Tag Archives: query

Middle-grade fiction? I’ve got that!

Excited to have finished Little Bird in time for this spirited little person's first birthday!

Nice to have finished Little Bird in time for this spirited little person’s first birthday!

Excited to share the completion of my first middle-grade fiction manuscript, Little Bird & the Graveyard (23,000 words). While everything is a work-in-progress, from the title to the pitch below, it is exciting to be on the road to publication, (traditional or otherwise). I get a lot of questions about what my story is about– below is a peek:

Eleven-year-old Indie has a lot of questions. Not only is she on a mission to find a ghost in the graveyard across the street from her house so she can ask what happens after we die, but she also wants to know why her mom left her and her brother with their dad a few months earlier. She figures if she understands why her mom is gone, then maybe she can stop feeling so upset.

To find answers, Indie will have to be brave. She needs to befriend the family of caretakers who live at the graveyard, which means coming face-to-face with the old man who hates her dog and dealing with a boy who is a year older and clearly does not want her around. Her quest will also push her to snoop through the creepy apartment downstairs and visit the graveyard with her brother at night. While none of these adventures will keep Indie out of trouble, they will lead to life-changing revelations, including the realization a ghost has something to do with her mom’s absence.

***

I was inspired to write middle-grade fiction while working as a classroom teacher with fourth and fifth grade students. During our read alouds, I noticed certain themes resonated more than others, like growing up in dysfunctional families and chasing ghosts. While on maternity leave, I began writing Little Bird and finished in time to dedicate the book to my daughter for her first birthday. Indie embodies the independent spirit I hope to instill in my children and students alike. And, of course, I am also hopeful she will reappear in many more books to come!

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I Always Love a Contest to Pitch my Book…

As I wrap up my final re-read and contemplate how to move forward with self-publishing and a last round of queries, I can’t help but enter a pitch contest. You know, if it could really all be so easy as to submit a 35 word pitch and the first 150 words of my book and then kaboom– agent/published/hurray. I guess the little kid part of me knows it happens for someone, so it might as well be me.

Information on this latest pitch contest can be found here. Per usual, I’m not over-thinking my entry because I question whether it is worth much of an effort, however, I will share in hopes you will consider entering as well!

My 35-word pitch: 

After a jarring miscarriage, Jake and Kristen embark on separate journeys. Kristen departs for Europe in search of independence, while Jake sets off on a cross-country adventure. Torn between old and new, they must choose.

The first 150 words of my manuscript:

It began as a drop. One smooth drop of blood running down her pale thigh. She touched the moisture with her fingers and looked to see the crimson stain on the back edge of her beige, linen skirt. Aware of her coworkers in the neighboring cubes, she fought the urge to fall to her knees and cry in the small break room. She clutched her glass water bottle tighter, careful not to let it crash to the ground. Her heart ached. Dizzyness followed. She needed to sit.

The cessation of pregnancy symptoms left her in denial, the nausea gone, the sore breasts once again pliable. She read on the internet it could be a sign of miscarriage but did not know what to believe. She refused to call the doctor, unwilling to shatter the illusion. It made her happy to imagine a child growing inside her. A dull ache echoed…

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Changing the Way We See Self-Publishing

This morning my perspective on self-publishing shifted. I had always seen it as a second phase, either the space you reach when you cannot find an agent (at no fault of your own, of course…) or the choice you make when you’re already established and want to regain control over your profits. Sure, I had read all kinds of success stories, but I had also scrolled through the sea of titles, lost in the myriad of choices, uncertain of the quality and dissuaded by the prospect of reading on an electronic screen.

However, this morning as I sat over tea at my favorite French bistro with my uncle and my husband, I was swayed a different direction. Suddenly, self-publishing was the indie choice I loved all along without ever realizing it, akin to making an independent movie instead of waiting for a big studio with its formulaic tastes to discover your project. I adore many independent movies. I don’t know why I never made this connection before.

In fact, this past weekend, I saw an indie flick at Tower Theater in Sac, the kind of place you sit and revel at moviemaking’s past, the crown molding and neon sign making up for the struggling air conditioning and sagging seats. We watched Frances Ha, a movie which at first makes you wonder if you’re witnessing a slow theatrical train wreck but eventually blossoms into a genuinely funny and touching film. Indie movies may have their flaws, but they also bring you into worlds more refreshing than those where everyone has a shiny new car and drinks Coca-Cola with the label pointed outward.

I see my book as kind of the same deal. It may lack some of the sheen of a blockbuster, but there is enough beneath the surface to make it worthwhile, especially if you stick around until the end. Likewise, I recently read my uncle’s first novel, a book which marries Dan Brown’s ability to create suspense with Pillars of the Earth’s timeless heroes and villains. It is exactly the kind of thing I would expect to see on the bestseller’s shelf at the local bookstore, yet he has not been picked up by an agent. Proof the old system is imperfect, overlooking true gems in the ocean of submissions.

So, as I left our little book meeting, I could see my novel self-published with an indie charm, no less meaningful without the mark of a major publisher on its spine. I’ve always been an acquired taste, as my father likes to say. It only makes sense I would find a quirky world for my words to thrive, an audience who appreciates this sort of thing, the kind of people who go to sit in Tower Theater instead of always opting for the comfort of the megaplex. The gatekeepers may bemoan the changes in the publishing world all they like, but it is about time the indie book market follows in the footsteps of its movie-making big sister.

Part of my late embrace of the self-publishing model is also learning to experiment with e-readers. So far, the borrowed kindle kicks the iPad’s butt and I’m coming around to the idea of reading my own words on one of these screens.

Part of my late embrace of the self-publishing model is learning to enjoy e-readers. So far, this borrowed kindle kicks the iPad’s butt and I’m coming around to the idea of reading my own words on one of these screens.

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My Weekend Project: Querying a Graphic Novel on Behalf of an 11 Year-Old

For fun, I offered to query a book created by a student in my classroom about his struggles with anger management and ADHD. Thought I’d give you a sneak peak because I believe this book belongs in the hands of kids everywhere:

Dear Agent,

I discovered your agency while researching representation for my own writing. However, I am querying on behalf of my 11 year-old student. For his fifth grade project, he wrote and illustrated a 1,663 word graphic novel about coping with ADHD and anger management.

The book chronicles his real challenges in overcoming anger and focusing in school despite his difficulties with impulse control. Each page is illustrated with examples from his own life in how he went from a kid who punched someone for calling his brother gay to a kid who learned to take deep breaths and get help from an adult instead. The story is centered around the premise of becoming your own superhero and includes humor, such as his love for shouting out the words “hot dogs” in class.

My student’s family gave me permission to query on his behalf. I have been his teacher for two years and watched him transform from a student who transferred because he was getting in fights to a kid who diligently created this book to help others like him. His life story is truly remarkable, with a band of young relatives joining forces to raise him in the absence of his biological parents. If you are interested, I will leave it to his family to share more details, but rest assured it is a story that would melt any heart and give real credibility to the obstacles he has overcome to become his own superhero.

As a fourth and fifth grade teacher, I can vouch that this book would fill a real niche in education, particularly for students who struggle with similar challenges. At my school, this book has become famous, with students beyond my doors asking if they can borrow it for just ten minutes. I am certain that teachers and families alike would love to share this book with any kid who has ever felt angry. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider his submission. This is a multiple submission.

Sincerely,

Olivia O’Bryon

Cover

"You ever get so angry you just want to punch a wall?"

“You ever get so angry you just want to punch the wall?”

"Of course you have, we all get mad sometimes."

“Of course you have, we all get mad sometimes.”

"I got really mad. My hands got hot."

“I got really mad. My hands got hot.”

Each chapter is organized by idea, my favorite is chapter three, "The Last Straw."

Each chapter is organized by idea, my favorite is chapter three, “The Last Straw,” but the chapter “Results” is also pretty darn awesome.

"People like to play with me more."

The best result: “People like to play with me more.”

After all, you are your own superhero now. Go out and show everyone your powers!

“After all, you are your own superhero now. Go out and show everybody your new powers!”

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Shrinking Words & Other Writing Quandaries

Amazing how a couple months away can give new perspective. Allowing myself to move back through Expecting Happiness, stopping at each spot that bugs me, feels really good. The only thing that doesn’t feel so good is watching my word count drop a bit.

I blame NaNoWriMo for two things: 1. My obsession with word count, 2. A lot of extra words that don’t belong. I get that you go back and get rid of them later, or now, but I do think it results in writing that may be more repetitive than if you just go slowly and don’t worry about how many words you hit a day. Either way, it’s a year later and here I am working on the same book.

This leaves me wondering whether I need to add more words for the sake of having a full-length book… Right now I’m at 68,500, but I know it will drop a bit further as I continue. For any of you who have e-published, how many words were your projects?

My current plan is this:

1. Revisit each chapter with the same care I’ve given the prologue/Chapter 1 this week

2. Reread the whole thing to make sure it still makes sense/check for errors

3. Finish my queries/recontact appropriate contacts

4. If nothing comes of the second round of querying/contacts, I will e-publish and/or share on my blog. I’m not sure which approach to take yet. I just know I need to put it out there in order to move on…

More than anything, I am finding it much more sustainable to slow down and get the work done a little at a time instead of feeling like I need to use every moment of my spare time to write. That was burning me out in every aspect of my life, especially my day job. Slowing down these past two months has made a huge difference. Now it’s time to get serious and get this book done, even if it is just an hour or so at a time.

Happy balanced Sunday.

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It’s Almost November… Which Means Nanowrimo!

The fall quilt is out, the leaves are… okay, still green. It’s 90 degrees here in Sacramento, but at least I have the autumn spirit. Something about the shrinking amount of daylight makes me increasingly focused on finishing old projects. I am seriously ready for something new. In fact, I’m darn-near ecstatic for something new to write. So. Close.

My first queries go out this Thursday. Just wrote a bunch of personalized letters and tightened up my synopsis to one page, (Hallelujah!). As much as I really hope something comes of this effort, I am even more excited for what’s next. I just ordered Self-Editing for Fiction Writerswhich I admittedly should have read earlier, but at least it will be a good, nerdy read before beginning my next novel.

Speaking of which– November 1, 2012, mark you calendars. Okay, really, only mark them if you’re also planning to participate in Nanowrimo, (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). As much as I dislike some of the rubbish I had to wade through last time I spit out thousands of exhausted words after bossing around children all day, I still feel like this is the perfect place to get motivated and give yourself something warm and cozy to do through the cold winter months. So, seasoned writer or not, I invite you to join me as we cheer each other on with the hefty goal of writing a novel, (or the beginning of a novel), in one month.

Last year I only did 22,222 words… Which is nearly 30,000 shy of the goal, but it still encouraged me enough to feel like I could write an entire book, which shortly thereafter, I actually did. This year my goal is just to write well, in quantity, for the entire month, using November 1 as the launch for my new idea. We’ll see where I end up. I’m excited. Nanowrimo is like Burning Man to me, an annual celebration of intense artistic expression.

Will you join me?

Looks like I already have one writing buddy in my mess of papers today– could use some human ones as well… Add me as a writing buddy on the nanowrimo site!

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Sunday Scatterbrain: Networking & Writing

This week has been an interesting exercise in connection making. Where I have not succeeded in getting my book out the door, I have widened my social circle to include more writers and bloggers. First, I reconnected with a childhood friend who quit his job as a lawyer to restructure his time to better allow himself to write fiction. Now he works in tech from home and writes nonstop. Talking shop with him was one of the highlights of my week– so nice to connect with another writer.

Then, last night at a work party, I talked with a writer who is working to publish his memoir about investigative journalism. His take on the publishing world and the advantages of self-publishing were very interesting. I left the conversation feeling encouraged to find a writing group to push myself to the next level.

On top of this, I boosted my online networking efforts to prepare for those pesky query letters. I reached back out to my personal Facebook community to bump up my author page likes, and then, thanks to a fellow blogger on WordPress, I discovered Sacramento Bloggers. Major score! Turns out there are a lot of women with similar interests blogging in the area. Not only has this bumped up my Facebook likes a little further, but I’m also very excited to follow their blogs and make some more connections.

Remember my little attempt at a girls’ blogging club this summer? Sacramento Bloggers has me beat. Very excited to participate!

