An Interview with … Kortney Price

This week we’re talking with associate agent Kortney Price of Holloway Literary and we’re talking special needs characters, favorite books, and how she became an agent.

 

When was the moment that you knew you wanted to become an agent?

If I had to mark a specific moment, I’d say my first day of my first agency internship. I was assigned to the query inbox and allowed to request any material that caught my eye. I mean, who wouldn’t fall in love with the job? It’s like browsing in a bookstore where you don’t actually have to pay for the books you want to read!

 

How did you become a literary agent based in Missouri?

cd16ce_c14ea2c81bb3437d9ff416aaa7595411My first internship was remote with a company out in Seattle, but my advisor decided to leave agenting and I had to move on. I started searching closer to home and found a small press and a remote agent in Saint Louis. I actually landed internships with both places within a couple of days of each other. I knew there weren’t advancement opportunities with either company, but I got a ton of experience, which led me to a place in Holloway’s Intern2Agent program as an assistant. And now, here we are!

 

What advice would you give to others who are looking to break into the industry, either as an author or as an industry professional? Especially those not located in a major city like NYC?

For future industry professionals, remote internships are key. Follow the people you want to work with on social media and keep up with what they’re doing. Remote internships don’t typically run on a semester rotation and so you’ll need to watch social media to see when these openings appear. While you’re waiting, look for anything and everything related to reading, writing and editing that you can do to build your resume.

Connections are vital. Heading to conferences in your area can help authors can get their manuscript out of the slush pile and hopeful industry professionals can meet future employers. It might be a bit of a drive, but it’s totally worth it.

 

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned working at an agency?

I know it’s going to sound totally cliché but absolutely everything I’ve learned has been fascinating to me. I remember thinking I was pretty cool when I leaned about standard word counts and so I wouldn’t shut up about them for a few weeks. My poor Dad has read maybe two books in his life, but knows the standard word count for a YA Thriller off the top of his head.

 

What about YA and MG books do you love?

I love the adventures MG stories will take you on. There’s a simplicity to the stories that I find utterly refreshing. At the same time, I feel like authors can tackle some pretty heavy themes in these books and affect positive change in the reader. This is why I especially love seeing special needs characters and themes such as acceptance in these books.

YA stories are at a really cool time in life, when the characters entire lives are open in front of them and anything can happen. The characters are somewhere between thinking they’re mature adults and still doing the stupid things that teenagers will do. They’re working on figuring out who they are, what they want and where they stand. It’s a lot of turmoil to pack into one book, nonetheless one character.


What was your favorite book as a young reader? book-pile

The first book I absolutely fell in love with was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I vaguely remember begging other people to read it to me and then, once I figured out the whole reading thing, reading it myself over and over again. By the time I got to fifth grade I was pretty obsessed with Dog by Daniel Pennac, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and all of Gordon Korman’s survival/adventure series (On the Run, Island, Everest, Kidnapped). A couple of years later I discovered Lois Duncan, Jane Austen, and Kenneth Oppel.

 

If you could describe your perfect book to represent, what elements would it have in it?

Probably a plot centered around something artsy. I love to paint so I like to see art and artists incorporated in stories. I’m a big fan of books that make me smile whether it be through comedy or witty banter. On the flip side of that coin, I’m mildly obsessed with psychological thrillers and dark contemporary YA stories featuring a diverse cast of characters, high stakes and a fast pace.

 

What are major turn-offs for you when you are reviewing a manuscript?

Probably the biggest reasons I’ll stop reading are boredom and flat or unlikeable characters. I’m looking for books that I can’t put down, so if I’m bored in the beginning of a manuscript, it’s going to be an issue for me. If the pace doesn’t pick up by page 50, I’m not going to keep reading past that point.

A main character who has some sort of superiority complex and is lacking in the flaw department is the absolute best way to lose my interest. I just end up frustrated. However, dynamic and three dimensional characters are one of those craft elements that can push me to make an offer even if there are other issues.

 

What’s the worst mistake you’ve seen in a query?

I once read a query where the author spent the first two paragraphs telling me that I wasn’t smart, informed, enlightened, etc. In the third paragraph he explained that I could fix that by reading his book. I’m not a fan of that approach lol.

 

What is the best way for a writer to connect with you when writing their query?

Personalized queries are awesome! I love it when the author is actually talking to me and not copying and pasting the letter and adding my name. I get really excited when an author talks about loving the same books I love. Whether it’s mentioning Lois Duncan’s books or happening to have a comp title I was obsessed with at some point or another, it gives me something to connect with and get excited about right from the start.

 

You have a soft-spot for special needs characters due to your work with special needs kids. Would you tell us more about your experience with that community?

noraHow much time do we have? Lol Thanks to my amazing aunt, who founded a special needs sports nonprofit (TASK) in 1996, I’ve been around the special needs community for almost my entire life. I started helping at programs when I was around nine years old and started volunteering every summer when I was 13. I’ve gotten to work with the most amazing kids who have grown up to be some pretty awesome teenagers.

