Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The How I Got My Agent stories: This week's guest post by Stephanie Winkelhake.

This week's story comes from a new writerly friend of mine, the lovely Stephanie Winkelhake, so I'll hand over to her!

My aspirations to become a writer began when—as a kid—I attended my father’s book signings. He’d published a novel with an imprint of Random House, and I’ll never forget the amazing feeling of walking into a bookstore and finding my father’s book on the shelves.

My first attempt at writing a novel happened the summer of 2007. It was a young adult adventure story about oracles, magic, and treasure, and it was wrought with all sorts of POV and plot problems. So I had a lot to learn. That was okay. The important thing was that I’d completed a novel. And finishing a novel is like finishing a marathon, right? Once your mind wraps around the fact that you can do it once, you can do it again. (Or so I’ve been told. I’ve never actually run a marathon. I’ve just heard these things.)

I decided my next manuscript would be great. In 2009, I sat down and hammered out a YA dystopian. There was action! There was romance! There was…a lot of info dumping and poor character development. A few agents read it, but of course, there were no bites. But good things came of this experience—I learned more about queries, synopses, and submissions. I learned about the ups and downs of requests and rejections and how to handle them. Eventually, I also learned to let go of a manuscript I had believed in, and I knew that if I wanted to continue toward my goals, I’d have to work harder.

So at this point, I needed to step it up. I bought books about self-editing. I devoured YA novels like crazy. When I finished my third manuscript, I reached out and found beta readers. I joined an online writing community (YALitChat) since there wasn’t a local writing group in my area. I entered contests (there are plenty of free pitch and/or critique contests on online blogs). I joined RWA and entered some of their local chapter contests. As a result, I received a lot of great critique advice I could apply to the rest of my manuscript.

When I started querying for my latest project, I was lucky and managed to get a few requests from agents right off the bat. After several rejections on my full, I paused to re-examine the story. Based on critique feedback, I reworked the pacing in several parts and rewrote a few sections. I started querying again, and then I was encouraged when the next agent to reject my full had good things to say about my writing. She had liked my writing and my manuscript. She just didn’t fall in love with it. It was the best rejection I’d ever received.

Shortly after this, I placed first in a few contests. I added the wins to my query letter and around Thanksgiving, a new slew of requests came in. Marie Lamba of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency was one of the requesting agents.

It was about this time when I realized I’d reached a turning point—I finally felt confident when it came to my writing. It was as if a light switched on inside of me, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to be in this place. And bonus, I found another YA writer in my local community (she’s now my critique partner). We started hanging out, and it was so nice to bounce things off someone who understood things my non-writerly friends might not.

And then, I got THE CALL.

On Jan 2nd, Marie called me out of the blue. I’d slept in that day (we’d driven 16 hours the day prior) and I missed her call. Yup, I missed THE CALL. Marie had left a message saying she’d call back later in the day. So I gnawed on my fingernails for a few hours. The phone rang again that afternoon…and Marie offered representation!

I can’t say I was coherent.

I immediately emailed the other agents who had a partial or full of my manuscript. I told them I’d make a decision on the offer by Jan 9th. Then I waited. In the meantime, I woke up every morning thinking THE CALL had just been a dream. I must have pinched myself over a hundred times that week.

Halfway through the week, I called Marie with a list of specific questions. By the end of the phone call, I was confident Marie and I shared the same vision for my manuscript. Without a doubt, I knew she was the right agent for me.

So on Jan 9th, I picked up the phone and accepted Marie’s offer. A few days later, I signed the contract. I’m still walking around with a silly grin on my face!

Thanks for gracing my blog with your great story Stephanie!

You can follow the rest of Stephanie's story over on her blog and follow her on twitter here. You should probably go and do that now. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

New mini-series: The How I Got My Agent stories. This week's guest post by Michelle Krys.

Everybody loves a How-I-Got-My-Agent story - at least I assume they do, because I know I do. I'm thrilled that the first guest post in this mini-series is by my lovely crit partner and all-round internet bff, Michelle Krys!

So, you want to know how I got my agent?

Short answer: The old-fashioned way. Via the slush pile. 

