Thursday, February 28, 2013

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bonnie

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 65,000, maybe?
Status: Constructing the second draft
Attitude: Still smitten

I'm not sure about the word count because I'm literally constructing the second draft from scratch*, copying and pasting scenes into a blank document, writing new ones as I go (sometimes on the backs of random scraps of paper). I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm usually a VERY LINEAR writer, so this is new territory for me. And it's EXCITING.

It also helps that I am completely, one-hundred-percent in love with both the concept and the characters. This is my first attempt at YA contemporary since I was in high school, and so far, the thrill hasn't worn off. I described Bonnie a little in my interview with Kate, so I'll repeat that here in case you missed it:

My current work-in-progress is a YA contemporary told in alternating time frames. In the first chapter, seventeen-year-old Karina stops a boy from jumping off a bridge; the second chapter flashes back to the day fifteen-year-old Karina found her older sister dead after she swallowed a bunch of sleeping pills. The front story moves forward and the back story backward from there.

Blending the time frames has been tough, but it's also stretching me in ways I haven't stretched for a long time. I still have a long way to go--it's very possible these time frames only make sense in my own head--but I'm excited about the journey. And that's something to blog about.

So where are you at with your works-in-progress? Are you smitten, energized--or ready to poke your eyes out with a spoon? I'm sure we can all relate to both:)

*I know you rabid Apple folks are going to tell me to try Scrivener, and I do plan to check it out someday. But since I'm usually, as I said, a very linear writer, I've never found a need before.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Meredith Kaffel

Welcome to another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent,” this one featuring Meredith Kaffel of DeFiore and Company! As always, enjoy Ms. Kaffel’s answers to the usual questions, then check out the details on the interactive part (which are located at the bottom).

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

MK: After six years with the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, I’ve now been with DeFiore & Co. since early 2012. I always knew I wanted to be in publishing. This knowledge stemmed mostly from my truly geeky passion for writing and books since childhood, but also from the fun fact that I grew up in a publishing family of sorts--my grandfather, Mort Weisinger, was the story editor of Superman for DC Comics for thirty years and before that, co-founded with Julie Schwartz the first science fiction & fantasy literary agency, Solar Sales Service. So, in a sense, I had an existing template of what a life lived in publishing might entail; it seemed possible.

As an undergraduate at Yale, I interned for four years in the Sales Department of Yale University Press and spent one college summer interning in the Sales Dept. of Harry Abrams. But it wasn’t until the summer I interned for an amazing literary agent--Sarah Burnes--that I discovered just what a literary agent did and fell head-first in love with the agent’s role in the publishing universe.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MK: I’ve come to think of the agent-author relationship in terms of SIGHT, above all else. I think seeing is what I do best. My job is to see my clients and their work as clearly as possible, so as to best present and sell them to publishers, as well as to make said clients feel seen throughout the process. In fact, I think it’s possible to break down the author-agent relationship into four sight-related components: it is the agent’s duty to provide for a client INSIGHT, FORESIGHT, SECOND SIGHT, and HINDSIGHT--throughout the development, submission, negotiation, publishing and managerial/maintenance stages of the agent-author experience. And of course, we as agents must be advocates, as well as futurists.

As for what I expect from my client relationships: hard work, honesty, fierceness, open lines of communication, talent, due diligence, trust, decency and respect from both sides.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MK: Books I have coming up: the tentatively titled and elegantly sexy POSH GIRL’S GUIDE TO PLAY by Alexis Lass, a prep-school bred dominatrix (!) (Seal Press); YA veteran Terra McVoy’s latest young adult novel, CRIMINAL (Simon Pulse), which is about a girl who discovers just how far she will go for love and which sizzles its way onto shelves this May; genius indie-darling comic illustrator Lisa Hanawalt’s raunchily beautiful MY DIRTY DUMB EYES (Drawn & Quarterly); a groundbreaking biography of Celia Sanchez, Cuban Revolutionary, called ONE DAY IN DECEMBER (Monthly Review Press); a heartwarming modern classic “bedtime” picture book from mixed media artist Ida Pearl called THE MOON IS GOING TO ADDY’S HOUSE (Dial BFYR); a gorgeous literary historical debut about unrequited love and the inventor of the theremin (a strange and haunting musical instrument), from Canadian writer Sean Michaels (Knopf Canada).

