About sarahjoyliteraryagent

Sarah Joy Freese is an associate literary agent with WordServe Literary. She loves reading through queries and attending writing conferences to meet new excellent writers. Sarah especially enjoys working with authors make their manuscripts even stronger. Sarah received her bachelor’s degree in English and communications from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She also has an MA (emphasis in creative writing) and an MLIS degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Sarah is married and is enjoying life with her husband and two birds, Brewster and Simon. When she is not working, Sarah enjoys crocheting, watching NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy, and playing Euchre.

Seasons of Writing

I used to really love summer: 4th of July, barbeques, fireworks, my birthday, swimming, and relaxing with family and friends. However, now that I am older (and no longer get summers off–soak it up while you can, kids!), I have really come to appreciate fall. My husband watching football on Saturdays while I read or work, pumpkin spiced lattes, baking, crunching through leaves, Thanksgiving, and the upcoming excitement of Christmas all make me smile.

Just as each year has seasons and each time in our lives has seasons so, too, should our writing have seasons. Your writing seasons may not look the same as someone else’s writing seasons; however, everyone should be purposeful about their seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth” (The Message).

When I was in graduate school, a professor told me that summer should be for reading (fiction, nonfiction, and craft books) and writing. The last month of summer should be set aside for editing, but most of your writing should be new. Read, create, write, exercise. Refresh yourself. Lucille Zimmerman’s book Renewed offers some wonderful ideas for how you might employ those breaks that are so necessary for our creative spirits. Consider going on a writing retreat. Summer is the time to allow yourself to be as creative as possible with your writing.

Fall, then, should be about “the offensive.” In other words, submit, submit, submit. What you wrote during the summer is probably not read yet, so consider sending out a previously edited manuscript. You want to make sure that your manuscripts are ready to be seen by an agent or an editor. Don’t forget to track all of your submissions and responses. You can also edit what you wrote during the summer and attend a few writing classes or a conference or two.

During the winter months, you might take a short reading break again and follow up on your submissions. During the winter, especially, you should concentrate on editing. Allow yourself time to work through your manuscript at least two, if not three or four, different times. Consider hiring an outside editor. If you cannot afford a professional editor, you might want to look into hiring a college student who would be happy to read through your manuscript for a few hundred dollars and a letter of recommendation.

In the spring, start something new and begin lining up the books that you are going to read over the summer. You might also use this time to take care of the business side of writing: double check editor/agent contact information, complete your taxes, and straighten up your paper and digital filing system.

Again, while everyone’s seasons will look different, determining what your seasons will look like allows you to be prepared and to have an intentionally-focused writing life.

Have you ever thought about having writing seasons? If so, what do they look like? If not, how might you fashion your writing seasons? Also, what’s your favorite season?

How Writing a Proposal Is a Lot Like Teething

We’ve hit the teething stage at our house which means a lot of crying/whining (especially at 2:05 am), drooling, and biting. I still haven’t figured out how Baby Boy manages to fit almost his entire fist into his mouth. I have, however, made a lot of comparisons of teething to the writing process, specifically to proposal writing.

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1. It’s painful. Have you ever seen the show So You Think You Can Dance? Each week certain contestants who are in the bottom after the voting process have to dance for their life. They are allowed to dance in their style, but they must pour their heart and soul into their dance to prove to the judges that they still deserve to be in the competition. Similarly, think of your proposal as writing for your life. It is the first major part of your writing (after the initial query) that an agent sees. It is also what gets sent out to editors. If it is written well enough and an agent doesn’t have to do much editing, that enhances your chances of landing an agent. Therefore, writing a proposal should be painful. Pour your heart and soul into it. Create the best proposal possible. Razzle dazzle your audience–show them you can write.

2. Writing a proposal includes a lot of crying/whining (especially at 2:05 am). Agonize over the proposal. Research how to write a strong proposal. Don’t just find the first one that you like and copy it. View several of your favorites and compare them, looking to see what they all include. Spend time on the proposal. Just like you spent time writing and editing your manuscript, you should also spend time writing and editing your proposal.

3. Sometimes you have to bite (on chocolate) to help you through the pain. Use whatever inspires you to write a strong proposal. Get in the writing zone. Although a proposal isn’t as creative as novel writing, to write a good proposal, you need to be in the creative zone. An agent and an editor can tell a well-written proposal verses one that is written because you have to. So, go for a walk or a run to ‘shake your sillies out’, grab some chocolate and some coffee, and sit down to write. As an example, right now I am writing outside on my balcony viewing a beautiful moon–it has that ‘man in the moon’ look, and tonight it seems as if he is whistling. The neighbors are playing country music (which I love), and I can hear crickets and the wind brushing the leaves of the trees. I am in writing heaven. Now, if a bug flies in my hair, I am going back inside to my living room couch.

What exactly should you include in a proposal? Again, there are several blogs and websites out there that teach what to include in a good proposal, but here are just a few tips to remember.

1. Platform, platform, platform (even if you write novels). Have you hit a dry spell in your novel? Consider writing a short story and pitch it to literary journals (both in print or online). If you’re a non-fiction writer, write and pitch to magazines or journals that print your subject matter. Get your name out there. Any publication is something you can include on your proposal. Connect on social media. See if you can book speaking gigs, even if it is just ten people at a local Bible study. Connect widely, but also connect deeply, especially with influencers.

2. Pretty prose (but not purple). Engage your readers with your writing. What can you do to make your proposal stand out above the others? How can you add your own style and flare? Obviously there are certain sections that need to be pretty straightforward, but there are others that lend themselves for your own personality to shine through. Start with your biography. How can you show agents and editors who you are not just by listing your credentials?

3. Polished. Consider bringing your proposal to your critique group. Have an editor read through for grammar/mechanics errors. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t just edit it once, twice, or even three times. Edit it thirteen times. Or eighteen. And have your critique partners do the same.

Q4U: How can you make your current proposal even stronger? What tips have you heard for how to make a proposal great? Has anyone ever offered you positive comments or constructive feedback on a proposal?

What I Want on my Pizza

…or in my queries.

The hubby and I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Namely because it is rather okay to eat when cold, and new babies often necessitate cold-food eating. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian–Canadian bacon and pineapple. Yum! Although, I won’t turn my nose up at pepperoni or mushroom and black olive. Still, even the thought of a Hawaiian pizza makes me drool a little bit.

Similarly, while a well-written query letter is edible, there are certain queries that make me pay a bit more attention, that make me email the author back asking for a partial, a proposal, or even a full manuscript.

I have had several conversations with authors about what stands out to me when I am reading through the slush pile. Sometimes it’s a certain spark–something in the tone of the actual letter. Or sometimes it is in the fantastic writing, itself–the story, a certain character, the beautiful language. However, there are also a few tangible things that really impress me, as well.

1. Numbers Both online and in person. In other words, platform. An author needs to be connecting online via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, his website, his blog, his online newsletter, etc. If all of those overwhelm you, pick two or three that you can grow consistently. Start with ten minutes a day. He also needs to be speaking (and keeping track of how many people attended each event) as well as writing for print publications. If the author is a nonfiction writer, then he needs to focus on non-fiction articles. If he is a novelist, then aim for literary journals.

2. Names I often request a partial or a full if the author mentions that a certain celebrity or high profile person is willing to endorse her book. If that person has the endorsement included in the email, then I am even more impressed. Obviously, most of the endorsements come after the book already has a publishing house, but it never hurts to have those connections ahead of time.

3. kNowledge :) When authors mentions things I like, information gleaned from my biography, I take a closer look at their query letter. I don’t mean that you should be a creepy stalker for the agent you are interested in (that would probably have the opposite effect), but you should research the agent. Know what she wants to read; know what interests her.

4. Names Oh, I mentioned that one before? Spell the agent’s name correctly in the query letter. My name has an ‘h’ at the end. I have rejected authors because they spelled my name incorrectly. All right, I am not that cruel–I did read through the query letter before rejecting, but it did nothing to gain brownie points, and speaking of brownies…

5. Nuts I don’t like nuts in my brownies, but I do like chocolate chips. So, you know, if you really want me to take a look at your query, be sure send me some. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Just like most people will eat any kind of pizza, every person has his/her favorite. Each agent has certain things that he looks for in query letters, but building your platform, connecting with high profile people, and doing your research about that particular agent will definitely help your query letter stand out among the hundreds in the slush pile.

Questions: What tips/tricks have you learned to help your query letter shine? Did they work? What hasn’t worked for you?

 

Layer Your Cakes

Lately, God has been speaking to me quite clearly. He keeps repeating the word “miracles”. As I am currently dealing with some tough life stuff, this word is especially meaningful. Obviously, God speaks to each person differently, and He reveals truth in many ways; although, His truth always remains the same. One way that God speaks to me is by repeating a particular word, idea, or theme. In this particular instance, the word “miracle” has come through several different people, one email, and the book of Matthew which I am currently reading through for my devotions.

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As I read through new manuscripts, something that always makes me take another look is a tightly layered story. For example, let’s say that you are writing a story about a family provider. In what ways could you show that character as a provider? Perhaps you could give him/her the last name of “Baker”. You would definitely show that character actually providing for the family: buying groceries, cooking meals, earning money. You might highlight the antagonist doing something in direct opposition to your main character, so he or she, instead of providing, would take away: steal money, ruin a relationship, work as a tax collector (no offense to any tax collectors out there).

Beyond emphasizing a particular character, you also want to pay attention to the language that you use. Perhaps choose a word or two, or an idea, to repeat throughout your story. Trace that word/idea over the course of your story during significant moments that will move your manuscript forward.

Also, integrating key setting elements is important. You might focus in on a particular building, almost making it a character. Then, destruction could come to that building during the climax of your story. Or the building could undergo a transformation, again, highlighting the character of it.

And layering plot throughout story is important as well. Create scenes that build on each other and move the reader forward in exciting ways.

Finally, when you have done several revisions on your story, then the layering part becomes fun. Include your audience! If you are in a critique group, pay attention to their likes and dislikes: reference their favorite TV show, name a character after one of their children, reference something from their current WIP. Doing this last part really only speaks to one or two people, but I have always found it to be the most enjoyable part of story writing. Plus, it will make certain readers think that you are only writing for them which is one of the amazing wonders of story writing.

When you have worked through so many drafts, however, there comes a time when you must stop layering. Yes, it is fun to trace a theme throughout your novel, read it from start to finish, and come to the end and think, “Wow, I am good!” However, you don’t want to overemphasize a particular theme. Your readers are smart. Encourage them to dig for the themes within your story.

Layered cake tastes good as long as their is only so much frosting separating the layers. Don’t make it too sweet.

Question for you: What layers do you currently have in your WIP? Are there others that you could add?

Thankfulness

Have you all recovered from eating too much turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie? Or are you still stuffing your face with the leftovers? I am going to go with the latter and use the excuse that I am eating for two. :)

This year I have a lot to be thankful for. I know Thanksgiving Day is over, and you have probably offered up your thankfulness list as a part of your Facebook posts these past few weeks, but I wanted to share with you a few things that I am thankful for because it is important to continue to reflect on all of the good that God has given us (and even some of the not so good).

1. Our WordServe Authors Seriously, you all make my job wonderful. I love hearing from you, seeing what God is doing in your lives, celebrating your successes, and mourning with you in your losses. God is so good to bring us all together for this season in our lives, and I love being able to share and grow with you. Thank you for all that you do and all that you are!

2. My Amazing Family Right now, I have a wonderful husband, and soon, I will have a beautiful baby boy to hold in my arms and love on and teach. I am excited to read to him, and as he gets older, I hope that he falls in love with words just as much as I have.

3. The Weather in Colorado Normally, I struggle a bit in the winter because it is dark so much of the time (usually when I get up and definitely well before I start making dinner). The weather here has been quite lovely recently, and even though I thoroughly enjoy snow, I am thankful that I have been able to take a lot of walks outside these past few days. God is good!

Side note: When it does snow, this is what I plan on doing with my husband (can anyone name this movie?) “First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse cookie dough as fast as we can, and then, to finish, we’ll snuggle.”

4. The WordServe Team Greg, Alice, Jason, Ingrid–you all are wonderful, and I am so thankful that God has brought you into my life. :)

5. My Fantastic Church I love being able to hear truth preached and feel loved on every Sunday, and I really appreciate being able to give back to everyone in our church. I feel so close with all of you, and I am grateful that God has given us the ability to get to know each other and grow with each other through the hard stuff as well as through the fun times. You all make me a better person and make me want to keep on learning about my identity in Christ. Thank you!

I Thessalonians 5:18 “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NASB)

As we move forward into what can be a stressful holiday season, keep a list in your mind of things that you can thank Jesus for. Even if you don’t want to, have at least three things (or more!) in your life that you can focus on that are good gifts from God. Think about those things when you are doing your last minute shopping, or cleaning up your house for out-of-town guests, or sewing a dress for your daughter’s wedding while having pink eye (love you, Mom!)

So, what are you thankful for?

Rejections Aren’t That Scary

I have had some conversations with various WordServe authors about rejections over the past few weeks. They are so hard to receive, especially for agents who are rooting for you and your writing. We want publishers to accept your work just as much as you do!

I have shared my own rejections online before, and it is still humbling. Who likes to share with other writers the “no’s” that they have received? However, I have found that writers are often grateful to hear the personal responses. It helps to frame the context of rejections–no, they aren’t fun for anyone involved; however, they don’t come from mean agents or editors (well, maybe some of them are mean, but, as a rule, most of them don’t kick puppies during their free time).

When I was writing and receiving rejections, I usually had anywhere from three to five in my inbox per week. I was writing short stories, so the turn around was a lot quicker. Initially, they were difficult to read, but eventually, I became a bit desensitized to the process. I still cared about what the editors had to say, of course, but the rejections became a part of the job and not so much something to take personally.

Many of the rejections I received were humorous:

Thanks for sending your story along. The fiction department was torn on it. One of our editors is a big fan of mustard in fiction, but personally, I can’t stand dark chocolate and mint Milky Ways. It was a close call, but we’re going to pass on this one. Thanks for your patience, and please think of us again in the future.

Often, I was encouraged to send more writing:


I’ve read your story a half-dozen times now, and while there’s a lot to like here, it didn’t end up fitting with the issue I’m putting together. That said, I enjoy your sense of humor and your writing, and I hope you’ll send me something else to read soon.

And a lot of my writing received more than one glance:

Although I will not be accepting this submission, it received repeated attention well beyond a first reading.  I encourage you to submit again.

Finally, often my writing received even a first glance because of the writing communities in which I was involved. Although I was rejected, because of my submissions, blog posts, and comments on writing networking sites, my name became known enough for people to read my work, whether or not they accepted it.

I’ve read and enjoyed your pieces in other journals so did give your story a quick read anyway.

And, honestly, in the publishing world—whether literary or otherwise—getting someone to look at your writing can be considered, to utilize a lunar reference, one giant leap for mankind!

But, it is still important to know your market. Do your homework before submitting. Read books that the agent or editor has previously represented. Be able to clearly communicate how your story or book would fit into their publishing world.

Also, familiarize yourself with submission requirements. In a query, I want to see a strong query letter as well as the first ten pages of the manuscript in the email. I do not open attachments that are sent over in queries. If I ask for a partial, that means I want to see 50 pages of the manuscript. A full means I want to receive the whole manuscript. Both the partial and the full can be sent via email attachment.

Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the market in which you are interested, writing awesome stories, and researching, researching, researching, will allow you to feel confident with the material that you submit. When you do send your work out and receive your first rejection (because you will), now you can realize that they aren’t quite as scary as you initially perceived, and you can keep submitting your work.

But, again, please do your homework. You will keep getting rejections if you are only antagonistic toward the responses that you receive.

Anyone care to share some not-so-scary rejection letter stories?

Back to School

When I was a kid, summer was my favorite season: 4th of July, family barbeques and reunions, my birthday, catching fireflies, and participating in our county’s fair through various 4-H activities.

However, as I got older, and especially now that I am out of school, I appreciate fall more and more. About a month ago, lured in by the back to school displays at King Soopers, I made my husband buy me new pens and pencils, explaining that I would be more motivated to complete my to-do list if it were written in purple and green as compared to black and blue. Ultimately, I feel motivated by that fall feel—Pumpkin Spice Lattes, working at Starbucks with bright-eyed college students, and hunkering down in my house with manuscripts stored up on my Kindle.

Since many of you are probably parents and are, therefore, enjoying some extra writing time now that the kids are in school, I thought I would share some specific motivational tips that inspire me during the fall.

  1. Enjoy a hot beverage. Coffee, black, is my drink of choice, but I also like the occasional cup of tea or the more-than-occasional cup of hot chocolate. I also read somewhere that if you put the cup on your face, the warmth does something to your endorphins to make you happy. No idea if that is true or not, but it feels like a mood booster when I do it. Plus, it pulls me out of email or editing for ten minutes or so and just lets me be creative or pray or review my list of things to do.
  2. Going to Starbucks or a local college. Usually, I see several college students reading or writing or studying, and I think, if they can push forward, so can I. And then I will see someone working on calculus or chemistry or some other god-awful subject, and I send up a prayer of thanks that the most stressful thing that I encounter throughout the work day are rejections or a particular difficult edit. Seriously, calculus? Who willingly takes a class like that?
  3. Talking walks. It was HOT in Colorado this summer, and I’ve heard we have more ninety degree days ahead of us, but I have really enjoyed the past few days where the temperature has dipped into the seventies. I like working outside on my balcony and taking walks to observe the changing leaves. I feel energized and like change is happening in me both physically (baby boy is growing!) and spiritually. God and I have had some wonderful conversations these past few days, and I have felt my relationship with Him maturing and becoming clearer in a lot of ways.

So what motivates you during the fall? Have you had your Pumpkin Spice Latte yet?