chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary September 23, 2016

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,Query,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 5:59 am
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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

 

 

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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

 

 

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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 rachelsolomonbooks.com and on Twitter @rlynn_solomon.

 

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?


 

 

Shannon:

 

 

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: https://shannonepowers.wordpress.com/

 

 

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

 

QUITE THE QUERY: WADE ALBERT WHITE AND MAGICK 7.0 August 24, 2016

 

QuiteTheQuery

 

 

 

 

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: ON #PITCHWARS AND WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS KEEP WRITING August 22, 2016

 

 

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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

 

QuiteTheQuery

 

 

 

 

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).

 

 

 

 
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