Writing is an Uphill Climb

Writing is an Uphill Climb

Writing is an uphill climb.  It starts as an interesting idea worming its way into your brain, slowly taking root.  The idea turns into an obsession threatening to consume you from within unless you let it out. So you start writing.  One word at a time, the obsession hashes out into a story.  Rich with characters and complexities serving to convey the premise upon which the idea began, you finally write those long-awaited words, “The End.”

And then the real work begins.

After taking a break from your creation to clear your head, you come back to it and read it out loud.  You correct the obvious spelling and grammar errors missed by your Word Processor’s less-than-stellar spellcheck.  When this is done, you read the manuscript aloud again, pulling apart every sentence to make sure it flows with the one before and the one after.  Slowly, but surely, the rough draft evolves into the novel it was always meant to be.

But it’s not quite there yet.

You hand your manuscript over to a trusted, unbiased critic (hopefully with an outstanding grasp on grammar, spelling, and the English language) and allow them to slice into your words and make them bleed.  Blood red errors and nuances to be improved come back at you to remind you how easy it is to overlook your own mistakes.  So you run head-on into the cleanup process, mopping up the red and replacing it with the black that should have been there in the first place.

Once you’re ready to reveal your story to the world, you set to formatting the manuscript so that it’s ready for publication. Once you’re sure it’s the way it’s supposed to be, and you’ve emailed the .mobi file to your Kindle device for the one hundredth time, you click submit and you’re story is available on Amazon.

But no one buys it.

The masses do not flock to your story, reading in a frenzy, showering it with reviews and accolades.  Traditional publishers don’t knock down your door, fighting each other for exclusive rights to turn your book into a profit for their company.  No one has heard of your book—or you (unless you already have an audience; in which case: lucky you).  It collects e-dust on the e-shelf of Amazon Kindles endless annals of self-published e-books.

It’s time to change hats.

You’re not a writer anymore; you’re a salesperson.  A marketing guru.  A social media whiz.  An entrepreneur.  Effectively, you become your own agent.  I know. I hate this part too.  Self-promoting is such a weird thing to do.  What if people don’t take you seriously?  How many times do you ask people to buy your book?  And once you get them to buy it, how do you get them to read it?  And never mind getting the few people you’ve haggled into reading it to take three-to-five minutes of their precious time to leave an honest, critical review on Amazon!

By the time you get an author website, establish a page on Facebook, search out advertising and promotional options to generate awareness about your book, and tell every living soul you come into contact with you start to realize a terrible truth.

Writing is an uphill climb.

And it never ends.  After you put in the time and effort to do what you love (writing), and do the same for the not as fun but necessary parts (editing), you focus your time and attention to marketing and promotion.  Somewhere along the journey you start to realize that it is WAY harder to sell a book than it is to write one.  The most frustrating part about it is the struggle to find a balance between working on your next writing project, and promoting the previous one.  It’s easy to lose heart.  Typically, something’s got to give and one area or the other suffers.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news? You’re a beautiful, talented, creative writer passionate about your art and taking it seriously enough to put in the work required.  You’re still here, and you’re not going to quit.  Never quit.  That’s the only way you can truly fail.  Some authors wait years before their work receives any recognition or return.  When the going gets tough, you have to take a long hard look in the mirror and tell the individual staring back at you, “It’s gonna be worth it.”  Because it will.  Being a writer is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.  Even this is an imperfect analogy as there is no finish line in this race.  Once you’ve made it as far as you ever thought you would, there’s more on the horizon.

I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. As always, thank you so much for reading!

How to Write a Query Letter

How to Write a Query Letter

“Querying is like dating, interviewing and auditioning all rolled into [one]. Sending that first query will be one of the most vulnerable moments of your … life. …The first rejection (and the next twenty…) will make you question your determination, your fortitude and your talent. …But even if you don’t get “the call” on this manuscript, querying will leave you with a better sense of self, a greater awareness of your strengths and weakness and, yes, perhaps the need for a good therapist.”

– Emily Bleeker, author of When I’m Gone (2016) and Wreckage (2015), represented by Marlene Stringer of StringerLit.

My name is J.E.Cearlock, and like many of you, I am an aspiring author. First and foremost, let me thank Caleb J Hicks for the opportunity to write for his blog and impart what little knowledge I can spread to all of his readers.

