So, I was originally going to make this into a vlog post, but it has been much too cold here in VA to be filming anything outside! (Well, I guess the cold is relative, compared to, say, Wisconsin, but I still consider 45 degrees to be unsuitable outside weather!) So Plan B came into action: Just write a blog post about it.
I recently received an email from a reader with some questions about writing query letters. It’s funny, because I never really thought about how different query letter writing is for teenagers. But it really is hard! There are so many decisions to make–Hide your age? Make up past experience? Pretend you aren’t still in school five hours a day? How do you write a good query letter that proves you to be professional and talented, without lying or looking like a little kid?
So, without further ado, here is my tested and proved list of do’s and don’ts of writing query letters:
Do tell the truth about your age. The number one thing you should always be is honest. If you are under eighteen, that is a big deal. You want to be really upfront about that. The worst thing that could happen is an agent thinking he’s getting into a deal with an adult, only to find out that you are a teen when it is too late. Being a minor, there is a lot of extra precaution and paperwork that has to be done when signing with an agent, so you want to make sure he is up for that. In my query letter to my agent, I stated that I was a high-schooler and let my agent know as soon as possible that I was only fourteen years old. He was grateful for my honesty and made sure to be sensitive to my age and situation. He made sure my mom was included in all my phone calls and that I didn’t have to make any life changing decisions all by myself.
Do talk about your interests and passions. (But keep it short!) If you’re homeschooled, mention it. If you want to be a professional writer in the future, let it be known. Query letters should be personal and passionate. Make a big deal of the fact that writing is something you want to do for a lifetime. Let them know that this is more than just a one-book fling for you. Agents are interested in signing writers who are flexible and dependable. They want to establish a career with you, not just one book.
Don’t assume that query letters are one-size-fits-all. When you make your list of agents to contact, make sure you take a look at their websites and see what their requirements are for a query letter. Every single one I sent out was different. Some agents wanted a longer letter, complete with summaries and an attached chapter. Others just wanted a few lines with a great catcher. One even got really mad and refused to look at my book because I didn’t follow his directions exactly. Don’t let that happen to you! You only have one shot with most of these agents. Make a query letter they will approve of.
Do be confident but Don’t brag. You want to come across as professional and talented, but not overly braggy. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than someone who clearly thinks he is God’s gift to readers. Don’t say your book is the next “Chronicles of Narnia” or “Harry Potter”. It’s not. Trust me. But don’t be afraid of saying something like, “I think that readers will be touched by the love depicted in this story,” or “This is a story that will have readers on the edge of their seat”.
So, that’s about all I have to say on the subject. I do realize that I’ve probably left a lot out. So if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! I’ll do my absolute best to answer. And good luck with your query letters!
We’ve all heard of brotherly love and sisterly love, but I think there’s another kind of love that is overlooked too often. And that is cousinly love. I don’t know if I’ve ever formally introduced them to you all, but these are my cousins Rena and Maggie. Every year, over the holidays, we go on wild photo-taking sprees, and take pictures everywhere. It’s really amazing to spend time with them because of the incredible bond we all have. Rena is only a month younger than me, and Maggie is a few days older than Hannah. So we’ve all been together since birth, and even though we all have different personalities, we mix really well.
Anyway, since I haven’t posted pictures in a while, I figured I’d share these old candid shots from our Thanksgiving together. These were all before we stuffed ourselves, obviously, and became unfit for photos… I thought the lighting was really pretty that day, though.
Yeah, so my one New Year’s Resolution this year is to photograph more the people that I love. I spend so much time on paid shoots that I rarely feel like whipping out all my equipment to take simple shots of my family and friends. But I definitely want to do that more this year. Because it’s those pictures of the ones that are dear to me that mean so much more than any mere client.
Yeah, so, did I ever mention that I was a weird child? Very, very morbid. I read “Wuthering Heights” half a dozen times and my favorite poets were Dickinson and Poe. I loved creepy stories and abandoned houses and… graveyards. I will now allow you to read this poem I penned in sixth or seventh grade. I think I whipped it out in an hour or so for a school assignment, and it kind of disturbed my mom. Firstly because I could write that fast and secondly because I could write that…morbid-ly. Oh, well. We are who we are, right? And if who I am is a girl who writes about dead people and sad trees, who has a right to blame me?
An Old Tree in the Graveyard
An old tree in the graveyard,
Beside the country parish.
The body of beauty forever marred,
The days of pleasure vanished.
No life of silence my childhood knew,
But verve and joy and song.
But now the years of joy are thru,
The youthful beauty gone.
The vivid bark has withered fast,
The bones begun to crack.
My body moans with each day past
My rich skin turns to black.
The once smooth wood is chipped and worn,
The stately branches bent.
My long strong arms now hang forlorn,
The years of vigor spent.
I watched the flowers of my youth
Drift off in the air.
What once held warmth is now removed,
My arms forever bare.
The children of the ancient church
Beside my lonely home.
Who used to play beneath the birch,
Can now no longer roam.
Young faces that I once beheld,
The noble, wise, and brave;
Hearts full of life—but now lay stilled,
Silenced beneath the grave.
The beauty from when my buds first woke,
Has vanished throughout the years.
I stand now, silent, an ancient oak,
Amidst the graveyard’s tears.
Okay, I just re-read the poem and now I can see why my mom was so freaked out… I mean, why in the world would a twelve year old even be thinking about graveyards? *shudder*
I stole this off another blog yesterday, because I thought it was so inspiring. I do absolutely everything on this list, with the exception of drinking coffee. Some things are just way too repulsive…
- Make lists
- Carry a notebook everywhere
- Try free writing
- Get away from the computer
- Be otherworldly
- Quit beating yourself up
- Take breaks
- Sing in the shower
- Drink coffee/tea
- Know your roots
- Listen to new music
- Be open
- Surround yourself with creative people
- Get feedback
- Don’t give up
- Practice, practice, practice
- Allow yourself to make mistakes
- Go somewhere new
- Watch foreign films
- Count your blessings
- Get lots of rest
- Take risks
- Break the rules
- Do more of what makes you happy
- Don’t force it
- Read a page of the dictionary
- Create a framework
- Stop trying to be somebody else’s perfect
- Got an idea? Write it down!
- Clean your workspace
- Have fun
- Finish something
I’m hoping to make a new vlog post today or tomorrow, so be on the lookout at my Youtube page! I may also post it here… Who knows?
I had a discussion with my dad this morning and the topic of failure came up. I was retelling him some things I’d mentioned in my Publisher’s Weekly interview earlier, and one thing I’d said that it’s okay for teens to fail. I decided early on in my teens that this was the time of my life to be trying new things and not worrying about what would happen if they didn’t work out. Anyway, my dad brought up an interesting point. He told me that it’s never a bad thing to “fail forward”.
“Failing forward” means messing up. It means making mistakes, or bad decisions. It allows room for error and regret. But “failing forward” is all about moving on despite our failures. There are going to be times in life when you put yourself out there and your wildest hopes don’t come true. You don’t get into an ivy-league college or publish a book or start a successful business. Your dreams don’t come true and whatever it was you wanted doesn’t work out. But you know what? You have to learn to move forward in spite of it.
Too many young people put off reaching for their dreams because they are afraid of failure. It’s embarrassing to admit defeat! No one wants to be that person that started off with such high hopes only to have a bucket of cold water poured on them a little too late in the game. But the reason why I’m writing this post isn’t to scare you into quitting on your dreams. The reason why I’m writing is to kick you in the butt and make you get out there and chase your dreams anyway!
If you’re a teenager, chances are you still have pretty long life ahead of you. There’s a time to be cautious and fearful. That’s probably when you’re past your thirties, and have to start worrying about feeding a family and providing for your children. That’s the stage of life when it starts to get complicated as you balance following your dreams with balancing reality. And it’s a stage of life that’s really far away right now.
The teen (and post-teen!) years are a time for adventure and taking chances. There really is no better time for trying out new things. If you’ve always wanted to be a professional photographer, why not try starting a photography business? Who’s going to care if you fail? Or why not write that novel or start that jewelry company? Even if nothing comes of it, you have lost nothing. I mean, you literally have nothing to lose. If that thing you want doesn’t work out, then try something else!
Don’t waste this time in your life on video games and babysitting jobs, hoping that someday in the future you’ll be able to do what you really want to. Do that thing now. Try it. You just might succeed, and find yourself the happiest kid on earth. Or you might fail. Who knows? But one thing’s for sure: Succeed or fail, at this point in your life, either one is a step in a good direction. Because it’s the direction of doing what you want to do, and finding what makes you happy. And like my dad always says: “If you can find something you enjoy doing and find a way to make money at it, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
P.S. My dad is obsessed with this video and had us all watch it a few months back. If you have time, it’s really an incredible picture of what not giving up looks like. Always push forward, even if you feel it’s impossible. And let your failures shape your successes.
So, my inbox has been JAMMED this week with emails from my people at Zondervan, for one very big reason: My book was featured in this week’s edition of Publisher’s Weekly! For those of you who haven’t read the review yet, here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about Interrupted (Coming out in less than a month now!):
Coker makes an impressive debut—she’s only 15—in this Depression and WWII-era tale of Alcyone Everly, who is 14 when her mother dies of brain cancer. Allie is adopted by a woman in Maine, Beatrice Lovell, and vigorously resists her adoptive mother’s kindnesses, clinging bitterly to the memory of her mother. The past re-enters her life in the form of Sam Carroll, an old friend from her childhood home whose aunt lives next door to Beatrice and Allie. Sam has always been sweet on Allie, and his reappearance stirs many unwanted and confusing emotions in her. World events seize the day as the U.S. gets caught up in WWII, altering everyone’s lives. Coker writes an emotionally compelling and psychologically nuanced tale. The plot has some weak spots: Allie manages to overhear not one but two crucial incidents that give her unexpected information, and some of her character development late in the story is abrupt. But the historical context is an engaging narrative frame. Coker is one to watch.
Okay, let me die of happiness now. Ha ha, just kidding. But seriously, it is a huge honor to be featured in Publisher’s Weekly. I know that to be featured, much less get a positive review, is an accomplishment to any author. It just feels especially humbling to see God doing all this in my life right now.
But that’s not the end! A journalist for Publisher’s Weekly is also going to be interviewing me tomorrow for a special feature on their site. So I’ll have to keep you all posted when that is up.
Also: I’ve started guest blogging at my friend Stephanie’s blog, Go Teen Writers. My first post is up today, so go and check it out! Also, if you want to preorder my book and have it arrive by February 14th, order your own copy at Amazon today!
I was watching this old Amanda Bynes (remember her?) movie with my little sister the other day. It’s about this hippie-ish girl who goes to England to reconnect with the father she’s never met. But there’s a catch–he belongs to a posh, political family and Amanda’s character is forced to reform to their standards. Anyway, there’s this scene in the movie where her British love interest is talking to her and he makes the remark, “What I don’t get, is why are you trying so hard to fit in, when you were born to stand out?”
Now I may be the first person to find a rare gem of wisdom out of an early 2000′s teeny-bopper film, but I happen to think those words offer some great advice. Life is supposed to be filled with people standing out, not fitting in. There shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all mold for how someone is supposed to look or act. We’re all different.
Have any of you ever read “Bridge to Terabithia”? I think I first read that book when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and it has been one of my favorites ever since. I was absolutely enamored with the character Leslie. For those of you who haven’t read the book, the only way I can think of to describe Leslie is that she is someone who is full of color. She lived in this little rural town full of people who all acted and thought the same, but she was different. She didn’t care what anyone thought, she embraced life with passion and joy. And, in the end, it was her unique perspective that had a profound impact on the main character, Jess.
Anyway, the reason I’m bringing it up is because uniqueness is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately. It’s so hard to keep from falling into a rut and becoming just like everyone around you. As a teenager, there’s always pressure to conform to a certain image. Everyone dresses the same, and laughs at the same jokes, and hangs around the same people. In order to be a part of that “group”, it almost feels like it’s necessary to be like that, too.
After a while, I feel myself starting to lose my identity. My unique perspective on life. And then, all I can do is step back from it all and try to get a look at the bigger picture. Am I going to let the mindset of this group of kids shape my view of how I am supposed to be? Was I created to be one of them, or a part of something bigger?
I know that God has a plan for my life that I don’t know yet. But sometimes, when highschool is the only thing in your immediate vision, seeing beyond that can be pretty hard. It’s difficult to keep in mind that there is a whole world out there, and that this is only a small part of a big scheme. It’s not easy to keep a grip on who I am. That’s when I have to pray and ask God to always remind me.
I’m the girl who listens to Jimi Hendrix and has wild, curly hair. I’m the girl who is terrified of rollercoasters and will eat funnel cake until I puke. I’m the first person to talk when an awkward silence sets over everyone, and the last one to realize when an argument has gone too far. I’m the weirdo you see dancing in the grocery store aisle. Right now, at this point in my life, this is who I am. And I might change one day (hopefully for the better!), but until then this is who I want to stay. I’m flawed and confused and silly, but I know that God made me like this for a reason. And you know what? Whoever you are and however you may act, He made you for a reason, too. We all just need to stop trying to fit in, when we were born to stand out.
[Photo of the Shangri-Las]
I snagged this a few years ago from one of my favorite blogs, the Rebelution. I was going through my documents recently and stumbled across it. It’s just as applicable today. In fact, I remember crying when I first read this list back in 2009, and I got teary-eyed the other day when I looked back over it. Just another humbling reminder of the consequences of our sinful natures.
35 REASONS NOT TO SIN
- Because a little sin leads to more sin.
- Because my sin invites the discipline of God.
- Because the time spent in sin is forever wasted.
- Because my sin never pleases but always grieves God who loves me.
- Because my sin places a greater burden on my spiritual leaders.
- Because in time my sin always brings heaviness to my heart.
- Because I am doing what I do not have to do.
- Because my sin always makes me less than what I could be.
- Because others, including my family, suffer consequences due to my sin.
- Because my sin saddens the godly.
- Because my sin makes the enemies of God rejoice.
- Because sin deceives me into believing I have gained when in reality I have lost.
- Because sin may keep me from qualifying for spiritual leadership.
- Because the supposed benefits of my sin will never outweigh the consequences of disobedience.
- Because repenting of my sin is such a painful process, yet I must repent.
- Because sin is a very brief pleasure for an eternal loss.
- Because my sin may influence others to sin.
- Because my sin may keep others from knowing Christ.
- Because sin makes light of the cross, upon which Christ died for the very purpose of taking away my sin.
- Because it is impossible to sin and follow the Spirit at the same time.
- Because God chooses not to respect the prayers of those who cherish their sin.
- Because sin steals my reputation and robs me of my testimony.
- Because others once more earnest than I have been destroyed by just such sins.
- Because the inhabitants of heaven and hell would all testify to the foolishness of this sin.
- Because sin and guilt may harm both mind and body.
- Because sins mixed with service make the things of God tasteless.
- Because suffering for sin has no joy or reward, though suffering for righteousness has both.
- Because my sin is adultery with the world.
- Because, though forgiven, I will review this very sin at the Judgment Seat where loss and gain of eternal rewards are applied.
- Because I can never really know ahead of time just how severe the discipline for my sin might be.
- Because my sin may be an indication of a lost condition.
- Because to sin is not to love Christ.
- Because my unwillingness to reject this sin now grants it an authority over me greater than I wish to believe.
- Because sin glorifies God only in His judgment of it and His turning of it to good use, never because it is worth anything on it’s own.
- Because I promised God he would be Lord of my life.
Praying that God will keep me from my sinful desires this week…
[Warning: This is a rather silly post]
I have been doing a lot of interviews lately. At least two or three a week, it seems. And while it is tons of fun, one thing has been getting to me: Everyone asks basically the same questions.
I mean, obviously, there are certain questions that I understand people want answers to. How long have I been writing? How did I get an agent? Where did I come up with the idea for Interrupted? But the one thing that really makes me grin is when I get a totally unexpected, off-the-wall one. Like who would I get to play my characters in a movie version of Interrupted? Or what kind of music do I listen to when I write? That’s what’s really fun to answer.
So, I have decided, after much contemplation, that the only way to get to answer all the fun questions I’d like to be asked is… to interview myself. So, this afternoon, I sat down with myself and got the 4-1-1. The no-questions-barred full story. Who is Rachel Coker? And what are her deepest, darkest secrets?
R: Hi, Rachel! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a chat with me today.
R: Oh, it’s a pleasure! I always have time for you.
R: So, let’s get down to business, shall we? We are looking for juicy stuff in this interview. I always want to know embarrassing things about people. It says a lot about who they really are. Take music, for example. What is the most embarrassing song on your ipod?
R: It really pains me to admit this, but I do have a Hannah Montana song on there. You know that one “Nobody’s Perfect”? I think it’s been over a year since I last listened to it, but there was a time when that was my go-to song when running. It actually has a great beat for sprinting. But I’m always afraid it’s going to come on when someone’s listening to my ipod. I should probably delete it. Nah.
R: Do you have any other embarrassing moments in your past that you’d like to talk about?
R: Not very many that I’d like to share with you! I don’t know… Once I was talking to this girl at my church and she mentioned this place she worked at. I had no idea where it was or anything, but I tried to be cool and breezily replied that I’d gone in there the other day but hadn’t bought anything. Just looked around. Later on, when out driving, I found out it was a restaurant, not a store. I still feel like an idiot every time I drive past it.
R: What is your absolute least favorite food?
R: Sushi! I find it appalling.
R: Really? I would have thought you’d like sushi. Is there something else you prefer instead?
