Monday, 27 February 2012

The How I Got My Agent series: This week's guest post by Nick Cook.

It's time for the next installment of How I Got My Agent. This one's a little bit different, which I like. You know I'm a big advocate of the slush pile, but as Amy showed us earlier this month, it's not the only way to get an agent. I'll hand over to my Twitter friend Nick, to tell you how he did things a little bit differently, but got the result he wanted. Over to you, Nick!

My route to securing an agent was some time in the making and maybe not the standard journey (if there is such a thing) that most experience who succeed. 

In my former life I was the art director at a very successful games studio. The best thing about that job was working with such a talented creative team, but there was also a little voice inside me telling it was time to start getting serious about my writing. Eventually it got so loud there was no ignoring it any longer and one bright sunny autumn day in 2006, I walked out of my studio for the last time ready to pursue a full time writing career. I was fortunate that I had sufficient funds to finance that creative itch for some time without starving. So I started working in earnest.

A couple of drafts into my first book, like many who've been there in those early days, I was convinced my work was a masterpiece. I also happened to have a contact at Chicken House and within a short space of time became the proud recipient of a personal reject email (albeit a very nice and encouraging one) from Barry Cunningham no less. This was one of the best wake up calls I could have had... I realised I was just one of hundreds of manuscripts that had probably landed on his desk that week and had I really fully learned the craft to start putting my work out there yet? This needed a rethink on my part. 

I looked seriously at taking an MA in creative writing, even had an interview and was shortlisted but had left it too late for that academic year. So I sat down and considered what the priorities were for me... that mental conversation with myself took about a minute. What I obviously needed was an agent, but not just any agent, but a great agent of course. So the small matter of how that could become a reality started to occupy my mind... there had to be a way to avoid getting lost in the slush pile?

Having rifled through the Writers and Artists Yearbook a number of times and having filled it with coloured post-its identifying agents I would have sold a kidney to work with, I noticed one name appearing a number of time. It was a company that some agents took referrals from for new authors. That company was called Cornerstones. 

Cornerstones are a manuscript agency who will, for a fee, provide a detailed report on your manuscript. They also act as talents scouts for agents. This sounded perfect to me and so started a very rewarding collaboration with them. I paid for a report on my first book and it was a real eye opener, so much useful feedback identifying both strengths and weaknesses in my work. I was instantly hooked. I continued to work with Cornerstones and eventually although we both felt my first book showed real promise, the senior editor there, the wonderful Kathryn Price, told me she wasn't sure that it was necessarily the right book to launch my career with. This is where Cornerstones are brilliant. They look at your work holistically and in terms of whether a book is really the right one to establish you. Consequently, I took the tough decision to park the first book (actually three in the series by that point) with a mind to returning to it later on. In the meantime I had this new concept bubbling away and when I sent the first three chapters into Cornerstones, they were immediately excited by it. I was too. I could feel it was the right book, the one that would grab people's attention. It was at this point Cornerstones signed me, a real boost to my self confidence at the time (doubts inevitably start to creep in over a prolonged period). So began a period of intense writing and Kathryn pushing me to deliver my very best work. By December of 2011 we both agreed we had a draft ready to send out to agents. One month later I was signed with the totally wonderful Eve White... I couldn't have asked for a better agent. 

So there you have it. Lots of writing, false dawns and perseverance, combined with the guiding light to develop my writing that a manuscript agency can provide. I certainly feel I served a very rewarding writing apprenticeship working with Cornerstones. It's an alternative route to an agent, but a great one even if you just decide to get a report from them and nothing more. As a signed author Cornerstones take ten percent of my first advance as a fee. But for me this been earned times over. As you can probably tell, I can't recommend their services highly enough.

 You can follow Nick on Twitter and via his blog.

Friday, 24 February 2012

And lo, it was awesome.

 Now as some of you know, I've been working on Book The Third in between revisions on the book I got signed for (Yes, it would be easier if they had cool titles. No, they don't have cool titles.)

I even wrote a query and synopsis for Book The Third before I started it in an attempt to avoid previously experienced meandering and rubbishness in my writing. And then I started my lovely new book and wrote 19k words of it.

And then I stopped. Because Book The Third has no plot. A shocking oversight on my part, I know, but I really thought it had one when I started. I knew my characters; they had backstory (not in the book, of course), they had complex realtionships and problems and motivation. The setting? It was great. But plot? Yeah, MIA.

I'm not prepared to let go of Book The Third though. I'm happy to put it aside while I attempt to come up with a plot to go with the great setting and the great characters, but can I actually ditch it? Not finish something I started? (This would be a writing precedent for me.) I don't know.

