The Slush Pile -Behind the Scenes-- with Lindsay Ribar

October 24, 2013

First of all, hi. I haven't seen you in a few months, blog friends. It's not because I don't love you (I do!). It's because I'm a teacher and the first few months of school are always c.r.a.z.y. (plus throw in the fact that I have a toddler and an infant--I am basically a zombie. Who doesn't eat people). 

Anyway. It's nice to see you. 

So. Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes in a Literary Agent's slush pile? Me too!

Here's  Lindsay Ribar of Greenburger Associates to spill the beans. Welcome, Ms. Ribar, and thank you for taking the time to stop by. 

MR:  What is your query-reading process? Do you read them as they come in or do you designate certain times of the day? Do you sort them out (saving some for later, perhaps) or just plow through all at once?

LR: I definitely don’t read them as they come in; given the volume of queries I receive, if I did that, it would take up my entire day and then some! I usually read large batches of queries all at once and set aside the ones that I want to look at more closely.

MR: Roughly how many of your current clients came to you via query?

LR: All except one! The one in question was a referral from one of my boss’s clients – but all the rest came right out of the slush pile.

MR: If you do request a manuscript, do you always request a partial first or do you sometimes ask for a full right away (and why?).

LR: My submission guidelines indicate that authors should send a partial (first three chapters) attached to their query, so when I request something, I always request the full based on the partial I’ve already read. I ask for the partial with the query so that I can get a taste of the author’s writing style before I commit to reading a full manuscript – and after that, I go right for the full because it saves time! (Time never goes more slowly than when you’ve just finished an amazing partial, and you have to wait for the author to get back to you with the full.)
MR: Do you read manuscripts in the order they’re received or in order of what looks most appealing? Do you always read the whole thing or do you stop when you lose interest?

LR: I generally try to read them in the order I receive them, but that depends a lot on my mood. Like, I may be burnt out on fairy tale retellings for a week, or I may not be in the mood for SF one day. If that’s the case, and one of those things is next on my list, I’ll skip (for now) to something I have a better chance of connecting with. It’s better for my sanity that way, and it means I give every submission much more of a fair shot.

MR: After reading a MS do you know right away that you want to represent that author or is there a certain process you go through to reach that decision?

LR: It’s different for every book and every author. With certain books, I’ve known halfway through that I’m going to make an offer, no matter what. With others, I’ll ask for a revise-and-resubmit. But my usual M.O. is that I’ll finish a book, having taken notes while reading, and I’ll ask for a phone call with the author to talk revisions. The author and I will compare notes on our respective visions for the book. If my notes aren’t at all in line with what they wanted the book to be, it’s often a pretty good indication that I’m not connecting with their writing in the right way, and we probably won’t be a good author/agent match. But if my notes are in line, and the author’s willing to work with me on making the book into the best possible version of itself, then I’ll make an offer.

MR: How important is building a platform (or online presence) for a debut author?

LR: Middling. On the one hand, it’s great for an author to be on Twitter (or Tumblr, or whatever) in order to interact with book bloggers and other authors, which makes it easier to drum up buzz for their forthcoming books. On the other hand, everyone has an online presence right now, so unless an author is really going to make the effort to stand out from the (increasingly huge) crowd in some way, it doesn’t make nearly as much of a difference as it used to.

Please note, though, that I’m talking specifically about authors of fiction. Having a platform for nonfiction (which I don’t represent) is far more of a necessity.

MR: Do you ever “Google-stalk” authors the way we Google-stalk agents? :o) At what point—if ever—do you look at author blogs, websites, twitter profile, etc (‘Cause darn it—we writers put so much work into those!)?

LR: Absolutely. Usually if I reach the point of wanting to request a full manuscript, I’ll take a few minutes to see what kind of online presence an author has. Not because I’m checking out their “platform,” as you said above, but because I want to get a sense of the author’s personality, and what they might be like to work with.

MRWhat would be your ideal vacation and what books would you take with you?

