Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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Lazy Thursday: We Don’t Write the Posts, You Do

March 25, 2010

It’s Thursday. You know what that means? We’re too lazy to blog.

Don't bother me...I'm lounging.

But hey, check out these cool posts happening at an interwebz near you.

The last in YA-writer-on-sub Corrine Jackson’s How Writers Do it Series. Read about how nine writers (some of them OPWFTers) pull stories out of their butts plan their stories. AND WIN BOOKS!

Check out twitter-friendly agent Kathleen Ortiz’s blog, for chances to win A FREE 8 MINUTE SKYPE SESSION with her and her partner in crime agent friend, Suzie Townsend. (If you win, maybe they’ll even tell you what they have against multiples of five. )

Oh, and AW member and YA writer Marilyn Almodovar actually thought one of our own was cool enough to interview (yes, I’m totally writing this about myself.  Am feeling weird now, in a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest kinda way.)

Happy Thursday, and check back in tomorrow for your regularly scheduled bloggy goodness.

Sparkle Out.

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Diversity in YA ficton: Guest Post by writer Jennifer Walkup

March 24, 2010

A hot topic lately is diversity in YA–or lack thereof. Just look at the heated discussions over the whitewashing of certain book covers, like Justine Larbalestier’s Liar (which has thankfully been changed to reflect the correct heritage of the MC).

Liar cover gets a much needed facelift

This is an important, serious topic. One that has to be handled with a modicum of tact. So, of course, savvy girls that we are–we farmed it out.

Seriously, though. Read this guest post by the awesome, newly agented Jennifer Walkup, represented by Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates. Her YA book featuring characters of diverse ethnicities is currently on sub.

Jennifer Walkup’s thoughtful discussion on Writing Diverse Characters in YA:

Diversity in YA. Wow, broad topic. Diversity as authors, diversity as characters, diversity all around. How to do it “right.” How to do it well.

When I started writing YA, I didn’t set out to write diverse characters. I set out to write the world I live in. I’m really lucky to live in a diverse place full of people of different racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. I’ve always been surrounded by people who weren’t exactly like me, so that’s what I want to represent in my stories.

In writing Beyond Us, my current novel that is (eep!) on submission, I told the story as it needed to be told. Shauna is a black teen–not because her being black fit the novel, but because that’s who she is. It’s her story that was in me to tell.

Getting it right is important. And it’s what we fear being unable to do whenever we write a character that is unlike ourselves. There are a few ways to go about getting it right. First and foremost, research, research, research. For instance, if you’re writing a character of a certain ethnicity and including related customs or traditions, make sure you do your research, just like you would for any other detail of any other character: ask people whose lives mirror your characters’s, reach out, ask questions, meet people, and follow through. Read books with voices in the same background you are trying to represent, and make sure you have readers who will give you honest feedback, preferably readers who are representative of your characters.

Do not write to stereotypes. This is so important. You want to be accurate, and you want to portray your characters and their lives as best you can, but you don’t want to write characters that are nothing but stereotypical cutouts of what’s expected/perceived. This goes beyond representing diverse characters, anyway; it’s just plain boring. Who wants caricatures when you can create real, full, round characters?

Diversity does not just come in the form of ethnicity or race. My current WIP is told from three points of view, two of which are male, one of which is hearing impaired. None of which are me. So again–research! Writing a male point of view is just as difficult and important for me to get right as it was to get Shauna right. I’ve read books with male POV and have been researching teenage boys (scary, I tell you!) to get my facts right. When the time comes, I’ll hopefully have a male reader or two to look over the manuscript. Because I want to get it right. Same goes with my character who is hearing impaired. I can’t just give him a hearing aid and move on. I have to figure out what it means to be hearing impaired, what it means to be him, and like any other detail of any other character, how one attribute of him does not define the whole of who he is.

But the bottom line is, you will never get it right for everyone. Wait, what? But I have to get it right! Hear me out here. . .There is not one universal reader that represents any one group. When I wrote Shauna, I crafted her as best I could; I created a character that is true to herself, above all else, to her voice, her story. If it’s published, I’m sure I will have readers who say I got it right, and I’m sure I will have readers who say I got it wrong, because there is no one universal reader.

For example, my personal experience as a 30-something mom is likely to be very different than the experience of another 30-something mom living in another state, country, or maybe even down the street. So if someone writes about a 30-something mom who happens to do something I find completely unrealistic, as in, “No way would a mom do that,” but mom B says, “Wow, I did that last week. This author got it right on!” who’s to say the author didn’t do his/her job? It’s just as likely an Indian American reader who grew up in the plains of Illinois and another Indian American reader who grew up in a desi community could read the same book and have very different reactions to the portrayal of Indian American characters as being done right/wrong. As readers, we all bring our own baggage to the table, and our experiences/lives likewise affect how we perceive characters and situations.

So as authors, we do the best we can. As long as you’re conscientious and know you created the characters who needed to be created, told their story as it needed to be told, respected who they are and where they come from, and did your homework on being true to them, you can say you did your best. Will you make everyone happy? No. Will you get it right every time for every reader? Probably not. But that’s true of any character and any story.

But just as readers ask authors to do their best writing characters unlike them, we authors ask the same of readers. Do your best to give us a chance, to believe that we did do our homework and aim to get it right. I wouldn’t dismiss a book written by a man with a female main character, assuming he couldn’t get it right, and neither should readers assume we haven’t done our best job to deliver the story of characters that may be different from us but have exciting stories to tell!

Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on diversity in YA–it definitely gives us all something to think about!

By Debra Driza

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Querying Blunders Take Three: More Agents Share!

March 19, 2010


(photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/liam-manic/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

So, time for part three of our Querying Blunders series. If you missed part two, you need to read—agents Kathleen Ortiz and Suzie Townsend talk about how sending your query in a bag of flour will neither a) turn your agent-of-choice into Betty Crocker or b) garner you a request.

This week, we’ve got a new batch of agents sharing querying blunders with us. First up is agent extraordinaire Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency, agent to AW’s very own YA writer Corrine Jackson. Laura dug into her query vault for these quotable examples, and boy are we glad–there are some goodies. (Note: throughout our post, all agent comments are in blue.)

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/croncast/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“The book I am authoring is a fantasy/adventure geared toward teenagers to adults that will span 200 chapters and around 3,000 pages; word count roughly around 1.47 million.”

Be aware of general submission guidelines and the kinds of ms lengths your chosen genre will bear. (Talk about the need for the old editing chainsaw—or more like, 5000 of them.)

“By the time you receive this letter you will know that someone has kidnapped your child—that someone is me. I can promise you that this time you will not be sending me a rejection letter.”

This was a VERY notable query. It was for a ms in which a crazy, frustrated author terrorizes a literary agent and kidnaps her child. The subject matter is fine, but by opening the query in that way, without explanation, instead of being hook-y, it was actually ALARMING. It got my attention, sure, but in a really bad way. Probably it isn’t a good idea to open a query with anything that could be construed as a threat. (Wow. We’re not even really sure what to say here.  Just don’t.)

“Although my story is a novella, (39 000 words) I have been working on it for close to 5 years.”

I don’t know that I would recommend pointing out in a query that you are a painfully slow writer. It would be very, very difficult to sustain a career at that writing pace. I don’t know of any agents that would be up for taking on a debut author that could take more than a decade to complete 1 full length novel. (This falls into the realm of TMI.  Try not to share things with agents that chronicle how much you’ve struggled.)

One last query faux pas I have to mention (I don’t have a query quote for it) is don’t insult a genre or an author that the agent (or editor) you are targeting works with. An agent is not likely to look kindly on your query if you mention in it that your work is so much better that that derivative, semi-pornographic romance tripe when that agent specializes in that genre.

Next up is Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. You might know her as BostonBookGirl on twitter, or lovely agent to both AW writer Helene Boudreau and of course, the Query Project Queen herself, Jodi Meadows. Lauren says:


(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mirandaceleste/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The oddest sentence I have seen in a query this winter was “I would like to publish ch. 3, 6, 7 first.” I’m not even sure what that means. (Us either-unless the author thought chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 really sucked. Um…) We actually got this query again (sent directly to an agent) after the agency rejected it from our submissions email, but this time forty or so other agents were also CC’ed—two more major query mistakes.

I also recently had an author walk in unannounced with a literary fiction manuscript. (EEK!)  Not only had the author not queried first, made an appointment, or called, the author also wanted to drop off a portion and come back for it in an hour! We tend to have someone drop by like this about every six months or so. (Sort of like the gift that just keeps on giving–Oh, joy.)

I find unannounced drop-ins incredibly creepy and slightly threatening. All agents tend to approaching querying slightly differently, but I think we would all agree that an author should NEVER EVER AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES drop by without an appointment to drop off their manuscript or query. EVER. (Yeah, we sort of thought this went without saying, but apparently not.)

