Posts

Showing posts from September, 2006

Picking an agent #3—To brand or not to brand

I’m going to flash around the b-word, so if you’re easily offended, skip this post.

Some writers agree with branding, some don’t. Some writers like finding a marketing niche, others feel it hampers their creativity.

There’s nothing wrong with either opinion, but your agent should agree with whatever your opinion is.

Some agents are heavily into branding. They not only pitch your manuscript, they’re pitching your brand, you as the writer. They’re pitching you so that the house will take you on and develop you as an author with that particular flavor of writing.

Some agents are more open to writers who want to branch out into different areas. They encourage creativity, no matter where that may take the writer. They can recognize good writing and push whatever genre manuscripts their authors put out.

There is nothing wrong with either side. But you as the author should decide which type of agent you want to target. That’s why reading their online interviews or listening to workshops on CD or …

Picking an agent #2—Do you like them?

This might seem like a dumb question, but think about it—here is your chance to choose who you get to work with. You want someone you get along with and who has the same work ethic as you do. You won’t necessarily be buddies, but you want to at least be happy to talk to them.

That’s why it’s good to research the agents you query. Read online interviews or buy CDs from conferences of workshops the agent gave, or agent panels the agent was on.

If you can afford it, go to conferences to meet them and talk to them. They don’t bite. Just get to know them, even if you don’t have anything to pitch to them.

You will get a good feel for who you’d like to work for, and which agent has the same types of goals you do in terms of career.

Picking an agent #1—FINISH THE MANUSCRIPT

Yes, I’m shouting.

Before I go into some tips on how to pick an agent (and possibly receive an offer of representation), I want to point out this very important part of the submission process.

For some people, this is a no-brainer, but I’m always amazed at people who’ve never heard this piece of advice.

Before you query that agent (or editor, for that matter), finish the manuscript. There are TONS of writers who never finish that first manuscript, and agents know this. Therefore, if they are interested in your story, they are going to want to see the full, completed manuscript.

For one, they want to know you finished it.

For two, they want to know if you can sustain your brilliance in the first chapter throughout the rest of the book. Many novels sag in the middle because the writer loses steam. If that’s the case with your manuscript, it’s not ready to submit. Period.

You want that manuscript ready to go if they come back with a manuscript request. You won’t want to make them wait for a fe…

Queries--If it's not relevant, cut it

This is a tip similar to writing synopses--if the sentence is not relevant, then get rid of it.

Each sentence, each nugget of information should pertain to:

--The main storyline. Typically, the story blurb doesn't take more than 1-3 paragraphs.

--The main protagonists. The villain only if he/she is a very major character.

--The characters' spiritual or emotional arcs, and the epiphany or realization at the end/climax. I'm not talking sentence after sentence. One sentence or phrase at the beginning about each character's emotional conflict, and (optional) one near the end about what he/she learns or realizes.

--The characters' external goals and the major obstacles against those goals. Notice I said major obstacles. Leave the minor stuff out. Again, just a sentence or phrase about the characters' external goals.

--An issue dealt with in the book. Say your heroine is an abuse victim. Then any information pertaining to that might be useful. However, don't go overboa…

Queries—basic structure

Not all query letters are set up this way, but here's a quick and dirty skeleton structure:

Date (I usually put September 13th, 2006 to make it look nicer)

For editors:
Name, title, house, address
or
For agents:
Name, agency, address

Greeting (make sure you address the person by name—for example, Dear Ms. Lawton)

First paragraph. Some people start with a hook, some people start with the info line. It's up to you, although I have heard of some editors/agents who detest the hook opener, so I usually play it safe and start with the info line.
I am excited to present my novel, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a completed 45,000 word Inspirational Christmas romance set in San Jose, California.

Story blurb. Typically they're one to two paragraphs long, and they can be similar to back cover blurb.
Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins, so she …

Queries—story blurbs

In a query, your story blurb will either hook the editor or not. Here are some pointers.

1) Try to write it in the tone or voice of the novel. If your manuscript is a romantic comedy, make the blurb sound fun and flirty. If your novel is a dark thriller, make the blurb sound sinister and exciting.

2) It should name the main protagonists. The villain can also be named if he/she is a major protagonist.

3) The main protagonists' external goals should be clear.

4) There should be some hint of the major obstacle(s) in the protagonists' way.

5) A nice touch is to add a little info on the main protagonists' internal or spiritual conflicts.

6) Unlike a synopsis, you do not need to give away the ending, but you may if you prefer.

Example:

Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall…

Query examples from Agent Kristin Nelson

Literary agent Kristin Nelson posted on her blog a few examples of query letters that caught her attention.

Shanna Swendson
Jennifer O’Connell
Becky Motew
Jana DeLeon
Lisa Shearin

Synopsis writing – spiritual arc/internal conflict

An editor will want to know how your character changes over the course of the book, so it’s important to include the character’s spiritual arc or arc of internal conflict.

It’s pretty simple. In the first paragraph or two, mention the character’s flaw, or spiritual struggle, or internal conflict.

Mary has given up on God and blames Him for her parents’ death.

Josh has always felt a need to control the people in his life, influencing their decisions. After all, it’s for their own good.

In the middle, show how the characters are coming to realize that their spiritual/internal state is wrong.

Mary is intrigued by Alice’s strong faith despite the horrible things that have happened to her. Mary rethinks her lost faith in the face of Alice’s unwavering trust in God and assertion that she has no business questioning what God has allowed.

Josh is shocked at his brother’s outburst, and wonders if it’s true that he’s trying to control his family like a set of tin soldiers.


In the climax, show how the …

Synopsis writing--voice

While a synopsis is usually not your best writing, and a synopsis is all telling and no showing, you should nevertheless try to make the synopsis sound like your writer's voice and the tone of the story.

If your story is poignant, try to make the synopsis sound that way. If your writer's voice is uniquely quirky and the story is, too, try to get that into the synopsis.

Risa Takayama has no social life because she's thrown all her energies into her wedding accessories shop in the mall. Unconventional, rebellious Risa hates the numerous family gatherings because her aunts tweak her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other.

vs.

Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins with their Ken sidekicks, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall, All the Trimmings. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for …

Tip#10 to trim a synopsis—eliminate extraneous nouns and verbs

There are some places where certain types of nouns and verbs can be eliminated entirely. Things like "He realizes", "She understands that," "He hears her say," "She sees him."

He follows her. He sees her enter the hotel.
vs.
He follows her. She enters the hotel.

He reads the family Bible. He discovers that Sally is his cousin.
vs.
He reads the family Bible. Sally is his cousin.

His reaction opens her eyes. She realizes she's always been in love with him.
vs.
His reaction opens her eyes. She's always been in love with him.

However, be aware that sometimes, these verbs can't be eliminated, so don't beat yourself up if you can't do it:

They fight. She realizes she's always been in love with him.
vs.
They fight. She's always been in love with him. (doesn't make sense)

Tip#9 to trim a synopsis—change nouns and verbs

This is similar to tip #8. Sometimes you can substitute a different noun or verb that's a little shorter than what you have. Because the format is typically left justified, even one less letter in the sentence can be enough to eliminate a line (see tip #7 about getting rid of short lines).

He sneaks up to the house.
vs.
He creeps to the house.

He needs to stay out of her way.
vs.
He needs to avoid her.

She leaves her job.
vs.
She quits.