Agents, Querying, Writing

Agent-Author Chat on Krista Van Dolzer’s Blog

Today I’m on the virtual road with an agent-author chat on Krista Van Dolzer’s blog. She interviewed me and my agent, Elizabeth Bewley of Sterling Lord Literistic, about how we connected. You can read the interview here:

http://kristavandolzer.blogspot.com/2018/11/agent-author-chat-elizabeth-bewley-and.html

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, Krista’s name should be familiar. We first met in 2012 when she was my mentor for The Writer’s Voice contest, and we’ve been friends and critique partners ever since. I’m a huge fan of her books, all of which I’ve reviewed/interviewed her about here. I encourage you to check those out!

THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING

DON’T VOTE FOR ME

EARTH TO DAD

Happy Thursday!

 

Character, Reading

On Sequels Ruining the Original

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, ever since an eagerly awaited sequel came in the mail this summer and from the first few pages had me going, “Whaaat?” I’m not going to call out this book specifically, which is part of the reason I waited so long to post about it (since I do list everything I read here on the blog).

In any case, I really loved the first book of this duology, enough that it has a review here, and I even pre-ordered the sequel so I wouldn’t forget about it. The first book left off on a total cliffhanger, but almost immediately the second book veered off in this completely disturbing direction. The further I read, the less engaged I was with the main characters. Based on everything they’d experienced in the first book and how the author had set them up, I found myself checking out more and more. By the end of the second book, the first book was completely ruined for me too, because with the cliffhanger ending of the first, you really can’t keep one without the other–a real bummer!

I’ve noticed this sequel issue with more than books. I had another experience recently that I wish I could erase, and I will totally call this one out. It was the musical “Love Never Dies,” which is a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” I love Phantom. I sang one of the songs as a solo in our senior showcase in high school, and the stage production is always amazing. I was skeptical about a sequel, but I should have avoided it entirely because it was extremely disturbing on so many levels. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom all acted in ways that seemed at odds with their behavior in the first musical, and there were plot points that really warped events in the timeline of “Phantom” as well. If you have the opportunity to see “Love Never Dies,” DON’T. (This might be the first negative review I’ve ever written on my blog, but I’m still traumatized a month after watching it.)

Finally, while it isn’t exactly a sequel, I recently stopped watching the second season of a very popular TV show for the same reason the first book I mentioned bothered me so much. I binge-watched the first season. The characters were engaging, and the mystery kept me wanting to discover the solution. As I began watching the second season, I was increasingly disappointed. The mystery wasn’t so believable, and the characters started making decisions that didn’t line up with how they’d been established in the first season. It finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to follow their journeys anymore.

So why this rant about sucky sequels? As writers, I think we must be careful about the promises we make to readers in our books, and if we do write sequels or series, we must be consistent. As I mentioned above, what turned me off most was when the characters were inconsistent. I understand characters might change, but if they’re behavior goes completely off the rails, you have to make me believe it or I will check out as a reader/viewer.

I’ve never written a sequel myself, but that’s partially why I felt it was important to document these thoughts. Perhaps somewhere down the line an opportunity will arise where I’ll have a story that isn’t finished after one book. If it does, I want to remember the importance of character constancy and maintaining the essence of the first book. I think those are the keys to turning readers into true fans.

Have you had any experiences with sequels that have turned you off a book or other media series?

Agents, Querying, Writing

I Have An Agent!

Dear friends, I have been waiting to write this post for SEVEN YEARS! If you’ve been following me for a while, you already know that, but if you stopped by because you love how-I-got-my-agent posts, this current story might seem like a bit of a fairy tale, and I want to make it clear that it’s come after a very long wait. I refer you to my July post, What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying. There are six more posts before that, one each on the anniversary of the day I started querying.

Okay, now that the cautionary tale is out of the way, I’ll return to the much more exciting current story, which does bear the lightning fast and unbelievable characteristics of a fairy tale. On Sept. 5, the same day I wrote my Love Letter to My Complete Manuscript, I started querying YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED. Interestingly enough, I discovered the other day this is almost exactly one year after I first jotted down my initial notes in my phone for the idea that would turn into this manuscript, although I didn’t draft it until this spring.

