Posts Tagged ‘Young Adult’

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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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Five Facts Aspiring YA Authors Should Know (A Conference Experience)

February 17, 2010

By Sarah Harian

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2010 San Francisco Writers Conference. I experienced a whirlwind of different emotions–anxiety from having to attend alone, fear of not being noticed or being rejected by all of the publishing professionals, relief when I met a handful of wonderful writers on the first day, and joy when I realized how confident I came off during my pitch sessions. These emotions made for a marvelous experience, one that I am very happy to share with the OPWFT readers.

YA Lit was a HUGE topic among conversations between writers, even though a lot of the writers at the conference didn’t write YA. YA was brought up in every single panel I attended, and here’s why:

NUMBER ONE: The amount of YA books on the shelves has increased 83% in the past two years.

You should have seen the faces of all the adult fiction writers when Regina Brooks (from Serendipity, LLC) spilled this little fact at a panel. Those were some numbers! Which leads me to number two…

NUMBER TWO: YA is the reason why a lot of publishing houses are still in business.

Daniela Rapp, editor at St. Martin’s Press, revealed this at a panel about turning your manuscript into a book.

If you’ve been into a Borders recently, you’ll know why. Recently, Borders has rearranged their shelves do display a “Borders Ink” section right at the front of the store. In the Borders in my town, this is the busiest section of the floor. There are always customers there, carrying around the newest Mortal Instruments or Vampire Academy book. Even in a recession, YA booms. Of course, the boom started a couple of years ago, but it took a while for editors to start admitting it was the main reason for the publishing world staying on its feet.

NUMBER THREE: The trend that you’re seeing now is two years old.

That’s right, folks. That’s how long it usually takes from Agent to Bookstore. Editors are no longer looking for Fallen Angels and Werewolves. This is ok though, because as a writer, you don’t want to follow a trend. You want to start one. So write the story that’s in your heart, not ones like those that are selling off the shelves.

Steampunk and Vampires are the exceptions though. The term “steampunk” became a running joke at the conference because either an agent was actively seeking it or had no idea WTH steampunk was. Every author decided on telling others that they wrote steampunk, even though they also knew nothing about the genre.

As for vampires… Well, as it was said many times over the weekend, “Vampires will never die”.

NUMBER FOUR: Publishers these days spend very little money building your platform.

Most editors, and even some agents will ask you this question before they take on your project: “What are you going to do to get the word out?”

It’s up to us, the writers, to advertise our projects and books. This was a HUGE topic at the conference this year. Don’t have a Twitter account? Get one. Don’t have a website? SERIOUSLY think about investing some money into buying a domain and getting a nice, clean layout. Don’t have a blog? Not only do you need one, but you also need to post every other day.

Some agents don’t care about whether or not you have already established some internet presence, but it was said by more than one agent that they do some research on a writer before signing them and see what they’ve already done to build a readership. Yes, if you are querying, agents are researching you. This means that it is VITAL for you to be polite and courteous while you are networking and actively working to get your name out there.

NUMBER FIVE: Read, Read, READ YA!

With the dawning realization that YA is such a popular market, a lot of writers with projects that had young protagonists started contemplating pitching their book as YA. This is fine and all, but I KNEW that many of these people had never picked up a YA book in their life, or at least hadn’t since the days of S.E. Hinton or Lois Lowry. The YA market has changed so drastically in recent years, and will continue to change. It is important for you, as a writer, to get your hands on as many YA books from all different genres as you possibly can. See what others are writing about. Take note of their styles. It will help you develop your own voice.

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Pondering “New Adult”

February 1, 2010

Nature abhors a vacuum. Cliché but, like the best clichés, it’s undeniably true. For the past few years, the young adult market has been expanding at a prodigious rate. The shelves at your local bookstore are crammed with stories dealing with everything from misunderstood vampire boyfriends to drug abuse.

There’s just one catch: young adult books seem to top out at age eighteen. Write a character out of high school and you find yourself in a strange no-man’s land. Your themes, pacing and general “feel” might be similar to those found in YA but no one seems to know how or where to place your book. With Twilight readers getting older and more adults reading YA, it’s logical that there should be a demand for slightly older characters. It’s just that no one seems to be filling it.

Those of us with characters in their late teens and early twenties have been left with an awful question: Do we try change the age of our characters (changing college settings to high school if need be) or do we simply cross our fingers and hope for the best?

The latest endeavor from St. Martin’s Press—the notion of a new category called “New Adult” * has had some of us anxiously watching and waiting over the past few months. (Actually, we held hands and skipped in circles crying “POSSIBLE SALVATION”; we’re not exactly a subtle bunch.)

The road ahead for those of us with 18+ year-old protagonists is still long (and still seems to be slopping slightly uphill) but it is a much more exciting journey than it was just a few months ago. Why? Because people are actually paying attention to the gap in a way that they weren’t a year ago.

We’re still veering off the map but if the endeavor for SMP pays off, it may serve as a reminder that taking the road less traveled isn’t always a bad thing.

* Please note that there isn’t currently a “New Adult” category (outside of SMP). If you query, you’re better off sticking to established categories.

Disclaimer: A version of this post appeared on Kathleen’s blog on November 11, 2009. With an eighteen-year-old MC, her interest in New Adult is (almost) purely self-serving.

Photo Credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicagarro/ / CC BY 2.0
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Don’t Got Shiver? Come Hither! Shiver Agent Laura Rennert’s Five Writing Do’s and a Chance to Win Books and More!

December 14, 2009

 

Saying the Andrea Brown Literary Agency plays an important role in young adult literature is like saying chocolate plays an important role in chocolate chip cookies (and, like most writers, you probably know the significance of a daily dose of chocolate). Twice a year, the agency helps host the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. For one blissful, glorious, worth-eating-three-months-of-Mr. Noodles-to-get-there weekend, children’s writers attend lectures, work on their novels in critique groups, and yes, have cocktails with other writers, editors, and agents.

 This year was my first year to go, and I have to say: it was well worth its weight in noodles. With clients like Ellen Hopkins (Crank), Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver), Super Agent Laura Rennert has represented some of the most talked about titles in YA. During our workshop, we had the chance to listen to Laura to speak to us about Five Writing Do’s. And without further, ahem, ado, I’ve summed up what she had to say (with my own twist).

1. Craft

Laura says to make sure you have a fresh and compelling voice, and that the voice is authentic to your specific character. Use the POV that works best for your story. To work on your voice, interact with the age group you’re writing about. Or, barring that, eavesdrop on them at the local mall (just try not to look like a stalker).

Also, read your writing out loud to really hone in on what’s working and what’s not in your sentences. After attending the workshop and having to read my writing out loud to strangers—MEEP!—I can tell you this really does make a world of difference in how you hear your own words.

2. Create Memorable and Dynamic Characters

 Know your characters. Laura believes in the iceberg analogy: 9/10 of what makes a character tick remains under the surface. And guess what? If you, the writer, only know the top 1/10—like, say, your MC Suzie loves ponies and ice cream sundaes—your can bet your novel will be lacking in depth (yeah, I went for the pun there. Deal with it.)

Also: the more stress you put your characters under, the better. Basically, Laura was too kind to say it, but I’m not—torture your little sweeties until they cry and need a heavy dose of therapy. No, seriously.

3. Coherent and Satisfying Narrative Structure

Capture your reader’s interest from page one, and never let the forward momentum slack. Laura’s example: if your very first scene involves a party, don’t begin your novel when the party starts. Jump to the middle. My elaboration on how not to start:

“Yo, Joe, what’s shaking?”

“Nothing much. You?”

“Aw, nothing much. Hey, did ya catch that Lakers game last night?”

“No, man? You?”

“Uh uh. So, how come you missed it?”

 “Oh, well—I was taking a nap.”

Um, guess what? At this point, your reader is probably nodding off, too. Instead of beginning at the, well, beginning, start in the middle of the scene, when the action is already getting underway. Leave your hello’s’ and nap talk for offscreen. And then, since you’re off to such a great start, don’t back off. Keep the tension mounting from there. You know that old David Bowie and Freddy Mercury song “Under Pressure?” Make it your writing motto. By putting your characters under pressure, you’ll keep the reader reading—always a good thing.

And, according to Laura, another cool thing about upping the stakes? You—and your reader—will get to know your characters better. Laura’s example: If your character tells the truth when nothing is at stake, so what? But if your character’s life or reputation is at stake and they still tell the truth, well—that is truly noteworthy information to have.

A final tip: the main character should change over the course of the novel. Metaphorically speaking. I mean, she or he doesn’t have to morph from human to vamp—although, we’ve heard rumors that maybe that method does work on occasion <grin>.

4. Explore the Universal and the Idiosyncratic

 According to Laura, this means that within universal themes—such as conflict with friends—give us particular and concrete examples that are specific to your world. Feel free to give us the same old, same old—but with your own unique take or spin.

5. Literary Voice and Commercial Conception

Have a great, strong storyline along with a strong voice. And in case you were wondering if Laura was serious about stakes? She mentions them here again. She says use ordinary experiences but elevate the stakes.

Her example? Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher—a book that looks at teen suicide in an unusual and compelling way.

So, those are the five writing do’s that agent Laura talked about.  But, wait– don’t run off to write just yet!  Why not enter a contest that showcases the very authors exemplifying those do’s? Comment below to win your choice of Thirteen Reasons Why, Shiver, or Tricks, PLUS a $25 gift card to either Barnes and Nobles or Amazon.

In your comments, tell us either what you consider your writing strength or your weakness, or both. We’ll do a random drawing on Wednesday night, December 16th, at ten p.m. Pacific Time, and announce the winner the following day. Anyone who re-tweets our contest on Twitter? Feel free to DM us and let us know, and we’ll enter your name twice. (Sorry, but the contest is restricted to those with a Canadian or United States address).

Good luck, Happy Holidays, and of course—Happy Writing.

By Debra Driza