Friday, December 30, 2011

My favorite things of 2011 (on writing blogs)


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Contests on blogs and queries I've written. Connecting with writers and the critiques they bring. These are a few of my favorite things.

In honor of 2011, I'd like to share the best contests, opportunities, and resources for writers I've found this year. Many of the contests aren't going on right now, but follow the blogs to be ready for when they come back in 2012!

Literary Rambles Agent Spotlights - If you write for young adults and children, this is where you should go first to look for agents. With so much more than what you can find in the profiles on Agent Query or Writer's Market, Casey and Natalie compile information from agent interviews across the web for the most comprehensive agent profiles I've found. Use the search function with keywords that describe your book to find the best agents for you.

The Agent Inbox Contest - In my opinion, this is one of the most helpful blog contest on the web. You really can't lose. Krista from Mother. Write. (Repeat.) collects the query and 1st 250 words from 20 entrants and posts them on her blog. Then a real live agent stops at each one and makes comments on whether they'd be interested and why or why not. Even if you don't win a request (and your chances are good with only 20 entrants) you get free advice on your query from an agent and your fellow writers.

Write On Con - This is a FREE online writing conference for children's (as in MC under 18) writers.  It almost sounds too good to be true but it's not.  In addition to learning tons and gaining access to lots of critique opportunities, you can participate in the Ninja Agents forum, where you post your query and multiple agents (this year it was 13) comment on your query and make requests.

Miss Snark's Bakers Dozen Agent Auction - This contest is epic.  If you're one of the winning entries, you get to be part of an auction where agents bid on YOU.  The most recent auction had 16 agents bidding on manuscripts and the contest resulted in multiple contracts signed.

Articles by Susan Dennard -   There is just something about the way author Susan Dennard explains things that I just get.  And she knows her stuff.  After exhaustive research and honing her query, she queried 12 agents and got 9 requests.  How's that for amazing?  My two favorite articles she's written are The Parts of a Good Query and How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis.

Rach Writes...Beta Match & Writers' Platform-Building Campaigns - Rachael Harrie gets two cheers, one for Beta Match and one for the Writers' Platform-Building Campaign.  Every once in a while, Rachel has a Beta Match post on her blog where the comments serve as what you might call personal ads for people looking for Beta readers and critique partners.  By looking through the posts it's easy to find the people best match with you and when I took a look back in September they were all serious writers.  I found three lovely Betas this way.  

I didn't participate in the Writers' Platform-Building Campaign this year, but I probably should have, and definitely will when she hosts her next one starting in February of 2012.  Her campaigns are a great way to gain followers and make connections.

Deana Barnhart's Gearin' Up To Get An Agent Blogfest - In this four week blogfest, I got amazing feedback on my first 250 words and my query, including personal feedback from a former agent, and got to participate in a grand finale agent-judged contest.  If that wasn't enough, I met some great people and got some new followers since each week included a blog hop.  

QueryTracker.net - Query tracker is the best way to obsess about your queries.  :)  The basic membership is free and you can track your queries and look for agents.  Aside from being a cool tracking tool, Query Tracker compiles information from it's users so with Premium membership (only $25 a year) you can have access to premium reports.  You can see what percentage of queries get a request for each agent and can sort by acceptance percentage to see who wants queries and what genre they really want.  It's also a great way to find out  how quickly to expect a response and if you should expect a response at all.  The only down-side is that you may end up obsessively checking reports for hours on end!

All Other Agent Judged Blog Contests - Agent judged blog contests are an amazing opportunity to connect with agents without going to a $400 conference or braving the query minefield. Thank you to all the blogs who host contests. Here are some blogs who have hosted agent or editor judged contests this year.  If you're not already following, do so immediately!

http://shelleywatters.blogspot.com
http://operationawesome6.blogspot.com 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

For the Genre Confused: Magical realism...more than just an oxymoron

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Here is a riddle, what is both magical and realistic at the same time?  Magical realism, of course, which is the topic of my latest genre-bending post.

In it's simplest definition, magical realism is basically exactly what it sounds like. It is somewhat of a oxymoron both in name and definition. A story with characteristics of magical realism blends the opposing themes of the realistic and the fantastical. It approaches magical elements within the confines of reality.

Or from good old Wikipedia, "A kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the 'reliable' tone of objective realistic report." OR "[Magical realism] relies upon the presentation of real, imagined or magical elements as if they were real."

Did I just unload a bunch of waffle on you? Yes, I think I did. Magical realism is one of those vague, intellectual terms that describes more of a feeling a novel gives off than a specific type of plot, and it's not best described with a simple one line definition (sorry Twitter).  Even Margin, "the world's only continuous survey of magical realism" does not claim to be able to define the term, rather they attempt to define what it is not. They consider it to be a "style" without limiting rules for inclusion.

Here is my lowly attempt at explaining it:

It does help to think about how it's different from other types of fantasy.  Contemporary and urban fantasy are huge these days, and they also put magic into a real world setting. The difference is the way the magical elements are approached. In contemporary and urban fantasy the magic is right there in you face. The supernatural element is usually the main focus of the story. Although you often find pseudo-scientific explanations for supernatural elements in contemporary fantasy, it doesn't really try to make it real. Contemporary fantasy is a way to enjoy fantasy elements in a familar setting.  It is also usually considered to be escapist.

In magical realism, the realism plays a bigger role. The primary plot will be about real things in the real world, but there is an undercurrent of magic. It's so real in fact, that the author may imply that the characters themselves may not be reliable narrators, so as to not be too decisive about the existence of magic. In magical realism, the magic often sneaks up on you and you wonder whether or not you're supposed to believe it's really happening. To me, magical realism often feels "dream-like" or "surreal" in places.

Magical realism is literary fiction and would not belong on the shelf with genre fantasy. You could say that it takes itself seriously. Magical realism often depicts the stories of those who are oppressed or marginalized, and has meaningful themes. 

Magical realism is more of a style than a genre and it's often misused or used too loosely.  If you're thinking of describing your story as 'magical realism' in your query, be careful.  Make sure it really is first.  Otherwise, even if your query is great, you'll look like you haven't done your research.  And remember there is nothing wrong with querying it as a good old fashioned fantasy or paranormal book if you're not 100% sure.  Or if it tends to the more realism side, query as contemporary (YA) or literary (adult) with elements of magical realism.

Sometimes the best way to understand a vague definition of a literary style is to familiarize yourself with novels classified that way.  Here are some examples:

One Hundred Years of Solitude 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 

Everything Is Illuminated 

The Green Mile

Little, Big


Here are some more helpful articles:

Magical Realism by Lindsay Moore
What is Magical Realism Really by Bruce Holland Rogers



Friday, December 16, 2011

December 2011 Contests - Part II







In honor of my latest project about suburban Houston witches, I wish you a Happy Solstice.  However, feel free to also have a Merry Christmas.  :)


So I use the term "December" loosely here, but the publishing world is starting its Christmas hibernation, so start marking your calendar for January opportunities...of course there is one great contest coming up on Monday!

I wish all of my followers a beautiful holiday season and a publishing contract in 2012. :) Thank you for reading!

Agent Inbox Contest - Yay. I love these, and I think I'll be entering this one with my latest project, The Charge. On 12/19 at 10am est (7am pst), submit your query and first 250 words. Entries will be posted on Krista's blog and the mystery agent will comment on them publicly. Adult & YA, most subgenres.

January Query Tracker Contest - Agent NatalieFischer Lakosil will be judging Query Tracker's next contest and will ask to see the first 100 words and a one sentence log line. Commercial fiction and YA, several subgenres. Opens 1/30/12 at 9 am.

Book Wish Essay Contest -Write a 500 word essay about how selected short stories relate to the Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad and you can win a manuscript critique by an agent or critically acclaimed author. Due 2/1/12.

Editing Advent 2011 - Editor Cassandra Marshall is giving away an editing related prize to a commenter every day this month!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Can We Guess Your Character's Age? Blogfest Contest Entry

The winners have been announced and I am happy to report that I received an Honorable Mention for my entry.  Yay!  It always feels great to be mentioned honorably.  I can tell you now that Warren is 19 years old. Congratulations to all of you who guessed so close!  Read the winning entries here.


Welcome all!  Here is my entry for the Can We Guess Your Character's Age? Blogfest Contest hosted by the wonderful Brenda Drake.  Thank you for the opportunity!  I welcome age guessing and would also appreciate  any other feedback that comes to mind.

          

         Warren’s mother had taped towels and sheets over all the windows of the apartment where she had raised him.  Ah…coming home.  His mother suffered from what his brother called, “severe eccentricity,” and blacking out the living room window with Warren’s ratty old Star Wars comforter was not out of character.  He loved her more than anything, but if she had called him because she had forgotten how to use the washing machine again, he was heading right back to campus to enjoy the day after finals the way it was intended to be enjoyed - drunk and poolside.
She stood in the kitchen holding a box of uncooked spaghetti and didn’t respond to his presence right away.  It looked like she had been holding and squeezing the box for a while and most of the pasta inside was broken.  Age had taken her overnight.  The wrinkle between her eyes was deeper and a few more strands of gray had found their way into her waist length black hair.  Warren took the box of spaghetti out of her hands.
“I was going to make you lunch,” she said.
            “I’m not hungry,” Warren said.
            The two Red Bulls in Warren’s hung over and now scared stomach were not sitting well. 
            “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Please don’t say cancer.  At six foot five, Warren wasn’t exactly a kid anymore and he hadn’t been sung to sleep in a long time, but losing his mama still felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen. 

December 2011 Contests - Part I


I turned 30 this week and at midnight on my birthday I immediately lost touch with my YA audience and can no longer relate to the youth of America.  At least that's what I told my husband was happening over a few too many drinks.  We'll hope that's not true.  :)

As for contests this month, I am hopeful that this is only Part I of at least II because I only found a couple contests.  Please let me know if I'm missing some!  I am mostly thinking about probably planning to enter these (yes...I am using adjectives to stall the verdict on my WIP), so I hope to see you there!

Can We Guess Your Character's Age Blogfest Contest
On December 8th, post the first 250 words of your manuscript on your blog and have readers stop by and guess their age.  So cool!  Editor Gabriela Lessa will choose winners to receive free and discounted editing services.

She Writes Young Adult Novel Contest
Deadline December 15th.  Cost $15.  Submit a cover letter and the first 2,000 words of your YA manuscript.  The prize is "coverage" of your novel with major agents and editors.  All proceeds benefit Girls Write Now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 2011 Contests & Critique Opportunities



Yay for November. You've got to love the fall colors, the giving Thanks, and the crazed writers manufacturing massive word counts for NaNoWriMo. And it's finally not hot in Texas.  Notice I didn't say cold, or even cool, just not hot.  But that will do for now.


CONTESTS

"An Agent's Inbox" Contest - The awesome Agent's Inbox contest is now releasing the name of the agent before the start of the contest so we can see how well do at personalizing our queries!  Very cool.  This time it's Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary.  In this contest, the brave entrants have their queries posted on Krista's blog and the agent publicly shares her opinion. You may also win the ever valuable full or partial request.  Only 20 entries are accepted and the entry window opens on 11/14 at 10am EST (9am CST/8am MST/7am PST).  Only for YA, MG, & women's fiction.

Love YA Contest with agent Carrie Pestritto - On 11/16 at 10am EST (9am CST/8am MST/7am PST), post your one sentence pitch and first 250 words as a comment on the official contest post.  The winner gets a partial request.  YA only.

Critique Opportunities

J.A. Souders Book Deal Celebration Extravaganza - To celebrate her first book deal J.A.Souders is giving out tons of prizes, including a query critique and critique of the first 50 pages of your manuscript.  Congratulations J.A!  Contest open until 12/5.

inkPageant Query Critique Giveaway - You can submit 3 helpful posts from other people's blogs and 3 from your own to the community blog inkPageant in November for a chance to win a query critique from the staff at Jolly Fish Press.  Check out inkPageant even if you're not querying.  What a great way to increase your blog audience!

Light Up the Library Auction - This is an auction benefiting the library at Musana Children's Home in Iganga, Uganda with lots of critiques and other writing opportunities you can bid on.

The Great Critique Group Matchmaking Service - Fill out the questionnaire and Lynnette Labelle will help you find your critique partner soul mates.  



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If you can write a novel, you can also quit smoking


With the Great American Smokeout coming up on November 17th, I wanted to do my part to reach out to the people in the writing community who want to quit.  If you know a writer who smokes and wants to quit, please pass this along.

If you're a writer who smokes, there is a good chance that for you writing and smoking have a special relationship.  Perhaps you smoke at your computer while you write.  Maybe you take smoke breaks while you write to help you think.  Or you "reward" yourself with a cigarette after finishing a chapter.  Any of that sound familiar?

If you've involved smoking in your writing for a long time, the two things have become connected in your mind, and you may feel like you need to smoke in order to write.  The truth is, you don't need to smoke to write.  But it's not so easy to break the association.  Here are some tips for ways to deal with cravings you might get when writing:

  • Get the facts about nicotine - A common myth about nicotine is that it helps you think.  This isn't true.  If you give nicotine to a non-smoker, it will not help them think better.  But if you're addicted to nicotine, you need nicotine to prevent nicotine withdrawal symptoms, including trouble concentrating.  When you quit, you will have trouble thinking without nicotine for about three days during the withdrawal period, but it's not a permanent condition.  I promise, your creativity comes from you, not nicotine.  Here are some more tips for dealing with nicotine withdrawal brain fog:
    • Use a nicotine replacement therapy like the patch, gum, or lozenge.  It can help reduce or even prevent withdrawal symptoms and keep your brain firing on all (or at least most) synapses while you quit.
    • Plan ahead.  Setting a quit date is more effective than just randomly throwing out your cigarettes on a whim.  When you're planning your quit date, don't pick a date two days before a big deadline.  Try and find three days where your brilliance can take a day off.  And no...that's not an excuse to delay your quit date indefinitely...just use some strategy.
  • If you smoke at the computer... - If you're used to a constant hand to mouth action while you work, you may need a substitute to break the habit.  Remember, it's just a habit, so with time it will go away.  In the meantime, find another way to get the hand to mouth.  And before you say it...there are ways to do this without gaining weight.  Just be sensible.  Don't replace smoking with eating a hundred M&Ms per chapter, and you'll be fine.  Here are some hand to mouth suggestions:
    • Keep a beverage with you at all times - water, coffee, tea, soda, anything that you can bring from hand to mouth.  Try it with a straw for the sucking action you get from smoking.
    • Use a straw, cinnamon stick, toothpick, candy cane, carrot stick, Twizzler etc. to mimic the smoking action.
    • Good old regular chewing gum can go a long way.
Bonus Tip: If you smoke at your computer, you would benefit from breaking this habit before you're facing the stress of quitting completely.  Set a quit date in the future, but stop smoking at your computer before that date.  You can still smoke, but just never while on the computer.  This way, when your quit date comes, you'll already have that habit managed.

  • If you smoke as a break from your computer... - Here's the thing, those smoke breaks probably are helping you think, but is has nothing to do with the smoke.  It's the break.  All writers need to step away from the computer every once in a while to keep their juices flowing.  You just have to come up with a new way of doing this.  The same goes with "rewards".  You can still reward yourself with a break after finishing a word count goal, but do it another way.  It can be almost anything.  Here are some ideas for breaks away from the computer:
    • Take a walk
    • Go outside (but avoid that favorite smoking spot)
    • Have a drink or snack
    • Listen to music
    • Take a shower or bath
    • Go for a drive (but not to the convenience store)
    • Talk to someone
    • Clean (but only if you like that kind of thing)
    • Take some deep breaths
    • Yoga or meditation    
    • Or just pace around your house.  That's what I do.
  • Have your characters quit with you.  Almost any reminder of smoking can trigger an urge while you're quitting.  You don't need to be slogging through line after line of your MC taking a drag off his ever-present cigarette.  Get those cigarettes out of your story if you can.  If the setting or character really needs smoking, have them cut back.  Once we know they smoke, you don't need to remind us every page.

Final word of wisdom.  Quitting smoking is very hard, but it's easier than getting a novel published.  If you can get a rejection and not give up, you have what it takes to quit smoking.  Both processes go like this - Try.  Fail.  Learn from mistakes.  Try again.  Repeat as needed.

Using a support program can greatly increase your chances of success.  Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to reach the Quitline that serves your state or use this tool to find out about programs available through your employer, insurance, or state of residence.

The ideas represented are my own personal opinions and not endorsed by or affiliated with any of the organizations listed.







