Monday, March 28, 2011

These four things you shall not do . . . At an agent panel . . . In my opinion.

Dear people-who-will-probably-never-see-this-blog-because-if-you-read-blogs-and/or-are-skilled-in-google-fu-you're-already-aware-of-these-things:

But just in case. . .

Here's a list of four things you might not want to do at an agent panel:

1. Not pay attention and ask a question that's already been answered IN DEPTH. And then proceed to ask a series of follow up questions making agents repeat their IN DEPTH answers.

Because: Duh.

2. Ask a question that's actually a thinly veiled pitch for your book. For example:

Writer: Um, okay, so like, my dad was a famous dragon slayer in the 80s and 90s--and I'm writing a non-fiction novel about how he didn't want to marry any of the princesses he saved. Can you even believe it?!? I'm also writing a nonfiction tell-all about my time as an extra on the set of The Simpsons and I totally made out with Bart...So I guess my question is... what's the best way to let you know about what I'm writing?

Yeah. No. I mean, I can't speak as an agent (why? because I'm not one, obvi) but as a fellow writer in the same panel, I now pretty much hate your guts.

Okay. Dislike you.

Okay. Am annoyed.

Because: Unless the panel is titled "Everybody Pitch Now" (clearly to the tune of C+C Music Factory's Everybody Dance Now) panels aren't the place to pitch an agent. Plenty of conferences have agent pitch sessions that you can sign up for. And sometimes agents linger after their panels, for you to speak with them privately then. I don't know if those times are times you should pitch or not, but they're better than in a room full of people who want answers to real questions that will help more than just one person.

3. Ask an agent if you can send them your query even though they've just said they don't rep what you write. For example:

Agent: I absolutely 100% do not represent fiction. 

Writer: So. . . I know you don't represent fiction, but I have this amazing YA paranormal. Can I query you anyway?

Agent: . . . *crickets*

Because: Here's the thing: a LOT of times agents will make exceptions for conference goers. As in, they'll open up to queries if they're currently closed. But I've never heard of one opening up to queries for things that they absolutely do not represent. And, think about it. Why would you want them to? Don't you want an agent who loves what you write? Who has contacts at publishing houses based on previous sales with your genre? Also, other writers will probably maybe probably laugh at you for asking a question like that. (I mean, not me, of course. Because I would never laugh at you.) 

4. Disagree with an agent's answer in a condescending way. Por ejemplo:

Agent: Right now, most publishers pay authors 25% royalties for e-book sales.

Writer: No. You're wrong, you idiot. My friend told me blah blah blah...

Because: Welp, it's just plain rude. Didn't you ever learn your manners ? No? Well then. You should know that the agent's right and you're misinformed and you look like a big beyotch. (I will say: this is different from asking follow up questions. I think those are fine because sometimes things aren't easily explained/understood on the first go-round. Or maybe that's just because I'm blonde.) 

Love always,

PS All examples are exaggerations of things I've seen recently. Except the part where the agent says e-book sales are at a 25% royalty rate right now. That's something I heard from an agent at VA Festival of the Book this year. 

QOTD: What's your favorite word today?

Mine's beyotch.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Funny: Josh Groban Sings Kanye West's Tweets. LMFAO

This. . . really needs no introduction.

Happy Friday

PS Check out Christine Fonseca's big announcement! (CLICK HERE)

PPS Check out Cambria Dillon's blog today--and win a 5-page critique by her agent!!!

PPPS Want to keep the laughter coming? CLICK HERE for previous funnies.

PPPPS Thanks to Cristin for sharing this video with me!

PPPPPS I have nothing to say here, but I was having too much fun typing all the postscripts to stop myself...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#VAbook: First Page Critiques

So. I took eleventy bajillion notes during this one panel, Dancing with the Manuscripts, at The Virginia Festival of the Book.

Yes, you read that correctly. ELEVENTY BAJILLION. 

Before you run away screaming with flailing muppet arms, you should know I'm not writing all eleventy bajillion notes out here today.

You will not have to read a novel-length post if you stick around. 



INSTEAD I sorted the notes into categories and simplified them into pretty pictures.       And by pretty pictures, I mean word clouds and nothing more.

But first?

An explanation:

Ahead of time, writers could submit their first 100 words to be critiqued during the session. Sadly, I did not discover this until past the deadline. But lots of other people did and I kept track of everything said about THEIR pages.

Winning Qualities for Your First Page
prose = beautiful language, active verbs, clean writing
engaging = good setup, foreshadowing, emotions evoked right away, fun to read, wanted to know more immediately

Red Card Qualities for Your First Page
(Panelists held up red cards if they didn't want to read past those first 100 words.)

prose = bad metaphors, clunky language, too many adverbs
bad description = take too long describing one thing, vague

something interesting : one panelist didn't like an entry because Hitler was referred to flippantly (the MC compared someone to Hitler), because she'd JUST been to a WWII panel, so it hit too close to home for her at the moment. timing really can be everything



In what could have been an epic-length post, I brought you pictures. (Well, really it wasn't me. It was wordle.)

