Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Real Talk About Heroes

The theme for this month is heroes. It’s a topic I have already thought about in writing. Writing a good hero in YA fiction is challenging. It’s important for characters to feel real and be complex even if they aren’t actually real. However, writers also have to ask themselves how strict of a moral code a hero has. Some writers might be comfortable with having their hero always being a perfect citizen while other writers might have their hero be morally ambiguous. But the most important thing for a hero is a happy ending. Because there’s nothing worse than the audience being cheated.

Sure. Life might not always be fair. But there’s no law that says pop culture must be realistic. This is a television example, but I’ll write about it anyway. YA writers can still learn from it. One example of a hero from television is Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. The show fell flat with its series finale. Stefan sacrifices himself so his brother Damon Salvatore can get a happily ever after with Elena Gilbert. The Vampire Diaries ultimately gets it wrong. Stefan should have gotten the happy ending; not Damon. People talk about villains needing to be complex and not caricatures. Well, it’s the same for heroes. They should be able to make mistakes without losing their hero status. That’s why it baffles me when fans complain about Stefan’s flaws, but ignore Damon’s flaws to prop up the misogynistic and toxic ship Delena. Stefan even props up Delena by saying Damon is the better/right man when having his goodbye with Elena. The point is, there’s an implicit promise to viewers. Stefan is the good brother and Damon is the bad brother, and the show did not deliver. And that’s one mistake I’ll never make in my writing. The bad boy trope ceases to be impressive if the bad boy keeps acting like a jerk over and over again-like Damon-without learning anything from the behavior.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What a pitch!

Yippee, hooray, darn, and drat. It's pitching season. As much as it inspires excitement and hope, it can also be a frenzy of panic. Whether you're aiming to pitch for a contest, a query letter, to an editor, or at a conference, the end result's the same: You need a good pitch, or you're going to lose out. Sorry, them's the breaks, folks.

I know that might sound harsh, but it's super important that writers understand that this is a business, and that the industry expects certain standards and a degree of recognizable professionalism. And what is that exactly? It's knowing your business, your preferred career. There are a million and one websites and blogs out there about pitching. You can find all you need and more on how to craft the pitch you need.

But let's face it. You want to know what's going to make you stand out more than anyone else, don't you? Well, if you want to make it in this business, this is something you should be thinking about before you even pitch. Why are you and your story unique? This is a hard question. A really hard one. So rather than trying to dash off a pitch in a day, or circle it around frantically between friends for weeks on end, I suggest you do something first to prepare: go and sit in a quiet place. Think. Work out in the very core of who you are as a writer why this story should be out there in the world. Just because it's a good yarn? Because it popped into your head? Or does it have something to say? What will it give the world that wasn't there before? What can you give the world that it needs to hear?

Now, will you write this all down in your pitch? No. But will it influence how you write your pitches? Yes. Remember, you're selling yourself as an author, too, not just one book (well, unless you only intend to sell one book, and that's fine!).

So, in short, before you run around trying to form a pitch, get into the mindset of a professional. Not a neurotic, under-confident person terrified of your industry. You chose to be here. So you're worthy. You're reading this post. Which means you're serious. So take yourself seriously, too. You're learning your craft, doing your "internship", learning the ropes of your business. Like in any other business, decide what you want as your career. Then, once you know what you want, and how you want to say it, then the pitching of your books will come a lot, lot easier!

Good luck!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Agentopia: Alyssa Jenette

Welcome to the August edition of Agentopia. This month we have Alyssa Jenette in the spotlight.

About Alyssa

Alyssa joined Stonesong Literary in May 2015 after interning at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. She has a background in art and trained as an illustrator before she joined publishing, and therefore have unique insight and expertise when it comes to design-heavy or illustrated works. She is a very editorial agent, and she finds a lot of joy in shaping stories alongside the author.
She recently enjoyed I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, THE GHOST NETWORK, WHY WE CAME TO THE CITY, SLADE HOUSE, and WHITE CAT. Some of her favorite authors are Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, and Holly Black.

What is currently on your wishlist?

These are very specific requests, but I would love a picture book about logic concepts, YA/MG about supportive found families, a Craigslist Missed Connection rom-com, and a YA epistolary novel told through chats, emails, and texts about the decline of a best-friendship (or about getting Catfished!). A great place to check my interests is on my Manuscript Wishlist profile or my #MSWL hashtag on Twitter.

Overall I find myself drawn to literary voices, strong plotting, and cleverness. Make me laugh or sigh or get excited and you're well on your way to winning my heart!

What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Queries that are too long or ill-researched are pretty much always a no. Authors who are serious about getting published MUST do the work required to show agents that they're committed, thoughtful, and making the effort. That means brief queries targeted at the agents that are actually interested in and represent your genre. That means you've IDENTIFIED your genre. That means you've read up on agents and aren't going to send them things that they don't represent or aren't interested in. I still get queries for romance novels when I explicitly state across multiple platforms that I don't represent romance. Don't be that author! 99% of the time you aren't going to be the exception that changes an agents mind about a genre or a premise, so I would say stick to the agents who already want to see what you do.

Do you google authors and if yes, what are you looking for?

Sometimes I google authors! But most of the time I'm too busy keeping up with my queries to think about the author's personal life. I do tend to get curious and google when the book is either REALLY out there or, of course, a book that I'm super-enjoying. I'm not looking for anything specific when I google--I've never *not* signed someone whose work I love because of something I saw while googling. That being said, it's always a good thing to see what comes up when you google your name--you want to put your best foot forward in case an agent gets the itch to search.

Alyssa is closed to queries during August but submission guidelines for September can be found on the Stonesong website.

Alyssa's wishlist: MSWL
Twitter @alyssajenette

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Qualities of a Hero

PSA: MY BOOK, BETRAYAL OF THE BAND, RELEASES THIS MONTH! Just had to get that out of the way before talking about this month’s theme: Heroes
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. A geeky teenager (Spider-Man), a wealthy playboy (Iron Man), a highly trained orphan (Black Widow). (Can you tell I’m an Avengers fan?) But even the most ordinary person can be a hero (or heroine). So what makes a hero heroic? The ability and willingness to save the world? If that were necessary, we’d all be writing superhero or save-the-world stories, and we’re probably not. At least, I’m not. Everyone in Betrayal of the Band is an ordinary—though musically talented—high schooler. But that doesn’t make them any less heroic.
So how do you take an average, everyday protag—or even an unlikeable protag—and turn them into a hero (or heroine)? I’ve composed a short list of a few of the qualities, but I’d love to hear some others!
  1. Sacrifice. In most stories, the hero (or heroine) is making a sacrifice. This doesn’t need to be a huge, life-or-death sacrifice like Harry Potter makes at the end of The Deathly Hallows. This sacrifice can be an ordinary, every day giving up, such as turning down a college scholarship to stay home and assist a disabled parent or coaching a younger sibling in soccer instead of hanging out with friends on the weekends. In Into the Fire, by Kim Vandal, the hero (or heroine), Kate, sacrifices dating and most of a social life to appease her mother’s fears. While these aren’t life-or-death sacrifices, for the hero the sacrifice is a death of a dream or a desire and also the willingness to put someone else ahead of those dreams or desires.
  2. Love. Often a hero (or heroine) is motivated by a strong love. This doesn’t need to be romantic love. Think Katniss in The Hunger Games. She volunteered out of love for her sister, and she never saw herself as a hero for doing so. Even Iron Man, who mostly only loves himself, is spurred on when Pepper is threatened. This is probably related to sacrifice—because who’s going to make a sacrifice for someone they don’t care about?—but caring for someone more than for themselves is a quality of a hero.
  3. Fight. A hero (or heroine) is willing to fight for what’s important. Again, this doesn’t have to be a huge, “oh no, the evil villain is going to destroy the whole world unless little old me stands up to him.” This is the boy willing to stand up to bullies in defense of an almost stranger. Or the girl refusing to let the loss of an athletic scholarship destroy her college dreams. In The War that Saved My Life, Ada is the least likely hero. She has a club foot and can’t even walk when the story begins. She’s been so abused, both physically and verbally, that she truly believes she’s worthless and useless. Yet she never quits. She continues to care for her brother and pushes herself to learn things like riding a horse, because the hero (or heroine) always keeps fighting.

These are only three qualities that define a hero. What would you add to the list? How can you use these elements to make your protag even more heroic?

Sarah Tipton is a writer of Christian Young Adult fiction. Her debut novel, Betrayal of the Band, releases in August 2017.