chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Kelly Van Sant of D4EO Literary March 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Kelly Van Sant’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?

 

 

Kelly: First lines should either be incredible or invisible. An incredible first line immediately establishes the voice and draws me in to the story. It’s provocative. It demands attention. An invisible first line is serviceable. It gives me information and moves me on to the next sentence and the paragraph after that. Invisible prose is not boring, and it’s not bad writing. It’s efficient, it’s clear, and it’s sophisticated in its simplicity. Whether sparkling or subtle, though, your first line should entice me to read more. Your manuscript won’t live and die by the first line–I have a bit more patience than that! But the longer it takes you to captivate me, the less likely I am to request a full. And you only have to lose me once, and I’m gone.

 

 

 

 

Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

 

 

Kelly: Cliched openings like this do become really tiresome to find in my inbox. Of course they are classics for a reason, and when executed well they can be not only effective but essential to the story. Still, I find a lot of writers start their stories in the wrong place. I also struggle a lot with openings that are too in medias res and lacking context. Stories that begin mid-conversation when we don’t know who’s speaking, or in the middle of an action sequence when we don’t know what’s going on. In general I think it’s always best to start with character. Characters give me a reason to care, and once I care I’m willing to go along with all the rest.

 

With genre fiction there’s a tendency to front-load with world-building exposition which just reads like a wall of word-salad. I can probably figure out what a thingamajiger is from context, but when I’m hit with a thingamajiger and a snorfblat and a dinglehopper and a whatsit  (on and on and on) all at once it’s really disorienting and I’m tempted to check out. Painstakingly defining these words doesn’t help either, because then I feel like I’m reading a dictionary.

 

Same thing with the politics of your universe. “This is the Evil Overlord who came to power through death and destruction, overthrowing the previous benevolent government and throwing the country into chaos. Three generations ago there was a civil war and that weakness is what led to the terrible predicament in which we now find ourselves. Here is the complete line of succession and every battle ever fought that brought us to this point.” Aaaaaaand I’ve stopped reading. Details about the world should be distributed organically throughout the narrative, with meanings and ramifications made clear in context, and in general I think writers should put more trust in readers to make intuitive leaps and piece things together. Remember that even though this is all new to me, it’s everyday life for your protagonist, so make the mystical mundane.

 

In contemporary fiction I see a lot of biographical information dumped at the beginning. “These are my parents and my siblings and my friends and my love interests. These are things that I like and don’t like and here’s why. This is a thing that happened to me in my past and still haunts me to this day and will color every decision I make for the remainder of the book.” Again, I think this comes form a place of fear or mistrust, where the writer worries that the reader won’t “get it” unless we’re spoon-fed information. It’s well-intentioned, but it’s such a slog to read. Remember that I’m just meeting this character for the first time, and I don’t need to know absolutely everything about them upfront. Tell me what I absolutely need to know in order to hit the ground running, and then let me pick up the rest on the way.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Kelly: I always ask that writers send me their first chapter along with their query letter, because the truth of it is that most writers don’t know how to write a successful query, and a writing sample gives me more accurate material to assess. I do understand that query-writing requires an entirely different skill-set than the one required to write a novel. Queries are about the hook, and it’s a promotional style of writing that necessitates that the writer distance themselves from their work, whereas fiction writing is very intimate.

 

When reading first pages I know by the end of the first paragraph if I’m going to make a request. I understand that a handful of sentences seems a woefully short window in which to secure my attention, but that’s the reality. When I know I just know. Within a few sentences, the voice should be firmly established and the protagonist introduced. I’m looking for strong, unique voices and well-developed characters. Those things alone are enough to make or break my desire to read more.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Kelly: Starting the story in the wrong place, front-loading the book with exposition, starting with a character other than your protagonist (!!! Why do this?! I start to form an attachment to this character only to be told that he’s a throwaway and actually this dude over here is our REAL hero! That’s so disorienting). I am also not a huge fan of prologues because it makes me worry that the author can’t find an organic way to deliver important backstory in the book proper. There are certainly exceptions where prologues are necessary and even beneficial, but exceptions are rare. Whenever I see a prologue I get cautious.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Kelly: My tastes are character-driven. A unique concept is always welcome, and it’s vital that a book be well-paced (whatever pacing is appropriate to your category and genre–there’s a gamut, of course!). But in the end, if I can’t connect with the characters I’m going to pass every time. A compelling voice and complex characters are imperative for me. The protagonist is my entry-point into the story. The voice is what keeps me mesmerized. No matter how exciting and intricate the plot is, or how innovative the concept or world-building is, I can’t keep reading if I don’t have a reason to care. Character and voice give me that reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kelly Van Sant has nearly a decade of experience in the publishing industry. She cut her teeth in New York working at esteemed literary agencies such as Writers House and Harold Ober Associates before relocating to Minnesota. Switching to the publisher’s side of the fence, Kelly joined Llewellyn Worldwide as their Contracts Manager across all three imprints and then moved to Quarto Publishing Group USA where she led the contract department. She has worked as a freelance editor with various publishers and is a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center. She also blogs about writing and the publishing industry at Pub(lishing) Crawl and co-hosts their weekly podcast.  She also blogs about agenting and other things at her personal website Pen & Parsley.

 

Kelly’s career came full circle when she joined D4EO Literary Agency in 2017 and began actively building her client list.

 

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

 

Please send all queries to: kvs.submissions@gmail.com with the word QUERY and your title included in the subject. All queries should include the following:

 

  • Your name, book title, genre, and word count.
  • The first chapter of your novel pasted in the body of the email. I will not open attachments.
  • Please include links to your website, blog, or social media accounts, if any.

Kelly responds to all queries within 4 weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Adele Buck and ACTING UP March 29, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Adele Buck. This great query connected her with her agent, Amy Elizabeth Bishop at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.

 

 

 

 

Stage manager CATH DE COURCY has had plenty of time to rehearse hiding her attraction to her best friend, director PAUL MAINWARING, while she oversees all the details of his productions. But when he casts Cath’s college nemesis as the leading lady in their latest play, it might cue a curtain call for both their friendship and their collaboration.

 

In rehearsals, Cath struggles to keep everything (including Paul) on course as the leading lady’s behavior threatens to throw the entire production off kilter. Meanwhile, the diva’s pursuit of Paul and the leading man’s developing friendship with Cath sparks jealousy and ignites an unexpected, passionate kiss between the old friends. But Cath, worried that a more intimate relationship would destroy both their friendship and their professional collaboration, holds Paul off. When two members of the production’s staff get engaged, their positive example helps Paul convince Cath to give a closer relationship a try.

 

Days before the play goes into previews, Cath panics when heated arguments between the engaged couple threaten her belief that people can combine work and romance. The success of Cath and Paul’s love and the production are both riding on Paul’s ability to flip the script and take care of Cath.

 

ACTING UP is an adult contemporary category romance complete at 58,000 words. I used my past real-world experience as an actress and stage manager to bring verisimilitude to the story. Due to its theatrical setting and humor, I believe ACTING UP will appeal to readers who enjoyed books like Lucy Parker’s ACT LIKE IT. A related manuscript (METHOD ACTING [ed note: at the time of querying this book had a different title]) is complete and another (ACTING LESSONS) is in progress.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

My hosting service had their spam filters jacked up to eleven so Amy’s response was quarantined and I didn’t know it! Luckily, the spam filter did notify her and she called me to ask for the manuscript. I’m not sure every agent would be so persistent though…

 

 

 

 

When not writing, Adele is a librarian at a prestigious law school. Prior to that, she had a short stint as an index editor and over a dozen years in corporate communications and executive relationship management. Even prior to that, she was an actress and stage manager. Returning to writing was like a return to acting for Adele, especially when writing comedic dialogue, which reminds her of successful improv exercises.

