That Time I Signed With A Literary Agent

DA

I’m going to tell you a story about a girl.

Two years ago, she had a dream she was moving to London. She woke up from the dream the next morning in Texas. She had coffee. She told her husband the dream. She always forced him to listen to her dreams in case he could make any sense of them. Yes, she was one of those people. In the dream she had been nervous to go, she had been aware it was a big deal, and a part of something even bigger. Her husband played her the Third Eye Blind song “London” to irritate her. They daydreamed for a while about a reality in which they could move to London— what that would feel like, how that would ever happen.

The girl also decided to research London literary agents because she was a writer in search of a champion, and partner, for her books.

Two years ago that girl reached out to one of them.

I am telling you that story so you understand the rest. Two years ago, I — the girl — came downstairs again and told my husband the literary agent I’d queried wanted to read my book.

Today, that agent announced she’d signed me.

What happened in between?

I grew as a writer, to start. I worked hard. I learned more about craft and story. I wrote another book. I revised and revised, and then when I was done revising, I waited. I studied screenwriting and learned skills I needed to become a better writer still. I was angry, and then I was nothing for a long time, but still I believed it was worth it to keep trying.

I stayed in touch with the literary agent from London because I liked her, maybe even a little because she was from the UK and I love the UK, and also because she’d seen promise in me early on and it had helped me through the struggle.

I revised the book again.

And Clare Wallace, the literary agent from London, gave my book another look. And when she offered me representation, I knew even if I wasn’t moving to London (just yet), my book hopefully was.

I am telling you this because many of you are in the trenches. Many feel hopeless, are hearing no, are wondering when, if, that yes will ever come. If my own journey taught me anything it is this: yes comes unexpectedly, it comes in waves and it comes in whispers, and it comes when you keep going no matter what.

This is a long game. We play it as long as we have the courage to keep getting back up after we’ve been knocked down. So keep your courage, don’t be afraid to try the unusual thing on your path, or to listen to the wish your heart made when you were fast asleep. It might be the very thing you need to break out.

Ready. Set. Write! Update # 5

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Ready. Set. WRITE! is an online writing intensive to help stay accountable with your writing goals over the summer and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on whether planning, drafting, or revising! Your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

Last Weeks Goals:

1. Write 15 Screenplay pages.

~ I wrote 18 pages. Yes. 

2. Read 100 more beta pages.

~ Done! Phew!

A favorite line from my story or one word or phrase that sums up what I wrote or revised:

Kate looks annoyed and nearly stops in the aisle.

KATE
Since when does my flirting bother
you?

ABIGAIL
Since your husband still has a
pulse.

Kate’s face tightens. Abigail sits. Kate stands for a beat, waves once at Thor, and then sits.

Biggest Challenge:

About halfway through the week I really had to fight doubt, frustration, and general life fatigue. Time is always a big issue for me this summer, too.

Something I love about my WiP:

It’s not a fantasy, which is what my YA novels are, but it is about living in a fantasy world. And it’s a lot of fun to let my nerd flag fly.

This Weeks Goals:

1.  Put together a workable plan on how to revise based on some awesome feedback for one of my manuscripts.

2. Finish pages for my CP and get her notes.

3. Write 5 screenplay pages.

 

I am Not Ashamed to Read YA

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I interrupt an otherwise pleasant Friday morning, to rant for a few moments about an article from Slate. First, you should check it out.

Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read Young Adult books.

Are you back? If you are a reader of this blog, you likely also read Young Adult fiction. Maybe you are a young adult yourself, or maybe you are also a 29-year-old mom and wife living in Texas and taking her kid to swimming lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the article, unless you count everything she says after:

“Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.”

No doubt her statistics on the amount of adults that choose to read YA fiction over Adult fiction are accurate. On one hand, she speaks to the larger issue of prolonged adolescents among twenty-somethings, which is a topic we should absolutely examine and discuss. The breakdown for me comes a few paragraphs below all that:

Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature. I’m talking about the genre the publishing industry calls “realistic fiction.”

The two novels she calls out as “trashy” are paranormal romance and dystopian, and she touts realistic YA as being the only sub-genre worth discussing (though, still berating) at all. She then acts as if there is something wrong with reading for escapism or enjoyment. That reading as an adult has to be about more than that.

Reading can be anything you want it to be. It can educate, inform, inspire. It can help you cope with reality, face hard questions, create a new world to push boundaries and challenge accepted truths. Reading can be a form of entertainment, and in a world where entertainment comes by streaming video and instantly downloadable music, the thought that a book can still capture the mind so effectively that it competes with film or music is something we should all support.

I was raised on genre fiction. The first book I remember reading, and loving, was C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, but before that my mother read-aloud Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time and all the Little House books. Genre fiction has shaped my mind and fueled my imagination well into my teens and twenties.

In fact, I still read mostly genre fiction. If it’s not YA then it will likely be science fiction or fantasy, magical realism or paranormal. And if that makes me an immature adult — still being a kid at heart, raising my own son to value his imagination, valuing my own imagination in a very pure way — then fabulous. Then yes.

Life is full of constant pressure to evolve, to suck-it-up, to make hard and fast choices. Reality is plagued by loss, by the reminder that the world we live in requires us to be brave, to work hard. Forgive me —or don’t — if I choose to read fiction for the sheer enjoyment of it. If I choose to write for teenagers, and to read extensively in the genre I write in, not just because I want to give young adults fantastic fiction they can relate to, but because I want fantastic fiction I can relate to.

I am 29-years-old and still honing my identity. I would argue that beyond the teenage experience young adult fiction is about the quest for identity. Who are we and how will we impact our world —whether our world is a small town in Texas or Middle Earth or Hogwarts — and what must we do to find out?

The author of that article goes on to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.

Why is that not enough? It seems she, and those who support this idea, expect adults to read fiction for some higher purpose. Many adults do and can. I would argue that I read fiction for a higher purpose. I read for the passion of reading. To look inside the mind of someone unlike me, or to see pieces of myself reflected. That can happen no matter the genre or age category.

cslewis

 

 

Literary Agent Interview : Kirsten Carleton of Sobel Weber Associates, Inc.

Everyone join me in a warm blog welcome to, Kirsten! I hope you guys enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

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Q: Let’s get the basics out of the way. How long have you been an agent and what was it that first attracted you to this profession in the first place?

Kirsten: I started at Sobel Weber in 2009. I’ve always been a huge reader, and for a long time, I thought I wanted to be a writer. After taking tons of writing workshops, I gradually realized that the part I liked best was giving feedback on other writers’ work, which led me to publishing. As an agent, I get to be completely in the author’s corner – his/her success is my success, so we’re working together for the same thing.

Q: Many reading this interview will be writers looking to query you with their novel. Tell us what you represent and what tops your submission wish list?

Kirsten: Right now, I’m looking for both YA and Adult fiction, literary and speculative. I love when those things overlap: novels that are both literary and speculative, for example, like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or The Magicians. Good writing is a must, and I look for strong storytelling, with a plot that moves.

Q: If there were one part of being an agent that made you want to happy dance under confetti, what would it be?

Kirsten: I love sharing a vision with a writer, and giving criticism that brings that vision to light. A lot of time, it’s just a matter of getting the author out of his/her own way. The best is when I send notes and the author responds by saying, “I knew this, I just didn’t know that I knew this.”

Q: What are a few things that will make you reject a query, hands down? What makes you jump for joy when you see it in a query?

Kirsten: Do your research. Make sure you’ve got the name of both the agency and the agent right, and that you’re querying a genre we represent. Follow the rules and treat it as professional correspondence. Tell me enough about your book that I have an idea of the story, but don’t give away the ending. Show me how well you write, but avoid gimmicks like writing the query as the main character. If you have blurbs or writing credits, include them, but I don’t need to know that God told you to write this book or that your mother really loves it. Please please please include contact information!

Q: What does a normal day look like in the life of a literary agent?

Kirsten: People always answer this by saying that there is no “normal” day, and that it varies depending on what’s on the docket. Unfortunately for the interview (but not for me), that’s basically the truth! A lot of the day is fielding email from authors and editors. I also report on and respond to submissions, and get in touch with writers whose short stories I’ve read. I don’t read or take notes at the office though – there’s no time!

Now, you’re not just a literary agent, but also a person with feelings and interests, a human being not a robot, a girl not yet a woman…you get the idea.

For some fun:

Q: If you could pick three literary, television, or film characters to travel with, who would they be and where would you go together?

Kirsten: Oh man, difficult. How about: Maddie from Code Name Verity for her sense of direction. Tyrion from Game of Thrones to talk us out of tricky situations and provide colorful commentary. And of course the Doctor, who can take us anywhere in time and space in his TARDIS.

Q: What’s a TV show you’re obsessed with? Book you wouldn’t put down even if Tom Hiddleston came in the room?

Kirsten: Right now, I’m reworking my way through Veronica Mars. I gave money to the Kickstarter, but lost track of the release date, so it’s a race to catch up before someone spoils the movie for me! I also just started Broken Harbor. I’m loving it, which is no surprise, since I’m a big fan of Tana French’s previous books.

Q: What do you do for fun that doesn’t involve books, movies, or the internet?

Kirsten: Since the weather’s finally nice today, I’m going to say hitting an outdoor happy hour with some friends. Dear weather: please stay nice!

Kirsten_Carleton_(full_size)

Bio:

As an agent, I get to be a champion for the author throughout the challenging publishing process. I love sharing an author’s vision for the book, working to help him or her uncover it, and finding a home for it with editors and readers who also feel that connection. Beyond the individual book, I want to develop satisfying and successful careers that celebrate great talent.

I’m currently seeking upmarket young adult, speculative, and literary fiction with strong characters and storytelling. I’m drawn to books that capture my attention early on with a dynamic plot, and innovative storytelling that blends or crosses genres.

Before joining Prospect Agency, I worked at Waxman Leavell and Sobel Weber Associates. I hold a B.A. in English with a Creative Writing concentration from Amherst College, and a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the Columbia Publishing Course.

Prospect Agency :: Twitter

kirsten [at] prospectagency [dot] com

A hearty thanks to Kirsten for chatting with me, and to you guys for reading! If you feel your work will connect with Kirsten, learn more about how to submit to her by visiting Waxman Leavell’s website. 

What’s Up Wednesday

whats up wednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s post. We really hope you will take part!

I am a little late today in posting, but there’s a reason…I didn’t have time this morning and I was sleepy last night. It was night, and I sometimes operate on the schedule of a three year old. I have a three year old, so this is valid.

What I’m Reading

Currently about halfway through Defiance by C.J. Redwine. I want to like this book more than I do. I’m beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with me, because books I would normally obsess over aren’t cutting it. I’m finishing the manuscript I’ve been beta reading and loving it, actually more than the published books I’ve been reading. This is a huge compliment to her, but also I think it speaks to the freshness of her idea. So…that’s exciting.

What I’m Writing

More blogging than normal. This week is the first week since sending my book to agents at the beginning of June that I have felt the itch to get back to work. Right now, my goal for writing revolves around plotting, but there is a story I think I’m going to begin working on — slowly as not to scare it away – that I will probably develop for a while. It’s a horse of a different color and will be a beast for me to write, I think. Also, I feel the sequel to my book has a beginning forming in my mind, and I’m kind of loving it —in theory. That will probably happen next week.

What Inspires Me

Taylor Swift songs. I am thoroughly embarrassed by this and turning an unflattering shade of pink right now. I can’t actually tell you why I began listening to her, but I would like to account for it with creative license. There is something deeply Young Adult about her music. Something that evokes the emotions of later adolescents so easily. Also —the catchiness. I mean, I’m not 22 but…sometimes I feel it.

Teens sitting on ratty carpet in a circle. There’s something about being cross legged on the floor surrounded by your friends that makes you forget you don’t want to talk. The acting/writing workshop today was all about the screen test and how you pull an idea out of your ass. When we opened the floor up for discussion, there was a noticeable sigh. But one kid started talking, and before we knew it, they had decided (almost unanimously) on a jumping off point for their miniseries. Plus, watching their faces, observing their mannerisms, the interactions they thought no one noticed, the excitement they poorly concealed, was fascinating and throughly educational.

What Else I’m Up To

My son is slightly high-maintenance. He’s smart as a whip, and that translates to him intensely and single-mindedly running the day. Right now, he is fascinated with math. Adding and subtracting on a basic level, counting from a random number until he can’t count any higher, puzzles.

I am not math person so much, this makes for interesting conversations. He gives me dirty looks. A LOT.

Trying to catch up with friends.

Painting walls in my house that looked like some dirty-palmed urchin came along and used the wall as a canvas for his filthy art.

So…what about you?

It’s a Reading thing, not a Girl or Boy thing.

During my normal rounds this AM of the interweb I discovered this post, by author  D.S. Cahr, about publishers marketing YA books largely to girls. This is not new news, but I thought I’d add my (brief) two-cents. Make sure to check out the link above, and learn more about the author’s book The Secret Root. (I am an admitted book whore, but this one sounds pretty dad-gum awesome.)

So, my thoughts, in a possibly random order. Books do not have gender. They are not Boy or Girl. (I believe Libba Bray said that, and she is a brilliant example of not writing for gender.) Some will inherently appeal more to one gender, but that shouldn’t stop the other from reading it.

As the author states, Divergent and The Hunger Games, both featuring female protagonists, have been universally loved by boy readers. Why? Katniss and Tris are both pretty kick ass. They are more plot driven (which is YA in general, not just YA for boys), and they do not shy away from violence and/or action. The romance is solid, but not the focus of the story.

Other books, with similar components, are being marketed as Girl books, even if boys would probably dig them. (I think any book written by Maggie Stiefvater will appeal to boys. Her boys rock.)

I am writing a YA book that is told in first person POV by a seventeen year old girl.  It is plot-driven. It has violence and action. The romance is important to the plot, but not the only thing in the plot. The Boy has an arc with super-high stakes and tons of drama, making him a very strong, conflicted masculine counterpart.

My book will likely be marketed to girls.

This irritates me. Girls are already more likely to read a book featuring a male protagonist than boys will for a female. The pressure to be masculine is greater than the pressure to be feminine. Girls who dress in baseball caps and cut-offs, or like sports and the outdoors, are considered cool and cute. Boys who pay attention to their clothes, like art or aren’t into sports, are considered pansies.

This may not be true everywhere. I remember in New York, one of my mom-friends said she got her son a make-up kit and let him play dress up in princess gear. Sam has never been inclined to wear make-up (although, he has quite literally painted his face), and dress up is reserved for superhero costumes, but if he were, I’d let him. Self-expression is important in developing identity. New York City is not the norm, and in many parts of the country, this double-standard is still an issue.

To say a romantic book cannot be for boys, or a violent book cannot target girls, is bullshit. Boys can like romance. They can be hopeless romantics as much as girls. I have a brother who fits into the category wholeheartedly. However, he is not a reader. Why? Because early on he wasn’t connecting with the books he was being told he should connect with.

I guess, what I’m trying to say (not so elegantly) is publishers shouldn’t decide a book is Boy or Girl, but should market it as a book. Teens are smart. They can decide if they like something without you telling them to like it. To pander to the lowest common denominator is just selling your audience short. Teens do not like to be talked down to.

Publishers are about making the most money. This is fact because books are also a business. Wouldn’t they make more money if girls and boys could feel comfortable reading whatever book they want?

Processes

Lady Writer

I’m doing this workshop with author Nova Ren Suma. If you don’t know her books yet, or haven’t found her blog, you can follow my links below. She is brilliant, as a writer, and supremely cool as a person.

Nova stuff:

Blog

Goodreads for her books Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone 

Twitter handle @novaren

Someone in the workshop, which is also full of talented budding writers, requested we share our specific writing process. I was formulating my response, and decided it would make a great blog post. Or, a decent one anyway.

The writing process is as subjective as reading can be. There is no ONE RIGHT WAY, just as there is no ONE RIGHT OPINION. By necessity, not desire, I am a very flexible writer. Which is why my process must be discussed in two parts.

New York:

We lived in Brooklyn for close to two years. I began writing my novel sometime in October of 2011. At that point I was writing during my son’s naps. I made my goal 1500 words a day. I usually achieved that, and if I didn’t, I tried to make up for it. (FYI this may have contributed to by first draft’s utter shittiness.) But I completed the first draft at 72,000 words in April of 2012. Then the revisions began, or the rewrites, or the slashings. Over the summer I got a college student friend of a very reliable friend to come keep my son five hours a day, three days a week. Then my son would nap, so I could write more.

That writing took place at a cafe. I wrote, tried to decipher the wonder of Twitter, and blogged, in the bustle. I have learned to tune everything out when writing. (Like, right now, my son is jumping up and down beside me on the couch. I DONT CARE.) Unfortunately, people in my life seem annoyed by my single-mindedness. I have a sibling who now thinks my only response to life-altering news is, “Umm-hmm, that’s interesting.” Followed by the tapping of keys.

We traveled a lot during our time in NYC. I wrote on airplanes, library’s, the obgyn. This meant that I also had to write through my exhaustion, or boredom, or desire to have some fun.

Texas:

(Current writing process, most of the time. Only been this way four weeks.)

Monday, Wednesday, & Friday my son attends Montessori school. I write pretty much the entire time he is there. Sometimes, I make my dear husband go get him from school to eek out a few more minutes. I have a dedicated workspace that may be my favorite place in the world. I have written about it before on my blog here. It’s up a ladder on the thrid floor of our house which overlooks an exspanse of oak trees budding out for spring.

My productivity is shocking in this environment. My husband has recently asked me, (to my standard self-absorbed response) if make-up and showering had gone out the window in the light grand inspiration.

I can honestly say, though, that I consider each incarnation of my writing process to be worthwhile. Being able to write no matter where you are and what is going on is really important. Certain kinds of writing are better in certain places. Certain foods and drink can encourage certain words and emotions, just like music can. I drank moonshine once for character development. (Not reccommended.) But all forms, all processes, are valid.

I don’t plot. I spend a lot of time revising and mulling because of this. At this stage in revision I do plan scenes and subsequent scenes when a rewrite is in order. I do a lot of jotting, and going, “Yeah, that’s better. I don’t want to punch that scene in the groin anymore.”

To each his own.

So, what’s your process? If you care to share.