-dun dun dun- The Query Trenches!

The first batch of queries for Dead God’s Bones have officially been submitted! The novel has embarked upon its journey to agents and I am now, once more, wading into the query trenches. The number of submissions this time around is, quite honestly, small, but I’m trying a new approach to querying. With In Blood, I tended to shotgun query (even when they were personalized, they weren’t, per say, strategic). In the end, I submitted 43 queries, had two partials and one full request, but ultimately shelved the book.*

With DGB, I’m going for strategic. I am also trying damn hard to not only choose agents to submit to with intention and careful consideration of who and what they represent and what I, personally, am looking for in an agent, but to actually express this in the query letter itself. The letters are, by extension, taking a great deal longer to write, but I feel a more confident in the submission. With IB, I always feared I was pestering. With DGB, I have done my homework and chosen these agents specifically, so I feel less like I’m wasting their time. What will the end result be? I have no idea, but the immediate effect is that I feel more centered. So there’s that.

Fly, novel! Fly to inboxes! Fly and be read! And maybe garner a request or two!

In other news, still plugging away at the new novel. At 110K or so, and things have, necessarily, slowed. Because I need proper nouns. Like names. And locations. And words in this conlang I’ve been putting off semi-constructing. So! For the past week or so, I’ve been poking at phonetics and grammar and working on making it have a consistent “sound” so I can mash consonants and vowels together in a way that has an internal rational behind it so I can finally name some things. So far, I have letters and phonemes. Rules for what can and can’t follow certain things and what syllable you stress. Most of this will not be in the book, but I need to know something of it, otherwise, it’ll all be a garbled mess.

As for drafting, I’ve gotten to the point where the book starts drawing in some horror elements. My main character, Gev, has a sixth finger growing out of the back of his hand and can’t touch anyone, else he’ll curse them with extra unwanted digits sprouting from unexpected places. Soon, he’s off to meet the wizard in the magic, floating rock-castle-thing for a consultation. Drama will occur. The finger will be addressed. And then it’s smooth-sailing to the end of the book.

Well.

Smooth-sailing for me. For Gev? Not so much.

Also, have a potato-Gev, courtesy of a joke with a coworker that led to some spudsy doodling.


* This was not due to rejections, but rather, a new understanding that, really, that book, as much as I love it, had little marketability and wasn’t up to snuff, not for publishing. So it has been shelved, but fondly.

2020 Year in Review/2021 Writerly Resolutions

Although, if I’m to be honest, “resolutions” seems so chiseled in stone and imposing than just “goals” so perhaps we’ll just go with “goals.”

Anyway.

Last year I made a resolutions plan for 2020, some of which I’ve accomplished, some of which I have not. Like the goal of 60 submissions. I don’t think I even made 40 (*cough* 28, according to the Grinder) in 2020 but, erm, there was the whole plague and quarantine that happened, and I lost easily six months of potential writing productivity to just a general sense of hopelessness and defeat. But, hey! Three acceptances! Same as last year, so fewer submissions but same rate of acceptance. Go figure.

I did, however, hit every one of those goals for Dead God’s Bones. I finished the editing pass, then did another, found betas, got feedback, did more editing, found more betas, did more editing, and got my submission packet together. Then decided, er, might be better to wait till 2021 for this. Querying in 2020 didn’t seem either wise nor feasible, so I mostly researched agents, put together my list of who to send it to, and just generally did prep work. I did write at least five short stories (five exactly) and I also started the next book (more on that later—possibly more on that in a separate blog entry). I also did a bit of painting, so there’s that?

I didn’t end up querying In Blood another 20 times; I think I did five or six more then retired it. I thought I’d be absolutely heartbroken but a year of distance between querying it and three years of distance from writing it, and I can see its flaws more clearly. It’s not a bad book, and there are elements of it that I still love, but I’m all right with it just being for me. The component parts don’t fit together as seamlessly as DGB or the new book, and I’d like to think I’ve leveled up as a writer.

So I suppose that’s 2020. The most surprising things this past year mostly happened around my day job. I was promoted, realized I’ve reached the ceiling for advancement/pay without a degree in the field, so applied, was accepted, and am now going back for yet more college.

Moving on to that handy bulleted list I used last year.

2021 Resolutions Goals:

  • Hit 40 submissions again. I need to get back into the habit.
  • Start querying Dead God’s Bones with intent. I have my list, I have my packet, all that remains is to do the legwork. So far, my agent list is about 15 agents strong at this point, but for DGB, I’m going for more targeted querying than I did with In Blood. We’ll see how that works out.
  • Continue working on the new book (more on this in its own dedicated blog post). I’d like to get 20k words in by the time I start school, and while I’d love to have the draft done by this time next year, not sure how feasible that is with grad school looming. I’d be happy with halfway by January of 2022. Anything else is extra credit.
  • Go to school. Again. This time, though, instead of a degree in writing, I’ll be working on a degree in libraries. In my day job under another name, I’m the Assistant Head of Circulation. My goal, however, is to specialize and become either an Outreach Librarian and/or a Reference Librarian.
  • Write 5 new short stories.

Onward to 2021!

DGB Updates and Art

After a many month break, I’ve returned to Dead God’s Bones refreshed and ready to get it into shape for querying, because I will NOT have a repeat of In Blood, where I sat on a completed manuscript for three years waiting for…god knows. For the time to be right? For that sudden bolt of inspiration that turns it from a so-so novel into a great one? For my courage to stop cowering in a corner?

Either way, we shall not have a repeat. DGB is going to be submitted, and in a timely manner, before I change too much as a writer and as a person and grow to loathe the thing I’ve made.

So I took a chance.

I posted a call for betas on Reddit.

I’ve been frequenting the Reddit beta readers forums to find beta projects I’d like to work on, but this is the first that I’ve ever put out a call. It’s…a little intimidating. Most of the time, my betas are drawn from a group of other writers I personally know, some through my grad program, some through undergrad, and some through my in-person critique group. I don’t have much need to foray into the wilds of forum boards to find betas.

But, this time around, I wanted someone who doesn’t know me, who hasn’t read an excerpt of this novel somewhere, who will be, more or less, objective. I also find myself in need of someone who loves pointing out mistakes, seeing that I apparently created continuity errors during my last editing pass and I’m not all that great at catching them myself. Thus, beta reader. Thus, Reddit.

Egads.

The plan is to start querying either at by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. I think I’m just going to have to embrace this book at 180k, since trimming just seems to lend itself to further expansion elsewhere, and by the end of an editing pass, it’s nearly the same length. So I guess 180k is where it needs to be for now, and I want to get started on the next step, since this is as good as I’m going to get it at this point in my writing skill level. Which brings me to queries.

So far, I have two versions, the long one and the short one. For funsies, I’ve posted the longer one here, since I used the shorter one for my Reddit call.

Three years ago, Investigator-Prefect Kossa en Bekhir failed to capture a serial murderer targeting magical practitioners in the city of Balara. It nearly ended his career. Now, the killer is back, and has graduated from preying on low-ranking government officials to the upper echelons of society, their throats slit and bodies drained of blood.

Complicating matters, he’s partnered with his boss’ daughter—a newly-minted investigator-brevet with no experience, a hair-trigger of a sword-arm, and questionable loyalties. As the investigation into the murders becomes increasingly convoluted, Kossa draws connections between the murderer’s method and his own secret past. For Kossa en Bekhir doesn’t exist. His name is a lie, his voice is a magical fabrication, and his skin bears the scars of the hundred-and-twenty stroke legacy of a dead man found guilty of treason. Every step forward brings him closer to a place he never wanted to revisit: the home that betrayed him and ripped the magic from his veins. 

He won’t survive the encounter a second time.

DEAD GOD’S BONES is a 180,000-word adult high fantasy set in a sub-tropical island city rife with drugs and dragons. It’s THE ANKH-MORPORK NIGHT WATCH meets THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA and A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE.

Another beta pass, maybe two, and I plan to descend once more into the query trenches and send this out. I’ve already started preliminary research on agents and putting together my list. Once again, feeling rather out of my depth, but there we are.

Oh, I did say there would be art, didn’t I?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t freehand doodled with an actual pencil on actual paper in almost a year. I discovered I’m out of practice, but not in the way you might think. I was able, for the most part, to accurately translate what was in my head to my hand to the page. Rather, my muscles have apparently atrophied and I don’t have the fine motor control. Which was…frustrating. Need to build that back up. Also, forgive the off proportions, I wasn’t working from reference.

So these three are the main viewpoint characters of Dead God’s Bones, Kossa at the top, Maiv to the middle-right, and Luko bottom-left. As you might note, yes, in my head, they’re totally elves. On the written page, it’s less apparent, though they are varying shades of blue, ranging from a pale noon horizon blue to an almost blue-purple, and their sclera is black rather than white.

You can’t see it, but the impetus for beginning this was a desire to draw Kossa’s marriage ear-cuff…which can’t really be seen because I drew his head too small. I’ll probably draw another at some point or a closeup of his ear and just the ear. A lot of my doodles are born of a need to visually work out some worldbuilding detail, and it spirals out from there.

Also, don’t believe Luko. He does get paid, just not right now due to plot reasons.

GenCon 2019!

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Back from GenCon!

It was good! Though next time, I think I’ll find a hotel rather than a truck-stop motel. The motel was good for a motel, but, erm, seemed designed for one-night stop-overs rather than four consecutive nights. Next time, hotel. With breakfast. Breakfast would be lovely.

ANYWAY! Volunteered at the Writer’s Symposium, which was exhausting but in a good way. Kept me busy and I was still able to go to pretty much all the panels and presentations that I’d wanted (and ended up going to a couple unexpected ones, and missing a few that I realized weren’t quite what I thought they were when I registered). Oh! And got all the books I’d brought for signing signed by some of my favorite authors, which was awesome.

Take-aways:

  • This very clever revision/editing trick I’m going to use from now on for multi-viewpoint novels. Break the novel down into the individual character arcs and read those sections chronologically. It had been suggested as a way to maintain character voice, but I know the current book has a problem with redundancy and repeating character goals when I’m shifting to a viewpoint that I’ve been out of for awhile. This might help me weed through that.
  • I have been doing my query letters wrong. Kind of. See, I’ve been so damn focused on the concern of making my last book look marketable. Finding comps. Making it less threatening. But then, during a panel that, oddly, had little to do with querying, both an author and an agent pointed out that the thing agents and editors want is the opposite. Yeah, making sure your book isn’t totally out there is good, but more important is highlighting why it’s different. Thus, I’m doing another query revision before I send out my next batch, though this is going to take some work. Switching my focus from similarity to difference has, so far, been difficult, but I’m trying to be a little looser/free-er with my comps and let more of me, the writer, into my exceedingly business-like query. Seriously, looking at it, I realize I sound so, so terrified with my extreme professionalism—no, I’m not going to be unprofessional now, but it’s okay, I realize, to pitch the book the same way I pitch the book in person, i.e. with a bit of humor.
  • That said, more and more, I’m thinking I might need to re-title “In Blood.” As is, it works, but at the same time, it’s not really… *makes hand gestures* …y’know. It doesn’t stand out.
  • What to do when that horrible question comes up, when you tell people you’re a writer, and they say, “Oh? Anything I might’ve heard of?” The ANSWER: pull a copy of your book out of you bag and leave them to read the back cover copy while you keep doing whatever it was you were doing before they interrupted. That is genius.
  • Authors can be accused of a sort of distributor favoritism. If they post on their site a link to purchase their book but from only one distributor, though their book is available from multiple, the other distributors can call foul. The advice had been to just remove everything and leave if up to your publisher to put links to distributors on their page, but I figure I’m pretty small potatoes at this point—and everything I have published so far are short stories—so I’ve instead updated my publications list to include links to anywhere and everywhere you could possibly purchase my work. The distributors (when there are multiple) are now listed alphabetically, not in any order of preference. In future, though, I plan to follow the advice of no links whatsoever, but that’s not for awhile yet.
  • Confirmation of a level-up moment. I’d gone to one of the read & critique workshops, where you read three minutes of your work and a panel of authors/editors/agents give feedback. While I was listening to everyone read, editor-brain was critting and doing its thing (’cause it seems I can’t frickin’ turn it off when in a critique circle), and then the panel gave their feedback and probably about two out of three times, they critiqued the same thing I would’ve critiqued. They also caught a whole lot else I didn’t, but it was good to realize that I leveled up.
  • One (super important) reason why that whole book length and word count thing is so popular as a reason why your book is rejected. It’s actually not that much of a concern—if someone loves your long book, so long as it’s not 600,000 words, it’s workable—BUT it’s quantifiable. If someone is looking for a way to say “no” because it’s not their taste, they can cite the word count as a reason and it can’t be argued with. And suddenly I’m like, OH. So…it’s not a personal failing? I haven’t failed as a writer?
  • Some valuable reminders about how to write a fight scene.
  • Those bookmarks were far more popular than I thought they’d be. Instead of a handful, next time, I need to bring, like, 100, maybe more. They were all gone overnight. We’ll see if there’s an uptick in website traffic…

If I think of more, I’ll add to this post.

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The tower of signed books!

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And free books!