chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

QUITE THE QUERY with Melissa Albert and JUST BREATHE March 27, 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 Melissa Albert. This great query connected her with her agent, Uwe Stender.

 

 

 

On October 24th, seventeen-year-old Kate Mitchells left her job at 11:00 pm. At 11:01, she was held down and raped in the parking lot by her ex-boyfriend, her close friend, and a third guy who she couldn’t see. She hadn’t wanted to involve the police, but a boy from her school, Hunter Shaw, witnessed the ending moments of the attack and reported it. Twenty-one days “Post Incident,” Kate still refuses to talk about what happened.

 

 

Suffering from PTSD, Kate avoids all human touch. She tries to live in the present, but that’s difficult when simple life events lead to flashbacks of “The Incident.” The community has labeled her one of two things: “the girl who was raped” or “the girl who is lying.” Her father stays at the office and her mother prays for her daughter’s lost purity. The only person who treats her like an actual human being is Hunter. But that doesn’t stop Kate from hating him for making her go through with the trial. If it were up to her, she would go back to being normal.

 

 

As it turns out, the cards are not in Kate’s favor. Her assailants claim to have an airtight alibi while the alleged third attacker is nowhere to be found. The whole town would rather believe that the act was consensual than accept the hard truth about the son of a prominent business leader, and Kate can’t find the strength to tell her side of the story. As the trial draws nearer, she must wrestle each day with the fact that the events of that night were not her fault. Because if she can’t convince herself that she isn’t to blame, then she has no shot at convincing a jury.

 

 

JUST BREATHE, a YA contemporary novel, is complete at 60,000 words. It finds its roots in psychological theory as well as actual court cases. It would appeal to readers of DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen and SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, although it focuses on an older narrator and the implications of her choosing to speak out. Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

 

 

Query Tidbit:

 

A funny thing about my querying process: I personalized all of my query letters except for one. The one that I didn’t was the one that ended up landing me my first offer of representation. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to personalize that one, I just couldn’t find anything to say. I guess the moral of the story here is that personalization is great to have, but don’t freak out if you can’t find anything. In the end, it’s your story that’s going to hook the agent, not the (somewhat creepy) fact that you know they eat blueberry pancakes for lunch every Sunday…

 

 

 

 

Melissa AlbertMelissa Albert is a YA writer who is repped by Uwe Stender of TriadaUS. She majors in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at The College of New Jersey where she is going into her sophomore year. Lover of all YA fiction, she has three completed manuscripts and four WIPs. When she’s not writing, she’s singing, acting, dancing, and day dreaming about her days of playing travel soccer and doing competitive gymnastics. You can bribe her with anything chocolate or cat related, and she orders all her food on separate plates because she hates when it touches. For more on Melissa, check out her blog, The Truth About Teens or follow her on Twitter.

 

Monday Musings: The Waiting Game March 16, 2015

Filed under: Literary Agent,Publishing,Query,Writer,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:13 am
Tags: , , , ,

 

I have a confession to make: I suck at waiting.  No matter how hard I try to have patience, I’ve realized over the years I wasn’t built for it.  When I was young, I hated waiting for the swings on the playground. My little feet trudged back and forth in and out of the sand, eyeing each playful student until someone finally got tired of my laser-like stares and gave me their swing.

 

 

In high school when I tried out for teams, I wore  a hole in the dirty blue carpet, pacing in front of the coaches office waiting for them to post the junior varsity or varsity list.

 

 

There’s an irony in all of this –  that I chose writing as a career – the most notorious of job paths for waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

 

 

I wish I could say I’ve gotten better over the years. Matured enough to let the impatience go, but “refreshing my inbox” has become second nature to me. What I have learned is there are things I can do to get my mind off what feels like an incessant path of silence.

 

 

1) Focus on other things in life: family, hobbies, travel, health. These are things that often get put to the side as you’re writing, revising or editing a project. Take a break. Take a breath. Letting go of the worry might allow your brain to rejuvenate and come up with some brilliant new plot ideas.

 

 

2) Reach out and help others: Be a slush reader in a contest, offer to beta read someone’s work, help tweak a friend’s query. By lending a hand, you may learn something new about your own craft.

 

 

3) Think about other things beyond writing. Interested in publishing? Check out how you can be an intern for a publishing house. Want to learn about being an agent? Look into ways to get onto the ground floor with an agency. Help with public relations or social media.

