Adverbs…NOOOOOOO!!!!!

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We all have our struggles, our little negative habits or tidbits that we desperately need to overcome in our writing. Whether it be terrible spelling, procrastination (ME, ME, ME!!!), confusion with POV, or…using the dreaded adverb too many times (ME, ME, ME!!).

If you were like me when I first started out, I thought adverbs were fabulous! They helped with description and some just sounded better with the big ‘LY” at the end. Yeah, no. It took a little bit of research on my part, to realize how much adverbs can water down your story and that, they are not, I repeat, NOT your friend.

As Stephen King put it, “I believe the road to Hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” And he’s right. One major reason an agent, editor, or publisher might put your manuscript down and move to another, is if your writing is drenched in adverbs. Here’s a little more on what Stephen King had to say about the adverb and on the simplicity of style.

“Employ a simple and straightforward style,” Mark Twain instructed in the 18th of his 18 famous literary admonitions. And what greater enemy of simplicity and straightforwardness than the adverb? Or so argues Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft (public library), one of 9 essential books to help you write better.

Though he may have used a handful of well-placed adverbs in his recent books, King embarks upon a forceful crusade against this malignant part of speech:

The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came beforeHe closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?

Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.

I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:

‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.

King uses the admonition against adverbs as a springboard for a wider lens on good and bad writing, exploring the interplay of fear, timidity, and affectation:

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild — timidity is the word I’ve used here. If, however, one is working under deadline — a school paper, a newspaper article, the SAT writing sample — that fear may be intense. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.

Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as ‘good’ and other sorts as ‘bad,’ is fearful behavior.

It’s funny to me how Stephen King vocalizes that he believes that “fear” is at the root of most bad writing, when he is in fact, the author of some of the most terrifying stories of all times. His readers will probably agree with me, that in Mr. King’s case, he might have mastered “fear” to his advantage in his incredible writing.

Just remember, that some adverbs are okay when used moderately (or in moderation-see what I did there?). There will be times you catch yourself still adding an adverb where you don’t need it to be. But as you grow, just like trained singers, writers who’ve mastered technique can make magic with their voices, captivating their readers and making them turn pages. Such a writer’s voice can pulse with vitality, swing like music, create all kind of effects inside readers, compel them by sheer syntactical energy to keep turning the pages. It can only do these things, though, when the writer—like all those great writers from earlier eras—has studied, practiced, and mastered the repertoire of syntactical techniques available to those of us writing in English.

Including how to use—with precision, with care, with passion—the adverb.

Happy Writing Ya’ll!!!

6 Ways to Hook your Reader from the Very First Line

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I’d like to take a quick second, and wish everyone a great writing conference experience this weekend! Do ya’ll have butterflies yet? Are ya’ll panicking that you forgot to pack something? It’s crazy to think that it’s been a whole year since I was doing the exact same thing as all of you. Like I said before, just relax and have a great time!!! I’ll be thinking about ya’ll! I would love to hear some experiences when ya’ll get back!

So, on to our subject today. Obviously, it’s important to keep your readers interested. Sure, not all of your book is going to keep your reader on the edge of their seat (well, unless it’s an intense thriller or mystery). But, let’s face it, there will possibly be a slow paced part in your manuscript. That’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, you need to make sure that it’s not excessive or lingers throughout your manuscript. The worst thing a writer can do, is fill the pages with words just for a word count. You don’t want your reader to start skipping or skimming over pages. It can happen in all sorts of ways, starting with too much description, or dialogue that doesn’t really have a purpose. With the snap of your fingers, it can cause your reader to sit your book down and move on to the next. Believe me, there are plenty of choices for them out there. Don’t aid them in choosing a different book.

But, before you start worrying about the middle or end of your manuscript, the valleys and peaks of it, you must concentrate on capturing your audience with the first few pages. This is very important as well, when searching for a literary agent. Agents are VERY busy, and if you can’t grab their attention in the first single page, some will simply move on to the next manuscript in front of them.

Something they said at the conference that stuck with me, is that every reader who picks up a book, goes through a process when they’re interest is sparked. The cover or title of the book catches their eye first, then they flip the book over to the back. Still intrigued, they move to the inside jacket flap, and if you’ve hit gold, igniting their interest even more, they begin to read the first page or first few pages. This, is where you get them hooked. So, the question is, how do you do that? How do you capture your readers, whether it’s a literary agent or a bookstore customer, from the very beginning?

I found this article by, Suzannah Windsor Freedom, about how to do just that.


Although I consider myself an avid reader, I must admit I have a short attention span when it comes to getting into books. If you fail to grab my attention in the first few lines, I start spacing out.

Most readers are like me. Most people don’t want to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into a book.

Here are a few things I find annoying in the first lines of a story:

  • Dialogue. Nice somewhere on the first or second page, but not in the first line. We won’t know who’s speaking or why we should care.
  • Excessive description. Some description is good, but not when it’s long winded. Skip the purple prose and opt for something more powerful.
  • Irrelevant information. The first few lines of your story are crucial, so give your reader only important information.
  • Introducing too many characters. I don’t like to be bombarded with the names of too many characters at once. How are we supposed to keep them straight when we don’t know who’s who?

The last thing you want to do as a writer is annoy or bore people. Instead, try one of these 6 ways to hook your readers right off the bat:

(N.B. One of the easiest ways to check out the opening pages of nearly any book you want is with the ‘Look Inside!‘ feature on Amazon.com.)

1. Make your readers wonder.

Put a question in your readers’ minds. What do those first lines mean? What’s going to happen? Make them wonder, and you’ll keep them reading.

2. Begin at a pivotal moment.

By starting at an important moment in the story, your reader is more likely to want to continue so he or she can discover what will happen next.

  • “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
  • “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” ~Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

3. Create an interesting picture.

Description is good when it encourages people to paint a picture in their minds. Often, simple is best so it’s the reader who imagines a scene, instead of simply being told by the author.

  • “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” ~Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” ~Michael Ontaatje, The English Patient

4. Introduce an intriguing character.

The promise of reading more about a character you find intriguing will, no doubt, draw you into a story’s narrative. Most often, this is one of the main characters in the book.

  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” ~Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

5. Start with an unusual situation.

Show us characters in unusual circumstances, and we’ll definitely be sticking around to see what it’s all about.

  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” ~Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
  • Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” ~Julie Buxbaum, The Opposite of Love

6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice.

Open your story with the voice of a narrator we can instantly identify with, or one that relates things in a fresh way.

  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” ~Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief
  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” ~Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants

No matter how you start your book, keep your readers in mind. What will make them want to continue reading? What will potentially make them put down your book?

How does your favorite book open, and what makes it so compelling?


Hope everyone has a stupendous, exhilarating weekend!!

Happy Writing, Editing, Pitching, and Conferencing Ya’ll!!

Last Minute Conference Tips!!

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Well…10 more days till the Writer’s Digest Conference. How’s everyone feeling? I’m sure some of you are a tad anxious. Especially, if you’ve never gone to a writing conference before. This is a great one to start with, believe me.

Anyway, I just wanted to wish everyone luck, particularly the ones who are involved in the Pitch Slam. Again, deep breath, you’ll do great!

Here are a few last minute tips:

1. Don’t be shy.

If you asked my friends if I was shy, they would say, “Heck NO!!” And that would be the truth, at least to them. But when I’m with a bunch of strangers, it takes me a little while to let my guard down. So if you’re like that, do your best to open up. I can’t tell you how freeing it was to just let myself kick back, and not be afraid to join in the conversation. Quite honestly, it’s how I learned some things and got more comfortable talking about my own book.

2. Make friends.

Again, this goes back to not being shy. This is a HUGE opportunity for you to meet all types of people. Writers, editors, agents, and others who have a part in the writing industry. Form friendships, and celebrate in the fact that you’re not alone. Learn from one another, and bond over the things you have in common. I met a great group of people while I was there, and I know some of them will be life long friends. When I have writer’s block or when I just can’t seem to get my seat in the chair to write, I’ll text them and they’re great at motivating me back to where I need to be. Writing is about so many other things, than just the words that come from you. I’ve said it before, WE are a tribe. We celebrate each other’s successes, and are there for support during rejection.

3. Take it in strides.

Be prepared to be overwhelmed. There’s a lot of information given to you. But don’t feel like you have to remember everything, or know it all by the time you leave. Writing is a continual learning process. If you feel like you’ve reached an end to that process, well, that means you’re not doing something right. It’s forever moving. Your mind will be so full, that when you leave the conference, you’ll almost be in a daze. Don’t fret, it will all come together.

4. Be prepared.

What do you do with all that information? Well…you’re a writer. Write it down. Or tap it in your IPAD or laptop, whatever you’ve brought to take down notes. Just make sure you have a pen and notebook. Anything. I guess, unless you’re an audio learner, but even then, it’s so much, you’re bound to forget something. I actually brought a messenger bag with pens, highlighters, notepads, my business cards (those are to hand out to fellow writers that you want to keep in touch with. Not agents.), the first few pages of my manuscript, and that was about it. Just make sure, to be prepared.

5. Take a chance.

One great thing I have found at the Writer’s Digest Conference, is how interactive they make it. From the guest speakers, to the agents, editors, etc., they encourage you to ask questions and give you time to actually ask them. DON’T BE SHY!!! I can not stress this enough. Get up there, take that microphone, and ask whatever question your little heart desires. This could be your only chance to ask your question, so do it. I promise you’ll regret it if you don’t. A lot of times I found that someone would ask a question, and it would be the very one that was on my own mind. You’re helping other writers around you, just as much as you are yourself. It gets easier too, after you do it a few times.

6. Don’t put pressure on yourself.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, that you forget to enjoy the time at the conference. I know it feels like this might be your only chance to find an agent or to sell your book, but it’s not, I promise. This is simply another step. It opens the door for many more things. Yes, there are writers who get signed from the conference. I know of three of them personally, from last year when I went. But the conference is not just about getting signed by an agent. It’s about learning the skills and industry as well. Don’t be so focused on signing with someone that you miss out on some other really good stuff. You’re time is still coming. Don’t get discouraged.

6. Have fun.

This will probably be one of the greatest experiences in your lifetime. Revel in it. If I could go to a week long writing conference like Writer’s Digest, I would do it in a heart beat no matter the cost. There are no words to express how refreshing and how liberating it is for a writer to be surrounded by people who love it just as much as you. Sure, your friends and family are supportive of your writing and dreams, but it isn’t the same when you can talk to someone about how freaking scared you were during the Pitch Slam or that you received 50 rejections from 50 different agents. Nobody understands that better than a fellow comrade in paper. They don’t look at you crazy when you want to just talk about writing for hours, cause they want to do the exact same thing! I’m telling you, I didn’t want to leave. 🙂

And, just a word of advice. If everyone seems a tad anxious on Friday. I promise after the Pitch Slams on Saturday, everyone will be like college kids who just finished their graduate exams. They all breathe a sigh of relief and go, “Oh…that wasn’t so bad.” LOL!

Happy Conference Ya’ll!

And please please, when ya’ll get back, let me know how everything went! Can’t wait to hear!

 

Agent Interview on what they REALLY want…

1950s-chimp-in-overalls-sitting-in-chair-at-typewriter-with-pencil-and-steno-padI came across this article by Natalie R. Collins, and I thought it would be really good to share since we’ve been talking so much about literary agents lately. Let me know what you think!


“I wish I knew what agents are looking for,” a writing friend of mine said the other day. “If I could only read their minds, I’d be in!”

In today’s tough publishing climate, most big commercial presses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts or queries from authors, and instead use agents to sort through the slush pile and bring them the best work around.

This means the most important contact a writer can or will have is with his/her agent. There are many things to consider when choosing an agent, including their sales record, affiliations, reputation, and client list. As you query the agents that meet your criteria, you will undoubtedly meet with much rejection.

Once you have an agent, don’t imagine you’re on easy street. Most agents will tell you to put aside that dream of instant success and royalties that pour in unchecked, and prepare to go to work. New writers must be willing to actively market their work, a job that is both time consuming and tedious. No agent wants

a client who thinks once the book is written, the job is done. Since I’m seriously short on psychic skills, I decided to do the next best thing and ask a few successful agents some questions. I asked four questions of three agents:

Jeff Kleinman of Graybill and English, LLC [JK], Liza Dawson [LD], and Felicia Eth [FE].

All three are successful non-fee chargers with proven track records and good reputations. One fact came out loud and clear: Writers are making the same mistakes over and over again. Here’s your opportunity to learn what an agent is looking for, directly from the source.

  1. What is the worst thing a writer can do in a query letter?

JK: Hmm, that’s a tough one. How about three things: ramble for more than a page and a half; sound desperate; and make grammatical, punctuation, or spelling mistakes.

LD: Here are two worst things. One, write the letter like it’s a promo piece for Publishers Clearinghouse, i.e. “Dear Ms. Dawson: I’d like to offer you the opportunity at a sure bestseller. I’ve heard you’re brilliant and so successful and that’s why I’m sending you and the other fifty agents on this e-mail submission this letter.” Two, beg me in hysterical language to pay attention because you’ve never written a letter to an agent and you’re really scared and you know that no one will ever listen to you.

FE: Bore me. If the letter does, probably the manuscript will too. Boast about it — tell me it’s sure to be a bestseller, tell me I’ll make lots of money. Send it to me, but address it to another agent. You’d be amazed how often this happens. Make it clear it’s a form letter, where my name is hand-written in. It makes me think it’s been to a million other agents.

  1. What catches your eye and makes you want to read someone’s work?

JK: A tightly-crafted letter with a great single- or two-sentence description of the work, and an author with very good credentials — published in national magazines, or with a national platform; winning awards, and so forth.

LD: One, a recommendation; two, a clear description of the work with few superfluous sentences; three, previous publications.

FE: Pizzazz in the query letter. Good, maybe great credentials — either on the person’s expertise, or publishing background. An original approach without being overly corny; sometimes writers cross the line in making something way too cute. It’s strong, original writing that catches my eye.

  1. As writers, we hear stories of the “good old days” where agents and editors would nurture a promising writer with two or three books until they reached top form. In your opinion, was this ever the case, and if so, what changed it?

JK: I think that’s still the case with agents and editors. It’s all about nurturing and building up a brand name.

LD: It was true a long time ago. Agents will nurture for longer than editors will. Editors now must justify their salaries in a way that they never had to before. Unless that writer gets fabulous reviews and there’s a whiff of a Nobel prize in the air, then that editor has to maintain a wall between himself or herself and the writer — or else the editor will end up standing next to the writer, looking at the publishing house from the outside rather than the inside.

FE: I’ve been around for a while, and though things were never ‘great’ still there are definite differences today. People used to buy a book they loved but didn’t think would be a great commercial success, for small money, publish it well and hope that it would help establish a writer for his/her next book. Today no one (of the major houses at least) wants to spend small money on a book with small expectations. They just can’t buy those books; they need to meet minimums in terms of the number of copies they can get out. Also, previously if someone was a good writer, credentials and platform weren’t nearly as important as they are today. Now, without that, it’s a long, difficult, uphill battle and most editors aren’t willing to fight that fight. So yes, things are different.

  1. If you could give a new author one piece of advice to help advance his/her career, what would it be?

JK: Build up your credentials! By that I mean: One, learn to make your writing as solid, tight, and wonderful as possible; and two, become an “authority” on your subject, with some kind of very strong regional, or national, platform.

LD: Cultivate a following on National Public Radio. Come up with a high concept gimmick.

FE: Build credentials — short stories or magazine and newspaper pieces. Contests, supportive quotes from any major name you know. Build up a good case for why your work needs to be taken seriously, and then, amazingly enough, it will be. That’s no guarantee it will be bought, but at least it will be read and that’s an important first step.

I also asked one final question, half-jokingly: “When you become a literary agent, are you automatically required to use the word ‘subjective’ in your rejections?” Liza Dawson says yes: “Every time we send out a rejection notice we’re afraid that we’re going to spark a suicide, or reject a fabulously successful novel and the author will then make merciless fun of the agents who rejected the book and post the pompous rejections on his web site.”

Felicia Eth had this response: “You know, I do use ‘subjective’ myself, because it is. In fact, I don’t love ‘commercial’ novels, with all that implies, and probably reject a fair number of them that are good and likely to sell. But that’s not what I do, not what I like, and though other agents probably think I’m nuts, that’s my criteria. Authors should know that. I told someone this week that I don’t do Mob novels — and said, ‘yes I probably would have rejected the Godfather.’ So that’s how subjective it is.”

An important thing to remember is that this ruthless business is also difficult from the agent’s perspective. The goal of an agent is not to crush the spirit of a new writer, who often has great potential but simply is not ready to seek publication. The only way to succeed is to write, rewrite, edit and write again, until your work is perfectly polished. At that point, remember the business of publishing is, indeed, subjective. What one agent hates, another may love.

More of What Agents Really Want

Dear Author: Your work sounds intriguing. I would be interested in seeing the first fifty pages, along with a synopsis and your original query letter.

Best, Joe Agent

Now what do you do? Page fifty leaves the heroine dangling precariously from the outer tip of

See my point? Should you send forty-five pages, which ends a chapter and has a better breaking point, or should you send seventy-five pages, which ends the chapter you started on page forty-six?

For this question, I went straight to the source. I asked six agents exactly how they felt about the following questions:

  1. If you ask someone for the first fifty pages, and they send you fifty-two, because that is where a chapter breaks, are you going to disregard their work because they didn’t follow your guidelines?
  2. Should a writer automatically send a synopsis? If so, how long should that synopsis be?
  3. How long should a query letter be?

Overwhelmingly, the agents I asked stated that a writer sending extra pages or a few less than requested would not really affect how they look at the work. They had differing opinions on whether or not to send a synopsis and how long it should be. From their answers I believe that you should only send a synopsis if the agent requests it. All were in agreement again, however, when it comes to a query letter being only one page long. Keep it short.

Kind enough to respond politely to my inquiries were B.J. Robbins of B.J. Robbins Literary Agency; Liza Dawson, of Liza Dawson Associates; William Contardi, formerly of William Morris who is now with Brandt and Hochman; Pam Strickler, of Pam Strickler Literary Management; Simon Lipskar of Writers House; Linda Hyatt of Hyatt Literary Agency; Jeff Kleinman of Greybill and English; and Nicole Aragi, who recently left Watkins-Loomis to start her own agency.

If you ask someone for the first fifty pages, and they send you fifty-two, because that is where a chapter breaks, are you going to disregard their work because they didn’t follow your guidelines?

BJR: No, I would never disregard or reject out of hand someone’s work if they sent me a few pages more than I had requested. I ask for the first three chapters, which eliminates this problem.

LD: Of course not!

WC: Of course not… fifty pages give or take, this is a writerocracy not an agentatorship.

PS: No, that would be fine.

SL: Of course not. If there’s a natural break somewhere near fifty pages, then send that many pages. However, if the first chapter ends on page ninety-seven and the agent has requested fifty pages, just send fifty pages.

LH: Two pages will not break or make a writer. But, when I am overwhelmed with submissions and I respond with “I am not accepting submissions at this time” I do expect the author to heed my statement and try at a later date.

JK: I’m a completely crappy person to ask about that kind of stuff, because I frankly don’t care very much. I tend to think, though, that writers should try to follow an agent’s requests–because there are a lot of completely anal-retentive agents out there. The feeling is that if a writer can’t follow simple directions like send X, they’ll probably be difficult to work with for editing and editors.

NA No, of course not, the fifty-page guideline is just rough. I usually ask for fifty pages, or three chapters, or whatever “cut” seems most logical. Under no circumstances should they send a mix of chapters. It’s infuriating to receive a query letter with chapters twelve and thirteen enclosed. Like any reader, an agent wants to start at the beginning.

Should a writer automatically send a synopsis? If so, how long should that synopsis be?

BJR: I don’t request a synopsis, since I find them tedious to read, but if a writer wants to include one that’s fine. It should be short (those twenty-eight-page chapter outlines are a complete waste of time and I never read them) and in narrative form if possible.

LD: A short one. One to two pages. Short is better.

WC: [I’m] not that interested in a synopsis, more about the writing itself. Doesn’t hurt, but Êseveral lines in a cover letter is just as if not more effective.

PS: I think so. I prefer five pages or less.

SL: Yes. One to two pages maximum.

LH: I prefer a pitch letter, with writing credentials and the points of the story so I will be able to tell right away if it is something I can market. A synopsis should be as long as is necessary to work as a selling tool for the novel.

JK: It never hurts. I rarely read ’em unless I really like the book, and then I always want to see how the book will go. I think you should try to limit it to one to two pages, maximum. Double-spaced, of course. And make it read really, really smoothly, too. (Yeah, right–it’s far easier said than done!)

NA: It can be helpful, but is not essential. Whereas receiving a synopsis without a sample chapter(s) is distinctly unhelpful. Reading a sample of the text is the only way to make a judgment. [The synopsis] should be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

How long should a query letter be?

BJR: Query letters should be short and to the point, no more than one page. I want to know who you are, what you’ve written, where you’ve studied, and any other pertinent information that will help you stand out from the pack. Avoid cutesy, gimmicky letters or anything overly obsequious or grandiose.

LD: One page. Unless it’s brilliant and there is a lot to say.

WC: One page-ish with writer credits and a paragraph summation of the book.

PS: Short, on one page.

SL: No more than a single page. Remember, though, if you can’t write an enticing query letter, agents will invariably assume that you can’t write an enticing novel.

LH: A pitch letter can be one or two pages.

JK: Never more than one page.

NA: Again, a couple of paragraphs, not more.

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So there you have it. Keep your query letter to one page. Make it concise and to the point. Do not tell the agent his or her business. Rather, let them know what your credentials are, and why they should read your book. Don’t forget your hook. Your first line is without a doubt the most important one in the whole letter. If the agent asks for a synopsis, send one, but keep it short. Don’t send lengthy chapter outlines. Do send sample chapters, beginning with chapter one.

And if your fifty pages need one or two more pages to complete a chapter or an important scene, by all means include them. When an agent responds to your query positively, pay attention to what they are saying. Most often, they will tell you exactly what they want. Staying within the guidelines as closely as possible guarantees you the best chance of success.

Happy Agent Seeking Ya’ll!!!

What do Agents look for in a manuscript??

This is what every writer who wished to get published, asked themselves at some point in their writing endeavor. It’s a serious question. What is going to make your book stand out amongst hundreds of others? It can be quite overwhelming, and if you think about it too much you might stop yourself from trying all together.

So what do you do? You gotta start somewhere, and if you’re going to do this, then you need to do it right.

Focus on the things you CAN control in your writing. If you take the time to find out what literary agents are really looking for, then you’ve taken half the step in making your manuscript shine in the middle of all the others. Now, don’t confuse what I’m saying. I’m not telling you to go find the latest writing trend out there like boy wizards, vampires, and girl heroes and write about that. By the time you got finished there would be a new trend started anyways. Relish in being an individual and making your writing yours, and yours alone.

What I’m ACTUALLY talking about, is how to present your work to an agent with professionalism and a progressive working knowledge of what writing is all about in the publishing industry. No, agent expects you to know everything. What they DO expect, is for you to put forth an effort in your presentation, have a willingness to learn, and the understanding that it’s a partnership, not a parent-child relationship or even a boss-employee one.

agent

I guess, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The first step is to catch an agent’s eye. What do they look for?

Here’s a list of some of the qualities that literary agents want to see in a new manuscript. Of course, there are really no set criteria, and agents are going to be going on their gut instincts more often than not. But at the same time, if you keep these things in mind when writing you’ll increase your chances of finding an agent to represent your book:

Killer Query Letter – It’s worth mentioning that agents won’t even see your actual BOOK until you’ve intrigued them with an excellent query letter. This letter needs to convey the uniqueness and marketability of your book in just a few paragraphs. Make sure to spend some serious time and effort on your query letter. You’re a writer, after all! If it doesn’t sparkle, why would an agent assume the prose in your manuscript is any good?

Marketability – Hmmm…What the heck does that mean? Well, will your book sell? To how many people? Maybe you’ve written the definitive volume on the Wizarding World, golden rings, or vampire love. While that may be exactly what a niche press is looking for, it probably doesn’t have the makings of the next Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Twilight. (Not yet, anyways.) To attract an agent (whose main task will be to get you a deal with one of the major houses), you’ll need to write a book that can sell, and sell big. The broader the appeal, the better your chances.

Uniqueness – Having broad appeal does not mean you need to pander. It shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter book. You should provide new perspectives on a relatable theme, or twist expectations in pleasing ways. Can you make the familiar new? If you have then, you’ve upped your chances of finding an agent.

Memorable – The people you want to impress most are the hardest people to impress. They have a hundred other manuscripts on their desk right now. At the end of the day, did your query letter stand out? Did you hook them enough with a few paragraphs so they want to read the whole manuscript? And when they read the book, did you leave them with a feeling they can’t shake? Did you make them laugh the loudest? Think the hardest? Uncap their deepest reservoir of sorrow? With so much competition, your book needs to be worth a second thought.

Clear demographic – This is part of marketing, of course, but you want to be sure your book has a target audience and an obvious place on bookstore’s shelves. While you SHOULD be unique, you don’t want your book to be so complex and convoluted that people don’t know what to do with it.

Along these lines, if someone asked you what your book was all about, could you pitch it to them in two sentences or less? Could you convey something about the plot, characters, attitude, AND style, all in a matter of seconds? If so, agents, editors, and publishers will appreciate the effort to keep things succinct! Plus, if your pitch is concise and descriptive, they probably will assume your writing is equally crisp and focused.

Polished Product – Does your book read like a finished work of art? Ask friends to read it and point out any flaws they find (grammar, syntax, character development, continuity, etc.) The less work an agent has to do to prepare your book for the big time, the more they’ll like you.

So, those are my thoughts. What has your experience been like finding an agent? Any other tips? I’d love to hear about them!

Happy Writing Ya’ll!

Warning Signs: How To Spot A Bad Literary Agent

Since we’ve been on the topic of literary agents the last few days, I figured we would continue with a little more “literary agent education” for whomever might need it. I found this article at http://writersrelief.com/. Let’s face it, there are all kinds of scams out there. Money scams, puppy and kitten scams, internet scams, you name it. Unfortunately, there can be just as many scams in the writing industry if you don’t know what red flags to look for. It can be overwhelming, especially for new writers coming in to the business, to know a legit agent or agency compared to a non-legit one.

Hopefully, this article will help some of you understand what to look for when you’re ready to seek representation:

“How can you tell if a literary agent or agency is legitimate?” New novelists and veteran writers can fall prey to literary agency schemes—hidden tricks that literary agents use to fake legitimacy or make a quick buck on a book. Writers should be wary of questionable companies when approaching literary agencies or individual agents.

What steps can you take to help determine if an agency is legitimate?

Query only established agents. Not a writer and editor/agent or a PR person/publisher/agent. Some agents do write and agent, but it’s important that agenting is his or her first priority. A good agent will have more than he or she can handle wearing one hat and one hat only.

Check track record/sales. The number one indication of a successful agent will be their track record, and they should be eager to share this with you. If they claim their recent sales are confidential, this is a red flag. Feel free to ask for recent sales, published works, recommendations from satisfied clients, etc. Or look up your agent on www.publishersmarketplace.com, a Web site that chronicles publishing deals. However, there is a fee for this site.

Note: There’s a difference between an agency that doesn’t want to share their track record and an agency that has a minimal number of sales. Many quality agencies start out small, and sometimes this can translate into more personal attention. They may not have a long track record yet; check for quality versus quantity.

Look for professionalism across the board. Is the agency’s Web site or correspondence with you full of typos and/or grammatical errors? Does the agent get defensive or angry when you ask questions about fees and contract issues? Are your calls ignored for weeks? In general, look for professionalism and general courtesy when dealing with an agent.

Note: Again, don’t necessarily dismiss an agency that is operated out of the agent’s home, or that doesn’t have a full staff or a Web site. (In fact, some of the big agencies don’t have Web sites.) Many good agents start off small and keep their costs down, and they may be more willing to represent a new writer. They may also have more time to work harder for their clients.

Watch for “recommended services.” If your agent gives your work high praise…and then suggests that it will only sell if it is professionally edited, you should immediately go on high alert, especially if the agent already has an editor for you. This is usually the sign of a kickback referral scheme that preys on the hopes and dreams of new writers, and it is highly unethical. The same goes for illustrators. A good agent knows that publishers prefer to do the matching of authors and illustrators, and they should not push you to hire one they recommend.

Beware of agents who are looking for poets and short story writers. Most legitimate agents do not make any money off poetry and short fiction—unless the writer is already very strongly established.

Beware of agents who shower you with excessive flattery and praise or who make grand promises. (Good agents don’t make promises they can’t keep.)

Beware of signs of incompetence. There are plenty of mediocre agents out there who engage in unprofessional practices such as using the client’s own query letters, employing random submission strategies, and insisting the client pay for 8×10 photos, fancy binders, and marketing plans (all of which are unnecessary and off-putting to editors).

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your homework. Google potential agents, search writers’ forums, and check for references. Writers are a close-knit group and good about protecting each other. When a naughty agent is lurking, chances are there are savvy writers putting out the word to others. You have the power not to get caught in a literary agent scheme!

The way that a reputable literary agent should make money is by selling books. That’s it. If an agent is asking for any fees (reading, evaluations, marketing, or retainer fees), let the red flags unfurl.

Reading fees at agencies weren’t always a red flag, but because several agencies began abusing the system—charging fees without having any genuine interest in the material itself—the practice was abolished by the Association of Authors’ Representatives or AAR (the trade group for US literary agents).

The same goes for evaluation fees. If an agency offers an evaluation of your manuscript, it should be free. Disreputable agencies will sometimes charge the writer for a “critique,” which is generic, widely applicable, or performed by an under qualified staff member. The AAR frowns upon this practice and so should you.

Other dubious fees fall under the category of administration, marketing, or submission costs. A good agent will only charge the client for expenses that are above and beyond normal and reasonable expenses, such as long-distance phone calls and shipping costs. These are usually deducted from the client’s royalties and should not be up-front costs. Watch out for agents who demand money up-front, especially for such vague reasons; if in doubt, request an itemized list of any charges—you should not be billed for every Post-it your agent uses.

Sometimes an agent is not dishonest, but merely inept. This is an agent who uses questionable methods to submit your work to editors—sending your work to editors who aren’t looking for what you are trying to sell; bundling several queries into one package; using shotgun types of submission methods; and not doing their homework. These agents quickly develop a reputation among editors, and their clients can expect their work to be ignored. Some writers feel that any agent is better than none at all, but this simply is not the case.

Reputable agents do not need to advertise in magazines or search for clients online, and they never send spam. If you are approached by an agent without ever having contacted them, beware. Dishonest agents often troll online writers’ forums or purchase subscription lists from writers’ magazines to beef up their client list.

Note: Once in a great while, an agent will read your work in a magazine and contact you directly; this is a legitimate practice, and you should be able to tell that it is not a generic form letter, that the agent actually read your work and admired it.

Hope this helps everyone!! Thank you again for reading and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them!

Happy Writing Ya’ll!

Tips on Pitching to an Agent and what to Expect (In my experience)…Part 2

Untitled pitch

Here we are again with Part 2 of pitching to an agent and what to expect. Plus, a few tips on how to prepare. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check out Part 1, here’s the link, http://wp.me/p5cSvb-8I. Let’s get right to it then, shall we?

Let’s talk about things you should do prior to the Pitch Slam.

1. First, stop saying 90-seconds. It sounds better when you say 3-minutes, like it’s more time or something. Yes, I know it’s a mental thing, but whatever. Saying 90-seconds is bad. You’ve been telling your friends and family that you have the opportunity to pitch your manuscript, (the one they’ve heard about nonstop for eternity now) to actual agents, face-to-face. They’re super excited for you, until you mention that it’s only for 90-seconds. That’s when they cock their head slightly to the side, and give you a look, “come again? How the crap are you going to do that?” Don’t let that go to your head and don’t freak out about those 3-minutes.

You’re not freaking out anymore, are you? Good. Cause you actually need to make that 3-minute pitch into a 2-minute pitch. “That’s impossible,” you scream. I can actually here you right now. Stop holding your breath! Just breathe and hear me out. You can do it, I promise. How do I know, well, cause I’ve done it. This is not a race where you say an entire paragraph without breathing, and then get up and leave. The agent needs to have enough time to ask questions or hand you that golden ticket, their business card. You need to have enough time to write down what they want. There’s all kinds of scenarios, so as best you can, get that pitch down to 2 minutes.

2. Research the agents. I can not stress this enough!!!! The worst thing you can do is sit down with an agent who only represents nonfiction, and start spouting off your sci-fi novel. That’s not really gonna work out.

Another important reason for research, is that you don’t want them to feel like a number, just like you wouldn’t want them to treat you. Take time to research the agents and find out different things about them. Most, if not all agents, have some type of website or social media that will help you delve into them more, what their interests, likes and dislikes are, or what they represent and what they don’t. Take time to know them, as you would hope one day they would you, if your partnership continues. Prior to me meeting Marisa Corvisiero, I learned from her website, that she has her own law practice as well as her own literary agency. That lady is amazing, if I haven’t already said it. She is fluent in Spanish and Italian, and can even speak some Japanese and Portuguese. I wouldn’t have known that except I did my research. Or the fact, that Kaylee Davis, who is super super sweet by the way, had a family pet rabbit named Dash. (Funny side story, at the cocktail party I asked Kaylee how Dash was, to which she graciously and so kindly told me he had died. I was mortified, of course, that I had asked at all after that. But she was a good sport about it, and found me asking humorous…whew. Shout out Kaylee! And thanks for understanding!)

3. Practice your pitch a lot prior to the conference. A lot. Time yourself, and repeat it to friends, family, and anyone who will listen. I, actually, was so blessed to meet a few fantastic girls the first day at the conference. They were awesome help with listening and giving suggestions for my pitch. It totally helped with my nerves and coming out of my shell when talking about my manuscript. Sure, you love talking with your friends and family about your writing, but it was an entirely new excitement that I can’t quite put into words when I finally talked to other writers that understood the whole journey of ups and downs in writing a manuscript.

When saying your pitch, as best you can, try to make it a natural transfer. Try to look at it like a normal conversation between two friends. It’s super hard when you’re so nervous, but as best you can try not to sound like a robot. Again, agents understand completely how stressful this is. I had one or two give me a nod and a smile, silently speaking to that it was okay and to just take my time. Take a deep breath. You’ll do great!

What exactly do I need to say during my pitch?

Chuck Sambuchino does a fantastic job in explaining this prior to your Pitch Slam. Here are the basics, though. Think of your pitch as the back of a DVD movie description. Just imagine what it would say. Which duh, everyone hopes that their books will become movies or some super fantastic HBO show. So, that’s what you need to picture when describing your manuscript for your pitch. I actually, got some of my fantasy/paranormal movies out and looked at the back of them to get some wording ideas. That’s totally okay! Also, you will need to say at the very beginning of your pitch what the title of your book is (if you have one), genre, word count, and if it’s considered an adult, middle grade, young adult, etc.

So what are you exactly seeking from a Pitch Slam?…(other than the obvious finding an agent to represent you.)

You want a business card. You could say it’s your Golden Ticket, sort of. If an agent gives you a business card that doesn’t mean they’re ready to sign the dotted line of a contract with you, BUT it does mean you just took another step in finding representation. You’ve captured their attention and they’re interested in knowing more. Good Job! That’s half the battle! I actually got business cards from all five agents I pitched to. The writing gods were with me!! LOL!

Should I go in order of agent I want the most to least, or just go to whichever line is the shortest at the time?

Again, this is your own preference. Some choose lines because they’re shorter. Their main goal is to pitch to as many agents in their genre, as possible. Others go by the agent they’re most interested in and go from there. They’re willing to wait in line for that certain agent, sacrificing possibly having time with two others. Just keep in mind though, that an hour and a half goes by quickly, and it would be terrible to miss out on pitching to the number one agent you wanted, just because you ran out of time. I preferred, the route of going from my top choice agent to my last pick. I also looked at the table map that was given ahead of time, to see exactly where my agents sat. I was in luck that two of them sat at tables next to each other. That saved time in itself. (P.S. you will be given the table map either in you’re welcome packet or during the, Pitch Perfect session, with Chuck Sambuchino.)

How many agents will I be able to pitch to during my pitch session?

Well, that’s really up to you, and how well you prepare. The Writer’s Conference website constantly updates new agents that will be at the Pitch Slam. They give you plenty of time to see which ones are right for you, so that you can map out who you want to see first, second, and so on. If you get there early like I suggested, than you’re closer to the front when they open the doors. You can be one of the first people to enter and head straight to your first pitch with the agent of your choice.

You can pitch to as many agents as you like, and have time for. Plan from anywhere between five and seven agents to pitch to. That way, if one cancels, you still have others to choose from. You don’t want to wander around because you didn’t do your research on enough agents and you still had time to pitch. Let’s get real here too, you paid for this, so make the most of it. It would be terrible to pitch to three agents and then have to twiddle your thumbs for the rest of the time because you weren’t prepared. Just remember, most of your time is used up waiting in line. I’ve heard of some people getting to pitch to up to eight agents. It just depends. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get to all of them. Just make the ones you do see, count. Quality, is better than quantity at times.

I pitched to five out of the six agents I wanted. The only reason I didn’t get to the sixth was because one of them canceled at the last-minute. (The conference workers are very good at letting you know if an agent has had to cancel before you have your pitch session, so don’t worry about that.)

Can I give the agent my business card or my query letter during my pitch session?

