Saturday, October 26, 2013

First Page Critique Winners!

The random number generator has spoken (and frozen, and tried to choose the same person more than once RAE), but here are the critique winners!

#6 - @kathleea
#9 - @RaeAChang
#13 - @cattorresv

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE! My super generous agency sister, Alexandra Sirowy, has volunteered her time to give two more critiques! (Thank you so much, Alexandra!) Alexandra's winners are:

#1 - @summywins
#16 - @Abigailswriting

If you won a critique from me, please follow me on Twitter (it can even be temporarily) so that I can send you a DM with submission instructions. If you won a critique from Alexandra, please email your first 250 words as a Word doc to Alexandra.Sirowy[at]gmail[dot]com (replacing the [at] with @ and the [dot] with a period, of course). Please include the title of your work and genre. You can send at your leisure - we will do our best to get back to you within a week of your sending it.

A huge thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about the giveaway! I'm sorry my current schedule won't allow me to take on more crits, but remember you can always find fellow writers to look over your work at places like AgentQueryConnect and CPSeek. Miss Snark's First Victim also has some awesome year-round opportunities for feedback, many that involve agents.

Thank you everyone for your interest, and best of luck to you with your query endeavors!

Friday, October 25, 2013

250 Words That Will Make Or Break You

With Pitch Wars coming up, I'm taking a small break from the "After The Agent" series to talk about first pages!

Every good lesson starts with someone who learned it the hard way:

Once upon a time, a writer wrote a book with a quirky premise. With the help of her superhuman critique partners, she mashed together a query letter that other people could actually understand. And they all agreed over virtual pumpkin lattes that this would be The One That Worked.

So the writer sent a round of queries. The first response, to a query letter with just the query, was a "YES, please send me pages!" And the writer cackled because she was one step closer to world domination getting an agent. She sent off the pages and waited to hear from the other queries.

But the rejections trickled in, one by one. All the other letters she'd sent, you see, had the first five pages included. "Nope," "Sorry," "Not for me," all came back. And eventually the requested partial came back as "No thanks" too. Which meant something in those opening pages wasn't working.

So the writer rewrote her first chapter until her eyes watered and her fingers bled and she'd eaten all the dark chocolate in the land. A month later, she had new stamps of approval from her CPs. She entered the pages into two contests to see if her work had made any difference at all.

It had. She won both contests, eleven requests for pages, and a fantabulous agent.

Said writer had changed no other part of her manuscript between querying and the contests. That's the terrible difference first pages can make. As readers, I think we're willing to give a book a few pages—sometimes a few chapters—to really get started. But agents and contest judges, who consider hundreds of pitches in a single sitting, must make a snap decision if they hope to keep up with their inboxes. That's the harsh reality of traditional publishing. If you want to stand out, you have to start standing from line one.

Now, as a Pitch Wars mentor, I do promise to read past that tricky first page, because that's what I would have desperately wanted as a writer in the query trenches. But I would challenge you to go through this checklist as you're polishing your manuscript, whether it's for a Pitch Wars mentor or an agent. Make sure your first 250 words:

  • Have a delicious first line. Does your opening raise a question that must be answered?
    • "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." (The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean)
    • "The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say." (The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness)
    • "Victor readjusted the shovels on his shoulder and stepped gingerly over an old, half-sunken grave." (Vicious, V.E. Schwab)
    • "There is one mirror in my house." (Divergent, Veronica Roth)
  • Don't bait-and-switch. Don't tell us there's a dead body just to hook us, then delve into a scene about the weather. (Unless, of course, it has to do with said body.)
  • It's uniquely yours. Could your chapter be the start of any other book? For example, I've seen a lot of YA/MG in contests (and I'm guilty of this too) that start in a classroom. The scene is doing nothing more than introducing us to the MC, maybe establishing a bully or a best friend, etc. But what makes your book different? Start us in a place where no other book could start.
  • It brings the tension. Your inciting incident doesn't have to happen on page one, but there should be an immediate sense of conflict, even if you're opening with two friends eating ice cream.
  • It gives us context. Let us know where we are and give us a few breather sentences before throwing us into a conversation or an action scene.

Honestly, even if you're nodding along with these checklist items that you've done them, the best advice I can give you is to surround yourself with your favorite books and read the first two pages of every one. What about them draws you in? What keeps you reading? How does yours compare?

You have one chance to impress a potential mentor or agent. The rest of your manuscript could be out-of-this-world-amazing, but if that first 250 isn't your best work, there's no way we can know. Give yourself your best chance and make sure your first page knocks us out!

