Friday, April 29, 2011

Author Speed Date

The idea of speed dating is that you get 10 minutes to sit down with a prospective date and get to know them. In that spirit, we present Author Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know some of our clients. Today we'd like you to meet Gail Oust.

BookEnds Author Speed Date


Name (the one you’re published under): Gail Oust

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): A Yankee transplanted to South Carolina, I used to juggle my writing with a career in the medical field but now it’s writing only. I’m loving it.

Web Link: www.gailoust.com

Next Book, pub date: Shake, Murder, and Roll, May 3, 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust

About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: Real name is Gail Oust. In a past life, I wrote historical romance as Elizabeth Turner.

Currently Reading: Books for a contest I’m judging

Next on Your Reading List: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory for a change of pace

Facebook or Twitter (include account name): Facebook as Gail Oust

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Norah Roberts, Pat Conroy, and John Hart

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: A little of both but mostly armchair

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: ½ full when it comes to life in general but tend to be ½ empty when it comes to writing

Tea or Coffee: Coffee, coffee, coffee

Live to write or Write to live: Live to write


About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: Late morning and all afternoon

Writing soundtrack: New Age, anything with lyrics makes me want to sing along

Character Inspirations: Occasionally people I’ve met but most often they materialize out of nowhere

Plot Inspirations: The words “what if?”

Setting Inspirations: Usually places I’ve visited at one time or another

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): I tried being a pantser once but it didn’t work out so I’m back to being a plotter.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Social Networking: Twitter Tips

A must-read article by Media Bistro. Read carefully. I think we could all learn a lot.

The only thing I would add is to have fun with it. Twitter is supposed to be fun. Join in a conversation, share random thoughts and laugh while you’re doing it. The more fun you have the more successful you’ll be.


Jessica

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Dear Secret Agent Person,

I'd like to assume that you know to use the agent's name, but since I've learned in this business to assume nothing, I'll simply remind you, and everyone, to always use the agent's name. Although this did crack me up.


Avery knows all about secrets. She’s heard them all. But some secrets shouldn’t be heard.

I liked this opening. I thought it was intriguing and it definitely grabbed my attention. The only thing I would say is that I think the writing could be stronger here. It almost has the oomph, but not quite. It feels like you're trying a little too hard.


Seventeen year old Avery Gardener can make rain in the middle of a drought. She can make a flower bloom in the dead of winter. And she could deal with those abilities a whole lot easier if it weren’t for the noise. Avery lives with a constant racket. Thoughts, secrets, dreams. You name it; it’s in her head, but none of it is her. Not once in her seventeen years has Avery been alone in her mind.

I'm still intrigued. If I received this query I would keep reading. Since I'm critiquing the query, of course, I'm going to be harder on you. The trouble is that now you're throwing a lot at the reader. Since you opened with the line "some secrets shouldn't be heard," I think it's important to lead with that information in the next paragraph. In other words, start the paragraph by talking about how she lives with the noise and make it clear that the noise has nothing to do with her own secrets, but the fact that she can hear those of others around her. A nice transition might be that her own secret is that she can make rain. . . .

The other concern is that the query seems all about her hearing other people's thoughts, but I'm also curious about these other powers she has. Do they play a big part in the story? Are they even necessary to mention in the query, or is it better to focus primarily on the secrets as a way to streamline?

I think you need to edit the sentence "none of it is her." This would be stronger if you say none of the secrets/thoughts (whatever you want to say) are her own. I do like the last sentence about never being alone in her mind.


Sebastian Caldwell knows about strange powers just as well as Avery. In fact, he claims to know more. He claims he can help with the noise. But can Avery trust him? It’s not like she trusts all that many people – not since her abusive father went to jail for breaking her arm.

This paragraph tosses a lot of information, unnecessary information, in. I think the transition needs to be that while Avery has never been alone in her mind she's always been alone with her secrets, until Sebastian comes along and knows more than anyone, including, or so he claims, how to stop the noise. I would skip the part about the father. It might be integral to the story and who Avery is, but it's totally unnecessary in the query and only bogs things down.


But as Sebastian introduces Avery to his world, it becomes increasingly hard not to believe in him, especially as she realizes he might just need her as much as she needs him. Because somebody has decided they want to hurt people with powers, and they are far from indestructible.

I don't think this is adding anything to the query, and I think this is where the query falters and where you might lose a request or two. You've built up the story and introduced the characters, but you haven't told us anything about the plot, and this is where you need to do that and you need to hit it home. My concern at this point is maybe you don't have a plot. Skip the "Sebastian introduces Avery to his world" since that bogs things down again. I wonder if there are too many worlds. Instead, I want to know what sort of conflict pushes these two together and threatens to tear them and their lives apart.


SPYDER is a young adult paranormal romance complete at 78,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,



All of these ending lines are fine.


Jessica

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

One Paragraph or Less

When you're writing a query, we often stress the importance of keeping it brief. Of course authors always want to know how short, because authors always want rules (and who can blame them). And while there's no rule to how short, I try to encourage writers to stick to a paragraph or short paragraph or two. Why? Because you don't want to lose your reader to glazed-over eyes.

Even the most exciting book can be made boring with too much description. I loved The Hunger Games, for example, really can't say enough about how great this book is. That being said, no one wants a play-by-play of every moment of the book. That's not going to get anyone to read it. If I want others to read this book, and I do, I need to tell them succinctly why they need to read it. What it's about in a few short sentences. I need to keep to the back cover version of the story.

If you really want to hook an agent, and later, as a published author, if you really want readers to want to read your books, you need to learn how to tighten your descriptions. You need that elevator pitch so that when you meet a potentially new reader on the ride up to your office you can get them to buy your book because they think it sounds fabulous and exciting, not like some author who either doesn't know how to describe her book or who rambles on and on and on. And keep in mind, if you ramble on and on and on, it will appear your book does too.


Jessica

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Monday, April 25, 2011

LOL

It’s been a while since I’ve shared some of the laughter here at BookEnds, but the minute this came into my inbox I knew I had to pass it along:

I discovered you through reading [Your Client’s] books. I enjoy them, but I think my cast of characters to be more interesting and my story a better read.


And here's another . . .

This is one of many books I’ve written. It is not necessarily the best, I have two more as good or better . . .


And lately I’ve been getting a lot of responses to my rejections that say something along the lines of . . .

I just signed a great deal with a small press so luckily for me I don’t need an agent any more.

That’s okay, I just signed with someone else.



Jessica

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Five Don’ts for Pitching Books and Manuscripts

Author Name: Krista Davis
Title of Book: The Diva Haunts the House
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub Date: Coming September 6th
Agent: Jessica Faust

Author Web/Blog links:
http://divamysteries.com
http://mysteryloverskitchen.com
http://www.killercharacters.com

Malice Domestic Convention (http://www.malicedomestic.org/)


Mystery authors are about to descend on Bethesda, Maryland, for the annual Malice Domestic Convention, which celebrates traditional and cozy mysteries. Right about now, everyone is practicing their elevator pitches for Malice Go Round. It’s their opportunity to sit at a table with readers and sell their books. But there’s a catch -- they only have two minutes! There are twenty tables in the room with two authors seated at each table of readers. When the cue is given, each author has two minutes to talk about his or her books. Then the authors rise and switch tables. It’s exhausting but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m no pro, but I have picked up on a few mistakes that authors make. (I’ve made them, too!) Last year, when Jessica and I spoke about it, she noted that many are the same mistakes that writers make when sending her queries. Don’t let these happen to you.

1. Don’t bore them with structure.

“I based The Quintessential Murder on the hero’s journey.”

Are you bored yet? Me, too. If you’re a writer, you might enjoy discussing the structure of a book, but it doesn’t spark interest in a book for most people.


2. Don’t waste time with the obvious.

“My books are about the relationships between people and how they react to a murder in their midst.”

Doesn’t that apply to most mysteries? If you’re a New York Times Bestselling author, you could get away with this. Then again, your audience would be just as thrilled if you leaned toward them and asked if your mascara had smeared.


3. Don’t overload them with names.

“John and Mary have a complicated relationship. That’s because of Sam, who never liked his mother, Imelda, who is a difficult woman at best. So when Arthur and Hugo enter the picture . . . .”

Lost yet? Limit yourself to two or three names. Other people can be identified by tags, like “Sam’s mother,” to simplify things for the reader or listener. And be specific. How is the relationship complicated? How does that impact the plot? Who is the book about?


4. Don’t tell them the story behind the story.

“In this book I wanted to explore the dynamics of a troubled marriage in the computer age. There are so many changes in our lives now that we’re available 24/7. We’re never without our smart phones anymore.”

But what’s the story about?


5. Don’t digress to subplots.

“Amy Pierson’s sister disappears two days before her wedding. The window to her bedroom had been broken from the outside, and a red feather was left in the middle of the floor. Then Amy’s brother announces his engagement, but his fiancee is a ditz whom no one likes and she drives to Scranton to see her ex-husband who runs a video arcade.”

Wait, wait! This one starts out well, but slides right into a side plot. Stick to the primary story. What about the sister who disappeared? That’s far more interesting than the brother’s little problem. Whether you’re querying BookEnds or pitching under pressure at Malice Go Round, remember that it’s all about telling a great story. Good luck!


Krista Davis writes the Domestic Diva Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Her first book, THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME, was nominated for an Agatha. Krista's most recent release is THE DIVA COOKS A GOOSE, and she's looking forward to September 6th, when her Halloween-themed mystery, THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE, will be available.

Visit Krista at her website DivaMysteries.com. Krista blogs at MysteryLoversKitchen.com, where mystery writers cook up crime . . . and recipes, and at www.KillerCharacters.com, where the characters do the blogging!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Social Networking: Twitter Needs Interesting People

I’m not an expert, but I do tend to know what I like in this world, and when it comes to Twitter I like to follow people who are interesting. Unfortunately, I see far too many authors who use Twitter as a way to inundate readers with their name or simply remind everyone to read their blog. I don’t think that works. It doesn’t work for me and I imagine it doesn’t work for others. Twitter is supposed to be interesting and, frankly, that’s just not interesting.

There’s no doubt social media is important in publishing. Heck, it’s important in all business these days, but if you’re going to do it do it well or don’t do it at all. The last thing any author needs is for people to think they’re not interesting. Trust me, you aren’t going to sell books that way.


Jessica

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


My 89,000 word novel of suspense, FOUR-AND-A-HALF, features a woman addicted to the advice and spurious friendship of psychics plunged into a nightmare of threats, kidnapping and murders with no idea of the reason.

This query lacks any sort of introduction, and while in the grand scheme of things that isn't a big deal, there is something to be said about easing someone into a letter or email. I like the "Dear XXX" or some other form of introduction. I feel that without an introduction your query sounds abrupt and incomplete.

Believe it or not, this description tells me absolutely nothing about your book. Using phrasing like "plunged into a nightmare of threats, kidnapping . . ." actually makes your book sound like almost any other novel of suspense. It's always better to keep your descriptions personal to your book. Introduce the character here and slow it down. For example, "Eva Stuart is addicted to psychics. Forever searching for a better life, she's hoping the psychics will help her find it. What she doesn't expect is to stumble upon the murdered body of her favorite psychic . . ."

I'll leave it to you to polish and actually make this true to the book, but I think you can see where I'm going with this.


Computer technician Eva Stuart's boredom and loneliness drives her to visit psychics in the hope they will lead her to the prince who will rescue her. But when she accidentally overhears talk of a murder while she is working on the four-and-a-half floor of City Hall and visits her personal seer, it is the seer who is murdered. Others around her are killed, and she is threatened and attacked. She flees her home but is unable to escape the danger. When she runs to her ex-lover in San Francico and he agrees to help her, they uncover a high-level conspiracy in the city for which Eva works, but their search leads the killer to target them as the next victims.

What's interesting is that this paragraph actually reads nothing like your opening. This sounds like a completely different book and that's a big problem. It makes agents wonder which is actually your story, but the inconsistency makes us wonder if the same holds true of your manuscript.

The first sentence feels like the book is leaning toward chick lit. What I would ask you about this sentence is does it matter that she's a computer technician or that she was looking for "the prince who will rescue her"? I think mentioning that she's a computer technician can be good. It does help give us some understanding of who she is. The seeking the prince thing, though, bugs me. It does feel very chick lit and the reset of your description sounds nothing like a romance, so I don't know how this fits.

The second sentence: Does it matter that she works on the "four-and-a-half floor"? Couldn't it be just the fourth floor? Does it even matter that it's City Hall? Couldn't it just be work? Okay, here's the biggest problem, though: She is visiting her personal seer at work? or she hears talk of murder while at work and visiting her seer? This sentence makes absolutely no sense. I get that she's overheard talk of murder and her seer is murdered, but this sentence is all wrong and, obviously, as an agent, my first thought is that your manuscript is equally confusing.

I think you've missed a huge part of story building when you simply drop in "others around her are killed, and she is threatened and attacked." Spend a little more time explaining this. You also say she is "unable to escape the danger" but don't show us how or give us any indication how. Spend a few more sentences building the world for us.

A conclusion would be good, too. Something to help wrap up the story. Is the manuscript ready to be sent? Do you have any writing credits? That information can be helpful.

Finally, in the end, this book just doesn't have a hook. There's nothing special about this that makes it seem like it would stand out to me.

Jessica

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Plotting for You or the Story

If you ever have a pitch appointment with me, the one thing you’ll get is lots of feedback. Based on your pitch, and sometimes material I have read, I’ll do my best to give you my thoughts on why the book isn’t working and suggestions on what you can do to make it stronger, or make it work better.

I was thinking back the other day to a pitch appointment I had in which every suggestion I made, the author argued that it couldn’t be done. Ultimately, any changes I was suggesting didn’t work with her vision of the book. She had her heart and mind set on how the story was going to go, and any deviation from that carefully plotted outline was sending her into a panic.

Unfortunately, I think this is a common mistake many authors make: writing for themselves and not the story. What this means is that the author has plotted out the story and knows how she intends it to read, and now she must write the book to that end. The problem is that no matter how much of a plotter you are (versus a pantser) you can’t always control how a book is going to play out. For example, in your outline it might have made perfect sense for your character not to tell her husband that she dyes her hair until chapter 15. The problem is that by chapter 4 the reader is wondering why the hell the heroine doesn’t just tell her husband that she dyes her hair. It’s just not making sense anymore and the conflict is quickly getting old. We need it to evolve from hair dye and it’s not, because it didn’t in your outline.

So no matter how much of a planner you are, be ready for changes, drastic changes sometimes.

Jessica

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Query Don'ts

There are no rules to queries. I repeat, there are no rules to queries. A query should come from you. It should be written in your voice with your own personal writing style, and it should not just tell me what your book is about, but it should wow me with your book. That being said, there are some common mistakes I see all the time, things authors do that don’t work in a query.

  • Telling me what your book is not: I don’t want to hear things like, “this isn’t another Twilight,” or “I’m not writing another boring Da Vinci Code” -- that’s like sitting down in a job interview and immediately telling the potential employer that you’re not going to be another star worker, but . . . I’ve already tuned you out.
  • Claiming your query is just another piece of unwanted work in my inbox: frequently authors start queries by saying things like, “the last thing you probably need is another query . . .” You’re right. It is the last thing I need, and since even you don’t think yours is important enough to stand out from the rest, I think I’ll reject
  • Highlighting what doesn’t matter: I don’t care that you have three kids, are a lawyer, or play golf with George Harrison. I don’t. I care about your book and that’s really all. The rest is icing, bonus material. Don’t start your query with what really doesn’t matter. Start with the one thing you are trying to woo me with: your book.
  • Themes: does your novel (note I said novel) embrace themes of philosophy, bring to light the important topic of human trafficking, or connect to readers spiritually? I don’t care. Nobody buys a piece of fiction because the cover copy says it will discuss important philosophical teachings. They don’t. They might like that they learn that from the book, but they buy the book because, well, really because someone recommends it, after that they buy a novel because they are looking to read a great story.
Jessica

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Thought for the Day

It's understandable you have a dream agent, many agents have dream authors. But don't advertise on your blog who exactly your dream agent is. If I get a submission, go to check you out, and discover that Agent X is really your dream agent, why should I waste my time reading? I have a lot of respect for Agent X. She's fabulous. But if I offer and she offers, you've already made it abundantly clear you're signing with her, or are signing with me only because she already rejected you.

Thanks, but no thanks. I think I'll pass and find the author who thinks Agent Jessica is her dream agent.

Jessica

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Social Networking and Your Picture

I’ve been thinking a lot about social networking and how authors can best use it. One of my thoughts lately has been about the photos we use on Facebook and Twitter. As many of you know, it’s not uncommon for users to change their profile photo now and then. You might have gotten an amazing new shot of yourself over the holidays, or maybe that new haircut is so stunning it’s time to show it off, but is there a problem when we change the photo too much? Are we failing to brand ourselves?

Remember, as an author, the purpose of your Facebook or Twitter account is to keep in touch with your readers and connect with them on a personal level. Unfortunately, I think a lot of authors think of social networking as a way to constantly remind the reader to buy, buy, buy (a mistake, by the way) and think that way with every post and every picture they post.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the use of your book’s cover as your profile picture. I don’t think I like it. I get it. You want to have recognition so when readers go into stores they recognize the cover and remember to buy it. But could that backfire? Could it instead mean that they’ve seen the cover so much that they think they already own it? Or do they fail to immediately connect you, the author, with the cover because the cover is constantly changing? I think there’s a very real possibility that by constantly bombarding “friends” or followers with your cover they’re going to quickly forget they haven’t read the book.

Most important, are you losing the connection you could be making with your readers? Instead of identifying with their new “friend” Jessica Faust, are they not able to see beyond your cover or your book? I think, personally, this is the biggest problem. If you’re trying to become friends with your readers and connect with them, then really let them know who you are. Use a real picture, or fun picture, of you. Or maybe a picture of your protagonist, but I don’t think the ever-changing cover shots work. But that’s just me.

Jessica

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


I know that for the workshop some people might not use a salutation, but for the sake of the workshop I'm going to make no assumptions. Always use some sort of salutation. I think for most of us it's a mental thing. If you were receiving a business correspondence from a stranger, wouldn't you prefer to be eased into it a little, to feel that the email was actually meant for you rather than a blanket email sent to hundreds?

To be safe I always suggest a more formal salutation: Dear Ms. or Dear Mr. Know the name of the agent you're submitting to. Sure this takes research, but no one likes a Dear Sirs letter.

The detective stood across the street from the bus depot and watched the cops tear down the crime scene. He laughed at the absurdity when he saw that one end of the police tape was secured to the front of the building by a large Christmas wreath.

I struggled with "he laughed at the absurdity"; in fact, this entire scene/paragraph felt more like something a killer would do, not a detective. I'm also not sure I see anything "absurd" about police tape attached by a Christmas wreath. Sad, yes; absurd, no.

That being said, I did like the first sentence. It hooked me and interested me.


After a two-hour investigation into the bludgeoning death of the bum, all that was left of the poor fellow was a blood stained sidewalk. That, too, would be gone tomorrow morning after the cleanup crew washed it down the sewer.

I suggest getting an editor to work on grammar, punctuation, and style with you. You can either hire a copyeditor or, better yet, take some classes so that you can become your own best copyeditor. I've seen a lot worse (sometimes from me), but your writing is choppy here, which leads me to believe your book is going to be in the same shape.


The ringing of his cell phone startled the detective. It’s homicide. There’s another murder scene that he is expected to cover a few blocks away. He silently went to his car and drove away.

If I get this far, this paragraph kills it for me. I would have rejected at this point. Since you start your query with a presumed scene from the book, I'm judging your entire book on these paragraphs, and based on what you have here, it's not very well written. If the ringing of the phone "startled" the detective, then it "was" homicide, not "is" homicide. I also think rather than say "there's another murder scene that he is expected . . .," you should put us in the moment with him. Show us the call by showing us the conversation.

I also feel a real distance from your character. You never refer to him by name (which isn't always required in a query), but we have no idea who he is or what type of person he is. How did he feel when he got this call? Is he tired, invigorated, excited? Does he have to converse with anyone? How does he answer the phone? What kind of dialogue can we expect? We don't need dialogue in a query, but since I assume this comes from the book I would naturally expect it in a scene like this.


“Christmas is only four days away,” he thought.

I get where you're going here. Christmas is so close and yet murder continues, but if you're a detective I'm not sure that would register for you. Wouldn't that happen all the time? I also just found this line tossed in. It didn't fit or work for me.

* * * * * *

The Redemption of Mr. Ben is a gritty and deeply moving fictional tale of life on the streets of downtown Detroit. The story revolves around five individuals whose lives become inexplicably linked and permanently affected in a day during the holiday season. Each chapter contains a narrative of the events along with the character’s inner thoughts, giving the reader a unique insight to each person’s frustration and pain. As the story unfolds, each character undergoes a life-altering incident as their parallel lives become intertwined in a way none of them could have ever imagined.

The one thing you did do was show gritty, which is great. Too often authors write a summary of the story that doesn't match the description. In this case, I did definitely get a sense of "gritty"; what I didn't get a sense of was "deeply moving." In fact, the distance I felt from your character makes it difficult to be moved at all.

You also mention that the story revolves around five individuals, and yet I get no sense that this is anything other than a murder mystery featuring a detective. This is why it might be better for you to give a full summary rather than pull a scene from the book. Something along the lines of, "On Detroit's gritty streets, five people find . . ."

I would avoid saying something like, "each chapter contains a narrative of the events . . ." This tells me how the book is written, not what the book is about. I don't care if the book is first person, third person, etc. I don't want to be told about unique insight. I want to be shown in your query, in the same way you'll show me in your book, how all of this happens.

Honestly, from this paragraph, your story sounds like every other book. The truth is that in most books the protagonist goes through a "life-altering incident." It's what shows the growth of your characters and what keeps readers reading. Now keep in mind that a "life -altering incident" is very different from one person to the next and one character to the next. It could be a wedding, a broken engagement, a bad breakup, a murder, a death, a disease, a lost job, etc. In other words, this should be pretty much standard to every book being written.


The Redemption of Mr. Ben depicts the brutality and hopelessness of life on the streets: the demeaning existence of the indigent; the savage and degrading world of hookers, johns and pimps; and the crime and dereliction associated with a heartless urban landscape. Desperate people ask themselves how this could have happened to them and they dream of how they can escape from their horrific situation.

This goes so much further than your actual summary of the story. I saw none of this in your description. Rather than tell me what your book depicts I'd rather be shown what your story is about. Show me how the lives of these five people are intertwined and how hopeless their lives are. Again, show me what the story is actually about specifically, don't give me generalities.


The book is complete and it has been copyrighted. It contains just over 46,000 words.

If you feel the need to copyright your book that's fine, but honestly, it's not going to mean a dang thing in the long run. You are just at the beginning of your book's journey, which means it's going to go through many more rewrites before publication, which means that ultimately you've spent time and energy copyrighting a rough draft.

You never mention the genre you're targeting. Honestly, I think that's okay, but it might bug others. If possible, I'd try to mention it. Either way, based on the description of your book, 46,000 words is way too short. I just can't imagine that you can give me five characters and their intertwined lives successfully in such a small amount of space. I would guess this book is about half the size it needs to be.


Thank you in advance for your time.


Jessica

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Editing Room

I know I don’t have ADD, I’m pretty sure I don’t have ADD, but bright shiny things distract me. As do dull dingy things, chocolate, coffee and butterflies, and a slight breeze.

And when it comes to sitting down to edit a client’s work, those dull dingy things suddenly become bright and shiny. Heck, the whole world becomes bright and shiny. So here’s what I’d like to propose. I need an Editing Room. A room in which no sound can get in and there is very little to look at. I had visions of a couch, a soft chair, and an aquarium, but then I quickly realized that those things would distract me. Add in a blanket and it wouldn’t take but mere seconds before the Editing Room became the Napping Room. Nope, what I need is a desk with a moderately hard chair, a pen, notebook, my Kindle, and a glass of water. If I’m really nice I can be allowed music, but truthfully, that would just encourage me to add a disco ball and make it the Dance Party Room.

Editing is a dirty job. It really is. It takes complete focus and concentration. To really edit well I need few distractions and even fewer shiny things. An Editing Room. Yep, I’m thinking solitary confinement for editing might be exactly what I need.


Jessica

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Monday, April 11, 2011

It's How It's Interpreted

Email is a beautiful thing and has made life so much easier for so many of us. When I started as an agent email was still a little bit in its infancy—sure, people used it, but I’m not sure we relied on it in quite the same way we do now. I can’t imagine doing this job without email. Whether it’s the middle of the night or the middle of the weekend I’m able to email my clients and respond to their concerns, and I think, because of email, we probably have more frequent communication than we would if we relied on snail mail or phone.

That being said, our reliance on email can be a little bit dangerous. I think it allows us to become lazy and forget the importance of good communication. Because while email is fabulous, it isn’t for all situations. The one thing to remember when it comes to email is that how an email is read is entirely based on the interpretation of the reader and what sort of baggage the reader brings to the reading. For that reason there are times when email is not, in my mind, appropriate.

For example, let’s say I have a client who is upset with the way a publisher is handling something. Maybe she feels the publisher isn’t doing enough work for her or isn’t behind her enough. I, on the other hand, having years of experience in this business, know that not only is the publisher doing what the publisher normally does, but in this instance the publisher is doing a lot more. However, as we all know, sometimes knowledge alone doesn’t make us feel better. Sending an email explaining this to an already dissatisfied and upset client could easily backfire on me. Instead of taking my words as calming, she could just as easily feel like even her agent isn’t on her side. Or feel like I’m simply dismissing her feelings. Which is why, in a situation like this, I would probably call, so that we could have a real back-and-forth discussion, I could explain myself and she could hear the tone of my voice to understand that I am on her side, and part of being on her side is to explain the way things work. We could also easily move on from dissatisfaction to problem solving, something email would probably take longer to accomplish.

My point in all this is to remind you all that while email is usually our favorite form of communication, it isn’t always the best, and in instances where conflict is possible or in instances of confrontation, or involving emotion, sometimes the best way to communicate is the old-fashioned way.

Jessica

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Author Speed Date

The idea of speed dating is that you get 10 minutes to sit down with a prospective date and get to know them. In that spirit, we present Author Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know some of our clients. Today we'd like you to meet Rita Henuber.

BookEnds Author Speed Date


Name (the one you’re published under): Rita Henuber

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): Rita grew up on Florida’s east coast, married a Marine, and has lived and traveled many places.

Web Link: http://www.ritahenuber.com

Next Book, pub date: Under Fire, August 22, 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust

About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: Rita Henuber

Currently Reading: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Next on Your Reading List: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Facebook or Twitter (include account name): Rita Henuber

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Only three? Lee Child. Linda Howard. Jenny Crusie.

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: Prefer Jet-setter. There are times when the armchair has to do. Heavy sigh.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: ½ full

Tea or Coffee: Coffee

Live to write or Write to live: LIVE TO WRITE

About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: Early is best. Before checking email, the net, or blogging. Spurts in the afternoon and evening.

Writing soundtrack: Different for each book and scene. I spend time searching for the right music but it's worth it.

Character Inspirations: Characters are strictly from my mind. They spring up with all their flaws and strengths.

Plot Inspirations: News and world events.

Setting Inspirations: My characters tell me where they want to be. Funny, but it's generally someplace I've been.


Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): Plottser. Some of each.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Working with Your Editor

Many aspiring writers, myself included, spend months writing a manuscript, then spend many more months editing, polishing, and re-writing. We attend workshops, share with critique partners/groups, and force our significant others to read stories they likely are just as sick of as we are. By the time we’re ready to send our baby into the world, at least in my case, I have half the manuscript memorized from sheer repetition.

I was just curious, for published (fiction) authors working on their second, third, etc book, after any proposals have been sent and accepted; how rough are those first drafts they send to their editor and/or agent? Are the editors/agents involved at a much earlier stage (i.e. editor is reading chapters 1-5 while writer is still pounding out 6-10) or do they wait to send anything until the manuscript is “finished” to the best of their ability?


As with everything else in this business, it depends on how each individual agent and editor work.

The truth, though, is that everything you send your editor or agent should be as polished as possible. Yes, you know you’ll be doing revisions, but that doesn’t mean it should be rough in the first place. Typically, an author will work with her editor/agent to decide the idea. So yes, the editor will approve the idea the author is writing and sometimes make suggestions based on the proposal. At that point, the author writes until the book is done, final, polished, and as clean as possible and then sends the entire manuscript off to the editor.

Remember, editors and agents are looking for “dream authors” in the same way you’re all looking for a “dream agent” or “dream editor,” and no dream author submits what is essentially a rough draft. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it where authors submit books that still have their personal notes in them, things like “insert action scene here,” and are waiting for feedback from the editor. What it looks like is that you’re waiting for the editor to write the book for you because you’re either too lazy or insecure to really write. This means a lot of extra work and back-and-forth with the editor, and it usually means that your numbers better be fabulous for the editor to feel inspired to want to do more books with you.

My suggestion is that anytime you send anything off to your editor and agent, you better feel confident that it’s great and ready to go. The only exception to that is if the editor or agent tells you to send it knowing it’s still rough.

Jessica

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Dear Ms. Jessica Faust:

I sent you a query on December 22, 2010 and I haven’t yet heard back from you, so I was hoping it was appropriate to check in. I hope you’ll be interested in my YA novel,
The Aviation Waltz—though to be honest, I’m not sure if you still represent YA because the “About Us” page on BookEnds-Inc.com contradicts with the blog post on October 8, 2007 on what you represent. In any case, I hope I can catch your interest with an updated query.

I'm not sure you're using the best tactic to open your query letter. At worst it seems like you're scolding the agent and at best it feels a bit passive aggressive. You've introduced yourself by calling the agent out on the carpet regarding their lack of response and website. First of all, be sure you've checked the agent's website and taken note of her response time. If the agent doesn't comment on a usual response time, then you should wait at least 4 to 6 weeks before checking in. If you've waited the appropriate amount of time and you still haven't heard from her, I'd recommend resending the query and introducing it with "Resending my query of December 22nd in case you didn't receive it."

In fact, if you did indeed e-mail your query to Jessica on December 22nd, you would've received an auto-response explaining that she was closed to queries at that time and informing you of the date she'd be accepting queries again. Always make sure you pay close attention to the responses you receive back from an agent—even if they're a form letter, they may contain important information.

Referencing a blog post from more than three years ago is a bit perplexing. The publishing industry is always fluctuating, so it's not uncommon for agents to change their areas of interest. There's plenty of more recent blog posts that explain just what type of YA fiction Jessica is looking for right now. And information on the agency's website would definitely trump anything written in a blog post from 2007.


To her admirers, Scilla Rotcod is perfect: she’s rich, pretty, and talented enough to land the lead role in every ballet. But before the end of her eighteenth summer, Scilla will become the ultimate traitor.

In a society where people value their sky-colored hair, perfect immune systems, and clean planet, the government prohibits a vehicle that can pollute the sky. Even so, Scilla and a low-class engineer spend their summer studying forbidden technology, with hopes of taking off to the sky and challenging traditional views about the exploration of freedom.


I'm a little confused by your blurb here. I don't have a clear picture of this alternate reality you're describing. I think you need to provide the reader with a more detailed understanding of this world. Why does Scilla yearn to fly? What could happen to her if the authorities/government/whoever found out what she was up to? Is the engineer an important part of the story? I think I'd be more interested in the story if I had a better sense of what relationships are important to the book. What does Scilla's dancing have to do with the rest of the book? I think you'd be better off starting with the introduction of this world and giving the reader some context for the rest of your description. We need more information in order to see the conflict.


The Aviation Waltz is adapted from an audio drama of the same name that I had produced online. It is complete at 63,000 words and appeals to the general young adult audience, though anyone can enjoy the story of perseverance, stage rivalry, and a friendship spiked with sexual tension.

I'm not sure you should mention your audio drama, unless the website garnered an amazing number of hits or it gained some other kind of big attention. If you've introduced this as a YA book from the beginning of the query, you don't need to detail anything more about the audience.


Many young adult books on the market take place in high school, but The Aviation Waltz takes place after that. Though it is set in an imaginary world, it wrestles with real young adult issues, like parental acceptance and one’s purpose in the world. Instead of encouraging young readers to gain popularity, seek revenge, and land a date with the hottest guy in school, The Aviation Waltz aims to inspire readers to defy common ideals and do something others thought was impossible.

I am completing my fourth year at the University of California, Davis; as a young adult, I still have a fresh memory of my teenage experiences and the mistakes and parental issues that went with those younger years, which reflects in the consequences of Scilla’s decisions and her fear of disappointing her father.


Honestly, you wouldn't need the rest of this if you'd written a more comprehensive blurb about the book above. These two paragraphs seem to tell me more about the book and yet confuse me even more. Work on strengthening your book's description, so that the bigger themes shine through, instead of having to tell us what those themes are.

I, personally, think it's best to keep your age and situation to yourself. It wouldn't sway me one way or the other about requesting more, but I generally think it's best to focus as much as possible on your book. If you feel it's really pertinent, however, I'd keep it as short and sweet as possible. "As a college student, I have an intimate understanding of the types of issues Scilla struggles with in this story."


I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you are indeed considering YA fiction. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Again—if you've done your homework, checked the website, and read recent blog posts, you'll know that Jessica is considering YA.


Kim

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

On Writing Sequels

I've written a manuscript and have been querying agents with little success. I've outlined a sequel and a third story, because (it may surprise you to hear this) I think my book is excellent, believe it will be published soon, and I want to have a sequel ready when publishers start beating down my door :)

Ok - seriously: I am beginning to think that writing the sequels is not a valuable use of my time. Thus far I've found two blog posts, one from an AAR agent - who agrees with that for a number of reasons.

When I was researching agencies yours seemed particularly friendly towards advising new authors - and I wanted to get your take on this. I want to write a new manuscript: should I write the sequel in the hopes that the first may be published . . . or is it time for me to set this plot line aside and start with something fresh and new?


I do think I’ve written on this before, but as I’ve discovered firsthand, it’s not always easy to find the exact old blog post you want to read. It also never hurts to repeat yourself, and, believe it or not, sometimes my attitude/opinion changes and a new blog post will need to be written to reflect that. In this case, though, my attitude will not change.

While it’s great to outline your sequel or series, I do not think an author should ever write the sequel or full series until she’s under contract. A huge piece of finding an agent or selling your book is based on the marketability of the idea, and the last thing you want to do is spend a significant amount of time on an idea that won’t sell. You can always go back and write the sequel after you’re under contract, but in the meantime, moving in a new direction with a new book and/or series idea is the smarter move. That way you have two fresh, new things to shop around, both with series potential.

Jessica

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Monday, April 04, 2011

BookEnds Welcomes Jessica Alvarez

These are exciting times both in publishing and at BookEnds. Within the last year we've made a lot of changes and we see many more, all good, in our future. The first of these big changes is welcoming Jessica Alvarez into the BookEnds family. I first met Jessica years ago at a Romance Writers of America conference. She was attending as a young editor from Harlequin. Fast-forward a few years to 2011, and randomly Jessica's resume lands on my desk at just about the time I was thinking we needed to grow our staff. As a believer that sometimes things should be just that easy, I met Jessica for coffee to hear more about what she was looking for and to talk about BookEnds. I liked her. I really liked her, and more important, I thought she had great energy for BookEnds and would fit well into the fold.

We couldn't be more thrilled to have Jessica on our team, and before I go on rambling anymore, let me turn the stage over to Jessica and let her tell you about herself . . .

Jessica (Faust)

***

Hi! I’m Jessica Alvarez, BookEnds’ newest agent. I’m thrilled to have joined the team and want to tell you a bit about myself.

My publishing career began in 2001 when I got a job as the editorial assistant for Harlequin Historicals and Steeple Hill. As a lifelong romance reader, working at Harlequin was a dream come true. And when I moved over to single titles, focusing on HQN Books and Red Dress Ink, my job got even better! I adore category romance, but being on single titles gave me the opportunity to work on a wider array of romance. Even so, after some time, I moved back to category, specifically to Harlequin Intrigue and NEXT.

As the editorial assistant for all those products I was the first line of defense when it came to submissions. I found a number of authors, including Lee Nichols, Jenna Kernan, Brenda Coulter, and Sarah Elliott. I also got to co-edit other fantastic authors—Diana Palmer, Sharon Sala, Gayle Wilson, and Kasey Michaels, to name a few. It was an unbelievable learning experience.

