Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. II)

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 spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes 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!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what else Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say about writing great fiction. Click here for part I.

The Donald.

WHAT TURNS THE PAGE?

  • The notion of microtension
    • Microtension: the line-by-line tension on the page, which causes apprehension on the part of the reader and makes them move forward
    • It’s that “What’s going to happen?” feeling you get when you’re reading—it’s not in the story, not in the scene, but “what’s in the next few seconds?”
    • If you understand the principles, the underlying conflicting emotions inside the central character, you can do anything on the page.
    • Highly emotional and emotionally gripping writing

HOW DO YOU WRITE EMOTIONALLY-GRIPPING STUFF?

  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • What in the world of my story makes me personally furious?  Why?
    • What is the greatest injustice that you know, and how on the page can you give that fury to your heroine?
    • What are two new probs your MC can face?  And what are two ways your character can NOT get it?
    • What are two things your MC wants?  What is the opposite?  Two times to reject it and then, when she gets what she wanted, REJECT it?
    • In what way is the antagonist right? In what ways is he most human in what ways?
    • What are things only your heroine notices what about your world?
    • What could she say that would be shocking to even herself?
  • Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions and implementing some of them will make your fiction great.

Click here for part I with The Donald.

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

Pointers from the Pros: Author Stephanie Feagan on Querying

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 spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes 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!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is author Stephanie Feagan’s advice when it comes to querying and revising.

THE QUERY ITSELF

  • Get feedback on it from writer friends.
  • It doesn’t matter if you win awards. It’s nice, but if the agent doesn’t think she can sell your book, then it having won an award isn’t going to change that.
  • She says to keep track of queries—who you’ve sent them to, what they’ve requested, responses, etc.
    • It’s normal to not hear back from just a query, but it NOT normal not to hear back with partials and fulls.

Nice, but not always necessary.

WHERE TO START WHEN QUERYING

  • Absolute Write Water Cooler
    • This is the first place she went [the forums].
    • It has agents listed, and people write down their experiences with them.
    • You can get a feel for how agents work.
  • AgentQuery
    • Agents have their own accounts and can sign in and update it [in terms of submission guidelines and genre preferences].
  • Agency Web sites
    • Usually, the most up-to-date info for submissions is listed there.
  • Verla Kay’s Blue Boards
    • This is like Absolute Write Water Cooler
  • Literary Rambles
    • [Casey McCormick spotlights agents by compiling interviews/profiles done with them from all over the Web.]
  • Publisher’s Marketplace
    • [Weekly listings of what agents have sold.]
    • [You must pay to use this site.]
  • QueryTracker
    • [A site where you can actually submit your query to an agent and track your experiences with requests/rejections.]
    • [Or, you can just go in there and read the comments of others who’ve done this, to get a feel for agents response times, likes/dislikes, etc.]
  • WeBook
    • [Works like QT:] Put in query letter, and it sends it to the agent you want it to.
    • They charge for it now.
  • AAR [Association of Authors’ Representatives]
    • It lists reputable agents and info about them.
    • [*However, it should be noted that just because an agent is NOT a member of AAR does NOT mean he or she is NOT reputable.]
    • It has a good list of questions to ask agents when you do get “the call,” [as well as many other helpful writer resources.]

DON’Ts

  • Don’t try the “throw-and-see-if-it-sticks approach” when querying.
    • [Where you query agents without researching them and make little changes to your MS, based on whatever feedback you can get your hands on.]
    • This  is desperate.
  • Don’t query multiple projects.
  • Don’t keep tweaking your manuscript.
    • If it’s ready to be out there, you should not keep revising.
    • Also, she says it’s much better just to scrap it rewrite the whole thing—that’s what she did.
      • This way, you don’t have to keep trying to shift around details to make it all “fit”—you’ve got a fresh palette.

Get a fresh start.

Want more? Here’s a post I did on How and Where to Find Literary Agents.

Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. I)

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 spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes 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!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say* about writing great fiction.

The Donald.

ON THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY: Is it a brave new world, or a lot like the past?

  • He says the industry hasn’t changed at all:

“The fundamental transaction (between the storyteller and the reader) is exactly the same.”

  • He points to the evidence that eBook bestsellers are the same as hard copy bestsellers—a direct correlation
  • He says there are some nuances, but, generally, it’s the same.

“Everything depends on great fiction.”

THREE THINGS THAT MAKE NOVELS GREAT

1. FEEDBACK

  • Most of his work is story development—working with authors to better their stories, create tension, etc.
  • In the “third draft stage,” you know your writing is good—you’re ready—you’re worthy—but you’re still getting rejections.
    • It’s the point at which you’ve learned everything you can from workshops, from crit partners
    • You need the last 10%—the stuff that agents and editors aren’t willing to share
      • What is it?
        • Craft and more craft—in particular, the pieces of the craft that you need
      • How do you get this?
        • Detailed, professional feedback—it’s worth paying for, if it’s good

2. CRAFT

  • Top authors in the field are very often students of the craft
    • Books 2,3, 4 make or break your career
    • Nora Roberts, for instance—160 books—and they’re all good!
    • He cites one author who runs a runs a book club, where the members read one book a month and then discuss how well the author handled one lens or aspect of the craft.  (These are all authors who have written 20—30 books, he says.)

3. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

  • He cites the example of 2010 RITA finalist Pamela Morsi’s Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
  • He says it’s emotionally gripping because Morsi brought herself into the story (she is from San Antonio—she knows the world intimately; she reinvented herself—as does her main character)

*More posts on The Donald at RWA to come–stay tuned!

RWA Freaking Rocked – Part 2

**DISCLAIMER:  There is an obnoxious amount of exclamation points in this post—but that is how RWA made me feel, so get over it.**

To see part 1 of my adventures at the Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando, click here.

FRIDAY

  • I woke with a shot of adrenaline. “OMG—You’re teaching today!” So, I went over my PowerPoint again, fixed my links (don’t ask), and set out toward my designated room.
  • When I got there, I realized I forgot the one thing they specifically told me I needed: a Mac LCD projector hookup thing-a-ma-jiggy.  Fear not—I had left it in my room—however, I had to sprint down the escalator (you never realize how slow those things really are until you’re in a hurry), across the ginormous lobby, back to my wing of the Dolphin, up to the fifth floor, and then back again.  In my adorable, but not-if-you-have-to-walk-in-them (and especially not-if-you-have-to-run-in-them) 3″ black heels.

So much fun!

  • I cursed myself as I threw my computer bag this way and that, in search of the stupid plug (“Great—now, you’re going to be late, sweaty, and out of breath for your session!”).
  • But all was well.  Just got some blisters, but that’s it.
  • And get this: People actually showed. A good amount of them—to see me!  Or to see my session!  Even though the Harlequin book signing (where NORA ROBERTS was signing), the Avon book signing (where MEG CABOT was AGAIN signing at a time I couldn’t see her—boo!), plus a ton of other fabulous sessions were going on at the same time!  (All grammar nerds, no doubt!)
  • And people wanted to hire me to edit their manuscripts!  (Not that I don’t already do this—I do!—but it was great that folks liked me and what I had to say enough to want to entrust their babies to my care.  That’s a huge deal!)

  • So, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening riding my session high—relieved things had gone well and ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.
  • We (Cambria, Kaylee, and I) went for sushi, and I had eel—unagi! Kaylee and I referenced the episode of Friends where Ross has “unagi,” and I fell in love just a little more with her.  😀  I ate California rolls (mmm!)  with roe (<—ew, but whatever).  I ate dragon rolls—with spicy tuna in them.  Translation: I really lived on the edge that night!

Pic #1

Pic #2

Pic #3

  • We took a hundred of pretty much the same three pictures (see above), in attempt to get the perfect one, and we ended up hanging out with Wendy Toliver again (yay!) and awesomesauce women’s fiction/nonfiction author Jenny Gardiner.  During said hang-out, I revealed my not so secret fangirl crush on Meg Cabot and how I was super excited for the next morning, when I could finally meet her at her “chat” session.
  • More pictures.  More fun!

SATURDAY

  • I danced out of bed (yeah, not really), so thrilled about my first chosen session of the day—the moment I’d been waiting for (well, other than my session) was about to commence: “Chat with Meg Cabot”!
  • I got to the room, and she was late . . . and I seriously thought to myself, God does not want me to see this woman for some reason.  Woe is me! But then, we found out she was just doing her make up outside the room, and she arrived shortly before a panic attack ensued.
  • She was fabulous.  I don’t know how she does what she does—I really don’t!  She basically talked and answered questions for an hour, and after that . . .
  • . . . I got her to sign my Princess Diaries!  And I took a picture with her!*

Chat with Meg Cabot!

Meg Cabot and ME!

  • I was dying.  And all my friends made fun of me (in a loving way, of course) the rest of the day.
  • Kaylee and I had a mound of fries for lunch and went to some fantastic sessions—I can’t wait to blog about them!—and publishers’ book signings (including one, where two agents, an editor, and an author simulated what happens in an acquisitions editorial meeting.  Very eye-opening!).
  • Exhausted, I thought I’d have a few hours before the 2011 RITA & Golden Hearts Awards Ceremony to pack up all my newly-acquired books, relax, and get ready.  This was not exactly to be*, but I did eventually get my books packed and shipped.
  • The RITA & Golden Hearts Awards Ceremony was inspirational. I teared up a lot of times, listening to the acceptance speeches, and it really made me feel like I was a part of something big. And important.  And, most of all?  It made me feel like this is really . . . possible.

TWITSOM & M.G. Braden

Cambria, Leia, Kaylee, and me

Us with Shawntelle Madison

  • Afterward, I hung out in the lobby, took a million more pictures, and said my goodbyes to all the amazing folks I’d met throughout that week.
  • And Cambria, Kaylee, and I made plans to room together next year. 🙂

*And then, some thing really sad happened, but that is for the next post.

RWA Freaking Rocked – Part 1

I have been on a blogging hiatus for the past week (I’m sorry!), but it’s because I traveled to Orlando, Fla., to speak at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.

I took 22 pages of typed notes (yes, I am a freak), so I will definitely be posting lots of installments of “Pointers from the Pros” (like, probably for the next six years!)—and I still have a few from the SWA conference to roll out as well!

It was an amazing five days, though.  Here is a rundown:

WEDNESDAY

  • I missed the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing (where about 3,600 attendees bought books and got them signed by 500 (yes, you read that right) authors—RWA raised $55,000 for ProLiteracy Worldwide, Orlando’s Adult Literacy League, and the Nashville Adult Literacy Council—all in two hours!) because I had made my travel plans too late in the day (a.k.a. *before* I knew MEG CABOT was going to be there!!!).
  • Thank God for Twitsoms (Twitter soulmates!!!), because mine (Cambria Dillon) not only bought Runaway for me, but she also waited in line and had Ms. Cabot herself sign it—and all before we’d even met IRL (in real life, for all your leet-speak impaired).

Here is my Twitsom (left) getting my book signed by Meg freaking Cabot (right). How lucky am I??

  • Okay, so after I threw my stuff into my room, I hightailed it to meet Cambria in person—pretty much immediately.  We went to dinner with three other super-cool chicas: paranormal romance writer Kaylee Ruddle, debut YA novelist Gwen Hayes (please check out her Web site—it’s beautiful!!), and the newly-agented and fully awesome Leia Rice.
  • Cambria and I classed it up with some Sam Adams, while everyone else drank pink champagne and other equally dainty drinks.  The five of us had a faboo dinner, complete with a free tiramisu and lemon shallot (<—is that that it was, ladies?  I’d never had it before), since there was “a problem” with my order (I believe the problem was that one of our THREE servers forgot to put it in . . . )
  • Then, we went off to karaoke, where I chickened out, like I knew I would.  Still a karaoke virgin.  But at least I got to meet YA author Wendy Toliver (with whom I’ve been exchanging e-mails for the past two years)!  She was awesome, and we all took some pics to commemorate the night.

