Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kreativ Blogger Award




Big thanks to Jamie Ayers, for the Kreativ Blogger Award!  It will look lovely on my side bar.  So, now I'm supposed to share 10 random things about me.  I'll tell you, I'm a private person...this will be my first post that isn't about writing...so deep breaths.  I hope you enjoy the honor of learning a few things about me because I might freak out and take this down later.  :)

1)  I am 9 weeks pregnant with my second child!  That one was easy.  :)

2)  I once stabbed a knife all the way through my hand while trying to de-pit an avocado.  Here's a kitchen tip - don't try to de-pit an avocado by stabbing it with a knife while holding it in your hand.  Yes, despite my high SAT score, my common sense is not always 100%.  The hospital thought the story was so ridiculous, they were certain I was lying and on drugs.  I don't know if it's a good or bad thing that I was dead sober when I did that.

3)  I have run three marathons....each one slower than the one before

4)  My husband is a descendant of one of the Alamo defenders.  Our son was named after the brother of the soldier (the one who lived to branch the family tree) and he was born on the day the Alamo fell.

He's one of the guys in the background
5)  I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen.  I wrote it by hand in a spiral while I was on a long road trip with my family.  When I got home, I typed it on the computer but was too self-conscious to let my parents read it so I saved it on a floppy disk.  The floppy disk became degraded and I lost all of my work.  Of course, I'm much more careful now.

6)  I am the great granddaughter of WWII General Laurence Kuter.  He was the youngest general officer in the Army in 1942.  There is a photo of him taken at the Yalta Conference with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.

7) I have been sky diving and snorkeling and I think snorkeling is much scarier because I'm freaked out by fish.

Photo by Robert Studio
8)  The most famous person I've ever met is George W. Bush.  I was in the same high school class as his daughters and played on the high school soccer team with one of them.  We had the soccer team party at the Governor's Mansion and W. attended.  There, I was given the award for "Most Aggressive" because I liked to knock people down on the field.  Later, the coach worried this would hurt my self-esteem so she changed it to "Most Courageous."  Both George W. & George Sr. were at my high school graduation, meaning it was also well-attended by men in black suits.

9)  I have listened to the Harry Potter audio books an unreasonable number of times.  I am a little bit addicted to Jim Dale's voice.

10) My husband and I met on eharmony.com

Now I am pleased to pass this award on to some of my awesome fellow bloggers:

Kelley Lynn from Between The Bookends
Deanna Barnhart from http://deanabarnhart.blogspot.com/
Freya Morris from A Writer's Endeavor
Crystal Licata from Reading, Writing, & A Little Bit Of Nonsense
Lindsay N. Currie from http://tiptoe-kisses.blogspot.com/

Thanks for the awesome blogs ladies!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sobering statistics...plus ten shots to get you drunk again



Every once in a while I come across blog posts with "sobering statistics" or the "cold hard truth" about publishing or getting an agent. The bottom line is always this...getting published is really, really, really hard. Whenever I read posts like this, I wonder, why do you feel the need to "sober" me? All serious writers know that getting published is hard, and if they don't know yet, they'll know soon enough.  
I would like to share some sobering statistics I recently found, and then share my ten shots to keep you going anyway.

I got an email from QueryTracker.net that said this, "First off, I would like to thank everyone for a great year. In 2011, QT added 12,036 new members and displayed over 6,300,000 pages. Members are now tracking nearly 250,000 queries, and logged 273 offers of representation. Thank you all for making QT a success, and I hope to add your success story to our list in 2012."

Congratulations QueryTracker! But guess what, I didn't hear anything you just said. All I caught was that 250,000 queries only led to 273 offers of representation.  That means that a query's chance of success is just a little better than 1 in a 1000.

If you have the luxury of being a QueryTracker Premium member (and you should be), you can see the spreadsheet of responses for each agent for each query they get.  When you see this, you know that it's rough out there.  Agents simply don't make many requests.

Feel free to pout for a little while, but then it's time to build yourself back up.  You didn't start writing because you thought it was a get-rich-quick scheme.  It's tough and you know it.  Here are my ideas for how to learn from these statistics and stay motivated.  Hopefully by the end you'll be nice and tipsy again.

1)  Query widely

Despite hours spent pouring over agent blogs and interviews, I have learned one thing.  I still can't predict which agents will like my query.  The ones I think will love it don't, and the ones I almost didn't query do.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't do your agent research, just don't assume you can predict their responses.  Query in batches so you can fix problems you discover in the querying process before you hit the whole agent list, but if you feel like your query and story are at their best, don't be afraid to cast a wide net.

2)  Write more than one project

There are two types of giving up.  One - you can give up on a project that isn't working.  Two - you can give up on writing.  Number one isn't really giving up, it's moving on.  If you keep writing new projects, and presumably improving each one, you are drastically improving your odds of eventually getting published.

3)  Don't just query

In the time I've been a serious writer, I've actually gotten more requests resulting from contest wins than queries.  Yes, it's easier to win a contest than get picked out of the slush.  This may be because contests have limited entries and the agent almost always picks a few winners and runners-up, so your odds are better.  But whatever reason it's happening, just do it.  Enter blog contests.  They're free.  They're awesome.  Nothing to lose.  Of course, conferences are also well known for being a good way to stand out....but they're far from free.

4)  Send only your best

This is a no-brainer, but the statistic above drives this home for me even more.  You have to have a great query, premise, writing, everything.  If you're missing any part, you're not likely to get representation.  Keep on re-writing until you can't think of anyway to make it better (within reason...I'm not sure I'll ever reach this point with anything).  Research pet peeves and what makes a "tough sell" then don't do it...even if you think it's a stupid rule.  Debut writers can't get away with much.  When you're rich and famous, then you can break all the rules.  :)

5)  Query new agents

Another cool thing about QueryTracker.net Premium membership is that you can see how an agent changes their responses throughout their career. What they say is true, new agents really do make more requests, a lot more.

6) It's not a numbers game

I know I contradict myself a little bit here.  Yes, you should write more than one project and query widely to increase your odds, but queries aren't like tickets in a lottery...at least not tickets with equal value.  You can send out a bad query to a hundred agents and get no response or you can send an amazing query to ten agents and get ten responses (in theory anyway, I'd be surprised if any writer bats 1000).  So try not to worry too much about the odds and spend your time finding ways to stand out from the crowd.

7) A rejection doesn't equal "you suck"

This may be an insanely positive way of looking at it, but since so few queries get a response, you can't assume that your book is bad just because it's not getting any requests.  It's just hasn't blown anybody out of the water.  Imagine if you were an agent, would you want to champion a book that was "okay" or even "good"?  No, you'd want it to keep you up at night with it's awesomeness.  So, you may not be a bad writer, you might even be really good, just not awesome yet.  The moral of this story is that rejections don't mean you should give up, it means you should get better and try again.

8) Be inspired by the impossible

Maybe this is just me...but sometimes thinking about fighting against impossible odds makes me feel great.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile, something heroic.  I'm proud that I'll never regret not having tried.  This year, I couldn't think of any good New Year's Resolutions because I already give my dream my 110%.

9) Rise above the fray

This is probably the most difficult of all the "shots" because it requires lots of hard work with little reward, but the truth is, if you keep working hard you will keep getting better.  Increase your odds by simply being a maniac about your goals.  Stand above the others who give up after they fail.  Instead of thinking about the odds of a single project, I will think about my overall goal of getting a novel published.  I've only been a serious writer for about two and a half years (and I had a baby in that time, so I give myself a handicap), and I've come a long way.  I think about how far I'll go if I keep trying for three more years, or five, or ten, or the rest of my life (although please God, let it happen faster than that).  When I consider that I won't ever give up, the idea of never getting published at all seems almost...dare I say...unlikely.

10)  Don't be rational, be a writer

Writing isn't rational.  Period.  It's hard to get published, and even if you do, odds are you won't become J.K Rowling (or even be able to quit your day job).  Despite your day dreams, you know this.  No one writes a novel because it's rational.  So don't worry if it's not.  Be irrational.  Be a writer.

I hope you're feeling nice and toasty again.  If you want more inspiration, check out my past inspirational posts:



What helps you stay motivated despite bad odds?

















Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 2012 Contests & Critique Opportunities - Part II


New Contests & Opportunities:

Miss Snark's First Victim January Secret Agent Contest - Your first 250 words judged by a secret agent.  There will be 2 submission windows on Monday, January 23: 9:00 am to 11:00 am EST and 7:00 to 9:00 pm EST.  Read the instructions carefully, you can't get past the 'bot' if you make a mistake.  Adult literary, memoir, humor, YA, & MG.

YAtopia Pitch Contest - On January 25th, submit your 2 line pitch and first 100 words into comments.  This contest is judged by editors from Entangled Press.  Your MS can be any genre and any age range but must have romance as a central element.  Novella length work is welcome!  Each editor will choose at least one manuscript for a full request.

Book Cover Design Giveaway - If you're self-publishing, check this one out.  You can win a free book cover design from http://www.vlcphoto.net.

Critique Giveaway by Marcia Hoehne - Marcia will give away 2 critiques of the first 1000 words of a chapter book, MG, or YA project to random commenters between now and 1/29.

Contest Reminders:

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - Enter to win a publishing contract with the Penguin Group or other prizes (there are up to 200 third prize winners).  Contest is for a complete finished YA or adult novel.  Entry window is open between 1/23-2/5 but they only take the first 5000 entries in each category so enter early!

