So...for all four of my regular rabid readers, you may have noticed that I apparently fell off the face of the earth. While this is clearly not entirely true, it feels at least partially true. I am writing this blog post from my husband's childhood home, because I am currently tucked away at my in-laws.

Don't confuse this for some "I hate my in-law" bash. I love them and we get along great, but spending time here is not at all conducive to productivity. Hence, the blog silence.

Seeing as how our visit here will be immediately followed by an equally long visit with my own parents, I don't really foresee much posting in my near future.

So let me take this opportunity to say thanks for sticking around for the past year. I'm excited about all the new things 2013 has in store. I'm planning to continue my weekly 'agency lesson' postings and I'm hoping to showcase more guest posts next year as well.  In writing plans, I intend to take another stab at the query trenches in 2013 and like usual, I'll be sharing all the ugly bits with you guys.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and a safe new year, no matter where you rest your head. Mine is resting in a room with my husband's high school football jerseys serving as wall art. Cheers!

Agency Lessons

Is your diamond still in the rough?

Today I want to talk about a very serious ailment that's been known to plague agent in-boxes around the nation. I call it Submission Blindness.

Submission Blindness occurs when an author polishes their query, synopsis and first few pages until they shine bright like diamonds, blinding the author to the issues that exist in the rest of the manuscript.

I get it, really. So much of the advice out there talks about how important it is to nail those first few pages. And it's true. If you can't capture an agents attention with your opening, your chances of representation are slim. But along the way, some authors forget that the rest of the manuscript needs to be just as good.

Most of us spend a ton of time on those pages and I realize that we can't give the same amount of time to the entire manuscript (unless your goal is one book per decade). Even if we aren't dedicating the same amount of time, we need to make sure that the rest of the manuscript is just as shiny. Trust me when I say it's obvious when a writer has work-shopped those first few pages to the moon and back, and only gave the others a quick edit. And nothing will make me stop reading faster.

We all want to get our work out there as soon as we can. The waiting for it to be perfect feels like an eternity. We just want to query and get some real feedback. But unless you want that feedback to be "I lost interest around page 10", you have to make sure the whole thing is shiny like a diamond.

In order to avoid Submission Blindness (SB) it's important to recognize the warning signs. If you suffer from one or more of the below symptoms, you may have Submission Blindness:

1. Your CPs have only commented on the first half of your manuscript, but you're ready to query.
2. You've made significant changes to the manuscript and no one else has seen it since.
3. Those two scenes are still rough, but you don't know how to fix them and you hope the agent will.
4. Most of your beta comments start with "The beginning was great, but..."
5. You can't remember the last time you read through the whole manuscript.

The good news is treatment for Submission Blindness is simple. If you feel you may suffer from SB, delete your query email and step away from the inbox. In the most serious cases it may be necessary to close out your internet browser. Now pick up your manuscript and get to work. With dedication and a little patience, Submission Blindness is completely curable.

Is it confidence?

I'm participating in a contest this week that has some really great conversations flowing over on Twitter. I love the chance to meet new folks and share in our love/hate relationship with writing/submitting.

Most of the conversations are funny and uplifting, but I've noticed a trend that has me a little concerned.

Some, not all, participants have some pretty negative attitudes about their chances of winning.

I understand the principle of lowering your expectations. If I enter a contest with the understanding that I probably won't win, then I can't be disappointed when I don't win.

Hello! We are writers people! Disappointment is as much a part of the process as crappy first drafts and endless revisions. If you can't stomach the idea of disappointing contest results, how will you ever deal with the horrific cycle of rejection letters?

No one enters a contest because they don't want to win. We all want to win. So own it. Claim your hope for victory and stop hiding behind a lowered set of expectations.

Some writers will say that they just don't have the confidence to be optimistic when it comes to contests and querying. I tend to be a happy-go-lucky person so I don't quite get this, but I can understand that not everyone shares my outlook on life.

So allow me to let you in on my secret. Confidence has nothing to do with it. I'm not confident I'll win this contest. I'm hopeful, but certainly not confident. 

What I am sure of is that I wrote a great novel. One that I'm proud of. If I don't win, it doesn't change the fact that I love what I wrote. It doesn't lessen the value I've placed on my work. What it means, is that I didn't win this contest. One contest, with a tiny handful of the people who are out there.

I'm confident that even if I don't win, I will eventually find someone who loves my novel as much as I do.

Confidence as a writer isn't about pinning all our hopes on a contest, a round of queries or a round of submissions. Confidence is about standing by your work. If you can't do that, you aren't ready.

Agency Lessons

Sample Page Tips
Last week I shared my best query tips. This week, it's all about sample pages.
If the agent you are querying allows you to include samples with your query, you are a lucky writer. How many times have you heard "The query was okay, but the pages really wowed me"? I hear it all the time. Of course, the opposite can happen and that is a death sentence when querying. So here are my tips based on queries I've seen come through the slush pile.

1. Introduce your main character
If your query focuses on a 12-year-old boy, you aren't doing yourself any favors but focusing those first few pages on his mom. Your reader (aka agents) needs to connect to your mc before they are going to dedicate 300 pages worth of time to him. Your main character needs to show up on your first page.

2. Give your character a want
Your prose may be eloquent. Your dialogue might be superior. Your world building can be awe inspiring. But if your character doesn't have a want on the first page most readers are already tuning out. You don't have to introduce the "big need" that will carry the majority of your story on the first page. Giving your character a want, even a small one, gives your reader a reason to turn the page. They will want to know if your character got what they wanted. There's a lot of want in there, but trust me that you WANT it all.

3. The three "Is" of dialogue
I'm not saying you can't have dialogue in your first pages. What I am saying is your characters shouldn't have a casual conversation about what to have for dinner in the first few pages. If you are going to include dialogue early in your story, it needs to be Intriguing, Informative and Intermittent. It's difficult for the reader to connect to your characters when they have nothing but ungrounded dialogue to work with. I suggest including small amounts of dialogue that provide essential information to the story and introduce the uniqueness of your story.

4. Sparse Setting
Everyone's story takes place somewhere and setting the stage is an important part of every story. That said, be careful not to waste your precious first pages with a lot of scenery. Little details woven into your story will enhance your pages. A full paragraph of nothing but world building will not. A general rule of thumb it to provide information when it is relevant. If your character is waiting for the doctor in an exam room, tell us about the crinkle of paper on the table, the canned elevator music or the pamphlets for ED on the wall. Don't tell us what the waiting room looks like.

 5. Avoid cliches
I'm not just talking about cliched sayings, though you should still avoid them like Uncle Harry after four glasses of eggnog. I'm talking about story cliches. These are things like starting the story with your character dreaming, waking up, driving a car, looking into a mirror, etc. My advice is to start your story with your main character doing the most unusual thing that makes sense. Brainstorm how you can change things up. Your teen mc getting a lecture from her mom isn't really a cliche but isn't fresh either. Your teen mc giving her mom a lecture, that's new. And much more likely to catch the attention of your reader.

Please keep in mind that these are tips and not hard and fast rules. Hunger Games opens with Katniss waking up. And I'm sure we could come up with a full list of novels that bunk each of these tips. At the end of the day, it still has to be your novel. Hopefully, these tips help you to make it your novel at its best.