Category Archives: agent hunt

Q – Query: Wrote A Book; Now What?

It wasn’t until I finished my first MS, and considered trying to get publication that I realized how much work goes into trying to publish.  For those of you who think writing is hard, just wait until you get to the next step.

First of all, it’s not enough to have written a great book; you also have to be able to market it well, because finding a literary agent is all about selling your story.  Lucky for us writers, we already have the language skills to make this feasible, but as it turns out there is format and procedure to getting it done right.  Namely, the Query.

The query is a letter you write to potential agents about your book in order to sell them on it.  It is important to note that a query is not a synopsis, nor is it a book report, nor is it a pleading letter of desperation.  (That last part is especially important to remember.)  The easiest way to think of a query is as the “trailer” for your book.  Think of how movie trailers are presented.  Immediately, there is intrigue.  You get a quick shot of the main character, then another quick shot of the conflict they will encounter.  There aren’t long scenes that explain the plot in detail.  Instead, you just get quick vignettes that leave you wanting more.  This is what your query should do.  It should raise enough questions in the readers mind to want them to give your MS a look.

Because of the importance of the formatting, you will need lots of eyes to look at this.  And the best place to go for that is other writers, hopefully most who have written a query and with any luck, a few who have gotten an agent based on their query.  Believe me; it is helpful.  When I was working on my own, I got my help through a website called AQConnect, a derivative website from Agent Query which I’ve written on before.  This is a forum website which, if used appropriately, can be infinitely helpful in writing your query.  After several months, I was able to get mine down to the point that I felt confident sending it out.  Unfortunately, I decided shortly after that that the book was not ready for submission. Regardless of whether or not I choose to ever use that particular query to get that book published, I now feel confident in my understanding of the writing and the point of the query.

 

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Fiction Genres: Historical Fiction – Re-imagining The Past

Here is another personal favorite of mine (with which, I assure you, I am actually familiar).  The description here is fairly straight forward – “the plot and story transpire during a distinct era in the past”.  The period in which the author’s story is placed is generally essential to the narrative, such that the story would either not make sense or not make as great an impact if it were set during any other time.  Now keep in mind, if you are thinking about writing in this genre, that the balance between fact and fiction is essential here.   Your story and perhaps your characters are likely fictional (although some of my favorite examples of this genre have historical figures as some of their MCs), but the facts surrounding them have to be historically accurate to give your story legitimacy.  (I can speak from experience: getting it wrong is embarrassing, at least.)  This means research is essential and can be difficult.  It’s not enough to have a play by play of the major Civil War battle during which you have set your story.  You have to think of the other scenes in your story and get those details right as well.  For instance, if your soldiers are having a heartfelt conversation over dinner about the loves they left at home, what are they eating?   It’s unlikely to be a steak dinner with baked potatoes. (True, it’s unlikely that modern soldiers in battle are eating that either, but you get what I’m saying.)  The amount of research that this takes to do well, can be daunting, so my best advice is to get to know your local university library very well, and maybe even make some connections with university professors whose research is related.  If you are one of these professors, we should talk.

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Fiction Genres: Fantasy and Sci Fi

Here are two I know fairly well.  I’ve read Fantasy most, but I’ve dabbled in some Sci Fi – Michael Crichton’s The Hot Zone, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Those count, right?

Science Fiction:  Well, according to AQ, yes, they do because Crichton’s work and Hitchhiker’s “incorporate various types of science into its story, setting, characters and the challenges that they must overcome”.  Okay, now you may think, “Hitchhiker’s is a bit of a stretch”, but AQ says that “scientific details, facts, and rules are either adhered to or broken, but either way they contribute to the contextual story line as well as the world created within the novel”.  Hitchhiker’s takes place in space.  Science!

Now,

Fantasy: I suppose you could say that’s really more to my liking.  Aside from the description I’m sure you already know – imaginary worlds, mystical creatures, princes/princesses, knights, dragons, wizards, etc. – AQ also mentions that the “only limitations are the expectations and preconceived notions of its dedicated readership”.  As one who is very close to this “dedicated readership”, the best way to get an idea of these “limitations” is to read the work already out there.  I might recommend Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series or Piers Anthony’s Xanth series; for those who have already exhausted the works of Tolkien.  Keep in mind that each author creates their own world, often including history, religions, and languages, so it’s always best to begin at the beginning.

 

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Fiction Genres: Horror, and Others They Tell Me Are Different

Horror:  So, this may come as quite a shock to you, but it turns out Horror is, simply put, a scary story.  I know, I wouldn’t have thought of that either.  But AQ does go into a little more detail, “It’s chilling pendulum swings a broad arc… uses a wide range of techniques to terrify and titillate it’s audience… engenders fear in the hearts and minds of it’s audience… often portrays the subversive side of its fictional world… explores the unspeakable… uses folklore and fantasy to create manifestations of evil death and destruction”.  This last point is in contrast to…

Thriller/Suspense:  …Which is based in reality.  The stakes in this/these genre(s) are often large – life or death, ’cause it doesn’t get much larger than that, does it?  While it can often cross genres into crime fiction, the central theme of Thriller/Suspense is “developing a sense of imminent jeopardy” rather than solving the mystery or crime.  But what of Crime Fiction, then?  How are they different?  Let’s explore…

Crime Fiction: …centers its plot on the perpetration of a crime.  Here, we have two sub-genres.  (Now, don’t think just because I make note of it here that every other genre I have or will mention cannot also be broken into sub-genres.  They all can, but we’re largely focusing on the “umbrellas” in this series.  I mention sub-genres here because… well, I felt like it.) “Detective” crime fiction focuses on either professional or amateur investigators solving a crime.  In these stories, your investigator will likely be your strongest focus.  S/he may be your narrator, you’ll focus on his/her personal life and why this case (or these cases) are so important or antagonizing to him/her, and the details of solving the crime as opposed to the crime itself will be your story arc.  This is juxtaposed with True Crime fiction, which focuses more minutely on the details of the crime, operating more like the recently popular “forensic” television series that have come out such as CSI (pick your city) and Criminal Minds.  It focuses on details of the crime, evidence, and the criminal mind (Oh, so that’s where they got that clever title!)  On the other hand, there’s always…

Mystery:  Okay, now they’re just getting silly.  In my reading on AQ’s site, I just don’t see much of a difference, except perhaps that “the puzzle behind the crime is central to the plot”.  Although, that’s hardly that different from True Crime’s focus on the details of the crime.  Mystery does have “Amateurs or professional investigators perform the sleuthing”, unlike detective fiction except for being exactly the same!  Nope.  Nope.  I don’t see it.  Thriller, suspense, crime fiction, mystery – they are one genre whose purpose it is to captivate the audience in “who-done-it-ness” to keep them turning page after page until at 6:00 in the morning I realize I have to be at work in two hours, and I have not slept because I had to find out who killed Judge Healey.  (Matthew Pearl, aka my favorite reason for insomnia.)

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Fiction Genres: Ladies’ Edition – We Do Love To Nitpick

Today we will distinguish the variety of genres that are traditionally considered fiction for women.  I don’t mean to discount any men who find these genres entertaining, but men are simply not the target audience here.  The differences in these three main genres are in the details.  (Click on the links for examples in each genre.)

Women’s Fiction: This is easy. Women’s fiction is fiction about women’s issues. According to AQ, it will often utilize literary quality prose, but always deals with women’s struggles over adversity and explore the positive elements of women’s lives – strength, fortitude, and often meaningful relationships – differentiating it from…

Chick Lit: …which is generally humorous, lighthearted, and down-to-earth. It deals with many of the same issues as Women’s Fiction, and usually has a romance enveloped somewhere in the plot, but rarely takes these story elements or itself very seriously. Often career struggles, romantic challenges, and social issues are handled with an amusingly tongue-in-cheek tone. As opposed to…

Romance: …which always revolves around a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. Unlike the characters in Chick Lit, who are most often everyday girls in their 20s or 30s, Romance tends to be about regal or glamorous characters and is often set in an exotic location. Here’s an easy way to decide if you wrote a Romance: According to AQ, “if you didn’t intentionally set out to write a romance novel, it’s probably not romance”.

 

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Fiction Genres: How to Classify Your Truly Unique Story

For a few weeks, I’ve been working on a list of genre descriptions based on my favorite site for writers, AgentQuery.com, and the genres they list.  My original idea was to use these toward the A to Z blogging challenge in which I’ll be participating next month, but then I thought why wait?

AQ lists their genre descriptions alphabetically, but I will use a different presentation that, I hope, will help make them make a little more sense to all.  Let’s begin with our biggest genres – our sort of all encompassing “umbrella” genres.

Commercial Fiction: Commercial fiction is what most everyone is going to write. A gripping story that is moved along largely through plot devices and relatable characters. The writing should still be captivating of course, but will likely be used in description of events and places rather than internal feelings, thoughts, and emotions – as opposed to…

Literary Fiction: …Which will more likely deal with internal conflicts of characters and focus more on quality prose. When I think of literary fiction, the first contemporary author that usually jumps out at me is Yann Martel, of Life Of Pi fame. Let’s face it, that book is about a boy’s survival on a raft for days and days lost at sea with a tiger. Since it’s main (READ: pretty much, only) character is sitting alone in the middle of the ocean, all we can do is hear his thoughts and internal struggles of survival. And the writing quality is stellar. (If you haven’t read it… Ahh… do!)

Well, that takes care of our big umbrellas. Next we’ll move to the more “nuanced” genres. (Note: Your book will qualify as one of the two above and, at least, one from what I will write about in the coming days.)

 

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