Today, I am sharing information on every writer’s absolute most favoritestest topic EVER: query letters. Today’s topic will focus on writing a query letter for FICTION. Non-fiction and academic writing require a different set of rules of which I have little experience.

If you are reading this, you are probably a writer. This post will be blunt. I will not sugarcoat the querying experience. As an author, thick skin is mandatory. If the querying phase scares you, traditional publishing is not for you.

What is a query letter?

Excellent question! Let’s K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

First and foremost, a query letter is a business letter. It is a formal introduction to you and your work. The purpose of a query letter is to showcase your writing skills while giving a brief overview into the plot of your novel. The end result is to entice an agent or a publishing editor to request more of your work. It is formal, it is well-written, and it is grammatically correct.

 What a query letter is NOT.

A query letter is not a letter to your best pal.

It is not a therapy session (agents don’t care why you write.)

It is not an opportunity to ask questions like, “What can you do for me?” or any other display of pompous douchebaggery.

It is not a chance to say, “My mom loved my book so I thought I would send it to you.”

It is not riddled with mistakes and typos.

It does not reveal the final twist or ending of your novel.

How to structure a query letter:

Before I advance any further on this topic, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: writing a query letter has few mandatory rules. The sole requirement all agents agree on is simple – entice the agent. But make no mistake, there are guidelines query writers are expected to follow.

  • Queries are limited to ~250 words, but an absolute maximum of 300. Any more and it’s a guaranteed rejection.
  • White space is crucial. No blocks of text. None. Ix-nay. Break the paragraphs every three to four sentences.
  • Personalize every query you send to the agent you’re sending it to.

Do: Dear J.E.Cearlock

Dear. Mr. Cearlock

Do Not: Dear Agent

Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?

Dear Mr./Mrs./Mr. No Name

Additionally, an agent will be interested in learning where you found their name. If you found their name through an interview or an article about them, mention this. It shows you have done your research.

  • The query needs to be roughly 95% about your book. This one. The one you have finished. Not the one you plan to write in the future or the one you have sitting on your shelf from three years ago. The other 5% should be about yourself, relevant publishing or academic credentials, and maybe where you found the agent’s information.
  • A general consensus among querying authors is to focus on events in the first 1/3rd of your novel. But this is not always necessary if you can create a working query otherwise.

What should my query contain?

Another excellent question! And I’m here to tell you, less is more. But these following things are mandatory for the query. How you present the information is up to you.

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What does s/he want?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What does s/he want?
  • What is stopping them from reaching their goals?
  • What are the stakes? What will the protag lose if s/he does not succeed?

Simple, right? No matter what genre you write, no matter if it’s middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult, all of these categories will follow this same guide. Some authors break these “rules” and do so with success. I believe you must first learn the “rules” before you can break them.

Crafting the Query.

So how should a query look once it’s been written? Well, each author has his own way to write these. However, most beginning authors start with the basic “Three Paragraph” form.

First the subject line of the E-mail should read this style: Literary Query – Author: Title (Category and genre).

Subject: Literary Query – J.E.Cearlock: AN UNGODLY CASE OF THE FEELS (Adult Romance)

Paragraph 1: The Hook

“Frejya is the Norse God of Love, which is hilarious because her own love life sucks.”

Something like this to set up who your main protagonist is, and possibly what their central problem will be.

Paragraph 2: The Dilemma

“Frejya believes no one will ever love her like her old husband Odin. Until she meets a human names Geoffrey, that is. The only problem is, Geoffrey is engaged, his wedding only three days away. Humans are not allowed in Asgaard but this doesn’t stop her from showing him the life they could have together, by her side for all eternity. But when his fiancée Valerie discovers Frejya’s intentions, the God of Love will need a God of War to stop the human’s wrath.”

Here we’ve set up the dilemma, the antagonist, and what both of the characters seek.

Paragraph 3: The Stakes

“Frejya has violated millennia-old laws by bringing a human to Asgaard, but she doesn’t care. After all, what could compare to true love? Certainly not an immortal life of loneliness. But Valerie has made it clear she won’t give Geoffrey up without a fight. Now Frejya has a decision: either cast down a human and face banishment from Asgaard for her own true love, or fulfill her divine duties and bless the couple with wedded bliss. Either way, she loses either a happy heart, or her position of power amongst the Gods of Asgaard.”

We as the reader now have a sense of the stakes for both the protagonist and the antagonist, but remember, a query doesn’t reveal the ending of the novel, only the choices and the cost of each of those choices.

Paragraph 4: Book info, bio, and agent research

“AN UNGODLY CASE OF THE FEELS is adult romance, complete at 75,000 words with series potential. My name is J.E.Cearlock and I am the author of (book) and written articles for (magazine/publication). I saw an interview you gave with Writer’s Digest and thought my book might send your heart to Asgaard.”

Here I have the title, category, genre, and word count. All of this is necessary. If you don’t have it, an agent won’t reach out. But word of warning: when it comes to previous publications, you cannot use self-published works as credentials un you made around $50k+.

Paragraph 5 – Salutation

“Thank you for your time and consideration.”

This. This line. Verbatim. Every single time. Without question. Nothing else is needed.

Final – Author signature and information

J.E.Cearlock

E-mail

Phone number

Website or blog (NO Twitter or Facebook)

Other pieces of advice:

  • Voice is key. Your query must be captivating and enticing. It must be enthralling and flow naturally.
  • The tone of the query MUST match the tone of the novel. If you pitch a horror novel but your query sounds like it was written by a drunk Chelsea Handler, chances are it won’t appear before an agent.
  • No cursing in queries except for the occasional “hell” or “damn” and only if it fits in the query.
  • Queries are … queries are hard. They’re harder than hard, they’re brutal. They’re The Hunger Games created by Loki with Voldemort as the main judge. They will make you question everything about your life choices and as Emily Bleeker said above, possibly seek out therapy. This step is the single greatest reason many great writers stop writing and give up their passion.
  • YOU CAN DO IT. No matter what you think, you can. You have resources galore at your fingertips. QueryTracker.net and agentqueryconnect.com are forums designed to help you write and polish your query letter.

Good luck, my fellow writers. Don’t let the daunting task of querying scare you away. We all hope to see your work on bookshelves one day.

A Guide to Editing and Revision

A Guide to Editing and Revision

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule when it comes to people is: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. But The Golden Rule of Writing is: rewriting is always better writing. There exists among us rare and exceptional people capable of producing a perfect manuscript with a first draft. They are, in fact, aliens from outer space inhabiting the bodies of humans, and are here for the sole purpose of making the rest of us look incompetent. If you’re one of these aforementioned body snatchers shelling out Pulitzer-winning words on your first attempt, then you can stop reading now. For the rest of us, here’s a guide to help you refine your work to the luster intended upon inception.

Planning

Not every writer fancies making a skeleton outline or road map before they start slinging ink. For some, they work better in the spontaneity of making it up as they go. However, I find it extremely helpful, especially when encountering writer’s block. Taking the time to write a paragraph summarizing the chapter gives you the power of organization. It acts as a bookmark for writing. With the busyness of everyday life, if I don’t schedule time to sit down and write it will never happen. To make sure I don’t sit staring at a blank screen for two hours, I look at my outline, and it tells me what I should be working on. If I don’t feel the inspiration for a certain chapter, I have a whole list of unwritten segments to choose from. Never underestimate the power of Copy and Paste.

First Draft

A lot of writers still prefer the old fashioned way: by hand, with pen and paper. I am not one of these people. I like my word processor very much, finding it more economical in the way of time. Regardless of your method, the goal in this stage of the game remains the same. Your focus should be getting as much as you can on the page. Don’t stop to fret over the perfect word or phrasing; when you come back to edit and revise, you can use a thesaurus to make sure you’re saying exactly what you mean. Getting the story out of your head and onto the page/screen is half the battle. You’ll have plenty of time to smooth rough edges when it comes time to edit.

Take a Break

When you finish your first draft, do yourself a favor, and set it aside. There’s no cut and dry amount of time, and if you’re working on a deadline this might not be possible. Though in most cases, you can afford to take a rest. Why? I’m glad you asked. Your brain gets into a groove, and your story and words start to consume your thoughts. When you edit immediately, you’re likely to skip over errors like missing words because you know what you mean, and your brain fills in the rest. My tradition, upon finishing a first draft of a novel, is to pick up a book or two in the same genre with rave reviews. Take the time to appreciate the work of your contemporaries, and take note of the things you liked or enjoyed. Personally, I take 30 days to keep my work out-of-sight and out-of-mind so it feels fresh when I read it again.

