The Power of Positivity

This is NOT one of those name it claim it or Law of Attraction ideas – which are completely false mumbo jumbo (sorry to break it to you!). But there is a great deal to learn regarding positivity and negativity. It’s been said that “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything, but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking.”

There is an epidemic in our world today of depression, low self worth, negative thought life, and suicidal tendencies. From what I’ve experienced, these types of behaviors accompany people who think negatively about themselves, others, and situations. By all means, this does not mean bad things should be viewed through some flower-lined glasses. Instead, it’s important to analyze oneself. It’s important to sit and ponder whether we are in control or being controlled by the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of the day.

Often times, when I’m just feeling rotten, I’ll wonder why. I’ll wonder why I get short tempered and boil inside. I’ll wonder what is making me do that and I almost always come to the conclusion that I am in absolute control of my decision making. I can choose to act or react however I resolve to. The emotional, mental, and even sometimes physical responses we deal with as people happen so quickly we naturally want to accept them as inevitable. But, the opposite is true. The more you consider your decisions, the more you consider your actions, the more power you realize you have over them.

The next time you’re let down, frustrated, irritated, or simply fed up, consider this. Consider that you choose your reaction. You make the decision. You can lash out, withdraw, be silent, be enraged, cry, shout…you can do all sorts of things. Or, you could consider, think over, respond better, be gentler, give mercy or grace, be patient and kind…you can do all sorts of things. Lately, I’ve noticed an increased tendency of stubbing my toe on the kids toys and frankly any object around the house. I don’t know why, maybe I’m getting lazy, but regardless, if you’ve ever stubbed your toe hard, and I mean HARD, you know how easy it is to explode in pain. I’ve taken a different approach. I typically curl over, fall to the floor or nearby furniture, and make some form of animal noise resembling that of a sasquatch or grizzly bear. I let the growl roll gently until the pain subsides.

But you know what, I’ve seen the opposite, and I bet you have too. The husband who curses his wife because maybe she was the one who left the thing out. Or the father who blasts his kids because they were having too much fun and toys weren’t picked up. The soldier who blames his surroundings for learning all those nasty words, or the old man too lazy to change his habits. Listen, and listen well. You have the power to handle adversity. You have the ability to decide your action and reaction.

Being positive won’t make me a world-class surgeon, as the famous speaker Zig Ziglar once said, but it will help me be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better son and citizen than negative thinking will. I’m quite sure it will do the same for you. So when those negative, low self worth, depressive, or angry thoughts and emotions fill your mind with crazy, and I mean crazy ideas, think positive. You are not those things and you don’t need to be those things. You are in control. So control yourself. The world will be much better if we all practice self-control and eliminate the pervasive negativity of our modern culture.

How To Query Correctly

The inevitable journey for authors and maybe illustrators (although I’m not sure illustrator’s follow an identical pattern) is if they want to become traditionally published, or if they want to secure an agent, they must query. You’ll often notice the Twitter hashtag #amquerying in frequent use by the most hopeful among us. What exactly is querying and how do you do it correctly? Well, read on and find out.

If you Google how to query, or how to write a query letter, the results are super saturated. It can feel overwhelming where to even start, even though you already started! Let me shine some light on the entire issue for you in one clear, concise explanation.

As with any endeavor, a little bit of research before action is the gold standard. Too often, eager beaver writers read a couple articles, find a couple prospective agents, and begin blasting out query letters. Let me just save you a bit of regret by imploring you to stand fast, hang on, and relax. Deep breath. Put your best foot forward by taking a little time on this one to gather your thoughts, and your knowledge, before moving to application.

What Querying Is

A literary query is simply a request from you to a prospective agent for representation. As with any industry, decades have gone by that have shaped the current, modern expectations of a query. Every agent, agency, and publisher has different requirements. Many state exactly what they want to see and how they want to see it.

If you Google literary agency, you’ll find companies like Writer’s House, Albert Whitman & Company, Trident Media Group, Bradford Literary Agency, Curtis Brown Ltd., Transatlantic Agency, Upstart Crow Literary, Dystel, Goderich & Bourett LLC., John Hawkins & Associates, The Knight Agency, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Flannery Literary, Ripple Grove Press, and the list goes on and on and on. You’ll come across many literary agents, as part of these agencies, who also maintain profiles and query requirements on website like Publishers Marketplace, Query Tracker, or Agent Query. You’ll also stumble across user managed lists of agents and agencies from other blogs which are wonderful resources if they’re kept up to date.

Most often, you’ll find these basic similarities in query requirements:

  1. Instruction on whether the query should be by mail, electronic form, or email.
  2. What content should be included in the query
    1. Often an introduction of why you’re querying a particular agent or agency, a catchy summary of the manuscript, reasons why the agent, agency, and/or publisher would find your manuscript valuable to their portfolio, and then a brief description of yourself.
    2. For children’s books, the query letter is often followed by the entire manuscript whether in the email or as an attachment depending on the query requirements, or for larger books and other genre’s a section of the manuscript may be included. Some select agents or agencies will ask you not to send in manuscript content until after they’ve read and accepted the query letter. But most often, all or a section of the manuscript content accompanies the query letter.
  3. Who you should send the query letter too and whether they or the agency is even open to queries.

Some Query Particulars

You may think to yourself, as most authors have, with thousands of literary agents available they should be jumping at the chance to represent MY work. Well, that would indeed be nice if it was the case. Instead, the thousands of literary agents are inundated by tens and hundreds of thousands of queries, some solicited and most unsolicited.

Unsolicited queries are unexpected queries. They’re coming without referral by someone they know, which means they are likely the lowest priority to review. You may think that in this modern age of immediate communication, agents wait all day at their computers for that next query letter so they may read and respond promptly. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever received hundreds of emails a day, you would realize a pile of unread information immediately begins growing. This pile, called a slush pile, not only grows one day, it continues to grow and grow and grow. Most new authors find themselves quickly at the bottom of a very daunting slush pile, waiting for an agent’s response who really does have the best of intentions.

Solicited queries are a different animal and thus carry a different level of weight with an agent or agency. If you can move from unsolicited to solicited, you’re already ahead of the game. This might mean you meet an agent at a conference, speak with them about your manuscript, and they like the idea, asking for you to send them a query. If this wonderful phenomena happens, this is the information you include at the very top of a query letter.

Dear So and So,

It was wonderful meeting you at Such and Such Conference and learning about you and Company’s literary interests. As you requested, below is a query for my 200-word children’s book, Goo Goo Ga Ga.

This type of information immediately gets you near the top of the slush pile, focuses the agents attention, and possibly gets you past any agent assistant gatekeeper. Another way to skip over some slush pile people is a referral from a represented author. Let’s say you just happen to be friends with published Author A, who has been working with super Agent B for a number of years. During casual conversation, Author A asks you what you’ve been up to, and you mention your personal interest of writing. Because remember, we NEVER try to sell and convince our friends or family with ulterior motives. Focus on the friendship first, and if they’re interested in knowing more about something, they’ll ask. Well, it just so happens that Author A loves your story concept and, based off what they know about Agent B, they really think the agent would consider representing your work too. Again, this is top of the letter information.

Dear Agent B,

One of your represented authors, Author A, firmly believes you may be interested in representing my 200 word length children’s book, Goo Goo Ga Ga. Based on your profile at Company XYZ, especially your previous experience as an Elementary School teacher and your personal hobby as a bug collector, I couldn’t agree more.

Now, most folks simply aren’t running into their agent of choice nor do they have an inside track to friendship. So, the unsolicited query letter really is the path for you. Don’t be afraid though. This is still a way to turn your publishing dreams into reality.

A great resource in improving your ability to select and query is researching agents and agencies. Many, many agents have done interviews regarding their query wishlist, books they love, what they look for in a new author for representation, a history of their current represented authors, personal hobbies, locations, important conferences, etc. This information is INVALUABLE to the querying author. Do not bother an agent, or yourself, querying content they are clearly uninterested in. Focus your efforts the strong likelihoods instead.

One such incredible resource readily available is Query Shark. Eventually, everyone new to querying comes across The Sharks with their incredible insight and in-depth critiques of real people’s queries. It’s spoken of just about everywhere that no one should send their first query until reading the entire Query Shark archive. It’s a daunting task and everyone skims it their first time, or two, until realizing most answers really are there if you dig for them. If you’ve truly read the archives and have a new question, the Sharks just might read and review your query.

The Importance of Tracking Queries

This is an area many authors and illustrator’s don’t do well. It’s not because they’re incapable of it, it’s just not always second nature. Part of the querying process is growing in your ability to manage a business. Yes, writing and illustrating is your business! Unless you don’t care about succeeding or making any money, it’s time to enhance your skills.

With my engineering background, spreadsheets came second nature, so I suppose here I can really shed some light. From the very beginning of my author journey, I created and managed a spreadsheet. I called it a Publishing Activity Matrix. With so many agents, agencies, and publishers out there, the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally lose track of who received what, when, and how. So, I created a very simple spreadsheet to track the following information. Each numbered point is a different column in the spreadsheet and I encourage you to do the same.

  1. Date (the date at which you submit the query)
  2. Destination (agency or publisher company name)
  3. Sub-Destination 1 (the website or main source of the destination above)
  4. Sub-Destination 2 (the agent, assistant, or coordinator name you submitted to)
  5. Description (a bit of information about your query, such as Email query with pasted manuscript, Online electronic form, or Query letter and manuscript by mail).
  6. Sub-Description 1 (here I typically enter the name of the manuscript I sent)
  7. Sub-Description 2 (perhaps a second manuscript sent at the same time)
  8. Sub-Description 3 (perhaps a third manuscript sent at the same time)
  9. Status (this is the final kicker column – it’ll either be blank [Waiting for response] or filled out [Rejected Month Day, Year] or [Offered Representation Month Day, Year] and so on and so forth

This spreadsheet can become your best friend! You may think, gosh, I’ll only send a few queries, why have a spreadsheet? Well, sorry to break it to you, but if you are average, and most of you are, especially if you’re reading this post, you’ll be sending in a LOT of queries. Many folks, even after having representation, leave an agent and enter the querying world again! So, don’t forgo the spreadsheet!

The spreadsheet can also help you know when it’s OK to request an update. Most agents and agencies post timelines for review on their websites, which range from 2 weeks to 6 months. Some agents and agencies say if you don’t hear from them, it’s a rejection while others say if you don’t hear from them in X amount of time, that it’s OK to request an update. I’ve found some agents respond well to the request for update while others ignore those as well.

What Querying Isn’t

Let’s end on this subject. Querying is not easy, for the vast majority of the population. It’s not quick nor is it an exact science. Agencies are run by people. Agents are people. People are interesting at best and unexplainable at worst. You may think someone will love your work but the reality is it may not even garner a response or a personal rejection letter. Querying is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t handle rejection, don’t bother querying. Maybe self-publishing is more your style (which, unfortunately, is often just delayed rejection).

Querying also isn’t a sure thing. It can frustrate the calmest of people and stupefy the most intellectual because it all boils down to two people, considering each other, for a long term relationship.

So, consider all of this as you query. Be selective of who you really would want to have a long term relationship with, then do your research, track your progress, and improve your craft while you wait. Don’t wait passively, but always improve, grow, and continue working on your projects.

Have questions or comments? Track me down on Twitter – @Rhys_Keller.


New Year New You

What a cheesy slogan. “New Year New You” cascades from every motivational speaker this time of the year. You know what the problem is with this phrase? It’s true.

I’ve never come across anyone who wouldn’t do things differently if given an opportunity to step back in time. Why be that person? You don’t need to live like that. Human nature often settles into comfortable habit and those comfortable habits are often the things we most regret when looking back over the course of time.

Allow yourself to be different this time. Allow yourself to pop your own comfort bubble. Stretch yourself into areas of growth, parts of your life that desperately need your focus. For many, it’s their health. All year long, maybe all life long, they’ve let their body and mind slip into a pattern of regret. How’s your health? Would you change anything? Would you exercise more? Maybe eat a little less fat and sugar?

For others, it’s often neglecting opportunities. They come in many forms, whether it be business ideas or untapped skills. Maybe there’s something you’ve been considering pursuing but you simply haven’t put time to growing it. Well, this is your chance. This is your season. It’s time to just do it. It’s time to get it going.

Take a step in the right direction and pursue the opportunities. If you need encouragement or support, maybe help along the way, send me a note. Send someone a note. We all want you to succeed! Here’s to a New Year and a new you!

The Journey of Self-Publishing a Children’s Book

Many of you know of my writing exploits. Recently, I wrapped up the illustration phase of self-publishing a children’s book. It required a surprising amount of effort that was largely based on my naivety. After writing the manuscript, I researched and interviewed freelance illustrators on a freelancer online platform. After finding one I thought would be a perfect fit for my manuscript material, we began working together under contract.

Going into the process, I supposed I would hand off the text, sit back, and wait for the final product. What really happened was a multi-month long process of discussing ideas, trading concepts, and critiquing rough drafts. So much goes into communicating an idea.

Thankfully, I really did select a wonderful illustrator and will elaborate on who they are and the book as a whole in another blog post. If you plan to self-publish and, like me, have zero artistic talent, you’ll go down a similar path.

I encourage you in the upmost to be very selective with your illustrator. Don’t settle for lowest price. You want someone who is passionate about their work, respectful of your time and message, and someone who treats their commitments with professionalism. You’ll likely come across people who “seem” to charge a lot of money for the work. Unlike a self-publishing author, illustrators typically receive little to none of the future commissions on a book. So, without this hope of future reward, they typically expect the money upfront. For someone with a small amount of capital, this can seem daunting. Start off small, take some calculated risk, and enjoy the process.

Publishing anything is a journey, not a sprint. You know what they say…if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Join me on the journey of publishing a story and let’s enrich the world together.

Endings Are Beginnings

The end of a year always catches me by surprise, just like Christmas. Even though we have so much time to look forward to it and prepare, time simply moves too quickly. My wife and I have two boys and at this point one is a bit over 4 and the other a bit over 1. Whether you’ve got children or not, or are married or not, your life is likely filled to the brim. And that issue takes us full-circle to the end of the year.

But while the end of the year is no where near as climactic as the end of a movie, it’s a powerful reminder. It reminds us that just around the corner is a New Year, a fresh start, a new beginning. Have you considered what you would like to focus on most in the New Year?

I recently tweeted my New Year’s goals, so I won’t write about them here. I encourage you to spend time developing your goals. Really developing. Don’t be vague about it! Seriously consider an attainable, measurable goal in the following areas:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Relationship
  3. Personal
  4. Physical
  5. Mental
  6. Financial

You’ve got all year to pursue these goals. Remember, those who have a plan are far more likely to reach a level of success than those without a plan. Don’t let the next 365 days fly by.