If You Missed the WB Live Chat on Query and Agent-Related Support . . .

Last night, the Write-Brained Network hosted its first live chat since moving back to Ning.

The topic was broad—query and agent-related support—but we kept a good convo going.

The gist . . .

One of the reasons we chose this particular topic for the chat was because of a question a Write-Brainiac had: How do you know know when to heed an agent’s advice in terms of making changes to your manuscript? This particular writer was talking about when one gets a personalized rejection—not when one gets an editorial letter or something, etc.

Some of the suggestions from the group:

  • Always. An agent knows what sells and what will make your book more salable. That is why you are querying an agent in the first place.
  • When the feedback resonates with you.

As we talked, I extended this idea of resonating to not just agent feedback, but for all feedback you receive—be it from betas, crit partners, your writing group, your mom, agents, or editors.

As I have been preparing to query myself (and, therefore, getting lots of feedback on my manuscript from multiple sources), I have thought much on this subject.

It seems like, at least for me, whenever I write something, I have certain insecurities with it—things that tug at my guts a little, and I’ll think, “If this scoots past X, Y, and Z betas, then it must be okay.” Many times, those are the things X, Y, and Z betas mention as items to change, cut, condense, or expand.  So, when I get their feedback, it resonates—and I know it’s not just my writerly insecurities being all OCD. (Sometimes that is the case, however!)

On the topic of resonating . . .

Sometimes you’ll get feedback that you never would have considered or recognized yourself.  (This is why you need to get feedback, people!)  It’s a subjective business, and sometimes someone will come up with a killer idea or ask a question that spawns a twist you hadn’t anticipated—but that is a good problem to have.  If it resonates, if you can see how incorporating the suggestion would make the book better, then, I say, do it!

More from the chat . . .

Another Write-Brainiac asked about nonfiction books and whether or not the writer should secure the rights to photographs prior to querying agents, or if that is the agent’s job.

This was a bit of a stumper.  We discussed it as best we could—I gave some suggestions based on what I know of related situations, but none of us pretended to be experts in this area.  If you *are*, please leave advice in the comments!

My immediate response to this was that, the closer a writer comes to having everything in place before he queries, the more professional and “together” the writer will appear to the agent.  Less work for the agent = happier agent, etc.

However, I can also see where this might not be the case.

Related(ish) examples . . .

Children’s author Gail Langer Karwoski spoke at the Southeastern Writers Association conference last summer about something similar, regarding the writer/author relationship:

  • Most picture books begin with the story, unless you have a legal relationship with the illustrator (it’s you, your relative, your spouse).
  • If there’s no legal relationship and you’re trying to suggest an illustrator in your proposal, it’s like a siren screaming “AMATEUR” (=rejection).
  • Many times, pub houses will pair a newer author with a more established illustrator to increase the book’s chances of selling.
  • If you can do both (you don’t just “doodle”), you should; just make sure your proposal is professional.
  • Many agents want author/illustrators (because it’s less people to pay and more of a cut of the money for them).

Also, I know that, when my Writer’s Digest Books editor, Chuck Sambuchino, wrote his Gnomes book—which is a nonfiction, humor book—he wasn’t expected to have the photos with it.  The publisher, Ten Speed Press, chose photographers to take pictures, and Chuck and his agent were able to pick their favorite from there.  (I also understand that the author having a say in that kind of thing isn’t common.)

Along the lines of securing rights, if there are specific photos you want and *you* are taking them (and there’s a reason you are the only one who can take said photos), I believe you technically already own the rights to them, as soon as the picture is snapped.  Same thing with writing.  Yes, you can register something with the U.S. Copyright office, but you actually “own” something as soon as you write it.

However, the WBer with the question was actually asking about photos of a structure that no longer exists—so it’s not as though new photos can be taken of it.  From what I know and what I’ve read*, my instincts lead me back to my initial answer—that the writer should have the rights secured before querying the agent.

Anything to add?

*Helpful copyright articles from the Guide to Literary Agents blog:

**Not a Write-Brainiac yet?  Click here to get started.

***For more with Karwoski, click here and here.

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Pointers from the Pros: Chuck Sambuchino Talks Pitching Agents in Person

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.*

I attended the 38th annual Society of Southwestern Authors’ Wrangling with Writing conference in Tuscon, Ariz., in September.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at those I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

Here is what Guide to Literary Agents editor and Class-1 Gnome-Slayer Chuck Sambuchino had to say in “Pitching Agents in Person”:


WHAT IT IS & HOW IT WORKS

  • Essentially, you’re reading your query letter out loud—except you’re not actually reading it. Have it memorized.
  • You should be done in 60 sec. Generally, this gives them time to ask questions, etc.
  • You pitch can be anywhere from 3-10 sentences.
  • A pitch is NOT a synopsis.  He points to the backs of DVD boxes, Netflix descriptions, and book jacket flap covers as examples of short pitches yours should emulate.

