Posted in Writing Tips

Why Literary Agents Aren’t Requesting Material: Is It Your Novel or Your Query?

You’ve spent months, perhaps years, slaving over your latest novel. It’s perfect. Not a single typo has been spared through your dozens of revisions, and you have had multiple critique partners help whip your manuscript into shape. Now it’s time to dust off that query letter that was more difficult to write than the book, and send your work out to the world.

You’re feeling good. On top of the world. This is it. Your time. Your chance. Your novel is finally going to be published.

In comes rejection letter number one.

That’s okay. That’s one agent’s opinion. Your book wasn’t for them. Someone else is sure to love it.

Nine rejection letters later.

Do you continue sending your work out? Is it really just those agents who aren’t interested? Or is there something wrong with the material you’re sending out?

More than likely, if the agents didn’t even ask for sample pages, it’s your query that needs work, not your novel (though that might need work, too.)

First, are you personalizing your queries? Have you taken the time to research each agent you query? Make sure they’re interested in your genre and look into their recent sales and clients. Add some tidbits and connections into your letter (not more than a few sentences, at most) to show there’s a reason you’re querying this agent. Show that they’re the right person for your project and not just another name to cross off a list.

Second, did you have someone who hasn’t read your novel look over your query before you sent it out? It’s easy to say it makes sense when you know the story inside and out, but for someone who has never read the story, your query could make very little sense—an immediate turn off for agents. Make sure your summary is crisp and clear. Simplify it enough to make it enticing and fast to read, but still make sense. You don’t want the agent sitting there asking, “Wait, what was the motivation?” Or, “Why are there so many characters introduced in the query?” Or worst of all, “This doesn’t seem to have a plot!”

Third, did you and someone else (and another someone else, and another) proofread your letter? Typos and grammatical mistakes are a big no-no. You should take this letter as seriously as your novel. Mistakes in such a short letter reflect your book. If it’s littered with small mistakes, the agent is going to assume your novel is, too.

Do you have any other query mistakes to add? Let me know what you think in the comments.

And best of luck to anyone who is going through this process. I hope you find the right agent for your work!

Posted in Writing Playlists

August 2013 Writing Playlist

I love listening to music while I write. The songs set the tone for the scene I’m writing, but they also make the entire experience more enjoyable for me since I’m an extreme lover of music. My playlists change every few weeks or so, but today I thought I’d share with you the songs that are currently filling up my inspiration juices.

1.  Come Back When You Can—Barcelona

2. Mad World—Gary Jules

3. Whole Lotta You—A Rocket to the Moon

4. Dreaming—Small Pools

5. Rumor Mill—We Are The In Crowd

6. Counting Stars—OneRepublic

7. No Way Out—This Century

8. It’s About Time—Barcelona

9. Thinking of You—The Maine

10. I’m Giving In—August Rising

11. Get Out—Casey Abrams

12. Chit Chat—Hannah Georgas

13. Endings—Familiar 48

14.  This Woman’s Work—Greg Laswell

15. Yeah, Whatever—Splender

16. I Need to Know—Kris Allen

17. Down—Jason Walker

18. I Write Sins Not Tragedies—Panic! At the Disco

Do you have any writing songs you’re hooked on?

Posted in Writing Tips

Writing Natural Dialogue

Dialogue between characters is one of the most important parts of your novel. It shows the character’s voices, personalities, emotions, and it’s fun to read. But stilted dialogue? Not so fun. So how do you make your character’s conversations sing? How do you make it flow and sound natural, so the reader’s sitting right there with your protagonist while she’s chatting it up with the hobo down the street?

Talk to yourself. Place yourself in the shoes of your characters and talk it out. When you say it aloud, you hear what would be natural to say. Notice how we say extra ‘that’s and ‘the’s and ‘and’s and ‘just’s in our speech. Don’t edit those out like you do in normal prose. Next time you’re waiting in line behind a chatty couple at Starbucks or sitting on the bus, listen in on the conversations around you. Hear how people constantly interrupt each other and abruptly change topics. We don’t always talk in complete sentences. We don’t always use proper grammar. The more aware you are of the world around you, the more real your writing will feel.

How do you like to approach writing dialogue?

Posted in Writing Tips

Diagnosing Your Manuscript’s Problems: Talking It Out

I’ve been through about seven drafts of my current WIP. It’s passed through the hands of multiple critique partners in various stages, and I’ve invested in printing the whole thing out so I can edit on paper. However, it still wasn’t perfect. There were still kinks littered between the lines that I just couldn’t decipher. I knew something wasn’t working. I just couldn’t figure out why.

So I handed the first chapter off to two other people—people I trust—and asked them to read it while I sat there. One had read the entire manuscript already. One had never read a single sentence. They paused every few lines and told me their train of thought as they read. Sentences that didn’t work. Dialogue that didn’t flow. Character’s decisions that didn’t make sense. My first chapter is only five pages at this point, but we sat there for over an hour, discussing what didn’t work, why it didn’t work, and planning how to fix it.

The person who had already read the entire novel had a very different perspective than the person who was reading it for the first time. So I had valuable insight from someone who was familiar with the plot, and someone who was not.

Now this is a very different process than when I get notes emailed to me from my critique partner. I watched the reader’s face as they read my words, watched their reactions, and had extensive discussion on every component of that first chapter. And after brainstorming and talking it out, I’ve finally figured out why the opening doesn’t work.

If you’re struggling with your manuscript, I’d highly suggest carving an hour out of your schedule and sitting down with someone else. Talking through it aloud helped me more than I ever would have thought.

How do you work out the kinks when you’re putting on the finishing touches? Let me know in the comments 🙂