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Writing for Children

17 Jun

A Guest Post by Hayleigh Bird

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Many people think that writing fiction for children must be much easier than trying to write a novel for adults. But the truth is that less words does not equal less complicated. Writing for children presents many challenges that don’t exist when writing for adults.

One of the main challenges in writing for children is that you are writing for an entirely different audience than the one you exist in. When writing for adults, you can constantly evaluate your work based on whether you would enjoy it, or the people you know would enjoy it. When you’re writing for children, you can’t base it off of what you would enjoy. Kids see the world differently. Even their fundamental value system is completely different than that of an adult. When writing for children, you can never lose sight of who your target audience really is. Even if you think something is funny, that doesn’t mean a kid will think it’s funny.

So how do you remedy this? Hang out with kids. The more time you spend with kids, the more you’ll come to understand what they find funny, what scares them, what interests them, etc. I am not suggesting you go to the playground and take notes (that might get you arrested). Do you have cousins? Nieces? Friends with kids? Do you like volunteering? There are lots of volunteer opportunities that involve hanging out with super cool kids AND giving back to the community (bonus).

Another challenge specific to writing for children is that in many cases, you are actually writing for two audiences; the parent and the child. While the child must be engaged and interested by the book, often it is the parent who is purchasing the book. This becomes especially relevant for picture books. Picture book authors are tasked with coming up with stories that interest both parent and child, a feat that is by no means easy.

Scaredy Squirrel - a great children's book!

That being said, writing something that engages parent and child alike is possible. And if you can master that, it will undoubtedly bring you success. Take your cues from books like Scaredy Squirrel, and movies like Shrek. They deal with concepts and ideas that are recognizable to parents as funny, but present them a way that make them accessible to kids. There is no sure-fire way to achieve this but always keep both audiences in mind. A good tactic is to do what I call “throwing the parent a bone”. This means that you can include sentences or bits that won’t be lost on a child (ie. they will still understand what it going on) but that are more directed at engaging the parent.

Shrek!

A final (and major) challenge in writing for children is knowing which age group you are writing for. Kids grow and learn at a rapid rate, and the vocabulary, sentence structure, and literary devices they are capable of understanding change as they develop. There is a big difference between writing something for a six year old kid and writing something for a ten year old kid. Your editor will undoubtedly help you with this, but you’ll find more success at getting your manuscript accepted if you have a clear idea of what age group you are writing for, and what they are capable of understanding before you begin.

In general, picture books can be made for ages 0-3 (board books and very simple/repetitive type books), and ages 3-6 (more complex picture books with more writing per page). When writing a picture book it is important to note that the parent is generally reading it out loud, so words can be somewhat complex in terms of spelling, but should still be a part of that age-group’s vocabulary.

At about age seven or eight, kids become capable of reading simple chapter books. These books contain simple and short sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Generally these books are a child’s first attempt at reading on their own, and as such they are almost even simpler than a picture book. The child needs to be able to get through it without constantly asking a parent or teacher to explain. When writing for this age group, keep in mind that things like flashbacks or disjointed scenes will confuse readers. Literary techniques like foreshadowing and allusion will be lost on readers this young, so it is much more useful to spend your time being direct and to the point. You will need to do a lot of repeating, especially when it comes to who is speaking or thinking. Too many pronouns will confuse young readers.

Around age 11 or 12, a child becomes capable of reading more complex stories and longer chapter books. Sentences can become longer as kids this age are capable of putting together the thoughts in a compound sentence without going back and rereading the first part. Many readers in this age group are already reading ahead to YA/teen fiction, so the majority of books produced specifically for 11-13 year olds is geared at getting reluctant readers interested in books. That means that a lot of these books are not too complex in terms of reading level and vocabulary, but are “high concept”, meaning more complex terms of content and plot.

There are a few other things to keep in mind when writing for children:

Don’t include a “lesson” or “moral”. Tales of morality or stories that are written specifically to teach a lesson are awful. They are uninteresting, preachy, and nobody will want to read them, let alone buy them. Publishers will throw your manuscript out the second they sense that you are trying to teach a lesson. In fact, most children’s publishers explicitly state this on the submissions portion of their website. It is an un-breakable rule. Note: it is perfectly okay if in the end, your already interesting/stand alone story *happens* to convey some sort of message. It just should not be the underlying premise of your story. Kids are smarter than you think, and pick up on it quite easily when the “moral” of the story is presiding over the actual plot.

Speaking of submission guidelines, as with any publisher, children’s publishers are very strict about their submission guidelines. There are many children’s publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, so it’s not necessary to find an agent for your manuscript, so long as you submit it to the right publishers and follow all the guidelines, usually listed on their website. For example, many people are tempted to writing rhyming picture books, but the fact of the matter is that most major publishers don’t publish rhyming picture books due to being unable to sell foreign rights (rhymes don’t translate). As such, many children’s publishers explicitly state not to send them rhyming poetry. These submission guidelines are not flexible and if your manuscript doesn’t follow them, it will get tossed in the garbage.

My last piece of advice to you is to tell your story to a kid. Kids are honest critics and you’ll know right away whether you have a winner or a stinker. Best of luck on your writing endeavours; and if you have questions about writing for children, or publishing for children, please comment!

~~~

Hayleigh Bird is a children’s book fanatic and enthusiast. She works in the children’s publishing arena as a sales assistant at Kids Can Press, and is currently working on several manuscripts for children and young adults. You can find her on twitter and on her comedic blog, Peculiar Amusement.

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A Guest Post on Patience

1 Jun

By Sammy Bina

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This is probably not the best thing to admit about myself right out the gate, but as Sarah assured me she also has this problem (and I’m sure many of us do), I’ll just spit it out: I am an impatient person. One of dictionary.com’s definitions was “eagerly desirous,” so for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to use that as our go-to definition.

I’m pretty sure most, if not all, writers are impatient people. We get an idea for a story in a really inappropriate place (ie: class, dinner out with friends, a bar, a remote location with no computer, etc.) and refuse to have any more fun until we’ve jotted down some notes. If paper (regular, toilet, or the napkin variety) or a computer aren’t available, we get antsy. Impatient. The desire to write down ideas before we forget them is overwhelming. We’ve all been there.

Being a writer is all about having patience; the past few months have taught me that. Writing (and revising) takes time, and the publishing industry is a notoriously slow one, so it’s important to learn the value of patience. Querying can really teach you a thing or two, because 99% of the time, you’re just sitting around, waiting. You send Agent A a query letter, and you hear back right away. You send the materials they requested, and in the meantime, send a query to Agent B. You know Agent B has a quick turnaround time, but after a few weeks, you still haven’t heard anything. People on Query Tracker and agentturnaround are all getting responses, and you wonder if your letter somehow got lost in cyberspace or the slush pile. You get impatient (or, as I like to say, eagerly desirous) for an answer. But as much as you want to resend your query, you need to wait it out. If you last two months without going insane, you can resend it then!

The same goes for writing, I think. It’s not uncommon to get stuck on a scene in the midst of a writing frenzy, which brings you to a horrible, jolting, unexpected stop. You get frustrated and impatient, trying to fight your way through it. Best case scenario, you manage to resolve your problem. Worst case scenario, you give up for the night. If you’re still stuck on that one scene when you return to it, sometimes it’s best to step away for a while and concentrate on something else, be it a different scene, or a new story altogether. Maybe try your hand at writing the synopsis or query letter, since you’ll eventually need them, should you be considering publication.

Patience, my friends. It’s the key to staying sane in this business. I’ve gotten much better over time, and thought I’d list a few handy tips that helped me out when I was eagerly desirous for any number of writing-related things:

1. Read everything you can get your hands on. It’s like homework, only fun.
2. Take up a new hobby. Personally, I suggest thrifting. It will teach you to hunt through all the junk thrift stores have, until you find that perfect item. Voila, patience! (And you’ll have the satisfaction that comes with retail therapy, too!)
3. Do NOT leave your email open 24/7. That’s what really drove me crazy when I first started querying. I’d refresh it every ten minutes, even though I knew it updated on its own. Pick a time to check your email once a day, and stick to it.
4. If that doesn’t work, have people yell at you, or take your computer away. This can be very effective, for obvious reasons.
5. If worse comes to worst, go to Starbucks, or your favorite slightly-overpriced-but-delicious cafe. Bring your laptop, or a book. At least you’ll feel writerly, and maybe that will inspire you. And it will keep you busy.
6. Follow literary agencies and their agents on Twitter. Some of them will let you know where they are in terms of reading queries, and it will save you a lot of heartache and health issues.
7. Bake. It won’t teach you anything about writing, but you’ll hopefully learn to make a decent quiche, and in the meantime, learn a thing or two about sitting around and being productive.

It may sound stupid, but staying active helps a lot. After those initial weeks of querying are over, it becomes much easier to keep your email closed, and to focus on other things. If you’re writing, stepping away for a time really does help. Simple steps really do make all the difference.

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Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, majoring in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her dystopian romance, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and interns at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington, DC. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

Guest Article: Endings and Climaxes

22 Apr

Hey everyone! After the big discussion on writing climaxes and endings last week, we’re happy to present a guest article by Kat Zhang on just those issues!

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Endings and Climaxes

by Kat Zhang

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So you’re 50,000 (or 100,000—or even 150,000!) words into your latest manuscript. Things are going well: your main character is lovable, the plot is engaging, troubles have piled up, and your heroine is in over her head. The foremost question on any sane reader’s mind is What’s going to happen next??

Wonderful, right? Except you, as the writer, are scratching your head and pondering the exact same thing. What is going to happen next? In order to build suspense, you’ve put your heroine in a seemingly impossible to fix situation. Maybe the love of her life thinks she’s killed his dog and won’t return her calls. Maybe the Big Bad has kidnapped her parents and hidden them in a top-secret lair in Madagascar. Or maybe she just needs to gather up all her strength and defeat the Forces of Evil. For the third time. With a toothpick.

Not the last one? Okay…

Whatever your heroine’s problems are, yours as the writer is how to end your story satisfactorily. In many ways, this is the most important part of your story. It’s certainly what’s going to be freshest on your reader’s mind when they close the book, and there’s nothing more frustrating than 300 pages of build-up only for all the tension and drama to leak out the last chapter like a squeaky balloon (Breaking Dawn, anyone?). No, you want your book to end with a bang!

The trouble is, endings are what most writers have had the least practice with. I don’t know about you, but I have so many orphan first and second chapters laying around, I don’t know what to do with them! So for everyone close to plotting out the last few chapters of your novel, here are some quick tips.

First of all, avoid the Deus Ex Machina. I tend to agonize over this myself. Many times, it’s a matter of opinion what counts as a Deus Ex Machina and what doesn’t. Think about the first Harry Potter book. There’s little Harry, facing the most powerful and evil wizard in the world, and what saves him? His mother’s love? What?

But it works. Why? One reason is buildup. This seemingly sudden savior was first mentioned in chapter one, and it actually answers other questions raised in the book, such as why Harry was left to his aunt and uncle. It doesn’t hurt that Harry has already been saved by this love once before, as a baby.

If you’re going to bring in something at the last second, make sure to foreshadow it first. Foreshadow it enough so that it seems slightly obvious to you—I’ve learned that if it seems very subtle to the writer, it generally goes over the majority of the readers’ heads. Will a hidden knife prove essential to the climax? Mention the heroine using it to peel an apple in the second chapter, or have her almost forget to pack it. Layer it in between other, seemingly more important things, and your readers will almost forget about it until your protagonist triumphantly pulls it out during the last battle.

The second reason the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone works is the fact that Harry has worked so hard already. The last few chapters are all about him, Hermione, and Ron braving challenge after challenge to reach the last chamber. Tellingly, both his friends are left behind during the course of this journey, leaving Harry to act on his own at the very end. So even if the final “attack” against Voldemort is taken out of his hands, we as the readers don’t feel like we’ve been ripped off because Harry has already proven himself worthy of the victory.

Finally, don’t forget the denouement. Derived from the French word meaning to “unknot,” the denouement is often left out of discussions concerning plot structure. But that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant! The denouement takes place after all the major action is over. It allows everyone (characters and readers alike) to take a deep breath, recollect themselves, and take one last look around before the ending forces us to say goodbye. Sometimes, this takes the form of an epilogue, but that needn’t always be the case.

What makes for a great denouement? Well, it’s a good time to show How Things Have Changed, and unless the fact that nothing has changed is the point of your novel, things should have changed! If nothing else, your characters should have developed. Think about the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m talking about the movie here—apologies to the book enthusiasts!). The return to the Shire is one big denouement. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry sit among the other Hobbits, home at last after grueling adventure. Everyone else is happy and celebrating, but these four are in what seems to be their own little bubble. Their travels have changed them. They can never again be as innocent as their friends. (On a happier note, Sam gains the courage to ask out that pretty little hobbit lady he’s been eyeing!)

To summarize:

  1. The ending should not happen out of nowhere. Even if you intend it to shock your audience upon first reading, they should be able to go back over the body of the novel and think to themselves “Ah—there’s a hint in chapter three that this would happen!”
  2. If there is a happy ending, your main character must have earned it through her own actions and growth.
  3. Allow for reflection and proof of growth/change in the denouement.

A lot of work has gone into a novel before an ending can be solidified. But for most, tacking on a figurative or literal “The End” after the last few words is really just the beginning of another few months or even years of editing. Don’t let this overwhelm you—celebrate your accomplishment! Jump up and down a few times! Finishing a first draft is a great accomplishment, and if you’re not in a big hurry to perfect this particular manuscript, it may be a good idea to take a short break to work on other things. That way, you’ll be able to approach your editing with a fresh eye.

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Kat Zhang is currently an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing, who spends all her free time furiously editing her YA novel, HYBRID, to get it in shape for querying. She’s currently finishing a series about a three week trip to China on her blog, but will soon switch over to more writing related topics.

Publishing Abroad – An Interview With Gabriela Da Silva

8 Apr

Vanessa Di Gregorio
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Ever been curious about what publishing is like in other countries? We sure have! So what better way to get a glimpse into the world of foreign publishing than with an interview with someone published in another country? It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Gabriela da Silva (or Gaby, as she often goes by); an author who resides in Mexico. She is also someone who encouraged me to keep writing when I was still on Fanfiction.net (oh, the good ol’ days), and I can’t thank her enough.  Amazingly, she’s agreed to be poked and prodded by us while we question her about her experience with publishing abroad. Her first novel, a fantasy titled “Los Doce Sellos” (The Twelfth Seal), was published by Itaca on December 17th, 2009 in Mexico.

Want to know more? Well, here’s a little synopsis of “Los Doce Sellos”:

In the Empire of Lavinia, a group of orphans were adopted by a sorcerer…

Life with him wasn’t easy. They traveled with no respite, assisting the old man in the magic shows he offered in every village they came across. Even if the Teacher had never been kind or loving to them, he gave them clothing, food and a home during the long winter. They lived as a family, and Umberto was happy like that.

But when the group is invited to a princely court nearby, the youth’s placid world starts to corrode, with nothing they can do to stop it. With one of his sisters in the threshold of death and all of his friends in danger, Umberto finds himself in a bizarre place between two worlds, trapped in a battle between forces he never could have imagined.

“Gaby’s

Front and back cover of Gaby’s book

Gaby is currently translating her book into English, and so we thought we would ask her not only about her experiences with publishing abroad, but her plans for the future.

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V. Thanks so much, Gaby, for being able to offer us your time! We’ll start with some questions from me! So, to start off: what was your first reaction when you signed your book deal?

