DRAWN HAUNT – Not All Bad

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I’m wrapping up the DRAWN Haunt party today with a post about writing those dark characters – the villains in our stories. Seems appropriate for Mischief Night!

If you’ve missed it, the DRAWN Haunt has been a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. You can explore through this past month’s posts to find lots of book-related stuff about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. You can also subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

So, about those bad guys. Is it true that they’re…

NOT ALL BAD

Bad guys can be seriously tough characters for an author to write.  But every story needs them. What would Star Wars be without Darth Vadar? Or Harry Potter without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?  But writing these characters in a way that makes them believable is tricky.

You want to create huge problems for your hero, and that requires a villain and some true evil. But write about a person who is all bad and you have a cardboard character.  Like those villains in the silent flicks who twirled their mustaches while tying the damsel to the train tracks.

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Literary Classics International Book Awards SILVER AWARD Winner; A Long and Short Reviews “Best Book”; A Night Owl Reviews “Top Pick”

In my novel Drawn I had to create several baddies. The book is about teen artist Michelle De Freccio, who moves to England hoping for a more normal life. Almost immediately she starts drawing a guy from the 1400’s. When she meets him (Christopher) at the town’s castle, things really get strange…and when she follows Christopher into the Middle Ages, well, stranger still. The novel needed villains in the present AND in the past, so I had my bad-guy work cut out for me.

The secret, I found, is to show another side to your villain. Even if it’s just for a moment, you want a glimpse of someone who means well at times, or who is wounded in some way, or who truly believes they are doing the right thing. If I can get the reader for just a moment to see this side of the bad person, then I know they’ll have a different view of things. That they may even understand how the bad person went so wrong.

Here’s a moment from Drawn when I try to do just that… In the following scene Michelle discovers that her visits into the past have seriously begun to alter history and to wound Christopher’s fate. At this point, she’s started to really fall for him, so seeing history books that accuse him of terrible things is frightening indeed. Michelle has pulled book after book off the Academy’s shelf, searching for answers. Her modern-day nemesis Constance takes this opportunity to get Michelle into trouble with Constance’s mother who is the Academy’s Headmistress:

I blink and see Headmistress Hunter looming over me. Constance peers smugly from behind her.

“Such disorder,” the Headmistress says between tight lips, taking in the jumble of books at my feet. She’s almost trembling with anger. “Horrific. We do not treat reading material so shabbily, Miss De Freccio.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“The Academy expects appropriate behavior both in school and out. We pride ourselves on being the best.” She sniffs as if I clearly don’t qualify.

Constance grins.

“Clean this at once,” the Headmistress is saying. “Understand, this will go on your record. And on your father’s. This doesn’t bode well for his future here.”

Constance’s grin fades.

“But this isn’t his fault,” I say and hate the pleading tone in my voice. “Please don’t let it affect my dad, Headmistress.”

Constance whispers, “Mother, I don’t think—”

“Are you criticizing me?”

“No, of course not.” Constance looks at the floor.

In that brief scene the reader knows that Constance didn’t mean to endanger Michelle’s father’s position at the Academy. We see Constance has some sort of a soul and some limits, and that she is terrified of her own mother.

As for the villains in the medieval part of the book? This was a tough one because there is a mystery intertwined in the plot. Who is the traitor? Who murders the Earl? And who is killing off all the courtiers? What if all signs point to Christopher, the young man (er, ghost?) Michelle has now come to love? I had to spread doubts and clues in a way that gave info but also made the reader (and Michelle) wonder who can really be trusted. I can’t tell you who the real villains are without spoiling the book for you, but when all is revealed, you can bet the reader understands why the bad ’uns are doing what they do.

Balancing good and bad in a way that’s convincing can be a real challenge for any writer. Put in too much good, and the villain is not a real threat. Put in too much bad, and you’ve created someone that’s ridiculous and unbelievable. I tried very hard to balance my villains for just the right feel… I hope readers will find it all works.

Actually, a review about Drawn that popped up on the site Author Chronicles says: “not a single character is one-dimensional—each one has flaws, strengths, and depths to them. Even the snotty ‘Queen Bee’ girl, Constance, who could easily have been a stereotype, has flashes of a soul at war with the front she puts up.”

Not all bad! 😉

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Fix those Pitch and Query Mistakes!

yes - notepad & penHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Conference season is heating up, and New York publishing is back in full force after a sleepy end of summer.  That means it’s time for writers to put their manuscripts in front of agents! Whether through a query or through an in-person pitch, you only get a short time to impress an agent. Are you spoiling your chances by bungling this or are you pitching and querying like a pro? If this is your first time out there, or if you aren’t getting the responses you’d like from agents, it may be time to fix those pitch and query mistakes!

Pitch times with agents are brief – anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 minute.  Yet a frequent mistake I see is a writer who eats up that time telling me WHY they wrote this story, or HOW it is told in first person or through alternate viewpoints, or…  Mistake!  Have you ever picked up a novel and bought it for those reasons? It’s all about the story – at least at first. So guess what you should focus on in that brief pitch? Yup – the story.

As a literary agent, I’ve seen, oh, thousands of queries. What’s a frequent mistake writers make? Their description of their book goes on and on for paragraphs. I don’t have the time to read so many long queries, but the real turn off for agents is that these long descriptions are often full of unneeded info, and tend to lack zing. This is writing that needs tightening, and that makes a plot feel unclear and unexciting. So if your book description in your query goes on for several paragraphs, it’s time to give your query letter a serious edit.

These are just a few important changes to your pitching and querying skills that might make a big difference when you try to interest an agent in representing you. If you would like to learn more, Associate Literary Agent Cari Lamba and I are offering a live Webinar through Writer’s Digest called HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO: TIPS AND TECHNIQUES THAT MAKE AGENTS TAKE NOTICE. Register for this, and you’ll attend our webinar online where we will show the ins and outs of what does and doesn’t work when it comes to pitching and querying agents. The webinar also includes a live Q&A with us where every question asked by participants is answered. And it includes a personal critique from us of your own query letter and the first 5 pages of your novel.  The cost for all of this is $89.99, and it’ll sharpen your skills before you spend far more on conferences or waste any more valuable time with an ineffective query letter. Be sure to register before the October 19th date! Note that although the Webinar begins live at 1 p.m. on the 19th, you don’t have to attend it live to view it and have the critique – so no worries there. Webinars, of course, are great because you don’t have to travel to attend, can attend in your jammies if you’d like, and you’ll have the recorded session after the live event to refer to again and again. If you’d like to find out more about the HOW TO PITCH AND QUERY LIKE A PRO Webinar, or would like to register for this, click here.

Hope to “see” you then!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Cyberstalking…in a Good Way

half shyHappy Agent Monday everyone!  I hope you are all coming off a very restful 3-day weekend sated with too much barbecue and lots of feet up on the lounge chair time.  Fun summer fact about this literary agent: I love to spend summery hours working on a way-too-hard puzzle, glass of iced tea with mint sprig in hand. I love puzzles in general (but don’t send me puzzles, please…), but here’s something that gets my puzzler sore: why don’t so many submitting writers seem to have a clue of what I do and don’t want? Why don’t they cyberstalk agents…in a good way?

Here’s what I’m talking about…Look me up anywhere online and you’ll see that I do not represent genre sci-fi or genre romance. So what do I get in my inbox? Yup. Queries for science fiction romances. I also do not represent Christian fiction or non-fiction. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of queries for this. So I tweet that I do not represent this…and I get a bunch more.

Folks, this is all sorts of bad. Bad for you the writer because it’s a red-flag to anyone you wrongly submit to that you haven’t bothered to even look up the bare minimum of info on the agents you are subbing to. Also bad for you because instead of focusing with laser-eyes on the right agents and getting yourself closer to representation, you are spinning your wheels and wasting your time. It’s bad for agents because so many writers are clogging up agent submission inboxes with stuff that is wasting their time. That means it’ll take even longer for them to get to the queries that might just be of interest to them…and that query just might be YOURS!

So, writers, spread the word and help yourself…You and your fellow authors should be cyberstalking agents…in a good way!  A week or so ago I was at the NJ SCBWI annual conference with my wonderful client and amazing author Tracey Baptiste presenting workshops about the author-agent relationship. Each time we did the workshop,Tracey mentioned that before she queried me, she cyberstalked me. And each time some writers in the audience took notes as if it were something they hadn’t really thought of before.

Now, what is cyberstalking in a bad way? Messaging an agent on Facebook. Please don’t do that. Commenting on their family pictures and putting odd comments all over their blog about your manuscript. Also not good.

Cyberstalking in a good way is much more behind the scenes. You are gathering info, not putting yourself in front of people you are going to be contacting. So google the agent you are submitting to. Read their submission guidelines and follow these. Now look beyond those guidelines.  Google the agent’s name in quotes followed by: agent (especially if that person has a common name…you don’t want to drown in useless info about people who are not that agent). For example, in the google search line you would type for me: “Marie Lamba” agent.

Now, what turns up is likely more than a static agency website (though that’s a good starting point – you won’t believe how many people clearly don’t even look at that for guidelines). Like with me, you’ll find my twitter feed – with that note about Christian fiction, about other current likes and dislikes. You’ll also find interviews I did that highlight what I’m looking for, my interests, my style. After reading through these, you may discover that I really don’t want to see anymore paranormal romance novels, and you’ll cross me off your list. Or you will see that I’m searching high and low for the next Bridget Jones in woman’s fiction, something smart and funny but ORIGINAL and not a Bridget Jones knock off. And you just happened to have written something that might be a fit… Hey, now you can query me and say something along the lines of “I saw in your interview with xyz that you are searching for the next Bridget Jones…”

Now you’ll have my attention. This is a query from someone who has done their homework and carefully targeted a submission.

You might also see something in your cyberstalking that you like about a particular agent. Their philosophy, the authors she represents, her humor, whatever. You can point to that in your query. Or you might find something you really don’t like. A site with numerous complaints about unethical practices? An agent saying things that seriously rubs you the wrong way? Is this someone you want to go into a business partnership with? If the answer is no, then cross them off the list and move on.

Cyberstalking in a good way can yield the most current agent guidelines and help you narrow your list of agents to the best and most-likely fits for you. Start there in your query process and you’ll find yourself closer to the yes you seek.

I know that I’ll pull up my agent inbox today and find it full of queries from people who don’t have a clue of who I am or what I do or do not want. Sigh. But I know that you won’t be clueless, right? And because of that, you will stand out. Of course, there is no guarantee an agent will offer representation, even if you target them well. But, like chicken soup, it definitely wouldn’t hurt.

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Taking Care of Business

Man Relaxing Under the SunHappy Agent Monday, all!  What?  It’s Tuesday?  Okay, so I am a bit late on this one, but, hey, I was taking care of business yesterday.  Doing things like reading a full manuscript, and corresponding with interns and clients, and dealing with some contract-related stuff, plus putting together a full-day “Spend the Day with an Agent” presentation for this Friday, which I’ll be doing as part of the Push to Publish Conference sponsored by Philadelphia Stories.  So, yeah, Agent Monday slipped away cuz I was busy, well, taking care of business.  And that is the topic of my post today.  Why? Because when the writer seeks an agent, he must put down his creative hat and put on his business hat.  When creative meets business, you’ll need to make some adjustments for true success.

Writers are creative people. They work on their own. They get lost in their words. They are independent. If I could turn on a webcam and find you banging out your novel, chances are pretty good you’d be wearing sweats, your hair just might be sticking up and you’d have a cold coffee at your side.  If I were to interrupt you in your moment of epiphany, you wouldn’t be too pleasant.   You are in your own world, which is just where you should be.

Now lets pretend, for a sec, that instead of working on your novel or being your writerly self, you decided to get a cushy corporate job somewhere (hey, it’s PRETEND).  You’re a smart person, so you know to get a professional resume together, and to research the firms you’d like to approach.  You’d apply for jobs, and when you’d get called in for an interview?  You’d put your best professional foot forward. Day of interview, you’d show up in your best business attire, well-groomed.  You’d be ready to demonstrate your best assets, and show that you can work well with others, plus you would be sure to have an understanding of the business.  You would be, in a word: READY.

Alrighty then. Here’s my point.  When you, the creative writer, approach me, the agent, you are stepping out of your creative zone and into the business zone of publishing. The same is true if you are approaching an editor directly.  That means that you research who you are approaching, discover why you are right for them and they are right for you. The query letter? That’s a business letter. It should be professional and clean. Like a job application, the query should highlight what you are offering (what’s your book about), should show you have done your work to understand the business side of things (your book’s genre should be accurate, its length should fit the genre, say what audience the book appeals to…in short, where it belongs in the marketplace…), and also demonstrate that you are someone I’d work well with (bio that shows you are a serious writer, tone that is professional and cooperative, evidence/willingness to engage in social media and to market).

Your manuscript, if requested, it’s kinda like a job interview. It’s you showing up and demonstrating all you have to offer and proving that you are right for the job. The manuscript should also have a proper professional polish. Formatted correctly. Edited to perfection. It should make me shout: YOU’RE HIRED!  Or rather, you’re REPRESENTED!

MP900341549And if you ever meet an agent or editor at a conference? View that a bit like a job interview, too, though more like a first round of interviews vs. a final one. Dress neatly. Act like a pro. Do your research about the person ahead of time so you can have a meaningful discussion and ask pertinent questions.  You want to leave a positive impression.

That creative self is still there within you, but don’t let it get in the way of the business of getting your manuscript sold. Change your creative hat for your business hat (and while you’re at it, change out of those jammies and comb your hair too! 😉 ). Always represent yourself and your product professionally, and that will give your manuscript the best chance possible.

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

 

Agent Monday: Quick Checklist for Submitting Writers

pencilHappy summery Agent Monday, gang!  Today, a quick checklist for submitting writers.  Are you in the process of querying agents?  Or about to be?  Then this post is definitely for you.  It’s a quickie post today (hey, it’s summer, right?)  Hope this list is helpful.  (Note: I’m talking about FICTION submissions here, since non-fiction is a little bit different.) Here goes:

1. Complete your manuscript.  You can’t query with just an idea or a few chapters when it comes to fiction.

2. Edit it to perfection!  You don’t really get second chances – so don’t just use agents as sounding boards as to whether your book is good enough.  Give us your very best!  Also, don’t expect the agent to bite on a rough manuscript just cuz the idea is pretty cool. And don’t think that it’s up to editors at publishing houses to do all the basic editing for you. Nuh-uh. You must deliver a manuscript that is as perfect as possible.  Use beta readers. Put the manuscript through your critique group. Hire an editor if needed.

3. Know the genre you are writing for and where your book fits in.  Be able to tell the agent exactly who the audience is for this book.  Mainstream? Middle grade contemporary? Young adult thriller? You need to know.  And you need to also deliver a manuscript with the right point of view for that audience, and one that runs the proper length for that genre.  Get that wrong, and you hurt your chances.

4. Write the perfect query letter.  Need tips on that? There’s plenty of info out there for you to gather on it, plus scroll through my Agent Monday posts for more specific do’s and don’ts.

5. Research agents that actually represent what you write!  Don’t waste your time on folks that aren’t interested in your type of manuscript or who aren’t currently accepting clients.  Do your research.  The Internet is your friend!

6. Follow the guidelines.  Please!  Do a search to learn more about your agent list, pull up their guidelines and follow them.  Not following them can earn an instant rejection. Trust me on that.

7. Send out queries in waves.  Don’t hit 50-100 agents at once.  Start with, say, 10. If you are getting 100% form rejections back, then perhaps you need to improve your query letter.  Then send out another wave.  Starting to get requested pages or full manuscripts?  Then you are on the right track.

8. Keep writing!  Writers write. Don’t let the query process stop you cold.  It’s something that should go on while you are also working on your next piece of fiction.

Happy querying, and good luck!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.