QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Publishing Pulse: June 28, 2013

Now that it’s summer, the publishing industry has sllloooowwwwed down. This means a number of agents are closed to queries. Before you send any out, make sure to double check the agents’ websites, blogs, tweets to see if they’re currently accepting queries. And if they are, be prepared for a long wait.

Around the Web

This week a self-published author was ousted on a blog after it was discovered she copied paragraphs from two bestselling New Adult novels (Easy by Tammara Weber and Beautiful Disaster by Jamie Mcquire), and pretended they were original material. Her original material. She tweaked a word here and there, but it was obvious the excerpts came from those two novels. The writer could be facing legal ramifications. Stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, if you feel the temptation to steal from the work of others: DON’T.

Along with plagiarizing, piracy is another form of thief that authors have to deal with. Here are some suggestions on how to avoid it.

Agent Rachelle Gardner has some creative suggestions for pitching your project at a conference. Notice she doesn’t say anything about cornering your dream agent in the bathroom. That’s because it is a big mistake to do so as it leaves the wrong impression. As does stalking the agent during the conference.

If you’ve always wanted to participate in NaNoMoWri during November but the timing wasn’t right, next week is your chance to join thousands of writers with Camp NaNoMoWri. It’s not too late to sign up, and the word count is more flexible that the 50,000 words in November.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes Young Adult and New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer, a blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog (when she isn’t writing).  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fighting the Summer Slow Down with a Fast Draft

I never seemed to outgrow the idea of summer vacation (despite being out of school for more than twenty years.) Something about the month of June makes me want to find a hammock or an Xbox controller or a beach somewhere. Anywhere.

Except, I can’t.

Like many adults, I am neck-deep in the shackles of Real Life, wherein summer vacation only arrives at the whim of my day-job scheduler. My kids might be laying around, losing their battle with gravity, but not me—the yard needs tending, the house needs working, and the books need writing.

Writing has become another job.--a privilege, I believe, but work, nonetheless. And despite the obligations, the contracts and the deadlines, summer vacation is trying to get in the way.
I kind of envy the side of the publishing business that sees a summer slowdown because my summers feel like the exact opposite. In May, I decided upon my deadlines for my current novel WIP: first draft by June 30, second draft and edits over July, manuscript submission to editor on August 1.
Summer slow down? Not here. The only thing that slows down for me is my motivation. This summer, I decided to do something new. If writing was a job, I was going to punch a time card. I joined a buddy write.
Game Plan Fast Draft
Writing may be a solitary endeavor but, sometimes, motivation is a team sport.
At the beginning of June, I was perhaps 30k from a complete first draft, which meant it had to be a thousand-word-per-day kind of June. I also already had two pair of flip-flops dug out of the closet. Self-defeating…who, me?
I am fortunate  to have brilliant writer friends who have similar problems. They also often have brilliant game plans.
At the beginning of June, I received an invitation from my friend, author SK Falls, who wanted to organize a week-long Fast Draft. A Fast Draft is a motivational exercise that uses group participation to get heaps of writing done through the implementation of writing sprints. Each sprint got you closer to your word count goal and therefore closer to your completed draft. We’d communicate through Twitter to organize the sprints and to motivate each other through the process.
Lucky for me, Sandy had the same problem as I did—big word count goals, little time to do it. Like me, she has a rigorous non-writing schedule and trying to find the opportunity to write is difficult.
My personal problem—if I don’t have a five or six hour block that I can designate Writing Time, I don’t often get measurable amounts of work done. If I only have a half-hour, I get distracted on Facebook and Goodreads and my writing time piddles away.
Could I handle a Fast Draft? It seemed absolutely alien to my writing process.

Sandy organized a team of writers who wanted to get the work done but, perhaps, like me, didn’t trust themselves enough to do it alone. The plan involved setting a week aside for the Fast Draft, to write in sprints of 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day, to communicate our goals and progress on Twitter, and to cheer each other on.
This process offers an unspoken implication of accountability, which was exactly what I needed.

I had my goals. I was just unable to trust myself to stick to the plan. Summer vacation and the drone of the cicadas would lull me into non-productive complacency if I was left to myself. I did the smart thing and told Sandy A THOUSAND TIMES, YES. 
Fast Draft offered the motivation I needed to resist Summer Slow Down.
What I Learned from Fast Draft

I WAS WRONG: I had convinced myself I needed huge blocks of time and butt-numbing writing marathons to get work done. In reality, I only needed twenty minutes. Twenty minutes gave me 500 words, minimum—a scene, a set-up, a chunk of dialog. That 500 words served as an anchor and kept me head-writing (the thinking part of writing) in between sprints.
SPRINTS ARE TINY FINITE THINGS: Because of the small time allotment, I had to promise those twenty minutes were for writing alone. The goal is word count—not edits, not perfection. First drafts are meant for raw unrefined wordage and the delete key has no place. With only twenty minutes, I put all my effort in to getting the words out. Perfection could come later.  
SPRINTS AREN’T TINY FINITE THINGS: Sprints lead to sustained writing. Many times, I found myself writing between the sprints because I found an idea that wouldn’t let go. The entire process gave me a sense of forward momentum that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

I CAN EXIST OUTSIDE THE MATRIX: I reduced my goofing off online and focused on writing. The Fast Draft program required Tweeting, but Twitter was the only other app I had open on my tablet. It was Internet enough to keep me from jonesing for online interaction.
Results of Fast Draft

I made my word count goals for every day that week—PLUS. The sprinting enabled me to write ahead to compensate for day-job shifts and family obligations.
The sprints took up the time in between my real life events, time I would have puttered away playing Coin Mania on my phone.
It recalled my very first writing process—when I wrote my first novel in snippets of free time, editing in the car waiting for the kids to get out of school, looking at pages while sitting in waiting rooms, writing for an hour before the kids woke up. Those were the days I let myself be led about by my muse. My most passionate days. Sprint writing reminded me how much fun it was to chase the muse in bursts.

The numbers? Six days of Fast Draft yielded...

  • 15,000 words in my first draft manuscript—that’s one-half my month’s goal

  • Three blog posts

  • One edition of my author newsletter, containing an exclusive short story prequel to my Demimonde series

I also worked a full-time week at the day-job and went to three karate classes. In fact, I didn’t miss a single obligation or chore or task and the husband and I still had time to catch up on the television programs we record.
The best part is the book, though—my draft is not only just about complete, I’ve also managed to knock on the inboxes of my most favorite Beta readers. The Fast Draft’s motivation sustained my writing in the weeks that followed. I even managed to write a short story for my daughter to take with her to camp this week, printing it and binding it and tucking it into her knap sack before I left her in the woods, because that's what moms do.
So, before I grab my espadrilles and head outside with a tall glass of sweet tea to steal another bit of summer vacation, I thought I’d share my best practices for organizing a Fast Draft of your own. Pick a period of time, share your Twitter handles, create a fun hashtag or two, and sprint your way to a complete draft.

TIME FRAME: Too short and you may not have ample opportunity to participate. Real life responsibilities don’t disappear just because you hide behind your monitor. Too long, and you might drift off and abandon your cause. Seven days was perfect—it was like summer camp for me, a manageable amount of time that didn’t threaten to eclipse the rest of my life.

PARTICIPANTS: It’s a buddy write, folks, so you can’t do it alone. Email your friends. Put a call out on your social networks with an open invitation. Get to know new people and create a virtual writers commune. Usually, our #FastDraft team involved six or seven of us—lots of writing partners online throughout the day, yet a list small enough that we could Tweet with all our handles as well as a message in one post.

SPRINTING: Someone would announce a sprint and see who was in for it. “I’m going for 20 min at :10” meant a twenty minute sprint starting at ten past the hour. Sometimes we chatted for a minute or two before the sprint; sometimes we sprinted to refill coffee before the next writing block. The lengths of the sprints went between 15 and 30 minutes most of the time, depending on who was awake and who was around. If I couldn’t write for a sprint, I kept an eye open for the next opportunity.

COMMUNICATION: Let your fellow writers know you are out there. This is the team motivation part. Encourage the ones who write even when you can’t. Announce your word counts at the end of the sprint—did you make goal? Did you edit more than you wrote? Chatter is key because the biggest reason to use a buddy write like Fast Draft is the accountability. We all work harder and better if we think we are being watched.

Most of all, keep up the momentum when your Fast Draft is over.
You have your goals. You have your deadlines. Now all you need is the motivation. Thanks to SK Falls, I found mine with #FastDraft and you might, too. 
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Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Balancing Solitude and Social Life

by Rosie Genova

I doubt there’s a writer alive who can’t relate to Carpenter's words (at right). Even the most gregarious among us, the most talkative, the most social—and I count myself in that number—need that quiet time to work, or think, or plot, or plan.

At parties, for example, I’m the one circulating and working the room. At conferences, I’m the one chatting with other writers and handing out business cards. I will yak your ear off, but essentially, I am an introvert. A friend who’s a family therapist put it this way: “Extroverts need other people to recharge; introverts need solitude.”

Listen, I love my family. I cherish my friends. I have strong bonds with my colleagues and students at work. But at a certain point, I need them to all go away so I can decompress, be alone with my thoughts, and write.

Public domain image courtesy of www.oldbookillustrations.com

As writers, we crave those hours when it’s just us and the desk and the pen. We need that time and space for our work. In fact, there’s lots of research that suggests that solitude is essential to our psychological well-being, as this article makes plain. But I’ve found that it’s far too easy to get lost in that place.

