How to Get an Agent for Your Novel

I do not know a lot about writing, but I know how to get an agent. At least I know of ONE way to get an agent because it worked for me.

A few years ago, I left a writing conference feeling pretty good about things. I’d had a manuscript critique that went very well and I’d been told that I should start sending out queries. Five weeks later, I had a request for the full manuscript and a few months later, an offer of representation. And if you believe nothing else, believe this: If it happened for ME, it can happen for YOU. Just follow the rules –

1. Finish the manuscript.

Seriously. Everything I have ever read about looking for an agent (excluding those writing NON-fiction) has said to please finish the novel before submitting anything. Yet I consistently meet people who can’t wait and insist on starting the process before the manuscript is done. WHY? If you do get a response, you’re not going to be ready, and no late-night panic sessions are going to help. Finish the novel, tighten it, get it as close as you can to perfect, BEFORE you query anyone.

2. Write a great query letter and synopsis and be willing to change it if it doesn’t work.

I took classes on query writing, read books on the subject, looked at everything I could find online, THEN I sent out my queries. Guess what? I got rejected. When it didn’t work, I tweaked it and tried again. Don’t be stubborn. Try a new approach if you’re getting consistent rejections.

Some good query advice can be found at: QueryShark

3. Do your research.

Again, this is simple advice, but people ignore it all of the time. When I started the process of finding an agent for my middle grade novel, I knew nothing except I should find an agent interested in middle grade novels. I used QueryTracker to search for agents interested in my genre, THEN I followed the link to their website where I checked out their bios, and read their submission guidelines. I did not want to get rejected over something silly like including the first 5 chapters when they only wanted the first 10 pages.

4. Treat it like a job.

At the conference mentioned above, I sat in on a session by Haywood Smith. One of the things she said that I never forgot was that writing is WORK and that you have to treat it like a real career. So I sat down with my query letter and my research data and I began to send out queries. I sent out TEN each week. If that doesn’t sound like much, then you’ve never actually researched ten different agents and reworded your query letter and then figured out whether to send 10 pages or 10 chapters, or nothing at all, in addition to all of the other things you do in life like real jobs and family. It was exhausting, but it paid off!

5. Do not GIVE UP

Was getting rejected discouraging? You better believe it. I even got two rejection letters on the same day – my BIRTHDAY. But I’ve come to believe that half of the battle to being published is sticking with it. Don’t give up. Rework your query, rework your novel, start the heck over if you must, but don’t give up! I believe the desire to create is innate – the first thing God did was CREATE. If it was good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me. Write on.

Writing Lonely Characters

I had an epiphany the other day. I had just gotten back from a social media conference and was all excited about the things I’d learned. With all of the zeal of a newly ordained minister, I was telling some friends about the various tools and platforms and all of the cool things you could do on Twitter. About half way through the conversation, I noticed their eyes starting to glaze over, so I just slowly stopped talking. It was obvious that the didn’t really care and for a brief moment, I felt kind of alone. Don’t get me wrong, my friends like ME and are fun to be around, but they just didn’t get it and the disconnect made me a little sad.

On the way home I started thinking about a character I’d been developing. In my notes I’d described him as a loner who was hoping to make a friend. But what if he wasn’t alone? What if he was surrounded by kids and parents who loved him, but just didn’t get his passion for (fill in the blank)? What if he was the only one at his school who thought (FITB) was awesome? What if no one else even understood (FITB) much less got excited about it? Wouldn’t that make him feel lonely? And what if a sinister adult started to pay attention to that one thing? Now I’ve made my character lonely AND vulnerable.

I’m not going to lie, it kind of freaked me out to think about it. Because I LOVE my daughter and I’m interested in her life, but there are some things I just don’t really care about. What if someone else filled that gap? Yikes! Which is how I found myself discussing Star Wars/Clone Wars for 3 hours.

Lonely characters are good, lonely daughters are not.

 

What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

I realized something the other day, right after I’d spent five hours on the couch watching the new SyFy show Helix – what I WATCH is very different from what I READ. I enjoy science fiction movies, but I can’t think of one syfy book I’ve ever read. I love YA books, but other than the Hunger Games, I don’t enjoy watching it. I tried Pretty Little Liars, I really did, but I couldn’t really relate, maybe because I’m none of those things.

Anyway, back to it. Here are some things I’ve read, am reading, and want to read.

What I Read:

gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane 

From Amazon: A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys.

This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real…

I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought it was a little scary/dark for kids, then I found out it was for adults, so never mind. It was actually the first Neil Gaiman book I’d read and I see why everyone loves him so much.

What I’m Reading:

flora

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

From Amazon: Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo.

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

My daughter got this for Christmas and read it for a book report. She loved it, and because I’m no stranger to the brilliance of Kate DiCamillo, I decided to read it too. I’m enjoying it so far. It’s a great, middle-grade book, but I don’t know if it will surpass The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as my all-time favorite.

I Want to Read:

Stitches-David-Small

Stitches, a Memoir, by David Small. From Amazon: David Small, a best-selling and highly regarded children’s book illustrator, comes forward with this unflinching graphic memoir. Remarkable and intensely dramatic, Stitches tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who awakes one day from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he has been transformed into a virtual mute—a vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot. From horror to hope, Small proceeds to graphically portray an almost unbelievable descent into adolescent hell and the difficult road to physical, emotional, and artistic recovery.

A National Book Award finalist; winner of the ALA’s Alex Award; a #1 New York Times graphic bestseller; Publishers Weekly and Washington Post Top Ten Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times Favorite Book, ALA Great Graphic Novels, Booklist Editors Choice Award, Huffington Post Great Books of 2009, Kirkus Reviews Best of 2009, Village Voice Best Graphic Novel, finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work). Illustrated throughout.

