Tag Archives: writers

Inside Scoop: Dish from the Literary Agent Intern

Dear Linda… Are You My Agent?8025427_1

by Cindy Francois

On the list of things I didn’t know, or that didn’t occur to me prior to interning with Linda, is the importance of looking for the best agent/publisher for your work. As a writer, I can say that I hadn’t given it much thought. This is fine if you never intend to share your work with anyone. However, if you aspire to be a traditionally published author, you need to know your novel, which in turn will help you identify the best people to champion it.

Every writer who has ever dared boast about their writing has at one time or another been cornered with the question, “What do you write?” If you’re anything like me, some of the conversations may have gone like this:

FRIEND: “Hey, it’s good to see you! What have you been up to?”

ME: [smug smile] “Writing. I’m so excited about my new project.”

FRIEND: “Oh wow. That’s great! What do you write?”

ME: [stuttering] “Well, ah, fiction. Mostly short stories, although I have a novel in the works.”

FRIEND: “That’s impressive. I could never do that. What kind of fiction?”

And this is where the friendly conversation begins to feel like an interrogation, because honestly, I DON’T KNOW WHAT KIND OF FICTION, so I reply with a very long summary of the book, to which the friend will invariably respond by correctly arriving at the category I had wasted 75 words trying to name.

While the question, “What do you write?” may carry the same anxiety as “What do you do?” having a clear answer will make finding the best agents and publishers that much easier. After all, a query is (ideally) a succinct explanation of your work. In my time reviewing manuscripts as a literary agent intern, one of the themes I’ve come across is the excessive categorizing of works, so that a fantasy novel becomes a dystopian/urban/fantasy/romance/sci-fi hybrid. While you may think that casting such a wide net will increase the probability of your novel’s acceptance, doing so instead demonstrates your confusion about your work. To that end, try to be as clear as possible when you query an agent.  These are the benefits of doing so:

  • Having a clear understanding of what genre your novel is will help you identify the correct agent to pitch your work. As I mentioned in my last post, if you pitch a work of literary fiction to Linda that is predominantly a mystery, you’re going to get rejected. She doesn’t read mysteries, no matter what you call them; and
  • Correctly identifying your novel provides an intern, agent or editor with the correct framework to view your query and sample. If you query a contemporary fantasy novel, an intern, agent or editor will read it from that angle. Essentially, you supply the lens with which your work is examined. A failure to accurately identify your work may give the impression that you aren’t clear on what you’ve written, and that can earn you a rejection.

What I’m trying to drive home is that YOU are your novel’s first sales agent. Know your own product, inside and out.  This will demonstrate your knowledge of your work and its genre, and will help you pitch to agents and publishers in the correct market. If you’re going to receive a rejection letter–as most works will get at some point–it should be because the story didn’t connect with that particular intern, agent or editor, not because you misrepresented your work.

Cindy Francois

Cindy Francois

Cindy Francois interns for Linda Epstein (the eponymous blabbermouth).

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GUEST POST: When your work is out on submission

Squirrel (Joe)Having your work out on submission, or “being on sub,” is equivalent to an eighth-grade roller skating dance party.

Your skates are laced tight. You’re hanging onto that half wall, with all of the other nervous kids, ready to step out onto the floor. Your hands are sweaty. Your throat is dry. Your stomach is equal parts Hooray! ticker tape parade and ACK! pushed off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Then, the lights dim. The crazy laser light globe starts throwing multi-colored beams all over the lacquered wood, and the announcer says “It’s time for a couples skate. Guys, gals, grab a partner and get ready to rollllllll out the magic!”

This is it, this is the moment. This is your chance to skate with [insert desired name here]. You put your foot forward and step into the laser swathe, roller maelstrom, music thumping, vulnerability of the eighth-grade partner-searching phase.

Wanda said that Billy said that he saw Stacey asking Dana if Jennifer knew if Christopher’s sister, Katie would ask Regina if Ginnie would find out if Gina would ask Donna to skate with you…

This is how it feels to be on sub. Equal parts excitement, anxiety, madness, and hope. You seek fortune-tellers in shadowy alleys asking them to read tea leaves for an answer. You wander the streets talking to squirrels and popping Tums like they’re Skittles. You shower with your socks on and check your email every 1.7 minutes, on average. Even in the shower.

When news comes in, you shriek and drop everything, consulting the electronic oracle. When a publisher passes, you fall to your knees, railing at the sky. “I’m a failure! They hate me! Was it my name? Should I change my name? Is it my socks? Do they hate my favorite color? Should I have changed the robotic clown ninjas in chapter 53 to pencil-selling Hari Krishnas?” What? We’re artists. We’re dramatic.

Your agent will tell you to relax, that this business is not personal and there are many, many reasons for why they may have passed. They’ll tell you to keep working on the next book and stop reading into anything. They’ll tell you to start doing yoga and stop talking to squirrels.

Then…it happens. The good news you have been waiting for:

You have an offer on your manuscript.

And suddenly…suddenly you are holding hands with your skating partner, gliding along on the lacquered wood and not even the multi-colored laser lights can wipe that smile off your face. You’ve done it!

And then you get ready to do it again….

Joe McGeeJoe McGee is a children’s book author from southern New Jersey. He is a graduate of the Rowan University Master’s Writing Program and is currently pursuing his Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Joe is a former airborne Army officer, the father of three young boys, and a writing instructor at Rowan University. His fiction and poetry have won national recognition.

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GUEST POST: Dear Unlikable Teen Protagonist: Don’t Ever Change, Man. (Part 1)

teenage boyI’ve given birth to a prickly teen (if you’re more literal, you’ll be experiencing a bad visual right about now—I apologize). Her name is Pen and she’s the star of my work-in-progress (WIP) Boifriend. Right from the beginning, Pen had a likeability factor problem. I remember some of my beta readers thought she was too sarcastic, moody, and blasé. I worked on her attitude for a few drafts. But still, some still felt she was all these negative things that needed to be looked at. It surprised me because I thought she was awesome. I thought she sounded so much like someone I might’ve known (or been, really) in high school. At the same time, many other readers thought like me, and they loved Pen’s voice. They saw her attitude and demeanor in a different light. Those who “got” Pen even liked her earlier, crustier incarnations.

But we all know our protags are supposed to be likable.

Except…what does that even mean? And furthermore, what does that mean for a teen protag? I’m not talking about a serial killer as a main character here. Just a regular teenager.

Whenever someone has critiqued my protagonists—because I’ve got far crustier protags than Pen in other WIPs—as being anything that could translate to “unlikable,” I’ve carefully considered the feedback and made changes accordingly. Because if I’ve got an unlikable protag, then I’ve failed as a writer, right? But, lately I’ve been thinking enough is enough. If I keep going with this “stamp removal,” I might just erase the kick-ass teen right out of these protagonists of mine.

Here’s a truth about me: I’ve had a love-hate relationship with YA fiction. My problem has to do with the fact that many of the main characters I encounter in YA novels don’t feel like teenagers. I can’t tell you how many 27-year-old self-aware adults I’ve found masquerading as teens in YA. They talk and think like adults. They have such perspective and empathy. They’re concerned with adult issues—and it can happen, fair enough—but they handle these issues using the maturity and experience of adults. It rings false to my ears, and worse, it makes me feel like my teen experience was juvenile and pathetic. If you had been inside mine and my friends’ minds when we were 16, you likely would’ve found us to be nice enough, and cool (I’d like to think) but quite sarcastic and crusty. Also a bit irrational and impulsive, and a lot self-absorbed. Is that unlikable? I don’t think so. All these characteristics don’t necessarily mean unsympathetic. They don’t imply meanness.

As a writer of YA fiction, you have to be faithful to the teen experience to give an accurate inside look at the teen world. And yes, all teen experiences are different—I get that. But when it comes to a regular teen in a contemporary novel, you can’t disregard the characteristics of that developmental age. That means the hormones, the ego, the identity stuff, the magnified emotions, the angst. I mean, would you call a toddler protagonist unlikable because he pulls the dog’s tail, destroys the paint job by using markers on the wall, and drops his mother’s iPhone in the toilet?

If you don’t care about my protagonist, that’s one thing; but if she’s not sweet and rational all the time, that’s not unlikable—that’s life. And if Pen asked me to sign her yearbook, you can be sure I’d write, Don’t ever change, man.

Headshot MEM-E Girard is a registered nurse moonlighting as a writer of LGBT young adult fiction. Her first manuscript was a finalist in the 2010 Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest, and recipient of other contest awards. M-E serves on the board of directors of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region and manages its website Reading As Writers, a resource site and weekly blog. She does the social media thing in a variety of places, including Tumblr, Facebook, and hanging out on the RAW Twitter account as well as her own @ME_Girard. Check out her website for more info: http://www.megirard.com

 

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