chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUITE THE QUERY – Julie Artz and THE ELEPHANT TREE April 26, 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 Julie Artz. This great query connected her with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Literary.

 

 

 

 

 

THE ELEPHANT TREE is a contemporary middle grade novel with a sprinkle of Haitian Vodou. It is complete at 50,000 words and will appeal to fans of A Snicker of Magic and Flora & Ulysses.

 

 

Tilly Tucker checks every tulip for sleeping fairies. She believes the spirits of her ancestors watch over her, even though she lives so far from her native Haiti. And she thinks if she casts a spell just right, it will protect her and her adopted family. But all that ends on her eleventh birthday when she casts a spell to stop her parents from divorcing…and it doesn’t work.

 

 

Tilly and Mama leave Missoula behind and move in with Tilly’s estranged Grandma in Seattle. When a visit to Gran’s attic uncovers a journal and an old yellowed picture of a young Haitian girl, Tilly believes it’s a sign from her ancestors. Armed with a book of Vodou spells, a home-made shrine, and the necklace that was left with her at the orphanage in Haiti, Tilly must contact the spirit of her biological great-grandmother and cast a spell so powerful it will bring her broken family back together. If she can’t, she’ll lose both her families forever.

 

 

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

The Elephant Tree was the fourth manuscript I queried (the third middle-grade manuscript). Although I got requests on all four, I could tell this one was different because from the first round of queries sent July 2016, my response rate jumped from a respectable 15-20% to almost twice that, ending up at 42% over the two rounds I sent before I received an offer of representation.

 

 

 

JULIE ARTZ spent her childhood sneaking into wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. Now that she’s older, people think that’s creepy, so she writes middle grade instead. Her stories for children feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to helping run From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors (http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com), she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, contributes regularly to The Winged Pen (http://thewingedpen.com), and is the incoming co-RA of SCBWI Western Washington. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. Connect with her on Twitter (@JulieArtz), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJulieArtz/) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/julieartz/).

 

 

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Amy Elizabeth Bishop of Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret April 21, 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 Amy Elizabeth Bishop’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

 

Amy T.: 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?

 

 

 

Amy B.: The first line isn’t that important to me. I’m looking for the first few pages to really suck me in. Do I feel grounded as a reader in what’s going on? Do I have a good feel for the characters? Am I already engrossed in the plot or am I lost in a lot of backstory? Of course, a great first line is always going to draw me in and make me curious about what happens next, but I think how you open with your first chapter can often be even more important.

 

 

 

 

Amy T.: 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?

 

 

 

Amy B.: This is a tough one, because a really good writer will take something I usually dislike and turn it on its head. Perhaps one thing I’d say to be careful of is to avoid opening with a huge chunk of reflection or commentary from the protagonist before getting into the action. We need some grounding in the beginning, but I want to see what’s going on, not be told.

 

 

 

 

Amy T.: 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?

 

 

 

Amy B.: They’ve set up the tension or the conflict of the novel well from the beginning pages and I feel comfortable as a reader. I feel like I know their character(s) pretty well, are invested in their futures, and I want to see what happens next.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Amy B.: Some common mistakes I see are overuse of exposition or dialogue (that balance can be tricky), waiting too long to get started with the conflict (i.e.: what’s driving the story), or too much explanation via backstory.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Amy B.: All of the above! I love a good voice-driven narrative. If it’s an unusual concept with good pacing, I’m sold. For me though, I’m always interested in the characters—if they have a voice that just leaps off the page, I’ll probably want to keep reading.

 

 

 

Amy Elizabeth Bishop joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret after interning at DG&B in 2014. Before diving into the world of publishing, she graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in Creative Writing. She grew up in upstate New York and has now made the traitorous switch to downstate living. Reading-wise, she is interested in both commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, fiction from diverse authors, historical fiction (focusing on untold stories or well-known stories from a different perspective; think, minority voices), and contemporary YA. In terms of nonfiction, she’s on the hunt for a killer feminist voice and loves historical narrative non-fiction, as well as memoirs. Amy is also a poet (in her spare time) and is a reader for The Rumpus.

