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The F3 – First Five Frenzy with Agent Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc. August 31, 2012

Today, I am honored to introduce agent extraordinaire, Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc.

 

Instead of doing a general agent interview, I wanted to delve into a specific aspect of submission – those critical first five pages.  I asked Bridget to provide insight into what speaks to her as an agent, and what common mistakes are typically made by writers.

 

I think you will find her answers both thoughtful and instructive.

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is that to you as an agent?

 

Bridget: The first line sets the tone for the whole book. It doesn’t need to be spectacular and attention-grabbing, but it should be something special. You can do this through shock, through voice, or through content. Consider, for example, some first lines I can recite off the top of my head: from Franny Billingsley’s CHIME, from J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, and from Sarah Rees Brennan’s THE DEMON’S LEXICON.

 

 

CHIME begins: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.” Here you’ve got the attention-grabbing, full-of-foreshadowing first sentence. You’ve simply got to keep reading to find out what exactly she’s confessed. This is a great first line when it’s completely divorced from the book, but to be honest, it’s one of my least favorite sentences in CHIME. It doesn’t capture Briony’s gorgeous, original voice. But it’s a powerful hook that pulls you into the story, and if you can write one of these, it’s a great way to get agents (and everyone else!) reading.

 

 

HARRY POTTER opens: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Rowling has a fantastic omniscient-third-person voice that we rarely see because most of the series is from Harry’s POV, and this sentence is dripping with it. It’s that “thank you very much” that gets me. And yet none of the content is striking or even interesting. Rowling uses the mundane to show you you’re about to read an extraordinary story, and she pulls it off because the voice is so vivid. I can hear this sentence in my head.

 

 

THE DEMON’S LEXICON starts: “The pipe under the sink was leaking again.” A perfectly serviceable sentence, but not one that really stands out. And the next line: “It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.” Again, a fine sentence. But it’s not shocking, and it doesn’t show Nick’s unusual voice to very good advantage. Instead, this opening shows you that Nick is the kind of guy who has a favorite sword, and it neatly displays this novel’s lovely juxtaposition of the domestic and the astonishing. Character and theme. This is a perfect example of how your first line doesn’t need to be extraordinary to be good, but it should establish a bit of what the reader will be seeing.

 

 

Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common beginnings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc…What are some common openings that you see repeatedly?

 

Bridget: A lot of writers begin by setting the scene. I understand the thinking behind this, but honestly, it’s boring for the reader and a bit of a crutch for the writer. Describing what you see in your head is a good way to get the story flowing in your first draft, but in later drafts, you should rewrite that to something a little catchier. This might mean you have to restructure the entire first scene, but it’s worth it. Readers tend to skim description: do you really want people skimming your first paragraph?

 

Then there’s the opposite: stories that start in the middle of action. Like the above, this is something that works in movies, but it doesn’t translate well to the page. A first-page explosion might seem like a flashy way to draw in readers, but it’s hard to care when we don’t know the people who are getting blown up, and fight scenes are too chaotic to follow when we’re just seeing names for the first time. We need something to grab onto.

 

Amy: When you have recently asked for partials or fulls, what was it about those first pages that drew you in?

 

Bridget: For me, the query is the biggest motivator. I’m mostly interested in the concept, the characters, and whether or not you can write. But a few gorgeous sentences or a really compelling voice will get an instant request! I’ve been known to request a manuscript because of a single killer metaphor. Anything that makes your first few pages stand out helps. Think about what keeps you reading past the first few pages when you pick up a random book off the shelf.

 

 

Amy: What are some of the biggest mistakes writers make in their first five pages?

 

Bridget: Grammatical mistakes: if you didn’t refine your sample pages enough to make a good first impression, I’m going to assume you didn’t take care with the rest of the manuscript either.

 

 

Cliches: An over reliance on clichés is both boring for the reader and a sign that the writer hasn’t read enough to know how prevalent clichés are. The first time you encounter one, you’re blown away by it. It takes repeated exposure – the same thing that teaches you what good writing looks like and what works in the current market – to learn how overused they are. Plus, I get hundreds of queries each month and can only read a handful of manuscripts: you want yours to stand out.

 

 

Too much explanation: Again, this is boring. You need to have a solid and well-thought-out idea of your world, your characters’ background, and your premise. But then you need to dole it out in amounts that let me piece it all together myself. Try writing out a story bible first, so you’re not tempted to dump all that in the first chapter of your novel.

 

 

 

Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

 

Bridget: For me, everything is voice. I rarely fall in love with a book on the first page, but when I do (as with, for example, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY), it’s always because of a voice that resonated with me. In the case of GUERNSEY, that was a lively, opinionated, adorable character whom I instantly wanted to spend more time with. But you don’t need to make me fall in love on the first page. All you need to do is make me want to fall in love in the next 300 or so pages – enough to want to read the rest of the manuscript.

 

My sincere thanks go out to Bridget who took time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions. If you are interested in submitting to Ms. Smith, please make sure to check the Dunham Literary, Inc. website for their guidelines.

 

Bridget Smith is an associate agent at Dunham Literary, Inc. Previously, she was an intern at Don Congdon Associates, worked at a secondhand book store in Connecticut, and evaluated short story submissions for Tor.com under Liz Gorinsky and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. She graduated from Brown University with a major in anthropology in 2010.

 

She is currently accepting queries for middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, and contemporary. Send an email with her name in the subject line to query@dunhamlit.com.

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY – A New Agent Interview Series August 30, 2012

 

Okay, so you’ve toiled for weeks (or sometimes months) and finally crafted the PERFECT query.  Your MS has been beta read, critiqued and edited down perfectly. Now, you’re ready to submit.

 

You gather your first ten pages, first three chapters or whatever the agent’s submission guidelines require (because you’ve already researched the agents and know what they want) and then you hit the SEND button. You cross your fingers, toes, and any other body part you can manage, and wait for a response.

 

You wait, wait, and perhaps wait some more – hitting the REFRESH button so many times on your browser you are sure it’s going to permanently stick there.

 

After much teeth gnashing, and hair yanking, your first responses appear in your in-box.

 

All form rejections.

 

Disappointment floods every core of your body and you wonder how this is possible. Your query was amazing. But what about those first pages?  Was there a distinctive voice? Could your pacing have been tighter? Was their conflict from the start?

 

If you waver in answering any of these questions, your problem may not be your query, but those first submitted pages.

 

I personally have fretted many times over my first pages and it made me wonder what an agent instantly responds to when they begin reading. Is it a story dripping with voice, or an immediate and devastating conflict?  Then I thought, why question?  Why not just go the experts?

 

So beginning tomorrow look for a new series here called First Five Frenzy (aka F3) where agents will be answering questions about those treacherous first five pages.  What makes them sing, and what automatically sends them to the circular file.

 

I’ll try to change up the questions slightly with each agent, so if you have something you are burning to know, please reply in the comments.  I’ll be sure to add it to a future interview.

 

Check back tomorrow for my inaugural interview with Agent Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary. You won’t want to miss it!

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Stasia Ward Kehoe August 29, 2012

 

 

As writers we’ve heard the same old mantra over and over “write what you know.”  Some of us do this. Many  do not.  I’m a firm believer that  those who write from a place of experience bring a more authentic feel to their premise. The intricacies of something close to our heart always seems to resonate on the page.

 

 

As I read Stasia Ward Kehoe’s novel, AUDITION, I felt her love for the arts come alive on the page.   Her years of performing experience were evident in the exquisite detail given to each and every scene.  I devoured this amazing literary gem, written entirely in verse,  and knew in an instant, I wanted to learn about Stasia’s journey toward becoming a published author.

 

 

Here is her story…

 

Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 

Stasia: I first became seriously interested in writing in eighth grade, thanks to inspiration from a terrific English teacher. However, at that time I was still very involved in dancing and my career focus was definitely more toward the stage. I began to think seriously about BEING a writer, not just loving to read and write, much later. Probably in my early twenties

.

Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to AUDITION?

 

Stasia: For a long time I wrote without submitting. In my drawer of “learning manuscripts” are an adult mystery, a Redwall-style fantasy novel, several picture books, a couple of middle-grade-length novels about gymnasts, and a couple of contemporary YA’s. That I can think of. So, um, lots. I guess I’m a slow learner.

 

 

Amy: Did you have critique partners that helped you polish AUDITION? If so, how did that affect your writing process?

 

Stasia: I have belonged to critique groups on and off for years and have made great friends and writing colleagues in this way. That said, I was not in a writing group when I wrote AUDITION. I did, however, send the ms to a few trusted beta readers. As noted by my timidity in submitting manuscripts, I tend to feel very vulnerable about works-in-progress and sometimes it’s easier for me to barrel through a first draft without a lot of feedback so I don’t just give up on the whole thing.

 

 

Amy: What was your first query process like?

