Columbia Writers

It’s official now: I co-run the critique group Columbia Writers. Myself and two good friends are now in charge of this meetup group, though we’ve been sort of de facto running a lot of it for over a year now. All the same, it’s nice to have the reins for real now.

Probably the best attended sub-group within CW is the 20/20 Critique Meet – this is also the one that I generally run. For this, we meet every other week, and two writers submit up to 20 pages of fiction to be critiqued by our attendees. Then we go round-robin style at the meetup itself and talk (and cross-talk) about the pieces. This works for both short fiction and longer pieces as well.

We have several other sub-groups like the Small Group Meet (up to five attendees each submit up to ten pages) and some write-ins at area coffee shops. There’s also the Novel in Six Months group that has been run in the past and there is sometimes a Beta Book Club group that reads completed manuscripts. There are plenty of opportunities to engage in writing and critique and perhaps, in the near future, there could be more or different sub-groups.

Changes are coming to our beloved CW and myself and the other two organizers look forward to making it better and brighter than ever.


Maryland RennFest

If it’s early fall, then it’s prime Maryland RennFest season!

You already know that I’m a massive nerd. It’s no secret. And one of my nerdy hobbies is costuming. I’ve stepped away from the con/cosplay community for many reasons, but every year, I still enjoy putting together a few piratey garb looks for the Faire. This year’s look will be a captain’s coat made from greens and golds with burgundy accents. It’s based on this pattern and will be using these fabrics.

Like most adults, I enjoy a few beers now and then. I enjoy them more while in costume. And I enjoy them most of all when in costume and with my friends (usually also in costume). The Maryland Renaissance Festival is, therefore, a key destination for me every year. Last year, I hit both it and the PA Renaissance Faire up several times.

My weekends seem to have booked up awfully quickly this fall (every Sunday is sacrificed to the gods of D&D, so that rules a lot of potential RennFest time out), so I probably can’t make it to the Fest until September 30th. Honestly, that’s pretty perfect! It should be cooler and therefore more comfortable in a heavier, long-sleeved coat. It also happens to be pirate weekend. Perfect.

Query Letters 101: Research and Glossary


Research is Your Best Weapon

Care about your writing and your project enough to learn as much about the industry as possible. Being prepared, researching agents, and knowing the jargon is going to give you a huge leg up.

  • “Big Six” (Now the “Big Five” as Random House and Penguin have merged) – The six largest publishers: Random House, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan
  • Commission – The amount an agent receives for their services. Agents typically receive a commission of 15% for all domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales. Agents only receive commission on works they sell, and thus aren’t paid unless the author is paid.
  • Exclusivity – When an unpublished author gives an agent an “exclusive” look at their manuscript, usually for a period of time. This means the author cannot then send their manuscript to another agent during that time period.
  • Genre fiction – A blanket term that refers to books with certain familiar settings and plot conventions. Genres include romance, science fiction, mystery and suspense, westerns, etc.
  • Partial – A partial manuscript. When an agent likes a query they may ask to see a certain number of pages or chapters. If they don’t specify, just send 50 pages.
  • Royalties – The amount an author receives on every net copy sold of their book (see “net sales”).
  • **TWO TERMS THAT YOU WANT TO USE VERY CAREFULLY: Author and Book. You are not an author until you are published. Until that point in your career, you are a writer. You have not written a book or a novel until you are published. Until that point in your career, you have written a manuscript.
  • Key agencies: know the reputable agencies. Check websites such as querytracker, absolutewrite, literaryrambles, and agentquery to read up on the good and the bad agencies.
  • Contracts and Rights: You can’t know all of the different types of contracts because every agency and publisher will be a little different. But know the overall norms of contracts and rights. Such as: how much percentage is normal for agents to take on your advance, what a typical advance from a publisher is, what the royalties on a paperback, hardcover, or e-book are…etc. This will help you to avoid pitfalls. It will help you avoid agencies or publisher out to take advantage of you. You can find a lot of advice on publishing contracts on the web.
  • Comparative Book Titles: It’s good to know other published books that are similar to yours. This will help you accurately categorize your manuscript. Also, by knowing the popularity and success of these comp titles, you can adjust your publishing expectations.
  • This is a fantastic glossary of publishing terms.

From Query Letter to Sale (In an Ideal World)

Your manuscript MUST be completed (unless you are writing nonfiction) and have gone through as much editing as is possible. You may have sent it through one or more beta readings. You may have even paid a substantive or line editor to go over your manuscript.

You will send out approximately 80 bazillion query letters to appropriate agents. Steel yourself.

An agent(s) will express interest and request a full or partial manuscript. She will love your book and offer to sign you. It’s possible that multiple agents will request your manuscript at roughly the same time; a good agent will give you appropriate time to consider which agent/agency to accept an offer from.

A good agent will keep frequent contact with you, probably via a phone or Skype call. This is a serious relationship so be sure it is the right one. Be sure they are going to fulfill all of your professional needs.

An agent will give you ample time to look over a contract and should be able to answer any questions you have about it.



Query Letters 101: Your Query Letter


You may think you have an entire synopsis to impress an agent but really, you have one sentence. A great query letter is about so much more than a convincing synopsis of your manuscript. It’s about relating, conversing, understanding, and grabbing an agent’s attention.

  • No less than 250 words, no more than 700. Aim for about 400.
  • Don’t try to be cute and use weird paper or fonts. Stick with Arial, Cambria, or Times in 10 or 12 point font.
  • Use paragraphs! Don’t stick everything in one huge chunk of text. You’ll scare agents.
  • Personalize your letter! This sets good letters apart from great letters. While each one of your query letters is going to be 97% the exact same as the last, 3% of that should be personalized for each new agent you send it to. Show agents that you’ve put in the time and effort to get to know their tastes before querying them.
    • Always address each letter to the agent by name
    • Use one or two sentences to tell them why they are the right match for you.
      • “I noticed that you represent Gregg Olsen’s YA series ENVY. Because of this, I really think you’ll also enjoy my dark, psychological, YA thriller.”
      • “I had to query a fellow journalism woman!”
      • “I love that your nieces and nephews play such a huge role in your literary career. I hope one day, they’ll get a chance to read my novel.”
      • “I read your blog post titled ‘Be the Evel Knievel of Writing’ and it inspired me to finish my manuscript with a non-linear story structure.”
      • “I read your interview on Day-By-Day Writer and felt compelled to send you my query for _____.”
  • Use your letter to embody everything about your writing. Keep your voice and tone consistent but remain professional.
  • Focus on the project you are currently pitching, even if you have been previously published. There is a place to talk about previous publications! Don’t worry. PITCH ONLY ONE MANUSCRIPT PER LETTER.
  • Be specific about plot details but don’t give everything away. You want to leave the agent wanting more so he will request your full manuscript!
  • If it is specified by the agent’s website, include the first five pages of your manuscript copied and pasted into the e-mail after the closing signoff. Attachments are generally not accepted. Some agents say not to include these pages, some do not specify. But there is always the chance that she will find herself just reading the pages anyway.
  • No e-mail blasts. It is unprofessional, lazy, and not personalized.
  • If another agent or publisher has referred you to an agent, mention it in your letter.
  • Query Letter Must Haves:
    • Personalized salutation, personalized tidbit about agent, title, genre, word count, protagonist name, derscription of protagonist, setting, inciting incident, villain, protagonist’s quest/purpose, protagonist’s goal, your bio, author’s credits (optional), your name, where you can be found online
  • Know your genre, type of project, and age group.

Much of this information came from an excellent class I took on taught by the brilliant and lovely Bree Ogden. If you want more, sign up for some classes there!! 

Check out the previous parts of the Query Letters 101 series: 

Letters and Agents

Query Letters 101: Letters and Agents

Royal Mail letter box stuffed full with letters

At this point I’ve taken one online course, attended several panels on the topic, and spoken to several agents and industry reps about them: I’m talking query letters. They’re a crucial step toward getting an agent and, in time, publication. 

The query letter is an important tool on the path to making it as a fiction writer. If you’re interested in pursuing the traditional publishing route (agent, publishing house, book) then this is a skill you’re going to need to polish as much as your manuscript.

A query letter is your introduction, your first impression, your cover letter that presents you to a literary agent. Your literary agent is your best tool for getting your book sold to a publisher. He or she represents you, pushes for your best interests, sells you and your work, and should help you negotiate contracts. When it comes to traditional publishing, an agent is going to be your best friend. So you want to make a good first impression with your new best friend, right? Right. That’s your query letter.

Literary agents receive hundreds of query letters every week, most of which – it’s just a numbers game – they are going to reject. Filtering through all of these letters is only one part of the job that agents have to do, so they can only budget so much time for this task. You need to grab their attention immediately and be interesting enough to hold it. This is going to be the job of the first sentence or, if you are very lucky, the first paragraph of your query letter.

You need to do some research and some thinking before you decide who to send your query letter to and this will also shape the kind of letter you’re going to write. What genre does your novel fall into? Sci-fi? YA? Literary fiction? Make sure the agent(s) you’re querying represent the genre(s) you write. Additionally, make sure your agent(s) of choice is currently accepting queries. Otherwise you’re wasting your time!

An agent should ALWAYS: talk with you via Skype or phone or even in person, be head over heels in love with your work, champion your project, be honest and forthright about their previous sales records. An agent should NEVER: charge you for their services (a 15%-20% royalty upon sale of your project is normal; an up-front payment is not normal in the industry and is a red flag that something is probably wrong).

Next week, check out Query Letters 101: Your Query Letter

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction

Can I talk for a hot minute about how excited I am to hear about Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction? Not only is it an anthology that is much-needed in the world, edited by a crew of disabled folx, it will also include stories that address the subject of what it means to be a disabled human now or in visions of the future.

As someone who’s struggled with chronic – often debilitating – pain for the past 9 years, this forthcoming anthology feels like it’s being made just for me. Considering that pain and disability can be one of the most isolating experiences around, having this collection around makes me feel like I am welcome here in the world and that it’s okay that I take up space – which we disabled people often feel isn’t true.

Widowmaker Banner

Open submissions will come around early next year according to the Kickstarter page and if you think I’m not submitting Widowmaker (a time travel/Wild West story with a disabled protagonist), you don’t know me at all. Considering that Widowmaker won an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future 2016, maybe it has a shot.

Fingers crossed!

Knowing When to Walk Away (Hint: Not Yet)

I’ve been trying to find representation for my urban fantasy manuscript, Dark of the Wood, for at least two years now with no success. If my tactics aren’t working, clearly, something needs to change. I’m taking a two-pronged approach: deep edits and a rewrite based on notes that are forthcoming from a writer friend as well as re-branding it as contemporary fantasy and re-writing my query letter. I may also re-work the title.

Urban fantasy is no longer at the height of its popularity and, moving away from some common expectations for the genre, my book doesn’t contain a romantic plot; my two main characters are most definitely not romantically entangled. They have an interesting relationship, but it’s utterly platonic. I had thought that urban fantasy might be a relatively easy sell for an unproven author, but that hasn’t been the case.

I’m not giving up on the project, though.

I also recently unearthed a partial manuscript and some notes and snippets from an earlier project: a fantasy erotica novel with BDSM elements. But let me tell you what, if urban fantasy has been a hard sell, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to find representation for this. It’s also nowhere near being finished, so I’m playing a long game on this one.