Agent Monday: Creativity for a Stressed Writer

Note that became A DAY SO GRAY

Marie’s note that inspired her new picture book A DAY SO GRAY

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! These are tough times, and everyone reacts differently. For some writers, it’s a period of isolation that leads to deep thinking and bursts of incredible creativity. But if you are feeling stuck, rest assured, you aren’t alone. As a writer myself, I’m finding it hard to string together big ideas, even though I may be pondering plenty. Are you feeling the same?

While this can be distressing to an author who is used to having words a-flowing, do take heart. Your subconcious is surely hard at work. And take notes, because books do indeed grow from those seemingly small ideas that pop into your head.

Witness the note above that I wrote to myself after journaling early one morning. It was a simple idea, but it had some true power behind it – at least to me. So I stuck it on my desk and let it sink in. It grew and became a picture book manuscript, which then became A DAY SO GRAY, illustrated by Alea Marley, and published by Clarion Books.

a-day-so-gray-interior1

Starting pages from Marie’s picture book A DAY SO GRAY

The book features two friends, one who complains, saying, “This day is so gray,” and another who says, “No it isn’t!” and then points out all the colors in the landscape. It’s an optimistic book that reflects a side of me that is always looking for beauty and positivity everywhere. And it all came from a very simple but honest idea quickly jotted down.

So even while you may be feeling scattered and stressed, listen to the ideas that bubble up. For me, these quick thoughts are often unguarded and honest, so they truly express something important to me. Something with deep possibilities and meaning. Some jotted down notes come back to me as I think of them again and again – that’s one way I know that THIS idea demands attention. That it just might become a book. But some of the best ideas are those I’ve quickly forgotten until I looked back at some scribblings.

So journal. Keep a notebook and pen by your bedside to capture your early morning dreamy ideas. Go for a walk and immediately record with your phone an idea right as it comes to you, before it flutters away.

Gray coverIdeas do indeed flutter away unless they are caught and looked at. There’s something there. Some piece of you that is honest and true. Collect these thoughts and review them from time to time to see where the inspiration will take you.

It’s a small but important way to be creative, even when you are very stressed. Even when you find it hard to be productive as a writer.

And, it just might just become your next book.

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s 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 Your Middle Grade Novel

Rear view of class raising handsHi everyone!  Happy Agent Monday!  Okay, YES, it’s Tuesday, but it’s never too late to learn about how to fix your novel. Today’s focus?: the middle grade novel. As an agent, I see so many submissions that are instant rejections because they don’t fit into that middle grade category in a fundamental way.  That’s a book I can’t sell. So is your middle grade missing the mark, and how can you make it really shine?

This Thursday, Agent Cari Lamba and I will be teaching a live webinar through Writer’s Digest called WRITING AND SELLING THE MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL: MUST-KNOW INFORMATION FOR GETTING PUBLISHED. It starts at 1 p.m., includes a Q&A with us, as well a personal critique of your query letter and the first 5 pages of your middle grade novel. There is still time to sign up! For more info, and to register click here. (Note that even if you can’t attend this webinar live, you can still register and get the recorded webinar, as well as get your personal critique.)

In this webinar, Cari and I cover the many ways that writers unwittingly ruin their chances at publication. We realized that there is a lot of need-to-know stuff – A LOT! So if you are writing in the middle grade category, DEFINITELY do your homework before submitting to any agents, whether by attending our webinar, or through extensive research. It’s simply a must.

For example, middle grade novels are geared at 8-12 year old readers, yet, because kids “read up” they are typically about characters aged 10-13 or so. So if your main character is only 8 years old, that’s too young! Also note that middle grade is not synonymous with middle school readers. Those readers are typically reading young adult novels, which is a whole other ball of wax.

Middle grade novels are of a certain length. Go too long or too short on the word count range and you’ll be hurting your story’s chances of acceptance.  Another vital thing to keep in mind?: subject matter and how it’s handled. Can you handle tough stuff? Sure. But the way it is handled in a picture book, vs. a middle grade novel, vs. a young adult novel is vastly different. In the webinar, we’ll cover how to handle tough subjects for this market in an age-appropriate way.

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in Class

Study up, writers! The webinar includes a Q&A

There is a lot of ground we’ll be covering, but one important tip to keep in mind is that you must understand where kids are developmentally at these ages. Look that info up, and you’ll find a range of great themes and concerns that can help appropriately shape your story and your character’s point of view.

Also – are you up to date on current middle grade novels? If you are only reading classics, or ones you remember from your childhood, then your own novel may not be up-to-date enough when it comes to pacing and themes and voice.  We’ll cover what elements are essential in great middle grade fiction today, as well as share the top 10 things top editors have personally told us they are seeking in middle grade right now. We’ll also cover how to put together a strong query letter for your novel, and we’ll include examples of queries that actually led to representation and then to book deals.

So is your middle grade novel a good fit for its audience? Or are you creating a manuscript that won’t fit on any shelf because you are mixing up elements, subject matter and point of view? I often have to reject MG novel submissions because of this, so please do your homework, and make sure you understand what a middle grade novel is, and what it isn’t. This will help your novel become one that will make agents and readers alike take notice.

Maybe I’ll *see* you at the Webinar!

Happy writing!
Marie

*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: 6 “To Do’s” if You Write

Mixed Race girl on floor with a computerHappy Agent Monday, everyone! I know, I know — it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. But I have been SO busy in a really good way with doing agenty stuff. Okay, so I’m STILL really busy, but I do think it’s time to get our Agent Monday show back on the road, don’t you? So here is my “6 To Do’s if You Write” post. Are you doing these 6 things? And if not, shouldn’t you?

Last week, I was honored to be the featured speaker at Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House. As I prepped for my talk, I began to think about what would have helped me when I was in college. Back then, becoming a published author still felt like a distant dream. As an aspiring author, what I really needed were guideposts that would help me truly get where I wanted to be.

Now looking back, I realize there were 6 things I did that definitely helped me achieve my dream of being a published author, plus these ensured that writing would be my life-long career. I hope this list will help you, whether you are just starting out, or are in the thick of things, yet feeling stuck.:

  • IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS A WRITER – Even if it doesn’t seem to make sense, believe that you ARE a writer. Tell yourself that, and tell that to everyone you know.
  • DON’T BE DETERRED – Plenty of things will get in your way…lack of support…writing that isn’t quite ready for prime time…tons of rejections. Just remember that the only thing that can really stop you from writing is you.
  • BE STUBBORN — BUT NOT TOO STUBBORN – Yes, believe in your voice and vision, and persist in getting your work out there. BUT also be open to revision and constructive criticism. And move on to write the next book, and the next.
  • EXPECT MAJOR SETBACKS – AND TAKE A LONG VIEW OF THINGS – Bad things will happen in your writing life and in your personal life. REALLY bad things. But see what you can take from them and look ahead. You can get beyond it (see Don’t Be Deterred above).
  • MAKE IT WORK IN THE REAL WORLD – Realize that there is nothing romantic about a starving writer. Fit writing in, live within reasonable means, AND find a way to make money. Most published authors do this.
  • KNOW THAT WRITING IS AN ART, BUT PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – While your writing is very personal to you, for publishers it’s a way to make money. If they pass on acquiring your work, it’s not personal, it’s business. Learn how to act professionally (lots of posts on this blog will help you with that), and it’ll help you share your art with the world. And don’t forget to be appreciative to those on your team. Publishing is made up of humans – a lovely thank you goes a long way!

*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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Webinar for Young Adult Writers

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHi fellow writers! Just a heads up that there’s still time to register for the online webinar I’m teaching next week through Writer’s Digest titled Focus on Young Adult Fiction: Writing a Strong Young Adult Novel and Crafting the Query Letter. This may be a good fit if you are currently working on a YA novel and/or trying to get an agent for it.

The 90 minute webinar covers a lot of stuff, including trends in YA, plus what is and is NOT YA material in terms of age, point of view, length, story arc, etc. (as a Literary Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency I see submitting writers trip up on these things all the time). I’ll also cover how to write your best query letter, some insider tips on querying do’s and don’ts, plus I’ll critique your YA query letter afterwards. The webinar also includes a Q&A.
 
It runs live next Thursday, June 23rd (but can be viewed later, if you can’t catch it live), and the cost is $89.99. For more info and to register, you can go here.

As both an agent of YA fiction, and an author of a few young adult novels myself, I’m especially looking forward to helping aspiring YA writers through this webinar. Hope to *see* some of you there next week!

Marie

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Agent Monday: Focus on YA

Chihuahua Wearing EyeglassesHappy Agent Monday, everyone! A few weeks ago, I wrote about how focused writing can help land an agent.  Today, I’d like to zero in on young adult novels, since I find a lot of folks losing their focus when writing for the YA crowd. And that can get in the way of a writer landing an agent.

Yes, YA lit covers a broad span of topics. Unlike middle grade novels, which are geared toward the 8-12 year old crowd,  with YA you can deal with a wide range of controversial issues, and sexuality, and you can even drop an F-bomb. But there ARE limits. For example, this still isn’t the place for erotica. And there are certain expectations that must be met within the YA realm, expectations that are often missed by writers.

Things as simple as the actual age of the hero, and as complex as the point of view or the way any possible “lesson” behind the story is discovered by the reader.

Also, there are certain expectations within the sub-genres of YA. Do you know what readers (and agents and editors) expect from a YA romance? Or a YA thriller, for example? Well you really MUST know these things as a writer.

As a YA author myself, as well as a literary agent, I get really excited when I find a manuscript with the makings of an incredible YA novel. But more often than not, that manuscript falls apart. The writer is all over the place, writing themselves right out of the YA market…and ending up with a book that doesn’t fit anywhere. Too old a theme with too young a voice is just one of the mistakes I see.

So study up, writers, and really figure out what makes a YA novel.  Dig deep into current YA novels out there and dissect how these differ from middle grade and adult novels. What makes them stand out?  Check out craft books on the subject, too. Also, you might consider signing up for the live webinar I’ll be presenting online through Writer’s Digest titled Focus on Young Adult Fiction: Writing a Strong Young Adult Novel and Crafting the Query Letter.

This webinar runs June 23rd (note even if you can’t attend live on that date, you’ll still be able to access the full recording after), and the registration includes my webinar, which will help you sharpen your YA knowledge and skills, followed by a Q&A with me, plus each participant will then submit a query letter for their YA for me to personally critique…I’ll respond directly to you with comments and tips on how to make that query even stronger.  Registration for this webinar is now open…for more info, and to register, you can click here.

If you write YA, be sure you are getting it right. Take that time to focus on your genre, to really learn its parameters in whatever way you can, and to hone your YA voice and point of view. Then, once your story is on target, you’ll be truly ready to send it out into the world to land just where it should…in the hands of readers!

 

*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: Writing a First Draft

Jumbies cover small

Happy Agent Monday! Now that everyone is back to school, this is a great time for writers to get serious about tackling their muse and getting thoughts onto paper. But ugh that blank page. Are you staring at one today? Then this guest post by my client, the fabulous Tracey Baptiste, may be just what you need.

WRITING A FIRST DRAFT
guest post by Tracey Baptiste

Here’s the thing you need to know about writing a first draft: You just have to get through it. There are no other rules or tricks. A first draft is basically quarrying rocks. You go, you grab the ones that seem about right, you put them in a nice pile, and then you figure out what that pile is supposed to be later on. But being the creative types that we are, we stumble over every word, beat ourselves up over whether a plot arc or twist is working the way we want it to, and wonder—seriously wonder—why certain strings of words look as awful as they do. I’m better than THAT we think. True. We are. But not today. Today is a draft day, and you can whip that horrible string of words into shape in a little thing I like to call rewrites.

If you think I’m imparting this wisdom to help you out with your writing, or to keep you from stalling out, you would be wrong. Well, mostly wrong. Mostly, I impart this wisdom to help myself, because right now I am stalled in a first draft, wondering why everything looks so horribly bad, and seriously reconsidering my sanity for ever having considered I could write as much as a thank you note.

So this is to remind me (you too, but mostly me) to relax already and not worry so much about which words exactly get put on the page, so long as words that mostly approximate the thing that you think you’re trying to say get on the page. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to write an entire draft of the word “and” or anything. It has to make some sense.

OK, deep breaths. We can do this. We just need to remember that there is only one thing a draft needs to be: Done.

 

Tracey Baptiste - headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of the young adult novel Angel’s Grace (Simon & Schuster), and the forthcoming middle grade novel The Jumbies (Algonquin YR). You can find out more about Tracey at her website, www.traceybaptiste.com, by following her on Twitter @TraceyBaptiste, or by connecting on Facebook at TraceyBaptisteWrites.

Agent Monday: On Writing and Fear

Yvette from her facebook profileHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Today, I’m excited to feature a guest post by my client, extraordinary author Yvette Ward-Horner. It’s all about writing and fear. Yvette has plenty of experience facing fear both on and off the page. Her stunning debut novel LOOK WELL tackles the realities of climbing; the glory, the fear, the bonds that emerge from suffering. It also examines the choice that some of us make to abandon the mainstream blueprint for success and instead pursue a different type of life. Yvette writes with true authority. In real life, she happens to be a climber herself (that’s a picture of her on that icy mountainside). So, take it away, Yvette!

ON WRITING AND FEAR
guest post by Yvette Ward-Horner

“Doubt and uncertainty, fear and intimidation are at the heart of the novel-writing process.” – John Dufresne

Fear.

It’s there with you when you write those first words; it’s still there later when you type The End and blow your nose and think Is it really over? And all the way through your story or novel, as you coax and smooth the words out (or are charged and trampled by them), fear will twist your thoughts and crumple your hopes.

This sucks.

I’m a hack.

No one will like this story.

And then there’s the flip-side, of course; you know that too. If you write, you’ve surely spent hours or days or weeks with the words rushing out, high on your talent and the sheer raw joy of writing.

This book will be huge.

How could it not sell?

It’s a page-turner.

But it never lasts. Maybe you get a new rejection, maybe your spouse is thoughtless, or maybe you just eat too much hard salami. You re-read your work and it’s suddenly not quite so clever. Your metaphors flop, your plot twist rattles, and why would anyone care about your protagonist?

No one will like this story.

This book is awful.

And there you are again.

As a writer and climber, I know fear well, in all its forms and stages of intensity. It may seem that the fears of the writer and the fears of the climber have very little in common, but under the fraying nerves, there’s a common message. Stop what you’re doing. You won’t make it. Give up now.

And so much of the danger is simply imagined.

I might fall.

I might fail.

That whisper in the back of the mind.

But what can be done? How can you make yourself brave? You’re hoping right now that I’ll teach you some magic; a Zen trick, a swift path to courage. You want to cling tight to that muse-fed bliss when it comes, joyfully streaming your visions onto the page, secure in the knowledge that your talent is strong, your prospects rosy, your novel a thing of beauty.

But there—you feel it already. That rustle of doubt. Sit still for a moment and let it rustle, feel it twisting: yes, it’s deep and ugly. Now turn away and get on with what you were doing.

That’s all you can do.

The stark fact is that fear is just part of writing, like seductive adverbs and wayward commas and plot threads that lead you miles in the wrong direction. And it can’t be escaped. It makes you doubt everything sooner or later – your characters, your scenes, yourself. It sits in your chest and whispers give up and it can make you abandon a book before it’s finished. If you let it.

And that’s the key to this whole thing: If you let it.

Because fear will never kick you free, no matter how much you scold it or wring your hands, no matter the quality of your positive self-talk and the inspirational quotes you post on Pinterest. Getting published won’t get rid of it – if anything, it makes it slightly worse. All you can do, then, is learn to abide with it; let it be part of your writing and your life. On the days that your book is singing to you, write. On the days that fear is darkly muttering, write. Finish that beautiful novel you’re writing; surge on your flows of hope and ebb with dignity. Let fear ride with you, but don’t let it dictate your actions.

And never let it decide the course of your life.

 

Yvette headshot from websiteYvette Ward-Horner is author of the debut novel LOOK WELL. Her short stories have been published in print and online literary journals and several have been reprinted in anthologies. Her short story THE NOMADS won first place in the Literary/Mainstream category of the Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 78th Annual Writing Competition. An avid mountain climber, Yvette lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she climbs as much as possible and is a member of the local Search and Rescue team. You can connect with her on her website here and friend her on Facebook here.