Anyway, I usually send out queries in waves and wait for responses so I can tweak my query or pages accordingly (I’ve documented this here on the blog before). However, with the show MANIFEST coming out on Sept. 24–about a plane jumping forward in time, although not the same amount of time and with a seemingly supernatural vibe–I wanted to be agents’ first impression. So I just started going down the list of all the agents with whom I’d be interested in working. Almost immediately, I knew this querying experience would be different; I was getting a number of requests, and even the few rejections were personalized.

On Sept. 13, one week and one day after I started querying, Agent A asked for a call the following week. Nobody was home in my house, and I seriously screamed, startling my dog and two cats. By this time, I had only received nine rejections from all the queries I’d sent out, so while I was overjoyed, thrilled, in shock at the prospect of an offer (SEVEN YEARS, friends), I was also a bit daunted by the prospect that I would have A LOT of agents to notify if it was, indeed, an offer.

It was sort of agony to wait five days to talk to Agent A, but it also gave me time to get myself together. I researched what questions to ask and the etiquette for nudging other agents, getting all my ducks in a row before our conversation. (Of course I’d read these sorts of posts before, but it’s different when you actually need them.) I set up templates for everything in advance. Here are the resources I used:

On Sept. 18, I talked with Agent A, and she was wonderful! For the first time ever, an agent truly loved my book! She offered me representation, and I proceeded to call my husband and parents and check in with my longtime CPs who were waiting to find out if it really was an offer. Then I started nudging the MANY agents who had already requested my manuscript as well as those who had my query, because my oldest query was twelve days. Agent A suggested I give the other agents two full weeks, which gave me a bit of anxiety because I would be traveling that day, but it was also the amount of time several of my writer friends had recommended, so I went with it.

Holy smokes, guys! Sept. 18 was one of the craziest days of my life. First the offer and then the most amazing correspondence with agents ever. I received several more requests from agents, plus a number of the nicest complimentary step-asides. I’ve heard from other writers that step-asides still hurt, but in my case, each one just gave me a nice glow. That first day I also received a note from Agent B, who said she was in the middle of my manuscript and would get back to me ASAP.

On Sept. 19, several more requests rolled in, and then … Agent B emailed and asked if we could talk that week, saying she’d love to work with me and why, right there in the email. I started hyperventilating a bit because I already loved one agent. How would I be able to choose between two? Plus there were all these other amazing agents requesting. I really didn’t want a ton of offers. I mean, I can’t even decide where to go to dinner when my husband asks! And I am horrible at telling people no …

I talked to Agent B on Sept. 20, and as much as I’d loved Agent A, there were some things Agent B said that really resonated with me about the heart of my character and my book. I felt like she really got me as a writer. I spent the next couple of days contacting clients for both Agent A and Agent B and making a spreadsheet comparing the two (surprising no one who knows me). It was very helpful to ask the same questions of each agent and the clients because I could line up the answers next to each other. When I had it all laid out before me, there was definitely an agent who seemed like a better fit for me, supporting my gut feeling from the call, but I still had ten days left before my decision and about 18(?) other agents considering. (The question mark is due to the timing of those other agents requesting.)

During the next week, I received a couple more requests from agents who were just seeing the nudge (a reason to do two full weeks!) as well as some of the nicest step-asides ever on the fulls. And each time someone stepped aside, even when they were agents I had the highest admiration for and would have loved to work with, I felt relief. To me, this meant that I felt entirely confident in the choice I’d already made between the first two agents, and yet I reminded myself to stay open to the possibility that another great agent might still come in and sweep me off my feet.

Then, on Friday, Sept. 29, I received a request from Agent C, who asked if she could read over the weekend but that if she was interested in offering, we’d have to talk on my decision day, Oct. 2. Perhaps this was the feet-sweeper–because she was a really fantastic agent. On Monday, Oct. 1, I woke up to an email from Agent C, asking for the call on Oct. 2. Fortunately, I was able to get references from two of her clients in advance, and they were both glowing, of course. In the meantime, I had nudged the remaining eight agents I still hadn’t heard from, and most of them stepped aside on Monday. One even called me late Monday afternoon, and we talked about a particular point that concerned her. She was completely lovely and told me to call her if things didn’t work out with whomever I chose.

So, I flew to New York on Tuesday, and my stomach was in knots, guys. I wasn’t nervous about the call itself but about the decision afterward. Because choosing an agent to represent you is a huge decision! And for the past week I’d had a series of super-nice step-asides until at the last minute (but for understandable reasons Agent C had explained), there was another offer. I talked to Agent C for an hour and a half, and once again I was left with an amazing conversation and an agent I could envision working with.

My husband was in meetings until 5 p.m., which was when I had said I would make a decision–not to Agent A on our initial call, but to the agents I had nudged on Sunday and to Agent C. Plus, I was in New York, and I wanted to actually enjoy my time there. So I called one of my longtime CPs (hi, Kip!) to hash it all out. I entered all of the information for Agent C into my spreadsheet and compared them.

Here’s the thing. You hear advice all the time that an agent relationship is personal and it’s different for everyone. After talking with three really fantastic agents who have different styles but are all agents who I believe could sell my book, I totally get that. I could have seen myself working with any of them and having a good relationship with them, but there was one agent who just felt like the best fit. I guess that’s what people mean when they say to go with your gut. Plus, there was my spreadsheet, where I didn’t really have any Cons listed for any of the agents, but I definitely had more Pros listed for a particular agent, possibly also a factor of the way I’d felt during our call and correspondence …

So, I’m delighted to announce that I’m now represented by Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic. As an extra bonus, since she is located in New York, I got to meet her for lunch on my trip! I can’t wait to get to work with her on YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED. And I am so grateful to the other two agents who offered and every other agent who has read and given me feedback over the past seven years. Every single one of them has helped me become a better writer.

If you’ve been in the query trenches a long time, don’t give up! I said a few months ago that it’s about perseverance. I’m on to the next part of this journey now, but I know it certainly isn’t over. There will be more rejection along the way–although I’m just going to celebrate over here for a bit :).

Writing

A Love Letter to My Completed Manuscript

In June, I wrote a love letter to my work-in-progress, when it was still shiny and new to me, before I sent it out to my first round of readers. Since I love this manuscript even more now that it’s no longer in progress, I thought it deserved another love letter.

Dear Manuscript,

When I sent you off to those first several readers a few months ago, I was buoyed by the sense that you were the best thing I’d ever written. That everyone who read you would love you as much as I did.

Of course, they saw your flaws. Those first readers, and the second, and the third. They pointed out where you floundered, looking for purpose, where you didn’t make sense, where you needed more tension. BUT, they also saw your strengths and what I loved about you. They gave me insightful comments about how to make you shine before I sent you out into the much broader world.

So now, instead of that blush of first love, we’ve been through months of hard truths and tricky problems. We didn’t always solve them on the first try, but we kept at it. We have survived, and you are so much stronger for it.

I loved you before, dear words, but now I love you even more. I’m sure you still aren’t perfect, but you are as ready as you’ll ever be. Not everyone will love you, and that’s okay.

I will always love you, dear words …

Michelle

Critiquing, PitchWars, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying

A few weeks ago one of my writing friends posted a wonderfully inspiring tweet:

And I replied:

Technically, this statement isn’t true. If you’ve seen my posts on tracking my queries, you’ll know that I do keep track of my rejections. However, I’ve never totaled them up for all the manuscripts, and as I thought about this post, I realized it might actually be helpful to share that information. I always figured I’d save these numbers for a dramatic How I Got My Agent post, but since that hasn’t happened yet, let’s do it! But also, as I’m still querying my latest manuscript, I’m not tying any of these numbers to specific manuscripts.

Manuscripts: 6
Queries: 594
Query Rejections: 500
Partial requests: 31
Full requests: 75
R&Rs: 4

So there it is. A nice even 500 rejections. But wait! That’s only query rejections. When you add in the fact that those submissions and R&Rs didn’t turn into offers, I’ve squeaked over 600 (some of those requests were from contests rather than queries). Now, I did include queries and submissions for the manuscript I’m currently querying in these numbers, and I’m still waiting to hear on a number of those. Plus, there are a few agents who haven’t responded on a couple of my older manuscripts. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find it in their inbox and still make an offer :). (I am an eternal optimist.) Which brings me to my first and always lesson:

PERSEVERANCE

Basically, I’m not giving up, no matter what. I will keep writing until one of these manuscripts sticks. I mean, this is my What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying Post, and it’s a tradition. I’ve written one for each year, so if you’re new here, that’s already going to tell you something. If you want to go back and read the others, here they are: What I’ve Learned in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six Years of Querying.

But on to the other things I’ve learned this past year.

Being in a major contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t put a magic spell on your manuscript. Now, I want to be clear that I did not assume being in Pitch Wars would result in an agent. It’s more that I thought this manuscript would be more ready than any of the others and I would feel super-confident in my materials. I’d had multiple writing friends participate in the contest before, which is much more than an agent showcase, by the way, and so I understood going in that the main benefit of Pitch Wars was the mentoring. I’d entered Pitch Wars with three other manuscripts in the past and not been selected, with feedback varying from “You should go ahead and query!” to the sort of responses you get from agents: “Not right for me.” So when I was selected by a mentoring team (Hi, Beth and Kristin!), it felt like I’d done something right with this manuscript. I knew it wasn’t ready to query yet, and that’s why the timing of Pitch Wars was so perfect. I would work with my mentors to shine up the manuscript and start querying after the agent showcase. I was thrilled with the final product and happy with the requests I received during the agent round (I never expected to be one of the entries with dozens of requests). Where my expectations have stumbled a bit was in the querying afterward. As with every other project, I’ve questioned pretty much every aspect–query, first pages, the overall manuscript. So being in Pitch Wars didn’t magically erase all those doubts. Oh well. Fingers crossed the right agent is still considering it!

Participating in a mentoring contest brings your revision skills to a whole new level. As I started drafting and am now revising another manuscript, I’ve seen the benefits of working in-depth with two mentors. I have amazing critique partners, and they’re very honest with me when they spot issues in my work, but the difference with mentors is that they go even deeper, suggesting cuts and additions that a CP may not. As I started writing my latest project, I felt like I had two extra voices in my head asking me if I was addressing those weaknesses I’d had in my last manuscript. I believe this latest first draft was stronger because I went through the Pitch Wars revision process.

Seeing your name on the Acknowledgements page of a critique partner’s book for the first time is an amazing high. Several years ago I noticed there was a group of writers whose work I love who always thank each other in the acknowledgements page, and I thought, “Someday I will have a group of friends like that!” My group of critique partners and beta readers isn’t so close-knit that they’re all trading with each other, but several of them do chat with each other and share excitement over releases.

In any case, this spring marked the first time my name was in a friend’s book, and I definitely walked around the house making sure my husband and kids saw my name in there. There are two more coming up in the next year that I will get to celebrate as well. I don’t know how long it will be before my name is on the cover of a book, but for now I will cheer on my friends and continue reading the amazing work of the writers around me. There’s so much more to this writing journey than my work. I feel like breaking into a chorus of “We’re all in this together … ”

Find creative outlets with more immediate returns. I actually do a few creative things, but one creative outlet I’d missed recently was playing the violin, so last fall I joined a community orchestra. It was hard work. I hadn’t played classical music in years (I’d been playing only at church), so I had to practice A LOT, but experiencing the payoff of performing challenging music was very rewarding. Now that I’ve found it, I’m not giving it up. I need that opportunity to express myself creatively and see the end result.

So that’s what I’ve learned this past year, and I’m hard at work revising the next manuscript I plan to query. Because of that lesson I already shared but it doesn’t hurt to mention again …

PERSEVERANCE!

To those of you who are persevering with me, keep at it! I’m cheering for you.

Revising, Writing

A Love Letter to My Work-In-Progress

As I sent my latest manuscript off to first-round readers today, it occurred to me it’s a lot like how you feel when you start dating someone and you’re so anxious for all of your friends to like that person as much as you do. You want their opinions, even though you secretly want them to tell you this person is perfect already. Of course, no one is perfect, just as no manuscript is perfect, particularly not an almost-first draft. Anyway, here’s the note I mentally–and now physically–drafted to my WIP :).

