Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
So I have been tossing around the premise for my next project for a few weeks now. I've been mapping out who my characters are and the format I'd like to see it develop into. I've been walking around in a daze for weeks, wrapped up in my thoughts-- what these kids will look like, how they'll react to situation I am going to put them in. I am trying to balance my story around two characters-- one middle-grade and one young adult. I want my YA to be an integral character, not a sidebar, but I want my project to be middle-grade. How do you do that? How do you do that and be authentic?
I browsed the shelves at Barnes & Noble yesterday on the lookout for great reads, see what's new.
From my experience middle grade students generally want books that lean towards the YA market. They want books about characters that are older because it makes them feel older. They don't want books that have cutesy covers with cartoonish characters. (That was 4th grade) They want a book that looks and feels like a book that maybe a high school student might be reading--AND the content needs to feel older BUT read younger and cleaner than YA.
I don't think enough people are doing this. Most the things I looked at yesterday were far to young sounding or totally inappropriately YA.
How do you make things older without alienating your reader? You want it to feel authentic but many of the aspects of YA life need to be excluded from middle grade fiction. It's a tightrope that's difficult balance. I love middle schoolers. 6th- 8th graders are still at this place in life, where they are not yet so calloused against books and reading like many of their High School counterparts. They are the cusp of such growth and change, I really think that in middle school many students decide what kind of person they are going to grow into. Honest, dishonest, caring, apathetic. It's a big painful deal. And I am stoked to be a part of it.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I stumbled upon QueryTracker.net during my first month of online query letter research. I was trying to find all the information I could about writing my best query letter and discovered this amazing website.
QueryTracker.net is awesome.
Everything a newbie writer could possibly need, all in one place! And all totally free! Create various personalized lists of agents and publishers, narrow your search to your specifications (for example: fiction-middle grade, agents accepting unsolicited queries) which makes this the most user friendly and easily maneuverable site I have come across so far.
Create lists of agents queried and keep track of the dates and their responses all with one click. You can also keep track of your actual query letter, which is quite helpful when experimenting with various letters as strategy. View statistics and reports about your queried agent-- how they reject, form letter or helpful, how many times they have requested pages, fulls, and the percentage of closed/ no responses from that agent. On the comments section fellow queriers can share their submission experiences and the response times for that agent. You gain valuable information about what kinds of projects that agent is interested in and has been taking on recently. All extremely valuable information.
QueryTracker.net is not just a useful tool for managing the query process, it is tool for sculpting and guiding the query process. QueryTracker.net is where I go first... and last
Wow! I'm up, I'm down, I'm all over the place!
Coming off two rejections in one weekend I was so pleasantly surprised Monday morning to find a curt little message in my inbox, "If IN THE MIDDLE is still available I'd welcome the chance to read the first fifty pages."
And yes I understand that this doesn't really mean that much- that in a few weeks I can just as easily receive a curt little email that says, "Thank you for your submission but we are not the right agency for this at this time."
But until then I have hope!
The two rejections had me revamping my query letter and this request for pages comes off my original query, the letter I felt was a little too dry. I am no closer to knowing what agents want than I was before. I think they are all looking for different things when it comes to queries, it's a game, a game that I need to get good at.
The positive from my two rejections is that it has forced me to write yet another query and I am quite pleased with it and intend to send out a couple of them this evening.
Forward, forward, forward! (But with a spring in my step)
Sunday, March 14, 2010
So I received two rejection letters this weekend. Both within 48 hours of my queries. These instantaneous rejections were from my "new and improved" query letter. It got me thinking. Maybe not so "improved"? It's a little disheartening. I went back over my other queries, those I consider pending, trying to figure out how many may still be out there, in cyberspace, possibly being considered. I read yesterday on some random blog that your rejection may have been the millisecond it took the queried agent to hit the delete button. No curt form letter, no notification of any kind. So I guess I should be thankful to these most recent rejectors. At least they had the courtesy to let me know. I'm going to figure maybe one third of my queries are still out there active in some "waiting to be addressed" pile-- which means I need to query more, a lot more. I also decided I need a new query letter, so I threw all previous drafts out the window and started from scratch. I tried to concentrate on my favorite parts of the book, more action and less plot. My query letter is reading more and more like a book jacket. We'll see.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Bullies, bullies, bullies. I have bullies on the brain right now. Middle grade fiction often includes a bully antagonist. It's interesting watching my kids, their reactions to various bullying circumstances-- as a writer I glean useful tidbits from their experiences. What is it that leads some kids to bully? I remember when my daughter was about three, I took her to a beautiful park in Ojai, California. I sat on a bench under the oak trees, while she raced around the jungle gym. There were only about half a dozen kids on the play structure, plenty of room for everyone. A little kid walked up to my darling little girl and pushed her to the ground--for no reason--no words were exchanged--no toys were threatened. Of course I was outraged, I swept my daughter up from the ground and barked at the little monster. But what is it that makes children behave that way? Is it some innate survival of the fittest thing that they have going on there? What is it that makes some kids so mean? Many of my characters are bullied, probably because I was bullied as a kid, but in terms of understanding the bully? I'm at a loss. So what happens when the bully is an adult? How do you write your protagonist out of that situation?
Thursday, March 11, 2010
So I couldn't wait any longer--I broke down and bought the UK version of the third book in the Millennium Series The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest . I am normally not a fan of crime fiction but I AM a fan of Steig Larsson. The first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was given to me as a gift from a dear friend --because I happen to have a dragon tattoo-- and I was instantly hooked! Steig Larsson has an incredible knack for creating strong, intelligent, independent female characters that kick ass. And like all truly great books-- when I finished I was left with a dull pain in my chest and an disorienting sense of loss... because it was over.
Check out all of Steig Larsson's books:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played with Fire
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Being completely new to the process of submission-- I have scoured books and the internet for the proper way to right a "stand out" query letter. And the more research I do the more dumbfounded I have become. I think that like all things, the query letter has morphed and changed over the years. Opinions abound. I have revamped my query letter three times so far during my initial agent querying process. The more I browse the internet the more I question my query letter. I know I read somewhere that leaving out the ending is a "rookie move" but the more I browse the more I've discovered you want it to read less like a synopsis and more like a book jacket. And who wants to read the end of the book on the back cover? So my query letter currently lives somewhere in the middle. I have less than twenty queries out there right now. I was hoping to get a little feedback as to which of my three queries seem more effective before I start querying more aggressively. Unfortunately the process is so slow I don't know if I can be that patient. The good news is that they have not all bounced right back as instant rejections, which as I have read, does happen. It has been a very tedious process researching agents. And because I am still so uncertain of my query letter, I prefer to query agents that require a page submission along with the letter-so that my letter, be it awful or awesome, is not the only thing deciding my success.