Interview With Agent Lara Perkins

Hello my wonderful writer friends and blog followers!

I know. . .it has been way too long since my last post. I apologize! After the fantastic 2014 ANWA Writer’s Conference, I focussed a ton on revisions, finishing my latest shiny new novel and starting a fresh, newer one that wouldn’t leave me alone. You know how it is, characters keeping you up all night until you write their story. Yeah, those characters were, and still are, in my head, constantly, demanding my attention. And of course I have my minion offspring, aka my beautiful children, who do that in real life too. But I’m back now and I have a special treat for you! Today I am interviewing one of my very favorite people: literary agent, Lara Perkins, from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency!

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Lara Perkins has a B.A. in English and Art History from Amherst College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, where she studied Victorian Brit Lit. In her pre-publishing life, she trained to be an architect, before deciding that books, not bricks, are her true passion. She spent over a year at the B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles before coming to Andrea Brown Literary. She is a frequent speaker at conferences nationwide, and currently is based in the SF Bay Area.
Lara represents all categories of children’s literature, from picture books to young adult. Lara works closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list. She is also the agency’s Digital Manager.

Lara is a fan of insightful, page-turning, voice-driven young adult and middle grade fiction, as well as quirky, witty picture books. For middle grade, she’s particularly looking for compelling, unexpected mysteries, stories set in fascinating, unexpected worlds (real or imagined), and stories that hit home in their depiction of ending/changing friendships or family shifts. Humor is always welcome. For young adult, Lara is looking for heart-breaking but very funny contemporary (or contemporary with a fantasy or paranormal twist) novels. She loves a bittersweet romance when it’s solidly grounded in reality between believable, memorable characters. She’s also drawn to character-driven fantasy with striking world building, and whip-smart, page-turning psychological mysteries. In the picture book realm, Lara is drawn to picture books that take a small but universal experience of childhood and draw out something beautiful or hilarious, and an endearingly flawed main character is central for her. She loves working with author/illustrators, and she’s drawn to a wide range of illustration styles.

TSB: What are the up and coming trends?

LP: This may sound like I’m avoiding the question, but I promise I’m not. The current market is very diverse and very competitive, so I encourage writers to focus on creating something fresh and unique with a strong hook and a great voice, rather than worrying too much about current trends. Most successful books are trendsetters rather than trend-followers (at least in some meaningful way), but they often have common strengths: an authentic and engaging voice, memorable and fully round characters, and a high-concept story. For a great article on recent trends in YA that covers the market with the kind of depth that’s not possible in an interview, check out this one from PW: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/59297-new-trends-in-ya-the-agents-perspective.html

TSB: I hear it’s becoming harder and harder for debut authors to break into the industry. What are your thoughts on this and how can writers be one step ahead of the game?

LP: The market for children’s literature and YA is increasingly both more competitive and more sophisticated, so I do think the bar is higher for anyone writing in this space. I believe the best thing a writer can do is focus on craft. If you’re constantly striving to hone your voice, to take your storytelling to the next level, and to put something real and personal on the page, then you’re doing the best you can to stand out in a competitive but vibrant market. And read everything you can get your hands on!

TSB: What are you looking for right now?

LP: I represent all categories of children’s literature, picture books through young adult, and I’m open to all genres within those categories. I always look for fabulous writing–the kind of writing in which every word matters–and a fresh, engaging voice. I’m drawn to intriguing characters who ring true for me and who can make me laugh, cry, and understand myself and others more deeply. For YA, I look for emotionally raw stories with a strong perspective and high-concept story, and my taste runs fairly dark, though humor is always welcome. For middle grade, I love character-driven family and friendship stories, and I have a soft spot for absurdist humor in both middle grade and picture books. I love working with author/illustrators, and I prefer picture book texts that are quirky and witty, with a clear story arc and strong illustration potential. On a more personal note, I loved stories about girls who were pirates or dragon-slaying knights as a kid, and as an adult, I keep finding myself buying DVDs of character-driven, psychologically insightful westerns, like TRUE GRIT and HIGH NOON.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and top three that get you excited?

LP:
Off:
The words “guaranteed bestseller”
“Please forgive my spelling mistakes”
“I know your guidelines say to submit 10 pages, but I’ve gone ahead and attached the full manuscript.”

On:
A concise, gripping pitch
A clear understanding of the market—good comparative titles that are successful and make sense
A friendly but business-like letter

TSB: In this changing industry, specifically with self publishing on the rise, what benefits does traditional publishing offer the author that self publishing cannot?

LP: I work with a number of hybrid authors (authors who both traditionally and self- publish), and while most relish the control they have with their self-published titles, handling everything oneself is an enormous task. To self-publish successfully, you have to approach it as running a small business. With traditional publishing, you give up some control over your title, but if you’re lucky, you can sometimes get the kind of promotional support and author brand building that can be difficult to build on your own, especially when you’re a debut author. Perhaps the most significant benefit to my mind, though, is the support and editorial feedback from an agent and an editor. I’ve seen manuscripts change and improve enormously over the course of revision, first with an agent and then with an editor. The chance to work with a team to truly make your work as strong and compelling as it can be—to fulfill all of its potential—is a pretty great one.

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

LP: Great question! I hope my authors will be driven, thoughtful, and realistic. When working editorially, I hope that they’ll consider all suggestions carefully and keep an open mind, but bring their own judgment and wonderful creativity to bear on any revisions. I hope they’ll be ready to actively participate in promoting their work and have a good sense of what to expect—though of course, I’m available for any and all questions.

I aim to be a long-term partner and advocate for my authors. I love working editorially with authors to make their work as strong as possible before submission, and I get a thrill out of finding the right home and right editor match for a manuscript. I aim to always be a tough but fair negotiator on my authors’ behalf, and to be by their side to help navigate the changing world of publishing.

TSB: If you have rejected a work, but the author has made significant revisions, can the author resubmit?

LP: Yes. I just ask that the author be transparent about it.

TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

LP: Like any first impression, they are important. The rest of the manuscript has to hold up, too, of course, but the first chapter and even the first line are opportunities to wow the reader immediately. If an author chooses not to, it seems to me like a missed opportunity, especially because the first chapter may be all an agent sees before deciding whether to request more. Why not take every opportunity to show your writing chops?

TSB: What do you know now that you wish you would have known five years ago? (excluding stocks and lottery numbers)

LP: Hah, a great question! I wish I’d fully realized the importance of taking the long-term view when I was younger. I’ve always been a planner and a list-maker, but as I’m getting older, I’m realizing how important it is to not just look two or three years ahead, but five to ten years ahead. I’ve learned it’s the long view that keeps you flexible, prepared, and ahead of the curve.

If you feel Lara Perkins could be a great fit for you and your work, you can query her at lara@andreabrownlit.com. Make sure to read ABLA’s submission guidelines before submitting. Also, Lara will be on the faculty at the Los Angeles SCBWI Conference this weekend so if you are planning to attend, you’ll see her there!

Until next time, friends, keep writing and never let go of your dreams.
~Aloha

Interview With Literary Agent Taylor Martindale

Sorry readers, I’m a day late in getting this out. But, come on, Conference (you know––that thing I’ve been preparing and planning for for a year) is THIS WEEK! Whoohooo!!! I’m so excited to see everyone! Today I have the lovely, Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary. Taylor is the final agent I’m interviewing who is coming to the 2014, ANWA Conference which starts Thursday. There is still time to sign up and I promise it will be worth your while if you can attend! Click ANWACon for more info.

Martindale - Agent Bio Picture

Taylor Martindale is a literary agent with Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring fiction and non-fiction projects. She began agenting with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies. When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.

TSB: What are you looking for right now? 

TM: I am particularly looking for young adult and middle grade novels, and I am hungry for books that have real heart. I love seeing manuscripts from every genre, and I’m looking for something that moves me. Chances are you’ve heard every agent/editor say they’re looking for fresh perspectives with unique voice, and I’m no exception! I want to see projects that are unique because only you could have written that book, only you could tell this story that won’t let me go.

To offer some more specifics, though, here are a few things I’d love to see in my inbox: contemporary love stories, well-developed character casts, multicultural stories, unique settings and time periods, family stories. I’d also love to see something with fantasy elements, a super unique interpretation of a classic, something that reminds me of Edith Wharton’s work (I’m a Wharton nerd), and projects that take me by surprise regardless of genre.

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

TM: When I begin working with an author, what I expect is collaboration, open and honest communication, and trust. They can expect the same from me. One of my favorite parts of being an agent is that I get to seek out the authors I am particularly passionate about, whose work I want to read over and over again just for fun. It is my goal to establish a strategy for their long-term careers in publishing and my authors can be confident that I refuse to give up. Every author-agent relationship takes work and adjusting to one another’s individual styles. Be honest, be professional, and be ready to fight – as a team! – for your career.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and top three that get you excited?

TM: Please do not…

  1. Start your query letter with a question. This drives me crazy. Way too often I see authors using this intro as a way to hook attention. “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fly through space at warp speed dressed in a hot dog costume?” If I can answer NO, and I usually can, then you have lost my attention.
  2. Let the plot overwhelm your query. I don’t need to know everything about the book and the intricacies of the plot. I need the big ticket information, the things that will hook my interest and make me want to dive into your sample pages.
  3. Send out your queries before the manuscript is ready. A project isn’t ready when you’ve written “the end.” You need to take it through revisions, through critique partners, let it sit for a little while, then re-read it again with fresh eyes. This can be exhausting, and I totally sympathize – heck, I’ve gone through this with many of my authors, reading and re-reading along with them. But if you haven’t put your manuscript through the ringer before querying, it shows.

I love it when…

  1. I can get a sense of your voice as an author. I love when the query shows that I’m dealing with a pro, someone who knows his or her style, and uses the query to pull me in before I’m even reading the book.
  2. I see unique concepts that don’t feel outlandish. I think many authors mistake “unique and fresh” with “bizarre and off the wall.” I love wacky novels, but don’t make your concept twisty just because you’re trying to write around a trend. Write the novel you want to write, and use every tool you have to make it the best it can be.
  3. I can’t wait to read the pages after seeing a query. At its basic function, the query letter is your opportunity to introduce me to your work. Make me excited about your writing, about this story that I have to read.

TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

TM: The first line and first chapter are hugely important. When you’re querying, you have very limited space to make an impression. The first few pages of a manuscript are that chance, and you don’t want to waste the opportunity on unnecessary language or the wrong scene.  When I read sample pages and I notice multiple mistakes – bigger grammatical errors, flaws in the world-building logic, flat characters – it’s likely that you’ve lost my attention and I won’t be compelled to continue reading.

TSB: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see aspiring authors make?

TM: The biggest mistake I see, hands down, is when authors send out a manuscript too soon. So many authors feel as though they’re in a rush, that they have to get the project out in the world or they’ll miss their chance. When you hear success stories from established authors, it didn’t happen all at once. Have the courage to wait for the right time, rather than right now.

TSB: What do you know now that you wish you would have known five years ago? (excluding stocks and lottery numbers) 

TM: This may sound cheesy, but I wish I had known what amazing authors I’d be representing – and I know I’ll feel the same way in another five years. It is my joy to be around such creativity and passion every day and I’m so proud to be a part of their careers. I can’t wait to meet the authors I’ll begin working with next.

TSB: Thank you, Taylor, for sharing some great tips! I can’t wait to meet you on Thursday! 

Along with taking pitches at ANWACon, Taylor will be teaching two fantastic classes: Writing and Selling Successful children’s Books and Hearing Voice in YA. However, if you are not able to attend the conference, you can get submission guidelines for querying Taylor at Full Circle Literary.

I hope to see you all at the conference where we can, hopefully, become experts in the craft––or at least a little more knowledgeable in it.  Keep writing, my friends!

~Aloha

Interview With Editor Victoria Curran

Happy Friday, my writer friends! As promised, today’s interview is with the wonderful Victoria Curran, editor at Harlequin Heartwarming. Victoria will be taking pitches at the 2014 ANWA Writer’s Conference, next week! For more information on the Conference click, ANWACon.

Victoria-SummerillPhotographyWEB

Victoria Curran has been with Harlequin for ten years. Before Harlequin, she was primarily a magazine journalist (trade and consumer press, writer and editor) with some corporate communications contracts publishing newsletters. During her romance editing career she’s worked with Series authors on Harlequin Superromance, Harlequin American, our inspirational Love Inspired romances, our action/adventure fiction, and now Harlequin Heartwarming.

TSB: What are you looking for right now? 

VC: We’re looking for clean, character-driven contemporary romances where the romance is the most exciting part of the book and where a motivated hero and heroine sweep readers along on their unpredictable, roller-coaster journey to reach a happy ending.

And can I just clarify the term “clean” for a moment? I use the term “clean” to convey that our books focus on deeply emotional attraction rather than physical passion and that there’s no sex in the current story between unmarried characters—and we’re also careful of language.

I try to avoid the term “sweet” romance, which is recognized in the industry as a romance without sex, but in practice, often propels authors toward a story with a more sugary, polite journey to a happy ending, which is predictable…and a little dull, if I can be frank! That’s definitely not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for stories where readers will wonder how on earth the pair will ever end up together. Clean stories need to be just as exciting as the edgier sexy ones.

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

VC: Interesting question… I guess I want authors to know that when we acquire their first book, we’re hoping we’re committing to a longer relationship, and that we can help build the author’s career by getting their books out there to our readers. After we get through the first book’s line edits, we hope the author will then submit a new proposal for one or more books for our series. We want this, even if the author has a hybrid career, where he or she is also self-publishing or has a relationship with another publisher. In our one series, we publish four books a month, which is 48 books a year. We need to build a stable of authors we can rely on to continue to recommit to us.

We buy the first book when we’re satisfied the full manuscript is close to where we need it to be (and may ask for a revision under contract). But subsequent books, once an author has become a Heartwarming author, we only need to see three chapters and a synopsis. And if it’s a multi-book proposal—whether the stories are connected or not—we only need to see a full proposal on the first one and short synopses on the rest to be able to work toward a new contract.

Authors should expect us to be their advocates, within Harlequin and also within the industry and with the readers, as best we can. We will try to represent their story to the marketing and art team to create strong covers because we are committed to successful books, which is obviously a win/win for Harlequin and for the author.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and top three that get you excited?

VC: In the Toronto office of Harlequin, our series don’t require the preliminary step of a query letter. We welcome a proposal from authors: cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of the book. So I’m going to talk about proposals rather than query letters. What excites me most?

  • Above average writing as demonstrated in the opening chapters, and it’s usually obvious immediately…and makes me sit up. What makes writing stand out: specific details that are fresh and often surprising; a confidence that readers will get the point that’s being made on much, much less (showing something without explaining in internalization what it meant or opening in the middle of characters’ lives without explaining everything that has led up to this moment, for instance); a reasonable balance between action, dialogue, internalization and description.
  • I get excited when I read a synopsis that shows me how the lead characters, strongly motivated before the story opens, act based on those motives. These fleshed out characters don’t put aside who they are and what they want to act in mysterious ways/say mysterious things they’ve never acted in/said before because of love. That is a predictable romance cliché I see all the time. If the story stays true to the characterization, the characters will drive the story and I probably won’t be able to predict each step. Yay!
  • This is part of the first and second points, for sure, but it’s an exciting proposal when I can see that each of the main characters has an inner, personal obstacle to love—something they risk losing by falling in love. When I can see what they have to lose (unpredictable path to happy ending), rather than that they have everything to gain through love (predictable path to ending).

Turn-offs…hm…

  • Traditional romance storytelling where the only obstacle to romance is an external threat to one of the lead characters and the other has to rescue them. They are victims of the action rather than being independent and driven and taking actions that lead to repercussions they have to then deal with, which is more contemporary storytelling.
  • Fleshed out characters who become wooden as they feel immediate attraction and from that moment on are driven only by the attraction, not by what they wanted before the story began.
  • The life and death crisis at the end of the story that makes lead characters realize love is more important than anything. Don’t get me wrong, it can work. Is it unexpected? No. So it’s just one of those things that’s a red flag to an editor. Does it feel woven into the character development or an easy resolution? It bears further scrutiny.

TSB: In this changing industry, specifically with self publishing on the rise, what benefits does traditional publishing offer the author that self publishing cannot? 

VC: Well, with a series romance like Harlequin Heartwarming, our books are sold based on the series name. We have subscribers through our direct-to-consumer division, our book club, who want every clean romance we publish in a month. It always has been and still is a safer way to hone your craft while your books are selling. A few of our authors have come to us after already having put their first books out through self-publishing or small presses. While I can’t say what their sales stats were in their previous experiences, I know they see Harlequin as an opportunity and a support. Plus, our community of authors is quite a wonderful sisterhood (plus one brother!). They’ve launched a Heartwarming authors blog and the editors join them there when we can to help build an online fan base—which they’re also doing on goodreads. There’s strength in numbers and we’re a tight-knit team with a lot of good ideas.

TSB: If you have rejected a work, but the author has made significant revisions, can the author resubmit? 

VC: Absolutely. Sometimes there are clues in the rejection letter that the story is so clearly not right for a series that the editor doesn’t believe revision can make it work. In which case, maybe you’ll see a line “best of luck finding the right home for your story” or something like that. Even then, though, my favourite surprise is when an author not only nails a revision but surpasses what I could imagine capable.

TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

VC: The first chapter is critical. If the writing is middle of the road, an editor may not read past that first chapter. First line? I’ve heard some agents and editors say that’s all they need to see to know. Me, I’m not that good!

TSB: Thank you, Victoria, for helping us to get to know you and the world of publishing a little better!  

Along with taking pitches a ANWACon, Victoria will be teaching two fabulous classes: Sweet Doesn’t Mean Syrupy and Wholesome Isn’t All Tea Parties and Blind Dates, and How Do You Build High Stakes into Your Romance When Sensuality and Religion Aren’t Part of the Story?

Here are a few titles Harlequin Heartwarming has published:

His Hometown Girl_Karen Rock

The Paris Connection_Cerella Sechrist

What a Girl Wants_Jennifer Snow

Summer Kisses_Melinda Curtis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, I will be interviewing our last (but certainly not least) agent coming to ANWACon, the lovely Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary Agency.

Remember, you can’t revise an empty page, so keep writing.

~Aloha

Interview With Literary Agent Deborah Warren

This week’s agent interview is with the fabulous Deborah Warren from East West Literary Agency. Deborah will be taking pitches at the 2014 ANWA Writer’s Conference February 20-22. There’s still time to sign up! For more information click,  ANWACon.

Deborah WarrenDeborah Warren, founder of East West Literary, LLC, became an agent after 17 years at Harcourt. Deborah represents children’s authors of all genres, as well as illustrators, and author/illustrators.

TSB: What are you looking for right now?

DW: East/West Literary specializes in representing author/illustrators of picture books including NYT-bestselling Anna Dewdney, James Dean, Gianna Marino, and Antoinette Portis.  But in addition, we represent a full roster of children’s fiction authors and illustrators—both debut and established–in the board book, concept, illustration, multicultural, middle-grade and young adult markets.  In all categories, I’m looking to fall in love with character-driven stories, enhanced by a hook, told in a unique, fresh or distinctive way.  My sweet spot: short, quirky picture books and smartly layered, accessible and compelling MG and YA fiction.

But here’s something to know about me:  when I go shopping for new clothes, I don’t usually look for something specific.  I’m open to falling in love with that perfect (or should I say “write”) fit that I’m not looking for or even know that I want.  It’s all about the connection with me.

That said, if you’ve written a Downton Abbey for MG or YA, we need to talk immediately!  I also love the look and feel and concept of classic Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes … so I’m up to see anything in that genre. Battlestar Gallactica was one of my favorite shows, and I’m still upset that it was cancelled. OH; and I love re-imaginings of fairy tales, too, like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess Bride.

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

DW: One of the most important things is to do your research! Finding an interested publisher, or agent, is a lot like finding an interested employer: know what the Publisher is looking for, know what is currently successful for them, and position your own book in line with their success. Just as important, though, for writers is to love what you do, because that commitment will show through. Network, talk to other writers, take workshops and classes, attend other writers’ readings, read other peoples’ books: show your support and you will find support! OH; and I might add:  BRAVA to you for doing just that!

We agents are a lot like matchmakers–we’re creative matchmakers, but we make matches just the same. We prefer to bring clients into the agency with whom we share a common career-building goal, so I’m also impressed when clients have an appreciation for, and knowledge/patience about, the industry; in particular, about the acquisition process.

As to what I do:  an agent will submit your work to targeted editors (having established and grown those relationships), negotiate the publishing contract, possibly retain some subsidiary rights (selling the work to book clubs, foreign publishers, etc.) to sell on your behalf (allowing you to keep more of the money from these sales than if the publisher sold them for you), keep track of deadlines and royalty statements, and generally act as go-between for you and the editor on business issues.

And here’s my pet peeve: Your writing must be as close to polished as possible before it goes to the publisher – or even to your agent.  Take care to submit your work in its best possible shape, after work-shopping it, for example. Your agent will help you develop it, but we no longer can expect the editor to do the heavy editorial lifting.  Editors have less and less time to work on manuscripts.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and top three that get you excited?

DW: Turns offs:

  1. Not specifically addressing me by name (or misspelling my name)
  2. Not having done your homework as to which genres we specialize in/are  interested in representing – ie:  submitting adult thrillers.
  3. Submitting via mass e-mail copying in dozens of agents (yes; this happens!)

I want to know more if:

  1. You have a referral from one of our existing clients.
  2. You have a strong “sell and tell” elevator pitch
  3. You refer to the Work of one of our clients as being similar to yours or with a similar market reach.

TSB: I hear it’s becoming harder and harder for debut authors to break into the industry. What are your thoughts on this and how can writers be one step ahead of the game?  

DW: You know, I don’t share this experience and I don’t think it’s to your advantage as writers to be overly concerned about it, as well.  After all, all writers were debut at one time, weren’t they? I’m not sure who said this, but I love this quote:  “Focus on the work itself and not on what may or may not eventually happen to it. If the work is good enough, it’ll take care of itself.”

That said, in order to stay one step ahead, I suggest that you pinpoint those agencies or publishing houses that don’t shy away from representing debut talent, and instead strive to find, foster and grow debut talent.  (Like EWA, I might add!)

TSB: If you have rejected a work, but the author has made significant revisions, can the author resubmit?

DW: Yes; of course!  I’d want the writer to be specific about—even to red-line–the changes s/he had made.  But know this:  the second time is more difficult.  Strive to put your best foot forward the first time.  Remember what your mother said:  “First impressions count.”

TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

DW: Entire books have been written about crafting great beginnings.  It is, indeed, an art, and is oh-so important. So, here are some things to think about:

The first sentence should actively pull me in. Ideally, your story opens with an event or a moment in your character’s life that signals impending change. The first paragraph sets the stage by introducing elements of the main character, the setting and the upcoming conflict. By the end of the first page, I’m so involved in the story that there’s no turning back. I’m invested in your character and in your plot, and I want to know more about the world you’ve created.

TSB: Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to let us get to know you and the industry a little better.

Along with taking pitches, Deborah will also be teaching two insightful classes: The Working Relationship Between Author and Agent, and Exploring Novel Territory; Take Your MG to New Heights, A Workshop of Tips and Techniques from East/West Authors.

Next week, I will have editor Victoria Curran from Harlequin Heartwarming. Until then, write every day.

~Aloha


Interview With Editor Heidi Taylor

Heidi Taylor PhotoAs promised I have editor Heidi Taylor, from Shadow Mountain, here for a fantastic interview. Heidi has been with Shadow Mountain for the past nine years. She graduated from the University of Utah where she had the opportunity to study English and Creative Writing with some of the best creative minds in the business. Heidi works as a publishing manager in the areas of children, teen, and young adult fiction and non-fiction where she works one-on-one with authors to acquire and develop their manuscripts from conception to publication. She has had the pleasure of working with New York Times Bestselling author, Brandon Mull, and his Fablehaven series, and Christmas Jar’s author, Jason F. Wright, as well as dozens of very talented writers, artists, and designers. She loves searching for diamonds in the slush pile!

TSB: What are you looking for right now? 

HT: Since the creation of our Proper Romance brand, I’ve been combing the countrysides for clean, well-written, smart romances of all genres: Regency, western, contemporary, etc. And since not everyone defines “clean” the same way, it’s been a bit of a challenge, but I’m holding out hope.

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

HT: Well, I think I most expect authors to be invested in their work. It sounds strange to say that but just because you’ve written eighty-thousand words it doesn’t make you invested in them. When I get an author on board I want them to have thought about marketing and sales hooks. I want them to be sketching out in their minds how they can get the word out about their stories. It shows me that they believe in what they’ve written. And from me, authors can expect an advocate. Someone who believes in them and can see the potential they bring to the table, and then help turn that potential into something amazing.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and the top three that get you excited?

HT: Let’s see, one thing that really turns me off to a query letter is one that is longer than one page. A query letter is a sales pitch, not a resume. It’s short, sweet, and straight to the point. Anything longer than a page and I ignore it – unfortunately. Second, I don’t like query letters that try to be biographies. I don’t need to know about the book you wrote in your kindergarten class – I’m only interested in the manuscript you’ve sent in – the rest you can save for your ABOUT THE AUTHOR page. And finally, it drives me crazy when people tell me that their story was inspired and that it NEEDS to be out on bookstore shelves. Mental note: All manuscripts are inspired. That’s how it’s done. No one pulls stories out of thin air. Everyone writes to a muse – whatever that muse may be.

The things that really get me excited in a cover letter? Anything that indicates that they’ve written a clean romance – those get me really excited, especially if they really mean it. I love it when the cover letter is short and gets right to the point – they use their “elevator pitch”. It’s harder to write a three sentence description of a 300-page book than it is to write the 300 pages, so when I read a great elevator pitch, I know I’ve got something special. And finally, I love it when people refer to me by name. It means they’ve done their research and they know exactly who they are pitching to. That goes a long way.

TSB: If you have rejected a work, but the author has made significant revisions, can the author resubmit?

HT: Yes and no. It depends on why the manuscript was rejected. Sometimes it’s simply a timing issue and we don’t have a slot for that manuscript. Sometimes it is an issue of the manuscript not being a good fit for the publisher. In both those cases, revisions won’t do any good. If it does get rejected because of the writing but I can see potential, and it is something that might fit well with us, a publisher, I’ll let an author re-write and re-submit. It all depends on the situation.

TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

HT: This is gigantically important. That first line and first page are what hook the reader. Too often I hear “It starts slow and then gets better towards the middle.” The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have your reader hooked at the beginning, they won’t continue to read. If you don’t make an impression at the very first, you won’t get another chance. There is too much media out there for a reader to waste their time slogging through a book that never gets to the point.

TSB: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see aspiring authors make?

HT: One of the biggest mistakes I see them make is that they take constructive feedback personally. Every writer can improve whether they be seasoned or brand new. Writing skills are constantly being polished and no one gets it right the first time. Really good constructive feedback can be one of the best tools for an author if they keep in mind that none of it is personal. Feedback from a trusted source can only help to make a manuscript better.

Thank you, Heidi, for the great tips! I can’t wait to see you at the conference in four more weeks! For those of you thinking, oh, my book is perfect for her!  You can sign up to pitch to Heidi by clicking ANWACon or you can send her a query via Shadow Mountain here. That’s it for now aspiring writer friends. Next week, I’ll have another interview with an agent/editor coming to the ANWA conference.

Until then keep writing and revising my friends!

Interview With Agent Claire Anderson-Wheeler

I’m back! Happy New Year! I don’t know about the rest of you, but 2014 feels like it’s going to be amazing!(of course that could just be the chocolate talking. Mmmm, so good!) My next few blog posts will be for all my writer friends (or soon to be friends) out there.

I am currently serving as the co-chair for the 2014 American Night Writer’s Association “Time Out for Writer’s” Conference which will be held at the Hilton in Mesa, Arizona February 20-22, 2014. I know what you are thinking: oh those are expensive. But, my fellow penny pinchers, it is a boutique conference which means, affordable (at least compared to the other conferences out there).

I am huge advocate of writer’s conferences for many reasons, but I’ll just focus on three for now. First, it is a place where you can meet other people just like you! We are an exquisitely strange bunch, aren’t we? We have crazy vivid imaginations that only other writers can truly understand and relate to. In other words, crazy knows crazy. Secondly, there are amazing classes given by seasoned writers, agents and editors for every step of the writing process. Who better to teach than the ones who have successfully reached publication or helps others to do so? And third, you get a chance to meet agents and editors! Lets face it, agents and editors receive hundreds of queries a week. Any way you can stand out, can only help your chances at getting your work noticed. And if you pitch at a conference chances are high they’ll ask for pages! (Hey, it worked for me. I met my agent through last year’s ANWA conference.) Oh and there will be chocolate! Okay, that’s four reasons, but I couldn’t leave out the chocolate.

This year ANWA has five agents/editors coming in, covering every genre, who will be taking pitches on sight. For more information on the ANWA Writer’s Conference, including how to register, click ANWACon. Over the next few weeks, I will be interviewing these fantastic agents/editors so you can learn a little more about them, what they are currently looking for, and the publishing industry.

For my first interview, I have literary agent Claire Anderson-Wheeler from Regal Literary. portrait

Claire is the newest agent to join Regal Literary Management, a New York-based full-service literary agency. Prior to that she worked at Anderson Literary Management in New York, and at Christine Green Authors’ Agent in London, UK. She holds an LLB from Trinity College, Dublin, and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, UK. Claire is Irish, was born in DC, and grew up in Dublin, Geneva, and Brussels. I approached Claire to come to our conference after she gave me the nicest pass on a submission I have ever received, and yes I received quite a few before finding my agent. Don’t worry, we all do.

Now onto the fun:

TBS: What are you looking for right now? 

CAW: My tastes are pretty broad but here are some pointers for what I’d love to see.

  • Atmospheric suspense narratives: not gun-heavy thrillers, think more “domestic gothic”
  • Young adult fiction based in the real world. I’m still a sucker for a good dystopia or sci-fi, but not so interested in paranormal or fantasy.
  • Contemporary women’s fiction treating on strong topical themes: issue-led storylines, ideally along controversial or debate-stimulating lines.
  • Literary fiction that can pull off a strong plot as well as elegant language
  • In non-fiction, I’m looking mainly for topical memoir, and popular science or pop psychology with a solid research background

But I hesitate to be prescriptive. Send me a query and I’ll let you know!

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

CAW: Good question!

I expect authors to take the hard work part seriously, and to have realistic expectations. My heart sinks when I read “I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it”. Good writing takes pain! As to the realistic expectations: I appreciate ambition, but it’s important for writers to understand that publishing is not a golden ticket or a quick one, and the JK Rowling stories are few and far between.

What authors can expect from me – I guess this is two-fold. Anyone who sends me a query can expect a response, though I very rarely have time to give feedback on the work. I’m sorry: I wish I did have time. But it’s a business like any other, and I simply can’t afford to perform a role of editorial consultant. As for what my authors can expect: they can expect thoughtful editorial feedback on their work, and a genuine dialogue. The idea is to synthesise what I’ve got and what they’ve got: it’s a partnership, not a power game! And they can expect someone who is dogged about getting their work to a good home.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and top three that get you excited?

CAW: Top three that turn me off:

  1. Haranguing me about why I have to read their work: don’t be a nag! I was going to read it anyway!
  2. Writing in the third person. “Jim is the critically-acclaimed author of….”
  3. Not telling me what the book is about and what happens in it. Teasing cliffhangers are just irritating.

Top three things I want to see

  1. Dignity without arrogance: a courteous introduction and a request to read, no need for flattery or effusion. Remember, you are a businessperson.
  2. A concise, value-neutral account of what you’ve written. The full synopsis you can leave for an attachment if you like: but up-front I am always happy to see a paragraph or two describing the project in analytical terms. By all means, tell me you aspire to “an incisive but ultimately redemptive panoramic social narrative”. But don’t tell me you’re “a striking and original writer” or “the next David Foster Wallace”
  3. A great story, of course!

TSB: In this changing industry, specifically with self publishing on the rise, what benefits does traditional publishing offer the author that self publishing cannot?

CAW: I would identify two major ones:

  1. Promotion. Look at it this way: you hear of self-publishing runaway successes, sure. But consider that maybe one-third of the new titles published every year in the US (caveat: very loose estimate) are self-published. Now think about what books this year have made the bestseller lists; have been reviewed; have been read by your friends; have been read by you. So that helps illustrate just how rare and anomalous those self-publishing successes are. A traditional publisher may not get you on everyone’s radar. But it’s unlikely you’ll get there without them.
  2. Editorial input. Why wouldn’t you want a second (and third, and fourth, and tenth) pair of eyes on your book, to make it as good as it can possibly be?

TBS: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

The first line, not that important (but try to avoid a terrible one!). The first chapter, however: massively important. People always ask, “but how much of a book do you actually read?”. The problem is, to me this implies that I should be giving every writer all the benefit of the doubt: “okay, the first chapter was clunky, confused, and nothing was happening – but maybe it’ll pick up.” I don’t read like that – and nor will a publisher! I’ve had people send me a chapter from the middle of the book because they feel their first chapters are slow or somehow unrepresentative of what they can do. But it all needs to be your best work. If your first chapter doesn’t reflect well on you…. Lose it, or rewrite it!

TBS: I hear it’s becoming harder and harder for debut authors to break into the industry. What are your thoughts on this and how can writers be one step ahead of the game?

CA-W: I don’t like to sound negative – or unduly negative – but this is, I believe, true. On the plus side, wonderful work is still getting out there, and smaller indie publishers are springing up to fill the gap, as the major publishers concentrate more and more on established brands.

As to being a step ahead of the game, I don’t believe there are quick-fixes. In many ways it’s the same as it ever was: you have to write something distinctive, and good, and then you have to make it better. The number one thing I would say is, use your peers. Not just for networking, but for workshopping. Find a tough crowd, don’t just give it to your favourite sister to read. Also, I think being part of a writers’ group is good because it allows you to see other people’s flawed work-in-progress, and thus, allows you to use your own critical skills. If you can’t do this, then just read. Read the bestsellers. Read the critics’ picks. And just to get your critical faculties nice and stimulated, practice reading bad fiction. Find some free ebook online that nobody seems to like (except the author’s favourite sister), download it, and use it as a tutorial in what not to do.

The other thing you can do is work on your publication record. It’s good practice, good for the ego, and doesn’t hurt your resume. While you’re working on your novel-length masterpiece, try sending some shorter stuff out to magazines. You can build a portfolio, build your confidence, and maybe get some good feedback out of it.

Thank you, Claire, for being so gracious to take the time to share some insights with us! I can’t wait to meet you in person February! 

In addition to taking pitches at ANWACon, Claire will also be conducting a query/pitch workshop and teaching two great classes. Her first class is “Building up and editing down: foundation, structure, and embracing the delete button.” And her second class is “Writing for your reader: market consciousness and knowing your audience.” However if you cannot make the conference, but would like to submit a query to Claire you may do so at here Regal literary.

That’s it for now aspiring writers’. Next week I’ll be interviewing the equally awesome, Heidi Taylor from Shadow Mountain Publishing.

Until then keep writing and revising my friends.

~Aloha

Travel Tips For Dummies

I just got back from Europe a few weeks ago on holiday. I saved up for several months, used my tax return money, and I’m crazy broke now––but it was worth it! Haha! Besides I like Top Ramen for dinner.

It was actually my ten-year-old daughter’s special trip. I had taken my fourteen-year-old when she was ten too. I’d decided a long time ago I wanted my kids to see the old world, where our heritage is from. I have two more kids, sooooo, two more trips to Europe await! (See the way I set that up, hehe) And my husband is pretty much the best man in the world, so he agreed. I get asked all the time why he didn’t go. He has no desire to travel to Europe, as he puts it. He’d rather go somewhere tropical, because you know, it’s not like he grew up there or something. For those of you who don’t know; my husband is from Oahu. We go to the Hawaiian Islands every couple years with the whole family to visit extended family and see that part of the kid’s heritage (Yes I go! What? I want to go somewhere tropical too!).  It might seem unfair, but don’t worry, the hubbs got a new shotgun before I left.

So, on the Europe trip! Now, aside from this being an unforgettably, amazing experience with my ten-year-old, there were a few things I learned that I will do differently next time I go. I decided to share them with you.

Tip 1 : Public transportation buses in Europe do not run the same as school buses. We started our trip in London and to save a few dollars (pounds), decided to use the buses instead of the tube. Big mistake for someone like me; public transportationly challenged. You see, I grew up in California and have lived the past fourteen years in Arizona. We use cars because everything is spread out. The only public transportation I’ve used is the school bus system. With school buses the stops are the exact same on the way to school as they are on the way back. So naturally, I assumed they’d be the same with the double decker buses in London. Nope, not the case. But don’t worry, I finally figured it out on our last day there.🙂 We ended up seeing much more of London than we expected to. (stick to the the tube/underground they have the same stops)

Every time I see these I sing, “Double Dutch Bus! Fee, fi, fo, fum. . . ” Frankie Smith, baby!                                                                                                                                                  IMG_1138

Tip 2 : Beware when taking pictures at Hamley’s Toy Store in London. The employees there love to photo-bomb. This guy got us not once, but twice!  Ha!

Hamley’s infamous photo-bomber:

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Tip 3 : Do not visit the Tower of London on Friday the 13th.  At the time, I thought it was cool to lead our small group into the dungeon on Friday the 13th. That charming place where they tortured poor souls with several inventively cruel ways before killing them. I’d wanted to get a picture of my daughter behind the bars, because I have the same picture of my older daughter. Yes, I have a sick sense of humor. So I was climbing up the small set of stairs (at this point I’d climbed thousands of stairs with no problem) to get the right angle for the picture when I tripped––wait, let me rephrase that––when something tripped me. Most likely an angry soul who couldn’t rest while a silly tourist took pictures of the place where they were tortured to death. I fell hard on the stone steps, breaking my camera and bruising my shin (and pride).

Here’s the last picture I took before the camera’s untimely demise:

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Tip 4 : Do not leave hotel windows open. Even if it’s getting hot and there is no air conditioning. This tip was actually from my first trip with my older daughter, but it deserved mention. While staying on the third floor at the hotel near Chambord in the Loire Valley, we’d left a window open while we went chateau hopping. The first thing I did when we came back in the cool evening was close the window. I sat on the bed with my daughter and niece to read to them before bedtime. Out of no where, a bat took flight in the small room; flying over our heads like it was circling its prey. They do that, right? Just before they suck all the blood from your body? Because, I’m telling you, at one point the thing looked at my neck and licked its chops. The girls screamed at the top of their lungs, dove under the covers, and peeked out every now and then to see if it was still there––more screaming followed. I did what any mother would do in a terrifying situation: I ran as fast as I could into the hallway, and stood at the door laughing at the screaming girls. Oh come on, it was hilarious once I was sure the thing wasn’t going to eat me! Luckily, there were some friendly French guys who came to our rescue. When they first ran out of their room to see what all the screaming was about, my aunt tried to explain what was going on. Unfortunately, she didn’t know the French word for bat. She told them a bird, but not. It wasn’t until she said “Dracula” that they knew what she was talking about. Apparently, Dracula visits the Loire Valley. Who knew? The French men tackled the bat with a towel and wrangled him out the window, all without dropping their cigarettes from their mouths. The room smelled like cigarette smoke after, but at least it was bat free. A fair trade.

Picture of the Dracula hotel:

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Tip 6 : If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs to bring home from Paris. Go to the Eiffel Tower at night. There are several street venders that will ask, beg, and practically chase you down to sell you key chains, statues, and other fun things for crazy-good deals. They are willing to negotiate too. My friend got five keychains for a Euro! Everywhere else they were one for two Euro. We went to the Eiffel on our last night and by that time we were broke. I had just enough money for food and transportation to the airport, so I couldn’t buy anything else. I was bummed, I love great deals! But now I know for next time.🙂

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So now that you know what to avoid, you too can go broke over an amazing trip.

Happy travels friends!

Cheers,

Torsha