If You Missed the WB Live Chat on Query and Agent-Related Support . . .

Last night, the Write-Brained Network hosted its first live chat since moving back to Ning.

The topic was broad—query and agent-related support—but we kept a good convo going.

The gist . . .

One of the reasons we chose this particular topic for the chat was because of a question a Write-Brainiac had: How do you know know when to heed an agent’s advice in terms of making changes to your manuscript? This particular writer was talking about when one gets a personalized rejection—not when one gets an editorial letter or something, etc.

Some of the suggestions from the group:

  • Always. An agent knows what sells and what will make your book more salable. That is why you are querying an agent in the first place.
  • When the feedback resonates with you.

As we talked, I extended this idea of resonating to not just agent feedback, but for all feedback you receive—be it from betas, crit partners, your writing group, your mom, agents, or editors.

As I have been preparing to query myself (and, therefore, getting lots of feedback on my manuscript from multiple sources), I have thought much on this subject.

It seems like, at least for me, whenever I write something, I have certain insecurities with it—things that tug at my guts a little, and I’ll think, “If this scoots past X, Y, and Z betas, then it must be okay.” Many times, those are the things X, Y, and Z betas mention as items to change, cut, condense, or expand.  So, when I get their feedback, it resonates—and I know it’s not just my writerly insecurities being all OCD. (Sometimes that is the case, however!)

On the topic of resonating . . .

Sometimes you’ll get feedback that you never would have considered or recognized yourself.  (This is why you need to get feedback, people!)  It’s a subjective business, and sometimes someone will come up with a killer idea or ask a question that spawns a twist you hadn’t anticipated—but that is a good problem to have.  If it resonates, if you can see how incorporating the suggestion would make the book better, then, I say, do it!

More from the chat . . .

Another Write-Brainiac asked about nonfiction books and whether or not the writer should secure the rights to photographs prior to querying agents, or if that is the agent’s job.

This was a bit of a stumper.  We discussed it as best we could—I gave some suggestions based on what I know of related situations, but none of us pretended to be experts in this area.  If you *are*, please leave advice in the comments!

My immediate response to this was that, the closer a writer comes to having everything in place before he queries, the more professional and “together” the writer will appear to the agent.  Less work for the agent = happier agent, etc.

However, I can also see where this might not be the case.

Related(ish) examples . . .

Children’s author Gail Langer Karwoski spoke at the Southeastern Writers Association conference last summer about something similar, regarding the writer/author relationship:

  • Most picture books begin with the story, unless you have a legal relationship with the illustrator (it’s you, your relative, your spouse).
  • If there’s no legal relationship and you’re trying to suggest an illustrator in your proposal, it’s like a siren screaming “AMATEUR” (=rejection).
  • Many times, pub houses will pair a newer author with a more established illustrator to increase the book’s chances of selling.
  • If you can do both (you don’t just “doodle”), you should; just make sure your proposal is professional.
  • Many agents want author/illustrators (because it’s less people to pay and more of a cut of the money for them).

Also, I know that, when my Writer’s Digest Books editor, Chuck Sambuchino, wrote his Gnomes book—which is a nonfiction, humor book—he wasn’t expected to have the photos with it.  The publisher, Ten Speed Press, chose photographers to take pictures, and Chuck and his agent were able to pick their favorite from there.  (I also understand that the author having a say in that kind of thing isn’t common.)

Along the lines of securing rights, if there are specific photos you want and *you* are taking them (and there’s a reason you are the only one who can take said photos), I believe you technically already own the rights to them, as soon as the picture is snapped.  Same thing with writing.  Yes, you can register something with the U.S. Copyright office, but you actually “own” something as soon as you write it.

However, the WBer with the question was actually asking about photos of a structure that no longer exists—so it’s not as though new photos can be taken of it.  From what I know and what I’ve read*, my instincts lead me back to my initial answer—that the writer should have the rights secured before querying the agent.

Anything to add?

*Helpful copyright articles from the Guide to Literary Agents blog:

**Not a Write-Brainiac yet?  Click here to get started.

***For more with Karwoski, click here and here.

In the Blogosphere: 9/20-10/15

“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?

AGENT STUFF

Author and D4EO agent Mandy Hubbard gives a bit of unorthodox advice . . . about how one line can change your career.

Here, another agent-turned-author, the fabulous Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd., talks about “undercooking” a novel.

Here, Bookends, LLC, agent Jessica Faust offers some query don’ts.


CRAFT & MANUSCRIPT PREP

Over at Write Anything, Annie Evett did a nice little series on voice and dialogue.  Here’s the last of those posts, that contains links to the others in the series.

At League of Extraordinary Writers, Angie Smibert discusses handling readers’ baggage and creating the appearance of truth that readers can find believable.

At Novel Matters, Patti Hill demonstrates how to weed your manuscript.

One of my favorite features over at YA Highway, Amanda Hannah talks about passive sentences one “Sentence Strengthening Sunday” (you don’t have to be a YA writer to appreciate the fabulosity of this) right here.

Confused about manuscript formatting?  Author Louise Wise gives you a crash course here.

Here, YA author Jamie Harrington talks about constructive criticism.  Can you handle it?

Middle-grade author Janice Hardy discusses a subject near and dear to my heart—grammar.  Just what are the basics everyone needs to know?

PEP TALKS

We all need a good writerly pep talk now and again.

Here’s one from YA author Elana Johnson.

Here’s another from freelancer Heather Trese, for good measure.

EXTRAS

You’ve got just over a week left to enter my scary story contest—freak me out in 1,000 words of less!

Over at Savvy B2B Marketing, Wendy Thomas discusses a subject that fascinates me these days: online writing vs. old school journalism (being that I used to teach journalism . . . and now I do a good bit of online writing!).

Here, Writer’s Digest Books’ own Robert Lee Brewer offers a Twitter cheat sheet for those not “hip” to all the “lingo” (hehe) or not quite sure how to optimize your use.

Interview with Signature Literary’s Gary Heidt, Part II

As some of you may know, I am a contributor to Writer’s Digest Books.  One of the many fantabulous things I’ve done as a contributor is interview literary agents for Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.*

Recently, I interviewed Signature Literary Agency, LLC’s Gary Heidt, and he had much to say about the industry, writing and his preferences in terms of fiction and nonfiction.

Since he had already been featured on GLA, I wanted to show him some literary love right here—so please enjoy part I of the interview.**

Before this Heidt became a literary agent with Imprint Agency in 2003, this Columbia University grad was a DJ and station manager at WKNR-FM, a musician, a poet, a columnist and a theatre administrator.  He has been with Signature Literary Agency, LLC, since 2009, and he represents both fiction and nonfiction.

Click here for Gary’s “wish list” to see the types of projects he currently seeks.

RS:  Being that you are a writer (poet, former columnist, playwright) as well as an agent, how do you think this dual perspective affects the types of projects you take on?

GH: I have done a lot of bad, lazy writing over the years, so I can spot it a mile away. One of the problems with bad writing is that you don’t know how bad it is until later on (if you’re lucky enough to grow.) Most bad literary writers (like me) really believe that their work is amazing. One reason that I have artistically been focusing on my poetry is because it’s so short, I can get more work in per word. It’s also extremely unlikely to ever generate any money.

As an agent, I look at things that could potentially have an audience, unlike my very strange poetry. There is a place where good art can find an audience and therefore become lucrative, but not all good art is capable of being appreciated by a sizable

You might catch Heidt's eye if you're down with this.

audience.

In every time, there are certain popular media that present communal dreams. Today it’s the Internet and video games. Books are still appreciated by a small minority, but the mass market paperback is a thing of the past, and this small, educated group is getting smaller.

These days, to get the shrinking attention of a shrinking subset of a distracted population, you have to either know what you’re doing and work extremely hard to do it, or you have to be on fire with the genius, inspired by the Muses.

As a writer I know how difficult it is to be either, so I think I really sympathize with what my writers go through. I don’t represent any “hacks.” My clients, generally speaking, take their work very seriously and invest a great deal of their hearts and souls into their work.

RS:  You area you seek is “techno-thriller.”  What constitutes this category, and how does a writer know he’s written one?

GH: I’d say if he isn’t sure, it probably isn’t a techno-thriller.  My favorite techno-thriller of all time is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s The Ice Limit.

They’re like what we used to call “hard science fiction,” except the science isn’t fictional. In other words, technology is a major plot element, and there’s a geeky joy in explaining the technology and how it works.

RS:  You also represent graphic novels.  What draws you to these and what makes for a killer graphic novel query?

GH: After a decade of growth, graphic novels are in a contraction. I am more interested in writer/artists than collaborations. Also, I’d look to see past pubication credits.

RS:  Among a host of other subjects, your agency Web site says you accept “Fortean/High Strangeness/paranormal.” However, it also specifically states that you do not accept science fiction or fantasy.  With your interest in science- as well as paranormal-related nonfiction projects, what is it that turns you off to speculative fiction?

GH: It would be great to be well-read in every genre, but unfortunately, due to time constraints, I am forced to specialize. I’m just not up-to-date on science fiction or fantasy.

To be able to work with thrillers, for example, I have to read all the popular thriller writers working today, so that I know how a project stacks up against the competition.

I like a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, but they’re classics– I haven’t done much reading in those genres in the past two decades.

RS:  What are you sick of seeing in memoir proposals that come across your desk?

GH: The only thing that I see regularly in memoir proposals that I don’t like is axe-grinding.

RS:  Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

GH: Find an audience, and the publishers will come to you!

RS:  Thanks for your time, Gary!

*Click here to see some of my lit agent interviews on the GLA blog.  Chuck’s got my name & pic on the ones I’ve done.

**Click here for Part I of the interview.

Interview with Signature Literary’s Gary Heidt, Part I

As some of you may know, I am a contributor to Writer’s Digest Books.  One of the many fantabulous things I’ve done as a contributor is interview literary agents for Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.*

Recently, I interviewed Signature Literary Agency, LLC’s Gary Heidt, and he had much to say about the industry, writing and his preferences in terms of fiction and nonfiction.

Since he had already been featured on GLA, I wanted to show him some literary love right here—so please enjoy part I of the interview.**

Before Heidt became a literary agent with Imprint Agency in 2003, this Columbia University grad was a DJ and station manager at WKNR-FM, a musician, a poet, a columnist and a theatre administrator.  He has been with Signature Literary Agency, LLC, since 2009, and he represents both fiction and nonfiction.

Click here for Gary’s “wish list” to see the types of projects he currently seeks.

RS:  Why did you become an agent?

GH: I love to read, and I love to spread the word about a book I love. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and now I get to read for a living.

RS:  Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.

GH: I just sold Jameson’s Crossing by Jason Myers as a part of a two-book deal to Simon and Schuster’s teen division, Pulse. Jason’s first book, Exit Here, is a raw and literary novel about a group of young people who were drifting into serious criminality.

I sold it to an editor at Pulse, and it was released as a low-cost paperback. Every semi-annual accounting period since, the number of sales has almost doubled—the word of mouth on the book has been amazing. Now with the two books out and two books on contract, Jason is an established author with a serious career.

RS:  Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?

GH: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu is coming out from Pantheon this fall. It’s a brilliant, funny and will make you cry. It’s Charles’s first novel—his book of short stories, Third Class Superhero, was an international critical sensation.

Another imprint of Random House, Watson-Guptill, is bringing out The New Face of Jazz by Cicily Janus and Ned Radinsky, which profiles about 200 of today’s jazz musicians! As a jazz fan, I’m really excited about that.

RS:  What are you looking for right now and not getting?

GH: Everyone wants high concept, but it’s hard to be high-concept and original and not hokey. But high concept is really essential. These days, everything has to be absolutely thrilling. Smallness is really hard to sell.

But I think the thing I really love and look for is someone who’s doing a lot of work. I don’t mean a lot of work, I mean a lot of work per word. By work I mean research, revision, reading and soul work.

RS:  Your Web site says one area you seek is young adult literature “with a bit of an edge.”  When I see the word “edge” with respect to YA, I think two things: sex and drugs.  For you, is there more to it than that?

GH: You should also think of rebellion, alienation and discontent. The bildungsroman is reborn with each generation. Hypocrisy is exposed, established conventions are tested and great tension is exposed in the literature of teens in trouble.

RS:  What are your thoughts on what the publishing industry must do in order to thrive in the coming year?

GH: The only way the industry will survive in the next year is if they buy all of my projects and frontlist them. [RS comment: Hee!  No problem!]

RS:  Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

GH: Yes, the American Independent Writers conference [Saturday, June 13] in D.C.

RS:  What is something writers would be surprised to learn about you personally?

GH: I am into cooking. (But please, no cookbooks or cooking-related fiction.)

*Click here to see some of my lit agent interviews on the GLA blog.  Chuck’s got my name & pic on the ones I’ve done.

**Stay tuned for Part II of the interview.

Book Review: Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript

With all the conflicting information regarding formatting out there in the blogosphere, whether you’re a screenwriter, novelist, or freelancer, the 3rd Edition of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript (Writer’s Digest Books) is a one-stop resource you cannot do without.*

Chuck Sambuchino and a slew of other editors of Writer’s Digest Books have outdone previous editions of FSYM as well as similar books on the market because, not only do they provide detailed instructions on how to format screenplays, scripts, and manuscripts, they also demonstrate how to put together query letters and nonfiction book proposals. They show dozens of good and bad examples to boot, so you can see where you fall on the spectrum.

In addition to formatting Do’s and Don’ts, FSYM is loaded with tips from industry professionals such as literary agents, award-winning authors, screenwriters, playwrights, editors, and producers. Aside from all the great info, one of my favorite aspects of this edition is that Sambuchino and the gang uses The Office, How I Met Your Mother, as well as other popular, modern shows to demonstrate proper style. Not only is it cool to see snippets of your favorite TV shows’ scripts, but this touch makes the whole thing more authentic—to see this formatting in action in a “real” script as opposed to a generic one crafted by the editors just to give the example.

I highly recommend it, no matter what kind of writing you do—no matter where you are in your career.  Sambuchino and his colleagues do a great job of explaining the query and submission processes in ways that are palatable enough for beginners to understand; but they also pack each page with information even the most seasoned scribes need.

I didn’t even bother making room for FSYM on my bookshelf because it’s one of those titles I reach for so often, it didn’t make sense to keep it out of arms’ reach.

Um … did you order it yet?

Here’s a link with more info on it.

*FSYM is one of my main resources/references in my session at RWA Nationals in Orlando, Sweat the Small Stuff: Getting Your Work Read & Represented.

Writing News: My Guest Post over at GLA

As you may or may not know, I am a contributor to Writer’s Digest Books (with articles forthcoming in the 2011 and 2012 editions of Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents as well as the 2011 editions of both Alice Pope’s Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market).  From time to time, I also interview literary agents  for Chuck’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.

My article in the upcoming GLA deals with maximizing your writers conference experience, and to gear up for that as well as my speaking engagement at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference next month, I guest blogged over at the GLA blog today.

Here’s the link to my post, “How to Have an Awesome Time at a Writers Conference.”

Hope you enjoy!

You Have a Question; I Have an Answer: Where Do I Start?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Hi Ricki!

I know I haven’t been participating much in the online writer group, and this is honestly because I feel completely out of my depth.  I never worked on newspaper staff, I didn’t major in English, I don’t work in journalism—I took one creative writing class in college and loved it, but that’s about the extent of my training.

I want to break into the writing world, but I really don’t have a clue where to start. Do you have any suggestions for starting points?  I don’t just mean for writing a novel; I’m also interested in freelance or nonfiction writing.

—M

A: Thanks for the question!

First of all, none of this talk about how you didn’t major in English and blah blah blah.  That doesn’t matter!  I’ve been hearing a lot lately, and it’s a little disturbing to me.

Just because Molly happens to be a professor doesn't mean you have to be one!

What matters is you are into writing now and you want to learn the things you don’t know—and that is AWESOME.

I did major in English, but I didn’t always enjoy everything in my program of study.  Nothing against my alma mater—John Carroll University has a great program—but my interests always lay in writing, and I did not get to do enough of it.

Thinking back, it was probably my fault.  I was good at all the analysis and everything, but it wasn’t until I immersed myself in all this that I learned most of what I know today.  Teaching helped with that a lot—and quitting teaching helped with it even more!

The point is, you’re driven.  And that hunger to learn about writing will take you farther than if you were some Waiting-for-Godot-loving (I’m sorry—I hated reading that the 50 billion times I had to read it in college) English major.  So don’t feel hopeless!

But I digress.

As far as getting started with it all, there are couple of things I would suggest.

1) Go to a writers’ conference. There’s nothing like meeting other writers, attending workshops, hearing established authors speak, and schmoozing with industry professionals to get your creative juices flowing!  Although they can be pricey, the amount you can learn in one short weekend or a week-long writing retreat is totally worth it.  In addition to learning about the business as well as the craft of writing, socializing with others and hearing multiple perspectives from writers at all levels can put you on the right path for your own writing future.

Here's a great conference to try!

2) Read about writing. Immerse yourself in writing books, magazines, and blogs.  In terms of your interest in freelancing, I have two book suggestions offhand: Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer and Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing (edited by Michelle Ruberg).  Both of these titles are chockfull of tips on how to generate ideas for articles, how to go about writing them, whom to query, etc.

3) Figure out what kinds of things you can write. Read magazines, newspapers, blogs—find your  niche.  Study the articles that are similar to what you’d like to be writing in the magazines for which you aspire to write.  You’d be surprised at how the ideas will flow.  If you want to try your hand at writing a novel or a nonfiction book, read several types of books until you find one that calls to you.  And when you do?  Read even more of that kind of book.

4.) Find your markets. But once you know what you want to write, you’ll need to check out a book like Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), which is a reference book published annually (you can also get a Web subscription to it) that lists and categorizes (by genre, region, type, etc.) where you can sell your work, what publications are specifically seeking, what they pay, and how to contact them.

5.) Learn to write an effective query letter. When you’re ready to pitch something, you need to query editors.  You can find several great resources on how to write a query letter (since that’s a whole other animal to attack)—there’s actually a section in Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing that discusses writing query letters.

6.) Actually do it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at first.  But if you’ve got that nagging feeling in your gut that says you have to write, get your be-hind in front of your laptop and start typing.  Join a writing group—online or IRL—take a class, whatever.  Just let those words out before your brain explodes. 🙂

But don't let it make you insane . . .