QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, January 31, 2011

Once Upon a *YAWN*

Courtesy of Just4You

A reader asked: "What makes a boring story?"


Books, like any art form, are extremely subjective. What bores one person, could be riveting to the next. And as authors, writing a boring book is one of the biggest--if not THE biggest--thing we want to avoid. Because if a reader perceives a book as boring, they might not only put the book down there, but might also avoid any of your books in the future.


So, how not to write a boring story?


There are three basic things I think that can go a long way toward minimizing the dreaded boring story: voice, giving your audience a sense of wonder, and being an evil author.


VOICE
Defining voice is a lot like trying to describe the way salt tastes--without using the word salty--or telling someone what the color blue looks like, especially if they've never seen it before. But for me, voice is the soul of the story. It's the author's fingerprint, the words they choose, and the way they structure them. The ambiance and atmosphere of the story. It has been said that you can have an out of this world premise, but if you execute it badly, the premise will no longer matter, because the book will fall flat. On the other hand, you can have an ordinary premise, but if you execute it well, then you have the chance to go far. And I truly believe this. I've fallen in love with stories that lack Big! Exciting! Things! in them, but have an incredible voice that resonates with me and becomes a part of me long after the happily ever after. So, find your voice and continue to refine and strengthen it until it shines.


BRING YOUR AUDIENCE A SENSE OF WONDER
This is another salt and blue question in a lot of ways. What gives someone a sense of wonder? I believe that this sense of wonder can come from different places. It could be the setting, the voice, the premise. It can also be taking a reader's expectations and turning them inside out and upside down. Humor is often used this way. A scenario is presented, the reader expects something, and the writer gives them something else. (An example of this type of humor would be the movie The Emperor's New Groove.) Setting can be incredibly important to a story, and should definitely have a role, if not a personality of its own. This is why a lot of novels have exotic settings--especially if you go into the fantasy and science fiction genres. These are the genres of wonder. Paraphrasing a quote I've searched for and cannot find, fairy tales have golden apples to remind us of the way it felt when we experienced a regular apple for the first time. Bringing a sense of wonder into your novel can be an excellent hook that makes the reader want to keep reading.


BE AN EVIL AUTHOR
This is perhaps the thing I love most about being an author--giving myself the chance to torture and torment my characters. One of the fastest ways to a boring book, in my opinion, is to go easy on your characters. Let them succeed over and over and over again. Let them get what they want without really paying much by way of a price. If the stakes are low or non-existent, I usually end up putting the book down. Because, after all, what's the point? I think, in a lot of ways, readers connect to the characters more and more as the story evolves, going from one try/fail cycle to the next and as the tension mounts up towards the climax of the story. Characterization is important, but even the most compelling characters would fall short of their potential if the story didn't stretch and pull them, testing their limits and making them grow. And you do that by making things hard for them. The thought sitting--well, actually crouching--at the back of my mind while I write is: what's the worst thing that could happen. And then I make it so. Now, this doesn't mean that every second of the story is heart pounding, breath stopping, bad things happening. Oh, no. >:) It's also a good idea to use those scenes where things are going all right for the moment and the characters are happy to build up for the fall that's coming later on. Think of it like building a tower of blocks. Knocking over a tower that's only 2-5 blocks tall is more of a fizzle than anything else. But knocking over one thats 50-100 blocks tall? Much more exciting to your visual and aural senses.


So there you have it. Three basic things that can help you avoid writing a boring story. Any other tips and suggestions?


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, January 28, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 1/28/1011

Success Stories

We are so proud of our QT successes! Check out the latest success stories! (And if you've never checked out a success story, you might want to -- the writers often share secrets about the query letters that landed their agents.)

Around the Internet

Over on Rachelle Gardner's blog, Keli Gwyn talks about questions you may want to ask yourself if/when an agent suggests revisions.

Have trouble staying focused on one story over the long haul?  Always thinking of something new and exciting to write about?  Maybe you're a Renaissance Soul!  Read Michelle Ward's tips on how to use your personality type to your advantage over on There Are No Rules. 

Ever wonder what an agent means when she says she's looking for a strong "voice" in a story?  Jessica Faust succinctly explains what that means over at BookEnds, LLC.

Rachelle Gardner gives tips on platform, regardless of whether you're writing nonfiction, fiction, or a memoir, in A Platform is More Than a Bunch of Twitter Followers.

Quote for the Week

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. —Jack London

Everybody have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Querying The Cliché

Recently I heard a writer complaining that the "rules" for querying were impossible to follow. She pointed out that there are only eight (or twelve, or four) standard plots, and therefore it's ridiculous for agents to issue decrees such as "Don't tell us it's a story of forbidden love: that's cliché." Or "Don't say 'choosing between life and love.' That's overdone."

In effect her question was this: What if your story really is about forbidden love, or about choosing between life and love, or could be quickly described by some other cliché? Are they saying you can't query it?

Of course you can query it. If there are only four (or eight or twelve) standard plots in the world, you can assume there's going to be some repetition.

Therefore it's up to you to do your future literary agent a favor. Assume your future agent goes to  her inbox every day to find a hundred new queries. She's read all the clichés. She wants to find something she'll enjoy, but in order to enjoy your story, she needs something to remember. Something specific.

Remember that a cliché is a shortcut. And when you use one to describe your own work, you're giving only a surface rendering of a story with depth. Work harder. Give it that depth.

It's cliché to say, "Theirs is a forbidden love." Instead you say, "Mom has taken out a restraining order against Tanner, so Emily learns to scale the chimney in order to sneak out at night."

You don't write in your query, "Choosing between life and love," but you do say, "Unless Steve hands over the Omega Stone, the Bertrandians will drop Esmeralda into the vat of boiling oil."

You have to "show-don't-tell" in your query the same way you do in your manuscript.

A coming of age story? No. A teenager whose mother just died, struggling to guide his young brother through their father's emotional absence? Better. A high school dropout choosing between a joyride with his garage band buddies or protecting his ten-year-old brother from their drunken father's rampages? Memorable because we can feel for the characters.

The specifics are the difference between a cliché and a compelling story.  If your future agent really is receiving a hundred queries a week about forbidden love, make it so she remembers yours.

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

Interview with a Winning Winner!



Writers love writing contests. That’s obvious by the number who flock to the Query Tracker blog contests. But have you ever wondered what happens to the winners after the agent picks their entry for a prize? Most of the time, the agent ends up passing on the project. Not so for one of the winners in the April 2010 contest with Jason Yarn. Out of the five winners, Amy Sue Nathan went onto become one of his clients.
We decided it would only be fitting to interview Amy and share her great news. Here’s the winner entry with Jason’s comments, followed by the interview with her. Enjoy!

THE GLASS HOUSE by Amy Sue Nathan: Ms. Nathan’s pitch was solid, but didn’t totally grab me. What did grab me, and what I thought should have been her pitch, was the first line in her excerpt. It’s a great contrasting image. That line made me very curious about the rest of the book and the subsequent paragraph was a nice layout to what’s to come for Evie Glass.
Amy Sue's pitch:
Amidst a torrent of grief, betrayal and bake sales, Evie Glass convinces herself, and a town full of nosy neighbors, to redefine the meaning of family.

Amy Sue's excerpt:
Evie never expected to get divorced, let alone sit Shiva for her ex-husband in a house with a Christmas tree. Yet there she was.

The imitation pine tree was dressed in tinsel and shiny red balls. Hallmark ornaments masquerading as heirlooms dangled from its branches. Stockings hung from the mantel above a card table topped with a green velveteen runner, holly-stamped paper plates and a Lucite platter heaped with lox, cream cheese balls and a mountain of seeded bagels. Richard had mocked Christmas folderol until he married Nicole a year before. Now he was being mourned in the company of a motorized Santa. Evie shook her head, unsure which was more shocking – the attempt for cultural balance or Richard’s sudden death.

How far into the querying process were you when you heard about the contest on the QTblog?
I started querying right after New Year’s Day 2010, and the contest was at the end of March. 

Had you entered any other contest for your book?
I entered another online contest for the first chapter and won – the recognition was great but it wasn’t an agent contest. 

You were awarded with a query and first ten page critique. How was the experience?
It was exciting and very encouraging because Jason was so enthusiastic. It was a slow process, because agents are so busy, so I kept querying other agents, following up with Jason, and moving forward.

Jason ended up offering representation. How did that come about?
Jason asked if he could read the full and after that happened, we talked on the phone.  Jason suggested some places and ways to tweak the novel.  I agreed with his ideas and to make those changes and resubmit the full to him.  He emailed me his extensive notes, I revised the novel and emailed it back. All that happened over the summer.

How long did the whole process take from the time you found out you were one of the winners until the moment the offer for representation came?
A long time but was it was worth the wait!  The contest was at the end of March 2010 and I signed with Jason in October 2010.  I think the most important thing for querying authors to have (besides a great book) is patience.  I started querying in January and signed in October. The whole process took more time than having a baby!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
Good feedback may really change something about your book, but if it’s still within your vision for the story, and makes the book better, it’s smart to go with it.  Don’t be so possessive of the story and your writer’s ego that you’re unwilling to see where it isn’t perfect.

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn’t you?
I never considered giving up.  I used QueryTracker to send over 125 queries in ten months.  I received my share of no replies and form rejections, but I also received gems – very helpful notes that helped me revise, and a few nice notes to send revisions or the next project, and up to the end, I was communicating with a few agents who were interested.  Had I not signed with any agent, I’d have started writing the query for my second novel. 

What happened next?
My novel went out on submission!

Anything you’d like to say to aspiring authors everywhere?
Don’t let the publishing gremlins get you down. 
Amy Sue Nathan is a published freelance writer and editor, and the editor of STET! The Backspace Blog and the Backspace monthly newsletter.  You can read Amy's writing and find more information on editing and critique services on her blog.  You can also follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan. 

For those of you itching to enter a contest, please stay tuned. We have more planned for this year. Hopefully this will be one of many success stories in 2011.

 
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. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 1/21/11


The QueryTracker Newsletter


Did you know that QueryTracker has a monthly email newsletter? 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.


Recent QueryTracker Success Stories

Congratulations to our members who signed with agents this week. All the QT success stories can be checked out here.



QTer Michelle Mclean's first book, Essays & Term Papers, was released yesterday! Congratulations Michelle! 


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 Janet Reid explains the difference between "pitch" and "query" on her blog. 

Guest blogger Mary Demuth lists 10 ways to be awkward at a writer's conference on literary agent Rachelle Gardner's blog. 


Nathan Bransford once blogged about how sometimes writers' fantasies of success can be detrimental and here is an article from Psyblog backing that up called Success! Why Expectations Beat Fantasies. 

Author Sarah Sundin gives practical tips on how to increase productivity and tame time on the Novel Journey blog. 

You can read an editor's take on the how and why of pre-publication changes over on the Behler Blog. 

Online Conference: It's now registration time for the Catholic Writers Conference Online, which anyone can join (You do not have to be Catholic). It's free and there will be editors and agents to pitch in addition to classes on a variety of topics, many of which have to do with the craft of writing. And...QT's very own Jane Lebak will be teaching two workshops there. One is a short story workshop with a limited membership, and one is a workshop on how to write an awesome query. 

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend.

Mary

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Celebrating Rejection

Courtesy of pdufour
As writers, I think we know just as well as anyone what it means to be rejected. To feel that we don't measure up or aren't good enough. And to hear this over and over and over again until we start to wonder if it might be true.


This is one of the things that makes pursuing a career in writing so difficult. Because, you see, the rejections don't end once an agent agrees to represent you. Publishers will likely end up rejecting you at some point, as will some of the audience. In truth, rejections will happen your entire career, because there is no possible way to be everything to everyone.


And that's all right.


But today, I'd like to celebrate the thousands of rejections we'll all receive in life. From the agent, to the editor, to the reviewers, and even sometimes from those that we love and hold the closest.


But why celebrate something that can be so painful? Something that we sometimes even come to believe for a time? Because rejection is proof that you're not just existing--you're living.


If you never dreamed, never tried, you would never put yourself out there. You would never spend hours and hours writing and rewriting and fixing and polishing and doing it all over again, if you didn't have something important to say. You wouldn't spend time learning how to craft a query letter, write up a synopsis, come up with a tagline and keep working on it until you got it right if you didn't believe in what you were doing.


And you wouldn't then send out those queries, those manuscripts, knowing full well that most of them will come back with a rejection attached if you wanted to live quietly in a safe and sheltered world.


