Monday, April 27, 2009

Stupid Author Tricks

Now that I'm facing the staggering process of querying, I feel like I'm not above posting a few mistakes I've made in previous query-fishing.  Let this serve as a cautionary tale... please do not make the same mistakes I have!

For good measure, I have included a few mistakes that other author friends have made.  Try to spot which ones are mine!
  1. Addressing a query to "Mr. Greenleaf" when the agent is a Ms or Mrs.
  2. Expounding at length about the plot of a novel, without remembering to include the title.
  3. Discussing an agent's blog or website in the query letter.  To another agent.
  4. Including a space for a word count of the novel, without actually adding said word count.
  5. Querying the same agent twice in two weeks.
  6. Signing off on an email with your pen name that doesn't match the name the email is registered to.
  7. Querying the wrong agent entirely.
  8. Sending a query letter for a novel to an agency that only represents screenplays.
  9. Forgetting to update the date on your query letter.
  10. Not researching your title to ensure something has not been published under it.
  11. Misspelling the word "query".
All of these can be fixed by a little proofreading, or a simple Google search.  Consider yourself warned... these are simple mistakes, and they can seriously mean the difference between your query being selected for a partial and your query being used to line a birdcage.

Sunday, April 26, 2009, GO!

Katrina Rue has a website!

I just got it all together, but there's a PDF of my prologue up there for anyone that's interested.  My dearest writer friend is trying to push me to get a picture of Yelling Cat on there as well.


I just sent out my first query letter this evening.

I'm going to pay more attention to this in another entry, but I'm going to gloss briefly over how I chose the agent I queried.

My three basic criteria for a literary agent are as follows:  they understand the genre, they have demonstrated sales, and they're not too "big".  I define big as someone like Christopher Little, who was the incredibly lucky, lucky, lucky agent that took on what was to become the Fantasy Juggernaut That Became The Merchandising Empire of Harry Potter.

Not that big agents are bad (I hope to have one someday, thanks to my own efforts), but I'd rather not have someone TOO large, as I would like to have someone that has the time to pay attention to my project, but is a step or two up from some guy with delusions of grandeur with zero contacts.  I think there can be a happy medium, and I would love that to be my agent.

Ah well.  Let's see how this initial salvo goes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Weekly Roundup!

Well, it's over.

My novel has been written!  It's shorter than I anticipated, 11 chapters, prologue, and an epilogue instead of 12 chapters, prologue, and epilogue, and 65K instead of the 70K I was looking at.  I think it's a decent length, as it's over 300 pages now that it's been formatted

I'm a little nervous about the querying process... last time, I was emotionally killed by querying for like, three weeks.  I think, though, since I'm approaching this novel so differently, from the writing, to the editing, et cetera, and learned a lot of lessons from my first two attempts, I might actually have success this time!

Anyway, I also bought webspace ( and I'm going to spend the next week building that, as well as sending out queries and editing.  Keep me in your thoughts!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finding Your Process

I was talking with a writer friend (if you're a writer and you don't have one of these, GO GET ONE!) about how I prefer to write.  He looked at me like I was absolutely nuts.  He told me about how he likes to approach a project, and I thought he was crazy.

Finding your own process is the most influential part of writing.  It's so important, I can't even put it into words.  That said, it is so highly individual that I can't sit here and blog about how you should approach your writing.

My process is probably a little exhausting for some people.  First I outline my novel, getting a rough idea of how I want the plot to go, and sketch out the characters, settings, themes, and chapters.  Then I write 1,000 words a day, until I reach my goal, and every so often, I review what I've done.  I check my chapters and my outlines, to make sure everything is chugging along, and then I revise the outline if things aren't happening as I want them to.  When Im done writing, I give it a few days, then begin to revise and edit.

See?  This is probably not the way that you might want to write, which I totally understand.  My way is not for everyone.  But here are the ways that you can find your process.

