A Message from Kristin Nelson
SCBWI 2015: Realize Your Dream
I’m in Los Angeles right now, having just attended the 2015 conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). After listening to an amazing series of keynote presentations, during which authors wear their hearts on their sleeves, I feel the need to pass on the inspiration!
From the Success Stories Panel:
- Ten years from first conference to first book published. And when editing with a critique partner, editor, or agent, recognize and acknowledge the issue, and then find the fix that works for you, as it’s your story. —Anna Shinoda (author of Learning Not to Drown)
- When you decide you want to be an author, you need to try for real. —Mike Curato (author of Little Elliot, Big City and Worm Loves Worm)
- You have to show up every day, and a lot of what you create will stink. Don’t wait for perfection. —Lori Nichols (author of Maple and Maple & Willow Together)
- Torment your character. Give him/her a goal and spend the next 70,000 words thwarting it. —Stacey Lee (author of Under a Painted Sky)
- You don’t need to win an award to acknowledge your talent or become a published or successful author. —Martha Brockenbrough (author of The Game of Love and Death)
Writers, keep writing! Keep the faith, and as Kwame Alexander reminded us in his SCBWI 2015 closing keynote speech (“Six Basketball Rules of Publishing”), “You’ll miss 100-percent of the time if you never take the shot.”
Pub Rants University
Query Letter Intensive – Perfecting The Pitch Paragraph For Your Novel – 2015-08-12
Wednesday, August 12
at 6:00 - 8:30 PM MT
This Webinar intensive brought to you by NLA Digital.
Class Limit: 15
Requirement: Attendees must use a phone for audio to call in and actively participate.
Please note: This Webinar is primarily a workshop and does not constitute a query letter submission for NLA to request sample pages. Also, only fiction submissions are eligible for this Webinar (no memoirs or non-fiction works, please).
Most writers will tell you that writing a good query letter is more difficult than writing the whole manuscript. How do you boil 300-plus pages of a novel into one pithy pitch paragraph? In this limited class-size intensive workshop, Agent Kristin will teach you how to create terrific and short pitch blurbs that will inspire agents to request your sample pages.
What You’ll Learn:
- How to Structure your Query Letter – Pros and cons to different organizational approaches of query content and how to pick the best structure for your novel.
- Identifying The Plot Catalyst and the 4 Main Approaches to building the Pitch Paragraph around it – The plot catalyst forms the base of any good query pitch. How to identify yours and write a strong pitch to showcase your novel.
- How to Revise The Pitch – Each participant is required to submit the first draft of his or her query letter. Every participant’s pitch will be evaluated, critiqued, and if necessary, revised during the Webinar.
Previous attendees of this workshop have said “I am so glad I participated. The workshop honed in on what I needed to work on.”
- Kristin will be on video as well as audio.
- Attendees are welcome to ask questions during the presentation.
- Attendees will have access to the recorded video of the presentation for six months.
Who should attend?
- Who have completed a novel and are ready to query (please note that this Webinar is not for folks writing a memoir or another work of non-fiction)
- Who are about to begin the agent search
- Who may be attending a conference soon where a pitch is necessary
Think Like an Agent
Because Agents Are Human Too, Part II
Summary of article series: Just as the title suggests, because agents are also human beings, they are going to embody both good and bad traits found in human nature. No one is perfect. And as some authors have discovered, some agents are more imperfect than others!
Your job as an author is to objectively recognize those human attributes or failings in your agent and decide whether they impact your career. Hopefully they don’t. To this end, Karen Dionne of Backspace and I have put together a whole list of topics to tackle for “Because Agents Are Human Too.”
August’s topic might be the most controversial. At the very least, I imagine opinions will vary widely, and I welcome any conversation this might spark.
For an agent to be successful, she has to build trust with editors. Editors have very little free time, so they have to trust that what an agent submits to them will be worth reading. To that end, agents build relationships with editors to create that trust. Publishing, in this sense, isn’t the same as selling widgets. It’s rather an intimate industry.
And there is a narrow balance beam an agent has to walk between creating a good relationship with the editor and advocating for the author client.
With this in mind: Good Agents are friendly with editors but not friends with editors.
This is a very important distinction. It’s OK to be friendly in a professional relationship, but being friends poses a potential conflict of interest that might affect the agent’s ability to represent a client.
Quite simply it comes down to this. If an agent has to address a complicated or difficult issue with an editor (an issue that might lead to a split between the author and the publisher), whose side does the agent need to be on? The client’s of course.
But if an agent is good friends with an editor, the agent might not be willing to jeopardize that friendship to be the author’s champion.
At the very least, the agent might hesitate, and that is a real concern. If your agent has committed to representing you, he or she should never put personal priorities over yours.
Even though 95% of the time, it’s peaches and cream with the publisher and author, and a chummy editor relationship won’t be an issue, there will always be that other 5% where a big issue arises. It’s inevitable during a writer’s career.
As a lot of agents and editors are based in New York, where professional functions provide many opportunities for socializing, the line can blur more often than not. That’s something to keep in mind, and one reason being based outside the Big Apple can actually work in an agent’s favor—geographic distance helps create the “friendly with” versus “friends with” dynamic.
Even if an agent strongly believes she can wear two hats and be in agent mode rather than friend mode when the situation calls for it, keep in mind that agents are humans too and, therefore, fallible when it comes to managing the many types of relationships they maintain in their professional and personal lives.
The best agents, even those in New York, are mindful and respect the boundary between “friendly” and “friends.”
Kristin's Book Club
All of Us Should Be Bad Feminists
Fair warning. Reading BAD FEMINIST has the potential to get you stirred up. I personally consider that a good thing.
Ms. Gay kicks off her work by admitting that she is often bad at feminism. That sometimes she’ll like that misogynistic song because it has a great beat. We book clubbers really appreciated that because no woman is a perfect feminist. I remember discussions in my graduate feminism-in-literature class that would often devolve into more-feminist-than-thou contests, which isn’t what feminism is about.
We kicked off the discussion with a question: Do young women identify themselves as feminist, and if not, why? Our general consensus, based on anecdotal evidence from the young women in our lives, is that they don’t—mainly because they feel they don’t have to. Then I asked my fellow book clubbers, if there was one thing you wish feminism would change in our culture today, what would it be? Here’s the list:
1) Wage parity
2) Elimination of blaming women for rape (and of rape altogether!)
3) Debunking that feminism equals man-hating
4) Eliminating the valuing of women based on their bodies/looks
5) Empowering women to identify as feminist, to speak up and ask for what they want (a raise, a voice, etc.)
BAD FEMINIST is an interesting and powerful read, and Book Club on Sundays heartily recommends it for any reader interested in engaging in a current cultural debate. I stand with Roxanne Gay. Consider me a bad feminist.
Next up for August: Anthony Doerr’s novel ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE
Character Development: The Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life (Part I)
Contracts and Royalties Manager Angie Hodapp teaches writing-craft and query-letter workshops both online and through various writing organizations.
Lately, we’ve received a lot of queries for novels that start by introducing a teenage protagonist who “just wants a normal life.” These queries never seem to capture my interest. I started to think hard about why.
For starters, the “teenager just wants a normal life” setup doesn’t ring true. As the author, you’re letting your adult show. What teenager just wants a normal life? Don’t you remember what you wanted when you were young? Forget normal, whatever that means. You wanted extraordinary! You wanted autonomy and freedom and adventure. You wanted to be trusted with big responsibilities so you could test your mettle and prove your worth. You wanted to earn the adulation and respect of your peers. You wanted to be the best at something awesome. Therefore…
Tip #1: To make your teenage protagonist resonate with readers, give him the desire for extraordinary life, not a normal one.
“But Angie, my story is about a character who is targeted by bullies.” (Or confined to a wheelchair, or abused by an alcoholic parent, or [insert terrible life circumstance here].) “He’s in a bad situation. He just wants a normal life, like the other kids have.”
Careful there. What you’re really saying is that your character wants a different life. That’s not the same thing as saying he wants a normal life. Which leads us to…
Tip #2: Put your teenage protagonist in pursuit of an extraordinary life, despite his challenging circumstances.
“Bullied kid is bullied and overcomes being bullied” is a boring plot, if it can be called a plot at all. Why? Because “bullied kid” is not a compelling character; he’s a cardboard cutout. As human beings, we balk at being defined solely in terms of our challenges. Your characters should balk at that, too. Respect them enough to give them some depth, which will inevitably deepen your plot. What does the bullied kid want from life outside of his identity as a bullied kid? What extraordinary thing is he after?
Show us a bullied kid who wants to win America’s Got Talent with his unusual stand-up comedy routine. Show us a kid in the wheelchair who wants to adapt his grandpa’s old Harley for a solo cross-country road trip. Show us an abused kid who wants to build an animal shelter for rescued pit bulls. Give your characters extraordinary aims. This makes them interesting—and far more likely to capture readers’ interest and emotional buy-in. So…
Tip #3: Don’t make your protagonist’s bad circumstances the focus of your story. Instead, turn his circumstances into obstacles he must overcome on his journey toward an extraordinary life.
Next month, we’ll look at developing unlikely heroes (Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior), who have an extraordinary life thrust upon them, and antiheroes (Captain Mal, Walter White), whose pursuit of the extraordinary often gets them in trouble.
Insider Tips from NLA
Communication: The Key to the Author-Agent Relationship
Karen Dionne is an internationally published thriller author, co-founder of the online writers discussion forum Backspace, and organizer of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat and the Neverending Online Backspace Writers Conference. She is represented by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management. Panel discussions and full Backspace Writers Conference video archives are available exclusively to Backspace subscribers and online conference registrants.
“My agent won’t xxx.” “He never tells me xxx.” “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when my agent xxx.” When writers get together, these and similar comments are frequently heard.
“I thought an agent might be someone, maybe the only one in the whole bizarre publishing process, who might ‘get’ me,” one frustrated author says. “Aren’t agents supposed to be stalwart supporters of your work? Believe in everything you write, and speak to you in such a way as to inspire, bolster, and make you feel loved? That has not been my experience.”
As Kristin’s “Because Agents Are Human Too” series makes clear, problems between authors and agents arise. When that happens, what can the author do? In almost every instance, the solution is the same: Authors need to talk to their agents.
Authors keep their concerns to themselves for a number of reasons. They’re grateful to have an agent, so they’re afraid to rock the boat. They don’t want to be seen as high-maintenance or needy, so they suffer in silence. Or they share their concerns with other authors, but not their agents.
“It is a big mistake to try to guess the answer to important issues that affect your career,” says Elizabeth Letts, New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty Dollar Champion. “If you want direct information (how is my book doing, how is my editor likely to look at my next submission, where do I stand in general), it’s better to flat-out ask and not pussy-foot around. When things aren’t going well, the agent may not want to discourage you, but chances are you are already discouraged, so it’s better to discuss it.”
Many authors prefer email to telephone. But the casual nature of email sometimes creates misunderstandings. Authors bury an important question in an email that’s mostly chit-chat; agents answer on the fly; authors give too much weight to an answer that might not be the last word on a subject. “What I’ve found is that for email consideration I do best writing out a highly focused message and eliminate the friendly chit-chat,” Letts writes.
When dealing with emotional or complicated issues, Letts advises authors to pick up the phone. “I think agents underutilize the phone for time reasons—it’s just quicker to bang out an email than to talk on the phone when that may take more time. I think authors underutilize the phone because we don’t want to bother our agent, especially if there is a ‘don’t call me unless it’s an emergency’ vibe going on. I think it is up to the author to say ‘this requires a phone call’ because the agent can’t read our minds to know how we are feeling.”
Agent problems? Talk to your agent. Let them know there’s a problem and give them a chance to fix it. Because agents (and authors) are only human.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
by Marie Lu (contributor) April Genevieve Tucholke (editor)
For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror
A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.
Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.
Fans of TV’s The Walking Dead, True Blood, and American Horror Story will tear through tales by these talented authors: Stefan Bachmann, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, A. G. Howard, Jay Kristoff, Marie Lu, Jonathan Maberry, Danielle Paige, Carrie Ryan, Megan Shepherd, Nova Ren Suma, McCormick Templeman, April Genevieve Tucholke, and Cat Winters.
Buy It Here:
Young Elites (paperback)
by Marie Lu
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Look for the second book in the exhilarating Young Elites series, The Rose Society, in October 2015.
Buy It Here: