Query Letters and Hair Pulling by Kristin Molnar

First of all, I’d like to thank Elisabeth for having me guest blog.  This is my first guest blog appearance, so I’m feeling all professional today.  My name is Kristin Molnar and write mostly dark paranormal romance.  What’s not to love about sexy vampires?  Though I do tend to throw in a bit of murder and mayhem too.

I am in the query letter stage of trying to get published.  It feels like I spend most of my day slumped over the computer, researching agents.  No one wants the same thing.  One agent wants nothing but my query letter.  That’s easy, I can do that.  Another wants query, synopsis, sample chapter, a bio, and rights to my firstborn child (not really but sometimes it feels that way).  And yet another wants a synopsis and a bio.  I have spent countless hours making charts to keep track of who wants what and what I’ve sent who.  My charts are organized, but my head still wants to explode when I look at them.  I think I’ve sent out over fifteen query letters.  Not that many, in the scheme of things, but it feels like a lot.  I’ve received a few rejections, some of them form some of them personalized.  I’m not so much discouraged by the rejections as I am the sheer amount of information needed to keep going.

There are books, blogs, workshops, facebook pages, and twitter accounts dedicated to agents and query letters.  Not a single one of them will tell you the same thing.  I’m starting to feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with agents.  Spin the wheel, cross my fingers, and hope my query ends up on the right person’s desk while their in just the perfect mood to hear about my novel.  Agents are busy, busy people, and somehow I have to come up with one hell of a pitch in 250 words or less.  Some days it feels impossible.  Then I check my email, and I see that someone else in RWA or FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter) has gotten an offer from an agent or publisher.  I might be a little bit jealous, but mostly it reminds me that this really can be done.  By busting my hump, writing like a tempest, and doing my research, I can get there too.  

Every day I feel lucky to know what it is that I want to do with my life.  I might not be selling anything yet, but at least I know.  Some people go their entire lives and don’t even get that far.  As writer’s we are gifted and cursed.  We have to let these stories out, and then we have to work even harder to get it out there for the reader.

Kristin Molnar

Twitter: @KLMolnar

You Can Cut a Can With It, and STILL Slice a Tomato!

What was it John Lennon wrote? “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” or something? Feels especially true this week.

So I had a lot of grandiose plans, like getting caught up on my writing workshops and submitting some query letters (you know, the whole journey toward getting published?), writing about romance, and vampires, and manlove (even all three at the same time!) until my inspired little fingers cramped, and writing some articles, and doing the hokey pokey and turning myself around. Counting and organizing the many bags of marshmallows in my pantry, etc.

I got…well, almost none of it done. Which really pisses me off. Especially given my recent bouts of insomnia, wherein I am JUST awake enough not to be able to sleep, but still tired and lacking in lucidity enough that productivity is elusive. I try to work, but I wind up either just staring at the page and drooling, or…well, usually its the drooling thing. Plus I wrecked the car on Wednesday, at which point I just kind of threw up my hands and gave up on trying to do anything at all, and instead immersed myself in the latest from KA Mitchell.

In fact, I was so the opposite of productive, I wound up slicing apples with this massive Miracle Blade knife of my husband’s – the one where they cut like a piece of lead pipe on the infomercial and THEN they throw a pineapple up in the air and cut it in half with the same knife – because I was SO behind on doing dishes I didn’t even know where any of the other knives were. It was a little like trying to tweeze my eyebrows with a sledgehammer.

The Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America is currently having a “60 days to success” sprint. Kind of a light-the-fire-under-your-ass-and-get-some-stuff-accomplished-for-a-change thing. You know, you set some goals that you’d like to achieve, give ’em a deadline, yaddah, yaddah. So my big one was to get hopping on sending out query letters. I got as far as having someone critique my query letter, I made a couple of changes, then fizzled out. Bah.

Well at least I did SOMETHING, I guess. I made a plan, to have a plan. Or something.

Oh, one teeny bit of good news. I just put on a pair of jeans I haven’t worn since before I was pregnant with my oldest kid. Now, they once upon a time were my baggy jeans and they are NOT baggy now, but it’s progress! W00t!

