Writer v. Author: Minding Your Business with Eddie Gamarra and Kat Shepherd

Last fall’s AWG/SCBWI conference closed with a final talk featuring Eddie Gamarra and Kat Shepherd. Eddie Gamarra is a literary manager and producer with the Gotham Group, with a focus on children’s and family entertainment. Kat Shepherd is the author of the Babysitting Nightmares and Gemini Mysteries middle grade series. They are both bold, empowering, and a delight to listen to.

Working in the publishing world can be daunting. So much of it feels completely out of your control—and a lot of it is. You can’t control who’s going to buy your stories or what they’ll think of it. You can’t control the internet. You can’t control market trends. So what can you control?

In their talk, Shepherd and Gamarra took us step by step through the parts of the writing world that a person can grapple with to make the industry work for them. And as I mentioned with Laurie Halse Anderson’s talk, this information is way better straight from the Oracle. If you ever get a chance to attend a conference where Gamarra and/or Shepherd are presenting, take it. That said, let’s get to it!

The first thing to consider when stepping into the publishing world is audience. Who is your audience, and which house will get you to that audience? Shepherd and Gamarra listed four houses to consider: big house, small house, no house, and your house.

Big house These are the Big Five publishers. They’ll be publishing a thousand books at any given time, making it easy to get lost in the shuffle. But the resources at their disposal are unparalleled, meaning you can expect a larger advance and maaaaaybe (if you’re lucky) more marketing heft. (Don’t count on it, though. Usually, it’s only a couple books getting all the hype and the rest are left to their own devices.)

Small house These are all the smaller publishing houses: university presses, boutique, specialty houses, etc. Since these houses are smaller, they have fewer resources for marketing, producing, and distributing your books. However, since their lists are so much smaller, you can expect more focus on your work and more support from the house. (Although again, plan on doing most of your own marketing.)

No house Self-publishing has exploded over the last few decades. And if you’re going to have to do all the marketing legwork yourself anyway, why not? However, if you go this route, it’s all on you: editing, cover design, interior layout, advertising, courting bookshops, and all the things. This path isn’t for the faint of heart. Just because you don’t have gatekeepers telling you no doesn’t mean it’s an easy highway to success.

Your house Your house is more of an attitude than a publishing house. Your house is spinning the typical power dynamics on their head. Looking for an agent willing to take you on? No, you’re hiring an agent; they work for you. Trying to find a bookstore willing to take your books? No, you’re letting someone make money on your literary genius in exchange for distributing books for you. By flipping the script, you don’t come begging for favors. You’re the one giving them out.

In your house, you are the CEO of your company, an active boss instead of a passive peon, and you’ve got bills to pay. While we all love our art, you are not a bad person for expecting to be paid for your work. Treat your writing as your livelihood and put in the work to see it thrive.

Part of that work is positive and consistent communication. Know what you expect from your agent and your editor, and make sure that they know that too. Listen to what they need from you and honor that. Know the name of your publicist and thank them by name. Whenever possible, teleconference with your publicist, editor, and agent, and ask them what you can do to support them. Remember, you are the boss. Good bosses help their team do their job well.

Know what you’re willing to invest for your writing career, because there will be sacrifices, whether that’s time, money, energy, or more. There are a million things you could be doing to push your books, but you do not have to do them all. Consider the return on investment and only do what’s worth the investment. And if you’re not sure what the ROI is on a given tactic, ask others who have tried it out before.

Whatever route you decide to take, a big ego will do you no favors. Know what puts your books in the hands of readers and do whatever that is, whether that means working with a prestigious big press or a small press most people have never heard of. Do your research and do your networking. Ask for help when you need it. Develop a media plan—whether you have big house heft or are going it alone—and put in the hustle to build the hype.

Gamarra and Shepherd’s talk was a rallying cry (which is why you need to attend their talks in person). So often, we writers come to the negotiating table as supplicants. Shepherd and Gamarra encourage writers to stand a little taller, to accept and exercise more agency in the fate of our own stories. They encourage us to be the protagonists.

So don’t give in to the whims of fate! Authors aren’t as helpless as they often feel. When we educate ourselves on what can be done, and have the stamina to do it, we can step into an industry where so much feels beyond our grasp and take the reins with confidence.

Until next week, happy writing!

Historical Kid Lit with Laurie Halse Anderson

If you work in a kids’ library, you probably know who Laurie Halse Anderson is. She writes all over the spectrum of children’s literature, including historicals like Independent Dames, Fever 1793, and the Seeds of America trilogy. She’s been around the block.

So I was excited by the opportunity to sit in on her breakout session at Alaska Writers Guild/SCBWI’s 2019 fall conference. Of course, the moment I sat down, I realized—ugh—I should have brought all our books from the library for her to sign. Oh well, hindsight’s always clearer than foresight. A little disappointed in myself, but excited nonetheless, I plunked myself down at the feet of the master and just about note-wrote my little hand off.

I’ll give you the condensed version of her tips of the trade, but if it’s at all possible, I highly recommend you get yourself to her next conference and listen in on the full meal deal. She says it so much better than I’m about to!

Without further ado, here are Ms. Anderson’s eight tips on writing historical kid lit:

Tip #1: Know why you’re choosing the story. What is your connection to this story? Why does this story and this era matter to you enough to put in the work?

Tip #2: Research as deep as the ocean, but with attention to the grains of sand on the shore. Voraciously study primary sources and squint suspiciously at secondary sources. Know about the foods, politics, beliefs, medicine, power structures, and more. You will research waaaay more than actually goes in your book. That is right and proper.

Tip #3: Find your research squad. Amid all your research, haul out new trade books on your story’s setting and carefully comb the footnotes and bibliographies. Once you’ve done your research homework and have written through several drafts, reach out to these people with specific questions. Find some way to compensate them for their time and expertise.

Tip #4: Primary sources are your secret weapon. Remember Tip #2? Stories change over time and people remember things differently fifty years down the road. As much as is possible, try to get your information from the people living through it (newspapers, journals, letters, etc). That said, also keep in mind that the sources you are reading are probably from the perspective of the elite (who are deep in their biases).

Tip #5: Organization is your best friend. Keep all your notes organized and accessible. Come up with systems for keeping your information straight. Write down every source used. This is not the place to be lazy. *glares at mirror*

Tip #6: Changes are not failures. They are part of the process. Your story will go through several drafts, changing more each time. It takes as long as it takes.

Tip #7: Details are only in your book if they move the story along. I once researched tons of information on feeding an army on the go in medieval Europe and then found a way to shoehorn in almost an entire chapter of a character excitedly lecturing (literally *lecturing*) about purchasing versus foraging versus pillaging, and how many pounds of food each soldier and every horse needs per day and like everything. It was only there because I thought it was cool. But it wasn’t. ☹

Tip #8: Just dive in. Don’t wait for the stars to align! Get crackin’ now!

Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to writing your historical. And while the talk was themed toward kid historicals, there’s no tip here that wouldn’t apply to any age category of historical—and many of them could apply to writing in general.

So until next week, no matter your genre, age category, or subject matter, go forth and happy writing!

Writing Grants: Dredging for Gold in Tight Times

So, I don’t know about you, but writing isn’t exactly paying the bills around here. I make just about enough writing money to keep up on writing expenses, with a bit of extra pocket money to spend on art supplies. Not bad for now, but I certainly won’t be quitting the day jobs any time soon.

Most of the money I make at writing comes from one of three sources: freelancing, where I write custom work according to clients’ specifications; prizes from writing contests; and selling short stories. But a wee little bit of cash also comes in from the occasional grant.

As you know, I’ve been miserably awful about submissions for about the same amount of time it takes to make an entire human. But I’m hoping to get better this year! Standards have been lowered and commitments renewed. And combing through grants for a good fit may be a good place for me to start.

The Alaska Writers Guild put on a presentation about writing grants several months ago, and part of the presentation was a handy-dandy list of grants. Some are only for Alaskans, guild members, etc, but many of them are widely open for applications. With permission, I’m happy to share the list with you below. Hopefully you’ll be able to make good use of it. I know I hope to soon!

