chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Shannon Powers of McIntosh & Otis August 26, 2016

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:06 am
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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. It’s tricky to get just the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

 

Today, I’m proud to share Shannon Powers’ 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?


 

 

Shannon: Truthfully, it’s not something I think about too much. I think of it more as a bonus, rather than a “must.” Often it takes a few lines to set the tone of the story and I’m more than willing to ride it out a bit to get a sense of where we’re going. I can also definitely tell when a writer has tried too hard to make the first line memorable. I prefer a more natural opening – engaging, but not heavy-handed trying to force me to be interested.

 

 

 

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?


 

 

Shannon: I definitely agree that it’s best to avoid the run-of-the-mill when writing an opening, like these examples. I also dread the “looking in the mirror” opening – a common device to show what the character looks like but just not the best place to start the story. There are some that I don’t love in certain genres as well. In mystery for example, the detective being called the crime scene right away and there’s that whole exchange of “What do we got?” For some reason these work better on TV than in books! Also, in any kind of sci-fi or fantasy where there is a lot of world building, I instantly get lost when the opening has tons of foreign terms thrown around (things like strange place names, events referenced, random technologies, etc.).

 

 

 

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?


 

 

Shannon: There are a lot of things in the first five pages that could grab me. If the query/premise sound interesting, I immediately go to the initial pages to check out the writing. From there, I would say that atmosphere is an element I am particularly drawn to. If an author is right away able to set the tone and scene, I’m hooked. It’s also big for me to see the story moving right away. That doesn’t mean I need tons of action up front, but I will be intrigued if I start to have a sense of what is at stake or begin to see possibilities opening up in the first five pages. Also, never underestimate the power of a good title. Many agents and editors disregard them as they often change from the initial query, but I always look at projects that have interesting titles (hint: put them in the subject line along with the genre). Just a personal quirk, but definitely something to pique my interest.

 

 

 

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


 

 

Shannon:

 

 

1)    Having an uneven balance of narration, action/description, and dialogue. This one is huge for me!

2)    Being overwhelming by throwing us to the wolves, so to speak, rather than gently guiding us into the world and lives of the characters.

3)    Failing to show what is compelling about this world/story/the characters (aka being too generic).

 

 

 

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


 

 

Shannon: Of course it’s great to nail all three of those. However, I would say the concept gets me first. I will give anything a chance for the first 10 pages at least if it has an awesome premise. Otherwise in the first five pages I’m looking to connect with the characters, or at the very least be intrigued by them. We’re going to be stuck with them for the whole book, so it’s great to see why we should ride it out with them!

 

 

 

Shannon Powers is a graduate of New York University. She began her career in publishing at McIntosh and Otis as an intern in 2011, and then went on to intern at The Book Report Network and W.W. Norton & Company. She has also worked as a bookseller. She returned to M&O in 2014, where she is a junior agent and assists Shira Hoffman and Christa Heschke. Twitter: @S_E_Powers / Blog: https://shannonepowers.wordpress.com/

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Shannon, please check The McIntosh & Otis website for their guidelines.

 

QUITE THE QUERY: WADE ALBERT WHITE AND MAGICK 7.0 August 24, 2016

 

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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 authors say 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 where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Wade Albert White. This great query connected him with The Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency.

 

 

 

Fourteen-year-old Anvil Wilhelmina Ironhide has an unusual problem (besides her name).

 

It’s not that she was discovered in a cryogenic chamber as a baby and never told about it (a minor oversight).

 

It’s not that she has the nearly uncontrollable urge to jump from high places and attempt to fly (it couldn’t hurt to try just once, right?).

 

It’s not even that her world was created by a malfunctioning computer and the ten-thousand-year-old scientist who programmed it has emerged from cryo-stasis to correct his mistake (that’s only a problem if you’re the mistake).

 

Her problem is that all of the above means she’s unknowingly about to embark upon a quest—not to save the world, but to destroy it (which is why you should always read the fine print).

 

In a land where every rustic village has a solar-powered windmill, agents of the Wizards’ Council wiretap the ley lines for information, and you need a plasma cannon to ward off the dragons, one orphan girl struggles against time, destiny, and heretofore unknown levels of bureaucracy to uncover the truth of her quest but avoid its terrible conclusion (a neat trick if you can pull it off).

 

And don’t even get me started on the elves …

 

MAGICK 7.0 is my Upper MG fantasy novel, complete at 85,000-words. My short fiction has appeared most recently in the Unidentified Funny Objects 2 anthology (ed. Alex Shvartsman), and previously in such magazines as Strange Horizons and Ideomancer.

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

One fun tidbit about my querying process is that I went with a more conventional query pitch at first and it didn’t get any bites. Zero. So I started again from scratch and wrote it in the voice of my novel (which is rather unconventional). Then, not unsurprisingly, I started getting requests. I think the initial lack of interest was due at least in part to the discord between the voice of the query and the voice of the story. Readers went in expecting one thing but getting quite another. That doesn’t mean the new query appealed to everyone. I still received rejections. But it did mean the people who liked the query knew exactly what they were getting when they turned to the pages of the manuscript. And it worked!

 

 

 

 

5S0A4637smWade hails from Nova Scotia, Canada, land of wild blueberries and Duck Tolling Retrievers. He teaches part-time, dabbles in animation, and spends the rest of his time as a stay-at-home dad. It is also possible he has set a new record as the slowest 10K runner. Ever. He owns one pretend cat and one real one, and they get along fabulously. For more on Wade, follow him on Twitter (@wadealbertwhite).

 

MONDAY MUSINGS: ON #PITCHWARS AND WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS KEEP WRITING August 22, 2016

 

 

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Being a part of the PitchWars mentor community over the last several weeks has been an amazing experience. Not only is it great to connect with so many dedicated and intelligent writers, but it’s moving to see these same people fiercely committed to helping a writer find success in the publishing world.

 

 

As I’ve scrolled through the PitchWars tag, I’ve watched hopeful mentees participate in the games, look for critique partners, yet also share their uncertainty about their work. What I think is incredible is the number of other hopefuls who join in and try to lift others up. This is what is important about the PitchWars community. It’s not battling against one another for the attention of a mentor, but supporting each other through the process.

 

 

Writing can be a very lonely business. Unless you’re getting together regularly with a group, most of us spend hours alone in a room trying to create some brilliant world. There’s no cheering section for when you get through a saggy middle, or a round of applause when you type “The End.” It’s just you, hoping and praying that what’s on the page will make it into readers’ hands one day.

 

 

To this point, I want to say that being in any contest can be both a happy and sad experience. Happy because you’re connecting with other writers, yet sad because your manuscript may not get chosen. Not getting chosen is not a reason to stop writing. PitchWars is one contest in a myriad of contests available during the year. It’s easy to get down on yourself, to want to give up, but I beg you not to let your story go. Take some time. Lick your wounds. And then, get right back to it.

 

 

Many of us mentors were in contests and we’re NEVER picked. Many of us spent years in the query trenches. Many of us found our agent through the slush pile. There are many paths to publishing. The only way you will NOT be successful is if you STOP WRITING.

 

 

So if you’re a potential mentee, or considering participating in a contest in the future, don’t let an unfavorable outcome be a roadblock for you. Use it as a mere stepping stone along your path. Use it to meet other writers. Improve your craft. Once you’re ready, get back to your computer, settle in, and go back to work. It is those who keep trying who eventually reach their dream.

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Gwen Katz and AMONG THE RED STARS August 17, 2016

 

QuiteTheQuery

 

 

 

 

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 authors say 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 where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.

 

 

With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Gwen Katz. This great query connected her with her agent, Thao Le.

 

 

 

Eighteen-year-old tomboy Valya and the boy next door, Pasha, breathlessly follow the adventures of Soviet air navigator Marina Raskova. When World War II breaks out and Valya discovers that Raskova is getting airwomen into combat, she’s first in line. Valya hopes to become a fighter pilot, but Raskova assigns her to the night bombers. Instead of a high-tech Yak-1, Valya ends up flying a wood and canvas biplane no faster than a car.

 

 

On the front, Valya braves anti-air guns, blinding searchlights, and deadly Luftwaffe night fighters, all under the command of an air force that still believes women are only suited for the home front. When Pasha, now a Red Army radio operator, finds himself trapped behind enemy lines, one small aircraft might be able to slip through. Valya sees her chance to rescue the boy who has begun to capture her heart—but in Stalin’s Russia, defying orders could land both of them in front of a firing squad.

 

 

Valya’s regiment, the 46th Guards, really existed. Its aviators so terrified the Wehrmacht that the German soldiers nicknamed them the “Night Witches,” yet the brave Soviet women and girls who served in World War II are little known in the West. My 84,000-word YA historical novel, AMONG THE RED STARS, highlights many of these real-life heroes. It is a semi-epistolary novel that will appeal to fans of FLYGIRL and CODE NAME VERITY.

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

My query barely changed from its first iteration, but the manuscript itself needed a lot of work. Although it got a lot of attention in contests, I ultimately found my agent through the regular slush pile.

 

 

 

_DSC2444Gwen C. Katz lives in Altadena, California with her husband and a revolving door of transient animals. When she’s not writing, she’s usually drawing, listening to rock music, and leading nature walks. For more on Gwen, follow her on Twitter (@gwenckatz).

 

 

 

2016 PitchWars Bio – Bring on the YA! July 19, 2016

 

 

 

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Welcome to my blog and my bio and wishlist for Pitch Wars! Although I’m a newbie mentor this year, I’m no stranger to Pitch Wars. I’ve been chosen as an alternate twice. First for a YA Thriller, then for a YA Historical (for which I had to pull out of the contest after signing with an agent.)

 

Because of this extraordinary experience, I understand all facets of this process and the commitment it takes to make a manuscript shine. I decided to dive in as a mentor this year because I know how it feels to have someone special on your side. Rooting you on. Pushing you to do your best work. I’m here to be mentor, guide, teacher, and above all a support base for what will be a long, yet thrilling ride.

 

 

ABOUT ME…

 

 

I started out my career working in entertainment then moved on to my true love, advertising and marketing. In my many positions, I managed to work with writing at some level. Formulating pitches. Copywriting. Developing and creating marketing plans for new book releases. No matter the job, my love has always been the craft of writing.

 

To understand the publishing world better, I’ve completed internships at not one, but two publishing houses, as well as a literary agency. Currently, I’m a freelance editor for Wild Things Editing. And along with Michelle Hauck, I host a yearly contest called Sun vs. Snow where I mentor several entries (my favorite part!) Oh, and I also run this fun (and somewhat crazy) blog – hence the name.

 

When I’m not doing all the things above, I write Young Adult (Historical, Thrillers, and Contemporary). My work is represented by Roseanne Wells at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

 

 

Six Fun Facts…

 

 

–  After college I worked as an NBC Page. I met dozens of celebrities and tried to act cool, but after I made an ass out of myself in front of Garth Brooks I learned it’s best just to be yourself!

 

 

–  I worked at a major book distribution company just when Harry Potter was being introduced to the U.S. market (I read an early ARC of The Prisoner of Azkaban). Right before Goblet of Fire released, I was in charge of calling bookstores and reminding them (over and over) that they could not release books until midnight (a lot of them did not listen – LOL!).

 

 

–  I was a competitive gymnast for a good part of my childhood until several broken bones ended that dream.

 

 

–  I’ve been to BEA three times – all for work. The last time, I presented to a major group of publishers while eight months pregnant. I got a few side-eyes, but I killed it!

 

 

–  On a trip to England several years ago a tour guide informed me that every book published in Britain is housed in a huge vault below the University of Oxford library (not sure if this is true), but at that moment I realized I wanted to be a published author and have a book housed in that library one day.

 

 

–  My favorite all time movies are: Somewhere in Time (I’ve watched over 20 times) and Field of Dreams (If you want a good example of Magical Realism, this movie is it!)

 

 

 

MY “HOPE” LIST…

 

 

I’m not going to say “wishlist” because for me it’s more about what I “hope” to see in my inbox! To add to that, I “hope” whoever subs to me will be ready to work. I’m looking for something that has a unique concept, but also has tons of heart. The manuscript doesn’t have to be completely polished, but it does have to be something I know agents and “hopefully” editors will want to see come across their desks. This includes the following:

 

 

 

Contemporary

 

Looking for family and friendship stories. Dual POV and male POV always catch my eye. If it’s an issue-based story, the approach needs to be unique. Love, love, LOVE strong heroines who make bad choices but rely on themselves to solve the situation (not a male or parental figure). HEAs not required, but there needs to be a suitable and satisfying resolution.

 

Favorite books in this genre include: The Boy Most Likely To, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Going Too Far, and Eleanor and Park.

 

 

Overall favorite: SUCH A RUSH (Jennifer Echols)

 

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Why I love…Strong heroine who makes bad choices. Believable Romance. Satisfying and honest ending.

 

 

 

 

Historical

 

If you submit historical to me, be prepared to be grilled about your facts down to the most minute level. I’m a stickler for authenticity and detail. I don’t have a preference for a specific time period, but I’m looking for a compelling manuscript that weaves in historical elements that elevates the level of storytelling.

 

Favorites books in this genre include: Flygirl, Under A Painted Sky, and The Explosionist.

 

 

 

Overall Favorite:  Outrun The Moon (Stacey Lee)

 

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Why I love…Fierce female heroine. Intriguing time period. Magical storytelling!

 

 

 

 

Thrillers/Horror

 

Please send me manuscripts with twists and turns. Psychological mind games. Huge bonus points for unreliable narrators. No gore or grisly murder descriptions. The best writers allude to these facts rather than splash them across the page.

 

Some favorites: Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, Ten, and The Darkest Corners.

 

 

Overall Favorite:  Anna Dressed in Blood (Kendare Blake)

 

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Why I love…Spot-on male POV. Intriguing mystery. A cast of minor characters who help tell a compelling story.

 

 

 

 

Fairytale Re-Imaginings

 

Please be aware I AM NOT looking for Peter Pan (or Captain Hook), Snow White, or any traditional “Disney-style” retelling. If you’ve got an obscure villain origin story or a side character who has been overlooked (think one of the ugly stepsisters), I’m in. Again, I’m going to be very selective here. Only send me something very unique if you have it!

 

It will not be released until 2017, but I’m dying to get my hands on fellow mentor, Sarah Henning’s SEA WITCH – the villain origin story of the Sea Witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

 

 

 

 

A FINAL NOTE…

 

I take this process very seriously and am ready to get to work with a manuscript I know will blow agents away. If your book meets any of the criteria above, I hope you’ll send it to me. Please, if you have questions, or need clarification, leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

 

Thanks and good luck! No matter which mentor “U” apply to, I can guarantee “U” will have an amazing experience.

 
 

There are many other incredible YA mentors. Check out the list below and click on the link to go to their bios and wishlists!

 
 


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First Five Frenzy with Elana Roth Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency July 8, 2016

 

 

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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. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

 

 

Today, I’m proud to share Elana Roth Parker’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?

 

 

 

Elana: A great first line is…well, great. But it’s so not the most important thing if the sentences after that first one are less great. Out of all the books I’ve signed and sold, I only remember the first line of one novel by heart, if that tells you anything.

 

 

What’s more true is that a bad first line can do disproportionate damage relative to the good a killer first line can do. It’s more important that you have a solid first line followed by a solid first paragraph followed by a solid first page, and so forth. We’re looking at these cumulatively and holistically. You never want a reader to say, “Well that first sentence was the wittiest line ever. Where’d that writer go for the rest of the novel?”

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Elana: Those are some pretty good examples right there. I also get tired of the “It all started that day when…” opener. Or an out-of-context piece of dialogue. You want to start the book about 5-10 minutes (I hope you understand that this is not literal time…) before the big story starts. Just enough to give me some context and get to know the main character before I get derailed by a big plot point. Not enough to bore me, or confuse me (which is why dreams aren’t awesome).

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Elana: Ease of entry is what I’m looking for most in the sample pages I ask for in the query. I look for quality of writing that matches the pitch—i.e. if it’s a great concept, I need the writing at an equal level of quality at a minimum. I need to be brought into the character’s world naturally, and feel like the pages are inviting me in, not fighting me. And I also need those sample pages to offer me something the query didn’t in terms of depth.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Elana: Mostly writers get tripped up on where their story starts, as I mentioned above. Context is very important for a reader—we like feeling grounded. I often find the sample pages are either too slow and voicey or too caught up in some big action sequence that I have no idea what’s happening. You need to find a happy medium. Strong voice AND some movement. But not overkill on either front. And make sure the characters I’m meeting in the first pages are the same ones you’re talking about in the query. There’s nothing more disorienting than a prologue or short scene featuring some other characters.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Elana: All of the above. I need to see all of those thing. Nicely balanced. Remember that you’re welcoming a reader into a world they’ve never stepped foot in before—even if you’re writing a contemporary novel in a recognizable setting. I don’t know anything about your characters or their situation before I open the book. Ease me into it and show me my this is going to be an interesting story to continue with.

 

 

 

 

Elana Roth Parker has specialized in children’s publishing from the beginning of her career, from her very first internship at Nickelodeon Magazine followed by 5 years as an editor at Parachute Publishing. She’s been an agent since 2008, most recently at Red Tree Literary, which she founded in 2012. She joined the Laura Dail Literary Agency in 2016.

 

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Elana, please check the Laura Dail Literary Agency website for submission guidelines.

 

 

Summer, Summer, Summertime…. July 6, 2016

Filed under: Blog,PitchWars — chasingthecrazies @ 6:51 am
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(One of my favorite pictures from a beach in Cape Cod, MA)

 

 

 

After I post a new First Five Frenzy this Friday, I’m taking my regular summertime sabbatical from blogging to focus on family, friends, and vacation! That means probably no new posts until early August, except for PitchWars which is coming up fast!

 

 

Speaking of PitchWars, this will be my first year as a mentor. If you write YA and have a polished manuscript, please think about subbing to me! My bio and wishlist will post here on July 20. I can’t reveal any more details except to say I’m looking forward to partnering with a writer who is committed to getting down to work and making their book so stellar agents will be clamoring to sign it! And if my wishlist does not fit what you write, there are many other amazing YA mentors you should check out.

 

 

As I said, I’m only mentoring Young Adult, but there are also opportunities for those who write Adult, New Adult, and Middle Grade. More info on PitchWars is available at Brenda Drake’s blog. As a two-time veteran from the writer’s side, I can tell you PW is a wonderful opportunity any writer with a finished manuscript should consider.

 

 

Until then, Happy Summer. Hope you all have a chance to rest and relax these next few months!

 

 

 
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