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))

Beyond the Limits of Here and Now

By Arielle Silver

14229666915_bdeaf2dc9f_nMemories. It’s so easy to lose them in the tangle of time. But how do we write without them? Even fiction writers rely on the truth of experience for their stories. The weight of a body, the shame of slight—how could we ever write about these experiences, either our own or our characters’, without remembering those moments ourselves?

A common story: a man, a stranger, recently reached out to me on Facebook. I didn’t recognize his face or the abbreviated nickname, but our list of mutual childhood friends was extensive. I tried to crack the mystery of this grown man whose features triggered no memory. Someone had tagged him in a middle school picture, the composite type with the principal and homeroom teacher stacked among individual portraits of the students. The photos were each enveloped in a thick white border, every face hemmed in and separated from the others as if this group of twenty humans, these kids who saw each other every morning, were complete strangers.

I recognized only a few of the students. A boy, bottom row, became high school valedictorian. One above later enlisted in the military and then built his family in the Philippines. Below, a girl who someone has told me walked through the fire of heroin and somehow emerged unscathed. Another girl, center, moved into town and then away in a quicker succession than my own family.

The man, the stranger, is there in the composite photo. In boy-form, he has a sweet face that I almost remembered. A day and night later, I finally made the connection. I recalled the old unabbreviated name of that rambunctious kid whose day-old beard now shadows the Facebook profile. I believe we had first met in summer camp, and then, later, were in Hebrew School together. We must have been eight or nine when we met. Look at us now, jobs, kids, ex-spouses. We’re all growed up.

As I find moments of recollection in my hazy memories of him—a boy who could barely stay seated, who broke ranks in our single-file lines, who was rowdy but friendly, and mischievous as a trickster—I find memories of me. Little blinks of details among wide swaths of mood.

There’s the nail polish I painted on at the bus stop and removed as soon as I got home from school. It was brown, the one color I thought my mother wouldn’t notice missing among her bottles of fuscias and reds. I’d have rathered pink, but thieves can’t be choosy, and even brown was still polish, a thing I wasn’t permitted but so desperately wanted. There’s the milk shake I purchased nearly every day from the middle school cafeteria. I was afraid it would make me fat, make me fat being the phrase I learned from countless sources, and seemed to be everyone’s worst fear. I didn’t develop the discipline for starvation until high school, and in eighth grade they had vanilla and chocolate on alternating days, colored green for St. Patrick’s Day and orange for Halloween. I sipped them till my throat froze and the guilt, or was it shame, slinked off for another day.

There was the nose-wrinkling frog dissection in biology that was, for me in middle school, ever-so-slightly more fascinating than disgusting; the show tunes medley we played for the band concert in cents-off accidental harmony; the drowsy speeches during the eighth grade graduation ceremony, only memorable because someone called my name to come to the stage for an award, and the boy sitting beside me elbowed me awake.

ariellesilver - picIn these days since reconnecting with my old classmate, I find myself looking at my own photos, and wondering about memories. Where do those of my younger self reside? How do they influence me now? Do I take pink polish, or do I still steal off with my second choice, just a hint of what I truly desire? Do I still battle conflicts between shake-like desires and disordered popular opinion? Do I hear the middle school clarinet pitches in the squeal of the Amtrak brakes? Do I ever catch a hint of that particular formaldehyde-laced biology classroom?

Half of writing is remembering. Our memories tie us to our senses and feelings, to the very essence of being human. The internal drumbeat of emotional experience. The waft of sensory input. Somehow, the two dimensions of a word on a page expands this physical life beyond the limits of here and now.

A stranger who reached out on Facebook connected my adult self to the child I used to be, but writing brought me to my mother’s nail polish shelf, the middle school cafeteria, the cacophony of trumpets and clarinets. Sometimes it feels like the present and the past are cents-off accidental harmony. Information from the past combined with writing in the present helps to reveal through-melodies. Memory is the touchstone for a full human moment on the page.

– – –

Arielle Silver daylights in the music industry, moonlights as a yoga teacher, and sunrises as a candidate for her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Literary Translation at Antioch University Los Angeles. She serves on the editorial team at Lunch Ticket, her songs have been licensed internationally, and her essays have appeared in Moment and RoleReboot. She’s on Twitt/Insta/Face and at www.ariellesilver.com.


(photo credit: Brain Anatomy Hoop Art via photopin (license))

Writing the World, Sight Unseen

By Kerry Kijewski

I am admitting my mistake here and now. I did what I swore I’d never do. I was thoughtless and careless enough to have a drink next to my precious laptop. Yes, I swore I would never do that because my laptop is how I reach out, express myself, and how I’m given a voice.

