Tuesday, April 7, 2020

#AtoZChallenge - Forest



Here at OA, we're talking about writing motivation for our A-to-Z Challenge: what motivates us, how to get motivated, and - according to me, at least - what apps are useful to keep motivated!

Today I'm talking about Forest. Forest is a fun little app you can find in the Google Play store, the Apple App store, and as an extension for Chrome. It's free, although it also contains some paid content.

How it works

Forest blacklists sites that you might use to procrastinate and motivates you to stay on-task by growing a tree! You can set how long you want the app to run, from as little as 10 minutes to as much as 2 hours, and if you navigate to an app or website you blacklisted during that time, your tree dies. You get a few seconds to navigate away from the blacklisted site, so there's a bit of wiggle room if you forget that you put IMDB on there. The blacklist automatically contains some common procrastination sites at initial install (like Facebook and Twitter) and is also open to customization, as is the whitelist.

The longer you set the tree to grow, the more coins you earn, which you can use to unlock new varieties of trees like ginkgo and palm trees, along with some seasonal items like scarecrows and flowers. Plus, every tree you successfully grow appears in a little forest plot that you can visit! Forest also has a short quiz you can take to customize your use of the app, but all it really did for me was "unlock" a new type of tree and told me that I work best in a study group in a college library.

Pros

  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • Can be used on a computer as well as on a smartphone
  • Timer doubles as a way to commit to a length of time to write
Cons
  • Have to pay to synchronize the forest across devices
  • Relies on the user to adjust the blacklist
  • Error time is very short

Final thoughts

Overall, Forest is easy to use and a very cute app in general. As long as you can actually commit to putting websites or apps onto the blacklist, Forest will probably work well to keep you on-track while you're writing. Don't let your tree die!



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Monday, April 6, 2020

#AtoZChallenge--How to Banish Your Inner Editor






Hi, Writer. I’m your Inner Editor. I’m the one who stops you from writing a single word on a blank word document even though you are swelling with inspirational impotence. I’m the one who makes you stay up all night anxiously questioning yourself on whether or not you made the right decisions on a rough draft. I’m the one who tells you that you’re not a good enough writer to publish.

I can look like anyone or anything. I can look like a supervillain or the worst boss you’ve ever had. I can talk like the teacher who told you that you wouldn’t make it anywhere or personified nails on a chalkboard. Once you give me a form, you’ll be able to banish me. If you can, that is.

Once you personify me, you’ll be able to tell that I am not you. The way to make me stop bothering you is to send me out. Kick me outside to play in the sun. Banish me to another dimension. I’ll put up a fight. Let’s see if you can take me on.

If you manage to get me to go away, you can try a few things to get yourself to write:

·      Free Write: Just write what you want on the page without thinking. Add a word count goal if you’re feeling bold.

·      Outline: Write out what needs to happen in the scene and perhaps the dialogue before making it sound pretty.

·      Word Sprint: Just like a free write, but with more pressure.

When I come back, you’ll know what to do.


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Saturday, April 4, 2020

#AtoZChallenge - Daydreaming

Welcome to D-DAY of the Operation Awesome A-to-Z Blogging Challenge!  This month we're doing 26 posts on WRITING MOTIVATION

Are you burned out?  That's okay!  Taking a break from your WIP is sometimes what you need to recharge.  Or, are you letting your current WIP sit for the recommended 4+ weeks so you can go back to it with fresh eyes?

My part of our Writing Motivation theme is – Things to work on that still count as writing!
D – Daydreaming

Is your Act 2 suffering from sagging middle syndrome?  Are you stuck on a plot point?  What happens next?  Ideas for your new WIP?

You have the permission of the Operation Awesome team [not that you need it] to take some time to daydream!  Go for a walk.  Stare out the window.  Draw.  Paint.  Work with clay.  Watch a movie.  Read a book.  Clean your house.  Take a shower.  [Isn't it always strange that you get really good ideas while you're in the shower?]

After all, writers are never NOT writing.  Sometimes the writing is just happening only in your head.

Evaluating ideas

If you're out of ideas

Where do you get your ideas?

Worried that someone will steal your ideas?

Brainstorming

Where ideas come from

The art of finding ideas

Come back tomorrow for more WRITING MOTIVATION!


Friday, April 3, 2020

#AtoZChallenge Cohen Writing Motivation



A Month of Writing Motivation is the Operation Awesome theme for the 2020 A to Z Challenge. I'm giving examples of how five reference books offer writing motivation.

#AtoZChallenge 2020 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter C



The Productive Writer: Strategies and Systems for Greater Productivity, Profit and Pleasure by Sage Cohen

This book aims to motivate the reader by focusing on ways to be productive. Areas it touches on include:

  • Know what you want to do, why it makes you happy, and what your goals are.
  • Desire maximizes productivity.
  • Keep track of your time. (Chapter 6 has a biorhythms component that everyone on pandemic quarantine/lockdown should check out.
  • Creative activities to do when you aren't writing.
  • Chatting with your muse/genius/whatever. 
  • Organize better to keep from getting stalled.
  • Get fear out of your way.
The book ends with chapters on what to do after you've written to your target length. If you struggle to stay motivated long enough to finish, or if you need to focus more of your motivated energy, this is an excellent book for you. It's short, well-written, and the concepts are clear. 