 

Stasia: The query process for AUDITION was embarrassingly quick and easy. I should say, however, that I had gotten very positive feedback on the ms from an editor at an SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC and some good advice from an agent (not the one who reps me) about how to submit it. And I’d worked on and revised the ms for a year, so I knew I was ready to go. I think a big mistake people make is to send out their NaNoWriMo or other writing workshop pieces without taking the time to understand what it means to revise, rework, hone and prepare material for the tough scrutiny of agents and editors.

 

 

Amy: If you had preliminary rejections, how did you deal with that process and continue to write?

 

Stasia: While I did not have a tough time with AUDITION, in the past I’ve had tough critiques from editors at conferences. Years ago an editor liked a ms of mine, asked if I’d try a revision, and I did so too quickly–without taking time to really understand what she was trying to get me to do. She didn’t buy the ms. While a tough day, a great lesson: Revision doesn’t mean checking the boxes an editor asks you to check. Revision means understanding the weaknesses an editor is observing in your manuscript and IMPROVING the piece while still keeping true to your own voice, character and vision for the novel. Rushing is NEVER a good idea. Not for submission. Not for revision. Just don’t rush!

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for AUDITION?

 

Stasia: I sent queries to my top eight “wish list” agents.

 

 

Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?

 

Stasia: The whole process was very quick.

 

 

Amy: Can you tell us what your “call” was like with your agent, Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management?

 

Stasia: Catherine was very nice. Professional and practical. I really liked her client list and the work she represented.

 

 

Amy: I see every query an author writes as a “mini” audition with a prospective agent. With this in mind, what advice would you give an aspiring writer to clinch that one chance they have to impress an agent?

 

Stasia: Honestly, I think people spend far too much time agonizing about the query letter. When people say they’ve spent weeks honing and polishing a one-page note, all I can think of is the time they’ve spent NOT working on their manuscripts. Agents are looking for great work. If your manuscript is ready, writing a paragraph summary of it and giving some flavor of the main character should be fairly straightforward. I also think that so much of this industry is luck and timing. Was it a “magical” query letter you wrote or did you happen to submit a book about deep-sea diving to an agent who happens to be a total scuba fan? Did your verse novel get rejected because of a weak query or because a given agent had just signed another verse novelist and didn’t feel s/he could fairly represent another one at this point in time? These are things you cannot guess or control. What you can control is the standards you set for your own work and having the patience (and sometimes the thick skin) required to learn from every bit of feedback you receive through the submission and publication process.

 

 

 

 

After growing up dancing and acting on stages along the eastern seaboard, Stasia Ward Kehoe now lives in Western Washington with her husband and four sons where she works as a freelance writer and novelist and choreographs the occasional musical. Visit her online at www.swardkehoe.blogspot.com or on Twitter @swkehoe.

 

Monday Morning Musings: The Kindness of Strangers August 27, 2012

Being relatively new to the blogging world, I didn’t know what to expect when I first started publishing my thoughts.  I knew I wanted to focus on writing, and the journey to publishing, but hadn’t planned much beyond those ideas.

 

I tried to build my readership – and failed miserably. Finally, I got smart, and reached out to well-known bloggers. I asked for their keys to success.  Many recommended starting a regular feature that readers could expect to see each week.  And with that idea, my W.O.W. series was born.

 

To be honest, I was terrified to reach out to authors and ask them for interviews.  I was sure I would get no reply at all, or a simple, “sorry, don’t have the time.”

 

I was wrong.

 

Many authors were prompt in their reply saying, “yes, what do you need?”  I was overwhelmed by their kindness, generosity and their willingness to help me build my readership by blogging and tweeting about the interview.

 

Now of course, some people were not so kind. Some did say, “no, not interested.” A few even sicced their agents on me.  The majority though have been amazing and my heartfelt thanks go out to all of them. Both the authors who have already been featured, and those who are still in the queue.

 

So with my positive experience dealing with authors, I have decided to wade into the world of agents with a new feature beginning this Friday.  It will not be your ordinary interview, but realistic advice on writing from those in the slush-pile trenches.

 

And yes, in this instance as well, I’ve received some curt replies. But the majority have opened their arms and asked, “how can I help?” In fact, recently an agent asked if I wanted to interview her via phone.  That was very unexpected, but incredibly generous, as I know an agent’s time is precious.

 

So on this beautiful Monday, I want to recognize the kindness of strangers in the publishing community.  I hope all those who are pondering starting a blog, or in the very beginning of their blogging journey, will be embraced as richly as I have!

 

What about you?  Are you new to blogging?  Have you had similar positive experiences?  I’d love to hear about them!

 

…And Then It Was A Good Day August 23, 2012

 

 

On days when I *headdesk* and think I can’t write another word, I want to give up.  I gnash my teeth and wonder, “what the heck am I doing? Is anyone ever going to read my work?  Am I making any contribution?”

 

 

I’ve had many days like that recently and then there was today. A monumental teeth gnashing, head-banging, curse at the top of my lungs sort of day, and then this was posted on Lisa and Laura Roecker’s blog  – Lisa and Laura Write:

 

 

Maybe someone needs this today. WE DID.

 

Amy over at Chasing the Crazies recently asked us the following question:

 

 

Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

 

Here’s a sneak peak of our answer:

 

 

Many, many times. Just last night Lisa called me and said she wanted to give up. When I asked her why, she said she felt like we could never be good enough. We commiserated for approximately 2 hours (our standard phone call length) and hung up with a renewed sense of hope. Yes, there are incredible, fantastic, award-winning, we-bow-down-to-you-genius-writer books out there. Books that make you want to hold the delete button, slam your laptop shut and GIVE UP. Will our books be amongst them? Maybe? Never? Definitely? In our dreams? Who knows! The beauty is in the trying. If you give up, you’ll never know if you could have gotten there! One of the best parts about writing is that there is no race. People will always need books to read. As a result, people count on us to get better (or something like that). None of our books will ever be as perfect as we want them to be. In fact, we have a pact to NEVER read a final copy of the published book. There’s just no way we wouldn’t want to change something and that would kill us in a very slow and painful way. So we write. And we delete. And we re-write. And we complain. But at the end of the day we hope. Because you just never know. That next big book could be right around the corner. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of it.

 

 

 

…And then the angels sang and I was inspired to write again.

 

 

 

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, ladies. I owe you one!

 

 

 

P.S. Check back in September when I post Lisa and Laura’s entire W.O.W. interview. It’s one you won’t want to miss!

 

W.O.W.- Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Krista Van Dolzer – Mother.Write. (Repeat.) August 22, 2012

 

 

Over time I’ve learned the writing community is a very warm and inviting place.  There are numerous blogs I’ve discovered that encourage camaraderie among aspiring writers.  Many of these teach about the craft as well as providing opportunities to present to agents in the hopes of making publishing dreams come true.

 

 

One of the blogs that encourages this sense of community is Mother.Write. (Repeat.) hosted by Krista Van Dolzer. While providing informative agent interviews, Krista also opens up regularly about the status of her WIP and her ongoing quest to sell her current manuscript.

 

 

Her writing odyssey is filled with many ups and downs, but she continues to remain a positive spirit and a powerful force in the writing community.  If you haven’t checked out her blog, I highly recommend it.  Her regular feature, “The Agent’s Inbox,” is not to be missed.

 

 

Here is Krista’s journey…

 

 

Amy: When did you begin your first novel?

 

Krista: I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was eight years old, but I didn’t start writing for the national market until 2007, a few months after my first baby was born.

 

 

Amy: How long did it take to complete?

 

Krista: I believe I started that first post-college novel in October of 2007 and started querying it in April of 2008, so about six months.

 

 

Amy: Did you use critique partners for THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME? If so, how did that affect your writing?

 

Krista: Yes, I used critique partners! I didn’t use critique partners for my first two manuscripts, but one of the main reasons I picked up blogging was to find other like-minded writers who might be interested in exchanging. I’d figured out that I could only take my stories so far:)

 

My writing ability improved by leaps and bounds after I started exchanging feedback with my critique partners, both from the critiques I gave and the ones I received. My CPs didn’t let me get away with inconsistent plot points, flaky characters, or even awkward-sounding sentences. I’d always known I was a good writer, thanks in large measure to the kind compliments my English teachers had paid me over the years, but I didn’t realize how much better I could be until I started incorporating my critique partners’ advice.

 

 

Amy: When you wrote your first query for THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?

 

Krista: THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME was the fourth manuscript I queried, so I considered myself to be a seasoned veteran by then:) That said, I did have to go through quite a few drafts before I found one I felt confident querying with.

 

I highly recommend getting feedback on your query from fellow writers who’ve never read your manuscript. Forums like QueryTracker and Absolute Write are great places to go to get those unbiased critiques.

 

 

Amy: How many queries did you send out for THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME?

 

Krista: I sent 77 queries for this manuscript.