Houston Writers Guild 2012 Novel Contest - $15.  Multiple genres.  You submit only your first 10 pages and the grand prize is $500.  There are multiple runner ups named as well (which looks good on your query bio).  You do not have to be a member of the Houston Writers Guild or a resident of Houston or Texas.  Deadline 1/30.

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.

Apologies to http://jamieayres.wordpress.com/ and http://cupidslitconnection.blogspot.com/ for missing their agent judged contests this week.  Darn.  Make sure and follow these blogs for future contests.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Can You Hit a Perfect Pitch? Blogfest Contest Entry



Welcome visitors from Brenda Drake's blog!  If you're not participating in the contest yet, you still can.  Check it out here.

Pitch:

Warren never lets bullies mess with his little brother, no matter now big or bad. So when the King of the Texas Empire kidnaps Warren’s brother, Warren embarks into a still-wild West to save him.


1st 150 words:

Warren’s mother had taped his old Star Wars comforter over the patio door of their apartment.  He didn’t pause too long to wonder why.  His mother suffered from what his brother called, “severe eccentricity,” and blacking out the windows with old sheets for no obvious reason wasn’t out of character.  With both of her sons out of the house now, there was no one to put out the fire if she tried to make bacon in the toaster again, so Warren always came home when she asked him to.  But if she had called him for anything less than a toaster fire, he would head right back to campus to enjoy the first day of summer the way it was intended to be enjoyed – drunk and poolside.


He wiped his feet like he had been taught even though their revolting brown carpeting didn’t show much.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Agent Interview - Mark Falkin of Falkin Literary

  
I am honored to introduce new literary agent, Mark Falkin. Mark is actively building his list and is looking for, "fiction, namely, novels with a literary bent in these general categories (in no order of preference): suspense; thriller; horror; dystopian; offbeat and quirky; humorous; and the catchall, that ineffable one called “literary”. "  Read his full wishlist at  http://falkinlit.blogspot.com/.  He also can be found on QueryTracker and AgentQuery.

Although you're a new literary agent, you have 13 years of experience in entertainment and intellectual property law, and have even represented a Grammy® winner. How do you feel that your experience in entertainment law will lend to your career as an agent?

In dealing with musicians, management companies, recording companies and music publishers, I know what rights creators hold, what a creator can and should exploit, and, in most circumstances, for how much. These are the core analogies between lawyering and agenting. I know what publishing agreements say, how to advise authors as to their meaning, and how to negotiate them. Most agents come up from the mail room, answer phones, then become junior agents, etc. I've been practicing law on my own for long enough to have developed the experience and the battle scars to now help writers along their path through the legal, transactional and advisory morass that is the nexus between art and commerce. However, though these legal skills and years of experience are valuable, I think the fact that I am a writer (acquiring an agent on my second novel), the insight I bring to the process as an artist, is even more potent and useful to the writer-client. I truly 'get it'.


You ask for the first two chapters along with a query. What sorts of things do you look for in these chapters when you're deciding whether or not to make a request? Any particular turn-offs?

I just want to be hooked and compelled. For that to happen, there has to be an intertwined and robust combination of narrative, prose and character. There is no objective checklist. There really can't be one. That's why we like art, why we read, why we write, right? Because it is all totally subjective and often inexplicable. So, to identify turn-offs would be to delve into objectivity. But I can say that triteness kills. But so does a desperate attempt at uniqueness. It's so case-by-case. All writers should innately know this. What works...works. What doesn't, doesn't, which is for me and me alone to determine. Others may very well see something in a piece I don't. And, really, thank God for that. Let's celebrate our differences, understanding that everyone has differing sets of expectations. Art is magic, and as such, it cannot be explained. Methinks I pontificate too much. I'll stop now.


How would you describe the perfect query letter for you?

Brevity. Cut the cuteness and the tap dance. Include the word count up top, and the genre as you see it. Erin Morgenstern, author of 'The Night Circus', posted hers online (link). That's a good example. The rules for queries are simple and posted on many a snarky blog. There's no excuse for not writing a solid query. That said, for me, I don't put too much credence into a query, unless it's just ridiculous. I get to the writing right away as long as the premise is viable.


Are you open to queries for Young Adult? If so, is there anything in particular you're looking for in this category?

Sure. I'd say I probably prefer YA that's literary and cut from the cloth of real life as opposed to fantasy and magical realism. I'm simply not interested in a shapeshifting anything or anything that trades on Harry Potter.


You say that you're looking for novels with a "literary-bent". In your opinion, what are the characteristics that give a novel a "literary-bent"?

Again, very hard to objectify. Lyricism, an elegance, a beat and meter to the prose that intoxicates. "Voice". To me, reading and writing is about trances, being in one and inducing them. The cobra/horn blower dialectic. When I write, when it's coming and it's feeling good and the endorphins are flowing, I lose time. I'm in a trance. Plot-only books can put me there as a reader, certainly, but it's the books that tell the tale in a way that entrances, mesmerizes . . . that's when a book is a knock-out. That ability is innate within a writer, sewn into a certain work; it cannot be taught. So, when I say literary-bent, I mean a great tale well-told, something beyond the quotidian stage direction, where they're standing and what they're wearing.


What are some of your personal favorite books?

Of course I'll say it's hard to say, but for the sake of it: all wandering around the top of the list as I sit here today would be: O'Nan's 'A Prayer for the Dying', Woodrell's 'Winter's Bone', McGuane's 'Ninety-Two in the Shade', Proulx's 'Close Range: Wyoming Stories', 'The Great Gatsby', Cunningham's 'The Hours', Lethem's 'The Fortress of Solitude', King's 'The Shining', McCarthy's 'No Country for Old Men', 'Lolita'. As soon as you publish this, I'll forget about nineteen others I'd like to see on there, so. Lists . . . bah. :)


You're a published writer who's been through the querying process, and as you say on your website, you know it can be a real "slog". What advice do you have to help writers stay motivated through the querying process?

Man, oh man. Before getting to that, I need to say that rejection, in all its myriad forms, hurts. Please don't fall for the grain-of-salt crap. It stings. Let it. You're an artist, after all. You're sensitive. Stiff upper lip? It's just business? My ass. Let it sting. Let it pass. Don't let it enrage. It will make you stronger. Eventually.


There. I feel better.


First: Don't be delusional. Do you really have the chops? Do you really? Is this book really good, or are you just wanting it to be?

Second: Listen to criticism. If you are hearing the same negative thing about your book over and over, you've got to fix it. If it can't be fixed, it's probably fatal to the book.

Third: If the answer to the first is an honest 'yes', and you've rewritten the book per criticism, from others and your own (answering that first question again), do not give up.

Writing a good novel is arguably one of the more difficult and rewarding tasks in all of human endeavor. If it were easy, more would do it. Few can. Staying passionate about your book is maybe the hardest thing. You've been schlepping it around, in your head, in your briefcase, tinkering, rewriting, editing, rewriting. You're bloody sick of it. But that's exactly when you have to summon that inner Rocky Balboa, go running to the top of the stairs, thrust your fists into the air and say to yourself, "I will not give up." Do whatever you need to do to put you in that place of passion you had when you were first writing it. Playing music, reading works that inspire, maybe working on something else to freshen your brain. Coffee helps too.

Thank you, Mark!  It's good to know I'm not the only one who has an existential crisis every time I get a form rejection.  :)  To query Mark, send your query plus two chapters (in the body of the e-mail, please) to mark.falkin [at] gmail.com.

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2012 Contests & Critique Opportunities - Part I


The publishing world is coming back from it's holiday snooze, so get ready for some contests!  Here's to 2012, the year to get published.  :)

Gabriella and Cassandra's Christmas Wishlist Contest - Check the editors' wishlists and if your manuscript fits, submit your query and first few pages.  Winners will get editing services.  Deadline 1/6.

The Endings - Ebyss always thinks outside the box.  This contest is for the LAST 500 words of your manuscript.  How's that for different?  Winner will get a first page critique by agent Lauren Hammond.  No genre restrictions.  Deadline 1/8.

YALitChat 2012 Pitch-Slam Weekend - For YALitChat members (it's free to join).  Post your 4-5 line YA pitch between 1/13-1/15 and agents will comment.  It's a chance to get the eyes of 2 agents and 1 editor and possibly win a full manuscript critique.

Can You Hit a Perfect Pitch? Blogfest Contest with Ammi-Joan Paquette - Brenda Drake has another great contest, and it has a critique portion so everyone wins (if you count getting helpful feedback as winning, and yes I do).  From 1/15-1/16 post your 2 sentence pitch and your first 150 words on your blog and then hop around to give critique.  On 1/17, add your revised entry to the official entry post and you could win a request from agent Ammi-Joan Paquette.  YA only.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - Enter to win a publishing contract with the Penguin Group or other prizes (there are up to 200 third prize winners).  Contest is for a complete finished YA or adult novel.  Entry window is open between 1/23-2/5 but they only take the first 5000 entries in each category so enter early!

Houston Writers Guild 2012 Novel Contest - $15.  Multiple genres.  You submit only your first 10 pages and the grand prize is $500.  There are multiple runner ups named as well (which looks good on your query bio).  You do not have to be a member of the Houston Writers Guild or a resident of Houston or Texas.  Deadline 1/30.

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.