Saturday, January 30, 2016

2016 SDSU Writer's Conference

The Writer's Conference in San Diego was wonderful, full of excellent information and plenty of opportunities to speak one-on-one with agents - whether to pitch, learn about the industry, or just to get to know them as people.

Here's some of the excellent information from the conference (please note that I'm not adding anything from speakers Alexandra Sokoloff or Paula Munier because their talks included copyrighted information from their personal work. Their talks, however, were AMAZING. I highly suggest going to conferences or doing Boot Camps - commonly offered by Writer's Digest - or buying their books to get all this awesome info. I purchased Paula's book, Plot Perfect, at the conference and it's beyond-words-excellent. She also wrote Writing with Quiet Hands (both available on Amazon). Although I can't speak to Alexandra's work, as I have yet to read it, she was full of great info too and her work is also available on Amazon: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.).

Additionally, please note that these are my personal notes and the speakers mentioned are not to be held responsible for any errors or lack of clarity on my part. :) I do this for my fellow writers, not to offend the speakers, who are all wonderful! I highly suggest looking up the agents, editors, and authors that I mention because they are packed full of tons of info. If anyone wishes for me to take any or all of this information down, please let me know by emailing me at

When pitching an agent

Ask agents what is trending in their house and what they’re looking for.
Take up space at an interview – act and therefore look comfortable and confident.

Creating a Pitch w/ Jill Marr

Hook them, know when you’re done, and let it feel natural.
Be quick and concise. Learn the C's for your pitch:

  1. Concise: let it be a short operator/elevator pitch
  2. Clear: Effective and understood by everyone 
  3. Compelling: hooks quickly, makes them want to hear more
  4. Conceptual: not a ton of detail. Main story only
  5. Customized: know your audience. 
  6. Conversational: Get them to ask questions

Have a 5 minute and a 2 minute pitch – polish them, but not perfectly
What’s most interesting about your story? Character, plot, position characters are in? Is there a disaster? What stands out the most? That's what your pitch should include.

Know THESE about your book to create a good pitch:

  • Character
  • Situation
  • Objective
  • Opponent
  • Disaster

Compare your book to another book or mashup a couple in an X meets Y (ex. Lord of the Rings meets War of the Roses is an X meets Y for Game of Thrones).
Many agents hate when you compare yourself to big time authors unless it's for a VERY specific book for good reasons.

When pitching:

  • This is me, my book, and my marketing/social media.
  • They love if you already have an editor, beta, and CPs.
  • Also like to hear if you’re a finalist in any contests (not what number you were, just say finalist.) 

Build a Career w/ Jennifer Ashley

Jennifer is an author that has sold 80 – 90 books. She hates and is terrible at writing synopses and pitching
She has 6 -7 books pubbed per YEAR. Writes a book every 3 months.
Says that momentum is so important. Keep writing and getting books out. Don't get stuck on one.
All your energy and time should be in writing – all marketing is peripheral
The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie – one of her romance novels that really connected to readers
A lot of YA and kid books are sold only to school libraries – not for B&N because that’s where kids get their books.
Make sure you read your genre
Recommends Wattpad where you can post a chapter and get feedback

When Querying an Agent w/ Betsy Amster
I missed some of her talk, so didn't get all of the information, but I did get a lot of good stuff. I apologize for anything I missed. 

The dont's when querying

  1. No comedy act queries – meaning don't be ridiculous. Be professional. 
  2. Oral pitches are not as important as the written pitch. Writing persuades people.
  3. Don’t radiate unrealistic expectations - ex. you're going to be the next JK Rowling. Be humble but confident.
  4. Don’t treat the interaction as you would if you were trying to find a contractor or dentist. You don’t have to investigate them. (Although I, personally, might suggest Pred Ed and some light website and Publisher’s Marketplace searching)
  5. Don’t pitch more than one project at a time. One query = one book.
  6. Don’t jump at the first agent who says yes to you. Make sure to ask them questions to make sure they're the right fit and they'll treat you and your book the way you are hoping for. 
  7. Don’t send to someone that doesn’t represent your genre/age group/ work etc. Know your category! 
  8. Radiate your control, don’t act confused. Agents can feel impatient sometimes, just like anyone else. They are NORMAL people. 

Things You Want to do when you Query w/ Betsy Amster

  1. You want to be a desirable commodity. Make sure to mention what credentials you have 
  2. Research agents – their genres and what they want. You'll have a much higher level of conversation when the time comes.
  3. Know what you’re writing – genre, age group, plot, etc.
  4. Know what you’re looking for in an agent. Ex. Large or small agency? West or East coast? 
  5. Get a referral! 
  6. Snail Mailing? Remember your SASE (self addressed stamped envelope)
  7. Workshop your novel – writer’s groups, betas, CPs, editors, etc.
  8. Write a proposal if it's nonfiction 
  9. Be persistent. It’s all about taste. Just like a reader (see: you) have specific books in a genre that you would or wouldn't read, so do THEY. They can't champion and sell your book unless they love it. You just have to find the right person. When they respond ask yourself, "Did they put their finger on something or can you not work with them?"

Join/check theses out:
AAR membership – must sell ten books first
Literary Marketplace
Jeff Herman’s List

Critique Partners w/ Jen Malone

What do CPs do?
Help decipher and dissect editor’s edit letters.
Brainstorm new ideas / plot points
Help promote new releases
Support through ups and downs

Types of CPs to Have
Read and write in the same genre
The Mentor – someone a step ahead in the writing journey
Some behind you in the writing journey, to pick up errors and mirror them in your own work
Their strengths are your weaknesses
Someone who offers sunshine and rainbows
Once you have these you can get an overall idea to see where they agree the issues are
Should try to have 3 CPs, but up to 6-8

The Fine Art of a Good Critique
Compliment sandwich
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t (saying something can get you yelled at, not saying it isn’t helpful)
Frame constructively – why, how do you love/hate?
Admit subjectivity – some readers feel certain ways based off of where they are in life
Frame as questions – do you think they’d be wearing a sweater in the desert?
Highlight in green what you love
Suggest rewrites, don’t do it yourself
Don’t insist your fix is the only fix – understand your notes are always to be taken with a grain of salt.

