Conferences, Pitching, Querying, Writing

Homicidal Fairies and Other WriteOnCon Lessons

WriteOnConI spent the last two days glued to WriteOnCon, plus several days before in the forums critiquing and posting. If you are a writer and don’t know about WriteOnCon–particularly if you write for kids or teens–head over there now! The conference was online, and everything remains posted forever.

Thank you to all of the published authors, agents, and editors who participated. I’m going to share a few of the points that stood out most to me.

1. Not everyone defines the lines between MG and YA the same way. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what’s MG vs. YA, but not everyone agrees. Here are a few of the points agents and editors made, with links to the source material:

Agent Jen Rofe: “If the fairies in your book are doing mean things, it’s MG. If the fairies in your book are homicidal, it’s YA.” (more people retweeted this quote than any other I posted)

Editor Liesa Abrams: “In MG, the characters are learning how they fit into the world. In YA they’re learning how they stand out!” (my favorite definition)

Peter Knapp conducted a query/pitch workshop in the forums. If an MG pitch didn’t include a friendship element, he rejected it. He said MG must have friendships, and in his case, that must be highlighted in the query to get a request. (You must register in the WriteOnCon forums to view this event.)

Editor Martha Mihalick: A middle grade book is usually about a kid and their place within something. YA is about finding your own path. (similar to Liesa’s definition)

In the final live event, agent Katie Grimm said a lot of “tween” is disguised as MG and explained it as: “Well, of course there’s the obvious age difference of more 9-11 and those creeping on 12,13,14…and calling it MG. … And although it doesn’t seem like a big difference to us, there’s a HUGE DIFFERENCE between elementary and middle school.”

I found this last one interesting as I’ve always considered MG to be aimed at middle school, whereas her definition implies MG is aimed at elementary school kids. I think it’s an excellent example of how agents see things differently. My take-away was that I shouldn’t pitch Katie Grimm my 13-year-old character as MG :).

While it was interesting to see how agents and editors viewed the MG/YA divide differently, the best post on the topic was by author Claire LeGrand. It includes a comprehensive list of options with examples. My favorite? “Kissy-Kissy or Kissy-Kissy?”

2. It’s all about an agent/editor connecting with your writing.  Another common theme was that for an agent or editor to take on your novel, they have to connect with it. Here’s how a few of them explain it.

Editor Liesa Abrams: “If I connect to what the character feels then I can go with the character on any kind of plot journey.”

Agent Jen Rofe: “I want something that will make me read it in one sitting. Something that, pages into it, I’ll be rushing to offer representation.”

Agent Mollie Glick: “I’m always looking for a great story. A manuscript that I pick up, intending to read just a chapter or two and pass, and wind up staying up all night, ignoring my husband, to finish.”

Agent Sarah Davies: “I often know very soon – like a few lines in – whether a new writer has that ‘something’ or not. Obviously I have to see how the story/characters will develop, but that sense of voice and the moment is often there from the start. It’s like listening to a young musician. You can hear the musicality even if they just play a simple scale of C.” (I can’t even express how much I love this quote!)

Agent Katie Grimm: “We are all looking for a book where we say, man why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”

So specific, right? Actually, I think it’s very telling. What I take away here is that your novel doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to make an agent/editor care. That’s going to be subjective, but all you need is one.

3. Consider critiques carefully, but don’t make every suggested change. I posted in the query, first 250, and first 5 pages forums. On the plus side, these are people who haven’t read your manuscript, so they’re looking at it the same way an agent would. On the negative side, they’re seeing each piece independently, whereas an agent almost never sees the writing without a query. I wish there’d been a forum where you posted the query with the sample. Regardless, here’s how I approached it. I never make a change as soon as someone suggests it. First I ask myself these questions:

Did more than one person comment on this issue?

Is this critiquer’s point a matter of taste or a real issue?

If I make this change, will it improve the piece or bring up even more questions? (mainly on the query)

Is this change in line with my theme/the overall feel of my manuscript?

After evaluating each critique, I decided whether to revise or ignore. I didn’t get any Ninja Agent visits, but the process was still valuable, and I met some great new writers in the forums. There are so many exciting projects out there!

If you didn’t attend WriteOnCon, go check out all the posts and review the live events. You’ll get insight into the personalities of agents and editors, as well as excellent advice as you start, revise or query a project.

On a personal note, points No. 2 and 3 have made me decide to jump back into querying. I had been waiting to hear back from the agents who still have my manuscript, but the events with the agents and editors reminded me that it’s never going to be perfect. It’s just a matter of finding that agent who connects with Miranda. Guess I need to learn the same lesson my character does!

