Broken Fantasy

I wrote my first book when I was 28. Finishing up grad school, trying to figure out, at a late age, what I should do with my life. Not my first attempt at writing an entire novel, but my first success.

Success? Hahaha, no, it was crap. Just a total piece of garbage.

But it was an amazing feeling, just to write those last words. To think to myself, holy shit Kevin you just wrote an actual, real novel. All the way through from beginning to end. Even if it does suck.

Last Thursday night, I finished my seventh novel. I’d say the feeling that night was more relief than elation, given that I struggled through this one, but that’s not right. I mostly felt… nothing.

***

My job’s been especially stressful lately, though in truth, my job is especially stressful all the time. It’s just the nature of my career. Two and a half years ago, the day of the company holiday party, I had the worst day of this ridiculous job. I woke up, saw I was losing many millions of dollars, and immediately reached for a beer and my book, the one I was writing at the time. It was my fifth book. The alcohol comforted my a little, but writing for hours comforted me a lot.

Back then, I was able to use writing as an escape from my failures, in my job and in my life. I could fantasize about becoming a great writer. Not strictly about becoming famous or rich by writing – that’s reserved for a handful of people per generation. Just about creating something wonderful that a bunch of other people would like and recognize as something great. Flawed, sure. Not for everyone. But beautiful. Amazing in some way.

But as my career continues to go to hell (I’ll figure it out, somehow, I think, maybe), I haven’t been able to escape into that writer fantasy. It hurts, because I don’t know where else to turn – I mean, alcohol obviously, but I think that may be less healthy.

***

Seven books. The first two were total crap. I was just starting out, messing around, hadn’t learned much about writing. The third, The Book of Terrors, I genuinely liked. The first book I queried agents on, even though I had no idea what I was doing in that regard. No requests. Eventually I realized it just wasn’t good enough. Not big five material.

My fourth book was meant to be a practice book, a shitty attempt at writing YA. I’m not sure if I learned much from it, but hey, it was a thing. If nothing else, a chance to practice sentence-level writing.

Book five, Blood Price (not a vampire novel), I queried on with… zero requests. Again, after getting some distance, I realized it wasn’t great material, didn’t stand out the way I wanted. Sure, another practice book.

Then came Daughters of Darkness, which I’ve blogged about here before. I still believe in this book, in the characters, in the world. Twenty-four queries so far and… zero requests.

***

During the query process for Daughters of Darkness, I realized I’ve made a big mistake throughout my writing non-career. I haven’t solicited enough feedback. I’ve had a few critiques, but mostly partial or informal. One of those partial critiques was from a freelance editor for DoD, and a couple comments she gave me were very useful, but rather embarrassing for me. Pretty fundamental shit that I should’ve understood/learned years ago. Sophomore year kinda stuff (In my defense, I was an engineering major, I only took one semester of writing in college, come on).

But even with my mistakes, I believe I’ve progressed as a writer over the years. Not as much as I could have, if I’d done all the right things. Still, it seems like real progress. But I don’t see it in the results. The proof, as they (old people?) say, is in the pudding. And there’s been no pudding for Kevin.

I’m not done trying to find an agent for Daughters of Darkness, and I haven’t even begun to query on book seven (no title yet), which will be months from now, after much revision. But…

It gets harder to keep going. To believe. To keep the dream, the fantasy, alive.

Yes, yes, I’ve heard it a million fucking times, every writer experiences rejection. NEVER GIVE UP. But…

If you let the rational mind leak in for just a moment, it’ll tell you that the probability of landing a legit agent is low. Very fucking low. (Self-publishing is a thing, it works for some people, but I know myself well enough to know it isn’t for me)

My rational mind thinks about selection bias (or survivorship bias, if you prefer), and all those stories about writers getting rejected so many times and then breaking through. The thing is, these are the success stories. For every one of those, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands of writers who kept getting rejected, kept trying, and… kept getting rejected. Without success. Just because most/all successful writers experienced a lot of rejection, that doesn’t mean that most writers who experience rejection and keep going will be successful. Sorry, that’s not how it works.

***

As writers, we’re not supposed to think about giving up. That’s the only way you fail, guys!

But I don’t agree with this sentiment. Most of us have “regular” jobs. In better days, mine used to pay me pretty well. At some point, I may have to accept that it might be better for me to give up the dream of becoming a bestselling author. Doesn’t mean I can’t still write for fun, right?

Over the last couple years, as I’ve tried to work toward doing all the “professional” things that published authors need to do, I’ve found so much to not like about “writing.” I don’t mean the actual writing of a book, or even the editing. I mean things like learning about the business, writing/revising/perfecting the query submission. Figuring out which agents are good fits for me, which agents rep my stuff but are, um, let’s just say, not what I consider quality agent material.

What if, just what if, giving up on the dream of getting a book contract, saying fuck it and just writing for the fun of it, even if no one will ever read it… what if that’s honestly the best thing for me? Does that make me weak, a quitter, a failure? Or pragmatic?

Letting go of the dream… forever… sounds painful. But it could be freeing, as well. Hell, I wouldn’t have to go through the terrible, no good, very bad feelings I get every time I send out a round of queries and get nothing but rejections. When I write just for myself and no one else reads it, I can be proud of my story, of my characters. I can pretend that it’s super fucking great!

But when I continue to query and revise, query, fail, learn and start over, query again and get nothing but a cold shoulder, there’s a voice in my head that I have a hard time ignoring. It doesn’t just say I’m not good enough. It says I’m downright terrible. No, far, far worse than that. The absolute, unfathomable, serious fucking worst ever. So bad I shouldn’t tell anyone I’ve failed this much just to save myself the embarrassment.

***

Seven books. Not a single request. I still believe I can get better, that I can break through. I don’t want to give up the dream yet, whether the rational part of me says I should or not. I’m looking back at the mistakes I’ve made, working out in my head how I can learn from them. I wouldn’t be the first author to query on several books and fail before making it. But…

It’s hard to keep believing. And then I see things like:

schwab_being_sexist

Because apparently, it’s so fucking easy for every white male in the publishing industry. You don’t have to be good, if you’re a white male, scratch some drunken shit on a napkin and BOOM – big five contract. If only everyone else had the crazy advantages I have! I shouldn’t be able to fail even if I try!

Yet after ten years, after seven books, this white male still can’t get a single request from an agent.

And that voice? The one that says I’m so bad, so over-the-top embarrassing level incompetent that how is this even possible? It gets louder every day. Even the beer and whiskey don’t seem to quiet it.

But I’m not giving up. Not yet.

Not ever? I don’t know.

A Closer Look at 3-pt Defense

markus_shot

As the opening weekend of the big dance approaches, and Marquette is finally back in where it belongs, I wanted to dig into a stat that will be very relevant to us in Greenville, SC: 3-point defense.

Our first round matchup is against South Carolina, a team that sports one of the highest ranked 3-point defenses in the nation. I’ve seen some fans on #mubb twitter question whether this ranking is deserved, based in part on the relatively poor 3-point offenses in the SEC. I’ve been playing around with the 2017 NCAA Div 1 Men’s Basketball game data provided by Kaggle this week, so I thought I’d write some code to do a brief analysis on this subject.

My method is as follows: For each game a team played, compute:

  • Opponent’s 3-pt % for that game
  • Opponent’s season 3-pt % after removing games played against team of record

I can then compute basic stats on the differences between those paired quantities, and run a hypothesis test to determine how likely it is that any difference is due to chance.

In the tables farther down, I show the basic stats for the top 25 teams using 3 different rankings:

  • Team’s defensive 3-pt %
  • Average difference between opponent’s 3-pt % against team of record and rest of league
  • T-stat of that difference

The columns in each table are:

  • Team
  • Games played
  • Defensive 3-pt %
  • Average of difference for opponent’s 3-pt % (positive = better than average)
  • Standard deviation of difference for opponent’s 3-pt %
  • T-stat on paired differences
  • Bootstrap-resampled p-value on paired differences*

*Bootstrap resampled p-value is a randomized estimate of the p-value. This method is valuable when the sample size is fairly low. P-value refers to the probability that you might encounter a difference as large as the data, if the team’s defense was simply average. In this case, I’m computing a one-tailed test to determine if the team of record is capable of allowing a lower than average 3-pt %. Lower p-values indicate a higher level of confidence that the team is better than average at 3-pt defense.

One other note: as I said, the data comes from Kaggle, and though I assume it’s clean, I can’t be sure there are no errors. I see slight discrepancies between my 3-pt defensive numbers and kenpom.com, so the data may not be perfect.

A couple observations: South Carolina’s 3-pt defense does appear to be better than average, but probably not quite as good as advertised. They are ranked 6th in defensive %, 13th in opponent’s difference %, and 42nd in statistical significance. The lower ranking in significance comes from a higher variance in defensive % from game-to-game, and suggests some of their outperformance may be due to luck. But look who’s highly ranked in all 3 categories (#1 in difference): Duke, a potential second round matchup for Marquette.

(Also, we suck at this aspect of the game. No surprise there.)

Here are the ranked data:

Table I – Ranked by lowest 3-pt defensive %

Rank Team Games OppAvg Diff Stdev T-stat P-value
1 Morgan St 29 28.0% 5.4% 10.3% 2.822 0.0009
2 Rhode Island 33 29.1% 5.8% 10.9% 3.053 0.0005
3 NC Central 30 29.2% 3.9% 12.0% 1.770 0.0382
4 New Mexico St 30 29.8% 4.2% 11.7% 1.975 0.0224
5 Arizona 34 29.9% 5.9% 9.0% 3.808 0.0002
6 South Carolina 31 29.9% 4.6% 15.8% 1.627 0.0496
7 Duke 35 29.9% 6.4% 12.0% 3.140 0.0008
8 Gonzaga 33 30.0% 6.0% 11.1% 3.122 0.0008
9 Alcorn St 29 30.1% 2.8% 11.2% 1.326 0.0933
10 Wichita St 33 30.1% 5.5% 11.6% 2.719 0.0028
11 Minnesota 33 30.3% 5.5% 11.9% 2.658 0.0050
12 Robert Morris 33 30.4% 3.9% 11.7% 1.928 0.0241
13 Nevada 34 30.5% 4.4% 10.6% 2.428 0.0072
14 Louisville 32 30.6% 6.2% 11.1% 3.144 0.0011
15 St Mary’s CA 32 30.7% 5.1% 9.4% 3.084 0.0011
16 Col Charleston 33 30.7% 3.8% 9.0% 2.444 0.0048
17 Florida 32 30.8% 4.1% 10.0% 2.319 0.0065
18 New Orleans 28 30.8% 4.2% 8.6% 2.591 0.0040
19 FL Gulf Coast 30 31.0% 4.9% 9.0% 2.999 0.0011
20 Villanova 34 31.1% 5.5% 7.8% 4.153 0.0000
21 Colorado St 32 31.1% 3.9% 11.4% 1.918 0.0327
22 Seattle 27 31.1% 2.9% 10.8% 1.395 0.0771
23 Illinois St 32 31.1% 4.7% 7.9% 3.368 0.0003
24 Winthrop 30 31.2% 4.6% 10.8% 2.323 0.0092
25 Furman 30 31.5% 4.0% 9.2% 2.377 0.0070
284 Marquette 31 37.0% -1.9% 11.9% -0.885 0.8154

 

Table II – Ranked by biggest opponent’s difference

Rank Team Games OppAvg Diff Stdev T-stat P-value
1 Duke 35 29.9% 6.4% 12.0% 3.140 0.0008
2 Louisville 32 30.6% 6.2% 11.1% 3.144 0.0011
3 Gonzaga 33 30.0% 6.0% 11.1% 3.122 0.0008
4 Arizona 34 29.9% 5.9% 9.0% 3.808 0.0002
5 Rhode Island 33 29.1% 5.8% 10.9% 3.053 0.0005
6 Villanova 34 31.1% 5.5% 7.8% 4.153 0.0000
7 Minnesota 33 30.3% 5.5% 11.9% 2.658 0.0050
8 Wichita St 33 30.1% 5.5% 11.6% 2.719 0.0028
9 Morgan St 29 28.0% 5.4% 10.3% 2.822 0.0009
10 St Mary’s CA 32 30.7% 5.1% 9.4% 3.084 0.0011
11 FL Gulf Coast 30 31.0% 4.9% 9.0% 2.999 0.0011
12 Illinois St 32 31.1% 4.7% 7.9% 3.368 0.0003
13 South Carolina 31 29.9% 4.6% 15.8% 1.627 0.0496
14 Virginia 32 31.6% 4.6% 12.2% 2.146 0.0169
15 Winthrop 30 31.2% 4.6% 10.8% 2.323 0.0092
16 Nevada 34 30.5% 4.4% 10.6% 2.428 0.0072
17 New Mexico St 30 29.8% 4.2% 11.7% 1.975 0.0224
18 New Orleans 28 30.8% 4.2% 8.6% 2.591 0.0040
19 BYU 33 32.2% 4.1% 11.2% 2.111 0.0182
20 Florida 32 30.8% 4.1% 10.0% 2.319 0.0065
21 Baylor 31 31.6% 4.0% 9.9% 2.251 0.0123
22 Furman 30 31.5% 4.0% 9.2% 2.377 0.0070
23 Robert Morris 33 30.4% 3.9% 11.7% 1.928 0.0241
24 NC Central 30 29.2% 3.9% 12.0% 1.770 0.0382
25 Colorado St 32 31.1% 3.9% 11.4% 1.918 0.0327
267 Marquette 31 37.0% -1.9% 11.9% -0.885 0.8154

 

Table III – Ranked by strongest statistical significance

Rank Team Games OppAvg Diff Stdev T-stat P-value
1 Villanova 34 31.1% 5.5% 7.8% 4.153 0.0000
2 Arizona 34 29.9% 5.9% 9.0% 3.808 0.0002
3 Illinois St 32 31.1% 4.7% 7.9% 3.368 0.0003
4 Louisville 32 30.6% 6.2% 11.1% 3.144 0.0011
5 Duke 35 29.9% 6.4% 12.0% 3.140 0.0008
6 Gonzaga 33 30.0% 6.0% 11.1% 3.122 0.0008
7 St Mary’s CA 32 30.7% 5.1% 9.4% 3.084 0.0011
8 Rhode Island 33 29.1% 5.8% 10.9% 3.053 0.0005
9 FL Gulf Coast 30 31.0% 4.9% 9.0% 2.999 0.0011
10 Morgan St 29 28.0% 5.4% 10.3% 2.822 0.0009
11 Wichita St 33 30.1% 5.5% 11.6% 2.719 0.0028
12 Minnesota 33 30.3% 5.5% 11.9% 2.658 0.0050
13 New Orleans 28 30.8% 4.2% 8.6% 2.591 0.0040
14 Col Charleston 33 30.7% 3.8% 9.0% 2.444 0.0048
15 Nevada 34 30.5% 4.4% 10.6% 2.428 0.0072
16 Furman 30 31.5% 4.0% 9.2% 2.377 0.0070
17 Winthrop 30 31.2% 4.6% 10.8% 2.323 0.0092
18 Florida 32 30.8% 4.1% 10.0% 2.319 0.0065
19 Wyoming 30 32.1% 3.0% 7.0% 2.310 0.0096
20 Baylor 31 31.6% 4.0% 9.9% 2.251 0.0123
21 St Peter’s 32 31.9% 3.2% 8.2% 2.221 0.0119
22 Virginia 32 31.6% 4.6% 12.2% 2.146 0.0169
23 BYU 33 32.2% 4.1% 11.2% 2.111 0.0182
24 Oregon 33 31.9% 3.7% 10.2% 2.067 0.0209
25 Texas 33 32.6% 3.8% 10.5% 2.052 0.0206
42 South Carolina 31 29.9% 4.6% 15.8% 1.627 0.0496
266 Marquette 31 37.0% -1.9% 11.9% -0.885 0.8154

 

 

How Many is Too Many?

The other day I saw a brief Twitter thread by one of the editors I follow (she works at Tor). She tweeted about the number of POV characters in a manuscript, and how it becomes difficult for the author to manage them all as the number increases – this is assuming third person limited, though she mentioned third person omniscient as a different issue. As an aside, I’ve never been a fan of the third person omniscient head-hopping style. Kids, don’t write this kind of perspective. Just say no.

Said editor says she worries when the author writes more than 4 POV characters. The main risk, she explained, is that it’s tough to differentiate between them. The reader should be able to identify the POV in any given scene by the narrative voice. This is challenging, and I personally think that many great novels exist where this just isn’t the case. But this is something that I strive for, and has been one of my main focuses for improvement over the last 3 books I’ve worked on.

In may last finished MS, Daughters of Darkness, I went with 5 POV characters (eek!). This was the first time I wrote more than 3, and I was worried about this issue. When I started, I thought there was a significant chance I would have to cut one of those (her name is Talia Soren) – not cut her out of the book, I mean, just cut her perspective. But I think (I’m a little biased here guys) it worked out well, and the personal editor inside my head said I didn’t need to cut anyone. Still, 5 is a lot for a 112k word novel.

With current WIP, I originally decided on 5 again, but as I wrote through Act I, I started to wonder about one of those characters (her name is Maria Fonseca). And as it turns out, the day before I was supposed to write the first chapter from her POV, I saw these tweets. I revisited my thoughts about this character, and eventually decided it was best to use her strictly as a non-POV character. The MS is already getting longer than I wanted, and I didn’t feel like I had a clear narrative arc in store for her, so I think cutting her makes sense from many angles.

And it gets me down to the magic number of 4 POV’s! Yippee!

I think using more than 2 or 3 POV characters can add a lot to a novel in terms of range, but it is challenging to maintain the necessary differentiation. As I talked about in a post earlier, one of my preferred tricks is to focus on a different voice for each character by picking different tag words and phrases for each. For me, this mostly comes down to the different curses 🙂

Anyway, work on my current WIP continues at a steady but slow pace. I broke the 50k word barrier today, and right now I’m projecting a finished 1st draft of around 150k. Longer than I wanted, but I’m working toward making this story truly epic – this is meant to be the first book in a series (How many books planned for this series? I got no idea at this point. Lots, perhaps?). I’m hoping to finish the 1st draft before June, but we shall see…

Origin Story

So I just sent out a round of queries last Friday for my most recent novel, Daughters of Darkness (only 1 rejection so far!), and I’m gearing up for the next project, which I don’t have a title for yet. I still have a bunch of pre-writing to do, and I’m trying to cram it all in by the end of the month so I can start the first draft on Nov 1st – for NaNoWriMo, obviously.

But before I make my transition to the next project (or technically, back to the next project, since I interrupted my pre-writing to do some more edits on DoD before sending out more queries), I decided to write up a little story about how DoD came to be. I give you, the origin story…

Twas the year 2010. Or was it 2011? I can’t really remember, it was a few years ago and I’m getting old and things are a little fuzzy these days. Course, that might have something to do with all the whiskey I drink. Anyway…

I was living in Prospect Towers in Milwaukee. (Where I still live. But I left then came back). I’d written two very terrible books over the previous 2-3 years, and I was thinking about writing another. I tried messing around with a SF story about an incurable disease raging through the galaxy, and a small band of deserters from a war on a remote planet that carried the only treatment for the disease – and the best hope for developing a cure. But I kinda messed it up and I eventually set it aside.

Then I had a dream. I tend to dream in fantasies, like I’m playing the role of a fantasy hero in some kind of big role play (LARP, anyone?). Not always, but this time I did. I was the crown prince of a dead nation, visiting a different nation where no one really knew who I was or didn’t care. And that made me feel bad. I was supposed to be important, dammit!

I don’t really remember what happened in the dream, but afterward I thought it might be fun to write a story with a MC who would’ve become king if only his kingdom didn’t fall apart. I decided it would be torn apart by demons, and all the survivors would have to flee to a neighboring kingdom (or empire) as refugees. And then I wanted the MC to be a super awesome bad ass warrior, dedicating his life to the study of swordplay and martial arts (and maybe magic, too) in the hope that he would one day be able to revive his kingdom.

And then I decided to add an element to the story that I thought would be cool, something I hadn’t seen much of within epic fantasy – I wanted this kingdom/empire (the one the MC fled to, not his dead kingdom) to be a matriarchal society.

So then I figured the MC should have a lady counterpart, someone important that could be a thorn in his side and treat him like a silly peasant boy and make him feel all kinds of bad for losing his throne before he even had it.

I named the MC Ataris, and the woman, who was the empress’s daughter, Isis.

Back then, no one ever heard of a terrorist organization in the middle east with a name that matched the Egyptian goddess, so these names were totally fine at the time.

I put together a chapter by chapter outline, which I’d never done. I wrote the prologue.

I didn’t write the book.

Then I moved to LA.

Then I wrote a completely different book (adult high fantasy). Then made a really terrible attempt at a YA book.

Then I moved back to Milwaukee. I wrote an adult contemporary fantasy.

And then I wanted to return to the idea I had several years before. But… I realized if I was going to write a book with a matriarchal society, it was awfully dumb to make the MC a dude. In fact (I then thought), most of the characters should be women.

So I decided that Isis would be the MC. (Eventually her name became Isys, then Iris) She’s a sassy, sassy lady forced into a fight for her freedom (and her head!) as monsters and assassins converge on the capital of the empire.

Ataris is still in the story, but he’s only the 3rd or 4th most important character.

The other POV characters are Violet (a pirate), Talia (an imperial guard captain), and Elena (the empress). (side note: Iris is not the empress’s daughter as originally planned; they are political frenemies).

I just finished the fourth draft last week. I hope someday I can sell it to one of the big publishers, but the odds seem to be against such things. For now, though, it’s time to move on and work on the next thing.

The Next One

While I’m currently working on querying agents for Daughters of Darkness, I’ve also been spending some time pre-writing for my next project. I don’t have a working title for it yet, so for now I’m referring to it as either 12 Pyramids or Alaeric’s book (for the main character).

I did very little formal pre-writing for my earliest books, but with Daughters of Darkness, I took a far more in-depth approach. I even did a scene-by-scene outline for the first time ever.

I’m doing the same thing with this project, though I think the order of my approach is a bit different than last time around. In the first few weeks of working on 12 Pyramids, I did a fairly extensive brainstorm on the major characters, as well as a lot of the worldbuilding. It’s only the last few days I’ve started thinking about the plot.

So far, I’m finding it a bit of a struggle to come up with the major plot points. I already know the primary desires of each of the major characters, but fitting everything together is proving a challenge. I think it’s super critical that the plot contains rising tension – I gotta have interesting ways to raise the stakes throughout the book – but I also can’t start with stakes that are too low. This leaves a bit of a balancing act, one that I’m a little worried I won’t get right.

But fortunately I have almost 2 months before I plan to start writing the first draft. Gives me plenty of time for brainstorming while drunk (and some while I’m sober, too, I suppose).

Round 2

So my first round of querying for Daughters of Darkness was a bust. I cried for a little while, then drank a big bottle of whiskey, and now I guess it’s time to move on to…

Round 2. Fight!

Given that I apparently don’t know what the hell I’m doing with this whole querying thing, I figured I’d seek out some help. I picked a service for critiquing queries, and got some comments on my first effort.

Unfortunately that only left me more confused.

Well, that’s not totally accurate. But some of the advice I received directly contradicts much of what I’ve heard regarding query letters. So I figure I just need to ignore the comments that don’t seem right to me and use the rest (the critiquer actually made that point in the intro).

One of the biggest criticisms was that I didn’t provide enough context. I thought I was ignoring the unnecessary details to get to the meat of the story, but apparently I just made the damn query too vague.

So, I transformed my original opening paragraph from

As she stands outside the door to her wedding chapel, High Lady Iris LaRose watches helplessly as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

to

High Lady Iris LaRose always knew she would become one of the most influential women of the Dianic Empire – until her sister brought shame upon the entire family through a treasonous act. Now, with the LaRose name tainted, Iris finds herself pushed by her mother into a marriage she doesn’t want. But as she stands outside the wedding chapel, she watches in shock as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

Hopefully this gives a bit more color regarding the MC and her rather unpleasant situation. (And yes, if you read my previous post, I changed her name to something less risky)

I made a number of other edits, trying to be a lot more specific than I was originally. I think the new query is in much better shape, though I worry just a wee bit that it’s too long now. The pitch section went from 198 words to 268, which I think might be pushing it.

Anyway, I can only hope I’ve fixed the worst of the problems with my original submission. I considered trying to revise the opening pages as well, but I decided to wait. If I don’t get any requests this time I’ll have to look at making changes there.

My Quibble with Queries

 

In which I question the agent query process – or rather, my approach to it.

I used to think the agent querying process was a royal pain in the arse. I suppose I still do, but I’ve come around to thinking that I, like many other fledgling writers, stress out about writing queries too much. I’ve recently found myself worrying about whether I should have a bio, if I should talk about my non-writing-related education in the bio, if I should put the word count in the first paragraph or the last, if I should have comp titles, what should my comp titles be, is it okay to comp a best seller, am I supposed to italicize the comp titles OMG I’M FREAKING OUT.

So, deep breather. I should probably just chill out hope I can get some of the agents I query to start reading page 1. But my query still needs to accomplish its goal. This will be the third MS I’ve queried on, and hopefully I’ve improved in this area. There are lots and lots of resources on the web regarding query writing, but I’d say the most helpful bit of advice I’ve seen comes from agent Andrea Somberg:

The most important line from her post is:

“But what I really loved about the query was that her plot description created so many questions in my mind.”

And I’ve learned over the years that this sentiment is just as critical in the story itself, especially the opening pages. Plant questions in the readers mind, questions she desperately needs find answers for, and she’ll keep reading.

With that goal in mind, here’s the opening paragraph from the plot/blurb section of my query (note that this is still in draft form, and I may need to revise it further):

As she stands outside the doors to her wedding chapel, High Lady Isys LaRose watches helplessly as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

The primary question I hope I’m planting in the readers mind is: why in the fucking hell did Isys’s mother murder her fiance?

Anyone who reads this, then moves onto the first page of my MS, will quickly discover that Isys’s mother was the one who pushed her into this marriage in the first place. Hopefully, that bit of knowledge will create even more intrigue for said reader.

And if I’ve done my job right, the following paragraphs in the query, and the first pages of the novel, will continue to build more questions.

So those are my main thoughts on queries. As a side note, yes, I’m very much aware that there’s a group of really bad, terrible people who are generally referred to by a name which sounds the same as my MC. I figure that if I’m lucky enough to sell this MS, I may have to changer her name. But Isys is a real name for a woman, and that’s how I think of her (I conceived of the character and the name years ago). And besides, if I changer her name, doesn’t that mean that the terrorists have won?