QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekly Roundup

Jungle Red Interviewee

If you're a mystery fan, check out Jungle Red Writers, which is run by six published mystery writers. They regularly interview authors and other insiders, and today's interview guest is...me! Please do stop by and ask questions if you have 'em!

Ask the Doctors

If you didn't get a chance to ask pediatric hospitalist physician HL Dyer your medical/writing question, you can use her email address at right or drop by her blog and ask there. If you still have psychology/writing questions, please get them to me via my email (ckaufman) to the right! I'll be answering some of the questions next Tuesday.

Tips on Submitting From Agents

Some great tips from agent blogs around the web:

New Agents

The following agents were recently added to the QueryTracker.net databases:
Have a great weekend, everyone! We're looking forward to seeing you next week!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Manuscript Formatting

In the year I've been hanging around the QueryTracker Forum, I've seen the topic of manuscript formatting come up repeatedly. For some reason, it always starts a heated debate. Formatting a manuscript is far simpler than people make it out to be.

When I decided to blog about this topic, I sent out a set of questions to 8 of my published and soon-to-be-published friends. I also polled half a dozen of my agented friends. My published friends spanned 5 genres and 12 publishing imprints both large and small. The results confirmed what I already knew. (I am addressing book-length manuscripts intended for publication in the United States, not articles or short stories for magazine or periodicals.)

Format your manuscript as follows:

- White 8 1/2" x 11" paper

- 1 inch margins on all sides

- Double spaced

- Black ink

- 12 point Times New Roman (TNR) or Courier New font
** see note below

- Header should include Last name/TITLE/genre and page number (Titles are traditionally CAPPED in manuscripts, query letters, synopses and correspondences)

- Cover sheet should not be included in page numbering and should include TITLE, genre, word count, your full name and all contact information including address, phone number, and email

- Most authors polled say they turn off orphans/widows in paragraph formatting

- It is standard to start a new chapter 1/3 of the way down a page.

- Italics are preferred to underlining nowadays. If your editor wants you to underline to indicate italics, he/she will tell you so. None of the authors I interviewed underlined to indicate italics either in their submission to agents or editors.

- All those polled use only one space after periods.

That's it. That's all you have to do!

Why is formatting controversial? Because too many newbie and unpublished writers fret the small stuff. Most of the debate occurs over font type. I've seen some forum threads get downright nasty about it. Courier used to be the standard, but that has changed and TNR is almost universally preferred. But it's important to keep in mind that unless the agent is specific as to what type to use, the font will not get you rejected. It's all about the writing.

Here's the deal: If you have a professional-looking manuscript that is not covered in food and coffee and is printed by a printer with plenty of toner and follows the rules above, you are fine. If your agent or editor wants something different, they will let you know. Fear not.

Before you query an agent, read their blog and website including rules for submission! There are several who specify TNR only, but most don't care as long as they can read it and it is clean.

Only two of the published authors I polled said their editor made specific formatting requests. The others said that nothing was ever mentioned about submissions that complied to my rules above.

Another question I asked my published and agented friends is how they indicate that they want to skip a space in their manuscript to indicate a change of scene. This was not uniform. Some used #, some used *** and one just left a blank space created by a hard return. Agents and editors are smart. They read a lot of manuscripts and will not reject you because you use one symbol instead of another to indicate a space is desired.

One thing is certain: Regardless of how perfect your manuscript formatting, it is the writing that counts. Don't fret the small stuff like Courier vs. Times New Roman; fret about the quality of the writing you are submitting. It is the content that will get you published, not what font you use. As long as you review the agents' submission guidelines and follow them, you will be fine. If specifics are not mentioned, format according to my rules above, which are industry standard in the United States.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at the address to the right or leave a comment below. Have a wonderful day!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How to Unleash Your Creative Genius - Six Tricks to Capturing Dreams

Few realize the way dreams have shaped our world. I'm not talking about the aspirations of visionaries, but the literal dreams people have had while sleeping. If you are like most people, your dreams are forgotten within moments of waking. Here are some tricks to help you capture – and make the most of – your creative power.

Trick One - Stay in Bed

The average human spends one third of their life sleeping. Twenty percent of that time is spent dreaming. Dreams are a good source of new material for writers, but how can you capture them? The first step is to stay in the half-awake state for just a few moments longer. Keep your eyes closed. Think about your dream. Try to run through it from beginning to end; this will help you remember it later.

“I woke up from a very vivid dream,” says Stephenie Meyer on her website regarding the origination of her book, Twilight. “Though I had a million things to do, I stayed in bed thinking about the dream.” Later that day she penned it in its entirety. Readers will recognize it as the now-famous meadow scene.

Trick Two – Write It Down

Otto Loewi nearly failed to capture the dream that led to his earning the Nobel Prize. He dreamt of an experiment that would prove once and for all how nerve impulses were transmitted. He woke up long enough to scribble his idea on a scrap of paper, but the next morning couldn’t read his own handwriting. The day that followed was, he later said, the longest of his life because he could not remember his idea. When he dreamed of it the following night, he jumped from bed and went straight to the lab to conduct the experiment that made medical history.

Take a lesson from Loewi. Write legibly or use a computer to record the details of your dreams.

Trick Three - Look Deeper

Don’t be afraid to look for a deeper meaning in your dreams; the answer to a problem may be just under the surface. Albert Einstein dreamed he was sledding down a hill at night, faster and faster until the stars blurred as he reached the speed of light. This dream gave birth to his Theory of Relativity.

Trick Four – Expand and Expound

Robert Louis Stevenson gleaned many plots from dreams, most notably that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His wife related how, one night, Stevenson cried out so horror-stricken that she roused him. “Why did you wake me,” he protested, “I was dreaming a fine tale!” She described how the next morning he awoke exclaiming, “I have got my chilling shocker, I have got my chilling shocker!”

Stevenson discovered he could dream complete stories and go back into the same dream on succeeding nights. If you have a dream you want to expand upon, or a plot in which you have reached an impasse, think about it as you fall asleep. You may be surprised when you wake with more material or a solution!

Keep your eye out for the second half of this article next week. I'll reveal the 5th and 6th tricks as well as ways to apply these techniques to your writing!

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Your Medical Fiction Questions Answered

Got a burning medical question to give your novel authenticity? I asked our readers for questions to discuss here on the QueryTracker.net blog and, as promised, I'll be answering a couple of medical writing questions today.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent medical advice. (Sorry, my lawyer-boy husband made me say that.)

First, we have the following series of questions from Diana (some details removed):

I'm working on a narrative non-fiction piece about a real murder that happened in Burlington, Kansas in 1925. The husband allegedly comes home to find his wife, a 31-year-old farm woman, dead on the floor. Pretty gruesome.

Because of some rumors that surfaced, the woman's body was exhumed three days after she was buried (and five days after she died, which was on May 30). They were verifying whether or not she had been sexually assaulted, and whether or not she had ever had an abortion.

Here are my questions, from the perspective of 1925 medicine:

1. What would the doctor doing an autopsy on an exhumed body look for to determine if a woman had been raped?

2. What condition would the body be in at this point?

3. What signs would a doctor doing an autopsy look for to determine if an abortion was performed?

I'm afraid I can't tell you too much about the 1925 perspective, as my grandparents were all less than 6 years old in 1925. And of course, forensics is not my area of expertise, but I will do my best to answer.

I'm not sure how the fact you're writing narrative non-fiction plays into things, as I would assume that the evidence you describe would have to be accurate to what was actually found during the investigation. But taking these questions as for a fictional scenario:

1. The evidence they'd be looking for would be evidence of sexual activity, which would include checking for pubic hairs not belonging to the victim, and at 5 days, given the fact the woman had died (and therefore was not upright, moving, bathing etc.) they might still find living sperm (although 5 days is pushing that limit). They might also test for acid phosphatase, which can be used as a screening test for semen. As far as evidence of rape, specifically, they'd be looking for evidence of trauma, bruising, tears, etc. Often times, it can be hard to tell the difference between rape and consensual sex on the basis of forensic evidence alone. Aside from the fact they'd have no DNA analysis available, I'm not sure how much the 1925 angle would affect the available investigations.

2. The condition of the body would be somewhat dependent on the weather conditions to which it was exposed. Typically, over the first 2 - 3 days, the body appears grossly intact, but by the time in question decomposing would have reached the putrification stage. The body's bacteria starts breaking it down, causing green discolorations and bloating of the tissue. The green color comes from partially digested hemoglobin (blood protein). The bloating is caused by gases released by the bacteria.

3. Regarding evidence of a prior abortion, the doctor would be looking for evidence of instrumentation, such scars or marks from a clamp on the cervix.

Our second question comes from Susie:

My MC is a thirteen year-old girl. She 's on a ladder, standing about four feet off the ground, when she looses her footing and falls, landing with the full weight of her body on one shoulder. Would this impact be enough to snap her collar bone? Would she be able to get up by herself after this had happened? Would she still be able to walk around and act semi-normal, hiding the fact that she'd broken the bone? Would it hurt if someone hugged her? What would treatment for this type of injury be?

A fall of four feet, at the right angle, could certainly fracture her collar bone. While painful, a fractured clavicle doesn't really impair activity as much as you might expect.

After a clavicle fracture, the shoulder typically sags forward and down. She would have trouble lifting the arm due to the pain, and may feel grinding in the shoulder if she tried.

She probably wouldn't be able to push herself up with the injured arm, but she should be able to get up by herself. She definitely would be able to walk around, and if motivated, could probably hide the fact that she'd been injured, depending on what she was wearing (the displaced bone can often be seen as a lump under the skin.) and her pain tolerance.

It would, indeed, probably hurt her if someone hugged her.

Treatment for a fractured clavicle consists of pain control and immobilization (for comfort, mostly) with a sling or figure-of-eight strap. Right after the injury, ice would help as well. After 4 - 6 weeks, she would have to start working on range of motion exercises for her shoulder to regain normal strength and movement in the joint.

So, BIG thanks to Diana and Susie for submitting your questions for discussion. I hope my answers will be helpful for your writing projects.

I will continue to accept medical fiction questions for future blog discussions. You'll find my email address in the links listed on the right. Or you can reach me through my personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Note to Self: Using Private Notes on QueryTracker.net

This week's feature is simple, yet fun. And it can help you keep track of something you've done...or in my case, not done. There is an embarrassing story behind this, but luckily that's saved in my private notes on QueryTracker. kenyit

Okay, so you have to go to your query list. This is totally easy. Click on LITERARY AGENTS, then MY QUERY LIST. (After logging in, of course.)

Now, let's just say that I've received a request in a non-traditional manner from Elana Roth. (Yes, I chose her cuz she has a cool name.) To keep track of this, I can also write myself a little note. All I have to do is click on the "Add Note" link.

In the little window that opens, I can leave myself a note. On whatever I want. It's private. So even if I forget to do something (hypothetically, of course), no one else needs to know.

I often write myself notes on queries I've sent. Little things like, "Usually responds within a week" or "Has a cool interview at [website]" or even "Mailed on 2/13/09 with USPS tracking number, XXX".

You can also make notes on agents you haven't queried yet. Blog posts of theirs you like. Books they've said they enjoyed or wished they repped. Response times. Who else they represent. Anything you want to be able to access at the push of a button. And since we all know that research before querying is essential, I hope you start using the private notes to organize your research efforts.

