In honor of the arrival of 2012 I am taking a look back at my very first year of blogging—2011.  Here are the five blog posts—some written for “From the Write Angle” others for my personal blog—that I consider my best work.

The top of my list HAS to be “Voice, It’s Not Just for Manuscripts Anymore” discussing how essential it is for writers to infuse their query letters (the letters they use to try to attract a literary agent) with their unique voice.

I would posit that snagging an agent with a good query is NOT merely about what you say but is equally about HOW you say it. For those of you who have seen “The King’s Speech” (and if you haven’t, forget reading my post and get yourself that DVD) think of the moment at Westminster Abbey when Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) asks Colin Firth’s George VI of England, “Why should I waste my time listening to you?’ The King’s answer. . . “Because I have a voice.” If you want agents to listen to you, to pay attention to the punchy mini-synopsis of your oh-so-clever plot that you spent a gazillion drafts perfecting, then you’d better let the voice that imbues your manuscript sing out from your query letter as well. 

Number two is “Give me A Little Kiss — Sex and the Historical Novelist,” in which I discuss and defend the place of sex in straight historical novels (not just historical romances).

The inclusion of sex in historical novels is neither good nor bad in a vacuum.  It’s not the sexual content that determines whether a particular scene works—it’s whether that scene (sex or otherwise) has a REASON for being in the novel.  Tossing in an orgy (or even a kiss) into your work of historical fiction without a solid reason is a bad idea.  The scene will feel “added on,” and gratuitous sex is no more acceptable in a novel than gratuitous dialogue.

At number three I have selected my reflection on the very act of blogging itself and how it can become a digital distraction from the author’s most important task—writing books:

Blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.

So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?

 Blog number four tackles the question of why our sisters (or more broadly our siblings) are NOT very much like us.

I’ve certainly had moments when I’ve thought how can my sister and I have had such a different experience of the same childhood or how could we have played the same games (together), walked to the same school (together) and heard the same family stories and yet turned out so very differently? If you have a sibling chances are you’ve had such thoughts as well.  At the heart of my questions lay the idea that nurture shapes people, and since my sister and I were raised in the same environment that should have made us similar.

Turns out that’s just dead wrong when it comes to siblings.  Being raised in the same environment helps to make us different.

And finally, sitting at number five, is the first blog I ever wrote—“Not THAT Sophie.”  This one is all about the marketing lessons I learned from a teething toy.  Half-a-year after I wrote it, as I struggle to build my author brand, I still marvel at the power of Sophie the Giraffe.  And yes, she STILL comes up before I do in an Amazon search and she continues to top the ranks of baby items.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings (we will not discuss how far from number one I am on any list presently). She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs $7.00 more than a copy of my novel. Wow (hint to readers, buy the book – I don’t care if you chew on it).

Sophie G is obviously doing something right. Here’s what I think. . .

 Happy New Year all!!!

Jul 142011

I am a long time member and BIG time fan of AgentQuery Connect.  For those aspiring writers who do not know AQ run don’t walk to the website as it is a fantastic source for information on every step of the road to being repped and published, a very supportive writing community, and (most importantly for the purposes of this post) good spot to get feedback on a query letter before you send one out.

Now anyone who’s ever drafted a query letter (the pitch letter writers send to agents) knows it takes time.  The letter is a vital sales document. Write it well and you snag the interest of an agent and a coveted request for a partial or full. Write it poorly and you may never even warrant a form rejection.  Writing a good query is not easy (there are hundreds if not thousands of articles and blog posts offering advice on how to compose a good letter).  BUT should it really take months and drafts in the double-digits?

At the risk of aggravating many I say no.  In fact I say, NO, NO, NO.  What I’ve noticed, watching query critique threads over the months and years, is that writers become paralyzed by fear and good intentions.  Writing their query becomes a Sisyphean struggle (you remember, the guy who had to push the big rock up the hill over and over) and in the process time, enthusiasm and confidence can be lost.  At some point the incremental improvements their letter is arguably making are not worth the agony.  More than this, letters can lose voice (see my post on this topic at From the Write Angle).  Looking at critique threads with ten, twenty, thirty, even fifty versions of a single query, I want to scream GET ON WITH IT, or SEND THE DARN THING.  But that kind of verbiage in individual critique threads would hardly be appropriate.

 So I am saying it here. Just DO it. Query.  I am not saying send your first draft.  I am not saying don’t seek critique.  I am saying all things in moderation.  How many drafts of my letter did I do – maybe four.  How many people did I show it to for review before it went out?  Five (and two of them weren’t even writers).  Did it work?  More than uncommonly well (I had a very high request rate, snagged an agent I adore and now have a publishing contract).  Could my letter have been better? Sure. But if I were still working on polishing it, then my book wouldn’t be coming out in March 2012 would it?

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