Because by daring to dream, by taking that risk, by opening yourself up for rejection, you are living. And it takes courage to live, to try, to fail, and to succeed. Those rejections cluttering up the dark corners of your inbox are a testament that you have thrown off safe and secure, that you've stepped out of the black and white into a world filled with color and possibility.


And that is something very much worth celebrating.

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. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Should I Mention My Blog in My Query?

When should you mention your blog in a query, and when shouldn’t you? That’s today’s question:

If you have a well written blog that you work hard at, and are proud of, but the number of official “followers” is low, should you mention the blog in your bio or list it on your query? [I think mine is] funny and engaging. People who do read it seem to really enjoy it. But, I don’t have a high number of followers (at least that I know of). Or, should I mention it, but take out the follower’s box, so [an agent] can’t see how many I have? I notice some blogs don’t even list how many followers they have. I am on [Blogger.com].

Tracking Followers and Subscribers: Feedburner

Let’s start with finding out how many followers you actually have. The “Followers” widget in Blogger only shows people who have clicked “Follow” within the widget. It does not count people who have subscribed in other ways, e.g. by putting your RSS feed address directly into their preferred feedreader.

What you need to do is “burn” your feed using Feedburner, which is a free service (now owned by Google) that lets you track subscribers and post views. You can use it with Blogger, Wordpress, TypePad, and other blogging platforms. The instructions on the Feedburner site are pretty clear (just start where it says Burn a Feed Right Now!), so I won’t repost them here, though you are welcome to ask questions in the Comments if you have any trouble.

Once you’ve burned your feed and are getting subscriber results, you will need to add the number of subscribers you see in Feedburner to the number of Followers you see on your page. (You may find it reassuring that it seems to be pretty common to have, say, 3 times more subscribers through Feedburner than through the Followers widget)

Is Your Blog Related to Your Product?

Agents and editors may be interested in learning about your blog, but only if it relates to your story or book. What publishing professionals are looking for is a built-in audience that will (they hope) purchase your product (ie your book). In other words, if your blog is primarily about your life – family, friends, day-to-day activities and events – and you’re not writing a memoir or narrative nonfiction, you should leave your blog out of your query, regardless of how well it’s written. Likewise, if you have a huge blog on, say, mountain climbing, but your book has nothing to do with mountain climbing, you don’t have the built-in audience an agent or editor is looking for, and mentioning your blog will look like a non sequitur.

Many authors, however, have a blog related to their book’s topic. Granted, it’s easier to do this if your book topic is nonfiction, but expertise and a following in an area related to your novel can be useful. If you’re writing historical novels set during the Civil War and you have a strong history blog in which you regularly talk about the Civil War, that’s worth mentioning. Especially if your work on the blog gives you access to Civil War buffs who might be interested in buying your book – for example, by helping you find speaking engagements, or giving you the credentials you need to publish articles in Civil War magazines.

The whole purpose of mentioning your blog, then, is to prove what a nice big audience you bring to the table. For that reason, there’s no point to mentioning the blog unless you can also offer numbers, the higher the better. The minimum number of subscribers I’d mention is 1000, though I have seen books on platform use 10,000 as an example of a really strong number. “Strong” does depend a bit on your topic. If you have a niche market, a few thousand subscribers is good; if, however, you’re targeting a saturated market with a topic that has widespread appeal (a fantastic new diet or exercise program, for example), you’ll need significantly higher numbers (and probably some kind of professional certification or degree).

Increasing Your Followers and Subscribers

So what if you have a blog that relates to your book’s topic, but you still don’t have a lot of followers and subscribers?

I’m going to give you several tips, but I want to emphasize that this first one is the most important: You need to give the audience something they want or need with each post. If you’re a big celebrity, people won’t care what you post – Angelina Jolie could post what kind of toothpaste she uses and some people would be riveted – but the rest of us have to provide something valuable to readers.

What Would You Enjoy Reading?

Think about what kind of information you’d like to see in your feedreader. What would you find riveting? That’s the kind of material you need to produce, because even if you only post once or twice a week (with a couple days off for major holidays), you're looking at 50 to 100 posts in a year. You need a topic that you’re going to continue to be enthusiastic about for years to come if you're going to generate that many posts.

Finding (Valuable) Post Topics

If you don’t have extensive knowledge on your chosen topic, let the experts guide you. Take the time to research your posts – read books, magazines, and scholarly journals (if there are any) and newsfeeds on your topic, and then explain what you’ve learned to your readers. (Remember, emphasize how they can use that information rather than that you learned it. It’s all about your readers and what they’re getting from your blog!) Interview experts, other authors...people who can provide your readers with something they find valuable.

Impression Management: A Great-Looking Blog is Appealing

Once you’ve developed a plan for strong content, double-check that your blog looks professional – not too fussy or busy, not cluttered with things that will distract from your message (e.g. unnecessary widgets, unrelated things you like). This may seem like a small thing, but just as you make a particular impression with your physical appearance, so your blog’s appearance makes an impression. Make sure it’s a good one!

Social Networking

Now that you have 1) solid blog content that 2) intrigues you and offers you plenty of blogging possibilities and 3) a great look, it’s time to get the word out! You will want to include your blog address, along with your blog’s name and a short descriptive tagline (e.g. ours is The QueryTracker Blog: Helping Writers Become Authors) every place you can think of, including

  • Your email signature/s
  • Forum post signatures
  • Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
  • Business cards (Yes, you should have some. I’ll explain how to make some – or have some made – inexpensively in an upcoming post.)


If you have additional tips or places people should share their blog address, please share in the Comments section!

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Publishing Pulse, January 14, 2010



This week in publishing has had both uplifting and sad moments, and the head-on meeting of the old and the new.

At QueryTracker.net:

Congratulations to our three newest success stories, GK Parker, H.M. Ward, and James Pray. Read and be encouraged!

QueryTracker has added profiles for two new agents (Lora Rivera of the Claire Gerus agency and Michael Carr of the Veritas Literary Agency.) Also, six agents' profiles have been updated, so double-check before querying that your future agent is currently open to queries.

Around the blogosphere:

An author talks about the detrimental effect of illegal downloads on her career:

Rachelle Gardner discusses whether it takes a village to raise a book and what happens when publishing dreams become a nightmare.

Nathan Bransford takes on what may be the biggest hurdle for literary agents of the future: standardization of terms.

In Publishing News:

Borders Books continues having difficulty, announcing it will close its LaVergne center in July. You might want to use any gift cards sooner rather than later.

Both the Caldecott and Newbery awards went this week to debut novels! Congratulations to all the winners!

In sad news, Editor Ruth Cavin dies at age 92. May perpetual light shine upon her.

Literary Quote of the Week:

The greatest masterpiece in literature is only a dictionary out of order. -Jean Cocteau

Until next week, keep those queries flying!

---

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Deepening Your Character’s Needs


When figuring out your story, you have to take into consideration who your characters are beyond their physical characteristics.  You need to know their backstories (which I’ll go into in an upcoming post) and their motivations (needs).
Knowing your characters’ needs helps you develop the story conflict. This might be external, with the clash of two characters’ goals and motivations. Or it could be internal, in which the character has to make a tough decision—possibly even a life-threatening one.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
But how do you know what your characters’ needs are? Well, this is where our good friend Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs comes into play.
As you can see in the above figure, the pyramid is divided into five levels. The needs on the bottom level (physiological) have to be satisfied before you can worry about those in the next level (safety and security). Same deal with the third level (love and belonging). The needs in the first two levels have to be dealt with first. This idea continues all the way to the top of the pyramid, to self-actualization.

Main Story Motivation
Maslow’s hierarchy can be used to determine your character’s overall motivation during the story. For example, the rebuilding of the character’s self-esteem after breaking free of an abusive relationship. In this example, the character has to progress through the other levels, especially safety, before she can reach her goal.

The Real Underlying Need
The pyramid also helps you unearth the real need. It’s so easy to pick the surface one, but you have to dig deeper. Okay, sure your character wants money. Heck, who doesn’t? But you need to ask yourself WHY. Is it because she needs a place to live (Safety)? Or maybe she has an apartment in New York City, but she wants something bigger, more prestigious, and she has an expensive taste in clothing and shoes. Why? Because she wants remind herself how far she’s come after living with an alcoholic parent and being bumped around foster homes as a teenager (Esteem). Now think of all the conflict possibilities you can create by messing around with her self-esteem: boyfriend problems; threat of losing her senior position at the law firm; the alcoholic parent becomes a news item, which puts the character’s secret past at risk of being exposed, something she doesn’t want to happen, at all costs. And don’t forget to throw in some conflict from the bottom levels of the hierarchy, too.

Scene-by-Scene Needs
The pyramid can be used to develop the scene-by-scene needs of the characters. But make sure the needs are believable for the given situation. I don’t care if the hot guy I’m with has his shirt off, and his bulging biceps and rippling pecs are glistening with sweat (not to mention the pheromones are flying something fierce), I’m not going to rip off my clothes and copulate with him on the cold warehouse floor if the bad guys are shooting at us. It’s just not going to happen. Even if Maslow claims my sex needs have to be fulfilled before I can seek safety. You may laugh, but agents and editors do receive submissions where this happens. Don’t be the writer who makes this mistake.

Now go back and make sure ALL your characters have motives for each scene and for the overall story arc. And see how you can deepen the conflicts by challenging your characters’ needs or by introducing opposing ones. Your story will be better for it.

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, January 10, 2011

Cool Down Time: Handling Criticism Effectively

My dad had a favorite saying that I'm sure most parents have in their arsenal: "Think before you speak or act." I say the same thing to my own children. I also say it to myself-- every single time I receive a critique of my writing.

Writing is personal, but if you are pursuing publication, it's important to realize it is also a professional craft and a commercial endeavor. Sometimes, pushing aside feelings is essential in order to succeed.

You've labored on a project that obviously is dear to your heart or you would not have invested the time and effort to write it. Then, you turn it over to someone who does not hold it dear. Sometimes they don't even like it. The thing I always keep in mind is that just because someone doesn't like what I have written, it doesn't mean they don't like me. It is totally separate. Maintaining this separation is difficult for some writers.

Here is my strategy for handling critique.

1. Read the critique notes carefully without responding at first. Send a brief thank you note to let them know you received their suggestions. Nothing specific. Same with oral critique in a live critique group. Listen. Really listen. Say nothing. When you have heard them out, thank them for their suggestions. If you are unclear on a point they made, ask questions without any explanations or defensiveness.

Do not explain why they didn't like it or "get" it. If they were confused, perhaps it is a valid point. As a writer, I know exactly what I mean. If the reader doesn't get it, it is probably my fault.

2.  Give the information time to cure and your emotions time to cool down. This is the most important part. When I receive revision suggestions from my critique partners, agent, or editors, I read them several times and then set them aside for at least 72 hours before I respond or begin revising. (Of course, I send an immediate "Got it. Thanks!" but nothing else.)

This curing time enables me to recover from my initial reaction, which is always more dramatic than necessary. After 72 hours, I've had time to process the suggestions logically, rather than react emotionally.

My editor for Shattered Souls said that she has a client who puts the letter in the freezer after reading it so that it isn't sitting out. After a few days, she pulls it out of the freezer and is ready to go. Both letter and author have had a "cool down" period (the letter, literally).

I don't have to lock my revision letters out of view, but I do keep myself from responding or making changes right away.

3.  Consider the source.  Enough said, probably, but I'll elaborate. Who gave you the critique? Is this the first time you have received suggestions from this person? What is his or her professional writing status: new writer, established writer, published author, published author in your genre, agent, editor?  The way you handle your response should be the same, regardless (calm, genuine gratitude), but the weight you give to the suggestions will be different.

4.  Decide what fits your vision for the project and what is necessary to meet your professional goals. You don't have to make every change, even for your publisher, but your decisions should be logic-based and not emotion-based. Once again, as a writer, it's hard to step back sometimes and be objective about our "babies." I've made quite a few changes at my editor's request that I didn't object to, but didn't wholeheartedly buy into either.  After making the changes, I realized how brilliant the suggestions were--so for me, there is a bit of a cool off even after the changes are made.

5.  After cooling down and making the changes that resonate with you, send another genuine thank you. You don't need to explain why you didn't make all of the changes (Unless it is your agent or editor, then sometimes it's necessary).  You don't need to discuss the changes in-depth. I try to thank critique partners and beta readers for specific suggestions I found most helpful. Personalizing it makes the person who took the time to read and remark on my project feel the time spent on me wasn't misplaced or unappreciated.

I'm sure there are folks who can jump right in without a negative reaction to criticism, but most writers aren't like that. Those words in that manuscript came from deep inside and are personal. So, give yourself a cool down period. Rushing into revisions or reacting immediately when you feel defensive will not only make your revisions less effective, it will potentially alienate you from the very people trying to help you become a better writer.

Wishing everyone a fabulous week.

Mary

Friday, January 7, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 1/07/2011

Welcome to the new year! To start the new year off right, here are some success stories of fellow QTers:


Jaime Boust: http://QueryTracker.net/jaime_boust.php
Teresa Rhyne: http://QueryTracker.net/teresa_rhyne.php
Becky Taylor: http://QueryTracker.net/becky_taylor.php


Looking for an Agent?


Crafting a query letter? Wonder what agents aren't looking for? JM Tohline has an excellent list from literary agents of common mistakes they find in queries and how to avoid them.


Besty Lerner shares some great insights on the current marketplace and what to expect whether you're looking for an agent or have one already.


Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has an excellent post on how not to get an agent. And in a similar vein, Janet Reid discusses how not to be a good literary agent when submitting to editors.


Elsewhere on the Web


For those times when the words aren't flowing and the story comes to a standstill, here are some tips Susan Perry shares on using freewriting to loosen those writing muscles.


Nathan Bransford explains the fine art of commenting on blogs


And just a reminder of the awesomeness that is QueryShark. Not only can you learn how to craft a good query letter from a host of volunteered, real queries, but Janet Reid has also posted a quiz in the sidebar that can help you spot some very common mistakes she sees in the queries.


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, January 5, 2011

Blog Avalanche: Knowing Which Ones Are Worth Your Time

Happy New Year to everyone! Has anyone committed to try to find more time to write this year? According to one person who sent in questions for our Ask QTB extravaganza, part of what consumes writing time is  reading other folks' blogs. How do you deal, he asks, with the blog avalanche?!

Need some guidance on either (a) the best blogs to read period for LITERARY novelists (including marketing issues) or (b) guidance o how to choose the best blogs for myself. Reason? BLOG AVALANCHE. There is so much out there, I can't finish my book -- too busy reading 80 million blogs.
Since I'm a genre writer, I thought some of you might have some suggestions for great literary blogs.  If you do, please post your suggestions in the Comments!

In the meantime, let's look at what to do with all those blogs you simply have to read.  As always, I believe in a practical approach that includes understanding what you're doing and why you're doing it so you can make an educated decision on how to handle things going forward.

Just How Much Time Are You Spending, Anyhow?

If you don't already know, spend a few days (up to a week) recording just how much time you spend on other people's blogs.  Are you spending the same amount of time each day, or are you just sort of wandering through blogs to keep yourself busy? Also try to write down exactly what you're doing while you're visiting.  Are you just reading, or are you commenting, too?

Now that you know just how much time you're spending and what you're doing in that time, let's talk about why you're really reading all of those blogs.  Here are some different reasons and what you can do about them.

You're reading and commenting like a madman/madwoman because that's "what you have to do these days" to build a platform and get published. 

The reality is that there are thousands of blogs out there that you can be reading in your quest to build a network of connections. If that approach isn't exhausting you or taking away from your writing time, it can be a great way to meet and learn from other writers.

Over time, though, some people realize they're spreading themselves too thin. In psychology we talk about 3 stages of stress, and the final stage is exhaustion.  When you hit that point (or even are just struggling to keep everything in the air), you can't make quality connections, which are the ones that are going to help you most.  What to do?  Try choosing three to five blogs you will read and comment on regularly.

Now, I'm not saying you need to dump all your blogging friends, or that you shouldn't comment on other blogs.  I'm suggesting you triage.  In other words, pick three to five blogs that you a) really enjoy reading and b) believe can open doors for you if you "get in" with the blogger.  They become your focus. The other blogs are bonuses, icing on the cake.  Maybe you watch them in your feedreader but you don't read every post.  Or maybe you skim most posts but only comment every couple of weeks, when something really stands out to you.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell argues that there are three rare types of people who do the most work in spreading a "social epidemic" (like, hopefully, news about your fab book).  These are the people you want to be connecting with in your three to five main blogs.  They include "connectors," who have enormous social networks of people who will listen to them; "mavens," who are  expert communicators who are sought-after because they share helpful information; and "salesmen," who are the persuaders.

Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't have ten or even twenty blogs you like in your feedreader, blogs you comment on here and there; maybe you even have more.  But I'm a huge advocate of quality over quantity.  It's hard to pick out what's important when you're overwhelmed by background noise.  So try picking your primary targets and work hard to become a valuable resource to those bloggers.

Also -- you will probably want to set a finite amount of time you spend on the blogs each day.  Remember, you are looking for a Return on Investment [ROI], and if you're investing way more than you're getting back, you're wasting resources. An hour a day might be reasonable when you're just starting out, or when you're really ramping things up because your book is about to come out, but I'd suggest something like half an hour a day other times.  Part of the reason I suggest this is that there are other ways for you to build a platform and you should also be spending time on those.


If a formula would be helpful, try spending no more than a quarter of your writing time on reading and commenting on others' blogs.  So if you have an hour of writing time a day, you should be spending no more than ten to fifteen minutes of it on others' blogs.

You're procrastinating.

If you're spending outrageous amounts of time on blogs and not getting anything written, you may just be avoiding your writing time. We have a tendency to fill empty space with "things" to entertain us.  Writing, especially first drafts, is all about empty space -- the empty page, the empty screen.  It's much easier to go out and passively consume other people's material than it is to produce your own.  But sometimes you really do need to sit there with a blank screen and sweat blood until you're compelled to write something...anything. (And by golly, you may even write something good!)


You're socializing.

A big part of networking is socializing.  That's why we call it "social networking." But our brains can literally only handle so many stable social connections -- psychologists usually suggest a number around 150.  If you're trying to maintain strong connections with more people through blogging, blog-commenting, Facebooking, or Twitter, you may feel overloaded because you are. Your neocortex (the most highly-evolved part of your brain) can only do so much!

Some relationships are going to be stronger than others, and that's okay.  Remember, triage.  Prioritize.  Focus on people who really get you and your work, and people who can help you in your quest to build platform, or learn the craft, or provide great support when you feel like throwing in the towel, or whatever you need most.  The others will probably be there when you go back later -- in the world of internet social networking, they have to prioritize too -- remember, it's literally a limitation of the human brain!


You're afraid you'll miss something you should know.

I'm going to argue that the most important information you can glean from other writers is information on your craft.  How to write well, how to edit, how to approach agents, and so on.  But if you're trying to learn all of that from blogs, you're probably learning it in a piecemeal way.  So try investing in a few good books.  Which ones?  Well, it depends on where you're weakest.

Here are a few quick suggestions.  If you have others, please feel free to include them in the Comments!

If you need help with: Try:
Platform and Marketing  Guerilla Marketing for Writers
Editing  Make Your Words Work, Self Editing for Fiction Writers, or Writing the Breakout Novel (which also has a workbook)
Writing a (NF) Book Proposal Write the Perfect Book Proposal (probably the definitive guide), or How to Write a Book Proposal
Writing Queries The Sell Your Novel ToolkitThe Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches, and Proposals
Ideas The Writer's Idea Book, The Writer's Partner
The Craft On Writing (probably the most-recommended book on writing out there), Bird by Bird (a classic), The Artist's Way (another classic; also has a workbook), The Forest for the Trees

Use blogs to build on the foundation of knowledge you glean from books like this.

What To Do With the Time You Free Up

The most obvious answer to this is -- write!

Another suggestion is that you spend some of your time in critique groups, giving others feedback and getting feedback on your own writing.

Because  it doesn't matter how much time you spend networking if you don't have a quality product when it's time to produce.

Beyond that, I also want to talk a little more about my remark that you can build a platform in ways other than reading and commenting on others' blogs.  You can:

  • Build a website
  • Tweet (ie use Twitter) -- you can make connections quickly because you have to keep your side of the conversation to spurts of 140 characters or less!
  • Meet other writers on Facebook
  • Blog yourself (make sure you have something to say and can keep it up!)
  • Share your expertise by speaking, teaching classes, creating YouTube videos, etc.
Do you have any additional advice on how to handle the blog avalanche?  Let us know in the comments below!


Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD is thrilled that her first book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available. Learn more at the WGTP website.  

Also be sure to stop by Dr. K's new blog over on Psychology Today, where she tackles things like how to write great villains, what to do when your personal issues keep showing up in your writing, and which cliche to avoid when your badass character lands in therapy.