Monday, December 5, 2016

Our next adventure! THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE READING.

At long last, Sara and I can unveil our new book recommendation website!

Without further ado, we present:

THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE READING


The idea behind the site is to recommend great books that match your mood and specific reading preferences, which is how we suggest books to friends in real life!

Think of it as a "What the F*$k Should I Make for Dinner?" but for books.

And with less profanity.

After six happy years, we will no longer post to this lovely blog (though we're keeping it live for the foreseeable future). We hope you join us at THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE READING. If you want more info on the evolution of the new site, check out This is What You Should Know About Us!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

- The First Novels Club

Monday, November 14, 2016

Crafting a Novel’s Pitch: 7 Tips (Guest Column by Chuck Sambuchino)

(This column excerpted from GET A LITERARY AGENT, from Writer’s Digest Books.)

If you’re writing a novel or memoir, the most important part of the query letter is the pitch—a brief basic description of your story designed to pique the agent’s interest. This will be the longest and most difficult section to compose. It’s tough to boil down an entire book into a few condensed paragraphs, but here are 7 tips for how to lay out a compelling pitch that draws an agent or editor in.

1. Control your length. Pitches are 5-10 sentences, and most run 6-9. Concise is a very good thing. If you write more than ten sentences, your letter runs the risk of going over one page and also simply rambling.

2. Do not reveal the ending. If, when describing my latest novel, I told you that the good guy wins in the end, but his wife dies when failing to disarm a bomb during the final scene … would you still want to read the book? Probably not. A query pitch reads like back cover copy from a novel or DVD in that you don’t explain how the story ends, but rather retain intrigue and suspense.

3. On that note, look at DVDs and novels to see sample pitch text all around you. If you’re having trouble putting together a pitch, visit your nearest Barnes & Nobles or Target or any other place that sells both books and movies. Pick up both films and books in your genre (e.g., children’s stories, Christian fiction, thrillers, etc.) and start reading the boxes, back covers, and jackets. Those are all pitch examples for you to study and emulate. See what grabs your attention.

4. Be specific and avoid generalities. Specific elements bring a pitch to life and generalities drag it down. Don’t say, “The couple goes through many highs and lows.” Explain what that means, specifically, even if you’re just touching upon a bigger picture. “Avoid vagueness,” says literary agent Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary. “I get so many queries every day that don’t tell me enough about the novel. If there’s no reason for me to say yes, then it’s going to be no.” Being specific paints pictures in the mind of the reader. If I tell you that my main character “just quit his job,” does that create an image in your mind? Probably not. But how about if I told you, “After making his hundredth Big Mac this weekend, 17-year-old Rodney Morrison makes a spontaneous decision to quit his job in style—by launching a cupful of special sauce out the drive-through window at a rude customer before walking out the front door with his middle fingers high in the air.” Now, does that paint a picture in your mind? Yes.

(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)

5. Aim to elicit emotion. The style and voice of the pitch itself should reflect the content of the book. Don’t say, “My novel is a humorous romp with quirky characters.” The agent is giving you 5-10 sentences to make her laugh. Can you do that? Don’t say, “My novel is full of suspenseful twists and turns.” Rather than talk about your novel from a distance, the agent is giving you 5-10 sentences to put a chill down her spine. If you’re writing light, humorous women’s fiction, then there should be some laughs in the query letter. If you’re writing a dark horror novel, then there should be some spooky elements. Imagine you read a line like “But as Candace continues to explore the world of erotic asphyxiation, she becomes addicted to the feeling and even begins to choke herself in bathroom stalls on lunch breaks just to experience the sensation.” Such a line hits you, and can make you feel repulsed, or intrigued, or engaged. It triggers your emotions. If you can appeal to an agent’s emotions, she’s much more inclined to request more material—because you’ve shown her that your writing connects to readers, rather than just told her (anyone can do that).

