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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

8 Tips~ How To Please Important People With Your Writing

*WARNING~This is a post on technical issues in writing—no, no! Come back! Technical items can be fun to learn about too!!!*

I recently read a fabulous blog post by Alison Janssen about how to please your editor.

What’s that? You don’t have a book contract? Or even an agent? I’m in the same boat, and still found this helpful. The eight tips are fabulous for agented and unagented authors alike.

These are things that you can incorporate to have a more presentable manuscript. Most of the tips are simple technical changes/improvements you can make that we ‘creatives’ may tend to dismiss, ignore, or have no clue about.

Content trumps all (because having technically squeaky-clean pages with no plot probably won't help you), but there's nothing wrong with having as crisp a manuscript as possible when making the query/submission rounds...and you'll save yourself some time and please your editor once you land that deal!

Make Your Editor Love You By Checking Your...

(Scroll to the bottom for a link to the full post, which you should definitely read)

1. Word consistency: Decide if you're going to use "okay" or "OK" and stick with it.

2. Emdashes: Don't use single or double hyphens (--) to represent emdashes (—)

3. Apostrophes : Apparently the Word program interprets apostrophes incorrectly on words like 'em (as in, "Go get 'em boys!"). See the post for a solution.

4. Single Spaces after Sentences: Yup—it's one space after sentences in the vast majority of cases now. I was totally oblivious of this until a few months ago. I grew up doing two spaces and never got the memo...FYI, it will NOT get you a rejection if your manuscript currently has two spaces after a period, so don't stress about it too much. Just consider changing your habit in the future :)

5. Page Breaks: Learn about them. Use them.

6. Tabs: She mentions that this one may not apply everywhere, but that you should NOT use the Tab key to indent paragraphs. You should set the paragraph indentation individually, so that you hit Enter, it automatically indents to the right place. This one hit home for me. I always used the Tab key.

7. Timeline: This is a basic (chronological) list of events that you can share with your editor.

8. Character Bible- I don’t have a full bible, but I do keep a Word document of character sketches.

There you go~ hopefully you got something from this! Click HERE for the full post at a fun group blog where Alison Janssen posts on Thursdays.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ready To Query TODAY? Why you should wait until APRIL

Here's a Twitter post from yesterday~ it comes from amazing agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency:
*If you're thinking of sending me a query, you might want to wait till after 31st when I'm back from Bologna. No time to answer while away.*
That's right~ Bologna is back, and tons of agents representing children's literature (Picture Books all the way to Young Adult) will be traveling to the world's largest trade show for kiddie lit (and some will be staying for a little bit after the Fair...you can't go to Italy for business alone).
Even if an agent on your list isn't attending, they may be communicating with others who are there, eating gelato and schmoozing to find the next big thing.
A few facts:
In its 48th year, the Bologna Children's Book Fair Dates are Monday, March 28 through Thursday, March 31 in Bologna, Italy.
There will be about 1300 exhibitors from 67 countries and 4763 international professional trade representatives.
In addition to not being able to answer queries, many agents will have follow-up work concerning copyright exchange, etc. So...you might want to give them a week or so to come home and clear out their inboxes.
That said, there's not really a bad time to query~ the worst that can happen is that you'll have to wait. I don't know that there's any time advantage to holding off on querying, but with agent tweets like Sarah's above, you may want to wait out of courtesy to their preferences. Again, not all agents are going, but it's something to keep in mind and a good reason to justify a longer wait to hear back...though if I tell myself that they're still buying leather shoes and strolling the streets of Verona come Sepember...I probably have been no-response-equals-no rejected :)
Click HERE for an amazing first line contest that ends midnight, April 2. The contest is at Chersti Nieveen's blog, and you can win query critiques, books, and $$ toward the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference in Utah this June!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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

**Agent Giveaway alert--Mark your calendars for TODAY THURSDAY, MARCH 24 and go to agent Natalie Fischer's blog. She's offering some serious prizes including query and page critiques. Click HERE for details!!

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 coming up with it. It's incredibly important, like the sturdy nail that holds up the frame of your masterpiece. 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 stressed 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 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)? The truth is, it probably depends on the genre and plot--is it a coming-of-age tale or a high-stakes adventure?

