Agents, Querying, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying

Well, friends, here we are: six years of querying.

Three weeks ago I was in New York City with my husband. We went on a bike tour of Central Park, and I have asthma, so that’s already a bit of a challenge. But when you add in a cold, plus the fact that my bike was faulty and wouldn’t go into first gear and I was pedaling uphill, it nearly resulted in me giving up–which is how I sometimes feel about this publishing journey. But then one of my writing friends will step in with encouraging words about my latest manuscript and I’ll have hope again, just like when my husband switched bikes with me and I could finally make it up those tortuous hills. At least they paid off with some amazing views.

Full disclosure: I let him take this picture while I wiped out on the grass.

But back to the writing … I do have a few new lessons to impart from this sixth year of querying, but as usual, if you’d like to refer to what I’ve posted in the previous years, here they are: what I learned in one, two, three, four, and five years of querying. Because I do try to only include new points every year :).

It gets harder and harder to talk about your writing with non-writers. It wasn’t so bad when I was just starting out. I was so excited to be writing, and I still love that I have the opportunity to write every day. Not everyone is so blessed. But after seven years of doing it full-time, there’s this question I get that makes me crazy. I know other unpublished writers hear it too.

“Are you still writing?”

And I just want to shout “Yes! Stop asking!” I know that with every manuscript my writing improves and I get that much closer to my ultimate goal of publication, but these well-meaning friends don’t understand and assume that because they haven’t seen a physical book with my name on it I must be doing something else now.

I also struggle with questions from non-writers about how my writing is going. So often I see this look in their eyes that is very close to pity. Like I’m running in this hamster wheel of writing another manuscript, sending it out, and getting rejected again. I feel a bit judged, like they probably think I’m never going to get there. I do have a select few non-writer friends who have taken the time to understand the process and really do get it. I’m very grateful for them.

Let me also say that my husband is the most amazing, supportive partner I could ever ask for. He supports me fully, even if he does have the unrealistic expectation that someday I will write a series that results in a theme park like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don’t write the kinds of books that merit theme parks, but I love how big you dream, honey!

It’s always worth trying a new writing/critiquing strategy. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate drafting, and I realize that for about half of you, that’s completely unfathomable because you love the drafting and hate the revising. I’m constantly searching for new ways to make drafting palatable, and I really like the one I landed on this past year. I attended a workshop on writing in reverse, and although it was really more about planning in reverse, I decided to take it to the next level and actually draft my whole novel in reverse, starting with the final chapter and writing the whole thing backwards. I loved it! Granted, I also applied strategies from K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL and outlined the sucker in much more detail than ever before. Interestingly, I found that I was happier with my first chapter than usual, while my last chapters meandered a bit–sort of the opposite of the problem you usually have than when you write forward, yes? I chronicled my adventures writing in reverse, so feel free to read about them.

On the critiquing side, I’ve always sent full manuscripts to readers after revising the first draft pretty substantially. But as I knew I couldn’t query my work in progress for a while due to waiting to hear on another, I decided to try swapping sections weekly with another writer while I was still revising the first draft, and I found there were some really great benefits to that process. I blogged about swapping weekly, but mainly I loved how it enabled me to anticipate what the reader might have an issue with later in the manuscript and fix it before she reached that chapter.

Deciding to take on a revise and resubmit, even if it resonates with you, doesn’t mean it will turn into an offer. I mentioned this in a previous year, but I think it’s worth repeating. If an agent gives you feedback, says that magical word “if,” and the accompanying feedback makes a light bulb go off in your brain with a million ideas for how to fix the issues other agents have mentioned about your manuscript, then you should absolutely do an R&R. But it’s always a gamble. Hopefully they will love the execution of your changes, but even if they don’t, be grateful for the opportunity. Whatever you end up doing with the manuscript, if the changes truly resonate with you, you have a better product in the end.

You become so used to rejections even a rejection on an R&R you put your heart and soul into hardly causes a blip. I wouldn’t have thought this possible. In fact, I know I mentioned in previous years that although query rejections no longer bothered me, the rejections on fulls still did. I thought it impossible to get to the point where full manuscript rejections truly wouldn’t phase me, and perhaps they will again, but when the rejection on this R&R arrived–and believe me, I pinned a ton of hope on it–I just shrugged it off. It does help that I was waiting on the response a while and was entrenched in working on another project.

Fewer agents reply to queries, and some don’t even reply to requests. I mentioned in year three that some agents who had replied to my queries in year one had become no-response-means-no agents. Now that I’m at year six and QueryTracker has even more detailed statistics (I do love statistics!), I’ve noticed even more agents have moved to the dark side (ha!). But actually, if that’s their policy, I don’t care as long as it’s stated. I respect agents’ time, and someday when I have one, I hope they’re devoting most of it to me ;). What I find to be a more disturbing trend is when an agent requests and never replies. I’ve had a few of those, and they’re agents who are making deals, so they’re not schmagents. I’m not naming names, so don’t bother asking. I just quietly cross them off my own list and continue on with the other fabulous agents out there.

You live off moments of hope, whether they happen to you or a writer friend. You get so many rejections on this journey, you have to hold onto every piece of happy news. It’s especially gratifying when it’s good news for you, like an encouraging note from an agent or possibly even an email that invites you to resubmit, but I like to celebrate just as much for my writer friends. In the past year, I’ve had writer friends sign book deals, win contests, and share other news that makes me dance happily at my desk. Last week I read a post from another writer–someone I don’t know personally–who had been on this journey for seven years and finally signed with her first agent, and that encouraged me too. When other writers have happy news, it gives me hope that my own happy news will be around the corner. That’s what I hold on to, and if you’re where I am, I hope you will too!

I figure that’s a good place to end–with hope. Because we all need some hope. I’m certainly not giving up. I have so many ideas knocking around in my brain, and if it’s not the one I’m working on now that leads to that physical book I hold in my hand, hopefully it will be the next one!

I’d love to hear where you are on the journey and what gives you hope!

Blogging, Giveaways

My Fifth Blogiversary!! With a Giveaway, Of Course!

As I was lying in bed last night, it dawned on me that I’d missed something important–the anniversary of my very first blog post! Yesterday marked five years of blogging, and I completely forgot to mark it. Oops! And the funny thing is, I completely noted it last week and planned to pull together all my statistics in time for Tuesday, but it slipped my mind with the lack of internet on Monday. So it’s happening a day late. Here are some fireworks to celebrate!

One of my favorite things about my blogiversary is pulling together statistics about my top posts and searches for my blog. I don’t know if anyone else cares, but it’s fun for me, so stick with it, because I’m doing a giveaway at the end. Since I want you to at least skim this post, I’ll make you wait for it. (I may have a bit of evil in me.)

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – I wrote this review ages ago. It’s the first book in a series of middle grade mysteries. I think perhaps it gets assigned in school. Great book, though!

9. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – One of the only writing posts that made it on this list, but it’s a very important point–get MANY opinions on your manuscripts!

8. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – I think perhaps because of the movies, this series review was visited a lot.

7. YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass – LOVED this series, and a lot of other people do, too, apparently, as they’re searching out reviews.

6. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – An older post, but it’s linked to on a Scrivener board somewhere :).

5. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – The finale in Mr. Riley’s HALF UPON A TIME series. I highly recommend it!

4. What I’ve Learned in Five Years of Querying – My annual roundup of what I’ve learned from the querying process. Still hoping to avoid a six-year post in July :).

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent (see No. 2 below).

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – I created this page a few years ago because I couldn’t find anything like it, and apparently others can’t either since it’s so popular. I maintain it as a resource for writers who want to read up on agents’ books before querying.

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – A year ago January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and for the second year in a row this post has been the most visited on my blog. Sadly, I noticed a spike on a particular day this year and discovered it was because another young woman who shared her name died unexpectedly and people who were searching for answers ended up on my blog. My heart goes out to the other Ashley’s friends and family.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Many of these are the same, but humor me :).

10. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway! – Oh, a different one sneaked in! An excellent MG book!

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley

8. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

7. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – Another popular MG series.

6. About – Thanks for reading about me :).

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

There were 615 unknown search terms. I really want to know what those people searched for to land on my blog, but oh well. Here are the top five searches WordPress can tell me.

5. Writing/Querying – Although it didn’t show up in my top posts for the year, several people were searching for answers on re-querying agents after a major revision. You know, I still can’t give you a definitive answer on that one, but you can check out my post.

4. Searches for me! – And I think they actually were all for me this year, since they tagged blog on the end or put an I in the middle, but who knows for sure?

3. Books I’ve reviewed – I’m sure you can tell which books top these searches based on the books listed in my all-time stats above.

2. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books – Agent searches edged out searches for books I’ve reviewed this year. Most were searches for particular agents, but there were several searches for agents who represent YA fantasy, and they definitely can find that on my list of MG/YA agents and the books they represent!

1. Searches about Ashley – While some of these searches were for my friend, mainly they were for the other Ashley.

So that wraps up my statistics. On to what you’ve been waiting for–the giveaway! Since I don’t have a pile of books–signed or otherwise–sitting around this year, I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card! Because all anniversaries deserve celebrating! Yay! (Is that enough exclamation points yet?? To enter, simply click on the Rafflecopter link below and follow the instructions. Easy peasy!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a16/

And as always, let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover on the blog. I’m open to suggestions!

Agents, Conferences, Pitching, Querying, Writing

How to Stalk WriteOnCon Ninja Agents 2017

If you’re in the kidlit community, you probably know about WriteOnCon and missed it as terribly as I did in 2015 and 2016. Well, hallelujah, it’s back! I don’t have anything to query at the moment, but I do have a work-in-progress ready for some feedback in the forums, so I’ll definitely be dipping a toe in. And of course I’ll be soaking in all the amazing knowledge to be gained from the blogs, vlogs, and live sessions starting tomorrow. Woohoo! (If you haven’t already registered, what are you waiting for??)

But back to the title of this post. In case you are new to WriteOnCon, you may be wondering what a Ninja Agent is. Basically, it’s a literary agent who sneaks through the forums leaving comments. Their identities are closely guarded, even after the conference is over. The only way you find out who they are is if they send you a private message with a request.

Anyway, you want to stalk these agents, whether they comment on your query/first 250/first five pages or not. The knowledge you’ll gain from their critiques of others can often be applied to your own materials.

I originally posted about how to stalk Ninja Agents in 2013 and updated it in 2014. Since the forums are on an entirely new platform this year, I decided another update was required. I’m just digging into the forums in earnest today, so I may make adjustments to this post as I learn more, but here we go.

1. Log in to the forum.

2a. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see who’s online (Users Online or Users Online in the Last 24 Hours). Unfortunately, these aren’t in any kind of order. I recommend doing Command+F and searching for “Ninja”–it’s quicker than scanning by eye.

2b. If there are no Ninja Agents online at the moment/in the last 24 hours, scroll back to the top and click on Members. Using the search field on the right-hand side, search for “Ninja” and a list of all Ninja Agents will come up. This list shows you how many posts each ninja has made and how recently.

3.  Click on a Ninja Agent to go to his/her profile.

4.  Click on “View this member’s recent posts” and, voila!, you can see everywhere the agent has commented. To see the post he/she is responding to, click on the title of the thread.

If you want to get even more stalkery, you could keep a Ninja Agent’s profile up on your computer and watch his/her current activity. Or you can locate someone on Twitter who’s already doing that and giving updates. In previous years, there’s always been someone giving Twitter updates once a Ninja Agent was spotted. The hashtag for the conference is #writeoncon.

I tried several different options in the search function to see if there was a way to pull up all of the Ninja Agents at once since you could do that on the previous platform. It doesn’t appear to be possible, but if someone else figures it out, let me know and I’ll add it.

Another option is to go through and follow all of the Ninja Agents individually. Once you do so, if you click on Following in your Profile, it will show you their activity. However, it will mix the Ninja Agent activity with that of everyone else you follow, and it’s not just what they’ve posted. It also lists anyone they follow or become friends with. I did notice that the Ninja Agents tend to follow all of the other Ninja Agents. So, for example, if you click on Ninja Midnight and then Following, it will show you the activity of other Ninja Agents. But again, there’s a lot of activity other than posts mixed in (like “Ninja Dusk changed their avatar”), so whether you go that route depends on whether you want to wade through the extras.

If you’re already in the forums, come find me! My username is michelleimason. My work-in-progress is a young adult contemporary titled YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

Agents, Contests, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Five Years of Querying

I’ve become a huge fan of the memories that pop up on Facebook. It’s a fun way to look through old photos, videos, and the occasional comment. Anyway, on July 3, a writing-related post showed up that made me smile and shake my head at the naive Michelle of five years ago, but it’s appropriate to this post, so I’m going to share it. Here’s what I put on Facebook July 3, 2011:

Novel update: For those of you wondering, the novel is finished! At least for now … I’m going to start submitting to agents when we get back from vacation. Once I find one, there’ll be more revisions, then once it goes to a publisher, more revisions. It’s a very long process! So now I’m writing the next one…

Well, I was right about it being a very long process! That particular novel, which was then titled ESCAPE FROM THE UNDERGROUND CITY and you can now find as THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES under the Writing tab, eventually got shelved. I’ve since queried three other novels and currently have a fifth novel out with agents. I sent out that first batch of queries for CAVEBOY on July 11, 2011, and one year later I posted what I’d learned. It’s become a tradition to add to my experiences each year, and I now have posts for two, three, and four years of querying. I try to keep the points new each year, but it’s getting harder :). Here we go!

No matter how optimistic you are, you’re also a realist. I start every morning thinking, “This could be the day an agent offers representation!” But whenever my Gmail dings, I tell myself it’s a rejection. Why? Because even though I believe that offer will eventually come, I can’t get my hopes up every time a new email comes through. I’ve been disappointed too many times. One day, when I have that how-I-got-my-agent story to tell, I’ll share the statistics. I mean, this is a five years of querying post, so you know that adds up to a lot of rejections!

As your friends sign with–and leave–agents, you get an inside look at those agents and start to form opinions about them. I mentioned last year that the caliber of my critique partners and beta readers has gotten higher and higher. It’s because we started out together years ago and many of them have gone on to sign with agents and even be published. As that’s happened, I’ve listened to their experiences. A few have quietly parted ways with their agents. They’ve shared the details with me behind the scenes, and in a few cases I’ve removed agents from my list. But for others, it was simply a matter of that writer and agent not being a fit–not necessarily an issue that would apply for me or other writers. The best testimonials, of course, are the writer friends who recommend their agents highly.

The more connections you make, the harder it is to enter contests because it’s more likely you know the organizers/judges. In year one, I learned the benefit of contests, and I still think contests are a great strategy to get in front of agents. The thing is … I’ve really tapped that contest market and made excellent connections. So it starts to become awkward. There are contests I can’t enter at all because my friends are running them and others where my choices are limited because my CPs have connections to them. There are always Twitter pitch parties, though!

You start to feel almost ambivalent when you send out queries. I remember the buzz I felt five years ago when I sent out my first batch of queries, how anxious I was to check my email for responses. It’s dulled significantly over the years. I still felt it somewhat when I started querying my fourth manuscript, but with the fifth one, even though I knew it was my best work yet and had the highest probability of anything I’d written of garnering agent interest, I found myself less concerned about how each individual agent would respond. My sense of worth in my writing ability wasn’t so attached to their interest in my manuscript. I’m not sure if that means I’ve achieved some level of zen or peace or what. To be honest, it kind of concerned me that I wasn’t caring enough. Don’t worry, though. I still care about the submissions!

You might have to turn down an opportunity because your gut says it’s wrong. Maybe it’s an agent you thought would be a fit–because you shouldn’t be wasting an agent’s time with a query if you wouldn’t consider signing with him/her!–and then you talk and realize you have a different vision for your manuscript. Or maybe you receive one of those if rejections. Some of you understand what I’m talking about. An agent (or editor) says, “I’d be willing to take another look if you do x, y, z.” It can be a heady email because it means the agent loved something about your work. Here’s someone who believes you have potential, so of course you should do whatever he/she says! Except … make sure that if involves changes you can live with and believe in, because it’s still your story. Only revise if you agree with the suggestions. If you don’t, walk away, no matter how hard it may be. If you can’t overcome your doubts, it’s probably not the right fit for you. But if the changes resonate with you, by all means, revise away!

You never know for sure if something will work until you try it. There may come a time when you want to try a creative element with a manuscript–maybe write it out of order or write it all in tweets or–ahem–include screenplay scenes. It might be exactly the right thing for your manuscript. Or it might not. Sometimes you have to put it out there to the people who know the market (agents/editors) to get a true read on it. But if you are trying something unique with your manuscript, keep a close eye on your feedback and be prepared to revise if it turns out the market isn’t ready for your text-messages-from-your-dead-cat manuscript. (Hmm … that might be funny!)

Just because an agent has never requested from you before doesn’t mean they won’t now. I’ve said the opposite of this before. There’s an agent who requested three of my previous manuscripts and didn’t even reply to my current one, but that’s okay. It’s obviously not her thing. But to prove my current point, multiple agents who’ve rejected all of my previous manuscripts have requested this one, so you never know. It’s always worth trying an agent again because maybe your current project is the one that will finally get the agent’s attention.

It’s okay to return to a project you really love. I’ve shared elsewhere about how I haven’t been able to let go of my second project, which is now my work-in-progress again. I felt sort of guilty at first, like it might be a waste of my time to focus on a novel I’d queried extensively and ultimately had to shelve. But I kept having new ideas how to fix it, so I gave myself permission to return to it, and I’m so glad I did. With three more years of writing experience to bolster it, I know it’s a much stronger novel. Now it’s just a matter of deciding what to do with it!

If you have the means and opportunity to meet your online writing friends in person, do it! You know those critique partners who read your manuscripts multiple times, suffer through your email rants, and generally are the best cheerleaders in the world? I have several of those in my camp, and I’ve been working with them for years, but until a couple of months ago, I’d never met any of them in person. NESCBWI was the perfect opportunity to meet not only one of my longtime CPs, but also a number of other writers and published authors I’ve chatted with online. I wouldn’t give up the emails, Twitter DMs, or gchats for anything, but the in-person time was so valuable. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it every year, but it’s now my mission to travel around and meet up with my other CPs, too!

So that’s what I learned in year five. I guess I’ll start working on year six lessons tomorrow, because I’m definitely not giving up! What have you learned on this querying journey? Anything you’d like to share?

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Twitter, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Tweeting Tomorrow

Last fall I wrote a popular post featuring two contests that were happening on the same day–On the Block and #PitMad–and I’ve revived it the last couple of times #PitMad popped up, but I decided it was worth updating the post to only cover #PitMad, so here goes.

In case you’re new to the Twitter pitching circuit, #PitMad is a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in the past and received requests. It’s a great opportunity to discover agents who are interested in your premise–since that’s all you have room for in 140 characters :). On the eve of this opportunity, here a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have three solid tweets–or one amazing tweet–prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run these tweets by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure they make sense and will draw interest. You are only allowed to tweet three times. It can be the same tweet, although if you’re only using one, it had better be so spectacular it’s worth not trying out two other variations. Because you never know how a different wording might strike one agent’s fancy and not another’s.
  2. Your opening pages are solid. Rarely does an agent ask for a full from PitMad. It’s likely that if an agent or editor likes your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages first, and as with any querying experience, that first impression is all-important.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. As with the opening pages, agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent likes your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every like you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best opportunity ever. I get how much of a thrill it is to have your pitch liked by tons of agents–or even just one. I think every contest or pitch opportunity that’s coming up seems like the most important, best ever–whether that’s Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, PitMad or the other Twitter pitch fests out there–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Make sure it’s ready. Agents will assume it is if you put it out there.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. Since I’m not in a position to pitch tomorrow, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Querying, Quick Tip, Revising, Writing

Quick Tip: Visualizing Your Feedback

One of the hardest decisions to make as you start receiving feedback on agent submissions is whether you should stop querying and revise. The tricky part of the equation is that the publishing business is subjective, and it’s challenging to sort through the comments you’ve received and determine whether they’re leaning toward “Yes, you definitely have to fix this!” or “It’s a judgment call.”