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Amy, please check the Dystel, Goderich & Bourret website for their submission guidelines.

 

 

Monday Musings: Plan A, B, C, D, etc… April 17, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you write your first book your dream is that it will sell. For many writers that dream does not come true. Most move on to writing another book, and then perhaps another, and one more until they finally achieve their dream.

 

 

This path is most common for writers. It’s rare to query and sell a first book. Let me repeat that – IT IS RARE TO QUERY AND SELL A FIRST BOOK. I share this because after one book many writers give up. The reasons for this are too many to list, but I think many give up because they believe one book is all they have in them. And let’s admit it, querying can take a lot out of you. The ups and down of requests and rejections can be a lot to bear at times.

 

 

I’ve been there plenty and I find solace in two things: my friends in the community who remind me day in and day out that I am NOT alone, and the chance to create something fresh. To breathe life into new settings and characters.

 

 

Write something new? You may say that sounds strange. Doesn’t writing a new book mean even more chance for rejection? Of course it does, but it’s also another chance to open new doors. Another shot at connecting with that agent or elusive editor you’ve been dying to work with.  It’s a Plan B, C, or even D when Plan A isn’t panning out the way you hoped it would.

 

 

You commonly hear the advice in many writing and publishing circles that  you should be writing something new while you’re querying or are on sub. This is true for several reasons. First, if you do connect with an agent, they’re going to ask if you’ve written other books. That editor who’s got your sub, might ask what else you have as a possible option book. Second, distracting yourself with a new manuscript helps take your mind off the stress of querying and/or being on submission, plus it forces you to stop refreshing your inbox every ten seconds! And let’s be honest, we are all VERY guilty of this. For me, it might be every five seconds (LOL!)

 

 

After doing this for five years, I’ve come to realize I’m strong enough to endure this business. It’s tough, and the waiting and rejection is incredibly difficult at times, but I do find comfort in having a backup plan. It allows me to focus on the next step, not the roadblocks and dead ends I feel like I’m facing.

 

 

So my advice for writers at any and all stages of the process is think about your next book, and perhaps the book after that. It’s only by moving forward that you can avoid getting stuck in the rut of loathing and self-doubt. And if you’re currently in that rut, it’s okay. Know that while you may not believe it now, you DO have that next book in you. It may not be ready to be written now, but it’s there, bubbling underneath the surface. Give it time to grow and blossom and then get to writing. There are people out their waiting to read your words and you CAN deliver!

 

 

Have a great week and I hope the words come quickly for all of you!

 

 

 

A QUITE THE QUERY PLAN April 14, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

One of the greatest pleasures about writing this blog is the feedback I get from readers. It’s awesome to hear that the content shared helped a writer on their journey in some small way.

 

 

About a year ago, I was developing a query for a new book and an idea hit me. Wouldn’t it be nice to have writer friends share the successful queries that connected them with their agents? Those queries would not only help writers with format and delivery, but inspire them to push forward with their own publishing dream.

 

 

With a few emails, and some very generous writers, QUITE THE QUERY was born! As of today, there are 42 queries in the series spanning from Picture Books all the way to Adult. In and amongst them are even two New York Times Bestsellers!

 

 

My goal with this series is simple. Offer a resource for writers so the struggle to create their own query won’t be such a rough process.  My hope in 2017 is to double the number of queries currently posted. I can only accomplish that dream by spreading the word about this series, so readers, I’m asking for your help. If you know of a writer who has an amazing query, will you tell them about this series? Writers can reach me via this blog or @ me on Twitter.

 

 

I’m looking for all genres in Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Books. I also have one graphic novel in the series and would love to add more.

 

 

My goal with this blog has always been to help writers. I hope that by adding to QUITE THE QUERY, many writers will find inspiration and write a successful query of their own!

 

 

Thanks for helping me spread the word and have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 
%d bloggers like this: