Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
My apologies to all for disappearing! I’ve just gotten back from a week of traveling on business—and I was swamped for several days before that with trip-related details. I hate it when bloggers go on about the “guys, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while,” but I felt I owed a bit of explanation for leaving our third contest winner, Jo Eberhardt, waiting on her bio critique for so long!
Without further ado, let’s jump in. Here’s Jo’s original bio paragraph:
I live on the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia with my husband and two young sons. My greatest ambition as a child was to grow up to be the lead singer of a heavy metal band. Sadly, by the time I was ten, the whole neighbourhood knew I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. So I took my love of entertaining and inspiring people, and turned to storytelling instead. Earlier this year I had a story shortlisted for the Stringybark Speculative Fiction Award and subsequently published in the anthology A Visit From the Duchess. Over the last two months, I've won two of Chuck Wendig's weekly Flash Fiction competitions, as well as this competition on your blog. I'm a member of the local Writer's Group, am an Emily contest judge for the West Houston RWA in the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal category, and blog about life, the universe and everything at http://thehappylogophile.
Overall, Jo, I really like this one—the “I’ve always wanted to be a writer” bit is kind of clichéd, but you’ve nicely turned it on its head a bit with the joke about wanting to be the singer in a heavy metal band (especially because it’s often unclear whether a metal singer can, in fact, sing!).
Generally speaking, you’re covering all my usual points here: where you live, your professional (writing) credits, your professional (writing) affiliations, a link to your blog, and a funny detail that gives me a stronger sense of your voice… and proof that there’s a real person behind the sometimes-dry details. This is a solid start.
Now, then, where to improve?
When I get a bio like yours, I often find myself doing a lot of googling to learn more about the credits the writer lists. It pains me a little bit to admit this so publicly, but I am definitely guilty of assuming that if a credit doesn’t have an Internet presence (no Google hits whatsoever), I, um, assume it’s fictional.
However, that’s not the case with yours! Here are links to Jo’s credits, for anyone who is less…what’s the word? DILIGENT, I’m sure that’s what you were thinking, right?, than I am.
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/77531 (the anthology, on Smashwords)
http://terribleminds.com/ramble (Chuck Wendig’s blog-- I leave it up to you whether to point the link to a specific post announcing your contest wins.)
To sum up this point, which has gotten a little ramble-y, if you were querying me and included the links in parentheses after the description in your bio paragraph, I'd be grateful, and your chances of my giving your sample pages a thorough and careful read would go up.
The “life, the universe, and everything” moment: My geek cred is often called into question, with good reason, but I can certainly recognize this as an homage to Douglas Adams. Given your involvement with FF&P RWA, even without any details about the project about which you are querying, I’m guessing that any agents and editors reading your query are also supposed to “get” the reference here.
I have some concerns, though, about leaving this phrase in. It’s cute and it’s clever, but it also means that you’re encouraging any and all readers of the query to directly compare your work to that of Douglas Adams, who has more or less achieved nerd sainthood at this point, I’m pretty sure. The publishing industry’s full of direct comparisons to other people’s work, but we usually phrase it as “This Famous Book meets That Other Famous Book” or “will appeal to fans of This Famous Book and The Other Famous Book,” so that you’re never inviting a situation where you’re asking someone to decide whether your work is better or worse than the work to which you’re comparing it.
Your work may well be as good as Douglas Adams’s—and far be it from me to say otherwise!—but it should be the work itself which encourages this comparison, not the query letter. Yours is a very mild version of this phenomenon, but I can’t tell you how many query letters I’ve seen which asserted that the novel in question was better than Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Da Vinci Code. Seriously. I’m not paraphrasing here.
My best advice on how to fix? Swap out “life, the universe, and everything” for a line elsewhere in the query that says “my novel TITLE will appeal to fans of Douglas Adams and [this is my geek cred failing me again, because I cannot think of another example of humorous SF that’s not Doctor Who, which just seems like too obvious of a reference].”
Otherwise, if the novel is half as good as the bio paragraph, I think you’re in very good shape here.
Thanks for your patience, and thanks again for playing along with the contest!
I’m open to ideas for a new contest—should we do another writing contest (in these waning days before NaNoWriMo begins)? A randomly selected winner from comments? What should the prize be?
Thursday, October 6, 2011
From a young age, writing was an integral part of Christi Corbett’s life. It was a skill she further developed during her career as a television writer. Now, Christi continues to broaden her writing horizons with the completion of Along the Way Home, a historical fiction about the Oregon Trail.
After graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in Communications, Christi took a job with a CBS affiliate in the Creative Services Department. Over the years her lifelong love of writing was put to good use; in addition to writing over three hundred television commercials, she earned the position as head writer for a weekly television show. Furthermore, she was responsible for writing over one hundred press releases detailing the station’s various special events, community programs, and news department awards.
