Tracking Queries

Everybody needs a handy tool to get stuff done.  Doesn’t really matter what you’re doing…there’s something out there that’s just handy for doing it, and once you find it, you wonder how you ever did whatever-it-is-you’re-doing without it.  You know you have an example.

Well, it’s a basic principle of the publishing world that you need an agent if you write a book and want that book to be published by a big publishing house that will do all your heavy lifting to get that book out in the world and reel in a bazillion dollars for you.  And how do you get said agent to love you and want to be your agent?  You send a query that will make her drool for the opportunity.

So, what are the odds that the first query you send out will nail that agent for you?  Skimpy.  Yes, it happens like a bolt out of the blue for a lot of writers, but they happen to be a teensy-weensy percentage.  Sorry about that.  Thank goodness for word processing programs, email, and web-based query manager programs…you can crank out a lot of them without nearly the effort that was needed a decade ago.

Enter Query Tracker.  I was guided to this program a couple of years ago by a writers’ forum I had joined and fumbled around with for some time.  I’m here to save you a little fumble time.  The site is at and is quite the handy gadget.

Query Tracker won’t write your query for you, though it will help you find examples of successful queries to emulate, if you’d like.  Where it had the most benefit for me was in finding agents who were in the market for what I was writing.  You can filter your search for agents by the genres they’re looking for, by name, by agency they work for, or by whether they’re currently open to queries.  The listings will give their email addresses, mailing addresses, preferences for how to submit the queries, website addresses, and even success stories from writers who managed to land them as agents.

A great benefit of this website is that it will maintain a database that tracks all the queries you’ve sent out and to whom, when you sent them, and what the status of your query is.  It will keep track of whether an agent has asked you for a full or partial manuscript.  It will also show you feedback from other authors on each agent, so you can get an idea of what kind of response time to expect, whether there are problems with communication or contract issues, and whether agents provide feedback on your submission.  And even if they’re nice.

And best of all…it’s free.  Yes, you can get a premium version with extra features, and it may very well behoove you to do so.  But you can just open an account and play with it and see what it will do for you, absolutely free, and take your time making up your mind about whether premium is what you want.  But the free version will do a LOT.

Oh, by the way…you still have to have a really good manuscript and an awesome query to land the agent.  That’s extra.  Sorry about that.

Check it out…it might do you a lot of good.  Couldn’t hurt!


Veterans Day

I was mulling over some thoughts about what Veterans Day means to me, and happened across the text of a speech I gave 18 years ago while deployed to Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait.  It was in 2001, just two months after the 9/11 attacks.  I was speaking to our troops, who had seen their mission of enforcing the No-Fly Zone in Iraq suddenly double into supporting the forward movement of troops for Operation Enduring Freedom into Afghanistan.  And they had no idea what would happen next or when they’d get to go home.  What I said to them still holds today, and is for all veterans, especially those still on active duty who are out there guarding our way of life right now:

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I was asked to provide my perspective on what Veterans Day means, and it remains to be seen whether it was courageous or merely foolhardy to give a microphone to a Chief and ask him his opinion.  I’ll try to limit my opinions to just Veterans Day for the moment.  However, if I were to talk about all the things I’ve thought about Veterans Day, and what it means, I’d be talking all day.  Don’t worry…I won’t do that to you…..I’ll let Lt Col Rose do that to you in a few minutes.

My perspective on Veterans Day comes down to quality of life.  I keep an eye on quality of life issues, because it’s part of my job and because I happen to live here along with everybody else.  I hear complaints about the heat, blowing sand, flies, and having to share bathrooms with 50 other people, and every day I hear somebody say, “I sure will be glad when I can go home.”  And I know that for 225 years, American military troops have been saying the same thing, from the snows of Valley Forge, to the steaming jungles of Vietnam, to the vast deserts of Southwest Asia, and just about everywhere in between.  For about 28 years now, I’ve been hearing troops say they want to go home, because they want to be with their loved ones and enjoy the American way of life.