Don't forget! Tomorrow Dr. Dyer is answering your medical fiction questions. If you haven't emailed her yet, you still can (hldyer@querytracker.net). See post here for more details.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insider Secrets, the Latest Contests, and Free Books

NEWS - Several new success stories on QueryTracker.net this week offer a glimmer of hope for a brighter future in the publishing industry. In agency news, Katie Grimm joined forces with Don Congdon Associates, Inc., and Ann Collette joined the Helen Rees Literary Agency. We wish them both great success!

INSIDER INFO - For fascinating insight on why agents reject queries, check out a compilation of Colleen Lindsay’s live Twitter query reads on her blog, The Swivet. Of particular interest, more than half the queries she received failed to follow her submission guidelines, and several lacked a simple salutation.

CALL TO AUTHORS - Alloy Entertainment, the company behind Gossip Girl and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, is looking for new writers for a project dubbed The Collaborative. They plan on acquiring 12 manuscripts in the coming year and are interested in women’s fiction, young adult, middle grade, and chapter books. Submission guidelines are now available (follow the links for The Collaborative.)

CONTESTS - Delacorte Books for Young readers announced its Eighteenth Annual Delacorte Yearling Contest for a First Middle Grade Novel. Grand prize is a book contract and cash award. Manuscripts must be postmarked between April 1st and June 30th.

Hurry if you want to enter Colleen Lindsay’s Query Haiku Contest on The Swivet - it’s only open until midnight tonight, EST. The winner will receive an in-depth critique of their real query letter.

LAYOFFS – Yep, they’re happening industry-wide, from booksellers on up. Former editor Colin Robinson spills all the secrets after his recent layoff from a large publishing house in New York.

BEND THE DOCTORS’ EARS – You want the medical/psychological aspects of your book to sound realistic and be accurate. Here’s your chance to ask pediatric hospitalist physician HL Dyer and psychologist/professor Carolyn Kaufman your burning questions. For the next two Tuesdays they’ll post the answers to their favorites here on the QTblog. (Send your questions via email; their addresses appear in the sidebar on the right.)

FREE BOOKS – To celebrate its 60th birthday, Halequinn is offering free downloadable books to everyone in America throughout 2009, with sixteen titles available.

Look forward to Monday when Elana will enlighten us about a QueryTracker feature.

Thanks, y’all for droppin’ in. Have a fantastic weekend. Yeeeee-haw!

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Writing the High Concept Hook

There's been some hype recently about the high concept hook. Do you need one? Will it hurt you more than help you? Should you include one in your query letter?

Recently, Publisher's Weekly had an article called Chasing Mr. Big. If you haven't read it, you should. It basically discusses what a high-c0ncept novel is.
"It's hard to describe what exactly makes an idea high concept—it's almost the opposite of what it sounds. But simply put, it's an idea that is easily explainable and can be sold in one sentence."
And original. Here's one from a fellow QT'er who landed an agent.

Cole Gibsen:
"The high concept line I used for KATANA was Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Memoirs of a Geisha.

The reason this is funny is because my high concept line almost ended for me - but it saved me at the same time.

Chris said when he read it he immediately tossed my query aside for rejection because, in his own words, "it sounded so stupid." But then he said it gnawed at him. He kept thinking about it and eventually pulled my query back out because he wondered if I could "actually pull it off."

Which she obviously did. Ms. Gibsen is currently on submission. Congrats Cole!

The Knight Agency blogged about the high concept hook way back in 2005. There is some excellent advice here for how to put together your high-concept hook without going off the deep end and combining things that make no sense. I thought this was some very sound advice when thinking about a high concept hook:
"A high concept story has the following qualities: easily understood from a few words, and promising tremendous public appeal. When you describe a high-concept story, you can see the whole story – its premise, promise and execution – in a few words. A high concept story also “has legs” – in other words, it doesn’t need a name to sell it."
There are also some great examples on their blog, so be sure to check out the post.

And last, but not least, Agent Holly Root blogged about the high concept novel earlier in the month. She has a lot to say about how to intristically know when something is "big" and when it isn't. I liked this advice:
"But I would encourage you to think about three things:

1. it is all in the execution but no one will ever see your execution if your premise doesn’t catch their attention;

2. it’s hard to be attentive to things we don’t recognize on at least some level;

and 3. who do you write for? If it’s for readers, think about it not as selling out, but about seducing people into your world, giving them a point of entry that lets them feel comfortable. High concept is all about the touch of recognition that makes readers ready to go along on your ride."
So sit back and look at your novel. Can you craft a high-concept hook for it? Can you give me (well, a Literary Agent) the big picture in just a few words? I encourage you to take this challenge, and see where it leads you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Game is On--The Necessity of Persistence and a Commitment to Growth

Writing can be a discouraging business.  Less than 1 out of 100 writers who completes and queries a novel receives an offer of representation from a literary agent.  Those lucky and/or talented enough to be in that 1% are still not guaranteed the joy of seeing their book in print.  Only something like 60% of agented books sell to publishers (That includes books from established authors).

Every accomplishment starts with a decision to try.
Once the reality of the stats sets in, a writer reaches a decision point.  He must ask himself, "Do I give up and do something else, or do I learn how to play this game and stick with it?"

Now, I'm not making light of this business by referring to the process of getting published as a "game."  It is a game in that there are winners, losers and rules--lots of rules.

First of all, you must learn how to write.  Really write, not just put a story on paper.  One of the rejections I received from an agent on a full request on my first project was telling.  It said something to the effect of:

     Your story and characters are intriguing.  I was disappointed that the writing didn't live up to the premise. 

Okay.  Well, crap!  I had all my commas, semi-colons and quotation marks in the right places.  No run-ons, no sentence fragments that weren't intentional (like this one).  Gah!  I even had all the formatting correct.  So what gives?

Well, DUH!  Writing isn't grammar and punctuation.  Naturally, a writer has to be able to write correctly, but a writer has to write well.  I majored in English Literature in college, so I'm the master of the thesis paper and formulaic literary analysis.  That rejection letter brought it all into focus for me.  Writing fiction is an entirely different beast.
     I was disappointed that the writing didn't live up to the premise. 

Yep.  There it is again.  Those works rattle around in my head every time I sit down at my computer to write.  The fix?  I read everything I could get my hands on in the genre in which I write and paid attention to the writing itself in addition to the story.  And you know what I discovered?  The agent was right--my writing stunk!  

At this point, I vowed to get it right.  I put away that first project and its half-finished sequel and started a new, unrelated book.  I simplified my style and intensified my characterization.  I then found  a critique service through a university graduate program.  The professor critiqued my first thirty page of my first project and my new one.  She found things I do consistently in my writing that weaken it.  

I focused on the new project, which was superior to the first (Huge understatement--the first one was...well, it was a typical first novel: Overwritten and as a result, way too long).  I applied her suggestions from the first thirty pages all the way through the novel.

You have to learn the rules of the game.  And then you have to play better than anyone else.

Albert Einstein
After too many edits to count, I researched the process of querying and followed all the rules.  I was amazed at the difference between the reaction of agents to my new manuscript compared to my first one.  Night and day.  

My writing improves with every book I write.  I am so grateful to the agent who was honest with me and didn't just say, "No thanks," or, "Not for me, but another agent might feel differently."  She told me, in essence, "You have a strong story but your writing stinks.  Quit or fix it."

Imagination and talent is something we are born with, but writing skills are learned.  I'm certain that I will look back on my recent novel and think it's a total piece of garbage, but it did the trick and I got the agent.  And twenty years down the road when in a moment of complacency, I feel like my writing does live up to my premise, all I will have to do is read a the first few pages of a novel like THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman or THE SUMMER GUEST by Justin Cronin to bring me back to the reality that I will always have a long way to go.  

In the meantime, I'm going to press on and keep writing and growing.  I didn't even hesitate when I reached the point where I had to ask myself the question, "Do I give up and do something else, or do I learn how to play this game and stick with it?"  I'm in the game for keeps! 

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge
Hang in there everybody.  The only thing all published authors have in common is that they didn't give up.  


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ask the Doctors! & About Archetype

Q&A on the QueryTracker.Net blog

Some of you know by now that when I'm not writing and blogging, I'm a psychologist and a professor. And I'm not the only doctor on the QueryTracker.net blog team.  HL Dyer is a pediatric hospitalist physician in the Chicagoland area.  Just as I enjoy answering writers' questions about psychology, Heather enjoys answering writers' questions about medicine.

We decided to invite you to email us over the next week with your psychology/writing questions (those go to me, ckaufman) and your medical/writing questions (those go to hldyer).  Our email addresses are in the sidebar to your right!

Next Tuesday, February 24th, Heather will choose one or two of her favorite questions to answer here on the QT Blog, and on Tuesday, March 3rd, I'll do the same thing.  We'll be fielding some of the other questions we get on our personal sites -- links to follow!

Some tips:
* Ask specific questions. 
* If you're comfortable doing so, add some detail about why you're asking -- what's going on with your characters?  What's the scene you need information for like?

From my archives, here's an example of a good, specific question:
Could a person with schizophrenia have such a mild version that, to most, he appears completely normal except for a few "quirks" and his bad symptoms only come out in periods of high stress? Or would I be speaking of a completely different illness?
In case you're interested, the answer to this question is here.
Here's another question; here the writer included lots of character information:
How would a psychological professional respond to a woman who goaded an ex-boyfriend into hitting her? My main character is trying to work through why she is always choosing men who hurt her. The psychiatrist asks her about her first boyfriend. The character says he hit her, but only once, and she doesn't count it as because she taunted him to do it. How would a psychiatrist/psychologist respond to that?
The answer to this question is here.
About Archetype

A couple of years ago, I started to notice that writers often make mistakes or rely on clichés when they incorporate therapists, disorders, and treatments into their stories. With a little more research, I realized why.  There was no easy-to-understand, easy-to-use resource that explained disorders, diagnosis, and therapy to writers. There was also no comprehensive resource on the psychology of the writer, creativity, and good writing.

So I decided to create one.  I  named it  Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers.

The other members of the Blog Team suggested I tell you more about my Archetype project, so today that's what I'm going to do.

Let's say, for example, that you're writing a story about a character who has bipolar disorder (aka manic depression).  Maybe that character is suicidal, and you want her to be hospitalized against her will.  The only problem?  You don't know much about bipolar disorder, how it's diagnosed, or how it's treated.  Nor do you know how the whole involuntary hospitalization process works, or how to make the doctors at the hospital sound like real shrinks.

Where to start?  Well, you could piece information together from all over the internet, or you could just visit Archetype.  After all, the Real Psychology section of Archetype includes information on all of these things. Better yet, if you can't find the details you need, or you need someone in-the-know to double-check how authentic your scene sounds, you can fill out the Q & A form  to ask specifically about your story.  (You can also check out other readers' questions and answers in the Q & A archive.) I respond by email within a few days.

The site also includes lots of articles and resources on better writing, characterization, genre writing, editing and feedback, agents and publishing, and using psychology in your fiction.  There are also worksheets and cheat sheets for writing queries, defining your character's personality, and defeating your inner critic.  I've also thrown in a few idea generators and tips on beating writer's block

I hope you'll get the chance to drop by!

Monday, February 16, 2009

QueryTracker.net Feature of the Week

Okay, QT's, it's time to check out another QueryTracker.net feature.

Since I'm on a premium feature kick after last week's post, I thought I'd discuss one of my favorite premium features: the Genre Agent Report.

At the top of the selection box for the Genre Agent Report is a tab you can click for more information about the report. If you don't have a premium account, you'll be able to see a sample report on this page.

That's right... this report lets you see the acceptance rates of agents FOR YOUR GENRE and compare that to other agents. This not only allows you to identify agents who are truly interested in your genre of manuscript, but can also help with the ambiguous "commercial fiction" category.

