Monday, October 28, 2013

What To Do Before And After "THE CALL" From An Offering Literary Agent

It’s my agent-iversary this month (one year since I signed with my lovely agent, Holly Root) and it seems as though something is in the air these days. Twice this week I opened my email to exciting news from writer friends who’d received “Let’s schedule a call” emails from agents. In both instances, the next line of their email was, “What now?”

There are tons of resources online for what questions to ask DURING The Call. Check out this fantastic and thorough list. My post is instead going to address some things to do BEFORE The Call and more things to do AFTER The Call.

BEFORE The Call:
Consider more queries. You have an email requesting a call, but since you don’t have an official offer, it is still ethical to continue querying and this might be the time to reach out to those “dream agents” of yours. This way, if you do get an offer, you can send an email to anyone who has your query and/or pages with the subject line: Nudge With Offer of Representation. This tends to be agent catnip and you may find yourself with full requests within minutes of hitting send. You should feel free to nudge anyone who has pages OR simply a query. I'm sure this will garner some comments below, but I'll defend this by saying that you clearly have a manuscript that someone in the publishing industry finds "sellable" so offering it to other agents is actually to their benefit as much as yours.

Request time to consider. Be sure to ask for more time than you think you need.  You may be squee-ing internally the entire call and ready to sign on the dotted line the instant the official offer is uttered. It's a heady feeling to have someone gush over your work after collecting stacks of form rejections! But that offer will still be there tomorrow. It’s appropriate to request a “mulling-it-over” period to allow any other agents with your material time to read and consider. Ten days would be the minimum I’d request, but two weeks is perfectly fine. Agents are busy people and can’t always drop everything to read something overnight. Giving them time increases your odds of having multiple offers, which can be stressful, but ultimately gives you more control over your career and determining who will be by your side throughout it.  I’m a huge believer in trusting my gut feelings, but hearing how other offering agents answer your questions and envision your career should help you make the most logical and thoughtful decision (then you can save your gut to use as a tie-breaker!).

Call other clients. It is acceptable practice for you to ask the offering agent if it is okay for you to contact current clients. I can’t imagine an agent saying no to this (warning flag if he/she does), and the agent may even offer up the names and contact information of clients to reach out to. That’s great and you should contact those authors. I would go a few steps further and make sure you ask that agent for the name of a client who is still out on submission or has not sold a book yet. This person will be you in a matter of days, so talking to someone who’s at this stage now will give you insight into how your early interactions with your agent will be and show you how things will progress on sub and/or if your first manuscript doesn’t sell. It is not often talked about openly, but a majority of first manuscripts do not sell and it will be helpful to know how your agent will keep your spirits up, nudge you to write more, and work with you to determine the next step. I would also suggest contacting an author or two the agent didn’t offer up. Most authors are easy to track down on Twitter, Facebook, or via their websites. I suggest politely requesting a quick phone call, so the author will feel comfortable talking freely versus having to put frank feelings in writing to someone he or she doesn’t know. In my instance, I called two clients from an offering agent and, while one raved, the other client was days away from severing her relationship with the agent and I got an earful that certainly played into my decision-making process. Of course, I suspect the truth was somewhere between those two clients, but there were some red flags raised in those conversations that steered me away from that particular agent.

Researching other clients and their books can also tell you something about the agent. One of the major things that tipped the scales in Holly’s favor in my decision-making process was that her client list was basically my bookshelf. If I loved to read what she repped,I felt more confident that she would “get” my writing style. Also, her clients’ brands very closely matched with the type of career I wanted for myself and I knew if she could help get them there, she was the one I wanted in my court.

If you are signing with an agent who reps authors book-by-book versus for a career, you may want to ask that agent to read samples (a chapter or two) of your other work to make sure he/she likes your style and voice overall. There is no guarantee that agent will like your next manuscript, but you might want to know ahead of time that he/she at least responds to your next idea or your WIP.

I know it can feel odd to ask the agent to send you names or to read more for you before you’ve signed, but taking the time to figure out if you’re well-matched now will save everyone (including him or her) time and grief further down the road. This is a time of role-reversal- agents are wooing you and often that feels strange after a series of “This just wasn’t for me” emails. But don’t let this throw you! Recognize that you are going to be partners on a publishing journey now and take the time and ask the questions that will allow you to be super-comfortable with your potential agent going forward. 