So ask me about submissions next time you see me on the internet. Watch me cringe and cower in shame because I haven’t done it yet, it’ll be fun! And until next week, happy writing!

AWG JULY 2019 PROGRAM

GRANTS FOR WRITERS

LOCAL GRANTS

Rasmuson Foundation

Individual and Project Grants ranging from $7500 – $40,000

http://www.rasmusonfoundation.org/grants

Alaska Humanities Forum

Individual and Company Grants up to $2000 (monthly) and $10,000 (annually).

http://www.akhf.org/grants

Alaska Writers Guild 

Lin Halterman Grants, two annual grants of $500. Available to AWG Members only. 

http://www.alaskawritersguild.com/lin-halterman-grant

Alaska State Council on the Arts

CLOSED! If they reopen (fingers crossed), they offer quarterly grants for writers and artists up to $1000.

http://www.education.alaska.gov/aksca

LOCAL RESIDENCIES

Chulitna Lodge, Lake Clark

Four ways to participate, from all expense paid to self-pay

http://www.chulitnalodge.com/artists

Alderworks Alaska, Skagway

Full artist residency cabins

http://www.alderworksalaska.com

Storyknife, Homer

Residency fellowships for women writers only

http://www.storyknife.org/residency 

Voices of the Wilderness 

Hands-on residencies in various locations and parks around Alaska

http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/votw

NATIONAL GRANTS

Creative Capital

$50,000 Grants (+$50,000 in professional development & mentorship) for artists

https://creative-capital.org/award

National Endowment for the Arts

$25,000 Grants in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry

https://www.arts.gov/grants-individuals/creative-writing-fellowships

Speculative Literature Foundation

Grants for authors of sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, and any genre that falls in the category of speculative fiction.

http://www.speculativeliterature.org

Sustainable Arts Foundation

Grants available to women writers with children

http://www.sustainableartsfoundation.org

Awesome Foundation

Funds your “crazy, brilliant idea,” which could come in the form of literature

http://www.awesomefoundation.org

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

https://blog.creative-capital.org/category/tips-tools

https://apps.nea.gov/grantsearch

Grants

Pursue Your Dreams of Becoming a Writer With These 6 Grants

https://www.freedomwithwriting.com

All the Recaps

Hello, friends! I’ve got about three ultra-mini posts here, so I decided to mash them all together so that I don’t have to drag any of it out for you. I’m sure you all have better things to do. So here are a few recaps of the things I’ve been working on lately, and a sneak peak of what’s to come.

Writers Conference This last weekend was the annual Alaska Writers Guild fall conference and I gleefully attended. As always, I had a great time, got great info, and chatted with great people! The speakers were all excellent, plus I got to relive my younger years by holding a friend’s sleeping two-month-old in one arm while drafting on my knee with the other. Plus, I had the luxury of flying down to Anchorage this year. (Eight hours of driving distilled into a forty-minute flight. SO LUXURIOUS.) I’ll be posting some of my conference lessons and stories in the weeks to come.

Grant Review Board Related to the conference, I was on a small board reviewing grant proposals over the last couple weeks. We had quite a few more proposals than we had in previous years. There were so many strong submissions and it was a tough time winnowing it down to just two. I hope this year’s winners can do amazing things with their funds!

Snow White Deadline This Blood and Ebony deadline has been breathing down my neck for the last few weeks and so I am pleased and relieved to let you know that I met it juuuuust in time. Therefore, I was able to get the olive oil of my homeland and not have to watch any doofy song-and-dance nonsense. Huzzah! Blood and Ebony went out to alpha readers Friday night and I’m hoping to have it out to beta readers before the end of the year. Except maybe this time, I’ll manage my time in such a way that it doesn’t arrive in their inboxes in the wee hours of morning smelling like panic and poor life choices.