On the more mild side, lately I’ve received a few queries written by the main character in the story. (Ex. Something like: “When I turned sixteen I found out I had magical healing powers and could talk to ghosts!”) Although there are circumstances where this might work, it usually results in me reading half of the query under the assumption that the author is a complete lunatic. (Which is a bad thing, in case you’re wondering.)

Though I understand the desire to rock the boat a bit to get noticed, I don’t think it works as well in a query as authors hope. I’m drawn to clean, by the book queries—they show me that the author did his or her research and can present themselves professionally.

And finally, a blurb from Jennifer Laughran on querying.  Jennifer, Literaticat on twitter and an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, says her REALLY awful query stories are just too specific to name, but she had this to offer overall:

 


(photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/grahamb/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I don’t know. I don’t think I can really devote brainspace to this. I try to erase bad queries from my mind as quickly as possible, and in fact, most of the “bad” ones are just the same collection of mistakes over and over and over and over… and over… AND OVER. Like, you know, not following basic directions, misspelling the word “query” five different ways, or sending very grown-up pornography or murder books when I only rep children’s/YA books… It is actually rather depressing, if you let yourself think about it too much. So I don’t.

While Jennifer wasn’t specific, we think her bit kind of says it all. Agents don’t want the “out-there”, the bizarre, or the downright creepy. They don’t need you getting all wild with your query to stand out. Really, they just want a query that follows directions, is easy to read, sums up your story and fits the agent’s profile.

Now, that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Gulp.

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Querying Blunders Take Two: Agent Stories

March 12, 2010

So, last week, the OPWFTers shared their personal querying goofs with you.  Now, it gets even better.  A group of fabulous agents are sharing some notable querying blunders they’ve found in their slush piles.  Our plan was to present them all at once, but I think we struck a chord.  Our participating agents had a LOT to say about querying blunders—as it turns out, too many to stick into one post.  So we’ll be breaking this up into segments.

These stories are guaranteed to do one of three things: 

1) Make others give you The Look because you’re laughing out loud in your little writing corner of Starbucks

2) Make you feel FIVE THOUSAND times better about any querying faux pas you’ve made and/or

3) Make you thank your lucky stars that you’ve remained anonymous if one of YOUR querying blunders is named below (and help you realize that you should never, ever, do it again.  Ever.).

Seriously, though–we all mistakes.  Hopefully, this will be a fun way to guide you through querying no-no’s.

First up!  Here’s what twitterific new agent Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein  Associates  (who just signed amazing Absolute Write YA writer Jennifer Walkup—WOOT Jenn!) had to say:

Worst offenses? Oy vey…

And I’m only allowed to list a couple? Hmm…  (our note:  is anyone else getting the impression that it was hard to only pick a couple?  Heads up, aspiring authors!  Your query is the FIRST impression an agent gets of you.  Try, try, not to stand out in a BAD way.)

- “Dear Sir” – I’m a girl, last I checked. But besides that, it’s just rude. Authors get offended when we “Dear Author” them on a form rejection, so please at least use our names in a salutation.

- No salutation – or query: some people send an e-mail with an attachment and a “Manuscript Attached” as their only message in the body of the e-mail. Instant rejection.

- Sending gifts – won’t lie: sometimes this is amusing, but it’s completely inappropriate. It’s almost as if you’re trying to bribe the agent, which is offensive. You wouldn’t (hopefully) bribe a prospective employer, would you? I’ve received tiaras, mugs, cookie cutters, boxes of cookies, you name it. And I, for one, won’t eat food from a random stranger – sorry. A friend of mine received a Starbucks cup with a bag of white powder inside. They later discovered it was flour (for a recipe), but seriously – what were they thinking? The entire agency could’ve gone into a panic attack.

- Rude responses – I get so many “You’ll regret when I’m a NYT bestseller!!!” e-mail responses to my form rejections. It doesn’t help your case, because I just block your e-mail from our system. We need clients who can accept constructive criticism and take rejection, because when you go on submission, chances are you’ll receive a couple of rejections.

- Asking for tips on who to send queries to – there’s this fantastic invention called GOOGLE with hundreds of blogs by authors for authors and by people in publishing for authors. Use your resources. Some agents get up to 100 queries a day. In addition to working with our clients, foreign rights, permissions requests, contracts, manuscripts on submissions and more, we don’t have time to sit and think “who would like this MS?” If we do think of someone, we’ll tell you in the rejection. Otherwise, it’s really up to you to do the homework on who to query.

And in case you don’t know which Starbucks cups story she’s referring to?  Here, it is, straight from the agent’s mouth!  Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary, and agent to Absolute Write YA authors Tracy Martin, Hannah Moskowitz, and  Kristin Miller):

The Most Interesting Query I Received…

In case anyone missed the conversation on twitter.  I got a query on Monday that came in a Starbucks cup.

Starbucks by mail? Hmmm.....

And when I opened it up, I was baffled to find white powder…

That ain't instant creamer....

Which was flour – not anthrax or drugs – and a query with bound pages.  O_O  This makes for an interesting/sort of funny story, but most of my colleagues were quite freaked out.  Sending white powder to New Yorkers = Not a Good Idea.

So, for a quick recap:  agents like you to know their gender, would prefer you didn’t reply to a rejection with a “you’re going to regret this cuz I am DA BOMB!” rant, and they never, EVER want you to send white powder in Starbucks cups.  Ever.

Tune in next week, when agents Laura Bradford and Lauren MacLeod chime in with blunders, and agent Jennifer Laughran gives some querying advice.

By Debra Driza

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Got querying faux pas? We do!

March 5, 2010

Putting glitter in snail mail queries.  Addressing Ginger Clark as Mr. Brown.  Querying your project before it’s finished.  Query/industry faux pas—we’ve all made them.  We  were all that wide-eyed, incredibly ignorant dense naïve newbie once.  And since the publishing industry seems to have its own set of rules, it’s almost impossible not to leap off the good querying etiquette mountain trip into the black pit of querying doom stumble along the way.

Today, we’re going to share the boo-boos we’ve made on our quest for publication, big and small.  If you’re feeling brave, join us and blog about your own, or just leave them in the comments. Visit our blogs to read about:

how Debra emailed a complete stranger for a critique.

how Krista queried before her manuscript was complete

how Annie jumped the querying gun

how Jenn sent out a first chapter where her MC woke up from a deep sleep

how Jamie queried an agent by the wrong name

how Sarah managed to fit SEVEN rhetorical questions into the first draft of her query

We figured after you read our blunders, you won’t feel half as bad about yours.  Unless you sent a Stripper-gram to your agent of choice, along with a sonnet about how your project will knock her socks off—and everyone else’s.  We can’t help you there.

Stay tuned for our next installment, when we get agents to share the worst querying offenses ever!

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The ALA Awards—Who’s missing?

January 18, 2010

The ALA (American Library Association) Awards came out today. In case you’re new, these are basically the Academy Awards of the Young Adult writing world. As usual this year, there were some obvious choices, and also—many favorites that seemed to be left out in the cold. Please, read the list, and then drop us a comment as to which YA novel you think was overlooked.

Newbury Award (for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature):

 When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Newbury Honor Books:

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

When You Reach Me is a title bandied about frequently on YAlitchat discussions and via other YA avenues, so this win should come as no surprise to those in the know.

William C. Morris Award (honors book written by a first-time author for YA):

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Tons of amazing press out there in the YA world for Flash Burnout, so again, this choice should come as no big surprise.

Coretta Scott King Award (recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and YA)

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux

Nelson Printz Award (excellence in literature written for YA):

So far, so good, right? But next is where the ALA dove into more controversial waters. According to scuttlebutt around the web, some highly regarded books didn’t make it to the list of Printz honories as expected. Now, this isn’t knocking the winners in any way–we congratulate each and every one of them for excellence in the genre.  Honestly, it’s more a matter of which titles are missing.

Printz Winner: Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

Printz Honor Books: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

 The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Tale of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance, 1973 by John Barnes

So, we want to hear your opinion. Which fabulous YA book(s) do you think were overlooked? Drop us a comment and let us know!

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When life gets in the way

December 28, 2009

After a great Christmas, a great party, and an inevitable spat with the inlaws, I’m back at the computer, only to realize that I accomplished NOTHING, writing-wise. I didn’t check out Nathan Bransford’s cool charity blog post, or the fabulous Ask Daphne query post until this morning. I felt way behind some of my more motivated OPWFT.

Then I realized, that’s okay. Because at the moment, my general life is a higher priority than my writing. Do I spend hours writing? Yes. Do I do it when it’s not fun? Yes. Do I keep revising and keep working even after a rejection? Yep. But at the moment my book isn’t paying bills, feeding my kids, or sleeping with my husband ;) I reserve the right to put it away now and then.

What about you? Are you writing over the holidays?

-Holen

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