Long answer: I’d like to take you all back to January 8th, 1985. I was born naked and helpless…okay, maybe let’s skip a few years. In January 2010, I had a baby (a wonderful, magnificent, sweet baby named Ben). He slept through the night from under 3 months old, in addition to napping 3-plus hours in the day. Being on maternity leave, I had an AWFUL lot of free time on my hands that I was COMPLETELY not used to having (a year—I live in Canada). So naturally, instead of relaxing, I decided to write a book—something I’ve always wanted to do, but had been too intimidated to try. 

In 3 months time, I wrote a book.  I joined a website, Writersbeat.com, where I met my internet bestie/crit partner, whom you all know as Ruth Lauren Steven. After an initial major bitch moment from me (which we shall not discuss!), Ruth and I began exchanging critiques and became fast friends. We moved on to another website, Scribophile.com, where I met a ton of amazing friends who were, in addition to Ruth, completely invaluable in honing my writing. This book needed the rest of the year to edit, as it was sucky. Boring and sucky and will never see the light of day. But I learned a lot.

After this book I began another, which I gave up after a whopping 26,000 words because I had AN IDEA. An idea for a YA Urban Fantasy that I couldn’t ignore. I needed to write it—now. So I did—3 months later, my 81,000-word book was complete. And it needed less than a week of editing until I felt ready to start querying. I felt confident! I loved the book and my query letter felt strong. I knew this was going to be IT. Then the rejections started rolling in. After the first 15, I was starting to feel pretty dejected. I know 15 is not that much in the bigger picture, but 15 in a row after I’d felt so confident? Well let’s just say my confidence waned. But then I got a partial. From a major agent. The next day, another partial from a major agent. A few weeks later, the first partial-requester wanted the full. I almost died! That meant she read the first 50 pages plus synopsis and liked it. My book??!! A huge happy moment for me. But it wasn’t the first. Over the next few weeks, the full requests started rolling in. Six in total (Nine if you count the 3 requests I got after I’d already landed my agent!)

Then came the holidays, when all of the literary world shuts down from December 23rd to January 3rd. This was a dark time. There was a lot of internet stalking involved, which I’m not proud of. Then came January 11th. I got a reply from one of those agents. She’d just finished reading the book…and completely loved it! She wanted to set up a time to talk on the phone. AHHHHHHH!! She called the next day and offered me representation (in addition to giving me a HUGE ego boost with all her compliments about the book). My initial reaction was to say “YES! WHERE DO I SIGN? MWUHAHAHAH I’VE GOT YOU NOW!” But there were other agents who had my full. In order to be professional, I needed to give them the courtesy of replying to my manuscript.  I alerted the other agents, and holy crap, several of them were interested, too! But in the end, it was the first agent’s major enthusiasm and extreme likability that sold me. So now I’m repped by Adriann Ranta at Wolf Literary. Woohoo!!

Hey, it's me, Ruth, again. Isn't that a cool story? But never mind the amazing sleeping baby (not jealous of that. No, not at all) or the fact that said first book was neither boring nor sucky; no, let's dwell on the little moment that we shouldn't discuss, just briefly. In fact, oh, what's this I have here? A blog post on it, you say? Well, if you insist : D Post in which I recount the nature of Michelle and Ruth's first encounter

Right, now that Michelle may never forgive me, who needs a crit partner?? I kid : D 

I couldn't be happier that you're all going to get to read Michelle's books, and I can confirm that she likes a stalker almost as much as I do, so here's her blog and right here is twitter

Thanks for sharing that with us Michelle!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Help a writer polish their query please?

Remember the Query Crit Contest? Well when I contacted the owners of the queries I was going to crit, I told them I'd also post the query up on my blog and throw the critique out to all of you if they'd like me to.

A couple of days ago I sent Laura the crit I did. She revised her query and sent it back to me, and...it's looking good!

So now Laura and I would LOVE to get your opinion on the new version.

Be kind.

Be constructive.

You don't need to be an expert to have an opinion. And don't be a stranger to the tweet button at the bottom of this post - we want this thing so polished no agent out there can resist!

Dear Agent,
Farrah knows she is not human even if she looks it. She is a biologically manufactured soldier, who, by the age of seventeen has killed several people, knows how to drive a tank and could effortlessly outrun a grown man. Farrah also knows she's not supposed to have emotions or think for herself, and yet she does.
Having escaped the grey and bloodred life at Ares Industries Farrah hides in the small town of Riverfront, where she finds herself an ally in Sage Foster, a young astronomer. Even with her new identity as Sage’s stepsister, keeping a low profile isn’t easy.  After all, putting a bullet in someone’s head is not a solution at the local high school.
Slowly, and with the help of three friends and a boy who might understand her better than anyone else, she learns there's more to being human than acting like one. But Farrah can’t concentrate on becoming normal when operatives from Ares Industries, who want their expensive project back, are closing in on her. Having touched many lives, Farrah has more to keep safe than her identity and her newly discovered freedom.
BEING HUMAN is an urban science fiction novel for young adults, complete at 78,000 words. It is well able to stand alone but has series potential.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Laura Fey

Monday, 16 January 2012

Winners of the Query Crit Contest : D

I just realised that I'm pretty fascinated by the query letter as a form of writing. I don't know who thought of it in the specific form it takes right now, but whereas I used to think of that person/those people as masters of torture and cruelty, beings possibly formed from the tiny remaining particles of Sauron, I now suspect that the QUERY is genius.

Of course that's not to say I haven't indulged in my share of wailing and rending garments over the ones I've written; but that didn't stop me writing one before I even started any kind of detailed thought about Book #3. No need to rub your eyes, you read that right - I wrote one just 'cos. I didn't need it. It may never see light of day. But what it has done is make me focus on what I want Book #3 to be about, right at its core. How I'm going to go about writing that book is a different matter for a different day - the point is that the query isn't there to torture you (stop narrowing your eyes, I can see you doing it.)

Maybe, instead, it's your opportunity to show that you know how to write, no matter what anyone asks/needs you to write. Maybe it's your chance to show how well you know your story, how thoroughly you understand what your characters choices are and how you can make someone else understand that in less than two hundred and fifty words because you're good enough to do that. (Even if, like me, you write seven million and forty three drafts before you come up with a query you think might fly.)

You already wrote 50k words, or 150k words to finish your novel. What's another 250, right?

So now that I've lured you into reading my mini-ramble, here are the queries I'm going to read and crit. Emails on the way to:

Laura Fey - Being Human

Boo Irwin - Tattooing Angels

and let's make it three because, well, why not?

Matthew Turner - Beyond Parallel

Thanks to all for entering! February's crit round will be another beta reading and March might hold a return to the queries, so check back, join in, tell Twitter or...the whole world, you know, whatever you feel like :)  

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Catching Fire. I loved it and must proclaim it to you!

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I love it more than The Hunger Games. Mockingjay purchased immediately upon finishing, but I'm holding that one back as a treat (punishment?) Either way, I'm reading it soon.

If by some small chance you have been living in an underground bunker for some time (like me) and haven't yet read this trilogy, then firstly go and see a hairdresser (seriously, look at the state of you) and then go forth and buy this.

Monday, 9 January 2012

New Year Query crit contest!

 This contest is now closed! Winners announced above : )

So, as promised, here it is! Wanna win a query crit from me? See the little gift tag on the present there? It's got your name on it. Well, maybe.

New year, new set of rules for this one.

Firstly, I'm going to open it up for the whole week.

Secondly, you must have the query down to 300 words or less all by your lonesome, or with help from voodoo rituals. Your choice.

This is my little New Year pressy to you, so that's it for rules. 

All you need to do to enter is put your name, the name and genre of your ms and your email address in the comments section below.  I'll choose a winner, or maybe two, from the list and critique the hell out of your query.

And like my other contest, I'm not going to insist you follow my blog to enter, but it's appreciated if you do. I'm not going to insist that you tweet about it either, but it's cool if you do.

Good luck to all, and Happy New Year to my lovely followers. I'll close the contest after one week and choose a winner or three :D Plus I'll get your query back to you within a week. It's all good, right?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Oh! Available for pre-order! Yes, I think I will. Thanks very much.

I AM going to post Part 2 of the agent story, I promise. But in the meantime, you need to know this:

Amaleen Ison's debut YA novella The Trouble with Nightingale is available for pre-order right now from Musa Publishing

You should really go and buy it immediately. I'll wait while you do.