Submission Material Feedback and How I Met This Year’s Newbery Medal Winner

Man oh man, lots has been going on.

Let’s Talk About the Agent Bootcamp

I got comments back on my query letter, synopsis and 9 pages of my manuscript. Much like every other time I’ve invested (money) in my writing, I do not regret it. It was incredibly helpful. In case you missed it, I participated in an Agent One on One Bootcamp to get some of my submission materials reviewed.

First, the agent said she really liked my synopsis and said it was the best she read in the Bootcamp! Woohoo! Of course the point of these programs is constructive criticism, but trust me, I will take any confidence booster I can get. This process is long and subjective and full of unknowns, so I was really happy when she said that. I even wrote a post about how to write a Synopsis for The Write Practice. 🙂

Then, she gave me some tips on my query letter. Generally, she said it was too long and detailed (mind you, the whole thing was four paragraphs), but she liked the bio. In my query, I mentioned that the manuscript is written in a format similar to Terry McMillan’s Disappearing Acts. So she replaced my summary with the blurb from that book and told me to use that as a guide. Doing so showed me that my summary in the query should be more about showing the tension between the characters than explaining exactly what happens. I’ve read a million things about query letters, but something about that comment made me finally get it.

How do I know I got it? Because one agent who I sent only the query (no sample pages or synopsis) asked for my entire manuscript. And this was straight from the slush pile. A couple of agents have read up to 100 pages of my manuscript, but I had met all of them in advance (at a writer’s retreat). I just cold called this lady and she responded based solely on this one letter. (For those of you who don’t know, the process usually consists of a request for a few chapters or the first 50 pages, and then a request for the full thing.) So now I feel pretty confident in my query, thank goodness.

Finally, she gave me some tips on my first pages, which was helpful because no one had read them before. I’ve re-written those things so many times now, I can’t even tell you what draft it is. This time I made sure there was some action. Seems obvious, but it’s much easier said than done—I think I got it though. (Ask me again in a month.)  Anyway, she said my manuscript was too contemporary for her, but recommended that I pitch one of her colleagues and if she passed, to try her again. 😀

About That Newbery Medal Winner…

Yeah, about that.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to this mini writer’s retreat in Bowie, Maryland. Basically it was just a bunch of local writers writing in the basement of Marita Golden—who has published over a dozen books—for 5 hours. It was a great, inspiring setting with about 6 or so writers and at the end we discussed what we were working on. One of the people I met was a guy named Kwame Alexander. He seemed like he knew he what he was doing, but honestly, so did everyone else in that room.

Little did I know that two days later he would win the NEWBERY MEDAL aka the most prestigious award for American literature for children!  I’M SERIOUS. To give you an idea, past winners and honorees include Beverly Clearly, E.B. White (for Charlotte’s Webb), Lois Lowry (The Giver), Fred Gipson (Old Yeller).

I’m so proud of him, and I would be even if I hadn’t met him. It should not be lost on any of the readers of this blog how important it is to have an African American winner of this award (and he’s D.C. based!). Children and adults all over the country (world?) will be reading this book (maybe even assigned it in school), and that’s amazing for readers and writers everywhere. I’m so happy!!

Kwame’s book is called The Crossover. Buy it!!

The Crossover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Week: Query-Writing Bootcamp

I wonder how much money I’ve spent on this noveling endeavor.  I’ve taken classes, hired a developmental editor, gone on retreats, entered contests, purchased Snowflake Pro. .. I do believe all of these things have made me and my manuscript better, but shite.  It’s adding up.  Maybe that’s why so many professionals have managed to write novels on the side.  They’re the only ones who can afford it!

Anyway, I bring this up because I have spent money again.

This time on an agent one-on-one Bootcamp through Writer’s Digest.  This is how it works:  you gain access to an online tutorial on query letters and other submission materials taught by two literary agents (Tuesday).  Then, over the next two days you revise accordingly.  You also gain access to a 3-hour discussion board on each day where the agents are required to answer everyone’s questions (Wednesday and Thursday).  On the final day, you submit your query letter and the first 10 pages of your manuscript (or the first 9 pages and a 1-page synopsis) for real-life agents to review (today).  They have two weeks to provide comments.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this week.  Learning, chatting, revising.  I bought the course because I’m at the submission stage and I knew my query needed work.  I wrote it 6 months ago and the experience was so tedious, it actually reminded me of the Law Review competition in law school! ::shudder::

For those of you who don’t know, after a year of enduring the most difficult year of law school and finishing all your finals and submitting all your papers- boom!  You’re asked to write another paper  for a chance to participate in a prestigious extracurricular activity- Law Review.  The competition was, literally, my worst experience in law school.  That’s what writing my query letter was like last summer.  I spent a year and a half writing and editing an entire novel, and when I was done, I had to write a letter that pitched and summarized both my story and myself in 3 paragraphs.  It was ridic.  It sucked.

I did the best I could at the time, but that’s not saying much.  So I figured the Bootcamp would provide me with useful feedback and, more importantly, motivate me to take another stab at the letter with fresh eyes.

I know for a fact my query is a lot better now.  For one thing, it’s more accurate.  Originally, I had been pitching this thing as a love story, now I describe it as a coming-of-age novel.  I also learned from the discussion board that first-time novelists should note if they have used a developmental editor in the query- who knew?  I asked the agents if they found it more difficult to pitch diverse characters/writers to editors.  They more or less said no.

Overall, I would say that the tutorial was fine, but I never would have paid for just that.  The value in this Bootcamp is the interactions with the agents and the feedback I will receive from them, as they read and judge these things literally every day. It also doesn’t hurt that my submission essentially doubles as a pitch.  The agents reserved the right to ask for more pages if they like you and it just so happens that the agency, Kimberley Cameron & Associates, was on my list.

So it’s been a productive week.  I should receive comments by Feb. 7th, and after incorporating the feedback, I will be back to pitching!  In case you’re wondering, yes, I do still have some minor revisions, but nothing crazy.  I’ll be done (again) soon!!

I’ll keep you posted!!

 

 

I Think I Had a Breakthrough!

I had a couple of ideas for today’s post.  I could discuss the recent devaluing of the accomplishments of a national book award winner.  Or, I could apply the recent teachings of Chris Rock to the publishing industry.  OR I could talk about an epiphany I had about my manuscript.

I chose option 3. Mainly because I’ve discovered that the posts about my personal struggles (e.g., how not writing is makes me feel fat) usually get the most hits. Those and the ones with Kanye in the title- no wonder CNN keeps posting those stories about weight loss and reality stars!

Anyway, let’s just say I’ve spent the last couple of months pondering about my manuscript. Pondering the things that must be changed within it, but also pondering about the way I pitched to the dozen or so agents I sent query letters to.

Perhaps the little thing that I know needs to be changed (yet haven’t been able to figure out) does not actually concern my manuscript, but rather my query letter. I’ve read that one of the fatal mistakes people make when pitching agents is inaccurately describing the story. The result is that the agent asks for some pages expecting one thing, and gets another. Or, perhaps more tragically, an agent passes on pages because they think it’s about one thing, when they were actually looking for something like what you wrote.

I have described my story as a love story or, alternatively, a story about a relationship (probably on this blog, but definitely in my query letter). What inspired me to write it? Well, what I learned about how a relationship can change you- it forces you to figure out your fundamental values, you experience growth from combining your hopes and dreams with someone else’s, and for a lot of people, heartbreak is the first time they experience grief.

Wait a second!

If that’s why I wrote this thing, then it’s not really a love story. It’s a coming of age story! The love story/relationship is just the catalyst. I mean it’s still central and important, but not the point. Really, it’s a dual coming of age story, because both the male and female protagonist evolve and learn about themselves from the experience.  There’s also the black lives matter angle (black fictional lives in this case)- that is, I make some conscious efforts to depict aspects of black life that I don’t see a lot.  I also don’t really talk about that in my pitch.

I’m not sure how much the rest of the world cares about this, but it feels good to have a mini breakthrough.   Happy holidays!!!