Journal, Writing Discussion

April 2019

I was at the Creative Ink Festival this past weekend and OH wow I’m exhausted. My voice is a little raw, but I had a great time.

I attended more panels on the business and research side of things this year, and I did speak on two panels: Writing Killer Openings, and Selling Short Stories.

This is my third time attending and speaking at the festival, but I still took a ton of notes amassed a bunch of conference going tips that of course I’ll share…

Something I tried:

Being prepared really helps calm the public speaking nerves. This is the first time I think I actually enjoyed the public speaking. It’s absolutely okay to have a cheat sheet even if you never look at it. The moderator for my first panel emailed us the questions she would ask before hand, which was super helpful because it made us look GOOD (and if you ever moderate a panel in the future, I would recommend doing this). For my second panel, I didn’t receive any questions, but I wrote down everything I could think of based on the panel description, and jotted notes as the other authors on the panel were speaking so I could speak to those points when it was my turn.

A tip I’m definitely going to steal from a co-panelist:

Write down everyone’s names as you sit down, so that you can address the other panelists by name if you have something to add (name cards usually face the audience).

Something to avoid:

This is not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a pet peeve of mine when speakers don’t actually offer any concrete advice when they’re talking about a subject. For example, they might explain a thing, but not how to do a thing. Maybe it’s my teacher training, but I always look for actionable information out of my panels. It’s one thing to say: the opening of a story needs to hook a reader. It’s another thing to say: Here are three things you can do to create an opening that hooks a reader.

Faking extroversion (totally doable): 

Introduce yourself to your fellow panelists before you speak. If you’re sitting in the audience, simply smiling and waving hi to anyone that sits nearby you is usually enough to start a conversation. If you don’t know what to say, it’s perfectly okay to ask “How’s the conference going for you?” or “Have you attended before or is this your first time?” Having some prepared conversation starters is a good tip. I dislike speaking about myself, and so I tend to ask a lot of questions instead of speaking about myself. “What genre do you write?” I choose low pressure things, because we’re almost all introverts.

Books and resources that were recommended over the weekend:

  • Rock Your Plot / Rock Your Revisions by Cathy Yardley
  • Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque
  • 5 Critical Things For Successful Book Signings by Adam Dreece
  • Cornell University Copyright Chart – Helpful if you want to check whether a work belongs to the public domain
  • The Lock Picking Lawyer & Bosnian Bill on Youtube for practical lock picking information (in case your characters ever need it)
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain (or search for “Scene and Sequel” for info on this plotting technique)

And now, I’m going to hide in my cave and not speak to anyone for a few days. 🙂

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Q&A, Writing Discussion

A Quick Guide to Querying

Sometimes I get questions that I think would be good to add here. This is a quick (non-exhaustive) reference guide to querying North American literary agents, and intended for people looking to publish fiction traditionally.

1.Writing a good query

Is your book finished and edited? Now you’ll want to write your query. It’s a letter that captures what your novel is about, and hopefully entices the agent to read more. The goal of a query is to get a request for a partial (50-100 pages) or the full manuscript. That’s it 🙂

2. Putting together a list of agents

You’ll want to make a list of agents who represent the genre of novel you are trying to sell, and who might be a good fit. Some good references:

  • Manuscript Wish List ~ Agents and editors post what they’re looking for, and the types of books they like.
  • Writer’s Digest ~ Another way to find literary agents, especially newer agents.
  • Search #MSWL on Twitter. ~ If you find a good match, make sure to mention #MSWL and refer to the tweet in your query!
  • Check the acknowledgements in the back of your favorite novels. You can sometimes find out who represents your faves.

3. Making sure the agents and agencies you are querying are reputable

There are scammers out there. Some good places to figure out if an agent is legit:

4. Getting ready to submit

  1. Figure out how to track your submissions. You can use Query Tracker, but a simple spreadsheet works too. If you’re making your own spreadsheet, it’s useful to note what agent, agency, the date you submitted, and when / if you get a reply, along with which version of the manuscript you sent.
  2. Next up, you’ll want to double check each agent/agency website for what they require and how to contact them. Follow the guidelines. Yes, they’re all slightly different, but it’s worth the trouble.

5. Troubleshooting rejections

This is completely my preference for queries… but I suggest sending out batches of 5-10 queries at a time.

  1. If you’re not getting requests for more pages, then your query might need fixing before you send out the next batch.
  2. If you’ve gotten requests for partials and get rejections on those, you might want to consider that something might be wrong with the opening pages of your novel. The first 100 pages usually determine if the reader will go on reading. You need to hook them.
  3. Full manuscript rejections usually come with a bit of feedback. Some agents give more, and some give less. Feedback is very subjective, but if you get multiple agents making the same suggestions, they might be on to something and you might want to consider fixing your novel before you send it out again. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit – and that’s fair. You want someone who is enthusiastic about your novel to represent you!
  4. Don’t give up too soon. I would recommend submitting to at least 50 agents or even 100 if you’re getting a good request rate. As long as there’s still someone out there and might be a good fit, don’t give up. It only takes one yes.

5. Wait, what if they’re not rejections?

There are tons more resources out there. Google is your friend here 🙂 And do check out the extra links here. Good luck!

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