The Fiction Reboot Presents: Writing Queries with Sharon Bayliss

FictionReboot2Welcome to the Fiction Reboot! Today we are featuring the first of several guest posts by Sharon Bayliss, a science fiction and fantasy author (and one-time manager of the social media accounts for Curiosity Quills Press). Today we are interviewing her about her writing queries!

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AUTHOR BIO: My PhotoAn avid daydreamer, Sharon Bayliss has lived in magical version of Austin, Texas for her entire life. So, using a fantastical, alternate history Texas as a setting for her debut novel The Charge, was just “writing what she knows”. To her, nothing goes better with barbecue and live music than robots and superhuman royalty. As a child, Sharon lived on a 6 ½ acre patch of land with cows for neighbors. She enjoyed playing in mud, collecting frogs, and was so certain that there was a ghost in her closet that her mother admits that she half-expected to really find one there. She began writing her first novel at the age of fifteen (handwritten in a spiral marked ‘private’). A proud Austinite, Sharon never saw much sense in moving anywhere else and got her degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin. As an author and social worker, she has devoted her life to making the lives of real people better and the lives of fictional people much, much worse. In addition to her official credentials, she is also an expert in fictional Texas history and make-believe neuroscience.  Sharon’s debut novel, THE CHARGE, will be published by Curiosity Quills Press on 3/2/13.

Does a good query equal a good novel?

The established way to find an agent or publisher is to cram your 80,000 word story into a query of 300 words or less. Like stuffing clowns into a tiny car.  If you’ve ever tried to write a query, you know that there may be some flaws to this system. It’s simply not possible to capture all of the nuances of your story in a query.

But it’s the best system we have. Agents and editors get zillions of queries (yes, that is a precise statistic) and even finding the time to read that 300 words can be tough. So, until we find a way to project an entire novel directly into someone else’s mind in 10 seconds, we’re stuck with the query method.

So, I wonder, does the query system work? Can agents and editors really tell whether or not a novel will be good by reading the query? Based on my experience and research, I can confidently tell you, “sort of.”

Director of Acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press, Andrew Buckley, reinforces that a bad query raises serious flags about the novel as a whole. I asked him if there was any situation in which he might make a request on a bad query and he said, “We generally don’t accept query letters that are poorly written…The few we’ve accepted have had a great concept but even then, a badly written query letter raises immediate red flags.

At the very least a good query demonstrates:

  1. Basic writing skill. The author understands punctuation and grammar and can communicate clearly and effectively in the written form.
  2. Voice.
  3. A capable author. If your query is well written, it’s not by accident. The author researched the topic, got feedback, and revised. Chances are they’ll do the same with all aspects of their writing career.
  4. A good plot structure. In a query the author must clearly define the main character and the primary conflict, if they can’t do that well, chances are there is something amiss with the plot.

The first three points are fairly obvious, but I think #4 is the most important one, and one you might not think about.  In some previous attempts, my plot problems didn’t truly become clear to me until I tried to condense my plot into a few paragraphs. This is also often one of the most important problems I see with other people’s queries I read. A good query needs these elements:

  1. Your main character
  2. The inciting incident that changes the MC’s life forever and sends them on their journey.
  3. The MC’s primary goal in the story
  4. The obstacle getting in the way of the goal.
  5. The stakes. What will happen if the MC doesn’t meet their goal?

If an author can clearly describe these five things, then you know that they understand the basics of plot and their novel has structure. You can also easily get an idea of whether or not the story is compelling. When writing your query if any of these points leave you scratching your head, then I’m sorry to tell you that you may need to put down your query and go back to revising your story.

Former acquisitions editor and author Jessa Russo says this about queries, “Most importantly, I don’t want to be confused. If your query has me completely lost by the second paragraph, that’s not a good sign…Who is your protagonist? What does he/she need to accomplish? Who or what stands in his/her way (antagonist)? What happens if he/she fails? Even if your side characters are amazing, and they are your most prized creations, don’t tell me about them in the query unless you absolutely have to. Too many names/characters/plot twists, and I’ll end up confused and uninterested.”

I challenge authors to write their query BEFORE writing their novel. Personally, this has improved my plotting and my query writing. It ensures that you understand the basic points of your plot structure. If you don’t understand those five points yourself, it will be nearly impossible to write a good query even if you write a million drafts.

I asked James Wymore, acquisitions editor from Curiosity Quills Press, if he believes that a good query coincides with a good novel. He said, “Just because somebody is a good salesman, doesn’t make them a good writer.  Unfortunately a good writer has to be a good salesman, too.  But if you can write, you can learn to write a query.”

Yes, it can be done. And I can tell you from experience, as your plotting skills improve, writing queries becomes easier and easier.

The Fiction Reboot Presents: Sharon Bayliss and The Charge

FictionReboot2Welcome to the Fiction Reboot! Today we are featuring the first of several guest posts by Sharon Bayliss, a science fiction and fantasy author (and one-time manager of the social media accounts for Curiosity Quills Press). Today we are interviewing her about her debut novel, The Charge–and in the near future, look for her take of query writing! ______________________________

AUTHOR BIO: My PhotoAn avid daydreamer, Sharon Bayliss has lived in magical version of Austin, Texas for her entire life. So, using a fantastical, alternate history Texas as a setting for her debut novel The Charge, was just “writing what she knows”. To her, nothing goes better with barbecue and live music than robots and superhuman royalty. As a child, Sharon lived on a 6 ½ acre patch of land with cows for neighbors. She enjoyed playing in mud, collecting frogs, and was so certain that there was a ghost in her closet that her mother admits that she half-expected to really find one there. She began writing her first novel at the age of fifteen (handwritten in a spiral marked ‘private’). A proud Austinite, Sharon never saw much sense in moving anywhere else and got her degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin. As an author and social worker, she has devoted her life to making the lives of real people better and the lives of fictional people much, much worse. In addition to her official credentials, she is also an expert in fictional Texas history and make-believe neuroscience. Sharon’s debut novel, THE CHARGE, will be published by Curiosity Quills Press on 3/2/13. This new adult science fiction novel is set in an alternate timeline where a dictator took over the Republic of Texas in the 1830s and built his own empire in the West. THE CHARGE was a quarter-finalist for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and won a Publishers Weekly Review:

A solid cast of well-developed characters, including a “super-tall” royal Texan family, stars in this thrill ride of a novel teetering between sci-fi adventure and alternate historical epic. Set in a time after the fall of the evil Texas Empire at the hands of the United States government, average Joe Warren King discovers that his geeky loner little brother has been kidnapped, and his mother inexplicably urges him to flee to Canada. Instead, Warren travels to California, a former Texas Empire territory, where he comically tries his hand at sleuthing to track down his genius brother, Isaac, who seems to have been actively testing their DNA for a mysterious “blue chromosome.” Warren soon learns that the people who abducted his brother are after him too, and it is all tied to the blue chromosome and his sudden realization that his body is giving off a powerful electrical charge that he can’t explain. At a measured pace, the engrossing history of this parallel world is revealed, along with the politics and legends that accompany the now extinct royal Texan Wildes family — a beautiful, physically homogenous, and abnormally tall clan believed to have preternatural abilities, and perhaps a connection to Warren himself. Easily shifting between characters’ perspectives, and relentless in its action, well-placed humor, and suspense, this manuscript is a delight.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences? Your favorite work?

I agree completely. Although I think Asimov may be being a little melodramatic. 🙂 At some points in my writing career I considered giving up, but published or not, the idea of not writing was ridiculous. Once I accepted that fact, I stopped worrying about whether or not to give up.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first novel length work at fifteen. No one can say I’m an overnight success. 🙂

It’s not very intellectual of me, but at the end of the day, the Harry Potter series is my favorite work. Of all the books I’ve read, those are the ones that I enjoyed the most. I also want to give credit to 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid’s Tale. I read those in high school and have been interested in dystopians and alternate worlds ever since.

2. I find that my own history is incredibly valuable as inspiration (sink holes and orange water play a part in my Witchwood series) Can you tell us about how experience factors into fiction—even future fiction?

Oh, it’s so important. Even if you’re writing about a world completely different from your own, you have to pull bits and pieces from your own life. In a lot of ways The Charge is self-indulgent. I’ve always lived in Texas and I’ve always had an active imagination. So a novel set in a Texas intermixed with science fiction and fantasy elements is really just a romp into my own imagination.

3. You have called yourself “an expert in fictional Texas history and make-believe neuroscience.” As the author of a series that also explores alternate worlds, I am interested in your take on the value of research for the purpose of world building. How do you go about it?

If you’re working with real world history and concepts, research is critical. However, in my opinion, it’s not as important as character building and plot development. I actually completed my research after I wrote the book. I started with the story and the characters, with just a general sense of the history behind it. After I was almost submission ready, I began an intensive study of Texas and U.S. history and then went back through to add and correct the necessary details. If you want to write commercial fiction, as opposed to primarily intellectual work, it has to be about the characters first and foremost and not just a way to show off your alternate history theories.

4. Your website says that you have devoted your life to “making the lives of real people better and the lives of fictional people much, much worse.” Could you tell us about what made you want to write about these people in particular (the extraordinarily tall and preternaturally gifted royalty of the former evil Texan Empire)?

That’s a tough question. I’m not sure why. Perhaps there is some complicated psychological reason. Or perhaps I just find tall, smart men attractive. 🙂 I created the idea of the Wilde family many, many years ago, and they’ve proved to be excellent subjects. Their story has been in my head so long, it has become complex and developed. I’ve always wanted to find a way to put them into a novel.

5. I know you often have sample chapters of your work online. I do this, too, as it seems a good way to market stories. Can you speak about this—about not giving too much away but still attracting a tech-connected audience? Any other thoughts on marketing strategies?

Well, I’ve had chapter one online for a long time, and I recently posted a short excerpt from a later chapter as part of my worldbuilding blogfest, but I don’t post too much of the story online. I think posting some kind of sample, usually the beginning of the book, is important. I always read the first page of a book before I decide to buy. For me, voice and writing style is more important than almost anything else, and I assume other readers feel similar. However, I don’t think there is much value in posting much more than that. My publisher actually has rules about how much of your story you can post for free online. You don’t want to post so much that you venture into a gray area as to whether or not your work has been previously published.

6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?

I do what my muse tells me to do. 🙂 Usually I write in short intensive spates where I barely sleep and can hardly think about anything else for a week or two. I get most of my work done in these times, and in between, I don’t write at all. I dread revision, but like exercise and vegetables, I know it’s good for me and I’ll feel better once I’ve done it. So, my strategy is to put editing off for a long time and then finally do it grudgingly. Okay, maybe that’s not a “strategy”, but that’s what I do. I’m not a write-every-day type and resting my brain is part of my process, so I’m not bothered too much by writer’s block. If I need to stop, I just stop. But now that I have sequels to write and deadlines, I expect my “style” to cause more problems. Ask me again in a year. 🙂

7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism? Beta readers?

I’ve been lucky to have great critique partners and beta readers. You have to seek them out, and you have to return the favor, but it’s absolutely critical to ask for honest feedback and then actually listen to what they have to say and make changes. When I was younger, I had trouble accepting criticism. But now that I’m more comfortable with myself my writing is better because I’m not reduced to a shriveling ball by negative feedback. At least not as often, I think it’s always going to be tough to hear criticism, even if I become a best-seller.

8. Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? What is it like to be an indie author?

Yes. My advice is, it sucks. 🙂 Okay, that’s not advice. My advice is, you have to be prepared to work very hard for a long time with little reward. But if you’re okay with doing that, then you’ll be fine. I really do believe that anyone with a reasonable amount of talent can get published eventually if they keep working at it.

9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)

My husband. Fortunately, he’s way too kind and stable to make for an interesting book character. But he makes me want to be my best self, which for me includes meeting my goal to become a published writer.

10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?

No matter what where you go to learn and connect, just go somewhere. Start a blog, read blogs, enter blogfests, enter contests, join groups, connect with other writers. There is so much out there, so don’t be an island. Get out there and get involved.

