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QUITE THE QUERY with Michelle Smith and PLAY ON August 22, 2014

QuiteTheQuery

(Logo illustration courtesy of Vanessa Henderson (@VR_Henderson)

 

 

If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few writers say that writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!

 

Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences. But for those who don’t, I wanted to provide a resource so writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

Every other Friday (hopefully) I will share a writer’s successful query along with a little behind the scenes tidbit. I hope you’ll come back for each new post, and help me spread the word about what I think can be an important resource for querying writers.

 

Thank you!

 

Here is the series’ first installment courtesy of the lovely and amazing author, Michelle Smith…

 

 

Hi there! I’m querying in hopes you may be interested in PLAY ON, which is a YA Contemporary that I would describe as Friday Night Lights with fun and flirty romance.

 

Seventeen-year-old Austin Braxton is living the dream: he’s got a super-hot girlfriend, a fastball that would make Nolan Ryan drool, and a scholarship to South Carolina’s top university. Okay . . . maybe “dream” is a stretch. The hot girlfriend isn’t much to brag about when she’s hell on the heart, and Allie’s drama is destroying Austin’s pitching mojo, right along with his GPA. Bye-bye, scholarship.

 

Or maybe not.

 

Enter Marisa, the new girl working at the Braxton family’s flower shop. The green-eyed chemistry genius knocks the good ol’ boy clean off his feet. Her love for baseball and the Atlanta Braves rivals even Austin’s. He’s convinced he’s found perfection personified . . . until he discovers the scars covering Marisa’s wrists.  When a downward spiral into depression’s darkness lands Marisa in the hospital, Austin’s terrified he may be in over his head.

 

The baseball god of Lewis Creek is just a small town guy with a major league dream. With Marisa, he might actually be able to have it all, if he can realize how perfectly imperfect love is.

 

And if his crazy ex-girlfriend would leave him the heck alone, that’d be pretty great, too.

 

PLAY ON is complete at 50,000 words, and is available upon request.

 

 

 

Tidbit: I sent about 40ish queries for PLAY ON, while also participating in PitchMAS in July 2013. I received a handful of requests, including one from my agent, Lana Popovic. The funny thing is that I’d actually queried Lana the month before, but my query was still sitting in her inbox. I sent her a super awkward tweet that went something like, “Oh hey, I already queried you, so…now what?” She was incredibly sweet and asked me to send her a reminder email, which I did. I signed with her a few short weeks later, on the day before my birthday!

 

 

Disclaimer: In the past year, I’ve signed with Spencer Hill Contemporary and PLAY ON has undergone extensive edits, which included the elimination of a fairly major character and her sub-plot, both of which are mentioned in the query. So, our leading man no longer has a crazy ex-girlfriend standing in his way. ;)

 

 

 

 

 

Play On

 

 

 

 

In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.

 

Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius; she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek — he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.

 

As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa’s pain, it forces him to look beyond the façade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything—maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.

 

 

 

Michelle Smith Author PhotoMichelle Smith writes books for teens (and adults who aren’t ashamed of their love for YA). She’s a lover of all things happy, laughs way too much, and is a complete sap. She advocates for mental health awareness, and is a strong supporter of The Trevor Project and To Write Love on Her Arms. Michelle lives in North Carolina with her family. Her YA Contemporary, PLAY ON, will be released by Spencer Hill Contemporary in April 2015. For more on Michelle, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@MichelleA_Smith).

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Christina Lee July 30, 2014

WOW

 

 

I was lucky enough to meet today’s featured writer, Christina Lee, at the Romantic Time (RT) Convention in May of this year. What struck me most about Christina was her kindness (especially when I peppered her with all sorts of writing questions) but also her honesty in sharing the ups and downs of publishing. I was already a huge fan of her books when I met her, but I think my adoration for her as grown even more with this interview!

 

Many thanks to Christina for sharing her writing journey today…

 

 

Amy: When did you begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?