While I was considering whether abandoning my work made me a big loser or just a pragmatic writer, I had a NEW IDEA. A fully-formed, packed with plot idea that had great characters to boot. I wrote said shiny and exciting idea down and asked my critique partner Michelle Krys what she thought of it and what I should do whilst I pithered and prevaricated about ditching Book The Third.

And here's why I love Michelle >

OMG! I F***ING LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I haven't read (Book The Third) yet but I can already tell you that you need to write this. NOW! I want to read it now so I can tell you that you'd have a best-seller on your hands. Please write it now??

Somewhat bolstered by the amount of exclamation marks, I wrote a synopsis.

And lo, it was awesome (even if I do say so myself.)

I fully intend to start Book The Fourth this week. But Book The Third is looking at me balefully, forlornly, plotlessly. And I'm feeling like it might look at me like that until I finish it.  

So my question is this - have you ever set a work aside? Did you go back to it afterwards?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A selection of books that are cool and you should really read.

The number of books I read in 2011 was, frankly, pitiful. I've never actually kept track of numbers before, but in April I joined Goodreads (which if you don't know about is a website you can use to berate yourself for how few books you can remember having read. You can also create a virtual to-be-read pile which will become insurmountable and make you feel inadequate. I think that's what it's for anyway.) Here's my profile. You can friend me as long as you don't look at said pitiful record in 2011.

I'm already doing A LOT better in 2012, which is because I'm on a huge YA fest of brilliance, and because - as I might have mentioned before - I heart my Kindle. And when I read great books, I feel the need to make YOU read great books too. So here's a quick visual of four books you should go and get right now and read immediately.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I think I love it more than The Hunger Games. Mockingjay purchased immediately upon finishing. If you're one of the three remaining people on the planet who hasn't read this trilogy now that I have, then you really need to do something about it.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Totally blown away by this series. Just LOVED it!

ForbiddenForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Reading this hurt my heart. 5 stars, just...5 stars.

Ultraviolet (Ultraviolet, #1)Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

Incredibly readable, interesting, intriguing, other stuff beginning with 'i'. Very much a page-turner. I'm the world's slowest reader and this took me three days. Loved it!

Right now I'm looking for YA sci-fi or ghost stories to read. Any recommendations? Or have you read something else that you think I should read RIGHT NOW or I will fail to be a complete human being? Give me the best YA book you've read this year so far. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

The How I Got My Agent series: This week's guest post by Natalie Parker.

This week's post is from a fellow Greenhouser from across the pond, one of Sarah Davies' clients : ) Over to you, Natalie!

I began my pursuit of the elusive agent in high school. Only, it wasn’t much of a pursuit. It was more like a half-hearted gesture in their general direction.

It went like this:

I wrote something.

I called it a book.

So did my mother.

And so I printed it out and mailed it off to one or two agents (I honestly don’t remember how many) along with my Hopes and Dreams of becoming an Author. It didn’t take long to receive rejections (I only clearly remember one) and that was the end of that. I set novel-writing aside and instead went to college, which later became grad school, which then became a career.

Basically, my creative self was off sitting in a corner tapping her toe, occasionally calling me names and making frustrated gestures (possibly, some of them were obscene).

So! I decided she needed some exercise and with the support of my partner, I began to carve out time here and there for things like writing and playing my cello and hoarding nail polish. Each of these was satisfying to Creative Natalie P, but writing quickly rose to the surface taking precedence over all other endeavors.

By the early months of 2010, I’d written something that was vaguely book-shaped. It had all the right pieces in all the right places and I was resoundingly proud of it. I handed it over to a few readers (oblivious to the duct tape holding key pieces together, the persistent droop in the narrative arc – it was positively replete with mediocrity) and felt relatively sure it would blow their minds. 

It did not.

They both returned the vaguely book-shaped manuscript to me with the same words: “This is really good, but you can do better. Put it down and write another.”

I never queried that project. Not even once.

In an instant, I went from Ready to Query to Starting from Scratch. And that very day, I started brainstorming a very different project. Creative Natalie P wasn’t feeling defeated, as I’d expected she would, but anxious and inspired. In fact, there was a certain amount of glee involved in shutting the drawer on that novel and opening a blank document. Much as I loved that first novel, I knew my next one would only be better, and I wanted to be better just as much as I wanted an agent.

The new project took a fair bit of time – nearly a year. I was still balancing full-time work with learning this craft and other daily adventure sorts of affairs. I drafted and redrafted and re-redrafted until once again I was certain I had something that would blow minds.

This time when I handed it over to readers, it looked much more solid. It had all the bookly pieces in all the right places and I could see they fit together really, really well. And my readers agreed. It blew their minds….but still we went through rounds and round of revision until finally (FINALLY!) they called it ready.

And it was.

I sent queries to my top seven agents. Six requested the full, and four offered representation.

Three weeks after sending those queries, I made an utterly terrifying, utterly exhilarating choice and signed with my agent (who, for what it’s worth, pulled me from the slush).

When I think back on it, I am so, so glad that I had readers who were willing to tell me I could do better. Listening to them was hard. I was anxious to move onto the next step. I wanted to believe that first manuscript was it. But I’m so glad that I waited.

So, I think if I were going to boil all of this down into a piece of advice about finding an agent of your very own, it would be this: Take your time.

Natalie's blog and twitter!

Monday, 13 February 2012

It's competition time!

This competition is now closed. Thanks for taking part. Next month's will be something different again :)

It's time for February's crit round because I <3 ripping your work to shreds helping you out with my sage advice and whatnot.

This one's going to be a beta-reading-of-your-ms competition and it will work a little differently to the others that I've held.

1) This is for YA writers only. It can be any genre, but this month is all about the YA, so no adult or MG entries on this one please.

2) You need to be a follower of this blog for this one. I don't normally insist on this, and I may not in the future, but the rules are a little different this month!

3) All you need to do is put your name, the name of your ms and your email address below and I'll beta read the first 500 hundred words of your YA ms. If you bring a friend to the party, ie you tell another YA writer about the competition and they join this blog, then you get a 1000 word beta read. All you need to do is put their name in the comments section to tell me they joined because of you : ) If you bring two friends, I'll do 1500 words for you.  If said friends/new followers want to enter this month's contest, then that's great - they need to follow these rules too : )

If you won one of my other competitions in the last three months, then please let someone else take the slot, because I won't choose you! Otherwise, go ahead : )

Ok, that's it. I'm not going to do the usual 'I'll get it back to you in a week' thing because I don't know how many words I'm going to be critting and I like to be really shreddy thorough.

Good luck!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The How I Got My Agent stories: This week's guest post by Amy Christine Parker.

How I Signed With My Agent Lucienne Diver

First and foremost, thank you, Ruth, for allowing me to tell my story. My husband thanks you too since he is sick to death of me recounting everything for the one hundredth time. And it’s probably a little sad that the kids can recite the story by heart…

So, where to start? I guess at the very beginning is best. I didn’t start writing seriously until about two and half years ago.  I think that I only began to wonder what it would be like to write when I began telling my children stories that I made up every night at bedtime. I was carrying on a family tradition since my grandfather used to tell stories to me this way. In the back of my mind I think I always wondered secretly what it might be like to write full time and to be published, but I never saw it as practical and so never allowed it to become something I seriously pursued. But once I thought about it I knew that I was at the perfect stage of life to try. I didn’t have a full time job other than being a mother  (which, let’s face it, IS a full time job, but what I mean is I didn’t have a paying one so no one had expectations of me earning anything right then) and I had some free time during naps and late at night. If ever there was a time to make a go of it, this was it.

And so I just decided to dive in, like sky diving without a parachute kind of diving in. I had an idea for a novel and I just went with it even though I’d never written anything longer than a term paper in my life. After a year and a half, I had a finished manuscript. Not a sellable one, mind you, but a complete story. I did query it, but only briefly and mostly just to see how the process worked. Deep down I knew it was not really publishable; it was my college so to speak. But by now other novel ideas were coming fast and furious and I had one in particular that I thought could be really good…provided I had the chops to write it the way it deserved to be written.  I got busy on it, writing and rewriting in radical ways until I was satisfied that I had done my best.

Now, the one thing that made my journey unique is that at a local writer’s group (one I started and hosted when I couldn’t find one for novelists), I met an agent, Lucienne Diver. She lived nearby and knew someone who attended the group and just decided to check it out one night. Over time I emailed her here and there and commented on her blog whenever something resonated with me. She came to group some months later once again and very slowly we got to know each other. She is a young adult author herself (The Vamped Series, the latest, Fangtastic came out in January) and so we bonded as fellow writers. I told her about what I was working on and when she heard the general pitch, she asked to consider it.

Now fast forward to this November, when I finished my manuscript. Lucienne had reiterated her wish to look at it and I was ready to take her up on it. I queried her first and exclusively. She had taken an interest in me as a writer long before she needed to and I felt that she should be able to look at it before anyone else.  And if I was lucky enough and she was interested? I would sign immediately. I liked the idea of signing with someone I knew personally, someone who I already really liked. She read my manuscript on Friday the 13th in January (very appropriate since it’s about a girl in an apocalyptic cult and the end of the world) and she offered representation the very next day. I signed officially two days later. And the rest is shall we say…in the works! 

