novel and doesn’t see something they want to change. I know, I’ve asked around, we’re all like that.

Concerns that you’ll fail, that you’ll never be as popular as That Big Name Author, or never make a living off writing make you question if you should spend so much time with fictional people. We’ve all been there. Most authors visit this place at least once a book, even the Big Name Authors who you think sip champagne as bestsellers magically appear on their hard drive. Doubt is part of art.

All forms of creation involve a stage where the creator questions themselves, their art, their intentions, their future. The trick is to not let this moment of self-reflection keep you from creating something beautiful.

Look at the facts: rough drafts are ugly buggers and they always will be, no one makes a living off of writing until they have at least 5 books on the shelf (and even then it’s a stretch), no one else is going to write the book you are thinking of, you can’t be anyone else, no one else can be you, and if you love this book you should keep writing.

Sure, there are reasons to quit. There’s a time and a season for everything in life and sometimes you had to admit this isn’t a writing season for you. Most authors having taken a year or ten off for everything from dabbling in other careers to going to college to just not wanting to write. If that’s where you’re at, embrace it!

But if writing is what you love – if sitting down to write each day makes you a better, happier, healthier person – than toss your doubts in the trash can and keep writing. The world wants to read your story.

Friendsgiving Critique #2

friendsgivingfeedbackQuery #2 was one I picked out because I love UF and I haven’t seen Norse mythology done well recently (maybe I missed a book?). 

The original query is in black, my notes are in red, and my rewrite is at the bottom. 
– L 

 

MARK OF THE VALKYRIE is a 75,000 word contemporary fantasy novel that should appeal to fans of the October Daye books by Seannan McGuire and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. This paragraph should be at the bottom. Start with a sentence that demands attention.

Erin Hawke is the daughter of a Valkyrie, but prefers Scrabble to spear practice, and running her pub to heroic adventuring. Her mother, Sigrun, is intent on forging Erin into her image of a Valkyrie, despite Erin’s longstanding belieif belief that Choosing the Slain is the furthest thing from what she wants to do for eternity. Fed up with having a disappointment for a daughter, Sigrun gives Erin a test with her life on the line Cut this (. Erin must) find the source of an interdimensional disturbance that is drawing the Nine Worlds dangerously close together. Erin has to remember her much ignored lessons to complete this task.

Her challenge will take her through the turbulence between the Nine Worlds, where she’ll face problems bartending never prepared her for. Fighting rock wyrms and Dark Elves will be the least of her worries. Combine those two sentences for more snap and clarity. Erin will need to learn what secrets Sigrun has been keeping from her. Secrets that could lead to destruction that makes Ragnarok look like a nice day at the park. Failing this test means losing the life she’s worked to build, but success means leaving her home to join the ranks of the Valkyrie. It’s up to Erin to find an outcome more to her liking. I’d like a punchier ending. All the details of a good query are here, but it’s lacking a Voice. I want to hear you in the story. I want to hear the author’s confidence and humor and emotion in a query. This sounds very sterile. It’s clean, but it’s needs the author’s final touch to make it perfect.

MARK OF THE VALKYRIE is the first in a series. Say instead, “has series potential” … you will need to be able to sell this as a stand alone. The market is volatile and a series can be a tough sell. Not that it can’t happen, but the rule of thumb is that the first book should always be able to stand alone. My urban fantasy short story “Daybreak” was published in Salt Lake Community College’s Folio magazine.

This is a very clean query so there isn’t much to rewrite. This is what I came up with…

Erin Hawke loves Scrabble, watching Animal Planet, and running the Bastard’s Brew, her beloved Irish pub in Ohio. It’s a perfect life, except it’s not exactly hers. Erin was born as a Valkyrie, one of the Choosers of Slain meant to bring worthy souls to Valhalla, and her mother is p****ed she’s not practicing with a spear or riding into battle reaping souls.

Her mother, Sigrun, decides there’s only one reasonable way to solve their impasse: send Erin to find the source of an interdimensional disturbance between the Nine Worlds or die trying. If Erin returns victorious she’ll be swept up with the rest of the Norse pantheon. If she fails, Sigrun has arranged a tasteful funeral. Either way, there is no Scrabble in her future.

Bartending didn’t prepare Erin to fight rock wyrms or Dark Elves, but she’s bright enough to know that Sigrun isn’t telling the whole truth. There are secrets in Valhalla that could make Ragnarok look like a nice day at the park. Maybe, if she can unravel the lies spun around her, Erin can save the day and get back to mixing cocktails before happy hour. Or maybe she’ll find out of Hel is any good at Scrabble.

MARK OF THE VALKYRIE is a 75,000 word contemporary fantasy novel with series potential that should appeal to fans of the October Daye books by Seannan McGuire and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. My urban fantasy short story “Daybreak” was published in Salt Lake Community College’s Folio magazine.

Readers, what do you think? Leave feedback in the comments below and don’t forget to check out the Romantic Suspense query HERE

Friendsgiving Critique #1

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The query is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. Even if you aren’t looking for an agent or a publisher you will write something similar. The query is, essentially, the back-of-book blurb with an additional paragraph containing personal details (previous publications, relevant platform, word count, ect). I picked this one to critique because it is written by an author who has a disability (something I can relate to because of Ehlers-Danlos), and because it’s romantic suspense, which is one of my favorite things to read. 

The original query is in black, my notes are in red, and my rewrite is at the bottom. 
– L 

 

Dear [Agent Name],

Christine was born with only three fingers on her left hand, a minor issue in most people’s eyes but to Christine it’s huge. Ever since a mean girl This reference feels dated and I recommend cutting it unless this person becomes a reoccurring character. Remember, it can take several years for a book to hit the shelves and On Trend today is dated in a few years. told her, “Christine, don’t deceive The word GIRL implies young, and deceive isn’t a word I associate with kids  yourself. No man will ever want to put a ring on that hand,” she has believed she is disqualified This strikes me as an odd word choice, but if it’s in keeping with the tone of the book, it’s fine. from being loved. She had one serious relationship in her life, but it ended badly. She has accepted that she will never be loved. What is Christine’s motivation? What is she doing with her life while she isn’t falling in love? I’d like to see that.

Then she meets Paul. White space is our friend! This is not normally a trick I use for queries, but this is a sentence that needs the space to have impact.

Paul does not This isn’t a formal letter, go ahead and use contractions. care about her hand. Christine begins to hope that she has a chance at love. When a beautiful woman makes a very forward pass at Paul, all of Christine’s insecurities resurface and she walks out on Paul, fearing that he would wake up one day and regret being with her. She had already been betrayed once. She refused to let it happen again. Her heart could not take it. If their relationship was going to end, it would be by her choice, in her timing. I don’t love the fact that you’re describing her running away without stopping to figure out what is happening. If I read this on the back of a book, I’d pass, even if it is well-written. I recommend giving her a stronger reason for leaving.She accepts a job out of state and starts packing to move.

Heartbroken and believing that Christine is gone, Paul is without hope until he discovers that the out of state job Christine was heading to had fallen through. With hope renewed, he buys an engagement ring for Christine even while she still refuses to speak to him. Paul has a secretive national security job that sometimes puts him in danger. See, this is a big deal. Unpack this! His secrets can be the reason Christine doubted him. He is accustomed to taking chances and succeeding even when the odds are stacked against him.

While many forces, including Christine’s stubbornness and a violent drug cartel that wants Paul dead, seem determined to keep them apart, Paul is determined that they will be together. This is promising! 🙂 

WITH THIS RING, a romance, is 66,000 HUGE PROBLEM!!! For an adult romance novel you need a minimum of 70,000 words. Very few agents or editors will even give this manuscript a chance because the word count is too low (the high end is 100,000 words for romance and 120,000 for epic fantasy/SF – just FYI). You need to go through your manuscript and find places where you glossed over the action or skipped some details and get those words in there. words long. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

THE REWRITE – I didn’t have a copy of the novel so I made up as many facts as I had to…

Successful lawyer Christine SURNAME is on a partnership track at a prestigious law firm and she doesn’t plan on little things like love, or being born missing two fingers, hold her back. This presents Christine’s circumstances and driving motivation. Not that there aren’t a few offers on the table, it’s just that she’s been burned before and she doesn’t need another heartbreak. Her incredibly hunky neighbor, Paul SURNAME, hasn’t let her cold shoulder stop him from trying to win her heart. From homemade sushi to fried plantains, Paul’s been dipping into his family cookbook trying to find the way to Christine’s heart, and it’s working. This introduces the love interest and the interpersonal conflict as of Page 1.

In between stories about his Jamaican grandmother feuding with his Vietnamese aunts over the proper way to cure a cold sore Paul has left out one, very important, personal detail There was a note in the original query and Paul being Black/Asian and I tried to work it into the query. He’s an undercover CIA agent on the verge of breaking open the biggest case in agency history. Senators, cartel leaders, and a Canadian ambassador… it’s going to make headlines. But when Christine walks in on him talking to his handler, things go south, fast. Here the big conflict is introduced.

When a job offer from a dirty judge puts Christine in the center of his case, Paul decides it’s time to tell Christine the truth. He’s madly in love with her, he wants their honeymoon to be in Italy, and if she isn’t careful her career-making case is going to end with her in a shallow grave. Paul has the ring all picked out, now all he needs is for Christine to give him a second chance. And here the stakes are set. The reader knows it will only be True Love that keeps the couple alive, and we’re excited to see how it all plays out

WITH THIS RING, a romance, is 75,000 words long. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Well, Readers, would you pick up this book? 

Leave your responses, suggestions, and encouragements for the author in the comments below!