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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.

 

 

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Rebecca Strauss of DeFiore and Company July 25, 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, Rebecca Strauss’ 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?

 

Rebecca: The first lines of a manuscript are quite important.  As an agent, we are often overwhelmed with submissions; so, if our attention is not immediately grabbed, we move on.  That said, to be fair, I definitely give writers more than the first line to hook me.  But having strong opening pages is the key to pulling me into a story.

 

 

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?

 

Rebecca: Weather descriptions are often a turnoff for me.  Unless that weather is an integral part of the story (set in a hurricane/tornado/tsunami– or, the character has weather-related powers ;)), I don’t need to read descriptions of the sunset in the opening.  Also, I typically don’t respond to characters staring in the mirror in opening pages.

 

 

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?

 

Rebecca: If I’ve responded to a submission, I’ve been drawn to the following: a strong voice, a fresh concept, and forward momentum in the story.  I also love a sense of humor– be it light and warm– or dark and edgy.  I want to feel desperate for more pages!

 

 

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

 

Rebecca: A common mistake in opening pages can involve huge information dumps.  It takes skill to work in key information about the characters and setting in an organic way.  Information dumps can pull you out of the story and bore a reader.

 

 

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

 

Rebecca: Can I say all of the above?  ;)  If I were to hone in on one of the indispensable elements, it would be voice.  I can work on the other elements, but voice is key.

 

 

Rebecca Strauss joined DeFiore and Co. in early 2013 after seven years at McIntosh & Otis, Inc. where she was an agent and Director of Subsidiary Rights. She represents: non-fiction, literary and commercial fiction, women’s fiction, urban fantasy, romance, mystery, and YA. Before joining M&O, Rebecca was a foreign rights associate at Trident Media Group, a book scout and development assistant at Sony Pictures and an Account Associate at Ketchum PR. She’s originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and earned her degree in English Literature from Duke University.

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Rebecca, please check the DeFiore and Co. website for their guidelines.

 

Secrets from The Contest Slush (Pile) July 24, 2014

Over the last two years, I’ve been asked to be a reader/judge in four online writing contests. Each time I’m asked to read the slush, I’m overwhelmed by the honor to read writers’ work. Just recently, I was asked to be a “Pyrotechnic” (my reader name due to the contest’s proximity to the Fourth of July holiday) for Michelle Hauck’s New Agent contest.

 

From the beginning it was amazing to watch the entries appear, and by the end there were 190 entries waiting for all of us to read. My first impression overall? Voice. These entries had it in spades. And the quality of writing was top-notch which made my job very difficult.

 

Here are some overall observations from the slush:

 

- Too high or low word counts. If you decide to write in a certain category and genre, be sure you know what is an acceptable word count. I often refer to the two links below to make sure my work is hitting the right numbers. Word count isn’t always hard and fast. There are exceptions, but as a writer you need to be aware of where your numbers fall.

 

Literary Agent Jennifer Laughran’s Wordcount Dracula: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html

 

Writer’s Digest  Definitive Word Count Guide: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

 

- Queries that read like a synopsis. A query should be no more than one page and hit on three topics (which I learned from an agent at a conference):

 

The hook: one sentence that explains your main character’s conflict

 

The book: A paragraph stating your character’s wants/needs/struggles and how he/she is going to conquer them

 

The cook: A short bio including relevant publishing/writing credits

 

One more note: The query should never include the ending. Your final line (the sinker) should leave your reader on a cliffhanger, enticing them to want to read more.

 

- Category issue: Fantasy

 

I saw numerous fantasy entries this time around. Many of them had great concepts, but I got lost in the query due to too much world building. Yes, it’s important to weave in elements of this cool new setting you’ve created, but it should not be the entirety of the query. As a reader what I want to know is character, conflict and cost with setting being a background element.

 

Trends:

 

This time around I saw a lot of:

 

- Alien invasion

 

- Living on other planets for centuries and then returning to Earth

 

- Bullies (in both MG & YA)

 

- Women’s Fiction (lots of broken down women trying to rebuild their life)

 

 

Overall, again I have to say, I was honored to read each and every entry. There is some incredible writing talent out there just waiting for an agent, or publisher, to discover them.

 

So here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. My New Agent picks:

 

Oliver’s Ghost Machine – Upper MG Dark Fantasy

Encircled – YA Fantasy

The Long Walk Home – YA Horror

The Monster’s Den – Adult Literary

 

My Maybes:

 

The Great Pretender: MG Contemporary

The Hopping Dead: MG Sci-Fi

Steve & Austin – MG Adventure

The Other Kind of Normal – YA Contemporary

 

Many thanks again to everyone who entered the New Agent contest. It takes bravery to put your work out there. Like I’ve said before, publishing is very subjective. Because your entry was not selected DOES NOT mean it doesn’t have merit. Keep writing and querying and your time WILL come!

 

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Sarah Guillory July 23, 2014

WOW

 

 

 

Passion. As a writer it’s what drives us. Passion for the written word. For building a story that transports readers to another place and time. It’s also passion that allows us to focus on our dream of being published. In today’s W.O.W., featured author, Sarah Guillory, talks about passion and how as a teacher she encourages her students to find their passion, whatever it may be, and turn it into something that drives them. Great advice for any of us navigating the crazy world of publishing.

 

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing her writing odyssey today…

 

 

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

Sarah: I began writing seriously in the fall of 2009, though I’m not so sure I really believed I would be published. “Seriously” to me meant writing every day. I wrote my first novel over three months that fall, and it was the most exciting and exhilarating experience, but, to be honest, I think I always knew that book wasn’t “the one.” It was my practice novel. It wasn’t until I began revising my first draft of RECLAIMED (summer of 2011) that I realized how badly I wanted it to be published.

 

 

Amy: You currently teach high school English. Do your students inspire your story ideas?

Sarah: I get asked this question a lot, but they really don’t. My characters and their stories come to me through dreams, songs, newspaper articles, etc, but I’ve never had an idea or character come from a student. I’ve stolen a last name and an allergy from a student, but I’ve never had one be an inspiration for a character or idea.

 

 

Amy: One of the things I loved about RECLAIMED was the distinctive voices. Do you find it hard to write male POV?

Sarah: Thank you! The easy answer would be to say yes, but it’s not really the truth. I didn’t really have to work much on Luke’s voice – it came to me fully-formed. I struggled a bit with Ian’s, but honestly, Jenna’s voice was much harder to get right. But my current project also has both male and female POVs, and her voice was easier than his this time around.

 

 

Amy: How many manuscripts had you written prior to RECLAIMED? Was the query process long for you or did it go smoothly?

Sarah: I’d only written one other manuscript prior to RECLAIMED, and I only sent a few queries out. As I mentioned before, it never felt like “the one.” With RECLAIMED, I queried on and off for about a year, but sent queries out only one or two at a time. I know most people advise against that, but I researched agents extensively before sending it out, and research takes time. So I would send it out, do more research, and send more out a few months later. My query letters are never good, so I put it up in the forums at WriteonCon, which is where my editor at Spencer Hill found it. I got my agent, Marcy Posner, with my newest project, about three months after I began querying it.

 

 

Amy: Do you use beta readers or critique partners? If so, how instrumental are they to your writing process?

Sarah: I have the most amazing critique partners, but I found them late in the revising process for RECLAIMED. I’d already done several rounds of revisions on my own, no beta readers (other than family). They really helped tighten it up. With my newest project, I had two beta readers as well as my two critique partners. I never send them rough drafts, because my rough drafts are exceptionally rough. I do at least one round of revisions before I send it to them. They leave detailed inline notes and don’t let me get away with being sloppy or lazy AT ALL. I love that about them.

 

 

Amy: What can you tell me about your “call” with your agent, Marcy Posner? How did you know she was the right fit for you?

Sarah: My call with my agent is probably a little different, since I was sitting in the National Gallery of Art. We both had crazy schedules prior to the call, and I was out of town the next time we were both available, so I spent the morning looking at paintings, had a nice lunch (including a glass of wine to calm me down), and went upstairs to chat with her. But the phone call was a formality at that point. I knew Marcy was the right fit for me when she sent me her edit letter. She sent it to me prior to our phone call so we could discuss it when she called. It was an amazing letter – the parts she loved were the parts I loved, and the areas where she suggested work were places I knew needed attention. She spent an entire paragraph talking about punctuation, and she referenced both Faulkner and John Donne. This English teacher swooned.

 

 

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

Sarah: There was never a moment when I gave up on my writing dream, although there were a few times when I was frustrated and wondered if pursuing publication was worth the stress. But I knew I would never give up writing, because I couldn’t. I’d tried. I’d told myself for years I wasn’t talented enough to be a writer, and yet, even when I tried to do other things, I found myself stopping and writing from time to time. I couldn’t keep myself from writing. Scenes and sentences would float through my mind and I would hurry to scribble them down. When you’re a writer, you’re a WRITER – it’s what you do even when you know it might break your heart. But I am also very stubborn, so I continued to pursue publication, even on the days when it was hard.

