For this week's #WritingStrong blog, we have a couple of special guests!
Judy and Keith, authors of several self-published titles, including their newest book, The Wicked Witch Anthology, dropped in to share their experiences when it comes to working through Amazon in their self-publishing journey! Have a read, and, as always, feel free to leave a comment!
We’ve just completed our second self-publish experiment—in both cases, we first
published in Kindle format then secondly as paperback. Good luck with your endeavors.
Overall, it’s been a good experience with Amazon. We do enjoy the look-and-feel
freedom it grants.
First time experiences.
Number one…scary. There are plenty of HELP files to read and YouTube videos to
watch, but we were overwhelmed with information and taken aback by the amount of
personal information—for tax reasons—needed to set up our account.
Our first mistake
We read the request to submit a PDF as a requirement, and we don’t have a program to
convert a Word document to a PDF. I searched around and found a tool, spent a few
days converting the document only to discover Amazon tool didn’t like the PDF output! I
went back and re-read the submission guidelines and discovered you can submit a
Word document…problem resolved.
Amazon has a Word template for you to use. You download the software, and it adds a
Kindle tab inside Word for you to select. Our second mistake was to use the provided
templates too soon. Once you use them, they embed invisible formatting characters.
We still don’t know how to remove them!
You can waste days by inputting your data—using a simple cut-and-paste
technique—too soon. This Word document with Kindle style embedded is almost
impossible to edit. We found it best to start again.
Rule number one…be one-hundred percent happy with your final story and layout,
before you input into the Kindle template.
The main reason we started this endeavor was to end up with illustrated paperback
books. Our friends wanted something to touch-and-feel. We’re all getting older! The
other reason was a lack of illustrations in our current eBook offerings. Our same friends
informed us—children stories need pictures.
Without thinking, we used a standard Word template which defaulted to Letter size (US)
or A4 (UK). That’s a problem as most books are much smaller. We wasted time by
making layout choices for the wrong paper size. We ended up selecting 9” by 6” as our
final book size and cropping or resizing our images to fit within the printable area
associated with that paper size.
Lesson learned…step one is set your paper size
Impatience. We wanted instant feedback. Word ran slower, and we got too many clicks
ahead of the software…causing a crash. You do not always recover everything. This is
doubly true with remote software. After you’ve created your master version on your
computer, you have to upload it to Amazon.
It takes time for the upload to take effect. If you get impatient, and try to rush
things…the website boots you off!
Simple answer, go and do something else for an hour, or even better check the next
We guarantee your first upload will not be the final version.
Again impatience, but this time with the cover creation. Your Kindle version needs a
front cover, and your paperback version requires a spine, front and back covers.
We had browser issues with Explorer and eventually switched to Chrome. With Explorer
we could not cut and paste to change the default text in the templates—no problem with
Warning, with Explorer we crashed our computer multiple times trying to create the
cover. This happened with all the covers we created. Impatience was one reason, but a
mismatch/incompatibility between Explorer and the remote Amazon software, we
believe was the main cause.
Simple answer, use Chrome as your browser. It took us multiple attempts to learn this
Well, that’s about it. Lastly, a list of traps we fell into.
Table of Contents
Not all templates automatically make an entry into the table. Book title—no, Part
title—yes, Chapter—yes. Be careful, as we never found out how to remove these pages
once they’re inserted, and the document saved.
One peculiarity, the titles are upper case, but the entries in the table of contents are
lower case. We accidently discovered, shift-key makes that character upper case in
We added illustrations by a simple insert at the beginning of most chapters. It
sometimes wreaked havoc with the oversized first character. Suggest trial and error, but
don’t save anything that looks odd. It is difficult to recover from—use undo to return to a
First and last paragraphs
These default to 1.25. The rest use 1.0 spacing. Don’t know why! We ended up
manually changing each first and last paragraph line-spacings as we like consistency.
I don't know how many of you amazing authors out there find this to be a problem, but it was certainly something that plagued me as a growing artist.
Stephen King, my all-time favourite writer, has a famous quote.
"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
Simple as that.
I find myself considering that quote quite often, especially during new works that are under development. Is it really as simple as that? In many ways, I certainly agree. In one way, I wonder.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I have often wonder just how true that is. Ever since I was a small one (okay, people who know me, get your jokes out here), I've been an avid reader, or, as King calls them, a "Constant Reader." My father owned an independent bookstore in Jasper, AB, Canada, and rather than get paid in bucks, I was paid in books as a teenager.
Because of this amazing opportunity, I was exposed to writings of all shapes and scopes. At first, I fancied myself a die-hard fantasy guy, ready to take on the multitudes of worlds that exist in this particular genre. From there, I moved onto John Grisham, diving into the courtroom to ply my trade as a read-along lawyer, offering my advice to invisible characters who, because their own fictional lawyers were smarter than me, never heeded my word.
Then came the King. I'm now 40+ books into my journey through the mind of one of the most prolific horror writers of our time, and not slowing down anytime soon.
As I was reading and writing, I used to share my work with my parents, and enjoyed getting their critical analysis. I've always been of the idea that, as a writer, I should always be open to criticism and suggestions. As I've told many people, if I like your idea, I'll use it; if I don't, I won't.
One particular criticism stood out, and still does to this day.
I shared a few stories several years back, and my father read them. When he finished, he asked me a simple question:
"What Stephen King book are you reading right now?"
At first, I didn't understand the question, as it didn't have anything to do with the stories he had just read. Except, that it did. In fact, it had everything to do with my work.
That was the first time I really recognized a mistake I was making. I love Stephen King....the problem is, I love him a little too much.
Over the course of several short stories, I had begun to try and imitate the King's process into my writing. Small little nuances in his work had started to appear in my own, and even though they seemed minuscule, once I caught wind of what I was doing, they stood out like a neon pink street sign in a black and white film.
Going back, I started to examine earlier pieces of work I had completed. Sure enough, the evidence was there. During my fantasy phase, not only had my writing focused solely on fantasy worlds, but there were clear indications of which series I was reading. The most prominent work that appeared in my writing was from David Eddings' Belgariad series, in which a young village boy discovers he has an untapped wealth of magical power just waiting for discovery.
Not only did I begin using some of the plot points, but I had also adapted Eddings' style into my work, especially when it came to character interactions. My young characters were naive, my older characters sarcastic and cynical. Even the storylines were vague imitations of Eddings' work.
I tried creating lawyer stories, which, I will fully admit, I quickly realized were not my forte.
Then horror kicked in.
To this day, I still have a difficult time escaping the temptation to create works that hold stylistic elements from King. Each short story I wrote seemed to be a direct representation of whatever book I was reading at the time.
Finally, a few years back, I realized just how big a mistake this was. There is a reason that King's style works for him. There is a reason that Eddings was able to create such an amazing world. And there was a reason that my own stories were falling flat, no matter how much work I put into them.
I wasn't creating my world, I was creating my world through what I believed to be the eyes of others.
The moment I was able to recognize this, my style changed. I have worked at letting my own subtle nuances take over, and the writing that was once flatter than a county plains has finally begun to take shape with hills and valleys. I still read, but I'm much more guarded in how I absorb what I'm reading, and I'm careful to watch my work.
3 books later, it is still a lesson I take to heart every time I open up my computer and put fingertips to keys.
It does leave me with a curiosity, though, and that's where you come in, Dear Readers.
Who is your inner writer? Have you successfully established your own world of nuances and styles, or have you adapted others into your work? I would love to hear!
Thanks for reading, Dear Readers! And thanks, as always, for #WritingStrong.
We have a treat for you today, on this week's #WritingStrong blog! Guest author Jericho "J.S." Wayne has invited us into his world of character conversations! Thanks for joining us on FauphTalk Fiction!
When I started writing, I had no idea characters could be so damned stubborn. I’d have a great, grand Evil Scheme all cued up and ready to go…
“Wait. No! Stop! Where are you going?!?”
“Dude. Your plan’s lame and boring. I want to go here and do this instead.”
“But…my plan! What about my outline?”
“Don’t go all Kanye West on me, Felicia. We can get back to your lame-ass plan if you really, really insist after we check out the really cool, sick, intelligent thing I’m doing over here.”
“Okay, look. We can negotiate. You be a good character and do the thing I need you to be doing now, and then we can take that side trip and you can do whatever the hell you like. Cool?”
“Nah, Mr. Wayne, you got that whole thing exactly backward. You see, we can either do this my way, or I can fuck off and sit in a corner making funny faces at you while your deadline ticks closer until you get on board or magick up some super-special extra-cool way of breaking the impasse. Is that what you want?”
“You’re such a dick. You do realize I’m the writer, right? I mean, you KNOW I can erase you, everything and everyone you’ve ever known, loved or cared about, your entire world and your whole shitty universe in a few dozen keystrokes, right?”
“How very Old Testament of you. ‘My creations are making me mad, so I’m going to burn the whole sonofabitch down and start all over.’”
“In all fairness, you’re not giving me very many options here. I have an outline, see? This, right here. ‘Main character goes to the watchtower to talk to the Head Warden about 2SC’s disappearance.’ There’s a plan. We call it a plan because you’re supposed to STICK to it.”
