All Bi Myself: Why We Need to See Ourselves in Fiction

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by Kat Enright, Skyhorse Publishing

It took me a long while to realize that I was bisexual.

Perhaps it’s where I grew up, a picture perfect example of small-time Pennsylvania. Perhaps it was the influence of conservative, Catholic parents. Perhaps it was just something that I needed time to discover.

But mostly, it was because I didn’t know that it was something a person could be. Let’s face it, despite the diversity of the world we live in, many of our stories are still very white and very straight. This is slowly but surely changing, but the vast majority of our stories still fit into neat little boxes. And growing up, I believed that one had to fit into one of these categories – a person was either gay or straight. What else was there?

It wasn’t until college that I started to see that I started to see that were other options. Until I began to question what I had unconsciously internalized and faced that part of me that I feared was wrong. I started reading more broadly, watching different movies and TV. I started to find the characters that reflected me, but I had to search for them. And to some extent, I still do. The amount of gay and lesbian characters are in YA fiction rising, but bisexual characters are still fairly rare. And when they do exist, I found they often come with their own special kind of baggage.

I’m sure you’ve seen it somewhere. The confusion that rises when a  bisexual character is outed, the boyfriend or girlfriend who’s insecure that their significant other is going to go “straight”, the idea that it is just a phase, the bisexual who cannot help but cheat, the bisexual who, because they like two or more genders, obviously wants to be with everyone.  The bisexual who ends up with an opposite sex partner and suddenly has no claim on the queer identity. The bisexual who has not yet had an opportunity to be with a same-gender partner, and because of that, has also their identity called into question.

There is a lot of confusion, really, about bisexuality, and a fair amount of biphobia in the world as well. And it bleeds into the stories that we tell, which only helps in reinforcing the cultural narrative of the world we live in. And most hurtfully, this sometimes even comes from our queer brothers and sisters.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to see stories that embrace the stories our gay and lesbian youth, from #OWNVOICES authors, and I do believe that all of those stories are incredibly important. But there should also be room on our shelves for stories about bisexual characters, pansexual characters, asexual characters – for each and every identity and orientation. And there should be an effort to understand each other and the richness of our individual experiences.

So my I find myself searching for a certain type of character, one who is able to proudly and confidently embrace their bisexual identity, who is not questioned or threatened by those around them. Who can love whomever they choose freely and not pinned down by the stereotypes we expect in such tales. Like the stories that reach out to our gay and lesbian youth, these stories are needed out there in the hands of young readers. Not just so that bisexual/pansexual youth can see themselves reflected and valued in stories, but so that everyone can know that we do exist, and we are just as real and varied and wonderfully human as everyone else.

So if you find these stories, please send them my way.

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Kat Enright was born in Middle-of-Nowhere Pennsylvania, and earned her BA in Philosophy (with a minor in Writing) from Gettysburg College. After college, she served for two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA Service Member in Boston, MA, before she moved to New York to start her career in Publishing. Kat always has at least one book on her (and sometimes upwards of ten, if you count all the e-books on her phone), and a notebook to jot down all the creative ideas that pop into her head.

#MSWL Launches The Manuscript Academy

podcastlogoWelcome to the newest arm of Manuscript Wish List®: The Manuscript Academy. The Academy exists for writers who want the best aspects of a conference–the classes, the direct access to experts, the networking, and the personalized critiques–delivered right to you, without paying for flights, hotels, or travel.

Our model is different: You can learn on your own schedule, after the kids have gone to bed, the workday is over, and you’ve changed into your PJs. You don’t need to pay for travel, meals out, or even a new blazer. We believe that writing conferences should be affordable, accessible, and awesome. We offer personalized, creative access to the top minds in the industry–all without leaving home. 

With professional-grade recordings of classes, webcam workshops and pitch meetings, and critiques by our faculty of top agents and editors, everything you need is right here.

Registration is $199 and includes 30 days of access to our full menu of classes, plus access to critiques, pitches, workshops, and live events.

 

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How to Spend Ten Minutes With An Agent

by Julie Kingsley

Have you ever floundered during a pitch session? Panicked at the idea of running into an agent at the snack table? (Quick! What’s the book about? Uhhhhh…) Does the whole idea of talking about your work make you so nervous that your insides quiver and your hands shake? This is normal.  You’ve invested so much in your book—and when you go into a meeting with an agent or editor, it feels like a lot at stake.

The Manuscript Academy is Manuscript Wish List®’s educational sister company. The Manuscript Academy Podcast is free to everyone, and features interviews with agents and editors, how-to tips, and behind-the-scenes looks at the creation of the Academy—plus sneak peeks at classes from our amazing faculty.

The most recent how-to episode, How to Spend Ten Minutes With An Agent, breaks down tips and strategies to help demystify the process, and perhaps even make it a fun and easy experience.  Want to learn more?  Download Episode Six: How to Spend Ten Minutes With An Agent to hear Jessica Sinsheimer fullsizerender-8speak from the agent perspective, while I give tips from the writer’s side of the desk.

A meeting with an agent can launch a career and also lend key insight that you need for building a solid future in the writing industry. Get ready for that moment. You can find us in the iTunes Store (search for “Manuscript Academy” or click this link) and on Soundcloud.  Then explore past podcasts with top industry professionals all ready to go in the iTunes store.  The Manuscript Academy Podcast  is published weekly with the aim to help you find you best path to publication.

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PS: We’re throwing a party, and you’re invited.  It’s a huge online get-together with writers, agents, and editors from around the world participating in a cheerful holiday conversation about writing.  Want a critique partner? This would be a great, fun way to meet one. There are themed Google Hangout rooms to bring you our favorite kinds of holiday parties. Have we spiked your eggnog’s curiosity? Want to learn more?  Then go to http://ManuscriptAcademy.com/RSVP to add your name to the list!

Want to know what to bring? (Yes! Props will help you have even more fun!) Check out the Manuscript Academy Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud–and look for Episode 007: Party. Holiday Party!

This event is free, and all are welcome.

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Julie True Kingsley is the co-founder of The Manuscript Academy.  She has over twenty years of experience in education teaching everything from preschool to grad school.  She currently  teaches New Media & Writing for Media at a small local college. She is the co-founder of SCBWI’s Writing Retreat on Squam, and a past facilitator of SCBWI’s fabulous Whispering Pines Retreat. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, and a moody rescue dog. You can find her on Twitter @juliekingsley.

Julie is teaching Seven Days of Dialogue for The Manuscript Academy. She is also taking ten-minute meetings and critiques. Academy members can schedule one with her here.

Why iZombie Would Make the Perfect Book

by Kylie Brien, editor at Skyhorse Publishing

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Sure, it started as a graphic novel, and is sort of . . . maybe . . . technically a book already—but the show has taken on a life of its own. The television series, created by Rob Thomas, has a completely different feel than the graphic novel series it was based on. Because of this, I tend to look at it as a separate entity. I think there are elements of the show that would translate to a young adult novel.

Here are a few stand-out elements of the show that I think would translate well into a book:

  • A new twist on a tired subject.
    • Zombies are the new vampires. They’re everywhere. You can find them stumbling around all kinds of literature, television, and film in search of brains to consume. Though in my experience, it’s rare to find a zombie as the protagonist. Olivia Moore, aka Liv Moore, aka a wonderfully punny name (I always appreciate a good pun) is the focus of the show that takes Zombieism to a new level. Liv was scratched by one and woke up lacking all pigment in her skin and hair and with a sudden desire to eat brains. While she shares that common trait with traditional zombies, there are things that set her apart. Though she gave up her career as a doctor and transitioned to the morgue as the medical examiner to improve her access to brains, Liv can live like a normal human being with all of her sensibilities as long as she regularly eats brains. However, without springing for the spray tan or hair dye, Liv is as pale as a ghost and hair so blonde, it’s basically white. There are some gives and takes with this lifestyle. When Liv does eat brains, she takes on the personality traits of the person’s brain she eats and gets visions of their life. This conveniently helps her help Detective Clive Babineaux solve the murders of the owners of the brains she eats.

 

  • Excellent supporting characters:
    • What makes a show featuring a snarky doctor-turned-medical examiner with a newfound desire for brains and a whole lot of sass even more captivating? A well-rounded group of friends, coworkers, and enemies to contribute something new and different. As I mentioned before, Liv works closely with a detective to help him solve murders using her unique zombie abilities. Clive is a reserved Seattle Police Detective who keeps his personal life to himself—though that doesn’t stop Liv from trying to uncover details about his life (like his obsession with Game of Thrones). Clive also has a dark past though his relationship with Liv gives him an opportunity to let loose from time to time. They’re complete opposites but somehow make a comical and oddly compatible pair. Liv’s boss, Ravi is to Liv what Giles was to Buffy. . . sort of. Like I said before, iZombie is a new take on things. Ravi is a version of Giles with a whole lot more sass and a love of all things nerdy. He makes an excellent person for Liv to confide in and remind her that she still has friends. When it comes to villains, I love complicated ones with intricate plans that keep them at least two steps ahead of the protagonist. Blaine is that villain for iZombie. Full of snark and street-smarts, Blaine is a villain determined to profit from this zombie outbreak and Liv has resolved to stop him. The pair get in each other’s way constantly and it’s always hilarious when they do.

