QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ideas = $ cheap $

Recently I applied for a position co-writing a graphic novel. As a geek who frequently spent her lunch money on comic books, I felt qualified for the job, plus I have some expertise in the subject matter specified by the creator. He decided to go with a different writer (no biggie) and then...

...and then he asked me to stay onboard as a consultant, to give his paid writer ideas akin to the suggestions I'd already made during the selection process. Then, after I came up with the ideas, his other writer would write them.

I don't blame the creator for wanting to assemble the best team possible, but that kind of arrangement is in no one's best interest.

Why? Because ideas are cheap.

Realizing those ideas to their fullest extent? That's the key.

Do you want proof? Think about how often you mention you're a writer, and someone tries to tell you the idea she has for the  novel she's never written.

I could come up with a dozen ideas for this person's graphic novel. A couple of them might even be good. But bear in mind that the other writer is, presumably, a better fit for the project than I -- and therefore also ought to have many of his own ideas for the project. Trying to force the other writer to enact my ideas would be like trying to force the other writer to wear my shoes. They probably won't fit all that well because those ideas resonated with me -- and they might not resonate with the other writer.

What if I want to explore the main character's feelings of guilt and tie them to his relationship to his father? Awesome, right? But the other writer sees the guilt pretty much as a sidecar to the main character, something to be shed and left behind rather than explored. Forcing the other writer to explore it would result in a bored writer and, ultimately, a bored reader.

Picture an idea like the trunk of a tree. You could have two identical trunks, but you won't have identical branches. They won't split off in the same places, won't reach toward the sun in the same way, won't sprout leaves in identical spots. One idea is great, but the micro-ideas are going to give your story its richness, its texture and depth. And micro-ideas only matter inasmuch as they're continuous with the whole.

That's why you can read ten "portal stories" and none are the same, or ten different stories about a young boy finding his destiny and fulfilling a prophecy to save the world. Percy Jackson and Harry Potter have a lot in common -- but they have more not in common.

Moreover, every writer is going to find interest in different facets of the same question. That's why fellow QT blogger Carolyn Kaufman and I both wrote very different fanfiction for Battle of the Planets, using the same characters, the same setup and even based on the same episodes -- but all involving different ideas or different ways of exploring the same ideas.

What about when you go to your beta readers or critique partners and start tossing around ideas for your story? Invariably I'll bet you find your CP makes a suggestion, and most of the time you're going to think, "No, not quite right." But when the CP makes a suggestion that's just right, how do you respond? Not with "Oh, yeah, I'll get right on that" but "OH! And it would be even better if..."

And that's because once you adopt the suggestion, you're going to tint it with all the ideas and all the subtext you brought to your original idea.

Writers often ask if they should copyright their work before querying, afraid an unscrupulous agent or editor might steal their idea. But so what? Your idea should be fully realizable only by you. If an editor wants to try marketing a cheap knockoff of your golden idea, it'll look like a cheap knockoff.

Your story came out of your heart. Your heart is not easily duplicated.

At any rate, I wished the graphic novel team well, and I bowed out. That writer will want to develop his own ideas, and I encourage you too to develop your own ideas. Write your own ideas. Explore your ideas in a way that resonates within the story. No one else will grow your ideas the way you can.

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 still knitting that same endless pair of socks. 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, July 29, 2013

Finding a Reputable Agent or Publisher

Base Image: DragonTash
I recently got an excited email from an acquaintance whose book had been accepted by a "publisher" with a terrible reputation for doing very little publishing and a great deal of stealing starry-eyed writers' hard-earned dollars. I had to give her the bad news that the publisher was not only disreputable, it was a scammer.

To keep the same thing from happening to you (or your friends), it's good to understand what makes a publisher reputable or reprehensible. Read on!

How Do I Find a Reputable Agent or Publisher?

There are a lot of ways to get published these days; Jane Friedman summarized them well in her recent objective infographic, 5 Key Book Publishing Paths. With regards to financial risk and value, a summary of her paths is:

  1. Traditional: Advance + royalties model; publisher takes on all financial and creative risk but is extremely selective about which books are chosen (e.g. Penguin)
  2. Partnership: No fee to publish, no advance; partner selective about which books are chosen (e.g. Rogue Reader)
  3. Fully Assisted: Author pays upfront free; all work is accepted (e.g. AuthorHouse). This is also sometimes referred to as vanity publishing.
  4. DIY + Distributor: Author does most work, pays service for conversion of all files into e-book, POD, or print; distribution service may take a percentage of sales and is responsible for paying you (e.g. CreateSpace)
  5. DIY Direct: Author does all work and provides retailers with completed books; retailer takes a percentage of sales (e.g. Amazon KDP)

Friedman's Key Publishing Paths Infographic
For a long time, the die-hard rule of the road was, never give money to an agent or a publisher, but the pond has gotten a lot muddier with so many available options. If you wish to self-publish or go through a “fully assisted” service like Author House, you will be paying some money to see your book published; however, if you produce a true quality product that people want and you are willing and able to do the work to promote it, you may do extremely well.

The most outspoken (and one of the most successful) self-publishing authors is J.A. Konrath, who could be called an entrepreneur. He's had so much success and made so much money that he had no problem turning down a $500K publishing deal from a mainstream publisher in 2011.

Of all the publishing approaches, the “fully assisted” (aka vanity) route is still seen by most as the worst since the service will publish anything, regardless of quality, and along the way they will push you to spend more and more money on things you don't need. As Friedman notes, “The self-pub success stories you hear about do not come from full-assist services.” So if you’re going to self-publish, take one of the DIY approaches.

If you want to go a more traditional route, however, you will either need to go through an agent or approach small publishers directly. The trick to this can be sorting the shysters from the reputable, so let’s look at some rules of thumb.


Not all resources, including some of the big-name publications and databases, put the legitimacy of the agent or agency first, but QueryTracker does. Though you should always keep your eyes open, administrator Patrick McDonald does his utmost to include only reputable agents. People frequently ask why this agent or that agent is not included, and now you know why. (Note: Sometimes there is nothing actually wrong with an agent, she may just be new enough that she has not yet built any reputation either way.)

You should never give money to an agent. If one tries to charge you for anything—from reading to editing to finding a home for your book—run.  Many less-than-upstanding “agents” make their money not from book sales, but from referring unwitting authors to editors who will charge them an arm and a leg without actually providing a quality service. In these cases, the agent gets a kickback from the editor. It’s fine for an agent to recommend more extensive editing than she is willing to do, but choose your own editor rather than accepting a referral. And if an agent takes you on, her editing assistance must be free.  It’s a conflict of interest for an agent who is also your editor to take your money.

When you find an agent or agency that interests you, always do some additional research—and that includes agents on QueryTracker, just to be safe. Two of the best resources (listed beside each QT agent’s entry) include Preditors and Editors for agents and agencies and SFWA’s Writer Beware. You can also ask what other people have heard on message boards like those in the QueryTracker Forum.

Finally, be sure to check out the agent and agency's website and (if available) blog. Reputable agents and agencies should have significant recent sales in the area you wish to publish.


QueryTracker has a growing list of publisher listings, which include the same information on acceptance and rejection statistics that is provided for agents and agencies.

The rules of the road are very similar to those noted above for agents.  Traditional and partnership publishers should not charge you upfront fees of any kind, including those for editing. And again, always double-check the publisher’s reputation by looking for recent sales, and by visiting Writer Beware. (If you want to take a look at one active “publisher”—who keeps changing names to try to avoid its own bad reputation—that is notorious for bilking writers, look at the Writer Beware entry on SBPRA.)

Don't Forget!

In both cases, remember—a publisher makes its money from sales. It gets the big percentage (often around 90%), and you get the small one. Likewise, a literary agent makes money because she gets a percentage—usually 15% for domestic sales and 20% for foreign sales—of any money the author makes. If an agent is involved, any money you make goes from the publisher to your agent, who takes her 15% and then sends the rest along to you.

It is therefore in the interest of such reputable agents and publishers to only choose writers who can actually sell books, because the author has to start making money on the book for them to get paid!

Once your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly get it and your betas (and/or editor) can't find much to complain about, you're ready for the next step—querying. More on choosing an agent or publisher who really "gets" your work in a future post!*

Have you ever had a bad experience or a close call with an agent, agency, or publisher? Without naming names, tell us about what you learned from the experience in the comments.

