Monday, October 17, 2011

Agent Advice

Because I’m ready to query I’ve been trolling the web, brushing up my list of agents.

I’ve found a lot of great advice, and because I don’t want to make you search for it (I’m nice like that. You’re welcome :) I’ve assembled it here. None of it is paraphrased or made up. It all comes from agents sites or WriteOnCon forums. 

Sorry this post is long. I recommend looking through for topics that interest you :)


On Writing Problems:

Reliance on dialogue tags is a common prose issue I find. Reliance on them to reveal emotion where characterization should be doing the trick.

On Opening Scenes:

Can't stand anyone who opens with waking from a dream or any discussion of the weather. Or, actually, waking up period.

I heard another agent say that he had to be hooked at sentence one and every sentence after that needed to hold onto him.

I love when the opening of a story catches me by surprise with an unexpected voice or moment or scene. I know that's not helpful since it isn't specific, but in those instances I *definitely* keep reading. And I always stop if it's obviously offensive.

I think signs of an inexperienced writer are too common openings -- looking in a mirror to describe your main character, waking up, etc. Or plots that feel like they've been done a billion times.

Sure, any masterful writer can grab any of these “openings” and do them justice but for us mere mortals, they tend to be groan worthy:
  • Characters inexplicably getting sucked into a portal for no apparent reason
  • A person gathering herbs in the forest (Honestly, it can’t happen as frequent as I seem to see it in opening chapters).
  • A battle scene. (Goodness, let me get attached to some characters before you start whacking them).
  • A prologue.
  • A distant third person narrative to start (ie. The boy, the old man, the healer)
  • Clumsy incorporating of back story in your dialogue.
  • Launching your narrative via a dream sequence.
  • Heroine waking up alone with a man in her room.
  • Tired SF or Fantasy staples: i.e.: quest for a magical artifact, typical characters (dwarf, elf, the warrioress who doesn’t know she has magical powers), a modern woman who is really the savior on an alternate world.
  • Man sitting on steed in pouring rain.
  • Woman standing on high wall looking out into the distance at something
  • Starting your cover letter for your sample pages with: this is a 250,000 word manuscript… (Guaranteed to send me running while screaming). 

On Clichés

Not every cheerleader needs to be a b%*#!. But also, you don't have to spend a whole novel showing us how UNlike stereotypes your characters are.

devil's advocate: NOT ALL CLICHES SHOULD BE AVOIDED! THEY CAN PROVIDE A RELATABLE SHORTHAND FOR HUMAN EXPERIENCE. CLICHES ARE FAMILIAR AND OH SO COMFORTING FOR A REASON! I guess this is my last word.  If you can spoon feed me a cliché and then turn it on its head and subvert all my expectations without me feeling cheated, you're gold.

On Queries:

I love when a query is professional and tells me enough about the story to want to keep reading. I hate when an author talks more about themselves than the story (or sometimes ONLY about themselves...this seriously happens more than you would think)

I love it when they get my name right. :)

I really like something that's got the voice of the character. It gives me a better idea of whether I will enjoy reading the manuscript. And anyone who can give a query letter voice is awesome--it's really hard--so that is a big plus for me because it's a sign the manuscript might be really awesome

I'm different from a lot of agents in that I tend to like gimmicky stuff. I've taken on (and sold) several clients who wrote their query letters in the voice of their heroines, for example. I also tend to like it if you can start your query letter with a "what if" question, although those can be hard to pull off.

And I despise queries that start with rhetorical questions!

On Characters:

If the characters really hook me, I can forgive plot holes because I can help fix those, but if I don't feel engaged at any point, I'll stop reading. Unfortunately, I just have too much to read.

Characters who are active about trying to better their situation, even if they're scared, rather than allowing things to happen to them, are my favorite kinds of characters.

On social media:

I'd say one of the biggest mistakes I see PEOPLE making with today's online social media craze is forgetting that your online persona is just that, a PERSONA. You don't have to reveal all your deepest darkest thoughts to everyone on the internet. I also think PEOPLE get too angry on the internet sometimes. I've seen lots of twitter fights and amazon review fights and blogger fights, and sure people read and talk about them, but sometimes it's hard to respect the people involved. Think before you react.

Use the query letter to pitch your project. Be using social media (in the background) to pitch yourself.

First of all, I state publicly that before a writer submits a query to me, that writer should have a website live. I think an active and professional website is like a business card. When I request sample pages from a writer, if I get to page 10 and really like the writing, I stop. I go immediately to google and I cyber stalk that writer. I am impressed if I see something there that looks professional. Is it a deal breaker? no. But, I will repeat - I am impressed when I see something there.

Martha Mihalick: (Martha is an editor but I still loved what she had to say)
As soon as I know I like the manuscript, I google the author. A strong online presence is a plus, but the deciding factor is always the person's writing.

I don't do too much digging for the author online unless I know I already love the full manuscript. Before that, a bad or ill-used online presence can turn me off an author, but a good one doesn't mean much. Once I know I love a manuscript, though, I do want to see how they comport themselves online, and how comfortable they are doing so. (next)

Martha Mihalick: (Martha is an editor but I still loved what she had to say)
I like when writers have the (short) pitch and a (short) sample on their websites.

On Middle Grade

I often get asked by writers what the biggest difference is between Middle Grade and Young Adult. There are a number of answers to this that I would agree with, but to me personally, the biggest different is the “heart.” I’m not talking about romance or highly emotional scenes (all genres can have that). I’m talking about that feeling that you can have only when you’re too young to have experienced adulthood yet. When you think, no–you know–that you can make a difference. You can change the world (and when I say world, it can be the world at-large, or the world in a more insular way…whatever “the world” is to the character).

On offering representation

I know I want to offer representation when I (a) tell my husband about the manuscript, and (b) start thinking about editors I'd want to send it to.

Martha Mihalick: (Martha is an editor but I still loved what she had to say)
I know I definitely want to publish it when I start thinking about the selling points I'm going to put in our tip sheet even before I finished!

For me, it's a feeling I have that I've learned to recognize over years of doing this. When I start thinking about who will want to buy this and which of my friends must read this book, then I can't ignore it.

It's always different with knowing when I want to offer representation, but I do look at all of a writer's stuff and get second reads. I also look at the author's online presence--website, blog posts, tweets, interviews, etc. to get a fuller picture of who they are and whether we would be a good fit.

On Self Publishing

Here's what I'll say: I'm surprised at the number of blogs and posts I read about self-pubbing that don't mention the tremendous amount of work done by editors, copy editors, designers, etc. it takes a village to make one book.

If you self-pubbed, JUST to eventually get traditionally pubbed, you risk shooting yourself in the foot


Tara Tyler said...

excellent, excellent advice!
thanks a hEAp!
i devoured every word!
back to writing =)

Mel Fowler said...

Oh you are so nice for putting all of this together. It will be a good quick reference page for me one day. Also congrats on being ready to query. I feel like it's ages away for me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks - great read!

i'm erin. said...

Wow, excellent post. I'll be querying soon and I needed this.

Abby said...

Oh my gosh - have I said "thank you?" You really ARE cool like that! I love it. This is probably going to be the best, most helpful post of the week!

Sara Bulla said...

Wow! This is gold, Angie. Thank you!

E.R. King said...

Lots of great info here. Thank for sharing!

Jolene Perry said...

My agent just put this up last week. Also full of good stuff :D

Melissa Sarno said...

Thank you for this! I read every single one. such helpful advice. :)

Jessie Humphries said...

Wow, girl! You really did your homework on this one. It must have taken you forever to compile this succint tip sheet. Thanks for sharing it!

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

Wow, that was awesome! Thanks!

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