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Navigating Publishing: How To Handle A Request For Materials

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 18 February 2019 · 47 views

 

 

Up to this time in the series we’ve talked about polishing your manuscript and following the guidelines for querying. Now we are up to that exciting point where we need to discuss requests. This can be a thrilling moment when you go from being in the slush pile to sending an agent either a partial or full manuscript. It is a time to celebrate, but to also keep your head on straight because there are still rules to follow.

First, always read the request thoroughly. Make sure you follow the agent’s directive as to what they want to see. If they tell you they want a synopsis and the first 50 pages all included in the body of an email, you follow that directive. If they want the full manuscript as an attachment, then you adhere to that request.

Most importantly, make sure you’re answering any call for a request within the same email chain as the query unless directed by the agent to do so otherwise. This helps to alert the agent to the original query, but it also reminds them as to what they’ve requested. Some agents get up to 100 query emails a day. You want to make sure yours stands out within their inbox. Some writers change the subject line in the email to REQUESTED MATERIALS. This is okay as long as the thread still contains the original query, as well as the agent’s follow-up request.

What if the request came from an online contest such as #PitMad or one of the other various pitch contests? Let me reiterate what I’ve said in previous posts: do your research. Anyone can request from these contests. You need to make sure you’re sending your materials to either agents or publishers who are legitimate.

NOTE: Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a publisher or agent. Please, before you respond to any request, make sure you’re vetting the person and their agency and/or business. Here are two great articles by literary agent Jennifer Laughran about how to avoid problematic agents or publishers:

“Rock Star” Agents and more about Schmagents

Agent Ethics: Schmagents and Pre-Shopping

Once you have followed the agent’s request, your job is to wait. Some agents can read quickly and give you a response. Others may take a while longer. Again, be sure to read the agency guidelines as to response times on requested materials.

There is some discussion within the writing community as to when to send a nudge if you haven’t heard back within a certain timeframe. Answers vary on this one, but the common rule is only nudge after 90 days on a full request. If you feel like you need to follow-up after this time period has passed, be sure your email is professional and polite. Again, it should be within the same email chain as the original request and should be short and simple…

 

Dear Agent,

I’m following up on my manuscript (insert TITLE), which you requested on DATE. Can you please confirm that you’ve received it and when I should expect a response? Thank you for your time. 

 

Literary agent Janet Reid wrote a great blog post called, “Nudging Timeline” about this exact topic.

A request is just the next step in the querying process. It can feel daunting and overwhelming, but keep in mind that you are making PROGRESS. A request from an agent for a partial or full manuscript means your query and/or submission pages did their job. All you can do now is wait and see how the agent responds to the remainder of your work.

A request does not mean your job stops. You still need to have forward momentum. This means you continue to query and write your next book. It’s all about forging ahead in this business. If querying this book does not result in signing with an agent, the next book you write may just be the lucky one!

 

Up next: EXCITEMENT! How to handle “The Call” from a literary agent. 

 



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First Five Frenzy with Whitney Ross of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 16 February 2019 · 49 views

 

 

Writing the opening chapter of a book can be a struggle, especially penning those critical first pages. There are always questions about where to start, what you should include to have the most impact, and more importantly, how to get the reader to turn the page.

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first few pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

Today, I’m proud to share Whitney Ross’s perspective on what’s important in those first five pages.

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

Whitney: Honestly? It’s important! But just as important is that first paragraph and page. That’s your 30-second elevator pitch, your opportunity to draw in your reader, whether an editor or agent. If you don’t catch them then, they’ll either wait quite a while to come back to it, or not feel the need to at all. I know I want to represent someone when I start reading and just can’t stop! But, that’s not to say your book has to be perfect. I’m always willing to put the editorial work in when there’s solid writing, a great concept, and a willing author.

 

Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

Whitney: Oof, all of the above! Moments like dreams, breakfast, riding in a car…those tend to all be vehicles (pun intended!) for info dumps about the character’s past, experiences, or even just musings. None of these will give you that hook to draw the reader in. In most cases, for a commercial book, you want to start in media res, with an inciting incident. What kicks off the story and gives you your tale that must be told? Get to that moment as quick as possible, and share the necessary information organically, through action. Not through the thoughts or musings or remember-ings of the character.

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

Whitney: It’s a combination of factors! A well-written and well-structured query that followed the agency guidelines, for one. Following the query structure and agency guidelines shows that you are intentional about your query, thoughtful, and professional. In those first pages, I look for solid writing, an intriguing and unusual concept, and that ability to “hook” discussed above. Which also takes time, thoughtfulness, and practice! Those three qualities again demonstrate that commitment and professionalism you want in an author. Not someone who is just sending something out there on the off-chance that it works, but someone who is committed to writing as a career and puts the necessary time in.

 

Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

Whitney: All three! Sometimes by the first line or two I’m already thinking, “oooo this is good.” Sometimes it’s the full first page. But always, it’s that need to keep on reading and drive to find out more.

