QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, November 30, 2009

Genre Prejudice-Part II

My last post, Prejudice--Not a Wise Platform Strategy, was part one on this topic. I know this is a subject near to the hearts of many readers because of the emails I received through this blog and my website after that post and my earlier, related one on not using blogs as personal diaries.

Most writers I know are intelligent, educated, open-minded people, which is why I keep leaping onto my soapbox to address the topic of genre prejudice--it makes no sense to me and surprises me every time I see an example of it.

People who know me will tell you I'm not a preachy person, but discrimination is my hot button. I live in the South and consequently have a heightened sense of equality because I live in a society that has embraced or endured all kinds of prejudice and discrimination. I find genre discrimination offensive, just as I do racial, religious or sexual discrimination (Though not to the same extent, of course; it's not on the same level as it doesn't bring with it life and death consequences; but for me, prejudice is repulsive in any arena).

No. "Hating" a genre doesn't equate donning a white hood, but it is unwarranted and often unfounded, with the person degrading the genre and its authors sometimes having never even read a book in the genre (or at least not knowing he/she has read one. *wink*). A little tolerance and respect for other readers and writers goes a long way, especially when you're trying to build a potential fan base.

Hands down, the genre I see belittled the most is romance.

Okay. I agree romance is an easy target. The book covers alone warrant an eye roll. They are often cheesy--in fact, some are downright embarrassing (Psst: Electronic readers solve this problem and allow you to read with reckless abandon anywhere without risk of offending anyone with the naked or nearly naked people on the cover).

Kidding aside, keep in mind the potential pitfalls of alienating people who write or read this or any genre before you slam it publicly. Yes, your personal blog is yours and you can say any darn thing you want, but if you are building a writers' platform, you should still turn on your inner censor. Same with forums and loops. It is fine to be opinionated, but as with all things, is it worth shooting yourself in the foot?

Back to romance. I think the stats will help clarify my position.

The following is from the Romance Writers of America website:

RWA’s 2009 Reader Survey reports 74.8 million Americans read at least one romance novel in 2008, with the core of the romance fiction market at 29 million regular readers.

Not only did romance fiction generate $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, but also it remained the largest share of the consumer market at 13.5 percent. R.R. Bowker’s Books In Print shows 7,311 new romance titles were published in the United States in 2008 (out of a total 275,232 new titles). With 7,311 new romances published in one year, “no fiction category can rival romance in terms of sheer size.”

The U.S. economy slid into recession in 2008, and book sales were down to $10.175 billion from $10.714 billion in 2007. Romance fiction sales were strong in 2008 at $1.37 billion.

Wow. 74.8 million people read a romance in 2008. That's a lot of readers. That's a lot of writers. Romance has a gigantic fan base. Larger than any other genre. See the RWA literature statistics page for more info.

I brought my own prejudices with me to my first RWA meeting, only to be slapped in the face by my own ignorance. My fellow chapter members blew me away. Doctors, housewives, lawyers, professors, students executives and teachers. I went even though I was not a romance writer because of the workshops that crossed over genres. I stayed because of the talent and openness of the members. I adore and admire this group of men and women and can't imagine making this trek without them.

The president of my chapter, Kimberly Frost, spoke to our group one time about why she writes romance. Kimberly is a physician and is one of the brightest people I know. I'm sure her friends and associates frequently ask her why she writes romance. Here is a part of the story she recounted:

One morning I opened a reader email that came through my website. The woman wrote to tell me that she'd had a very tough week. Both of her parents were terminally ill, and reading Would-Be Witch was the first thing that had made her happy in a while. She just wanted me to know. I sat and cried as I wrote her a reply.

Before that reader email, I had occasionally wondered if I should really be writing paranormal romantic comedy. It wasn't, after all, serious writing, right? Afterward though, I never questioned my choice again. My book eased the pain of someone who was shouldering a very heavy load. Nothing will ever mean more to me than that.

Hard to beat that for a reason to write.

Honestly, I can't think of a genre I haven't enjoyed from literary fiction to erotica. There are pitiful examples in all genres, but there are also brilliant books in all of them. I choose to read some genres more than others, but that doesn't mean the ones I don't read as often are lesser quality or not as valid.

My point? Discrimination based on genre prejudice not only offends other readers'/writers', it can negatively impact an aspiring writer's reputation and platform.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments or in a personal email.

Wishing everyone a wonderful week.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Publishing Pulse 11/27/09

Contest Update

Anna Webman is hard at work judging nearly 500 pages of material that was submitted in our very successful YA Contest. (Thanks, Anna!) We will be announcing the winners next week.

