QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, July 31, 2009

Publishing Pulse: 7/31/09

New Agents

Several agencies have new agents, and you know what that means!  People looking for great submissions!

Laura Wood has joined Fine Print.  According to the Guide to Literary Agents, she "specializes in serious nonfiction, especially in the areas of science and nature, along with substantial titles in business, history, religion, and other areas by academics, experienced professionals, and journalists." Her email address is laura@fineprintlit.com.

Ward Calhoun has also joined Fine Print.  He's interested in "nonfiction titles in the areas of sports, humor, and pop culture." His email address is ward@fineprintlit.com.

To submit to either, follow Fine Print's instructions: "For fiction, send a query letter and synopsis and the first two chapters via regular mail. If you query via email, do not send an attachment without invitation. If we’re interested, we will ask to see a few chapters or the full manuscript.  For nonfiction, send a query letter, proposal, and sample chapters via regular mail. If you send a query via e-mail, do not include an attachment. If we’re interested, we will ask for additional material."

Brenda Bowen is a new agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Again according to the Guide to Literary Agents, she "represents authors and illustrators of children’s books for all ages (preschool to teen) as well as...graphic novelists, animators and maybe a surprise element or two."

To submit to her: "If you plan to query via e-mail: Please submit a query letter in the body of the e-mail, and the following as Word attachments: the first three chapters of the manuscript (for fiction), a book proposal (for nonfiction), a synopsis of the work, and a brief bio or résumé. If you plan to send a hard copy query: Please submit a query letter, the first three chapters of the manuscript (for fiction), a book proposal (for nonfiction), a synopsis of the work, a brief bio or résumé, and a stamped self-addressed envelope for reply. Original artwork is not accepted (send copies only). Enclose a stamped, self-addressed mailer if you wish to have your materials returned to you. We generally reply to queries within 6-8 weeks."

Jacquie Flynn has joined Joëlle Delbourgo Associates. She specializes in these nonfiction areas: "business and career, technology, science, psychology, self-help, and parenting."

Jacquie does not respond to email queries--you will need to snail mail her with a SASE at Joëlle Delbourgo Associates, Inc., 516 Bloomfield Ave., Suite 5, Montclair, NJ 07042.

Caleb Seeling is now an agent at WordServe.  You can get detailed information about how to query him here.

Insider Tips and Tricks from Around the Web

Literary agent Kate Epstein has just started Twittering at http://twitter.com/EpsteinLiterary.  She includes
- advice to writers looking for an agent,
- notes and thoughts on the business and product of writing,
- commentary on the publishing industry,
- and authors' publicity announcements.
Bonus--lots of her tweets are inspired by the queries she receives, so you'll get tons of information on what to do and what not to do!

Moonrat posted an absolute must-read post on publicity called My First Print Run Is Tiny!! How Can I Save My Book?

The Blood-Red Pencil has a great post on Self-Editing One Step at a Time: How to Identify Dragging Narrative.

Quips and Tips for Successful Writers gives you 6 Tips For Building A Successful Writing Career.

Rachelle Gardner summed up the most pertinent points from her From Proposal to Publication blog series last week. (They'll make you want to read the whole series!)

Everyone have a fantastic 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, July 29, 2009

A Query Us Medley

After all these months, I've come to think of you as close friends... my Querytracker family. If you've read my signature box, you'll know that one of my favorite pastimes is to compose parodies to annoy close friends and family. Well, my QT peeps... that means you. Don't say you weren't warned.

Blogging agents: what aspiring author doesn't love these guys? Most writers I know read many agent blogs. Each one is a little different, but they all share one thing in common:

Show me a blogging agent, and I'll show you where they posted in frustration over writers who didn't follow the submission guidelines while querying. Of course, you fabulous Querytracker peeps would never do such a thing, so you'll be able to enjoy the following presentation without remorse.

So... picture it...

You settle into your Orchestra seats at the Hirschfeld Theatre. The house lights dim to black, and then you spot some glowing lights undulating in the darkness before you. The spotlights blaze to life as blogging agents in bright flowing garments swarm the stage. The orchestra strikes up the opening to the "Aquarius-Let the Sun Shine In" medley, and the agents begin to sing:

Joanna Volpe: When your book is in the seventh draft

Colleen Lindsay: And you are sure it shines like stars

Jessica Faust & Kim Lionetti: Then, please, we’d like a query

Kristin Nelson & Sara Megibow: Lit agents are what we are!

All Agents: We’re looking forward to the day that you query us

Say that you’ll query us

You’ll query us

You’ll query us

Scott Eagan:
Single title or a series

Rachelle Gardner: Women’s fiction or a mystery

Nathan Bransford: Novels ready for submission

Jenny Rappaport & Jodi Meadows: Shouldn’t need extreme revisions

Kate Schafer Testerman: If your pitch blurb’s tantalizing

Holly Root: And your plot twists are surprising

All Agents: Then query us

Please query us

Janet Reid & Pink Octopus:
When you’re sure your book is ready

Jon & Kae Tienstra: And one of us is right for you.

