Writerly Things

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In January this year my writerly dreams came true. After a lengthy conversation with my dream agent, Naomi Davis of Bookends Literary, I was offered representation for my upmarket, messy, multigeneration women’s fiction story, The Unraveling of Emma Hill.

I’m still pinching myself, but this announcement on the Bookends website confirmed that it is indeed true.

New Client Alert — Leslie Wibberley

  • By: Naomi Davis | Date: Jun 20 2022
Name:  Leslie Wibberley
What you Write:

I write across a variety of genres and story lengths, but I have a passion for lyrical prose and stories with speculative elements. My present novel is women’s fiction story with romantic elements and a splash of magic.

Agent: Naomi Davis
Why BookEnds?

I have been following BookEnds for a few years, and I’ve been very impressed with the agency’s dedication to their authors, the support they give their agents, and how much they value inclusivity. As a mother of a neurodivergent, non-binary child, this is very important to me.

I met Naomi at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference when I was a brand-new baby writer, and they were a brand-new baby agent. I was blown away by their professionalism and compassion for the writers they interacted with.  I have enjoyed watching their career blossom over the years and I knew I would keep writing stories until I wrote a book that Naomi could not say no to.

What book do you wish you had written, and why?

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Gaiman’s beautiful prose, evocative and often creepy settings, and intriguing premises that draw the reader in and hold them fast until the last word. But this book in particular captured my heart and imagination.

If you’re not reading or writing, what would we catch you doing?

Playing pickleball with my friends, walking my overly enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel down by the river near our home, or playing with clay in the pottery studio in my backyard.

What’s the last book you read?

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk.

If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?

A villa in a hill town somewhere in Tuscany, Italy, complete with a pool, a wine cellar, and a personal chef, because if money is no object, why not?

What’s your favorite quote about reading or writing?

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” —Maya Angelou, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice you’ve received?

To be bold and own your space and believe that what you write has value. It’s so easy as a querying author to let self-doubt hold you back. But if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to?

What excites you most about joining the BookEnds family?

It is such a positive and encouraging environment. I’ve already met so many of Bookend’s authors and they are as amazing as their stories.

What advice would you give to other authors in the query trenches?

Read successful queries, including the Query Shark archives, get feedback from other writers, and keep honing your query until it clearly represents the story you are writing. Remember that this business is subjective and although it’s hard not to, don’t take rejections personally. Keep on keeping on.

What was the most important question you asked when interviewing agents?

What is your vision for my career as an author, and are you open to me writing in other genres?

Beta Readers: What You Need to Know

What are they, why do you need them, and where do you find them?

New writers often find themselves overwhelmed by information and advice from so many different sources.

So many terms you’ve probably never heard of before: Purple prose, murdering darlings, active voice, passive voice, deep point of view, critique partners, beta readers…the list goes on and on.

And so much of the advice you get is contradictory: Never use present tense, present tense is great for young adult novels, never use a prologue, prologues are wonderful, join a writing group, don’t join a writing group, use at least five beta readers, never use more than two, find a critique partner, you don’t need a critique partner.

It took me a while to figure things out and decide which advice to take. I can’t offer you a definitive list because what resonates with one writer, may be useless to another.

My advice is to read craft books, take classes, sit in on a writing group to see how it functions, go to workshops if you can, many are free, and come up with your own list.

Two pieces of advice I’ve found very useful in my writing career, are: use beta readers, and find a critique partner. (Stay tuned for my piece on critique partners.)

This post will be about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beta readers, and possibly more.

Definition according to Wikipedia:

A beta reader is usually an unpaid test reader of an unreleased work of writing who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author

  • Beta readers aren’t professionals, offering only their opinions as an average reader. They can help identify places in the manuscript where issues with plot, pacing, and consistency exist and help point out areas in the narrative where the story does not create the emotional response the author was looking for.
  • Typically, an author will give a beta reader a list of things they are concerned about and ask that the reader comment on these things. Betas provide broad impressions only, no line edits or copyedits.
  • It’s best to use more than one beta reader, at least five for me. Having the opinion of a group of readers allows you to look for repetition of the same comments on the same sections. One comment is opinion, two suggests a possible issue, three confirms that something is not working, and five clearly identifies an area that must be rewritten.
  • If possible, choose betas who are in your target audience: preferred genre, age category, interests, and even gender. It won’t serve you as well to ask someone who only enjoys hard science fiction to read your romance novel or to ask a romance reader to read a high fantasy story. Chances are, they won’t enjoy the story. Of course, they could still offer helpful feedback, but their reading preferences may color that feedback. That being said, there are people who read across a wide variety of genres, who understand the publishing world, and who are capable of putting aside their personal preferences and offering constructive feedback. Often these are other writers who don’t necessarily write in your genre but have a clear understanding of what makes a story work.
  • Of course, we all want our families and friends to read our work, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re looking for honest constructive feedback, it’s best to choose people who are not emotionally connected to you. This means they won’t be afraid to hurt your feelings if something in the narrative is not working for them.
  • And speaking of feelings, if possible, search for individuals who understand that constructive criticism does not mean shredding someone’s work. Readers who can make their point firmly and confidently but are able to do so in a kind manner, are invaluable.
  • Use readers who have not read your manuscript before. Fresh eyes are always best. If you revise, start with new readers again.

Okay, you’ve figured out what beta readers are and how to choose them, and now…

Where do you find them?

  1. Check out the hastag: #betareaders or #BetaReader, etc. You can ask for readers by tweeting with this tag. Follow @critqueconnect, you can read all about this project here:
  2. Goodreads: You can find beta groups here:
  3. Local writing groups can be a good source of beta readers. Often other writers are interested in swapping manuscripts
  4. Writing conferences can also be a great place to find other writers interested in sharing manuscripts for review.
  5. There are countless groups dedicated to beta readers that you can ask to join. Here are just a few: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1662819743977604/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/241737905853186/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/1782619931753141/

What to ask for from your Beta Readers?

There are many checklists available for free online. Choose one that best suits your needs. The clearer you are in stating your expectations for your betas, the more useful their responses will be.

This one that I use:

Beta Reader Questionnaire

1.) Does the opening (i.e. first line, paragraph, page and/or chapter) draw you into the story?

2.) Did you connect with the characters and care if they succeed in the story? Did you love or love to hate the appropriate characters? If not, can you explain why?

3.) If there are romantic elements to the story, do you long for the hero and heroine to end up together? If not, why?

4.) Was the dialogue believable or did you find it stilted? Was the speech appropriate for the time, place, and world created by the author? Did it remain consistent throughout the story?

5.) Did you “see” the world the author engrossed you in, or did you have trouble visualizing the scenery, clothing, architecture, etc.?

6.) Was there any place in the book where you lost focus while reading? If so, when and why?

7.) Were you emotionally satisfied at the end? Do you want to read another book by the author? Would you recommend this book to a friend? Please explain if there are any issues that would prevent you from purchasing or recommending this book to a friend.

8.) Did you have trouble focusing on the storyline due to any editing issues (i.e. punctuation, capitalization, and spelling)?

Please provide any additional notes that you’d like to share with the author:

* * *

That’s pretty much all I can think of to tell you…

Now, go write.

Writing Tips From a Writer in the Trenches

Query Letters: Everything you Need to Know

What are They and Why Do You Need Them?

When I finished my first novel, which shall forever rest in a box beneath my desk, existing solely to remind me of how far I’ve come, I had no idea about anything to do with the publishing world.

All I knew was that writers write, agents represent, and publishers publish. I had no clear thoughts on how those worlds merged.

Also, my naive little mind thought writing the book was the hard part. Cue the maniacal laugher.

Enter the Query Letter:

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

What is it and why do you need it?

Basically, a query letter is a piece of business correspondence sent to an agent or an editor, to sell your story, (and yourself,) in a way that is polite, efficient, and effective.

And most importantly, it should compel these publishing individuals to want to read more. The purpose is to entice, not explain everything in great detail.

Your letter should be short and to the point. No longer than one page, or around 300 words single spaced.

Most experts agree that a query letter should consist of these basic parts:

1.) Personalization: Why you have chosen this particular individual to query. Did you meet them at a conference? Are they looking for exactly your story? Do they represent authors you admire, or write in a style similar to yours?

2.) Meta data: Describe what you’re trying to sell: Title, word count, genre, comparative titles, ( books similar to yours) if you have any.

3.) The Hook: Not always necessary, but many agents like a one or two sentence hook, that describes the essence of your story in a way that engages.

4.) The Book: The meat of your story, a few short paragraphs should suffice. Don’t give away the ending, but do include stakes.

5.) The Cook: Your bio. Who you are, and what makes you the person to write this book. Add writing credentials if you have them, but don’t stress if you don’t. It’s not essential.

6.) Thank you and closing. Self explanatory.

The order that you place these items can vary depending on individual agent/editors submission guidelines.

Some agents want the meta data up front, so they know what type of story they’re looking at, others prefer it at the end. Some agents love comparable titles, others don’t.

Be sure to read submission guidelines and follow them carefully.

One agent I met at a conference requested pages from me, and in her submission guidelines it stated that she wanted the ending of the story in the query. Not a typical request, and one I would have messed up if I hadn’t carefully scoured those submission guidelines.

There are scads of resources out there on how to write an effective query letter, so I won’t bother describing what is involved in great detail.

Here are a few of my favourite resources for crafting the perfect query letter:

Query Shark

Janet Friedman

New York Book Editors:

Writer’s Digest


Another very important piece of advice.

It’s going to take a lot of practice and hard work, and likely more than one attempt, to get your query letter as good as it can be. Don’t assume you’ll sit down at your keyboard and presto—change-o, you’ll have the perfect letter.

I realize I probably had a much, much, steeper learning curve than most, but a while back I was cleaning out files from my computer, and realized, with not some small degree of horror, that I had 123 different versions of the query for my second novel (The first story never made it to that point.)

Yep, that’s right. 123 different versions of the same…letter.

I can’t believe I just admitted that to you.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

But, the letter I have now is consistently garnering me requests. So it was worth the effort.

Please, don’t repeat my mistakes.

Read everything you can find before you start crafting your letter. In particular, I can highly recommend going through all Janet Reid’s archives, (The Query Shark.) That was one of the most helpful things I did.

Another great piece of advice is to write your letter before you write your book. I know, I know, that seems like ridiculous advice. But…even if your story is just an amorphous idea floating around in your head, you probably have a pretty good idea of what the essence of that story is. And that’s what a query is..the essence of your story, without the ending.

And, can I just say that it’s a lot easier to get that essence down in a few short paragraphs, than it is to condense an entire 90,000 word manuscript into the same space.

I write my query first for all my stories now.

Naturally the letter will require some tweaking once your novel is complete. As anyone who writes will tell you, stories have a tendency to evolve as we write them, but the process will be so much easier if you’ve already got the basics down.

Okay, now that your Query letter is written, what do you do with it?

Send it out into the world:

Research each agent, (or editor if you’re going that route instead) very carefully. Be informed and aware of who these people are. Not all literary agents and agencies are created equal.

You’ll want to know the answers to some very important questions before you start:

  1. ) Is this agent open to querying? Many agents regularly close to submissions, so be sure to check on their agency’s website.
  2. Does this agent represent your genre/age category? Most agents will have what’s called a manuscript wish list, where they will list what they are looking for.
  3. Is this agency well established, or brand new? This can impact how much support you will have should they accept you as a client, and also what their relationships are with the editors of different publishing houses, a very important factor when it comes to selling your book. A newer agent in an established agency is the perfect scenario. They are hungry for clients, but they will usually have the support of one or two more established agents at that agency.
  4. Have they sold similar books to yours, or have they made any sales at all? If the agent has already established relationships with editors who are looking for your type of story, this will make it easier for them to sell your book, should they take you on as a client.
  5. What type of agent are they? Are they hands off, or are they an editorial agent. Are they willing to work with you to get your manuscript into the best possible shape before sending it out to the world? You should be able to determine this with a little research.

Here are a few great resources:

Query Tracker

Publisher’s Marketplace

Agent Query

Literary Agents Directory

Literary Marketplace

Writer Beware

Manuscript Wish List

#MSWL on Twitter

#500queries on Twitter

#10queries on Twitter

#TenQueries on Twitter

#AskAgent on Twitter

#QueryTip on Twitter

So, you have your letter and your list of agents to query. Now what?

Most experts agree that it is a good idea to send your query out in smaller batches. Some recommend making an A and B list, with your top choices, whether they be the best matches, or from the top agencies, in the A list.

Send a few queries to each list, perhaps five for each, and then wait.

That’s one thing you’ll have to get used to. Waiting. The publishing world is monumentally SLOW.

Waiting to see what type of response your letter gets can help you decide if your letter is working or not. No point in burning all your bridges by sending out fifty queries at time, only to realize your query just isn’t doing a good job of selling your story.

If you send ten queries, and all come back with form rejections, do some research. Make sure you’ve followed the submission guidelines, make sure the agents were indeed open to queries, and that they are looking for your type of story.

If the answer is yes, consider tweaking your query to better represent your story. Be sure your letter is polite and professional and that your stakes are clear.

Rinse and repeat. Probably more than once.

Stay tuned for common query letter mistakes and how to fix them.

Now, go write.

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