 

She holds a theatre degree from Syracuse University and graduate degrees from the University of Maine School of Law and the University of Maryland’s iSchool. A New Hampshire native, Adele Buck has lived in the Washington, D.C. area for almost 20 years with her fantastic husband and the requisite number of neurotic cats. ACTING UP is her first novel. For more on Adele, check out her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

 

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Tracy Marchini of BookEnds Literary Agency March 24, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Tracy Marchini’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?

 

 

Tracy: I ask for the first five pages with a query and will generally read past the first line in most samples, but it definitely does set the expectation/tone for what I’m about to read. A mediocre first line could be forgiven if it’s quickly followed by something engaging. But a cliché or terrible first line is much harder to overcome.

 

 

 

 

Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

 

 

Tracy: Waking up in bed and having the character survey their room. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, and what I worry about as a reader is that we’re about to see a character’s every move – from morning until nightfall – instead of a narrative arc that’s structured to show me only what’s necessary to further the story.

 

I found that I’ve also had trouble with the immediate breaking of the fourth wall, where the character turns to the reader and says, “Let me tell you my story.” I feel like this can occasionally be done well, but it’s very difficult to maintain that sort of tone throughout an entire novel. And as a fellow writer – I get it. I’ve definitely woken up and had a character ‘speak’ to me in that way. And I’ve written out what they were saying – who they were, what they didn’t like about their situation, what they wanted to fix, etc. These pages are important as a jumping off point, but I think you’ll find in revisions that they ultimately aren’t your first pages – and maybe aren’t final pages at all. They were the character study that propelled you into your draft.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Tracy: Usually, it’s a combination of voice and concept. I have to connect to their main character, to the writer’s voice, and to the story they’re about to tell.

 

This is part of why the industry is just so subjective. A concept that doesn’t grab me might grab another agent, and vice versa.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Tracy: While I do want to be brought into the action quickly, there are times where we meet the protagonist during a really intense scene – the character is trapped by a shadowy figure, or being held up at knifepoint, etc. But we don’t really know the character yet, so if it’s not extremely well written, it’s harder to care or connect to what’s happening to them.

 

I think world building is also tricky in the first five pages. Too much and you’re boring the reader, too little and it feels like your characters are just heads floating in space.

 

I would also pay attention to dialogue in terms of character development. When every character speaks in the same way, they all tend to blur together. Everybody doesn’t need a unique catch phrase or slang of their own (please no!) but further into the story we should be able to differentiate who is saying what just by how they say it.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Tracy: Pacing, structure, character development, etc. are all things that I can work with an author on, but finding your voice as a writer has to be done before an agent gets on board. So for me, the voice and concept are definitely the most important things I look for.

 

That’s not to say the other elements of craft can be ignored – the market is tough out there! But it’s much easier to teach an author how to say what they’d like, instead of trying to help them figure out what it is they have to say.

 

 

 

 

Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. Previous to joining BookEnds, she worked as a freelance editor, marketing manager, literary agent’s assistant and newspaper correspondent. She can be queried at https://querymanager.com/query/tmarchini.

 

As an author, Tracy’s debut picture book, Chicken Wants a Nap, is forthcoming from Creative Editions and is now available for pre-order. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Tracy, please follow the submission guidelines for BookEnds Literary Agency.

 

QUITE THE QUERY: LAURA RUECKERT AND A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN March 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Laura Rueckert. This great query connected her with her agent, Zoe Sandler at ICM Partners.

 

 

 

 

I hope you’ll be interested in my YA Fantasy with Vietnamese and Maori-inspired elements.

 

 

When an assassin kills Princess Anh’s older sister Mai, her ghost is doomed to walk the earth. Blinding rage leads her to punish loved ones until the killer is brought to justice. Before anyone can track down the murderer, King Matewa, from a country far away, requests that seventeen-year-old Anh take her sister’s place as his betrothed.

 

 

Anh couldn’t be more torn. She’s never forgotten that breathtaking moment—back before her sister’s engagement—when the tattooed king’s laughing eyes had locked with hers. But due to dyslexia and years of scholarly struggles, her chances of learning a new language are slim. She’s terrified of life in a foreign land, where she’d be unable to communicate.

 

 

Then Anh discovers evidence that Mai’s assassin came from Matewa’s country. Marrying the king would allow Anh to seek the murderer and release herself and her family from Mai’s spirit, whose thirst for blood mounts every day.

 

 

With a translator by her side, magical bracelets on her forearms, and a dagger strapped to her calf, she makes her way to the country of her sister’s assassin. But Anh hasn’t even reached her new home when the first attempt is made on her life. To save her family, Anh must find Mai’s killer…before he murders her too.

 

 

A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN is complete at 76K words and would appeal to fans of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

I only sent a handful of this version of my query. Then I rewrote it. Just goes to show a query doesn’t have to be perfect—only good enough to make the agent interested in reading more. I also actually sent the query to a different agent which proves many of them really do share queries if they think someone else is a better fit!

 

 

 

 

Laura grew up in Michigan but dove into a whirlwind romance just after college, which meant moving to southern Germany without a job, but with a lot of love. She and her husband married a blink of an eye later, and they’ve now lived there happily for more years than seem possible. By day, Laura manages process and system projects, and she’s a mother of two. Nights and stolen daytime hours are devoted to living in her head: writing YA science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and her work is represented by Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners. You can find her on Twitter (@LauraRueckert) or on her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Katie Bucklein and THE ELEGANCE OF TYRANNY March 15, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Katie Bucklein. This great query connected her with her agent, Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

 

 

 

Nineteen-year-old Idrys Kendrik is a survivor of Idelle Realm, the kingdom where the Young God—a man of immortality and powerful magic—rose from the hells, bringing with him a reign of tyranny and monsters. He destroyed Idelle, forcing Idrys and six others to scatter into the night. Since that night sixteen years ago, he has swept across the world to conquer realms and turn them into his Fallen Thrones. A scarce few remain free.

 

 

When Idrys became a bootlegger, she was determined to forget the other survivors. Yet, after finding herself in the same city as Tristas—the renowned Northern Warden she hates for his cold and calculating heart—for a royal wedding, she realizes that dream cannot be a reality. And when the city is besieged by the heir to the Fallen Throne of Rethia, only Tristas and Idrys manage to escape.

 

 

Now, Idrys and Tristas must return to the Rethian city that haunts them, in hopes they can turn it from fallen to free. Instead, they walk into a trap: the walls of the city have succumbed to a curse, and no one can leave. If Tristas and Idrys hope to escape from this city of monsters and dark magic, they must work together to break the curse…if they don’t kill each other first.

 

 

Inspired by the board game Risk, THE ELEGANCE OF TYRANNY is a multi-POV Young Adult fantasy complete at 119,000 words with series potential. Set in a re-imagined Earth, the story follows a cunning bootlegger with a death wish, a Northern Warden famous in a hundred cities for his lies, and a princess struggling to lead in the midst of a siege. I believe it will appeal to readers of A CRIMINAL MAGIC by Lee Kelly, SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo, and MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson.

 

 

 

Fun tidbit:

 

Josh Adams is my second agent, whom I received a referral (due to his agency being closed to queries at the time) from one of his clients I met through mentoring Pitch Wars in the same year. I first got an exclusive R&R (revise and resubmit) from him, and after turning in the R&R (which allowed me to cut 15,000 words from the whopping 119,000 the manuscript sat at) he offered rep a couple days later. It’s often not recommended to take exclusive R&Rs, but I’m so, so glad I did–Josh has been a wonder to work with!

 

 

 

 

Katie Bucklein started writing at the age of twelve, when a girl challenged her to a dare: who could finish writing a novel first? Spoiler: Katie won, and has since written Young Adult contemporary, historical fiction, and dystopian, but found fantasy to be her true love. The middle child of five—two older brothers and two younger sisters—she grew up in Southern California, went to high school in Arizona, and now studies history at Idaho State University. When she’s not devouring a book, she spends her days researching stories of past civilizations and people, with an intention to one day become a real life Abigail Chase, and her nights holed up in her writing cave, fueled by music and insomnia. Katie is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. For more info on Katie, check out her blog, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

 

 

 
%d bloggers like this: