QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's All About The Details

In one writing seminar, a classmate wrote in my margins, "God is in the details." While that quote comes from an architect, a good writer will use details to infuse the work with life.

But, you may say, readers want to escape from everyday details.

True, but details create the world, and the world interacts with the characters. Writers call this "verisimilitude."

Imagine a scene in which John meets Mary to break up with her. As the writer, you get to pick the place. Since it's set in New York, you decide on a pizzeria. Now put yourself in that pizzeria. Are there booths or tables with chairs?

What's on the table? Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes? Is there graffiti on the table? What does it say? What does your pizzeria smell like? Is the place crowded? When was the floor last swept? Is the menu on the wall? What are the guys doing behind the counter?

As you answer these questions, consider your characters' mood. Consider what's about to happen and how it's going to take place, and then craft the details to enhance the scene. Mary is about to be broken-hearted; the salt and pepper shakers are only half-full. If John is angry, maybe he chooses mushrooms even though Mary dislikes them. Is it going to be a heated breakup? Details tell how your characters perceive the passage of time: maybe while waiting, a bored John runs his finger up and down the glass curves of the red pepper shaker.

Given just the right emphasis, a detail enters the reader's mind, delineates the boundaries of the characters' world, and then fades. The reader picks up the tension but never traces it to the puddle of condensation growing around the water pitcher or to the flickering fluorescent light behind the counter.

The magic of details is how they telegraph to the reader things the narrator knows but doesn't tell (as in a third-person narrator foreshadowing). Moreover, good use of detail will alert the reader to circumstances even the narrator doesn't know. For example, a woman who over time mentions how her daughter is secretive about what she eats, vanishes into the bathroom after meals and has unexplained bad breath can telegraph to the reader that the daughter is bulimic even though she herself never puts the clues together.

Details at their most basic help convince us of the world's reality, but at their best they keep the reader interpreting the story in "realtime." So while we may read to escape the details of our lives, details in the story assist in the reader's escape.

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) andThe Boys Upstairs (this December from MuseItUp). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Publishing Pulse 9/24/10

Querying? Be sure to check out the list for new and updated agents on Querytracker.net
You can find the list here.

Dealing with Rejections?
As anyone working towards becoming published professionally knows, rejection is one of the steps to getting there. Rachelle Gardner explains why most agents don't explain the reason for the rejection. Jessica Faust explains the importance of considering your word count. what she's thinking when she evaluates her full requests.

Every Wondered What Makes a Book Young Adult (YA) or Middle Grade (MG)?
Hannah Moskowitz details the thematic differences between YA and MG books. Mary Kole gives some insight into voice and character in MG boy books. And Roni Loren shares some secrets in developing an authentic male YA voice.

#SPEAKLoudly Against Censorship
In the last week or so, many bloggers have worked to bring attention to another case of censorship. This time the book being questioned is SPEAK by Laurie Anderson. You can find details of what's happening here. Beth Revis posted some excellent reasons why censorship is harmful. And Lisa and Laura are donating one copy of SPEAK for every 25 comments on this blog post.

And finally: Need a Laugh?
Why dating a writer really isn't such a great idea. And Kiersten White brings attention to the Professional Waiting Society, complete with a guide on how to O.B.S.E.S.S.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interview with author Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall
Karen Duvall

Cynthia Watson interviewed Karen Duvall, author of her recently sold Adult Urban Fantasy novel, KNIGHT’S CURSE.

Karen and her husband are empty-nesters, who live with their three cats, and one dog in beautiful Central Oregon.

QueryTracker.net: Karen, thank you for chatting with me. Congratulations on selling your book! Please tell the QueryTracker.net folks what your book is about.

Karen Duvall: Thank you so much, Cynthia. I'd love to tell you about my urban fantasy novel that just sold to Luna in a two-book deal.

The first book, KNIGHT'S CURSE, is about Chalice, who's half angel with superhuman senses. She's cursed with bondage to a homicidal gargoyle, and forced to steal cursed objects for the sorcerer who kidnapped her as a child. The only way to break the curse is to kill the beast, and its death must come by the hand of its own kind. To regain the freedom she longs for, Chalice risks losing either her life or the love she has struggled so hard to believe is real. The choice is hers.