Dear Work-In-Progress,

I think you might be the best thing I’ve ever written! I am so in love with you right now–and so happy you’re finished!

I’ve told my writer friends about you, and they love the idea of you. Sure, they haven’t read you yet, but I’m positive when they do, they’ll love you as much as I do. They won’t rip you to shreds. They won’t nitpick about your character inconsistencies or point out where you’re completely unbelievable or zero in on your weaknesses–because in this moment you don’t have any of those. You are bright and shiny and beautiful.

Okay, I have to be honest. You probably aren’t perfect. I’m probably blinded by the glow of first love. But that’s all right. When the notes return and I must tear you apart and kill some of your most darling lines, I will return to this note so I can remember how much I loved you at the beginning. Because love is a commitment, and we are in this for the long haul.

Until we meet again, dear words …

Michelle

 

Revising, Writing

A Revision Plan of Attack Using Collections in Scrivener

I intended to write a celebratory post when I finished drafting this latest work-in-progress, but I never got around to it. I’m now nearly through my self-imposed month of letting the manuscript sit, but I certainly haven’t been idle. Even without reading through the manuscript again, I already have a ton of notes jotted in my Scrivener file. I spent several days brainstorming a title for the manuscript, but it took a morning sitting in the airport, the airline sending me constant updates about our flight, to make a light bulb go off in my brain.

“Your Flight Has Been Delayed,” the email said over and over. And while that would be pretty on the nose for my novel, it needed a slight change.

YOUR FLIGHT LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED

I guess this title would make more sense if I told you what the manuscript is about, huh? Here’s my working query, which I’ve also added to my Writing tab.

When seventeen-year-old Jenny Waters boards Flight 237 on Aug. 2, 1995, in New York, she has two main goals. First, convince her parents to let her apply to the journalism program at Columbia University. Second, woman up and kiss her boyfriend of three months.

But when Jenny and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, the airport manager informs them their plane disappeared—25 years ago. Like the universe hit pause on their plane while the rest of the world kept moving. In 2020, newspaper reporter isn’t exactly a top career choice, and as for her boyfriend, well, all his kisses belong to Jenny’s best friend. His wife. And they’re both in their forties.

As if trying to adjust to a new century isn’t hard enough, a conspiracy group called the Time Protection League sets out to prove Flight 237 is a big hoax. When Jenny’s not dealing with rumors she’s a clone, she’s fighting her attraction to Dylan, who introduces her to everything that’s good about her new present, like Harry Potter and late-night texting.

Too bad Dylan happens to be the son of Jenny’s former boyfriend and BFF. Yeah, that’s not awkward.

ONCE UPON A KISS meets Lost in YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, a 75,000-word young adult contemporary novel with speculative elements.

Obviously the word count will change once I start revising, but it’s a start.

One of the Scrivener features I plan to use as I revise is to create Collections so I can analyze certain areas of the manuscript in smaller chunks. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Scrivener, a Collection is a group of scenes/chapters that you tag to belong to a group–or Collection–and can then view separately. Any changes you make to the scenes while viewing in the Collection are updated in the main manuscript. It’s simply a way to view them differently. This screen shot shows how I used Collections to separate out the two viewpoints in my YA contemporary, AS SEEN ON EVIE. The Evie scenes are grouped together, and above there’s a separate collection for the Justin scenes.

For this manuscript, I only have one point of view, but there are several subplots I want to analyze for various reasons. I plan to create Collections so I can go through the plot points for each of those subplots and do several checks–character descriptions and dialogue, plot progression, consistency, and other details. Creating the Collections is pretty simple.

  1. Click on the scene you want to include in the Collection.
  2. Click on the little arrow next to the settings icon at the bottom of the Binder.
  3. Select Add to Collection, New Collection.
  4. Type in the name of the Collection.
  5. For any other scenes you want to include, right-click and the name of the Collection will pop up. You can then view all scenes in that Collection by clicking on its name in the Binder.

           

I anticipate separating out the love story, friend drama, conspiracy group, and interactions with other people who were on the plane with her will help ensure those plots all have their own mini plot arcs and then fit into the overarching story. I love that Scrivener makes this easy to do.

What tricks do you use to ensure your subplots hold their weight within the overall story?