Saturday, May 15, 2021

REIMAGINING A BETTER QUERYING EXPERIENCE 

Guest post by - Humayun Khan, writer and founder of QueryCats 

Let’s face it.  Querying sucks!  First you have to do research, short-list agents, then tailor your query over and over and over again.  

There’s a lot of rejection or passes and well, it can be pretty darn stress-inducing.  

Of course, nothing compares to the elation of waking up to a full manuscript request, a contract, and that blessed day when you ink your signature and get to put repped by @soandso in your Twitter bio.  

But what if the whole experience could be a little more fun and what’s more fun the getting support from the world’s most loved animal (biased opinion) while you’re on this journey?  

Like many writers, I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into a manuscript for a young adult novel only to get to the querying phase and finding out how hard it was to get representation. 

It’s a very confusing experience. Everything in my gut was telling me that what I wrote was worthy of seeing the light of day in a bookstore. I then discovered it's an entirely different skillset to pitch and market what I wrote in a way that would make it appealing for an agent. 

And I get it, agents are ridiculously busy, underpaid, often working multiple jobs, and working with their existing clients. Reading through queries from unsigned writers is at the bottom of their to-do list.

But I persevered and eventually found the perfect agent who helped shape my manuscript into something that would get picked up by a big publishing house. I never would’ve been able to achieve what I did without her. 

With my experience and day job as a software designer, I wanted to create an agent directory from the ground up that would take some of the sting out the querying process for other writers. That meant creating an application that was easy on the eyes, simple to use, and not something remnant of websites circa 1991. 

My hope for QueryCat is to make it easier for writers to research and shortlist agents while being able to easily track their queries.

You might be wondering, why cats? I think the bigger question is, why not cats? Querying is literally the most stressful experience and if there’s one thing that can help writers get through bleak moments, it’s photos of cats.

Don’t take my word for it, check it out at https://www.querycat.co.

✌ and 

 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

 

writing, publishing, perseverance, rejection
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Erik Witsoe

THREE STEPS BEFORE SUBMITTING  

I can show my clients how to craft a children's story and how to compose a query letter.  But the one thing I can't show them is how to slow down and be thorough when submitting to a publisher. 

All of my clients want to get published, but Gail seems more desperate than the rest.  I believe her desperation causes her to be impetuous.  And when she's impetuous she rushes and gets careless about submitting her work.  This worries me.   Her impulsive behavior may sabotage the dream of seeing her work in print.   

So, when we work on her projects, I remind Gayle of the three steps every writer should do before submitting to a magazine: 

1.  Adhere to guidelines.  The submission requirements may list the word count, the formatting specifics, the magazine's focus, and the age range of the audience.    

2.  Study a few back issues.  Take a look at the topics to get an idea of the subjects that are published.    Note the tone (serious or light) and the formatting to see if subheadings are used and shape the work similarly.  

3.   Edit and polish the manuscript.  Have a second reader review it to catch grammar or spelling errors and to give ways to improve the piece.   

No matter how often I remind Gayle of those three steps, she still rushes the process.  And because of that, her latest submission did not have a happy ending. 

Gayle submitted a piece to a children's magazine.  But within six weeks, she received a rejection.  The editor replied he did not publish the kind of work Gayle had sent him. 

I felt bad for her.  She revised and edited her work and wrote a professional query letter, but she submitted a piece that wasn't a good fit for this market.  It could be the guidelines were vague, though I got the feeling that she didn't notice that a good portion of the magazine was written by children. 

Needless to say, Gayle feels defeated.  But no matter how frustrated she gets, I believe she has potential.  I feel it in my bones she'll be published.  She just needs to listen to sound advice and slow down.  Writing for publication is not a race.  I'm hoping she'll realize this.  Because when she learns to take her time and adhere to the steps of submitting, her publication dreams will come true.   

✌ and 



Monday, March 15, 2021

writing inspiration, the muse, publishing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Diego PH

A VISIT FROM THE MUSE

A few months ago, my muse visited me just as I sat down for breakfast.  Having a flash of inspiration at the kitchen table has never happened to me before.  In fact, inspiration usually strikes when I'm at the computer—it rarely happens elsewhere.  But that morning, the idea was so surprising and so powerful that I wolfed down my oatmeal and jogged upstairs to write.   

My muse was kind enough to follow me.  She revealed the initial concept and the conflict of the story.  Nothing more.  I simply started to type the first line (whatever came into my head) and allowed the muse to guide me.  This first line led to the setting of the story: a small village governed by a king.  

At this point, all I knew was the main character was a little boy who faced a big problem.  However, I didn't know his name or how he was going to solve the problem.  It didn't matter at this point.  What mattered was following the lead of the muse and allowing the voice of the story to shine through with lyrical language (rhythm, similes, and repetition) and sparse dialogue. 

I honestly didn't think about where the story was going.  Misspellings were ignored.  Editing would come later.  After about an hour, I had a rough draft of the story.

In the weeks that followed, it was time to address major issues.  There were questions that had to be answered: 

  • What were the personality traits of the main character?
  • Would the main character's name reflect his personality?
  • How would the main character change by the end of the story? 
  • How can I show the feelings of a child when he's up against something so big?  
  • How would he solve the problem?  
  • How could the message (the theme) of the story be conveyed without being didactic?  
  • How do I resolve the story and perhaps throw in a twist?  
  • How do I allow the action of the story to unfold visually so that an illustrator had plenty to work with?

With so much to consider and work out, you might say, go ask the muse for her help.  Invite her to return.  But it doesn't work that way.  It's not up to my muse to solve these problems.  Her goal was to inspire and set me on a journey.  I alone had to find a way to way to make it all work.   

Day by day, the story took shape and the beginning, the middle, and the ending came together like pieces of a puzzle.  Then, my first reader made comments and afterward, I edited the manuscript.  Now, the story is out on submission.  Time will tell how it will be received.  It may be a tough sell because it has social and political overtones.  However, it has a powerful premise, so it may pique the interest of an agent.   

It's exciting and surprising when inspiration strikes.  But this brain flash can be fleeting and soon forgotten.  That's why I wolfed down breakfast and headed upstairs to write.  When the muse stops by, there is no time to waste.  Intending to get to it later would not a good plan.  I had to act now.  I had been given a gift:  the seeds to a story.  And I was fired up to set it all down in words.  


✌ and 



Monday, February 15, 2021

writing, writing room, writing in silence, Stephen King
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Kristina Flour 
DAMN THAT OL' STEPHEN KING

After having breakfast, I warm up a cup of Guatemalan coffee and head upstairs to work.  I check LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter and then dive into composing blogs, fine-tuning query letters, and editing manuscripts.  But when it's noisy, my productivity slams to a halt.  It's frustrating because I have little control over loud sounds.  I can't force people to refrain from mowing their lawns.  I can't keep neighbor's dogs from barking.  

My husband has a good idea how sensitive I am to noise, so he tries to keep the volume down when he practices the guitar.  But when the Pittsburgh Steelers are on television, he cheers for them or more likely, he shouts at them.  If you're a fan you'd understand.  It's nearly impossible to be quiet (especially this season) while watching the Steelers. 

When it's noisy during my work hours, I always think of Stephen King.  King writes in a room on the top floor of a Victorian mansion outside of Bangor, Maine, lit by skylights and filled with shelves of books.  He has a big desk and a cozy chair.  I imagine it's free of distractions.  I imagine it is very quiet. 

My writing place (the guest bedroom) is comfortable and convenient.  But unlike King's room, I do not have bookshelves or skylights.  And it is not always quiet—especially when it snows.  

A few days ago, we received a sprinkling of snow.  My husband was inspired to get outside and remove it.  If it had been more than four inches, he would have used the snow blower.  But since we only accumulated a couple of inches, he opted for the snow shovel.  He began on the driveway and to most people it was not that loud, but it pulled me away from writing and I focused on the rhythmic sound of shoveling, the scraping of metal on concrete, and though I appreciated him clearing the snow, I hoped that the job would soon be finished and then all I thought about was Stephen King—up in his study merrily composing his best-selling novels IN COMPLETE SILENCE.  Damn that ol' Stephen King.  