New Agents

Whitney Lee with The Fielding Agency represents books of all genres in both fiction and nonfiction, taking on books she feels passionate about.

Robert Kirby with United Agents represents books of all genres in both fiction and nonfiction. He is based in the UK.

Kent Wolf with Global Literary Management's interests include literary fiction, smart thrillers, women's fiction, memoirs, pop culture, and off-the-wall narrative nonfiction.

Justine Wenger with the Emma Sweeney Agency is looking for literary fiction, short story collections, and food/lifestyle nonfiction.


WOW (Women on Writing) is holding a flash fiction contest that closes November 30th. Entries will be judged by Noah Lukeman of Lukeman Literary Management. There are many fun prize packages. Entry fee is $10.

Writer's Digest's short short story competition has a $3000 first prize. Entry fee is $15 and entries are due by December 1st.

Delacorte Press will award publication for the winner of the First YA Novel contest. Deadline is December 31st.

Writers of the Future will publish winners of their contest, which is for prose of up to 17,000 words. Contest closes December 31st.

On the Web

Guide to Literary Agents had a great article, 7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter.

Agent Kristin Nelson offered a great tip about What's Hot Now in YA fiction.

I loved Everybody Has a Book Inside on the Kiersten Writes blog.

And last but not least, thanks to Beth Revis for spotlighting the QTblog.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Suzette Saxton writes books for tots, teens, and in-betweens. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

With a Thankful Heart

Since our American readers are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, it seems a good time for a moment of gratitude. In fact, there's really no wrong time to be thankful.

Many people consider writing to be a solitary activity. But however true that may be, when you begin a quest for publication, you join a community. And if you're reading this post, then you've found your way to the best writing community I've found.

The fact is, it takes a lot of support to pursue a writing career, from your family, from friends, from beta readers... from whoever motivates you to keep going.

I am grateful to many people:

  • My husband and my best friend, the best support system a girl could ask for

  • My fellow blog mistresses, also known as The Best Crit Group EVAH

  • My amazing agent, Katie Boyle

  • Patrick McDonald for conceiving and implementing the fabulous Querytracker.net site

  • My sweetly ruthless beta readers
And finally, YOU... the Querytracker community for sheer awesomeness. I'm grateful for your suggestions, your participation, your thoughtful comments here on the Querytracker blog.

So, what are YOU thankful for?

For those of you celebrating, have a peaceful and happy holiday!

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, November 23, 2009

7 Characteristics You Need To Get Published

In honor of our swiftly-approaching one-year mark, I'm pulling out one of the QueryTracker Blog Team's first posts.  Part of what's fun about the re-post is that I can link to many of the posts we've done over the past year!

Agents and editors deal with hundreds of queries, synopses, proposals, and chapters every month. Whether you realize it or not, your approach to the process has a lot to do with whether or not your work will ever reach publication. Here are the 7 characteristics necessary to achieving your dreams!

Characteristic 1: Commitment to Growth

The first thing every real writer needs is a willingness to learn and grow. All agents or editors—no matter how busy—are interested in quality work. The first step: write the best book you can. That means you’ll probably need to brush up on grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and plotting. Don’t give someone an excuse to reject your work because you’ve either never learned or forgotten how to write in an active voice.

Research local or online writing workshops and sign up for a writing conference or two to jump start your creative juices and brush up on what it takes to become a published author. Join a critique group to help yourself develop a critical eye for grammar, sentence structure and plot in the writing of others. Then apply what you learn to your own writing. When you view writing as a life-long learning experience, you've taken the first step to becoming published.

Characteristic 2: Humility

Completing a project is an accomplishment, and one you should be proud of—just not too proud to miss places you still might be able to improve. Chances are, you did forget a comma or semicolon somewhere. Or spelled a word wrong. Or didn't tie up that loose end. Or tried to cram in too many subplots. Or something. When you share your work with critique buddies, really listen to their feedback. If an agent is kind enough to offer advice, thank him or her and then consider making the changes to your manuscript.

Characteristic 3: Self-Confidence

On the flip-side of humility is self-confidence; you’ll need both in equal measure. Not to be confused with arrogance—there is a difference! Getting published is usually an uphill battle. Everyone along the way will have an opinion about your work, and not all of those opinions will be positive! Most agents reject between 95% and 99% of all queries they see, and editors are even harder to win over.

Even after you make it through the gauntlet of agents, editors, and other decision-makers, you’ll have to face book reviewers and bloggers. You must believe in yourself enough not only to go through the whole process, but also to endure the onslaught that follows. Once you've acquired the skills of a writer, a sense of self-confidence will help you recognize that your hours of research, learning, and growing are going to pay off.

Characteristic 4: Perseverance

Once you've produced the very best story you can, built your self-confidence, and balanced it with humility, it’s time to submit. Research agents and editors and only submit to those who are a good match for your project. And don't just submit to one agent or editor. Or two. Or even ten. Keep going until you find one who loves your work!

And don't stop writing while you submit. Maybe your first book won’t make as big of a splash as you’re hoping. Maybe your second—or your fifth—novel will be the one to land that dream agent and publishing contract. Author Dan Brown published three books before he scored a worldwide bestseller with The DaVinci Code.

Characteristic 5: Professionalism

Understand that publishing is a business, and that agents and editors are trying to find books publishers—and eventually readers—will want to spend their hard-earned money to buy. That means you need to conduct yourself like a professional. While this might seem obvious, you must treat everyone you deal with, from agents’ assistants all the way up to publishing heads, with courtesy. Even if you don’t like what they’re telling you.

Never send hate mail back to agents or editors. (You might be surprised how often publishing professionals have to deal with this.) Also realize that form responses are normal — if you had to read hundreds of queries every month, you’d send them too! Don't take rejection as a personal attack—it's just business.

Characteristic 6: Patience

It takes patience to see your dream of being published come true. Not only patience to write the book—which doesn't happen in a single sitting—but patience to wait for responses from beta readers, critique groups, and then agents, editors, and publishers. Some respond immediately. Some are a little slower, but will respond eventually. And some won’t respond at all. In each case, your patience will be tried.

Characteristic 7: Luck

Before you decide that you’re doomed because you’ve never won the lottery (or even a door prize drawing), you need to know that we’re talking about the kind of luck you make for yourself. There is an old Chinese tenet, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” So first, be prepared. And then cultivate your own luck. Lucky writers behave in ways that create good fortune in their lives. For example, they read agent and industry blogs (like this one!) to get a feel for what different agents like. They notice and act upon chance opportunities, follow their intuition, look for the bright side of every situation, and are certain their future is promising. Their outlook becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, creating the perfect environment for “luck” to flourish. Remember, it only takes one positive response!

Put All Those Characteristics Together: Indomitable Spirit

Incorporating these seven traits will result in the indomitable spirit necessary to succeed in the publishing industry. What is Indomitable Spirit? It’s an attitude or state of mind in which you are impossible to frighten or defeat. Never, never, never give up on your dreams.

“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Elana JohnsonCarolyn Kaufman and Suzette Saxton worked together on this article!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Publishing Pulse 11/20/09

PhotobucketNew Literary Agents:

Amy Burkhardt at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. From their website: "She represents both fiction and nonfiction projects for the adult market. In fiction, she looks for literary and commercial fiction, upmarket women's fiction, mysteries with a twist or an unusual protagonist, and historical fiction. In nonfiction, she seeks narrative nonfiction and memoirs as well as prescriptive nonfiction written by experts in their field. She has a soft spot for lifestyle, humor, food, and current events topics."

Lina Sion at Global Literary Management. "Her focus at the agency is to represent authors of Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction."

Stacy Carlock at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. "She is interested in character driven stories that deal with women’s issues (both fiction and non-fiction). She is also interested in spiritual stories that come from being real. She is always into a great page turning beach read - particularly legal thrillers with complex and interesting lead characters and just good fun reads. She loves business books that encourage and develop people skills and ethical awareness."

Serafina Clarke at Burkeman and Clarke Literary Agency. "We handle fiction and general non-fiction, children’s books and scripts for film, television and theatre."

Adriann Ranta at Wolf Literary Services, LLC. "She is most interested in realistic, true-to-life stories with conflicts based in the real world. She likes edgy, dark, challenging voices, unique settings, and everyman stories told with a new spin."

Guichard Cadet at Seredipity Literary Agency. "Guichard is looking to represent a balanced mix of fiction and non fiction but is not interested in magical realism, fantasy or science fiction. He has a special affinity for pop culture, sports and Caribbean themed titles."

Contests, Happenings, Etc.

The fine folks at St. Martins are hosting a new adult contest. From their blog: “We are actively looking for great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult.” The deadline is TODAY, so get your pitch entered fast!

Delacorte First Young Adult Novel contest: Submissions due December 31.

Dragon Moon Press is calling for submissions in “Fantasy, Science Fiction and Gentle Horror.” Read the details here. Don't send submissions until December 1.

Literary agent Jenny Rappaport is closed to submissions. Read more here.

Inspiring Things To Read:

Alice Pope, editor of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, is calling for queries for her upcoming Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market book. Click here for details.

Alice also did a fantastic post this week on social networking, and just what you need to be doing. Check it out.

I found this glossary of publishing terms on Janet Reid’s blog. Pretty funny, so check it out!

The whole Harlequin self-publishing announcement exploded this week. Reactions have been up all over the place, but here are a couple of my favorites. From Dear Author. Kristin Nelson gives us the possible fallout from the announcement here.

Have a great week and a Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prejudice: Not a Wise Platform Strategy

Platform, platform, platform. We hear it all the time--from agents, from editors, from publicists, from other writers both published and unpublished.

"Develop a readership and a base so your novel will be successful," we are told. "Create a web presence and name recognition." So, we haunt forums and writer groups. We create a blog...or three, and then we stick our foot--or keyboard as it were--right in our mouth.

Yep. You guessed it! I'm about to launch into one of my soapbox-worthy didactic posts about online etiquette. I'm from the South, you see, so I consider myself an expert, not only on etiquette, but on discrimination, which is the topic of today's rant. (Perhaps I'm not an expert and it just bugs me more than most. *wink*)

The point I'd like to make is that regardless of how negative you feel about a particular genre, keep in mind that other people at a dinner party, in an elevator, in your blog readership, on a writers' forum or loop, or even an agent (who liked your full and decided to check out your blog) might be of a different opinion. The very books you are calling trash might be their favorite thing to read.

I'm not saying you have to like every literary genre any more than I'm saying you have to like every genre of music, but if you are trying to promote yourself as a writer and build a platform, alienating loads of potential fans is not a wise choice.

When an essay called "I'm YA and I'm Okay" came out in the New York Times in July of 2008, YA writers all over the blogosphere spoke out on the subject of genre prejudice, including my friend, Tera Lynn Childs, 2009 Rita Award wining author of Oh. My. Gods.

On her blog, Tera Lynn wrote:

So, for those of you living in a blissfully unaware state where books are either good or eligible for use as a table-leveling device, here's a breakdown of the relative social prestige of various genres.

1. Literary
2. Commercial fiction which is not romance
3. Young adult/children's
4 Romance

There is a similar pecking order in all of the arts. Vocal music spans opera to rap. Theatre likewise has discrimination from within. One of the reasons I like Tera Lynn so much is we both come from theatre backgrounds, so this kind of prejudice isn't new to us. Tera Lynn sums it up this way:

I would like to say this apparent need to belittle others is restricted to the field of literature, but coming from a theatrical family, I know this is a widespread problem. Legitimate theatre is more respectable than musical theatre. Off-Broadway is better than Broadway. Off-off Broadway is better than both. Budgetless, cutting edge, avant garde theatre that either puts people to sleep or assures they never want to attend the theatre again is the best of all.
Just who decided that popular necessarily equals devoid of value?

Keep in mind that people read for different reasons. People also write for different reasons. I'm going to address genre prejudice in more depth in my next post, but for now, I just want to shout from my soapbox that it is a bad idea to allow genre prejudice to alienate potential readers or business associates in an industry this difficult to break into. Yes, we have the right to our opinions. We have the right to shout them from the housetops or hammer them out on our keyboards wherever we wish. Having the right, and it being the right thing to do is entirely different.

I will now get down from my soapbox and try to do so without breaking my ankle. Have a great week!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Former Contest Winner Cameron Jacobs

Cameron Jacobs writes thrillers and romantic suspense novels. She lives in Maryland with her husband and puppy, where she teaches international war and diplomacy. She's working on her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. You can visit Cameron's website at http://www.cameronjacobs.com/. Her blog, Details that Color My Life, will soon be focusing on conflict in fiction. Cameron invites you to be her friend on FaceBook.

Cameron won the QTblog's One-Line Pitch Contest, judged by Brendan Deneen of FinePrint Literary Management, last May.

Can you tell us a bit about how you started writing?

I’ve always loved writing though my career path has taken me to scholarly writing rather than fiction. But during all that time writing text books and journal articles, I had stories in my head. And they wouldn’t shut up. Finally, I put one down on paper, and I haven’t stopped. The first few years were just for fun. I’d post short stories online and on my blog. Eventually, like most of us, I realized I wanted to be an author, and got down to the serious work of writing a novel.

How did you find the QueryTracker blog?

I had stumbled upon QueryTracker’s site and loved it. I used it to keep track of agents and submissions, and spent quite a bit of time on it. I was on the site one day, scouring for agents, and there was a link to the one-sentence pitch contest. That was the first time I’d found the QT blog and I’ve been following ever since.

How far into the querying process were you when you heard about the one-sentence pitch contest on the QTblog?

I had been querying my first manuscript for a while at that point, and had gotten only rejections. I was slowly racking up little angry red faces besides my list of dream agents on QueryTracker. I was to the point of trying to decide if I should keep querying that project or shove it under the bed.

When you entered, did you have any idea you would win?

No. In fact, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind. I was getting discouraged with all the rejections from my first novel. I’d just started working on my second novel, FALSE MOVE, which seemed to have a much better hook. So I thought I’d give it a try. I started scribbling sentences on a post-it note at work and came up with one I thought made a good hook and submitted it. And then promptly forgot about it. A few days later, I figured you’d announced the winners, so I read through all the winning pitches, and was really impressed. When I got to the final winner, it actually took me a second to recognize it as mine!

You were awarded with a submission of your full manuscript. Were you nervous when you sent it off? How high were your hopes that you would be offered representation?

My hopes were nil. The big problem? FALSE MOVE wasn’t complete. Frankly, it was a terrible idea to enter it into the contest before it was complete. Brendan called it “ballsy”, but I’m pretty sure “idiotic” is a better word. So as excited as I was to be awarded a full submission, I only had 150 pages written. I sent what I had and said I’d be finished by October if he was interested in the rest. He sent a polite response to thank me for sending the partial, and that was that. I sort of figured since I’d sent a partial when he was expecting a completed manuscript, I had ruined my chances with him. I kicked myself for that for several months.

Brendan ended up offering representation. How did that come about?

That was all in May, when the contest happened. In mid-September, I got another email from Brendan out of the blue saying he’d read the partial and liked it, and was I still on track to complete it by October? I’d finished the first draft, and was knee-deep in my first round of revisions, so I said I’d send him the full in two weeks. I was psyched he was interested, and moving faster on revisions.

How long did the whole process take?

Overall, it was a four month process, from the time of the contest until Brendan and I started talking seriously. I’m a professor and teach in the afternoons. I got his email offering me representation during my first class and then had to force myself to lecture on the shifting power dynamics during the war in Kosovo for an hour before I could reply. That was a brutal hour! I probably didn’t make the slightest amount of sense. The second I let the class leave I sent off an email giving him my office phone number. I raced across campus as fast as I could and got back to my office just as he was calling.

What happened next?

Brendan sent me Fine Print’s contract, and I sent it back, along with the full that I had finally completed. And then I waited. I was a nervous wreck waiting for his reaction. I mean, a can’t-eat, can’t-sleep, chain-smoking wreck. I was sure he’d read the end, decide he’d made a terrible decision offering representation, and rescind the offer. And I had already told everyone. I kept thinking about all those people I was going to have to tell if he rescinded. A full week went by while I panicked, and finally he sent an email. “Loved it.” That was it. All that time I panicked and he sent a two word email! So I finally calmed down, realized he wasn’t going to change his mind, and relaxed.

Anything you’d like to say to aspiring authors everywhere?

I wish I had something inspiring to say, but all I can do is repeat the same advice I’ve received, and that is to keep writing. Write what you love, and write because you love it. The querying process is discouraging, there’s no way around that. But starting a new project I was excited about, and frankly, a better project, not only got me through the discouraging months, but also ended up getting me the agent in the end. That first novel went under the bed, and though I loved it at the time, I can now objectively see the problems with it. I also kept honing my craft. I’m currently working on my MFA in genre fiction at Seton Hill University, focusing on thrillers and romantic suspense. For me, it was a great way to keep learning new skills and networking with other authors. For others, it’s contests or conferences or writers groups. Whatever you need to do to keep learning and to stay passionate about writing, do it! And then keep writing.

Just for fun, I'd like to share the one-pitch sentence that caught Brendan's eye:

She spent six years undercover, in the murky world of black market weapons, to find her husband’s killer and avenge his death – only to come face to face with him on the wrong side of an arms deal.

Thank you, Cameron, for sharing your story with us. And congratulations on being in submission! We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors.

Suzette Saxton writes books for tots, teens, and in-betweens. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Publishing Pulse 11/13/09

This will be the finest Publishing Pulse I have ever posted. You'll see a big reason why at the end of this post.

But first... some great QueryTracker news:

QueryTracker.net has passed a couple of big benchmarks!

QT now boasts over 20,000 members and over 200 QueryTracker success stories!
So big congratulations to Patrick!

In Publishing News:

Barnes & Noble's Nook has burst onto the e-reader scene.

Today's the new deadline for Google to submit a revised plan for their digital library to comply with copyright law, after receiving an extension on Monday.

Writer's Digest released their online list of 24 Agents Who Want Your Work

In Publishing Blogs:

Agent Miriam Goderich made a compelling case as to why you need an agent. (Hey... over 20,000 members at QueryTracker couldn't be wrong, right?)

Agent Elana Roth called for children's literature submissions.

Agent Rachelle Gardner posted a great breakdown of the business side of a book deal... with hard numbers. MUST READ!

Also on Rachelle Gardner's blog, Guest Blogger Angie Ledbetter discusses Writerly Ailments and Hazards (WAAH!). Perfect timing for mid-NaNoWriMo.

And now for my favorite part of this pulse...

The rest of the blog team and I had a knockdown, drag-out fight over who got to post today's Pulse, and here's why:

I have the honor of announcing to the QueryTracker community that our own Elana Johnson... resident Query Queen... has accepted an offer of representation from Michelle Andelman at Lynn C. Franklin Associates.

As Elana's critique partner, fellow blog mistress, unofficial fan club president, and someone lucky enough to have read her amazing work, all I can say is: Michelle Andelman is one lucky woman.

I'm sure you'll all join me in a huge to Elana!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Psychology in Fiction Q&A: Schizophrenic Families

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent psychological advice.
QUESTION: What would a sibling of a person with schizophrenia function like? What are the traits of a schizophrenic family bind that I used to hear about?
ANSWER: Because schizophrenia is a biological disease, siblings of people with schizophrenia are 10 times more likely to develop the disorder than other people;  they are also at greater risk for schizophrenic spectrum disorders like schizotypal personality disorder and schizoaffective disorder.  In other words, some siblings may have schizophrenia-like tendencies of their own, even if they don't have the full-blown disorder.

Double-bind theory is Gregory Bateman's 1950's-era proposition that what causes schizophrenia is repeated no-win dilemmas in the child's family life.  In other words, the child was repeatedly confronted with statements that contained two contradictory statements (i.e. a double bind).  Because of the child's attachment to the caregiver, he was eager to do as the caregiver asked -- the problem was that by meeting one demand, he would be defying the other.  Because he was presented with such double binds on a regular basis, and because he doesn't have the cognitive maturity to know how to choose one statement over the other to escape the double bind, he eventually escapes from the extraordinary stress the double bind causes by retreating from the "real world" and into psychosis (i.e. delusions and hallucinations).

Double-bind theory has fallen out of favor with regards to schizophrenia for two reasons.  First, we have so much data that demonstrates a biological cause for schizophrenia, not an environmental one (though typically the biological tendency is triggered by environmental stressors).  Second, double-bind theory is nearly impossible to test, so there is little empirical research that can support it.

There is research, however, to support the idea that a problematic family environment can contribute to the relapse of someone who's been treated for schizophrenia. Most notably, people with schizophrenia are likely to relapse when their family is high in expressed emotion (EE).  Expressed emotion consists of three parts: criticism, hostility, and emotional overinvolvement.

People with schizophrenia are extremely sensitive to stress, and being treated with constant dislike, disapproval, rejection, disrespect, and the assumption that they are not capable human beings is enough to stress anyone out!

So even if the siblings in your story don't have schizophrenic tendencies themselves, you could make them somewhat critical and hostile people who show a lot of expressed emotion toward their brother or sister!

Hope that's helpful!

Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site (note in the "extra information" area that you'd like to see the question answered on the QueryTracker Blog) or send me an email at c k a u f m a n (AT) querytracker (DOT) net. (Take out the spaces in the first word and please use Q&A in your Subject Line!).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Contest is Now Closed

Thank you so much for entering! Keep your eye on the blog for contest updates, and watch for more contests in the future.

If you missed entering the contest, you are welcome to query Anna Webman in the traditional fashion. You can tell her that the QTblog sent you.

Ready... Set... Go!

The QueryTracker Blog's Young Adult fiction contest is now open.

You can find the entry form here: http://querytracker.net/contest.php

Entries are limited to seventy, and slots will fill quickly, so enter early.

Please see this morning's post for all the details.

Good luck!

YA Contest - How to Enter

ENTRIES WILL BE ACCEPTED VIA A SPECIAL ENTRY FROM ON QUERYTRACKER.NET ONLY!!! Do not email the agent with your entry. Do not call the agent. There is only one way to enter!

Tonight's the night! Our YA contest opens this evening at 9 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Pacific) so here's everything you need to know:

  • Entries will be accepted on a special entry form on QueryTracker.net ONLY. The form will not be visible until the contest opens. This is a link to where the form will be: http://querytracker.net/contest.phpSo bookmark it for easy clicking tonight!

  • This contest is for completed Young Adult novels only. (All the genres that fall under the YA umbrella.)

  • You must have a QueryTracker.net membership to participate. (It's free!) If you do not have one yet, click here to sign up.

  • You will need to submit the following: Your first five pages AND a one-page synopsis. (Only one entry per person will be accepted.)

