4 Reasons Agents Want to Work With Storytellers

1_50e07351ddf2b32d2600b4e8Author is the name that everyone throws around. But what about storytellers? Storytelling is also known as a verbal art, but storytelling in terms of the words on a page is what agents are looking for in the slush pile. In the slush we know that writers are just beginning their journey so we’re looking for a glimmer of the future. So what that means is that we’re looking for writers who know how to craft curiously.

We are looking for interesting characters, smart but ambitious plots, hidden turns of events, and larger than life settings. Life is all in the details, are so are storytellers.

4 Reasons Agents Want To Work With Storytellers

1. Storytelling transcends the page. — Crafting a tale that is big, real, honest, curious and insightful is something that doesn’t just live in books. It can become a part of our culture that is so much bigger than that. Good storytellers write books that are cinematic, great for TV series, or live on in their fans’ minds for years to come. Good writers know how to make the details of their story the way to their readers’ hearts. If you can write rich detail, we can follow you to visit the Roman Empire, the Romanov Family, an Australian lighthouse, or 1800s Iceland. And readers will follow you anywhere you go. Details are what make settings come alive whether we’ve been there or not.

2. Storytelling is about telling the right story the right way. — There are pantsers and there are plotters, we all know. I am in awe of plotters who have their outlines down to a science–it’s an amazing thing to watch someone execute that! I’m also curious about pansters and how their stories come full circle after they’re not sure where it’s going to go. First person or third? 1 POV or 4 POVs? How do you know what you’ll need to write your novel the best way? Often you don’t at the beginning. Especially writers who are just starting out in their careers–they don’t have enough novels under their belts to best know how to craft for different tales. When you think about organization from a storytelling point of view, you’ll start to ask yourself if you’re telling the story the best way. When things don’t work–holes in your plot, characters not feeling real, a mystery that is not so secret–it’s usually because you’re not telling it the right way. Are you in the right head at the right time? Did you start in the right place? Remember to be curious about the way you tell your story and always ask if it’s the right way.

3. Storytelling is what will get you out of funks and writer’s block. — The perfect way to tell a story is to start with a question or character. What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it? What conflict is going to come into their life? Creative people are always living their lives with open ears and open notebooks. Go back to your frenetic notebooks from years past: Is there a character in there whose story needs telling? A question that needs answering? A thought that needs exploring? The truth of novels is meeting a character at an interesting point in their lives so can you do that for us?

4. Storytelling is the fabric of our lives. — Gossip about friends. That podcast you listen to. The story you make up in your head about the person in front of you at the grocery store. The song you’re listening to right now. Great storytellers are the ones who can listen to the world and boil thoughts down to complex characters and external drama. We are all multi-faceted people. We are all living dramatic lives. To simplify our existence to characters that live in boxes is inauthentic and where agents and editors lose interest in projects. All readers know that 1D characters are a lie. All readers know that obvious plotting is going to bore us. When novels come to life is when characters don’t fit a label because we, as people and readers, get curious about the unknown. Write your stories like we live our lives, sometimes messy, but in retrospect we can always see the threads. Don’t write in themes, write in stories.

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Instead of staying in your “gotta get published, gotta follow structure” mind-set, why not come back to your creative roots and think about what the story is and the best ways of telling it. When you come back to that place of being curious about your character’s secret and stories the heart and honesty of your truthful writing will prevail.

[I wish I knew where that graphic quote came from, but I don’t. Sending good vibes to the creator out there on the web.]

DFW Con: See you this weekend!

Dallas Fort Worth Writers: I’m coming your way!

This weekend I’ll be at the following conference events:

Ask An Agent Session 2

Dawn Frederick, Michelle Johnson, Lana Popovic, Christopher Rhodes, Carly Watters
1:00 to 1:45 p.m.  Sunday

There are a lot of opinions out there about to how to become a traditionally published author. Everyone’s got plenty of free advice to offer. How to make sense of it all? If only someone would fly a bunch of literary agents across the country right here to the DFW Metroplex and gather them together into a room so I could ask them any question I want and get the answers straight from the people who know the market best. Nah, nothing that cool ever happens around here…

How To Sell Your Picture Book

Carly Watters, P.S. Literary Agency
3:45 to 4:45 p.m. Saturday

Writing for young kids has changed: morals and lessons are out and delightful, page-turning, kid-driven books are in. This workshop will teach you the dos and don’ts of selling your picture book in today’s market. 

Today’s Non-Fiction Markets

Dawn Frederick, Harry Hall, Ben Hedin, Me Ra Koh, April Osborn, Carly Watters
1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Saturday

Many writers are so focused on the goal of breaking into fiction that they overlook a huge market with an astonishing variety of opportunities and in many cases, less competition. Here’s a look at ways to make your mark in the world of non-fiction. 

Also, sign up for my pitch sessions and talk to me about your exciting work!

Why Your Query Letter Should Focus On Plot Not Theme

This is my number one gripe with queries: pitches that focus on theme and not plot.

It seems writers like to cover everything in a query letter, including how to make us feel.

Here’s why focusing on theme when you pitch is a bad idea:

1. You’re wasting valuable space that should be spent on facts not proposed emotions. Ultimately, the writer doesn’t truly know how the reader will feel after reading their work. So when someone tells me how I’m going to feel, firstly I don’t believe them, and secondly writers that do this waste valuable space that should be spent on facts like plot, not possible emotional threads that may or may not be there. 

2. Theme can be vague and makes you sound unsure of what you’re book is about. “The bond between a mother and daughter” is a concept not a story. It’s a theme, not a plot. It’s vague, not specific. I could go on about the benefits of using specific, directive language in a query, but I think you get the idea.

3. Themes aren’t what sells projects to editors or sales staff, so it doesn’t sell it to us either. What sells books is a high concept, or unique story that is well-told, well-paced, with lively characters we care about. At no point does the theme actually participate in the selling of the book. Don’t get me wrong, themes aren’t bad, but they have no place in the query letter.

Take a look at your submission: are you highlighting theme when you should be selling the hook or plot?