So there you have it, my story in a very large nutshell. Hmmm, that was so much fun I think maybe I might need to tell it all over again. Honey? Kids? Are you there? Anyone???

You and Mr P are very welcome Amy! I'll even forgive that you broke the run of slushpile success tales because that's such a cool story, and in some ways similar to my own (at least the writing the books part, if not the meeting-your-agent-in-person bit.)

You can stalk find Amy's website here and twitter here.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Competition time!

This competition isn't one of mine, (although I'm holding one VERY soon) this is one run by my lovely writerly friend Gemma Cooper, Literary Agent at The Bright Literary Agency.

Here's the link to the blog launch and competition. And check out those prizes!

What do you have to do?

Just tell us in the comments what types of things you would like to see on our blog - what sorts of posts are going to be helpful?

There are two prizes:
Commenter prize - One random commenter will win a first chapter critique or critique of a full picture book.
Follower Prize - One random follower will win a critique.
  • If we get 50 followers by the end of the contest, you will win a one chapter/one picture book critique.
  • If we get 100 followers by the end of the contest, you will win a two chapter/two picture book critique!
  • And if we get over 150 followers you will get a three chapter/three picture book critique!! 

All critiques will be done by Gemma Cooper, Literary Agent. Winners to be decided by random number generator. Competition closes on 21st February 2012.
(The above is taken straight from The Bright Literary Agency blog, so you need to click on the link and do your commenting over there! Although you're most welcome to leave me comments too, you won't win anything from me - not just yet anyway : ) )
Good luck!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

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

Ok, so it's only slightly later in the same week, but I love these stories, I have more to schedule, and I want to do another beta reading contest this month too. So this slightly-later-in-the-week's guest post on How I Got My Agent is here today, and it's by another of my new writerly friends, Kimberly Welchons.

I think she's the one on the left, but don't quote me

My “How I Got My Agent Story” is terribly exciting and full of unicorns, dragons, and mortal danger. Okay, okay, there weren't any unicorns.

About this time last year I was in New York at the Writer's Digest Conference where I could take part in a Pitch Slam, which was described as speed dating with agents. That was a lie. It was more like "Stand in line in 4 inch heels and a pencil skirt and listen to some guy talk about how his trip to Peru changed his life because that's where he first met the aliens" with agents. This was also where I met a group of girls who like changed my life dude (which is the best thing about conferences).
I pitched to a handful of agents and they all requested my material. Which wasn't done. Oops.
I went back to California and wrote like a mad woman. See, if I have deadlines I can do some incredible stuff. If I don't, I spend all day watching Daniel Radcliffe interviews. I finished and immediately sent it to my critique partners, their major consensus being "Why GOD is this in present tense?"

I had my reasons.
I sent it out.
I got rejections from every agent that requested it at the Pitch Slam.

FINE. I spent two weeks changing every single verb. My friend Michelle went through and read every singly verb. I got to the point where I couldn't figure out if the word 'cut' was in present tense or past (it's both). I also did some other fixing and trimming, things I had missed because I was trying to get it out before the Pitch Slam agents forgot about me. In reality, the manuscript I had rushed to get out wasn’t my best work and I hurt myself because of it. This is the part of the story where I stress taking your time, letting your book breathe, and letting yourself breathe. Also, listen to your critique partners.

Then I sent it out again in small bits. I spent a lot of time on my query letter, making sure the tone of the book really came through in each line, even in my bio.
A few weeks later I got an email from an agent who had pulled me out of the slush pile and wanted to talk. I was in a coffee shop that I go to because it's full of screenwriters and I like to gloat that my prose makes me a real writer to them. We all danced around.
30 minutes later I got an email from another agent who also wanted to talk. The screenwriters glared at me for being so noisy.

I talked to both of them, talked to their clients, emailed and asked questions. I even made a little excel sheet with their answers. They both had very, very different visions for my manuscript. I debated endlessly over sangria, did some research, and found childhood pictures of both agents (beware my googling ability). Everything about them was so different, and it was an incredibly tough choice.

What it ultimately came down to were the revision notes. I knew I wanted someone who was more editorial, who would dig her heels into a work and get it in the best possible shape before submitting to publishers. My book is much stronger with Meredith’s notes, and I’m glad I took the time to do the work with her.

So that’s how I signed with Meredith Kaffel at Charlotte Sheedy Literary. Not from a conference, from a pitch slam, or even in an elevator, but from good ol’ fashioned slush. It happens people!

More evidence that the slush pile works! All four of the stories featured so far on my blog - including mine - have been about success from the slush pile. I like what that says about your chances, don't you?

Here's where you can follow Kimberly's blog and tweets which you'll be wanting to do because she's nice. And funny.