The Knight Agency: Then read our posted guidelines

All Agents: We love the folks that do

Yes, please remember there’s a way you should query us

A way you should query us

To query us

To query us

To query us

To query us

[instrumental and tempo shift to “Let the Sunshine in”]

Check the Sub Guides, check the Sub Guides first, the Sub Guides first

Check the Sub Guides, check the Sub Guides first, the Sub Guides first

Check the Sub Guides, check the Sub Guides first, the Sub Guides first

[continue to end with concurrent scat]

Now, brief disclaimer for any agents who may be reading... I fit your blog or profile pictures in wherever I could without much regard for shape, size, skin tone or even gender, and my photoshop skillz are amateur at best. So please accept my apologies for the crudity of this model.

For your unwitting participation, I'm nominating each of you agents and assistants for a Tony Award... or a Phony Award... or something.

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, July 27, 2009

Finding Your Voice

No, I don’t really mean your voice. I mean the voice of your novel. You’ve heard it all over the blogosphere: you’ve got to have an authentic voice, especially when writing for the teen market (which is huge right now. Did you see the announcement that Borders is making a teen section in their bookstores? Woot!).

So how does one do this?

Well, um, uh…

You’ve got to find the voice of the narrating character. Become them. Be one. This sounds deep, but it’s not, trust me.

Some people fill out character sheets. These are a good way to have all the pertinent information in one place. It’s a good start for finding the character’s voice, but it’s not really gonna get you there.


Well, take me for example. I bet you could name a lot of things about me. Hair color, eye color, height, weight (to a reasonable degree), where I work, how many kids I have, my favorite foods, color, music, things to do, birthday, etc. Heck, all you have to do is read my profile on blogger, Facebook or Myspace. Read a blog post or two, I reveal A LOT about myself. You could easily complete a character sheet on me.

Does that mean you know me?

Could you write a story with me as the narrator? If you read my blog, I bet you could. My voice is in every post. The way I talk and the way I write are pretty much the same.

And that’s where you find your character’s voice. In the writing. But I don’t mean the actual writing.

Yeah, you’re lost. Give me a second, I’ll bring you back.

I don’t think you can just sit down and start writing with an authentic voice. It usually takes me a few pages (meaning like, 50, sometimes more) to really “find” the character’s voice. Then I’ve got it. Then I just have to go back and fix those 50 pages.

So those first 50 pages don’t count as “actual writing”. It's exploratory writing, the writing you do to find the voice of the character. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to conduct a character interview. Ask your character questions, being sure to be yourself. Answer them, making sure to BE YOUR CHARACTER. You should know them so well, you know how they would sit for the interview. What they would do with their eyes, mouth, hair, hands, etc. while they’re talking.

Only then, do you really know your characters enough to write. And write for real this time. Only then will you be able to write with an authentic voice—one that is not your own, but that of your narrating character.

Try it! I conducted an interview with one of my main characters here. Do it, post it on your blog, and then be sure to let us know about it by leaving the link in the comments.

What do you think? Do you think you need exploratory writing time to find your character’s voice? How long does that usually take you? What steps do you take to find their voice?

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, July 24, 2009

Publishing Pulse: 7/24/09

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

Pulitzer prize-winning author, Frank McCourt, died at age 78.

Barnes and Noble announced its new ebook store touting 700,000 ebooks available, many of which are public domain.

The Rita and Golden Heart winners were announced at the annual RWA Conference, which was held in D.C. Congrats to the winners.

Although not new this week, I ran across this interesting post on Moonrat's blog regarding pre-editing.

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner posted Part 2 of her series on Proposal to Publication. This post is on the contract stage.

Agent Kristen Nelson wrote a blog post called 10 Sample Page NOs and Why.

Agent Rachel Zurakowski has a good post on rejection.

Loosely related to Heather's most recent QT Blog article on social networking, here is a post about advertising on your blog.

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, July 22, 2009

Interview with YA Author Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr is the author of the award-winning YA novel Story of a Girl, the upcoming Once Was Lost scheduled for release this October by Little Brown, and Sweethearts, which is featured on the Oprah Book Club Kids Reading List. Sara is a champion of aspiring authors and an absolute delight to speak with. (Click on the books for more info about them!)

Is there a particular event that helped you become an author?

There was a long culmination of little things, but there was a time when I'd been writing and submitting for about seven years and nothing was happening. I lost my job, I fired my agent, and I was ready to give up on writing and make a new plan for what to do with my life. Then I went to a weeklong workshop where I took a fiction class and met and mingled with a lot of other people who wanted to do what I wanted to do. The response to my work in the class was so strongly positive, that I came away with new enthusiasm and determination.

Tell us about the journey that led you to your agent, Michael Bourret of Dystel Goderich Literary Management.

Oh, it was long! I'd parted ways with my first agent and was looking for another. This time, I had a much better idea of how I wanted the agent/author relationship to work for me. I spent about three years cold querying and submitting to agents before I found Michael. There was no insider info or friend-of-a-friend scenario. I just researched, queried, and submitted the old-fashioned way! Michael was looking at my work when I happened to be in NY for a SCBWI conference, so we arranged for me to come by his office to meet. We had a great talk and hit it off, and he offered me representation. Oh happy day! It was February 4, I think, 2005.

Can you tell us about Once Was Lost and your inspiration to write it?

Shortly after I moved to Salt Lake City, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. I was working at a church at the time, and somehow the events of the kidnapping and the way things felt around town that summer and the fact that I worked in a church all coalesced into the story that became Once Was Lost. It's about a pastor's daughter who lives in a small town where a girl who attends her church goes missing. She's already sort of in the midst of a crisis of faith when the book starts, and the tragedy of the missing girl pushes her over the edge. Meanwhile, her father fails to grasp (or notice) what his daughter is going through since his life is absorbed with supporting the family of the missing girl. Drama ensues! (As it tends to do in my books...)

Do you have an outline or write from the hip?

Generally I just start writing, with a clear idea of the beginning and often the ending, too. At some point (usually about a third of the way in) I have to stop and sketch out, at least loosely, what's going to happen in the middle. My "outline" is really just a bunch of notes and Post-Its and index cards.

Do you have to travel much to promote your books?

I get to travel a bit here and there. Not as much as some authors, and more than others. I have friends who travel half the year or more in a publication year and honestly cannot imagine doing that. This fall I get to do a number of book festivals (in UT, TX, TN) and other fun stuff, and am looking forward to that. It's always great to connect with readers and other writers (published and pre-published) in person!

Can you tell us about your next project?

No. :) It's still in beginning stages. My editor doesn't even know yet what it is.

Story of a Girl, which is a 2007 National Book Award finalist, is considered by some to be on the edgier side of YA. How do you feel this has helped or hurt your career?

It's hard to say. I don't get the sense that it's hurt. Though there are a few people or organizations who don't choose it for their lists or collections because of content, I'd say it has found its audience. It has been named to lists and received some awards, and really I can't complain. I think it was well-received not because of its edginess or non-edginess, but because something about the character's emotional journey resonated with readers in a way that feels true to them.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Oh, a lot! I love talking to aspiring authors and sharing my story, and my trials, and reassuring them that what they are going through is a normal part of the process. I guess that's what I'd say though it's more encouragement than advice: If you're struggling with writing or with wanting to write, if the words on the page make you scared or nauseous or convinced you should give up, if it feels like you've been writing forever with no tangible results other than more words, if you feel like a fraud, if you worry someone will arrest you for impersonating a writer...you are TOTALLY NORMAL. Virtually every successfully published writer I know still feels at least one of these things at least once a day.

Is there a downside to being a published author?

Absolutely. There's a down side to everything. Once expectation enters the picture---from readers, from your publisher, from your family or yourself---writing is never quite the same. Once you're in the publishing game, the insecurities don't stop. There's always someone with better reviews, more money, bigger tours, more fans, more sales, a cooler persona. There's always someone whose writing is so good it makes you want to crawl in a hole and die. Basically, being published accomplishes one thing and one thing only: getting your book to readers in the marketplace (and that in turn might earn you some money, maybe a living, possibly a nice living). And getting to readers, of course, is so important! I might venture to say it's the most important part. But it doesn't solve all of the other problems of your life, or with your writing.

Do you have a quote that motivates you?

I'm sort of paraphrasing here, but I think I've got it right: "Talent is as common as house dust and useless as tits on a boar. What counts is hard work, perseverance, determination." I once heard Barry Moser say that (or something close to it) at a conference. I love it, because it eliminates the excuse of sitting around worried that you're not gifted enough to write. There are lots of very talented people who never publish a word because they don't have the hard work and perseverance part down. I'm not saying that talent plays no part in making good writing, but it certainly isn't that important when it comes to having a career. Some of the worst books in the world are best sellers! I'm not saying go out and write a bad book. The point is: we all feel insecure about our talent or giftedness, and might waste years of our lives trying to ascertain whether or not we have the gene or the aura or the magic muse or whatever it is we think we have to have to give ourselves permission to write. There's really no way to know what resources of talent lie within until you get to work and keep at it, always striving to improve and challenge yourself.

Thank you, Sara, for answering my questions! I loved every word of Story of a Girl - it made days spent at my kids' swim lessons enjoyable! I'm looking forward to reading Sweethearts next. It has such an interesting premise, I'd like to share a blurb with our readers:

As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be---but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend. When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.

Sara's bio:
I had an interesting childhood in San Francisco involving spies, orphanages, wagon trains, tornadoes, kidnappings, evil school marms, and re-enactments of popular Broadway shows and the movie "Grease." You could say I had an imagination. Now I make stuff up for a living. I've got two novels out right now, Story of a Girl (a 2007 National Book Awards finalist) and Sweethearts. My third novel, Once Was Lost, will be out in fall 2009.

To find out more about Sara, check out her website.

I hope you all are having a fantastic summer!

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, July 20, 2009

Social Networking: Showmanship

In previous posts, I discussed Blog Readers and Social Networking Basics. For this post, I want to share one of my own personal tips for those of you hoping to cultivate an online relationship with publishing professionals.

In the current social networking climate, many agents and editors are more available to aspiring authors than ever. You can interact with these publishing peeps through their blogs or websites, on Facebook and Twitter, through online chats with live Q & A.

That means you have an unbelievable opportunity to make connections and create a positive foundation for a professional relationship. But it also means you need to be careful that your online actions are working FOR you rather than against you.

Let's consider an agent blog scenario as an example. Commenting on an agent blog gives you a chance to get yourself onto her radar. Many agents say that they peek at the blogs of folks who follow or comment. So you'll want to make sure your blog, website, or whatever is entertaining and professional.

Certainly that's a good start, but I'd like to take things a step further and recommend a little showmanship.

If you read through the comments on most agent blogs, you'll find they generally fall into five categories:

1. Simple comments, such as "Great info! Thanks!" or "Thanks for posting this." These sorts of comments will certainly not harm you, but they won't go too far towards making you stick out as someone the agent wants to know more about.

2. Kiss-up comments. The long, ingratiating (and often self-deprecating) paragraphs extolling the virtues of not only the post, but also the agent, the agent's friends and relations, the remarkable job her kindergarten teacher must have done, etc. These comments are dangerous, in my opinion. Flattery doesn't really get you everywhere and can seriously backfire, either by annoying the agent in question or by making your "I'm not worthy!" point so clearly that the agent agrees with you.

3. Practically Spam comments.
You know the ones... not really intended to contribute to the conversation, but to post a link to drive traffic to the commentator's blog or website. This sort of comment seems like shameless self-promotion and is likely to work against you, unless the link you're including is meaningfully related to the agent's post, and you explain how in your comment (e.g. Interesting take on social networking. I think Twitter has some drawbacks, though, as I was discussing on my blog last week.")

4. Frustrated writer rant comments.
Getting published isn't easy, and writers as a whole are extraordinarily sensitive souls who are very personally attached to their work. It can be an incredibly frustrating process, and you may feel the need to vent. Never, ever, no... NEVER EVER do that in public, especially not on an industry professional's blog or website. 'nuff said.

5. Thoughtful, entertaining comments
that add to the discussion. Ah! The sweet spot.
Number 5 is where you want to be. Which brings us to "Showmanship."

I personally am very active online. I comment on agent and editor blogs, I tweet with them. But I don't do it constantly. I employ a technique I call the "George Costanza."

If you're a Seinfeld fan, you're probably familiar with the episode where Jerry tells George about showmanship.

George had made a great suggestion at a work meeting, but then followed it up with a bad joke and ended up feeling foolish.

GEORGE: I had 'em, Jerry. They loved me.

JERRY: And then?

GEORGE: I lost them. I can usually come up with one good comment during a meeting but by the end it's buried under a pile of gaffs and bad puns.

JERRY: Showmanship, George. When you hit that high note, you say goodnight and walk off.

So, here are my personal recommendations:

1. Take your time.

2. Comment sparingly, only when you have something important/thoughtful/entertaining to say.

3. Proofread your comment or tweet before posting it.

Hit that high note, and leave them wanting more. ;)

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, July 17, 2009

Publishing Pulse: 7/17/09

New Agents on QueryTracker.net

Rob Weisbach of Creative Management has been added to the QueryTracker database this week.

Alan Nevins was also added to the QT database. Mr. Nevins is with Renaissance Literary & Talent and represents a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction. Check his profile on QueryTracker.net for a full listing.

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

I loved this article in which an editor and agent panel lists 17 reasons a manuscript is rejected.

Writer's Digest has a new writing prompt blog called, Promptly.

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner wrote an interesting blog post on writing what's hot.

QT Blogger News

My favorite news of all this week is that our very own QT blogger, Heather Dyer, has signed with agent Katherine Boyle of the Veritas Literary Agency. Heather's success story interview can be read here. Congrats, Heather!

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, July 15, 2009

Curing The Query

All right people. I’m going to expound a profound truth about publishing.

It’s slow.

I know many of us want to rush things. We want to “hurry up and get the book done.” Then we have to “hurry up and have people critique the book.” Then we have to “hurry up and write the query letter.”

Believe me, I’m a hurry-ier. But I’m here to tell you to stop. Or at least slow down. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that after you finish a novel, it needs to go through a “curing” stage where you don’t open it, read it or think about it. It just sits quietly on your hard drive while you do something else.

I’ve heard and read different amounts of time for this "curing", but I like to leave mine for about a month. Sometimes less, sometimes more depending on a myriad of factors. But it cures. Then you can open it up, and really edit the heck out of it, because it’s fresh as you’re reading it.

The same goes for a query letter. I’ve seen so many examples of talented, lovely people who post their query letters for critique. They get said critiques and come back in, literally, hours with a revamp.

To me, that’s a #queryfail.

You need to let the query cure, just like you let the manuscript cure. I learned this with my very first query-critiquing experience. Janet Reid was doing a query-critiquing activity called Query Roulette, way last year. Mine was chosen. She thrashed it. But part of the deal was that we could do revisions and send them back to her. So I did. And she gave me some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever received.

“MUCH better! Another polish or two, just the kind of thing you'd do after you let it sit a week and go back to it with a fresh eye, and you've got a good letter. Good job!”

Here are the words that stuck out to me: “…after you let it sit for a week and go back to it with a fresh eye…”

Ah…so the query needs time to cure too. In fact, now I usually write my queries in stages, in completely separate documents. I lump the hook and the setup together and work on them first. Then I lump the conflict and the consequence together and work on them last. (Don't know what I'm talking about with the parts of a query letter? Click over on the right where it says "Writing Query Letters".)

And I always, always, always let at least 3 days go by before opening any part of the query and working on it again. After I put the whole thing together, I've mandated that a week go by before I look at it again. THEN I post it for critique. And after gathering those valuable crits, I wait again, really digesting their comments and questions and impressions, before diving back in to edit.

Because, just like your 90,000 word manuscript, your query letter needs time to cure.

By the way, if you want to see my query and Ms. Reid's full comments, you can click here. I posted it in the QueryTracker forum when it was all going down.

What do you think of this "curing" process? Dare I say that it should be applied to synopses as well? Do you think you have a keener eye on something you haven't read for a while?

Will you try it on your query letter and see if it helps? It might at least make the query writing process go smoother. Well, we can hope, right?

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.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Interview with Literary Agent Kate Epstein on Platform

You asked for more posts on platform, so today we have literary agent and AAR member Kate Epstein joining us to talk about platform! Kate is the founder of the Epstein Literary Agency and specializes in nonfiction for adults.

Projects she represents include: Knitting the Threads of Time by Nora Murphy (New World Library), Peter Allison's Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide and his Don't Look Behind You! (Globe Pequot Press), The Day After He Left for Iraq by Melissa Seligman (Skyhorse Publishing), and Hooked for Life: Adventures of a Crochet Zealot by Mary Beth Temple (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

What is your definition of platform?

A platform is generally anything that will get you and your book media attention--but it's something about you, not about your book. That is, subject matter, no matter how interesting, isn't platform--platform is something you specifically bring to promotion that will increase your book's visibility in a way that another author might not be able to do. I don't know where the term got started, but it seems to me that it has a fairly specific metaphorical meaning in that in a crowd of people, you will stand on a platform and people will see the book you're holding up because you are higher up than the rest of us.

What do you look for in a platform? 

Ideally your platform shouldn't just be connecting you with random people but with people likely to be interested in reading what you're writing about. So if you're well-known for fishing, it may not help much if you want to write a book about crochet.

Are there any “platform misconceptions” you hear from writers?

A few months back a lot of people seemed to believe that Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, sold her book with no platform. Now, her platform wasn't such as to make anyone expect she would be so spectacularly successful, but she was a well-regarded memoirist, biographer, and journalist.

Many of our readers are intimidated by the concept of platform – they don’t know where to start.   Can you give them any tips?

A great thing to do is seek out gatherings of your market and start small. Nowadays there are so many online gatherings related to all different kinds of interests and problems; start getting in there and making friends. If you're credentialled in some way, offer to speak at conferences related to your book topic.

One thing many authors don't realize is that, depending on a book's subject matter, a small platform may be very leverageable. While the big conglomerate publishers don't take on anything wherein they can't expect to sell 15,000 copies in the first print run, mid-sized publishers are interested in books that sell 5,000 copies within 12 months.

Now, if an area is crowded in the bookstore, a small platform may not cut any ice--if your book is about how to get your baby to sleep, it may be hard to woo away ANY readers from Ferber and Pantley. And memoir is hard to launch without a really big platform, most of the time.  But if a topic is under-explored, but not too niche to have sales potential, a small platform may be enough--as good as a feast.

What separates people who are good at building platforms from people who struggle?

Generally people who are good at building platforms aren't afraid to be obnoxious. If you'd rather not be noticed, you probably won't be. It also helps I think to understand and respect your market. However, most people struggle. It's really hard to get noticed in this world.

Thank you so much, Kate, for taking the time to answer our questions!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. She is delighted to have Kate Epstein as her agent. She is currently working on a book to teach writers to use psychology accurately in their fiction for Quill Driver Books. If you want a sneak preview, check out Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and the associated blog!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Publishing Pulse 7/10/09

Though summertime is traditionally the slow season for agents and editors, the internet has been hopping with breakthrough material for writers. This is the perfect time to polish up your query, build your platform, and get ready to fly.

Check out Susan Harrow's Find a Literary Agent: Get a 6 figure book advance.

For a stunning list of ways to make your book better, read published author Alexandra Sokoloff''s Top Ten Things I Know About Editing.

Agent by day, writer by night, Lucienne Driver offers much needed advice in Permission to Pause.

A guest on Nathan Bransford's blog gives a nice business-side view in Book Sales Demystified.

The lovely Moonrat sheds light on Why British Novels Have Different Titles in the US and vice versa.

Contests Review Fuse has announced a flash fiction contest with a prize of $1oo. Entries will be accepted through July 31st.

Dream Quest's poetry and short story contest offers cash prizes and publication of your piece on their website if you win. July 31st deadline.

Nano Fiction's contest is for flash fiction or poetry of 300 words or less. The Nano prize is $500, deadline is August 1st.

Submissions Samhain Publishing is seeking submissions for their Spring 2010 demons and angels themed anthology. Check out Nice Mommy~Evil Editor for details.

Congratulations are in order! Our own H. L. Dyer has signed with Katherine Boyle of the Veritas Literary Agency for her women's fiction book, The Edge of Memory. Way to go, Heather!

And for dessert: Jessica Faust has a delightful post comparing novels to ice cream flavors. The perfect summertime treat. *wink*

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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Medical Fiction Questions Answered: 07/08/09

Okay, gang... the Doctor is IN! More medical fiction questions...

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 a question from Sandy:

Hi there,

Got a medical question for you. I have a guy holding a knife to my MC’s neck. As he’s threatening to kill her, he applies more pressure. Since this is my MC, I don’t want her to die or be severely injured, but I do want her to bleed a lot and think she’s dying. Is it possible for there to be a lot of blood without cutting something important like an artery or her windpipe?

Thanks very much!

Good news, Sandy! You absolutely can do this. The neck is actually quite complicated as far as anatomy goes... there are lots of blood vessels, nerves, and muscles, in addition to your windpipe and thyroid/parathyroid glands.

A cut to the neck can certainly cause severe injury or death, but there are also blood vessels that, while they could cause significant bleeding if injured, wouldn't be fatal.

For the purposes of the scenario you described, the best vessel to injure in this fashion is probably the external jugular vein. It's not deep under the skin, so it would be quite easy for your villain to injure.

So you'll probably want your villain to press the knife off to one side. As you can see from the picture, the middle is where you could injure structures like the windpipe. Also, the thyroid gland sits right in front of the windpipe at the midline. You'll also want to make sure your villain doesn't cut too deeply, or he could hit the carotid artery, which would cause your MC to rapidly bleed out.

So, go for the jugular, Sandy! *snort*

Our next question is from our resident dynamic duo, Lisa and Laura:

Ok, let me just start off by saying that you are a God-send. Laura and I were on the phone tonight discussing this question and it went something like this:

Lisa: Yeah, I don't know, let's google it.

Laura: Nothing. They don't say if this kind of pill would actually exist.

Lisa: We need to ask a doctor. How do I not have any doctor friends?

Laura: Wait! The Query Tracker blog totally has the doctor that answers questions.

Lisa: OMG - you're right. Composing e-mail now.

So, thanks in advance for any insight here.

We have a character in our book who dies from a heart attack. She has a congenital heart defect and had a surgery when she was very young, but still takes medication on a daily basis to keep things under control. Is there a medication that would prevent a heart attack if she felt the symptoms coming on? In the book we have her running from someone, went to get her medication, couldn't find it and died. Are we complete idiots? If so, feel free to inform us of that fact.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!
Hmmm... I have to answer this question two ways. Which seems, somehow, appropriate.