If you’re reading this because you’ve gotten that elusive email from an interested agent, congratulations and good luck!! Are there other things you’re wondering at this stage? If you are agented, are there things you were glad you asked/did or things you wish you had?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall for New Adult Campaign

Fall for the new New Adult: is a campaign to spread the word that New Adult is expanding into new and exciting categories like Historical, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Gothic, and more! Follow along to find out why best-selling NA authors & NA bloggers are excited to see New Adult expand outside of contemporary.  And as an incentive to give the new NA a try, the Fall for New Adult bundle set will be available for a limited time. Set includes 4 great non-contemporary NA novels for only $3.99!

My Journey: When I first wrote SLEEPER, New Adult wasn’t the emerging category that it is today. This left me, and my manuscript in limbo. An agent asked me to make the MC, Mishca in high school so it was clearly YA (as college/university stories didn’t sell back then). But that would mean removing the plot point that sparked the whole novel in the first place: Mishca falling in love at first sight with her university professor. Workable with a university age MC, not with a high school aged MC.

So imagine my excitement when the New Adult Category started coming into it’s own. Books like LOSING IT, SLAMMED and EASY captured the hearts of the NA hipsters, but now it’s Genre’s turn to shine. Historical, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction and mash-ups in between are coming to the fore thanks to stories like Elsker and Apollo Academy.

SLEEPER will follow in a few weeks time, coming to an eReader near you on December 2, 2013.

Can’t wait until then to try out genre NA? Then you can purchase the Fall for New Adult bundle set here

The Fall For New Adult team want to know why YOU want to see NA expand too! Join the campaign by grabbing the gif. above and blogging/tweeting about why YOU want to see NA expand! #NACampaign

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Asking the right questions

I have a simple, yet useful post for you wonderful readers today. I've been student teaching in a Grade 5 class this month and one of the topics I've been giving lessons on is the reading comprehension strategy of asking questions. It dawned on me that as writers we have to constantly be asking ourselves questions. It all starts with the simple: "What am I going to write about?" which is usually followed by: "How am I going to write this?" After that, there are an endless number of questions you should be asking yourself. Here are twenty of the most important ones.

What does my character want?

Who is my audience?

What age group am I writing for?

What point-of-view is best to tell my story?

What genre am I writing in?

What tense am I writing in?

Do I have an authentic voice?

How long will my chapters be?

Have I eliminated passive voice?

Do all the words serve to advance the story?

Are my characters developed enough?

Have I hooked the reader from page one?

Have I done enough research?

Where do I want this story to go?

What is my title going to be?

Have I checked for run-ons, fragments, comma splices, awkward phrasing, and dangling modifiers?

Is my sentence and paragraph structure appropriate for my audience, and is it varied enough?

Have I started the story as close to the end as possible?

Have I gotten rid of any unnecessary words?

How is my flow and pacing?

And one more...

What agents should I submit to?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Writing a novel is the easy part

Writing a novel sometimes feels like it was the easy part.

Write a 56,000 word manuscript

Me: No worries.

Write a two-page synopsis

Me: Ahhhhh! *runs for the hills*

Write a query letter.

Me: *rewrites a million times until there's four variations I'm satisfied enough with to use with agents then uses all four versions to test what works best*

Write a bio

Me: *writes multiple versions, never really happy with one, no matter how many drafts I try - stabs at screen*

Write a book dedication.

Me: *Ponders on how to get wording right. Looks up other dedications as this needs to be epic*

Write a book acknowledgement

Me: *freaks out, worrying about missing someone out who beta read for me, if it's too long, if it's crappy*

Write 2nd novel

Me: *engages alpha read and writes like crazy* No worries.

Write a two-page synopsis for 2nd novel.

Me: *buries head in pillow and screams*

What part of the writing process do you like the best and what frustrates you the most.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

TABOO! Find Home Guest Post by Lauren McKellar


I remember being a twelve-year-old, and the kid who gave a speech in class before me wrote that word on the blackboard before starting his performance.

The class was shocked. Jaws dropped, and pencils fell to the floor.

Sex? In school?

This dramatic action was then followed by the classic line, “Now that I’ve got your attention, let me talk to you about vacuum cleaners.” (Seriously, who gives a speech on vacuum cleaners? But I digress).

The point is, that even at the age of twelve, shock tactics can be used to gain extra readership, which in turn begs the question: is anything taboo in YA anymore?

My novel, Finding Home, came out at the start of the month, and when I wrote it, I promise I wasn’t going for the tricks-people-into-reading-after-writing-about-sex-ploy (let’s call it, The Vacuum Cleaner Effect). When I started writing, I decided to focus on topics that were close to my heart, things I saw a lot of as a teenager. And for me, that was underage drinking.
In Australia, the legal drinking age is eighteen, and I have to be honest; most of my friends started drinking at around the age of thirteen. That was definitely a casual situation, but by the age of fifteen/sixteen, it would be rare to go to a party or a “gathering” and not see someone with a wine bag, some beer, or a bottle of spirits and a whole bucket of cola. And I went to a school for apparently gifted children, which was a polite way of saying “nerds.”
When I wrote Finding Home, I wanted to address the issue of underage drinking, not in the fashion where I preach against it, but in a manner where I address the issue of it. In this novel, the lead characters uses alcohol as a way to escape her problems.

Dangerous territory? You betcha.

At first, I struggled with this. It’s hard to find the line between being preachy and sending a negative message, and I think if I knew the moral dilemma I would incur within myself, I might not have ever written this book.

I changed the ending more times than I could count. The protagonist never drinks again. No! She relapses. No! She has a drink, but only one per hour. No! She joins a convent and abstains from booze and boys forever, excluding of course the wine during communion, or confession, or whatever the one is where you take the wine and bread (I grew up as a Catholic, but I am a little bit lapsed, as you can no doubt tell).  

In the end, I realised that it didn’t need to be about deleting all drinks from her life; it was about a realisation. It was about getting the anti-binge drinking message across, without making it seem too much like a lecture.

I was still a little worried it wouldn’t be vanilla enough for some adults — that the drinking would worry them, especially with a little ambiguity over the totality of the heroine’s abstinence from it and the fact that there is SEX (deliberate use of the vacuum cleaner effect) mixed in there, too. Having said that, I got an email from a mother who read Finding Home the other day. She said she loved it, and was going to make her sixteen-year-old daughter read it.


And no, I didn’t know her. And yes, it pretty much did make my life complete.
I feel like, if you’re writing about taboo subjects in YA, it does need to have a message. However, it doesn’t need to be one without flaws. Just so long as you don’t go overboard on the vacuum-suck/shock factor.

About the author 

Lauren McKellar is a writer and reader of Young and New Adult books. Her debut novel Finding Home is out now, and can be bought from all your usual eBook sites (extensive links available here; Amazon listed below). She also works as a freelance editor for novels for all age groups and you can chat to her on twitter or facebook any time you’d like. 

About Finding Home

Moody, atmospheric, and just a little bit punk, Finding Home takes contemporary YA to a new level of grit...

When Amy’s mum dies, the last thing she expects is to be kicked off her dad’s music tour all the way to her Aunt Lou in a depressing hole of a seaside town. But it’s okay — Amy learned how to cope with the best, and soon finds a hard-drinking, party-loving crowd to help ease the pain.

The only solace is her music class, but even there she can’t seem to keep it together, sabotaging her grade and her one chance at a meaningful relationship. It takes a hard truth from her only friend before Amy realises that she has to come to terms with her past, before she destroys her future.

Win one of two $5 Amazon cards, one $10 Amazon card or a copy of Finding Home.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Joy - and Fear - of Being Published

There is little better for an author than opening an email to find within it the long awaited yes, the yes that trumps all past rejections, that validates all the hours spent in a make-believe world sometimes to the detriment of the real one, a yes that makes the author feel like they deserve to call themselves 'author' - the yes that comes from an editor and promises publication.
Last week I got a yes for my first YA contemporary LGBT novel, The Other Me. It is a complete departure from my previous work and while I am beyond thrilled that this story has found a home at Harmony Ink Press, I am also terrified.
Earlier this year, I was slaving away on two science fiction novels, but the 'feelz' weren't there. There was this story in my heart I was desperately trying to ignore and the more I ignored it, the louder the characters kept screaming. 
I’ve never attempted to write a contemporary novel and wasn't even sure I could, but those pesky voices in my head wouldn't shut up so I started writing, opening a vein and bleeding out the words (credit to Lisa Burstein for that fantastic metaphor!). 
There is always a piece of the author in everything they write. For the most part, the pieces of me in my previous work were buried beneath layers of science fiction. They never left me feeling vulnerable because what personal content might've been there was so well hidden, obscured by the extremely fictional world. The Other Me is the complete opposite. While it is neither autobiographical nor based on real events, the story is largely inspired by many of my own experiences in high school. Writing it proved one of the most cathartic experiences, but it also left me feeling exposed. And now even more so knowing my book is going to be available for the whole world to read.
This is a story I think deserves to be told and not just to a select few, which leaves me with this strange dichotomy of emotion: pride and joy as an author, and a lot trepidation as a person whose heart and soul is splashed on the page awaiting judgement and opinion. Perhaps this is what it truly means to be an author: to put the work first, to believe in the story so much that it doesn't matter what people might think they know about me having read it.

The Other Me is set in my home country South Africa and is about a girl, Treasa, who falls in love with a broken boy, Gabriel. With a shared passion for music and geeky astronomy stuff, Gabriel inadvertently helps Treasa discover her true identity while dealing with his own inner demons. The Other Me is scheduled for publication later this year! In the mean time, you can check out the novel’s Pinterest board here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sexism in Writing Programs: David Gilmour is No Exception

I thought I might share some thoughts on MFA programs. As writers of any genre, I think it is important to know and discuss how new writers are taught.

By now most of you have probably seen the disgusting words of writing professor David Gilmour, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."

His word are sexist, racist and unbelievable to anyone living in the 20th century, but they are not an exception when it comes to the world of writing programs.

 Please find the full story here

I can only speak from my experience. I entered an MFA program 12 years ago, ready to become the next Margaret Atwood (who by the way is a prolific, bestselling, award winning Canadian author like Mr. Gilmour), but what I found when I arrived was not a place that read her books, or taught her.
The break out of male to female professors in my program was as follows: Fiction: 2 male full-time, 1 female adjunct; Non-Fiction: 1 female full-time; Poetry: 1 male full time, 1 female full time and 1 male adjunct.

Pretty even as things in writing go, but notice 2 male full-time for fiction. Those men were my main professors. They were the ones who were going to teach me how to write as a woman and certainly they were equipped to teach writing, but not that. As a result, my literature classes were absolutely male heavy. There were females sprinkled in: Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Munro but mostly we read men: Phillip Roth, Vladamir Nabokov, Chekhov, Michael Chabon, Chaucer, Homer, etc. ) (You'll notice they were also all white, but this blog post isn't really about that part.)
I never really thought about it at the time. I was so excited to be in a writing program (you have to be accepted based on talent) that I never questioned if I was getting an equal education. Additionally, the sexism in my program was never as overt and possibly my professors didn't even realize it. They were men who both went to Iowa, which if you know about the history of writing programs was one of the first and a boy's club from way back.

I know that has changed now and a lot of amazing women authors are coming out of Iowa, but I would guess that they still read far more men in their literature classes. It's what the old guard want.
So what does what David Gilmour said have to do with me, aside from having in a small way experienced it?

Six months ago, I started writing a book titled Sneaking Candy about a twenty-something woman in a graduate writing program who writes erotic romance under a pseudonym because she is afraid she will not be taken seriously by her peers. I thought at first it would be a book about a woman trying to find her authorial voice, her sexual voice and finding love in the unlikeliest place, but as I wrote it turned into something much different.

Her writing professor and mentor in the book is an awful lot like David Gilmour, and was created before I even knew about the ass that was David Gilmour.
See this excerpt as an example:
Professor Martin's glanced at the syllabus I had created for my class. “This is a little female heavy, Candice,” he said, tipping his head up. His mouth was a straight line, like the punctuation on his criticism.
I bit my lip. Professor Martin could be as irritating as a thong made out of sandpaper.
As irritating as realizing I was wearing a thong made of sandpaper and that I had forgotten to do laundry and had no other thongs to wear.
“Compared to what?” I asked, sitting up straighter in the impossible-to-be-comfortable-in slick wood chairs the university chose to adorn the other side of his desk.
The class was Contemporary Fiction 201 and fine maybe I did choose to teach more female writers, but I was a female writer and I was also pissed off at how underrepresented we were everywhere else.
“It should just be balanced,” he said. “Don’t you agree?” His wavy, hay-blonde hair was slicked back. On the beach it had been loose, flying as he ran to spike the volleyball . I remember thinking that day the exact color of his hair was something that sonnets could be written about. Of course, I’d had more than my share of Mike’s Hard Lemonade so I was feeling poetic—a scary proposition for any fiction writer.
“If there were more men, would you tell me to add more women?” I asked. I wished when he’d given me the syllabus for the class that I was a teaching assistant for I could have told him to make it more balanced.
It was dripping with penises, a Christmas tree adorned with saggy-members instead of garland: Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, and Faulkner just to name a few. It was a semantic sausage-fest.

Without even meaning to, I could feel my book turning into the battle cry I believe many women writers and would-be writers feel. I am not less important or valid than you for being a woman, or writing stories that women and young women want to read.

The only reason I could be writing this was because even if it wasn't as overt as what Mr. Gilmour said, it was something I experienced. Something it seems women in writing programs still are.
I hope when Sneaking Candy comes out in December professors like Mr. Gimour might see that there is a problem in what and who is taught in writing programs, that a change needs to come, but probably not because I am a woman.