Friday Links: Farewell to February Edition

Happy Friday! Somehow we’ve reached the end of the month. When did time start moving normally again? I take it as a sign of hope for good things to come. But as we kiss February goodbye, I have some random housekeeping announcements to share before the links.

Photo by Neel on Unsplash

First, I’m happy to let you all know that I am in the process of prepping an online version of my course on synopsis writing. I’ve offered this before through various venues, but pandemic times call for more availability. The new, updated course will go into greater detail than I could previously due to time constraints, and include handouts. More details to come next week.

Next, to address the state of my inbox (otherwise know as submissions). It’s no secret I am woefully behind. I did virtually no reading of new material over the holidays and came back to a bunch of client projects, which means I’ve not caught up. No, I am not closing to submissions in order to do so. However, I am about ready to switch up what I’m looking for, so I will be closing over the weekend to make that adjustment. I’ll post a revised wish list early next week. As always, please follow submission guidelines! If you’re waiting to hear from me on something, I’m reading as fast as I can. I’ve requested more pages on quite a few queries, which is great, but also means… more to read. So please hang in.

And on that note, I’ll share some fun links and let you all get on with your Friday. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, filled with bookish goodness and inspired writing. Enjoy!

This week’s links:

These 15 Feminist Books Will Inspire, Enrage, and Educate You. – A terrific, diverse roundup including both fiction and nonfiction.

Why Do Some Writers Burn Their Work? – An interesting look at this most final, destructive means of anihilating your writing.

35 Must-Read 2021 Book Releases By Black Authors. – So many great sounding titles coming up. Make note now.

Bird Brain: Lauren Oyler, Patricia Lockwood, and the Literature of Twitter. – Social media has been worming its way into our collective culture for a while now, but this piece dives more specifically into the link between Twitter and some recent books.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101. – Excellent obituary that includes a worthwhile video history. Ferlinghetti lived a wonderful, long life, and left a real mark. I’ll look forward to getting back up to City Lights books as soon as travel is safe again.

Pandemic Pen Pals. – A lovely little write up of Penpalooza, the pandemic-era pen pal exchange started by New Yorker writer Rachel Syme over social media. Matches are still happening, so head over to penpalooza.com if you’re interested in some old fashioned snail mail. You can check out the #penpalooza tag on Twitter to get a feel for things. There are somewhere in the range of 11,000 people signed up at the moment, from all around the world.

Friday Links: A NaNoWriMo Inspiration Edition

Happy Friday, and welcome to the middle of October. For the many writers, October serves as the countdown to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. In today’s selection of links, I offer up a bit of inspiration to help you get into the writing groove. Check out how other writers tackle their projects, or learn about new twists on older ideas. Be sure to visit the official NaNo site for additional tips on getting ready.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Before I delve into this week’s links, I want to remind you that I reopen to queries on Monday the 19th. I updated my wishlist here on the blog, but for anyone looking for a quick genre overview:

At this time, I’ll be looking to take on women’s contemporary or historical fiction; contemporary or historical single-title romance; magical realism; young adult contemporary, mystery, or historical fiction.

I will continue to adjust what genres I’m accepting every few months, based on current market needs, my reading interests, and what I’ve recently signed on. Please do not attempt to query outside of the requested genres, as I will auto-reject without reading.

Without further ado, I give you a mishmash of links to explore this weekend. I hope they inspire you to try new things in your own writing, or push yourself in whatever ways you need. Happy writing!

This week’s links:

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Stories & Ideas. – Initially, The LA Times postponed this year’s festival due to COVID-19. Eventually, they decided to go virtual. Register now for free panels starting this weekend and running into mid-November.

15 of the best first lines in fiction. – Having trouble kicking off your book? Check out these stand-out first lines for some creative sparks.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Writing a More Authentic Mexico. – The author chats with Maris Kreizman on her podcast on how she approached depicting a more realistic version of Mexico for readers more familiar with clichés.

On Learning of My Autism While Trying to Finish a Novel. – Madeleine Ryan discusses neurodiversity and how she now thinks of her own characters.

A New Edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Crosses Its T’s and Dots Its I’s. – Ever wonder about those partial letters between characters? This edition includes physical copies, fleshed out based on clues from the text.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide. – This blog post provides a great breakdown of tips for getting reading for NaNo.

Querying New Material: An Update

My submissions box reopens to queries on Monday, October 19th. As I mentioned a few posts back, I am changing how I handle requests for material. Due to the extreme influx, I can no longer accept queries for every genre I represent simultaneously. It’s a wonderful problem to have–all those great stories coming my way–but I can’t keep up.

Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Instead of taking queries on all fronts, I plan to rotate what genres I’m open to seeing. Which genres open will depend on the current market, what I have signed on recently, and what I feel most interested in reading at the time. I expect to review my decisions every few months, and to change what I’m looking for accordingly.

Accepted genres will be updated on my QueryManager page prior to my reopening on the 19th. I will also update my wishlists here and on The Knight Agency website. I hope this new system will lead to speedier response time, especially on partial and full manuscript requests. Looking forward to seeing what you’ve all been writing!

Friday Links: Falling into Autumn Edition

Somehow, despite the global pandemic and the west coast burning and what has often felt like the slowest year on record, we’ve reached October. Autumn in SoCal is nebulous at the best of times. Predictably, I’m writing this in the midst of a heatwave. No hot tea or cozy sweaters for me. More like ice cream and air conditioning. But fall still brings to mind school supplies and productivity, and I am way past due for an update.

Things on the horizon:

Utmost in most of your minds, no doubt, is when I plan to open again to submissions. The answer is, in a couple of weeks. I haven’t set a firm date yet as I’m tinkering with a few things. I’m also making decisions on some lingering projects in my inbox. Right now I plan to make a more formal announcement late next week.

That said, there will be some changes in what I’m looking for in terms of new material. I’m not making any huge shifts in what I represent, but I will no longer be accepting queries for all of those genres at the same time. I can’t keep up with the influx. I will update my wish list both here and on the agency site, and my QueryManager page will offer a much more limited list of genres I am accepting.

Please note that I will be changing which genres I’m accepting queries for from time to time, based on the balance of my client list, the market, and what I am most interested in reading. So if I’m not accepting projects in the genre you write, that does not mean I won’t be taking them again in a few months. But please, do not try to sneak your query to me by labeling it under some inappropriate genre or emailing it directly. It will be rejected unread in the first instance, and deleted in the second.

I realize some of you will be frustrated by this, and I am sorry. All I can say is, like many people, I have found my state of mind profoundly affected by world events, particularly the pandemic, and the result is my reading interests and ability to focus have shifted. I bounce off books I should adore. I sink into things that previously would not have interested me. Fighting it doesn’t do anyone any good.

So that’s where things stand on the business front. Now on to the fun stuff. I’ve a mishmash of links for you this week, and I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Wishing you all a lovely weekend and happy writing!

This week’s links:

So What’s the Difference Between a Myth, a Fairytale, and a Legend? – An interesting look at three similar types of story and their definitions.

Word Matters. – The new-ish podcast brought to you by Merriam-Webster focusing on grammar, word origins, and other word-related things.

With His New Mystery Novel, John Banville Kills Off a Pen Name. – An entertaining history of the Irish writer’s relationship to his alter ego, and why he needs to live on in Spain.

Why Goodreads Is Bad for Books. – A review of the site’s history and stagnant existence, plus an intriguing peek at a new potential alternative.

Susanna Clarke’s Fantasy World of Interiors. – A lovely interview with the author, discussing the long break between her books and the mysterious ailment affecting her ability to work.

Are We Running Out of Monster Metaphors for the Disasters of the Real World? – Looking at the ways in which we cope with our real-world fears through fictional threats.

Up Close: A 1574 Map of London. – Take a look at the city’s layout during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Friday Links: Halloween Distractions and Other Fall Stuff

Halloween distractions feel like an appropriate reason to post the latest Friday Links collection. It helps that my whirlwind conference schedule wrapped up last weekend. I love sharing links with all of you, but when I work three conferences in four weeks, something needs to give. In this case, blogging took a back seat. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping my eyes open for fun sites, however. Halloween-themed literary links have been popping up a lot the past week. I’ll admit I took it as a sign–the internet gods smiling down on me. Or reminding me to get back in gear. Either one works.

Halloween Distractions: spooky abandoned house

In case you missed my earlier posts this week, please note The Knight Agency announced a new submissions system. All details are available in yesterday’s post, or over at the agency submissions page. Basically, we’ve migrated to using QueryManager. All submissions sent through the old system will still receive responses; please don’t resend anything.

And with that, I’ll get right to the links. They include a mix of spooky, seasonal goodies to check out and a backlog of things I bookmarked over the past month. I hope you find them entertaining and inspiring in this run up to Halloween (and NaNoWriMo!). Now on to those Halloween distractions. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Halloween Distractions and Other Links:

How Victorian Mansions Became the Default Haunted House. – A fun look at this history of this imagery in books and film.

The Ghost Story Persists in American Literature. Why? – The ongoing love affair between readers and the supernatural.

Vincent Price’s Delightful 1969 Lecture on Witchcraft, Magick, and Demonology. – Because really, what’s Halloween without Vincent Price’s wonderfully spooky voice in your ear?

Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction? – Some wonderful old titles for anyone interested in the roots of the genre.

Talking to Arthur Levine about 20 Years of Harry Potter. – A nice look back at the journey of the boy wizard with the American publisher.

A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon. – Vulture chooses the best 100 books of the 21st century… so far. They admit it’s early, but clearly still had a good time putting this together. I like a lot of their choices and their effort to keep things diverse. Interesting, regardless, especially if you’re looking for a good read.

Roxane Gay: What Does a Political Story Look Like in 2018? – Gay talks about the challenges of choosing this year’s 20 best American short stories.

How Do I Become One of Those Writers Who Remember Everything? – Advice on how to cultivate a writer’s brain, and tricks for keeping all that information straight.

35 Over 35: Women Authors Who Debuted at 35 or Older. – Because everyone works at their own pace, and succeeding young isn’t the only way to do it.

 

Knight Agency Submissions Move to QueryManager

The Knight Agency submissions move to QueryManager starting today! I’m excited to announce that, as promised yesterday, we have officially migrated our submissions system over to QueryManager. As of now, you will be able to query the agent of your choice directly. The new system provides a confirmation when your query uploads, and also allows you to track the progress of your material. On our end, QueryManager allows us to sort queries and other submissions more effectively. It keeps them separate from other incoming email from the start.

If you submit to our old submission email, you’ll receive a message redirecting you to QueryManager. However, we do still have materials sent prior to today, and will respond per usual. No need to resend anything sent before we made this shift.

As always, you can find complete submission guidelines for The Knight Agency on our website, including links to each agent’s QueryManager submission form. Or you can submit to my directly through my QueryManager form. I am currently seeking full-length novels only, including general/upmarket fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, single-title romance, young adult and middle grade fiction. My complete wishlist is available both here and at the agency link above. I have also been known to use the #MSWL tag on Twitter from time to time.

 

Closing to New Submissions

Temporarily Closing to New Submissions

I will be closing to new submissions as of October 10th. I need to work my way through an enormous backlog of submitted work right now. Plus a tall pile of client manuscripts threatens to kill me daily. (Or maybe that’s my clients waiting for comments/edits.) Please note that my coworkers at The Knight Agency will still be accepting new material. As always, you can find our agency submission guidelines and other information at The Knight Agency’s site.

If I request or have requested material from you already, either by email or at a conference, please do send it. Previous queries do not count as new submissions, nor do conference pitches. If you are waiting to hear back on a query/partial/manuscript, thank you for your patience. I’ll be getting back to you as soon as possible.

I will reopen to new submissions once I have the current landslide under control. Keep an eye on this blog and/or social media for additional announcements. Thanks!

Webinar Reminder: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis

This is just a quick reminder for those of you interested in attending my Writer’s Digest webinar: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis. The course takes place online tomorrow, August 2nd, at 1pm ET. You can sign up right until the class begins and still be eligible for the critique synopsis that’s available to anyone who registers ahead. Full details on the course and information about sign up can be found here. Hope to have some of you in class tomorrow!

Tips for Navigating the Submissions Process

Writers often ask how they can improve their chances of getting an agent interested in their work, and of course the most important response, always, is to write a great book — fabulous story, strong hook, beautifully crafted prose, satisfying ending. That’s easier said than done, and it’s not something an agent can really help a writer with other than to encourage them to hone their skills, to get feedback from trusted sources, and to keep on trying. But not all advice requires such time-intensive, career-building effort.

I offer up for your benefit the low-hanging fruit of the submissions process — the advice that is easy to follow. In many cases these morsels are common sense, things that should not even need to be said, but for some reason still get ignored all too often, whether because the writer has gone half-blind staring at their manuscript, nerves make them careless, or the task just hasn’t occurred to them. Most of these things should be done after you’re finished tweaking your manuscript, and in most cases repeated if you go back in for additional revisions. Others apply to your query letters and should be handled on an as-needed basis.

Run spell check. I understand you might have a lot of wiggly red lines in your manuscript and/or query letter. Fantasy writers especially deal in made up words and names that set spell check into a tail spin. If that’s the sort of writing you do, it’s worth the time it takes to create a custom dictionary for your project where you add in the correct spelling of your characters’ names, fancy spells they throw out, the names of countries and rivers and mountain ranges you’ve devised, etc. That way you can not only minimize those wiggly red lines, but you’ll find out if you have a typo in the words you’ve created as well as the more standard varieties. But in this day an age, there is no reason for an agent to face a query letter and/or manuscript with multiple misspellings. If my spell check catches them, yours will, too.

Save edits and eliminate markups. All too often I open a manuscript to find that the writer’s critique partner made extensive edits and comments using Track Changes or some other system, and the writer has left them in the file for the world to see. Even if I have Track Changes turned off, Word presents me with the Final Showing Markup. It’s important to go through all those comments and edits and physically accept or reject the changes in order to have a clean manuscript for submission. If you want to keep track of your critique partner’s or your editor’s notes, simply save a new, clean copy of the file for submission purposes only. You really don’t want your prospective agent to find a sea of colorful revisions the first time they look at your work.