6. Beware subplots and unnecessary details. Pitches often go too long, because they’re bogged down with superfluous elements. A simple way to avoid this is to cut out the small stuff: leave plot elements, setting description, and proper nouns on the cutting room floor. For example, look at these two potential beginnings of a pitch:

Version 1: Zalisa is a teenage elven princess who lives on a jungle planet. Despite her desire to live a common life welding swords, she is repeatedly told by her parents about her destiny to become queen and bring peace between warring tribes as their supreme leader. (Word count: 46; two sentences.)

Version 2: Zalisa, part of the chosen Y’Ri noble elves, lives with the Sha’NaRee tribe on the jungle planet of Usulurah. Adorned with long hair down to her waist and many tattoos she’s designed herself, all Zalisa wants is a life among the commoners doing what she loves best: sword making. She has quietly developed an amazing knack for intricate blade creation, and trained with the highest levels of metalworkers and smiths in her province of Va’Quenay. The only problem is that her parents, E’Leepha and Can-Yur, expect their daughter to refrain from frolicking among the commoners, but instead fulfill the destiny of Tritonalt, a great prophecy widely known to all citizens of Usulurah. According to Tritonalt, Zalisa is the chosen royal descendent who will ascend to the throne as part of a divine prediction foretold by the ancient elven wise men at the 7 Cycles of Wisdom gathering eons ago when all the system’s planets were in line with the sun. Once she has ascended to the throne, it is foretold that Zalisa will quell the constant warfare that has hampered the planet, and finally bring peace to the land. (Word count: 186; six sentences.)

The second intro is chock-full of stuff we don’t need to know right now: the proper names of things (such as the planet name), her exact appearance outside of being an elf (i.e., the tattoos), and the backstory about how the prophecy came to be (the gathering). The second version has already used up most of the query page—six pitch sentences, out of a maximum ten—and there’s no discussion of what happens throughout the meat of the plot, what challenges Zalisa faces, or what she sets off to do to stop said challenges.

7. Practice, and have different versions if need be. Tell your pitch to others or get your query formally critiqued by a professional or peers. If you can’t decide between two versions of a pitch, you can always try out both and keep tabs on which agents get which versions. If one is garnering a better response rate than the other, you have your answer concerning how best to move forward.

__________________________________________________

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
Feb. 10, 2018: Indiana Writing Workshop (Indianapolis, IN)
Feb. 17, 2018: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
March 10, 2018: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
March 24, 2018: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
April 14, 2018: Michigan Writing Workshop (Livonia/Detroit, MI)
April 28, 2018: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
June 23, 2018: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
July 14, 2018: Cleveland Writing Workshop (Cleveland, OH)
July 28, 2018: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
August 4, 2018: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
August 25, 2018: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
September 29, 2018: Boston Writing Workshop (Boston, MA)
November 17, 2018: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)


    Other columns by Chuck Sambuchino:
    - What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter
    - How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel
    - Why “Keep Moving Forward” is My Best Advice For Writers Everywhere
    - Do You Need Multiple Agents if You Write in Different Genres?
    - How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips
    - Building Your Writer Platform—How Much is Enough?
    - Getting Specific: What Literary Agents Want to Get RIGHT NOW
    - 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published
    - 15 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent Before You Sign

    __________________________________________________  

    Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S and ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
        His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING and SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
        Besides that, he is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook.  

    Thursday, October 20, 2016

    25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published (Guest Post by Chuck Sambuchino)

    (Column excerpted from the Guide to Literary Agents, from Writer’s Digest Books)

    I love interviewing debut authors. I interview them for my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, and make sure to include at least a dozen such interviews in each edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, such as the new 2017 edition. These interviews are very helpful to aspiring writers, because the authors come clean about what they believe they did right, what the wish they would have done different, and other advice for writers.

    So I went back to 25 debut author interviews of the past few years and focused on one single important question I asked them: “Now that you’re done explaining your own journey to publication, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with writers?” The results are inspiring and fascinating. See below, and learn from 25 writers who have come before you and succeeded.

    ————

    “Never give up. Keep writing through the rejections, the revisions, the never-ending explanations to your friends about why you aren’t published yet. Keep writing when you hear that other people have gotten agents and book deals. Keep writing, even if it takes you years to finally accomplish your goal.”
    ~Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes


    “To paraphrase Jay Asher [author of 13 Reasons Why]: ‘Don’t give up because that NY Times bestseller could be right around the corner!’”
    ~Constance Lombardo, author of Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars


    “Don’t send out your novel before it’s ready. Take your time. If it’s as good as you think it is, everything will work out.”
    ~Lisa Freeman, author of Honey Girl


    “I would say to do more thinking than writing. It’s really easy to get mired in language and sentence structure and sort of lose the forest for the trees. It’s important to really think about your idea inside and out and up and down and all around before penning a word so that you really know what you’re getting at and how you want to get at it.”
    ~Dev Petty, author of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog


    “ ‘Ass in Chair.’ Fingers above keyboard. Don’t talk about what you’re going to write—write it.”
    ~Jeff Anderson, author of Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth


    “Find a trusted critique partner to give you honest feedback, and be sure to return the favor in critiquing their work. There is a lot to be learned about the art of writing from editing other people’s work.”
    ~Aisha Saeed, author of Written in the Stars


    (Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)


    “Tenacity is everything. Don’t listen to the people who tell you can’t make money as a writer. They’re well meaning, but they lack imagination.”
    ~Max Wirestone, author of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss


    “Write the book you want to read.”
    ~Amanda Linsmeier, author of Ditch Flowers


    “Be stubborn. I tried 90 different agents before I landed one.”
    ~Adam Plantinga, author of 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman


    “You can turn rejection and disappointment into a serious motivator if you’re determined enough to be published. But you must also understand why the work is not accepted. Have the discipline and subjectivity to look at your work and say, ‘Yeah, that’s not good enough,’ and then sit down and make it better. ”
    ~Jamie Kornegay, author of Soil


    “Work hard, be patient, and become part of a writing community. Get involved in the industry in some capacity—even as a volunteer—to gain a better understanding as to how it all works.”
    ~Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found


    “‘Never give up; never surrender.’ Or, the longer version: Write. Edit. Polish. Find a competent critique group or writing partner and learn to take honest criticism. If your novel still doesn’t sell, write another one. And another. Write as many as it takes. And don’t be discouraged by other authors’ success—instead, let it encourage you to work harder, write better, and hang in there. Your turn will come.”
    ~Susan Spann, author of Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery


    “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice: if you know someone who has successfully written a proposal, ask him or her if you could take a look at it; if you know someone who knows an agent, ditto.”
    ~Asher Price, author of Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity


    “Always use active verbs. Avoid passive voice if you can.”
    ~Thomas Lee, author of Rebuilding Empires: How Best Buy and Other Retailers are Transforming and Competing in the Digital Age of Retailing


    “Choose enthusiasm. If you are lucky enough to have more than one agent or editor interested in your work, don’t automatically choose the bigger name or even the most money. Go with the person who loves your book and is dying to work with you.”
    ~Eliza Kennedy, author of I Take You: A Novel


    “Write a great book. The publishing world may be hard to break in to, but if you have a great book, they’ll have no choice but to notice you. And on that note, edit. Edit like your life depends on it.”
    ~Lindsey Cummings, author of The Murder Complex


    “Don’t send your work out until it’s as good as your favorite book. Also, there is no one way to write. Many authors are long-winded and later have to chop a lot of words. I write sparingly from beginning to end and then go back and plump up all the chapters. Do what works for you.”
    ~Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy


    “Read widely in the genre you’re writing in. And go easy on yourself. Everyone has their own pace. Persistence is as important as productivity.”
    ~Nancy Grossman, author of A World Away


    “Do not give up. If you believe in your work, find ways to work around those impenetrable doors. There isn’t only one way to break in, so explore all avenues. And be kind to everyone.”
    ~Karolina Waclawiak, author of How to Get Into the Twin Palms


    “Wait until there’s something you really want to say.”
    ~Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending


    “It’s cliché, but read. A lot. Anything, but especially current stuff in the genre you write. Find out what’s selling—and why kids like it. Figure out what you like and why you like it. Then write something new.”
    ~W.H. Beck, author of Malcolm at Midnight


    “Do your research. Knowing what kinds of books specific agents and editors like is incredibly helpful. Stay informed. Know what books everyone is talking about. Know what books you yourself love. And, just like any industry, being kind and pleasant to work with, and respectful takes you far. And in publishing, it’s not hard to be kind.”
    ~Cirey Ann Haydu, author of OCD Love Story


    “Read, write, and stay informed. The only thing you can control is how hard you’re willing to work at becoming a better writer.”
    ~Claire Kells, author of Girl Underwater


    “Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your writing out there. Take colossal risks. The publishing world rewards bravery.”
    ~Brandy Vallence, author of The Covered Deep


    “Finish. Don’t keep tinkering with the same book for years. Put it aside and start another one. You won’t improve as a writer by writing the same book over and over.”
    ~Melissa Lenhardt, author of Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mystery

    __________________________________________________

    Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
    Feb. 10, 2018: Indiana Writing Workshop (Indianapolis, IN)
    Feb. 17, 2018: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
    March 10, 2018: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
    March 24, 2018: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
    April 14, 2018: Michigan Writing Workshop (Livonia/Detroit, MI)
    April 28, 2018: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
    June 23, 2018: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
    July 14, 2018: Cleveland Writing Workshop (Cleveland, OH)
    July 28, 2018: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
    August 4, 2018: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
    August 25, 2018: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
    September 29, 2018: Boston Writing Workshop (Boston, MA)
    November 17, 2018: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)


    Other columns by Chuck Sambuchino:
    What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter
    How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel 
    Why “Keep Moving Forward” is My Best Advice For Writers Everywhere 
    Do You Need Multiple Agents if You Write in Different Genres?
    How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips 
    Building Your Writer Platform—How Much is Enough?
    Getting Specific: What Literary Agents Want to Get RIGHT NOW
    - 15 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent Before You Sign
    - Crafting a Novel’s Pitch: 7 Tips

    __________________________________________________  

    Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S and ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
        His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING and SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
        Besides that, he is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook.  




    Wednesday, September 7, 2016

    15 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent Before You Sign (Guest Column by Chuck Sambuchino)

    (This column excerpted from GET A LITERARY AGENT, from Writer’s Digest Books.)

    Because literary agents have connections to the top editors of the world, writers can believe that getting an agent is the key domino to fall on their path to a successful writing career—so they may sign with the first agent who says yes. But that’s not necessarily the wisest move. The relationship needs to be a good fit to work well and last decades. Many writers and agents describe the partnership as a marriage, and you must make sure that you’re compatible in terms of goals and careers as well as each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

    If it’s not a good match, you’ll have to break up—and that’s never an easy move. Parting with an agent stalls your career, and it may put something of a mark on your record. When you leave that agent and seek different representation down the road, those other agents may wonder what exactly went wrong that caused you to leave Agent #1, fearing that perhaps you were a less-than-ideal client to work with.

    So, whether you have one literary agent offer or several, you can be more certain of a good fit if you find out a lot about an agent’s skills, goals, and style by asking them specific questions when you speak on the phone. But if you’ve done your homework—researching each rep, looking at their sales, and reading online interviews—you already know plenty of info before you ever speak to them personally. So all questions below may not apply to you.

    1. How Did You Become an Agent?

    Learn about their background. You want an agent who has a history in the publishing business. Almost all agents start their careers as interns, agency associates, or editors. This gives them a necessary knowledge base for their job, as well as valuable industry contacts. Good agents do not become agents overnight.

    2. What Books Have You Sold Recently?

    By learning what they’ve sold, you learn what kind of titles they have the ability to sell in the future, as well as the breadth of their selling skill and depth of their contact list. Please note that if the agent is new and they have no sales, that is not a dealbreaker. New agents can bring valuable elements to the table, such as time and passion and hands-on editorial help.

    3. Tell Me About Your Agency. How Many Agents Are There, and How Do You Work Together?

    This will help illuminate whether your agent is part of a larger, powerful team that shares resources and contacts. This is one reason signing with a newer agent is not a bad thing—because she utilizes her co-workers for help and leads.

    4. What Did You Like About My Book? What Attracted You to This Project/Story?

    You’re looking for passion and enthusiasm from an agent. Indeed, it is the passion and enthusiasm that will keep your agent up late working for you to see your book come to life.

    5. What Editors Do You See Us Submitting This Book To, and Have You Sold to Them Before?

    If you fear the agent lacks proper contacts to move your work, ask this straight out. The question tests not only her plan for where to send the manuscript, but also her connections and clout. Do not expect her to reply with a comprehensive list. After all, this discussion is just the beginning of the beginning. You’re just looking for her to have some targets in mind.

    (Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)

    6. If Those Target Editors Turn It Down, Will You Continue Submitting, or Would It Be Best for Me to Work on a New Project?

    Some agents only aim to sell books in “larger” deals to sizable publishing houses and well-known editors. This might not be what you have in mind, so learn her strategy now. It’s an unfortunate situation when an agent fields a dozen rejections for a book and declares it “dead,” even though you protest that many more markets exist. Sometimes all you want is for the book to find a loving home and get released in the world, but your agent wants “a fantastic deal or nothing.” Resentment can build quickly if you’re not on the same page.

    7. What Changes Do You Think the Manuscript Needs Before We Submit?

    If the agent has grand thoughts on revising the work pre-submission, you need to know that before you sign with them. You don’t want to sign a contract and have them surprise you by suggesting you “cut 30 percent of the book.”

    8. Are You an Editorial Agent?

    Having an agent that offers editorial suggestions and gets their hands dirty in the editing process can be very important to some authors.

    9. May I Contact Some of Your Current Clients?

    Most agents will be happy to pass along a few names and e-mails. But if your agent happens to represent a famous New York Times best-selling author, don’t be surprised if you don’t get that phone number. Some agents are more reluctant to pass along names and info. They like to make each of their clients feel extremely special and important. If multiple writers considering the agent start calling that client, it reminds the client his is simply one of many authors in the agent’s stable.

    10. What Can I Do to Help You Sell This Book and Secure the Best Deal Possible?

    This is a great open-ended question for two different reasons. First, it immediately shows you’re a helpful, proactive writer who wants to be involved. If the agent had any doubts about you, those doubts may dissipate for the time being. Secondly, this question gives the agent an opportunity to honestly convey suggestions and thoughts concerning how you can truly make a difference moving forward. Perhaps she’ll say, “Start a website so editors know you’re a professional.” Or perhaps she’ll say, “I can probably sell the book as is, but if you can find a way to trim five thousand words, I’ll have an even better chance.” Listen to what your agent suggests and take her concerns seriously.

    11. Take Me Through the Process of When You Submit to Editors. How Involved and Updated Will I Be?

    This question allows your agent to be upfront concerning how many phone calls and spreadsheets you will get during the process. When you know what to expect, you will not feel like you’re being left out of conversations—or bogged down with information.

    12. If, for Whatever Unforeseen Reason, You Were to Step Down as an Agent in the Future, Would I Be Passed to a Co-Agent?

    The first thing an agent will say when asked this question is probably, “I have no intention of leaving, so this is not a concern.” But don’t give up; press her for an answer. You deserve to know if, in the event of any circumstances leading to the agent temporarily or permanently leaving her work (such as, God forbid, a major illness), you will have the safety net of being passed to a co-agent. If the agent works alone and has no co-agents, you can ask if she will refer you to agent-friends in the industry.

    13. If You Switch Agencies, Would I Transfer With You?

    If your agent is part of a larger agency, do not skip this question—because this area gets real tricky real fast. Agents switch agencies all the time. But the agent may have signed an employment contract that says, if she leaves, the clients stay with XYZ Literary. If you make a deep connection with an individual agent, it’s not an ideal situation to know you legally cannot stay with that agent should she find employment elsewhere.

    14. Will You Represent Every Book I Write?

    Just because an agent signs you does not mean she will be willing to send out everything you write. She has signed you based on the strength of the book you submitted, and the ideal scenario that everything you continue to write will also connect with her in some way—but that isn’t always the case.

    An agent should be forthcoming with you if she doesn’t feel that your most recent material is marketable or appropriate for their editors, as it is her reputation at stake. From an agent’s point of view, it is very, very difficult to gain an editor’s trust—and an agent doesn’t want to lose such an important relationship simply because a client pushes them to submit something she doesn’t want to submit.

    Ask an agent about how future books will be handled. Some agents, if they don’t connect with the book, will offer editorial notes on how to make it better. Other agents will simply “pass” on the work and invite you to send your next book when it’s complete. Obviously these two approaches are extremely different, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you get into it. If you believe in a book that the agent does not, you have to know if the agent is okay with you sending it to publishers on your own.

    15. How Much Do You Think I’ll Be Paid for the Book?

    Most writers will not ask this question during this initial conversation, and I consider that a good thing. I only include the question because some authors—most often nonfiction author-personalities and up-and-coming media figures—may want to know this upfront to see if the book will be worth their time.

    That aside, it’s next to impossible for agents to speculate how much money a first book, especially a novel, will garner in an advance from the publisher. (Money estimates are easier to pinpoint when dealing with a sequel or second book, because the track record and payment for the first book can help paint a clearer picture.)

    Here’s the danger and complication involved in asking this question: When my agent and I began to pitch our first nonfiction book together, I asked this question at some point, and the answer told to me was a medium amount. But then several key publishers passed on the work, and our target estimate suddenly dropped 40 percent. More publishers said no, and the estimate continued to drop like a rock again. We finally got one offer on the book, which we would eventually turn down. The amount? $1,000 and bad royalties. Needless to say, my agent’s original target estimate was that figure many, many times over. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience even though the book never got published: Have loose or no financial expectations going in, because you never know what the offer will be.

    Asking an agent questions is a delicate process. Definitely do not skip any hard questions if you have pressing concerns or if the agent has a small track record. The agent is used to such inquiries and will respect you for politely asking them. At the same time, agents do not like to be pushed too hard too fast—as if a writer is forcing them to “prove their worth.” In other words, ask questions, but do not “grill” the agent or come off too pointed. Again, you should have already done plenty of homework and known this agent was a good fit for you.

    _________________________________________________


    Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
    Feb. 10, 2018: Indiana Writing Workshop (Indianapolis, IN)
    Feb. 17, 2018: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
    March 10, 2018: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
    March 24, 2018: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
    April 14, 2018: Michigan Writing Workshop (Livonia/Detroit, MI)
    April 28, 2018: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
    June 23, 2018: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
    July 14, 2018: Cleveland Writing Workshop (Cleveland, OH)
    July 28, 2018: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
    August 4, 2018: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
    August 25, 2018: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
    September 29, 2018: Boston Writing Workshop (Boston, MA)
    November 17, 2018: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)

    Other columns by Chuck Sambuchino
    - What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter
    - How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel
    - Why “Keep Moving Forward” is My Best Advice For Writers Everywhere
    - Do You Need Multiple Agents if You Write in Different Genres?
    - How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips
    Building Your Writer Platform—How Much is Enough?
    - Getting Specific: What Literary Agents Want to Get RIGHT NOW



    ___________________________________________



    Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S and ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
         His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING and SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
         Besides that, he is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook

    Sunday, July 6, 2014

    Book recommendation! SALVAGE by Alexandra Duncan

    Sara did a super fun SALVAGE review in gif form a few months ago that convinced me to read it ... but once I had, I wanted to add my own recommendation! (Plus, Alexandra Duncan is a debut author, and we love promoting first novels!)


    To address the three superficial things that might make people hesitate to pick this one up:

    1. The cover: Personally, my thoughts were — pretty colors, but OMG PASSIVELY POSED GIRL IN A DRESS. If you like the cover, read the book. If you don't like the cover ... read the book.

    2. The commitment: This is a BIG book. But it's a stand-alone, so huge thumbs up from me. And the scope is epic, so I think the length is warranted.

    3. The lingo: Especially in the first pages, it's a little tough to get used to the jargon in the dialogue that's specific to Ava's world. It'll start making sense soon; just keep going!

    And now for the rest:

    I love novels in which the main character goes through a major transition. In the beginning of SALVAGE, Ava has never left the confines of the merchant ship Parastrata and its male-dominated polygamist society. She's a haughty girl with a position of respect, and she doesn't know that she should want more from life than physical labor and becoming one of a man's many wives whose main function is to make babies. But her desire for knowledge to learn "fixes" (mechanical skills to fix machinery) hints at the person she could be.

    Then Ava makes an impulsive, naive decision ... which is also an epic mistake in her unforgiving society, and to escape death, she flees to Earth — a post-climate-change planet of storms and garbage. She barely survives adjusting to the forces of gravity, and then she must survive the unknown.

    Here, her world is expanded. First in Gyre (as the book description says, it's a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean), and later in Mumbai, Ava is confronted with a world that doesn't limit her potential, so she has to renegotiate who she is and who she imagines herself becoming. It's the ultimate culture shock, as she discovers how ignorant she was kept on Parastrata.

    The supporting characters are so richly imagined, complex, and diverse — but I'm afraid I'll spoil some things if I describe them. But they were all imperfect and multi-dimensional, and I loved how their relationships with Ava develop.

    One example is Miyole, a young girl Ava meets. In many ways, Ava is a mother or older sister figure for Miyole, literally ensuring her survival, but Miyole is self-educated and extremely intelligent, so she's teaching Ava reading and math. And Ava has these moments where she's incredibly proud of Miyole, but she can't help but be jealous of how much Miyole knows and how easily learning comes to her. Such a beautiful, complicated relationship!

    The romance question — yes, a romance does develop, but no, there's no love triangle, because interest in two people does NOT a love triangle make! Interest in two people is totally normal, and in SALVAGE it works wonderfully, because one represents the best of the world she left, and one represents the new world she's come to know ... and neither overwhelm the story.

    Going into the book, I had no idea if it was the beginning of a series, and as I approached the ending, I almost starting cringing inside, because I saw two paths emerge — one that would lead to a cliffhanger and sequel, and one that would lead to the end of Ava's story. I was so, so happy that Duncan chose to keep this a stand-alone, but I'd be very happy to read companion novels with different characters in the same world, because there's so much potential for this world!

    And I'm going to throw a FIREFLY comparison in here, since I haven't seen one yet — between the unusual jargon, diverse societies both on planet and in space (with a dystopian blend of the past and future), and merchant spaceships, I definitely felt a hint or two of the FIREFLY world.

    Thursday, June 26, 2014

    My unexpected love for THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski


    PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE GIRL IN THE FANCY DRESS!

    Annnnnnd that's my acknowledgment that, when I first saw this book at ALA in January, I didn't even flip it over to read the back because I'm just so. damn. tired. of the passive fancy dress covers, no matter how pretty the title font. (Do I know better? Of course. But when surrounded by literally hundreds of books ... covers are a make-or-break factor.)

    Yes, the cover is technically somewhat representative of the book because she DOES wear dresses and there is the tiny bit of intrigue with her holding a dagger (also accurate, THOUGH YOU BARELY NOTICE THE DAGGER) ... but whyyyyyy?

    Ahem.

    Despite the cover, four people convinced me to read this book:
    - Heather, at Children's Book World, who can always be counted on for great recommendations
    - Wendy Darling at The Midnight Garden, one of the toughest reviewers I follow, who gave it 4.5/5 stars
    - Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, who has nearly identical tastes as mine with this genre of YA
    - Kristin Cashore, whose blurb alone will convince me to try out a book 95% of the time

    And now I'm going to convince you to read it, too, because IT IS EXCELLENT.

    The official summary:
    As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

    One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

    But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

    Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

    First off, if you love Kristin Cashore's books and/or Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars novels, stop reading right now and go buy THE WINNER'S CURSE. You will love it, without question.

    THE WINNER'S CURSE has a semi-fantasy, semi-historical feel, and as a reader, I was slowly enveloped in Kestrel's world. So much of this book centers on power struggles — who has it, who doesn't, emotional vs physical power, etc. — and it sets up so many interesting situations.

    For example, Kestrel's people have enslaved Arin's people, and though she has bought and literally owns him, she doesn't have emotional power over him. At the same time, her father has almost complete power over her, but she makes small choices every day to subvert that power. Kestrel's admitted to not being a fighter, but her power and value come through an excellent ability to strategize ... but she chooses not to use that ability, thus further defying her father's wishes.

    These dynamics come to a head when Arin's people stage a rebellion, and Kestrel's developing relationship with Arin makes her feel sympathy for the enemy. She must finally come to terms with her discomfort with her empire's enslavement of conquered nations. For much of the book she's unsure of who she is, where she stands, and what she wants, but the uprising forces her to choose a side, with dramatic consequences.

    Overall, I loved the worldbuilding, which had so many small details that stood out so realistically. I enjoyed the way Kestrel developed as a character, and though I sometimes wanted her to be more decisive, I understood how conflicted she felt. I was very happy with how the book ended, and it left me looking forward to the sequel. Definitely recommend!

    Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    BEA 2014 Recap — in tweets (and retweets)!

    WEDNESDAY: Arrival in NYC and Book Blogger Con

    After a 4am wakeup, I met Sara at the train station!


    (Maureen was hilarious.)

    And my theme for BEA emerged: Restraint! I ended up with a goal of no more than 20 books total ... which I repeated ad nauseam during the rest of BEA, to hold myself to it.

    (Never was a truer tweet posted.)

    This was the most worthwhile panel of Book Blogger Con, and it was great to hear from Smart Bitches, one of my favorite blogs!




    Afterward, we checked into our apartment (2 blocks from Javits FOR THE WIN), ate dinner, and headed to the Houndstooth Pub for some drinks with other kidlit folks!

    THURSDAY: BEA Day One
    As a rule, I don't get in the forever long celebrity author signing lines ... but I made an exception for NPH. And his book (Choose Your Own Autobiography) looks hilarious!



    Afterward, Sara and I headed to Housing Works Books (pretty much the coolest bookstore/cafe ever) for a Rainbow Rowell reading.
    FRIDAY: BEA Day Two




    SATURDAY: BEA Day Three
    (AKA the day of BookCon ... dun dun dunnnnnnn)


    So happy to support a lovely Philly writer friend (and BEA roomie!) I.W. Gregorio as she moderated this excellent panel!

    BookCon was INSANE. Total chaos, and most BEA-goers wanted no part of it.

    I tried three times to go into the BookCon area to meet authors doing signings, and each time I gave up and battled my way out of the madness. It reminded me of Black Friday sales, or what I imagine Black Friday sales to be, if I ever attempted one.

    I also attended a BookCon panel with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater.

    To sum up Saturday.
    I ended my four days in NYC with 19 books and a seat on an Amtrak Quiet Car train. Heaven!
    Final thoughts:
    THE BOOKS AND AUTHORS - I was so happy to focus my BEA time on only getting books I really wanted, with a mix of debut and longtime favorite authors. I loved being able to enthuse to authors how excited I was to read their books ... and my shoulders hurt a lot less. Also, no need to check a rolling suitcase! Woo!

    THE PEOPLE - It sounds crazy, but I love waiting in lines at BEA because of all the amazing book lovers you meet and bond with as you sit or stand with each other for up to an hour (and sometimes more, but I kept away from those lines!). Hello, new friends! I also got a chance to speak with super-friendly reps from HarperCollins and Quirk, which is wonderful, because who better to introduce you to great books than the people who help bring them into the world?

    BLOGGER CON - As a first-timer but long-time blogger, I honestly didn't learn all that much, but Book Blogger Con did exactly what I wanted it to do — it renewed my enthusiasm for blogging, which honestly has been waning a bit. It inspired a couple new ideas that you'll all be seeing soon enough!

    BOOKCON - Though you couldn't pay me to enter the exhibit area, I did enjoy the two smaller panels I was able to attend. But hopefully next year will run more smoothly, because I'm sure I'm not the only BEA-goer who was running scared.

    OVERALL - This was my first full, four-day BEA experience, and as a third-year BEA veteran, I definitely subscribed to the less-is-more mantra. It really helped to keep me refreshed and happy and able to enjoy all that BEA has to offer! But next year, I want a lanyard for my nametag, dammit.
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