Welcome! Please sit down, make yourself comfortable, and have a brownie or three...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Robert Frost Farewell

Thanks to all who entered, and congratulations to Beth, who won my giveaway for The Heroine's Bookshelf!

This is my last post of the year. I'm off to Austin, Texas for family time.

I thought I'd leave you with one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. I had to recite it in front of my 3rd grade class, and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening has been firmly entrenched in my memory ever since. I've always found it simple, magical, and deliciously full of Winter.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
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See you in January!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Gifts, Part 2 (and my first GIVEAWAY!)

Books are one of the best gifts to give during the holidays, and today I'm suggesting a few that might pique the interest of specific people in your life. If you want to get straight to the giveaway details, scroll to the bottom.

FOR YOUNG ADULTS: The Resurrection of Magic Series, Kathleen Duey
I discovered this series this year, and was blown away by how much I loved the story. Don't be thrown by the rather creepy-looking covers (and by that, I don't mean they aren't attractive in their own way, I just mean the images might not appeal to your four-year-old), these are beautiful novels that cleverly intertwine two storylines, bringing the past and present together in a world where magic is being shunned and rediscovered. In Duey's world, magicians are not cute, cuddly, and would not get along with Harry Potter or Albus Dumbledore. The apprentices are tested, abused, and tested again. According to Duey's blog, she hopes to finish writing the 3rd installment in February 2011. Her website is pretty darn cool--click HERE.

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FOR THE FOODIE:
Avec Eric: A Culinary Journey with Eric Ripert (I love him...can't help it). Click HERE

A Feast of Words: For Lovers of Food Fiction, Anna Shapiro. Click HERE

The Love Goddess' Cooking School, Melissa Senate. Click the book.



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FOR DOG LOVERS:
For this group, I'm going to defer to Terry Lynn Johnson's blog (author of Dogsled Dreams--she's giving away a signed copy on her blog!), resident outdoorsy lady and dog aficionado. Here's her great post on CELEBRATING DOG BOOKS.
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FOR WOMEN (or guys who want to buy a meaningful gift for their friend/girlfriend/spouse who loves to read):
The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

I saw this a few months ago and immediately bought copies to give my special group of girlfriends as Christmas gifts. It looks to the characters and authors of women's fiction for inspiration, humor, and heart.
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THIS BOOK IS MY GIVEAWAY! If you'd like to win The Heroine's Bookshelf, please leave a comment on this post by midnight on Sunday, December 19. If your account isn't attached to an email address, leave me that too. I'll pick a random winner and ship the book on Monday morning.
**UPDATE: All entrants were assigned a number. The Random Number Generator (a handy contest tool- Click HERE) came up with a winner- Beth!!! Congrats to her, and thanks to everyone who entered :)
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Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For The Kids In Your Life (or the kid in you!)

My two posts this week will be dedicated to holiday gift ideas. Today is for kids (Friday will be for YA/adults), so I’m going to share my favorite Christmas story and an amazing series that might just get a reluctant reader on the book bandwagon.

The first suggestion is my absolute favorite Christmas book~ I made sure I had a fresh copy of it for my youngest kiddo, who was born only a few days after Christmas. I tried drinking tons of eggnog to get her to come out on December 25, but it didn’t work (*note to expecting ladies~ remember to drink the pregnancy-safe eggnog). Anyway, I adore this story and I’m slightly obsessed with Barbara Cooney’s illustrations. If you’re looking to add a holiday book to your family’s collection, this is a MUST-HAVE:

The Story of Holly & Ivy
by Rumer Godden & Barbara Cooney (*Click on the book for details)

~~~

For the Reluctant Reader:

Equally great for avid readers and kids who just don't seem to like books, try the hilarious (and educational…shhh!) You Wouldn’t Want To series. The books are actually used in primary school classrooms in the UK, and are definite crowd-pleasers.

The authors change, but the illustrations are always by the delightful David Antram. They blend historical fact with a fictional narrative, and can be blunt and a little gruesome...aka, they have an aura of the forbidden about them, which is something a lot of kids count as a plus.

These have been around for awhile, but I recently bought a stack of them to keep around the house. The covers alone are so compelling that my twelve-year-old (a sports-fanatic who lives by the credo, "this-activity-better-have-movement-or-I'm-outta-here") couldn't leave them alone. His favorites are You Wouldn't Want to Meet a Body Snatcher! and You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pirate's Prisoner!

Here are a few more titles:



NEXT UP: On Friday I’ll have suggestions for YA, Foodies, Animal Lovers, and Women. I’ll also have my first giveaway, and will ship one winner a book in time for X-Mas!







**MY APOLOGIES ON THE FORMATTING :)
























Friday, December 10, 2010

YA Genre Battle- Dystopian vs. Historical

During the Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction (hosted by MSFV) on Tuesday, there was serious fighting over a couple of YA Historical manuscripts. Agents were pouncing on one in particular, leaving comments of disappointment if they didn’t win it. With Scholastic coming out with its list of 10 Trends for MG/YA in 2010, it got me wondering…are historicals the future of YA?

Dystopian was firmly on the trend list, as it should be. That said, when the future fizzles out (and sadly, most trends must come to an end, or at least take a healthy break—R.I.P. vampires,werewolves, angels, demons,etc.), who will be there to pick up the pieces? Could YA novels in historical settings become more popular?

Steampunk is already bringing a little bit of old-world style back into vogue, albeit with some pretty cool alterations that may slip into the fantasy realm. Will settings, plots, and characters backed by historical fact be the next big thing? I want to be clear about saying BACKED by historical fact, because we're still talking about historical fiction here, not nonfiction.

It's tough to say whether historicals are going to take over (especially with all the melding of genres going on), and I think Dystopian still has a good amount of gas left in its tank. Check out this awesome entry from the Auction—it’s for a Dystopian novel about ZOMBIE GLADIATORS—sweet.

In terms of YA genres, who would win in the battle ring—a Roman gladiator or Katniss Everdeen?

In honor of my inability to choose between past and future, I declare my winner to be a new sub-genre called (drumroll please):

YA Historical Dystopian Timetravel

Think about it…a young gladiator in ancient Rome is suddenly thrust into a black hole that drops him where? The Hunger Games, of course. Then, through a series of timetravel mishaps, the protagonist manages to save himself in the angst/danger-ridden past thereby saving all of humanity in the even more angst/danger-ridden future. Any takers?

Okay, maybe not.

Anyone have an opinion about historicals being on future trend lists?

Have a great weekend!

**The agent pitch contest on Market My Words runs until midnight tonight--don't forget to follow Shelli's blog to be eligible!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Digging Deeper To Find The Right Agent: A Level Four Research Tool

I’m sure most of you have a method of researching agents that you’d like to query. Here’s mine:

Level One: Use Query Tracker and Agent Query to compile a fat list of agents who represent my genre/genres (I dabble in Middle Grade and Young Adult).

Level Two: Go to agency websites and also Google for individual agent blogs. Check again for interest in genre, present clients, and current wish lists.

Level Three: Scour the internet for interviews and go to their agency’s thread over at the Absolute Write website (awesome resource, by the way--you need to sign up to use the Search option, but it's free). Follow their Twitter account. Check to see if they’re listed on Casey McCormick’s blog, Literary Rambles (she's got TONS of background information about children's agents).

Level Four: Reading over past Miss Snark Secret Agent Contests. This is something I’ve been doing recently, and it only works for a limited list of agents. Miss Snark’s First Victim (hosted by the incredible and anonymous Authoress) holds Secret Agent contests almost every month, and it’s a wonderful way to really see what an agent’s tastes are. You can read an agent’s comments on all twenty-or-so entries, and then see who they choose as their winners.

This has been extremely enlightening for me, because I can see who leans more towards humor, who leans more toward descriptive/lyrical language, etc. They occasionally make comments about what turns them off, what’s not working for them, and what they do/don’t like to see in dialogue.

I’ve made it into this contest once, and while the critiques I got pretty much said that my excerpt wasn’t the best crayon in the box (which it definitely wasn’t—I really appreciated every person who took the time to comment), I realized that I could learn a lot by reading the agent’s comments about all the entries, not just mine. These are things you can’t learn in a blog interview. The fact that you can look at specific examples is fantastic.

If you go to her website and scroll down on the right, you’ll see the list of participating agents. Then you’ll need to look through the archives to find the right posts. Below is a list of agents who’ve participated. Many of them represent Middle Grade and Young Adult, and are open to queries.

MSFV Secret Agent "Hall of Fame"
• Holly Root (July, 2008)
• Barbara Poelle (September, 2008)
• Michelle Brower (October, 2008)
• Colleen Lindsay (November, 2008)
• Sarah Davies (January, 2009)
• Kristin Nelson (February, 2009)
• Josh Getzler (March, 2009)
• Kate Schafer Testerman (April, 2009)
• Jenny Rappaport (May, 2009)
• Lauren MacLeod (July, 2009)
• Emmanuelle Alspaugh Morgen (August, 2009)
• Ginger Clark (September, 2009)
• Rachelle Gardner (October, 2009)
• Laura Bradford (November, 2009)
• Ammi-Joan Paquette (January, 2010)
• Nathan Bransford (February, 2010)
• Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (March, 2010)
• Jennifer Laughran (April, 2010)
• Kathleen Ortiz (May, 2010)
• Danielle Chiotti (July, 2010)
• Cameron McClure (August, 2010)
• Suzie Townsend (September, 2010)
• Michelle Wolfson (October, 2010)
• Weronika Janczuk (November, 2010)

Feel free to email me if you’re confused about how to access the entries they chose as winners and the comments (warning: it involves a healthy amount of clicking).

**Note—the Secret Agent contests are always open to public critique, and if you’re going to use them for research, it would be a nice thing to critique some entries in next year’s S.A. contests (and feel free to enter them too!).

**Extra note: Authoress has added a Donate button to her website. She does a lot for the writing community, so if you participate in contests/use her website, it would be a nice thing to contribute.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Spirit of Giving~ Jackee Alston's Book and School Supply Giveaway


Project Give a Book, Give the World is blogger Jackee Alston's answer to how to give back this holiday season. In honor of her 200th post, she is proposing something simple and generous:

Give a book to someone, anyone (and this includes your own children!), and she'll send a Humanitarian School Kit to a child in need. The kits will look like the above photo.

If you have a spare moment, please take a look at this post on her lovely blog, Winded Words. With each donation of a book, you'll also accumulate points and be entered for a giveway that includes FARM GIRL (by the awesome Karen Jones Gowen, otherwise known as Karen G) and NIGHTSHADE CITY (by the super cool Hilary Wagner).

Again, please head over there and take a tissue~ the powerful story of what motivated Jackee to do this is a tearjerker.




Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sexiest Book Alive, 2010

Confession: I am a magazine junkie. I control my habit, and don’t subscribe myself—they’re always gifts and, as such, are justifiable non-expense-related household necessities.

The magazines currently being delivered to various family members at my address include Elle (for the 15-year-old), Sports Illustrated Kids (for the 12-year-old), Parents (for managing the almost-2-year-old), Esquire (for the husband), Golf Digest (also for the husband), National Geographic (for general culture and book ideas…see THIS post), The J. Peterman Catalogue (it totally counts as a magazine, and it’s FREE! Click HERE!), and a weekly People (thank you to my college roommate Sheena!).

When I received a recent People, it happened to be the Sexiest Man Alive issue. I flipped through and noted that the majority were actors, but they try to slip in credentials that aren’t related to acting, classic model faces, or flashy abs. Men who give to charity are sexy. Funny men are sexy. Good fathers are sexy. You get the idea.

Well, it got me wondering what the annual Sexiest Book Alive list would look like for MG/YA books, and who would win the cover shot. Would it be fun & sassy young adult fiction, hilarious middle grade, scary dystopian, or even scarier issue-driven contemporary? Would it include a quiet, well-received book with a big fat chunk of heart? Would it be a Wal-Mart book (i.e., a place you can buy a lobster, tire, and pair of underwear under the same roof), with every element to speak of—adventure, suspense, mystery, romance, sci-fi, humor, horror (FYI, I wondered if I should hyphenate Wal-Mart, and Microsoft Word informed me that I should…because Wal-Mart is in its spell check…wow)? Or would it be a small, boutique book that talked about one thing, doing it incredibly well?

Here are some of the favorite MGs/YAs of the year, based on Amazon sales, American Library Association picks, the Goodreads list, and others sources (these include novels that were published between September and December of 2009 as well). If you’ve got a minute, I’d love to hear your thoughts on which novels would make the list of 2010 Sexiest Book Alive, and, if you’ve got a winner in mind, who would make the cover this year.

City of Glass, Cassandra Clare
Hush, Hush, Becca Fitzpatrick
Fallen, Lauren Kate
Linger, Maggie Stiefvater
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green, David Levithan
Rules of Attraction, Simone Elkeles
The Search for WondLa, Tony DiTerlizzi
The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero, Rick Riordan
The Night Fairy, Laura Amy Schlitz
Countdown, Deborah Wiles
Museum of Thieves, Lian Tanner
Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine **(I loved this one)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, Jeff Kinney
The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan
Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Again, these are just a very few, so please chime in with your favorites!

Have a wonderful week, and congrats to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Wishes (and two reminders)


This is my last post before Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd share some jokes and cartoons. Depending on a few traveling issues, I may not post on Friday. The top list on my sidebar is dedicated to holiday-related links, including a poem by Lucy Maud Montgomery, beloved children's author of Anne of Green Gables.


First, a couple of reminders:

1) This is your last week to enter the YA Novel Discovery Contest.

2) Shelli over at Market My Words is having an agent contest on Monday, November 29th, with Josh Adams. Check throughout the day to see when she posts it--it could be an evening thing. Not all of the contests have required a completed manuscript. **UPDATE as of 7 PM EST on the 29th- Sorry to anyone who's checked the website for this contest--it's still listed on her blog as the 29th, so I'm not sure...maybe she's delayed it.


A Bigger Turkey

A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but couldn't find one big enough for her family. She asked the stock boy, 'Do these turkeys get any bigger?'

The stock boy answered, 'No ma'am, they're dead.'





The Secret of Stuffing a Turkey

How many cooks does it take to stuff a turkey? Only one, but you REALLY have to squeeze to get him
in.








And finally, may the joys and blessings of Thanksgiving bring even the most bitter rivals together:
















Friday, November 19, 2010

Get’em In Now—Are December Queries a Wash???

Hurry up, people! Only two weeks left in November to get those queries in. Because everyone knows that December queries are basically a waste of time….right?

I’ve seen discussion about this topic around the internet and chat rooms. Here’s an example of an interaction:

QUESTION: What do agents consider the best time of the year to submit manuscripts?

ANSWER: I'm not sure the best time but I do know the worst time. December. Not only are people stressed from the holidays and more likely to be away from the office, but as I hear it agents are flooded with hastily written novels from November's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) so much so that I have heard December referred to as the National Novel Rejection Month.