 

Christina: I wrote my first novel in 2008 while I was a local newspaper columnist. It was adult paranormal and pretty horrible, but great practice. Then I tried my hand at YA and began querying after I revised the heck out of my next novel.

 

 

Amy: Was ALL of YOU your first New Adult manuscript?

 

Christina: Yes. I had written three YA novels before that and was on my fourth. I had always been an avid reader of romance and an idea came to me about writing a virgin college guy named Bennett.

 

 

Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?

 

Christina: Let’s be honest, querying is brutal. But it teaches you so much about rejection, which you experience on every single level in this business and in life. I was on sub to pub houses with two previous agents, one had who left the business. So you can still struggle even after you find an agent. And there’s no perfect rhyme or reason to it.

 

 

Amy: Publishing can be a very difficult business. What do you think has inspired you to keep writing through good times and bad?

 

Christina: Simple answer: My love of writing fiction. And that dream I had of being traditionally published someday. I was willing to tweak that dream quite honestly and would have, had I not found success with ALL OF YOU.

 

 

Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Sara Megibow?  How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

Christina: It went really fast with Sara, just days from her reading my manuscript to the call. I knew she was the right fit for me because it immediately felt different–in my gut. It’s true that you do need to listen to your gut. If there are doubts, verbalize them immediately.

 

 

Amy: If you were giving a keynote speech at a writers conference, what would be the most important piece of advice you would share?

 

Christina: Do not compare yourself against other writers—it’s a hard lesson to learn, one I still struggle with. It’s better to compete with yourself—grow stronger and wiser and perfect your craft.

 

 

A little info on Christina’s latest, WHISPER TO ME:

 

 

 

 

Whisper To Me

 

 

 

A hot and consuming New Adult romance about a wayward musician and the one girl who keeps him grounded…

 

At college, Rachel has a reputation for being a sarcastic flirt with a thing for star athletes. No one at school knows that she’d had her heart ripped to shreds by her high school sweetheart, who’d driven them both off the side of the road on a borrowed motorcycle, and then abandoned her. No one knows the real Rachel Mattson—except one person…

 

Ever since he helped nurse his sister’s feisty best friend back to health, pierced bass player Kai Nakos has been head over heels in love. But the supposed bad boy can’t risk letting Rachel know the truth—especially now that the two of them are back in their hometown for the summer, together for the first time since the months following that fateful night. Never mind that Rachel’s ex is back, groveling for her forgiveness.

 

Shaken by her ex’s return, Rachel finds herself turning to the one guy she knows she can trust. Kai is willing to hide his feelings for her, just to have Rachel touch him again. After all, this is only a temporary fling. Until it becomes something more. But maybe it had been more all along.

 

 

 

Christina WOW

Mother, wife, reader, dreamer. Christina lives in the Midwest with her husband and son–her two favorite guys. She’s addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. She believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job.  Author of the Between Breaths series from Penguin. ALL OF YOU, BEFORE YOU BREAK and WHISPER TO ME available now, PROMISE ME THIS on October 7th, 2014.

 

She is represented by Sara Megibow of The Nelson Literary Agency. Also the creator of Tags-n-Stones (dot com) jewelry. For more on Christina, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

 

QUERY 101 SERIES : Handling the “Call” – Guest Post from Literary Agent Pooja Menon July 18, 2014

Query 101B

 

Finally, the queries are sent. You wait and wait for replies, and then one day your email pings with a request. You shoot the full manuscript out to the requesting agent, and then you wait (and sometimes wait and wait again) until you get the dreaded rejection OR the lovely email titled, “Can we talk?”

 

First, if this happens, it’s okay to freak out a little. Do a “Muppet Flail” and perhaps even a little booty shake. You’ve worked very hard to get to this point and you’ve earned a victory shimmy. But once the adrenaline finishes pumping out of your system, you have to take a deep breath and think, “What do I do next? Should I ask about revisions? Or what about the next book I’m writing?” All good questions, but there are a myriad of other things you need to think about before that important call.

 

Today, I’ve asked Literary Agent, Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, to share what she thinks are important things a writer should ponder and ask about during their “call.”

 

 

 

 “The Call”

By Pooja Menon

 

 

Writing a book is not an easy business. Anyone who tells you it is or should be doesn’t really have a clue about what goes into writing a full length book. Coming up with an original plot, fleshing out characters that are relatable and unique, minding the pacing, creating plot twists…phew! It’s definitely a labor of love, sweat and tears. And then you have the querying process. Another episode of nail biting stress, tears, and ultimately, when that offer comes into your inbox wrapped in a shiny red bow: extreme happiness! You deserve this moment, so does your baby. All of this leads to the ultimate moment of reckoning: THE CALL. This is the moment when you decide if the offer you’ve received is the best option for you and your baby. This is also that moment where, before you get on the train that never stops–revising, going out on submission, getting a deal, getting published, etc–where sometimes you feel like things are slipping out of your hands, YOU have the power to decide the next step. Sometimes you might have one offer, and sometimes you might have multiple offers and deciding among all the offers you receive can be a tense, brain-cramping experience. But it’s also such an exhilarating one.

 

So what makes the call so important (and nerve-wracking)? It’s the conversation that determines whether you and the agent ‘click’. The space where you and the agent can really get to know each other. Considering the agent-author relationship is usually a long-term business relationship, it’s so important to be able to connect with each other as people and as business partners with the same vision and outlook, the same work ethic. It’s a relationship in which you might find yourself having to do uncomfortable things (such as revise and get critiqued), where you’re going to have to trust someone else’s opinion on what is best for the work you’ve worked so hard on. None of this is easy. But, if you really invest in the call to get to know your prospective agent, then this process can actually be an enjoyable one. Having that one person fighting in your corner for your project, that one person with whom you can discuss your worries about your work, about the whole publishing process in general, someone to watch your back and make sure you get the best deal possible, who is equally invested in the success of your book: it can be such a positive, strengthening experience in what is mostly a lonely profession that can at times move as fast as lightening or as slow as a tortoise.

 

SO, how can the whole experience be made easier? Well, here are somethings to think about:

 

1) Research the agent/agents who’ve offered you representation. Read their website pages, blogs, interviews, find out what they’re looking for, what they’ve sold, who they represent, how comfortable or connected you feel to the way they come off to you from all of the above (trust your intuition!). Do you feel positive?

 

2) Look to see what questions they’ve already answered from all of the above places before you craft your questions. If an agent has already answered a question dozens of times during an interview or blog post, asking them the same thing is a waste of time, especially when you can use that time to ask other, more pressing questions. Also, we agents really appreciate authors who’ve made the effort to research our interests.

 

3) This is a call to talk about your work, so take a deep breath, find your enthusiasm, and dive into it. Agents are people just like you. Keep your nervousness aside, they want to talk to you about your book, the book they loved so much they want to work with you on it. This is a good space to find out what they loved about your work, and which areas they thought needed work. It is important not to make this call session sound like an inquisition or a grill session. That is uncomfortable and somewhat unnatural (to me). I want to get to know you as a person and an author. And I’m open to any questions you might have, but try as best as you can not to make an agent feel like she’s taking the stand :).

 

4) No question is a dumb question, so don’t hold back or be shy about something you want to know. Most of us would rather you laid things out on the table upfront, before we get into a work relationship. It’s much harder and messier to deal with the discovery that the agent and author have different visions and expectations after we’ve signed together. So be upfront with the agent about your vision for the project. Also, find out what genres they do represent and don’t (if you can’t find this from your research). If you like to write across different genres, you want to be sure the agent represents them.