Monday, November 7, 2011

Be more like your characters

You = Hobbit
Getting Published = Destroying the ring in the fires of Mount Doom

In general, people shouldn't act like book characters.  Way too much conflict.  We'd all lose our jobs, our marriages, and probably our lives...because real people actually die in fiery explosions.  But in our writing journey, it wouldn't hurt to act a little more like heroes.

I started thinking about my own heroic writing tale when I wrote this post.  I was reminded of a brief section in Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (check out my review of his companion workbook here) where he asks the reader to think about their own personal stakes.  He says, "In writing the breakout novel, it doesn't matter what purpose motivates you.  It matters only that you have a purpose.  Without it, your novel has little chance of breaking out.  Its stakes will be too low."

That section really resonated with me.  The story of a person writing a novel works great as a heroic tale.  The goal is clear.  The goal is hard to reach and a happy ending is not guaranteed.  The goal is not likely to come easy.  There is lots of internal and external conflict to grapple with.  And plenty of room for a flawed but heroic MC (yep, that's you).

Ask yourself these questions:

Why are you writing this novel?  This question comes from Maass's book.  In my opinion, one of the best answers is, because I can't NOT write it.  If you're truly passionate, not writing the book is not even a viable option.

If I stopped writing this novel, why would it matter?  This one is also from Maass.  Obviously, it's normal to have some non-heroic answers here, like 'I wasted my time' or 'I'll have to admit to my friends that I couldn't do it.'  But that shouldn't be the whole story.  Stopping writing the novel should feel wrong a deep level.

What are your personal stakes?  Don't be afraid to admit that they're high.  That's a good thing.

What is your antagonist?  What stands in the way of you and your goal?  

Are you being beaten by the bad guys?  Come on now, hero, that just won't do.  Heroes aren't beaten by the bad guys.  You wouldn't expect your MC to reach their goal without facing lots of obstacles first. Guess what, the same is true for you.  Don't stop when the going gets tough, your MC wouldn't.

Are you being a hero?  A hero keeps their eyes on their goal throughout the whole novel.  Are your eyes firmly on the prize?  A hero never gives up, never surrenders.  What about you?

Of course, life is far more complicated than a novel, but personally I believe that you can and should live your life heroically.  All you have to do it set goals for yourself and never give up.
Onward, heroic writers!  May your long, arduous journey have a predictable story book happy ending.  :)


P.S.  Thank you to Alex at http://magpiewrites.blogspot.com/ for the One Lovely Blog Award.  Check out her lovely blog too!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Query Critique Swap?

The last time I needed help with a query, I posted on Agent Query Connect which is an awesome website, but not for me.  I got so much conflicting advice, I went into a query-hysteria induced coma for four days.  Okay, maybe not.  But this time, I'm asking a small group of writers I know and trust to help out instead.  And there is no one smarter than blog people (i.e. people who read and and write writing blogs).  If you have a few minutes that you wouldn't mind spending critiquing my query for THE CHARGE, a YA science fiction novel, please comment.  I would be very grateful, and more than happy to return the favor by critiquing your query, synopsis, or short story.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

For the Genre Confused: Love Conquers Genre Confusion


My writing journey is a fairly common tale of girl meets story.  Girl meets story.  They spend late nights together and have many beautiful moments.  Girl daydreams about story while she should be working, cleaning, keeping son from climbing up bookcase, etc.  But girl and story also fight frequently and break up a few times.  Girl feels that story refuses to commit to a genre.  Then finally after years of the swooning and heartache roller coaster, girl and story finally understand each other and love each other for who they are.  Now the girl is ready to introduce the story to her parents (aka agents)....but what will they say?

Girl fears that they will say story isn't a practical choice.  Possibly handsome and charming, but not marketable.  Impossible to shelve.  But after years of trying to change story to make him more appealing to the masses, girl decides to love him for who he is and damn all else.

The moral of the story is that although you should do everything within your power to understand your market and define your genre, the most important thing is making your story the best version of itself.  Understand what your story is supposed to be, be able to articulate it to others, and love the hell out of it.  Then have a little faith.

Hopefully one day girl and story will get married (publishing contract) and have babies (a series).  :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October Contests and Critique Opportunities





Here is the latest stuff I found on the blogosphere.  Good luck!  I'm sorry my posts have been a little thin as of late, but it's for a good reason.  I have been spending pretty much all my left over time after eating, sleeping, watching my little one, and working, WRITING.  The beta ready draft of my adaptation of Stormland called THE CHARGE will be ready soon.

Contests

October Secret Agent - Submit the first 250 words of your manuscript to be judged by the secret agent.  SFF YA & adult (and others).  Submission window open on 10/17.

Fantasy Novel Hook for Your Book Contest - Write a 50 word pitch for your fantasy novel and post it in comments. Contest judged by agent Jeanie Pantelakis. Winners can receive a full manuscript review.  Fantasy only.  Due 10/17.

The 2nd Annual Baker's Dozen Contest - 16 agents will bid on the best submissions.  If you're ready to query, you have got to check this out!  All genres.  First submission window on 10/18.

Science Fiction Holiday Submissions call - Carina Press is open to submission for science fiction novellas with a winter holiday theme.  What a delightfully specific genre!  :)  Submissions aren't due until 3/15/2012 so you have time to get inspired this winter.

Critique Opportunities

The Great Query Contest of October 2011 - I think I might jump on this one for my freshly minted and still uncritiqued (and still innocent) query for THE CHARGE.  Post your query in comments.  Winners will get a partial critique.  YA, adult, & NEW ADULT (yay) SFF.  Due 10/16.

