It Starts With a Q-U and It Makes Me Face-Palm (Or, They Shoot Writers, Don't They?)

I'm warning you in advance: this post includes a damn lot of face-palming gifs. Prepare to be face-palmed. Face-palm.

So, I know what you're thinking: Q word? What are you talking about, Nina? The only word you deal with is the R-word. Revision. That's why I'm here, that's why we're all here. Ah, you are quite correct, faithful reader. But now, here comes my end-of-school-holidays news.

I finished.

Well, I finished in the uncommon sense of the word. The whole it's never really finished even when it gets on the shelf sense. But in regard to plot, character, pacing, blah - Yeah, I'm finished. As far as you're concerned, and as far as my search browser as of Wednesday is concerned: Yeah, I'm finished.

So, do we have any bets on the dreaded Q-U word?

Oh yeah.


Oh, it makes you shiver in fear, in anticipation, doesn't it?

Even if we're stuck in the perpetual cycle of idea-writing-editing-drop-repeat or we're editors forever, we have that innate understanding as writers to both fear and treat the query like some fabled creature that's eating our livestock and devouring our children on a quarterly basis.

To begin with, we really need to just understand two things:

1. Queries make writers go:

2. Queries make agents go:

Yeah, basically.

It took me about eight hours to write my first query, with research in-between, and then it took me two days to write a new query, and then a couple hours to write another one, and then another day to write a new one, simmer in self-hate, edit, get critiques and finish.

For the purpose of this exercise, let us believe I have emerged masterful.

So, what is it?

A query letter is a single-page cover letter that introduces you and your book. Really, that's it. It isn't a resume, it isn't a verbose recount of how you came to be an aspiring writer, it isn't a friendly poke in the arm of, "Whaddup, babe? I'm the next JK Rowling. Got the next bestseller AND trend for ya. Whaddaya think of krakens?" Yeah, no.

You need to introduce your character, your plot and the stakes. It's that simple.

But at the same time: it's that hard.

Think about it. You've got at most 300 words to convey a hook, a summary and to include that little "[TITLE] is a [GENRE] completed at [WORD COUNT]" spiel, as well as a little itty bit of a resume if you've been published in some way or form before.

300 words is an itty bitty space.

Angst aside, there are two places you need to go always, whenever your fingers are hesitating over the keys and wondering why URLs relevant to what you need don't just materialise in your head. One is Query Letter Hell SYW over at AbsoluteWrite and the other, well, two, are the forums at AgentQuery and Query Tracker.

Remember when you were learning how to cook/sew/make coffee/juggle a football and the best way to learn turned out to be watching your mum/dad/sibling/relative/neighbour of questionable morals do it? Well, it's kind of actually really is the same with query letters.

Basically, go and find someone with a similar genre to yours, even better if they have a similar kind of concept to yours, and see how they approach their query. See what people correct them on, identify what seems to be the outlying factors that people hold in high regard. Read finish products and latest drafts and see what floats your boat and what doesn't.

And above all, find these (AgentQuery link) and these (AW link). Seriously. Queries that filled people with success are the kind of queries that may fill you with hot rage, but they're your best ticket to, well, a meal ticket. Some of the queries will make you face-palm and wonder why? WHY? It's a terrible idea! or they'll make you face-palm and wonder why you didn't include transforming robots from Mars or an automaton with a black sense of humour or an overweight character who embarks on a mission to make the universe fatter than they are so they can make fun of everyone else. (Wow, that last one sounded like a NaNo idea)

But now you're thinking Nina, what? WHAT? There are, like, a trillion of these.

Well, sure, okay. If you put it like that.

So I suppose you're wanting me to spill the beans and tell you what helped me the most, what could possibly help you. Well, my faithful reader, I shall. The ones who helped the most were authors, published authors, whose books I have read or marked to read on my account.

Cue: "Um, what?/How?/Why?"

Well, when you look at an agent or go about writing something that is going to (hopefully) get you published, shouldn't you peruse their (published) client's blogs for their posts on how they acquired said agent/said contract? If you said no, I bequeath to you a face-palm.

But now you're thinking but how do I find these shiny gold nuggets? Some of those blogger/livejournal archives go on for absolutely ever and for the most part talk about arse-tasting fast food coffee and someone's three cats or the author answers the question by directing me to another site which has no helpfulness at all or a broken link. I mean God, I am not looking for 404 so stop telling me you can't find it.