NOOOOOO! Do not hand the agent, anything. I can’t stress that, enough. Can you imagine if everyone gave an agent just the first page of their manuscript? That would be a ton for them to carry around! I wouldn’t want to do it and neither do they. I promise you, if you get a business card from them, you’ll definitely be giving them some things soon enough.

Is there anything in particular I need to bring to my Pitch session?

A pen is an absolute necessity (one that works, obviously). Hopefully, the agent is going to give you a card and tell you exactly what they want you to send them after the conference. Keep in mind, no agent is going to want the exact same thing. Believe me, you will have so much adrenaline rushing in, and your brain will be mush once the Pitch Slam is over, so you won’t remember much. It’s kinda like your wedding, if any of you have been married you know what I’m talking about. A lot of preparation prior to, and then BAM! It’s over and you’re so exhausted you can’t remember half of it. Thank goodness for wedding photos.

Anyway, keep that pen handy. Hold it in your hand the entire time if you have to. You don’t want to be digging around in your bag for it. I suggest, when the agent hands you their card, you jot down immediately on the back of it, exactly what that particular agent wanted. Otherwise, you might end up forgetting something, and send the wrong stuff. That would be a travesty. Like…seriously. Other than that, there really isn’t anything you HAVE to bring with you. You can bring a copy of your pitch for yourself in case you forget exactly what you need to say. But ,I would recommend you not read it from the page when pitching. If you can help it at all, memorize that bad boy way before you even get to the conference. During your Pitch Perfect Session with Chuck, he may tell you a few things you might want to tweak on your pitch, but at least for the most part you won’t have to start from scratch re-memorizing it.

What if the agent doesn’t give me a business card?

Well, move along then. Thank them regardless for the opportunity and their time. Because their time is important. They don’t have to be at these conferences. They choose to be. They want to have the opportunity to hear your pitch but not every single one is the right fit. Don’t get discouraged. Every agent just like you, have their own tastes. Don’t take it to heart. Remember, in this business there is A LOT of rejection. I repeat, a lot of rejection. The right agent might be the very next table. Keep your chin up!

Whatever you do…DO NOT argue with an agent about your pitch or manuscript. Be gracious, even when the agent tells you that they’re sorry and it’s not something they see would be a good fit for them. You want your agent to love your manuscript and the ideas behind it as much as you do. (There was a story going around last year that someone from a previous conference actually lunged towards an agent because she told him it wasn’t for her. Seriously guy, you just murdered your career before it even started. Can you say, psycho?) If you snap something back to them, or worse, no one would ever touch you after that, even if your manuscript was made of gold and shot out stars from the pages. Don’t do it. Be professional, and even if you believe the agent is wrong, don’t show it. Have some respect for their experience and knowledge. If anything, keep your own dignity and have some self-respect. There are plenty of agents out there.

Can an agent stop me in the middle of my pitch?

Absolutely. Don’t be surprised if they do. Sometimes, it’s to ask questions. Which is actually, a good thing. Answer them as best you can, and continue on with your pitch if they still want you to. I wasn’t as prepared for this, as I thought. All you focus goes into your pitch prior to the conference, and basically all the way up until you finish your pitch session. Gina Panettieri, started asking me questions in the middle of mine, and I was so thrown off. But duh, that was a super good thing she asked questions. She was intrigued! Other times, it’s because they’ve heard enough to love it, and want to give you a business card. Some unfortunately, after a sentence or two realize it’s really not something they’re interested in. That’s okay. They’re actually doing you a favor. You can go ahead and move on to the next agent you wanted to pitch to. You don’t have to stay there for the full 3-minutes (I’ll talk about this in just a second). The agent, is actually being respectful to you, by saving time that you could spend with another agent who might be interested.

Do I have to use my entire 3-minutes with an agent?

Well, there’s two parts to that question.

Let’s say you pitch so fast and get all your feedback from the agent before that 3-minutes is up. I know it sounds crazy, but it happens. If you’ve practiced your pitch enough times, it can flow pretty quickly. You can choose to stay until your 3-minutes are up, or you can choose to give it to the next person in line. In my opinion, I believe that the admirable thing to do is giving the next person extra time if your finished. Obviously, you would love for someone to give extra time if the roles were reversed. Remember, this isn’t a competition. Writers are a tribe. We stick together and encourage. If we truly want to be a good writer, then it goes past the words we put on the page. We respect and help each other.

The second part to that question is this, and boy, did I not know it. You can actually sit past your 3-minutes if the agent is still talking to you about your manuscript. Now, I won’t tell you that the people behind you won’t be a little upset, and obviously the ONLY reason you should stay seated after the bell is because of this situation. Again, it’s all about respect, and you don’t want to eat into someone else’s time. The agents notice that stuff. But, in my case again, I was pitching to Gina. She was still asking questions when the bell rang. I got up thinking that I absolutely had to, which meant I rushed the last of my answers. (She still asked for my full manuscript, which was SUPER exciting. I basically floated around the rest of the Pitch Slam). So, just heads up if this happens. Again, try to be respectful to the other people in line, though.

Well, that’s it. Or at least, the main things I believe are important. Feel free to comment with your own suggestions if you’ve pitched before, or if you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them if I can. I really, really hope this helps everyone! To the people who are going to the conference, good luck! You’ll do fantastic! It is going to be one of the most exciting times in your life! Enjoy!

I wasn’t able to download any of my own pictures of the conference last year, but here’s a link to the Writer’s Digest website, https://www.eiseverywhere.com/ehome/83905/219684/, that shows a bunch of pictures from the 2014 conference. There are even some pictures before and during the Pitch Slam, so you can get an idea of what it’s like.

Happy Pitching Ya’ll!!