I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Winner - Mary Kole's Agent Pitch Contest - Market My Words

I'm so excited to share with you that I was the joint winner of the agent pitch contest on Market My Words.

I told you my 140-word pitch in an earlier post, so I'll just add Mary's comments on my pitch here. Mary said: "This query kicks ass. It has punch and voice, which is really hard to do in 140 characters. This sounds like something I might really like." I really appreciate Mary's feedback, and can't wait to get her comments on my query letter (the prize for the winner).

Shelli Johannes had some fantastic advice as she announced the winners of the contest:
If there is nugget you take away from this - whether chosen or not - it is this: I cannot stress how important it is to FOLLOW THE RULES when querying agents. Sometimes it can be the difference between a rejection or a request! They go through hundreds of queries a week and have to look for ways to say no. DON'T GIVE THEM A REASON to reject you just because you are going to fast or don't pay attention to the details/instructions!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Top Tip #1 - Querying (Database for Queries)

When you start out on your querying journey, it's important to find a way to collect and collate all the information you need to assist you with the querying process. There are a few different options, the best of which (I think) are to either:
  1. use an online database such as QueryTracker to keep track of all your querying information; or
  2. create your own database.
I will discuss creating your own database here in this Top Tip.

Step 1 - Research the agents who accept submissions in your genre

To start with, make yourself a list of agents who accept queries or manuscripts in your chosen genre. Sites such as QueryTracker and AgentQuery will help, as well as the Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market. I'll refer to agents here, though this Top Tip will also apply to editors if you choose to submit directly to publishers.

Once you have your list, make sure that you are willing to be represented by any of the agents on the list. There's no point in submitting your manuscript to an agent who you might not actually want to work with in the future.

Step 2 - List all relevant details

List in your database (at a minimum):
  • the name of the Agency and agent
  • their contact details, website address, and personal blog address
  • whether submission is by email (if so, include an email address) or snail mail (if so include the postal address)
  • any requirements for querying (such as things to include in the query letter, whether full or partial manuscripts are to be sent, etc)
  • other submission guidelines
  • how long you can expect to wait to hear back from the agent, and whether a "no response" within a certain time is to be taken as a "decline to represent"
  • whether you should follow up if no response is received within a certain time
  • any other information you pick up from blogs, the Agency's website, and word of mouth (for example, agent xyz doesn't like vampire novels).
I find that it helps to assemble all this information in table format for ease of reference, listed alphabetically under the name of the Agency.

Step 3 - Always double-check your information before submitting

Note that you should never just assume that the information in your database is correct at the time you are submitting. Submission guidelines can change, as can contact details, and whether or not queries or unsolicited submissions are being accepted at the particular time. Also, agents can leave their Agency. ALWAYS check the relevant website/personal blog just before you query, to make sure that you are still complying with all querying/submission requirements.

Step 4 - Keep track of your progress and contact with all agents

As you submit queries or manuscripts, keep track of ALL contact with each agent (you could use a separate document for this information). List details such as:
  • the particular person to whom you sent your query (note that many agents do not accept multiple submissions, ie submitting the same manuscript to different agents in the same agency at the same time)
  • which manuscript you are querying
  • the date you sent your query
  • whether your query included part or all of your manuscript
  • whether any response was received (including when and by who - sometimes assistants respond on behalf of the agent)
  • when your manuscript was declined (if this occurs)
  • whether there was a request for a partial or a full (including any comments or suggested edits)
  • whether there has been a response within the stated time frame (you can assume then that the query has been declined)
  • whether any feedback was given with a rejection (or whether a rejection was a form letter)
  • all other queries/manuscripts that have been sent to a particular agent.
Step 5 - Crossing off the list

If your query or manuscript is rejected, try not to take it to heart. For the purposes of the database, however, immediately cross that agent off the list once they decline to represent you (I usually "shade" the relevant cells in my table so I can still see the querying details). In this way, it is apparent at a glance how many "live" queries you have out there, and it makes the decision whether (and when) to submit further queries much, much easier.

Make your life easier

By getting yourself organized up front, and keeping your database(s) up to date as agents respond, you can make your life much easier, particularly if you are submitting different manuscripts at the same time. And it will help you to avoid embarrassing mistakes, such as submitting the same manuscript twice to the same agent.

Best of luck in your querying journey!

Mary Kole's Agent Pitch Contest - Market My Words

For those of you who haven't heard about this fantastic contest on Market My Words, I thought I would give you a heads-up. The contest allows you to submit a 140 character "pitch" for your MG or YA novel (or select picture books if you think they meet Mary Kole's requirements as listed on the site). The prize - a query critique by Mary Kole, associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. Deadline - Sunday 22nd, noon EST.

The best thing is, you can enter even if your book is still a work in progress.

I've entered my "pitch" for the Young Adult novel I am currently writing, and I thought I would share it below:
Title: From The Other Side

Genre: YA Paranormal

Misfit Verity is murdered by the boy she loves and awakens with strange powers, uncontrollable rages, and an unquenchable desire for revenge
Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Long is a Piece of String?

Well, I signed up to take part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) today - my first time. I'm quite excited about it and looking forward to a busy November. Do you plan to take part?

I suppose that raises the question of how long it usually takes to finish a manuscript. The answer: How long is a piece of string? Pretty darn (tee hee) long!

I've looked at the details of the winners' circle at NaNoWriMo, and tens of thousands of people last year managed to complete the designated 50,000 words within the 30 day time frame. At 1,700 words per day (or so), that's not a bad achievement at all. But...

I'd be very surprised if the NaNoWriMo attendees can turn around in the month of December and immediately send out the manuscript seeking representation. I am imagining that, after I take part in NaNoWriMo, it will then take me a good few months after that to read, edit, re-read, re-edit, re-edit again, then submit to beta readers, and - you guessed it - re-edit, that manuscript. At least.

In other words, while it may be possible to get the words down on paper fairly quickly, it takes much longer to make sure those words are polished to a point where you feel confident with submitting them to agents/editors. And some of us - me included - struggle even to get the words down on paper to start with (procrastination anyone?).

Thus, my hope that NaNoWriMo will be a fantastically useful tool in my (ongoing) battle to put pen to paper. So...I'll keep you posted on how long it takes to write, polish, and complete my NaNoWriMo manuscript. Time to dust off the plots I put on the shelf for a later date. An interesting experiment - anyone want to race???

No cheating though...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Slay Me with Laughter Writing Contest - Janet Reid

I had a lot of fun taking part in Janet Reid's Slay Me With Laughter Writing Contest over the weekend (contest entries were posted in the comments section of the above site if anyone wants to read them). The challenge was to write a 115 word story beginning with the words, "A monster-slaying governess, a vampire librarian, and a professorial zombie walk into a bar..."

I got a mention from Janet as she judged the contest (here are the results), and enjoyed coming up with a different place to set the story other than in an actual bar. Am off to read the winning entry again - it had a bit of a crack at Twilight and was too funny for words!!!

Our writing journeys...

I have completed a few picture books and I'm also working on a chapter book based on the same characters, thanks to some suggestions by lovely WriteOnCon attendees.

With WriteOnCon taking place last week, my Young Adult novel sadly got shoved a little aside while I focused on picture books. I'll be starting working on this again next week...

Where are you at on your writing journey?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What inspires you to write?

Is there anything in particular that inspires you to write? As a writer, do you wake up every day wanting to get into it? Do you have a routine you need to go through each morning before you start writing? Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?

Query Letters - Follow the Submission Guidelines

There is a huge amount of information out there on the internet about how to query, what to include in your query letter, how to find the right agent for you, and so on. I'll try to discuss some of this on later posts.

One thing I did just want to mention is the importance of following the submission guidelines for the particular agent or editor you are querying or submitting to. While most of the guidelines are fairly standard, some agents/editors do ask for different things. An example that springs to mind is the agent who wants you to include a paragraph on how you see your book being marketed. Other agents specifically ask you to advise in your letter whether or not you have submitted your query to publishers.

What you don't want to do is to leave out something in your query letter that will cause the agent/editor to press "delete" or move straight on to the next query letter. It's hard enough to stand out in the hundreds of queries an agent/editor receives each week without shooting yourself in the foot in this way.

Perhaps as importantly, read that agent/editor's personal blog. More and more industry professionals are blogging these days, and they often include information in their blogs about their own personal querying preferences. They often also tell you what they DON'T want to see in a query. This insider information will be invaluable when it comes to distinguishing your own query from the 150 others submitted on that day.

Best of luck with your queries.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The curse of the story that's just begging to be told...

I personally think one of the most exciting things about writing is the story that's just begging to be told. It can come to you at any time - when you're washing the dishes, sitting in your office at work, changing your baby's nappy, driving down the street. You spend the next few hours thinking about the new plot, working things up in your mind. You get so excited about how it will all work out, how well the plot will fit within the current trends of the day, how easily the words will flow from your head onto the paper.

Then, you sit down to start writing what someone I've recently met calls "your shiny new story".

And you put the story you were working on just yesterday on the shelf next to the six other stories that are already there.

Sound like you??? I know it's something I do. A lot.

I must say, I haven't yet worked out how to stop my brain from coming up with all these new ideas. And I'm starting to think they're actually a curse rather than a blessing. You see, I'd really like to finish one of the books I've already started. And I think I need to work out a way to do that. Fairly soon.

So, the question of the day - how do you stay focused on the one piece of writing for long enough to finish a whole book?

Gotta go, just thought of a fantastic new idea...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Advice on Writing to Trends

With the recent WriteOnCon now over, it gives us time to digest the huge amount of information we were given across the three day conference. So much to take in, so little time!

A particularly helpful piece of advice was given by agent Steven Malk of Writers House (see Casey McCormick's fantastic blog Agent Spotlight for some information on Steven) in a Q&A Session, and this helps to answer some of the questions raised in my earlier posts.

The question was:
"It seems everyone these days is talking about what a tough market it is, not only in trying to find an agent but also trying to land a publisher. So how, as a writer, do we try to increase our marketability especially as trends today may not be the same trends come a year or two from now when our book could potentially come out?"

The answer:
"I know this might be very general advice, but, honestly, the best thing you can do is just to focus on your work and make it the best it can be. I’ve said many times in interviews and speeches that I think writing to trends is a bad idea. As you point out, there’s a good chance that when your book comes out, the trend will have moved on. Beyond that, I just truly believe that the best books don’t come from hopping on a trend, but rather come from a more pure place. The goal should always be to write a great manuscript that will succeed regardless of time, place, or trends, and staying focused on that goal is the best thing you can do.

Great advice. What do you think???

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Critique Partners

With the WriteOn Online Conference taking place at the moment it seems quite timely to talk about critique partners. Do you have a critique partner for your work?

I've recently met a fantastic woman who shares picture book manuscripts with me, and it's made me realize just how useful it is to have another person who you can sound out for ideas, who can tell you that this particular sentence just does not work, and who can give you a much-needed reality check.

The interesting issue, though, is how you find your critique partner to start with? Do you get together with family or friends (always a tricky one, as you can never be sure they're being honest with you)? Do you try going through your local writers center? Or do you search the internet for other people who want to find a critique partner?

I'm aware of Mary Kole's Kidlit blog, where she has occasional Critique Connections that aim to give readers the opportunity to search for like-minded critique partners. This is a fantastic initiative and is actually the place where I found my own PB critique partner.

Let's bring on more of these types of initiatives!
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