Query Letter, Part 4

I brought my updated query letter to my monthly writer’s critique group last week.

(BTW, I highly recommend finding yourself a critique group. I found mine via the writer’s group at my public library.)

They gave me some great feedback that I incorporated. I’m pretty sure this is the final draft. See if you agree.

Mystics of Sonoduhl is a completed epic fantasy of 90,500 words with series potential. It compares with Naomi Novik’s Uprooted as well as classics like Terry Brooks’ Shannara series.

Maghrurio is a middle-aged nobody working for Abner, the Mystic of Decra. When a fiery explosion fatally injures the Mystic, he asks Maghrurio with his dying breath to find his assassin.

He also makes Maghurio the newest Mystic.

With no magical skills or training, Maghrurio has his work cut out for him. He must venture forth, uncovering the assassin’s true motives while avoiding the clutches of a power-hungry duke.

Accompanied by Abner’s housekeeper and an apothecary he barely knows, Maghrurio is forced to overcome his imposter syndrome and prevent the destruction of the Mystic order.

Along the way he uncovers a startling possibility–is the assassin a Mystic himself?

Along the way he uncovers a startling possibility–the assassin may be a Mystic himself…

UPDATE: I read someplace that some agents dislike rhetorical questions, so I’ve replaced the last sentence.

Query Letter, Part 3

It’s been another week. I ran the query by a couple more Facebook writing groups (I’m part of a lot of them…) and got some further feedback.

Some of the changes come from that feedback. Some come from me staring at the text for a while. Hopefully I’m getting closer to the “right” version.

Enjoy the journey!

Maghrurio is a middle-aged nobody working for Abner, the magical Mystic of Decra. When a fiery explosion leaves Abner fatally injured, he asks Maghrurio with his dying breath to find the assassin responsible for his death.

He also makes Maghurio the newest Mystic.

Maghurio never wanted the job. Hell, he never even imagined having it. But it was Abner’s dying request, so now he has to figure it all out.

With no magical skills and zero magical training, Maghrurio has his work cut out for him. He must search out the assassin and uncover his true motives, while avoiding the pursuit of a power-hungry duke and the assassin determined to stop him. 

Accompanied by Abner’s housekeeper and an apothecary he barely knows, Maghrurio is forced to overcome his imposter syndrome and lack of magical training to prevent the assassin from destroying the Mystic order.

Along the way he discovers the startling truth about the assassin and his connection with his fellow Mystics.

Query Letter, Part 2

In Part 1 I described what the query letter is and why I’m preparing one.

I belong to several writing groups on Facebook, so I posted my first draft for feedback. I got some.

  1. There was a question about the housekeeper. Who’s was it? If Maghrurio’s, then how does a common laborer afford one? Clarity and specifics are a good thing, so I needed to fix that.
  2. Another reader was concerned that Maghrurio seemed too passive – he was “aided and abetted, rather than active.” Another bit to fix.
  3. One reader complained that the first sentence was a mini-infodump and the whole thing didn’t sizzle enough. Fair point.
  4. One obvious question from the blurb – how did Abner appoint someone to replace him if he was dead? There is, of course, a logical answer, but it wasn’t explicit in the blurb.

Taking this feedback into account, I rewrote the blurb as follows.

Mystics of Sonoduhl blurb, take 2. Enjoy!

Maghrurio is a middle-aged nobody working for Abner, the magical Mystic of Decra. When a fiery explosion leaves Abner fatally injured, he asks Maghrurio with his dying breath to find the assassin responsible for his death.

Oh, and he makes Maghurio the newest Mystic.

With no magical skills and zero self-confidence, Maghrurio has his work cut out for him. He must search out the assassin and uncover his true motives, while avoiding the pursuit of a power-hungry duke and the assassin determined to stop him. Accompanied by Abner’s housekeeper and an apothecary he barely knows, Maghrurio also must overcome his imposter syndrome and lack of magical training to prevent the assassin from destroying the Mystic order.

Query Letter, First Draft

As an author, I have two basic approaches to getting a novel published.

I can do self-publishing, which (as the name implies explicitly states) means I do it all myself. Editing, copyrighting, cover design, interior layout, etc. all are my responsibility, as is marketing. I’d split the proceeds with distributors (such as Amazon.) A great many people do this, and to varying degrees of success.

The other option is traditional publishing. In this, I will partner with a publishing company that will assemble and print my novel and market/distribute it. This is the route I mean to try, and the first step is to secure an agent to represent me.

So how does an author find an agent? With a query letter, of course! It’s an introduction of the author and the work, sort of a hybrid resume/advertisement. There are many resources online for developing a query, but I thought it would be interesting to track my own work on my query letter here.

Since the lion’s share of the query letter is the book blurb, I’ll focus on that. So here is my first pass for the Mystics of Sonoduhl blurb. Enjoy!

