QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talking QueryTracker 3 with Creator Patrick McDonald

We wanted to get the inside scoop on the new QueryTracker.net, so we decided to interview QT creator Patrick McDonald.

QueryTracker Blog: Tell us a bit about what inspired you to create QT in the first place.

Patrick McDonald: You know the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention" and that's so true here. A friend and I were querying a collaborative project, and back then there wasn't anything like QueryTracker. You had to use AgentQuery (a great resource, by the way) and then keep a separate list on your own of who you queried and who you didn't. Then constantly check back and forth between them. After a few dozen queries it became very difficult to keep track. As we were discussing the problem, someone said, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could just check them off right there on the website?" Then I realized, Hey! I can do that.

QTB: How long has QT been operating, and what kinds of recognition has it gotten?

PM: QT first opened for business in May of 2007, and it has been a surprising success ever since. I never expected it to take off like it did. We were only a few months old when we were added to Writers Digest's list of 101 best websites for writers, and have been honored now two years in a row.

Agents are mentioning us in their blogs and on their websites as a resource for writers, and I even know of one agent who suggests QT in her rejection letter. I really appreciate the recognition, and often equate it to how it must feel to write a successful novel. A task that still eludes me, by the way, but somehow it doesn't seem as important anymore.

QTB: How did you decide what would be added to version 3?

PM: Each re-write is based on the needs and requests of the members. As more people use the site, the need for certain capabilities reveal themselves, or come in the form of suggestions from users.

For instance, I noticed on the agent profiles, that a lot of people were using the comment section to communicate back and forth among themselves. This is cumbersome and not what the system was really designed to do, so something better had to be found. It seemed obvious that what was needed was a method for sending private messages between users, and even a way to set up discussion groups for more in-depth conversations. So, QT3 will now have all that and more.

I've noticed friendships forming between writers here and on the QT forum, and realized that a support group of friends is extremely valuable to writers enduring the query process. So, methods to bring people together were found.

A good example of a user suggested feature is the publisher list. I received countless requests to add publishers to the database. It was something I was always hesitant to do because of the difficulty and effort involved, but the crowd finally won me over.

QTB:What was so difficult about listing publishers that you wanted to avoid it?

PM: Well, QT has always been dedicated to quality listings. I'm very careful with the agent database, and only add agents who are proven legitimate and have the proper experience needed to do the job. That kind of research takes time. There's a lot more to it than just throwing up a list of names and addresses. In order to properly research publishers, I had to learn about how their side of the industry worked, what were their standard practices and what the red flags were. I then had to commit to the time it would take to keep the list updated and to continue to add to it.

QTB: You screen every listing? Why do you do that?

PM: I could just list everyone and save myself a lot of time and trouble, but not every writer on the internet is savvy enough to know when an agent is a scammer or when they are legit. And I certainly don't want to help any scammers.

But there is another danger that many writers don't realize; that an inexperienced agent can be just as dangerous as a scammer. You can't just wake up one day and decide you want to be a literary agent. There is much more involved than just liking books. You have to know the ins and outs of the publishing business, understand the contracts and the terminology. I had no idea how much was involved until I started to interact with some of the agents on QT. I can tell you horror stories about how well-intentioned "agents" set back their client's careers.

That's why QT tends to err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding who gets listed. It's much better to let one go, then to risk harm to a user. It's all about quality, not quantity.

QTB: Tell us a bit about the success stories.

PM: I'm very proud of the success stories. Almost as proud as if it were me landing the agent and getting published. Maybe I'm living vicariously through QT members, but I still get rush each time it happens.

And let me take this opportunity to congratulate Jessica Verday. Jessica was our first success story, and thanks to the slow moving publishing business, it has taken this long for her book to finally make it into stores. I now have my signed copy of THE HOLLOW and it is going in a place of honor on my bookshelf. Thank you Jessica.

QTB: What are some of your favorite new features?

PM: I'm a technophile, so for me it has to be the new technology that went into QT3, making it more convenient to use. The pages no longer have to refresh themselves every time you want to do something. That may not sound like much, but after you've used it for a while you'll appreciate it. Things are now at your fingertips where before you had to move to another page to find them. The new technology also makes the site faster, which is always a plus. And, of course, making it faster and more convenient to add query results will help increase the amount of data available to everyone.

One addition that I think will be a lot of fun are the user profiles. Like on a social networking site, you will be able to set up your own personal profile. But on QT, everything is designed with the writer in mind. So, as part of your profile you can add lists of your favorite books, authors, which genres you write and which you read. You can even opt to display a list of the agents and publishers you've queried and what the results have been. You can then do a search for other members who have the same interests as you.

If you do choose the option to display your query list to others, there is another new feature that I think will be useful. On the agent (and publisher) profiles there is now a list of all the other users who have queries that agent (or publisher). So, if you, for instance, have a query out and want to talk with someone else who queried this agent in the past, you can click over to their profile and send them a message. As I mentioned earlier, forming friendships with other writers really helps the process, and this is one of the ways to do it.

There're also some seemingly minor additions that I think will be big hits, like the "Quick Filters" on the Query List page.

QTB: What can we look forward to in the months ahead?

PM: I hope to spend the next few months addressing feedback from members telling me what they like or don't like about the new QT. For instance, the social networking aspects added to QT are an experiment. If people like and use them, I can add more. Just let me know.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Introducing The New QT3

I usually leave the blogging to the Blog Team because they are so much better at it than I am. But, this was a special occasion and I thought it was time to come out of seclusion and say a few words.