It's kind of a drag to be sensitive to noise.  But this is the way I'm wired.  In my younger days, I had to have peace and quiet when doing homework.  The need for silence is still the case and it has stuck with me throughout my adult life.  There's no escaping it.  Not even ear plugs work.  I have to try to suck it up and deal with it.   

Luckily, for most of the year, the neighborhood is quiet and the Mrvos household is calm.  Ah...I savor the serenity.  When it's tranquil, still and hushed, I am writing away in my writing room, working away in complete blissful silence, totally in the groove.  I am focused and oh so productive.  All is good and Stephen King is never on my mind—unless the weather turns wintry and we're in for two inches of snow.  

✌ and 




Friday, January 15, 2021

Twitter pitch parties

TO PB PITCH OR NOT TO PB PITCH, THAT IS THE QUESTION

I'd often wondered if it would be worthwhile to participate in #PBPitch, an online session where writers can pitch manuscripts to agents and editors.  All that's needed is a Twitter account and a polished manuscript to join in.      

Being curious, I decided to pitch three manuscripts in the 2020 October event.  What I found was it's necessary to allow time to work on pitches days well before the event.  I needed to create at least two different pitches per manuscript because writers were not allowed to use the exact wording twice.  Each had to be unique and compelling.  In addition, the pitches needed to be short.  Agents and editors would not have time to read big blocks of text even though Twitter allows a 280-character count.    

There would be a lot of writers taking part in the event.  So, I was eager to learn the best approaches to pitching.  Here's what I found out from writers who have had success: 

  • Check the rules to see how many manuscripts you can pitch and how often you can pitch
  • Watch to see when the engagement picks up and then pitch your manuscript 
  • Use hashtags that categorize your work
  • Pin your strongest pitch
  • Retweet other writers' pitches and make encouraging comments
  • Respond to your comments 
  • Spread your pitches out from morning to evening 

I felt a roller coaster ride of emotions during the Twitter Pitch event:  excited, hopeful, giddy as well as nervous, disillusioned, and defeated.  Afterwards, I wondered why put myself through this mixture of joy and agony.  All writers that participated were dying to have their pitches liked by an agent.  And yet during the last session (and I'm talking 12 hours) I only saw a handful pitches that received hearts.  

Is Twitter pitching worth it?  That's a tough question.  Pitch events are a great way to interact with agents, to support the writing community, and to fine-tune the hook for query letters.  On the down side, a pitch event is time-consuming, can be physically exhausting (my eyes were killing me after reading and commenting on pitches) and it may leave you feeling discouraged.  

There are those who say you should never stop taking risks.  Writers have found representation through pitching.  But I'm on the fence about it.  Part of me even wonders if any agents actually saw my pitches.  It's easy to get lost in the feed.  You however, may feel up to the challenge.   So, do some research.  Weigh the pros and cons.  And if you're curious, go for it.  Only you can determine if #PBPitch is right for you.

✌ and 



Tuesday, December 15, 2020


WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS 

Please enjoy a post written by the exuberant Valerie Bolling. 

Amazing things can happen when you make the most of an opportunity.  You only have to take advantage of the good things that appear in your life.  

For instance, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to collaborate on the artwork for my debut rhyming picture book Let’s Dance!  When my book was being edited, I had a specific vision for the illustrations and I could have dug my heels in, but Jes Negrón, my editor at Boyds Mills & Kane, wanted to expand upon my diverse, inclusive vision by creating a more global theme.  Where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain.  I envisioned the electric slide or the cha-cha slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China.  The international concept was perfect, and the illustrations by Maine Diaz truly made my words dance!

Another opportunity presented itself a few years after the publication of my book.  On June 1, 2020, I saw an agent’s “call” on Twitter, in support of #BVM (Black Voices Matter). I reached out to James McGowan via DM (direct message) in response to his offer to answer questions from Black writers.  During this event, I asked James if he’d be willing to provide specific feedback about a story that I’d sent him in December that wasn’t a good fit for him.  I was interested in his opinion, since I had been querying agents and editors after Let’s Dance! was acquired in July 2018 but received no offers.  

James promptly responded with, “Thanks so much for getting back in touch with me.  Your name has been on my radar recently, since we share a publisher (and even an editor) ... I'd love to reconsider and see more.” I was surprised to have been on James’ “radar” but immediately sent him the manuscript for which I’d requested feedback as well as two others.

The next day, I was shocked when I received an email in which James said, “I still absolutely love your writing,” and he described the writing in one of my manuscripts as “utterly beautiful.” I was beaming, but the sentence that floored me the most was, “I would love the opportunity to speak with you about these manuscripts and possible representation if you’re interested.”

WHAT? How was that possible?  In no way was I expecting an offer of representation. I was totally caught off guard!  Three months after Let’s Dance! was published, I signed a contract with BookEnds Literary Agency with James.  

I am grateful for having the chance to work with an editor and an illustrator.  I am thrilled to be a member of #TeamJames.  When you make the most of an opportunity—being open to change or seizing a moment— amazing things can happen.

 Let’s Dance! celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them, children from all walks—or dances—of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. Let’s Dance! showcases dance in a way that highlights diversity—and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone! It reminds us that dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different accents.”

Here’s where you can buy the book  You can request a signed copy. 


Sunday, November 15, 2020


<img src=”The Who.png” alt=”writer won't get fooled again by unscrupulous agents">
                                                                                                                                        Photo: courtesy Wikipedia 

I WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN 

Sad, but true...I was suckered by an agent.  I paid $300 for literary services not knowing that this was a dishonest practice.  It just goes to show how little I knew about publishing.  

Back in the late 90s, I had enrolled in my first writing class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy in Lexington, Kentucky.  Our assignment was to complete a picture book by the end of the six-week session.  On the last day of class our teacher brought in a local agent.  She passed out her business cards and I jumped at the chance to be represented.  

It never dawned on me that Karen would be unethical.  All I knew was that she was a nice person whom my writing instructor had recommended.  She invited me to her house for a business lunch.  During the meeting, she discussed her plans for presenting my work to publishing houses.  All seemed legit to me.  Even the money she needed to get the job done.  She was excited about my work and I was thrilled to have an agent who knew the publishing industry.

When we finished our business, she scheduled the next meeting and mentioned that she'd need another payment for more of her services.  At that moment something didn't seem right to me.  When I got home, I contacted a local author to find out whether writers should pay an agent.  She warned me that writers should not be charged for an agent's services and suggested that I look into the Association of Authors' Representatives, a professional organization of literary agents who meet the highest standards and subscribe to a canon of ethics.  

I immediately googled the website.  According to the AAR, the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients is subject to serious abuse.  For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients a fee and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for their services. 

It was no surprise that my agent was not a member of AAR.  So, she was essentially free to charge writers for her services.  But not me.  I ended our relationship.  

Now when I look back on the partnership, I realize that paying Karen was not the only problem—I had also given her the very first picture book I had ever written.  How naïve was that?  My manuscript desperately needed to be critiqued.  It needed to be revised to improve the content.  It needed to be edited to fix grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.  It was not ready to be presented to publishing houses.  

As they say, live and learn.

Fast forward to November, 2016.  Believe it or not, I received an email from an agent on my birthday!  Editorial agent Melissa Carrigee fell in love with my manuscript Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.  Together, we fine-tuned the text and collaborated with an artist to get the illustrations just right.  Nine months later, my debut picture book was published.   

My relationship with Melissa was wonderful and I wanted to work with her on future projects, but she decided to step away from agenting and to establish Brother Mockingbird Publishing.  So, at this point in my career, I'm searching for a forever agent.  Someone who is honest and professional like Melissa.  I will never forget dishing out hundreds of dollars to someone who called herself an agent.  What a costly mistake.  But hopefully I'll be savvier when I sign with another rep.  Because like the song sung by the Who—I "Won't Get Fooled Again." 

✌ and