Blogger Backgrounds

Wednesday, September 27, 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 meeting them at conferences is so important.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

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 few months.

Sometimes, the agent is interested in your particular idea because it’s hot in the marketplace right at that moment. If you wait, they might receive 20 other manuscripts of a similar idea and sell one of those instead. Or the market may be saturated. Or the market changes (which it always does).

Agents are also typically much faster than editors. They won’t often leave you hanging for months at a time.

Strike while the iron is hot. Make sure that puppy is primed and ready to submit.

Update: Julie Carobini pointed out that it is possible to acquire an agent with just a fiction proposal and not the entire manuscript, because, in her words, "time is money." She also had a strong freelance career at that point, too, which added to her credibility. In my opinion, it's not the norm to successfully query with an unfinished manuscript, but it certainly is possible.

Monday, September 18, 2006

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 overboard and list too many statistics. Keep it simple and short.

--Why you as the author are qualified to write this story. If you've been an abuse victim or worked with abuse victims, then include that. Don't include your three dogs and your church if it has nothing to do with the story.

--Your writing credits. If you don't have many, don't point it out. If you have a lot, point only to the relevant ones. If you wrote an article on abuse in Woman's World and an article on stretching in Runner's World, include the Woman's World but not the Runner's World.

--Your writing groups. Again, don't list all of them if you have a lot.

--Closing thanks and polite nothings

Friday, September 15, 2006

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 throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for any help in a while.

Three weeks before the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, her non-Christian brother makes a crazy deal—he’ll go to church with the family if she finds a date for the service. Risa can’t ask family friend Ben Higashi—the entire church knows rice would stop sticking before he’d be interested in her, so they’d assume she couldn’t find anyone else. Ben suggests the mall-sponsored Speed Dating, but when she uncovers a mall shoplifter mystery, can she discover both Mr. Right and the crook as her twelve dates turn into the Twelve Nightmares before Christmas?


Issues, hook, appeal. What makes this novel unique or different? Is the storyline high-concept? How would it appeal to readers? How would it be similar to but different from other books out there? If you're targeting a certain house, it would be a good idea to mention a book in their catalog for a comparative market analysis.
In the tradition of Linda Windsor’s Moonstruck series, The Twelve Dates of Christmas is a humorous romance with a splash of ethnic flavor—Amy Tan meets Bridget Jones. Stepping outside the structure of traditional inspirational romances, this story showcases the trials of a Japanese American woman fighting the foibles of her extended family and her insecurities as she tries to find romance and an identity outside of her work, something many young Christian women can relate to no matter what their ethnic background.


Your bio. What makes you qualified to write this story? Include publishing credits (and any awards), clubs, and/or experiences that are relevant to the story or your writing.
As a fourth generation Japanese American, I have close ties with the Asian American community in both Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, where the story is set. I am a columnist for WordPraize multicultural e-zine, and I have had articles published in Nikkei Heritage, the journal for the National Japanese American Historical Society. I am a member of RWA, Faith, Hope and Love chapter, and American Christian Fiction Writers. The first chapter from another of my manuscripts won first place in its category in the 2005 ACFW Noble Theme contest.


Closing thanks and polite nothings. Keep it short. Also, either here or in the first paragraph, you can include any personal notes if you met the editor or agent at a conference, just to jog their memory.
I have included a one-page synopsis, and I would be happy to send a proposal and the first three chapters. It was a pleasure meeting you at the ACFW conference in Dallas last week. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Camy Tang

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

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. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for any help in a while.

Three weeks before the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, her non-Christian brother makes a crazy deal—he’ll go to church with the family if she finds a date for the service. Risa can’t ask family friend Ben Higashi—the entire church knows rice would stop sticking before he’d be interested in her, so they’d assume she couldn’t find anyone else. Ben suggests the mall-sponsored Speed Dating, but when she uncovers a mall shoplifter mystery, can she discover both Mr. Right and the crook as her twelve dates turn into the Twelve Nightmares before Christmas?

Monday, September 11, 2006

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

Friday, September 08, 2006

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 character comes to an epiphany or realization about their spiritual/internal state. Show what they learn about themselves.

It should also be a strong inciting incident that brings them to this point—something powerful makes them turn their thoughts inward. It can’t be something small or insignificant. They can’t suddenly decide one day to do some introspection.

Mary cries at Alice’s graveside, holding her friend’s letter. Her heart crumbles before God as she realizes the larger picture God has of her world, and how He does indeed work everything for good for those who love Him.

Josh grabs the crumpled tricycle, realizing how his controlling ways have caused his family so much grief and pain. He realizes that if he does not change, he won’t have a family at all.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

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 any help in a while.

This usually adds words to a synopsis, and if you're trying to cut words, you might be tempted to cut out your voice. The choice is yours, but if you can, try to cut other words and keep your writer's voice. It will make the synopsis stand out and give a taste of what your story is like, the atmosphere of the novel.

Monday, September 04, 2006

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)

Friday, September 01, 2006

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.
Related Posts with Thumbnails