Thursday, May 31, 2012

Comic: Critiquing Rule #1 (& Tips On Finding The Right Critique Group)

One of the reasons I felt so lucky when the MiG Writers' group let me join: I never had to go through the above scenario. :-)

To those still looking for a critique group: make sure you find a group in which members are at the same or (preferably) higher level of writing experience. If you find yourself feeling as if you're not getting as much from the group as you're giving, then it's time to move on.

For those who are wondering, I found out about the MiG Writers when they posted on the SCBWI message boards saying they were looking for one more member. Here's the link to the Critique Groups forum, but you need to be an SCWI member to access it.

Before you join a critique group, try to find out as much as you can about the group and its members. The more experienced groups usually will do the same, asking questions to make sure you're the right fit within the group.

Some questions to ask about the group:

How old is the group? More experienced groups have had time to settle into a rhythm and system that works for everyone.

How experienced are its members? How much writing experience? How much publication experience, if any?

What types of writing are acceptable for critique? If at all possible, join a group that focuses on your writing interest. If it's a group that critiques multiple age groups and genres, then be prepared to do a wide range of critiquing in genres you may not be familiar with.

What are the rules for critiquing? How often are members expected to submit material for critiques (and how many words/pages)? How often are you required to critique? What if you need to take some time off (e.g. vacation or other personal commitments)?

After trying out several critique groups, I finally found the PERFECT GROUP, at least for me: the MiG Writers. I learn as much or more from critiquing as I do being critiqued.

Thank you, MiG Writers! :-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hanging Out with Debbie Ohi on Google +

Yesterday Debbie Ridpath Ohi and I "met" on Google + hangout. We've known each other for many years via online so it was so wild to see her live and hear her voice. After we squealed in shock, it was natural just to dive right in and start chatting. I realized that sometimes email just doesn't cut it like actual talking does.

I've never done anything like chat via video before so it was my first time trying out my web cam. And now I'm addicted!

It's very simple to set up, especially if you already have a Google account. Go into your account and click on the hangout icon on the left. Create a hangout and then choose who you want to hangout with. And there! You're ready to chat. It's that easy.

Debbie and I said we needed to get all the MiGs on there once in a while and have group chats. If you have an online crit group or are planning an event with multiple authors, it's really the way to go.

We chatted about writing, marketing and ideas we have for new projects. I really value her advice and I was taking notes. We even talked about my little secret (okay, so it's kind of a BIG secret) that I hope to be able to tell you all about soon.

Here's the very cool picture that Debbie created after our talk. Isn't she so talented?


Monday, May 21, 2012

Taking our time to get there

Unhappy Muse The other day at taekwondo*, we were working on forward rolls. The class was a mix of kids and adults and various levels of black belts. Now, I used to have a pretty decent forward roll but for some reason, I’ve lost my mojo lately. It happens sometimes. You have some kind of brain freeze or blip - or lose your confidence - and you suddenly can’t do something that only a short time ago, you were pulling off. It’s not unlike getting writer’s block.

While waiting for my turn to demonstrate my roll for the instructor, I made a comment (okay fine, I whined like a baby) to a nearby friend that I was the only adult in the room who had a “loser roll.” Without missing a beat, she pointed out that I was also the only adult in the room who didn’t take hapkido (another martial art that focuses on joint manipulation and throwing/falling techniques.) In other words, even though I felt like I should be so much better, I was probably not too far off from right where I should be.

I feel this way about writing sometimes, too.

I look around at other writers and think I should be much further along by now. I let myself get down about any number of things: the speed at which I write, the fact what I want to quiet books when quiet books aren’t selling, the number of friends who’ve landed book deals when all I’ve been collecting is rejections from editors. (Super kind rejections, but rejections nonetheless.)
But the thing is, I’m probably not far off from right where I should be.

Maybe other writers put in more hours, are simply more talented, are blessed with a speedy pen, have better luck or ideas that are hot at the moment. But that’s okay. As I’ve learned over the last (almost) seven years of taekwondo training, this is not a race.

We’ll all get there. Eventually. We just gotta keep showing up and practicing. And, oh, remembering to tuck our heads to the side when we roll. :-)

*I seem to start a lot of my posts off this way, don’t I? :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Drive to Write

Untitled As I struggle to get further ahead in the writing and publishing process (I’m in the “find an agent” phase), there’s always a new hurdle to face. Most of them seem to be about what I need to learn to get where I want to be.