Writing is a solitary art, but we are social animals. We have spouses, partners, parents, and children, and those relationships can sometimes be at odds with our work. Because even when we’re not actively writing,  we’re often thinking about our characters and plotting our stories. When I was writing my first novel, I would sometimes get a faraway look on my face that my husband and sons grew to recognize. “You’re thinking about your book, aren’t you?” they would ask, and the answer was obvious. Even though I was with them, I was not with them.

I know that the worlds we build in fiction are as real as the ones in which we live. That the characters we create live and breathe and talk inside our heads, and we love them. But they can’t hold our hands or shoot us a smile or share a joke with us. More importantly, they don’t lose out if we can’t spend time with them, unlike the real people in our lives.

And even if we wait for the times that “everyone has gone,” we want them to come back to us. For that, we need to be present ourselves. As important as our work is, it can’t—and shouldn’t—take the place of our human connections. There are times we need to leave our fictional worlds behind and live fully in this one. We owe that to the people who love and support us in this crazy pursuit of ours.

So now let me ask you: as a writer, how do you balance your need for solitude with the needs of the people in your life?

A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, will be released October 1. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean  in central New Jersey, with her husband, two of her three sons, and an ill-behaved fox terrier.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Publishing Pulse 6/21/13


Self publishing? Here are the Dos and Don'ts for a Good Self-Published PR Experience.

A challenge self-publishing authors face is the creation of the book cover. Jason Boog explains How to Make a Book Cover with Public Domain Images -- using free software.

Social Media News

Here's an interesting way to use Pinterest: post pictures and write micro-stories about them. That's what aspiring novelist Tiffany Beveridge is doing.

Having trouble getting people to your website and social media sites? Jane Friedman explains what you're doing wrong and how to fix the problem.

One of the "in" things for aspiring novelists to do is post a rough draft of a WIP. Rachelle Gardner addresses both why you  might want to do it...and why you might not.

Better Writing

When you write a book, you need to hook the reader right from the first sentence. Charlie Price shows you how.

How can you end chapters to keep the reader turning pages? Tiffany Reisz shows you in Make It Stick.

Ever notice how easy it is to write characters who sound just like the author? Janice Hardy has some advice for you on how to break the pattern.

Diverse Characters, Diverse Words

Write children's books? There's an enormous need for books that include diversity, particularly related to African American and Latino kids. "This isn't only about more African American books for African American children or more Latino books for Latino kids...it's about more varied content so that all children can experience the richness of everyone's stories," said the president and CEO of FirstBook, a nonprofit that serves children in need.

I wrote an ode to thesauri back in November, and now there's another option--Power Thesaurus, which is "a crowdsourced tool for finding the best synonym or antonym." Not sure what I think about this--is the collective wisdom a help, or will we all start using exactly the same words? What do you think? Feel free to comment below!

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, June 19, 2013

The Word Writers Dread

©Stina Lindenblatt

Many writers are paralyzed at the thought of writing queries. It’s like our whole future as a writer comes down to those 150 to 250 words. Blow them, and an agent will pass on your book before he even gives it a chance.

So we slave away at our query. We ask our beta readers and critique partners to provide feedback. We risk humiliation by posting it on public forums for strangers to tear apart. And tear it apart they will, often at the risk of asking you include everything but the kitchen sink. Often at the risk of either sucking out your voice or giving you a new one. Heck, they might even try to change your query to a story that doesn’t exist.

Once you’ve beaten your query into shape and shed a few tears over it, you’re now ready to send it out and refresh your inbox every 2.3 minutes.

Or are you?

We loathe writing queries, but there’s something else we loathe even more—the dreaded synopsis.

Now, I know writers who hate them so much, they purposefully exclude all agents from their query list who want a synopsis with the query and sample pages. The writers hope the agent who doesn’t request a synopsis will be the one to offer representation, and then the writer doesn’t have to create one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When your agent is ready to pitch your book to editors, she will send out your blurb (aka query), author bio, and synopsis. Stop. Let’s rewind and play that again. She will send out your synopsis, and if an editor is interested, he will request your manuscript.


Where’s the ending?

The query should intrigue the agent or editor enough to request your manuscript. It’s like the blurb on the back cover of a book. You don’t want to reveal the ending of your story in the query. This is a major difference between the query and synopsis. If you don’t include the ending of your story in the synopsis, it’s an instant rejection.

Don’t Forget the Voice

Sample pages are not included in the submission package sent to editors. They rely on your synopsis to get an idea of your voice. A dry sounding synopsis isn’t going to win you points. Just like with the query, try to infuse voice in your synopsis.

Whose POV Is This In?

