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.

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?

Top Ten Things You Should Read on Your Birthday

Yesterday I turned 29… again. So I decided to write a blog post about one of my favorite things: reading! On your birthday, you should definitely take a little time for yourself, if you can afford it. I try to take some extra time for reading on a personal level, since it is something that I enjoy, and it is an affordable indulgence.

Here are the top ten things you should read on your birthday:

All of your “Happy Birthday!” posts on Facebook Since most of my family and friends live in Michigan, and several of my friends are in Vermont and Wisconsin, I revel in birthday greetings from all across the US of A. How fun to read and respond to people you don’t often see.

Your birthday cards I always save my birthday cards, especially those from family. Since my Grandma Mason passed away in October of this past year, I plan to read some of the previous messages she blessed me with. Her words were always so wise, and I could definitely feel the love that she had for me, even in just a pen and pretty paper.

Your favorite blogs Because I am busy reading emails and queries and manuscripts for work, I generally don’t take time to read a lot of blogs during the work week. So, on my birthday, I like to catch up on blogs. A few blogs I will be spending time with include Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, John Green Books, Literati Cat, and A Miniature Clay Pot. The last blog is by my friend, Marie, who wrote a blog with over 5,000 responses after the Aurora theater shooting. She and her daughters were in theater 9, and she has been such a blessing to those involved in the shooting, as well as others. Of course, she was a blessing to others long before the shooting; she helped me through some difficult times, and she made my wedding invitations for free!

Queries, partials, and full manuscripts in my inbox as well as manuscripts that I am currently editing Yes, I work on my birthday, mostly because my husband also works, but also because my mom visited for the week, and she left yesterday morning. Instead of sitting around being sad and missing her, I plan to focus on projects that I need to complete.

Bible/devotional While I am not a daily bible or devotional reader, I do like to check in on special days. It is always so wonderful to see what God, who knit me together in my mother’s womb, has to say about me on my birthday. He planned the day I came into the world as well as every other day after that. I love to receive a special birthday blessing from Him.

Text messages Who doesn’t like to receive “Happy Birthday!” text messages?

The menu at your favorite restaurant. While I am normally an Olive Garden girl, this year, my husband, mom, and I plan to go to White Fence Farm, a home-style restaurant that specializes in fried chicken and high cholesterol. For those of you in the Denver area, be sure to visit the restaurant which includes a petting zoo, fun shops, and different music nights including square dancing and line dancing.

The menu at your favorite coffee shop A friend recently introduced me to the awesomeness that is Espressole Caffe. It is a bit farther than I normally travel for coffee, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than working on an editing project while sipping a five spice latte. Yum!

Your driver’s license Make sure it hasn’t expired!

And my favorite: a good novel! Currently, I am reading Pulitzer prize winning novel, Tinkers, and I finished it on my birthday. It always refreshes me to read beautiful writing with amazing story, and what a great way to start the weekend than with a great story still ruminating in my mind.

What sorts of birthday reading do you do? Do you have any other fun birthday traditions?

50 Shades of Grey: To Read or Not to Read

Okay, I will not really talk about whether or not you should read one of the most controversial books published in 2011. If you want to participate in that discussion go here. I will say that I read the first third of the first book and skimmed the rest of the first book. I asked my husband if I could read it before I started, and I talked to him about what I read as I moved through the book. I say that because I want to provide a context—I have at least some experience with 50 Shades of Grey. I really want to discuss how Christians can produce books as compelling as 50. I think we might start doing that by trying the following, but I would love to hear your thoughts as well. I’ve included a lot of questions. Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comment section below.

  1. Writing Well. In the article I linked to above, Michelle mentions that she chose not to read the book because her friend did not like the writing. Honestly? The writing needs improvement. Sure, the plot moves forward, but language and fully developed characters don’t drive the book. Shouldn’t Christians produce books that compel readers to keep reading based on the beautifully written language? Shouldn’t the plot make readers want to stay up late reading under the covers with a flashlight? Shouldn’t the setting feel like home? Or if it’s an uncomfortable setting, shouldn’t it make the readers feel the tension within that particular place?  What about the main characters? Shouldn’t they feel like life-long friends?
  2. Incorporating Strong Male Characters. Christian Grey, the protagonist in 50, has a dominant personality that makes females swoon. God set up the marriage relationship with the male as the head of the wife. Obviously, that does not involve abuse, but God created the idea of headship as attractive. I love romance books (Christian or otherwise) because I swoon over a strapping male willing to make tough decisions and come to the rescue. How could you incorporate a strong, sexy male character into your novel while remaining tactful? What sort of tact is necessary in a Christian romance novel, specifically regarding the male protagonist?
  3. Incorporating Strong Female Characters. The female protagonist in 50, Anastasia Steele, doesn’t just accept what Christian has to offer in a relationship at face value (at least in the first book). She fights him on the particular details of their relationship with which she feels uncomfortable. How can you make your female characters strong in their character and conviction? Should a female character confront her husband in a novel if he makes a poor decision? What if the male that she is confronting is just a boyfriend? How do the relationship dynamics differ, and how can you keep both types of relationships interesting so that readers want to keep turning pages?
  4. Discussing Controversial Topics. Even the secular community startled a bit when they discovered 50 Shades of Grey. I doubt it would have been as popular without the controversy. Should Christians be writing about controversial issues in novels, as well?  If so, should those issues be resolved biblically, or is it okay to show that a bad decision was made and to then reveal appropriate consequences for that bad decision? As with anything, you need to pray about the decisions you make in your writing.
  5. Writing About The “S” Word. Who doesn’t like to hear about a spicy relationship between a man and a woman? How would you choose to write about a man and a woman who are in a courtship or dating relationship? How do you write about a man and a woman in a marriage relationship? How do you balance being tactful but also keeping the spice going? And, finally, should Christians only be able to include kissing scenes in their novels, or will characters ever be able to go beyond first base?

What other ideas can we glean from controversial books that sell well?

I Have a Secret

Taken at the Denver Chalk Art Festival, June 2012

All good writers and creative-type people need a secret that drives them. The secret should push them to write more, write with superior quality, and write with a theme of hope in all of their WIPs, or even their journal. So far my secret allows me to accomplish all of the above and more.

  1. My secret wakes me up at 5:30 a.m.  Normally, I am an 8 a.m. riser or, more specifically, someone who rolls out of bed, texts something like “god mrning” to my hubby (who has already left for work), and sits on the couch, nursing my cup of coffee with the news on mute because I don’t like noise in the morning. Lately, I have been bright eyed and bushy tailed way before the hubby. So I poke him in the arm until he wakes up. Okay, so the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call isn’t good for everyone.
  2. My secret makes me go to bed at 8 p.m. I still need my 9 hours of sleep despite my early rising habits.
  3. My secret makes me eat healthier (or at least try to). I have consumed a lot more fruits and veggies because of my secret.
  4. My secret makes me more creative. I built a piece of furniture yesterday. Okay, I put together already assembled parts of a completely built piece of furniture. Oh, okay, I held the pieces while my hubby put together the piece of furniture.
  5. My secret makes me cry. Sometimes my secret is so overwhelming that all I can do is cry out to Jesus, asking him to hold me.
  6. My secret makes me laugh. I laugh even when no one else is around and I’m standing in the hamburger aisle at the grocery store, and then someone comes into the same aisle, and I laugh even harder.
  7. My secret makes me read my Bible more. Confession time: I am not a daily Bible reader. I never have been. I am not even a daily devotional reader. But my secret might turn me into one!
  8. My secret makes me love my husband even more. I made him a pan of homemade brownies the other day and called him at work “just because.” Seriously, I love that guy.
  9. My secret makes me exercise more. And not just because I would be the first person to die in The Hunger Games.
  10. My secret is my life, my light, and my joy!

Do you see now why every writer needs a secret? Your secret can be different than mine, but it needs to make you a better person. All good (or even bad) secrets do just that. So your challenge for this next week is to find yourself a secret―one that will push you harder toward your writing goals.

P.S. Some of you already know my secret. Please don’t say anything. 🙂 For the rest of you—guess away. The big secret reveal will take place on my Facebook fan page on Wednesday, June 13.

Q4U: Do you have any secrets that motivate you? If so, what are they? KIDDING! How have they made you a better person? A stronger writer?

Ebooks: To Create or Not Create

A lot of WordServe authors have asked me about ebooks lately. In fact, with the digital age continuing to progress with new technologies, many who don’t have an agent or a publisher or a book wonder whether they should take that leap. While you (and your agent if you have one) ultimately get to decide whether or not to self-publish, I thought I would offer a few tips that might help you during your decision-making process.

