Posts Tagged ‘agents’

5 Steps for adding a new character to your (completed) novel

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

When my agent told me that I needed to add a new character to my novel – the one I’ve been working on for years and have revised countless times and considered this close to submission-ready – I wanted to make like my butterscotch tabby, Sunny, and curl up under a blanket and shut down.

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But then I remembered that I’d done it before. When I was working with my editor on FLYAWAY, she also suggested that I add a new character – a “decoy boy” to distract readers from the inevitability of the main character, Stevie, getting together with the major love interest, Alan. My character The Professor was born, and he actually became the character who generated the most comments and questions from students in my school visits.

So in my quest to add a new character to my current WIP, I went back to the process I had used before and came up with these five steps:

1. Clarify the new character’s role in your novel. Will this character serve as a decoy, as The Professor did in FLYAWAY, or will they fill another role? Other possible roles might include ally or mentor to the main character or proxy for the antagonist. Being clear on the new character’s role in your novel will help you determine how much weight to give him in terms of page time and backstory.

2. Determine the relative importance of the character. Is your new character a walk-on in one scene, or will she play a major role throughout the book? The new character my agent suggested that I add in this revision only appears in a few scenes and has little direct impact on the plot. Because of his relatively minor importance, I was careful not to flesh him out so fully that he drew undue reader attention.

3. Decide which other characters the new character will connect with. How tightly is this character woven into the weave of the story? Does he interact mostly with the main character, or will he connect to one or more minor characters as well? Will he live in one plot line or be part of several subplots? In order to weave my new character more closely into my story, I gave one of my main character’s friends a secret crush on him.

4. Create a name and a backstory relative to the character’s weight in the plot. This step is tricky. We writers love to create characters. I could have easily written a 10-page biography of my new character in which I explored his childhood and how it has impacted his current hopes, dreams, and fears. But since my character has relatively little importance compared to my major and supporting characters, I fleshed out only the essential elements of his backstory. I made notes on his name and age, his status in the school hierarchy, his interest in music, and why he’s attracted to my main character. That’s all the information I really needed. And because his relative importance to the plot is so minimal, I decided that my main character wouldn’t refer to him by name; she calls him Knit Hat Boy.

5. Choose the scenes in which the character will appear. Now that you’ve determined your character’s role in your novel, decided on her relative importance, and created an appropriate name and backstory, it’s time to “shoehorn” her into your already completed book. To complete this step, I read through my manuscript, and using Comments in Track Changes, noted the location of each scene where my new character would appear. Some of these were scenes I’d written previously that I planned to revise to include him; others were scenes I needed to add.

With your backstory notes and Comments in front of you, the final step, of course, is to write your new character into the novel. Easy? No. Worth it? In my case, yes. Thanks to my agent’s advice, I now have a new character who adds one more subtle layer of depth to my story.

Have you ever had to write a new character into an already completed manuscript? How did it go for you? What were the challenges you encountered?

My big news!

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

I’ve been so busy revising my latest novel that I neglected to share my big news: I have a new agent! On Sept. 11, 2015, after a long search, I signed with the fabulous Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates, and I couldn’t be happier.

Item #1 on my wish-list was to find an editorial agent who would help me bring my work to its highest potential. Now that I’ve gone through several rounds of revision with Caitlin, I can honestly say that I’ve hit the jackpot. She saw through to the core of my story, and through editorial letters, phone conversations, and numerous comments on the manuscript itself, coaxed me to bring the underlying themes and emotions to the surface. The resulting novel is one I can truly be proud of, one that I hope will find its way into readers’ hearts.

For a while, I feared that my writing career had stalled out. But now, thanks to Caitlin, who was willing to take a chance on me – okay, and to my own perseverance and determination – my writing life is taking wing again.

Eagle in Flight

How do you know when no is “no”?

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

I’ve been submitting my latest YA manuscript to agents. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the submissions game, and things have changed since then. It used to be that, even if the agent hated your work, she would send you a form rejection letter (which later became a form rejection email). We writers hated those things. They were so impersonal, and they gave you no feedback that you could use to improve your writing.

These days, it would be heaven to see a form rejection – or a rejection of any kind – in my inbox. (Actually, what I’d REALLY love to see is an acceptance letter, but that’s beside the point.) At least with a form rejection you had closure. But now that so many agents simply don’t respond if they’re not interested, you’re left wondering whether your submission got lost in the shuffle or the agent simply hasn’t had time to read it or if it’s really, truly a “no.”

I’m not going to rant, here, and my object is not to blame. I know agents are busy. I understand that their inboxes are overflowing and that they read on nights and weekends, struggling to stay on top of the workload. They’re simply doing what they have to do to survive, and I respect that. The question is, how do writers adjust to this new reality?

I always seem to use dating and relationships as metaphors for the writing and publishing process, and I’m going to do it again. You know when you go out on a first date with a guy that you seem to have a lot in common with, and you sense some sparks? You don’t want to be that girl who checks your phone every few minutes the next day to see if he’s texted or called, but you do. A day goes by, and then another, and you tell yourself that he’s busy, or maybe he’s just giving you a little space. A week goes by, and he still hasn’t contacted you, and the slowly truth dawns: this relationship you thought had so much potential isn’t going to happen. But somewhere in the back of your mind, you can’t help holding out hope.

I was always one of those girls who politely waited, who hung on until the last flicker of hope died out. But the new world of publishing demands a different mindset. Agents have adopted the no-response protocol as a way to preserve their time, energy, and sanity; I’ve decided that I have to put my own needs front and center, too. In order to achieve my goal of finding representation, I have to keep dating, keep putting my work out there. If a particular agent hasn’t responded within a reasonable amount of time, I need to cross her off my list and move on.

That’s not to say that I won’t keep a secret candle burning for that special connection I thought I’d sensed, for that dream of a call out of the blue eight months or even a year down the road.

But I won’t count on it.

How do you deal with the “no response means no” policy? How has it impacted you?

Why I’m Looking for a New Agent

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I’ve been pretty secretive about what’s going on in my career lately, but now that my wonderful ex-agent Chris Richman has publicly announced that he’s leaving the business in this blog post, I can tell you that I no longer have an agent. I learned this a few months ago and have since been pondering what my next steps are and what this means for my career. I’ve told a few close friends and family members, and here are some of the questions they’ve asked me:

Q: Won’t one of the other agents at the agency take you on?

A: Maybe, maybe not. It’s not an automatic given that another agent at the same agency will want to represent me. They have to fall in love with the novel I’m shopping now, as well as believe in my potential for success in the future.

Q: Won’t it be easy for you to find another agent, now that you’re a published author?

A: No. While the fact that I’m a published YA author will most likely be in my favor, it doesn’t mean that I’m a shoe-in for getting an agent. Again, any agent who takes me on would do so because they love the book I’m hoping to sell next, not because I sold a book in the past.

Q: Why do you need an agent, anyway? Can’t you just sell your work directly to publishers?

A: I know that some authors do successfully sell their own work to publishers, but I firmly believe that an author is better off with an agent. Chris not only served as an initial editor for me, whipping my manuscript (which, of course, I had revised many times on my own before I submitted it to him) into shape so that it was ready to be seen by editors at the major publishing houses, but he targeted his submissions so my manuscript got into the right hands. Then, when several editors expressed interest in my novel, he created the best possible deal for me by initiating an auction. Add to that the fact that he represented my interests in negotiating a contract with the publisher and advised me about future works, and I think I’m justified in saying that I couldn’t have done it – at least not as well – without him.

Q: Why don’t you self-publish and keep the money?

A: It’s very true that the publishing business is changing, and that self-publishing has become a more viable option for authors. I have several friends who have found success by self-publishing their books, most notably YA author Kiki Hamilton, who has done well self-publishing her Faerie Ring series, and fellow Ballard Writer Ingrid Ricks, whose memoir Hippie Boy has risen to the top of the NYT Bestseller list and garnered her a deal with a traditional publisher. But personally, at least at this juncture, I’d rather traditionally publish. I value the the role of gatekeeper that traditional publishers play; I wouldn’t want to put a book into the world that wasn’t of high enough quality to compete in the crowded marketplace. And I know how much effort it takes to make sure a book finds its readers. Authors have to put scads of time and energy into promotion no matter what, and I like the extra boost that comes from a publishing house’s ability to get ARCs into the hands of reviewers and librarians and to make sure that books find their way onto bookstore shelves.

So the long and short of it is that I valued what Chris was able to do for me, and I’m looking for another agent to fulfill his role. It’s humbling to be back to “square one,” but it’s also exciting. Who knows what the future might hold?

How about you? Do you think an author is better off with an agent? Do you think self-publishing is the way to go?