Pardon My Language! (Writing Workshops, Part Deux)

Whew! August was a God-awful month, not only was it hotter than Hades over here in Northern VA, but I accidentally signed up for more writing workshops than I could shake my proverbial stick at, and it was a real bitch trying to keep up. Despite that, I learned a TON. So here’s the 411 (And for my previous workshop rundown, click here):

  • Social Networking for Unpublished and Published Authors with Beth Barany – Okay, Beth is awesome, Y’all. I’ve taken a handful of social networking/PR type workshops, and I thought they were all good. Some of them were a little high-level or a little jam-packed though and instead of actually doing any of the stuff suggested, I filed it away and vegged out in front of youtube instead. 😛 So Beth keeps the focus primarily on Twitter, Facebook, and Blogging (with a smattering of other stuff like LinkedIn), which of course are the biggies and thereby helps steer us all away from confusion. She helped with specific technical questions, and was infinitely patient with those of us who were all “Umm, where do I click to make that thing do the thing you said it’s supposed to do?”. The workshop had a vast array of experience levels and it seemed like everyone was able to learn something. I, for example, got over my fear of Twitter and discovered its many magical joys (like being able to follow Adam Lambert’s tweets). Ahem…Beth also does creativity coaching for writers and offers tons of services like one-on-one coaching, in-person workshops, and has tons of informative articles on her Writer’s Fun Zone blog (I love the name of her blog, btw – good medicine for those of us who get all angsty and up in our heads about writing). So Beth will probably be hearing from me again, when time and money is available, because she rocks. AND best of all? She’s generous with her time and super sweet! I recently took a workshop from a writer who I will not name, who I felt got a little…harsh with some of us in the workshop, and it made it hard for me to learn and enjoy, so I probably won’t go back to her again for help. I know some authors feel that they should help thicken us pre-pubbed writers’ skin, but I feel like I get enough of that stuff from the agents I query.
  • Public Relations with Marcia James – Apparently I had PR on the brain when I signed up for stuff last month. This was a great workshop, though I admit I was a little overwhelmed by all the material. As a pre-published author I felt like some of it was premature, talking about SWAG and book signings kind of went over my head, but I still felt that this workshop was very worthwhile. First of all, Marcia was great. Funny, nice, very responsive. She was even good enough to check out each participant’s web site and make individual suggestions. There were (I think) something like 16 lectures crammed into a 2 week period, her suggestion was to just print them all and save ’em for later, which is what I did because a few days in my head was spinning. The lectures were all by guest lecturers in the industry though, so I found that the various perspectives were helpful, and as part of the class Marcia offers a 300 page file of various PR options, everything from blogs to visit and where to get cheap business cards to where to get your book reviewed.
  • Prose And Contests: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Writing Contests But Were Afraid To Ask by Amy Atwell – If you enter writing contests or have been thinking about it, this is a REALLY great course. I entered a couple this year, and I see there being a few really big pluses: you get your work critiqued, you get potential exposure with agents and editors, and potentially something cool to put on your resume. Unfortunately, I felt totally confused so after entering two I stopped, not wanting to waste my time and money on something I was pretty sure I was doing wrong. Some chapters just don’t give much in the way of guidelines, either. Amy’s course went into great detail about contests, everything from how to format your entry to interpreting your scores and all the stuff in-between. She’s teaching the course again next month and then not again until next year (click here for her workshop schedule) so strike while the iron’s hot!
  • Nuts and Bolts of Publishing with Misa Ramirez – Misa teaches a variety of workshops, this one covers the publishing industry in a kind of broad way, but she starts off asking what specific questions the participants had about the industry so she can tailor the material and that was nice. She also covers some helpful topics like web presence, author bios, and was nice enough to critique anyone’s bio who asked.
  • Deep POV with Jill Elizabeth Nelson – Personal opinion, improving your skills with deep POV is one of the best things you can do to make your writing stronger. Jill’s workshop format was old-school to me in a good way. She’d give an example, then homework exercises, then a critique, kind of like back in grade school. A lot of people learn really well with this style and I got a great deal out of the workshop. She also does a critique of a small passage of everyone’s own work at the end. My only issue (and this was ME, not Jill) was that I felt a teensy bit uncomfortable sending samples of my work, salty verbiage and all, to a Christian writer, and I kept feeling the need to apologize for all the bad language. She was extremely gracious about it though. I also took a deep POV workshop with Carrie Lofty and it was great too – different teaching styles, both very good.
  • The Book Factory with Kerri Nelson – This one is all about how to amp up your productivity and produce multiple novels a year. Kerri is a super mom and super writer, plus she does a bunch of other stuff like one-on-one critiquing, with three kids roughly the same age as my own three, so I figured I could learn a lot from her. I was right! I am still having a little trouble implementing her methods but I already feel that I am getting more done, and her teaching style is friendly and straightforward. According to her workshop schedule she’ll be teaching this one again in January. I took Kerri’s pitching workshop earlier this year and loved it as well (and her technique is effective, I got a full submission request from the pitch I developed in her workshop).

September is shaping up to be another busy month, more workshops I signed up for and then forgot about, including one on Erotic Novellas (my last MS was 100,000 words so I am VERY excited about this one) so stay tuned!!

Big Guys with Guns (deep point of view and yes, I DO have a staring problem)

Long before I started writing books. I was the type of person who liked to observe others (ever have someone turn and ask nastily in middle school if you have a starting problem?? that happened to me a LOT). I liked to catalog their features and movements, even to make guesses about their personalities. An offshoot of this during my days in the rave scene was when I enjoyed trying to determine what the DJ might be like in bed based on their track selections. *blush* Not that I got to find out…

Moving on…

So in one of my former lives I worked with a lot of guys who carried guns. There were some big, alpha, burly…yummy guys who wore suit jackets in all kinds of weather – probably to cover their shoulder holsters. And it lead me to wonder: they can’t all be the hard-asses they seem to be right, I’m betting they have their vulnerabilities, and their creamy, squishy centers just like the rest of us.

I actually named the hero of King of Darkness, Thad, after a former client. He had the whole alpha male thing down, but  there was a very heavy dose of the whole boyish and handsome thing going on. He was not, to me, your standard caveman stereotype by a long shot. He was flirtatious, intelligent, charming. And I knew that he knew his way around a semi-automatic handgun. Probably lots of kinds of guns. It was hot.

So the point in all of this, is that whole observing/staring (all right, sometimes also eavesdropping – we can’t help ourselves when you talk that loud) is kind of like field research for us writers. Looking at a person and trying to determine what they are like on the inside is often how we flesh out our characters. When writing a character’s point of view, really getting into their heads is important. Even more important, is getting there realistically. Your average male character isn’t going to know the difference between Manolo’s and Louboutin’s, for example. If he does know these things, WHY does he know them?

For me it is a constantly evolving skill, the ability to show all facets of a character so that they are believable, and understandable. So you can say “Ah, he’s not just a jerk, he’s in pain because his wife left him to follow a hunky cowboy in the bull-riding circuit!”

The goal, ultimately, is to understand your characters so well that the reader can get as intimate and cozy with them as the writer. I LOVE when I am reading a novel and my heart breaks right along with the hero when he finds out that his best friend is dying.

The ability to write deep point of view like this is something I don’t think you can spend too much time honing. I’ve actually taken two workshops on deep POV, one by Carrie Lofty and I’m in the midst of one now by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. When I finished Carrie’s online workshop I sat down and overhauled my WIP in a MAJOR way, and I couldn’t believe the things she mentioned that I could do better. This was with a manuscript that I had already polished quite a bit and thought was pretty darn close to finished. I could have paid ten times what the course cost (thank God I didn’t have to), her little tips improved my writing that much. Carrie is also just flat-out awesome, smart, and super nice. She has a list of the online workshops she teaches, including the POV one, on her web site here.

Already I can see that Jill’s workshop will be just as helpful and effective, because there are SO many balls to juggle in your head with deep POV and Jill covers the material in a totally different way. We’re only a week in but already I am learning more new things. Jill doesn’t seem to have an online class listing on her web site but you can contact her to find out more.

To sum up all this rambling, I stare because for me it is a creativity exercise. I can take what I observe and use it later to help describe actions and motions that convey feeling even more effectively. And, because I just like to observe for the sake of my own curiosity. Sometimes I just zone out. And because, yes, I do have a staring problem. Sorry guys.

Watch this space! Risqué story series coming soon!!

Coming soon! The “Risqué Story Series”. Yeah, I’ve decided to jump on the whole story-in-a-blog bandwagon, I got the idea months ago for a story I haven’t had time to write, but the characters have been swirling around in my head, and whining for attention so we’re gonna try this and see how it works out.

This looks like it will be a novella length paranormal romance, I’m still playing with the title but I think I’ve got one that I like and will have the first installment up shortly!

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I should take a moment to remind that I have lifted the PG-13 rule from my blog (hence the new title!!) so these story series posts are almost guaranteed to contain “mature language” (translation: I tend to drop the f-bomb a lot) and “situations” (sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc) and maybe even some really dark subject matter, so read at your own risk.

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