Tag Archives: Literary agent

Keep Calm and Query On

KEEP CALM - CARRY ON

KEEP CALM - CARRY ON (Photo credit: atomicShed)

And at the snap of the fingers, the Primate goes from pensive to proactive…

Last week may have been my time to stop and take stock, but this week I’ve no choice, really, but to throw myself into working / writing / revising / job-searching. I’m leaving for the States next week, you see, for a couple weeks to visit Chicago and New York, and then I’m hosting my lovely sister and niece in London immediately thereafter. With March thus swallowed, my husband and I are also already making travel plans for April. So was I just worrying about finding full-time work? Who has time for full-time work??! ūüėČ

But seriously, before I soon venture where technology goes to die (a.k.a. Mom and Dad’s), it’s full-on git ‘er done mode right now. I nonetheless thought I’d pause from that to share what have been my first non-form-letter rejections! Woo-hoo! Okay, the exclamation points may seem like either sarcasm or extremely unwarranted enthusiasm, but, honestly, after about a dozen standard manuscript rejections, it’s so very nice to receive personalized feedback. Both of these came in recently from small publishers. The first is in response to a re-submission, and, admittedly, shame on me for trying to wedge my octagon-shaped cross-genre manuscript into the square hole of genre fiction:

The changes that you made to the story were great! It flowed much more smoothly. […]¬†Unfortunately, I think that it still won’t work for us. I think that it is a great “paranormal” story but there just isn’t the romantic element that [the publisher] is known for. I do think that you should really seek publication for this though. I think that it is a great story and a publisher that doesn’t specialize in romance would take it.

Fair enough. I knew that mere romantic elements does not a romance make, but it was worth a try. Moving on, I received this at the end of last week:

While your story was very interesting, and at times suspenseful, we have to be very selective due to a high volume of submissions received each week.

The beginning gripped me, and the end had my spine tingling. However, I felt that after the first chapter, the pace slowed quite dramatically. I kept wanting something more to happen, and though it did, it felt like it took a long time to happen (not until toward the later half). Again though, your story as a whole is wonderful, I just feel that another company would be able to offer better representation at this time.

We sincerely thank you once more for thinking of us, and wish you the very best in your journey to publication. We have no doubt that you will find representation with another publisher.

Those are both very gracious, no? It certainly softens the sting and encourages me to keep on truckin’ and strengthen that story. As of now, in the meantime, I have a query outstanding with another small publisher and the full manuscript with an agent. My upcoming travel schedule is probably an aptly-timed excuse to step back from all this for a bit, eagerly await those responses, refresh, and come back swinging in spring—hopefully with a second manuscript to query on behalf. ūüôā

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Picking My Fleas – aka, Constructive Criticism Part 1


I’d mentioned ages ago that I would share the feedback I received at the Festival of Writing, so today I’m finally getting around to it. Along the lines of my post last week, the 10-minute one-on-one sessions were geared toward discussing the marketability of my story based on its first chapter (which the agent/author read in advance). I met with UK literary agent Juliet Pickering of AP Watt and author Emma Darwin (yes, she’s related to Charles), and this is what they wrote on the standard session form…

Market Appeal:  Is the concept of your MS well-designed for the market?

JP – “Literary fiction – female readership? Any authors you could reference in intro?”

ED – “Always room for well-written high-end commercial women’s fiction, but it still needs to be strong in narrative drive, and the history-plot needs to have an effect¬†on the story of the modern strand.”

Me: Juliet had a harder time discerning who¬†my market would be exactly, so she recommended being more specific in my query letter. I’m still not exactly sure what authors I would list…My inspirations for story came from Rumer Godden’s A Fugue in Time, Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes, and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw to an extent, but I kinda modeled my approach (*wishful thinking*) after more modern books by Audrey Niffenegger and Gregory Maguire (Lost, not his fairy tale retellings). I haven’t aimed to copy anyone’s style nor do I want to, but I guess I’d aspire to Kate Morton if I did.

In any case, during our session, Juliet did say she thought the ghost-story element of my manuscript is marketable at this time. I have two threads of narrative running through the manuscript of different time periods, so Juliet had also echoed what Emma later said about one narrative needing to have an impact on the other. Rest assured, they do¬†relate, though the interaction only gradually becomes clearer by the second half, and I leave the reason for this relationship open to speculation until close to the end. Right or wrong, I’m relying on the mystery of that to keep the reader going and give the ending its ta-da!, so hopefully it’s okay that the connection isn’t readily obvious from the start.

Prose Style: ¬†Is your prose style strong enough to sustain an agent’s interest?

JP – “Yes”

ED – “Potentially rich, and very evocative at its best, but it is over-written: too many elaborate words getting in each others’ way. Also I think it’s blinding you to where you’re using words loosely or wrongly, or a sentence doesn’t actually make sense.”

Me: Juliet’s commentary during the session was short-in-sweet on this point, too. Emma, however, was invaluable in calling me out on what I do get criticized on time and again. I had a professor in grad school who told me, “You’re a very good writer. You could be great if you relaxed it more.” The indie publisher who previously offered me a rewrite opportunity likewise said that my writing at the outset of my story was “very ‘erudite’ sounding with lots of metaphors and description, lots of almost ‘purple prose'”¬†and needed to be “simplified a bit to make it more accessible so as to meet with the expectations of our typical readers.” So let’s just say I know this about myself and have for quite some time. I was also reading A.S. Byatt and stuff like Of Human Bondage and Victorian Gothic fiction at the time I started, which made a lot of old-school formality creep in. I’m working on it.

Interestingly enough, that publisher found my language to evolve over the course of the book, which no doubt has to do with practice making, well, closer to the elusive “perfect.” The act of writing itself is the way to become a better writer, and, not having tackled such a lengthy project before, I know that I fell into a more natural groove as the story progressed and had been applying other lessons learned along the way. So I’ve been concentrating lately on these opening chapters to make the writing more consistent. And when Emma says, “using words loosely or wrongly,” ha! Ouch! She’d noted specific instances in my first chapter, and they were definitely parts where I let myself drift into a bit of prose poetry without considering whether I’d let myself get too experimental/abstract. I’m hoping my writing prompts or Eda vignettes will be my outlets for that sort of thing and help get it out of my system for longer prose that should be more straightforward. ūüôā

There are a couple other items on the list that I’ll leave for Part 2. In the meantime, happy writing-to-write-better, everyone! And please do tell what feedback YOU’VE received on the two questions above. How did you respond?



The Second Coming: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Write and Write Again

Image from etsy.com

I’ve got lots and lots of material to share and will do so in the coming days (or weeks, more realistically, given the bat-shit craziness of my sheh-jule these days…). And what I’m noticing right now is that my writing life is experiencing a rebirth of sorts that has me coming back for SECONDS…

To start, while the jury is still out on the POV issue plaguing my first editing project (see “POV for Vendetta“), I’ve been assigned my SECOND PROJECT, which is already presenting issues of its own. In this case, the author is safely applying 3rd person limited across different characters by only shifting POV in new sections and/or chapters. However, its story arc is sagging in the middle due to a repeating element that flattens it out through lack of variety. In future posts, I’ll speak to both my editorial comments on this specific manuscript as well as¬†pacing a story in general.

In the last couple weeks, I have also been mapping out a SECOND MANUSCRIPT¬†of my own! Idea remnants that got left behind as I finished my first manuscript have inspired another story line altogether, so I’m working to apply all I’ve learned from my many, many mistakes on manuscript #1 to what will hopefully be a better planned and executed #2. Outlining the plot from the get-go is a first for me, as I’d nearly written myself into a hole the first time around and didn’t know how to bring it all together (see “Fraying at the End“). So while ms #1 accordingly still needs a lot tender lovin’ care, ms #2 is providing my mind a healthy diversion for a while. Having a second project in the pipeline also keeps me from placing too much pressure on that first one navigating its path to publication. As presenters at my workshop said last weekend, hardly any new author’s “debut” novel is actually the first book they’d written.

Speaking of workshop, I got a SECOND WIND for tackling both¬†the manuscripts I’m writing and editing by attending the Festival of Writing in York this past Saturday and Sunday. In addition to two ten-minute one-to-one meetings with a literary agent and published author (the latter being Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter, no less), I attended several workshops on topics like plotting, pacing, and marketability. It gave me gobs of food for thought, so I’ll share what smattering of notes and resources I can with you.

Finally, while I admittedly didn’t churn any creativity out during the month of February for Write 1 Sub 1, I feel I’ve gotten a SECOND CHANCE¬†this month thanks to my sister-in-law, as fate would have it. This ridiculously talented lady is a graphic designer by day and painter, photographer, and potter by night. Her latest endeavor is to create a website for her lovely pottery, and instead of presenting each with an ordinary catalog-type description, she’s opted to pair them with short stories inspired by their design and function. So guess who’s the lucky gal who gets to write these?! I’ve written five short-short pieces so far with five to go (as far as I know), so hopefully these will be appearing online by mid-April. While I still aim to write stories for submission to literary publications in subsequent months, I’m hoping this gig at least covers me for March.

All right, time to shut my yapper. Just a preview of more posts to come after I take a SECOND to catch my breath… ūüėČ

What’s on your writing agenda these days? Any writing firsts or seconds to celebrate this month?


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