And the reason for my seclusion? I've been locked away, busy writing a totally new and improved version of QueryTracker. We're calling it QT3 (and I can't wait for version 3.141593, because then we can call it QT Pi. Sorry, that's a math joke.)

I'd like to talk a bit about some of the biggest changes in QT3.

The first is aesthetic. The site got a whole new look. It was time, and it was appropriate considering all the other changes. The black quill logo has been replaced by a much more modern writing tool, which is symbolic of the modernization of QT.

Second. The new technology that went into QT3 gives the site a speed boost and a more convenient user interface. For more information about these changes, take a look at the what's new video.

Third. I resisted the idea for years because of the extra work it would generate, but the requests kept coming in and I couldn't say no any longer. So, a list of publishers has been added to the QT database. The list is short right now, because of the time it takes to research each one, and make sure they meet QT's strict requirements. This is done to protect our members. What are our requirements?

  • The publisher should accept queries from unagented authors. This rules out most of the major houses.
  • No vanity or fee charging publishers.
  • No publishers who are "Not Recommended" by Preditors & Editors, or on the Writers Beware thumbs down list.
  • The publisher should be well established with at least several published books to their credit. This is to protect members from potential scammers who are hiding behind the new publisher mask.

And finally, QT is venturing into the social networking realm. Not because it's the trendy thing to do, but because I've watched how the friendships formed on QT grew into important support and morale boosters for writers. Let's face it, the query road can be a difficult and frustrating path. It's much easier to bear when you walk it with friends who understand what you're going through. So, several new features have been added to help bring people together, including the ability to send personal messages to other users, create a personal member profile, and interact with other users in custom discussion groups.

Where we go from here is up to you, the users. I'm leaving it in your hands to tell me what is useful, and what isn't about QT3. This will allow me to focus on what you really want, and make everyone's QT experience the best it can be.

Thank you all for making QueryTracker a success, and an industry standard.

-Patrick McDonald
Creator and Proprietor of QueryTracker.net

Friday, September 25, 2009

Publishing Pulse: 9/25/09

Big News - We're Launching QueryTracker 3.0 This Weekend!

QueryTracker.net will be getting a great new look -- and some fantastic new features -- this weekend!  As part of the move to QT3, we'll also be updating the QueryTracker Blog with a fab new look.  We're really excited about our remodeling and upgrades -- and we know you're going to love our changes!

Here's the schedule:

On Saturday afternoon, we'll be making the changes to the QueryTracker.net Blog. We expect this to take between 1 and 2 hours.  You'll still be able to link to and read posts, but some of the widgets you're used to may be down during the transition.  Any links or bookmarks you have to our blog will continue to work, both over the weekend and going forward.

On Sunday morning, QueryTracker.net will be down for 3 to 4 hours while we make the upgrade.  The QueryTracker.net Forum will not be affected and will continue to run as normal.

Want a sneak peek right now? Check out these videos!

Great Posts From Around the Web

Rachelle Gardner asks, Is Your Novel's Main Character Proactive or Reactive? and reminds us that a good query should explain what happens in the story in Tell Me the STORY.

Kristin Nelson reminds us that Agents Get Rejected Too (and that attitude is everything!)

Planning to pitch an agent at a conference?  Coach Larina Kase, PsyD gives you The 5 P's to Powerful Presence.

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, September 23, 2009

Good Rejection Letters

"Good rejection." Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But there are different kinds of rejection letters, and some of them may hold more information than you realize. A rejection letter could be a source of advice that can guide you through your revisions.

First, there are “form rejections.” This a standard rejection letter that an agency sends out when they have decided not to pursue representation of your work. While not helpful, at least they supply a definite “no” and you can move on with your life. The letters are usually along the lines of “not right for our list” or “not what I’m looking for.” A super sneaky way to check if yours is a form rejection is to look at an agent’s profile on QueryTracker. Many people post their verbatim rejections in the “comments” section beneath the profile. (Click on the picture below to see an up-close view.)

A good rejection typically comes from an agent who has read some or all of your manuscript. Many agents will tell you what is working – and what isn’t. “I fell in love with the character, but not with the plot,” for example. If you get this kind of rejection, hang onto it! You may need to take some time to get past the sting of being rejected, but later you will want to go back and really absorb what the agent is telling you. Then, revise your manuscript while keeping the agent’s advice at hand and in mind.

A friend of mine received a rejection from an agent detailing very specifically what was wrong with the plot of her middle grade mystery. My friend replied with a big THANK YOU and asked if she could resubmit – the agent said no, but he knew of another agent within his agency who might like the book once it was revised, and promised to pass it along.

Last week our own Heather Dyer mentioned her agent-inspired “eureka moment” that led to revisions and, down the road, signing with an agent.

An agent told another friend of mine that her premise (and therefore the whole book) was not competitive enough for the market – but the agent had some very nice things to say about the writing style and invited the author to submit future projects for consideration. (And luckily this friend has been querying long enough to know that this is a fantastic opportunity!)

We all know agents are some of the busiest people on the planet, and for them to take time to offer feedback is a really big deal. Their honesty about your work is a boon – so be sure to thank them for it.

Do you have a “good rejection” story you’d like to share? (And please, let’s keep it positive and anonymous.)

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, September 21, 2009

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Anyone who's ever tried to do something has dealt with that little voice inside. You know the one. The one that whispers, "You're not good enough."

So how do you deal with that voice? How do you quiet it, push it away, overcome it?

Hopefully, you can use these few tricks to submerge that self-doubt and allow you to reach the publishing summit triumphantly.

1. Work hard. I used to ask my class, "Are you working hard or hardly working?" Writing (or any creative process) is hard work. If you're not willing to put in the hard work, I'm of the opinion that maybe you shouldn't start.

So be ready to work hard. Read books on improving your craft. Brush up on your grammar and spelling and punctuation and the basics of what makes a sentence. Research. Read some more books, blogs, or forums on publishing and writing.

Don't be afraid of working hard. There's nothing like feeling confident in what you've learned to squash that little voice that whispers about your inadequacies.

2. Surround yourself with believers. And I don't mean your mom. Although moms and dads and spouses are fantastic cheerleaders, they're not the kind of believers you need. You need other writers in your believer section. You can find them in many places; blogs, forums, critique groups, etc. These people are writers who have read your writing and can help you drown out that voice when it's seems to be shouting. They can offer reassurance, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to, and in the end, they can remind you not to give up.

Everyone needs a believer in their corner. Use your believers when the voice gets too loud. Be a believer for someone else.

3. Persevere. Writing (and anything creative) is all subjective. Think about the books you like. Or the art. It's certainly not the same as what someone else likes. Every person likes certain things and dislikes other things. So remember to persevere through the rejections. Because there's nothing like rejection to make that voice of self-doubt come back twice as loud.

But remind yourself of all the hard work you've done. Then work harder. Talk privately with your believers. And persevere.

I'm not saying that voice will completely disappear. But you'll be able to drown it out enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other on the publishing journey.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Publishing Pulse 9/18/09

I have some great news for all writers who are in need of a killer query. Our own Elana Johnson, who is known in our circle as a query goddess, has penned an ebook that will help you write your best query. This came after many, many people contacted her asking for help with their queries. (Ahem - including yours truly!)

For more information about Elana's book, click this link: From the Query to the Call. Also, check out the Query Ninja for a fun look at a real query that has been karate-chopped to smithereens and then reassembled into something stellar.

In publishing news, agent Ted Malawer, formerly of Firebrand Literary Agency, has joined Upstart Crow Literary. Mr. Malawer specializes in Children's Fiction, and is particularly looking for Middle Grade and Young Adult. Check out this interview on the Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Win a pitch session with Deirdre Knight of The Knight Agency. There are some conditions, so read here for all the info.

Leisure Books has put out a call for "Fresh Blood." If you have a finished horror novel of 80-90 thousand words, this contest may be your lucky break. The winner will receive a contract for publication in Leisure's 2011 line-up. Contest deadline is September 30th, so be sure to enter soon!

Lady Glamis, a staunch supporter of the QueryTracker blog from its inception, has announced a contest over at the Literary Lab. Be sure to keep an eye on their site - lots of fun prizes await you!

Happy Friday, everyone. I wish you a restful weekend with plenty of time for writing.


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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

After a Fashion: Reaching Querying Capacity

So, you've crafted the perfect query. Your manuscript shines. Your synopsis rocks.

You've done the research and created a list of agents who might be a good fit for you.

So what next? There's tons of information available online about how to prepare for the querying process, but not much on how to go about it. Different writers use widely variant methods. Some writers query every agent on their list simultaneously. Others query only their dream agent and wait for a reply before querying another. Most writers fall somewhere between those extremes and, while only you can decide which method works best for you, I'd like to discuss what worked best for me and why.

But first, I'd like to introduce this into evidence:

That's me (with my sister) on my way to the prom circa 1992.

Now, if you're like me, after looking at this picture, you're rubbing your stinging nose with one hand while wiping the coffee off your laptop with the other. Which is hard to do when you're shaking with laughter. I mean that is really quite the look, right? Check out the asymmetric hair-do and the "floating pearl" necklace. Not to mention the white iridescent tights. And when you're uberpale, the best look is almost always baby pink patterned satin over white tulle, natch.

Here's the thing:

At the time, I thought I looked awesome. Other people thought I looked awesome, too. I overheard my date's younger sister whining that her brother must have bribed me or something cuz OMG, she's actually pretty!

Unfortunately, I believe writing is a bit like fashion. I finished the first draft of The Edge of Memory in 7 weeks. I did a quick grammar edit, and then shipped the manuscript off to a bevy of test readers for feedback, while I took a month away "for perspective." (yeah, right.)

Over the next several months, I completed several major edits. I then decided I was done tinkering and ready to seek representation. I read the blogging agents mantras of "Don't Query Before You're Ready" and "Write a Great Book" and felt confident. I loved my manuscript. I didn't think it was perfect, of course, but I thought I'd reached the point where I needed professional feedback to progress further.

I was both right and wrong.

Between that first stopping point (when my book was titled Still Haunted) and the final version I submitted to my agent, I completed at least six more rounds of editing. And each time I finished a round of edits, I cringed to look at the previous drafts. Just like that prom picture, I look at those versions and wonder, "what the heck I was thinking?"

In February, an agent who had requested a partial and then my full manuscript pointed out a plot detail that bothered her. She gave me a eureka moment and I subsequently rewrote several scenes that strengthened by novel. Several other agents also provided valuable feedback on my work. And by submitting a few different versions of my query letter and opening pages, I learned which ones were most effective. In other words, the submission process itself helped me create an effective proposal package.

Naturally, I wish I had known that I wasn't as ready as I thought I was when I first began querying. But I'm not sure I would have ever reached that point without the query/submission process. Certainly, I might never have had the eureka moment without that agent's input.

The take-home point here is that I'm glad I've never been a Query Player (much as I've tried). If I had queried a zillion agents when I first thought my manuscript was ready, I'd have burned all my bridges. If I had queried a single agent at a time, I wouldn't have gotten the feedback I needed.

But since I only queried a few agents at a time, I got a chance to show my best work to the fabulous agent I eventually signed with. And I'm beyond grateful for that.

My query style:

* Query in batches of 5 or so, every couple of weeks.

* Of those, choose at least 1 or 2 agents who usually respond quickly (Check querytracker.net for response times.)

* If a specific opportunity comes up (say, an agent mentions seeking manuscripts like yours in an interview or on a blog), jump on it.

* After reworking a query pitch or opening pages, submit various combinations to assess what works best.

* Keep at least 5 queries pending

So... what's YOUR query style?

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, September 14, 2009

Fantasy World-Building: Magical Rules

World-building is different for those of us who write speculative fiction than for people who write stories based in the "real" world. Rather than examining the past for factual details, we have to make up alternate worlds. One of the most important tasks, then, is to establish the world's "rules," or perhaps more accurately, the laws.

By laws, I mean the factual kind that recur in nature. You can jump upwards as many times as you want to, but as long as you’re dealing with a g of gravity, you will always come back down. You can do your darndest to stop the ocean tides, but as long as the earth keeps spinning and the moon keeps pulling, there will be tides.

The same thing has to happen with magic. There must be laws to any magical universe, and to create them, a writer must ask herself things like

* Who can use magic and who can’t? Only people who are trained? Only people who have certain genes? Only people of a certain gender or race or culture? Why only those people? Must the power be awakened, or is it there from birth?

* What is magic? Where does it come from? Is it a force of nature, neither good nor evil, or is it a spiritual or eschatological kind of power only angels or demons can grant?

* How is magic used? Must the user cast spells, or is magic more of a generalized energy? Must he rely on herbs, or blood, or eye of newt, or are spell components obsolete in your world? Are sigils, runes, or incantations used?

* What price must be paid? If you fight gravity by jumping, eventually you’re going to wear yourself out. That’s the price. So what happens when one uses magic? And are the consequences the same for any kind of magic, or do they vary with the kind of spell?

* What are the limits on magic? If your character can do anything and everything, there’s no tension in the story, so what can’t she do with magic?

* Are there different types of magicians with specialized powers -- like necromancers and alchemists and prophets -- or are they all the same?

Your answers can’t be random, either. They have to make sense, just like the laws of our universe do. And you can’t be whimsically changing them because your character suddenly needs to be able to do this or that kind of magic. You should write your rules down and pretend they're set in stone.

One more thought: It's challenging to come up with new rules if you write in multiple fantasy universes. When you have a logical, well-defined set of rules that you carefully abide by, it can be hard to think beyond them for another story. This is part of the reason many authors set different stories in the same universe. If you have trouble coming up with multiple sets of rules and keeping them straight, don't feel bad about setting things in the same universe!

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!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Publishing Pulse 9/11/09

New and Updated Agents:
Literary agent Terry Burns was added to QT’s database as an agent for Harline Literary. Mr. Burns is looking for a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, so check out his profile.

Did you know Patrick updates agent profiles regularly? *sheepish grin * I didn’t. I’ve been checking for new agents weekly, but I had no idea I could simply scroll down and there would be a list of agents that have recently updated their profiles, genres, mailing addresses, how they accept submissions, and/or websites and links. Since August 2, 34 agents have been updated. Thanks Pat!

Hot Publishing Links: 

Chuck on the Guide to Literary Agents blog has started an Author 101 Series with “What Agents Hate.”

Check it out. There is a similar list here, transcribed from a keynote address given by Wendy Loggia at a SCBWI conference on why your manuscript got rejected. Valuable information for any author looking to find success in publishing.

And this one, a “Blast from the Past” post by Hallie Ephron.

I found The Ten Commandments of Blogging quite informative, well-written with just the right amount of humor, and absolutely true. Thanks Pimp My Novel!

Worried about your biography? Your lack of publishing credits? Read this post by Jessica Faust to ease the panic.

Thinking you can write full-time? Read this post by Rachelle Gardner to really examine the issue. Oh, and this one too.

If you missed Nathan Bransford’s Writer Appreciation Week, go back and check it out. I especially liked this post on the pre-published writer.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writer, Beware the Plagiarist

Images: Johnnyberg & GiniMiniGi

For a college professor like me, plagiarism is always a concern. But problems aren’t limited to the classroom. Every writer needs to be wary—both so you don’t accidentally plagiarize someone else, and to guard your own work against plagiarism.

The internet has made it so easy to copy and paste material into one’s notes—or even right into one’s manuscript—that many people do exactly that, either forgetting that they lifted the material or assuming no one will ever figure out they didn’t do the writing themselves. Others assume that if they change a few words here and there that they’ll never be caught. And sadly, the fact that it’s so easy to copy leads some people to assume that it must be okay.

Take former Harvard student and William Morris Agency client Kaavya Viswanathan, for example, who signed a two-book contract with Little, Brown and Company for an alleged $500,000 advance. Within a few weeks of the book’s release, readers were finding passages that had clearly been lifted from Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret?, Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused, and even Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Wikipedia compares dozens of passages from these books with Viswanathan’s novel, but here’s one sample to give you an idea:
McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts: Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope's house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other's existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh (b) say something (c) ignore him and keep on walking ... 'Uh, yeah. Ha. Ha. Ha.' ... I turned around and saw that Marcus was smiling at me.
Viswanathan’s novel: Though I had been to school with him for the last three years, Sean Whalen and I had never acknowledged each other's existence before. I froze, unsure of (a) what he was talking about and (b) what I was supposed to do about it ... 'Ha, yeah. Uh, ha. Ha.' ... I looked up and saw that Sean was grinning at me.
As soon as the first accusations were made, Little, Brown released a statement from Viswanathan saying
I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.
The publisher of McCafferty’s novels shot back,
We find both the responses of Little, Brown and their author Kaavya Viswanathan deeply troubling and disingenuous. Ms. Viswanathan's claim that similarities in her phrasing were 'unconscious' or 'unintentional' is suspect. We have documented more than forty passages … that contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure from Megan McCafferty's first two books. This … is nothing less than an act of literary identity theft ... it is inconceivable that this was…youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.
And Viswanathan isn’t the only one who’s plagiarized and been caught.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books called out bestselling author Cassie Edwards, who has written over 100 romance novels, when she lifted material directly from nonfiction resources for her 2007 book, Shadow Bear.

For example, Edwards’ novel says,
It is said that their [black-footed ferrets'] closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population.
The passage is almost indistinguishable from the one Paul Tolme wrote in the summer of 2005 for Defenders Magazine: 
Their [black-footed ferrets'] closest relatives are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska to establish the New World population.
Signet, who published Edwards’ book, argued first that many of the sources were so old that they were fair use, but later decided to review each of Edwards’ books in search of plagiarism. According to the Wikipedia entry on Edwards, “In April 2008, Signet stopped publishing Edwards' books ‘due to irreconcilable editorial differences.’ In an interview, Edwards said that she did not know she was supposed to credit sources, and her husband stated that Edwards gained ideas from her reference works but did not ‘lift passages’.”

(For an extensive, ongoing, and incredibly damning comparison of Edwards’ books with plagiarized resources, download Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ massive Cassie Edwards PDF.)

If these sorts of things are a concern for published authors, imagine how often this must happen among unpublished writers. That means you need to be extra vigilant as an unpublished writer.

First, you must know exactly what plagiarism is so you never do it yourself. According to plagiarism.org:
All of the following are considered plagiarism:
* turning in someone else's work as your own
* copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
* failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
* giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
* changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
* copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)
Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.
Second, you must choose your critiquing partners carefully. If someone takes your work and puts it in front of an agent or publisher first, what will that do to your chances of ever getting published yourself? We’ve heard stories about people trusting a critique partner with their material—from queries to nonfiction proposals to novels—only to hear from a third party that they’ve been plagiarized. In other words, a reader who sees both your work and your crit partner’s “work” realizes that your crit partner is stealing your material! And in some mind-blowing situations, plagiarists have even sent their plagiarized material to the person they stole from for critique!

Like Viswanathan and Edwards, many if not most plagiarists swear they’ve done nothing wrong. Because they changed some words here and there or integrated your materials into their own work, they may argue that it’s all original. In fact, little may be original — plagiarists often steal from multiple sources.

In the book Man for Himself, psychologist Erich Fromm calls people like this “exploitative characters.”
Such people will tend not to produce ideas but to steal them. This may be done directly in the form of plagiarism or more subtly by repeating in different phraseology the ideas voiced by others and insisting that they are new and their own… Things which they can take away from others always seem better to them than anything they can produce themselves… Because they want to use and exploit people, they ‘love’ those who, explicitly or implicitly, are promising objects of exploitation, and get ‘fed up’ with persons whom they have squeezed out.
We’re not suggesting you become paranoid and avoid critique partners. Crit partners are invaluable, both to help you improve your manuscript and to help you improve as a writer. But it’s a good idea to pay attention to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or violated.

A few clues that you’re dealing with an exploitative character:

* Fromm says, “They often make ‘biting’ remarks about others…[and they display] suspicion and cynicism, envy and jealousy. Since they are satisfied only with things they can take away from others, they tend to overrate what others have and underrate what is theirs.” In other words, look out for people who often gossip about others in a negative way, or who rave about how they’re going to write something “as good as [your story]” or whatever this week’s Big Novel is.

* Be wary of someone who’s absolutely paranoid that someone else is going to plagiarize them. People often fear others doing to them what they’re doing to others.

* This is a big one: Beware of people who are copycats in other areas of their lives. If they’re constantly regurgitating other people’s opinions as if they’re original thoughts, or if they jump on the bandwagon to try to get a little glory from other people’s new and fabulous ideas, beware.

* So is this: Exploitative characters will often come right out and say they’re using people, groups, or ideas, or plan to use them. They may boast that they’re only doing something because of what they can get from it. If you hear these things on a regular basis, run for your life (and your manuscript’s!).

Some other ideas to help you stay safe:

* Get referrals to critique partners from writers you trust.

* Ask other people in your writing community about a potential critique partner to see if anyone has caveats.

* Try sharing a few chapters at a time with someone rather than sending them your full manuscript. Then wait for a while before sending more and listen for anything that makes you uneasy.

* And always, always trust your gut.

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!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Writing Under the Influence of Children - Tips for Parents Who Write

When I was six and my sisters were four and two, we loved nothing more than when mom would leave us home with dad. He would kick back on the floor in front of the TV and we would run for the barrettes. He had this giant afro which we would brush into a puff then pull into about fifty pigtails. It kept us busy for hours – and allowed him time to do what he wanted. (Notice that the dad at left is typing on a laptop.) With a dash of planning and a splash of creativity, you can write – with children!

(Stay tuned – at the end of this article I’ll share a couple of my own guilty little secrets!)

