Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary September 23, 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 Stephanie Fretwell-Hill’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?



Stephanie: It’s pretty important! A great first line shows that the writer knows what they are doing and that they are working to grab the reader’s (and my) attention right away. However, it isn’t enough to just write one great line—the whole manuscript needs to be exceptional. And if I find a wonderful manuscript with a mediocre first line, I would certainly be willing to push past the opening sentence. I am an editorial agent and often do at least one round of edits with my clients, so we can always strengthen individual lines before we submit to editors.





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?



Stephanie: It’s hard to say, because there are always exceptions to each example. But I see lots of manuscripts beginning with the main character running, a description of the weather, or a first person introduction in which the main character just blurts out the details of his or her character profile. (“I guess I should tell you a little bit about myself. My name is x and my best friend is y…”)


I think the main thing is to look at where the story starts—what is the inciting incident and what are the scenes leading up to it?—rather than the start of the character’s day or a pure “introduction” to the character. You have to cut out those superfluous scenes that don’t advance the story itself.





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?



Stephanie: I ask for the first three chapters of a novel in the author’s initial inquiry. At the end of those pages, I should really want to know what happens next. If I don’t care by then, I figure it’s best that I move on. But if I’ve really been drawn into the story and I find myself disappointed to reach the end of the excerpt, I ask for the full manuscript. It’s a combination of factors—voice, character, plot, pacing, concept, my impression of the author—that all add up to a promising submission.





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



Stephanie: Lots of typos or spelling errors. Passive scenes in which no one is really doing anything. Flat characters and cliché dialogue. The start of a predictable story.





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



Stephanie: I would say voice, first and foremost. Everything else is also important, but the mechanics of plot or pacing can be tweaked and shifted, and an ordinary concept can be extraordinary in the right hands. But if I don’t connect with the voice, there isn’t a whole lot I can do to help the writer improve it, and I can’t stand behind the manuscript as an agent if I don’t really believe in it.





Stephanie Fretwell-Hill is a literary agent with a sales and editorial background. After starting her career in foreign rights at Walker Books in the UK, Stephanie moved home to Atlanta as an acquiring editor at Peachtree Publishers. Most recently, she joined Red Fox Literary where she represents authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction and non-fiction. During her ten years in the publishing industry, she has had the privilege of working with respected colleagues and award-winning authors and artists from around the world.






W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Tracey Neithercott September 21, 2016







Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.



In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.



Today, I am pleased to share Tracey Neithercott’s writing journey…





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



Tracey: About the time my parents shot down my acting dream (“You want to end up a drug addict?”), I realized I wanted to write for publication. Journalism seemed like the best way to do that because A) I enjoyed it and B) I’d gotten it into my head that only the special people wrote books. Like, people with talent handed down from the gods or something. I was well into my career as a magazine editor and writer when I dared to give fiction writing a go.





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



Tracey: Two. I’m one of those people who collects piles of information before she ever makes a move, so before querying my first novel, ALIVE, I read just about everything the Internet had to say about publishing and querying.


(That’s a lie. If I did that, I would never have finished my book.)


I queried that book and got a surprisingly great response considering what I now think of it. But while I was querying those agents, I was also writing. By the time I’d sent out 10 queries for ALIVE, I’d fallen in love with THE MURDER MYTH. So I stopped querying ALIVE and finished THE MURDER MYTH. That’s the one that landed me my agent, Sarah LaPolla.





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



Tracey: It was … not the most fun process. I developed a somewhat disturbing dependence on my Agents list on Twitter. It wasn’t pretty.


That said, what got me through it was focusing on my next WIP. A week after sending a query, I was able close my mind to the old book and focus on the new. The key is to always keep looking forward. So when it’s time to shelve a book, you have a brand spankin’ new one that you’re even more excited about.





Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for GRAY WOLF ISLAND?



Tracey: A little over a year. I started writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND when I was querying THE MURDER MYTH. It was an agonizing first draft. I think it took me about 20 billion times longer to write GRAY WOLF ISLAND than either of my previous two books.


I was still writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND when I signed with my agent (because for a while there I was never not writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND). I was still writing GRAY WOLF ISLAND when I went on submission with THE MURDER MYTH. If my life were a movie, there would’ve been a really fun montage with uplifting music at this point.


About the time my agent brought up doing a second round of submissions for THE MURDER MYTH, I finished my first draft of GRAY WOLF ISLAND. I knew two things: 1) I was by far the slowest writer in the universe and 2) this was a million times better than THE MURDER MYTH.


So I decided not to do another round of submissions. (Title of my memoir: Am I a Quitter or Do I Just Follow My Gut?) Instead, I revised GRAY WOLF ISLAND, which was a surprisingly quick process. I did another quick round of revisions with Sarah before we went on submission with it.


That was January 2016. By early March, I had an offer. It was shocking how fast it all happened once the book was written. (Also, in case you’re curious: In the time it took me to write the book, I revised it twice, sold it, signed my contract, and even received my edit letter from my editor.)





Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author? 



Tracey: Hearing from a reader who loved by my book. At least, I’m really, really hoping that happens!






Amy: What was your “call” like with Sarah LaPolla? How did you know she was the right agent for you?



