Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Agent Answers: Paranormal vs Fantasy

You have questions? Do you constantly miss #askagent sessions on Twitter? Is it impossible, despite a hundred Google searches, to find an answer to your question? Then you've come to the right place. Ask a question either on any "Agent Answers" post or on Twitter, and I'll answer as many as I can. My answers will be subjective and should not be considered applicable to every agent (though I do like to assume my opinions are the majority).

I happen to be very particular about my genres. In my head, there is a definitive line between paranormal and fantasy. To me, the only* fantasy worthwhile is the straight, epic, high, king, queens, dragons, different realm, no world jumping type. Lord of the Rings instead of Chronicles of Narnia. And paranormal is set in our world with supernatural beings (and the sort I love best is with hot naked vampires--this doesn't apply to Twlight because we only see half naked werewolves, not vampires... not that I'm complaining Taylor!).

I was asked:
My WIP is technically paranormal but instead of creatures it has reincarnating soldiers from the crusades. To keep agents from rolling their eyes when they read my query, should I label it paranormal or fantasy? 
For me**, it depends. YA or Adult? I'm much more receptive to Adult Paranormal--if there are naked vampires (werewolves, harpies, Frankensteins, reincarnated badasses in history--I have one of those!--as long as they're naked). In YA I'm a little burnt out on the paranormal, not that someone somewhere won't buy it if it's good.

Honestly, label it what it is. Don't try to cheat, we will call you out on it (I do it by glaring at the wall then rejecting the query). To me, it sounds paranormal. Call it paranormal. This is where comparables help, they tell us so much more than a simple label.

Happy writing!

*There are exceptions to every rule.
**Everything is subjective.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Agent Answers... Again. Word Count Take 2

You have questions? Do you constantly miss #askagent sessions on Twitter? Is it impossible, despite a hundred Google searches, to find an answer to your question? Then you've come to the right place. Ask a question either on any "Agent Answers" post or on Twitter, and I'll answer as many as I can. My answers will be subjective and should not be considered applicable to every agent (though I do like to assume my opinions are the majority). 

A few days ago, I answered a question about rounding your word count--do it to the nearest thousandth. And suddenly I got an influx of people asking about too long, too short, what if this?

I'm going to go on the record here--agents (most of us) hate answering questions about word count. Writers are obsessed. Follow the rules so you know how to break them. Google it. Most agents go with the same guidelines (Colleen Lindsay's post on the subject is a good one, here). One conference I was at this past year, I was on a panel with many other agents, in a huge room filled with hundreds of people. It was open season on the agents--ask anything and we answer. And a few people wasted everyone else's time asking specifics about word count (well, my manuscript is yadda yadda, is 275K too long?). We got tired of it and it became a running joke that most of the writers, but not all of them, got.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. I will most likely reject anything over 140K. I *might* look at something over 110K. I won't look at anything under 50K for any genre. YA runs a little shorter, Adult a little longer, MG shorter still, best selling authors and Diana Gabaldon even longer.

Concentrate on writing the best you can. If that means writing 30K or 400K to achieve that, go for it!

Happy writing!

The Agent Answers: Dreaded Middle Pile

You have questions? Do you constantly miss #askagent sessions on Twitter? Is it impossible, despite a hundred Google searches, to find an answer to your question? Then you've come to the right place. Ask a question either on any "Agent Answers" post or on Twitter, and I'll answer as many as I can. My answers will be subjective and should not be considered applicable to every agent (though I do like to assume my opinions are the majority). 

Question: Do you and/or most agents have a 'maybe' file that you sort queries into? For the manuscripts that you don't immediately want to request or reject?

Answer: Who remembers my post about the middle pile? You've got the great stuff, that goes in a teeny weenie pile that agents fight over with giant rubber pencils. And you've got the horrible stuff, that goes in a sizable that shouldn't see the light of day.

Then you have the stuff that is well written, okay concept, characters that are fleshed out, and above all, readable. What do we do with this stuff?

When talking about queries, I do this a lot. I think, "Self, this has some merit. But..." That's why a lot of agents ask that you include the first five or ten pages with your query. And if those still make us go, "Self, this has some merit. But..." We'll probably ask for some more. If we're busy or jaded, it's a no.

Do I have a file that these go into? Not really. Sometimes if I read part, most, or all of an ms and I'm not sure if I love or even like it, I set it aside. I'll go back to this folder where requested mss go, and I'll see it and think, "Self, what is this?" If I can't immediately remember, that's a bad sign. And a rejection. If think, "Self, why did you stop reading this, I remember this concept!" then there is something there, maybe the writing was holding me back. That most likely will get it a second look and possibly a Revision Request.

Happy writing!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fortune Cookie Friday: Yoda on Changing it Up

 Fridays always feel like Chinese food sort of days, and what's takeout without a fortune cookie? Thus, Fridays will bring you tips, tricks, advice, and some riddles that might apply to everything but will turn a light bulb on in your head (or maybe I just like talking like Yoda).

If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are ... a different game you should play.

An argument for self-publishing, oh wise one? Or a suggestion you find yourself a new critique group?

Happy writing!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Agent Answers: Word Count

You have questions? Do you constantly miss #askagent sessions on Twitter? Is it impossible, despite a hundred Google searches, to find an answer to your question? Then you've come to the right place. Ask a question either on any "Agent Answers" post or on Twitter, and I'll answer as many as I can. My answers will be subjective and should not be considered applicable to every agent (though I do like to assume my opinions are the majority). 

Question: Do you like to be given the exact word count in queries?

Answer: Please don't. It looks amateurish and we don't care that much about those 253 words. Round it to the nearest thousandth. We get the picture from there. So, 60K, 72K, 105K, 193K, etc.

That said, please don't query me with a 193K word project. I will reject you.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Agent Answers: Paranormal

You have questions? Do you constantly miss #askagent sessions on Twitter? Is it impossible, despite a hundred Google searches, to find an answer to your question? Then you've come to the right place. Ask a question either on any "Agent Answers" post or on Twitter, and I'll answer as many as I can. My answers will be subjective and should not be considered applicable to every agent (though I do like to assume my opinions are the majority).

Question: We always hear that paranormal romance in YA is dead, no one is buying it. Do you think it'd be wiser for paranormal authors to hold back querying a paranormal project?

Answer: No way! Go ahead and query. Sure, I'll probably reject it. But there's a chance an agent will fall in love with it and ask to see something else, or keep you in the back of their mind for when editors are suddenly hungry for paranormal again (back off, a girl can dream, right?). Besides, some editors are still buying paranormal and some agents are still having luck with it. As I like to tell writers, "Good writing will "always" sell." (You may ask why I put bunny ears around the always. Good question. It means, nothing in this business is absolute. Good writing can get passed over on occasion.)

That said, if you don't feel your project can stand on its own, either because of the writing or content, you have bigger problems than the market. Like, are you actually ready to be querying?

Happy writing!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Grammar Manners: Prepositions

Since we all love Mondays and we all love Grammar and the minutes of writing, Mondays are hereafter dedicated to things we'd rather leave in the dark. Might as well start the week with a kick in the pants. I'll bring to you the mistakes I see all the time as an agent (or just a concerned English Major) and things I think writers should just know. Tips will range from first-grade knowledge of the English language to Master's Degree expertise.
borrowed from Corner LOL

Question: Are we allowed to end sentences with prepositions?

Answer: Who the hell cares?

Okay, somebody cares. I never give this much thought. It goes under the umbrella of "write well", which is self-explanatory, right? Right? Er... Well, not once when editing or reading mss did I think, "This could be a best seller, if only that sentence didn't end with a preposition."

The "rule" never end a sentence with a preposition is completely misleading. Because it is extremely simple to fix, you simply end the sentence with something else. See image to the right.

Okay, so before we continue on, let's answer a related question (that, btw, no one has asked me... the writers get cookies).

Question: What is a preposition?

Answer: Anything an evil squirrel can do with a box. (Warning: the image below may contain violent content and may not be suitable for young children, women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant, anyone with heart or nervous disorders.)

borrowed from Outside My Window
In, Out, Around, Over, Under, Through, etc etc.

The Preposition Song, sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle (and find a full list of Prepositions here):

above, across, after, at,

around, before, behind,

below, beside, between,

by, down, during, for, from,

in, inside, onto, of,

off, on, out, through,

to, under, up, with
Well, okay, that's all fun. Now we know what a preposition is.

That's half the battle. Look at a page in your manuscript. Are all of your sentences ending with prepositions? Does an evil squirrel show up every time your plot needs some excitement? Does every one of your characters lift an eyebrow to show emotion? My point being, you need variety and you need to be self aware of everything you do. Know the rules so you can break them.

Happy writing!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fortune Cookie Friday: Yoda on Revisions

 Fridays always feel like Chinese food sort of days, and what's takeout without a fortune cookie? Thus, Fridays will bring you tips, tricks, advice, and some riddles that might apply to everything but will turn a light bulb on in your head (or maybe I just like talking like Yoda).

On many long journeys have I gone. And waited, too, for others to return from journeys of their own. Some return; some are broken; some come back so different only their names remain.

Revisions anyone?

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Agent Answers: Rewrites

 You have questions? Do you constantly miss #askagent sessions on Twitter? Is it impossible, despite a hundred Google searches, to find an answer to your question? Then you've come to the right place. Ask a question either on any "Agent Answers" post or on Twitter, and I'll answer as many as I can. My answers will be subjective and should not be considered applicable to every agent (though I do like to assume my opinions are the majority).

Question: If we receive a "NO" and make a significant rewrite, is it worthwhile resubmitting?

Answer: That depends. If the agent rejected you based on the query, they're probably not interested in your concept. If you had 10 or so pages attached and you think your beginning is way better (and way different), you'll only be wasting thirty seconds of your time to send it and a few minutes of theirs (or their interns) to read it (two seconds to reject it). If the agent read a partial or full from you, it's probably really worth your time, at least, to try. I personally try to be very straightforward about requesting a revised ms. If I'm no longer interested in the concept, I'll just say no. If it still has promise, I'll go ahead and take a look.

All that said, I don't like to see five resubmissions for one project. Don't do that. One resubmission should be your max. I'd rather see you branch out and attempt new projects. I'm not saying "Give up, you suck!" I'm saying, "Know when your horse needs to take a break--he might not be dead, but he might be wheezing pretty heavily."

Happy revising!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fortune Cookie Friday: Confucius Say

Fridays always feel like Chinese food sort of days, and what's takeout without a fortune cookie? Thus, Fridays will bring you tips, tricks, advice, and some riddles that might apply to everything but will turn a light bulb on in your head (or maybe I just like talking like Yoda).

Confucius Say
Some Sex Is Good...More Is Better...Too Much Is Just About Right 

Yeah, okay Confucius, maybe if you're a fifteen year old boy or writing erotica.

Just because your sex scene is oh so delicious, doesn't mean it belongs where your put it. Or at all. Mind your genre and your audience. Always ask yourself, what is the purpose of this scene? If the answer is, "to make a shit-load of money like Fifty Shades," either you're on the right path, or waaay turned around.

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Reads: The One that I Want

The One That I Want by Jennifer Echols

Gemma can’t believe her luck when the star football player starts flirting with her. Max is totally swoon-worthy, and even gets her quirky sense of humor. So when he asks out her so-called best friend Addison, Gemma’s heartbroken. 

Then Addison pressures Gemma to join the date with one of Max’s friends. But the more time they all spend together, the harder Gemma falls for Max. She can’t help thinking that Max likes her back—it’s just too bad he’s already dating Addison. How can Gemma get the guy she wants without going after her best friend’s boyfriend?
First Line: "As I opened my locker, an envelope fell toward me with Gemma written in Robert's tight scrawl. My majorette tryout was in ten minutes. He must have known I'd stop here to dump my books and grab my batons before I ran down to the gym. For two years we'd been sending each other Grandparent's Day cards on our birthdays and Halloween cards on Christmas. Now he had sent me this St. Patrick's Day or Father's Day card to wish me good luck."

I had to give you the first paragraph. The first line itself isn't telling by itself, but what comes after is. We immediately know Gemma has someone close to her and they both have a quirky sense of humor. This quickly, with five sentences, we've established the status quo. And just as quickly, it's uprooted. We very quickly (key word here--quickly--sorry for the repetition) learn a little back story about how Gemma used to be overweight and she'd always been held back by a lack of self-confidence, but also that she was so motivated by her love of twirling (the "it" thing for girls in the school instead of cheering) that she lost a lot of weight and came out of her shell enough to tryout. Also established in the first few pages is that her friends are kind of asses but she doesn't realize this. Gemma is a real and tangible character, one any girl can relate to, she's flawed and fallible. I'd describe her as a Lola meets The Duff type character, with a character arch and personality everyone can root for.

Brownie Points: I have to give it to Jennifer Echols, no matter how many books of hers I read, I'm always so impressed with how fast she wins me over. Honestly, the synopsis didn't appeal to me. Yay, a love triangle and teenage emotions (insert sarcastic finger twirl here). But there is so much substance here, characters that defy the premise and make it so interesting. I might have called Addison an ass earlier, but she isn't a one dimensional character you come to hate. No, you come to understand her and sympathize with her, even root for her too.

Recommendation: If you love YA contemporary, or just novels with complex characters that find full redemption, or a summer type read, or something that makes you smile, definitely this is for you.

Would I represent it? For sure!

Happy reading!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Madness: Objects vs Humans

Since we all love Mondays and we all love Grammar and the minutes of writing, Mondays are hereafter dedicated to things we'd rather leave in the dark. Might as well start the week with a kick in the pants. I'll bring to you the mistakes I see all the time as an agent (or just a concerned English Major) and things I think writers should just know. Tips will range from first-grade knowledge of the English language, to Master's Degree.

Quick shout out to Gina who mentioned this in the comments last week. It was on my list of things to discuss, so I moved it up because it is a very important thing for writers to be aware of. :)


Which of the following sentences are correct?
  1. Roger is a serial killer that kills only bad people.
  2. Rapists, murderers, and drugs dealers are all people who deserve to die.
  3. The justice system is an outdated system who doesn't always work.
  4. Sometimes we need to resort to new measures that keep our streets safe.
 Two and four are both correct; one and three are incorrect.

When referring to a person, you have to use "who". The subject of sentence 1 is "Roger", and Roger is a person--not a "that", so the correct sentence would read, "Roger is a serial killer who kills only bad people". Likewise, in sentence 2, "rapists, murderers, and drug dealers" are people, so they also get the human treatment of "who".

Don't agree? Consider the following (I'm borrowing from Gina because it is a very good example): "I like girls who aren't obsessed with themselves." Would you argue that "girls" is actually an object? Well, I sure hope not!

Let's beat a dead horse, shall we? As long as it's one that doesn't stink up the place!

When referring to an object, use "that." In sentence 3, the subject is "justice system," which of course is an object. The correct sentence would read, "The justice system is an outdated system that doesn't always work." And in sentence 4, the subject is question is "measures," also an object.

You might notice I avoided using "pronouns" and "possessive" and all that technical jargon. Bleh. My job isn't to scare you off. In this instance, it's very easy to remember: human or non-human.

It might get fishy if we start talking about zombies though... Human? Non-human?

I cut off the head of the zombie that tried to eat my flesh.
I shot a hole in the head of the zombie who was chomping on my best friend.

I think in this case, it depends whether you or your protagonist is sympathetic towards zombies. Likewise, I'd probably refer to my dog as a "who" but refer to a random wildebeest as a "that."

It's all about context. And knowing the rules before you can break them. As Grammar Girl says here, you might talk about your evil step mother, "the woman that married my father" if you really don't like her, whereas you'd talk about your "sweet mother who divorced my father."

Agents won't immediately write you off for mistakes of this caliber, but if we see them constantly, in every paragraph, we start suspecting a lazy writer that didn't bother to learn their grammar manners (see what I did there?!).

Happy writing!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fortune Cookie Friday: Straight Jackets

Fridays always feel like Chinese food sort of days, and what's takeout without a fortune cookie? Thus, Fridays will bring you tips, tricks, advice, and some riddles that might apply to everything but will turn a light bulb on in your head (or maybe I just like talking like Yoda).

(In honor of NaNo...)

Confucius Say
A Tattoo is permanent proof of temporary insanity.  

And a book, also a fairly permanent thing (a tattoo of the soul?), must be proof long-term insanity.

Take from that what you will.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesday Reads: My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, contemporary YA. A beautiful, stunning debut about love, family, betrayal, and staying true to yourself.

“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase's family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself? 
First Line: "The Garretts were forbidden from the start." Gets straight to the point and intrigues the reader. But what I really love is the whole first page. Because the first page is actually a flashback of sorts, some backstory. And what do we tell writers to never do? LOL But this works. And if you're contemplating breaking the rules, know what you're doing, do it well, and don't linger too long on it. The thing that really clinches this scene for me is Samantha's mother. She's kind of a bitch, and very judgmental. Everyone knows someone like that.

Brownie Points: Samantha. I love her. She's an interesting character with a lot of things going on in her life--she has multiple jobs (overachiever much?) and each job has its own hideous uniform. She's able to balance everything though, which we love her for. Until the point she can no longer balance the jobs, the family, the boyfriend, etc. And we love her even more for it!

Recommendation: Obviously, I'm going to recommend that everyone read it. But especially if you love a character-rich contemporary YA ala Sarah Dessen or Stephanie Perkins.

Would I represent it? I'm drooling with the idea of working with something so immensely awesome.

Happy reading!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Madness: Definitely vs Defiantly

Since we all love Mondays and we all love Grammar and the minutes of writing, Mondays are hereafter dedicated to things we'd rather leave in the dark. Might as well start the week with a kick in the pants. I'll bring to you the mistakes I see all the time as an agent (or just a concerned English Major) and things I think writers should just know. Tips will range from first-grade knowledge of the English language, to Master's Degree.

Definitely vs Defiantly

I used to do this all the time. Thanks to Microsoft Word, my "definetly" was auto-corrected to "defiantly." I see the switch on occasion in query letters and manuscripts, but most often on Facebook from my non-English major friends.



  1. Without doubt (used for emphasis): "I will definitely be at the airport to meet you".
  2. In a definite manner; clearly.

Definition for defiantly:

Web definitions:
rebelliously: in a rebellious manner; "he rejected her words rebelliously".
Use it in a sentence:
Due to Sandra's gangreene, her leg would definitely have to be chopped off.
Sandra screamed defiantly as Tom held her down and I approached her with the sterilized saw.

Hope everyone had a happy and safe Halloween!

Happy writing!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fortune Cookie Friday: Yoda

Fridays always feel like Chinese food sort of days, and what's takeout without a fortune cookie? Thus, Fridays will bring you tips, tricks, advice, and some riddles that might apply to everything but will turn a light bulb on in your head (or maybe I just like talking like Yoda).

(you NaNo-ers have already taken this to heart)

Do or do not, there is no try.

Because some days, I like to be obvious. Put pen to paper, young padawan!

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New for November

What's new for November? Besides NaNo?

I'm keeping you crazy NaNo-ers in mind this fall and starting two new blog series.

The first will kick off your week: Monday Madness. It's not quite as fun as it sounds though (except for me). It's quick grammar, vocab, etc, the simple mistakes I see as an agent (and a concerned English Major who is Facebook friends with non-English Majors).

The second will wrap up your week: Fortune Cookie Friday. This is exactly as fun as it sounds! Words of wisdom brought to you by Confucius, Yoda, and internet Memes! Completely unrelated to writing but we'll make them be relevant to us! (look for the first tomorrow-- words for you, Yoda has)

Wednesday Reads will continue (I know you've missed them) because tons of great books have come out this fall and I'm scrambling to read them all!

And, when the muse descends, I'll grace you all with my own advice and theories of this crazy world we exist in. And I'll answer your questions! If you have anything you want to know about, or ask me in general, please ask in the comments section of this post!

I'll leave you on this first day of NaNo with this:

Be safe this November... don't hurt anyone who interrupts the creative process.
Happy NaNo-ing!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday Reads: Blood and Bullets

Ok, so for those of you who know my taste in the darker stuff (the kind without sparkles), I like it when things die, when there's blood, and when things go boom. So, you know, just look at this title. Blood and Bullets by James R Tuck is two words: Bad. Ass.

Whether you're tired of the female dominated Urban Fantasy world, or want a little something new, Deacon Chalk definitely hits the mark. He's rough and callous with just enough empathy to make him indispensable to the good fight--killing vampires.

He lives to kill monsters. He keeps his city safe. And his silver hollow-points and back-from-the-dead abilities help him take out any kind of supernatural threat. But now an immortal evil has this bad-ass bounty hunter dead in its sights. . .
Ever since a monster murdered his family, Deacon Chalk hunts any creature that preys on the innocent. So when a pretty vampire girl "hires" him to eliminate a fellow slayer, Deacon goes to warn him--and barely escapes a vampire ambush. Now he's got a way-inexperienced newbie hunter to protect and everything from bloodsuckers to cursed immortals on his trail. There's also a malevolent force controlling the living and the undead, hellbent on turning Deacon's greatest loss into the one weapon that could destroy him. . .
First line: "Some nights are destined to go to hell."

Ain't that the truth? LOL Deacon's straight forward attitude is a lot of fun and his voice matches him and his image (big, tattooed, bouncer-type dude).

Brownie Points: I think Deacon gets the props, he's just awesome and fun to read. Also, the world he exists in is super cool and a unique enough twist on the monsters to keep it fresh.

Recommendation: Anyone who loves Urban Fantasy, male readers who love any sort of fantasy or shoot-em-up stuff.

Would I represent it? You bet! I think there's a limited market for male protag Urban Fantasies, but I'd definitely be open to them. And of course, I love this type of nitty-gritty with a female protag too.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

September Characters: Your Main Character

You all remember my post on "normal" characters, right? Let's get a little more nitty gritty. These aren't by far all of the character archetypes you can have, but these are the ones that strike my fancy. Don't mind the rambling. The first two are female main characters, the second two are for the males. You'll see I sort of just put them in two different categories: strong and not so strong. The key, of course, is a good character arch. No one wants to read about a character who learns nothing on their journey.

The Strong Female Lead: Or, as I like to call them, the Spice Girls of the literary world (girl power bands, get it?). These girls start strong, are independent, self sufficint (enter Bella, page two, before she meets Edward). Definitely the type of character mothers want their daughters reading. They don't need a boy, or help. They sneer at the damsels in distress. All well and good, but if you're writing a strong female lead, don't forget to make them fallible. One of the biggest mistakes I see in YA is the girl who starts strong but either remains too strong throughout and therefore doesn't have a big enough character arch, or doesn't stay true and falls too hard or makes mistakes that are out of character--these are allowed of course, but remember their motivations must be warrented. A SFL (you get it, it's an acronym!) is very succesful in Adult Urban Fantasy (a must really, unless you're writing the cozy stuff, which I love). And a SFL in Paranormal Romance is guarenteed to be a burr under a strong male's saddle. These SFLs must have a character arch. They must start from somewhere and journey to another place (become softer, learn to let another person in, drop their guard, etc).

The Weak Female Lead (or WFL): These are the timid girls, the wall flowers, the girls who don't want to attract the vampire or lead a revolution (I could argue for Katniss to be in this category). But by a twist of fate or Shakesperean ploy, are thrust into the limelight, sink or swim, taken under a boy's wing and turned into a beautiful swan, bitten and turned into a werewolf. They turn into a strong character, or at least, a brand new shiny version of the original. I mentioned cozies above, which have female leads that are a fun mix of strong and weak (The Underworld Detection Agency, How to Host a Killer Party series, even the Sookie Stackhouse novels), with thirty-something women who aren't all the way put together but can stand on their own two feet.

The Badass: Leather, tattooes, misunderstood, brooding, quick temper, dark past, deep eyes, tortured soul. You know what I'm saying, ladies. The reason I love Paranormal Romance. They might be all dark and dangerous, but when it comes to that one girl, their soul mate, they're putty, they turn into a better version of themselves, while remaining true of course. Hold their girl's hand with one hand, pummel the bad guy with the other. They can't remain stoic throughout. They have to change, perhaps fight the change, but change nonetheless. In YA, you have to remember that no teenage boy is actually able to perfect this image of badassed perfection. They'll crack eventually. And man, do we love when the badass is vulnerable.

The Softy: Also known as the geek, the poet, the musician (who can also be a badass), the nerd (different from geek, of course). This is the boy who takes our expectations and spins it on its head. They're smart, funny, the boy next door, but do not underestimate him. A well done softy can be a really fun read. In YA my favorite is Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door. Very smart, great dresser, sensitive. Susan Elizabeth Phillips does a great job with the softies (Adult Romance). Dex from Lady Be Good (okay, Dexter is actually a secondary character) sneaks right in there to just charm your pants off.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 27, 2012

August Characters: Secondary Characters

Unless your novel centers around one or two people, you will have secondary characters. Come on, even Tom Hanks had Wilson in Cast Away.

So what purpose do secondary characters (any characters who are not the main character, love interest, or antagonist) actually serve (besides adding to your word count)? Plenty!

Comedic relief: Especially in a serious novel, or heck, in a funny novel too, comedy is always important. Think Harry Potter; Ron had his share of light moments, Fred and George definitely did too. When Harry was going on an angsty rampage, Ron, the twins, even Luna and Neville (Crookshanks, Pigwidgeon, you get the point) gave us moments of light-hearted respite. But don't think that the funny character is only a funny character--Ron had character archs same as Harry. Comedy characters can't just jump into your scene whenever you need a punch line. They serve purpose, texture, occasional wisdom, plot device. You name it, a comedy character can deliver it. If your ms is too dry or imbued with too many characters, consider rolling several characters into one--the right one can provide you everything the main character can't alone.

Romantic Subplot: I'm thinking specifically of Paranormal Romance here, but you can apply to many genres. These are the characters that might appear in several books in your series. They might have a very large role much later on, but again they provide texture, occasional relief from the main story line, but they always intersect with the main plot and must serve at some point as critical to moving the story forward. JR Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood fans know exactly what I'm talking about. John Matthew shows up early in the series and his importance pulls him through many books until he gets his own book. Quinn and Baylock also demonstrate this principle; vital to the emotional grid of the Brotherhood, key players in the plot, show up early and appear in each book in the series. As far as I know, this couple won't get their own book, but we know them as intimately as any Ward characters.

The Snitch: No, not an inanimate flying object. We already discussed Harry Potter. I'm calling it the snitch, because this character might be confused, unintentionally hurt, might even betray the main character. This character goes through their own transformation, perhaps redemption from the main character, or from the self. I'm obsessed with the TV show Suits, so I'm going with Louis Litt for the snitch. Louis fluctuates from friend to enemy depending on the plot and situation. He is a very sympathetic character; he only wants to be valued by his peers, which anyone can identify with, so when he betrays Harvey or Jessica, we don't hate him. Contrare, I want to pat his head and feed him ice cream. The Snitch is going to be invaluable to your plot, going as far as being a major plot point and perhaps turning around to aid the main character in the conclusion.

The Mentor: Obi Wan anybody? This might be one of the most important characters in your story. Perhaps even more important than your main character because, what else does a mentor do, he has shaped your main character into the person they are or become in the story. The key to a mentor character though, is to remember that they are fallible, destructable, mortal, prone to the same mistakes and falls as any real person. And, at some point, they have to step aside (die, in Obi Wan's case) to allow the hero to fulfill his hero quest. Ooo, that sounded important, didn't it? Well, it is! But that's plot, and another discussion for another day. Or read The Writers Journey, anything by Joseph Campell, and/or screenwriting books. Many of you may not have read it yet (I haven't reviewed it yet) but Origin by Jessica Khoury has many mentor type characters. Since the others double as many roles (including Antagonist), the newest member in the community, Aunt Harriet teaches Pia things she was always forbidden, even helps her break rules and expand her perfect brain beyond the limits she was taught.

Aunt Harriet might also be considered a catalyst--her arrival changes Pia, and thus the plot. As I hope you've figured out by now, secondary characters can double as plot points. Without them, you have no plot, or at least, a much less interesting one. A very interesting conversation of plot vs character driven stories will be reserved for another day. But bicker amongst yourselves.

It isn't necessary to have all these elements to make a good story. And having all these elements does not guarentee a good story either. It's how you use them that's important. In many novels, you might not have a mentor, or the mentor might be implied. Fantasy definitely has more use of a mentor than say YA contemporary. For a YA character, their mentor character is probably going to be their parents. And if they're driving, on the cusp of adulthood, their parents are absent, the mentor character is definitely implied and out of the character's way. That's the idea of YA, afterall, characters who are not equipped with all the tools are thrust into life to fend for themselves, and you can hardly do that with your mother right there fixing your mistakes.

Remember, secondary characters are different from background (or incidental) characters. Secondary characters serve your plot, impact the emotional well being of your main character. Background characters might also provide comedic relief and occasionally vital information, they might be quirky and memorable, but if you take them from the story, the plot and main characters should be fairly unchanged (albeit a little less colorful). In The Hunger Games, these are the character Katniss comes into contact with every day in District 13, or meets breifly at the Capitol, or the contestants who aren't given names. Pay attention though to how much weight these characters are actually given; they can be the difference between blah world building and a spectacular world every one wants to read.

Homework! Next time you watch a movie or even a TV show (comedies are fantastic for this--I just watched Bridesmaids and had to eat a lot of popcorn to keep from geeking to my friends about the character archetypes and plot devices) see how many secondary characters you can spot and how each role is vital to the plot.
My favorite secondary character of the movie

Happy writing!

Friday, August 3, 2012

August Characters: Intro

Let's celebrate this lovely weather (ha, not--Seattle thinks April Fools is ALL summer long) by talking about characters. And I mean EVERYTHING characters. Main characters, love interests, villains, parents, siblings, the funny friend character (or as I like to call it, the Ron Weasely character), historical characters, contemporary characters, the after-school-special character, the rebel without a cause character. But what I really hope to achieve this month is to really demonstrate what it takes for us (the agents, editors, readers) to fall in love with a character, and what it will take for you (the writer) to build such a character.

When considering a project off the query or pitch, I often ask myself (or the writer during a live pitch) "What makes this character unique? Why will a reader fall in love with him/her?" If the query or the writer cannot answer this question, I have doubts that the character is fully developed. I get such answers as "her mother dies and she has to learn how to care for her four younger brothers" or "she never thought she was special before she got her powers" or "she's really snarky."

Sorry, but yawn. And, also, you didn't answer my question. That's all plot (except for the last one and seriously, who isn't snarky these days?). I want to know what makes your character her. (Executive decision made, I'm referring to characters as shes, sorry guys). Does she have daddy issues that make her incapable of forming trusting, true relationships? Is she so one track minded towards a goal that she doesn't care who she steps on to get there? Is she incapable of watching Free Willy without crying?

Have you ever gotten a rejection along the lines of "I just didn't fall in love with the character"? Character building might be your issue then. The plot might be fantastic, the writing solid, but your character is lacking spark. On Monday I'll talk about "normal" characters.

(You may recall my March Madness post "It's not me, it's you" in which I talked about characters. A few of my posts will be borrowing heavily from this, as I've been wanting to go in depth about characters for some time. You can read the post here to catch up/get ahead of the class.)

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday Reads: Premonitions

I have a very special Wednesday Reads for you guys. And a little story to go with.

Every so often, an agent finds a manuscript that is remarkable. That, every time you read it, you fall in love with it all over again. That, when you tell people about it, you get excited and bouncy and scare people away. That the mere thought of other people not falling in love with it breaks your heart.

I actually found this when I was an intern. I believe I had requested a hundred pages and when I got to the end I didn't wait, couldn't wait, and I asked for the full ms immediately. It was one of those that I was constantly refreshing my email wanting to read it. If not for that little break, I read it in one sitting. I immediately sent it off to Andrea (my boss, come on guys, keep up!) and she read it in one sitting (at night, lost sleep--for more than one reason).

So we worked with Amber to polish, beautify, and make it more profound, scarier (even though it already was all of those things!). Then we started to pitch it to editors. This went on even as I began my own journey as an agent.

Alas, earlier this year, we had to concede a minor defeat: editors just didn't know where to place it. Where does one put a Die Hard from a mother's perspective trying to protect her children? So we encouraged Amber to self publish it because the idea of it not ending up in readers' hands was devastating.

Catch up with Amber on her author page here, buy it from Amazon here, and follow her on Twitter @amber_colleen. With no further ado, my utterly biased and very enthusiastic review of Premonitions by Amber Colleen.

This is NOT a story about a parent’s worst nightmare.

Nightmares you wake up from...

How far would you go to save the ones you love?

When unspeakable violence threatens a secluded North Carolina town, suburban mother, Mallory Carpenter, must ask herself this very question. For years, she has attempted to escape the darkness of her past by devoting herself to her beloved children. But this peace is shattered when a terrifying group of masked gunmen on a deadly mission invades an elementary school full of innocent children. Soon the school is under lockdown, and the children, parents, and staff are firmly held hostage with no chance of escape.

Cut off from the outside world, Mallory manages to uncover the unbelievable connection between the intruders, the tragic murder of a renowned scientist and his family, and a strange young boy who does not speak. She realizes, too late, her little world was never as safe as she thought it was.

Mallory is forced to confront the twisted past she thought she left behind and use her wits to fight for her life and the lives of others around her. She and the children must band together to defend what is theirs in this gripping psychological thriller debut from author Amber Colleen that will keep readers turning page after page, hoping against hope that everyone will make it out alive.

First Line: (from the prologue) "Crouched here on the cold title in a puddle of blood, I think about the thousands of tiny decisions that brought me here: to this day, to this place, to this moment." The journey Mallory takes is as much an emotional one as one of action and danger and split second decisions. Right here we're seeing into her mind at a crucial moment that will come up again in the book.

(From chapter one) "This typical school day morning, my big challenge is footsteps. Little six-year-old footsteps clad in lavender socks, moving at the speed of still water." Chapter one brings us to the beginning of Mallory's day, which is very suburban, very normal. Any mother can identify with Mallory. I love the levity of this passage, the "woe is me and my challenges as a mother that I absolutely love and can't live without." I'm not a mother myself, but I identify with Mallory 100% anyways. She's just that likable and relatable a character.

Brownie Points: How many am I allowed? Because there isn't one part of it that I like more than the others. I've already said how much I like Mallory. You'll have to read to figure it out yourself. But my other brownie point has to go to the sheer terror going on in this novel. It's so real, so tangible, the love of a mother for her children, the courage of a group of people, no matter their age, trapped together in a nightmare. And of course, there is one thing, one awesome AH! moment that you'll know when you read it. I can't even hint. Can't.

Beefs: This is not a bedtime reading book. One, it might give you some pretty interesting dreams. Two, you might not sleep at all because you need to read it all at once. No matter how many times I read this, I always block out a few hours from my day to get it done, because I know from experience I can't leave it in the middle.

Recommendation: It's the sort of book that will appeal to all sorts of people. It has love (general, non romantic love), action, a beautiful character arch, children that will steal your heart, evil villains that will speed your heart. Seriously, read it. And I realize I might have emphasized the nightmare terror point above, it's not that scary, so accessible to anyone.

Represent: There really is no telling what I'll fall in love with. Would I represent something like it again? Perhaps. I'd have to read and see. I'll be more inclined for something heavier on the romance. But for just a straight women's thriller, Andrea would be the person to go to for that. But I am hella glad I plucked this one out of the slush pile.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Announcement: New YA!

Now I know you guys remember me gushing about Hannah Jayne's Urban Fantasy series, The Underworld Detection Agency. My Wednesday Reads of Under Wraps is here. I have her third (and not the last) on my bedside table right now and each one is more spectacular than the last!

Hannah is breaking into the YA market with a thriller. The deal from Publisher's Marketplace is below! Look for her new series on bookshelves July 2013.

Hannah has been such a pleasure to work with. She's been with the agency for a long time and I'm entirely blessed to get to work with her on her YA projects. Oh and Sourcebooks--amazing to work with as well!

Check out Hannah's website here.
And find out the latest by following her on Twitter @Hannah_Jayne1

Happy stalking!

July 13, 2012

Young Adult 

Hannah Jayne's TRULY, MADLY, DEADLY, about a girl whose abusive boyfriend dies in what seems to be a drunk driving accident, only to find a note in her locker from a secret admirer that says "You're welcome," to Leah Hultenschmidt at Sourcebooks Fire, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2013, by Vickie Motter at Andrea Hurst Literary Management (World English).

Friday, June 1, 2012

June Hiatus

Hi all!

I'm taking a hiatus from blogging during the month of June. I'll return with more topic months and Wednesday Reads.

During my hiatus you will see nothing from me on the blog. No updates, no Wednesday Reads. Zilch.

I am not taking a break from agenting. Queries will get answered. Partial and full mss will get read.

Keep your fingers crossed for some Northwest sunshine!

Happy summering!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Conferences: FAQ

It's been a great month of talking about nothing but Conferences. If you missed any of my posts, please look at the doo-dad over there --> with this month's posts to catch up (remember, I've been doing topic months since January so there might be some other good stuff you missed too). To wrap up this month's topic is my Frequently Asked Questions post. If you have any more questions about conferences, please leave them in the comments and I will update the post as they come in.
  • What is proper email etiquette for an agent who has requested a partial? Query format? Conversational? With attachments or without?
    • See my recent post on just this subject. The note can be conversational (I was the person wearing the British hat that we were joking about at dinner), but mostly in a query format. You must mention that they requested it from which conference. And always include your query for reference. Attach only if the agent has specifically asked for an attachment (you can send the note and query and ask the agent's preference if you honestly can't remember).
  • During my pitch, the agent asked if I brought in any pages with me. I didn't and am personally glad not to have, because I'd rather talk to somebody than have them read over my work. But is this standard practice and should I plan on bringing the first few pages with me in the future? 
    • You certainly can if you'd like to be prepared. It's not standard and I, personally, will never request pages at a conference. If you have a really long pitch session (say 30 minutes--yes it's happened) then plan on bringing material just in case. You never know what sort of nuggets of wisdom you might get with that extra time. But I'm in the same boat, I don't like reading in the moment. Also, it is good practice to have a few pages on hand--if you learn something awesome in a session about first pages you can apply what you learn then and there before it flits from your mind.
  • If I realize my manuscript isn't ready to send out because I learned things at the conference, should I email the agents who requested it and let them know I won't be submitting it for a few months?
    • No. We don't expect you to send it out right away. You can take five years if you need to, or you can choose not to submit at all. An extra email like that in our inbox is just clutter.
  • Do you know if there is a good resource online listing conferences and linking to information for individual conferences? I've been hoping to find a writing conference within driving distance of my house, but I haven't been able to find one. I live in a relatively major metropolitan area (halfway between DC and Baltimore) and I've been surprised at the lack of writing conferences around here.
    • Google it! Also check out local writing associations. I just Googled it and found the Maryland Writers' Association and the DC Writers Group. Likewise, there is a Baltimore Writers Conference. If you're looking specifically for SCBWI or RWA, they usually have chapters by regions listed on their website, as well as meetings, writers groups, and extras throughout the year. My best advice (besides using Google) is to get involved in a local writing chapter or find a local writing group--they are a wealth of information and between the lot of you will know the upcoming conferences. 
  • What is the protocol for conference queries? Would you give extra attention/feedback to a query you'd received via a conference?
    • I definitely try my hardest to give a query from a conference (say a writer didn't have the opportunity to pitch me while there) extra attention. But if the query simply isn't my genre, there isn't much I can do. If a writer did pitch me and I requested the query and/or sample pages, I'll try my best to give the writer extra advice. But when I'm getting a hundred additional queries after a conference, I have to pick my battles.
  • Is it common practice to send a Thank You note to agents (if say they took some time with you or gave your good advice during a pitch or at dinner) even if they didn't request any material from you? 
    • I'd say no. Again, it's clutter. It seems callous, but it's our job at conferences to help you and I probably won't remember you. It's a kind gesture (and there are some writers who I've requested to keep in touch with me because we hit it off and they were a person I wanted to keep in my pocket) but in all likelihood, it'll end up in the trash. It isn't like a job interview in which a follow-up is expected.
Questions added:
  • If an agent requests sample pages PASTED into the email, should we reformat the text in "email format" (i.e., no indents, single-spaced, extra space between paragraphs) -- or does it work to cut and paste the text directly from Word, including the first-line indents and double-spacing? I'm confused on this! 
    • I think you're over thinking this. I've never encountered the problem before. You should be able to copy and paste from word (it works for me). Everything should translate just fine (double-spacing and indents included). If you're worried, test it. Send it to yourself or a second email address or a friend's address who has a different email provider to see how it turns out. As long as it's not too wonky, we don't really care.
If you have any additional questions, please ask in the comments, and I'll update the post.

Happy conferencing!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday Reads: The Girl is Murder

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines. Historical mystery, set in 1942 combines a lot of great historical elements and a bit of mystery--with a lot of growing up, very real, true to history characters, and humility. Think Veronica Mars for the historical set.

It's the Fall of 1942 and Iris's world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop's cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business. 

First Line:
"September 1942.
Pop's leg was across the room when I came downstairs. I didn't ask him how it got there. Its location made it clear that the prosthetic had been hurled at some point, with enough force to bring down the photo of Mama that used to sit on the Philco radio."
You start with an unexpected scene, yet very normal in the life of Iris. If you're writing historical, pay close attention to this passage (and all passages in this and other historicals)--just look at these couple sentences and you'll see two things that paint it historical (besides the date)--to some degree, the prosthetic, and the Philco radio. Also, to some point, "Pop" and "Mama".

Brownie Points: I love how real Iris is. She is an entirely fallible character, but heart warming and every time she screws up--which is often--you want to sit down with her for some hot cocoa and talk about her problems. Too many times in historical, authors try to create a character who is ahead of her time. While it makes for controversial drama, it's not true to the time period. Iris is so deliciously 1942, as are each and every character--especially their Polish landlady who makes halupkies (best food ever!!! I grew up with halupkies--pigs in a blanket--which come from both sides of my family, both the German and Czech sides. Smothered in tomato sauce and sauerkraut... drool).

Recommendation: For mystery and/or historical lovers, this is a fantastic read. Or if you're a Veronica Mars/Nancy Drew fan, also a great rec. Like I said, Iris is a wonderful character, fallible and lovable, and the world is wonderfully built.

Would I represent it? I'd love to find a historical as rich as this one. With, like I said, true-to-the-time-period characters.

Happy reading!

Friday, May 25, 2012

May Conferences: The Follow Up

So you went to your conference. You pitched some agents. They requested.


Now what?

Firstly, cool your jets. You don't need to send those pages over ASAP. You definitely don't need to send it that night (like they request it on Friday and the conference goes until Sunday, ya the agent won't see it until Monday at the earliest).

And we completely understand if you need a few weeks/months/years to revise/rewrite/tweak your ms. Conferences give a lot of information. A LOT. And more often than not I'll hear writers say, "I thought my ms was ready, but I have a dozen ideas of how to make it better!" Do it. Take the time to revise before you submit. Because once you submit, there is no going back. No do-overs. I've heard stories of people getting a submission five years after they originally requested it. Wow.

Next, I hope you took notes of what the agent wanted. Twenty pages? Fifty pages? Full ms? Synopsis? Author bio? They'll usually tell you exactly what they want. And note "attached" or "pasted." Most likely, especially if it's a higher word count, they'll want it as an attachment. And, generally, they'll tell you to put "requested" and the conference name and title in the subject line. (always look up the agent/agency's submission guidelines)

Ex: Subject: Requested MS- NESCBWI- Wishing on a Star

I see the conference name and immediately know from what conference I requested it. Those go to the top of the slush pile.

Bonus tip--unless the agent specifically says not to, if you were unable to pitch an agent at the conference you can query them and mention you missed them but wanted to take the opportunity. Same thing, put the conference in the subject line along with Query. So: Subject: Query- NESCBWI- Wishing on a Star.

And what do you put IN the email if an agent has requested pages? Start with something about the agent requesting pages from the conference. If there was something memorable about your pitch to them (if you used a hook) put it in there to jog the agent's memory. If you discussed something the agent would remember (we joked about putting staplers in the jello at dinner) or if you yourself are memorable (I was the only fifteen year old there), mention that. We talk to a lot of people at conferences--A LOT--so don't assume we'll remember you.

After that, include how many pages you've attached and any other material the agent had requested. Below that, include the query letter, even if the agent didn't request it specifically. It's a great refresher and I like having it for reference (plus then I can gauge your query-writing skills which are way different than pitching-skills).

Dear Agent,

I met you last week at the NESCBWI conference. It was wonderful meeting you (I would totally provide the getaway car should you ever be taken with the notion to kidnap John Green again). You had mentioned interested in seeing my YA contemporary romance Wishing on a Star--a mix between a modern day Cinderella and Gangs of New York, if either featured a vegan Goth girl, world champion baton twirler. Oh, and she has a penguin for a pet. As requested, I've attached the first 50 pages, synopsis, and author bio. The query is pasted below for your reference. Please let me know if I can provide anything else. Thank you for your time.


[closing signature]

And remember these helpful posts from back in February about requested manuscripts. You'll be following the same guidelines, just slightly different at the beginning because your pages were requested via conference rather than query.

The Note.

The Return Email.

Formatting your Email.

The Nudge.

And the always useful: How to Format your Manuscript. (just to make it look pretty, especially for those of us who read on an e-reader)

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Speaking of pitching...

There's such thing as Twitter pitching! It's completely difference than your query, verbal pitch, etc. It can be similar to your hook though or a quick one liner. And no, you can't just send Twitter pitches to agents whenever you feel like it. That's not what Twitter is used for. But developing a Twitter pitch "just in case" is great practice for you to look at your ms differently. If forced to use 134 characters (minus six for the hashtag and space), can you describe your ms better than using 300 words? I bet you can, and you'd be amazed at how much information you can convey.

Keep all the same info in mind as you would when constructing a query or verbal pitch. You need character (with the "why we should care" in there too) and conflict. But in 134 characters.

For example, if I were to pitch whatever book in sitting on my desk, which happens to be Cinder by Marissa Meyer (it should be on my bookshelf, but it's too pretty to put away), it might look something like this:

#WVTP In a steampunk twist, Cinderella, a cyborg mechanic, catches the prince's attention; only she can save him from the evil moon queen

(Give me a break, I came up with it in two seconds)

You'll notice I'm not using chat speak. I consider it cheating, so steer clear as much as possible.

Here's a great post about constructing your Twitter pitch (more in depth than I'm getting), with links to more help in the post. I think I might have broken like five of her rules--especially with the vagueness.

And what is this #WVTP you might ask? Apparently you haven't been on Twitter lately. If you've seen anything about The Writer's Voice that was going on all this month, this is a related event. Tomorrow (Thursday) you can pitch via Twitter using this hashtag (which stands for Writer's Voice Twitter Pitch). If one of the lurking agents (myself included) likes your pitch, we will request it. If you get two or more requests, you get to choose one of us to submit to (a twist on The Voice).

Find out more info here on one of The Writer's Voice contest coaches, Brenda Drake's blog (including time the pitching opens and closes--so if you do it wrong, I know you didn't actually read it) as well as which agents you can expect to see lurking.

What's the point of Twitter Pitching rather than querying? Well, you can certainly query. But this is fun! Plus, it gives you a chance to try out Twitter pitching, hooks, one-liners, etc. If you don't get any bites, you know your pitch needs work. If you get a bite, you know you have something great. Instant gratification of sorts.

Otherwise, just come and hang out at the hashtag (if you don't think about it too hard, it doesn't sound so nerdy). Us agents might be flinging poo--er, trash talk--around.

(PS, no Wednesday Reads this week. I'm pacing myself since I'm reading less lately. June is still scheduled as a hiatus month, so no Wednesday Reads then either--I'll have one more Reads for you before I go on break though)

For a little (more) fun, and practice, Twitter pitch me your favorite book (not your own) in the comments. Let's see if yours is better than my Cinder pitch--and I welcome Cinder pitches too. Show up the agent!

Happy pitching!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May Conferences: The Verbal Pitch

One of the great things about conferences (at least from my POV) is the verbal pitch. Before you say, "I'm not signing up for the pitches. Too scary!" consider what a pitch actually is.

What is a pitch?

It's a quick "about" your ms.

So your new BFF you met during breakfast asked you what you write and you say, "I'm writing an Adult Cozy Murder Mystery about an erotic book club that gets caught up in the murder of the local strip club owner."

Congrats. You just pitched. A rather captivating hook, I might add.

In other terms, you don't have to talk to an agent in order to pitch. Every person you ever talk to about your book will be a pitch. Friends, editors, yes agents, and most especially prospective readers.

If your BFF asks for more info--or if you're in a pitch session with an agent--you'll need to expand on your pitch.

Character (remember, we need to care about this main character): Raised in the deep south by a conservative gun toting mother, Mary is qualified to do three things, fetch drinks for her husband, plan a party, and shoot a dime from fifty yards. So when her husband leaves her for the local strip club owner, Mary's lost. That's when her mother inducts her in her book club to loosen her up--it's an erotic book club and the women aren't shy about their opinions, at least not when they're drinking "ice tea" at ten in the morning.

Conflict (make it unique): When her ex's new squeeze, the local strip club owner, is murdered, fingers point at Mary as the culprit. She'll need all the help she can get from her new friends to find the killer, clear her name, and steer clear of the sexy detective who looks way too much like the main character in the club's latest read.

Set this baby in the deep south and you've got a winner I can't resist. (and in my head, this is a cozy--meaning closed door "romance" if there is any at all. I'm having too much fun with making stuff up)

Okay so you have the basics. Hook. Character. Conflict. You need your own credentials--the author bio part. Word count if asked, genre, comparables, etc.

That sounds like a query!

No kidding!

It has all the same dynamics. But it isn't a query.

You heard that, right?

Your pitch IS NOT your query.

Your query will have intricate sentences to include information and flow and demonstrate your writing capabilities. Your pitch needs to be easy to swallow. In other words, if you're having a hard time memorizing it, throw away the paper. Pitch everyone. Pitch the air. Until you can talk about your ms smoothly without memorizing complicated sentences. Try pitching your favorite books to your friends--you'll find that you're not repeating the back cover blurb word for word.

If I were pitching the above erotic book club murder mystery, I'd use that as my template. To myself I'd think "hook, character, conflict" and stick to those guidelines. Then practice pitching it until I find something that flows well and is easy to say (I do the same thing with projects I'm pitching to editors, and family, and friends, and colleagues--I'm constantly gauging interest and the best way to capture attention). 

For example, pitch The Hunger Games. "It's set in a futuristic world where the government punishes the districts--like states--for a rebellion in the past. They draw a lottery in which one girl and one boy from each district between twelve and eighteen have to compete in a televised event where they have to kill each other. The last person standing wins and gets money and prestige." That's the very quick pitch, and usually no one needs anything more because it's so cool! But of course, in a real pitch you'd talk about Katniss and her sacrifice and struggles and whatnot. But the point here is, Don't memorize your pitch. And for the love of Herman Melville, don't read it. I'll allow it, I won't kick you out of the session, but put the tiny bit of effort in. It goes a long way.

Your know your ms better than anyone. Talk about it. Without rambling of course. Stay within the confines of a query, without quoting your query. A pitch should be less than 90 seconds. A quick pitch should be less than 30 seconds.

So what's the point of a pitch? Why can't I just send the query? Because I usually get more out of a face-to-face pitch than I would from a query. I can ask questions. Get info out of you I won't get in a query. And if your query/pitch isn't working, you can ask for advice and I'll give it to you. That's why I'm there, after all. And if there is something about your pitch I like, I'm more likely to request than if I were just going through my queries (my rejection rate in queries is way higher than at conferences).

Remember, I'm collecting FAQs about conferences.

Happy pitching!

Friday, May 18, 2012

May Conferences: Etiquette

  • Talk to people you are sitting with at dinner or sessions, standing next to in the hallway--you never know where and when you'll find advice that'll change your career or people that'll become life long friends
  • Take copious notes
  • Pick an agent/editor/published author's brain when appropriate: during free time, meals, spare time in a pitch or consult session
  • Ask what other people are writing, sessions they are attending, things they've learned
  • Get involved in extra events, readings, and workshops
  • Volunteer to be "the example" in a session--if an agent is teaching a workshop on pitching and asks for people to practice, do it;  you get not only the attention and advice of an agent but the audience is your sounding board (applies to first sentences, titles, character names, you name it)
  • use the opportunity to find a critique group--you'll usually find a board where people will post "looking for' ads
  • If you know you have to duck out of a session early to get to a pitch or consult, sit near the back on an aisle. Leave quietly. The presenters won't be offended.
  • Likewise, if you arrive at a session late due to another appointment, save certain questions to yourself and concede you've probably missed some important info. Ask a peer or the presenter at the very end if there were handouts or someplace you can find the lecture notes. Or ask a friend/neighbor/your new besty to look at their notes.
This is totally my own opinion. I'm not at all a germ-a-phobe, but I don't actually care whether or not you shake my hand. I'm not going to not look at your work if you don't shake my hand. The thing is, I shake so many people's hands at conferences that I carry sanitizer with me and make frequent trips to the bathroom to wash my hands. I often get sick after conferences from a combination of stress and germs. Don't make a big deal out of not shaking someone's hand. But this is utterly up to you and I won't turn down a hand shake. (when will fist bumps become an appropriate formal greeting?)

  • pitch agents in the bathroom
  • Use the question and answer portion of a panel or session to ask narrow, personal questions that won't benefit anyone else, or to pitch--you can get a consult session for that or track someone down in their freetime to ask
  • make everything about you
  • drink too much
  • Take five minutes minutes to describe your book if another writer/agent/editor asks what you're writing--a quick elevator pitch will do, or to another writer, the genre and basics (YA timetravel to ancient Rome)
  • Take five minutes to pitch an agent when he/she is obviously in a hurry/on the way to the bathroom
  • Confront an agent about a rejection or rejection by a colleague
  • Bring materials and expect an agent to critique your ms or query during a pitch session
  • Ask questions in a Q&A if you've arrived late that have most likely been answered already--a question about query basics if the session is about queries
  • Be that "doom and gloom" person who always has to talk up the e-book apocalypse and/or bash traditional publishing--keep questions polite and educational for all

I cannot stress this enough: When in a session and the speaker asks for questions, don't take that as an opportunity to pitch an agent or ask for such narrow advice that will apply to only you. Make it broad enough that many more people will benefit from the answer--you are taking their precious time as well as the speaker's.

Are there any conference pet peeves you've developed over the years?

Happy conferencing!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Reads: Blood Magic

Blood Magic by Jennifer Lyon. Awww, a great Paranormal Romance. And by "awww" I mean mmmm, yummy witch hunters. Good mix of world, character, and steam. Just the kind of mix I like.

In the days when powerful witches used their magic to shield humanity from demons, their allies and guardians were a group of men gifted with preternatural abilities of their own–the witch guardians. But when a band of witches traded their humanity for demonic power, the ancient bond was broken, and the guardians became the hunters.

Darcy MacAlister knows nothing of demons or magic. But this beautiful young woman is about to discover the truth about her past . . . and her future. For she is a witch–not just any witch, but the key to breaking the curse that has plagued witches and the men who hunt them. For if a hunter kills an innocent witch by mistake, the price is no less than a piece of his soul.

Axel Locke, gorgeous leader of the Wing Slayer Hunters, has sworn never to shed the blood of the earth witches who have resisted the temptation of demonic power. But when his sister is cursed by a demon witch, he discovers that Darcy MacAlister may hold the cure–if she can master her newfound powers in time. When the chase begins and Axel and Darcy come face-to-face, this hunter must weigh his soul against his honor–and against his heart.

First Line: "The whispers were nothing new." Starts with Darcy's mother's funeral. Which is great insight into Darcy, how she felt about her mother, life in general, the people around her. Especially since she's a funeral director. I do love women who don't weep at their own mothers' funerals. Er.... that sounded a little strange, didn't it? Oh, and of course, you can't have an opening scene without the mc's life being threatened. So there's that.

Brownie Points: Just one of those great ParaRoms. I especially like the magic--blood/earth magic--and the curse that causes the men (big, hulky men) to crave witches blood. They're trying to protect the witches while still wanting to kill them. Gotta love a hero.

Recommendation: If you love ParaRom and need another good series, try this one. Amazon has it listed with Thea Harrison's The Elder Races or Gena Showalter, and I agree. (and I know you all went out to read it after I rave reviewed Thea) These are the type of books that, if you're writing ParaRom, you have to read. They're formulas for success (boy meets girl, boy wants to kill girl, girl saves boy's soul, boy and girl mate happily ever after).

Would I represent it? I'd love a ParaRom like this one. World building, character arcs, blood, smut. (I do need a departure from YA, you know.)

Happy reading!

Friday, May 11, 2012

May Conferences: Prep Work

You've decided you want to go to a conference.

Now what?

Firstly, find a conference. Google it. Check out your local RWA, SCBWI, etc conferences or local writing associations for their annual conferences. Ask your writing buddies. Stalk local agents and see where they're heading. If you have a writing group in other parts of the country, set up a fun getaway with them and visit them in their home town or make a group trek.

Okay, you've signed up for a full weekend of fun, fun, fun!

You need to know the who's who of the conference. Who is the Key Note speaker? Are their books in your genre? Read them. Check out who the faculty is--agents, editors, authors. If you plan to pitch the agents, note their genres, their clients, visit their agency websites, Twitter, and personal blogs. Same goes for the sessions, lectures, and workshops you plan to attend--know who is speaking.

Will you need to bring anything? Lots of paper and a pencil sharpener. You'll be taking notes. Lots of them. Business cards, if you have them, to share with your new friends. It's a great place to network (more on that later). You don't need a copy of your ms, unless you're attending a workshop in which you'll need it. Note the materials the sessions/workshops ask you to bring and bring them (agents will not ask for your ms or any hardcopy--more on that later). If there is an opportunity for on-site consults with editors/agents for mss or query letters, take advantage, and note the deadlines or if you need to bring your materials. If you're able to sign up for it there, bring the materials in case you're able to get an appointment.

By the way, if an agent you're eyeing is doing ms critiques, it's a great opportunity to show them your work and garner interest--at the very least, if you revise and submit to them at a later date, they'll know the quality of your edits and how much you've improved.

Oh, right, one more thing. Preparing your pitch. Most conferences will have a "How to Polish Your Pitch" sort of workshop the first day (post on that later). Attend it. Prepare as much as you can before hand. You won't just be pitching agents. Every time you meet someone new, they'll ask "what do you write?"

Anything else? Yeah, prepare to kiss your old life goodbye. It's gonna be a wild ride.

How do you find conferences? Do you find that you need anything else to prepare yourself for a conference (besides a babysitter and a Costco box of 5 Hour Energy)?

Happy conferencing!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday Reads: Cinder

I am going to do my very, very best not to squee like crazy during this post. I'll just state it right here.





Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Two words. Cinderella. Steampunk. Eek! (that was not a squee!) It's the first fairytale retelling in the Lunar Chronicles. (I'm not at all excited for the rest of the series. teehee)

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

First Line: "The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle." Not only is this line so unexpected, it is reminiscent of Cinderella. Because everyone knows the story of Cinderella and there is something to do with feet and shoes at the end--but no. In this one, we start right at the beginning knowing she has a mechanical foot. She's a cyborg. (You know exactly where that whole steel foot is leading, don't you?)

And because I love how it immediately sets us up in a world of futuristic/steampunk/technology not with the world itself but with Cinder's own body parts, I have to give you a feel for the first few.

"The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean.
"Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket. A spark singed her fingertips and she jerked away, leaving the foot to dangle from a tangle of red and yellow wires."

Brownie Points: Gah! Other than being an awesome new imagining of the Cinderella tale? Two things, actually. Both odd. One. The setting. They're in New Bejing, or The Commonwealth. I'm not brushed up on all things Asia and whatnot, but I think (think) the world is kinda a mash of many of the Asian cultures. And it's flavoring of the world, not so engrained that people can't relate to it. Plus, my nerdy side is happy with the connection back to the origins of the Cinderella tale, which came out of China.

Spanish cover
Two. I'm not sure why I'm noticing it so much right now, but the POV. I'm, just a little bit, a little tired of 1st person. This is in 3rd and occasionally jumps over to Kai's POV as well--also 3rd. In the beginning-middle somewhere, we also detour into the doctor's brain (yes, there's a doctor, and that's all I'm saying about that). He is a very important character, fascinating/crazy mind, and though this is YA and he is an Adult, I felt the jump to him fit well. It's not something you often see. And something you must consider carefully before attempting.

Recommendation: For all YA lovers, scifi/steampunk lovers, and fairytale retelling lovers. Ya'll might know I adore Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted--this might have surpassed that one. The mechanical foot won me over, what can I say?

Would I represent it? Other than the obvious YES, I'm not officially looking for fairytale retellings. Because they are so incredibly hard to do. If, however, they fall into one of the other categories I'm looking for (historical fantasy, scifi, steampunk, as of now unknown mash-up category), I'm willing to take a look. It has to be impeccable though, because I'm a bit of a fairytale retelling snob.

(PS, read it!)

Someone get this mic away from me.

Happy reading!