“Yawn. How tedious. The Head Warden knows exactly fuck-all, and you and I both know it. You’re just wearing out my boots and running me all over this stupid town to screw with readers’ heads. I can go to the tavern, ask the goblin behind the bar what she knows, have a couple of pints and be way more likely to find out what I need to know. Besides, the Head Warden is probably already there.”
“No, he isn’t. I KNOW he isn’t because I literally just left him writing a lengthy parchment report to Queen Yseult about the rash of manure wagons mysteriously tipping over and the sudden upswing in the number of nobles found choked to death on cowshit.”
“Heh. Yeah. That was a good one. And those nobles totally had it coming, Boss. Still, I say the tavern is a better idea. Hey! Think you can write in a nymph stripper?”
“No! I’m not writing in a nymph stripper just because you don’t want to do your job and would rather ogle tits.”
“So how come you get to look at tits at will and I have to go see the Head Warden?”
“Grrrrraaaaaagh! Because I’M. THE. WRI. TER. WRITER. As far as you’re concerned, I’m God and you do what I say you do!”
“But you have to admit, this book’s getting kinda grim. A nymph stripper or two would really liven things up—”
“Ask me about a nymph stripper again. I dare you.”
“And what happens then?”
“I’ll write in a troll. In a studded leather banana hammock. Who thinks YOU look like just his type and doesn’t handle rejection well, get my drift?”
“Gulp…Um. S—s—so, hey, I hear the Head Warden might know something.”
“Stop looking so pale and focus. I only said that as an illustration of why fucking with me is a poor long-term survival strategy. He may know, or he may not. But YOU won’t know unless you get your ass to the watchtower and find out. Savvy?”
“So—if I do this thing, then can I go to the tavern?”
“Yeah. Talk to the Head Warden and then you can go to the tavern.”
“Will there be a str—um, yeah. I hear that look on your face loud and clear. Going, see? Going, going, gone.”
“Asshole,” I mutter.
Born in Amarillo, Texas, Jericho “J.S.” Wayne has lived, worked, and traveled in approximately three quarters of the North American continent, amassing a résumé which could kindly be described as “eclectic” along the way. Currently he lives in Portland, Oregon and feels no particular urge to be anywhere else.
An author in multiple genres, a misanthropic humanitarian and cynical optimist, J.S. spends most of his time when not writing erotic romance turning words into money as a website designer, SEO/SEM consultant and article and blog writer, filling the balance of his hours as a polyamorous kink practitioner and educator. He is fascinated by the use of language, human sexuality, occultism, quantum physics and trying to figure out just what the hell the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus” actually mean. He enjoys receiving mail and comments from his fans, and invites you to follow him on Twitter or simply email him at firstname.lastname@example.org!
For the longest time, I struggled through my writing, trying to force the characters into uncomfortable situations, and thrusting unnatural roles upon them. In the planning stage of my writing, I concocted a set plan that needed to happen. Although I expected elements of the story to change, that was reserved strictly for the setting and plot points, not characters.
Meanwhile, my characters were SCREAMING at me from the pages, begging me to set them free and allow them to set their own paths, or create their own stories.
At first, I didn't hear them. Then I ignored them. When their voices started to cry out, I rejected them. After all, I was the writer, they were my subjects. Basically, they were my written slaves, and their lives were mine to control.
Meanwhile, I still struggled. The big reveals didn't seem to be revealing very well. Confrontations were static and forced. Major events felt wrong. And I kept rinsing with the same author wash, determined that if I did, eventually these characters would smell a little better.
But they didn't. They stunk. In some cases, they stunk badly.
Finally, one of my character went on strike. Some of you refer to it as a writer's block, but for me, it was one of my protagonists going on strike. She was trying to tell me that no, she WASN'T a protagonist, but was actually a villain, and not just any villain, but the main cheese...the big baddie...the number one player in the end game of the story. Stumped, and with nowhere to go as long as she was on strike, I finally sat down and listened.
And boy, did she set me straight. The next time I sat at my desk, I let her do her thing. Lo and behold, my fingers started dancing across the keyboard again, and the gentle, relaxing ticking of the keys once again filled my space.
That moment, when my character dropped her picket sign and rejoined my book, I realized one thing. It is not my story, it's the story of my characters. It didn't matter how planned out my book was, if the characters didn't agree with the direction things were going, then things were only going to go in one direction: down.