This book came out five years before Big Magic, but mentions Elizabeth Gilbert and one of the lessons she ends up using in her book. (Come back on April 14 to learn more about Big Magic.)


What goal do you feel you need to reach to consider yourself a "productive writer"?


#AtoZChallenge 2020 badge

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Thursday, April 2, 2020

#AtoZChallenge - Beginning, Middle, End





B is for Beginning, Middle, End.

During this challenge I will be sharing some of my favorite writing prompts or challenges with you so you can try them out to see which ones you find useful, challenging or just fun.

The Begging, Middle, End challenge is one I like when writing short fiction because it offers a kind of natural structure to your story in that the person offering the prompt (in this case me) gives you a sentence to begin your story, a sentence to fit into the middle of your story and a sentence to finish your story.

So here goes...

Beginning:  He hadn't been in town long, but somehow, they already wanted to murder him.

Middle: The dishes lay shattered in the kitchen sink.

End: She would understand one day that he had truly loved her.

So go to it.  See what you can make of those. 

We'd love to see how you use these prompts, so either leave your story in the comments or email to us at operationawesome6@gmail.com



Wednesday, April 1, 2020

#AtoZChallenge - Agents and Publishers

Welcome to A-DAY of the Operation Awesome A-to-Z Blogging Challenge!  This month we're doing 26 posts on WRITING MOTIVATION

Are you burned out?  That's okay!  Taking a break from your WIP is sometimes what you need to recharge.  Or, are you letting your current WIP sit for the recommended 4+ weeks so you can go back to it with fresh eyes?

My part of our Writing Motivation theme is – Things to work on that still count as writing!

A – Agents and Publishers

Is your career goal to be traditionally published?  Take a breather from your WIP and do some research into agents to find the ones who you believe might be a good fit for your writing and your business style.  Remember, you're looking for a career, right?  You need a business partner who is excited about what you write AND who you can work with successfully.

Finding literary agents

What to look for in an agent

Creating a spreadsheet

Or do you want to research smaller publishers to work with directly, instead of through an agent?

Small press / big press pros and cons

Is a small press right for me?

Small presses

Or is your goal to self-publish?

Self-publishing for author/illustrators

A self-publishing quiz

Self-publishing info and resources from Writer Beware

Whatever your goals, you can research your options and make a business decision that's right for you.

Come back tomorrow for more WRITING MOTIVATION!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Writing Now That Things Are Different

For a lot of us, things have gotten really intense really fast. Shelter in place orders have a lot of us now spending way more time at home than usual. (For those of you now spending all day with small children, I bid you strength.) However, to me, it was a dream came true when my state issued "shelter in place" because it meant that I would have so much more time for writing! At last, nobody can invite me to some event that my Midwest Nice upbringing won't let me refuse - I'm quickly learning that I'm more of an introvert than I thought I was, haha.

Just as quickly, though, I'm realizing that simply being home does not equal more writing. Don't get me wrong, I've been productive, but I've been doing things like hanging photos on the walls or deep-cleaning the spare room or learning to make macarons. Exactly zero writing has happened so far. And it makes me feel so guilty that I can't sleep at night. Here I have this golden opportunity to knock out an entire round of revisions in a weekend, and what am I doing? Staring into a pot of sugar water to make sure it doesn't crystallize.

Being at home all day felt like it should be perfect: I could wear sweatpants, snack all day, and spend hours with my cat. Once work hours are over, though, I'm stuck with two things: a desire to write, and a burning need to not sit at my computer anymore. And somehow, writing keeps getting pushed back, usurped by some household chore that just needs to happen right now for some unfathomable reason. Every night, I curl in on myself, hating that I didn't even think about revisions.

But the thing is, we shouldn't beat ourselves up for not being our most productive during a literal pandemic. Things are different now, and they will be for the foreseeable future. An adjustment period is expected - natural, even. A lot of us have more pressing things to deal with, like trying to arrange child care while also working from home, or suddenly being without a job, or dealing with the fact that a close relation is sick. It is okay to not write a single word during these trying times. It is okay to write an entire novel because you can't go to work and you're self-isolating. If you can, reach out to your writing friends and check in on them. But remember, don't take on more than you can handle. Nobody is keeping score.

The only things you really need to do are stay home, stay safe, and wash your hands.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Let's have a great April!

Hello all you amazing Operation Awesome blog readers!  Are you washing your hands and staying 6 feet away from everyone?  Working at your essential job and hoping you don't get sick?  Not working at what others have deemed a non-essential job and hoping you can pay your bills next month?

Wednesday begins the #AtoZChallenge, and the Operation Awesome team is participating right here on this blog!  YOU can sign up and participate too.  It's free, it's fun, you can use the serial/Oxford comma, and you get to meet lots of other bloggers who are more than 6 feet away from you.  Do something different and have some fun during this crazy time.

We hope you join us and several hundred other bloggers.  Let's have a great April!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

New Team Member Search at Operation Awesome



We're looking for a new team member! Nathaniel is leaving us after April. Big shoes to fill! Friday posts have contests and feedback. Plus, this role is for the person who reaches out to the agents during our Pass or Pages events. It's a bit of responsibility and a whole lot of fun. Interested? Fill out the form to apply.




Tell your friends about this, please!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

March 2020 Pass or Pages Entry #5

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Stephanie Winter of PS Literary, Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Samantha Fabien of Laura Dail Literary Agency for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!


Entry #5:  TIME TELLS ALL



Query


Novice psychotherapist Duncan Holmes ignores his own lack of experience [SW1] when he agrees to treat the complex diagnosis of Dr. Ethan Abraham, a brilliant surgeon who gained national attention when it was discovered he kidnapped and imprisoned two female medical students [AB1] [SW2]. Though Ethan admits this transgression, he maintains his innocence concerning a more troubling matter: the realization that several local women have gone missing in recent years who all share similar qualities to Ethan’s known victims [SW3].

Law enforcement think they have a serial killer on their hands and are convinced that Ethan is the culprit, but without enough evidence to link him to the missing, they pressure Duncan to get a confession from Ethan. All Duncan gets though is the feeling that Ethan isn’t capable of doing any harm, and even questions if Ethan committed the crime he admits. Desperate to know the truth, Duncan blurs the boundaries and gets involved with Ethan outside of their sessions, and soon Duncan discovers that the impetus of Ethan’s actions is an external force that is more dangerous than any mental illness [SW4].

TIME TELLS ALL is an adult thriller complete at 92,000 words. There are no scenes of violence against women in the manuscript, though details of cases are discussed in the same language and manner as on Law & Order or Criminal Minds [SW5]

Thank you for your time and consideration. Included is a writing sample.
 

*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW1] I find that this weakness shared up front without explanation does not encourage me to see Duncan as our protagonist. Why is Duncan thrown into this situation, and why does his perspective matter most here?
[SW2] This is a lot to learn in a first line! Try breaking it up into multiple sentences.
[SW3] This is starting to have the makings of a hook. Is Duncan trying to recover the missing women?
[SW4] If possible, try to clarify with specifics. This sounds like it could be intriguing.
[SW5] You have an opportunity here to clarify what your book is like with competitive titles, rather than just explain the level of explicitness.  

Amy's comments:
[AB1] Great hook right from the beginning.


First 250


Charleston, South Carolina sits eight feet below sea level. Downtown will see six inches of flood water during high tide with zero rainfall. That’s why were nicknamed the Lowcountry. This is why the national media has taken to calling him the Lowcountry Captor [AB2]. I call him my newest client [SW6].

It’s 8:57AM on the console clock when I exit my car and walk towards the agency. Jake’s single-speed Harper is chained to the bike rack so he’s here, but we always keep the entrance locked and I use my key to enter.

“Is Dr. Holmes in the house?” Jake appears from his office. His hair sticks up like he stuck his finger in an electrical outlet and he’s wearing his usual skinny jeans and flip-flops. Jake specializes in cyber counseling and seldom sees a client face-to-face. We became fast friends in our first year of college when we learned of our mutual love for Dragon Ball Z and have been inseparable ever since. Starting a behavioral health agency together was a no-brainer [SW7].

“Hey, hey,” I say, closing the door behind me. “You’re here early.”

“Yeah. In case [SW8] there’s any craziness with news cameras or something, I wanted to be inside already. I mean, he’ll be here today, right? In our little, one-way-in-and-one-way-out agency. The Lowcountry Captor.”

“Yes, he will,” I say. “And we are not calling him that.”

“Not to his face, at least.” Jake whistles. “Your first killer.”

“He didn’t kill anyone, Jake. Jesus [AB3][SW9].”


*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW6] I like the strong narrative voice used here. It evokes almost a noir tone. 

[SW7] I hope to get further detail later on that allows the reader to agree with this statement. I also wonder how a person under police suspicion is sent to a startup, but I imagine this will be cleared up later?
[SW8] This is a great way to start the novel, with the anticipation of something to come in the near/immediate future. 
[SW9] The query did not do justice to the first 250 but I am curious to see how this plot unfolds. For future querying, a strong hook is needed, and perhaps a brief line that explains why Duncan is involved in this criminal investigative plot at all. 

Results:  I’d love to read your first 30 pages!

Amy's comments:
[AB2] This starts feeling a little clunky and disjointed — can you join those two sentences together?
[AB3] I’m definitely intrigued and would be happy to read more!

Results:  Would love to see the query + first 50 pages as a Word doc!

Samantha's comments:
Great query! It's not too clear why Dr. Holmes is responsible for treating Dr. Abraham though. The intrigue is set up well and sparks interest to uncover how far Dr. Holmes will go to find the truth. It also sparks interest on what mysterious entity is at work within Dr. Abraham's mind. Great comps! I like the opening three sentences a lot, but would be careful not to dump too much information right away that could be casually peppered in as you go on.

Results:  Pass






Friday, March 27, 2020

March 2020 Pass or Pages Entry #4

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Stephanie Winter of PS Literary, Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Samantha Fabien of Laura Dail Literary Agency for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!


