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?



AUGUST 2011 CONTESTS - Part III

I have three words for you...or is it one word?


I hope some of you attended the amazing free conference at http://writeoncon.com.  It was held from the 16th to the 18th and was the most concentrated source of agent critique giveaways I have ever seen.  I don't see anything that says these giveaways aren't still accepting entries, so check it out!
http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/donate-to-writeoncon/
http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/thursday-night-recap/
http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/wednesday-night-recap/
http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/tuesday-night-recap/

CONTESTS

We Do Write Pitch Contest with agent Mandy Hubbard - Closes 8/19 at midnight (they didn't specify time zone but they also said they might leave it open until sometime 8/20, so give it a shot).  140 character pitch.  You can win a full MS request from Mandy Hubbard!  YA & MG only.

Love YA agent judged contest with Vickie Motter - Opens at 10am EST on 8/22/11, closes at 50 entries.  One sentence pitch and first 250 words.  You could win a query critique or 5 page critique, and agent contests can always result in a MS request!  YA and adult (certain genres).

Unpublished Beacon Contest - $25-35 entry fee based on affiliations.  Due 8/31/11.  First 30 pages.  Detailed feedback provided to all entrants.  ROMANCE only, including fantasy, futuristic, paranormal.

CRITIQUE OPPORTUNITIES

Beyond Lucky Auction for Grassroot Soccer - Silent auction including critiques from agents and editors.
Author Jen Knight gives away 10 page critique to random commenter


Monday, August 15, 2011

Best ways for a writer to spend $30 or less

Not me.


My husband is a teacher and I'm a part time social worker, so until I hit it big, I don't have the option of spending a lot of money on my writing.  This made me very jealous and angry in June when the Writer's League of Texas Agents Conference was held ten minutes from my house.  But $400, are you kidding me?

But enough ranting.  In the past few months, I have spent small chunks of change on writing-related products and I would like to share my reviews.

GREAT Querytracker.net Premium Membership - $25 per year
Find Literary Agents and Publishers at QueryTracker.net One of the great things about QT's Premium Membership is the value.  $25 PER YEAR is impressive and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the extra features.  The coolest thing about the premium membership is you get to see reports of all of the agent's activity.  Meaning, you get to see the result of every query (full request/partial request/form rejection/helpful rejection/no response) sent to that agent logged in QT, and the genre and word count of the MS in question.  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!



See an example of a report here.

GOOD - Publishers Marketplace Membership - $20 per month
Publishers Marketplace
Publishers Marketplace is a wealth of great information for people in the business, but I'll be focusing on the parts that I used as an unpublished author seeking an agent.  Publishers Marketplace is where you get the real info on agents.  You can learn how many books they sold recently, in what genre, and for how much.  The most useful section for me was "Dealmakers".  You select the genre you write and it ranks all the agents by who has been selling it the most recently.  You can also look up who sells the most debut novels and who makes the most six figure deals.  And of course, you can look up which actual books an agent sells to see what types of titles they represent.  I loved using Publishers Marketplace with Query Tracker to find agents that are dealmakers AND still actively seeking clients, and yes those agents do exist.  The only reason I gave this a "good" instead of "great" is that at $20 a month, the cost adds up.  However, you are billed monthly and can cancel anytime, so there is no reason why you can't get the info you want and then cancel.  ;)


OKAY - Submissions Package Edit by Freelance Editor - $35
Since I'm only rating this as "okay", I will not name the specific editor I used, but if you really want to know, you can certainly ask me.  And of course, I'm sure the quality depends a lot on the editor.  I'm getting a free sample edit from another editor, so if I get a different result there, I'll let you know!  The editors suggestions were great, and I'm sure it was exactly what it was supposed to be, but I had been expecting more.  It was an edit that was just a few notches above a proofread.  Her comments were few (which I suppose I could think of as a compliment) and were about certain sentences to change or delete.  I was left with no real sense of whether or not my first ten pages were well-written or marketable.  However, her comments on my query were much more helpful.  If you want to try out a freelance editor, do a little more research than I did and make sure you know what you're getting.


PASS - Grammarly - $19.95 a month
I really don't want to hate on Grammarly.  It is a really cool program.  And considering it is a computer program editing your work and not a person, it is really quite impressive.  I also want to say that I used it as a free trial and didn't pay a dime, so you don't have to take my word for it, you can check it out.  The main problem is that although it has a "creative" setting, Grammarly really doesn't understand creative writing.  In fact, most of the errors it found didn't make sense to me even with the explanation it provided.  It may be because I have a character named Will and at least the MS Word grammar checker thinks I mean "will" as in "about or going to", which admittedly makes for weird sentences.  It also pointed out all of the informal language "errors" (AKA voice).  So, in my opinion, it's not for fiction writing.  However, it could be a very useful tool for someone who does a lot of business or technical writing, or possibly a college student.

