Writing Questions?

Every once in a while, I cast around for writing questions that my readers have so I can know what’s on your minds. With my trip to Japan and Hong Kong coming up, I want to pre-load the blog with some Q&A. So what’s going on? What are you dying to know?

Do we want to talk queries? Craft? Publishing? Getting an agent? Anything. Just ask away in the comments.

44 Replies to “Writing Questions?”

  1. Christina says:

    Everyone is talking about trends, and how much longer the paranormal trend will last.

    The thing is, paranormal is such a vast arena that I don’t see why the “death” of vampires and werewolves (pun intended:)) in the inbox of agents and editors should also bring down everything else.

    What do you think?

  2. Why do agents dislike animal stories? There are some great ones that have become perennial favorites with readers.

  3. How do you know when to stop revising? Can you revise a manuscript to death?

  4. A lot of agents have blogged recently about The Middle Grade Voice (imagine an echo). I really appreciate your posts on writing craft (your post on interiority was the best description I’ve ever heard of good vs. bad telling), so my question is, what would you add to the discussion on voice in middle grade? (Or maybe you’ve already blogged on this topic and just need to point me toward the appropriate link…)

    Thanks, Mary!

  5. Really enjoying your posts! No specifics but say an author had a ghost story suitable for YA. Is there much point in sending out to agents at the moment as many are now saying they are not interested in paranormal which surely this is what a ghost story comes under. ? Very confusing! Many thanks.

  6. What kind of books are agents looking for now? (I don’t mean the books that are just coming out, I mean what are agents currently buying that won’t come out for at least one or two years.)

  7. I’m putting some final touches on my query and I have a question on format. Many of the agents whose blogs I subscribe to have mentioned that they prefer the ‘hook’ first and then personalization later on in the query, while as many have said that they prefer the personalization first. I’m assuming this is just a preference thing, so I was just wondering, Ms. Kole, which do YOU prefer?

    Thank you so much for offering to answer our questions. I wish you a safe trip to Hong Kong/Japan. How exciting! 🙂

  8. Hmm, perhaps a post on theme? Some writers say they work around one certain theme, others just find the theme later. But what are your thoughts on it?

  9. I love all your posts about voice and writing mechanics. I’d love to hear your take on “rules” that are changing and when it’s okay to break with tradition or even grammatical structure.

  10. Christina Marie says:

    The college aged main characters for YA novels?

    Should YA only be centered on high school aged characters or can a novel expand into the college years, mainly the freshman year, and still be considered a YA novel? Is it hard to sell a book that has the setting on a college campus instead of a private or high school setting?

    Personally, do you stray away from novels set for that age group and setting or do you wish you could see more of it in your inbox?

    On a different note…

    The doulbe narrative and how to present one in a query correctly.

    Does each character have the right to a paragraph or should the story just be told through a single paragraph?

  11. Platforms continue to elude me. How to build one without pigeon-holing yourself, how to assess the best methods, how to find the time (snort). Is the scope of your platform important to an agent? Are publishers looking for genre-specific platforms or more generalized author-focused approaches?

    Am I worrying too much about this? (Ya, you probably can’t answer that one. But I thought I’d ask anyway.) Have a great trip to the Far East.

  12. Similar to NAP’s question on “not using animals” in picture books. I am under the impression that when you have a topic that could be traumatic to a child using animals lessens the effect. Example: Corduroy or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Also there are wonderful stories such as Click Clack Moo, Bear Snores On, Little Blue Truck that simply can’t be told any other way. Or is that if you use animals in your story it has to be a story that couldn’t be possibly told with any other setting/character. Would love to hear your take on it.

  13. Questions…

    1. These days I often wonder if YA is actually for young adults any more. With the “Post-Harry Potter” generation, including the cross-genre success of such titles as the Hunger Games and Twilight… it almost seems like more women in their twenties and thirties read YA than teens. As an agent who loves YA, whadya think?

    2. The difference between boring and titillating description. Someone once told me that the difference between purple and poignant prose was that in the good stuff, every sentence is an “idea,” which was quite thought-provoking, and I’d like your take on it.

    3. Cross-genre… when it works, and when it doesn’t?

  14. Is “low fantasy” (where the character starts in the real world and is transported to another world) dead, dying, or just on holiday? In looking for comparables for my low fantasy lately, I found very few that fit that pattern.

  15. Jen Lemon says:

    I am just finishing the final round of polishing on my manuscript and almost ready to start the query process. I have heard that December and January are a bad time to start sending queries due the rush of NANOWRIMO people submitting as well as the holidays. Is it wise to send my queries in early November or wait until February when holidays are over and inboxes are less stressed?

  16. Denece Harrison says:

    Amen to Jen’s comment,
    Is there a ‘better’ time for queries?

    Queries feel like a foreign language: a bunch of swiggles that I
    study, copy, and am dissastified with before I’ve finished. With all the formula’s and how-to’s we’ve ingested, could you share some great examples that don’t feel forced?

  17. Melissa K says:

    Some editors and agents suggest writing for just one age group and in just one genre, in order to develop a platform. I like varying the age groups and genres I target. Do you think this could hurt me in the long run? Is it best to commit to one smaller area even before becoming a published author?

  18. I always get afraid after WriteOnCon about establishing an online presence. One thing I always wonder about is if you’re writing for, say, MG, does it even make sense to start a blog? Should you taylor your online platform to your audience (make a blog for kids/tweens) or to adults?

    I also wonder if you have an opinion on dark material in MG, mainly in terms of horror themed material. How scary is too scary for that age group?

    Lastly, I’m wondering a bit about aspects about the revisions after getting an agent process, namely how much time is okay to spend on revisions. If someone has little free time and knows it’s going to take them awhile to get revisions done, is that troublesome or is that okay?

    Generally, I love your posts about craft and genre, so I’m excited to see more upcoming!

  19. Every time I have a picture ms edited by a professional, I have been told to add more detail in order for an artist to visualize the images. This feedback has turned my under 500 word stories into almost 1000 words. Where does the balane lie? Could a writer create a near wordless book without also being an illustrator?

  20. Hi Mary! My question is not meant to be controversial – I’m just curious. What do you think about celebrities who get book deals in kidlit, and then end up writing books that are seriously mediocre?

    I don’t blame publishers for wanting to cash in on a clear profit. At the same time, I wonder what editors and agents think, since quality is typically important to them. You sift through SO many manuscripts hoping to find talent, and cherry pick the best writers to add to your roster.

    I read a recent WSJ interview with Tyra Banks, and she said her original manuscript for her YA book was 1,000 pages. This may have been an exaggeration (at least I hope it was!), but is that something agents/editors would grit their teeth and put up with?

    If this question is too touchy or off topic, I understand 🙂


  21. One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how to step back and see only what the reader will see at each point in the story — tough when the *entire* story has been floating around in my mind for months. Can you offer any concrete advice on how to remain objective and craft the best experience for the reader?

  22. Hi Mary,

    I’ve seen a lot of buzz on Twitter lately about platform-building. Diana asked some of the same questions I’ve been wondering about lately. Do agents Google a prospective client as a matter of course? Does platform really come into play when an agent gets an editor interested, and the editor needs to pitch the book to acquisitions?
    Thanks for taking questions, and have a great trip.

  23. hi Mary, thanks so much for asking. I was wondering which would be the first differences that would come to your mind if you’d think of UK vs US book publishing. Different query styles, different story formats, different character positioning, etc….

  24. Erin Scherfling says:

    Hi Mary,
    I’m wondering what tips you might have for writing nonfiction picture books, especially “creative nonfiction”. What does that really mean? And what should accompany a nonfiction manuscript? (back matter, sources…)
    Thanks so much!

  25. Adele Richards says:

    I love your posts relating to Craft issues….please keep them coming.


    In these days of instant attention-grabbing and short attention spans, is it still viable to start a MG story with charming and fascinating world & character building, or do you pretty much have to launch into the action toute de suite?

  26. Adele Richards says:

    on another tack altogether, a more personal question for you:

    Mary, if you could have written any book already published…which would it be?

  27. What results do you see (short term and long term) of Amazon becoming a publisher? I know no one has a crystal ball, and I’m fascinated by how publishing is changing so swiftly. Do you think the big 6 will be able to keep up with what I imagine will be a new business model in publishing? Do you think most things will stay the same, with Amazon just being a new player on the field? What do the industry insiders think?

  28. I’ve got an e-book/self-publishing question. If an author self-publishes an e-book in a genre other than the one they’re pitching to agents/editors, how does that affect their success? I read recently about an author (Davenport) whose contract with Penguin was cancelled as a result of her publishing a short story collection. I’m wondering if it would be as bad if a) the person self-publishes prior to querying an agent/editor b) they self-publish in a completely different genre (YA compared to PB, say, or adult fiction compared to children’s non-fiction).

    It seems more and more people (published people) are self-pubbing and I wonder how you imagine this affecting their future success with big publishers and agents alike.


  29. Hi Mary,

    First – hope you have a fabulous time on your adventure.

    Second – a craft question. Plot. I have read and listened to many a novel (YA and otherwise) that has a gripping beginning, entertaining middle, and dribbles off to an unsatisfactory finish. I had a hard time imagining how this could happen, until I finally finished my own novel.

    Do you have any tricks or tips for the writer who starts out with the smallest spark of an idea, writes a story seven different times, and by the end has a very different novel than they intended, suddenly realizing that this type of ‘discover as you write’ technique can create some plot flaws?

    Are there any tricks for ‘editing your plot’. How can a writer (who has the whole story logically laid out in their brain) ensure that the reader gets a compelling and gripping plot throughout a finished novel?

    I find that the same ridiculously annoying ability to proofread other writer’s works and see many weaknesses (in grammar and technique) but completely read over those problems in my own work, seems to apply to plot as well.

    Thank you very much for your time.

  30. Fabio Bueno says:

    The two questions Christina Marie asked, plus:
    How do you see this Social Media frenzy? Do you pay attention to number of followers, klout scores, blog hits?

  31. Is it bad to be cut by your agent if it’s just because they’re cutting back on their client list? Does that mean you’re a hopeless loser? Should you ever tell another agent?

  32. I like Franziska Green’s e-book question. You could write an informative post about that, since it’s a new topic few writers have probably thought about.

  33. Kat Abbott says:

    If you request a manuscript and it has a very cliched opening, is it an immediate rejection? What are some cliched openings that you’re tired of seeing?

    How far will you read on a requested manuscript before deciding to keep reading or to pass on it?

    Thanks! Have fun on your travels!

  34. Do you have any suggestions for giving helpful, yet sensitive critiques? I make my living as a writer, so friends often ask me to read their work. I’m also in a critique group. What do you tell the writer when there are just a lot of basic problems with their story? How can you be honest, yet also helpful? I try to be diplomatic with my critical comments, and to balance them with positive feedback, but I’ve still been told that I’m too critical and hard to please. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I also think its unfair to tell someone I liked their work when I really didn’t. You probably have to deal with this a lot.

  35. Shannon’s question about the ‘real’ audience for a lot of YA is interesting. I’m also interested in the mechanics (and delusions) around agents’ notions of ‘platforms’.

  36. Caren Caldwell says:

    I am getting confused about the definition of voice. I was thinking that voice refers to the narrator’s voice whether third persons or first person or whatever. Then I read a blog/speech by Cheryl Klein who seems to say that voice is the protagonist’s interiority. Am I just making this too complicated?


  37. Hello Mary,
    I was wondering what your take on violence in YA is? I know this is in the same can of worms as swearing and sex, but I would like your opinion on this. Is there a preference to the type of violence depicted? What about fantasy violence like vampires killing vs. reality based? What would scare off agents and editors? Thank you very much for your time.

  38. Maybe you’ve mentioned this before, but…What if one of your published clients came to you with a manuscript that you didn’t fall in love with, but that you felt was marketable? For example, maybe it’s not in a genre that you love, or it happens to be about baseball, and you hate baseball. In the ideal author-agent relationship, an agent’s and author’s tastes would mesh all the time, but what happens when they don’t? Do you (and other agents) refuse to send out a manuscript that you can’t get excited about? Or do you send it out anyway? I’ll be attending your presentation in Japan, by the way. I look forward to meeting you then.

  39. Liz Hollar says:

    Since you will be in Asia…I am curious what the market is for MG and YA set in Asia with Asian characters. Is this a growing market or niche?

    I also love everything you write about interiority and showing vs. telling.

    Have a great trip.

  40. I want to make the characters in my story diverse. How do I do that without it coming across as tokenism? I feel like I’m in a damned-if-I-do damned-if-I-don’t situation.

    If that question’s no good can you please talk a little about pacing? Thanks!

  41. I’m anxious to see another book recommendation list like you did last year, so I can get my Christmas shopping done. Especially picture books.

  42. Hmm…one thing I’ve been noticing in YA is the approach to loss-of-virginity scenes. They seem to be nearly always from the female perspective, and they always seems to be couched in this vague “my loins burned with a want that was almost pain and the pain was pleasure” sort of language (I’m thinking of Graceling in particular right now). My question would be: have you come across any scenes dealing with sex that you think presented it particularly well, with an emphasis on not giving young female readers strange expectations? Not exactly a broad subject, but it’s something I’ve had trouble writing!

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