The synopsis is always written in third person, present tense, even if your book is in first person, past tense. The exception is when you reveal backstory necessary to the synopsis. Then you write it in simple past tense. If your book is in first person and you’re having difficulties writing the synopsis in third, write it in first person then change it to third. If your story is told from multiple point of views, pick the protagonist whose story is the main one, and write the synopsis based on that. It’s impossible to include everybody’s storyline in the synopsis without confusing the reader, so don’t even try.

Keep It Simple

Your story will be complex with multiple layers and characters, but for your synopsis, keep it simple. Mention only the key characters and only focus on the main points of the story. This is easy to do if your book follows basic story structure (e.g. inciting incident, first turning point, midpoint, second turn point, etc). For more information on story structure, check out Save the Cat by Blake Synder, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hague. And make sure you show your protagonist’s character arc in the synopsis.

How long?

This varies from agent to agent. Some ask for one page. Some want up to five pages. If it’s more than one page, the synopsis will be double spaced. A one page synopsis will be single spaced. The easiest way to write one is to make it as long as it needs to be to get your main points down, then edit, edit, edit. To save time, create several synopses of different lengths, then you’re ready no matter what the agent requests.

Start Early

Get in the habit of creating the synopsis before you write the first draft. By doing this, you can ensure you have a cohesive story that moves forward, and you don’t waste time on a story with structural issues. Also, if you eventually go on to sign a multi-book contract, your editor may want to see the synopsis for your yet unfinished books.

Review your synopsis anytime you make changes to the plot. There’s nothing worse than expecting a happily-ever-after ending, as stated in the synopsis, only to discover that in the manuscript the author sent you, the hero is murdered in a tragic ending.

Get Feedback

We spend time ensuring our queries are compelling and free of errors by enlisting the help of others to give us feedback. Make sure you take the same care with your synopsis. While your agent will help you make it shine, if need be, they are extremely busy. By putting it through the same degree of scrutiny you put your query through, it will make her job easier. And that will make your agent happy.  

When do you tend to write the synopsis? Do you enjoy writing them, or do you prefer writing the query?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes Young Adult and New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer, a blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog (when she isn’t writing).  She’s represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person.

Monday, June 17, 2013

An Author's Complete Guide to Using Goodreads, Part II: Psychology

Missed Part I in this series? Click here.

Goodreads.com, recently purchased by Amazon.com, is the largest social media platform for book lovers. With over ten million members, and a focus on reading and nothing but reading, it is a great place to find readers for your book. But what will they do with it once they find it?

They'll read it, of course. And that's what we want. But those coveted readers will sometimes rate your book, or leave a review. In every author's life comes a day when that review or rating does not feel good. Perhaps Ella Fitzgerald had a Goodreads premonition when she sang, "into each life some rain must fall." Because bad reviews are inevitable.

Humor me and say it out loud. "Bad reviews are inevitable." Because they are. And here's the really tricky concept to graspthey're actually desirable.

You don't believe me? I'm not at all offended. Because it took me awhile to wrap my head around this concept, too. Let me put it to you another way:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has 59,568 one star reviews.
The Help by Katharine Stockett has 3,256 one star reviews.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare has 25,291 one star reviews.

Every time someone rates or reviews your book, your cover art appears in that person's news feed, even if they trash you. Now, it's tough to read a review that's uninformed or just plain mean. But readers come to Goodreads because of its dynamic capabilities. And we take the bad with the good, because they go hand in hand. Consider the following reader reviews of these cultural touchstones.
I pulled these directly from Goodreads:

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
"When I read this/watched the movie, I felt like Shakespeare wrote this when he was a crazy old man who didn't care anymore. I imagine he was like, "I'm done bitches," and then threw the script across the room."

The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway
"It bored the living crap out of me."

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
"For the first 50 pages or so, I thought it was gonna be a good one. but then it just started to suck. I shouldn't even have finished it, but I did. can't believe it won a pulizter or whatever."

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
"Alright, so she loves someone else, blah blah. It’s frustrating and it’s not as if this has never been written about before or since, by far superior writers."



What should we do when we get a completely unfair review? (And this is the toughest lesson.) There is only one answer, and that answer is: nothing. There is almost no situation in which the author stands to gain a thing by responding to negativity. The people at Goodreads know this, and the first time an author tries to comment on one of her own reviews, a yellow warning box will appear on the screen. In about 200 words, they tell you "don't do it!"

And that's good advice. There have been times when authors try to respond to the attack, and the reviewer marshals a bunch of friends to stop by and leave that author more one star reviews. There are trolls in the world, and tripping into their lair is not fun.

But even if that wouldn't happen, you should still refrain. When we put a book out into the world, we have to let go. If our readers decide that book makes a better dart board than literature, so be it. Close the browser window, pour another cup of coffee, and work on that WIP.

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.