A few months ago, I interviewed my awesome agent, Susan Hawk, for The Middle Grade Mafia. In case you missed it, I thought I’d share her thoughts here.  Here are quick Ten Questions with Susan Hawk. Enjoy!

susan_hawk

The number one questions has to be, “What are you looking for?” I found this on your website: In middle-grade and YA, I’m looking for unforgettable characters, rich world-building, and I’m a sucker for bittersweet; bonus points for something that makes me laugh out loud. I’m open to mystery, fantasy, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre). In picture books, I’m looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and indelible characters. I’m interested in non-fiction that relates to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world. I’m actively looking for diversity in the stories and authors that I represent. My favorite projects live at the intersection of literary and commercial.    Is this still correct? Anything else you’d like to add?

SH: It is! The books that I love the very most all share a couple things in common: the characters are complicated people whose hearts are big, as big as the mistakes they sometimes make. And in spite of those mistakes, these characters are wrestling with life, engaged in discovering the best parts of themselves and the people around them, all while seeing how people are unexpected, contradictory. I want writers who are interested in complexity, who aren’t afraid to show the good parts, and the bad, of their characters. The richest, most memorable books come directly from characters of the same quality.

Read More Looking for a Literary Agent? Meet mine!

Agents

pitch_wars

When I got a message last week from Brenda Drake regarding filling in as a mentor for Pitch Wars, I was hesitant. I wanted to be involved, but I’m on deadline with my own revisions, and it would make things a little tight.  Still, the absolute best thing about this whole publishing process for me has been the ability to connect with and encourage other writers, so I decided to go for it. I am so glad I did! I’ve been happily reading submissions since Friday and I’ve already been reminded of some very important lessons.

1. The QUERY is vitally important.

The first thing I did when I got my submissions was to quickly read through the queries. There were several that really popped and I couldn’t wait to read the 1st chapter.  Because I want to give everyone a fair shake, I read everyone’s 1st chapters, not just the ones that grabbed me, but a busy agent would probably just pass. Work that query until it shines before submitting.

2. The FIRST CHAPTER is ALSO vitally important.

There were some real standouts in my folder. Whether it was the voice that I connected with, the hook, or just good old-fashioned story-telling, I wanted to read more. Obviously, you don’t want just one good chapter; the whole book has to be well done, but a great first chapter shows what you’re capable of producing. Make that first chapter sing!

3. REJECTION Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

If you’re participating in Pitch Wars, your ears are probably burning. The mentors have been talking about their favorites, trying to decide which ONE they will eventually pick. There are several entries that consistently show up on all the lists, but due to the ONE limitation, there’s a good chance many good ones won’t get picked. In the end, we have to choose based on what manuscript speaks to us, which ones can we connect with, and which ones we feel like we can help. I’ve had particular issues when revising my debut novel, and it gives me perspective to help the novels that have the same issues. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love other submissions just as much, but again, I can only choose ONE. Rejections come for many reasons, but when an agent tells you that it’s just not the book for them, don’t take it personally. There are others who will love it.

4. TIMING is Key.

I stepped in when one of the mentors had to drop out and I’m not sure she would make the same pick that I eventually choose. Maybe. Every mentor has their own likes and dislikes, just like agents. There’s really nothing you can do about timing, other than to show up and do the work consistently. When my book was out on submission, a great editor replied that she really liked it. Yay! The problem was they already had a similar book set to launch. Bummer. Agents change jobs right after they’ve asked for more pages, editors who are interested in your novel retire, books come out with your same hook – don’t let it get to you. Just keep writing and it will eventually land on the right desk at the right time.

5. Be proud of what you CREATE.

I have read so many fun stories. Even when they’re in the same genre, written for readers of the same age, they are all different and interesting and creative. What really gets me is that these are stories that DID NOT EXIST before the writer put them to paper. How awesome is that? Getting a publishing contract is a good thing, but don’t ever forget that you created something from nothing. That is something no one, and no rejection slip, can ever take away.

Good luck to everyone involved in Pitch Wars. You’re already awesome in my book.

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Agents Books Rejection Writing

A few years ago, I left a writing conference feeling pretty good about things. I’d had a manuscript critique that went very well and I’d been told that I should start sending out queries. Five weeks later, I had a request for the full manuscript and a few months later, an offer of representation. And if you believe nothing else, believe this: If it happened for ME, it can happen for YOU. Just follow the rules –

1. Finish the manuscript.

Seriously. Everything I have ever read about looking for an agent (excluding those writing NON-fiction) has said to please finish the novel before submitting anything. Yet I consistently meet people who can’t wait and insist on starting the process before the manuscript is done. WHY? If you do get a response, you’re not going to be ready, and no late-night panic sessions are going to help. Finish the novel, tighten it, get it as close as you can to perfect, BEFORE you query anyone.

2. Write a great query letter and synopsis and be willing to change it if it doesn’t work.

I took classes on query writing, read books on the subject, looked at everything I could find online, THEN I sent out my queries. Guess what? I got rejected. When it didn’t work, I tweaked it and tried again. Don’t be stubborn. Try a new approach if you’re getting consistent rejections.

Some good query advice can be found at: QueryShark

3. Do your research.

Again, this is simple advice, but people ignore it all of the time. When I started the process of finding an agent for my middle grade novel, I knew nothing except I should find an agent interested in middle grade novels. I used QueryTracker to search for agents interested in my genre, THEN I followed the link to their website where I checked out their bios, and read their submission guidelines. I did not want to get rejected over something silly like including the first 5 chapters when they only wanted the first 10 pages.

4. Treat it like a job.

At the conference mentioned above, I sat in on a session by Haywood Smith. One of the things she said that I never forgot was that writing is WORK and that you have to treat it like a real career. So I sat down with my query letter and my research data and I began to send out queries. I sent out TEN each week. If that doesn’t sound like much, then you’ve never actually researched ten different agents and reworded your query letter and then figured out whether to send 10 pages or 10 chapters, or nothing at all, in addition to all of the other things you do in life like real jobs and family. It was exhausting, but it paid off!

5. Do not GIVE UP

Was getting rejected discouraging? You better believe it. I even got two rejection letters on the same day – my BIRTHDAY. But I’ve come to believe that half of the battle to being published is sticking with it. Don’t give up. Rework your query, rework your novel, start the heck over if you must, but don’t give up! I believe the desire to create is innate – the first thing God did was CREATE. If it was good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me. Write on.

Agents Writing

The SECOND revision, duh! I just wanted to give you an update on my upcoming novel which we hope will soon be known as the “previously unpublished, now a best-seller” novel.

When I received the first correspondence from my agent, Susan Hawk, I read through the seven pages of revisions she’d suggested and took a deep breath. I was pretty sure I could do it all and in a timely manner. It helped that I agreed with her suggestions and that they hadn’t included anything too extensive like killing off two of the main four characters. Whew. I finished the revisions and sent them back within the three month deadline I’d given myself. I did ASK if she wanted it in a particular timeframe but she’d declined to give me one. So three months it was.

Then – I got a very nice email.

Hi Lisa,

Just wanted to let you know that I finally have responses from all the readers and it’s unanimous – your book is a total joy to read!  Everyone has really enjoyed it.  There are some places that need a little tightening, and some questions that I have for you, but I think you’ve done the major re-work.  So, many thanks for the good, hard work you’ve done so far.  I will have a letter detailing the remaining issues for you by end of next week.

A few days later, I got a second letter. This was different in that Susan had gone through my entire manuscript and made proofreading notes, as well as line edits. Thinks like [tighten] and [this passage is confusing]. So I began my second round of revision. This one took much less time – about three weeks. Again, I agreed with my agent and felt like the changes made the book stronger. Then I emailed it back to her and waited.

Hi Lisa,

Just checking in with you.  I’ve finished your revise and it was a total pleasure to read!  It’s always been that way of course, but testament to your writing the great changes that you’ve made that I find it even more so now.  I do have some line edits, and I’m pulling that together for you, but in the meantime – thank you!

More soon, Susan

Now I’m on revision number three. Because agents/publishers/editors go on vacation during the summer, I’ve got a bit of leeway until I send it back. Our goal is to have it done, polished, perfected, and sent out by September. Which is why this summer will now be known as the “Summer of Constant Prayer.”

So, where are YOU in the process?

Agents Writing

So it happened – a real, live agent read my manuscript, called me, and wanted to represent me! Cray-Cray, I know. I signed the contract and waited patiently for my letter, you know, the one where she tells me what she thinks needs to change? I’m lucky – it was only 7 pages long. She gave me some great advice on each and every character, and pointed out some things that were a bit confusing. Now I’ve actually started the revision process. I’m giving myself three months to finish.

Three months. I’m hoping that I’ll be finished before that, but I don’t want it to appear that I just rushed through it. Agent Awesome said if I hadn’t sent anything in SIX months, we’d need to talk. And by “need to talk”, I’m pretty sure she means a beat-down.

All good agents find a way to inspire you.

Now, go write!

 

Agents

I haven’t actually met my agent, or HEARD from her, since I mailed the contract off a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure she hasn’t changed her mind. Seriously, like that would ever happen. Like that would ever happen? Would that ever happen?

Whatever. I’m sure once we begin to communicate, we’ll get along like gangbusters. I have no idea HOW gangbusters get along, but they sound really violent. Perhaps I should rephrase. Anyway, the point is – if you want to know what agents think and do then go here –

PUB RANTS

It’s not MY soon-to-be-agent’s head, but it’s still a good place to start.

Write On!

Agents

There are websites FULL of advice on how to write the perfect query, written by people far more qualified than I. They were a big help to me while writing MY query. My advice is for what you should do AFTER you’ve got your query perfected. While I’m not a famous, published author, my query DID land me an agent, so take it for what it’s worth.

Here it is – FOLLOW THE RULES.

I know that sounds like a big, “duh”, but I can’t tell you how many agencies complain about authors disregarding the submission guidelines and just hitting the “SEND” button. When I began sending out my query, my goal was to do 10 each week. That may not seem like a lot, but since every agent want’s something different – it was very time consuming. If an agency wanted the first 10 pages, they got the first ten pages and no more, no less. If they were looking for Young Adult novels with a dark edge, I DIDN’T send a query, since mine is not that at all. Seriously, why waste their time AND mine?

Occasionally, when I was in too good of a mood to be depressed, I’d check out http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/ She posts weekly stats on how many queries she’s received and how many manuscripts she’s requested. Last week it was 203 read, ONE manuscript requested. Probably half of the queries she read could be discounted immediately for NOT following her submission guidelines or being outside the scope of what she was looking for.

Do your work, and follow the rules. It will speed up the process and you’ll find an agent before you know it!

Write ON!

Agents

The agent responded to MY response, (if agents don’t understand the need to drink, no one does) with another nice email. She encouraged me to revise carefully and get in touch with her again. It’s great to have an opening with an agent, for SURE. and she also gave me a more detailed critique. The first email suggested changes which could be dealt with pretty easily, while this one mentioned losing one of the characters. Much tougher to do.

At my last writer’s conference, our keynote speaker was an author named Evelyn Coleman. She was GREAT, but she told us that once she’s completed a novel, she DELETES it and STARTS OVER. Did I mention she’s crazy? Or so I thought….

Oh well, at least I know what I’ll be doing for the next few months –  revising, revising, and revising. And by revising, I mean drinking. But you knew that already.

Agents