First of all, there is indeed medication that can prevent or reduce the severity of a heart attack. The most commonly referenced one would be nitroglycerin, which relaxes the blood vessels of the heart and allows more blood to reach the area that's deprived. Aspirin can also help by breaking up clots that might be blocking one of the cardiac vessels.

Which leads me into a brief discussion of what a heart attack is, exactly, in case you don't already know.

A heart attack is also called myocardial infarction. "Myocardial" means heart muscle and "infarction" means death or injury due to inadequate blood flow. So what's happening during a heart attack is for some reason the heart muscle itself is starved for blood. Part of the heart muscle may die from this, making the heart too weak to pump, or the damaged tissue may cause the heart to go into an abnormal rhythm.

There are many different congenital cardiac defects, but the vast majority of them would not be likely to put this patient at risk for a myocardial infarction. In fact, the most common cause for a young person to have a myocardial infarction (ignoring extreme familial high cholesterol or drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine) would be one of the heart blood vessels coming off the wrong artery and delivering DEoxygenated blood to the heart muscle instead. Someone with a congenital heart problem would be LESS likely to have this problem, as they would have gone extensive heart evaluations, including 2D-echo (an ultrasound of the heart) as well as cardiac catheterizations (where they pass a camera through the blood vessels to look at them) and direct examination during her surgery.

If you want to give her a congenital heart condition that requires surgery and might give her a heart attack years later, your best bet would be a transposition of the great arteries. In that condition, the artery that usually goes to the lungs and the aorta, which usually goes to the body are switched. So the deoxygenated blood is running around in one circle and the oxygenated blood in another. The patient only survives birth if there is a hole in the heart that allows the two to mix.

The surgery to fix this involves literally cutting and switching the arteries, but depending on where the blood vessels that feed the heart are, they may end up kinking down the line.

I'm not sure that your character NEEDS to have a heart attack. Having had any sort of cardiac surgery could make her more likely to develop an abnormal heart rhythm, which can also be fatal.

Unfortunately, the medications used to treat an emergency arrhythmia are given through a vein, rather than as a pill. It takes 10 - 15 minutes to absorb a medication through the stomach. Arrythmias can also be treated with electric shock, but someone else would have to administer it.

There is a specific form of arrythmia, SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) that can sometimes be stopped by applying ice to the face or by "vagal maneuvers," such as blowing hard into their thumb (like they were trying to blow themself up like a balloon). This arrythmia can degenerate into other more serious rhythms if not corrected. (But unless she doesn't know where the freezer is, this doesn't give her much to search for either.)

I'm not sure what will work best for your story, but I hope that helps!

Big thanks to Lisa, Laura, and Sandy for sending in questions. And if you've got a medical fiction question you'd like me to answer here, please email me (hldyer at querytracker.net) with "medical question" in the subject. You'll receive a email auto-reply confirming that your question has arrived safely to my inbox.

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, July 6, 2009

The Latest Query Do's and Don'ts

I'm a big fan of query do's and don'ts from agent blogs.  Most of us have heard the standard ones -- do be sure to check agent websites for what the agent wants, don't misspell the agent's name -- but from time to time new do's and don'ts pop up.  Here are a few of the latest from around the web.

DO be sure your writing is the best it can be.

The bottom line is that your writing is the only thing that matters.  As Janet Reid puts it,
You do not get extra consideration if you have never queried before, or it's been awhile since your last query. You don't get extra consideration if you're 85 or 18. You don't get extra consideration if you've waited your whole life to write a book and now you've got time.
DON'T make excuses for why your writing isn't the best it can be.

If you're not a good speller, or you have trouble with grammar, or whatever, don't point it out -- fix it! Read some writing books that address your specific problems or take a class at your local community college.  Because your writing is the only thing that matters.

DON'T rely on an electronic spell checker to fix your spelling errors.  

Try misspelling "definitely" in Microsoft Word.  You know how it's going to suggest you fix that?  By spelling it "defiantly."  And you definitely don't want to show defiance in the wrong place!

DO write your own query letters. 

Some people do this funny thing where they ask for feedback on their query letters and then cobble the suggestions together.  What they end up with is a query letter other people wrote for them.  There are several things wrong with this approach, including: 1) The query letter no longer represents the person's writing, so it's not representative of what the book will be like.  2) If the query letter really needed so much work that other people had to completely rewrite it, the novel probably needs to be completely rewritten, too.  Again, read some writing books or take a class.

DON'T tell the agent all about how great you'd be to work with.

Janet Reid argues that "your query letter is not a personal ad."  Besides, the approach is likely to backfire, because, she says,
The people who tell me they are 'non-judgmental' are usually the most judgmental people I know; the people who tell me how busy they are are never too busy to tell me how busy they are. In other words, people who tell you they're easy to work with are the ones I suspect of being most difficult. The ones who really ARE easy to work with? It hasn't dawned on them they'd need to tell anyone that.
DO query about only one project at a time.

You may have written a series (or be planning to write one), but you've got to sell that first book before you do anything else.  So focus on that first book.

DON'T call the agency to see if they got your (emailed) query. 

Especially if you just sent the query five minutes ago.

In fact, unless an agent there already represents you, DON'T call the literary agency at all.

DO make sure your email address works.  

Some writers wonder why they never hear from an agent, oblivious to the fact that their mailboxes are full, or that they've misspelled their return-to email addresses somewhere.

DON'T put down other writers.

You may not have loved Twilight, or Harry Potter, or The DaVinci Code, or whatever the top-seller was in your genre of choice, but those books made the agents who represented them (and a lot of other people) a lot of money.  Insulting them just makes you look petty and ignorant.  Save the disparaging comments for your friends.

DON'T boast that you were published by an on-demand (POD) publisher (e.g. AuthorHouse, iUniverse)

Agents know that the average POD book sells less than 200 copies (not an impressive number), and that around 40% of those books are sold to the author.  Lulu.com is even explicit about wanting lots of clients with low numbers: "A publishing house dreams of having 10 authors selling a million books each. Lulu wants a million authors selling 100 books each."

DON'T tell the agent you'd give your work away if that's what it took to get published.

Reputable agents make money when a book makes money.  If you tell an agent that you don't care if you make any money on your book, what she hears is that you don't care if she makes any  money, either.  And guess what -- she cares!  Saying you'd give your work away also suggests that you don't believe your work is worth someone else's hard-earned money, let alone a publisher's significant financial investment.  And if it's not worth that investment, you're better off going through a POD publisher, getting a few copies to put on your bookshelf, and moving on with your life.

DON'T kiss up to the agent by telling her how hard or important her job is.

The agent knows you're sucking up, and she isn't impressed.  Remember -- your writing is the most important thing.

DO be sure to tell what your book is about in the query.

The bulk of your query should be about your story, not about you, the agent, your dog, or why you want to be a writer.

DON'T reply to an agent's rejection.

Never, ever write back a nasty note telling the agent why she's a fool to reject your brilliant manuscript. Not only are you blackballing yourself, but you're wasting everybody's time and energy--your own included.

On the flip side, don't write an agent back to thank her for a kind rejection.

In both cases, you've most likely received a form rejection, and although it may sound harsh, you're only wasting the agent's time by responding.  Even if the agent has taken the time to give you a line or two of feedback, think twice before you hit the "reply" button.  Take the feedback and make your manuscript better, and if it leads to an overhaul of the entire story, you can even consider re-querying at some point.  But don't fill up the agent's email box with non-essential communication, because she won't appreciate it.

Have I missed recent do's or don'ts you think I should have included?  Feel free to add them in the comments!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. She is currently working on a book to teach writers to use psychology accurately in their fiction for Quill Driver Books. If you want a sneak preview, check out Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and the associated blog.  She is often quoted by the media as an expert resource. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

Publishing Pulse

Okay, I've been out of touch with the online world for going on two weeks now. It's hard. But I've spent some time reading this blog (amazing!) and I feel all caught up again. Hopefully, these weekly Publishing Pulses help you keep your finger on what's going on around the Interwebs, even when you unplug, go camping and/or fall behind.

New and Updated Agents:

Rachel Sussman at the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. As an agent, she is actively looking for clients in the areas of literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, psychology, sociology, science, popular culture, and inspirational/motivational self-help.

Stephanie MacLean at Trident Media Group, LLC. She is now collaborating with Robert Gottlieb and Kimberly Whalen and is now actively seeking Romance, Women’s Fiction and Young Adult.

Tricia Davey has opened her own literary agency, Davey Literary and Media Management. Check out her temporary Publisher’s Marketplace page for all the deets.

Literary Agent Hoopla:

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner had some real gems this week. Check out this post on How Much Editing Can an Agent Do? and this one on How to Build Traffic on your Blog. That's part 2, and you can check out part 1 here.

Jessica Faust talks about Repitching Agents.

Nathan Bransford is having a Guest Post Fest next week. Be sure to check it out!

Kristin Nelson gives you 15 good (or bad) reasons to make sure you write the best query you can before sending it out. 15 out of 2625.

Three Reasons You Need An Agent by Mollie Glick (as told to Chuck on the Guide to Literary Agents blog). By the way, if you aren't following that blog, you should be. Chuck's got two new features going on over there. "Successful Queries" and "How I Got My Agent". Subscribe, people. Subscribe.

Other Publishing Ins and Outs:

We love the ladies at The Blood-Red Pencil. This post, Charting the Novel Story Arc is excellent.

For those of you in the United States, have a fantastic Fourth of July

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.