The only downside, all of this networking stuff has eaten up some of my precious writing time for the week, leaving me feeling a bit scatterbrained as I attempt to focus. So, time to revisit the dreaded action list:

1. Enter remaining changes for last few chapters from my lovely proof-reader.

2. Get my rough query letter ready for individual agents. Submit to all 31 on my list. This was meant to be my July activity, but now it looks like my October fun. Thankfully my fall break is coming up, so hoping to get this done sometime between October 4-14.

3. Pick what’s next! I want to give myself a few weeks for this, so my goal is to be ready to join the Nanowrimo crew by 11/1 with my next story idea. I have a few in the works, just need to pick. More on that to come, I’m sure. This time, instead of trying to get 50k words out by 11/30, my goal is just to write well, with focus, for the entire month and see what happens.

Now all I need to do is stop multi-tasking and focus…

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Getting There on My Own Time

I’m not the fastest thinker in the world. I need time to cook my thoughts, even if sometimes it takes weeks, or months, or years to find my answers. There is no hurrying the process.

Writing my pitch for my query letter has been like this. I chip away, a little at a time, gradually creating a more coherent, enticing product. Now and then, I impatiently check the oven to see if it is done. Still not there, but a little closer, maybe edible even. Small victories and trust that if I continue to follow the steps in the recipe, it will be ready soon enough.

For you seasoned query writers, a question: Do you write the synopsis before sending out your queries or wait to receive a request for one? Yes, that’s the impatient part of me asking. I fully expect the answer I don’t want to hear, but that’s okay, maybe I need it for motivation.

This week’s extracurricular activity: Query writing, oh the fun!

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D-O-N-E (For Now)

Oh man, if I could count the number of times I’ve said I was done with my book in the past 6 months, well, I guess I would feel like a liar. But, seriously, this time I mean it!

Six full times through on my own, seven readers, eight if you include myself. 69,536 words. 184 single spaced pages. D-O-N-E.

I’m not allowing myself to read it again right now.  I’m of the opinion I could make subtle changes to my words for centuries. I’m ready to ship this bad boy out and get started on something fresh, something new.

So, in the spirit of publicly decreed focus, here is my remaining to-do list:

1. Format the sucker. You know, double spaced, indents, all that fun crap I should have been doing from day one of Nanowrimo.  You live, you learn.

2. Write my generic query letter to be tweaked per agent. Oh yeah, and I guess write a synopsis too.

3. Enter my last line edits from my two superstar remaining readers.

4. Send the beast out, (starting with the 31 agents I compiled last May).

5. Wait, hope, wait, start something new.

There you have it, a plan, a little excitement, a little trepidation, a little self-doubt, a little self-congratulations. A little of everything really.

I know in reality, if it’s ever going to be read by a larger audience, it’s not done, it will have more editing, more rewriting as it moves through the various states of either traditional or self-publishing. But at least for today, it’s D-O-N-E.

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Why E-Publishing Calls My Name

Let’s be honest.  We all prefer traditional publishing.  You know, a real, hard copy of our books available in bookstores nationwide, worldwide even.  Just the idea of holding my book in my hands, tangible, validated by some credentialed person who does not know me, gives me that funny, excited feeling in my stomach, butterflies. However, I keep getting the same little message presented to me by the universe.

If I can’t get an agent, at least e-publish and put it out there.

A coworker friend is married to a writer who just finished a non-fiction book.  They live in a local university community and are friends with people that are both published and publishers.  Instead of querying agents, her husband plans to simply e-publish and hope he can build an audience before approaching or being approached by the necessary people.  His strategy is not unusual.  I read about authors almost daily that e-published, found readers, then published traditionally.

Then, of course, there are all the agent blogs that criticize e-publishing.  A few try to suggest it’s a viable option for some, but the undertone is always condescending, like it is still some kind of vanity press.  My friend pointed out that of course they feel this way, e-publishing diminishes the value of an agent.  Numbers speak to publishers for themselves.  This recent Forbes article sums up the indie publishing debate quite nicely.

