Friday, April 25, 2014

FAVE FINDS: QUERY TRACKER

Today's FIND is an oldie but goodie. Query Tracker has been around for as long as I can remember. It's an online database of nearly 1300 agents, but it's also so much more.

In the past I've used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions, and it has served me well, but that was before I got serious about finding an agent. I mainly submitted my first manuscript to editors I met at conferences and retreats, so very little research was necessary. With my current YA, though, I'm already through a couple of rounds of agent queries, and to be honest with myself, odds are I still have a long way to go. Querying is not a quick process.

Don't get me wrong. I won't ever give up my trusty spreadsheet completely. If anything ever happens to Query Tracker I don't want to lose my submission history. Believe it or not, as much as every rejection stings to the core like the biggest mother trucken bee you've ever seen, it is possible I might eventually lose track of who exactly has had the distinct honor of sending those rejections my way. But that doesn't mean I can't branch out. And now that I'm deep into this often overwhelming process, I can clearly see just how fabulous Query Tracker is. It's not JUST a database. Or a good tool for agent research. Or a wonderfully organized way to track your current and past submissions. It's all of those things PLUS a community.

Most of the writers who use Query Tracker use the comments section to make note of when and what type of manuscript they've queried and/or submitted. They also go the extra mile to cheer each other on, and to occasionally lend or borrow a virtual shoulder when things don't work out so well. But better than that, the comment section is an active, up-to-date frame of reference for where YOU stand in the pool of queriers. You can take a look at all the people who've queried before you, after you, at around the same time as you, and you can see what response (if any) they've received. It gives you an excellent feel for what to expect from each agent in regard to response time, because it really does vary tremendously from agent to agent. You can also see if an agent you've been expecting to hear back from is running a little slower than usual; you can even sometimes find out the reason for the delay (they've been traveling, they've been sick). You'd be surprised by how sanity-saving that little piece of information can be. Then again, if you're a writer you probably won't be surprised because you already know how maddening it is to simply NOT KNOW. And no matter how long I stare at my trusty spreadsheet, it is never going to give me a window into each agent's process the way Query Tracker can.

Paid memberships to Query Tracker are available for $25 a year (or $8 for three months), but so far I've made do with the free version. I haven't had much use for the metadata or reports available to paid members, though I suspect I will eventually upgrade in order to more easily track additional projects (one of the added benefits of a paid account).

If you're unfamiliar with Query Tracker, I highly recommend you check it out for yourself by going here, and be sure to let me know what you think.  If you're an experienced Query Tracker and have any great tips or tricks to making the most of the website, I'd love to hear all about it on Facebook or in the comments below.

Until next time, keep an eye out for new writing FINDS of your own, and share with me any great ones that come your way; I'm always in the market for more. In my experience, anything that might potentially make this journey even a little easier is worth looking into.

Friday, April 11, 2014

FAVE FINDS: FLASH FACE

Today's FIND is an app I came across this past January called Flash Face. The intended market for the app, according to the app website, was police sketch artists, but I've found it to be surprisingly useful in my creative writing.

Flash Face is available for download to both Apple and Android devices if you're interested in owning it in either the free (limited) app, or the paid full versions (there are two separate mobile versions-- one for sketching males and one for females). However, if you simply want to give it a test run, you can play around with it online here.

The app I purchased from iTunes isn't perfect-- it could use MANY more hairstyles and jaw options, as well as the size and opacity manipulations available to the online version-- but it has still been a ton of fun to use. I've already sketched out several of the characters in my completed YA manuscript, POTHOLES ON THE ROAD TO NIRVANA. For example, this is the image of Jason, one of the main characters in that story, I've had in my head for years:



I can't even begin to tell you how enjoyable it was to finally give that mental image tangible form. And now that I'm using the app for my new WIP, I'm finding it to be not only satisfying but seriously helpful.

Exploring all the ways a character's personality comes through in her facial features has helped me delve deep inside even the more minor sidekicks. The simple act of choosing the perfect eyebrows, for instance, forces me to think about whether a character would have dainty, pencil-drawn brows, or big, burly ones. Would her general expression be hardened and angry, soft and kind, sarcastic or bemused? The brows say it all. Deciding which set is the perfect fit is a fabulous way to put detailed thought into the who and why of each character.

The mobile version of the app that I bought for my iPad allows me to play around with it whenever and wherever I get a chance-- on the couch, in the car*, at the DMV. . . give me ten minutes, and character development is mine! The purchased app has also given me the ability to save and import my finished images into Scrivener for easy reference while writing, but even if you're not interested in spending your hard-earned cash, I urge you to give Flash Face a go for free online with one of your more mysterious characters in mind. You never know what developmental surprises might be waiting to be discovered.

Be sure to let me know what you think of the app in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter because I'd love to know. And tune in two weeks from now for my next great FIND.

Until then, be on the lookout for your own favorite new things, and drop me a line if you find any I should try!


*NOT while driving, of course! Only when parked.




Friday, April 4, 2014

FAVE FINDS: WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE by James Scott Bell

Only two weeks-- that's how little time has passed since my last blog post, and yet here I am at it again, as promised. At the rate I'm going I'm all set to beat my old record of, oh, approximately four blog posts per year. And they said it couldn't be done. Or maybe I said it couldn't. Either way I'm doing this thing. For real this time, y'all.

Today's post--also as promised--is the first in what I hope will become a recurring series titled FAVE FINDS. I thought it might be difficult to choose which of my favorite gadgets, apps, software, books, or techniques to highlight first, but when it came time to decide, there was no doubt. The FIND that has me all tingly to the tips of my toes with excitement this week is the how-to ebook titled Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. You can find your own copy of it here if you're interested (as well as anywhere else good ebooks are sold).

"What makes this ebook so special?" you might ask. "What sets it apart from the bazillion other how-to's that exist in the world?" Good questions, dear readers. For me it was partially the fact that Mr. Bell has hit on an aspect of writing I've rarely, in all my years of study, found much information about: the middle of the story. And I'm not just talking about the long middle (the Second Act); I'm talking about a specific moment that falls in the dead center of the story (books and movies alike).  Bell refers to this as The Mirror Moment. Whether this moment has been placed there by intentional design or by good old fashioned writerly instinct, it is present in nearly all great stories. And it is a moment that gets down to the very heart of the story.

I don't want to steal any of Mr. Bell's thunder. If you want to know more about the Mirror Moment, you can download the ebook for yourself. It was less than $3 when I bought it, and worth every cent. The ebook is a short one--only 60 pages, half of which are dedicated to non-Mirror Moment tips, but that still adds up to only pennies per invigorating page. (And no, in case you're wondering, I don't get anything in return for this rave. All of my Finds will be sincere joy in sharing awesome things with you, and nothing more nefarious than that.)

The other part of my excitement over this book is that it came at a crucial time for me. When I discovered it I'd recently struck gold with a new story idea that I instantly LOVED. So of course I'd done tons of research and then dug right in to the outline, because at my core I am a plotter, a planner, a leave-no-stone-unturned-er. I was amazed at how quickly the entire story outline fell out of me. And so when I finally sat down to write that all-important first scene, I couldn't understand why it wouldn't come. It simply wasn't clicking.

At first I was afraid my love of plotting had finally gotten the best of me. I've heard some writers say that knowing how the story will end has a way of ruining it for them. I sincerely hoped that wasn't it, because this idea was too good to let go of. But then, after much angst and questioning, I realized my passion for the story was still strong. What I had to admit though was that my gorgeously crafted plot full of hooks, turning points, and a well earned climax was still missing something. It didn't seem to have heart or that spark that brings it all to life for me, and therefor the reader. But how to fix it? That was the big, confusing problem that sat square on my chest like a 1,000 pound gorilla tweaking my nose.


But that's when it happened-- I found the ebook, and the mirror moment, and the rest, if the muse gods smile on me, will soon be rough draft history. I don't know if the Mirror Moment will do the same for you, but even if it doesn't, it's still an interesting spin on an aspect of writing you'll rarely get anywhere else.

Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, whether you've just struck gold with a new idea, or you've muddled through a draft (or five) but still don't know what's missing... heck, even if you think your draft is perfect but want to make double sure it is, I hope this Find is exactly what you need right now. Be sure to let me know if you try it, and if you have any luck with it!