  • Due to the high word count of the materials being submitted, we will be capping the number of entries at 70.

  • You will need to CUT AND PASTE YOUR ENTRY into the submission form.

The entry form will not be visible until 9 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Pacific.) Be sure to submit early, as the slots will fill up quickly. And if you do not make it into this contest, don't feel bad - we have more contests scheduled in the near future!

To see some of the questions and answers about this contest, view the comments in last week's announcement post.

I'd like to shout out a big THANK YOU to Anna Webman of Curtis Brown Ltd. for juding our contest. Anna has graciously agreed to award the grand prize winner with a full submission, and partial submissions for runners-up. I'm lucky to have worked with Anna on a couple of different occasions, and can honestly say anyone who is represented by her is one lucky writer indeed.

Keep an eye on the blog for contest updates. Anna will need a couple of weeks to judge the entries (she'll have a lot of material to read!) Watch for an interview next week with last May's contest winner, Cameron Jacobs. She'll be giving us the scoop about her journey from winning the grand prize in our contest to signing with the agent who judged the contest. Cameron's book is now on submission.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments of this post, or send me a message, my email address is to the right of this post. Best of luck!


Suzette Saxton writes books for tots, teens, and in-betweens. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Don't Use That Voice With Me!

Today, I'm going to talk about the voice of a novel, which is the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice was generally considered to be a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works)... One author may have a voice that is light and fast paced while another may have a dark voice. (Source: Wikipedia: Writer's Voice)

So, how do you establish the voice of your novel? I've read it around a lot of publishing blogs. The voice of your novel is a deal breaker. Meaning, you need to have one. A strong one.

Most of us have a natural writing voice. It comes through in our blog posts, our informal emails, even out loud when we speak. You can write a novel in "your" voice. But what happens if you've A) already done that? or B) your voice doesn't match your character's story?

Let's explore.

Picture this: You sit down to write. You proceed to stare. Because you can't find your character's voice. Or your voice. Or any voice. This happened to me. I had a main character. He was in my head, talking away. He had a story. But he was vanilla. And while I like vanilla, I like it better with caramel and pecans and some of those peanut-butter-filled footballs. A lot better.

So how do you capture a new voice, one that isn't as familiar to you? Here are a few tips and tricks I learned as I went through this exact same problem.

Tip #1: Voice can't be forced, but it can be found. 
If you're having trouble finding your characters voice, sit down to free-write from the point of view of that character. But don't write your novel. 

What I Did: I imagined my MC in a high-stress situation, like he's been dating his best friend's sister, and his buddy just found out. I didn't worry about backstory, because I can imagine a situation like that. I simply wrote DIALOGUE my character would have with his bff. (Or do girls only have bff's?) The scene was mostly dialogue with some physical clues thrown in for emotional impact.

This showed me A) how my MC reacts in a tense scene and B) how he talks.

Then I imagined a completely different scenario. One where my character would have to convey information to the reader. Since I had just learned how he talked, I transferred that to narration. This second piece contained no dialogue whatsoever. Only narration. Establishing setting with sight, smell, taste, etc.

This showed me A) what details he might notice and B) how to move the unique voice most of us can establish in DIALOGUE into NARRATION. 

Trick #2: Choose something unique and have your character use it consistently. 
This is done to develop character, which is one of the parts of voice in a piece of writing. In Scott Westerfeld's PEEPS, one of the characters calls everyone "Dude." In Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT saga, Jacob always says, "Sure, sure." In Kristin Cashore's GRACELING, her narrating character begins a lot of sentences -- both in narration and in dialogue -- with "Well".

What I Did: In my first novel, my character starts a lot of her sentences with "Yeah". (ex: Yeah, that doesn't work for me. If you read my personal blog at all, you'll notice that I do the same thing.) So I certainly couldn't do that again. As I was free-writing, I seized on a word that my MC said, and now it's his "thing." He uses it in dialogue and in narration. It's not something I would've chosen on my own, but something I was looking for during the free-write session.

Tip #3: Don't go overboard.
Don't get me wrong. Voice is essential in a piece of writing. But it's essential the same way baking soda is in cookies. No baking soda = flat cookies. No voice = flat writing.

But how much baking soda do you put in? Not as much as the flour. Think about it.

So watch yourself. Sprinkle it in consistently, but don't take off the lid and dump it on us.

I might be back with another post on voice. How do you find the voice you write with?


Friday, November 6, 2009

Publishing Pulse 11/6/09

The New QueryTracker Success Stories

Click on the names below to read the most recent success story interviews from QueryTracker members. Congratulations to these newly agented writers.

Tabitha Olson
Justina Ireland
Bethany Wiggins
Natalie Bahm
Coylenna Bain
Jamie Harrington
Shawntelle Madison
Stephanie Feldstein

New Agents Added to the QueryTracker Database

Several new agents and publishers were added to the QT database in the month of October. Check out the box labeled "New and Updated Listings" on the front page of the main QueryTracker.Net site and view their profiles for website links and genres they represent.

QT News and Congrats

Congratulations again to our own QT Blogger, Suzette Saxton, for her recent acceptance of an offer of representation from Brendan Deneen of the FinePrint Literary Management.

If you write YA, don't forget to enter our upcoming contest with literary agent, Anna Webman of Curtis Brown Ltd.

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

Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writer's Workshop is hosting its first Young Adult Discovery Competition.

Literary Agent Sara Crowe reveals what kind of YA submissions she's seeking and gives some examples of winning queries in her blog post, Call for Submissions.

Rachelle Gardner's post on How to Avoid Getting an Agent is a must-read for aspiring authors.

My favorite post of the week was a pep talk by Neil Gaiman for writers participating in NaNoWriMo.

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Agent-Judged Contest Announced!

Some of you may remember the series of agent-judged contests we hosted on the QTblog earlier this year. Great news - one of our contest winners went on to sign with the agent who judged the contest, and his book is now on submission. Contests are a great way to get your work noticed!

We are pleased to announce yet another contest. Literary agent Anna Webman of Curtis Brown Ltd. wants to see your stuff! She has generously agreed to peruse the first five pages plus a synopsis of your YA novel. What a great opportunity! Here are all the details:

  • This contest is for completed Young Adult novels only. (All the genres that fall under the YA umbrella.)

  • The contest will open this Tuesday, November 10th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. (That's 6:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.)

  • You will need to submit the following: Your first five pages AND a single-spaced one-page synopsis.

  • A free membership on the QueryTracker main site is required.

  • Submissions will be accepted through the official form on the QT main site ONLY.

  • Only one entry per person will be accepted.

  • Due to the high word count of the materials being submitted, we will be capping the number of entries at 70.

So now you're probably thinking (gasp!) not the dreaded synopsis! Never fear, Heather has two fantastic posts that will help you make yours shine:

Watch for a special post Tuesday morning with a link to the submission page, and then a post Tuesday evening announcing the contest's opening.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments of this post. Good luck!


Suzette Saxton writes books for tots, teens, and in-betweens. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do I Feel a Draft?: The Wordcount Obsession of NaNoWriMo

So yesterday marked the beginning of this year's NaNoWriMo event. Which brings the point of the mega-wordcount exercise up for discussion.

The point of NaNoWriMo (besides having a whale of time writing with abandon), if your ultimate goal is to publish, is not to write a novel in one month (despite what the website catchphrases would have you believe) but rather to write a draft.

Now, to some of you, that might seem like semantics, but it's an important distinction, I think. For two reasons:

First, to succeed at NaNoWriMo (or similar high-paced writing speed goals), you really need to accept the fact that your WIP is not going to be perfect. In all likelihood, your results will be the sort of prose you'll read later on, after you've edited or rewritten, and feel the urge to delete the original file from your computer completely. Or better yet, remove the contaminated harddrive and smash it to smithereens. And then torch the smithereens. And bury the ashes. At the North Pole.

The point of high-speed wordcount generation is simply to create a starting point. A virtual scaffolding. If you do not give yourself permission to let your writing stink at least a smidge, you will neither succeed nor have fun trying.

Second, when you're riding that high from typing those two heady words, "The End," don't let yourself get swept up in the intoxicating notion that you are done with your novel. That first draft is only the first step. Sure, you've given birth and naturally your book-baby is beautiful, but it's not ready to go out and find a job yet. You're going to want to nurture and shape it first.

I can't say enough about the importance of incubation and taking your time. If there is a single mistake that represents the most common downfall of a given project, it is rushing to the marketplace too soon.

So, NaNo or NaNo-No, get out there and churn out some brand-spanking new words, but recognize them for what they are: great raw material for the fabulous novel you will soon be polishing!

Those of you who have NaNo-ed before... what became of your previous projects? How many times did you edit your manuscript after the fact, and how much did they change along the way? And, those of you who are currently NaNo-ing, how's it going? Off with a bang? Or a whimper?

Myself, I wrote The Edge of Memory during NaNo '07 (well, most of it... I banged out 65K during NaNo and finished the draft in December). I let it sit for a month or so before I started editing and I edited it several times before it became the manuscript I submitted to my agent. I didn't get to play along with NaNo last year, but I'm hoping I'll have the chance this year (once I finish up this stinking 28-hour shift and get home to my beloved laptop. ;) ).