QT: Can you tell us about your journey? How did you get started with your writing?

KD: I've been writing seriously for a number of years, starting out with short stories before graduating to novels. I make my living as a graphic designer and always wrote on the side to fulfill my passion for storytelling.

My first attempt at a novel was semi-autobiographical, and told the story of a young pregnant woman in search of her birthmother. It was very women’s-fictionesque, and actually got me my first agent, but after two years of trying to find a publisher for it, that agent gave up on the manuscript, and gave up on me.

Then, I wrote a science fiction novel called PROJECT RESURRECTION that got picked up by a traditional small press, and published in 2000. I wrote a romantic suspense that came real close to getting published with Silhouette Intimate Moments, but the editor I'd been working with for over a year left the company, and the manuscript was rejected. However, DESERT GUARDIAN saw print in 2004 with The Wild Rose Press.

Though my experiences with the two small presses were okay, I realized going that route would never gain me the writing career I wanted. So, I decided that finding an agent to represent my work, and to support and encourage me as a career-focused writer, was the best way to go. After writing KNIGHT'S CURSE, I believed I'd finally written the book that would take me to the next level.

QT: Karen, tell us how you found your agent?

KD: I found my agent through QueryTracker.net. I did the research starting with genre, and selected a group of agents to submit my query to. I visited each agent's website or blog, and was very impressed with the McIntosh & Otis, the oldest literary agency in New York. They represent John Steinbeck's estate, among other prominent authors. So I queried Elizabeth Winick, who represents my genre, and the rest is history.

It's important to note that Liz was not the first and only agent I queried. It took four months to find the right agent fit for me, and I feel very fortunate to be with one of the best literary agencies in the U.S.

QT: How did you feel when you heard your book was going to be published?

KD: Stunned, lol. The book had been making the rounds for two years, and the editors reading it were taking months to respond. There were a few near misses, but I was used to the book getting rejections by then. So my agent and I decided that rewriting it as a Young Adult might help its chances. Before the revised Young Adult version of the manuscript had a chance to go out to a new set of publishers, my agent gets a call from Luna saying they have a two-book offer.

I was on my way out the door to a lunch meeting with a design client when my agent called with the good news. That I was ecstatic is an understatement, and I think I'm still in the state of shock. It's finally starting to sink in though. I had to stop pinching myself. I was leaving bruises.

QT: Did you help pick out the cover art, and can you tell us what it looks like?

KD: It's still too early for cover art, though I just finished filling out the Art Fact Sheet for KNIGHT'S CURSE. My contributions so far have been answers to the questions on the form, and I'm more that fine with that.

I designed the covers for my small press books, even won an award for one of them, but that was because those publishers didn't have a professional art department. I make my living as a designer, and I know what I'm doing. But Luna creates gorgeous covers, so I'm content with leaving it up to them to do their magic. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with.

QT: Who are some of your favourite writers?

KD: I have so many. Rachel Cain is high on my list with her Weather Warden series. I also love C.E. Murphy's books. Clive Barker is known for his horror, but I love his other speculative works like IMAJICA and GALILEE, among others. Then, of course, there's Neil Gaiman's brilliant story telling. I could go on and on.

QT: Who, or what, has been your biggest influence as a writer?

KD: I've been a reader since age five, so all the authors I read from then until now have heavily influenced me. But the author whose gift for great characterization is the one responsible for me writing my first novel. Armistead Maupin, though a writer of more mainstream stories, is amazing. I felt as if the characters were sitting right there with me, telling me their stories.

QT: What is it about your genre that captures your imagination? Is there a genre you haven’t written, but would like to try?

KD: Paranormal stories have always been my passion. I love reading about the impossible, and taking those imaginative journeys to fantastical places with characters who can do inhuman things. It brightens my brain.

As far as a genre I'd like to try, I almost said historical, but I've done that already with my alternate history steampunk fantasy MYSTIC TAXI. It's the first book in a planned series, and I'm eagerly awaiting word from the editors who have that one.

Fingers crossed!

QT: Please tell us about the projects you are currently working on; what can readers expect to see in the coming months?

KD: I'm currently working on book two of my HATCHET KNIGHTS SERIES called KNIGHT'S PROMISE. This story continues Chalice's journey of connecting with her sister knights in the modern world, and vanquishing an evil that's responsible for killing hundreds of women in the Order of the Hatchet. And, of course, fulfilling her promise to the man she loves. I can't say much more, or I'll give it away!

