Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Writer's Digest University Webinar

Agent One-on-One Boot Camp.

I've heard good things about WD's webinars, and wondered what they were like. I have been to many conferences and small SCBWI writer gatherings, maybe too many. Because lately, I've been feeling like they help the newbie writer more than they help me. Maybe it's because I keep working on my craft. Maybe it's because I am picking the wrong conferences, but there doesn't seem to be a mid-way one anywhere.

Hint Hint SCBWI (and other associations): It might be a good idea to have a conference for only those writers who have completed a manuscript, but have not landed that agent or publisher yet. 

Back to my point. I signed up for my first webinar. It cost 199$ - for a three day course. I received updates via email on what was expected of me, who my agent would be, and when I would expect input from her.

This was an East Coast course, and so, living on the West Coast, I had to rise and shine earlier than normal, but it was well worth it. Except, the first day, when I guess I was too excited and my body woke me up at 4:30AM, instead of my alarm set for 5:30. I could not go back to sleep, so I watched the news. Not fun, but the class was. 

Here is the breakdown of the class:

Day 1: 

  • Log in by 9:00 AM EDT
  • Watch the SCENE ONE tutorial.
  • Revise first 10 pages according to tutorial.
Day 2:
  • Email your first 10 by 10:00 AM EDT.
  • Your assigned agent will spend the day critiquing
Day 3: 
  • You will receive feedback from your agent
  • Log in by 1:00 PM for a 1 - 4:00 blackboard discussion
  • Ask your assigned agent any question you like
  • Revise you 10 pages again according to your agent's notes
  • Email you 10 pages back by 10:00 PM EDT
The week to follow:
  • Your agent will send back notes on your revisions
  • They may ask for more pages
  • Good Luck

My notes:

 Day 1: I watched the tutorial. It was very helpful. I took about 11 pages of notes, and ended up sharing them with my own critique group - that's how good they were. 

Next I revised my 10 pages as per her tutorial. Even though I am a seasoned writer, her suggestions really put more spark and energy into my ms.

I submitted my 10 pages -- and promptly chewed my nails.

Day 2: I received the following notes from my agent;

Project:The Link

Strong writing and voice
Intriguing premise, and good set-up. I definitely want to keep reading.
Good humor; I liked the narrator's sarcastic tone, and the bit with the one-word sentences.

Not sure about the narrator's gender or age. This voice sounds Middle Grade, so I'd  put his or her age around there, but I still don't know about gender.
What tribe are they supposed to be? If the Uncle is that into his heritage, it begs to be mentioned. And for that matter, where are they?
The Uncle is a little too much of a one-note character here. What is he like when they're at home? How long has the narrator been living with him?

Solidify the basics about the narrator: gender, age, what he or she looks like. Readers need a clear picture.
Say which tribe. "Indian" is fine, but it's hard to believe that the Uncle wouldn't align himself with a specific people, especially since it seems he really is attached to the culture.
We need a clearer picture of where we're coming from with these characters: what is the narrator's and Uncle's current situation? What kind of man is the Uncle, except heritage obsessed? 

Day 3: I started to revise as per her suggestions above. Then I logged on by 1:00 EDT and asked tons of questions. I had an agent, on the blackboard, willing to share....I was not a wallflower. Below are some of the questions I asked and her answers;

1. Can I blog about this webinar?

  • (agent) go ahead!

2. Trilogy's: Should you write them all before you've sold the first one?
  • (agent) You shouldn't wait too long if these stories are in your head, and you certainly don't want to put your writing on hold. Are you pitching a trilogy or the first book as a could-be stand alone?
  • (me) Pitching as a could be stand alone. It ends when a war begins. It could end there....but I think readers will want to see who wins the war. 
  • (agent) If you have the books in your head, start writing them. 

3. Is it true that books are more accepted if they are written in the present tense? Or does it matter at all, depending upon the writing? 
  • (agent) I've always felt the exact opposite: I prefer past tense and have read far more past tense books then not.Present tense works sometimes but it can be detrimental, depending on the style and tone 

4. A concern came up from my critique group. Someone wanted to know the narrator's name earlier on in the first chapter. You did not mention this. So, does it matter when readers get her name?

  • Name would be good, and it would clear up any possible gender confusion. 

5.  After watching Scene One & Getting an Agent: I am thinking about the dreaded query. Sara, after reading my first 10, did you have any quick thoughts as to how I would describe this book? Meaning, it's like (blank) but with an Indian twist? Something like that? I am awful at queries!!

  • Not sure about comp titles right off the bat. I don't know you're whole plot, but basically start with where your story starts. It begins with the main character who lives with her uncle after her parents have died, and who makes her go on a spirit quest.

    You want to make it sound intriguing, but also highlight the main character and what she'll have to face. Think of it as a back cover blurb. 

6. I have aged my MC to 14 years. This is the upper end, maybe even dipping into YA age. Does that matter? She must be old enough to know how to fly a seaplane, but young enough to capture the Middle Grade audience. What do you believe the cut off for age is regarding MG?
  • 14 is fine for MG. Kids tend to read up, so a 10 or 12 year old will gladly follow a 14 year old narrator

7. Hi Sara. Thank you for your critique of THE LINK. I am wondering about chapter length. What is ideal for middle grade? After revising, my chapter is now 3000 words. I am thinking of cutting it in half. Thoughts?
  • I had to find this out as I'm not as familiar with MG. Typical chapter length is 1000-1500 words, with 2000 being a stretch. 

Day 3 (cont): So I have revised my first 10, according to the tutorial and the notes above. I have sent them back to her....and I am anxiously waiting to hear what she thinks. 

Thoughts on WD's Webinar:
I thought it was very professional. The other writers were very helpful, and we've actually decided to continue our critiques of these works in a closed group on Facebook.

The agents gave great feedback, and I could tell that mine really did read the whole 10 pages. She seemed to care, and it showed. 

I will definitely try another one of WD's webinars in the near future. 

Good Luck! And if you try one, or have, please leave your thoughts on them in the comments. I'd love to know how it went.


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