Monday, December 20, 2010

One last question

Happy Monday everyone!

I hope you are all having a wonderful December, and Holiday season. I love this time of year so much. Sometimes it can end up being stressful if we spread ourselves too thin, and I'm trying to avoid that. I am going to answer one more question on querying (from my contest/post last Monday), and then I'm going to take a break for the rest of the Christmas/New Year holidays. I want to spend the next couple of weeks focusing on my family, and making this a really fun break for my son who is now out of school until January. I will miss you all, and may break down and pop in a few times. We'll see. ;)

So, here's Jennie Bailey's question:

How do you whittle your book down to one small paragraph without leaving anything important out? Do you give away your ending? Or keep it secret?
Often the best way to do this is to write your query BEFORE you write your book. If you try to write it then, the idea is still at its core elements (usually), and you won't have all the details that come later confusing and befuddling you. You'll end up revising it, I can almost guarantee it, but you'll have a great start. If you've already written your book, the best thing to do is to focus on only one character--your main character, none of the supporting cast should appear unless absolutely necessary. Then decide what is his/her main conflict--aka, what is your hook? That is what your write your query on, and that's IT. You don't reveal the ending in a query, that is for a synopsis. Your query should really be no longer than two paragraphs for the book and one paragraph for your bio (if you have one). The query isn't intended to show all your complex plotting, and twists and turns, etc. Go find some of your favorite books, and read the jacket copy. Notice how different they are, and try and figure out which ones grab your attention the most. Or, you could go to the bookstore and try this. Find a bunch of different books you haven't read yet and try reading their jacket copy. Which ones grab your attention the most and make you want to buy it? What is the difference? That's basically what you're trying to accomplish. A short, concise, intriguing two paragraph letter that will grab an agent's attention. Also, the query should show the M.C.'s voice, so sometimes it works to write it in first person when you're drafting it, then switch it to third when you revise it.

I hope that helps! I could keep going and going, but I better get going on entertaining my kids! (Who are currently being entertained by the Disney Channel while I write this.) I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I will "see you" in 2011!

Friday, December 17, 2010

And the Winners are...

Drumroll please...

The random number generator has spoken and the TWO winners who will get their queries critiqued are:




Woohoo!! *tosses confetti* Congratulations to you both. Please email me your queries at sarablarson21 (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get that done for you.

You guys had some really great questions, so I will be taking a few at a time in the next couple of posts to answer them. Thanks again for entering everyone!

D.L. Hammons asked: Here's my question. How much do you go into possible revisions the agent my want before signing on the dotted line? What if they don't want to go into detail? I hope I'm reading this question right, but it sounds like you're asking how much should you do for an agent if they want revisions before signing you, right? Since I'm not sure, I will try to answer it both ways. First, if an agent asks for a revision before signing you (which I had happen and did--even though it didn't work out, my manuscript was much stronger for it), I think 9.7/10 times you do it. That is a huge opportunity, and at the very least you can try what they suggest and see what you think. They know what they're doing, and often end up being right when they ask for changes. Not 100% of the time, but close. ;) If you are on a phone call with an offering agent, and they won't go into detail about what revisions they want (which I doubt would happen, but it's possible!), I'd ask them detailed questions to try and get an answer. I wouldn't want to sign with an agent who isn't up front about their feelings and thoughts on my book. If they are vague in answering, saying something like "We can discuss that more later," I would respond with, "Can you give me some specific examples now of what you want changed?" I doubt any agent would dodge the question again.

Pensees asked: Should you mention that you sent a query a year (or more ago) when re-querying after making substantial edits? Or just forget about ever querying that project to that agent again? Hmm, this is tricky ground for sure. Technically, you aren't supposed to requery the same project again to the same agent. If you have a new project, I'd go with that and keep the other project for after you sign with an agent. However, I have had people tell me different answers to this. I'm pretty sure I remember some authors admitting to changing the titles and requerying projects on their blogs. If the project is substantially changed (including the title), and the agent gave you a form rejection I've had a few people say that is probably okay to requery, and not worry about mentioning the past. However, if the agent had requested a partial or full that is another story. Again, if you have a different project ready to query, go with the new project. It's probably better anyway, honestly. That's just how it goes, we tend to get better with practice. However, if the revised mss is your only shot, you could try querying those agents again and let them know you had the opportunity to have "so and so" (hopefully someone reputable in the industry) give you feedback and you did a complete revision or rewrite based on their critique and wonder if the agent would be interested in seeing your revised manuscript. (And of course you would do that in a way that is eloquent and not a run-on sentence.) The worst that can happen is they say no or don't respond. Just be very careful and wise in making a decision like that. Research the agent, see what other people's experiences have been. I know it's been done on occassion, and even more rarely has been successful, but yeah, not very often.

Wow, I'm really nervous to answer some of these questions! I hope this is helpful, but I would definitely recommend researching these things out for yourself, too. Don't take my opinions as the end all--I have a lot of experience with querying, but yours will be different and unique. Ultimately, you need to research the agents you are querying in multiple ways--on their agency blogs/websites, on forums like AbsoluteWrite, etc. and find out what their personal likes/dislikes and policies. Good luck and more to come next week!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Just a reminder that you have until 10:00 pm MST to enter the contest to win one of two query critiques! Click here to read the details and enter. It's super easy, just comment to win. The odds are pretty good right now that you could win, so hurry and enter before it's too late.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What to look for in an agent...

So, on Monday I promised you a post about some of the things to look for in an agent. I'm not going to attempt to talk about EVERYTHING there is to know on the subject in one post, because it would take waaaay too long. There are some great resources out there if you do your research, including agency blogs. But I will touch on some of the "big" ones (at least for me). Also, thank you for your comments and questions - there were some really good ones. I will definitely have a lot to think about for Friday's answer post. And make sure and spread the word, you can still enter the contest by commenting on Monday's post for the chance to win one of two query critiques!

So, on to the post. Here are some of the important things to look for in a prospective agent.

First of all, make a list. Actually write it down, figure out what questions you want to ask and have them with you. On paper. Not just in your head. I had a list of questions printed off for when I got the call, and I'm glad I did! I never would have been able to remember everything I wanted to ask otherwise. Having all of those answers was very important when I was trying to make my decision.

Now that you have your paper and pen (or laptop) handy, here are a few things to think about asking:

What are your thoughts on my book? What did you love? What didn't you like and think needs revising? (Or something like this... basically, you need to know what his/her vision is for your book and what they have in mind for revisions.) If you sign on the dotted line without even knowing what you're getting, the revision process with your new agent might end up being brutally painful. You need to agree with your agent's vision for the book--or rather, he/she needs to have a similar vision to yours. If you feel extremely uncomfortable with what they think you need to do with the story, they might not be the right fit. When I say uncomfortable, I mean as in they don't understand my book at all -- not, whoa, that makes sense but it's going to be really, really hard. If you agree with what they have to say, even if it's hard, that's not a deal killer. Their job is to make your writing better so it will sell.

What is your communication style? (prefer email, phone, etc.) How often can I expect to hear from you while we're revising, or on submission? You need to be honest with yourself about how much communication you need from your agent, and how you want it to happen. If you really only like to talk on the phone, and want updates often, but your agent is all about emails and only when absolutely necessary, that might cause you a lot of stress and put a strain on your professional relationship. Make sure your agent communicates in a way that will keep you calm and satisfied. Now, obviously, you can't expect to have their whole world revolve around you. They actually have a job that involves (gasp!) many other authors that also need their time and attention and you might not always be the top of the list. But when it's really important, you should be. Knowing what to expect up front can really help you plan on what will work best for both of you. Your agent will appreciate knowing what you like and hope for as well, so he/she can do their best to communicate well with you.

What are you plans for revising my book? Where do you envision yourself submitting it? How widely do you plan to do your submissions? These type of questions will help you get an idea of what the agent's plans are for your book. If he/she doesn't really have any editors/houses in mind already, that should be a warning sign. Most agents will already know who they're planning on submitting the book to when they offer to sign an author. The reason they want to sign you is because they believe they can sell it. Also, by asking how widely they plan on submitting, you can get an idea of their submitting style. Do they like to submit to only a few editors at a time? Or to 10 editors or so every round? What would you prefer? Talk it over with them, to make sure you feel good about their plan.

So, these are just a few of the things that I would say are the most important things to find out about a prospective agent. Remember, at this point, you are "hiring" them. You are choosing the person who will work with you, and hopefully fight for your book(s) until they sell. Choose wisely. So what do you think? How's your list coming along?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thinking postive for 2011

So, all you out there in the query trenches (or hoping to enter them soon), let's step back from all the fears and worries that accompany hitting send on those emails (or putting the stamp on the letters). Let's assume that 2011 is going to be YOUR year! The year you get an agent! The year all your dreams come true! How many more exclamation points can I use?!

Ahem. Anyway, so yes, let's think positive, shall we? Good. Now, what do you do when that call comes--the one where an agent tells you why they love your book enough to offer to represent you? Do you immediately scream, "Yes! Yes! Please, please send me the contract right now, I will Fed-Ex it back to you tonight!!" (See, don't ever doubt my ability to throw in more exclamation points.) By the way, the answer is NO. Big N. O. As tempting as it is to just accept the first offer you get, you need to take some time and truly make sure this agent is a good fit for you. You should have some questions prepared to ask them, and you should be prepared to give the other agents who are considering your partials or fulls a week to see if they also want to offer or not. To many of you this will be familiar territory, but to some, you might be hyperventilating right now, thinking I've lost it.

I promise I haven't. So this week, I'm going to do two posts relating to this subject: one on Wednesday about what to look for in a prospective agent, and on Friday I am going to be announcing the winners to my contest and answering some of your questions. Wait--"what contest?" you might be asking. This one:

As my Christmas present to you, I am going to offer to critique two follower's query letters. Because let's face it, you're not going to get to that agent call, if your query doesn't generate some requests, right? I'm not claiming to be an expert, but after a couple of years in those trenches I got pretty good at queries. I'm making it really easy to enter this time. Just comment on this post with one question you'd like me to answer about queries or picking an agent or something else about the query process, and you are entered! The random number generator will pick two lucky (well, hopefully my critique will be good enough to make you think you're lucky) winners to email me their queries on Friday morning. You have until Thursday night at 10:00 pm MST to enter. I know it's not as cool as a gift card, or a Kindle or something, but hopefully it will be helpful.

Happy Monday and good luck!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Five

1. Christmas wrapping paper is irritating me this year. It seems to be tearing with very little provocation and it's making me crazy! I have a gift almost perfectly wrapped, when bam! Huge tear right in the middle. What the...? Grrr. Thank heavens I'm done wrapping now (finally) except for the presents I still need to get my hubby.

2. As I was wrapping all the gifts, I realized my kids are getting a lot of books this year. Strange how that happened. He he.

3. I was remembering this week back to when I was a teenager, (which wasn't THAT long ago... ahem) and what I usually asked to get for Christmas. I almost always asked for books and music. Not clothes, or make-up, or whatever else I probably needed. I loved getting books and CDs to listen to while I read those books. Or wrote my own books.

4. That thought spurred another memory. When I was eight or nine, my paternal Grandmother (who we called Far-Mor, because she was from Sweden and that's what you called her there), used to invite each of me and my sisters down individually to spend weekends with her and Far-Far (my paternal grandfather). When it was my turn, we'd go to dinner, and watch movies. Then I'd get to sleep in the "pink room" that she decorated just for all of us grand-daughters. We'd get up in the morning and make breakfast, and then she'd always take me to the mall to pick out some little gifts for her to get me. Without fail, I'd go to the book store. She usually ended up buying my two or three books because I could never make up my mind. Then she'd take me to lunch at the cafe at Nordstrom's, and we'd talk about all the books I loved. She died when I was fourteen, because of cancer. I know she's in a better place and with us still, but I can't help but wish sometimes that she was here on earth with us.

5. Which made me think of this last thought. At this time of year, I miss Far-Mor the most. After she and Far-Far moved to UT, it became our tradition to have a Swedish Christmas Eve every year. She would cook and bake and prepare for days and days. They lived in Pleasant Grove, up on the hill, so on Christmas Eve, we'd all pile in the Suburban (necessary with five kids), and head down to Pleasant Grove. We'd walk into her house, and the smells were just divine. Mashed potatoes, Swedish Meatballs, fresh Pepparkakor (these amazing Swedish cookies she'd make), little smokies, more cookies and desserts and food and mmmmm.... And there in the middle of it all would be Far-Mor, her Swedish Christmas music playing on an old tape player in the warm kitchen. Her cheeks were always a little rosy from the heat of the stove, and because as she cooked, she'd dance around the little kitchen, singing along in Swedish. She was tall like me, and strawberry blonde--your typical Swede. We'd devour our Swedish Smorgasbord, and then go to the tree (decorated in swedish flags and fake candles--for safety), and open all our presents from Tomten (the Swedish Santa Claus). She and Far-Far always spoiled us silly, giving us tons of presents. Then on top of all the store bought gifts, she always knitted us these beautiful sweaters every year (and it usually took her all year to make all five sweaters). I loved her intensely, as did my whole family, and after she died, she left a huge void in all of our hearts. Wow, I'm going to make myself cry. Anyway, my family keeps this tradition alive every year. My mom now has the Swedish Smorgasbord at her house, and makes almost all of the same food that Far-Mor did, even the Pepparkakor. Now that we're older, we all pitch in as well. It's something we all look forward to every year, and even after we've gotten married and have to try and juggle all the in-law's schedules too, the Swedish Christmas Eve is non-negotiable for all of us. I know that even after my parents leave us (which better not be for a LONG, LONG time), my sisters and I will carry on this tradition.

So, tell me, what are you Christmas (or Holiday) traditions that you prize the most?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tis the Season...

To be way behind on everything. Including posting today. Whoops. Sorry about that!

I found this quote today, and it seemed an appropriate one for me. Maybe you will find it inspiring as well.

"There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will." - Epictetus

I have said it before, I tend to be a worrier. I used to worry that I worried too much. The older I am, and the more things I "get" to worry about (two children, mortgages, bills, health, etc., etc.), I've slowly begun to learn not to worry so much. It was either that, or go insane. I can't control everything. In fact, there are very few things I can actually control at all. That are "within the power of my will." I have to focus on doing my best with the things I can control and have trust and faith that everything else will work out the way it is supposed to.

Even in writing, we have a lot we can control, but there is so much that we can't. Elana Johnson did a fabulous post about "luck" in the process of getting published and it really hit home for me, and probably a lot of you. We all have to keep working hard, honing our craft (no matter what stage we're at--querying agents, on submission with editors, or published author working on subsequent books), and moving forward. But there are always things we can't control that could cause us worry. Will this agent/editor love my writing enough to offer to represent me/buy it? Will my book sell well? Will I get another deal? Will I be able to write another book as good as my first one? There are always worries. But I'm trying to learn to let them go.

I've yet to read a study telling us how good worrying is for our mental or physical health. So I am consciously trying to worry less--to do what I can do, and let go of the rest. How about you? What are you worried about? And can you do anything about it or not?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ally's book launch for MATCHED!!

I've had this post kind of planned out since last year, when Ally told me about her book deal. I can't believe it's already been a year, and her book is now out! Here are my thoughts then and now:

I am so lucky to be friends with Ally. She is one of the nicest, most generous, kind people I know. Even though she's already published with Deseret Book, Shadow Mountain and soon will be nationally (I KNEW IT!), she never makes me feel inferior for not being published yet. In fact, she makes me feel like I am an equal with her, and sometimes even more knowledgeable. (Which was only true pretty much when it comes to querying agents, because let's face it, I have TONS experience when it comes to that. Ha!). I just knew MATCHED was going to get snatched up, and I was right. I love this book so much, and am so excited for Ally. She deserves this, and I just want to tell every person I know about her book!

Ally and me at Bombay House (her fave), celebrating when she signed with her agent, just over a year ago. We were kind of funny- she took me to dinner when she got her agent, to thank me for helping her so much. Then when I got my agent in the spring, I took her to Benihana (my fave), to thank her for helping me so much! You'd think it'd be the other way around, but we're silly like that.

She has worked so hard, and never given up, despite some truly difficult obstacles on her path to publication. She's written some amazing books for DB and SM, but I know MATCHED is going to be something beyond her wildest dreams. I am so, so happy for my friend, and can't wait to see what happens next.

Now, here we are, a year later, and boy was I right! MATCHED is pretty much the most talked about book of 2010, and her launch party was a HUGE success. Since I couldn't find my usb to download the pics I took, my friend (and book blogger: My Pile of Books) Stacey let me use some of her pics instead.
Stacey and I at lunch at Mazza's

The gang at Mazza's! The Utah author community is so fabulous, I am very lucky to live here.

Ally is so funny, I love listening to her speak. She always has the crowd laughing and is very open about her journey. Someday I hope to be like her. :)

Ally signing MY book! This was such a huge moment, owning my own copy of MATCHED, and having her sign it! (That unfortunately got rushed--I waited to get in line, so that I'd have time to talk to her without a lot of people behind me, but instead, they let her talk to all the people ahead of us and then told her she had to rush through the end of the line. Bummer. That's okay though, I'm glad I got to talk to her for a minute at least.)

Stacey, me and Ally (Yes, I'm gigantaur. I'm even crouching down a little bit.)

Ally is such a lovely person, and even though she's way busier now than she was a year ago, I'm still grateful to call her my friend. This kind of success couldn't have happened to a better person. I'm so, so happy for you, Ally! I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating the release of your book!

The post I was supposed to do...

Well, this is supposed to be a post about Ally's book launch at TKE last Saturday for MATCHED... but I can't find my usb to download my pictures with. So, I'm going to keep looking for it, or else have to go buy a new one (double grrr!!), and I promise to have the true post up later today.

Suffice it to say for now that it was awesome!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Five

1. SHH is amazing. Besides being super hot, he's also super sweet. (Sappy, I know, sorry.) But I had to say something. I'm sitting in a completely clean kitchen, with a clean family room, and the boys' room is clean, and... yeah, EVERYTHING is clean! That is remarkable because I've been pretty sick recently, and the house had descended into complete disarray. (Two young boys + one sick mommy = pandelerium.) He surprised me last night and cleaned ALL of it. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. A heaven where I still felt like throwing up, but at least I wouldn't have to trip over 8 zillion toys and piles of crap to get to the bathroom. Man, I love that man. Okay, sap over.

2. Seeing your friend's book come out is really amazing. To have read a manuscript on a computer, seeing it evolve and then watching her get an agent, a deal, seeing the ARCs come out--all of that was amazing. But nothing compares to walking into the bookstore, and seeing that beautiful, shiny book on a shelf. (Or actually, in a special display case.) I am so excited for Ally, and can't wait for her launch party tomorrow!

3. I need to stop buying books. Wait! Before you try to jump through the computer and attack me, let me explain. I just need to stop for right now. Because I keep buying myself all the ones on my Christmas List. If I keep getting them, what will I have Santa get me?

4. There's only a couple of weeks left (starting on Monday) until SonA is on break from school for 2 WEEKS. I'm not really sure how I feel about that. Any ideas on what I can do to entertain him?

5. You've just got to love Utah weather. Last week, they practically shut the state down because the "blizzard of the decade" was headed for us. It was going to be The Day After Tomorrow x10. And then it wasn't. It was just a normal snow storm with some really cold temps attached. Then, the beginning of this week, we actually have a blizzard that lasts for almost TWO DAYS, dumping almost two feet of snow (at least where I live), and nothing happens. School goes on like normal, no road closures, nothing. Welcome to Utah. You know what they, if you don't like the weather, just wait until tomorrow. Or a couple of hours. Now it's so warm, half the snow has melted away. ("Warm" relatively speaking right now, means above freezing.)

So what are your thoughts today?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just in case you hadn't heard...

So, I decided to wait a day. Yep, I'm unique like that. Go against the flow. Ha ha.

What did I wait for?

In case anyone out there somehow hasn't heard that MATCHED is now available IN STORES!!!

That means you should get off your chair, grab your keys (and wallet), and rush to your nearest book store and buy it. Now! I'm serious! I'll wait....

Seriously though, I am so excited for you Ally, and want to wish you a fabulous debut week! All your hard work and dreaming and hard work and effort and wait, you guessed it--more hard work--has paid off. Woohoo! (Ahem, excuse my sudden bursts of yelling and jumping up and down.)

I would post a picture of my copy of it, but my computer is being a spaz. Ah, well, such is technology.

Now, what else can I write about to top the release of the most talked about book of 2010? Um, yeah, nothing. So, yep. That's all folks. Congrats again Ally!