  1. Spend Money on the Cover. If you have decided to publish an ebook, congratulations! Now, make sure that you do it right. Don’t try to design the cover yourself if you have limited or no experience in graphic design. Go on Craigslist or post a flyer on your local college’s graphic design program bulletin board. A starving student would love to design the cover of your book for probably half to a third of the cost that you would spend on a traditional graphic artist. Of course, if you have the money and decide to spend it, then hire a professional. Either way, make sure that the cover of your ebook looks as well-designed as a traditionally published book.
  2. You’re Hired! When you create an ebook, you may not just sit back and watch your rankings grow every day. Instead, you just became your own boss at your new sales company. You need to call several people a day to ask if they will review and like your book. Chances are about half (or less) of the people that you reach out to will actually follow through with their commitment, so the more people with whom you connect, the better. Your contact list should also include local celebrities, well-known bloggers, local radio hosts—anyone you can think of who has a strong sphere of influence (sorry, your Mom and Grandma don’t cut it). Those people can reach out to even more people without you even trying.
  3. Invest in InDesign. Numerous software programs create ebooks. However, most people recognize the high quality of InDesign. It does take a bit of a learning curve, though, so if you have the gumption, watch as many tutorial videos as you need and start learning yourself. I did this, and I moved along pretty quickly once I understood the basic premise of ebook creating in InDesign. If you need a more hands-on learning approach, then check into classes at your local library (usually free!). Or, again, you can always stop by your local community college and ask for directions to the graphic design school. For only a couple hundred bucks, you will receive a nice tutorial in InDesign, and your starving college student will receive more than a few nights of entertainment at Buffalo Wild Wings.
  4. Don’t Do Anything Stupid. Often writers get so excited about the prospect of self-publishing that they sell their soul to the self-publishing devil. You have all heard about “publishing” companies that offer to publish your book for a fee. At the completely awful soul-sucking companies, you get a worse cover design than if you would have created it yourself. However, legitimate self-publishing companies do exist. You still have to pay, but they offer valid services. One of my favorite, Dog Ear Publishing, offers several great self-publishing options. They also offer editorial services with comparable prices. Of course, you still have to do your research before you invest in any self-publishing company to make sure it fits well with you and your book.
  5. Read the Well-Fed Self-Publisher by Peter Bowerman. It has a ton of great resources. Seriously, even if you completely ignore all of my advice above, please go read Peter’s book. You will not be disappointed.

Whatever you decide, enjoy the publishing process. Become involved in marketing. Continue blogging. Work on enhancing your Facebook fan page. Write for magazines. Book speaking engagements. Oh, that sounds a lot like traditional publishing? Well, yeah. Whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, you need to make sure that you market yourself.

So, are you looking into the possibility of self-publishing a book or a promotional device for your book? What steps have you taken in that direction? What fears hold you back from moving forward with self-publishing?

Dumpster or dumpster? Important Editing Skills That You Need to Know

The first time I really became aware of style concerns in a novel is when I read Dumpster, not dumpster, in my book of the week. I think I was in high school or college. Did you know that Dumpster is a proper noun because it is a brand name? Neither did I.

As book authors, you all have to follow specific conventions based on the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Even if you are not aware of all of the editing conventions, your editor is, and he or she will call you on them during your revisions.

Here are ten interesting rules that writers of books must follow when using CMS.

  1. Include an ‘s’ to indicate possession after words that end in ‘s’. For example:  Uncle Thomas’s garden produced several large vegetables. Other style manuals indicate that it is okay to not include the last ‘s’, but CMS does not recommend it.
  2. Do not include “scare” quotes. In other words, do not do what I just did. When you include a term that is not really your term or your character’s term, do not include quotation marks around it. Simply write it as is.
  3. CMS prefers a.m. and p.m. So, that means no am, pm, AM, PM, A.M., or P.M.
  4. These are a few of my favorite things. You must use the Oxford comma when writing a list. In other words, if your character is going to the grocery store, he needs to buy milk, eggs, and orange juice. He should not buy milk, eggs and orange juice.
  5. “What about using dialect in my writing?” you may ask. Fortunately, you’re in the clear. CMS specifically states issues of dialect fall outside of the scope of its manual. Still, be consistent in your use of dialect. Also, your editor may have some good tips for writing appropriate dialect. Follow those guidelines.
  6. Spell out numbers zero through one hundred for non-technical documents.
  7. I often see this mistake: When you combine two independent clauses (complete sentences) with a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet,so–FANBOYS is a great way to remember them), always include a comma before your coordinating conjunction. For example: I like cats, and I like dogs. Books are fun to read, but they are not as fun to read as magazines. Note that you would not include a comma if one part of the sentence was not complete: Books are fun to read but not as fun as magazines.
  8. If there is a mistake in the final version of your novel, you are ultimately the one responsible. “In book publishing, the author is finally responsible for the accuracy of a work; most book publishers do not perform fact-checking in any systematic way or expect it of their manuscript editors unless specifically agreed upon up front” (chicagomanualofstyle.org). That said, most of the editors that I know are excellent fact checkers and editors. However, do not assume that just because you have an agent or an editor that he or she will take care of the errors in your book. Take ownership of your work.
  9. If you are writing for a newspaper and you are talking about effective punishment methods for three-year-olds, you might use the word timeout. However, if a character in your novel is throwing a temper tantrum, he or she needs a time-out.
  10. And, finally, although this is not an error that I see too often any more, do not include two spaces after a period. Two spaces used to be necessary because typewriters were not formatted to handle a period followed by a T, for example. The left side of the T would overlap the period. Now, computers handle all of the spacing issues for us, so we do not have to worry about hitting the space bar twice.

Now, let’s put some of your editing skills to work. Find the error. Its nearly impossible:

AAA
BBB
CCC
DDD
EEE
FFF
GGG
HHH

Do you know of any other CMS differences of which writer should be aware?

Associate Agent by Day, Writer by Night (Sometimes)

Like many of you, I had grandiose dreams of seeing my name on the front cover of a book in Barnes and Noble. I think it started when I was five, and my mom would post copies of my poems all over the fridge. Instead of drawing pictures of kittens or rainbows, I would write. Mostly about my Grandma Mason’s apple pie.

However, somewhere along the way, the dream of writing became a bit more fine tuned, and I realized that I really wanted to help others along their writing journey more than I wanted to write my own novel. I thought today might be a good one for looking at exactly what shaped my desire to become an associate agent over my desire to become a writer

I failed kindergarten cutting. As a left-handed cutter in a right-handed-at-everything-else body, I was doomed from the beginning. My teachers didn’t believe that I was really a left-handed cutter because everything else came naturally to me as a right hander. There were only a limited amount of left-handed scissors after all. As early as age five, I knew that only certain people could use the left-handed scissors. I was not one of them.

I used to memorize publishing houses. Not only did I read my favorite authors or genres as a child, but there was a time when I would only read from my favorite publishing houses. I would dream of the day when I could be a part of that particular team. My writing dreams were never really of me being a shining star—they were always of me creating something spectacular with others.

My story arc never expands beyond 15 pages. Have any of you ever read Moby Dick? No, let me ask that again. Have any of you ever read Moby Dick and liked it? To this day, I can only make it through the first 100 pages. About the time the crew leaves for sea, I give up. I love Melville as a short story writer but not so much as a novelist. And I like to compare myself to Melville, although I know I am not nearly as good. I am best with short forms of storytelling or even poems. I am just not a fan of writing 70,000+ words about the same people and place. I give up after about 5,600 words and want to move on to something else.

I do, however, love working with other people’s words. I like to think through how I can make someone else’s story even stronger. The words have already been written; now I get to go in and play. I am like a decorator on Extreme Home Makeover. (Anyone else sob during the last episode?) I am thrilled to let someone else build the frame and put up the drywall. I want to go in and build a pirate ship into a child’s room or create a sanctuary for Mom and Dad.

Even though I am not a novelist, I do still like to write. Writing is a hobby now—something that I do for fun now and then. And, sometimes, I like to share my words with others. So, if you can promise me that you won’t come after me with pitchforks and tar and feathers if you don’t like my words, here is my is my Saturday gift to you:

FEBRUARY 28

They say you will reach me at a time when the

Impassable becomes the necessary.

Like conscientious birds refusing to fly,

Mine is a tombless marriage.

Cotton-candied windows reflect

Pastel letters, “A”, “B”, “C”

The soft skull of books is no longer a comfort

Crushing frozen syllables,

My city is ineffective.

* Line 8 of this poem is taken from Neruda’s poem, “Heights of Macchu Picchu: VIII, Clime up with Me”

Since I shared my creativity with you, would you be willing to share some of your writing with me? I would love to read something that is outside of your normal genre. Pull your poems out from under your bed. Let me see the songs that you wrote (but didn’t send to) the winners of American Idol. Or, if you’re in a creative mood, write me something new.