A memoir, in graphic form! I used the Look Inside feature of Amazon and it looks like an amazing story, and the illustrations are brilliant. I could download it but it seems like the type of book you’ll want to hold in your hand so I’m waiting on the Atlanta snowstorm to pass so I can buy it from a real person in an actual bookstore.

What I’m Writing:

I’m editing my MG novel! My wonderful editor sent the first round of edits last week and I’m happily back with Lou and the gang in Zollicoffer. My goal is to get everything done in 6 weeks and lucky for me, I’ve got a scheduled writing retreat with my critique group in two weeks.

That’s the update. Let me know if you have any suggestions for reading material. I’m willing to try a good science-fiction novel. I hate to let an entire genre go to waste!

 

Gifts for Writers

Not that I’m hinting, you understand. I just thought you might be wondering what to get your favorite author. Or me, whichever.

1. Books on Writing.

Trust me, you can never have too many. Some of my favorites are On Writing, Bird by Bird, and Becoming a Writer, but there are hundreds to choose from and I never met a writer that had enough.

2. Books.

Books on writing give a lot of different advice, but one thing they all say is that people who want to write, should read. Give the classics, or a current best-seller, you can’t go wrong either way.

3. High-Tech

There are some great programs available to help writers. Scrivener is organizational and word processing software that users swear by. Anti-Social is a program that helps writers stay focused by blocking distracting websites. Freedom just goes ahead and blocks the entire web!

4. Low-Tech

Moleskine notebooks are the rage right now, but any type of journal would do. Notebooks, cool pens, journals, etc. make great stocking-stuffers for writers.

5. Fun & Whimsical

Who doesn’t want a cool t-shirt proclaiming, “Prose before Hos”, or “Carpe Read Em, Sieze the Book!”  Whether it’s jewelry made out of typewriter keys, or coffee mugs with a cute saying, writers will appreciate the humor on those long days of revision.

6. Support

If you REALLY want to give the writer in your life a great present, give them permission to miss the occasional date, to have a messy house, and to forget your birthday because they’ve finally found three consecutive minutes to sit down and actually write. They might even remember you in the acknowledgments of a real book one day!

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Typical Day In the Life, except…

This is the kind of day I like. I got up this morning, grabbed some coffee, and headed straight for the couch. It’s gotten a little chilly lately, so I grabbed a blanket and my laptop, and settled in to write. I’m at a difficult stage, that just finished with the beginning and getting into the middle place that makes me question if I’m going in the right direction, with the right story, or if I’m even in the right career! Me, a writer? As IF. But I kept going and struggled through a scene and by the time I was finished, I was actually pretty happy with it.

Then it was time to get to my real job, and I spent the next few hours writing copy for ads and trifolds instead of for middle-grade readers, but other than the fact that my trifold used words like RETIREMENT and RECUPERATIVE CARE, and my novel used words like, DUH and AIN’T, they both worked toward my daily word count goal. So, success!

Late afternoon came and it was time for errands. I’m going to a writers’ conference on Friday and somehow missed that I was supposed to read two books before arrival, so I went to Barnes and Noble and bought REAL books made of paper like the pioneers used to. Then I went to Kroger for some groceries, and finally, Staples. These are all normal errands that people make every day, but Staples held special significance. I was there to buy ink for my printer because I had to print four copies of my CONTRACT so that I could sign them and get them in the mail tomorrow.

contract

Yes, my CONTRACT with Penguin is finalized! I was sure they’d change their minds, go out of business, or somehow get lumped in with the government shutdown, but the Lord is obviously still on the throne and working his magic because that sucker came via email yesterday and I signed it tonight before any of the above stuff could happen.

JD was out, so I asked my daughter if she wanted to watch me officially sign them, maybe share a glass of the champagne that I’ve been saving in the fridge, but she was all like, “I’m 11 so, no.”

champagne

Drinking alone – I’m getting the hang of this author business already!

Tomorrow I start life as an official, soon-to-be-published, Penguin-contracted author. I’m guessing it will be much like today, only instead of signing a contract I’ll be cleaning the bathroom and taking the dogs to the vet. So, success?

Oh, to be 16 and in love and in 1986, and hearing The Smithereens for the 1st time.

eleanorandpark

A few months ago I mentioned that I wanted to read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Here’s the Kirkus Review that got me so interested.

KIRKUS REVIEW – Eleanor & Park

Awkward, prickly teens find deep first love in 1980s Omaha.

Eleanor and Park don’t meet cute; they meet vexed on the school bus, trapped into sitting together by a dearth of seats and their low social status. Park, the only half-Korean fan of punk and New Wave at their high school, is by no means popular, but he benefits from his family’s deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame would make her stand out even if she weren’t a new student, having just returned to her family after a year of couch-surfing following being thrown out by her odious drunkard of a stepfather, Richie. Although both teens want only to fade into the background, both stand out physically and sartorially, arming themselves with band T-shirts (Park) and menswear from thrift stores (Eleanor). Despite Eleanor’s resolve not to grow attached to anything, and despite their shared hatred for clichés, they fall, by degrees, in love. Through Eleanor and Park’s alternating voices, readers glimpse the swoon-inducing, often hilarious aspects of first love, as well as the contrast between Eleanor’s survival of grim, abuse-plagued poverty and Park’s own imperfect but loving family life.

Funny, hopeful, foulmouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Fiction. 14 & up)

I finally purchased the book Saturday night, and I LOVED it. Seriously. It has everything – love, humor, tension – and it takes place in 1986 so I got to relive the days when a boy you liked would make you a mixed tape. I think fans of John Green (and who isn’t a fan of John Green) would really enjoy this book. It has some adult themes and language, so I wouldn’t recommend it to younger teens, but everyone else should read this book.

And listen to The Smithereens.