QOTD: What's your favorite number. 

Mine's eleventy bajillion. 
Or nineteen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

#VAbook: Promoting Like a Pro

On Saturday, I attended The Virginia Festival of the Book.

Unlike last year (some of you might remember THIS) I wasn't alone! Cristin Terrill and Ricki Schultz came with--and it was fabulous. We went to some of the publishing panels and came back with lots of information to share.

The first panel was called Promoting Like a Pro. The panelists included:

  • Jessica Francis Kane, whose novel The Report, is finalist for the 2010 Flaherty-Dunnan 1st Novel Prize. 
  • Micah Nathan, the author of Losing Graceland. His debut novel, Gods of Aberdeen, became an international bestseller. He received the 2010 Saul Bellow Prize in fiction.
  • Lori L. Tharps, the author of Substitute Me. She is also the author of two critically acclaimed non-fiction titles, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love, & Spain.
  • Gene Taft, who runs GT/PR, a Washington DC public relations firm, promoting books and authors. He spent 15 years in New York working in-house for several publishers.


Gene's guidelines/best practices:

  1. The author needs to understand the publicity process. Ask questions--and then LISTEN to the answers.
  2. ALWAYS cooperate
  3. Use resources wisely. While money is a huge resource, time is often the most important
  4. Stay focused and keep your goal(s) in mind.
Jessica: Only do what you really want to do. Don't do something solely to promote your book (ei Twitter, don't just tweet book promotional things). Let your personality shine through. 

Jessica did a radio satellite tour (a series of back to back interviews on different radio stations across the country) which really helped her land tour. People showed up to her signings/readings because they'd heard about the book on their radio!

Micah's novel has an Elvis character in it, so he contacted the top 30 Elvis Fan Clubs around the country. He sent them free copies of his book--but didn't ask for anything in return. Don't SELL. Just TALK. It gets you a lot further.

Lori: Use every opportunity to promote your book--even if it doesn't seem like an opportunity. (For instance, Micah goes around to different private schools/colleges to talk about writing. He's not speaking about his book--but still, people are interested in HIM because they learn who he is through his talks when they might never have otherwise heard of him, which leads to them becoming curious about his books... which leads to sales.)

You're promoting your writing career, not just your book.


Lori: Don't beat yourself up if you don't get EVERYTHING done that you want to within that 6-8 week publicity window that your publisher will set up for you. Keep promoting your book long after on your own.

Gene: Get a publicist on board as early as possible. He prefers 6 months out--that way he's able to take the time to really shape the promotional campaign.


Gene: Hiring a publicist is not cheap. NO less than $3-4k,  and as much as $30-40k. $6-10k will get you some help.

Put at least 50% of your advance aside to promote your book. The smaller your advance, the MORE you should set aside. 


Jessica: The historic background to her novel really worked as a hook. Being able to chat about it has helped to get her interviews & such, which = sales.

Micah's hook: The 76th Birthday of Elvis! He promoted his book to coincide with Elvis's birthday, which lead to his book being reviewed/written about a LOT more than it would have.

Lori's novel about the relationship between a mother and her baby's nanny came out two months before NYC passed its first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. She used the HOOK to get some radio interviews and other things. (Hook: Nanny Culture)

Gene: Don't JUST cater to your audience (ie: Elvis fans) because you also want to stimulate word-of-mouth with readers who aren't hardcore Elvis fans. Or people with nannies, etc. 

Set up google alerts for your topic and save the articles, so when you do publicity you:
  1. have a huge library of information
  2. can contact the article authors about your book to generate interest

Gene: There's a fine-line between giving someone a small nudge to get someone moving and making them scared to hear from you. Don't push too hard. 

If you don't push at all, you might be forgotten--but if you push too hard you'll be avoided. 

Lori: THANK YOUs are important. Publicists. Book Stores. Etc. 

Jessica brings treats to give to the book store workers at her readings. 


Overall, it was a great panel. I haven't even started thinking about book promotion yet, so a lot of this really opened my eyes!

QOTD: How was your weekend?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Funny: Rock Paper Scissors

And just because it's cute:

Have a great weekend :)

PS want more funny? Click here to see previous Friday Funnies!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Things I Saw


Before I get to the pictures--I have to say I got to hang out with some of the MOST FUN PEOPLE EVER at the conference last weekend!

Cristin Terrill
Ricki Schultz
Cambria Dillon
Alison Miller

Go to their blogs. Check them out. Get to know them because they are SO funny and sweet and they are all going to be ridiculously successful in the writing world :)

And now, the photographs!

Cristin had this awesome idea to make book cookies to give to people at the conference!
I helped! But she was the real creative genius :) 

Instead of little handheld baskets, the local grocery store had ROLLER baskets! FTW!

We tried to convince the waiter at Macaroni Grill it was Ricki's birthday.
Clearly she wasn't having it.
But our waiter had a bit of a crush and brought her a piece of cake anyway!

After all the cake :)
Room 212... Where the party was at allll weekend.
Moscato Crew 2011
I swear, I'm more than a floating head with stripes of wisdom in all the blonde. 

Missing Cambria...

Found her!

QOTD: Are you wearing anything green right now?


*pinches you*

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Things I Overheard


After I attend conferences I like to bring back some of the fabulous droplets of wisdom I glean from the speakers to share with you guys. Here are a few of the ones I picked up last weekend!

"Changing one word can change an entire sentence." Editor Marilyn Bingham (Marshall Cavendish)

"The voice in your query should reflect the voice in your manuscript--it should not be cold or mechanical." Rosemary Stimola, Agent with Stimola Literary Studio

"Passion makes you want to write the story. Perseverance MAKES you write the story." Laura Bowers, Author of Beauty Shop for Rent:...fully equiped, require within

"Look for the seeds that are planted within your own life stories." Kathi Appelt, Author of The Underneath

"Cliches are the pet peeves for all editors--find a new way to send things." Editor Marilyn BIngham

"Do not use humor through self-deprecation. And don't leave an editor wondering who the audience is." Heather Alexander, Assistant Editor with Dial Books for Young Readers, (regarding submissions to publishing houses)

Laura Bowers: Layer richness through editing: pick a favorite setting and employ all the senses for that setting. For example, a campground" 
          Sight: campers, tents, people
          Scent: chlorine, fire
          Feel: grass under feet
          Hear: children's laughter, splashing
          Taste: Marshmallows, hotdogs 

"If you're writing in trend, or similar to something else, you need to be quick to point out what makes your story different (in your query)." Rosemary Stimola

"Too many adjectives leads to purple prose--and there's a fine line between descriptive prose and purple prose." Editor Marilyn Bingham

"Almost every single title changes. Don't get too attached to your title." Assistant Editor Heather Alexander

More on the conference tomorrow--coming up: THE FRAKKING AWESOME PEOPLE I HUNG OUT WITH!

QOTD: Have you ever been to a conference? If so, did you love it? If not, do you ever plan to?

Monday, March 14, 2011

We Interrupt Regularly Scheduled Programming...

To announce that

Carolina Valdez Miller has signed with an agent!!

*tosses confetti*

*jumps up and down*

*gets dizzy*

*keeps jumping anyway*

Carol signed with Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst & Associates. (Vickie, fyi, has a fabulous blog found at: http://navigatingtheslushpile.blogspot.com//)

If you browse the Andrea Hurst website, you'll see that they represent brilliant, emerging authors who have something important to say.

And that description fits Carol to a flipping T!

No wonder Vickie wants to represent her :)

Make sure hop over to Carol's blog and congratulate her on this WELL DESERVED step in her career!

I'm giving away some treats in celebration! (So are a TON of other people--it's a Blog Party--read through the rest of my post to find out who and what!)

In honor of Carol's ability to write such wonderful paranormal stories, I'm giving away:
  • A SIGNED copy of The Dark Divine, by Bree Despain
  • A SIGNED copy of Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
AND because Carol writes such gripping plots, I'm giving away something that might help you follow in her footsteps:
  • A copy of Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure

Because this is such a HUGE deal--I'm going to make this a HUGE win: this giveaway is winner take all!!
Want to win? 

You must be a follower of both my and Carol's blogs. You get an extra point if you follow everyone else who's giving something away in honor of Carol's big news. So let me know if you have one or two points in a comment on this post--and that's it! You're entered :) 

The giveaway starts today at 10am and ends on April 1st (winners announced April 4).

But, dude, my giveaway is NOTHING compared to some of the other things up for grabs!

First of all, Carol's giving away:
  • A first page critique from her literary agent, Vickie Motter 
  • A signed copy of Escaping into the Open: the Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg
  • A Signed Hardback of Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
  • A signed Hardback of Passing Strange by Daniel Waters
As if that's not enough, all these people are giving things away in celebration too!

Heather's Odyssey

So go congratulate Carol! Check out everyone else's giveaways! Good luck :)


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The 30 Minute Hat Trick

Whew. I'm gonna be honest here--it is HARD to get back into blogging when you've been away for a while. I mean, I totes needed the break I took, but now that I'm here again? It's frakkin' hard to come up with things to talk about. Like, the only thing I can come up with right now is to tell you I chopped all my hair off (pictures forthcoming)--but who the heck wants to hear about that?

So, instead I thought I'd let you in on a little trick I've been using to yank myself up out of my writing rut.

It's kind of like a pull up.

Pull Up: an arm exercise performed by pulling yourself up on a horizontal bar until your chin is level with the bar (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn) (duh)

I STILL hold the record at my elementary school for the most pull ups done at one time by a girl. I think it's like... 28 or something ridiculous like that? (In case you think I'm full of it: I used to be a hardcore gymnast, the number 28 could very well be erring on the low side.)

Now, I'm (at least, sigh) as old as that once amazing pull up number. And I can't even do one measly pull up. Believe me, I know because Hubster bought an over the door pull up bar for P90X and I can barely even hang from it, let alone lift myself.

That is, until I put a chair a few feet away from where the bar hangs and use one foot on the chair to help pull myself up. Then I can do at least... three. a million. eight.

And that's kind of like the writing trick I'm about to share with you. My flipping amazing CP Cristin Terrill suggested it--almost offhandedly--to me, and it works like whoa. She basically revived my WIP with a toss of casual words that acted as that necessary chair under my foot. And now, it's become my mantra on those days when I. just. can't. make. myself. want. to. write. I call it The 30 Minute Hat Trick.

Hat Tricka clever or adroitly deceptive maneuver. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hat+trick
Original image (and other REALLY cool optical illusions, found here:

I used to set word count goals for myself. Like, on a day when I really didn't feel like writing, I'd tell myself I'd just get 500 words in, and then I could be done. Except on those days, every single word felt like squeezing blood from a stone (um, and stones don't bleed, fyi). (Double duh.) And one day, I was complaining about explaining it to Cristin and she threw these little words out that completely changed me:

I stared at her for a minute and I'll admit, I was doubtful. Thirty minutes? How can I call myself a serious writer if I only write for thirty minutes? I'll probably get like... six words done in thirty minutes. Sheesh. But then, thirty minutes are better than no minutes. They're better than spending all day trying to squeeze out 500 words and then feeling like a failure. This way, I could meet my time goal and still feel like I accomplished what I wanted to do--even if I only wrote 6 words.

But guess what happened when I tried it?

Before I started, I spent a little time rereading what I'd written the past few days. Then, I looked at the clock and it was 12:47 (or something like that) so I told myself I just had to make it until--

*pauses to do the math* 



The first fifteen minutes or so weren't easy. I won't lie: getting those initial few sentences or paragraphs written is HARD when your creative juices aren't flowing. But then--all the sudden--I looked up and it was 1:13. I only had four minutes left and then I could be done!

Except, I didn't want to be.

And I didn't have to be. I passed my goal by THREE hours--and a few thousand words--that day. And I've had similar success every single time I've used The 30 Minute Hat Trick. I think there's something about that 22 to 26 minute mark where everything clicks into place and the words begin to flow.

So, to make a (holy cow how did this post get so) long story short--when you're struggling to find the motivation to write, try giving yourself a 30 minute goal. And then see how far you end up getting :) 

Then, come back here and let me know how it worked!!

Question of the Day: What are your weekend plans???

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thank You

From the bottom of my heart. Seriously.

The comments, the emails, the cards... the everything. Thank you all so much for your kind, kind words and support last month. They meant more to me than you'll ever know.

They kept me afloat during a rough period of time.

I lost my grandmother on January 27th, three days after my last post. To say that it was sad--shattering, even--for my family and I would be an understatement.

I've had some hurtful things thrown my way. Things that kept me up at night, tossing and turning, miserable from the heartburn that always seems to accompany heartbreak.

I hit a rut in my writing. Losing someone you love, no matter how you lose them, can snuff your creativity the way a tornado can blow out a tea light candle.

I... could go on and on. But I won't, because the point here isn't to complain. The point is that time gives us the grace to move forward, and after a month of taking baby steps toward that grace, my strides have lengthened into a sprint--and I just wanted to let you guys know that I'm finally back :)

Forever altered, for sure, but ready to resume life. Ready to catch up with you all, because I've missed you so. Tell me what you've been up to in the comments, I'm dying to know! Catch me up with everything! 

Before I go, though, I wanted to share something kind of cool.

When my aunt submitting my grandmother's obituary to the Washington Post, a reporter decided to look into Nana's life--and ended up writing a half-page article about her.

The picture in the article is of my grandparents in a NY restaurant, in the 1940s
(The full article is found online here, if you're interested: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/19/AR2011021904486.html

The article itself is pretty amazing. I hang from every word, each time I read it. But toward the end of the column, I read something I never knew: 
"Her memberships included the Society of Children's Book Writers, Mystery Writers of America and the American Association of University Women."
And I think: Hmmm... Society of Children's Book Writers? As in... Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators? As in SCBWI? The same organization that I'm a part of?

And then I smile.