10 Query Tips from a Literary Assistant — Week of 11/21/2014

Lane Heymont

I’m a literary assistant at The Seymour Agency. Our agents, Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn represent a range of genre: Christian/Inspirational, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Women’s Lit, Romance.

As usual, this week’s tips come from my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont). Enjoy!

1) A writer should have at least 1-3 projects in the works at any given point. When you sign a book deal, your agent or editor might ask, “Hey, what do you have next? What are you working?” Publishing moves at a glacial pace until it picks up speed like a freight train and suddenly you’re moving at 500 mph. Always have something else in the works.

2) Talking negatively about yourself in a query is not the way to win over an agent. Neither is boasting how fantastic you are. You are not the next H.G. Wells or Oscar Wilde. Ironic part is…

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Philosophy Versus Fiction: Writing for Change

Last week I met up with an old friend over drinks. This particular human happens to be a graduate student of philosophy at a world renowned university. While catching up she mentioned that she has been struggling with a literature class in which she is currently enrolled. I inquired as to why and she proclaimed that she does not see the benefit of fictional literature. “I mean, what’s the point of it,” she asked with a smile, knowing full well that my passion is fictional writing.

Now, to how many people this wonderful human has divulged her lack of respect for fiction I don’t know, but I’ve got to give her some credit for having the guts to say it to my face.

This was my response:

“I thought that we were friends but I think maybe I should leave now…” *Pretends to get up to walk out of the bar, ultimately sits back down and rambles somewhat incoherently about the importance of fiction as a mode for communicating philosophical thought.*

Thankfully, the conversation eventually turned to other topics once we politely agreed to disagree on the matter. Friendship salvaged.

About a week has gone by but I haven’t been able to shake this conversation. I haven’t quite managed to stop mentally replaying my response. Now that I’m in a slightly more lucid state, I’d like to address some of the thoughts I’ve since had about philosophy in fictional literature. As it turns out, there have been many.

Let’s start with a question: What is the point of writing?

There are a number of answers to this question depending on who you ask. Some will say they write to tell a story. Others say it’s to cleanse their mind of nagging thoughts.

I would say that it’s to impact the people that read what you write–to write for change. I’d even go out on a limb and say that most philosophers would agree with my answer.

So let’s get real for a minute here. If we’re talking philosophy versus fiction under the lens of impact, what is the general population more likely to read, a prominent philosophical paper or an acclaimed novel? If I write a stellar, ground breaking philosophical essay who’s going to read it? Probably a bunch of old mostly white dudes sitting around smoking wooden pipes. Maybe some PHD and graduate students will check it out too. It might even trickle its way down to a couple undergrad. lectures or to the computer screens of precocious high schoolers. But by the time it makes its way around the somewhat small philosophical world, how many people will have actually read it? How many people will be affected or change their approach to life because of this essay?

Chances are, not that many.

Now, how many people do you think have read The Giver by Lois Lowry? I’d wager most of the educated American youth who attended middle school in the last two decades. The entire premise of the novel hinges on a single question: What is the best way to live? *cough cough* Ethics. Is it worth sacrificing love and passion in order to live without pain and suffering? No one wants to deal with pain and suffering, especially when they’re in middle school, but this book has opened the eyes of many a preteen to the idea that without hardship it becomes nearly impossible to appreciate the joy of life.

Next take The Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman. This trilogy is a meditation on the suppressive nature of religion. Not to go all analytical essayist on you but I’ll support my claim with a quote from Ruta Skadi, one of the secondary characters of the work: “For all of [the Church’s] history…it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out.” When I was eleven I hadn’t read any philosophical texts or essays. Come to think of it, now that I’m twenty-two I haven’t read all that many either. But these books sparked my own meditative journey on the philosophy of religion that lasted well into my high school years. Hell, my mind still gravitates back to this series when thinking about religious themes or issues.

I could sit here and break down the philosophical merit of novel after novel but I think you guys get the point. Now, I’m definitely not trying to make the claim that all fiction has deep philosophical value. But personally I tend to enjoy and appreciate fictional works that push the reader to consider and question the current state of the world around them. In my opinion those are the books that people, especially young adults, should be reading. So those are the books that I intend to write.

What books have impacted your personal philosophy?

Do you write to tell a story or do you write for change?

To-Write-is-to-Change-the-World Disclaimer:

No friendships were destroyed in the occurrence of this conversation or (hopefully) in the writing of this blog post.

Creating from Something: Taking Time for Creative Input

So it’s been a while since I was last at the begining stage of the writing process. About a year and a half has passed since that fateful day when I first started building the worlds and developing the characters within The Maker’s Table. I had forgotten how much energy goes into the initial planning of a novel. The truth is that a potter cannot throw a pot without first centering the clay on the wheel. You have to lay the foundation before you can jump into the story. It’s in this foundation that I’m finding myself a bit stuck. Right now I face the task of dreaming up an entirely new world while also continuing to develop the world in which Misha, my protagonist, lives. Creating from nothing. That’s the way I’ve been looking at it over the past few days at least. But this morning, as I woke up with a frustration hangover from my lack of productivity the day before, my bookshelf caught my eye.

I traced the spines of the books I have read over the past few years. Their characters, sentence structures, tones, and settings played through my head. I thought about how little pieces of each of them had found their way into the themes, and philosophies, and dialogues of my first book. And I reminded myself that any art form, writing included, is never a process of creating from nothing. All of our lives we absorb the sights, and smells, and sounds around us. We take in inspiration from the places we see, the music we listen to, the books we read. And in turn those experiences influence our own creative output. There is no avoiding it.

I thought about all the times in the last year and a half that I had justified spending my time writing rather than reading. After all, writing is far more productive an act. But is that so true? Is it productive to focus solely on output without creating the time to absorb input? How many inspirational ideas or quotes or plot lines have I passed up since leaving my “To Read” list to gather dust?

So, as I find myself going mad from attempting to claw new ideas for my novel out of my brain, I’ve decided to search for inspiration in the initial source of my love for writing: reading.

 

 

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Current undertaking: Dune by Frank Herbert

Drafting Procrastination: Beginning the Writing Process

World,

As you’ve been informed, book number one is complete. I’ve probably read the damn thing through a hundred times. My family has read it. My friends have read it. Other writers have read it. I’ve edited/revised it after each person sent it back to me with comments. And then I edited it again just for the hell of it.

 

What I’m getting at here is: It’s time to write another book.

Let me rephrase that: It’s been time to write another book.

 

I’ve actually been meaning to start it for the last week. It’s funny what can come up when you mean to start drafting a book. Suddenly, you notice how dirty your floor is. You’d better sweep and mop it. Maybe it needs a vacuum too? You definitely don’t have enough groceries for the next two weeks so you might as well stock up your fridge like you’re preparing for the apocolypse. Now is HANDS DOWN the perfect time to clean out the toaster and reorganize your underwear drawer. Your roller blades need new wheels? Better make the hour-long journey to the best skate shop on Yelp to get them replaced. Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you should write a blog post about how difficult it is to start writing a book.

What I’m trying to say here, people, is that starting a book is a daunting task and I’ve been doing everything possible to distract myself from it. Time to get it together. Writers all over the world are frantically pounding out the beginning of their 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo and I’m cleaning out my toaster?

Since starting my book a few of my friends who also wish to be novelists have asked me for advice. I always find myself saying the same thing: JUST DO IT. Just sit down and do it. It’s scary, I know, sitting down with a computer or notebook and embarking on a journey whose end is so very far from sight. I sat on the concept behind my first book for four years before putting anything on paper. But once the first draft is done all that hemming and hawing just seems like a waste of what could have been time spent typing or brainstorming or outlining character arcs.

The point is, I need to take my own advice.

Novel number two, here I come.

Wish me luck.

“I’m a Writer”: Claiming the Title

On our way down from the peak of Yosemite’s Liberty Cap, my housemate, Max, and I encountered two ill-prepared Hollanders with round bellies and jovial grins. With nothing more than a camera and a some stylish European shorts, they passed us on their way to complete the six hour hike from whence we came.

“How much farther to the top,” the one with the camera sang at me in his heavy Dutch accent.

“Depends on which top,” I replied with a smile, glancing towards the many surrounding peaks.

This halted their gleeful ascent but did little to deter the enormous dimples carved into the corners of their lips.

“Any top,” he chuckled, swaying gently in contentment. “Where are you from?”

“Berkeley,” Max offered.

“Ah ya, so are you in a Startup too?”

“No,” I giggled, gesturing towards Max. “He’s a pilot and I’m a…” I hesitated. “I’m a writer.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries before they ultimately decided–despite the ominous rainclouds above–to carry on with their hike.

I walked away from the conversation beaming. I had finally done it. After so many sleepless nights spent running through plot lines and character arcs, thousands of hours of drafting and editing, after tens of thousands of words typed, I had finally claimed the identity of a writer as my own. I could have fallen back on my usual response: “Oh I’m starting a teaching job in December,” sometimes accompanied by a barely audible squeak, “and I’m trying to publish a novel.” But I didn’t. I don’t quite know why this particular instance inspired me to own up to my rightful title. Perhaps it was the adrenaline-driven rush of confidence that comes along with completing a challenging hike. Perhaps it was the light-hearted nature of the cheery Dutch man who asked the question. Maybe I was just too damn tired of discrediting all the emotion and energy I’ve put into this book. Regardless, now that I’ve claimed the title of writer I’m never giving it up.

 

 

“I am a writer.” Every syllable feels right.

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Synopsis Hell: Writing a Synopsis for Query Letters

I’ve been querying like mad over the past couple weeks.

For those that don’t know what querying is, it’s basically sending a letter/other materials to an agent to inquire as to whether they’re interested in reading your manuscript.

Through time spent researching various literary agent preferences I’ve found that no two queries look exactly alike. Some agents only want a query letter. Some want a query letter and the first ten pages. Some only want the first ten pages. Some want the first ten pages in the body of the email. Some want it as an attachment. Some want it mailed. And, unfortunately, some want a synopsis.

These synopsis-seeking agents are the bane of my existence.

Believe it or not, I think I may have had a harder time summarizing the plot of my book in two Word doc. pages than I had writing the entire two hundred sixty book pages. What do you mean you want me to condense my elaborate story into a few meager paragraphs? What do you mean I have to fit in the main character arc including their major character traits and motivations? The impact character’s part? The major relationship and themes? You want the plot line but you don’t want me to give it away? Talk about a tall order, people.

Anyway, I worked on the damn thing for a few days, got it to an acceptable state with the help of many deep breathing exercises, and now I’m never going to look at it again.

Agents should start getting back to me over the next couple weeks. In the meantime I plan to keep pumping my manuscript out into the world. Wish me luck.

 

Keep writing.

 

Rejection Bliss- My First “Thanks, but no thanks” From an Agent

Dear Internet,

After sending my manuscript to two agents (there will be many more to come) I’ve received my first rejection letter. I had a feeling before opening the email that the contents would not be favorable. However, upon reading the very polite “No thank you, negative, it’s not for me,” I felt no heart-sinking disappointment, no exhale of frustration. Instead of crawling into a corner of denial and bent pride I found myself standing in the middle of the sidewalk staring at my phone with a big idiotic grin on my face. Someone read my manuscript! A professional, real life agent read it! And they didn’t even say they hated it! Or that it’ll never sell! They read it and they said that, due to a stylistic preference, it’s not for them. Even better, they encouraged me to continue querying other agents. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not sure if each rejection will incite the same ridiculous giddiness. Being turned down is bound to get old. But for now I feel more motivated than ever to keep working towards publication. I’ll be sending out two more queries some time this week once I finish writing a synopsis of my book. Expect a post on synopsis writing as it’s far more difficult than I expected. Until then, keep writing and best of luck. 

California[relo]cation

Tomorrow I am moving to Berkeley California.

It’s such a simple sentence in form. It’s seven words long. It has a subject and a verb. There’s nothing complex about it. And yet this one sentence carries so much weight: the tears spilled on my mom’s shoulder as I hugged her good-bye, the look on my dad’s face as he waved to me from the door. It encompasses the impending distance between myself and the wonderful beings I call my friends, the thousands of memories left behind within the walls of my childhood room, all the laughter and growth and love that I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced. It possesses the strength and courage that it took to leave what I know behind in exchange for the adventure of meeting new people and discovering new passions, the promise and excitement of a new life.

