chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

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

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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, 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.

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Charlie N. Holmberg April 29, 2015

 

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One of the reasons I love doing this series is because sometimes a writer will answer a question with such a brave response that I’m both taken aback and excited to share. This happened in today’s W.O.W. with Charlie Holmberg. When I asked what she would say to a writer who wanted to give up, her answer was simple yet accurate – “go back and remember why you wanted to write in the first place.” I think many times we get so caught up in the machine of querying and subbing, we forget why we started writing – for the pure and simple joy of it.

 

Many thanks to Charlie for sharing her journey today and reminding me why I’m in this crazy and exhilarating business…for the stories!

 

 

 

 

Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 

 

Charlie: When I was thirteen. That’s when I decided I wanted to make my own stories, my own adventures. (I’m not going to lie, watching The Vision of Escaflowne pretty much spurred that desire. #nerdconfession)

 

 

 

 

Amy: I love the premise behind THE PAPER MAGICIAN. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

 

 

Charlie: Thank you! And I honestly don’t remember. I always thought it’d be cool to have a side character who could manipulate paper—where that thought came from, I don’t know. Maybe from folding origami in church. ;) Later I decided that character could be the central focus of the book, and the rest stemmed from there.

 

 

 

 

Amy: Did you have critique partners for THE PAPER MAGICIAN? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?

 

 

Charlie: Oh yes. I have about ten to twelve of them at any given time! I have alpha readers—other writers—who read my rough draft, and beta readers—non-writers—who read a more polished draft. They are essential. They point out my big-picture flaws and my awkward grammatical errors. I couldn’t get by without them.

 

 

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for THE PAPER MAGICIAN? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?

 

 

Charlie: You know, not very many. I think I may have been close to a dozen when I signed with Marlene. Some got back to me immediately (Marlene asked for my full an HOUR after I queried her), some I didn’t hear from or I had to withdraw my manuscript from. (That is a poorly-worded sentence. Oh well.)

 

 

 

 

Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Marlene Stringer? How did you know she was a good fit for you?

 

 

Charlie: Oh man, I was so nervous for that! It went really well. Marlene was upfront about everything and explained everything I would need to know. She answered all my questions with all the right answers. We talked for about an hour, me scribbling down her every word on a note pad and being very reserved and shy (which I very much am not, but intimidation, yo. I was so nervous!) And she said she liked me and wanted to represent me and I pretty much cried, ha! I knew she was a good fit from her answers, her confidence, and because Marlene doesn’t operate off a real contract. She makes it easy for me to end the partnership if I want to (not that I want to), so there was no pressure. I really admired that. Marlene’s now-15 years of experience really helped, too. I had agents on my favorite list who were still new to the field quitting left and right. I was terrified of being left by the roadside if I signed with a less-experienced agent.

 

 

 

 

Amy: From reading your bio, I know THE PAPER MAGICIAN was your ninth novel.Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

 

Charlie: Nope. Next question.

 

 

Ha ha. But seriously, I never considered giving up. Even if I never got published, I’d still write books for my friends and family because I love doing it. And I always knew that, with enough work, I could get published. (I’m a real believer in the American dream.)

 

 

 

 

 

Amy: If you met a struggling writer at a book signing and they told you they were on the verge of giving up, what would you say to them?

 

 

Charlie: Honestly, if someone is really willing to give it up, maybe writing isn’t for them. It can be grueling, especially with the abundance of rejection. But there will always be rejection. Rejection from agents, from readers, from editors, from publishers.

 

I would tell them to go back and remember why they wanted to write in the first place. I would ask them if they’re really ready to stick a knife to all the ideas and aspirations in their head. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break when the going gets tough, but I really believe it’s better to tough it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper Magician

(Now available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retail outlets) 

 

 

 

 

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

 

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

 

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.  

 

 

 

 

CharlieHomegrown in Salt Lake City, Charlie was raised a Trekkie with three sisters who also have boy names. She writes fantasy novels and does freelance editing on the side. She’s a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, and owns too many pairs of glasses. For more on Charlie, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter or Goodreads.

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY with Stina Lindenblatt and TELL ME WHEN April 24, 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 Stina Lindenblatt. This great query connected her with her agent, Marisa Corvisiero.

 

 

Amber’s tragedy was splashed across the front page news. Marcus’s happened behind closed doors. And he intends to keep it that way. . . .

 

As a college freshman, Amber Scott’s main focus should be on her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian. With nightmares and flashbacks wearing her down, Amber is in danger of failing pre-calculus math. If she does, she can say goodbye to the money funding her college education and any hope of the life she’d dreamed of before her stalker ruined it all.

 

 

Gorgeous engineering student, Marcus Reid, with his long list of sexual conquests, is exactly the kind of guy she doesn’t need. His brilliant mathematical mind, however, is her only chance of passing the class.

 

 

Despite her protests, the exasperating playboy breathes a spark of life back into her empty existence and Amber finds herself daring to want more. But as the dark secrets of their past tragedies unfold, the question becomes, how can two broken people, who can’t manage to fix themselves, ever hope to fix each other?

 

 

 

 

 

Tell Me When(Now available via Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other retail outlets)

 

 

 

 

Query Tidbit:

 

I hate querying. There, I said it. I have a query buddy (which I highly recommend having) and each time we queried a book (there had been a few before Tell Me When), we planned to query ONE HUNDRED agents before moving on. I never got that far. I would get bored and forget to send out more queries. In the end, I’d stop around fifty and by then have a new project to query. With Tell Me When, there weren’t a lot of agents looking for New Adult novels at the time, so I got lucky that it didn’t take me fifty queries to end up with representation. But either way, I wouldn’t have survived without my query buddy.

 

 

 

 

StinaStina Lindenblatt writes New Adult and adult contemporary romances. Her novels include Tell Me When and Let Me Know (Carina Press, Harlequin), Heat It Up (coming from Diversion Books), and This One Moment (coming from Loveswept, Random House). She loves to travel, and has lived in England, the US, Canada, and Finland. She spent a semester in graduate school living in central Finland, and a summer during her undergrad degree working in Helsinki, where she cleaned bathrooms and saunas in a recreation center. She has a Master’s of Science degree in exercise physiology and had the opportunity to work with elite athletes. In addition to creating stories, she loves photography and currently lives in Calgary, Canada, with her husband and three kids.

 

First Five Frenzy with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency April 17, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:04 am
Tags: , , ,

 

 

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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 am proud to share Literary Agent, Rebecca Podos’ 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?

 

 

Rebecca: Does the very first sentence have to be especially spectacular? No, not for me. A really well written first paragraph (and second, and third) counts a lot more than the first line, as does beginning the story dynamically, plot wise. As long as the first line isn’t a total dud, I’m more interested in seeing you build strong sentence upon strong sentence to set a great scene right out of the gate.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Rebecca: There are a few common beginnings, especially in YA, that have to be really, really exceptionally done if you want me to keep reading. For instance, a teenager pulling up to her brand new house in her brand new town, staring out the car window while she describes her feelings of angst/foreboding. An alarm clock opening: beginning the story with a character waking up. Is that really the most interesting moment in your day? In your week? In your story arc? And I know a cold open on action is meant to be exciting – a character running through the woods from a demon/ demon hunter/ unknown danger as the branches whip at them – but if you place a character in danger before I know anything else about them, how am I supposed to have a stake in their survival? None of these opening are horrible, per say, but agents see them so often that it raises a red flag about the rest of the book.

 

That said, there are always exceptions! One of the first books I sold opened on a dream (or rather, a character trying to stay awake so she wouldn’t dream) and it was such an interesting twist on a familiar concept that I immediately wanted to read on.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Rebecca: Voice is huge. I feel like I can forgive a lot if the lens through which we’re viewing your world is very strong. So voice is one of the first things that inspire me to request a manuscript. A great handle on language, which does NOT mean showing off. I don’t need the most beautiful writing in the book to happen in the first paragraph, but I want to know that language is in your tool box, and you know how to use it. And then just an opening scene that feels fresh. If it must be one of the more common openings, then you have to work harder to justify it, and to make it feel like no scene I’ve read before.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Rebecca: I think it can be hard to strike a good balance between action/ forward momentum, and character building, especially when you’re trying to make everything perfect. It’s difficult to know how much information to put in, and so some writers end up bogging down the first pages with backstory before the plot gets going, or else neglecting to develop a character and rushing headfirst into action (as with the running-through-the-woods scenario.) The first chapter can be the toughest to pace, but if you get it down, that’s a great sign for an agent.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Rebecca: Hah, I think I’ve mentioned all of those, so I’m tempted to say all of the above! But if I had to choose, I might say voice. We can work on pacing in edits, and the truth is, sometimes writers begin their story a little too early or a little too late, and it doesn’t take much in the way of cutting to change that. A unique concept is great, but if you can’t tell the story dynamically, then it’s a wonderful idea and nothing more. Voice, perspective, telling a story sentence-by-sentence in an interesting way, is something that just can’t be absent from the equation.

 

 

 

Rebecca Podos is a graduate of the MFA Writing, Literature and Publishing program at Emerson College, whose debut YA novel THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES is forthcoming from Balzer + Bray. Rebecca loves YA and MG projects with compelling characters whose journeys feel human, whether they’re high school students, were-dragons or space travelers. She is thrilled to represent books like Rin Chupeco’s THE GIRL FROM THE WELL (Sourcebooks), Ryan Bradford’s HORROR BUSINESS (Month9Books), Mackenzi Lee’s THIS MONSTROUS THING (Katherine Tegen Books, 2015), Sarah Nicolas’ DRAGONS ARE PEOPLE, TOO (Entangled, 2015), Ashley Herring Blake’s SUFFER LOVE (HMH Children’s, 2016) Kenneth Logan’s THE SLOW THAW (HarperCollins Children’s, 2016), and Emily Ross’s HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH (Merit Press, 2016.)

 

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Rebecca, please check the Rees Literary Agency website for their guidelines.

 

 
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