Since moving to Saint Louis I’ve been volunteering at least one night a week every week, and I’m hoping to head back for at least a few days of TASK Camp this summer. TASK is my therapy. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in your life, you can’t stay in a bad mood when you are with these kids. They’re amazing inside and out!

 

Can you name a book or two that features a character with special needs that “gets it right”?

I’d have to go with Wonder and Out of My Mind. If you’re looking to incorporate special needs characters into your story I highly suggest researching whatever disorder or disability you’re character has after getting a pretty good idea of who they are in your mind. One of the most difficult things about crafting special needs characters is making sure they aren’t a textbook example of their disorder/disability, defined by that disability, and lacking personality.

 

What types of submissions are you specifically looking for that feature characters with special needs?

I’m always excited to see a special needs character in a manuscript, no matter where it lands on my wish list. I get particularly excited when a special needs character pops up in a genre I wasn’t expecting, like in fantasy.

When I ask for special needs, sometimes people get hung up on developmental disabilities such as Downs Syndrome, autism, Asperger’s, and the like. Special needs can refer to any physical or developmental disability. I’m looking for everything from amputees to the Deaf community, autism to albinism. To me, it’s about helping people to understand people who may look or act differently than they do and giving the kids I work with a chance to see themselves in a book.

 

Kortney is an associate agent with Holloway Literary.  Learn more about her and then follow her on Twitter @kortney_price.

Why Word Count Matters

By Kat Kerr

Let’s play Two Truths and a Lie. Which one of these following statements is the lie:

  1. A book should only be as long or short as it needs to be.
  2. One should keep writing, until it’s done.
  3. Length doesn’t matter as long as the story is good.

What’s the answer? All of them; and at the same time, none of them. One should  keep writing until your book is done, and then go back and edit, edit, edit, edit. A book should only be as long or short as it needs to be, however if it’s too long or too short, it’s a red flag that there are problems. And no, length doesn’t matter as long as the story is exceptional, not just good, and exception is determined by market and how well established the author is in the publishing community. For the rest, there are industry standards pertaining to book length. And the one truth you can count on is that word count matters.

I know; it’s infuriating. You’re an artist. You create. You want agents to at least read your book, see its brilliance, and then it’ll be obvious how word count doesn’t apply to you. As creative beings, we relish our freedom and are repulsed by anything which seeks to limit us.

word-count-01

As an industry professional, I’m here to tell you that we too, love your creativity. We love your art. We love your work so much, we want you to be able to live off it. To buy groceries with it. To pay your bills with the money you’ve earned from selling it. We want you to have your best chance out there on the market because we believe in you and we believe in your work.

Why do agents and editors care about word count so much? What is the big deal about whether or not your book is too long or too short?

From a crafting perspective, too short of word count is indicative that a book may lack proper development. While this may seem like a pre-judgment, and the initial knee-jerk reaction may be to want someone to read your work and decide based on its merit, industry professionals who have waded through those slush piles, reading submission after submission of great pitches with low word counts just to find that low word count almost always results in great ideas that weren’t properly executed. Common problems are lack of well-developed secondary characters, lack of sub-plots that help maintain character motivation throughout the book, lack of appropriately developed conflict arcs, and rushing story development to hit major plot points but not to develop all the transitional moments in between.

Also, too long of books can be indicative that an author doesn’t know how to self-edit. Common problems are the presence of too many sub-plots that lose the focus of the story, narrative thought vomit, overly detailed descriptions for non-pertinent plot devices or characters, and (in the case of literary works) an author who is a little too in love with their own prose. It’s really important to make sure you are thinking about your manuscript critically and to not be afraid of making changes, because changes are going to happen. Several rounds of them, in fact.

Aside from craft, there’s also the business side to consider. In traditional publishing, 71088429_scaled_251x167the publishing house is investing in your work. That means they are taking ALL the risk in the event your book doesn’t sell well. They pay for the editors, the cover artists, the production costs, the marketing, not to mention your advance; an advance that you get to keep, even if your book doesn’t sell a single copy. That’s a lot at stake for a publishing house.

That’s why there’s so much research done on book sales and on what readers roughly expect when buying a book and on what market predictions look like for future trends based on what readers ask for in stores and libraries as well as a million other things publishing houses will research to help them get the best return on their investment.

So, what are the rules? How long should a book be? What’s a good sweet spot? Well, generally speaking for adult fiction:

Below 70,000                      too low, (except certain types of genre fiction)

70,000 – 80,000                  decent

80,000 -100,000                  good

100,000 -120,000                a bit long, but still okay depending on genre

120,000 +                             too long

YA has, over the years, actually gotten longer to where it now competes pretty well with the adult market. While YA books are still written for teen readers (as they should be), they can still safely fall anywhere from 55,000 – 100,000 words, depending on sub-genre.

MG and children’s picture books are going to vary depending on target reader age range.

These are very general guidelines and word counts will still vary depending on the genre of fiction you write. For instance, thrillers, mysteries, and suspense will probably fall a little shorter due to their fast-paced, page-turning nature, while science fiction, fantasies, historical, and literary works will run higher due to world building, language, and prose.

“But what about….

  • JK Rowling
  • George RR Martin
  • All these classics that are like a million words long that were published before the 1950s?”

keep-calm-and-write-onAh, yes. The exceptions. Remember what I said earlier about how publishing houses are the ones taking all the risk? Classic literature will always have a market of buyers. There is no risk in reprints of classical literature. They’ve already proven their market base as consistent.

And while JK Rowling most certainly had some pretty thick books come out, her first book clocked in to around 76,000 words and the length of her books grew as their popularity grew. George RR Martin’s books may have started out at epic lengths, but also keep in mind that George RR Martin also had several books published with Simon and Schuster and S&S imprints before selling Game of Thrones to Bantam. And guess what? His first published novel, Dying of the Light—much smaller book.

Chances are you’ve spent a lot of time on your manuscript and want it to be successful. You want to see it on shelves at bookstores and libraries, available on amazon, reaching new heights with five star reviews, and affecting readers everywhere. The best way to achieve that dream is by knowing the industry well enough to get your foot through that industry door. Don’t give the agent or editor reading your query an easy reason to pass due to astronomical or too miniscule word length. After all, you have to know the rules in order to break the rules.

 

Kat is a literary assistant with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter @thekatsmews.

When Querying Hurts: Deciphering the Rejection

By Kat Kerr

So you’ve carefully crafted a story that you poured your heart into, pulled hair out over, and lost who knows how many hours of sleep for. You send off a query to a handful of agents and wait. And wait. And wait some more. One day, you hear that fateful ping notifying you of a newly received email and…it’s a pass.

You stay strong, keep your head up. After all, rejection was anticipated, and you wait for the next one. Another rejection. And then another. And then another. Sometimes you don’t even get a rejection, and the radio silence is a rejection in and of itself. You go through a time lapsed YouTube video version of all the stages of grief and are now left questioning your choice to pursue writing as a career because clearly your writing sucks, your ideas suck, you suck, your brain sucks…everything just sucks.

rory-suck-gilmore-girls-6515

Rejection is a huge part of any creative industry. You have to keep in mind that this isn’t like a regular 9-5 job where you put in an application, show up for an interview, and have a good chance of hearing back in a couple of weeks. Where your average office employee may be rejected for a job maybe a handful of times throughout their career, creative industry personnel get rejected many times more. Whether it’s an actor/actress on their 50th audition, or if it’s a writer querying their 20th agent…the likelihood of being rejected is simply a higher rate for all of us. And yes, I do mean all of us. Agents get rejected too, and not just from editors. Every agent has experienced getting excited about representing a project and finding out we’ve been rejected by you, the writer, when you’ve chosen to sign with another agent.

So, before you return to your rightful and needed moment to wallow and eat an entire gallon of ice cream, let’s look at a few of the different kinds of rejections.

Radio Silence Rejection/Standardized Rejection

The rejection that never comes or the rejection that is a general, standardized rejection may not be very telling in and of itself, but when you receive twenty of them, you start to see the hidden meaning behind each “no”. This can be due to the fact that your MS doesn’t line up with the agent’s tastes in literature or, if it does, that it doesn’t quite grab the agent’s attention. It can also be because the writing isn’t strong enough or if your story isn’t right for the market currently.

“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.” – J.K. Rowling

While rejection is expected, if you are racking up these kinds of uninformative rejection, it may be time to take another look at your manuscript with a hypercritical eye. Send it out to new beta readers or hire a professional editor for an in-depth critique. Do some research into the industry and the market. Assuming that you have a flawlessly put-together story that simply isn’t getting picked up due to the current market, I urge you to not lose hope! The great thing about the market is that it’s constantly moving and changing. Just because your MS isn’t right presently, it may be in just another year or two. This would be a great time to try and query with another work.

“It’s not you, it’s me” Rejection/Rejections with a “why”

Still a rejection, but one that will help you. Realize how valuable these are. The reason why standard responses or no response is so prevalent in this industry is because we just don’t have time to respond to each and every submission. If we are giving you a reason for the rejection, it’s because your work stood out to us enough that we want to help you as you continue your pursuit in publishing.

Sometimes, we think your story is great, but it’s just not the right fit for a particular agent. We all know how much it sucks to get broken up with the age old, “it’s me, not you” line, but in publishing, this is most often the case. We can still be objective and recognize a body of work with serious potential, even if it’s not the right work for us personally.

