Category Archives: Literary Agent

Beta Readers: the Good, the Bad and the Awesome

I’ve had a bevy of beta readers for the book I’m getting ready to query. I’ve gotten a lot of notes back and I’m still waiting for some, but as always, I’m learning a lot form this process! Here are some helpful tips I wanted to share, with Clueless pictures to go along with each.

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Not all readers will get you, even if your novel is a future bestseller.

Someone will always give you crazy, useless feedback. This time I had someone tell me my novel sounds like “middle grade.” That was it. No suggestions or explanation. Nothing. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was so perplexed by not only this but her long, LONG list of other problems that I didn’t agree with at all. Was I suddenly just too sensitive? Was I missing something?

As this was just a random beta reader I met on twitter, I decided to ask my other beta readers who I knew a bit better. Some of them were also from twitter (and the fabulous #ontheporch), but I’d seen their work and swapped before, so I trusted their advice. None of them agreed with her perspective and I certainly didn’t, so I just ignored it all. Unfortunately, I’d agreed to read and edit some chapters for her as well, so that was a waste of an exchange for me.

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If multiple beta readers say the same thing, they’re right… most of the time.

I participate in #queryswap on twitter this month, which was awesome! I exchanged queries and chapters with about 8 other writers. My query letter had two possible openings and I was hoping for some feedback as to which one was better. Unfortunately, my betas came back completely divided! Half passionately felt that Opening 1 was better and the other argued that Opening 2 was stronger. In the end, I had to trust my gut. Which one did I feel better captured my book? My tone? It still needed some serious work, but I went with Opening 1.

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Almost everyone will have something useful to say.

Almost everyone has something to offer your story. Even if they give 20 suggestions and only 1 makes sense to you, they’ve contributed. They put in time and helped you. Ignore the 19 crazy suggestions and thank them for the 1.

Sometimes the people that have the most helpful advice will surprise you, too! There were a few people who I was hesitant to give my novel to. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been burned by beta readers who either promised to read my novel and didn’t, or gave me just heart-wrenching, rude feedback. I LOVE constructive criticism, but some people were just tearing me down needlessly! But then I decided to take a shot on some new beta readers. While I did get one not-so-good one, I got a handful of new AMAZING ones! I learned new things about my weaknesses as a writer which are going to be essential in my post-beta editing process! Totally worth it!

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Patience is key.

I always want to rush ahead and continue editing with new ideas, even while my betas are reading! But slowing down and waiting for their feedback is essential. If you’ve already changed what they’re reading, why are they bothering to read it? I am participating in Writer’s Digest’s upcoming Submissions Workshop with Fuse Literary, which will require me to submit my first few pages to agents earlier than planned. So instead of plowing ahead without my betas, I just asked them to have an early meeting with me to go over the first 10 pages, even before some of them had finished the novel. I got great, helpful feedback that gets me moving in preparation for this event without leaving my betas (and their great advice) in the dust.

 

 

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What I’ve Learned: Querying… Again

A few years ago, I attempted to query my first novel. It was nowhere near ready, but I wasn’t enjoying my job and took solace in the idea that I could find an agent, become a writer, and then quit! While the fantasy was not realistic, it was satisfying and I embarked on an elaborate querying process that yielded no results.

Now, I’m entering the query process again with a much more polished manuscript for my third completed- but fifth overall- novel. This process has inspired me to pull out my old excel charts and query drafts to get an idea of where I went wrong and how I can do better this time, besides the fact that I’ve simply written a better book. My last novel was a little dry in the beginning, not nearly as edited, and more stereotypical YA fantasy. Querying resulted in only a few requests for a partial and nothing beyond.

I’m very early on in the query process now (drafting my query and writing my synopsis while my beta readers read my novel), but I’ve already learned so much from doing this process again, and doing it right this time.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. Before you even write the book, look at what agents DON’T want 

If you’re writing a dystopian- stop. If you’re writing fantasy with a european inspired setting- maybe stop. Every agent I’m looking at now is asking for multicultural or non-european settings. This is something to consider seriously for us YA fantasy writers, who are in a flooded market.

Pay attention to the way the market is moving. Do a little research before you put your heart and soul into writing a novel. If you just read 5 fairytale retellings, probably don’t write one. After Cinder came out, literary agents were all asking for a fairy tale retelling, and boy did they get them! Within a year or two, the market was fully saturated. By the time you’re reading them off the shelves at Barnes and Noble, agents have moved on. Do a google search for literary agents and see who wants what to get an idea, but just remember that these things can change rather quickly.

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2. Really- and I mean reaaaaaallly- edit your novel.

