Multiple Offers from Literary Agents

This is a crazy thing that can happen (and happened to me) where multiple literary agents have offered you representation. That offer is exciting and thrilling and terrifying, but how are you supposed to choose between them?

Provided you only queried your dream agents (it’s best practice to only query agents in small batches), then you have a tough decision ahead of you!

I made this video which has 7 things to consider when you’ve received multiple offers. These things ALSO apply to single offers!

Let me know if you have any additional suggestions for questions to ask literary agents!! Or if you have any favorite resources!

Practice Being Creative (like you practice math)

Practicing being creative might not sound like it makes sense. But it does. When you’re learning math, you learn how to approach a problem (let’s say, solving for X). You learn all of the beautiful things equations can do. You learn how to add, multiply, distribute, expand and condense exponential equations, substitute, and estimate. All in search of X.

Question: How is doing match similar to practicing creativity? (also, math is dumb, I hear some of you complain)

Answer: X is the idea. X is the story. In order to solve for X (in order to produce something creative), you have to learn HOW to manipulate the equation first. In short, you have to learn how to think about the world creatively before you can create something creative.

Example:  If the prompt is “someone cooking for the first time”, you might want to write a story about a budding chef at a shiny culinary institute, while someone else might want to write a memoir about the first time they boiled pasta as a ten-year-old.

 

Math Language: The simplest solution will be the one you find first. But there’s more than one way to get to the answer.

English Language: Don’t settle on the first idea you come up with. Keep thinking. Keep solving the problem. Keep inventing new paths to go down.

When you’re given a writing prompt, don’t just start with the first idea you land on. Ask questions, dig deeper, go down more and more tangents. Go where the white rabbit leads you.

Example Prompt: Someone cooking for the first time.

What are they cooking?

  • Obvious first answers: lobster, pasta, a cake
  • Less obvious second answers: burnt toast, cereal, competitive soufflé
  • Lesser obvious answers (where you pay attention to details and intentionally try to twist the interpretations): poison for a villainous villain, a batch of explosives, a potion to cast a spell, cooking up a dastardly scheme

Of course, genre gets tangled up here somewhere, but it’s up to you to fall down whichever rabbit holes you like! (You’ll see my examples tend toward the fantastical.)

Who is cooking?

  • Obvious first answers: someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to cook before, such as a child, a new college student, a chef learning to cook new things
  • Less obvious second answers: a spoiled rich person who’s maid just quit, an alien who’s trying to pretend to be human by cooking a thanksgiving dinner
  • Lesser obvious (even ridiculous) answers: a grasshopper who just got turned into a human, a witch casting her first spell, a tempest spirit brewing a hurricane to send at the pitiful mortals

As you can see, the more strange and more tangential solutions you can come up with, the stranger your story will become. The more creative you can be!

The final question: Why are they cooking?

(why does anyone do anything: either they want to or have to or did it by accident, or a combination thereof)

  • Obvious first answers: They are hungry, someone else is hungry
  • Less obvious second answers: They’ve been tricked into preparing poison for the person they love, they’re trying to win back an old girlfriend by cooking a romantic meal
  • Lesser obvious (verging on the absurd): They’re participating in an execution competition where they’re preparing a criminal’s last meal, they’re searching for the ingredients to a vaccine for a earth-changing virus, they’re trying to placate the first god of time by preparing a meal at the dawn of ages (get it, cooking for the first time?)

So what might have started as a simple prompt, write about someone cooking for the first time, has origami-folded itself into a more complicated story.

Here’s Your Motto: Aim For Absurd

There is literally nothing at stake when you’re just brainstorming ideas. So don’t hold yourself back or stay within your comfort zone. Aim for absurd. Push yourself to think outside of what you’ve always done, because that’s how you’ll surprise yourself.

And once you’ve hit the bottom of the rabbit hole, you can emerge with your strange idea. Then you can make your pitch:

Sasha never cooked anything more complicated than homemade alfredo. Now, she’s been invited to the home of Chronos, god of time, to help prepare a feast that will stop the temporal god from wiping the universe from existence. But here’s the thing about Chronos: He goes by Ron, he’s ironically impatient, and he doesn’t want a menu of complicated pastas. His feast will be a collection of the most painful and beautiful moments from the chef’s time on earth. Ron will consume the best and worst parts of Sasha’s life–and the lives of three other unlucky chefs–in order to determine whether time itself is worth saving. But can Sasha face the horrible things she’s done to the people she loved in order to save them? And is the god of time really just a cranky, impertinent deity, or is there something else he’s after? The more memories Ron consumes, the more human he seems to become. And the more time begins to unravel around them. (spoiler: probably Sasha becomes the next god of time, because that would be awesome)

 

To be fair, that idea is half-baked, spiced with whatever was in the back of the spice rack, and served up on the shiniest platter that I found outside this week.*

To be honest, it’s absurd. And that’s okay. Once you can find your way to absurd, you’ll know that your ideas are fully stretched and that you’re getting some great practice in. Creativity is a skill you can hone, but it’ll require thought and effort and time. Just like, say, if you were to cook something for the first time 😉

 

*all puns are cooked to order–consumption of undercooked puns may result in loss of time or blackouts or inexplicable, unstoppable laughter or hiccups

NaNoWriMo 2017

Sometimes I win NaNo, and sometimes I fail.

This year is a bit different.

I have a book deal for two books (THE NAMELESS QUEEN and a sequel), and I’m in the middle of doing edits with my editor.

I haven’t heard back yet on the first round of edits, and I’m already about 79k words through the sequel.

 

Things standing in my way of being productive this NaNo:

  1. Job. Job. Job. I work as a technical editor (day job), and we’ve gone from 3 writers on staff to 1. Not for any nefarious reason, just that one intern went back to school already and the other took a contract position elsewhere. There will be a NEW full-time writer come January-ish, but then there’s a long process of training and such. Meanwhile, we’re currently doing 3 major projects and I’m the lonely writer. Sooo basically my life is going to be busy at work. Might be working long hours.
  2. Fragmented transcription. Some parts of my story, I dictated and then transcribed. Contrary to how I normally handle this, I didn’t necessarily smooth over all the scenes that I typed up, so there’s an occasional hard bracket section which denotes a gap in the story. Nothing is more fun than seeing this as you scroll through the document:
    • [] Something something clever line. [smooth over transition btwn these scenes. sorry about the fuss, Future Me.]
  3. Edits. If I hear back from my editor during this month (which is likely, because I sent the edits to her at the beginning of September), then that will take priority. Not much to do about this one except to treat edits with as much reverence and rush as they deserve. ❤

 

Things that will not stand in my way of being productive this NaNo:

  1. Job.
  2. Fragmented transcription.
  3. Edits.

Because even though these things take up my time and are important, they are just a part of a given day.

  1. Yes, my job is important, but as long as I leave work at work, I have a whole evening to myself. Back when I did the first draft of THE NAMELESS QUEEN, I was working 50-hour weeks. I basically had one or two hours of writing time per day. And let me tell you, when you only have 2 hours, you are a hell of a lot more productive than you’d be when you’re staring at a blank screen all day.
  2. Yes, fragmented scenes are tough to work around. I’m at a point of writing where I’m not sure which characters are present. Is it just 3? 4? Or is it as high as 8? *shrug* I’ll pick my favorites, and if a time comes where I realize I need some of the others, they will appear as if by magic. I’ll let Revision Rebecca deal with that issue, aka Future Me Who Has To Edit The First Draft.
  3. Yes, edits are the top priority. If they come in, I will drop the sequel like a hot potato so I can dive into the fire of revisions. But you know what? Edits on book 1 are just as important as writing book 2. So if I end up spending NaNo doing edits, that’s fine by me. Productivity isn’t prescriptive. You don’t have to accomplish exactly what you set out to do. You just have to accomplish something. So even if I “fail” NaNo like I did last year (I’m looking at you, Pitch Wars and Getting an Agent/Book Deal), that doesn’t mean I have failed.

 

Then again, the biggest test will be today, the first day. Typically Day One of NaNo is one of the most productive, so if I set a good tone with today, I’ll get a good sense of if I’m in a good spot to keep moving forward.

 

And hey! If anyone else out there is doing NaNo this year, let me know!! We can be buddies!

 

Have a question on any of this?

Ask me!*

*yes it can be anonymous!

Show Don’t Tell #12

Show Don’t Tell! That means I’m going to provide a bad writing example and show you how to fix it! (Otherwise known as: an absurd amount of notes on an absurdly short paragraph.) This time, we’re going to be paying special attention to adverbs, verbs, and tone.


THE BEFORE PARAGRAPH

Briskly,(1) I ran through the marketplace, desperately(2) searching the half-destroyed tables and heaps of smoking rubbish,(3) frantically reaching for anything and anyone(4) that looked faintly(5) my little brother.(6)(7) A charred mannequin, the broken leg of a upturned table.(8) It was hard to see(9) because of(10) the smoke, and I spun around, still searching and searching for him.(11)(12)

1: Adverbs are okay to use, but use them sparingly. This one isn’t needed, and it’s just acting as a buffer between us and the verb that drives the sentence (run). [Sidenote: The benefit of adverbs is that you convey tone/mood with a single word. The detriment is that you’re leaving it to the reader’s familiarity and pre-exposure to that word to set the tone/mood. Basically, it lacks specificity. Sometimes, however, that’s what you want, especially in more condensed action scenes.]

2: Okay, adverb #2 in this sentence.

3: ADVERBBBBBB #3 (Yes, I’m keeping score. No, paragraph, you’re not winning.)

4: This is a small but I think an effective change. This sentence moves from anything (object) to anyone (person). But when you’re looking for a person, you’d look for people and then resort to objects. Or there’s an argument for the first option, because the number of objects outweighs the number of people. But also think of the list in the next sentence, where it progresses from mannequin (human-like) to table leg (not human).

5: ADVERB #4 IN ONE SENTENCE. This is not just overkill, it’s a massacre. One adverb is fine, two is pushing it, four is leaping into the annoying world of Annoying Things.

6: I like that it takes the whole sentence to figure out we’re looking for a little brother, but I think it would be more powerful to have this revelation come after we see the mannequin and broken table leg, because those are just-human enough to tell the reader we’re looking for a person. Let the imagery tell us the story, and then confirm it when we’re already on the edge of knowing.

7: This sentence. It’s too long. It has too many adverbs. Its length doesn’t match the choppy pace that the story is expressing.

8: First, I quite like these two list items. But. It needs a third. The rule of three: descriptions are often presented in threes, so adding a third detail here will really help. [Sidenote: We humans like threes, especially in lists. I don’t know why (wikipedia does), but groups of three are a good rule of thumb. One is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, three is a pattern. It takes three for the reader to get a good sense of something. And I say this will all the confidence of someone who didn’t read that wikipedia article yet.* I’m going to let my math brain take over on this one. With one point, you’re at a stationary point on a graph. With two, you’ve established a linear pattern, which can have a steep or slow growth rate. You’ve connected two items, but only by a thread. With three? With three you can imply a parabolic curve or a shape (triangle!) that now covers an area. This implies exponential change and a scope of area instead of just two points. With three details in a set, you get a dynamic sense of direction and space.]

9: “because of” is a red flag, because it almost always is coupled with over-explanation.

11: This would read a lot better if the end of this paragraph was focused on the not-finding instead of the searching. Or at the very least if the “for him” wasn’t there, because it’s 1.) unnecessary words and 2.) it specifies the “searching” with the goal when we haven’t found the goal. I think it’s better if we’re just left “searching and searching” and the sentence feels more open-ended.

12: Also, let’s take a look at the verbs we’re using in this paragraph: ran, searching, smoking, reaching, looked, see, spun, searching, searching. Most of these are flat neutral verbs, sensory filters (looking, searching) that are repetitive and don’t give us a variety. We’re getting movement and searching, but not a lot else.

*Having now read the wikipedia article, it talks about the prevalence of threes but doesn’t go into any reasoning or psychology. But I bet psychology knows something about it, so if you’re more successful at research (or perhaps you moonlight as a psychologist), let me know!


THE AFTER PARAGRAPH

I ran through the destroyed marketplace,(1) dodging sparking wires that swung from tilting concrete and scampering over crushed vending stalls.(2) Smoke choked(3) the air, stung my eyes, and I blinked against both as I stumbled(4) over chunks of concrete and torn metal. Every movement caught my eye: the broken leg of a table splintering,(5) the shiver of a charred mannequin(6) as the plastic melted and cracked,  the twitch of unfamiliar fingers(7) coated with ash and dust.(8) But none of them were my brother.(9) I tried to scream for him, but I still tasted blood in my throat.(10)(11)

1: Calling it the “destroyed” marketplace upfront gives us a sense of that background (something destroyed it).

2: There was a distinct lack of setting in the first paragraph. So I took some liberties and assumed by “marketplace”, it meant big store that collapsed. There is a potential for a misreading of “concrete and scampering.” Maybe that last action is too much for this sentence.

3: Smoke choked is a fun linguistic rhyme.

4: Scampering and stumbling are both more physically descriptive of the character’s movements. I’m not sure “scampering” feels quite right, but there is a nice progression from one to the other. Maybe scrambling? See, you have to try a few things until you find something that fits just right.

5: The following three parts of this sentence offer a progression from the anthropomorphic to the human. We start with the leg of a table, which is hinting at human)…

6: … and we progress to mannequin, which is pseudo-human…

7: … and we end with unfamiliar fingers, which is not the human we’re looking for. Notice also how all three items have a unique description and verb paired with it. We start with the broken leg of the table, which is an intentional misdirect for a human leg. Then the mannequin shivers, which is often a human action. And then we have the twitch of fingers under ash and dust, implying a not-so-happy end for the market-goers.

8: This rule of three is a bit bulky here, because it does end up being a long sentence. It’s a case-by-case analysis of whether the sentence is clunky or if it flows, and whether the progression makes logical sense.

9: Here’s where we get the kicker: the character is looking for their brother. Now, it’s up to you whether you want to reveal this detail first or last. If you reveal it last, the tension is based more on the destruction. If you reveal it first, then the reader knows in that 3-detail sentence who we’re looking for, and those details take on a more poignant, gruesome light. So it depends on whether you want the brother detail to be a reveal or if you want to start off with it and build tension after.

10: Blech. Blood in the throat is disgusting and visceral, but it is a stronger image. And it’s less common than the frequent “blood in my mouth” description. It speaks to a deeper injury, which mirrors the high level of destruction we see around the character. It might make more physical sense, though, if it said something more along the lines of “but dried blood still stuck in the back of my throat”. Because I don’t know that *tasting* blood makes it difficult to speak.

11: Let’s look at the verbs of the new paragraph: ran, dodging, swung, tilting, scampering, choked, stung, blinked, stumbled, caught, shiver, melted, cracked, splintering, twitch, coated, tried, scream, tasted. There’s a lot more, and they are used in different forms. There’s even some in there used as adjectives that I didn’t include (sparking, broken). And take careful note of the utter lack of adverbs! Make sure you’re using a variety of vocabulary and that the verb choice in particular pairs well with the level of tension and action in the story.


What do YOU think?

How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? Do you prefer building up to a reveal or revealing a crucial detail first and letting it color the rest of the content?

Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Check out the rest of the Show Don’t Tell series!

The Value of Line Edits (and when to do them)

I was recently asked:

Do I pay attention to every single word when I’m writing?

When I’m doing a first draft, no. It’s basically all get it on the page, move on, and keep going. When you’re writing a first draft that may end up being 150k on the first draft, you’ve got to make sacrifices. Self-editing as you go is one of those sacrifices. If you keep stopping to evaluate and re-evaluate your work, you’re not making progress—you’re getting stuck.
But when I’m revising? Hell yeah. I try to, anyway.
I overshoot the optimal word count in my first drafts. It’s a hazard of putting yourself on a daily word count goal. Sometimes you write a bunch of fluff, but hey, at least you’re writing.
But paying attention to those words on a micro level is something you naturally end up doing if you’re trying to condense word count. It makes your prose tighter, more efficient, and stronger. That’s why I do the Show Don’t Tell series, where I provide examples of bad writing and show how to make it shine a bit brighter.
I hear agents say it all the time: you can fix a bad story, but you can’t fix bad writing. So I try to make sure my story is as strong as it can be on my own. I only go to others when I feel like I’ve really reached my limit. (note: this does not count the number of times I go to people to rant at them about plot-related issues, which is always.)
What I try to do, and what I always advise others of doing, is to be mindful of wanting to extend your limits, learn, and do better.
So far, my editor and agent have taken steps to help me make the story flow better so it makes more sense on a macro level. We haven’t gotten to line edits yet. But honestly? Other people can only really tell you what isn’t working as opposed to how to make it better.* They can give suggestions, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide what works best and how you want to put your plan into action. You need to be your and your story’s best advocate.
And maybe I’m a weirdo, but I love LOVE line edits. If I can make this passage make sense just because of the way it’s communicated as opposed to big picture changes, perfect! If I can whittle down the word count without losing the story, then I should. In fact, I often find that when there’s a misunderstanding of plot, it doesn’t always stem from the plot itself but can stem from a text-level miscommunication.
The best way to illustrate this is when someone says: “I don’t understand why X happened.” Your gut response might be to say: “It says so right there on the page! Or: It’s implied by this moment/scene right here!” Chances are that you know what you want to say, but you’re not saying it right.
I’m a big big BIG believer in the power of line edits. They make the story stronger. It’s tough to reshape a story without paying attention to both the bones AND the meat.
In fact, I’ll often do a round of line edits *before* big picture edits, because it’s easier to get at the bones of the story when there’s less fluff.

So when should you do line edits?

If you’re like me, you might start right after finishing the first draft.
First drafts are ugly beasts that need lots of TLC. They’re like a golem that slipped in the mud and broke its arm. Yes, you want to treat the injury, but you might need to clear away some mud before you can see the extent of the damage. You have to clean a wound before you can treat it.
There’s an added benefit to doing them right away: it gets you into the story, it allows you to get that easy, low-hanging fruit like typos and tense issues out of the way, and it’s a good way to get into your story and read it again.
But you definitely want to do your line edits before submitting your work anywhere, because it’s easy to overlook a bad story, but it’s difficult to overlook great writing. Great writing = great revision.
*and let me tell you, when your editor occasionally underlines one of your sentences and puts two or three exclamation points beside it because they loved loved loved it—that’s the moment when you run around like a maniac with a dopey grin on your face and proclaim to the world: LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL SENTENCE. I WROTE IT AND IT’S AWESOME AND AND ANDD I AM A WRITER—LOOK AT ME WRITE.**
**this is of course followed by a note  a few pages later that makes you question an entire thread of the plot, which in turn makes your stomach sink and your mind fall into a pit of buzzing bees until you can find a solution***
***and then when you find a solution, refer to asterisk #1