A New Book in the Works

I finished my romance novel edits in December, as I wanted to do. Now I just have to format it and get a printed copy for my pre-readers (husband and a few friends) to check out and provide feedback. Then I’ll have another round of edits and I’ll be ready to query a publisher.

I have to get my query letter up to snuff between now and then. Given that I went through 4 versions of the first query letter I did, you’d think I’d be an old hand at making them, but the fact that Flames of Prague is set over a 20 year span and really has two separate plot lines in two sections (which tie together) really screws me up on the query letter. I have no idea how to approach it. Maybe I need to just write two separate query letters–one for each half of the book–then stick them together. That is how I wrote the book (although that makes it sound slapped together when it’s not; it’s about one family, only in two generations, so it flows together).

I began work on another historical romance yesterday. As my book on writing romance said, when you get done writing, write something else. Don’t sit around waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher. Always having something to work on is what keeps you going when the rejections come in.

I had a vague idea of a Hospitallar and a young woman having a brief romance, but didn’t know where to go with it from there. I also didn’t know where or when to set it. The era of the Crusader kingdoms is a bit earlier than I like, and while the Hospistallers were not limited to the Crusader period (they still exist under the name of the Knights of Malta), that was their heyday.

Bad make-believe costume!

Correct 13th century costume

This weekend my husband and I watched the movie Ironclad. It’s actually a very good depiction of medieval warfare and the men’s armor and clothing is accurate. Unfortunately they dressed the main woman up like a Renaissance Faire whore with some sort of off-the-shoulder metal-studded bodice.  Guess the costumer was tapping her inner Xena.

I hate when a movie is good right up to the point they turn all the women into strumpets. We will not speak of the maid servant running around with her hair constantly in disarray and a Frederick’s of Hollywood push-up bra popping her tatas up like only modern underwire and elastic can accomplish.

But, I digress. Said Xena-esque heroine really gets her strumpet on by seducing the resident Templar knight. Not that I blame her–I mean, he’s a man I’d like to seduce too–only I could have done a much better job because I’m a romance writer–unlike the person who wrote the terrible dialogue for the script.

And then, as I was trying to go to sleep that night, the idea for my new book came to me. Not a Hospitaller, but a Templar, and not the Crusades but the fall of the Order around 1308. And not in the Holy Land but in England. I started doing a little research on the Templars in England and I think I have a setting for my new knight.

Fleeing the arrests of the Templars, Sir Guy is going to go north, to the border country, where his foster brother has a residence. He gets there, only to find his foster brother is dead. The brother’s widow, however, gives Sir Guy shelter, disguising him as her new household priest. Some time passes, they become friends, and then, one night, the manor is raided by Scots (this is the period when Scotland was fighting for her freedom from England, so cross-border raids were a frequent part of life for people on both sides of the line). Brother Guy and the lady are taken… but not for long. He starts fighting bare-handed, then she pulls out her husband’s sword and tosses it to him, and shit gets really serious. They sneak out of the house and ride through the freezing night to the nearest lord with a proper garrison to raise the hue and cry. Did I mention, because they got raided at night, they’re in nothing but their underclothes for this long, cold journey on horseback? Yeah, that’ll be where things become romantic.

I’m not sure where things go after that–although I’m thinking an illegitimate child–but, then, I never know how a book is going to end when I start it. It just happens. I’m a big believer in characters–and even plot–developing naturally, as opposed to outlining everything in advance. However, there are many writers who are in favor of the later school of thought and wouldn’t be able to go anywhere with their stories if they didn’t have it planned in advance.

And you better believe all descriptions of clothes and armor in my books will be historically accurate!

Book Two: Mixed Reviews

I know I haven’t posted in a while. A lot’s been going on in my life and it’s been hair, teeth, and eyes everywhere at work more often than not. My husband read my second book and he had mixed reviews. He likes the characters and the story in general, but has a problem with Kalyn being romantically involved with someone so much older. I told him, “Anselm’s 790 years old; it’s not like she’s going to catch up to him.” He still thinks I need to go back to my first book and up her age by a year or two.

So I’m waiting for some of my female readers to read through it and give me their opinions. So far, in theory, neither is averse to this May 2009-December 1219 romance, but as my boss pointed out, women, in general, are  all about romance, and the particulars aren’t quite as important. I know I don’t really see a problem; it’s a loving, permanent relationship. Sex is incidental, not instrumental. All around, it’s a better relationship than many that older women find themselves in.

Still, I’ve put a hold on sending out query letters for a while. What if it does turn out that I need to up her age (as silly as that is; absolutely nothing about her character will change, just because she’s a year older)? I’m starting to think that I might want to wait to query until I get all three books more or less done and get feedback on them, because I can always go back and change things like someone’s age while they’re still under my control, but once published, they stay published. Then the only option, if the agent and/or publisher pitches a fit about a sexually active 16 year old, is to take that out of the second book. And then it messes up everything. Better to up her age than change the plot that dramatically.

One benefit to waiting longer to query is to let the current vampire fad die down. The market is saturated, and I know that counts against me in a major way.

