QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, June 29, 2009

Handling Rejection at Arm's Length

Rejection is a part of life. Sad but true. Regardless of your profession or abilities, you will come face to face with rejection and it's rarely a pleasant experience.  

Writers have it pretty bad when it comes to rejection for two reasons: 1) They are trying to sell a product that is a part of themselves--something they care about that's personal, and 2) The rejection comes in writing.  

The best advice I can give is to not take it personally. Truly, that rejection is not aimed at the writer in a spiteful or even personal way. Often, it is a form letter sent to hundreds and sometimes thousands of other writers who have queried that agent or editor.  

On several occasions, I've received a personal message from a fellow writer ranting about how mean an agent was about his/her work in a rejection letter.  When I asked the author if I could see the letter (because I've never seen a mean rejection yet and was intrigued) I discovered it was nothing more than a typical form rejection--well crafted to appear personal, but not personalized at all.  The writer was creating a slight in his/her mind that didn't exist. In one case, I was able to produce the exact same letter with identical wording that I had received in response to my own submission to that agent months earlier. 

Because I'm only one person with one person's limited experience, I want to share some other writers' views on handling rejections.  

Jeremiah Tolbert is a science fiction writer and editor for Escape Pod. I love his article, An Editor's Perspective on Rejection (Click on title to read). Mr. Tolbert addresses his approach to rejection as both a writer and an editor.  His take?  It's not personal and don't expect a rejection to be writing advice. 

Satire author Simon Haynes wrote an article on this subject called, Rejection of the Literary Kind, which should be required reading for unpublished writers seeking representation.  

Mr Haynes proposes that the road to publication can be pictured something like this:   

Mr. Haynes also addresses a recurring theme in my conversations with writer. Often, I am asked why an agent doesn't tell a writer what is wrong with the work. I know of several agents who used to do that, but had such negative responses from a few writers, they've stopped giving feedback on anything but fulls and even then, they are careful because some writers fire angry responses back. I find it hard to believe, but there are agents who have received death threats because of rejections. Sickening.  

On this subject, Mr. Haynes writes:

Of course, agents who gave honest feedback would be swamped by a tsunami of vitriol from aggrieved and hurting writers, which is why they don't do this. 

Literary agent Nathan Bransford is one of my favorite bloggers when it comes to helping a writer handle the hardships of the road to publication.  He addresses how to respond to rejections in his blog post, About Those Follow-Up Questions After a Rejection...

Mr. Bransford explains why he gives form rejections and doesn't respond to questions regarding his rejections:

I know. My standard query rejection letters are just as ambiguous and unhelpful as every other agent's (except that if you personalize your letter to me I'll personalize mine back). I know you're left hanging, that you'd like some leads, some more info... anything more than what I'm able to give you.

But I'm sorry -- my response is my response. That's it. I get 6,000-7,000 queries a year. I can't provide tips or referrals or answer further questions to even a small portion of these, or else I'd do nothing but answer queries and query questions. I have to delete follow-up questions so I can move on with my day. I mean, I can't even respond to say I'm not responding, simply because that alone would be such a huge time suck. So I just delete them.
I guess my point is this: Yes, it's difficult for a writer to be told that the novel/book/story she has delved into her heart to produce is not right for an agent's list. Even so, a writer must learn how to deal with this rejection and use it in a positive way, not take it as a personal affront. Publishing is a business. A hard one. As the old saying goes: "The only thing all published authors have in common is that the didn't give up."  

One of my books is in submission with publishers. Realistically, I will receive rejections (my agent will be receiving them as well. See? Agents get rejection letters too). How will I handle it?  The same way I handled agent rejection letters. I understand that it is not me the editor will be rejecting, but my book. Not all my books--just this one. And I've got a lot more books in me.  

I believe that in order to make it, all writers, new or established, must believe in themselves and their talent. 

Hold those rejections at arm's length and don't let them close to your heart.  

Do you have a technique/trick/tip for handling rejection? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.  

Have a beautiful week,


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for teens and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law school, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama. Mary is represented by Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Mary can also be found on her website or blog.

Flash Fiction - Your Fast Track to Publication

It’s all the rage, but what exactly is it?

Though flash fiction has been around for years, only recently has it become important in the literary community. Also called the “smoke-long” story because it’s just long enough to read while smoking a cigarette, flash fiction has become important largely because the whole story can fit nicely on a web page. Its brevity helps it hold a busy reader’s interest.

Flash fiction is usually written as a single act and is between 300 and 1000 words in length. (In comparison, a short-short is 1000-2500, a short is 2500-7500, novelette 7500-17,500, and a novella is 17,500-40,000.) Flash fiction collections are sold in bookstores, usually as anthologies.

1000 words sounds easy – What’s the catch?

To quote Jason Gurley of WritingWorld.com,“The challenge of flash fiction is to tell a complete story in which every word is absolutely essential, to peel away the frills and lace until you're left with nothing but the hard, clean-scraped core of a story.”

There’s no room for back story, and your characters must be immediately interesting and strong in order to invoke a reaction in your reader. The plot must be tight, the setting conveyed completely with only a few words. The goal is to write something memorable.

For tips on how to successfully write flash fiction, check out this article by G. W. Thomas.

Can you get paid for writing it?

Yes! Flash Fiction Online, for example, pays $50 for each entry it accepts for publication. (It's also a great place to read flash fiction.) Some magazines and e-zines do not pay, but the exposure you get is well worth the trouble. It will help you build your platform as Carolyn discussed last week.

What about flash fiction contests?

Another good way to get your story published! While there are many accepting entries right now, there’s one of particular interest for you agent-minded folk: WOW (Women on Writing) is hosting their quarterly flash fiction contest. The guest judge is literary agent Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency. Be sure to check out WOW's rules – entries are limited and a nominal fee is required.

Where can I submit my flash fiction?

Duotrope provides a full listing of all magazines accepting material for publication. The site is free to use and, with a free membership, you can track your submissions.

Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find a central listing of flash fiction contests. So if any of you are aware of a site, please let me know!

The skinny on flash fiction:

Writing a flash fiction piece is the perfect way to get out of a slump (like writer’s block) and start submitting material. It's a great project that can be done in as little as a weekend. Many mags accept email submissions, so it couldn't be easier.

Can it put you closer to publication of your big project? Absolutely! Agents look for writing credits. You can mention it in a query. This is an easy way for them to see a polished sample of your work, and for you to begin sharing your stories with family, friends, and colleagues.

Now, start 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.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Publishing Pulse 6/26/09

Agent Posts of Interest

The powerhouse ladies of BookEnds are in the middle of a week long Twitchfest. Follow their twitter feeds for an opportunity to pitch your novel in 140 characters or less!

If Carolyn's Platform post got you wondering how to improve your blog traffic, Guest Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler gave some great tips on Rachelle Gardner's blog.

