Anatomy of a Denial Letter

Usually there isn’t much to a denial letter. They tend to be single-celled organisms consisting of one line of text with some variation of, “this isn’t for me.” However, last week I got a really good denial letter (if one can consider such a thing to exist). It is always gratifying to hear why the manuscript you slaved over for eternity and the query letter that took nearly as long to perfect aren’t “for” someone. So today I am going to share this more detailed denial along with some of my thoughts.

“–There is a lot of telling instead of showing. Telling informs the reader but also distances him/her from the story. For example: “She listened to music” is very different from “She tapped her leg to the beat of her favorite song.” One tells while the other immerses the reader in the moment.”

I think this makes a very valid point. Definitely something to look out for while editing. Although, I think this might a more prevalent problem in the beginning of Capacitance as I was not truly in my narrative stride. Good red flag to go back and look for!

“–There is a lot of backstory–information given solely for the benefit of the reader that does not fit with the character’s natural thought patterns. Decide what’s essential, what you can reveal later, and what you can cut. A lot of the internal and external dialogue is unnatural. Try to write the way real people think and speak”
How does one find the balance between drawing the reader in and not giving too much backstory too soon? The struggle! However, I am getting this a lot when I do get feedback–that too much of the plot happens too soon. It seems to be conflicting advice sometimes. One guideline will say “immerse the reader in the story” while the other says “don’t give away too much too soon.” Frustrating, but since I have heard this critique more than once a restructured opening might be something to consider. I really disagree with the latter portion of this section. Yes my character’s internal and external dialogue is more elevated than what today’s average person uses. However, this is a world building element. The students of the University (especially Meditrinum users like Mara) are more elevated than the average being. They are smarter and more mature and thus use speech that might come as “unnatural.” Perhaps I need to drive this point home in the text–the University is selective and its students are above average. Unfortunately no non-University characters come into the text for awhile; maybe that could be something to add for contrast.
“–Your character’s name is overused. Use the name sparingly, especially when “she” would suffice.”
Solid editing advice. I never would have thought of this problem on my own, but when I read it I definitely felt like it was a true statement. I will definitely scan the text and correct overuse problems.
–Adverbs are overused. Adverbs should be used quite sparingly in fiction writing. It’s considered a “no-no” in the publishing world.Β 
I had heard this once before, and hearing it again saddens me. I love adverbs, but lesson learned. I will go back and revise accordingly.
“We think your story idea has merit and encourage you to continue revising it.
We wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors!”
Nice end note that doesn’t feel like it is part of some automated response! If only all denial letters were like this… πŸ™‚

New Week, New Strategies

This week I am starting off with some new strategies for querying agents. Referring to my post on writing dystopian, I feel like it is going to be difficult to find the agent that is searching for that particular genre. However, they are out there, I just have to find them!

Today I googled “literary agent dystopian,” and got some hits. While I didn’t check out many links today, I did find an agent who loves dystopian worlds and immediately made out a query letter for her. I think this is a better strategy than I have had previously where I would search good agencies and then go to whatever agents were available there, regardless of whether they specifically said dystopian. I also plan to use this strategy with the New Adult category. Since that is a growing genre, surely I will be able to find agents specifically searching for it.

Another new strategy I am using quite frequently is the Writer’s Digest new literary agents spotlight. I am on the fence about new agents. For one, they have less experience than more established agents. However, they are more actively building their client base. For me, it’s definitely worth a shot. I am a young writer with little experience and if a similarly young agent wants to take a chance on me, I’ll take a chance on them. I will definitely be referring to the new literary agent spotlight list from now on. Not only for the agent information, but also because it leads me to other agencies to explore. For instance I clicked on a new agent profile, then linked to her agency website and from there ended up querying another agent and heading over to a new agency’s website that was listed in the bio of the agent I queried.

Using these new strategies, I am looking forward to heading into a productive week of querying and writing. Happy Monday!

My Week: SCBWI, Queries & Even Some Chapters

The end of the week is here and the end of summer is coming. But while these things come to an end, I am still looking towards the future with optimism! My biggest news this week is I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). While at the conference in Austin, I learned that the New Adult genre is technically still considered young enough for me to be considered an SCBWI author. I am very excited that I finally took the plunge and joined a writers association, especially one with such a vibrant and exciting community as SCBWI. They have a conference every summer in Los Angeles which I have heard is great, so I definitely will look into attending that in 2016! At the very least, my query letter is looking much better since I can include SCBWI membership in my credentials!

I did send out a fair amount of query letters this week. Not a huge amount, but I stuck to my small goal of 2 per day. I am really liking that pace. I don’t get overwhelmed by querying, but the agents reached out to steadily adds up. Plus, by not sending out a huge inundation of queries, this gives me time to tweak my letter as I go and see how different variations ofΒ  it work. With that being said, I got a denial in my inbox this morning, so more fuel to the fire to succeed there!

As for writing, that is still rolling on quite slowly. That routine is the hardest to get back into. On Monday I was feeling under the weather and was still trying to write a chapter and the general feels were “I just can’t.” So I stopped mid chapter right before Mara was going to have a big block of dialogue. I was really glad I did that because the next day I came back and got at it and came out with really good text–certainly better than it would have been had I tried to write mid throbbing headache!

I hope everyone has a great last weekend of August! πŸ™‚

Writing for a “Dead” Market?

I’ll admit it, I’m writing dystopian. The first step is admitting you have a problem. While many people still thoroughly enjoy this genre, the market for it from a publisher’s perspective is (as far as I can tell) pretty dead. The number of denied queries I am amassing speaks to this fact. So what does a frustrated writer do in this situation?

First of all, it’s even more frustrating because I understand the situation completely. Knowing the principles of basic supply and demand as well as the way trends go, it makes total sense that savvy literary professionals such as agents and editors are not jumping at the chance to grab more titles that boast corollaries to the wildly popular (currently) Hunger Games and Divergent. Instead agents and editors want to snatch up the next big craze, which will certainly be in a totally different and unexpected genre.

So I get it. But I don’t want to stop writing the story I am trying to tell. I didn’t decide to write about Mara and Runey because I wanted to write the next Hunger Games. Despite what the genre may suggest, I am not writing for a trend. The story came to me and clamored to be told, so I am telling it, despite its marketability with literary professionals. I have read many articles and blog posts that say “shelve your dystopian/paranormal projects,” but I disagree. Personally, I don’t like to leave work unfinished. Especially something as near to my heart and soul as my writing. It would feel like more of a failure to shove Mara and Runey in a drawer than even if they never make it to the bookshelves.

Thus, the writing goes on. So does the querying. I have nowhere near exhausted my list of possibilities for getting published. Somewhere out there is surely an agent who will be as enthusiastic about my project as I am. I just have to be persistent until I find that person. Writing novels and querying is also good practice. Should this project end up shelved once it’s finished, at least I got the great experience of writing a trilogy and getting to know the professional side of the business. It will be great experience for my next book. πŸ™‚

There is hope when writing in a “dead” genre. One of my friends that I met at the Las Vegas conference wrote a paranormal romance novel (the same genre as the supposedly played out Twilight sensation), and she just landed a book deal with publication coming in 2016. Read about her story here: http://linkis.com/www.cmmccoy.com/blog/p4Ia8 . And if you’re writing in one of these hard to sell genres, I would love to hear your story/strategy! Above all, never give up on your self as a writer or your story.

Friday Updates

I am a little ashamed of this edition of Friday updates as it is not as successful a report as I would like to convey! Once again I am struggling with the pressure to write very quickly but still attending to my other obligations. Nonetheless, I am trying not to judge myself on the lack of chapters written (in the meantime wondering why I set these goals for myself when I know they probably won’t happen).

I wanted to get Resistance done through Chapter 10 by the end of this week as I leave for Colorado tomorrow. It was a rather achievable goal as it required me to write one chapter per day for each day of this work week (my usual pace). However, things got hectic, as I fully knew they would. I had social obligations pop up, an out of town appointment yesterday, and general French Bulldog disasters most days. Plus, I still haven’t packed for my trip (a usual procrastination). Resistance sits calmly waiting for me to pick up and write Chapter 8, and with the to-do list I have for today I’ll be lucky if I get even that done.

All that being said, I still feel good about the manuscript. It is very dark this time around and thus it is harder to submerge myself in the material. The characters are going through some experiences that are hard to write about, but their emotions after these experiences have happened are even harder to convey. I don’t want to stereotype their reactions, or worse (in my opinion) archetype their reactions. I want these characters to be genuine and authentic; while there is, to some extent, an archetypal element in all forms of human behavior, it is important to know about it but still deviate from it in some way that is unique and speaks to your characters. That has been a struggle, but a rewarding one as it forces me to think deeply about the characters as a whole. This third book has a very different feel; I wanted it to be purposefully disorienting both to give the readers a sense of how much Runey and Mara are going through and also to give the book a sense of desperation and urgency. Throughout the trilogy the threat has been veiled and that veil has been sliding off slowly but surely throughout the series–now it has been yanked off to reveal the horrible things it was covering before. It’s a hard thing to deal with as a writer. Gravity and urgency makes for a difficult balance to maintain. And that, friends, is the best I can do to explain myself and lake of prolific-ness with this MS.

Agent updates: Nothing really new to report. I am hearing back from a few queries in the form of denials. The agent who requested my full manuscript has not gotten back to me yet and we are nearing the two month mark in which either she promised to respond and if not I am supposed to drop her a line reminding her. This deadline makes me both nervous and excited. What if I email her only to find out she never got the manuscript as it went to spam or whatnot and thus I have to wait another two months after re-submitting?? Lots of “what-ifs”! I continue to have nothing but great things to say about the agents I met at the WLT Conference. One of them dropped me a quick line to say he got my query and would respond again soon (unheard of!). And another emailed me to say the work wasn’t for him, but he would pass it on to someone in his agency who he thought might be a better fit. So impressed! They are actually real people, you guys! πŸ™‚ Once I get back from vacation, I plan to start another round of querying. I want to try and challenge myself to write one query per day, every weekday. Let’s see if that goal goes by the way of my finishing Chapter 10 this week goal…haha.

I hope everyone has a great weekend! I am going to try and see if I can be technologically savvy enough to set up an automated post for Chapter 10 on Monday. I apologize in advance if I am not bright enough to figure that out. Adios!

Writer’s League of Texas Conference #WLT2015

I just returned from my fabulous weekend in Austin–I seriously could not have had a better experience at this conference! I would definitely recommend this conference to any author because of its professionalism and awesome selection of agents. πŸ™‚

The location for the conference was amazing; Austin is a wonderful city and the conference was held at the downtown Hyatt. This made it easy to sight see during down time as many shops, bars and restaurants were within walking distance. However, there was not much downtime because the weekend was packed full of action for writers at the conference! Friday afternoon kicked off with genre meetings where writers of the same genre got together and had a Q&A session with published genre authors. This was a great way to get acquainted with fellow attendees and hear what they were working on. My favorite part of Friday was the evening cocktail reception–and, no, not just because of the wine! Rather, this informal gathering was set up for conference goers to meet the agents and editors that were present. All the agents and editors that were featured in the program WERE present at this cocktail reception, AND they were willing to talk and be pitched to by writers. After attending the Las Vegas conference, I realize how great and important this was. In Vegas, agents were never present during the informal times; they were either hearing pitches, teaching a session, or even hiding in their rooms. The agents at WLT2015 were always there and willing to listen to writers, even though authors were veritably swarming the poor agents! Thanks to this well facilitated reception, by Friday night I already had an agent request pages of my work.

Saturday, I ran into rather the same problem that I had at the Las Vegas conference–most of the sessions and workshops presented information I already was aware of. Thus, the Saturday sessions were more about listening to variations on a common theme. Most sessions were geared towards the business side, and I (once again) went a little heavy on those, but I think it is important to see agents in action, telling you their opinions. It makes them seem like more of human beings and less of heartless entities of rejection. The best part about Saturday were the pitch sessions. Each conference attendee could have two sessions, so I got the chance to pitch to two agents, both of whom were interested in my project and asked to see pages. The first agent I pitched toΒ  was extremely nice and–although he wasn’t sure if he would be taking on a New Adult project–still wanted me to send him material that he would pass on to someone else in his agency who would lean more towards that. My second pitch was great because the agent took a great deal of effort to give me some very helpful tips for getting my pitch down into one line–she then said when I had that one line, I should send it to her along with pages. I thought that was a great opportunity as it gives me the opportunity to prove to her that I took her advice to heart and worked at it. However, possibly my most valuable agent experience was when I ran into an agent from the agency who requested my full manuscript a few weeks ago. I met this other agent by the elevator and casually mentioned that her boss had requested my full manuscript. She was super nice and said she would give Miriam (agent I’m on submission to) a nudge and tell her she had met me.

The best session of the weekend was on Sunday morning when I went to a first page workshop. I absolutely LOVED the advice that was given during that session. The session leader led us through several very successful first pages and pointed out some key elements of writing a good first page. If you have been reading my blog, you know that the first page/chapter of Capacitance has been a struggle, so this class was great for me and has inspired me to maybe give my first page another try before sending it out to more agents. Add to this the fact that even though most of the agents were trying to get to the airport, but they still stopped by the luncheon for last minute connections, and you have the perfect end to a great weekend.

In conclusion, this conference was great and I did learn a few words of advice that I will pass on to fellow writers who might be considering a conference. First of all (and this is most important), DON’T BE NERVOUS when pitching to agents!! Your words come out stilted, you forget things, and–worst of all–you don’t seem sure about yourself or your story. Agents are, at the end of the day, just people and they are nothing to be scared of. If they like you, they are more willing to like your work, so keep it on even ground when talking to them–trust me, they will appreciate it after a day of endless stammers and groveling from the majority of authors. Second, let the experience give you confidence, but don’t let it go to your head. Chances are at a conference, if you have a manuscript finished, you will get asked for material. Yes, that is thrilling, but it doesn’t mean you’ve “made it.” I made that mistake last conference–everyone asked for pages, so I came home with this enormous boost of confidence. However, from my (albeit limited) experience, if you are taking the effort to be at a conference, agents see you are one step ahead of the query slush pile, and thus, they will put you one step ahead and ask for pages almost by default. No matter what, when an agent asks you for pages, you should feel good, but don’t let it get to your head! Finally, don’t feel obligated to go to all of the sessions–this isn’t high school! If something doesn’t appeal to you, or even if you just need a nap, then by all means go take a break. You won’t burn out that way and you will be fresh and ready to make new connections. Now that you have all this advice, keep the Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference in mind for next year! πŸ™‚

First Chapter Musings + Some Exciting News!

Happy Friday! Sorry I have been absent from the blog most of the week. Summer comes along with its slow heat compelling one to be outside and not in front of the computer screen. I hope everyone enjoyed the first chapter I posted on Monday! Today I wanted to share some thoughts about that chapter, and how this story got started.

I got the idea for Capacitance shortly after I graduated from college. I wanted to tell a story involving college age characters on a university setting. While I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined I would be writing sci-fi, that is the direction the story took. I wanted my university students to be different than those of today. Hence, Mara’s consternation over her research–what she is doing is terribly important not only to her academic career, but also to society as a whole. Some people (mostly adults who have been jaded by the hedonistic existence of their own college age children) aren’t able to grasp this concept of university level students acting so mature and professional; however, it is this exact sort of bending of the norm which I wanted to portray. Blending the familiar with the new is a tactic I use quite a lot in this series of books–I want readers to feel a connection to the characters and their experiences so that they find the dystopian future world of Capacitance eerily relatable.

One particular aspect of college that definitely influenced my first chapter is a hatred for group projects. Throughout my career at KSU, these group projects would loom up on the syllabus landscape, causing dread throughout the ranks of students. I never met a fellow student who enjoyed group projects, and it was always a struggle to get a group of college students–all with very different schedules and levels of motivation!–together at a convenient time to work productively. In my experience, a group project always meant a collective sigh of frustration; thus, Mara’s reaction (although hyperbolic, given her situation) is definitely one any college student can relate to.