  • What time of day are you most effective?  Are you a morning, daytime, evening, or night person?  If you're writing when you're exhausted, you'll dread it.  If you're writing when you're at your best, you'll look forward to it and actually get things done.
  • How much can you reasonably write a day?  If you simply don't have the time to write a thousand words, or don't like writing for hours at a time, write what you can.
  • Do you like writing longhand, or do you prefer to type?  I'm a typer, myself, but some people have a very strong connection to a paper and pen.
  • How do you prefer to research?  I'm not much of a researcher myself, and I tend to do it in fits and starts while I'm writing, if I come up against something I need to look up, but some people like to get into their research and learn everything before they put fingers to keys.
  • What can you give up to write?  You might not be able to go out every single night if you're writing a novel, or you may have to wake up a little earlier every morning.  Or, if you're a daytime person, you might have to write during your lunch break at work and miss out on the water-cooler conversations.  If you really, honestly, can't give something up, you will resent the time you spend writing, and that is not conducive to writing a book.
  • Where do you like to write?  What environment do you need? Can you work in complete silence, or do you need noise?  Do you feel better about writing at home, or do you prefer to be away from it all to write?
  • How many breaks will you want to take?  Breaks are important, as the part of your mind that finds inspiration will most likely be most active during a break.
Most importantly though, if your process isn't working and you're not making the progress you really want to make, don't feel weird about editing it.  I never used to outline, until I realized that I was losing the plot of my novels midway through, and then I started to outline and found that the plot got lost much less frequently after I started outlining.  You will edit your novel a million times before it gets published, so why not edit your process?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Some people have ideas for novels that come with a title, as naturally as the sun rises every day.  I am not one of these people.  Titles are amazingly hard for me to come up with... I never know what to call something, so I've worked a lot on how to effectively title something.
  • Pick a word or an image that is repeated throughout the whole book.  That's how I named my current project, though more on that when it becomes a reality.  If you keep using the word "pomegranate", for instance, you can title your book, "The First Pomegranate."
  • Choose a title based on the overarching theme that ties the whole book together.  For instance, a book about a journey to find oneself can be entitled, "Raymond's Journey."
  • Choose something that describes the major plot arc.  J.K. Rowling did this with all of her Harry Potter novels.
  • Base your title off the main problem, or the main solution in the story.  If your characters have to find a cure for the deadly Kali virus, you can title your novel, "The Hunt For The Cure".
  • If one of your protagonists or antagonists have a defining feature that is repeated over and over, you can use that for a title, like "Auburn Hair".
  • If there's a particular detail that you'd like to emphasize and give particular weight, pick that out and use that as a title.
If you're working on a series, please make sure that they are cohesive.  They should have a structural or thematic similarity to them, so they are easily identifiable as a series, and they fit together, as all series should.

Like I said, titles are hard.  Some people just know how to choose a title... it's a knee-jerk thing for them, and I salute them for this talent.  I also envy them, because I have had to find ways to compensate for that.

Anyway, feel free to share your suggestions, if you have any more!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Week In Review!

Lots got accomplished this week!  I wrote every day this week, and got all the way up to 60,000 words!  Just ten more days and I'll be DONE!

Or, relatively done.  The editing needs to be started (and then finished), the querying needs to be started (and finished), and the website needs to be taken care of.

Speaking of the website, I also got some pictures taken today that were smokin' hot.  It's all really starting to come together for me right now, and I'm very excited and hopeful for this project.  I think that this time, it's going to be The Time.

Keep you fingers crossed, Internet!

Friday, April 17, 2009


On July 18th, 2008, my determination to be a published author was temporarily shattered by some very unfortunate news.

It was a Friday, the day before my birthday, and I was very excited.  I was going to see The Dark Knight with friends the next day, and I had a partial with an agent that I had a great feeling about.  I had commented on her blog, sent her well-wishes when she was sick, and she had actually commented back on my blog.  We had a bit of a relationship brewing, which is exactly what you're supposed to be doing with agents.

On my lunch break at work, I went to check my email on my phone, and I saw the worst thing EVER.

A form rejection letter.

I had gotten a lot of these before, but never from someone that I had actually networked with.  I thought that maybe, since she knew who I was (I made a point to tell her), she would at least give me a few pointers.  But no, not a word.  It broke my heart.

Rejection is something that we all have to deal with in life.  We get rejected by schools, jobs, friends, romantic interests, customers, and institutions all the time.  And every single time, it sucks, especially when what is getting rejected is something that has been labored over, cultivated, and worked on for months or even years.  I think that we give a bit of our souls to every creative effort, and it can really be brutal when our creations don't measure up.  But it does good to remember that rejection is just as inevitable as death and taxes.  Sometimes , no matter how we might try or what we might do, we are just not the right fit.

Even though creative people are by nature sensitive, it's absolutely necessary to develop a thick skin.  Unless you're purely doing something for yourself, without the intent to have the world scrutinize it, any effort that is put out for the pubic to enjoy will be put under the magnifying glass.  The agenting process is a good way to develop that thick skin, to not be devastated when someone doesn't like something, and to be able to learn how to take criticism, absorb the good critiques and shed the bad.

Rejection can also be very good fuel for moving into an unexpected direction.  After I recovered from my crushing defeat, I sought out a professional editor for a consultation on my manuscript.  He tore that sucker apart, but he gave me a lot of good tips and tricks, and a lot of really worthwhile feedback on my strengths and weaknesses.  His help was exactly what I needed for the project that I'm about to shop.  I figured, that if everyone thought that my manuscript was not publishable, maybe it was the manuscript's problem, and not just a fact that I didn't hit on the right agent or that maybe the market was moving away from what I was doing, and if I could fix what I had done wrong that was repeatedly missing the mark, then I would have greater success.

This is not meant to be a "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and chin up, slugger, you're a winner" post... I don't really do that.  But if you are a writer, don't worry.  You are not alone.  We have all been rejected, we have all been turned down, for whatever reason, and I am right here with you on the Reject Bus.  However, the Reject Bus is a journey, not a destination.  There will be a time when your stop comes up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Genesis of Katrina Rue

It may come as no surprise to hear that the name I write this blog and my novels under a pen name.  

It took a very long time for me to hit upon the correct name, that resonates with me well and doesn't feel like a pen name... I played with versions of my first name, middle name, and last name, as well as other names I had always loved.  For awhile, I was Raine Voss.  

Eventually, I hit upon the one that signs off on this blog.  It's not that complex, once you understand where it came from.  Katrina is a variant of my first name, and Rue is a variant on my mother's maiden name.  Rue is also an herb of remembrance, said to improve eyesight and creativity, both necessary to the writer's life, and also means "regret" or "sorrow."

I wouldn't say that my life is full of regret, but it does loom large in my legend  Even though there have been good times, there were also quite a few bad ones, and perhaps a portion of that might be mitigated by turning my life from its relatively modest circumstances currently to a relatively modest success.

My reasons for choosing a pen name aren't simply due to privacy, though I definitely would like some.  I think that there should be a separation between the professional life and the personal.  At my current job, I certainly don't share every single detail about my personal life.  In fact, I err very firmly on the side of privacy.  I don't see how knowing certain things about my private life would be conducive to selling books, so I'd prefer to keep some of those bits where they belong, behind my front door.

Also, the last name I was born with is more than a little unwieldy on the tongue.  It's a natural telemarketing screen, though, as it is just that easy to mangle.  But, it also made my first day of school every single year just that much more hellish, as I would have to take that time to train my teachers every single year how to say it.  And if a substitute teacher arrived?  Forget about it.  Not only that, but the quirks of its spelling have also gotten me in trouble.  When I was in Japan, I had some tax documents sent to me by the IRS to my address overseas.  When I went to submit them, they were rejected by Japan's tax office since the "O" in my last name was changed to an "A".  So then I had to stay up until 2 am to call the IRS eighty times to get me a new form.  Ugh.

Anyway, my process to choosing the right pen name is fairly straight forward, but it's relatively easy.

  • Choose something close enough to your birth name that you won't have much of an adjustment period to hearing it.  One of the reasons I decided against "Raine Voss" was that if someone kept shouting "Raine, Raine!" to get my attention, I would go for an umbrella.
  • Choose something that means something to you, and that you can connect with.  It might not just be a personal connection, perhaps it's a familial one (i.e. your grandmother's last name) or perhaps a nickname that people have called you.
  • Choose something you can live with.  If you are published under this name, it's a lot like a tattoo.  Once you tire of them, they are extremely painful, difficult, and bloody (at least, metaphorically) to remove.
  • DON'T choose something that has been published under already.  It's really easy to double check... if you were to Google "Katrina Rue", you'd find my Facebook, this blog, and some news stories about Hurricane Katrina.
  • DON'T choose something trendy.  It will date you.
  • DON'T choose a gag name.  If you are not writing a compendium of jokes told by second-graders, a silly name, chosen to make you laugh, can be very hard to shed when the joke is no longer funny.
  • DON'T choose something too "out there" without a very good reason.  People can be very cruel about names (just see Not Without My Handbag if you don't believe me) and you could be turning people off unnecessarily.  Important people.  Like agents, publishers, reviewers, and customers.  Just food for thought.
  • DON'T be afraid to choose something that is different than your birth name.  You are not necessarily changing your name, as you can still cash checks written out to your pen name without going through the legal process, and even though families can be strange when one of their numbers drops the name that binds them, you are not doing this to spit in their collective eye.  If you absolutely have to, tell them that Katrina Rue says that it is a protective measure for them, and only the lowest of the coattail riders would have a problem with not being able to exploit an obvious connection.  They would never be this callous and self-interested, right?  Of course not.
Hope this helps!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great Blogger or Great Author?

So, I went on a first date with a young man I'll call Andrew last weekend.  He and I had a nice, quirky date over at IHOP (I have a weakness for Eggs Benedict) and we had a great conversation.  Near the end of the date, though, he told me how I was going to get my book published.  According to him, I needed to get a website, post a blog on it, and go find the top five "fantasy blogs" and begin commenting and link-dropping on them.  Eventually, I will get a following, and then a publisher will publish whatever I want them to.

Let's put aside the obvious, which would be the fact that as of right now, I know about four HTML tags, and have neither the time (two jobs plus a novel to write) nor the energy (two jobs, novel, Siamese kitten) to learn how to create one, nor do I know how to post a blog on said webpage.  I may be a child of Generation Tech, but I am strictly an end-user.  Also, I have been blogging since 2002, mostly under a personal LiveJournal before I started this blog.  So, the cheery advice to "get a blog!!" is much like "Have you heard of Facebook?"  Um, yeah, thanks, but have you heard of this newfangled contraption called Google?

Moving on.

There is a huge difference between being a great (or good, or even decent) blogger and a great (good, decent) author.  The ability to stretch a theme throughout a blog post is nothing compared to the ability to weave several themes together over 200 pages.  Also, most blogs employ either a very journalistic or a very conversational style, and are driven by information.  A novel has a narrative style, where a distinct story is told, and is driven by characters and plot.  These are honestly two different animals.

I'm not knocking the idea of becoming an Internet sensation before becoming a published author.  I mean, it worked for MegaTokyo, right?  But, the Internet is a very fickle, very capricious beast, and is insanely difficult to harness for good purposes.  However, for a topical, non-fiction blog (CakeWrecks, PostSecret, or Passive Aggressive Notes), this can be a great strategy, though I wonder if they were starting those blogs in order to accumulate enough readership to publish a book.  That said, for a fiction writer, blogging is not necessarily indicative of fiction writing ability.

All in all, scraping up some Net notoriety might not be the worst strategy, but I really wonder if it's the right strategy for someone in my shoes.  I'm going to keep blogging, as I find this insanely helpful, and I might even troll a little if I can find the "top five fantasy blogs" that aren't attached to a specific fandom.  But, I'm not going to abandon the traditional method just yet, as I'd much rather be an author than a blogger.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Arcane Art of Getting Published

Ahh, getting published.  

