Monday, May 24, 2010

Worthy cause

If you haven't already heard, Brenda Novak is once again holding her on-line auction to raise money to support diabetes research. Since she started in 2005 she has already raised over $770,000 for this worthy cause. Diabetes among children continues to be on the rise. Research to understand the disease and unlock a cure is critical.

The auction has something for everyone -- but especially for readers and writers and those who love books. Yours truly has donated a critique of the first three chapters and synopsis, as have more than 60 other agents. Editors have donated critiques as well.

But the auction ends on May 31st, so you only have this week to check it out. I know economic times are tough, but reaching out and giving is always in season.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Themes in Queries

I love a good, academic literature class. A class that dissects the thematic elements of a novel, its narrative and character arcs, or, better yet, a discussion that posits a novel's significance in a particular cultural or political landscape is more stimulating than a piece of dark chocolate. Seriously. (Ok, sometimes, at least.)

It's likely that many authors consider themes when writing their manuscripts, also. There are "issue" books in YA and middle grade--books that focus on divorce, drugs, peer pressure, etc., just like the infamous after-school special. But even outside of "issue" books, themes crop up when discussing and pitching all kinds of fiction: YA and adult; commercial and literary. I see the touchstones of these themes in query letters--words like "loss," "self-discovery," "grief," "journey into manhood," etc.

Now, if you were worried that I was going to add ONE MORE THING to your query checklist, have no fear. I don't think theme needs to be mentioned in a query at all. You can scratch it off your list. That being said, if you feel it's important to mention theme in your query, give your query letter a few extra double-checks before you send it out.
  1. Does your mention of theme add a unique element that you can't add through plot or character description/summary/pitch?
  2. Or does it rely on clichéd, broad tropes to do your dirty work instead of the fresh, specific language of your story, your plot and your characters?
If the latter, that is, if you're assuming that clichéd theme words will get your query letter in the door and close the sale while your good, special manuscript words are all hanging out together at home taking a nap on the recliner, make a new assumption. Herd those words you've got in manuscript form together, and send them out on the door-to-door sales calls. If you want to send them out in tandem with your theme words, they might make a good team--just don't send those poor theme words out all alone in their dusty grey suit hugging a battered briefcase filled with used tracts. It's a lonely sight to see at your doorstep, and it looks just as lonely in an agent's email box.

The best themes are subtle and incite conversation, maybe in class, over a post-dinner port, in book club, or with your critique partners/agent/editor while revising your manuscript. So be a little judicious in employing theme in the query letter. Otherwise, an agent might think that your manuscript has a didactic tone, not an engaging plot, and you might not get a chance to have the discussion about theme during revisions.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Release

As promised last week, this week marks the release of Celeste Norfleet's Cross My Heart--a story about a savvy, sexy single mother and the unexpected romance that comes her way. Read more about the title here, and pick up a copy today. Most importantly, happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers reading!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Have you seen those stamps?

I don't usually make it to the computer keys. There's so much more to do around here, what with sleeping under the desk, sitting in the chairs, and monitoring those guys in the blue/brown uniforms who bring stuff to the office.

But today I'm really excited and I wanted to share. Our office now has the most wonderful U.S. postage stamps to put on our mail. There are handsome pictures of THE most wonderful dogs and even some of those intriguing creatures that I think they call cats. Sitting up there proudly on those envelopes, my friends look very nice. One of the stamps even shows a dog who could really be my cousin!

But as a rescue fellow myself, I clearly know the importance of these stamps. Of course, it's better if you can, adopt a pet, but in the meantime, support all of us adoptees by buying stamps.

Thanks, Harry

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Note on Synopses

When reading partial manuscripts, the first thing that I always read, before even taking a peak at the partial itself, is the synopsis. As of late, I have found this to be a particularly troubling element for many writers who have submitted their work to us.

Some writers submit synopses with not enough information. I like brevity and conciseness, but when I see a synopsis that is only a few paragraphs long, I am always concerned. Usually these synopses give a hint of what the story is about, but they don’t outline the full plot, leaving me to guess what kind of climax and resolution the story might have. They almost always end with something like, “Will John Doe learn to let down his defenses and go after the woman he loves?” These teasers drive me crazy! How am I supposed to know whether or not your novel has a decent climax and resolution and is something that we can market if you don’t tell me how the story plays out?

And then there are the writers who submit incredibly long synopses (usually four pages or more), outlining every single detail of their story. When I see these, I feel like I’m back in high school, reading Cliff Notes or Spark Notes, in which every minute detail in every single chapter is spelled out. I don’t want to feel like I’m cramming for a test on a book that I didn’t read. I just want to know what the story is about, generally speaking. Who are the main characters, and what is the plot arc, including conflict, climax, and resolution? That’s all I need to know. I don’t need to know every single detail—that’s why I’m reading the manuscript.

A synopsis can make or break your chances. After your query has been accepted, it is your first chance to make a good (or bad) first impression. You have to find a good balance between saying enough and not saying too much. Generally speaking, if it is only a few paragraphs, you haven’t written enough, and if it’s more than three five pages (with 1.5 or double spacing), you’ve written too much. Think of the synopsis as a sales pitch in which you have only a few minutes—or pages, rather—to convince us that your story is worth publishing. Don’t tease us, don’t ramble on forever. Just tell us what we need to know.

~ Jenn

Let the submissions begin

So, it's May . . . and I know I promised to reopen to queries. But no where did I commit that it would be done after the stroke of midnight on April 30th. Some of you have already taken me to task.

Patience, I say.

First, I had to recover from a wonderful but grueling week at RT in Columbus, Ohio. Then, well it was the weekend. But again, I hadn't seen Harry for a week, so someone had to make that up to him. And then there were those personal chores (like laundry) that wait for no man or woman. And, finally, I had left the passwords at my office. So, is that enough explanation for the delay?

But, now I can officially declare,

As of today (May 3rd), Elaine P. English Literary is open to all submissions via email.

Please consult our submission guidelines for how to query us and please make sure that your project is one of the types we represent. Also, there is no need to query everyone at everyone's email address. One query submission is enough. A query to the queries email address will suffice or if you are submitting a YA project, then you may direct it instead to Naomi's email address.

For those of you who submitted on May 1st or 2nd and got a standard response, you will need to resubmit.