Roger Mantis “placeholder” cover

My wife (my best beta reader) is going to be proofing my second book, Roger Mantis, after I added new chapters. Now she’s gone all high-tech and everything and wants to proof it in Kindle format on her IPod. My Kindle InDesign plug-in gets crabby if you don’t include a cover image in the output so I whipped one up in Photoshop. The background is the school baseball field in my home town.

Roger Mantis placeholder cover

Yeah, it’s an obvious Photoshop.  I didn’t want to pay for the mesh model to do a decent 3D rendering of Roger, and I haven’t figured out how to “rig” a figure in 3DS Max anyway.

Yeah, it’s a Minnesota Twins cap. I don’t have a photo for the fictional “Highland Falls Falcons.”

And yeah, the cars in the background aren’t from 1977, either (my eagle-eyed wife spotted that instantly in my first printout).

Geeze, it’s just a dang placeholder cover, okay?

Agent feedback: rare and valuable

I’ve been sending out queries for my second book, a middle-grade fantasy called Roger Mantis.

I’ve gotten a bunch of rejections so far.  Usually these are very polite form rejections, or worse, no responses at all.  But today a rejection came back that was different.  The agent wrote a letter that actually explained why she didn’t think the book would work for her.  I’ll quote from the letter:

The length of Roger Mantis was a major determining factor of this decision. These days middle grade novels must meet a minimum of 40,000 words for a publisher to consider accepting them. At 28,000 words, your submission is just not long enough for middle grade, which means it will be tough to find representation. Perhaps you mean it to be for younger children? Regardless, I strongly encourage you to work with an editor to find places where you can expand and flesh-out the story. It would be worth spending the time on revision to ensure that you’ve done everything you can to make your manuscript the best it can be before you submit it again.

As you look to revising and expanding your work, I suggest that you get your hands on a copy of Tracey E. Dils’ book You Can Write Children’s Books. In it, she explains the middle grade market and gives tips to writing for young readers that might help you add length and depth to your story.

Anybody who has been in this business knows that an agent who actually takes the time to personally respond to a cold query (and add valuable critical comments!) is a rare thing indeed, and in my case highly-appreciated.

I do wish I’d gotten this important feedback before I clocked in 48 other rejections, but now that I know about the length issue maybe I can expand the story and have a better shot next time around.  Who knows…maybe some of those agents will be willing to take another look. Anyway, I’m putting this query round on hold for now.

To the agent who took the extra time to help me out?  Thanks!

The long, hard, slog

80,000 words is a lot of words. I’m up to 36,600 in Zorya now. My middle-grade book, Roger Mantis, is under 28,000 words in all, and had a much more linear plot structure. I finished that one in less than a month. I’ve been at Zorya since the middle of February, although to be sure there were a few long gaps where I didn’t get much done.

Writing for me is hard work (the term I usually use is “like crapping a pineapple.”)  I envy authors who just seem to be able to pour it out on the page. For me, it’s more like jumping across a river on rocks, hoping that the next one I jump to doesn’t roll over on me (plot hole!) or turn out to be an alligator (book-busting plot hole!) Dialogue seems to come more easily, but keeping the storyline working doesn’t.

Well, back to it.

Roger Mantis

This is the second book I’ve finished, a middle-grade fantasy, currently being shopped around to agents.

Here’s the basic pitch:

Roger McGillicutty, 12, wakes up one Saturday morning and finds out he has unexpectedly transformed into a five-foot praying mantis.  His parents seem to be coping with it fairly well, and his dog Lou is okay with it, but how will the rest of the town of Highland Falls handle it?  Roger has school on Monday, the carnival’s coming to town next week, and his Little League team is playing their biggest rival Centerville next Saturday.  Being a giant bug could seriously cramp his style!

Roger Mantis takes off from the famous beginning lines of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and then flies in an entirely different direction.  Roger’s problems with his town and his classmates are similar to the ones encountered by the hero of the movie “Teen Wolf,” with some echoes of the popular Animorphs series.  Behind the adventures and the humor is a story about accepting who you are–your talents and limitations–and learning how to make the most of it.