Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. II)

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what else Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say about writing great fiction. Click here for part I.

The Donald.

WHAT TURNS THE PAGE?

  • The notion of microtension
    • Microtension: the line-by-line tension on the page, which causes apprehension on the part of the reader and makes them move forward
    • It’s that “What’s going to happen?” feeling you get when you’re reading—it’s not in the story, not in the scene, but “what’s in the next few seconds?”
    • If you understand the principles, the underlying conflicting emotions inside the central character, you can do anything on the page.
    • Highly emotional and emotionally gripping writing

HOW DO YOU WRITE EMOTIONALLY-GRIPPING STUFF?

  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • What in the world of my story makes me personally furious?  Why?
    • What is the greatest injustice that you know, and how on the page can you give that fury to your heroine?
    • What are two new probs your MC can face?  And what are two ways your character can NOT get it?
    • What are two things your MC wants?  What is the opposite?  Two times to reject it and then, when she gets what she wanted, REJECT it?
    • In what way is the antagonist right? In what ways is he most human in what ways?
    • What are things only your heroine notices what about your world?
    • What could she say that would be shocking to even herself?
  • Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions and implementing some of them will make your fiction great.

Click here for part I with The Donald.

Book Review: Meg Cabot’s ‘Blast from the Past’ Delivers Just That

Remember that time in grade school when your class went to “Pioneer School” and only you and one other girl wore pants (the rest wore bonnets, hoop skirts and aprons)—and that fake teacher lady made you stand up in front of your whole grade and went, “Why’d you wear your brother’s britches, young lady?”

No?  Just me? (Thanks, Mom.) Well, I’m thinking it must have been Meg Cabot, too—or else, that fake teacher lady must have told her about it—because Blast from the Past, Cabot’s latest middle-grade novel, lived up to its title for this reviewer.

In this sixth installment of Cabot’s “Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls” series, fourth grader Allie Finkle must overcome a slew of obstacles: convince her parents she’s responsible enough to buy her own cell phone (she’s shed blood, sweat and tears saving up the $36—and it is her own money, after all), save her cat from being sealed up inside the walls while the construction guys rid her house of dry rot (ew—and snails!) and survive her first-ever field trip (to lame Honeypot Prairie, not somewhere cool like the SpaceQuest planetarium or the Dinosphere or the rare collectible Barbie exhibit at the Children’s Museum).

With her little brother insisting on wearing a hard-hat in public, Mrs. Hunter possibly getting married and moving away and Cheyenne O’Malley being—well—Cheyenne O’Malley, Allie has more than enough on her mind without having to also worry about the presence of her ex best friend, Mary Kay Shiner, and the rest of her former classmates from her former school, Walnut Knolls Elementary.

In the effortless way only she can, Meg Cabot disguises life lessons with humor, and she crafts memorable, true-to-life characters. Joey will remind you of that kid in your grade school who always got the nose bleeds, Brittany and her crew will take you back to those girls who wore training bras and made fun of you because you didn’t (unless you’re a dude—then she’ll probably remind you of someone else) and Allie will remind you of the girl you hoped your fourth grade teacher thought you were.

The premise of the entire series is that Finkle (or Stinkle, as Scott Stamphley calls her) keeps a book of rules—which she writes, based on what she learns throughout her adventures.  While a lesser author might use this as an opportunity to get on her soapbox, Cabot infuses Allie’s rules in a way that always feels fun and never feels preachy.

Although it’s the sixth book in the series, one can read Blast from the Past without having read the first five (although if you pick up the others, you’re promised five great middle-grade reads!).  As with any of her books in any of her series, Cabot weaves in the characters’ backstories to perfection.

With just the right amount of pop culture references and an authentic middle-grade voice, Cabot offers valuable guidelines for kids to adopt in their daily lives—and she makes it fun.

I highly recommend this book—and the entire series—to any reader, from middle-grade to adult (one who *ahem* still acts like a kid).

**And for my writers out there, this is a fantastic example of tight plotting, great voice, seamless backstory infusion, and character development.

Favorite quotes from Blast from the Past:

It was like President George Washington and I were practically the same person.

Allie’s thoughts upon discovering Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

Boys do even weirder things than that to show girls that they like them, such as try to wipe boogers on them.

Allie’s thoughts about Mrs. Hunter’s “old friend” throwing rocks at their classroom window and sending her flowers

According to Mrs. Danielson’s class, all they had at Honeypot Prairie were people dressed in old-timey clothes, who talked in old-timey talk, refusing to answer the simplest question like, “Where is the bathroom?” without going, “Well, there, young feller. If you want to take a bath, you have to pay five cents to do it at the grand hotel! That’s the only tub in town. But if it’s ye olde water closet you’re talkin’ about, you’ll find it down the milking trail, behind the bake house, but to the right of the ye olde covered bridge!

Oh, okay. Thanks for that. That explains everything.

Allie’s thoughts after finding out their field trip is to Honeypot Prairie, a one-room school house

Here's Cabot and me at RWA10! *dies*

Pointers from the Pros: Author Stephanie Feagan on Querying

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is author Stephanie Feagan’s advice when it comes to querying and revising.

THE QUERY ITSELF

  • Get feedback on it from writer friends.
  • It doesn’t matter if you win awards. It’s nice, but if the agent doesn’t think she can sell your book, then it having won an award isn’t going to change that.
  • She says to keep track of queries—who you’ve sent them to, what they’ve requested, responses, etc.
    • It’s normal to not hear back from just a query, but it NOT normal not to hear back with partials and fulls.

Nice, but not always necessary.

WHERE TO START WHEN QUERYING

  • Absolute Write Water Cooler
    • This is the first place she went [the forums].
    • It has agents listed, and people write down their experiences with them.
    • You can get a feel for how agents work.
  • AgentQuery
    • Agents have their own accounts and can sign in and update it [in terms of submission guidelines and genre preferences].
  • Agency Web sites
    • Usually, the most up-to-date info for submissions is listed there.
  • Verla Kay’s Blue Boards
    • This is like Absolute Write Water Cooler
  • Literary Rambles
    • [Casey McCormick spotlights agents by compiling interviews/profiles done with them from all over the Web.]
  • Publisher’s Marketplace
    • [Weekly listings of what agents have sold.]
    • [You must pay to use this site.]
  • QueryTracker
    • [A site where you can actually submit your query to an agent and track your experiences with requests/rejections.]
    • [Or, you can just go in there and read the comments of others who’ve done this, to get a feel for agents response times, likes/dislikes, etc.]
  • WeBook
    • [Works like QT:] Put in query letter, and it sends it to the agent you want it to.
    • They charge for it now.
  • AAR [Association of Authors’ Representatives]
    • It lists reputable agents and info about them.
    • [*However, it should be noted that just because an agent is NOT a member of AAR does NOT mean he or she is NOT reputable.]
    • It has a good list of questions to ask agents when you do get “the call,” [as well as many other helpful writer resources.]

DON’Ts

  • Don’t try the “throw-and-see-if-it-sticks approach” when querying.
    • [Where you query agents without researching them and make little changes to your MS, based on whatever feedback you can get your hands on.]
    • This  is desperate.
  • Don’t query multiple projects.
  • Don’t keep tweaking your manuscript.
    • If it’s ready to be out there, you should not keep revising.
    • Also, she says it’s much better just to scrap it rewrite the whole thing—that’s what she did.
      • This way, you don’t have to keep trying to shift around details to make it all “fit”—you’ve got a fresh palette.

Get a fresh start.

Want more? Here’s a post I did on How and Where to Find Literary Agents.

In the Blogosphere: 8/9-8/13

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

I’m admittedly behind with my Blogosphere posts—I have about 50 links saved, dating all the way back to May/June-ish (oh noes!)—but they are all still worth a look.  I’ll catch up eventually, right?

CONFERENCE GOODIES

You know how, when you go to some writers’ conferences, they give you a goodie bag?  Well, here are some links that are better than that!  Yes, they all are from kids’ lit conferences, but the skills are not just for kids’ lit writers.

Here, get soundbites from tons of industry professionals at the recent SCBWI L.A. conference—courtesy of the fabulous Michelle Schusterman of YA Highway.

The more I say "goodie bag," the more I want to giggle. #growup

In this post, over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing, the inimitable Martina Boone presents us with literary agent Elana Roth’s two cents about high concept (from the SCBWI ME/DE/WV conference).

Also, if you *weren’t* one of the thousands who attended this week’s free online writing conference, WriteOnCon, get out from under your rock and click here to check it out.  Most (if not all?) of the posts and vlogs are up there.  Such a fab event!

YA YA YA

Here *are* some things specific to YA writers.

This adorable post, by the equally-as-adorable Nathan-Bransford-repped Natalie Whipple teaches you how to Tweet and blog like a YA author.  Yes, I am guilty of all these things.

I’ve posted links on this subject before (mostly by Andrea Brown lit agent Mary Kole), but here is Deborah Halverson—The Editor’s—take on swearing in YA lit.

Also, over at his blogThe Book Deal—editor Alan Rinzler shares tips on writing YA from three Dystel & Goderich Literary Management agents, Stacey Glick, Michael Bourret, and Jim McCarthy.

ON KRAFT*

It’s all about the mission, baby.  The Storyfixer, Larry Brooks, discusses what makes a successful short story.

In this post at See Heather Write, freelancer/editor Heather Trese uses one of my favorite shows (How I Met Your Mother) to discuss character consistency.  Or lack thereof.

Why, yes - I *am* the cheesiest!

And while we’re on the subject of characters, Seth Frederiksen talks about how to make leading characters great at Fuel Your Writing.

As a little precursor to a “Pointers from the Pros” post I will be running soon, here’s The Donald (Donald Maass), over at Writer Unboxed, talking about creating tension.

*In case you missed my D.Maass/RWA10 post earlier this week, here it isPimping out her own blog? Why, yes, she is! (And talking about herself in third person, too—what a freak-a-zoid!)

I don't know what you hearrrrd about me . . . (What ever happened to 50 Cent anyway?)

HEHE

I heart these fellow Clevelanders and YA authors, Lisa and Laura RoeckerHere, they talk about how writing novels is a little like peeing your pants.

Oh—and this is why I love YA author John Green:

*See what I did there? 🙂

Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. I)

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say* about writing great fiction.

The Donald.

ON THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY: Is it a brave new world, or a lot like the past?

  • He says the industry hasn’t changed at all:

“The fundamental transaction (between the storyteller and the reader) is exactly the same.”

  • He points to the evidence that eBook bestsellers are the same as hard copy bestsellers—a direct correlation
  • He says there are some nuances, but, generally, it’s the same.

“Everything depends on great fiction.”

THREE THINGS THAT MAKE NOVELS GREAT

1. FEEDBACK

  • Most of his work is story development—working with authors to better their stories, create tension, etc.
  • In the “third draft stage,” you know your writing is good—you’re ready—you’re worthy—but you’re still getting rejections.
    • It’s the point at which you’ve learned everything you can from workshops, from crit partners
    • You need the last 10%—the stuff that agents and editors aren’t willing to share
      • What is it?
        • Craft and more craft—in particular, the pieces of the craft that you need
      • How do you get this?
        • Detailed, professional feedback—it’s worth paying for, if it’s good

2. CRAFT

  • Top authors in the field are very often students of the craft
    • Books 2,3, 4 make or break your career
    • Nora Roberts, for instance—160 books—and they’re all good!
    • He cites one author who runs a runs a book club, where the members read one book a month and then discuss how well the author handled one lens or aspect of the craft.  (These are all authors who have written 20—30 books, he says.)

3. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

  • He cites the example of 2010 RITA finalist Pamela Morsi’s Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
  • He says it’s emotionally gripping because Morsi brought herself into the story (she is from San Antonio—she knows the world intimately; she reinvented herself—as does her main character)

*More posts on The Donald at RWA to come–stay tuned!

RWA Freaking Rocked – Part 2

**DISCLAIMER:  There is an obnoxious amount of exclamation points in this post—but that is how RWA made me feel, so get over it.**

To see part 1 of my adventures at the Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando, click here.

FRIDAY

  • I woke with a shot of adrenaline. “OMG—You’re teaching today!” So, I went over my PowerPoint again, fixed my links (don’t ask), and set out toward my designated room.
  • When I got there, I realized I forgot the one thing they specifically told me I needed: a Mac LCD projector hookup thing-a-ma-jiggy.  Fear not—I had left it in my room—however, I had to sprint down the escalator (you never realize how slow those things really are until you’re in a hurry), across the ginormous lobby, back to my wing of the Dolphin, up to the fifth floor, and then back again.  In my adorable, but not-if-you-have-to-walk-in-them (and especially not-if-you-have-to-run-in-them) 3″ black heels.

So much fun!

  • I cursed myself as I threw my computer bag this way and that, in search of the stupid plug (“Great—now, you’re going to be late, sweaty, and out of breath for your session!”).
  • But all was well.  Just got some blisters, but that’s it.
  • And get this: People actually showed. A good amount of them—to see me!  Or to see my session!  Even though the Harlequin book signing (where NORA ROBERTS was signing), the Avon book signing (where MEG CABOT was AGAIN signing at a time I couldn’t see her—boo!), plus a ton of other fabulous sessions were going on at the same time!  (All grammar nerds, no doubt!)
  • And people wanted to hire me to edit their manuscripts!  (Not that I don’t already do this—I do!—but it was great that folks liked me and what I had to say enough to want to entrust their babies to my care.  That’s a huge deal!)

  • So, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening riding my session high—relieved things had gone well and ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.
  • We (Cambria, Kaylee, and I) went for sushi, and I had eel—unagi! Kaylee and I referenced the episode of Friends where Ross has “unagi,” and I fell in love just a little more with her.  😀  I ate California rolls (mmm!)  with roe (<—ew, but whatever).  I ate dragon rolls—with spicy tuna in them.  Translation: I really lived on the edge that night!

Pic #1

Pic #2

Pic #3

  • We took a hundred of pretty much the same three pictures (see above), in attempt to get the perfect one, and we ended up hanging out with Wendy Toliver again (yay!) and awesomesauce women’s fiction/nonfiction author Jenny Gardiner.  During said hang-out, I revealed my not so secret fangirl crush on Meg Cabot and how I was super excited for the next morning, when I could finally meet her at her “chat” session.
  • More pictures.  More fun!

SATURDAY

  • I danced out of bed (yeah, not really), so thrilled about my first chosen session of the day—the moment I’d been waiting for (well, other than my session) was about to commence: “Chat with Meg Cabot”!
  • I got to the room, and she was late . . . and I seriously thought to myself, God does not want me to see this woman for some reason.  Woe is me! But then, we found out she was just doing her make up outside the room, and she arrived shortly before a panic attack ensued.
  • She was fabulous.  I don’t know how she does what she does—I really don’t!  She basically talked and answered questions for an hour, and after that . . .
  • . . . I got her to sign my Princess Diaries!  And I took a picture with her!*

Chat with Meg Cabot!

Meg Cabot and ME!

  • I was dying.  And all my friends made fun of me (in a loving way, of course) the rest of the day.
  • Kaylee and I had a mound of fries for lunch and went to some fantastic sessions—I can’t wait to blog about them!—and publishers’ book signings (including one, where two agents, an editor, and an author simulated what happens in an acquisitions editorial meeting.  Very eye-opening!).
  • Exhausted, I thought I’d have a few hours before the 2011 RITA & Golden Hearts Awards Ceremony to pack up all my newly-acquired books, relax, and get ready.  This was not exactly to be*, but I did eventually get my books packed and shipped.
  • The RITA & Golden Hearts Awards Ceremony was inspirational. I teared up a lot of times, listening to the acceptance speeches, and it really made me feel like I was a part of something big. And important.  And, most of all?  It made me feel like this is really . . . possible.

TWITSOM & M.G. Braden

Cambria, Leia, Kaylee, and me

Us with Shawntelle Madison

  • Afterward, I hung out in the lobby, took a million more pictures, and said my goodbyes to all the amazing folks I’d met throughout that week.
  • And Cambria, Kaylee, and I made plans to room together next year. 🙂

*And then, some thing really sad happened, but that is for the next post.

Housekeeping: RWA & SWO

I’m leaving for the Romance Writers of America national conference (in Orlando!) Wednesday, and I have—oh, I don’t know—a bajillion things to do between now and then.  So I’m not sure I’ll be as available as I’d like in terms of blogging and such, but I do plan to keep you posted throughout the week/weekend on my experiences.

Hey, Angela . . . I have a lot of crap to do this week!

For instance, I hope to regale you with tales of all the awesomesauce things I’m doing and learning—and all the faboo people I’m meeting.

I mean, I’ve already been invited to sing karaoke with my Twitter soulmate (or Twitsom, as we now call each other), Cambria Dillon and some other cool chicas.  So, that should be a decent story, right?

Um—did I mention Twitsom and I haven’t met yet?  But we share a love of all things YA, Sour Patch Watermelons, and triathlon-doing husbands, so I’m not worried.  We are going to rip on Tim Tebow and sing Lady Gaga, and all will be well with the world.

Unless, of course, we discover we are actually the same person . . . which could be the case?  There’s a SFF story just waiting to be written!  But I’ll let you know once I meet her Wednesday. 🙂

IN OTHER NEWS

HOLY CRAP—MEG CABOT IS GOING TO BE AT RWA!!!!  So, I’m basically dying.  And my flight gets in at almost the *end* of one of her author signings, so I’m dying in a different way over that.  <frownies>  But I’m hoping to stalk catch her another time during the conference.

M told me to wear my tiara when I meet Meg Cabot. Should I? SHOULD I?? Yeah, probably not. 🙂

ON TO OTHER BUSINESS . . .

Tonight—Monday, July 26—I’ll be hosting a live chat on Shenandoah Writers Online (from 9-10 P.M. EST.).  The topic is  writers’ conferences.  Bring any and all questions you have about conferences to the chat—and, if you’ve attended any such functions, we’d love to have you share your experiences!

To enter the chat, simply log into Shenandoah Writers Online and click “Group Chat” at the bottom right of the main screen.

You must be a member of Shenandoah Writers Online to participate in the chat, but we’d love to have you join.*

OK, that’s all for now.  Writing this blog post wasn’t even on my list—yeeks!

*Not an SWO member yet?  Click here to get started.