Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Diana Finch – Diana Finch Literary Agency December 21, 2012


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 five pages of a manuscript.  By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your MS a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Diana Finch’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 that to you as an agent?


Diana: For me, the first line alone is not as important as the entire first page and first scene of the novel. I’ve seen manuscripts with very clever first lines and then there’s a falling-off and the rest of the page doesn’t live up to the promise of the first line.


However a weak first sentence is a disaster – there’s really no reason to read further, especially if there’s an obvious typo or grammatical error in the first sentence.



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


Diana: The most common opening I see, by far, is a detailed, lyrical description of the weather – usually the sky for some reason, a sunrise or a sunset. Of course you want to establish a setting immediately – readers are used to watching film and tv, mediums in which they instantly see the setting and the physical qualities of the characters. But there can be more original and more apt ways to do that than by describing the weather in the first sentences of your novel.



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


Diana: What draws me in is the voice and also the presentation of the book’s central problem. I do believe that novels should begin much like mysteries do. That is, in the first scene, the reader should learn what the crime is, who was murdered – or, if it’s not a mystery, what the central problem of the story is. The reader should also be given a reason to read through to the very end – there has to be something that the reader needs to find out that she can only learn by reading through to the end of the story.


I’ve recently taken on a first novel in which the voice drew me in – it’s a really witty, insightful running commentary on the absurdities of working for a big corporation. I didn’t find out until more than mid-way through the novel that there was also a mystery to be solved, high-level skullduggery going on in the company that the heroine needs to expose. So the author and I are now working on bringing that aspect up into the opening of the novel, so that the reader at least knows that there will be more to the story than witty insights, however enjoyable those are – although maybe the heroine still won’t know until she’s so involved in the situation that there’s no easy way out . . .



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


Diana: I think that hands down the biggest mistake writers make is to load the opening with exposition – nondramatic explanations of the context and background. I realize it’s tricky because this is information that the reader often needs to know, and it’s definitely information the author needs to know and to work through, and it’s easy to think of it as ‘here’s what you need to know before I tell you this story.’ But this kind of writing usually doesn’t belong in the opening pages, which should be focused on a dramatic scene that immediately involves the reader with the characters and the story.


A related mistake is to have an opening that involves something that’s not mentioned at all in your query letter – for instance, an opening scene that involves a minor character not mentioned in the query, or a bit of prologue that hasn’t been referenced. You don’t want an agent to find a disconnect between your query and the first five pages, as those may be the only pages the agent ever reads.



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


Diana: All three, in that the voice must be distinctive, even idiosyncratic, and appealing to me, and the opening scene must be dramatic or have a strong dramatic tension. (It doesn’t however need to be an action scene – dramatic tension doesn’t necessarily require action.) I think it’s better to say that the concept needs to be distinctive rather than unique. There are those who think that there are no original plots for stories any more, and one of our greatest writers, Shakespeare, used plots from previous works by others and from history. I am always hoping to find a well-written story about life as it is lived now – not a unique concept, but a story full of great observation and wonderful insight into what’s going on in our lives today.


And rather than looking for a unique concept, I look for plenty of creative, imaginative elements in the work – by which I don’t mean fantasy elements (I like gritty real-world fiction), but original and inspired material.



Diana represents a wide variety of books and has particular enthusiasm for narrative nonfiction, memoir and journalists who are writing about current events. She opened her own agency in 2003 after nearly 18 years with the Ellen Levine Literary Agency.


If you’re interested in submitting to Diana, please make sure to check The Diana Finch Literary Agency for their guidelines.



NOTE: This is my final post for 2012.  Happy Holidays to you all.  Here’s to a 2013 filled with writing, reading and overall good health and success!

Amy 🙂


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Brandy Colbert December 19, 2012




Perseverance.  It’s a word I use a lot and it’s a necessary word in the world of publishing.  Today’s featured author, Brandy Colbert, wrote three novels before she signed with her agent. Each time she got a rejection, she returned to the work, honing her craft, never giving up on her dream.  As she said it best in her own words, “if one can honestly say they could live a happy, full life knowing they gave up on their dream, then maybe they should pursue a more fulfilling goal.”  This thought sums up the goal of being published.  It is a long hard road, that you have to be willing to persevere. But in the end, if you’re successful like Brandy, the victory is sweet.


Here is Brandy’s inspiring writing journey…


Amy: When did you first know you wanted to write young adult fiction?


