Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Five More Things Not to Do in a Query Letter

Here are a few more basic tips for those of you in the query trenches.


1. Use long, convoluted sentences. It does not make you sound clever, half the time; instead, it makes you sound like you are TRYING to be clever. If your query is clear enough and interesting enough to intrigue a sleep-deprived intern, you're good to go.

2. Demand a book deal within a set amount of time. The publishing industry moves, in most cases, very slowly. It takes at LEAST a year between book deal and publication date, usually longer. And the submissions process can also be lengthy. Patience, grasshopper.

3. Talk about what a great movie your book will make. Agents are in the books business, not the movie business, and what makes a great movie might not make a great novel. It might make the transition between page and screen really well, but that's not the point at the query stage.

4. Confuse "synopsis" with "query." A query letter is about 250 words and should include a hook (an eye-catching first sentence) as well as information on the characters and most of the plot, without giving away the ending. A synopsis is usually 2-4 pages, explaining most of the scenes in more detail, including the ending. Many agencies do not ask for synopses*, whereas I've never heard of one that does not want a query letter.

5. Open your query with rhetorical questions. Here is agent Sarah La Polla's explanation on why. Essentially, if we actually answered most rhetorical questions used in queries, it would be with much more eye-rolling than you want.

*This might be because synopses are evil.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


If you know me in real life, then you will know that I have basically zero interest in sports. Watching sports on tv bores me, and the only team I follow is fictional. I am absolutely terrible at playing sports. I don't like running and I can't catch anything (future Quidditch teammates: you have been warned).

But I LOVE the Olympics.

I'm not really sure why I love the Olympics so much when all other sports bore me half to tears. Maybe I just am more interested in the unusual stuff that you see at the Olympics, like gymnastics and archery and equestrian eventing and curling. Maybe I just love the spectacle of it all. I think a big part of it is that I'm a sap and it makes me really, really happy to see, every two years, the entire world coming together and having some friendly competition, rather than shooting at each other all the time.

The Opening Ceremonies have always been my favorite part (I love a good spectacle show. See: favorite musical Phantom of the Opera and chandeliers) and I cannot wait to see what this year's ceremonies have in store. But tomorrow is exciting for me in a couple of different ways as well.

For one thing, my mom and my sister will be triumphantly returning from a week of dance competitioning in Maine. So that will be quite nice. :)

For another, one of my best friends from school - and my flatmate from London - is coming to visit me for the weekend so that we can watch the Opening Ceremonies together and hang out and see War Horse at Lincoln Center. I am so excited that I have not slept properly in two days. I miss Lisa so much and I cannot wait to see her. *bounces in chair*

I'm also excited for the Olympics to start because of London. I have been missing London very badly over the last month and a half or so (especially when we were having a heat wave in Manhattan and London was hanging out in 60-70 degree rainy weather). I am so, so excited to see the city I called home on tv. I have to watch some of the indoor volleyball because I lived in Earl's Court, literally around the corner from the volleyball arena (which also hosted the London Book Fair). I'm going to be pointing at the tv for two weeks shouting "I was there! I know that place!"

And, to the people who will be watching the Opening Ceremonies with me (ie my parents, my sister, and Lisa): I may very well start to cry watching that. It might happen. You have been warned.

I know I'm a writer and am therefore supposed to know how to perfectly describe everything, but there really are no words to explain just how much I have been looking forward to the Olympics, and to the next three days especially. I love London. If I could pack up my friends and family and bring them with me, I'd move back without a second thought. For the next two weeks I plan to wear my status as an Honorary British Person, given to me by Actual British Person Eleanor, quite proudly. And after an unusually lonely summer, I cannot wait to have Lisa visiting for THREE WHOLE DAYS. It is going to be so much fun. Seriously, is it tomorrow yet?

So, let's do this, London 2012. I can't wait to see you again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Arrival

Hello, all! It's time for another teaser, don't you think?

This is Kate's first impression of Bombay, before she and Clara are reunited with their father. Kate, of course, being rather excitable, thinks everything is fabulous. Now, for whatever reason, late 19th century Bombay is proving incredibly difficult to research. I'm working on it - I've got a list of books I need to go ask my librarian to hunt down for me - but if anyone is knowledgeable about that sort of thing and sees any glaring errors, please let me know! I'm trying very hard not to fall back on stereotypes, so, please do correct me.

Other than that, enjoy!


