Thursday, May 19, 2016

0 Red Light/Green Light Wrap Up, New Contest Announcement, Introducing Judge Kelly Peterson

Hello and happy Thursday, everyone!

Last week we officially finished up the Red Light/Green Light Contest run by the incomparable Sarah Glenn Marsh. Sadly for us, Sarah has had to step down from the position of Contest Coordinator, but happily for her, it's because she suddenly finds herself with no less than nine books under contract. Go Sarah!

Many thanks to agent Kimberly Brower who judged the contest, and who was kind enough to answer a few questions on her experience.

1) What were some of the best things you saw about the openings you read?
The way these writers were able to create such vivid images with just one sentence and really hook me as a reader. It showed such great talent.

2) What were some common mistakes you saw in entries' opening sentences?
Some of them were too caught up in prose and trying to sound prolific versus just trying to capture the reader’s attention.

3) What stood out to you about the winning entry and made you choose it?
Ultimately it was the premise of her story and the way her opening scene made me want to know more and read more.

4) What, in your opinion, are the common elements of a strong opening to a book?
Hooking the reader right away and drawing them in instantly. Some of the strongest openings really pull the reader into the story immediately.

5) Going along with that, what are some of your favorite opening scenes in books you've read?
For YA books…
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – the whole scene at the night club
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – the opening line of the Preface “I’d never given much thought to how I would die”
To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han – how the premise of the book was discussed right at the beginning, instantly dragging me into the story.

6) Bonus Question: Name one oddly specific thing you’d love to see in your submissions inbox right now!
For YA, I’d love a good YA psychological thriller – one that completely takes me by surprise.

On behalf of everyone at AYAP, huge thanks again to Kimberly for generously donating her time to this contest.

Going forward, we are going to run another round of Red Light/Green Light! If you entered the last round and have since revised your opening, you are welcome to enter again. Our start date is set for June 23rd, in order to complete the contest prior to the beginning of Pitch Wars.

This is where I come in. I am (drumroll, please) your new Contest Coordinator. I'm really looking forward to getting to know everyone involved in the community here and to working to create some great opportunities for you all. So, in the interest of that whole getting to know each other thing, I suppose I should introduce myself...

My name is Laura Weymouth, and I'm a Canadian living in exile in the howling wilds of upstate New York (really I live an hour across the border from the town I grew up in, but you'd be amazed by the cultural difference that border crossing can make). I'm married to my one true love Tyler (when I say one true love, I mean it--he was my first boyfriend and we dated for six weeks before getting engaged), and we have two adorable little hellions daughters, the oldest of which will be starting preschool this fall. When I'm not endeavoring to prevent our kids from sticking their fingers into electrical outlets or from eating library items, I enjoy gardening as well as raising poultry, which means don't ask me a chicken-related question unless you want a loooong answer.

Besides all that, I am, of course, an avid reader and writer of YA. My particular genre is fantasy--oh, how I adore a good fantasy. I'm currently querying for the first time, which means we're probably at similar stages in our writing journeys and I'm so here for you! A few of my favorite books include Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, the Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

I am, however, not the most important person you will meet in this post. No, that honor goes to the fantastic judge we already have lined up to oversee this round of Red Light/Green Light. Kelly Peterson of Corvisiero Literary Agency has graciously agreed to fill the position and I'm SUPER excited for you all, because as a prize for the competition winner, she's donating a full request with general editorial notes.

That's right. Should you win this round of Red Light/Green Light, you'll get an agent's perspective on not just your opening pages, but your entire manuscript. Perhaps I should make it clear now that I do not accept bribes ;) Given the nature of our prize, we do ask that all submissions in this particular round of Red Light/Green Light be from completed manuscripts.

Kelly answered a few questions for me so everyone can get to know her a bit prior to the contest opening. The interview is posted below, but you'll also have a great opportunity to get to chat with her and pick her brain as to industry-related stuff later in June. Mark your calendars, because June 9th at 9pm EST, Kelly will be joining us for a live chat on Twitter, via the hashtag #GreenLightWIP. Bring your burning agent questions, and if you're not able to make it to the Twitter chat, we'll also be having a Facebook chat on the AYAP page on June 16th. That will be held at 9pm EST as well. The chat will be open to all, not just those who plan to enter Red Light/Green Light.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce Kelly Peterson!

Hi Kelly! Do you think you could let our readers know how you ended up working as a literary agent?

I actually was originally an English teacher, but I found that many of the people around me were so miserable. I’m not afraid to say that I woke up legitimately dreading going to work and sometimes crying because of how much I hated my job at the time. It just wasn’t a good environment to be in or be surrounded by. In January of the year I landed that job, I started a book blog and began to get involved in the book blogging world. That summer I started looking for something new. I wanted another path in life and fortunately for me, my friends at the time were all book-ish people who pushed me towards publishing, saying I’d be great at it! So, I started looking for publishing internships and the one at Corvisiero literally fell into my lap. It was the first application I put in and the first internship I ever accepted. From there I worked my way through the ranks of Intern and Apprentice to where I am now while learning all that I could about the business from the amazing professionals I had instructing me.

If you could give unpublished writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

Probably to just never give up. You’re going to get shot down; that’s just how it goes. There is no easy path to getting published and there is no easy path to being a great writer. It’s hard, diligent, consistent work and it tests your patience many times a day. You have to really LOVE what you do and realize that you’re not writing for your fans, but rather writing for you. That’s the only way that you will find true happiness and success in this business. Every single famous author today got shot down by agents and publishers alike at least 25 times, if not closer to 50 or 100. You have to keep trying if this is really what you want. Even if you do get an agent, it doesn’t guarantee that you will get published or that your book will sell to a publisher, so you end up writing another book. It’s all a learning experience, and coming from someone who works in this business, I see disappointment every day… but that’s why we all need writing groups and friends to pick us back up when times get difficult. Don’t give up. Grow some thick skin, understand and know what’s best for you and your writing, take as many classes as you can, ask for all the advice you can muster, and just keep calm and write on.

What is your favorite opening line and why?

I’m not sure you have any idea how many books I just looked through and how many friends I pulled in to help me with this question! Ha! But my answer is finally settled on Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson…

“Today was the day a thousand dreams would die and a single dream would be born.”

For those of you who actually know me, you know I’m a huge dreamer. I probably live with my head in the clouds. I’m constantly thinking I can achieve all of these things and go on all of these adventures and live this amazing life because I dream that I can do it, and I never let anyone tell me otherwise. I’ve had so many people, including my own family, tell me that I couldn’t be an agent or that it wasn’t a good idea. Look where I am now… But back on topic, this one touches a chord with me because I always have so many dreams just swirling around in my head. Some of them die, some of them come alive, some of them go into limbo, and some are born from others. I’m a dreamer, through and through, and I’m not afraid to say that my best dreams have been born from others and have come unexpectedly because I live my life day by day, letting it come to me and conquering it in the best way I know how. The dream for my life and my career was a single stream of hope that was born from my dream of teaching dying. Ever since that amazing day I got my internship, I’ve watched many of my dreams die, but an even better dream take place… and I’m happy… You can imagine why I’d be so connected to this quote.

What do you think are 3 key elements of crafting an engaging opening?

Oh my goodness I can’t tell you how often I say this in replies to queries and while on panels:

"Grab your reader!" Don’t go into description and tell me all about the room your main character was in five days ago. Don’t introduce a random character or scene that I will never see again just because it somewhat relates to your main character. Don’t start your opening with a typical, “It was a dark and cloudy day…” or a “The day she was born was a chaotic one…” Stop. Stop. STOP! Put me right into the action. Take your opening scene and cut it in half and start your novel directly in the middle of it. You can flashback and give us information later, just don’t tell me all about grandma’s wall paper and the wretched smell that was emanating from the fridge during your main characters childhood.

Don’t info-dump! So many writers have a tendency to do this in the beginning of the books, but let me tell you a little secret… your reader really doesn’t care. You’re giving away too much. You need to make your reader want more, so just like Shrek would say, “I’m an onion.” Peel back the layers of your characters and your story piece by piece, exactly like meeting a new friend in real life. I’ve heard agents refer to this as the “first date.” Do you tell your date everything about you and your entire life story the first time you meet them? Definitely NOT! We all have way too much baggage for that. Your date just ran from the restaurant after you told him that your mother died when you were three, your father committed suicide, you’re a gothic version of Jesus, and you think that the witches circle in your village is a little cray-cray… Seriously, I think I just made a GIF out of the horrified face he made when he bolted. Stop with the info-dump. Find other ways to bring this information into the story through dialogue, imagery, flashbacks, memories, etc.. Be creative!

Voice! Voice, voice, voice, voice, voice, voice, voice. Have I said it enough for it to sink in yet? I think this is a seriously underrated essential in writing a book. Writers focus so much on just telling the story and getting all of the elements in to make it great that they forget to make their character have their own individual voice. This character should be a part of you; a little person living in your brain and banging on the walls going, “WHAT THE HECK DID YOU JUST WRITE?! I’D NEVER SAY THAT, YOU IDIOT!” Listen to your inner character and let it all come from them. It’s their story to write… not yours. Let their voice come out of you, but not from you. Put me in their shoes and reel me in with a great opening line that already puts me in their head.

I bet I’d have three seconds to run before everyone snapped out of their shock…
Jules chuckled, staring at the knife she was twirling between her fingers. To her, this meeting was long over. She needed out. Now.
Let’s see… what poor little assassin should I make my next victim…
Centering her breathing and taking the knife by the blade, Jules positioned herself back in her chair and brought her hand over her shoulder, taking aim.
One flick, that’s all it will-
“Jules! Put the damn knife down!”
Staring at her father, she eyed him with a challenge sparkling in her eyes. Smirking, she stilled her body, still in a position to strike.
“If I hit A.J.’s heart dead center, can I just take the job already?”

Horrible example, but jump into their voice! Don’t drag your story on. You’re meeting your readers for the first time so be precise and get to the core of your main character’s personality. What are they doing? How would they act? What would they say? Ready, set, go!

And just for fun, if you could visit any destination in the world, where would you go?
I actually would really love to visit Austria. I don’t know why that’s the one that stands out most, but it’s in my heritage and if you know me, you know I love nature. I’d be more than happy to backpack my way through open fields, around mountains, and through quaint little towns! I’d just love to be there. Let me sit on a field high up in a mountain and just watch the animal lives around me go by. I’d be so content!

Kelly has spent her whole life with a book in her hands. Whether it's from reading, writing, or day dreaming, her mind has always been up in the clouds wishing her fantasy stories would come true. Down on earth, somewhere between reading during science class, writing while she should be sleeping, and spending her social hours pretending she wasn't actually a closet nerd, she finally realized that her life would be a lot happier if she just accepted her love of books.

A recent graduate of West Chester University, she earned her B.S.Ed. in English and went to pursue a career in teaching. Little did she know that despite all of her hard work, the environment she ended up in would be one she disliked. After taking a step back and reassessing her life, she realized that maybe she should have focused on the world of literary agents and publishing a long time ago.

When not working as a book nerd, Kelly can be found dancing, hiking, riding horses, perfecting her yoga technique, blogging, and writing her own manuscript. If you're lucky, you might even be able to catch her flying around the world, saving lives. She is superwoman after all!

That's all for now, folks! If, however, you're reading this and wondering how Red Light/Green Light functions, I'm re-posting the details below. Reminders as to all the important dates (Twitter and Facebook chats, contest opening) will be posted periodically, and every Thursday you can join me here as we explore how to craft a riveting opening in preparation for the contest. Catch you next week!

Red Light/Green Light Contest Details

As before, this contest focuses on developing the strongest possible idea or manuscript. Since our top prize for this round of Red Light/Green Light is a full request with general editorial notes, we do ask that only completed manuscripts be entered in the contest.

How the Contest Works: On entry day, contestants will submit the first sentence of their manuscript via the entry form we'll post, and the first 50 entries will be given a spot in the contest--25 from our Eastern Standard Time window, and 25 from our Pacific Time window! Then, an agent judge will choose the top 25 entries from the contestants' first sentences. The top 25 will be narrowed down to 10 based on the first two sentences of their manuscript. Next, the agent will read the top 10 contestants' first pages to narrow the contestants down to 5. Lastly, in the final round, the agent will read a pitch + first chapter from the top 5 contestants to determine the winner.

Contestants and observers alike will be able to see which manuscripts start with a great first sentence and continue to build a strong foundation, and will hopefully be able to learn something new about what makes a strong start to a manuscript!

Check back next Thursday for a full contest schedule including dates and times.

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