 

 

4) Check  out local and national writing conferences or even an online webinar. Constantly improving your craft is a great way to get your mind off the waiting game.

 

 

5) Last, but not least – WRITE SOMETHING NEW. I hate to say it, but what you have in the pipeline may not catch fire. It’s a reality we all must face – but don’t let that get you down! Tackle a new project. Write something fresh. It will direct your focus away from your worries (and waiting) and inspire you to keep going.

 

 

What about you? How do you handle what can seem like a long path of silence? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

 

 

First Five Frenzy with Kirsten Carleton of Waxman Leavell Literary March 13, 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. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope 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, Kirsten Carleton’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?

 

 

Kirsten: I don’t know that I pay any more special attention to the first line than I do to the first paragraph as a whole, or even the first few paragraphs. What’s important to me is getting a strong sense of character right off the bat, and that I’m interested enough in finding out what he or she will do next to keep reading. It’s also about showcasing the author’s writing style. A clever sentence or skilled piece of dialogue or description can draw me in, as long as it doesn’t outsmart itself by distracting me from the story.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Kirsten: I think that a lot of times, writers try to start off by showing what normal life is like for the character before everything is changed by the inciting incident, but that can make for a dull opening. It can be justified in some cases, such as when there’s a lot of worldbuilding to introduce, but generally I recommend starting the novel at the same time as the plot, or even after. Everything else is backstory that can be filled in along the way.

 

 

 

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

 

 

Kirsten: This varies from novel to novel – as it should! For me, the baseline is that the writing is good. I also need to feel connected to the character’s voice, and have a sense of something being at stake for him or her. It’s also great if the writer manages to surprise me in those early pages.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Kirsten: Getting bogged down in scene-setting detail is one – waxing poetic about the color of the sky without showing introducing me to the character, for example. On the other side of the spectrum, getting caught up in the character’s head and philosophical musings without giving me any kind of concrete description or action to hold on to can be just as alienating. I also think that there’s a delicate balance in teasing a mystery or plot development in a way that’s neither maddening oblique or overly spelled out.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Kirsten: It’s hard to see whether the pacing and concept will be able to sustain themselves throughout the novel but voice needs to be there from the very beginning. I often see great concepts that don’t have the execution to back them up. On the other hand, I also see great writing with no movement to the plot, in which the novel ends up feeling like more of a character study. In the end, all three have to work together to make the novel itself work.

 

 

 

 

Kirsten CarletonBefore joining Waxman Leavell in 2014, Kirsten Carleton worked at Sobel Weber Associates. She holds a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing concentration from Amherst College, and a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the Columbia Publishing Course. Kirsten is currently seeking upmarket young adult, speculative, and literary fiction with strong characters and storytelling. She’s drawn to books that capture her attention early on with a dynamic plot, and innovative storytelling that blends or crosses genres. For more on Kirsten, follow her on Twitter @kirstencarleton.

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Kirsten, please check the Waxman Leavell website for their guidelines.

 

Monday Musings: Pitch To Win March 9, 2015

 

Another #PitMad will soon be filling the Twitter feed with amazing pitches covering everything from contemporary to sci-fi to horror. While this is a unique opportunity to get your book in front of a slew of agents and publishers, it’s also a chance to hone your story. Sometimes forcing yourself to summarize your book in 140 characters pushes you to determine the real hook.

 

 

For those who don’t know what #PitMad is, here’s a quick summary. The lovely, Brenda Drake put together this opportunity for writers to “pitch” their books on Twitter. Several times a year, she alerts agents and encourages them to follow the hashtag, #PitMad to see if any of the pitches intrigue them. If the agent sees something they’d like to request, they “favorite” it and provide directions in the feed on how to send materials.

 

 

The next #PitMad is scheduled for this Wednesday, March 11. Beginning at 8am EST, you may begin posting a 140 character pitch about your Picture Book (PB), Middle Grade (MG), Young Adult (YA), New Adult (NA), Adult (A) or Non-Fiction (NF) book on Twitter. Literary agents and publishers troll the feed throughout the day and “favorite” pitches that interest them. It’s one day to get an “all access pass” to share your story with agents and publishers.

 

 

The key to this whole event is in the clarity of your pitch. A quick way to keep yourself from NOT getting any “yellow stars” (aka favorites) is to pitch something that’s vague. The stakes of your story need to be clear from the first character until the last. What do I mean by vague? Let me share an example (this is NOT a real pitch-but something I created).

 

 

‘Alex thought his life was normal until the sudden death of his Mom turns his world upside down. YA C #PitMad”

 

 

Okay, so what’s wrong with this pitch? A couple of things:

 

 

1) We know nothing about Alex. Who is he and how old is he? A simple nod to his age, and a small tidbit about his personality, will help the agent connect. And discard the word “normal” from your pitches. It tells NOTHING about the main character and takes up valuable pitch space.

 

2) The phrase “turns his world upside down” is vague. It doesn’t tell the agent anything about the story. Vague phrases and stakes are the kiss of death in a pitch (in my opinion).

 

3) Where’s the conflict? Sure there is the death, but how does that change Alex? If you’re pitching, you need to think in specifics. Does the death make him turn to drugs/alcohol? How does the death impact his life?

 

To make your pitch strong it needs three things: character, conflict, and cost. Without these critical elements, agents and publishers have no idea whether or not your story will be viable in the marketplace.

 

 

So how do you create a pitch with the 3 C’s?  Let’s makeover the original pitch:

 

 

“After his Mom dies, 17 yo artist, Alex must face his family’s history of mental illness before it destroys his talent & future. YA C 

 

 

Let’s break this down again:

 

1) Pitch has inciting incident (Mom’s death).

 

2) Who is Alex?: We learn his age (17) and his interests (he’s an artist).

 

3) Conflict: The family’s history of mental illness

 

4) Stakes: If Alex doesn’t recognize the pattern, he could lose his talent & future

 

 

The 3 Cs:

 

 

Character: 17 yo (short for: year-old) artist Alex

 

Conflict: Mom’s death & family history of mental illness

 

Cost: His future and talent if he doesn’t seek help

 

 

After having participated in PitMad three times, I understand how difficult it can be to narrow down a 70k story into a 140 character pitch. It may seem daunting, but if you focus on the heart of story, and the 3 Cs, you can craft a pitch that will bring a frenzy of requests.

 

 

One last thing..

 

A few reminders about #PitMad:

 

1) Only pitch if you have a completed and polished manuscript.

 

2) Do not start pitching in the feed until 8am EST.

 

3) Only pitch two times per hour.

 

4) Have several variations on your pitch to Tweet during the day.

 

5) In your 140 characters, be sure to make room for category & genre as well as #PitMad. If you leave out #PitMad, agents/publishers will not see your pitch in the feed.

 

6) If you want to support your fellow writers, Retweet (RT) their pitches. DO NOT “favorite” them. Favorites should only be used by agents/publishers if they want to request. There’s nothing worse than seeing your tweet with a favorite only to find out it’s NOT from an agent.

 

7) If you’re looking for beta readers or CPs this is a great time to find those who write in similar category and genre.

 

8) Have fun. Connect with other writers. If you like their pitch let them know!

 

 

Good luck to everyone pitching! I hope the “favorites” are plentiful!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUITE THE QUERY: GAIL NALL & BREAKING THE ICE February 27, 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 Gail Nall. This great query connected her with her agent, Julia A. Weber.

 

 

Twelve-year-old Chloe Demirjian-Carter dreams of being a champion figure skater. She practices every day and does everything she’s supposed to do. But when the judges award her perfect program with less-than-perfect scores, Chloe lets them know exactly what she thinks.

 

 

As a result, Chloe’s coach dumps her and she’s kicked out of her prestigious training rink. No one wants a skater with a big mouth – no one except the misfit Fallton Figure Skating Club. But joining Fallton may be the second-biggest mistake Chloe’s ever made. No one takes skaters from the “Fall Down” club seriously. If Chloe wants to win the Regional competition, she has to find a way to change the judges’ minds about her new club. Which wouldn’t be so hard if she was the loudmouth skater everyone thinks she is.

 

 

A middle grade novel complete at 50,000 words, DON’T FALL DOWN is a cross between Kate Messner’s SUGAR AND ICE and the movie Stick It.

 

 

 

Query Tidbit:

 

 

I still had some queries and fulls out on a previous manuscript when I started querying BREAKING THE ICE (formerly DON’T FALL DOWN). So when I got the offer from Julia (who’d actually read both mss) and sent out my nudge emails, I had to remember which agent had which manuscript! I did some serious spreadsheeting to keep track of it. :)

 

 

 

 

Breaking the Ice

 

Available now via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and iBooks.

 

 

 

 

Gail NallGail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. When she’s not writing books, she manages grants for a homeless shelter and chases her toddler. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the BREAKING THE ICE  and co-author of the RSVP books (Aladdin/S&S) with Jen Malone, the first of which will be out in May 2015. You can find her on her blog, on Twitter, and on Goodreads.

 

 

Behind The Curtain: All About An Acquisitions Editor February 25, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Guest Post,Publishing,writing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 6:59 am
Tags: , , ,

 

Today, Vicki Merkiel is helping me “pull back the curtain” on an important role in the publishing world: Acquisitions Editor. In her own words, Vicki shares her role and responsibilities in looking for new talent and manuscripts for publisher, Curiosity Quills. As you will see, this is not work for the faint of heart. Not only must you love reading, but have a keen sense of what will stand out in the marketplace.

 

Many thanks to Vicki for sharing her insights today…

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of An Acquisitions Editor

By Vicki Merkiel 

 

 

It was in November 2013 that I signed my contract with Curiosity Quills for CATCH ME WHEN I FALL. As a debut author, I didn’t know what to expect from a publishing house. But their entire team blew me away; they fight so hard to ensure every author reaches his/her potential. So, I knew that if I wanted to continue a career in the publishing industry (outside of writing books), Curiosity Quills would be a great place to start.

 

 

Since then, I’ve taken on a few different roles within the CQ family. I started in March 2014 as a copyeditor, then moved into an editor role, and then began beta reading for their acquisitions team. Finally, at the end of December 2014, I took on my current role an acquisitions editor.

 

 

With a month of experience under my belt now, I can definitely say the position has been all I’d hoped it would be—yet not as glamorous. Being an acquisitions editor is hard work. We sift through the queries that come in, finding those manuscripts that have potential based off their first few pages, and then when the authors/agents send in the full manuscripts, we have to dedicate time to reading them. And not only do I read the manuscripts that come directly to my inbox; I’m also sent manuscripts from our general inbox when my bosses feel it’s something I might enjoy. It’s a good thing I love to read, because the AE position is every time consuming!

 

 

I, personally, split my full submissions into three groups: (1) Manuscripts where I know I won’t ask for an R&R; (2) Manuscripts where there’s enough potential for an R&R; (3) Manuscripts I feel are ready for publication (or will be ready after a strong round of editing).

 

 

For any manuscript that falls into category #3, I draft a pitch and approach my bosses about acquiring. If they agree that it’s right for our current catalog, they will send me a contract for that book. I then reach out to the author/agent with the contract and negotiate the deal. If the author decides to sign, yay! If they want changes, I talk with my bosses. If my bosses agree to the changes, we then send a revised contract. If they don’t agree, then it’s a lot of back and forth with the author/agent to determine whether a relationship would be beneficial for both sides. And if the author decides not to sign, then we make sad faces.

 

 

If any manuscript falls into category #2, I will send the author a request for an R&R only if I feel I can pitch the manuscript to my bosses after a significant rewrite. In these cases, if the author is willing to do an R&R, I typically go through the manuscript and leave in-depth notes about what I feel needs to change. I then send the manuscript back to the author, with my notes, and wait to see the revised version. If the revised version is strong, I move them to category #3 and reach out for approval to acquire. But if the revised version still isn’t strong enough, I, unfortunately, have to pass.

 

 

Finally, it doesn’t take me long to tell if a manuscript falls into category #1. Those manuscripts are the ones that I feel need so much editing that the author would benefit from more practice, in general. In these cases, I can usually tell by page fifty, and I rarely finish these manuscripts. (I have so many other things I have to read!) With the books that fall into category #1, I will send a kind email to the author, suggesting how I think they can improve, and request they send new material in the future.

 

 

So far, I’ve acquired one manuscript, have requested to acquire two more, have requested three R&Rs, and have passed on several. I make a point every day to check my email for new queries that come in and respond to each, and then I dive into reading the manuscript submissions. I prioritize based on: when the submission came in, whether they’re agented, and if I have any other deadlines to meet (ex: editing a contracted manuscript). I do give myself two days off every week to unravel my brain (those days vary), and my working days are typically eight hours long.

 

 

But though my job is very time-consuming, it’s always a thrill when I read a really great manuscript. Finding those gems is so worth the time spent looking for them, and I especially like making authors’ dreams come true. And when I think about all the readers who will enjoy the books I discover…yeah, all the effort I expend is so totally worth it.

 

 

 

 

Vicki Leigh_Author Portrait copyAdopted at three-days-old by a construction worker and a stay-at-home mom, Vicki Merkiel grew up in a small suburb of Akron, Ohio where she learned to read by the age of four and considered being sent to her room for punishment as an opportunity to dive into another book. She writes Young Adult novels under her pen name, Vicki Leigh, and if she couldn’t work with novels, she would be a Hunter (think Dean and Sam Winchester) or a Jedi. Her favorite place on earth is Hogwarts (she refuses to believe it doesn’t exist), and her favorite dreams include solving cases alongside Sherlock Holmes. Her YA debut, Catch Me When I Fall, released October 23, 2014.

 

You can find her at her website or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, and Instagram.

 

 

Monday Musings: Filtered Out February 23, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 9:28 am
Tags: , ,

 

Back in November, Wendy Higgins (author of the Sweet Trilogy) wrote a blog post titled, “My Unfortunate Writing Side Effect.” In the post she shared how being a writer made it hard to read for pleasure. Instead of letting a book captivate her, she found herself wanting “to change lines or cross out words.” The post struck me because lately I’ve been feeling the same way. The cause of my reading slump? Filter words.

 

 

When I first started seriously writing I had no clue what filters were. I wrote characters seeing and feeling things in a very mundane way. I was new. I thought this was the way you were supposed to write. Then I got my first critique. It was a bloody slaughter. While the writer was kind in their presentation, their message was clear – your writing needs help. My biggest problem? My use of filter words. Everywhere.

 

 

If you’re new to writing you may ask, “What is a filter?” Let me share by using some examples from my early writing:

 

 

“I noticed he had blue eyes and dark hair.”

 

 

“I watched as he removed the shovel from the ground.”

 

 

See a pattern? Filters direct the reader to see what the character is doing instead of allowing the reader to infer what is happening. With filters you are essentially saying, “Hey reader, take note. I’m now going to tell you what the main character is seeing, thinking or feeling.”

 

 

Some readers can breeze over this, but when I read a story littered with filters it pulls me out of the narrative. Every. Single. Time.

 

 

Now to be honest, I never noticed filters in my writing until someone pointed it out. I tried my best to avoid them, but alas it kept happening. Frustrated, I couldn’t figure a way around the issue until I read this great piece on “thought verbs” from Chuck Palahniuk. The light bulb finally ignited. As a writer, I needed to crawl inside the head of my character and share what he/she was feeling. The trick? Don’t let the reader know I was doing it.

 

 

So how do you get around filters? Well, it’s not easy. It takes time and a lot of practice to perfect your craft. But if you keep working on it, you slowly learn how to present your narrative without them.

 

 

Let’s look at the examples from above:

 

 

“I noticed he had dark hair.”

 

 

How can you lose the filter but still convey your message? Try adding movement.

 

 

“Adam focused on removing the bolt from the tire. Cranking and pulling on the wrench, a single black hair fell across his forehead.”

 

 

Do we now know the character has black hair? Yes, but in a way that keeps us in the narrative. You’re not shouting, “Hey look, this guy has black hair” rather using action to allow for the description.

 

 

What about the next example?

 

 

“I watched as he shoveled soil from the ground.”

 

 

By removing the “I watched” you can still pull the reader into the scene by using description.

 

 

“The sharp end of the shovel dug into the soil. With brisk movements, one pull after the other, he lifted the wet earth from its resting place.”

 

 

Does the reader know the character is shoveling? Yes-but without you directly telling them.

 

 

In many cases I think of filters like adverbs. You don’t want to use them, but sometimes they are necessary. And that’s okay. The key here is to use your craft to pull the reader into the narrative. Share critical information without actually saying to them, “Look, I need you to pay attention to this detail.”

 

 

Filters are the bane of my existence. I still overuse them in my writing, but I’m hyper aware of it. They come out in herds when I write my first draft. It’s something I constantly struggle with and work at. Recognizing them in my writing is half the battle. Once I see them, I try to use more active verbs, better descriptors. Every time I do, I make my manuscript that much stronger.

 

 

What about you? How do you weed out filter words in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,939 other followers