Thursday, May 30, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What questions should I ask on The Call?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm kind of reeling!  After over a year of querying my novel and numerous requests for fulls, I have three agents wanting to have a call with me.  I'm excited, but also terrified.  All three are agents I'd be interested in working with, I think, so I'm wondering if you have any ideas on questions I should ask to make sure I pick the one that's best for me and my work.

Any ideas would be gratefully accepted.

Thanks so much!

Called

Dear Called,

Firstly, congratulations!  Getting to "The Call" is such and exciting moment.  And yes, terrifying. 

In terms of questions to ask, a lot of it depends on what you are personally most concerned about and what is most important to you in an agent.  So here are a few broad categories of questions you may want to ask, depending on what you are wanting to find out.

1. Stuff about your book - why they like it, how submission-ready they think it is, how many rounds of revision they think it needs.

2. Questions about their editorial process - editorial strengths, the style of their edits, how they like to do edits, who decides when to stop editing and send out.

3. The submission process- do they have an idea who they want to submit to, how many editors they will approach, whether you get any input into which imprints/editors they sub to, how many rounds of submissions they will do, if they will share their submission list.

4. Communication - ask about their preferred method of communication, how often they will be in touch, how long it will take for them to respond to questions, if there are any periods where they won't be communicating.

5. What happens after a book deal - how involved does the agent want to be, what happens if there is a dispute between the editor and the writer, does the agent/agency help with marketing & publicity.

6. Subsequent books - when do they want to see new projects, do they want to see projects even if they are not in a genre they usually rep, can you self-publish some books, if you have other completed manuscripts, are they especially interested in one over another?

7. Sub-rights - who handles them, how much say you get in these sales, commission percentage for sub-rights.

8. Any other questions you might have - maybe the number of clients they have, ask if you can see their agency agreement, where they stand on AI in writing, what their future plans are etc.

There are obviously a lot of other things you could ask. A good list of potential questions can be found here.

Hope this helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, May 27, 2024

Week #22 – Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #22 –  Charlotte’s Web by EB White

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte%27s_Web

First published: October 15, 1952

Here's what the story is about: The story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. Wilbur is being fattened to be slaughtered by the farmer. Charlotte writes messages in her web praising Wilbur – Some Pig, Terrific, Radiant, and Humble – to persuade the farmer to let him live.

First line/paragraph:
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. 

"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."

This is another famous first line in literature. We have third person POV, the setting appears to be the kitchen of a farmhouse, and the main character appears to be a young girl who still lives at home and helps with chores [setting the table for breakfast]. We also have the first hint of conflict – Fern's father is going out to the hoghouse with an ax because some pigs were born during the night. Why would he need an ax unless he planned to kill one? And how would a young girl feel about that?

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Has the YA market disappeared?

 Dear O'Abby,

I don't know if I'm right about this, but it seems like it's become more difficult to get interest for YA books from both agents and publishers.  I've been writing YA for a long time, and about 15 years ago I found that I had a much better request rate from queries than I'm getting for my latest book. Has the YA market slowed down?  Or are agents and publishers just looking for different things now?

If you know anything I should be taking into account, I'd love to hear it.  I won't bore you with the whole story, but basically I'm hunting for an agent for the first time in a few years,, and it seems like I'm querying in a whole new landscape.

Sincerely,

Stranger in a strange land

Dear Stranger,

You're right.  The YA landscape has changed in the last 15-20 years, so if you're just jumping back in, you are seeing a difference.

You see, 15 years ago, YA was kind of a new thing.  Not entirely, of course, but as a category, it was still pretty fresh.  When I was growing up, there was  YA section at the library, but it was tiny - a few books by S E Hinton, Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel and Gordon Korman.  I basically moved from the kids' section of the library to Stephen King and Virginia Andrews because YA as we know it today didn't really exist. 

Today the YA section is my local library is a full section with multiple shelves plus a couple of big displays for the librarians' choices and a theme that changes monthly.

And that's why you're seeing a change to acquisitions.  There is a whole lot of amazing YA literature that already exists, a whole back catalogue of those books that were acquired and published over the last 20 years.  15 years ago when you were querying, agents and publishers were hungry for YA because it was proving popular with readers and there wasn't enough out there to satisfy demand.  Writers obviously take longer to write books than it takes for readers to devour them, so there was kind of a frenzy of acquisition at this time.

Now that there is so much YA available, agents and publishers are more focused on filling gaps in the market, especially around broadening representation.  So the kinds of YA book that were getting snapped up in 2010 are not receiving the same level of interest now. 

Hopefully that answers your question.  It's tough out there, I know, but don't give up.  

X O'Abby






Monday, May 20, 2024

Week #21 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #21 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice

First published: January 28, 1813

Here's what the story is about: Pride and Prejudice, original title First Impressions, was initially published anonymously because Jane Austen disliked attention. The book follows the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Darcy must overcome his pride and Elizabeth must overcome her prejudice before they can surrender to their love for each other and marry.

First line/paragraph:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

This is one of the most famous first lines in all of literature. It appears to be omniscient POV, and a romance. We are introduced to a wealthy unmarried man who is apparently sought after as a husband by many of the families in his neighborhood. No plot yet, but good voice and a hint that several young ladies are pursuing him.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 16, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Is my book YA or Adult?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've written the first book in what I'm planning on being a series.  In this first book, my main characters are 15-18 years old, but as the series moves on, they will obviously age and as I've outlined it, they will be in their mid-twenties by the end of the series. Hardly YA anymore, but I'm pretty sure you can't change the category midway through a series.

So how do I categorise the first book?  Is it adult or YA?

Any advice you have will be gratefully accepted.

Kind regards,

Unsure

Dear Unsure,

Whether your book is YA or adult is about more than the ages of your protagonists.  There are a lot of adult books that are told through the eyes of teens or children.  YA is more about voice and the themes of the work.  

YA tends to be about self-discovery and the separation between children and their parents.  About firsts - first love, first sex, first break up.  About discovering who you are in the world as a n individual with your own thoughts and beliefs.

If your book deals with these things, then it is probably YA. If it doesn't, then maybe you've written an adult book with teen protagonists.  

Neither is a bad thing.  

If it's YA, you will just need to ensure that your characters and their journeys continue along similar paths in the future books as they do in the first one, that their growth into adults is natural and organic.  If you do it well, the teens who started with your first book will age with the characters and see their own growth reflected in them.

Hopefully that helps.

X O'Abby


Monday, May 13, 2024

Week 20 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 20 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm

First published: August 17, 1945

Here's what the story is about: A political satire and allegory of communism, a group of farm animals rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals are equal, free, and happy. The rebellion is betrayed, and under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon the farm ends up worse than it was before.

First line/paragraph:
Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.


This story starts in what appears to be omniscient POV. We are introduced to a farmer, married, a bit of a drunkard and actually drunk at this time. He may or may not be the main character, because the next paragraph introduces us to animals who are gathering to hear a story from Old Major, a 12yo pig. The setting is a farm, in the evening. The plot is underway with the farmer drunkenly locking up for the night. This is somewhat amusing to me because we are advised not to start with someone waking up, and here is a story where we are starting with someone going to bed.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this tory, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, May 9, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Can I query publishers and agents at the same time?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've been querying agents for a few months with very little in the way of response, so I was thinking about starting to query publishers that don't require an agent too.  Is this okay to do?  I have found a bunch of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts and it feels like I'll save time if I query them at the same time as I keep querying agents.

Any advice would be gratefully accepted.

Regards,

Unagented

Dear Unagented,

Generally speaking it is not a good idea to query both publishers and agents at the same time.  But if you do, make sure you keep really good records of who you've queried and any responses you get so if you do end up signing with an agent, they don't waste their time submitting your book to a publisher who has already rejected it.

Most, but not all,  publishers who accept unagented manuscripts are small presses, so think hard about what you actually want out of your writing career before you start going down this path.  And do your research before blindly submitting to a publisher that offers ebook only publishing when your dream is to see your book on library and bookstore shelves.

And whatever you do, don't go into submitting to publishers because you think it's a shortcut to getting agent interest if you get a bite.  It rarely works that way as agents prefer to submit books to editors they know and who have a track record with a specific type of book.  Also, agents only get paid when you do, so there isn't a lot in it for them if you've already started contract negotiations.

Which brings me to another point -  contracts.  Publishing contract can be tricky and unless you have the expertise, you could end up signing something that isn't in your best interests.  Better to leave that to an agent who has experience both in reading and negotiating publishing contracts.

So while you can submit to both at the same time, I would strongly advise against it.  I know publishing is slow and that waiting to hear back on queries can be agonising, so my best advice is to get on with writing your next book while you're playing the waiting game.  

Best of luck!

X O'Abby

Monday, May 6, 2024

Week 19 – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 19 –   A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_Called_Ove_(novel)

First published: August 27, 2012

Here's what the story is about: This is Fredrik Backman’s first novel. Set in Sweden, Ove is a cranky old man who recently lost his wife and believes he has nothing to live for except perhaps enforcing the neighborhood rules. He has strong principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. One November morning, a young couple with two daughters move in next door and accidentally run over Ove's mailbox, which is the beginning of change for the entire neighborhood.

First line/paragraph:  

Ove is fifty-nine.

He drives a Saab. He's the kind of man who points at people he doesn't like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman's flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a mediumsized white box at him.


This story starts in omniscient POV, present tense. We are introduced to the main character, who is 59 years old and male. He's also judgmental and apparently not very nice, a curmudgeon. We are in the middle of a scene where Ove appears to be in an auto parts or electronics shop and buying something that comes in a box.

It's not generally recommended to start with the stats for the main character, especially the first line. But as mentioned in previous weeks, both Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton did this and those books were well-received. Plus this description is only 1-2 sentences long. The plot then begins. I may have started with sentences 4-5, maybe rewritten to be a single sentence, then back to sentences 1-3, so the story starts in a scene.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 2, 2024

O'Abby's writing prompt

As promised last month, I thought we'd kick May off with another writing prompt.

I'd love to see what you do with it, so feel free to share what you write in the comments, or email your story or poem to O'Abby at operationawesome6@gmail.com.

I've been reading an older book that is told entirely through letters written by a soldier during WWI and his fiancĂ© and family back home. The perils of war meant the letters often took weeks or months to get to the reader and therefore, the responses are sometimes disjointed and non-linear.  Reading this made me think about how much we rely on modern communication methods and how instantaneous replies can be.

Prompt:

Write a poem or story using text messages where one person is in an area with limited coverage and keeps losing signal. 

Happy writing!