It can be hard to juggle writing and parenthood - harder than most people think! We've all heard that in order to succeed as writers, we need to put full-time hours into our chosen career, but how can we achieve this when children are underfoot?

First, keep this in mind. Rather than daily life revolving around the children, the children should be involved in the life of the adult. Yes, you heard me correctly. It is important for your kids to see you develop your talents. They will take a leaf out of your book (speaking figuratively here - not literally!) You can involve and inspire them while maintaining focus on your project.

Here are a few tried-and-true tips:

  1. * Workbooks are fun! As I sit writing this, my youngest is learning how to write the alphabet. Homeschool stores are great resources. Our favorite workbooks can be found at Love to Learn.
  2. * Encourage your kids to write stories, whether by dictation, by hand, or on a computer. Someday their stories will be heirlooms! Illustrations are important, too. Last month, my daughters, frustrated with their abilities to sketch by hand, spent a whole day clipping photos from magazines, then gluing them into stories they'd written. The final step to hook them on writing is to invite your kids to share their stories with the family.
  3. * A second computer (even an old one!) can be really, really handy. Your child can feel all grown up like mommy or daddy – while learning! Our favorite free websites are StarFall and SheppardSoftware.
  4. * Consider an indoor racetrack. Kids love to run – especially in circles. I’ve arranged my family room’s furniture in the center of the room, creating a track all around. And yes, if they keep it up long enough, there may be a groove worn in the wood, but hey, it’s worth it! Plus it gets them ready to nap.
  5. * If you are lucky enough to have kids who nap, hear this. Memorize it. Tattoo it on your skin if you must. NAPTIME IS SACRED!!! Use it only for writing!
  6. * Consider a five minute nap for yourself, or even just a few minutes to relax or do yoga. It’ll refresh you!
  7. * If you buy yourself a goodie, like a new notebook and a set of gel pens, consider buying the same for your kidlet. They will get a kick out of writing by your side. (And then they won’t write in your notebook!)
  8. * If you’re not the type to pen your stories the old-fashioned way, consider investing in a laptop. Some, called mini-notebooks, weigh less than three pounds and measure a mere six by ten inches. They are easy to take almost anywhere.
  9. * Write outdoors as much as possible. (This is when the laptop comes in handy!) Not only will your kids stay out of your hair for hours, the fresh air will jump-start your creativity. As an added benefit, writing somewhere away from home, like soccer practice, for example, frees you up from other distractions – like the sink full of dirty dishes or your gabby next-door neighbor!
  10. * Keep a snack cupboard in the kitchen, down low if your kids are small. Stock it with juice boxes, dried fruit, granola bars… and let the kids know they can help themselves. It’ll keep them in better moods and feeling independent - - and it’ll keep you from jumping up to fill their bellies.
  11. * If your kids are old enough, let them prepare the meals. They will love doing it and it will keep them well-occupied.
  12. * A couple of my favorite recipes are great at keeping kids busy. One is Fudge-in-a-Bag, where all the ingredients are smooshed inside a ziploc baggie by little fingers. Another is Play Dough. This website has over twenty recipes. Little effort, hours of fun!
  13. * If you are experiencing writer’s block, ask your child’s opinion of where your story should go next. (Keeping it age appropriate, of course.) Their little minds have few pre-conceived notions, and they may help you out of a jam. Also try doing some of the following yourself: coloring, singing, sculpting, or dancing - you'll be surprised at the many creative windows and doors this will open in your mind!
  14. * Don’t forget to get away from home now and then. One of our favorite summertime activities is going to Salem Pond where the kids canoe, fish, and swim while I sit in the shade of a hundred-year-old tree working on my latest story. In winter, restaurants with indoor playgrounds are nice.
  15. * Consider taking weekends off from writing. One mom I know takes the whole summer off from writing, choosing to write only when her children are in school.
  16. * Read, read, read! Let your kids see you reading, and be willing to take a few minutes to read to them. You’ll be surprised at how long it tides them over – and at how it encourages them in imaginative playing!
  17. * If all else fails, try a different mindset. Instead of seeing interruptions as annoyances, see them as a) a nice breather from your work or a chance to get a fresh perspective, and b) the opportunity to appreciate your kid’s cute factor. They stay little for such a short time - so enjoy it!

While it’s important not to let your kids rule your life, be sure let them know they are loved. In the long run this will instill confidence and independence and make them less needy. Laps are made for kids to sit in - always be available for cuddles!

And now for my secrets:

My kids love books. So much, in fact, that they’re willing to do just about anything to get them. When they complete a job above and beyond their regular chores, they get to put a tally mark on a chart. One tally equals one book from the library. (Am I sneaky or what?!?)

Another secret - I let my kids watch movies. AND they’re all educational, which absolves me of any guilt. Think I’m kidding? Let me put it this way – have you ever seen Finding Nemo in French with English subtitles? Almost every DVD has the option (usually hidden in the setup menu) of several languages for both audio and subtitles. Voila, your kid is learning a foreign language. And as long as they are sitting, why not have them sort socks or fold kitchen towels?

Last but not least, laugh often. Especially when you feel like tearing your hair out. You’ll feel better – I promise.

Do you have tips for writing with kids? Share them in the comments and I may include them in this post with a link to your blog.

Calista Taylor: "I think the most valuable thing I've learned to do as a writer with 2 young children (6 & 4) is deal with interruptions, which are constant. It no longer breaks my flow or concentration, though I do admit, I end up with a fair amount of echoes, since I don't remember the exact words used a few paragraphs up."

Pamela Hammonds: "One other tip I use is to put down the laptop and notebook while out with my kids and take mental notes instead. I study other people, listen to their speech patterns, observe sounds and smells around me. I'm bad about tuning out the world and this helps me to engage my senses more. Plus it helps my kids to see me NOT writing all the time."

Rabia (whose Blogger profile is unavailable) wrote: "I have three littles (under five) and they go to bed by 8:30, which leaves me the whole evening free. Occasionally, my husband will take them for an hour or so on a Saturday morning and I'll lock myself in room with my laptop and my notes. I also have activities for the older two that'll keep them busy for up to 30 minutes: give them a stack of magazines to cut up and make collages with; sit them down with a Tupperware of noodles, cups, pouring containers, and spoons; home made play dough; drawing pads and a chance to use my special markers and colored pencils. And even the kids who don't nap have a mandatory one-hour Quiet Time in the afternoon. The older ones have a chance to color, play quietly, lay in bed, listen to books on CD or pursue another quiet solitary activity of their own choosing. They've come up with some fabulous Lego/K'nex/Tinkertoy creations in that time." (Rabia, email me if you want me to link to your blog: suzettesaxton@querytracker.net)

Yamile: "We gave the kids old, old laptops that my husband was given at work, and they absolutely adore them! One of the teachers at their school referred us to spellingcity.com and there they get all their spelling practice done. I love that site. We also have an old typewriter that I got from ebay, and that we all love. If your kids see you reading, they will read too. Even my little ones "read" their stories to each other. Writing with kids at home is hard, but it's doable!"

A.L. Sonnichsen
: "It's amazing how much I'm able to get accomplished even with just two- or three-minute snatches here and there." "...it's nice to really push through and get something done, instead of waiting for that illusive three-hour writing session that never seems to materialize."

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

Friday, September 4, 2009

Publishing Pulse 09-04-09

Agent Blog Posts of Note:

Jessica of BookEnds sheds some light on some interesting rights twists: translation rights for a language(s) in which the author is fluent and the often-asked question whether authors should worry about brand names in their work.

Feeling unloved? Head over to Nathan Bransford's blog to celebrate Writer Appreciation Week.

Rachelle Gardner posted some encouraging thoughts on trends in publishing.

In Other Industry News:

Eric on Pimp My Novel posted a list of Ten Blogging Commandments. He also takes a hard look at Self Publishing.

Amazon opposed Google's digital library plans.

Can you picture Spiderman with mouse ears? Disney bought Marvel Comics

Moonrat posted about the bittersweet parting of authors and editors

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Be a Google Ninja: Finding ANYTHING on the Web Part II

So now you know how to use some of the great Google tools. Want to know how to do a super specialized search?  These tricks are so advanced that even advanced researchers use them less than 5% of the time.  But they unleash a huge amount of power.  They're what make you a full Google ninja!

Here are two of my favorites:

Phrase Search

Erich Fromm is one of my favorite philosopher/psychologists.  He wrote this fantastic paper called "On Disobedience," in which he explains why disobeying authority is sometimes the truest form of doing what is right.  If you Google erich fromm on disobedience (I'm too lazy to capitalize sometimes, and Google doesn't care) you get a list of sites that list, quote, or talk about the paper.  But say that's not what I want. I want to see if the paper itself is online.

The trick is to put quote around a short phrase from the paper itself exactly, including any punctuation. (Personally, I try to avoid using punctuation, but if there is any, you  must use it exactly.) Now, I'm geeky enough to know the first couple of lines of the paper by heart, so I put a phrase in quotes beside my original search.  Now my search query looks like this:

Now I'm only getting sources that include that exact phrase.  Unfortunately, it's a quotable quote, so what I ended up with is a bunch of websites that sell bad term papers to students.

So I need to pick a more obscure phrase from the paper.  I get out the handy-dandy book that contains the paper and search

Bingo.  Now I have a Google Books result.

But that's still not good enough.  So I'm going to pick an even more obscure phrase that's less likely to be someone's quotable quote.  So I pick something that really captures the style of Fromm's writing but isn't likely to be quoted anywhere but in the actual article:

"my conviction and my judgment, if authentically mine, are part of me"

Now I have three results, including a web-based copy of the article.  Ta-da!  You can read it here.

Excluding Terms

From time to time I Google my name.  (Come on, admit it, you do it too.)  My excuse is that sometimes when I work with journalists, they don't tell me they're using a quote I gave them.  And sometimes Google Alerts don't catch those articles when they're posted online.  So I Google myself in search of them so I can print them for my expert portfolio.

Until the internet age, I thought I had a unique name.  Turns out there are other people out there named Carolyn Kaufman.  (Humph.)

If you search my name, my information pops up to the top (ha! take that, other Carolyn Kaufmans!), but it turns out that there's also a Carolyn Kaufman who's a former professor and the CEO of a corporation, another who's an RN, and another in Orange County who says she has "Indigo Children" -- kids who have special powers to see the future.  (Holy oh noes.  What will this do to my professional credibility?)  There are a few others out there, too, mostly Twitter and Facebook links and marriage announcements. There's a Carolyn J. Kaufman (not me), a Carolyn C. Kaufman (not me), and a Carolyn A. Kaufman (also not me). Which leaves me a lot to sort through.

So the first thing I'm going to do is make my name into a phrase search to exclude any results with middle initials, because I don't usually use mine: "carolyn kaufman"

Then I'm going to start excluding phrases.  In other words, I'm going to tell Google not to give me search results if they include this term or word. So to remove all the Indigo Children listings, I type a minus sign in front of the word I want to avoid:

"carolyn kaufman" -indigo

Fantastic, now all the Indigo Children listings are gone, but let's say I want to exclude all those other CKs I mentioned, too?  Well, I just keep excluding terms:

"carolyn kaufman" -indigo -ceo -rn

That search leaves me with a Google search page that includes only one listing that isn't about me.  I'm pretty happy with that.  But let's say you're even picker.  So I note that the other CK in the list of my results is from California, so I just add that to my list of exclusions:

"carolyn kaufman" -indigo -ceo -rn -ca

And so on.  I can also make things more specific by including my unique credentials.  For example, I have a doctorate in clinical psychology, a Psy.D., so I can add that (note that I am adding it, not excluding it, so there is no minus before the psyd):

"carolyn kaufman" psyd -indigo -ceo -rn -ca

Ooh, now we're really getting somewhere.

If you're name-searching someone, you should also use common variations of their name.  If you're looking for a Dave, for example, also try searching with the name David.  If you're searching for a John, also try Jonathan, Johnny, and Jon.

Congratulations, you are now a Google Search Ninja!

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, September 2, 2009

Be a Google Ninja: Finding ANYTHING on the Web Part I

I am a Google ninja. I can find darn near anything (or anyone) on Google, because I know how to use all its secret tools. And it has a lot of secret tools. Journalists I’ve worked with sometimes call or email me asking me to help them find something on the internet. I'm just that good. (And totally modest about it, too.)

I'm going to do a short series today and tomorrow to teach you how to use the same mad ninja skillz.

Today we're going to look at basic searches and Google search tools. Tomorrow we're going to look at my favorite advanced search tools.

One little caveat: It can be scary to realize just how much information about you is available on the internet. You are not anonymous online. If someone really knows what they're doing, they can track down all kinds of free information about you by using just your email address or just your name. We'll look at name searches tomorrow -- you may find them especially useful if you have a detective in your story.

Google Basics

Most people know how to conduct a basic Google search. You type a word or words into the Google Search box and go. You can even type your query in the form of a question.

So let’s say I want to learn more about plagiarism. I just type plagiarism, and I get results like Plagiarism.org, which explains what it is and how to avoid it; the Wikipedia entry; and the Purdue OWL, which is the college’s writing help center.

Maybe I want to learn about anti-plagiarism software, which compares a paper's contents to a huge database of written material. I change my query to anti-plagiarism software.

Basic Built-In Google Tools

Did you know you can use Google as a calculator? A dictionary? A spellchecker? Here's how.

Calculator: Simply type the equation into the Google search box, and Google will give you an answer.
  • For example, 5*9= or 6/3=
Dictionary: Type define and the word you want to define, and you will get back a list of definitions.
  • For example, define anorexia
Spellchecker: Just type the word you have in mind, and if you're close, Google will respond with "Did you mean: (correct spelling)?"

Built-In Google Search Tools

If you want to search for a term and its synonyms, use the tilde sign (~) before your search term.
  • Example: ~anorexia pulls up information not only on anorexia, but also on eating disorders.
If you want to find web pages that have content similar to the site you're on, type related: followed by the web address.
  • Example: related:blogger.com pulls up alternate blogging systems, including WordPress and LiveJournal.
If you want to search within a particular site, use [search term] site:[site]
Once you've got these tricks down, come back tomorrow for the truly advanced tricks, the ones that will help you find anything (and anyone)....

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!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Interview with Jessica Verday, Author of THE HOLLOW

It's September 1! That means that it's release day for Jessica Verday and her debut novel, THE HOLLOW! Jessica was QueryTracker.net's first success story interview, so she holds a special place in history. And she was kind enough to answer some questions for us today.

How did you start writing?
During middle school I started lots of stories but I never thought of getting them published. Then in my early twenties I started two other novels with the intention of getting them published; one was a romance and one was a dark chick-lit. The Hollow was the first one I finished, so I decided to give it a go and the rest is history.

Please tell us about your road to publication.

I sent out about 2 dozen queries, received 4 offers of representation, after a slight round of edits, the book was sent out and the next day we had our first offer. Less than a week later the book went to auction.

You have written a book that includes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Could you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write it?

I've always loved The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, and I loved the Tim Burton movie; Sleepy Hollow. When I heard Abbey's voice in my head, I decided to take a trip to the real town in New York. And it all came together from there.

What are you working on now?

I just finished book 2, so I’ll be starting something new and different soon, but I haven’t decided which idea to go with.

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

All the waiting and not knowing.

What is your favorite part about being a writer?

Getting emails from people who say they loved my book.

Do you have a quote that motivates you?

No. Any suggestions?

What is your writing routine?

I don’t really have one, I just write. Depending on how much time I have on my deadline, sometimes it’s every day, every other day or every week.

What is your advice to new or unpublished writers? 
The most important thing I can tell you is, finish your book. No one will publish a half written book and they won't wait around for you to finish it. So if you actually complete your novel, you're ten steps ahead of everyone else.
What kinds of things do you do to promote your books? Did you do anything before you found an agent? If so, what?

Other than making a couple of book trailers, I didn’t really do anything before finding an agent. Besides that, I tried to reach out to fans online and via a “Get the Goods” page on my website.

And there you have it! Now, I've been lucky enough to read THE HOLLOW already, and trust me people, it's fantastic! You can order your copy here or head to the bookstore today and pick one up. Jess has a cool contest on her blog. When you snap a picture of THE HOLLOW in a bookstore, you could win a T-shirt!

Thanks Jess, for answering our questions. Happy Release Day!