Let's hope there's a third book because I have that one planned as well. It's called KNIGHT'S BETRAYAL.

QT: What is your advice to our QueryTracker.net members who are writing their first book?

KD: Write the best book you can, and write it like you expect it to sell. It probably won't, but don't worry because there's no such thing as wasted words. Every word you write, every sentence you put down, brings you that much closer to your dream.

Write for yourself, and write what you love. Keep an open mind, and take criticism with grace. Always work toward improving because your work isn't perfect, and it never will be. If you think it's "good enough," it most likely isn't.

Don't give up. After the first book is done, write another; and another one, after that. As you query agents on one book, be writing the next one. Stay busy, and stay focused.

QT: That's excellent advice! Thank you, Karen, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. Where can readers find out what's new, and how can they contact you?

KD: I have a blog I haven't added to in a while, but will be updating soon. So feel free to drop by, and read past posts about my journey up to this point.

You can visit me at www.karenduvall.blogspot.com.

Or check out my website to read unedited samples of my work at www.karen-duvall.com.

QT: Karen, we will be watching out for KNIGHT'S CURSE. We are pleased and proud that QueryTracker.net was part of your writing journey. Everyone in the QueryTracker.net family wishes you all the best.

Read Karen's original success story interview at: www.querytracker.net/kduvall.php

Cynthia Watson is in the query process for her first novel, WIND, a Young Adult Paranormal Romance, while writing the second book in the saga, SAND. Cynthia lives in Barrie, Ontario, just north of Toronto, Canada, with her Cocker Spaniel, Symon, and five rescued cats.

Cynthia blogs at: http://cynthiawatson.blogspot.com/
Follow Cynthia on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CynWatson

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting on an Agent's Reply

Most writers get nervous waiting for an agent or an editor to respond. I've been known to send out a submission and then immediately post to Twitter, "Dear Unnamed Editor: I sent my story ten seconds ago. Why haven't you responded yet?" Other writers usually reply to me with, "I hear ya."

We all know the guidelines: wait three months to "nudge" on a partial, six on a full. But we're writers and we're nervous as we await the verdict. Isn't there anything we can do?

Here's my solution: when you want to bother an agent or an editor, go ahead and bother an agent or an editor.

No! you gasp, but before you send me nasty email, consider what I said. I said to bother an agent or an editor. Not the agent or the editor who has your material. Go bother a different one.

It works like this. Agent John Doe requests a partial of your novel, The Long Wait. You send it, but two weeks later you're chewing up your fingernails in nerve-wracked suspense. Every time you get your email, you scan for his name or your novel title in the subject line. You waken at midnight tasting the urge to bug him for a decision even though you know if you do, you'll get a decision all right, and it won't be the one you want.

Take all that nervous energy and head over to QueryTracker.net. Look up similar agents to John Doe. Pick out a few who represent similar authors. Check out their websites, and query those agents instead. Like magic, you have resisted the urge to bother John Doe by bothering five other agents.

With any luck, one of those will request your partial, and you can send it. When you get nervous again, you can once again use waiting-jitters as fuel for sending more queries. By the time John Doe gets back to you, you'll have five other agents reading your material, and you won't have spent time obsessing over the one agent who's had your partial for seven weeks, three days, four hours and twelve minutes. Not that anybody's counting.

This technique works even better with short fiction. Bother an editor! Polish up one of the short stories on your hard drive and find a market for it. Write multiple short stories (or poems, or essays) and bother two or three editors simultaneously--because they won't think of you as bothering them. They'll think of you as submitting. They won't know (or care) that you submitted to Awesome Short Fiction Magazine because you hungered for a response from Chicken Soup For The Nervous Author's Much-Rejected Soul. And the editor you're waiting on will remain unbothered.

Does it work? Well, in the two weeks after I signed with my own agent, I had a novella, a short story and a poem accepted for publication because I'd gotten so jittery by the end of my agency search.

So remember: when you want to bother an agent or an editor, go ahead and do it. Just make sure you "bother" a different agent or editor than the one you're waiting on.

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) andThe Boys Upstairs (this December from MuseItUp). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Publishing Pulse 9/17/10

New Agents Added to the QueryTracker Database

Several new agents and publishers have been added to or updated on 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

Literary agent Nathan Bransford had a fantastic article for both published and unpublished authors about When Dreams Become Expectations. I see examples of this all the time and completely agree with this hard bit of advice. There's nothing wrong with dreaming, but reality checks are equally important in this business in order to be happy, regardless of success level.

UK literary agent Andrew Lownie made me laugh with this fun post on how not to open a submission called, Addressing Me.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted an article recently that I think translates to fiction as well as academic writing called 10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly.

For those out there pushing or getting ready to push a product, I recommend taking a good look at Unslimy Marketing over at The Three Micahs.

QueryTracker Newsletter Subscription

QT started a new monthly email newsletter and the first issue came out August 1st. The newsletter contains agent information, articles of interest to authors seeking representation, and highlights ways to use QT in your agent search. If you haven't subscribed already, it's free at http://QueryTracker.net/index.php.

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Glass Houses, Elephants, and the Internet

Image courtesy of Chemtec
The internet is a glass house crammed full of elephants.

No, really. It is. The Internet is a place that's fairly transparent--unless you happen to cavort on the Interwebs in a mask and sparkly cape. But as writers who are hoping to go pro in the business, if we're going to be on the Internet, we tend to go dressed as ourselves so people can find us. 

Because we want to be found.

This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The danger, I think, is that sometimes it's easy to get too comfortable. After all, we're not really standing in a room full of strangers making witty conversation. We're typing away on an empty screen with the hope that the people we're connecting to are real people who live outside the computer. Sometimes it's easy to get too personal, too transparent.

Because it's so easy to forget about all those elephants crammed in the room with us.

But, see, elephants don't forget. Neither does the Internet. Someone web savvy enough can likely find anything that's ever come through the front door, the windows, and that side door we've never noticed until now. And that goes for deleted things to. So that really bad rejection letter, that day when everything went wrong and you're just itching to kick something--those are the times when it's wise to step away from the computer.

Here are some simple rules to keep those elephants from accidentally taking a step back and squashing you, because, well, being squished by an elephant is kind of permanent too.

Set Up Some Boundaries  

Boundaries are important. They aren't about other people, they're about what you'll do in any given situation. So it's good to start with some boundaries when you go on line. What will you talk about? What won't you talk about? How will you respond to people? For me, I don't really talk much about politics or religion. I have plenty of opinions on them, but I save those discussions for real life. Also, I don't put up pictures of my kids, name them, or even really discuss them. (There are some really weird people out there.) And I don't give out much personal information. Sometimes that last one is a tricky line to walk. As people, we want to get to know each other, see what we're thinking or talking about, and what's going on. We all like to connect. But some things fall under the category of Too Much Information. Like gallbladder surgery or that strange fungus growing between your toes. Let's just not go there. :)

The Golden Rule 

Remember that rule about doing unto others? Well, this one can save you from becoming an elephant imprint. If you want people to visit your blog/insert-social-media-preference-here, then start by visiting theirs. And commenting. If you want people to be gracious to you and your book, be gracious about theirs. Yes, there will always be Amazon reviewers in the world, but you've written a book that rocks, and the Discerning Public will see that. Reviewers or no reviewers. If you host contests or whatnot and you want people to spread the word, be sure to do the same for others. The Internet is a glass house, and people will notice even if you don't know they're noticing.

Remember What Your Mother Always Said 

That thing about not saying something if you don't have something nice to say is especially applicable when dealing with delicate breakables and large land mammals. Because the way you portray yourself online is the way the rest of us peeping into your house see you. One of my favorite movies of all time is Harvey. (Major paraphrasing to follow.At one point the main character muses about his past. He told the doctor that his mother had told him that he had two choices in life. He could be oh, so clever or oh, so nice. Well, he'd spent thirty-five years being clever, and decided he'd much rather be nice. As writers, we have the ability to shape words into whatever we want. Shape them wisely.

Be Genuinely Yourself 

And last, but not least, be your very best self. That's who the people standing in your flower bed with their faces pressed up against the wall of your glass house want to see and get to know*. That's what keeps us coming back. There is a risk in being yourself, but I think with all the truly awesome people there are out there, the risk is worth it.

