Not Shakespeare, but my query is doing the job

Slowly… slowly… I feel like the wheels on my path to publication are moving. I have only had one, flat out ‘no’ to my book and that came very quickly from a publisher that I probably never should have targeted in the first place. My error – not theirs.

Otherwise, I have received good feedback to my query letter. More feedback direct from publishers I have to be honest, than from agents.

So far, my query has resulted in the sum total of: one request for three chapters from a publisher; two requests (both from publishers) for the Full manuscript (forgive me for giving Full a capital ‘F’ but any would-be authors out there will understand!); and yesterday, an offer of publication. Yes! Cartwheel moment.

I have a lot to think about. When you get yourself in a mindset of staying positive but trying not to get your hopes up, to get an email from a publisher saying: “I really enjoyed your story” there’s a hell of a lot of me that wants to leap up waving a pen, shouting WHERE DO I SIGN…

But while I love writing, in order for me to do it, I have to be able to make a living from it – or at least supplement the ‘real’ living I make, to the point where my hubby will let me sit down in front of a laptop for hours in a day and call it work :).

So I spent much of yesterday on Facebook, chatting with some of the authors working for the Publisher who wrote to me with the offer – and their news is all positive. And once again – I marvel at how supportive the writing community is. The authors I talked to yesterday couldn’t be more helpful or sharing.

In the meantime, here is the query letter that worked for me. If the job of the query is to get the opportunity to put your story in front of agents and publishers, then this one has done, (and hopefully will keep doing), that job.

Dear ///

I write to offer you my contemporary romance, His Brand Of Beautiful, complete at 80,000 words.

Australia is abuzz right now with news of Robert Pattinson’s forthcoming movie, The Drover, to be shot in the Flinders Ranges (just a few hours’ drive from where I sit as I type); plus Ryan Gosling sent Melbourne into meltdown with rumors he has signed for an outback sojourn too, in the movie Dust and Glory.

I am hopeful that if the world is on the brink of another Crocodile Dundee moment, my book may be well timed to meet that demand.

His Brand Of Beautiful

There are some people in this world brand strategist, Tate Newell, just doesn’t want to work for and winery executive Christina Clay is high on that list. Christina collects causes like some women collect shoes and every time she opens her mouth she reminds Tate of his dead sister, Jolie.

“Wild. Fresh. Outdoorsy. Australian. And it’s a wine that has to stand for something, like everything Clay Wines does.”

That’s Christina’s brief for her new wine brand, but when she tells Tate that her vision for the brand includes donating a dollar from every bottle of wine sold towards projects that help Indigenous Australians (Aboriginals), he sees redder than the desert sands. “Aborigines would be better off if every winemaker just stopped making the stuff.”

Before Christina can say Crocodile Dundee, she’s in a two-seater plane flying into the heart of central Australia to visit Tate’s childhood roots. It’s a ‘research project’ he says, to see just how ‘wild’ and ‘outdoorsy’ she wants her brand to be.

Battling the demons of a previous miscarriage, Christina soon has a project of her own in mind when it comes to Tate, and less than a day into her outback research trip, her ovaries are ticking. She wants a baby and a brand. And she’s found the one man who can give her both.

I am a career journalist with a wine industry focus, hence the wine industry background that runs loosely behind this completed novel, and two other works in progress.

I am a member of Romance Writers Australia and earlier this year, a scene from His Brand Of Beautiful made the finals of the RWA First Kiss competition 2012.

Please find attached with this email, the items you outline on your website. I thank you very much for your time.

With sincere regards


Fingers crossed – this keeps getting me through those gatekeeper doors, and that means the only thing that is right or wrong from that point, is my writing.

Start where the damn story starts!

The STALI (Single Title and Loving It) results are in (Romance Writers Australia competition). By results, I mean the finalists have been announced. I am not one of them, but regardless, I am very happy tonight.

Entering contests is one of the advantages of being a member of Romance Writers Australia (I don’t need to go into all the other reasons, I wrote about this in my last post. Suffice to say, until I joined RWA, getting feedback for my manuscript was hugely difficult.

If you send it to friends, they give you “friendly” feedback. Which is good for the ego, but not for much else.

So, I joined the RWA Critique Partners program, and I started entering contests.

Having just read through the STALI judging comments for my entry, His Brand Of Beautiful, I find the real beauty about them is they mirror the comments of my Critique Partners. Namely, that I’m starting the story in the wrong bloody place! Sheesh!

This is Kathy, my Critique Partner:

“If you were cheeky, you could omit the first 1190 words and start the novel when Christina mistakes Tate for a stripper.  Then the reader would find out at the same time as Christina, that she has made a mistake.  You miss on that dramatic irony of knowing Christina is making a mistake, but you gain the real drama of making it along with her.  Tate’s reserves and issues could be hinted at for later exploration.”

This is a judge in the STALI:

“Please, please, please change it so you start at the heroine’s point of view. The first scene is too slow and mostly full of introspection – or dialogue that doesn’t seem to advance the story. You could filter that information in later. Better still, put that phone conversation into the bedroom scene and he could take in the scene around him whilst talking. It was a bit slow through that section.”

And the wonderful Jennifer Crusie who is my mesiah on all things writing, has the most classic summation for the entire thing:

“Start where the damn story starts.”

And I missed this! It seems so obvious once you have multiple people start pointing it out to you! All I know is that my opening scene is something that I have struggled, and struggled, and err STRUGGLED with since day dot. I have spent more time here than anywhere else in the book.

In the last week, prior to the STALI results but luckily, in time to enter the Emerald, I ditched my opening scene – which previously started with the hero – Tate – and opened it with my heroine – Christina.

The bad part of all these (what I call) light-bulb moments is: I’d submitted this manuscript as it sat to a request I had for a full. I wish I’d waited, but I’m impatient. I’m impatient to call His Brand Of Beautiful finished and get on with the next book… I’m impatient for feedback. I’m just … IMPATIENT!!

The good thing was, these are some of the judges’ comments. So it’s not all bad:

Judge 1:

“I really loved the picture you painted so vividly with your words. The characters are well fleshed out and have clear goals and motivations. The stakes are clear and I think you draw the reader into your world very effectively (except the first scene detracted from it for me). Mostly because I couldn’t work out why it needed to be there. Overall though, I thought you did a terrific job and you have me wanting to read more!”

Judge 2:

“The dialogue and dynamics between h/h are fabulous. So much of this entry is fabulous. You have a real knack for swiftly paced, witty exchanges in addition to good internalization. I think a bit of distance [with] your work would help you to pinpoint the areas where just a bit of judicious tweaking or pruning would clarify things.”

Congratulations to all the STALI finalists – well done! Thank you to Sandy Harris at RWA for organizing, and to everyone involved in the judging. I hope you know how helpful your comments are.

Here’s to the ladies at RWA

I’d been writing about a year, maybe just under, before I decided to join Romance Writers Australia.

Why did I join? I’d got over any ‘cringe’ factor about writing romance. I’d decided to be loud and proud and bugger what anyone else thinks when you say you’re writing… romance. And I realized just how much I had to learn about writing craft at that point, and thought RWA would benefit me.

I am so glad now, that I joined, and I wanted to take a post to shout out a big THANKS to RWA and its volunteers.

RWA rocks. Make no bones about it, I’ve worked at membership organizations before (yes, someone paid me) and the customer service I’ve seen in 12 months at RWA wins prizes, hands-down.

Every communication I’ve had with anyone at RWA, always by email, has been handled quickly, and handled well. Given these are people who have ‘real’ jobs and busy lives, the response time always beats my expectations. You know, I send something off and I don’t expect a reply within an hour, yet alone that same day. Take a contest entry for example, I’ll assume the lady receiving the entry is probably running an accounting firm somewhere, or making an elf costume for her five-year-old’s kindy Christmas show… or anything really, and organizing a writing contest is not her number one priority.

Even so, generally (for me) in the space of half an hour, I’ll receive a note to say: “yep, got your STALI entry – all fine.” Or sometimes “yep, got your Emerald entry – change your margins!”

So to the ladies who’ve helped me with contests so far: Kasey Rowe, Sandra Harris and Lis Hoorweg – thank you!

I joined the Critique Partners program, and Bec Sampson and Joanne Levy, hooked me up with two lovely partners, professionally and quick.

If I’ve ever had something for Cruisin the Blogs, Juanita Kees is a delight to send it to.

Hearts Talk is a great magazine, again considering volunteers put it together. I’ve been a journalist, freelance writer and editor for twenty years and I know how much goes into anything that comes out in print (or online for that matter). It doesn’t just get chucked together. Contributors have to be thought of, liaised with, chased, reminded, nagged into sending a photograph. Contributions have to be laid-out, headlines thought of. Things have to be made fit into an A4 page. Websites need be perused, press releases subbed for the relevant and interesting bits, conversations remembered, things written in bullet points or on bar mats worked into something that makes sense. It’s hard work and to everyone who puts Hearts Talk together – I love the start of the month when it arrives in my mailbox. In this digital world, I still like getting printed things, and I hope you’ll continue to make a hard-copy magazine available.

So to everyone I’ve had anything to do with at RWA to date, thank you – your blood is worth bottling. You all do a great job and keep up the good work. One day, when I feel I can offer you something, I look forward to volunteering too.

