Archive | January 2014

Interview with literary agent Hannah Bowman.

Today, we have literary agent Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency on the blog. She was kind enough to give us some wonderful advice on the craft of writing. Thank you, Hannah, for being here!

Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?

Hannah: Voice is really the key to good writing. It’s the thing that makes you feel like the narrator (whether first-person or third-person) is a real person. Even with third-person narration, voice sets the tone of the story. It tells me immediately what kind of book I’m reading and how to react to it.

One of the most important things in developing voice, I think, is understanding deep point-of-view. Even with a third person narrator, each scene has a POV character. And whoever the POV character is determines how you tell the scene. It determines your word choice. It determines which details are noticed and remarked upon and which are ignored. It determines how you describe details. No two people will describe the same scene the same way, and the way your characters tell the story is the key to understanding their voice.

As an example, think of the Harry Potter books – even though Harry is not a first-person narrator, the reader’s experience of Hogwarts is Harry’s experience, and the reader experiences the magical feeling of the wizarding world opening up to Harry as he discovers new and previously incomprehensible things, which are described so they feel just as new and magical to us as they do to him.

Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?

Hannah: I think characters and voice are closely related, so I suggest the same techniques as above. We don’t learn about the characters only by what they say and do and what we’re told about them, but also by what they show us by what they notice and the way they tell the story (again, even in third-person).

Me: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?

Hannah: High concept just means a premise that can be expressed in a line and is instantly appealing. With a high-concept hook, I want to read it just because of the premise, not even knowing anything else about it.

I think the classic example of a high-concept pitch is for the movie Alien, which was pitched as “Jaws in space.”

Certainly as there’s more competition for people’s attention, high-concept premises are important because they’re instantly compelling. But not every book is high concept, and that’s okay! If your book appeals more on the basis of characters/plot development/beautiful writing than concept, there’s still space for that. In that case, you don’t gain anything by trying to come up with a high-concept pitch if there isn’t one. Instead, focus on an interesting or fresh element of the story (why do you love it? Is it a special character? A charming setting?) and make that your touchstone if people ask you what your book is about, rather than trying to recite a carefully-crafted logline to them.

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Hannah: A lot of beginning manuscripts read like very, very detailed synopses. There are a lot of events, dialogue, and descriptions, but not much real storytelling, writing that makes me feel like I’m there with the characters. Every line/description/event feels equally important, rather than the story lingering on the important parts and moving faster through the less important ones. (And as above, what counts as important/not important depends on the character whose POV you’re writing in!)

The easiest piece of advice I can give to fix this problem is: think of crafting a scene like cinematography in a movie. In a movie, you need a variety of shots – wide shots establishing setting, close-ups on characters, quick-cut action scenes – and you should be using different types of writing for each of those. Sometimes you want the reader to be seeing the whole scene, sometimes in a character’s head, sometimes with an over-the-shoulder shot as they talk to someone. You don’t want your writing to feel like a home movie shot with a single stationary camera – all the same events occur, but it’s harder for the viewer (reader) to distinguish them and tell what’s most important.

But at the same time, as you’re switching between these different “shots” in your scene, you have to think about how you’re moving between them. You don’t want your reader to get motion-sickness from too many quick changes between wide shots (like description of setting or action) and close-ups (like when you’re narrating a character’s thoughts). It’s important to zoom in or out gradually. It’s important that you not switch too fast from one side of the scene to something else that’s (visually or thematically) distant, or your reader will feel jarred as they’re imagining the scene. Of course, this is just a metaphor – you don’t really want to write your scene as though it’s being filmed by a camera – but I think it can help writers with the nitty-gritty sentence-level changes that are necessary to make the storytelling clear and make the voice come through.

Some more information about Ms. Bowman:

Hannah joined the agency in 2011. She has a B.A. from CornellUniversity in English and Mathematics. While a student, she spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, before eventually deciding her true interest was books.

Hannah’s clients include:

-Pierce Brown (RED RISING trilogy, Del Rey, Jan. 2014)
-Rosamund Hodge (CRUEL BEAUTY, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, Jan. 2014)
-Brian Staveley (THE EMPEROR’S BLADES, Tor, Jan. 2014)
-Dianna Anderson (DAMAGED GOODS: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON CHRISTIAN PURITY, Jericho Books, Spring 2015)

In her free time, she plays the organ.

Hannah specializes in commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, young adult fiction, women’s fiction, cozy mysteries, and romance. Hannah is also interested in nonfiction, particularly in the areas of mathematics, science and religion (especially history and sociology of Christianity).

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Reader feedback: What would you like to see more of?

Hi, all my readers! Today, I’m asking for your feedback. We’ve had LOTS of literary agent interviews on the blog (I think I’ve done over forty now!), and I wanted to know what you guys thought. Do you like the agent interviews? Would you like more of them? Is there something else you’d like in regards to the writing and publishing world?

I want to hear from you! I’d love to hear your thoughts, your comments, your questions. Now’s your chance! Post your thoughts and I’ll do my best to get back to you!

~ Amy M. Newman

Guest post: how to write a modern heroine by Aimee Duffy.

Today, we’re lucky enough to have a guest post from romance author Aimee Duffy. She’s got some wonderful advice for all of us who are trying to make our writing stronger. Thank you, Aimee, for being with us!

 

Romance and the Modern Day Heroine

Not many people these days want a doormat and the female protagonists grabbing the spotlight today are anything but. So how do you create your own modern day heroine?

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘the hero carries the book’ and that might have been true five years ago, but think again. With the rise of go-getting, sexually experienced heroines with high powered careers in today’s romantic fiction, these women are giving the big bad alphas a run for their money.

So who is she?

Anyone and everyone. Delve into the sea of Pop Culture where reality television stars are plumping out the pages of your favourite gossip magazines. A good heroine would be a woman who could take a verbal lashing from Lord Sugar, walk out of the boardroom with her head held high then come back the next week and make him choke on his words.

What does she do?

Here’s the kicker. Subject to a few exclusions (male underwear model included) women are taking the career world by storm. They’re doctors, sports therapists, footballers – in fact, there’s not much women can’t do when we put our minds to it. Why should our leading protagonist be any different?

What kind of story is she in?

This is where we have to get creative. The old tried and tested plots still work and sell, so how can we fit our power suit wearing heroine into a marriage of convenience? Arranged marriages are few and far between – and something our heroine would never agree to! – so where do we find inspiration? Television, real life and gossip mags are the perfect sources. A-listers and movie stars still pair up for publicity and that is a plot your heroine will feel more at home in.

Can she go after what she wants?

Absolutely! She can be as wild and daring as she likes as long as the reader believes the motivation. So if you have a heroine who wants a baby without the hassle of a man in her life and she happens to get that through a one-night stand, bravo. Just make sure the reader can sympathise with her decision.

Where to start

When you’re putting together your character bios, keep those doormat personalities in the last decade where they belong. Don’t create a woman who might wither under the alpha hero, make her strong and confident enough to bring him to his knees!

She’ll need flaws of course, everyone has them . Her character arc should follow her journey and by the end of your story she should change for the better with help from her hero. BUT remember the changes shouldn’t be triggered because of who she thinks she should be for the hero.

A while back I had the idea to write a trilogy starring three room mates. These girls were going to be all about their careers and I wanted to capture strong, independence and confidence in the New York dating scene. My first book in the trilogy, What a Girl Needs, is about Shey Lopez – an assistant editor of one of the biggest fashion magazines in the city.

When it comes to dating Shey has rules put in place to keep her life hassle free, she just didn’t expect Calvin Jones to come along and turn that upside down. Not unreasonable, she’s willing to compromise a little but she’s in the relationship for herself, for her own desires and doesn’t bend to his will at all.

What's a Girl to do 1

You can find out more about the story here: http://www.aimeeduffy.co.uk/whats-a-girl-to-do-indecent-proposals-1.html

You can find Aimee Duffy on the web here:

Site: www.aimeeduffy.co.uk

Twitter: @aimeeduffyx

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aimeeduffyx

Interview with literary agent Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency.

Today, we’re interviewing literary agent Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency. Thank you, Beth, for being here today.

 

Me: How did you become an agent?

Beth: I was a late bloomer. I knew I wanted to work in publishing, but I didn’t really know how to get started or what I wanted to do. A friend of mine worked on the same floor as Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and scored me an internship. I fell in love completely, and have since worked at the Scott Waxman Literary Agency (now Waxman Leavell Literary) and Howard Morhaim Literary. As a full agent at the Bent Agency, I couldn’t be happier.

 

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Beth: It really depends on the state of their work. Authors should be prepared to revise. I’ve seen author/agent relationships crumble because some authors are unwilling to make changes that an agent thinks are necessary or they take it too personally.

 

Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Beth: I’ll always love YA. I’m dying to see a YA novel about a family of Doomsday preppers and the fallout after the Rapture doesn’t happen. I would also love to see more magical realism. These days, I also don’t get enough cookbook or food-related submissions but am flooded with middle-grade submissions, though I’m not really looking for that right now.

 

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

Beth: This is really tough to answer. I think anyone, writer or otherwise, would be surprised by just how much I love dogs.

 

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Beth: Hone your writing and use critique partners. Polishing your manuscript before querying can make a world of difference. You don’t want simple errors to deter an agent from signing you up. Perfect your work to the absolute best of your ability.

 

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Beth: Yes, I am open to submissions! Authors should email me at phelanqueries@thebentagency.com with a query letter and 10 pages embedded in the email.

 

You can find Beth’s agent bio here. You can also follow Beth on Twitter: @beth_phelan

 

Interview with literary agent Shannon Hassan.

Today we have literary agent Shannon Hassan of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency on the blog. Thank you so much, Shannon, for participating in this interview!

Me: How did you become an agent?

Shannon: I started my career as a corporate/licensing attorney and then decided to follow my heart into publishing, where I became an acquisitions editor. Becoming an agent was a natural progression and combined my skills and passion. I am so pleased to have joined Marsal Lyon and couldn’t be happier with the agency and its approach to helping writers achieve their publishing goals.

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Shannon: I believe the author/agent relationship should be a true collaboration with open lines of communication.  In terms of what to expect after signing, I will first go through the manuscript and offer editorial suggestions and help brainstorm ways to improve any areas that aren’t working.  Then comes pitching and submitting to editors (and, of course, a waiting period that can feel like an eternity to authors). During that process I always keep authors in the loop with how editors are reacting. After that comes negotiating the deal and the contract terms, offering guidance and advocacy on marketing and publicity, keeping track of the publication process and payments, looking at the big picture, and overall being a strong advocate for the author over the course of his or her career.

Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?

Shannon: To me, “voice” means the style, tone, and personality of your novel. The unique way that only you can tell the story, which can really make or break the reader’s experience. One example would be To Kill a Mockingbird—would the story have been as compelling, or the message quite as powerful, with a different voice?

In terms of how to strengthen voice, I would say it has to feel natural and not be forced. I am always looking for fresh, original voices, but there also must be a high level of authenticity for me to keep reading.

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Shannon: I think reading is crucial for writers (and for agents too!).  Read books in your genre to help you gain an understanding of your target audience.  And then read books outside your genre to expand your worldview and keep your writing fresh.

Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Shannon: I’d like to see more fiction that crosses over between commercial and literary, in other words something with a strong hook and compelling storyline that draws you in and keeps the pages turning, but that also widens your perspective on something, whether a piece of history, or a way of life. I’d also like to see more middle-grade fiction that is reality-based or with one foot planted in reality.

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Shannon: Yes, I look forward to receiving queries at shannon@marsallyonliteraryagency.com. You can read more about my interests at http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/sejohnso/.

Please include a query, short bio, and 10 sample pages, preferably by email.