chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

BEHIND THE CURTAIN – Listening To Your Gut – A guest post from Christina Lee June 3, 2015

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Even though we are in an age where information is readily at hand, it still seems many things in the publishing world are kept in the dark. Things that we’re taught not to talk about or share. One of these things is rejection and how long it takes to sell a book.

 

 

The authors who seem to get the most exposure are the ones who have whirlwind experiences. They write and sell their first book in a year and suddenly they’re on the New York Times Bestseller list. As most writers know, this is NOT the norm. But for those outside of publishing, that’s all they see. This exposure puts pressure on a lot of writers to sell the first book they’ve got out on sub. If they don’t, they walk away feeling like they’ve not only let themselves down but others who believed in them (agent, family, critique partners).

 

 

This leads me to a conversation I had with Christina Lee when I attended my first RT convention. One evening the organizers arranged a scavenger hunt through Bourbon Street. While I was in one location, a good writer friend, A.J. Pine introduced me to an author I really admired, Christina.  I actually had a hard time speaking after we met. I’d  just finished her book, ALL OF YOU and loved it.

 

 

As we talked, Christina opened up to me about the ups and downs she went through in publishing before she sold her first book. That conversation was over a year ago and to this day I still think about it vividly.

 

 

Her story makes for the perfect “Behind The Curtain” post because many times writers don’t talk about what happened prior to selling their first book. Rejections, unsold books, and failed agent relationships are forced back into the shadows like pieces of dirty laundry everyone is too afraid to talk about. To be honest, by keeping quiet I think we’re doing the writing community a disservice.

 

 

If you want to write, then I think you should go into the publishing world with your eyes wide open. You need to be aware that there’s not some magical formula you can create to sell a book. It takes years of hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance for many writers before it happens.

 

 

So today I’m proud to share this guest post from Christina Lee. I hope it will touch you and open your eyes to the realities of publishing. We each have our own path and it takes bravery and guts to follow wherever it may lead!

 

 

 

 

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Guest Post From Christina Lee

 

 

 

Thanks for inviting me to write something for your Behind The Curtain series. To tell you a little bit about my journey, I wrote my first book in 2008. It was like a hybrid NA/YA romance that will thankfully never see the light of day. HA!

 

 

 

But finishing that first book was so liberating because I gave it my all and figured out my passion for writing fiction in the process. Plus, I began learning my craft. You can only do that with lots of practice, rewrites, revisions and critiques from other writers.

 

 

 

In hindsight, that wreck of a book still wasn’t ready and no surprise that it was never picked up by an agent. So I began writing another young adult novel immediately. That one got some attention from a few agents but ultimately I had to shelf that book as well.

 

 

 

I landed my first agent with my third YA book. We went on submission, but then something strange happened. She left the business suddenly with no forewarning to her clients. There were other disappointments that went along with that situation (that I won’t mention publicly) but honestly, I should’ve known better. Because in the end, I never listened to my gut when I signed with her. I was so excited about being repped—she seemed cool, legit, loved my book, and had the right contacts—but other things were way off that were red flags.

 

 

 

So I queried again with the same book while writing my fourth. I found an awesome and reputable agent who loved that book, was really passionate about it. We went on a couple rounds of submission, got rejections and R & Rs (revise & resubmits) with no result. So we tried my next book and got even fewer bites.

 

 

 

It was around that time that I got an idea for a new adult romance, but I knew my agent only repped YA. I wrote the book anyway and did it with wild abandon. It opened up this new world for me. A world I didn’t realize I was passionate about from the writer’s side, only from the reader’s side. The world of new adult and adult romance.

 

 

 

I had a candid discussion with my agent about my desire to write in a new category/genre and we ended up parting ways. Our goals had become vastly different. And that’s okay. The important thing was to recognize it.

 

 

 

I considered querying a few agents who were accepting NA submissions at that time, but I was also asking myself some tougher questions about my future goals. Did I want to continue with my dream of traditionally publishing my first book or should I go with a smaller press or maybe self-publish? Just keeping it real here. I wanted to be an author and get my book in reader’s hands. But I also wanted to be smart and put out a great product.

 

 

 

So I queried a handful of agents I thought sounded like the right fit, while I studied the market and talked to other writers about their experiences. I got an immediate response from my current agent, Sara Megibow, who asked for the full, and then contacted me with an offer a couple of days later. And this time around felt especially right. We were on the same page, had the same general philosophy and goals. Especially when it came to communication.

