WWC 2014, Day 3: Querying your YA novel

Panellists: Jacqueline Guest, Danielle L. Jensen, Jessica Corra, Shawn L. Bird, Karen Bass

Jacqueline GuestDanielle L. JensenQ: Do you query a trilogy?

DJ: It depends on your genre. Some say your novel has to be a standalone, but I’ve been successful querying a trilogy.

JC: It’s okay to mention that your novel has series potential, but you can go too far with this. I was once queried with a nine book series. That was too much.

SB: It’s good to know the career potential of the author, though.

DJ: Focus on one book in your query.

JC: It’s a business letter.

KB: It’s your pitch. Three sentences. Short, punchy, and pithy.

JC: Think about the backbone of your book. That’s your through line.

JG: You’re not selling to a reader. You’re selling to an agent or publisher. Don’t tease.

SB: The basic structure of a query letter is three paragraphs: pitch, comps, and bio.

JC: You need to mention genre, word count, and title.

DJ: You Jessica Corracould write: I am seeking representation for TITLE, a GENRE novel, complete at LENGTH (in thousands of words, rounded to the nearest thousand). I actually got my agent through a logline contest for Ms. Snark.

JC: Sometimes you don’t need an agent, though.

KB: Small Canadian publishers, no. Big publishers or genres, yes. Anything in the States, yes.

DJ: I’d die without my agent. She takes care of things

like foreign riShawn L. Birdghts. It really depends on your skill set.

SB: Sometimes, it depends on the agent.

DJ: I’d recommend Query Tracker.

JC: Jim Butcher proposes this formula for youKaren Bassr log line: *WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL,* but will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?

JG: Spell check, for God’s sake. You have two sentences to hook an agent or editor.

DJ: Your first five to ten pages must be perfect.

JC: We know you’re human, though. We’ll overlook something small.

JG: There are lots of library books that will help you.

DJ: Online critique groups can help as well.

Q: How do I know the agent is reputable?

DJ: Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and Absolute Write are three sites where you can check out questionable agents, agencies, or scams. If you post on social media or forums, don’t bitch about being rejected.

Q: How many queries do you receive and how many of those do you read?

JC: We have readers, so I don’t see them all, but everyone I receive, I read.

Q: You’ve published several books. Do you still slave over your letters?

JG: Yes. Every time.

WWC 2014, Day 2: Have pen, will travel, with Jacqueline Guest

You can find out more about Jacqueline at her web site.Jacqueline Guest


 

When I was young, two books saved my life: A Child’s Book of Bible Ethics, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Don’t give up. If you have the passion to write, revise, edit, and make your novels perfect, you will get published.

As a writer, I have adventures. I travel and meet a lot of interesting people. You have to be flexible to make this happen, though.

I went to Inuvik and when I arrived, this weird dude picks me up—on a snow machine. He’s a man of few words. He takes me back to his place for the night. His place is full of hunting gear. (Mel’s note: This story was much more detailed and entertaining in Jacqueline’s telling. I only recorded the highlights.)

I found out later that he was a fixture of the community. People started dropping by, the elders and other villagers, and everyone told him their stories. I learned so much and met most of the community that way.

One of my books, Wild Ride, was written about the spring bear hunt, or rather against it. The ability to raise awareness is the power of the pen.

Another of my books features the Rocky Mountain Rally. I research everything I write, and experience what I can first hand.

Experience equals content.

The Writers’ Union of Canada and other writers’ organizations keep lists of where presenters have been and where they’re wanted. Do your research and find out where you can go to gain your experience.

What is unique about your book? This is your selling point.

History can give you what you need, but you can’t change it.

There’s also a need for what are called “hi-lo” books. It stands for high interest, low vocabulary and is intended to attract reluctant readers or those with learning disabilities who find it difficult to read.

Books become our touchstones, our points of connection with one another.

What if we are all connected?

Put out positive energy. You reap what you sow.


 

Tomorrow: I’ll have a Sundog snippet for you including a couple of writerly events around town and a brief update on the construction.

WWC 2014, Day 1: Evening keynotes

Here we are at the end of day 1 (for me–I know others partied into the wee hours). At other conferences and conventions, guest of honour keynotes are generally spread throughout the event, often at or after a meal.

The When Words Collide organizers chose to do something different.

Prior to the literary festival, there were several master classes offered by the keynote speakers, and the night before, they all delivered their presentations at a branch of the public library.

Between the extra days of leave I would have had to sacrifice, the cost of the master classes, and the expense of a longer stay, I had to opt out of the pre-conference program.

On the first night (formally speaking) of WWC, then, all of the keynote speakers were well into conference mode and had an opportunity to work out the bugs.

The keynotes were presented as a panel, with all of the speakers up on the stage, seated at tables.

Randy McCharles offered a few opening words, and then introduced the first of the speakers.

  1. Jacqueline Guest, author of 18 published novels, spoke about her adventures as aJacqueline Guest touring author. She has been all over the world, in the arctic, and had some very interesting tales to share. The old advice to writers is to write what you know. Travelling and experiencing all the world has to offer is a valuable way of gathering experience that can translate into your writing.
  2. Mark Leslie, of Kobo Writing Life, chose the subject of the mark-lesliehistory of story. From our earliest gatherings to share news around a fire, through the oral traditions of Greece and Rome, the invention of the printing press, and the advent of the novel, to today’s proliferation of traditionally published and independently published novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies, and all other manner of written storytelling, Mark spoke eloquently of the purpose and value of story in our lives. He ended his keynote with this: when words collide, magic happens.
  3. Dorothy (DJ) MacIntosh, author of the (in progress) Mesopotamian trilogy, spoke
    DJ McIntosh

    photo by Robert Rafton

    about passion and how to keep that precious flame burning. She related the experiences, hers and those of other renowned authors, with rejection, and various reactions to rejection letters. How can we keep our passion alive amidst the darkness that can assail us?

  4. Brandon Sanderson, author of—oh, I’ll just say it—a shit load of bestselling fantasy novels including the
    Photo by Nazrilof

    Photo by Nazrilof

    posthumous conclusion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, addressed the problem of telling a compelling lie. He started with a grade school experience in which he realized that the story of Columbus and his discovery of the new world was all propaganda. In short, it was a lie, but it’s a lie that has been perpetuated over the years by quality storytelling. You could say that’s when the seed of his desire to become a professional liar was planted. He spoke of Sturgeon’s Law: that ninety percent of everything is crap. He wanted to test that hypothesis and started with Roger Ebert’s movie review site, which revealed between sixty and seventy percent good movies (two thumbs up). He then went to Rotten Tomatoes, a review site contributed to by the movie-going public. He found roughly the same results. There were exceptions, of course. He found one reviewer who didn’t like Return of the King, for example. Reviews are one of the most power tools in any author’s service. Word of mouth is what really translates into sales and a groundswell of support. The bad reviews can be damaging in all kinds of ways. We have to be able to distinguish between someone expressing a personal opinion, e.g. I didn’t like this book, and someone who’s going for the hurt, e.g. this is crap. They are two completely different judgements.

  5. Jack Whyte. I’d seen him last year at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference jack-whyteand knew the power of his presence, but, when Jack took the stage, I put my pen down and sat back. I knew I was about to be entertained. Jack basically extemporized (or, he made is sound like he was), drawing in elements of each of the previous speakers, adding colour with a touch of personal humour, and wrapping up the evening in style.

Next week: We enter day 2 with the Blending Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.

WWC2014 Day 1: The Perfect Pitch Package with Jacqueline Guest

Before we begin, some context

Jacqueline publishes, and always has published, in the Canadian market. As such, she doesn’t have, nor does she need, an agent. Jacqueline pitches her publisher directly. This is a little different that pitching an agent, or querying an agent.

It’s more like a book proposal. Many of Jacqueline’s tips can be amended slightly for agent queries.


First, you have to make sure your manuscript is perfect. Edit it. Print it out. Read it aloud. Don’t edit on the computer screen. You’ll miss too much on the screen.

There’s an editor’s checklist for writers in the package. This document covers the basics that every editor looks for.

Mel’s note: Jacqueline’s package included a sample query letter, tips on submitting to a publisher, the editor’s checklist for writer’s, a tip sheet from Frank L. Visco called “How to Write Good,” and a page of resources about free and purchased writing software, and recommended writing craft books.

Know your audience.

Do you need an agent? In the American market, yes, but not in the Canadian one. You can pitch directly to a Canadian publisher. Best to make sure that the publisher has American distribution, however.

Contracts are tricky. Check out the Writers’ Union of Canada (WUC) site for assistance.

Everything is electronically generated these days.

Start with the Writer’s Market. It’s published in print annually, but there is also a web site that you can access that is continually updated.

Do your homework. Identify the publishers that publish the kinds of novels you write.

If you use the print version of the Writer’s Market, go to the publisher’s web site to make sure there have been no changes to the editors since the publication date. I’d recommend that you call the publisher to confirm.

What goes in your package:

  • Your query letter.
  • A 1-2 page synopsis.
  • 3 chapters, or the number of chapters/pages/words the publisher specifies.

Format:

  • Double spaced
  • Single sided
  • 1” margins
  • Header: On the left, type the title of the novel and beneath it, your name. On the right insert the page number.
  • Use clips for synopsis and sample pages. Use an elastic when sending a whole manuscript.

There are lots of “How-To” books out there on how to write a query or proposal. Get them from your public library and read them.

I use what I call the two-sentence sell.

In the first sentence, you identify your audience, the word count of your novel, and the story line (Mel’s note: Think tag line).

In the second sentence, identify your novel’s unique qualities, and any marketing points (Mel’s note: For example, if you write middle grade fiction, mention if you’ve prepared teaching guides, or activity guides for librarians. If your book is for adults, you may consider mentioning, or suggesting, book club notes.)

These two sentences must be succinct and on target.

Jacqueline then set us the assignment of writing our 2 sentence pitch.

If you need to include a chapter outline, write no more than 1 or 2 sentences on each chapter.

Everything needs to work together. Print it out and read it aloud. You’ll find more errors and awkward phrasing that way.

If you want to write and learn to write better, you must read.

Jacqueline brought out several resource books that she recommends, including Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.


Jacqueline GuestAbout Jacqueline:

Jacqueline is a Metis writer who lives in a log cabin nestled in the pinewoods of the Rocky Mountain foothills of Alberta.

Her award-winning books are unique in that many of the main characters come from different ethnic backgrounds including First Nations, Inuit or Metis. Her well-drawn characters face issues common to every child such as bullying, blended families and physical challenges and are strong role models for today’s youth. Jacqueline’s historical novels for young readers’ present Canada ’s vibrant past as an exciting read every child will enjoy. Her young adult mysteries address teenage problems in a sensitive way while still providing a great page-turner.

Jacqueline’s interactive curriculum-based History & Literacy Presentations appeal to students in all grade levels and are of interest as they incorporate her own background as she shows how the Metis people are a strong part of the fabric of Canada ’s past. Her Easy Key Writing Workshops provides the EasyKey Method to facing a language arts exam and passing! She also teaches writing how-to’s and encourages children to follow their own literary dreams.

Jacqueline has participated in Mamawenig, the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Literacy Gathering, where she helped shape the direction of Native literacy in Saskatchewan . She has performed pro-bono workshops at the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre, presented for the Cultural Diversity Institute, University of Calgary , Batoche Historical Site and participated in Back to Batoche Days, and Fort Calgary ‘s Metis Cultural Festival. Jacqueline has also presented at the Manitoba Association of Teachers of English, the Alberta Association of Library Technicians as well as numerous Writers’ Conferences.

She is the current Writer-In-Residence for the Marigold Library System and a member of Calgary Arts Partners in Education Society.

Jacqueline has been nominated for a National Aboriginal Achievement Award and the prestigious Esquao Award for outstanding achievement by an Aboriginal woman. She has travelled extensively and as far away as Nunavut to spread the good word on literacy.

A strong advocate of reading, Jacqueline believes the key to the future is through better literacy today.