Sunday, December 19, 2010

Come meet The Gatekeeper

I am ever so pleased and lucky to have the author of Getting Past the Gatekeeper on my blog, or as she is referred on her blog, GK.

GK's blog is a must visit. She gives you little peeks into the world of agenting and why writers get rejections in nice, easy-to-read pie charts: here and here. If you aren't following, pop on over and make her one of your favorites.

Let's get to know GK.

First thing that pops into your mind time... No cheating.

Favorite dessert?

Nutella. With a spoon.

What is the first thing you notice on the opposite sex?

Shoulders. The men dress very well here.

Drinks at a club or drinks in a piano lounge?

Piano bar, definitely.

What did you do during your teen years?

I spent a lot of time writing. I’d come home every day (every day that I didn’t have rehearsal, that is—I was a big musical theatre geek), make myself a snack (like those frozen Amy’s pot pies), and write until my mom came in, exclaimed about how I’d forgotten to turn on a light, and told me I’d ruin my eyesight.

Life as an agent is busy, busy, busy. Would you care to share a typical day of what you do when you take your agent hat off?

I rarely take my agent hat off. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a day where I didn’t read a manuscript, or at least check my work email, or wonder how a client is doing. But, yes. I love living in New York, and try to take advantage of that. I love trying out new restaurants, meeting new people (there are amazing conversations to be had in this city), hanging out in coffee shops and lounges, seeing live music and book talks, and generally saying “Yes” when someone says, “Hey, I heard about this cool new place”—which has led me to events in breweries, converted factories, underground eating clubs with passwords, and churches that were turned into lofts that now host concerts.

They say you can figure out what you should be doing in life by what shelves you automatically go to in a bookstore. I always go right for the food books and magazines. But I’m very down-to-earth about it. I’ll be much more impressed if you accomplish something brilliant with a microwave than with a sous-vide.

What is the most thrilling aspect of your job?

Finding something new, and falling in love with it. When I took on my most recent client—that is, when she told me she’d chosen me from all the interested agents—I literally got up and yelled, “[Book title] is mine! [Book title] is mine!”

Naturally, my intern looked at me a little strangely, and my boss came running in to make sure I wasn’t on fire or something, but it worked out okay.

What would you love to see cross your desk right now?

Personally, my tastes are getting much darker. I used to be the kid who couldn’t even watch a commercial for a scary movie without having nightmares. Now, though—well, I’d like some more witty YA thrillers, please.

I’d also love good historical fiction, dystopias, and stories of protagonists changing the world around them—whether that means taking down a corrupt regime or unearthing secrets that will change everything for their group of friends.

I’m also very interested in fiction for adults—women’s, literary, historical and surreal fiction all appeal to me. And, on the nonfiction side, psychology, parenting, memoirs, food books/cookbooks, travel and works that speak to life in this century.

You might not want to answer this and that is fine. I understand completely. But it is a question I always wanted to ask, but never have. So, I thought I would ask you....Tell us a book that is a best seller, but you wouldn't have offered representation. Why?

When I saw The Secret for the first time, I just couldn’t believe that someone would write a book saying, “You can have everything you want! You can have it NOW! You don’t have to do any work! All you have to do is imagine it!” It’s a work that, I fear, succeeded because it promises everything with no effort. And I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing, either.

I've read plenty of blogs where TWILIGHT has gotten bashed for poor writing and such but, yet, the book captured the minds of readers. What do you think the book had that accomplished such a following?

It’s a perfect example of an author who is book-by-book, or even series-by-series brilliant (according to some; I didn’t particularly care for it) versus chapter-by-chapter or line-by-line brilliant. The works come together in a way that tells a compelling story, and I think she’s generally good at creating tension, intrigue, and romantic interest.

What is your ratio of queries to requests?

I request about seven for every 100.

Without naming names, what is the funniest thing you ever read in a query?

A writer was pitching a very traditional, 1950s-style cookbook. This is all well and good, but then she went on to make X-rated jokes about Popeye. And spinach. I did not ask for more.

Do you usual request fulls or partials? And why?

Fulls. I hate being in the middle of something good and having to wait a few days to find out what happens.

When you request a manuscript and it is sent to you, about how long does it take for you to actually get started on reading it?

That varies. I know I’m not supposed to admit this, but I don’t read anything in the order it comes in. Not even close. I read what looks most interesting first. This isn’t to be evil, or even for my own amusement—it’s because I know some works are likely to be snapped up quickly.

There isn’t a good way to predict what the response time means. Sometimes I keep something longer because I’m sharing it with colleagues; sometimes I keep something longer because I’ve decided to reject it but can’t yet articulate why it isn’t working for me. And sometimes I just have an appalling number of manuscripts waiting.

When you are reading a manuscript that you have an interest in, do you make notes of things that you would like to change or editing remarks?

Like when people look at potential houses and say, “Oh, honey! Let’s put the couch there!”?

Yes, I do. I like the Kindle note-taking feature.

How soon do you expect to be hooked by requested material?

I know very soon. I’d never make an offer without finishing a work, but I’m about to make an offer on a piece that convinced me very quickly. By page twelve, I was sure I wanted it.

As an agent, do you mind doing edits?

Not at all. I actually find it very gratifying. I like watching the work take shape.

Do you help first-time authors with marketing strategies?

Yes, of course. Our agency is very good at making sure our authors are doing well overall—we’ve helped cookbook authors refine restaurant ideas, helped blogging writers create apps and web videos, and are generally here to think up new, cool ways of getting their work out there.

How do you resolve clashes in view points within your agency?

We actually don’t have many of those. Even though I’m the youngest in my office, I’ve been given a ridiculous amount of power and independence. We also tend to get along very well, and have a very similar aesthetic. The only major difference in viewpoint I can remember had to do with a YA work I took on. My boss liked the writing, and gave her blessing, but thought it was—her word—just weird. It is weird, but wonderfully so. It sold and is poised to do well. There will soon be Australian, Polish, Portuguese and German versions, too.

What do you see in the future of agent/writer's relationships?

If anything, I think there will be a trend toward a more friendly, less formal relationship. Authors can read our Twitter feeds and see what we’ve been eating for lunch—that doesn’t exactly lead to authors being intimidated by agents, and agents trying to pretend that they are perfectly polished creatures. For example, I’ve knocked over cups of tea in front of audiences, at conferences, and do so regularly in the office. It’s gotten to the point where I’m generally more amused than embarrassed--but I think agents in the past would try to hide that sort of thing.

Can you tell us one thing that is different in the world of agenting that is different than when you first started?

We’re much more careful about what we take on. Also, all of our submissions are now electronic, which is fabulously convenient for me.

What must-reads do you think an aspiring author should have on their bookshelf?

For finding agents: The Jeff Herman Guide. For writing book proposals: The Art of the Book Proposal by Eric Maisel. For writing queries, Making the Perfect Pitch. And for general pep-talk encouragement, Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.

Thank you so much for visiting GK. I hope you will stop by again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Meet Hilary Wagner

Today, I have another author visiting my little blog.

Hilary Wagner

*Squeeeeeeee! With a parade of rats!*

Hilary is also the author of newly released NIGHTSHADE CITY.

You can learn more about it here. My the book and read it. Excellent. I seriously haven't read a book starring animals since CHARLOTTE'S WEB, THE SECRET OF NIMH, WATERSHIP DOWN, and THE LAST UNICORN. We don't need to speak of how long ago that was. This novel ranks right up there with the greats. Beautifully crafted and just a great read.

I'm facebook friends with Hilary and through YALITCHAT. And I'm part of Team Nightshade City. Also, can't forget twitter.

Hilary is talented enough to be represented by the wonderful Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Galt Literary Agency.

And once again, I've provided enough links to prove I am a stalker.

Let's meet Hilary Wagner....

Tell us a little about yourself...

Hmmm...where do I start? Well, I write middle grade and YA novels, usually with a creepy slant. My first book, NIGHTSHADE CITY, released in October. Book II releases October of next year, along with Nightshade City's paperback. I live in Chicago with my awesome and super cute husband, Eric, our two kids, Vincent and Nomi (also super cute) and an entirely too neurotic Italian Greyhound, Louie.

When did your passion for reading take root?

I was actually a reluctant reader. My mother told me in first grade that if I started reading she'd give me a prize for every book I read. Well, she had me at prize! A good bribe always works. Needless to say, she soon didn't need to give me anything to gobble up a book. ;)

What is the very first story you ever wrote?

Actually, NIGHTSHADE CITY. I was very, very fortunate to get my first manuscript published. I just knew if I was ever going to write anything it would be about rats. I also knew it was a big risk. I don't know exactly why rats had to be my first book, maybe because they're so misunderstood and I love their Halloween charm, but here I am today, rats and all! Oh, and when I was in 4th grade I wrote a PB about a mouse and landed me an A! I guess I've always been a rodent advocate!

When did you realize you had a knack for constructing beautiful worlds from your imagination?

Gosh, I still don't think I've realized that! I suppose I just write about somewhere I'd want to go, to explore, something entirely different than anything I've ever known. My worlds almost always end up being underground. Ever since I was little, I've always imagined living in a quaint little underground home, deep in the earth, so it only makes sense that I write about it!

Favorite genre you like to read?

My tastes run pretty eclectic. I love animal fantasy, clearly! I also love quirky books about witches and creatures and pretty much any weird character with a lot of baggage! Reminds me of myself, I guess!

What author provided the most inspiration for you?

I'm a big fan of Gregory Maguire. I read WICKED back in the 90's and, for some reason, the book just spoke to me. I think it's how he builds his characters. They are multi-layered, even the ones that aren't key to the story. For anyone who wants to develop their characters a little more, Maguire has a fantastic body of work for that.

Can you give us a teaser of NIGHTSHADE CITY?

Okay, here's a little about our villain, Billycan. Everyone seems to love to hate him! Who wouldn't
love a wicked albino rat that speaks in the third person? ;)

Billycan ambled down the corridor of Sector 337 leering broadly. His red eyes flashed against the flickering torch light, making the towering snow white rat appear more maniacal than usual. He swung his beloved billy club, as he raucously called for the High Ministry's weekly Stipend. "Billycan thinks you should be more generous to your Ministry. Don't try my patience, Billycan wants the Stipend paid now!"

Billycan served his Ministry well, holding the dual title of High Collector of Stipend and Commander of the Kill Army. He was dangerously clever and wicked to his core. His depravity and sadistic persecution of Catacomb rats were legendary.

Citizens claimed Billycan was possessed, supernatural even. The old ones told how he once drove a rat to stab himself, mesmerizing him with his eyes. The rat lived through the ordeal, claiming that Billycan's eyes glowed like galvanized rubies, two glass bulbs filled with a red vapory substance, commanding him to take his useless life.

What about KINGS OF TRILLIUM? When will it be released?

Well, we are changing the title, so still working on that. My editor thinks KINGS OF TRILLIUM might be better for the third book (and hopefully there'll be one!). Book II will be released in October of 2011. We are working on edits now!

First thing that pops into your mind time...

Favorite pie? Key Lime, baby!

Chocolate or vanilla? Both!

If you were on an island, who would you want to be stranded with? Hubbie and kids!

An embarrassing moment that happened to you? My first speaking engagement! I stammered like an idiot!

First thing you notice on a person? Eyes!

Favorite movie? Right now, Hot Tub Time Machine. Yes, I admit it! It was hysterical! My daughter (2 years old) and I love Lilo & Stitch. It's our favorite kid movie.

Best song ever? Buona Sera by Louis Prima

Okay, now to what unpublished writers want to know....

Did you write/query any other novels before NIGHTSHADE CITY?

NIGHTSHADE CITY was the one and only.

What sources did you use to perfect your manuscript?

Actually, none. I never used any writing books or critique groups. I rewrote the book twice. I know it sounds corny, but I just wrote from my gut and did the same with my editing. If a scene didn't feel right or the rhythm of the words didn't work for me, I reworked it.

When did you know...Okay, this is as good as it is going to get, I'm querying this baby?

I never knew for sure, but I hoped! You can only do so much before you want to stick a fork in your eye! Sometimes you just have to say it's done.

Apparently you wrote an excellent query, how many requests did you receive?

I received a lot of partial and full requests, but after all was said and done only one offer of representation, luckily it was with the agency on the tippy-top of my list! Nancy Gallt Agency has an amazing list of authors, many bestsellers!

What sources did you use to compose your list of choice agents?

Anything and everything! I was looking for an agent that not only represented my genre, but someone I would like! I think forging some kind of friendship with anyone you work closely with is very important. Luckily, I found that in Marietta Zacker. She's honest, smart and witty, understands all sides of the publishing industry and she makes me laugh. She also keeps me sane and checks in frequently via email and phone. Agent Query, Absolutewrite and Preditors & Editors were my top sources. I usually crossed referenced all three. It was really disturbing to find out that there were scam artists out there, portraying themselves as agents. I had no idea that you'd come across that in the literary world, but it's one of those things you don’t know until you know. There are a lot of horror stories out there. You have to be careful!

Can you tell us what happened after representation?

My agent didn't think the manuscript needed any editing before submitting, so it went out to editors about two weeks after I signed. The book was sold in less than two months. It was very exciting. It took me over a year to land an agent, so I expected another long road. I was so surprised when my agent called me with the news! We had another great house also interested in the book, but they wanted a lot of work done before making an offer, which I was totally willing to do, mind you! Then we got the offer from Holiday House and things just felt right!

What happens after a publisher agrees to take your book?

Julie Amper, my editor, called me right away and spoke about her thoughts on the book and how things would go with editing. She was extremely personable and had fantastic feedback on the manuscript that really helped make the book better. It was an extremely fluid process. Holiday House has been around since 1935 and they have their stuff down to a science!

I want to know, what did it feel like when your agent sold your book?

I don't know how to describe it. I think I was in shock. It took a few days to sink in that my book, MY BOOK, was going to be published. Then, once it sunk in, I freaked out! Called my entire family and got to listen to them freak out! The best call was to my husband moments after my agent called me. He was as surprised as me, but also said he wasn't surprised at all. He knew it would get published! Now that's a great husband!

Any other advice you'd like to share for us aspiring writers?

Gosh, keep trying, keep working, keep fighting and keep writing! I was rejected approximately 175 times. Just when I was at my wits end, I got THE CALL! I think as an aspiring writer you have to live by the phrase, "It only takes one yes!" I started to really believe that and things started to happen!

And there you have, right from another agented author.

Thank you so very much for visiting my little blog. I hope you can visit us again...and soon.

Thanks so much for having me! It's been a lot of fun and I'd love to come back anytime!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A cool contest


I know I've been neglecting my blog during the month of November. I've been working eleven hours a day, kids, blah, blah, blah and what can I say, my free time I've been using to write and beta read.

Rest assured though, I do have a couple of author interviews and a super cool agent interview coming up soon. :)

So, yanno, SQUEE!!

Be sure to keep a look out.

Anyway, here is a contest that I suggest all my writing friends to take advantage of.

C.A. Marshall is hosting a super awesome giveaway.

To one lucky winner, she is giving away one FREE substantial edit! (That's plot, pacing, character development, etc, up to 100k words)!

I mean, how awesome is that? I know, right?

So stop by here and enter for your chance to win.