Agent Kae Tienstra posted some inspiring thoughts on Productivity.

Andrew Zack started an interesting conversation on the value of Bookscan data. The comments on that series of posts are worth reading.

Publishing Points of Interest

Anonymous editor Moonrat gave us her thoughts on salaries and class status in publishing.

Perseus announced layoffs and title cutbacks.

The motion picture of Jodi Picoult's best-seller, My Sister's Keeper, starts today. The New York Times ran a piece examining her success and the public's fascination with "child-peril" lit.

The Book Depository is reportedly headed for America.

And if you're an Ohio resident, you might want to rally in support of your library system.

Just for Fun

If you're familiar with Twitter (and if you aren't you probably should be!), you must read this all-tweet version of Jane Austen's Pride and Predjudice. I could not stop laughing!

Have a great weekend!

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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Building YOUR Platform

What is a platform?

A platform is name recognition of some kind. Celebrity, if you will.

Why do you need one?

A platform will help you attract the attention of an agent and later a publisher. Why?

Because having a platform proves that you

  • Care enough about your project to promote it
  • Have some marketing savvy
  • Come with a built-in fan base (read: guaranteed sales)

More importantly, a good platform will help sell your book when it comes out. Fewer and fewer publishers are putting money into promoting books — especially books by unknowns and newcomers. That means that the onus of promotion falls almost completely (and sometimes completely) on you, the author. You are the one who’s going to be making people aware of the book, and convincing them to buy it. You are the one who’s responsible for making the book a success.

Just sit with that for a minute.

Your job doesn’t end with writing the book. It doesn’t end with landing an agent or even a publisher. These days, you must also be a marketing expert.

The good news is, you can learn how if you don’t know. And I'm going to help you get started.

Do you already have the makings of a platform?

If you’re writing nonfiction, do you have any of the following in the area you’re writing about?

  • Advanced degrees or certifications (e.g. MA, PhD)
  • Teaching experience
  • Speaking experience (e.g. you’re the pastor of a large church, you give presentations to large corporate groups)
  • Professional (i.e. on-the-job) experience
  • Expert experience (i.e. have you been quoted in newspapers or magazines as an expert on your topic?
  • Published articles in local (good) or national (better) magazines or newspapers
  • A polished, professional-looking website or blog
If you’re writing fiction, do you have any of the following?

  • Advanced degrees or certifications (e.g. an MFA)
  • Published short fiction
  • Writing awards from local, regional, or national contests (see below)
  • A successful website or blog that spotlights your writing

Help! — I don’t have a platform!

Let’s say you don’t have a platform. You don’t even have a shoebox to stand on. Now what?

Now you sit down with a piece of paper and answer the following questions.

  • Why do people need my book (as opposed to the thousands that already line the shelves?) What makes my idea unique? (Everyone must be able to answer this.)
  • Why must I be the one to write this book? What about my background or experience makes me the only one who can write this? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers.)
  • What do I do really well? (Go ahead and list everything you can think of here, even if it doesn’t seem relevant.)
  • How much time and energy am I willing to commit to building this platform? (e.g. I will blog three times a week on my book topic, every week)
  • What would I like my platform to look like in a year? (e.g. my blog will have 1000 subscribers)

After you answer these questions, you need to decide how you’re going to get from point A (don’t even have a shoebox) to point B (a real live platform). Look again at the skills you listed — can you use any of them?

For fiction writers

For both fiction and nonfiction writers, some of the best ways to build a platform include:

  • Blogging 
  • Using other social networking sites, such as mySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The trick is to provide information that’s really going to intrigue other people and get them invested in your book. Don’t tell them that you wrote 1500 words today — tell them that you did some fascinating research for your story on bondage furniture for that S&M dungeon in your story. Don’t just tell them you’re interviewing people for your nonfiction book — give them outtakes from the interview, or at least tease them with what kinds of nuggets of wisdom are going to be in your finished manuscript.
  • A website that provides information related to your story or nonfiction book. Writing a story about psychics? Give people some information about real psychics and how you got interested in the topic. Mary Lindsey provides photographs of real places mentioned in her novelSoul Purpose. Even if you haven’t read the novel, the pictures are interesting.

For nonfiction writers, find ways to speak or teach publicly.

And do all of these things BEFORE you send your query. Don’t tell the agent you’re going to build a platform; tell her you already have a great one in place. Rachelle Gardner puts it this way:    
I DON'T want to see in your proposal, "I am willing to start a blog and join social networks to market myself."
I DO want to see: "I've been blogging for a year, with my readership growing steadily. I use Facebook and Twitter to create relationships with potential future readers of my books, and to drive people back to my blog. I'm currently making contact through the blog and social networks with several hundred (or several thousand) people a day."
Still have questions?  Have other ideas on building platform? Feel free to use the comments area below!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. A published writer, she runs Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and an associated blog. She is often quoted by the media as an expert resource. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Elevator Pitch Winners per Agent Mollie Glick!

Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media was kind enough to serve as judge for our most recent contest on elevator pitches.

After carefully considering all of the fabulous entries, she's selected her 11 favorites.

These lucky winners will be asked to submit their partial manuscript to Ms. Glick!

Drumroll please...

And the winners are (in alphabetical order by username)

acarthur (YA)

Krystal Bentley has a crush and he’s everything she ever wished for, he’s movie-star cute, laughs at her dry humor and listens to her rantings about her divorced parents without judging. There’s only one problem—he’s dead.

alh719 (narrative fiction/memoir)

On December 7, 2007, I was slugged by a drunk frat boy. In that instant, I realized that living with 65 college women wasn't as glamorous as I thought it would be.

SORORITY HOUSE MOM is the tale of my two-year romp as the house director for a female version of Animal House. While celebrating all that is good, magical, and enchanting about sorority life, it also tells what can happen when things go terribly wrong.

auntpeapie (Adult Fiction)

Olivia Howard transitioned from obedient Air Force brat to dedicated wife and mother, but her orderly life is disrupted when she learns her teenage son and his girlfriend are expecting a child. When the idea of adoption is mentioned, she supports their choice, but no one anticipates her proposal to raise the child as her own—a suggestion interpreted as selfless to some, yet selfish by others, including her husband. AN IMAGINED LIFE explores how her decision threatens to unravel the stability she’s endeavored to achieve.

bgheald (Adult Fiction)

Shelby Holt knows she can’t trust her heart but when she meets Chad Graham she doubts she can trust her head either. The new ranch hand looks uncannily like the man she loved--a man whose death she’s determined to prove was no accident.

collie (Literary Gothic)

After her sister's suicide, Doril is sent to care for her reclusive and delusional great grandmother in Swale Hall on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. She becomes immersed in the old woman's imaginary world, gets to know the still passionately loved, long dead,Tristrum, and discovers the misconceptions that caused such anguish in their relationship.

fictionwriter (YA)

A fifteen-year-old American boy vacationing in Paris stumbles into a murder attempt, and plays a dangerous game to solve a puzzle and prevent an international crisis in THE FOGGED MIRROR.

kerribookwriter (YA)

When troublemaking fifteen year old Tina Lilly is sent to live with her grandmother, she has trouble adjusting to the slow way of life in small town Texas . Things suddenly take a turn after she discovers an old journal in the attic which reveals a murder her grandmother committed fifty years earlier.

