Character and new agent Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold

Agent Alexandra Penfold talks character.

In her first event as an agent, former Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Penfold spent a weekend teaching writers about character, and I was thrilled to be among them.

After an impressive career in book publishing, Alexandra moved to the other side of the desk this year, accepting an agenting position at Upstart Crow Literary. And after spending the weekend listening to her lectures and workshops at The Writing Barn, I know she’ll be a brilliant agent. She’s smart, passionate, insightful and a lot of fun.

At The Writing Barn, the first of the venue’s Advanced Writing Workshops, Alexandra gave two lectures on characters. “Characters are the heart and soul of any story,” she said, adding that the story should flow naturally from character.

Readers know when plot is being forced and characters are doing things they wouldn’t normally do just to advance the plot.

So what is plot? It should come from what the character needs or wants and what’s standing in his or her way.

Samantha Clark and Varsha Bajaj

Me (l.) chatting with author Varsha Bajaj at the cocktail party that kicked off the weekend.

Readers also like to figure things out for themselves, Alexandra pointed out, and that’s why showing character, instead of telling, is so important. Character can be shown through their decisions and actions, but their emotion also can be revealed through things like how they walk and sit. Do they walk tall or hunch over, for example.

Alexandra gave us a worksheet of questions that we can ask our characters. I’ve seen a lot of character interviews online with questions like what our characters’ favorite food is, favorite color, what their bedroom looks like. That’s all fine, but I like Alexandra’s better because it offers questions that are linked to the emotions of our characters, such as, what’s the last thing our character thinks about at night and the first thing in the morning? How do our characters think of themselves? How does that compare to how others see them? And more…

Bethany Hegedus and Alexandra Penfold

Author and The Writing Barn owner Bethany Hegedus (c.) introduced Alexandra (far r.) to an eager crowd.

Characters can also be shown in word choice. And Alexandra read to us some wonderful examples of this, including the opening chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Anne of Green Gables and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. All brilliant.

Alexandra certainly knows a lot about character, and passed it on in a fun and informative manor. If you’re writing YA, middle-grade or quirky picture books, I definitely recommend you query her.

Next up in The Writing Barn’s 2013 Advanced Writing Workshop is National Book Award novelist Sara Zarr in April and award-winning author Francisco X. Stork in November. I can’t wait.

Agents goodbye and hello

One says goodbye; many more say helloooo!

Today is literary agent Colleen Lindsey‘s last day at Fine Print Literary Management and last day as an agent, and she will be missed. But she has written a great post on her blog about her departure, detailing everything she has been doing to make sure her clients will be well taken of after she’s gone.

It’s a shame to see a great agent like Colleen hang up her phone — although, as I mentioned in my last post, I am anxious to see what she’s cooking up at Penguin — but QueryTracker reports five new agents.

One door closes, another opens…

Okay, enough of the cliches.

But I do have some other news to report: I have been writing!

Yes, writer friends, I’m thrilled to report that I’ve written about 3,000 words of my new novel in the past couple days. Hopefully, I can do more today, but I can tell you, it feels great to be back on my little island.

How’s your writing coming?

Write On!

Agent leaving

News today that literary agent Colleen Lindsey of Fine Print Literary Management is leaving agenting — yep, not moving to another agency, but saying goodbye to that job and moving back into publishing.

This sounds like great news for Colleen, and I wish her congratulations and best wishes on her new online job with Penguin. The details of the job are hush hush, but as it’s online, I can’t help thinking it might be some new and innovative way to get books — or rather written stories — out to readers. It could be very exciting.

However, I feel for all the writers who are agented by Colleen. Fine Print does have other agents, including the recently hired Marissa Walsh on the children’s book side, so I assume Colleen’s clients will be well taken care of. But the agent/author relstionship is so close, so personal, that it must be hard for a writer to lose their greatest advocate.

Has this happened to you? How did it turn out?

This will surely be an adjustment for Colleen and her clients, and I wish them all the best.

Write On!

New agent alert

Ok, don’t got too excited about that title. New agents are typically a great opportunity for unpublished writers, but this one might not be the agent you’re looking for.

Introducing the Hannah Rogers Literary Agency, the “desperate writer’s last resort.” 🙂

This joke comes to us by Evil Editor. Browse around the site for a few laughs.

Hope there aren’t any real agents out there called Hannah Rogers.

Write On!

New Agent Suzie Townsend

Manuscript update: Writing has been slow as my husband has been sick and I’ve been distracted, but it’s coming. Current word count is 9,544, only 607 words more than my last post. My goal of being finished by the end of this month is looking unlikely, but no worries. Onwards…

Valerie Hobbs headshot and The Best Last Days of Summer book coverFirst, I’m participating in author Valerie Hobbs’ blog tour for her new book The Best Last Days of Summer, a sweet book about a girl finding her strength and what’s important as everything around her changes. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting an interview with Valerie’s editor, Frances Foster, publisher of Frances Foster Books at Farrar Strauss Giroux Books for Young Readers. But check out all the posts on Valerie’s tour, because with every comment you leave, you’ll have the chance of winning a T-shirt and autographed copy of the book.

Second, more new agent news. Fine Print Literary Management has made Suzie Townsend an agent. Suzie also is the assistant to Fine Print’s CEO, and was an intern at the agency. Prior to that, she was an English teacher for more than six years. She is seeking everything from children’s to adult fiction and likes strong female protagonists and complex plot lines. If your book fits the bill, check out more about Suzie on this Guide to Literary Agents post and on her blog, Confessions of a Wandering Heart.

You might remember that Fine Print recently welcomed former editor Marissa Walsh as an agent too, so the company is expanding.

Oh, and third, some great auctions to raise funds for diabetes. Among them is a 30-page critique by literary agent Kristin Nelson. So get bidding!

Write On!

Great inspirational story

Manuscript update: I’m at 8,937 words, 1,723 words more than my last post, which was five days ago, so I’m way below my goal of 1,025 words a day. Sigh. To be finished by the end of this month, I have to write 1,150 a days. Don’t know that that’s going to happen, but we’ll see.

I don’t want to seem like I’m harping on rejections after my post “Dealing with rejections” from last week, but in my continued agent research for my completed and edited book (not the one I’m currently writing), I came across a wonderfully inspirational story and wanted to share.

On her blog, Aprilynne Pike, author of New York Times #1 bestseller Wings, talks about her journey to signing with agent Jodi Reamer, of Writers House and the agent of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. (Click for the full post here, but I’ll give you some highlights.

Aprilynne said she reached triple-digit rejections for her book:

“I had sent this sucker to every agent who might possibly be interested in representing fantasy,” she says.

In that time, she had received two requests for the full and both of them had been out for two months. All the rest were rejections.

Aprilynne doesn’t say if she ever felt frustrated or like giving up. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t.

But what she does show in this post is how much she believed in herself and her book.

After receiving so many rejections, Aprilynne took out an old critique of her manuscript and spent two months polishing it until she thought it was perfect. She then sent it out again.

In her words:

“But I tried to be hopeful. I did get rejections, and this time it was hard. I really felt them, even if it was just those first five pages. But I had a couple of bites and was happy about that.”

A few months later, she got an email from Jodi, and … well, the rest is history.

There are two takeaways here:

First: Polish your manuscript until it is perfect. That will get you an agent.

Second: Never give up. If Aprilynne had given up after her first round of triple-digit rejections, she never would have become the New York Times best-selling author she is today. Aprilynne’s Wings is scheduled to be made into a movie by Disney, and the sequel novel, Spells, was released today. Wings also was in Publishers Weekly’s top-selling book list.

I love this story, and get so much inspiration from it.

What’s your favorite inspirational writing story?

Write On!

Agent news: Marissa Walsh

Manuscript update: After two pretty good writing sessions, I’m up to 7,214 words, so 2,260 in the last two days. Wow, that’s actually better than I thought. Got to write 1,025 words per day to make my goal of finishing by the end of May. Phew! We’ll see.

Back in March, I told you that former editor Marissa Walsh had started her own agency, Shelf Life Literary.

But now, the news is, Fine Print Literary Management has hired Marissa as an agent, specializing in children’s books (picture books, middle grade and young adult), pop culture, memoir, humor and narrative nonfiction.

A writer herself (Girl With Glasses: My Optic History and A Field Guide to High School), Marissa worked as an editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books for seven years. She also teaches children’s writing at Gotham Writer’s Workshop.

More details of the types of books she’s looking for and how to query are on the Fine Print Literary website.

Pitch contest

Manuscript update: 4,954 words. Had a pretty good session yesterday. Today, I’m procrastinating with this blog post. 🙂 But then I’ll knuckle down. I think I’m behind if I want to meet my goal of finishing the first draft by the end of May.

QueryTracker is hosting a pitch contest today with literary agent Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary.

To enter, you must have completed the manuscript you’re pitching and pitch it in 25 words or less. You can enter as many times as you want, but you must be a member of QueryTracker and follow the site’s blog. More details are here, along with a link to a page for help in writing pitches.

The contest is open just today.

I can’t find anywhere what the prize for the contest is, but if you’ve got a completed manuscript that’s ready to go, it can’t hurt to get a pitch in front of a great agent.

Pitch On!

Interview with new agent Bree Ogden

Manuscript update: Terrible! Yesterday was the first day I have worked on my new book in two weeks. I’ve been busy with http://www.discdish.com. But, who am I kidding, I’ve also been just a little — ok a lot — intimidated by this story. My first two novels are plot-driven adventures, but this is a quiet tale, character-driven. I wrote 3,000 words and felt great, like the book was flying out of my, until I realized that I was just rushing toward the major plot points and missing all the character. So, I jumped into Disc Dish, made an excuse that I was too busy to write, and got miserable. So, Tuesday night, I stayed up late and did research. I found the character, or more of him. And, as I really am busy with Disc Dish, on Wednesday night, I set my alarm for 4am and dragged myself out of bed at 5 to write. I did that this morning too, and I feel better. Still intimidated, but better that at least I’m moving forward.

More on that next week, when I resolve to also get back to reading all the blogs in my Google Reader and posting regularly to DayByDayWriter.

Today, though, we have a special treat.

Literary agent Bree Ogden

Bree Ogden

In my last post, I wrote that Martin Literary Management has a new associate agent, Bree Ogden. I emailed Bree and asked if she’d like to answer a few questions so we could get to know her a little better, and she graciously said yes. Here are her answers:

Please tell us a little about your background with books and publishing.

Actually my trained background is in journalism. I have a lot of experience in publishing from a journalism angle. I was very involved in the publication of my university’s newspaper, and later, I was involved in the publication of the magazine and newspapers I worked on during my masters. But for the past 7 months, I have been immersed in the books and publishing world while training under Sharlene Martin at MLM.

In your bio on the Martin Literary Management website, you say your 16 nieces and nephews inspired you to represent children books. First, wow, you must have a big family. 🙂 Second, what about them made you want to handle children’s books?

I feel like I should send you a picture of them, or an audio clip of their cute little voices. I’m telling you, these are the most perfect children on this earth. I want them to become wise, intelligent, independent, imaginative, creative free thinkers as they grow up. It’s my belief that books have a strong influence on those characteristics. So I represent children’s books because I want to be a small part of what inspires children.

What were your favorite books when you were growing up?

The Berenstain Bears. Loved those! I loved LOVED books about dinosaurs. Any dinosaur book I could get my hands on was a favorite. A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban…such a great one. Also, The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl. Oh! And those books about the weird crazy school…Sideways Stories From Wayside School. (This is a nice trip down memory lane.) As I got a little bit older, I really enjoyed dystopian books. I loved The Giver by Lois Lowry and Anthem by Ayn Rand.

And what are some of the books you have read recently?

I just finished Wuthering Heights for the third time. I’ve been reading Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (best pop culture journalist ever). And I am continually making my way through The Walking Dead graphic novel series. Next up on my reading list is Sterling’s Illustrated Classics. Check them out. They have turned classics like Dorian Gray, The Trial, and Crime and Punishment into graphic novels. That’s epic in my mind.

On to agenting, what do you like best about the job so far? And what do you dislike the most?

My job is pretty awesome. What I like best about it is being surrounded by talent every second of the day. Of course, I can’t take on every writer that queries me, but I am profoundly stunned at the amazing queries I get. I love working with my clients. I have a great set of clients who are so dedicated to what they do. It’s incredible. I dislike having to turn down a query. That’s no fun at all. But I love the fact that every day I wake up, and I have no idea what awesome possibilities are waiting for me.

What kind of an agent are you? Do you work with your clients on an editorial basis?

I would say that I am a very involved agent. Of course, I make editorial suggestions, but mostly, I won’t take something on unless I love it. Which means there isn’t much editorial work for me to be doing. But I am the agent that my client needs me to be. Agenting is different with every client.

Communication-wise, do you prefer phone or email, and how often do you like to be in touch with clients?

Email is so great. But I do love a good phone conversation. Sometimes you just need to hash stuff out on the phone and not deal with the back and forth waiting of email. I have a client in Ireland currently, and it has been a different experience working solely through email. I like to be in touch with my clients pretty often when we first get the ball rolling. It is very important to always be on the same page.

What do you look for in a query letter and what turns you off?

I like a good creative query letter. I work with creative genres, so show me that you are creative through your letter…without trying too hard. That’s never good for anyone. I hate when the writer will tell me everything BUT the plot of the book. Sometimes they beat around that bush like it’s on fire…and I’m left wondering what the heck the premise is?

And same for a manuscript? What are your pet peeves, what do you love and what would make you stop reading?

Well…obviously bad writing would make me stop reading. If I can tell that the story is moving too slowly or isn’t going anywhere, I’ll stop. Also, character development is very important. I’ll stop reading if there is poor character development. And just like any book, I love a manuscript that won’t let me put it down. I love it when I can tell that the writer knows exactly what the premise or agenda of the book is, and I can see it in the writing.

Are there any particular styles (commercial or more literary) or genres you prefer?

Well, I rep Graphic Novels, Children’s and YA novels. So those are the genres I prefer. As far as styles…I like darker plots…think Dexter. Especially in graphic novels. I am quite obsessed with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so if a writer could pull that sort of style off, I would love that too. I love highly unique books. Books like the Fancy Nancy series. My 3-year-old niece actually used the word “posh” because of a Fancy Nancy book. And, of course, supernatural elements always make for a fun read. Caveat: I do not like vampires and I do not like werewolves.

And finally, what advice would you have for a writer who’s trying to find an agent?

Do your due diligence. Make sure you are sending your query to an agent who reps your genre. Learn about the agency. Know their policies. And make sure your project is ready to be read. Sharlene Martin, owner of Martin Literary Management, co-wrote a fantastic book with author Anthony Flacco entitled ‘Publish Your Nonfiction Book.’ Granted, it is geared toward nonfiction writers, but it gives fabulous tips on how to score an agent and fabulous stories of horrifying faux pas.

Thanks so much, Bree. Great answers.

You can find out more about Bree at her blog, This Literary Life (love the title), and on Twitter.

So, Day By Day Writers, if you think Bree will be a good fit for you and your book, polish up your query letter, get creative, and send it her way.

Write On!

Agent news and contests

Manuscript update: Still nothing new as I’ve been too busy with http://www.discdish.com. But I’ve got lots of ideas for I get back to the book.

Some quick agent news:

Bree Ogden has been made an associate agent at Martin Literary Management. She will represent children’s, young adult and graphic novels. Here’s some info on Bree, and she’s agreed to answer a few questions for DayByDayWriter, so stay tuned for that.

And Devin McIntyre has opened his own shingle: The McIntyre Agency. He has been an agent with Mary Evans Inc. since 2002 and reps childrens books, graphic novels and adult genres. Here’s his AuthorAdvance page and his Publishers Marketplace page.

And some quick contest news:

The Next Big Writer (sounds like a reality show, doesn’t it?) is running a Strongest Start Novel Competition for the best first three chapters of a novel. You can enter if whether you’ve completed the novel or not, as long as you’ve got the first three chapters and they’re polished. Oh, and you have to be a member of critique network The Next Big Writer. Here’s the rundown from the contest:

If you’ve been working on a novel, or have one written already, polish your first three chapters and consider entering this competition. TheNextBigWriter is an online workshop. By entering, you receive feedback on every chapter you submit. This is a great opportunity to have your work-in-progress reviewed, and you may even win! You do NOT need to have completed your entire novel, so this competition is open to those who have started or are working on their novels.

The grand prize is $500 and a $2,500 self-publishing deal from CreatSpace and feedback on every chapter.

$100 cash prizes will be given for sci-fi/fantasy/horror, romance and memoir/non-fiction. And the deadline is June 8.

And Writer’s Digest is holding its 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, with a grand prize of $3,000 and a trip to New York to meet with editors and agents.

Now, this contest has entry fees, and they increase by $5 if you submit after May 14 and by $10 if you submit after June 1. You can enter in the following categories:

  • Inspirational writing (spiritual/religion)
  • Memoirs/personal essay
  • Magazine feature article
  • Genre short story
  • Mainstream/Literary short story
  • Rhyming poetry
  • Non-rhyming poetry
  • Stage play
  • TV/Movie script
  • Children’s/young adult

I don’t endorse either of these, as I don’t have any experience with either.