The 1 Thing Authors Should Be Doing to Improve Their Writing

So many authors read blog post after blog post or book after book about writing, but too few authors put the time and money necessary into conferences.

I attended my first conference back in 2013, and even then, I had to be prodded into it by some writing friends. I didn’t see the point in spending money to learn about writing when I’d already paid to get a Masters degree in Creative Writing.

Boy, was I wrong! The conference I went to was called the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana. To be honest, I went because I wanted a literary agent, and the conference offered me multiple opportunities to interact with and pitch agents. (Spoiler alert: what I learned at the conference and the feedback I got eventually helped me land my agent.) But the conference did so much more for me than just help me connect with agents.

The conference:

  • Offered great advice on perfecting my query letter.
  • Helped me learn new skills for revising, plotting, world building, character building, and other craft lessons.
  • Inspired me to get on Twitter where I connected with countless writers and publishing professionals.
  • Connected me with multiple critique partners.
  • Allowed me to talk with editors about what they were looking for.
  • Helped me establish relationships with big name authors.
  • Offered free help setting up my blog.

When you look at all the things you can gain by going to a conference, it’s worth the cost because you can’t get some of those things just from reading books about writing.

In that vein, I recognize conferences can be expensive once you add in travel and lodging. So if you can’t swing attending one in person, look for online ones. For example, WriteOnCon is a good one that’s very inexpensive. Another one you should check out that’s coming up soon is offered by the same Midwest Writers Workshop that I went to. It’s called Build a Better Plot with Shirley Jump.

Find out more about it here:

http://www.midwestwriters.org/2017/03/build-better-plot-shirley-jump-mww-ongoing-starts-march-27/

There could also be conferences offered in your state or through your local writing center.

The other conferences I’ll be attending this year as either a participant or panelist/speaker are:

Seven Sentences (presented by Maggie Stiefvater)

Nashville, Tennessee

April 2nd, 2017

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/seven-sentences-nashville-tickets-32341738009

(Note: Other dates and locations available)

 

Midwest Writers Workshop

Muncie, Indiana

July 20-22, 2017

http://www.midwestwriters.org/

 

Ch1Con

Chicago, Illinois

August 5th, 2017

https://chapteroneconference.com/

 

Will you be at any of these conferences or have a conference you want others to know about? Let me know in the comments.

 

10 Tips for Writing A Query Letter and Query Letter Critique Giveaway

How do you write a query letter- those few short paragraphs that have to sum up your entire novel and seemingly hold the key to getting a literary agent? First, you have to start with a finished novel. Once you’ve got a novel that been revised and edited multiple times, then you’re ready to sit down and write your query letter. But make sure you’ve researched agents and know who would be a good fit for you.

Then:

  1. Start with either a hook or the more formal opening. The hook is my personal favorite way to start. It’s a line designed to capture attention and draw the agent in right from the start.

Example:

Cinderella: Don’t think a pair of shoes can change your life? Think again.

Peter Pan: All children grow up, except one. (This is a reworking of the opening line of Peter Pan. So if you’re looking for inspiration, see if your first line can help.)

The second way is to start a little more personally/formally by either saying that you’re seeking representation for your novel and that you think this particular agent would be a good fit. This can also be a place to include if you’ve ever met that agent at a conference or if you saw a Tweet they sent that made you think they’d like this novel. This shows that you’ve done your research on them.

  1. Include no more than 3 paragraphs summarizing your plot. You don’t have to give away every element, but try to get the overall plot communicated. Make sure you’ve got enough tension laced throughout. And it’s okay to leave the agent hanging by hinting at the decision your character will have to make or that the balance of good vs. evil hangs in their hands.
  2. Along with the plot, make sure there’s urgency in your query. Agents want to know that your novel is going to keep moving, so mentioning a timeline can go a long way.
  3. Try not to name more than 3 characters in a query. Usually, this is regulated to the main character, the love interest or sidekick, and the villain. Too many names makes it easy to get lost.
  4. Include the word count and genre of your novel in either the more formal opening paragraph or the last paragraph.
  5. Mention toward the end (usually in the final paragraph) that the novel is complete. An easy way to do this is to say “My novel XYZ is complete at 79,000 words, and I would be happy to send it to you if you’re interested,” or “I’d be happy to send you the completed manuscript if you’re interested.”
  6. Include a short biography at the end of the query letter with any relevant information. Are you a librarian? Include that. Have you had a short story published? Include that. Have an MFA degree? Include that, too. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself.
  7. Follow submission guidelines. This is so important. This goes back to researching agents. Only include what they’re looking for- whether that’s a query letter, a short bio, and the first 10 pages or if they want a query letter and the first 50 pages. Not sending what they ask for shows you didn’t do your research. And agents won’t waste time reading the submission of someone who didn’t bother to read their guidelines.
  8. Don’t send attachments when you send your query letter. If an agent comes back and asks for your manuscript, you can attach it then. But never attach anything to an original query. Paste all materials into the email.
  9. Test out sending your query letter to people with a variety of email address (Hotmail, gmail, outlook, yahoo, etc.). It’s easy for formatting to get messed up, so by testing it out, you’ll know what you need to adjust before you send your wonky formatting to an agent.

It’s also a good idea to have someone who hasn’t read the book read your query letter. That way, they can point out what doesn’t make sense to them.

Then, after it’s all ready to go, send that query letter off, sit back, and relax. Okay, who am I kidding? Sending out queries is super stressful. Throw yourself into your next project so you don’t go insane checking you Inbox for responses.

Have a finished query letter? You’re in luck! Since my birthday is this Saturday, I’ve decided to give you, my readers, a present! Enter my giveaway for a QUERY LETTER CRITIQUE from literary agent Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis. Click on the Rafflecopter link to enter!

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How I Landed my Literary Agent While in Antarctica

Getting a literary agent can seem like finding the Holy Grail! You’ve accomplished your goal, and all is right in the world. However, what most people forget is that it’s usually a long, strenuous quest that leads to Literary Agent Land. Of course, you could be one of those lucky few, those fairytales in the flesh, who gets an agent in the first few days (or weeks) of trying. It’s not impossible; it does happen. But the odds are that you’re going to have to face a few more feats on your own journey.

At least, that’s what my journey felt like.

But let’s start at the beginning. Fresh out of my MFA program, I was ready to query my thesis project. It was as shiny as I could make it, but I had no idea where to begin. I did all the right things. I researched how to write a query letter. I found the agents who represented the books that I loved. I submitted queries without any attachments. And…..crickets. Okay, I got a few little requests here and there, but nothing stuck.

I felt like a failure. No one wanted my amazing book? Well, maybe that’s because my novel needed a complete rewrite (but that’s another story….literally!). I regrouped. While I was waiting to hear from agents, I’d written another book, a better one. This time, I had a better plan of attack, too. I was going to query a smaller group of agents who were the ones I actually wanted to work with. I’d do it in smaller batches to see if my query letter and first few pages were garnering the right level of attention. I also added a conference to the mix.

I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, where I met top agents and got to pitch them my book. Better yet, they loved the idea! So…is that where I met my agent? No. But I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have landed my agent without Midwest Writers Workshop because while there I talked with an agent who gave me an R&R (a revise and resubmit request). Based on her feedback, I changed the opening of my novel so that it was stronger and more attention grabbing. I also learned from Midwest Writers Workshop that I should be on Twitter because virtually every writer in the world was on Twitter.

annie-at-mww-panel
Annie at the Midwest Writers Workshop doing a panel on the Agent/Author relationship after signing with her agent.

So I joined Twitter, and I saw that an agent I was following (who liked fairytale retellings!) was having a contest on her blog. I posted the first 250 words, and I waited. Well, I lost the contest because a winner was randomly selected to win the free query critique. Yet, I won in the end because that agent requested the first 10 pages from me based on my first 250 words.

However, this request came at a very odd time for me. I was sitting in the Atlanta airport about to embark on a trip to Antarctica. (If you’ve read my About Me blog post, you’ll know I love to travel.) That’s right ANTARCTICA…a place where I would have no Internet access for a couple of weeks.

annie-in-antarctica-1
Annie in Antarctica

 

I had materials out with a few other agents, so I did what any sensible writer would do when heading off on such an adventure- I wrote a book for my sister on how to handle any literary matters that might arise in my absence. That manual covered everything from how not to respond at all if I got a rejection to how to properly send materials if I got a request and, of course, what to do if I got an offer.

Well, while I was happily off playing with the penguins, that same agent came back and asked for the full manuscript. My sister obliged by sending it. Then came the offer. AN AGENT WANTED TO REPRESENT ME!!! Of course, I didn’t know any of this until a few weeks later, although thankfully my sister had followed the guidelines I’d set out for her and told the agent I was out of town and would respond to their offer immediately after I returned.

I found out about the offer while sitting in the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, using a shady internet connection that I only used BECAUSE I HAD TO KNOW IF I HAD ANY OFFERS!

The first person I told that I got offer was this old guy sitting next to me in the airport because I whispered, “I got an offer,” as I stared around trying to locate my parents in the airport terminal.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind as I informed other agents that I had an offer, got another offer, and ultimately had to make a decision. But I know I made the right decision in the end.

So if you’re still looking for a literary agent, query the agents you really think would be a good fit for you, and stay with it. Sometimes it takes one or two or ten books! Don’t give up. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re frolicking with penguins in Antarctica or sitting on your sofa in Reno when the offer comes. The feeling of joy will be the exact same.