QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, May 31, 2010

Are You Ready? How Do You Know?

Today's post is brought to you by the loverly Shannon Messenger. She recently signed with literary agent Laura Rennert, after only two weeks of querying! If you're not following Shannon's blog, you're totally missing out. And today, she's got some great advice for us on how to know when your draft -- and your query letter -- are ready to send out.

So I give you: Shannon.

You did it! You finished a whole book! You finally have something you’re not only proud of, but that you think will sell.

Awesome! Well done you. Now, it’s time to query!

Or is it?

How do you know that you’re REALLY ready to query?

I’ll admit, I struggled with that question. All right, FINE—my friends had to drag me into the querying pool kicking and screaming. I’m a baby. But I’ve since put a lot of thought into this, because I was curious to know how my friends could be so positive that I was ready (since they knew I would kill them if they set me up for epic failure). And it really comes down to 3 things:

Your Draft: You know your draft is ready when you’ve gotten positive feedback from a number of CPs—and no, I don’t mean your spouse/parent/BFF. I mean honest, brutal CPs who aren’t afraid to tell you when your draft is made of suckage. If they think you’re ready, you probably are.

Your Query: Writing a good query letter is HARD, so I’m a big believer in seeking professional assistance. (I personally used an online query workshop and had an additional query critique.) It’s not expensive and it’s SO worth it. But if that’s not in your budget, have your CPs help. It’s also good to have a few people who know nothing about the project read and give you their thoughts. You’ll be surprised at the things they notice.

You: Ask yourself if you’re ready to face the rejections—because rejections WILL come. Are you passionate enough about your project to keep going when you run into obstacles? And do you really believe that this is not only the best draft you’ve ever written—but the best draft you’re capable of writing right now? Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression with an agent, so don’t query a project just because you’re proud of yourself for finishing. Wait until you’re querying your BEST work.

If you examine those three areas and come up with the right answers, you’re ready to query. It may still mean a lot of frustration and rejection. But it’ll also pay off, and you’ll end up announcing to the world that you signed with your dream agent. And when you do, we’ll all be there to celebrate right along with you.

So what about you guys. How did you know when you were ready to query? Did I miss anything?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Publishing Pulse: 5/28/2010

Success Story!

Congratulations to Donna Cummings -- she landed an agent (and tracked her queries with QueryTracker)! Read her success story.

Our Next Contest!

Don't forget, our next contest opens this coming week on Tuesday, June 1st! And you can always find the info on our latest contests on our Contest Page.

Around the Internet

Jane Friedman shares The 3 Best Takeaways for Writers From BookExpo America -- a must read. (Psst -- interesting Amazon news included.)

Guest columnist Livia Blackburne shares 7 of her favorite Tips on Book Publicity on the Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Want to know how to get an agent's attention? Lisa Katzenberger explains all in her guest column on the Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Guest blogger Mary DeMuth shares The Triple Three: Tenacious, Talkative, and Teachable on Rachelle Gardner's blog. These are words you must live by if you want to be published!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Branding: Not Just For Livestock Anymore

Today's post is brought to you by Sheralyn Pratt, PR Manager at Cedar Fort Publishing and author of the Rhea Jensen series. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends entirely too much time in front of a computer. (Who doesn't??)

Take it away, Sheralyn!

Branding. We could argue that it originally started with livestock when owners wanted to prove an animal was theirs. From there the differentiation grew to: my sheep is better than your sheep. Convincing the consumer of that then created disparate prices and, well, everything escalated from there.

While this approach to branding still happens today, the branding concept has also adjusted to modern lifestyle with the unique evolvement of making humans pay to brand themselves or anything else they value. Sure, we could make our own pants, but if we want pants with a designer’s brand, we need to pay for it.

Businesses invest a huge amount of money in branding because they know that they succeed or fail based on “fan” support. Harley Davidson, iPod, Twizzlers, Dr Pepper… if we truly believed that the generic versions of these products held a candle to the branded version, the branded products with their higher prices would be out of business in months.

As an author, without your own personal brand, the same applies to you. Twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago, maybe you could have gotten away with just writing a good book and leaving it at that, but in the current climate where the average attention span is conditioned to focus a max of 5 seconds, you definitely need to be memorable to survive.

So what’s an author’s brand? And how do you design your own?

Looking around, we recognize the branding of authors, even if we don’t call it that. We may use words like genre, niche, audience, cover art, autograph, and so forth, but we are still identifying branding that helps audiences find the books they like.

Example: Harry Potter. You know the covers, the font, the jargon and even recognize the lightning bolt. This entire series is a model example of brilliant branding. I have a first-year Gryffindor scarf that was hand knitted by a friend. When I go out, do you think people recognize it on sight without having to be told what it is? You bet. Whenever I wear that scarf, I am advertising for J.K. Rowling. Immediately a stranger and I know that we have something in common, just as Twilight mom’s know they share a certain passion when one of them walks by wearing a shirt or official Twilight jewelry.

The result: insta-friends, pulled together more quickly than any microwave meal. All brought to you by branding.

“You like Edward?!? I like Edward!!! OMG!”


Like that. On first sight we know something about other fans and have an immediate connection—a friend we haven’t met yet.

In weekly acquisition meetings, the first thing I ask the editors who are pitching books is: “Who is the audience and how does this book/author reach them?” How that question is answered is HUGE as to whether I want a closer look at the book.

As authors, you need to put thought into what exactly that brand is before you push your way out into the world. Just like a clothing designer, you must be known for doing one thing exceptionally before you can branch out and do it all. Evening wear? Swim wear? Casual? Urban? Pick your strongest genre and specialize before you expand.

Much of this is intuitive, which is why few people actually sit down and define their personal brand. “I write romance,” they say, and incorporate pink and flowers into their website. After all, flowers and pink are romantic. They are not, however, images people can immediately associate with you (i.e. a lightning bolt). Branding is the very specific way fans know they have found YOU and you alone. Not some imposter.

Below is a logo I saw on the back of a Barnes & Noble CRM’s black Escalade:

To many, this image means nothing, but it is actually a declaration of fan-dom, and lovers of the Dark Hunters will immediately see it for what it is (and likely seek this CRM out for a fun coversation). Another CRM I spoke to was actually considering tattooing this image on the back of her neck. Both women are both HUGE fans of the same series. They work for a massive corporation at different locations, but do you want to take a guess at whether or not they’re friends?

Of course they are.

That is branding. And in the case of the tattoo, it is branding at it’s most fundamental.

Whether you are published or looking to be, one sure way to be noticed is to know your brand. It will save you and publishers a lot of time, and help you get right where you want to go much quicker. Know where you fit in your genre, who your neighbors are on the shelf, and how you should be marketed. You hand all that to a publisher/agent and they will be very tempted to hit the ground running.

So, approach branding yourself the same way any business would: Who are you? Who do you write for? What does your audience read? Where do they hang out? What do people value who hang out there? How do they accessorize? And how, exactly, do you fit in there?

Answer those questions, and you are good way along the road of having a publisher perk up and pay attention as you hand them a package they know they can work with. Because in the end, what a publisher is looking for from you is for you and your books to add value to their own brand/imprint, so they can attract more high-quality authors and expand their brand.

And so it goes…

Monday, May 24, 2010

Public Speaking as a Promotional Tool

Hey, y'all! Today's post is brought to you by L. Diane Wolfe, Professional Speaker & Author. Check her out her awesome Spunk on a Stick blog here, and her website Spunk on a Stick here and The Circle of Friends website here.

Take it away Diane!

Public speaking can be an author’s greatest marketing tool. It opens up unique promotional opportunities. It can supplement the author’s income. It sells books! And in today’s market, authors need to employ every possible angle.

At its most basic, speaking places the author in front of real human beings. The lure of the Internet has prompted more and more authors to remain hidden behind a website. While blogs and social sites provide a certain measure of interaction, it cannot replace real-world contact and physical appearances. Readers like to know about the creator behind the book, and meeting an author in person provides a human quality that is lacking online.

Not every writer is destined to be a professional speaker, but learning the craft is vital. For the introverted author too nervous to speak in front of two people, let alone a crowd, training is required. A media coach teaches poise and confidence. An organization such as Toastmasters offers critique sessions in a secure environment. Public speaking courses are available at almost every college. There are ample opportunities to train and prepare for public speaking.

Remember, there is power in the spoken word! Now, how do we use that power?

At the very least, every author should be able to discuss his own book. This will be required for signings, book readings, and library appearances. Book clubs and writer’s groups are also open to the author. These opportunities provide more than just a personal touch, as promotional materials distributed by the author can influence later sales.

However, magic happens when an author moves beyond his book and develops a platform around his area of expertise. This should be a natural transition for the non-fiction writer. His education, skills, and experience led to the book’s creation, and he can build a platform around this very knowledge. This doesn’t preclude the fiction writer, though. Every book requires research, and a level of expertise is required to write fiction as well. Regardless of genre, all authors possess the ability to develop a platform and message.

The author who markets himself as a speaker gains several advantages. Professional speakers usually receive payment for their services. Speaking engagements can supplement royalties (which are rarely enough to live on) and the income from day jobs. These events often allow for back of room sales, netting additional income. An author with a platform is also more appealing to the media, as they want experts who can inform and entertain. The author who delivers what the media seeks and desires gains exposure to a far greater audience.

The list of venues for speakers is endless: libraries; businesses; schools; churches; colleges; writer and book festivals; organizations; clubs; conferences; etc. All of these provide an opportunity to reach a wider audience and generate greater books sales. Once established as a professional speaker, the author’s reputation will drive the sales of future books as well, thus laying the groundwork for a long career!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Publishing Pulse

PhotobucketSuccess Stories

Caroline Tung Richmond landed an agent! Read her success story. And on her blog this week, she's doing a "Surviving the Rejection" series, so go check that out.

Our next contest!

Suzy put up the details yesterday, but in case you missed it... And you can always find the info on our latest contests on our Contest Page.

Around the Web

Literary agent Kristin Nelson talks about the youthfulness she's seen recently in authors. A great reminder that age doesn't matter -- good writing does.

Nathan Bransford reminds us that every writer gets rejected. A great read to remind yourself that it only takes one yes. Still feeling hopeless? Read this article about 30 great authors who got rejected again and again...and again.

Literary agents talk trends in children's publishing at NESCBWI.

Rachelle Gardner tackles the tough question: What if my agent doesn't like my next book?

Why you should register your domain name. It's never too early to begin thinking about author branding.

Literary agent Marietta Zacker weighs in on children's series' and how to approach agents with them.

From YA Highway: The non-traditional YA audience. Has a great list of YA books for adults.

Author Jody Hedlund talks about social media in an unselfish way. And her posts this week have all been about charcterization. Worth a read.

A contest that will explode your brain. Go enter!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Agent- judged Contest Announced!


Agent Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates will be judging our next contest. Here are the deets:

  • Opens Tuesday June 1, 2010 at 9:00 PM EST
  • Only 100 entries will be accepted
  • Genres: Young Adult and Middle Grade only (next month's contest will be adult only.)
  • You must be a follower of the QueryTracker blog, widget at right.

To enter the contest:

  1. You must have a free QueryTracker membership
  2. You must submit a one-sentence pitch (helpful links below) and your first chapter
  3. Your submission will be accepted on the submission form (won't be available until the contest opens) 
  4. DO NOT EMAIL YOUR SUBMISSION DIRECTLY TO THE AGENT. You will be disqualified if you do.

This contest is not for whiners! It is only open to those who are willing to receive honest feedback. Ms. Ortiz will:

  • Treat every entry as a partial submission (therefore you must only enter if you, in Ms. Ortiz's words "for the LOVE OF GODIVA," have a completed MS)
  • Read every entry TO THE POINT SHE WOULD NORMALLY STOP READING on a partial submission
  • She will tell you why she stopped reading
  • She will request more of the manuscript only if it is something she would normally request.

Helpful links on pitching at Elana Johnson's blog.
Literary agent Laura Rennert helps you build your pitch.
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner reveals the secrets of a great pitch.
Also, read  a word about pitches and what makes them work by last month's judge, Chris Richman.

Good luck! And let us know if you have any questions.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How To Critique: It’s All In the Way You Say It

A couple of weeks ago we talked about how to handle critiques without getting defensive, but let’s be honest – it’s a lot easier not to get defensive when your crit buddy provides feedback in a palatable way.

I am going to spend another post talking about the nuts and bolts of a great critique – be specific, provide suggestions to help out, that kind of thing. But let’s focus first on what may be the critiquer’s most important skill: knowing how to phrase things.

From time to time I’ve seen critiquers sweep in on high horses with their noses in the air, prepared to point out perceived mistakes with the kind of cruel delight usually reserved for Disney villains. This type of person exerts ridiculous amounts of energy bashing other people. Since they’re often very frustrated writers, I suspect they do it to avoid looking at their own writerly shortcomings and dealing with their own issues.

Assuming you’re not channeling Cruella de Vil, though, you may still need benefit from keeping the following in mind:

1. Go in with the right attitude: to help the other person

Your primary goal with a critique should always be to help the writer improve his or her story. Sure, you can benefit from critiquing – you’ll be developing your editing skills, for example, and getting an opportunity to compare your work with someone else’s. You may even earn a critique from the other person of your own work. But while you’re actually doing the critique, focus not on what you’re getting out of it, but on how you can help the other writer improve the story.

2. Critique the story, not the storyteller

It’s hard enough for many writers to separate their feelings about themselves from their feelings about their work – don’t confuse matters by making the story’s problems about the writer. Instead, focus on the work. Rather than saying things like “You need to…” or “You keep…” or “You’re not being clear…” try phrases like “The grammar…” “Your character…” and “This plot point…”

3. Contempt has no place in a critique

If a problem is repeated or the writer is having trouble grasping what the critique is trying to say, some critiquers get mean. They use lots of exclamation points, TYPE IN ALL CAPS (which indicates shouting in the digital world), use a supercilious or parental tone, and make demands. “Why are you calling this URBAN FANTASY?!!” such a critique might say. “You CLEARLY don’t understand the genre!!!” Or, “DON’T send me anything else you haven’t PROOFREAD. You also need to learn to USE COMMAS CORRECTLY if you ever want to get published!!!”

Yes, you may feel like SHOUTING at a particularly dense crit buddy, but they’re much more likely to take in your feedback if you say something like “Your work is a little different than what I understand are the standards for the genre, such as _____.” Or, “I found a lot of typos in the manuscript. Do you have your spell-checker turned on in Word?” and “Commas can be tough to use. I have this great resource that helps me – here it is, maybe it’ll also help you.”

4.  Point out the positives as well as the problems

In their rush to point out the areas that need work, some critiquers forget how important it is to recognize the things that are well done!  It's actually much easier for someone to learn to repeat a positive behavior than it is for them to develop a behavior that's different than one that isn't working.  So be sure to encourage them to build on their strengths and keep up the good work when you see some in action.

If you  have a particularly difficult piece of feedback, it can also help to pad it with positives.  Try the sandwich method – emphasize a positive of some sort before pointing out the problem, and then finish with another positive.  For example, "Your heroine is strong, and I like that. I'm afraid that her actions [give examples] in this scene may be so extreme that they'll be a turnoff for a lot of readers, though. I wonder if there's a way to make her more empathetic – you've done a great job of that with your hero [give more examples]."

5. Remember that your suggestions are just that – your suggestions

When you give advice, try giving it tentatively. Let the writer try it on for size rather than slamming it down his throat, and give him the freedom to adapt or even reject your advice. Phrases like “Maybe you could try…” or “Have you thought about…” or “See if anyone else points this out…” can help a lot.

After all, at the end of the day, it is the other person's story.  You're just there to help!

What am I missing? What are YOUR tricks for providing palatable feedback?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Publishing Pulse

PhotobucketNew and Updated Agents
Taylor Martindale with Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency is looking for: Commercial Fiction, Contemporary, Fantasy, Multicultural, Women's Fiction, and Young Adult.

Charlie Viney with The Viney Agency is looking for: Children's, General Fiction and Non-Fiction.

Molly Jaffa with Folio Literary Management is looking for: Middle Grade and Young Adult.

Kimberly Perel with Wendy Sherman Associates is looking for: Literary Fiction, Thrillers/Suspense and Young Adult on the fiction side. On the non-fiction side, she's looking for: Biography & Memoirs, Business & Finance, Celebrity, Pop Culture, Music, Film & Entertainment, How To, Self-Help, Sports, and Women's Issues.

Roseanne Wells with Marianne Strong Literary Agency is looking for: Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, and Young Adult on the fiction front. In non-fiction, she's looking for: Food & Lifestyle, Humor & Gift Books, Narrative, Science & Technology, Travel, and True Adventure & True Crime.

Diane Oswald with Marianne Strong Literary Agency is looking for: Mystery, Romance, and Thrillers/Suspense on the fiction side. For non-fiction, try: Biography & Memoirs, Current Affairs & Politics, Humor & Gift Books, and Pets.

Success Stories!

Have you guys seen Do the Write Thing for Nashville? It's the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed. There's still a few days left -- so go bid on amazing items from around the publishing globe.

Cole Gibsen, a true-blue QT'er sold her YA book, KATANA, in a two-book deal to Flux! Congrats Cole!!

Bethany Pinnell, another die-hard QT'er, sold her YA book, THE HUNTED to Walker/Bloomsbury! Woot!

Around the Web

Wendy Lawton at Books & Such Literary talks about the no-response issue to queries in her #QueryFail Debunking the Myths post. Check it out before you revise everything!

Author/Literary agent Mandy Hubbard discusses trends and what authors should do about them. Part two is here.

Amy Finnegan interviews editor Joy Peskin (Viking Children's Books) in two parts. Excellent insight to what an editor does! Part One. Part Two.

Agent Donald Maass lays out how to choose your POV character. (And the rest of his blog is fan-freaking-tastic!)

Awesome blog post about using your jealousy to work harder, from The Gatekeeper.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner gives the secrets of pitching, down to the minute.

Author Sara Zarr helps us deal with things we cannot change.

Literary agent Rosemary Wells gives a great writing tip: "Adding A Dragon Won't Help."

Other Greats

Should you create a Facebook Fan Page? Jane Friedman from Writer's Digest weighs in.

Publishing people who have pull in the Twitterverse. Interesting article about the role of twitter in publishing.

Kaitlyn Ward at YA Highway tells you how to deal with all the advice.

K.M. Weiland gives tips for how to write skinny sentences.


Asimov's Science Fiction now accepting submissions.

Dear Lucky Agent contest is open again. This time the genres is fantasy/science fiction for adults and young adults (no middle grade). Click here for all the details, as there are specific rules.

And for fun: Creepy Query Girl wants your query letter spoof! Check it out.

Have a fabu weekend!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Perseverance Pays Off: Author Lara Chapman

Since I've addressed the topic of revising for an agent prior to representation, I wanted to share a story of how it can pay off.

I met Lara Chapman around a year and a half ago at my first RWA meeting and am always impressed with her positive attitude. Lara revised for her dream agent and as a result, receive an offer and subsequent sale of her debut young adult novel, FLAWLESS.

Below is the story in Lara's words:

* * *

“You’re so close! If only…”

You’ve spent months, maybe even years, perfecting your manuscript, your baby. You’ve read each word no less than a thousand times and you’ve had friends, family, and critique partners analyze every plot point. It’s practically tied with a pretty pink bow for the all-powerful agents to adore. You submit. They are… less than enthusiastic. But wait a second. Amid the rejections, you find interest! An agent loves your voice, thinks your story has “potential”, if only you’d change a few things.

The agent wants revisions before signing you. Do you dare?

Let me back up a little, three years to be exact. I met Holly Root with The Waxman Agency at a conference in Dallas, my very first writer’s conference. I didn’t let a little thing like pride and inhibition get in my way. When I saw her sitting in a chair with not a writer around, I sat down, introduced myself, and we started talking about the business. No pitch, just conversation. It was the best thing I could have done for my writing career. Not only did I leave that brief meeting with new insight into the market, I knew Holly was “the one.” I submitted three manuscripts over the next two years, fingers crossed, pink bow in place. She kindly, wisely turned down both manuscripts, each time with the suggestions and finesse you’d expect from a top notch agent. I took that advice and did my best to improve my writing. After reading my third submission, FLAWLESS, Holly called me. Instead of offering representation, she said, “You’re so close with this one. I think you need to…”

I took notes throughout our conversation, then took some time to let it digest. I realized her suggestions were spot-on (of course!), and went to work. Two weeks later, I signed with Holly Root. I never once second-guessed revising for Holly before she’d offered representation. Would I have done that for any agent? Absolutely not. But I’d established a relationship with Holly. I trusted her implicitly.

Ultimately, it comes down to your relationship with the agent asking for revisions before signing. Holly never guaranteed representation if I made the changes she suggested, nor would I have expected her to. It’s a gamble, but if you trust the agent, and trust your instincts, you’re going to come out on the other side with a better manuscript.

Best of luck in your search for the right agent for your baby!

Lara Chapman is the busy single mother of two amazing children and calls Central Texas home. She juggles motherhood, her full-time job as a fifth grade teacher, and part-time passion as a writer with the grace of a… So, it’s not graceful, but she somehow manages to keep all the balls in the air (most days). Lara’s young adult novel, FLAWLESS, will be released by Bloomsbury Children’s in 2011. You can visit her online at www.larachapman.com.

* * *

Sincere thanks to Lara for sharing her story and best wishes for her release of FLAWLESS.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Interview with Lindsey Leavitt, Author of Princess for Hire

Picture a Harry-Potterish bookstore filled with little princesses. An author keeps them all spellbound as she reads to them from a very pink book. Picture the author handing out gift bags to each little girl, then taking time to talk to all people who come her way. (Including me and Elana!) Now, picture this author having all three of her kids at the book signing with her, plus lots of other family. Now you have a feel for Lidnsey Leavitt - super author, super mom! (She blogs about it here.)

QT: Two years to the day of your success story on QueryTracker.net, your book was released. And now we are interviewing you again. How does it feel to come full circle?

LL: Like a bouquet of rainbows smothered in sparkles and dipped in kittens.

But better.

QT:Can you tell us about your journey to being agented?

LL: I got my agent the old-fashioned way — cold query. And serendipitously enough, my agent wasn’t even agenting when I started querying, so I’m grateful for the process that led me to her. It took me six months from my very first query to my first offer, though I took some time off in between to nurse my wounds.

I queried in smaller batches — three or four carefully selected agents. Within those six months, I had some great feedback that led me to make some changes. I learned everything I could about the market climate (and querytracker was a HUGE HELP). I had some close calls that had me raiding my children’s Halloween/Christmas/Easter candy stash. But the most important thing I did was work on another novel. Not only did it help me maintain my sanity level (however low that was at the time), but I also believe having some range made me more appealing as a client.

When I did receive offers, the agents were interested not just in my first novel, but in my WIP (which I mentioned in a one-line pitch at the end of the query). I was very lucky to sign with Sarah Davies, who really got both strands of my writing and has helped me land deals with two wonderful publishers.

QT: Since writing Princess for Hire and getting your publishing deal, how has your life changed?

LL: Well, I guess the main thing that's changed is I have a career now (It still feels funny using that word. Like when I first signed with my agent, I dropped her name All The Time). A career gives me legitimacy to family, friends, and anyone else I have to tell to leave me alone so I can hole up and write. That was a struggle before I was agented, but had to treat it like work to get to the point of publication.

QT: How do you balance book tours and your career with family life?

LL: Sometimes I don’t balance. There are days I look around my house and think WHERE IS THE BOMB AND WHEN DID IT DENTONATE? But the biggest trick I’ve had to figure out is how to be at peace with the chaos. To let one part of my life get a little messy in order to achieve something else.  

That said, when I accepted my first book deal, I also made the decision that I would rather fail at writing then fail as a mother and wife. Meaning, no matter how crazy this business got (and it can get CRAY-ZAY), I was not going to let it mix up my priorities. Sure, I’ll let the laundry slide, or leave my kids with family while I’m on book tour (just blogged about that. Warning--lactation is discussed), but I never want being an author to overshadow the other aspects of who I am. It’s one piece of me, a very important piece, but it isn’t everything.  

QT: What inspired you to write Princess for Hire?

LL: This story came from lots of little ahas, from memories of my childhood, from asking again and again "what if?". But a big reason I set out to write a princess story is because so many fairy tales end when the girl becoming a princess. That's it. Now go live happily ever after. I wanted to turn that on it's head a bit. No, a lot.

QT: If you could be a character in Princess for Hire, who would you be? Why?

LL: Meredith, my main character's agent, is kind of like a twisted fairy godmother (but for your own safety, don't call her that). I get so excited every time I write a Meredith scene because it's through her that I get to say all the snarky things I never say in real life. Plus, she has green hair. Already set for St. Patrick's Day.

QT: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

LL: Books are hard. 

I know... duh. But THEY ARE. And only people in the biz really know that. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone say, "That's so cute you write kids' books! I'm going to do that someday, when I get the time." They have no clue, and I do my very best to smile because Crazy Author Spills Punch on Idiotic Party Goer isn't the best press, especially for my pink princess book.

When I started writing, I had no idea what went into a book. I thought you wrote it, called up a publisher and they said, sure, send it over. I didn't have any comprehension of revision, or cover design, or marketing or... I guess that's a lot of things.

Books are hard.

QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn’t you?

LL: One time? Try a thousand. And, actually, I did quit a few times.

I recommend it. 

Let me amend that. I quit worrying about publication. I quit submitting. My quitting time rejuvinated me, allowed me to nurse my wounds, and showed me how important it is to write just for the joy of writing. I always came back refreshed and with a more positive outlook. Of course, when I'm on deadline and don't have much choice (and yeah, being published doesn't take these feelings away), I quit for a night, or an hour. Somehow, letting myself mentally peace out from the pressure actually takes the pressure away.

So walk away if you need to. If you really, truly are a writer at heart, you're going to come back.

QT: If you could give a message to aspiring authors everywhere, what would it be? 

LL: Don't set your happiness on being published. I've heard lots of writers say, "if I can just get and agent, I'll be good." or "If I can just sell this book, everything in my life will be better." The problem with this thinking is being published isn't a fix all. Then you'll want an award, or a bigger deal, or more exposure or...

The hunger will motivate you. Just don't let it consume you.

Thanks so much, Lindsey. It was a pleasure to meet you and interview you!

You can find out more about Lindsey online:
Princess for Hire website
Lindsey's website

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

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Amazing Prizes You Won't Want to Miss

Interested in bidding on some of the coolest prizes, well, ever? We're talking:

  • Phone calls with literary agents
  • Critiques from editors, agents, and authors
  • Autographed books GALORE!

You can bid on these and help victims of the Tennessee flooding at the same time. These are some of the people offering prizes:

  • Amy Boggs, Associate Agent at Donald Maass Literary Agency
  • Agent Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary
  • Martha Mihalick, associate editor at Greenwillow Books
  • Lauren MacLeod, agent at The Strothman Agency
  • Waxman Literary agent Holly Root
  • Josh Adams, of Adams Literary
  • Brian Farrey, the acquisitions editor for Flux
  • Agent Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • and many, many more!
Writers Victoria Schwab, Amanda K. Morgan, and Myra McEntire have put together Do the Write Thing, a publishing auction where ALL the money goes to help those affected by the flood. Media coverage has been pretty scarce, so here's a clip to give you an idea of how extensive the damage is:

Thanks to all who help with this cause. =)

UPDATE: Enough items have been donated that the auction will last for at least ten days! And over $9000 has been raised. Way to go, writing community!

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

Friday, May 7, 2010

From Chris Richman: Winners!

The day has arrived - it's time to announce the winners of our contest with Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary. Mr. Richman has kindly consented to giving us an inside peek at his selection process. He's also blogging about short pitches on Upstart Crow's Blog, which if you aren't following, you should be! (Also - to bid on a half hour phone call with Chris Richman go here. There are AMAZING prizes from agents, editors, and authors to help the Tennessee flood victims!)

Winners - email me at suzettesaxton@querytracker.net for specific instructions on how to submit your material. And if you'll remember from the Prizes Post, Mr. Richman has offered to let winners skip the line! I'll give you a Special Query Access Code to bump your submission up to the top of his list. =)

And now I'll turn this post over to Chris Richman:

Synthesizing a full book into a query letter is difficult enough, but getting the entire story boiled down to 25 words or less can feel downright Sisyphean. My hat goes off to the brave souls who entered into this contest. I know it wasn’t easy, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. There were loads of clever ideas and interesting concepts that failed to make the final cut.

So how did I make my decisions? When pouring through just short of 200 entries, the first thing I considered was, quite simply, whether the project sounded like something I’d like to read. If the project was completely outside my interests, it was crossed off. You may know from my QueryTracker profile or research you’ve done that I don’t typically go for paranormal romance, for example, so it was quite easy to dismiss these entries. Does that mean your pitch wasn’t good? Certainly not, but it may just not be good for me. This first round of considerations allowed me to cut about 75 entries from the original list.

The next stage had to do with clarity. When you’re only given 25 words to play with, it’s important to choose those words very carefully. You have to make careful decisions regarding what to include and what to eliminate to make sure the main thrust of your story comes through. A good, tight synopsis usually includes who the story is about and what the main character has to overcome. For a more thorough discussion on what makes a strong, short pitch, head to the Upstart Crow blog, where I tackle the art of the short pitch.

Applying these rules to the entries, I easily crossed an additional 50 pitches off the list. Some were too general (i.e. “A prophecy reveals a hero who must save the world”), too muddled (if I need to read through a pitch three times to understand what it’s about, that’s not a good sign), or wasted valuable words describing small details and then didn’t have enough to make the concept clear (“When the protagonist wakes up and eats breakfast on that Monday morning, including two pieces of dry toast, danger lurks”).

Next, I axed entries that didn’t quite fit the target market. Was the protagonist an appropriate age for the story? Did the word count mesh with the reading level? Was the concept something I’d seen before, or something that would have trouble finding an audience?

At this point, there were probably about 50 or so pitches remaining. Like I said, the entrants did a super job with this contest, and my selections came down mostly to personal preference and what I felt I really needed to read. If your entry wasn’t selected, please don’t be discouraged, and I hope you’ll still send me your query the old fashioned way as long as your work is in line with my tastes. For more info on how to submit and what I’m seeking, please visit: http://upstartcrowliterary.com/submit.html

Without further procrastinating, here are the runners-up and the winner. I added a few notes to help illustrate what influenced my decision.

Runners-up (Special Query Access Code, Query, 50 pages):

Buffy Andrews’ ELLA'S DANCE. Young adult. 
Pitch: A young girl learns to live again when her grandma, who dies, leaves her 365 notes, one for every day of the coming year. 
Nice concept on this pitch. This reminds me of a fascinating story recently featured on This American Life in which a dying mother wrote letters to her daughter that were delivered each year on the daughter’s birthday. We see what the thrust of the story is going to be—the girl learning to live again—and if the notes and their impact on the main characters’ life are strong enough, this could be a good read. The only concern I have is how this sounds like it may be a better concept for a middle grade audience, but perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Samantha Clark’s RUPERT AND THE GNOME FROM NOD. Middle Grade
Pitch: Garden gnome look-alike aliens declare war on humans for turning their kind into yard decorations, and 11-year-old Rupert is on a mission to stop them. 
I have a soft spot for these types of goofy setups when it comes to books for middle grade readers (for a great example, read M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts). Samantha’s story sounds like fun, and there’s a clear indication of both the problem (aliens declaring war on humans) and the hero (11-year-old Rupert) with a hint of the author’s voice.

Vicki Tremper’s KWIZERA MEANS HOPE. Young adult. 
Pitch: Rwandan teenager Cecile Kwizera survived war, genocide and her father’s death in a refugee camp, and now must overcome the guilt of having survived. 
Sometimes striking the right chord with an agent or editor can be serendipitous. Author Vicki Tremper probably wasn’t aware that I found Dave Eggers’ What is the What?, about a Sudanese refugee living in America, to be one of the best books I read in 2009. My hope is that Vicki’s story carries some of the same weight.

Candace Ganger’s 9:59 REWIND. Young adult. 
Pitch: At 9:58 pm, sixteen-year-old Thursday Night Scum starlet, Caty James Greyson, catches a bullet to the chest, but at 9:59 pm, she presses rewind. 
Even though I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in this query—what, for example, is a Thursday Night Scum starlet?—the concept here, the questions it raises, and a great title all work well. I’m somewhat concerned about this being another story regarding a new take on death, of which there have been many lately, but this pitch leaves me curious as to whether this author can pull off what sounds like a risky plotline. Of course, when a story is this high concept, it’s easy to fall short of a reader’s lofty expectations.

Melissa Constantine’s SMASHING. Young adult. 
Pitch: A post-apocalyptic Breakfast Club. 
Here’s an example of a pitch that so strangely combines two diametrically opposed things—a dystopian world and a breezy, funny film from the 80s—that I simply had to know if it delivers. This is a story that could be completely disjointed, but the pitch itself was compelling enough to make me think I have to see how what the heck a post-apocalyptic Breakfast Club could possible be like.

Elizabeth Lynd’s RETURN TO MEADOWLARK. Young adult.  
Pitch: Transported to 1773, sixteen-year-old Jessie bumbles with corsets and carriages, but learning Martha Washington’s a fellow time-traveler and falling for Alexander Hamilton? Talk about complicated. 
Nice voice in this pitch, even if the extra sentence at the end did push the word count to 28. I tend to like time travel books when handled well (as in, really well), and the history angle, especially Martha Washington’s involvement, give this pitch a unique feel. The beauty of including names that are easily recognizable is that people can easily conjure up the characters you’re references more effectively than if the pitch said “but meeting a fellow-time traveler and falling for a handsome diplomat.”

Blee Bonn’s PERFECT ISLAND. Young adult
Pitch: Masquerading as a boy, seventeen-year-old Annika searches for Perfect Island in America where dry land is scarce and her virtue and freedom are at stake. 
The interesting concept pulled me in, and I’m always a fan of girls masquerading as boys, both in my Shakespeare and beyond it. I would hope more is at stake than Annika’s virtue and freedom since this sounds like a dystopian novel, but I suppose I’ll have to read some to find out!

Winner (Special Query Access Code, Query, Full Submission):

Michelle Sinclair’s VEILED IRON. Young adult. 
Pitch: In a Near-Eastern empire where football decides disputes, a girl must defy social conventions and a protective new boy to play the sport she loves. 
What can I say? I’m a nut for sports. This pitch has football, deals with gender issues, AND has a futuristic feel to it? Count me in. If executed well, this could be a very interesting project.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Thanks so much, Chris, it has been a both a pleasure and an honor to work with you!

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Handling Critiques Without Getting Defensive

When I was in high school, I had an art teacher who liked to espouse the importance of "constructive critiques."  I quickly learned to hate the term, because as far as I could tell, what it really meant was "rake the poor artist over the coals."

Though in retrospect I have no idea whether I was really being raked over the coals by someone who was emphasizing the critique over the constructive or whether I was just hypersensitive and it felt that way, I do know two things.

First, it's never easy to have your creative work critiqued.  Few things are as personal as our writing, especially our fiction. We pour our desires and dreams, fears and vulnerabilities into our characters and plot points. It's hard to share those things with others; it's even harder to have people react with anything less than mountains of praise.

Second, for better or worse, critiques from trustworthy crit buddies who genuinely want to help us improve are crucial to both our growth and our success as writers. In other words, having problems pointed out is tough, but that's the only way we're going to build a great story.  This is even more true if you hope to publish, because both agents and editors will ask you to make (often tough) revisions to polish your story into a salable state.  (And don't forget about the reviews after your book is published!  You'll need a thick skin for those!)

Before we go on to how to deal with the actual criticism, let's get the problem right out there in the open.

1. Take a good hard look at yourself -- are you getting defensive and undermining yourself?

A lot (make that A LOT) of people ask for honest and even brutal criticism, but respond defensively when they get it...no matter how it's given.  How do you know if you're doing this?  Give yourself a point for each of the following:
  • You respond to the crit buddy's comments with "But...." and explain why s/he's wrong.
  • You say (or think) "That's going to be too much work" and try to make a case for why the changes don't need to be made.
  • You decide your critique partner just doesn't understand your brilliance and declare him or her an irredeemable idiot. (Yes, you get a point for this even if you eventually decide maybe the person isn't an idiot.)
  • You get angry at the critique partner. Check this one twice if you fire back an angry email, text, or phone call.  Check it three times if you've lost critique partners this way.
  • If you've ever sent a nasty response to a literary agent for any reason following a query, just go ahead and give yourself 20 points.
  • You don't take other people's advice...ever.  (Also give yourself a point if you only take advice that tells you how to make something that's already brilliant better, eschewing advice that targets things that aren't working.)
  • You make a big deal about how bad you feel about the advice until your crit partner backpedals or tells you s/he was wrong....about any and all negatives.
  • Your crit partner/s used to give you advice that was hard to take, but now it's all vague, halfhearted, and generically positive.
The more of these you answer yes to, the more defensive you are.  Give yourself a break if you only do one or two of these once in a while -- we all feel defensive sometimes.  But the more of these you're doing on a regular basis, the more defensive you are, and the more you're probably undermining yourself, your growth, and your ability to reach your writing goals.

2. Decide -- honestly -- what you really need: praise or growth.

Some writers genuinely need praise and attention from other writers more than they want to grow as an author.  That's okay.  If what you really need is praise, then focus on communities where the feedback is mostly positive.  You probably won't grow into someone who's regularly selling your work, but that may not be what's most important to you.

Sure, publication is the brass ring, but the more people who read your work, the more you're opening yourself up to potential negativity.  Because no matter how good you are, there are always going to be people who hate your work...and are happy to tell you so.  So if what you really need is praise, focus on enjoying the writing and getting praise!

If you decide that growth is really what you want most, move on to the next point!

3. Admit to yourself how hard it is to take criticism.  (I know, it sounds like we're in AA here.)

Often, we try to sweep unpleasant feelings under the carpet to avoid dealing with them.  But experiencing them can help us deal with and get past them.  So go ahead and admit to yourself -- and your crit buddies, if you need to -- that sometimes it's hard to take even constructive criticism.  I bet they'll tell you they feel the same way!

Now that we've established the problem, let's look at how to deal with it.

1. Realize that a critique of your work is not a critique of you.

Like I said above, it can be hard not to take crits personally.  But nobody -- and that includes people like, oh,  Stephen King -- started out as a brilliant writer.  Yes, some folks (like King) have a definite head start when it comes to raw talent, but everyone needs some work to get it right.

For example, King was determined to get published from the time he was a teen.  He began sending short stories out and, like the rest of us, started racking up rejections.  He put a nail in the wall, and each time he got one, he stuck it on the nail.  Pretty soon the nail fell off the wall and he had to put up a big fat spike instead.  But when he got feedback from an editor or a mentor, he didn't feel sorry for himself or swear to give up writing -- he buckled down and figured out how to be a better writer based on that feedback.

And we all know how that turned out.

So separate critique of your work from a critique of you.

2. Even if you can't help but take critiques personally, realize that the criticism (and the bad feelings that can accompany it) won't kill you.

People who choose to pursue clinical or counseling psychology need to be aware of their own biases and the messages they're sending others verbally and nonverbally.  But when you start grad school, you're rarely as self-aware as you need to be.  So guess what happens when you get there?  That's right -- they start pointing out every little mannerism, bias, and trait.  Worse, they videotape you so they can point to the behavior and say "That is a problem."  If you can't see it, they play it over and over -- often in front of a crowd -- to force you to acknowledge the problem.

It's enough to make anyone want to crawl into a corner and curl into a fetal ball.  But you know what?  Even in such a situation, you start to realize that you can survive it.  Eventually, you realize that the fear of taking in constructive criticism is often worse than actually facing it head-on and dealing with it. Sure, you might have some mannerisms or vocal tics that need work, but that doesn't mean you're a failure as a person.

The same thing is true with writing.  You may have a lot of trouble not feeling bad when someone doesn't like your character or the twists your plot took. You may want to throw everything out the window when someone believes you need a major change to make the story work. But that doesn't mean there's something wrong with you as a person. It just means that your vision isn't coming through as clearly as you'd hoped.

Still, sometimes we need to feel the sad and frustrated feelings before we can look at things more clearly. So if you need to, go ahead and feel sorry for yourself for a day or two, but then it's important to pack up your pity party and get down to business.

Criticism can be tough to take, but you CAN take it.  And the more practice you have at taking it gracefully, the better you will get at it.  Promise!

3. Rather than getting overtly defensive, ask questions and find ways to improve clarity.

Now that you know that it's okay to experience the bad feelings -- they won't kill you -- you can have them and then move on.  One of the best ways to move on is to look at places your crit buddies see problems and find out more so you can make good changes.  Try asking questions like:
  • What made this [plot point, character motivation, etc.] confusing?  What would help me make it clearer?
  • Is this a problem you're seeing consistently through the story/novel?  What skills do I need to hone to correct that problem?  Can you recommend any resources that might help me/have helped you?
  • Could you suggest ways I might fix this problem?  Examples might help me see possibilities.
Remember, the goal in soliciting crits is to make your story better -- so follow up on anything that's unclear!

4. Keep your eye on the goal.

Remember, growth and change are usually difficult.  But if they get you closer to a treasured goal, it's all worth it!

So...what have I missed?  How do YOU deal with constructive criticism?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Building Your Pitch

Dude, you guys, I recently attended a local conference where the fabulous Laura Rennert (Andrea Brown Literary) spoke. She was engaging and informative -- and so, so nice (and not to mention gorgeous!). When Suzette and I asked her if we could post about her class on the QT blog she said, "The more people who know about pitching, the better."

So here I am, passing along her notes to you. She gave five steps for building your pitch. I think this pitch can transfer to the written query letter as well as be used for verbal pitching at conferences.

Step One: Write down the following:
1. Title
2. Genre
3. Setting (where)
4. Protag (who)
5. Main Conflict (what)

Step Two: Write down the following:
1. One vivid detail that makes any of the above elements different. Part of Ms. Rennert's talk focused on what makes your story different. She called it the "Who, What, Where and Why Should I Care." It's this last part that you're focusing on here. Why should an agent care about your setting, protag or main conflict? What makes them different?

Step Three: Identify if your story has:
1. Credibility
2. Inherent conflict
3. Originality
4. Real emotional power

Step Four: Write down three "big" words -- evocative words -- that relate to your story.

Step Five: Set a timer for 5 minutes and write:
1. A one-paragraph pitch for your novel using what you've written in steps 1-3. In the last sentence, use one of your "big" three words to finish the pitch.

And now, something I've shared before, but what I think fits the formula of Ms. Rennert's pitch steps.

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken (where), fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld (who) does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled. (what)

CONTROL ISSUES, a young adult dystopian novel complete at 75,000 words, (title, genre, word count) addresses the topic of teens fulfilling their duty as citizens of society, along with how hard it is to grow up under the expectations of parents and other adults when they're trying to make their own choices. (why should I care? "Big" words: duty, choice)

Try it! Set aside some time this week to build your pitch using these steps and see how it goes! Special thanks to Laura Rennert, simply for being awesome and sharing such amazing advice.