I honestly think that there are more articles, blogs, and guides about how to get published than there are authors with novels they hope to sell.  But, I feel compelled to put my own out there, at least from my perspective.  I have two unpublished novels that I repeatedly tried to get published countless times, and I have quite a handle on how the beginning of this process works.

So, here is Katrina Rue's unofficial guide to getting published!

  • Step One:  Learn how to write.  No, there are not teams of editors with red pens standing around to fix your novel.  If you can't craft a sentence, please learn.  If you can craft a sentence but you don't understand characterization, plot, etcetera, learn.  If your spelling or grammar is atrocious, learn.  Get the gist?  There are plenty of resources out there... groups, classes, books, poor college students, and the like.
  • Step Two:  Write the novel.  Most non-published authors have to present agents (see Step Three) with a complete manuscript before they will be taken on as a client.  The exceptions are the usual subjects: celebrities, politicians, other luminaries.
  • Step Three:  Find an agent.  These are the wizards that hold the keys to publishing contracts.  They are the people that talk to publishers on the behalf of their clients (read: you) and get them said contracts, and usually take a cut of advances and royalties.  The amount I've heard quoted most often is 10%.  There are several ways to go about doing this.  Many people go to conventions to meet agents, send query letters to agencies, or network their backsides off until they end up finding an agent.  Some people, however, are fortunate enough to find one of these rare creatures in their immediate acquaintance.  I have cursed the heavens several times wondering why I couldn't have been born into a family that counted an agent among their numbers.  If you aren't one of these lucky people, be prepared to WORK.
  • Step Four:  Agents talk to publishers.  If you have seen the episode of South Park where the boys were trying to drive a corporation out of town and encounter underpants gnomes, this would be the "???" Phase in between "Collect Underpants" and "Profit".  I have no idea what happens here, but the agent talks to publishers and hammers out the deal between them and you.
  • Step Five:  Profit.  I understand this involves a lot of signing things.

This is the process of getting something published, in a nutshell.  It sounds pretty easy, but it's just as difficult as getting discovered as an actor or musician, but without 90% of the associated glamour.  And, of course, I'm really glossing over several important bits, like writing a proper query letter, finding these mysterious beings they call "literary agents", and writing clearly and effectively.  But those are all entries for another time.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

To Do List!

Here are all the things I have left to do, in my pursuit of the noble publishing contract!

-  Continue writing manuscript, to approximately 70K words

-  Edit manuscript, get it beta read, tweak all inconsistencies and polish

-  Edit query letter

-  POLISHpolish up first 30 pages for partial

-  Create submission package

-  Buy webspace and create webpage, post PDF of prologue

-  Take promotional pictures

-  Send queries to Top Ten Agents

Lot of work to do!  And since my goal is to be published by the time I'm thirty, I have three years, three months, and ten days to accomplish this.  Yikes!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

First Things First

Hello, Internet!

My name is Katrina Rue.  I'm a Chicago-area author, though I am not yet a published one.  As of this writing, my third publishing attempt is at just over 52K words.  I've got approximately 70K in my mind as a goal.  

I write science fiction and fantasy with a young-adult focus to it.  Ideas for the novels I've written generally come out of my nightmares, which is something that I suppose is a little morbid and weird, but I promise, they were really interesting ones.  If I publish something from the most recent batch, I'll be sure to share the gory (not really) details here.

I'm a little dark, a little silly, and a little quirky, much like my fiction, though still accessible at the same time.  Not out there enough, and people get bored.  Too out there, and people get confused, and in both cases, they get angry.  At least, this is my perspective.

Getting a little more personal... I usually watch television in my genre, but I do have a very odd fascination with reality TV.  I really wonder how much of it is as edited as the participants claim, if their TV personas are who they truly are, or if the camera forces them to do things they may not necessarily do otherwise but feel compelled to do with the unbiased eye staring at them.

I also read a lot of classic literature.  My favorites are Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.  There's something about literature from those days... though I no way think my humble monster stories can compare, I love the careful crafting of literature from the 18th and 19th centuries. 

I'm not exactly sure why I'm blogging for this novel when I haven't blogged for the other ones, but I'm trying something different.