So, that’s where I am now. The road to getting published is never a straight path.

Book Two, Soon in Proof

You may have noticed that my blog has grown rather quiet over the past two weeks. That’s because I’ve been engaged in the final edits of the first draft of my second book. This morning I ordered my first proof.

Why am I going forward with my second book when I don’t even have an agent for my first one? For one, I am a big believer in writing when I have an idea; if I wait, I lose the idea. If I waited however many years until my first book gets published, I might forget everything I had ever planned to do with my second and third. But, primarily, it’s easier to write than to agent-shop. My book does not reject me. In fact, I get a high over finishing it, and then I get more highs as friends and family members read it and give me feedback. Sending out queries is a very depressing activity, and there’s only so much rejection you can take before you have to stop and do something else for a while. So, while I’m waiting to get un-bummed, I might as well write books two and three.

Stats and Formatting

How many of us have heard something along the lines of “you have as much chance becoming a professional [insert sport here] player as you have of winning the lottery” ? Some of us may have even had parents or teachers crush that dream when we were still young enough to believe that is possible.

I am coming to the conclusion, though, that getting published is the same way. I have now seen two agencies say they take 1% or less of all people who query them. One agent said she gets 1,200 queries a month, ten months a year. That’s 12,000 query letters a year, but 120 or less will be selected for representation. Yes, you must have a good book and a good query, but there’s also an element of luck in there–meeting the right agent at the right time in the right market.

Here are some formatting rules that I have seen for submitting requested materials to an agent or publisher:

  • 8.5 x 11 page
  • Double-space
  • Left-justified (not full align, as it would be in a published book)
  • Put your name, page number and book title on the bottom of every page (use footer)

Most agents want the sample / synopsis (if they want it at all) pasted into the body of an e-mail. I have seen one agent ask for this to be double-spaced, left-justified, so if you have full formatting capabilities on your e-mail, do it. (I don’t think you need to double-space your query letter or bio, but yes on the synopsis and writing sample.)

I use CreateSpace.com to make proof copies of my books so I can let friends and family read them and, also, it makes proofing easier (for some reason it’s easier to catch typos in print than on a computer screen). If you want to format your Word document for print, here are the settings:

Print margin size:
Top: 0.6
Bottom: 0.6
Inside: 0.5
Outside: .75 

Mirror margins
Page size: 5.13 x 8

*Note – My old version of Word is on crack, and it confuses the inside margin and the outside margin. What you are really doing is setting the inside margin to be wider than the outside margin, in order to allow room for binding. If your word processor is not on crack, you will want to reverse those numbers.

Rejection

File:Emelyn Story Tomba (Cimitero Acattolico Roma).jpgWell, back to the Pit of Literary Despair; my partial was rejected.

I was riding a high for a little while because I was asked for it–and that made it easy to shrug off other rejections of my query letter–but now it’s been rejected, and I think that’s worse than a query letter being rejected. Because if it’s just the letter, you think, “How can a letter of 250 words or less show the awesomeness of my book, the depth of my characters, the suspense of the plot?” But 50 pages? A rejection of my first 50 pages sounds a lot more like the first 50 pages of my book suck.

File:WLA lacma The Death of Lucretia.jpgTo throw myself a bone, I have now seen two agents mention, on their websites, that they only take 1% of all people who query them. Those are the odds I’m playing every time I send out a letter: am I going to be the lucky one out of a hundred?

I have exhausted my second list of agents, which means I need to find another list. 44 query letters out, and it’s coming up on a year (Sept 8th).

File:Herbert James Draper, Ariadne.jpgGetting published is harder than writing a novel. And it’s taking longer.

 

 

Organizing Your Drafts

Here is some advice I will pass on to people who are just beginning writing:

When you start writing your book, just write in one document (although make sure you frequently make backup copies of it on more than one device!). If you find yourself deleting things early (which you generally should avoid doing, but, hey, it happens), cut the section and paste it into another document and save it under a title that reasonably explains what’s in it. Sometimes things I cut out of my first book wind up, in some form or fashion, in my sequels. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that you will want to put something back in that you cut out. (That happened with an entire chapter that was cut from my first draft, but was put back in the second draft.)

Once you more or less have your book completed, and it comes time to do the editing, start saving your book as a different file every time you work on it. For instance, I have “Book Two 081511.” When I save changes that I make to it today, I will do a “Save As” and save it as “Book Two 081811.” I have found this is easier to keep up with than copying and saving every paragraph and sentence that I end up deleting. If I end up needing to find something I’ve cut, I can just pick an earlier version and go to the appropriate chapter. I can also search Word using a word or phrase which I remember being fairly unique to the portion I removed.

Score!

I have been sending out queries again (total count so far is 41) and this morning someone asked for my synopsis and 50 pages!

Speaking of which, I joined AgentQuery Connect yesterday (it’s a free forum for writers) and read that a general rule of thumb is that your query letter should generate a 10-20% positive response. In other words, of all the agents you query, 10-20% of them should ask for more material. If you’re not getting that (and I wasn’t getting anywhere close to that before), your query letter is probably the problem.