Hauntings, hijinks, and happily ever afters — here is everything you can look forward to in Rachel Moore’s YA debut novel THE BOOK OF FADES.
The news has been out for a bit now, but ICYMI: my debut novel is being published by Katherine Tegen Books and is expected fall 2023! THE BOOK OF FADES is my love letter to libraries and all the ghosts who may or may not be haunting them.
What you’ll find in THE BOOK OF FADES
Dark corners of the school library where the dust has gathered and the light doesn’t reach.
Copious amounts of coffee: hot, iced, leftover on the desk from where it was forgotten three days ago — it doesn’t matter.
A mysterious string of disappearances reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s “no body, no crime.”
Must-read tips for authors hoping to survive — and thrive! — in the query trenches
So, you’ve written a book, and you want to find a literary agent. What’s next? Querying!
Often referred to as the “query trenches,” querying literary agents can sometimes sound — and feel — like a big, bottomless abyss that you’re being asked to navigate without a headlight. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way.
These tips for what to do (and what not to do) when querying will help make your process as seamless as possible.
3 tips for tackling the query trenches
1. Create a querying plan
This advice is tired and true: do your research. Making a plan allows you to make thoughtful, conscientious decisions about how and when you enter the query trenches. A few things I found helpful include:
Sometimes the desire to sign with “an agent” can overwhelm the importance of signing with “the right agent.” Consider whether you’re looking for an agent that will stick by your side throughout your career or one who will represent a single book. If you’re searching for someone who will be around for the long run, consider all the types of books you’d like to write in addition to the one you’re currently querying. Signing with an agent who only represents adult books when you’ve got a middle grade homerun in your back pocket might not be the right move.
Additionally, it’s helpful to be cognizant of the communication style you prefer, what agency perks you’re interested in, and what you want your agent relationship to look like. Do you want to work with an agent who is also an author? Do you want to sign to an agency with an in-house editor? What publishers and media are you interested in making sales in?
Being mindful of these things up front — and truthful with yourself about what your goals are — allows you to craft a querying plan specific to your circumstances and desires.
3. Only query agents you’d actually want to sign with
It seems obvious, but my recommendation is to only query agents you’d like to represent you and your books. Sometimes, you can’t know with certainty if an agent will be a great fit until you have the opportunity to hop on a call with them, and that’s okay! You can always decide you’d rather pursue other options. But if you query someone as a tester, you might end up in a pickle if they offer representation. I’m a big believer in assuming success rather than fearing the worst. So, you when you compile that list of agents, make sure they’ll be strong advocates for your books.
Don’t make these 3 querying mistakes
1. Don’t query slow responders first
When you’re ready to send your first query, it’s normal to want to immediately throw your query package toward your dream agent — or agents. But what if that agent is a notoriously slow responder? You might send your query package and be stuck in limbo, unsure whether or not your pages are effective.
To test the waters, see if your query package is working, and get a taste of the query trenches, do yourself a favor, and carefully select agents from your list who will respond to you sooner than two to six business months. My recommendation is to query agents who typically respond between one and fourteen days.
There is nothing wrong with agents who take longer to read — hello, agents have lives — but if you’re wondering whether or not your query package is effective, you’ll want to start with people who can thumbs-up or thumbs-down a la Roman Emperor in the Coliseum before the earth takes a full revolution around the sun. Save the slower responders until after your first full request, and you’ll save yourself from frantically wondering if your query letter works or your first ten pages are snappy enough.
2. Don’t keep revising while you’re querying
Once you’re officially #amquerying, it’s time to close the word processor. Your manuscript is in the hands of literary agents, and if you keep tinkering with it, suddenly you’re going to end up with a million contradictory file names like Final_FINAL_Book_For_Real.docx. Not only will it stress you out, but continuing to revise while you’re querying is indicative that the book you’ve just shipped off to dream agent inbox purgatory… isn’t ready yet.
One of the best things you can do for your querying journey is to wait. Don’t send that first query until you’re confident that your book is as polished as you can make it on your own. That’s your end of the bargain as a writer.
While you’ll certainly receive feedback while querying — too this, not enough that — this is not the time to put that feedback into motion while other agents are still reading. I won’t lie. It can be tough to hear! But you won’t have the same vision for your book as every single agent, and you aren’t expected to. Hearing the varied feedback (and it will be varied) from agents and trying to address all of it while actively querying has the potential to create a vicious, endless cycle of ineffective revising that could hurt your prospects at finding the right fit and tank your self-confidence in the process.
Once you’ve signed an agency agreement, you and your new agent will collaborate on revisions that align with your vision for your book, your career path, and the marketability of the manuscript.
3. Don’t only rely on batch querying
Batch querying is a tactic that involves sending queries in batches of five to ten to agents to gauge response. It’s often recommended, but it isn’t the only way to query! If you’re seeing a positive response on your query package (as in, agents are requesting partial or full manuscript submissions), you shouldn’t feel obligated to wait until the current batch has run its course in order to send more queries. After all, one of those full requests could offer representation tomorrow! Once you’ve seen a positive response from your query package, consider sending more queries to make sure everyone on your list has the opportunity to read your incredible words.
Are you ready to start querying your book?
Querying doesn’t have to be panic inducing, and your journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. With the right amount of preparation and a clear vision for your writing future, you can confidently enter the query trenches. Want to hear more about my querying journey? See how I got my literary agent.
A look into my writing, revising, and querying journey from a draft one to dream agent
If you’d told me even two years ago that I’d be writing this post, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Back then, I had gone years without writing a single page. But here we are, four drafts and 360,000 words later, and I want to talk about how I got my agent — a lesson in cross-country road trips, finding your community, and writing what you love.
Step one: I wrote a book
In May 2020, I decided, without a doubt, that I would finish writing a book that year. I had a story in mind — danger! romance! drama! — and then, when I started drafting, it fizzled out in no time flat. I hadn’t even hit 10,000 words before it was dead in the water. But there was something in there that stuck.
A boy out of place.
So, I plotted a new story around this love interest. Who would be the least likely person to love him? How would they find each other? I tossed in everything I wanted from a book, things I felt like I couldn’t find on the shelves. An ivy-strewn college. The haunted stacks of a dusty library. The first shaky steps of life on your own. The grief you didn’t know how to bury.
I wrote the book I wanted to read. I wrote the book I needed.
The first chapter began in the dining room of a hundred-year-old house in the hills of Pasadena. It was early on July 1, 2020, the sun’s first rays creeping past the cypress trees in the backyard, and I couldn’t sleep, wide awake with new-draft jitters. For the first time in so long, the words came easily.
Some important things happened along the way. I learned to say yes when drafting instead of overthinking every detail. I made friends online who were also pursuing publishing, friends to celebrate with and friends to cry with.
By October, I had written a book.
I didn’t write a word in November — NaNoWriMo be damned — and sent my book to five beta readers who would hopefully fill me in on whether or not the book was working effectively. When their notes came in, I cut scenes and added new ones, found out the only way I knew how to describe emotion was by clenching fists and rolling eyes, and felt the unnerving rush of email notifications of new comments.
The notes I received from my beta readers were pivotal. Revising would take weeks, but I had a deadline. Author Mentor Match applications were opening soon.
Step two: I wrote the book I meant to write the first time
When I applied to Author Mentor Match in January 2021, I submitted a 95,000-word adult novel that I called YA because even though it wasn’t, I knew I wanted it to be. In my application query letter, I dubbed it contemporary fantasy, but on Twitter, I talked about it like it was a paranormal rom-com — it had a few funny one-liners, and the main characters kissed, so I figured I’d done the job.
I had not.
I was selected as an AMM Round 8 mentee by Jo Fenning and Serena Kaylor, and I quickly discovered the gut-wrenching fear of a seven-page edit letter and the words, this is not a rom-com, but you can make it one. I didn’t need to tear the book down to its studs — I needed to demolish it. I’d use the pieces like broken glass in a mosaic. The genre, the plot, the setting, the magic system, the cast. I needed to rebuild the story brick by brick if I wanted to tell it right.
It took four months. Between early mornings and late nights rediscovering my story, I started a new job, moved 1,800 miles across the country, and had my fair share of meltdowns. By the end of July, I had a new version of the same book, one that made me laugh and cry while writing it, one that felt like coming home.
With notes from my mentors and a few of my favorite people, I polished the manuscript, somehow managed to add more puns, and then it was time.
Step three: I queried a book
I must’ve sent twenty what if I just threw a query out into the voidfor science texts during my last pass revisions, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Because when I finished, I knew I was ready.
The pages were solid. The query letter had been revised about a trillion times. The synopsis… existed. In the wise words of Shania Twain, let’s go girls.
I sent my first query at the kitchen table in my robe before work on a Monday. The next day, I received a form rejection and a full request because that’s just the way that querying goes. A little bold, I chucked out a few more queries and then a few more, and the next week, I participated in September’s PitMad. It felt like all I did was refresh my email and QueryTracker.
Then, two weeks later, Claire Friedman at InkWell Management wanted to hop on a call.
We scheduled it for the next day, and I don’t think I slept a wink that night. There’s always that tiny seed of doubt in the back of your mind, the doubt sprouting about an agent asking you to revise and resubmit, but when she said she’d like to offer representation, I’m certain I let out a breath I knew I’d been holding. The minute the call started, I was blown away by Claire’s enthusiasm for my book and my future. Working with her had been a dream I clung to as I started querying, and I couldn’t believe it was going to come true.
I had the absolute delight of speaking with two other agents during the two-week decision period, both of whom I’m certain are tireless advocates for their clients but weren’t exactly the right fit for me and the shape of the career I’m trying to mold. Accepting Claire’s offer of representation included a bottle of champagne on the balcony, a massive bowl of TikTok pasta, and snapping one last Polaroid to commemorate this season of life.
Step four: !!!!!!!
I’ve felt more like myself in the last year than I have for a long time. Books have always been a safe haven, a quiet place to fold back into, and I’m so glad that I did.
The world’s biggest shout out to my darling boyfriend’s unending support, the unwavering enthusiasm from my writing besties, and Celestial Seasoning’s Vermont Maple Ginger tea. This book quite literally wouldn’t exist without any of them.
At the end of the day, everybody’s querying journey looks and feels different. For me, it looked like this:
Establishing tone, creating a vision, and more reasons a pitch deck could be the missing piece for plotting your next novel
If you’re a writer, there’s a massive possibility you’ve procrastinated the putting-words-on-the-page part of writing in lieu of the scouring-Pinterest-for-photos-for-a-beautiful-aesthetic part of writing. And making aesthetic moodboards is an important part of writing if you ask me.
When you sit down to make a thematic, color-coordinated, moody aesthetic, you’re actually narrowing in on the tone of your book. This is a crucial part of telling a cohesive story. So, how do you take that one moodboard to the next level?
Answer: a pitch deck.
What is a pitch deck?
Pitch decks (slide decks, pitch books, etc.) are brief presentations used across numerous industries for the same purpose: an easily digestible, aesthetically appealing high-level overview of the work.
I use pitch decks during the prepping phase before fully outlining the book in order to establish a few key elements of my story. Creating a novel pitch deck is a fantastic tool you can use to see your story come to life before you ever write the first word.
Typically, I make mine in Google Slides so that I can quickly and easily send it out to my critique partners during our brainstorm sessions.
Why make a pitch deck?
1. Establish a tone touchstone
One of the most important aspects of your story is the tone itself. It’s challenging to create the story you want to if you don’t know what kind of story it is. Is it a heart-wrenching family drama? A spunky romcom? An edge-of-your-seat legal thriller? Creating a pitch deck helps you narrow down the scope of your story so that every decision you make can be vibe checked against the tone you’re working toward.
2. Meet your primary cast of characters
It’s a no-brainer that you need to know the ins and outs of your characters before you can tell their story! Creating a pitch deck and establishing that high-level overview of their misbeliefs, desires, and needs (and, also importantly, how they conflict with each other!) is crucial in establishing stakes and tension from page one.
3. Create the shape of your story
Even before you sit down to plot your story — or dive right in, if you’re a pantser! — knowing the overall shape of your story’s plot arc can be a time-saving exercise. Looking at your plot from a bird’s-eye view allows you to find bridges that lead to nowhere and plot holes that could’ve been easy to miss from the ground level.
How do you make a pitch deck?
Pitch decks can be completely customized to your brainstorming needs and purposes, but here are a few elements that I always include in mine.
Establishing the vibe of your story starts here! I always put the working title and “By Rachel Moore” because it is indicative that I will write this book.
A one-sentence pitch of your book including the general idea and a few notes on tone if you can. Per the advice of Maggie Stiefvater, a formula I like to use is “tone + idea = premise.”
For each project, I choose three words that capture the feel of the book I want to write. It can be difficult to pin these down, but don’t give up! I typically write a few paragraphs about each tone to begin envisioning the way the book makes readers feel as they turn the pages. I come back to this page in the pitch deck the most while drafting.
Pull out your Pinterest! Here’s where you get to put those hard-earned aesthetic-making skills to work. Create a mood board with images that speak to you regarding the novel you’re going to write.
I typically choose eight songs to start a project playlist. Even if I don’t listen to these songs while I write, it’s fun to find music that captures the emotions and overall energy that you want your project to radiate.
Write blurbs about each of your main characters. These don’t have to be neat and tidy. Just start to outline who they are, what they want, and what stands in their way.
Regardless of the genre your book is, you need to clarify some world building. This can be setting, magic systems, family lore, the ins and outs of vampire sociopolitical schemes — whatever your work in progress requires!
Brief Plot Overview
Lastly, I like to start imagining the shape of the arc by writing short paragraphs about each act so that I can envision the rises and falls of the plot structure.
The best part about making your novel’s pitch deck? It doesn’t need to be perfect, and it’s totally malleable. Your story will shift and evolve as you delve deeper into it, but the pitch deck is a fantastic launch pad for writing the story of your heart. If you’re looking for more writing tips, check out these posts for more information.
Let’s take a closer look at how the four act structure bolsters commercial pacing, provides purpose to your plot, and eradicates soggy middles!
There are a million different ideas and methodologies for writing books, but let’s make one thing perfectly clear: there is no one way to tell a story — there are only ways that work for you and ways that don’t. Not every story is going to fit nicely into four pre-conceived boxes, but if you’re interested in writing fast-paced commercial fiction, the Four Act Structure could be exactly what you’re looking for! Let’s take a closer look at what the Four Act Structure is and how to use it when plotting.
What is the Four Act Structure?
The Four Act Structure is a plot organizational device that allows you to chart the rises and falls of your story, and personally, I think it’s made of magic. But before we dissect how the Four Act Structure can work for you, let’s debunk some myths about what it is and is not.
Myths about the Four Act Structure
Using the Four Act Structure produces longer books
You can’t use Save the Cat as a reference if you want to have four acts
I can’t use the Four Act Structure because I’m a pantser
The Four Act Structure won’t work for my story because [insert any excuse here]
Facts about the Four Act Structure
The number of acts does not influence the length of your manuscript. This tool helps provide structure within your word count so that your plot always has a purpose.
Craft tools are not mutually exclusive. Mix and match, baby. We’ll use Save The Cat as a touch stone throughout — it’s one of my favorite craft books!
Let the tools work for you! If you prefer to dive into your story head first without any plotting, by all means dive. You can utilize this outlining tactic at any point, whether you’re prepping or revising. (But if you want my two cents: plot your books!)
The Four Act Structure is not genre or audience exclusive, but if you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to!
Whereas Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheets (and, later, Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel) utilizes a three act plotting mechanism, the Four Act Structure breaks your book into slightly smaller, more manageable chunks in order to provide shape and purpose to your plot. Essentially, the Four Act Structure is created by splitting the hefty second act into two pieces. That’s the primary difference. It’s really that simple!
Why you should try writing with the Four Act Structure
So, what? You split act two in half, and suddenly everything makes sense? In my experience — yes! Breaking act two down has a slew of benefits. Here are a few reasons I think you should give it a shot:
More detail makes pacing easier. If you’re hoping to write the kind of book that grips readers and doesn’t let go until it’s over, you can’t afford to get lost along the way. Plotting with a more detailed hand will help you stay on track.
50% is a daunting portion of your book to tackle at once. A second act that takes up literally half of your book is often too much to swallow at one time — especially when so many crucial things happen in the middle of stories. Breaking it down into bite-sized pieces helps to not overwhelm the writer (and underwhelm readers.)
Provides the “Fun & Games” section the attention it deserves. This is it! Fulfilling the promise of the premise! Perhaps the most fun part of your book, and you’re going to lump it in with all the Bad Guys and Dark Nights? I don’t think so.
Understand and explore your character’s challenges and growth. Splitting into four acts gives you more mental room in the Fun & Games section to truly examine and challenge your main character so that their growth can be effectively highlighted in act four!
Emphasize the midpoint. In the three act structure, the midpoint is buried in the second act, but now you’ll be able to highlight what is perhaps the most crucial turning point in your entire book the way it deserves.
Foster more accentuated turning points. Not only will your midpoint be emphasized, but all of your turning points now have more room to shine.
How the Four Act Structure works
Have you heard about soggy middles? It’s the stodgy, bogged-down section of your book right before the midpoint. Your characters are wandering aimlessly, your plot is nowhere to be seen, and everyone’s eating taquitos and talking about what needs to be done, but nothing’s actually happening.
Your book may feel like it’s dragging on and on and on for readers if you’ve lost sight of the character’s motives and agency, which is so easy to do when the second act is a whopping 50% of your story with very little direction.
Thinking of your story in four separate chunks can help you see the picture clearer.
The two trickiest parts of a book are, in my opinion, the parts with the least amount of structure: Fun & Games and Finale. Although the names are different, I find it helpful to remember that each act you write (no matter how many!) has its own set-up, catalyst, debate, and forward motion. Because it’s organized into smaller pieces, the Four Act Structure gives us enough direction to apply this technique easily.
Next time you sit down to plan a book, try using the Four Act Structure instead! See how shifting your perspective from three acts (25% – 50% – 25%) toward four equally-sized acts (25% – 25% – 25% – 25%) changes your approach to plotting.
And if you’re interested in learning more about writing, stick around! I’m always happy to talk plot — especially if it’s about one of my favorite movies, *ahem* Son in Law (1993).