Well, if that’s what they want, why did they put on uniforms and go to faraway places and give up that American way of life?  Because their Uncle Sam said he needed them.  Because they loved their country and their way of life, and they knew that they and their loved ones might lose that way of life if somebody didn’t go when Uncle Sam called.  They chose to answer that call, and preserve that way of life.

And that’s the quality of life I was really talking about in the first place…the quality of the American way of life is what Veterans Day means to me.  Because it’s not just what you’re willing to endure…it’s what you’re willing to sacrifice that defines your character.  Our quality of life is such that our citizens will put on uniforms and pledge to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, and go to faraway places and give up that quality of life for a while, to make sure it will still be there for their loved ones, and it’ll be there when they come home.

The citizens who have done that are our veterans.  The impressive thing about our veterans, in addition to the spirit that drives them, is who they are.  I never thought about it much until the first time I saw a funeral with a military honor guard.  They weren’t active duty military…they were members of the American Legion in my home town.  I grew up knowing these people, but I never even knew they had been in the service of their country until I saw them in their uniforms, firing a salute to honor one of their comrades in arms…my Dad.  I saw bankers, insurance salesmen, truck drivers, and farmers, and it came home to me that people from every walk of life are veterans of military service.  To me, they are the backbone of America.  They are what makes our country great, because they are the fundamental quality in our way of life.  I know this because I’ve worked with the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces for 28 years, and I run into them everywhere.  I grew up with them, they’ve been my neighbors, they’ve been my friends, and their ranks happen to include my grandfather, my dad, my brother, my father-in-law, my wife, and my son, among so many others.  I know their strength in adversity and their dedication to the principles of freedom.  I have great faith in them.  They are my heroes.

Because for the last 225 years there have been military troops who did what their country asked of them, because they made sacrifices, because they lived “service before self”…these are the veterans we honor today.

But we don’t honor them because they put up with uncomfortable weather, and sand, and flies.  I like the way Tom Clancy put it in one of his earlier books, and my apologies to him if I don’t remember it quite perfectly, but it went something like this:  “One of the benefits of being in the military, aside from the opportunity to make less money than an equally talented civilian, is the off chance of being killed.”

You see, they knew that, and still they went.  That’s the kind of love of our country and the spirit that gives us our quality of life…that people would be willing to put themselves in harm’s way to ensure that the American way of life endures.  That doesn’t mean they want that harm to find them…I know I don’t.  I want to go home in about a month, and be able to say, thanks to our Top 3 fundraiser, that I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.  But do you know what my father-in-law can say?  “Been there, done that, got the Purple Heart.”  The dedication to our country and the principles of freedom are what has given our veterans the courage to face whatever may come, and their courage and their character are what give me faith in the future of America, which brings me to another facet of quality of life.

When TSgt Wilbur was setting this up, he told me I was invited because I could give the perspective of the old guy, the one who’d been around a while, the one who was on his way out the door.  Thank you, Sergeant Wilbur, for bringing that up so tactfully.  But it’s true…within a couple of years, depending on Stop Loss and High Year of Tenure waivers, of course, I’ll be retired.  I’ll be sitting on the beach somewhere, living in the great comfort afforded me by my huge retirement check, and I won’t be coming back to this beach.  I may be a vague memory for some people, and there may be some comment now and then about that crusty old Chief with the big camouflaged coffee cup…and it’s a shame the words “crusty” and “old” always show up at the same time as the word “Chief,” but that’s life… but I won’t be here to guide, advise, mentor, or otherwise influence all the actions that will be going on around the world, that will keep my country free and my way of life intact.  But I’m not worried, because that’s where my faith in the veterans of the American Armed Forces comes in.

Because who am I talking about?  You.  You are also the veterans who are being honored today.  You are the people with the willingness to put on a uniform and go to faraway places, who pledged to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, who are willing to put yourselves in harm’s way to ensure that the American way of life endures.  You are the ones who have earned my faith and my respect, and I know that you, and others just like you, will be making sure that I have the freedom and the safety to sit on that beach and live the quality of life that comes with being an American.  You’ll be taking care of me, and you’ll be taking care of my country.  You are veterans of the United States Armed Forces, and you are my heroes.  And for what you have done, and for what you will do, I thank you.”


Thought For The Week

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

— John Stuart Mill

Elmore Leonard and Writing Rules

I recently stumbled across a website that has oodles of good stuff about writing, called Brain Pickings.  I haven’t quite figured out how much I like it yet, or what all I might find there, but it looks like a good place to explore.

My first exploration came up with a good sample, an article by Maria Popova with Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.  I tend to share a lot of writing rules and tips from other people, and that’s because there are a lot of people out there who know what they’re doing, and you’ll be more likely to take their word for it than mine.  And you can never learn too much from the experts.

Elmore Leonard wrote a bazillion books and they were made into heaps and bushels of movies, from Westerns to crime fiction to suspense thrillers.  You may like his books or the movies, or you may not, but whether his stuff is up your alley or not, there’s just no doubt that he could sure spin a yarn.  I’m more than willing to see what he says about how he does it — here are his top 10 tips:

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

“If it sounds like writing … rewrite it.”

On July 16, 2001, Elmore Leonard (October 11, 1925–August 20, 2013) made his timeless contribution to the meta-literary canon in a short piece for The New York Times, outlining his ten rules of writing. The essay, which inspired the Guardian series that gave us similar lists of writing rules by Zadie SmithMargaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman, was eventually adapted into Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (public library) — a slim, beautifully typeset book, with illustrations by Joe Ciardiello accompanying Leonard’s timeless rules.

He prefaces the list with a short disclaimer of sorts:

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

Leonard then goes on to lay out the ten commandments, infused with his signature blend of humor, humility, and uncompromising discernment:

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

Read more…

Writing Tips From Grammar Girl

This is a little plug for Grammar Girl, a website created by Mignon Fogarty and part of the Quick and Dirty Tips network, which also gives advice on all kinds of things like Health & Fitness, House & Home, Parenting, Pets, Money & Finance, and a whole bunch of other areas.  A good website to take a look at for a lot of different angles on life.

This particular segment is about her specialty – grammar, of course.  It’s helpful to refresh your skills a little from time to time whether you’re a writer, or want to come across as a bit less dumb in random conversation (one of my primary struggles in life), or even just to have more ammo to help you argue with people who deserve it (it’s another struggle trying to not do this, but sometimes ya gotta).

So here is just a taste of her top 10 grammar myths…the rest of the article is on her website and is much prettier and thorough.  Take a look around her site if you have a few minutes, ‘cause you never know what cool stuff you might come across.

Top Ten Grammar Myths

Mignon Fogarty,
Grammar Girl
March 2, 2018

Grammar Girl’s Top 10 Language Myths

10. A run-on sentence is a really long sentence.Wrong! They can actually be quite short. In a run-on sentence, independent clauses are squished together without the help of punctuation or a conjunction. If you write “I am short he is tall,” as one sentence without a semicoloncolon, or dash between the two independent clauses, it’s a run-on sentence even though it has only six words. (See episode 237 for more details.)

9. You shouldn’t start a sentence with the word “however.”Wrong! It’s fine to start a sentence with “however” so long as you use a comma after it when it means “nevertheless.” (See episode 354 for more details.)

8. “Irregardless” is not a word.Wrong! “Irregardless” is a bad word and a word you shouldn’t use, but it is a word. “Floogetyflop” isn’t a word—I just made it up and you have no idea what it means.  “Irregardless,” on the other hand, is in almost every dictionary labeled as nonstandard. You shouldn’t use it if you want to be taken seriously, but it has gained wide enough use to qualify as a word. (See episode 94 for more details.)

Read more…