Thursday, September 29, 2011

Writers live in the Shadow of the Wind

Today I took a personal day to get a new furnace, and had lunch with friends while the work was being perormed. As I waited for my companions to arrive, I noticed an article on How to Train for a Plane Crash. It inspired me to draft a poem (which I will not share because it is still too rough.) But it got me to thinking: Isn't every day training for a crash? Isn't just getting up each day an act of faith? And isn't it up to writers to explore and explain the daily act of living?

Here is an exercise for you.
If you are reading this blog, you are a reader as well as a writer. Writers read, so you'll enjoy this.

In my AP class, where I torture high school juniors with writing, writing and rewriing, I devised an exercise after beginning to read a wonderful book called Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. In the opening chapter, Daniel, whose father is a bookseller, discovers The Cemetary of Forgotten Books. While there, a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax chooses him. Isn't that how readers become readers? Books choose us? I shared the first chapter of this novel with my class and challenged my students to either 1: write about the first time a book chose them, OR 2:write the first chapter of Julian Carax's The Shadow of the Wind.

Happy Writing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Query Advice from a Literary Agent

As promised, I am sharing some pitching and querying advice from literary agent Michelle Andelman from Regal Literary Agency. [Some of this also applies in querying to editors.]
Understand the difference between a pitch and a synopsis. Michelle does NOT like synopses. Michelle doesn’t have time to read them. (Some agents and editors like them, some don’t.)
Synopsis- plot summary
Pitch- general story arc- in 1-3 sentences you present a story arc starting point- mid point and end point. The BROAD arc in 1-3 sentences.
In a pitch an agent wants:

1) Know how to orient where the project fits in the marketplace- similar books, or similar enough but different.
2) To be hooked. Your query should be written in a way that the agent will request more material.

DO give enough detail. Provide the emotional arc of the character, a general setting and central conflict.
What is interesting about them?
Structure- only mention it if it is important
If your YA novel is in first person don’t mention it unless it is different or interesting.

Follow Submission Guidelines! Each agency is different.
Michelle likes 10 pages with cover/query letter.

Research the market. Look at books you are now reading. How does yours compare? Does it have something MORE? Be CLEAR on the genre and the type of reader you want to attract.

Personalize the query. Do NOT address it to Dear Agent or Dear Sir or Madam. Those go to the trash. If you have met the agent personally at a conference, remind him/her in your query. Keep the tone warm- not crazy. Do NOT be too intimate.

DON’T talk about yourself. It’s about the project, not you. (Unless you met the agent at a conference.)

Don’t offer exclusives. Agencies expect you are making multiple submissions
IF an agent requests an exclusive, you can demand a time frame. Don’t be afraid to be assertive. The agent is working for you.

Don’t let requested material languish. After 6-8 weeks, jog the agent’s (editors) memory with an inquiry, otherwise your work might sit on his/her desk for 6-8 months.

Be ENCOURAGED if you get a detailed rejection. If the agent is willing to spend sometime with suggestions, that’s a good sign that the work is almost there.

Don’t Lobster (I don’t know what this means now. I did at the time she said it.) Let the project speak for itself.

Don’t pitch in your protagonist’s voice.

Give just enough detail to get a sense of who the character is, the underlying themes, and the conflict..
Given an amazing detail that will hook the agent. (One query that hooked Michele revealed the character "kept Julie’s ashes in Tupperware". A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend. )
Letter should be no more than 3 paragraphs’!!! is a free site to help match you with agents and your type of work.
Be wary of paid sites- largely a moneymaking schemes for agencies.

Publisher’ is a valid paid site
Look at print versions of Literary Market Place and Children’s/Illustrators Markets in the library.
Happy Writing.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Don't Be Crazy," editor Martha Mihalik

[Here are my first day notes from the OCCBWW conference, but I am saving them to now because before you send out to an editor or agent, you ned to get the writing done right first. If you are a memeber of Writers Speak, this is a repeat.]
-Martha Mihalik, Greenwillow Books- editor

When she gets a mss, she asks. Do I want to keep reading or watch TV?
Do I like this?
Most importanmt considerations:
All three must be supported by strong writing
Pay attention to language, sentences, pace
SHOWing not telling

Good voice is the way to tell your story. Language, structure
Picture book voices are sincere and silly, not sing song rhyme. Subtle, not forced. A comfortable voice.

READ as much as you can in the genre for which you work!!

Voice has an opinion and a perspective for the story being told. Voice is what makes this story unique. If it can be told by anybody, the manuscript goes into the reject pile.

Character Do we see him/her? Does this person have flaws? How is “character” revealed? Through the objects around them? Actions? Opinions? If a character has a quirk it’s ok to use surprising detail to reveal this

Plot internal and external. Something must be at stake internally . Plot is driven by the character, and not predictable. Should be age appropriate- something the kid should be attracted to. Should NOT be message driven. There should BE a message, but simmering beneath the surface.

Picture books
Are under 1000 words, 32-35 pages. Should get to the conflict by or on the 3 rd page.

Novels should have conflict by the 3 rd chapter, but you want the reader to keep reading beyond the first chapter

Authenticity- stories should have a ring of authenticity.
Read it out loud!!
Does the voice sound authentic? Age level appropriate? Do not let the adult voice leak in.

MarketingWho is your audience?
What is the hook?
Is there anything else like it out there?
Why? Or why not?
Does this book fit the Greenwillow (or whatever publisher you send it to) list?
Is the writing sharp? Is this a different spin on an existing idea?

AcquisitionsAn editior she prioritizes mss, looks at profit and loss. Publishing is a business, not an art. Ms Mihalik often does not read the cover letter. Letter should be SHORT.
Don’t be crazy.

Happy Writing.