Reblog: The Bulletproof Writer

mermaid Hello! It’s another NaNo months! Wahoo! *flings confetti* And with that comes stick figures and reblogs, huzzah!

I know we’re only three days in, but I’m feeling good about this month so far. I spent the first day working on a thriller project that I quickly sacked (probably in large part because I am apparently majorly uncomfortable writing about affairs), and then switched over to a Little Mermaid retelling. I’m really enjoying the switch, and it’s great to be drafting again after so long editing. This being a NaNo month, though, let the blogging laziness begin.

Our first reblog of the month is about dealing with rejection, something that I’ve been working hard to get better at. (As you may recall, I have a rejections goal for the year, which sounds a little insane, but is actually kind of working for me.)  If you haven’t come across Joanna Penn’s blog, The Creative Penn, before, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Here’s a piece from her archive by Michael Alvear, called:

The Bulletproof Writer: How To Deal With Rejection

Rejection is part of the writer’s life, whether that’s from an agent or publisher, a one-star review, or lack of sales. But that doesn’t mean that rejection has to destroy you.

bulletproofHere are some tips from Michael Alvear on how to handle it in a more positive way. 

What danger is to a cop, rejection is to a writer–always hanging in the air dripping with possibility. And drip it does, onto the talented and untalented in almost equal measure.

Actually it doesn’t just drip; it pours.

Rejection has a 360-degree aim — from literary agents who don’t want you as a client, editors who don’t want your manuscript, publishers who give you an insulting advance, bad reviews from literary critics, hate speeches on Amazon, and of course the ultimate rejection—poor sales. Somebody, somewhere at just about every stage of your writing life gives you the finger, a hand and sometimes the whole arm.

Success makes it worse because now you have more to lose. Who do you think suffers more—the newbie who can’t get her first manuscript accepted or the best seller who can’t get his last published because his prior two books tanked? Success, as any best-selling author knows, doesn’t protect you from rejection.

Want to read more? Go check out the full post here! And until next week, happy writing!

Conference Lessons: Rookie Submission Mistakes

facepalmDuring last fall’s writers conference with the Alaska Writers Guild, one of our illustrious presenters was literary agent Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  One of her presentations was the very informative Eight Rookie Submission Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, and I’m happy to share the gist of it with you.

So here they all, all of writers’ favorite ways to ruin their own submission packets!

#1- Wrong Age Category

Know your age category!  If you’re not sure, there are lots of resources on the internet to figure it out, including my handy dandy chart from the post a couple months ago, Conference Lessons: Age Categories, but the two age groupings that Ms. Nelson highlighted in particular were YA and adult, which apparently get blurred a lot.

#2- Wrong Genre

Think about where your project would shelve in a bookstore.  What titles would it sit between?  If you’re not sure, think about another author writes like you (your comp titles, anyone?) and look up how they classify their books.  It’s not enough to say that your manuscript defies categorization; odds are it doesn’t.  (Still not sure? If you write speculative fiction, Ms. Nelson suggests Connor Goldsmith’s sci-fi/fantasy breakdown on Fuse Literary’s website as a good place to start.)

#3- Wrong Agent

Do your research and only query the agents that are a good fit for the project.  A few (free!) resources for finding the right agent include: agent websites; AgentQuery; QueryTracker; and Literary Rambles (but always be sure to double check aggregated information against the agents’ websites, since it can sometimes be dated).

#4- Wrong Comp Titles

Don’t pick books that are too old, too famous, or in a different genre.  When looking for comp titles, try to find similar (to prove demand) but different (to show there’s still market space) titles that were published in the last 3-5 years, and did well, but not made-into-a-movie well.  Ms. Nelson goes so far as to say that it’s better to leave out comp titles altogether than to use the wrong ones.

#5- Query Not about Book

The story should take up the bulk of the query, with only a small portion devoted to the bio.  (The bio is more important for nonfiction, but even then, unless you’re Oprah, focus on what the book is about.)  Bio only matters so long as it pertains to this book (so don’t put in your day job, your hobbies, your fifteen cats, etc., unless it’s applicable), and if you want some kind of agent personalization (I’m querying you because…), keep it to just one non-creepy sentence.

#6- First Page Clichés

Dream scene, character waking up, character being chased, a long time ago moment: none of that.  If it’s been done a thousand times, find a new way, or at least a new tweak on the cliché.

#7- First Chapter Info Dump

This is a similar issue to the above.  When agents see clichés, they stop caring.  When agents see background information, they stop caring.  The moment the agent no longer cares is the moment they stop reading, so make sure that your first pages are endlessly engaging.  Ms. Nelson recommends highlighting every moment of backstory and asking yourself, ‘Is this necessary?’

#8- Unprofessional Communication

Think of your query as a cover letter for a job application.  In communicating with literary professionals, and being one yourself, keep these things in mind:

  • Be friendly! Agents are humans too.
  • Be prompt with responses.
  • Be patient, and be polite when checking in.
  • Don’t complain about querying.
  • Notify all agents immediately if you get an offer.

 

A final piece of submission advice? Ms. Nelson suggests sending queries out in batches to fifteen agents at a time.  After two months with no takers, tweak your submission materials and send out another fifteen. She suggests one hundred to one hundred fifty rejections before moving on to a new project.  So if you’re anything like me, you’ve got a long way to go.  Don’t give up too early!

Happy writing!

Think you might like to query Ms. Nelson? She’s currently looking for adult, YA and MG.  Look on her agent page for details and good luck!

Conference Lessons: Age Categories

readingIt’s pretty easy to tell what your age category is.  So imagine my embarrassment when, at this year’s AWG Writers Conference, I was mid-pitch and the lady stopped me to ask, “Wait- what did you say your age category is?”

“Young Adult.”

“But… how old is your main character?”

“Twenty-two.”

Her brow furrowed in concern.  “Hm.”

Twenty-two-year-olds aren’t young adults?  Apparently not!  My pitch quickly turned into a brief run-down of the upper age categories in the hunt for mine.  Then the pitch continued, and she was very gracious and asked for a partial, even though I’m clearly an idiot.

So to spare you similar mortification, let’s talk age categories!  This is a really important aspect of your book and your pitch.  In fact, pitches often start with this information right up front.  (I’m querying a MG urban fantasy about… Ochre Skies is a YA historical romance about… etc. You get the idea.)   So let’s take a look at some of the common features in each of the main age categories.

Target Audience Age Main Character Age Typical Content Word Count (varies by genre)
Board Books 0-3 Varies Simple, familiar kinds of stories of everyday life, or concept books (colors, numbers, vocabulary, etc). 0-300
Picture Books 3-8 Varies Revolving around a single character that embodies a child’s viewpoint. Can be mirrors of child’s world, or windows into how others live. 0-1000
Early Reader 5-8 6-10 Simple sentences and words. Story mainly told through action and dialog, with setting left mostly to pictures. 200-2000
Chapter Books 6-10 9-12 More complex stories and structures, and typically run in a series.  Pictures are not relied on to tell any part of the story. 10k-12k
Middle Grade 8-12 10-13 Focus on friends, family, and immediate world. Little introspection and not super dark.  Little to no pictures. 20k-55k
Young Adult 12 and up 14-18 Focus on finding place in world beyond family and friends. Profanity, violence and sexuality acceptable for older target audience. 55k-75k
Adult 18 and up 25+ Varies by genre. Profanity, violence, and sexuality acceptable. 75k-110k

As you can see from these age divisions, children tend to “read up” by about two or three years; a twelve year old tends to read about middle teens, a seven-year-old would likely read a book with a plucky pubescent protagonist, etc.  Another defining feature is the content- is there swearing? sex? violence?  Any of these features can bump a book up in category.

You may notice that I didn’t put New Adult on the chart.  This is because we were told at the conference in no uncertain terms multiple times by literary agents that this is no longer a thing, that it was a blip on the screen that quickly turned into subcategory smutty romance, and we can move on now.  Which is a little disappointing for me, because I feel like, age- and point-of-life-wise, that NA would have been perfect for my books.  (I ranted about this before years ago in Writing an Utterly Unsexy New Adult.)

As far as overarching adult themes go, there’s very little written about it, at least that I could find.  (It’s actually really hard to find anything about the adult age category  right now because it’s so drowned in all the bazillion articles about young adult or even new adult. *whines*)  But it seems to largely come down to the genre.  Each genre will have its own specific themes and goals that are expected within that classification.  If I handed you a mystery, you could probably guess what it’s about.  Likewise for a rom-com or a thriller or a western.  Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, alt history, etc) can vary quite a bit thematically, though.  (Seriously, though trying to research this age category was like expecting to see a forest and instead finding yourself on the lip of the Grand Canyon.  This might merit a more specific tons-o’-research blog post later.)  So, while other age categories seem to have broad themes found throughout genres, adult literature seems to be more of a mixed bag.  (For reals- I’m gonna research this more, this is driving me crazy.)

There are, of course, exceptions to the generalities presented in my pretty, pretty chart.  For example, Neil Gaiman’s fabulous The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which has a seven-year-old boy as the main character, but is definitely not a children’s book.  If you think you might be one of these exceptions, remember that content and target audience usually trump character ages, and then check, and double check, and ask around for second (and third and fourth) opinions before you start flaunting your exceptionality.

So!  I’m sure you all know exactly what age category you’re writing in now so you can present a pitch that doesn’t make someone interrupt you to tell you gently that you’re an ignoramus.  In case you’re not totally sure (because this is a super basic chart about broad generalities), there are a few links at the bottom of this post with more details.  Good luck, and happy writing!

More resources:

Categories by audience age http://www.dummies.com/education/language-arts/getting-published/age-levels-for-childrens-books/

Categories by ages, pages, and content http://www.right-writing.com/genres.html

Standard wordcounts by genre and age category http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

Reblog: How to Land a Literary Agent

Hi!  I’m sitting in a graphic design shop typing away for the one hour of internet that I’ve had in the last week and have I got a lot of ground to cover.  With that brief excuse, please enjoy this short video by The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, while I register my second child for kindergarten.  *sobs*

What is Your Author Brand?

Tolkien

Megajealous of this super cool logo…

I love check lists. I use them about every day of my life to get through all my little to-do’s. Most mornings, I wake up, get the boy to school, and start building my list for the day. But I also have a longer-term list hanging like an accusation above my desk. The stuff I’ll get around to eventually list. The chores I know I ought to do but they aren’t super important right now list. Also known as the Later List.

Every now and then I’ll suffer a bout of productivity and mark one off. (Clean out dusty heap under the bed. Move water bottles to high shelf and move baking dishes down.) But some have been on there for years. (Build better compost bin. Donate yarn you haven’t touched since the birth of your first child.) The Later List has become like one of those old classmates from high school that you see in Walmart but you don’t want to talk to, so you hide in a rack of little girls’ t-shirts until they pass by. I sit at my desk and am very careful not to make eye contact with the Later List, but I can still feel it staring down at me.

Working out an author brand is one of those things lurking somewhere on the Later List. After all, I haven’t published much and nobody knows who the heck I am- why bother? So maybe I’ll trim back the roses and fix the hen house window first. But, hey, it’s winter, so I can’t. Short on excuses and flush with the excitement of a new year, it was at least worth reading about.

It turns out that agents and editors care more and more about an author’s brand (and platform and all that jazz) even before they’re published. And authors that are already well positioned in terms of branding and audience are more empowered- both in traditional and indie publishing- than those who are not. (Joanna Penn mentioned this phenomenon, as well as many other 2016 publishing trends, in her interview with Jane Friedman, which can be found here.) So if they care- agents, editors, publishers, etc- maybe I should too. (Plus, I told the internet I would, so accountability.) After all, it’s one of those mysterious buzz words floating around the industry (like ‘high concept’ and ‘metadata and SEO’- uhhh…?), so it’s gotta be important.

But branding is well outside my write-in-my-PJs comfort zone and it took considerable research to even figure out what it really is. (Previously, branding always made me think of cattle having a very very bad day.) And here, my lucky readers, are the cliff notes of what I found. (Since I’m so fond of you all, I’ll even post a detailed worksheet packet on Wednesday. If enough interest crops up, I also plan to host an informal online workshop- more details with Wednesday’s bonus update.)

For simplicity’s sake, I broke branding down into three categories, with a loose fourth category to lasso them all together. Give each of these categories a week or a day or a month, however much time you need to really nail them down.

THE BOOK (This and the next category can swap in order. Pick one and go.)  You’ve probably already worked out a title, a book blurb or a pitch, a logline, but you’ll need to dig just a little deeper. Consider your target audience, your book’s themes, your keywords, the look and feel of your book.  All these aspects go into the branding of your book, and should at least roughly match the expectations and conventions of your readers and genre. (The appearance and physical structure of your book is especially important for the DIY crowd- traditionally published authors usually have little say in the cover design or paper weight, for example, but an indie author is often solely responsible for cover design, interior formatting, materials selections, etc. If you plan to publish the book yourself, you have a lot more to consider, but that’s another post.)

THE AUTHOR You! A lot of this stuff is going to be relatively easy because you likely already know it. What name will you be writing under? What genre/theme/etc crops up across most or all your writing? What have you already published? But some of it will take a little more brainstorming. What is your author logline? (What? That’s a thing?) Your branding keywords? (Huh?) Your headshot, your business card, your bio, your logo? (Oy.) For me, this part is (and is yet to be) the most painful.  But once it’s over, you’ll have not only an author brand, but the decent beginnings of a press packet. Not too shabby! (More info on press kits here.)

THE WEBSITE Do you really need a website? The answer is (groan) yes. This is something I fought for years, but once I got into the groove of it, it’s really not bad. In fact, I got to the point where I was kind of proud of my dorky little wordpress blog, even going so far as to show it to an agent I found myself chatting with. She nodded politely and then kindly, cheerfully, told me everything I was doing wrong. (This was one of the events that convinced me I need to figure this stuff out.) My blog had good information and I updated it regularly, but there’s nothing on the home page that a person would glance at and immediately think, ‘This is a fantasy author,’ which is really the takeaway that I should be cultivating. So when working on your website, make sure that its design incorporates your author and book keywords (from the previous sections) as much as possible, in posts, articles, loglines, images- any way you can work it in.

INTEGRATION This is where you make sure the previous categories all match, reusing the same images, colors, themes, keywords, phrases, etc, as much as possible. Hopefully, you don’t have spend any extra time on this section because you’ve been working forward one category at a time, in a conscious and concerted effort, and it probably didn’t take much to simply make sure everything worked together nicely as you moved along. But if your branding happened in piecemeal fashion over the years as you hacked blindly forward through the literary jungles *coughs*… you might have a bit of work ahead of you.

The end of all this, the point of it all, is to make yourself easily and instantly recognizable. With a little elbow grease and some spit shine, you can look totally pro, and that makes you memorable. So whether you’re shopping yourself around to agents or editors, or directly to the customers themselves, put in the effort to look as polished and professional as possible- people will pay attention!

Remember to check back Wednesday for the worksheet packet accompanying this post, as well as information on our probable workshop. Or you can sign up to follow the blog and get it right in your inbox the minute it posts!  Happy writing!

The Call

Today’s cool cool blog post is a throwback to the writer’s conference I attended all those months ago. But I still have more information to share! Next week should be the last of the conference posts, but please let me know if you have anything else in particular you’d like to hear about. Until then, have some more brain-conglomeration from Laurie McLean, Andy Kifer, and Danielle Smith. They’re fantastic!

Once Upon a Time... communication one hundred years ago. An early telephoneThis will happen some day. I will be sitting in my kitchen baking something unnecessarily complicated. My mysteriously sticky flip phone will ring and I’ll wipe my hands on my apron and answer.

It will be a literary agent. A literary agent ready to talk representation.

My heart will implode in my chest, all the blood will drain from my skull, my knees will wobble, and my youngest child will start screaming. By the time I hang up, my baking adventure will be hopelessly ruined.

But all will not be lost, for I have prepared myself for that very moment. In between the screaming child and the destroyed foodstuff, I will run to my desk for this very thing: my list of questions to ask an agent during The Call. (I kid you not. The following exactly sits on my desktop.)

Take a breath. Chit chat. Be yo’ cool self. And then…

Definitely ask:

What was it about my book that made you want to work with me?

Are there any areas in the story that you think need to be reworked? How extensive do you think edits will be?

Are you interested in working with me on only this project, or on all future projects? How long does agency representation last? Is there an agency agreement, and may I read it beforehand?

How frequently do you communicate with clients? What’s your preferred style? (Phone? Email? Smoke signals?)

Maybe ask:

What do you charge for what? (15% of any deals? Subsidiary rights licenses? Out of pocket expenses?)

What happens if you leave the agency (death, disability, retirement, moves on to different agency, etc.)?

As an agent, what do you consider your strong suit? (Pitching, editing, negotiating, etc)

(Okay, not a question) Here are some ideas I have on promotional/marketing plans for this particular project.

What happens if we don’t sell this book?

Don’t ask:

Can you tell me about your list? (Anything about their list of sales and their other clients is probably online. In fact, you should probably have already looked at it when you were doing your research. Asking this will make it look like you didn’t do your homework at all.)

How big is your agency? (Again, this is online and you should already know this before you even sent your query.)

How long have you been in business? (Seriously. Homework. You did it, right?)

Now before you get the call, it’s important to have some idea of what your ideal answers would be. (I didn’t include mine in this list because I didn’t think that would be super helpful to you.) For example, when I ask an agent what her strong suit is, I should have an idea of what kind of agent I’m looking for. A hand holder? A negotiation shark? An editing agent? A business agent who can pitch, pitch, pitch? If I don’t already have a sense of what I’m hoping for, any one of those answers will sound just as good as any other, and I’m not any closer to finding my ideal agent.

Also keep in mind that you don’t have to go over all of these questions. (It’s a hefty list. You probably shouldn’t.) See where the conversation takes you! Have fun, be your charming self. By the end of the conversation, both of you should be happy and confident. And feel free to ask for a week or two to consider the offer, especially if you have other agents you’ve queried that deserve a heads up that an offer’s been made. (Don’t ask for more than three or four weeks, though. Be courteous.)

Still not sure what sorts of things you want to ask agents? Victoria Strauss pulled together an amazing resource on her website called Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent. She has links to bunches of posts on the subject from authors, agents, and literary companies. If you’d like to give the topic a bit more research, go give it a gander!

Reblog: The Evolving Literary Agent

Hello, hello, hello!  The hand is healing up nicely and I’ve caught up and then some in my NaNoWriMo daily writing goals.  Huzzah!  But I’m still busy tapping away to catch up to my personal goal of finishing 50k by Thanksgiving and hitting 60k by the end of the month.  So to free me up for that, I present you with another fantastic reblog, this time from Jane Friedman via Writer’s Digest.  Enjoy!

jane-friedman-writer-media-featured

Jane Friedman

Progressive literary agencies are redefining the traditional role of the agent—and finding new ways to support authors in the digital era. Here’s what savvy writers—beginning and experienced alike—should know.

Claire Cook is living the dream. She wrote her first novel at 45, and five years later, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the adaptation of her second novel, Must Love Dogs. She’s the USA Today bestselling author of 11 novels, and her books have been translated into 14 languages.

And she no longer has an agent.

Cook recently broke with her long-standing agency when they reached an impasse over how to handle her indie work. She says that while she loved the support of being agented, she didn’t want to be pressured to sell her new work to traditional publishers, and would prefer an agent willing to allow her the freedom to pursue alternatives. As she considers her next steps, she says, “I decided to write the book I’d wanted to write for years that nobody on my former publishing team felt fit my novelist brand.”

Cook’s story illustrates a larger shift in the industry, where authors’ needs and long-term career trajectories are no longer automatically defined by selling their next book to a big publisher. Self-publishing and digital publishing now can serve as important (and lucrative) building blocks for growing a readership, and more authors are choosing a hybrid model of publishing, where they decide how and where to publish on a project-by-project basis.

Click here to read more! –>