Monday, April 30, 2007

Mayday: New YAs You Need to Read

May 2007 YA releases I’ll be getting my hands on:

Niki Burnham, GODDESS GAMES (Simon & Schuster Books
for Young Readers)
Debby Garfinkle, THE BAND: TRADING GUYS (Berkley)
Debby Garfinkle, STUCK IN THE ‘70s (Putnam). Two releases! How amazing is that?
Shannon Greenland, THE SPECIALISTS: MODEL SPY (Puffin)
Alyson Noel, KISS & BLOG (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Kelly Parra, GRAFFITI GIRL (MTV Books)
Serena Robar, DATING4DEMONS (Berkley Jam).
Elizabeth Scott, fellow Writers House client, BLOOM (Simon Pulse).

Thanks, Juli Heaton, for providing this update. Juli’s own first release, Stirring Up Trouble (Puffin) is due out in 2008's northern summer. I cannot wait!

Once More, With Feeling

Annie West, a wonderful author friend and fellow chocolate fiend, sent me a hardback copy of her upcoming Mills & Boon release, For the Sheikh's Pleasure. Annie's gesture felt even more special when I looked inside the cover and found she'd dedicated the book to me! What a gal!

Now, before you say, "I don't read romance," pick up the new breed of category romance novels and judge them for yourself. Check out Harlequin and Mills & Boon. If you're into TV's Grey's Anatomy, I prescribe a dose of Fiona Lowe's medical romances. She writes true-to-life medical emergency scenes and heart-tugging romance that'll give you palpitations.

As a reader, it's impossible not to get lost in the world Annie West creates for her characters. There's nothing better than an escape hatch from everyday drudgery. From a technical point of view, I think the sheer emotion Annie pours into her stories makes her work so absorbing. You feel what the heroine feels. You get to know her so well it's hard to walk away once you reach the end of the book. It isn't easy to elicit a reaction like that from a reader. Writers in any genre need to make their audience care about the protagonists, fall for them, even. I don't know exactly how Annie does it, but I suspect it has a lot to do with talent rather than the Lindt chockies I ply her with.

Other Books on My Teetering TBR/Halfway-Through Pile:
The Surgeon's Chosen Wife by Fiona Lowe (Harlequin)
Atlantis Rising by Alyssa Day (Berkley Sensation)
Victoria and the Rogue a historical YA by Meg Cabot (Macmillan)
Dairy Queen a YA by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Animal Attraction a YA romantic comedy by Jamie Ponti (Simon Pulse)
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins)
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia). Thanks for giving me this book, Janette H!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting to Know You

While Miss Snark advises her devoted Snarkings to query widely when looking for that special agent, she also recommends you research, research, research before you draft that "Dear Agent" letter.

Don't be one of those people who queries a literary agent just because you like the agency's moniker or they have a nice website. (Although, I do love the name Harvey Klinger. Fortunately it's a great agency that reps YA.) They've got to be more than just a pretty facade.

If you've written the mother of all fantasies, don't query a crime-lovin' agent just because they sold one fantasy novel in 1989. The reason they may have had that sale is because a client who normally writes crime saddled them with their one and only 1,000-page fantasy novel and by some fluke it struck gold.

You want to find out what projects the agent would climb Everest in stilettos for. Or more specifically, you want an agent who knows the market and loves your genre. You want to know how they operate and who their clients are. So how do you know what an agent wants if you don't exactly get invited to all the good publishing parties?

There are some terrific resources on the Net to help you find a good match these days. And I don't mean AgentQuery, AAR, Absolute Write, Preditors & Editors, Publishers Marketplace, agent blogs, writer blogs, etc, all give you vital clues. But also sniff out interviews, where you'll get more than the usual brief bullet points on what an agent likes/dislikes.

I found these great interviews by Googling agents' names + the word interview. Thanks go to the people who actually conducted and posted these interviews. Take a good look around their sites for more useful info.

Michael Neff's interview with Maya Rock of Writers House.

Gawker's interview with Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, New York.

Alma Fullerton's interview with Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, San Francisco.

K.L. Goings's interview with Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, New York. (Yes, there are two Gingers at CB, and they're both lovely.

Stephanie Rowe's interview with Irene Goodman of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Gena Showalter's interview with Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. (Bless you, Ms. Showalter, for giving the pronunciation of Nephele! I'd always wondered...)

The Luxury of Being Underpublished

O brave apprentice authors take heart: The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the writing fence. As much as I'd love nothing more than to be a multipublished author, getting a dream contract isn't going to solve all my problems. In fact, a publishing deal can herald the start of even bigger insecurities.

Don't believe me? Have a peek over the pickets, where my published neighbours live.

1. A typical unpublished author might spend decades coming up with an original plot and lovable characters. They agonise over every syllable, erase excess adverbs or adjectives, wonder ad nauseam if the bad guy should be drawn and quartered or simply vanquished to a bleak parallel universe.

A typical author under contract might have a couple of months to deliver a polished manuscript. People other than immediate family and pets are depending on them. Any delays mean altering the timetable for marketing, artwork, printing and distribution. They worry they'll never get another contract.

2. A typical unpublished author might enter a writing competition to help her write to a deadline.

A typical author with a two-book deal might submit their second novel to an editor. For various reasons, the manuscript isn't up to scratch. The editor wants a complete revision. Turnaround time: two weeks. They worry they'll never get another contract and that they'll never write a book as brilliant as the first one.

3. A typical unpublished author might enter a writing competition [isn't cut & paste fabulous?] to get unbiased feedback because, frankly, loved ones adore anything they write, even if it's awful. Entrants are anonymous. Judges' comments range from encouraging to indifferent to soul-destroying.

A typical author sees the bound product of their very own blood, sweat and ink released unto the public. The Internet becomes the Enemy as critics and readers flood Amazon with the verdict: Typical Author's Book Sucks. They worry they'll never get another contract, that they'll never write a decent book let alone a brilliant one, that the most savage critic will find out where they live and personally throw rotten tomatoes at them.

I could go on and on.

At the 2006 Romance Writers of Australia conference, not-so-typical authors Trish Morey and Lillian Darcy spoke with nostalgia over their pre-published days. Although grateful for her published status, Morey lamented over not having more time to tweak and retweak her work. And we all gasped when Darcy confided she'd been published too soon. She would love to go back and rework her first book now that she's a better, more experienced writer.

So dream of publication , by all means, but steel yourself against the sharp pinch of reality.

Revising Your Novel in Seven (Rambling) Steps

When you finish a manuscript, first you must cheer, cry, turn cartwheels and/or eat a pound of chocolate. Celebrate it any way you want, because it's a massive achievement. The next step is to submit the book to a publisher or agent, right? No, very, very wrong.

• Step away from the book. (Oh, okay, you can read it for fun, but then you have to leave it alone.)

• Allow the book to marinate for no less than one week. Some authors don't even peek at their mss for an entire year. There are certain luxuries to being unpublished. If you're not expected to have the polished ms on an editor's desk ASAP, you can take as much time as you want before revising. Just don't do it too soon.

Why wait? When you've just written the book, you're still inside the characters' heads. You're head over heels in love with your work and can't see the flaws. You really don't know what you're missing – like a gap in the plot, for instance. When you can no longer anticipate what's going to happen in every scene of the book, then it's safe to go back inside the pages.

• Now, if you're a pantser and don't write an outline before you write, read the book and briefly summarize each chapter or scene. I recommend you do this step even if you're a plotter. Not only will this help you get a bare-bones synopsis down, it'll show you where you might've killed off Aunt Dora twice, etc. Identify scenes that need more emotion, less narrative, more dialogue, continuity and pacing tweaks, for example.

Observe how the story "hangs" overall. Is there enough conflict? Are the characters likeable and interesting? At which points did you skim the words or let your mind wander? It takes practice to see the imperfections in your own work, but put aside your ego and this gets easier.

• In my case, I had to ditch a ludicrous subplot and clean up the debris associated with that. This left my manuscript considerably shorter. Before despair set in, I did a little brainstorming and wrote a new synopsis, expanding on other parts of the story. Then I was able to jump back into the story and make the necessary changes.

• On the next pass, address issues like awkward phrasing, redundant speech tags, repetitions (make use of your thesaurus at this point rather than at first draft stage), spelling mishaps, typos, punctuation, paragraphing, and verify names of real people, places and products, etc. Check your use (or overuse) of adverbs and adjectives. If you ever get published, your copy editor will love you.

Try to have each chapter start and end with a hook. It doesn't have to be explosive, just intriguing enough to keep the reader eager to turn the pages.

• By now you'll be thoroughly sick of your book. Pass it on to your critique partner. I also have my two amazing teen readers give me a reality check too.

While you're waiting for the verdict, work on a knockout synopsis and query letter. You'll need a blurb for your query, no longer than 250 words. Cover all possible requests and write synopses of varying lengths - one, two, three, and up to five pages. I've no idea why, but no-one has ever requested four pages. Not that I'm complaining. The shorter the synopsis, the better, if you ask me. If you're outside the US, order international stamps for your SSAEs from USPS now.

• Fix any problems flagged by your crit partners. Read the book again. If you're sure the book is the best it can possibly be, check your ms's formatting (one-inch margins, 12-point Times New Roman or Courier font), take a big breath and submit it.

There's some debate about the value of entering writing competitions. My view is that you'll get an unbiased opinion of your work, it toughens you up for inevitable rejection and you might win some pocket money. Even better, the final round of most RWA comps are judged by an editor or agent, giving you an opportunity to leap over the slush pile.

Quick fixes:
Slow pace – ditch routine tasks that have no bearing on the story (making coffee, uneventful car journeys, shopping for Lindt Bunnies...); subplots or characters that go nowhere.

Unsympathetic hero/heroine – show them doing something that requires strength of character, something readers can relate to. Like rescuing helpless cats from cruel owners, or single-handedly saving the planet from blood-sucking aliens.

Cookie-cutter villainsMost people aren't all evil or all saintly. Give the bad guy some human qualities too. By the same token, give your protagonists a shortcoming, preferably one that could come back to bite them (a fear of snakes, for example.)

So this method of revision worked for me. What are your revision tips?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Who Am I and What Am I Doing Here?

I'm not sure why I'm here yet. But hop across to MySpace until I figure it out.