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
Tags: , , , ,




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. 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?






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:



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









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 Image




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







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).




%d bloggers like this: