QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cover Letters for Snail Submissions

If you get a request (yay!) and the agent wants you to send the material via snail mail, you should include a cover letter with the submission. Some agents request snail submissions even when queried electronically. But don't panic.

Cover letters are simply business letters, complete with the date and address at the top. Greeting, body, complimentary close, all of that. Include the following parts, and you’re good to head to the post office. It should fit on one page, just as the query does, and be the first page in the stack of papers you’re mailing off to the agent.

1. Date / Agent’s name and address
2. Greeting
3. The first paragraph of the body should thank the agent for requesting the material. Include the date of the request, the title of the work and how much is enclosed
4. Query blurb
5. Bio / Publishing credits (just like from the query letter)
6. Complimentary close / signature / mailing address / contact information
7. Enclosures
8. Self-addressed stamped envelope

Tips When Sending Requests Via Snail Mail:
**Write “REQUESTED MATERIAL” on the outside of the envelope, front and back.
**Pay for priority with delivery confirmation. The agent won’t have to sign, but you’ll know when they receive it.
**Use white plain white paper for the letter and the submission. Don’t forget to sign the letter.
**Don’t bind any pages.
**If they ask for a synopsis, put it behind the requested material. You want them to read the MS before the synop, right? Right.
**Stack everything in this order: cover letter, copy of their request letter (print the email or make a copy of the letter they snailed you), the requested material (synopsis last). I tuck the flap of my SASE around my cover letter so they come together when the agent pulls them out of the envelope.
    Here’s a sample:
    18 September 2007

    Eddie Schneider
    JABberwocky Literary Agency
    PO Box 4558
    Sunnyside, NY 11104-0558

    Dear Mr. Schneider,

    Thank you for your interest in my young adult dystopian novel, CONTROL ISSUES. As per your request on September 9, I am enclosing the first ten chapters of the manuscript (76 pages) and a brief synopsis for the rest of the work. You may contact me at any time via email: [email address].

    In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled. (This is my two sentence pitch. Do you have one? You should.)

    CONTROL ISSUES addresses the topic of teens fulfilling their duty as citizens of society, along with how hard it is to grow up under the expectations of parents and other adults when they're trying to make their life their own.

    I am a graduate of Southern Utah University, with a B.S. in Elementary Education and a minor in Mathematics. I now teach elementary school (well, from August to May, I do) as well as write for the QueryTracker blog.

    Thank you for your time and consideration,

    Elana Johnson
    [personal contact information]
    [email address]

    Enclosures: SASE
    76 pages of CONTROL ISSUES
    Brief Synopsis of CONTROL ISSUES

    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, August 28, 2009

    Publishing Pulse: 8/28/09

    New Agent Added to the QueryTracker Database

    Mary Kole has joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Ms. Kole represents children's books including middle grade and young adult.

    QT Congrats

    Congratulations to the 13 QueryTracker members who were offered representation by literary agents this month.

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

    Literary agent Nathan Bransford posted about publishing time on his blog.

    Agent Janet Reid addressed query response times in response to Mr. Bransford's blog post and a visit to her profile on the QueryTracker main site.

    Guide to Literary Agents had an excellent post on high-concept hooks in children's books.

    On the e-book front, I ran across a couple of interesting articles. The first article is about how the e-reader competition is heating up and the other is about Sony launching a reader that has a similar feature to Kindle's whispernet.

    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, August 26, 2009

    From Picture Books to YA - Information to Get You Started

    Are you thinking of writing for children? Some of our readers have asked for more information about the different kinds of Children's fiction books, which is definitely a good place to start when writing for kids.

    Picture Books are the books most people think of when they think "Children's." They combine text with illustrations and cater to kids' shorter attention spans. Normally picture books are 24-32 pages long, which includes title page, dedication, etc. Let me clear up a common myth: you do not have to be able to illustrate to write a picture book. Boardbooks also fall into the category of Picture Books. Here's a secret that I learned from an editor at Peachtree Publishers: DO NOT write a rhyming picture book. Most of the submissions Peachtree receives are rhyming - and most of what they publish is not.

    Though children do not spend a huge amount of time with Early Readers, the books are an important step in their learning process. Early Readers are specifically designed for those who are learning to read. Typically 48-64 pages long, these books have a word count of up to 1500. The plot and sentence structure need to be simple, the dialogue snappy, and the story carried by the text rather than the illustrations. An example of early readers is the Frog and Toad series.

    The next step up for developing readers is Chapter Books. Designed like a grown-up book but with super short chapters, the plot focuses specifically on solving one main problem. Children of this age need something they can relate to; the Magic Treehouse books, for instance, cover a plethora of subject matter. But at the core are Jack and Annie, a brother and sister team whose adventures always start out in their own backyard. Chapter Books are usually between 48 and 80 pages long with a word count of up to 10,000. The three key elements in writing these books are action, dialogue, and, if possible, humor. Be sure to give these kids a reason to turn the page.

    Middle Grade books are a landmark for children - choosing one to read is a sign of their growing independence. Written for kids age 8-12, they run between 80 and 200 pages with a word count of up to 40,000. The plot should be clearly defined, the story conflict-driven. It's best to keep adult characters to a bare minimum. (After all, how could eleven-year-old Harry Potter have had the adventures he did with loving parents hovering nearby?) The story needs to move along quickly, in the first line if possible, with background information woven in as it progresses. The main character must be the one to solve the problem; if an adult steps in and sloves it, the reader will lose all sense of independence they've gained in reading the story.