I’d love to hear what everyone else learned from WriteOnCon. Tell me in the comments!

Contests, Pitching, Querying, What I've Learned

What I’ve Learned in a Year of Querying

One year ago today I sent the first round of queries for THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES. In honor of this anniversary of sorts, I’d like to share a few tips from my querying journey.

Titles are important. I did a number of things right when I started querying, but I should have paid closer attention to the title. CAVEBOY started out as ESCAPE FROM THE UNDERGROUND CITY. I know. It’s boring, but in addition to that, it automatically made agents think about THE CITY OF EMBER. I could have given them a whole list of ways my MS is different from that very popular book, but it was already too late. For many agents, the title is the first impression. It almost always goes in the subject line of your query, so make it stand out. Check out agent Suzie Townsend’s post about titles for more.

Enter online contests. I initially resisted any online contest that required me to post an excerpt of my novel. That was a mistake. When you enter first page contests, you get valuable feedback from other writers. These people haven’t read your MS like your critique partners or beta readers. They’re looking at it entirely for whether it grabs their attention or not. They tell you honestly whether they’d keep reading or set it aside for something else. You want this information! Even better, in many of these contests the participating agent also gives you feedback. Any chance to get agent feedback is golden. It rarely happens as a result of a query or even a submission. Here are a few bloggers who regularly host contests: Miss Snark’s First Victim, Mother. Write. (Repeat.), Cupid’s Literary Connection, Brenda Drake Writes and Operation Awesome.

It’s all subjective. You get the dreaded rejection that says, “Another agent may feel differently.” It feels like a platitude, but it’s not. I didn’t fully understand until I read 3/4 of the entries for The Writers Voice contest in May (note that this link goes to entries before they were edited with input from the coaches). Many of the entries were well-written and yet I wouldn’t have read them. I expanded on this further in an earlier post, but suffice it to say, agents’ tastes vary as much as ours do. If an agent takes you on, they’ll be spending a lot of time with your manuscript. That’s why they say they have to love it. So even if you’re not ready to enter a contest, go read the entries. You’ll have a better understanding of what agents face when they open their inboxes.

Be patient. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Impatience is your worst enemy when you’re querying. Don’t query without getting feedback on your pitch and manuscript from other writers, and even then, take your time. There’s a good chance you’ll need to modify one or the other during the process. For CAVEBOY, I changed the title once, the query at least four times, and the opening pages multiple times before I got it to a request-worthy place. By then, I’d queried too many agents too early. Test everything and regroup before you send more. For more details on my personal experience, check out these posts about CAVEBOY and DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN.

Spring for the premium membership on QueryTracker. I used the free version of QueryTracker to monitor my queries and submissions for CAVEBOY. When it was time to query DUET, I had to sign up for the premium membership in order to track a second project. I didn’t know about the other benefits. Now I wish I’d upgraded sooner. I’m addicted to the Data Explorer, which lets you see agents responding to queries real-time. If an agent hasn’t replied to me in his/her usual time frame, I can see whether I was skipped or the agent is just behind. I also used it as I developed my agent list for DUET, tracking which agents had made the most middle grade requests in the past year. Then I used the handy Agents With Similar Tastes report, plugging in the agents who requested CAVEBOY to see who requested the same middle grade manuscripts. Trust me, the data is worth $25 a year.

I could go on, but this post is getting long, so I’ll leave it there. What have you learned from querying? Any other tips to add?

Pitching, Querying, Twitter, Writing

Twitter Pitch Party, Anyone?

Now that the agent round of “The Writers Voice” is over, I’m turning my attention to Thursday’s “The Writers Voice” Twitter Pitch Party. Basically, you post your pitch between 12-6 p.m. EDT on Thursday, and agents will request from it. If more than one agent requests, you have to pick one. Click here for more info, but I think it’s now up to five agents participating.

If you didn’t see Becca C.’s post about Building Your Twitter Pitch, go read it now! She compiled excellent advice from multiple agents and writing experts. I couldn’t have said it any better, so I won’t try.

It’s so hard to convey plot, character, stakes and voice in just 140 characters–134 with the required hashtag (#WVTP). It’s different than a one-sentence pitch. You can be creative with the format and punctuation to an extent. The point is to make the best use of the character limit. Most of all, the pitch needs to make someone want to read it.

I’d love to get your feedback on my Twitter pitch, but I’m also opening up the comments to anyone else who wants feedback. I’ll post mine first. Let’s polish those Twitter pitches!