QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, November 30, 2012

Publishing Pulse: November 30, 2012

Success Stories

Congratulations to our latest success stories, Tristina Wright and Elizabeth Otto! Click their names to read about how they landed their agents!

Around the Internet

You know, the search for true love is a lot like the search for an agent -- you want to click with them, you want them to fight for your project, and you want them to be of good character. Sarah McCoy talks about finding your true love...er, agent in Finding True Love, Finding an Agent.

In honor of NaNoWriMo (how'd you do this year?), GalleyCat has shared a number of sites for stuck writers, including Hatch's Plot BankDial 911 for Writer's Block (warning: it talks); The Fake Name Generator (I found that one kinda creepy); and for those who don't mind lines that look like someone dropped a bunch of magnetic poetry words on the floor, Random Line Generator.

Does your story have pockets that are slow or even (heaven forbid!) boring? Author CJ Redwine teaches you how to escalate conflict in your stories!

Do you write in first person or third? How do you choose your point of view character? And how do you develop that character? Janice Hardy explains with First vs. Third: Point of View and Character Development.

Have a great weekend and we'll see you next week!

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The First-Person Query Letter

...and why you should not do it.

The advice we hear all the time is to write your query with the voice of the novel (which makes sense) but to keep it in third person even if the novel is in first person. This is eminently possible, but a little difficult, and every so often a writer has a brilliant idea: I'll write my query in the first-person voice of the first-person narrator, rather than as myself.

Every agent I've ever seen comment on this has said the same: please do not do this.

This is my understanding: when you're reading 100 queries in ninety minutes, you're used to writers beginning with this:

Dear Ms. Agent:
I've been following you on Twitter for six months, and while I can't offer you a red velvet cupcake with a spun-sugar shark on top, I'd like to offer you the next best thing: my novel To Love Again (women's fiction, 90,000 words).

Those alternate with the ones beginning like this:

Dear Ms. Agent:
When Suzie Q's world is turned upside-down by an unprecedented event, she has lots of changes to make in order to overcome her past.

(Your query, by the way, is not as awful as either of these examples. Your query is brilliant, but people who don't read this blog have less-brilliant queries, full of vagueness and obfuscation and declarification. And repetition.)

After thirty minutes of reading vague and unmemorable queries, the agent comes across this gem:

Dear Ms. Agent:
The first time I killed someone's kid, it bothered me for days, but now I've got my routine down cold, and I only do the wimpy hand-wriging stuff for an hour.

Hold the phone. At this moment, the agent is not sure if you're psychotic or whether you're actually threatening her kids or whether you're confessing... What is this?  

And then what do you (you the writer, not you the character) do when it gets time to say, "I have included the first five pages of my story..."  Well, wait, is it *your* story at that point? You've got to break voice to do it.  Do you keep talking like the character and say, "My author has included the first five pages..." Are we in memoir? A novel? What?

Any confusion as to what it is you're querying is bad. Also any confusion as to whether you're threatening the agent's life or children...very bad. Agents do get threatened on a regular basis, and we've pointed out before that writers are more likely than the general population to have emotional problems

But it's not just threats. When you think of all the situations protagonists get into, almost all of them might start off as sounding psychotic, dangerous, or even just plain whiney. 

"When my husband died, I embarked on a year-long journey of self-discovery, complicated by the revelation that he'd been supporting two children with another woman." Agent is going to think "memoir," and scan down for your platform, and when you don't have one, out it goes.

"When the President paged me into his office last week, I never dreamed he would open a Top Secret file and ask me to direct a program smuggling warheads into Belgium." Wow, treason charges, just for you! "I'm sorry, but this doesn't fit my needs at the time because I don't need to have the NSA investigating me for publishing Top Secret materials."

"When I started to hear voices in my dreams, I thought I was nuts, but then I met the guy from my dreams and he told me I was the Chosen One!"  Gee, there's a whole profession of people devoted to helping folks who have those issues -- delete.

That's why it's a problem. Don't do it.

Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or ejecting stink bugs from the house. She is pretty sure no one reads these author bios. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Knitting a Book is Like Writing a Sweater

By Sarah Pinneo | @SarahPinneo

November at my house is all about writing and knitting. The writing bit might be obvious—I’m trying NaNoWriMo again. The knitting is in response to a beautiful crafts fair that my children’s school holds the first week of December. The parents contribute handmade items, we give them all a you-are-shopping-at-a-fundraiser price tags, and the proceeds benefit the school.

In theory this combination of activities should work well. I can think about my NaNo book while I knit. To knit means to take a linear thing—a string—and twist it around and over itself until it becomes a multidimensional piece of art. To write a novel is to do just the opposite. You begin with a beautiful, colorful mess of ideas and emotions, and tease out a linear thing—a string of words in black and white—which best captures its essence.

In practice, I work myself into a lather every November, trying to meet both deadlines. (And both activities make a girl prone to repetitive stress injury. Bummer.) But it turns out that one exercise has given me a lot of perspective on the other. If you’ve never knit before, you should know that any knitting project begins looking awful. The first row of stitches cast on to the needle looks like little more than a snarl of yarn.

Good grief, I always think. How will this ever amount to anything? Maybe I should have chosen a different project. I’ve never seen a less promising start to anything.

A few rows in, things still don’t look better. The only difference is that now I’ve sunk a fair amount of time into something that still underwhelms. All the other knitted toys are going to point and laugh, I imagine. I could just stop now and forget the whole thing.

Veteran knitters learn that any project imprisoned on the needles will always look wrong. It’s only when you spend the time to compose the bulk of an object (or a story) that you can see what you’ve accomplished. And now I understand that NaNoWriMo is trying to teach me the same thing. It isn’t enough to sit admiring the idea for a novel. They all look beautiful when they’re still in your head. You have to grab that wooly pile of inspiration and yank out the beginning of the thread. Chances are you’ll start in the wrong place, and have to rethink that beginning later. (The un-doing of a knitting project is called “frogging.” Nobody has ever been able to tell me why.) This violent beginning will also create more than a couple of knots in your story, and you may not notice them immediately. But at least you will have begun.

This past year I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to figure out which of my many ideas is the most likely to succeed. I’ve made notes for several different projects, falling in love with first one and then another. But that way lies the abyss, because only by knitting well into the heart of things can an idea be given its due.

I had the pleasure of working with an architect on a renovation several years ago. She would often show me a plan, adding “but it still needs to be proved out.” And fiction is just the same. Only by plowing ahead can I nail down the truth. Is there sufficient conflict? Is there enough at stake? Is this character someone that I want to spend fifty or eighty thousand words with?

I will never be the ideal NaNoWriMo writer, because I love to revise as I go. There may be no little “winner!” badge next to my name. But I can still absorb the lessons that NaNo teaches, and feel pleased with my progress. And hey—I made a fish.

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. Her most recent book is Julia’s Child. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Everyone's A Critic

Courtesy of NoShoes
You've finished your book. Yay! And you've either found an agent and landed a publishing deal, were accepted by a small press, or decided to pursue self-publishing.

Congratulations! Now you're a published author.

Remember all that stomach churning anxiety as you first wrote your book? The doubts and fears that told you the plot was trite, the characters cardboard, and this whole enterprise stupid? Or receiving comments back from your beta readers that illuminated the book's flaws and sometimes contradicted each other?

It's about to get a lot harder.

Reviews can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they allow your readers to discuss and share your work. On the other, they only highlight the fact that not everyone who meets your book is going to love--or even like--it.

I was reading a post by Seth Godin on What Are Professional Reviews For? and I agreed with a lot of what he said.

Once your book is out there in the wild, it's going to run into critics. The key is figuring out which critics to listen to and which to ignore. I've separated the types of critics into three separate categories as they pertain in relation to the author (you).

Professional Critics

These are the critics that appear in the newspapers, magazines, etc. Critics whose organizations have gained the authority to offer criticism--both positive and negative--for the books they read.

These can be helpful, especially if they bring up a strength or weakness you may not have considered before, but they can also be less than helpful sometimes. To the best of my knowledge, professional reviews that represent an organization like Kirkus, rather than a specific book reviewer who might have a column, are listed by the organization's name, leaving the person who actually read and reviewed the book anonymous. This can make it harder to determine the context the reviewer was reading in--which will have a lot of weight in how the reviewer perceives your story.

My opinion: when in doubt, don't give it space to worry you. Professional critics are not always perfectly matched with books that will resonate with them, and you have no control over this. Besides, there are plenty of other things that will be ulcer-inducing. Don't let this one be one of those.

Not Your Audience Critics

In a perfect world, readers would be perfectly matched to the books they loved. They would never come across books they didn't or genres they don't care for, so there would no longer be reviews of this sort. Authors and avid readers rejoice.

Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect.

The Not Your Audience Critics (hereafter to be known as NYACs), can fall into three camps:

  1. People who came to your book with certain expectations. They could have formed these expectations from your cover, the title, the blurb, chatter about your book, or recommendations from friends. The thing is, for one reason or another, they came to your book expecting pumpkin pie and found chocolate mousse instead.
  2. People who don't usually read your genre, but were enticed by all of the things in the first group, or maybe they got your book as a gift or for a good deal. Either way, they like apple pie, and can't stand strawberry, but decided to give yours a try anyway. Predictably, they really don't like strawberry pie.
  3. People, who, well . . . demand tolls for bridge crossings and have some major beef with certain Billy Goats Gruff. I believe this is the smallest group, but it doesn't make their words hurt any less--especially if your confidence is already shaky.
In all of these cases, while the reviews have merits for other possible readers, you're not going to be able to take much from these reviews by way of constructive criticism, because if you're serving a strawberry chocolate mousse pie, you're serving a strawberry chocolate mousse pie. The key here is to find the readers who really love that flavor.

Your Audience Critics

These are your fans. People who love the type of pie you're serving. If ever you were to listen to a group of people, these would be the ones to listen to. They understand the tropes and themes common to your genre. They come to your book wanting to like it, and hoping to love it.

They want you to succeed.

Are you going to please everyone in this group? Happy dream that this is, probably not. Books can be broken down into so many smaller parts (genre, sub-genre, style, age level, etc.), that it would be virtually impossible to hit the sweet spot in each of them for everyone--especially as some will favor spare prose while others prefer their prose to be nice and lush. You would need to take individual taste into account, but for the most part, these are the ones who are more closely aligned with where you're coming from and where you hope to go.

(There is a fourth critic, your inner critic, but I'm focusing on external critics for this post. :D)

So what does this all mean?

Pretty much, once you release your book into the wilds of publishing, the ones who read, judge, and review your story is going to be out of your hands. I would suggest that making peace with this and coming up with coping strategies to deal with reviews will lighten the publishing load a little and make it not seem quite so heavy.

There is another way to handle reviews, and that not to read them at all. :D
That is also my favorite method of keeping myself sane and centered. The people for whom I take a closer, more critical look at my own work are those that read my story *before* publication. Beta readers, editors, proofreaders, and--in the end, my own gut.

After that, I try to make peace with the little doubts that creep onto my shoulders and into my ears by reminding myself that I honestly wrote the very best book I had the power to write, and that, for me, has to be enough.

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother Dilemma series (CatspellFirespellApplespell, and Frogspell),  Slippers of Pearl, andBitten: A Novel of Faerie, and can be found on her blog. She can also be found on Wattpad.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Creating Tension

By Christina Lee @Christina_Lee04

"The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat's mat IS a story." (John le Carré)

I love that quote because it so perfectly explains the necessity of adding tension to a scene.

Tension matters BIG TIME. It helps with pacing and keeps readers interested in your story.

According to Noah Lukeman, who wrote The First Five Pages, pacing is the central nervous system of your book and demands the greatest long term concentration. It requires the writer to retain several hundred pages in their head at once!

So how do you heighten the tension and keep the pace going strong?

1. Make sure your characters have enough at stake. If that other cat lets the first cat sit on his mat, his pride and territory would be in peril!

 You want the reader to blaze through your pages, look forward to picking up the book again, just to find out how your protagonist is going to overcome the conflict you’ve written into your story.

2. Delete scenes that slow the pace. First, the cat stopped for a drink of water from the community bowl located near the kitchen table. He stared at the raindrops pelting against the window. Next, he chatted up the other cats in the house before finally walking over to the other cat’s mat.

If you find an extraneous paragraph that have nothing to do with moving the story forward, or that lets the reader know pertinent background information about the characters, delete it. The reader will naturally want to skip over waking up, yawning, reporting the weather, etc. unless it’s necessary for setting the scene, the mood, the character’s personality or motivation. Even then, keep it brief. 

3. Draw out the dramatization. Build up to a scene. The first cat circled the other cat's space, taking in the softness and durability of his mat. He looked over his shoulder to be sure no other copycats watched. He stepped one paw on the mat and then the other...

This is different than deleting scenes that slow pace. This is where showing versus telling can help you out. Let the reader picture the scene through your descriptions without telling them exactly what’s happening, so it builds anticipation. 

4. End chapters on cliff hangers. Just as he was making himself comfy on his new mat, the first cat heard a drawn-out hiss behind him. His hiney froze in mid air.

This way, your reader will be dying to find out what happens next. This is difficult to do for every single chapter. But as long as the reader’s trying to get to the subsequent scene to see what’s coming, you’re golden.

5. Ask your betas for help. It's hard to self-edit for pacing and tension.

They’ll let you know if you need to delete or add word count to ramp up your story.


Christina Lee is a freelance and YA writer repped by Amy Tipton.  She blogs at www.write-brained.com and creates hand-stamped jewelry at www.tags-n-stones.com


Friday, November 16, 2012

Publishing Pulse for November 16, 2012

New At QueryTracker:

Come read the Success Story interview of Pat Esden! Congratulations, Pat!

Also, happy birthday to Patrick-The-QueryTracker-Guru -- thank you so much for all your hard work!

We've updated four agent profiles in the database this week; three of those agents are changing agencies, so please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before querying.

If you're a QueryTracker premium member, then you can be notified whenever an agent or publisher profile is added or updated. If you're not a premium member, you can just check for yourself.

Publishing News:

Congratulations to the winners of the National Book Award! (Specifically the authors, but when someone writes a great book, the readers win too.)

Long-time readers of the QT blog will remember QueryTracker blogger Mary Lindsey. Her new novel, Ashes on the Waves, is now available for pre-order. 

Scholastic is donating one million books and other teaching resources to schools and libraries harmed by Hurricane Sandy.  Simon & Schuster is also donating to schools, libraries, and shelters affected by the superstorm.

Around the Blogosphere:

Where to start...? The dos and don'ts of openings. Also, five mistakes in opening chapters.

Where to end...?  Advice on final lines.

How about the middle? Avoid episodic storytelling. Also avoid step-by-step writing.

Why it may be a bad idea to have someone else write your query.

Encouragement for those times you think your writing sucks.

I laughed until I cried: why authors are crazy.

Literary Quote of the Week:

I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has just put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

Thanks for stopping by, and keep sending those queries!

Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or ejecting stink bugs from the house. She is pretty sure no one reads these author bios. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Finding Your Voice—And Keeping It

Each writer has a unique voice, that conglomeration of tone and word choice that makes our work as individual as we are. Strong voices stand out, catch our attention, resonate with us, and draw us into their stories. Voice gets a writer noticed and is what makes a reader react in a love-it-or-hate-it-way.

It is not enough to merely have a great story. Think of your favorite book. Your all-time favorite, read-over-and-over, spine-worn-and-dog-ear-paged book. Now, concentrate. What kind of voice does it have?

What if that book used another voice? For instance, try a layer of Jane Austen. Or Michael Crichton. Or Erma Bombeck. How would that story change? Do you still want to read it?

Think of your current WIP. Imagine it having a completely different voice. What happens to it?

Do you still want to write it? Does it inspire you to new heights?

A story without its voice is like mashed potatoes without salt. Sure, you can still consume it and it probably won't kill you but it lacks a very necessary flavor. And flavor makes all the difference.

Just as each recipe has its own unique flavor, each story must have its own perfect voice and it must be consistent throughout the story. A voice that changes half-way though will invariably confuse the reader. A voice that changes as frequently as my daughter changes clothes on the weekend (she's a touring-Cher-in-training) will baffle a reader completely and perhaps even make her lose interest in the book.

It's not enough for a writer to find that perfect voice—the writer must keep it. Consistency is key.

Writing my debut and its sequels used a voice similar to my own—the MC is just sassier and she dates a demivampire. Channeling that voice was easy compared to some of my other work and I'd jumped in and out of her POV with relative ease. I suppose part of that is because I wrote those books in chunks of free time, before work or waiting for the kids to get out of school. I was surrounded by my life and times so a layer of myself is written into the voice.

My other WIPs use different voices compared to Sophie and her saga. Although they are all fantasy novels, they are different kinds of fantasy—adult traditional, contemporary YA, militant magic realism—and they each have their own voice. None of them use a voice similar to anything I walk around with in my head all day.

Lately, I've been moving back and forth between projects, trying to keep several editors happy at once. It would be a heck of a lot easier if they were all the same kind of projects...but, no. I have to go and try to impress my husband by showing him how versatile my writing can be.

Thus, a challenge presents itself.

Fortunately, I have "blinders" I can wear so that I keep my voices straight while writing. Most times, a quiet room and a moment of concentration are all I need, but owning children and a dog and a telephone hinder those simple requirements. Good thing I've learned to adapt to my environment with the use of gentle reminders.

Certain types of music help me stay in voice. I've got a huge music collection and I can usually find the right CD for the job. Music has become an integral part of writing, to the point where I have playlists for every project. (Just in case a studio ever needs a soundtrack to my book's movie. I like to be prepared.) Movie soundtracks are also helpful since the music is often theme oriented—especially instrumentals or foreign language soundtracks, since they provide the right mood without distracting me with words.

Speaking of movies, a DVD playing in another room will often keep me focused on my tale—I chose the movie based on the genre, the actors, the sounds of their voices. It's kind of like writing in a coffee shop or some other public place, surrounded by the people and the sounds of the world I'm creating. When you're writing fantasy, you can't always take a day-trip to an alternate world and hang out with demivampires or magic-using dissidents.

My ears aren't the only assets that need to be reminded when I'm writing. Particular types of clothing can often help me maintain the right flow.

Usually, a good pair of boots will do it. I've a pair of flat-heeled Colin Stuarts that make a nice sharp clack when I walk, providing a cadence for a group of mage-born freedom fighters. My biking jacket, light enough to wear indoors, is perfect when channeling my inner repo man for a character who works for her dad at their magical pawn shop. (It's close enough to the one my character wears when she's out on a collateral recovery operation.)

And although I usually don't plan it, my kitchen aprons (yes, I wear aprons. I know. The coolness is overwhelming) remind me enough of my traditional fantasy healer's skirts that I often find myself wandering along her story lines while I'm baking or making tomato sauce.

I don't think I'll ever go so far as to pull my old Ren Faire costumes out of the wardrobe but who knows—maybe one day I'll strike upon a new idea involving Shakespeare (and the undead, of course) and I'll spend my writing mornings trussed up like a courtier. God save the Queen! (Because the zombies are coming.)

Why stop there? Scent also has a powerful effect on memory. Perhaps a scented candle or a room spray are enough to evoke the mood that will keep you rooted in the character--and keep you writing in voice. The same goes for taste--small wonder why my series' heroine is never too far from a Starbucks.

Sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell--these tips make use of my senses in order to keep hold of my writer's voice. Maybe it's cheating...but I call it craft.

When it comes to writing our stories, voice is everything. Let's hear yours--do you have a favorite method of keeping hold of your writer's voice?

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her newly released urban fantasy "Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde" (Pink Narcissus Press 2012).