Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grammar Questions

An interesting dilemma presented itself during our critique group that I felt might merit a few lines here. The novel I've been revising and my friend John's latest work both have characters whose plural surnames end in "s". When making these plural proper names into the possessive, which way is right? Turners's vs Turners' or Harpers's vs Harpers'. The answer is: It depends.

Our confusion over the plural possessive form stems from a lack of continuity in the style books, which contain slight variations . While the style books usually agree about most everything, this is one of those times when it doesn't. (I'm convinced this is for the sole purpose of being vexing.)

My trusty Harbrace College Handbook circa 1988 leans toward Turners' and Harpers'. Chicago Manual of Style prefers s's, as in the Turners's. MLA agrees with my Harbrace (because it is MLA). Fowler's Modern English Usage says both are correct in different situations. In the case of a singular possessive ending in 's', you add the apostrophe s. In the case of a plural possessive ending in 's', you just add the apostrophe. So, using the name Mavis Turner, it would be Mavis's and the Turners'.

Clear as mud, right?

Being a writer in the age of the internet (when I was in school we had to carry our style guide uphill both ways, barefoot, in the snow . . . ) I frequently Google the grammar question or check with the Grammar Girl. Either one can usually tell me what I need to know in a pinch.

But for anyone serious about their craft, I would invest in a good style book. I use the CMS (because it is widely accepted in the writing community) and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.  Oh, and my good old Harbrace. It has rarely steered me wrong.  The main rule: Pick one guide and be consistent.

What are your favorite style books? Or what do you use to get out of a grammar pickle?

Until next time.


Interesting note: Apparently Blogger's spelling and grammar check uses MLA. It didn't care for my use of Turners's  and Harpers's.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Query Time: Journey to Crazy Town

In my last post, I shared some tips on gathering a list of potential agents for your complete, polished manuscript. Now, I'd like to dig deeper into my process finding the agents most compatible with the ms you are pitching. You only get one shot to query your dream agent. Might as well make it count.

While I research, I sort each of the agents according to how good a fit I think they will be. Some I set aside to research further or check on later if they're either closed to queries or lacking a web presence.

I assign each agent a rank from 1 to 5, with 1 being my top choice. As I research further, that number might fluctuate.  Most agents on my list fall in the 2 to 3 category. Only those who I really feel will connect with my work receive a top rank of 1.My ranking system might have taken a wrong turn at crazy town, but the end result has proved satisfactory.

I mentioned in my last post that I like to print hard copies of pertinent information to refer back to (just too many to bookmark). I write query requirements on the front of each packet for easy reference.

I also create a spreadsheet, which is probably a bit of overkill but great for quick reference. My headings are: Agent, Agency, Rank, Date Queried, Query Included, Response Time, Auto Response, Materials Requested, Comments. In the comments column, I include links to blogs or websites, insider information such as who they represent that is similar to me, and personal informaiton or preferences that might influence my query or allow for personalization.

I think personalization is so important. You want them to know you've done your homework and are aware of what they are looking to acquire. You are requesting a business relationship with a professional and need to treat a query as such.
I queryied slowly by sending a few each week.  I started in the middle of the pack. I got immediate feedback, telling me my query letter was up to snuff.

Then comes the hard part--the waiting. That is where I am now. Of course, my husband was  diagnosed with cancer a few weeks into the query process, and I had to suspend submissions for about a year while I concentrated on his treatments. I have learned to wait.
Bottom line, querying is scary, but finding a workable list of potential agents is Gold! Jerry, Gold! (Seinfeld reference, for those who might not share my tv addiction).

Until next time . . . Good Luck and Happy writing!


Friday, June 8, 2012

Query Time: Part Deux

So, you've written a manuscript, which you have edited, re-edited, and polished. Someone other than a relative has read it. You also have in hand a professional, polished query letter and synopsis. Now you are ready to query agents. This can be a daunting prospect, considering the number of literary agents out there.

In my last post, I included links to two sites: Query Tracker and Agent Query.  This is where I start. They are free sites. On each of their home pages you can do a simple search for literary agents who represent what you're trying to sell, and out of the magic box will pop a list of potential agents for you to query. Again, this is a great place to start.

I'm going to stop right here and admit I suffer from a little undiagnosed OCD.  My brand of anal-retentiveness has two major benefits, though. First, the more organized you are, the easier it is to prevent a double-query disaster.  Second,  this process is a bit like riding a bike in a hurricane. Pressing that send button, knowing you have no control over what happens to your query from that moment forward, is an uncomfortable feeling. Never underestimate the power of having something tangible to track when there's absolutely nothing you can do otherwise.

So you have your lists.  You're ready to blast all these agents' inboxes with queries and hope for the best, right? No. No. No. No. No. You're just getting started.

Each of these potential agents (PAs) has specific requirements for all queries. Some of these PAs might be more receptive to your work than others. Some might also be closed to queries. No database can keep up with the rapid changes in PAs statuses, so I take each agent, and if there is a link to their website, do a quick check of their query status, their requirements, and what they represent. I like hard copies to refer to later, so I print the agent bios, submission requirements, and anything pertinent. This nets me a fairly sizable list.

At this point, you're ready to dig a little deeper. From this list of PAs the next step I take is really just a precaution. I check them out on Preditors and Editors, a website addressing concerns about agent practices (ie Do they charge you money, which no reputable agent will do). You can search each agent by name.

Next, I practice a little Google-fu. I read every article, website, blog, or interview mentioning each agent and/or agency. I look for any insight into either what they've chosen in the past or what they're hoping to acquire that is similar to my ms. This step will also eliminate some that, while excellent agents, might not be the best agent for you.

My next post will address my next step, and go over the basics of my agent ranking system.  Really, it's just too much information to put in one blog post.

So, until next time . . . happy writing!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Query Time: Part One

If there is one thing an aspiring author fears and dreads, it is querying agents. For a lucky few--like my friend John--who have written the Perfect Storm of books and catch a publisher's attention, this phase is by-passed. But at some point in their career, even they will probably have need of an agent.

So, how do you go about getting one? With that elusive creature, the one-page query letter.

I'm not going to tell you how to write your query letter. That's been done to death, with more knowledge or finesse than I could possibly employ. In fact, I'm in the same boat as many of you--unagented, unpublished and trying to get there.

*Note: at the end of this post I will post links to several very informative websites dealing with these issues, and if you haven't met the Query Shark aka Janet Reed of Fine Print Literary Management, her site is a wealth of information on query letters from the perspective of the other side of the table.

What I do have is knowledge of the process, from selecting those agents you want to query based on the types of books they represent to the formatting of an actual query letter (which, believe me, can be a huge headache. I'm talking to you, Word).

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a series of articles on querying, addressing some of these issues. By sharing my experiences, I hope I can help some of you, and maybe prevent some of the same fatal mistakes I made from happening again.
To begin with, here are those links I promised:

Query Tracker: One of the best comprehensive listings of literary agents by genres they represent
Agent Query: Another good agent database
Writer's Digest: This website has it all--articles, writing prompts, q&a sessions with agents, and many other ways for the writer to connect with their craft and their community.
Nathan Bransford: Former literary agent turned children's book author.  He has written a lot of informative articles about querying from an agent's prospective.
Knight Agency: This is a literary agency which deals primarily in the romance genre. Their submissions page is a wealth of information on query letters, etiquette, other basics. 

There are plenty of other agent blogs out there full of literary advice.  We'll get into those in my next post.

Until then . . . Happy Writing!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lots of good fiction choices: June 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker Random, 288p
Dystopian fiction with a gradual apocalypse the backdrop for the coming-of-age of an eleven-year-old girl, likely appealing to young adult and adult fans of the Hunger Games.

Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank Morrow, 336p
Low Country popular fiction in the author’s signature style.

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham Grand Central, 480p
Popular fiction about three friends growing up in small-town Texas. This author is a wonderful story-teller.

The Taken: Celestial Blues: Book One by Vicki Pettersson HarperVoyaguer, 432p
A former P.I. angel bucks his orders and saves a reporter. Mix of paranormal, romance, and mystery/suspense.

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews St. Martin’s, 400p
Southern women’s fiction the author is known for.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty Amy Einhorn Bks: Putnam, 426p
A hypnotherapist wants to help her new boyfriend, who is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend, but the girlfriend is already a patient, incognito, with suspicious motives.

This Bright River by Patrick Somerville Little, Brown, 352p
Literary novel about a woman whose medical career is cut short and an ex-con trying to put their lives back together in a small Wisconsin town.

The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere St. Martin’s, 320p
Gentle southern historical fiction about a spinster and orphan affect each other and their community.

The Yard by Alex Grecian Putnam, 320p
Historical thriller-twelve detectives are brought into to find Jack the Ripper when one of them is killed.