QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, February 26, 2010

Publishing Pulse 2-26-10

Around the Publishing Blogosphere:

Agent Kristin Nelson discusses the new ebook sales models.

Nathan Bransford is wondering whether you or your characters are really in charge of your novel.

Jessica Faust shows why querying with a chip on your shoulder probably won't work.

Rachelle Gardner explains why agents have submission guides in the first place.

In Publishing News:

Turns out, as ebook readers, men outnumber women. Which is a bit interesting, as readers of print books are primarily women.

And Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had some good economic news.

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

But How Do You FEEL About That?

The word people use most often to describe my fiction writing is “cinematic.” The first few times I heard it, I asked for clarification; I mean, wouldn’t you? It’s not the kind of thing people say to everyone.

People told me my stuff was big, as in big-screen HD with a surround sound system. It was passionate and colorful and exciting.

“I feel like I’m watching a movie,” one of my crit-mates said a few months ago, and I nodded and smiled. I’d heard it before. But then she added something that no one else had been able to convey concisely: Books and movies are not the same things. What makes one work isn’t necessarily what works for the other.

In a book, “we’re in [the heroine’s] head,” she told me. So “let us know what concerns her. That’s what makes books different than movies. [The] depth.” Seeing inside the character’s head, experiencing her emotions with her.

I quickly identified why I wasn’t emphasizing or sometimes even acknowledging my heroine’s enormous inner struggle over falling in love with a man who was also a sworn enemy. Somewhere along the way I’d taken to heart that classic writer’s advice: show, don’t tell. Problem was, sometimes telling is important, too. In my fear that I’d end up with a manuscript full of melodramatic telling, I’d excised the soul of the novel, the thing that made it a novel rather than a screenplay or something else: my characters' inner conflicts and emotions.

We can spend some time in another post talking about why telling too much about characters’ emotions can create the dreaded purple prose. For right now, though, I want you to ask yourself something you’ve probably never thought to worry about – are you putting enough emotion into your stories? Are you sharing your characters’ internal turmoil? You know they’re experiencing it – but do your readers?

Don’t get me wrong. I still hope people call my writing cinematic. But now they can say that because it’s passionate and colorful and exciting and, most importantly, because it has the special emotional insights that only a novel can offer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Publicity: It's Never Too Early to Think Ahead

Okay, so for today, we're tackling the topic of publicity. No matter where you are along your publishing road, every author needs publicity tips in their arsenal. I asked Lizzy Mason, senior publicist at Simon and Schuster, to help us out with what authors can do now, and what will happen later, when their book sells.

Take it away, Lizzy!


While in the thick of it, finding an agent might feel like the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But the most important (and, hopefully, best!) moment of your writing career will be when your book finally hits bookstore shelves.

With all the competition for readers’ attention these days, publicity—interviews, features, and reviews in mainstream and alternative media—is hands down the single best way to get your book noticed. Particularly as marketing budgets decrease (meaning smaller, more circumscribed tours and less advertising), publicity has become more important than ever.

All publishing houses make their authors fill out an Author Questionnaire. For publicity purposes, here’s what we’re going to want to know:

  • Media info:
    • The magazines and newspapers to which you’ve contributed. Don’t be nervous if you don’t know people in the media or aren’t a contributor to any newspapers or magazines. We don’t expect it, but it can help secure reviews.
    • Professional/academic journals where review copies should be sent. We’ve got lists of these, yes, but hopefully you know your field far better than we ever will.
    • Media appearances you’ve made.
    • Key people who should receive complimentary copies. Not necessarily people that you know, although that does help, especially to get blurbs.
    • Contacts who could help with reviews or excerpts.
  • What special markets does your book have? Would people in one particular region take a special interest? Is your book geared towards a specialized group of people?
  • Other books that are competition to yours. Again, you know your book better than anyone else, so use it to your advantage by checking out your true competition.
  • Do you have a website? Where else can we link to the book? If you don’t have a website, think about creating one. A web presence is key these days. Consider writing a blog or, even better, contributing to an established one.

