Wednesday, March 28, 2012

7 things you learn from interning with a literary agent

I've survived the first month of my internship! I don't know whether to be impressed by that fact or not. Overall I'm going to say that I'm impressed, because it's hard! For so many reasons, too...

I wanted to share with you the first few things that I've learned... because as a writer, I feel they are important. I'd love to hear your take on things as well, so make sure to comment and let me know what you think! It's possible that the things I'm learning here are NOT useful, and only apply to the agent I'm working with.

  1. Your synopsis is important! Seriously. I know a few people have been posting recently and complaining about having to write synopses. They're hard to do. After all, your masterpiece of a novel is probably 50,000-100,000 words! How can you summarize the entire plot in just a few measly paragraphs? But, if an agent (or an agent's assistant) can't get the essence of your plot in a neat little package, the likelihood of your manuscript being picked up drops significantly. So craft them... craft them well, grasshoppers.
  2. Building off of number 1., make sure to review and refine your pitch. Sending a query to an agent involves so much more than just copying and pasting your synopsis into the body of an e-mail and pressing send. Standard etiquette, people. Introduce yourself. Tell the agent why you're writing (This involves a synopsis of your synopsis. Madness!). Remember. There's nothing new under the sun. Don't bother telling the agent that your manuscript is one-of-a-kind. It's not. I guarantee it. Cheesy pitches and synopses get tossed right to the slush pile.
  3. Find a way to graciously handle rejection. Agents receive hundreds of submissions a week. And in-depth discussions of the reasons for choosing not to take on your work is not on the top of their to-do list. Although, the one I've worked with is willing to take a little time to discuss it with you if you ask politely. Always remember, though, that whatever advice you wish to receive is a gift, not a right. (Maybe this is different with other agents. I don't know.)
  4. Your first two chapters are key. Write well, little grasshopper. Hook your readers early. Introduce the characters and the plot in a way that grabs the reader's attention and draws them forward into the story. If the first 10 pages aren't amazing, you're looking at rejection.
  5. Story arc. It's kinda important. If your novel wanders off in the middle, near the end... anywhere, really... it's going to get rejected, or at least asked for a rewrite. If you can catch this before the agent does, you'll save yourself the pain of opening that e-mail rejecting your work. The last two chapters matter just as much as the first two.
  6. How can you catch things like a weak story arc? Get it edited. Well edited. Don't just have beta-readers look at your manuscript (although they're important, too). Have a professional look at your work and do an overview for you. It costs money, but it can mean the difference between a publishing contract and the slush pile.
  7. Nothing is sacred. My friend Sarah Mebasser said that the other day, and it's true. Scenes that you've slaved over, that are your precious pets, that you think are pivotal to the whole story can be cut, likely WILL be cut. Language that you have deemed poetical will be criticized as ambiguous, vague, even bad grammar! Prepare yourself for this inevitability. Shelve your ego and go to work. (This goes as well for interns who work on projects/blog posts/etc., for their bosses. If you can get rid of your ego, you can learn a lot. Easier said than done, though.)
Well, that's all from the peanut gallery so far. I know that I'm a beginner, learning as I go. If you have any thing to add, I'm happy to listen and consider!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Knights of Microfiction!

It's time for Knights of Microfiction! This is a monthly meme hosted by the fabulous Jess and Kathy McKendry. I have had very little time to blog recently, so flash fiction is right up my alley!

Here are this month's rules:

Use at least one of the following adjectives: delicate, repulsive, hostile, and at least two of the following nouns:  New York City, my 16th birthday, and kilts. Write a MicroFiction/flash fiction piece of 250 words or less.

And here's my entry:

It's a delicate balance, I thought to myself, living here in New York City. Just surviving day to day can be a challenge, albeit one that I accept. Never let it be said that a Wallace is not worth his salt. I adjusted my kilt as a couple of beauties strolled by on the avenue.

There’s just one problem. No one can see me. And… they’re all dressed so strangely. It’s only very rarely that I see anyone else in a kilt, and they’re usually stone drunk. Those drunks can see me. And they’re usually terrified when they do. I think something may have happened to me.

Last thing I remember before I got here was it was my 16th birthday. Ma had made this new kilt for me especially. I was going out riding, and when I got home it would be time to celebrate. 16. Coming of age for a Scottish lad.

Only I never made it home. All of a sudden I was here. My stomach growled. I was starving. The night was just beginning here in the City that never sleeps. If I played my cards right, I could find myself a drunk with a conscience, someone to slip me some food. Best place for that was in Greenwich Village. They were just more accepting there. A couple of handouts and I’d be set for the night.

Somehow, I’d survive. Somehow, I had to figure out how to get home. Or at least what had happened.

Off to the internship again today. Lots of reading to do and I think my fellow intern is going away. I guess that's the point of an internship. It never lasts for very long.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's Young Adult and Teen Tuesday!

It's Tuesday and the YATT meme is hosted by S.A. Larsen at Writer's Ally. Yay!

I'm going to slip in a little post here this morning about Young Adult lit. I've been contemplating the differences between young adult lit versus books you read as a young adult. There are just a few things that puzzle me about the distinction.

See, I read "Of Mice and Men" when I was young, but I wouldn't consider that a "Young Adult" book. But, is it? Also, it's apparent to me that just because a protagonist is a youth does not make the book a YA book.

I'm sure someone out there much smarter than me has a wonderful, textbook answer for me and I'm hoping you'll leave it in the comments.

What I see as YA lit is defined by what you can and can't do with the characters. In YA, fantasy is much more acceptable, animals figure largely (or rather, IF they figure largely, it's considered YA... another confusing point), and the protagonists are often (though not always) in the YA age range of 15-24.

In "Adult" lit... I feel like there's a lot more pretended "realism" (although I know there's a lot of sci-fi/fantasy going on out there in adult lit), and more sex and violence. But this just seems disappointing to me. Also, I'm sure there's a lot more "thematically" to it than this.

And so I'm wondering where YOU draw the line.

Are there any of your beloved books that seem to defy definition?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Internship... you get out of it what you put in **UPDATED**

**Updated at the end.**

Quick post before I have to head in to the City this morning. I have been MIA the past week or so because I started this internship 3 days a week in the City with a literary agency. I would love to report that all is going well and I'm having the time of my life. Truth is, it's a mixed bag.

The thing I keep reminding myself is, I'm not getting paid. I'm volunteering time to learn about an area of the book business. I don't NEED a job. I WANT the experience.

And I am getting experience. I have read over a hundred submissions in the past 2 3 weeks, I would venture, the majority unsolicited. I could tell you right up front what will get through and what won't. Of what gets through, I couldn't tell you what will get picked up, though. This agent is finicky. She says she doesn't want to pass up on a really good manuscript. It's possible that we just have different ideas of what is good. 

However, that's an area for me to learn in, too. What do I know about what sells? I guess in the YA market, I have a bit of an eye. I've read a LOT of YA... but then, not as much as some of YOU. Still, I know what people are reading right now. In other markets not so much.

Sigh... on the other hand... I have had my patience tested over the past 2 3 weeks in ways I did not realize I might. I'm sitting on a hard chair at a kitchen table in a tiny Manhattan apartment, walking someone else's dog, commuting 3 hours a day... all to deal with a personality that I find less than appealing... trying to squeeze information about the business out of her... because it's more than choosing a good manuscript. Of that I am sure.

I guess I'm telling you all this, not to excuse myself for having been absent from the blogging world, so much as to say it's not all a bed of roses on the other side of the pen and paper... and I'm beginning to understand that actually means.

I hope to make it around and read some blogs this weekend. So write some good posts for me!

**I have to retract a statement. I really DO appreciate her personality... when she's not wearing her boss hat... and when she IS... I just have trouble dealing with her work style.

Today I found got better as I went... I'm sure in part due to the encouraging vibes you all are sending my way :)**

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kony 2012 **UPDATED**

(**Updated at the end of this post)
Ok guys. I have to talk to you about something close to my heart. They said we should tell all our friends, and... since I moved from California to Connecticut I don't have too many friends... but I have YOU! So I'm telling you.

I hope that all of you have already heard of Invisible Children. If you have, you can skip this next bit and watch the video below. If you haven't, let me tell you a quick story.

Almost 30 years ago a war began in Uganda. For the full history of the war, go here. The leader, Joseph Kony, formed the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) and began attacking towns and villages, raping, pillaging and murdering wherever he went. Unable to gain regional support for his movement, he began stealing food and abducting children to fill the ranks of his army. The horrific violence that he has perpetrated against the people of Uganda has gone unchecked for the last 30 years. You can watch Invisible Children: Rough Cut here and hear the story for yourself.

Invisible Children takes its name from the children of the villages of Uganda who, too terrified to sleep in their own beds in their homes for fear of being abducted and forced to become child soldiers, would walk many miles to the nearest large town to sleep on the streets every night. What Invisible Children seeks to do is make these children, and this horrible war, visible... to bring the war to an end and to bring Joseph Kony, #1 Wanted Criminal on the International Criminal Court's most wanted list, to justice. They have been working tirelessly over the past 9 years to raise awareness about the LRA, to bring hope and help to the people of Uganda, and to end this horrible war. Frankly, they make my life look pretty shabby. But they also make me want to get up and DO something.

Over the years I have participated in a few of the IC events. The Global Night Commute was my favorite. I have hosted viewings of the IC: Rough Cut in my home and passed out copies of the video to my family and friends because I believe we can all make a difference. Knowledge is power. But not if we keep it to ourselves.

I hope that you will take a little time to learn about the Invisible Children... and that once you know about them... once you know about Joseph Kony... you will share what you know with others. Together we can bring change in the lives of people who desperately need our help.

This is the latest video from the IC campaign to make Joseph Kony the most known man on the planet so that there is nowhere for him to hide. It's 30 minutes long, but worth the time. Please take it. Share it with others. And thanks for listening.


**UPDATE**There have been many critics of Invisible Children in the past 24 hours or so raising some valid questions. Here is IC's response to the criticism. I support their position wholeheartedly.

Making Time: Insecure Writers' Support Group

It's the first Wednesday in March! Can you believe it? That means it's time for Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by the fabulous Alex Cavanaugh, who, by the way, just published another novel, CassaFire! Yay Alex! Living the dream! And thanks for hosting us insecure writers. We need it.

I wanted to mention "Making Time" today. I haven't had to deal with this issue in a while. See, for the past year and a half I have been living the dream... not working, just writing. Except that I didn't really take advantage of the time while I had it. I was distracted by other things and allowed much of the time I could have devoted to writing to slip away.

Now that I am doing an internship in the City three days a week (on week two and it's going GREAT!) I am suddenly reminded of the value of time. I have less time for posting and less time for writing because other things are taking up the space (you know, like groceries, cooking meals, walking the dog, etc.).

It's only two weeks in, but I'm already worrying about how my creative outlets will suffer from neglect. Am I over reacting? This past weekend I did put down 900 words towards my WIP (in the new POV, too!). And that's huge! Because I have been stalling and recently got a bump of inspiration. But I wonder if that is an exception to the rule and if the urge to create won't be drowned out by the lazy monster or the "I have so many other necessary things to do" monster. I know I have to build better habits, but I'm a little at a loss as to how to do it without creating a crusty layer of guilt that I have to break through every time I want to write.

Ugh. Does anyone else ever feel this way? Damned if you do and damned if you don't... It's honestly one of my biggest barriers to moving forward with my writing, I think.

New post with some rambling about my internship on Friday. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

An inspirational moment

I'm sitting here working on writing Lilith from a 1st person POV... and it's not quite as easy as I was hoping. But... I am not discouraged yet. I think I just need to rearrange my own POV, not expect things to go exactly the way they did the first time around, and keep moving forward.

And then I read this quote from the amazing Neil Gaiman's latest blog post:
"It's a weird thing, writing.
Sometimes you can look out across what you're writing, and it's like looking out over a landscape on a glorious, clear summer's day. You can see every leaf on every tree, and hear the birdsong, and you know where you'll be going on your walk. 
And that's wonderful.
Sometimes it's like driving through fog. You can't really see where you're going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you're probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you'll still get where you were going.
And that's hard while you're doing it, but satisfying at the end of a day like that, where you look down and you got 1500 words that didn't exist in that order down on paper, half of what you'd get on a good day, and you drove slowly, but you drove.
And sometimes you come out of the fog into clarity, and you can see just what you're doing and where you're going, and you couldn't see or know any of that five minutes before.
And that's magic."
Thank you, Neil.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Weekend goals: It's gonna be one hell of a re-write

If you are looking for my campaign entry, go here.

Ugh... don't you hate it when somebody gives you a suggestion and at first you think, "Nah, that'll never happen." But then the more you think about it the more it seems like a good idea? And then you start to think, "Oh my god, what am I thinking? This'll take forever!" But you can't get the idea to go away... and so you eventually resign yourself to the fact that you are going to at least have to attempt it.

Well, my pal Julie over at rosewood pencil box made just such a suggestion. First, there are two things you should know.


2. I completely respect her opinion. 

So, the other day she so sweetly suggested that I might think about writing my WIP in first person, because she liked the voice I gave Lilith in the character interview.

At first I laughed and said to myself "Yeah, like I haven't thought of that." But I have 50,000 words of copy! Why would I go back and just re-write the whole thing? Only... the more I get to know Lilith, the more I like her voice, too... and now I've had some feedback it's got me thinking... sigh.

So this weekend's goals are to relax and perhaps look at how a few of my scenes sound from Lilith's perspective. It's not a commitment... it's a "What if?". I'm just experimenting. Who knows what will happen, really?

In other news, I read 2 novels this week. Yep, 2... that haven't even been published yet! This new internship is scratching an itch, that's for sure. The work environment is quirky, but then, so am I so... I'll reserve my judgments for a little later after I see how much I'm learning. So far I've been learning lots... including how to, and how NOT to, solicit an agent to review a manuscript. Wow people. All I can say is, the more people that review your 'script, the better.

Also, I just wanna say thanks to Jess, who awarded me two different blog awards this week. If you don't already know Jess, hop on over to her blog Write.Skate.Dream. She's an amazing, inspirational, plucky young writer. I think you'll love her blog, too!

It's cold here right now... and I keep hoping spring is around the bend. Who's with me?