And if I had to condense all of this into one sentence: Be your best self, make sure you've got a nice picket fence around the house, and buy peanuts in bulk.

What's your take on glass houses and elephants?

* Okay, if we were talking about real houses, this would be downright creepy and stalkerish in which case I'd advise building your house out of something a little more opaque than glass. And securing a few restraining orders. But no worries. This is just a metaphor. :)

Danyelle collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers in her spare time. She is currently getting ready to query SLIPPERS OF PEARL, a YA fantasy. She also enjoys making new friends, and can be found at http://myth-takes.blogspot.com.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Succeeding as a Writer: Confidence and Determination

When I've written something and the words have just flowed, I sometimes feel like I'm looking down on the Seventh Day, basking in the warmth of my creation and proclaiming, It Is Good. I'll feel like I've captured the emotion and the angst; or the flavor, color, and texture of the world I envisioned. The characters will be as real as Real People to me. I'll feel that glow in my chest: Of course I'm a writer. This is something I was meant to do.

Now, as a psychologist, I believe it's not only okay, it's healthy to be able to say to yourself, "I did a good job on that." "I'm a good writer." You don't have to announce it to the world (in fact, you probably shouldn't!), but you're healthier if you have a secret little place inside with a nice big refrigerator to put up your accomplishments, and where you can nod and pat yourself on the back and think, I Did Good. I even have lots of professional terms to make that all sound more authoritative, like self-esteem, self-efficacy, and adequate mirroring on the Grandiose Pole. But I'm going to skip all that for right now.

If feeling good about what you'd written was as far as any of this went, all would be well. But so many of us have this urge, this drive, this need to get published. And what is that all about anyways? Few people make money publishing. It's cool, but unless you're Stephenie Meyer or JK Rowling or whoever this week's Hot Writer is, it's a passing cool that others soon forget. Getting published doesn't make you beautiful or thin or get you a Happily Ever After with whichever celebrity you drool over most.

Yet the need remains. So you sweat blood over a query and open a vein to get the synopsis right and then, hoping, praying, believing you've got something others will love, you start sending your work out to others.

Some writers start with crit buddies, some jump straight to agents and publishers; some do both simultaneously. And most soon discover that not everyone else thinks their work is so good.

According to Robert Heinlein, that's where a lot of people quit. In fact, he believed that only half the writers who actually put pen to paper (or words to screen) and finish what they start have the guts to submit to agents and publishers:

Writers...are inordinately fond of their brainchildren. They would rather see their firstborn child ravaged by wolves than suffer the pain of having a manuscript rejected. So instead they [only] read their manuscripts aloud to spouses and long-suffering friends.

But you're not satisfied to believe the friends and family who swear your work is fantastic -- you have to send your work out to people outside that little circle. And as the crits roll in and the rejections pile up, you look at your work with fresh eyes, and you realize it's miserable. It's embarrassingly horrible. You're embarrassingly horrible, and stupid besides to ever have believed someone else might be interested in the ridiculous stories you make up in your head.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Crit after crit, rejection letter after rejection letter.

Some throw in the towel right away. "The world just isn't ready for my material," they sniff, or they decide that all agents are self-important jerks who wouldn't know a good story if it ran them over. There are even websites that exist for the purpose of ranting about your rejections and throwing mud back at the agents who sent them. (Who are, by the way, human beings who are just doing their jobs as best they can. But that's another blog post.)

Other writers are worn down over weeks, months, or years of querying. Or by disapproving relatives. Or by savage critique "buddies." The rejection hurts. A lot.

But some always manage to drag themselves out of the dirt, brush themselves off, and try again. Just like they need to write, they need to keep trying to get published.

"Writing is a calling," says editor Betsy Lerner. "If the call subsides, so be it. [But] when writers say they have no choice, what they mean is: Everything in the world conspired to make me quit, but I kept going." She goes on:

Many writers have gathered their marbles and gone home for far less cause. It takes a supreme talent and fierce self-belief to write in the face of such acrimony... If the high wire is for you, if the spotlight is for you, if you believe that everyone should pay attention to you and your work, then you must stay focused. Ambivalence will never get you anywhere.

What it comes down to, I've read over and over again, is determination in the face of all that feedback, all those rejections. A willingness to learn, of course, but also determination to overcome and succeed:

** The degree of one's perseverance is the best predictor of success - Betsy Lerner

** In all manner of pursuits there's a tendency to overesimate brilliance and underestimate persistence. Talent is common. Determination is rare. -Ralph Keyes

** [The authors of the Chicken Soup books] instinctively understood that all those rejections were simply an uncomfortable part of the process that would eventually get them where they wanted to be. - literary agent Jeff Herman

** [Author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ken] Kesey was not even remotely the best writer in class [at the writing program at Stanford], but he was maniacally determined. - Classmate and writer Thomas McGuane

** Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

So where do you find the determination? According to Keyes, you have to hate the idea of being ignored, of never being read, more than you hate the pain of rejection. "It is some combination of ability and ego," adds Lerner, "desire and discipline, that produces good work." She continues:

A writer's success or faltering can usually be traced to some abundance or deficit of those elements. Some of the most gifted writers I've worked with were also the most self-sabotaging. Lack of discipline, desire for fame, and depression often thwart those whose talents appear most fertile, while those who struggle with every line persevere regardless.

In many ways, learning to deal with rejection from agents and publishers is just the first step. Because when you do manage to get published, you will have to deal with critics, the bloodthirsty pirahna in the sea of your success. People who have sudden, overwhelming success, are not prepared for it. And that may topple them and keep them from producing good work going forward. So keep running that gauntlet, and be proud of your calluses and scars, because they mean you believed in yourself enough to keep going.

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD writes fantasy, scifi, and nonfiction. She loves helping writers "get their psych right" in their stories, and her book on the same topic, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available for pre-order. Learn more about the book at the WGTP website or ask your own psychology and fiction question here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Publishing Pulse: 9/10/10

New Agents

Denise Little has joined the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, and she's looking for submissions in these areas: romance, paranormal, mystery, thriller, science-fiction/fantasy, non-fiction, Christian books, and horror. (Those last two really go together, don't they? ;)


Master storyteller and former Booker Prize judge Frank Delaney (www.frankdelaney.com, @FDbytheWord) is launching his second Twitter Writing Challenge on Monday, September 13: write the best, most arresting simile you can in 140 characters or less. The winners get lunch with Delaney in NYC or a signed advance copy of his forthcoming book, "The Matchmaker of Kenmare" (Random House, February 2011). Full rules for Delaney's latest Twallenge (#FDsimile) can be found here.

Around the Web

Lots of great stuff this week!

Ever wonder if you should use a Nom de Plume?  Agent Rachelle Gardner helps you decide.

On Novel Journey, author Stephanie Morrill explains how to break your characters out of a rut and end up with A Living, Breathing Main Character.

Agent Noah Lukeman discusses whether an agent you've fired can claim a commission on your future works.

Write for teens? Author Kody Keplinger shows you how to make sure you're using teen logic to create an authentic teen story.

Molly Anderson-Childers gives you 7 Ways to Grow Your Writers’ Group over on Guide to Literary Agents.

Check out 1stTurningPoint writer Judith Laik's advice on Your [Author] Photo.

Writer Ann Charles created the 1stTurningPoint all-about-author-promotion website, and Jungle Red Writers interviewed her on what you need to do to make that jump to success.

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD writes fantasy, scifi, and nonfiction. She loves helping writers "get their psych right" in their stories, and her book on the same topic, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available for pre-order. Learn more about the book at the WGTP website or ask your own psychology and fiction question here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Creating Your Main Character

Katniss from Hunger Games
The main character in your novel is arguably the most important part of your story. If the plot is the brains, the main character is the heart. Of course, a page-turning plot is essential, but, even with a gripping story, your readers will only be interested in what happens next if they care about your hero or heroine at the heart of the story. That is what creating your main character is all about: MAKING THE READER CARE. Create a main character that the reader has no strong feelings about, and the page turning will stop. Write a protagonist that readers know and love, and they won't be able to put your book down, and that’s your goal.

In Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic mystery, Rebecca, “The Girl,” the unnamed narrator, is one of the most beloved main characters in fiction. Why? Her feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, helplessness, awkwardness, and timidity are feelings everyone has experienced at some time. But it is also her ultimate bravery, unconditional love, and loyalty to her husband that makes her memorable. We care about her, because we can relate to her.

Readers don't necessarily have to like all of your characters, but they have to care about what happens to your main character. Some questions you may want to ask yourself are:

  • Have I created a clear visual image of my main character? Just remember, you don’t want a police report; delicately weave physical details into the story where they legitimately belong. Too many details are as fatal as too few.
  • Did I give my main character senses to help the reader see the world from his point of view? Does my main character smell, hear, feel, taste, and see the environment around him?
  • Does my main character have universal, human qualities? Does she laugh or cry? Does my main character experience frustration, disappointment, joy, anger, shame, guilt, ambivalence? Will readers be able to relate to these reactions?
  • Conversely, is my main character an individual? Does he have quirks, idiosyncrasies; funny, little habits that we all possess?
  • Is my heroine admirable, spirited? Does she have strong convictions, ethics and beliefs? Will she take a stand in conflict?
  • Does my main character behave logically, i.e., does he have common sense, worthy goals readers can relate to?
  • Is my protagonist a stereotype? Avoid clich├ęs. Not all heroines have perfect hair, alabaster complexions, perky breasts, and happy dispositions. Not all heroes have perfect pecs, dazzling eyes, and Robert Pattinson’s hair!
  • Is my main character dynamic? Does she change in some way from who she was at the beginning of the novel? A main character should not be static, and watching her change is part of the fun!
  • Is my main character flawed? Remember, nobody’s perfect. A perfect main character is boring, not to mention unrealistic; in other words, a turn-off. Readers can quickly grow uninterested, not to mention resentful, toward a flawless main character.

In The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen is a complex main character. She is brave, loyal and likeable, but at the same time, displays a fierce competiveness, and can be cold, and calculating. Physically, Katniss is described as having straight black hair, olive skin and grey eyes, but Ms. Collins does this cleverly, by having Katniss, the narrator, describe her friend, Gale, with these characteristics, but adding that he could be her brother, thereby describing herself as well.

Writing a strong main character is challenging, but rewarding and fun! Keep him focused, dynamic, and realistic. If you care about your main character, others will too!

What is your main character like?

Cynthia Watson is in the query process for her first novel, WIND, a Young Adult Paranormal Romance, while writing the second book in the saga, SAND. Cynthia lives just north of Toronto, Canada, with her Cocker Spaniel, Symon, and five rescued cats.

Cynthia blogs at: http://cynthiawatson.blogspot.com/
Follow Cynthia on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CynWatson

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reading Out Loud: An Effective Editorial Tool

One of the best self-editing tips I can give is to read your manuscript out loud. It feels silly, I know, but the benefit outweighs the awkwardness.

The human mind compensates for errors. When reading, mistakes are missed because the brain anticipates patterns and corrects inconsistencies automatically. Reading out loud forces the reader to slow the rate, which helps identify errors.

Read the words inside the triangle below silently.

Did you spot the error? Your chance of spotting the duplicate "the" is higher if you read it out loud. This kind of mistake happens all the time in manuscripts, primarily because of cutting and pasting. It is the type of error for which the mind compensates.

Check this out:

Aoccdrnig to a rseearch sutdy at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny improamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
Could you read that? I had no trouble. Amazing what our mind can do, huh?

For me, the biggest benefit to reading my manuscript out loud is spotting unnatural or rough sentences. The rhythm and inflection in my head is different than that of the spoken word. Things that seem natural, particularly in dialogue, often are stilted when read aloud.

I also recommend having someone else read the manuscript to you. Because the characters in one of my novels are teens, I had teens read it to me. Talk about a wake-up call to bad dialogue! Mercy.

I like this editorial tool so much, I read almost everything I write out loud now--manuscripts, letters, emails, blog posts... It not only helps me spot errors, it annoys my family! Who could ask for more? *wink*


Friday, September 3, 2010

Publishing Pulse 9/3/10

Be sure to drop by today, Friday, September 3, when Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary Agency will be on the Motherwrite blog to answer reader questions. You won't want to miss this interactive installment of "Interview with an Agent"!

Check out this post on meeting deadlines on the Pimp My Novel blog.

Want to know how to make the best of criticism? The Adventures in Children's Publishing blog has some great tips.

Agent Kristin Nelson shares an interesting reason authors may want to use a pseudonym on PubRants.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson hosted WFMAD - a Write Fifteen Minutes A Day challenge with daily posts to guide writers each step of the way for a month.

Agent Mary Kole blogs about the dos and don'ts of dialogue on her blog, KidLit.com.

Agent Suzie Townsend blogs about Violence in Children's Literature.

Have a great weekend!

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Secrets to Author Promotion

Image courtesy of Makau
Being an introvert, there are few things worse than asking complete strangers to do me a favor. In fact, I hate even asking close friends or family members for favors, because I know how hectic and crazy life can be. Not to mention that days have deadlines. (I'd like to have a talk with whoever decided that 24 hours a day was enough to get everything done. Housework begs to differ.)

But, now more than ever, it's important for authors to get out there and promote their books. I shudder at this. Not because I don't believe in my book--believe me, I wouldn't be investing so many hours or so much of myself into it if I didn't--but because I'm asking people to go out and spend money on my book when they could use it for something else. Like pizza. Or that shiny book they've been eyeing for a while and saving up for.

So even though this is so far out of my comfort zone it's not even a minor planet (sorry, Pluto!) I've been looking around me and taking notes. I've watched how different authors have promoted their books and how the different approaches made me feel as a consumer.

And the one thing I learned that changed everything? Okay, there are a couple and they're all 100% my own opinion:

It's not about me.
Honest it's not. I don't have a book to promote, but I do have a blog, and the two aren't all that different. Instead of asking for money, I'm asking for your time--which is even more precious. People don't keep coming back to hear about me go on and on and on about myself or my stories. In fact, those are the very blogs I avoid, because that sort of thing is like nails to a chalkboard to me. Not saying a person should never talk about themselves, but there are ways to do it without turning people off. The best way I've seen this done is when people relax and just be themselves. No fancy glitter, perfume, or fireworks involved. And that's as it should be.

It's not all about what you can do for me.
It's not. If the first example is like nails on chalkboards, this is like rubbing salt into a fresh paper cut. Forget about being a consumer, looking at this from a purely human perspective, if the only time I hear from someone is when they want me to rush out and buy whatever it is they're selling, the Curmudgeon Within snorts in disbelief before hitting the delete button. (The only thing worse is when my name is on a long list of people that have been CC'ed the exact same email. That's salt AND lemon juice.) I've learned the importance of personalizing the email--even if it's just sending the same form email to people one person at a time rather than mass emailing--and only sending something like that to people I actually have a connection with. (This sounds a lot like querying. o.O) I love it when close friends let me know they have a book coming out, near strangers, not so much.
Which brings me to the second part of my point.

Good promotion really has more to do with what I can do for you, my audience.
Whether I'm asking for you to part with money or time, I need to have something of equal or greater value to give back to you. And hopefully it's greater. Equal value might have people coming back; greater value will up the chances significantly. So this means that I need to be listening and paying attention to what my potential audience wants from me. Will I be able to please everyone? No. But I can give my best. (And for fellow perfectionists, my 100% is going to vary day by day.) I think if someone is really doing their best, their sincerity will shine through. People like people to be authentic.

Sure, contests, prizes, and that kind of thing might make people aware of you, but I'm not sure they have the staying power on their own to keep people coming during the quiet times. Being your best, authentic self is what does that. Because good promotion isn't just looking at the short term, it's looking at getting people to come back over and over again. 

It's about participation. 
Getting my name out there so people can find it means getting myself out there. It means spending my time and money on people whether it's blogs or books. It means getting to know people and caring about them, helping them out when they need it. Not so I can get a shiny gold star sticker or more followers or comments, but because I really care and want to help. Because without those connections, having a book on the NYT Bestseller List would be a very cold comfort. How much better to celebrate among friends who are rooting for me and a big part of the reason I got there in the first place?

And if I had to condense everything I just said, it would be this:

Good, lasting promotion isn't about product at all. It's about seeing people as people, not as rungs of a ladder.

What's your take on good promotion?

Danyelle collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers in her spare time. She is currently getting ready to query SLIPPERS OF PEARL, a YA fantasy. She also enjoys making new friends, and can be found at http://myth-takes.blogspot.com.