On Querying and Originality in Fantasy

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in January 2014, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

If you’re a writer in the query trenches now or if you’re planning on looking for an agent and getting traditionally published in the future, you know that getting rejections is part of the process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume the Querying Writer has done her research, finished and polished her manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of relevant agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines.

There are many, many reasons for an agent to send the Querying Writer a rejection, and for nearly every single one of them there’s a solution. Sometimes, the agent will tell you what’s wrong with your submission: it’s called a personalized rejection. Other times, the agent won’t tell you why she’s rejecting your manuscript: it’s the infamous Form Rejection.

Thankfully, a few agents use Twitter to reveal the most common reasons why they reject a submission. They use the #10queriesin10tweets or #tenqueries hashtags. And one reason that keeps popping up when it comes to Fantasy manuscripts is this one:

sara-megibow-tweet

The premise isn’t unique/original/inventive enough.

In a sea of submissions, agents and editors are looking for a Unique Concept. Or a Familiar Story With An Unexpected Twist. They want the Unfamiliar. They want to be Surprised. As we do, as readers.

So how do you avoid being rejected for lack of originality? Here are a few pointers:

  • Research the industry: find out what’s on the shelves right now or what will hit the shelves in the next 18 months. This will give an idea of what agents/editors have already seen and aren’t looking for.
  • Avoid tropes in your writing: I recommend this website to find out which writing devices have been overdone.
  • Read: writing a Fantasy book requires reading Fantasy books, to avoid the annoying predicament which consists in writing a book that already exists.

Are you worried about how original your manuscript is or isn’t? Have you had rejections stating your premise felt too familiar? What have you done to ensure your book was as original as possible? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

How To Write A Pitch For Your Novel

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in February 2013, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

Whether you’re looking for an agent or self-publishing your book, there comes a time in your life as a writer when you have to write a pitch for your novel. Here is a bit of advice on what to do and what to avoid when drafting your pitch…

1 – Bear in mind the purpose of your pitch is to sell the idea of your story to an agent or a reader. “Hooking” them with a 10-line paragraph summarising your 90k+ novel isn’t an easy task, but it is doable, and necessary if you want  your book to make it to readers’ shelves. So let’s start, shall we?

2 – A pitch for a novel should be about 200 words long. Which is to say, it’s brief.

3 – A pitch should include:

  • Who your Main Character is and what he wants (his GOAL)
  • What the inciting incident is and why your Main Character chooses to do something about it (his CHOICE)
  • What is at stake should your Main Character fail in his endeavour (WHY THE READER SHOULD CARE)

4 – A pitch should NOT be too generic and vague. Chuck Sambuchino gives a great example of what a pitch should not be like on the Writer’s Digest website. Do go and read it.

5 – A pitch should not include everything about your story. It should not attempt to describe in detail the wonderfully complex world you’ve created. Thus it should only include your Main Character, the Antagonist and whoever is relevant to the Main Character’s goal, choice and problem. And it should not mention too many proper names and places. And it should make sense.

6 – Last but not least, you should have beta readers for your pitch. Try to find at least one who hasn’t read your novel and has no idea what it’s about. And try to have at least one who has read your novel and can tell you if your pitch does it justice.

I hope this helps! Feel free to leave me your questions and comments below!

(All GIFs are from Pushing Daisies and none of them belong to me)

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Hello gentle reader,

I was invited by the awesome Rhiann Wynn-Nolet to join the Writing Process Blog Tour. Rhiann is one of the co-founders of the Like A Virgin Contest and the CriTiki Lounge, which both help writers in their querying process. She’s represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit, and writes YA/NA fiction with a gothic atmosphere and passionate characters. She blogs here and you can also find her on Twitter here.

What am I currently working on?

I’m working on a YA Historical Fantasy entitled THE BRIGHT AND THE LOST. It takes place in the 1920s during the London Season and it involves flappers in jazz nightclubs, debutantes in Mayfair mansions, dark magic and strange creatures. I like to think it as THE GREAT GATSBY meets DOWNTON ABBEY with magic, because that’s not ambitious or anything 😉


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

YA Historical Fantasy – Fantasy set in a specific historical era – is quite a niche genre. When I researched YA Fantasy books set in the 1920s, I found that most of them were set in the US and I thought it’d be interesting to write a story set in London instead. The Roaring Twenties did cross the ocean after all, and post-WW1 England is a great, dark setting which I wished to explore.

Why do I write what I write?

My answer to this question is always the same: I write the books I want to read. So I write books with clever, strong female characters, with magic and monsters, with darkness and love.

How does my individual writing process work?

I’m not the kind of writers who gets a Shiny New Idea and spends the next three months turning it into a book. I’m quite a slow writer. I get a Shiny New Idea, then I mull it over for months. Once this New Idea is fleshed out with a world, main characters and a loose plot, I outline. Only then do I start writing a first draft, which will need many, many rounds of revisions before it finds its way into the hands of my beta-readers. My CPs are the only one whom I ask to read earlier drafts, and I’m so lucky they’re the most patient people in the world.

And now, to tag some friends!

The wonderful Katie Bucklein who let me read her AMAZING YA Fantasy novel with pirates. She’s the Next Big Thing, you’ve been warned.

The lovely Melody Marshall who writes YA Fantasy and Science Fiction and is always happy to chat on Twitter.

My wonderful CP Jessica Rubinkowski who writes YA Fantasy and who just had a baby! She’s awesome, I’m telling you.

If I haven’t tagged you and you’d like to share your answers to the writing process questions, please feel free to do so in the comments section below!

The Quest for a Critique Partner

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in August 2013, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

Today I’d like to share a few tips about finding the right Critique Partner(s).

frodosam

What is a Critique Partner?

A writer working alone always gets to a point where he needs another set of eyes to let him know how he can make his Work In Progress better. Beta readers can help by pointing out what they liked or disliked in the story’s plot, structure and characters. But their advice can only take the writer so far, because they are only readers, as their designation points out. Enter the Critique Partner. A Critique Partner is a writer, who can help another writer with all the aspects of his story, from plot holes to grammar mistakes.

Where can you find a Critique Partner?

If you’re lucky enough to have a local critique group, start there. But if you don’t have anyone in real life you feel can fill this role, look online.

– Social media is a good place to start, especially Twitter.

– Specialised websites also offer to help writers get in touch: Ladies Who Critique, How About We CP, CP Seek, She Writes, PublishingCrawl.

– Online writing conferences and writing contests are also a great way to find people who write your genre: WriteOnCon, PitchMadness, PitchMas, PitchWars, etc.

– For those of you writing MG/YA Fantasy, do check out the SCBWI forums and YA Writers Reddit.

– The National Novel Writing Months (NaNoWriMo, JuNoWriMo and CampNaNo) are also a good way to find writers in your genre.

– And don’t forget forums like Absolutewrite and Agent Query Connect.

How do I know I’ve found the right Critique Partner?

A CP’s feedback needs to be honest, constructive and helpful. But this works both ways: your feedback on your CP’s manuscript also needs to be honest, constructive and helpful. You need to agree on time frames, manuscript length and genre.

Most partnerships start with a casual conversation, then a first chapters swap. If you’re happy with the feedback received/given, you can move on to full manuscripts, and hopefully a long-term friendship!

How can you make it work?

Finding a good match isn’t easy: don’t be afraid to say ‘this isn’t working for me’ if you feel your CP’s feedback isn’t what you expect. Chances are you are going to be reading A LOT of each other’s writing in the next few years, so you need to be happy with each other’s schedules and comments. Balance is key: this is a partnership, and ideally both writers are at the same stage in their writing.

You know you’ve found the right CP if you feel this balance is there, and if you think your partnership works both ways. Hopefully this partnership turns into friendship, and your CP becomes the first person you turn to for anything related to your writing career, whether you’ve jut received a request for your manuscript or hit rock bottom while drafting your Work In Progress.

So tell me: do you have a hard time finding a CP? If you have a CP, where did you find each other? Let me know in the comments below!

How to plot your Fantasy novel

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in May 2013, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

Today I’d like to share with you a few tips to plot your Fantasy novel effectively. Whether you use this template for your first draft or your tenth one, I believe it’s always useful to keep in mind your novel’s important milestones. It helps with the pace of the story and it enables you to keep the reader engaged.

one-does-not-simply-write-a-book

There are dozens of templates out there (the most famous being the Save The Cat Beat Sheet by Blake Snyder). I’ve come up with the one below by taking bits and pieces from here and there. I have found it works well for a Fantasy novel. Feel free to reuse and adapt it to your needs…

Plot Point 1 Opening/Protagonist intro (1% in)

Plot Point 2 Inciting Incident (5%)

Plot Point 3 First Turning Point (10%)

Plot Point 4 First Big Twist (40%)

Plot Point 5 Middle Turning Point (50%)

Plot Point 6 Second Big Twist (70%)

Plot Point 7 Climax (85%)

Plot Point 8 Resolution (95%)

Plot Point 9 Finale (100%)

So what do you think? Do you use a plot spreadsheet to outline or revise your novel? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

A Month In Review – ROW80 Check-In 5 and Wrap-Up

Hello gentle reader,

you may have noticed my last ROW80 Check-In was… 6 weeks ago. I was supposed to check-in every week, but life got hectic in May and I chose to use the little free time I had to read and write instead of checking in. But now we’ve reached the end of this Round and it’s only fair that I let you know how I did.

ROW80 Check-In

ROW80 Logo

My goal for this round was to read or write every day.

This round I read 8 novels, 1 novella and 2 non-fiction books for research. I also beta-read 2 manuscripts. My goal being to read one book per week this year, I’m on target here!

This round, I also added 14K to my Work In Progress. It’s not as high a word count as I wanted it to be, but considering that I’m editing my other manuscript at the same time, it’s a good number, I think.

What I’ve been reading

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock (YA Urban Fantasy)

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch (YA Epic Fantasy)

Murder (Mayhem #2) by Sarah Pinborough (Historical Fantasy)

Debutantes by Cora Harrison (YA Historical)

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter (YA Historical)

Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2) by Tahereh Mafi (YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian)

Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi (YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian)

The Forever Song (Blood of Eden #3) by Julie Kagawa (YA Paranormal/Dystopian)

Born of Corruption: A Born of Illusion Novella by Teri Brown (YA Historical Fantasy)

What I’ve been watching

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful

Places I’ve been

I went to London this week, and walked around Foyles’ new flagship bookstore.

It’s an amazing place, with a huge YA section.

EM Castellan - Foyles 1

EM Castellan - Foyles 3

I also went to Liberty on Regent Street, one of my favourite department stores in London.

I just love its Tudor revival building!

EM Castellan - Liberty

What’s next

In July I’ll be taking part in CampNaNoWriMo, another writing challenge. Feel free to join in!

How was your ROW80 Round? Make sure to share your writing progress and what inspired you in the comment section below! And here is the Linky to check out the other ROW80 posts.

Querying and the request for an exclusive submission

Hello gentle reader,

While querying, you may be faced with the situation of having an agent request “an exclusive”. It’s when you send your manuscript to this agent alone and stop querying other agents until she gives you the green light.

Does this happen often?

According to a completely unscientific Twitter poll of my own doing, it seems to happen more often than you might imagine. Therefore if you’re querying, you might want to think about what you’ll do if/when faced with this situation.

How do you respond?

First, you celebrate, because this is a request!

Then you have three options. Panicking isn’t one of them.

Option 1: Your manuscript is already on the desk of one or several agents, so you can’t actually grant this exclusivity. In this case, you have to inform the agent who requested an exclusive and she’ll decide whether she still wants to read your manuscript or not.

Option 2: You don’t have any material out but you want to keep your options open, i.e. keep querying. This is what’s usually advised. Granting exclusivity means you stop querying for at least a couple of weeks, which many see as a waste of time, especially since there’s no way to predict the exclusivity will result in an offer of representation. In this case, be honest and let the agent know you’re not willing to grant anyone exclusivity. Again, she’ll either choose to request anyway or she’ll step down.

Option 3: You don’t have any material out but you’re willing to grant to the requesting agent the exclusivity she asked for.

Now, why on earth would you do this?

Since the consensus seems to be that granting an agent an exclusive isn’t to your advantage, when and how should you decide to say yes to this request?

  • The agent is your Dream Agent: in this case, you might not want to risk saying no to her. You might decide granting exclusive is worth it, even if the agent ends up rejecting your manuscript.
  • The agent is from a Big Agency: there are agents from big/famous agencies who ALWAYS request exclusives and refuse to read if this exclusivity isn’t granted. On the plus side, it often means they request material they’re really excited about: they believe in it and they want to have the chance to make an offer before anyone else. It’s flattering. On the downside, they might not make an offer in the end and you’ve wasted time. Again, it’s up to you to decide if you think it’s worth it.
  • If you grant exclusivity, make sure you set a deadline of no more than 4 weeks and make sure the agent agrees to it. If you haven’t heard from the agent after 4 weeks, nudge and feel free to start querying again (unless the agent replies and asks for more time… or makes an offer!).

Whichever the case, GRANTING AN EXCLUSIVE SHOULD FEEL LIKE THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE TIME. Dahlia Adler has a great post on querying red flags, and she explains that if it feels like an agent is making an unreasonable request, they most likely are making an unreasonable request.

To finish this post on a personal note, here is my own experience with exclusives:

I had one request for an exclusive in my querying life. I said yes. Here is why:

  • I had no material out at the time. I hadn’t even started querying. I met the agent at a writers’ conference. She read the first 10 pages of my manuscript, and asked for the rest – as an exclusive.
  • She was from a Big Agency, and she was used to requesting exclusives when she loved a project.
  • She was one of my dream agents.
  • I asked for a 4-week deadline. She replied to me within 2 weeks.
  • She didn’t offer representation, but she did give me valuable feedback.

To this day, I don’t regret granting this exclusive. So my advice on this topic is: do what feels right and what you think is best for you and your manuscript at the time of the request.

What do you think? Have you experienced a request for an exclusive while querying? What did you do? Feel free to leave me a comment below!