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*I’ve gotten several questions via email recently asking me about dealing with agents, so this is the third part of a series of posts on figuring out whether you’re ready to start querying, whether you need an agent,  finding a reputable agent, and choosing someone who really “gets” your work. Of course, QueryTracker.net will help you through all of the stages, and fellow QT blogger Jane Lebak recently wrote a great post on How to Use the QueryTracker Site.

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, July 26, 2013

The Publishing Pulse: July 26, 2013

Success Stories

Congratulations to Peter Hogenkamp who recently signed with his agent.

Around the Internet
Goodreads has reached a milestone of 20 million members.

Illustrator Tina Kugler shows the lack of ethnic diversity in children’s books.

Agent Rachelle Gardner talks about getting your rights back from the publisher.

Agent Rachel Kent shares some basic safety techniques for authors.

Agent Janet Reid blogged on effective book covers.

Janice Hardy shows you how to reveal character’s past without falling into backstory. 

Angela Ackerman explains three common problems with show and tell. Are you making them?

Have a great weekend!

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, July 24, 2013

Queries: They Aren’t Just For Agents Anymore

Whether or not you decide to approach an agent for representation, there is no denying a simple fact: you need to learn how to query, and to query well.

I am talking to everyone here, even the folks who say “I choose to self-publish and will not be querying an agent.”  In fact, those are precisely the writers whom I’m addressing today.

Every writer, regardless of which philosophy (self-publish or traditional publishing) needs to learn the proper techniques for writing an arresting query. The success of our books depends upon it.

Obviously, a writer who wants to become represented by a literary agency needs to learn how to query in order to get “discovered.” By comparison, writers have far less opportunity to pitch in person, such as at a conference or in an informal blog contest—and, even then, proper follow-up is needed to seal the deal.

Learning to write a query letter teaches us 1) business etiquette 2) how to pitch 3) patience. All three things are absolutely key if we want to make the jump from writer to author with the help of an agent.

There are a lot of writers who aren’t seeking the assistance of a literary agency. Yet, they still need to learn how to write an effective query. Authors who approach a small press (as I did) still need to query the house editors. Same query, same rules, same lessons. I can’t imagine an editor being happy to find an unsolicited manuscript, wrapped in string, shoved into a box without a cover letter. (That’s why a query satisfies the good business etiquette aspect.)

I still can hear many self-publishing and potential-self-publishing writers protesting my assertion. “Self-publishing doesn’t mean small press,” you may be saying. “Still don’t need a query.”

And my response is “Oh, you most certainly do.” After all, how else will you approach strangers for book reviews?

All books subsist on the meat of reviews for survival. Traditionally published authors (small press included) often have the power of their houses—and their marketing departments—behind them. There are teams who send out review copies in order to secure reviews for new books. Those people are essentially querying book reviewers, pitching books to them in the hopes they can generate some interest and word-of-mouth.

Many self-publishers do not have their own marketing departments to send out requests. In fact, I’m willing to skip the research and postulate that many self-publishers are solo venturists who operate with a team of one. I myself have self-published, and I can count the number of people on my staff on one finger. (Me.)

That means one very important thing—I need to know how to query if I want to get my book reviewed. Querying a book reviewer is pretty much the same thing as querying an agent.

First, there is the business etiquette. Book bloggers are business people—they set forth guidelines for preferred genres, they have rules for submitting requests, and they should be approached with the same care and respect as any literary agent. I’m trying to resist sounding Darth Vaderish by saying BEHOLD THE POWER but, really, they are a powerful lot. Many book bloggers have massive followings, readers who trust their reactions and their recommendations. Being received well by a book blogger can mean a surge in readership for your book. Query them with dignity and respect, so that they may return the respect to your book.

There are many great book touring companies who will organize review tours for your book, for a fee. I’ve used a few such companies, myself, and appreciated the time and energy I was able to re-direct into writing. However, good tours are pricey and a debut author may not feel comfortable with the expense. All the more reason to make sure you can do it by yourself.  

When I sold my Demimonde series to Pink Narcissus Press, I thought my querying days were over. In actuality, I got a mere vacation from it, that’s all. Although my publisher sent review copies to the big review sites, it was up to me to create my blog tour and to secure reviews by book blogs. My previous experience in querying made me an old pro at writing those letters.

And I need to be an old pro, if I’m going to continue seeking reviews for my books. Of course, my query evolves with every project: a single novel has turned into a series and I’ve gone from a debut writer to a multi-published author. But the essentials are still there. The need for proper business etiquette. The necessity for an unforgettable pitch.

And the third element, patience—unfortunately, that’s part of the querying game, no matter who you are or to whom you’re sending a query. That’s still the hardest lesson to learn.
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For more tips on querying reviewers, check out Lisa Shea (of BellaOnline) and her article "Common Mistakes When Seeking Reviews" or Laura Pepper Wu's "How To Get Amazon's Top Customer Reviewers to Review Your Book"

And don't forget: the Query Tracker Blog has an archive full of great articles on how to write that killer query...and the Query Tracker forum is full of friendly folk who are willing to read over your query for feedback.

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); "Blood Rush (Demimonde #2)" was released May 2013. Additionally, her urban fantasy novella "Stranger at the Hell Gate" (The Wild Rose Press) was released in July 2013.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Writer’s Morning* (Ever Have One of These?)

*with apologies to Helen Fielding

Note: This post of Rosie's should have gone up yesterday, but Carolyn, who was responsible for getting the post up, was having one of those days yesterday...

Rosie G's Diary
Previous day’s word count: 3, 236

6:58 a.m. Awake before seven! V. good. Lots of time to get some writing done before breakfast. Head straight to desk and open manuscript. Minimize manuscript and check email. Check Facebook—two new notifications! Check Goodreads to see who has added me to “want to read” list.  Apparently, no one. Re-open manuscript.

7:23 a.m. Stare at page 9. Why is protag talking to this other person? In fact, who is this character? Take out Oxford comma in line of dialogue. Add “that” for parallel structure. Continue to stare at page 9 until lightheaded. In need of protein and caffeine.

Word count: 3,237

7:48 a.m./Eight hours until cocktails. Time for breakfast. Cook up two eggs and three slices of bacon. (No toast, as watching carbs.) Read Publishers Weekly and check lists. Good God—how did that book even make it? No accounting for the market. Does talent even matter these days???? Continue to make smug pronouncements until caffeine hits and hurry upstairs.

8:17 a.m. Back at desk. Squint at page 9. Put glasses on. Stare at page 9. Aha! I remember why second character is in room! (How will I get her out of room? Worry about that later!) Finally getting momentum. V. good. Second character looks at protag with “an expression of desolate despair.” Or perhaps “despairing desolation”?

8:20 a. m. Look down at lap and notice alarming thigh spread. Was bacon a bad choice for breakfast? Must get moving!   A brisk walk, followed by 75 lunges ought to do the trick. Will use the time to work out main character motivation.

Word count: 3, 243

8:25-9:51 a.m. Out on power walk—perfect for inspiration! So why does protag get involved in investigation? Curiosity? Pride, or perhaps—ooooh, new bakery just opened in town. Are those samples I spy in basket outside door? Yum. Brush croissant crumbs from shirt. On walk home, decide protag has dark secret to be revealed. (But what is dark secret? Worry about that later.)

10:00 a.m./Six hours until cocktails. Back at desk. Add two modifiers to dialogue tags. Protag speaks “confidentially.” Second character gasps “breathlessly.” Damn, I’m good. (Note to self: give second character a name)

Word count: 3,245

10:13 a.m. Thirsty from exertion. Go to kitchen to fill 64 oz. water bottle. Must stay properly hydrated to write.  Back at desk. No Google alerts today. Search self under real name. Search self under pen name. Search self plus title of book. Search self plus “reviews.” Search self plus “debut author.” Search self on all pages found, including those in foreign languages. Finish water bottle.

10:47 a.m. Potty break! Check out self in bathroom mirror while washing hands. Eyebrows in desperate need of grooming. While plucking, decide upon second character name: Penelope. Or Leticia. V. Good!

Word count: 3,245

11: 23 a.m./Approximately five hours until cocktails. Back at desk. Add Penelope/Leticia’s name to dialogue tags and mull over protag’s dark secret. Is Penelope/Leticia in possession of said secret? (Will worry about that later.) Provide Penelope/Leticia with “feral grace” and “hair as dark as midnight.” Oooh, I’m on page ten! Double digits at last!! Minimize document.

11:48 a.m. In celebration of page 10, check Amazon numbers on pre-orders. Can that be right? Open author page and go to graph. Still in the six digits. Crap. Check Novelrank in case of some mistake. Apparently not.  But UK numbers up by one! Huzzah! Make note to order more promo materials, stat!

12:14 p.m./3.5 hours until cocktails. One thousand bookmarks, 1 gross pens, and several hundred “signed by the author” stickers will be in my possession by tomorrow! V. Good. Open document. Time to establish main character’s dark secret.  Find and remove two more Oxford commas. Re-read pages 1-9 to better grasp main character motivation. Realize edits sorely needed—revise all flabby prose. Delve more deeply into main character motivation and mysterious connection to Penelope/Leticia. But what IS dark secret?

(Will worry about that later, as it is time for lunch.)

Final word count: 3,236    V.Good!

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, July 19, 2013

Publishing Pulse for July 19th, 2013

Around the Internet

The publishing story of the week (if not the month) was the outing of J.K. Rowling as the author of a mystery novel The Cuckoo's Calling, published under the name Robert Galbraith. When I first caught wind of it, I clocked the book with an Amazon rating just higher than #30,000. When I looked again the next morning, the book was sitting firmly at #1.

The book had sold only 1,500 copies in England prior to its being outed. Now they're printing 300,000.

The big reveal also managed to happen just after Thrillerfest 2013, which set an attendance record in its eighth year, at 1000. Anne Rice, Matthew Quirk and Steve Berry won awards, among others.

Summer is a big season for publishing conferences. Romance Writers of America is having their big get together in Atlanta as we speak. This conference pulls in over 2000 writers, publishers and agents, where the RITA awards are announced.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

End As You Went On

With every boyfriend, I knew before the end of the first what would be the problem that broke us up. (This works both ways: I also knew before one month that my Patient Husband was The One.)  It's party intuition of course but mostly in knowing your dynamics. It never really was a surprise that so-and-so turned out to be a liar or had no sense of humor, and even when it hurt, the breakup had a sense of inevitability. What did you expect? You knew he was {fill-in-the-blank.}

Novels need to have this too, especially in their endings. Not boring or predictable endings, but we need to have a sense during the climactic fight that the parties are fighting over the right thing, and using the right tools to do so.

At the end of Return Of The Jedi, Luke and Vader have an epic lightsaber battle, both of them using The Force to try to win the battle for the other's allegiance.

Now back up a moment. How would you feel if Luke walked into the Emperor's chamber and when the Emperor tries to manipulate him with The Force, Luke pulls out his Ultimate MegaPlasmaCannon and fries him where he stands?

It's not satisfying because it comes out of nowhere. This young Jedi has spent three movies discovering and learning to manipulate The Force, and now at the climax, we have a sense that The Force needs to be involved in the story's resolution. 

It's not just a matter of tying up loose ends. That's mandatory. What I'm asking here is that whatever has been the central conflict of the story be reflected in the climax, and in a big way. If your main character has battled against a fear of heights during the book, your climax had better be taking place in a bell tower.

The story question will have returned repeatedly, and the intensity will have ramped up every time it shows itself in the plot. Since the climax is the highest-tension part of the plot, the story question needs to be at its highest pitch there as well.

The advice I normally give is that your main character has to be instrumental in solving the main problem, but I'm taking it one step further. Your main character's chief flaws have to be highlighted and overcome in the climax. Moreover, the thing your main character has desired most from the beginning of the book must be brought to bear on the final resolution.

Without that kind of resolution, your story just fizzles. In the end, we want to know not only that your character won the day, but that he won it fairly and has the dignity of a hard-earned victory.

When you infuse your central story questions into the fabric of the climax, the reader knows why those questions were worth so much effort in the first place. It's more satisfying, and the reader feels the victory along with you.

They say "Begin as you mean to go on." Well, now I'm telling you, "End as you went on." Make sure the ending is perfectly fitted to the story it caps.

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 knitting socks. 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, July 15, 2013

Social Networking: Snubbing a Potential Fan?

The reality for today’s author is that we need to promote our books in order to reach our intended audience. It is then hoped that our intended audience will buy our book. Each time they buy our book, we make money. Each time they recommend our book to their friends and their friends buy it, we make money. Pretty simple, huh?

One of the best ways for readers to find out about our books is through social media. It could be that they read a review about your book on a blog. It could be that someone—a fan, perhaps—tweets about the book. Or it could be the reader follows your blog or Facebook page or Twitter feed. There’s no discounting the power of social media.

But while you’re promoting your book, don’t ignore the benefits of relationships developed through social media with writers within your genre. Typically, these writers also read the genre (or at least they should be), which means they could become fans of your books. If these individuals follow you on Twitter and you ignore them (either you don’t follow them back or ignore them when they attempt to engage in a meaningful conversation with you), that’s not going to help you in the long run. If you’re releasing a book, and are relatively unknown, why ignore the people who could help increase your book’s visibility? You never know when that new friend could help you down the line. Maybe her book will become a bestseller, and wouldn’t it be great if a bestselling author blurbed your book?

Considering how flooded the market currently is with New Adult contemporary romances (for example), authors need all the readers they can get. By snubbing a writer of your genre, she may decide to buy someone else’s book instead of yours. This is especially true if all you ever do is tweet excerpts from your book and only have conversations with authors within your circle of friends (or with the big names you’re trying to be noticed by).

And what are the potential consequences for your book if you do this?

The writer won’t have a chance to fall in love with your book (or really enjoy it) and rate it on Goodreads.

She won’t post the cover on her blog.

She won’t give away a copy of your book on her blog or on Twitter or in a newsletter giveaway. So there goes another potential review or rating.

She won’t tweet about the book or mention it on her Facebook page.

She won’t post the cover on her ‘Books I Love’ Pinterest board.

Can you see how many promotional opportunities an author could miss out on, all because she discounted the power of social media relationships with writers and authors within her genre? Granted, not every writer uses all the platforms listed, but even having your book mentioned on one of these sites could benefit you.

How do you decide which followers on Twitter to follow back?

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.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Publishing Pulse: 7/12/13

Success Stories

Wow, it's been a great week for QueryTracker users seeking representation! Gina X. GrantJen Estes, Jenna Lehne, Andrew Kozma, and Marcia Hoehne all have new Success Stories up over at QueryTracker.net. Check them out to find out what they did right!

Elana Johnson Giveaway Winners

Thanks for all the great comments on our interview with Elana--we enjoyed hearing about how the QueryTracker sites have helped you! We put the names of everyone who commented in a...well, okay, it wasn't a hat, we had to use a flowerpot, but I promise, it worked the same way. And the winners are:

Winner of a signed copy of Elana's novel Possession: Jamie Ayres!

Winner of a query critique from Elana: Mim (Miriam Caldwell)!

Would each of you please send me (Carolyn) an email using my QueryTracker.net address listed in the column to the right? Jamie, please include your snail address; Mim, I just need your email so I can connect you with Elana. Congratulations!

Around the Web

Jody Hedlund explains the difference between a book reviewer and an influencer--someone who's usually trying to help with the author's promotion of a new book.

Porter Anderson tackles some delicate issues regarding literary and genre fiction (notice that I did not say literary vs. genre fiction) in his detailed post Writing on the Ether: Time for Literary Fiction To Come Out of the Cloisters?

Do you use Twitter as part of your author platform? Should you? Jane Friedman looks at whether Twitter makes sense for most writers.

Over on The Creative Penn, Graham Storrs shares seven things he learned from his first book deal.

One of the things we all worry about as writers is that the reader will decide not to finish the book. This will make you feel better--it happens to JK Rowling and EL James, too. Find out why people abandon even bestselling writers' books.

A great post by Keith Cronin on why your job when you receive a critique is not to say "Yeah, but..." (i.e. make excuses). Find out what you need to do instead.

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, July 10, 2013

How a Book Gets Its Cover: An Interview with Artist Ben Perini

Top: Ben Pirini; Bot: Busy Bodies by Joan Hess cover
Hi everyone—Rosie here, and today I’m delighted to have cover artist Ben Perini as our guest. Ben has designed a number of book covers, including my own Murder and Marinara. In this interview, he gives us a sneak peek into how book cover designers and illustrators work. Please join me in welcoming him.

1. Ben, thanks so much for joining us today. Would you tell us a bit about your background and your work? How did you get into book cover design?

I’ve been an artist all my life—drawing as most children do, except I received formal education quite young. My mother kept finding art lessons for me to attend; I went to the Saturday morning art classes at the Brooklyn Museum when I was eight years old. I like to say after graduating Saturday morning classes, I never looked back.

Many years later, returning to New York from California (at the encouragement of my future wife) with a portfolio in hand, I started networking and knocking on doors. One always has help in finding a way to a career, and I was no different. I went to see one of my favorite high school art teachers, Irwin Greenberg, who sent me to see Max Ginsburg, a teacher who was now working as an illustrator. He introduced me to art director/designer Tony Greco, who hired me for my first book cover and introduced me to the book publishing world. This was back in 1985. Through all those years I’ve worked with most of the major publishing houses and met many wonderful people. One of the aspects I enjoy about this business is collaborating with others to create the end product.

Back then, my work was created traditionally in acrylic paint on illustration boards, and airbrush was also useful. At some point in the 1990s I migrated to the computer to paint digitally. I do go back to traditional work at times, and I have some clients that only come to me for watercolor illustration—a much looser style than my digital paintings. In any case, an illustration always starts with a pencil sketch.

2. When I saw the sketch for my cover, I was astonished at how accurately you captured my own vision for the image as well as the spirit of the book—and you did this without reading it. Could you share the process that you typically follow when commissioned to design a book cover?

So, when I’m commissioned to illustrate a book cover the art director either knows exactly what she wants or she sends me a manuscript to read for a scene to illustrate. Or sometimes it falls somewhere in between those two extremes—maybe a synopsis is all we have to go on at the moment. We usually have a conversation about concept possibilities, and any required items to be included on the cover. I will do some exploratory sketches from those discussions to find a concept that fits the book.

With your book, the art director sent me the notes from the publisher’s cover conference, along with a few reference photos. She also sent the schedule of deadlines—when sketches are due and when the final art is due: art under fire! I recall we had an initial phone meeting to go over questions I had and to clarify direction. I then gathered my own photo references and spent time thinking about how to best present what was asked of me.

Sketches start simply at first, and this cover was all about getting the setting right, making it inviting. I sent a detailed sketch for the art director's input. She requested one change: the blackboard in my sketch was originally a picture in a frame. After that, I got approval to go to final art—a digital painting in this case. I like the contrast of the interior darker colors with the exterior blue sky with big clouds over the water in the final image.

The original sketch and final cover for Murder and Marinara
An artist's creative process is inspired by many things—you're always observing, and sometimes you're recalling memories. What really help me to capture the spirit of your book was growing up in Brooklyn and having the enjoyable experience of quite a few Italian Restaurants. And of course, we had our Coney Island.

3. Beyond the original sketch, what aspects of the cover did you execute and which fell to the art department at NAL? Did you decide on the color palette, for example?

For the most part I am commissioned to create the art for the book cover. So I painted the scene of the restaurant and the view out the window. I also created the type on the blackboard. I decide on the overall palette, but the designer darkened the walls so that the type would pop. The Art Director and graphic designer packaged the book with my art and the type. In some case the designer will add other desired graphics (e.g. banners under type) and commission a letterer to design type for a book.
Cover art for Cate Price's Going through the Notions

4. You seem to strike a balance between fine and commercial art, in the way that some writers are able to do with literary and commercial fiction. How do you achieve that balance between creating work of your own inspiration vs. the demands of the commercial market?

As an illustrator I’m always marketing myself, and I’m always creating new art for purpose. It’s a chance to experiment and be creative. Those ideas sometimes fit in with the fine art side of my studio, and vice versa. Both sides do need self-motivation; the fine arts have different incentives. In certain ways the commercial art is easier, because of the project at hand dictates what is needed and when it is needed. Also, having two children in college keeps me hard at work.

5. Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about? Where can we get a peek at your work on the web?

Right now what I’m inspired with is creating large-scale drawings: 52” x 48”. These works are in charcoal on Arches hot press watercolor paper, a very smooth, heavy-weight paper. I'm developing a series that I like to call imaginative portraits. There’s nothing like the experience of standing in front of a face that measures four foot from the chin to the apex of the skull. I now better understand why Chuck Close has worked in the scale he has for so many years.

There are some charcoal drawings on my website; the larger drawings will appear once the new site goes live.

BioBen Perini is an illustrator and a designer and a professional dreamer who has has worked for many national clients for over twenty-five years and has consistently created wonderful commercial art (traditional and digital), with great attention to detail. In the book publishing world, Ben has illustrated more book covers than he can mathematically work out.

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.

Monday, July 8, 2013

At the Scene: The Establishing Shot & Your Novel

Are you a visual writer?

As you sit and write your novel, do you imagine the action unfolding as clearly as if you were watching a movie?

That’s the kind of writer I am. Images and words are inextricably joined, inseparable until The End. I tend to visualize the action, the characters, the scenes, mulling them over and “watching” them interact and unfold, then take mad notes when I “see” something that works. The notes turn into manuscript pages and the pages into chapters.

Although novel-writing and screenwriting are two completely different animals, I have picked up more than one pointer from the film makers. By far, the most useful tip I’ve taken is the use of the establishing shot.

In film, the establishing shot is the opening shot that sets the scene—the location, the time, the spatial relationship between characters, even the concept of the story. Traditionally, this was accomplished through the use of a longshot or extreme longshot, although today’s film makers often skip it in order to get right into the action to establish a quicker pace.

Think about how many times we are chided to start in media res—in the middle of things—so that our first pages hook the reader. Those first 250 words are crucial if we want to catch the attention of an agent or editor. We can’t let readers fall asleep on the first page, can we?

However, that doesn’t mean there is no longer a place for an “establishing shot” in our books. You don’t need a lengthy scene set up to run as long as opening credits to an eighties romantic comedy but you do need a way to anchor the reader in each scene in order for them to become submerged in the story. Even in the case of the more modern action opener, the reader gets a strong sense of who and where when you establish the scene.

The Establishing Shot and Your Novel

You may only need a few sentences to establish each scene, using vivid imagery and well-crafted showing. Place your characters in the scene, and let the dialog and action take it from there. Establishing your scene at the very beginning allows you to set the stage—and forget it. The story moves forward in the space you’ve created.

And believe me, you must establish the scene before diving into action or dialog. Otherwise, it’s all just too far out there for a reader to grasp. Have you ever read a section, turning pages and having no clue who is speaking, where they are, or anything of a truly grounding nature? Readers crave substance in a story. Settings are part of that substance.

Consider fantasy literature, with its extensive world-building. Because the writer may have to create a setting from the ground up, the establishing shots can get pretty lengthy if not handled properly. One of my favorite set of first lines does brilliant work with its “establishing shot”:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)

Tolkien had a lot of work ahead of him, what with the creation of Middle Earth and all. He developed that hobbit-hole, then Hobbiton, then Middle Earth itself little by little as the story unfolded. Pretty soon we were imagining pretty near what Peter Jackson tossed up on the screen. But it was those first lines—that “establishing shot”—that put us there at the very beginning.

(And I love the back-loading he used—the placement of a powerful word at the very end of the sentence. Comfort. It’s a personal word that calls up our own definitions, thereby further investing ourselves in that hobbit-hole.)

Each subsequent scene you write will need its own “establishing shot”, too, even if it’s not quite as brilliant or elaborate as Tolkien’s. Time, location, participants, concept—every scene needs to relay those elements or you risk losing the reader. Good use of “establishing shots” will take your reader from one setting to another without letting them get lost on the way.

Writing Exercise

Open your current manuscript to the first page and read until you reach your “establishing shot”. How close to the beginning is it? Even stories that begin with the full-out action hook need establishing shots in order to anchor the action.

If you do not set the scene up at the very beginning, you need to work thrice as hard to keep readers engaged until you provide them with story legs to stand on. How can you set the scene earlier?

The good news is that you may be a champion “establishing shot” writer without ever having had to think about it very hard. If that’s the case, your work will be to ensure that every scene has its set-up and that you don’t waste pages doing it. Set up a scene in a country mansion in Georgia with a lush establishing shot--then illustrate the details of the party and the wedding cake and the jilted lover one by one as you move the story along. You don’t have to mention the mansion in Georgia over and over because it’s been established.

The plot moves unimpeded by unnecessary words, while the reader always knows where the story is happening. By paying attention to your “establishing shots” you can be sure to keep the reader engaged. Not only will the setting be established but the reader’s involvement in the story will be established, as well.

And that makes for a happy reader.
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"Create the scene before diving into action or dialog using an establishing shot"
"Anchor your reader in each scene in order for them to become submerged in the story"



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); "Blood Rush (Demimonde #2)" was released May 2013. Additionally, her urban fantasy novella "Stranger at the Hell Gate" (The Wild Rose Press) will be available for full release on July 10, 2013.