DO

  • Introduce yourself and state any connections you might have to the agent right away.
  • It’s not like a query letter pitch, where they can read things again if it’s confusing, so be as clear as possible.
  • Give the logline first (a one-sentence description of your manuscript so they understand what it is right away) Then, you can go into the details.
  • State the genre, word count—especially if it’s appropriate to your genre—the title, and that it’s complete.
  • Start with your main character. He says sometimes there is a tendency for writers (especially in sci-fi/fantasy—really, anything with a lot of worldbuilding in it) to begin with setting, but he urges you to start with the main character (MC) and get to the inciting incident.  This propels your book forward—gives the conflict. What goes wrong? Every story is about something going wrong, he says.
  • Show the arc of the character in the pitch—we need to see the character changing.
  • Introduce the antagonist as well.  Show how the MC and antag clash.
  • If you are unsure of your genre, just take a stab at it. Sometimes agents will see your book in a different genre than you anyway.
  • Make sure the agent you’re pitching reps the kind of project you are pitching.
  • After the pitch, then get to the bio stuff—organizations you are part of, previous publications, awards, etc.  If you’ve ever been paid to write, say it—if you don’t have any previous publications, just don’t say anything about that.  They should be interested enough in your book without that stuff (the bio stuff), so don’t stress if you don’t have it.  The important thing is to mention whatever you have done quickly and humbly.
  • Memorize your pitch, but make it more conversational.  Agents are people.  It’s awkward if you just read something or rattle off something you’ve memorized.
  • Pitch them one project.

DON’T

  • Don’t give away the ending.  A pitch is designed to pique interest.  The agent *could* ask for the ending, after your pitch, but don’t offer it unless they’ve asked.
  • Don’t say it’s a series unless they ask.
  • Don’t be general (“highs and lows”—“twists and turns”—“circumstances out of their control”—“sequence of events”).  Give them something specific and concrete. (In his book, Save the Cat, the late screenwriter Blake Snyder talks about the “promise of the premise”when you say what the story is about, scenes pop into the audience’s head—you guess what will happen.  Chuck says, make your pitch delivers on these things.)
  • Don’t talk about your themes.  These should shine through. (Show vs. tell)
  • Don’t hand the agent anything.
  • Don’t spend time on names & quirks of secondary characters.  You don’t want to bog them down with details.
  • Don’t sing it!
  • Don’t mention movie adaptations—that it’s going to be a mega hit, NYT bestseller, etc.

NONFICTION PITCHES

  • These tend to be dry—they’re not designed to be entertaining.  So, talk about what makes the book unique or memorable.
  • You HAVE to have platform here. Who are you? What have you done? Why are you the person to write this book? Are you an expert in the field? A speaker? Do you have leadership roles with something connected to the subject matter? Previous publications?
  • When pitching memoir, try not to focus on the sad details too much.  Show how it can transcend to more than just people with that experience only.  Show it’s a story about X,  but it’s more than that. It can reach more of an audience.

QUESTIONS FROM THE CLASS

Q: Should you say it’s similar to a bestseller?

A: It’s tricky. If you do, avoid all the clichés—(Harry Potter, Twilight, The DaVinci Code, Eat Pray Love).  It’s probably better to say it’s X meets Y.  However, this can come off as kind of egotistical as well, depending on what you’re comparing it to.

Q: Should you pitch a short story collection?

A: Generally, no.  If you have those, you’re better off networking with them at conference—getting your face in their memory for when you query them with it later.  While we’re at it, don’t pitch articles or poetry collections in-person either.

Q: What tense should the query be in?

A: Third-person, present tense for the pitch sentences.

Visit Chuck at the GLA blog or follow him on Twitter.

*Click here for more “Pointers from the Pros.”

In the Blogosphere: 10/18-11/12

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

I’m admittedly behind with my Blogosphere posts—I have tons of links saved, dating all the way back to the summer (oh noes!)—but they are all still worth a look.  I’ll catch up eventually, right?

AGENT STUFF

Here, author and D4EO literary agent Mandy Hubbard gives some spillage on some holes in the market as well as subgenres all editors want (hint: middle grade!).

Writer’s Relief talks lit agents—and how to find the best one for you.

Other than announcing he’s leaving the agenting world (!), Nathan Bransford has more bad news: the rejection letter of the future will be silence.

Here, FinePrint Literary’s Suzie Townsend chats about the waiting game.

We all know it’s important to build platform, but do unpubbed writers need to blog? Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole of Kidlit.com weighs in.

WRITING TIPS FROM COOL PEOPLE

Over on her blog, YA author Michelle Hodkin gives an ironic example of what your first pages should look like.* (Hint: if this is what your first pages actually look like, get that delete button ready!) *She also gives links to fabulous resources for fixing up those first pages.

Thinking of planning a trilogy?  Please don’t get started until you read this post by YA author (and my pal—hee!) Jodi Meadows.

Over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Chuck Sambuchino shares five screenwriting tips [from Neil Landau and Matt Frederick‘s 101 Things I Learned in Film School] *all* writers can use.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Ever wonder what full-time writers do all day?  Over at Writing it Out, Across the Universe author Beth Revis live-blogged a day in her busy writer life.

While we’re living vicariously through others, middle-grade author Stephanie Blake shares how she got plucked from the slush pile over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing.

GETTING READY

As you know, I’m a huge enthusiast of writers’ conferences.  Well, so is the University of Cincinnati and Writer’s Digest’s Jane FriedmanHere, she talks about the benefits of attending these functions.

Having trouble formatting your synopsis? Here’s a checklist of the essentials, from WD.

Going along with that, Write Anything’s Annie Evett talks about the importance of building a writer portfolio—how to, what to include, etc.

Worried you’ll lose your blog content? Guest blogger Peta Jenneth Andersen explains how, over at Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Nanu-nanu!

Over at Self Editing Blog, author John Robert Marlow talks about jumping the gun.

NANO-TASTIC!

You may be participating in this writing marathon, but you can still be healthy about it. Write Anything’s Annie Evett tells us how.

Here, YA author of awesome Maureen Johnson answers a slew of NaNo questions.

Here are some NaNo DOs and DON’Ts, courtesy of TerribleMinds.

And over at Write Anything, Andrea Allison offers some Web site aids to help you stick with it.

MORE COOL STUFF

I heart Meg CabotHere’s an interview L.A. Times’s Carolyn Kellogg of Jacket Copy did with the author extraordinaire this summer.

Um, coolest thing ever?  Make your Twitter feed into a daily newspaper!

Book Review: Chuck Sambuchino’s ‘Gnomes’ Equips Readers with the Essentials

Chuck Sambuchino* is the master of guides. Since 2008, he’s given us Guide to Literary Agents (Writer’s Digest Books); now, he’s unleashed a new kind of guide—one that, he says, will save your life. In his aptly-named and recently-released How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (and They Will) (Ten Speed Press), he lays it out in the very first line:  Keep reading if you want to live.

What, you don’t think you’re at risk? Sambuchino disagrees—and whom are you going to believe, yourself or a Class 1 gnome slayer?

Yeah—that’s what I thought.

In Sambuchino’s easy-to-read handbook, he provides tips you never realized you needed to know in order to defend yourself in the event of an ambush of the lawn ornament variety.

 

What's he got behind his back? (Probably an axe.)

 

He has used his extensive garden gnome defense training to develop a foolproof four-step system (Assess, Protect, Defend, Apply), which will have you well on your way to total safety in just 106 pages.

Sambuchino not only equips readers with the proper tools to gnome-proof their homes and yards, but he also shines the light on the fact that these garden gnomes have infiltrated our world, down to well-known (and seemingly innocent) idioms (“gnomenclature”). The worst part is they’ve done so virtually undetected.

That’s what makes the little buggers so dangerous, he says. But fear not—it’s Sambuchino to the rescue.

 

The photographer's body was found three yards away. The horror! The horror!

 

I had no idea how much of a threat these pint-sized pests could be, but my eyes have been blasted open. I can now sleep much easier at night, after having acquired this knowledge, thanks to Sambuchino.

In the words of G.I. Joe, “knowing is half the battle.” The other half? Strategically placing weapons throughout the house and kicking some gnome ass.

From fashioning weapons out of household items to memorizing escape routes, you won’t find a more complete survival guide out there than Gnomes.

*For the most clever gnome pun left in the comments (winner chosen by moi), Sambuchino has generously offered to give a free critique of up to 5 pages of a manuscript or a query letter—so get commenting!  CONTEST ENDS OCTOBER 15 AT 11:59 PM EST.

Buy it here!

For more information on this book—and some life-saving tips, visit the official Gnomes blog.