 

 

Amy: Did you receive immediate response or did you have to twist your hands and wait a while?

 

Krista: Looking back at my records, I started querying on November 14, 2011, and received my first offer on March 16, 2012, so I queried this manuscript for almost exactly four months. Some agents responded to my query quickly (like, within a day or two), and some never responded at all. But in the end, the very first query I sent also turned into the first offer I received–and the offer I accepted–so good things can take time.

 

 

Amy: As many writers know, it is very hard to break into the publishing world. What was the one thing you did to help garner agent attention?

 

Krista: I was lucky enough to find a way to build my platform and boost my visibility among agents at the same time by launching the “Interview with an Agent” series on my blog. Kate was actually one of the first agents I interviewed back in 2010, and that started a dialogue that persisted off and on through our blogs and Twitter feeds for the next two years.

 

But you don’t have to launch an interview series to have meaningful conversations with agents. Talk to them at conferences. Comment regularly on their blogs. Let them see that you’re an interesting, confident human being who lets his or her writing speak for itself. I think that goes a long way.

 

 

Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary?

 

Krista: It was jump-up-and-down exciting, but it was also unexpected. I’d known she was reading my manuscript that week, but I’d convinced myself she wasn’t going to offer. Then she e-mailed me a few hours before she left for the Bologna Book Fair to tell me she wanted to discuss representation. I e-mailed her right back, of course, and said I could talk anytime, then spent the next thirty minutes walking the floor with my two-month-old and hoping, hoping, hoping he wouldn’t erupt into baby screams. (I shouldn’t have worried. Monster–NOT his real name–is a champ.) It was a little weird to actually talk to her that first time, but I distinctly remember I couldn’t stop smiling:)

 

 

Amy: You have done many agent interviews on your blog, “Mother. Write. (Repeat.)” What is the one critical thing you have learned about writing after interviewing so many agents?

 

Krista:  That everything about writing is one-hundred-percent subjective. That no two agents are looking for exactly the same thing. That one agent’s junk is another agent’s treasure. I received dozens of form rejections for THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME, and yet two agents ended up loving it enough to offer. And that’s true of every book that eventually finds its way to a bookshelf.

 

 

Krista is a stay-at-home mom by day and a writer by naptime. She holds degrees in Mathematics Education and Economics from Brigham Young University but tries not to talk–or write–like a mathematician. If she’s not typing away on the computer, she’s probably watching college football or wiping someone’s nose. She lives with her husband and three young kids in Mesquite, Nevada, and is represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary.

 

 

For more on Krista check out her blog, Mother. Write. (Repeat.) or follow her on twitter.

 

Taking Control of Your Publishing Future August 20, 2012

Today, I am thrilled to have a guest post by my good friend and critique partner, Katie French.  I was fortunate to meet Katie last year at a pitch conference in New York. After spending a few short hours together, I quickly learned we had the same passion for writing and a commitment to the craft.

 

 

We have worked together the last year trading pages and critiquing each others work with hopes of finding an agent.  While I eventually shelved my MS and began working on a new project, Katie made the momentous decision to e-publish her work – THE BREEDERS.

 

 

While daunting, she made the fearless decision to take control of her own publishing fate and wade out into the digital world on her own. This decision not only took guts but a lot of research and hard work.

 

 

I have asked Katie to share her thoughts on e-publishing and why, in the end, it was the right choice for her. I hope her story will provide inspiration for those of you who are considering taking control of your own publishing future.

 

 

Taking Publishing in my Own Hands

 

By Katie French

 

There has never been a more interesting time to be a writer. As I sit and write those words, there are very few things I believe more strongly. We are on the cusp of a revolution. It is a moment akin to the invention of the typewriter or MTV. The publishing industry is not just changing; it is transforming more than Rue Paul on a Saturday night. So many authors, like myself, are wondering what does this mean for me? I put many long nights into that same question. What does the evolution of the publishing industry mean to me, a struggling writer who has been rejected more than I’d like to admit? But I’ve decided. I’ve decided it means freedom, acceptance and hard work. It means self-publishing.

 

 

For years self-publishing has been synonymous with bad. Many authors have it in their heads that to be lumped with the $2.99 crew on Kindle means you suck. Isn’t the traditional process of getting an agent, getting an editor and printing lots of copies the only way to prove you’re any good? I’m not so sure anymore. Dozens of success stories like J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking and John Locke prove otherwise. And I started thinking, what if I stopped taking no for an answer? What if I took my life into my own hands? What a scary and exhilarating thought.