Brandy: I first realized I wanted to write young adult fiction when I was revising the first novel I completed, back in early 2007. I knew something wasn’t clicking with the characters and the story I’d written, but it took a couple of drafts to figure out they’d be better suited as teenagers. When I was growing up, YA wasn’t the enormous force that it is today; it was out there, and I still own and reread the YA books I bought as a teenager. But the selection and diversity were truly lacking, so I read more adult books and that’s naturally what I turned to when I began writing for publication. I haven’t been a teenager in many years, but I’ve never stopped watching TV shows or movies based around young adults, so it only made sense that I’d be drawn to that world in book form, as well.



Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to A POINT SO DELICATE?


Brandy: I’d written and queried three novels before I wrote A POINT SO DELICATE. All of them trunked, but all of them useful in their own way (and necessary!).



Amy: What was your first query process like?


Brandy: I first queried agents five years ago so it’s a little blurry. I didn’t know anyone when I started writing for publication and relied on the internet for all of my agent and querying research (luckily, there was and is tons of really solid information out there). I sent out my queries in batches and kept a Word document with the agent/agency I’d queried, when/what they requested, and when they got back to me. I had several requests for fulls and partials on my first book, but looking back now, I know it just wasn’t there yet. Still, I think that process was invaluable, as it taught me patience (a little bit anyway), restraint, and persistence.



Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish A POINT SO DELICATE? If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?


Brandy: I did use critique partners and beta readers for earlier versions of POINT (and even a very dedicated beta during my revisions with my editor, for whom I am incredibly grateful), and they were such a help. A very, very big help. Once you’ve been working on a book for so long, it’s easy to become too close to it and unable to see the flaws in the story and/or characters. (Or, in my case, I know the flaws are there, but I don’t always know how to fix them myself.) Beta readers and critique partners are there to support you, but I like it when they’re hard on me. When my CP points out something I knew wasn’t working but thought I could get away with, I know I’ve found a person I can trust with my unpolished work.



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


Brandy: Oh, yes. I am all too familiar with rejection. Those three trunked novels? They are trunked for a reason. Rejection hurts and it makes you question your worth and ability as a writer, but I think it’s necessary for growth. Some rejections simply say, “This isn’t for me” because that’s just it — that particular book wasn’t for that particular agent. But as much as it stung to open an email and see that an agent was passing on my book, the further along I got the more I started to take away valuable feedback from those rejections. The notes were longer, the reason for rejection more specific. Once you start getting those kinds of rejections, you know you’re on the right track and should keep improving, keep working until you get that “yes.”



Amy: How many agents did you query for A POINT SO DELICATE?


Brandy: I just combed through old emails because I was curious about this myself, but didn’t keep a detailed document with query stats for POINT as I did with my previous three novels. I queried 10 agents, including Tina Wexler, who immediately requested the full, asked for a revise-and-resubmit request, and signed me three months later.



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


Brandy: I received very immediate responses which, besides Tina’s, were all a version of “This isn’t right for me.” But the old saying about how it only takes one yes? I’m the perfect example of that.



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


Brandy: I think surreal is the best word. I knew from our emails that I already liked her and that she got my book, but I was (naturally) worried while waiting to hear back on my revise-and-resubmit request. What if I hadn’t executed the revisions in a way that clicked with her? I’d gotten so close with an agent before her that I wasn’t entirely convinced she was calling to offer representation, and made a bad joke stating that at the beginning of the call. But she laughed and made a joke of her own and offered anyway! And I knew right away that I trusted her with my career — she knew the market; she had a successful, long-term sales record; and she also had a reputation as one of the nicest agents out there (which is very true). I also appreciated that she was an editorial agent, and had plans for how to further improve my book before we went out on sub. But most of all — she got my book. Talking with Tina, I realized this was the first time an agent truly understood the story I was trying to tell, and that in itself might have been the most surreal part.



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 and sell your book?


Brandy: I think the most solid advice is to follow submission guidelines, be professional and polite, and learn to be patient (or at least how to pretend to be patient). That all sounds pretty simple, but it can definitely help writers stand out in a sea of unprofessional queriers.



Amy: If you met an aspiring writer on the street and they told you they were on the brink of giving up on their writing dream, what kind of advice would you give to encourage them to press on?


Brandy: It’s so easy to want to give up. You’re spending all this time working on a project that has no guarantee of getting into the right hands or turning into anything but a saved file on your computer. But publishing is so much about timing and luck and perseverance. When I sent off my query to Tina I was still hurting from a rejection that I was so sure was going to turn into an acceptance. I expected to have a rejection from her, as well, and clearly I was wrong. This sounds a little dramatic, but my whole life changed the day I decided to query my now-agent and I cringe when I think of what would have happened if I’d never sent that email or if I’d decided to give up on writing in general. I believe if one can honestly say they could live a happy, full life knowing they gave up on their dream, then maybe they should pursue a more fulfilling goal. But all the writers I know achieved their dream because they didn’t give up. They kept writing, kept putting their work out there, and kept improving. Writing is hard. Publishing is a tough, tough business. But if publishing a book is a lifelong goal — like it very much was for me — I think a person owes it to themselves to keep trying, no matter how tough it gets.



Brandy Colbert was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks and lives in Los Angeles. She has worked as an editor for several national magazines and as a business writer for an investment banking firm. She tap dances and watches too much television. You can find out more about A POINT SO DELICATE on Goodreads and connect with Brandy on Twitter @brandycolbert


Just One Word…Just One Smile December 17, 2012

Filed under: Blog,Inspiration — chasingthecrazies @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

I  try to stay away from talking about current events, politics, religion etc… It’s just not in my being to personally discuss those things, especially in a public forum like a blog.  But the tragedy on Friday in Newtown, CT hit me hard on so many levels that I can’t go  forward without saying what’s on my mind. I promise I’ll make it short.


We can’t turn back the hands of time – as much as we wish we could.  What’s done is done and those precious lives are gone from the Earth now. What we can do is take the next couple of days before Christmas to reflect on what’s precious and remember we have impact on other lives.


So over the next week I plan to do this:  When I’m out Christmas shopping, at the local coffee shop, or in the grocery store, I’m going to offer a smile to the person next to me.  If I’m waiting in a long line, I’m going to give the service person a much-needed “thanks for your hard work” when I pay.


We forget sometimes to connect to each other on a personal level.  We become so caught up in our own bubble of a world that we miss what we each need – kind, human interaction.


My mission over the several next days is to smile, laugh and offer a kind word to every person I come in contact with.  It won’t change the world, or end this kind of violence.  But maybe, just maybe, I might touch one person, who will turn around and pass along a kind word, or a bright smile to someone who really needs it.  For me, that will have to be enough.



I’m always on the lookout for articles where literary agents give little nuggets of advice about the publishing industry.  Each time I come across an interview I feel like I gain more knowledge about how my work fits into the business and perhaps how it will fair in the marketplace.


I began to think about other critical pieces of guidance I was missing.  What did agents want to see in my first pages?  I’d heard opening lines were critical.  Was that true? What about starting with action rather than characterization?  I scoured the internet seeing if any of my questions had been answered.  While I found small mentions here and there, I could never get concrete answers.


What I quickly realized was I could use this blog to disseminate information I as a writer needed to know. And in turn, I could share this advice with others in the writing community.  So on a big leap of faith, I started sending interview requests to agents.  I know agents have more work than they can do, and  most of the time the last thing they can do is answer an email from a small time blogger like me, but many were gracious enough to respond with a “yes.” Thus the FIRST FIVE FRENZY was born.


Now with five agents already sharing their perspective on what they want to see in a writer’s first five pages, I thought it would be helpful to recap their views and advice.


1) First Lines


Should be simple and set tone for the book. This is your chance to start the tension and build a relationship with the reader.



2) Openings


All the agents agreed that it’s best to stay away from dreams, descriptions of weather or immediate action. Another thing they were all quick to add was that too much description without any frame of reference was an instant turnoff.



3) Creating immediate agent interest


Characters need to show their worth from page one. Voice is key to drawing in the agent and encouraging them to request more pages. Another important element is grounding the reader – this link from Mary Kole helps detail the importance of this element.



4) Common mistakes


Starting in the wrong spot or beginning the story too early.  Another issue is providing too much detail, otherwise known as the “info dump.” As Michael Carr put it best, “resist the urge to explain.”



5) Overall comments


Write for the reader.  Interest comes from having an immediate connection to the main character and for subtlety adding details to build the story.



What questions do you have about your first five pages?  Is there a question you’d be interested in asking to one of the agents? Drop me a line in the comments and I’ll try to work them into the upcoming interviews.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday – Victoria Scott December 12, 2012

Author Photo



One of the things I enjoy most about researching and interviewing authors for this series is the simplicity in which each of them offers advice.  Many of the authors I’ve been privileged to interview have told me how they never gave up.  Even if they were writing and querying their fifth or six manuscript, they were still working. Perfecting their craft every day so they could meet their end goal: publication.



When I asked today’s featured author, Victoria Scott, about writing advice she had a brilliantly, simple answer. “Write what you want to read and enjoy the process.”  Perfect words, I think, for any writer who is struggling in the trenches, hoping to be published one day.



Many thanks to Victoria for sharing her writing odyssey.  Hope you enjoy!



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


Victoria: I’ve been an avid reader all my life, but it took me a while to recognize that I wanted to be a writer. It was probably about 2-3 years ago.



Amy: What drew you to write YA fiction?


Victoria: I love YA because of its simplicity. I believe stories can be a lot more exciting when there’s no mortgage, marriage issues, kids to raise, careers to worry about, etc. Being a teen is raw…and it’s pure.



Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to THE COLLECTOR?


Victoria: I completed one prior to writing THE COLLECTOR.



Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish THE COLLECTOR? How did that influence your writing process?


Victoria: Yes, I had two critique partners that held my hand during the first draft. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it without them. They cheered me on when I didn’t think the story was worth telling.



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


Victoria: I actually didn’t query THE COLLECTOR. I queried the book before that, VANITY, and the agent I signed with asked if I was working on anything else. I sent her the first 100 pages of THE COLLECTOR and she signed me off that. If that isn’t gambling…I don’t know what is. Thank you, Laurie McLean!



Amy: How many agents did you query for THE COLLECTOR?


Victoria: Zero. But for VANITY….I’ll never tell. Ha! I queried many. But there were many left to query, too. My advice to aspiring authors is to try not to worry about the number of rejections you get. Just keep moving forward. Easier said than done. 😉



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


Victoria: Oh, I waited, all right. Waiting is the bane of my existence



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?


Victoria: I created a strong platform. Agents are looking for how many readers you can reach with your book…immediately.



Amy: Can you tell us what your call was like with your agent, Laurie McLean?


Victoria: It was like heaven. It was like someone tore out my heart and showed me how red it was. Then they put it back into place and I breathed for the first time. Don’t. Ever. Give. Up.



Amy: What was one piece of advice you got during your early writing stages that has stuck with you to this day?


Victoria: Write what you would want to read, and don’t write too formally. And enjoy the process!




“Dante Walker is flippin’ awesome, and he knows it. His good looks, killer charm, and stellar confidence has made him one of hell’s best – a soul collector.  His job is simple, weed through humanity and label those round rears with a big red good or bad stamp. Old Saint Nick gets the good guys, and he gets the fun ones. Bag-and-tag.

Sealing souls is nothing personal. Dante’s an equal opportunity collector and doesn’t want it any other way. But he’ll have to adjust, because Boss Man has given him a new assignment:

Collect Charlie Cooper’s Soul within 10 days.

Dante doesn’t know why Boss Man wants Charlie, nor does he care. This assignment means only one thing to him, and that’s a permanent ticket out of hell. But after Dante meets the quirky, Nerd Alert chick he’s come to collect – he realizes this assignment will test his abilities as a collector, and uncover emotions deeply buried.”

THE COLLECTOR Cover November 2012 Small



Victoria Scott is a YA writer represented by Laurie McLean. She’s the author of THE COLLECTOR (Entangled Teen, April 2013) and THE BRIMSTONE BLEED (Scholastic, spring 2014). Victoria has a master’s degree in marketing, and lives in Dallas with her husband. You can find her online at: or on Twitter.


Monday Morning Musings December 10, 2012



1) As I’ve established on this blog before, I am a voracious YA reader.  I probably go through 2-3 three books a week.   Over this past year I’ve begun to notice a trend.  Many of the books marketed as YA have a significant literary bent to them.  Gone are the days of lines like “he was so hot.”  Now the prose goes something along the lines of “he was cloaked in a luminous shock of light that modeled his frame.”  Ok – so I made that up – but you get the point.


I don’t have anything against this, in fact I learn a lot from contemporary writers who go over the mountain and through the woods to give literary detail, but I wonder if it’s being twisted and bent to capitalize on the only percentage of the marketplace that is growing: YA.


Why am I bemoaning this? Because I question whether a 13,14 or 15 year-old has the education and/or the attention span to read a long list of adjectives and metaphors and still keep reading.  Is this adult literary fiction being cloaked in a character who just happens to be 17?



Are you a fan of YA fiction? If so, I’d like to know your opinion on this topic.



2) Do you ever read a novel and become completely envious over the writing?  I’ll admit it’s happened to me quite a bit.  For example, the first chapter of HUNGER GAMESSuzanne Collins builds an entire dystopian world in one chapter – completely brilliant.


So this is the part where I segue into the fact that I want to be John Green when I grow up. Yes, FAULT WITHIN OUR STARS, PAPER TOWNS, AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, John Green.  The man is brilliant and when he puts a pen to paper it’s like listening to a beautiful song – it is pure magic. If you have not read one of his books, drop what you are doing and go get one. Now. They are simply AMAZING (Yes, I’m shouting that one).



3)I once read a great article (which I can’t find now or I’d add the link) about your chances of getting an agent and/or getting publishing. It went something like this:


80% of queries sent are to an agent who does not represent that specific genre.


The next 5%  have grammatical or spelling errors or are sent with the salutation “Dear Agent or Dear Sir” which doesn’t work, of course, if you’re sending to a female.


The next 5% either claim they are the next “Grisham, Kerouac, or Rowling,” or they completely forget to include their premise altogether, only telling the agent they’ve written the next NYT bestseller and need to be signed right away.


If I’m doing the math right that means a meager 10% of all queries sent to agents are done correctly.  What does that mean for you and me? Well if you do your research, follow submission guidelines, and send to an agent who actually represents your genre, you have a 90% chance of actually getting noticed. I’ll take those odds any day.


It’s Done When It’s Done December 7, 2012

Filed under: Blog,creative writing,Creativity,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 2:55 pm
Tags: , , , , ,




Funny story.  I was waiting in line to board a bus for an elementary school field trip when a lady I hardly knew leaned into me and said, “I heard you’re a writer.”  I nodded and turned my attention back to the five boys I was in charge of wrangling.  She sidled in closer than I would have liked and said, “anything I would have read?”


I shook my head, telling her I was just finishing edits on my first manuscript.  “Edits?” she said puzzled.  “Isn’t it done when you write ‘The End?'” I stifled a laugh and shook my head before one of my charges took off in the direction of a fast-moving bus.  After I pulled the kid away from the tires, I wanted to give him a hug.  Grateful he was safe and,  if I must be honest, glad I’d gotten out of the conversation.


Telling anyone you’re a writer is a tricky thing.  Many people consider it a hobby and not a real job.  But there are many of us who would insist that it’s a full-time job if you take it seriously.  It might not happen from 9-5 – but it  still takes a lot of time and hard work to get it done.  And no, you’re not done when you write the final line.


I think that’s where the work truly begins. You’ve let your subconscious flow and words have spilled onto the page.  But most of us would admit the words aren’t always logical and most of the time only make sense to us.


The edits are the true process of writing.  Looking at the story as a whole and tooling it down until it is a coherent read.  The journey doesn’t end there though.  The next step, at least for me, is to send it to my beta readers and critique partners.  Then after days (maybe weeks) of hand wringing, you get their notes and its back to more edits.  This process could go on for a while if you have plot holes, dialogue issues, etc…


Once this process is complete, it’s on to the final read through. All 200-300 pages read out loud to catch any awkward sentences or jarring dialogue.


Yes, it’s a lengthy process and one I’ve been through with three manuscripts now.  Does it seem crazy? Yes.  Would you as the writer put yourself through the same process? I can’t answer that for you.  All I know is that when I send that query, I want to know my work is as polished as it can be.


So when I think back to that woman’s question about writing “The End,” I laugh. If she only knew what it took to write a manuscript – and to finally know that it’s only done when it’s done.


So what about you fellow writers? How do you know when your manuscript is finally finished? What processes do you go through to make it shine? Post a comment and let me know!


One last thing… Congrats to TJ who won the 100th Blog Post giveaway. She gets an amazing collection of YA books as well as a query and first 1K critique from the WONDERFULLY TALENTED Lisa and Laura Roecker.  More exciting giveaways are being planned for the new year. STAY TUNED!


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