Thursday, June 30, 2011

Questions for the Agent: Length

From when I was gone, I asked you, the lovely reader, to ask me questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts. I'm back. I'm (mostly) caught up with work. And now I'm answering your questions in segments. And asking for more questions. Here's the time to find out all you can about the agent (remember most everything is subjective and does not apply to all agents).

I often say that I like longer books to shorter ones. What do I mean by this? Well, that's a good question. Let's see if I can answer it.

First, compare a literary novel to a children's chapter book. What are the differences? Besides theme and the age of the characters, you have multiple subplots in a literary novel. Relationships and plot points are given more page time and dug deeper into.

Let's compare movies and TV series (think of a TV series as a very, very long movie, limited to one season, multiple seasons would be like multiple books). A regular length movie might have time for a couple subplots, but mainly it's going to focus on the struggles and tribulations of the main character. A TV series, however, can concentrate on several subplots because it gives you time to learn each character and keep track of what's going on. People go from having one or two main problems, to several. You learn about what they love, things in their past, how they interact in several different situations. You become invested.

Let's see if I can clarify it anymore. When I read a book, I want to be involved. I don't want to be in and out of a situation too quickly: beginning, middle stuff happens, conclusion. I want beginning, side trip, oooh intrigue, middle stuff happens, more middle stuff happens, oh didn't see that coming, wait she did what, I think the end is coming, oh my gosh, end.

The only way you can really know, is by reading. Go read. Go read books that hover around or under 60,000 words, then go read a book that clocks in more than 100,000 words. Try to stick with single person POV (otherwise you're in something completely different). Or read only third person POV. Then compare the POVs as well.

I reviewed Hunger, about a girl who becomes one of the riders of the apocalypse, Famine, and she happens to be anorexic. It's a fantastic story. You can map the plot something like this: introduction to characters, first doorway (embarks on the journey), about three things happen to teach her about life and herself, second doorway (point of no return), conclusion. If this story had been expanded, she would have traveled away from home for more than a few hours at a time, she would have met new friends, discovered even more about herself, we would have seen her settle into her new role, maybe balance her life. I'm not saying the book should have done it. I loved it as it was. But I like to become absorbed in books and be taken on a long journey.

Look at Hunger Games. Katniss goes through the first doorway (which launches her into the story from which she cannot return, much like when Luke's aunt and uncle die in Star Wars, launching him into a journey he cannot return from), then from there she meets a myriad of people and gets put to the test so many times we know everything about her by the end, who she was and who she becomes, then we get to see the consequences of her actions (second doorway) and how people react to her.

Hopefully that answers the question of what I mean by "longer books." Also, remember that it isn't just word length that matters. It's the depth and complexity of characters.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Reads: City of Bones

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. After a discussion on Twitter about the best troubled, broken, bad ass boys in YA, several people convinced me to finally (finally!) read this series. Jace (who wins the most broken boy award in YA) was the original reason I started reading, but all the characters convinced me to continue reading.

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it's hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.
Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary's mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.
But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know....

First Line: ""You've got to be kidding me," the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest." The scene begins at Pandemonium, the all ages club Clary likes to go to, and at which she meets her destiny. It's very effective first scene, and introduces us to all the major players right off, without bogging us down or confusing us with too many characters.

Brownie Points: Brownie Point number one needs to go to the twist. I'm not giving the twist away. But those of you who have read it, know what I'm talking about. I loved it! And didn't see it coming. Brownie Point number two goes to sarcasm. I love sarcasm. Especially witty sarcasm, and this book had it in spades.

Recommendation: This is a really great YA Urban Fantasy with a little romance and a great twist, plus it has it's own great world, rules, and magical twists you get to learn along with the main character. And you don't have to be sad at the end of book one because it's a series!

Would I represent it? I'm definitely looking for Urban Fantasy, but it has to be extremely unique (like this one) because the market is tough right now. Also, I'm looking for Adult Urban Fantasy, and The Mortal Instruments series is a good example of well written Urban Fantasy that both YA and Adults should read and emulate.

Happy reading!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Middle Pile

Let's imagine that all manuscripts fall into three piles.

The largest pile is the stuff agents have no qualms about rejecting. These are the queries, partials, fulls that are obviously not ready for publication. They have issues for many reasons: writing isn't at marketable quality, plot is flat or overcomplicated or unoriginal, cannot connect with the characters, voice isn't unique, grammar shows the ms hasn't seen an edit.

The smallest pile is the stuff agents sign, the stuff editors gobble up, the thins you see on bookstore shelves and on the best seller list. As many books as there seem to be out there in print, this pile compared to the first pile, is tiny. This is the stuff I lose sleep over when I come across it in the slush pile.
things in the small pile make me happy

It's the third pile that is the most difficult. Some manuscripts come to us and they are not horrible, but nor do they stand above the rest with a blinking neon sign that reads AWESOME (like plain pasta noodles, pretty good, but won't wow your taste buds, could do with some spicing up). Your writing is good, voice is relatable, dialogue is natural, plot is probably unique, grammar is tight.

So why is your manuscript getting rejected if it falls into the third pile? It might be that you haven't found the right agent for it. Many times, it's a matter of finding the one agent who will work with you on the ms to bring from pile three to the land of AWESOME.

But, that might never happen. So you're looking at another revision. Sadly, agents cannot give feedback on everything they read (it'll happen, but not often). If you have racked up a few rejections on your partial or full, write down all the advice the agents did give you. Hopefully this is enough to let you know where to head next. If you've gotten no feedback (perhaps they gave you hope like "good writing," or "unique plot," or "amazing characters") then it might be time to ask for help.

Help comes in many forms. Critique groups are invaluable, especially when you find a great one (yes, there are bad and good critique groups). Look online if you can't find a local one to connect with. Contests many times have an editing prize. Even the first page or first five pages will significantly help your writing. The majority of conferences will have a book doctor on staff or manuscript critiques with agents and editors--do it. You'll get a good price to meet with the editor and you'll make a good connection with them (especially if they like your work). Pay an editor to edit and give professional feedback--shop around a lot when in the market for an editor. Get someone with many years experience in your genre. Many agencies have started a manuscript editing/consulting/critiquing line to their business to help writers get out of the slush pile--they will be some of the best editors you'll ever get.

The biggest thing to remember when you're in this third elusive pile: don't despair. You're doing something right. But writing is hard work--and nothing worth doing is ever easy. So keep working at it. The beauty of being in a business like this is that everyone here is here because they love it--you have support and the resources. Put them, and your passion, to good use.

Happy writing!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chuckanut Drive Writer's Conference

This weekend I'll be at Chuckanut Drive Writers Conference up in my old stomping grounds, Bellingham, WA.

If you're in the area, please stop by and say hi!

Remember to brush up on your pitching. If you haven't read it, go to my post about speed pitching.

There are lots of other great resources online.

What are your favorite sites for tips (from pitching, to networking, to dressing, to basic behavior) for conferences? Please share them in the comments!

Happy pitching!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I got an offer! ...Now what?

Hypothetically, let's say you've gotten an offer of representation by an agent.

Firstly, congratulations!

Secondly, you're probably wondering what protocol is. As an agent, I'll give the writer 7-10 days to accept my offer. There are several reasons for this. One, I understand that other agents need to be notified (more on this later) and as a professional courtesy I want to extend them the opportunity of jumping on the great ms (or so I can later rub in their faces that I got it and they didn't--I'll get my victories where I can). Two, I want the writer to mull my offer over, do a little more research about me, and really decide if I'm the best agent for the job. If a writer decides he/she doesn't want to work with me for whatever reason, then please, reject the offer. You don't need to accept the first offer that comes around. If you think we won't work well together, (and for some reason I didn't pick up that vibe), I don't want to find out the hard way.

Okay, thirdly, you have the offer, you've popped open the champagne, and squealed to your closet friends about it. Now you have other agents with partials or full manuscripts that you haven't heard back from. Politely inform them of your offer, the title of your ms, and the date at which you need an answer by. In the subject line, put "Offer of Representation." Always catches my eye and I will usually grab your ms right then and start reading (you've been moved to the top of the slush pile because someone has already weeded you out for me). If your offering agent hasn't given you a deadline, ask for one, or ask for 7-10 days (decide which one you want) to inform other agents.