 

 

  • Mystery with unconventional outcomes:
    • Each episode features a new mystery. Liv uses her zombie abilities to get into the heads of the victims. By eating their brains, she’s able to understand who they were and has visions triggered by sound, scent, or even touch that help her solve the case. This combined with Clive’s interrogation skills and logic lead to a solved case at the end of almost every episode. The murder is almost always someone you wouldn’t expect. Yet, when the truth finally comes out, you’re amazed at how all of the evidence points to that person even though you never saw it coming. I love that each case solved takes me by surprise and makes me think. While each episode features a murder that Liv helps solve BUT each season also features an overarching mystery. Even if the episodic case isn’t related to the bigger picture, each episode unravels some detail that helps solve the grand mystery. Despite all of the clues, you never see it coming!

 

  • Honorable mention: the culinary masterpieces Liv makes to make eating brains more appealing.
    • It would be hard to directly translate this to a book since it’s such a visual part of the show, but I appreciate the effort that goes into this small detail of Liv’s lifestyle. It’s gotten more artistic as we’ve gotten into the second season, but whenever Liv has to consume a brain, she doesn’t just pick it up, apple-style and take a bite. She puts some effort into making a gourmet masterpiece out of the brain. Brain tacos, brain parmesan, brain shakes, and spaghetti and brains. It’s such a well-done show quirk and I’d love to see something that unique in a book!

Kylie Brien never leaves the house without at least two books on her and a notebook to jot down any creative ideas she may have. She received a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in 2014 and joined the SkyPony Press team in June 2015. Kylie has great aspirations to travel to Wonderland, Oz, and Hogwarts before settling down in Neverland (most likely she’ll be a pirate).

On How Being Stubborn as all Get-Out Got Me an Agent

authorpic03by K. Kazul Wolf

I’m gonna get real for a second here. I hate insta-success stories. It’s not because of jealousy or hate (though writer jealousy is so much fun), but there’s nothing to learn. They’re the exceptions, the flukes we have little control over. So while there’s some success to my story, it’s already been a hell of a long journey to get to where I am. And maybe there’s something to take away from the climb to get to my tiny peak of success.

Back in 2014 I had been working on this whole writing business for a few years, and I’d written a few manuscripts. Then I got my first little achievement to put on my small shelf: I got into a writing contest. Little did I know at the time that writing contests are awesome not because of the agent or publisher opportunities, but because of the amazing community they help you develop. Those writers took me in and helped me grow up and understand this insanity I’d gotten myself into. The fact that I got an agent from the contest didn’t hurt, either.

Until said agent wrote me a few months in and said they weren’t “enthused” enough about the project to represent it anymore. A form rejection to end an agent-author relationship. (They’re no longer an agent, so querying writers who are reading: you don’t have to worry about querying this one.) As an author, of course I didn’t take that at face value. What did I really do wrong? Still, my group of writer friends scrapped me back up, set me on my feet, and I queried. I got into that contest the next year with a different novel.

Crickets.

Then worse than crickets. I had a few rejections stating my bad writing and cliché ideas were the reasons for passing. People who are normally no-responders seemed to go out of their way to reject me. Honestly, I thought for sure that agents must have some blacklist of writers never to sign, and my ex-agent put me on that list for whatever real reason he dumped me. So when I got in contact with an indie pub that wanted one of my books, and indie publishing was a path that might have been the right fit for the book, I grabbed at it. Until I saw their predatory contract.

At this point my emotions about writing were the equivalent to a black hole of depression. I tried to remember why I wrote, but it didn’t matter when the universe seemed to be pointing and laughing at me and my silly, stupid dreams. My feeds were filled with good news and opportunities and friends trying to cheer me up, but it became static. Sometimes I mustered up enough hope to send something out, enter a contest, even write down a couple of words. It never came to anything. I even sat down and prayed for any sign I should keep writing, something small. Within the hour I had a rejection in my inbox. Not the sign I expected or wanted.

The week following that rejection, I was stalking my Twitter feed and grumbling about how unfair everything was when I saw a MSWL post from an agent at my dream agency. I took advantage of that tiny, teeny little spark that kept me checking the hashtag and sent off a query. Which then turned into a full request. Hope bubbled up, but I punched it back down into the black hole and kept slogging, placing the achievement on temporary display on my tiny shelf of victories. About a month later she wrote back. After a few probably unhealthy heart palpitations, I opened it. And… it wasn’t a rejection. It was a revise and resubmit.

By then my brain was trained to expect the worst and proceeded to bring up every case of every friend I knew who was devastated by rejection after doing an R&R, but what did I have to lose? And I loved the changes she suggested anyway, so I went to town and had fun writing for the first time in at least a year. After running it through readers and praying it was good enough, I sent it back. Insert much pacing and internal screaming. Then after what felt like an eternity (but in reality was extremely quick), she wrote back. It wasn’t a rejection. She wanted to schedule a call.

I tried not to get excited. Maybe it was another R&R. Maybe it was one of those fabled horror stories I’d heard about agents rejecting potential clients on the phone. No matter what, she wanted a call with me (again I glance into the shelf and look at my accomplishment of getting a full request from the dream agency), and I just had to try and hold onto that, because I’m slowly learning that it’s those small victories that have to be your fuel in writing. Because “success” is always going to come hand in hand with failure.

Phone call day came. My stomach was beyond a mess. But she was just as nice and awesome as she seemed in her e-mails, and we seemed to have the same perspective on where we wanted to go. And, as the title gives away, she offered.

It still feels a little surreal to be able to tell people I’m represented by Samantha Wekstein of Writers House. And the worry that one day she’ll decide she’s not enthused about my writing anymore haunts me, but she’s awesome and signing with her totally deserves to be up on that shelf of accomplishments. I have to keep reminding myself every time those thoughts creep in that no matter how much writerly brains like to obsess over it, I can’t change what’s coming.

I was having a rough time with my work-in-progress a few days ago, and whined to a friend asking her why any of us even write. She jokingly said that it was a compulsion, but honestly, I think that’s the truth. I think we need it to be the truth. Let your curiosity and need to know drive you to find resources, join groups, send that one last query to that person you saw on the MSWL hashtag. Because sometimes you’re not going to have the hope or the motivation to do diddly squat about your words. Sometimes your small shelf of success is going to feel nonexistent, but that stupid annoying inner storyteller will probably never stop asking questions.

So. Answer them.

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K. Kazul Wolf (aka Bacon) is a fantasy author, leegndrary typoer, chef of all trades, and a dragon that prefers capturing cats and dogs as opposed to princesses. You can find her at her website, .

I Never Liked to Read Until Freak Came Along

kw_headshotby Kira Watson, Emma Sweeney Agency

I hated reading, because, as my youngest brother so eloquently asked our mother, “Why do we have to read. It’s just words on paper?”

Back then thirty minutes with a book was a punishment–cruel and unusual. To make the time pass–and not spend any of it reading–I would count the words on the page, stare at the ceiling, try to communicate with my dog telepathically (which by the way never worked!), and make faces at my two younger brothers who, like me, were forced to read.

At school, reading was just as torturous. I disliked all of the books my teacher picked to be part of our curriculum. They were old, dusty, and dull. Why would I care about some kid trying to survive in the wilderness with only a hatchet to help him?

Besides, it was a boy book.

When my teacher handed all of us a copy of The Adventures of Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick all I could think was, Great. Another stupid thing for me to read. But when my teacher read the first sentence—I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for a while, and that’s the truth, the whole truth,—I couldn’t help but listen and be interested. It was as if the narrator was speaking to me, not at me. That day we read only the first chapter, but I remember racing home after class and devouring the book in one sitting. As you can imagine, it was all downhill from there: I had my grandmother drive me to the library so I could get a library card, and from then on I was at the library almost every other day looking for a new book to read.

By the time I was in High School reading had become my even more important to me. As with many of us, it was my way to escape from school, grades, friend drama, and the pressure of college. For a few hours, I didn’t have to deal with any of it. But my reading choices garnered comments from adults around me: “Why are you reading that? Isn’t it a book for children?” “You really should be reading something more mature so you can be intellectually challenged.” “Don’t fill your mind with all of the fantasy. Read something more realistic.”

I tried to read the “more mature” books I kept hearing about. I was able to appreciate the writing, but adult fiction did not have the same impact on me as YA and Children’s Lit. I was back to reading words on paper, instead of being taken on a journey and caring for the characters that lived between those pages.

I didn’t want to lose my love for reading, and so I went back to reading YA. The comments from adults, who I’m sure meant well, kept on coming but each time I heard them, the comments meant less and less. I was going to read YA if I wanted to and it didn’t matter if I was eighteen or eighty-one.  And so, my reading habit eventually led to a blog, which I started in college so I would have an excuse to read while I earned an undergrad degree and worked my way up to Law School. That, however, did not go as planned.

A week into my Sophomore year I decided I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than sit through another Political Science Class. I hated everything about being a PoliSci major, but most of all I hated that it got in the way of reading (even if I did read non-class related books on my Kindle during lectures). That same week, after announcing to my parents that I was going to be an English major (you can imagine how well that was received), I filed the required paperwork for a change of major and started to search for an internship in publishing.  After a few weeks of interviews, I had landed an internship at ESA. I was supposed to stay for ten weeks, but here I am almost three years later building my list.

Over the short time that I’ve been with ESA, I learned more than I could have imagined back when I was trying to set foot into the publishing world. Some of the things are quite obvious: contracts, foreign rights, writing editorial letters, editing manuscripts, etc. I also learned the importance of trusting my instinct when it comes to manuscripts because if I don’t have the confidence in myself and my abilities, then why should my clients. If something in the manuscript doesn’t sit right, trust your instincts and use your abilities to guide your author. As cliché as this may be, you have to have confidence in yourself first before you can expect others to believe in you.

Freak the Mighty was the first story I cared about, and in retrospect, is the first book that set me on the path to becoming a Children’s Lit agent.

 

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Kira Watson graduated from Hunter College where she earned a BA in English (with a focus on Creative Writing) and a BA in Russian Language & Culture. Kira is particularly interested in young adult and middle grade books with a strong narrative voice, well-crafted storylines, and memorable characters. Within YA and MG, Kira is actively seeking realistic fiction, speculative fiction, magic realism, thriller/mystery, horror, fantasy, and historical fiction. Stories with folklore elements, complex villains, morally enigmatic (and very flawed) protagonists, medieval literature influences, and taboo subjects are bound to catch Kira’s attention.

How to Handle Rejection

caitlinrcby Caitlin O’Connell

We face a lot of rejection in life. As people pursuing creative fields, we face even more. We writers can expect dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections over the course of our careers, from agent rejections to editor rejections to bad reviews. But just because we know to expect them doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, and learning to deal with all those “no”s in a healthy way is very important in order to move forward with a writing career.

For me, at least, the first step in dealing with rejections is to allow myself to be sad about it. Rejection sucks. It’s not “weird” or “unprofessional” to let yourself be as bummed out as you need to be. Sometimes, kind, personal rejections can lead eventually to great ideas for revisions or new stories, but at the time, the sense of “almost” in them can be pretty devastating, much more so than form rejections. Do what you need to do to process that and move on. Spend a little time crying. Hug your pet. Watch your favorite cheer-up movie or TV show, listen to your favorite song on repeat, make yourself your favorite comfort beverage. (Although I would suggest not getting drunk every time you get rejected, since, as I mentioned, it’ll happen a lot.) It’s also really helpful if you have friends who are also writers or creative-types, friends who will understand when you say “hey, I got rejected today, I’m pretty crushed,” who won’t brush off how much this can sting and will instead send you gifs of adorable baby animals.

What is unprofessional and weird, though, is writing back to the person who rejected you to argue with them, or to say “whatever, I didn’t want you anyway.” I can understand the impulse, but this will hurt you so much more than those ten minutes of feeling superior will help you. Agents remember these things, and they share them with their publishing friends. You don’t have to respond at all, and in most cases I would suggest that you don’t, especially because publishing really is as subjective as they say it is. I’ve been inside the slushpile inboxes, and I’ve seen it for myself: rejections are very frequently a case of literary “it’s not you, it’s me.” If someone turns you down, it’s because they think you’ll have better success with someone else. If they don’t 110% connect with and love your story, it’s better for the both of you if they turn you down. People often cite famous writers who have been rejected, and I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re in great company. However, if you can, stop short of saying “wow, how dumb must they feel to be the publisher who turned down J.K. Rowling?” Maybe they do regret it, but if someone who hadn’t believed fully in Harry Potter had published it… would she be J.K. Rowling as we know her today? Probably not.

So, once you have stopped yourself from impulsive replies and let yourself be sad however you want to be sad… what then?

Well… then it’s time to get back to work. Whether that means new revisions, or doing more research on a new batch of agents to query, or setting one book aside entirely in favor of focusing on the next project, you’ve got to “just keep swimming.” Use the rejections, especially the personal and specific ones, to fuel super cool revisions you might not have thought of otherwise, or to decide to try something new you’ve never tried before. All writing is practice, and so time spent writing is never really wasted, even if those words never see the light of day. Keep writing just for the love of writing, even on the hard days, and prepare the chocolate stash for the next rejection on the horizon.

Because someday, if you keep at it and the timing is right, someone is going to say “I love this. Yes.” And all the rejections in the world won’t matter at all.

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Caitlin O’Connell is a part-time proofreader for Marvel Comics, as well a writer and freelance editor. She has a BA in creative writing from Ithaca College and specializes in YA and children’s literature, but has a great love of all stories that are well told and inviting. When not writing or reading, Caitlin can usually be found drinking tea under a pile of cats. You can follow her on Twitter @Caitlin_Renata or, to learn more about her writing and editing, visit caitlinroconnell.com.

A #MSWL Agent-Author Connection: How We Found Each Other and How You Can Do the Same

johnson-blalock-headshot rockaway-headshotby Kristin Rockaway and Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

Kristin Rockaway’s debut novel, THE WILD WOMAN’S GUIDE TO TRAVELING THE WORLD, is a smart, sexy, fun work of commercial women’s fiction that will be published by Center Street in June 2017. Kristin first queried Jennifer in June of 2015—here’s how our connection was made.

KRISTIN: Before I queried Jennifer, I’d been in the trenches for about four months. I’d had a few full requests, as well as an R&R, but I was struggling a bit with how to define the genre for my book. I felt as though the story straddled the line between women’s fiction and contemporary romance; when people asked me for comps, I often referred to the works of Emily Giffin. So when I was doing my twice-weekly perusal of the #MSWL hashtag, I was thrilled to see Jennifer’s tweet:

“Also looking for more commercial women’s fiction with standout plots. Playing with the genre is excellent. Love Emily Giffin. #MSWL

At the time, Jennifer’s website expressed a preference for nonfiction, YA, and upmarket women’s fiction, so I hadn’t added her to my list of agents to query. This one little tweet changed everything. I looked up her submission guidelines, tweaked my existing query letter, and sent it off the same day.

JENNIFER: I was thrilled to get Kristin’s query so quickly in response to my MSWL tweet—she sent just a few hours later! Travel is a passion of mine, so my interest was automatically piqued by a query for a book about a twenty-something who falls in love with an American artist in Hong Kong, disrupting her five-year plan.

But at the end of her query, Kristin included the line, “Given your recent manuscript wishlist request for commercial women’s fiction written in the style of Emily Giffin, I think you may be an excellent representative for my manuscript.” That definitely sealed the deal for my request—it confirmed that it was likely in the vein of something I was eager to see, and it showed that she’d done research.

As a newer agent, I was able to read fairly quickly, and I was thrilled that the manuscript completely held up to the promise of the query letter. Though the themes weren’t quite as subversive as Giffin’s can be, it had the fun, commercial feel that I was looking for and a strong hook. I had immediate ideas for revisions, and I couldn’t wait to talk to Kristin.

KRISTIN: When Jennifer called to offer me representation, I was so anxious that I found it hard to speak. But my nerves began to fade when she listed all the things she loved about my story – the travel, the feminist undertones – and I could tell she really understood me as an author. Her ideas for revisions resonated with me; not only would they place the book firmly in the Women’s Fiction genre, but they would make the story stronger. And when I told her about the thoughts I had for future projects, she sounded enthusiastic.

It was a struggle not to accept her offer on the spot, but I knew I had to contact a few other agents who had my full – one of whom subsequently offered me rep. I took a couple of days to mull over my decision and talk it through with my friends and loved ones. My husband’s advice was to trust my gut. And everything in my gut was saying, “Go with Jennifer.”

To be perfectly honest, my one hesitation with accepting Jennifer’s offer was her status as a newer agent. When I signed with her, she had yet to sell a book. But she just got me, and I felt like we clicked. I knew from her MSWL tweet that she was looking for something really specific – something I loved to write! – and that kind of match doesn’t happen very often. She’s also extremely intelligent and committed (I mean, she went to Harvard Law), and from her use of MSWL, she clearly has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in publishing. I could see our agent-author relationship lasting over the long-term. So I said yes!

JENNIFER: I definitely clicked with Kristin right away. I think one of the benefits of MSWL (and Twitter in general) is that you can really get a feel for an agent’s personality and see not just if they’ll like this particular book but if they might like your future books and just be someone with whom you can get along. Every agent-author relationship is different, but Kristin is someone I’ve come to enjoy as a person as well as a writer, and that started with our initial call.

MSWL is a particularly powerful tool for newer agents. When I first started, I was still figuring out exactly what I wanted to represent. (Even now, it’s ever evolving as I read more.) MSWL let me get the word out more quickly and directly than a website update and allowed me to reach potential clients like Kristin who may not have heard of me yet or may have been unsure whether they wanted to query me. As Kristin hinted at, I do think it gives an agent a certain legitimacy.

And even now, many of my best queries are MSWL queries. The last client I signed reached out because of my “love for foods and the stories behind them.” I always get excited when I see a MSWL query in my inbox, and though I read every query carefully, I do give them extra special attention.

KRISTIN: If it weren’t for MSWL, I probably never would have queried Jennifer when I did. It allowed me to get a real-time glimpse into what she was looking to acquire – something that wasn’t even listed in her bio. So understandably, I’m a huge fan of the hashtag. Here are some tips I learned while navigating the MSWL query process:

  • Search MSWL often. Agents post to this hashtag on a daily basis, so strike while the iron is hot. If you’re replying to a tweet that was posted a year ago, it may no longer be relevant – or the wish may have already been fulfilled.
  • Follow submission guidelines. Replying to an MSWL tweet doesn’t exempt you from following the proper process. Check the agent’s submission guidelines (usually found on their agency’s website) and query them in their preferred format.
  • Make sure it’s a true match. This should go without saying, but don’t reference an MSWL tweet in your query letter unless you’re actually sending a manuscript that lives up to the request.

 

JENNIFER: I completely agree with Kristin’s love for the hashtag and the website. MSWL allows you to be much more targeted in your submissions, and more specificity can only benefit you. From an agent’s perspective, I’d add just a bit of nuance to her tips:

  • While a same-day MSWL request/submission like Kristin’s fills my agent heart with joy, most agents seem to agree that their wishlist is somewhat evergreen. Even if a request is a year old, it’s worth sending a query to find out if the agent is still looking for that sort of book.
  • And absolutely be honest—your query and manuscript should be a genuine response to a MSWL request. However, I think MSWL gives you an opportunity to take calculated chances. For instance, I recently received a query for a book that was slightly outside of what I usually represent in response to a MSWL tweet about happy relationships. They were upfront about their genre and explained why they thought it would be a good fit, and I appreciated the opportunity to take a look. I, for one, am never upset about receiving a query that’s sent with purpose.
  • I would add, too, that it’s great to put MSWL in the subject line and explain what you’re responding to and why at the top of your query. Kristin incorporated it at the end, and while I obviously still saw it and responded, I think it’s savvy to tell me why I should be excited about what I’m about to read.

 

We’re so thankful to MSWL for helping to bring us together—we might not have found each other without it! We hope that our story is both helpful and inspirational to both writers and agents. On both sides of the query fence, we’re all looking for a great agent-author match.

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Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.
Kristin Rockaway is a native New Yorker with an insatiable case of wanderlust. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she finally traded the city for the surf and chased her dreams out to Southern California, where she now spends her days happily writing stories instead of software. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, browsing the aisles of her neighborhood bookstores, and planning her next big vacation. You can find her at http://kristinrockaway.com/ and on Twitter @KristinRockaway.

The Ideal Client: A Literary Agent’s Wish List

marycmooreheadshotby Mary C. Moore

Hopefully you are using this amazingly helpful site to find agents whose tastes align with your writing. And although your writing is by far the most important aspect of your submission, secondary, and almost as important, is how you present yourself as a potential client.

Given this site is dedicated to agent and editor manuscript wish lists, a post on a wish list of traits in potential clients seems appropriate. Before I go on however, let us emphasis that none of my clients checked off all the items on this list when I signed them. This post is not meant to discourage, only to educate.

Traits that are must haves in potential clients:

  • Professionalism
  • Patience

Other traits on my wish list:

  • Online savvy
  • Solid platform
  • Lengthy writing resume
  • A love of Doctor Who

Professionalism is by far the most important aspect of the agent/author relationship. Writing itself is an intensely personal experience, and emotions tend to carry over to the publishing of said writing. But a writer who wishes to be traditionally published must be able to separate personal from business. Rejection is a given. It will occur on every level, whether it is from agents or editors or reviewers or readers.  A client who reacts rashly to rejection or makes emotional demands will not be easy to work with. Mutual respect for each other’s business role is expected once a contract is signed. If I offer representation to an author, it means I respect them as a writer and believe they have what it takes to make a career from it. I expect them to respect me as a literary agent in return. Manuscript rewrites should not be a battle to convince the author of every edit. Suggestions on how to build their platform should be taken seriously. The desire to micromanage an agent’s time should be resisted. Trust that the agent is working for them at all times is paramount. (If the author suspects the agent is not working for them, this is another matter and should be addressed immediately with direct communication.)

Patience is another key trait I seek in potential clients. Traditional publishing is slow, sometimes glacially so. It can take years before a manuscript is sold (sometimes it is the second or even third ms). A writer should understand that just because they signed with an agent does not mean they are going to be seeing six-figure advances and a movie contract the next month, so should manage their expectations appropriately. Even if I do sell a manuscript quickly after signing it, the average time for the actual book to be released is 18 months later.

Online savvy is an aspect that I know intimidates a lot of authors. But a client who understands the deeper aspects of an author’s online presence will be at an advantage. An author who knows how to build websites, understands SEO, can direct all of their social media accounts, makes use of hashtags etc., will have an edge in the marketing and promotion of their career. This is appealing for obvious reasons. Just having a simple author website will go a long way in my assessment of a potential client.

A solid platform is something that I know makes new authors groan, but this is my wish list, so on the list it goes. Ideally a potential client would have established their platform already with a solid following. This means once their book is published they have a built in fan base. Realistically they should understand what a platform is and have plans to grow it.

Lengthy writing resume is another aspect that is hard to pin down when an author is starting out. The catch-22 of “you need to have published to be published,” is a real irony. Ideally a potential client would have published short stories in well-known literary journals and magazines as well as a host of manuscripts in their drawer. Realistically, they would have more than one project planned, as even with a literary agent, your first manuscript may not sell.

A love of Doctor Who is half a joke and half truth. If our tastes align, more than likely our vision for your projects will too, and that I know editors that will be interested in your style. Allons-y.

When I make that phone call, these are the traits I hope to find on the other end. Of course, it’s the writing that matters, and that will weigh the most heavily in my decision to make an offer. But I also want to see that the author is professional and patient and willing to grow. And if you happen to have a life-sized replica of a Dalek in your living room (Stacey Berg), well that’s just icing on the cake.

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Mary C. Moore has been with Kimberley Cameron & Associates since 2012. She represents both adult and young adult fiction. She is currently seeking fantasy, science fiction, upmarket “book club,” genre romance, thrillers with female protagonists, and stories from marginalized voices. She prefers clients who are online savvy and who have more than one full-length book project in their drawer. She does not represent self-published books, memoir, middle-grade, picture books, or non-fiction. Find out more about her at marycmoore.com and visit the agency website at kimberleycameron.com.

Are You Really Ready to Query?

by Elizabeth May, Kensington BooksElizabethMayRC

How do you know if you’re ready to begin the querying process? It’s an exciting time for a writer and one that many rush into. So I put together a list of things to consider before you begin the journey that is sending out your novel for consideration.

So here it is, a five step checklist to see if you’re really ready to query. (Bonus points for saying that five times fast!)

 

1) Have you finished your novel?

Yep. This is real. I’m going to assume this doesn’t apply to most of the writers reading the blog. But it surprises me how often I do meet writers who think they can query an idea, and that, if they get an interested response, they will somehow churn out the project before the queried editor has totally forgotten it. Don’t do this. It won’t work out the way you want it to. And it’s not courteous of the professionals you’ll be querying to send them an idea that hasn’t become a reality yet.

Imagine the man of your dreams asked you out on a date, and as soon as you pull yourself together and respond with an enthusiastic “YES!” he tells you it was just a hypothetical question. Okay, the situations aren’t identical, but you get my point.

 

2) Has your novel has been beta read, critiqued, and a final draft?

It’s a bad idea to have the agent or editor you’re querying be the first person to read your novel. You need a beta reader. Someone who is a dedicated fan of the type of book you’re writing, and can give you feedback.

So who is a good beta reader? Well, it’s not your Mom, or your best friend, or your roommate. People who know you on a personal level can’t be relied on to give you the most industry relevant review of your work.

It is someone who reads and perhaps writes the same kind of books as you, and who is invested in giving you honest feedback based on typical reader expectations for your genre. Does your roommate only read science fiction and thrillers? Then why would you share your regency romance with her? That’s like asking a vegetarian who makes the better burger, McDonalds or Burger King.

There must be about ten thousand writing groups and resources on the internet. Don’t do yourself the disservice of sending out the manuscript before it’s ready.

 

3) Have you researched the Agent or Editor you’re querying?

You’re probably already on top of this one since you’re using this website! But it doesn’t hurt to know your target, and personalize your pitch to them. I can attest that reading a personalized pitch makes me take the project more seriously than a generic one. I get that personalizing every single pitch is time consuming. But I’ll be frank, from this point on there’s a lot about the publishing industry that’s difficult. And besides, you’re not doing this because you thought it would be easy. You’re doing this because it’s your passion!

 

4) Do you know the audience for your book?

This is a big one, because many publishing decisions are based on the idea of comparative titles. Meaning is there another book or author out there that is similar to you? How many people bought that book, and is there a good reason to think they will be a similar title again? I love to read a query where the author clearly lays out comparative titles or authors that they feel are similar to hers It gives me a much better sense of the project itself, as well as the author’s sense of the market.

 

5) Have you already sent the same exact query to fifty other people without getting a response?

This one is a tricky, because we have all heard those stories about the 200th query being the one that got the million dollar deal. And publishing is a numbers game. But if you’ve sent your query to ten or more people without getting any interest, then it may be something in your letter that is turning people off. It could be a typo in the second sentence. It could be the synopsis of the project is falling flat. It could be your comparing your project to a title that is a known flop. But the chances are it’s something. At this point, it’s worth going back to and reviewing or reworking your letter before pressing send again.

So there was the preliminary checklist. Querying is an art, and not something easily mastered. I hope this list is helpful, and helps ease the pain for aspiring writers out there.

If writing is your passion, then keep doing it, and Happy Querying!

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Elizabeth May is an Editorial Assistant at Kensington Publishing Corporation where she works primarily with Editorial Director, Gary Goldstein on genre fiction, including mysteries, thrillers, romances, westerns, and select nonfiction. She recently acquired Cynthia Tennent’s Truhart contemporary romance series for Lyrical Press. She is seeking fiction in the genres mentioned above, and particularly enjoys books that walk the line between upmarket and commercial, as well as historical women’s fiction, and mysteries where the characters are as important as the crime, as in literary suspense. You can find her on twitter @LizMay05. Or send a query to emay@kensingtonbooks.com.