It’s that time of the week when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.
Q: Do you have any advice on getting an agent or sending out query letters? It’s very intimidating as a first time author to even think about the process. Thank you in advance!
A: Since advice on “getting an agent” is kind of a broad topic, I’m going to focus specifically on the query letter part here. I do have some advice there. One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen over the years from both agents and editors is that writers send in what basically are form query letters. “Dear Sir/Madame, here is my novel, etc.” Like, they won’t even put the agent or editor’s name on it. They’re asking someone to take the time to read their proposal, but they couldn’t take the time to google the agent’s name before sending it off? That’s also a red flag that they didn’t bother to research whether or not the agent was the right fit. It’s not enough to just go, “Oh, they accept Young Adult, I write Young Adult, here you go.”
In this age of technological wizardry, I assume you’ve already done research into the agents you’re planning to query. You’ve looked at their public social media accounts, you’ve read interviews with them in trade publications or on blogs, that kind of thing. So, you’re not going to do the “Dear Sir/Madame” thing. That’s already out of the way. You’ve already avoided one major mistake. But you’ve done the social media thing, you’ve done your research, so you might also know that the agent you’re querying hates a synopsis longer than three pages. So now you’re going to be able to tailor your submission to that agent. It’s not going to be the same submission you sent out to this other agent who wants a minimum of three pages. If you’re doing this kind of groundwork, you’ve got a better chance of getting a request for a full manuscript.
As for being intimidating, remember that an agent who’s looking for clients wants to pick up your query and be excited about it. They get paid by selling authors to publishing houses, so when they look at your query, they’re really hoping they want to take you on. It’s too easy to send off a query and thinking, “Now they can look at this and tell me I can never be published, ever!” because that’s how our brains works. But that’s not what an agent is actually thinking. Don’t let yourself become intimidated because that’s when you start sliding into “I wrote a thing? Read it, maybe?” qualifiers. You’ll probably think, “I should mention that this is my first query. Oh, and that I know it’s not good. And that I know they’re going to reject it but this one is like, for practice. Yeah. Yeah, I don’t want them to think I’m being serious about this.” And you definitely don’t want to do that.
To sum up, my advice is: Make your query feel personal, tailor the format to not only what the agency requires but what the agent has said they prefer, be confident, and never, ever, ever downplay your skill.
Q: What’s your method for plotting/writing sex scenes that maintain the heat without getting boring or cheesy?
A: The way I plot my scenes is pretty simple. I’ll just get out my notebook and just write a laundry list of what’s going to happen in the scene. Here’s the last one I wrote:
So, that doesn’t look very sexy. It looks like a shopping list. But that skeleton is important because now I know how the flow of the scene is going to go. It also helps me feel out the mood. When I outlined this scene, I knew it wasn’t going to be hardcore D/s. It would be a little more romantic and playful. From there, I generally write each specific act. I don’t worry too much about connecting them. I write each one as if it’s its own little scene. That way I can concentrate on what the character is feeling in the moment, rather than like I’m rushing from point A to point B like I’m, well, going down a checklist. Then I go back to the beginning of the entire scene, read through, minimize word rep (I don’t concentrate on that too much in a draft, but sometimes you’re like, “Oh. ‘I centered my feet on the carpet so I wouldn’t slip on the carpet.’ Really, Jen?” and connect everything up.
I also try to resist the call to do more and more and more every time. In this specific series, the couple’s sexual horizons have broadened considerably with every book, and that’s fine, and there will always be scenes that push more boundaries than before. But not every scene has to push those boundaries, and this scene was definitely an example of that. It was one I wrote specifically to reintroduce the reader to Neil and Sophie’s sex life, so I didn’t need to go in guns blazing. Here, it’s more about the intimacy and the emotions of the scene than the gadgets and titillation.
And that’s really the trick to it. Balance emotional content in a scene with the descriptions of sexual pleasure and sexual acts, and it won’t come off as cheesy or boring because the reader’s brain is going to stay fresh and engaged.
Bonus Question: Not really a writing question, but I heard that Buffy is being taken off of Netflix in April. Will you continue The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch series?
A: Yes, the recaps will continue! I meant to answer this question in the next recap, which I wanted to post tomorrow. Unfortunately, it won’t be finished, because it’s “Earshot,” which is one of my favorite episodes and episodes I really like always take a lot longer to recap for some reason. Probably because I want to talk about everything down to the smallest detail. But no, Netflix can’t stop this train on the tracks. I own the DVDs for every season of Buffy and Angel. The only thing that will change is the resolution of the screencaps, basically.
Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!