Yes, but you can look anywhere to someone, and I tell you now: *anyone who's made the NYT Bestseller List no matter how crapulous their crap still made the list above you and your nonexistent publishing contract. But Nina - WHAT? We hate these people. Remember? Yes, but go back to the asterisk and read forth to the italics.

You may detest their novel but there was some sort of an X-Factor toward its publication. Some of that essence may have been captured in their query. Ergo: read said query, study said query. And remember: there may be a few you detest, but there will be quite a few you'll jump up in your seat and go Really? Awesome! for.

A quick perusal of my browser history surfaced: Beth Revis (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, then titled LONG WAY HOME), Brenna Yovanoff (THE REPLACEMENT, then titled FE), Aprilynne Pike (WINGS, though I'm not entirely certain if this is WINGS), Heather Anastasiu (Upcoming GLITCH) and Elana Johnson (POSSESSION; and, she has a how-to on her blog and a free PDF download of an eBook about queries).

And then there are things like Jodi Meadows' Query Project, and if you look, you'll find a whole lot more by a whole variety of different people. Basically, readers send her their queries and she either critiques them or writes down her impression as she reads. It's quite similar to Miss Snark's Crapometer, except, Miss Snark has a seemingly unlimited number of entries that you can lose an entire day in.

Some of the entries will make you face-palm because they are just so fucking bad. But others will most definitely make you face-palm because really, they're kind of similar to yours and/or you would or have already done that and apparently snarky people do not approve.

Learn from what she says, and get the basic peeves under your belt so not doing them is innate to you and your query writing process.

In the writerly blogosphere, there is an abundance of posts by agents about the singular things they like or want or strongly despise. I know it can seem overwhelming but really, just read them. From what I've learned, there's a general consensus. As Sarah LaPolla said: "No need to over-share or be overly coy".

In her recent post, Rachelle Gardner mentioned how she often reads queries where the author forgoes the story and instead pitches the emotional journey. Big no-no. Instead of talking about a girl's angst in her brother being sacrificed to barbarians and her mustering of courage to go and face the unknown beyond her home, you need to talk about how she learns her brother's been sacrificed and she ventures out into the wild to rescue him from barbarians. I know they sound kind of similar, but when you read over your query, look for that distinction.

And you should know that just by looking up the do's and do not's, you're already placing yourself far above those who don't. So, yes, there is a reason why you keep hearing that you shouldn't, and even if your itty-bitty voice that is usually putting you in the most face-palm of situations is trying to coerce you to, send in cookies and long, wordy life stories and describe yourself as the next second richest woman of England or an invoker of such a new enormous trend that people will get plastic surgery to emulate their kraken idols.

So, if you get any cravings to do any such things:

Did you know not all agents are going to give you a reason for rejection? In fact most won't. The general consensus is that it's highly unlikely for them to give any reason or anything aside from a form rejection.

Why? Well, Rachelle Gardner does specify here that really they don't have time. There's a more thorough explanation at the link, but it really does come down to the fact that if they ran off a few sentences for every query, it would take hours that they really don't have.


Okay, brace yourself.

It's film reference time. And it has nothing to do with shirtless actors or shirtless actors in character. No, it's because that's how we do things here at nindogs. We insert film references into book talk.

Now, I love trailers. I watch them all the time. Even for dreadful Disney Channel Original Movies that I'm not even going to consider watching. I watch trailers for movies I have at home, for movies made in 2003. I watch fan trailers about nothing. (Now, I do believe Janice Hardy recently did something similar so I'm going to model off of hers) Basically, it's incredible how different trailers cover different aspects of a film, from the action to the world-building to the characters. Kind of like those things that usually make a query not work.

(Oh God, I can hear you saying, Nina's going to start linking us again.) Yes. I am.

The world-building query Janice Hardy gives is the third Green Lantern trailer. It goes backstory of how the world functions, and how the magic of it works, and then it goes into the bad guy who was the film's catalyst, and then it introduces our hero Hal/Ryan Reynolds (Okay, maybe there is some shirtless actor business involved.) Anyway, for those unfamiliar to this mythos, your patience may or may not be strained to find out what the bloody hell this film is about. Kind of like those query letters where it's all backstory and you're wondering who you'll be following around during the story and what's going to happen.

For the all action, no story trailer Janice listed the Adventures of Tintin, but I'm going to give you David Fincher's the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer. If you're unfamiliar with Stieg Larsson's story, you're going to look at this, swoon a whole lot over some spectacled D. Craig, but think it's a whole lot of 60s flashbacks, walking, morose looks and perhaps even running with some landscape thrown in. It's called the feel bad movie of Christmas, sure, but why? If I haven't heard the specifics of the story, why? Can you see the frustration when an agent reads a query that gives a lot of cool flashing but no meat. It's great if you have expensive salad dressing, but it doesn't help if you don't have a bowl, or, well, salad.

