Monday musings: Can you ever please a literary agent?

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By Samreen Ahsan

I’m an indie author and I published my first book, A Silent Prayer, in February 2014. Before publishing, I tried to pitch many literary agents, but unfortunately received only rejections because (obviously) no one cares for an unknown author. I was advised that I should self-publish, get some reviews and accolades and then come back again with another query letter.

So, I accepted the criticism as their wisdom words and published through an independent publisher―a lot of cost was also involved. Of course, nothing comes free. Writing and publishing a book is a tedious business, which requires lots of effort, unwavering dedication and money.

Success grabbed my hand and I kept winning awards and recognition one after another, receiving five-star reviews by readers and appreciative feedback from some editorial critics. I kept sending query letters to agents. I received nothing but rejection. I’ve even lost count now.

Then, I read some blogs where authors discussed: you need to work on the query letter. Again, I took this advice and worked on my query letter. I thought maybe my query letter was not good enough. I hired professionals who helped me make query letters. I got a few responses. The positive ones from agents asked me to send the first few chapters and a detailed synopsis.

Again, after three months of waiting, I was still let down by the agents. I don’t care how much money I’d earn after selling my booksall I want my book is to be available in every bookstore, broadening my readership. And this won’t be possible without coming under the umbrella of a large publishing house, which is

not possible without pleasing an agent.

So how do you do that? Honestlyno answer.

They read your first three chapters and decide the book is not good enough for the mass market. I’ve read some crappy books that became NYT bestsellers―whose initial chapters did not gain my attention as a reader, and whose reviews were also not worth discussing.

I don’t know exactly what intrigues the agent. Is it the writing style, the story, the character depth―I don’t know. I’ve seen books with skyrocketing sales that have no plot, no depth in the characters and a very predictable story-line with abundant sex scenes that sound ridiculously impossible in reality. Sex in an elevator, on a kitchen counter, over an office deskreally? I want to meet those couples in real life.

So I thought maybe I have issues with my story. It doesn’t matter if it has more than fifty five-star reviews or seven awardsmaybe the story is not fit for the mass market. For a test, I uploaded my book for free on Wattpad to see how readers would take my story. The response was unbelievable. Within two months, more than hundred thousand subscribers read my book, liked it, voted it and purchased the second book of the series from either Amazon, B&N, Smashwords or Kobo. My sales increased―my readership increased. Still, everyday I receive messages through Wattpad how amazing the book is, people begging me to upload the second book of the series since, in some countries, the ebook is not available and it is not available in their bookstores where they could just go and buy it.

That is why I wanted to publish through a large publishing house: to make it available for readers, bringing my story to the shelves of all bookstores. I know: not everyone carries a tablet or e-reader. There are people on this planet who still like to feel the book and prefer a paperback.

Interestingly, I still receive rejections after tremendous support and positive feedback of my readers. First agents say: you need to get reviews and recognition (which is not possible without publishing a book) and then they say…oh! we see you’ve already published it. Come back later with a new unpublished manuscript. (Huh! What a nice approach to reject!) And it seems like a recursive process.

Apparently, one of the agents told me that despite being good reviews, they want to see if I’ve good sales as well. It made me chuckle when they said they’d only pick my book if the Amazon sales is at least 50K per year. Really? If I were making this much amount of money from my one book, why would I need an agent to take all my book rights and give me only 2% of the sale?

And all they say is: it just needs one agent to like your book. So, I’m waiting for the right agent to like it. If you’re writing a book or planning to query the agents―be prepared for rejections but don’t think your work is bad. Every author has a different voice―you can’t compare apples and oranges―likewise, you can’t compare Nora Roberts and Dan Brown.

So, just be patient, keep querying agents and hope for the best.

After all, you need only to please one!

Samreen Ahsan is the author of the multi-award winning Prayer series.

History, art and literature are my passions. I love digging out information about prophecies, divine miracles and paranormal events that are mentioned in history and holy books, that don’t sound possible in today’s modern world.

Since childhood, I have been into reading and writing–and yes, it can’t happen without imagination, which luckily has no boundaries. Dance and music are also pastimes I enjoy, as well as reading romance fiction. I love to travel and explore historical cities. I live in Toronto, Canada.

The Prayer series, comprising A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded, is my first story about paranormal events based on Islamic concepts. My new series begins with Once Upon a [Stolen] Time.

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Monday musings: Writing style

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I think the first time I noticed a writing style, an author’s distinctive voice, was in Grade 5 when I read “Riddles in the Dark,” where Bilbo foils Gollum in The Hobbit. Since then, I’ve always valued an enjoyable writing style, sometimes more than the story.

I can still remember another story from my elementary school days: Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn.” On foggy nights, a lighthouses’ foghorn draws a dinosaur like creature out of the depths of the ocean, whose voice sounded like a foghorn, too. I can remember the emotional impact on me of Bradbury’s beautiful prose describing the sound of the creature’s call, the loneliness and unrequited love it felt when it realized the tall, deep-voiced lighthouse was not another like itself.

Later, I discovered Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, a novel that one of my teachers remarked no 15-year-old should read. Its frankly sexual content was a bit much for a teenager, but I savored the eloquent descriptions that set every sense on fire.

As a teenager, I got into science fiction and fantasy, but found the styles of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were not as appealing, anymore. I liked a lot of the work of Philip K. Dick, although I found the quality and the style uneven.

I found Larry Niven’s style in his Known Space series was an almost perfect combination of description, action and interesting characters. His Gil the ARM series was the first example I found to combine science-fiction and detective stories, and that led me to Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet and Ross MacDonald.

What do I mean by style?

For me, style involves mechanics like sentence structure and length and the variation in that; pacing of action and speech; and word choice. But it also grows out of the author’s choice of point of view and how detailed and lengthy their description is.

As a teenager I reveled in rich descriptions. Since then my tastes have, I like to flatter myself, become more balanced. I value complex, interesting and believable characters, people who are vulnerable and flawed and not always admirable.

But most of all, I like a good story, something that takes me somewhere.

In terms of more modern writers, I like the way George RR Martin combines evocative description, dozens of captivating characters and, most of all, many interweaving stories, each of which is compelling on its own.

Toby Neal is another writer who excels by creating characters you can connect with, and putting them in a story you cannot put down. She’s also expert in describing the setting—although she has a huge advantage, living in Hawaii. I also have to mention something that I find Neal does better than any other contemporary writer in English that I have found: she writes a socially and ethnically diverse cast of characters that accurately reflects the world we live in today.

Gae-Lynn Woods’ Cass Elliot series brings a large range of subtly-drawn characters into a story so dark, I couldn’t stop reading it.

Samreen Ahsan has created a unique style by blending Islamic mythology with contemporary romance, wrapped up in lush descriptions.

Dawn Torrens’ characters, Amelia and her family, as well as her stories, are drawn from the author’s own experiences.

The late Kathleen Valentine was an original writer. One of the more unusual aspects of her style was to write romantic stories about people older than their midlives—most romance is about young people.

I’m now reading Caleb Pirtle III’s Place of Skulls, where magnificently compelling and flawed characters in a detailed, horrifying setting drive three interwoven stories. I can only put it down when forced to.

Elise Stokes, Alan McDermott, Renée Pawlish, Emily Kimelman, DelSheree Gladden, Claude Bouchard, Raine Thomas, Frederick Brooke, Seb Kirby—in fact, all the writers in this group share that ability to create unforgettable and believable characters and put them into situations where you just have to find out what happens next.

The evolution of taste

Like everything else, my taste in literature has evolved over the years. I don’t read as much science fiction or fantasy as I used to, although I still enjoy a good mystery.

But one thing hasn’t changed: I love a writer who can use original prose to bring me into the story along with, or inside, characters that fascinate me.

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How have your tastes in writing changed over time? What do you find most important in a writer’s style? Leave a comment below.

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Meet the author Monday: Eden Baylee

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Get to know your favorite BestSelling Reads authors better. This week features Eden Baylee.

How many books have you written?

I have nineteen titles available for sale. They include anthologies, novels and novellas, and collections with other authors.

You’ve written more than one book for the Lei Crime Kindle World. How have those main characters developed or changed over the course of the series?

I have three novellas in Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle Worlds’ series: A Snake in Paradise; SEAL of a Monk; and Charade at Sea.

For these stories, I developed a brand new character named Lainey Lee and wove her into the settings and back story of the first three books in Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series. Lainey appears in all three of my books, and a Navy SEAL named Max Scott enters the scene in the second book.

Lainey transforms from an inhibited newly-divorced woman to someone who finds a little more of herself in each book.

How has your style changed over that same period?

I don’t think my style of writing has changed. I write in both the literary erotica and mystery/suspense genres, so my books for Kindle Worlds evoke a moody sense of place and vibrant characters.

Add to this a setting in Hawaii and a mystery that needs to be solved, and you’ll find the books are easy to read with interesting and believable characters.

Has the way you write, or your process, evolved? For example, do you use outlines more or less now? What about the way you create characters or build worlds?

I’m a pantser par excellence. When ideas flow, I’m go-go-go. When they don’t, then it’s difficult. I’ve been going through a particularly rough patch of late, but it’s something I need to push through. There is no other way around it. It’s one day at a time putting words to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Characters are the backbone of a story, so it’s important to make sure they are carefully developed. Modeling them after real people helps keep them real.

When do you write? Is there a time of day, or a period during the week? A particular place you like to be to write?

I write standing at my kitchen counter most of the time. The room has natural light and the counter is long with plenty of space for my writing and research material. I’m also using two Apple laptops, so the set-up works well. My husband thinks it’s my very own genius bar!

I’m an early riser but I don’t write immediately upon waking. I usually begin work after a leisurely breakfast and work late into the evening. I write six days a week.

How do you create new characters?

Most characters are modeled after someone I know or have known. I combine different traits of people I’ve met and create one character. In my novel, Stranger at Sunset, you find a lot of characters; many are inspired by someone familiar to me. Even though we have unpleasant dealings with people in real life, they sometimes make for the best characters. No experience is ever wasted.

Where do your ideas for plots originate?

They come from a variety of sources—stories I’ve read or heard, TV shows, movies, music—life in general, really. I definitely listen more than I speak, and that helps.

How do you feel your writing style and process have evolved over the course of writing your books?

I’ve become less hung up on specific words. I’m a logophile who can worry about the use of a particular word or description, even though I know readers won’t necessarily care as much. As an example, whether a dress is green, blue, or red is less important than if it’s made of a sheer, see-through material, but I do tend to sweat the details.

In order to create books, you have to look at the bigger picture. It’s not simply about writing well, it’s about telling a good story. Being a perfectionist can really stall the process of getting the book out there.

It’s a fine balance for me, most days.

More about Eden

Eden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to write and is now a full-time author of multiple genres. She has written three collections of erotic novellas and flash fiction: Spring Into Summer,  Fall into Winter and Hot Flash.

In 2014, she launched the first novel of her trilogy with Dr. Kate Hampton—a psychological mystery/suspense called Stranger at Sunset. In addition to working on her next novel, Eden created Lainey Lee for the Lei Crime Series, a feisty divorcée who finds adventure and romance in Hawaii. Her novellas are available on Kindle Worlds.

An introvert by nature and an extrovert by design, Eden is most comfortable at home with her laptop surrounded by books. She is an online Scrabble junkie and a social media enthusiast, but she really needs to get out more often! Connect to her via all her networks. She loves talking to readers!

Eden can be found on

her Website   |    Bestselling Reads Author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   LinkedIn   |    Amazon

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Monday Musings: The Best of Kathleen Valentine

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KV-300pxBestSelling Reads’ most prolific blogger, Kathleen Valentine passed away suddenly on October 29. In honor of her memory, we’re reprising some of her insights over the past couple of years.

On why she read what she read

The first thing I look for in a book is either a setting or a subject matter, or an era that interests me. There are eras that I am drawn to (the Gilded Age, the 1920s in Paris, the Vietnam War era), there are places I am drawn to (South America, Scandinavian countries, islands), and there are nearly too many subject matters to list. Those are the things that will get me to pick up a book in the first place. But to keep me reading I need more.

On reading more than one book at a time

I love Melville and have read Moby Dick at least four times. It is the sort of book you can re-read and discover something new every time. However, I had never read his first book, Typee, so after I finished Montillo’s book I downloaded (for 99¢) Herman Melville: Typee, Omoo, Mardi and started reading it. The first story, Typee, is based on Melville’s own adventures when he worked on a whaling ship and decided to abandon ship on a south Pacific island. Halfway through the story, I could not believe I had missed this wonderful adventure. I was also reminded of another book I keep meaning to read.

Somewhere on my bookshelves was Paul Theroux’s The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific. I located it, poured myself an iced tea, and took it to my back porch—my favorite reading spot. One hundred pages into it, I had the same reaction I had to Typee, “why have I never read this before?” As he island hops the south Pacific in his collapsible kayak, Theroux mentions several times that he is reading The Sexual Life of Savages: Argonauts of the Western Pacific by Bronislaw Malinowski. Naturally, I went looking for it and found the Kindle copy which was also 99¢. I bought it and—sigh—here I go again.

GhostsLighthouse-2vThis is how my mind works—it isn’t easy being this curious. Right now, I am juggling these three books—all of which are over 500 pages. Right now, I am reminded of another work I read but now want to re-read: House of Skin, Cannibal Nights, Opium Dreams: Prize-Winning Pacific Island Stories by Kiana Davenport.

What am I doing in the south Pacific? I have no business being here when I should be writing about Halcyon Beach, Massachusetts? But the mind of a writer is both curious and a curiosity …

I have no idea why these books are calling to me right now but I am not going to fight it. It is a nice day here on this north Atlantic island and I’m going to finish writing for the day then retire to the porch with my Kindle, the Theroux book, my reading glasses, and iced tea, and travel to the islands of the south Pacific. It’s a good day for traveling through space and time—who knows where I might end up?

On writing to appeal to readers

Kathleen Valentine

I believe that the more visual we can make our writing, the more we can keep our readers engaged. Thanks to the internet we now have more resources than ever to help. It is fun and it certainly fires up the creativity….

… As an exercise … I decided to spend some time looking at the bushes that separate our backyard from the cemetery beyond them. This is quite a large bunch of bushes that have grown up over the years that run the length of the yard. From the ground they are towering and many people do not even know there is a cemetery back there, but from my perch on the second floor the view is different.

As I studied the bushes, I immediately picked out the multiflora rose bushes that smell so lovely in spring, then the privet bushes with their lacy leaves. Other than those I counted the wild choke cherries that the squirrels get drunk on and stagger around the yard. But there were more. By the time I got done, making note of differences I’d counted a total of seven different bushes, some which I cannot identify. It was a good exercise and I learned that, though I’ve looked at those bushes for years, I’ve never really seen them.

On inspiration

Of all the writing books I own, the one I most often take down to peruse is Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. In it he says, “Work. Don’t think. Relax and work.” It’s hard to add anything to that.

On why she was a writer

This is what I believe: we are all called to do certain things in life and we have to do them. We can push ourselves to do other things, of course, but the thing we were meant to do won’t let us alone until we do it. Maybe you were meant to paint, or dance, or cook, or raise chickens. You can do other things, but it is the thing that you cannot NOT do that is crucial. You can think about writing but, if you are a writer, you’ll write regardless of anything else.

 

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Monday Musings: Tribute to Bob Dylan

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by Kathleen Valentine

friedman-dylan-nobelThis week we learned that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his song lyrics. There is nothing I could write that would be a tenth as meaningful as his words so here are the lyrics to one of the songs that won him the Nobel.

Desolation Row
Bob Dylan

They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row
Cinderella, she seems so easy, “It takes one to know one, ” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning. “You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place, my friend, you’d better leave”
And the only sound that’s left after the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row
Now the moon is almost hidden, the stars are beginning to hide
The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing, he’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight on Desolation Row
Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window for her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday she already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic she wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion, her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row
Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk
Now he looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette
And he when off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row
Dr. Filth, he keeps his world inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients, they’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser, she’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read, “Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row
Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains, they’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera in a perfect image of a priest
They are spoon feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls, “Get outta here if you don’t know”
Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row”
At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row
Praise be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody’s shouting, “Which side are you on?!”
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row
Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

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Teaser Thursday: The Crazy Girl’s Handbook

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By DelSheree GladdenCrazyGirlHandbook

We looked both ways before crossing the street. Both boys held my hand and Thor stayed right at my heel with the leash wrapped around my wrist. The second we set foot on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, the boys took off and Thor made a valiant attempt at following them. Problem was, his leash was still looped around my wrist so I could hold the boys’ hands more easily. So when he lunged forward to follow, I didn’t have any control of the leash to stop him from taking me down.

Pain blossomed in more than one spot as my elbows and palms hit the cement and my head whacked into the decorative stone edging that lined the grass. Thor yelped as my dead weight kept him from getting any farther, then doubled back to see what was wrong and stomped all over me at least three times before settling on my head. By the time my senses cleared, I was so tangled in leash and puppy I couldn’t even figure out where to start. My head and arms throbbing didn’t help at all.

“Thor, get off,” a firm voice said.

I thought I wanted to die when I got gum in my hair, or soda ice down my shirt, or an ice cream pedicure. Those were nothing compared to having to be rescued from an over-enthusiastic puppy by Roman Carpenter while covered in dirt, grass, and blood. It was a miracle I didn’t give up right then and just start crying. I loved my nephews, but I was never going to be able to show my face in this neighborhood again.

The heavy weight of the squirming—and rather large—puppy was finally removed from my face. I heard Roman ask one of the boys to hold the leash, but I kept my eyes closed out of pure shame. Not until a pair of hands pressed against my face did I even dare to breathe. Even then, it was a gasp at the urgency behind the touch.

“Greenly, are you okay?” Roman demanded.

The hint of worry in his voice forced me to peel my eyelids apart. I peeked up at him through half-opened eyes and was startled not to find him laughing at me again. There was real, honest fear in his expression and it left me speechless.

“Are you okay?” he repeated.

Breathe, Greenly. “Yeah, uh huh. Yep.”

He just stared at me for a moment. Probably because I sounded ridiculous. “Are you sure?” he asked.

I tried to sit up in order to prove I was just fine. The sting of putting my hands on the ground made me hiss and I felt a little woozy when I tried to move.

“Whoa, whoa,” Roman said, which made me feel a little like a horse. “Don’t move. Let me help you.”

Great, just great. I tried again to sit up on my own. “Really, I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” Roman said as his arms slid beneath my arms and legs.

I experienced an irrational moment of panic, not because the idea of Roman carrying me off somewhere was frightening, but because being this close to him would expose everything about me I hadn’t already managed to bare. He lifted me easily and my breath caught as he adjusted his arms and I felt momentarily unsupported. Then his grip rolled me against his chest, to a place of absolute security. I don’t think I took a single breath as he walked up to the house.

About The Crazy Girl’s Handbook

Spending the weekend babysitting her two nephews and a puppy was supposed to be fun. Sweating to death at a baseball game while getting gum in her hair, soda down her shirt, and an ice cream pedicure wasn’t part of the deal. Neither was finding out the best guy she’d ever missed a blind date with had witnessed it all. Longest. Weekend. Ever.

BoxedSetThe Crazy Girl’s Handbook will be available in novella version in the “Valentine, Pets & Kisses Box Set” on February 2, 2016, and separately in the full novel version as the first book in The Handbook Series on February 9, 2016.

About the author

DelShereeGladden4DelSheree Gladden is a USA Today bestselling young adult and romance author, whose writing includes everything from dystopian and Native American mythology to sweet and funny romances.

Get to know her:

Also, follow her on Twitter @DelSheree and on her podcasts at Write Publish Repeat.

 

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