Query 101: How to Land an Agent Begins on February 6th

Writing ToolsI’m very excited to announce that my new online course, Query 101: How to Land an Agent, begins in just a few short weeks. The class is being offered through Antioch University Los Angeles’ innovative online writing school, Inspiration to Publication.

In this two-week course, you will:

  • Craft an unforgettable query letter
  • Receive in-depth feedback on your query
  • Learn how and where to find the right agent for you
  • Review query etiquette and strategy

I personally designed this course with knowledge gained from my six-month internship with Folio Literary Management, a top literary agency in New York City representing bestselling authors like Eowyn Ivey, Garth Stein, Jenny Han, and Misty Copeland. I’ve also worked with dozens of freelance clients on writing and perfecting their query letters. Just a few months back, one of my clients signed with a top tier literary agent after I helped her with her manuscript and query.

The course is only $99, which is a great deal considering that the typical cost for a basic query critique ranges from $65-$90. In addition to receiving query writing guidelines and detailed feedback on your query, you’ll get comprehensive resources on how to find legitimate agents, learn valuable submission techniques and strategies, and avoid common query pitfalls that will land you in the rejection pile.

Click here to reserve your spot now. The class runs from February 6th-20th, and everything is done online at your own pace.

See you in class!

(photo credit: Writing Tools via photopin (license))

You Don’t Have to Write Every Day to Be a Real Writer

9257327086_9a1279d73cIt’s been a few months since my last post. To be completely honest, I’ve been taking a break. Not just from blogging, but from writing too. From early October until the end of November, all of my time and focus went into rewriting my YA novel. Once I finished the book, I shut down. Aside from a short essay here and there, I haven’t done any significant work since.

This is pretty typical for me. My words and inspirations tend to come in big, dramatic bursts. I’ll write every day for a few months, sometimes completing an entire novel or a series of essays, then there will be nothing at all for a month or two.

Every time I find myself on one of these breaks, I don’t wonder if I’ll ever write again. I know that I still want to write. I know that I still have the motivation. I know that I’m simply burnt out at the moment, and when I reach inside to create something new, I come out empty handed.

There is a common philosophy about writing perpetuated by craft books and famous authors on the importance of strict routines and writing every day. I used to hold myself to those standards, chiding myself whenever I fell short, beating myself up and questioning my commitment as a writer. It took me a few years to realize that I was producing about as much or more as any of these every day writers because when I do write, it comes in floods and intense, unrelenting focus.

It’s just the way I am. It’s the way my creative mind functions.

Forcing myself to write something each day never felt natural. If anything, it only made me feel stifled. Allowing the flood gates to open when they will and occasionally nudging myself back in when the break is dragging on too long seems to work for me.

Just like every human being is unique, so is every writer. Our work thrives in different ways. I do best when I completely immerse myself in a project for a couple of months and then allow my brain to rest and restart for a while. Maybe some people would never go back to writing if they allowed themselves to stop for as long as I do. But I have the comfort and confidence of knowing that writing has always been a part of me. No matter what happens, I know I’ll come back to it when I’m ready.

Pushing myself has only hurt my work in the past. Giving myself the time and space to focus on other aspects of my life is what I need right now. I truly believe that the only writing philosophy you need when it comes to producing work is to do what feels right and natural for you. Don’t get hung up on rules or expectations. Don’t beat yourself up for not following someone else’s schedule and routine. Create your own and feel free to deviate.

There’s no such thing as a “real writer” anyway. We’re all just creative people trying to create when, where, and however we can.

 

photo credit: [Void Of Time] via photopin (license)

The Surprisingly Difficult Art of Revision

8496928034_388aaba692I’m writing to you from deep within the revision trenches. My contemporary YA novel is getting a major rewrite, to the point where only about 5-10% of the original material is making the cut in the new version.

I’ve switched tenses, combined characters, changed plot lines, and increased overall conflict and tension. I’m working hard to make my main character more flawed and relatable with believable and sympathetic challenges.

This revision has been so consuming that I haven’t allotted time for much else, including blogging. Now that I’m at the halfway point of the manuscript, I have to say that real, overhauling revision is an art. And it’s surprisingly hard.

So much emphasis is put on simply getting down the first draft that few writers are prepared for the realities of what it takes to finish a manuscript that will hook an agent or do well in the indie publishing realm. I certainly wasn’t. I’ve revised projects before, but never quite like this. I’ve never started over from scratch, keeping only the skeleton of an idea I’d already written a complete draft of and majorly revised several times.

At first, I was very resistant to the idea of rewriting the entire book. I’d grown so attached to the novel as it was, to its idiosyncrasies, charms, and even its shortcomings, that it was hard to imagine throwing it all away – the good and the bad – for the sake of telling a better overall story.

There was a certain excitement and optimism at first, especially with the brand new opening chapter. But once I got to the material I’d already written, it was so difficult not to want to take short cuts and simply copy and paste it the original over. Every time I tried, I could sense that it was almost always the weakest material in comparison to the new writing, and I ended up having to throw it away once again.

I hit a major slump a few chapters in, unsure if I even liked or cared about this novel anymore. It seemed like so much work on top of an already amazingly huge amount of work. I forced myself to keep trudging on, trying to believe that I was ultimately working toward a much stronger and more powerful novel.

While it’s easy to believe that great works of writing simply fall out of an author’s mind, the truth is rarely that simple. Most writers spend years on their work, writing and rewriting, receiving critique and revising. As much as I’d hoped I’d nail it on my first try, I’m no exception. It’s difficult, time-consuming work with no immediate rewards or encouragement. But I can already see how much stronger this new draft is compared to the original, and I hope to come out on the other side with a novel that is ready for an agent.

A big shout-out to the PitchWars competition for lighting a fire under me and offering me the encouragement and guidance I desperately needed to make this novel a worthwhile project. My unofficial mentors, Rachel Lynn Solomon and Wendy Spinale, have been so helpful and gracious. I wouldn’t be doing this without their help, or the support and feedback of my number one beta reader and boyfriend, Pj.

 

photo credit: “Today is the day to try out a typewriter” via photopin (license)

My #PitchWars Mentee Bio

Welcome #PitchWars mentors and fellow participants!

If you’re reading this, you’re either looking to know more about me, or you’re a regular reader of this blog and are currently experiencing some confusion.

For those in the latter category, here’s the deal: I’m participating in a Twitter contest called #PitchWars where I’ll be submitting my YA novel to a small list of potential mentors in the hopes that they’ll work with me on editing and presenting it to a group of literary agents. This is my bio for the competition, a chance for potential mentors to get to know me.

First, A Little About Me

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My name is Alana. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since I was 13, but I originally grew up in a small town in Maryland. I primarily work from home as a freelance writer and editor. I’m also an intern at Folio Literary Management and a part-time after school instructor for Minecraft classes.

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I have an awesome boyfriend named Pj. He’s an artist (and fellow Doctor Who fan).

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Pj has a dog named Zoe (left), and I have a dog named Zephyr (right). I adopted Zephyr from a rescue five years ago. We also puppy sit a neighbor’s dog on a regular basis, so there are a lot of dogs in my life. I love all animals, but I have a soft spot for pups.

When I’m not working or writing, I’m usually reading or watching TV shows and movies on Netflix.

These days, most of my reading consists of YA contemporary fiction and memoirs. I also read a good amount of literary fiction. My favorite authors include Truman Capote, Francesca Lia Block, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Cheryl Strayed, A.S. King, Lidia Yuknavitch, Leila Sales, J.D. Salinger, and Jandy Nelson. You can check out my Goodreads for more on the books I’ve read.

Some of my favorite shows include Gilmore Girls, Freaks and GeeksDoctor Who, Sherlock, PsychDariaFriendsGame of Thrones, and Parks & Rec.

My all-time favorite movie is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. I love it so much that it inspired a solo trip to Japan in 2009 and a tattoo on my ankle. I also love Amelie, The Princess BrideGhost World, and anything with Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.

If I’m not reading, writing, or watching something, I’m probably rocking out on my ukulele. I’ve been playing for three years, and I write and compose my own songs.

In addition to making music, I also listen to a lot of it. My favorite musicians are Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Andrew McMahon, The Shins, The Rocket Summer, Joanna Newsom, K’s Choice, and Ben Gibbard.

Oh, and for a hot second, I was a meme called “Pelican Girl.” It was a thing on Reddit for a few days after my boyfriend posted a photo of me that looked like I was riding a pelican.

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About My Writing Journey

I’ve been an aspiring author since the age of six, when my mom bought me my first journal. On the gold-lined pages, I recorded random thoughts about my friends and snippets of poems and songs that I created.

A couple years later, I began writing stories and making books. I showcase a couple of my lovely cardboard-covered childhood creations in this video:

I studied creative writing in college and wrote a couple of novels. I then received my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in December 2014. My final manuscript for the MFA program was a memoir about my experiences growing up with anxiety disorder and depression.

Mental illness is a subject I have much personal experience with and write a great deal about. I hope to fight stigma and spread awareness about mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety disorder, through my writing. I’m a contributor for The Huffington PostHelloGiggles, and RoleReboot, and I recently had an essay in the Los Angeles Times. Some highlighted publications are listed on my Writing page.

About My #PitchWars Manuscript

The manuscript I’m submitting is a YA contemporary novel about a girl who runs away from home and ends up homeless on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. She’s struggled with bouts of depression as well as substance abuse issues. Check out the novel’s Pinterest board for some of my visual inspirations.

I wrote the first draft of the novel back in college. I revisited it a couple years later, then revisited it again earlier this year. The story has stuck with me all these years, and with some major editing and rewriting, I’ve transformed the initial idea and rough draft into something larger and more coherent.

The character and her journey are both close to my heart, and with the right mentorship, I think I’ll be able to really make the manuscript shine. I’m very dedicated to my craft as well as the editing process.

No matter what happens, I’ve really enjoyed being part of the #PitchWars community and getting to know so many amazing writers and mentors. Thanks for reading my bio!

Check out more mentee bios on the blog hop.

What I Learned from Being a #PitchtoPublication Editor

7991795290_4c48627084_nI’ve been on the writer side of Twitter pitch contests for a while now. As an aspiring author, I follow and enter many of these contests with the same hope as everyone else: to land a literary agent. So I was excited to be offered a chance to participate on the other side of a contest called #PitchtoPublication.

For those who aren’t familiar with #PitchtoPublication, a group of about 25 freelance editors each received up to 100 query submissions from writers with completed manuscripts. We each narrowed all of those entries down to one author who we’d spend a month working with on his or her manuscript before it’s presented to a group of participating agents. So basically, the author receives a free manuscript edit and then gets the opportunity to showcase his or her work in front of interested agents. I was chosen to be one of the freelance editors.

When the submission window opened and the entries poured in, I read them immediately, eager to discover a compelling and engaging story. At first I felt powerful and wise, confident that the decision would be easy. But soon I was humbled by the talent I saw, and the fact that I’d ultimately have to reject almost everyone who was submitting work to me. I had been among the contest hopefuls in the past. In fact, I was a hopeful in this contest as well. I’d gotten permission to participate both as a submitting writer and an editor/mentor.

As I went through entries, I posted some of my responses on Twitter without using names or identifying details. I used a tag called #tenqueries that many agents and editors use when going through their queries. It was helpful for me to practice articulating why I was passing or giving a maybe to certain projects, and writers seemed to find the nuggets of advice within the tweets helpful as well.

It was incredibly difficult narrowing down 100 entries to 10. While about half of them were passed on fairly easily, either because the genre wasn’t one I specified interest in or the writing perhaps needed too much work to be agent-ready, most were solid. But I had to look for more than just solid writing. I wanted something special, something unique, and something that I found personally compelling. It came down to taste as much as talent. That’s how I was able to get my top 10 (although I couldn’t quite narrow it down, so I requested more pages from 11 authors).

When I received the first 50 pages and read the entry of the author I ultimately chose to work with, I knew she was the one. Although I’d had some concerns based on her query, the pages reassured me that the book would be amazing. Her story stuck in my mind despite some other amazing entries. It had the perfect balance of being unique, compelling, engaging, and diverse. There was also enough for me to help her with as an editor, but not so much that it couldn’t be agent-ready in a month. I especially appreciated the issues that the manuscript was addressing, ones that are very important and need more awareness in the world right now.

As a writer, my own work wasn’t selected for #PitchtoPublication. I got a few requests, but none were the perfect fit. For once, I was completely fine with being rejected because I’d seen firsthand how subjective and difficult the decision was. The numbers and odds weren’t in anyone’s favor, and even if my work hit most of the checkmarks, it came down to personal preference as well.

Being an editor for #PitchtoPublication also taught me that having a story that is unique and addresses a larger issue is what will draw an agent in. Having good writing and an interesting story isn’t enough. I got a lot of those submissions, and while many of them could potentially be represented and published, it might be hard for them to get noticed by a busy agent with a thousand other queries in his or her mailbox.

A manuscript needs to be compelling. It must be readable and relatable while also addressing something important that agents and readers will connect with. It doesn’t have to be a big issue, but it has to stand for something. That element was what sealed the deal on my decision, and I imagine many agents are looking for the same thing.

Thank you to everyone who participated in #PitchtoPublication, and a special thank you to Samantha Fountain for putting it all together!

 

(photo credit: Oh Winter, let’s get married via photopin (license))