A lot of my learning is through revising my novels, and sometimes I get to a point where I feel like I just can’t put any more hours into a project. Especially when it seems that there’s still so much more revision work to be done. The questions I’m trying to address are huge, because they usually involve rethinking the whole novel:

“How do I make my character stay real through the whole story?"
“How will I change the tone of the novel to match the ideas behind the plot?”
“How can I work on the pacing to make the entire novel more compelling?

None of them are quick fixes I can pull off in a couple of hours. To make matters worse, sometimes I get to a point where I can’t even tell if the changes I’m making are an improvement. [Usually that’s the time to take a break.] Am I really learning anything?

The feeling of not getting anywhere can be overwhelming. This week I really appreciated Shannon Messenger’s honest vlog about how, even after she got her agent, she considered quitting: Shannon Messenger Takes the Truth

I've considered quitting more than once this year, but I always end up persevering. Why? Part of it is because of the people cheering me on – my writing buddies and my family. Part of it comes from those small signs that I’m making progress – requested revisions, feedback from my crit group or beta readers. But ultimately, it comes down to me. If I didn’t have the drive to continue, the outside support wouldn’t be enough.

Writing is so embedded in my life that I don’t think I could stop. I also really hate to give up on anything. I even have visions of going back to those drawer novels one day and fixing them up. I always feel like I know I can do it, and this latest revision might be the one that helps me move closer towards my goal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

Picture from the Daily Drive

There's the saying that publishing is slower than Christmas. Often the phrase "hurry up and wait", though cliche, fits in rather nicely in the publishing descriptor.

Sometimes the wait feels like it's never going to end and when it finally does, the crazy thing is there's always something else to wait for.


Waiting for the idea to fully form.

Waiting on the agent to respond to your query.

Waiting on the agent to respond to your full.

Yay! You got an offer from an agent! But now you have a new set of worries:

Waiting on the editor to respond to your submission.

Waiting (and biting your nails) when your manuscript goes through acquisitions.

Waiting for the book offer.

Yay! You got a book offer! But now you are waiting for a new set of things:

Waiting to announce your book deal.

Waiting for edits from your editor.

Waiting for your book cover.

Waiting for your arcs.

Waiting to launch your book.

Wow. I don't know about you, but by this point, I'm just tired of the word waiting. So what does an author do to keep their sanity?

Ideas of things to do while you are waiting:

1. Write another book! And make this one even better than the last.
2. Read!
3. Go to writing conferences.
4. Take a writing class and get inspired.
5. Travel to some place new and explore new sensory details.
6. If you are literally on the edge of your seat waiting for a phone call, go to the movies.
7. This is precious time, use it to do something amazing.
8. Tackle a new hobby.
9. Eat chocolate. *grin*

What about you? Are you sick of waiting too? What suggestions do you have for those who are so busy waiting.

~ Christina

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some YA Highway love

Just a quick little post. One of the blogs I read on a regular basis is YA Highway. Today, there's a funny and spot-on-true post by Lelia Austin. I thought I'd pass it along if you're in need of a good laugh, need to hear you're not alone or just hate garden gnomes. Ready? Go....


I'm always on the lookout for awesome blogs to help me procrast... um, inspire me. What blogs do you read?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finding My YA Voice

Lately, I’ve been working hard to find my YA voice.  But as we all know, voice is a slippery thing to pull off or even explain. Having spent a good bit of my time working on my recent middle grade, I’m finding it a challenge to get in touch with my 16-year-old self. But one of things my agent (the awesome Marie Lamba) suggested I do was write as if I was telling the story as my grownup self. It’s been helping. The way I “speak” and “see” things is a lot different now that I’m not trying to sound like what I think a teenager sounds like - but just sounding like myself.  

Here’s the original version of a scene where my 15-year-old MC is at the end of a secret date and debating whether or not to call her mom for a ride (note: AJ is the MC’s friend): 
Once outside the store, I checked my phone for the time. I suddenly felt like Cinderella. Only instead of running out of time at the ball, I was running out of time at the mall.  “I should probably call my mom for a ride,” I told Wil. 
“I could give you a ride,” he said. “I parked over by the food court.”
Did I dare? Maybe Mom and Dad wouldn’t look out the window when I pulled up. But what if (oh please, please, please) Wil wanted to kiss me goodnight? Mom and Dad would definitely notice if I didn’t come in right away. 
I decided the risk was worth it and texted Mom that AJ was giving me a ride home.
It was so much easier to lie when it wasn’t in person. 
  Okay. Notice the reference to Cinderella? How about the “Did I dare?” and the “oh, please, please, please” ? All very junior-high-ish. A young girl playing dress up. A romantic version of a date. (Don't judge me - I'm still learning! lol) 
Here’s the updated version of the same scene: 
I don’t really want this maybe-a-date to end but I check my phone for the time. “Crap,” I say. “I should call my mom for a ride.”
“I can take you home,” Wil says. “I’m parked by the food court.”
It’s a huge risk. If Mom or even Dad is looking out the window when I pull up, I’m dead. 
But then I think, what the hell?
  I text Mom that AJ is giving me a ride home and that I’ll be back soon.
It’s so much easier to lie when you don’t have to do it in person. 
My MC is now 16-years-old (and you might have noticed the change in tense) but   see how her attitude is also more daring? No fairly tales and more realistic language. She’s still calculating the risk of having the boy drive her home but she’s more impulsive. (I cut 32 words to help convey this.) As a 16-year-old, of course she’s planning on a goodnight kiss. And even though she’s still worried about being caught, I don’t come out and *say* that - it’s simply implied by her thinking about Mom and Dad looking out the window. 
I still have a long way to go, of course. But I think I’m making progress. What tricks do you use to find your young adult voice? 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Meet Our Agents- Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, LLC

Today Christina Farley's agent, Jeff Ourvan of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, LLC., will be sharing with us. He is currently shopping Christina's young adult novel, GILDED.

Agency Website
Publisher's Marketplace
Author Website

MiGs: Why did you become an agent?

Jeff: I’ve had a diverse career as an attorney, a communications consultant and a writer/editor and believed that working as a literary agent would be the perfect way to merge these various skills.

MiGs: What made you pick your very first client?

Jeff: He wrote I book that I would have bought and read.  Also his work, which was nonfiction, told an important and unique story about Middle Eastern culture and politics, and I felt it was potentially marketable.

MiGs: Of the most recent 100 queries you received from writers, how many did you accept as clients? (rough guess)

Jeff: Less than one.  Perhaps one out of the last 200.

MiGs: What is an ideal client?

Jeff: An author who writes well (of course), who knows his or her market, who’s open to editorial criticism, who responds quickly, who is generally polite, and who fully shares in the endeavor to sell his or her work.

MiGs: What is one piece of typical writing advice you think should go out the window?

Jeff: In general, any sort of advice that presumes to apply to all writers is suspect.  Everyone is different, everyone has a different style and approach.  One thing I used to hear a lot that definitely isn’t true is that you have to write everyday in order to be a good writer.  I think it’s more important to live a courageous and interesting life everyday in order to be a good writer.

MiGs: Do you read the query letter first or the sample pages?

Jeff: Always the query.  I don’t even get to the sample pages if the query hasn’t grabbed me.  And sometimes I don’t finish the query if the first paragraph hasn’t already intrigued me.

MiGs: What is one common misconception that inexperienced writers tend to have about agents?

Jeff: Hmm.  That we’re all handsome and glamorous?  I guess a misconception that I sometimes run into is that I ought to be able to tell a writer precisely what sort of book, or genre, will be the next big thing.  The truth is that publishing anything is a challenge right now.  Writers should write what they want to write, what’s in their hearts.

MiGs: What is something people might not know about you?

Jeff: I’ve been to all 50 states!

MiGs: What’s on your wish list?
Jeff: Thrillers, mysteries, nonfiction sports, nonfiction in general, literary YA.

Check out Jeff's newly released book: HOW TO COACH YOUTH BASEBALL SO EVERY KID WINS

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meet Our Agents- Marie Lamba of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency

Posted in this series so far: Intro - Andrea Cascardi (Transatlantic) - Ginger Knowlton (Curtis Brown)

Today Carmella Van Vleet's agent, Marie Lamba of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, will be sharing with us. She is currently shopping Carmella's middle grade novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER.

Agency Website
Author's Website

MiGs: Why did you become an agent?
Marie: Because my own agent, Jennifer DeChiara asked me to!  It sounds goofy, but it's true.  I'd never considered it before that moment.  Jennifer and I had been working together for years, so she saw my marketing and editing and writing and professional experience first-hand, and felt these would be real strengths agenting-wise. I've always trusted Jennifer's opinions, and she saw what I hadn't -- that being an agent was a natural step for me. I've found this new role to be a great fit.  Plus I've got a strong "mom" instinct, so I very much want to take care of my clients and see them soar.   

MiGs: What made you pick your very first client? 

Marie: My very first client is Carmella Van Vleet!!!  I'd been reading queries and submissions for many months, but when I finished reading Carmella's ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, I literally jumped to my feet with one consuming thought: I have to have her as a client.  Her middle grade novel, which is about an ADHD girl who must prove to others (and herself) that she's no quitter, made me laugh even as it touched me deeply.  I couldn't help but fall in love with Eliza, the spunky heroine who often speaks before she thinks, but is also so deserving of friends.  

MiGs: Of the most recent 100 queries you received from writers, how many did you accept as clients? (rough guess)
Marie: Of the most recent 100, the answer is zero.  Of all the queries I've ever read? I'd say a fraction of a percent (but then again, math is not exactly my strong suit). By now I've read thousands of queries, and I have taken on 3 clients. 

MiGs: What is an ideal client? 
Marie: I point directly at Carmella!  Carmella is professional, takes her writing seriously, listens to criticism well but politely sticks to her guns when a crit deviates from her creative intent. She's not afraid to ask me questions, but doesn't email me unnecessarily.  And she's thinking about her writing in terms of her career. Carmella also has a decent online presence, and knows how to communicate appropriately with readers. Plus she's a lot of fun to work with. She's the complete package!

I'm happy that so far I have all ideal clients. But what would be a less than ideal client?Someone who is nasty, unprofessional, unreasonably demanding, or a diva who doesn't understand that writing is not just an art but a business as well. I've seen flashes of these qualities in queries, and I immediately turn them down.  As an agent, you are in a relationship with a writer for years and years.  Who wants to represent someone that's difficult?

MiGs: What is one piece of typical writing advice you think should go out the window? 
Marie: Write what you know.  Really?  I think it's more important to write with credibility.  If you are writing beyond your knowledge, then study up and make it something you "know."  That's a key part of creativity.  

MiGs: Do you read the query letter first or the sample pages? 
Marie: Definitely the query.  If there is something that's an amazing turnoff right there, such as a novel's point of view I find offensive, or an author's obvious attitude problem, or a blatant inability to use the English language, I go no further and it's a reject for me.  
MiGs: What is one common misconception that inexperienced writers tend to have 
about agents? 

Marie: Some think we are scary, unapproachable and powerful beings!  I run into this at writer's conferences and get a kick out of sidling up to nervous writers just to set them at their ease. Before you know it, we're talking like two human beings.  

Another newbie misconception? That we agents should respond to their queries right away. I've had writers send me emails wondering why I hadn't read and responded to their full manuscript yet.  After all, it's been 2 weeks!  If they could only see my inbox.  On fulls I think I'm up to reading my mid-December submissions now.  

Oh, here's just one more (see? I told you I was terrible at math): that agents will give them lots of tips and suggestions and hold their hands throughout the querying process. Just because I'm polite in my rejection doesn't mean a writer should write me 3-4 times after that asking how they should change their query, or if I'll re-read their changed first paragraph, or if I'll tell them what they should write this year so that it'll fit my needs (I got this one from a new writer just this morning). Sigh.

MiGs: What is something people might not know about you? 

Marie: That in college I studied not only writing but fine art. I'd planned on being a writer/illustrator. The closest I've gotten to this goal is drawing the cover illustration for my latest YA novel DRAWN. 

MiGs:  What’s on your wish list? 
Marie: Something fresh and unusual that doesn't simply echo what's already popular.  Do this with a voice that grabs me, and you'll really be cooking.

Thanks for having me here!

Check out Marie's latest book, DRAWN, a young adult paranormal.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Meet Our Agents- Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd.

Posted in this series so far: Intro - Andrea Cascardi (Transatlantic)

Today, Debbie Ridpath Ohi's agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd, will be sharing with us. Ginger just finished negotiating two book contracts with Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers for Debbie. Read about it here! Debbie's picture book, I'M BORED (written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie) comes out this September and you can find out how it was created in the I'm Bored Scrapbook Journal.

Agency Website | Ginger's bio
Publisher's Marketplace
On Twitter: @gknowlton58 at @CurtisBrownLtd

MiGs: How many clients do you feel comfortable balancing?

Ginger: Such a question! I could say—that depends on the day and the time of day and the month and the time of month and the year and the time of year. Or I could say—all of mine. So that’s what I’ll say.

MiGs:  Do you think publishers will be increasing their lists or decreasing them this year?

Ginger: Are we talking about children’s books or all kinds of books? For children’s books, I imagine that there will be a bit of an increase, simply because more and more publishers are seeing how healthy the children’s book field is, and they’re jumping on the bandwagon.

MiGs:  What made you pick your very first client?

Ginger: I was working as Marilyn Marlow’s assistant at the time and we thought it might be good for me to start my agent career by representing illustrators, since Marilyn had so many picture book writers, and we were in the midst of a picture book boom at the time (in the late 80s). Laurel Molk and I have worked together since 1988, I think, and she is about to sign contracts to illustrate a graphic novel for First Second and a picture book for Holt.

MiGs: What makes an ideal client?

Ginger: I honestly think there are as many answers to that question as there are clients. Some attributes that I value are talent, honesty, trust, talent, a partnership mentality, forthrightness, talent, and faithfulness. And a sense of humor. Definitely a sense of humor helps. Did I mention talent?

MiGs: Of the most recent 100 queries you received from writers, how many did you accept as clients? (rough guess)

Ginger: Of the most recent 100, I believe the answer is 0. I am truly sorry that is the case.

MiGs:  What is one piece of typical writing advice that you think should go out the window?

Ginger: I don’t think it’s necessarily true in all cases that you should ‘write what you know’.

MiGs:  Do you read the query letter first or the sample pages?

Ginger: I tend to go right to the writing and read the query letter closely if I like the writing. But that’s not always the case.

MiGs:   What is one common misconception that inexperienced writers tend to have about agents?

Ginger: That agents will become irrelevant in this world of ebook publishing.

MiGs:   What is something people might not know about you?

Ginger: Wait. Did you get that question from the Miami conference? Let’s see — people may not know that I went to 13 different schools, including college, navy brat that I am. Really, 12, but I say 13 because of the two weeks I went to Vallejo High School as a junior before my parents moved me to St. Vincent’s.

MiGs:  What would you love to see in your query inbox right now? or What’s on your wish list?

Ginger: I want what I always want—a story that I. Can’t. Put. Down.

MiGs: Why did you become an agent?

Ginger: My dad asked me to move back east (‘to the civilized coast,’ he said) to work at Curtis Brown. My brother and sister were already working with him, and I guess he wanted to complete the kingdom. I was working with children in California, and I’ve always been an avid reader, so he thought I would be a good addition to the children’s book department.

MiGs:  What are your response times?

Ginger:  I am struggling with the email problem at the moment. I’m pretty fast when people submit to me via snail mail, but I know that’s a hassle and becoming obsolete. I do try to keep up with emailed submissions, but I need to establish a better system. (I also need more time.) I think it would help if authors put ‘query’ as the subject line. Also, if authors who query me don’t hear back within a month, please feel free to send a gentle nudge along with the original email. Please don’t send attachments unless I request it. I realize I haven’t really answered your question.

Next up: Marie Lamba of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Meet Our Agents- Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency

Posted in this series so far: Intro 

Today Susan Laidlaw's agent, Andrea Cascardi of the Transatlantic Literary Agency, will be sharing with us. Andrea recently sold Susan's YA, INFIDEL IN PARADISE, to Tundra Books. Look for INFIDEL IN PARADISE to be released winter 2013!

Agency Website
Publisher's Marketplace

MiGs: Why did you become an agent?

Cascardi: I wanted to continue working with writers but had decided to leave the corporate publishing world.

MiGs: What made you pick your very first client?

Cascardi: He picked me, actually. I had been his editor at Knopf and he was the one who asked, when I left, "are you thinking about being an agent?" I said "why, would you be looking for an agent?" And that's essentially how the decision was made.

MiGs: Of the most recent 100 queries you received from writers, how many did you accept as clients? (rough guess)

Cascardi: Of the most recent 100 queries, I'd say none. I have a very full list and I get a lot of queries, so the percentage of what I take is very very small.

MiGs: What is an ideal client?

Cascardi: Someone who understands that writing is creative but publishing is a business. Not everything that is well-written gets published. And a writer has to be prepared to help find the readers nowadays.

MiGs: What is one piece of typical writing advice you think should go out the window?

Cascardi: I don't tend to read writing advice so I can't answer that one.

MiGs: Do you read the query letter first or the sample pages?

Cascardi: I read the query first. If the query intrigues me, but it's not an area I represent, I won't read the first pages. But if my interest in the query and the area dovetail, I will go right to the sample pages or ask to see the full manuscript.

MiGs: What is one common misconception that inexperienced writers tend to have about agents?

Cascardi: That getting an agent is the holy grail-- the end of the rainbow. There's a lot of work that comes after one gets an agent, so be prepared to continue to hone your craft beyond that stage.

MiGs: What is something people might not know about you?

Cascardi: I love swing dancing.

MiGs:  What's on your wish list?

Cascardi: Romance, humor, and thrillers! Always with a geographical setting that is as strong as any character.

Next up: Debbie's agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd.