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.

Writing Workshops and Why You Should be in One!

Presenting to a writing workshop or class always made me feel like I was about to ride a rollercoaster. Though I like rollercoasters,  my heart and stomach do a sickening tango due to exhilaration and fear. Writing workshops are well worth the nausea, however, and you should be in one to take full advantage. Just as a rollercoaster, you might discover you like the ride!

In high school, my teachers and peers praised my writing and I even earned some county awards. I was proud and thought that it was a good start to my writing journey. But when I got to my senior level writing courses in college, my writing took on a whole new life.

The Process

Most of my creative writing courses were in the form of a ‘roundtable.’ We’d discuss the basics of writing, dive into a particular style or subject, and come back the next week with a polished piece ready to be critiqued.

Critiquing is an intimidating word and so is the experience. We mustn’t forget though, with critiquing comes value. Up until then, people just kept telling me that my writing was great, which was awesome, but I didn’t know how to get better. Until these classes, that is.

Each member would take a turn in reading their piece and the rest would mark corrections and insights on each paper. At the end, we would discuss a variety of changes or enhancements to the writing.

Some of my favorite tips include:

  • Be careful of too many “I” statements when writing in 1st person
  • Break up large paragraphs for an easier read
  • Cut as many adverbs as possible
  • You don’t need to wrap up an ending like a perfect gift to your reader

The Result

With such help from my teachers and peers, I watched as my writing transformed from class to class. I became more action focused and recognized my weaknesses, which I stay more aware of in my current writing. Not only did I find that my writing had changed, but I also found that critiquing someone else’s writing helped me apply those critiques to my own.

Workshopping provided avenues to new and different styles and gave me the tools to go over my own writing with a fine-tooth comb. My professor gave the best piece of advice for someone who wanted to pursue writing. Her advice was to find a writing group. It took me awhile to realize just how right she was.

Now, I’m learning to rediscover the love I had for the groups, because of their ability to facilitate loving and supportive growth.

If you’re looking to give your writing a jumpstart, Write2Ignite’s master class with Joyce Moyer is a great place to start! Click here to learn more!

The format may be different this year, but Write2Ignite has been a great help to me. Check out my post here where I share about my first experience at Write2Ignite in 2017.

Have you been part of a critique group? What are some of your favorite tips from critiquing?

Happy writing!


Leah Jordan Meahl writes to encourage both the rooted and the wandering Christian to go deeper. She’s a born and bred Jesus-follower hailing from Greenville, South Carolina. She’s a lover of devotional writing as well as fiction. Her newest book Pebbles: 31 days of faith enriching parables is set to release August 2020. Feel free to visit her blog here, and ‘like’ her on Facebook.

The Power of Repetition

I hadn’t been to church since February, and I was starting to feel disconnected from God. During my first week back in a sanctuary, God spoke to me through a literary device — repetition. 

My church stopped hosting in-person services at the beginning of March because of COVID-19, and I’d missed a few weeks before then because of a bronchitis diagnosis.

Last week, I was visiting my parents in Upstate, South Carolina, and had the opportunity to attend church with them. The crowd was sparse, and each family unit was spaced 6 feet apart, but it was communal worship — something I hadn’t experienced in more than 12 weeks. 

I’d seen my parents cry in the church from time to time, but I’d never really had a strong emotional response during a service.

The band began playing a song by Elevation Worship called “The Blessing,” which is straight from scripture. It shares a blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:

The Lord bless you 

and keep you; 

the Lord make his face shine on you 

and be gracious to you; 

the Lord turn his face toward you 

and give you peace.

I didn’t feel blessed that weekend, despite my safe travels to South Carolina from Central Virginia. I didn’t feel blessed because I was (and still am) working from home with no idea of when I’d be back in the office. I didn’t feel blessed because my husband, a police officer, was working the night shift during a weekend filled with violent protests.

But when the song climaxed, one of the worship leaders began repeating the words “He is for you” over and over again — and something happened. 

Repetition is a powerful literary device that can be used in poetry and prose.

As a writer, I know that repetition is a powerful way to make a point. As a person who has attended counseling for anxiety, I know that repeatedly speaking truth to yourself is a powerful way to change your thought process. 

It felt like God was speaking to me through that song, trying to get a point across, to reshape my thinking. He was telling me that He is for me, that His blessings aren’t always extravagant. More often than not, they will be quiet reminders of His presence. How fitting it is that God, the author of all things, spoke to me, a writer, through a literary device.

The song continued:

May His presence go before you

And behind you, and beside you

All around you, and within you

He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening

In your coming, and your going

In your weeping, and rejoicing

He is for you, He is for you

The repetition continued, with the singer repeating the word “you” throughout the bridge, reminding me that I am a recipient of God’s blessings. My impression of blessings has always been that they are an extravagant act from God. Yet in scripture, we learn that blessings are small acts of love from God — from the gift of a child to the provision of food and safety. 

This song challenged me to look at God’s blessings in a new way. God blessed me that weekend by giving me the opportunity to worship with other Christians, and he blessed me by protecting me from harm during my travels from Central Virginia to South Carolina.

God’s blessings aren’t always extravagant. They are often displayed through friendships, safety, and provision.

He protected my husband who served on the frontline of a riot on May 31 and brought him home safe to me the next morning. And he blessed me with the companionship of my sweet sister-in-law the night I had to send my husband back to work, despite continuing protests in our city. 

God spoke to me through a literary device, which is a powerful writing tool. While this instance of repetition was used in poetry (a song), repetition can be a particularly useful tool for writing children’s literature. 

Take this passage from Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish  for example:

One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish,

Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish.

This one has a little car.

This one has a little star. 

Say! What a lot of fish there are.

 

Yes, some are red, and some are blue.

Some are old and some are new.

Some are sad, and some are glad,

And are very, very bad.

 

Dr. Seuss is well known for his whimsical, rhythmic writing. He uses a combination of rhyming and repetition in his work to create memorable writing that delights children of all ages. 

Repetition is also used in literature, such as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two of Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Dickens adds stress and emphasis to the positives and negatives, bringing attention to the polarity present in his time. 

God used the repetition in “The Blessing” to touch my heart and draw me back to him. I believe he can use your writing to touch others, and repetition is just one way you can emphasize your message of hope through Jesus Christ.

Emily is a member of the Write2Ignite planning team and works full time as a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing. Learn more about Emily here.

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.

 

bird by bird

Bird By Bird: A Timeless Writing Resource

“‘So why does our writing matter again?’ they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” –Anne Lamott, pp. 237

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott should be on every writer’s shelf. Her advice offers encouragement through an honest discussion of what writing is like. Lamott sits her reader down and shares her experience as though she were chatting over a cup of coffee. As she shares, she addresses the feelings of anxiety, discouragement, and even jealousy that almost all writers face at some point. In doing so, she reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles. We all hit the wall on occasion, and it’s possible to keep going despite those setbacks.

Throughout the book, Lamott gives insight on ways to improve our writing. She offers advice on how to write better dialogue, how to stay motivated, and how to find a writing group. But mostly what she provides is inspiration to persevere. Every piece of insight resounds with encouragement (even while Lamott acknowledges the hardships of being a writer). And that prompting to persist, paired with her pithy advice, makes the book well-worth reading.

So here I want to share three of my favorite tid-bits of advice from the book:

1. “Dialogue is the way to nail character” (pp. 67).

In both her chapter on characters and her chapter on dialogue, Anne Lamott emphasizes the connection between the two. She argues that creating one line of strong dialogue that rings true captures your character better than a whole page of description (47). What a character says, or doesn’t say, or how he says it tells the reader how he thinks and what he cares about. Dialogue gives us insight into the personality of the people we read about and brings them to life. And therefore getting to know our characters is vital to creating good dialogue.

(*If you’d like to learn more about how to create strong characters and great dialogue, you should consider checking out Write2Ignite’s Master Class in September!)

2. “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty” (pp. 178).

Lamott’s chapter on writer’s block focuses on the truth that all writers experience dry periods. Sometimes we get burnt out and our creativity stops flowing the way it usually does. Lamott says that the best thing to do when we reach these moments is to accept the block, the empty reality, so we can fill up again (pp.178). Her advice is practical: “Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk” (182). Write a little each day to keep up the habit but then focus on activities that nourish you. Replenish your creativity rather than trying to eke out ink from a dry pen.

3. “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be a writing” (pp. 202-203).

Bird by Bird includes an entire chapter dedicated to writing as giving. Our works-in-progress, she says, “teach you to get out of yourself and become a person for someone else” (203-204). In order to write well, we have to pour everything we have into our writing. And in doing so, we have a chance to act as hosts for our readers, to welcome them in and offer them a feeling of connection (204).

This is especially important for us as Christians. If writing is our calling, then we should be willing to give it all we’ve got. Our words should be for God and for others, not simply for ourselves.

Final Review:

I could go on a while longer, pulling out clever quotes from Lamott’s book. But instead, I’ll simply recommend you pick up a copy for yourself.

Bird by Bird isn’t an earth-shattering text holding the key to the inner sanctum of writing. Instead, this book offers solid advice to steadily improve. It offers relatable accounts of the difficulties of writing and an honest assessment of what it’s like to be published. Lamott encourages us that while writing probably won’t bring us fame or fortune, it does carry with it its own rewards. Her whole book, start to finish, reverberates with the cry, “Just keep going.”

I give her book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, if you’re looking for a rating.

What books have been encouraging you lately?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

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