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.

**This is a post I wrote in September of last year, but the topic is still relevant and I have some new followers (thank you!) who didn't see it the first time**

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hunger Games Actress Named (And More Agent Tweets!)

It's official. The role of Katniss Everdeen, protagonist of the amazing Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, will be played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer's most recent role was in "Winter's Bone," a Sundance Film Festival hit that earned her an Oscar nomination.

Some people are disappointed with the choice, saying a) she's blonde and blue-eyed (Katniss has dark hair, an olive complexion, and grey eyes in the novels), b) too conventionally pretty, or c) she's too old (20, whereas Katniss starts the Hunger Games trilogy at 16).

My opinion? I haven't even seen this girl act, so I'm not about to judge. I do think the fact that she's nabbed herself a Best Actress Oscar nomination at such an early age works in her favor. Plus, I think that Hollywood has some experience using hair dye and colored contacts, altering appearances, and aging people up and down, so I'm not too worried about all that.
Again, I don't know very much about her, so I'm not in a good position to form a solid opinion. I know people were rooting for a few other actresses, so I can understand the disappointment if your pick didn't make the cut.
.What do you guys think?

This is a photo from her movie, "Winter's Bone."
Click HERE for an article about the Hunger Games news.
and HERE
and HERE
and HERE
and HERE for an article where the Director defends his choice.
Finally, here are some gems that agents posted on Twitter this week (you can click on the underlined name to access and follow their Twitter accounts):
sarahlapolla Sarah LaPolla
Writers: Do not refer to yourself as "prolific" in your query. You'll sound like a douche.
louisefury Louise Fury
If you can write and you know anything about mob culture? Email me!
kate_mckean Kate McKean
Only. Query. One. Book. At. A. Time.
sarahlapolla Sarah LaPolla
Writers, you need an agent!! But even if you try to publish on your own, have a lawyer or agent-friend review any contract before signing!
daniellechiotti Danielle Chiotti
So many writers offering me "exclusive subs" when I haven't requested them. Is this some new--and bad--advice circulating around Internet?
JillCorcoran Jill Corcoran
here is one for you all...why is it so hard for me to find a great romantic comedy for YA?
JillCorcoran Jill Corcoran
Romantic Comedy has unmistakable voice + high concept plot + loveable characters
Hope you enjoyed those. Happy Friday, and enjoy your weekend!
PS- Tiny town weather update: it was 72 degrees yesterday--the kiddo and I were out in shorts and t-shirts, frolicking gaily at the park...woke up this morning to snow. That's Colorado for you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Write A Synopsis, Disney-Style (Plus Announcements)

A couple announcements first:

~Miss Snark's next Secret Agent contest will be on Monday, March 21. Click HERE for early info.

~The Next WriteOnCon live chat event is on Monday, March 28 at 5 PM EST with literary agents from Dystel & Goderich Literary. Tell your spouse, kids, roommate, significant other, etc. to mark their calendars too (to leave you alone).

Can you write a synopsis Disney-style?

Ah brevity, you taunt me so! We all know how hard those dreaded query letters and synopses are, not to mention loglines and 2 , 3, and 4-sentence pitches. Trying to keep them all straight in your head when you go to a conference can be maddening.

My 2-year-old daughter recently received a box set of Disney princess stories. They’re little board books, each with about 4 or 5 pages of text. Disney has apparently mastered the art of condensing. Could this be a lesson for constructing a brief synopsis??? Have a look at Disney's exact texts and judge for yourself:

Snow White (in 6 sentences)-
Once there was a sweet, kind princess named Snow White. The wicked Queen was jealous of Snow White’s beauty. Snow White had to run away. She stayed in a cottage with Seven Dwarves. The Queen tricked Snow White with a poisoned apple. But the Prince arrived and awoke Snow White with a kiss, and they lived happily ever after.

If my kid is my kid (and she is), at some point she’ll be asking, “What about the Queen? Isn’t she still around, trying to knock off Snow White?” Loose ends, Disney, loose ends.

Pocahontas (in 8 sentences)-
Pocahontas was a Native American. She loved nature. One day a ship from England arrived in America. Some of the Englishmen were greedy and mean. John Smith was kind and good. Pocahontas’s tribe wanted the Englishmen to leave. The Englishmen sailed away. Bu Pocahontas and John Smith would never forget each other.