When writing, one of the most important things you can do is listen to the characters you've created. They are wise, and most of the time they know what they want to do. If you let them loose, you may just find that they come alive again, and in ways you didn't expect. Their passion will shine through in your words, and your story will once again find that flow that every writer dreams of.
When your characters go on strike, as often they will, sit down with them. Let them air their grievances, and don't just nod and smile. Listen to them. In the end, it may be your story, but it's their world, and nobody understands that quite like they do.
Happy writing, my friends!
**We here at FauphTalk Fiction wanted to take a quick moment to pass along our thanks to the #WolfPackAuthors for their support over these past few days! Building up the numbers on social media is important, and the pack has been working hard to support each other! Big thanks to the Alpha of the pack, Jeff DeMarco.
Keep on howling, everyone!
When I received my first copy of Dreamshaper, back in 2009, I was absolutely beside myself. As I held the book up and stared lovingly at the cover, finally seeing my work come to life as a finished product, I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears.
Over the next few months, the real work began. Marketing, promoting, trying my best to not read my own work, because all I could see was everything that I should have done to make the story even better (we've all done this, haven't we?)...the journey was just beginning.
The first step towards selling my book was something I had always dreamed about. My first author's signing table.
It was glorious. I still remember the day. I walked in Chapters in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, and found a table sitting there, waiting for me. Stacks of books were piled on the table, brought in by the bookstore just for me. Family came, friends stopped by, employees smiled politely as they tried to avoid being pulled into yet another conversation by an aspiring author...it was everything I wanted.
More than anything, however, I remember one conversation I had, with the assistant manager of the store. This man wasn't an author, but his insight changed everything I had planned to do in an instant.
As I sat at the table, flashing my book in everyone's face, he came over to say hello, and asked how things were going. 1-2 copies had left my table in the first hour I was there, which was great, but not the success I had hoped for. I told him it was a bit slow, and he nodded. He had been watching me, and wanted to offer some helpful advice. I listened eagerly. Here is what he told me:
There are 3 types of authors that hold book signings.
1) Authors who think their work alone should be interesting enough to grab people's attention.
These authors have a tendency to have a table full of books, posters, and a magnificent set-up, and then they sit at the table, waiting for people to come to them. They don't talk to people who don't seem interested, but feel that people who are interested will come there way.
2) Authors who shove their work down everyone's throats.
These folks are over-sellers. Every passing person suddenly has a book cover flashed in front of them, or waved in their face. Every conversation they try to start is about their book as they try and sell it to absolutely everyone.
This is where I was sliding into.
3) Authors who connect.
Authors who engage people in daily conversation, asking how they're doing, learning about their potential customer's stories rather than just pitching their own.
As soon as the Assistant Manager laid this framework down, I knew what I was doing wrong.
You see, being an author is awesome and rewarding. It's a magnificent feeling. But just because you wrote a book, it doesn't mean everyone wants to hear about it. Most customers, when walking through a bookstore, have a general idea of what they came there for. They want to quietly and peacefully browse the store, coffee in hand, and explore worlds in their own minds. Shoving your world into their faces is a turn off. We've all experience the irritating and awkward push from sales tables in malls and shopping centers. People throwing soap at you, or driving little remote control cars into your feet. If you're like me, you've awkwardly faked a phone call to avoid talking to those folks, because you didn't want to reject their advance.
Instead, I started making simple conversation. I asked people about their day. I asked what they liked to read. I asked how their families were. In short, I guided the conversation onto them. As I did so, I found conversations starting to erupt regularly. And the more people wanted to talk to me, the more curious they became about the books sitting at my table. I became part of the world they were exploring, rather than just an annoying voice crying out from the side.
On average, the Assistant Manager told me that authors at tables in that store sold between 5-10 books during their signings. By the end of my first signing, after changing my tactics, I had sold 12 copies.
The next signing, I started right off the bat. I made the conversations focus first on my potential readers, and gradually let it turn naturally towards my work. Some of my conversations last one minute, some lasted 10-15 minutes. Most importantly, books were leaving my table. 15 books left my table.
On my third signing, 23 books walked away from me. On this day, a gentlemen who was part of a motorcycle gang walked away with my book. A boxer walked away with my book. To give you some perspective on why that rocked my world, Dreamshaper is a Middle Grade adventure novel. Not the type you would normally see in the hands of Bikers and Boxers.
That encouraged my next challenge: Every signing, I wanted to sell my book to one person that looked like they had no business buying a kids' book. I wasn't always successful, but more often than not I managed to accomplish this task.
Since I shifted my approach, Dreamshaper did moderately well. While it didn't sell thousands on their own, table signings went very well, libraries were bringing it in, school teachers were inviting me into their classrooms.
And, most importantly, I was having fun.
Long story short, the best thing I learned about successful book signings came down to one simple idea. The reader is ALWAYS more important than the book. And when you make them feel that way, your book will start to walk. At it's peak, Dreamshaper cracked the top 20 shelf for one of the busiest stores in Canada, situated at the heart of Canada's biggest mall, West Edmonton Mall.
If you can "buy" the reader, you can sell your book.
Happy writing, everyone. Thanks for reading.
A few years ago, I was working on developing my query writing skills. For those that don't know what a query is, it's your selling letter to try and land an agent or publisher for your work.
Now, I know this site is mostly for self-published and indie writers, but that doesn't mean this isn't useful information. The story I posted was pinned to the site as a permanent article, and to date, had hit over 1000 views. The people there are an amazing source of information, and I consider it a huge pride point that something I wrote has been attached permanently to the site.
*Note: To use the links included in the post, you will need to register for an account at absolutewrite.com. It is free, and worth it.
Evolution of a Query
As one writer so eloquently posted, “writing a query letter is harder than writing a book.” After spending some time on my latest query, I couldn’t agree more. Writing a book offers a person a nice amount of freedom. Sure, you have to make sure it’s a finely tuned piece of machinery before trying to get it published, but it’s still your story, and follows your rules.
A query is from an entirely different universe.
As I’ve quickly learned, being a solid writer is one thing. You can have all the talent in the world, and be an absolute wizard with the written word, but trying to translate that into being a strong query writer is like trying to figure skate for the first time after years of playing hockey. Sure, you can throw a big hit, skate like the wind, and break the glass with a powerful, testosterone-fueled slap shot. But taking that 60-minute game of rough and tumble antics and turning it into a finely-tuned two-minute ice dance routine that captivates an audience is…well…hard.
Thankfully, the world is full of wonderful coaches, and the writing world is no different. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that having an open mind and listening to the people who are trying to help you will only make whatever you’re doing better. You may not agree, and you may not like it, but listen anyway. Even a rejected idea is something to learn from.
And so, I’ve decided that, in appreciation to all of the wonderful people who have been patiently helping me through this process, I would create this, the Evolution of a Query.
I feel I should throw a disclaimer in right about here. The end result I’ve manipulated myself into writing here is by no means perfect. It won’t be the saving grace for anybody, and it’s not going to make everyone’s writing suddenly easier or stronger. Only hard work, thick skin and an open mind will do that. But this is a way for me to show my appreciation to all those who helped me get through this, and to those people I can only say, thank-you. Everything here is a compilation of my words, my thoughts, and your efforts at helping me take those words and thoughts and craft them into something more than words. Something useful.
When I first created my query, I’ll admit, I thought it was gold. Sure, I knew there would be a few things wrong, and that some people wouldn’t like it. But overall, it was solid, and a few hours reflection would make it just what it needed to be.
Well, Query Letter Hell showed me just how wrong I was. Thank God for that. Feel free to take a read:
Dear Mr. / Ms. *********
My 58,000-word novel, A House on Fifth Street, is a Young Adult fantasy shaped in the mold of a modern day Alice in Wonderland, with an underlying influence of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The story is a stand-alone novel, developed through the power of a boy’s love for his lost brother, and the perils he faces while searching for his sibling in the most surprising of places.
What would you do if you brother suddenly went missing? For Daniel Pilkin, the answer was an obvious one. Find him, by any means necessary..
Daniel Pilkin has spent the past few weeks wandering around the city, searching for any clue that may lead to his brother’s safe return. His brother’s strange disappearance has haunted Daniel’s family, and, other than Daniel himself, everyone has abandoned all hope of ever finding the Chase Pilkin again. Daniel, however, refuses to give up. Each day he spends searching for a hint of Chase’s whereabouts, and each day he is sent home with nothing but frustration and a growing sense of impending doom. Nothing, that is, until an unnatural wind pushes him towards a small, broken bungalow in the middle of two Victorian mansions; a mansion where nothing is ever as it seems, and the clues Daniel has so desperately sought after lie deep in the bowels of a series of worlds he has never seen before.
I published my first short story in May of 2007, entitled Zombiquin, in the magazine Encounters, produced by Sam's Dot Publishing, followed by Shadow Puppets, in the magazine Beyond Centauri, released in July of 2009. Alongside various creative writing and children's literature courses, I have also successfully obtained a degree in Elementary Education, during which time I had a few pieces selected for publication in post-secondary anthologies.
A House on Fifth Street is my second completed novel, a work that I have taken a great deal of care in creating and rewriting over the past three years. I have received literary representation for a previous novel through the Phenomenon Literary Agency, which unfortunately closed before my first novel, Dreamshaper, was released. Dreamshaper was subsequently released through a smaller publisher, and copies can still be found on several bookshelves, and within the libraries of several schools, as well as town and city libraries. Although I will be submitting query letters to a few different agencies, I strongly believe A House on Fifth Street would be a wonderful fit for your collection.
Thank-you for considering A House on Fifth Street. I can be reached by email at ********, by phone at *****, and at the mailing above.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking. Glorious, right? Yeah...gloriously awful. It’s an atrocity of unmitigated levels. Within an hour of posting this piece of (insert words of crude wisdom here) to QLH, I was treated to a variety of opinions on just how bad it was, all done with a much finer level of grace than my query itself.
Much advice was given, all of it was read, most of it was taken into consideration, and very little was actually used. I did manage to at least take out the rhetorical question. Here was my next effort. For time’s sake, from this point on I’ll leave out the technical details about word length and genre.
Dear Ms./Mr. *******
Daniel Pilkin was only ten years of age when his twelve year old brother vanished without a trace. Despite the agonizing frustration of weeks of fruitless searching, Daniel refuses to give up on his brother. One clue, that’s all he wants; just a sign that Chase is still out there; a sign that arrives in the form of a most unusual place—A House on Fifth Street.
The broken down house appears to be nothing special, but Daniel soon learns there is a deeper truth beneath the broken windows and abandoned exterior. Within this house, Daniel finds his clue; a picture of his brother on a wall in the basement, stuck on a poster with the word MISSING above his smiling face—one of six posters in all, each bearing that same sinister word above the photo of another lost child. Beyond the wall, a portal of other-worldly secrets awaits him; an entrance to an ancient labyrinth and a world of underground lakes and giants; worlds of terrible dangers and surprising allies. Through the house, he learns of a plague of evils that has been set loose upon the children of the city for the past thirty years, trapping them and holding them prisoner against time itself; a curse brought on by the selfish scheming of a dark man known only as the Gloom.
Facing a house of hidden secrets, the fate of these children now rests in the hands of a young boy determined to find his lost brother, even if it means plunging straight into the heart of the house itself, and into the waiting arms of the Gloom. If he fails, he will become one of the missing children himself, pulled into the Gloom’s lurking spell and lost to the world, just another piece of the dark man’s conquest of children everywhere.
Yeah, I’m sure you can imagine the responses from that. Not a lot of difference between the two, yet somehow I was sure I was going to be praised for the amount of positive work I had put into the new version.
Not so much. Thankfully so. Remember how I said to be a writer you need to have a thick skin and an open mind? Well, I’m more glad than ever that I developed those particular skills early on in my quest to write.
Finally, I at least found the courage to admit that I wasn’t listening. These fine folks were trying to point that out to me, and it was about time I started. Of course, listening isn’t the same as doing, and I learned that lesson even more on my next attempt.
Dear Ms. /Mr. *******
Daniel never believed in magic and ghosts, but that’s a hard certainty to hold onto while standing inside a living house that's trying to communicate with him. It has to be magic, some sort of curse placed on the house, like in the late movies his parents try to keep him from watching. What kind of person has the power to do that? Maybe the same kind that likes to kidnap children, kids like his twelve year old brother, Chase, who Daniel hasn’t seen in weeks.
The answer, Daniel learns, is a horrible man called the Gloom, a man who has kidnapped not one, but six kids. Bent on terrifying and enslaving children, the Gloom has used a dark spell to bewitch the house, forcing the first of the captured children into the very essence of the house, like a soul being forced into a new body, and creating a way station between other-worldly prisons; an ancient labyrinth, a world of underground lakes, and the tunnels of a giant troll.
Haunted house or not, Daniel knows he can’t just walk away. His brother needs him, and, unless this house is lying to him, Chase is inside here somewhere. Chase has always been the stronger of the two of them, but now Daniel can’t let that be an excuse. It’s up to him to find that strength within himself if he is going to save his brother.
This house—this strange, possessed house—seems determined to help him, or at least the kid trapped inside the walls does. Maybe it’s a trick, the same one all the kids who have disappeared have fallen for, but after giving Daniel the knowledge that Chase is indeed one of the Gloom’s six victims, he can’t just walk away. Even if it means battling a labyrinth’s guardian spider, braving waters crowded with enormous, blood-sucking leeches, surviving an encounter with a giant troll, and besting an enchanted game, he will find a way to break the spell and free his brother.
However, unknown to Daniel, a mistake in the Gloom’s casting inadvertently caused the spell to invoke a failsafe upon its inception. It is the spell that has trapped the lost children, keeping them from the grasp of the Gloom. By freeing them, Daniel only brings them closer to becoming true victims of the Gloom, who—while disguised in the form of the second missing child—manipulates Daniel's decisions. In the end, Daniel must make the difficult choice to sacrifice the first of the kidnapped children, the one possessing the house, in order to save the rest.
By this point, my confusion had grown, rather than diminished. I had thought I was listening, but my queries weren’t being received with any more praise. People told me to give lots of detail about my plot, tell about the main character’s actions, and to not be afraid of giving away the secrets of the story. As writers, I think we can all say that, at least at first, that is a hard concept to follow through with. After all, I don’t want to just tell you what happens. I want you to buy my book and find out for yourselves. Which brings us to the vicious circle of writing.
To find out the secrets, you have to buy the book>>to buy the book, it has to be published>>to be published, it has to be worth reading>>to be read, it has to make sense>>to make sense, the secrets need to be revealed>>to find out the secrets, you have to buy the book.
Well, avid readers, if there’s one piece of advice I may offer, it’s that circles suck. If you want to establish yourself as a writer, you need to break free of that circle, and start making the right moves. The circle is safety, and in this case, safety means failure.
With that realization in mind, and after a few more failed attempts, I finally got to work on not just listening, but learning, and my real query began to finally take shape.
The first thing I would recommend is that people read the thread posted by writer katiemac. She has created a gem of a thread that, if followed, makes the query world a much simpler world. In her thread, she suggests that writers simplify their story into three basic questions: what have become known as the katiemac 3:
1) What does the protagonist want?
2) What does s/he need to do to get it?
3) What will happen if s/he fails to get it?
Now, there is much more behind those questions, but I won’t be the one to steal away her thunder. Right now, every single writer reading this thread should stop and go read hers. It’s a wonderful piece of work that, if you follow it, will make your query letter writing process much easier. You can find her thread here:
After several frustrating attempts, and several strong word choices that definitely don’t belong in my middle grade fantasy novel, I finally actually took stock and realized I had been lying to myself. I thought I was following the three questions, but I wasn’t. I was trying way too hard, when what I needed to do was simplify. There’s a reason the acronym KISS works so well...there’s nothing quite as pleasant.
So, I erased everything I had worked on, and started here:
What does the protagonist want? Daniel wants to find his brother.
What does he have to do to get what he wants? He must defeat the Gloom.
What will happen if he fails? His brother will be lost forever.
After 3 days of listening but not learning, I finally got it. And the real work started then and there. I don’t mind telling you, if I had really been learning earlier on rather than just listening, this Evolution of a Query post would have been a whole lot shorter.
And so the work finally began.
As I sit here writing this, my query is still not perfect. Quite frankly, any writer worth their salt knows that “perfect” is a terrible word, and that there is no such thing as a perfect query, and more than there’s a perfect story. There are queries that work, queries that are awesome, queries that will blow your mind, and queries that are successful, but there are no perfect queries. So stop looking for one, and stop trying to create one. Just stop. Create the one that works for you, and the one that works for your story. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be good.
I started writing this as a way to take a break from my actual query. As it stands, it currently looks like this:
Ten-year-old Daniel Pilkin wants his brother back. Two months is a long time without your big brother, and Daniel’s world feels broken. By accident, Daniel stumbles into the very same trap that stole his brother away, the cursed house belonging to a man called the Gloom.
Strangely enough, the house's curse may be just what Daniel needs. It's alive, filled with the soul of one of the Gloom's first victims, a boy who knows the truth. The Gloom has been using a dark spell to catch kids, trapping them in weird mazes and underground caverns, trying to take their souls to make himself immortal.
Caught in the spell, Daniel knows he has to stay ahead of the Gloom. It would be crazy to try and get past the maze’s giant spider and the leech-filled lakes by himself. Just the thought of it made his skin itch. He might not trust a house built by the Gloom, but if he can free some of the other kids, he might have a chance. If he failed, Chase, along with five other children and Daniel himself, would disappear forever.
It’s not done, but it’s something I’m becoming proud of. I’m still getting some advice on it, and I’m still working on being an active listener, rather than a passive one. But compared to where I started, I’m a lot further towards losing my newbie status than I was a week ago.
So thank-you, Query Letter Hell, and thank-you to everyone who makes it Hell. Without your careful help and guidance, and often harsh but realistic critiques, I would still be hiding behind an atrocity of writing, and sitting in the safety of a circle of failure, rather than working to break free of it.
PS. For anyone who wants to see all of the steps I’ve gone through so far, and shake your head at the calamities I created earlier on, here is the link:
My advice? Pay more attention to the critiques than the queries, and instead of just listening, do. Stop taking shelter in safe circles, break free, and work, work, work.
Hello, all you passionate writers out there,
For our first blog post, we thought it would be good to share where the idea for FauphTalkFiction came from. As this is literally my first ever blog, I'm sure it will be wordy and shaky, and, like all writing does, will get better over time. But here it is...
As a writer, I have always been full of big dreams and goals. In Junior High School, where my personal journey began, I realized I had a talent and a passion for writing. I can still remember one of my old teachers sharing her amazement at my work, and encouraging me to keep pressing forward, and see where I could take it.
As school went on, and the grades passed by and turned into college courses and eventually university courses, my passion never faded. In my late teens, I began working on my first full length novel, Dreamshaper. This was going to be my big break, and I was going to be the next big deal in the writing world. I was sure of it.
As the years moved, and the story progressed, I was lucky enough to land an agent. Like me, this agency was in it's infant stages, but I was more than happy to work with them. Just telling people "I have an agent" was more than enough for me to feel accomplished and special. Through the agency, I very nearly landed a deal with Puffin, part of the Penguin publishing family.
Unfortunately, that deal never happened. Soon after, my agency closed, and I was once again on my own.
Time passed, words fell out of my fingers and into stories, but everything stayed static. I was unable to land a new agent, and the frustration started to grow on me. I decided one day that I may need to look at other routes, at least for now, and the idea of self-publishing simply wasn't an option I was ready to consider.
As I continued to work on Dreamshaper, I decided to start trying smaller publishing houses, specifically ones that didn't require agent representation. Through this method, I did finally manage to get Dreamshaper published, through a company called Black Rose Writing.
I won't lie, Black Rose wasn't my dream destination, and there are definitely some controversial pieces behind the company that I will get into on a future post. For my case, and where I was at, I did find the experience very useful. Through Black Rose, I was able to get my novel into the system for Chapters and Indigo stores in Canada, and it was made available to print at various other websites and locations.
The biggest challenge I found, however, came from the marketing front. Although Black Rose promised a marketing platform, the majority of the work, I soon found out, was going to be placed on me. To get the book into Chapters, I had to find the right people to talk to, and encourage both them and Black Rose to work together. I created my own website, talked to people, and put in a lot of leg work. I didn't mind, though. The journey was exciting, and I was learning more each and every day.
Throughout the process, however, I did discover just how difficult it is to market and promote your own book, without a major publisher behind you. I learned how to talk to potential customers at book signings, how to identify dangerous questions in interviews, and just the general patience that a young, inexperienced writer needs to have. At the time, I also wasn't big on Facebook or Twitter, and had yet to expand my social media platform bases, which, in today's world, is ever so important.
In the end, I managed to push the sales for Dreamshaper to somewhere in the 600 book range. Most of the books were sold in Canada, with some traveling out into the United States, and others reaching as far as South Korea and New Zealand. I wasn't a commercial success by any rate, but I still felt rewarded.
Which brings me to today.
I still have a goal of one day being the next big thing. Currently, I am working on the next stage of edits for a book that I do hope to land an agent for. However, in the meantime, I would like to explore the world of self-publishing as well, a world where marketing and exploration is CRITICAL.
As I started to ponder how to market my own stories, a new thought popped into my head. Why only offer my own stories, when I can expand my platform to others, and give many more writers a chance to promote their own work, and share their own experiences?
And thus, FauphTalk Fiction was born.
Everybody needs a stepping stone, and I would love to be one of yours. I feel that as writers, we can build a community that works together to help each other progress in our writing goals, big and strong. My goal isn't to make money off of people, it's to help people find a foothold and expand their reach. I want this to be a free platform for people to share their work and experiences, and pick up a few books along the way. If you're going to spend some money on a book, why not support another self-published author along the way?
Anyways, that is my dream for this site. I would also like to know what your "Big Dream" is. Please share in the comments below!
That's for listening, and thanks for #WritingStrong.
Hello there, and welcome to FauphTalk!
Our goal is to create a weekly blog, using the #WritingStrong identity to create an ongoing conversation about our writing journey! Please, join us for some real talk, and leave us a comment or question! While we are certainly open to debates and arguments, please keep your comments civil and contructive. Abusive comments will be deleted.
#WritingStrong is designed to be a weekly blog segment for everyday readers and writers. While a great deal of it will involve tips for writers themselves, there will also be some for the readers of the world.
We hope you enjoy!