 

5) As agents, what we are looking for most in a prospective client are the following attributes: a friendly, upbeat attitude, someone who is respectful of our time, flexible, understands that sometimes there aren’t enough work hours in the day, so is patient for a response, someone who constantly challenges themselves with projects, tries to keep abreast of the market and what’s coming out and what has been overdone, has an interest in wanting to promote themselves on social media (if you don’t have social media pages, agents will definitely help you set things up, but it’s up to the author to do the actual legwork, that means authors who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their author profile out, to connect with prospective readers and fellow writers), and most importantly, someone who is willing to dive into revisions with a positive attitude.

 

On a daily basis, agents read tons of manuscripts as well as books outside of work. Having read so many, and having interacted with editors on a constant basis, we have a good idea of what works and doesn’t work in today’s market. So any advice we give will not only be a fresh, objective perspective, but it’ll also be one that takes all of the above things into consideration (trends, demand, editor wish lists, snappy writing, unique plot, etc). So it’s in the author’s best interest to hear us out and trust our judgement. Definitely, we want our authors to have their own opinions if they feel strongly about something. But be open and willing to talk about it respectfully and honestly, and be willing to listen and accept advice, because, at the end, we both have the same goal. To make the book the strongest it can be. So trust the agent to do her job, just as she trusts you as an author to do yours.

 

6) Be warm and enthusiastic on the phone. Sound interested. I know this is an odd point, and I haven’t had this experience many times. But a few times, when I’ve picked up the phone to talk to an author, the author’s tone has thrown me off. I understand such a disconnected or uninterested tone can be the outcome of nervousness. But this does more harm that good. Such a conversation space makes it very hard for the agent to be warm and upbeat and excited about the project if the person on the other end doesn’t mirror the same emotions. This is YOUR book, we expect you to be excited, we expect you to talk our ear off about your dreams and visions and projects. If what we get on the other line is the sound of chirping crickets whenever we stop talking, or a nonchalant reply to our questions, then to me that is a red flag. I want to look forward to talking to my clients. My authors and I work very closely, brainstorming ideas and edit notes, discussing the submission process, etc. We’re in touch a lot. If I’m going to feel that dreaded feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I have to do these things with an author, that relationship is definitely not going to work out. In a lot of cases, YOU can chart the course and tone of how the relationship with your agent goes. So be mindful of that.

 

7) BE YOURSELF. I know this is simple advice and probably sounds silly. But no need to ‘put your best foot forward’ or ‘your best self forward’. You can’t consistently be your best self 24/7, neither can we.

 

8) Have realistic expectations about the publishing business. This is a business of passion and dreams. Of stories. At the same time, this is not an industry that moves all that fast, and sometimes that can be disappointing and frustrating, like beating your head against a wall. But have faith and be positive, and be willing to continue to put your 100% in your work and in your agent. Just as you’re working on your book, she’s working to get your book out there. There’s no point in being angry and dissatisfied by the pace of the industry, or the speed with which your agent works. Trust that she/he knows what they’re doing.

 

I’ve heard stories where authors get annoyed at their agents for not subbing to as many editors as they’d like, or to specific editors that they’d like. It is very claustrophobic for an agent to work in an atmosphere where the author is constantly questioning or second-guessing their choices or their work. Trust that they know who the best people are for your particular manuscript. By all means, if you have a dream editor, let your agent know, but do not email her weekly with editors you think she should query. She probably has a good reason for not subbing to too many agents at one time or subbing to only specific editors from specific houses. That is one aspect of our job, to know whom to submit to and where to submit to, so take a breath and focus on another project, keep your mind busy. Know that an agent can’t control the speed with which things in the industry moves, we can’t control the speed of editors’ responses or manipulate their tastes. It can become very easy to blame someone else for things like that. But be wary of that. The agenting community is a small one, and such an attitude can quickly be more alienating than helpful. Also, consider that an agent is juggling not just one client but many, and trying to find homes for not just one project but many. So be realistic about your expectations, and patient.

 

9) Lastly, at the end of the call, be pleasant. Thank the agent for calling. Just as you like to keep the phone feeling warm and fuzzy, we do too! :)

 

Some questions to consider asking during THE CALL:

 

1) What are the terms of the representation being offered? Is the agent interested in representing one book or is she looking for something long-term?

 

2) Once you sign together, what happens next? What is her submission process like?

 

3) Is there an author-agent agreement? Will you be spending money out of your pocket at any time-mailing, copies, faxes, phone calls, any other fees?

 

4) What happens if you want to terminate your relationship with your agent?

 

5) Once terminated, will you get back all the unsold rights for your projects?

 

6) Ask about the agent’s recent sales. If you’re talking to a new agent, find out if the agency she works for has a healthy amount of recent sales, if the agency is a reputable agency, what they represent, etc.

 

7) Who handles the film rights, foreign rights, and audio rights?

 

8) How often does the agent touch base with the author?

 

9) Does the agent prefer phone, email, or either mode is fine?

 

10) Does the agent let you know where and when she’s going to submit your work?

 

11) Will they forward rejections letters to you?

 

12) Does the agent consult the author before making decisions on the offers they receive? Does the agent make decisions on behalf of the client?

 

13) What is the process of receiving payments or royalties? Does the agent process it first and send it to the author, or does the author get their payment directly from the publisher? If the money is being sent to the agent first, how long will it take for the agent to send the author her checks?

 

14) How hands-on is the agent?

 

15) In terms of your own work, what editorial suggestions does the agent have? How close is the book to going out on sub?

 

16) Will the agent help with career planning? What about helping with publicizing your work (this is something an agent can definitely help you on by guiding you, but the main legwork has to be done by the author)?

 

17) What editors/publishers does the agent have in mind for the author’s book?

 

18) If you want to write in a different genre or category someday, what is the agent’s opinion on that?

 

19) What happens if the agent doesn’t like your next book?

 

Note: questions like: How long has the agent been an agent, how long have they been in publishing, is the agent listed in Publishers Marketplace, etc are all information you can most often find on their websites or by doing a bit of research. As agents, we all work differently. Best thing to do is to see which method of working is most comfortable to you, suits you most, and go with your intuition.

 

On an end note, don’t be nervous. Think of us as your best allies in this infuriatingly wonderful world of publishing. And remember, the reason we’re having this conversation in the first place is because we were simply blown away by your masterpiece :), and we want to work with you and represent the amazing author that you are. So, try and get to us know, like we want to get to know you.

 

PoojaPooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. In the fall of 2012, she began taking on her own clients. As a relatively new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She represents both Adult and YA fiction/non-fiction and select Middle Grade.

 

 

Chanel Cleeton on Creating Compelling NA Voice July 17, 2014

Recently my friend, and amazing author, Chanel Cleeton released LONDON FALLING, the follow-up to her debut, I SEE LONDON. This fun and flirty New Adult Contemporary is full of charm and swoony romance! In celebration of this release, I wanted to share again Chanel’s recent guest post on creating authentic NA voice. I think it touches on some important points, not only about the category, but writing in general.

 

 

Getting to a New Adult State of Mind

By Chanel Cleeton

 

 

 

Writing New Adult is all about capturing the spirit of being eighteen to twenty-six years old. This time in your life is a huge transitional period—you’re facing new adventures like finding your way in the world, starting a career, falling in love, and leaving home. New Adult is also about juggling the responsibilities of adulthood without having the experience or complete confidence you may need to face the challenges thrown your way. As a writer you want to convey this spirit to your readers—creating relatable characters and situations. I find that personal experience is one of the best tools you can utilize when writing New Adult.

 

 

For me, at twenty-eight, my New Adult years are a very recent memory. I draw a lot on personal experiences and my friends’ experiences. I find that this brings authenticity to my characters. For example, in one of the scenes in I SEE LONDON, my heroine talks about changing the assigned ringtone for a certain guy in her cell phone so she’ll know when he calls. It’s a little thing but something I totally did when I was single. I’ve had readers comment on it because they’ve done the same. Putting realistic details and emotions in your book goes a long way to connecting with your readers and making your characters authentic.