It’s important to realize though that even though you are getting a reason why we decline your manuscript, it is still a rejection. Please do not send an email to inquire if you can resubmit with edits. Agents will make it very clear in their responses if they want to see a revision by inviting you specifically to do so.

“I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.” – David Mitchell

Revise and Resubmit Rejection

These are by far, the best rejections to ever get because it means we see something we really like, but it’s a little too problematic to consider representing as it stands. It may seem off-putting to know that an agent will reject a really great story due to the amount of work needed to fix it, but realize that no matter how much we may love a book, there is still that business side of publishing that needs to be addressed. The top of that list? Can an author read, interpret, and apply edit notes in a way that enhances the story? A brilliant manuscript that needs a lot of cleaning gives us pause to consider whether or not you will be able to handle a 4-7 paged edit letter from a publishing house editor.

Generally speaking, if you still receive a rejection AFTER you’ve revised and resubmitted, it’s because the edits you applied didn’t work. I can attest first hand that not everyone knows how to apply edit notes. Writing may seem like the hardest part of getting published, but writing is only a small part of the process. Editing is by far what you will spend most of your time doing.

“Nope, it’s you” rejection

While most rejections really can’t be helped and are in no way the fault of the author, especially as art is subjective and an agent’s personal taste has to be accounted for, there is still also the flip side. Sometimes, it really is your fault. Not following submission guidelines to a T is usually the first reason why your query will be deleted. Not put in the box to get a rejection notification. I mean, deleted. Trashed. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, gone.

right oneYes, every agency has their own guidelines. Yes, it can be exhausting making each and every query personalized and fit each different guidelines. But those guidelines make the system for each agency. It’s how we organize our information, keep track of whose email went where and when. And quite frankly, how do you expect us to give your query our attention, when you can’t give us yours long enough to read our rules?

Also, having too high or too low of a word count will also get your query deleted. Make sure you know what the industry standards are for your genre.

This is your intended career path. Get to know the industry that you are trying to be a part of. Agents want to sign authors who are serious about writing, but also writing for this industry. Not doing appropriate research into industry standards would be the same as showing up for an office interview wearing crocs, beach shorts, and ripped, paint-splattered t-shirt. You’re not putting your best foot forward.

 

Kat is a literary assistant with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter @thekatsmews.

 

Building Your Author Platform

By Kortney Price

Contrary to popular belief, building your author platform is not the same thing as marketing. It’s all about networking and creating a community of people who believe in the same things your book is saying. If you were to write a young adult contemporary romance, your community might contain young adults with a belief in love at first sight or a weakness for a good ol’ fashioned love story, publishing professionals who specialize in young adult romances, and other authors in the same genre.

When agents or editors are looking at your author platform, we are basically just looking at how visible you are to your target audience. No matter how outgoing you are on social media, if your followers are all outside of this group, it won’t help you sell more books. Ask yourself who you know who will be most interested in your book? Publishing professionals? Other authors? What media outlets are you connected with? Blogs? Newspapers? TV? Radio?

millennials-networking-ftrGrowing your network

When I was first trying to break into publishing I had no solid connections to draw on. Being from middle of nowhere, USA, I had to get creative in finding ways to reach my goal of becoming an agent. After dozens of internship applications proved fruitless, I went through the list of people I already knew to see how I could use the connections I already had to find work in editing. Long story short, I ended up working as the editorial intern at a special needs nonprofit, which gave me the much needed experience on my resume to land me my first internship at an agency. If you’re feeling like you have no connections to draw on, I definitely suggest trying something similar.

Are you part of a writers group? Who do you know at your local bookstore? Library? School? There’s no harm in asking friends and family if they know of anyone you’d be able to connect with. Finding out that your aunt’s co-worker’s cousin published a novel in a genre similar to yours could lead to a fantastic connection for your platform, and a mentor to help you through the publishing process.

Make every effort to attend conferences and talks in your area. You’ll meet some awesome people who will, more than likely, support you as you move through the publishing process. You might also learn about writing organizations that connect writers and will help and support you as well.

Once you have a book published, make it your goal to get out and communicate with your target audience. Book signings at your local bookstore, talks at community venues, and interacting with readers on social media are all great options for being accessible to your readers.

Your online presence

Notepad, laptop and coffee cup on wood table. View from aboveIf you do not have a book published  yet, it can be hard to create an online presence as an author, however you can establish yourself as a writer.  Start out by finding two social media outlets that you enjoy being on. While Twitter is the major social media outlet for publishing, you do not want to select a certain social media outlet only to let it lapse because you do not enjoy spending time on it.

And while it may be tempting, do not post covers, excerpts or titles of your work-in-progress. Once sold, a cover will be created for you, your title may change as well as some of your content. You do not want to post a rough draft of your work online for your readers before your work is ready.

But do write about your writing process and journey to publication.

You will also want to create a website or blog to link your social media profiles to. If you are concerned with content for your website, try starting a blog. If you do not have a book published yet, write about what interests you, or write about subjects that will be featured in your book.

For published authors, a blog is a great place to express your thoughts related to your book, writing, publishing, or whatever topics you want to write about. For example, if your book is centered around food, post your favorite recipes, review your local restaurants… or interview local chefs. If your book is sports related, share interesting sports news and your thoughts on what’s happening. Content ideas for your blog is only limited by what you can imagine.

Every author platform is different, find what works for you and run with it.

Consistency is key

No matter what you’re doing with your author platform, you have to remember that it isn’t something you build in a month or two and then leave alone. Maintaining your platform is part of your job as a writer and so my suggestion is to schedule it into your day as you do with writing or other tasks. Yes, adding yet another thing to your daily to do list sounds daunting, but its a necessary task for getting your message out.

Get your name out there

author-61So, you have some wonderful social media profiles and a website or blog, but how do you draw people to them? Here’s where your connections will really come in handy. Partnering with another author in your genre is a great way for both of you to extend your visibility. You can boost each other’s posts on social media or guest post on each other’s blogs. Your readers can see her name and her readers are introduced to you.

If your book has a set release day, contact your old schools or other places who might benefit from the publicity that comes with having a published author listed among their ranks. Another great option to make sure you’re open to is other media outlets such as interviews, radio, or television. Get creative in utilizing your connections to get in touch with your target audience.

A solid author platform can give you that boost to make agents or editors say yes to your story. Publishing is a business and so if a book or author doesn’t show promise for sales, it’s less likely to be published by a large publishing house. Whether you’re already published or just starting your journey, you can always benefit in building a solid platform through professional networking, social media, fan engagement and online presence.

 

Kortney is an associate agent with Holloway Literary.  Learn more about her and then follow her on Twitter @kortney_price.

 

What Are Agents Really Looking for in Partials and Fulls?

By Kat Kerr

Lots of writers ask why agents bother asking for a partial manuscript. After all, what can agents really find in those fifty pages? Wouldn’t it save a lot of time if agents just asked for the full?

Short answer? No. Not at all. Aside from just saving a lot of time, agents are also looking to see if they want to read more of your work. It’s much easier to give an interesting idea a fair shot when agents know they are only going to be committed to a shorter read. You’ve piqued the interest of the agent in your original query and now they want to see what else you’ve got.

Unfortunately, this seems to lead to heated debates with writers questioning whether or not agents can glean enough of the story to decide whether it’s good or not with only fifty pages.

the-best-note-taking-software_evodify-com_How can an agent fairly judge a book by its beginning? Shouldn’t they just go ahead and commit to reading the whole thing so they can see how things play out?

Another short answer: No, but there’s also a longer answer. Aside from making it easier to process the amount of submissions an agent gets in a day, each stage of the submission process also tells us a lot about your story and how it’s crafted. So what are agents really looking at throughout the query process? Everyone has their own preferences, but generally speaking, agents look for the following:

Requested Pages In Your Query

Now this is not about the query letter. If you want more information regarding the query letter you can look here. This is about the sample pages you copy and paste in the body of the email. With only fifteen pages, agents understand that they’re not going to get much story content here. So what these sample pages boil down to are two things; writing strength and style.

“You mean you’re not looking for clichés and an active beginning and an engaging voice?” I hear you ask. Well yes, but realize all of those things tie into whether or not you can write. And knowing an author can write well is absolutely the first thing an agent needs to establish. One could assume that the “why” is pretty self-explanatory, however I would be remiss if I failed to mention that there are many writers out there who believe that bad writing can be fixed with an editor. I am here to tell you this is not the case. Far from it, in fact. Agents can help edit a manuscript for problems in story-telling, a good round of line edits can help recast minor flaws in sentence structure that impede clarity, copy edits can fix grammatical issues, and proof-reading will make sure all your syntax is in its final place. But if you don’t have the writing basics under your belt, there’s no amount of editing that can fix that. At least, not without resorting to hiring a ghost writer.stock-photo-101277739-woman-using-notebook-computer-taking-notes-at-cafe-working

Partials

Time to start getting a little more picky. Now, agents aren’t just looking at your writing. Now they’re looking for the hook and the heart of your story. I know that for me, personally, if I can’t tell what the story is about within the first 30 pages without re-reading the query, I will recommend a pass. The heart of your book should be apparent by this point in the book. Readers should be able to see a rough outline of the journey they are in store for whether it’s solving a murder, trying to escape a captor, seeking a new life in a new place, or a character’s road to self-discovery; whatever that hook is, readers should have it. You cannot expect anyone to keep reading in hopes that the book will get better. Every page matters, but especially in the beginning when the plot is first starting to come together.

In addition, here are some specific things agents may look at:

  • Pacing (Are we getting bogged down in exposition or a huge info dump?)
  • Characterization (Are they relatable? Can readers get emotionally attached to them? Do they sound real?)
  • Dialogue (Is it reading cheesy? Does it accurately reflect how the character would speak?)
  • Conflict (Are we getting the catalyst that sets this book into motion?)

Fulls

Fulls are fantastic! At this point agents know you can write well, you’ve hooked them into the story, and now they get to sit back and actually READ it and see how everything comes together. The most important thing to look at when reading a full manuscript is how the story works overall. This ranges from how it’s organized and structured to how well both the story as well as character arcs are developed and how plot devices are used. Are there any loose threads left untied at the end of the book? Was each page just as compelling as the last? How much editing does this book need before it’s polished enough to pitch to an editor? And even if all these things are perfect, there is still one last item to check off the list: Chemistry.

Imythofthespoiledchildebookparentingnotesintentionalmamat’s important to realize that there are still a million and one reasons why an agent may still decline representation at this point. You can have the most perfect, well-put together book, and still get a rejection because chemistry is really important. Agents have to LOVE your book, not just like it a whole lot. This is because selling is very hard and if an agent isn’t completely over the moon about it, it makes pitching it to a publisher that much harder. Your book could be completely perfect, but it just may not be perfect for that particular agent.
Rejection is never easy. Agents know and understand how much time and effort it takes into creating a book. No matter what happens, don’t give up. What may not work for one, may work for another. Keep revising and keep querying.

Kat is a literary assistant with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter @thekatsmews.

 

 

 

Amber Mitchell Discusses Her Journey To Becoming A Published Author

Today we’re talking with Amber Mitchell about her journey to publishing her first novel, Garden of Thorns, hitting shelves on March 6, 2017. Amber graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in a small town in Florida with her husband Brian and their four cats.


Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?

Every time I see a movie where there is a big ball room scene and the women are twirling around in their ball gowns, I always thought they looked like flowers. It was one of those things I filed away for a later date.  While I was editing a supernatural novel that I was working on, this voice kept tempting me. It grew so loud that I opened up a different Word.doc and I started writing in Rose’s perspective. Her situation, being trapped where she was, resonated with me so strongly that I had to keep writing to figure out exactly what she was so afraid of. That night I came up with the concept of the Dancing Flowers and the Gardener and never looked back. GARDEN OF THORNS was one of the few books I didn’t plot out completely before I started writing. After I got stuck, I started to plot, but I was surprise at how natural it came to me.
 
What were some of the edits you made in order to polish your manuscript before submitting to agents?
 
I went through a lot of rounds to edit GARDEN before I considered it ready. I knew I had something special with the concept and world but I had a lot of problems with the middle half of my book. After getting some feedback from beta readers I was able to refocus the plot and felt the book was much stronger. I also needed to add more world building in. I’d had touches of Delmar’s religion and culture but I needed to amplify it even more before I sent it out.
 
When you decided to submit your work to agents, how did you narrow down the hugeamber-9491 list of agents to a list of those you wanted to query? How did you keep yourself organized throughout this process?
 
My saving grace was Querytracker.net. I lived on that website. It’s really useful because you can track which agents you query, the status of your query and on what day the agent responds. I updated it every day and spent hours reading the comments people posted and what other agents had requested and rejected. When I felt I was ready to start querying agents, I looked at what they represented first and foremost. I was not making the mistake of sending out a query to someone that didn’t represent my genre. Since I was writing a YA fantasy, an agent that represented both of those genres became a must for me. I shied away from those that liked YA but weren’t into epic fantasy since I wanted to save myself as much heartache as possible. After that, I looked at which agents were the most active, who they represented and sent out my queries.
 
Speaking of queries, what tips can you give other writers who are faced with the daunting task of writing their query letter?
 
Do your research. This is such a big one. And after you’ve done your research, make sure you are personalizing every query you send out there to the best of your ability and following guidelines to the tee. Don’t get disqualified before an agent even lays eyes on your work! The other major thing that I find helpful is to give your query to people that haven’t read your book and ask them if it makes sense with their limited knowledge. That will help you weed out those generic phrases and confusing sentences.
 
gardenYou were signed by Nikki Terpilowski and have been working with her ever since. What is it like working with an agent? Was there anything that surprised you?
 
It’s really nice having someone in your corner that will help you navigate the maze of the publishing world so you can focus on the things that matter (like writing). Since this is my first publication, I had so many questions and Nikki has happily answered every single one. She has always been an awesome advocate, giving me great advice, celebrating my victories and also advising me when to take a step back and let things play out naturally. Even now, I have a hard time letting go of control, not because I don’t trust, but because I care so much. However, I’ve learned to breathe easier knowing that Nikki is on top of things.
 
After your book sold to Entangled Publishing, did you have anything that surprised you about how a publishing house operates?
 
Working under deadline has been a completely new experience for me. I’m a slower writer (I used to think I was pretty fast but I’ve come to reconsider that opinion) so while I would always set myself deadlines, it was nothing like what was expected of me during the editing phase of publication. Then there was the added pressure of knowing that people are relying on me to get my job done so they can complete theirs. I loved the back and forth of completing edits and then receiving comments from my editor a few weeks later. It made the novel feel alive, always changing, always new.
 
The other thing I didn’t expect was how many rounds of edits it would need. I was prepared for the developmental and line edits but the multiple rounds of copy edits took me by surprise. I actually found the copy edits to be the hardest because I could no longer move things around and suddenly, I had to justify why I was changing a word or taking one out.
 
When the edit notes came in, did you have any obstacles that seemed insurmountable? How do you approach editing your story?
 
The first round of developmental edits were big and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t scare me. When I first opened up the email, it felt like I needed to rewrite most of my book, which was only partially true. After re-reading the email and speaking with my husband, what I began to realize is that I needed to re-think all of the decisions I’d made and really figure out what made sense. I needed to reanalyze character motivation and relationships to figure out what all of my main characters wanted. After I started thinking about motivation and how that affected everything in the world, the rest sort of flowed onto the page naturally. It helped that I got permission not to worry about word count!
 tips-for-writer
What is one “writing tip” you learned from editing Garden of Thorns?
 
The question that kept coming up in editing was what was keeping Rose and Rayce from their goals. Was it just for plot’s sake or did I create an underlying reason for them to be unable to obtain their goals (and each other) in the beginning of the story? When I approached the story for that angle, scenes that were lacking tension suddenly sparked off the page.
 
So the biggest trick I’ve learned from editing GARDEN, is to really dig deep and figure out what is keeping your characters from reaching their goals emotionally, physically, spiritually and societally. Points if you can come up with something that does all four! Make them want whatever they want badly, make it impossible and then join in their triumph as they strive, bleed and stretch to reach the unobtainable.  
 
You mentioned in your earlier interview that you found out how impatient you were during the slow moving process that is publishing. Any advice to writers who find themselves staring at their computer screens?
 
Is there any advice they would like to share with me?
 
I kid, I kid. Mostly…
 
The only thing that has helped me besides very cheap champagne and expensive chocolate is to focus on your next project. I hate this advice because it’s literal torture to follow it, but if you really do unplug yourself from the internet, even 10 minutes at a time to fall in love with something else, it will get easier. Not a lot easier, but enough to function.
 
It seems that publishers and agents alike are always advising authors to be building their author platform. How did you approach this?
 
This is something I’m working on even as I’m typing this interview. I started out in the book blogging community so that is proving helpful. It’s also very prudent to test several different social media sites so you can find out which ones are enjoyable for you to use. Personally, I really like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads so that is what I’ve been focusing on. Try to be active, don’t make every tweet, update or blog post about writing. People want to know the person behind the words.
 
walt disney world - magic kingdom castle fireworksAny exciting plans to celebrate your book’s publication day?
 
I’m going to Disney World with my hubby and friends! No, seriously, I am. Which isn’t a super huge deal since I live in Florida but it seems like a good way to celebrate the fruition of a lifelong dream. I might even get that Gaston plushie I’ve been eyeing and if I want to get really crazy, we might even go to meat sweats (we call Brazilian steakhouses by this lovely moniker) for dinner.

 

For more about Amber and Garden of Thorns check out her website or follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl.

 

Author Natalie Charles Dishes On Meditation, Quilting & Story Structure

By Kortney Price

 Natalie Charles is the author of six romance novels, and we are discussing how she deals with stress, craftiness and her latest contemporary romance, Seeking Mr. Wrong.

Do you find it challenging to find the perfect work-life balance? How do you handle it? Can you offer any tips for other busy writers?

The balance comes in knowing your priorities. As a general rule, my family comes first. My children will not always be begging me to read them a story and tuck them in. Time with my husband is precious. Writing is very important to me and I make space for it, but when my family needs me, I set it aside and try not to feel guilty about it. The writing will always be there. That said, dreams take sacrifice. Sometimes I tell my children that I’m working and they need to respect that. But they’re still young and so usually the sacrifice comes at the expense of my own free time. I write instead of watching television or visiting social media.

Some writers meditate, others practice yoga. How do you de-stress? 

I do both of those things. Meditation especially has brought so much peace into my life and helped me to detach. I try to meditate daily, though I’m not perfect. Practicing yoga for an hour and reminding myself to simply breathe can alter my stress level for days. I also enjoy exercise, like running and weight lifting. I’ve also found that calling up a friend and having a good laugh is priceless.

In your last interview with us, you mentioned that you like to “always have a project going” and that you’re “a person who wants to try All Of The Things” Any fun new projects you’re working on?

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Natalie made this cool soap bar!

Yes! I just made a quilt. I thought it would be a fun, quick project, but then I decided to cut it up and make it more complicated.  Sigh. I’m really happy with it, though. I’ve also made a few batches of soap: one with essential oils and one with milk, honey, and oatmeal. It’s fun to stretch other creative muscles.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

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And she made this!

Besides “be yourself”-type advice, learning about story structure changed my writing life. Understanding that good stories follow a similar pattern was profoundly helpful. It’s like seeing the wizard behind the curtain. There are so many resources and books out there but I thought Libbie Hawker’s book “Take Off Your Pants!” was fantastic.

What are you reading now? Who do you read for fun?

Right at this moment I’m reading “In the Cards” by Jamie Beck and enjoying it very much. I just finished “Concrete Blonde” by Michael Connelly (I’m a Harry Bosch junkie but I jump around in the series) and next up I’m reading “The Marriage Lie” by Kimberly Belle. So, a romance, a mystery, and a romantic suspense. I read mostly genre fiction and I’m partial to anything with a puzzle in it.

Do you ever run into writers block? How do you deal with those moments?

So…yes, I have in the past. But I haven’t for a very long time because I’ve come to understand that writer’s block is really about fear–fear of failure, humiliation, rejection and any other nasty thing. Meditation has helped me to release a lot of my anxiety about writing and experience has taught me to surrender and trust the process. That helps. I give myself permission to write something terrible that I would never show to anyone. I write with the mindset that the words are for my eyes only and I never have to show them to anyone else. In other words, I try to create a safe space for myself before I begin writing.

What is your biggest challenge in writing?

Openings are always difficult. Even when I have an idea of how I want a book to progress, it’s like setting off to climb a mountain and being presented with an infinite number of trails. I come to the page with a lot of different ideas and it’s tough to pin down the story: the tone, the voice of the characters, the set-up, etc. It’s not unusual for me to write 40k words before I’m satisfied with those critical first three chapters. Once I wrote over 100k. The trouble is that I’m is usually working on a few books at once and I have to figure out how to separate them.

 How about the aspect of writing that you find comes the most naturally?

Dialogue comes pretty naturally. When characters are talking, I often feel like I’m watching them interact and simply transcribing what they say. I hear their voices.

mrwrong2How do you come up with your story ideas?

Writing a book is a mysterious process that I’ve decided I’m no longer going to pretend to understand. Sometimes stories feel inspired, but not always. Sometimes it’s work at first and the inspiration comes later. When I’m actively trying to plot a story, I like to put unlikely elements together in order to generate conflict from the premise. I ask, “What if?”  So in SEEKING MR. WRONG, I asked, “What if a sweet, mild-mannered kindergarten teacher had to write erotica?” There’s inherent tension from the start.

You’ve been writing and publishing for six years, how do you think the industry for romance writers has changed? Has it been for the better or worse?

Self-publishing has created a huge shift in the industry, particularly for romance writers. I think any time there are more options for readers and writers, that’s a good change, though others in the industry might disagree. E-books have leveled the playing field and allowed writers to connect directly to their readers. I love that people who live in remote areas can find my books in an online bookstore and read them immediately–that’s amazing. But there are also more expectations with technology. Authors are expected to be on all kinds of social media formats, send out newsletters, and blog. Writers can literally spend all day running their social media platforms. I’ve had to make choices about how to use my time and interact with readers while preserving most of my time for, you know, writing and real life.

You’ve published three romantic suspense novels and four contemporary romance novels. What is your favorite genre to write?

Right now I’m enjoying writing light contemporary romance because it brings me to a happier place. I love romantic suspense, but it can get awfully heavy. It’s nice to write about people falling in love when there are no bombs going off.

Is romantic suspense easier or harder to write than contemporary?

It’s harder. Talk about subplots! Right off the bat you have to balance a suspense plot with a plausible romance. The characters’ lives are in danger, but you have to make it seem reasonable that they would fall in love at that moment. Hard, right? And if you’re writing a suspense plot that involves an intricate mystery, you’ve got a lot to juggle. The suspense has to drive the romance and vice versa. It’s an amazing feat when it’s done well.

Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written?b1llzn6xhas-_ux250_

The book I’m currently working on is usually my favorite. But of the books I’ve published, my favorite romantic suspense is “When No One Is Watching” and my favorite contemporary romance is “Seeking Mr. Wrong.”

Do you think fans of your romantic suspense will enjoy Seeking Mr. Wrong? Why or why not?

I sure hope so! I always strive to write an intelligent, independent heroine and a strong hero with a heart of gold. If my romantic suspense readers have enjoyed the characters in previous novels, I hope they will give Lettie and Eric a chance. Even if there are no corpses.

For more information about Natalie and her latest book, Seeking Mr. Wrong, check out her website and follow her on Twitter at @Tallie_Charles!