 

 

Amy: I’m sure your writing success has inspired your students. What do you tell them about the ups and downs of publishing and pursuing their dreams?

Sarah: The one thing I want for all of my students is for them to be able to pursue their passions – whatever form they take – and I tell them that the only person who can stop you from pursuing those passions is you. I stood in my own way for a long time. But if it’s something you are passionate about, that will sustain you through the inevitable ups and downs. I did well in school, and I run marathons, and now I write books, and sometimes I can tell my students think it is because I am “good” at these things. I let them know up front that my life has less to do with talent and much more to do with hard work. I did well in school because I studied. I finish marathons because I train. And I write books because I sit down and write almost every day. I’m stubborn. I love books and reading and words more than almost anything – I always have. Books are my passion, and I will spend my life pursuing that passion. Stubbornness and love – that’s really what it comes down to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

reclaimed

 

 

 

 

Jenna Oliver doesn’t have time to get involved with one boy, let alone two.

 

All Jenna wants is to escape her evaporating small town and her alcoholic mother. She’s determined she’ll go to college and find a life that is wholly hers—one that isn’t tainted by her family’s past. But when the McAlister twins move to town and Jenna gets involved with both of them, she learns the life she planned may not be the one she gets.

 

Ian McAlister doesn’t want to start over; he wants to remember.

 

Ian can’t recall a single thing from the last three months—and he seems to be losing more memories every day. His family knows the truth, but no one will tell him what really happened before he lost his memory. When he meets Jenna, Ian believes that he can be normal again because she makes not remembering something he can handle.

 

The secret Ian can’t remember is the one Luke McAlister can’t forget.

 

Luke has always lived in the shadow of his twin brother until Jenna stumbles into his life. She sees past who he’s supposed to be, and her kiss brings back the spark that life stole. Even though Luke feels like his brother deserves her more, Luke can’t resist Jenna—which is the trigger that makes Ian’s memory return.

 

Jenna, Ian, & Luke are about to learn there are only so many secrets you can keep before the truth comes to reclaim you.

 

 

Available for purchase via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers.

 

 

SarahGSarah Guillory has always loved words and had a passion for literature.  When she’s not reading or writing, Sarah runs marathons, which she credits with keeping her at least partially sane.  Sarah teaches high school English and lives in Louisiana with her husband and their bloodhound, Gus. Her debut novel, Reclaimed, recently won a Silver Independent Publishers Award and is a finalist for the 2013 Foreword Book of the Year.

Website: www.sarahguillory.com

Blog: http://sarahguillory.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @sguillory262

Tumblr: http://sarahguillory.tumblr.com/

 

 

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.

 

Monday Musings: Blogging – Helping or Hurting Your Writing? July 14, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 6:56 am
Tags: , , ,

Over two and a half years ago I wrote my first entry for this blog, and last Friday I published my 350th post! I’ve said this before, but I had no idea what I was doing when I first started. I’d read somewhere that as a writer you needed to build a social media platform, so I googled blogs, WordPress came up, and I dove in.

 

When I look back on those first posts, I cringe (I really was clueless about blogging), but with every new entry my confidence grew and my writing improved. Yet when I started on my third manuscript, took on an editorial internship, and agreed to beta read for several writers, I found myself regretting my commitment to blogging three days a week. How could I fit it all in? Out of all my commitments, which was most important?

 

The truth is you have to decide what you want to get out of blogging. If you only write posts because you want to build your exposure, then in my opinion, it’s not worth it. Coming up with solid content, and sharing new ideas every week, takes a lot of work. Struggling to post something new is not only a waste of your time, but eventually your lackluster love for your blog will show in what you publish.

 

For me, I continue to blog because I feel it improves my writing. Each week I tackle new topics and try to push myself to find something important to say about writing and/or publishing. When I share a new Writer Odyssey Wednesday or First Five Frenzy, I’m not only providing information I hope will help writers, but I’m learning something new too. In August I’m starting a new series called, QUITE THE QUERY, posting successful queries from writers. My hope is this new series will inspire writers to create a successful query of their own, but I know by sharing each of the entries, I’ll also learn something valuable.

 

In the end, you need to decide how much of your time you want to commit to your overall writing. If you can’t write a new manuscript, revise, and CP, all while maintaining a healthy blog that is okay. The important thing to remember is blogging is a commitment, but it shouldn’t be something that overtakes your writing life. It’s all about balance and finding the right path for you.

 

In order to celebrate surpassing 350th blog posts, I’m giving away a copy of Leigh Bardugo’s RUIN and RISING and Maggie Stiefvater’s latest, SINNER!

 

GIVEAWAY IS OVER. WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED THURSDAY, JULY 17. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO ENTERED!

 

 

 

350giveaway

 

 

 

To qualify for the drawing, share with me one of the most important lessons you’ve learned about writing in the last year. After leaving your comment, please include contact info (either email or Twitter handle).

 

Entry window will close at 12pm EST on Wednesday, July 16. Open to U.S. residents only.

 

Thank you for reading my blog! I appreciate each and every one of you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with A.L. Sonnichsen July 9, 2014

WOW

 

When you first start writing a manuscript I think one of the hardest thing to do is find the character’s voice. From the first page it has to be strong and distinctive, and as a writer you may have to get several pages, or chapters, into a first draft before you discover if it’s working or not. In today’s W.O.W., A.L. Sonnichsen shares how her debut, RED BUTTERFLY, started as Young Adult book, but along the way she discovered the story was much better suited to a Middle Grade voice. While it meant rewriting the entire book, it also meant she found the proper voice for her protagonist. A daring and brave choice that eventually paid off!

 

Many thanks to A.L. for sharing her writing odyssey today…

 

 

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

 

A.L.: I grew up writing books and even majored in writing in college, but it wasn’t until I was turning thirty that I decided to get serious. That was seven years ago now, so it took some time. I’ve learned a lot and I’m so grateful for those years of growth.

 

 

Amy: When did you complete your first Middle Grade manuscript?

 

A.L.: I wrote young adult novels for years. In fact, I was sure my passion was young adult. What I couldn’t understand, though, was why all my favorite books to read were middle grade, and yet, I couldn’t come up with a middle grade plot to save my life! One of my critique partners, in reading a young adult manuscript of mine, told me something that would change my life. She said, “I know this might be devastating to you, but the voice in this manuscript feels wrong. She seems way younger than a teenager!” So, I went back to the drawing board and completely rewrote the book as a middle grade novel. That was a couple years ago and the book turned out to be RED BUTTERFLY, my debut novel. The moral of this story is: listen to your critique partners. Another moral might be: if you’re hitting a brick wall with one genre, try another. Now that I’ve written one middle grade, all my ideas are middle grade and I can’t imagine writing anything else. Weird, huh?

 

 

Amy: I love that you’ve spent a good deal of your life living in Hong Kong. How has that experience influenced your writing?

 

A.L.: Growing up in Hong Kong has influenced my writing so much. When I was a kid I kind of hated that I lived there. Not that life was bad—I had a great childhood—but I felt so different from a “real” American kid and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be normal (whatever that is). Now I’m so grateful for my upbringing. My novel, RED BUTTERFLY, is set in mainland China and I’m working on another manuscript that’s set in Hong Kong. My settings aren’t the only aspects effected. Because I grew up in Hong Kong, I was inspired to go back to Asia as an adult, and that’s where I gained the experiences and inspiration I needed to write RED BUTTERFLY.

 

 

Amy: When you were writing RED BUTTERFLY did you share it with beta readers and/or critique partners? If so, how did they influence your process?

 

A.L.: Yes, I have a trusted group of critique partners. I know everyone has a different system when it comes to polishing their work. For me, I finish a draft, hand it off to a critique partner, receive feedback, and then usually rewrite (or make changes if I’ve already written several drafts). If it’s later in the process, I might have several critique partners read at the same time, just to measure their reaction to see if I’m getting close to sending it out into the big world. With these last readers (who I realize are more like beta readers than critique partners), I gauge how long it takes them to get back to me. If it takes a month or more, I figure I need to tighten up the book and make it more interesting before sending it out. If I’m getting feedback that they can’t put it down, that’s a good sign.

 

 

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

 

A.L.: Querying before I had an agent wasn’t so bad. I was able to develop a tough skin over time. My attitude was that if I was getting a lot of rejections it was because my book (or my query) weren’t ready yet; I tried not to blame the system. This attitude always kept me working hard on my craft and trying to improve. I also queried widely, but not desperately. I didn’t dredge the bottom of the barrel. I always forced myself to shelve the book that wasn’t going anywhere and write something new. In fact, while I was querying, I made it a point to work on something new. This gave me a forward momentum that helped preserve my sanity.

 

I will say, the toughest querying process I faced was after I signed with one agent and then had to part ways with her. I felt like I was back at square one and that was debilitating. But more on that in the next question….

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for RED BUTTERFLY?

 

A.L.: I did not query very many (maybe, five?) because, like I said in my answer to the last question, I was debilitated. I queried a few, received rejections or silence, and was about ready to give up and shelve the book prematurely. I almost made the mistake of listening to my first agent who told me she didn’t think RED BUTTERFLY had a chance. Usually I’m adamant that writers listen to critique (especially from agents!), but in this case, my gut told me she hadn’t actually given my book a good read because she was disappointed my first book hadn’t sold.

 

Thankfully, one of my critique partners came to my rescue and talked to her agent about me. I had received a previous offer from that agent, and my critique partner asked her if she might be interested in reading my newest books. That agent was willing, and, after reading, enthusiastic about my work. Her confidence in my books helped restore my mojo after that first-agent experience.

 

 

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

 

A.L.: Querying is such a roller coaster, such a hurry-up-and-wait game! You can wait for weeks, then be scrambling to send someone a partial or a full that meet their specifications. My experience with RED BUTTERFLY was a little different because I already had my foot in the door, so to speak. But even with a foot in the door, the waiting seemed endless. I tried to fill my waiting time with as much writing as possible!

 

 

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

 

A.L.: That call was wonderful! *happy sigh* I felt very comfortable with Kate and was so happy that she loved my books. I also needed the assurance that she was going to stick with me whether my books sold or not. With my past agent experience, that was very important to me.

 

 

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

 

A.L.: The first time I heard about Kate, my agent, was when I entered a Miss Snark’s First Victim contest with my very, very first book. Kate was the Secret Agent and liked my writing and wanted to see a partial. This was a book that was getting nothing but rejections from EVERYBODY (because the plot stunk). Of course, she gently rejected me after the partial, but her interest kept me going, and it’s an awesome and ironic thing that she’s now my agent!

 

 

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

 

A.L.: Persevere! That means, finish the book you’re in the middle of writing. It also means, when querying, keep querying. And if it’s time to move on, get that new idea down on paper. Keep moving forward. Focus on improvement. You can’t control trends or agent/editor interest, but you can perfect your craft and develop good work habits that will help you so much when you do land a contract.

 

 

 

 

Front Cover - Red Butterfly

 

 

 

Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more?

 

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.

 

 

A.L.SonnichsenA.L. Sonnichsen is a Hong Kong-raised mom of five, football coach’s wife, and Brussels sprouts-addicted middle grade writer represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary. Her middle grade verse novel, RED BUTTERFLY (Simon & Schuster BFYR), will be out in February, 2015. You can find her at her blog, The Green Bathtub ( http://alsonnichsen.blogspot.com ), on facebook as A.L. Sonnichsen ( https://www.facebook.com/AuthorALSonnichsen?ref=hl ), and on twitter at @alsonnichsen.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Behind The Scenes” of a W.O.W. with Dahlia Adler June 25, 2014

 

When I first started my W.O.W. series in 2012 one of the first people who agreed to, and was very supportive of, the series was Dahlia Adler. But I’ll admit something to you all, I was terrified to reach out to her. Looking back now I laugh because Dahlia is the kindest and sweetest person, but I was afraid to approach her because she knew SO MUCH about publishing and I knew VERY LITTLE. Would she think I was some sort of newbie goof trying to pass myself off as a real blogger when I sent my request? Would she respond at all? If you know Dahlia, then you know my worries were completely unfounded. She was incredibly kind and very generous in offering up the story behind her writing odyssey.

 

Now, with the release of her book, BEHIND THE SCENES, I thought it would be fun to share her W.O.W. again. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me!

 

 

WOW

 

 

Social media is a crazy thing.  It let’s us promote our work to others.  It allows us to learn about images and ideas worlds away. But one of the most amazing things about Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is the ability to connect with like-minded people who share the same goals, ideas and dreams, especially when it comes to writing.

