Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

I spent months researching how to write a query letter, visiting the plethora of blogs dealing with the matter. I picked through Nathan Bransford’s upbeat and encouraging query instructionals. I read through 130 of Query Shark’s query critiques, which were helpful, but terrifying (what did I expect? The site isn’t called Query Cuddly Bunny or Query Momma with Cookies and Milk). I studied Kristin Nelson’s blog. I went on Agent Query and learned from their advice. But, as I studied I came across a lot of conflicting information—some agents wanted me to make a personal connection, some wanted me to stick to the business at hand, Kristin Nelson only wanted to hear about the first fifty pages of the book, while the Query Shark didn’t want to be left in the dark about the ending.

Then, I spent a year writing a query letter for my fifth novel. Yes, a year! Is that because I’m slow or anal? I’m not sure. Maybe both. The terrible part is, after over a year of effort, I’ve not succeeded in gathering an agent’s affection.

I imagine a lair buried deep inside a dormant volcano, a glass floor with magma flowing beneath it. Literary agents and editors gather untitled (2)around the table. One puffs on an over-sized cigar. A woman with a German accent purses her lips. And their leader, a bald man in a grey suit, strokes his hairless cat. Together they devise ways to thwart people like me. “After they write their book. We shall make them condense it to five sentences. These five sentences must be active, interesting, and make me hear angels singing the hallelujah chorus. Mwahaha mwahaha MWAHAHAHAHA!”

Paranoia aside. I get the why’s. I know these people receive a lot of emails. I know I’m an unknown. I know I’m asking them to take a huge risk on me. I know they’re doing their best to find some gems in the slush pile. I get that, but it doesn’t make this process any easier. I’m querying this thing and have already received plenty of rejections. This process is painful and honestly, giving birth was more enjoyable.

So without further ado: Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

6. When I give birth I have a 95 per cent chance of a positive outcome.

5. Everyone around me in labour is full of encouragement. No one tells me I can’t do it or I’ll never make it in the baby making business.

4. People ask to hold your baby. Even if it’s your first baby! Unlike publishing where no one will touch your baby with a nine foot pole.

3. A day or two of excruciating pain and it’s over. I get to enjoy the efforts of my labour.

2. No one looks at my newborn and says, “Not interested. I see 50 babies like yours everyday.”

1. No one pushes the baby back inside because it needs more work.


Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for  teens. In her spare time researches how to write query letters and beats her head against walls. Her first novel, Enslavement, is due for release from Rebelight Publishing Inc. in October 2014, so clearly not all her queries have ended in failure.



Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Using ‘The Emotion Thesaurus’

For me, distinguishing between showing and telling has not been easy. Telling sometimes looks like showing, but the two are worlds apart in the way they affect readers.

Here’s an example to contrast the two:

Telling:  Mr. Paxton’s eyes were sad as he gave her the news. “I’m sorry, JoAnne, but your position with the company is no longer necessary.” Instantly, JoAnne was angrier than she’d ever been in her life.

Showing:  JoAnne sat on the chair’s edge, spine straight as a new pencil and stared into Mr. Paxton’s face….The vinyl of her purse crackled and she lightened her grip on it.

In the telling example, we know Mr. Paxton is sad.  We know JoAnne is angry. We know because the writer tells us, but we don’t really feel or experience the emotion.  We are like outsiders looking upon a diorama – detached, uninvolved, and not really part of the story.

In the showing example, we see JoAnne’s tension and anger (perched at the edge, spine straight), we  hear it (purse crackled), and we feel it (tightened her grip).  Through sensory details like these, we become invested in the characters and at one with the story.

untitledThese two examples are from The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writers Guide to Character Expression (Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglist, 2012).  This easy-to-navigate book is a rich resource for writers searching for unique and compelling ways to provide readers with a full emotional experience by showing rather than telling.

According to the authors, most exchanges of emotional information in everyday situations are non-verbal.  In 93% of all communication, we reveal our emotional state to others not through words, but through body language. Since readers are skilled body language interpreters, the most effective and genuine way of indicating the emotional state of characters is to embed nonverbal cues into our writing.

The book tackles 75 different emotions ranging from adoration to worry, listed alphabetically for easy reference. Each emotion is defined then broken into three elements: physical signals (body language and actions); internal sensations (visceral reactions) and mental responses (thoughts).

Back to the example above, rather than telling readers that JoAnne is angry for instance, the book offers 36 physical manifestations that show anger – everything from flaring nostrils to sweeping arm gestures.  In addition, the authors list 6 internal, instinctive sensations – grinding one’s teeth, sweating – and 8 mental or thought responses – irritability, jumping to conclusions.  By carefully balancing physical indicators with internal and mental ones, the writer creates real-life situations that connect with readers on an emotional level.

In addition to lists of emotions, the book offers opening chapters covering writing basics on topics such as avoiding clichés and melodrama, utilizing dialogue, and the importance of back story.

imagesXU5Y6LZTI’m into revisions of my middle-grade novel, Missing in Paradise, and have used The Emotion Thesaurus several times when I realize I am telling rather than showing.  From that perspective, it’s been a great jumping-off point, giving me options that I might not have considered otherwise.

However you use it, The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful addition to any writer’s collection of resources and one I highly recommend.


If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

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Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters. His middle grade novel, Missing in Paradise, is scheduled for release by Rebelight Publishing Inc. in November.



For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Let’s Talk About Writing- Questions to Ask Your Writing Peers and Yourself

I joined a new children’s writing group recently, and last week I had my first turn to lead a meeting. I decided I’d print up a bunch of prompts that would help me discover more about my fellow authors’ personal writing experiences. And I did! I also found myself thinking about how I would answer all of the questions and that was a helpful process in my own journey as a writer. Here are the questions!

1950's young girl reading on the couchWhat was your favorite book as a child? Why do think you liked it so much?

What kinds of writing courses have you taken and how did they help or not help you?

What was your first piece of writing to be published? How did that make you feel at the time? How do feel about that piece of writing now?

What other kinds of writing do you do besides writing for children?

Is your family supportive of your writing? How do they demonstrate or not demonstrate their support?

Why do you write?

Do you keep a journal? What form does it take? Have you kept your journals?

Tell about a writing experience from your school days.

Are there other writers in your extended or immediate family? What kind of writing do they do?

Having your writing dreams come true would mean……..

The best thing you’ve ever written is………….. Why?

Who is your favourite author and why?

Where is your favorite place to write and why?

Where do you get your best writing ideas?

What other creative pursuits do you have besides writing? How do they compare to your writing?

Who was/is your greatest writing influence?

Tell about a writing conference you have attended. What did you learn? What did you appreciate about it?

What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to stick to your routines?

Do you write everyday? When and how?

What are some of the things you’ve learned from being a writer?

Where would you like to be in your career as a writer five years from now?

What are some of the things you do to promote yourself as a writer?

What are your biggest writing distractions? What do you do to try and get a handle on them?

What kinds of things have you had published?

Have you ever met a well known author? Describe the experience.

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MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.


The fortunate by-product of studying all one can about the craft of writing, is one begins to improve.

The unfortunate by-product is that now I can no longer enjoy my reading of others’ works as well as I once did. I read as an editor.

And more often than is healthy for my hair, I end up pulling at it, dropping to my knees, and crying out with my face to the sky–


As in, “Why was this book ever published to insult the likes of us serious writers who do–their–homework and work HARD to create top quality work???”thumbnail_1345481241

We too often read books full of adverbs, too much telling, stilted dialogue, endless stale description, meandering plot—it goes on. An agent at a conference recently told us what she and other agents and publishers look for when they slog through their slush pile, and the truth was that many will, after going through the checklist for a fresh voice, strong plot, engaging characters, etc, is–what appeals to them on a personal level. So okay, I get that. But it got me thinking.

They say 80% of jobs are obtained through word of mouth–“I knew a guy who’s cousin, or, My uncle’s business needed someone…” And on it goes, employers hiring, not necessarily those qualified for a position but those they know, and think they are avoiding a risk with.

Soooo, How many times has a publisher read the manuscript of a relative or friend before the ones on their slush pile? How many of those books I pick up, that I can’t force myself to finish, have been published through the avenues of—

Nepotism. “(ˈnɛpəˌtɪzəm) –n. favouritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence”nepotism-2

The ugliest word in the English language. The worst hurt I have suffered in life has been due to nepotism. But I digress.

So that’s the theory I comfort myself with, (where here ‘comfort’ also means, hit over the head with.) How else can one explain those poor quality works of writing too often found on the bookshelves? Even a number of self published books are better quality. But, we all know life isn’t fair…

So let’s not let rejections get us down as writers. The best authors have had them in droves, too. Good company and all that. And next time you read a lousy book, don’t despair that it was published over your own, but stick your nose in the air, and correct all their mistakes with a smile, and a new sharpie that bleeds through the pages. It will keep you going until the right publisher finds your true worth.

Bad books

(Disclaimer: Please realize this is all speculation and ranting; I’m not accusing anyone at all.)

Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

The Perfection Syndrome

imagesZUATNKZ7In a post not long ago, Melinda Friesen, a fellow Vast Imaginations blogger, wrote of the emotional rollercoaster she rode with each editorial round of her soon-to-be released novel.  She called the cycle of panic, worry, refusal and ultimate recovery The Defeatist Cycle (a must read)
I’ve been riding a rollercoaster ride of my own for 10 years as I write and rewrite my middle grade novel Missing in Paradise.  To distinguish my rollercoaster from hers, let’s call it The Perfection Syndrome.
Using my novel as an example, here’s how The Perfection Syndrome operates.
An idea strikes. In my case, it’s a novel about a teenager who discovers clues to a missing treasure and a long forgotten secret. No surprise, but the idea surfaces while writing Lost Treasures, a non-fiction book. Funny how that works.
I start the novel. For a first-time novelist, it’s a new game, steep learning curve and all. I know what I write is not perfect, but is it any good? I really can’t tell.
I revise, revise and hammer home a rip-roaring ending. I’m pleased with the results, but… I take a chance and share it with a few friends.   Not bad, they say. To a perfectionist, though, “not bad” sounds more like “not great”.
I tinker some more, adding texture to the story, a new character, a hint of ghostly presence, and then a brave step – I submit it to my agent of the moment. Not bad, she says, but it needs more action. Not bad sounds like not great so I shelve the project, and move back to more secure non-fiction ground.   It’s now 4 years since Lost Treasures.
A year later, still bugged by the story, I dust it off and give it another go, adding action as the agent suggested. To me, it sounds so much better. Then I attend a fiction-writing workshop and share the first chapter. Not bad, says the moderator. That still sounds like….well, you know… but she offers a carrot of hope: “with a little work that could be great.
Several revisions later, I send it to an editor who’s worked on a number of my titles. It’s not bad, she says, but it needs work (translation: we’re rejecting it). Always a positive person, she makes a few suggestions, all of them great, and then adds one more: “It might be a good idea to join a writer’s group”.   It’s now year 7 in the process. I have at least 20 variations of the novel, and to a perfectionist not bad still means not great.
Something the editor says sticks. A writer’s group?   Coincidentally, I hear of a new start-up, a group of children’s writers called – wait for it, Vast Imaginations. I dust off the novel, read a few chapters. We like it, the kind folks say. Here are a few ways to make it better. By now it’s year 9 in the process. I rationalize that I’m not getting any younger, perfection seems remote, and besides I have a hundred ideas for non-fiction books to keep me busy. I still love the story of the teenager hunting for treasure, but maybe it’s time to move on.
Year 10. Still grinding out non-fiction, and then a breakthrough moment. Rebelight, a new publishing company, expresses interest. I work feverously, implementing changes, honing the story.   At an editorial meeting, I receive 6 pages of suggestions. It’s good, I’m told, now let’s make it better.
So here I am, retooling the story that I started writing 10 years ago.  The book is nearing completion, but I expect there will be more to do once my Rebelight editor looks at the revamped version.
Missing in Paradise is scheduled for release in November. I’m thinking there’s a chance it might be closer to perfect by then, and I’ve come to the conclusion that being inflicted with The Perfection Syndrome might actually be a good thing.



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Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters.  His first middle grade novel, Missing in Paradise, is due for November 2014 release by Rebelight Publishing Inc.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
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