Read the submission guidelines. Agents will repeat this until they go hoarse, and yet I constantly receive queries that show without any doubt that the writer failed to take two minutes to visit the agency site and read over the guidelines for submissions. Take the time. It’s in everyone’s best interests. Why would you want to query an agent who does not handle the sorts of stories you write? Guidelines are there to streamline the submissions process and to help both writer and agent make the best match possible.

Proofread your query letter. This is the first thing an agent will read, so give it the same love and attention you would give your manuscript. The easiest way to handle this is to write your query in Word or another word processing program with a reliable (or customized) spell check, review it carefully for any clunky phrases, missing words and so on, then copy and paste the final version of the letter into your email.

Personalize your query letter and check for errors. Yes, it’s nice if you tell me why you’re submitting to me, specifically, but by this I mean make sure the email address and the salutation match. There’s nothing worse than opening an email query only to see it says Dear [Name of some other agent]. Most agents expect that you’re submitting to multiple people, but don’t let that turn the process into an assembly line. Take the time to double check that you’ve updated all parts of your query letter before you hit send. And by no means should you send a single email to a long series of agents. If the wrong name in the salutation will annoy me, the site of one hundred agents in the to: field will cause me to auto-reject. And no, hiding the list by putting the addresses in the blind copy filed doesn’t change my poor impression. Again, take the time to query each agent individually.

Include pertinent information with all correspondence. Remind the agent who you are and what you’re writing when you send any follow-up emails. If you meet an agent at a conference and they request material from you, be sure to remind them of that when you follow through. Include your name, where you met, the title and genre of your work, and what you’re sending (three chapters, 50 pages, synopsis, whatever). If the agent has requested attachments, be sure they’re actually attached and that they are the correct files, and that they include your name and the title of the work as well. When you write an agent to check up on a project, include your previous email in the thread or, at minimum, use the same email address to make yourself searchable.

Are any of these a magic bullet that will land you an agent or get you published in a heartbeat? Of course not. But they are all basic good-business practices that you should make a habit as you travel along your career path. Agents look for great projects, but they also look for writers with whom they will enjoy working. A writer who takes a few moments to make sure they’re sending the cleanest possible work, with clear correspondence accompanying it, will be a much more appealing prospect than a writer who is sloppy and creates extra work for the agent. Take a professional stance and you will already shine more brightly in the crowd.

Referrals, or The Art of Giving Yourself Away

I never thought this was something I would need to explain to people, but recent trends in my inbox suggest otherwise. So I am taking a moment here to discuss how referrals work in terms of sending me a query for your project.

If you begin your query letter by stating that so-and-so referred you to me, then I need to actually know that person. And by know, I mean they are my client or an editor I work with or a friend with whom I chat at conferences/online/by phone/in person on a fairly regular basis. Just because I spoke with someone once at a conference eight years ago, does not make them a valid connection. It needs to be a person with whom I’m comfortable confirming that referral, as in, “Hi, did you send such-and-such author my way?” Because I will do that. I will check up on you. So do not name drop if it won’t stand up to my verification.

Also, please understand what a referral actually is. It is when someone who knows both of us specifically suggests that you drop me a line. It is not a referral if someone you know read my name in a round up of agents who represent a specific genre. It is not a referral if your critique partner (who does not know me personally) suggested you add my name to your submissions list. Nor is it a referral if we know someone in common, but they never actually suggest you query me. Referrals are based on real-world connections, and involve a suggestion that we might work well together.

Now, I realize writers talk among themselves and brainstorm and share information, and it’s wonderful if your fellow writers or industry friends give you lists of agents to check out because they represent your kind of book, or represent some author you love. This is how the business works, how you come across people to query. But suggestions and recommendations are not the same as referrals, and it’s important to keep them separated in your mind, and in your query language.

Every writer hopes to find that foot in the door, the trick that will help get them to the next level, and referrals, when genuine, certainly qualify. As an agent, I’m always looking for ways to weed through the material coming my way for a clue as to quality, so if a writer or editor I know and admire suggests that I take a look at something, I trust their judgment and give that writer’s work a chance. That doesn’t mean I’ll sign someone just on someone else’s say so; I still need to love the writing and feel I can sell it. But a true referral definitely serves as a short-cut to my desk.

And that’s the key. It has to be real. Because no agent wants to work with a writer who lies to get a foot in the door, and there’s no quicker way to find yourself with a rejection letter than to pretend a connection that does not exist. I’ve seen a sharp increase in name-dropping in my inbox the last few months, and maybe it’s something I should simply ignore — shake my head and send the rejections and let the writers in question struggle on. But I suspect some of these are honest mistakes, a misunderstanding regarding the terminology that results in some writers giving an incorrect impression, so I’m putting this out there in hopes of setting them straight.