 

Amy: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give writers about their opening pages?

Whitney: Put the time in! It’s like a university paper, sometimes you have to write the whole thing before coming back and writing that opening thesis. You might need to finish the book before finalizing your opening scene. And finding out where to start is just as important as how you start. Often writers have a fantastic concept but are starting their story in the wrong place, or they are starting in the right place but with the wrong line. Getting that right just takes time, studying successful beginning lines in other novels, and figuring out your own novel’s “hook.”

 

Whitney Ross is an agent at Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Before joining IGLA, she worked as an editor at Macmillan for nearly a decade. Whitney represents middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction across all genres, with an emphasis on historical, SF & fantasy, romance, and contemporary fiction. She is also open to non-fiction submissions in the areas of design, cooking, and fashion. In her spare time, she enjoys competitive sports such as skiing and shopping, and tasting wines with her winemaker husband.

If you’re interested in submitting to Whitney, please follow her submission guidelines on the Irene Goodman Literary Agency website.

 

 



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FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Ann Rose of The Prospect Agency

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 01 February 2019 · 11 views

 

 

Writing the opening chapter of a book can be a struggle, especially penning those critical first pages. There are always questions about where to start, what you should include to have the most impact, and more importantly, how to get the reader to turn the page.

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first few pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

Today, I’m proud to share Ann Rose’s perspective on what’s important in those first five pages.

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

Ann: First lines are a great way to set the mood and tone for a book, and they are important, but it isn’t make it or break it. While an amazing first line can be used as a solid hook—as long as it’s well written and makes the reader want to read the next line, it’s done its job. Don’t stress out on trying to make the best first line ever, just try to make it as best as you can for the story you are writing.

 

Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

Ann: WAKING UP!! Okay, sorry I yelled that, but it is probably my biggest pet peeve, and even though I clearly say I’m not interested in these types of openings, I get them at least one in every ten submission. Which, in my opinion, is a lot for something I’m pretty clear on, so I can only imagine how much more often agents who don’t make this statement get this opening.

I also very often see the weather described in the opening line. Which can make for some lovely prose, but isn’t always super grabbing.

While openings should give us a glimpse of the normal world for the character, if it is too normal it isn’t interesting. Everyone wakes up every single day. (At least they hope to.) So, this isn’t a compelling opening. Give your character agency, something they want to achieve. Starting with action doesn’t mean a sword fight or a car chase, it is just a goal that the character can strive for that helps drive the reader forward.

For example: I recently read a story that opened with the MC being so bored at their desk at work they wanted to take a nap. Now, this IS a goal, but it isn’t a compelling goal. I’m not sure if anyone would care if this bored employee got to sleep or not. Now if we wanted to keep her opening at work—her goal could be that she has to alphabetize a stack of files before a meeting that starts in ten minutes that would determine if she gets a promotion (or if she fails, she could lose her job) and someone just turned a fan on and blew all the files all over the floor. While this is still a mundane opening, we’ve given her a goal and stakes right off the bat.

I hope this helps.

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

Ann: For me, it could be a couple of things.

Voice is always important. Whether you have a likeable or unlikeable character if I can hear them telling their story I’m always pushed to read a little more and a then little more.

Concept. If the concept is super compelling, I usually want to take a deeper look even if it doesn’t necessarily start in the right place. There are certain stories that the world needs, so if I think this could be one of those, I always like to give it an extra chance.

Pure desire. If the sample makes me WANT to read more I’ll ask to see more.

 

Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

Ann: All of the above.

But if I had to put them in order of importance it would be 1) Voice 2) Concept 3) Pacing. Pacing can be fixed; voice and concept are usually harder to dig into if one of them are off.

 

Amy: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give writers about their opening pages?

Ann: Don’t be so married to your opening that you aren’t willing to let it go. So many times, I see books that just don’t start in the right place. Probably because the author feels it’s information we NEED to know before we start, but in reality, it’s better to trust the reader and weave in the essential backstory later. Be open to try something new. Nothing says you can’t go back to the original opening if it doesn’t work—but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Have people you don’t know check out your opening and see if they would want to read more. A great resource IMO is Agent Query Connect. It allows you to post the first 250 words of an MS and other uses give you feedback on it. (Of course, you have to critique others if you want a critique—but seeing what everyone else is working on and how they are doing it is a great insight into what agents also see.) There is also a forum for query letters and synopsis on that site as well. With any critique you have to pick and choose what works for you, but if you are getting consistently the same feedback it might be time to listen, and make changes.

I’d also say that common openings can work from time to time. (And people will use this as an argument as to why they are using one.) There ARE exceptions to every rule, but my advice is—don’t think YOU are that exception.

Happy writing.