R: I am way too fond of hushpuppies. Once I went to a diner and ordered two plates of hushpuppies as my meal. Everyone thought I was crazy and my mom was really mortified when she found out later, but I still think it was worth it.
R: Do you have any hidden talents?
R: I am wicked good at impersonating people. My sister is, too, so it might be in our blood. I can reenact entire conversations, copying people’s voices and gestures perfectly. Those of you who I know should probably be freaked out now, because I may have copied you before. Maybe.
R: What’s the worst movie you’ve ever watched? I mean one so bad it almost made you lose faith in humanity.
R: “The Englishmen Who Went up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain”. My mom picked it out because she used to have a thing for Hugh Grant, I think. Anyway, it was about a guy who measures hills. How boring is that? The worst part, though, is that the back cover promised that we would be “uplifted from our seats in uproarious laughter”. Ha!
R: Finish this sentence: You want to get married in…
R: The middle of the night! So that the ceremony starts before twelve and finishes after. That way, I can celebrate my anniversary on two different days! Well, then again, maybe not.
R: That would be really cool! So, what are you obsessed with right now?
R: Covergirl tinted lipbalm, running, old Michelle Branch cds, and re-watching classic movies. But mostly the lipbalm. I joke that I should sell it, I love it so much.
R: And one last question: Picture yourself ten years from now. You are holding…
R: I don’t know—a diaper? A turkey? A ten pound brick? Unfortunately, I’m not psychic.
R: Well, it was splendid interviewing you. The questions were quite fun, weren’t they?
R: Yep! I think it’s been my third favorite interview so far!
Okay, I’m done being weird now. For a while. Tomorrow, I will try to talk of more interesting things…
Didn’t think I was ever going to talk about that, huh? Well, the truth is, writing about romantic stuff does make me feel sort of icky. I’m the type of person who is downright cynical about true love and rolls my eyes at cheesy chick flicks. That being said, there is a little bit of romance in my book. I kind of want to shoot myself for admitting that, but it’s true.
So how did I get warped up into the “romantic fiction” category? First off, I’d have to defend that my style of writing isn’t exactly “romantic”. At least not in the usual sense of the word. It’s sweet and is tinged with a dose of sentimentality, but you’ll never see my characters wrapped up in each other’s arms defying the rest of the world for the sake of their ever pure love. Um, no. I don’t think so.
I knew when I started writing “Interrupted” that people reading it were looking for a love story. They cared about Allie and ultimately wanted to see her along her spiritual and emotional journey but, let’s face it, they wanted a diamond ring in the end. Or at least some kind of romantic tie that would leave them feeling satisfied.
I fought the idea of having a romantic lead for a long time when I was first developed the story. I was thirteen years old at the time and I just wanted it to be just about a girl, and her mom, and her spiritual journey. But then I started thinking about the benefits of having a male around in the book. He would add interest. Give the reader someone to root for. And serve as another obstacle for Allie to overcome. So, I did it. I turned romantic.
Gosh, it was hard! The scenes between Allie and Sam were so difficult to write at first. I mean, I was a thirteen year old kid when I first started out the story, for starters. But more than that, I think it was because I was coming at it from the wrong angle. I was trying to make their relationship into some great romance, when in reality, it was just a simple, everyday sort of attraction. Once I stopped thinking of them as a couple in a block-buster romance film and started thinking of them as just two young people trying to figure love out, it was a lot easier to write. A lot easier to believe, too… At least for me.
So how did I do it? Well, first I listened to Edit Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose”. That made me feel kind of sentimental. Then I watched critically acclaimed love story movies. And laughed at pretty much all of them. (Because there is nothing funnier than a crying couple gripping each other in the rain. Seriously.) Then I just sat back and let the natural conversations between Allie and Sam take place. It was all very innocent and clean. Very realistic, just like two teens in the 1940’s would have behaved toward each other. They were two people who, through circumstances and divine intervention, were brought together. They were teasing and supportive and pushed each other into being better people. In short, they were a great couple.
In the end, did writing a few romantic scenes make me a more romantic person, though? Um, probably not. I’m still the cynic who doesn’t believe in love at first sight and thinks flowery speeches are ridiculous. But I’m slowly getting better. With every book I write, I believe in love a little more. And who knows? Maybe by the time I’m ready to get married, I’ll meet the human incarnation of one of my leading males (or maybe an Antonio) and get swept off my feet and carried into the sunset on a wild stallion.
Or maybe not. Let’s be realistic. The stallion would have to be tamed to let me ride on it, obviously. ;)
[Image via tumblr]