Celebrate the Small Stuff - Congratulations to J.A. Souders on her book deal.  That seems like "celebrate the big stuff" to me!  She is offering a drawing for query and partial critiques to celebrate.  Just fill out the form on the post.  All genres, but YA preferred.  Due 10/17.
Casting Call Character Bloghop - Create a post featuring characters from your book or WIP from 10/24-10/28.  They promise a "critiquish" prize.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trends for the Untrendy: How to Save Your Vampire Novel


When reading agent blogs and interviews you come across a few standard statements.  1)  Follow the submission guidelines.  2)  I like "voice." and  3) No vampires please.


Fortunately for me, my WIP is not about vampires or other any of the other monsters (warewolves, fairies, etc.) that have become uncool as of late.  But that doesn't stop me from worrying about the livelihood of new authors who did write vampire books.  Although it would be great to think that everyone reads agent blogs before they start their first novel, I doubt that many people do.  They start to think about trends when they start to query.  So, I bet there are plenty of people out there who have written a vampire novel and just learned that even if it is very well written, their chance of getting published...sucks.

If you wrote a vampire novel, at least one person will probably tell you to shelve it and work on something different.  Frankly, that's probably good advice, but if I were you, I wouldn't be happy to hear it and may be too stubborn to take it.  Shelving something before it's even been properly rejected sort of feels like training for an Olympic marathon for years, then showing up at the start line, thinking that all the other guys look faster than you, and going home.  If you've put in the work, you at least want to run the race, right?

So if you aren't prepared to shelve your vampire novel, here are my tips:

1.  Be different
Really, really different.  No matter how untrendy something is, agents frequently say that they are open to seeing fresh approaches to a tired subject.  I have to admit, that sounds like a tough job, because there are a LOT of approaches to the vampire novel, but hey, I'm sure their are still plenty of good ideas for grabs.  Check out Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.  If you wrote a vampire novel, make sure you know exactly what your book offers that the other books out there don't.  And I'm sure you have, but read lots of vampire books to be sure that you really know what has been done and what hasn't.


Agent quotes:


"What I really want in paranormal is something so different and original that I’m incapable of even coming close to now imagining what that might be. I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf tale, but the market (and my in-box) has been so saturated with them that it’s difficult for me to find something I get excited about." - Jessica Alvarez from BookEnds

2.  Do Your Research
This is somewhat obvious, but perhaps even more important for vamp-writers.  Don't waste your time with agents who specifically say they don't want vampire fiction.  There are plenty of agents out there who don't specifically say they don't want it, so you can assume that if it fits their current client list and genre preferences, you're good to go.  Look for agents who have represented vampire fiction, the more recently the better.  Search for "vampire" at Publisher's Marketplace.

Here are an agent who says she's looking for it:

Rachel Coyne specializes in fantasy novels (including sword & sorcery as well as modern urban fantasy), as well as thrillers/mysteries, paranormal romance and chick-lit (including chick-lit mysteries and vampire/paranormal chick-lit).

Search for "vampire" on http://www.agentquery.com.  You'll probably get a lot of people saying they specifically don't want it, but there may be some other gems like Rachel in the mix.

3. Self-publish
Agents and editors aren't too big on taking risks.  I can't blame them too much, they need money like everybody else.  But at the end of the day, even if it's great, they won't represent you if they don't think they can sell your book.  The word "vampire" is like a scarlet letter in a query and the agent's eyes may be "glazing over" as soon as they see it (as described by agent Ammi-Joan Paquette here).  If you're glass half-full kind of person, you can at least be happy knowing that your vampire novel getting rejected might not mean it's bad.  People aren't even considering you because of your topic.  So, self-publish.  Evidence points to the fact that people still buy and read novels about vampires.  I do!  So, skip the middle man and start peddling your wares.


4. Wait
Don't shelve your novel...let it age like fine wine.  Who knows when the vampire trend will be back again.  It may be a while before it's officially "hot" again, but soon there will come a time when they become less unpopular.  The only thing more annoying than people liking something because it's popular, is people not liking something because it's popular.  With every trend, there is a time after when people prove they are cool by defaming the popular thing.  Let the too-cool-for-vampires camp to simmer down for a while.


5.  If you love it, love it
If you like writing about vampires, do it!  There is a reason that they are way too popular.  They are sexy and scary and fun.  Celebrate your vamp love by checking out these posts:

MonsterFest 2011
The It Factor
Ten Things About Vampires
Ten Things About Vampires, Part II


Friday, September 23, 2011

September 2011 Contests & Critique Opportunities - Part II

Reading this in your feed?  You're missing my pretty new "blue storm" blog background.

CONTESTS

Agent's Inbox Contest: This one is such a great learning experience.  Entrants post their query and first 250 words and an agent publicly says what they think!  Scary?  Yes.  But such a great opportunity.  The September installment is for YA & MG only.  The call for entries will post on 9/26.

Baker's Dozen Agent Auction:  I don't even know where to begin to describe this one.  But if you are ready to query, you must check this out.  It's going to be epic.  All genres.  First critique round starts 9/27.

The Best-Writer Buddy Blog Contest: To win you enter a comment "about your best writer-buddy and how she/he inspires and encourages you."  The contest is going on at http://yascribe.blogspot.comhttp://arockinmypocket.blogspot.com, and http://midnightmeditations.blogspot.com.  You can enter at all three places for a chance to randomly win a query critique from agents Molly Jaffa or Katie Grimm. YA/MG only.  Due 9/30.

YA Confidential Launch Contest: The new blog YA Confidential celebrates it's launch with the opportunity to win a query critique from Sarah LaPolla or a 5-page critique from Vickie Motter.  All you have to do is follow and enter at this post for a chance to randomly win.  YA only (presumably).  Deadline 10/7.