LR: If you want to know exactly what my ideal vacation looks like, check out – it’s a music festival on a cruise ship! As far as books I’d bring, though… that depends entirely on what I’m in the mood for. Actually, yeah, that sounds like a very ideal vacation: being able to read whatever I want!

MR: What kind of story you’d love to see in your slush pile right now?

LR: What I’m looking for right now: character-driven YA and MG with deadly secrets, high stakes, realistic character relationships (this goes for friendship and romance), and killer dialogue. Bonus points for music- and theater-related stuff, and extra bonus points for LGBTQ characters.

You’re very unlikely to grab my attention with dragons, elves, vampires, angels, faeries, or systems of magic that rely on Capitalizing All The Things or spellyng thynges strangelie to make them look unyque…
…but I’m still looking for good stories about ghosts, werewolves, mermaids/sirens, small-town magic (think Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, April Genevieve Tucholke’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, or even that movie Practical Magic), or cool systems of magic that you made up on your morning commute one day.

Thank you so much, Ms. Ribar, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions! Best of luck to you and your clients (current and future)!

If you are looking to query Ms. Ribar, you may do so via e-mail, using the criteria listed on the SJGA website:

Also, check out another great interview with Ms. Ribar here.

Thanks for stopping by, friends. See you soon!

Your Favorite Books About Writing

August 15, 2013

Quick blog post today.

I was going through my bookshelves, looking through all my writing books (this happens every time I get a new idea for a story, by the way).

I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

First, I want to point out that Stephen King's On Writing, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird are some of the best writing books out there. I just didn't include them on my list because they're pretty much a given. They're probably at the top of every writer's must-read list. If you haven't read them, you need to.

As for my other top picks:

A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty 

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card 

AND Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner 
AND From First Draft to Finished Novel, by Karen Wiesner

How NOT to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark

By the way... if JK Rowling, Steven Moffat or Joss Whedon ever write a book on writing, you better believe I'll be pre-ordering that baby on Amazon with overnight shipping!

How about you? What are your go-to writing books for guidance and inspiration? What author(s) do you wish wrote a book on writing?

Stephen King Says

Deciding to Write a Novel

August 11, 2013

When someone asks at what point I decided to write a novel, I wish I had a more compelling story. 

I could say that I've been writing stories since before I could write (I drew comics. Don't laugh. It's true). I could say I've always been a lover of stories, and so of course I was always destined to write a novel. 

picture from stydrobrug120

But the truth? The embarrassing--I-can't-believe-I'm-telling-you-this-truth--is that my husband and I were talking one evening, after a long day at work. I don't even remember how the topic came up, but he suddenly says, "I think we should each write a novel." And I, very eloquently replied, "Yeah! Let's do it!" 

We went to Borders (may it ever rest in peace) that very evening and bought a couple of books on how to write novels. 

Seriously. That's what happened. That's how and when I started writing my first-ever novel. 

Like I said, I wish I had a more poetic, inspiring story about how I got into writing. But... I don't. I really have been writing stories since I was a youngin,'  so writing's always been a part of my world. But the truth is I just decided to write a novel one day. And so I did. I spent months planningorganizing and excel-sheeting my story outline. Two years later, I had a shiny, polished manuscript that I was proud of. 

I had no idea that one decision would change my life, transforming my writing from just a hobby to a pursuit of a professional career.

How about you? When did you decide to write your first novel? Do you consider your writing to be a hobby or something more? 

If I Could Borrow Talent from Any Author, It Would Be...

August 10, 2013

I write fantasy/adventure stories that walk the line between middle grade and young adult. (For those of you who aren't familiar with MG and YA or aren't sure what the difference is, check out these articles here, here, and here.)

It's probably not surprising that MG/YA fantasy is my favorite genre to read. And it's often had me wondering which authors would I like to resemble, if I could. Now, don't mistake me. I don't actually want to try to "steal" another authors voice and attempt to write just like them. First of all, it's impossible. Every writer has their own unique voice and you can't steal someone else's. Secondly, I want to find my own voice and watch it grow and transform all on it's own (well, with a little help from me, I suppose). 

BUT, as writers, I do think we are absolutely influenced by the books we read. I believe we are constantly learning other authors, especially our favorites. 

And so, if I could write like any author, who would it be? What I'm really asking is which authors have touched me the most? Which ones made me laugh, cry, dream, believe? Because let's be honest, if I could just borrow a pinch of their writing magic, eat it for breakfast, only to find their talent leaking out onto my latest manuscript the next morning... well, wouldn't that be awesome?

So, just for fun: if I could choose a handful of authors to write like, I would pick:

J.K. Rowling. 
Duh. I don't think this choice needs much of an explanation. She's the most talented and successful author of our time. She writes YA fantasy. She's brilliant. No one will ever touch the hearts of readers on such a massive scale, the way she did. End of story. 

Rick Riordan
Any list of top MG fantasy books has Mr. Riordon's name on it. He's the master at delivering humor, heart, and non-stop adventures galore. Plus, Greek Mythology. He's fantastic and he's a former teacher, which gives him extra points!

Madeleine L'Engle
I read A Wrinkle in Time in Elementary school, and I remember just falling in love with the characters (Oh, Charles Wallace!) and the worlds they found themselves in. It is beautiful and brilliant, and it will whip your imagination in to shape! 

Patricia C. Wrede.
She's actually the reason I fell in love with fantasy. I read her "Dealing with Dragons" series in second grade, and my imagination has never fully recovered. She kept me laughing through the entire series (which, by the way is about a tomboy princess who runs away from the castle to go live with dragons). I owe her much.

There are, of course, many other amazing kids fantasy authors out there (C.S. Lewis, John Flanagan, Christopher Paolini, Eoin Colfer... I could go on) but the above mentioned authors are my absolute favorites in the kid fantasy realm. 

So how about you? What genre(s) do you write, and which authors would you gladly borrow some talent from, if you could? 

These Are Your Kids on Books

Stop Clubbing, Baby Seals! - Why Punctuation Makes a Difference

August 1, 2013

Right now, I'm having my husband (also a HS English teacher) look over my manuscript. While I have an okay eye for grammatical mistakes, to him, the errors jump off the page. And although I am SO grateful to have his help (really, I am) it makes me kind of want to... punch grammar in the face. I mean, really, does it matter that much if I'm dangling a modifier or two, or splitting the infinitive every so often? Do I have to spend hours, days, weeks making sure each word is in its place?

The answer is yes. 

Through my exhaustion of late-night edits (and re-edits) I am reminded that punctuation is important. My hard work and effort will pay off should my manuscript reach the eyes of literary agents who are considering it for representation. 

And besides, without correct grammar and punctuation, this can happen:

And this:

And, finally... this:

So there you go. No clubbing baby seals, cooking your dog, or eating grandma in your novel! :)

Happy editing to you all. 

The Author Community: Contests, Conferences & Collaboration

July 25, 2013

I'm excited.

After two years of trudging through the trenches of being an unpublished author alone, I'm realizing... I am not alone. In fact, there's a big ol' world out there of unpublished writers who, like me, are chasing their dream of becoming a self-supported, published author. A real author. 

This summer I've made an effort to connect to other authors online and I can't tell you how many wonderfully supportive people I've met through blogs and twitter. 

Yay for writer friends! 

(ummm... just for the record, I don't know anyone in this picture. I was trying to find a "friend" picture that also had books, and I found this totally realistic picture of some teen models hanging out in a library. Because, friends hang out in the library all the time. Anyway, let's move on...) 

I feel like I've stepped out from my dark, musty cave (AKA my house, where I lock myself away like a hermit to write) into a world of sunshine and rainbows with the kind of happy music you hear at Disneyland.

And I realized I'm ready for the next step. From what I can tell "the next step" consists of:
  •  joining critique groups
  • going to writer's conferences, and 
  • getting your work out there with different online contests. 
That's what all the cool kids (see picture above) are doing, anyway. :)

So, for the first time, this summer I've submitted my work to a few different blog contests where I could end up having a literary agent reading my ms if they like what they see (check out the contests here and here). It's a ridiculously small step, but it feels so refreshing to interact with other writers and be able to look at their work and collaborate a bit. 

My next goal is attending a writer's conference. They all seem to be a bit pricey, so I'm looking at a few different local ones (still pricey, but at least there's no air fare involved).

The Big Sur Writer's Conference is my first choice. It looks A.Ma.Zing. Now... anyone have an extra $775 they'd be willing to part with... 

How about you? Have you made an effort to connect with other authors or are you still flying solo? If so--how have you connected? Blogs? Critique Groups? What kind of contests have you entered (if any)? What Conferences have you been to (if any)?

I Love My Boys - Reason #1

July 19, 2013

Although most of this blog is dedicated to the goal of building a writing community... sometimes I might veer off topic a bit. The blog is titled 3 boys and a novel, so every now and then you might just hear about those three boys (who are my husband and two sons by the way).

So, this is my first post about my boys and why I love them. 

Reason #1 

The baby bath sets inside the bathtub when we're not using it. It leans against the wall, looking just like this:

The other day, my 2-year old sees it there and--wanting to get into the bathtub himself--says "Excuse me, the hippo."


Not only does he see a hippo when he looks at it (and can't you see it too, now that you're thinking about it?) but he calls it "the hippo." Love. Him. #toddlermanners

Will You be... my friend?

July 18, 2013

"Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends."

~ It's a Wonderful Life

That's right, I'm starting out with a sappy movie quote.

 I could've started with this:

So let's talk about friends.

I am a Kindergarten teacher, and I see kids constantly navigating the whole "friendship" thing--how to make friends and how to be a good friend (i.e. "Tyler, when you take a bite out of Brooklyn's PB&J, she's probably not going to want to sit by you at lunch." #KindergartenFriendship101).

But that's what childhood is all about. Friends. Becoming besties. Forming arch nemesis on the playground. Becoming besties with your nemesis. 

Like so:
(Any other Avatar fans out there? This show is so super fun and cute!)

My oldest son, Parker, is two years old. He's just now learning about the word 'friend' and who his 'friends' are. When you're little, friendship is easy. You just go right up and ask someone "Will you be my friend?" Boom. Instant friend. 

When you're a little older it's definitely more awkward, isn't it? You don't ask somebody's permission (well, you might... but then you probably won't get the answer you're looking for) but it's something that happens over time.

But what about on the internet? 

I am starting this blog because I know there is an awesome community of authors out there and  I'd like this blog to be a place where writers--aspiring, published, or otherwise--can come, put their feet up and make some writing friends. Where we can encourage each other and share ideas. 

But I need your help. 
I need you. (uhh... and not in any kind of creepy, stalker way, I promise!)

So, how 'bout it? 

Will you be my friend? :)

(okay, that wasn't sooo bad)

Have you found ways to connect to other writers online? Maybe even found a critique partner or two? If so, please tell us your secrets! What benefits have you found in connecting to other writers online? 

Literary Agents--Do Your Research!

July 16, 2013

I don't have an agent yet *cue sappy music* but I've done a lot of research/reading/internet stalking of different literary agents and their clients. :)

So here's what I've learned. Waiting for the perfect agent is soooooo worth it. 
That's right. All those months/years of email rejections? Worth it! Once you land the right agent, that is. You want an agent who really "gets" your story and your characters. Someone who connects with you on a personal level. Remember, this person is going to represent you and your work--don't you think you deserve someone awesome? Also, they are looking to represent you for your entire writing career--not just one book--so ideally, you two are in it for the long haul.

That being said--do your research! For the love of Mike, there's no reason to be ignorant about literary agents. There are so many resources out there, allowing you to learn about different agents--twitter, online interviews, personal agent blogs--all of which help you get to know an agent's preferences and personality. 

I know for me, I spent months researching agents before I sent out query letters. But... I know I'm a bit nutty when it comes to researching and planning (especially when it comes to writing). So I might go a bit overboard. 

Still, this much I know is true: before you query, do your research

To start, here are some websites where you can find agents that rep your genre:

Once you have a list of 10-20 agents... 

Here are some really awesome blogs that have agent interviews and more details about what each agent is looking for:

LiteraryRambles  - (Scroll down to the left sidebar to see all the different agents--this blog is thorough and will give you a lot of fantastic info!)
Mother. Write. (Repeat). - (Check out the "Interview with an Agent" tab)

Once you've reached the Query stage, check out: 

How about you? How much time did/do you spend researching agents before you query? Any other comments/ tips for searching for agents? Any other great websites that you've found to be helpful?

I Want To Interview YOU

July 15, 2013

So, in the spirit of building an online community of writers, I want to get to know YOU

I thought a fun and easy way to do this would be to have a post where you can leave a comment, introducing yourself. 

I am hoping that the comments' section will grow over time and... who knows... maybe you'll find a kindred spirit or two. 

(Anne of Green Gables. LOVE this movie! And the books are great too)

So. On to the interview! 

In the comments section answer the following questions with as little or as much detail as you'd like:

1. WhoWho are you? Introduce Yourself! 

2. What & WhyWhat genre do you write and why is it your favorite?

3. Where & WhenWhere is your favorite writing spot and when is your most creative time of the day? 

4. How- How do you write--what is your writing process? (do you plan everything beforehand or just write blindly?)

And that's it! Consider yourself interviewed! 

The Writing Process - Part 2

Yesterday I posted a little bit about the writing process, and how it can sometimes drive writers to the loony bin (admit it, you have to be a little crazy to be a writer!). 

For some reason, the writing process of other authors really fascinates me. Writing is such a personal experience and everyone does it a bit differently. 

For example, I found a nice blog post on JK Rowling's writing process, as well as an article Stephen King wrote about The Writing Life . (and if you haven't already read his book On Writing, then you need to make some time to check it out!) 

From what I can tell, there are two basic kinds of writers:

* The Planners, who plan everything out before they start writing 

The Impulsive, who write on the fly. 

I am definitely a planner. To the extreme. I'm talking nerd planning status here people. Seriously. 

Here's a peek inside the computer folder for my first novel:

Inside my main folder, there are folders with more folders. Word docs. Excel sheets. Inspirational photos (I told you--nerd) Character bios, World-Building, Plot Ideas, Book Publishing Ideas, Query Letters (ack!).

It goes on... and on. 

With my first novel, I planned, outlined, and Character Bio-ed (eww-not sure I can make that a verb) for about six months before I started writing. Yeah, crazy, I know. Part of that is because I write fantasy, so I have to create an entire world. So... that takes time. 

Some people can't write like this, it's too stifling. It kills their creative impulse as they write. But for me, it is fantastic. I can plan out an entire book series this way and then I'm ready to sit down and write (which is the best part). This way, I can write with confidence. I know my characters (very well)--where they are in the beginning and where I want to take them. I can clearly see story archs and how the plot plays out. All of it clearly laid out on an Excel sheet.

I love me some Excel sheets. *sigh*

For me, I couldn't write any other way, but I know going to such great lengths to plan everything out beforehand would drive some writers nutters. 

Don't get me wrong, there is definitely room for on the fly creativity. My characters constantly surprise me and take the story in places I don't expect. But for the most part, I know exactly what their future holds (cue evil laugh **mu-wah-ha-ha**).

So how about you? I am really, really curious about other writers and what their process is--from story idea to finished novel. Are you a planner or an impulsive (yeah... I'm taking the freedom to use that as a noun). Please, do tell. :)

The Writing Process

July 14, 2013

I've been thinking about my writing process lately, mostly in comparison to other writers. While in the process of writing a novel, things can seem so exhilarating  maddening, depressing, fulfilling (often all within the same day), but most of all ... lonely. 

Also, so often I feel like a nut case. Mostly because my characters have taken over my brain.

If you were to see me driving, you would most definitely see my lips moving as if I were having a conversation. Am I talking to my kids in the backseat? On my phone? No. More often than not, I'm talking to myself. About my story. 

Yeah. I do that a lot. 

Like I said. Nutcase. 

So imagine how thrilled I was to discover... I'm not the only one. 

I stumbled across Kristen Cashore's (author of GRACELING, FIRE, and BITTERBLUE) blog where 
she posts about her writing process:

I felt like a such a kindred spirit! I am not the only one who gets driven to the CRAZY place while working on a manuscript! I find this refreshing, and overwhelmingly comforting. Writing is such a beautifully personal process--there is no wrong way to do it. 

How liberating. 

**sighs* contentedly**

What about you? What is your writing process? Do you have word count goals or set other personal deadlines? Do you have a special writing place?

I'm a Writer... But Don't Tell Anyone!

July 10, 2013

When I first started writing my book, I was super duper excited. I read popular books from my genre, annotating the pages. I bought a stack of books about writing and improving your craft. I had excel sheets outlining my story, and just in case that wasn’t enough, I made sure to have sticky notes all over the house/car/purse/work desk... just in case I had a story idea that I had to write down immediately.

But even though writing was becoming a huge part of my world, I didn’t like to talk about it. In fact, only a few people knew I was even writing a novel. Not my colleagues or closest friends. Not even my best friend, who, by the way is a proof-reader for a publishing house, so you’d think I would’ve told her for Pete’s sake. But no.

Why? Mainly because of how it sounds when someone says “Oh, yes. I’m writing a novel.” (must be read with a British accent for full effect).

There’s a lot of weird connotations attached to that statement. Well, I think this video says a lot:

Yeah, I didn’t want to be that guy, nor did I want my friends and family to have to put up with that guy.

I didn’t want to tell people I was writing a novel. I wanted to tell them I’d written a novel. Once it was finished and I was trying to get it published.

What about you? Do you keep your writing identity secret, or talk about it often and openly? 

The Blog In Which I Write About Writing

July 5, 2013

Are you a blog-starting addict?

I’m not gonna lie—I’ve started more blogs than I can count on one hand. I've tried my hand at teaching blogs, mommy blogs, and even one blog where I posted a bunch of poetry I’d written in high school.

Yikes. Not sure what I was thinking on that last one.

Now, the only one still alive is my Mommy blog, where I occasionally post pictures of my super adorable offspring (how could I not share their cuteness with the world?).

Today I begin this new blog to tell my journey as an author. An unpublished-and-thinking-about-eBooks-or-hoping-to-get-an-agent-soon author. Through this blog, my hope is to build a network of other aspiring authors in which to share my author anxieties with. The late night why-is-it-so-hard-to-write-500-words-today-when-I-wrote-2,000-yesterday nights. Or the if-I-get-one-more-rejection-letter-I-might-toss-my-computer-out-the-window moments.

Any other aspiring authors out there feel me?

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

·        Writing a novel is hard. It takes years. Thousands of hours. Sometimes you have to choose to make the time to write even when it takes you away from other fun things in life.

·        You have to take yourself seriously. If you want to become a published author, it’s going to take a lot, lot, lot of work (see previous) so writing can’t just be a “hobby.” Instead, it has to be a priority.

Think of it as a separate job, in which you might spend 20+ hours/week doing. You’re going to have to make sacrifices as you carve out time in your schedule to write.

·        You will get rejected. You’ll be rejected by literary agents, publishers, maybe even your friends or family. You have to get used to it. Dust yourself off, and move on. Remember, you’re doing this because you love it.

·        Having a “great story” isn’t enough. Even if your manuscript is, there is no guarantee an agent will feel the same way. This. Totally. Sucks.

·        You cannot give up. If you’re doing what you love, you have to keep going. Write for you. Write for your characters. Write for your story that you believe in. Just. Keep. Writing.

How about you?

How many blogs have you started and how many do you currently keep up with? Writers—what’s your story? Have you made your way into the publishing world yet? Still writing your first novel? I’d love to hear what you’ve learned along the way.