 

 

 

It was all such a whirlwind after that. My book went to auction with six publishing houses. I accepted a two-book deal with Penguin. This spring, my fifth and sixth books will publish with the same house. One is a gay romance and the other is an adult contemporary, so I’m still evolving and challenging myself, and I have an agent in my corner who supports all of that.

 

 

 

So my advice to any new or even seasoned writer would be: Ask yourself some difficult questions and then really listen to your gut. It sounds cliché but that little voice inside of you will never lead you astray. If something feels off—with an agent relationship, or your book, or your offer—if you’re not writing in the genres or age categories you’re most wild about, LISTEN!

 

 

 

Ask yourself what you can or should do differently to meet your goal. And then do it—even if it feels uncomfortable and disappointing at first. Because later on the discomfort may be greater.

 

 

Keep trying new things in the general direction of your ultimate dream. Don’t stay static. Always move forward, even in baby steps, to learn and grow and change. Eventually something good will happen!

 

 

 

Christina WOWMother, wife, reader, dreamer. Christina lives in the Midwest with her husband and son–her two favorite guys. She’s addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. She believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job.  Author of the Between Breaths series including ALL OF YOU, BEFORE YOU BREAK, WHISPER TO ME, PROMISE ME THIS, and THERE YOU STAND are all available now from Penguin. Her latest release, TWO OF HEARTS, an adult contemporary romance, is now available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

She is represented by Sara Megibow of The Nelson Literary Agency. Also the creator of Tags-n-Stones (dot com) jewelry. For more on Christina, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: All Those Contests June 1, 2015

 

If you look around the internet these days it seems more frequently than ever new writing contests are popping up. They used to be sporadic throughout the year and now it feels like there’s a contest at least once every month.

 

 

If you’re a writer, these contests offer a unique opportunity to hone your query, pitch, and even sometimes your first 250 words or an entire page. In addition, it can get your work in front of some amazing agents who you would otherwise have to query normally via their agency websites (aka “the slush”).

 

 

Personally, I have benefited from some of these contests. When I was still querying it gave me the unique opportunity to polish my work and make great contacts/friends in the writing community. In fact, I’ve been so blessed by these contests that I even host one now with Michelle Hauck every January/February. And this brings me to my point…

 

 

When Michelle and I did our contest this year we had everything buttoned-up. Almost every agent we asked to participate said “yes.” We were both blown away and grateful. Then when it came time, we opened our submission window and “BOOM” within six minutes all 200 spaces were filled. To say we were both shocked is putting it mildly.

 

 

Once all the entries were in, our contest got underway. Our mentors did their jobs (beautifully!) and the posts went up. And then a very sad thing happened. We discovered another person on the internet had started a contest at the same time (a contest that we had never seen advertised – although Michelle and I blew out the doors publicizing ours just to make sure there wasn’t ANY crossover).

 

 

Several of our selections also appeared in the other contest. Agents were not happy about the double entries. We smoothed things over and everything worked out.

 

 

So Amy, where are you going with all this you may be asking? Here’s the deal: there are a lot of contests out there. Each offering a unique opportunity to share your work. What I caution is you choose wisely. Agents are beginning to see many of the same entries over and over and are tiring of it. This causes them to stop participating in contests.

 

 

I get it. Contests cause a frenzy. When you’re proud of your work it makes sense you would want to get it out there. But what I recommend is you take your time and look at what contests can do for you in the broadest scope possible:

 

 

1) Help you improve your submission materials

 

2) Connect you with agents/editors

 

3) Introduce you to possible critique partners

 

 

All these are critical to your process, but they are not the end all be all. If you don’t get selected, don’t let it stop you. Move forward. Improve your craft. Polish up your work as best you can and then send your unsolicited queries. Many times “the slush” gets a bad rap. But I can tell you from personal experience the slush can pay off.

 

 

Yes contests are important, but you can’t get caught up in them. Focus on your goals and your writing. Once you’re ready, polish up that query. Get those submission materials required by the agency ready (because you’ve done your research and YOU ARE following the guidelines) and then send them.

 

 

At that point, the future is out of your hands. Work on something new. Be confident in your writing and know that if this manuscript isn’t the one, the next one might be. Remember to keep improving. Your “yes” could be right around the corner. It could come from a contest or from the slush. The most important thing to remember is that if you want it bad enough you can NEVER GIVE UP.

 

 

Have you entered a writing contest? Did you find it helpful? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

QUITE THE QUERY: Rachel Simon and OF FRAGILE THINGS May 29, 2015

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 so 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 Simon. This great query connected her with her agent, Carrie Howland.

 

 

Dear Carrie:

 

You favorited my #Pitmad pitch (“18yrold Sadie’s sister is home from war. But PTSD isn’t the only thing she brings w/her #pitmad #YA”) and asked to see my query and the first fifty pages.

 

 

All it takes is three letters—M.I.A—to send eighteen-year-old Sadie’s whole world crashing to the ground.

 

 

Her mama believes God will bring her sister back alive from the war, but Sadie knows the truth: Skylar isn’t coming home. While everyone else prays for her sister’s survival, Sadie copes by wrapping herself in the life Skylar left behind — in her sister’s nightmares and her boyfriend’s arms.

 

 

Skylar’s past haunts the corners of Sadie’s mind as secrets come to light. Like the postcards she finds describing a baby she never knew her sister had. Secrets that crush the perfect image she’s had of Skylar.

 

 

Sadie was right about Skylar, but not in the ways she imagined. She’s coming home. Someone who looks and talks like Skylar, but not the same. But Sadie’s not the person she left behind either. And it might just tear them apart. Sadie’s already lost her sister once–can she stand to lose her again?

 

 

My YA contemporary novel, OF FRAGILE THINGS, is complete at 52,000 words. It will appeal to fans of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller, and THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson.


 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

My fun tidbit is that I landed Carrie through a Twitter pitch contest (and possibly a wedding).

 

 

A few years ago, my cousin got married and one of his wife’s bridesmaids was a literary agent named Carrie Howland. I didn’t think much of it because, at the time, I was working on a different novel for a revise and resubmit opportunity.

 

 

Flash forward to two years later, I had a new novel and weirdly great query stats (I kept refreshing my e-mail when I had 10 queries and 6 full requests; I couldn’t believe it).

 

 

In March 2014 during #PitMad, I threw out a Twitter pitch to this agent, who said to @her because the feeds were going so, so fast and she wanted to make sure she saw YA contemporary pitches. She favorited mine and asked for the first 50 pages. I immediately realized who she was (Carrie Howland! literary agent from my cousin’s wedding!) and froze up. Could I send her my full? Would she immediately reject me because we’d danced the horah together?

 

 

In the end, I told myself the worst that Carrie could do was reject me. She didn’t, to my surprise, and requested the full. In the meantime, I sent more queries and a week after my birthday in May, Carrie offered representation. Best. Birthday. Present. Ever!

 

 

For those wondering – here are my query stats: 30 queries, 5 partial requests, 1 revise and resubmit offer, 18 full requests, 4 offers.

 

 

Since signing with Carrie, we did many rounds of revisions and while the same themes are in the query above, the manuscript itself changed quite a bit.

 

 

I’m always a contest pusher when people are unsure of whether to partake in them or not.

 

 

Do it. There is no harm! :-)

 

 

Rachel SimonRachel Simon is a YA contemporary writer represented by Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson. She’s from New Jersey (where she learned to say “huge” without the H, much to her critique partner’s chagrin) and now lives in Boston (where she does not drop her Rs). She received her B.A. in Creative Writing in 2012 and will receive a certificate in Publishing in August 2014. She likes traveling, tea, and nice boys in YA. You can find out more about her at her blog or follow her on Twitter.

 

First Five Frenzy with Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary May 22, 2015

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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 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 will be requested time and time again.

 

Today I’m proud to share Literary Agent, Shannon Hassan’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

Amy: There is a belief among many writers that having a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

Shannon: What matters to me is the overall impression I get from the opening pages: Am I drawn into the story? Do I care about the characters?

 

 

 

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: The alarm clock. The time or the date (“It was 4:30 on Tuesday”—yawn). The position of the sun in the sky.

 

A scene that opens with the character alone, doing nothing (or something mundane), and lost in his/her own thoughts, can also be tough to pull off.  Get them interacting with others and/or with their external environment—this will still tell us a lot about their character, and will be more engaging.

 

 

 

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: Many of the queries I receive don’t include opening pages, although I am totally fine receiving them. So I often make the decision whether to request the manuscript based on the query. If you can get your voice across in the query, that really helps.

 

 

 

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

 

Shannon: Some authors try to setup everything in the first few pages, and it can come across as too expository. I think this happens because authors are fleshing out the characters and storyline in their own minds as they start writing a novel. It is important, after you finish your draft, to revisit that first chapter and look at it critically. Are there parts of backstory that can wait until later? Is there a way to take much of what you are “telling” us up front and blend it more organically into the narrative later on?

 

Think of your opening pages as a first date… do you really tell your date everything about yourself or do you leave them wanting to learn more :)

 

 

 

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

 

Shannon: All of that is important. But voice is especially important because it either works for me or it doesn’t, whereas structural issues, like pacing, can often be fixed with editorial work.

 

 

Shannon Hassan, an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary, brings a depth of business and editorial experience to her role, having worked in publishing and law for more than a decade.  She represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, and select nonfiction.  She is drawn to fresh voices, compelling characters, and crisp prose, and enjoys both contemporary and historical settings.  She received her JD from Harvard and her BA from George Washington University. For more information, please visit: http://www.marsallyonliteraryagency.com, or follow her @ShannonHassan.

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Shannon, please check the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency website for details.

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Ashley Herring Blake May 20, 2015

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Sometimes a passion for writing comes from the excitement of creating stories for a particular audience. As Ashley Herring Blake shares in today’s W.O.W., her drive to create comes from wanting to write extraordinary stories for teenagers. In her own words below, she explains how “teens are some of the bravest people she knows” and that inspires her to create important stories that speak to their struggles and the rapid changes they’re going through.

 

Many thanks to Ashley for sharing her writing journey today…

 

 

 

Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult Fiction?

 

Ashley: Simply put, I love writing YA because I really like teenagers. Adolescence is such a fraught period of our lives. Our bodies and minds are going through so many changes while we’re trying to figure out who we are, what we like, what we want to do. Add in sex and friendships and parents, and it’s a wonder any of us survive it. But we do. I think teenagers are some of the bravest people out there and I write for them because I admire them. I write for them because all of that painful growth, paired with the reality of who they are and the possibility of who they’ll become, inspires me even in my thirties.

 

 

 

Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to SUFFER LOVE?

 

Ashley: SUFFER LOVE was my fifth complete book. Sixth if you count the draft I got three-fourths through and stopped because SUFFER LOVE sort of took over my brain. The first two were middle grade—one a contemporary that I don’t like to even think about, and the other a fantasy. My third was a YA fantasy that I like to snicker about and it was around the time that I started my fourth—a paranormal that I turned into a contemporary—that I finally figured out that contemporary was where I needed to settle. So, lots of practice before I landed on “the one.”

 

 

 

Amy: How long did it take you to write the query for SUFFER LOVE? Did it go through many drafts?

 

Ashley: I’m not sure how long it took me exactly, but I do remember that it was an agonizing process. I went through many drafts. At the time, I didn’t have the writing community that I do now, so it was really just me and my fabulous critique partner travailing over this thing. I know I drove her nuts! I finally enlisted the help of a veteran author whom I reached out to via email. She really helped whip my query into shape. Honestly, I feel like the query was harder than the book. It’s really difficult for authors to pare down their 70K novel into 300 words, and I really recommend getting help on it. Sometimes, it’s easier for someone who’s not as close to your story and characters as you are to see what needs to be said about them.

 

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for SUFFER LOVE? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?

 

Ashley: When all was said and done, I had queried close to thirty agents. I got a mix of rejections and either full or partial requests within a week or two and that went on for a while. An agent I was very interested in gave me a wonderful R&R. Her notes really improved the book. She ended up passing, which, honestly, was devastating, but it was the next day that I sucked it up, sent to another round of queries, and Rebecca contacted me within a week offering rep. I had two other offers, but she was the clear choice and I regret nothing that happened along my querying journey.

 

 

 

Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Rebecca Podos?  How did you know she was a good fit for you?

 

Ashley: My call with Rebecca was magical. There’s just no other way to describe it. She was my first offer (the other two came after a nudge), and I felt so comfortable with her. I knew she was a good fit for a few reasons. First, she LOVED my book. I think that’s key. It’s wholly possible for an agent to offer rep, because they believe they can sell your book and they like it and know it’s good, but not LOVE it. My other offers clearly liked my book, but not like Rebecca did. Second, I felt at ease with her. I knew I could call her up with crazy questions and not feel intimidated. This was important to me because I knew I WOULD be calling her up with crazy questions throughout this process! Lastly, she was new to the game, but had enough experience that I felt confident I would get the attention my needy little self required AND she would be able to represent me the way I wanted. She’d be able to sell and sell well. I’ve been with her almost a year and I have zero complaints about the amazing Rebecca Podos.

 

 

 

Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

Ashley: Oh yes. When I first started really trying to write seriously, I had just finished a masters program in education. I decided to take the next year or so and really give it my all. I’m pretty sure I got a little loopy! I wrote every day, sometimes all day, and it was really overwhelming at first. It was stressful, thinking about how much I loved writing and the possibility that I might not be able to do it. Yes, writers will always write. But writers write for readers and it can be scary thinking that no one will ever care about what you’ve shed blood and tears for. After many rejections, I remember thinking, “I can’t do this again. I can’t write another book and query it again.” Honestly, I think I would’ve done it again. This is a slow craft and perseverance is a big part of success.

 

 

 

Amy: What advice did you get early on in your writing career that you still use today?

 

Ashley: Write. I know that sounds sort of obvious, but I know we can get so bogged down in planning or insecurities or fear of failure that we don’t write. If you want to write, write. Every time I start a new draft (ok, there have only been two new starts since SUFFER LOVE, but still), I get so nervous. It takes me weeks to really dive in. Yes, some of that is important prewriting, but there comes a point where you just have to suck it up and do it. If it sucks, it sucks. That’s what critique partners and agents and editors are for. Also, READ. Read everything. All the genres. I think MFAs in creative writing are wonderful and I’d love to participate in one someday if that’s ever possible for me, but I learned to write by reading. Sure, read some books on craft, but I guarantee you they won’t be as helpful as reading well-written (and, yeah, sometimes the not so well-written ones are helpful too) books. Another piece of advice has to do with community. I can’t tell you the difference having friends who write has made for me. Writing is such a strange job and it really helps to have people around you who understand the crazy. Surround yourself with these people, soak up their knowledge and experience and offer yours, even if it’s only online. My last piece of advice? Write.

 

 

 

AshleyHBlakeB&WAshley Herring Blake used to write songs and now she writes books. She reads them a lot too. She likes coffee, her boys, gloomy music, anything with pumpkin in it, Tiffany Blue-colored anything, scarves, and walks. She doesn’t like olives, soggy asparagus, or humidity and has not a lick of visual artistic talent. Ashley lives in Nashville, TN with her witty husband and two boisterous little boys. Previous jobs include songwriter and performer (though she made about enough money to cover the gas to the gigs), substitute teacher, barista, Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapist, teacher in a school for kids with autism, and, the hardest job in the world, mommyhood. That last one is still happening, along with lots of word making. SUFFER LOVE, a YA contemporary novel that follows two teens as they wade through an intense relationship complicated by their parents’ infidelities, is her first novel and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR in 2016. For more on Ashley, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@ashleyblake).

 

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY with Natasha Neagle and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS May 8, 2015

 

 

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 so 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 Natasha Neagle. This great query connected her with her agent, Andrea Somberg.

 

 

After her celebrity parents’ divorce, sixteen-year-old Arissa Jayne moves to the suburban hellhole of Innsbrooke, Florida and abandons the spotlight and drama for a quiet life. But Arissa’s existence as Girl Invisible is threatened when she tutors Erica, a flirty cheerleader, and they find themselves discovering more about the chemistry between them than the periodic table.

 

That’s when the harassment starts. Except it’s not the usual gay-bashing Arissa’s dealt with before. Each mysterious text or tweet threatens violence. All signed by Secret. When Arissa tries to block Secret from contacting her, the texts progress to a car accident. And murder. With the police involved and the evidence pointing at Arissa, she must confront Secret or go down for crimes she didn’t commit.

 

Determined to find out who’s hell bent on destroying Arissa’s life, she and Erica set a trap to expose Secret’s identity. But in a town where nobody plays by the rules and everyone has something to hide, taking down Secret to clear Arissa’s name might cost them their lives.

 

DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS is Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars Series meets Heathers for the LGBT community, a 79,000 word standalone YA Contemporary Thriller with series potential.

 

 

Fun tidbit: Andrea read my MS in one sitting and immediately offered me representation.

 

 

 

Nat picNatasha Neagle writes diverse YA thrillers about characters with more guts than her. She considers herself a diehard fictional character shipper and has way too much fun shopping for makeup and shoes. She is a firm believer that the best way to hear music is live, and can always be found on Twitter, especially if Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead is on. Natasha lives in Northern Virginia with her superhero husband, two crazy-smart kids, and their demon-possessed cats. For more on Natasha, check out her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

First Five Frenzy with Whitley Abell of Inklings Literary Agency May 1, 2015

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 will be requested time and time again.

 

 

Today, I’m proud to share Literary Agent, Whitley Abell’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

 

Amy: There is a belief among many writers that having a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

Whitley: It’s not nearly as important as the pitch and the first couple pages as a whole. That said, while the first line has (almost) never broken a pitch for me, the first line has definitely made a pitch. For a couple of my clients, it was their first line that made me root for them from the get-go, hoping I’d be just as in love when I reached the end. Once I’m hooked like that, I’m definitely going to keep reading.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Whitley: I’m sorry to say that I see a lot of samples in MG where the first page is some variation of “My name is Hermione and I am 11 years old. I have frizzy brown hair and big teeth and brown eyes. I am in the first year at Hogwarts School of Witch Craft and Wizardry. Harry and Ron are my best friends. On a normal day, I would go to class. But today…” It’s so disappointing when a great pitch turns out to be something like this. This is my least favorite opener to see. Please don’t do that.

 

Other than that, what I see most (other than dreams) is too heavy a focus on the introduction of backstory and/or normal life. It’s tempting to set the scene, so to speak, to show stasis before the status quo is disrupted, but the best tactic is to begin the story immediately before the plot begins.

 

For example, the plot begins when a stranger steps through your front door, don’t start (1) in the kitchen, making the same ham sandwich you’ve made every day for the last three years since you learned your little brother was deathly allergic to peanut butter, and which you just finished eating when the knock came or (2) when the stranger dragged you back out the door and onto his flying carpet. Begin in that breath of a second before the first knock sounds.

 

 

 

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?

 

Whitley: For me to request, I need an authentic voice, great writing, vibrant characters who stories I care about and who I want to follow as they grow and struggle and change, and a unique (and sellable) hook. I’m looking for something that I can get excited about and something I can picture the audience and editor for.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Whitley: I see a lot of rushing through the first chapter or so, as though the author is just pushing through to get to the “good stuff”. This fosters a whole lot of telling instead of showing, and ends up weighing the sample down. Typically, it could have been solved by starting elsewhere.

 

There’s also a tendency to info dump. There is plenty of time to fill the reader in on any pertinent information in the backstory later. The first pages are for engaging the reader and drawing them in to the story! I actually see a lot of backstory dumping in dialogue. It’s good to see characters interacting, but if they’re just recapping the backstory line-by-line, the tension of the plot is still lost.

 

 

 

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

 

Whitley: Of the three, voice is the most important for me when I’m reading. I’m always looking for a narrative voice that I can really become invested in. Pacing is at a still important second. A unique concept is definitely important when talking about the query, but when it comes to the sample pages, I’ve seen many good concepts fall apart in the opening pages because the voice and pacing didn’t live up to the pitch’s promise.

 

 

 

 

Whitley Abell joined Inklings Literary Agency in 2013. Before joining Inklings, she completed successful internships with Carol Mann Agency and P.S. Literary Agency. She is based in St. Louis, MO, where she daylights writing proposals of the entirely unromantic variety. She graduated in 2011with a BA in English and Creative Writing, and again in 2012 with a MAT in Secondary English Education, which basically means she can tell you anything there is to know about feminist literary theory and the Common Core Standards.

 

Whitley is currently building her list and is primarily interested in Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Women’s fiction. She is open to almost anything within those arenas, be it contemporary or historical, romance or thriller, realistic or supernatural, tragic or quirky. She has a soft spot for the goofy guys, awkward ducks, April Ludgates, and devout fan girls of the world. Manic pixie dream girls will be turned away at the door.

 

Please, NO picture books, poetry, non-fiction, or genre romance, crime/mystery, or sci-fi/fantasy for the adult market.

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Whitley, please check the Inklings Literary website for their guidelines.

 

 
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