Proofread, and Read it Aloud

Don’t groan—and stop making that face. I’m serious! You’ll hear a lot of people tell you it’s not necessary, but trust me when I say this is one of the most important parts of the editing process. Here’s why it’s so important. It’s easy for your brain to organize your own thoughts, but you won’t know what it’s going to look/sound like to your readers until you read it out loud. If something sounds wordy or gets you tongue-tied, rest assured it will do the same to your audience. I won’t go into exhaustive detail here, but I have a helpful article entitled How to Improve Your Manuscript outlining four pitfalls writers oftentimes fall into. It’ll get you started on the road to editing. If spelling and grammar isn’t your forte, don’t be afraid to hire a professional editor. Investing a couple hundred dollars for your future is worth it to produce quality work. Don’t forget: your name is attached when it’s published, and they won’t blame the editor for mistakes.

Seek Help

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to connect with other writers. Give your work to someone whose skill and opinion you trust. I belong to a local writer’s group called SpriFiWri stationed in Springfield, Illinois. We meet twice a month to share our work and offer criticism and feedback. Using red pens, we ferociously attack the work, and call it ‘making it bleed.’ Seeing lots of red is not a bad thing; it’s a great thing. If you’re serious about writing, nothing is more valuable than criticism. Lose the sensitivity, let go of the sentimentality, and grow some thick skin. If they read something you wrote and they hate it, you say, “Thank you for taking the time to read it. I appreciate your feedback. What can I do to make it better?” Then, listen to what they say, and take it to heart. Remember, you’re far more interested in what they didn’t like than what they did.

Tip: Print your entire manuscript when you give it to someone to review. It guarantees your file doesn’t go places it’s not supposed to, and it’s harder to overlook. Ever been sent a file and left it forgotten in your email inbox or saved in your Downloads folder? I have. They might do the same. But a printed, physical copy serves as a better reminder. Double-space so there’s room for them to take a red pen to it.

Read It Again

After you’ve made the changes you want, you might want to take another short rest from working on it. No need to wait 30 days this time; a week should suffice. Get your manuscript in the format you like to read best (e-book, printed, on-screen) and read your ‘finished’ product. You’re almost certain to find things you’ll want to change. At this point, you’re looking less for grammar and spelling, and more for whether the chapters flow together well. Are they in the right place? Do certain points in the story drag? You might want to shorten these segments. If there are bothersome things, however minute, bothering you, they’ll bother your readers too.

Try not to write the parts that people skip.

—Elmore Leonard

Conclusion

Writing is about what works. Following this guide to the letter might not be the best thing for you. Take what’s helpful to you, and apply it. Modify the rest, or throw it out completely. If you take anything away from this article, let it be the Golden Rule of Writing: re-writing is always better writing. A painter starts with a blank canvas and fills it with something that wasn’t there before. A sculptor starts with a block of stone and slowly chisels away until his or her creation takes form. Both principles apply to writing. Once you hash out what you want to say, take the time to smooth and polish until it says exactly what you want it to say—no more and no less.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Feel free to leave questions or comments below. Thanks for reading!

An Alternate Route to Publishing

An Alternate Route to Publishing

How It Used to Be

Twenty-five years ago, when a writer wanted to get published and get paid, first they sought out a literary agent to represent them. Upon finding one, this agent queried publishers hoping to find one looking for the kind of work the author produced. The author, if he or she took the initiative, also queried publishers accepting manuscripts from writers without a literary agent (while few and far between, some still do). This slow process typically results in a pile of rejection letters, and has driven many a writer to give up on his or her dreams of ever finding a traditional publishing contract.

Seeing a marketing opportunity, a vast number of vanity presses popped up in the late nineties and turn of the millennium. These dime-a-dozen companies offered joint-venture contracts to writers, saying they would publish the manuscript, but at the author’s expense. This method rarely resulting in success and notoriety, many writers fell victim to what most consider a scam. The author pays the publisher a fee under the impression they’ll turn their book into a hit, only to find out they paid for overpriced printing. When I was a naïve nineteen year-old with a story and a dream, I suffered this devastating indignity.

How It Is Now

Fast forward to the twenty-first century where e-books and self-publishing is as easy as uploading a file and clicking a ‘Submit’ button. With visual media available with no more than the touch of a button, fewer and fewer readers emerge from each generation. Those who do, typically read from a tablet or smartphone, and no longer bother with printed books. Now, you’ll still find those old-fashioned folks like me who maintain the opinion that the feel of turning a printed page cannot compare with virtual simulation, but we are a dying breed.

The dream come true for writers is still a traditional publishing contract from a large firm able to throw money into marketing a book and building an audience. It still happens, but it’s like catching lightning in a bottle—or winning the Powerball. Anyone with a few thousand dollars to invest can hire a vanity press to turn their story into a printed book, but are left to do marketing and promotion themselves. Not every writer is a salesman or marketing guru, and books published this way usually sell less than 100 copies, and do not offer a lucrative return on investment.

Get Inspired

The publishing game has always been a competitive market, more so now than ever. With expert-level difficulty awaiting anyone attempting the audacious endeavor of using words to generate income, fewer people bother trying. But adversity is no reason to give up on a dream. You can’t lose if you don’t quit, and there is no shame in reaching for some low-hanging fruit. This dilemma has inspired some writers to dedicate their life’s work to helping other writers keep trying and not give up on their dream. Jeff Goins is one such writer. His book You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) addresses the modern writer’s frustrations and gives practical, easy-to-apply advice to help overcome some of these aforementioned obstacles.

An Alternate Route

Self-publishing is not the easy way out; it’s hard work, but it CAN yield results. Instead of waiting around for someone to pick you, why not pick yourself? There’s a few things you’ll have to do yourself that will be out of your comfort zone, but isn’t learning something new worth it to make your dream come true? The answer is yes, of course. We’ll start with the easy ones.

An Author Website

You need one. Don’t let someone tell you otherwise. If you’re not a web designer, don’t worry. There’s easy-to-use products out there to help you make a website in just a few hours. Squarespace offers professional, streamline templates with a user-friendly platform, hundreds of how-to tutorials, and knowledgeable customer service reps to help you along the way. I used them, and had my author website up and running in two days. I’m thrilled with the results and my only regret is I didn’t use them sooner. Check them out, and use the coupon code NERDIST to save a little money on your purchase. It’s not an investment you will regret.

Social Media

This is how the world connects and is the fastest way to spread the word. It’s free and easy to set up an author page on Facebook as well as to invite your friends to like it. You have to market yourself as well as your work. To do that, you have to get your name out there. Don’t stop at Facebook. Get Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr, and LinkedIn too. If you use a business card, have an email subscriber list, a blog, or anything you send out to your readers, welcome them to follow/subscribe to your pages. Check them frequently and take the time to update them.

Word of Mouth

This is the most powerful tool at your disposal. Change your way of thinking when you meet new people. The question most-often asked by new people is, “What do you do [for a living].” If you’re like me, you have a nine-to-five day job to pay the bills, and writing is something you do on the side. Our first inclination is to say, “I work at such-a-such a place doing this-that-and-the-other.” Stop. Don’t do that. Your new response, from now on, should be, “I’m a writer.” Tell them about your writing, where to find it, about your website, and your social media outlets. Live your dream by simply being what you are at heart: a writer.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Let me start by saying this: it’s free. That’s right. When your manuscript is ready (story, table of contents, copyright, and cover art) you create an account, upload it for free, and when people buy it you get paid. Instead of the months-long wait a publisher will force you to endure, your book is available between 24 and 48 hours. Wow! This changes the game. No more literary agents, no more query letters, and no more waiting months—years, potentially—to find someone to publish you. Amazon/Kindle has effectively transformed publishing into something DIY, by making it free and easy.

Conclusion

Make no mistake; self-publishing is still a long, uphill climb. It will force you to work harder and learn things you never knew. But it’s not without reward. You don’t have to wait on someone’s approval. When people start reading your stuff, leaving reviews, and the buzz leads to more sales and you get that royalties check in the mail, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you earned every cent. This method is not for everyone, but it is for anyone. Self-publishing is no small topic, and I intend to expand on many of its components in the future. I hope this article helped you. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for reading.