Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dear Francisca Montague (draft query letter)

The truth is, I'm not quite ready to query. Close, but not there. I am going through "Reach for the Sky" on another polishing run, and soliciting feedback from beta readers. So, if you happen to be an agent and just can't wait to request a full on this, sorry. (Though do let me know, so I can query the heck out of you when it is ready!)

I am close enough to be serious about the query letter. I've gone through some revisions, but this is probably what I will use, or something like it. Just thought I'd share in case anybody is curious or has any feedback.

Dear Francisca Montague: [or whomever - never just say 'agent']

Trolls are tough. Trolls are strong. Trolls are fearless. Well, except for Bernie. Bernie is eleven, timid and enjoys munching on beetles. When he tastes danger in the air, his parents won’t pay any attention. His best friend, Tish, is clever and obsessed with rocks, and she thinks that anything dangerous sounds like fun. Boy, is she ever wrong.

When giants destroy the bridge over Bernie’s home and carry off Bernie’s parents and Tish’s Granny Mac, Bernie and Tish must journey to Mount Dreadful alone and find a way to rescue their loved ones, though neither knows how two young trolls can fight giants ten times their size.

Inside Mount Dreadful's murky caverns, the trolls will learn that size doesn’t always matter, that fears can be overcome, that protecting people sometimes means risking yourself, and that when fiery dragons take to the sky, no one is safe.

Complete at 32,000 words, REACH FOR THE SKY is a middle grade fantasy. This is my first novel, though I have published short stories for both children and adults. The first ten pages of REACH FOR THE SKY are included below. [If this agent's submission guidelines say so - always follow the guidelines!]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Ben Langhinrichs
[contact info, blog and social media stuff]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Queries - so much to learn and so many mistakes to make

I feel as if I have been reading about the query process for years, and yet there is always more. A fellow member of my small writing group is also working on his query letter. His book is for a similar, though slightly older, age group, but it is a far different book. In any case, he has also been reading QueryShark and other sites.

The biggest mistakes that I have seen out there in query examples, aside from writing a book that nobody wants to publish because the market is saturated with vampires or the plot is way too similar to Harry Potter:

1) Not knowing what your book is really about. This sounds bizarre, but there do seem to be a number of people who write a whole lot about some characters without ever really grasping that there needs to be a real plot. If you don't have that plot, the query seems to ramble on about either the author or the kind of characters, but never communicate a sense of urgency or a sense of the stakes in the story for the MC. Often, the author wanted "to write a book" rather than write this book.

2) Inability to sell the story. This is far more common, and may happen even with a great book. Whether through paralysis or carelessness or something else, the author seems to say: Trust me, it's a great book, so I shouldn't have to describe it. Just read it. (As a software developer, this is akin to software companies that can't describe their products, but simply want you to discover it for yourself. I've never once bought software sold that way.)

3) Rushed and sloppy. An author may spend years writing a book, but then whips off a query letter and sends it, warts and all. Again, hard for me to believe, but it happens a lot. Usually, this is followed by zero offers for representation and the book being self-published filled with typos.

4) Arrogance. Some authors are convinced that the world should grovel at their feet because they wrote the masterpiece of all masterpieces, unique among books. Somehow, this comes through in a query letter.

5) The query doesn't follow the submission rules. While some agents may overlook some minor infractions, most seem to have too many queries to start with and are looking for queries to cull. If the agent has posted clear rules and the query doesn't follow them, it significantly raises the chance that the author will be a slightly better controlled version of #5.

There are obviously many other reasons why an agent will pass on a query, not all of which are "mistakes". They may have too many like that one, or it may not sound like a voice they like, or they may have had too much coffee and feel unable to read that afternoon. Your query may not be significantly flawed, but it is probably a good idea to assume it might be if nobody is asking for partials or fulls or showing any interest at all.

Garden house on a hill

Second week of art class, and the instructor went in a different direction. Most of the drawing we have done before is of a thing actually in front of us. Instead, she pinned a number of different types of landscapes and scenes on the wall, and had us make up a landscape based on elements we saw in those different images. In addition, she wanted is to focus on using crosshatching for shadows and "value" (one of those arty words that seems to mostly mean how dark it is). In addition, we needed to think about foreground, middle ground and background elements, and alsocomposition, especially things like triangles and odd numbers of elements and visually pleasing layout. Sheesh!

Some students tried to copy specific elements, while others did what I did and tried to capture the essence of the different images in our own made up landscape. I decided to make a garden house on a hillside. 

This counts as one of those learning experience drawings.I like parts of it, don't like others, but got some sense about what I would need to do differently. Now that I am doing sketches as well, I tend to break down the element a bit in my mind and ask myself what worked and what didn't. Then, I tackle the things that didn't work by watching videos and trying to "get" what I may have missed. Someday, this should all make me better, even if better is barely beyond the level of a somewhat naturally gifted 10 year old.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sketch Day 5 - Merz and Bernie

Sketch Day 5

One of my fellow writers requested that I draw one of the giants alongside one of the trolls to get a sense of their relative sizes. This is Merz, the first giant Bernie encounters close up, and Bernie himself. His scale is such that I couldn't do much justice to his drawing, but you can probably tell he is shouting.

I am considering this more of a character sketch, as there is no scene exactly like this. At the very least, it gives me a better sense of what the giants look like. (My muse is in charge of the sketches, so I am as surprised as you by how they turn out.)

To give just a bit more sense of scale, Bernie is about half my height, or just over 3 feet tall. One meter almost exactly for you sensible metric people.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sketch Day 4 - Bernie crawls through the tunnel

Sketch Day 4

I decided to do something a little different today. In my previous sketches, I've shown characters and a place. In this, I decided to illustrate a scene later in the book where Bernie has to crawl through a tunnel inside the lair of the dragons.

After making the sketch, I decided to go one step further and include some of the scene itself. (Obviously, they are superimposed on the actual sketch, but I thought I'd post it this way.) 

I never plan ahead what I am going to sketch, but I would assume it will be a combinations of characters, places and scenes. I may also focus on some details (such as troll feet or hands), mostly because I am trying to learn to draw them. Let me know if there is anything you would like to see more so that you can picture it. (Moar scenes! Moar characters! Dragons and trolls together! Or whatever.)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Sketch Day 3 - Bernie

Sketch Day 3

I have been a little scared to try drawing Bernie, but I decided I might as well give it a try. I don't like the body, hands or feet much, but the face is pretty close to what I want.

One of the challenges in visualizing Bernie and Tish is whether I think trolls are more human-like or less human-like.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sketch Day 2 - The Waterfall

The Waterfall

Sketch Day 2

I went for a very different scene today. This is the waterfall behind which Granny Mac and Tish live. (The stream which leads to the waterfall is the Lillygusset for those who like names, and this is Lillygusset Falls, though it is quite small.)

I am experimenting with sketches at the same time as trying illustrations, and this is my try for more abstract surfaces. I kind of like it, though I am sure there is more I could do to emphasize the light on different rocks without getting too concrete. Still, I am quite proud of this one. Maybe tomorrow I will even try Bernie. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sketch Day 1 - Granny Mac and Tish

Sketch Day 1

As many of you know, I am in the middle of polishing a novel for middle grade (7-12 y.o.) kids. It is called Reach for the Sky, and it features two troll children, Bernie and Tish. I decided that rather than sketch random stuff, I am going to try to visualize some of the characters and scenes from my novel each day. This is very experimental, as part of my passion for learning to draw is trying to figure out what Bernie and Tish look like. I'll also try sketching where they live, some of the obstacles they face (giants! dragons!) and perhaps a map of where there adventures take place.

Tish lives with her Granny Mac, and I decided for my first day to try drawing the two of them. This is somewhere between drawing and sketching, and we will have to see whether all my sketches are like that or some are more or less detailed. In case you wonder, this is not really how I see Granny Mac and Tish looking, so I may have to keep trying to get them closer to my internal (and very fuzzy) image.

Still Life with Convoluted Cow

Art class has finally started up again after the holidays, and our first project was a mixed up sort of still life. Our instructor likes these because she thinks it helps get you away from the idea of the thing to the reality of the thing. She is always telling us to draw what we actually see, not what we think we should see.

I am fairly happy with this, especially because I captured more of the character of the odd clay cow than I thought I would be able to. (It has horns and udders, so I am choosing to call it a cow, though it is possible it was intended to be some other animal entirely.)

I am also hoping to do a sketch-a-day, though I likely won't do them the days I do art class. The subject of those sketches will be revealed when I post the first one.