Tag Archives: revision

“Never Have I Ever” for Writers

imagesRules of the game: I make a statement about writers or writing. Anyone who has done the thing that I’ve said, must take a drink (or whatever your vice might be).

Warning – of course you must be legally eligible to take said drink and not planning to be responsible for small children or operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery any time soon. Writing is serious business, folks! 😜
So, here we go…
  1. Never have I ever finished writing my novel, novella, short story or poem
  2. Never have I ever gone back to revise one more time, after I said I was done
  3. Never have I ever had writers block
  4. Never have I ever written a stereotypical character
  5. Never have I ever info dumped
  6. Never have I ever used the words “just” or “almost” too many times
  7. Never have I ever been jealous of another writer’s success
  8. Never have I ever made an egregious grammar error
  9. Never have I ever used a word incorrectly
  10. Never have I ever looked down my nose at <fill in some genre of writing>
  11. Never have I ever wanted to quit writing altogether.
  12. Never have I ever told something when I could have shown it
  13. Never have I ever had a kind of dumb idea for a story and written it anyway
  14. Never have I ever written awful dialogue
  15. Never have I ever switched points of view without realizing it

Bonus, double shot question: Never have I ever thought I might have written the next blockbuster bestseller!

This is so disgusting to me I almost couldn't put it in the post.

This is so disgusting to me I almost couldn’t put it in the post.

Ok! Are you still standing? Did you get to the end without drinking (or whatever)? If you’re still standing and can see straight, go back and ask the same questions in Truth or Dare. Or while playing beer pong or quarters. Or from your Ouija board or tarot cards. Or just for the heck of it. If you’re not swinging full out, risking it all, making mistakes, sometimes falling into a pit of despair, chances are you’re not a writer and you meant to read a blog about 12 ways to clean your bathtub drain or something. That’s cool. Never have I ever successfully gotten all the hair out of my bathtub drain. I feel you.

Wait, you weren’t dumb about this, right? Because, you know, this blog post was metaphorically speaking. You knew that, right?  Um… Hey! Would someone out there get this reader some coffee, please?!

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Top 10 Things I Say To Authors at Conferences

stickfigureGIFoozThis past weekend I was at the New England SCBWI conference, Thinking Outside the Crayon Box, doing query critiques and manuscript critiques. First of all, I happen to love going to this conference. It’s impeccably run, pretty darn big, draws really top notch speakers, and the attendees are some of the nicest people ever. But I noticed that the words that were coming out of my mouth as I spoke to the authors to whom I was assigned were pretty much the same as they usually are when I go to conferences anywhere.

Here’s the scene: I sit across a small round table with an author on the other side. They are either nervous or not, friendly or not, open to hearing my input on their query letter or manuscript, or not. Regardless, I always try to make them feel comfortable, usually with a joke (which is usually a dumb one), and I remind them I’m just a regular person. Often they politely laugh at my jokes. I do try to make a difference for them and their writing. But I’ve found that besides the things that are particular to each person’s manuscript, there’s a recurring theme to the things I usually end up saying. Here are the top 10 things (in no particular order) that come out of my mouth when I’m critiquing query letters and manuscripts at conferences:

1. You’ve got a good premise here, but I don’t feel the writing’s where it needs to be yet.

2. You need to show more and tell less.

3. Your dialogue still needs some work. It doesn’t feel authentically teen/middle grade.

4. I’m sorry, I’m just going to slurp down some more of this coffee.

5. This feels like info dumping; try to sneak all this backstory into your narrative.

6. I’ve read your first 10 pages but nothing’s happened yet; this feels like throat clearing before your story starts.

7. One of the most important tasks of your first pages is to have your reader feel invested in your character and want to find out what happens to them next.

8. You have to know your market and know who your manuscript is geared to. Middle grade books are focused on readers between 8 and 12 years old; young adult fiction is geared towards kids who are about 12 to 18.

9. Your word count is way too high. OR Your word count is way too low. Try to familiarize yourself to the industry standards

10. Yes, I’ll be hanging out in the bar later with the other agents and editors! 😉

So, conference attendees who have heard any of these things from me, know that you’re in good company! And people who I will meet at conferences in the future? I’m certain I will be saying some of these things to you, too! But perhaps, now that you’ve read this blog post, you can go back to your manuscript and try to attend to some of these common pitfalls of writing.

