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Brewhaha Book Cafe

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January 2017

It’s Not Personal: How to Handle Rejections

Behind just about every author’s success story is a much longer, less glamorous story of rejection.

The rejection story is not always offered up to the public, and I suppose we can’t blame those authors who bury the past and bask in their success. After all, rejection is hard to take, and nobody wants to keep chewing on a bitter taste when they’ve tasted the likes of delectable acceptance.

But I always admire those authors who do choose to tell the world just how long and hard their road to that first book deal has been. They have something to offer the rest of us – an honest portrayal of the gruelling hard work, tough-as-nails perseverance  and positive attitude we budding authors have to acquire if we’re going to make it in this publication world.

I think of a recent talk I had the pleasure of hearing by Abi Elphinstone. Abi is a fast rising star and leader among Children’s authors in the UK, and her third MG novel is due to come out this March. But Abi shared with a room full of kids/future writers that getting that first publishing deal only came after 7 years, multiple manuscripts and 96 rejections! Ouch!

How did she press on until the dam broke? Brilliant really. Abi says that in every rejection letter she received, she looked for the positive feedback – the one-line of hope from an agent telling her she had potential, it just wasn’t quite fully-grown yet. She’d cut those bit  of encouragement out and keep them in a box to revisit when she felt like giving up. That, she says, along with encouragement from her relentlessly positive mother, kept her trucking until the right manuscript at last met the right agent and WHAM! Magic. Abi went hang gliding to celebrate her publishing deal, and you can see why!

I’ve learned a lot from authors who dare to share their rejection stories. Mainly this:

  • Not every agent is going to click with your novel – most authors submit to 80+ agents before they find the right fit!
  • The publishing world is busy & works to a different clock – agents receive hundreds of submissions per week. Don’t take it personally if they don’t get back to you for months, or even at all. And don’t expect feedback, but if you do get it, look for constructive comments & take away the positives! Remember, the agent didn’t have to offer compliments.
  • Keep honing your craft & growing as a writer all the time. We can all get better. If you’ve sent your novel out to at least 80 agents & got nothing but “this isn’t quite it” responses, maybe this isn’t going to be your break-through novel… or maybe not at this time. The market changes. And many authors still have their first novel tucked away unpublished in a draw somewhere. Keep working.
Whatever you do, do NOT give up.

In the words of Jo Fox from You’ve Got Mail:

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Here’s one of many sources highlighting best-sellers that received LOTS of rejections (sometimes brutal ones) before hitting the A list. Read, be encouraged & persevere!

Book Review: The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)

Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl …”

From that captivating first line, Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder (published by Bloomsbury) blends the fabric of old-favourite fairytales with the unexpected.

The “dark and stormy girl” – Feo – lives with her wolf-wilding mother Marina and three wolf “siblings” in a remote, snowy cabin not too far from St Petersburg, Russia. Though their lives are quiet, private and essentially wild, Feo’s happy family fall under the watch of the Tsar’s Imperial Army, and in particular one General Rakov who’s reputation for ruthlessness has left the nation trembling and helpless to fight back.

But not all the Imperial Army are bad. Feo accidentally befriends Ilya, a young soldier who would rather dance for the Imperial Ballet than fight for Rakov. He is won over by the wolves, and, eventually, Feo is won over by him.

When Rakov attacks Feo’s world, arresting her mother and burning her home, Feo and Ilya along with her wolf pack set out for St Petersburg to set Marina free. Extreme snow, cold and ice are the least of Feo’s struggles as she battles to save her mother. Loss, heart-ache and the relentless evil of Rakov threaten to discourage her from her course.

But then help comes from unexpected places. When Feo’s path crosses that of a young revolutionary a village full of fierce children ready to follow her lead, Feo’s lone quest grows into the most extraordinary revolution, and one Rakov never saw coming: a revolution of of children turned wild. The pack is coming…

I thoroughly enjoyed Katherine Rundell’s characterisations in The Wolf Wilder. Feo is a strong and admirable character, but with believable weaknesses and by no means able to succeed without the help of friends. And I especially loved her profound relationship with the wolves. This book will appeal to lovers of adventures with a dark and dangerous side, the kind that heroes are born out of, as well as lovers of snow and far-off lands. Rundell’s stories always have a classic feel about them, yet her voice is unique, keeping her them fresh and exciting.

And as you’ll see from the photo, this book is Hugo approved. *He thinks he’s a wolf… shhhh!

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Adventure

Recommended Tea: Russian tea (of course) with plenty of sugar

 

Writers, not bakers. What a literary agent really wants.