 

I first connected with today’s featured author, Dahlia Adler, via Twitter.  I loved her honest advice about writing and publishing, but also her keen insight into what it takes to perfect your craft.  If you haven’t read her blog already, The Daily Dahlia, you should.  She is always sharing tips on how to improve your work and  providing valuable information on the publishing world.  Just recently she posted a gem about what life is like after getting an agent. It’s a great and eye-opening read.

 

Many thanks to Dahlia for sharing her writing journey…

 

 

Amy: I know you’re a freelance editor, reading several manuscripts a week. How do you make time to write?

 

Dahlia: With great difficulty! Honestly, it’s a huge challenge, especially on top of having a full-time job, but I respond really well to goals and deadlines and that helps me a lot in terms of prioritizing and forcing myself to get things done. Also, my husband gets a huge shout-out here for being wonderfully supportive. There are days he gets me for maybe an hour at dinner and then I disappear into my office and he is never anything short of wonderful about it.

 

 

Amy: What drew you to write YA fiction?

 

Dahlia: I’m the youngest by a considerable gap so I started reading YA from an extremely young age because that’s what was around. I grew up with a somewhat unusual background, being Modern Orthodox Jewish and attending yeshiva for elementary and high school, so for me, it was a fascinating insight into the world at large that I never really felt a part of but loved watching on TV. Then I realized I could insert myself into that world in a way by writing. I was about eight years old when I started writing YA, and I’ve never looked back.

 

 

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

 

Dahlia: I queried two manuscripts before the one that got me my agent. Both actually got a lot of requests but ultimately both now live solely on my hard drive.

 

 

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

 

Dahlia: I stopped querying my first one fairly quickly, because it was set in college and those were almost impossible to sell at the time. When you’re getting rejections that aren’t so much about the content of your manuscript but about the fact that they don’t fit into the market, it’s a pretty good clue that it’s just not the right time. I queried the other one for a lot longer, but some of the critique I got from agents on the full made me realize that it needed an overhaul I wasn’t quite sure how to do yet. Honestly, I’m still not, though I’d love to figure it out so I can revive it one day. I love that manuscript, deep flaws and all!

 

 

Amy: From reading your blog, I know you have a great circle of critique partners. How do they affect your writing process?

 

Dahlia: The wonderfulness of my critique partners cannot be overstated. They’re amazing about letting me talk things out and use them as a sounding board, and just at giving critique in general. They make my books better, period, and their wide variety of knowledge is super helpful, especially when it comes to those “normal” things I didn’t experience, like what high school football games are actually supposed to look like!

 

 

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

 

Dahlia: My query for BEHIND THE SCENES came incredibly easy to me, which has never, ever been the case for me with any other query letter. I wrote it before I wrote the actual book. After realizing how much trouble I was having with my previous manuscript being so character driven, I really wanted to write something with a strong, linear plot driving the manuscript forward, and BTS was my brain’s response to that desire. I wrote a really early draft on Evernote on my phone, long before I ever planned to start writing the manuscript itself, and then one night I was struck by the entire text of it while lying in bed. I got up, took my husband’s iPad, wrote it in an e-mail to myself, and went back to bed. Voila. It changed slightly during The Writer’s Voice contest thanks to critique from my team, but very, very slightly.

 

 

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

 

Dahlia: I actually only queried five agents for BEHIND THE SCENES, because its first entry into the world was in The Writer’s Voice contest, and that’s where my agent found it and requested on it, so it had an offer in its first two weeks. I got form rejections from two agents really, really quickly, and then two of the other three – plus one who had a full of my previous ms, and one who’d also requested from The Writer’s Voice – responded to my “I have an offer” nudge within the week, so all in all it was a very fast process.

 

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

 

Dahlia: I’ve always, always loved writing, and to me, the act of writing and the dream of getting published are very separate things. Are there times I think I’ll never sell? Yes, definitely. But selling isn’t why I write, so not selling will never be why I don’t!

 

 

 

Behindthescenes

 

 

 

High school senior Ally Duncan’s best friend may be the Vanessa Park – star of TV’s hottest new teen drama – but Ally’s not interested in following in her BFF’s Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father’s mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van’s on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

 

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she’s capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can’t play by Hollywood’s rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

 

 

BEHIND THE SCENES is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Indiebound.

 

 

dahliaDahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics at an academic publisher, Copy Editor, and blogger @BNBuzz and YA Misfits. She is represented by Lana Popovic. You can find her on Twitter as @MissDahlELama and on her blog, The Daily Dahlia. It’s not really daily but it’s definitely her!

 

 

 
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