Tracey: Oh goodness—it’s mostly a blur. I think I spent the entire call only partially listening to her because the rest of me was in full-on freakout mode.


What I loved about Sarah from the start was that she believes in my writing. She liked it with the first manuscript I sent her, even if the book on a whole wasn’t a good fit. I immediately got the sense that regardless of what I wrote next, she’d champion it.


Our working styles also really clicked. I prefer email (much to my mother’s disappointment), and Sarah mentioned that email was her preference, too. That said, she’s super open to chatting on the phone when we need to discuss an idea or my revisions.





Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?



Tracey: Here’s a crazy concept I learned just before I wrote my first story: Unwritten novels don’t sell. I mean, I suppose they do if you’re J.K. Rowling. But the rest of us actually need to write the book first. As someone who really struggles with fear while drafting (My characters are flat! My plot is missing! My idea is the worst of the worst!), I’m constantly reminding myself that there’s nothing to a book without words on the page.






tracey-neithercott-fullTracey Neithercott’s first book was written by hand and illustrated with some really fancy colored pencils. It was highly acclaimed by her mother. Now, she writes YA stories of friendship, love, murder, and magic. (None of which she illustrates—you’re welcome.) She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, who suggests improving her novels by adding Star Wars characters.


She is the author of GRAY WOLF ISLAND (Knopf, Fall 2017), a YA novel about the truth, a treasure, and five teens searching for both. For more on Tracey, head to her website, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Facebook.


QUITE THE QUERY – Rachel Lynn Solomon and FINGERS CROSSED September 9, 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 Rachel Lynn Solomon. This great query connected her with her agent, Laura Bradford.





Seventeen-year-old viola prodigy Adina only feels whole with a bow in her hand. Even though her instrument is usually in the background, she’s determined to become a soloist. Her fraternal twin sister, Tovah, has her own ambitions: MIT, med school, become a surgeon. 


But the most important test they’ll take isn’t an audition or a college entrance exam. It’s a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. Huntington’s is a death sentence, and Adina and Tovah have spent the past few years watching it make their mother stumble and hallucinate and forget their names.


When the test results reveal that one twin will develop Huntington’s and one won’t, they self-destruct in different ways. One sister realizes testing negative doesn’t give her the freedom she thought it would, and her guilt sabotages her future plans. The other realizes testing positive means she can do whatever she wants — no matter the consequences. And then one concocts a dangerous plan that could change their family forever.


FINGERS CROSSED, a dual POV YA contemporary novel, is complete at 90,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Corey Ann Haydu, Amy Reed, and Nina LaCour.





Fun Tidbit:


Here are some query stats:

Queries sent: 80

Requests: 26

Offers of rep: 3





rachelsolomonRachel Lynn Solomon is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. Her debut contemporary YA novel, FINGERS CROSSED, will be out from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in spring 2018, with a second book to follow in 2019. She’s represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. You can find Rachel online at and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.


MONDAY MUSINGS: The Reality of Writing – Revision September 5, 2016



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The day I decided I wanted to write my first book I had a vivid idea in my head. I sat down at the computer to begin and the words started to flow. To say I was beyond clueless in that moment is a mild statement. I thought all I had to do was form the words on the page, arrange my thoughts in some cohesive order, and the story would fall into place.



That first book began with all the cliché newbie mistakes: prologue opening (basically backstory info dump), a dream, and the very unoriginal look in the mirror to describe my character. Now, many years later I know better, but was I wrong to make all those early mistakes? Absolutely not. Those mistakes were all part of a process I had to go through in order to become a better writer.



In reality, writing is all about making those missteps and then going back and correcting them. It’s all about REVISION.



You can outline all day long. Create a chapter-by-chapter analysis of everything you want to accomplish: tension, stakes, driving plot forward, but in the end creativity and story take over. Many times I find my characters have something different to say or another path they want to take. Instead of adhering to that outline, I let them guide me. Take me where they need to go with the idea that if I get off track I can rely on my good friend, revision to get me back to the right spot.



Often times when I’m working on an edit for a client I find myself trying to frame the feedback in a way that will be the most positive. Challenging them to dig deeper in their characterization or narrative. But no matter how the words are delivered, one thing remains the same: the notes may sting. Even so, there’s still a need for change. For reshaping. For rethinking how a scene plays out.



Which brings me to my next point…There is NO SHAME in revising. Cutting that manuscript to shreds and putting it back together like a 500 piece puzzle is perfectly normal. While the first attempt at a draft is glorious, the real work comes with that second, third, or even tenth revision. It’s about shaping that story into a tale that will draw readers in and never let them go.



The revision process is a necessary step in writing. Please don’t let anyone tell you something different. When you receive feedback from a CP or beta reader it may be bruising, but there’s hope in those notes. It’s a chance to look at your story through another set of eyes. To see what is working and what needs to be refined. It’s okay to be a little shocked if you get six pages of feedback, but don’t get frustrated or angry. And certainly, please DO NOT GIVE UP. Give yourself time. Let the notes sit for a while. When you’re ready, go back and look at them with a clear, rational head. It’s in those moments you’ll find clarity and understand where your work needs to change.



Again, I’m not ashamed to repeat it…REVISING is what makes a story. Own it. Embrace it. Then get back to work, tearing the crap out of that manuscript until it becomes a beautiful book you know readers will love.




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