Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Writing to Trends

If you've ever been to an SCBWI event, chances are one or more of the speeches included the advice, "Don't write to trend."

Writing to trend means that once Twilight hit big, all of the sudden every other YA wanna-be was writing about vampires and werewolves, and indeed, there were a slew of vampires and werewolves books that came out immediately after Twilight that were able to benefit from the trend, but the problem is that now several years later, there are still books getting pitched about vampires and werewolves, and the agents and editors are completely sick of them.

NEWS FLASH: They are onto the next trend.

I was at an SCBWI event once where an agent's panel went on to elaborate about how a writer should "be aware" of the trends, but to always write what they love.

I agree, and I also disagree.
I am nothing, if not practical.

The truth of the matter is, if you want to sell in the current market place, if you want to be one of those sales you hear about that take place at auction, then you most definitely need to have a full, polished, and ON TREND manuscript.

I don't care if you are a brilliant writer, more than likely if your book is behind the trend, getting an agent, much less an editor, to take the time to request a full submission, or even read a partial, will be difficult.

I can't even tell you how many fantastic manuscripts are behind trend, and lay languishing on someone's hard drive, waiting for the trend to come back around in a decade.

Want to sell now? What's a writer to do?

Well, here's my advice: take it for what you will.

A) Write faster

- I know several writers that are brilliant, and have been writing and rewriting the SAME book for several years.  They rewrite, query, get a little far, but not far enough.  Rewrite, re-query, get a little bit farther, but not quite far enough, and the cycle continues.
The problem is that by the third rewrite, the book is already behind trend, and no matter how brilliantly you've rewritten the book, the trend is gone and agents and editors are onto the next best thing.
There was the curve.  You missed it!

- So?  It's time to put that manuscript to bed and start the next one, and the next one should not take more than 6 months to finish.  And I'm not talking the first draft in six months.  I'm talking a full, complete, polished manuscript ready for submission in six months.
Can't pull it off?
Then you're going to be in a never ending cycle of disappointment, because chances are, you'll always be slightly behind the curve.
Find a way.

B) WRITE TO TREND but make it yours

- This goes against every piece of advice any speaker at SCBWI has ever given me - but I have to say - take a moment, consider the types of books that are selling in the market, make a list, read them - and write to trend.

- Out of all those currently selling books, which ones are at the beginning of the trend?  If there is ONE book of a genre that's just sold thousands, then that's a safe bet, versus if there are now three unicorn books out - then you can safely bet that trend is about to end.

- Find the beginning of a trend, and make it your own.
This is the tricky part.  I'm not saying to write a trend book just like the others that have already been published.  Don't do that.  I want you to spin it, change it, up the stakes, make it different, make it yours.

For example, if the books out in the marketplace are about good and fluffy and pretty unicorns, write one about killer, monster unicorns.
If there are books about evil and horrible ghosts, write one about a good, misunderstood ghost (just don't name him Casper).

Find a new trend.
Make it your own.
Write fast.

I know it is almost impossible to hit this just right, and I'm desperately trying to do this myself, but if you manage to pull this off, you have a better chance of selling in today's market than the wonderful, brilliant souls who work the same gorgeous, and out of date, manuscript for five years.

Just saying...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Truth About Queries

You want the truth about queries?

They suck.

There's the truth.

But even though queries suck to write, suck to read, and suck in every general way, they are a necessary evil of suckiness if you wish to be a traditionally published author.

If you want an agent to represent your book to the BIG publishers, you must A) write a book, B) write a query, or two, or ten, or fifty, or (in my case), seventy eight.

There are a few short "rules" to writing queries.
I am only going to give you the highlights.
If you want the true and complete skinny on queries, take this class: http://litreactor.com/classes/the-art-of-the-query-letter-with-literary-agent-bree-ogden
It's taught by an actual literary agent, who reads a million queries, and can tell you what to do, what not to do, and how to do it.

I highly recommend it!

If you're so slick and think you know everything, here are just a few query tips to get you started.

1) Spell the agent's name right

2) Know your genre

3) Query only agents that represent your genre

4) Follow the agent submission guidelines



 - Not a whole synopsis, not a two paragraph long description of how your book is better than Harry Potter and will sell more books that Twilight (tsk, tsk), but an intelligent, succinct, PARAGRAPH (and only 1 paragraph!!) describing your MAIN storyline, without giving away the ending.  Not the many subplots, not the scenery, not a description of your main character's feelings, but a paragraph teaser (in present tense!) like what would be written on the back of your book if it were in a book store.

"The Book Thief"
By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow.  It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.  So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read.  Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife library, wherever there are books to be found.  But these are dangerous times.  When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

- This is the main character, this is their main conflict, this is what could go wrong...The End.

That's it.
I'm not joking.
It is the MOST IMPORTANT part of your query, so if you blow the paragraph, I don't care if you're as eloquent as a dignitary, no agent is going to ask for a full, or even a partial submission.

And that's the truth.

I highly urge anybody who wants to learn more to follow the above link and take the class about queries.

It could literally change your life. [pun intended]

In the meantime, good luck to my querying friends.