Sharing my first chapter of Capacitance not just here on the blog, but with agents as well, has led me to some exciting news! Last night I received my first request for the full manuscript from an amazing literary agent from a very reputable firm! I sent her my query letter and the first chapter of Capacitance a little over a month ago, and got a request for material last night. It is thrilling in and of itself, but also helps me feel more confident. I had been finding myself in a slump due to the rejections that were piling up, so to have an agent ask for the full manuscript feels great–even if nothing comes of it, at least I know I am doing something right. The first chapter I sent to this agent which lead to her request was not exactly the same as the one I posted on Monday; as you may remember from a previous post, I rewrote the first chapter recently. While I am slightly shocked that an agent was still interested even after all the exposition my unrevised chapter contained, I am mollified that the first chapter wasn’t as horrible as I thought. Many agents take upwards of two months to get through and decide on a full manuscript, so it could be a long wait, but I will definitely keep you all posted on this exciting development! In the meantime, I am going to keep writing, keep querying, keep persisting! As a celebration of this exciting news, I will be posting Chapter 2 on Monday! πŸ™‚

Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference 2015

I had so much fun attending the Henderson Writers’ Group Conference in Las Vegas, that I just registered for another conference next month! I will be attending the Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference June 26-28 in Austin, Texas! Since I live in Kansas (and drive a fun little car) I am going to be road tripping down south–just me and the open road, mind clear, practicing my pitch. I can’t wait!

The pitch will be important as there are 19 literary agents from big name agencies such as Trident, Writers House, and Curtis Brown, to name a few! While pitch sessions with agents are paid add-ons to the conference fee and are limited to two agents (I won’t be table hopping my pitch to everyone like I did in Vegas, haha!), the number of agents at this conference makes it more likely that I will be able to approach them in a casual setting. This conference appears to include a lot of casual settings, like cocktail hours, that could be great opportunities to meet and network with the agents and editors. I am going for all three days of the conference rather than just one day like I did in Las Vegas, so I plan to take full advantage of the opportunities to meet new people.

Considering I already have one conference under my belt, here are some things I won’t be doing this time around.

1. Stressing about my outfit. The wardrobe choices I saw at the last conference were much more casual and varied than I expected. When it comes to conferences, stay true to your personal style and you’ll be fine–worry more about polishing your pitch.

2. Bringing my entire manuscript. This is absolutely unnecessary. I know I said otherwise last time, but my aching shoulder and the entire universe of common sense would argue otherwise–everything is done through email these days. What makes you think an agent is going to love your work so much that they would be just as eager and willing as you to lug around a 300 page boxed manuscript all day? Save your posture, leave it at home.

3. Attending only business related class sessions. In Las Vegas, I stuck to the business side of writing lectures. This led to immense boredom and repetition; I had read most of the advice on the Internet due to my extensive and slightly obsessive research on query writing, agents, etc. Of course, I still plan on attending some business aspect classes as I know I still have a lot to learn, but I want to experience some writing craft sessions as well this time around.

Leave me a comment below if you’re planning on attending the #WLT2015 ! Also, I don’t believe I have mentioned this on the blog just yet, but I will be posting the first chapter of Capacitance once my Facebook page hits 100 likes. If you want to speed this process up a bit πŸ˜‰ please like my page at https://www.facebook.com/emhardenburger ! Can’t wait to start sharing my work with you all!

#QueryKombat

I have posted before about writing as a “pantser,” and now I am entering my first writing contest as a pantser. I heard about #QueryKombat at the writers conference in Las Vegas, and it sounded intriguing and a great way to gain a social media presence and, potentially, agent representation. However, querying quagmire and vacation came up and occupied most of my time, and before I knew it, the contest date had arrived. Thus, my “pantser” attitude towards it all. I was not going to enter, because I have not spent countless hours preparing. This fact still gives me pause, but I think I need to throw my hat in the ring, just as a learning experience.

The #QueryKombat contest opens today (right now, actually), and contestants submit their query and the first 250 words of their MS. 64 contestants are chosen and their queries go head to head until only one winner is left. There is a judge round and then an agent round. It all sounds very interesting and certainly beneficial to make it to the agent round! If you want to learn more about the contest, you can visit this link: http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/2015/04/query-kombat-2015.html

After an intensive day of polishing my query and first 250 words, I am going to enter. I won’t deny the fact that I am a little nervous about it, but as I have said every time doubts pop up, I have to be persistent and start somewhere. Never try, never know has been a useful motto in many areas of my life, not the least in my career as a writer.

Is anyone else entering #QueryKombat? Wish me luck, and I will keep you posted!