This is, of course, just that person’s opinion, but there are several thoughts floating around the blogosphere regarding the same idea, the three main ones being:

-Agents assume December queries are based on very quickly/non-revised NaNoWriMo novels that didn’t have time to rest.

-Agents already have a backlog and won’t get back to you until January anyway…and if you wait until they reopen in January, you’ll A) get them when they've cleared their plates of holiday queries, and B) possibly have a stronger query.

-Agents are like the Grinch, and look forward to ruining our dreams of being published during the holiday season (this was a prevailing JOKE, OF COURSE).

Well, on one hand, you might figure that agents who already have a query backlog of around 4 weeks will not be getting to your query in December anyway. But it’s not a waste of time to get in line—don’t necessarily expect an answer back before the holidays, but you never really know.

I’m gonna go with no—December queries are not a wash, unless you submit to Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary or Louise Fury of Lori Perkins Agency, who are both on query breaks until the New Year (you actually have until 11/30/10 to send a query to Ms. Fury). On that note, several agents do announce a short query break during the holidays, so be sure you check your agent’s website, blog, and/or twitter page for updates.

Final Note: Here’s an interesting interview with Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. It’s from last year around this time and touches on her opinion of National Novel Writing Month. The first question addresses the idea of December being NaQuRejMo (National Query Rejection Month):

Interview with Literary Agent Mary Kole about NaNoWriMo and Queries

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Call for Middle Grade Manuscripts!

I'm not sure if you follow Jill Corcoran's blog (she's an awesome agent with The Herman Agency), but she posted THIS on Sunday:

READ THIS; NOW PLEASE SEND ME MG MANUSCRIPTS:)

1) Click on the link below,
2) Give it a read,
3) NOW PLEASE SEND ME MIDDLE GRADE MANUSCRIPTS:)
LINK:
Jill Corcoran Books: LET'S TALK MIDDLE GRADE

Here's a link to Jill's Publishers Marketplace page.

Here's a link to THE HOW'S AND WHY'S OF SUBBING TO JILL CORCORAN, HERMAN AGENCY - she just posted this today, November 16th.


FYI, it doesn't indicate it in this particular post, but I've read in other places that Jill only accepts queries from published authors or SCBWI members. She may have changed her policy, but to look into becoming a member of the Society for Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, click HERE. It's $85 per year, and they have different levels of membership, so you don't actually have to be published to join.

The Herman Agency also represents Young Adult fiction (one of their clients is Janet Gurtler, who wrote THE WEIGHT OF BONES).

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Few Reminders/Tidbits of Agent Info

Happy Friday! Today I only have a few reminders of recent agent information given via their blogs:

Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary- Taking a Hiatus 11/15-1/5. Note- Marissa Walsh is also at FinePrint and takes MG/YA queries as well. HOWEVER, she is currently closed to queries. Check her agent page for updates.

Louise Fury of Lori Perkins Agency- Won’t be accepting new queries STARTING 12/01/10. That leaves you about two weeks to query her in 2010. Her interests: She is seeking high concept Young Adult fiction and fun, imaginative and engaging Middle Grade fiction--think humor, adventure and mystery. The characters must be authentic and original. Louise really loves historical (especially Regency and Victorian), paranormal, steampunk romance and some horror. She's passionate about connecting with South African authors--anything about South Africa, or by a South African author is on her wish list.

Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Agency- Still open and quick to respond- is staying on top of her query stack. Last month she received 337 queries and made 6 requests. She says she’s responding within a week. Her interests: Elana Roth is focusing her list on children's and young adult books, and is primarily looking for high concept middle grade and YA fiction. She will consider picture books from author/illustrators only. She'll also consider a select number of adult projects in the areas of narrative nonfiction, pop culture and pop science. No vampires. Young adult- she is looking for high-concept hooks that don't scrimp on strong characters. Self-aware narrators, biting wit, or a dark or quirky sense of humor are always winners. Middle-grade- she gravitates to similar traits as the YA in terms of voice and hook. She'd love to see a new approach to a middle-grade mystery, and she'd also like to see great humor and adventure in MG.

Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, LTD will no longer be an agent. His popular blog and Forum will continue to exist. See his post detailing the transition HERE . If you like Curtis Brown as an agency, you might try Anna Webman- she's looking for realistic fiction, both contemporary and historical, and would love to find a middle grade series. She also reps picture books and YA.

Kristin Nelson and Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency always close around the 18th, 19th, or 20th of December, and are closed through the new year…so, if you’re thinking about querying them in 2010, polish up your letter in the next few weeks. Their website’s Frequently Asked Question page (click HERE and scroll down) even tells you how to write an attention-grabbing query letter (seriously, they have links to Kristin’s personal posts about pitch paragraphs, etc.). YA/MG for Kristin must be high-concept and have a commercial bent. Sara likes YA set in the real world, among other genres.

Have a wonderful weekend, and stay warm (it’s been snowing here in Colorado~ I’m about 2,000 feet higher than Denver).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Agent Top Ten Lists- Most Queried, Most Accepting, Most Rejecting, Most Non-Responsive

There’s a lot of interesting information for free over at Query Tracker, so I thought I’d post some of their top ten lists regarding agents’ response rates and genre preferences, etc. Keep in mind that (to my knowlege) all of these statistics are based ONLY on info submitted to QT, so I'm not sure how accurate they are to the query pool overall.

I don't know that these particular statistics matter much in terms of your agent search, and they certainly don't mean that you should judge an agent in any way for being listed, but the side of me that loves celebrity gossip and silly magazines still enjoys reading these kinds of lists :)

Top 10 Most Queried Agents

1 Nathan Bransford @ Curtis Brown (PLEASE NOTE THAT NATHAN IS LEAVING AGENTING)
2 Kristin Nelson @ Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
3 Ethan Ellenberg @ Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
4 Diana Fox @ Fox Literary
5 Andrea Somberg @ Harvey Klinger, Inc.
6 Ginger Clark @ Curtis Brown, Ltd.
7 Joanna Stampfel-Volpe @ Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation
8 Jennifer Jackson @ Donald Maass Literary Agency
9 Holly Root @ Waxman Literary Agency
10 Laura Bradford @ Bradford Literary Agency


Top 10 Most Accepting Agents (requesting partials or fulls)

1 Denise Little @ Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
2 Scott Eagan @ Greyhaus Literary Agency
3 Jessica Sinsheimer @ Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency
4 Sandy Lu @ L. Perkins Agency
5 Claire Gerus @ Claire Gerus Literary Agency
6 Anne Bohner @ Pen and Ink Literary
7 PJ Mark @ Janklow & Nesbit Associates
8 Mary Sue Seymour @ The Seymour Agency
9 Laura Bradford @ Bradford Literary Agency
10 Kate Lee @ International Creative Management

Top 10 Most Requested Fiction Genres

1 Young Adult (yay!)
2 Fantasy
3 Literary Fiction
4 Thrillers/Suspense
5 Romance
6 Women's Fiction
7 Commercial Fiction
8 Middle Grade (yay!)
9 Mystery
10 Historical Fiction

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I'm a little under the weather, and will not be posting links with the top ten most rejecting and non-responsive agents. Please see the QT Top Ten page for links by clicking HERE.