Still, I would be thrilled to have an agent fighting for my book.  I’m planning to query the little list of agents I assembled in the spring, thirty some-odd people that represent successful works similar to mine.  But, when I reach the end of that list, rejection rite of passage likely complete, I will be left with the choice to e-publish and put it out there, so perhaps, some people who like it will find it in the sea of other novice, e-published authors.

If you have e-published, how did you decide to price your work?  What platform(s) did you choose?  With what success?  I’m inclined to charge just a dollar or give it away for free, because really, my goal is not so much to make money, but rather to begin the foundation for a lifelong career.  Other books will follow.  I know this is a debated topic, so I am curious to hear your thoughts.

Of course, the goal is this, but maybe in the beginning, it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere at all? (And, yes, this is a recycled pic from my leftover pile of summer reading I wish I had time for!)

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How do you really feel about your writing?

I’m halfway through rereading my book.  I’m moving slowly because life has taken back over. Teaching, family, friends, my smelly dog.  While the pace is frustrating, I’m trying to relax and just accept that it will all happen with time.  This is my first book.  The hurry is self-created.

R-E-L-A-X.

A couple questions keep resurfacing, that I am very curious to know how others feel.  The first, do you ever really love your writing?  I want honest answers.  It won’t sound arrogant to me to hear yes, or self-depricating to hear no, I’m just curious because I bounce all over the place, even within the same piece.  While I love to write, I’m not sure I love what I write.

Some days I think it’s good, others I recognize I still have room to grow.  Probably, it is some mixture of both good and need for growth, I get that.  I just wonder whether writers commonly like their own work or continue to be critical of it even after they finish.  Other than reading for flow and mistakes, I’m done with this book.  I want to move on, I feel like I will do better with a fresh story.

To be clear, I’m by no means saying my story is bad or that I’m giving up on it, I just don’t know if it’s unusual to feel so mixed about my writing.  I’m proud I did it, I think it’s readable, I like the plot, I just know I’ll also get better as I go.  I’ve decided that if I can’t get an agent/publisher, which I know is highly possible, I want to e-publish just to share it, to put it out there, to help me grow.

So, here are my questions for writers:

How have you felt about your writing when you’ve finished?  Confident, unsure, both?

What e-publishing communities have you enjoyed the most?  I spent some time on smashwords and amazon today.  Not sure what’s the best option, although as usual, I’m a couple steps ahead of myself because I still need to finish and at least submit it to some agents for the ritualistic rite of passage.

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Query Secrets: Knowing Your Characters at the End of Your Book

In fourth and fifth grade, when we want to add on to something someone else has already said, we begin with sentence starters like, “I’d like to piggyback off what so-and-so said,” or “I concur with so-and-so because…”  In the same spirit of properly acknowledging other people’s thoughts, today I would like to piggyback off what Descent Into Slushland shared recently about the importance of knowing your characters when writing your query.

Basically, he suggests that writing a good query hinges on knowing your characters instead of attempting to outline the plot.  He has some great points and examples, so instead of trying to recapture his ideas, I recommend clicking the link above and reading his post yourself. Interestingly, his points inspired me to make a list of the characteristics of my two main characters, Kristen and Jake.  We all think we know our characters, but sometimes we need check-ins to keep ourselves honest, or at least I do.

What I discovered was actually amazing.  I found a small hole in my book that I was able to fill with an additional short chapter, adding another 1,000 words to my word count in the process and helping to create a fuller understanding of my characters and their relationship with each other. Sure, I outlined my characters before I began my book, but they changed through my writing, creating slightly different people than the ones I started with.  Instead of tweaking those original descriptions, I just kept my evolving ideas of who they were in my head, which ended up leaving a gap between who I thought they were and who I wrote they were.

I can tell my query is going to be a lot stronger as a result of this reflection too, although I still refuse to give it my full energy until I finish my final read of my book, (here is my pitch as it stands now).  I guess what Descent into Slushland helped me realize is that written check-ins with your characters throughout your writing are important, not just in the beginning or middle.  Of all the advice I have read on query writing, this has been most useful for the way my own brain works. Thanks Descent!

I wanted to share how informal and quick these check-ins can be. Instead of agonizing over finding beautiful words or painting an entire picture, I just typed in a stream-of-consciousness, errors and all.  What I discovered was a small hole in my book and a good foundation on which to base my query.

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