G. Anxiety, perhaps? I didn’t exactly “sign a deal” – it was mostly talking with the editor one afternoon.

By that time I pretty much knew it was going to get published, and I was getting nervous – how long would it take? Would I get a lot of corrections? Would I be allowed to mess with the cover design? (I was!)

Also, most of my friends work in the area of literary criticism – I, too, specialized in that. So I was very nervous as to how they would receive it, since some of them can be downright mean when doing their job. Luckily, most of them liked it, and the mean ones didn’t comment too much…

V. That’s amazing that you were able to get a say in your book cover design! So, how did you get to that part when you realized you were getting published? Did you/do you have an agent?

G. One more figure that doesn’t exist in Mexico! Literary agents sound like a dream come true here. I don’t have one, though I’d love to. Both my parents worked a little as agents, introducing me to what friends they had in the publishing business (they turned me down anyway).

V. No agents?! That must’ve been daunting! So, with no agents around to help you out, how did you go about getting your book published?

G. At the end of the day, the same editorial who had published my mom’s book on women’s writing, and who I hadn’t considered because they published only academic essays, turned out to be looking for novels in order to widen their appeal. I turned the manuscript in and finally, someone was willing to take the risk of publishing a first time writer…

V. How long did it take?

G. From the moment I started writing to when it was published, it took a little over four years. The publishing in itself took around six or seven months, with the editor correcting, me correcting the corrections, him correcting again and me agreeing.

V. Ah, editors. Gotta love them. The next few questions are from Savannah and Sarah. They wanted to know: did you go on a book tour?

G. There’s really no such thing as a “book tour” in Mexico. Famous writers sometimes tour, but it’s not the most common thing. However, I formally presented my book to the public during the National Book Fair.

V. Does Mexico have a popular best sellers list, or any other distinctive honors like that, and were you on any of them?

G. There are several lists; mostly, each bookstore has their own. I figured in one of them for January (16th most sold) and February (17th), right along Orham Pamuk and Paul Auster!

V. What’s your plan for your novel in the future?

G. As soon as I can I’m moving to a bigger editorial. There are only four or five editorials that distribute to the entire country – most work only within the city they were born in, as my editorial right now distributes only in Mexico City. So yes, first I’ve got to reach the rest of my country.

Also, I’m translating it into English, and with a little luck (and much more hard work) I’ll try and get in published in that language too.

V. I definitely think you should get in published in the U.S. and Canada. You know I would be the first one to buy it! The next few questions come from Biljana. She wanted to know: Can you tell us briefly how somebody would go about translating a book into a different language?

G. Sorry, I can’t really say I know the usual process… if your work is famous most of the time a foreign editorial will pick up the rights by themselves and have it translated. For us, I believe we need to see to the translation by ourselves and find an agent who doesn’t mind working with someone outside of the country.

V. Do you feel any bitterness to the fact that English seems to be more read that other languages? How do you deal with knowing that if your book were translated, it might not have the same beauty or meaning as it does in its original language?

G. Not bitterness! I love the English language. It’s beautiful and flexible, and it has so many pretty verbs… I love Spanish just as well. It has more degrees of feelings, and allows latinisms.

If I feel bitter about anything it is about my own fate, of being born in a country were writing doesn’t pay (literally. I didn’t get one dime for my book) unless you’re OMG famous, and famous writing means “about social struggle”. For an aspiring fantasy author, the prospect is just bleak, you know?

As for the translation, I don’t worry about that because I’m translating it myself 😛

In all seriousness, I would hope that the one to translate the book would see it as more than just another chore, and would do his/her best to take some of the beauty I put in and imitate it in the new language. Something will be lost – but something will be gained as well, and that’s the beauty of translation.

V. Didn’t get paid?! Well, you definitely need to finish translating and get it published here too then! Now, I just have one more question (technically, two, I suppose). Would you say Fanfiction.net or FictionPress helped you in your goal of becoming a writer? How much of an impact did these sites have on you?

G. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Fanfiction.net and FictionPress! First of all, writing for those sites helped me practice. I know there are plenty of people out there who look down on fanfiction as petty wish-fulfillment, and for some people that’s what it is.

But for me, it was always about practice: you have a set of characters in a set of circumstances, and you inject a second set of circumstances. You have to combine both without breaking any of them – as a writer, that’s one great challenge.

As for FictionPress, well, I didn’t publish much there precisely because it made me realize two very important things:

1) It was time I started writing in my own language. After years and years of writing in English, switching back to Spanish was so difficult, I couldn’t believe it. I felt humiliated when I needed to use a dictionary for my native language.
2) Most importantly, it was time I got myself a good critique partner, someone I had to see face to face. Internet reviews are good, of course, but most comments in both FictionPress and ff.net are of the “OMG this is so kewl!” kind, which are encouraging but don’t help with your writing.

I believe those websites can be extremely valuable to any fledging writer, first of all because of the feedback, but also because they’ll give you the courage to actually go and show your work to others. This might come easier to some – but for me, it wasn’t. Showing my writing was like stripping down to my barest, most intimate me… I wouldn’t have had the courage to go through publishing if I didn’t start with the internet first.

~

So again, Gaby, we’d like to thank you so much for letting us interview you about publishing abroad. I know you’ll have a bright writing career ahead of you!

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Gaby is the author of “Los doce sellos” (The Twelfth Seal), a fantasy story which was published in Mexico on December of last year. She is currently translating it into English in hopes of finding an agent and is already hard at work on her follow-up novel. She tweets @huesodeliebre, both in English and Spanish

Query Week 2: Greetings From the Slush Pile

17 Feb

QUERY WEEK PART 2

Greetings from the Slush Pile

Guest Blog by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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Hey everyone! So I’m Vanessa, and today I’ll be guest-blogging about what happens after an agent has your partial or full manuscript. And yes, that means I’ll be talking about the dreaded slush pile (dun dun duunnn)! As an intern at a literary agency, hopefully I’ll be able to give you guys some insight into what goes on over on the other side of the fence.

So, what happens after your manuscript has been requested? Whether it be a partial or a full manuscript, you need to be patient. Agents get a ridiculous amount of queries at any given time, and will request for quite a number of partials. If you’ve reached this stage and are rejected, don’t take it to heart! This is a VERY subjective industry. Agents will only take on manuscripts that they are passionate about.  And what about agent interns, you ask? Well, while our own personal taste certainly comes into play, we also have to consider what kind of manuscripts would work for certain agents at the agency. For example: I help manage two different slush piles at the agency I am currently at. After reading material from the clients they have already signed on, I have a fairly good sense of what they would like in a manuscript, and what they don’t.  And interns will only get this responsibility if they prove that they are good at it.

Now, what about rejection? Why do so many manuscripts end up on the chopping block? The reasons vary. Sometimes people just aren’t starting their story in the right place. Other times, the protagonists aren’t engaging enough. Or the writing style is just not something that particularly appeals to the agent. If I feel that I can offer some sort of advice to the writer, I will. So don’t think that agents who reject you are heartless, or have terrible taste, or are the vaguest at offering you advice! Agents need to be vague in their advice when they are rejecting you because it isn’t their place to tell you want they want. The specific advice comes after you have been signed on. So they will give you broad advice that can help improve your story instead of specifics (which can be much more subjective).

Also, keep in mind that agents get drowned under a sea of slush, and have to do a hell of a lot of digging to find something that catches their eye. And with all that slush to plow through, sometimes we don’t have the time to read your entire partial (blasphemy, I know! But this shouldn’t be new to you). After around 2-3 pages, it’s easy to get a sense of whether or not we’ll take you on. And if we read more than that, it’s because SOMETHING has caught our interest in some way. It can be a well-written character, a great P.O.V., a plot that just hooks; it can be so many different things.

If we still reject you, it’s probably because it might need too much work at that particular moment. So if an agent says something positive, or mentions that your manuscript needs more work, keep that in mind – and listen to them. They aren’t your bff’s telling you that your story is totally awesome and will sell millions. They are strangers to you and your work, and will give you their honest opinion. Some agents will even mention that they would love the opportunity to read your manuscript if you rewrite it. In fact, I did just that recently. The query was absolutely AMAZING – her summary was just so intriguing! But then after receiving her partial, I was disappointed. The story begins and falls flat, but there is one short scene in the middle of the first chapter that I thought was absolutely BRILLIANT. And I thought, why couldn’t THAT be the beginning of the book? So while we ultimately said no to her manuscript as it currently stood, we did tell her that if she rewrote her manuscript, we would love for her to resubmit it.

Just to give you an idea, out of all the partials I read through, only around 10% of these will get a request for a full manuscript. Slim, I know. BUT DON’T DESPAIR! Chances are, if you have a crit partner for your work, you will be at a tremendous advantage. The reason for this very small percentage is because most people send their very rough first drafts… Which NO agent wants to see. So as long as you have given your work a thorough look-over and edit, you will be WAY ahead of a majority of people.

And here are some reasons WHY I have ended up rejecting some manuscripts from the slush pile… and since I love making lists, what better way than in a list of DON’Ts?

  • DON’T have a ridiculous amount of typos. No, seriously. This may sound like the most OBVIOUS thing in the world, but you would not believe how many people send in partials that are CLEARLY first drafts (and full of typos/simple grammatical mistakes). Likewise, don’t mention that you are sending your first draft (that is actually kind of insulting). Now, I’m not saying that all first drafts are horrible – but the majority of writers should go over their manuscript and polish it up after writing it. If an agent requests a partial, remember: make it as polished as you can. You are trying to show an agent what it is you are capable of.
  • BUT (and this is a biggie) – DON’T just polish your partial and leave the rest of the manuscript alone. It should ALL be equally polished. If there is one thing agents hate, it’s thinking that your work is BRILLIANT, only to see that the rest of your manuscript is a great big mess. Agents don’t like being fooled.
  • DON’T write a 3-page synopsis that sounds exactly like Twlight/New Moon. It isn’t appealing. It’s fine to compare your work and point out similarities in theme with other titles, but don’t show how good you are at taking an already published story and changing the setting and character names with your initials slapped on top.
  • DON’T mention how characters are of a certain background if it has absolutely NO relevance to the story – and especially don’t make it a selling point for your manuscript. Example: If you are writing a novel about faeries, don’t mention how they are Irish as opposed to British when the story takes place in California. Because then what you have are American faeries who have different hair colours. UNLESS their background is somehow relevant to the story, don’t mention it as a selling point.
  • DON’T look up body parts in an anatomy book when you’re trying to be sexual/erotic. Let me just say, IT DOES NOT WORK. Please, PLEASE use urban dictionary if you are trying to write something erotic. Don’t start naming various parts of the body using terms that only doctors would use. It just makes the reader (and the agent) laugh. And then cry a little on the inside.

And, just in case you still feel insecure, my fellow intern Rachel (gotta love her) showed me what I think is a great guide for writers who just can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong when querying called, Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell.

So, hopefully I haven’t scared any writers away from dreams of publication! Remember, agents aren’t personally slapping you in the face when they reject you. And the slush pile isn’t some black hole where all your manuscripts go to die. If you have received a partial request, pat yourself on the back – your query letter was good! If you have received a full manuscript request, do a few fist pumps. And if you get signed, remember – there is still a long way to go. BUT, you’ll have someone in the industry who LOVES what you’ve written and will do everything it takes to get that book published. And then that slush pile won’t seem so evil anymore, cause it’ll all be worth the wait. And I think THAT deserves a happy dance.

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Vanessa is currently an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also taking courses in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA novel.

Guest Author: Vivi Anna!

30 Nov

Let the Words Flow is proud to present our first Guest Author, Erotic Romance author Vivi Anna, who is signed with me at the the Bradford Literary Agency.

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Thank you Savannah for inviting me over! This looks like an amazing group of writers and I hope I can give a little bit on insight into what my life has been like being a published author.

1. How did you get your agent?

My first agent I got from sending out query letters. I made a list of my top five agents, made that the A list, then my next top agents, made that the B list. I sent out queries to all my A listers and waited. And waited. Rejections trickled in. Then I talked to an author friend of mine and she told me about an established agent that was just starting to take on romance authors. So I queried him. An hour later, I had an offer from him.

The second time around, I also sent out queries, but this time I talked to the clients of the agents I was looking at. To get in depth information about how the agent worked and such. I ended up getting a couple of referrals from friends, I queried those agents with a new project, but ultimately those agents passed. Then I talked to another author friend and she encouraged me to query her agent. So I did. And I’m so glad I did. That’s how I signed with the lovely Laura Bradford.

So my point in this is, never pass up an opportunity. Always be on the look out for them.

2. What was your submission process like?

Like I said, I made a couple of lists. I made my top dream list of agents, calling it the A-list, then the B list. Send them all out to the A-list and wait. Most times you’ll be waiting around 2-3 months for an answer, either with a rejection or with a request for a full.

If you go through you’re A-list start on your B-list. If you make it trhough your B list without an offer, then I’d be looking at you query letter, is it any good? And I’d be looking at my story. Is that any good?

3. How often do you communicate with your agent?

I like to talk to my agent once a week, but only if I have stuff going on like submissions, or working on a new project. If I’m fully submersed in a deadline, and I don’t have new stuff on the go, then there’s only need to talk to her when I need to.

4. Have you ever been on book tour, and if so, what was it like? How did you pick what to wear? What was the budget like?

I’ve never been on a book tour. But I have done a lot of books signings.

The key is to dress comfortably and be yourself. Don’t over dress but don’t under dress either. You can do jeans if you wear a nice top. Don’t go to a book signing dressed like a slob.

Not only are you selling your books but you are selling yourself. Be personable.

5. If you could give one bit of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Be determined, be ambitious, but learn to cultivate patience. You will need it above everything else.

6. Have you ever had a crazy/obsessive fan?

Thankfully no.

7. Which book that you’ve written is your favorite, and why?

My favorite books are two that haven’t been published yet. An adult UF and a YA UF.

Both are ME. Both are my true voices with subject matter that I really like. I think sometimes an author can lose their voice, or have to dampen it for whatever reason, to fit into a line, or a publisher, but these two books I wrote without deadlines, without pressures from anyone but myself and I think that has made a difference for me.

8. What was your shortest, and longest books written, and why?

I’ve written a bunch of short stories and novellas for various anthologies. Word counts from 6K to 20K.

But my shortest book would be the Nocturnes I’m writing for Silhouette. At 70K they are a shorter book. The longest would be a book I wrote years ago, a fantasy novel, that hasn’t been published. It sits at about 98K.

9. Do you have a ‘day’ job?

Nope. I used to work part time at a bookstore but quit after landing my second major publishing deal. But with the economy right now…who knows that might change.

I’m a single mom and homeschool my kid during the day, so that’s like two day jobs.

10. What are peoples’ reactions when they find out about your writing life?

First reaction. Cool! Second reaction: Can I find your books in the bookstore? Third reaction: So, you must be like rich, hey?

Ah no.

11. When did you write your first novel?

I wrote my first novel in 2004. I’d been writing short stories and novellas before that since 2000.

12. What made you want to start writing?

Honest answer: money.

I thought I could make some money quick writing short erotic stories for men’s magazines. I did that for a while, made a little money, then realized that maybe I could actually make this a real career choice, if I learned my craft and really dug deep and made a go of it. That was in 2000.

13. Do you write anything besides novels?

I write screenplays. I wrote like 12 back in 2002. I queried producers, got a lot of scripts read, came close twice, but quit. It is REALLY HARD to get produced. Getting a book published is HARD, but getting a movie made from you script…it’s a long shot.

But it’s always been a dream of mine, so I’m actually making a go of it again. I’ve rewritten a couple, wrote a new one, and I’ve gotten some interest. So who knows this time around what will happen. I’m a better writer now and have more experience and have a tenacious drive to succeed.

14. Do you have a pen name, or multiple pen names?

Vivi Anna is a pen name.

Eventually I hope to be writing under a couple of pen names. One for my romances, one for YA and maybe another one for something else.

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Thanks so much for stopping by, Vivi!