In 2005 I was promoted and began acquiring primarily for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, a terrific line. But when an opportunity arose on Steeple Hill, I had the perfect combination of experience needed, and it made sense for me to move.

In 2008 I embarked upon a freelance editing career. I was sad to leave my writers, colleagues, and a job I loved, but I had a life change in the works. My husband and I adopted our son that year, and freelancing provided the flexibility I needed. I enjoyed it, but it was a very solitary endeavor. I missed collaborating with writers. I missed combing through submissions. I missed being part of a team.

I’d known for some time I wanted to be a literary agent. I wanted to be the ultimate advocate for my authors, fight for them, help build their careers, help them develop and shape stories. Okay, yes, I did that as an editor, but I always felt limited since my first responsibility was to the publisher, not my writers. I’d never had the opportunity to work with Jessica or Kim, but I knew of their fantastic reputations and how highly regarded BookEnds is. I’d heard that Jessica is a great mentor, and I saw that firsthand when reading this blog. I also just had the sense that we’d work well together. So I got in touch with Jessica, and here I am.

I am actively looking for authors in women’s fiction and romance, both single title and series. I have a special fondness for historical romance and romantic suspense, but I’m also interested in paranormals, urban fantasy, all types of contemporary romance, and erotica. If your project falls under the women’s fiction or romance umbrellas, please take a peek at the agency website for specifics on how to query me. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Jessica (Alvarez)

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Friday, April 01, 2011

5 Things I've Learned from My Autistic Son

If you’ve been reading the BookEnds blog for any length of time or have been following me on Twitter, you know by now that my 5-year-old son, Nicky, is autistic. Two and a half years ago Nicky was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Tomorrow, April 2nd, is World Autism Awareness Day, and I wanted to take this opportunity to honor my son and shine a light on autism, while giving our blog readers some food for thought.

These are 5 lessons my son has taught me that I thought were worth passing along to you:

No room for melodrama — My son is pretty literal. He doesn’t get into moods unless something very concrete (like a loud noise or nasty cold) is irritating him. He doesn’t intentionally exaggerate or tell fibs. With Nicky, what you see is what you get. There’s no affectation.

Since Nicky’s diagnosis, I’ve found I’ve lost all tolerance for dramatics. I have no patience for “he said, she said.” No time for petty arguments. No energy for relationships that produce more work than support. And no room for the people that perpetuate all of that melodrama. None of that feels real to me.

And there’s certainly no point to melodrama in the online community either. I shake my head at blog trolls, Twitter wars, and jealous author rants. It’s a waste of energy. Energy that would be better spent on just about anything else — like writing.

Don’t compare yourself to others — One of the most unique, beautiful, but frustrating things about Autism Spectrum Disorders is that darn Spectrum! All children are affected by the disorder in different ways and at different levels. Some have trouble making eye contact with you, but can otherwise communicate appropriately. Others are highly intelligent, but have strange tics or self-stimulatory behaviors (flapping, jumping up and down) and don’t interact with peers. Then there are those that are completely nonverbal.

Every child in my son’s Kindergarten class has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. They each have their own unique challenges, which can make it very difficult for a teacher to find ways they can all be taught together. It’s pointless for me to compare my child and his abilities to another child in the class. And even MORE pointless for me to compare him to a typical child. I can only focus on Nicky’s individual needs and celebrate his own personal successes.

But then, none of us should be comparing ourselves to others. Certainly we can be inspired by the success of others, but there’s no point in obsessively comparing our work — or our lives, for that matter — to another’s.

It’s not about me — This is the one I struggle with most. I’m one of those people that loves trying to come up with the perfect gift for someone (Jessica’s even better at it than I am). I spend sleepless nights trying to think of what book will strike my mom’s fancy, what doll will make my daughter’s face light up, what day trip will create the most lasting family memories.

Well, I have to admit that Christmas and Nicky’s birthday always bring a little bit of a letdown for me. Nicky just doesn’t react to gifts and surprises like other children do. So when his eyes don’t light up and he doesn’t squeal with glee, a little piece of me mourns. But then I remember it’s not about me. Just because Nicky’s not able to give me the kind of feedback I crave doesn’t mean he’s not happy. Giving a gift should be about the receiver.

Keep expectations high — It’s hard to admit, but I definitely underestimate my son sometimes. I don’t always ask him about his day or engage in conversation about more abstract things, because I’ve tried before and been disappointed. But every now and then, he’ll surprise me. Just last night I stepped back and discovered for the first time that he could button up his pajamas by himself. I’m not always as patient as I should be and so I often just end up doing it for him. But these little steps forward are big celebrations at our house. If I keep my expectations low, my son will never have an opportunity to rise to them.

We often keep expectations for ourselves low too. Set your goals high. You just might surprise yourself.

Books can be transformative — One of my son’s strengths is reading. Ever since he was a toddler he’s loved letters, phonetics, and all kinds of books. Nicky has difficulty putting on his own shoes, but he’s reading above his grade level — and comprehending it.

In school, he has difficulty sitting still, makes strange sounds, and doesn’t focus during his lessons. But the teacher says that the one time of day that he sits still and really listens is during story time. If the teacher is holding up a book in front of him, he’s hooked. It’s the one part of his day I can get him to recall when he gets home.

Books definitely make Nicky’s world brighter. Mine too. So keep writing! You could be changing somebody’s world.

Kim

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