So…the Englishmen left just like that, did they?

One more:

Cinderella (in 8 sentences)-
Cinderella was a gentle, charming girl who loved to dream. Cinderella’s stepsisters were cruel to her. Her Stepmother was even worse. The King sent an invitation to the royal ball. Cinderella was not allowed to go. But Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother helped. Cinderella and the Prince fell in love at first sight. It was a dream come true.

I must say, I resent all these wicked Stepmothers traipsing around fairy tales. It’s insulting (I’m a stepmom to two lovely kiddos). Plus, there’s no mention at all of those cute little mice!

So, which movie-book did the best job of summarizing~ any opinions?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Top 5 Children's Lit Agencies

Hi all! As promised, today's post is dedicated to the Top 5 Children's Lit Agencies in terms of dealmaking (this includes Young Adult fiction). Please note that these are recent statistics that are apt to change. Again, I got the information from a post on Absolute Write. A very nice agent was kind enough to post a small amount of information from Publisher's Marketplace, and I feel comfortable reposting because AW is a free, public site. To get access to all of PM's wonderful info, click HERE. It's $20 a month.

Top 5 Agencies, Childrens:

1. Andrea Brown Literary Agency 67 deals in this category in the last 12 months, 34 in the last 6 months, 254 overall. 21 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 21, 2011

2. Writers House 45 deals in this category in the last 12 months, 16 in the last 6 months, 220 overall. 37 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 17, 2011

3. Erin Murphy Literary Agency 31 deals in this category in the last 12 months, 17 in the last 6 months, 111 overall. 2 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 9, 2011

4. Sanford J. Greenburger Associates 31 deals in this category in the last 12 months, 10 in the last 6 months, 61 overall. 3 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: January 19, 2011

5. Curtis Brown 29 deals in this category in the last 12 months, 7 in the last 6 months, 94 overall. 5 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 11, 2011

I would love to comment on all of these (and list agents, etc.), but I don't have time right now. We lost power at 4:30 this morning (yes, I was up. My two-year-old was very persuasive, aka, wouldn't stop saying, "Mommy, up! Mommy, wake up! Cereal!) and I just got a chance to dash over to the next town over to use wireless at a coffee shop. That said, here are a couple of things to know:

Andrea Brown Literary is amazing, and it's really hard to choose who to submit to, because they all sound great. Try your best to read about all the ladies and genuinely find the one you think fits for you (you can only query one of them). Include your reason for picking them in the query letter--I've read that these fine agents like personalization and want to know why you think they're the right agent for you.

Writers House and Curtis Brown are two of the very few agencies that allow you to query multiple agents. NOT at the same time. Query one, then wait until you hear back with a rejection to query another. They're all fantastic and it's nice to know that the door to these agencies isn't necessarily closed with one rejection.

Erin Murphy Literary Agency rocks! Only two agents and they're on the top five list~talk about serious work ethic! They don't accept unsolicited queries, so don't send them. Your best bet here is to meet Erin or Ammi-Joan Paquette at a conference. Also, Ms. Paquette has been known to lurk around Secret Agent contests on Miss Snark's First Victim, and the query critique thread on Absolute Write Water Cooler. She makes requests that way sometimes.

Okay, I've gotta get back to the house and eat all the ice cream before it melts! Hopefully the power will get turned on soon...oh the hazards of living in a smallish town near mountains. My 13-year-old has the day off from school, and I'm guessing he won't mind raiding the freezer for breakfast. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

WriteOnCon News AND Top Dealmaking Agents in Children’s Lit

WriteOnCon is back (see my shiny countdown button to the right?), and the founders are already handing out prizes right and left. Here are a few amazing items you can win (go to the WriteOnCon website for complete information and updates):

-Click HERE to win a query critique (via phone!!!) from the amazing Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary.

-Click HERE to win a query critique from the awesome Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

-Click HERE to win a query critique from the incredible Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency.

~ ~ ~ ~

I love hanging around the Absolute Write website—it’s one of the greatest resources for the writing community to seek support, critiques, information on agents, and tons more. Plus, it’s free! I was searching for info when I saw a thread called “Querying Agents.” One of the best children’s agents out there had left the most recent comment. I think it’s so cool that agents take the time to do this kind of thing!

She posted information about top agents (by number of deals), and I feel comfortable passing it on since AW is a public/free site and any of you can find the post yourself. The info is from Publisher’s Marketplace and you can get a subscription for $20 a month. Click HERE for more info on PM.

Top 10 agents, Childrens:

001. Brenda Bowen (Sanford J. Greenburger Associates) 25 deals in this category in the last 12 months 8 in the last 6 months 40 overall 2 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: January 19, 2011

002. Edward Necarsulmer IV (McIntosh & Otis) 23 deals in this category in the last 12 months 8 in the last 6 months 98 overall 2 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 16, 2011

003. Ginger Knowlton (Curtis Brown) 21 deals in this category in the last 12 months 2 in the last 6 months 62 overall. Most recent deal in this category: September 7, 2010

004. Rosemary Stimola (Stimola Literary Studio) 20 deals in this category in the last 12 months 8 in the last 6 months 122 overall 14 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: January 4, 2011

005. Erin Murphy (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) 20 deals in this category in the last 12 months 12 in the last 6 months 97 overall 1 six-figure+ deal. Most recent deal in this category: February 9, 2011

006. Steven Malk (Writers House) 19 deals in this category in the last 12 months 4 in the last 6 months 58 overall 8 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: November 30, 2010

007. Stephen Barbara (Foundry Literary + Media) 16 deals in this category in the last 12 months 6 in the last 6 months 51 overall 12 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 14, 2011

008. Tina Wexler (ICM) 15 deals in this category in the last 12 months 5 in the last 6 months 46 overall. Most recent deal in this category: February 16, 2011

009. Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) 15 deals in this category in the last 12 months 8 in the last 6 months 39 overall 2 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 14, 2011

010. Sara Crowe (Harvey Klinger) 14 deals in this category in the last 12 months 8 in the last 6 months 68 overall 5 six-figure+ deals. Most recent deal in this category: February 17, 2011

I’ll post the top five children’s agencies on Friday and will touch on the pure awesomeness of each. See you then!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Straight From The Agents

I like to follow an agent or two on Twitter (mostly those who represent children’s and YA fiction), and love hearing their thoughts on publishing & query letters, news about their clients, and even general musings about their subway rides (seems exotic to me in Colorado).

In the spirit of getting to know some cool literary agents, I thought I’d share some Tweets of the Week from a few of those I follow. *On a side note, I follow authors too, and let me tell you…it was pretty cool reading Judy Blume’s up-to-the-minute feelings about the Oscars red carpet and hosting—Wait-- was that woman wearing only a bra? and I thought Anne Hathaway was charming. She got zero help from co-host were two of the gems.

Agent Tweets from this week:

SaraMegibow Sara Megibow
two, that's right TWO editors have contacted us this week asking for middle grade submissions.

WolfsonLiterary Michelle Wolfson
Try to spell your character's name right in your query.

MarleneStringer Marlene Stringer
Qs written from pov of protagonist fail most of the time. Not to mention they are confusing as hell.

sarahlapolla Sarah LaPolla
Was told I look "all east village" today. I think it was code for "tired" and "sickly."

Ginger_Clark Ginger Clark
"There is an asshole in every room. If you look around a room and don't see an asshole, then guess what? You're the asshole." So true.

NathanBransford Nathan Bransford
RT by kate_mckean Your enemies when writing a query: vagueness, braggadocio, "creative" formatting, logorrhea, comparisons to Twilight.

literaticat jennifer laughran
I need the people on TODAY to never again say "bromance" or the even worse "chickmance." REALLY MORONS? CHICKMANCE?

kate_mckean Kate McKean
How come the boys in YA novels are always perfect, but the girls never are?

literaticat jennifer laughran
OMG. The Today Show said "bromance" again. WHAT DID I TELL YOU PEOPLE ABOUT THAT?

SaraMegibow Sara Megibow
On our homepage at http://www.nelsonagency.com is "Subscribe to our newsletter here" Do it! This month I talk about contemporary YA novels.

WolfsonLiterary Michelle Wolfson
I really feel for the poor student driver lurching down the street while that cabbie honks loudly behind him.

literaticat jennifer laughran
I just saw a dachshund wearing a plaid greatcoat, deerstalker cap and tinted goggles.

agentgame The Agent Game
RT by kate_mckean Didn't send pages as requested in our query guidelines? Then don't reply to your rejection with a complaint about us not reading anything.

kate_mckean Kate McKean
Google your title. If it's being used, pick something else. Not because you can't use it, but because it's not very original.

stevenmalk Steven Malk
Read both the classics AND what's on the bestseller list right now. They're not mutually exclusive and both are important.

daniellechiotti Danielle Chiotti
One agent. 130 queries. Four enthusiastic interns. Let's find some good stuff.

ElanaRoth Elana Roth
Historical and fantasy will always bend protag's age range a little because of their settings and contexts.

KOrtizzle Kathleen Ortiz
Bus driver:"girl you look pissed." Me:*gripe* Driver:"that's why quit school. Now I deal w/ 100s of a-holes daily."

sarahlapolla Sarah LaPolla
Writers: If you say I was "recommended" to you, but don't say from whom, I just assume you mean "by the Internet." That's not a referral.

Ginger_Clark Ginger Clark
I am giving my clients an extra week of notice that Bologna is coming up, because I am taking time off afterwards. Seems only fair.

FYI~That last tweet by Ginger Clark is related to the Bologna Book Fair, a major event that tons of agents attend. I’ll be doing a post on it toward the end of the month.

*UPDATE*- Click HERE to win a query critique from the amazing Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary (through WriteOnCon).

*UPDATE*- Click HERE to win a query critique from the awesome Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency (through WriteOnCon).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Chat With Roald Dahl, Part 2

Back in January, I started a series featuring my childhood favorite, Roald Dahl (for those of you who have only read his children's stories, I'd encourage you to try some of his adult works too- it's interesting to see his range as an author, from journalistic pursuits to clever and sometimes darker tales for grown-ups. MJ Ware might be interested in a few of the dark ones--check out his blog for a few scary ebooks for MG readers).

In the back of my copy of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is an interview conducted in 1988 by a family friend. Not too many people were allowed to come into his inner sanctum, especially not people from the media. Dahl himself said, “I have worked all my life in a small hut up in our orchard. It is a quiet private place, and no one has been permitted to pry in there.”

The interview still fascinates me, so I thought from time to time I’d post a question/answer. It’s a nice way to see the thought process behind one of the most beloved children’s writers ever (my first post is HERE).

Question from family friend Todd McCormack: How do you keep the momentum going when you are writing a novel?

Answer from Roald Dahl: One of the vital things for a writer who's writing a book, which is a lengthy project, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages. But when you're writing for a long time, you go away and have to come back. I never come back to a blank page. I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice.

But Hemingway, the great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, "When you are going good, stop writing." And that means that if everything's going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter's going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don't go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don't want to come back because you don't know where you want to go.

But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said...then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can't wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that's lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way throught the year. If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!

Question from family friend Todd McCormack: What is the secret to keeping your readers entertained?

Answer from Roald Dahl: My lucky thing is I laugh at exactly the same jokes that children laugh at and that's one reason I'm able to do it. I don't sit out here roaring with laughter, but you have wonderful inside jokes all the time and it's got to be exciting, it's got to be fast, it's got to have a good plot, but it's got to be funny. It's got to be funny.

And each book I do is a different level of that. Oh, The Witches is quite different from The BFG or James (and the Giant Peach) or Danny (the Champion of the World). The line between roaring with laughter and crying because it's a disaster is a very, very fine one. You see a chap slip on a banana skin in the street and you roar with laughter when he falls slap on his backside. If in doing so you suddenly see he's broken a leg, you very quickly stop laughing and it's not a joke anymore. I don't know, there's a fine line and you just have to try to find it.

Have a great week! On Friday I'll be posting agent gems/advice from Twitter.

**PS-for those of you who read my Crusader Challenge post, the pineapple/reading Velveteen Rabbit to the dying bunny was the most popular choice for my lie, but it's true! The only lie was that I've never done fencing :)