Wendy & me!

From L-R: Kaylee Ruddle, Leia Rice, Cambria Dillon, me. This was before Kaylee & Leia's *awesome* rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'."

THURSDAY

  • We had a lovely lunch, where, gee—who was it again?  Oh, that’s right—NORA ROBERTS gave the keynote address!  One of the highlights of her speech?  When she said, “You know, people always like to tell me that I had it easier than they do today, because it’s so much harder to get published now.  You know what I say to them?  ‘Bullshit.'”
  • Ms. Roberts’s speech was quite quote-worthy that way, and had I not been scarfing down delicious key lime pie, I might have taken copious amounts of notes.  Alas, I opted for fat.  But I got chills several times, as she talked about her great love for all things RWA and how she met some of her very best, life-long writer friends there.  It made me get the warm fuzzies for my new BFFs, Cambria and Kaylee. 😀

Aw, TWITSOMS!

  • I went to the RWA PRO Retreat pretty much all afternoon, where there was not only an editor panel, an agent panel, and a talk by novelist Stephanie Feagan, but agent and author extraordinaire Donald Maass (or, as I like to call him: The Donald) spoke!  (More to come on all that in “Pointers from the Pros.”)
  • Between the afternoon workshops and dinner, I kind of freaked out for two reasons: 1) MEG CABOT was there—and I saw her in the lobby!!  And I was so afraid I wasn’t going to get to meet her, it was like torture!  2) As you can see, there were people like MEG CABOT and NORA ROBERTS and THE DONALD speaking at this conference . . . and then . . . ME!  So, the weight of just how awesome it was that somehow *I* was going to be speaking on Friday morning started inching up my esophagus, and I felt crazytown with excitement (and, also, nerves).
  • We (and by “we,” I mean Cambria, Kaylee, and I) kept it low key for dinner and ate with some other cool chickadees, including December Gephart and Bria Quinlan—where Bria, Kaylee, and I discussed everything from Buffy to Firefly.  True soul sisters!  Then, we met Romance Diva M.G. Braden for drinks before turning in pretty early.

I ❤ you guys!!!

More to come in Part 2!

RWA: I’ll Be There – Will You Be there?

When I taught broadcast journalism at the high school level, one of the areas I started with was commercials & public service announcements—they were short, they were easy and the kids liked them.

At the first high school where I did this, we actually did the announcements live every morning (Why, yes, it was always a disaster. Thank you for asking!), and at the second school where I did this, we had a radio station where we’d tape radio shows and play them on an actual FM station that broadcast over the Atlanta airwaves (a very small portion of them, anyway).

Because the primary function of our broadcasts at both schools was to relay school-related news, most of the commercials and PSAs the kids wrote had to do with school-related functions (i.e., the homecoming football game, the science club’s bake sale, etc.).

And, without fail, students gravitated toward these kinds of phrases at the ends of their spots: “Will you be there?”  “See you there!” “I’ll be there—will you be there?” “Everyone is going to be there!”  “Be there!”

You get it.

I teased my last group of kiddies so much about this, I still get the occasional “I’ll be there—will you be there?” e-mail. In fact, I’ll probably never hear any variation of the aforementioned phrase without thinking back to G period.  Truly.  And I doubt they will either. 🙂

With that phrase in mind, who’s going to RWA Nationals?  I’ve never been to it, but I’m going this year.*

I’ve heard so many wonderful things from a slew of folks, and I know this is a pretty huge conference—so I’m wondering how many of my readers, Twitter friends and other writerly acquaintances are going to be traveling to Orlando at the end of this month.

Are you?  Let me know!  I would love to meet as many of you as possible!

I’ll be there—will you be there??

*Not only is this my first year at the conference, but I’ll also be teaching a course.  Click here for more details.