The working query is the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, where an itty-bitty weakling with a big heart volunteers for an experimental program where he's jabbed by Stanley Tucci and becomes a supersoldier in WWII, fighting the Nazis (and Red Skull Hugo Weaving) and getting a little some and some from a girl who fires a gun at him. This trailer gives you the characters, the setting, the conflict and stakes and the antagonists. You mightn't know your Captain America shield from your Batman batarang or your Green Lantern ring or your Superman fortress of solitude, but you still get some idea of what's in store.

There are definitely some other links and thoughts worth your consideration, but I honestly do believe that if I look any further into my Google Reader archives, I'm going to develop a twitch in my left eye. So, my final offering to you is this: Jessica Lei made a sort of checklist, which is very helpful.

My last piece of advice is to network with others. Ask your peers, read their posts, their Twitter feeds, about their experiences. You'll only learn from others, truly. So make the most of the fantabulous writers blogosphere we have here.


You can get Holly Black's WHITE CAT audiobook, read by Jesse Eisenberg (Yes, that twerp from Zombieland and The Social Network) for FREE. Just click on this, go to Holly's blog and then follow her instructions. I read the book ages ago, but it's definitely the last YA I thoroughly enjoyed. And I quite like Jesse's work.

Um. Game of Thrones started down here in Australia last night. So guess what I did? Indeed. I did watch the first two episodes and then ordered the first book in George RR Martin's series off of Book Depository. (As well as AMERICAN GODS, which I've been meaning to get around to for, I don't know, four years now?) All I'll say is, firstly, OMFG, and secondly, I want a Dire Wolf. Like, now.

*cough* Anyway.

So, here's where I present you with another announcement alongside some Firefly cast members: I sent out a query this evening. Uh huh. Cue the No! and You didn't really?! and But you're meant to be the logical and sensible one who guides me! But alas, in the sense of the ending school holidays spirit and the end of my final draft spirit, I figured: Yeah, just one. Not my dream agent. Just a pretty rad so that's why she's on my list agent. I figured I may as well have one rejection on this query so I can motivate myself to work on it.

I sound rational now, I know.

Tomorrow? I'll probably be more:

But, meh.

Anywho. I apologise for the excessively long post, and I hope that I haven't frightened any of you or scarred your querying experience in any way. I know I'm certainly emotionally scarred after absorbing that information.

Leave a comment below, please do. What's your experience with querying? Any links or tips you'd like to share? What do you find most difficult about writing a query and why do you think we struggle so much to achieve a solid pitch?

See you next week, folks! I'm going to go rewatch some Game of Thrones and, unfortunately, get up for school tomorrow morning. Yuck. Face-palm.

Why Do People Do Anything Anymore? (Or, Meet Luigi Lucheni. He Assassinated the Empress of Austria)


In short: I'm AWOL a lot, I've abandoned you a lot, I'm a terrible person - Yes. To clarify: I'm really trying to finish this godfucker of a novel so I don't have to wait ten weeks again before I can hack at it, having forgotten every idea I have devised now, if I don't get it done before the new school term begins. Oh, and it's been killing me to find a topic I can actually stand for long enough to write a post. (Breathes) Oh-kay. Shall we?

My novel is a glorified hybrid of YA, Urban Fantasy, Action and Thriller, with a smidge of Drama to keep things interesting. Because of the Thriller aspect, the prelude to my action sequences at the climax are often overwrought and chilling, and as you begin to tease your protagonists, you need to assume your antagonist's shoes.

You need to figure out why he's doing what he's doing.

So, today we're going to have a wee bit of a look at some types of villains and what it is that they really want, and if they're going to be patient enough to play cat and mouse with your protagonists.

We're going to start with the scarred. Literally, in the case of Harvey Dent, or Two Face, from the Batman franchise. Most of the time, these people have been wronged so incredibly by someone or a group of people or by society itself and all they want to do is wreak some ample havoc in the name of revenge.

These people have targets, they're usually trained up for the task and if it's personal, you can bet that they're going to take their time and make it as torturous as possible for your main characters.

Some examples? Think V from V For Vendetta who had a list of people to kill, a motive for everything that he did, and when he died, he did so having fulfilled it. Then, there's Gerard Butler from Law Abiding Citizen who was very angry at the system for how they wronged him during the trial of his family's murder.

Anarchists are my personal favourite, but it's a widely-held belief that very few people do them justice. Christopher Nolan has given us one of the greatest anarchists in his The Dark Knight. The thing that a lot of people don't seem to consider when creating anarchists is that they aren't as impulsive as they lead you to believe.

Now, anyone who has seen the Dark Knight knows that the Joker has a line: "Do I really look like a guy with a plan?" No. He doesn't. What separates the Joker from knock-offs is that he does, to a certain extent. He relies heavily on his understanding of people and what they will do when faced with overwhelming fear. Fear he manipulates. From there, he has set into play the necessary steps to steer his victims to the right place.

For instance, the Joker breathes chaos, but his opening scene in the Dark Knight with the bank clearly shows that he's a walking lie. The precision and planning require to have set up each of those goons to kill each other - He just likes to kick up the chaos. But he plans and executes it meticulously. Thereby, you can't expect anything from him. That is what makes him an anarchist, not the proclaiming and jeering he does around Batman.

What sets anarchists apart is that they really just want to play. Imagine me, a tiny six-year-old girl with her Barbie dolls, her Transformers and her superhero action figures (I know, I was always so peculiar. No Furbies for this kid.) I would get my hand-me-down rubbish-tip doll houses and I would demolish them. My Transformers (I got the Decepticons. My brother wanted Optimus and that lot) would go head-to-head with my superheroes and shit would go down. Seriously. Why? Because I wanted to. I wanted to see what would happen, where my imagination would take me.

Anarchists are the Tim Burton Peter Pans. Their motive really lies within the territory of because I can/want to/feel like it. And in regard to how long they want to spend with your protagonist, well, are your characters showing them a good time?

Ah, schemers.

Schemers are a lot of fun. To some extent, one could argue that all villains are schemers, but it is the natural-born schemers that are the greatest and most memorable. You think about the Joker, and that is a hint of scheming mixed with a ton of apathy toward mankind. No, true schemers are all personal motive.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. Voldemort. The thing that sets Voldemort apart from the visionaries is that he really just wants to control his little world. He has no desire to step back. He wants full and utter control over everything, including culture, ideas, perception of others and lesser races.

Schemers are the classic villain archetype, and the problem with them is that they usually are riddled with cliches and are the subject of a lot of criticism. When faced with your protagonists, your villain is really just going to want to wipe them off the face of the earth. Get all opposition out of the way as quickly as possible.

So, you're going to need stealth to get around them. A lot of dystopian governments seem to fall under this as well. 1984, for example, played a lot on mind control, whereas the Capitol from Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES played more on the idea of military control and violence to govern by fear. Converse to that, schemers can also fall into the realm of the Vampire Diaries, namely Katherine - It is very personal for her, and she creates convoluted plans to achieve what she wants.

Now, visionaries. Really, they intend well, they're just twisted. To achieve their goals there is only violence, or they believe that violence is the only means by which to successfully enforce their ideals. Magneto from the X-Men franchise is a prime example.

I won't go into detail about Magneto because I did so in my last post, and Janice Hardy also does a far better job over here. Basically, Magneto was wronged so terribly and has such strong memories of what can happen when one race suppresses another. Thereby, he believes that as he is the targeted race, being a Mutant, that they ought to fight the suppressors. And then what do you get? War.

If you have a personal connection between your protagonist and this villain, I can see a long-winded conflict erupting between the two. However, if they are mere strangers and you're standing in their way, they're not going to spend so much time on toying with you.

Now, before I go.

The Joker-Batman relationship is one that I've always viewed as incredible. To contrast your antagonist and protagonist so enormously, yet parallel them to the extent where you can second-guess your hero is phenomenal. This is not so much explored in The Dark Knight as much as throughout the entire Batman franchise, though that film does isolate the concept quite well.

If you manage to render your cast with such grey that it is left up to your reader to decide who is in the right, then I will get down on one knee and propose to you now.

Black-and-white cowboys and Indians is a dying art, because with shows such as Criminal Minds, the public is growing to yearn to understand and even to empathise with villains. So, consider trying to understand your own villain a little more.

Food for thought?

If all goes well, I'll probably post something HARRY POTTER related after I see the film next week. Something about series or plotting, I'm assuming.


Comment below guys! Do you have any other villain types? Do you have any tips to better understand your villains? Any questions about them or how to form that relationship between them and your protagonist?

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