I recommend that you not ask for a meeting/phone call with the publicist assigned to your book until around six months before pub date because there’s just not that much to say that far ahead (and a publicist may not even be assigned yet). But here are a few things you can be doing even a year before your pub date:

  • Start paying attention to the journalists, radio/TV hosts, and bloggers who write/talk about the subject of your book. Even if you write fiction, is there something your main character does or where it’s set that makes it stand out? Take note. (But please, do your future publicist a favor: if you don’t know a journalist personally, discuss with him/her who should do the outreach. And take heed: "Why authors shouldn't contact journalists directly.")
  • Get to know the bloggers who write about books and subjects like yours. Be supportive, comment on their posts, get to know their tastes. Because, unlike journalists, bloggers don’t usually get paid for writing, so they’d be doing you a favor by reviewing your book, interviewing you, or doing a giveaway. And they’ll be more willing to do you a favor if you’ve been supportive of them for awhile.
  • Get to know the bookstores in your local area. Don’t plan to do events at every bookstore in your neighborhood, but go to a couple of events and see which stores do it best. Especially for debut authors. (And maybe buy the book while you’re at it!) Check out my thoughts on what makes a great book event here.
  • Find out when annual book festivals are in your region. There might be more than you think and they’re a great way to meet other local authors and fellow book lovers!
  • Prepare lists of email and snail mail addresses for friends and family that would come out to see you at an event. Bookstores will often send out email or postcard invitations for you and it’s much easier to this now when you’re not pressed for time.

So with all that hard work you’re doing, what will your publicist do for you?
  • Send the seasonal catalog to producers, editors, reviewers, and bookstores and other event locations to encourage early interest
  • Set up bookstore events, usually collaborating with sales to find the best stores for your book
  • Create press materials (press release, pitch letter, Q&A, talking points, etc.)
  • Send the book out for reviews and features
  • Pitch radio/TV/print/web interviews

It’s your publicist’s job to know who to send your book to and how to reach them, but don’t be afraid to make suggestions and get involved. Your publicist will work hard on your book no matter how hands-on you are, but it helps to have an enthusiastic author. There’s a lot of competition out there and you only get one shot at coming out of the gate strong, so make it count!

Lizzy Mason is a senior publicist at Simon & Schuster. In her off-hours, she writes fantasy and science fiction for young adults. And blogs about it here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Publishing Pulse 2/19/10

The New QueryTracker Success Stories

Congratulations to our new success story this week. Allison Pang signed with Colleen Lindsay of Fine Print Literary Management. You can read her interview here.

New Agents Added to the QueryTracker Database

Several new agents and publishers have been added to the QT Database recently. 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.

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

Rachelle Gardner wrote a motivating article, When Rubber Meets the Road.

An agent and an editor addressed the topic of the responsibility of YA writers. Literary agent Janet Reid blogged about fan mail and how authors' responses can make an impact. Editor Molly Glick wrote a companion post called, A Conversation on Resonance and Responsibility.

I enjoyed this article on tax tips for writers over at the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.

A member of our QT family, Cole Gibson, wrote a fabulous blog post, The Rejection that Changed my Life.

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to Plot (or Revise) Your Book

Are you just starting out writing a book and not sure if you should outline? Or perhaps you’re neck-deep in revisions and in need of guidance.

This nine-step method of unknown origin is perfect for those not-so-good at organizing, or for those who thrive on being neat and tidy. I read about this trick on Cynthia Jaynes Omololu’s blog. (Cynthia is the author of the newly-released Dirty Little Secrets, published by Walker Books. Congrats, Cynthia!) Word has it that this method first appeared on the Verla Kay Message Boards. (I would love to know who invented it!)

9 Steps for Plotting Fiction

Start with a piece of paper. It should be large enough to write on. I used 11x14 just to give me a little more room, but 8x11 is fine. Draw two parallel lines both vertically and horizontally across the page, creating 9 comparable boxes, as if you were starting a game of tic-tac-toe. These boxes represent chapters, scenes, or sections, depending upon your book's intended length.

Number the boxes, starting from the upper left: 1, 2, 3.
Next row, starting from the left: 4, 5, 6.
Last row: 7, 8, 9.
Title each box…

1. Triggering Event

First things first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping through its pages? Your triggering event is the answer to these questions, so make it a good one. Also, don't make the reader wait very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence. These are good spots for a triggering event.

2. Characterization

Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters, more so than on the strength of their plots. Box 2 is where you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn't an excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough about the protagonist in Box 2 simply by reading how he or she reacts to the event.

3. First Major Turning Point

By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box 2, the reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist, or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative turning point in Box 6. There is a reason these boxes are touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box 3 may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in Box 6.

4. Exposition

You've earned some time to fill the reader in on important data. Since this box touches Box 1, here's where you shed some light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box 7, you get to foreshadow your pro-tagonist's darkest hour. Box 4 often reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times ahead.

5. Connect the Dots

Here is where many plots fall apart. Box 5 represents the trickiest part of fiction, and since it is the center of the diagram (and book) it must connect to all the boxres around it. (2, 4, 6, & 8.) Kind of like the nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box 5 should tick systematically upon elements introduced in Boxes 2 and 4. And like the calm before the storm, Box 5 should give the false impression of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box 6. Most importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist's revelation in Box 8. That's a lot for a little box to do, but focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.

6. Negative Turning Point

Here's where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good thing you laid the groundwork in Box 3. Good thing, too, that Box 9 will deliver some just desserts.

7. Antagonist Wins

The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat depends upon the traits and/or story developed in Box 4, which leads to his or her revelation in the next square.

8. Revelation

Of course! The protagonist's revelation turns the tide. Here is where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles of Boxes 6 and 7 via the device introduced in Box 5.

9. Protagonist Wins

The negative turning point in Box 6 is rectified while the character's resolve from Box 8 is brought into full bloom. Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly.

This method has worked very well for me. I taped two 8x11 sheets together, folded it into nine squares, then printed the above text and cut each step out, taping it into the squares. Instant poster. Next I taped two more 8x11 sheets together, made 9 squares, and IN PENCIL wrote down my plot points. Voila! Instant plot map, easy as pie.

What about you - have you used this method before? Or is there another method that you depend on?

*Special thanks to Plot This, Katie Anderson's and Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, for pointing me in the right direction.

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

Your Medical Fiction Questions Answered 2/15/10

Okay, gang... the Doctor is IN!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent medical advice. (Sorry, my lawyer-boy husband makes me say that.)


I saw in the Query tracker members who can help with research topic that you could help with medical problems with children.

Can a fall down a flight of steps at the age of 3 cause a brain injury severe enough to impede a child's educational progress, but not any physical problems?

I appreciate your help.


Well, Cheermom, that's an interesting question. If I was evaluating a 3-year-old after a fall down the stairs, here is how the evaluation would go:

I'm assuming that a fall significant enough to cause permanent damage would result in paramedics being called. They would assess the child's breathing and heart function (and if the child wasn't breathing, would need to intubate the patient). They would apply a c-collar to protect for a potential broken neck. They would take the patient to the hospital where (s)he would have a CT scan to look for bleeding in the brain.

If the patient was not breathing after the injury, this could result in inadequate oxygen to the brain, which could also cause permanent problems.

After a significant brain injury, the child would be at risk for seizures, which could contribute to educational problems for several reasons:
  • a prolonged seizure could also result in the patient not receiving enough oxygen
  • seizure medications (especially when more than one medication is necessary) can make patients sleepy, which can interfere with their functioning
  • frequent seizures can impair learning due to missing the time during and shortly after the seizures.
Head injuries can be quite tricky in regards to symptoms. Traumatic brain injuries can be extremely dramatic or quite subtle. For example, a patient may simply have trouble remembering numbers or retrieving the correct word. The brain is an extremely complicated organ and the exact details of how it works are still not completely understood.