Pitch Contest with Mandy Hubbard:  Details aren't available yet, but this contest should occur in about 2 weeks.  Follow http://yatopia.blogspot.com (like you're not already!) to get the details when they post.

Hook for Your Book Contest: Post a 50 word pitch to be judged by agent Jeanie Pantelakis.  The one for fantasy will run from 10/10-10/17.


CRITIQUE OPPORTUNITIES

Beta Match at Rach Writes... - Are you looking for a beta reader or critique partner?  Check the comments to find a match for you.  Or even better, just contact me, because I'm looking too!  :)

Miss Snark's Logline critique - What a great idea.  I have been writing loglines all over the place for contests, but to be totally honest, I actually never really thought about getting them critiqued.  You will be able to submit your logline for critique on 9/27 (wait for call to entries).  "It will be a lottery with a large submission window."

Killer Characters Blogfest  - 10/24-10/28.  Write posts about your favorite "killer" characters on your blog to participate.  You can win critiques from author Elana Johnson.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Manuscript says to query, "It's not you, it's me."


As writers I think we prefer to believe that the query is nothing but a necessarily evil.  Our story is too big and complicated to really be summarized in less than 250 words.  Of course, to some extent, this is true.  It is easy to fail to due your book justice in a query.  But your query may actually say more about your book than you would like to believe.  

When I was on Agent Query Connect getting feedback on my query, I would sometimes be annoyed by people critiquing the novel and not the query, such as "your MC isn't likable enough"  or even "you're telling the story from the wrong point of view."  When I heard things like this, I took it to mean that I had written the query in a way that had failed to demonstrate the awesomeness of my manuscript, and did not consider that something was actually wrong with the manuscript itself.  After all, an author getting ready to send out queries doesn't want to be told to re-write their manuscript from another POV.  They were quite bold to make such an assertion after only reading the query.  My beta readers didn't say anything like that, and they had read the book.  

In retrospect, I realized that someone who has read only my query may be able to catch on to things that someone who read my book may not.  Sometimes you can't see what's right in front of your face.  My beta readers, and certainly myself, were too distracted by the details of the book to notice such a basic problem.  When you write a query, you lay out just the basics.  MC.  Motivation.  Conflict.  You can use some voice, but you don't have much room for flash or flare.  The simplest version of your plot shines through, for better or worse.

So, be a query whisperer and pay attention to what your query critique says about your novel and not just about your query.  The query is smarter than you think.

The challenge is that you can write a bad query for a good book.  So, how do you know when you need to set aside your query and make changes to your manuscript?  Here are some clues I noticed:

1.  You've worked HARD on your query and it's still not as good as you'd like it to be.  It's almost impossible to work too hard on your query, but it's possible.  I think I did.  You should read as much as you can about how to write a query, get tons of feedback, and re-write your query many, many times.  But if you have done all that and your query is still not working for you, pat yourself on the back for a job well done on your query, and then get back to work on your manuscript.

2.  Feedback about your query is lukewarm and nonspecific.  If feedback about your query is negative and has specific suggestions about parts that are confusing or mistakes you've made a about query structure, you should re-write your query.  If people are out of specific criticism but still aren't blown away, or you're getting good feedback from your critiques, but not agents, you might have written your query as well as possible and the problem lies elsewhere.

3.  Laying out your main character's motivation and conflict is anything less than extremely easy.  Part of me knew from the beginning that I had made a critical error when I had trouble describing my MC's central motivation and conflict.  But, I didn't want to believe it.  The fact is that the basics of your plot should be extremely easy to describe, and NOT because it makes for a better high concept Twitter pitch.  If the central conflict isn't well defined (or in my case, is not centered around the POV character), you have a problem with your manuscript.

4.  Describing your genre is anything less than extremely easy.  Okay, this is a tough one for me.  I have re-written my novel to fit more easily into the definition of "contemporary fantasy", but it's still sort of genre hybrid.  I can't make my square peg fit into a round genre hole and I'm okay with my odd-ball manuscript, but ideally, you want to know exactly what genre you're writing in and be able to pick out a few sister novel comps that yours fits in great with.  You'll get an agent a lot faster that way because the agent will know how to market it.  If you can't name your genre in your query extremely easily, you should at least put serious thought into adapting your novel to fit in better and if you can't, be prepared for a tougher road.


Realizing that you need to re-work your manuscript instead of your query is bad news.  After all, as hard as it is to re-write a query over and over, it takes a lot longer to re-write a manuscript.  However, re-writing a manuscript is a lot more fun than re-writing a query over and over.  With all the work getting ready to submit to agents, I had almost forgotten how great it felt to actually write my novel instead of queries and Twitter pitches all the time.

Before I started my next draft, I wrote the query first.  I wish I had known to write the query first before I even started.  But a first time novelist simply wouldn't know to do that.  (That's why you've got to fail a little before you succeed.)  When I wrote my query with the changes I planned to make, it fell in to place easily.  I  knew right away I had done the right thing because the query was so much easier to write.  See?  A query knows more than you think.  The happy ending is that the changes I have made make my story better.  And who clued me in?  My worst enemy...the query.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 2011 Contests & Critique Opportunities - Part I

Photo by Texas Storm Chasers
The Texas wildfires this week made me feel like I was already living in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world.  But in the real world, disasters show us that at the end of the day, humans really care about each other.  Everyone from cupcake bakers to sandwich shops to everyday you-and-me-s donated, time, money and items to help the victims.  The real world is mean, but full of hope.  Fortunately, my family suffered no ill-effects from the fires greater than aggravated allergies from the smoke.

Now on to the contests!

The 1st To Make Our Toes Curl - 9/11-9/17 or first 50 entries.  500 words of the "first romantic experience between your male and female characters" (nothing explicit).  You can win SEVEN critiques of your first 10 pages from all the girls at Oasis for YA.

Operation Awesome's legendary Mystery Agent Contest will be held 9/15.  Follow their blog to catch the entry post.

Can You Hook a Teen? Blogfest Contest - 9/21-9/23.  Post your first 250 words with the linky link to be judged by teens from the Teen Eyes Editorial Services.  You can win editing gift certificates from them.

The Judge and Jury Blogfest - Now through 9/30.  Enter a 300 word "defense scene" which can be any "scene were someone defends themselves against something" and post it on your blog with the linky link.  Winners get gift cards, and everyone gets extra blog views!

Disgruntled Bear Query Contest RSVP - Not live yet.  Katie will be hosting a query contest sometime this fall and wants to know who is interested in entering.

Romance contest updates on Seekerville.

Critique Opportunities:

Critique Sisters First Paragraph Critiques - Post your first paragraph in comments by 9/12 and they will randomly select two for open critique on their blog.

Read for Relief Auction - On 9/12 they will hold an auction where you can bid for query and partial critiques from agents, editors, and authors.  Proceeds benefit victims of Hurricane Irene.

Oasis for YA will now be hosting first 250 word critiques every Thursday.

Cynthia at Random Thoughts hosts weekly synopsis or query critiques.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Query Bios: If you don't have anything nice to say...



Writing a query bio is easy.  All you have to do is list all of your impressive publication credits and contest wins.  So simple, right?  Yes, unless you've never been published or won a contest.  Fortunately, you're not the first person to have this problem.  From what I've read, agents prefer you to have strong credentials (obviously) but they also understand that plenty of people querying don't have impressive resumes yet.

What to do?
If you don't have much to put in your bio you have two choices:

Choice #1 - GET CREDENTIALS
It's a far cry from the easy way, but since when was anything worth doing easy?  If you're seriously seeking a professional writing career, you're looking for a job.  And like with any job, having experience is going to make you stand out.  Even though going out and getting credentials takes time and work, it may actually be easier than you think if you think small.  And you do have the time.  How about while you wait for your beta readers to finish you work on a short story?  Or write a story while you give yourself a break from your WIP after you start editing so you can look at it fresh.

Here are some ways to gain credentials:

  • Write short stories - There are tons of places to get a short story published - check out http://www.writersmarket.com.  And it's a LOT easier to get a short story published than a novel.  Don't worry about major publications, just get published somewhere.  
  • Enter contests - How about a blog contest?  I won a blog contest and wasn't sure it that was a good enough credential to add in my query.  Two agents who reviewed my query said it was okay to include.
  • Join professional organizations - This is one of the easiest ones, but it may cost you some $.  Remember, free organizations look good too.
  • Join critique groups
  • Attend a conference 
  • Attend a workshop

A little can go a long way if you:

1) Think small

Agents naturally will prefer a author with prestigious credentials, but that's not the only thing they are looking for in a bio.  A bio shows an agent that you're serious about writing.  Small publications, small contest wins, and small affiliations are easier to get and still show an agent that you're serious about your craft.

How small is too small?
You probably don't want to include your publication in your high school literary magazine, but other than that, minor publications are fine as long as they are recent and relevant.  Author Nan Comargue defines recent and relevant in her post Query Letters 101 - Your Bio

2) Think free
You can spend some $$ on professional affiliations and conferences, but don't necessarily have to.  Look for local or online writing groups with free or low monthly dues.  Any suggestions?  Post in comments.



Check out No Publishing Credits? Get Publishing Credentials: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast for more ideas.


Here is what agent Noah Lukeman says about getting credentials: "...in the big picture, ultimately the solution is for you to make a sustained effort towards gaining those very credentials which will indeed impress an agent. Just because you’ve never been published in a major literary magazine, or attended a prestigious writing program, or hold endorsements from famous authors, doesn’t mean that you can never attain those things on your own: indeed, many authors who land agents have already managed to attain these things on their own."



Choice #2 - LEAVE YOUR BIO EMPTY
Really, it's okay.  Unpublished authors can land agents.  And the last thing you want to do is add irrelevant information to fill space.  In most cases, the only appropriate things to list in a bio are recent and relevant publishing credits, contest wins, and membership in writing groups.  If you don't have these, you're best off saying nothing.

Here is what some agents say in support of leaving a bio empty:

Rachelle Gardner - "Don’t worry about platform and don’t stress about your bio. If you have traditionally published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist. If you like, you can indicate that you’re a blogger and you’are active on Twitter and Facebook (so the agent sees you’re aware of the importance of social networking for authors)."


Lauren Ruth"Others might disagree with me, but I’ll advise against listing credentials unless a.) you finalized in or won a contest or been given formal accolades on your writing b.) you’ve had something published, even a short story c.) you have work experience that is very relevant to the material in your query d.) You have an MFA in creative writing. Otherwise, it’s like putting the fact that you graduated high school on your resume: you’re only highlighting your lack of higher credentials.

The good news is, you don’t have to have credentials to become a published author. For fiction, no agent is going to reject you solely because you’ve never been published or won a contest.  But, if the agent is on the fence about requesting more, your credentials might be the tipping point. For this reason, I’d rather see either big credentials or no credentials at all. Let your writing speak for itself and focus on the strengths of the book you’re querying."


Noah Lukeman -

Thus it’s best to just say it like it is, and state that you have no credentials and that this is your first work (this is not necessarily a strike against you, as there always remains the thrill of discovery). Even better, you can keep the query letter short and not mention anything at all, ending the letter abruptly after your synopsis and concluding sentence. This at least demonstrates self-awareness and word economy."


I think the pros and cons between the choices are pretty obvious.  With choice #1 you have a better bio but it's a lot of extra work and possibly cost.  With choice #2, your bio doesn't look as good but it's easier.  Personally, it's taken me a while to get up the gumption to select choice #1.  I am the mother of a toddler and have a part-time job so any free time I find, I use on my novel WIP.  I rationalize that I don't have time to write, edit, and submit short stories and don't have the money to join professional organizations.  But the bottom line is, is that extra time and money worth increasing my chances of publication?  In my opinion, absolutely.










Friday, August 26, 2011

AUGUST 2011 CONTESTS - Part IV




CONTESTS

YA Highway First Lines Contest - Due midnight PST (3am EST) 8/27.  I usually like to list contests that give critique or agent exposure as a prize.  This one gives away books as prizes, but you still can get some feedback on your first line.  Enter with the form at the bottom of the post.  YA entries may be presumed, but it doesn't have explicit genre requirements.

Would You Read It? Contest - This is an ongoing opportunity.  Email your pitch to Susanna and each Wednesday she posts pitches on her blog.  Once a month, her readers vote and the winning pitch is sent to editor Erin Molta for review and comments.  Only YA, MG, early readers, picture books.

Hooked on Hooks Contest - Coming up on 9/30.  Follow http://zookbooknook.blogspot.com for the official entry post and details to come.  All genres.

Upcoming Romance Contests - Find 5 upcoming romance contests on this post from the Women's Fiction Chapter of RWA.


Critique Opportunities

Writer A.L. Sonnichsen is giving away a full manuscript critique to a random commenter.  Leave a comment here to enter.  Due midnight PST (3am EST) 8/31.

Head's up, the Rach Writes blog will be doing a beta match for critique partners on 9/19.  I'll probably be there looking for some new readers for my upcoming draft of Stormland, upgraded with lots of extra awesome.  I also encourage you to become a part of Rachel's Writer's Platform Building Campaign or at least follow the blog to enjoy all the campaign events and information.

Freelance editor C.A. Marshall is going to randomly pick two Twitter followers to give away a $35 gift certificate for her editing services.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Trends for the Untrendy: Prologue to Rejection?



I have included my post on prologues in the trends for the untrendy series because in my humble opinion, prologues are not bad writing if done well, but prologues seem to have fallen out of style.  Personally, I wish this wasn't so.  Currently, I am working on a re-write of Stormland, and was excited to start fresh.  This time I would do everything right.  I had learned all the things that agents hate and would do none of them.  The prologue was one of the first things on my kill list.  But no matter how many ways I tried to unprologue my story, it just doesn't feel right without one.  I have written a different prologue with this draft, but it's still there, waiting to annoy an agent.  So what's the verdict, should I chunk it because it's uncool or leave it in and hope for the best?  Undecided.  Here is what other people are saying about the prologue:

Prologue Hating Agents:

Natalie Fischer describes her feelings in a none too subtle blog post, Why I Hate Prologues.  If that wasn't clear enough for you, she also suggests cutting the prologue in her post Ponder, Polish, Perfect: How to Successfully Revise.

Sarah LaPolla discusses her "deep hatred of prologues" in My Inevitable Prologue Post.

Prologue Skipping Agents:

Vickie Motter is an admitted prologue-skipper but she'll read on and give your submission a chance.  She offers a helpful post about the do's and don'ts.  She says here that an "insta-no" is, "A prologue that is excessively long or I don't think is necessary; I'll try to skip ahead to the first chapter to give it a fair chance, but your prologue should be just as well written as the rest and if I'm in a hurry or super slammed with partials, I won't get that far."

Suzie Townsend says that prologues are often boring and she skips them, but gives an example of a prologue that she enjoyed.

Prologue Ambivalent Agents:


John Rudolph - "I’m really getting tired of the vague prologue that drops hints that something dangerous or mysterious is going to happen but doesn’t really give you any clue what the book is about."

Authors Opinions:

Former agent Nathan Bransford has several posts on prologues which give sensible advice that isn't overly biased either way.  Prologues  Can I Get a Ruling: How Do We Feel About Prologues?

Romance writer Lynette Labelle explains that whether or not prologue may depend on the genre.

Renee Harrell talks about fighting for their prologue.

Nikki Katz is a prologue supporter.

Heather McCorkle talks about the conflicting advice she's gotten about her prologue and concludes that, "You must stay true to your vision for your novel."

Author Cara Lynn James says her editor actually suggested adding a prologue.

Marlena Cassidy shares my confusion about why people hate prologues but warns against clever tricks to hook readers.

Nathan Bransford completed an opinion poll about prologues and 70% of people thought the value of a prologue depends simply on how good the prologue is.  That is my opinion, and it I feel that it is quite sensible, however I suspect that it's not that simple.  A prologue, especially a well-written one, is not likely to destroy your chances of publication if the rest of your story is good...but it won't make it any easier.  Isn't getting published hard enough as it is?

My advice is to avoid the prologue if your story can do without it.  Don't give agents any reason to reject you.  With all that said, if your story feels right with a prologue, leave it in.  The bottom line is that not following your gut never seems like good advice.  Besides, what's cooler than being too cool to follow a trend?  ;)  Just make sure your prologue is stellar and absolutely adds value to the story. If you chose to prologue, either avoid the prologue haters or design a special draft sans prologue to send to haters.

Want to weigh in on the prologue?