During her time with the television station, Christi was awarded with multiple American Advertising Awards (ADDY) and recognized by the March of Dimes with an award for providing “Outstanding Communications Support”.
Sharing the power of television has always been important to Christi, both professionally and personally. Through television station partnerships, Christi repeatedly managed advertising and publicity for large scale events with agencies such as The Salvation Army, the United Way, the American Cancer Society, and the March of Dimes.
Nowadays, Christi looks forward to putting her experience in public speaking and marketing to use during the promotion process of her novel,Along the Way Home.
Christi is a member of Willamette Writers, and also participates in a critique group.
Currently, Christi lives in a small town in Oregon with her husband, and twin children. The location of the home holds a special place in Christi’s writing life; it stands just 600 feet from the original Applegate Trail and the view from her back door is a hill travelers looked upon years ago as they explored the Oregon Territory and beyond.
This is a lot to take in, so let me say first of all, Christi, that I think you're right: the first one is too dry and the second one is too wordy.
Since you've given me so much to work with, and since I went into such detail about my "rules for bio paragraphs" in the previous post, I'm going to try a judicious cut-and-past effort here, to give you a sense of where I'd go with this.
I spent three years as the head writer for a weekly television show [CMC: name the show and the network! Local or national, this is a nice credit to have.] and have written over three hundred broadcast television commercials, for which I received multiple American Advertising Awards (ADDYs) and was recognized by the March of Dimes with an award for providing “Outstanding Communications Support.” I’m an accomplished public speaker, and my connections in the television industry will be helpful in publicity and marketing efforts for my work. I’m a member of Willamette Writers and a critique group, and I live with my husband and our twins in a small town in Oregon, in a house just 600 feet from the original Applegate Trail.
This final detail is a nice touch, don't you think? I love knowing about people's personal connection to their writing (Christi's novel is a historical about the Oregon Trail).
Christi, because you've already got a lot of other information in your bio paragraph (at least as rewritten by me), you can probably safely leave out the blog and Twitter-type info-- but make sure it's in your contact information at the end of your letter.
But to make some more general, sweeping comments about hypothetical situations:
Shoshanna (hi, Shoshanna!) asked in comments what I would consider a "good number" for Twitter follower purposes. I've been thinking about this a lot, because I hadn't tried to put an actual numerical figure on what I meant by that. But here are some of my theories:
-A thousand Twitter followers is a lot for someone who's never published before, or has "only" self-published, or published with smaller houses where they've never been assigned a publicist. I assume that with 1,000 Twitter followers, you've proven that you've got an interesting voice online, and that you "get" this particular social media venue.
-A LOT of bestselling genre fiction authors have between three and five thousand followers. If you're tweeting to an audience of this size, and a decent percentage (please don't make me define "decent percentage!") of your followers will buy your book, you are in great, great shape.
-If you have 10,000 Twitter followers or more, chances are you are a household name at least in certain spheres.
-The most Twitter-popular author I could find in my ~ ten minutes' searching was Neil Gaiman, with well over a million followers. Margaret Atwood has about 260,000. Joe Hill has about 120,000. Jodi Picoult has about 38,000.
Regarding your blog, if your blog is important or fairly well-known in one of the following situations, be sure to mention it in your bio:
1) you are a book blogger, who regularly writes book reviews or discussions about the publishing industry on your blog. You know you fall into this category if publishers contact you offering to send you books (via NetGalley or otherwise), or if your posts get picked up in industry link-roundups from time to time.
2) your blog has become an authority on a topic that's related to the book you're querying on.Note: this is true even if you don't have academic credentials in the topic. If other people have come to consider you an authority on the topic because of your website, that is itself a kind of credential. If you're writing Jane Austen sequels and you're a webmistress on the Republic of Pemberley, for example, that detail is going to help sell your book. So mention it!
One more bio critique to go. Any questions or thoughts? Leave 'em in the comments!
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
At long last, I’m delighted to post Brian Buckley’s prize for winning my summer writing prompt contest: a public critique of his query letter, here on the blog. (The delay is on my end, not Brian’s, I hasten to mention.)
Here is Brian’s letter, with my comments rather obnoxiously posted in bold throughout.
Dear Ms. Miller-Callihan,
You’ve spelled my name right and used my preferred form (Ms. Miller-Callihan). Ten points to Griffindor.
I've enjoyed your blog from the very beginning, but I never queried because you don't rep science fiction. Then you said "Send me your query letter," and my keen writer-sense just knew, somehow, the time was right. Here's what I've got:
This is funny and clever, but unless someone specifically encourages you to query them in a category they don’t represent, don’t do it. Still, I like the tone here; it’s confident and charming, and doesn’t read like a form letter you copied out of a book called How to Write a Query Letter. I also like that you mentioned the blog, as it shows me that you’re not planning to spam everyone in the industry indiscriminately. Telling the agent why you are querying him or her, in particular, is a good way to try to forge a connection. I’m more likely to put in the time reading a query if I feel like the author’s done their homework.
Petras Fairburn is clueless when it comes to politics. Too bad he's Emperor of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Witty and concise. The short paragraph is a great strategy here, and you’ve got me wanting to learn more about your story.
Petras didn't want to be Emperor, of course, but he has very persuasive friends. There's the Star-Witch, for one: the most wanted criminal in the universe, near-omnipotent and nearer-immortal. For reasons all her own, she befriended him way back when he was a twelve-year-old nothing on a backwater colony world. He didn't ask for a friend like her, but it's hard to say no to the Star-Witch.
A lot of good detail here, but I’m starting to worry that Petras is too wimpy or passive a figure to carry the story. Readers want active characters that do things, not characters to whom things just happen. You might be better off cutting this paragraph and jumping directly into a description of the main plot of the novel, instead—I feel like this is probably mostly backstory.
And there's Karmindy, his wife, whose sweet homemaker smile conceals the virtuosic mind of the shrewdest tactician in the Empire. He didn't ask for a wife, either, but it's hard to say no to Karmindy.
You’ve got a nice echo of the previous paragraph—“it’s hard to say no”—which is starting to give me a sense of Petras as a character. But again, I think this is mostly backstory, and you might want to cut it.
When Karmindy unleashed a plot to put her husband on the Gardenia Throne, the Star-Witch was only too glad to help. When it actually succeeded, they told him not to worry: they'd handle everything. He'd just be a figurehead.
Backstory. Combine these three paragraphs into one short paragraph—remember that we don’t necessarily need all the character names upfront. Just give me the barest possible outline of what I need to know.
Now Karmindy's dying of a ripgun wound, the Star-Witch has disappeared, and a quintillion human beings are looking to Petras for leadership. They certainly need it. The Empire is one stray shot from a civil war, and the Sagittarians – a billion-year-old race of reclusive, telepathic methane-breathers – seem less friendly every day. But worse than the Sagittarians, worse than the seemingly inevitable war, is the doubt in Petras's mind that whispers: it's impossible, you're in over your head, you'll never, never be good enough...
Some good world-building going on here. I like “quintillion,” I like “reclusive, telepathic methane-breathers,” and I like the humor of the twist at the end, that this is really a story about a character’s anxiety about his inadequacy. I’m still worried that he’s too passive a figure, though, so make sure you’re able to include something showing that he is in fact a hero (I assume this is the case?), so the reader knows this is a story that’s going to be fun to read.
With a novel, the query letter should read like the copy on the back cover of the book (or the hardcover jacket flaps). You’re trying to convince someone to read the book.
True confessions time: when I’m working with a debut author, I often crib heavily from the author’s original query when I’m putting together my cover letter to send to editors. I figure if the query was good enough to catch my eye, it’ll likely do the same for the editors to whom I’d like to sell the manuscript.
At any rate, Brian, I think you’ve got a lot of these details nailed, but I can’t shake the sense that most of your query consists of the things you think the reader needs to know before turning to page 1. Try recasting it instead like a movie trailer, where you’re giving away some elements of the plot in order to entice the reader. You don’t have to give away the ending, but you do have to give me a sense of where the story is going. Tell me enough that I’m eager to find out the rest for myself.
You don’t have a bio paragraph here, which I think is a mistake. Even if you feel like you don’t have much to say, I like to know if you have a blog, if you are on Twitter or Google + or anything else of that ilk, who your favorite authors in your genre are, whether you’ve won any blog contests, that sort of thing. Tell me where you live and one detail about you that would be fun for the game “Two Truths and a Lie.” This is a chance to make yourself memorable, to help yourself stand out from the maybe-100 other queries an agent gets that day.
The Counterfeit Emperor is science fiction, complete at 111,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.
Concise, detailed, a solid and professional wrap-up. Were this a “real query” to me, I’d want you to include somewhere a line like “Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included a synopsis and the first three chapters of the novel.”
Brian D. Buckley
I’ve edited Brian’s personal details here (except his website!), but I always want to see all this stuff included. If I love your query, you want to make it as easy as possible for me to get hold of you to tell you so. Leave it up to the agent how to communicate with you; give them all your contact info.
SUMMARY: This is a solid query that could just use some fine-tuning. If this were a genre I know anything about (I admire SF but don’t get to read much of it), I’d read the first three chapters with interest.
Well done. Thanks to Brian, and thanks to everyone who participated in the contest! Let’s do this again soon.