chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary Agency June 2, 2017

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,Query,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 6:01 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 Kari Sutherland’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?

 

Kari: It’s not the be-all-and-end-all, but it definitely helps set the tone and grab my attention. I always read beyond it, but I’ll be more excited about the submission if the first paragraph or two convey a sense of character, a strong voice, or something about the plot/world that piques my interest. There are times when a writer goes to extremes to make the first sentence sensational (my ex is pointing a gun at me! The house slid into the ocean! Aliens have landed!) when it doesn’t entirely fit the story. I’d rather have the first few lines infused with the persona of a character I want to spend the next 60K words reading about than an explosive beginning for drama’s sake.

 

 

 

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?

 

Kari: All of the above! There are exceptions to every rule, so I wouldn’t say a book that opens with one of those is not going to be one I ultimately enjoy, but beginning with a dream or waking from one, a mundane conversation or part of a routine (picking out clothes, going for a run, walking to class), or throwing your protagonist into a new school or having him/her watch a new student arrive are all very prosaic routes. In dystopian novels, a selection/choosing ceremony has become the equivalent of starting at a new school for the contemporary genre. It may not stop me from reading on, but the voice will have to work harder to impress me. Another common trope used in the first few pages is the main character looking in a mirror to give us a physical description. I prefer more organic ways of working in those descriptors.

I have been gripped by a dream opening because of stellar, compelling writing and I’ve been bored by more extraordinary and unusual beginnings because the characters, emotions, or descriptions fall flat.

 

 

 

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?

 

Kari: Beyond the voice, which is first and foremost for me, and an intriguing concept, I look for the ability of a writer to create a poignant or electrifying moment, to make me feel something, even within the first chapter, whether it’s amusement, empathy, or irritation-by-proxy. The first chapter should have a good balance of dialogue and internalization/description since we often learn more about characters when they interact with others and I should have a sense of the world/character’s life without knowing everything. It’s like a first date—you want to hook me (the reader) with your charm and personality and some fascinating anecdotes, but hold back the more detailed knowledge for later, once we’ve spent more time together. The mystery alone can be tantalizing.

 

 

 

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

 

Kari: Writers sometimes think they need to lay out the whole world up front. In sci-fi/fantasy or dystopian, this can be with in-depth explanations of how things came to be this way, how things work in this society, etc. In contemporary this can manifest with delving into too much backstory of a relationship anytime a new character enters the scene or an over-reliance on physical descriptions rather than showing us personality traits and temperament. Some details should be there to help readers get a feel for the setting, but we don’t need the complete history at the start. Emotionally laden interactions will be much more compelling than a sociology lesson.

 

 

 

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

 

Kari: Voice. I want to know the person who will be leading me on this journey. Someone snarky and gruff? Someone witty and observant? Someone scarred by the past, but hopeful of the future? Someone unapologetically sunny? Someone fiercely loyal and passionate?

The query can show me whether a concept is unique, but if the voice can’t draw me in, an original idea isn’t going to be enough.

 

 

 

Kari Sutherland joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2017 after a decade of experience in publishing from the editorial side. While at HarperCollins Children’s Books, she worked with bestselling and critically acclaimed authors on projects such as Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. With her editorial insight and experience with the entire publishing process, Kari is passionate about helping to polish each manuscript and equip her clients for success.

 

For full submission guidelines, please see the Bradford Literary Agency website.

 

QUITE THE QUERY – JoAnna Illingworth and THE BLACK UMBRELLA May 24, 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 JoAnna Illingworth. This great query connected her with Uwe Stender of Triada US Literary Agency.

 

 

 

Seventeen-year-old Brolly J. Parker’s favorite shirt is missing. It’s the first day of senior year, it’s pouring rain and she’s running late. Rummaging through her mom’s closet looking for her shirt, Brolly uncovers a strange looking umbrella hidden in an old box. She grabs the umbrella and runs to check her car for the missing shirt. When she opens the umbrella, she’s abruptly torn away from her home and tossed through time, landing on an unfamiliar, rocky shore, the umbrella gone. A stranger approaches, asking if she needs help. Brolly learns the stranger is eighteen-year-old Lord Thomas Westbourne and she’s somehow arrived at his lake castle in the year 1826.

 

Brolly is desperate to go home, but without the missing umbrella she has no idea how to do it. She spends her days pacing the lakeshore and avoiding awkward encounters with Lord Westbourne. Even though they’re close in age, she can’t imagine how they would have anything in common. Thomas remains curious about Brolly, constantly asking her questions about how she got there and where she’s from.

 

Through time and conversation, Brolly beings to develop feelings for the enigmatic Lord. When he finally admits his feelings for her, even after Brolly explains she doesn’t belong in his world, it’s the push she needs to accept how deep her feelings run. And it’s then, after Thomas and Brolly decide to be together, the black umbrella is finally found. In a struggle to make sure Thomas doesn’t open it, the umbrella opens in her hands and she’s instantly transported back home. It’s as if her time at the castle never happened at all.

 

Against the disbelief of her mom, Brolly believes Thomas was real. She also suspects her mom is hiding a secret about the umbrella that will help her find him. Brolly won’t give up until she discovers the truth.

 

 

 

JoAnna Illingworth is from Nashville and is a music marketer by day and a writer by night. For more on JoAnna, follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.

 

 

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners May 5, 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 Hillary Jacobson’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?

 

 

Hillary: A first line is important because I assume the author has paid the most attention to that line and been very purposeful with it. So when I see a first line that’s grammatically incorrect or not very strong, I’m initially a bit suspicious. However, a first line is never a deal breaker. If the writing gets stronger after that, I’ll still want to request the full.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Hillary: I think anything cliché can be made interesting in the right hands. However, if the first word is a character uttering or thinking a curse word…that feels very overdone and like a lazy way to get the reader into a situation.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Hillary: First pages that can immerse me in a whole new world without confusing me always pique my interest. I struggle a lot, especially with fantasy queries, that want to plop you right into a super complicated new world without giving you the tools to make sense of it. The best openings make you comfortable with what you know and what you don’t know.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hillary: Telling instead of showing, especially with something more high-concept. I’ve noticed that some writers want to explain everything right away when there isn’t a need to. Like in my last answer, I want to be able to understand what’s going on, but I don’t want the information thrown at me in a clunky way.

 

Also, this may seem unimportant, but so many writers neglect to perfect their formatting!! If the font and font size are all over the place and your query looks unprofessional, I’m already skeptical.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hillary: Absolutely the voice and strength of the writing. I really try to keep an open mind in regards to concept, so I rely on the voice to clue me in if I should keep reading more. Ultimately, if I feel disappointed when the pages end, I know that I have to request the full!

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners is actively building a list consisting of commercial and literary fiction, YA, as well as narrative non-fiction and memoir. She is especially seeking high-concept YA, upmarket fiction, psychological thrillers and memoirs that read like fiction. A lifelong obsessive reader, she got into the literary game as soon as she could. Prior to working at ICM, she interned at Random House, Janklow & Nesbit and Alloy Entertainment. She is a graduate of Brown University.

 

Interested in subbing to Hillary? Send directly to hjacobson@icmpartners.com with the query and first ten pages in the body of the email.

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY – Cass Morris and AVEN May 3, 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 Cass Morris. This great query connected her with Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.

 

 

 

An assassination attempt forces Latona, an elemental mage, to unleash her latent powers, demonstrating potential that far outstrips her training. When the dictator who threatened her family dies, she determines to take this opportunity to change the course of her life, but she quickly discovers that ambition has a high price.

 

The city-state of Aven is a place where elemental magic shapes the rule of the land as strongly as law and war. In the power vacuum left by the dictator’s death, the conservative old guard clashes with the populist liberal faction over the best way to shape the nation’s future.

 

Latona and her sister Aula, a widow whose frivolous nature conceals a scheming mind, use charisma and cunning to manipulate advances for the populists. Their paths intersect with that of Sempronius Tarren, a rising politician who dreams of a vast empire growing from his beloved city. He believes that the gods have equipped him with the necessary skills and thrown down this challenge – but in order to achieve his goals, he will have to break some of his civilization’s most sacred laws. Custom dictates that no mage may attain the highest political offices, but Sempronius, who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. Aula sees in Sempronius a man with an extraordinary vision for their nation and the greatness to make it a reality, and she pushes her sister to cultivate an alliance with him.

 

As their friendship blossoms, Sempronius encourages Latona to learn to wield the extraordinary magical power that is her birthright – but Latona’s husband objects to the idea and the alliance, and Sempronius’s secret could ruin them both and destroy their faction’s chance to reform the city.

 

Aven is a completed 106,000 word historical fantasy with series potential, inspired by late Republic Rome.

 

 

Fun Tidbit:

 

I lost track of how many times I re-wrote or tweaked the query letter, but it was at least five times over six months. I found success with the 31st agent I queried. What’s funny to me now is that while the book, after three years of edits, barely resembles the draft that I originally sent to Connor, the query letter remains a fairly apt description of it!

 

 

 

 

Cass Morris is a Virginia writer who works in the Education Department at the American Shakespeare Center. Cass completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin College and earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007, where she was accepted into the Alpha Delta Gamma honor society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Cass served on the boards of student theatrical production companies at both Mary Baldwin and William and Mary. She currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley with two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy, where she reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary. Debut novel FROM UNSEEN FIRE forthcoming January 2018 from DAW Books. For more on Cass, find her on these social media sites:

 

Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris

Twitter: @CassRMorris

Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites

Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/

Goodreads: goodreads.com/CassRMorris

 

 

 

First Five Frenzy with Hannah Fergesen of KT Literary April 28, 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 Hannah Fergesen’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?

 

 

Hannah: A good first line is a nice bonus to a good query, but not if the rest of the sample (I ask for 3 pages) doesn’t seem to fit with that line, or doesn’t have the same voice/oomph. I’ve seen samples that have a first line that was clever, to the point, and sucked me right in – only to realize that the writing that follows was not given the same consideration by the writer. At that point, it didn’t matter that the first line was good. I’d rather have a solid, consistent sample than one good first line.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hannah: We often see the advice “open on action”, right? And so a lot of these openings have become clichéd through writers attempting to open on action, while also fulfilling their desire to unload a lot of backstory up front. A character looking in a mirror might meditate on her appearance but also what the bullies at school say about her, what the boy she has as crush on thinks, etc. It’s a way to tell us a lot things up front, rather than show us as the story progresses. These openings are clichés because they’re crutches.

 

 

So, I’m not going to tell you to say away from XYZ openings, because if you’re not using it for backstory purposes, one of them just might be the exact right opening for your story! I will say, if you’re stuck, rather than attempting to start on action (which is what gave us these clichés to begin with), consider starting on interaction. Two characters talking or having an adventure together will always be more interesting, and give us a better sense of the cast and plot overall, than a girl eating breakfast or a boy looking into a mirror alone.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Hannah: The query is usually well crafted, because I do read that first – if your query can’t engage me, I generally don’t spend as much time on the pages, to be quite honest (Not all agents are like this, of course! Many skip the query entirely and go straight for the pages. Everyone is different – account for both!). So if the query is well-written and gives me a good sense of the conflict and personal stakes, I’ll move onto the pages. Generally when I request pages it’s because the voice and prose sucks me in right away. An interesting, engaging voice and tight prose can often take a long time to hone, so I generally trust that you’ve taken the time to learn and revise your work.

 

 

Also, a good sample doesn’t try and dump too much info at once, but it does move swiftly into the story. It gives me enough to know who the character is and perhaps why they’re the main character, but withholds enough information that I have to keep reading to understand the full extent of what I’m in for.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hannah: Too much info-dumping, too little information, starting in the wrong place (too far into the story, so that you have to info dump a lot of what happened to bring a character to the place she is now; or not far enough into the story, so it takes too long to engage).

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Hannah: Voice and pacing. Like I mentioned before, I am a big sucker for a good voice, so if you can slap me in the face with a character’s voice and amazing prose, I’m in it. In my opinion, even the most clichéd concepts can be made unique with an interesting voice and tight, well-crafted prose.

 

 

 

 

Before settling in New York, Hannah worked and went to school in Denver, where she obtained her degree in Writing for Film and Television. Opportunities in New York presented themselves before she could run off to LA, and she course corrected her career toward publishing, a dream of hers since childhood. After stints as a remote intern for a well-known agent, a bookseller at the famous Books of Wonder, an intern at Soho Press, a literary assistant at Trident Media Group, and a freelance editor working with well-known authors, Hannah joined KT Literary in 2016. Hannah is a proud geek and TV junkie, with an all-consuming love for Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and anything created by Joss Whedon. With her background in film and television, she is attracted to stories with strong visuals and sharp dialogue, whether presented in edgy speculative or contemporary YA and MG fiction, or dark and lyrical speculative adult fiction.

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Hannah, please check the KT Literary website for their submission guidelines.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 
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