Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dutch Art Showcase: Het Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

One of my very first outings in The Netherlands more than twenty years ago was visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Considered the 'grandaddy' museum of the country, I can honestly say that I enjoy visiting it more than the Louvre in Paris. But I guess I'm a little biased.

Painful admission: before I even realized The Netherlands and Holland were the same country, I minored in art history in college. The Dutch Masters were my favorite painters even more than the masters of the Italian Renaissance.

I still believe that with the exception of Michaelangelo, there has never been a greater artist in the world than Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn. Again, I may be a teensy bit biased here since my husband is a descendant of (or at least a distant relative of) the world-famous Golden Age master. My family happens to live near Rembrandt's birthplace of Leiden. The local folks, while proud of their amazing painter who skyrocketed into worldwide fame before the age of Twitter, still to this day seem to take it all in stride.

The building that houses the museum is more than 200 years old (ancient to us Americans!) The museum structure has become such a beloved fixture of the old city of Amsterdam that if it were ever to be removed, the city would never be the same. Somewhere in 2000, it was decided that it was necessary for the building to undergo a massive reconstruction where it has remained for more than a decade.

In spite of the remodeling and reconstruction, the museum has remained opened to its nearly 1,200,000 visitors a year. The grand re-opening is slated to take place somewhere in 2013 with (hopefully) yours truly somewhere near the front of the line.

Along with Rembrandt's famous masterpiece The Nightwatch, visitors can view some of the most magnificent pieces created by Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and many, many others all combined to create a staggering collection of 900,000 (!) pieces of art.

If you are planning a trip to the Netherlands in 2013, make sure you make time to visit this amazing piece of Dutch history. If you are only passing through The Netherlands, you can see an abbreviated version of the museum at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

Official web site of the Rijksmuseum:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

10 Good Things About Writing a Query Letter

First of all, I have to get one thing off my chest -- I hate writing query letters. There's nothing more frustrating than after weeks, months, or sometimes years of writing and perfecting your novel than to have to distill it all down into three or four eye-popping paragraphs. It's almost impossible!

Non-fiction writers have their own set of unique challenges when coming up with a stellar book proposal, but when a fiction writer is faced with producing a query letter that will hook an agent or editor, it's enough to make them want to run up the white flag and emigrate to Samoa.

Though most of us writers understand the practical necessity of a query letter, its a bit like asking the guy who invented Godiva Chocolate Truffles to write a letter to the general public to convince people his chocolate is amazing.

Maybe it's just me, but I would think that giving out small samples of chocolate would hook more people than sending them a letter about it or paying for expensive advertising ever would. I mean, if he makes chocolate and that is what he does best, isn't that more of a realistic representation of the product itself than the letter praising it?

It is possible (and highly likely) that a novelist can write a great book but may not be great at selling it. It makes one wonder how many possible NY Times Bestsellers out there were/are turned down and never published due to the fact that the author was guilty only of concocting a lukewarm query letter. In spite of the fact that deep within most of us our subconscious ID rebels against the very idea of formulating a query letter, believe it or not, there are actually some good benefits that can come from creating one:
  • It could land you that super-fabulous literary agent.

Let's face it -- this is the entire end all, be all for creating a query letter so of course this one's gotta be listed at number one.
  • It can help you establish the book's genre.

This sounds silly, but it's true. Sometimes you start writing a story, not knowing where it's going and you're not even sure of the genre. One very important factor in a query letter is stating the book's genre so an agent can see right away if it's a book they can pitch or not.
  • It helps you decide which agents to query.

In case you didn't already know, not every literary agent represents every genre and most specialize. Don't waste time by querying an agent with a genre they don't represent. There are many web sites out there that can help decide which ones fit the particular genre you are writing. (See web links at the end of this article.)
  • It helps you decide who are the protagonist(s) and the antagonist(s) in your story.

Don't laugh, not every writer is sure about this one. Especially in a story with multiple characters who all may have equal face time, it can be difficult to decide who the main character is. A query letter helps narrow down who the main character is and what he/she/it wants. (BTW - if you don't know who or what the antagonist is in your story, you're in trouble!)
  • It helps you to see whether your novel is "done" or not.

If you have a great protagonist but you can't tell what his/her main goal is in the story, you probably don't have a complete story yet. Or if the character has a goal but there is nothing in the way stopping him/her from reaching that goal, you probably don't have a complete story either.
  • It forces you to step back and look at your novel in an objective manner.

Yes, this is difficult for all of us to do which is why we need beta readers. If you come up with a query letter that does a pretty good job describing the nuts and bolts of the story but sounds pretty dull to you, consider the fact that it just might be.
  • It improves your grammar skills.

Yes, it does. With the hours we spend agonizing over whether or not we can use a semi-colon or a hyphen in the dreaded query letter without scaring off an agent, it teaches us to be critical readers and question the rules we can break, can't break, and ones we can sometimes bend. Query letters are notorious for containing run-on sentences, so if you want to stay out of the slush pile, just keep that in mind. If you can't get the sentence out in one breath, it's too LONG!
  • It helps you develop the all-important elevator pitch.

If you don't have this already, it's something you need to do before your book is published. The elevator pitch. How would you explain to an editor, agent or publisher what your book is about if you shared a quick elevator ride with them? Need something less intimidating? How would you explain to your best friend, colleague, or relative what your book is about? It's gotta punch them in the gut -- make them want to read it.
  • It can help you make new friends.

If you frequent a writer's critique group or an online chat forum for writer's, it is amazing the wonderful people you meet with the same writing interests.  They may not write the same genres you do, but shared knowledge can be a powerful tool and never fail to take advantage of this free resource. Offer your query lettter online for others to read and critique and you will soon have a lean, mean, query machine! Writers generally tend to stick together and although there is a small amount of healthy competition for the limited spots offered by literary agents, most of us just want to help each other do better and achieve success with our novels.
  • It helps you build character.

Rejections are difficult no matter how they come, but by accepting an agent's rejection of your query letter, you are toughening yourself up for those devastatingly tough book reviews when your novel goes on the NY Times Bestseller list!
Agent Query web site for Literary Agent Information:
Query Tracker web site for recording your queries to agents:
How to Write a Query Letter:
How to Write a Query Letter: