QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 31, 2014

12 Tips For Increasing Your Book’s Visibility (Even Before You’re Published)

There is a simple rule when it comes to selling your book. If the reader doesn’t know it exists, she won’t buy it. The solution is easy: make sure the reader knows about your book. Here are some popular (and not so popular) methods to increase your book’s visibility.

1. Run down the street naked with your cover painted on your chest. This will increase your book’s visibility (among other things), especially when you make it to the evening news after your arrest.

2. Create a website and list your current books and upcoming releases. Include the blurb and covers (when available). Make sure that all your social media sites are linked to it and are working. There is nothing more frustrating for a reader than to clink on an author’s link only to receive an error message.

3. Become involved in Facebook and/or Goodreads groups that pertain to your story. They can be genre specific (e.g. for New Adult authors or YA paranormal reads) or topic specific (e.g. breeding horses). Make sure you are actively involved. By that, I don’t mean annoy the members with spam. Read the rules of the group. If promotional activities are not allowed, then don’t ignore the rules and post your latest picture teaser. If you do, you’ll be kicked out faster than you can say your name. If promotional activities are permitted (e.g. cover reveals), make sure that you aren’t just posting promotional announcements and not participating in other discussions. Regular members tend to ignore promotional posts by individuals who only promote in the group. They are much more supportive to those individuals who regularly contribute to discussions.

4. Email everyone in your address folder (including people you haven’t talked to in years), and asked them to buy your book. Better yet, beg them to buy your book. And there’s no need to personalize the emails. Address it to ‘Dear Insignificant Person’ and CC everyone on your list. That is guaranteed to put your book on the bestseller list.  

5. Become active on the various social media sites. You don’t have to be a pro at all of them. Pick the ones most relevant to your target audience, and try to maintain a regular schedule. This might be as simple as blogging or using Tumblr once a week. The more often you’re on it, though, the more likely you’ll make friends with people who will love to help you out (e.g.  creating picture teasers or tweeting about your book).

6. Email total strangers, act like you know them, and tell them to buy your book.

7. Send DMs and Facebook messages to people who just followed or friended you, and tell them to check out your books.

8. Research and write an article related to a topic in your story, and submit it to relevant newspapers and magazines. Even if you can’t mention the title of your book in the article, you can list it in your bio.

9. Hire a blog tour company to help spread news of your book beyond your regular blogging circle. Even if you have a PR person assigned to you through your publisher, you can look at hiring outside help to increase your reach. The publicist might arrange to have your book mentioned on a few big blogs, but the more people who see your book the better. A reader usually has to see the cover three times before she decides to buy the book (or at least check out the blurb). With the number of new books released every day, it’s easy to forget about a book if you only hear it mentioned once.

10. Conduct a workshop. This could be a writer workshop, or it could be a workshop specific to some element of your story. For example, if you wrote a knitting book, teaching a knitting class will help increase the book’s exposure. Now, if you conduct a workshop on creating emotion in the story, the odds of attendees reading the book drops if they write genres different to your novel. But if your workshop is genre specific (e.g. new trends in YA), then you’ve increased the odds that attendees will check out your book. Make sure you don’t bore them by mentioning the title of your books every other sentence. They will quickly tune you out or leave the room if you try that. If you mention other authors’ books, as well as your own, you will gain credibility and will sell more books than the individual who talked incessantly about his book. I’ve seen this happen a number of times.

11. Create a street team. This is hard to do when it’s your first novel. You don’t have fans yet. In this case, you can start off small with friends who have read your book. As your fan base grows, you can add to your street team. Or if you know someone with a great street team, she might share them to help promote your book.

12. Tweet only about your book. Don’t waste time having conversations with other people (especially readers). Don’t waste time talking about anything but your book. Your goal is to spam, spam, spam.

As you may have guessed, not all of these are best practices when it comes to gaining visibility for your book. Unfortunately, there are many authors who do them and wonder why their books never sell (or don’t sell much). Can you identify the promotional no-nos*? What increases the odds that you will check out a book (i.e. read the blurb) or buy it?

(*1, 4, 6, 7, 12 in case you’re wondering)

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/websiteShe is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN (Carina Press, HQN) is now available. LET ME KNOW (Carina Press) will be available Sept 1st, 2014.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Publishing Pulse for Friday March 28th

Happy Friday! Is it me, or was this a quiet week in publishing news? Keep in mind that the Bologna fair is happening now, which means a lot of agents are out of town. (I know, there's always something!)

This is a screenshot from Publisher's Weekly!
In bestseller land, the DIVERGENT books bubbled back to the top of the charts, the Hollywood effect driving sales. Here's a fun question to ponder while you decide which showing of the movie you'll see: when these books first came out, do you think they were most frequently read by girls? And when a book becomes a blockbuster movie, does that change? Are more boys reading it now, because the movie brought them into the fold? (My guess is "yes." But that's pure speculation.)

A U.K. paper reports that one nine year-old girl read 364 books in seven months. But does she leave Goodreads reviews? Inquiring minds want to know.

There's been a lot of chatter about author Anne Rice's petition to Amazon to compel reviewers to use their real names. Her goal is to stop author bullying via unfair reviews (wherein the reviewer has not actually read the book, or has a personal ax to grind against the author.) One problem with this idea (well argued over at Dear Author) is that authors are not required to use their real names, are they? Tricky!

Until next week,

Monday, March 24, 2014

Report from the Trenches: The Agent Panel

On Saturday, March 15, I attended the Liberty States Fiction Writers Annual conference in New Jersey and sat in on the agents’ panel (where I paid strict attention and took careful notes!) so I could come back and report their secrets to QT-ers. The agents began by introducing themselves and then responding to the following questions: What do you want more of? What keeps you reading? What stops you from reading? Could you talk about the author phone call? Any other advice for writers?  Here’s a summary of what they said:

Marisa Corvisiero: Regarding trends, she said it’s important to know what the trends are, in case you already have a book that fits the market in a particular way. She also reminded us that trends come and go, and one that might have been dead five years ago could have a revival. When asked what would stop her reading, she said scenes that serve no purpose except for shock value, but “a good voice and rich characters” keep her engaged.

Louise Fury: Indicated she has a good understanding of digital publishing; becoming focused on hybrid authors: “I like taking a new author and building a career; I like taking a mid-career author and building a hybrid.” Loves romance and thrillers (“creepy stuff”); is interested in pop-culture non-fiction and parenting books. She stressed the importance of pairing a book with the needs of the market. As she put it: “How can we take a book and monetize every aspect of it?” Regarding trends, she said that you can catch a trend depending upon how quickly and skillfully you write. She used John Green, whose YA books focus on ill or troubled teens, as an example of a hot trend, but said, “In two years, people might be done with crying.” Regarding pet peeves, don’t send her a book with “a prologue that turns out to be a dream,” or a book that starts when a character wakes up, saying “the day starts when they wake up, but that’s not when the story starts.”

Emily Keyes: Advised reading widely in your chosen genre and then “Write the book you wanted to read and couldn’t find.” When asked what would stop her from reading, she said writing that is more about building a world than building a story.

Emmanuelle Morgen: She indicated that romantic suspense, mysteries and thrillers, and dystopian erotica are all trending now. She added that there’s always a market for memoirs that are “startling” in some way. She’s put off by queries that are too derivative, particularly anything that sounds like The Hunger Games.

Bob Podrasky: Looking for non-fiction; the main commercial fiction genres; prefers epic fantasy to urban fantasy; women’s fiction. Added: “I love serial killers.” On trends: “The next trend in publishing is QUALITY.”

Lori Perkins: Welcomes submissions across a variety of genres. Regarding trends, she said she believes writers can catch a trend, particularly in the digital arena. She suggested using shorter pieces, such as novellas to grab a market trend. She also stressed figuring out where your book fits in the market. In terms of what keeps her reading a manuscript she said “a layered world” and strong storytelling.

Lois Winston: Advised against writing to trends—“You want to write your own trend.” If you self-publish, she strongly advised hiring an editor who’s worked in your genre. When reading, she warned against too many pages of description in the beginning of the manuscript. If your girl has a guy’s name, establish her gender early on to avoid confusion. She also mentioned that she gets work that has a highly polished beginning and then falls apart. As she put it, “Your whole book has to be as good as the first three chapters.”

Michelle Wolfson: “I challenge you to make me fall in love with your work.” In terms of reading, she indicated that for her, voice is the most important element. She’s put off by descriptions of characters looking in the mirror. Winston chimed in here to say that the POV character should not be describing herself or himself. In terms of communication with her authors, Wolfson said that communication is crucial: “I can’t fix problems I don’t know about.” She also warned against authors putting out public complaints on social media before talking to their agents about them.

Regarding “the call”: Every agent who addressed this question reminded the audience that a phone call does not necessarily mean an offer. They use the phone call to determine if an author would be easy to work with and if they and the prospective client are a good fit. Also, are the author’s expectations reasonable? A couple of agents said that authors had asked them to lower their commission rates, for example, something that is not negotiable. Most importantly, agents and authors have a business relationship. As Fury put it: “We’re your agent, not your therapist.”

Well, kids, I hope this was helpful! See you next time.

photo credit for desk image: mugfaker via photopin cc

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, was named a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. The second book in her series, The Wedding Soup Murder, is schedule for release September 2. 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 and two of her three sons.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Publishing Pulse for March 21, 2014

New At QueryTracker:

Happy Spring to all from QueryTracker! Here's a little spring-like poetry to get you in the mood:
Spring has sprung,
The grass is riz.
I wonder where
The flowers is.
Kind of awesome to consider that poem's going to be hanging around a lot longer than any of us will.

Come for the poetry, say for the publishing industry news! This week we've updated six agent profiles in our database. Please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before sending your query.

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.

And congratulations to our newest QT success story, Jamie Gilman Kress!

Publishing News:

Did you ever wonder how much you'd earn as a senior editor at a big 5 publisher?

And you thought it's taking you a long time to get published? JRR Tolkien's translation of Beowulf will be published after 90 years.

What happens if your book series spawns a TV series, and the TV series is in danger of catching up to the written series? George RR Martin discusses.

Around the Blogosphere:

The Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Contest for unpublished WF manuscripts will be opening to entries on May 1 at https://womensfictionwriters.org/contests/rising-star-contest/

Janet Reid tackles the question of how long a time is too long.

Five charts that show how publishing is changing.

And in case you were feeling too good about yourself, there are neurological similarities beween successful writers and the mentally ill

Literary Quote of the Week:

"When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer." Isaac Bashevis Singer

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 shoveling snow. 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, March 19, 2014

Tom Petty Tells It Like it Is. The Waiting IS the Hardest Part.

In 2008 an agent who'd read my book invited me to visit his office to chat about it. That was all the information he gave. Of course, I was terribly excited, and on edge, wondering what he'd say. He set the meeting for two weeks hence. I turned to my pals on the QueryTracker forum and asked them: how will I pass the time?

Many suggestions were made: start writing the next book. Knitting. One QT forum pal suggested that I take up tap dancing.

Six years later, I now realize that the waiting never goes away. It makes no difference where you are on your publishing career path. Waiting is just part of the game. At the moment, I'm waiting for feedback from my agent on a revision. For a different book, I'm waiting for cover art from my publisher. And I'm waiting for the results of a contest that I entered yet another book in.

And that's just this week.

Now, perhaps indie authors will chime in and point out that going it alone removes some of those obstacles. And they're right... sort of. But indie authors wait for different stuff. They wait for a slot with their favorite cover artist. They wait for iTunes connect to approve their account paperwork. They wait for their freelance editors' notes, and they wait for BookBub to approve their ads.

It takes time to get all the details of a book right. Sure, technology and changes in publishing strategy have compressed parts of the timeline. But when we're working in the long form, by definition, that's not going to change.

We all wait. But we're not all good at it. I'm rather terrible, to be honest. It's not that I don't understand that digging in to the work at hand is my best option. I crave progress and I crave feedback. (And sometimes I crave coffee, so that I may carry on with craving the other stuff.)

So what helps? For me, shutting off the internet to dig in to my work for a couple of hours helps. Conversely, having coffee with writer friends who are also always waiting helps. What works for you? What are your strategies? 

In the meantime, have a little Tom Petty on me. This video is dated 1981, and the hair sure dates it. But the youtube comments are fresh. People chime in daily, it seems, to say that he was right. Waiting is hard. And that's never going to change. The only way to take control is to use the time wisely.

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.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Publishing Pulse: March 14, 2014

This Week at Query Tracker

The profiles of several agents were updated this week. Please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before querying.
Ready to write your own success story?

Remember--you'll reach success when you find the agent who is perfect for your work. Be sure to read each agent's profile carefully and visit other links such as company websites and blogs. Follow them on social media sites and get a feeling for what they really want. The better you know the agent, the better you will know if they are the right representative for your work. Blindly querying agents without regard for their guidelines or repped genres only delay the process--not only for you but for other writers.

Using QueryTracker.net will help you become a well-informed querying writer. Use the resources to your advantage and seek the fastest, straightest path to finding your ideal agent today.

This Week In Publishing

Your author website is a key marketing tool for your work. If you manage your own website, you may need a few tips on what to include. Here’s an article that describes what readers want from an author website.

Whether you are planning on querying agents or preparing to self-publish, Archana Murthy of Writer.ly wants to share some advice with you about hiring a professional editor—thanks to a little nudge from Hugh Howey.

We’re hearing more and more about the “hybrid author”. Porter Anderson shares a story about author Shanna Swendson, whose agent encouraged her to explore indie publishing to continue her traditionally-published series.

Think fast: You’ve heard of speed reading. But speed writing? Kind of takes the idea of writing tight to a whole new level.

QTB blogger Sarah Pinneo recently wrote about the multitude of venues where our books can be found these days. But it’s easy for us to overlook public libraries. Recent surveys highlight the continued popularity of libraries, their vital places in our communities, and may even help lead these institutions more confidently into the digital age.

Conventional wisdom (and agent submission guidelines) tell us that we shouldn’t query unfinished manuscripts. Rachelle Gardner tells us exactly why we should write the whole book before submitting it.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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 at www.ashkrafton.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press). Ash also writes New Adult speculative fiction as AJ Krafton. She’s part of the Infinite Ink Authors, who are celebrating their debut on March 15, 2014. Check out www.InfiniteInkAuthors.com to learn more about this group of YA and NA spec fic authors.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Five Ways to Land an Agent

The only way to land an agent is with a manuscript that she falls in love with and she can think of at least five editors who are looking for something like it. But before she gets to that stage, she has to see said manuscript. Here are five ways to achieve this:

Slush Pile

The slush pile is the most common method for getting your manuscript in front of an agent. It simply refers to sending a professionally written query (and sample pages if indicated on the agent’s website) to the agent. You then wait. And wait. And wait. Sometimes you’ll never hear back from an agent. The silent treatment often means a rejection, unless your query was lost in cyberspace or with the mail service. Unfortunately with non-responders, unless their system is set up to acknowledge your query has been received, you won’t know if yours was in the small percentage that was lost in cyberspace. In other cases, you might get a form rejection, a personalized rejection, or a request for additional material. The latter might then lead to a full request, a rejection, or an offer of representation.

Pitching at Conferences

Writer conferences often have the opportunity for pitching to agents. This is your chance to meet with the agent face-to-face and discuss your project. Some writers love doing this. Others would prefer to email a query. It could also be that you’re interested in an agent who is closed to queries but loves to request manuscripts at conferences. This is your chance to let her know about your project. The advantage of pitching directly to the agent is that you can see if she is someone you would like to work with. If the person is rude or is too busy texting to listen to you, then you might not want to sign with her should she offer.

Typically, you’ll prepare a short explanation about your book that tells the agent who your characters are, what the story problem is, and the major conflict. This doesn’t mean memorize your query pitch. You want to keep it brief so the agent has time to ask questions. The best way to prepare for the questions is to know your book inside and out. If you haven’t read it in a few months, chances are good you’ll struggle with the questions—and that will make you more nervous. But don’t worry if you are nervous. Agents are used to writers who are one step away from being a basket case because of nerves. The best way to lessen them is to be well prepared. And practice, practice, practice your pitch so that you don’t stumble your way through it. Also, bring your pitch with you on an index card. If you get so nervous that you forget what you want to say, you’ll be able to refer to the card. Most agents are fine with that.

Remember, you want to make a memorable impression. This means being professional at all times. This does not mean dressing up as a Viking. It might be memorable, but it won’t leave the agent with the impression you were hoping for. And one final point, don’t pitch a project if it isn’t close to being completed. If the agent (or editor) requests the manuscript, it’s because she wants to read it now, not in eight months. It’s not fair to the agent and it’s not far to a writer who has finished editing his manuscript but was unable to book a spot to see the agent.

Meeting Agents at Conferences

In addition to pitch events (which you have to book ahead of time), you might have the opportunity to mention your book if you end up talking to an agent at a conference. For this situation, you want to be prepared with an elevator pitch (also known as a one-line pitch) in case the agent asks you want you’re writing. If you hook her with your strong pitch, she’ll want to know more about your project. What you don’t want to do is follow her into the bathroom and pass the manuscript under the stall door, or pitch to her while she’s in the stall or washing her hands. If she’s busy talking to someone, don’t interrupt the conversation just so you can spam pitch her. This won’t get you anywhere. The best thing to do when you go to a conference is to not expect to discuss your project with an agent (or editor). That’s not the purpose of conferences. They are organized so that writers can network with other writers and learn more about various topics through the offered workshops. If you keep this in mind, the conference will be less stressful because you won’t be trying to stalk agents. Stalk them on Twitter. Don’t stalk them at conferences—unless you want to come off as creepy.


Some agents enjoy participating in contests as a way to find new clients. Before you enter one, make sure the agents are looking for your genre. And if they aren’t, don’t lie about your genre in hopes that they will request your novel and fall in love with it anyway. They won’t appreciate it, and you will have taken a spot that someone else rightly deserved.

When you enter, make sure you have read and paid attention to the rules. If the rules state that the excerpt can be only one hundred words, your entry will be rejected if you send in a 150-word sample. Contests of often bombarded with entries, and the easiest way to narrow the numbers down is to delete those that ignore the rules. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your pitch and sample might be, it will be excluded. Worse yet, you won’t know that and will assume the agent wasn’t interested in your entry. This means you won’t query her and might miss out on her offering representation.


One way to jump ahead in the slushpile is with a referral. If you have a friend who is a client of the agent you want to query, she might refer you, though not all agents accept referrals. However, it is better that she offers to refer you than for you to ask for a referral and put her on the spot. Please don’t contact someone you haven’t talked to in a while and ask for a referral. Chances are good she’ll say no. Most people don’t like being put on the spot like that, and most clients prefer to have read the manuscript first so that they know it is well written. However, this doesn’t mean you should send your manuscript to the writer in hopes that she will refer you. The other thing you want to avoid is pretending that one of the agent’s clients, who doesn’t even know you, referred you. The agent will check and you’ve just guaranteed yourself a rejection.

Which of the above have you done or will be doing in the near future?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN (Carina Press, HQN) is now available. LET ME KNOW (Carina Press) will be available Sept 1st, 2014.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wherever Books are Sold

"Available now, wherever books are sold." I wrote that as part of a postcard's text in 2011 before my paperback novel was published. But the meaning of those words is changing so very fast.

I'm one of those nerds who find distribution channels fascinating. (I know. But everyone needs a hobby.) It used to be that when we talked about sale links on websites, it was a straightforward conversation about two e-book sellers and a thoughtful list of paper vendors.

When I put sell links on my website in 2012, it looked like this:

But times, they are a-changin.' Fast.

A few years ago, at the beginning of the e-book boom, Amazon frequently made up 2/3 or 3/4 of everyone's e-sales. But to listen to the chatter of successful indie authors these days (because they're the ones with the tools to actually understand where their own books are actually sold) is to get quite a different picture. Suddenly, sales at Apple iTunes are approaching the sales levels at Amazon for many titles. Nook seems to be ebbing. Kobo is still a decent venue for some authors. Their aggressive couponing in recent months means that some of the most diehard e-book buyers are purchasing there.

And there are even more little channels that authors may not have come across. Yet. Google Play is beginning to tick up in volume. Services like Oyster and the subscription service at ScribD are beginning to (slowly) ring the cash register for a few authors.

So what's a busy author to do with all of these?

Hybrid author (she is both traditionally and self published) Marie Force has the following buy links for one of her recent e-books on her website.

And those are just her domestic e-book links. She's careful to link to other countries' primary e-book markets.

Yes, this all takes time. But if you've spent many hours of your life writing a good book, it's worth the extra fiddling to make sure that A) it's available in multiple markets and B) you know how to find it.

Happy linking!

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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Publishing Pulse, Friday, March 7, 2014

Around the Web

While March is still in its leonine phase, Flavorwire helps us stack our TBR piles for these last weeks of winter with some must-reads for March.

On his blog Terrible Minds, author Chuck Wendig reminds us how to play nicely with others on the internet. 

The Renegade Writer, whose blog is aimed at freelance writers, offers some advice for building editor relationships that applies to anyone hoping to break into publishing.

And in some less heartening news, Publishers Weekly reports a drop in sales and earnings at romance giant Harlequin, where 2013 revenues were described as “relatively flat.” 

And now a happy thought with spring in mind: While American kids honored Dr. Seuss with Read Across America activities, children in the UK and Ireland celebrated World Book Day, a one-day event in which kids come together and read. Books are offered through the event's website at discounted prices with the aim "to encourage children to explore the pleasure of books."  

Happy reading, everyone!

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, was named a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. The second book in the series, The Wedding Soup Murder, is slated for release September 2. 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 and two of her three sons.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

If Writers Wrote Every Scene Like A Sex Scene...

She shut the washing machine door with a gentle click, then extended her slender arm to the shelf where the detergent awaited. For two days now she’d hungered to tackle the clothes heap in the closet, her days filled with a longing to cast them into the laundry. 

The linen-scented blue liquid only just filled the base of the screw-cap, but this would be enough. Wasn’t this after all a high-efficiency front-loader? But she didn’t need an instruction manual to tell her what her heart knew, unlike years past when in her youth she would splash out a whole cup of detergent. 

Its glistening glory dripped into the detergent compartment, and she shut it with a gentle push of her fingertips. Then with determination, she turned the dial to “Normal Load.” At that point there was no return. 

With a soul filled with anticipation, she pushed the button marked “Start.”

Okay, so now you're ready to go do your laundry, but I'd rather you get ready to go write. So let's talk about details and at what point your reader stops reading and starts noticing that you're cramming every sentence with far too many of them. 

Sensory experience is vital for your story. When your character eats a hamburger, he should get a couple of sesame seeds stuck to his fingers from the bun, and the pickle should taste salty. 

But too much of that will garner comments for you like my agent left on one of my manuscripts: "BORING!" "Zzz… I'm going to sleep." And finally, just in case I was especially dense, "Why is this here?"

Let's start with hair. Your main character probably has hair, and you've probably described it.

Detail should be used in support of character. Have your character fiddle with her long black hair to show the reader she's nervous, in other words, but don't stop the story to say "Jasmine had long, black hair that she kept pinned back in a bun at the top of her slender neck." Fold the detail into the moment. Instead of saying, "It was windy. Jasmine had long black hair," then show that hair whipping into her face and her getting it out of her eyes so she can see again. 

Also, lean on your reader's imagination. Most of us know what hair looks like and how it behaves. If you start telling us how it glistens in the sun, and what color highlights it has, and how her delicate fingertips fondle the ends -- we actually see it less well than if you say she could have her own L'oreal ad. (I don't recommend you actually do that, by the way, unless you want to see your work footnoted in fifty years. "L'oreal was a brand of hair products with an easily-recognizable ad series involving long, glistening hair. -ed")

Details used in the "wrong" way can function as the brakes to your story. But you know what? Brakes are good things. Brakes are necessary things. 

Sometimes you want a lot of detail in there to slow down your character's train of thought. One of the above comments on my manuscript was in response to a character having gotten rejected in a really nasty way, and she was getting herself calm by very deliberately filling up a coffee maker, getting out mugs, getting out sugar, and so on. In this case, I'm building up tension in the reader by delaying the character's reaction to something you know she has to react to, only it's so huge she can't deal with it right now. It's easier to make coffee than to deal with having your heart broken, so guess what she's doing? And yeah, you can make heartbroken coffee. Just add a character who won't cry.

Moreover, what your character notices is going to give us cues to her state of mind. She may notice the coffee beans, sitting in the grinder, waiting to get crushed into an unrecognizable grit and then get boiling water poured through them to take out any value they may once have had, before they get tossed into the trash. Contrast to the character who counts out scoops of beans, thinking, "And you grew all that time and traveled from Sount America for me, just for me!"

The key is to give as much detail as the reader expects. The reader of a literary novel will expect a slower pace and more lavish detail; the middle of a combat scene is not the time to describe the way the eagle engraved on the main character's cuff links is gripping a snake in its left talon and that the snake is hissing; a character throwing laundry into the machine should not take 500 words to do so unless you're trying to make the audience giggle. And always, when you can, make the details functionally invisible. Don't bother telling us that the keys click on the blogger's laptop -- no one cares about that, and we know keyboards make sounds -- but tell the readers the keyboard chattered as the blogger pounded through a paragraph at a hundred ten words a minute.

Right now I'm rewriting a story that desperately needed a rewrite. A helpful critique partner pointed out that I have a one-page description of how a river meanders. We do not need a one-page description of how a river meanders. I mean, we need to know it because it's important, but we do not need one whole lovely, detailed, scientifically-described page of it. It's vital to the plot, and because it's vital to the plot, I need to get it in there without the reader feeling as if she's traveling every bend of a river in order to get there.

Oh, and now go do your laundry.


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 whacking ice off the driveway with an ice breaker. 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, March 3, 2014

The Rites of Feedback

It doesn’t matter where you are in the publication pathway, feedback is something we all deal with in one form or another.

Critique Partners and Groups

This is the essential first step when it comes to feedback. Most often, it takes place with the exchange of material between critique partners or within a group. Often the writer will send a chapter or several chapters to her partner for detailed feedback (including line edits). Some writers attend monthly meetings and read their chapter to the group. The firing squad individuals will then provide constructive criticism. Your goals, writing level (both yours and those providing the feedback), time frame in which you want to finish the story, and how you respond to feedback will determine which method is best for you. Some people thrive on face-to-face feedback. Other people would rather have their teeth extracted without sedation. For them, online feedback is the ideal choice.

When you receive feedback, it’s best that you zip your mouth shut before you say something you’ll regret. You need time to digest the information. You might not agree with the person now, but 24 hours later you might decide they’re the most intelligent person to walk this planet, because they pointed out something you missed. Now, if you didn’t keep your mouth shut and you ranted on about how the individuals are idiots, you might not be invited back to the group. Or worst yet, your poor behavior will become common knowledge.


Some contests provide feedback via blogs. Other writers, and possibly an agent or editor, do drive-by critiques. Sometimes the agent or editor will request partials and fulls. The feedback can be as simple as ‘Loved this!’ which does nothing to help you improve the piece if it’s lacking. Or it can be more helpful, by pointing out what you excelled at and what left the reader confused. Sometimes it can be misguided in an attempt to make your entry look weak so the judge will select another one—most likely the one belonging to the person who cut yours to pieces. This usually doesn’t have the effect the individual was looking for, but it doesn’t help you, either, if you’re looking for constructive feedback. The other issue that can happen is similar to the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario. One person finds fault with something (that might not even be a real problem), and everyone jumps on it and echoes the same sentiment. This is often the result of lazy critiquing. The writers involved in the contest have to critique five to ten other entries, and this is the easiest way to do it with minimum effort.

The best thing to do with contests is say nothing when you get feedback. And please don’t waste your time justifying why you did something or waste time answering questions left by an individual (which were most likely rhetorical anyway). You will only come off as defensive. Take what you need from the feedback and ignore everything else. Do, though, pay attention to what the industry expert says. I’ve seen agents love an excerpt that everyone tore apart. Trust what the expert has to say.


Yes, querying, the word so many writers dread—and for good reason. Unfortunately, there are a lot of writers who believe querying is a fancy word for feedback. But alas, this is not so. These days you’re lucky if you even get a form rejection. The benefit of this is you now know your  query or requested material wasn’t lost in cyberspace. Sometimes an agent or editor will reject your material, but with a kindly worded explanation as to why the story or writing didn’t work for them. Remember, it is subjective. Just because one agent didn’t connect with your characters, it doesn’t mean you need to rewrite the book. However, if your query or requested material continues to be rejected because agents and editors didn’t connect with your characters, that is a warning you need to do some serious rethinking about your characters, your story, and possibly your writing.

No matter how the agent or editor responds to your query, DO NOT email back and tell her that she is a moron for not seeing how brilliant your book is and how you will be the next JK Rowling. I can guarantee that won’t change her mind. And if you keep harassing her with your tirades, news will get around to other agents and editors. I don’t think I need to spell out what that potentially means to your career.


After all the feedback and rejections you’ve dealt with along the way, your skin might be a little thicker, but the ultimate test comes now, once your book is published. Your baby has been released into the world, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to love it. There will be people who dislike your book because they don’t like your trope, they don’t like your characters, they don’t like that your heroine’s favorite color is indigo. But that’s okay because you haven’t love every book you’ve read, right? Now, there will be people who thrive on cutting books down and thrive on calling authors names that should never be spoken in public. No one knows why these people are bullies, and it doesn’t matter the reason. The main thing is you IGNORE THEM. Never feed the trolls. And while you’re at it, don’t let your friends and family feed them, either. The trolls could retaliate, and you’ll be the victim not them.

And it’s not just the trolls you need to ignore. It’s best for everyone concern that you don’t respond to reviews, especially when you don’t agree with them. Remember, reviews aren’t for the author; they’re for the reader. Let readers do their thing, and you do yours—writing the next book.

Where are you on the ‘rites of feedback’ pathway?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes Young Adult and New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.   She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN (Carina Press, HQN) is now available.