ALSO, FREE STUFF IS SCRUMTRULESCENT. Think your first page has what it takes? Prove it! I'm giving away three first page critiques this weekend. Leave a comment below saying you'd like a critique and include your Twitter handle (or email address, if you don't tweet, to which I'll only slightly judge you). Sometime Saturday evening (Mountain Standard Time), I'll use a random number generator to pick the winners. Open to all genres and these categories: MG, YA, NA, Adult. CLOSED TO ENTRIES - WINNERS FORTHCOMING!

Friday, October 11, 2013

From Zero to Hero: The Awesome Stressfulness of Multiple Offers

A fabulous Monday in July. Lunchtime. I'm on the phone with an agent who just said the magic words: I want to represent you. Angels are singing. Trees are smiling. Birds are draping flowers over my head. The agent on the phone asks if I'll accept? And I say, after years of dreaming about this day ...

"Can I get back to you on that?"

I KNOW. Even my mother said, "You told her what?" and seriously, it was one of the hardest things I ever had to say, ever. Here was an agent holding open the door to my dream, and me asking for more time. And I liked the agent, quite a bit. I didn't say it because I wanted to dangle her offer in front of other agents and see how many would bite. I said it because that moment was so important, and it was everything I'd worked for for two and a half years, and I didn't want to dive in heart-first. This would be the one chance I had to interview the person who could be representing me for life.

I'm not going to tell you that's definitely how you should do it, because there are plenty of people who said "YES!" to their first offer and have wonderful relationships with their awesome agents and things worked out just fine. (But I will say that you can always tell First Offering Agent "YES!" if you get to the end of the week and she's still your favorite.) Instead, I thought I'd gather a few observations from that week:

  • It's a bit stressful. Have chocolate at the ready. Every offer opens a new path for your career and every agent is going to be passionate about your work, complimentary, and eager to hear a "yes" from you. It can be confusing, especially if you have offers from agents at similar agencies. You're going to be thinking in a lot of What Ifs. 
  • Keep your poker face on. Ask all your questions. Follow up on all references. Don't hint to the agent that she has nothing to worry about or that she has no chance. You might have a change of heart after another call or after checking with her references. Just say Thank You and I'll Be In Touch. You can gush later when you're accepting her offer.
  • Be prepared at all times. Usually an agent will email first to set up The Call, but sometimes she will call as soon as she's finished reading. I kept my interview questions on my Gmail account so I could access them from any computer or from my phone if I needed to.
  • The agent isn't going to tell you all her revision ideas. This one I found a little hard to swallow, even though it makes complete sense. On one hand, an agent doesn't want to spill all her great ideas just to have you steal them and run off with another agent. On the other hand, how could I know the agent and I shared the same vision for the book without knowing everything she wanted to change? But the agent should be willing to share her Big Ideas with you: the overarching things she'd like you to revise. From there you'll have to go with your gut. 
  • Writing rejection letters sucks. This was my least favorite part. I knew how it felt to receive such letters, and all the agents I'd talked to were so lovely, I hated to think of them seeing that email and knowing what it meant. I kept my letters brief and complimentary. One tip: include the name of the agent you signed with in your email. All the agents replied to ask.
  • You will get responses to your rejection letters. In most cases, it will be a short-n-sweet "Sad we won't be working together, but good luck to you!" - but the agent might also ask you to elaborate on why you chose someone else.

AgentQuery has some great information about offer etiquette, including how to nudge agents and what questions to ask on The Call. It was my bible during that very exciting week. Good luck to you, and I hope this helps you during your Exciting Week!

Stay tuned for the first "After The Agent" series post to come: The Eye Of The Storm

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's Coming - Pitch Wars 2014!

Brenda Drake puts on some of the best contests ever. From Pitch Madness to Trick or Treat With An Agent, Brenda's got aspiring authors covered with year-round opportunities to get their work in front of powerhouse agents. In my completely biased opinion, her best contest is Pitch Wars, where winners not only receive a full manuscript critique, but have their pitches posted on Brenda's blog for agents to make requests. AWESOME, right?

YES. YES, because I'm one of the mentors this year! And I know insider secrets - like, sometimes you get feedback on your entry even if you don't win. And that you'll make all kinds of connections with other writers in the process. The one thing I've found with contests like Pitch Wars is you always get something good out of it - a new critique partner, a fresh outlook on your manuscript (whether that's "this needs more work" or "you are so, so close"), or twenty new Twitter followers who are in the same place as you. And that's if you don't win.

Submission day is December 2, so get that WIP a'polished. My official bio and wishlist will appear here November 20. Keep an eye on Brenda's blog and the #PitchWars hashtag in the meantime. See you soon!

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