 

 

If you’re interested in writing New Adult, real life is a great source of inspiration. Even if your New Adult years were a while ago, still think back and remember how you felt during those years. Think about the challenges you faced, adventures you had, and changes you went through. Think of pieces of your past and experiences that you can put into your characters. If you’re around teens or twentysomethings, they are also a wonderful resource.

 

 

Another step to adopting a New Adult mindset is to read widely within the category. Books like Easy by Tammara Webber, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, Losing It by Cora Carmack, and Wait for You by Jennifer Armentrout, writing as J. Lynn, are all staples. Reading these books will give you a sense of the category’s origins. That said—New Adult isn’t just about contemporary romance. The category is developing and evolving over time and the New Adult spirit is prevalent whether you’re writing dystopian or contemporary.

 

 

Popular culture can also be an excellent inspiration for writing New Adult. Shows like Girls, Felicity, Vanderpump Rules, Ugly Betty, later seasons of Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars, and One Tree Hill, are all representative of the New Adult spirit. Movies like 21, Pitch Perfect, Legally Blonde, and The Social Network also depict the challenges and adventures of life as a twentysomething. Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour are also great resources—especially the sections that include reader input.

 

 

Honestly, writing New Adult can be challenging and a little scary. As a writer, it can push you outside of your comfort zone. The current market is pretty sexy. That doesn’t mean you have to write steamy New Adult stories—I firmly believe that there is room for all heat levels. If you want to—great. If you’re uncomfortable—find what works for you. I wrote Young Adult before switching to New Adult and it was a challenge for me to feel comfortable writing sexy scenes that weren’t the fade-to-black that we so often see in younger stories. But in my case, an increased heat level fit my characters, and I went for it because it was the best thing for the story. That said, it’s still not as hot as some New Adult books and that’s okay.

 

 

 

London Falling

 

 

 

Maggie Carpenter walked away from the hottest encounter of her life when she left the seductive glitz of England for summer break in her South Carolina hometown. Now that she’s returned to the International School in London—and sexy, privileged Samir Khouri is once again close enough to touch—she can’t help but remember the attraction, the drama … the heartbreak.

 

She can’t help but want him even more.

 

Samir can’t afford to fall for someone so far removed from his world, not when his time in London is running out. It’s his senior year—his last chance at freedom before he returns home to Lebanon. There, he’ll be expected to follow in his father’s footsteps—not follow his heart to Maggie. But when a scorching secret hookup becomes a temptation neither can resist, they’ll both have to fight to survive the consequences … and find a future together.

 

Available now for purchase via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and iBooks.

 

 

ChanelOriginally a Florida girl, CHANEL CLEETON moved to London where she received a bachelor’s degree from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chanel fell in love with London and planned to stay there forever, until fate intervened on a Caribbean cruise, and an American fighter pilot with smooth dance moves swept her off her feet. Now, a happily ever after later, Chanel is living her next adventure in South Korea.

Law school made Chanel realize she’d rather spend her days writing sexy stories than in a courtroom, and she hasn’t looked back since. An avid reader and hopeless romantic, she’s happiest curled up with a book. She has a weakness for handbags, her three pups, and her fighter pilot husband. Chanel writes New Adult contemporary romances and thrillers.

 

She is the author of I SEE LONDON and LONDON FALLING, published by Harlequin HQN, and FLIRTING WITH SCANDAL, the first book in a new NA series to be released by Berkley in 2015.

 

First Five Frenzy with Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD July 11, 2014

FFF SideWords

 

 

If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.

 

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.

 

Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Elizabeth Harding’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

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

 

Elizabeth: I am a patient reader, so for me the first line doesn’t make or break my decision to continue reading. But a pedestrian opening paragraph certainly can color my mindset as I read through the opening pages.

 

 

Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

Elizabeth: The types of common openings that you mention as something to avoid are all symptoms of the main problem – starting the book before the actual story begins. I think it behooves authors to honor the beginning of their story and not try to wrap it up in pretty packaging that might serve more to detract the reader than draw in the reader.

 

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

 

Elizabeth: I’m not sure there is a singular reason, to be honest. Sometimes I ask for a manuscript because the genre is one that helps fill a hole on my list. Or the subject happens to be of personal interest to me. But always I have to feel like this is a writer who can tell a story and develop a character. Over the past 2-3 years, the overall quality of the partial or full manuscripts that I’ve requested based on emailed queries seems higher than in year’s past, so I see a lot of writing that is ‘fine’ or ‘above average.’ And by this I mean writing where I probably will read the entire manuscript if I requested it just because I want to know what happened, but not writing that I necessarily would remember in detail as I moved to the next project. But when I see first pages where it is clear that the writing is elevated or the characters and plot feel fresh and not derivative, I always find it exciting and enticing.

 

 

Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?

 

Elizabeth: I’ve seen plenty of opening pages which I consider to be overwritten from a descriptive language standpoint. I do think it is important as a writer to let your ability to set the stage – tone, setting, atmosphere, etc. – shine in the opening pages, but unless I have an idea of the voice and a general sense of the direction of the manuscript, I think the opening pages aren’t working the way they should to help frame the reader’s expectation of what is to come.

 

 

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

 

Elizabeth: For me, I think it always comes down to an authentic and accessible voice. Unless I connect with the voice and lose myself in it relatively quickly, I usually feel a disconnect with the writing, regardless of a snappy pace or a unique concept or plot.

 

 

Elizabeth Harding represents authors and illustrators of juvenile, middle-grade, young adult and teen fiction at Curtis Brown (www.curtisbrown.com). Elizabeth started at the agency as an assistant to the legendary Marilyn E. Marlow, and she has been at Curtis Brown for more than seventeen years. Elizabeth represents New York Times bestsellers, Newberry, National Book Award, Printz and Coretta Scott King honor award winners. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and lives in Manhattan with her husband and three young boys. @ehardingnyc

 

If you are interested in submitting to Elizabeth, please check the Curtis Brown website for guidelines.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Explore a City, Discover a Story July 7, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Inspiration,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 7:33 am
Tags: , ,

 

NYC - Met (Central Park & NYC skyline taken from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 

 

I’m not one of those people who has a million plot bunnies scurrying around in their brain (I wish). Story ideas usually come to me in one of two ways: through music or exploring new cities. I really don’t know what it is about these two things, but they get my creative juices flowing in a way nothing else can.

 

The musical inspiration is one thing. I can turn on the radio anywhere, flip the dial, and instantly connect with something. The exploring new cities, well, that’s a whole other thing.

 

Most of the time people go on vacation to take a break from writing. To let their mind go and relax. But for me, that has never really ever been the case (much to my family’s chagrin). It’s not like I go looking for inspiration – but it always seems to find me.

 

If you follow this blog regularly then you know my latest manuscript, a YA Historical, was inspired by a trip last year to the Field Museum in Chicago. There I was minding my own business, checking out dinosaur bones and old coal mines, when WHAMMO I came across a word of note about an item being displayed. Suddenly all the cylinders in my brain were clicking, and I was opening the notes app. on my phone to scribble out ideas. Now, I didn’t go looking for inspiration, yet there she was in all her glory, begging me to write this story, and I couldn’t say “no.”

 

Want to know the item that inspired me? Here it is…(note: this is not the exact plane from the museum – but a similar version)

 

 

Jenny photo

 

 

I just finished what I hope will be the final revisions on this manuscript. The process has taken well over a year and has been one of the most challenging projects I have ever taken on. It is also the manuscript that has completely swallowed me heart and soul, and given me more joy than anything else I have ever written.