Entry #4:  THE EAGLE ORDER



Query


ER doctor by day, assassin by night [SW1]. It's a cushy job until you get the assignment of your life.

It's another [SW2] job done as Alexa gets up from the bed of the man she just killed, but when her mark turns out to be the sixth employee of a genetics research firm [SW3] to die in three months, Alexa becomes determined to learn the secrets that truly exist in THE EAGLE ORDER—an elite group of assassins selectively bred for the purpose. With rituals and traditions that can kill, assuming you survived to adulthood, and the bodies of pregnant women being disposed of in a volcanic sinkhole, things need to change [AB1][SW4].

But the head of THE EAGLE ORDER has disappeared, believed to have gone rogue. If Alexa wants answers, and her freedom, she must accept what might well be her last mission: to hunt down the rogue and bring her in dead or alive [SW5]. There's only one problem: the rogue taught Alexa everything she knows about being an Eagle. The rogue is her mother.

THE EAGLE ORDER is an adult thriller [SW6] with near-future technologies, complete at 96,000 words. If Max of Dark Angel (italicized [SW7], but the entry form strips italics) fame was to become the next Red Sparrow (italicized) [SW8], the steps she would take to claim her freedom and protect the ones she loves would be incalculable.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
 

*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW1] This has great potential! I find the subsequent line vague and that it loses the momentum of this line. 
[SW2] This is phrased a bit awkwardly.
[SW3] Why Alexa feels invested in this search isn’t very clear to me—what’s her stake?
[SW4] I’m unclear as to how this line relates to the plot.
[SW5] Is this her primary mission, or the one above? And how is this complicated by Alexa being an ER doctor?
[SW6] It’s evident this novel has many twists befitting of a thriller. For the query, we want teasers so that we can appreciate the tension and want to read more. I felt that there were so many twists in this query that I didn’t completely understand how they all tied together. You’re on the right track, but I’d pass. 
[SW7] It’s completely acceptable to turn italics into all caps in these situations.
[SW8] I’m liking these comparative titles! But DARK ANGEL is a bit of an old reference.  

Amy's comments:
[AB1] I think this is more confusing than helpful (syntax-wise), and I’d just cut it. I think the transition works better without this sentence!


First 250


Alexa searched for her dress, not quite certain where it was thrown in the heat of the moment. Cursing at the crumpled blue pile by the bathroom door, she picked it up, pulled the sleek little number over her head, and brushed out the creases over her hips. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she stuffed her feet into her high-heeled boots and zipped them up.

Yet another job done.

She glanced over her shoulder at the man lying on the bed. His eyes were closed and a contented smile rested on his face. If she didn't know better, she would have thought he was sleeping [SW9].

"Good to see that pleasure accompanied you to the world of death." [SW10]

How many had she allowed to die in this fashion? How many did she watch as they took their final breaths in their moment of climax? How many had she killed?

The numbers were rapidly approaching triple digits, but the exact number… She lost count long ago.

She finished donning the remainder of her clothing and walked across the small hotel room to the coffee table just inside the main door. There, in the center, were two mugs of partially drunk tea. Well, one mug partially drunk. The other had been untouched, and with good reason too. It was a tea that Alexa had made specially for the occasion, insisting that it would help her mark last the distance, enjoying a ride he would never be able to experience again.[SW11][SW12]

 

*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW9] This is a clever concealment of what’s actually just occurred. 

[SW10] These words sound a little forced. Try saying your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural on your tongue? This practice can help make spoken words sound more authentic. 
[SW11] Does she poison him? 
[SW12] The first page starts after a significant action, which is not a bad thing, but I didn’t feel a strong sense of intrigue to make me want to learn the circumstances for this assassination. The sexual nature of this felt more off-putting than intriguing.  

Results:  Pass

Amy's comments: None

Results:  Pass

Samantha's comments:
Be mindful of sentence structures, lengths, and clarity. Although it's unclear if Alexa's mother being the rogue is a spoiler or not, I would allude to it rather than say it explicitly. I would also revisit some of your favorite thrillers — especially your comp titles— and see how they're first 250 words, 5 pages, and 10 pages begin. What about them hooked you and how can you mimic that in your query?

Results: Pass




Thursday, March 26, 2020

March 2020 Pass or Pages Entry #3

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Stephanie Winter of PS Literary, Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Samantha Fabien of Laura Dail Literary Agency for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!


Entry #3:  DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY



Query


The political drama of SCANDAL meets the non-stop action of TRY NOT TO BREATHE [SW1], when Diana Avery [SW2] discovers a political conspiracy that threatens to tear Canada apart.

As Interim Special Events Planner of VIP Affairs, Diana Avery receives a cryptic note to meet the Canadian Prime Minister after dark and in person, but she doesn't know why the PM requested her services. Before they can meet, she overhears shocking details about a premeditated hit on the PM and the big push for Quebec's departure from Canada. She realizes she's collateral damage in an assassination attempt linked to a big push for Quebec's departure from Canada. Lucky for her, she saved the PM's life by taking the bullet. But at midnight, her memory of glory is destroyed when a stranger threatens her in her hospital room [SW3].

Targeted [SW4] by a sniper for learning tidbits of the truth, she goes into hiding at a temporary safe house with her bodyguard, Wesley Christian.  As she heals from her bullet wound and other injuries, she remembers more crucial details from the “Quexit” plot from her foggy memory. When it slowly resurfaces after hearing a familiar voice from the night before, she discovers the people who are behind the threat in her cryptic mysterious voucher. While she decodes the mystery, she learns the Foreign Powers in French Canada want an unnecessary civil war that could tear the country apart.

Only two people can protect her from imminent danger—Wesley Christian and Inspector Adrian Manning. When Wesley and Diana discover a hidden message in French, they also grow closer to solving the puzzle. As Adrian pieces together the political conspiracy theory in Winnipeg, he's also trying to follow the sniper's path before he comes after Diana, the PM, or both again. With her life on the line and a storm brewing to split Canada, she’ll have to unravel the cryptic mystery before the sniper targets the Foreign Affairs Minister in Ottawa next.

Based on your interest in thrillers [SW5], I hope DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY, a 110,000 word political thriller will suit your list [AB1]. This is a standalone novel with trilogy series potential.   In April 2018, I received a like from an editor at St. Martin's Press during #Dvpit [SW6].

Thank you for your time and consideration. I'll look forward hearing from you.


*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW1] Nice competitive title set up. This second comp is a touch on the older side. Are there any newer fitting titles?
[SW2] This is a good start to your logline!
[SW3] This sounds like an interesting concept. There’s an opportunity here to pare down some of the fine details. The effect of having this level of detail is that this paragraph begins to sound like a synopsis.
[SW4] This, too, is dipping into synopsis territory. If I’m getting most or many of the specifics in the query, I tend to feel as though I don’t need to see the book to learn what happens. 
[SW5] Nice touch! It’s always appreciated to know that the author has done their research on the agent. 
[SW6] This is great info to have. The question I have when I see that the like was from 2018, is what was the outcome? Was there a pass with feedback? Have you revised since? If you have a recent like from the latest #DVpit or #PitMad round, having this line stand alone works for me! 

Amy's comments:
[AB1] I’m not really doing political thrillers, so I’m afraid this would be a Pass for me.


First 250

Diana Avery straightened out the speaker wires and turned on her wireless Bluetooth headset. With her earplugs, this connected her to security. Small jolts of tingling energy ran up and down her fingers. After a quick glimpse to her watch, everything would be set and go according to plan. The moments before Prime Minister Tattersall's speech were a mixture of excitement and nerves. And this presentation was a big one.

Voices murmured in English and French behind her as the crowd got settled in. When she finished with the sound check, she pivoted and remained rooted near the doorway.  Almost time [SW7]for showtime!

An African-American woman entered the room and approached Diana. She dressed in a Donna Karan black-and-scarlet pantsuit with matching pumps.  "Ms. Avery, may I have a word with you?"

She parted her lips. "Who [SW8] are you?" It came out low and faint [SW9].

"Nicole Pembroke. I'm Prime Minister Tattersall's advisor. We spoke on the phone a month ago." 

She nodded and raised her chin with her shoulders back.  "I remember, Ms. Pembroke. What can I do for you? We're all set for the speech [SW10]."

"Prime Minister Tattersall wanted me to give you a message. She'll [SW11] meet with you soon."

"When?"

Nicole handed her a sealed envelope. "Tonight. Near the VIP Salon. See you in an hour."

She exited the foyer [SW12].

After she left, Diana ripped open the golden-embossed envelope, thumbed the letter and found a cryptic hidden message embedded in the stationary [SW13].


***** 

Stephanie's comments:
[SW7] There are a few lines here about the countdown to this speech, and you could err on the side of less is more.

[SW8] In such a high-profile political world, I wonder if Diana should’ve been able to recognize her. 
[SW9] I’m getting the sense that this line is setting the tone. It’s not quite hitting the mark for me because it feels like there is a lot of pressure on so few words. 
[SW10] This dialogue is drifting toward non-essential conversation. You want to highlight dialogue that shows the best juicy bits. Your narrator can be used to set up the scene. 
[SW11] I love a female PM!
[SW12] I appreciate starting the story off with this initial action! The dialogue feels a bit stilted…perhaps Diana nervously anticipating her meeting would create the desired tone without dialogue?
[SW13] Overall, I found the direct language did not quite set the mood well enough for me. I’d love a little more context to help the reader realize the significance of this interaction. For this reason, I have to pass.  
Results:  Pass

Amy's comments: None

Results:  Pass

Samantha's comments:
Be mindful of sentence structures and lengths. Thrillers often have many threads and layers, so in describing them it's best to be as clear and concise as you can. Based on personal tastes, I don't tend to gravitate toward politically charged thrillers. While this is a good introduction, I presently don't feel a propulsive need to keep reading to see what happens next. When querying the first 5 or 10 pages, think about how they are laid out. You want an agent or reader to feel consumed with the story and eager to read what happens next.

Results: Pass






Wednesday, March 25, 2020

March 2020 Pass or Pages Entry #2

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Stephanie Winter of PS Literary, Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Samantha Fabien of Laura Dail Literary Agency for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!


Entry #2:  NATALY ASHBY



Query


Nash is a member of an elite cadre of investigators who relive the final moments of a violent crime through the eyes of the criminal using memory objects [SW1]. A rising number of these crimes are being committed by The Others, a growing faction of humans who seemed to be acquiring special abilities after a mysterious celestial event. These investigations come with a great risk. If detectives aren’t careful, they can lose their identity in the mind of the criminal.

Nash witnessed the murder of her son by her husband, but she isn’t convinced he is guilty. Nash believes Theo’s mind was taken over by the Other he was investigating at the time of their son’s murder [AB1]. In hopes of proving Theo’s innocence, she pushes the investigation to the limit, disregarding her own safety. When she discovers her own link to the Others, she becomes a target for the same people she works for [SW2].

NATALY ASHBY is an 86,000-word adult suspense novel with a soft science fiction core coupled with elements of horror featuring a diverse cast with a strong female voice [AB2].

Thank you for your time and consideration.


*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW1] This first paragraph features information-heavy, long sentences. This style is difficult to process and is a pass for me. Instead of a hook, I’m seeing more world-building. I’d love to see a clear logline.
[SW2] This is on its way to becoming the hook I was mentioning above! Where possible, try to avoid summarizing as though writing a synopsis—the query isn’t giving a step by step guide to the story, but is wowing and teasing the reader with the predicament.  

Amy's comments:
[AB1] At this point, I’m feeling kind of confused. There’s a lot of unnecessary words here (for example, you could shorten “eyes of the criminal” to “criminal’s eyes” and “the mind of the criminal” to “criminal’s mind”), which I think is making the query sound unnecessarily convoluted. There’s also some tense switching going on and I’m not totally certain of what kind of world we’re in – is it modern day? Is it on another planet? Is it speculative?
[AB2] This could be a good spot to add in some comp titles!


First 250


White knuckles smoothly gripped a foreign steering wheel as I sped down an unfamiliar highway. Soft rain danced from speckled clouds, muddling my vision, momentarily clearing with each squeaking swipe of a wiper blade. Darkness crept across the land, slowly snuffing out the final glimmers of light, the day’s last stand before nightfall. Deep breathing, eyes darting over the empty slick highway with headlights quivering across my unforeseen path. Sparse streetlights shone bits of road and barren trees [SW3].

Where am I? How did I get here?

Stealth fingers stroked the steering wheel after seeing the fuel gauge inching toward empty. Squinting eyes between wiper blade streaks revealed a dimly lit gas station down the distant highway. Unwilling foot pressing metal rendered the road more risky, the rain more blinding, and forced me to speed past impressionist scenery. The sky too darkened to welcome the water lilies, too stormy to appreciate the stars, a tempestuous forecast of what the night would surmise [SW4].

Finally, I peeled the wheel into the station stopping at the nearest open pump. Empty station, no eyes to match mine which shot to and fro, soaking in minimal surroundings: an Exxon sign with the middle “x” flickering, emitting the wavering buzzing sound of near death; a dark amorphous form behind the window, presumably a gas station attendant; and two dismal excuses for gas pumps—one with yellow caution tape haphazardly wrapped around it and the second dangling out of its holster…[SW5]


*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW3] The longer the line, the slower the pace for the reader. I get the sense that this scene opens with a more ominous tone. It doesn’t quite make it there, for me, because the longer lines convey a different tone. 

[SW4] You really excel with description! That said, the description as your opening page can be a touch too dense for what is supposed to be a hooking first page.
[SW5] I appreciate the consideration that has gone into depicting this setting. At the same time, this first 250 is lacking an action or incident to really grip the reader and is lacking a reason for the reader to need these descriptions. 

Results:  Pass

Amy's comments: None

Results:  Pass

Samantha's comments:

I have an odd quirk about thrillers that feature investigators/detectives/police/government officials as leads in thrillers, but otherwise this is a great query. Given that this was able to be summed up in such a concise way, there is room to include a personalized paragraph for why you're querying this particular agent. It's a small note, but agents always appreciate seeing it. Oh, and also include a bio! This also has a great opening!

Results: Pass





Tuesday, March 24, 2020

March 2020 Pass or Pages Entry #1

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Stephanie Winter of PS Literary, Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, and Samantha Fabien of Laura Dail Literary Agency for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!


Entry #1:  THE KILLING YEAR



Query


Emily and Will have two things in common: sex and murder [SW1]. Emily Daniel is an anti-heroine who suffers from devastating depression born of loss, isolation, and a lack of self-worth. On several occasions, her desperation has led to suicide attempts and yet her life goes on [AB1]. A chance meeting in an elevator brings a stranger into her life, a man Will Grant, who on the surface appears to be successful, sophisticated, and entrenched in Washington DC politics and society. Will Grant is a Washington lobbyist with seemingly impeccable pedigree [AB2]. These two disparate people become friends and when Emily believes they are about to take it to the next level, he informs her that he is getting married [SW2].

