Archive | April 2014

Finding your niche as a writer.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a project right at the moment, so we’ll be taking a break from interviewing agents and authors for a bit. I thought that this week, I’d write a post about an issue I’m dealing with right now as a writer. I hope you enjoy it!

As a writer, I’ve struggled to find my niche, my writer-ly “home”. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has this issue. If you discuss this problem with another writer, in all likelihood they’ll tell you to write what you love to read.

But now we’ve come to my problem. If you’re like me, you love to read everything. And I mean I read EVERYTHING. My favorite genres to read are literary fiction, women’s fiction, romance, YA, and MG, but I also read thrillers, mysteries, and a little horror. I read a lot of the classics, too. I love everything and read voraciously. To some extent, I love to write everything as well. So how do I know what I should be writing? In what genre will my writer’s voice ring the truest and produce the most compelling story?

I hate to say it, but there is no easy answer to this question. It’s really become a trial and error process at this point for me. I write a story, let it sit for a while, and then I go over it. I look to see if the voice rings true, if it sounds believable. I look to see if the plot is strong, if it compels me to read to the end. And I think about whether or not I enjoyed writing the book. I’ve even started to keep track of my word count per minute as I’m writing, on the assumption that the faster I write, the more “in the zone” I am.

But I think that ultimately, if you’re struggling to find your niche, you might not be able to find it on you own. In the end you’ll need the feedback of industry professionals, like your agent or editor to tell you what works. And above all, you’ll need to find a genre and voice that resonates with your readers. They will be your purest judges.

What about you? Have you struggled to find your niche as a writer? Have you found it? Do you have any tips or suggestions for other writers that are struggling with this problem?

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Interview with author N.K. Traver.

I’m pleased to welcome author N.K. Traver to the blog today! Thank you, Ms. Traver for being here with us!

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Amy: What is a standard day for you like in terms of writing?

N.K. Traver: I have the immense privilege of pursuing my writing career full-time right now, so an average day starts at 8 AM with a giant cup of coffee, a cat, my couch and my laptop. Morning until noon is reserved for writing – drafting, revising, or outlining – as I’ve found that’s when my brain works best. Afternoons are for networking, blog posts, email, critiques, reading, and any other writerly tasks that aren’t related to my current work in progress. I keep track of my writing progress on an actual paper calendar. I get a cupcake sticker for every 500 words.

 

Amy: What authors influenced you as a writer?

N.K. Traver: My childhood favorites were R.L. Stine (I think I’ve read EVERY Goosebumps book), K.A. Applegate, and of course, J.K. Rowling. As far as craft and style, I’d say Patrick Ness has been my biggest influence/inspiration. But I also love Laini Taylor’s beautiful imagery and Victoria Schwab’s complex villains.

 

Amy: How did you sign with your agent? What was it like when you got “the call” from an agent offering representation?

N.K. Traver: I won two online contests in the same month with DUPLICITY’s pitch and opening pages. My entry was posted for agent consideration, and I walked away with eleven requests that seemed too good to be true. It was a drastically different experience than I’d had with my first manuscript, that had flailed and drowned in the query world the year before. I stayed skeptical, until I got an email from one of the agents—a week later—saying she loved it and wanted to chat, and then I busted out some dance moves at the office.

“The call” actually caught me off-guard – I’d had a little back and forth with the agent beforehand, so I thought we were going to talk revisions. When she offered rep, I almost screamed. Somehow I kept my composure and had thankfully just saved my “call” notes to my Gmail account, else I would have been Googling “what to ask an agent who offers rep” in real time. I’ve been walking on air ever since.

 

Amy: What happened after you got “the second call”, this time from your agent letting you know there was an offer on your book?

N.K. Traver: That second call was so surreal. I’m not even sure what my agent said beyond “We have an offer.” I remember thanking her profusely and trying not to cry in front of my coworkers. My weird little idea was going to be a book. Not even -might- be a book at this point, it was -going- to be. I would be able to hold it in my hands and run my fingers down the pages. I would be able to go to Barnes & Noble and pick it up off the shelf. It still blows my mind.

 

Amy: Was the publishing process what you expected it to be? How did it differ from what you expected?

N.K. Traver: It wasn’t what I expected, but in the best way possible. I had done a ton of research ahead of time and knew, based on other authors’ experiences, that it could be months before I had an editorial letter or a contract. I had also braced myself to spend months revising. Within a week of announcing my deal, I had editorial notes. Four weeks later, I sent revisions to my editor, who approved them. I got my contract six weeks after that. And while I know this will differ book to book, it’s always nice to see it can work out faster than expected.

 

Amy: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

N.K. Traver: Join Twitter immediately. Network with other querying writers, follow agents you admire, follow authors you love. Enter contests, lose contests, find critique partners whose work you can’t get enough of. Attend a local writing conference. And no matter what happens, keep going.

 

Amy: Can you tell us a little bit about your latest/upcoming release?

N.K. Traver: DUPLICITY is a YA cyberthriller pitched as Breaking Bad meets The Matrix for teens. It follows a morally-ambiguous computer hacker, Brandon, who’s sucked into a digital hell and replaced with a preppy Stepford-esque clone. It’s not yet available for preorder, but you can stalk it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19237391-duplicity

 

You can find N.K. Traver here:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NKTraver
Website: http://nktraver.com
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7501918.N_K_Traver

Interview with literary agent Stephen Barr of Writers House.

Today, we are lucky enough to have Mr. Stephen Barr of Writers House on the blog. Thank you for being here, Stephen!

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Amy: How did you become an agent?

SB: Accidentally!  And then purposefully!  After graduating from UCLA with an English degree, I flew to New York with the goal of becoming an editor (and riding the carousel in Central Park).  The truth is, I didn’t even know that agents existed, but after failing to get a whole bunch of editorial assistant jobs, I finally wised up and started looking for internships so that, you know…my résumé wouldn’t be an artful attempt at making catering experience seem like publishing experience.  Those internships ended up being at literary agencies rather than publishers, and the second I saw the other side of the equation, I knew it was right for me!  I was eventually hired as an agent’s assistant at Writers House, where I’d been interning for a few months, and then I loved the job so cartoonishly much that I did it non-stop, and started representing my own authors and illustrators a couple years later, becoming a full-fledged agent in 2012.

 

Amy: 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?

SB: I think the author/agent relationship follows the flirting/dating/marriage pattern pretty closely, actually…it’s an intensely personal thing, seems to me, to entrust your creative output to another human being, and trust is the most important aspect of the dynamic, without a doubt.  I want my authors to be honest with me about their ambitions, I want them to be fearless in their writing and trust that I’ll respect it, and I want to be honest with them about how I think they can create their best work, and how their career could best be served.  After signing with an agent, I think an author should expect to have a candid and supportive partner in all corners of their writing life, and they should never be afraid to ask questions.

 

Amy: 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?

SB: I’d love to magnetize more contemporary, literary unrequited love stories into my in-box…for whatever reason, that’s my sweetest of sweet spots, when a character is so swept up with someone else that even the experience of not being ‘with’ that someone is still ferociously romantic.  I wouldn’t say I’m getting too much of any one thing, though there’s a breed of novel where the male protagonist is a supposedly endearing idiot that I could do without!

 

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

SB: I originally wanted to be a forensic criminologist!  But really, that was only because I liked the sound of the words “forensic” and “criminologist.”  So, come to think of it, that’s not really surprising at all?

 

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

Leave room in your work to surprise the reader, of course, but leave room to surprise yourself, too (maybe even twice as much!)

 

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

SB: Indeed I am, and writers can simply send me a friendly email at sbarr@writershouse.com, hum a few bars about themselves and about their book, include the first ten or fifteen pages, and then sign their real name, or their eccentric penname (S. J. Borlington, etc.)

 

You can find Mr. Barr’s Publishers Marketplace site here.

Interview with author Joya Ryan.

Today, we’re starting a new feature on the blog. Every Friday, we will be chatting with a different author. We’ll get to learn all about their writing lives, what it was like when they got the call, and what advice they have for aspiring authors!

Our first author is Ms. Joya Ryan. Welcome, Joya!

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Amy: What is a standard day for you like in terms of writing?

Joya: A standard writing day for me is typically everything non-standard. I have two boys, so there’s getting them to and from school, chores, errands…it’s never ending. But! I’ve mastered the art of “squat and write.” (It’s a terrible term I know, but bear with me). I realized a long time ago that I have chunks of time during the day where I’m able to write. Some chunks of time are longer than others. When I’m home, I just stop what I’m doing, grab my laptop and sit and write. Sometimes it’s at the kitchen table. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the floor. Or I’m on the couch with a blanket. I just use whatever time I have to hammer out my thoughts before I lose them. So location is a secondary concern. There is however one place I CAN’T write…public.

 

Amy: What authors have influenced you as a writer?

Joya: I like to read things outside my genre. Marina Adair has been a big influence. She does a great job with small town quirk, humor and setting. She really thrives in areas I struggle with and her books and style have been a great learning tool.

 

Amy: How did you sign with your agent? What was it like when you got “the call” from an agent offering you representation?

Joya: I signed with my agent, Jill Marsal, two years ago. I was on a trip back home actually and my husband and I were driving through the mountains. It was one-hundred degrees out and she called right when we entered a small town where I got a half a bar of signal. I screamed for my husband to pull over, which he did after the minor heart attack I gave him. I rolled up all the windows (and yes, our AC was busted) so I could hear her better. She said she liked my book and offered me representation. Both my husband and I were sweating like crazy but I wouldn’t let him leave the sauna of a car because I’m all nervous. I started babbling to Jill…like…really badly babbling. I even said, “I’m so sorry, I’m not very articulate…oh shit! That’s probably not something you want to hear from an author, huh?” So in short, I cursed at my agent on accident and admitted I suck with words. And yet, she took me anyway! To this day she is the most incredible person and I’m lucky to call her a friend now as well as my agent.

 

Amy: What happened after you got “the second call”, this time from your agent letting you know there was an offer on your book?

Joya: I was in so much shock that the details eluded me. I started pacing in my home and for whatever reason, turning on and off the lights. Weird right? But I was just stunned. I remembered asking her to repeat herself because I was worried I had heard her wrong. Finally I ask, “So, Jill…are you saying someone out there wants my book? They want to put it out there for people to actually read it?” She said yes and it was that feeling that did me in. Hope was now on the table and I just stood in shock. If only one person read my book, one stranger spent their time on it…that was the most amazing thought in the world. My entire heart nearly exploded.

 

Amy: Was the publishing process what you expected it to be? How did it different from what you expected?

Joya: I’ve been through a few various processes. Everyone and every avenue of publishing is different. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than, “Be prepared for your book to get ripped apart.” I’ve had LOTS of feedback, criticism and suggestions. And to be honest, all of it has helped me become a better writer. I want my books to be the best they can possibly be. No matter how hard you try, not everyone will like your book. And that’s okay. So long as you feel confident that you worked hard and grow with every round of edits, that’s what I feel is really valuable. I learn something new with each editor and each pass of a book, it’s what makes things exciting and allows for growth.

 

Amy: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Joya: Support yourself, because at the end of the day, things get difficult. But if you can remember to support yourself and have faith in your ability to keep trying and do your best, everything will be as it should. At the end of the day, you are going to be your toughest critic so remember to ease up on yourself from time to time, hug it out in the mirror, and just keep working hard.

 

Amy: Can you tell us a little bit about your latest release?

My newest release just came out with Montlake and is Breathe You In. The second book in the series is Only You and due out in August. It’s been super fun writing these books because I got to research everything from politics to shipping moguls and sure…I had to Google “guys with six packs” just to get a visual.  So it was tons of fun writing!

 

You can find Breathe You In here. And you can pre-order Only You here.

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Interview with literary agent Jim McCarthy.

Today, we have Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management on the blog. Thanks, Jim, for being here!

 

Amy:  How did you become an agent?

Jim: Knowing how hard people fight to get into this business, I feel a little bad about this answer. I really tripped into this profession. The summer after my freshman year of college, I was broke and needed a new job. I sent out about 40 resumes. Stacey Glick of DGLM was the first person to call me back. I interviewed the next day and had the job the day after that. When I first came in, I didn’t even know what a literary agent was. I just thought, “I like books!” So for the next three years, I worked here on and off, and when I graduated from school, a position had just opened up. Fifteen years later, here I am!

 

Amy:  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?

Jim: The wonderful thing about becoming successful as an agent is that people know your name and associate you with some of the wonderful projects you’ve had the chance to work on. The only downside to that is that sometimes you can get a little pigeonholed. I think people associate me with very commercial, very otherworldly fiction—paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi… And in truth, I always am and always will be looking in those categories. I will always want to find my next Richelle Mead, Victoria Laurie, Michelle Rowen, Mark Henry, Alyssa Day… But I’d also love to see more literary fiction, adult fiction, middle grade, and realistic fiction. I’m also very open to nonfiction, including in the YA realm, which I know a lot of people don’t think of very often. People can look to clients of mine like Geoff Herbach, Ramsey Hootman, or Gae Polisner for a broader sense of what I might like to find.

 

Amy:  Jim, I know that you represent Richelle Mead, who recently had the first book in her Vampire Academy series made into a movie. What was it like to see a book that you had worked on take that journey?

Jim: This was the first project of mine to actually hit the big screen, and it was a crazy process. There were a lot of ups and downs along the road to release, but at the end of the day, I’m thrilled that it happened. The movie may not have been the success we hoped it would be, but it helped sell a whole bunch of books and expose new readers to a series that I adore and am exceedingly proud of. Also, I was able to visit the set with Richelle and Erin Berger from Penguin. Besides them being the best travel buddies a person could ask for, stepping onto the set and seeing this world that I had worked with so much over seven years suddenly created was inexplicable and a total joy. There may have been a tear. MAYBE.

 

Amy:  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?

Jim: This is probably the single most important aspect of fiction writing to me, and yet it’s the very hardest to teach. A lot of submissions come through that are solid and display total aptitude but lack that extra something needed to stand out. It’s a question of making sure that you’re not just dictating a series of events but really bringing them to life. Take a look at Stephanie Perkins’ novels. Anna and the French Kiss is exceptional because the voice is so utterly perfect—this glorious mix of nerves and exuberance, introspection and curiosity. More than anything else, I just wanted to spend more time with Anna because I was so charmed. Or on the complete other side, look at someone like Toby Barlow who managed to pull off brilliance in a literary adult novel about werewolves written in verse. In verse! His third-person narration crackles with suspense and anguish. The writing alone is a master class in mood, tone, character development… And it’s IN VERSE. I finally read that book a year ago, and I still can’t get over it.

 

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

Jim: I’m always open to submissions, and I encourage anyone to query me. I read all of my own slush and try to respond within a week (barring spam filter screw-ups, vacations, or sudden onslaughts). Happily, DGLM is a collaborative agency, so there’s also a lot of passing material back and forth. Most of us have been here so long that we know each other’s taste well enough to guide the right projects along where appropriate.

 

You can follow Jim on Twitter here.

You can find out more about Dystel and Goderich Literary Management here.

Interview with literary agent Joanna Volpe.

Today, we have literary agent Joanna Volpe, president of New Leaf Literary and Media, on the blog. Thank you, Joanna, for being here!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

JV: The old-fashioned way!  I interned, then was an assistant, then junior agent, then agent.  It’s very much an apprenticeship-type training, learning so much on the job and from the amazing mentors I had.  I’m so glad I made the decision to take an unpaid internship, even after I had a salaried job for a couple of years.  It was the best decision I ever made.

 

Me: Joanna, I know that you represent Veronica Roth, who recently had her novel, Divergent, made into a movie. What was it like to see a book that you had worked on take that journey?

JV: Seeing the Divergent movie come to fruition has been a very exciting and humbling experience.  I grew up in a movie theater (literally), so it’s always been a dream of mine for one of my books to hit the big screen.  But it’s also been a fear that it would fall short in some way.  I love, LOVE the books (obviously), and it’s a lot to live up to!  In the end, I think Neil Burger, the cast and creators nailed it.  I’ve seen the movie 9 times already, and I love it more each time.  All of that being said, having a movie made doesn’t change anything for me either (well, except for adding a bit more work to my plate).  I got into the business of books, and that’s where I am happiest.  So now I’m evaluating how I can learn from this experience and turn this success into more success for the rest of New Leaf’s agents and clients.  We have a lot of amazing books on our list, and I have high hopes for all of them!

 

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?

JV: Every author-agent relationship is a little bit different.  Depends on the people involved and what kind of projects they work on together.  That being said, the consistent parts of the relationship are the parts that really feature the partnership and collaboration.  Personally, I work with my clients from the very early development stages all the way through to book publication and beyond.  We strategize about the client’s short term and long term career goals together.  We’re a team.

 

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?

JV: More horror!  That and dark fantasy and literary fiction.  I’d love to see more of these genres.  I’m still getting way too much paranormal and dystopian fiction. I like those genres, too, but my list is already full of them.

 

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

JV: That I used to query, too. In college I wrote two middle grade novels and queried to find an agent.  I got a ton of rejections.  I went to conferences and pitched—and got more rejections.  Then I later discovered that I was much better at editing others’ work than writing myself (thanks to my critique groups).  Two totally different skill sets, ya know?

 

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

JV: Just keep at it.  Every single one of my clients have unpublished manuscripts sitting on a hard drive or in a drawer somewhere.  Not everything you write will be publishable, and that’s OK.  It doesn’t mean it was a waste.  Each project you complete takes you to the next thing—and each time you’re learning, honing your craft, and growing as a writer.

 

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

JV: Yup!  Our submission guidelines can be found here: http://newleafliterary.com/submissions.cfm