Maghrurio is a middle-aged common laborer living in the small town of Decra. But when his employer – famed Mystic Abner – is murdered in a fiery explosion, he becomes the new Mystic and is charged by Abner to find the Assassin.

A Mystic in name only, Maghrurio has no magical skills and zero self-confidence. He’s pursued by a power-hungry duke and the Assassin determined to end his investigation. Aided by his housekeeper and an apothecary he barely knows, Maghrurio must overcome his imposter syndrome and lack of magical training to stop the Assassin from destroying the Mystic order.

#Pitmad

Today marks the quarterly occurrence of #Pitmad which is a Twitter pitch contest arranged by PitchWars. Basically, authors in search of a publishing deal can tweet up to three short pitches about their unpublished novel.

Hopefully, an agent and/or a publisher likes one of their pitches and then…

Profit!

This will be my third pitch contest. I’ve gotten some retweets before, but no nibbles as yet. Hopefully one of these three will do it today.

=====================================================

Maghrurio, a common laborer, becomes the new Mystic when his master is murdered. Aided by his housekeeper & an apothecary he barely knows, he must overcome crippling imposter syndrome & lack of magical training to stop the assassin from destroying the Mystic order.

UPROOTED x SHANNARA
How does a new Mystic learn the magical arts? Maghrurio needs to find out fast. He’s pursued by a power-hungry duke while on the trail of a threat to the Mystic order and the land itself.

UPROOTED x SHANNARA
Maghrurio is a Mystic in name only, with none of the magical skills and zero self-confidence. Pursued by a power-hungry duke and an assassin bent on world domination, he’d better learn fast!

Best of luck to everyone pitching today!

================================

Update 8/23/2021

I’m toying with the idea of replacing #3 with the following:

UPROOTED x SHANNARA
Maghrurio is a Mystic with a secret: he doesn’t know any magic. But when he becomes the target of a power-hungry duke and an assassin bent on world domination, he’ll have to learn fast or die trying.

On Critiques

Over a year ago I joined a writer’s critique group. I already knew one member from a separate writing group (he was the one that invited me) but didn’t know the others. Each month we would (separately) read and critique a submitted piece from each member so that everyone got some benefit.

I was working my way through my first novel at that point, and figured that additional eyes could only help. I’d only yet had an alpha reader looking at my stuff, and while she gave encouragement and general feedback it wasn’t a full-fledged critique.

I decided to give it a go.

The other members came from varied backgrounds. The one who invited me was a world traveler who had spent many years as an English teacher. Another was an ex-journalist who was now selling lifestyle articles to various magazines. Others had completed short stories or novels already. All had been published in one form or another, so I was clearly low man on the totem pole.

The first thing I learned in Critique Group was to thicken my skin. No matter how masterful I thought my writing was, there is always room to improve it. I remember being “somewhat less receptive” to some suggestions early on, but after a while came to realize that they were all intended to help me improve the work.

This was a hard lesson to internalize, and here’s why.

Years ago when my company was being acquired and shut down, they arranged for the employees to attend a resume-writing workshop. We were cycled through in small groups, and our resumes were picked apart and improved. I was one of the last to attend, and having talked with others that had gone through the process I tailored mine to follow the lessons they’d learned.

When my turn came, I brought my new and improved resume to the workshop. The first instructor liked it very much. (She should have – it did everything she taught us it should do!) She even asked if she could use a copy as an example in her future classes. I was pleased.

The second instructor conducted resume reviews. When she got to mine, she found a bunch of stuff that wanted me to change. When I reasoned through her suggestions, however, I found they were either minor points or flat out wrong. Seemingly, she took her job as critic to mean she had to criticize, whether there was something wrong or not.

The Critique Group was not that kind of criticism. They were actually trying to help. They pointed out issues with character motivation, with the flow of the narrative, with details that I’d glossed over or omitted. Of course they pointed out typos and grammar issues and the like, but their focus was on making the overall story stronger.

My own critiques of their work, sadly, weren’t nearly as good. I’ve always been a good proofreader, but I was learning that good critique is much more. It didn’t take me long to realize I was getting better feedback than I was giving, and I needed to up my game.

It’s been quite a while since that first meeting, and I think my contributions have gotten more helpful. I can tell by the feedback I get now vs then that my writing craft has likewise improved.

So…

If you’re out there struggling with your articles, short stories, or the next great novel, take heart. Find yourself a critique group. Listen to what they have to say, and try your damndest to help their storytelling improve.

P.S. Much thanks to my critique group. I know I haven’t helped you nearly as much as you’ve helped me, but I’m trying!

Execute Them!

As an aspiring writer, it’s important to have peers that I can look to for support, answers, or just a thumbs-up now and then. I belong to a critique group that meets monthly, and a writer’s group that used to, before the Covid wrecked everything.

But three hours or so a month isn’t enough peer grouping, so I joined several writing-oriented groups on Facebook.

These have been interesting, as my fellow member runs the gamut from newbs to published professionals. It’s great getting varied opinions and perspectives, and it soothes my ego when one of my responses gets lots of love. But there’s a type of question I see frequently that I try to ignore but still gets on my nerves.

“I have this idea for a story,” the question begins. It goes on to lay out a scenario, a characterization, or a conflict. Then the poster sums up by asking, “Is this a good idea? Would you read this?”

God bless these people, I guess maybe they’re looking for some validation, but… no.

In my humble opinion as a non-published author (whatever that’s worth) the idea isn’t the most important thing to a story. The most important thing is the execution of the idea.

Let me explain. Have you ever flipped through Netflix and, based on the short blurb, decided to watch a movie you’d never heard of before? And twenty minutes in you decide it’s not worth your time and you bail? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

The blurb was the idea. It sounded good, so you started the movie. Then you found that the director/producer/screenwriter/actors didn’t execute the idea properly.

Here’s a specific example. Remember Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies? Great fun, epic, entertaining, visually exciting. All things you would not attribute to Ralph Bakshi’s first attempt at the source material back in 1978.

This was a bad, bad movie, poorly executed and incomplete. Bakshi worked with the same source material as Jackson, but Peter’s execution was far more masterly.

So, stop wasting your time asking whether you idea is good. Spend that time instead on executing your idea well.

It’s Just a Fantasy

While I read a variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, I have chosen as my first novel to be high fantasy. (High fantasy involves mythical worlds, magic, and epic themes.)

My local library (finally!) reopened this week, and I took a quick breeze through the aisles to reacquaint myself. Nestled in the back they have a wall of paperbacks, broken into sections by genre. The Romance section is by far the largest but they also have Western, Mystery, and Fantasy. As I’m writing a fantasy novel, I figured I’d check out what they had in their Fantasy section.

Hmm…

I didn’t recognize a single author, and the covers were all wrong. Most fantasy books I’ve seen feature wizards, dragons, sword-wielding barbarians, or other such tropes. The Fantasy books in this section mostly had shirtless men cradling scantily clad women.

As I said before, hmm…

I have to wonder what they think High Fantasy is.

Under Siege

I had another attack last night.

Let me explain…

On occasion, and for no reason I can fathom, I’ll get attacked in my sleep by a story idea. It typically manifests itself as a full-blown visually enhanced story – a dream movie, if you will. I’ll make my way through the plot and, if I’m lucky, find out how the story ends. Sometimes I don’t quite make it through, but either way I awake with the full memory of the story emblazoned upon my brain.

Then the fun starts, as my creative side picks over all aspects of the idea, adding nuggets to the story, and in most cases composing actual descriptive and dialogue.

All this happens while the majority of my body fights a losing battle to go back to sleep.

So last night I had an attack at 3:10am, probably one of the worst in a long while. In fact, the last one this bad ended up stewing in my brain for a few months before becoming my first novel.

This one seems to be no more than a short story at best. I’ll let it stew for a bit, though, and see whether it branches out into something more interesting.

Or if it dies on the vine.

Either way, I’ll be going to bed a bit earlier tonight.

Voracious Reader

There are many schools of thought concerning what makes a good writer, and one common thread is that a writer should read. This makes sense, because this is in line with how most people learn things – they watch others do it and copy what they’ve seen.

Fortunately, reading has never been a problem for me. My mother was a librarian, and our home was always overflowing with books. I was raised to be a reader, and that hasn’t changed over the years.

Back in 2013, I got curious so I created a spreadsheet to track the books I was reading every month. The following year I’d already gotten into the habit, so I continued and have kept it going since. It’s been really helpful, especially when I pick up an interesting-looking book and find out that I’d read it three years before.

For the interested, here are my breakdowns over the past several years.

  • 2013: 84 books
  • 2014: 101 books
  • 2015: 105 books
  • 2016: 100 books
  • 2017: 68 books
  • 2018: 108 books
  • 2019: 95 books

In 2017, I was cruising along until our lives were disrupted by a change of job and relocation – that put a damper on my reading activities. 2019, of course, marked my completion of the first draft of my novel and several rounds of edits. So that makes, on average, about 94 books per year (at about 375 pages each.)

So what kind of books have I been reading? Classic sci-fi like Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. Non-fiction about Lincoln, self-help, and marketing/business tomes. Fantasy like Tolkien, Brooks, and Sanderson. New sci-fi, horror, suspense, and more.

Lots of variety, many different writing styles. All provide some guidance to a budding writer (even if only to serve as a bad example!)

So if you are thinking about writing, it all starts with reading.