I hope my reviews were helpful!  Feel free to add any comments about your experience with these or other low-cost writing products.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 2011 CONTESTS - Part II


The Jacob Wonderbar Funny Writing Contest Spectacular Happening Event - Happening now.  Contest closes 8/11 6pm pst/9pm est. Can you write funny?  It's tough to master.  Submit 350 words in the comments section of this post.  It can be any 350 words - an excerpt or a single piece of micro fiction.  You can win critiques from the legendary former agent/current author blog master Nathan Bransford.  

Miss Snark's August Secret Agent - 2 submission windows on August 15th.  If you read my blog, I KNOW you read Miss Snark and know about Secret Agent contests.  But I have to post about contests I know about.  It's a compulsion!  As always it's the first 250 words judged by a secret agent.  Recently I entered one of her contests and her email response bot is tough to get by.  It REALLY has to be in a plain text email or it counts all the HTML code as words.  For some reason, it kept saying I was going over even after I switched it over to plain.  I hope you have better luck!

More August contests can be found here.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 2011 CONTESTS - Part I




It's so hot, there is no excuse not to stay inside and enter blog contests.  So, here you go!






CONTESTS

Get Your Foot In The Door Contest - Official entries 8/8-8/9.  Critique portion 8/5-8/8.  One sentence pitch and first paragraph judged by editors at Sourcebooks.  Lots of critique prizes.  Only for children's, MG, YA, romance, literary, and commercial fiction.

The Huge Micro Synopsis Contest with agent John Cusick - Now until 8/11.  A three sentence synopsis contest for MG & YA only.  You might win a full or partial manuscript request.

Summer Writing Contest at Blackbird in my Window - Now until 8/11.  A first 500 word contest judged by agent Lauren Ruth.  You may win a partial manuscript review.  Multiple genres including SF/F adult & YA.

Ninja Agents at WriteOnCon - Begins 8/15. This isn't technically a contest, but it could land you an agent, so it definitely belongs here.  It is like the Agent Inbox Contest on steroids.  Post your query in the forums where thirteen ninja agents will be lurking around leaving comments and maybe even making requests.  Don't forget, the WriteOnCon contest with a $1000 prize is going on until 8/17.

I like to focus on free contests, but here is a comprehensive post about upcoming contests with entry fees at Seekerville.  They are mostly, but not entirely, contests for romance writers (including paranormal).

CRITIQUE OPPORTUNITIES

A wild and crazy first line critique opportunity is going on here on Kidlit.com.  It doesn't specify genre, but I assume it's mostly MG & YA writers.

Freelance editor Cornell DeVille is offering a 250 word free sample here.

A Liebster in need is a Liebster indeed






I was thrilled to learn that Michelle Fayard of the immensely helpful blog, Bird's-eye View awarded me my first blogging award, the Liebster Blog, for blogs with less than 200 followers. Doesn't it look pretty on my side bar?


Thank you Michelle! Your encouragement was exactly what I needed to put an abrupt end to my blogging break.


Now it's time to pass the love along. I would like to award the Liebster Blog Award to these bloggers:


http://blackbirdinmywindow.blogspot.com - She has a contest going on NOW. Get over there! My guess is that she'll break 200 followers any minute

http://steenaholmes.com/blog/ - A frequently updated blog about writing and chocolate. Yum.

http://rungwenrun.blogspot.com/ - A writing and running blog. What a fun combo.

http://sommerleigh.com/ - A lovely blog. Sometimes updated more than once a day!

http://downunderwonderings.blogspot.com/ - A YAtopia contributor with great interviews on their own blog.


Here are my "I second that" winners. These guys have already won this award, but if they hadn't, they definitely would have been on my list. Check them out too!


http://freyamorris.blogspot.com

http://laurabwriter.blogspot.com


Congratulations winners! To pass the love again, link back to my blog on yours and then award the Liebster to 5 others.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Blogger Template Site Recommendation


I'm breaking my hiatus for a quick and easy post.  I found a free blogger template website that impressed me greatly, and I would like to share! These look like they were just made for a YA fantasy writer.

Lost in the View Blogger Layout
The Very Last Time Blogger Layout

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Blogging break



For the past few months I have been reading writing blogs and agent interviews like a crazy person and my mind is mush.  I'm going to take off a few weeks and spend some time reading other things...like books.  See you soon!