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Revise & Resubmit: What’s Up With That?

imgresSo you finally get a response for one of the gazillion queries you’ve sent to all those perfect-for-you agents that’s not a “thanks but it’s not for me” and they want you to revise and resubmit. “What?! What does that even mean?” you might ask. Or, you might huffily think, “Why would I do a revision if they’re not even offering me representation?!” Or, perhaps you’re thinking, “I’ll do anything! I’ll change the whole thing if only they’ll represent me!” Or maybe your response is more like, “WTF is that crazy person thinking? They totally didn’t get what I was going for in this manuscript.” Or something else. What I’d like to do here is explain why an agent might ask you to revise and resubmit (or at least why I do).

I get so many queries every single day that my inbox is basically always overflowing. I have my intern (Hi Kimberly!) go through the queries to kindly decline the things that she knows I don’t want (like adult fiction, memoirs, romance, etc…). When we find something that I would be interested in, she’ll read the first 20 pages of a manuscript to gauge whether the writing is up to the standards of what I’m looking for. Then I will. If I’m still interested, we’ll request the full manuscript. Then I have her read it and write a reader report. Then I decide whether I’m going to take my time to read the full manuscript, too. When I do read a full manuscript, I always go in with my fingers crossed that it’s fabulous, with my eyes and ears open for things that aren’t working. And then one of three things happens…

I decline. “Thank you for your submission. It’s really just not for me” because on further reading I realize it’s really just not for me. Or “Thank you for your submission. I’m afraid the writing isn’t where I’d need it to be to make an offer of representation,” because it’s not, and for whatever reason (and there are many) I don’t feel like I’m right for the project.

I gather more information. Because sometimes I’m interested in the manuscript but I just want more information about you as an author before making a decision about offering representation. I usually want to know things like if you have other manuscripts already written (especially with picture books);  if you’ve been agented before; if you’ve submitted your manuscripts to publishers yourself; if you’ve ever self published anything. Things like that. After gathering more information, I might then ask for a phone call if I’m still interested.

I ask for a revise/resubmit. This might happen because…

  • love your story but I think it still needs more work.
  • I want to see if you know how to revise before committing to representing you.
  • There are some major plot problems but your writing is so terrific that I don’t want to just pass.

Now, when I request a revise/resubmit I’ll usually explain what I think needs work. If it’s just a general “the writing isn’t good enough yet” that means that I really dig your plot but you need to up the ante on the writing. Easier said than done, I know.

So what should you do? Well… it kind of depends upon what your situation is. Of course first you should thank the agent and let them know that if you decide to revise you’d be happy to resubmit to them.

  • If your manuscript is out on submission to other places you might not be inclined to do a big revision until you’ve heard back from the other places. I mean, what if one of the other agents makes you an offer?
  • That being said, if what the revise/resubmit is asking for isn’t a big revision, then what do you have to lose?
  • What if the agent didn’t get what you were going for and is asking you to revise it to make it something you’re not interested in writing? I say don’t do it. (But that’s just my opinion.) I personally don’t think writers should write to get published. I think writers should write what they want and if it gets published? Bonus! I don’t think gutting something just so you can sell it is a good career move.
  • But if you’re kind of hearing the same thing from all the places you’ve submitted? I say do it! Why not? Even if it’s a major revision, if you can get what the agent is suggesting and you think it makes sense and will make your manuscript stronger, I say go for it.

Let me tell you a story… When I worked for another agent, reading queries, we received a query from a middle grade author who I’d chatted with on Twitter. She was smart and was very funny and I could see the glimmer of something really special  in her writing. I gave her a lot of feedback on her manuscript but passed for the agent I was reading for. Two years later, when I just started being a baby agent myself, she queried me with the same manuscript. She’d totally re-written it, based on the feedback I’d given her. Although I felt it still needed work, I took her on as a client. You see, what I had found out about her from the revise/resubmit was that a. she really was a great writer, b. she could revise the shit out of her work, c. she was easy to work with and took direction well.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to post questions about revising and resubmitting in the comments below.

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