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The Curious Cat Blog is all about writing, for writers, by a writer.


Filtering by Category: reflection

How to Query an Agent and Other Resources from my Nonfiction Conference

Carina Sitkus

This was my second year attending Hippcamp in Lancaster, PA, and I was just as impressed as the first time. If you get the chance to go, do, especially if you are local--but there were attendees there as far away as Singapore! 

Last year, I shared a resource for submitting to literary magazines. This time, I thought I'd share little snippets from my notebook-- the best resources and tips and tricks learned from the conference. This isn't, of course, everything, but it's the stuff I decided to write down. 

Without further ado:

Tips on query letters/pitching (from a panel of agents):

  • Your query letter is a like a cover letter for a job, nothing more and nothing less. 
  • You want to include the hook, the book, and the cook: something to capture the agent's attention, brief info about your book, and info about you (social links, previous pubs) and how you are planning to market the book. 
  • The agent shouldn't need to scroll to read your query email. Keep it short. 
  • A "no" from an agent could mean a "no" from the agency, so you don't want to risk rejection just because you sent your query to the wrong agent. Wrote a memoir? Make sure it gets to the agent who represents memoir. Do your research. 
  • For fiction, no unfinished manuscripts! 
  • You can submit to some small presses without having an agent.
  • Good hashtags to follow are #claqueries (every Weds.) and #mswl (manuscript wish list) where agents post what they are looking for. 
  • Ways to fail: 
    • Ignorance- You don't know your comp titles, you don't know your audience, and you don't read other writers in your genre.
    • Ambition>Effort- By the time you pitch an agent, everything should already be in place, and you're simply giving the agent the opportunity to hop aboard a train that's already traveling full-speed ahead. 
    • Idea>Execution- Your execution should be simple and direct. Think of your pitch like a tweet, and give only the important stuff the agent needs to know. 

If you're struggling with writing good dialogue, read these books:

To learn from the magic of poets to make your own narrative better, read these:

Mary Karr on what you need/ need to do to be a memoirist:

  • Stories.

  • Carnal memories, memories that are physical and that come back to you via your senses. Sometimes this takes work.

  • Information and data about your topic. 

  • Self discipline and faith.

  • Judge yourself more harshly.

  • The ability to move back and forth through time.

  • The ability to think and figure and guess and scheme.

  • Let the reader know what your standards of truth are.

  • Set emotional stakes.

  • Don't share how you suffer, share how you survive.

This list really doesn't do her keynote justice, but of course it doesn't. Another glimmer that I loved: She talked about the truth being like the hand on the banister in the middle of the night, a solid surface for the sleepwalker to grasp. 

There was also a keynote session from David Cameron on productivity and also several takeaways for science writers--let me know if either of these topics interests you and I'd be happy to share my notes. 

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30 Days of Reading Challenge

Carina Sitkus

At work, we hold creative coffee meetings once a month where we get together and discuss design, writing, and other projects related to —  you guessed it —  creativity! (At this meeting we also eat bagels.) 

This month, we’re doing the 30 day challenge as a team. Well, we’re picking our own 30 day challenge and reporting back what happens. Habits are built by doing something repeatedly over time, so the idea is to just jump right in and start doing, and eventually 30 days becomes 60 days and then before you know it you are closer to a goal…or at least a better, more productive person than before you started. 

I already read a lot — if I had to give up everything but one thing, reading would be my one thing — but I’m not great at forcing myself to read things I wouldn’t ordinarily read. One of my goals for 2016 also happens to be to get published in a literary journal, so I’ve decided to make a conscious commitment to read more literary journals. 

Here’s my 30-day challenge to myself:

Read one short story/poem/piece — preferably from a literary magazine — per day, for 30 days.


I recently received a free copy of Flash in the Attic, so that’s on my list. I will also be reading the spring issue of The Gettysburg Review and possibly some short stories from the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories. Hippocampus Magazine and Ploughshares are also on my list. Any other recommendations?

I'll be sure to follow-up and let you know how it's going. If you'd like to join, let me know. Maybe we can set up a Facebook group or something. 

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An Interview With Paul Cantor, Music Producer and Writer

Carina Sitkus

Like some of the CCP's other interviewees, I came across Paul Cantor's writing on Medium. Cantor, a former editor at AOL Music, is now a music producer and writer whose work has appeared in places like Rolling Stone, Billboard, MTV News, and many, many other places. In addition to being a prolific writer, Cantor is also a tweet machine, with over 114K tweets and 11.2K followers. 

Below, I ask him more about his work, advice for pitching and getting writing assignments, about interviewing technique, and his philosophy on social media. 

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Your New Year’s Resolutions Are Setting You Up for Failure

Carina Sitkus

This morning I was watching the Kathie Lee & Hoda show (vacation), and they had a segment all about the food you need to eat before you start eating well on New Year’s day. Here’s why it bothered me and why it should bother you: The moment you give yourself permission to put something off, what you’re really telling yourself is that it’s not important.

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Celebrating the end of NaNoWriMo

Carina Sitkus

I'm marking the end of NaNoWrimo in the same way I marked its beginning: with a Narativ podcast. 

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An Interview With Medium's Julie Russell

Carina Sitkus

I'm so excited about this interview with Medium's head of IT, Julie Russell. I met Julie online through her NaNoWriMo publication on Medium, and then we got the chance to meet in person during my trip to the San Francisco Medium office. For those of you who have read all of my (many) posts about how much I love Medium, you know how awesome that was for me. 

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3AM Thoughts

Carina Sitkus

One morning this week I woke up at 3AM and started to scribble down ideas from the fog. Ideas from and in the fog always seem so brilliant. They don't always make sense when you wake up, that's the only problem. I seem to always have these bursts of thought when I should be sleeping, thanks no doubt to the way our brains are wired

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A Coming to Plot Moment.

Carina Sitkus

I'm changing as a writer. It happened gradually, but I know it happened because of my interactions with other writers. I've learned what not to do by reading other writers' work that sounds like mine. If it sounds like me, but I still can't get into it, then I know I'm doing something wrong in my own writing. That sounds negative, but really I'm just trying to be honest about the way my own work has grown. 

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