Are you a member? If you’re interested in what Romance Writers Australia could do for you, contact

What I learned through Critiquing

When I started writing this blog back in June, one of my early posts was titled When Do You Let Someone Read Your Writing? I mentioned at the time that I was almost obsessed with ensuring no one read my words, even hubby had the laptop closed on him any time he entered the room (if the poor guy was any less trusting, he might have thought I was surfing for porn.) I’d barely mentioned to anyone, including family, that I was trying to write.

The problem was, I had to get my writing to a level where I felt a modicum of confidence in showing another living soul. I knew that for a long time what I was doing was dreadful. And it was gut-wrenching to go through revision after revision and then find every time I opened a page or a chapter in the light of a new day, what I’d thought was great the previous night, was now crap once again. I’m sure Gremlins were in my system!

Two people through the RWA Critique Partners Program have now had a look at my book, His Brand Of Beautiful.

These are the major things I’ve taken from the process:

Not enough narrative

I had been so obsessed with the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ that I had excluded narrative to the detriment of the book. I launched into scenes and chapters without slowing down long enough to give my reader the most basic concepts: where are we, when is it? Both my CPs picked up on this in different ways, but what brought it home for me was when in one of my chapters I say:

Christina Clay walked into his architecture-award-winning four-walled mausoleum for the second time about three-thirty on Saturday afternoon. Actually, stumbled into it was closer to the mark, mannequin crossways in her arms like a sculpted sack of potatoes.

And my CP wrote: “phew – call me lazy but it’s nice just to know where they are. Tate’s house. Saturday afternoon.”

The other CP said the same thing, but in different words:

It is very enjoyable to be dumped mis-en-scène and then discover what is happening.  It can be tiring to have this happen a lot.

The good thing was: both of them felt the same thing, and it forced me to sit up and take notice and change it, and hopefully this is for the better. I am sure that if I take that time to ground my reader with a sentence or two in the beginning, they can then better concentrate on the plot developments and dialogue and where I want to take them next.

Double description

I never realised I use similies like I use my tissue box in hayfever season ( 🙂 ), until my CPs began commenting. Neither were negative about my use of similies, both CPs liked my descriptions and felt it was a strength in my writing, but a comment that resonated with me was:

Sometimes you use two strong and sometimes disparate images and the reader flounders, just having absorbed and enjoyed one, and forced to picture another.  I have put “1 or the other” to show what I mean.

Here’s an example (I’m describing a taser shot):

And a high-pitched ticking, like the fastest clock in the world. Like a bike wheel with a leaf trapped in the spokes.

Once you’re told you do it, and told to look for it, well – now I see them everywhere. In my last round of revisions after the two CPs had looked at His Brand Of Beautiful with fresh, ‘reader’ eyes, I tried to be lethal with the delete key on my similes. Less is more, Less is more. And perhaps on that philosophy, if I’m only keeping the best of them, they’ll be more cut-through because of it.

And finally, for Kathy (just in case she’s listening!) 🙂

Commas in dialogue!

“Use them, Lily!”

There were many more points each CP raised, including plot points and inconsistencies – all of which were useful – but one of the sentiments I see in just about everything I’ve read on critiquing is: only take out of it the things you want to.
So these were the big three for me!

Jennifer Crusie recently posted a piece about critiquing. If you’re considering going through this Critiquing process (and I now strongly recommend it) it’s an excellent post covering the whys and wherefores.


And I’ve finished… again

Okay, so at risk of sounding like a broken record, I have now finished His Brand Of Beautiful for the fourth time.

The first time was in May 2011. When the story was complete crap only I hadn’t yet worked that out.

Then I finished it again in August 2012, after a year of learning everything I could about craft. In time to enter the Choc Lit, Search For An Australian Star competition.

Then I finished it again in September 2012. In time to enter RWA’s STALI, and Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Dance. (I really wrote Dance… of course I meant So You Think You Can Write!!!)

Today. I am declaring it finished. Again. I finish this book as regularly at the moon comes up…

The difference between now and ‘the end’ in August and September, is my two critique partners. First Kathy, now Kylie. I think I will stop at two (if they’re happy to stick with me) because if I do so happen to get another ‘K’… in the fold, things might get a bit scary!

Kathy picked up big things. Big holes in plot. Big motivation problems.

Kylie is the second person I’m trialling with through RWA’s critique partners program. She is the first to review the latest ‘reviews’. And she’s liking it. But she too has picked up a few more, what I like to call: WTF?? How did that happen… moments.

For eighteen months, every time I’ve typed The End, I’ve felt more excited about the book. It is a far better book than in May 2011. For that matter, it’s a far better book than August 2012. I think all it shares with the May 2011 original, is the title.

Next week… no, who am I kidding? I will be terribly hard-pressed not to hit ‘send’ on it again tomorrow, as I have a request for a full that I’ve been holding, pending this last fortnight of revision and soul-searching, and I am absolutely busting to get it whirling through cyberspace and on its way.

Patience. Patience. Nah. I don’t have it. Will I ever learn?