Buoyed by this new sense of self [AB3], Emily does not withdraw into her former life of misery but instead begins to make changes in her habits, appearance, and personality all designed to continue to attract the man from the elevator [SW3]. When his wife is suddenly murdered, there is no shortage of suspects including Emily, Will, and the dead wife’s party-girl sister [AB4].

When Emily begins to look deeper into this man’s past it turns out he has far more secrets than anyone in Washington knows. Told from the dueling [AB5] viewpoints of Emily and Will [SW4], in the style of Gone Girl [AB6] and The Silent Wife, THE KILLING YEAR is a whirlwind, sexy thriller, a whodunnit with motive and opportunity suddenly turning up everywhere.

This manuscript is complete at 76,500 words. It is an evocative and compelling read with twists and turns that will penetrate deeply into those of us who carry secrets of our own [SW5].


*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW1] Very catchy!
[SW2] This portion here gives some backstory, but it feels disjointed from the first line. Try to build off of that first hook. Emily’s characterization seems vaguer than Will’s. Try to lean into specifics to demonstrate relevant characterization. I’m likely to start skimming when the text turns vague.
[SW3] I’m unclear on when this is happening. Hasn’t Will just shut down any possible future for these two? I’d stop reading here.
[SW4] I’m getting from this query that this is more Emily’s story. 
[SW5] I like the point that this novel will resonate with readers. We want to read why we’ll care about a book. Where possible, try to show how the novel is ‘evocative and compelling’ rather than telling us that it is. 

Amy's comments:
[AB1] I don't think we need to know this in the query.
[AB2] This line could be cut - we know that he's based in D.C., and that he's successful (so do we need to specifically know his job in the query?) and sophisticated (so do we need to know the specifics about his pedigree?)
[AB3] The transition here is a little clunky – I might say something like, “However, despite this disappointment,” or “Despite this setback, Emily is buoyed by her new sense of self and…”
[AB4] Don’t think you need to include the sister here, especially because she hasn’t been in the rest of the query.
[AB5] Dual?
[AB6] Glad you have comps, but GONE GIRL is pretty old at this point – I’d see if you could find a newer one.


First 250


It felt good to bleed [SW6]. It had been quite some [SW7] time, quite some time indeed but you never forget a feeling like that, that final surrender. When the razor slices deep enough, the ulnar nerve shoots darts through your arms, then you hit that artery and the dark red crimson begins to flow. The first wrist is easier than the second, the memory of the severed nerve so fresh in the brain makes it difficult to do it again so soon. You can press hard with the blade, but it won’t cut through that…tendon-what was it again? The flexor [SW8] something…radialis maybe-whatever, you can’t cut it with a blade, but no matter, it’s the artery that counts.
   
The smell of lilacs rose from the water and flooded the room, they were her mom’s favorite flower and the funeral [SW9] home had been filled with them. She kept that scent her secret weapon for times like this, a weapon to use against herself. The water in the tub was full of bubbles and the depth hid her belly but allowed her breasts to show like buoys in a lathering sea.
    
She liked her breasts, they were perhaps her best feature with their perfectly round half-dollar sized red areolas on smooth milky white skin, the pretty blue veins visible just beneath the surface. She certainly did not like her belly. Too much fast food and too much Netflix had added forty pounds since junior year, and it all appeared to be in her belly [AB7][SW10].


*****
Stephanie's comments:
[SW6]  A gripping first line!

[SW7] There are a few lines here that are a touch too superfluous for me.
[SW8] I appreciated the technical knowledge. It makes me expect that this character will have some specialized knowledge.
[SW9] I enjoy the subtle world building here.
[SW10] Overall, I liked how this opening page set such a vivid mood and tone.  It’s the difference between the quality of the first page and the query that makes me hesitant to request more. The query was a bit too vague and didn’t have a strong enough hook. In the query, I didn’t feel the details shared gave me a clear enough picture to feel invested in these characters. 

Results:  Pass

Amy's comments:
[AB7] I’d probably stop reading here. The descriptions are helpful in envisioning the scene, but start to feel a little purple. And is the first thing we need to know about this character really an in-depth description of her breasts and belly?

Results:  Pass

Samantha's comments:

At present, this query skews toward the assumption that Emily is the killer. Whether that's true or not, I'd leave space for the reader to question who is truly responsible by avoiding phrasing like "anti-heroine." In this case, GONE GIRL and THE SILENT WIFE are the best comp titles but beware of using these as go-to choices. Agents receive hundreds of queries comped to these two thrillers, so try your best to find other break-out titles. As for the sample, I can always appreciate repetition that creates an ominous tone but examine if the sentence still carries the same weight or meaning without it.

Results: Pass







Sunday, March 22, 2020


*Attention Pass or Pages Contestants: Feedback will be posted from Tuesday, March 24th-Saturday, March 28th!*


We apologize for the one-day delay! Please stay safe amidst the chaos of the world in the meantime.

-The OA Team

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author posted by @JLenniDorner of @OpAwesome6

What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen


1- Assuming that your story isn't about hot gas, could you hint at what the stars of your book are made of?

