Monday, September 28, 2009

Practice makes perfect!

My Goal is to not go more than a week without giving an update on this blog. That way, my faithful following of five will not have to suffer in anticipated silence for another posting!

And in all actuality, I probably could have--and SHOULD have--posted an update around Thursday last week. That was the day I met with Professor Dooling to review my query letter. But alas, I switched apartments (hallelujah chorus!) this weekend and was in the middle of a big move. That's my excuse anyway. But fear not, faithful fans, I haven't forgotten about you!

So on Thursday, I met with Dooling to review my letter. I won't lie, as I made my way slowly up the stairs to his second story law office, my palms were sweating with anticipated dread on the horrible criticism he might have to say about my writ ting. There's nothing like having your work go under the scrutinizing gaze of an "all knowing" already-published-author! Although I've had several people sample sections of my book for feedback or editing, I'd never actually had a real-life author judge ANY of my writing. It was a tad bit nerve wracking! I felt a little bit like I was heading for this sort of situation:a bit mellow dramatic, you might say, but then there you have it. An imagination does have the tenancy to go wild in pressurized situations... I suppose it's good practice to go through this kind of thing. After all, the road to publishing is fraught with perils of editors and critics such as these! And practice makes perfect ( :

(Ahem) anyway, you'll be happy to know that I wasn't beheaded like the poor guy in the comic. Actually, Dooling was quite pleasant and complimentary. And thankfully, he thought that overall, it was a good letter. I particularly remember him saying that the topic sounded fascinating and that one thing I have going for me right now, is that the subject matter of my book is pretty popular. The market is ripe for a good "bad government" thriller of sorts because of all the governmental controversies hitting Fox on the 6pm news. His suggestion was to "own up" to the fact that my book is about the United States government going bad. He said that agents and publishers don't really care about publishing controversial material, because all they see are dollar signs running through their heads. If the book sells, they don't care if you're desecrating the Pope himself! Its all about money in the publishing business. Which is good to know, because if you'll note in the letter I posted, I tended to shy away from actually saying that it was a story about our government. Now that I have that suggestion, though, I'll be changing it to make it more bold.

The other change we talked about making, was combining my query letter with my book synopsis. A book synopsis is like a short summary of the book. Not like the Barnes and Noble book flap summary... no, the synopsis is more in depth, explaining plot lines and characters a bit more thoroughly. At first, I was thinking about keeping my synopsis and query letter separate, but Dooling suggested that it would be easier to combine them. I think it might be a good idea. So my next task is to try my hand at "beefing up" my query letter to make it an acceptable summary of what a synopsis would be.

Wish me luck!

Oh, this also means that my faithful editor (Anut Chrysta, who so fabulously and nobly volunteered to edit my query letter for me) is going to get some new changes to edit! If you are reading this, Chrysta, and want to wait until I get you a new draft to work with, that is perfectly fine with me! Although, any changes that you've made to the original letter would be very helpful as well.

So, it is with the great task ahead of me of combining the query letter and synopsis, that I must leave you again. I know you are salivating at the chops for more updates (haha, yeah right!) but alas, my dear fans, I can only work so fast! So it is with a heavy heart that I must bid you farewell... adieu, my friends, until I write again!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Delayed by Dooiling

My Entertainment Law professor, Richard P. Dooling is an actual novelist/screeenwriter for Hollywood. Yes, he is one of the smaller fish in the big pool of Hollywood writers, but the point in fact, is that he is "in." He's written 7 books--5 fiction and 2 nonfiction--and as an author (him) to a "wanna-be" author (me!), he graciously offered to read my query letter before I tried it out on any agents. After mulling over the draft (the one I posted on the blog) for a little while, making changes and such, I sent Professor Dooling my letter on Friday. He responded enthusiastically that he would read it that weekend and get it back to me with notes and suggestions on how to make it better.

Have I ever mentioned that patience is not one of my virtues? (sigh) It's not.

So while I can accept and acknowledge the value of having an industry professional review my work before it is slaughtered and torn apart by other industry professionals... its just so stinkin' hard to wait!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To Query--an instance of questioning

The query letter--according to seasoned veterans in the writing community--is the single most important element when submitting your manuscript to agents and/or publishers. It lets the agent know who you are and what your book is about in a very quick, 1-paged nut shell.

Easy, right?


Think of spending countless hours on a 400 page manuscript, only to have to turn around and squeeze all that 400 pages of that into 1 or 2. NOT EASY! It's like writing that little summary on the back of book flaps at Barnes and Noble. You have to use the ink on your paper to literally scream "YOU WANT ME," demanding their attention with every fiber of your being! You have to frantically claw your way to the surface of the growing pile of muck on their desk in only 2 or 3 small desperately written paragraphs! Have I made my point yet? Oh yeah, and by the way, if you don't, you're back in the "slush pile" with the rest of the wanna-be-authors.

No pressure.

I've been putting this little project off for a while. Seriously, it's just a daunting of a task... worse than writing a novel you ask? Absolutely! Luckily, I'm not the only writer who's had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with the query letter. On his website, writer Nicolas Sparks (author of the famed Notebook, ladies, I'm sure you've heard of it) confessed that it took 17 drafts and 2 weeks of revising before he was satisfied with his Notebook query letter! I'm not alone!!

Anyway, I started it today, my first draft of a query letter, and I wanted to share that first draft with you. Does it suck? Probably? Does it need some work? Most definitely! But I thought it would be entertaining to compare my first draft to my last draft. Hopefully (fingers crossed) there will be some marked improvements!

So here it is, ladies and gents... the first draft of my query letter:

Dear Agent,

I am thrilled to introduce you to my first novel, Keepers of the Flame, the first of three in a trilogy I hope to have the privilege of working with you on.

I have an extensive repertoire of writing that I completed through my work as a History Major at Brigham Young University and the University of Nebraska Law School, where I am currently in my second year. Writing is not a foreign language to me—I love it—which is why I’m delighted to be presenting my first novel!

Keepers of the Flame, is an intense political thriller that follows the lives of one powerful government family as they are torn apart by lies, secrets, mistrust and an almost unquenchable lust for power. While their older brother seeks to establish a permanent place in the new regime, two siblings fight back at the overreaching hand of government, joining a nation-wide, underground movement as it sets out to restore the fundamental values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In our day in age where political upheavals, and uproarious government scandals, are an all-too-common occurrence, this novel paints a powerful picture of what life can become if a country succumbs to the pressures of an all-powerful government, who promises the false allure of security by stripping freedom and liberty from a people.

Like George Orewell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, both classic novels in which a few seemingly unimportant individuals strike out against totalitarian regime, Keepers of the Flame explores the potential demise of a nation, as a few brave individuals struggle to right the wrongs built up by a power-hungry government. Not unlike George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who fought for independence from King George’s tyrannical rule, the siblings become intimately acquainted with the deep meaning of freedom and independence as they struggle to answer the time-honored debate of right and wrong.

Keepers of the Flame explores all the treasured elements of the human soul’s fight for survival: liberty, freedom, love, family, loyalty, patriotism and courage. And yet, this novel is unique from other novels in two ways. The first is that it tells the story of the government’s actual demise. Rather than glossing over the downfall of a strong government, Keepers of the Flame unabashedly tells the story of how the lure of power can reach into the hearts of faithful leaders, tainting their minds until they are as corrupt as the evil they once fought against. Second, this novel is uniquely marketable to large audiences. Unlike many political thrillers, whose deep literary analysis can often thwart the numbers in readership, Keepers of the Flame’s commercial nature will appeal to a wide variety of readers, reaching past the normal boundaries of genre to every type of booklover.

I have reviewed some of the works you have represented in the past (examples), and would be delighted to work with you on this novel.

Enclosed are the first three chapters of Keepers of the Flame. The novel is approximately 100,000 words and fully complete. Let me know when I can send you the full manuscript.

Most Sincerely,

Julie T. B. Hansen

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Even the best books repeatedly punch you in the face while you are working on them...

There are some good things about editing, and there are some bad things.

The good, for example, is when you come across a line, a page or perhaps even an entire chapter that just amazes you. The passage that makes you stop, stunned and amazed and say: "Wow, I wrote that?!" And you sit there reading and rereading it over and over again because it literally brings tears to your eyes or sends shivers up your spine, even if you've already read it a hundred times. Heck, you wrote it and it still inspires you! (sigh) Yes, that's the one good thing about editing... witnessing your own brief moments of brilliance!

And then... there's everything else.

And I do mean EVERYTHING else. Because even if something is "okay," or even "good," there is room for improvement. Which interpreted means: it needs to be edited. That's the depressing part about writing. The "scary" part, as my sister called it. She told me the other day that she hates reviewing papers that she's already written because she doesn't like to go back and read all those mistakes she wrote. Well I'm with ya, honey! I hate reading them too! And I think she nailed it when she said that editing is scary... cause lets be honest, it is!

Unfortunately, the only way to make something better, is to just "buck it up soldier" (as my dad used to say when making me muck the cow pasture) and "get 'er done!"

One thing I worry about on these days of "editor's block" (when absolutely EVERYTHING review seems to suck) is that people will be able to tell... that they'll be able to distinguish the difference between my brief moments of brilliance and then all the rest. Its a scary thought. I don't want someone saying about me one day, "Man, that girl really had it when she had it... but wow.... when she didn't have it, she really didn't!"

Luckily, I'm not the only one with this fear. One of my favorite authors had this to say about writing/editing:

"'But if I am not inspired when I write, people will be able to tell, you say.’ But they won't. I remember one writer who famously said something along the lines of “Some things I write for love, and some for money, and nobody but me can tell the difference.” In the same way, no one but you will be able to tell which parts of a book came easily to you and which parts you sweated blood over. Sure, inspiration comes sometimes — a sudden great idea you can’t wait to write down — but it’s not often and usually at inopportune times when you don’t have a pen. And you have to learn to treasure those moments, because they are rare, and in between them are long stretches of slogging.” Cassandra Clare

Amen... I really couldn't have said it better myself. I can only cross my fingers and hope she's right!

Friday, September 11, 2009

At the beginning....

I am writing a book.

There, I said it! I don't know why it's hard to say... maybe because it sounds so absoluetly ridiculous. You don't need to tell me twice... I am absolutely one hundred and ten percent aware that the statistics are pilled high against me. The chances of an agent even accepting me for representation are almost slimmer than none. (Did you know that many agencies have about a 99% refusal rate?!)

But who cares, says I!

Someone has to get published! So why shouldn't it be me? Although the stats are not comforting in the least bit... and even though this insane hobby of mine might actually end up wasting far more time than I'll actually end up earning back in a paycheck, the fact of the matter is, is I have a dream. I have a goal. And that goal is to get this time-sucking manuscript of mine into the hands of a publisher and onto the shelves at Barnes and Noble!

Its a lofty goal, true... but I've already won half of the battle: I've actually completed a manuscript! Okay, well technically it's not COMPLETELY finished... I'm still polishing up a few things. But its just about there! And anyway, its a whole heck of a lot further than many people have made it, and I'm proud of myself for that!

So why write a blog about it? I don't know... it's honestly probably more for me than you. A chronicle of my adventures as I get rejected again and again by agents, publishers and (hopefully) readers! I'm sure there will be more pitfalls than successes, and I'm not even sure anyone will even read this blog--aside from my family, of course, who will probably feel sorry for me and read it in an attempt to boost my battered ego! However, despite all the setbacks, rejections, melt downs and failures that are sure to follow, I want to make a record of it, so that no one will ever be able to say that I didn't give it my darndest effort at success!!

So join me, if you like, as I begin to take the first major steps in this next big adventure of mine: publishing a book!