Saturday, October 23, 2010

Useful Tidbits

I've been a bit busy lately and haven't had the time to really research my next self publishing platform.   So, instead of a the lowdown on (Coming soon, I promise!) I've got a few bits and pieces that may come in handy.

First off, my roving correspondent (okay, my buddy Gail Lewis) has returned from the James River Writer's Conference with some useful information for those of you looking for an agent.  Gail is also in the midst of the glorious fun that is the agent hunt.  If it weren't for the fact she already has three jobs and is working on writing a book, I'd try to cajole her into writing this herself.  But, she's swamped, so here are her useful bits through me:

Agents do not want to see stories that start with dreams.  More precisely agents see hundreds, if not thousands, of dream opening sequences a year and toss them all.  So, if like Gail you did a ton of research on the kinds of book you intend to write, noticed no dream openings, thought, "Hey, here's a good way to differentiate myself," you've fallen into the same trap she has.  Basically, it's a cliche, but a cliche you haven't seen in print because it never gets that far. 

Next up: Query Letters.  Agents want to see what your book is about.  Do not leave any mystery here.  They are not pleased when you are coy with what is going on.  Those letters get booted.  Remember the five W's?  Make sure it gets into your query letter.  (But in a pleasant, engaging, and unique way...)

Finally: What you think is important about your book may not be what the agent is interested in.  Gail is writing fantasy fiction.  Her's is a real world set YA about a group of magic users who stumble on someone who may be from their past and how they all interact and relate to each other.  (She will write about her story here one day and do a better job of describing it.)  Anyway, the main character, Penny, has an alcoholic father who moves them around constantly.  He shows up like four times in the book and is more or less a vehicle to put Penny in the right place at the right time for the action to start up.  Amid wizards, multi-dimensional monsters, a religion versus science theme, moving into a new school and finding out that you too are a powerful magic user, it is alcoholic parent that the agent was interested in knowing more about.    

On my own fact finding this week I have learned the following things:

The find and replace function on Word is a very valuable editing tool.  Due to recent developments I am going over my manuscript with a fine tooth comb and editing away.  Here is a technique I've found that is good for making you see what you actually wrote, as opposed to what you thinkis on the page.

Locate an issue.  The first one I tried was sentences that start with an introductory clause that starts with If.  If blah blah blah, then blah blah blah.  I've probably got 150 sentences that follow that basic pattern.  Maybe fifty of them had a comma after that first clause.  So, I searched for If, and all of those sentences popped up, and I was able to read each one by itself and add commas where warranted.  I did that for every other common word that begins and introductory clause.  A whole lot of commas got added.  

Pleased by how well that was working, I tried conjunctions.  I like conjunctions.  I like long windy sentences with seventeen clauses, lots of commas, and lots of buts and ors.  (I am rewriting, shortening, and tightening up most of them these days.)  However, there are 6183 ands alone in my story.  Probably 5500 of them are used correctly.  The find function was painfully slow.  I had images of still checking away three years from now until I noticed the find function has a subprogram called Highlight.  For locating every conjunction on a page, so you can quickly check and drag your eyes to the next one, it's brilliant.  The only thing I don't like about it is every time I change the document the highlighting vanishes and I have to redo it.  Even with that, it's still much faster than manually finding each and, checking it, and hitting the find next button.

My other great nugget of wisdom this week is a grammatical one.  No comma goes between and if.  So, the correct form of this sentence is.  We're going to the park, and if the weather is especially nice, we'll eat lunch outside. 

The next installment of the Indie Book Review is due up soon.  I'm almost done reading Tales From Gundarland, and will be expounding upon in the next week.

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