Self-Promotion (Repost)

(My laptop is nearly fried; my internet connectivity is limited and I have to resort to the touchpad because I can't plug in my mouse. Consequently, working at the computer is less fun than normal. Plus I understand there's some kind of holiday going on.

All of that meant to say: (1) I'm reposting, here are my excuses, and (2) I'm getting a new computer soon (yay!)).

Reposted from November, 2008 (though probably new to you).

I hate the idea of self-promotion. Who doesn't? Who wants to be that kid who says, "Hey, everybody! Look at me!!" Okay, fine, well I never wanted to be that kid. Now I find myself on the outskirts of an industry that requires it.

So I've been researching self-promotion a little. One thing I've discovered is that I've already been doing it. I mean, the missionary "industry" revolves around self-promotion just as much as the publishing one does. Perhaps more so.

How you promote yourself depends, apparently, on how much money, time, and morals you have. If you have a lot of money, hire a publicist. If you have a lot of time, build a website, make profiles on social networking sites, and spend time on other people's blogs, the social net, forums, etc. - all the while linking back to your website. If you're low on morals, this time can also be spent comment spamming and writing fake reviews.

It's like this. Let's measure the amount of time and money invested in self-promotion with what we'll call your Publicity Quotient. The more you invest in self-promotion, the higher your PQ (low morals increase your PQ slightly, with an increased risk of drastically lowering it when you're found out; high morals, sadly, do nothing). With that in mind, take a look at this completely unscientific, made-up chart:

Not terribly mathematical, I know. But beyond the general guideline that the more you put in, the more you'll get out, publicity is largely luck and magic - becoming a breakout bestseller even more so.

Also, anyone who tells you how to promote yourself, without mentioning in the same breath that you need a product worth promoting, is taking you in. If your book sucks, you can sell copies with publicity but it won't do you much good in the long run (see low morals).

That's my take on the whole thing, anyway. I plan on doing self-promotion the same way I've been doing it. I'll provide places for people to get hooked in, I'll get the word out with a non-spamming announcement, and most importantly I'll try to be genuine. That means leaving comments because I have something to say, not because I have something to link to. It means making profiles on social networks that I'm actually a part of (sorry, MySpace, guess that means you're out).

And it means trusting others to do the reviewing and word-of-mouth advertising for me. If it doesn't happen, it just means I need to write a better book next time.

And when that doesn't work, I'll upgrade my spambot.

On Spoilers

When is it okay to mention spoilers without having to provide a spoiler warning? I have finally solved this age-old (i.e. as old as the internet) problem. Put simply, it is a function of how unbelievable the spoiler is and the age of the work in question. Like so:

If the Spoiler Quotient is greater than or equal to 1, then a spoiler warning is required. The OMG Factor is a rating of how unbelievable a given piece of information is, numbered from 0 to 5.

So "Darth Vader is Luke's father" (OMG Factor: 5, Years since release: 29) has a spoiler quotient of 0.17 and is totally fair game. While "the Axiom's autopilot has secretly been ordered to keep humans in space forever" (OMG Factor: 3, Years since release: 1.5) has a spoiler quotient of 2... which means I should've warned you.

Hm. Maybe this thing needs some more work.

On Priorities

(Fair warning: Posts may be short or non-existent the next couple of weeks. Just saying.)

If you think this means I won't be careful with my Thai, you should know that 6 of those 8 people are my wife and in-laws.

Also, this is not to scale (unless you're a prospective agent/publisher, in which case this is totally to scale).

That Thing Where I Draw: Tee and Heart

I took a break this week (not entirely intentionally), so here's an older drawing from my sketchbook. I couldn't find any dates, but near as I can figure this sketch is from about 4.5 years ago. I drew this during naptime at an orphanage called Im Jai House. That's Tee on the left and Heart on the right.

Cindy and I started working with Im Jai House almost immediately after we moved here. At first we just went in the evenings, but soon we were there all day (minus time we left for language school). It was actually really hard for me. I mean, I loved the kids, but I never felt like an authority or role model. I didn't really know how I fit in their lives.

I don't know what impact I had on them, but they impacted me a lot. Not only did we learn Thai at an insane speed, but I realized that I wanted to have a place in their lives -- not just as the volunteer who sometimes plays/sometimes disciplines. I wanted to be the dad.

Tee, in particular, really got to me. We were there the day he first arrived at Im Jai. He was 6, with no friends, and scared. He hung around me a lot. I don't know why since I could hardly talk to him.

I remember one day I was playing soccer with him. Some older kids joined and soon after -- mostly because I was tired -- I left them to their game. Tee came to me in tears. I tried, in my broken Thai, to ask him what was wrong. Between heaving sobs I understood the words, "I wanted... to play... with you."

It was the first meaningful conversation I remember having in this language, with Tee or anyone.

Later, Cindy and I realized that we couldn't do what we wanted to do at an orphanage with over 50 kids. We gradually lessened our commitments until we had foster kids of our own to take care of, and we left Im Jai House. Tee is 10 now, and living with a family who does what we do just down the road. I see him sometimes, though I don't think he remembers that scene like I do. I doubt he even thinks of me at all other than "that farang I used to play with at Im Jai," but I'll never forget him.

Dang. And here I thought I was just going to say, "These are a couple of kids at an orphanage we used to work at." Well there you go. Merry Christmas.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Someone asked me this the other day. I didn't have a good answer then; I kinda shrugged and said, "Everywhere." I didn't know what to say, or even what he wanted me to say. I mean, where do people think writers get our ideas from? Dreams? God? "Inspiration"?

I think my answer was right though -- we do get ideas from everywhere, but not because there's something special about us. It's just how we choose to look at the world.

Like the other day, Natalie posted on Twitter that she had a freckle on the inside of her left eye. Then her and Jodi spent the next half hour discussing what sort of superpowers the freckle would give her, and how she might obtain access to them.*

I joined in and said my first thought was not superpowers but "alien egg." I expected them to be grossed out, especially Natalie as it was her eye, but she said, "Actually, I was thinking it might be an interesting story."

All those stories -- the various superpowers and the alien -- came from the same thing: a freckle. There was nothing special about the freckle that made it story-worthy. The story came from the way the three of us looked at it. It's because our brains were constantly asking, "How can I make a story out of that?"

I think all creative people look at the world this way, to some extent. Journalists look for news stories. Photographers look for pictures. Comedians look for jokes. Pastors look for object lessons. Bloggers look for posts. And genre writers look for magic and aliens.

So when I'm dry for story ideas, it's not because the ideas aren't there, it's because I haven't been looking for them. Ideas happen around me all the time, but if I've been converting them into blog posts or devotions for the kids, I won't see them.

I keep trying to come up with a good ending for this post, but all I can think of is that alien egg. How does the alien eat after it hatches? How does it reproduce? Maybe if I spend an hour on Wikipedia, something will come to me...

Meanwhile, where's the weirdest place you've gotten a story idea from?

* It sounds like I was eavesdropping, which I guess I was, technically. Then again Twitter let me. Nothing's private on the nets, right?

Reasons to Read

There's lots of reasons to give books as gifts. They're cheap, light, small, pretty; the publishing industry needs help; Americans or [insert your people group] don't read enough, etc, etc.

Here's the thing: Books are awesome. Folks who know that want them for Christmas (etc). Folks who don't just haven't found the right book yet, and how are they going to find it unless you give it to them?

So, along with like every publishing industry blogger, I give you my favorite books of (the books that I read in) 2009. (Note: My content ratings are based on what I noticed/remember and are very subjective. Take them as you will.)

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Genre: Urban Fantasy
First published: 1996
Content: PG

Richard Mayhew struggles just to exist in his mundane London life. But when he tries to help a bleeding girl that everyone seems to ignore, he finds that he has ceased to exist entirely. He journeys to London Below, a near-magical place populated with people who have fallen through the cracks of society. Despite his strong lack of qualifications, he seems to be the only person willing to help this strange girl named Door.

This is the book that made me fall in love with Neil Gaiman. It's urban fantasy with Gaiman's flair for turning even the most mundane aspects of our world into something out of a fairy tale. As soon as I run out of new books to read, I'm going to read it again.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Genre: Science Fiction
First published: 1997
Content: R

In 2019, while the UN debates first contact with the newly-found inhabitants of Rakhat, Jesuits send an 8-person expedition to learn about them. Forty years later, Father Emilio Sandoz returns and tries to explain why he's the only survivor, and why he's lost faith in everything that once made him human.

This is not a light book, if you can't tell. But Oh. My. Gosh. Is it good. Super well-written, it deals with the big question: if God exists, why do terrible things happen? More over, can we still trust him? It's not an overtly Christian book either, by any means. If you let that turn you off, you'll be missing out.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Genre: Mystery
First published: 1929
Content: PG

A beautiful redhead walks into Sam Spade's office, but what starts as a simple private investigation turns into double-murder, a frame job, and conspiracy. Sam is caught between the police and the villains, none of whom he can trust, and everybody's after this mysterious Maltese falcon. But where is it?

I'm not normally into detective stories, or classics for that matter, but this was a great book. I love the character of Sam. You never know if he's really the good guy or just saving his own butt. I admit the descriptions were sometimes a bit over-detailed for me, but I figure that's okay in a book where every clue might count.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Humor
First published: 1990
Content: PG-13

When the demon Crowley is told it's time to deliver the Antichrist, he's not as enthused as he should be. He's grown kind of attached to his lifestyle on Earth, and he's not looking forward to a war that, by all accounts, he's bound to lose anyway. Even so, it's not his fault the Antichrist got placed with the wrong family, or that nobody noticed until a few days before The End.

Gaiman and Pratchett are two of my favorite fantasy authors, and while their collaboration is not quite as funny as Pratchett alone, or quite as magical as Gaiman alone, it is something unique. Something still very funny and very good.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
Genre: Thriller
First published: 2003
Content: PG-13

Odd Thomas is a young, fry cook content with everything in his life, with the possible exception of his strange gift: he sees the dead. It's not all bad -- Elvis in particular is fun to talk to -- and Odd does what he can to help them set things right before they move on. But sometimes... See, he also sees these things called bodachs that feed on pain and terror. When Odd's small town is suddenly filled with them, he knows something terrible is about to happen. He just hopes he can figure out what before it's too late.

Like detective stories, commercial fiction isn't usually my thing. But I've discovered Dean Koontz is a really, really good writer, and this one has enough fantasy to make my favorites list. The premise is a little Sixth Sense (okay, a lot), but Odd's character is so very likable that I never really noticed.

All right, your turn. What are your favorite books you read this year?

That Thing Where I Draw: In Shadow

I almost didn't have anything for this week. First, I couldn't think of anything. Then my scanner stopped working. Fortunately I got past all that, because I like a lot about this one.

I was going for a kind of story/fantasy vibe. I've been thinking about BCS covers (I can't imagine why) and the guilin mountains. This is my amateur tribute to them.

That's supposed to be a village there in the shadow.

Also if you missed my big announcement yesterday (and my more subtle link to it just now), here it is again.

Query Letter Upgrade

Querying agents is hard. It's even harder for those of us whose credential paragraphs don't actually have any credentials. Like this:

Azrael's Curse is an 86,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. Thank you for your time.

Now, I know agents pick up complete unknowns all the time. It's all about the story, right? Even so, I'll feel better changing that paragraph to read something like this:

Azrael's Curse is an 86,000-word science fantasy novel, available on request. My short story, "Pawn's Gambit," is due to be published in a future issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Thank you for your time.

Wait, what?

My short story, "Pawn's Gambit" -- set in the same world as Azrael's Curse even -- is due to be published in Beneath freaking Ceaseless Skies!

I'm not normally an excitable person but... Holy crap, this is cool!


Beneath Ceaseless Skies is an online, pro-rate (i.e. 5+ cents/word) magazine dedicated to publishing "the best in literary adventure fantasy." Also, their cover art is AMAZING.

False Starts

I started writing The Cunning for real on Monday (so my WIP sidebar will get updated more often for a while, FYI). These are the first new words I've written in months. Yet for all my planning, I didn't plan enough.

I'm constantly trying to find ways to write faster. Things like making comments where I can research later (instead of stopping to research now) or forcing myself to just write even though I hate what's coming out (because you can fix bad writing, but you can't fix what's not there). But it's so hard when I've just come off polishing Air Pirates to a shiny, cast-iron sheen. Especially the beginning.

See, the beginning is the most important part. It's the first thing everybody sees, and it's how they determine whether they can trust you as a writer. So at the end of a novel, you go over it again and again until it's perfect. It's easier at the end because you know who the characters are and you know everything that happens. You can drop hints and make your voice come shining through.

When you start a new novel, you also have to start at the beginning.* But now, even if you planned everything, you don't really know what will happen. You don't really know the characters, and you're probably not even sure of your voice.

Here's the paradox. You go from working on one beginning to the other. The first beginning is as perfect as you know how to make it. The second beginning is terrible; you know it, you don't know why, and you can't shake the feeling that this beginning should be as good as the one you just finished working on.

That's where I was on Monday, telling myself everything I'd learned in the last couple of years. "Just write it." "I can't fix it until something's there." "I hate it, but I don't know why so there's no reason to keep staring at it." "I'll know how to fix it when I've written more of the novel." After an hour and a half of this, I'd managed to pry out 349 words.

I don't have any lesson for you in this. Maybe just to let you know that you're not alone, and this is one reason why starting a new novel is hard, even though finishing the last one was so awesome.

The worst part is, when it was over I went online to research those things I wasn't allowed to while writing. The opening scene takes place in a Karen refugee camp under attack by Burmese soldiers, and it took me all of 5 minutes to find really awesome information that unstuck all the parts of the scene that were stuck.

That kind of thing makes me rethink my commitment to do no research while writing. It's also why I will never win NaNoWriMo.

* Well maybe you don't have to, but I do.

Safe Characters

So, you're watching The Incredibles. You get to the part of the climax where the giant robot knocks Violet out and is about to crush her. Is it tense? Are you afraid Violet might die? Well, a little, but deep down you know that something will happen at the last second to save her. Why? Because she's safe. She's a major character -- and a child at that -- in a movie in which nobody has yet died on-screen.

For The Incredibles, that's no big deal. We don't need the added tension of "somebody might die." It's enough to wonder if they'll win, and how. But what if you want your reader to truly believe that anybody could die at any time, even the protagonist?

If you want the reader to believe that anything could happen, that the stakes are real, you need to build a reputation. Some authors spend multiple books building that reputation and carry it with them in every book they write, but you don't have to be a multi-published author to let the reader know that nobody is safe. All you have to do is kill safe characters in this book.

What makes a character safe? There are many contributing factors. How important are they? How likable? How innocent? The safer the reader believes them to be, the more tension is added when they die. Kill enough safe characters, and by the time the climax hits the reader will believe that nobody is safe.

A great example is Joss Whedon's Serenity (SPOILER WARNING; if you haven't seen it, skip to the last paragraph). Coming off a well-loved TV series, and with serious sequel potential, it was easy for me to believe that none of the main cast would die. Normally this would result in a final battle that -- like The Incredibles -- is totally fun but not very tense because I know everyone will be okay in the end. Then Joss goes and kills my favorite character.

When he did this -- in such a way that it was clear Wash was really, for real dead -- it made the rest of the battle more intense than any adventure film I can think of. Zoe gets slashed in the back, Kaylee gets hit by poison needles, Simon gets shot, and the whole time I really believe they could all die. And while I still think Mal is going to accomplish their goal, I'm fairly certain he's going to die in the process too. If Wash had lived, I wouldn't have felt any of that. (END SPOILER)

Today's tip, then: If you want the reader to believe the main character could die, kill a safe character or two before the climax. The safer, the better. Your reader might not like it, but it's for their own good.

That Thing Where I Draw: Arcadia/Dark Water Mash-Up

If some of you were wondering how much effort I would put into a contest winner's drawing, the answer is: a lot. Behold!

My brother is not an aspiring writer,* but we share quite a lot of the same interests. He couldn't decide between something from the Skies of Arcadia universe and that of Pirates of Dark Water, so he asked for "some kind of mix.... And maybe a monkey bird or something." Hopefully this will make up for all those years I picked on him.

A lot of reference pictures went into this (five, believe it or not), and I did very little modification of my own. So it's not exactly my own raw talent here, but man is it fun! And I put a lot more effort into this, trying things I wouldn't usually try with my own drawings. I guess pressure will do that. I may have to take requests/run contests for you guys more often. You know, for my own benefit.

* That I know of. But our interests overlap so eerily that it would not surprise me to someday find him on the same path I'm on now, just 5 years behind.

You Know That Fantasy Novel is Really the Author's D&D Game When...

  1. It starts in a tavern.
  2. There are four main characters, and it's unclear which one is the protagonist.
  3. There is one protagonist and his three friends, who are different from him in every way.
  4. The main characters are all human. Secondary characters are elves and dwarves.
  5. The only limitation on magic is that, after a certain number of spells, magic users must sleep before they can cast more.
  6. The villain is a human wizard.
  7. The villain is immensely more powerful than the main characters, but despite their obvious bent on stopping him, he doesn't face them until they are strong enough to defeat him.
  8. The main characters are referred to as a "party."
  9. The party consists of a fighter, a thief, a cleric, and a wizard (alternatively: warrior, rogue, healer, and mage; also barbarian, burglar, priest, and sorcerer).
  10. They take on a quest to either save the world or aid the village, for no other reason than that it's right.
  11. Despite the fact that there are many characters more powerful than the protagonists, no one else is willing or able to take on the quest.
  12. Anyone, anywhere, uses "adventure" as a verb.
Got more?

I Draw Like I Write 2: Pastel Edition

A while ago I realized that my drawing process and my writing process are very similar. In particular, fear plays a lot in both of them. As I've been getting better at both, and have been deep in Air Pirates' edits, I've discovered even more similarities. Particularly when working with pastels.

Step One: Loose Sketch
You'll have to click on that image if you want to actually see it. Before I put any color on, I have to make a sketch. This is like my outline. It doesn't have to be very detailed, because all the details are going to change when I do the "real" drawing anyway.

It's also totally fun. I'm free, I can make any mistakes I like because they'll all be erased or covered by the colors. It's like a puzzle, too, as I try and figure out where all the pieces need to go so the work as a whole looks right.

Step Two: First Lines and Fill
This is the first draft. It's not pretty. The shapes and skeleton are there. I hit all the easy scenes, the big parts, and I realize that this story is a lot bigger than I thought it was.

I'm tempted to just say this is good enough. The fun part's over, after all. But it's ugly. And although I have my doubts about being able to fix it, I'll never know if I don't try.

Step Three: Second Layer
The first revision/edit. This is when I fill in the empty parts from Step Two. This is really hard. The reason I skipped those parts was because I wasn't sure how to draw them, and now that I'm sitting down to do it, I still don't know. But this is what drawing (and writing) is: doing the hard parts so you can learn how to do them.

This is also the point at which I'm pretty sure I was overly ambitious when I decided what I wanted to draw this week.

Step Four: Last Fill and Shading
A second revision. Now it's starting to look like the final product. Like a real picture. Somewhere between steps three and four I had to disconnect myself from my initial sketch -- from the outline -- and take a look at the picture as a whole. To try and see what the picture really was, rather than what I thought it was going to be.

At this point, I know was too ambitious, but I also know that there isn't much work left before this picture is as good as I can make it. There's no going back now.

Step Five: Final Touches
The picture is done, or at least as done as I can make it. I'm not happy with it, necessarily, but I know that at my current skill level this is as good as I can do. I know the picture needs to be fixed, but I don't know how to do it and that's okay. The best thing for me, at this point, is to take what I've learned and move on to another picture. Eventually, I will know what to do.

Here's where the analogy breaks down, of course. With pastels, I can't erase portions and redo them. It's easier to see that moving on is my only option. But with writing (or pencil sketches, I suppose), you can always erase and redo. That's good and bad.

It's good because you can take what you've learned by the end and apply it to the beginning of the novel. It's bad because you can revise the same piece forever and never move on. Sometimes, though, moving on is really the best thing you can do for your work.

That Thing Where I Draw: Kauai

(If you missed it, the contest winner(s) were announced here).

I love Kauai. It's probably my favorite place in the world. If money and my calling were no object, that's where I'd live. This is from a picture I took once. On top of the mountains they've got all this swamp, and boardwalks all the way through it. It's beautiful as heck. I tried it with pastels.

It came out somewhat more impressionist than I intended (abstract? modern? Let it not be said that I know anything about classical art styles). There was so much detail, so many colors, that I just had no idea what to do with it all. So hooray for experimentation!

Contest Winner!

So last Friday, I gave you a task. Give me the funniest caption to this picture. You guys did great, making this quite difficult. You're all very funny, and the next time I pull something like this, I hope to give you better material to showcase your talent.

Unfortunately, there can be only one winner, and that winner is...

Cap'n Heine! E-mail me whether you want the drawing or critique, and we'll talk details.

"Now hold on," you say (while admiring my sudden use of the second person POV). "Cap'n Heine? Isn't that just a tad nepotic?"

First of all, good use of the word nepotic. That adjective doesn't get enough play. Secondly, although the good Cap'n is my brother, it's technically fair because that caption is really, very funny. Heh... Smaug at our poker nights...

Anyway, thirdly, you might be right. Or you're not, but I do want to recognize the runners-up with more than just: "Good job!" So to the authors of the following two captions, I am going to send you a short collection of (good) poetry I wrote, because I love you... or hate you, depending on how you feel about poetry. Um, anyway, runner-up captions!

"At least I'm not losing to a Hobbit." -- Sara Raasch

"Fold! Fold! This is an antique table!" -- Larissa

Sara and Larissa, you can e-mail me at adamheine [at] gmail [dot] com, and I'll send you your prize.

To the winners and all the rest of you, thanks for playing, and have a good Thanksgiving.

Points of View: Switching Around

(Note: The contest is over. Thank you, everyone who entered. I'll announce the winner in a special post tomorrow. That's right, you have to check my blog on Thanksgiving to see who won.)

Before I talk about switching viewpoint characters, here's table reviewing the advantages of the first person, third person omniscient, and third person limited points of view.

First PersonThird Person, OmniscientThird Person, Limited
Puts the reader up close and personal with the characters.X
Feels as though the action is immediate, rather than in the past.
Immersive. No barrier between the reader and the story.

Can give a lot of information in fewer words.
Feels less like fiction and more like an eyewitness account.X

Highlights the story over the writing (the narrator's voice).

Highlights the writing (the narrator's voice) over the story.XX

Got all that? Keep that in mind when you're choosing how to tell your story.

Now about switching viewpoint characters in third person limited.* You can do it, but you shouldn't do it mid-scene. You can, however, switch the viewpoint character when you change scene or chapter -- anywhere there is a visual break in the text. But there are guidelines you need to be aware of:

You should be consistent. If 90% of the novel is from one character's POV, then you switch to another character in chapter 28 of 30, it won't work.** And if you write only the first chapter from the villain's POV, that's not a POV switch, it's a prologue.

Likewise, if you decide to switch POVs at chapter breaks, don't suddenly switch mid-chapter (even at a scene break) later in the novel. The reader won't be expecting it, and they probably won't like it.

You need to clue the reader in to whose POV it is. Once the reader gets the idea that each scene (or chapter) may mean a POV shift, you need to begin each scene (or chapter) with some clue so the reader knows whose head they're in. This could be as simple as titling each chapter with the name of the POV character. Personally, I don't do this in my books because I'm fond of chapter titles. Fortunately, there are other clues you can use:
  • The name of the POV character. If it's the first name the reader encounters in a scene, or it's connected to the first internal thought presented, the reader will get the idea they're in that character's head now. "Hagai had never seen an uglier man in his life."
  • Setting details. Suppose one character has gone to war in the cold northern wastes, while his twin brother stayed at home in the castle. After a couple of scenes with these characters, the reader will know that any reference to fighting, blood-stained fields, snow, or wastelands is an immediate clue they are in the first character's head. Likewise, references to warm weather, nobles, courtiers, and torch-lit corridors will imply the second. This clue isn't always availabe, but you'd be surprised how often it works.
  • Plot details. Are the POV characters traveling with different characters? Are they carrying unique, important items? Do they have a distinctly different knowledge of events? Basically you can use any major difference that the reader is likely to remember as a clue. Just remember it should be both important and unique. Don't expect the reader to remember that one character has an eye patch on his right eye and the other on his left, for example.
  • Make your own clue. Maybe a chapter quote from the character, or a page from someone's diary that gives the appropriate hints. Use your imagination. In Air Pirates, for example, I preface every Sam chapter with the place and time the chapter starts in, while the Hagai chapters (because they tend to be more continuous in time and place) have no such demarcation and so use the other clues listed here.
POV shifts are always jarring. You want to minimize the reader's whiplash. Help them know what to expect and don't be tricky unless you have a really, really good reason (and even then...).

This is mostly based on what I've read. Does anyone have examples of unique POV shifts, even ones that break these rules? And did they work for you or not?

* While I'm sure it's possible to switch first person POV characters, or to switch between first person and third, I've never seen it done. I imagine it would be hard to pull off. Also, you can't switch POV characters with third person omniscient by definition -- unless you do something weird.

** PROBABLY won't work. Everything in writing is a guideline. But still, don't do it unless you know what you're doing.

Back to the Queries

(Have you entered the caption contest yet? You still have two days to win a drawing or a critique. Go now!)

It's been a while since I really talked about query letters. Of course, it's been a while since I've had to write them. But with Air Pirates in the gamma phase, and me ever-hopeful that I will not have to do any more major rewrites, I'm looking at my query letter again.

Queries are hard. Personally I think they're easier than synopses(eseses), but the fact remains that I have to condense four thousand score words into ten score. And for many agents, those ten score words will be the only sample of my writing they ever see.

So I do crazy things like read every single query critiqued by the Query Shark or all the successful queries posted on Guide to Literary Agents in an attempt to figure out what, exactly, agents are looking for.

Nathan Bransford says the only things to really worry about are the overall look and the description of your work. That's certainly helpful in an anxiety sense (the last query I sent him started with a rhetorical question, for example), but it doesn't help me much with actually describing the work.

There are lots of formulas (lots and lots) out there to help write a query, but in the end they're just that: helps. Just like "don't start your novel with the weather" or "don't start with the character waking up in a white room" are helps, they're suggestions for those of us who don't yet know what we're doing. But it's entirely possible to break these rules and write something great (though probably not by accident).

So query formulas help, but they don't solve the problem. Worse, if you read those successful queries I linked to above, you'll notice many don't follow any formula. So why did they work? What are agents actually looking for? Here's what I think agents want to see in a query:
  1. A story they like and can sell. Believe it or not, the query doesn't sell the work. The work sells the work -- or at least the idea does. The very best query letter in the world won't sell a bad idea. Conversely, a great idea can (sometimes) carry bad writing.
  2. The ability to write. Credentials suggest that you can write, but your query shows that you can. It's not the little mistakes that will hurt you, rather the overall appearance that you don't know the craft or don't care enough to use it in everything you write. The query letter is such a short piece, there's no excuse for slapping it together without carefully choosing each word.
  3. Voice. Writing ability is to writer's voice as a common soldier is to a samurai (or a ninja). How you say it matters just as much as what you say. Your novel probably has a voice already. It might be funny, dark, matter-of-fact, dry, silly... whatever it is, it should come out in the query, not just the sample pages.
  4. A sane person they might like to work with. You need to come across as professional, intelligent, and not a jerk. Professional means no crazy fonts or cute gimmicks. Intelligent means you've done your research and understand at least something about the industry you're trying to break in to. Not being a jerk means being humble.*
It's not a formula, but hopefully once you're done following the formulas and have a query put together, you can ask yourself if it has these things. OR you can win my caption contest, and I'll tell you!

* Not in the commonly-understood sense of spineless or self-effacing, but in the dictionary-definition sense of "a modest estimate of one's own importance."

That Thing Where I Draw: Caption Contest!

I got stressed out about what to draw this week. This happens every once in a while when I feel like I need to be perfect or impress you. I forget I'm just doing this for fun. The way I solve that is by drawing whatever the heck I want without caring so much about quality.

I've also decided to do a little contest. This sketch begs for a caption. Give it one. The funniest one will win either (A) a drawing of their choice or (B) a query/sample pages critique. Details after the sketch.

  • Entries must be posted in the comments.
  • You may make as many entries as you like.
  • Contest will close Tue, Nov 24 at 11 pm PST.
  • The drawing may be pencil, ink, colored pencil, or pastels. Your choice, or you can leave it up to me.
  • The critique may be a query letter, sample pages, or both, up to about 6 pages.

You can see samples of my drawing here. I promise I'll take extra care with the contest winner's sketch. Not like today's sketch, something more like this, this, or this. As for the critique, I'm no agent, but I'm not new to this either. I'll do a good job with that too.

Anyway, it's free and for fun. Get over it.

That last paragraph was for myself.

Points of View: Third Person Limited

If you missed them, here are my posts on first person and third person omniscient. The last one I'm going to cover is third person limited.*

Technically, third person limited is just like omniscient, but (wait for it...) limited. The story is told by a narrator outside the story, but not an all-knowing one. The narrator only has access to what one character sees, thinks, and feels.

On the surface, it seems like this would have all the disadvantages of first person (happens in the past) and of omniscient (putting a barrier between the reader and the story). But as it turns out, the opposite is true. Third person limited has the feel of present action like omniscient does, and because there's no obvious narrator, there is even less of barrier than in first person. It also carries first person's advantage of getting the reader up close and personal with the characters, like the reader is in their world.

With third person limited, the story rather than the narrator shines. There's still a voice -- there is always a voice -- but it's more subtle than in first person or third omniscient.

One important note though: don't ever switch your viewpoint character mid-scene. That's what third person omniscient does. If you switch from one character's thoughts to another, it will be jarring if the reader thought they were in one person's head, and inconsistent if you only do it occasionally.

So how do you switch viewpoint characters then? I'll talk about that next time when I wrap things up.

* There's also second person, which I've never used nor read past 100 words, so I'm not going to touch it.

Agent or Nay?

When I first started querying (1.5 years ago... geez, that's it?), I didn't know if I should query agents or editors. I was only vaguely aware of what agents did. Based on my experience with real estate agents, I knew they handled the legal stuff and took a cut, that was about it.

I wanted help with the legal stuff, and preferred an agent to a lawyer. I figured I'd get one eventually, but I wasn't very adamant about it back then. Two things tipped me over the edge.

The first (though I don't remember where I read it) was this: say you submit to all the hundreds of agents and they reject your work. You can still submit to the editors.*

But, if you submit to all those editors who accept unagented queries and they reject you, any agent you get afterward will be quite disappointed to find half their prospective editors already said no.

* Though if all the agents are rejecting you, I don't know why you'd expect different from the editors.

The second was Tobias Buckell's author advance survey. I love statistics, and Tobias got some good ones from a decent sampling of authors. If you're at all interested in what authors make, I suggest you read it. But basically: the median advance for first-time authors with an agent was $6,000; the median advance to the unagented was $3,500.

Some quick math: the agent's cut is 15%. For the agented authors, then, the net gain was $5,100. Still significantly more than that of the unagented.

As far as I know, that 15% is the only downside to having an agent. If agents are making back 3x that, while simultaneously haggling for your rights, selling those rights for more money, and generally ensuring you don't get screwed -- all while you are busy with the task of actually writing -- the choice of agent or no seems like a no-brainer.

On the other hand, it seems to me that publishers could save a lot of money by encouraging writers to submit to them unagented. (Though for a third hand, see Moonrat's list of reasons why editors would prefer to work with agents anyway).

So do you need an agent? No. Should you have one? Absolutely yes.

That Thing Where I Draw: Savage

The pirate known as Jacobin Savage is ruthless, cunning, and afraid of nothing. In over 15 years, the Imperial Navy has never captured him. Rumor suggests he had a part in the Savajinn invasion of Endowood seven years ago. Although his attacks are rarely as spectacular as those of Azrael, the Navy considers him even more dangerous. Most notably because he's still at large.

Jacobin commands some 400 pirates, three dropouts, and his karaakh (a large gunship), the Blind Savage. He was last seen in the skies above Providence on Mercy Island where, if you believe the rumors, he is looking for Azrael's Curse.

He came out younger than I intended. He's supposed to be in his fifties. I'm not sure how to fix that. Fatter? Gray hair? (And how best to do gray hair with ink? I guess... less.)

The cool thing about this drawing, though, is I did it all freehand -- no reference pictures or anything. It was really hard, especially the hundredth time I erased it because it looked stupid. That was the kind of thing that made me quit drawing multiple times before; what I drew never matched what was in my head. So it makes me feel all good inside that I didn't give up.

For me, that's what drawing one thing every week is really about: overcoming my fear of failure. I'm not sure if it makes it easier in a general sense (like for writing or talking with people, etc.), but the fact that I can overcome it once a week, every week, is a pretty cool thing on its own.

Points of View: Third Person Omniscient

There are three major POVs used in fiction. Last time, I talked about first person. Today it's third person omniscient.

Whereas a first person story is narrated by one of the characters, third person omniscient is narrated by someone outside the story -- specifically someone who knows what everyone is doing or thinking at any given time.

The most obvious benefit of this is tremendous freedom. You can present anything that anyone's thinking in any place. This allows you to tell a tale with fewer words and to reveal information however you see fit. And for some reason, third person feels more immediate, like it's happening right now (yes, even though it's written in the past tense).

But like first person, these advantages are omniscient's disadvantages as well. The freedom to be anywhere, in anyone's head, doesn't mean you should be. You can drain a lot of tension and do a lot of telling (as opposed to showing) if you're not careful.

The other disadvantage is that third person omniscient puts a barrier between the reader and the story: namely, the narrator. In first person, the narrator is part of the story. There's no barrier because the story is being told by it's owner. In third person omniscient, the reader is constantly -- sometimes annoyingly -- aware that they are being told the story by someone who wasn't there.

This can be a good thing. Mark Twain's voice was eminently obvious in his novels, but we liked it (well I did). His commentary on 19th-century southern America could not have been made in first person. With third person omniscient, Twain got to tell us what he thought about (for example) the schoolmaster's pomp and what Tom thought, not to mention what the schoolmaster thought when his "prize student" Tom couldn't recite a single verse.*

So, some tips:
  • Find the narrator's voice. This is usually your voice, but not necessarily.
  • Don't hide things from the reader just to be tricky. This really goes for any POV, but it's easier to hide information with omniscient so it needs to be said.
  • Know why you're using third person omniscient. Again, this goes for any POV, but I think it's easiest to slip into omniscient without realizing it. Use omniscient for its advantages above, not because you don't know what else to do.
If you're not sure about the voice, or you're not sure why you want to use an omniscient narrator anyway, you might consider third person limited. I'll talk about that one next week.

* Don't worry if you don't know/remember what I'm talking about. I wouldn't either if I hadn't just gone through Tom Sawyer with my niece.

An Interesting Editing Discovery

I'm almost halfway through the 3rd Edit of Air Pirates (as you can see on the sidebar, or you could if you also knew that there are 28 chapters). I always notice interesting things when I edit. For one thing, there are always more typos. I mean, what's up with that?

For another, I've discovered that there are certain words -- words I think are cool, or that make me love the story or the world -- that I use way more often than necessary. Pirates, airships, monks, names of ships, etc. I use them over and over again when, after the initial introduction, I could just say "men" or "ships" or "they." I think I just find the words so cool that I want to use them over and over again, not realizing of course that their coolness gets diluted with use.

Does anyone else do this?

That Thing Where I Draw: Panchiwa

My latest experiment with pastels. This is our foster daughter, Pan,* though she's a lot more beautiful in person (one more thing I wish I could take credit for).

Mostly I wanted to try out realistic, non-cartoon colors and shading. Skintone, in particular, is really hard, but like every other pastel I've done, I had a lot of fun with this, and really that's the point.

Though there was a moment -- after I'd finished the pencil sketch but before I put down any color -- when I considered just detailing it in pencil. Maybe my creative mind is saying it's time to go back to that.

* That's pronounced bpahn. For you linguists, it's an unvoiced, unaspirated p. For you Thai readers, it's ปาน.

Points of View: First Person

Points of view are tricky things. What kinds are there, and what's the difference? Why would you choose to use one over the other? Can you switch POVs mid-novel? This mini-series is intended to answer those questions. (Quick tip: the answer to the last question is yes).

Grammatically, first person just means "I" instead of he or she. But in fiction, if all you're doing is changing the he's to I's, then you're doing it wrong.

First person is a chance to get inside a character's head. Done right, the reader will identify with that character strongly, feel what they feel. The reader will get to know them more personally than with other POVs; they will see the world through their eyes.

First person also has the advantage of feeling more truthful. The narrator is involved in the story -- they were there when it happened -- so it feels less like fiction and more like an eyewitness account.

What makes first person work can also be limiting. For example, the reader only knows what the narrator knows and only sees what they see. Depending on how you want the tension presented, this can take some planning. Also, first person is inherently a flashback. This isn't so much a limitation as something to be aware of. If the main tension is that the narrator might die, well, that tension is gone every time the reader remembers that the narrator is telling the story.

Some tips on writing in first person:
  • Find the narrator's voice. The biggest thing first person has going for it is that you get to speak in the voice of a character all the time. If the narrator's voice is just a third person narrator who says "I" instead of "he," it's almost a waste of the POV.
  • Know why the narrator is telling the story. Are they trying to vindicate themselves? Keep others from making the same mistake? Tell their side of what happened? It doesn't have to be a unique reason, nor does the narrator ever need to say it explicitly, but as the writer you should know what it is.
  • Know who the narrator's audience is. Like above, it doesn't have to be stated explicitly, but you should know who the narrator is telling the story to.
  • Don't slip into other character's heads. WRONG: "I watched Nora from across the room. She was upset -- worried about the upcoming deal." BETTER: "I watched Nora from across the room. She looked upset -- probably worried about the upcoming deal."
  • Don't show what the narrator is doing without ever getting into their heads about why. This is just as bad as not giving the narrator a voice.
  • The narrator should be present at all major events. Otherwise the narrator might only hear about the climax from a friend, which is lame. A corollary to this is that the narrator should be active at the major events, not just a bystander.
One last thing: the unreliable narrator. Like the name says, this is a narrator that cannot be trusted. They might be insane, have a strong bias, or might simply be trying to deceive the reader. Done well, this is a powerful device that can make for some crazy twist endings. But like most powerful devices, it's hard to do well, and done poorly, it's just annoying.

DONE WELL: Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk.
ARGUABLE: Beach Road, James Patterson (I liked it, but others who saw the twist coming, or who just got mad, didn't).
DONE POORLY: "The Stillborn Dead", a short story by me, which you will never read (failed because the narrator's secret was lame and/or didn't make sense).

Because the World Needs Another NaNoWriMo Post

I must not have been very connected to the writer's blogging world last year, because I can't ever remember hearing so much about NaNoWriMo all at once. Why am I writing about it too? Because I'm aware that not all of my readers are writers, and may not even know what NaNo is. Friends, this one's for you.

NaNoWriMo is short(ish) for National Novel Writing Month. Each year in the month of November, thousands of writers and wannabe writers disappear as they attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. The idea is primarily twofold: (1) to prove to yourself and others that you actually can write a novel -- time is not lacking, only motivation -- and (2) to give yourself said motivation with deadlines and accountability (i.e. all the other writers who are doing the same thing).

The contest is free. The rules are loose. There is no prize.* It's just fun. As someone who once wrote a novel just to prove to myself that I could do it, I can fully appreciate the heart behind NaNo. I've always wanted to do it, but I don't think Cindy would understand why I had to disappear for 2-5 hours every day until I wrote 1,667 words (really 2,000, because I would need days off). Or rather, she might understand, but she wouldn't put up with it.

Also I'm not sure I need it. Not like I'm some crazy-fast writer or anything (I'm really, really not), but I know I can finish, and I figure I'll get faster with time. Plus this way, I don't have to abandon my wife and children any more than I do already.

If you want to know more, the NaNoWriMo website has all the information you could ever want and more. So what about you? Are you doing NaNo? Why or why not?

Also, because I wasted about a half hour on MST3K clips today, I found one to share with you.

* Other than the use of an image on your website and self-confidence... Come to think of it, that's a pretty good prize. I could use some more images.

That Thing Where I Draw: Azrael

This sketch is for Natalie's Halloween Party/Contest. The contest closes tonight at 7 pm (MST), so you can still enter if you've got something that fits the fairly broad criteria:
I want to know what your characters (and/or you) are going as for Halloween—and you gotta be creative about it. Write me flash fiction (1k words max) about them at my awesome virtual Halloween Party. Or take a picture of you in your costume. Or draw your characters all dressed up and ready to groove. Whatever, just have fun with it.
Top two winners get to commission a drawing from Natalie. I've already won one such prize, so I kinda hope somebody else wins. At the same time I couldn't resist entering. Aside from the fact that I needed something to draw this week, I've got an air pirate who's very essence is Halloween...

Legends surround the dread pirate Azrael like a cloak. They say he can disable a ship's cannons with a look, that he can fly or freeze a man with his breath. They call him the angel of death and say he feeds on the souls of men.

Others say he's just a man in a cloak and painted face, but their voices are none too loud when they say it.

Azrael's career was brief but legendary. In the two and a half years he terrorized the skies, no one was safe. With his crew of heartless Savajes,* Azrael hit merchant convoys, luxury fareways, and even big Imperial warships. His bounty climbed as high as eighteen million, in the year before he disappeared.

The story goes that one of Azrael's treasures -- a stone that tells the future -- came with a curse, and it destroyed him. Many claim to have seen him since, perhaps searching for his lost bauble, but most dismiss these as ghost stories. Whether he lives or not, the Imperial bounty stands to this day, and will until the Navy finds proof of Azrael's death.

* Not "savages" -- these are folk from the islands of Savajinn.

In Search of the Perfect Utensil

For some, the perfect eating utensil is the most elegant, the most practical, or simply whatever they're used to. But me? I want a utensil that allows me to eat the most amount of food with the least amount of trouble. Let's begin.

(Also, this has absolutely nothing to do with writing. Don't worry. There's an Air Pirates sketch coming on Friday).

Like most Westerners, I grew up with the knife and fork. It's the perfect combination for a culture that eats primarily meat (although I'll never understand the common manners that dictate you switch hands for slicing and eating). Ideally suited for steak, the fork/knife can handle a wide variety of other foods. So it's good, but not the best. Let's look at some other options.

The chopsticks are the choice of the East. They are an elegant utensil, and you're super-cool if you can use them (in the West anyway). But cool as they are, they just don't make any sense for countries whose primary dish is rice. I mean, seriously guys, how am I supposed to eat this?

Next up is the spork. The scooping action makes it an ideal choice for rice and small pastas, and the tongs give it the versatility to spear larger chunks of food. The spork is almost perfect, but used alone, it is difficult to shove reluctant peas onto the shovel or to slice foods too big for one bite.

Enter Thailand. In Thailand, chopsticks are only used for noodle dishes (sometimes not even then). The preferred combination is a fork and spoon, but you'll have to throw out your Western mindset, and put the fork in your left hand. The spoon is your primary utensil.

The spoon allows you to carry much more food. The fork, meanwhile, provides the means to fill the spoon to overflowing with a minimum of effort. You can also use the fork and spoon in conjunction to cut almost anything except a tough steak. But then why are you eating tough steak anyway?

The fork-and-spoon is the best combination I've found yet, to the point where I often ask for a spoon when I visit the States. But there is one eating utensil that tops even these.

The tortilla! The tortilla is amazing in that it doubles as a plate, but you can eat it! Pile it with food, roll it up, and shove as much into your mouth as you can handle. The best part is, when you're done, there's nothing left to wash but your hands.

Geez, I could go for some Mexican food right now.

How about you? What do you like to eat with?

In Memoriam, Murdered Darlings

I'm more than halfway done with the 2nd Edit, and most of the major rewrites are finished. So now I'm mostly skimming through the remainder and changing references to things that no longer exist.

In doing so, I've had to delete bits I really liked. I'm putting some of them here in memoriam. I don't know how they'll come across out of context like this, but at least I'll know they're here, living forever in the internet.

This is from the first chapter, where Hagai goes to town to pick up the post for Aunt Booker. The village never figured very much in the novel, but I really liked the name.
Hagai hiked down the road to where the village stopped and the shady jungle began. It wasn't far. The village consisted of a dozen buildings on either side of the road. It didn't even have a real name. People called it Ontheway, because it was quicker than saying "those hovels you pass on the way to the Monastery." Hagai only had to walk past Moi's coffee shop, the restaurant that served Anican food, and Teresa's House of Virtue before he was in the relative cool of the jungle.

Originally, Hagai's father was not actually shown in the novel. Everything the reader learns about him, or Hagai's old life on the shipyard, came from little details like the one in this excerpt. Unfortunately, it had to go along with Aunt Booker.
"Who ever knows where they're going?" Aunt Booker turned to arrange some books. "What matters is how you get there."

"So how do I get there?" asked Hagai.

She laughed her loud, hearty laugh. "I ain't an augur, honey. Some things you just gotta figure out by yourself."

"Is that why my father sent me here?"

"Ha!" She whirled to face him. "Your father sent you here cuz you're a lazy, good-for-nothing lump who forgets to even eat 'less somebody tells him to."

Hagai frowned. "Those are his words, aren't they."

"No, they're mine," she said, not unkindly. "Keifer would've said it with more color."

From Sam's first chapter, in which we see him as a little boy asking why his father hasn't come back from the war yet. This was the chapter that got deleted, but I always liked the last line of this excerpt.
"Why're they fighting then?" Sam asked.

His mother sighed. "It's hard to explain. Somebody killed Justitia's emperor, then - "


"Who knows, love? But the Imperium got into it with Salvadora after that."

"I bet it was that piking bastard, Ignacio!" Sam drew his sword and made a couple of slashing motions for emphasis.

"Samuel Thomas Draper! Where did you learn such language?" She crossed her arms. "Is that how they talk in those picture stories of yours?"

"No," Sam lied.

"We'll see," which meant she would probably flip through his Reaper stories the next chance she got. Sam would have to remember to hide issue #8.

This last scene is also from Sam's past. He's older now, almost 18 years, and living in the big city. He works in a machinist shop by day, while by night he beats up on cruel factory owners and corrupt police. He also spends time in bars looking for information about the secret mission that killed his father.
"How'd you hear about this?" Sam asked the barkeep.

"Ain't no pub rumor, s'truth. A piking Imperial Commodore came in here the other day, poured the whole thing to me."

Sam was impressed. It was the first real bit of information he'd gotten since they moved to Grenon. He handed Alton another coin for his trouble. "So why'd he tell you all this?"

"Ah, now," Alton pinched the coin between two fingers, "man's gotta have some secrets. Else who'd pay me for my stories?"

"True enough." Sam took a sip from the cup that'd been getting warm in his hand. "You ain't getting rich from this piss, s'truth."

That Thing Where I Draw: Porco Rosso

Pastels are fun. They're like crayons for adults!

This is a scene, somewhat simplified, from one of my very favorite movies. Seaplanes, air pirates, and bounty hunters. How can you go wrong?

After messing around with pastels last week, I could tell they weren't really good for detail work, not like pencil or ink. But I was curious as to how inexact they really were, so I figured I'd try a cartoon. Turns out, if you're careful, you can still do a lot.

Pastels are so different from what I normally do. I hardly know anything about colors or shapes, preferring instead lines and shading (although I hardly know anything about shading either, now that I think about it). Among other things, it's forcing me to be looser with my drawing, which is a good thing. I normally get so stressed out over getting everything exactly right that drawing ceases to be fun. But doing this one was fun from the start, even in the sketching phase.

Maybe if I'm lucky, some of that freedom will shift into my writing process. Who knows? Anyway, my favorite part is the propeller.

Trust and Grace

Gosh, that title sounds like it belongs on my other blog. Anyway...

When we read something, anything, we want to know that we can trust the author. If we trust that the author knows what they're doing, we'll give them more grace when they make "mistakes" like using unnecessary adverbs or telling when they should be showing. We trust that eventually they'll explain whatever we don't understand.

Conversely, if we don't trust the author, those mistakes will stick out like they were written in sparkly red ink. If we don't understand something right away, rather than say, "I'm sure that's there for a good reason," we say, "That's stupid. It doesn't make any sense."

But trust is hard to come by, and worse, it's subjective.

We trust authors whose work we've read and liked before. We trust authors sold at Barnes & Noble more than self-pubbed authors peddling their works online. We trust authors recommended by friends.

We trust authors that we know personally. This is why referrals work. This is why agents and editors are nicer if you've met them in person. This is also why it's so hard to get honest criticism of our work, and why agents don't care if your mom and ten of your best friends said the manuscript was "better than Dan Brown."

So if you're unknown, unpublished (or self-published), and you don't know the reader personally, how do you get the reader to trust you? All you've got left, then, is your first impression.

Your first impression is your first sentence, first paragraph, first page, and in many cases, your query letter. This is why it's so important. It's not that the agent/editor won't read on if they suck, it's that they decide -- often subconsciously -- whether you're an amateur or professional based on the first thing they read. Everything they read afterward is colored by that.

If they see amateur mistakes straight off, then the fancy prose they see later might be seen as "trying too hard" or at best "potential." On the other hand, if they decide they're in the hands of a soon-to-be professional, then occasional sloppy prose they see later might be interpreted as "mistakes I can help them fix."

So don't tell them what your mom and ten best friends thought. Don't tell them you're the next Stephanie Meyer. Don't infodump. Don't try to describe every single character and subplot in a 250-word query.

Do find a critique group. Do read Nathan Bransford's comprehensive FAQ on publishing and getting published. Do read as many of the posts you can at Query Shark, Evil Editor, Miss Snark, and any number of other agents' and editors' blogs around the web. Do whatever it takes to find out what first impression you're making.

Then make a better one.


First off, thanks to everyone who hung out here for Positive Waves Week, and a special thanks to those who spread the love on their own blogs: MattDel, Stephanie Thornton, and Renee Pinner. I had fun. Next time I feel like crap, I'll do that again.

Now, those of you who follow the Works In Progress section on my sidebar* will notice I'm at chapter 12 of my "2nd Edit" of Air Pirates. Here's context for what that means:
  1. Brainstorming/Outlining/First Draft, in which I wrote the dang thing.
  2. 1st Edit, in which I identified the parts I wasn't happy with and fixed them.
  3. Beta Phase, in which my friends told me what they didn't like about it.
  4. 2nd Edit, in which I fix major problems and rewrite whole chapters.
  5. 3rd Edit, in which I fix minor problems and read through it again to make sure I didn't break anything.
  6. Beta Phase II (or as my mom would call it, the Gamma Phase), in which folks read it again, most hopefully for the first time.
  7. 4th Edit, in which I fix it yet again.
  8. Query, in which I discover how much I've learned since the last time.
So far, I've rewritten 1 chapter and a significant percentage of 7 others. I have at least one more scene and another chapter to rewrite, after which it's mostly tweaking the document for continuity.

It's hard work, but I'm learning firsthand how malleable my story really is. Like the other day, I had to delete a chapter. This was really hard for me because every chapter was originally there for a reason. But I was staring at this chapter for 2 days, and had attempted a couple of rewrites already, when I finally realized that (1) the chapter did nothing that couldn't be done elsewhere and (2) with the exception of 2 or 3 lines, I just didn't like it.

Once I did it (i.e. pressed the Delete key), I freaked out for a minute. Had I done the right thing? Did the chapter have some purpose I forgot about? What if deleting it broke something else?**

But it was also kind of liberating. I don't have to keep anything I don't like. I've come across scenes since then and recognized the same feeling: I don't like it, or something's not working with it, or I'm trying to force it in there because I like bits of it but those bits aren't worth bringing the rest of the story down. Those scenes have been rewritten.

All that said, I hope I never have to delete a chapter again. I mean, it's nice to know I can, but it will mean I didn't plan properly. And that... well that just doesn't happen.

Shut up, it doesn't.

* Which is none of you, I know. But I bet you're scrolling down to look for it now.

** Yes, I realize that the chapter was just an Undo away -- and in older saved versions, on backup drives and e-mails, on the hard drives of all my beta readers... Whoever thinks writers are sane doesn't know any.