Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ethics of Writing for Children / Young Adults

I'm in the middle of writing a break-up scene for a teen / young adult novel.  The stakes for the characters are very high - both in life and love - and there's a great deal of anger and tension on both sides of the conflict.

I've paused to write a blog post because I caught myself about to write a paragraph which would, in effect, have the heroine assaulting the hero.  In my mind it was her frustration and hurt being communicated in a way that she knew wouldn't actually hurt him, but would vent some of her anger.  He's a big boy, he can take it.  I was fine with it - until I remembered a conversation we had on the blog a couple of months ago.

In this post on what I dubbed "The Stephenie Meyer Effect", while discussing some of the technical writing issues, the ethical aspects of the love-story in the Twilight Saga were raised.  While I didn't agree with all of the comments, they gave me significant food for thought.  Now, in my own writing, I find the issues front and centre.

Some readers of the Twilight Saga see a passionate, fantastical love story between a human girl and a vampire man.  Others see an obssessive, unhealthy and at times illegal fixation of a mature man on a young girl. 

Depending on the reader's interpretation, the actions taken by the 'hero' in Twilight (Edward - the 100 year old Vampire who looks like a seventeen-year-old boy) could be read as unerringly protective and chivalrous, or frighteningly controlling and power-hungry.

Some people find the character's behaviour abhorrent and a terribly dangerous example for young people, others see chivalry and romantic sacrifice.

Who is right?  Both?  Neither?  And what, if anything, should an author do about it?

At what point do we, as writers, become responsible for how our stories affect or shape the minds of our audience?  I am guessing that writers of adult fiction would be mostly free of stricture, as the audience would be considered to be in a position to determine for themselves not only what  they will read, but also have enough life experience behind them to choose what they take away from a story.

But young minds?  Can we really believe we aren't at least a small part of forming desires, expectations, even boundaries for young readers?

Is it irresponsible for me to depict a heroine physically expressing her hurt and anger when a young reader might romanticize the scene and later emulate it?  Am I responsible if a young woman took similar action - perhaps in the company of a young man without the moral fortitude and physical restraint of my hero?   

My writerly heart is heavy.  I am a mother myself.  I write for teens.  I have no desire to be a negative influence on anyone - quite the opposite.  Neither do I want to pretend that human relationships and conflicts aren't fraught with danger for both sides.

Where should I draw the line?

What do you think?  My authorial ears are wide open.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Thanks for coming along for the ride this year.  I hope you have a wonderful holiday.  Wherever you are, whoever you're with, have a very Merry Christmas.

See you on the other side! 

God bless,


Saturday, December 11, 2010

And the Winner Is....

Thanks for your patience guys, sorry it's taken so long. 

So here's the thing.  I asked an independent (i.e. professional writerly) source about the entries on my blog mini-comp and the answer was:

"They've given you some powerful words, but nothing I'd describe as 'excellent'." 

Hmmm....  That's hard to hear - but we're all in this together, right? 

So I started thinking about what makes for excellence in writing, and one thing kept coming to mind.  This post by Lynn Hoffman on his Radiationdays blog:

Skip down to Part Two and read what has to be the most powerful description of a 'mundane' task (the art of cooking and eating a Creme Brulee) I've ever read.

Here's an excerpt of my favorite part, when Lynn has made two Creme Brulee and is about to eat one of them:

"...Say the name car-a-mel. Don’t cheat on a single syllable: caramel. Sugar all grown up and ready to go out dancing.

I’ll put a piece of plastic wrap over one of the dishes and put it in the reach-in. It will be a gift. Then I’ll sit the other one on the counter where the skylight is rich and cool and shadow-less. I’ll take a teaspoon and tap the back of it on. . . what? Yes, the caramel and it will crack.

I’ll make a dozen pieces or so. I’ll look at them, study them like they were a map of a place I plan to visit next week. I’ll smile at the vanilla-rum scent that comes through the borderlines. Then I’ll dip the spoon in one of the cracks and lever up-a township? a county? some little division of Carameland. There will be exactly the right amount of eggy dense custard clinging to the crust. I’ll look for a little translucency on the edges-do you remember that tv show-I Love Translucency?

It will take a long time for each bit to dissolve and coat my mouth. Texture, flavor, evocation, drama. The custard will play the part of Love, the caramel will appear in the role of Wit. I will rumble with the beauty of it, I will think of absent friends-and that my dears, is the only possibility."

That, my friends, is excellence in writing.  It's what I wish I could achieve every day. 

How about you?  Can you point us to an example of something that just took your breath away?

Friday, December 10, 2010

What Happens When Mr. King Hits the Eggnog...

...or maybe I was only dreaming?

Ten points to the first person who can tell me who the third author is???

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How NOT to Become a Published Author

....or so I'm told:

If you agree with or empathize with the writer in this video at any point, let me know which line is in your head.  I'll find an agent to respond to it.

Have fun!


Monday, December 6, 2010

Mini-Comp Winner?

I know you're sitting on the very edge of your seat (teetering on the verge of mental breakdown, no doubt) wondering who won the Mini-Comp.  Unfortunately, "Real Life" has interrupted the pursuit of the Write Life.  I blame the Twitter Elves.

So, you'll have to teeter for a few more days. But, in the meantime, feel free to change or add an entry here.  I won't be reviewing them until Thursday.

Hope you're all enjoying the madness that is December!


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Natalie Fischer Mission

...or rather yours: 

Natalie Fischer, Literary Agent, and thus One Of Us Writer Types, is currently being out-googled by a... doll maker. 

This cannot be.

Mainly because a while back Natalie (without even knowing me) was responsible for retweeting my blog and gaining me a bunch of followers.  So I'm grateful.  And I need your help to show it. 

Here's YOUR mission:

Get on Google and search "Natalie Fischer Seeking Write Life" or "Natalie Fischer Mission" or "Natalie Fischer Aimee Salter Best Author Known To Man", etc, etc, etc (whatever comes to mind).  And lets see if we can get Natalie back her google mojo.

Are you game?


PS - No, Natalie isn't my agent.  In fact, we've never met or tweeted.  She's probably pretty creeped out by this.  The idea makes me giggle.

PSS - I already have an agent.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Exercise in Expression - Can You Do Better?

I wrote the following for no more reason than to describe something that means a lot to me.  I'm sure you can do better.  If you do, I'll give you your own post along with a dissection on what made your example so good.

When I listen to music I want to breathe it. I want to be surrounded. Cocooned. Feel the bass press into my skin and tangle with my bones. Sense the beat demanding response. Shift my limbs in time, perfect and precise.

I want to lift my voice with the melody. Follow its rise and fall. Soar into harmony. Be fused with the singer’s song. Then fall and be lost in symmetry again.

When I listen to music, let me not merely listen, but experience its depth.  Swallow the notes and chords and percussion until I'm carried into the composer's heart. I want to hear him bleed. I want to know his tears. His joy. His grief.

When I listen to music I want to be stirred to motion. To emotion.

Let me not merely listen.

*   *   *   *   *

Now it's your turn:  You get 150 words to express anything you please.  Let me feel something through your senses.  Paste it into the comments.  I'll repeat:  The best one gets its own post on the blog along with a reader discussion on what makes it so good.

DEADLINE EXTENDED:  You have until midnight December 2nd (USA).  Go!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Stephenie Meyer Effect

THIS IS NOT A RANT.  I'm really curious to hear what other writers think.  Please read and weigh in:

I've had a huge response to the videos in the last post - including several personal notes from authors disparaging Stephenie Meyer.  One even suggested the only reason she made the list was because she's made squazillions of dollars on the back of her book, not because her book was any good.

Well, um....yes.  Can we really believe a book that draws that kind of fanaticism is completely without merit?

I'll admit, I was hesitant to include her in that post because I know how irritated many writers get when she's held up as a successful author.  But I put her in there because she's achieved something only a few others have.  And I admire her for it.

Don't get me wrong, I don't like it when my read gets broken by a clunky sentence.  I am not suggesting the writing was technically stellar.  But I, for one, was riveted anyway.  I get why writers working hard at the craft are disappointed that a piece of work which lacks the technical savvy has been so successful.  What I don't understand is why they're angry about it. 

I want to be a really good, technically strong writer. To that end, I'm studying the craft, taking advice and learning more every day. But that's my desire for my writing. The whole point of being a writer is to find your voice, your stories and your passions, pursue them and hope someone else wants to come along for the ride. 

Let's be honest: When we write for publication, we write because we want others to read it.   Stephenie Meyer has created a world that literally millions of people want to be a part of.  How is that not something to applaud?

I think it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be an expert in the craft of fiction.  But that's great - because no one can be an expert in everything.  Just because I don't understand string theory and the AMAZING brain power it takes to explore it, does it mean I can't laugh at The Big Bang Theory?  (Which, by the way, has some of the world's smartest people consulting on its scientific content). 

For the purposes of this conversation, do we need to separate the skills of storytelling from the master craft of writing?  Admire some for what they've told, and others for how they've told it?  I've known individuals who are incredible technical writers, but can't weave a decent story for love nor money.  Literally.  Why can't some writers be known for a good story, and others be known for snazzy writing?   And why can't we recognize achievement even if we wouldn't have taken the same route ourselves?

Are we jealous? Afraid we'll have to write something equally clunky to be a success ourselves? Or afraid no one will ever read our (hopefully) technically stellar writing because they're getting used to this level of work?

What is it, people? Why does Stephenie Meyer draw the fans in droves, and repel the writers in equal quantity? And why do we think it's okay to slam a writer we've never spoken to - or worse, whose book we've never read?

If you've got an opinion, I'd love to hear it.  Please jump into the comments.  And please identify which book(s) you've read from the series?  I'm curious whether reading the books affects your stance.

NOTE: I adore a good debate.  But let's keep it about the subject and avoid just hauling each other through the proverbial knothole, okay?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tips from Those Who've Done It

Some easy viewing for your holiday weekend - words of advice from commercially successful authors:

Garrison Keillor on what writing is really about and how to do it well:

Stephen King on when you know you're a writer:

Neil Gaiman on what to do to become a writer:

Stephenie Meyer on why we should write:

Enjoy.  See you in a few days!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Use Your Words

Your challenge for the holiday weekend:  Use your writerly words to tell the people closest to you how much they mean to you.

Then reward yourself by watching this, and smiling:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Just hit 50,000 unpadded NaNoWriMo words. 

*Doing the Dance of Joy*

If you're doing NaNo, buddy me (AimeeLS), or comment with your nano name and I'll buddy you.  We can all cross the finish line together next week!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finding the Heart of Your Story

If you're feeling a little like your story is dead in the water, or lacking spark, consider these words of wisdom from my favorite Mr. Swain:

...there, in a nutshell, is the whole issue of the duality of story movement.  External events have no meaning in themselves, no matter how bland or violent they may be.  Their inclusion or exclusion per se is completely inconsequential.  They aid in story development only as [your character] has feelings about them and reacts to them.

Therefore, we must have change in both the external world, your focal character's state of affairs, and his internal world, his state of mind.  Neither can stand without the other.  Only as they interact, meshing like finely tooled gears, will your story roll forward.  ++

Do you hear what he's saying? 

The world could explode and the reader find it meaningless, if your character doesn't care, or you haven't made your reader care about the character.

Conversely, the raising of an eyebrow, or eye-contact held, could spur a depth of feeling or need to read on so long as your reader understands how that tiny stimulus will make your character feel - and deeply.

To find the heart of your story, don't focus on the events, but use the events (big or small) that demand your character feel and respond.  Then your reader will do the same.

QUESTION: What's your favorite point of action in a book you've read?  How did it make you feel? 

++ Swain, Dwight V.  Techniques of the Selling Writer, University of Oklahoma Press, 1973

Friday, November 5, 2010

Life is an Analogy: Vacuum Cleaners = Fiction Craft

Just a writerly thought for your reflection (go with me on this):

Today I bought a new vacuum cleaner for the first time in many, many years.  It took a bigger investment than I would have liked, but it is strong, efficient and a pleasure to use - especially when compared with my old vacuum cleaner which was none of those things.  However, my old vacuum cleaner did do the job.  It took longer, complained louder, and didn't look as pretty... but it got there.

Given the learning curve I've experienced in the last year or so, I liken this to learning the fiction craft.  I'm not at the top of my game yet - not by anyone's stretch of imagination - but I've come a long way.  It's taken hundreds (thousands?) of hours of coaching, research, reading and writing things that didn't work, then revising, revising, revising (with more coaching, more research.... etc, ad nauseum).

Now, the investment is starting to pay off. 

I've written nearly 20,000 words this week (Nanowrimo anyone?).  Those 20,000 words are tighter, stronger and more effective than any I've written before.  It isn't that they don't need work, but the work from this point will be significantly less than book one when I wrote it eighteen months ago.  The payoff will come sooner.  And I can enjoy them more because of it.

Taking the time and humility to learn how to write well is hard.  But it's worth the investment.

Try it, you'll see.

I wish I could go back eighteen months and do the learning first.  But all I can do is look forward and learn from my mistake.

What about you?  Have you invested in your writing career?  How?  What steps were the most valuable to you?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Advertising That Isn't

First of all, AWESOMENESS!  (Some things deserve incorrect punctuation and words that don't exist):

Second: I used to work in branding.  What you've just watched is an example of viral marketing - that is, something people love so much, they don't care that it's advertising.  They send it on, tell their friends, share on their blog... *ahem*

No matter what your product, it's the single most effective form of marketing today. 

As a writer it might seem like Caving To The Man to try and come up with effective ways to market yourself or your book.  Or maybe you're afraid the cost would be unrealistic.  But here are some authors showing the rest of us how it's done... without an international telecommunication budget:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Know When They're Saying "No"

The most common complaint I hear from writers in the query process is “I don’t know why I got rejected. Agents don’t give enough feedback.”

If that’s you, I may have something that can help. It’s a little website called **

If you have a legitimate novel that you've worked hard to polish, submission materials that have been redrafted and refined, and a willingness to make sure your work is putting its best foot forward, WeBook is second to none (at least in my opinion). Here's why:

1. The website identifies for you which agents are actively seeking your genre and points you to them - and ONLY them (assuming you've identified your genre correctly).

2. You ONLY submit to quality, verified agents (Writers House anyone?  Curtis Brown?), and each agent's submission guidelines are listed to ensure you're including the right materials.

3. The website is specifically set up for multiple submissions, so every agent on there expects your work to be going to other agents at the same time.

4. If you pay the six month subscription fee (currently $9.95), every submission you make is tracked. That means you know when an agent has viewed it, even if they don’t reply. When they respond, you know what materials they reviewed prior to contacting you. And, most importantly, if you’re rejected you know which part of your submission didn’t make the grade.

No more wondering if an agent has opened your email (or even received it, for that matter). No more wondering whether they read the pages you sent.

The reason I recommend WeBook so highly is because the first two rounds of submissions I made were a mix of WeBook and standard electronic submissions elsewhere. I found the submissions that went out on the wire were total crapshoots as far as my learning experience was concerned. A complete enigma. But an interesting pattern unfolded in my WeBook submissions:

Of the agents who rejected my submission via WeBook, only two of them had actually read the pages. Several hadn’t read past the ‘short synopsis’ WeBook uses to tantalize agents into reading your submission – meaning my project just didn’t appeal. A few read the query letter and rejected based on that (so maybe my letter was lacking?). The vast majority that took the time to read the attached pages requested a larger sample!

So what did I learn? I learned that if I could get an agent reading, my writing was good enough to at least engage attention. Of course, we already know my book wasn’t ready – so don’t make the mistake I made and start submitting too early.

But when you’re sure your book is ‘cooked’ and your query is ready, don't miss the opportunity WeBook presents to learn about how you’re being perceived.

Two words of warning: 

- WeBook is easy enough to use that if your submission materials aren't top notch, you're going to burn a lot of bridges really quickly.  Don't get impatient, make sure your query and hook are hot!

- Be prepared for what you might learn.  If a lot of agents are reading your pages and rejecting you anyway, you might have to accept that the book isn’t right. You might need to go back to the drawing board.... But at least you know, right?

So, what do you think? Have you tried WeBook? Do you know of other sites that provide a similar service? Do you use submission sites, or do you prefer the personal contact of sending directly?

** I am NOT, in any way affiliated with WeBook. I gain nothing from promoting them here. I was lucky enough to stumble onto them at the end of last year, when it was brand new and absolutely free. It's now $9.95 for a six-month subscription, but I believe that's a very reasonable fee for what you're gaining.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How Do You Know When Your Book is Cooked?

Simple Answer?  When someone with a proven track-record in publishing tells you it is...  but here's the long story:

In my naivete of being a first-time novel-writer, I started submitting my manuscript far too early.  Last year, only six months after completing the manuscript, I took a stab at submitting.  I was encouraged by a handful of 'Please Send's, and some requests for the full manuscript... but no offers were forthcoming.

I revised some more and in April this year, put out another round of submissions.

By June I'd heard back from everyone.  Of just over twenty submissions I'd had eight requests for the partial manuscript and four requests for the full.  But no offers of representation.

Why?  My book needed more work.   Of the agents who read only the partial the feedback was consistent.  Here's a quote from one agent that summed up the consensus:

"Although [the book] has an interesting premise, I can't offer you representation based on what I read. I judge on several levels, but the most important question is: do I have to read more? In this case, I couldn't answer with a yes. I'm sorry!"

And what about those fulls?  Of the four agents who read the full manuscript, three suggested they'd seriously considered offering representation.  And the reason they didn't?   Again, a quote from a top, New York agent that seemed to hit the overall tone:

"There is a clever plot here, and some real power in the writing. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the time to work with you to take it to where I think it needs to be."

This and other emails were very generously filled with specific advice on what parts of the manuscript were lacking, offering some guideposts for revision.  But in the end, the message was received:  The manuscript needs A LOT more work. 

So I knuckled down this year.  No submissions between April and October, instead I made use of the resources available to me from professional writers with whom I'd built relationships.  I listened to advice on plotting, characterisation, grammar.... everything!  At each stage, I thought "is it ready?" and at each stage, a more knowledgeable, more experienced writer than myself would say 'no'.

And I'm glad they did.  Because now, having finished the final revisions, put the work (with serious help from a mentor) into those pesky sub-plots that just seemed like too much mental energy, taken instruction on (horrors!) grammar and punctuation, and cut out EVERY SINGLE NON-ESSENTIAL word... my book is ready.

How do I know?

I know because it finally reads the way I was always aiming for:  Tight.  Sharp.  Without rambling.  Without leaving anyone wondering what that sentence meant, or why the protagonist made that particular decision.

But most importantly, I know it's ready because people who have finished, submitted, edited and published books before told me it is. 

Like, my agent. 

So, here's my advice:  When you're reading through your 'finished' manuscript and you get that flash of an idea about how you might develop that second-tier character's story, or that maybe the protag's motivation in this scene is just a little flimsy, listen to that voice.  Those problems won't go away.  Doors aren't likely to open while they remain in place.  But when you put the work in, those same doors will fly open so hard and fast they rebound and catch you in the nose as you're walking through.

Here's the take-away:  Accept you don't know everything.  Accept you may not even  know much at all.  Find others who have proven themselves and let them tell you what you need to hear.  Put the work into taking their advice and the results will be worth it.

NEXT on Seeking the Write Life:  The website that will help you identify where and how your submission materials are lacking!

QUESTION:  Have you made submissions and found the doors closing instead of opening?  What do you think is at the root of the problem?  What are you doing to solve it?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Best. Writing Quote. Ever.

"Improper placement of adverbs grows from a failure to understand placement's effect on impact, probably."

Dwight V. Swain
Techniques of the Selling Writer

Saturday, October 30, 2010

READER QUERY #3 - Timothy's Magical Legacy

This week on Seeking the Write Life I'm featuring advice from successful agents AND a website that just might kickstart your publishing career.  But until then, here's the last of our reader queries to round up the week.  As always, any feedback in the comments please, and email me your details if you'd like to correspond directly with the Author.


Seven year old Timothy unknowingly holds the key to an ancient magical legacy. This is the story of a young boy neglected by his step father and is rescued by a group of very special friends.



The boy awoke with a start. His cold slight body ached as he shifted his position on the stark cellar floor. What had awoken him?....

Timothy's mother had died suddenly less than a year ago leaving her husband Larry, Timothy's step-father, to care for him. Larry was intent of getting rid of Timothy by having him put into a Childrens home so he could steal Timothy's inheretence. Timothy's Grandmother, who is his only living blood relative, is unaware of Larry's plans and it becomes the task of a group of cats who understand the legacy to rescue Timothy from his living nightmare.

Will they make it before it's too late? Will they make the humans understand the legacy that has been passed down and one that rests on Timothy's little shoulders.

Timothy's Magical Legacy is a young reader chapter book of 21000 words


Thursday, October 28, 2010

READER QUERY #2 - Livian. A Fairy's Tale

Please leave your feedback in the comments so the author can find it easily.

If you want to be in touch with the author directly, please email me. I'm happy to pass your details on so they can contact you if they wish.

I've got room for one more reader letter, if you're interested, email me.

Dear Agent,

Livian has been hunted ever since her birth without her hunter knowing of her existance. Her parents were brutally murdered soon after she was born by the evil army of unicorns possessed by the corrupted mind of Belial. Created within the forbidden love of a warrior fairy and a royal elf, cross-breeding has left the young girl without the wings or powers of either parent. She is held in secret by her only caretaker, her fairy grandfather, Inennious.

Hidden deep within the uncharted wood, they live away from all tribes as the child remains the most fragile being of creation. Her only links into the outside world are Elsa, the aging fairy that visits them, whom carries an endless torch for the elder Inennious, and the majestic dragons hidden within a cave near them that also fear their existence becoming knowledge of Belial's possession.

This is the journey of one special child's battle. The battle of self discovery, belonging, betrayal, grief, strength, and above all, faith.

I am seeking representation for my 73,450 word YA dark fantasy novel, “Livian. A Fairy's Tale” a book that gnarls the previous conceptions of fairies, elves, unicorns, as well as dragons and creates a world of warriors against blood thirsty armies as the balance of good versus evil breaks the scales. This is the first book of a plotted possible series.

I have ventured into the world of journalism, where I mainly covered the genre of stories showcasing good fighting through a world of evil, such as one man going completely green in his life as no one around wanted to be bothered with the hassle, or the happiest toddler that I have ever had the pleasure to meet, as he struggles for his life with a smile each day with a rare disease eating away inside of him. Writing is not a career, it is a passion. The greatest joy of being a writer is the reader's attachment. The highlight of many of my days has been a stranger hearing my name and starting a conversation about an article that they clipped and saved or knowing that several reprints had to be done of an issue with my article so that it could be used for information at a fundraiser. I want to give readers the same attachment over this novel as it relates to all of our own inner struggles of faith and belonging.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can You Like It?

We interrupt this fun-filled-feedback fest to fulfill shameless self-promotion duties (say that ten times fast!):

Ladies and gents, I've got an agent (otherwise known as My Fairy Godmother - or "MFG").  MFG is already working on a miracle for me - and as you're probably aware, in the publishing industry that means I need to start making the most of social media. 

You can help by clicking on the "Like" button to the right of this post if you're on Facebook, and / or the 'follow' link further down the menu.  In the event I obtain a contract, I'll be using this blog and that facebook page to give readers insider information about my writing and publishing journey (and the occasional, off-topic funny). 

And if you don't already, feel free to follow me on Twitter.

I promise no spamming, just lots of succinct info on a debut author's publishing ride!

Thanks for being instrumental in helping me Seek the Write Life!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Reader Query #1 - A Safe Place in Hell

Fasten your seatbelts - and offer feedback in the comments! 
(I'm also looking for 2-3 more submissions,  If you're interested, email me)

I'm going to give each Author a tag. But if you want to be in touch with them, please email me your details.  I'm happy to pass it on to the author so they can contact you if they wish.

Now... go to it!  What can AUTHOR#1 do to improve the hook and query letter below?


There is no safe place for Eddie after he makes the mistake of shooting a vindictive militia captain. But he isn’t sure he can survive in a world where the temperature is never below one hundred and justice is decided by the one with a bigger gun. 



The alarm Eddie Watson woke to could signal any number of things: the air conditioner overheated, a computer malfunction, another storm—problems he could fix. But it was the worst, the worst of the worst: people were breaking into his house. Why they’d mess with a small place in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains he didn’t know, but only Marauders are stupid enough to be out stealing in one hundred twenty degree heat. And that belief is what could get Eddie killed.

Had his father not been taken up to Canada by the government, he could have stopped Eddie. He would have realized the men were too organized and too well-trained to be desert dwellers. He would have stopped Eddie from firing on soldiers sent by the militia that just seized power, and maybe Captain Logan wouldn’t be demanding his head on a pike.

Eddie isn’t a fighter. He grows plants and fixes motorcycles. Running is his only option.
To his relief, he doesn’t have to go alone. Plenty of friends (specifically, adult friends) decide to go with him, helping him fight off the soldiers sent to apprehend him.

Unfortunately, his escape further vexes Logan. Demoted and humiliated at his failure to secure the land he oversaw, he wants to bring Eddie back and prove his competence. As the hunt goes on, first east and then south, he realizes obtaining Eddie won’t fix his career. Nothing will. And all he has left is revenge.

All this under the glare of an unforgiving sun. For Eddie, freedom is South America. And the price is every person he calls “friend.”

A SAFE PLACE IN HELL is a 76,000 word dystopian/YA novel. Thank you for taking the time to look at my submission. The full manuscript is available on request and I am submitting it to other agents at this time.


Rules of engagement:  Let's keep comments constructive - i.e. offer encouragement as well as helpful advice or gently identify areas for concern.  Derogatory comments will be deleted.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Choose Your Words Carefully - YOUR QUERY HERE

Get Involved and Tell Your Friends

SPREAD THE WORD:  While I'm working on collecting more information from the Wonderfully Pubbed (or WP's as I like to call them), I'm going to offer a chance for YOU to put your draft submission materials (hooks, queries or single-page synopsis if you're really keen) on the site for feedback.

It's Not As Scary As it Sounds

Check out the feedback I got on my first query draft, and my second draft.  I also got people to help with feedback on my 'hook' first draft and subsequent drafts.

I found the process really helpful - not to mention successful... but more on that soon.

Even if you aren't finished your book, you can start thinking about a good query - the longer you have to redraft, the better!  So let's take what we've learned from the Winning Queries Series and put it into action.

And don't forget to come back and offer feedback on other's letters.  Fresh eyes are a valuable tool.

Keen?  Comment here or email me at with the material you'd like to have reviewed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

YOUR TURN: Write the Winning Query with Helen Lowe (HarperCollins)

Helen Lowe is a NZ based speculative fiction author. Her first novel Thornspell (Knopf, 2008) won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel: Young Adult” 2009. Helen's second novel, The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night, Book One) is now on sale in the USA/Canada and Australia/New Zealand and will launch in the UK in March 2011.

You can find Helen at and follow her publishing journey and appearances at

Helen is represented by (*insert drum roll here*) Robin Rue at Writer's House. They've collaborated to give us what they believe is the key advice every author should take prior to sending a query letter and generously agreed to let me share it with you:

"...The four tips, which basically reflect the process I followed are:

1) Do some research to find out who out there represents/publishes work similar to yours. I did this by using the internet and looking at who represented authors whose work I considered to be broadly "of like kind" to mine. Robin suggests that another good place to look can be the Acknowledgments sections in published books, where very often an author will acknowledge their agent and publisher.

2) Once you have identified a likely agent/publisher go to their website and check out their submission guidelines. (Look under FAQ if you cannot see a section titled "Submission Guidelines".) Read those guidelines and follow them to the letter. Robin adds: "Try to send to a specific agent rather than a "group" mailing, as well."

3) Be professional and businesslike. (Repeat formula as often as required.)

4) Always be polite.

…Although I cannot provide the exact letter, that is exactly what I did to get taken on by Robin at Writers House Literary Agency."

Thank you so much Helen. I look forward to following the Wall of Night series!

So there it is folks! Examples and advice from people who've had real success. Before we wind up this series altogether, I'm personally going to offer one more tip:

Don't let yourself believe you're the exception to the rule.

It's easy to get impatient, or tell yourself those-in-the-know are being pedantic, but don't fall into that trap. If you've got a story to tell, give it the best possible chance of seeing daylight by following advice and emulating those who've already had success.

And before you go, drop in on the post beneath this one to tell us what you’d like to see next on Seeking the Write life – “Real Editor Tips and Tricks”, “Reader Feedback on Reader Queries”, “YOUR IDEA HERE”?

See you in the comments,


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Do You Want To Read Next?

The Winning Queries Series is uber-popular and I've had lots of great feedback - thanks very much to those who took the time to email, tweet and comment.

We're winding up tomorrow with advice from internationally published Helen Lowe (HarperCollins) and her agent Robin Rue of  Writer's House... but what then?

What would YOU like to see next on Seeking the Write Life?  What would interest you?  I've been considering:

1.  Your query letter drafts - submitted for feedback and help from other readers.


2.  Most writers go through extensive revisions with their agents and editors prior to publication.  What about a series of tips and tricks from writer's who've been through the process and could help us 'jump the revision line' so to speak?



Comment!  Email me!  Tweet me!  Tell me what you'd like to read.

WINNING QUERY #5 - Deadworld

AKA:  The Query That Wasn't - And Got a Contract Anyway

J.N. Duncan’s debut Deadworld will be released by Kensington Publishing, April 2011. You can find Jim and follow his publishing journey on, or on twitter.

Jim’s story is a study in perseverance. (This is where you take a quick look at the quote underneath the blog title before going any further). Jim claims he can’t write queries for… er… fecal matter – which is why his journey has been a little different.

You can read the entire story in detail on Nathan Bransford’s blog, but I’ll hit the high points:

- After finishing his first draft and researching agents, Jim worked up several drafts of his query, choosing the one he thought best and sent it out – only to be consistently advised the multiple POV switches were jarring.

- Undaunted, Jim REWROTE Deadworld in third person (NB: *Applause!*).

- Another batch of queries, another pick, more rejections.

- And again.

- Still no luck.

But wait. The good news is, Kensington Publishing also received Jim’s submission. And they decided they liked it. Enough to offer a THREE BOOK CONTRACT.

Needless to say, the agents he’d submitted to were quite happy to be hearing from Jim again. Although there was more than one interested party, Jim had formed a good rapport with Nathan Bransford online (through blog comments, that sort of thing). The rest is history.

Because Jim is quite…um…modest regarding his query-writing skills, he suggested I only include the blurb he used when sending the manuscript to Kensington.

So, for your viewing pleasure, I give you The Query That Wasn’t – And Got a Contract Anyway:

Jackie Rutledge is a Chicago FBI agent who walks that fine line between competence and nervous breakdown. When a killer begins bleeding people dry, Jackie’s psychic partner Laurel, tells her to get off the case. The spirit world is involved and they aren’t playing nice. Worse, the prime suspect, one PI Nick Anderson, seems to exude death worse than the local cemetery. Jackie is not a “leave well enough alone” sort of woman however. She hasn’t let a bad guy get away since she was twelve, and this one will be no different. Unless of course, he’s not the killer.

Despite the evidence, Jackie does not get the “killer” vibe from Nick. He’s not at all what he appears. His past goes back far beyond the humanly possible. In fact, nothing about the case makes sense, and the more they dig, the more it seems Laurel was right. They’re dealing with a killer who effortlessly walks between the living and the dead, and she will need Nick’s help to take that step, because facing the dead is where Jackie’s competence ends and the breakdown begins.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to read it!

We here at Seeking the Write Life (i.e. Me) look forward to all kinds of launch festivities next year!

Tune in tomorrow for the big wind up: HarperCollins (international!) author Helen Lowe, along with her agent Robin Rue of Writer’s House offer the four foundations for writing a winning query!

See you in the comments!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

WINNING QUERY #4 - Whispertown

Author extraordinaire, L.R. Giles (the 'L' stands for Lamar) used this query to garner interest from several agents (!!!) eventually deciding on Jamie Weiss Chilton from Andrea Brown Literary. (Just in case you're wondering, Publisher's Marketplace puts ABL currently in the number one position for YA dealmakers).

WHISPERTOWN is being peddled right now - no doubt we'll hear about a deal very soon, so keep up to date with his journey on or follow Lamar on twitter.

Lamar says a good query takes time:

"...It took me 3 weeks and 20 drafts to get to what you see below, and even after that I found myself tweaking a word here or there while I researched the right agents to query. I took another month to research agents and compile a proper list before I clicked send. It wasn’t good enough for me to get just any agent. I wanted an agent with editorial experience because I like feedback..."

He chose Jamie at ABL not just because they're top notch, but also because "...Jamie has incredible editorial experience and a proven track record as an agent, and our personalities clicked. Signing with her felt more like making a new friend than a business contact. All the pieces just fell into place."

After a month of edits, the manuscript is on the road. Best of luck Lamar! Let us know when you've nabbed that publisher so we can celebrate with you!

Now for the QUERY:

Dear ,

Nick Pearson is pretending to be someone he isn’t. Not high school pretending. Witness Protection pretending. And the #1 rule is “stay low-key”. But, when his sole friend Eli dies in the school’s journalism room under mysterious circumstances, and Nick stumbles upon the conspiracy Eli planned on exposing, staying low-key takes a backseat to staying alive.

Newspaper Nerd Eli had a secret, an in-the-works story codenamed “Whispertown”. And it’s got a lot of folks interested. Like corrupt cops, the town’s shady mayor, and certain high-ranking government officials. Teaming with Eli’s estranged (and gorgeous) sister, Nick sets out to unravel the mystery and still maintain his cover. He’ll have to use all the deviant skills he’s gained from his racketeering dad, assassin godfather, and their Serbian gangster boss to find the truth. However, each clue brings him closer to answers he may not want. Whispertown is bigger than he could have ever imagined, and in its shadow stands a killer…a killer Nick fears may be his own father.

I’m seeking representation for my 70,000 word YA novel Whispertown, a book about high school, heartbreak, and hit men. My fantasy novel The Darkness Kept was a Top 10 finalist in the 2009 Tor UK and SciFi Now “War of the Words” competition. I am a recipient of the 2006-2007 Virginia Commission for the Arts Fiction Fellowship (a $5000 cash award). And, I’m a three-time contributor to the Dark Dreams anthology series edited by author Brandon Massey for Kensington Publishing (Dark Dreams, 2004; Voices from the Other Side, 2006; Whispers in the Night, 2007). I have a lot of stories to tell and I just need the chance to put them where they belong…in front of readers.

Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included the first five pages of WHISPERTOWN for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you find that we are a good match for each other.


So there it is!

READER QUESTION: Are you patient, willing to draft and re-draft your queries? Or do you want to move things ahead a little faster, trusting the story to speak for itself?

Help Kids Read

Check out the bookends lit blog and send any books (especially Spanish language) that you can spare - and note what some are doing in the comments.  A great way to help if you don't have children's books laying around!

Friday, October 15, 2010

WINNING QUERY #3 - This Hippogryph Can't Fly

Christie Bailey used her query to jump straight to the publisher - and got picked up by an independent house! She's now finishing up editing revisions for a 2011 release date. (NB: Go Christie!)
Because it went straight to the publisher, Christie's submission included draft teaser, blurb, outline and excerpt.

And it worked.

You can meet Christie on twitter and follow her publishing journey at - check out her new cover art!

Now for the query:

Dear Editor,

Meet Ray, a senior in high school with a sour tongue and a secret crush on her best friend, August. Besides the fact that her natural form has a beak, wings, and hooves – and besides the fact that her crush is a gargoyle – Ray is a pretty normal teenager. She has all of the usual adolescent problems (pop quizzes, nerdy classmates, a curfew) plus a few unique ones. How many normal teens worry about learning to fly? One Thursday afternoon, a typical after-school lunch with August and their vampire friend, Jean, turns into a weekend long of secret stalkers, zombie pets, car chases, gargoyle dogfights – and missed homework. When her friends need her most, Ray must learn to take charge, spread her wings, and fly.

I began writing this novella shortly after graduating high school. I was my college newspaper's copy editor at the time, and the layout designer and I decided to join National Novel Writing Month together for fun and for a challenge. This story began as a quirky idea for that contest, and was finished as a gift for a dear friend.

For your consideration, I have attached the first four chapters of Hippogryphs. Below, you will find teasers, a short excerpt, and a full story outline.

I hope you enjoy reading my story, as I have enjoyed writing it. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Christie Bailey

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Winning Query #2 - Point Blank

Today's winning query comes from Nancy O'Berry.  Point Blank is currently being peddled to publishers in New York (NB: I'm sure you'll join me in wishing Nancy all the best of luck in that process).  You can find out more about Nancy and Point Blank at her website, or tweet her

Nancy knew her book was 'niche' market and approached her query appropriately.  Here's her explanation:

"...Its probably not your standard letter, but because my work is set in the American west and considered a hard sell I felt I had to really sell the emotion of the Texas Rangers...I used the query letter in the Writers Market as a guideline. However I threw out many suggestions and really wrote from the heart keeping the story outline more like a blurb. After the signature, I did include what I planned on writing for the next four books. I wanted them to know I wasn't a flash in the pan."


Our American heritage is filled with amazing people, none that captures the imagination more than the men of the Texas Rangers. They helped tame a lawless frontier and went from mortality to mythology when they pinned that silver and gold badge upon their chest. The Texas Ranger website states it so passionately; a ranger is law officer who can “…handle any given situation without instructions from his commanding officer or a higher authority…”. So it is that my hero, Tyrone Calhoun Dixon is bound by honor and the brotherhood under the star, all for the glory of Texas .

In POINT BLANK, Captain Tyrone Dixon, a Texas Ranger, is on the trail of Frank Prentiss, a small time crook working for a gambler named Yellow Jack Anderson. Prentiss is the prime suspect in the killing of Judge Ambrose Lambert from Balscome, and the theft of signed land deeds. Tyrone trails Frank to Cold Creek, where in the middle of a downpour, he finds Lily Prentiss, Frank’s wife, bathing his body for burial. Keeping his identity a secret, Tyrone agrees to help Lily get the ranch back on its feet. A Ranger wouldn’t leave a widow stranded besides, she is his only lead at this point.

However, problems arise when Tyrone’s heart takes over control of his actions. When he falls from her roof and nearly lands in her arms, Ty finds his badge is not enough of a shield for his heart. Slowly, as much as he wants to resist, Tyrone Dixon is falling in love with the Widow Prentiss. Slipping into town, hoping to put some distance between himself and Lily, Tyrone finds some well-crafted forged deeds in Yellow Jack’s desk drawer. He begins to put the crumbs together and realizes that Frank was only the front man for Yellow Jack’s schemes. Now he has to catch Anderson before Tyrone finds Lily or himself in the crosshairs of Yellow Jack’s deadly aim.

POINT BLANK is a western romance set in the 1870’s, in mythical Cold Creek , Texas . It weaves the tale of love, double cross, and redemption as big as the state itself. POINT BLANK is 88,061 words and 429 pages in length. While it is a stand-alone work, I envision doing at least three other tales involving Tyrone’s fellow Rangers, Sergeant Joaquin Balboa de Montanna, Private Lance Reese and Major Joshua Reynolds.

I am a member of RWA, Hearts through History, Chesapeake Romance Writers. As you can see, I am still just beginning my career in writing.

I plan on writing until the stories stop flowing. When this series is complete, I’d like to work on other Americana stories staying within the years 1800 to 1890, perhaps, working on an American Regency set in San Francisco , but my first priority is to complete these four novels.

I am enclosing a full manuscript as per your instructions on your submission page. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you in advance for taking your time to read this letter and my manuscript.

Kindest regards,

Nancy O'Berry
QUESTION:  Do you have a story that needs a unique approach?  How will you target your query letter to give your story the best chance possible? 

Monday, October 11, 2010

WINNING QUERY #1 - Captive Magic

NOTE FROM THE BLOGGER:  This is the first in a series of posts about queries which were successful in nabbing an agent.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions (I'm happy to ask the authors if questions are specific), but lets keep our observations positive. 

Whatever you might think about the letters in this series, the reality is, they worked!  Maybe that's because of amazing query writing.  Maybe they reached just the right person at the right time.  Probably it's the solid story they represent.  Regardless, these are people who have achieved what I'm aiming for, so my hat goes off to them.  Derogatory comments will be deleted.

The first 'winning' query comes from Elle Stone who is repped by the esteemed Rebecca Strauss at McIntosh and Otis. You can find Elle here and here

You'll also find an interview with Elle here.

Now, without further ado...The Query

Dear Agent:

Growing up in an enchanted museum should be heaven. For Violet, it’s a prison sentence. She’s done with charms, spells, and all that magical nonsense. She wants a normal life in the outside world and will do close to anything to break free.

When her latest escape scheme collapses, Violet’s left in the rubble with Oriel--a green-eyed sorcerer on the hunt for a lost charm. His love spell entrances Violet long enough for him to override her judgment and wake a host of imprisoned statues. Now Violet has to baby-sit a pack of freed royals while she combats the creatures loosed into the corridors. A tiger stalks her footsteps, an unknown force opens doors that can’t be opened, and a plague goddess infects her world’s foundations.

As friends disappear and charms rampage, Violet will have to overcome dark magic--and her own murky past--to survive. It’s her against all comers, and magic demands sacrifice. Is Violet willing to surrender her dream of life outside to protect the home she despises?

Captive Magic was completed as my thesis in the MFA in popular fiction program at Seton Hill University. The completed manuscript is 66k words targeted to a teen YA audience--a mix of Night At The Museum and the quirky magic of Harry Potter.

Thank you for your time & consideration.


Elle Stone

READER QUESTION:  Do you have a successful query letter you'd be willing to share?  Please email me, tweet me, or note your intended generosity in the comments and I'll contact you!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Slaying the Mythical Beast

Do you have an agent or a book contract?

Would you be willing to share your 'winning' query letter?  Or your 'How My Ninja Submission Skills Nabbed Me an Agent / Publisher' story? (Names & details redacted, of course).

I want to make a collection for those of us still on the journey to read, study and covet.

Can you help?  Comment here or tweet me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On the Trail to Pro-Motion

The first draft took three months.  The subsequent revisions, critiques and editing took another twelve.  Now GOOD MONSTERS is almost done. 

I say "almost" because these stupid, ridiculous, mind-bendingly crucial promo / query materials are doing my head in.  Can you help? 

Please feel free to comment or tweet me with brutally honest feedback.  I need to get this right:

Current "Hook" options:

1. Branded a schizophrenic, seventeen-year-old Dani is about to learn her delusions are actually second sight. The guys pursuing her know she’s destined to lead the world, and the people they answer to expect her allegiance – or else. Dani must decide if she's willing to die for the truth - or live with herself if she doesn't.

2. Seventeen-year-old Dani Hayes finds out her ‘delusions’ are actually second sight, the hottest guys in school have supernatural armies behind them, and everyone expects her to lead the world to their truth and thus avert the apocalypse. Dani is forced to choose a side - when either could mean death for herself or the man she loves.

3. Dani sees things, and knows things no-one told her. She’s about to discover her ‘gifts’ are real, supernatural armies gather behind the hottest guys in her school, and both sides of the war expect her to avert the apocalypse. Dani must decide if she's willing to die for the truth - or live with herself if she doesn't.

Current Query:

Seventeen-year-old schizophrenic Sheridan “Dani” Hayes arrives at the prestigious Saint Matthews Preparatory High School with one goal: Appear normal. That is, until the two hottest guys in school start vying for her attention.

Confused by their interest and suspicious of their motives, Dani’s digging uncovers what her new friends already know: Dani's delusions are actually second sight. She’s the prophesied Seer. Her admirers stand on opposing sides of a supernatural war, sparring for her heart because they know whichever way she goes, the world will follow.

With superhuman armies gathering in the shadows and the threat of an apocalypse resting squarely on her shoulders, Dani must decide whether she'll die for the truth – or be able to live with herself if she doesn’t.

GOOD MONSTERS is a YA Urban Fantasy, complete at 75,000 words. It is the first of three books following Dani Hayes as she comes to terms with first-love and her own unique purpose – in the middle of the eternal battle between good and evil.

I have included [pages / content as per agent submission guidelines] for your consideration. May I send you the entire manuscript?

Thank you for your time,

Aimee L. Salter

Friday, October 1, 2010

Query, I Name Thee Nemesis

Still working hard to get this query nailed. 
Brutally honest thoughts / advice greatly appreciated - in comments, or tweet me.
(UPDATE NOTE:  Changes may have been made since comments were posted)


Seventeen-year-old schizophrenic Sheridan “Dani” Hayes arrives at the prestigious Saint Matthews Preparatory High School with one goal: Appear normal. That is, until the two hottest guys in school start vying for her attention.

Confused by their interest and suspicious of their motives, Dani’s digging uncovers what her new friends already know: Dani's delusions are actually second sight. She’s the prophesied Seer, anticipated since Creation. Her admirers stand on opposing sides of a supernatural war, sparring for her heart because they know whichever way she goes, the world will follow.

With superhuman armies gathering in the shadows and the threat of an apocalypse resting squarely on her shoulders, Dani must decide whether she’ll die for the truth – or live with herself if she doesn’t.

GOOD MONSTERS is a YA Urban Fantasy, complete at 76,000 words. It is the first of three books following Dani Hayes as she comes to terms with love and her own unique purpose – in the middle of the eternal battle between good and evil.

I have attached [pages / content as per agent submission guidelines] for your consideration. May I send you the entire manuscript?

Thank you for your time,

Aimee L. Salter

This Hook Line Won't Sink Me

A big THANK YOU to everyone who's been kind enough to offer comment on previous drafts (which can be viewed here).  Your advice and thoughts have resulted in this new attempt... any feedback welcomed!

V 1.2

Branded 'schizophrenic', seventeen-year-old Dani is about to learn her delusions are actually second sight. She’s the prophesised Seer, anticipated since Creation.  The guys pursuing her know she’s destined to lead the world – and the people they answer to expect her allegiance.  Or else.

Ultimately, Dani must choose between truth and power – when either could mean death for herself, or the man she loves.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Setting the Hook

Aimee L. Salter - American YA writer, currently living in New Zealand

My short synopsis / hook needs work!  Can you help?

Was previously:
Dani Hayes is about to find out she's the prophesised Seer - anticipated for thousands of years.  Two guys in her life stand on opposing sides of an immortal war asking Dani to choose.  But the line between good and evil blurs when choosing could mean her life, or the life of the guy she loves.

Is now:
A schizophrenic teen learns her delusions are actually second sight and two supernatural armies wait, hidden, for her to lead the world to their version of the truth.  But how will she choose a side when aligning herself could mean losing her own life, or the life of the man she loves?

Any thoughts / advice? 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Draft Query Letter

Dear (NAME)

Sheridan “Dani” Hayes arrives at the prestigious Saint Matthews Preparatory High School with only one plan: Appear normal. But ‘normal’ can be tricky when you see things no-one else can see, and know things no-one told you.

Formerly shunned by her peers, when Dani is adopted by Saint Matthews’ most elite, it seems too good to be true. Especially when the incredible Carl Morgan can’t keep his eyes off her and resident adonis, Adam Wallace, spars with Carl for Dani’s attention.

Confused by their interest and suspicious of their motives, Dani investigates. She learns her new admirers stand on opposite sides of a supernatural war, vying for her heart because they know wherever she goes, the world will follow. Dani is the prophesied Seer, anticipated since Creation.

Now, as everything she thought was real turns out to be illusion and the craziest parts of her life are proved true, Dani is forced to make a choice.

But the line between right and wrong blurs when either choice could mean death for herself, or the man she loves.

GOOD MONSTERS is a Young Adult / Urban Fantasy, complete at 80,000 words and free of any cursing or sexual content. It is the first of three books following Dani Hayes as she comes to terms with love and her own unique purpose – in the middle of the eternal battle between good and evil.

I have attached [pages / content as per agent submission guidelines] for your consideration. May I send you the entire manuscript?

Kind regards,

Aimee L. Salter

Thoughts friends?