QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, April 29, 2011

Publishing Pulse for April 29, 2011

New At QueryTracker:

Congratulations to QueryTracker's two newest success stories, Aislinn Macnamara and Michael Goins.

We've added two new agents to the database, Christa Heschke and Michele Mortimer, and eleven agent profiles were updated this week. As always, please double-check before you query to make sure the agent is still open to queries and has not changed his or her query guidelines.

Carolyn Kaufman is hosting a contest giving away a $20 Amazon gift card, a signed copy of The Writer's Guide To Psychology, or one of two other books. Take a photo of her book "in the wild" and you might win!

Publishing News:

A biologist and his grad students discover an out-of-print book about flies is insanely priced on Amazon.com, and with a little sleuthing, they determine why the price eventually reaches $23 million. If you click only one link from this Pulse, please make it this one, for the geek factor as well as the laughs.

Speaking of Amazon.com, the recently reported quarterly profits significantly lower than Wall Street's expectations, although their overall revenue had risen, at the same time that they expanded their employee base by 12%, adding 4200 employees.

Around The Blogosphere:

Jessica Faust gives a few, er, interesting lines from letters she's received.

Elizabeth Weed talks titles: books with their original titles and the titles they were published under.

Natalie Whipple discusses how to know when to rewrite your book.

Why writers need to avoid an interminable agency clause (and many examples of the wording to avoid.)

via Kym McNabney we have this gem:

Literary Quote Of The Week:

This book is not to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
- Dorothy Parker

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). 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 the resolute Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Strengthening Dialogue

In fiction, dialogue can make or break your story. It might be the difference between getting The Call verses a rejection. Some people find it easy to write; others struggle at it. Here are some tips to help you create authentic sounding dialogue:
1.      Listen to conversations
Listening to how people talk is one of the best lessons there is on creating authentic dialogue. What are they saying and how are they saying it? Pay attention to your friends and spouse. Do they use complete sentences and perfect grammar? Probably not.
Pay attention to context. A lawyer will speak differently when in court, defending his client, compared to when he’s talking to his wife in bed. At least I hope he is.
Another thing you’ll notice is that people tend to interrupt each other. Admit it. You do it too, right? And don’t forget, no conversation is perfect. If it were, wives wouldn’t complain that their husbands never listen, and ‘misunderstanding’ wouldn’t be a word in the dictionary.
2.      Watch TV shows and movies
This is a great exercise for studying dialogue and dialect. You can even download movie and TV show scripts from the internet for free and study them.
3.      Read
Study how your favorite authors approach dialogue. Like in TV shows and movies, you’ll notice that the dialogue gets straight to the point and moves the plot forward. You don’t want to waste the reader’s time with mindless chatter that does nothing to advance the story. In real life, when you meet someone, you tend to go through the formalities of small talk first. Don’t make this fatal mistake in fiction. If it’s not important to the story or characterization, cut it.
4.      Do a dialogue pass when editing
This by far is my favorite trick. Copy a scene from your manuscript, and strip it down to the dialogue. For example, here’s an excerpt from City of Bones by Cassandra Clare:
It was Alec who spoke first. “What’s this?” he demanded, looking from Clay to his companions, as if they might know what she was doing there.
“It’s a girl,” Jace said, recovering his composure. “Surely you’ve seen girls before, Alec. Your sister Isabelle is one.” He took a step closer to Clary, squinting as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. “A mundie girl,” he said half to himself. “And she can see us.”
“Of course I can see you,” Clary said. “I’m not blind, you know.”
Now strip it down:
 “What’s this?”
“It’s a girl,”
“Surely you’ve seen girls before, Alec. Your sister Isabelle is one.”
“A mundie girl,”
“And she can see us.”
“Of course I can see you,”
“I’m not blind, you know.”
The next step is to read the dialogue OUT LOUD. This is the only way to tell if it flows and sounds authentic. And if you can’t tell who said what, then you need attack this issue so that each character sounds unique. This topic is a post in itself.
Another thing I’ve discovered by doing this is that sometimes dialogue begs to be expanded on. But when you try to do this in the draft you’re working on, it doesn’t seem to work. Once you’ve removed physical beats, dialogue tags, etc, you’ll find it much easy to write the missing dialogue.
Once you’ve finished editing your dialogue, bold the ones you’ve changed, deleted, or added, and place it back in the scene (or delete unnecessary ones). You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to work in the new and improved dialogue this way. Try it out and see for yourself.

Does anyone else have tricks for writing authentic sounding dialogue?

Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative 

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Road to Publication: Beware the Public Diary

The secret diary: Most of us, especially women, had them as teens. We expressed our hopes, fears, problems and crushes in writing for various reasons. We railed against our arch enemy. In some ways it was therapeutic. Sometimes the therapy came from the knowledge that we had a special secret journal of our personal life that we could choose to share (if we wished) or hide from the *gasp* authority figures in our lives.

Some keep diaries even as adults.

Now, I've never been a diary keeper. In fact, it never made sense to me at all. I tried as a teen because my best friend was the diary queen. She would hide her diary carefully from her family or "accidentally" leave it open to a page to indirectly pass on information. She could control how, when, and to what degree the information was disseminated because she had physical control of the diary itself.

Enter the electronic age and the blog.

As writers, we know we need to have a web presence. We are told that by other writers, agents and editors. But there is a difference in a web presence and a beneficial web presence. "Make yourself Googlable," agents tell us. Okay. Done. I start a blog. It's free, it's easy, and heck, it's even fun sometimes.

Many writers use their blogs to journal their road to publication. Any of us who are walking on the sharp rocks of that road barefooted know it is a hell of a tough journey. Our bloody footprints prove it.

Here is the point of my post: Do not use your writer's blog as a private diary.

I pop onto aspiring writers' blogs all the time and large percentage of them are devoted to whining, complaining and lamenting the unfairness of the business.

Okay, Mary. It's my personal blog. I can write whatever I wish in any tone I wish.

Darn right. But writers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls.

Why do we blog? I think that is the first question to be asked. Specifically, What is the purpose of this particular blog? Who is the audience right now? Who will be reading it in the future?

My diary-loving friend would tell me how when she was famous, she was going to publish her diaries for lots of money. Again, she was physically controlling the information in that diary hidden in the bottom of her closet under her box of summer camp photographs.

In blogging, we lose control of the information the minute we hit "publish." There is a reason the button says that. "Publish" means to make known generally, and boy, do we. So many times on Twitter I've seen people say something like, "How to alienate the children's publishing industry," or "How to never get published," followed by a link to the post of a writer who has lost control on her/his blog and gone off on a career-impacting rant.

Yes, we can set the permissions on our blog to a very narrow audience, rendering it private, but if we, as writers, are using the blog to increase our web presence or establish platform, that is not practical.

Keep the nastiness private. I have a crit partners who have endured endless rants about the difficulty of this business along with my insecurities all laid out for examination. I would never put these tirades up on my writer's blog. But to remain stable, most of us need to vent occasionally.

My advice is to never write anything on your writer's blog you do not want read by your agent, publisher, spouse, child or fan. If your career takes off, your unpleasant post could be more wide-read than you ever intended. Think long-range.

Do not give tallies of the number of queries sent/rejected/accepted. This never works as planned. If I'm an agent and you have queried me, I might google your name if I like the letter or pages. What if I go to your site and see you have received zillions of rejections and very few requests? Naturally, it's up for interpretation, but it might backfire.

What if you have ranted about how unfair and crappy a certain agent was with her form rejection? I work for a different agency, but we share office space (this is common) and talk every day. I like her. So much for the full request I was going to send you.

There is nothing wrong with opening your diary about the hardships of publication as long as you keep in mind the person you least want to read it probably will. Don't rant and don't give out your rejection count. I know of several cases where agents have told writers they requested material based on their sites or online presence (I'm one). I also am aware of a couple of cases in which an agent said that she found the presentation of the writer's blog offensive and unprofessional and were not going to pursue representation for that reason.

Now, I don't mean you have to be serious and stuffy and only blog about writing. Your website can handle that part. Quite the contrary. A blog is where you let your personality show. I'm not much of a blogger by anyone's standards. I blog mostly about writing and my road to publication, but on the rare occasion when I post, I try to make it fun for myself. The posts where I am "me" are the ones that get the most hits. I've blogged about singing out loud in a Waffle House and getting caught at the country club in my pajamas. It lets my online friends get to know me as a woman and not just as a writer. It doesn't mean I don't get discouraged and have posts that reflect that, I just refrain from ranting, venting or giving out information that will come back to bite me someday (My ever-tolerant crit group receives the full force of all of that).

One last parting bit of advice from someone who needs advice herself: Refrain from mentioning anyone by name in a negative light. Most folks are aware of this, but I'm a total technotard and found this out a year into my writing career *blush*: There is a thing called "Google Alert." If a person has it on their name (as I do now for both myself and my book title), she will receive an alert every time her name is published online. I get dozens of alerts a day, most of them not about me, but some are. Agents/writers/editors use these. Your private diary can now broadcast with pinpoint accuracy to the people you are talking about.

Be yourself on your blog, but remain professional. Use care. Be aware of the image you want to project and keep in mind that every person with a computer holds the key to your private diary.

Have a fantastic week.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Publishing Pulse 4/22/2011

First off, some congratulations:

You can find L.C. Frost's success story here. And you can find fellow QT blogger Jane Lebak's short story "Burntime" over at Jet Fuel Review.

In the business side of writing:

Ever wondered what it takes to get published? Nina Badzin discusses what it takes for a writer to get published. Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses some how-not-to's when querying. Agent Jennifer Laughran talks about what to do when your agent isn't feeling the love for your next novel. Nathan Bransford discusses fate versus control when it comes to getting published. And agent Kristin Nelson tackles ebooks and perpetuity clauses.

On the craft side of writing:

Agent Jessica Faust talks about the dangers of when writers write for themselves instead of for the story. Agent Mary Kole outlines why and when you need to have a complete manuscript. She also points out some description issues writers deal with in writing. Along with that, agent Kristin Nelson discusses mechanical things in our writing that make our writing weaker. And Rachelle Gardner tells us six things we can learn from Hemmingway.

Have a great weekend!

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Standing Out In a Crowded Market: Guest Post by Joanna Penn

Do you stand out in a crowded market?
This is a guest post from Joanna Penn of TheCreativePenn.com: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Joanna's website, podcasts, and publishing and marketing tips are fantastic resources for writers!

Three years ago I self-published my first book. It sold about twenty copies in six months despite making it onto national TV, radio and newspapers. It was utterly depressing but I knew I wanted to write more books so I needed to learn about marketing. At the time, I didn't really understand what marketing actually meant, but I knew that if no one knows who you are, no one will buy your book, regardless of how you are published.

So I began the journey of learning all about internet marketing as well as new publishing technologies. I wanted to share my lessons with other authors in order to save them time, money and heartache so I started TheCreativePenn.com as a place to share the journey and also as the basis of my own author platform. Here’s some of my lessons learned along the way.

1) Go multi-media in order to stand out.

I started to write text based articles for my brand new blog but soon discovered that I learned more myself if I interviewed experts, plus it would help more people and make my blog stand out in an increasingly crowded market. So I started The Creative Penn podcast which goes out on iTunes and also on the blog. It’s currently at 90 episodes, all freely available for anyone to listen to and has over 2000 downloads per month. The episodes are all interviews with experts in areas relating to writing, publishing and book marketing and some now feature video as well. QueryTracker’s own Carolyn Kaufman was recently on the show.

An audio interview isn’t much effort for the interviewees plus they appreciate the promotion and you get valuable content. Most people will also link back to their featured interview and share it on social networks so you get incoming links which boost your traffic and search engine ranking. Plus, if an audience listen to your voice for thirty minutes per week, they will come to know, like and trust you which means they may buy your book when the time comes for you to launch. The technology is easy to use now - here’s how you can create your own podcast. In recent months, I’ve moved into doing video interviews which have proved popular and are also unusual for the author niche as most shy from technology. Seeing an author’s body language is brilliant as generally they are hidden behind words. So the multi-media aspect will make your blog memorable, help you and others learn and also be a great way to network in the publishing eco-system.

2) Write what you love.

Many of the podcast interviews are with authors from all different genres of writing, from romance to fantasy, horror to thriller to crime and more. Each of the authors can articulate why they write what they do. It’s not for market reasons, it’s because that’s what they love to read and the experience of writing is fun if you write what you love. Listening to them gave me the confidence to write what I love - action-adventure thrillers with religious themes. You don’t have to write a Booker prize-winning literary fiction novel. Write what you love and that will sell to an audience just like you.

3) It’s ok for your first draft to suck.

This advice from Mur Lafferty of I Should Be Writing is also the basis of NaNoWriMo when I started my own first novel. It frees you from feeling inadequate as you write. So what if your characters are wooden and the dialogue is basic? So what if you repeat the same phrase over and over again? It doesn’t matter in the first draft because you can fix it later with editing. You can’t edit a blank page. The word count does matter in that first draft because you just have to get black on white. I found that Write Or Die software was the best way to get initial word count down. It just doesn’t allow any distractions. Once you have the basic material, you can then begin to work it through multiple drafts into your masterpiece.

4) Building a platform is critical and can get you a book deal.

NY Times bestselling author Scott Sigler outlined his career in one interview and emphasized the importance of building an audience in order to attract an agent and publishing deal which he did by podcasting his novels. He also noted that there is no balance in living a successful author’s life - you have to write, you have to market. His hard work motivated me immensely to continue the journey. Another group of authors stormed the Amazon charts last December with “Machine of Death” and I interviewed David Malki! on how they did it. Basically, they used the audience they had been building for years with online comics and blogs to propel them to the top of the charts. The success drew offers from publishing houses which they rejected in favor of self-publishing - their platform means they can do it themselves.

5) Publishing success can be under your control.

I interview a lot of independent (indie) authors who have self-published to sales success and who love the process and the control they have in doing it themselves. You see these authors in the Kindle charts every day now. Check out Zoe Winters, paranormal romance writer, Scott Nicholson, thriller writer or LJ Sellers, mystery-suspense author. You will have heard of Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath but there are plenty of other indie authors making money with self-publishing now. If you still dream of a traditional book deal, you can even attract one by selling incredibly well on the Kindle store. Publishing is a business, they want to sell books so if you have proven sales success, they will be far more interested in you than someone with no platform and no sales. Publishing is changing world but it’s much easier for authors to take control of their own writing careers now.

6) Build your platform from your passion.

TheCreativePenn.com is my third blog. I started the others out of a need to promote specific books, but soon gave them up because I wasn’t interested in the topics. To have a blog with decent traffic and subscribers, you need to blog consistently and well for at least six months and then with an ongoing investment of time and energy. There are no shortcuts to creating an authentic author platform and yes, it takes up valuable time, but if you enjoy it, it’s not a chore. As writers, we have an advantage in that we love to write. Blogging is a different kind of writing, but it’s still expression. The best way to build a great blog that you love is to blog your passion. I wanted to share what I learned so TheCreativePenn.com is aimed at author education and networking. But I also have MysteryThriller.tv which has video book reviews on genres I love, and yes, I also happen to write in the thriller genre too. What do you write? What do you love? Find a blog that intersects with those topics and you’ll find your blog becomes an important and rewarding part of your life.

So has all this actually made a difference?

In the first week of my action-adventure thriller novel Pentecost being released, it made the Amazon bestseller rank in four categories, including Crime, Thriller & Mystery and Religious Fiction as well as making it to #1 on Movers & Shakers. It has sold over 1000 copies in the first month and remains in the bestseller rank six weeks after launch. For all the details of my launch process, check out this article as there are some methods you can use too. This is a long way from the sad tale of my first book launch, and I’m still learning but clearly the exercise of platform building and marketing has made a huge difference to me.

Readers -- What have you learned about writing, publishing and book marketing that has made a difference to you?

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, an action-adventure thriller and 3 non-fiction books. Joanna’s blog TheCreativePenn.com is one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn

Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons Sweet Colors by Rogilde

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Necessary Fluency

A woman tells her husband she's starting a diet, and the next day he brings home two gallons of ice cream and a box of Oreo cookies.

A man calls his daughter and they talk for an hour about how bad his son (her brother) is behaving, things going on at the son's job, and what they think about how the son is raising his kids.

A woman dreads visits from her mother because her mother will look all over the house to find fault with her housekeeping, then spend the rest of the visit giving helpful "advice" about how she's spoiling her new baby. The woman has argued with her mother about that negativity, but the mother then sobs that she's only trying to help and will sulk for a week.

If you're a writer, you're going to encounter all these situations. More to the point, you're going to have to create them from whole cloth.

Therefore, and this may sound obvious, if we don't understand the basics of relationship dynamics, we cannot write realistic fiction. In fiction, character is where the rubber meets the road. And character expresses itself in relationships.

The first instance is something called a push-back reaction. Everyone does it. Why? Because we're comfortable with our loved ones just as they are. And therefore when a loved one makes a change, even a good change such as going back to college or beginning a diet and exercise program, we unconsciously make it harder for them to continue that path because we don't want the relationship to change.

The second instance is called triangulating, where two people have a relationship at the expense of a third. It keeps everyone's feelings carefully tamed but prevents any actual growth, and of course it prevents a genuine relationship between the two conspirators and the person on the third point of the triangle.

The third instance doesn't necessarily have a name, but those two clearly need to have a discussion. The problem is, whenever they fight, they fight in a way that reinforces the negative dynamic rather than addressing the actual problem (that the woman is ready for adult autonomy and her mother doesn't want to let go.)

A writer needs to become fluent in relationships. This isn't optional. The same way a writer needs to learn to manage dialogue, setting, punctuation and complex sentence structure, a writer also needs to become fluent in boundaries, push-back reactions, triangulating, and how to have an effective argument (although a lot of your story will probably have arguments of the ineffective, status-quo-reinforcing kind.)

Read self-help books. Read books about motherless daughters (Hope Edelman), about raising adopted children, about setting boundaries in relationships (Townsend and Cloud). Browse your used book store and pick up What Color Is Your Parachute even if you're not going to look for a job for ten years. Read books about basic psychology (our own Carolyn Kaufman has one of those!) and dealing with sociopaths (Martha Stout).  Read, read, read.

If you're unsure, then start with The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner, which is where the above examples come from. Even if you don't write these specific dynamics, knowing how the human heart operates can only improve your fiction.

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). 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 the inimitable Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 4/15/2011

Agent Advice
Jessica Fausst talked about social networking and your picture. I’m interested to hear your views on what she said.
Rachelle Gardner shared the five reasons to pursue traditional publishing.
In his post, Failing Your Way to Success, Michael Larsen listed six reasons for writers to make mistakes.

Best Agent Blogs to Follow
Writer’s Digest announced the best agent blogs of 2011.

Online Resources
You don’t have to write romance to appreciate the articles on the Romance University website. If you’re writing fiction, then you’ll want to check it out.
Another resource to check out is the Pitch University. There are all kinds of lessons for writing your pitch. Perfecting timing for conference season.

Conference News
For writers and illustrators of kidlit, registration for the national SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference in Los Angeles (August 5th – 8th) begins today at noon EST.  Because of the high demand for some of the workshops (which you have to register separately for at an additional fee), you’ll want to register ASAP. Spots fill up quickly (often within the first day of registration).
There have been some huge changes to the format this year. The main conference (keynote speakers, breakout sessions, manuscript and illustration critiques) takes place August 5th-7th , and the intensive writer and illustrator workshops will take place on August 8th.

If you have any other conference news (since I can’t keep track of all the different writer organizations), but let everyone know in the comments. Your fellow writers will greatly appreciate it.

Attending Writer Conferences: What You Should Know
Agent Kristin Nelson has a suggestion on what not to bring to a pitch session.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Elusive Advanced Reader Copy (ARC)

ARC, Galley, ARE (Advanced Reader Edition). If you are an aspiring author, you've seen these terms all over the internet. They are the paperback copies of the book distributed for promotion prior to its final print run.

I'm going to go against my usual approach for my QT blog posts, and make this one a bit personal since every experience is different and I can only address my own.

As a debut writer, I dreamed of the day I'd get to hold my bound book for the first time. That day came, and it was amazing.

What had never crossed my mind is how little control authors have over some aspects of the industry. I'm not complaining, I'm just trying to demystify the system for aspiring writers. I don't have a book review blog and had never requested an ARC, so this has all been very educational. Sure, I'd asked my published friends about it, but every experience is different.

Here's what I've learned:
  1. ARCs are marketing tools, not freebies. Ideally, every one of them will generate multiple sales (in some cases hundreds of sales).
  2. Most authors receive very few ARCs (some authors get only one or two) as they are primarily intended for bookbuyers, reviewers, and librarians.
  3. ARCs are expensive. They usually cost much more to produce than the hardcopy book itself, due to the smaller print runs, which is why publishers don't distribute them willy-nilly.
How to get one:
  1. Check the author's website for ARC information. Often, as in my case, the ARC contact information is on the author website and blog.
  2. Check the publisher's website for request information.
  3. Write an email requesting the ARC specifying your intended use of it. Include the link to your blog or site on which you intend to buzz or promote the book.* You don't have to be a huge reviewer to score one.
Alternate ways to get an ARC:
  1. Win one in a giveaway. Sometimes giveaways create enough buzz to make the surrender of the ARC worthwhile for the author or publisher.
  2. Get an e-galley. NetGalley is one of the sources for these. The reviewer will receive an electronic galley of the book that "disappears" on the release date.
  3. Go to a publishing industry conference. Lots of times, publishers will give away promotional materials including ARCs. ALA, BEA, and RWA are examples of conferences where ARCs can be obtained. Again, they are not just freebies; the hope is that the recipients will generate buzz about the book.*
Some dont's:
  1. Don't take it personally if you are not given an ARC. I'm sure I speak for most authors when I say that I wish I could give an ARC to every single person who has interest in it, but it just isn't a reality.
  2. Impatience is not a qualifier. "I simply cannot wait that long" is usually not enough if nothing is offered that warrants the expense on the part of the publisher.*
  3. "I can't afford to buy your book." This one, though I understand and sympathize, doesn't usually work. After release, most books will be in libraries and used book stores. Libraries are free.

*Please note: Nobody likes every book. Accepting an ARC does NOT obligate you to give it 5 stars or say it's the greatest book ever. It is given in consideration for an honest review--if review was the purpose. (I would suggest however, that you not request an ARC in a genre you do not like. If you do not like teen romance, for example, it is not a great policy to request an ARC for review knowing you will probably hate it. Remember it is a marketing tool aimed at the target audience. I've read several ARC reviews in which the reader slams the book and gives it an awful rating only to close with something along the lines of: "This is not the kind of book I usually read, but teens will probably love it.") Pick ARCs you will probably like and then be honest in your review.

Final thoughts: If authors say no to requests, it's not because they don't want you to have an ARC, it's because they are expensive and hard to come by, and in today's market, the buzz from that ARC might be the only publicity that author gets.

I came across excellent article by literary agent Holly Root on this topic. She has some strong feelings about ARCs in today's market. Please click HERE to read.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ready . . . Aim . . .

Courtesy of LarryLens
Trying to get your foot in the door of commercial publishing can be a daunting task. There's so much to do and to learn, and writing a publishable level manuscript is only the first step. (The newbie writer that I once was had only a nebulous idea of what happened next, but believed that once you wrote The End, the hard work was over. Ha!)

Anyone who's ever spent any time in the querying trenches can tell you that it's rife with big hopes and a lot of rejections. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Getting rejections isn't simply an agent or editor saying no, it's also a sign that you're getting up and doing more than daydreaming about getting a book published. And that's an important step.

But still, rejections can hurt. A lot. And they will come.

So how do you deal with that? And what can you do to minimize your rejections?

The first step is to try to keep things in perspective. The rejections aren't personal, no matter how much they feel like it sometimes. As I discussed in my other post, an agent or editor only has so much time, so they have to choose the things they love out from among the things they really like. (There are also times when a manuscript just isn't ready, but for the purposes of the post, I'm going to assume that it is.)

The second step is to arm yourself. Knowledge really is power. When I'd finished my first, serious book that I'd revised the heck out of, I had no notion of how publishing worked. At all. I'd never heard of agents, never heard of this thing called a query, and had no idea how to go about figuring out how to get my story from my hard drive to the bookshelf. Fortunately, I had Google.

Through Google, I found Miss Snark. Her archives are filled with very blunt advice and information on how publishing in general works. They gave me a solid foundation as I learned about the business side of writing. (Yeah, who knew? Prior to this point, I'd always thought writing and writing careers consisted only of, well, writing.)

Which brings us to the query. It can be scary knowing that the fate of your book could very well rest on your ability to squish all the pertinent info about your novel into a space no longer than a page. And not only do you have to condense, but you have to condense in a snappy, hooky way that makes the agent *have* to read more. So part of arming yourself is learning how to write an excellent query letter. Many people have written great posts on how to do this, and Elana Johnson has an incredible (and free) ebook that walks you through step by step. But don't fear the query. Really. As weird as this sounds, you don't have to get it perfect, you just have to get it right. (Getting it right only entails making it enticing enough for an agent to want to read on.)

So you've got your query written and polished and shining. Now it's time to fill in the salutation with a real agent's name. But how do you choose? QueryTracker.net has a database full or reputable agents (you can check reputability for agents and publishers at Preditors and Editors.) and the genres they represent. Querying agents that represent your genre is only the first part of targeting appropriate agents and thus decreasing your rate of rejections. Ten agents may represent fantasy, but they will all probably have different tastes as to what type of fantasy they like best. This is where researching really comes in handy. Find out who they rep and read as many of those books as you can to get a fair sampling of their tastes. Read their blogs, their tweets, their interviews, and anything else you can find about them. Casey McCormick has an awesome blog that has interviews and quotes from agents that can help you narrow your search.

Following agent blogs and tweets can also help you get more of an idea of what the agent it like as a person. This can also help you as you determine what agents you think would be the best fit for you.

The third step, which should really be the zero step, is to be professional at all times. On your blog. Through your tweets. In your comments. When you find an agent that connects well with your manuscript, they're going to google you. They want to get an idea of the person behind the name too. Make sure what they find is you putting your best foot forward. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. Learn what's okay and not okay to do in the publishing world. (CCing 50 agents, for example. Don't do this.) As part of being professional, you're also going to want to make sure you keep on top of what you've sent where and when. QueryTracker makes this really, really easy.

For the last step, start working on your next book. Not every book is picked up at first, or at all sometimes. And time and practice will only help you improve your aim.

What about you? Any tips you want to share on helping improve your aim and reduce rejections?

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.  

Friday, April 8, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 4/8/2011

New Success Story

We are always proud of our success stories, and today we want to congratulate Lara Nance!

Around the Internet

Having trouble getting yourself to write? Try Novel Journey's Spring Cleaning for Writers!

Rachelle Gardner talks about reasons why Agents Give Up on a Project and, conversely, the work that goes along with being published in Be Careful What You Wish For.

Think you can multi-task while you work on a manuscript? Take a look at the psychological research on multi-tasking before you answer that!

If you write for kids and other people just don't get it, find out How to Write for Children Without Injuring Your Brain.

Is your Muse missing? Dr. Jerry Burger explains why she might be lurking in childhood memories in Looking for Your Muse?

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Once Upon a Backstory

                                         ©Stina Lindenblatt

When figuring out your story, you have to take into consideration who your characters are beyond their physical characteristics. I’ve already discussed using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to figure out your character’s deeper needs and motivations. Now I want to focus on another important element: the backstory.

There are a number of different methods writers use to develop their characters. Some wing it while panstering their first draft (i.e. they haven’t completed an outline or characterizations first). Others fill in questionnaires and interviews to get to know their characters before starting the first draft. Some writers figure out the characterizations after writing the outline; others do it before hand.

There is no right or wrong method. Use whatever works for you. But regardless of when and how you create your characters, there is one element I want you to really spend time thinking about: your characters’ backstories.

And I’m not referring to only your main character. Know the backstories for all the key players. This doesn’t mean you’re going to dump huge chunks of backstory in your story, either. But what you are going to do is figure out what past events made them who they are today or shaped their behavior. Only then will your characters have depth, and their actions will be realistic to who they are.

For example, say you have a twenty-year-old main character who was raped eight months ago by someone she knew. There are a number of possible scenarios that could have happened afterwards:

A. She reported it to the police, the guy was arrested, and she was eventually able to heal with the help of a support group and supportive friends and family.

B. She never reported it to the police, but she did reach out to a helpline for survivors of rape. She might have told her family and friends, or she might have kept quiet about it with the people she’s close to.

C. She never reported it to the police and never reached out to a helpline or support group. She doesn’t have the opportunity to heal and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. When guys touch her or try to get close, she either withdraws or freaks out.

D. Similar situation to C, but her attitude towards guys is different. She figures sex is all she’s good for (why else was she raped), and consciously searches for sexual encounters to prove herself right. Most people wouldn’t even guess she was a survivor of rape because she goes against the typical stereotype.

All four of these scenarios happen in real life. This shows how vital research is to characterization. However, it’s not enough just to know how you character responded to the rape. What was her life like before it happened? Were there events in her past that would have determined how she would have reacted to the rape? The more you know about your character’s past, the better. Maybe you won’t know it right away. Maybe it will develop further as you write your first draft. Maybe more of her backstory will come to you during the fourth draft. That’s okay, too. The point is to let it happen. Only then will your characters become more dimensional.
Now enter the hero of the story. Each of these girls is going to respond to him differently. And what about his backstory?

  • Is he kind of guy who believes a girl is really saying “yes” when the words out of her mouth are “no”? If he is, then he had better not be the hero of a romance novel unless he’s going to do a major about face on that attitude.
  • Does he work in a field in which he is exposed to rape survivors (cop, psychologist, physician)?
  • Has rape touch a member of his family? How did he deal with it?
Each of these scenarios will affect how the guy will respond to the female and this, in turn, will shape how the story unfolds (which is why I prefer to do characterizations before I outline).

In a future post, I’ll discuss how much and when to include backstory in your novel. Until then, spend the time getting to know your characters and their personal histories. It will be time well spent.

Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing humor

After last Friday's April Fools pulse, I was asked to blog about writing humor. But keep in mind: there's nothing more serious than writing about the techniques of humor. So…no laughing today. Sorry.

Satire is right up my alley. If you list every one of my publications, the majority of them are either satire or humor, and even my serious pieces have funny moments. I believe exercising our sense of humor makes us more human and less apt to get upset over small matters. I would never have survived the querying process without a sense of humor.

Humor in the middle of a serious novel can break up the tension and give your reader a much-needed break. Laughter helps us connect with the characters so we feel as if we're on their side. That doesn't mean villains can't use humor too. In fact, I think they should. But in general, humor makes characters and books more appealing. So we have to learn to use it well.

Humor in general arises from a surprise. When we're looking for laughs, the key is to take something familiar and frame it in an unfamiliar way, turning it on its head in the process. In order to do that, you need to know your material inside-out. For satire in particular, you need a thorough familiarity with every aspect of what you're satirizing, and then take every aspect of it and wrench it around sideways. 

Robert Darden, editor of The Wittenburg Door, rejected one of my pieces with advice that has paid off in spades ever since: keep it focused. Short humor pieces need one point, and you can build from there. (I rewrote the piece and he accepted it.) Sometimes we're trying to do too much. Neil Gaiman said that when writing Good Omens with co-author Terry Pratchett, the most shocking thing was how much hilarious material they threw away. It just didn't fit the focus. 

So let's go back to last Friday's Pulse, since it seems to have most of the elements of good satire and good parody (although that doesn't mean it was good -- only that it shares the same elements, like being written in full sentences):

The absurd: everyone announces movie deals, but would anyone really film a movie about a man designing a database? If you've been here for a while, you recognize that the "five hot women" who join his quest (database =/= quest) would be the five blogging authors in the sidebar. Then we take it over the top with a famous actor and musicians, and polish it off by saying one of the writers will have a cameo in the movie. It all sounds totally normal if you've ever read about a movie deal, but it's absurd.

Inversions: we're used to romance writers crafting stories about vampires; a vampire writing a story about romance is the reverse.

Hidden bonuses: Our artwork didn't win an award, but you wouldn't see that line unless you read the caption. Did you notice my author photo was flipped? Did you translate the Latin name of the shark?

Insider knowledge and subtlety: twisted agent names, subjects agents do blog on but wildly inverted, a new feature announced in exactly the wording Patrick normally announces them. Listen to master parodist Weird Al Yankovik: the littlest quirks of the songs he parodies will turn up in his versions, right down to holding the last note too long on "Spam." 

Irony: The "prize" for the one billionth query letter is that you get a response to your query. it's exactly the same as the "prize" for sending the 384,797th query.

Bad puns: well, those speak for themselves. I'm sure you found at least three.

A disappearing author: for satire and parody, you as the writer need to immerse yourself in the thing you're sending up so none of your own voice comes through. Become what you're satirizing. Again look to Weird Al as the master chameleon, and notice the range of voices he's able to imitate.

A point: satire should have a point, albeit subtle; parody doesn't need one. 

And finally, take it over the top.  If you have a singing query letter, follow your idea through all the way to the end. How did this start? How would it be implemented? How would the agents react? And then, how would you take a question authors frequently ask about their query letters (such as pitching a multiple-POV novel) and apply it to song?

There you have it. All the elements you need, although I have to add that a warped childhood and a decade of reading every issue of MAD Magazine  are extraordinarily helpful as well.

Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). 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 the unrivaled Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Publishing Pulse for April 1, 2011

Oh, and our artwork won an award!
Happy First of April! This has been a tremendous week, hasn't it? I have no idea how we're even going to fit all these ideas into one Pulse, but let's get started!

New At QueryTracker

After months of giddy silence, we are thrilled to announce  QueryTracker: The Movie!  It's the story of a man (played by Robert Pattinson) who chooses to use his literary prowess for the greater good, programming a database of literary agents, and the five hot women who are drawn to his quest. Soundtrack will be by John Williams, and the closing theme song to be sung by Nickelback. Mary Lindsey will even get to do a cameo in the movie! We hope you're as excited about it as we are.

We're also delighted to announce that we're coming up to our one billionth query letter submitted by the members of QueryTracker! And to celebrate the occasion, the writer who submits the one-billionth query letter will have a chance at a partial request, a full, or even an offer of representation, just for submitting that query letter! So go ahead and submit: you never know!

New Feature For QueryTracker Members

From now on, each agent's listing will include the agent's favorite recipes so queriers can promise to make them a home-cooked meal if offered representation. Look for it under "Reports."

New QueryTracker Success Stories

An actual vampire signed with an agent through QueryTracker, later that week landing a six-figure deal on, ironically, an adult contemporary novel about two gardeners who find love while mulching a blackberry bush.

Another QueryTracker member scored an agent and a deal for The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing A Complete Idiot's Guide.

Publishing News

New Species Of Shark To Be Named After Literary Agent! Discovered off the coast of Libretto, Italy, Carcharodon scriptorum comedentis (to be called the E'er Reid Shark) has been named for the QueryShark herself. In a private ceremony in Washington, DC, the scientist who discovered it took a publicity photo with Janet Reid, then tried to pitch his memoir.

Some agents have changed to only accepting singing query letters.  Queriers can email or mail a recording of themselves singing about the next bestseller, or show up in person to serenade the agent. This seismic shift occurred after literary agent Amanda Lynne (of the Claire Annette Agency) wrote on her agency guidelines to "make sure to sing your query letter," and spell-check didn't catch the issue until after she hit publish. But as she said, "After the first week or two, I realized a lot of authors are uninhibited in song, and you can get a much better sense of the story that way, especially when they use their hook as the chorus." (Pubtip: if your novel has multiple POVs, you have to write the query in multiple parts, and those parts have to harmonize.)

Around The Blogosphere

Industry expert Joanna Wilkinson-Kenderly reports that nine out of ten literary agents have experienced at least one unicorn sighting.

Former agent Nathaniel Brindsfield blogs how he was desperate to score a deal for his client, and after being told by an editor that they'd publish his author's title "when pigs fly," he invented a cannon to shoot pigs ninety-five feet in the air. (He got the deal.) 

At the blog of Anonymous Editorial Coffee-Fetcher, he or she describes several ways they sort the slush pile: throwing darts, folding query letters into paper airplanes for races (fastest airplane wins a partial request!) and reading only the words that appear in the rings left by their coffee mugs.

Agent Rochelle Garden give step-by-step instructions for turning a stack of partials into a rich garden mulch.

Literary Quote Of The Week

"Revision is for those lamest of men who fail to get it right the first time. I never rewrite a thing." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Jane Lebak is an unbelievable wiseacre who writes stuff from time to time and occasionally makes people laugh on purpose. She's been blogging with QueryTracker since last fall, which is about the same time a wave of unexplained headaches swept the nation. She is represented by the very forgiving Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency, who didn't mind that Jane's sung query was off-key.