Approaching agents online: is there a protocol?

If you have done your homework, you know that there is an accepted way of approaching an agent with your query. This process takes a long time ( in my opinion), and it is only once you have all the information in hand that you can look back and think, ‘Ah, I get it now. Why did this take me so long?’

Not only is there a structure for your query to follow, but there is an etiquette surrounding your approach, your response and your professionalism. No different than a resume for a job really. I mean, if you didn’t tick the right boxes and if you didn’t hold the experience the employee is after, they would pass you over for the job, right? And most times, they wouldn’t call you to tell you that, or to offer advice on where you went wrong. Submitting a query should be no different; it’s not as though we are approaching the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld…follow the rules, don’t be too chatty, get to the point, move to the side and wait.

With pitching competitions becoming so prevalent online, and writers following agents on twitter for information on the literary industry,  are we breaking down the barriers? Are literary agents more approachable? Do we have a more direct route to information?

I follow agents on twitter, and I believe I have only responded to one of their tweets. In my head, I changed my tweet a number of times, resulting in a much wittier response that would never be read. My clothing can’t withstand that sort of sweating pressure again. I could just tweet sans clothing, but I would prefer to withhold a response.

But could I approach them directly regarding query information? Regardless, this is what I would do after: Oh my God…Did I use the conjunction comma in the correct place? Do they prefer the oxford comma? DID I JUST SAY ‘SHOULD OF’ INSTEAD OF ‘SHOULD HAVE’??

In most cases, information on their querying process is available on websites, publishing sites, query sites. So should we feel comfortable in treating them as we would a fellow writer we follow, an author we follow?

 

My Christmas Message

Everything’s crazy around Christmas and New Year, so rather than suggesting ways of trying to fit in your writing through crazy times or crazy writing through normal times, I’m going to suggest an alternative.

I’m not going to get into whether I’m religious, spiritual or whatnot.

Regardless of your beliefs, the message of this ‘retreat’ angel card is clear. I’ll even take out the preachy parts in case you prefer to just hear the message.

Spend some time alone in quiet thought.  Clear your mind, and focus on your truth and priorities.
Think of the mighty oak tree that grows in spurts and then rests.  It draws its nourishment from deep within the Earth, and takes its time before growing upward again.

It’s a simple message, but one that we often ignore.
So take some time my fellow writers, to relax and shut down. And don’t beat yourself, my mighty oak trees. There will be plenty of time to grow again.
Merry Christmas and thank you for your support in 2014 🙂

Twitter pitches gave me the pitching twitches

Have you ever seen stage make-up in the full day of light? On stage, with all the stripping lights, it looks fabulous. But when you see that same make-up on someone just walking around during the day, it’s confronting – too much. This is kind of like my introduction to twitter pitching. Pitches I believed too fantastical, too in-your-face, ended up being the life of the twitter party. In other circumstances the pitch might look out of place – like the party animal whose outlandish behaviour  at a frat party is encouraged, but that same behaviour would be frowned upon should they turn up to a job interview wearing a beer-chugging hat. But are twitter pitches as one-dimensional as this? Or like the beer-chugging frat boy who calls his mummy on Sundays and ruffles the hair of his youngest niece, is there a depth and intensity that you never saw until you gave them more than a passing glance? Yes, of course 🙂 Twitter pitching might have given me the pitching twitches, but it was a great sensation: it made me feel something again.

I loved the way my friend Jean would get all *shifty eyed* when we spoke about involving other people into the world of my book. Well now, not only am I giving the milk away for free, I’m throwing in a milking station and jean-short wearing cowboy – who likes to massage . . . It was sobering to throw my story in people’s faces 24 times in 12 hours and have people scan past it. It made me realise that there are a lot of great stories out there and that they sound a hell of a lot more interesting than mine. And it made me realise my hook is more just ‘slightly-bent’ and that it’s going to need some serious shaping to latch anyone with its curvy goodness. That can never be a bad thing 🙂

I don’t want to get into what makes a great twitter pitch; people do this so much better than I. (Check them out one day. The ones I tried are #pitchMAS and #SFFpit, but there was #pitmad a few days prior ) I do have two opportunities with agents wanting to see my query, so that was pretty awesome. And after spending two months building my query and then moaning because I couldn’t send it out to agents this close to Christmas, it was nice to finally send those first two queries and have that feeling of hope resurface. Because isn’t that what keeps us going? As corny as hope is as a concept, I would rather have the possibility of rejection, than no possibility at all. It’s exciting – like when you know you shouldn’t call the love interest who shows little interest in you, and you know they won’t return your call. But don’t you just love that feeling in the pit of your belly that makes you feel alive?

 

 

Unclogging the blog: when less is more.

This is my favourite quote at the moment. It resonates with me for two reasons. One, I’ve been having trouble writing my blog, and two, I have been working on my 140 character pitch.

Last week, I tried for two hours to write on two different topics and ended going on so many tangents, ‘writing young adult at thirty-nine’ almost became, ‘writing young adult at forty.’

When I started this blog, it took me a week to decide that I was going to stick to my conversational, article writing style. Give people a message, take them on a journey from the beginning and wrap it all in a neat bow at the end so people could say, “Ah, so that’s where she was going with that.” What I’ve found, though, is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep this up. And on top of that, was I making this too complicated for myself?

I was a lot more active in the beginning with regards to scoping blogs and seeing what works, how people get comments and followers.

And what I found is this: Sometimes, people just say,” Hey, do you like stuff?

And people will say, “Omg I love stuff. Did you see stuff last week?”

Another, “Without stuff, I couldn’t breathe.”

And I’m thinking, “I don’t love stuff………………..I freakin’ love stuff!”

And there’s a bunch of people where you comment on their blog and they comment on yours, and at the end of the day, isn’t it nice when someone just comments on your blog?

So, do you like stuff? 😛

 

Are you a storyteller or a writer?

Of course, you want to say both, but it’s never that simple. As you research writing, what will red-flag you as an amateur or an industry professional, you learn the tricks of the trade to increase your chances of being published. For discussions sake, lets say that sticking to these will ensure your tent is firmly pitched into the writers camp. But you find successful exceptions to these rules: authors who can tell a great story without staying true to the accepted writing conventions. And damn, do they tell a good story. And yes, I used an adverb in this paragraph.

As a reader, I’m not too bothered as long as my interest as held. I even don’t mind if there’s no prose, the author used an alternative dialogue tag to said and, god forbid, when they are referring to a blue dress, it’s just blue. So why is it that we strive to hit all those literary buttons simultaneously with every finger that isn’t cramped with RSI? Respect from peers? Publisher interest?

Who is driving this train anyway? The readers. But how often do we listen, and how often are we too busy talking about how we don’t understand how Fifty Shades is so successful because the writing is an affront to the craft? The woman made money because she had everyone hanging on every chapter she released, and you know what? Even though the readers were pushing that train along, inevitably it was the non-readers who got that baby rolling. And why? Maybe because they didn’t have to worry about how it was written, they just wanted a good story. We all talk about hitting those markets, but with people reading less every year, the market I would love to hit? Non-readers. True story.

On my first draft, I was telling a story – just get the story out. But I believe that by my final draft, my book turned into a novel, my storytelling into writing. But my final question is this: should we let the craft of writing interfere with telling a good story?

Selecting a literary agent: enjoying the power for the first and last time.

I don’t mind a good giggle. If I get a belly laugh, I consider it a great day. Explaining how agents and publishers work to my Dad gave me a good giggle. Not a belly laugh, though; I’m not that disrespectful to the industry. So, it was a good day, not a great one.

Although I’ve been having a hard time summarising for my blurb, I think I did okay at summarising the submission process within the literary industry. I guess I didn’t need a snappy first sentence to be judged on, he allowed me more than 20 words before his attention was lost and he decided to speak to me even though I haven’t been writing since my brain could form creative ideas. That’s a good quality in a Dad. He also used to pick me up late at night from the city when taxi’s wouldn’t. Another great quality in a Dad. Now if I could only get him to become a literary agent, build up a network of contacts and get a handle on the publishing industry, I would have the best agent ever: one that would drive me home after events and make sure I’m tucked up safe in bed. I think they exist.