Fine Art of Getting a Good Critique
Specify what you need, have questions ready that you can send after. Sending them before or after is up to you, if you send them before the reader/CP may only focus (or mostly focus) on those questions.
Examples of questions:
o Where did you suspect the twist?
o Character concerns?
o Cut word count in certain places
o Line edits vs. overall impression
o What’s their timeline?
Young kids may not write notes. Use Post-Its: green for like, yellow for confused, red for don’t like. This way at least you can realize that something is/isn’t working in that area.
Say Thank You!

Where to Find CPs
Work, networking in topic, writing workshops, conferences
Online groups. Read online queries @ contests like Authoress and Agent Snark. Google query contests work with a group of prepublished w/ one pubbed author
SCBWI – often has matchmaking CP service in area.
How About We CP?
Google “40 Places to find a critique partner” and go to (whatever that link is)

Finding and Using a Professional Editor w/ Holly Lorincz
Holly =

Acquisition vs. in-house editor
o Acquisition = actively acquiring new material
o In House Editor = just edits
Ghost writers not as common anymore
Developmental editors – structure, arc, character, scope
Line/copyeditors – grammar, spelling, best from Russia! Ha
Proofreaders – go over material quickly spotting anything that stands out

You’re self-pubbing
Trying to get an agent
Just signed a contract

You’re willing to sell a kidney – can be expensive!
Mired in the muck
Have a complete draft – beta revisions done, ready to listen
You need a final line edit/proofread
Want to save time
Editorial Freelancer’s Association
Beta Readers are friends, family, etc.
CPs are other writers on the same journey as you

Referrals, consortiums, web search
Guild or Association, Comparable Rates, Reviews and Testimonials (pred & ed, consumer reports), editor bios, detailed service and fees, scheduling dates and turnaround time, payment method.

Ask about: sample edits, genre specialty, split edits, what to expect, are they using Chicago Manual of Style or Dictionary? What is assessed? Updates? Follow Ups? Turnaround time?

Business perspective
Consider big changes (POV, tense)
Research crafting concepts
Just try it – just try a change and see what it’s like
Ignore it – you don’t have to change with every piece of advice

Check out Discord – CP program lumped in with Google Hangouts and Skype.

Keynote with Angela Rinaldi
Don’t start with the weather
Don’t have clichĂ© characters
Know your voice
Feel the conflict/heat between characters
Put the spirit of the book in the first sentence
Less is more! Every sentence should move your story forward foreword

  • Queries 
    • An agents reputation depends on the quality of material sent 
    • Look professional, avoid “cute” 
    • Research agents genre/age group and address agents by name
    • One page, no attachments
    • Mention multi-agent submissions! 
    • “The shorter the book, the less of the bullshit.” 
    • Query finished MS, don’t do multiple books in one query. 

“The first page sells the book, the last page sells the next book.”
Most people decide in 60 seconds of first-page reading if they want the book
“Only 1 in 200 [queries are] worth looking at”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First-Ever Interview and Article!

My first-ever article about my poetry book, Another Lid to a Potless Existence. Interview and article by current Bonita Vista High student Lena Rodriguez.


It's a fantastic article. It includes a few tiny pieces of a long and wonderful interview.

Let me extend the story on the punk/goth quote. Whenever you see movies about going to college there's always one person that is "dark", usually portrayed as goth or punk. So when it came my time to go to college, I was certain that I would end up finding that person, even living in the same dorm as him/her, and we would become friends. In high school all of my friends were of this nature and they're some of the best people I've ever met. They're fun and intelligent and spiritual in totally different ways. So it wasn't completely surprising that I would imagine myself befriending someone of that nature. But when I arrived at college, in those dorm rooms, I realized that I was that person. I wasn't really goth or punk, but I had the spirit. I was the "dark" one. And no one wanted to be friends with me. It was a very difficult time. I didn't make a single friend. I was different than everyone else and I couldn't quite pinpoint what it was or why. I told myself that I would give college one more chance.

My second year provided me with the same exact story. But there was one change. There was Brooke. She was my savior. And our stories weren't that different. We wrote together, We lived together. We created The List seen at the end of Another Lid [...] together. And I wrote poetry. I wrote to get away from it all. I wrote to understand. And so, the book was born. Created on bits of paper and journals, as the article says.

Not everyone gets that savior. Suicide rates are very high in college. This is one of the reasons. People are realizing how different they are. Some try to fit in and some don't, but everyone's trying to figure it all out.

Being different isn't a bad thing, but I won't sugar coat it and say you'll get out unscathed. My years in college, and the very difficult years (for other reasons) that followed, completely changed me. My personality shifted.

Sometimes I wish I could go back, but you can't reverse growth. You can only press on and reach for the sun. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

365 Short Story Top Picks

Here's a few short stories from the 365 Collection. Someday I hope to complete a year's worth of shorts. If you like these, feel free to check out the others - one a day, everyday, from this year in January and February. 

A short, funny, rhyming diddy about the location of a terrible smell: 

An experimental piece focusing on the interwoven stories of every neighbor on a block taking place in only one minute of the day:

An unnerving piece about a woman who is stuck inside her home, repeating events of the day: 

A short piece that every writer should read. Or everyone that has ever felt stuck in their life: 

A first person piece about a man getting beaten up by criminals, only using the words "I, me, or my" twice - once at the beginning and once at the end:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

I have been asked to join the Writing Process Blog Tour where hundreds of authors and writers are joining in to talk about their writing process on their blogs. I was invited by my lovely friend Charlotte Gruber (here's her blog!)

1) What am I working on?

I’m currently prepping (see: editing/revising/querying for) my debut Middle Grade novel THE STATE OF DREAMS. It’s a psychological suspense meets low fantasy in the vein of A Wrinkle in Time meeting Inception. Here’s some flap jack copy (mmm pancakes):

After their parent’s disappearance, Basil Benton and his talkative little sister Katheryn are forced to move in with their eccentric grandfather. While sneaking through his restricted laboratories, the kids discover an archway that leads to a world where Basil’s own dreams are physically built and acted out each night. But once they’re through, they’re trapped. To escape, they must navigate a crumbling dreamland, evade a denigrating, menacing Shadow creature that is the physical manifestation of Basil’s negative side, and conquer Basil’s darkest thoughts and paralyzing nightmares in order to find The Council which builds the Dreamscape and harbors the only way back home.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most psychological suspense novels revolve around the unstable emotions of the main character and how s/he views the world and what happens to him/her. Many works are incredibly thought provoking and may involve an unreliable narrator. The State of Dreams only does this subtly. I’ve made sure that the book can be an enjoyable experience for both the passive reader and the aggressive reader that looks for the layers of meaning. My main character, Basil, enters his own mind through a strange portal. He is able to see, feel, and experience how his mind works on a psychological level from the inside. His mind and everyone else’s minds are crumbling, the psychological suspense that is usually viewed from outside the mind is now being viewed at the very source.

Another thing that makes The State of Dreams stand out is the concept of dreams being interconnected in one land and attainable through invisible doorways that you experience while you’re dreaming. All of my beta readers so far have said, “It’s completely changed the way I dream at night.”

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write what I want to read. I’d like to read a book that’s full of adventure, danger, psychology, science, and fantasy without being overwhelmed by any of it. I’m also very interested in dreams: why we dream, what they mean, what would happen if the strange things we dream about (like flying, falling, dreams-within-dreams, and the nightmares you wake sweating and shaking from) were actually real and inescapable, and what the dreams of other people, cultures, animals, the blind, and the deaf would look like. These are all things I cover in The State of Dreams as a three-book series.

4) How does my writing process work?

If I’m writing Fiction (like The State of Dreams or a short story):

Like many writers I know, I start by inserting an IV with a caffeine drip, haha.

When I’m writing I’ll start around 9am. When I’m editing and revising I’ll start around 11am, give or take a few weeks of procrastination. Then I’ll write/edit for the entire day, breaking for an hour at lunch time. Then at 5 my workout/cook dinner/housewife duties start and my fiancĂ© returns from the mines – or whatever it is he does all day. Sometimes I work at night, but most times I like to allow myself that time to step away from the process.

If I’m writing poetry:

Poetry is kind of different. It doesn’t involve caffeine at all. There are two types of poetry that I write, the internal, considerate pieces about nature or life that are very soft and contemplative which I usually write when I’m sitting in a backyard, or in the woods, or by a large overwhelming body of water where I can feel very small; then there are the pieces that are harder, involving strength, power, and inevitably cuss words, that are about inhibitions and uncertainties- those are written in darkness, bathrooms, and hallways parallel to parties and usually involve alcohol. If you'd like to read both types of this poetry, you can do so in my book ANOTHER LID TO A POTLESS EXISTENCE published March 2014 available here on Amazon.

Next week (July 7th), check out these awesome, talented authors to see how their process works!

Keri Rand



A writer by heart and soul, Keri Rand was raised in rural Northern New Jersey and has been a purveyor of the arts since a young age. In high school she cultivated a passion for writing. The realization that books could not only change her world, but the world around her, lead her to study literature in college. Her first novel, MY SONG, debuted in May 2012. When she's not writing, she can be found singing, reading, or traveling.

Toni McGee Causey 


Toni McGee Causey is the author of the critically acclaimed and nationally toni_pressbestselling “Bobbie Faye” novels—an action/caper series set in south Louisiana; the series was released in back-to-back publications, beginning with CHARMED AND DANGEROUS, GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS, and WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON. She is also a contributor to the USA Today Bestselling anthology LOVE IS MURDER, as well as the KILLER YEAR and the DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS anthologies.

While pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting, Toni had scripts optioned by prominent studios and recently produced an indie film, LA-308, which now has offers of distribution pending. Toni began her career by writing non-fiction for local newspapers, edited Baton Rouge Magazine, and sold articles to places like Redbook and Mademoiselle. In her copious spare time, she practiced her Ninja skills, though she can’t prove it because no one ever saw her.

She and her husband, Carl, thrive in the French Quarter, where they’re not the craziest ones on the block. Sometimes, they’re not even second craziest. She and Carl have also owned and operated a civil construction company for over thirty years [hence, the crazy], with projects all over Louisiana, Mississippi, and south-eastern Texas. They are also working on a home/remodeling project in the Quarter. Her grown sons survived her (they might say ‘barely’ but they don’t get to write the bio, ha!), with one becoming a SWAT police officer and one becoming a Firefighter. [In other words, Toni rarely sleeps.] Meanwhile, she and Carl are absolutely frothing-at-the-mouth proud of the two g-kids and three step-ish-g-kids (it’s complicated, but it’s all good).

One day, when she’s grown up enough, she’s going to get another puppy. This may take a while.

Jenny Kaczorowski



Raised in Avon, Ohio, the duct tape capital of the world, Jenny began her writing career as a featured columnist for her hometown newspaper. After earning a degree in photojournalism from Kent State University, she vowed to never spend another winter in Ohio and moved to Los Angeles, where there is far too much sunshine.

Amid working as a grant writer for Sound Art, a non-profit that teaches music in inner-city neighborhoods, and raising two kids, Jenny decided to do something with all the snippets of stories she wrote during microeconomics and began writing for young adults. She likes her heroines smart and quirky, her heroes nice, and her kisses sweet. Her debut young adult romance, THE ART OF FALLING (Bloomsbury Spark), is available now.

Apart from writing, Jenny is still an avid photographer, loves music despite no discernable musical talent and reads the dictionary for fun. She lives near Los Angeles with her husband, son and daughter. The four of them are always looking for their next adventure.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Writer to Agent: Question and Answer #2

Here is another set of Writer’s Digest Boot Camp questions! This Boot Camp was back in mid-May 2014 and revolved around the lovely, informative agents from Talcott Notch Agency editing the first ten pages of our manuscripts and then providing us, the writers, with a Q&A. The Boot Camps that Writer’s Digest offers are invaluable and I highly recommend them. Here are some of the Q&As that were asked by writers and answered by agents.

The Opening Lines/Scenes:


Q: It's important to start off immediately with the main character in order to grab and hold the audience. Could you offer some suggestions on when or how this Da Vinci Code kind of approach works?

Jessica Negron (JN): Prologues are really hard to pull off. Often, they're sort of a bait and switch, drawing the reader in with some extraordinary event and then starting the real story a chapter later. It's basically tricking the reader and, while that was once a novelty, it's an outdated tactic and there are much more artful and skillful ways to hook your reader. Yes, modern books still do it, The Da Vinci Code included, but--to be blunt--he's Dan Brown. An author with that kind of established following can pretty much do whatever he wants because, at that point, people are buying the name, not the book. See also Stephen King, JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, etc...

The Openings You Should NEVER Use Anymore:

Q: How do you feel about opening a book with a dream? I know it’s not something you’re supposed to do (and I’ve known this since before Boot Camp) and I am willing to change it, but it’s so important to my theme, my story, my plot, everything.

Gina Panettieri (GP): Why don't you open with your character talking about the dream, or recording it in a journal or diary or something? Trying to analyze it or work with it?

Paula Munier (PM): Don't start with a dream because it is so hard to pull off in an original way. Here are some other beginnings that you shouldn't do: Never start with weather, avoid prologues, don’t start with your character thinking alone (not doing anything compelling), and don’t start with a phone call/email/text/tweet/IM/voicemail/skype because they’re just not original.

Bonus content:

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing, which includes never starting with weather and avoiding prologues, were recommended by Talcott Notch and can be viewed here

World Building/Character in Chapter 1:

Q: What’s the acceptable amount of world building and character development in the opening chapter, before jumping into an action scene or event?

GP: That will certainly depend on the story and how different the world is from the one we live in now. I think readers' patience has diminished in recent years and they're looking for world-building to occur simultaneously with character development and plot development. Wool by Hugh Howey is a good example. Divergent by Veronica Roth is as well. Hook us with your character, with an emotional component, and a great plot hook (high stakes, big change) then build your world gradually on a need-to-know basis.

Too Many Characters in First Few Pages:
Q: How many characters are too many in the first 30 pages?

PM: There's no magic number. You need to introduce your characters slowly enough and distinctly enough for the reader to keep track of them. You also don't want to crowd your hero with so many people that readers don't have a chance to bond with him at the beginning....

Starting Chapter of Sequel:

Q: Do I just jump right in to the sequel novel or should there be more description?

JN: The norm is that even if the book is a sequel, it should be written in such a way that someone brand new to the series would be able to pick it up and get filled in by the first chapter or so without problem. There should really be more there, briefly explaining what and who your characters are. Not in such a way that you're just dumping a whole explanation of back story, mind you. You still have to artfully weave it in. But unfortunately you can't just jump right in, expecting the reader to already know about book one.

Overall Editing and Layout:

Chapter Breaks vs. Sections:

Q: Would a reader be more receptive to a style where there's no chapters - only book sections that have titles and within those breaks are numbered scenes? Opposed to a 60 page chapter…the sections would have 2 or 3 pages.
JN: Splitting your book up in creative ways can work, if it serves a purpose and if you pull it off brilliantly. You have to be aware, though, that as a new writer industry professionals will be wary of you experimenting because they won't be confident you can pull it off. If I saw in a query that the writer mentioned she'd tried an experimental chaptering system, I would be cautious while reading to see if it works. And at that point, an agent an editor will be nitpicking anything that doesn't land juuuuust right.

They're going to put wayyyy more scrutiny on you than someone like Stephen King, who is...well...Stephen King. I mentioned this in another thread but he can do pretty much whatever he wants because he's got millions of people who would buy just about anything he decided to write.

Dialect with Dropped Syllables:

Q: Do you have a preference in the visual of dialect? For example, using the ' to establish dropped syllables.

JN: I prefer the '  to indicate dropped syllables, but that's personal preference. Also, it's important to note that it's not always needed. If you've done your job in establishing the voice of your character, and the reader has gotten used to the fact that your character sometimes drops syllables, then you can just write out those visually difficult lines "That's not what I'm saying." Because the voice has been firmly established in your readers mind (again, if you did your job as a writer correctly) then the reader will actually just infer that's how the character says it, without you even having to point it out. There's a point where readers get so immersed in the books that your little cues are actually lost on them, because they're just going with the voice they set up for that character in their own head.

Try it out next time you read something with dialect. Notice how you develop the character's voice in your own head, and then start ignoring what's written on the page. It's a bit surreal when you realize you're doing it.

Omniscient POV:

Q: Omniscient POV: Is there certain key words that will help me identify when I'm using Omniscient POV? Can you explain a little more on the difference between Omniscient POV and third-person limited POV?

PM: Omniscient POV is God's POV, that is, you as God the author who knows everything that's going on in all the characters' head. This is how people used to write novels, and is out of fashion now.

Third-person limited is third person limited to the head you are in, that is, one character's head at a time.

Number of POVS:

Q: How many POVs is too many?

PM: No more that 6 total is the general rule

Repetitive Words:

Q: Do you have any suggestions of sites/resources that can help me find repetitive words and phrases?

Fellow Writer: AutoCrit and MS’ “Find and Replace” tool

JN: SmartEdit is a free program that does exactly that, and a lot more. I recommend it as a final pass over an already polished manuscript.

The best way to get a pair of fresh eyes on your project is to find more critique partners/beta readers. Some great sites for finding critique partners include Absolute Write,, and

The Cover Art:

Q: For future reference, I understand that the publisher likes to keep authors separated from the cover art/design team. If I have a designer that I like the stylings of and would like to throw her hat in the ring to be considered as the cover artist, would I show her previous samples to the editor? Or would she create a mock up of the cover? How far along in the mock-up should she get (i.e. outlines, color palettes, etc.)?

GP: That would be very much up to the publisher, but highly unlikely. Larger publishers tend to work with certain artists, or their own art departments, and beyond asking the author to fill out an art fact sheet describing characters and facts from the book, don't give the author a great deal of say over the cover in most cases. We have had cases where out of the blue, a publisher used the author's sketch of her own cover, but that was a true oddity. The publisher has their own ideas of what they want to see on the cover, often based on what feedback they get from sales and marketing.


Mainstream vs Crossover:
Q: How do you determine if a book is considered a Mainstream Fiction? Or cross-over fiction? How can you be certain?

GP: It's really based on the themes, voice and plot. If the story is primarily directed at Young Adult with potential for adult readership because the themes and plot are so universal it will have adult appeal, it can definitely be a cross-over novel. 

Mainstream novels will not be largely directed at a juvenile market nor will they have a primary romantic plot.

What Fantasy Conjures:

Q: Have you ever said something along the same lines as this: “I’ve been calling it a Fantasy. By definition, it’s a high concept fantasy. Perhaps an adventure fantasy. But every time I write that it’s a fantasy it feels wrong. It’s not “Swords and Dragons”?

GP: Well, keep in mind that “when you say 'fantasy' it conjures up dragons or hobbits. You need to be tactical about your approach to get the more receptive welcome [from agents and publishers].” 

Fellow Writer: If it doesn't sound like a true, blue-blooded fantasy (which can be a hard sell), you may want to look into alternative genres that it will fit into.

Common YA Mistakes:

Q: What are some of the common mistakes made by authors writing in the ya category?

Rachael Dugas (RD):

o 1. Not writing about teens and calling it YA! (Either too old or too young)

o 2. Really writing MG and calling it YA.

o 3. Inauthenticity, especially in dialogue. Teens will smell that a mile away.

o 4. Writing it because it's "trendy" and not because it's the story you want to write.

o 5. Trying to write YA when you don't READ YA.

o 6. Writing characters you call 16 but that feel about 12.

o 7. Writing an adult novel that happens to feature a teen and calling it YA.

o 8. Dated language--techically, the 90's is the past and stories set then are period fiction.

o 9. Ignoring omnipresent technology, like texting.

o 10. Dumbing your writing down--YA is more of an age range designation than a genre. It doesn't mean YA readers are stupid/underdeveloped.

Multi Genre Author:

Q: Is it hard for a writer to be accepted if they write books in several different genres? Or as long as the content is great it doesn't matter?

PM: It is easier to build a career focusing on one genre, at least in the beginning. (that said, it may take you awhile as a writer to find your niche.)

Agents and Queries:

Queries that Attract Agents:

Q: I know there really is no cut-and-dry way to write a query that will catch every agent’s eye, but what do you look for? What makes it stand out? Is there a great subject line to use?

JN: When I read queries I'm looking for the basic information first and foremost (Title, word count genre), and then I need to know your character, setting, and most importantly: THE CONFLICT. The point of a query is to give me a brief taste of what your story is about, so you can hook me in and I can ask for more.

Every single agent has their own guidelines for how they want their subject lines so my best piece of advice is to ALWAYS read an agent's website/blog/guidelines so you know what they want specifically. A lot of writers tend to think they can be the exception to the rule, without realizing that there are probably specific technological reasons the agents need that subject line to be exactly as they requested it. By not following an agent's guidelines, a writer is hurting themselves. (not maybe, they are, period.) For agents who don't specify how they want their subject line, the basic way to title your email is: QUERY: [Title of Your book]

There are TONS of sites that help writers perfect queries. Here are some of the more popular ones:, Absolute Write Forums, Query Shark

Special Query Advice:

Q: Any special advice about queries?

o 1. Above all else, make sure your query makes your book sound like no other book out there. A story that sounds unique will get my attention. Don't try to make your book sound like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS or THE DA VINCI CODE, for example--if anything, strive to make it NOT sound like big books like that.,

o 2. Always include the basic info like genre and word count. You'd be surprised how many people don't.

o 3. I can't understate the value of a distinct subjective line. Titling your e-mail "Query" basically guarantees it will be months before I read it--along with the other 500 e-mails titled "Query" sitting in my inbox right now. Now, if your subject is something like "Query for YA Novel About the Pressures on Honors Students" or "Query for Romantic Suspense Set in Rome", for example, I have something to go on. I always open those e-mails first.

o 4. Focus mostly on giving me the flavor of your novel--it should be more exciting than a plot summary, but I do want to know what happens. A query is sort of somewhere between the back of the book and a short synopsis--I want to know what it's about, but it shouldn't be dry. It should be written in your own voice.

o 5. Don't forget about competitive titles--but be smart. Don't compare yourself to the blockbuster hits. Pick something in your genre that is known and successful, but not HUNGER GAMES or DIVERGENT huge, for example. It will show you actually read your genre, which is important. If all else fails, don't be afraid to use pop culture references. I am increasingly finding that editors respond well to those, because they are part of our collective cultural knowledge and we can all usually access them.

Important Things Looked at in Manuscript:

Q: What are the three most important things looked at in a manuscript when you receive it? Is there anything for you that sets one apart from the other?


o 1) Good idea and good execution of that idea

o 2) voice

o 3) hero you can fall in love with

o 4) plot

Series or Single Novel:

Q: Do you find that agents, unless they are an established author, will shy away from book series more than just a single novel? Are novels easier to sell than series across the board or depending on their genre?

PM: Agents do not want one-book wonders. we want writers who are in it for the long haul, and have more than one book in them (series or one-offs, whatever)

Querying a Series:

Q: How is the best way to handle a series in a query letter? Or, should the first book in the series be the initial focus of the query?

GP: Yes, the first book should be the focus and the query should say it is the first book of a 'proposed series', and at the end, offer a brief story arc of the entire series.

(Please note, the above question was also addressed by an agent from Kimberley Cameron and Associates in the previous Q & A post. Feel free to look at her answer as well.)

Times of Year to Query:

Q: Is there any specific time of the year when it is best to send querying letters to agents?

GP: Good times are right after the holidays (early January) and again in September when they are returning from the summer lull and everything in publishing is kicking into high gear.

How Many Queries an Agent Receives:

Q: How many queries an agent may typically receive each day/week/month (especially considering the ready access writers have to agents via the web versus snail mail) 

JN: Most agents don't accept snail mail anymore. It's a waste of paper and space. As to how many queries we recieve a day, it really depends on the agent. There are some who get a hundred a week, there are some who get a hundred a day. It varies. Personally, I get about 50 a day.


Q: How big of a factor has marketability become in an agent’s decision to pick up a novel? How long does a trending genre stay “trending”?

GP: It is a very big component. If an agent is hearing a genre is dead, she won't be able to sell it. Trending is nice, but not everything. It's more when the agent is getting negative reports about a genre that isn't selling. That can make moving a new project difficult. Then sometimes it takes revisioning (not revising, ah-ha!) a book into something somewhat different to let it sell.

Large Scope Industry Questions:

How Many Writers “Make it Big”: 

Q: How many writers actually “make it big” (Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.)

JN: Very few writers "make it big." It's not the norm in any way, shape or form. I mean, the reason you hear so much about those huge books is exactly because it's so incredibly rare for a book to have such a phenomenal response from the public! I can't source this, because I forgot where I got this figure from, but I think I read somewhere that the average writer makes less than $5000 per book. That's not just advance, mind you. That's the entire life of the book. Again, I forgot where I got this figure, so take it with a grain of salt because I can't speak to its accuracy.

Books in Each Genre Published Each Year:

How many books in a particular genre are published each year? (How many SF/Fantasy/Horror/Romance,etc.) 

JN: The best way to keep up with this is to follow a lot of blogs of whatever genre you want to track and read about upcoming releases on a regular basis, visit bookstores/libraries on a regular basis to see what's on the "new release" shelves, etc... There's not really a genre report listing every new book ever released. It's a matter of immersing yourself into the publishing community so that you're always up to date. It's a lot of work. If this interests you, paying for a Publishers Marketplace account might be something you can look into. It has a daily report of books bought by publishing houses (they won't be released for another couple years because of the way publishing works, but this is very much how agents and editors keep track of what's going to come out in the future). Even that report isn't all-encompassing because not all agents report their sales

Book Quotas:

Q: Is there a quota or maximum number of books that must be met or may be published each year in a particular genre? 

JN: There are quotas and they vary by house. You see this a lot in romance, especially, because of the volume of books these houses have to release in order to keep up with the market. They try to put out a certain number of books per month because their readers are so voracious. In other genres, it's more about budget. Editors have a dollar amount they have to answer to when thinking about acquiring a book. They can't just go forth and offer whatever they want. As is true in any industry, publishing books is a business and therefore a numbers game.

Reasons New Writers Fail:

Q: What are some common reasons new writers don't make it? Or reasons they don't snag an agent?

RD: Very complex, but a few: trying to please too many people, not educating themself on the process, not reading the genre they are trying to write, not taking advice, taking everybody's advice, sending out work before it is ready, not having critique partners, giving up too easily, not being able to take criticism. As many reasons as writers, though! Just remember, you can always write another book! Just because you can't sell your first one doesn't mean you're a terrible writer--it's a process and you will evolve with time, as with any skill.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writer to Agent: Question and Answer

Back in January 2014 I joined a Writer’s Digest Boot Camp called Agent One-on-One where the wonderful, informative agents from Kimberley Cameron and Associates critiqued our queries, synopses, and first few pages. It was an invaluable experience and I highly recommend the Boot Camps to all writers looking for help in their writing journeys. Here are *some* of the Q & As that were asked by various writers and answered by the agents during Boot Camp. Many questions were about the writer’s personal works and were not written down. Hopefully this helps some writers out there!

Questions on the Query

Starting with a Hook: 

QI've heard many times that agents like the query to start with a "hook" that draws them into the story immediately then mention the other details near the end of the query. How critical is the placement of information around the Query letter?

Agent Mary C. Moore (MM): Although all agents have their particular preferences as to how a query letter is drafted, as long as it is clean and concise it will not be slushed based on your placement of paragraphs. In the personal case of KC&A, the reason we like to see the information up front is, because we also accept the first 50 pages of your MS with your initial query. If the title/word count/genre is of particular interest to the agent, they probably will skip the rest of the query and get right to reading.

Querying a Series:

I am currently querying for my debut novel and it is the beginning of a trilogy. I don’t want to beat around the bush – I definitely want my agent to know that I’m querying a trilogy right off the bat, however I don’t want to scare anyone away either. I only have the first book written, is this something I should mention? Is that a problem? Should I focus solely on describing the summary of the first book or should I reveal at least a little of the overall trilogy arc?

MM: When querying a trilogy it is important to remember that if the first book doesn't sell, the publisher will not pick up the next two. Therefore your first book must be okay as a stand alone. It cannot leave us hanging on the major plot points, although it can leave some questions unanswered. When querying your first book, do mention in the last line of the letter that there is potential for more in the series AND that you've started working on them. DO NOT attempt to draw the agent/editor's interest by telling the overall trilogy. If the agent is interested, (usually, as I can't speak for every agent out there :) they will read your first book, and then ask about the plot points of the next.

The First Book of a Series Didn't Do Well:

Q: Hypothetically if a first book (intended as a trilogy) didn't sell well would the agent/author combo then prefer to move on to another story/book? And could the Author, at that point, choose to shop for a different publisher or self-publish the other two novels?

MM: In the changing publishing landscape, anything is possible! Traditionally, the agent will first attempt to get you a two-three book deal, which means that even if the first doesn't do well, the publisher is still tied in for the second. That will be the agent's choice/responsibility. On average most publishers are willing to at least take a chance on the second, because trilogies sell better and sometimes the first book doesn't do well until the last book is out. However, this being said, in the case of a newbie author and a first book that does so horribly it was a loss for the publisher, than the subsequent sequels will not be picked up. Usually another publisher will not pick up the sequels either, because they are going off of the same stats as the first publisher. Then your agent may choose to publish the book for you in their publishing arm, or guide you through self-publishing.

Overall, you should just worry about making the first novel the best it can be and get it signed with an agent. Once that happens, they will guide you through the rest.

Researching your Comparatives 

Q: What are the best ways to research comparative/competitive books?

Agent Kimberley Cameron (KC): For non-fiction, find through Amazon or a bookstore what titles are similar to yours. Your agent can help you find tune this by finding the sell through numbers on Bookscan, if they have access. For fiction, Goodreads is a great source of information for comparible titles, and if you are talking about a query letter, any book the agent has sold that might be similar in genre is always a good idea!

What do I look for in Comparative Titles?

Q: What do you look for in comparable books?

Agent Elizabeth Kracht (EK): Find books in the same genre that you can compare to in voice, setting, narrative style... Comps can be similar to some aspect of your writing. Are there authors who are similar to you in pacing, voice, writing style, setting...? You can approach comps from different perspectives. But you should be able to find at least two. You may be able to get an agent without listing comps, but your agent will eventually want to know who you compare your work to and why for the pitch they craft to editors.

What should Comparative Titles be based on?

Q: With regards to the query introduction your colleagues discussed including "comparitive titles." Should these titles be based on tone, plot, story, theme, sub-genre, etc?

Agent Pooja Menon (PM): It could be all of those or some of those. Usually you could give one comparison title based on the tone and pair it up with another comparison title that deals with the theme. What a Comp title needs to tell agents or editors is that the book isn't exactly like the books you've compared it with, but the audiences who enjoyed so and so book will enjoy your book as well because it explores similar themes, etc.

Writing that you're Self-Published in the Query:

Do I write that I’ve self-published something in my query?

It can show that you've finished a book and feel your work is strong enough to put out there. 

Agent Amy Cloughley (AC): unless the sales are very large over a short period of time, it isn't something I typically take into consideration.

Mentioning Marketing Plans in Query:

Q: In the Query, should we mention, briefly, if we have any marketing plans? For example, a Visual Effects team at the ready to create a book trailer?

MM: In the case of fiction, leave it out of the intial query letter. If the agent asks for the full manuscript, you can then give them that information. Consider it this way, an agent's reading time is very valuable. The less they have to read to get hooked into your story the more likely they will get hooked. This means the query letter should be as to the point as possible, and the point is: YOU WANT TO READ MY BOOK. :) Nonficiton: The marketing plans go in the Proposal – which is sent like a Query.

Reason for Querying a Specific Agent:

Q: Why do you like to see why we decided to query you?

KC: I really like to know how or why a writer found me, and decided to query me. 

Example: " I was intrigued by your website and bio, and would love to interest you in my novel." (whatever the genre).

Or, "I've seen your deals in Publisher's Marketplace and would like to submit my non-fiction proposal."

Any little nugget that lets us know why you are querying us always makes it more personal.

Querying Different Agents in the Same Agency:

Q: What is the etiquette for querying different agents in the same agency about the same project once one agent rejects it? Is there a certain amount of time to wait or is it not recommended at all?

MM: Usually the website of the agency will tell you if it is or is not okay to submit to another agent within the agency once the first rejects it. IF the website is not specific, then it is okay to requery the other agent. Just keep in mind, if the agency is a smaller one office type agency like ours, then if your project was felt to be a better fit for someone else in the agency, we usually just ask the other agent if they would like to read it BEFORE rejecting the author. 

As for requerying, if you have significantly revised everything AND a reasonable amount of time has passed (six months to a year), you can feel fairly safe requerying. Odds are the agent won't remember the orginial query anyway.

HOWEVER, I have had a case where an author persistantly requeried me, (once every few weeks) and I was nice enough to send him a response the first three times, before I finally had to warn him to stop or we would mark his email as spam. Trust me, you do not want to be remembered for that.

Querying a Publisher Directly:

Q: Is it ever a good idea to query the publisher directly or is it basically novel-suicide to go in without representation from an Agent?

MM: o   It's fine to query publishers directly. Odds are, if your book is good enough to be picked up by a publisher, it's good enough to land an agent. An agent will help you negotiate better terms, thus even though they are taking %15 percent, you are still making more than you would if you went through the publisher directly. The big paying publishers won't even accept cold submissions so you have to have agent to get a contract from them.

HOWEVER, if you are struggling to land an agent, and you manage to place your novel with a small publisher or indie-press, that is great! Get your book out there, write the second, and then you have a strong author profile to catch agent's interest on your second novel. Again, the goal is to get your work out there, build an audience and fanbase. If you have that into place, most agents will be eager to read your next book.

The First Ten Pages:

Rounding when Querying: 

Q: If an agent asks for ten pages, is it normally a good practice to submit a complete chapter if that chapter is only 11 or 12 pages long (thus allowing the potential agents to see the end of the chapter)?

MM: It's best to round if it's not too far off. 

The Manuscript Overall:

Using brand names:

Q: What is the rule on using name brands in your manuscript? Is there some sort of permission you have to get to publish a name brand? For example, if I wanted to reference Harry Potter or mention a Pepsi on the table.

MM: In general you should not use brand names in your work. Instead of using "Pepsi" use "cola" instead of using "iPhone" use "smartphone." 

The reason for this, is that it dates your work. You want your work to be as timeless as possible. Something like Frankenstein, which is 200 years old, is still relatable today, but if she had used brands that were common then, they would make no sense to the modern reader. Already a lot of pulp fiction from the fifties falls flat with the modern reader because we can't understand the heavy lingo/brand names.

Editing your MS (Manuscript) First:

Q: Does your MS have to be in pristine edited condition? Editing is still expected to happen, right?

MM: A great question. Most agents, especially less-experienced agents, expect to do some polishing on an MS. My most recent client we had 4 rounds of edits before I signed her, and now I'm doing an intense copy-edit on her manuscript before shopping it. However, it is a good idea to work with a free-lance editor at least through one round of edits to get your book polished enough to catch the interest of an agent. 

The truth of the matter is, that if an agent absolutely loves the concept of a proposed book, they will be more willing to risk their editorial time than on a book that did not capture their heart. However, those non-hearted books, if extremely well-written and polished can still capture their interest and stand a much better chance of eventually capturing their heart.

I guess to sum it up, when your book is on the fence in terms of interest, it has a much better chance of falling on the right side if it has been professionally edited.

Finding a Fiction Editor:

Q: What is the best way to find a great fiction editor?

KC: Again, great question. Yes - editors that have been in the publishing world are professional and know their business. There are lots of editorial services with experienced editors that have been at the major houses, such as:


Commercial vs. Literary vs. Mainstream

Q: What is meant by commercial fiction as opposed to literary fiction versus mainstream fiction?

AC: In commercial/mainstream, you typically find a faster pace and the stories tend to be more plot driven. With literary fiction, you have more leeway with deeper character development, crafted prose, and developed themes.


Social Media: When Agents Google You:

Q: I understand social media is very important. What are agents looking for when looking up perspective clients? Is a low amount of followers going to be a red flag?

EK: Some contracts now are specifying expectations for author social media use.  Yes, 23 followers is a red flag, especially if writing nonfiction.  You really need to think of branding yourself as an author.  This shows that you believe in yourself and your work, and that you are serious about your partnership with a publisher. I won't take on clients now who are not willing to develop their platform (both fiction and nonfiction). I tell all of my clients to "friend" my client Joe Clifford, which I suggest all of my Bootcamp people do. Joe is amazing at social media and promoting his work. He has created a great social media community that is completely supportive of him. 

So, yes, keep developing this.

Another reason why, if you suddently get a digital book deal, your book could be up in less than a month (as happened with four of my authors). Luckily, I had them working on their websites...before I shopped them. Everything happened so quick that some of them were a little behind. You want to be sure the lights are on and the room is warm before an editor has your work in their hands.  They will Google you, and if you are nowhere to be found, it will influence them.

Google can help here.  Google simple terms like "How to build a Twitter following."  We also have some info on our agency blog, written by our social media intern, Kenny. But if you Google simple "how to" terms, you will find a lot of reference material.

At the very least, you need: website, facebook, twitter, goodreads, linkedin, wattpad

Fellow Writer's Answer: 

  1. Think of Twitter as The Water Cooler, Facebook as The Barbecue and LinkedIn as The Boardroom
  2. One of the best ways of growing a Twitter following is to write great blog posts, especially posts that recognize the 10-50 of the top authors in your genre (with their Twitter handles) and then share with them that you put them on a special list as a blog post. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness and you can start to build out a strong following from there.

Do you check Author's Websites if you're interested in their work?

Q: Do you go to an author's website as part of your review if you're interested after reading the query letter? What are the three most important elements you look for?

PM: Not the query letter, but if I decide to sign up a writer or I really like her ms, I go to the website to find out more about her/him. Three most elements on the website would be:
  • How tastefully is it done and how easy is it to view.
  • How regularly does the author use her website/blog, what the traffic is like.
  • Has she/he published short stories, books, etc before. What are the other projects she's currently on.
Just to give me an idea of the person I'm going to sign. I have to add, though, that a platform is much more important for a non-fiction author to have. When it comes to fiction, this is something that I like my authors to have but I can help the author build it up even while we're prepping her book for submission. However, when it's non-fiction, we need an established platform in place before I can even think of taking it to editors, and this could take anywhere between 6 months to a year if the author doesn't have one.

Copies Sold = Success:

Q: How many copies (sold) is enough for a debut novelist to be considered a success by a publisher? I realize this is a function of the advance, but speaking in generalities?

KC: Another good question - no hard and fast rules, but if the author sells out their print run (the number of books printed), they are definitely successful!!!!! It changes and is different for every book and publisher - some print runs are as low as 1500 to 2000.

Where do I go to find out # of books sold?

Q: Where do go to find out how many copies of a book has been sold?

PM: To be honest, this is a bit of a round about process. You can find out from Publisher's Weekly (Wilson's Periodicals Room), by contacting bookstores, checking bestseller lists, by visiting author websites, Neilsen Book Scan (although this is expensive), contacting book publishers...many ways to do this really.

Recommended Conferences

Q: We, as writers, should be attending as many conferences as possible (assuming our wallets aren’t feeling particularly huffy) because it’s a very successful way to meet agents. Are there any conferences you would recommend?

MM: Off the top of my head: PNWA, SFWC, SDSUWC. There's a list on Wikipedia.
If you're going with the intent to meet agents, pick the ones that have the most agents going. :)

EK: I suggest going to the biggests writers conferences, where you have an opportunity to sit in front of many editors/agents.  PNWA is a big one (lots of agents/editors). SDSU, which I'm going to next week, has a huge list of agents/editors attending.  San Francisco Writer's Conference is also a big one.  I do the Algonkian conference as well, but it's smaller. I recommend the big ones, where you can sit in front of a lot of different people.  Making a personal connection with an agent can make all the difference.

PM: In addition to the above, the Atlanta Writers Conference. And about East Coast Conferences – Check out this website!

Writing a Conference Pitch:

Q: I'm at a writing conference and I'm ready to pitch my book to an agent. What does an agent want to hear in the first few minutes? What actions should I avoid? Any suggestions would be helpful.

PM:The agent wants to hear your pitch, short and snappy, like a movie logline- think of it, most pitches at conferences give you maybe 1 minute to 5 minutes to pitch your book. So the less roundabout it is, the more straightforward, the better. So it would be a good idea to time your pitches at home before you go in and create one that would fit a minute or two minutes or three depending on the conference you're going to and their pitch time. To add to this, no matter the stated time limit keep your pitch a full 90 seconds less than the time allowed so that the agent, if interested, has time to ask questions

Hiring a Publicist:

Q: It seems that no matter who publishes my book, I will have to promote the book anyway. What are your thoughts on hiring a Publist early on in the game for a new author?

EK: I think anything to maximize your book's success is a good thing if you can afford to do so. You want your books to sell so it will be easier to sell your next book. It might be nice to make some money, too. You just want to make sure the publicist doesn't step on toes with the publisher. Also, seems to me that after about six months, things slow down, so you may want to use a publicist as things begin to slow (though a publicist may tell you different). It's worth consulting one.

What is the impact Self-Publishing has had on you as an agent?

Q: General question about what you think the impact of self-publishing has had on you as an agent.

PM: Not much really. This is a good question. To be honest, I get a lot of queries from self-published authors who'd like to take their book via the traditional route, or who'd like someone to help them navigate the technical business side of the job. Unfortunately, unless their self published books have done really well, the chances of an agent signing them up is rare, solely because then it becomes hard for the agent to sell that project. It's already out there, read by people, and if it didn't do well, then chances are editors aren't going to be interested. However, if a book has been out there for say a month and about 10,000-30,000 copies have been sold (solid sales numbers), then that's a healthy number for me to take to editors.

Usually my advice to someone who's going down the self pub route is that they need to be prepared to not just put the book out there but to be aggressive about marketing and promoting it. I know there are authors who make it big and millions of copies get sold, however, such a situation is rare and there are far more people who struggle to sell that those that sell millions of copies. Think of this as a business and think of ways to make your business flourish. However, if you're not ready for that, then self-pub is not the way to go. And once you do go down that route, then you need to stick to it and see it through until the end.