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MK: I DO seek projects in a wide range of genres, including but not limited to:

--Debut literary fiction
--Upmarket commercial fiction (especially historical)
--Literary thrillers
--Narrative nonfiction (especially on aesthetically-oriented subjects, as well as narratives of place, love and relationships, cultural and interdisciplinary history)
--Quirky platform-driven nonfiction in the realms of pop psychology, media, business, sociology, sex, science/the environment, tech and “how things work”
--Limited Memoir
--Children’s middle grade
--Children’s YA and Teen
--Limited list of Children’s picture books
--The rare illustrator

I DO NOT seek projects in the following genres:

Western, Adventure, High Fantasy, Religious, Rhyming Picture Books.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MK: I find myself most uncomfortable reading queries that feel overly familiar. This pitfall often goes hand in hand with a miscalibration of how confident one ought to appear in a query letter in order to garner an agent’s interest.

A basic rule: don’t tell me how fabulous or accomplished you are; let your accomplishments speak for themselves, and if you don’t happen to have a prize-studded bio, then let the ingenuity of your work speak for itself. I always look for an author who has the good sense to at least strive for a degree for humility and demonstrates a good grasp of reality. In other words, your query should read neither like an infomercial nor an acceptance speech! Just try to be your good, calm, smart self.

I’m also personally less engaged by extensive plot synopses; remember that agents want to see that you know how to talk about your book in a compelling and distilled manner. And for heavens’ sake, when an agent rejects your query, don’t turn around and send them another one for a different book within five minutes of having received the first rejection! Doing so completely devalues your work and makes you sound like a traveling salesman. And that’s my rant for the day.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

MK: I would love to find a delicious and dark upmarket thriller or mystery, ideally a series, or several. And I’m actively seeking more upmarket commercial historical fiction; I majored in Renaissance Studies in college and have a serious penchant for anything historical at all, from most any period but particularly the glamorous ones--and especially novels which take a well-known event or moment in time and re-tell it from a peripheral character’s perspective, making it new again.

I’m also always seeking more humor, more cultural history, and more teen contemporary realistic fiction. In the adult literary realm, I am eager to find more magical realism and variations thereof. Finally, I’d love to find more high-concept middle grade, as well--both projects for boys and also for girls.

All I ask: no more picture books for awhile!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MK: Via e-mail: Query + first 5 pages pasted in the body of the e-mail; no attachments in initial query. Thank you!

Thank YOU, Ms. Kaffel, for these insightful answers. I especially loved what you had to say about your personal agenting philosophy. I’ve never heard anyone put it quite that way before, and yet it’s so true.

And now for the fun part: If you have a question for Ms. Kaffel, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll pop in a few times throughout the day to answer any questions she finds down there, leaving her answers in the comments, too. We’ll wrap things up at 5:00 p.m. EST (or 2:00 p.m. PST), but until then, have at it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

And the Winner Is...

First off, THANK YOU. You always wonder how these things are going to turn out, and your response was overwhelming. I wish I had time to read more than one partial, because so many of these projects sounded awesome. That said, the project I get to read is...


MayhemMabel, please e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for instructions on how to submit your material. I look forward to reading it!

Also, come back this Friday, February 22, when I'll be hosting an INTERACTIVE installment of "Interview with an Agent." Meredith Kaffel of DeFiore and Company will be here to answer your questions, so don't miss it!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Agent-Author Chat: Hannah Bowman and Shallee McArthur

I’m in the middle of an Internet hiatus at the moment, so thank goodness Blogger lets you schedule posts ahead of time:) I couldn’t be more excited to welcome agent Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates back to the blog, this time with newly signed client Shallee McArthur. I think you’re going to enjoy getting to know Ms. McArthur and her explosive YA sci-fi.

As always, Ms. McArthur’s query and responses will appear in orange, Ms. Bowman’s in blue. Also, you'll notice that Ms. McArthur’s query is a little irregular, but I’ll let you read on to find out why!

Ms. McArthur's Query Thanks for requesting my manuscript! I appreciated the awesome feedback you gave me on my last manuscript, and hope you enjoy this one. I've attached it as requested, and included the query below.

Seventeen-year-old Gena never takes off her Link bracelets. Each one holds her most precious memories--literally. Gena is Mementi, someone who uses the Links to store every moment from her life. Her memories never dim and they’re never forgotten.

But they can be stolen.

A Link thief has already ripped entire lives from six people, including Gena’s best friend. Anyone could be next. Which is why Gena freaks out when a strange boy appears and claims she’s forgotten him. His proof? A recording of his own memory that shows her crashing into him--on the run from the Link thief.

With suspicion tearing her town apart and hints of a dark purpose that could destroy the Mementi altogether, Gena has to find the thief. Again. Before she forgets anything else.

THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE is an 89,000-word young adult science fiction novel that would appeal to fans of Across the Universe by Beth Revis and White Cat by Holly Black.

I have a BA in English and Creative Writing from Brigham Young University and spend my Wednesday nights honing my writing with my critique group.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

KV: Ms. McArthur, how did you first come up with the idea for THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE?

SM: The seeds of a memory story have been germinating inside me since reading The Giver in fourth grade. Then, several years ago, my grandmother developed Alzheimer's and I was thinking a lot about memories she'd lost and how she'd grieve if she knew they were gone. Around this time, my husband and I visited my mom, who's very attached to objects that have personal meaning to her. My husband commented that it would neat if we could store our memories of objects IN those objects. Instantly, it was like everything connected across my mind and the story sort of birthed itself then and there.

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

SM: I wrote the initial query before I started the book, but after I had it generally plotted out. I have at least three completely separate drafts, and lots of little revisions on each one of those with the help of my crit group and people on the WriteOnCon forums.

I have a specific pattern for writing my queries. I start with one sentence that has the "four C's"--Character, Conflict, Choice, and Consequence. Then I add details to flesh it out into a full query pitch. I usually focus on the first act of the book, only revealing information up to the first plot point.

KV: What was the hardest thing about writing your query? What was the easiest?

SM: Hardest: deciding which details to include. My first queries are always ridiculously long! I want to put all the cool stuff in there. I hate having to cut those things out, but I console myself with the thought that if the querying is tight and compelling, the agent will see those things I love when they actually read the manuscript. :)

Easiest: Um. Well. Um. Is there an easy part to writing a query? I'd say the bio paragraph, but only because I was able to pull it from the query of another manuscript I'd sent out previously.

KV: Ms. Bowman, how did you come to request Ms. McArthur's manuscript, and what about the project caught your attention?

HB: Shallee and I found each other in a slightly unusual way. We had corresponded on Twitter a couple of years ago, before I was an agent, and I had read a previous manuscript of hers. That one wasn't ready for prime-time, but I was already impressed at that point with her writing and especially her plotting skills--it was clear she was going somewhere.

So I had been keeping an eye on her Twitter feed, which I often do for writers I see potential in, when I saw her tweet a pitch about UNHAPPENING. The high-concept pitch--a memory thief stealing memories that people could only store in external jewelry--caught my attention immediately, and I knew I wanted to know more about the story. I DM'ed her right away to request the manuscript--although she didn't send it until a couple of months later when she'd finished revising it.

KV: How quickly did you read THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

HB: I finished THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE the day after she sent it! That's much faster than my usual response time, although once I start a manuscript I usually finish it quickly. (But a longer wait just means I haven't had a chance to start reading yet--I've signed clients when I finally read and loved their manuscripts after a month or more.) After I read it, I waited for a few days, and actually read the manuscript a second time with a more critical and commercial eye, before offering representation.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE?

HB: Shallee is an incredibly talented plotter. Every twist in the plot was right--there's a point in the book where I almost threw my e-reader across the room. She also has created a fabulous world. She has the rare ability, crucial to writers of science-fiction, to take a new technology and imagine its ramifications in every area of life, to create a future world that looks almost like ours, but different in a few important and incredibly compelling ways.

KV: Ms. McArthur, what tips do you have for fellow writers as they work on their queries?

SM: Write at least two completely different versions of it. Like, COMPLETELY different. Different structure, details, order of information, whatever. That helps me a lot to make sure I don't get stuck in a rut with a query that isn't working. Writing a query is a creative endeavor! Let yourself play a little bit. Remember, you just wrote a whole book. You DO have it in you to write a query-- it's a story in miniature!

KV: Same question to you, Ms. Bowman. What query-writing suggestions do you have?

HB: A query letter is a story. What you're actually trying to convince me is that you're a great storyteller, whether you have 200 words or 200 pages. That means all the elements of good storytelling--compelling voice, interesting details that hint at the setting, an exciting plot, beautiful prose--should be present, in miniature, in your query letter.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

HB: Keep writing! The best thing to do, if your project is getting rejected, is to write a new and better book. Everything you write teaches you more about telling great stories, so no work is wasted.

I also encourage every writer to be on Twitter. The professional networking is incredibly useful. It's a great way to learn more about the industry. And--not to make you paranoid--you never know when you're going to make a connection, whether with another writer or a publishing professional, which will turn into something more.

SM: Be confident! I know it's in the nature of an artist to have constant I'm brilliant/I'm-a-hack mood swings, but develop a trust in yourself and your abilities. Believe in your ability to work hard. Believe your hard work will pay off--and that it is paying off with every word you write. Believe in your ability to always improve. Believe that even when you're making mistakes, writing anything at all is a triumph. Believe in the validations of your work, as well as the criticism. Be confident in your ability to do something amazing!

But keep a level head as you do so. :)

Thanks again, ladies, for taking the time to answer my questions! THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE sounds like just the kind of thing I'd like to read.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Contest! I Want to Critique Your Query and First Fifty Pages

It's been a while since we had a contest around here, so to get things going again, I'm hosting a giveaway this week. If you'd like me to critique your query and first fifty pages, read on!

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post with a brief description of your manuscript. (I won't be picking based on the description, so you don't have to stress about it. I just want to have a way to tell who's in and who's out.) In other words, IF YOUR COMMENT DOESN'T INCLUDE A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT, I WON'T ENTER YOU IN THE CONTEST. Your manuscript doesn't have to be finished, and I'll read any category, any genre (provided the first fifty pages are no worse than PG-13-rated), so everyone is welcome to enter. But I do want everyone to have an equal shot at this, so PLEASE ONLY ENTER ONCE.

The contest will close next Tuesday, February 19, at 1:00 p.m. EST (or 10:00 a.m. PST). I'll randomly choose a winner shortly thereafter and announce it on the blog!

So tell me, what are you working on?

Friday, February 8, 2013

The One Piece of Advice I Give Writers with Offers of Representation

I've said this, like, twenty times in the last couple of months, so I thought I'd say it here and get it out once and for all:) There's only one thing I tell writers with offers of representation (besides congratulations, of course), and it's this:

Before you make your decision, you MUST correspond with at least one of their clients.

You can read interviews, follow blogs, stalk Twitter feeds, and even comb the deal listings on Publishers Marketplace, but the only way to find out what agents are really like is to talk to the people who work with them day in and day out. Here are some questions you might think about asking:

--What are some of the agent's greatest strengths?
--What is the agent's greatest weakness?
--Is the agent more or less editorial? (For more commentary on this question, check out this post.)
--How often do you generally correspond? Does the agent prefer to talk via phone or e-mail?
--On average, how quickly does the agent respond to your e-mails/calls? (Anything longer than forty-eight hours should worry you; most agents I know respond to their clients' correspondence in less than twenty-four.)
--If you knew then what you know now, would you sign with this agent again?

Last but not least, if you can work up the courage, I'd ask to talk to TWO clients, one published and one not. Most published authors are going to give their agents glowing reports, but you'll probably glean more information from their unpublished clients. And information is precisely what you need to go into an agent-author relationship with your eyes wide open.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Query Widely/Wisely

We always tell writers to query widely. You never know who’s going to love your work, we explain, so get that manuscript in front of as many agents as you can. It’s a numbers game, after all, and you’ve got to give yourself every opportunity to succeed. That’s true (to some degree), but the flip side of that coin is that even as you’re querying WIDELY, you still have to query WISELY.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but agent proliferation has reached epic proportions. Editor Molly O’Neill tweeted the other day that she received submissions from nearly 200 agents last year, and it seems like every other week you hear about some other new agency put together by two more agents you’ve never heard of. Now I’ve no doubt these agents are eager, hard-working people who love books, books, and more books (they must be, since they certainly can’t be in this for the money), and most of them, I imagine, have only the very best of intentions.

The problem is, a lot of these eager, hard-working agents haven’t the slightest idea what they’re doing, so here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. First off, I'm not talking about junior agents at well-established agencies. The way to become a literary agent is fairly straightforward: You intern at an agency, sorting through someone's slush and reading requested material. You have lots of conversations with this someone about what works and what doesn't and, more importantly, why. You form relationships with editors and other industry professionals and learn, among other things, how to negotiate deals, read contracts, and handle royalty statements. After a while (usually a year or two, maybe more), the agency promotes you to junior agent, or maybe you just find a manuscript you love, love, love and beg your mentor to let you take it on.

If you don’t go through this process, you probably aren’t going to have the know-how to, say, interpret the clauses in a boilerplate contract, let alone the industry contacts to even get one in the first place. An agent’s job is a lot less about writing and a lot more about business, so if you don’t put in the time to learn all those things, you’re probably not going to succeed on the agent side of this industry.

2. Thoroughly vet the agents you plan to query. You don't have to read every book on their lists, but you should at least be familiar with some of the writers they represent and what they've sold in the last couple of years. Reputable agents want you to be able to figure this out, so if you have to hunt too long and hard for this information, that's probably a bad sign.

Also, even if they are selling, be aware of who they’re selling to. If all of their sales are to smaller presses, they’re probably going to sell your manuscript to a smaller press also. That’s fine, of course, if you’re hoping to work with a comparable publisher, but if you’re hoping to sign a contract with one of the Big Five, you might as well not even query that agent.

3. You owe it to yourself to be selective. Thirty years from now, when you're swimming in royalties and your bookshelves are sagging under the weight of your words, you're not going to remember the one two four eight or however many years it took you to get an agent. But if you don't sign with an agent who actually sells things now and then, you're never going to get to that point. So take your time. Be selective. Don't query someone you wouldn't want representing you for the rest of your career. I know authors have to change agents sometimes, but don't shoot yourself in the foot right out of the starting gate. BE WISE.

What other thoughts would you add?