Thursday, 2 July 2015

How writing interviews for blogs can help your agent pitch

You may or may not have been following my Submitting To Agents Parts 1 to IV blog posts. If you haven't I've included the links below:

Submitting to agents Part I
Submitting to agents Part II
Submitting to agents Part III
Submitting to agents Part IV

Anyway this post is about how doing interviews on blogs can help you with your pitch to an agent.

One of the most common questions I've been asked is "How did you come up with the title/story/characters?"

The answer should not be "I was in the shower" or "I just woke up and had this idea". This is boring. People want to know the meaning being the title or the story or the characters. Not just that they were plucked out of thin air.

What this question really means to ask is "What motivated you to write this piece?"

It's this detail that can help with pitching. What did motivate me? Was it that I'm afraid of what the world is coming to, that I'm afraid of what humanity is unveiling, do I want good to win, evil to win, do I care about love anymore? So I thought I'd share some of the real reasons behind my novels and this might explain why some of them failed in the pitch.

The Bird With The Broken Wing:
It's a story about an angel who is trapped in Purgatory with the mortal she was assigned to watch over. It's only when a rebel teen enters Purgatory that the angel realises her methods to help her mortal ascend into Heaven aren't working.

Why did I write this story? I wanted to highlight to teenagers that when bad things happen that it isn't the end of the world. It might feel like it, but nothing is working killing yourself for. Even though the point of view is the angel's, the protagonist is the teenager. That's why it's written in third person point of view. I wanted to show the struggle of each of them for the angel to see, but I also wanted them to see the angel's own struggle. These are her flaws that are keeping them trapped in Purgatory, not the humans.

Why did I choose this title? The bird represents the angel, the broken wing represents that which is keeping her grounded i.e unable to fly. It also represents the vulnerability of this character in that she can be mended, with the proper care she can fly once more.

The pitch for this novel was for Young adult horror/paranormal fantasy. What I pitched is below.

Angels are bound by certain rules. For example;

Rule # 1: angels are forbidden to develop relationships with mortals

Rule # 2: an angel cannot reveal its true self to mortals

Rule # 3: angels are messengers carrying out a divine plan and must not interfere with the bigger picture

Nothing is known about the fate that awaits the angel who breaks the rules. Rachael is a guardian angel who is about to find out that sometimes it’s the angels who need watching over.

While the above is true, it doesn't truly represent the true story. It's about people who need to forgive themselves, who need to heal. It's about perfect beings not being so perfect. It's about real people dealing with real situations. It's about redemption. But I failed to get this across to the agents and publishers. Readers have enjoyed the story immensely despite my failings to pitch.

I didn't truly understand why I wrote this book until interviewers asked me. I gave a few lame excuses in the beginning, probably because the thing about writing is there is a huge part of the author that goes into the book. Our beliefs, our values, our fears. Perhaps this is why novice writers are reluctant to share the real reason behind why they write, because they're revealing themselves. Perhaps this is why we sometimes don't truly understand the story behind the story.

Truly understanding our stories and why we write them can help when we pitch our book to agents and publishers. I should have pitched The Bird With The Broken Wing as dark fantasy. I should have written more about the character's struggles in the blurb.

Despite my failings, it did get published in the end. And I learned a lot about the motivation behind writing by doing hundreds of interviews for blogs about this and subsequent novels. I'd recommend this to any new writer starting out. Get interviewed. Get to know your story from an outsider's perspective. Get to understand your motivation so it can help when you pitch.

As always, if you have any comments please feel free to leave them. I love to hear about other writer's journeys and experiences.

Best regards
D L xoxo

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Submitting to agents - Part IV

Actually, this post should have come in Part I. It's about knowing the genre so you can target your agents.

I'll start off by saying I have trouble with this sometimes. I write a story about characters and things happening to them and I'm told as a writer that I have to make the story unique - but maybe the Hollywood rule of "Write something different but the same" applies to novels. To be honest, I'm not sure I want to live in that world. Anyway, I've written a book and now I have to find a box to put it in. And I'm also not supposed to have too many boxes. This apparently confuses readers though I think readers are smart enough to read more than one genre.

When I (unsuccessfully) pitched Little Red Gem I pitched it as Paranormal Romance. But here's the thing about paranormal romance:

It's boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.

In Little Red Gem, at the end the main character had her revelation but she didn't run straight into the arms of the boy. She took that moment and decided that she was more important and she needed to figure things out first. Ergo it was not romance. I failed at the pitch because I got the genre totally wrong. To be honest it started out as a paranormal romance, and the first draft it was boy gets girls, but then in the final edits I got o the end and said "would I do that?"  and the answer is that I would not. So I had to be true to ME and I let the main character give the flick to the guy. I did this is real life as a teen so it's a plausible ending. The problem is I still had it in my mind that it was romance. It was more like young adult fantasy chick-lit. But try putting that in a pitch.

Despite the thousand categories on Amazon that writers like to use to slot their books into the obscure ones to get higher rakings, according to Wikipedia there really are only 8 or so genres. Beneath these we have multiple sub-genres

Mystery and Detective
Science Fiction

Science fiction is typically space opera, plausible futuristic plots, hard sci-fi, social science fiction, time travel, alternate universes, science fantasy, soft science fiction. Dystopian and apocalyptic fiction tend to find themselves under the sub genre of science fiction.

Fantasy uses magic or supernatural as a primary plot element, completely fictitious worlds.

So what do I do when I've written a book about a virtual game, supernatural characters, a futuristic world but not dystopian, and an apocalypse.

I have read on a few blogs that Dystopian and Apocalyptic Fiction are becoming their own sub-genre. But agents don't list the million genres they're looking for, just one or two, such as Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the list I provided in Part III showed the agents who are currently looking for Science Fiction and/or Fantasy.

In short, just like there is a billion trillion dollars in the world there is still only a large handful of actual currencies. i.e $1 coin, $2 coin, $5 note, $10 note etc. In order to hand over $17 we need to know what that is comprised of. Sorry if that's confusing, it's the analogy I'm using to try to perfect the genre in the pitch.

Here's another reason why knowing the genre is important.

Stephanie Palmer runs a blog Good In A Room. She teaches screen writers and this was a really interesting post I read a little while back.


In the epic action-adventure Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman dispatched to kill her.

Compare this with how the concept of Mirror Mirror is pitched:

A fresh and funny retelling of the Snow White legend, Mirror Mirror features Snow White as she fights the evil Queen to reclaim her birthright and win her Prince in this magical adventure comedy filled with jealousy, romance, and betrayal.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Genre: Epic action-adventure

Story Elements: Snow White gets trained in the art of war by the Huntsman, an assassin dispatched to kill her; Snow White threatens the reign of the evil Queen.

The story elements of being trained in the art of war by an assassin and fighting an evil Queen match the genre. This pitch has genre-story congruency.

Mirror Mirror

Genre: Magical Adventure Comedy

Story Elements: An evil, ruthless Queen; Snow White fighting to reclaim her birthright; jealousy and betrayal.

There’s nothing funny about the story elements. This conflicts with the description of the movie as a comedy.

The difference between the two  is Genre-Story Congruency
Will the story live up to the genre expectations of the audience?

I won't go further into this because of copyright reasons you need to read the post.

So I have pitched my novel as Science Fantasy because nobody listed Apocalyptic fiction. Here's hoping I have met the genre expectations of my audience.

Until next post.

D L Richardson

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Submitting to agents - Part III

Last week I provided the breakdown of the number of agents I have submitted to and the number of replies.

This week I will reveal the update as well as provide the link to the resource I've been using to query these agents. Note that this resource is only for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. So you'll need to check the agent websites for other agents in that agency whom might accept other genres.

Total so far:

49 queries sent (2 were closed to submissions so really 47)
11 thanks but no thanks replies (as above so really 9)
1 request for a partial manuscript (50 pages)
1 request for the full manuscript (Yah!!!!)

This is good. 22% responses means that there is still almost 80% that might still read and say yes. However, as a professional courtesy to the agent who has requested the entire manuscript, I am now on hold for sending more agent queries.

Now for my source:

Published to Death BlogSpot
Erica Verillo has written seven books and published five. She has a blog dedicated to helping authors avoid the mistakes she made. Definitely add this to your favourites bar because this blog is always revealing agents who are looking for new authors.

Google is another resource for finding agents. Check out some of your favourite authors and checked out their agent websites.

Query Tracker is the other resource I'll get stuck into once I've utilised all the addresses in the Published to Death list. You use the search functions to narrow down your search to genre etc. You sign up but its a free registration and then you can search the world.

I cannot stress how professional and responsive agents are in this business. They totally understand that without authors they have no jobs, and they receive hundreds of submissions a day yet they still glance or read over every query. The replies I've received have given me a great admiration for the hard work they do. Now if I can land myself an agent I'd be pleased to tell them all this personally.

Good luck in your querying and please let me know how you go.
D L Richardson

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Free read - part I "Spider To The Fly" by D L Richardson

I've made my first venture onto Wattpad, releasing a 7,500 words instalment of a work in progress. This story originally featured in  the first draft of "Welcome to the Apocalypse Book Two". It doesn't fit into the final draft but it was so much fun to write and I liked the characters and the story so much that I decided to tweak it into a short story. It could make a great book. I'd love to know what you think. If you like it I'll keep writing.

The thousand year war on Arturia is about to end when the terrorist known as the Spider is captured. But instead of killing him, General Sienna Dresden offers him the keys to the kingdom in an act of peace. Then Sienna is kidnapped and she believes the Spider is responsible and now realizes she can never attain peace with the enemy. Until she learns that the real traitor is one of her own. But for the war to end, the man known as the Spider must accept the blame for the deaths of thousands and he must become the enemy Arturia needs to end the war. But wars never end this easily.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Submitting to agents - part II

A week ago I began submitting to agents for my latest novel. I spoke in the previous post about submitting in batches of 5 to 8 agents. This way you can get an idea if the pitch isn't working, or if the sample pages you sent aren't intriguing enough.

I thought I would give an update on the progress so far.

Number of agents pitched to: 43, though 2 have since closed to submissions, so 41
Number of replies so far: 7
Number of partials requested: 1

Most interesting rejection:

Unfortunately, it is not right for my list.  However, I wish you the best luck in your search for the right agent (and hope to see you in print soon).
My response: Huh? Isn't wishing to see me in print kinda what the agent's task is?
Well, there you go. Part II of Pitching to agents in a nutshell.
Pitching to agents is a rough and rocky road. don't let anyone tell you it's easy. On the positive side, agents are much faster at responding than publishers. Agents read the submissions, and most will send a reply. Read these replies carefully as there may be hidden meanings.
What could make the pitching easier?
If I didn't have a full time job at the moment. The job is winding up but before that happens I'm working full time. So I can only submit to about 5 agents per night. But, as I mentioned this does give me the chance to teak my pitches.
If I had a faster internet connection. Do not let anyone from Australia dare tell you that we have fast internet. We don't. Turkeys bake faster than it takes to load an image to a blog site, hence why there are no images.
If I knew somebody who knew somebody who was looking for somebody that they knew who wrote a book.
I'll keep you updated. I'm off ot submit to a few more agents tonight.
In the next post I'll share with you my resources for where I got the agent information from. Stay tuned.
And best of luck to you if you are pitching to agents. I'd love to hear how you're going.
D L Richardson

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Submitting to agents

Hello everyone. Long time no speak. I've been very quiet on the blogging and social sites for months and months now, while I've been busily writing and editing book one of my sci-fi/fantasy series. Writing, editing, promoting, conducting workshops, pitching, and I still have to juggle a full time job, housework, exercise, and family and friends. This would be so much quicker if I could just write every day, but I also want to live. Which leads me to the next bit.

Two of the most often asked questions asked of writers are:

1. How long does it take to write a book?
2. How long does it takes to get that book published?

There is no definitive answer. It takes as long as it takes, and with most writers having lives and jobs, unless we can write full time, it is going to take longer. But with practice and a lot of discipline and ignoring friends and hygiene, you should get better and therefore faster.

I set a personal goal a few years back of having two books written per year. I have to say that I'm on track in some ways but not on track in others. I did get two books written in a little over a year but by the time I add in the edits for book two it will probably be more like one book per year.

Just to give everyone an idea of who much work goes into the writing and publishing process, I thought I'd share the timeline for my latest book:

WELCOME TO THE APOCALYPSE is an adult sci-fi/fantasy series. I have 3 books definitely planned, perhaps up to 6.

Book One:
Feb 2014            Writing commenced
May 2014           First draft finished, 118,000 words
May 2014           Editing commenced
Aug 2014           Book one completed, 127,000 words
Aug 2014           Submitted to publisher
Sep 2014            Followed up with publisher - received but not read, asked to check back in a few months
Dec 2014            Followed up with publisher - still not read, asked to check back in the new year
Feb 2015            Followed up with publisher - still not read, asked to check back in two months
Apr 2015            Followed up with publisher - advised should have an answer soon
May 2015           Publisher passed but provided feedback
May 2015           Re-writes began
Jun 2015             Re-writes finished
Jun 2015             Query to agents

Book Two:
Oct 2014            Writing commenced
Apr 2015            First draft finished, 124,540 words
Jun 2015             Edits will commence- once I have finished sending the queries out to agents.

I'm going to do things differently this time. I'm going to submit to agents first.

Does a writer need an agent? No. There are many publishers who accept submissions from unagented authors. BUT once a publisher says no you can't go back to them, and this can leave an agent with a reduced number of publishers that they can push the book to. Maybe they have a better rapport with the publisher and maybe they can sell the book, but not if a publisher has already said no.

When you send off query letters you must keep a register. I use excel so I can record the agent's name, the agency, the date I queries, what I sent such as query letter and first ten pages, what the usual response time is if listed on their website, plus the email address.

What is VERY important to remember at this stage is that you MUST follow the submission guidelines. Every literary agency has them. Some want five pages, twenty, nothing but a letter. The reason it's so important to follow these guidelines is that you don't want to give them a reason to say no.

This can make the query process a lengthy one. You need to read each submission guideline, you need to read the agent profile so you're sending your submission to the best agent.

For example:

Jun 6, 2015       Submitted to 5 agencies:
  • one page query letter x2
  • one page query letter and first 5 pages x1
  • one page query and first 10 pages x2

June 7, 2015     Submitted to 10 agencies:
  • one page query x1
  • one page query and first 5 pages x4
  • one page query and first 10 pages x2
  • one page query and first 20 pages x1
  • one page query and first chapter x1
  • one page query and first 50 pages x1

Well, I am off to write some more query emails (there are hundreds of agents I can approach and I will) so I will keep you updated on the progress. Just a quick note on queries to agents. I've discovered that they expect you to send queries to multiple agents. So don't bother with exclusivity at this stage, or at any stage for that matter - until someone is sending you a contract there IS no exclusivity. Still, this doesn't mean you can't tailor your query to suit the agent. Use their name in the email and if they have any interested in the profile it's nice to mention them. After all, they are human too.

If you have any similar tales I'd love to hear them.

Till next update, take care.

D L Richardson

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Overcome writers block - top 5 things to change

I'm not usually one to suffer from a lack of story ideas, but sometimes getting the writing started can be the challenge. It's the only form of writers block I usually experience. I have an idea, I know what I want to write, but then I get stuck.

Let me explain this week's challenge. Poison In The Pond is a horror novella I released in October 2014. Last week I had the idea to write a sister novella. I came up with the title for the next in the series, Evil In The Embers, and tweaked a story idea I'd drafted a few months prior, then I sat down at the computer and...nothing. I couldn't get the story started. For the past week I've attempted to get beyond the words Chapter One.

Writer's block is a massive hurdle. I wondered if it was due to the fact I was editing a 120,000 word novel. Writing and editing require different brain activity. Yet Poison In The Pond is a 20,000 word novella, so Evil In The Embers only needs to be 20,000 words. And for the past nine months I've written two full length novels at over 127,000 words a piece. Why can't I write the first chapter to what is essentially a long short story?

I had to come up with a way to get over this hurdle.

I'll go back a little to explain how I typically overcome writers block. In 2010 I had the idea to write a story about an angel trapped in Purgatory. But I could never get the story off the ground. That is, until I changed it to young adult fiction. The Bird With The Broken Wing seemed to write itself after I changed the age of the characters. I heard their voices in my head, their stories appeared on the page, and the novel was written.

Writers block can be crippling unless a writer is open to change.

Change is key to overcoming writer's block. I decided to change the point of view of the main character in Evil In The Embers. I'd started the story with a female's POV. Today I changed the main character to a man and within thirty minutes I had written 1,000 words . Sometimes the story that we want to write isn't the story the characters want to tell.

 If you're struggling with writers block here's a few things you can consider:

1 Change the gender of the main character.

Especially if the writing is sounding cliché, it's time to switch heads. Putting ourselves into the head of the other sex can spark dialogue and setting. It can switch on the creative process and get us using the grey matter in an inspiring way. Writers tend to research what we don't know and its the details in the research that can lead to a more interesting character. If you started off with a female, change to a male and then observe male behaviour. And vice versa.

2 Change the age of the characters.

If you're stuck and you're writing about teens, make them adults. There are enough hurdles when it comes to writing YA such as kids can't drive and you kinda want to avoid parents in the storyline, and kids don't have money and you need them to buy ghost busting equipment, and kids have curfews and you want them to track down the bad guys after dark. Same goes if you're stuck writing adult characters. Maybe adding the complexities that adults vs teens face is just what your writing needs to get that boost.

3 Change the genre.

Okay, you might want to write a paranormal story, but if it's just not working then maybe writing the story in a contemporary manner or vice versa may be the trigger to unlocking the flow of writing. Although, a word of caution about switching genre. You tend to have to stick to one. So if you're having writers block while writing fantasy, try sci-fi or urban fantasy. These are sister genres and won't alienate readers, but to be fair, a good book cover will tell your readers what sort of book it is. As will the blurb.

4 Change the length of the story.

Poison In The Pond began it's life as a novel. First penned in 1996, it was around 80,000 words. But when I sat down almost twenty years later to edit it, I realised it was horribly written. I also didn't want to keep it novel length. It was when I decided to cut out all the crap that the excitement and suspense took off. Philip K Dick, the author of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep has had most of his works turned into movies, yet his works are short stories. I've often been asked how long should a novel be. The answer is as long as it needs to be. Too little can leave out important detail, yet it can leave a reader begging for more. Too much and you can bore a reader. They never beg for more if you bore them. And if you do decided to go with short stories, there's nothing stopping you from releasing them in a collection.

5 Change who is telling the story.

Have you ever started a story and the sub character's voice sounds more interesting? So why are you sticking with the main character who sounds wooden when the sub character's life sounds awesome? Maybe you should get him or her to tell the story instead. Another word of caution here. Sometimes we need the sub characters to be awesome so they can move the story along. I occasionally hear from readers that Jett should be the main character in The Bird With The Broken Wing. On one hand they have a point. She's feisty, independent, everything I want a strong character to be. But I need her to move the story along, not be the story. Think Han Solo. He rocks space the way Errol Flynn rocks the high seas as a pirate. Star Wars is not about Han solo yet Han Solo pushes the story along. If you want to read more about sub characters who steal the show you can read my blog article here.

What are some ways that you overcome writes block? I'd love to hear your suggestions. Please leave a comment in the comment box.

About the author:

Not one to accept being put into a box, D L Richardson writes speculative fiction for readers who likes a twist in their tale. She now has six books published and is working on an apocalyptic series and a dystopian novel.
You can check out her more about books at her website