ESSENCE Launch Party Details + Blog Tour Stops!!

ESSENCE Launch Party
Tuesday, June 3rd ... 7:00-9:00pm

Photo Courtesy of Inkwood Books
It's just a few days until ESSENCE's debut, which means... It's time for a Launch Party!!

What are you doing on Tuesday, June 3rd?? If you happen to find yourself in the Tampa Bay area, I would looooove you to join me at Inkwood Books in Hyde Park Village for my official ESSENCE Launch Party!

There will be wine, cheese and all things writerly. I will do a Q&A session and a reading (if I don't chicken out), and there will copies of ESSENCE on-hand for purchase. Inkwood Books also has a wonderful selection of books by all sorts of national and local authors, so please support this local business by joining us.

Here is a link to my Facebook event invitation: ESSENCE Launch Party. I would also appreciate you spreading the word to anyone else you think may be interested in attending. Thanks so much, and I hope to see you there!

Also... Don't forget that today (5/30) is Day Ten of my ESSENCE Blog Tour. Here are today's tour stops:
Special thanks to the amazing bloggers who are hosting me, and thanks in advance for checking out my posts. Have a wonderful day!

The Path to Publication, Part Five: Picking the Right Literary Agent

(Photo Courtesy of Toby Hudson)

When I queried my first novel THE MERMAID GENE, I suffered from a common misconception. I believed almost all literary agents were created equal.

I say 'almost,' because I knew some literary agents were con artists. They asked for fees for their services, and they never really did anything except steal your money--and probably smoke cheap cigars in a dirty office somewhere.

But here's where I went wrong. I figured I could weed out all the unsavory literary agents with a simple search on Preditors & Editors or the AbsoluteWrite Forum. If those searches came back clean, the agent MUST be a reasonable human being, right? Even better, the agent MUST be a powerhouse superhero ready to take on the world and make us both filthy rich in the process, right?

Wrong. Obviously. I shake my head at my naiveté now, but I was so giddy at the thought that a real-life literary agent may someday want to TALK to me that it didn't even occur to me that I needed to interview her, too.

Here's what happened...

After more than eight months of querying THE MERMAID GENE, I finally got an offer of representation from not one, but two (!!) literary agents. My elation was unparalleled, and I immediately sat down and tried to figure out which offer I should accept.

The problem is, I only looked at things that were quantifiable. I didn't pay enough attention to intangible things like the agents' personalities, how well we clicked or how well they 'got' what I was trying to say. I also didn't monitor their enthusiasm for my work or their long-term investment in my career, because I figured EVERY agent wants his or her client to be a lifelong client, right?

Wrong. Obviously.

Before we get into that, let's take a look at both agents, stacked side-by-side:

(Photo Courtesy of Marco Bellucci)

AGENT A

  • Established agent with lots of clients and sales
  • Came with a "co-agent," which seemed pretty much unprecedented
  • Very established house with lots of sales and a "highly recommended" Preditors & Editors status
  • Smooth talker, with plans of taking THE MERMAID GENE to the Frankfurt Book Fair in just a few short weeks
  • Very well-connected to the literary and film worlds. Spoke of a particular contact at a particular (VERY well-known) film production company who was already interested in considering THE MERMAID GENE for a feature film
  • Didn't see the need to do extensive edits and thought we could get the manuscript out on submission within a couple of weeks

AGENT B

  • Brand-new agent with only one other client and no existing sales
  • Very established house with lots of sales, but no "highly recommended" Preditors & Editors status
  • Wonderful rapport and the feeling that she really "got" me, but no specific plans for editors she would contact quite yet
  • Felt THE MERMAID GENE would require fairly extensive edits, including changing the entire manuscript's tense and shortening/tightening the first 50 pages
  • Didn't want to rush submissions, because she wanted us to take our time with edits and make sure we got them right

Can you guess which agent I picked? And can you speculate which agent I should have picked?

I will spare you the long story, as there is no sense in dwelling on the past. Let's just leave it at this: if something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is too good to be true. 

Fast forward to today. Agent A is no longer agenting, and Agent B has several six-figure deals under her belt (including one for that first client, who would have been in line just in front of me). THE MERMAID GENE has been shelved--partially due to being blasted out before it was ready--and I found myself dropped as Agent A's client within four and a half months.

And you know what? It was my fault, because I listened with my wallet, not with my heart. I heard, "Let's make a ton of money with no work at all," and I chose that over, "Let's do this right. It may take some time, but I really believe in this book." 

Moral of the story: don't take the easy way out. Ever. And listen to your damn gut. If it's screaming for you to not believe everything you hear, please don't turn a blind eye to that.

Also, remember that agents are just people. Some will care about you more than others, and it's up to YOU to determine which one deserves to be trusted with your career. Don't leave a decision that monumental to websites like Preditors & Editors or the AbsoluteWrite Forum. Those websites are important places to start, but ultimately, the decision is in your hands. No matter how starstruck you feel, you need to keep your head on straight. 

Remember that manuscript... the one you just spent the past few months or YEARS of your life writing? Its future--and your future--depend on it.

So... Where did my story leave me? That answer is simple: agentless and broke, with a dead manuscript and no idea what to do next. 

Please tune in next time to see what happened next!

The Path to Publication, Part Four: Perfecting Your Query Letter

(Photo Courtesy of Sean MacEntee)

Last week, I recounted writing my first query letter. I also recounted receiving my first rejection letter--which occurred a scant 24 hours later. What I didn't recount was the content of that original query letter. Looking back on it now, I can absolutely understand why I received that first rejection letter, because my first query wasn't ready. It had some good bones, but the meat was fatty, and it was difficult to sort the important bits from the unimportant ones. The essence of it got lost in the seasoning, and...

Okay, enough dinner analogies. You get what I'm trying to say here.

More than eight months of querying passed before I received my first offer of representation for my novel THE MERMAID GENE. During that time, my query letter underwent several transformations. Here's my "Before" and "After" so you can see the evolution:

THE MERMAID GENE

Original Query Letter (January 9, 2011)

Dear Agent:

When seventeen year-old Kai Murphy joins a beluga whale identification team in Alaska, the last thing she expects to find in Cook Inlet is a mermaid. She’s an aspiring researcher, after all, the daughter of a prominent dolphin scientist and the type of girl who “alphabetizes her DVDs and orders the same thing for lunch every single day.”

Anchorage’s mermaid folklore is legendary, but Kai remains a skeptic until she spots a trailing, translucent tail after work one evening. Finally forced to ponder the possibility, she teams up with her roommate Sophie Kensington and flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate.

Turns out mermaids aren’t the research team’s only mysteries. There’s also that warehouse closet crammed with hunting rifles, the blood-filled plastic bins and those shadowy figures that seem to be haunting the Port of Anchorage.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of Cook Inlet’s struggling beluga whale population just may be resting in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is complete at 98,000 words. It is the first in a series of young adult, urban fantasy novels I am developing surrounding Kai Murphy and her experiences in the wild and unforgiving seas of Alaska. The book’s premise draws upon the expertise and first-hand knowledge I have gained working as a zookeeper and educator at facilities like the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage, Gulf World Marine Park of Florida and the Marine Mammal Center of California.

I graduated with honors from the University of Central Florida with a minor in magazine journalism, and I have received many awards for my writing. These include first place for a short story in the Tertiary Art Contest awarded by Griffith University of Queensland, Australia, and a $1,000 academic scholarship for a personal essay I submitted in UCF’s Honors College Provost Essay Contest. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions With Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide, and my promotional blurbs and articles have appeared many times in my facilities’ brochures, calendars, websites and advertisements.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this query. With your interest in urban fantasies, unique paranormals and young adult novels, I hope THE MERMAID GENE will be a perfect fit for you. My full manuscript is available upon request, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, 

Lisa Ann

I mean... WOW, THAT'S A LONG QUERY LETTER! Am I right?? I don't hate the content, but... seriously? 412 words? Did that DVD thing really deserve inclusion into the first paragraph? And how many characters could I name in one query letter? How about that bit at the end where I tried to sound like I was more qualified as a writer than I actually was? Who in the world would actually care that I won a short story contest during the semester I studied abroad in Australia?

These are all common rookie mistakes, unfortunately. We feel like we have SO MUCH GOOD STUFF TO SAY that we can't sort out what's important and what's not. We also feel like we need to compensate for our noviceness by including every relevant and not-relevant thing we have ever experienced in our lives. 

But guess what? Literary agents are pros at spotting this. And in the case of query letters, less is often (much) more. Here's my final query letter:

THE MERMAID GENE

Final Query Letter (September 19, 2011)

Dear Agent:

When seventeen year-old aspiring marine researcher Kai Murphy is invited to join a beluga whale study in Alaska, she expects freezing salt spray, cramped Zodiac vessels and elusive white whales to be the extent of her first real research project.

According to an ancient arctic legend, a mysterious creature also inhabits Cook Inlet’s icy waters. Kai remains a skeptic—until her late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail. Teamed up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer, she decides to investigate.

My YA paranormal mystery, THE MERMAID GENE, combines the romance and fantasy of Aimee Friedman’s SEA CHANGE with the science, suspense and descriptive settings of Nevada Barr’s “Anna Pigeon” mysteries. I was inspired to write THE MERMAID GENE by the time I spent working as a zookeeper and environmental educator at facilities like Gulf World Marine Park of Florida and the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I hope you have a wonderful day.

Sincerely,

Lisa Ann

This new version still isn't perfect, but it's much closer than my first attempt. It's also 162 words, which means I managed to shave 250 words off my original query letter. (250 words?? That's like an entire extra query letter!)

If anything, I feel like this second version is a little *too* short, but you still get my drift. Amazing how the meat of a story can be so condensed while leaving the bones pretty much untouched. You have a pretty good idea about what THE MERMAID GENE is about after reading both versions; it's just the little things that have changed.

I also keyed in on the mystery in the second query letter, and I left many of the details to the agents' imaginations. My hope was to pique their interest... and it worked! The last agent who received this letter offered me a contract three days later. (!!!)

Of course, this wouldn't be a good story if it was a simple one, so please turn in next Monday to learn exactly how my offer(s) of representation played out. Things got a little weird for awhile there--and they would only get weirder when I signed my contract!

Are You on Pinterest or Instagram?


I am an incredibly visual person, so it's no surprise each of my writing projects comes with its own Pinterest Inspiration Board. I also keep Inspiration Boards for almost every other facet of my life; are you the same way?

I also recently started an Instagram page to keep track of some of my favorite life moments, and I'm already digging the synergy of seeing all those moments lined up against each other.

Do you have a Pinterest or Instagram account? If so, please leave your info in the comments section. I am currently looking for other folks to follow, and I'm excited to see what sorts of things inspire you!

Wanna check out my boards? Here they are; please click the captions to visit each page.

INSTAGRAM

Inspiration for my debut novel ESSENCE

Inspiration for my shelved YA novel THE MERMAID GENE

"Life Less Ordinary" Fashion Inspiration

Inspirational Quotes (For Every Mood)

Tattoo Inspiration

The Path to Fitness

If I Can Ever Sit Still Long Enough...

Eye Candy

Inspiration from Everywhere

I hope you enjoyed seeing what makes me tick. Have a great day!

ESSENCE Sneak Peek: Read the First Three Chapters HERE!

Want a sneak peek of my debut novel ESSENCE? I am thrilled to announce the first three chapters are now available!

Please click here to read, and feel free to copy and paste this book code if you would like to post this sample elsewhere.


Like the story so far? ESSENCE will be released on June 3rd by Strange Chemistry Books, and it is available for pre-order from the following booksellers:

United States
United Kingdom
Canada
Australia / New Zealand
Thanks so much for your support!