Successful Query: Hunting Annabelle

Successful Query: Hunting Annabelle

Here is the query I sent out for HUNTING ANNABELLE (then titled COPPER SHADOWS). My agent is the inimitable Lauren Spieller with Triada. I love my agency so much, and Lauren is one of the best and brightest in the business. She's smart, relentless, and a  top notch editor. I feel lucky every day. 

Here's the query! 

Dear Lauren,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit my query for COPPER SHADOWS, a psychological thriller and twisted love story about **redacted for spoilers.** COPPER SHADOWS is set in 1986 and is complete at 71,000 words. 

After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, Sean is determined to stay away from any potential victims. He can’t resist Annabelle, though, and when she’s kidnapped on their first date, he’s driven to extremes in his quest to find her. Haunted by the fear that it might be better for her if he never does, he is tormented by the belief that in saving her lies his only chance at redemption. His investigation leads him through her troubled past in rural Texas and brings him face-to-face with a killer more ruthless than he.

Thank you again for your consideration. I have pasted the first chapter into the body of this email and am happy to provide a partial or full manuscript for your review. Thanks to your first page/query swap project a couple of years ago, I've created a Critique Partner matching site where I play matchmaker for aspiring authors. It's going really well! I thank you for your work on that.   

All the best,

Wendy Heard

Final back cover copy:

Sean Suh is done with killing. After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, he’s determined to stay away from temptation. But he can't resist Annabelle--beautiful, confident, incandescent Annabelle--who alone can see past the monster to the man inside. The man he's desperately trying to be.

Then Annabelle disappears.

Sean is sure she’s been kidnapped—he witnessed her being taken first hand—but the police are convinced that Sean himself is at the centre of this crime. And he must admit, his illness has caused him to “lose time” before. What if there’s more to what happened than he’s able to remember?

Though haunted by the fear that it might be better for Annabelle if he never finds her, Sean can’t bring himself to let go of her without a fight. To save her, he’ll have to do more than confront his own demons… He'll have to let them loose.

On My Path to Publication

The road to publication is fickle and seems to change its topography for the traveler. For some, I've seen it unfurl simply, peaceful and direct. For me it has been...not that. If you knew me, you'd say, "That makes sense." Peaceful is not really my thing.

I recently signed with MIra in a two book deal. HUNTING ANNABELLE will be published on the twenty year anniversary of starting my first book. Just typing this fills my heart with a gratitude so heavy it almost doesn't count as happiness. It's too big for happiness, too deep. It's relief, it's wanting to hug my younger self who cried over drafts of books that never got picked up. It's grief for all that energy that went into worrying about the future of my books. It's pride, it's bliss. It's disbelief. It's everything. 

I already wrote about my path to signing with my agent here, and I won't re-tread that ground. I will insert an addendum: the pain of rejection on submission was worse than I expected. While my powerhouse of an agent, Lauren Spieller, tirelessly pitched my book, I battled wave after wave of writer's block as I tried to focus on my work in progress. When Michelle Meade at Mira expressed interest and shared her thoughts with me, I was struck by the feeling I had with Lauren. She seemed to truly understand and love what I was trying to do with this book and the themes I wanted to explore. In short, she 'got it.' I cannot express what that felt like, what it feels like. Ironically, just when I came to peace with the idea that this book might not sell and dove into my next project, just when I let go and felt my chest expand and relax knowing the sale of one book does not make or break me as a writer, the barrier broke.

It's hard to know what the road to one of these moments looked like and develop perspective on the size of that moment compared to the road that led to it. Here is a list of work that went into this moment for me:

  • 20 years

  • 30 drafts

  • 6 complete novels, 2 unfinished

  • 700 agent rejections

  • 20 full manuscript requests

  • 4 R&Rs

  • 9 writing contests

  • 30 beta readers

  • An uncounted number of friends and family who offered a portfolio of support, platitudes, alcoholic beverages, criticism, love, and advice

  • Uncountable hours of research into the business of publication and writing

  • Uncounted hours reading for other people and sharing successes and failures with my fellow crazy writers, whom I love more than love

So here is the announcement, and even though I've worked so hard, I feel incredibly lucky to be posting this. I know so many writers who are still in the query/submission trenches with work better than mine, waiting for their lucky moment. It's a numbers game I suppose. Stick with it, my friends, and don't be afraid of playing the long game.

The Art of Revisions

The Art of Revisions

Revision is the art of taking critical feedback and turning it into better writing. I didn't feel comfortable with revisions until at least...gosh, maybe five manuscripts into my writing journey, and it really held me back from growing creatively. I hope some of my observations are helpful to you. 

I run a critique partner matchmaking service. As such, I get exposed to hundreds of writers. One thing the successful ones have in common: they can accept critical feedback and make related revisions. 

I want to give a list of revisions issues I see writers face that have held them back from meeting their potential. Spoiler alert--I've done almost all of these myself in varying degrees of awfulness.

  • Unwillingness to outline, brainstorm, or use prewriting tools

  • Unwillingness to learn industry standard word counts and as a result create work that is much too long or short

  • Argumentativeness with critique partners and beta readers, bullying their readers into changing their opinions

  • Inability to delve into the deeper, structural issues reflected in reader feedback, making only surface-level changes

  • Lack of research and professional learning, which leads to less skill in interpreting critical feedback

  • Crippling self-doubt and self-recrimination when confronted with criticism

  • Inability to learn lessons while writing one book and apply those lessons to the next book

  • Inability to self-examine and change their creative process as needed

  • Unwillingness to recognize other people as experts and insistence on retaining that title at all times, thus discrediting reader feedback

Here's the problem, once you've overcome all those obstacles: If four people read your book, you'll get four different sets of prescriptive notes. The question becomes: How do you know which notes to take and which to discard? Well, I can offer you this: I lived in Texas for four years, and I heard a man say the following: "If two people call you a jackass, it's time to get a saddle." If two different qualified people say the same thing about your manuscript, it's time to address that issue. 

If you have an anchor such as a beat sheet or another outlining tool, you can use that against the notes you're getting to get at the heart of what's bothering the reader. For example, your reader might complain that the main character is boring in the first five chapters. But if you look at your beat sheet, you might realize that you failed to hit certain key beats that drive the story forward. So the issue IS that the reader is getting bored, but the real fix is plot here, not character. 

Revision is the art of listening. It's questioning, digging deeper into someone's thoughts, squelching pride and agony as you realize how much work you'll have to undo. It's the art of investigation, into your reader's thoughts and into your own process. Are you focusing too much on plot and not enough on character development so that every reader complains about not "connecting" to your main character? This is a hard truth, and it's one I've had to face. 

Now go write stuff, and delete stuff, and buy your critique partners a drink. They deserve it! Anyone willing to brave a writer's stubbornness is worthy of sainthood. 

How to Write a Professional Synopsis

How to Write a Professional Synopsis

Ah, the synopsis. All authors love writing these joyous little gems of prose. For those who don't find them as enjoyable or intuitive, here's a handy step-by-step guide to writing a synopsis at the professional level:

Step 1: Don't. Can you get out of this in any possible way? Can you get someone else to write it for you? It's fine if that someone is not a writer; the synopsis can't possibly come out any worse than the one you would have written. See if you can outsource the synopsis to a child or a monkey with a typewriter. They'll do a better job than you.

Step 2: If you must write the synopsis (no kids or monkeys handy), accomplish everything else in your life first. Clean the bathroom, mop the floors, take your dog to the groomer, trim your toenails. Have you been wanting to follow up on that one random insurance question that will force you to sit on hold for fifteen hours? Now is a good time to do that.

Step 3: Once you've accomplished everything else in your life that needed doing, you'll be tired. It's time to sleep. You can worry about the synopsis tomorrow.

Step 4: Ignore the synopsis.

Step 5: Deadline is approaching. You only have one day to write the synopsis. No worries, you still have plenty of time. Why don't you start outlining that book you thought of as you were falling asleep a few months ago? Now is a good time for that.

Step 6: You have fourteen minutes until your deadline. It's time to write your synopsis.

Step 7: Do a really terrible job. It will teach the recipient a valuable lesson and hopefully they will no longer submit writers to this torture. 

Step 8: Well done. You're a professional writer. Why do people complain about synopses so much, you wonder. They're not that bad after all.