It’s even more complicated because agents don’t always comment on the same aspects of the manuscript, and you’re more likely to receive feedback on what didn’t work for them than what they loved about it. However, it’s important to take note when they do comment on the positive because, again, what one agent loves may be what another agent doesn’t.

I’ve found it especially helpful to look at feedback visually by making positive and negative feedback charts in Excel. I’m not going to share feedback on my current manuscript here on the blog, but in order to show you what I mean, I’ve created charts for the old manuscript I am revising. I should mention, though, that this manuscript was initially a middle grade novel, and after a revise & resubmit from an agent, I aged it up to young adult. The feedback on these charts is from both versions so it’s a bit skewed, but it will still give you an idea.

Duet positive comments

As you can see, some agents commented on the emotional journey being a strength, Duet negative commentswhile others felt I needed to work on character depth. Also, one agent complimented my pacing, but another had issues with it. Subjectivity–the bane of every writer’s existence!

For this particular manuscript, I didn’t need a chart to know I had to fix the alternate reality scenes and the voice. The other issues? I needed to figure out how to keep the positive and address the negative. It took me a couple of years to figure out how :). My point is, visualizing your feedback can help you decide whether a particular issue is something you need to step back and address or if it’s a matter of opinion. Because if you are getting positive comments as well as negative on a particular issue, it might be the latter. Perhaps the next agent will be the one where all the pieces fit together just right.

If you’re struggling with contradictory feedback or just want to see how your comments line up, try making these charts. It’s also nice to go look at that positive chart for an ego boost!

If you have any other ideas for sorting out feedback, I’d love to hear them.

Querying, Writing

The Search for Solid Comp Titles

As writers, we’re often told to include comp (or comparative, for the non-writers) titles in our queries letters. But it’s tricky. These titles can’t be too well-known, or we’ll look ridiculous. Or arrogant.

“I’ve written the next HARRY POTTER! HUNGER GAMES! TWILIGHT! DIVERGENT!”

No. You haven’t. Sorry. Or even if you have, there’s no way you can predict that.

At the same time, if you choose a novel that’s too obscure, the agent may not recognize it and the comp may fall flat. It’s a tough line to walk.

Then there’s the option of movies and TV shows. Some agents are fine with them and others aren’t because they want you to demonstrate a knowledge of the market. So, basically, you have to customize your comp titles based on each agent’s preference.

I’ve had a particularly difficult time coming up with comp titles for my current manuscript. The best comp title for it is a movie from 1998–The Truman Show. It’s a well-known movie, but I still felt like I needed to have book comps available as well. And that’s where things get tricky. Because the story is more than just this single plot line. It’s told from dual points of view, and includes scenes from the show in a screenplay format and blog posts. So that gives me even more possibilities to search for comp titles. For example:

  • Reality TV: Although the best-known title is probably A.S. King’s REALITY BOY, Heather Demetrios’ SOMETHING REAL is a better match for voice and tone.
  • MC discovers his/her life is a lie: I’ve searched far and wide for a title that would fit this scenario, and most of the titles I’ve found are either fantasy, sci-fi, or thrillers. As deep as I’ve scoured with my searches, I’m afraid anything I find now will be too obscure to use :).
  • MC is a liar–preferably a male voice: I’m reading one right now that I’m hoping will fit this category, but it looks like it will veer away from contemporary as well. There are a lot of girl liars in contemporary YA!
  • Format experiments: I have a number of options I could use for this, but it feels more important to use one of the other two comps instead.

My point in the examples above–particularly those two where I’m struggling–is that if I use the wrong title I could give the wrong impression. Sure, I could insert a thriller title where the main character finds out her life is a lie, but that would imply a different tone for my novel. And although I could choose a comp title where the female character is the liar, I’d really rather keep it as the male character, since my whole query focuses on the lies my boy MC has told. I tend to think it’s better to use no comp titles at all than to use titles that will give the wrong expectations for my manuscript.

What about you? Have you struggled with comp titles for a particular manuscript? Did you finally find the right ones or just forget about it?