 

Ann Rose is one of Prospect Agency’s newest agent, but she isn’t new to publishing. Over the last few years she has been exploring this field by working and mentoring with literary agents in various capacities. Everything she has experienced from editorial work to the magic of finding the perfect match between author and editor has hardened her resolve to join this wonderful profession. Now she’s thrilled to be building her own list and is actively seeking clients ready to grow amazing careers with her. Ann’s perfect manuscript is a character driven story that isn’t afraid to push boundaries. She loves an unlikeable character — even though she is incredibly likeable herself. Ann is also the author of Road to Eugenica (Entangled Teen, 2018) and Breakout (coming 2019 from Entangled Teen) and writes under the pen name, A.M. Rose.

If you’d like to query Ann, please follow her submission guidelines which can be found on The Prospect Agency website.

 



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NAVIGATING PUBLISHING: Working With A Small Press

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 28 January 2019 · 10 views

 

 

In my last post I said I was going to speak to another topic today, but I’m changing things up because I want to discuss an important issue regarding small presses.

Recently online there’s been shade thrown at people who don’t have agents and work with small presses. While it’s true that not all small presses are created equal, there are certain ones like Flux who are top-notch. Now, I can only speak to my own experience, but I do want to share how this all works in hopes of dispeling some rumors and untruths about small presses.

If you’re not familiar, let me recap my journey for you. I’ve been writing for almost ten years. I queried two books before landing an agent with my third. That book was NOTHING BUT SKY (NBS). I was on sub with it for almost eighteen months. I parted amicably with my agent a little while later. After some encouragement from writer friends and an editor, I revised my book again and then subbed it to small presses who took unagented submissions. A few months later NBS sold to Flux.

RESEARCH

First and foremost, I want to say that before submitting your work ANYWHERE you should do your research. The responsibility is on your shoulders to seek all the information necessary on the company who wants to purchase your work. If you submit to a small press, or one expresses interest in your work, it is on YOU to do some digging regarding: Editorial, Distribution, Advance/Contract, and Marketing/Promotion.

It is also CRITICAL, and please DO NOT SKIP this step, that you talk to multiple authors who have been published with that press. Often times this is the best way to get first-hand information that is not available online.

ONE IMPORTANT WORD OF NOTE: A legitimate small press is a traditional publisher who pays you. You DO NOT PAY THEM to be published. This is called a vanity press and it is a totally different type of publishing.

EDITORIAL 

When I first got my offer from Flux, one of my biggest concerns was the editorial/production schedule. Would I be given enough time to process my editorial letter? Would they give me a schedule that allowed me to make the changes needed? As a writer, you need to understand how quickly you will be expected to turn your edits around.

With both my books, Flux clearly outlined a schedule. My edits came in on the exact date promised. When I was told a cover design would arrive within a certain timeframe, it showed up. If I had questions or concerns about my cover, I was allowed to share my input. I was also very lucky to be part of the discussion about promotion, and I was encouraged to offer up suggestions and requests about certain conferences as well as other opportunities.

DISTRIBUTION

How will readers find and purchase your book? This should be at the top of your list of questions. NBS is available both online (Amazon, IndieBound, Indigo) and in brick-and-mortar stores like indies and Barnes and Noble. Online distribution is also available through bigger chains like Walmart and Target. Ask the small press how their system works.

In addition, you need to inquire about formats. My books are only available in paperback upon their release (not hardcover). An e-book version is also available. Keep in mind that some small presses are digital-only. This means only an e-book version can be purchased. Some small presses only provide physical copies as print-on-demand. Be sure you’re clear about what the press will make available to readers.

ADVANCE/CONTRACT

A small press is NOT a multi-million dollar publishing house. This means sometimes there is no advance or a small advance. The converse to this reality is that if you sell a decent amount of books, you’ll be making money sooner. No matter the size of the press though, the contract must be standard terms but also have room for negotiation. If you don’t have an agent, you need a lawyer to look at the contract. Let me say that again, if you DO NOT HAVE AN AGENT, you must have a lawyer look at the contract before you sign it.

MARKETING/PROMOTION/PUBLIC PERCEPTION

It is true, being with a small press is not like being published with a “Big 5”. There are some ramifications to it. Marketing/Promotion budgets are not large. At conferences and signings, my lines are a little shorter. This is because a smaller press usually doesn’t have the big money to create a huge marketing splash. It also means that it takes more work on my part to reach readers.

With marketing and promotion you need to ask in-depth questions. Some presses will spend ZERO dollars on marketing for you. Others will give you a few hundred dollars and expect you to use that to promote your book on you own. I understand it’s difficult to talk about money and expectations, but this is your work. It’s your job to understand how it will be promoted.

One last thing because I try to be transparent about my journey. This may not happen to everyone, but I would say in my own experience be prepared for some pushback. There are individuals out there who may snub you because you are not published with a big house. There are also a few book festivals who will not consider you if you are with a small press. I’ve had both situations happen to me. At times it gets me down, but I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I’m incredibly grateful that Flux continues to believe in my books about driven, relentless girls.

RECAP

Yes, I know I keep saying it, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! Only you know what is the best fit for your own publishing path. Be aware of your options. All of the things I’ve shared in this post I knew about going into my partnership with Flux. There were no “gotchas” or “I wish I’d thought this over more” moments. I researched the company. Talked at length with editors. Had long discussions with authors who were already published with them. I went into my contract with my eyes wide open. My advice is that you do the exact same thing.

Do you have questions about working with a small press? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will do my best to thoroughly answer them. In regards to questions regarding contracts and literary attorneys, check with your local associations such as SCBWI or RWA.

 



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NAVIGATING PUBLISHING – 3 Mistakes I Made in Querying My First Book

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 21 January 2019 · 8 views

This series is going to be no-holds-barred. I’m pretty much going to tell you all the mistakes I made as an early writer so that you can avoid them.

Last week I talked about newbie issues I think most writers have. Understanding word count, manuscript formatting, etc. This week I want to share the three biggest mistakes I made when I started querying my first manuscript.

For reference sake, let me go back in time. I started querying almost ten years ago with what I’d like to call a mash-up of a speculative/sci-fi book. LOL! First lesson: learn what genre you are writing in and stick to it! Agents want to know where your novel would be placed on the shelves at a bookstore.

Anyway, I had this book I loved but it was FILLED with all the new writer mistakes. It started with a dream. My main character looked in a mirror to describe herself. Then she was off to her first day of school. It was a virtual textbook of what NOT to do in the opening of a book. Now, let me just say here that many writers have started their books with eating breakfast or a first day of school, but they handled it in an original way. My way was not original at all.

Looking back now that book was problematic from the beginning. I didn’t know that because I didn’t understand writing craft or publishing. Truth was I was winging it. That’s okay when you’re starting out. The goal is to get the words on the page. Get to the place where you can write “The End”. That alone is an incredible accomplishment. What you do afterwards though, will determine if that book goes anywhere.

Remember what I said in the prior post? Yes, you must become a student of publishing. You need to understand what the next steps should be BEFORE you query that manuscript.

1.Don’t send out without having other people read. Meet/reach out to beta readers or critique partners (CPs)

While I’d love to say that once you finish your first book it’s ready to query, often this not the case. The best plan of attack is to get other eyes on your work. Not Mom, Dad, sister, or best friend. This means finding fellow writers who understand writing craft and publishing.

Quick definition for those who don’t know:

Beta Readers – People who will read your manuscript and give you general notes on content, plot, characters. Their critique will be more of a summary of what works and what does not work in your book.

Critique Partners (CPs) – These are writers who walk through most of the process with you. The trusted friends who talk through plot and character as you write. Sometimes you will swap chapters. Other times you will provide the full manuscript. They will give you more detailed notes and most likely, if you agree on it, share inline feedback within chapters.

If you are new to writing, you might ask how to find beta readers or CPs? When I started out I followed writers on Twitter who wrote in a similar category and genre. If I felt like we had similar styles, I would contact them and ask if they wanted to swap one chapter to see if our critiquing styles were compatible. I also became involved in an online forum called, AGENTQUERY CONNECT which has threads for posting queries. One other opportunity that is coming up if you write Middle Grade or Young Adult is WriteOnCon. It is an online conference for kid lit writers which is a great place to connect with potential beta readers and CPs.

2. Your Query and its Structure

My first query was a rambling mess. I mentioned too many characters and almost nothing about conflict and stakes. Have someone not familiar with your story read your query. If they understand it and want to read more, you have a winner. If the reader is confused, or has too many questions, then you need to rework it. Their response will most likely be the same reaction you’d get from an agent.

As for structure, I like the idea of HOOK, BOOK, COOK.

Hook – Your opening line that captures the main story idea. Think short elevator pitch. Example:

Winning will make you famous. 
Losing means certain death.

This is from the blurb for the HUNGER GAMES. Short. Sweet. Most important: it makes you want to read more.

Book – This is one to two paragraphs that explains your book. Main goal here is to illustrate the conflict and stakes. What your character is willing to risk in order to achieve their goal. Your sinker (the final line) should be a cliffhanger that makes the agent want to read more. You do not include info about the ending in your query. Endings are only revealed in a synopsis (we will talk more about the synopsis structure in a later post).

Cook – That is you. Include relevant reasons why you are qualified to write this book. Any writing credits. Make it short and simple. If you don’t have any credits, simply state who you are and what you do for a living.

Example: In my first query I wrote a long diatribe about how I wanted to be a writer since I was young. Where I got the idea for my book. Don’t do this. Instead, be brief. In later queries, I wrote that I graduated from college with a degree in journalism and that I’d been working in marketing and advertising for the last several years.

Many people agonize over the bio part of their query. Don’t. Most agents know that debut writers will not have any past writing credits to their name.

3. Research/Sending in Batches

When it came time to send out my first queries via email, I made two big mistakes. First, I did not do enough research on which agents represented my category and genre. I also sent my query out in huge batches.

First thing to remember about querying: it takes time and A LOT of work. Get used to that idea now. Before you even start to create that first email, you need to do your research first.

Research includes finding those literary agents who represent your category and genre. Next, you need to check out their individual submission pages on their agency website. This will detail how they want to receive queries. Some want you to send to their query email. Others may want you to use an online form. Some agents just want your query. Some want query and first ten pages. Some want query, first ten pages, and a synopsis. BEST AND MOST IMPORTANT RULE: Follow the agent’s specific guidelines. The quickest and easiest way to get rejected is to NOT follow the rules.

This is my own personal opinion, and many may disagree, but I think the best plan is to send your queries out in batches of five. My reason for this is simple: if you get a request then you know your query, and or pages, are working. But, if you receive all rejections, then you know something is amiss. At this point, you’ve only closed the door on five agents. You can go back, work with CPs or betas, revise, and then send five more. You can repeat this process until you’re getting a high request rate. This confirms your query and pages are working.

Having been through the process many times, I know how daunting, and defeating, querying can be. Take your time. Reach out to those who can help. Ask questions. You only get that one chance to make an impression with an agent for that book. Hopefully in learning from my mistakes, you will get nothing but requests!

Have specific questions about what I’ve shared here? Other questions about querying? Please feel free to ask any and all questions in the comments!

Next up in the series: How to Approach a Request for Materials!




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Navigating Publishing – A New 2019 Series

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 14 January 2019 · 7 views

When January 1 rolls around I always reflect on what I’ve learned in the past year. Many times I tend to focus on the places where I’ve made missteps or perhaps not taken the best path.

This past year was rife with some of those moments because I was a debut author. Now, honestly, I can confess something here – at the beginning of 2018 I thought I had this whole debut author thing totally under control. A major portion of that was because I’d worked in PR and marketing for ten years, and I’d convinced myself that my skill set would certainly make my debut year a success. Hahaha. I was totally fooling myself. NO ONE can prepare you for the struggles that come with being a debut. That is the honest truth.

With that experience now over, I thought I’d begin a new series this year that spotlights my ups and downs in publishing. This is a chance for me to share my mistakes so that you, dear writing friend, can hopefully avoid them.

First I can’t say this enough, and it will probably come up a lot, but I firmly believe that if you want to be a writer then you need to become a student of publishing. What does that mean? It means you must consider the world of publishing like a university. You start at writing 101 and work your way up the chain eventually teaching yourself about submission, contracts, marketing, swag, foreign rights and advances/royalties. If it touches your writing career in any way, you should learn it.

The first step in becoming a student of publishing is to think about your manuscript. Whether you are still working on Chapter One, or polishing that final draft, here are three things I wished I’d considered and/or known before sending out the early round of queries for my first book a long time ago.

1. Voice

To many writers this concept is elusive. What does “voice” mean exactly? I believe if you ask any writer you will probably get a different definition, but for me this is the attitude of the character.

Are they sweet? Shy? Angry? Vulnerable? This all comes out in dialogue and in the way they approach other characters and situations. Voice is especially important in Young Adult (YA) and Middle Grade (MG) novels. Both are very distinct. In order to be successful in these categories, you must understand “voice” first. How do you do this? READ.

If you’ve got a contemporary MG book idea, go the bookstore or library and pick specific titles that will give you a sense of the character’s struggles and motivations. In MG the conflicts are mostly centered on family and friends. The tone and approach is very specific. By reading widely within this category and its genres, you will get a feel for what makes an MG voice sing.

Same advice goes for YA. If you want to write a mystery, pick up titles and become a student of the genre. This is not about throwing in what you think is “typical” slang or dramatic situations and believing you are capturing the right YA feel. Every voice will be different, but the struggles, conflicts, and need for the character to step outside the circle of family and become their own person is very clear.

2. Word count

In the contests I’ve hosted over the last five years one of the first things I look at in an entry after concept is word count. Many times I’ve loved an entry but had to pass because the word count was either very low or very high. In fact, there was a thread on social media the other day with agents urging writers to educate themselves about word count in their category and genre before querying.

Before you start writing that MG Fantasy or YA Horror novel, be sure you understand what is normal word count for that category and genre. A little tick above or below what is considered “standard” is okay. But if your MG is only 15,000 words (too low) or your YA is 200,000 words (too high), you need to go back and look where you can add or trim, respectively.

Here are some great resources to check out regarding word count:

Word Count Dracula by Literary Agent Jennifer Laughran

Word Count Guide – Writer’s Digest

3. Manuscript format

Remember before how I talked about making mistakes? Well, here is a doozy of a story.

On the very first book I wrote, I sent it off to a freelance editor for feedback. The email was not in his hands more than a few hours when he sent back a note. He told me he could not edit my book because it was not formatted correctly. Yep. I sent the book out single spaced in a weird font with incorrect margins. This was my first lesson in humility in publishing. I’m glad it happened though because I will always remember how to format a book now. As a new writer you will make mistakes, but these missteps are important because they help you learn.

If you have not done so already, go back to your manuscript and do the following:

Margins: 1″ all sides

Font: Times New Roman (Black)

Font Size: 12 pt.

Double space – entire text

One space after periods.

First page should be title page. Include at bottom left your contact information (address, phone, email, and social media links). This page should not be marked as page one. The first page of your manuscript should be page one.

Header or Footer on each page: Name/ Title (ALL CAPS)/ page number. I prefer to put this info as a footer, but you should place it where you are comfortable.

Start every new chapter on its own page. At the end of each chapter you should hit COMMAND+RETURN (MAC) or CONTROL+ENTER (PC).

Begin body of chapter 4-6 lines below chapter title.

Indent five spaces for each new paragraph

*** or # – most commonly used for scene breaks

This article from the WriteLife.com does a nice job of outlining how your book should be formatted.

Are you new to writing? Do you have questions about researching agents, querying, or the submission process? If so, I hope you will follow this new series and leave questions in the comments. I’m more than happy to share where I went astray so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Next in the series: 3 Mistakes I Made in Querying My First Book




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My Jekyll and Hyde Relationship With Social Media

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 10 January 2019 · 10 views

Over the holidays I took my usual break from social media. I deleted Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram from my phone in the hopes of being able to step away from it all for a few weeks.

It went great (for about two days) and then I found myself wanting to sneak onto Twitter. Take a peek at Facebook. And, I will confess, I did end up posting a few times on Instagram while I was supposed to be on a “break”.

Here is what I discovered on those few weeks off: after being a debut author, where your entire existence becomes about promoting your book, it is VERY HARD to stay away from all forms of social media.

Social media to many writers is an ingrained, psychological trigger. It’s almost like muscle memory in a sense. You start your day, open your computer, but instead of writing you log onto social media. You tell yourself you’ll just check your notifications and then you’ll get to writing. And then, an hour later, you realize you’re still scrolling through your feeds.

Social media has its purpose, especially for writers. It allows us to promote our books, connect with our community, and keep up-to-date on what’s going on in the world of publishing. In its most base form it is helpful.

If you look at it primarily as a promotional tool, social media is great. In just a few seconds you can spread the word about a new book deal or a cover reveal. You can shout from the rooftops about a little orange banner you get for being a bestseller, or a starred review. A lot of times those pieces of news can turn into sales which is wonderful. In this case, social media is serving its purpose.

For me where the downward spiral kicks in is the other 360 days when I don’t have something incredible to promote. Then, social media becomes a hazard.

I have, and will continue to be, a proponent of the “keep your eyes on your own paper” attitude in publishing. But, I’m human, and it is hard not to compare your writing journey to others. This is where social media becomes a problem for me. More and more lately, I feel my stomach twisting into knots as I scroll. While I’m incredibly happy for those friends who continue to write amazing books (and sell those books), I find that I criticize myself for not writing faster, better. For not being more intuitive about how I use my platform, including this blog.

Let me tell you, and I think you probably already know, this is NOT HEALTHY. Stress really kicked my butt in 2018, and I know much of that came from social media.

Now, to be fair, I joined Twitter in 2012 and it has become a very DIFFERENT place since then. When I first logged on, it was essentially a warm and fuzzy place to meet writers and share our experiences. It is now, and I’m not going to mince words here, a cesspool of degradation and hate that is tempered on rare occasions with glimmers of light. Exposure to that environment on a regular basis is destructive to the creative soul .

Over the last year or two, social media has become a lot like a Jekyll and Hyde relationship for me. On a good day it brings me joy. On a bad day it makes me weep. Deriving my emotional state from this constant influx of good and bad is not right, and I’m trying this year to put social media into a better perspective.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve lost sight of social media’s purpose. It DOES NOT need to be a writer’s life blood. It SHOULD NOT be a reflection of how valued we are in the community. Again, like I said above, it needs to be seen as only a tool. A way to connect with other writers. To spread the word about our work.

My pledge for 2019 is to focus on my future. To write two new books this year. I’m limiting myself to checking social media twice a day. Once in the morning. Once at night. Now, I have a book coming out at the end of the year. I realize I will have to make adjustments based on this case, but I’m going to try very hard in the quieter times to make this pledge stick . So, if you see me online too much remind me to get back to writing! 🙂

My hope by making this commitment is that it will free me up psychologically and creatively. Allow me to take a deep breath and not worry constantly about whether I’m letting my publisher or myself down by not constantly being “on brand” and online.

I’d love to hear from other authors on this subject. Have you discovered that social media has changed in the last several years? Are you making any plans to curb your usage in 2019? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments.



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2018: The Whirlwind Year of Being A Debut Author

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 17 December 2018 · 8 views

One last post before 2018 comes to an end. I used “whirlwind” in the heading as that is the only word I think comes close to describing what this year has been like for me.

There have been many things to celebrate this year, and a few things that kind of wrecked me. I learned a lot about the difficult world of publishing, met some amazing writers in real life, and taught myself that even in the darkest periods I can still find my creative mojo if I search very hard. 

It’s been my dream since I was in elementary school to be a writer. It wasn’t until many, many years later I was brave enough to sit in a chair and put a story on the page. It took me almost seven years from the moment I wrote my first book to when I signed a publishing contract. While the process was frustrating, upsetting, and always daunting, I wouldn’t trade those years of hard work (and the many manuscripts that were shelved) for what I’ve learned along the way.

Here is the truth: Publishing is a long and arduous road. It is only the very few unicorns that make it out of the gate on the first try. Who write a book, get an agent, and then sell that same book. For the majority of us, it takes years of trying (and failing) before we hit on that one idea that takes root. I’m not sharing this to scare new writers, but to lay the groundwork for what will become your reality.  Don’t be afraid. Don’t give up. There are authors who had books on submission for years that never sold, but the next book they wrote was picked up and received many accolades. Other writers sold their first book, but their sales were dismal. It wasn’t until their third or fourth book that they found their readers.

Being a debut author is both an exciting and challenging role. At first there is the anticipation of having your book out in the world. If you’re like me, you work your tail off to try and reach as many promotional outlets as possible. Some will work with you. Some will blow you off. It is OKAY. It is how this business works. All you can do is put in the work and hope for the best.

Next is the terrifying aspect of reviews. Again, another hard truth. Some people will love your book. Others will compare it to a bestseller and say it’s nothing like it (even when the only real connection is that they are both in the same genre). Say it with me: REVIEWS ARE FOR READERS, NOT AUTHORS. Took me a while to understand this, but now I know it to be very true. 

Once your book is out in the world, you start this dreaded thing called “The Comparison”. You see other debuts, and you can’t help but wonder about the number of people reviewing it, loving it, shouting about it from the rooftops. This is totally normal. What I learned from my own experience is that it is very easy to get caught up in this cycle and lose the joy that comes from your own accomplishment. If you must, step away from the internet for a brief time. Go to lunch with friends. Take a walk. Write your next book. Honestly, taking the time away does give you perspective. 

On to conferences. I’ll admit this was a big goal for me. I was excited to get out and meet librarians, booksellers, and readers and talk to them about NOTHING BUT SKY. I wish someone had warned me that this too comes with ups and downs.

The best part about conferences? Chatting with other authors. Meeting the people from your publishing house. Taking pictures and posting all your debut friends’ books on display. The worst part? The signings. Truth be told if you’re a debut, and there’s not huge promotional buzz behind your book, your line can be small. I was set up in a corral next to a YA bestseller. Her line was wrapped around and around for as far as the eye could see. Me? Not so much. It would have been easy to feel embarrassed (and I was for a moment), but then I remembered that I earned my spot next to her. I’d written the book of my heart, and I was going to spread the love to every single person in my line even if it was much smaller.

The last  part of the year comes down to one thing people had warned me about – awards and lists.  This is a hard one. There is a sense in the publishing world, especially Young Adult which is so competitive, that if you don’t make a list your book wasn’t good. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Think about all the books in your category/genre that were published this year. Then, think about how many spots are available on those lists. There is no way every book can be recognized. Yes, it hurts not to be included, but again you can’t lose sight of what you’ve accomplished. There is a book out in the world with your name on the cover. That is a HUGE, FREAKING deal. Please NEVER forget that important fact.

So yes, this year has been a whirlwind. It’s been a tornadic cycle of both highs and lows, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. My eyes have been open to the realities of publishing, but it’s also taught me to be grateful for what I’ve accomplished, and what’s waiting for me on the road ahead.

Without this year, I would not have forged bonds with writers I’ve come to admire and love. I would not have been able to talk to students, readers, librarians, book clubs – all experiences which have enriched my life. But most of all, this year taught me how much I love writing. How all the worries, triumphs, travails, missteps, disappointments, and accomplishments, pushed me to write another book. It taught me how much I love my job. To have people escape, if only for a few minutes, into a world I created is a blessing and a gift. A gift that I’ve come to appreciate in both the worst and best of times. 

One last note: If you’ve read NOTHING BUT SKY, talked about it, sent me a note, or just posted a shout-out of love on social media this year, THANK YOU! It has meant the world to me. In late 2019, I’m excited to share ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE with you all. If you loved Grace’s tenacity, you will adore Willa’s bravery. 

Many thanks again for your support this year and see you in 2019! <3



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FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Jennifer Grimaldi of Chalberg & Sussman Literary

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 30 November 2018 · 70 views

 

 

Writing the opening chapter of a book can be a struggle, especially penning those critical first pages. There are always questions about where to start, what you should include to have the most impact, and more importantly, how to get the reader to turn the page.

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first few pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.

Today, I’m proud to share Jennifer Grimaldi’s perspective on what’s important in those first five pages.

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

Jennifer: An author’s real first line to an agent is their query: that’s what I read before anything else. However, not every good writer knows how to sum up their title in a few measly paragraphs, so I try not to hold it against them. I always request that queries include the first 5 pages of their actual manuscript so I can get an early sense of how the novel is written.

So, by the time I’ve gotten to that first line, I’ve already made some kind of quick, snap second decision. If I’m interested and the first line reads well, I’m almost always going to clear some time to read the rest of the query and possibly make a request for more pages. On the flip side, if I’m not already hooked in and the first line is poorly written or uninspired, I’m way more likely to mentally move on.

 

Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?

Jennifer: All of the above! Your opening should be structured like you’re relating a story to a friend: If you wanted to tell them about that time you got abducted by aliens, would you walk them through bickering with your little brother first? A lot of writers feel like they have to set status quo and stakes for relationships, but readers want to jump right into the action. I don’t recommend that every novel start in media res, but if I haven’t been given a reason to keep turning the pages within the first scene, you won’t be holding my—or other reader—attention for long.

 

Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

Jennifer: I request more pages when I want to keep reading: This means the characters were dynamic, the setting was interesting, or the concept was unique. Hopefully all three! Of course, writing is a factor, too. But I’m an editorial agent—I like to get my hands dirty. So an exciting concept that needs some editing will always win out for me over excellent writing in service of a concept I don’t care about. I’m a big nerd, so I like to work with books I can get excited about. I love to champion the novels and authors I work with, so it’s always a good sign to me when I can’t stop talking about a manuscript I’ve just read to all and sundry; if I’m starting to pitch to the people around me, I know that I’m eager to take it into the publishing world at large.

 

Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

Jennifer: Certainly all three of those come into play. I don’t think it makes sense to prioritize one over another. Concept is the first thing that will grab me in a query, since it’s the easiest to connect to, but without a strong voice and characters to serve as backbone, the idea won’t get across. Pacing is something that comes into play once I settle in to read the work. I consider it to be the easiest thing to edit, but if I’m struggling to get through a first or second chapter even though I’m interested in the plot and concept, that can be a big read flag.

 

Amy: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give writers about their opening pages?

Jennifer: Don’t waste your real estate! If a scene is boring or unnecessary, don’t open with it. If you don’t need to describe your character in a mirror, at cheerleading practice, or at their minimum wage job, don’t. Open with the scene where things happen. If you’re worried removing breakfast with Mom makes her death by sorcerer less impactful in scene 3, the issue isn’t the time you’ve spent introducing her on page, but the lack of emotional weight your character is struggling under. Make sure your first few pages hook me, and don’t let go.

 

Jennifer Grimaldi (formerly Jennifer Letwack) has always gravitated toward otherworldly, fantastical novels that reflect our own world’s past and present. Formerly an editor with Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, where she acquired and edited S. Jae-Jones’ New York Times bestseller WINTERSONG, she is now building her list as an agent with Chalberg & Sussman.

At C&S, she is actively looking for clients with historicals, romance, horror, and YA & adult sci-fi and fantasy novels, Across all genres, Jennifer loves strong, voice-driven novels, dark and romantic themes, and books that make her think—and learn. She is particularly excited by books that explore gender and sexuality, especially those with diverse, LGBTA+ leads, and own-voice writers.

If you are interested in submitting to Jennifer, please check the Chalberg & Sussman website for their submission guidelines.

 

 



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FALL FICTION FEST Agent Round Begins Today!!!

  Posted by Amy Trueblood , 26 November 2018 · 38 views

 

 

Welcome to the Fall Fiction Fest agent round!  It’s the first time for Michelle, Marty, and I to square off and have a friendly competition! Many success stories have come out of our other contests over the years and we look forward to more!

So while I’m pulling for Team Sunshine, every request is to be celebrated. There are 12 Team Sunshine entries for the agents to read, but they can also make requests for The Saucy Cranberries over at Michelle Hauck’s blog and Team Merry over at Marty Mayberry’s blog! To see the entire list of my entries, go to my here.

As the agents move through the entries, please remember that contests are subjective. Our agents have a definitive idea of what they would like for their list. If they do not request, it DOES NOT mean the entry was not worthy. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep querying and NEVER GIVE UP!

Before Team Sunshine “burns” the competition, here are some guidelines to remember:

There is no commenting in this round except for agents. Sorry, but no cheerleading as this may lead to unconscious bias.

We are happy to see and retweet your thoughts and cheers over on Twitter under the #fallfest tag! That’s the place to hang out and have fun! I hope to see members of Team Sunshine present in all their shining glory! I’ll try to shout out when new requests arrive.

Agents will consider entries on ALL the blogs regardless of team and they might even respond with a fall-themed request! Remember the agent window is open from now until November 28 and agents may show up at any time.

Good luck to everyone. There is amazing talent on all the teams!

 



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