Seven simple words can hold so much.

 

Wish me luck.

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Demystifying the Writing Conference

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Dear Cyberspace,

A miraculous thing happened this weekend. I survived my first writer’s conference! I can’t tell you exactly why I was so nervous. I think it was mostly the fact that I didn’t quite know what to expect. Going into the conference I knew three things: there would be workshops on different aspects of the writing/publishing/marketing process, I would meet a lot of fellow writers, and I would have to pitch my book to as many agents as possible during an hour long pitch slam. Ok, so I just said I couldn’t tell you exactly why I was so nervous. I lied. Now that I think of it, I know exactly why. It can be summed up in two words: pitch slam.

Let me give you some insight into this phenomenon if you aren’t already familiar with it. The hour long session is broken up into three minute intervals during which you sit with an agent and give a 90 second book pitch. With the left over time the agent asks you questions about your book and, if they like what they hear, pass you their business card along with instructions as to what they want you to send them. Requested materials range from a query letter to a synopsis to the first three chapters of your novel.

Picture, if you will, a large room lined with thirty or so tables. At each of those tables sits two literary agents with their names posted behind them on the wall. Now, picture a line of two hundred people standing outside the door to this room. These people have been standing there for, say, forty-five minutes. The door opens and they scramble frantically into the room in hope of being the first in line to sit down with one of the agents. Keep in mind that there are 200+ aspiring authors scuttling around this room and only 60 agents. So if one of the agents that you want to talk to is already taken you begin to form a line behind them. As you’re waiting in this line the clock is ticking down. Are you behind three people? That’s three minutes each. Nine minutes of time you could be talking to other agents wasted. What if you’re behind five people? There must be a reason that this agent is so popular, right? It must be worth it? Your eyes wander around the room…There’s an agent with an open chair in front of them! Should you abandon your line and go talk to him? Glances back at the agent you’re waiting for. But she looks so nice! What if she’s THE ONE? Looks back to the agent with the vacant chair in front of him. What if he’s THE ONE?!

Talk about stressful.

Anyway, I survived the experience despite my sky rocketing heart rate. I ended up pitching to six agents in all and four of them requested the first fifty pages of my manuscript! Somehow they understood me as I stammered through my pitch and decided that they like my idea! Needless to say, I left that room feeling pretty proud of myself. I’ll be emailing them my first few chapters by the end of the week.

As for the rest of the conference, it really was just meeting people and sitting in on workshops. Here are some of the sessions I attended:

  • Networking for Writer’s
  • Blog Your Way to a Book Deal
  • How to Sell Your First 1,000 Copies
  • Turn Your Readers Into Marketers

All of the workshops I attended bolded, highlighted, and underlined the importance of blogging as an author. So here I am and here I’ll stay.

More soon.

 

 

My Book is Done?

Hi Friends,

The time has come for me to make a blog. The time actually came about a year ago when I began writing my first Young Adult novel but who has time to write blog posts AND a book? Well as it turns out, ALL successful authors have (or make) that time these days. So I best play catch up.

The momentous occasion that sparked this overdue first post is the completion of my manuscript, The Maker’s Table. What’s the final word count you ask? Right around 63,000. Writing this novel has been a cleansing, rewarding, maddening, and exhilirating experience and the fact that I’m in the final stages is so surreal. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting down on my lunch break to scribble out my first hundred words.

I’m taking the rest of this week to polish out the last few kinks just in time to make it to the New York Writer’s Digest Conference this weekend. At the conference I’ll be attending a number of exciting and informative workshops on the writing and publishing process (yay brain candy!). I’ll also have the opportunity to pitch my book to 50+ agents and editors. The idea makes me slightly nauseous. I mostly just feel all tingly and happy though. I’m nearing a reality that I never fully let myself believe to be possible. Now more than ever is the time to embrace that possibility and I’m throwing myself at it full throttle.

More to come.

-Kassie

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