When an agent lists just "commercial fiction," does that mean they are only interested in mainstream fiction? Or in sub-genres that can fall under the "Commercial Fiction" heading?

Well, you can use this feature to find out.

Here's how to create your own Genre-Agent Report:

Just select your genre from the dropdown menu...

Click "submit" to generate your report. You can then sort the list. The acceptance percentage column (the smiley face with the % sign) will probably be the most useful to sort by.

You can now easily see the acceptance rates for each agent, as well as how many queries they received in your genre (to give you some perspective as to how significant the rates are.)

The list also gives you direct links back to the agents' profiles, providing an easy way to add prospective agents to your query list.

The sample list above includes Jeff Kleinman from Folio. Mr. Kleinman's profile does not list women's fiction as a genre he represents, and yet of 3 queries he's received for women's fiction project, he request more material on 2 of them. That suggests to me that this agent includes women's fiction under the commercial fiction umbrella, and so I can add him to my query list (even though his listing would not have come up through a search for women's fiction agents).

Pretty sweet, eh?

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weekly Roundup 2/13/09

Happy Friday the 13th!  (insert scary music here)

I love the number 13.

I got married on the 13th, which contributes to my partiality.  Now, I didn't pick that date, it just happened to be the only date the church was open. Why?  Superstition. Others' fear of misfortune was my good fortune.  I got a wedding date six months earlier because of the dreaded number thirteen. 

In honor of the day, I'm going to include some fun facts in this roundup post.

There are actually names for phobias regarding Friday and the number 13:

Triskaidekaphobia-fear of the number 13.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia-fear of Friday the 13th.

I have a greater fear of trying to pronounce those words than I do of Friday the 13th!

According to an article in National Geographic, as many as 17 to 21 million people are afflicted with paraskevidekatriaphopia.  In fact, Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina, asserts that an estimated $800 to $900 million is lost in business on this day because people are afraid to fly or conduct business. 

I found some interesting information regarding the source of the superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th.  Click to access articles:  National Geographic and  Urban Legends.

Giddyup, y'all, let's round 'em up!

Industry News (click to read articles)

HarperCollins closing Collins Division; Other Layoffs Planned

Robert Anderson, Author of Tea and Sympathy, dies at 91

Amazon releases Kindle2 Ebook reader

Agent News

Sarah Megibow  has been promoted to Associate Literary Agent and is now accepting queries at the Nelson Literary Agency.  Ms. Megibow represents commercial fiction, fantasy, middle grade, romance, science fiction and young adult. 

Jennifer Didik has joined Loretta Barrett Books, Inc.  Ms. Didik represents commercial fiction and literary fiction.  Her non-fiction interests include history, memoir, current events, politics and baseball.  

QT News

Querytracker.net now has over 12,000 members!  

5 offers of representation were reported by QueryTracker.net members this week. 

4 of the 5 offers were for the same project, REAPERS, a young adult urban fantasy written by one of our original QT members, Leah Clifford. Congrats, Leah!  

Special Feature Next Week:  Ask the Docs!

Next week, our very own HL Dyer (who is a pediatric hospitalist physician) and Carolyn Kaufman (who is a clinical psychologist and professor) will be inviting you to ask your medical writing questions and your psychology writing questions, so start thinking of what you'd like to ask!

This is a great opportunity for writers who might have questions like, "Why might someone faint?" or "What would it take to push a character into suicide?" or "What kind of anxiety disorder does my character have?"

Drs Dyer and Kaufman will post more about asking questions on Tuesday February 17th. 

QT Blog Topics Covered this week:

QueryTracker.net Premium Reports

Critique Groups Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Interview with Angie Lofthouse, Editor for Mindflights Magazine

Tuning Up Your Manuscript

Have a happy Friday the 13th! 

Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuning Up Your Manuscript

A good story is like a well-tuned car.  When everything works well, you can just get in and enjoy the ride.  When your headlights don't work, the muffler has fallen off, and your trunk is being held closed with a bungee cord, the problems are all you can think about.

Here are some tips to help your readers enjoy the ride rather than worying about the springs sticking out of the seats.

1. Mechanics

You’d never take your car on the road if the tires were full of holes. So don’t send out your manuscript without perfect mechanics: grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

I see a lot of writers who expect their crit buddies or beta readers to fix their mechanics, but those writers are cheating themselves. They’re never going to get an in-depth critique that will help them make their story better. Nobody worries about critiquing plot, characterization, or dialogue when they’re reading work by someone who misuses every other homonym.

If you’re not good at grammar, that’s okay.  Take a class at your local community college or buy/borrow some reference books.  Strunk &White's The Elements of Style  and The Chicago Manual of Style are great resources to rely on until great grammar and punctuation becomes second nature to you.

2. Tightening

When a reader says you need to tighten your writing, she means you need to remove clunky, extraneous words and phrases.  Often they're hard to see until you know what to look for, but they rattle around like loose screws.  Here are some tips to help you find and get rid of them.

a. Use strong verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs.
Example: She flung the door open is better than She pushed the door open forcefully.

b. Remove redundancies.
Example: “What were you thinking, you idiot?” he said irritably tells us that the person is angry twice — once through dialogue and once through a verbal tag. Just stick with the dialogue and cut the verbal tag completely.

c. Say everything as efficiently as possible. Pretend that you’re being charged for every word you use. Don’t you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth?
Example: He walked right up to her, so close they were nearly touching, trying to intimidate her with his size becomes He moved closer, using his size to intimidate her.

d. Avoid cliches.  We often use cliches because they so often fit.  "Prim and proper" or "tall, dark, and handsome" may very well fit your characters.  The problem is, they fit a lot of other people's, too, and since you want your story to stand out from the rest, you need to make your descriptions unique.
Example:  It was raining cats and dogs becomes It was raining, huge warm droplets that pattered on the blacktop like thousands of tiny feet.

3. A Fresh Coat of Paint: Being Unique

When you go to buy a car, you want the most mechanically sound car you can find, but if you're like most people, you also care how it looks.  You can really make your writing stand out if you can find unique ways to say things.  Don't be afraid to indulge in a little wordplay, trying out unusual turns of phrase or comparisons.

a. Indulge in the sensory details.  For each scene, you need to close your eyes and imagine how the situation smells, tastes, sounds, looks, and feels.  You probably won't describe each sense in most scenes, but knowing will help you choose the most relevant and striking details.
Example: Like soft, dark wings, his voice folded around me. I was at once enveloped by warmth and aware of coldness at the base of my neck. Legs stretched out in front of him, feet braced apart, he was watching me.

b. Use metaphors and similes.  Don't be afraid to compare something to something else, directly or indirectly, as long as you do it in your own words.
Example: A traffic light flashed by; the wire that had once held it aloft eddied across the road in a black tangle. Green and red and gold chips were spattered across the asphalt like misplaced casino currency.

Want to learn more?  A few books that have really helped me get better at editing my work include

* Write Tight
* Revision and Self-Editing
* Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
Make Your Words Work: Proven Techniques for Effective Writing

Essential Critique Group Supplies: Life Boat and Life Preserver

Okay, so you've decided what you want to participate in a critique group, you've found some people you're willing to try it with, and you've decided on a schedule. Now the real nail-biting begins. Now you have to post your writing for shreddage. Now you have to critique.

In this post, we'll examine how to offer constructive critiques and how to handle the critiques you receive.

Life Boat: Offering Constructive Critiques
I think the most important thing you do in a critique group is give valuable critiques. That's the part of the crit group that everyone will see. They won't see your reactions to crits, your painstaking efforts to revise, your tears, laughter, eye-rolling, whatever the case may be. Nor should they, but I'll talk about that in a sec.

They will see your critiques. They'll get a sense of what you read for, how you write, and what kind of person you are—through the critiques. Since I believe that every person should be treated with kindness and respect—regardless of whether you think they're writing/story/etc is good—I believe that critiques should be given in a tactful manner. Most people figure out that I’m incredibly sarcastic and like to laugh pretty quick. They know that I'm a character-driven reader. They know I like a little romance and a lot of spunk. They know this because it's how I critique their work.

Deliver your critiques with tact and honesty. I asked a writing buddy of mine if I could post my critique on her work. (You should check out Christine's blog. She's awesome.) Her writing is in black, my critique is in red.
I was better - the sounds were not so loud and I seemed more attached to this place. The light-headed feeling I had earlier began to subside. I felt normal - which included anxious and crazy in my world. (You're basically telling me the same thing over and over. I'd cut this last sentence. Or if you like it better than the others, cut one of them.)
Yes, I crossed something out, but I gave Christine a reason why I thought she should cut it. Some things don't need an explanation, like striking unnecessary dialog tags, extra words, etc. Other things though, you should let the person know what you didn't like, where you got confused, or why the section should be cut.

Or this one:
I sat up and rearranged myself in the chair. (What? Rearranged herself in the chair? How did she do that exactly? Like Mr. Potato Head? LOL)
I try to infuse my critiques with exactly what I think without being too serious, mean, or tactless.

It's also important to give your overall impression of the piece of writing as a whole. Is it flowing too slow? Too fast? Are you interested in reading more? Would you stop here if you could? Why? Do you like the characters? What about them do you like? Not like? Wish they would do?

I think to survive the stormy seas of a critique group, you need a life boat. Giving good critiques will keep you afloat because even if you end up leaving for whatever reason, you've held your head high, put forth your best effort, and done your part.

Life Preserver: How to Handle Critiques on your Writing
In order to stop yourself from drowning in the pool of writing funk, you'll need a life preserver. Getting critiqued is a shark-infested ride. Even though you've signed up for it, want it, maybe even need it.

It's still not easy.

My heart pounds every time I post something, especially when I see the little "new posts" next to my critique board. Every. Time.

I've not always agreed with the critiques. The most important lesson you can learn is this: You don't have to agree with every critique. I learned this from my very-wise DH. He teaches sixth grade and he tells his students, "Just because someone gives you a suggestion doesn’t mean you have to change your writing."

Because it's your writing.

I carefully consider everything every critter says. If I agree that it should be clearer, I reword, find a stronger verb, or rewrite the scene completely. If someone asks me a question that has clearly been answered in the scene, I ignore them. In private. I never (and this is very tempting) go back and try to re-explain it to them. Number one, this makes you sound like you didn't appreciate their critique. You come off sounding defensive. You need enough confidence to know that you did, indeed answer the questions and for whatever reason that reader missed it. It's their problem, not yours. Don't argue with them, don't re-explain. In private, think to yourself, "She must have just missed that part. Oh well. It's clear enough." And leave it alone. (This is where having confidence comes in.)

The only thing I do after a critique (usually) is profusely thank the person for their critique. I might ask them to clarify something in their critique I don't understand, but that's it. I really try to avoid defending my work.

Here's your packing list:
• Use tact when critiquing – what you say reflects back on you
• Be honest and real, but kind
• Explain yourself when possible
• Give an overall impression of the writing

• Don't defend your writing
• You don't have to change everything someone suggests
• Do carefully consider every point a critter takes the time to make
• Thank the person for their critique

Thus ends the Critique Group wave of posts. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Need to know more? Email me: elanajohnson@querytracker.net

Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interview with Angie Lofthouse -- Editor for Mindflights Magazine

The recent combination of two award-winning magazines - Dragons, Knights, and Angels and The Sword Review - resulted in one frequently-updated, high-quality magazine called Mindflights, brought to you by Double-Edged Publishing. Angie Lofthouse is one of the team of editors at Mindflights, which features the stories, poetry and illustrations of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Angie has graciously agreed to share her knowledge with us and will be available to answer your questions in the comments of this post.

What’s the most recent thing you’ve read that you loved?

Ironhand by Charlie Fletcher, the second in the Stoneheart Trilogy. Loved it!

How many submissions does your magazine get each week?

We average 15-20 submissions each week. We try to respond within three weeks.

What are you looking for now that you’re not getting?

We always like to get more science fiction, more flash fiction (under 1000 words), and more poetry (though I am not strongly involved in the poetry side of things.)

What is your #1 pet peeve in submissions you receive?

I think my biggest pet peeve is reading stories that are predictable, obvious and clichéd. Those have fallen into about three categories lately, Conversations with the Devil, Afterlife stories, and Dystopia/Oppressive Government stories. It's not that I don't want to read stories that fall into those categories; it's just that most of them that I've read have nothing new or fresh to offer to those themes. Another pet peeve is getting submissions that clearly do not fit our guidelines and are not appropriate for our magazine.

What is the most common mistake writers make in their submissions to you?

Probably the most common mistake is a lack of careful proofreading. It's very distracting to read a story riddled with errors. It leaves me with the impression that the author didn't really care.

What can writers do to make their submissions sparkle?

Proofread carefully. Let more than one person proofread the story. More eyes will catch more errors. Use proper manuscript formatting. Then, start off strong with an opening that catches my interest and makes me want to keep reading. Don't begin by explaining the history of the world or your main character's life story. Create characters that are three-dimensional, that I can relate to and care about. Avoid clichés. Show, don't tell. Use strong, active sentences and word choices. Give me a satisfying ending. At Mindflights, we are looking for stories that are entertaining, enlightening, and uplifting.

How does one submit to Mindflights magazine?

You can submit to Mindflights using our online form. Be sure to read the guidelines first.

You are an author as well as an editor, with several publishing credits. Would you mind sharing links to some of your work with us?

Sure. Here are two of my short stories.

"Soul Singer" and "Brierly's Lilies"

How do you find time to write, edit, and have a personal life?

My family always comes first, so it can be hard to find the time. My husband and children are very supportive and encouraging, though, and that makes it easier. One of the biggest ways I found time for writing and editing was getting rid of my TV. We don't get any TV reception at all, and I don't miss it even one little bit, though I must confess that I watch an occasional episode of Star Trek on DVD. I usually do my Mindflights work during the day while the older kids are at school, and write in the evenings (when I might otherwise be watching TV.) I try to take advantage of any time I get, and keep my notebook handy at all times. I did most of this interview with my toddler on my lap.

If you could give one tip to writers everywhere, what would it be?

Don't be afraid to dream and keep working for your dreams. Let your imagination run wild. Never give up. Okay, I guess that was more than one tip.

I will be available to answer any question until 5pm MST today. If you'd still like to submit questions, and don't mind waiting, I can answer a few more tomorrow.

BIO: Angie Lofthouse is a stay-home mom of six children. Her fiction has appeared in NFG, AlienSkin, Amazing Journeys, The Sword Review, Dragons, Knights and Angels, Irreantum, and Unparalleled Journeys. She is also an editor for Mindflights Magazine. She lives in a little canyon in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains with her family of writers, artists, singers, composers, illustrators and musicians.

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.

Critique Group Scheduling Ship

Yesterday, I blogged on whether or not you need a critique group.

Scheduling is an important factor in a successful critique group. Today we’re going to examine three things:

1. How much material to post
2. When to post said material
3. When to have critiques done on posted material

Members of a forming critique group should have a discussion about these three things before starting. Everyone in the group should come to a consensus on how much to post, when they'll be posting, and when they'll have their critiques done. Everyone has a real life (shocking, I know) that gets in the way sometimes. Be aware of this going in.

I hope you packed a swimming suit and some sunblock, cause it's gonna get hot in here!

Loading at Dock #1: One chapter per week.
I participated in a critique group with these four words as the schedule. The entire schedule. Um, that didn't work for me, but I was coming into it as a newbie and they had their thang worked out, so I didn't say anything. For a while. I finally did, and here's why.

I don't like the vagueness of "one chapter." I write very short chapters, so I was posting 6-8 pages of text. Maybe 12 on a really long chapter. Other people were posting up to 20 pages of material. Consistently. That's a HUGE difference in my opinion, and I started to feel resentful that they could post that much, and I couldn't post 3 chapters a week to make up for it.

My advice to avoid Dock #1: Set a number of pages, not chapters. In one group, we set the number of words. That works too. The point is, you want to have equality in almost everything as far as the Scheduling Ship goes. Otherwise you'll end up like me—begrudging the time it takes to be in the group, resenting the other members, and giving less than adequate critiques because you're feeling slighted.

Loading at Dock #2: Post when you want during the week.
Dude, I don't like this dock. I'm sure it works for some people, but not for me. While I do recommend that you set a weekly schedule instead of a bi-weekly or monthly schedule, not having a day to post drives me wonky.

Here's why: In the afore mentioned critique group, this was part of the schedule. There was no set day for the members to contribute, so what happened? Most of us posted our chapter either on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Of course. These are the days people have off and/or time to work on their submissions for critique. I didn't like the barrage of new posts. It made me feel anxious that I wasn't keeping up. Suddenly, during the week when I had to work, I also had five chapters (of varying lengths) to try to critique.

My advice to avoid Dock #2: Set a specific day for each member to post. Since I don't recommend more than 5 people per group, each of you could take a weekday and use the weekends to catch up on critiques, or—shocker—for your own writing and/or family life.

In the group I just joined, we set a specific day to post. Mine is Friday, which isn't my ideal day, but at least it's mine. (Mwa-ha-ha!)