As we’re on the hot topic of submissions, here are some top tips from the horse’s mouth… and I mean that in the complementary way (I’m a big fan of horses). UK literary agent Stephanie Thwaites (Curtis Brown) lets us in on exactly what she longs for in a submission packet. Read, absorb & submit thusly!

Writing about Writing for Children

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It’s about time I wrote something about submissions and since I have read more than eighty this week, and thousands over the last ten years, it’s a subject about which I know a little and can talk a lot, (for evidence of this see my earlier post on searching for new writers).

In September last year Curtis Brown launched a brand spanking new online submissions site finally replacing the postal submissions system which was old fashioned, inefficient and, at times, pretty creepy.  We used to meet in the boardroom once a week and wade through piles and piles of submissions – negotiating our way through all sorts of strange folders, perfumed paper, “gifts” (bribes), in the form of mugs, teddy bears, sweets, photographs, dollar bills (a personal favourite), and even a visit from the police (don’t ask…).  Before my time Vivienne Schuster was even sent a dead rat by…

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How to craft a catching cover letter

Allow me to tap the breaks just before we head out on the motorway to crafting your cover letter (or agent query letter). If you’ve not yet been on an agent hunt, put your letter on hold and make that your first port of call. Why delay? Because, as when writing a novel, your Cover Letter is most likely to hit its target if you know exactly at whom your aiming. No two agents are alike in what they are seeking in a new author for their list/ perfect novel. But all agents I’ve come across are alike in this: they expect you to do your homework before submitting.

How do you know which agents are the right agents to pitch to?
  • Check out Bri’s article, We’re going on an agent hunt, for some handy resources. For those of you hunting in the UK, I would add the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for a full directory of agencies & what they look for.
  • Once you’ve found agents who reps similar writers to you, check out their blogs, twitter, etc. to find out if they have wish lists & to find personal points of connection. After all, agents are really people in disguise as agents (*SHOCKING*). Hence you want to address them as people in your Cover Letter.

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*So the key to pitching your cover letter is the 3 Ps:
  1. Make it particular to the agent your querying. Do your research. And by all means, address the letter to the agent BY NAME! Not Dear agent,… 
  2. Make it professional. Don’t try to be cutesy, though not too formal either.
  3. Make it personal. Again, you’re writing to a person, so you use the personal ‘you’ to address him or her. And it doesn’t hurt to let your own personality shine through a bit too!

Huzzah! So you’ve gone and hunted down the perfect agent? Now you’re ready for the nuts & bolts of crafting that Cover Letter. 

What to Include:
  1. General Information – Title, author, genre, age range, length (word count), etc.
  2. Your 1-Line Pitch. See how to write one here.
  3. Your Blurb. *This should be the main body of your letter as you want the book to primarily sell itself! Check out these how to tips on blurbs.
  4. Selling Points – Who will just love your book? What published books are similar, but also what makes yours unique? Show you’ve done a little market research (which may simply mean you’ve snooped around your local bookshop to see what’s selling!)
  5. Profile – This is your chance to share just a little about you as the author. Don’t get carried away about your favourite foods and TV shows, but do include anything relevant – other projects on the go, previous work, anything published or short-listed for a competition, etc. – or interesting details that may help promote your book.
  6. Miscellany – very briefly why you’ve selected this particular agent/agency; maybe a 1-line idea for your next book

 

Final tips:
  • Your Cover Letter should take up about 1 side of A4 (no more!), usually single-space, 12 font (something generic like times new roman), with spaces between each paragraph/section.
  • Check your agent’s instructions carefully. Most these days want the Cover Letter pasted as the body of an email, but others prefer it attached.
  • Remember to let your novel sell itself – the letter should be 90% novel, 10% you.
  • Be excited and proud about the work you’re submitting! Don’t down-talk it to the agent, but at the same time, don’t pitch it as better than anything on the market to date.
  • Look online for good & poor examples of Cover Letters to get a feel for what to do & what not to do. And stay tuned – Bri & I may be sharing our own in the coming week!

 

Hope that was a helpful introduction if you’re new to or rusty on Cover Letters. Good luck crafting yours, and leave us questions and comments below!

 

Story Snippets: from A Manor of Mystery

Excerpt from Mez’s novel, A Manor of Mystery, Chapter 3: “In which Katie travels very far by accident.”

       The first result of my touching the Green Man made me jump backward. The panel of wood on which both he was carved and Sophia’s portrait hung made the quietest creek and opened inward on an invisible hinge. I’d heard of trap doors in old houses before. Things like that are always turning up in mystery novels. I looked about me, one way and then the other. No one was in sight. I shrugged, then ducked down and stepped through the door.

       I was in a small chamber with no other door than the one I’d come through. But there was one small window, more like an arrow slit, and a pale beam of light seeped through, catching centuries of ancient dust in its stream. The light glinted off the only other object in the sparse room – a rusty old chest – and lit up a single painting that covered a large portion of the wall to my right.

       Something about that painting drew me in. It looked so very real, almost like a photograph rather than an oil painting. It was a landscape of Otterly Park with the Manor rising up in the background, and away in the distant hills was a tiny hunting party.  A grove of trees grew near a river in the foreground, and under the trees a was a wagon, like the shepherd’s huts I’d seen at some of the country fairs Nan and Pop took us to. A man in a flat, cloth cap sat outside the wagon, smoking a pipe and dabbing paint onto a canvas while a young girl with strawberry coloured hair like mine watched over his shoulder. It was such a nice scene and made me feel  a funny sort of hungry feeling in my stomach that wasn’t my appetite… it was longing to be a part of that picture…to have that girl’s adventurous life. What more could anyone wish for? The painter and the girl  had a big, black horse for company and a lovely smoking fire.

       In fact…

       I stepped back and blinked. Then stepped closer and squinted. I really need to get my eyes checked, I thought, for I could swear that smoke rings were actually rising up from the embers! I stood glued to the spot, my eyes squinting then opening then squinting again. But as much as I squinted and glared, the smoke rings did not stop rising! My heart began to pound a little harder, and my eyes grew wider, transfixed by the rings circling upwards. And then, like getting caught up in a whirlwind, several things happened at once. There was a creak and a slam. I looked back to see the door I’d come through shut behind me. I turned back to the painting. Thank goodness, it had stopped moving… until, ever so subtly, the gypsy painter’s turned towards mine… the fire’s smoldering embers lit up his dark eyes… and then, though I hardly believed my own senses, he winked! Before I could scream, run or faint, or any mixture of the three, I fell forward as if my whole body were being pulled straight into the painting!

       You know that feeling you get when you’re nearly asleep and you think you’re falling? That’s a bit what it felt like falling into the painting, only there was no jolt to wake me up. The dream just kept going. I just kept falling through a swirling blur of colours spilling into each other.  I heard a whistling in my ears, like the sound of traffic wishing past an open car window. At some point, the pull released me, and, for one instant, I was in free fall all on my own. But in the next second there was a flash of light. I felt wet, papery fingers whip across my face, then thud! The ground came up to meet me.

Hope you enjoyed that snippet. I’d love to hear any thoughts, comments, strokes of inspiration while reading, etc.. Leave me a wee comment below. We writers feed on feedback! 😉

The Synopsis

I was searching for synopsis writing tips and came across this. While I think two pages is pushing it on length, I like the way she breaks it down!

Writing/Romance

Mech Heart HiRes copy 2A synopsis is a short, focused summary of a story’s plot.

A synopsis has two purposes. One is to help a writer focus her plot (“What the hell is this book about anyway?”) and the other is to prove to an editor or an agent that she can plot. So to write a synopsis, you need to pare away everything but the most important plot points: the acts and the turning points.

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How to write a simply stellar synopsis

Just in case you’re new to the Café, following a month of writing in November and a month of editing (ouch!) in December, the month of January has dedicated to the next step in the journey: the terrifying but wonderfully exciting topic of SUBMISSIONS!

So far, we’ve touched on how to find an agent how to pen the perfect pitch.

Coming up on the agenda, we’ll cover Cover Letters (stay tuned!). But today let’s knock out ye olde synopsis.

Although not every agent will require a synopsis as part of your submission package (check their guidelines carefully!!), it’s still worth your time and effort to get ‘er done for a couple of reasons:

  • You should be able to describe your book start to finish in the length of one side of A4. This will be a helpful exercise for those future meetings with agents, publishers, editors or just friends who ask you to summarise your book for them.
  • Melting down your plot into a synopsis will hopefully help you detect any lingering holes that need patching up. It’s a way of getting a bird’s eye view of your story to see if the thing is airtight and ready to ship out.

I realise the thought of looking at your story from a bird’s eye may strike a chord of terror. After all the work you’ve done, the last thing you want to find is a hole in the plot! But never fear – go for it! Writing a synopsis is a simplifying, distilling exercise. It’s a great way of getting clarity in your own mind about your own story. And hey, if you’re not clear on it, nobody else is going to be!

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Convinced? Good. Here are a few tips to make your Synopsis shine: 

  • limit it to 1 side of A4, single spaced, with paragraph indentations (spaces between paragraphs)
  • Don’t use voice or dialogue – regardless of your book’s POV, you the author are the narrator of your synopsis.
  • Be choosy! One A4 is not a lot of words. Focus on your story’s narrative arc & emotional drama… the juicy stuff!
  • Include the ending.  A synopsis is not a trailer or a hook. No need to give spoiler alerts to your agent. He/she wants to know the whole story: begging, middle & end.

How to structure your synopsis – Think 3-Act Structure of your Story:

   Paragraph 1) Who is this story about?

   Paragraph 2) What sparks the story into action?

   Paragraphs 3-5) Mounting drama/ mini climax

   Paragraph 6) Apparent failure

   Paragraph 7) Turn-around, climax & resolution

   Paragraph 8) Tie up loose ends (or *denouement* if you want to get fancy;-)

Remember: Cut-&-dry, do NOT be wordy, use action verbs!

*Stick to those keys, and I promise it’s gonna be fine! Good luck writing that stellar, seller synopsis. And hey, let us know how it goes!

**This information comes from a Writers&Artists workshop – How to Hook an Agent – with some of London’s top literary agents. Hats off to them!

Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In the Seven Kingdoms, some people are born with a Grace, a special, extraordinary skill, marked by two different colored eyes. Except for one kingdom, these Gracelings are immediately put under the command of the king of their respective countries who use them as weapons.

Katsa has a killing Grace and is under the command of her uncle, King Randa who uses her and her Grace to punish anyone who crosses him. She is feared by almost everyone she meets because of her Grace and who she serves. But Katsa has a secret: she also works for a secret Council who work to undo the damage done by the self-serving kings.

Her work for the Council brings her to the attention of Po, a combat Graceling and a prince of Lienid. He needs help to discover why a member of his family had been kidnapped. With his support, she realizes her own power and that she can run her own life. Together, they set off to search for answers.

As they work together, Katsa comes to understand her own grace better and becomes suspicious of Po’s grace. They grow closer, learning to depend on each other and sharing their secrets.

But in their travels, a sinister truth about one of the kingdoms comes to light. Something Katsa cannot fight against and must trust Po to protect her from. Because an enemy is hiding in plain sight, waiting as Po and Katsa draw closer and a young girl’s life is at stake.

This is a great book and I love Katsa. She’s brave, loyal, and fights to be a decent person despite her killing Grace. Plus, she’s a toned down Xena, able to take on as many armed guards as can get close to her, catch arrows, and take on a mountain lion. She and Po make a great team and their romance is well paced.

This book can stand alone, but it also has a very good prequel Fire (do NOT read that one first, it will spoil Graceling) and a sequel, Bitterblue that I have not yet read.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Recommended Tea: English Breakfast, made strong!

Penning the Perfect One-Line Pitch

Here’s a scary thought for you: after months of research, writing, editing and finally submitting your brain-child novel, guess how agents are going to determine whether or not your work is worth their while?

The ONE. LINE. Pitch.

Suppose you actually hook an agent (and I hope you do!). The job’s only partly done. Guess how he/she is going to turn around and try to actually sell your novel to a publisher? Once again.

Your Pitch.

But the process doesn’t end there! Publishers then have the task of selling your book to retailers, and guess how they do that? You guessed it! They include a short pitch in a catalogue. That’s it. That’s all the folks responsible for the future success of your “baby” have to go by.

Need I even say, being “pitch perfect” is a pretty crucial business. It’s not easy either. How often have you been in the in the situation in which some well-meaning person asks the perfectly natural question, “So what’s your book about?” and you want to slap them silly and say, “You try boiling down months of toil, sweat & tears into a snappy sentence or two!!!”

But folks, that’s exactly what we’ve got to do if we want to send our work into the world!

So enough scariness. How do you write the killer pitch?

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First, a few pointers to bear in mind:
  • An Elevator Pitch should be deliverable in about 20 seconds (the time it takes for an awkward silence to form between floors in the elevator… at least I assume that’s where the name comes from…?)
  • Your one-line Pitch should capture the heart and soul of your novel. Go for essence. Don’t spell out every detail. (This means you want to focus on the main character &  his/her plight – the thing that catches the reader’s interest & emotions)
  • When it comes to your cover letter to agents, you must include a one-line pitch & a slightly longer elevator pitch (blurb). Not sure what’s the difference? Think films trailors: the one-liner is your teaser trailer (one image & one line that grabs interest).  The blurb is the plot summary on the back of the DVD box.

**For practice writing both, check out Graeme Shimmin’s cool, apparently fool-proof formula for Loglines & Elevator Pitches.

The ultimate advice on crafting that perfect pitch comes down to one word: Practice.

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All you need is a blank few pieces of paper and a chunk of time. Start with your blurb – think who, what, when, how, why. Then boil it down, and boil it down again until you can extract the essence of your book in a beautiful one-liner.

Not only will you be one leap closer to selling your book, you won’t  feel the need to run screaming into the night the next time someone innocently asks you “So, what’s your book about?” And that can only be a good thing!

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