No ones first draft ever popped out perfect. Hasn’t happened. Will never happen. Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, has talked a few times about how she hates writing first drafts, because she just wants to get to the editing. I thought this was hysterical, because I love the first draft, and the editing- not so much. But I’m guessing the reason why she loves editing was the reason why I didn’t like it- you see all your mistakes! You see the inconsistencies, the typos, and the characters who disappear from the story.

This is the time to fix those plot holes, make sure everything is tight and that no boring chapters remain! I was merciless with this novel, cutting out whole chapters and serious conversations because I didn’t want to read them when I was editing. If you don’t want to read them, then agents sure as hell won’t want to read them either!

3. Choose your beta readers carefully.

What I did wrong the first time was give out a copy of my book to any friend or family member who said they wanted to read it. What I learned? Some of my friends asked me several times for a copy of my book- then never read it. Don’t get me wrong, my first unedited novel wasn’t good, but it still stung. Then I also asked a family member to read it who gave me silly, rather insulting advice. She compared my main character to Katniss for reasons I still can’t understand. If she’d said my novel was super slow or needed some serious plot changes? Then sure, I’d get that.

A new critique partner of mine shared this awesome video with me, by writer Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about how you need to be so careful what readers you ask for advice, because often they will “diagnose” and “prescribe” things for your novel without understanding. She cautions us writers against listening to this and recommends beta readers focus on the feelings they get, rather than getting too specific about problems and fixes.

I learned the hard way that my beta readers should be: 1) people who actively read your genre and will give you the kind of advice you’re asking for. 2) people who write your genre! I found some awesome new beta readers through twitter and the lovely hashtag #ontheporch. I recommend giving it a try!

4. Don’t avoid the synopsis.

Last time, I didn’t want to write a synopsis so I started by querying agents who didn’t require one. This is a) lazy and b) silly because some of the best agents ask for a synopsis! And other agents might ask for a synopsis with their partial request.

Also, writing a synopsis is great exercise as a writer. Condensing 90,000 words into 500 is hard! It was incredibly painful cutting out all my subplots and side characters (some of my favorites!), but it was an important exercise to see if the main story and main characters can stand on their own. Guess what? They can!

5. Have a hook in the query letter.

My first query letter went the standard route of introducing the book without any hook. Well, as I’ve mentioned, the story I was telling was dry, so I had a hard time summing it up into anything exciting. So I just didn’t. I didn’t take the hint that maybe the novel wasn’t ready. I just decided to write a not-so-good query letter with no hook.

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   6. Make sure your opening pages are your best pages.

Polish up those first pages that agents are asking for. Ask betas to spend extra care on the first 50 pages, but the MOST care on the first 10 pages. And when you’re done with listening to your betas and editing those pages, go over them again. And again.

One day, I’ll probably dust off that first book and fix it. It had some real gems within it, but overall it’s not great. The first pages are particularly slow. I was so tired of that book at that point that I just wanted to move on to something else. I wrote a few other novels in between, before I wrote this one. I knew writing this book that the first pages had to hook the reader. So I did! And after a year of working on it, I went back and added even more excitement to the opening pages, because I could and knew I should. I start off big, with a dramatic moment that sets the tone for the whole novel. And so far, my beta readers have loved it.

 

I wish all of you luck with your own querying process! I’ll share updates as I go!

*******

Cameryn

Querying: A Necessary Evil

I totally understand the necessity of the querying process. It’s rough, but think about what would happen if we could just call up our top-choice agent and say:

“Hey, I write fantasy YA. Want to represent me?”

“Sure, sounds great. Send me your book. I’ll get it to the publishers and it’ll hit shelves next week!”

Barnes and Noble would be flooded with crappy, awful books that we would all have to avoid, and awesome books would get lost in the shuffle. Agents simply don’t have the time to give full attention to the hundreds of thousands of writers that want to be published. We have to prove ourselves, somehow. That being said, I hate, hate, hate querying.

I started querying two weeks ago. So far, I’ve sent query letters to 18 people. I’ve gotten 5 rejections, and 1 partial request. I’m still waiting to hear back from everyone else. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize that the over-thinking, the constantly checking my email, and the relentless waiting would get to me as much as it has. Staying positive is so hard. I’ve always been kind of a Negative Nancy, and, starting with the querying process, I’ve been determined to turn it around. I have a mantra that I’ve begun to repeat to myself in between prayers. “My work has value. Someone will love it. Good things will happen.”

This has been my querying journey (and let me tell you, I’m just beginning):

July-December 2014– Agent research. I hunted down a large group of agents that take fantasy YA and put them together in a long list of website links. I threw around query ideas, and had a long document with about six rough queries in a row. I also spent these six months editing BLS until I thought my brains would fall out! Revisions and more revisions, my friend. It really helps!

January 2015Finished edits for my book and started to play around with getting together a really solid query letter. After writing one that I thought was decent and informative, yet short enough, I sent it to about 5 beta readers to have a look. Unfortunately, none of them had queried before, but they all gave me useful advice. I edited it until I was really happy with it.

First Week of February 2015– I smiled at my polished query, said a little prayer, and sent out 5 letters over Monday and Tuesday. Within 24 hours, I had two rejections. Both were kind, saying that my work looked interesting/promising but it wasn’t right for their list right now. I was happy to see that they didn’t say “your letter had typos and your writing needs more work!” but I didn’t want to be too stubborn to see what was happening. Such quick rejections signaled, to me, that perhaps my letter wasn’t sharp enough. I studied my letter and decided that, while it was a good length and well written, it wasn’t catchy. It needed to be memorable, even if I had to take out important story elements to accomplish that.

Second Week of February 2015– After spending 5 days reimagining my query, and having it scoured by a few more beta readers, I felt confident in sending out a lot more letters. Between Monday and Friday, I sent out 14 queries, and along with three rejections, I GOT MY FIRST PARTIAL REQUEST!!!!!! I danced all around the office, and my boss, who was on the phone, got super weirded out, but that’s okay. Because AN ACTUAL AGENT actually wanted to read 5 CHAPTERS OF MY BOOK! I was thrilled and sent it out immediately. (No word yet, but that was Thursday and it’s only Monday- and a holiday at that- so I should give it some time).

Here’s my plan for the rest of the month:

Third and Fourth Week of February 2015– Send out another 6 queries to agents this week and perfect my 2 page synopsis, so that I can send out more queries to people who require those (I have 10 agents I really like picked out). With any luck, I’ll hear back from the agent who requested a partial, and she’ll want to read more! And hopefully, more agents will start requesting partials. I just started the process two weeks ago, and I know most agents say 4-6 weeks, so now is when I have to start being a patient person. (I just snort-laughed into my coffee as I wrote that. Patience is for suckers -or healthy, well-adjusted people, if you want to look at it that way. Punching bags, pizza and headaches are for people like me.)

I hope other querying writers agree with me when I say that there is majorly conflicting information on the internet with regards to queries. Some people say that if you don’t get 50% of the agents requesting more material than there’s something wrong with your letter/chapters. Others say that, because everything is so subjective, that anyone requesting material is a good sign. I’m going a bit out of my mind with all of this. Seriously. Everyone says querying is hard, but I didn’t think it would affect me at a base, cellular level. Fair warning to soon-to-be queryers. Better write some positive, inspiring messages to yourself on your bathroom mirror. I have. Here’s some good ones to get you started:

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The last one is my favorite. It cheers me up every time! All the best to those who are querying like me. I always find it inspiring to look back at now successfully published writers’ blogs and see how they handled the querying process. They all had rejections as well. I enjoy Sarah J. Maas’s blog a lot. She has a few posts from her time querying. Take a look. 

The Editing Process: When Is It Ready?

This week is my last week of editing my book before I start querying. How do I know it is ready, you might ask? The answer is: I really don’t. I read recently that a work is never really done. I agree with this statement. At some point, you just decide to stop sweating the small stuff after you’ve ready through and changed the same sentence around 6 times.

That being said, I have worked long and hard on edits for my book. I have been editing it for the last seven months! I did many stages of adding/removing/story-changing/plot-hole-filling/character-adding edits, and have most recently drudged through the dreaded Slow Edit. Now, after spending nearly 2 months on the slow edit (on a paper draft), I have to plug in all the changes. I’m halfway through the book, but this part of the process takes very little time, in comparison. I am planning to start submitting to agents next week!

Here’s the general process that I used.

Early July 2014– First Draft Finished!!!

Mid July 2014– After a week away, I did a quick read to check for any glaring issues. I ended up adding a small battle sequence that introduces an important question.

Late July 2014– I pass my book along to my beta readers, who promise to finish the book in a month’s time.

End of August 2014– One Beta reader has completed the book and given me excellent notes. I set about making the appropriate changes and decide to introduce a character who I had originally planned to introduce in Book 2, in Chapter 1 of Book 1. It makes the whole story much more exciting. Thank you Beta reader 1! Beta reader 2 didn’t finish the book.

September 2014– I continued to make the necessary edits and additions until I was happy with the content.

October 2014– It’s time for a closer look. I took another pass (rather quickly) at the whole book, but spent extra time on the first five chapters. They had always been my least favorite portion of the book, and are the most important for agents to see! After this, I printed out a copy of my book and put it in a drawer.

November 2014– I took the month off to participate in NaNoWriMo. I worked on a science fiction piece to get my mind far away from epic fantasy! (Also, Beta Reader 2 has finished only half the book and hands me notes on what is done. Unfortunately, they’re much more about word choice and grammar, and not the story.)

December 2014– Time for the dreaded slow edit. I pulled the printed copy out of the drawer and went through it: word by word, line by line. It was boring, it was grueling. But it was necessary. TYPOS ahoy!

January 2014– I finished my slow edit. Yes, I’m not proud to say that it took me almost 6 weeks to finish it! Then, I started putting any edits from the printed copy into my Microsoft Word document.

And what now?

February 2014– Submit to literary agents. Set Burn Like Stars aside, and start working on Part 2 of the series!

Wish me luck!

❤ Cameryn.

2014 vs. 2015, Hopes and Accomplishments

2014 has been an interesting year for me, both personally and professionally. The year was full of professional accomplishments and personal trials. My family has been wrought with deaths, divorce and health struggles. It has certainly taken a toll on everyone. Yet, professionally, I wrote a book that I am about to start querying and I’ve moved into a dream company of mine, Nickelodeon, as a production assistant.

So here is my year in review:

Trials:

-Health struggles for my nephew

-Marital struggles of close family members

-Death of my grandfather

-Health struggles of two other grandparents

-Getting let go from a job I liked

Accomplishments:

-Getting a better job on a better show

-Starting to work for my dream company

-Finally living alone in a wonderful apartment

-My IMDB page has gotten pretty long

-I won at National Novel Writing Month on a separate book project: A YA Sci-Fi project.

-And the biggest one: Completing the first draft (and several rounds of revisions after that) of my first book, an epic fantasy called Burn Like Stars!

So, for 2015, I have a few specific goals:

1. Get a literary agent. This is a task that I will be starting mid January, after I wrap up my final Slow Edit of my book. It may take all year, but I will be querying hard and long to achieve this one!

2. Get a promotion at work. I work in television as a lowly PA. However, in 2015, I hope to get a promotion of some kind and leave the unappreciated ranks of PA-dom. The job can be very fun, but it is long and hard work with much physical labor and very little financial reward. Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to pay my bills by the end of 2015!

The Slow Edit

Torture at its finest, the slow edit is by far  my least favorite stage of writing a book. In happier news, starting in January, I will begin querying literary agents. It’s an exciting time, but necessarily accompanied by the most grueling edit I’ve done yet: the slow edit. The slow edit only becomes necessary in the final stages before submissions. There’s no point doing one if you still have major content changes to make. However, at my current stage of development, it’s all I have left.

The slow edit is, in essence, the final edit where every single word must be studied for any typos, grammar or sentence structure problems. It’s the last time, so it becomes extra important. In the early stages, you can edit faster because you’re more focused on the story than the individual words.

Most of the literary agents that I am submitting to only want between 5 and 25 pages with the query, and some want no pages at all. Yet, I am carefully doing a slow edit on the whole book BEFORE submissions, hoping that someone will LOVE what I send them and immediately request the whole book. Because I’ve read many, many, many articles on what literary agents are looking for in a query, I know that if someone’s whole book isn’t ready when they request it, they will drop your query immediately.

Some people, like Veronica Roth, enjoy editing. I think they’re crazy. Editing is a rough heap of questions like: how did I miss that until now? And: why did I think that was a good idea? No fun, but quite necessary.

NaNoWriMo in Hindsight

NaNoWriMo is over, and with it went my motivation. December 1st was supposed to mark the end of working on my intermediary Space Cowboy project and the first day back editing my Epic Fantasy project for the third round of revisions. Here’s the catch: 50,000 words does not a book make. My NaNo book needs at least another 30,000 words before it is complete, and I don’t want to stop yet. I am on a roll! The first draft isn’t really done. And that is why I felt NO sense of accomplishment after winning NaNoWriMo. It’s really unfortunate, actually.

In truth, I should have foreseen this. Projects are always more fun when they’re new, and I’ve been working on my Epic Fantasy for several years. I’m not ready to go back, but I know I have to. In December, I will have several weeks off of work and want to use that time to make any final revisions on my Epic Fantasy story. This is because I really want to start querying agents in January (February at the very latest).

Although, I will be honest- now that I put that down in writing, I begin to wonder: what’s the rush? I obviously want my book to be perfect, that’s no surprise, but probably, in the back of my head, I know I’ll always want to tweak it and at some point, I should just get it out there! I will definitely start editing this month, but I think it will be good to stay flexible and know that it will be ready when it’s ready.

And perhaps, while I’m editing Book A, I can keep writing chapters and snippets of Book B. The only one saying ‘no’ to me is me!