In this “My So-Called Life meets Veronica Mars” coming of age romantic suspense novel, Tina will learn that sometimes living a lie is the only way to survive the truth.

kph555 (Adult Fiction)

HUNGER IN THE HEART OF GATOR TOWN is a Southern literary novella, with a finished sequel, about a young boy coming to terms with the consequences World War II has had on his family.

His beloved, shell-shocked, and unpredictable, father stages continual games of war to train his son, his bigoted, alcoholic mother blames the misfortune in her marriage on the black soldier whose life her husband saved, and his manipulative, cantankerous grandfather stirs up constant trouble between the two, while Coleman Puttman Bridgeman, III, is in the center of it all, fighting a personal war of survival.

When the boy’s father is suspiciously shot and killed, his grandfather accuses his daughter-in-law, and a bitter estrangement between Coleman and his mother is set in motion, tempered only by the family’s wise gardener and a neighbor girl with family problems of her own.

lauramcneal (Mystery/Suspense)

A young woman is kidnapped and disappears without a trace; three years later, a senator dies mysteriously, their paths linked by fate and the colliding ambitions of others – the head of the state lottery who will stop at nothing to become the next governor and the missing woman’s sister, whose relentless quest to find the truth threatens to bring him down.

Number_One (YA)

With his dad unemployed and money too tight to buy the comic books he pores over with his friends, Prentis Porter thinks eighth grade at his lousy new school can’t get any worse -- until a deadly cafeteria shooting not only leaves him questioning how he mysteriously survived, but his father’s miraculous appearance as it all ended.

His parents now constantly arguing as more losses pound his family, the imaginative teen finds himself increasingly alone, struggling with sometimes terrible revelations about his best friends, teachers, and family as he pursues the greatest secret of all -- the one he's begun to believe his father holds. Is it even possible, or is Prent the victim of his own imagination:

Is his father some kind of real-life superhero?

StevenLevy (YA)

President Lincoln was stabbed to death before being reelected – that’s what history books would say were it not for two daring, clever, and accidentally reeking children from our own time.

Ted and Carin, preteens living with their emotionally broken father in rural Washington State, find an antique key that opens the door on a sweltering afternoon in the other Washington (DC), where the Civil War is raging and conspirators are plotting to kill the president. Somehow, between stumbling into the sewage-ridden Washington Canal, sneaking into the loosely guarded White House only to lose each other in the vast building, and dodging a soldier still angry over his war wounds and a medium who claims she can reveal their future, these two children, out of place and out of time, must stop a murder that would change history – and find their way back home.

Ms. Glick also compiled a list of honorable mentions. They include:

aliciamuhlestein (YA)

Sent to live with her grandmother at Tamlin Manor, Anika learns that someday she will assume her role as heiress of Tamlin and caretaker of the earth--Mother Nature.

When William Shakespeare sends his son to take over his responsibilities at Tamlin and an Arthurian knight is spotted spying, Anika finds herself in the middle of a few mysteries, an ancient love story, and an admirer who is sworn to a secret not even the myths can know.

Amanda_Sullivan (Narrative Non-Fiction)

Families with children diagnosed as having “mental health issues” such as Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, or any of the other devastating names that are becoming so common to our vocabularies, tend to become lost in the psychological community. Usually they have searched for years looking for answers and they are tired and confused by the lingo, the meds, the social difficulties, the entire family feels it and suffers. This book is a parent’s “guide” through counseling and a Pollyanna approach to finding the true beauty in their child.

aprilannerwin (Adult Fiction)

Kianna Ravencamp’s dream has always been to find The One – but being plus-sized is a real hindrance on the romance market; add in the fact that every relationship around her is dysfunctional and she gives up hope that true love like her parents’ is still possible. Instead, she focuses on the next best thing, her dream of being a songwriter. God has bigger things in mind though – like Nick, Jason and Derek - and her journey to fulfill one dream may just upset everything she believes true about romance, herself, and The One.

chazley (YA)

High school holds as many secrets as a UFO crash site, and no one keeps her mouth shut better than Em Hopkins, a lone shape-shifter in a world of ordinary people.

Em can be anyone you want, from Barack Obama to Avril Lavigne; when the need to shift engulfs her, she can be anyone but herself. HOWEVER YOU WANT ME is a novel about identity, lies, and falling in love with the Hawaiian boy next door (or his brother).

cncurtin (YA)

THE UNICORN TAMER is where Greek mythology meets Pokémon, a young adult fantasy about a 13-year-old girl named Emma Brown, whose destiny is to rehabilitate all the endangered species - from the ordinary blue whales to the extraordinary griffons. The problem is her destiny clashes with a Hunter named Theron, who's destined to wipe out the animal race and prove that man is the most powerful beast of all.

When Theron kidnaps her parents, Emma attempts to rescue them and, in the process, inadvertently discovers a leprechaun city, saves a baby unicorn, and changes the fate of all endangered species - ordinary and extraordinary.

dutchhenry (Adult Fiction)

The cancer is winning, and she'll be gone by fall -- but they have one last summer. One hot summer to consummate a lifetime of love, to cry together, laugh together ... remember together. But when a troubled young girl and an injured horse turn to them for help, Mary and Sam Holt's eloquent final goodbye will embrace the labors of lovingly nursing the horse and leaving an enduring, healing mark on the girl.

harriet (Romantic Suspense)

A sgian dhub dagger links the murder of a handsome 34-year-old man in present-day Boston to a vow made by a Scottish ancestor 700 years earlier. The victim’s widow and his wealthy, powerful best friend are determined to uncover the reason for the senseless killing and avenge it. United by a mutual goal, the two find it increasingly difficult to resist a powerful attraction to each other.

LorettaWheeler (Historical Paranormal Romance)

It is the 1800’s in the heart of New Orleans, where above ground graves guard their secrets with moss cloaked tenacity, and where Deidre Devereaux has not only inherited a plantation, but something more…something wicked…something long dead; something that wants her, and her soul.

LynnRush (YA)

Maybe if Emma Martin hadn’t witnessed vampires kill her first true love, she’d be more willing to fall in love again. Despite her best efforts to resists him, Jake Cunningham steals Emma’s heart. But when his family starts triggering her mystical tattoo, which detects the undead, she may be forced to hunt them.

Congratulations to all! Winners, please email me at the address in the sidebar for details on your submission prize.

Big thanks to Mollie Glick for serving as judge, and thanks to everyone who entered. Remember, even if you didn't win our contest you can still query Ms. Glick with your complete and polished project!

Mollie Glick

After graduating from Brown University, Mollie began her publishing career as a literary scout, advising foreign publishers regarding the acquisition of rights to American books. She then worked as an editor at the Crown imprint of Random House, before switching over to "the other side" and becoming an agent at JVNLA (The Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency) in 2003. Mollie's list includes literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, and a bit of practical non- fiction. She's particularly interested in fiction that bridges the literary/commercial divide, combining strong writing with a great plot, and non-fiction dealing with popular science, medicine, psychology, cultural history, memoir and current events. She's very hands-on, working collaboratively with her authors to refine their projects, then focusing on identifying just the right editors for the submissions. In addition to her work as a literary agent, Mollie also teaches classes on non-fiction proposal writing at Media Bistro, and a copy of her instructional article on non-fiction proposal writing will be featured in this year's edition of the Writers Digest guide to literary agents.

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, June 22, 2009

Researching Literary Agents

We’ve spent some time on the blog discussing query letters, synopses, elevator pitches, genres, and manuscript formatting.

Let’s say you’ve done all that. You’ve written a great novel, ran it through a critique buddy or two, polished the query letter, all of it.

What next?

Researching literary agents, of course.

I think this step actually starts way back at the beginning and you should do it in bits and pieces as you prepare to query. No matter how you do it, just make sure you do. After all, you want to place your novel with an agent that will A) be a good match for you personality-wise B) likes your genre C) has contacts in your genre and D) has the best possibility of garnering a request from the query letter.

Thus, you must research.

Now, if you know me, I actually despise research—except for researching agents. I find this kind of research hopeful, because I know that I can find the literary agents that will be the best ones to query for my work. Here’s a few tips for making this process a little easier.

1. Search by genre. There is absolutely no point in querying agents who don’t represent your genre. It’s a colossal waste of your time—and theirs. Using the main QueryTracker site, this is easy, easy, easy.

Simply find your genre in the drop down menu and click search.

2. Once you’ve identified agents according to genre, find out all you can about them. On the "Overview & User Comments" tab, I can see everything I need to research the agent. For Kae Tienstra, there is her email address, a website listed, a blog, links to Publisher’s Marketplace, AgentQuery, AAR, Preditors & Editors, methods of submitting, the whole nine yards.

I typically open all of these links at once by clicking on them and letting them load in their own window. Then I systematically read each one, checking for the following:

o Submission Guidelines
o What they’re looking for
o Response times
o Anything else I think would help identify Kae as an agent I want to query.

Another thing I check on QueryTracker: the user comments. I can see experiences from people who have queried this agent before. And if you’re a premium member, you can run all kinds of reports about query response times, request rates and agents with similar tastes.

3. Now I’m 95% sure that I want to query Kae. One more thing I always do: a Google search with the words, “interview with literary agent XXX”. This is a good way to further discover if the agent you’re researching is looking for a book like yours. We’ve done two interviews with literary agents (Anna Webman and Beth Fleisher) as well as a reposting of Ginger Clark’s interview. Cynthia Leitich Smith does several interviews each month with literary agents on her blog, Cynsations. The Guide to Literary Agents blog is also a terrific resource for interviews and what specific agents are looking for.

Now that I know I want to query Kae, I prepare the first paragraph of my query letter. I tend to try to find something personal about each agent to begin the query with. This is where the blog I’ve been reading or the interview I’ve found comes in. My first line is usually something like this: “In an interview you gave on the Cynsations blog, you said you were looking for “teen protagonists with a strong voice”. Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, XXX.”

Then I launch into my hook, query, sinker. The agent knows I’ve done my research, and that I’m not spamming every agent in AgentLand with the same email.

I think many times, aspiring authors will only complete step number one, and search by genre. I don’t think this is enough. I think you owe it to yourself and to the agents you’re querying to do more than that. Read their websites and blogs. Familiarize yourself with their sales records and what they’re selling. Find out everything you can about the agent and their agency (forum discussions, following them on Twitter, reading books by authors they represent) before you hit send or affix that postage stamp.

Researching agents should not be skipped. It’s as important as the query letter. And we all know how important that is. A fabulous query letter is worthless unless you get it in front of the right agents. So roll up those sleeves, and do your research!

Elana Johnson writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. Besides a serious addiction to the Internet, she can never get enough reality TV, Dove dark or reasons to laugh. Click here to visit her blog.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Publishing Pulse, June 19

New Agents on QueryTracker.net

Mark McVeigh of the McVeigh Agency represents commercial fiction, literary fiction, children's fiction including middle grade and young adult as well as graphic novels. He also represents certain types of non-fiction. See his profile for a detailed listing.

Alyssa Reuben of the Paradigm Literary and Talent Agency is accepting queries for most types of fiction and non-fiction. Check out her profile on QueryTracker.net for a full listing.

Tips, News & Other Interesting Info from Around the 'Net

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner blogged about the dreaded author platform.

Google is planning a micro-blog search engine. Read about it here.

Since it's conference season, this article on making a good impression at conferences is a relevant read.

Literary agent Jenny Bent blogged about conferences as well. You can read her article here.

Winners of the QueryTracker elevator pitch contest will be announced on Tuesday, June 23rd.

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend.

Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for teens and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law school, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama. Mary is represented by Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Mary also be found on her website or blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Holt Uncensored's Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make

One day as I browsed the web for tips on writing, I came across a goldmine. I immediately contacted Pat Holt, the author of the treasure trove, asking for permission to reprint it on this blog. It was a delight to correspond with her, and I have since become an avid follower of her site and am always amazed at the clarity with which she sees (and sees through) the issues facing writers today.

Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)

Like many editorial consultants, I’ve been concerned about the amount of time I’ve been spending on easy fixes that the author shouldn’t have to pay for.

Sometimes the question of where to put a comma, how to use a verb or why not to repeat a word can be important, even strategic. But most of the time the author either missed that day’s grammar lesson in elementary school or is too close to the manuscript to make corrections before I see it.

So the following is a list I’ll be referring to people *before* they submit anything in writing to anybody (me, agent, publisher, your mom, your boss). From email messages and front-page news in the New York Times to published books and magazine articles, the 10 ouchies listed here crop up everywhere. They’re so pernicious that even respected Internet columnists are not immune.

The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.

So here we go:

Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a “crutch” word. Hillary
Clinton’s repeated word is “eager” (can you believe it? the committee
that wrote Living History should be ashamed). Cosmopolitan magazine
editor Kate White uses “quickly” over a dozen times in A Body To Die
For. Jack Kerouac’s crutch word in On the Road is “sad,” sometimes
doubly so - “sad, sad.” Ann Packer’s in The Dive from Clausen’s Pier
is “weird.”

Crutch words are usually unremarkable. That’s why they slip under
editorial radar - they’re not even worth repeating, but there you have
it, pop, pop, pop, up they come. Readers, however, notice them, get
irked by them and are eventually distracted by them, and down goes your
book, never to be opened again.

But even if the word is unusual, and even if you use it differently when
you repeat it, don’t: Set a higher standard for yourself even if readers
won’t notice. In Jennifer Egan’s Look at me, the core word - a good
word, but because it’s good, you get *one* per book - is “abraded.”
Here’s the problem:

“Victoria’s blue gaze abraded me with the texture of ground glass.” page 202
“…(metal trucks abrading the concrete)…” page 217
“…he relished the abrasion of her skepticism…” page 256
“…since his abrasion with Z …” page 272

The same goes for repeats of several words together - a phrase or
sentence that may seem fresh at first, but, restated many times, draws
attention from the author’s strengths. Sheldon Siegel nearly bludgeons
us in his otherwise witty and articulate courtroom thriller, Final
Verdict, with a sentence construction that’s repeated throughout the

“His tone oozes self-righteousness when he says…” page 188
“His voice is barely audible when he says…” page 193
“His tone is unapologetic when he says…” page 199
“Rosie keeps her tone even when she says…” page 200
“His tone is even when he says…” page 205
“I switch to my lawyer voice when I say …” page 211
“He sounds like Grace when he says…” page 211

What a tragedy. I’m not saying all forms of this sentence should be
lopped off. Lawyers find their rhythm in the courtroom by phrasing
questions in the same or similar way. It’s just that you can’t do it too
often on the page. After the third or fourth or 16th time, readers
exclaim silently, “Where was the editor who shoulda caught this?” or
“What was the author thinking?

1. So if you are the author, don’t wait for the agent or house or even editorial consultant to catch this stuff *for* you. Attune your eye now. Vow to yourself, NO REPEATS.

And by the way, even deliberate repeats should always be questioned: “Here are the documents.” says one character. “If these are the documents, I’ll oppose you,” says another. A repeat like that just keeps us on the surface. Figure out a different word; or rewrite the exchange. Repeats rarely allow you to probe deeper.

“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”

Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words - you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:

“Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important - his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time - and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension. (This is the editorial consultant giving you the benefit of the doubt.) Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.

Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally - these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.

I defer to People Magazine for larding its articles with empty adverbs. A recent issue refers to an “incredibly popular, groundbreakingly racy sitcom.” That’s tough to say even when your lips aren’t moving.

In Still Life with Crows, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child describe a mysterious row of corn in the middle of a field: “It was, in fact, the only row that actually opened onto the creek.” Here are two attempts at emphasis (”in fact,” “actually”), but they just junk up the sentence. Remove them both and the word “only” carries the burden of the sentence with efficiency and precision.

(When in doubt, try this mantra: Precise and spare; precise and spare; precise and spare.)

In dialogue, empty adverbs may sound appropriate, even authentic, but that’s because they’ve crept into American conversation in a trendy way. If you’re not watchful, they’ll make your characters sound wordy, infantile and dated.

In Julia Glass’s Three Junes, a character named Stavros is a forthright and matter-of-fact guy who talks to his lover without pretense or affectation. But when he mentions an offbeat tourist souvenir, he says, “It’s absolutely wild. I love it.” Now he sounds fey, spoiled, superficial.. (Granted, “wild” nearly does him in; but “absolutely” is the killer.)

The word “actually” seems to emerge most frequently, I find. Ann Packer’s narrator recalls running in the rain with her boyfriend, “his hand clasping mine as if he could actually make me go fast.” Delete “actually” and the sentence is more powerful without it.

The same holds true when the protagonist named Miles hears some information in Empire Falls by Richard Russo. “Actually, Miles had no doubt of it,” we’re told. Well, if he had no doubt, remove “actually” - it’s cleaner, clearer that way. “Actually” mushes up sentence after sentence; it gets in the way every time. I now think it should *never* be used.

Another problem with empty adverbs: You can’t just stick them at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a general idea or wishful thinking, as in “Hopefully, the clock will run out.” Adverbs have to modify a verb or other adverb, and in this sentence, “run out” ain’t it.

Look at this hilarious clunker from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

Ack, “almost inconceivably” - that’s like being a little bit infertile! Hopefully, that “enormous albino” will ironically go back to actually flogging himself while incredibly saying his prayers continually.

Be careful of using dialogue to advance the plot. Readers can tell when characters talk about things they already know, or when the speakers appear to be having a conversation for our benefit. You never want one character to imply or say to the other, “Tell me again, Bruce: What are we doing next?”

Avoid words that are fashionable in conversation. Ann Packer’s characters are so trendy the reader recoils. ” ‘What’s up with that?’ I said. ‘Is this a thing [love affair]?’ ” “We both smiled. ” ‘What is it with him?’ I said. ‘I mean, really.’ ” Her book is only a few years old, and already it’s dated.

Dialogue offers glimpses into character the author can’t provide through description. Hidden wit, thoughtful observations, a shy revelation, a charming aside all come out in dialogue, so the characters *show* us what the author can’t *tell* us. But if dialogue helps the author distinguish each character, it also nails the culprit who’s promoting a hidden agenda by speaking out of character.

An unfortunate pattern within the dialogue in Three Junes, by the way, is that all the male characters begin to sound like the author’s version of Noel Coward - fey, acerbic, witty, superior, puckish, diffident. Pretty soon the credibility of the entire novel is shot. You owe it to each character’s unique nature to make every one of them an original.

Now don’t tell me that because Julia Glass won the National Book Award, you can get away with lack of credibility in dialogue. Setting your own high standards and sticking to them - being proud of *having* them - is the mark of a pro. Be one, write like one, and don’t cheat.


Don’t take a perfectly good word and give it a new backside so it functions as something else. The New York Times does this all the time. Instead of saying, “as a director, she is meticulous,” the reviewer will write, “as a director, she is known for her meticulousness.” Until she is known for her obtuseness.

The “ness” words cause the eye to stumble, come back, reread: Mindlessness, characterlessness, courageousness, statuesqueness, preciousness - you get the idea. You might as well pour marbles into your readers’ mouths. Not all “ness” words are bad - goodness, no - but they are all suspect.

The “ize” words are no better - finalize, conceptualize, fantasize, categorize. The “ize” hooks itself onto words as a short-cut but stays there like a parasite. Cops now say to each other about witnesses they’ve interrogated, “Did you statementize him?” Some shortcut. Not all “ize” words are bad, either, but they do have the ring of the vulgate to them - “he was brutalized by his father,” “she finalized her report.” Just try to use them rarely.

Adding “ly” to “ing” words has a little history to it. Remember the old Tom Swifties? “I hate that incision,” the surgeon said cuttingly. “I got first prize!” the boy said winningly. But the point to a good Tom Swiftie is to make a punchline out of the last adverb. If you do that in your book, the reader is unnecessarily distracted. Serious writing suffers from such antics.

Some “ingly” words do have their place. I can accept “swimmingly,” “annoyingly,” “surprisingly” as descriptive if overlong “ingly” words. But not “startlingly,” “harrowingly” or “angeringly,” “careeningly” - all hell to pronounce, even in silence, like the “groundbreakingly” used by People magazine above. Try to use all “ingly” words (can’t help it) sparingly.

Once your eye is attuned to the frequent use of the “to be” words - “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “be,” “being,” “been” and others - you’ll be appalled at how quickly they flatten prose and slow your pace to a crawl.

The “to be” words represent the existence of things - “I am here. You are there.” Think of Hamlet’s query, “to be, or not to be.” To exist is not to act, so the “to be” words pretty much just there sit on the page. “I am the maid.” “It was cold.” “You were away.”

I blame mystery writers for turning the “to be” words into a trend: Look how much burden is placed on the word “was” in this sentence: “Around the corner, behind the stove, under the linoleum, was the gun.” All the suspense of finding the gun dissipates. The “to be” word is not fair to the gun, which gets lost in a sea of prepositions.

Sometimes, “to be” words do earn a place in writing: “In a frenzy by now, he pushed the stove away from the wall and ripped up the linoleum. Cold metal glinted from under the floorboards. He peered closer. Sure enough, it was the gun.” Okay, I’m lousy at this, but you get the point: Don’t squander the “to be” words - save them for special moments.

Not so long ago, “it was” *defined* emphasis. Even now, if you want to say, “It was Margaret who found the gun,” meaning nobody else but Margaret, fine. But watch out - “it was” can be habitual: “It was Jack who joined the Million Man March. It was Bob who said he would go, too. But it was Bill who went with them.” Flat, flat, flat.

Try also to reserve the use of “there was” or “there is” for special occasions. If used too often, this crutch also bogs down sentence after sentence. “He couldn’t believe there was furniture in the room. There was an open dresser drawer. There was a sock on the bed. There was a stack of laundry in the corner. There was a handkerchief on the floor….” By this time, we’re dozing off, and you haven’t even gotten to the kitchen.

One finds the dreaded “there was/is” in jacket copy all the time. “Smith’s book offers a range of lively characters: There is Jim, the puzzle-loving dad. There is Winky, the mom who sits on the 9th Court of Appeals. There is Barbie, brain surgeon to the stars….”

Attune your eye to the “to be” words and you’ll see them everywhere. When in doubt, replace them with active, vivid, engaging verbs. Muscle up that prose.


“She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylillies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over.

If you’re going to describe a number of items, jack up the visuals. Lay out the the scene as the eye sees it, with emphasis and emotion in unlikely places. When you list the items as though we’re checking them off with a clipboard, the internal eye will shut.

It doesn’t matter what you list - nouns, adjectives, verbs - the result is always static. “He drove, he sighed, he swallowed, he yawned in impatience.” So do we. Dunk the whole thing. Rethink and rewrite. If you’ve got many ingredients and we aren’t transported, you’ve got a list.

If you say, “she was stunning and powerful,” you’re *telling* us. But if you say, “I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury - shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful,” you’re *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you’re trying to paint, you’re showing us, not telling us what we *should* see..

Handsome, attractive, momentous, embarrassing, fabulous, powerful, hilarious, stupid, fascinating are all words that “tell” us in an arbitrary way what to think. They don’t reveal, don’t open up, don’t describe in specifics what is unique to the person or event described. Often they begin with cliches.

Here is Gail Sheehy’s depiction of a former “surfer girl” from the New Jersey shore in Middletown, America:

“This was a tall blond tomboy who grew up with all guy friends. A natural beauty who still had age on her side, being thirty; she didn’t give a thought to taming her flyaway hair or painting makeup on her smooth Swedish skin.”

Here I *think* I know what Sheehy means, but I’m not sure. Don’t let the reader make such assumptions. You’re the author; it’s your charge to show us what you mean with authentic detail. Don’t pretend the job is accomplished by cliches such as “smooth Swedish skin,” “flyaway hair,” “tall blond tomboy,” “the surfer girl” - how smooth? how tall? how blond?

Or try this from Faye Kellerman in Street Dreams:

“[Louise's] features were regular, and once she had been pretty. Now she was handsome in her black skirt, suit, and crisp, white blouse.”
Well, that’s it for Louise, poor thing. Can you see the character in front of you? A previous sentence tells us that Louise has “blunt-cut hair” framing an “oval face,” which helps, but not much - millions of women have a face like that. What makes Louise distinctive? Again, we may think we know what Kellerman means by “pretty” and “handsome” (good luck), but the inexcusable word here is “regular,” as in “her features were regular.” What *are* “regular” features?

The difference between telling and showing usually boils down to the physical senses. Visual, aural aromatic words take us out of our skin and place us in the scene you’ve created. In conventional narrative it’s fine to use a “to be” word to talk us into the distinctive word, such as “wandered” in this brief, easily imagined sentence by John Steinbeck in East of Eden. “His eyes were very blue, and when he was tired, one of them wandered outward a little.” We don’t care if he is “handsome” or “regular.”

Granted, context is everything, as writing experts say, and certainly that’s true of the sweltering West African heat in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter: “Her face had the ivory tinge of atabrine; her hair which had once been the color of bottled honey was dark and stringy with sweat.” Except for “atabrine” (a medicine for malaria), the words aren’t all that distinctive, but they quietly do the job - they don’t tell us; they show us.

Commercial novels sometimes abound with the most revealing examples of this problem. The boss in Linda Lael Miller’s Don’t Look Now is “drop-dead gorgeous”; a former boyfriend is “seriously fine to look at: 35, half Irish and half Hispanic, his hair almost black, his eyes brown.” A friend, Betsy, is “a gorgeous, leggy blonde, thin as a model.” Careful of that word “gorgeous” - used too many times, it might lose its meaning.


“Mrs. Fletcher’s face pinkened slightly.” Whoa. This is an author trying too hard. “I sat down and ran a finger up the bottom of his foot, and he startled so dramatically …. ” Egad, “he startled”? You mean “he started”?

Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop in the midst of reading and ponder the meaning of a word or phrase. This you never want as an author. A rule of thumb - always give your work a little percolatin’ time before you come back to it. Never write right up to deadline. Return to it with fresh eyes. You’ll spot those overworked tangles of prose and know exactly how to fix them.

Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.

“Bob ran up the stairs and looking down he realized his shoelace was untied but he couldn’t stop because they were after him so he decided to get to the roof where he’d retie it.” This is what happens when an author believes that omitting commas can make the narrative sound breathless and racy. Instead it sounds the reverse - it’s heavy and garbled.

The Graham Greene quote above is dying for commas, which I’ll insert here: “Her face had the ivory tinge of atabrine; her hair, which had once been the color of bottled honey, was dark and stringy with sweat.” This makes the sentence accessible to the reader, an image one needs to slow down and absorb.

Entire books have been written about punctuation. Get one. “The Chicago Manual of Style” shows why punctuation is necessary in specific instances. If you don’t know what the rules are for, your writing will show it.

The point to the List above is that even the best writers make these mistakes, but you can’t afford to. The way manuscripts are thrown into the Rejection pile on the basis of early mistakes is a crime. Don’t be a victim.

Pat Holt began her publishing career in the New York office of Houghton Mifflin Company in 1969 and was later promoted to the Boston office, where she was named publicity manager. In the mid-1970s she was senior editor and publicity director for the San Francisco Book Company, and in 1978 she became Publishers Weekly's first full-time Western Correspondent, where her territory ranged from the Rockies to Australia and Mexico to Alaska.

She was book editor and critic at The San Francisco Chronicle for 16 years (1982-1998) and was named a board member of The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress in 1984. Increasingly concerned about the plight of independent bookstores in their struggle to survive wave after wave of chain bookstores, price clubs, discounters and Internet suppliers, Pat Holt resigned from The Chronicle in 1998 to create "Holt Uncensored," an email book column launched by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. Now published from the Holt Uncensored website, the column is available free for online subscribers.

Ms. Holt is a founder of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, where she originated the idea for an annual BABRA Awards presentation to Northern California authors and publishers (now in its 15th year). In 1990 she became the first nonlibrarian in 40 years to receive the American Library Association's prestigious Grolier Foundation Award. Elected to the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle in 1991, she became Vice President in charge of membership in 1992-96.

Patricia Holt is the author of a biography of San Francisco private detective Hal Lipset called "The Bug in the Martini Olive," published in 1991 by Little, Brown and reprinted in 1994 as "The Good Detective" by Pocket Books.

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.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Agent Contest! Elevator Pitches with Mollie Glick

Exciting news, my little QT's! I'm delighted to announce the details of our June Agent Contest!

The contest will be judged by Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media.

Mollie Glick

After graduating from Brown University, Mollie began her publishing career as a literary scout, advising foreign publishers regarding the acquisition of rights to American books. She then worked as an editor at the Crown imprint of Random House, before switching over to "the other side" and becoming an agent at JVNLA (The Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency) in 2003. Mollie's list includes literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, and a bit of practical non- fiction. She's particularly interested in fiction that bridges the literary/commercial divide, combining strong writing with a great plot, and non-fiction dealing with popular science, medicine, psychology, cultural history, memoir and current events. She's very hands-on, working collaboratively with her authors to refine their projects, then focusing on identifying just the right editors for the submissions. In addition to her work as a literary agent, Mollie also teaches classes on non-fiction proposal writing at Media Bistro, and a copy of her instructional article on non-fiction proposal writing will be featured in this year's edition of the Writers Digest guide to literary agents.

Ms. Glick will be judging your elevator pitches!

An "elevator pitch" is a brief pitch (1 - 3 sentences) in 30 seconds or so. These short pitches get their name from imagining you might deliver these lines to an agent while sharing an elevator.

My elevator pitch for The Edge of Memory goes like this:

Maybe if Beatrice Greyson knew someone faked her death as a child, she wouldn't wish so desperately to remember the first decade of her life.

When the search for her birth parents reveals the brutal details of her mother’s murder, Beatrice thinks she’s found the reason she can’t remember her childhood, but her past holds other dark secrets and someone else is just as desperate for Beatrice to remember. Uncovering the truth will force her to confront a violent murderer— and maybe miss out on the love of her life.

If you need help working out your own elevator pitch, check out Mary Lindsey's post on the Elevator Pitch.

Here are the contest details:

* Entries will be accepted by entry form on the main QueryTracker.net site.
* You may submit your entries during the 24-hour window beginning at midnight tonight MST and ending at 11:59 Tuesday night.
* Acceptable genres are adult fiction, YA fiction, and narrative non-fiction.
* Entries should be brief 1 - 3 sentence pitches and take less than a minute.
* Ms. Glick will select the top ten winning entries. Winners will be invited to submit a partial manuscript to Ms. Glick!

So let's get those pitches shined up! The contest starts tonight!

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, June 12, 2009

Publishing Pulse: 6/12/09

New Agents on QueryTracker.net

Alyssa Reuben at the Paradigm Literary and Talent Agency represents all kinds of fiction and nonfiction (check the genres tab under her listing at QueryTracker.net!)

Mark McVeigh at The McVeigh Agency represents children's, MG, YA, literary and commercial fiction, and some nonfiction.

June Agent Contest

Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media will be judging our June Agent Contest. She'll be looking at your 1-3 sentence elevator pitches, and winners will be asked to submit a partial to her. Be sure to check back here on Monday for all the details. The contest will open on midnight Monday and last until midnight on Tuesday!

News and Tips from Around the Web

Guest blogger Alex Sokoloff wrote a great post for Blood Red Pencil called Top Ten Things I Know About Editing.  At the bottom she includes a fantastic checklist of story elements.  "I use [these] both when I’m brainstorming a story on index cards, and again when I’m starting to revise. I find it invaluable to go through my first draft and make sure I’m hitting all of these points."  She has also written very extensively about these story elements on her own blog in the post Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.

Agent Kristin Nelson recently blogged about both what publishers are buying, and what they don't want.

Guide to Literary Agents has a nice interview with Wendy Burt-Thomas, the author of The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters.  She includes the top do's and don'ts in writing queries.

Amazon.com has launched Kindle Publishing for Blogs (beta version).  The idea is that people can pay to get their favorite blog feeds on their Kindles.  You can visit Amazon for more info on how to sell your blog feed this way; just be aware that Amazon gets 70% of the revenue (yikes!).

And finally -- did you know the oldest Twitterer is 104? Or that Twitter only retains 40% of the people who start using it?  Well...now you do! (*wink*)

Have a great weekend and we'll see you right here next week!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. A published writer, she runs Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and an associated blog. She is often quoted by the media as an expert resource. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Interview with Literary Agent Beth Fleisher

Today, we have Beth Fleisher from the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency joining us on the blog! Beth is delightful and insightful, so without further ado…

Why agenting? A lifelong dream, or something that happened serendipitously?
This happened with planning and forethought. I wanted to be an editor since I was twelve, and read about an editor’s role in the introduction to a short story in an Isaac Asimov anthology. So of course when I went to college (Boston University, for the sailing team) I majored in Economics and English. The Powers That Be thought it would be better for me to focus on banking and finance. I complied, but committed to a dual major so I could keep up with my love of literature and writing. After one hideous internship in the overnight money department at a major international bank, I gave up economics and threw myself into publishing.

I did a series of internships while in college (Art New England Magazine, Northeastern University Press, Houghton Mifflin trade division) and picked up solid production skills as well as familiarity with all aspects of editorial work. I came back down to New York to interview for jobs as an editorial assistant. With my two year’s of experience, I was a perfect fit — except I couldn’t type fast enough!

I fell back on my production skills, and got a great job at The Berkley Publishing Group (part of Putnam, now part of Penguin USA). I was working on three lines of books, including Ace Science Fiction. After less than a year my boss quit to travel the world. I got her job, and then was able to make the transfer to acquisitions editor at Ace about two years after I started at Berkley. This effectively put me way ahead of my cohort who had started as editorial assistants. So I guess not typing well paid off in the long run!

I worked in house for about ten years. I loved it, especially working with authors to develop their talent. An editor’s job is challenging but quite fun: Working with authors to develop their voice, strengthen their story-telling, and then turning around and working with the business side of things to sell that author’s book as best as possible.

I left working in house to pursue some other goals (graduate school in Medieval history, my own writing, travel, having a family). After all, I had been working non-stop since my junior year in university! I also consulted on a number of publishing projects, and became very involved with comics and graphic novels, especially graphic novels published in Europe. My children are now in sixth grade, and I realized that I had time to get back to my career full time. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to proceed. After all, we don’t get too many opportunities to reposition ourselves!

I thought about going back, and working in-house as an editor. However, for me, there were some issues with that. I want to work with a diverse list of books and authors, and be able to position each author as best as possible, for their individual work. I realized that working in house, with one publisher, wouldn’t present me with that opportunity.

Agenting allows me this freedom: To work with a variety of authors, and be able to draw from a diverse group of publishers, to position my people as best as possible in this competitive world. When the opportunity presented itself to work with Barry Goldblatt, I jumped on it. (Just ask Barry!) He has a superb reputation, and has himself developed a wonderful client list. It’s a pleasure to join such a firm.

And I love negotiating. Brings out the competitor in me. Must be from all my years sailboat racing…

What would you like to see more of as an agent? As a reader?
As both a reader and an agent (it’s the same thing, really – you have to represent books you are passionate about) I am looking for forward-thinking writers with a strong individual voice. A writer must not write to a perceived marketing trend (dare I say vampire novels?). What perhaps the novice writer doesn’t know is that it is so very very apparent when an author is not fully engaged with their work — when they are writing for a market. The writing rings false, and that translates to a very dissatisfying read.

Prospective professional writers must keep in mind that if an agent takes on a manuscript today, unless it is a highly unusual circumstance that book won’t see print for a minimum of two years. Add in the time to actually write the thing, and if you’re writing to market, that bus has already left.

So, my words of advice: Only write what you love. Think forward: a new creative voice, not a re-telling of a previous bestseller. And on of my pet peeves: Take the time and effort to fully render the setting of your story. It strikes me as very amateurish when the writer develops plot and characters, but not setting. Setting is a character in the best of books (think everything from Wuthering Heights to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, to Harry Potter). Take the time to make your book the best book possible. A good book lasts forever.

What's the most common mistake you see authors making in their queries?
Not writing a business letter. I don’t want self-aggrandizing statements. (This book is the next bestseller!). All I need is a brief paragraph outlining the plot and characters, and five pages so I can see if you can write. Please only include biographical information that is relevant to the content and sale of the book. And take into account what I’m looking for. It’s just a waste of time to send me material that I do not take on.

What’s the one thing an author can do to catch your eye? How can authors get agents to look beyond the query letter?
As above: A query letter that is professionally written, short and sweet. And then, unfortunately, there is no secret. What will sell your book is five pages brilliantly written, so that I will ask for more. And that those five pages are followed by a dynamite manuscript.

Over the years I have seen my share of foolishness: In the old days back at Ace, someone sent in a beautiful handmade, velvet lined wood box. The manuscript was awful, so no, the box didn’t help. It did make us think that the author was, shall we say, trying too hard. The same with red envelopes, or whatever one can come up with for an e-submission. I am committed to reading EVERYTHING, and I will. However, publishing is a business, and I want to see a modicum of understanding of that from the prospective author.

What is projected to be the next big thing in publishing? What trend do you see dying?
No comment. Why? Because authors should WRITE WHAT THEY LOVE, NOT WRITE TO MARKET. See above. And by the way, Vampire books were dead in the water, until a certain author hit the scene.

Do you often choose to represent works that only you would personally read and enjoy or do you aim to represent works that you know will sell, even if you don't like them?
I must feel strongly about a book — and also about an author. The author and I must “click.” I have to know that the author is committed to a career, and will be professional in his or her dealings with me, and their publisher. I will not commit to an author just on their manuscript. I need to talk with them, suss them out, make sure that we’re a good fit. That said, I have widely eclectic tastes, and see a value in many different types of books and styles of writing, from frothy fun books for middle readers like the Captain Underpants series to adult non-fiction, and just about everything in between.

With the economic slow down as it is, are you signing fewer new clients and focusing on the ones you already have?
No. I am a huge believer that good books will always sell. I would be crazy to pass up a book I love and an author I want to represent because of the economy. Publishing is a long-term business. The manuscripts I’m reading now won’t be out for two years. I can’t predict where our economy will be then. Even if things are slow, good books sell even in a bad economic climate.

Do you ever get a chance to read for fun? What book do you not represent that you wish you did?
I read for fun all the time. It would be pretty silly to be in this business and not enjoy reading! And I have to say, as I’m building my list of clients, there is no book that I regret not representing. I’m looking at a very exciting future.

If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring authors everywhere, what would it be?
Write a book that you’re passionate about.

And now, just for fun, I'll hit you with the Fast Five: Coffee or tea?
Coffee, rich and dark, with cream. Preferably that great cream one gets anywhere in Europe, full of flavor.

Courier or Times New Roman?
Times New Roman.

Cruise or Self-Guided Tour?
Self-guided tour. More opportunity for unforeseen adventure.

3 chapters or 50 pages?
Three chapters. I hate incomplete thoughts, which is what an uncompleted chapter is.

Guilty pleasure?
Spa pedicures and sail boat racing.

Thank you, Beth, for taking the time to answer some questions! Check out Beth's genres and QT profile here.

Elana Johnson writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. Besides a serious addiction to the Internet, she can never get enough reality TV, Dove dark or reasons to laugh. Click here to visit her blog.