Just Because it Burns Doesn’t Mean You’re Gonna Die (Query Writing Sucks, But You Gotta Try.)

Yes, I quoted Pink. It’s an awesome song, and she’s got a point. Query writing sucks. It’s hard, but if you don’t try, then you can never succeed.

Also, you guys should know that my original novel never made it into Pitch Wars, or anywhere else. What I learned as someone trying to enter Pitch Wars gave me the tools to write a novel that landed me an agent. The community helped me with my query letter. I went through like 12+ drafts before this one. So, make sure to involve yourself with the community and find your tribe, or at the very least, soak up all the knowledge floating around out there.

A few tips: Try to keep it between 250-350 words. Make it long enough to make the plot of the story clear, and be able to define your stakes, but don’t make your query a letter a novel. Don’t name more than three characters, because it gets super confusing. No, no, no, no rhetorical questions. Clear stakes are a must. If you’re not sure about the stakes, try using this little formula to get thinking: My character must do this or that (usually a consequence) will happen.

It doesn’t work every time, but it might give you a starting place that you can evolve from.

Anyway, without further ado:

Dear Super-Amazing Agent

REDEMPTION is a romantic thriller, complete at 71,000 words.

There’s no manual for how to cope with being the daughter of a serial killer.

When twenty-six-year-old Molly Harper returns to North Carolina for her father’s execution after spending the past twenty years in the Witness Protection Program, she doesn’t anticipate crossing paths with Aidan Spencer, the son of her father’s final victim and the boy who convinced her to turn him in all those years ago. Desperate to know if he escaped the shadow of the horrific murders, she follows him to the general store where he works.

But Molly gets more integrated into his life than she plans when she thrusts Aidan’s little boy out of the way of an oncoming car and winds up in the hospital. As she recovers, Aidan shows her kindness and patience unlike any she’s ever known by accepting her for who he thinks she is. Love blossoms between them, but when the truth of Molly’s past is revealed, her fears are recognized as Aidan casts her out. Molly once again tries to run from her past, but winds up in the path of an insane kidnapper hell-bent on finishing the work Molly’s father started long ago.

As her past catches up with her present, Molly finds she’s not the only victim. The kidnapper also takes Aidan’s son intending to create the perfect family. But Molly knows if they don’t play their parts, if they upset the kidnapper, they’ll wind up just like her father’s original victims.

About me section that actually pretty much no longer applies in 2018, so I won’t bore you with it.

Per your guidelines, I have included whatever their guidelines specified.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Natasha Raulerson
Email
Phone
Social Media

There ya go. I’m super thankful that my agent gave me a chance, because I still cringe when I look at my query, and a lot of times, I think that’s a natural reaction.  So, if you’re looking and cringing, well, most of us who already have agents, are right there with ya.

I hope this offers some insights for you guys and I can’t wait to read your stuff!

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Natasha Raulerson

P.A.G.E.S. – Making The First 250 Great!

Many of the writing competitions out there require a query and the first 250 words of your manuscript. That means not only one, but both need to be as strong as you can make it. As a judge for multiple writing competitions, I’ve seen some common mistakes in the first 250 that tend to bog it down. Sure, some people take longer to settle into their voice when they first start a new project. I tend to start in the wrong spot all the time. Editing and getting feedback before entering the competitions help.

So how do you make your first 250 pop? I sat down for a few hours trying to figure this out. What makes a reader want to keep going? What makes them put down the book and move on? There may be a lot of reasons–some that have nothing to do with how well written it is, but there are certain things you can do to make sure that the first 250 is the best it can be for your story.

This morning, I came up with the acronym P.A.G.E.S. Hopefully, this little mini guide will be handy tip to help you polish that intro.

P.A.G.E.S.

Making The First 250 Great

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When you have that PERFECT first sentence, you’ll know it.

Phenomenal First Sentence – A gripping first sentence can make a reader stop whatever else they’re doing. It can make the rest of the world fade away, and that same reader will HAVE to know what comes next. What caused this first sentence? If the first sentence is that good they’re going to want to know what the next one is, what does the rest of the story have to say? At the core, that first sentence, whether dark, light, humorous, witty, etc–it makes the audience want to know what happens next.

If you want more information on how to craft a phenomenal first sentence check out this amazing post by Stephanie Scott over at Writing With The Mentors.

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Your character doesn’t have to be walking away from a major traumatic event. Action can be mundane or extreme.

Actively Do Something – Hopefully,that something is something important. Somethingthat brings us to the inciting incident. Hopefully, that’s more than just ‘looking’. Looking is fine, but looking is also telling, and too much telling is tedious. Besides, if they’re just looking, chances are you’re just scene setting. Is your character riding a bike? Having a conversation? Were they just in a car accident? Did a letter arrive? There’s so many things to have your character doing, and they need to be doing something other than just observing.

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Much like the episode of FUTURAMA where the universe is destroyed, you don’t want your characters just floating around without a setting.

Ground The Characters – While the characters are doing something, we need to know where they are. That doesn’t mean we need a 100 words worth of setting, but the reader needs something to ground them in the story. Are they on the shore of a beach? Sitting in their bedroom? At a doctors office? Without this pivotal information the characters–and the reader–are left floating in the ether. It’s nothing but a white back drop. Grounding the reader in the story with a bit of setting brings them in closer while the character is doing the aforementioned action.

 

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When the reader can visualize the beginning of your novel it means you’ve got the start of something good. 

Engage The Reader – This comes when you have a happy balance of the above. Give a reader all the elements–a great first sentence, have the characters doing something, and put the setting in. I don’t want all dialogue in the first 250–there doesn’t even have to be any, pending on the story. I also don’t want all scene setting. I certainly don’t want nothing but observation or backstory. I want a fleshed out first 250 that makes me want to read more, and that means learning how to put all the necessary tidbits into a small space.

 

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Figuring out the inciting incident is pivotal to figuring out where and when to start your novel.

Start In The Right Place – All of the above is great, but if you don’t start in the right place for your novel, you run the risk of losing the reader anyway. If you’re explaining too much backstory, or maybe you have a prologue that probably isn’t needed–chances are you started in the wrong spot. If you’re first two paragraphs are nothing but description of where the character is, chances are, you started in the wrong spot. You should be starting at the event that either is, or is quickly leading up to the inciting incident of your story. Once you figure out just what the inciting incident is, you can figure out where you need to begin.

 

For more help on figuring out where to start your story, check out this great post by Kes Trester at Writing With The Mentors.

There you have it. P.A.G.E.S. The basic elements you need to make your first 250 great. Infusing the voice is all on you. It can be tricky. Don’t be afraid to cut the original beginning to start later, or even rewrite it. Tons of authors state how they write the first sentence several dozen times, if not more. So much of writing is rewriting, but the thing is, you can’t edit or rewrite what you don’t have. First drafts suck, so don’t get too caught up on making the first 250 amazing right away. Make sure you finish the draft. That will also give you a clearer picture of the overall story, and if you have all the elements of P.A.G.E.S.

Play around with it. Expand. Remember, this is just the basics. You have to figure out how to make it work for your story.

If you’re interested a bit more on the query aspect, see QUERY ADVICE: DO’S, DON’TS, AND STRUCTURE.

Natasha Raulerson

New Twitter Chat! #DarkLitChat — Join us on June, 21st at 8pm EST!


What is #DarkLitChat?

#DarkLitChat is a monthly Twitter chat for writers, authors, or readers who appreciate dark fiction. Writers and authors at all stages are welcome, and encouraged to join in. Whether you’re plotting, procrastinating, or published, you’re welcome to join us!

When is #DarkLitChat?

Tuesday, June 21st at 8pm EST, on Twitter. (You can find us for subsequent chats every 3rd Tuesday of the month, at 8pm EST)

Why #DarkLitChat?

Writing dark fiction can be hard — and it can be lonely. Many times it’s difficult to find other writers who appreciate a good blood bath in a world filled with happily ever after. Network with other writers of Dark Fiction while we discuss the ups and downs of writing dark fiction.

Who’s hosting #DarkLitChat?

D.H. Poirier, (@PoirierPages) Young Adult Author of dark historical fantasy, and horror. And Elesha Teskey, (@e_teskey) Urban Fantasy Author, and Publicist for Pen And Kink Publishing.

What is Dark Lit?

Any genre or market covering darker topics. Thrillers, horror, suspense, urban fantasy, mysteries, etc. Dark Lit would include murder, crime, abuse, drugs — things of that nature. Dark Lit is subjective, if you think you write Dark Lit, chances are — you do.

How can I help?

Help us get the word out on your blog, and on twitter.

#DarkLitChat Future Chats

We’re looking for published authors open to doing Q&As for future chats. If you’re interested, tweet at @PoirierPages on Twitter, or DM.

Need a reminder for #DarkLitChat? You can sign up for an email reminder for the chat here.

Natasha Raulerson

It’s an Author Thing: Don’t Piss Us Off

Let’s face it. Some people are just big giant bags of doucheholes. That’s putting it mildly.

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Once upon a time, there was this lady, who I dubbed the Evil B in 118. I had been walking my dog around the complex. She (my dog) had already done her business when we’d been farther out, as we come back, she stops to sniff some grass near the Evil B’s apartment. This lady then promptly bangs on her glass door, screaming at me like I’m eviscerating someone on full display.

I ignore her and move on. Start talking to another woman I know in the building who is also walking her dogs. Evil B comes around and proceeds to start screaming at me. My dog didn’t go to the bathroom on that patch of grass, and for the record, it also wasn’t the Evil B’s yard, as she so adamantly claimed.

It literally got to the point where she screamed that she saw her do it, and I screamed show-me-the-money-gif
back, ala Tom Cruise in  Jerry Maguire: “SHOW ME THE POOP!”

Which, of course, she couldn’t. Seriously, she harrasssed me every time she saw me for like a good year. I wouldn’t say anything to her and she would just start screaming at me.

So, I did what I do best. I took her character archetype and put it one of my books. Granted, this was my first failed book, but creating Evil B as a fictional character, making her an evil, crazy person with the likeness of hair and dress as the real person was very therapeutic. It made me smile to know, that even if she didn’t know, she would be immortalized in a novel based on the way she treated me.

Yes, we do that.

It’s an author thing.

3e7d00892fa8a33b3129a1633346ef94Pissing an author off runs the risk of finding your character likeness in a book. They won’t
have your name, and there will be enough subtle differences that it’s not actually you, but the basic archetype is there. We don’t have to add boils or grotesque features, because most times, the personality is enough to make the character ugly.

It’s really great fodder for our books, so sometimes, even as pissed off as we are, we should be thanking the doucheholes of the world for giving us so much to work with.

Well, nah. I don’t think we’d actually do that.

The moral of the story: Be careful who you piss off. You might find that our revenge immortalizes you in history in a way you would rather not be remembered.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

It’s an author thing.

Natasha Raulerson

It’s An Author Thing: Ideas Of The Night

The best ideas, at least for me, come when I’m just about to drift off to sleep. My brain is finally relaxed enough to let the creative juices fire through the synapses and wake those neurons up–and suddenly sleep is nothing more than a dream.

It's An Author ThingI’m awake. I have to get up and either jot down notes, create a character, or write a sample first chapter. There is no going to sleep when this happens. Not until the idea is solidified somewhere that I can review it in the morning–and not have forgotten it like the vague recesses of a fuzzy dream.

There’s nothing more annoying than thinking you’ll remember an awesome idea and wake up to find it’s faded into the nothing.

Nope. Gotta write it down before the sandman comes to visit.

It’s an author thing.

This can be annoying of course. Especially on nights I’m tangled in my husbands arms, head on his chest, his heartbeat lulling me to sleep. I jump up, roll out of bed, and he’s wondering what the hell just happened. Till he see’s the notebook.

He rolls his eyes as he turns on his side and starts to doze, cause we’ve been there before.

Then he starts to snore–and I’m the one annoyed. It's An Author Thing

No, that’s not an author thing.

The compulsion to write down an idea, because we know what fickle bitches they can be, how easy it is for them to slip through our fingers, and how sometimes they are pure nuggets of gold we may never get back if we don’t have pen scribbling over paper ASAP.

Nope. Can’t let that go. Too risky.

It’s an author thing.

 

 

Natasha Raulerson

It’s An Author Thing: Part Three

The undercover writer.

When you’re visiting family, but you have words to write. They generally just don’t get it. They think you’re being a recluse and hiding away in your room. Which is rude. Okay, that’s true, probably rude, but there’s a story that needs telling, and sitting on the back porch listening to the obnoxious jerk two yards over toot the train horn on his truck is not exactly productive.

That did happen.

So, when you’re in the living room to watch a movie, totally sneak on your laptop, and keep popping your head up from time to time to talk about what’s happening on the screen. Yup. Undercover writing. Holding half hearted conversationd while knowing the words need to pour onto the page because you’re determined to get this scene written because you’re actually just that sick of it being a pain in the ass and what it to be over.

It’s an author thing.

We don’t mean to be rude, or mean, or reclusive. We just have to get it done. If we don’t find the crazy, weird, odd moments to write, well then nothing would get written. Life would perpetually get in the way of creating new worlds. Finding time to write, even in the most odd moments when people give us sidelong glances or think we should be doing something else.

It’s an author thing.