That said, children are extremely resilient creatures. A brain injury in a young child will be much better handled than in older people, as their ability to adapt is much higher.

So whatever injury occurred in this child would have to be fairly serious to cause lasting damage. For example, the fall would probably have to be enough to knock the child unconscious. A head injury that does not cause loss of consciousness generally will cause no permanent damage whatsoever.

It is absolutely possible, though, that the patient may have long term subtle problems that could interfere with his or her educational progress, without causing obvious physical problems. It would also be possible that (s)he may suffer from subtle physical problems as well... such as clumsiness due to decreased balance or problems coordinating their eye movements, resulting in impaired depth perception.

I hope this information is helpful. With a significant head injury, you have a lot of room for plausibility in regards to what problems your character might have. The only limitations, really, would be in regards to some of the physical problems... the motor centers of the brain are mapped out next to each other down a little wedge on the right and left sides of the middle of your brain (the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa), so the problems there would have to be continuous (like you wouldn't expect a weak right hand and a weak right foot to be caused by the same injury, unless there were also problems with everything in between.)

Good luck, and thanks for the question, Cheermom!

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

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical  and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric  teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she  enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy  close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do  the Write Thing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Publishing Pulse: 2/12/2010

Probably thanks to the double snowstorm here in the Northern US, it's been kind of a slow week out there in publishing. Still, we've got a few gems for you!

New Agents

Dorothy Spencer at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency is looking for general fiction and nonfiction.

Great Stuff Around the Web

Rachelle Gardner explains the importance of Craft, Story, and Voice in hooking an agent.

Kerrie Flanagan,the director of Northern Colorado Writers, talks about the ever-popular topic of pitching an agent at a conference.

Elana Johnson (our own Query Ninja!) was featured on Market My Words, telling us which Five Things to Avoid When Querying.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Author Leah Clifford

I'm thrilled to announce a very special sale. Leah Clifford has been a member of QueryTracker family since the beginning and is the moderator for the QT Forum. I've had the good fortune of meeting Leah in person and she's fantastic--witty, smart and just plain fun. This couldn't happen to a cooler person. When she gave us the good news, the QT family had a lot to celebrate.

Leah has sold her book, A Touch Mortal, in a three book deal! The announcement can be found here. The quote from Publisher's Weekly reads as follows:
In another deal for a book that toys with life spans as we know them, Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio landed six figures for three books by YA novelist Leah Clifford. Virginia Duncan, v-p and publisher of HarperCollins's Greenwillow Books imprint, pre-empted North American rights in the transaction, and the first book in the planned trilogy, A Touch Mortal, is slated for winter 2011. InTouch, the heroine, Eden, is a lost soul trapped in limbo between the living and dead, a being known as a Sider; her unique powers have put her at the crossroads of a showdown between the angels of Heaven and Hell.
Leah agreed to an interview and we look forward to another as her release date nears.

* * * * *

QueryTracker: You had several offers of representation from literary agents. What made you decide to sign with Rosemary Stimola?

Leah Clifford: Ro was the first to offer, and when you have work out with other agents, it's important to let them know you have an offer so they have a chance to read too. After hearing back, I had four offers, all from agents that were on my dream list. The whole time I kept waiting for someone to wake me up. I had phone conversations with each agent, and in the end, I felt like I connected best with Ro and that she embodied what I was looking for most in an agent/client relationship.

QT: What is the revision process for your editor like?

LC: I totally don't know if I'm supposed to talk about it but hey, this is the kind of stuff I was dying to know when I was getting going so I'm gonna spill. I JUST started in the editing process so I'm not sure if there will be more or not, but I do know because of my publication date I've gotta turn them around pretty fast. My actual letter was sent email and covered more of the big picture stuff, character's emotional arcs and stuff like that. The mss was mailed to me with notes she'd made while reading. Now, I should say that I love to edit. LOVE IT. Most people don't. But for me, any chance I have to make my story better or stronger I jump on, so I'm kind of dancing about my edits. :)

QT: You are a founding member of QueryTracker and the moderator for the QT forum. How has QT affected your career?

LC: QueryTracker has been ....I really can't even put into words how much QT has helped me. I was extremely lucky to find it so early in the process. Every step I've taken in this crazy road to publication, QT has been essential--from encouragement to finding beta readers to finding my agent. I wouldn't HAVE a career without QT.

QT: You are a member of YA Rebels, a group of young adult authors. I've loved following the YA Rebel tweets and vlogs. It's a fun mixture of personal and publishing information. Tell us about how it got started. What are the goals of the group?

LC: Thanks! I'm so glad you like it! We do try to keep a balance so there's information for both writers and readers and over the next few months we're looking to bring you some VERY fun topics.

The original idea was pretty simple. I'd been kicking around starting a collab channel on youtube, and brought up the idea with Courtney Moulton. We wanted to get a group together that were all agented, some with books sold, all in different places. Courtney had a few others in mind she thought would be a good match and once the ball got rolling it happened REALLY fast. From the start, we knew we wanted to mix fun and serious and have a lot of interaction with our subscribers. Our goals were pretty simple. There was a ton of information out there for finding an agent, but not much on what happens AFTER. We kinda wanted to pull back the curtain a bit on that, and have fun doing it! (sidenote: If you have any topics you'd like to see the Rebels hit, we'd love to hear them-- YARebels (at) gmail (dot) com)

QT: Any advice for aspiring writers?

LC: Want it more than anything in the world. Work harder than you ever have in your life. Don't be afraid to get your hopes up and don't be afraid to be disappointed when you're rejected. Be stubborn enough to get back up and try again.

Oh, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

I also wanted to say thank you so much for the interview, Mary and for everything you the other QTers have done for writers with this blog!

* * * * *

We're excited to be one of Leah's first interviews in what we know will be a stellar career. We wish her the best of luck. If you haven't checked out the YA Rebels, you should--highly entertaining.

More on Leah Clifford can be found on her website. Join us in congratulating Leah, who worked hard for this.

I love it when the good guys win, don't you?

Have a great week!


Monday, February 8, 2010

Query Ninja Critique

We're adding a new feature here on the QT blog: query ninja. That's right, I'm a ninja in my spare time. Actually this stems from my eBook, From the Query to the Call, where I offer a free query critique for every buyer.

But we thought it might be beneficial for our blog readers to also see the process of breaking down a query and then rebuilding it into something absolutely amazing. So I bribed asked the fabulous Stina Lindenblatt, who had sent me her query to be ninjafied, if I could use her query for the inaugural post. She graciously agreed, and the nunchuckage is below.

Hopefully, you can learn something that you can then apply to your own query letter.


Dear Ms. Dream Agent,

Ten months ago, Calleigh Clarkson (Oh my heck! I knew a girl in high school with this name. It was spelled different, but still. Freaky!) was a star on the high school swim team. But after a fan assaulted her, she quit swimming. Unwilling to tell anyone the truth, she buried herself in her studies. Now it’s summer vacation. She wants to be the fun-loving girl she once was, the one her friends miss. (Okay, I like all of this, but it’s sort of ho-hum-ish, you know? I get that you need to give it to me to set up the query, but I’d sort of like to be hooked in first. Can we start with the present and go back to the past?

Maybe something like: “Calleigh Clarkson has a new plan for summer vacation, and it doesn’t include studying or burying herself under the truth of what happened ten months ago.” Or something along those lines. Something that makes me go, “Oh, dude, I have to read on to find out A) what this new plan is and B) what happened ten months ago. You know? Yes? Maybe?

And then I might go into: “Once a star on her high school swim team, Calleigh quit when a fan assaulted her. But that’s history, and she wants to be the fun-loving girl she once was.” Or “Once a star on her high school swim team, Calleigh quit with a fan assaulted her. But she wants to put the past behind her and become the fun-loving girl she once was.” That establishes A) the new plan and B) what happened ten months ago. So then we’re ready for the next graf.)

Great plan, right? except Too bad her nightmares are growing more intense and frequent. And now she’s experiencing flashbacks. So not part of the plan. (love this! You need more of this, which is why I put the “right?” up there at the beginning of this graf.) Calleigh’s determined to deal with them on her own, before anyone figures out something’s wrong. Fail that, and her mom will drag her to a shrink. (Why? Is this something her mom just does? Because when there’s something wrong with my kid, I don’t automatically think I need to drag them to a shrink. Just food for thought. Is her mom a bit eccentric? Overworked? One extra word here is all you need. “Fail that, and her overburdened mom will drag her to a shrink.” Or, “Fail that, and her eccentric mom will drag her to a shrink.” Or something to indicate that this is the first step, because I think it might actually NOT be for a lot of parents.) And that’s the last thing Calleigh wants.

Then she meets Aaron. (Blah. This is blah. I want to have a better transition here. A better connection to the dreams/flashbacks to Aaron. You’ve got this whole second paragraph about the dreams/flashbacks, and then they’re never mentioned again. How do they relate? So you need a segue here (and I did a little rearranging/combining): “Aaron, a former competitive swimmer, helps Calleigh deal with her disturbing dreams. But he has a secret of his own: his sister committed suicide. As a romance develops between them, Calleigh realizes that for either of them to heal, they both need to return to swimming. Only someone doesn’t want that to happen.”

I have to say that I’m not sure about the “that” in the last sentence. What don’t they want to have happen? The swimming? Or the healing?)

He’s a former competitive swimmer, haunted by a secret. As a romance develops between them, Calleigh discovers Aaron’s sister committed suicide. She realizes that for them to heal, they both need to return to the sport they love. But before she can do that, Calleigh has to push past her fear, and find the courage to swim again. Only someone doesn’t want that to happen.

LOST IN A HEARTBEAT is a 76,000-word young adult contemporary novel, which will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen and Sarah Ockler.

A member of the SCBWI, I’ve attended New York City and Los Angeles annual conferences for the past three years. My writing credits include several parenting articles published in CALGARY’S CHILD and THE WESTERN PARENT. (Nice! Great creds.)

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Okay, overall, I think it reads fine and all, but you have a spot or two with great voice, but the rest of it is lackluster. I think you could really shine it up a bit, add in some more voice and it would be killer.


Got a query you want the ninja to look at? Email Elana at elanajohnson(at)querytracker(dot)net.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Publishing Pulse 2/5/10


Agent News
  • Caren Johnson with the Caren Johnson Literary Agency will be closed to queries until April 1st. Elana Roth, who is also with CJLA, will still be accepting queries.
  • Mark McVeigh with the McVeigh Agency is inviting anyone who queried him prior to November 1st to re-query, as he was buried in submissions and may not have had a chance to respond.
  • QueryTracker.net lists over 1000 reputable agents. So make it your first stop for all your querying needs!

On the Net

  • I'd like to challenge you all to support debut authors. (Hopefully we'll all be one someday, right?) The Story Siren is hosting the 2010 Debut Author Challenge for MG and YA books. It's a fun and easy activity to add to your own blog, plus a great networking opportunity.
  • Agent Kristin Nelson had some interesting thoughts about Why Prologues Often Don't Work.
  • Want to know the Top Ten Query Mistakes? Rachelle Gardner spills all!


Events are a fantastic way to meet publishers, agents, authors, and fellow writers. No matter what stage of the publishing journey you may be in, there is always more to be learned. I've made a lifelong goal to attend conferences. Here are a few of the biggies:


  • The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) with prize of a published novel ends February 7th. So hurry if you plan to enter this one!
  • The Pacific Northwest Writers Association is having their annual contest with cash prizes for winners. All entrants receive two critiques; there is a fee to enter. Deadline February 19th.
  • Writers of the Future is accepting entries of up to 17,000 words of sci-fi, fantasy, or dark fantasy. No fee required.
  • Again, use Google to find local contests.

Guide to Literary Agents Blog

Chuck Sambuchino, the author who's the wizard behind the GLA blog, gets two thumbs up for his fantastic articles. Thanks for all you do for writers, Chuck! Here are some of my favorite recent posts:

Have a happy weekend!

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

Monday, February 1, 2010

Three Things Writers Can Learn from Photographers

A few years ago I discovered I loved taking photos. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the difference between a snapshot and a professional-looking photograph. Now, a lot of people (aspiring photographers as well as non-photographers) think that what makes a pro photo is the equipment, but in most cases, they’re wrong.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, photos with a $1200 dSLR camera and a $1700 Luxury lens will be almost indiscernible from those taken with a $150 point-and-shoot.

The same is true with writing. It doesn’t matter whether you write with a $200 fountain pen or a pencil worth less than a penny if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Here are a few keys to great photography – and what those keys can teach us as writers.

1. Keep the good stuff. Throw out or hide the rest.

Ever have a friend show you vacation photos? It’s boring. You see shot after shot of scenery, landmarks, and people you may not even know.

Yet you might be the kind of person who enjoys going to the art gallery to see great photos of scenery, landmarks, or people you probably don't know.

What’s the difference?

At the gallery, you only see the best stuff.

Even great photographers take bad shots. Lots of them, in most cases. What makes the photographer great is that he doesn’t share the bad pictures. He spends time going through each and every shot and throws out (or at least keeps private) the ones that aren’t fantastic.

You’ll write bad sentences. Lots of them, probably. In fact, I’d argue that sometimes we need to write bad prose in early drafts. Sometimes we’re not going to be satisfied until we’ve gotten those clich├ęd phrases, purple prose, and ridiculous dialogues out on paper. But that doesn’t mean you have to subject your readers to that stuff.

What will make you a great writer is learning to tell good writing from bad and only showing the good writing to other people. Granted, we often need crit partners to help us recognize problems, but nothing should go out to your crit partners until you’ve done the very best you could with the material.

Some people disagree with me and believe they should be able to send the roughest of the rough to their crit partners. But the rougher it is, the more time your crit partners are going to spend on things you could have fixed – typos, grammar, run-on sentences. That may mean they never give you the kind of criticism that’s hard to hear, but it also means you’ll never grow as a writer. So only show them your best work…and then listen to them to make it even better until you’re ready to send out only your best stuff to agents and publishers.

2. Capture the most important moments. Don’t bother sharing the ones that don’t matter.

I often spend hours at the zoo photographing the same animal. While I’m there, dozens of other people come through and take photos of the animal sleeping, facing the wrong direction, or half-hidden behind the objects around it. The average person doesn’t care – he got a picture of the animal and can say he was at the zoo, and that’s all that matters. But the photographer knows that nobody is going to pay for that kind of picture. Instead, she needs to capture and share the moments that show the animal’s personality and true nature.

Do the same thing in your writing. Don’t bother showing us your character getting out of bed, eating breakfast, or choosing her outfit for the day unless it shows us something important about her personality and nature.

3. Get in close and find out what’s behind the eyes.

The average person doesn’t get nearly as close to his or her subject as he should, while good photographer gets in close enough to not only see the subject’s eyes, but also the feelings behind them.

Don’t just show us what’s going on in the scene when you write. Show us how it affects your characters. What’s behind their eyes? How can you be sure the reader notices it?