So back to the good giggle. When he paraphrased back the writer, agent, publisher relationship, I was not only proud of his listening skills, I was excited that it sounded as crazy out loud as it did in my head. Just like my MS. But that’s okay because I’m aiming for crazy.

Be that as it may, crazy or cockameme, this is how it works and I will respect that. I respect loads of people that I giggle at, and with, and it’s okay as long as they know it and I can handle them giggling at my expense. I’m sure loads of people will be giggling at my attempts at submitting my work, but then again, I hear these people are too tired to laugh – or maybe that’s why they laugh: they are so overworked they’ve gone loopy. That’s the agent I want. Hardworking, loopy and can drive me around. I’m narrowing this down…

I’m at the part of my post-submission process where it’s time to select an agent. This is pretty exciting; it will be the first and last time I’ll be on this side of the selection process. After I send these off, the power will be lost forever. So I need to enjoy it. But how do I select an agent that’s right for me? What would ensure they are on my top ten list?

When sending queries, your opening line should mention why you chose them specifically and that you have done your research. It would be nice if you could just mention that they accept your genre, but you need to go beyond this, I believe. But stalking author acknowledgements for the agent they thank… Is that the best way to select them? Do they want another similar author on their books where they will need to pitch you both against each other in a particular market?

Publishers may only have one opening for a book of a certain genre. So if that agent has two of me on their books, wouldn’t me and my other me be fighting for that spot? So based on that, is my excel spreadsheet full of agents of my favourite authors only good for polishing up on my basic excel skills?

I have the books and websites where I can research agents, the questions you would ask if they want to represent you. But other than saying: you fit the brief because you are an agent with a license to…well no license actually. How do you set them apart? Who will be my taxi-driving, great-listening, loopy hard worker?

 

 

How important are your writing credentials? When your bio is like b.o.

I like to think that I’m like dark chocolate.  A little bitter, but with too much cocoa, the bitterness is so overpowering you decide to stop eating it. So my bitterness level is like cocoa. Sometimes, I’m a 70% cocoa, sometimes I push the 90% boundary, and other times, I’m straight dark chocolate.

Today I’m straight dark chocolate. Maybe, 50% cocoa instead of your usual 45%; I do like to push the boundaries. But either way, in Lorelle terms, I’m standard dark chocolate.

I’ve been dissecting the query letter. After all my post-submission options, I’m hunting agents, which means I’m dissecting queries. Which takes months. So they deserve their own post. Not this one. Today I can say, and only today,  ‘Begone, Agents.’ – but don’t go too far. I will need you in about 345 days when I finish my blurb.

So I get to the Bio. And it hits me. What the fudge ( dark chocolate fudge of course) ! All this time, I’ve been glossing over the bio because it sits at the bottom and has none of me in it – no ‘ I ‘ in it – so my bio may as well be called a b.o. And yes, it stinks.

Credentials. How important are they? If I have none, should I pack up my little keyboard and let my cats use it as a bridge between two chairs? It becomes their new chair?

When you apply for a job, you take note of the work experience required and you only apply if you have the necessary credentials. Why would it be any different in the literary world?

In a job interview, when you are asked about your weaknesses, you know that you have to say something to the effect of: I’m too dedicated; I spend too much time perfecting my work; I have trouble delegating.  A weakness with that positive spin. You just know that you should answer in that way. There’s a technique, an understanding.

Publishers and agents can spot amateurs; there are red flags, apparently. If I’m entrenched in the industry, considered one of them, I would know not to apply without such credentials? And being entrenched as such, I would have been racking up such achievements without it being a box that needs to be ticked?

Should they say, you shouldn’t apply if you haven’t won or placed in a writing competition, or had some piece, however small, published? Or the fact that I need to ask, means that I shouldn’t apply?