KerryNowI knew the truth, deep down, but as long as I didn’t ask the computer repair shop the final fate of my Macbook, I could live in the hope that all was not lost. I was given the verdict. The key to my self-expression was gone. It was no one else’s fault but my own.

My blog has been the only place I have to speak up on everything I felt I needed to say. I could also surf the Internet, and anything I ever needed to know I could learn at the push of a few single key strokes.

It felt like I had lost a limb. Okay, so those who have literally lost an arm or a leg might not agree, but living without sight, a laptop gave me back a lot of what I was missing for so long. I couldn’t simply pick up a pen and paper, like people have done long before the invention of the modern technology we’ve all come to depend on. I had no real way to release all the thoughts and the feelings I had inside. Immediately I missed writing my blog, something I had been doing regularly, at least once or twice a week, for the last year or more.

I found myself taking out my old, heavy-duty Perkins Brailler, my own version of a pen and pad of paper. As I returned to this relic of days gone by, to write the rough draft of this guest post, I thought long and hard about what it meant to be without the tool I had come to rely on so, so much. It is a miracle that I have these options for expressing myself. Without them, I don’t know where I would be or what I’d do. Still, it’s a reminder of the ways I compensate for being a writer who doesn’t have sight.

Kerry6yearsI used to see colour, bright and distinctive: blues, greens, red, and yellow. I saw the faces of my friends and family and the large print on the page. Over the years, as I began to switch from loving to draw to loving to write, I slowly lost this acuity. Now I am left to imagine, in as much detail as possible, all that I no longer see like everyone else. I think back to what those details looked like, and I try and I try to incorporate that into my writing.

Always though, at the back of my mind and sometimes at the front of it, I worry that my writing will be lacking something important, something that any readers of mine will immediately notice, that they won’t be able to live without. I fear I won’t be able to provide a well-rounded sensory experience. I can try my hardest to include details of a character’s physical features or the expression in someone’s eyes or a smile on his or her lips. I can imagine how that might look, and I can give it my best, but still not do those things justice.

I fear it will be automatically obvious, as someone is reading, that I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. A fraud, that’s the word for it. I am an impostor, someone who thinks they can fool any unsuspecting reader, as if I know what I’m describing, when really I am grasping at distant recollections of what I used to know. I try to focus on what I can contribute. I know how to write about emotions and feelings. Is that enough to build a story on? How can I give my reading audience a full experience, worth their time and attention?

I can write about the tone of someone’s voice or the way it feels when a loved one reaches out with a comforting hand – I can write about how a summer breeze tickles the cheek; or how the spring air smells after it rains; or how fresh strawberries taste on the tongue.

Are these things enough? Is it worth my time and energy, describing a look or an expression, when these no longer come naturally to my own colourless, dim and faded memory? These things are ghostly imprints of what was once there.

The timing of spilling that sticky liquid all over my precious laptop seemed horrible and yet, it forced me to face not being able to say what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. It also made me think more about the ways I adapt to my situation and how I manage to say all that I wish to say anyway.

– – –

Kerry is a lover of books and of the written word. She was born blind, but writing helps her to see life just a little more clearly. She writes fiction, memoir, movie and music reviews, interviews with interesting people, and travel articles on her blog, Her Headache. To Kerry, life is often one giant headache, both painful and beautiful. She has a Certificate of Creative Writing and lives in Ontario, Canada, with her literary-themed dog and cat: Dobby and Lumos.

How to Get an MFA in Writing

In my last post, I talked about the journey I took to get my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. In this follow-up post, I’m going to cover some of the basics for those looking to get their own MFA in Writing.

5821365833_87da1ed90dFirst of all, be prepared for a possibly long and definitely arduous process. MFA programs, especially ones with any kind of funding, are insanely competitive. I read that Iowa Writer’s Workshop is harder to get into than Harvard Medical School, with a 1-2% acceptance rate. The same goes for all of the top, funded programs.

Even programs with less funding and name recognition can be difficult to get into. I have friends who have applied to dozens of schools over several years and still haven’t gotten into the right place for them. However, it’s worth a shot to apply to a school if it looks like it would be a good fit, even if the odds are against you. This is especially true if you have a strong writing background and solid recommendations.

Deciding where to apply can be a feat of its own, especially with application fees ranging from $40-$120. Research is very important. Use sites like The MFA Blog and Poets & Writers’ MFA Database to help you create a list. Poets & Writers used to do an annual ranking, but those turned out to be based more on name recognition than any sort of objective quality assessment, so don’t take them very seriously. There are also some good books with advice and school listings including The Creative Writing MFA Handbook and the Low-Residency MFA Handbook.

Be sure to research individual schools by using their websites, looking them up on forums, and requesting to speak with current students. If location matters to you, keep that in mind as you’ll be living in that area for 2-3 years (unless it’s a low-res program). See who the program’s faculty members are, what their publications are like, and read their books. These are the people you’ll be working with and learning from, so choosing a school with accomplished faculty who write work you admire is a must. Many schools also have open houses and info sessions.

Some schools will require that you take the GRE and submit scores along with your application. In my experience, this was maybe 1 in 5. I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the time and money to add a few more schools to my list, so I didn’t take the GRE.

Otherwise, you’ll typically submit a personal statement, writing sample, and 2-3 letters of recommendation. Send your best work and have at least two other people read it over, preferably people good with spelling and grammar. If you don’t know anyone like that, pay for a professional editor. Also make sure to customize each personal statement and secure recommendations from mentors, teachers, and/or professors who know you and your writing. Give them plenty of time to complete these recommendations and provide them with the envelopes and postage or online form information they need.

It’s also a good idea to check in on your financial situation and decide how much debt you’re willing to take on. Some schools aren’t very transparent about what kinds of funding options they offer, so you might have to email and ask. The top, competitive programs (typically based at large state universities) often offer TAships, which means teaching 1-3 undergraduate classes each term, usually in composition and sometimes creative writing. This does add to your workload substantially and is one of the reasons I opted for a low-res degree instead. I wanted to be able to focus on my writing.

Low-residency programs are a great option for people with jobs and/or families who can’t relocate (or just don’t want to). Although they typically offer limited funding, you do most of the writing from home, but get to commune with fellow writers, attend workshops and lectures, and work with mentors twice a year for 10-days at a time on the school’s campus. I found this model to be perfect for me even though I’m a younger writer without strong family ties or employment obligations.

Students in these programs range in age from 21-75, with the median probably being 35. I didn’t feel out of place being in my 20s, though. Everyone was very professional and accepting of others. I liked the independence and flexibility this kind of program provided me, and it was conducive to the way I work. Low-res programs still have strong writing communities, and you’d be surprised how much you bond with people you only see a couple times a year.

Those are just some basics to get you started on your MFA research. Feel free to leave specific questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Best of luck!


(photo credit: The year is over via photopin (license))

Surviving The Waiting Game

These days, so much of my life revolves around waiting. I spend hours, sometimes days, working on an essay, query, or cover letter before I send it out, excited and hopeful and scared all at the same time.

medium_6236143793I watch my inbox, eagerly awaiting some kind of response. Days go by, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. I want to hear something, some kind of news about whether my essay will be published, an agent wants to see my manuscript, a job wants to schedule an interview. I start to worry more about what the silence means. I’m scared it means rejection. I soon convince myself that no one likes me and I’ll never hear from anyone about anything again. I’m a failure and a loser and I’ll never get anywhere in life. I’ll never be successful.

Then, an email comes in. Some kind of response. A blog wants my essay, an agent requests the manuscript, a job would like to schedule a phone interview. I’m happy and relieved…for a few minutes. Then I’m back to worrying about all the other things I haven’t heard back about yet. Sometimes, I get the response that I dread: I’ve been rejected. In that case, I indulge myself in some self-pity before eventually getting back to work.

This is the plight of creative people, of course. I’m lucky to live in a time where I can just email stuff out instead of printing and mailing and waiting even longer for a response. But email has a downside – it gives the illusion of efficiency, the misconception that a fast response should be expected. My essays, queries, cover letters are only one in so many. I have to wait my turn.

The only way I get through it is to keep busy. I write new essays, research agents, look for more jobs. The more I send out, the more likely it is I’ll hear something from someone. The nervous energy drives me. The desire for reassurance, for accomplishment, for validation is underneath everything I do. I try to take breaks, stay calm. I go for walks, spend time with people I care about, watch something on Netflix. But I can’t help worrying about the uncertainty.

I know this is what a creative life looks like. I can’t let any one thing get me down or derail me, and I can’t live my life around responses from others. But in many ways, I don’t have a choice. I need those responses to be a successful writer. That’s why waiting for them is so hard. That’s why rejection hurts so much.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. As an anxious person, that’s what tears me apart. I have to learn to live with my uncertainty better. I have to keep things in perspective, acknowledge the accomplishments, and let go of the rejections. That’s the only way to survive the waiting game. I just wish those things were easier to do.


(photo credit: Jukie Bot via photopin cc)