Top 10 Most Rejecting Agents

1 Stedman Mays @ Scribblers House LLC
2 Angela Rinaldi @ The Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency
3 James Schiavone @ Schiavone Literary Agency
4 Laura Dail @ Laura Dail Literary Agency, Inc.
5 Paul Levine @ Paul S. Levine Literary Agent
6 Kathi Paton @ Kathi J. Paton Literary Agency
7 Anne Hawkins @ John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.
8 Victoria Sanders @ Victoria Sanders & Associates
9 Laura Nolan @ DeFiore and Company
10 Lisa Leshne @ LJK Literary Management


Top 10 Most Non-Responsive Agents (to be fair, many of these clearly state on their website that No-Response = No)

1 Ethan Ellenberg @ Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
2 Ginger Clark @ Curtis Brown, Ltd.
3 Russell Galen @ Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency, Inc.
4 Jenoyne Adams @ Bliss Literary Agency International, Inc.
5 Laura Rennert @ Andrea Brown Literary Agency
6 Jamie Brenner @ Artists and Artisans Inc.
7 Jennifer DeChiara @ Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency
8 Loretta Barrett @ Loretta Barrett Books, Inc.
9 Alexandra Machinist @ Linda Chester Literary Agency
10 Robert Astle @ Robert Astle and Associates Literary Management

That's it for today. Have a great week!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Permission to write a boring synopsis…granted!

Some of you may have missed an interesting post by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary on Tuesday. After attending a conference and fielding several questions about writing the dreaded synopsis, she came up with a few bullet points:

• Keep your synopses down to two pages (unless the agent or editor you're sending it to specifies otherwise)
• Your synopsis should be single-spaced, with a double space between paragraphs
• Have your title, author name, and word count on top as a header
• And don't forget, in a synopsis you're clear to give away the ending, in fact, you need to.

Those are all fairly straightforward. The part of the post that really caught my eye was this lovely quote:

The most important thing you need to know about a synopsis: It's ALLOWED to be boring. It's actually supposed to be boring.

WHAT??? Hallelujah! Something we send to agents is supposed to be boring??? I have seriously stressed out over synopses in the past, and was under the impression that they had to be as compelling as a query letter, and that a certain amount of voice was expected (and I’m sure those kinds of synopses are appreciated by some agents, but apparently they are not necessary). The way Suzie describes it is simple and to the point, so if you’re having trouble with a synopsis, please check out her great post.

PLEASE NOTE:The word “boring” does not mean that poor writing is excusable or that your overall plot can be boring. It means a simple book-report style description in narrative form is fine. No frills necessary.

Just like Suzie noted above, keep in mind that different agencies have different policies (the statements above have the FinePrint stamp of approval, which means both Suzie and Marissa Walsh, another MG/YA agent there, are behind them). That said, if an agency doesn’t specify, I think it’s reasonably safe to send a 1-2 page single-spaced document as Suzie suggested. Some places DO specify, and sometimes you have to read the website with a fine eye to catch it. For instance:

Elaine English Literary (who has a newish agent, Naomi Hackenberg, representing Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction) clearly states that with a partial submission they want to see a synopsis of approximately 3-5 pages, double-spaced.

That’s all for today. Have a wonderful weekend!

REMINDER: You still have three weeks to enter the YA Novel Discovery Contest.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Building A Book Bridge



Periodically, I'll get a large stack of books from various locations around the house and build book bridges for my tw0-year-old.

Some might consider it book abuse, but I stand by the fact that building the bridges for my daughter to walk on:

A) Increases her appreciation of books (they save her from the pretend hot lava, aka, the floor).

B) Gives her a fun path to walk around over and over so I can get dinner on the table.

Most of the time I use cookbooks or photographic coffee table books, with the occasional hardcover novel in between. Yesterday she stomped happily from American Colonial Homes to The Tree: Wonder of the Natural World to Moby Dick to Morton’s Steak Bible to Hans Brinker to Wine Tours of the World.

Of course the activity also struck me as a metaphor. Bridges take us from one place to another, and the whole concept of a book bridge made me wish I had kept a list of what I was reading at various stages of my life, so I could view the work-in-progress. It would be fascinating to see it weave its way from Berenstein Bears to Roald Dahl, from Dickens to Faulkner and Twain, from David James Duncan to David McCullough to David Sedaris, and to late-to-the-party love for Toni Morrison. And it would be particularly significant to see how, through the influence of my own children and crossover books like Harry Potter, my bridge returned to middle grade fiction.

Now that I have children, I feel a certain responsibility to expose them to certain authors/titles. And I certainly don’t underestimate the staying power of being read to at an early age. Twenty-five years later, I can still hear my mother’s voice reading me the words,

“Oh drat!” said the littlest voice in the world."



That’s the first line of King of the Dollhouse, a chapter book by Patricia Clapp.

I don't know that the book is one of my favorites, but it's a milestone in my bridge that I'll never forget.


What materials make up your life's book bridge?

We have relatively little time on Earth, and I know that I’ll never get to many books on my To-Be-Read list. I have to wonder how the books that are in my book bridge mirror my life as a whole. Would you recognize your friends or spouse by the books in their bridges? I still see book titles and am transported to a certain period of my life—seeing them on my shelf is like looking at a photo album, memories bound between covers.

It also makes me wonder whether or not our reading choices have the power to affect the next step in our lives, or the actions we take in the present. My youngest is just starting her book bridge, and I’m glad to be there for the first few miles.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Writing Lessons from J. Peterman


I’m sure many of you remember the J. Peterman character on Seinfeld; tall, brooding actor John O’Hurley played the man behind the catalogue. He was known for giving little speeches about exotic locales he visited to obtain the latest items for sale (the jungles of Burma factored largely into his travels).

The catalogue isn’t that different. Each item for sale (ranging from clothing to antique coffee grinders) is described in a literary blurb designed to create atmosphere. Instead of just saying, “Comes in blue and green, sizes S, M, and L,” they try to take you on a little journey so that you’ll gasp and say, “Not only do I want that hat…I AM that hat. Give it to me now. $345? No problem.” Many of the blurbs are over the top and make for highly entertaining reading, especially if you add a British accent (don’t ask me why—the company is based in Lexington, KY, but an accent makes everything more fun, so pick your favorite one and have at it).

That said, there’s something pretty clever about the whole idea, and if you can keep from laughing out loud, you might just learn something about setting a scene.

If you’ve never read a J. Peterman catalog, get your booty over to the website and fill out the easy form so they can send you a FREE one. You won’t be sorry, I guarantee it.

Click HERE….come on, just do it.

Back yet? Okay, I got Owner’s Manual No. 82 in the mail yesterday, and have to share a couple of items with you:

You’ve Been Elevated to Dangerous Woman Status.




Is that “The CEO of the Year” making a beeline toward you at the annual office party? None other.
“You know Margaret, I never told you how insightful your cost analysis study asking the question do we need a cost analysis study itself.”
“Some didn’t think so.”
Balancing two flutes of champagne and a stuffed mushroom, he suggests discussing it in a more private setting.
You may never know if it’s you.
Or your daring cutaway blazer you’ve chosen to wear with a lacy cami underneath.
But as you’ve documented: who cares about analysis?
Cutaway Tuxedo Blazer (No. 2857). Exceptional fully lined take on men’s formal wear in fine Italian wool. Single button is where it all cuts away. Notch collar. Deep center back vent. Simple slits at cuffs. Boutonni√©re on lapel just right to affix a small phal√¶nopsis orchid, once considered an aphrodisiac. Imported.
Women’s sizes: 2 through 18.

AND HERE'S ANOTHER:

The J. Peterman Shirt.
99% Thomas Jefferson. 1% Peterman.






Thomas Jefferson disliked stuffy people, stuffy houses, stuffy societies. So he changed a few things. Law. Gardening. Government. Architecture.
Of the thousand castles, mansions, chateaux you can walk through today, only Monticello, only Jefferson's own mansion, makes you feel so comfortable you want to live in it.
I think you will feel the same about his 18th-century shirt. Classic. Simple. Livable.
The J. Peterman Shirt (No. 1012) for men and women, in pioneer muslin and pure cotton. Non-silly 18th-century collar. No collar stays to lose. No points to button down. Authentic dropped seams at shoulders. Wooden buttons, beautifully detailed. Mid-length placket.
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL. Imported.
(Generous cut.)

AND:





Dominica Bay Rum.


The Small Island of Dominica. Columbus discovered it, named it, and left it alone. It's north of Martinique. And it is the home, since 1907, of a very good West Indian Bay Rum manufactured under the Dominica brand-name.
Bay Rum has a fairly quiet scent, less strong than anything called perfume, less strong than anything called aftershave, but not so quiet as to be boring. It is, in fact, quite sexy.
It is sexy the way skin begins to smell from strong sun, salt water, steel drums, breaking waves, moving palm branches and giggling coming from somewhere.
Men liked Bay Rum long before 1907, when the Dominica brand started. Men have liked Bay Rum since Spanish Main days. They like it for the least complicated reason in the world: it smells good.
A decent gift which often turns into a lifetime habit.
Dominica Bay Rum (No. 1044), 10 fl. oz. Imported.

AND FINALLY:



Baker Street. Dense fog.
A man passes, his profile silhouetted in the mist.
The all-too-familiar shape of his pipe prominent.
The smell of sweet smoke wafting in the air.
Could it be?
Of course it is.
(Can you believe some people think Sherlock Holmes was merely fiction?)
Then how can you explain his remarkable pipe?
The Sherlock Holmes Pipe (No. 2931). Made from a specially selected briar with a smooth, polished finish and an extra-large bowl. A Peterson of Dublin exclusive with Holmes’ iconic profile etched into the sterling silver band on the pipe’s shank.
And that curiously cool smoke?
Simple deduction points to the small hole at the mouthpiece.
Or “P”-Lip to be exact.

I provided some links to other people who feel that J. Peterman has something to offer the writing world :)

Have a great weekend.
PS~ Seriously, get the free catalogue sent to you. It's fun to read.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Few Reminders...and a Pirate Countdown

**SORRY ABOUT THE SPACING ISSUES IN THIS POST**

Some contest deadlines are approaching so I thought I’d give you a little reminder mark your calendars:

NOW-November 3: Guide to Literary Agents, 7th Lucky Agent Contest~ Open to YA




November 1-30: YA Novel Discovery Contest ($15)-Open to YA






November 16, 18: Miss Snark’s First Victim Agent Auction~ Submissions for the contest will be held on two separate dates in November, one for adults (November 16) and the other for MG/YA (the 18th).


….and, for your entertainment (because my 12-year-old is contemplating a Captain Jack Sparrow costume for Halloween):




Top 10 things overheard at the dinner table that show your child is quickly becoming a pirate (courtesy of piratejokes.net):





(10) "You can flog me, but I'm not eating creamed spinach."

(9) "I've buried me treasure in the mashed potatoes."

(8) "I'll need another ration of grog if you expect me to eat these peas."

(7) "Your tuna noodle casserole would be perfect to fill cracks in the deck."

(6) "This chicken tastes like the parrot I was forced to eat after being marooned on an island for 30 days."

(5) "I wouldn't serve brussel sprouts to even the prisoners in the brig."

(4) "If I eat all my food, can I plunder the neighbors before I go to bed?"

(3) "This burger is fatty enough to grease a mast."

(2) "Too many vegetables - too little shark."

(1) "What did they do with the last cook's body after he was hung from the yardarm?"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Top Foods in Children’s Literature

I adore reading menus at restaurants and am very guilty of judging a dish by its description. Honestly, I think that all restaurants should hire writers to come up with item blurbs to make the dish sound as enticing as possible. I’m always disappointed by menu choices that say: Ernestine’s Chickencooked chicken breast with broccoli. Come on—show a little effort :)

In regard to books, my eyes always perk up at a food scene—love them, love them love them. My stepson actually attempted to make butterbeer (from Harry Potter) last night, based on an internet recipe. He used simmered cream soda, butter, and butterscotch syrup (it…didn’t taste like I imagined it would…he was a little heavy-handed with the syrup).

I recently read an interesting article by Rebecca Cohen regarding top foods in children’s literature, and I thought I’d share the list of five edibles/beverages and books that scored top marks for her:

1. Everything, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
2. Butterbeer, Harry Potter series
3. Cookie, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
4. Green eggs and ham, Green Eggs and Ham
5. Turkish delight, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

To that list, I have to add:

Toad-In-A-Hole/Yorkshire Pudding- Danny the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl)
Hot Chickpeas from a New York street vendor- All-of-a-Kind Family series (Sydney Taylor)
Wild stews/Campfire potatoes- The Boxcar Children series (Gertrude Chandler Warner)
Fresh Norwegian shrimp- Boy (Roald Dahl)
Lembas (Elf Bread)- Lord of the Rings Trilogy (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Cheese Buns- Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

Please chime in and let me know if you can think of any other delicious meals/snacks that made you salivate on the pages of a novel—or ones that captured your imagination in any manner. It doesn’t have to be something exotic, just something you’d like to try.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT

I’ve never spent an entire blog post talking about a specific contest, but I stumbled across this yesterday, and thought some of you might want to know about it:

Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest 2010—Entry period, November 1-30, 2010

What you submit: Title and first 250 words of your YA novel (sorry middle-grade writers)

Normally I wouldn’t endorse a contest with an entry fee (because I’m poor and cheap and suspicious of contests that cost money…always check out the source and the judges before considering the investment), but it’s only 15 bucks and the first 100 people to enter are shipped a free copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks.

Regina Brooks is a cool agent who was nice enough to do a WriteOnCon Live Workshop in August, and the list price for her book on Barnes & Noble is $14.99. So, if you have your trigger finger on the send button, it’s pretty much free. If you decide to enter, you’ve got about 10 days to polish your first page.

Please note that you can send her a query letter for free whenever you want; the only reason this might be a good opportunity is if you think your first page is stellar. The top five get commentaries from editors at Candlewick, Viking (Penguin), etc., which is pretty cool.

Here’s a breakdown of the prizes (click on the contest link above for more details):

The Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to submit an entire manuscript to YA literary agent Regina Brooks and receive a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop.

The Top Five Entrants (including the Grand Prize winner) will receive a 15-minute, one-on-one pitch session with Regina Brooks, one of New York’s premier literary agents for young adult books. They will also receive commentary on their submissions by editors at Candlewick, Scholastic, Harlequin, MacMillan, Viking, Roaring Brook Press, and Sourcebooks and receive a one-year subscription to The Writer magazine.The First 100 Entrants will receive a copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. (Shipped only to addresses in US and Canada.)

JUDGING YA literary agent Regina Brooks and a select group of readers will read all of the entries and determine the top 20 submissions. These submissions will then be read by Nancy Mercado, Executive Editor at Roaring Brooks Press (MacMillan); Nicole Raymond, Editor at Candlewick; Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur Levine Books (Scholastic); Leila Sales, Editor at Viking (Penguin); Evette Porter, Editor at Harlequin; and Leah Hultenschmidt, Executive Editor at Sourcebooks. These judges will whittle the top 20 down to five, and each of the five winners will be provided commentary on their submissions.

That’s it for today.

***Middle grade writers, don’t despair. Click HERE for a mouthwatering announcement from Authoress of Miss Snark’s First Victim. She’s got something special lined up for December that will involve both MG and YA!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Waiting for Inspiration

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London

Do we have to be truly inspired to produce inspired/wonderful writing, or is any idea that you plug away at good enough, as long as the actual writing passes inspection?

I go back and forth on the level of inspiration present in my writing ideas…obviously they come from somewhere, but I currently have a big fat backlog of plot possibilities, most of which will never see the light of my laptop screen. Why? Because I make a point every now and then to sit my booty down and come up with ideas. I don’t get up until I have ten thoughts, no matter how useful or trivial they might be.

Not all of them are what I'd call inspired—they might just be random words that pop into my head and get scribbled down (boy scouts/aliens/Area 51, ship/ghosts/school trip, historical candle shop/fire/runaway, etc.). Like I said, most of these end up trashed, but some of them might come in handy one day. In the meantime, I feel much more comfortable waiting for inspiration when I’m working on something else. I can let it come naturally without feeling stressed out.

My conundrum here is that perhaps all of my writing is not “inspired.” Does working at trying to find inspiration negate/cheapen the term? Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that, like I get my ideas in forced ways rather than through some huge epiphany. With that in mind, I went searching the blogosphere for inspiring articles on how to find inspiration (I’ve said it before, I’m right-brained). Here are some ideas for anyone who might be looking for their next project:

Historical figures- You don’t have to glean an entire plot line from a specific time period, but think about some historical figures and what made them stand-out people. Maybe you could fashion a 12-year-old middle grade protagonist from Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s characteristics, utilizing his qualities as a leader, motivator and overall badass. Maybe you could give a modern high school girl Amelia Earhart’s personality and have her deal with a sexist teacher. There are lots of fun possibilities here.

Travel- For those of us without a travel budget, magazines and internet searches are useful. Sometimes simply learning about a new environment can spark an idea.

Movies- You never know when a scene will trigger a writing thought…plus, it’s an excellent excuse to take a break. Forcing yourself to write all the time may lead to meeting deadlines, but it can also lead to resentment of the thing you love.

Grocery Stores-Not only are these great places for people watching and cart-peeping, but there are a bunch of items that could possibly be your next book (Vegetable section=farm book, Red Bull/Energy Drinks section=Hyper Teenager book, Frozen Fish section=Boston Harbor setting, Bread section=Family Bakery book, Frozen Pizza section=Me overindulging in frozen pizza book…you get the idea)

Those are just a few—I listed some links in the upper right of this blog that might be helpful too.

The most powerful ideas can come along when we least expect it. While I’m waiting for that big idea though, I force myself to do the list thing as an exercise in creativity and stretching the old brain muscles. If you find yourself in a writing funk, you might be better off forgetting inspiration for a minute and sticking with a good old fashioned stubborn attitude. As one speaker said at the RMFW Conference, “I get up dutifully at six o'clock every morning to wait for inspiration. If it hasn’t turned up by five past, I start without it.”

In the end, I do believe that inspired writing can come from an idea that might not be designated as pure inspiration. Any thoughts on the matter?

Have a great weekend!

**By the way, please don't take this post as an indication that I'm bitter/anti-inspiration as a whole--I'm all for it!**

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Confession Tuesday - Inner Manuscripting

Okay, this may sound a little weird, but do you ever find yourself writing a mental manuscript of your daily actions? It’s kind of like inner dialogue, but with descriptions and scene-setting too. I confess to having a problem with inner manuscripting.

My inner manuscript voice pops up now and then, and it’s always obnoxiosly cheesy. Seriously, it’s bad. Here's an example:

My stepdaughter was watching the animated movie Monsters vs. Aliens and there was a scene where a groom was talking to a bride before the wedding. The girl was in her wedding dress and told the groom, “Go away, it’s bad luck to see me in my dress!” The groom protested, but my stepdaughter echoed the comment. “She’s right, it is bad luck.”

I was at the sink (letting water fill a pasta pot) at the time and at those particular words, my dramatic inner author began writing, mainly due to the fact that I never had a wedding. I tried to shut her up, knowing the exact soap-opera tone she would adopt. It’s nothing like my writing in real life, and I have no idea where it comes from. My God, I could almost hear the tiny violins playing in the background while my inner manuscript writer took over…

She gazed out the window with a bittersweet regret; “no wedding and no stress” had also equaled “no honeymoon and no dress.” It was done though; her time for ceremony had passed and the only wedding she could look forward to now was her daughter’s….yada, yada, yada, more junk about dust on windowsill, drift into dust/life metaphors, blather, blather, etc.

I burst out laughing, interrupting the melodramatic moron in my head, and jogged over to the computer to jot down the thoughts before they faded. I figured that sharing an embarrassing habit might make for an interesting blog post, but it also brings up an honest question.

Do you ever find yourself watching the car next to you or people at the grocery store, and think about their frustrating or humorous situations as page text?

Do you ever have an inner manuscript writer documenting a mundane activity (The soccer game dragged on and on, and she couldn’t help thinking that one more afternoon of shouting accolades for kids who didn’t even seem to know what sport they were playing might just drive her over the edge)?

Just wondering :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Action Tags versus Dialogue Tags

We’ve all heard that using lots of dialogue tags is frowned upon, especially adverbial dialogue tags:

“Oh, are you leaving so soon?” she asked sadly.
“Billy, hurry up!” she screamed/exclaimed/shouted/yelled excitedly.


I was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (again) last night, and within a page Ms. Rowling used 'said Fred seriously,' 'said Ron darkly,' 'said Harry flatly,' and 'said Ron hastily.' Clearly, exceptions are everywhere, but more and more we are being told to stick with a simple he said/she said. Many times, even these aren’t necessary.

Use action tags to turn this awkward and crowded sentence on its toes.

“This homework stinks like Uncle Carl,” Gary sighed heavily. “I hate math,” he added emphatically.

BECOMES

Gary slammed his book shut. “Math stinks worse than Uncle Carl.”

Perhaps you’re writing a scene in the kitchen and there is a garbage can full of foul odors.

“Smells like a rose,” Gary said sarcastically.

BECOMES

Gary pinched his nostrils shut. “Smells like a rose.”

Same thing, only with action to show the sarcasm. Your readers are smart enough to get it.

A great post by Ann Marble (click HERE) on the use and abuse of dialogue tags has other fun examples. I was SO guilty of making these mistakes in my manuscripts, and still have to look out for them. I swear they just sneak in, it’s not really my fault… here are a couple things to keep an eye out for (straight from A. Marble’s post):

Don't use a verb used to describe an expression and then try to force it into becoming a dialogue tag. It won't work. People don't grimace, grin, smile, and frown their sentences. Consider this line of dialogue: "You'll never get away from here," her evil guardian sneered. Even the most notorious villain doesn't know how to sneer a line of dialogue.

"But my villain has to sneer," the writer said. Of course. It's in his nature. So try this instead: The evil guardian sneered. "You'll never get away from here." Don't worry about the attribution. As long as the action is kept with its dialogue, the reader will figure out who said what.

The big kahuna of dialogue tags to avoid is "hissed." It's used a lot, but quite often, it's used where it's unwelcome. We've all seen this dialogue tag abused. For example: "Get out," she hissed. OK, you try it -- hiss that line. Something's missing -- the sibilants. I suppose the Snake Creatures of Tilolaca could hiss that line, but that's about it. Your characters shouldn't have to be forced to hiss their words.


There are a few links at the top right that discuss this topic and provide more examples to look out for. I suggest taking a look at your pages to see if you can change a few of your dialogue tags to action tags. Or maybe you’d rather go to a movie or something instead—that’s cool too. Mom and Dad are coming this weekend, so I'll be cleaning up the house and giving the lawn one last mow this season.


Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October Announcements/Reminders

Here are a few items to keep in mind this week/month:

Guide to Literary Agent’s Lucky Agent Contest closes tomorrow, October 6th. Be sure to enter if you have a completed urban fantasy or paranormal manuscript.

Query Tracker’s Contest this month is for Children’s/MG/YA on October 27th. This is an exciting one because Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy is the judge. Erin Murphy Literary Agency only takes queries from referrals and conference attendees, so this is a great chance to show your pitch line and first 100 words to an agent who might not otherwise see it.

NaNoWriMo is next month, so start thinking about whether or not you’re up for it and what you’d like to write about.

Nancy Coffey Literary has new query guidelines, including a new query address.

Elana Roth (of Johnson Lit Agency) announced that she's open to queries again. Here are a few things she's looking for in terms of MG/YA.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is this week in Germany. Again, many MG/YA agents won’t be attending, but it’s still nice to know when these things go on.

Finally, I recently received an email from Stories For Children, an online kids magazine. It was a media release detailing their new blog, Families Matter. Here is an excerpt from the release:

Along with content written by members of the SFC blog editorial team and SFC publishing team, V.S. Grenier has announced she is opening some of the monthly columns of the SFC blog Families Matter to submissions. “We feel this is a great way for those seeking publication to build their writing resume and for parents, educators and those interested in helping families to submit material our readers would be interested in,” says Grenier.

The guidelines and topic list will be available after October 1, 2010 on the SFC blog Families Matter and at the Stories for Children Publishing website.

Visit the SFC blog Families Matter throughout the month of October and be sure to follow along and participate with your comments and/or questions. Blog posts will be three times a week every week. There are some great interviews lined up, along with book reviews and educational and health tips.

I mentioned the new blog because many of you have kids and families, and I thought this might be a writing opportunity you’d like to pursue.

See you Friday!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Straight From The Agents: “Work Like Hell”

I used to imagine that agents mainly want two things from their clients: quality production and timeliness (sorry to make a writing career sound like factory work). Accomplishing those two things is a feat in itself, but I left something out. Something big. I attended an agent panel at the RMFW Conference a couple of weeks ago, and the following question was asked:

What do you want the author to do in terms of publicity?

Agent X spoke first and gave the answer (paraphrasing here), “If the author wants to remain relatively anonymous and just do their thing, I will respect that. I have no problem taking on the publicity for a book I sell. If they want to get involved, fine, but if not, that’s fine too.”

I was stunned. I wasn’t aware that agents catered to their clients like that…maybe if you had Hemingway or Salinger for a client you’d stay the hell away and be happy they threw you a manuscript now and then, but in today’s world? I didn’t realize that happened.

Turns out, some of the other agents didn’t appear to agree with the first speaker either. After a brief period of silence, Super Agent Christine Whitthohn of Book Cents Literary leaned into her microphone to respond:

“I respectfully disagree. I want my clients to work like hell.”

It was a pretty cool moment. She elaborated, and the other panelists agreed heartily.

Getting the book down on paper/screen is only one part (albeit, a pretty darn important part) of being a career writer. Web presence, web presence, web presence…it was mentioned time and time again. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter…and whatever you put out into the virtual world, make sure it represents you well. You don't need to overextend yourself or stretch yourself too thin. Right now, I am consciously choosing one thing. I don't update my Facebook page on a regular basis, and I don't do Twitter. I blog twice a week, and that's it. That's what I'm comfortable with. That said, if I ever become a career writer, I WILL make time for other things, because that's what needs to be done.

It was intimidating to listen to, but there’s good news. Even if you aren’t familiar with some of these things, you’ve got some time between landing a contract and the launching of your title. Educate yourself, network, and make an effort to keep up contact lists. Writing the book will get you the first job…but being a good publicist will turn that job into a career.

Like I said, many of us are still concentrating on the “getting an agent/getting published phase,” but it’s smart to know what you’re getting into. Unless you land someone like Agent X, you’ll be expected to work hard on publicity and marketing. The guidance will be there, but you’ll need to, well, “work like hell.”

Another bit of good news is that we all love what we do, and putting in tons of hours for something you love is always rewarding. I posted a few links in the upper right part of this blog in case you want to take a look :)

Have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Tuesday!

FINAL TIDBIT: Elana Roth from Caren Johnson Literary just announced she's accepting queries again. She's looking for MG and YA, and lists specific things she'd like to see.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Editor and the Muse

Which side of your brain do you use in writing? All of us are dominate in one side of our brains, but which side is the best to use for your latest manuscript? Let’s take a look at the traits of both (see links to the right for a thorough list of characteristics). To sum it up briefly:

Left side = logical/methodical/organized
Right side = creative/spontaneous/artsy

Kirt Hickman (http://kirthickman.com/) led a lovely workshop on revising fiction during the RMFW conference, and he called these brain sections the Editor and the Muse. When you’re in the trenches of revisions, the Editor is the way to go, but Kirt encourages first drafts to be given in large part to the Muse.

Now this may seem like an easy path to take (who wouldn't want to be given free reign with their pages?), but what if you are a left-brained person by nature (guilty)? How can you encourage your Muse to take over and reap the benefits of her creativity? Mr. Hickman had a few suggestions for nurturing the Muse:

1) Get up very early to write, especially if you are not a morning person. Your Editor needs sleep, but your Muse does not. Your Muse is a late-night, party on, anytime-is-good-for-dreaming type of gal. Go ahead and force yourself to scribble down words and later look at the text to see if anything is salvageable. If you're a morning person, do it late at night, when your Editor has turned in for the evening.

2) Write by hand on unlined paper. Typing is a Left-Brained-Editor activity, but writing cursive is a Right-Brained-Muse activity. Your Editor likes boundaries and lines, your Muse does not.

3) Don’t stop to revise mid-sentence/paragraph or your Editor will wake up and take over, with no promise of handing the page back to the Muse anytime soon (Editors will tell you to go make coffee and take a shower and check the weather before deciding on an outfit and then maybe go back to writing when your properly organized for the day).

4) Don’t stop to research. Do your really know what Spain looks like in the Springtime? Maybe not, but go ahead and make it up. Corrections and additions can come later.

Now, those of you who are right-brained, you probably have your share of problems too. Maybe you create more subplots than necessary or spend five paragraphs describing a blade of grass in your character’s hand, then drift into how he played soccer as a youth and loved the smell of grass, and then spend five more paragraphs comparing the smell to different things. For all I know, you Righties may need tips on nurturing your Editor. Sorry, those didn't come up during the presentation (but maybe I'll do a post on that later).

I often wish I could let go more with my writing, but my Editor interrupts me too much (“Hey! You used that adjective last page, change it!” or “Wait a minute, watch the backstory…and is that your third character whose name starts with the letter B?”). After listening to Kirt’s talk, I’m convinced that I should find the time for some free-writing, sans keyboard and outline. Now I just need to logically plan out the time to do it (tee-hee).

Are you right-brained or left, and how does that affect your writing?

Do you find that your Editor and Muse work well together or do they clash noggins occasionally, like mine do?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Layer Up (the tension) for Autumn!

Autumn has arrived and the weather is turning crisp. SO, this is a FABULOUS time to dress your scenes well by layering up the tension. Take an average scene and make it pop.

Where to start? Try dialogue scenes. A speaker at the RMFW conference gave a wonderful example. Say your two characters are having a heated discussion in the house. Good dialogue, good information, but a little stagnant. Why not move them out to the garden?

Suddenly, the possibilities are endless. Your middle grade protagonist is mad and arguing with his parent while doing requisite weeding. He stabs the trowel into the dirt hard and deep to show it. Maybe a nosy neighbor sticks her head over the fence and annoys the crud out of the kid. He’s even more worked up now. Maybe it starts to rain and lightning strikes close by. All these things add layers to a simple scene of dialogue, and the reader will be more engaged by the pages.

How about a hospital scene in a YA novel? Maybe your love interests are chatting from the beds, having a talk that divulges important information and hidden passion. That’s fantastic, but how can you bring something more to the situation? Hmmm, what if the guy gets up and hobbles over for a glass of water? Okay, there’s some action. MORE. What if, he happens to have a hospital gown on that’s split up to his bum and your blushing protagonist sneaks a glance at his bottom while they chat? Boom, giggles galore. That scene just got more interesting to some readers.

One of the biggest things I learned is that your manuscript, whether fantasy or contemporary, needs to have a realistic tone. That said, the readers want to see your character challenged, so don’t be afraid to pour on the conflict. Think outside the box and add a phone ringing at an unexpected moment, a traffic accident when someone’s already late, a full bladder during test time—you get the idea.

Don’t go overboard (inserting gardens and bottoms where they just don’t belong), but check out your scenes and see if there’s a way that you can make them even better. Make any changes deliberately and with purpose (and because they will truly improve your scene), not just because some random lady like me gave you a suggestion :)

Have a wonderful weekend! I'll be hiking in some higher altitudes with the family to see Fall foliage (leaves change early in the mountains...our Fall season is too short in my mind), and will definitely be layering up (clothes this time, not tension).

See you on Tuesday!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nailing The Important Part Of Your Query Letter

Throughout the RMFW Conference in Denver last week, there were sessions/panels that touched on query letters and pitches. During an excellent workshop led by super-agent Kristin Nelson (who, by the way, is a fantastic speaker--the room was PACKED and I sat on the floor), conference-goers learned a big secret about the agenting world…

AGENTS. ARE. EXTREMELY. BUSY.

Ha, ha. All joking aside, we can’t possibly expect them to read every word of a query letter when they get stacks-upon-virtual-stacks of the things. The pitch paragraph/paragraphs are key. If those are good, the agent may peruse your intro paragraph and credentials, but without a solid plot communicated in a compelling manner…it’s not promising.

SO, what should be in a good pitch paragraph?

-Plot catalyst/inciting incident (this is the reason there IS a story—a phone conversation where Nancy finds out her boyfriend is royalty, Mrs. Hendrix gives Danny a bad grade and he’s going to have to mow lawns all summer, etc.—this should be in the first 30 pages of your manuscript or you need to seriously think about revising your beginning).

But back to the core of your pitch paragraph. You only need the first 30 pages of your novel because all cover copy is shaped around the main event (also called the inciting incident or in my terminology, the plot catalyst) that begins the novel and without it, the story could not move forward. In other words, the event must happen or you have no story to tell.” (K.Nelson, guest blog on The Lit Coach)

-Backstory elements (these are generally shunned if they’re too prevalent in a manuscript, but we were told it’s okay to put them in your pitch to give a little perspective)

-Supporting plot elements

-Character insights

-7 to 10 sentences total (includes plot catalyst, back story elements, other related plot elements, character insights)

Feel free to separate into two paragraphs for the pitch—three/four might be a stretch. If possible, insert some voice.

That's it. If you're only getting rejections, take a look at your pitch paragraph and see if it follows these guidelines. If not, you might want to think about revising.

*Interesting tidbit—it’s not necessary to start with your plot catalyst, it just needs to be in there somewhere. I kind of assumed it should start with the catalyst, but nope. Feel free to play around with the format, just keep it full of relevant information told in a way that’s easy to follow.

Last of all, to keep things in perspective, on Friday I posted about how a fantastic title can override a weak query. Also, some agents skip the query altogether and go straight for your sample pages (which is understandable), so go figure...gotta love this roller coaster ride. Hands up, everyone~ big ups and downs are a given, you might as well keep smiling and remember that you were the one who got in line. Be glad you were tall enough to make it on the ride. Weeeee! (okay, enough silliness, have a lovely week and I’ll see you on Friday).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Title, Schmitle, Who Really Cares? Um, Some Agents Do…

Perhaps you think the title of your manuscript doesn’t matter too much—you’re a writer after all, and you concentrate on things like plot and character development before focusing on something so petty, so superficial as a measly title.

Or maybe you’re the opposite—you can’t really get into your novel until you have the perfect title, and you spend hours of time (that might have been spent writing) coming up with it.

I go back and forth on the title issue. If I'm looking to procrastinate, I'll play around with ideas and have fun with it, but I never thought twice about submitting a query letter with a title that I knew was lackluster. The title, I assumed, was the last thing on an agent’s mind, and a good query letter trumps all. Well, maybe, but…

Here’s a mindbender for you: titles can make a difference. A big one.

At the conference I recently attended, an agent let us know that if the query wasn’t super strong, but the TITLE was particularly intriguing, she would ask to see pages anyway. Keep in mind that this is one agent at one conference. Still, I think it’s a fair assumption that THIS SHOULD MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT THE TITLE OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT!

If it’s something vague like REACHING FOR GREATNESS or FLOATING TOWARD ACCEPTANCE, it’s gonna come off as a nonfiction self-help book. Which title is better for a whitewater rafting adventure story— AND THE RIVER CALLED ME HOME, BREATHING WATER, or DEATH BY PADDLE (maybe they all stink, but I just made them up, so no teasing)?

We write fiction guys, so use your imagination. I’m not suggesting you go crazy or make something up purely for shock value, but think about your titles.

Right now. Go on…

Evaulate them. Are they evocative? Do they immediately conjure up an image or feeling?

The example given by the agent was BLOOD MAGIC. There you go. Like it or not, those two words are a powerful combination.

So think about your title in terms of your genre—if it’s a silly middle grade, consider a very silly title that stands out. If it’s an adventure story, make it gripping. A young adult paranormal love story—give us passionate, thought-provoking words like PERSONAL DEMONS or SHIVER.

There are tons of exceptions—of course there are—and when it comes down to it, your pages matter most. But if an intriguing title can dip you out of the slush pile and get your manuscript a look see, I say it’s worth consideration.

FINAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

A few quick statistics I learned from the conference (based on a sample of 250 authors):

Once they started seriously writing (and I’m not sure what constitutes being “serious”), it took the sample of authors an average of 11.2 years to get a contract (or an agent, can’t remember which). Make that 11.8 years if they had a Masters of Fine Arts (that was purely coincidence, but interesting nonetheless).

The average age of a debut author was 36.

A decent percentage of folks started writing after retirement.

A downer statistic:
Super-Agent Kristin Nelson and her crew read 36,000 queries in 2009. Of those, she took on 2 clients and her colleague, Sara Megibow, took on 7.

A happy fact:
I love to write/read, and I’m guessing you do too. This is my hobby-with-potential, and I take it seriously—just like my hubby takes golf seriously. Sure, he knows it’s a game, but he’s constantly trying to improve his swing, his putting, his clothing choices (tee-hee). We’ve set the goal that he’ll get his handicap down to 2 and go to the local, amateur try-out for the US Open Qualifier by 2020. Were you aware that anyone can play in the US Open Golf Tournament? You just have to want it, work your butt off, take advice here, leave advice there, develop your own swing, believe in yourself, and practice, practice, practice. It might be a longshot, but you might as well live life to the fullest and give it your all. If you’re going to be a writer, BE A WRITER. Statistics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Ask any debut author you meet.

Have a wonderful weekend!

PS-Don't forget about Miss Snark's September Secret Agent Contest on the 20th.