Your question now should be: which agents do I inform? The ones who currently have your partial or full ms. Not the ones who have rejected you. It's up to you whether you want to inform agents who only have your query but haven't responded yet. For those, hit the ones you like best, such as one you really, really, really want to work with. Personally, I do appreciate being informed, because there is nothing I hate more than getting excited about a query letter only to be informed that they've already been signed.

An offer from a small press works the same. In that case, you have to make a decision. Is the small press really the way you want to go? Do you still really, really want an agent? If so, you might want to forgo the small press altogether. If you just want someone to want your ms, then it's up to you whether to let the agents know and have a chance at your ms, otherwise, just rescind it.

Anne asked, should I inform an agent who has had my partial for nine months of an offer from a small press? Yes, you can. They haven't out-right rejected you, so you can inform them. However, you should decide whether you really, really want that agent (notice the difference between "really" and "really, really"). If that agent was on your list for the sake of being on your list, then maybe following up isn't worth it. If you think that agent is the cat's meow, then you have nothing to lose.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Divergent

If you loved Hunger Games, you must read Divergent by Veronica Roth! Another great Dystopian. Think Harry Potter houses meets Hunger Games.

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

First Line: "There is one mirror in my house." It begins with Tris's life before everything changes. Establish the status quo (think Luke in Star Wars) then upset it (beginning a journey). And it's a great background for her as a character, her personality, her upbringing is a huge part of who she is mixed with who she is naturally.

Brownie Points: Tris's fear. Now, fear is a big part of the novel, because of the life Tris chooses to lead (really not giving away much), but whereas other characters must learn to overcome their fears, Tris rationalizes it away. I found myself connecting with her a lot during these moments. It's funny because her rationality doesn't necessarily make her a strong character, it's her sheer force of will that does that.

Recommendation: If you're a big fan of dystopias and think the market has been beaten to death, think again.

Would I represent it: Oh heck yes!

Happy reading!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Andrea Hurst and Associates Blog Series

This summer, the agency's blog will be running a summer blog series of interviews with publishing professionals. Check out the blog often for new interviews as well as valuable information and advice.

Our first interview is with Laurie McLean, agent with Larsen-Pomada.

Happy reading!

Friday, June 17, 2011

When has an agent had my partial for too long?

From when I was gone, I asked you, the lovely reader, to ask me questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts. I'm back. I'm (mostly) caught up with work. And now I'm answering your questions in segments. And asking for more questions. Here's the time to find out all you can about the agent (remember most everything is subjective and does not apply to all agents). 

If an agent requests a partial of your ms, how long should you wait before following up? Firstly, check the agent's website for specifics. Most reply in 6-8 weeks. But some don't send rejection letters (in which case, assume it's a no).

The question was, can I ask the agent about it after six months? Answer: The agent has already moved on. But yes, you can follow up. You can do it after two or three months. But please, don't do it within two months. Personally, sometimes I'll let them build up then tackle them all at the two month mark (sometimes it's the only way, though I hate doing it).

And please DO NOT email and say "well, since I haven't heard back I'm assuming it's a no, thanks for taking a look anyway I guess." It doesn't make a good impression and we'll roll our eyes at you (we are immune to the sad puppy face. Just email very nicely and ask if the agent has had a chance to take a look and has received the materials (sometimes, for whatever reason, the cyber trolls eat your emails). If you don't get a reply to that email, then sit quietly. We have probably taken note of your email but were too busy at the time to respond, or chose not to respond.

Happy querying!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Paper Towns

I've already mentioned how John Green is the bomb right? Here's a picture in case you need visual representation.

This is what, the fourth book of his I've read? I didn't want to put it down. He has it all. Unique plots. Voice. Exceptional and exceptionally odd and geeky characters. I can't decide which is my favorite, Paper Towns, or Looking for Alaska. Of course, topping them all, my all time John Green favorite is Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-written with David Levithan. (And don't forget to check out John Green's vlogs and whatever else he has coming up.)

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life–dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge–he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues–and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.

First Line: "The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle." This is from the prologue which, by the way, is a great example of a really good prologue. And the first line from the first chapter, quiet but telling: "The longest day of my life began tardily."

Brownie Points: Q's interactions with his equally nerdy friends. They often have conversations making fun of each other that just go on and on and on and I'm laughing at every single line.

Recommendation: Everyone who likes YA should be required to read at least one, if not all, of John Green's books.

Would I represent it? The idea of representing someone like John Green... there are no words. I might throw a party for myself... that would never, ever end.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Questions for the Agent: Queries and Partials

From when I was gone, I asked you, the lovely reader, to ask me questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts. I'm back. I'm (mostly) caught up with work. And now I'm answering your questions in segments (this is part two). And asking for more questions. Here's the time to find out all you can about the agent (remember most everything is subjective and does not apply to all agents). 

Do I respond to all queries?

Yes, I do, usually with a form rejection or request. I wish I could add a personal note to them all, but I have too many to answer. If I am particularly struck by one, an exceptional title jumps out at me, or you have a well written query but I must reject your ms for some reason (either the writing, characters, or subject matter didn't draw me in) I will try to add a note to help or encourage you. 

When I'm on the fence:

I take into account your fiction platform; this means if you are active in writing communities, online communities, Twitter, and/or blogging, I'll be swayed favorably. If I see that you have a Twitter and/or blog that was started but abandoned two years ago or updated once in a blue moon, it might harm your chances.
I'll also take a look at the market. I might like a project (not love) but if it's in high demand, I'll probably take a chance. If I know absolutely no one is buying it (if, for example, your main comp is Twilight) I'll probably say no. 

Insta-nos for queries:
  • Obviously, if it's the wrong genre for me, it's gonna be a no. 
  • Also, if you don't address me by my name (spelled correctly), it's probably going to be a no. If you don't use my name, I'm going to assume you didn't personalize the query and you sent it to twenty agents at the same time (if you do, for the love of all that's holy, hide the bccs).
  • Writer shows he/she does not understand basics of grammar and/or spelling (I'll overlook obvious mistakes, even I can't catch every error; I can usually tell the difference between "Whoops didn't catch that" and "I think this is how this goes but I'm just going to guess") 
  • Not always an instant deal breaker, however, using cliches aren't going to get you far. "Fateful night" is one that gets under my saddle and chaffs.

Insta-nos for partials:
  • Unnatural dialogue.
  • Excess of backstory.
  • Cliche characters and/or situations and/or phrases. Ex: beautiful girl is so tragically misunderstood at school and that all changes when the mysterious new boy at school pays attention to only her.
  • Writer shows he/she does not understand basics of grammar and/or spelling (I'll overlook obvious mistakes, even I can't catch every error; I can usually tell the difference between "Whoops didn't catch that" and "I think this is how this goes but I'm just going to guess"--this goes for query letters too)
  • Writer shows he/she does not understand how to set a scene and/or plot. Ex: something I look for is length of sections and chapters. If the first chapter has sections or scenes a few paragraphs to a page or two long, it's probably because the writer doesn't know how to lengthen a scene and gives us what we need to understand the story or character.

Not so obvious insta-nos on partials:
  • Lack of voice. If I cannot connect with the character, and if I can't empathize with him/her, I won't care about what happens.
  • Unnecessary or excessive use of slang or bad language (this may or may not be subjective, because I understand some books use this as a device--I usually don't like those books). There is a fine line between voice and excessiveness.
  • A prologue that is excessively long or I don't think is necessary; I'll try to skip ahead to the first chapter to give it a fair chance, but your prologue should be just as well written as the rest and if I'm in a hurry or super slammed with partials, I won't get that far.

Would I take an elevator pitch knowing the writer needs a month or more to actually query?

Yes. You're showing initiative by showing up the the conference (class, bathroom, wherever you may be) instead of waiting to research until after you've finished writing. Please don't send me something unfinished. You get one chance, use it wisely. I've heard of agents getting manuscripts from people they met at a conference two years prior. Agents understand that conferences are packed with a lot of info, info that probably makes you think "I need to revise that in my ms". Please, go use what you've learned, then get back to us.

Any more questions that go in this category of queries and partials?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Anna and the French Kiss

Why did it take me so long to get to this book?! I absolutely loved it. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, √Čtienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

First Line: "Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amalie and Moulin Rouge." She goes on to list more things she knows about France, which is pretty hilarious actually (and is actually more than I knew about France). But what I love is that her rant is headed by three movies. Anna loves movies. She wants to be a movie critique when she grows up (unique choice of profession) and you can see this in her voice. But her voice doesn't only consist of movies references. There is a lot to Anna and you fall in love with her as easily as every other character.

Beefs: Not an actual complaint but I felt compelled to mention it. Etienne St. Clair isn't your usual "OMG he is soooo hot" type of boy. He's imperfect, he has abandonment issues, and he's short. I usually prefer my hot male characters to be tall (tall, dark, and handsome; cliche, I know). But I love St. Clair despite his lack of height.

Chocolate Eclair Points: Perkins reveals France to us slowly, in bite-sized increments (and tasty mouthfuls of food I can't eat) that's easy to swallow. More points go to the friends, the family, and school. All unique and wonderfully well done.

Recommendation: You mean you haven't read it yet?! Shame on you! I'm super excited for her next book, Lola and the Boy Next Door to come out in fall 2011.

Would I represent it? In a heartbeat.

Happy reading!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Questions for the Agent: Personal Preferences

From when I was gone, I asked you, the lovely reader, to ask me questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts. I'm back. I'm (mostly) caught up with work. And now I'm answering your questions in segments. And asking for more questions. Here's the time to find out all you can about the agent (remember most everything is subjective and does not apply to all agents).

Boy POV MCs:

I'm for it. One of my favorite authors of boy POVs of all time is John Green. Of course, I don't expect you to be John Green-- let me correct that: please don't strive to be John Green (his awesomeness is so great I cannot refer to him simply as John or Green). What makes John Green John Green is his personal style and voice and plot. If you emulate him exactly, you won't be unique (he came first so he'll still stand alone at the top and you'll be cast lower). Find your own style and voice and hooks. Remember that boy POVs are less in demand than girl POVs because, sadly, the majority of teen readers are girls (and all readers in general actually). That said, plot accordingly. You probably don't want to write a YA romance from the POV of a boy. And an action/adventure written solely for a boy audience probably won't sell. 


What? Where? Can I have it?
I love dystopians. They are less in demand than they were right after Hunger Games came out, but people are still reading and buying. But don't forget about other genres that haven't been explored as widely. And you can mix genres as well. 

Have I read Jellicoe Road?

Thanks for the suggestion! It's in my TBR pile right now. Have any others for me to read? 

Would I represent an international writer?

Sure. The same parameters apply to non-international writers: namely, I have to love it. So worry about that first. 

How to query LGBT lit:

Cast your net as wide as you can go. Unless an agent specifically isn't looking for it, go ahead and query them (if it meets their other guidelines--for example, I say I'm not looking for Time Travel, so if you have a LGBT time travel, don't query me--that said, I'm personally not looking for LGBT). The thing is, as agents, we understand that we might fall in love with the project even if we've been quoted by saying we didn't like a sub-genre. I'm not a huge fan of ghost stories and guess what? Yup, I signed one. It's about voice and craft.

Any more questions having to do with my personal preferences? This can be genres or how I like things submitted or something general about the business.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Rival

Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer, besides its gorgeous cover, was a fantastic read. This is an example of multiple POV done excellently. What's more, is that the two character POV we see are two girls, but never once was I confused as to who was talking. Also, the consistent theme and references to music gives the rivalry theme a new twist.

I don't like Kathryn Pease. I could pretend everything's fine between us. I could be nice to her face, then trash her behind her back. But I think it's better to be honest. I don't like Kathryn, and I'm not afraid to admit it.
I saw a commercial where singers used their voices to shatter glass, but the whole thing is pretty much a myth. The human voice isn't that strong.
Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don't shatter; I'm not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren't on the outside.
Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends . . . until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. 

First Line: Before we get to Chapter 1, each section is headed off with a musical definition. The first one is "Dissonance: a harsh sounding of notes that produces a feeling of tension and unrest."

Beefs: The line about the human voice not being able to shatter glass threw me for a moment because I saw it actually happen on Myth Busters. But the metaphor is well used and quickly gets you into the conflict of the story (and doesn't let you go).

Brownie Points: The use of musical metaphors is done is such a way that allows anyone (music lovers or not) to understand what is going on and connect to the characters. This also plays into VOICE; it's obvious what both characters value and we see it time and time again in their inner monologues.

Recommendation: Read it!!! It's one of those books that will take you by surprise. Basically it is a teenage rivalry/high school drama sort of book, but it's done so well, and so unique, that it really doesn't feel like one.

Would I represent it? You bet.

Happy reading!