 

 

I must confess I am a control freak. I love having every aspect of my life in my own hands. So, you can imagine how picking my own cover, writing my own blurb and keeping my own title appealed to me. I could also release when I felt like it, market how I wanted and leave my prose alone. I didn’t have to please anyone but myself. Then came the research. There are some fantastic resources for self-publishers out there. I picked a book called Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran. That book helped me through the process of formatting, which was harder than I ever imagined. I hired a top-notch editor, cringing at the price, but knowing it might make or break my work. I hired a friend to do my cover art and was pleased with his work. I built a website, a Facebook page and updated my blog. Then I released THE BREEDERS and held my breath.

 

 

Since then, the most amazing thing has happened. Friends, family and even high school classmates I haven’t seen in fifteen years came out of the woodwork to support me. I sold almost 80 books in the first day (and outsold some James Patterson titles for a day!). I’ve been getting five star reviews from people I don’t even know. One friend has organized her book club to feature my book as their next selection. And my drive to write has skyrocketed. All it takes is a couple people saying, “When’s the sequel coming out? I can’t wait” to drive you to your computer day after day.

 

 

So, in the realm of self-publishing, I feel like a success story. True, I’m not on the top one hundred and I certainly can’t quit my day job, but I’ve never been happier. My writing is in my own hands and I’m not taking no for an answer.

 

 

My sincere thanks goes to Katie for sharing her story.  Her novel THE BREEDERS is available now at Amazon.

 

 

If you enjoy a fast-paced story, with unique world-building, and a strong female lead, I highly recommend you download it today!

 

 

Here’s a short blurb:

 

“When the Breeders come for ya, there ain’t no escape. They strap ya to a bed and all ya hear is the thud of your heart and the cries of your friends as they wheel ya down to hell. Then the doctors come. You squeeze your eyes shut and pray you can forget. But ya never do.”

 

Sixteen-year-old Riley Meemick is one of the world’s last free girls. When Riley was born, her mother escaped the Breeders, the group of doctors using cruel experiments to bolster the dwindling human race. Her parents do everything possible to keep her from their clutches– moving from one desolate farm after another to escape the Breeders’ long reach. The Breeders control everything- the local war lords, the remaining factories, the fuel. They have unchecked power in this lawless society. And they’re hunting Riley.

 

 

 

 

Katie French imagined herself an author when her poem caught the eye of her second grade teacher. In middle school she spent her free time locked in her room, writing her first young adult novel. Though her social life suffered, her love for literature thrived. She studied English at Eastern Michigan University, where she veered from writing and earned an education degree. She spent nine years teaching high school English. Currently she is a school counselor, doing a job that is both one of the hardest things she’s ever done and the most rewarding. In her free time she writes, reads great books and takes care of her two beautiful and crazy children. She is a contributor and co-creator of Underground Book Reviews, a website dedicated to erasing the boundaries between traditional and non-traditional publishing. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two children.For more information about Katie you can check her out on Goodreads, Facebook or on her website, Katie French Books.

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Mindee Arnett August 15, 2012

 

 

When I first started researching queries, I looked all over the internet for a great example of how to formulate the perfect pitch.  I went to many sites: Writer’s Digest, Agent Query Connect, etc… looking for one that really stood out and spoke to me on many levels.  Basically, I just wanted to be inspired to write something brilliant.  I searched endlessly and then I came upon the following:

 

16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal. She is a Nightmare, a magical being who must feed on the dreams of others, and in doing so experience those dreams, too. But when her latest dreamer, Eli Booker, the hot guy from her old high school, turns out to be dreaming about a murder which shortly comes true, she goes from non-criminal to reluctant crime fighter.

 

Dusty learns that together she and Eli posses the rare ability to predict the future through dreams. They are soon enlisted by the magickind government to help identify the person killing students at Dusty’s high school, Arkwell Academy, a secret school for magickind. Now Dusty and Eli must follow the clues both within Eli’s dreams and out of them to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what they’re up to and marks them as the next target.

 

This was Mindee Arnett’s pitch for The NIGHTMARE AFFAIR, which garnered her attention from super agent, Suzie Townsend.  Now back then, I didn’t know who Mindee was, I just knew I admired her writing style.  I dug back through my archives and found her name and tracked her down, because I knew I wanted to hear about her writing journey.  Her story taught me that you can have many amazing ideas and manuscripts and the writing to back them up but sometimes they don’t take.  Eventually though, you hit upon a stellar idea and it all just clicks.  Again, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, – it’s all about perseverance and the drive to make your dream a reality.

 

I learned a lot from reading Mindee’s odyssey and I hope you will too!

 

Amy: When did you first begin writing?

 

Mindee: I wrote my very first short story in the sixth grade. My teacher presented the class with a writing prompt, and we had one week to write a story from it. I had always been an avid reader, but I’d never before realized I could write my own stories. It was as if she had opened a door for me to this secret, magical world. And once I stepped through, I never turned back. I’ve been writing ever since.

 

 

Amy: Have you always written YA fiction?

 

Mindee: No, not consciously, although many of my stories and early novels could easily be considered YA. The Nightmare Affair is definitely the first time I knew when I started that I was going to be writing a young adult novel. But this wasn’t a calculated decision on my part by any means. For me, the story is always boss, and Nightmare wanted to be set in a magical high school. The rest just fell into place.

 

 

Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?

 

Mindee: Before signing with my agent, I completed four novels. And by complete I mean they had a beginning, middle, and end, but weren’t necessarily polished and ready to be out in the world. Like most writers just getting started, I submitted material way too soon.

 

The first book was a high fantasy. I submitted it to a single publisher that accepted unsolicited and unagented manuscripts. It was rejected, of course, but by the time I received it, I was already halfway through the next book, an adult horror. This one I submitted to around twenty agents. I received a couple of partials and one full request, all of which were rejected. Again, by the time these came in, I had already moved on to the next book, an adult sci-fi. The sci-fi never went on submission. I took the book to my first and only writing conference where I received feedback from an editor. It was an incredibly disheartening experience, one awful enough that I abandoned the book completely. The next novel was an adult paranormal. This one I queried to approximately 50 agents with some partial and full manuscript request, all ultimately rejected.

 

 

Amy: If one manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move onto a new project?

 

Mindee: For me, the answer was to always start the next project as soon as the old was finished. This was the only way for me to deal with the stress of being on submission to agents (and later to editors). And of course with five novels under my belt, writing has become a daily habit and something I do compulsively. As far as determining when to stop querying, I just went with my gut feeling. With the book prior to Nightmare, the adult paranormal, I stopped querying once the heartbreak grew to be too much and when my desire and motivation to continue to revise/rewrite had fizzled out. Sometimes you just know when the tale has gone sour.

 

 

Amy: Did your query for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR come easily or did it go through many drafts?

 

Mindee: Writing a query letter is never easy. And personally, I would be suspicious of any query that I was able to write without days and days of agonizing and restarts and general flailing. A query letter and a synopsis are by far the hardest piece of writing an author will ever do. The query for Nightmare, which you can read here [http://www.mindeearnett.com/query-letter-example-and-tips-2/], went through multiple variations. By the time I finished writing it, I had fifteen pages of rejected content. Fifteen! That’s a lot of writing.

 

 

Amy: Did you have critique partners for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR? If you did, how critical were they to your writing process?

 

Mindee: Yes, I most definitely have critique partners and they were/are absolutely critical to the writing process. Prior to Nightmare, the majority of my feedback had come from family members and friends. They were all readers, but most were not writers. This is the key difference. Readers tend to be far less critical and forgiving than reader-writers. It took me a long time to learn this (ahem, 4 books). But with Nightmare, I actively started searching for critique partners online, and I was fortunate enough to find them. One in particular—Lori M. Lee [http://lorimlee.blogspot.com/ ] —has been invaluable to my success. She is both encouraging but critical and as sharp as they come. If you’re writing a book, you need a Lori. Trust me. You do. And once your find yours, your world will change.

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?

 

Mindee: I queried less than ten agents before signing with Suzie, and it happened very quickly. Within seven days of submitting my query, she offered representation. But honestly, quickness of response is not really an indicator of success. So much of it depends on luck. For me, Suzie had an assistant working for her at the time, and so the query received notice very quickly. But this is not always the case. A lot of the time an agent won’t see your query at all for days and even weeks.

 

 

Amy: What can you tell me about “the call” with your agent, Suzie Townsend?

 

Mindee: It was amazing. I was incredibly nervous about it, and I talked way too fast, but really, it was probably the best phone call of my life. Fortunately, Suzie did most of the talking. She was very professional. She had prepared a list of why she loved the book as well as a couple of questions she had about it and minor areas where she would like to see it revised. I took notes and did a lot of pacing.

 

 

Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

Mindee: No. There were times when I despaired about no longer submitting my work to agents, but I knew in my heart I could never give up writing. Writing, and more specifically story-telling, is an integral part of who I am. I could no sooner turn away from writing stories then I could make myself stop reading books or watching movies and TV shows.

 

Many thanks to Mindee for taking the time to share her story.

 

Mindee’s book, THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR, will be released March, 2013. She currently lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats.  She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space.  Her short stories have appeared in various magazines, and she has a Master of Arts in English literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She also blogs and tweets.  Find her online at http://www.mindeearnett.com/

 

 

 

My Slightly Past Mid-Year Resolution August 14, 2012

 

 

I often wonder if many writers have gotten off track like I have recently.  It’s difficult to write at home when you have kids screaming for breakfast, lunch, snack, etc… and then you’re in the car at least eight hours a day playing chauffeur.  It doesn’t help either that it’s 115 degrees outside and only getting hotter.

 

I’ve tried this summer to eek out small windows of time to write, but to be honest it just isn’t working.  Why?

 

Here are the reasons:

 

1) I can’t stick with one idea – I’ve got two manuscripts going right now and I have no focus

 

2) I spend too much time reading other people’s blogs about their publishing success – and pining for the day mine will come (yes, pathetic I know – but still true… and don’t laugh, I know there are lots of you out their just like me!)

 

3) My usually positive, “you-can-do-it” attitude has been on sabbatical a looong time.  I’ve gotten into a writing funk where I second guess every idea. How did this happen and better yet, how do I make it go away?

 

So instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve decided it’s time for a “Slightly Past Mid-Year Resolution.”

 

My aspirations:

 

- Carve out a definitive block of time to write.  I am not going to stop and second guess myself.  I’m just going to let the words come and edit another day.

 

- Choose which MS has the most potential and stick with it.  No double-backing or worrying about whether or not it’s right for the market. Just full steam ahead.

 

- Stop envying what other writers have accomplished.  Be proud of my own work and continue to have faith that in time it WILL happen for me too.

 

What about you?  Are you in a writing funk? Have you ever been in a deep, dark, directionless writing pit and clawed your way out?  If so, I’d love to hear how you shook yourself out of it.

 

Let’s hope this works.  If it doesn’t I may just be writing another post in a few months titled, “Just Before New Year’s, New Year’s Resolution.” I hope not.

 

Perseverance Wins The Day! August 10, 2012

 

 

Watching writer friends struggle is difficult to watch.  You’ve read their MS and you know it’s strong, so you feel for them when they query and nothing comes of it.  Their books should be on the shelves, you know it in your gut, but they still can’t seem to land that elusive agent.

 

So when a successful day happens for one of them (or more than one of them), I want to shout it from the mountain tops.

 

So today, this is me shouting…

 

My amazingly talented critique buddy, Katie French, published her first e-book which is now available.  Her novel, THE BREEDERS is a stunning debut with a taut plot and well-drawn, compelling characters.

 

 

 

 

Sixteen-year-old Riley Meemick is one of the world’s last free girls. When Riley
was born, her mother escaped the Breeders, the group of doctors using cruel
experiments to bolster the dwindling human race. Her parents do everything
possible to keep her from their clutches– moving from one desolate farm after
another to escape the Breeders’ long reach. The Breeders control everything- the
local war lords, the remaining factories, the fuel. They have unchecked power in
this lawless society. And they’re hunting Riley.

 

When the local Sheriff abducts the adult members of her family and hands her mother over to the
Breeders, Riley and her eight-year-old brother, Ethan, hiding in a shelter, are
left to starve. Then Clay arrives, the handsome gunslinger who seems determined
to help to make up for past sins. The problem is Clay thinks Riley is a bender–
a genderless mutation, neither male nor female. As Riley’s affection for Clay
grows she wonders can she trust Clay with her secret and risk her
freedom?

 

The three embark on a journey across the scarred remains of New
Mexico– escaping the Riders who use human sacrifice to appease their Good
Mother, various men scrambling for luck, and a deranged lone survivor of a
plague. When Riley is shot and forced into the Breeder’s hospital, she learns
the horrible fate of her mother—a fate she’ll share unless she can find a way
out.

 

 

In addition to Katie’s success, I also wanted to congratulate RC Lewis who was my first featured W.O.W. author.  She made this announcement yesterday about her debut novel.

 

These two women inspire me and prove that if you believe in the dream, and work to make it happen, it will most certainly come true.

 

Now, back to the writing!  Have a great weekend.

 

 
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