 

With the final sentence revised on this manuscript, I left for New York City, ready for some much needed rest. But, of course, that rest lasted a whole two days, and I blame that on this lady…

 

 

StatueofLiberty

 

 

I was scurrying around the base of the Statue of Liberty on a gorgeous June day when something on the audio tour caught my attention. Quickly, I paused the narrative, rewound it, and listened once more to an amazing story about the day she was revealed, and again, WHAMMO – inspiration! I’m not going to get into details about the story, but let’s just say it’s going to feature a cool cast of female heroines!

 

For me, new cities bring out a curiosity I don’t usually have. When I walk past an old, crumbling home I stop and take pictures, wondering who once lived there and develop a backstory in my head. If we take a wrong turn down a street and pass a historical sign, I pause and read it, questioning whether or not a story could be born from the details shared on the sign. While I should be resting and taking a break, my brain is working overtime to discover every unhidden story within the city I’m visiting.

 

I’m not saying you have to travel far and wide to be inspired. You can go to a part of your own city, be it ten or fifty minutes away, and find inspiration. Perhaps the next idea can come from a new exhibit appearing at your local museum, or from a speaker appearing at a library on the other side of town. My point is this: sometimes exploring new things, wading into new experiences, can open a part of your brain that seeks new ideas. The only thing that matters is you have to be willing and open to those ideas and ready to receive them – even if you intend for your brain to be on a break!

 

What about you? Where do you find inspiration? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUERY 101 SERIES: NUDGING ETIQUETTE June 20, 2014

Query 101B

 

The entire query process is about waiting. First you send the query and then you wait. And wait. And wait. If you get a request, you send your material and wait again. It’s all about patience and well, honestly, keeping yourself distracted so you don’t go crazy.

 

But what if you’ve been waiting longer than usual? Now I’m not talking 3-4 weeks. Most agencies quote on their websites they need at least 6-8 weeks to read queries and/or requested materials. Some require more. Make sure you check the agency’s website before sending that nudge.

 

Yet if you’ve been waiting beyond the specified time, there are certain procedures you should follow in order to follow-up with the requesting agent. First, above all, act professional. Send them an email (preferably within the email request chain) and confirm they have received your materials. Then politely inquire as to when you can expect a reply.

 

I’ve been in this situation before and have had success with nudging. In almost every email I sent to an agent, I received a reply within at least a week. So how do you word such an email? I used the following format which came from agent, Bree Ogden in a great post she did for Lit Reactor:

 

 

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to check on the status of my manuscript [title] sent to you on [date]. I understand you are very busy; I just wanted to make sure it arrived safely in your inbox. Thank you again for your interest in my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

[Name]

 

 

Simple and to the point. You don’t need to go into great detail about your manuscript, but you do need to be straightforward about what information you are requesting from the agent.

 

Let’s be clear here: this is in regards to requested materials. DO NOT nudge on a query. The only reason you should follow-up on a query is if the agency has a reply policy.  If they state they will respond to ALL received queries, and you haven’t heard back, then it is okay to resend the query. BUT that is only in the case where the agency has SPECIFICALLY stated this policy on their submission page.

 

What if you don’t hear back right away from the nudge? I’d recommend giving the agent at least two weeks to reply. If you don’t hear anything, I’d send one more nudge. After that, unfortunately if it’s radio silence, I would assume the agent is passing.

 

The key here again is to stay professional. Many agents are not only juggling clients and conference obligations, but submissions to editors, as well as reading NUMEROUS manuscripts (not only from you but other aspiring writers). It’s hard to wait, believe me I understand, but publishing is all about waiting and PATIENCE (tons of patience). Hang in there, work on something new and cross your fingers that your email soon “dings” with great news!

 

 

Next up in the QUERY 101 series: A special guest post by agent, Pooja Menon, on handling “The Call.”

 

 

 
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