Haha! Pumbaa was right after all, huh? STARS is about twelve-year-old Libby who was born with Turner syndrome. When she finds out her big sister is pregnant, she wants to do anything she can to make sure the baby is born safe, healthy, and perfect, so she makes a deal with the universe and the real-life 19th century scientist Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who discovered what stars are made of. So I guess you could say the “stars” of this book are made of love, loyalty, and spunk!

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

#Writetip: Read, read, read. Especially books published recently. Then old books too. Read everything, and practice writing. No words you write are wasted.

3- What is the best piece of writing advice you've received?

To read everything! And to write the stories I would have wanted to read. Nobody else can write your story the way you can, and there are readers out there who need it desperately.

4- Your tweet mentioned a "Word Count Exchange Rate chart" for author tasks other than writing. Any progress on creating this, and would you please share it with us?

This was my roommates idea and I thought it was brilliant!! Basically since my brain doesn’t allow me to feel totally satisfied that I’m making progress unless it’s actual Word Count Progress, my roommate suggested I make an exchange rate chart. So, for example, doing an Instagram post or interviews or making author videos or event graphics or book research--all those things could potentially have a “Word Count” value assigned to them so I’m reminded I really am making good, authorly progress!

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book under the sky?

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen - What Stars are Made Of- Eiffel Tower


6- What style or cut of leather jacket is your favorite? Favorite leather grade? Favorite hide?

Faux leather all the way! Gotta save those cute furry friends. I love pretty much any jacket with epaulettes!

7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

Yes indeed! My twitter handle is @sarahallenbooks . I’d love to shout out @beingcindy, @amandarhill32, and @ariannecostner!

8- Do you have a favorite #bookstagram image or account/ profile?

Ooh, good question. I think @ErinSummeril takes gorgeous bookstagram pictures, and @heyerin always pairs gorgeous photos with absolutely wise and thoughtful author tips and advice.

9- What most motivates you to read a new book?

I love when I can hear the characters unique and vivacious voice right from the beginning!

10- It's our tenth anniversary! How far has your writing come in the past ten years and where do you see your writing career ten years from now?

Oh wow, the last ten years have meant *everything* for my writing! Though I’ve written stories and poems since I was young, I began seriously writing my first novel about ten years ago. That novel was a totally different genre, has some serious problems, and will probably never see the light of day, but it was the sign to myself that I was ready to do this for real, and take a writing career seriously. STARS is my fourth novel, and many years and hundreds of rejections later, it’s now going to be on shelves!

11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: R.M. Romero @rmromeroauthor
Title: The Dollmaker of Krakow
Love because: Oh wow I love SO many books this is pretty much impossible to answer, but one book I just finished reading that totally blew me away was The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. I LOVED the voice and the blending of heartbreaking history and magical, whimsical hope.


12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?

I hope readers will feel that there is joy and hope even in the darkest of circumstances. I hope they will feel at the end of the book that they are a bright and important part of this world, no matter what they can or can’t do, no matter what they look like. That at the end of the book, they realize that they are what stars are made of.

13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?
Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen

Many people even in the medical community don’t know about Turner syndrome, or much about it, and I hope this book can in some small way increase awareness. If any girls with Turner syndrome read this book, I hope they see that they are amazing just as they are and can live any kind of life they want to live.

14- What is the best writing tool, program, or reference book you've ever bought?

Some of my top writing books are On Writing by Stephen King, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy, and Dreyer’s English by the absolutely hilarious Benjamin Dreyer.

15- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks

my main character was born with a genetic disorder called Turner syndrome. This can mean various things for various people who experience TS, but it involves taking growth hormone shots, infertility, and occasionally a learning disability called Non-verbal Learning Disorder. While TS girls live absolutely normal lives, I hope this book shines a light on the small but incredibly important differences that make the experience unique.

16- Who is your favorite book review blogger?

I absolutely love the thoughtful recommendations from the https://middlegradeatheart.com book club as well as @bandofmgbooks on Instagram.

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I have always known I wanted to pursue the traditional route. There are amazing things being done in the self-pub and indie spaces, but for me, I know so often those paths involve doing so much of the business and promotional side of things onesself, almost like starting your own business. I don’t feel I have that skill-set or the patience to learn it well, and decided I would love to have a team behind me helping me with design, marketing, editing, and all those kinds of things. Even though only one person’s name is on the cover, it takes a village of geniuses to make a book (and make the author look good!) and I am so, so lucky to have worked with the incredible people on my team.

18- Which author, past or present, do you feel most resembles your work?

It’s going to be my eternal goal to write like Gary Schmidt and Kathi Appelt!

19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?

Who is your favorite underrated woman from history?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen

Thank you all so much for reading!

Bio:

Sarah Allen has been published in The Evansville Review, Allegory, and on WritersDigest. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University. Lover of Pixar, leather jackets, and Colin Firth. Like Libby, she was born with Turner Syndrome. What Stars are Made Of is her first novel.

Blurb:

Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.
Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen - What Stars are Made Of

When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled—but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?

Links

Website: https://sarahallenbooks.com
Instagram: https://instagram.com/sarahallenbooks/
Twitter: @sarahallenbooks
Facebook: https://facebook.com/SarahAllenBooks/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44222238-what-stars-are-made-of data-pin-description="Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen" alt="Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Sarah Allen"


What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen