Writing Advice

QUERY PROS

Tell us your name and any fun facts about yourself or your writing!

My name is Sarah Pounds and I write MG/YA Fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve written off an on for years, and have always been an avid reader (my first job was at our local library) I live on a mini-farm in Eastern WA state with my husband and two children. When I’m not writing, I manage the bookkeeping side of our electrical business.

How many projects did you query in the past?

In 2017, I queried my first book, an Adult sci-fi. I didn’t get a single request. In 2018, I wrote and queried two more adult fantasies, which garnered some interest.

What were some of your rookie mistakes when you first started to query?

Looking back, there were so many silly mistakes I made, mostly because I was naive. My first two books had prologues (strike 1), they also were too short for age and genre, the first one capped at 65k, and second was 72k (strike 2), and strike 3, I didn’t use ANY beta readers which I think truly hurt my chances (strike 3).

At what point did you decide it was time to stop querying your project(s)?

My first two, I received nothing but form R’s or silence, so I knew something wasn’t working. I also started beta-reading other querying author’s MS as well as participating in workshops and realized my books weren’t near ready to query.

What do you wish you had known and could tell your past self about your very first query?

I would tell past Sarah to find writer friends, and get their valuable feedback on your materials. I’d also tell myself to get as many eyes on my book as I can as well as read, read, READ. Sign up for writing workshops as well as use Querytracker to keep track of which agents you’ve queried, and when.

What advice would you give new queriers?

FIND your tribe!!! Connect with other writers, no matter their writing journey, there is much to learn. It is a very lonely journey while querying, and so much of it is viewed from the outside. It seems like EVERYONE is getting an agent but you. But I can promise you that is NOT true! A tremendous amount of work and effort goes unseen. Trust me, no one is above rejections.

I also recommend participating in online contests and critiques (there are so many on Twitter these days). It’s nerve-wracking putting your work out there, but hey, isn’t that the whole idea of querying? Might as well rip off the bandage and go for it. 😉

How do you pass time during all the waiting of querying?

WORK ON A NEW PROJECT (not a sequel!) It might feel like the LAST thing you want to do, but trust me, it’s vital to keep busy for your mental health. Diving into a fresh, shiny project will not only keep you occupied (and off querytracker) but also give you a confidence boost that YOU are indeed a moving forward in your author journey even when those rejections roll in.

Lastly, tell us about the new project you’re querying–if you’re querying. What is it about this project excites you?

I am currently querying a Middle-grade portal fantasy set in 1970. I have read (and follow) the advice of craft books including Save the Cat, Stephen King’s book On Writing, and Story Genius. I have CP’s and read widely as well as books in my genre/age range.

This book has gone through many revisions, including changing it to MG from YA. Thankfully, the feedback I have received  (from CP’s and agents alike) has all been positive! I really feel it’s unique and I love how the societal issues are mimicked of those still present today, of which I feel is important for kids to be aware of.

Querying is a scary business. Don’t go at it alone! Use the #amquerying hashtag on Twitter, or DM me @Sarahjp22 on Twitter if you’d like to join our Query Support Slack Group!

Feel free to comment with any book/query questions you have. Writing is such a difficult, isolating world, find your tribe and love them hard!

If you’re interested in reading other QUERY PROS posts I’ve posted the links below.

These questions were graciously put together by the amazing Catherine Bakewell and the link to her awesome blog is www.catherinebakewell.com

Writing Advice

Give Me Five

Make Your Writing Come to Life by using ALL five senses

Have you ever sat down to read a book and then glanced at the clock in what felt like only a few minutes and an hour has flown by? THAT is every author’s ultimate goal in their storytelling. More than anything, they want to engross their reader to the point where they forget all reality and are truly swept away by their story.

As a new writer, many authors find themselves making their characters perform their actions like robots or puppets on a stage. They hear this or feel this, or see this, but every time you use one of those words, you’re putting distance between you and your reader.

So how DO you immerse your reader and make them forget they’re even reading?

While, there are many pieces to this puzzle, but one of the best ways to really pull your reader in is by utilizing all five senses. Now there are varying tips on how often to do this, depending on age range and genre, but a general consensus is to try and use all five on every page. Now you might be saying WHOA there’s no way I can do that! But stay with me for a minute…

Let’s imagine a scene where two people are having a conversation at a coffee shop. It may seem that this is just an ordinary interaction of dialogue, but there are plenty of opportunities to not only describe the scene but immerse your reader! Of course, you can show the barista’s making coffee, taking money at the register, and other customers sitting at the nearby tables, but what else is there? Here is a prime opportunity to do what I like to call “piggyback” the senses. Are the wooden tables worn and scratch their arms? Does their lipstick leave marks on their coffee mug?
Does the hot coffee singe your main character’s tongue? When you do this, you’ve hit not just taste of the coffee or feeling the heat, but also elicited an uncomfortable pain feeling. Perhaps the whole conversation is upsetting them, and this is just one more thing they are annoyed with? When you do this, you’re getting two or three senses for the price of one (sentence).

What if the customer next to you is wearing an abundance of perfume, but instead of saying “I smelled her perfume” you could say, ” I sneezed as the haze of perfume overpowered even the scent of the coffee beans, and set off my allergies.”

Another example could be when describing the weather, use the character’s own voice to interpret how they feel. Perhaps there is a sudden downpour of rain. You could of course default to “I felt the rain splash on my face.” Or use the sudden change in weather to further develop your character. Would your pretentious, vain character be upset about their hair getting ruined? Or would your free-spirited teenager immediately want to splash in the puddles and not care about their socks getting soaked?

I hope some of these tips helped you out! I highly recommend the next time you’re reading a really good book, look for ways the author has incorporated senses into the character’s development, or ways they “piggyback” multiple senses in one action.

Remember, even the longest novels are written one word at a time.

Happy writing!

Writing Advice

Why Tension Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Death

 ten·sion/ˈtenSHən/noun

1.the state of being stretched tight.”the parachute keeps the cable under tension as it drops”synonyms:tightness, tautness, rigidity

2.mental or emotional strain.”a mind that is affected by stress or tension cannot think as clearly”synonyms:strain, stress, anxiety, pressure

Whether you’re drafting your novel or in the final stages of editing, there are ALWAYS way you can create more tension. Tension is defined as the pressure or forward momentum a story has. Think of it as someone laying a card face down in front of you. 

What’s your very first temptation? Immediately, you want to flip it over, right? 

What happens if the person lays three cards face down? 

Then, imagine they flip one over but add two more?

This analogy demonstrates what readers experience as they journey through your story. Moments of revelation, (the card turning over) no matter how big or small, which when are quickly followed by another promise (the face down card). This pattern of promise and reveal provides your story an ongoing pressure, encouraging your readers to keep turning the page! (every author’s dream!)

Now, don’t get me wrong. The risk of death of a character or side-character is always a HIGHLY tense card to play. However, there are so many more ways to increase overall tension…

For example, consider the good old “ticking time clock” with or pressing deadlines (a big test or job interview) are also commonly used. But what about a side character with an obscure tattoo on their neck? Or burn scars on their face or an eye patch. Perhaps a character is pregnant and (heaven forbid) unmarried!! Give a character a mysterious limp, or accent. Heck, give them a dog! 

All of these ideas are akin to hidden cards being placed in front of your reader. As they’re stacked on top of each other, they build the tension, increasing the need to turn the page. 

Word of caution: It isn’t necessary for you to have to reveal ALL of your cards in the course of your novel. If they don’t directly pertain to the overall plot, go ahead and leave them un-turned, and leave it up to your reader to contemplate the answer…or use them in the sequel! 

I hope you found this post helpful! Feel free to comment below with ways you add tension to your novel!

  1. This is brilliant, Sarah Jane – so glad you’re persistence paid off. I’m in the query trenches now – my…

  2. Congratulations! I went over and checked the other post and was inspired by it as well. Wishing you all the…

  3. Your website looks beautiful! Can’t wait to read more!

  4. Susan on ABOUT

    Sarah Jane, how beautiful!!!

  5. Lenore Stutznegger on ABOUT

    Looks great! Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!