literary agents

Opening Scene

After many revisions, I have finally settled on an opening scene for my novel that works. Yay!!!

The first thing I did was to answer all of the agent’s questions in the very first page. This was very difficult; it took me a long time to figure out how to do this correctly. It was very difficult because I liked the way that I had presented the answers to these questions in my earlier draft (meaning, I had become attached to the language and the phrasing that I had used in my earlier draft). When I subsequently moved up these sections to occur earlier in the story, the language and phrasing no longer worked and I needed to change most of it. This was a bummer, but I finally got the revision to work with new language and phrasing that I like.

After I reworked the content of the opening scene, I had some guinea pigs read it and give me feedback. Even though I had answered all of the agent’s pertinent questions upfront, my guinea pigs still thought that the main character was a nutcase. Geez, this problem was a tough nut to crack! (lol)

It turns out, a large part of the problem was that I had used the wrong syntax for indicating that the main character was thinking to herself. Because I had used quotation marks instead of italics, my readers thought incorrectly that my character was talking to herself out loud. No wonder everyone thought that she was a nutcase! She was seemingly talking to herself out loud and yelling at herself out loud in every other paragraph…

That part was an easy fix, but it did not solve the problem entirely. There was also a line at the end that set the wrong tone for the rest of the novel. People read it and thought that my novel would be like a slasher/revenge sort of novel, which is not what I had intended at all.

I revised that section and had people reread it until it gave off the correct tone. What I ended up doing was having the narrator talk about something that the main character did not yet understand, telling the reader about the problem vaguely without actually giving any concrete details. My goal for this part was to be mysterious in a good way, to intrigue the reader so that he or she wants to read more and wants to find out what happens next.

Finally, what really helped to fix the opening was adding a prologue. The prologue I added is short, sweet, and in all italics. It is a flashback to the middle section of the novel, detailing an abusive scene. The prologue really helped set an ominous tone for the rest of the novel, as well as provided more sympathy toward the main character.

So that’s it for the opening scene! Up next: fixing the middle section.

When I referenced the middle section to write the prologue, I realized that my middle section is very flat. The reason for this is that I have a tense change into the first person. In order to properly engage the reader while writing in the first person, the writing must be extra dramatic and over the top. So, this is what I will be tackling next.

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Room For Improvement

Last week, I received my literary agent’s feedback on my query letter and on my first five pages. For those of you who don’t remember, I took a Writer’s Digest webinar last month about the querying process; as part of this webinar, my assigned literary agent critiqued my query letter and my sample pages with suggestions on how I can improve.

My agent gave me many comments. I was overwhelmed and shocked by what she said. I needed to take some time to absorb her comments before writing about them and before forming a plan of action. At first I took what she said very personally, but I realize now that this is just an opportunity to improve my writing.

I mentioned before that my novel is written in “frame” style. In other words, there is a large backstory in the middle that is “framed” by a dark romance that occurs in the present time. During the webinar, my agent told me that according to standard protocol, I needed to start my sample pages from the very beginning of the novel. Thus, I had followed her instructions and had done exactly that.

However, as a result of this, the agent became VERY frustrated with my novel. She wanted me to reveal ALL of the important details upfront, instead of “hiding” them from the reader. She had many questions about the motives of my main character; she wanted many of these questions to be answered right away in the very first page.

I did not know how to precede after she gave me this suggestion, because the answers to her questions are very complex and simply cannot be explained in one page (let alone in the very FIRST page). The main character with the extremely complicated past cannot just reveal ALL of her personal details upfront, because the reader needs that understanding of her past events before the answers to the questions will make sense. Plus, not knowing ALL of the details upfront keeps the reader engaged in the mystery and in the surprise of the story as it unfolds.

Therefore, the way that the novel is currently set up is that the questions are slowly answered throughout the novel, once sufficient explanation of past events has occurred. This way, the reader can properly sympathize with the main character before the darkest details are revealed.

In spite of this, without enough explanation up front, the main character comes across completely wrong to the reader. The main character has extremely odd behavior at the beginning of the novel because she is an abuse victim; thus she is working on overcoming that abuse and acts strangely.

However, not knowing any of this, the agent read my sample pages and came to the conclusion that my main character is a nutcase.

Clearly, I need to make some changes so that the main character does not come across as a complete psycho. I’m flirting with the idea of adding a short prologue that contains a flashback to the abuse. I also need to add in more foreshadowing in the first few pages to help the main character seem more frail and fragile to the reader. Hopefully, this will help solve the problem.

Also, I need to more clearly articulate the structure of the novel in my query letter so that the agent will have a better understanding of how the story will unfold after the first five pages. I need to clearly specify that this novel is written in “frame” style and I also need to spoil the mystery for the agent. I had thought before that the book summery that is included in the query letter is the same one that will be written on the back of the book or on the inside jacket, but that is wrong. Unlike the reader, the agent needs the story to be spoiled with more details of what actually happens in the novel, so that he or she can properly understand the structure of the story and think about how it might unfold later.

So, I have lots of things to improve with my novel. Time to get started!

Be Master Of Your Query

As some of you already know, I am currently seeking a literary agent to represent me and my work. Once I land an agent, he or she is then going to pitch my novel to the Big Six (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, Hachette) and negotiate a deal for publication. Most authors– myself included– dream that one day, their work will be published among the Big Six. I figured that now is the time for me to turn this dream of mine into a reality, so I say bring it!!

Before querying literary agents, it is essential to do your research. This includes finding out 1) the attributes that agents generally look for in their clients, 2) the places that you can find an agent whose goals are similar to your own, 3) the points that you should include in your query letter, and 4) the qualities that will make your sample pages captivating.

For anyone who is just beginning this process like I am, it can be very daunting. What I would recommend is that you check out all the tools available to you online to find out as much about the process as you can.

I would also recommend checking out Writer’s Digest, because they have already helped me out a lot with this process. I just completed a WD boot camp about finding literary agents that was filled with a lot of invaluable information. Similarly, I just bought some WD books about literary agents, which I can only imagine are going to be filled with lots of informative and helpful information.

Equally important to doing your research is to read your work again with fresh eyes. You need to be able to self-identify your own weaknesses so that you can improve yourself as a writer. Before this boot camp, I had let my manuscript sit for 8 months or so without even looking at it or playing with it once. When I then went back and read it again with clear eyes, a few things jumped out at me as being my weaknesses:

  1. Weak overall story structure,
  2. Overly-detailed back story, and
  3. Telling instead of showing.

My novel has a kind of a unique story structure called “the frame.” Essentially what this means is that there is a story within a story, similar to the movie Titanic or The Princess Bride. The majority of the novel occurs within the inner story of the past, but it is “framed” by the aftermath in the present time.

Because the “frame” is not very common, it needs to be pulled off with grace and confidence. It needs to work very well, by really adding validity to the inner story. In my case, that would involve clearly depicting the change in the protagonist’s character, to create a “before and after” effect that resulted from the past events.

Another thing that I noticed was that my transition from the start of the “end frame” into the actual ending of the novel is not believable. I need to somehow think of a more believable way to shift gears at the end so that I can still achieve my surprise ending.

Getting into the overly-detailed back story bit, I clearly have too much back story inside the novel for it to just be one novel. Because of this, right now I’m in the process of cutting some of it out and turning it into a prequel (or 2, or 3…)! As I’m doing this, I need to make sure to leave in some parts of the back story that are absolutely essential for enhancing the plot of the current novel. I’m also trying to leave in some of the parts that will give the reader a little bit of a taste of the prequel(s).

For those of you who don’t already know, it is generally not a good idea to have a lot of detailed back story in your novel. If you have too much back story in your novel, then your reader can easily become annoyed that the plot is not advancing quickly enough and can soon become bored. So therefore, it is best to avoid this as much as possible.

Lastly, there is the problem of telling instead of showing. I remember struggling with this concept of “show, don’t tell” that my teachers would always stress in English class growing up. Along the way, I have learned to “show” by using very active, personifying language as well as by using other literary devices like similes and metaphors. Furthermore, I have learned to “show” by describing the characters’ appearances or by describing the landscape setting.

However, there is always room for improvement! What I just discovered is that it actually works extremely well to describe the character’s body language! For instance, instead of just saying that a character lied, you can show that the character lied by describing how his eyes shifted and how his feet shuffled while he spoke. You can also show that a character is anxious and insecure by describing how she is trembling and how she has her hands stuffed all the way inside of her pants pockets. Ingenious!

Anyway, it is really important to identify your own flaws as a writer. I know that doing so will not only help me land a literary agent, but that it will also help me become that 1% better at writing.

Welcome!

Hello everyone! Welcome to my website. Feel free to sit back, relax, and make yourself a cup of coffee. Or three.

My name is Caitlin Hartig; I am a new-adult fiction writer who is transitioning from a scientific background. Just last May, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Geology (Geothermal Energy) from University of North Dakota. In May 2013, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Geosciences from Penn State University. My research has been published in several scientific journals.

As far as fiction goes, I specialize in novels and short stories. My first novel, Smash, has been completed and is awaiting publication. My first short story, Blue Sparkles, has also been completed and is awaiting publication.

Though primarily in the new-adult genre of fiction, my work contains elements of dystopia and dark romance. My writing style has been described as raw, explicit, intense, and dramatic.

In this blog, I will share information about my search for literary agents, my publication information, and of course my writing samples. Stay tuned!