Gals Read The fall session of Gals Read is officially upon me. I’ve been prepping for the last few weeks and today marked the start of training week. Hooray! After training ends, I’ll spend my days reading Space Boy and Anne of Green Gables to the fantastic fourth grade girls of Fairbanks. The program has grown again this year, and we are now in every public elementary school in the district. That is awesome! I can’t think of a better use of my time than turning impressionable children into desperate book addicts who stay up way after bedtime with flashlights. *hero pose*

Also on the radar is NaNoWriMo, which is working hard to sneak up on me, but not this year, NaNo! This week is going to be crazy, like the one before it, but once I claw my way through Gals Read and out the other side, I’ll start thinking about what I want to draft out for this session and post a project soon. As I mentioned in the halfway check-in on my annual goals, this session is basically my last chance for the year to get my one first draft in. I don’t plan to squander it (yet).

How about you fine folks? What bookish pursuits have you been up to lately? Any exciting projects in the works? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Conference Lessons: Pitching Agents

lunch-chatHello, internet friends! I hope you’re having a lovely fall. Mine is so far suuuuuper busy. It’s like the closer we get to winter, the more frantic I get. I’m the white rabbit running around with a pocket watch shouting, “I’m late! I’m late!” Seriously, everywhere I look is DEADLINES ABOUNDING and I’m going a little crazy.

But I have managed to cross one big thing off my list: the annual AWG Fall Conference! *blows party horn* For those of you who haven’t heard my spiel yet, the Alaska Writers Guild puts on an annual conference (in conjunction with the Alaska chapters of SCBWI and RWA) which is small and a little quirky and all around delightful. It’s low key and friendly and I just love these folks.

For one of the breakout sessions, an agents was slated for a pitch session, but it was unclear whether the session was supposed to be about pitching or an opportunity for pitching. And since there were like ten of us in there, the agent posed it to us which one we would rather (although in the end there was really time for a bit of both).

What came out during the very casual Q&A was very comforting to me. Like many writers, I am an introvert. Socialization takes a lot of energy, even when I enjoy it. I get nervous around strangers, particularly around adults. Pitching terrifies me.

Don’t get me wrong. I do all the things I’m supposed to. I have a succinct elevator pitch for every book I’ve ever written. I come prepared to conferences with my pitches printed out and in hand. But Heaven help me, I can’t ever remember them. As soon as the big moment arrives, I can’t even remember what genres I write, let alone my cleverly honed pitches for specific books. Assuming I don’t lose my nerve completely, I either rattle off something completely unprepared or read what I had worked out earlier. I always figured cold pitching was just something I’d never be able to do, something I’d just have to learn to work around in my career as a writer.

But I’ve since learned that that might not be the end of the world I was led to believe it was.

Some agents expect you to be able to cold pitch on the spot in any given situation, at any given moment, like a first responder ready and waiting to save lives. (First responders: you are boss. Carry on.) But a lot of agents don’t. In fact, a lot of agents would rather you didn’t.

So what’s the best way to approach an agent? Like a human!

Be friendly. Don’t just run up out of the blue and drop a pitch in their lap. Strike up a conversation first. Chat about something besides your book for a minute. And if it feels right, maybe ask them about their manuscript wishlist and then pitch. But don’t forget that they’re a person before they’re an agent.

The agent we were talking to confessed that she actually hates unsolicited pitches, especially if they show up without warning. She told us about being pitched in lunch lines, in bathrooms, and outside her hotel room, and it was clear that just remembering them made her uncomfortable. This isn’t true for some agents. Some agents probably really prefer just getting down to business. But for a lot of them, pouncing tactics is a big turn off. They’d rather have a chat and then you can just ask if you can query later after the event is over.

Honestly, I like that course better, and not just because I can’t remember my own pitches worth beans. If I’m to interact with humans, I really prefer unscripted, inconsequential chitchat. It puts me at ease and it’s nice to know that it puts the agent at ease too. Plus, I feel like I’m much cleverer on the page than in person, so being able to send in a polished query instead of having smelly garbage pouring out of my mouth is just better for everyone.

And it seems to work! The two agents I chatted with both told me I should query them after I got home. So, one conference off the to-do list, and two submissions on.

Happy writing!

With a Little Help from My Friends

HelpingSo, this last year I had the personal goal to earn the Writer of the Year award through the Alaska Writers Guild. To do this, I had to accumulate the most points of anyone who entered the Guild’s anonymous bimonthly writing contest for members, wherein entrants write within rotating categories, and see how close to the deadline they can turn in a piece without getting disqualified. (Oh, wait, was that last part just me?)

Now I’m not all that super at nonfiction, and I truly suck at poetry, but, hands down, the hardest one of the contests for me to write was the category of Alaska Mystery. I think I’m getting phantom chest pains just thinking about it.

Two months seems like it should be plenty of time to write a story with a maximum of 2500 words, but that can seem like a mighty tight deadline when you spend the first six weeks of it feverishly drafting and then summarily executing- I kid you not- twelve different story ideas. It was very easy to feel very discouraged very quickly. And so I did, verily. With hardly more than a week left before the deadline, I was ready to throw in the towel.

But the trouble was that I keep this pesky husband. And we sometimes talk to each other about our goals and stuff. He knew what I was working toward, and he knew how important it was for me to enter every contest, even the difficult ones.

That man gave me no rest.

Every time I sat down, he’d start pestering me. “What are you working on? Are you doing the one with the mountains? With the serial killer? With the fox? What are you doing? Why? Why not? (Have a cookie.) What are you working on?” The man was relentless. And he would hear not a word of giving up, not on my goal and not on this Alaska mystery contest.

And that was before he started telling everyone we know about it, too. *shudders*

I don’t know about you, but I have confidence problems sometimes. Sometimes too much, most times not enough. My husband, and a few close friends like him, give me the kick in the pants when I want to lie down and surrender, and the tackle of forbearance when I’m full steam ahead on a really bad idea.

The secret weapon of all successful writers is tenacity. And for some of us, a little of that tenacity can be sponged off others. I tend to break down my cheerleading squad into two broad categories: writers, and nonwriters.

Writers Your fellow writers are the monarchs of commiseration. They understand what it’s like to be blocked. They know the brain-addled madness of waiting- for beta readers, for query answers, for book reviews, for sales reports. They understand the pain of rejections. They also know when a story of yours isn’t working, and are usually able to articulate what’s wrong. They’re widely read and industry savvy. Your writer friends are ideal when you have a piece that you’re working on and could use a little guidance in making it presentable.

Nonwriters These are the people who, although maybe they enjoy reading, don’t do any writing themselves. And as well as being legion in numbers, they’re also chattier than a giggling high school clique back from spring break. Once you let one of them know (cough, cough, husband, cough), they’ll all know, and they’ll all want to know why you’re not done yet. They don’t know how long drafting takes, let alone editing and submissions. And they don’t care. Your nonwriter friends are ideal when you have a concrete goal combined with motivation issues.

So there you have it: my fail-proof formula for squeezing out a piece even when it hurts. One part cheerleader, one part drill sergeant, writers and nonwriters alike are always at the ready to help their buds with what is important to them. Of course, you still have to want to reach your writing goals yourself, and be willing to put in the work, but the endless harassment loving encouragement of your friends, family, mail carrier, and grocery clerk can be the final nudge to help you get that story out the door and into the wide world.

(And it works, too- I did win Writer of the Year at the 2017 guild conference! Yay!)

So if you find yourself struggling, whether with improving a piece, or just summing up the motivation to work at it, clue in your pals! They’ll hold your feet to the fire in a way you never could for yourself, and they’ll cheer you at every victory along the way.

Happy writing!

Writing Magic

This week’s post is by writer extraordinaire Laura Lancaster, Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild. She is fun, clever, and has excellent taste in apple juice. Behold her wisdom!magic cards

When I was 12 I learned a magic trick from my next-door neighbor. She showed me an ordinary quarter, put both her arms behind her head like a pitcher about to throw a curveball and scrunched up her face. Then she brought her arms forward and showed me her empty hands.

“See, I just pushed that quarter into my neck. In a few seconds, it will land in my mouth. It doesn’t hurt because it’s magic.” Then she reached into her mouth and tossed the quarter in a high arc. It bounced across the floor with a magical metallic ring.

If I ever see you in person, I’ll teach you the trick that turned me, a shy awkward tween into an awkward ham who did goofy magic tricks.

My favorite went like this: I placed the magic baseball cap in front of me on a table. I declared,“I can make three balloon animals in the time it takes most people to make one.”

Then I whisked a rubber glove from my ball cap, blew it up, held it on top of my head and yelled, “chicken.” I held it high and squeezed the fingers, “cow.” Then I let the air out and the glove dangled, limp. I slowed and dropped my voice. “Jelly fish.”

Even though my shows got lots of laughs, I made lots of mistakes. I once had an audience member stand next to me while I did the quarter trick. He looked behind me and learned the secret. Once I had a large audience and my mom told me I had turned away from the microphone and everyone in the back hadn’t heard a word. They applauded out of politeness.

Now I’m a beginning writer. I look back on my career as a teenage magician and I realize I had found my style, or genre, of magic, but I needed more tricks, practice and critique. Writing is no different.

magic levitationMagicians have to master stage presence, precise movement, and misdirection the way writers have to learn plotting, character creation, effective research, world building, precise prose and any number of other skills. If any of those elements are weak, the magic disappears.

Fortunately, if I, as a goofy, awkward teenager could learn magic tricks and face the nerves of performance, I can learn to write fiction.

I’ve learned from books, blogs and magazines, but one of my most helpful tools are writers groups and professional organizations. I even became the Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild Interior and I’ve found that even if you are not published, there are three reasons to get involved in the writing community.

Practice Makes Better-

Often writers organizations sponsor critique groups. If you are at a place where you can show your work to others, you ought to. Critique groups, whether online or in person, are a great place to start. You may find partners who understand what you want to do and help you do it better. Like magic coaches, they can show you where your patter is flawed, or when they saw the quarter hidden in your sleeve, so to speak.

Guidance In Going Big-

The community talent shows where I did my magic were a place to start, but to get noticed, you have to work a lot harder. Many writers groups sponsor writing classes or conferences and they’ll give you access to big-time writers who teach craft and agents who can advise you about your pitch or query letter. If you are considering hybrid, indie or self-publishing, many authors in professional organizations have done it and are willing to share what they know about publication options, promotion and sales. Magicians never reveal their secrets to the audience, but the most generous reveal their secrets to other magicians and it’s true of the writers you’ll meet at professional organizations.

Encouragement-

Communication is possibly the hardest thing we humans do. We must have a clear idea in our own heads, then convey it to someone else. Miscommunications have caused professional ventures to fail, battles to be lost and families to split. No one gets it right the first time or all the time. How can we persevere long enough to become effective writers?

I’ve found that meeting regularly with writers is my most powerful motivation. When I meet with my critique group and I didn’t make a submission, everyone one reminds me that they want to find out what happens next, and I know it’s not just politeness, they want to help me write better.magic marbles

I have solved many a plot or characterization problem with other writers over coffee, writers I met at Alaska Writers Guild meetings, and I have helped them do the same. The topics speakers bring to monthly meetings and conferences, such as how to submit to an agent, help me, even if I don’t apply the lessons…yet.

Some people have said that writing cannot be taught, but most people would not say that about stage magic. Natural performers still need to learn skills through professional guidance. Natural storytellers have weaknesses that they must recognize and overcome. Every writer has been there. Keep working. Learn from those around you. Professional writers organizations can put those people around you. So when you watch David Copperfield perform an illusion or read Dicken’s David Copperfield, remember, you too can make your writing magical.

Laura Lancaster is a foodie, sci-fi aficionado and fortune cookie baker. She has been the Vice President in charge of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild for the last four years. She is writing sci-fi novels and short stories. Find her on social media: Twitter: Phoenix40below Facebook: @Phoenixseries and blog: lalancaster.com

To find out more about the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild email awginterior@gmail.com or go to www.alaskawritersguild.com/interior-chapter

First Impressions with Nicole Resciniti

NResciniti“It only takes a sip,” Ms. Resciniti told us. One needn’t drink an entire carton to realize the milk has soured, and readers treat books the same way. It doesn’t matter if the second page, or the second chapter, or the second novel, is magnificent; agents and editors won’t wait around to see, and neither will readers. This is why first impressions are so vital. They make the difference between ‘slush’ and ‘sold’.

Nicole Resciniti is a literary agent with the Seymour Agency. Like all agents, Ms. Resciniti sees a lot of wheat and a lot of chaff come through her inbox every day. Literary agents are so busy, and have so much material to get through, that a first impression is usually the only impression a query will get to give. Ms. Resciniti highlighted three parts of a submission packet as being key to a good first impression: a high concept hook, back cover copy, and first pages.

A high concept hook is only one or two lines, but carries a punch. Also known as a one-liner or a log line, your hook is what first grabs the reader’s attention. (High concept, a term which I have spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to define via Google searches, is what Ms. Resciniti calls “the familiar idea with a twist” and “a concept easily visualized.”) The hook usually goes something like this: “[Character + descriptor] wants [goal] because [motivation], but [conflict] and [possible consequences].” Pretty catchy, huh? It sounds better when you fill in the blanks. Try it out with your own story!

The back cover copy is two to three paragraphs that encapsulate the heart of the story. The goal, motivation, and conflict create the vehicle for the characters that propels them through the story, and should be front and center in your back cover copy. (Side note: Ms. Resciniti recommends that you have each of these three things for your main character, second main, and antagonist. All of them might not show up directly in the back cover copy, but they should in the story overall. Know what your characters want, dangle it in front of them, and then rip it away.)

Ms. Resciniti recommends a six-pronged attack in hooking readers within those first few pages.

Begin with a bang. Open with action, with characters in motion. Be visual. Avoid clichés, info dumps, background, coincidence, set up, and an excess of characters.

Establish the mood. Convey an immediate tone. Keep in mind your audience and the expectations of your genre, and respect- or subvert- the conventions.

Evoke instant emotion. Immediately establish an emotional attachment between the reader and the character. Make your character inspire emotions in your reader- admiration, pity, envy, kinship, sympathy. It’s not enough to have a passive character that we follow through the story. The characters should be active, making choices, growing and changing, and it should all happen in a way that the reader can feel.

Convey conflict. Conflict is the core of emotion. Present problems on the page quickly, and structure characters so that they are at odds with one another. Create problems that are based on the characters and their weaknesses. And for every problem that is solved, create two more.

Create visceral reactions in the reader. Incorporate humor/danger/tension to make your readers laugh, cry, and tremble right along with your characters. Never state an emotion or action- show it, and make the reader feel it too.

 Make a “what happens next” moment. Don’t immediately tie problems up neatly for the characters. Evoke curiosity. This goes hand in hand with conveying constant conflict.

A book on a shelf has about thirty seconds to sell itself: cover, title, back cover copy, and pages. Agents and editors are themselves readers, just of earlier forms of the book. You don’t need to impress them with a gorgeous cover, but you do need to grab their attention with your submission materials, and never let go.

Ms. Resciniti’s final advice? “Do not be discouraged. Do not.” Editing is hard, and submitting is hard, and selling is hard. Every step of the process is hard in its own way. But don’t give up because of the difficulty. The difficulty is the very thing that will transform your book from an awful first draft into a beautiful final product in the hands of people who love it. So do not get discouraged in the in-between. You can do this.

Tune in next week for the cliff notes version of Jane Friedman’s three hour intensive, How to Get Your Book Published. We’ll be talking about traditional, indie, and hybrid publishing, and the most important steps to take down each route.

Until then, happy writing!

Query Letter Tips with Paul Lucas

Guys, the conference this year was great.  I got to see old buddies, make new buddies, and learn new stuff about the industry’s past and present. I was awarded a grant, and declared the guild’s Writer of the Year- now doesn’t that sound fancy! I also had a very helpful manuscript review, and then a quick query letter review. Everyone is always so generous with their time at these things!