Fiction Reboot: Featuring Curiosity Quills Press, bold new publishing

FictionReboot2Welcome to the Fiction Reboot!

Today I am happy to introduce Curiosity Quills Press! This unique publishing house–by authors, for authors–is an up and coming publishing alternative for new writers. I asked Sharon Bayliss, a science fiction and fantasy author from Austin, Texas to fill us in. She managed the social media accounts for Curiosity Quills Press–and her forthcoming debut novel, THE CHARGE, is a quirky New Adult alternate history about a Texas that never joined the U.S. Thank you, Sharon, For joining us today! (And make sure to read the announcements–great things to come this week!)

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CURIOSITY QUILLS PRESS

Brandy Schillace has asked me to discuss something that is near and dear to my heart, my publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. Naturally, I like them. They are the ones who finally gave me the “yes” I’d been waiting for. In fact, not only did they trust in my novel, they trusted in me, and hired me to help with social media marketing. So I get royalties and a paycheck. How amazing is that?

Even though I love them in part because they took a chance on me personally, I know Curiosity Quills Press is a great place for any author to call home. Here is why…

What they do

 Curiosity Quills Press is a progressive independent publishing house founded June in 2011 “by writers, for writers”. All of their novels are released in digital and print format and are available at select brick-and-mortar bookstores along with all major online booksellers. In additional to publishing traditional novels, they also have an extensive catalog of free serialized fiction and an active writing/publishing blog with many expert contributors.

“Traditionally the Big Six of publishing have been tasked with serving as a gateway between writers and book lovers, but with the Amazon Kindle taking its place in what’s now the Big Seven, readers look to flexible, innovative small press like Curiosity Quills to help navigate the torrent of newly published works. We are extremely proud of our authors and stand behind them one hundred percent.” – Marketing Director, Lisa Gus

What they publish

 Their specialty is, “hard-hitting dark sci-fi, speculative fiction, and paranormal works aimed at adults, young adults, and new adults,” but they’re growing rapidly and open to other genres if they really grab their attention. One of the latest serials is “Happiness: How To Find It” a romantic literary novel about a young Jehovah’s Witness torn between romantic love and the love of God. So, they’re open to just about anything with a hard-hitting storyline and memorable characters. They’re also known for their love of all things quirky, genre mash-ups, and taking risks on the new and unusual.

Who they are

 Becoming a Curiosity Quills author is more than just signing with a publisher. You become part of a strong, supportive community of writers from around the world. Some people ask me what it means when we say we are a “collective”. Well, it’s nothing weird. It just means that we work together and are friends. We hang out on social media, we critique each other, we promote each other, and most of all we support each other.

The editors and staff at Curiosity Quills are flexible, approachable, and open-minded. You get the benefit of professional editing, cover art, and marketing with a lot of the same freedom of choice you would get from self-publishing. They know that even authors whose submissions aren’t quite ready for publication yet may have something great coming next, so they treat everyone with respect. The acquisitions editors do their best to respond personally to every submission and may even provide feedback. They are also not afraid to take on novels that have that “magic” about them, but still need a lot of TLC from an editor.

What’s next?

 After a successful first year, Curiosity Quills is ready to expand. They recently had a very active acquisition period and now have around fifty authors signed. So, the next year means lots and lots of work for me! And that’s a good thing. They also hope to expand their distribution and grow and profit while still holding on to their love of independent authors and all things wild and wacky.

Are they open for submissions?

 Definitely. The submission guidelines are here.

Where can I learn more?

 Curiosity Quills Press is active on social media and loves grassroots marketing and contests, so there are plenty of ways to become involved. Start by following them here:

Feel free to interact with the friendly woman behind the curtain who manages these accounts. She is happy to talk to you. They can also be found on Google + and Pinterest.

Thank you for having me, Brandy!

…And thank you Sharon!

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Stay tuned for more great  information on Curiosity Quills and other author resources in the coming weeks! Also this week: an interview with the uthor about whom Dean R. Koontz once said: “If thriller-reading were a sin, Stephen Gallagher would be responsible for my ultimate damnation.”