To follow Sambuchino’s “ultra-nemesis,” Gnomevicious, click here. (Might be a good way to get an inside look at how these forces of evil think . . . )

In the Blogosphere: 9/12-9/17

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

I’m admittedly behind with my Blogosphere posts—I have about 50 links saved, dating all the way back to June (oh noes!)—but they are all still worth a look.  I’ll catch up eventually, right?

GET WRITING!

My weekend plans fell through, so now I will be sitting at home [probably with all the lights on all weekend because this will be the first time I’m staying home alone at my house—how lame am I?] with my computer and my beagle.  Which, as much as I love them both, can also both be time sucks!  But I’m buzzing on my WIP right now and would LOVE to get to 30,000 words by Sunday.  It will be a bit of a challenge, but I’m up for it.

Adorable little baby time suck. And a bunch of crap she'd dragged out everywhere and was chewing up. (And my husband's foot.)

All-grown-up time suck. 🙂

That said, here are some resources—some of which I’ve used and some of which I haven’t yet but might have to employ this weekend, in order to get words written.

  • Write or Die—You can set your word count and your time goals, and this interface will get IN YOUR FACE [well, if you set it that way] until you reach your targets.
  • WriteRoom—This is for Mac users.  It’s a full-screen writing environment that rids you of the “clutter” of word processing programs.  [Referred to by The New York Times as the “ultimate spartan writing utopia.”]

  • WordWatchers—This has been working for me this month—and this isn’t just shameless self-promotion, as a number of writers have been getting tremendous amounts of work done using this writing program.  It’s through The Write-Brained Network and, like its sister weight-loss program, is something each individual designs to fit his or her lifestyle.  All us Write-Brainiacs participating have set challenging goals, and while we haven’t all been hitting them each week [guilty!] we have been getting tons of work done. And, some people have finished entire projects or gotten over slumps, due to the prodding encouragement of others.

QUERYING & SUCH

Here, literary agent Jennifer Laughran busts publishing industry myths that most writers believe or have heard.

Yeah, but this is real, though.

Two takes on the 5 stages of querying:

  • The first, a guest post by writer Anne Gallagher on the Guide to Literary Agents blog
  • The second, by the inimitable Tahareh

When when those rejections come, Holen Mathews at GotYA offers some constructive questions you need to ask yourself.

SOCIAL MEDIA TIPPAGE

Social media got you down? [If you’re Greyhaus Literary’s Scott Eagan, then yes.] Author Jody Hedlund offers some advice on how to use it effectively without allowing it to take over your life—and writing time.

And here, Daily Writing Tips lists 40 Twitter hashtags for writers.

CRAFT

I was going through my saved posts for “In the Blogospheres” today and came across this little jobby, by Heather Trese at See Heather Write, on the importance of having a pitch . . .

. . . which goes hand in hand with the post I wrote this week on plot vs. situation.

It was really hard to narrow down which picture I found to be the chachiest. So I went with this one.

Here is a lovely post by Christina Mandelski over at Will Write for Cake wherein she discusses the importance of setting in a story.

And here, Writing for Digital talks about the value of a good editor.  One edit quite possibly changed the entire course of American history!

FANGIRL LOVE

I heart you, John Green.

I heart you, Meg Cabot. [the Allie Finkle #6, Blast from the Past, review she links to at the end of this post is MINE!]

PLUG!

Inky Fresh Press interviewed little ol’ me!

Grounding is important.

Happy weekend, everyone! Come harass me on the WB or Twitter and make sure I’m getting my words written!

Book Review: 2011 Guide to Literary Agents

With over 500 literary agency listings and its easy-to-navigate setup, the 2011 edition of Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents is the best resource out there for finding and landing your dream agent.

I might be *slightly* biased, being that my article on how to make the most of a writers’ conference adorns its pages—but that’s not the *only* awesome thing about this edition.

In addition to updating last year’s listings, Sambuchino also includes a horde of new agencies that have arrived on the publishing scene.  Likewise, the volume includes articles on everything from crafting query letters to what agents want.  Hope Clark’s piece on researching agents is a must-read as well.

We all know getting an agent is tough—so why not make it easier on yourself by picking up this book?

**Click here to check out the Guide to Literary Agents blog.

**Click here to see my agent interviews and guest columns on the GLA blog.

Where Else Am I? My GLA Guest Post: Agents Tell All at RWA National

I’m over at the Guide to Literary Agents blog today with “Agents Tell All at RWA National.”

Click here to see my guest post—Q&A during the literary agent panel at the Romance Writers of America PRO Retreat, featuring agents of awesome:

  • Holly Root of Waxman Literary Agency
  • Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency
  • Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency
  • Emmanuelle Morgen (formerly Alspaugh) of Judith Ehrlich Literary