Loading at Dock #3: Get to it when you can.
This is a joke, right? I really don't like this dock. It has cockroaches lurking underneath and broken slats in the boardwalk. Critiques should be done and delivered in a timely manner. If you're running on a weekly schedule, the critiques should be given for the posted material for that week. For example, I just said my day to post in one of my groups is Friday. We have it set up that critiques will be offered within one week. Which means I can expect critiques on my 15 pages within 7 days. Then I can post new material and not have the other members have this huge backlog of my stuff to read.

My critiques of other members work will be posted within seven days. If they post on Monday, my critique will be done by the following Monday.

My advice to avoid this broken-down dock: Discuss it with your group. Critiques need to be timely. Like I said, in a weekly schedule, crits should be done within seven days. A bi-weekly schedule, within 14. A monthly schedule—well, you need a new group. Seriously. A monthly schedule?

So we're all going to be boarding at Dock #4: Post 15 pages every Friday. Deliver critiques within seven days of when they are posted.

This is a ship I can board. Raging parties will be held. And I'll be right in the thick of them, enjoying myself instead of standing on docks #1, #2 or #3 angry, upset, resentful, or jealous.

Tomorrow, we're examining how to be a good member of a crit group.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Riding the Wave of Critique Groups

Many aspiring authors worry whether their novel can withstand the scrutiny of readers. This is impossible to know without actually having someone read it. The best readers will give you honest, valuable feedback. One of the most effective ways to get this feedback is to join a critique group.

However, you can't just jump in without examining the critique group waters. There could be alligators in there. Or sharks. Or worse—bottom feeders.

You need to find a critique group that offers what you're looking for. Don't know what you're looking for? My advice: don't join a crit group until you do. Without careful consideration, you may get what you didn't bargain for or find yourself wishing for more than your group is giving you. Either problem can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth and the feeling that your time spent critting others’ writing is a waste. Believe me, I've been there.

So here are some water metaphors loosely related to writing to get you thinking about your desired outcome when participating in a crit group.

Life Preserver: You must know what you want from the critique group. You must decide what you want your critique group to do for you—and you must be willing to give as much (or more) than you get.

Rate the following items from 1-5 on how important they are to you.

• Honest Critiques
• Personal Relationship with Members
• Timely Feedback
• Kind, Tactful Critiques (you're already being abused from the critique, you don't need more because of the manner it is given)
• Quality of Critique (overall impression, character development, grammar and other nitty things)
• Length of Submissions—set number of pages/words per week/month
• Genre-Specific

Once you know what you want, seek others with similar goals. Just because you know what you want doesn't mean you'll immediately find people willing to row the same boat. Take the time to get to know people (either online or in person) before jumping aboard.

Snorkel Equipment: Online or In Person? I participate in both types of groups. There are advantages and disadvantages to each situation.

Live Critique Groups: Meeting face-to-face allows you to really get to know each other. You can develop a personal relationship. If that's important to you in a critique group, perhaps finding out if there is one in your area would be to your advantage. I enjoy my live group immensely. Those ladies always make me laugh—and their advice is priceless.

It's also much harder to be "mean" when you're looking the author in the eyes. Honesty is important, but critiques must be delivered with tact. If you're uncomfortable seeing the person as you tell them what you think could be better with their writing, a live critique group is not the way to go. On the same side of the ship, if you're uncomfortable getting the "bad" news that your writing isn't perfect in person, the live crit group isn't for you.

The disadvantage to a live group is the time frame. Crits have to be ready for the session. My group functions so that we send out our pages a week in advance and have them ready for the critique session on a specified night. What works for one group may not work for another. You have to decide what oars you're willing to row.

Online Critique Groups: I believe the Internet has made communication easier and faster, but also more brusque. You can say anything online. People can't detect your humor, your meaning, or the intonation in your voice. I've found my online critique group to be much more critical than my live group. I'm not 100% sure if this is because of the online setting, but I believe it to be.

You only get what people put out there. They may tell you they have three dogs when they don't have any. The personal side of the relationship takes much longer to build. If you don't mind this, an online group would probably work for you.

Critiques are delivered any time you can do them, day or night. This is the biggest benefit of an online critique group. Setting a schedule with your group is a must (and we'll be docking the Schedule Ship tomorrow), but you can do the crits when YOU have time.

The Great Barrier Reef: Be prepared to work. Reading another's writing with a critical eye can help you improve your own. But this does not come without a price—time. It takes time to read and offer a valuable critique. If you've ever done this, you know it's true. But, in a successful crit group, everyone reading your work is putting forth the same effort. Be thankful and gracious, even if you don't agree with their opinions.

Important side note: If your critique group isn't providing you with critiques you find valuable, it's not worth your time to stay. Time is your most precious commodity. Don't waste it.

Important side note #2: Be careful where you post your work. I don't recommend putting up copious amounts of your precious writing where the general public can see them. You can create private forums on RallyStorm.com or private groups through Yahoo or Critique Circle. Word to the wise--just be careful where you post.

Shark Repellant: Develop self-confidence and honesty.
These qualities may seem like they don't go in an article about critique groups, but in my experience, they totally do. You must have confidence in your writing—and your critiques. You must be honest in your critique of other's writing, as well as looking at your own writing with an unbiased eye.

Participating in a critique group can be valuable and rewarding. But remember that not everyone will agree with you, and that's okay. Also know that just because someone says something, doesn't mean you have to change it. Develop confidence in your critiques as well as your own writing.

Be prepared to be honest—in your critiques, in the communication to other members of the group, and while looking at your own writing. Sometimes it's hard to admit to yourself that your glowing words aren't so shiny. The best critique groups are those with members who are honest with themselves and others.

Taking the Dive: Ready to try it out? You probably are, but I've come up with a few more ocean metaphors related to critique groups that will be posted over the next few days. For some reason, I'm on a water kick right now. I hope you've got a wet suit or a life preserver or something. You're gonna need it!

Tomorrow's post: scheduling.