    In the hinterland between Adult and Children's literature hovers Young Adult, not quite fitting into either category. In recent years YA fiction has become increasingly popular - and edgier, though its audience is still considered age 12 and up. When asked in an interview what was too edgy for YA, agent Anna Webman with Curtis Brown said, "I shared this with some colleagues and we couldn’t think of anything that is too edgy these days." Readers can handle complex sentence structures, advanced vocabularies, and multiple points of view. Plus, with some books being in excess of 100,000 words (ahem, Twilight) authors have more room to write and explore subplots and multiple points of view. You will really have to tap into your "inner teen" to write Young Adult - but in today's market it may be well worth your while.

    And there you have it, book types in a nutshell. :) If you are a Children's book writer, I'd love to hear more about your projects and your audience.

    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, August 24, 2009

    Truly, Madly, Deeply: Thoughts on Adverbs

    Conventional writing wisdom has put the kibosh on adverbs. And I agree that most sentences are more powerful without "-ly" festoonments. This post is not intended to discuss the evils of unnecessary adverbage. There are plenty of posts on that topic online already.

    One of the first critiques I read when I joined Critique Circle last year unleashed quite a lot of vitriol against the author's use of adverbs. And while I supported many of the suggested changes, I also felt a little pang of sympathy for the poor vilified modifiers.

    After all, I grew up on Schoolhouse Rock and the Electric Company, where adverbs were celebrated with their own catchy theme songs. Lolly Lolly Lolly (Get Your Adverbs Here!) is tons of fun, of course, but I'm partial to the Electric Company's LY Song:

    In the final analysis, we're left with the same old resolution: everything in moderation. Adverbs *can* be quite useful-- as long as we avoid the temptation to overindulge.

    I recently read Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, and was struck by a sentence that contains-- in my opinion-- a particularly well-used adverb.

    In this scene, a middle-aged man has traveled back in time to visit his wife when she was a child.

    Her hands are clenched and she looks fierce and determined. Our daughter, I think sadly, would have looked like this.

    This sentence worked very well for me. It raised a lot of story questions. Why does the protagonist, with his knowledge of future events, think this sadly? Did their daughter die? Was she lost or taken away from him? Disfigured? Were they never able to have children or a daughter in the first place?

    The simple addition of "sadly" creates all these intriguing little possibilities, while not calling too much attention to the sentence itself. Any attempt to "show" his sadness here, I think, would have been too much, or given too much away.

    So, gang, here's the question of the day:

    What example of a well-used adverb do YOU have? Post your favorite redeeming example in the comments. It's up to you to prove that they're "positively, very, very, necessary"!

    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, August 21, 2009

    Publishing Pulse: 8/21/09

    New Agents in the QueryTracker.net Database!

    Amy Jameson is at A + B Works. She reps middle grade, young adult, and women's fiction.

    Jessica Sinsheimer is with Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, and she's interested in literary fiction, women's fiction, and young adult fiction.

    Tips and Tricks from All Around the Interwebs

    Pimp My Novel finishes up its exhilarating genre specific sales series with posts on romance, women's fiction, historicals, literary fiction, scifi, mystery/thriller, children's, and fantasy. These are not to be missed!

    The Blood-Red Pencil has a great post on how to create a good book trailer and another on how to do a reading or talk.  And if you're planning to do a blog tour as part of your platform, you might want to bookmark this post.

    Rachelle Gardner gives you some fantastic tips to help you tighten up your manuscript!

    She also teaches you how to manage your social networking in 15 minutes a day so you don't drain yourself of time and energy trying to keep up.

    Kristin Nelson helps you get money out of a publisher for promotion and clues you into the question you should be asking if you're writing a YA novel.

    Quips and Tips interviewed JK Rowling on topics like finding an agent and finding time to write.

    Have Something You Want to See on the QueryTracker.net Blog?

    We LOVE your suggestions and comments!  If you'd like to see more posts on a particular topic, or we're not addressing an area you want to read about, email us or leave us a comment 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. 
    Have a psychology/writing question? Send it to me (using my email address to the right) and you may see it answered on the QueryTracker.net Blog!

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Plot Vs. Character

    I’ve heard this tossed around many times. It seems pretty self-explanatory, but I think it makes for interesting discussion, as well as author-reflection on what it is you’re trying to accomplish with your novel.

    So here we go.

    Plot-Driven stories: Action drives the story forward. The characters get swept up in this action, becoming mere participants as they are placed in various situations. The plot itself impacts the characters, their beliefs, and drives them to development.

    Genre novels are very likely to be plot-driven. They may involve a main event such as defeating the bad guy, getting away from newly engineered dinosaurs (name that movie!) or finding a path to the fiery mountain to destroy the ring. The main focus in a plot-driven novel: get out of danger. Stay alive. Accomplish something.

    In such a novel, there usually isn’t much time for your characters to reflect on how they feel about their tasks. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. It just means you as the author must find a way to infuse enough emotion into the action to make the reader interested and keep them reading until they feel a connection to the character. Because, after all, characters are the reason we read.

    Characters are endless in their possibilities (something plot is not). This is where the author has an opportunity to make their readers feel something. Make connections. Become an active participant in the novel. So let’s move on to the character-driven novel.

    Character-Driven stories: In the character-driven novel, the protag's thoughts, decisions, and coming to some greater understanding drive the story from beginning to end. These things are more important than the action. In a character-driven story, the author builds the plot around the character. As they develop, so does the plot. Notice that. The plot doesn’t develop the character, making them choose between Hard Thing A and Even Harder Thing B. It’s quite the opposite. The character develops in some way, and that in turn advances the plot.

    That said, I think creating characters is one of the most important aspects of fiction writing. (See Mary’s post from Monday for some techniques to do this.) We read fiction because we’re looking for something. What? Ourselves. (Feel free to tell me what you’re looking for when you read fiction.) Fantastic plot-driven novels can be riveting, but the stories we’re sucked into are those in which we feel a connection with the characters. Do we understand them? Sympathize with them? Connect to them?

    Ultimately, do you see yourself in the character? That’s when the real truth comes out.

    So which is better?

    The best stories have elements of both. Good fiction grabs the reader with thrilling things happening to people we care about. An author must combine both, so that there is plenty of action intermingled with moments where your characters stand in the spotlight.

    Questions to ask yourself:
    1. What is the force propelling your story from beginning to end? Is it the characters or what they’re going through?
    2. Am I more interested in the story? Or the people within in the story?
    3. What do you remember about your favorite books? The plot? Or are the characters what make the story stand out in your mind?
    4. Are you a heavy outliner of events? (Plot = important) Or do you focus on character development and allow them to move the action forward? (Character-driven)

    In summary, a plot-driven story focuses on action while a character-driven one places the emphasis on emotion and reflection. So you tell me: which focus is better? Or are they equally important? What kind of author are you?

    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, August 17, 2009

    Character Development with a Theatrical Approach

    The books that appeal to me most are the ones that have characters that haunt me long after I finish the book. Sometimes over the years, I forget the story line, but I still "feel" that character. That's the kind of book I hunt down in the bookstore.

    Rather than a how-to post on character development, I'm going to get a little personal, if that's okay, and write about an approach that works best for me.

    If you read authors' blogs or attend workshops, you've read/heard explanations of how they go about the writing process. Many reveal their secrets for character development, which include character diaries, personality plotting, character interviews, and psychiatric analysis/charts of their characters' needs. I use some of these, but I rely heavily on a different approach.

    In addition to writing, I teach acting.

    Character development in theatre is as critical as any technical aspect of the art. There are several schools of thought on character development in acting.

    I was trained in and teach the Stanislavsky System of acting (also known as Method Acting). Constantin Stanislavsky revolutionized the approach to portraying a character. He believed that an actor's job was not just to make a character recognizable and understood, it was to make a character believable. A big change for the theatre world around the turn of the Twentieth Century. .

    Simplistically described, Stanislavsky Method employs the recall of sensory and emotional memories from an actor's own experiences to deepen the development of a character. In preparing for a role, an actor will use sense memory recall to pull up emotions so that the performance is realistic and genuine. If the part calls for the portrayal of a person grieving the death of another character, the actor would call up memories of his/her experience that are closest to the scenario being portrayed. This is why Method Acting is not usually taught until late high school or college. The actor must be able to choose memories that he can handle and use effectively. If the recall of the memory is too intense, the performance could break down (and so could the actor).

    I teach my acting students that recalling the memories and reliving them is not the final result. The technical aspects of acting must be layered on top. This is a hard part for many of them. Going back to the grieving scenario I previously mentioned: The student must take the memory of how it felt, sounded, smelled, tasted to be in the parallel situation from his own past and apply it on stage in a controlled manner. The body will react believably if the emotions are genuine. The end result must be a clean, believable performance that is consistent for the benefit of the other actors. Every action must be justified by a realistic motivation. "Why am I doing this? Why did I just cross to stage left?" It can't be because the director told him to do so. He must find a reason for the character to do it in order to believably accommodate the director's staging.

    I really am going to write about characters in fiction. Really!

    All this theatre babble was to give insight into how I approach character development. I apply the same principles instituted in Stanislavsky Method Acting to give my characters depth and provide motivation. I think many writers do this naturally. We put ourselves into the place of the character, whether it be human or non-human and try to relate to them. Readers do the same.

    When writing a scene, I do just as I would were I playing that role in a play. I close my eyes (really, I do) and I ask myself the following things:

    1. What experience have I had that is most like the scenario I am writing?

    Most of the time, I've never been through anything remotely close to what my characters are going through (thank goodness), but I look for a similar or parallel experience.

    For example, I've never been shoved through a window, but if my character suffers this, I would find the closest thing to it I have experienced. What is most is the most similar experience I've had?

    My brother tripped me once when I was carrying a large glass fish bowl--a far cry from going through a plate glass window, but it still relates. It was a shock. It hurt like heck. The doctor had to pull a huge chunk of glass out of my arm, etc. Similar to going through a window in many respects. I would use this.

    2. How did my own similar experience feel, sound, taste, smell?

    In a quiet place, I would ask myself these questions. I don't put myself in the place of the character, I put myself in MY place in the past with a similar experience. I try to relive it exactly.

    Back to the fish bowl memory:

    How did the glass sound when it shattered? How did it feel when I fell, hit the glass, realized what had happened? Were there smells associated with it? How did I feel about being tripped? How did it feel when the doctor removed the glass from my arm?

    Now, during all of this, I "relive" extraneous things like scrambling for the poor fish flopping in the bloody water on the floor to collect them and trying to dechlorinate water in a mixing bowl in time to save them (which I did) while my family screamed. Now a child saving fish while her family freaks is not at all like a character being shoved through a window by a bad guy (though I must say my brother seemed like a bad guy at the moment), but the sounds, smells, and fear compounded by the urgency to save the fish probably transfer perfectly to someone being shoved through a glass window. Just thinking about it and not even recalling it in a sensory manner caused my heart rate to increase.

    3. How did the experience affect me?

    If done correctly, the sensory recall will bring it all back as if it had just happened, and this question will be unnecessary because I will be affected similarly to when it happened. I don't have to remember how it felt, I will be feeling it all over again--making the event raw and real. This is the point at which and actor will work a scene and a writer will write a scene.

    Stanislavsky Technique is more complex than this thumbnail description and the application is more involved in order to keep the character believable while keeping the performance consistent and effective.

    I find the sense memory recall used in Method Acting is applicable to character development in fiction and works great for me, but just as with acting, the writer can get lost in the character at the expense of the final product. An intense, realistic, motivated character still needs to walk through a believable world in a well-written book. All are pieces needed to complete the puzzle.

    Has anyone tried this method before? Do you have any tricks of your own for characterization?

    Wishing everyone 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 also be found on her website and personal blog.

    Friday, August 14, 2009

    Publishing Pulse 8/14/09

    Literary News

    It is with great sorrow that we say goodbye to Firebrand Literary. They officially announced on their website that they are closing their doors.

    Texas district court judge Leonard Davis filed an injunction preventing Microsoft from selling Word. Click here for the full story.

    New and Updated Agents

    After fifteen years of professional experience in children's literature, Marietta Zacker has joined forces with the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. She is looking for picture books, rhyming books, board books, easy readers, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, non-fiction for children, graphic novels, historical fiction, fantasy and edgy.

    Drew Perez has begun agenting after an internship at Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management. He has a special love for military fiction, "in the gutter, not the stars" science fiction, and Latino fiction. He's accepting submissions in the following genres: Non-fiction: health and fitness, business, pop culture, humor, and relationships. Fiction: historical, military, thriller, mystery, some science fiction, some fantasy humor, literary, pop culture, and young adult.

    Super Cool Info

    The Guide to Literary Agents Editor's Blog reveals how royalties and advances work. GLA also has a fantastic new series called "Successful Queries."

    Want to know which genres agents are asking for? Check out the poll on the Pimp My Novel blog.

    Brand new Upstart Crow Literary Agency offers great advice for writers on their website. (Click on their Writer's Toolbox!)
    And be sure to check out Agent Rachelle Gardner's Two Things That Don't Help a Query.

    How are we doing?

    We want to know! Do you find the info in the Pulse helpful? Is there something you'd like to see more or less of? Let us cater to you!

    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, August 12, 2009

    Medical Fiction Questions Answered: 08/12/09

    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 makes me say that.)

    Hi Heather,

    I have character related medical questions (and whoa, very nice to have you as a resource. The QTBlog is awesomesauce!):

    Can a school nurse run blood work if requested? What would the nurse check for automatically? Would the nurse screen for drugs? Pregnancy? How would a school verify drug use?

    What tests would be run for headaches? MRI? CAT scan? Both? Would the same tests be used for visual hallucinations? Are there different tests for auditory hallucinations--or are all hallucinations covered by say MRI and CAT scans? How else would you diagnose the cause of hallucinations? Could a doctor render a proper diagnosis if information is being withheld, e.g., the character claims headaches, not hallucinations. When might a psychiatrist be called in? If the character admitted seeing things (say, within the context of a therapist visit), what anti-psychotic medications might be prescribed?

    Any light you can shed would be greatly appreciated.



    Wow, Ctairo... that's a lot of questions!

    Let's take them one at a time:

    Q: Can a school nurse run blood work if requested?

    A: Not usually. At least not easily. Most school nurses have very limited resources, and they certainly wouldn't be able to run the blood tests themselves on the premises. So, since any tests would be sent out anyway, what would usually be done is the nurse would simply refer the student to their physician or a clinic or, in an emergency, to a hospital. Also, most lab tests must be ordered by a physician or nurse practitioner, and very few school nurses have that level of training.

    Q: What would the nurse check for automatically?

    A: I'm not sure what you mean by this, but a school nurse wouldn't typically check for much. She would treat minor illnesses, help students administer their home medications, etc. But diagnostic testing does not typically play a big role in school nursing offices.

    Q: Would the nurse screen for drugs? Pregnancy? How would a school verify drug use?

    A: Depending on the school facilities, it's possible the school would have the capability to offer pregnancy testing (which is a simple urine test). Drug testing can be done with a simple urine test as well (which usually tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, barbiturates, amphetamines, and PCP) and some high schools do perform drug testing, but most require parental consent first and reasonable cause to request them (unless they are required for, say, participating in sports). You would need to research the school district rules in the area your story is set.

    (I'm assuming the rest of your questions refer to evaluation in a clinic or emergency room.)

    Q: What tests would be run for headaches? MRI? CAT scan? Both?

    A: There aren't many tests done for headaches, actually. The first step would be to take a thorough history of the headache. Where it's located, the duration, associated symptoms, aggravating factors, alleviating factors, etc. They would also do a neurological evaluation, including vision. The vast majority of headaches can be diagnosed with just a history and physical.

    If the headache was suspicious or unusual in some way, or associated with, say, vision changes or seizures or a head injury, they might do some imaging studies. A CT scan is often done first, since it's quicker and cheaper. A CT is always the best choice for trauma, as it shows blood better than an MRI.

    An MRI is better for something like a brain tumor or a stroke.

    Neither of these tests would be routinely ordered for someone with just a headache.

    If the patient had a fever, or neck stiffness, or mental status changes (or if their retinal exam showed something called papilledema), they might need to do a spinal tap to check for meningitis, encephalitis, or a condition called pseudotumor cerebri.

    Q: Would the same tests be used for visual hallucinations? Are there different tests for auditory hallucinations--or are all hallucinations covered by say MRI and CAT scans? How else would you diagnose the cause of hallucinations?

    A: Like headaches, hallucinations are first evaluated by a careful history (meaning what the patient can tell you about the problem under questioning) and physical evaluation. There's a nice chart here of some types of hallucinations (by history) and the possible explanations for them.

    Q: Could a doctor render a proper diagnosis if information is being withheld, e.g., the character claims headaches, not hallucinations.

    A: That would greatly depend on what the diagnosis was. Some problems, like meningitis or a brain tumor, have very specific findings. Many other problems rely on the history for diagnosis. How much influence the patient would have over his or her diagnosis would also depend on their level of function. For example, someone with severe schizophrenia may not be able to appropriately identify or describe their hallucinations, but their behavior might suggest them to the evaluator, as their ability to hide their symptoms would be poor.

    Q: When might a psychiatrist be called in?

    A: A psychiatrist would be called in if an evaluation for other causes was negative, or if other signs or symptoms suggested a psychiatric diagnosis.

    Q: If the character admitted seeing things (say, within the context of a therapist visit), what anti-psychotic medications might be prescribed?

    A: That would depend on the diagnosis following a psychiatric evaluation. A chart of some diagnoses and the recommended treatments can be found here.

    I hope you find this information helpful. Our resident psychologist, Carolyn, may have some additional helpful suggestions for you, too. ;)

    ETA: And, indeed, she does! Here's Carolyn's thoughts:

    Great questions, and great answers! All of Dr. Dyer's disclaimers apply to what lies below:

    The possible benefits of anti-psychotics (also sometimes called neuroleptics) must be measured against the possible side effects, so the psychiatrist or physician would want to be pretty sure the character is psychotic (ie having hallucinations and/or delusions) before prescribing them. Anti-psychotic medications can have long-term side effects including sedation, weight gain, and the possibility of developing what are called "extrapyramidal side effects" -- small, involuntary movements of the lips and tongue, muscle rigidity, and internal restlessness.

    The classic antipsychotics, which you often hear named in movies, are most likely to have these side effects (ie Haldol, Thorazine). Atypical antipsychotics are used much more often, and present a lower risk for extrapyramidals -- Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, and Geodon. Abilify is also sometimes used -- it has the fewest side effects. (Abilify is kind of a controversial drug right now. The research that says it works seems to be biased. Not unusual, unfortunately.)

    Someone who is having hallucinations could have several different diagnoses, including schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which is also called manic depression (some people hallucinate as part of mania or, even more rarely, as part of a devastating depression).

    If the person has bipolar disorder, a clinician is going to notice. People who are manic tend to talk too fast, make bad decisions, feel euphoric or aggressive, and think the whole time that there's nothing wrong with them. People who are devastatingly depressed talk slowly, move slowly, seem sad or angry, and bring a heaviness with them where ever they go. People who have schizophrenia don't just have hallucinations and/or delusions -- they also have strange thought patterns and mannerisms. The disorder is very difficult to hide. Finally, there's something called a brief psychotic disorder that can be triggered by extreme stress. It has to last more than one day but less than a month and can include the symptoms of schizophrenia, but it resolves itself without turning into schizophrenia. All of the links above will take you to more information on the disorders.

    It's also possible that hallucinations could be caused by drugs, which would certainly be a consideration in someone who was school-aged.

    Hope that's helpful!

    Remember, if YOU have a medical fiction question, email me at hldyer at querytracker.net and include "medical question" in the subject title. You'll receive an automatic reply confirming that your question has safely arrived in my email box.

    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, August 10, 2009

    Interview with Mystery Author Roberta Isleib

    Today we are lucky enough to be joined by clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib, the author of eight mysteries published by Berkley Prime Crime--most recently ASKING FOR MURDER.

    As you all know, my (Carolyn's) "thing" is helping writers get the psychology right in their stories, and I cheered all the way through Roberta's Advice Column Mysteries.  Not only are they a great read with wonderfully engaging characters, they're also the best example I've ever seen of psychology wrapped so beautifully (and accurately!) into a series. Put her novels on your Do Not Miss reading list!

    Roberta's books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is the past president of National Sisters in Crime and is presently serving as the chair of the Edgar best novel committee for Mystery Writers of America.

    QueryTracker Blog: How did you start writing?

    ROBERTA: I’ve been a student for so many years (Ph.D in clinical psychology) that I should say I’ve always written. But I started writing articles about the psychology of golf in the mid-nineties, as a way to try to make use of the time I spent learning to play golf (too much—you can’t imagine.) Then, because I’ve always read and loved mysteries, I began a story about a neurotic professional golfer wannabe who became a murder suspect while trying to make it onto the Ladies golf tour. Hence, the Cassie Burdette golf mystery series was born.

    QT: Please tell us about your road to publication.

    ROBERTA: Since I knew no one in the business, I studied books on publishing like Elizabeth Lyon’s The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents.

    I made huge charts of agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect, or who had sold books with some similarity to mine. I attended mystery conventions (Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and Left Coast Crime) and talked with people there about the publishing process. And I sent out almost thirty queries over a year with no success.

    One day, I dragged myself into New York City for an International Women’s Writers Guild “Meet the Agents” panel. One hundred and fifty wannabe writers crowded the hall to hear nine agents speak about their areas of interest. Then we rushed to the front of the room to give our two minute pitches to the agent we felt most closely matched our interests. The agent I chose asked for a three-week exclusive look at my manuscript. I sent it off. Two weeks later she called with the news that a second agent had seen the manuscript on her desk, read it, and wanted to represent me. Hurray! She’s been my agent ever since. (Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management.)

    QT: You have two ongoing series. The Golf Lover's Mystery series features Cassie Burdette and the Advice Column Mystery series features psychologist Rebecca Butterman. Could you tell us a bit about each series and what inspired you to write them?

    ROBERTA: There were five books in the golf lovers’ series, all featuring Cassie Burdette and her sports psychologist sidekick. I had so much fun researching those—had the chance to play many wonderful golf courses and meet pro golfers and others in the golf world. After five books, Berkley asked to see another idea and I so I created Dr. Rebecca Butterman, clinical psychologist and advice columnist. ASKING FOR MURDER is the latest in that series, which takes place in the town next to me on the Connecticut shoreline. I find the work of a psychotherapist to be very similar to that of a detective—so this path turned out to be a natural progression!

    QT: What are you working on now?

    ROBERTA: I’m finishing a new standalone suspense novel with the working title “Married Seeking Married.” It goes like this: Just after hearing that her husband has left her for another woman, Mirabelle Conti finds a business card on the bulletin board in a local coffee shop: Married Seeking Married. Reacting from grief and anger, she contacts the card owner to try to understand her husband’s desertion and ends up a suspect in a suburban prostitution ring.

    I will be sending it off to my agent soon and if every one of your readers crosses their fingers, maybe she’ll sell it quickly!

    QT: What is the hardest/least favorite part of being a writer?

    ROBERTA: The business part of writing is hard--the part I have no control over. I can produce a fabulous book, but unless the publisher really gets behind it and I have a bit of luck somewhere along the line, it's unlikely to be a commercial success. That's why I do as much as I can to promote, as long as it doesn't interfere with my writing! I want to be able to say I gave it my all without killing myself in the process.

    QT: What is your favorite part about being a writer?

    ROBERTA: My absolute favorite parts are seeing the books out in the world and then hearing from and meeting readers. These two things make all the agony worthwhile!

    QT: Do you have a quote that motivates you?

    ROBERTA: I love quotes from writers on writing. Here’s a good one that gets at the idea that you must treat this as a job, not wait for the muse to strike:

    “Every morning between 9 and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times, I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing. If an idea does come between 9 and 12 I am there ready for it.” — Flannery O'Connor

    QT: What is your advice to new or unpublished writers?

    ROBERTA: Okay, you asked for it!

    1. MAKE A PLAN THAT INCLUDES LOTS OF LITTLE, MANAGEABLE GOALS: As I begin a book, I look ahead to the due date and figure out how many pages I’ll need to write each week in order to hand it in on time. I build in time for trips and family and time for my writers group to read and critique, and then time for me to rewrite. Then I have a page goal for each week. I write until I’ve hit the goal, sometimes even getting a little ahead. If I have an unproductive day, it just means writing a little faster later in the week to keep up.

    2. HAMMER IT OUT: Get it all down, even if it's awful. You can always go back and fix things later. Anne Lamott called this “the shitty first draft”—she had it right!

    3. SET YOUR SIGHTS HIGH: As a psychologist, I know the importance of having "big goals" for my subconscious to aim at. So I keep a copy of the NY Times bestseller list pasted up over my computer. Then I forget about it and work on the books word by word...

    4. YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE FRIENDS: Writing can be such a lonely, discouraging business. I’ve gotten very involved with mystery organizations (Sisters in Crime and MWA,) and joined Romance Writers and Yahoo groups such as Fiction That Sells. I also have a very supportive and loyal writers group and a group blog, Jungle Red Writers. The friends I’ve met have saved my sanity and supported me endlessly along the way. I was president of national Sisters in Crime last year—a very rewarding and time-consuming experience! http://www.sistersincrime.org

    5. TAKE YOUR TIME: Don’t rush off too soon to try to get your work published. This business is extremely competitive so it’s crucial to have your writing polished before sending it out. The Internet makes querying too easy—don’t press send until you’re sure the piece is the best it can be. I have lots of info on my website about agents and getting published and some of the scams writers fall for. http://www.robertaisleib.com

    And meanwhile, there are lots of conferences that are attended by literary agents. It’s not a bad idea to get some face time with an agent—this personal contact could be what helps your manuscript get a serious look.

    QT: Our readers are very interested in platform. What kinds of things do you do to promote your books?

    ROBERTA: Right now I’m taking a little break from maniacal promotion to write. But in the past, I’ve done a lot of promoting, making use of niche markets in psychology and golf, social networking, viral marketing, book signing tours alone and with other writers, blogs and blog tours, sending out books and bookmarks, a good website…hmmm, what have I forgotten? My greatest coup was getting interviewed by Sports Illustrated about the golf mystery series in 2006.

    The SI writer came to my house in Madison, CT and walked the local golf course with me (where PUTT TO DEATH was set.) A week later a pair of photographers drove out from New York and took lots of photos of me looking very fierce in the marsh where the fictional body was found. So much fun!

    With promotion, you never know for sure what will work, so you’re throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. For the advice column mysteries, I consulted with Laney Becker, a very smart agent and former PR maven at my agent’s agency. She reminded me to use the advice column angle in all my publicity. So press releases were sent out in the format of an advice column and I even got Margo Howard (Ann Landers' daughter) to blurb the first book.

    But I still believe the best thing a writer can do is to write an outstanding book!

    Thanks so much for inviting me to stop in at Query Tracker. Hope some of this information proves to be helpful—and I’m always happy to answer questions.

    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. 

    Have a psychology/writing question?  Ask here (or using my email address to the right) and you may see it answered on the QueryTracker.net Blog!

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Publishing Pulse 8/7/09

    Another week down. Another week to get better, write better, learn more. Are you ready? I said, Are you ready? *grins* I know you are.

    Literary Agent News

    Emily Keyes is a new agent at L. Perkins Agency, representing middle grade and young adult. Read what she's specifically looking for here.

    Marie Campbell at Transatlantic Literary Agency. Marie specializes in children's writers with a particular interest in middle grade fiction.

    Gretchen Stelter at Baker's Mark Literary Agency, LLC. Ms. Stelter is accepting a wide range of fiction and non-fiction genres, so check out her profile (just click on her name).

    Chris Richman, Michael Sterns and Danielle Chiotti left Firebrand Literary and started Upstart Crow Literary. Their website will be up and running soon, so check out their profiles for genres and interests.

    Literary agent Colleen Lindsay is open for submission--but read carefully! ONLY for a limited time (from now until the end of August. That's only 24 more days) and ONLY limited genres (adult urban fantasy/paranormal romance, YA urban fantasy/paranormal romance, realistic YA). Read her blog post for all the deets.

    Excellent stuff you have to read, like, now:

    Donald Maass expounds on character building. Strengths, flaws, it's all there. And he's got a new book to boot! Check it out.

    If you haven't found the Pimp My Novel blog, you need to find it today. (Yeah, just click over there. Follow. Subscribe.) This post is especially useful for authors on what they can do.

    Literary agent Kristin Nelson talks about treating writing as a business. Twice, in fact. Even if you're not published yet, you can file these posts away in your "This is Awesome Advice" folder for future reference--like when you are a NY Times bestselling author.

    Literary agent Janet Reid shares her thoughts on exclusives. For anyone in the querying mindset, read this. You'll be glad you did.

    Note to Authors: Make Your Deadlines. This article goes great with Ms. Nelson's advice to treat your writing as a business. Something to think about, at the very least.

    If you're on twitter and like to follow agencies and/or agents, here's a short list of people to add.
    @BostonBookGirl (Lauren MacLeod)
    @DaphneUn (Kate Testerman)
    @BookEndsJessica (Jessica Faust)

    Have a great weekend! I'm sending lotsa good writing vibes your way!

    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.

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Interview with Christina Katz on Platform

    We recently had the privilege to interview platform guru extraordinare, Christina Katz, about how to build a platform from scratch.  Even if you don't know where to start, Christina takes you by the hand and walks you through each step in her book, Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books).

    Christina started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on “Good Morning America.” Christina teaches e-courses on platform development and writing nonfiction for publication. Her students are published in national magazines and land agents and book deals. Christina has been encouraging reluctant platform builders via her e-zines for five years, has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. A popular speaker at writing conferences, writing programs, libraries, and bookstores, she hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon. She is also the author of Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books).

    QT: What is your definition of platform?

    CK: A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don’t have to. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform.

    QT: How did you decide to write a book to help people build their platforms?

    CK: I already had a lot of momentum going on the topic when I got the deal. I wrote a column on the topic for the Willamette Writer’s newsletter. I started speaking on platform. I’ve spent ten years on my platform and I’ve been helping my students build platforms for almost that long. Some of their books are now coming out, which is exciting.

    When I gave my presentation, “Get Known Before the Book Deal,” at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference in May 2007, Phil Sexton, one of my publisher’s sales guys, saw it and suggested making the concept into a book. Coincidentally, I was trying to come up with an idea for my second book at that time and had just struck out with what I thought were my three best ideas. My editor, Jane Friedman agreed with Phil. That was two votes from people sitting on the pub board. They converted the others with the help of my proposal, and Get Known got the green light.

    QT: What personality characteristics separate people who are good at building platforms from people who struggle?

    CK: None. It’s not about personality whatsoever. All of the techniques needed to build a strong platform are learned just like most social skills. A shy person can learn to be “good at” building a platform just like an extrovert can.

    All writers need to master four traits for success: craft, pitching, professional development and platform building, so a shy person might be more willing and patient with craft whereas an extrovert can’t sit still or stop talking long enough to care to write really well. In fact, it takes patience to build a solid, strong platform too. So there is no particular type of personality that makes a difference.

    We all have strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths and address or delegate your weaknesses. That’s what all successful business people do. That’s what writers need to do because we are also business people.

    QT: What mistakes do you most often see writers making when they're trying to develop a platform?

    CK: I have a list. Here are a few common mistakes that writers make:

    * They don’t spend time clarifying who they are to others.
    * They don’t zoom in specifically on what they offer.
    * They confuse socializing with platform development.
    * They think about themselves too much and their audience not enough.
    * They don’t precisely articulate all they offer so others get it immediately.
    * They don’t create a plan before they jump online.
    * They undervalue the platform they already have.
    * They are overconfident and think they have a solid platform when they have only made a beginning.
    * They become exhausted from trying to figure out platform as they go.
    * They pay for “insider secrets” instead of trusting their own instincts.
    * They blog like crazy for six months and then look at their bank accounts and abandon the process as going nowhere.

    I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver.

    QT: What do you think is the most under-utilized approach to building platform?

    CK: I have two…

    Showing up. Most writers invest too much time dreaming about being discovered and not enough time putting themselves out there to be visible. Truth time: writers don’t get discovered. Successful writers are not “lucky.” Writing success is all about writing long and hard and then caring enough about your work and yourself to get it and you in front of the right people. It’s just part of the job.

    Having fun. I hear so much moaning and groaning about platform development. But that’s great way to turn off masses of people from ever wanting to learn more about you, so why not have fun both building and expanding your platform instead? You may as well because you are going to spend plenty of time on self-promotion. It will be so much more pleasant for everyone involved if you are having a good time. Even if your topic is serious (author Arnie Bernstein comes to mind) a little bit of levity can go a long way.

    QT: You're one of the few authors who addresses platform for fiction writers. What do you see as the unique challenges facing fiction writers, and how can writers overcome them?

    CK: The quality of a fiction manuscript is paramount and most fiction writers tend to underestimate how long it will take to go from idea to finished book. But if a writer lets the process take as long as it takes and works on platform development in the meantime, she’ll be a lot better off. Just like nonfiction writers, fiction writers need to begin working on a platform long before the manuscript is complete.

    Typically, after fiction books are published, fiction writers will spin off a series of topics based on their book that they can explore to help promote themes they’ve written about. So fiction writers can follow all the same strategies I describe for nonfiction writers in Get Known. It’s not like if you write wonderful fiction, you’re done. Most fiction writers cross over to nonfiction writing fairly easily.

    Other things fiction writers often learn from their writing process include knowledge of a place, familiarity with a topic from their research, insight into a time period, a truth or phenomenon that may be mostly unknown to the general public, universal human themes, a particular time or phase every person experiences (like coming of age), or the creative process itself. These can become promotional opportunities (sometimes even paying ones) that spark book sales.

    QT: Where should a writer start in the platform-building business?

    CK: I think every writer should start with relationship building. Study the work of people you admire. Take classes with them if you can. Be discriminating. Don’t just follow the masses. Base your platform on the intersection between what matters to you and what matters to your readers. There are plenty of people who are doing this extremely well to emulate.

    Don’t throw the art of relationship building out while establishing your online life. One thing about the publishing industry hasn’t changed. It’s still a business fueled by personal connections. I’m very humbled and pleased to play a small part in it. You can too. But you have to be practical and create a plan. Otherwise, you can exhaust yourself in no time.

    Thank you so much, Christina!

    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. 

    Have a psychology/writing question?  Ask here (or using my email address to the right) and you may see it answered on the QueryTracker.net Blog!

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Safeguarding Your WIP

    With three consecutive free days this last weekend, I'd planned to devote myself wholly to writing. I even Facebooked about it:

    (probably jinxing myself by even mentioning it) I've cleared the next three days to write, write, write!

    Well, jinx myself I did. When I sat down to my WIP, a little munchkin got curious and disconnected my power cord from the AC-to-DC converter. (And for the record, I only knew it was called that because my husband just told me.) My laptop's screen went blank, and when I powered it back up an error message blipped up to haunt me. Windows had failed to start.

    Thus ensued three whole days without my laptop. When my technically talented husband returned from his jaunt to New York and ran the gamut of tricks from his bag, he announced that my elderly laptop (I've had it four years) must go to the laptop doctor in an effort to prolong its life. (Yeah, I know - it's old enough to be put out of its misery.)

    I'll admit, not having my laptop has put me in a bit of a funk but I've not fallen into the pits of despair. Why? Because there are copies of my WIP stashed away in a couple of different places. And you should do the same.

    Backup your documents on a device outside of your computer. Flash drive, disc, portable hard drive, etc.
    Okay, so I can hear you now, echoing the thought that ofttimes runs through my head: "But what if my house burns down and my computer and backup drive go up in flames?" Don't panic. There is a solution.

    There are places online where you can store your files.

    One option is a one-member Yahoo group. As silly as it sounds, Yahoo groups are free and offer huge storage space. (For instance, I've only used 2% of my allotted space for all my documents.) Another option is to pay for a service that is dedicated specifically to file storage. Mozy, for example, will backup unlimited docs for a reasonable fee.

    Now the trick is to backup your WIP every time you make changes to it. I'm not saying every five minutes. Once a day will do. But it's important to get in the habit of doing so. (It only takes a minute or two.)

    And what if you have to take your computer to the doctor? Be sure to ask them to backup the hardrive before attempting any repairs.

    UPDATE: Here's some great info about Mozy from Calista Taylor: "I recently signed up with Mozy.com which offers a free backup service (limited space unless you pay for unlimited). Just sign up, download the software, and it'll automatically backup your files to their site every 24 hours. You don't even need to worry about remembering to do it yourself!" Thanks, Calista!

    So, dear reader, I want to hear from you! Have you ever survived a computer crash? And how do you backup your WIP?