May 1878

            Their arrival in Bombay was accompanied by an enormous amount of confusion. They nearly lost their luggage in the descent from the steam ship to the docks, and Uncle Charles and Frederick nearly vanished into the crowd in their search for a porter. And then there was the strange, bouncing journey in a carriage contraption pulled by a man in an immaculately white turban through the teeming streets that led away from the port. The buildings they passed were mainly European in design, as this was the neighbourhood the Portuguese and the English had taken as their own, but it was certainly dissimilar to England. It was as though someone had turned a bright lamp on the streets of London and splashed at it with brightly coloured paints. Everywhere there were strange items piled upon market stalls or baskets; everywhere there were bizarre smells, some enticing, some repulsive; everywhere there was shouting in languages that were neither remotely familiar or decipherable. Uncle Charles and Frederick were glancing about at the streets with apprehension, already pulling at their cravats in the heat, looking as though they expected to be ambushed by savage natives at any second. Clara watched the whole thing with her usual calm face, although her eyes were wide and excited as she surveyed the scene.

            Kate loved every second of it. 

            She asked a thousand questions, pointing at anything and everything over the edge of the carriage’s open box, and for once she did not care that the answer to her questions was not forthcoming. She tried her best to remember the turns they took from the water’s edge to the Churchgate neighbourhood, tried to remember what they passed in order to take stock of her new city. While the turns were few, however, the streets were so mobbed with people – and Kate’s head buzzing with such excitement – that she could scarce remember anything half a minute later as she exclaimed over the newest thing she caught sight of. 

            It was an odd place, so unlike London in its cold, rain-washed grey suit. Bombay had the same smell of a large city, which eased as they came further away from the docks, but everything here was baked under the Indian sun, intensified and spread, but while Kate had initially found the smell of overwarm bodies and sun baked fish and refuse lying in the streets unpleasant, the further they were removed from the docks, the more it was masked by spicier scents, strange things she could not name. There were what seemed hundreds of people passing them by every instant – the men’s long shirts bright splashes of white against the dazzling colours of the city. Many wore turbans in many different colours, and some had short caps that sat squarely atop their heads. The women they passed seemed to be wearing every shade of fabric imaginable, and so much of it was so elegantly embroidered that Kate found herself staring at the patterns before their carriage whisked them past.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Bottom of the Writer Cycle

Sometimes, writing feels a little bit like this:

Writing feels AWESOME sometimes. When you start a new wip or have a burst of inspiration for that chapter you're stuck on or that plot twist you wanted to include, everything in the entire universe is great. Every word (or at least most words) you write is pure gold and you're typing away for hours and hours. It all falls into place, and it all feels perfect.

And then there is the opposite end of that spectrum, when everything feels a little more like this:

Oh yeah, it gets real dramatic. This is when you think that everything you write is godawful and you are never in a million years going to make it past the slush pile ever and that you're just going to be writing horrible words you think are clever but really aren't until the end of time. You feel like even your friends don't want to talk to you, and why would they, you're a horrible person and nobody UNDERSTANDS. You get incredibly stressed out over little things that just add up until you're sobbing into your pillow at three in the morning and you don't even really know why.

Yep. That's been me the past few weeks. It wasn't fun. I tend to be more prone to such bouts of writerly depression in the summer, when I don't have things like homework and roommates and theatre practice to distract me from my sadly empty query inbox or that scene I just can't figure out.

But you know what? Last night, I wrote 2500 words and I KNOW they were (at least mostly) awesome. I sent out some more query letters and have high hopes that one or two might lead somewhere. I'm heading a bit more towards the happy dancing part than the "glass case of emotion" part of writerly life.

Here are three things that help me a little:

1. Just let it all out. I hate crying. I HATE crying. I don't like letting people see that I'm upset, but sometimes you just can't help it. So find an excuse! Get all stupidly choked up at the end of How to Train Your Dragon or something. I'm going to go see War Horse at Lincoln Center next week and I'm going to cry my eyes out and it's going to be awesome. Because then you're not crying because you're upset, you're crying because oh gosh it's just so beautiful. See what I did there?

2. WRITER FRIENDS. They actually do understand what this feels like, because I'm pretty sure every writer does it. This is when it's their job to pat you on the head and tell you you're wonderful no really they mean it, and it does make you feel better. :)

3. Maybe take a little break, but just keep on trucking. I've been researching a lot over the past few days, rather than actually writing down words, and I think that's helped. But like I said, yesterday I wrote a ton and sent out more queries. Writerly misery happens - but it also ends.

So next time you're feeling a little blue about your writing (or maybe a lot blue), maybe just give yourself a day or two and then pick yourself up again. You've got this, guys.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Oppressive Silence

Happy Tuesday, all! I'm trying something new with this snippet - let me know if it's obvious enough for you to pick up and if you like it! (See, I give you riddles on the blog now. Muahaha. (Not really.))

I think this is pretty self explanatory, so, I'll let you jump right in. Enjoy!


At last, however, it is time for Penelope and Celeste to return home, as of course they must. Josephine escorts her friends to the door, and once Celeste’s family carriage has pulled up to the door, collected Celeste and driven away, Penny surprises her with an impossible request. 

            “Josephine, you must promise me to come to something this season. Some party or dance, somewhere. Please. It can be so lonely when Celeste is off with all of her admirers.”

            “Penny,” Josephine stammers, “you know I cannot-”

            “I know you have your obligations at home. I wouldn't wish for you to neglect them. But you deserve a season of your own, you know. I know you must be dreadfully lonely in this house. Please, promise me you will at least ask to join us.” 

            Josephine’s mouth hangs open a moment in a very unladylike fashion as she tries to find the right words. Penny is staring up at her, her brown eyes wide and almost pleading; it is a kind of desperation for companionship that Josephine knows only too well, and she finds it impossible to say no. 

            “All right, Penny. I will ask. I promise. I can’t promise to do anything more, though. I’m sorry.”

            But Penelope’s smile is so bright that Josephine cannot help but smile back, even though she is torn between happiness at delighting her friend so, and mounting worry at abandoning her duties to her mother. The promise has been made, however, and all that is left is to carry it out. 

            Later that day, Josephine sits in the parlour again, embroidering a cushion while her mother and grandmother read by the fire. The room is nearly silent now, aside from the crackle of the fire that had been built to keep her mother from catching a chill. It is the same parlour that Josephine had spent so many enjoyable hours in earlier. The fine pink-and-white striped silk and cherry wood of the chairs is the same. The same dusky rose armchairs face the fireplace, with the same brass buttons now glinting in the flickering firelight. The same round tea table is covered with the same delicate lace tablecloth, although the tea things have long since been cleared away. 

            But in spite of the innumerable similarities, to Josephine, it feels like a completely different room. No laughter is filling it and making it seem less empty. There is no gentle chattering to coerce her into thinking that the wallpapered walls are not impossibly long, that the carved ceiling is not impossibly far away – that the room itself is not a neatly decorated cavern, filled with only echoes of voices that have long since fallen silent. In spite of the fact that there is a fire burning now when there had not been before, it is now when Josephine feels cold. 

            She stabs her needle in and out of the fabric, trailing green thread along after each neat stitch, looking up at the pair sitting by the fire every few minutes and wondering if she dares to interrupt the silence. After all, she did promise Penelope to ask. 

            The question burns on her tongue for hours, but in spite of the ache it causes, Josephine does not make a sound. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Unpopular Opinions: Love Triangles

All right, guys. I just have to say it.

I hate love triangles. 

But Caitlin, you ask, aren't you kind of obsessed with various depressing French musicals that feature love triangles - like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and A Tale of Two Cities?

Yes. This is true. Apparently my distaste for love triangles does not extend to classic novels that are sung prettily to me.

But in terms of YA novels, I find love triangles to be incredibly annoying. I'm really tired of seeing them, and after the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games, I see them a LOT.

I think they bug me for a couple of reasons. One is that it is almost always a girl who has two guys after her, rather than a guy who can't choose between two girls. I find this vaguely unsettling. I'm not sure if it's because that formula seems to play into the really annoying "boys don't read" idea or if it's because it seems to suggest that two guys fighting over a girl is normal whereas two girls fighting over a guy is not. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that a lot of love triangles are sort of meant to be fantasy scenarios for girls, where the main character is just so undeniably sexy that guys can't help but fall for her, thereby letting the reader put herself in those shoes. Whereas my impression of portrayals of girls fighting over guys is a situation that is much more vapid and catty on the part of the characters vying for the attention of the protagonist. I might be reading too much into that. But it just makes me a little uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good romantic subplot as much as the next single college girl, but this recent slew of ALL the love triangles seems like overkill. They seem to play into this idea that I've seen in modern media that there are no such things as friends anymore. A girl can't have a guy best friend; he's secretly in love with her and hates the guy she's had a crush on her whole life. The number of love triangles I've seen, you know, everywhere, suggest to me that the only kind of love involves kissing people. Which is silly. Friends and family are huge parts of teenagers' lives (and, well, everybody's lives!) and that kind of love is no less legitimate than romantic love. 

Another main reason that love triangles bug me is that I think they detract from the plot of the book. I think a lot of romantic subplots work because they support the main plot in some way or other. But I think there's enough romantic drama involved in a character thinking "I like him, does he like me? No, I think he hates me, oh wait, he's in love with me too! Now what do I do?!?" without having that magnified by two. That was something that irked me about the Hunger Games series; if you listened to people discussing the books before Mockingjay, you might think the only thing happening in the story was whether Katniss would end up with Peeta or Gale, rather than what would happen with that little revolution they were in the middle of. I think Katniss' debate over how she feels about Peeta supports the main plot: he's a fellow competitor in the Games, and their love, pretend or otherwise, has a huge effect on their survival. Whereas whether or not she is in love with Gale does not have as much, if any, effect on how the actual story unfolds.

I feel like love triangles often drag romantic subplots closer to the realm of main plots, which I find annoying. Love stories are great. But I want to read about the MAIN plot - I want to see how the revolution is going. I want to know if the characters are going to come through their dangers in one piece. I want to be hanging on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages to see if they triumph or fail in whatever it is they set out to do.

And yeah, I want to see if they fall in love. That's just not my main priority. So, I'd be pretty happy if the love triangle obsession calmed down a little bit.

Unless, of course, that love triangle is contained within a depressing musical set in France. Then you're good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Curious Incident of Maureen and the Ice Cream

What do you get when you cram five agents and five interns into an elevator?

One pretty hilarious story, that's what.

So, any of my lovely blog readers who are also on Twitter may have seen the announcement that Maureen Johnson made early last week: Ben & Jerry's had offered to give her control of an ice cream truck and distribute free samples wherever she wished. She said that she had turned down every promotional offer she had ever gotten, but was in NO WAY going to turn down this one. She asked people to Tweet her if they wanted to have her come to them with the ice cream truck.

Fellow intern Ari and I immediately started tweeting.

Later, she asked us to email with business location, phone number, et cetera, and somehow, between me, Ari, and the head of the agency I work for, on Thursday, we found ourselves receiving a call from Maureen's publicist to confirm about the ice cream truck. I was diligently reading query letters, when Ari called around the corner "did you hear that?!" The agent I work for was on the phone and had, apparently, said "what about an ice cream truck?" When she got off the phone, Ari and I explained what had been going on (some of the agents in our office knew about this Twitter campaign, others did not), then our boss agent got off the phone and called Maureen's publicist back to confirm.

We were going to be visited by Maureen Johnson and free ice cream the next day. And there was much rejoicing.*

The next day, Ari and I were both at work even though we do not usually work on Fridays. We were told to expect a call from them around 11:30. I had my Twitter page up while I was working, to check on the progress of the ice cream, since I knew Maureen would be tweeting during the journey. 11:30 came and went. Everybody in the office was fidgety, looking up every time the phone rang. And then Maureen tweeted that, of course, because this is Manhattan, they were stuck in traffic. But, finally, she said that she was at our office, and told us to "come down!"

The phone hadn't rung - nor did it, at any point, I don't think - but I called to the others that she was there, and we all scrambled towards the elevator and crammed ourselves in. I don't think I have ever seen a group of grown women so excited about ice cream.

Our elevators are notoriously slow, but we made our way down and then hurried outside (confusing our doorman immensely) and saw - no ice cream truck. Oh no! Where had they gone? One of the agents pulled out her phone and tried to tweet, when another spied the Ben & Jerry's truck around the corner. And there was much rejoicing. We all scrambled over to the truck and discovered that there was no one in the front seat. Oh dear. But another agent saw the driver, who told us that the others had gone UPSTAIRS to find us. (I later found her tweets to that effect. Whoops.) Our boss agent ran back to the building to try and find them, while the agent I work for tried to cajole more free ice cream out of the driver (to no avail). After a moment, most of us headed back to the elevator, while two of the agents and one intern stayed a moment to take a picture of the ice cream truck. We trooped inside, further confusing our doorman, and slowly headed up in the elevator. When the door opened, we saw Maureen Johnson and a Ben & Jerry's person holding a box of ice cream. An instant later, our boss agent popped out of the next elevator, and we all burst out laughing. I'm pretty sure that Maureen and the Ben & Jerry's person now think we're crazy.

But we all went into our office to take some pictures, and then Ari and I got Maureen to sign our copies of The Name of the Star without being overly fangirly, and then we were left with some delicious Raspberry Fudge Greek Frozen Yoghurt as Maureen went off to bring more ice cream to the denizens of New York.

And there was much rejoicing.

* Yes this is a blatant Monty Python reference. Also, I think the agents were a little confused as to who this Maureen Johnson person was and why she had been given an ice cream truck, but Ari and I were equally, if not more, excited to meet her - YA author and master of all things Twitter - as we were to get free ice cream.