PLucasThe presenters were also very generous with their knowledge, and so we’ll have three weeks of conference lessons this time around. This week’s post is based on a query letter workshop with literary agent Paul Lucas, who works for Janklow & Newbit Associates.

For context, keep in mind that Mr. Lucas’ work day often looks something like this: 100ish emails- per day!- to writers, editors, colleagues, etc; meeting with editors; on the phone with editors; internal meetings with colleagues; researching to keep abreast of industry news; and going through queries. (He tends to do his manuscript reading after work or on weekends. The guy gets no rest.)

Queries are important. Queries are (usually) how agents find new talent and sign new authors. But agents are super super busy folks, so a query has to really stand out to make any noise in all that daily cacophony.

Here are some basic tips that Mr. Lucas shared on helping your query to make the cut:

Be polite. Don’t be crazy.

A query should have three things: who you are, why you’re writing this agent, and what the book is about. If something in your query is not one of those three things, axe it.

Never mention others who liked the book. (The only exception to this would be an author or editor who will endorse the book with a short blurb.)

Edit, edit, edit. (Side note: I got called out for an intentional fragment sentence, which Mr. Lucas feels is always a bad thing. I made a squinchy face of disagreement, but he’s the pundit, not me. So maybe stare at those stylistic choices long and hard before hitting send.)

Follow agency submission rules. Always. No exceptions. No squinchy face.

Specify age range, genre, and word count.

Keep comp titles within five years of publication. (I’ve heard other agents who suggest no more than two years.) Don’t use megastars or absolute nobodies; look for recent comps that sold 10k-ish.

Be succinct. Queries should never run longer than a single page.

Be specific. Name awards in your bio. Describe why a certain book is a good comp. Tell why you chose this agent to query.

Queries are hard, and way less fun than drafting the next book in that bubblegum space opera you’ve been working on, but they’re vital to getting your work eventually seen and published. Work to make sure that your query is intriguing and reflective of your writing style in each of the three sections Mr. Lucas mentioned: why you’re writing this agent (hook), what the book is about (blurb), and who you are (bio).

Once you think you have a good query, run it past several pairs of eyes before sending it out to literary agents. Workshops are great because you can get instant feedback from several people, but if you don’t have access to a group, send it out to several writer friends for their opinions. When you are ready to submit to agents, do it in batches so that you can incorporate any feedback you might get in order to hone your query down to its best possible form.

Finally, if you are getting feedback on your submission packet, keep sending it out to as many agents as you can find who are good fits. But if you’re only hearing crickets, consider making major alterations or moving on to a new project after fifty ignored queries. Either way, don’t get discouraged. Querying is difficult, but a necessary bump on the road of traditional publishing. Don’t give up on your dream.

Next week, we’ll get into more details for query letters and first pages with Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency. Until then, happy writing!

Podcast: Why Go to Writing Conferences?

Podcast the Second! Tune in as I hassle folks about why they go to writing conferences, including Brooke Hartman, Conference Chairperson for the Alaska Writers Guild, and Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/pn7de-691a6f?from=yiiadmin

Thanks to all the podcast’s participants: Brooke Hartman, Patricia Nelson, a handful of modest writers, and singer/songwriter Becky Beistline, who voice acted Patricia Nelson’s quote for me in exchange for chocolate chip cookies.  Thanks also for the patience and support of my husband.  Sorry I kept you up so late to complain about technology.

Still looking for a little more conference guidance?  Check out these links:

How to Make the Most of Any Writing Conference | Writer’s Digest

Attending a Writers’ Conference? Here’s How to Prepare | The Write Life

Why Attend a Writer’s Conference | The Steve Laube Literary Agency

And a video from the Book Doctors!

Also, you can snag Brooke and I’s full interview here, stutters, ums, and all.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/5dxcw-691a7e?from=yiiadmin

Podcast music credit:  “and your Love”
Exzel Music Publishing (freemusicpublicdomain.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/