Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Mania: Query Letter

One of our readers submitted a query letter. Please keep comments constructive.

Critique Archive: 0016

Dear Agent,

THE WORLD THROUGH HER EYES is a mainstream love story with literary sensibilities that blends Indian cultural flavors of Diaspora writers with the emotional drama style of Nicholas Sparks and Mark Haddon's quirky character. Jennet and DC come from different cultures and have different values. Always attempting to score against each other they finally fall for each other, finally discovering the power of love to achieve and heal.

When Jennet, an eighteen year old American girl influenced by her Indian mother, visits India to learn Indian classical dance, she falls in love with a chemistry student DC, whom she meets at a college cultural festival. A gifted photographer suffering from social anxiety, DC has given up pursuing his passion because of parental pressures. Jen dreams of becoming a professional bharatnatyam dancer and urges DC pursue his as well by submitting his pictures in an Amateur Photography Contest. He does and is invited to Chicago to participate in the final round of the contest exhibition, but fails due to his fear of public speaking even though his photographs leave a mark. Upon his return, Jen and DC take a long drive to celebrate but experience an unfortunate accident. DC loses his eyesight, Jen slips into coma, their entire future lies shattered and yet life must go on...

My writing credentials include a non-fiction published book by a small publisher in India which enjoyed a moderate commercial success in theIndian market. Narayan Murthy of Infosys (NASDAQ:INFY) called it "stories narrated with skill and empathy," and Prabhu Chawla of India Today (India's largest largest-selling weekly English-language magazine) said "I am amazed at the passion of the project." I am an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT); I was the editor of my college literary magazine, as well as a freelance writer for local newspapers. Currently I working on a stand alone sequel of the current novel and in my day job I write proposals for a top tier IT consulting company, some of which have won multi-million dollar contracts from Fortune 500 clients.

Your agency appeals to me because of its successful representation of cross-cultural themes and promotion of new talent like XYZ. The increasing popularity of India as a tourism destination, media attention which eye donation campaigns receive all over the world, a growing populace of IIT alumni and their extended family networks allover the world are key marketability indicators of the book. At 70,000 words, this throat catching tale is readily marketable to publishers. I would be happy to submit a synopsis and sample chapters on request. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Talking shop with Wendy Toliver

I met Wendy Toliver in October at the Eden Writers Conference. She was there with her agent, Christina Hogrebe. Wendy’s first book was just released, The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren.

Since we've been blogging about how to find the right agent, I invited Wendy to tell us about her experience in finding an agent.

Hi Wendy, it seems that finding an agent is getting harder in this competitive market. Tell us the steps it took you to get that first contract.
I agree that it can be quite difficult to find an agent today, even for a published author. To get my first contract (which was with a different agency that I’m happily represented by today), I did my research. I used the internet, publishing books, and the resources made possible by RWA (Romance Writers of America), as well as attending writers’ conferences. Next, I made a list of those agents who represented my genre (which was chick lit at the time) had good reputations. Finally, I sent a query letter to those on my list, and whenever a rejection would come in, I’d send another one out. In the end, I had two offers for representation and I chose the one who happened to represent quite a few of my writer friends. Except for the part about having several friends who’d already signed with the agent, this is a pretty typical “getting an agent” story.

My second agent story is a bit different. A friend of mine knew an agent at one of New York’s most well respected agencies, and this agent asked her if she knew any YA authors. My friend told her about me, and the agent invited me to call her directly. So I called, we chatted, and she invited me to send my MSS. She was very enthusiastic about my little story about a teenage siren, and when she called to offer me representation, I could tell this was going to be a very successful partnership.

What are some challenges that you didn’t expect?
You might reach a point when you or your agent realizes that it’s just not working out. I had this happen with my first agent. It’s a bit difficult to make the break, because there’s the contract, the manuscript(s) he/she has been shopping, the editor contacts he/she has been making on your behalf, etc. It’s sort of like getting a divorce, and I was very lucky that my former agent was very classy and let me cut ties completely and move on with a clean slate. That’s not always the case.

What is your advice to writers who are looking for an agent?
This is going to sound harsh, but if you’ve done research on agents and your queries are receiving rejection after rejection, it might be time to reevaluate your MSS. Are the rejections form letters? Or do they have similar reasons for passing, such as a weak protagonist or a flimsy plot or a theme that’s too overdone? You might choose to put that MSS on the back burner and concentrate on another MSS.

Some writers don’t want to “share” their royalty with an agent. What would you say to these writers?
A good agent will get you a higher advance, percentage of royalty and film rights, number of books in the deal, etc. than the publisher’s boiler-point contract. He or she has the author’s interest in mind, and goes to bat for the author. I think it’s worth every penny to know my contract has been gone over with a fine tooth comb on my behalf, that I don’t have to be present at the negotiations, and that my projects will most likely take priority with editors over projects by unrepresented writers.

Tell us about your new book, and where it is available.
The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren is a young adult novel (ages 12 and up) about a band geek who turns into a siren on her sixteenth birthday. It’s a fantastical, funny, and romantic story that was born of my fascination with the sirens of Greek mythology. Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) is the publisher, and it’s available anywhere books are sold.

What's your next project?
My next book is called Miss Match, and it, too, is a Simon Pulse romantic comedy. It’s about a teenage matchmaker who is hired to fix a new guy up with her sister, only to discover that she’s crushing on him herself. I’m told it will be out Valentine’s Day 2009, and I’m very excited about that.

Thanks for sharing your insights, Wendy! Best of luck with your new release!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Monday Mania: First Page

One of our readers submitted the first page of a novel. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0015:

Chapter 1

Wind slapped my face. With sealed lips, I tapped my camera impatiently. From my early childhood, I somehow found all my ideas were always scrutinized. It led me to avenues which required minimal social interaction and hence most of my thoughts remained unspoken. Photographs offered me a treasured means of expression and an outlet for the passions pent up inside my twenty year old body.

The sun had nearly set over the Photography Hobby Institute of Kolkata, India. The rare absence of my parents, who had gone to visit my sick Auntie, provided an opportunity to stay out later than usual. Students letting out from the football practice I had skipped hung around in groups near the boundary of the dimly lit playground where I sat. A blade of newly cut grass stuck through my pants making me itch. Sharp edges of a stone beneath me bit hard into my thighs. I lowered my body to the ground hoping for a better angle and pointed the lens towards the horizon.

"Look at the geek lying on the field with his digital camera." Someone said behind me.

"Eh, we could use him for a goalpost." A football whistled past nearly grazing my ear. I heard ridicules and hoots of laughter coming from my classmates.

"Look at him. He's not even moving." Another round of howls echoed as the lingering light faded into dusk.

"Yeah, He acts like he's dead." I felt the tip of a shoe poke me.

"What does he think he's going to take pictures of in the dark anyway?" I recognized the voice of the class bully. "Hey DC what are you doing, shooting stars? Haaa haa." I drew a breath, burrowing deeper into the shell of my solitary lifeand ignored their bullying. The commotion quickly subsided as they drifted off in the directions of their homes. I didn't realize I had been holding my breath until I let it go. I badly wanted to get this shot right. For once I wanted to be good at something. I yearned to be able to share the way the world looked to me with others. Maybe then they would understand me better and not tease me as much.

The crescent of the new moon had just begun to rise. In another moment the balance of dark and light would be ideal. I held my breath, my finger poised. My photography instructor's words echoed in my mind. "Debraj, with a little more effort you could enter the institute level photography contest."

Waiting six long months for my turn I had borrowed the only camera available to students which had the capability to capture the images I sought. Perhaps I'd be able to win a prize and have a photograph of mine posted on the display board.

"Ouchhh." The legs of an insect prickled as it crept down the back of my neck reminding me presence of other unknown nocturnal creatures that might be awakening. I felt a prickly heat rash break out. I didn't dare move and risk missing just the right instant. A meteor shot across the sky into the frame of the D30 digital camera, Click. "Perfect." I whispered and quickly made a wish, "I want to become a professional photographer."