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12 Questions – Are You Ready for an Agent?

This information is for writers of fiction seeking an agent.

If you hope to have your book published by a traditional publishing house (Christian or general market) you will very possibly need an agent. Have you been thinking about searching for one? The task is daunting. Before you begin you need to figure out whether or not you are ready for an agent. That ultimately means knowing if your manuscript(s) is ready.

Here are 12 questions to ask yourself to decide when you are ready.

Picture book writers check out Carol Baldwin’s post 6 Tips for PB Writers Getting an Agent.

If you plan to self-publish your work of fiction you won’t need an agent. But answering these questions will help you to make your book the best it can be.

1. Is your manuscript finished?

Do not query an agent unless your book is finished.
Also, if you write for young children (below Middle Grade) do you have several finished manuscripts? Agents want to represent you and all of your work, not just one story. Do not send several manuscripts. Query only one. However, if the agent like your manuscript they may ask for more.

2. Is your manuscript perfect?

Is it perfect according to industry standards, not yours? Has it been through your critique group several times? Have you incorporated the changes you think work? Has it been edited for spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.? Can you pay a professional editor to go through it?

3. Have other people read your manuscript?

If your story is for young children (picture book, board book, early chapter book, easy reader) have several people who have never seen it before read it aloud to you? Your ear will pick up problem areas. Listen and take notes.

If the story is a MG or YA have several beta readers read it and given you their comments? A beta reader is someone who isn’t necessarily a writer but likes books in the genre of your book and is willing to read it and note questions and problems.

4. Have you written a query letter?

Have you written a query letter for this book? Has that been critiqued by your critique partners? This is what you send to the agent. Follow the individual agency’s submission guidelines exactly. If they use a specific form for submissions, fill it in with the information in your query letter. If the agency uses a submission website like Submittable, use it.

Check out these websites for help with writing a one-page, three-paragraph query letter.
Agent Query: How to Write a Query Letter
Jane Friedman Query Letters
Reedsyblog Query Letters

Those who plan to self-publish will find this step a big help in making sure your theme, character arc and plot are strong.

5. Have you written a synopsis?

If your book is for middle grade students or young adults have you written a synopsis, and has it been critiqued by your critique partners? A synopsis is basically a 4 to 10 page detailed plot summary of your novel. Even if you plan to self-publish writing a synopsis is critical to making sure your plot is seamless. Check these websites for help.
Jane Friedman Novel Synopsis
Writer’s Digest Write a Synopsis
Jerry Jenkins Synopsis

6. Have you written a pitch?

Have you written a pitch of 50 words or less for your story, and has it been critiqued? A pitch should include the main character, the problem or decision they face, and the change the character passed through—that is, the theme.

Jericho Writers Elevator Pitch

BookBub Elevator Pitch

7. Do you know your book’s intended audience?

Do you know who is your audience is? Is it written for boys or girls? What is your target age group? Does your vocabulary and reading level match that age group? Does the subject matter fit that age group? Does the content?

8. Does the word count fit industry standards for your target audience?

Each age group and each genre of children’s books have specific ranges for the number of pages editors will accept. Do not expect them to make exceptions for your book. Word counts equal numbers of pages. Each page costs money to print.

9. Have you researched the agent?

Do you know what types of manuscripts they are looking for? Do you know their submission guidelines and procedures?

10. Have you read many books in your genre?

Have you read current books—published in the last 5 years—in your age group and genre? For young children have you read and studied 100 picture books, board books, easy readers, or early chapter books? Have you read at least a dozen recently published MGs or YAs in your genre?

11. Have you put the manuscript(s) away and not read it for 3 to 6 months before you query the agent?

12. Do you have a professional website and a regular presence on social media?

This may not be important to you and me, but it IS important to editors and agents.

Creating Memorable Characters by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Back around 1996, my friend, Dave told me that when he was fourteen, his father died. At the funeral, a woman said to him, “I guess you’ll have to be the man of the house now.” Dave said to me. “I did not want to be the man of the house. I wasn’t ready for that responsibility.”

I never forgot his words and nearly a decade later, as I prepared to write the story of a North Carolina polio epidemic which happened in the midst of WWII, those words helped me discover my character.

Here’s what Ann Fay Honeycutt tells us on the first page of my book, BLUE.

Daddy took my chin and made me look right at him. “I expect you to be the man of the house while I’m gone,” he said. He handed me a pair of blue overalls. “You been wanting to wear britches ever since you first climbed that apple tree. I reckon this is your chance.”

Dave’s sentiments provided the spark for Ann Fay’s personality. I needed a character who would be overwhelmed with more responsibility than she thought she could handle. One who would feel weak but discover an inner strength. She’d need to be feisty and determined, resourceful, and sometimes bossy.

Before I knew her name or gender I considered giving my story a male protagonist but there was something in me that wanted to tell a strong female story. And, after all, the story called for it because so many women kept the home front strong during WWII.

Ann Fay was also informed by what I knew. There was a great deal of me in her. While writing I drew on the love of my daddy and his garden as well as my determination to conquer whatever obstacle gets in my way. All that came from my personal experience.

It’s natural for authors to draw on themselves and their own personalities and this can work well. But each story needs its own cast of characters and they can’t all be made in the author’s image. Sometimes the author has to research to discover authentic characters. Finding characters and rounding them out hasn’t always been as easy for me as knowing who Ann Fay was.

I anticipate sharing my process as well as what I’m learning from my beta readers, editor, and other experts at Write 2 Ignite’s Writing Fiction Master Class.  I’ll also provide some hands-on exercises for finding your character’s personality and voice. I hope to see you on September 19, 2020!

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter lives in Hickory, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren. Before she wrote historical novels, Joyce taught special education, worked in a camp for at-risk children and directed a preschool program. She also wrote Christian curricula, magazine articles, and a newspaper column & feature stories. Her novels have won an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, Parents’ Choice Honor Awards, and a North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her books include Healing Water: An Hawaiian Story about a teen boy’s survival in Hawaii’s leprosy settlement and the Bakers Mountain Stories series: AimBlueComfort, and Drive. Equal, the fifth book in the series will be released in 2020.

 

Punctuation: Spice Up Your Writing

spice up your writing with punctuation

Understanding how and why to use different punctuation marks adds personality and readability to your writing.

The English language has many interesting components to work with, and one of my favorite ways to add personality to my writing is through punctuation! In grade school, you learned about the different end marks: periods, exclamation marks, and question marks. You probably also learned about commas, colons, semicolons, and hyphens. 

There is a whole world of punctuation that adds personality and readability to your writing.

Maintaining Focus While Social-Distancing

By Debbie DeCiantis

How can a social-distancing writer focus on 1) writing progress and 2) spiritual wellbeing?

If you’re getting plenty of alone time, writing should be easy, right? But you’re still living in unfamiliar circumstances, perhaps removed from routines or places that inspire you. If you’re surrounded by children or other adults who suddenly find themselves without school, play dates, work, and outings, togetherness (as welcome as it may be) obviously forces a whole new writing paradigm.

Why You Should Write Your Book Proposal Now

If you are gung ho on getting a book published, be it your first or 20th, one essential component you’ll need is a book proposal. Whether you’re in the brainstorming process or just about to type “the end,” I suggest that writing the proposal sooner rather than later will help sharpen your manuscript in the long run.

A book proposal is a packet of information about you and your book. Once you’ve pitched or queried your idea to a publisher or literary agent and they responded with interest, you will send your best representation of your book which will be the proposal.

If you’d like to know how to write a proposal, check out this article

With your proposal, you’ll ask these five questions which will ultimately help you write your book.

  1. What’s my message?

Understand the point you’re trying to make to your readers. Do you want them to know what true love looks like? Do you want them to know that though life can get rough, they are never alone? These messages come across through your themes. If you can articulate it, you will write with a clearer purpose.

  1. What’s my story about?

Many writers hate that question because it means we have to boil hours of thinking and writing into one or two sentences. A proposal is no different. You will need to not only communicate your plot in one sentence, but also again as a paragraph. Each step allows you figure out your hook, your conflict, and your stakes involved. What is going to grab and keep the reader’s attention for the whole story?

  1. What’s my plot?

Now that you have a concise picture of your story, you can write a synopsis. A synopsis is like a play-by-play of your plot. In a handful of pages, you must go through the whole book’s diagram: exposition, inciting incident, rising tension, climax, and resolution. Writing the synopsis will help you as the author understand where you want your story to go and how you’ll get there. At this stage, you might begin to see what does and what doesn’t make sense in your original idea.

  1. What’s my character’s arc?

Everyone knows that a good character needs to have a good character arc, a journey of change that takes place throughout the story. One example is a protagonist who learns to make peace with his/her past. Your plot might be solid, but if your characters have no journey, they become unrelatable and flat. Publishers are looking for that specific arc, and they don’t have time to read the whole manuscript to find it, so you must know it and know how you’re going to achieve it.

  1. What’s my market/audience?

We all like to believe that we write for whoever will read our books, but while we might have truth for readers from all walks of life, we do have a specific audience. In order to understand who you’re writing for, you need to understand what you write. Do you write cozy mysteries? Children’s books? Fantasy? Science Fiction?

When you understand your genre, you have a better idea of the people who read that genre. Do you write for ladies looking for light reads, parents looking for sweet and fun books to read for their kids, or teenagers looking for adventure?

If you get to know your audience, you find what’s already out there in your genre, and you get to know the needs of your readers and market in general. These elements will not only show a publisher that you’ve researched the market, but it will also reflect in your writing.

 

A book proposal is a challenging task, but it comes with its rewards as well. By the time you finish that manuscript, you will be one step closer to sending it out and drumming up interest. A bonus will be that you’ll have a coherent answer to those who ask what you’re working on right now.

What are your favorite proposal elements to think about?

Happy Writing!


Leah Jordan Meahl is an up and coming Christian author who writes for both the rooted and the wandering faith. She recently published her first novella titled The Threshold,and you can check out more of her work at her blog  James 4:8

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