Ever wished you could read an agent's mind? You'll soon have an opportunity to do just that. A secret agent will be judging the Agent Inbox Contest on Krista's blog Mother. Write. (Repeat.) By "judging" I mean that she will be posting her thoughts about each entry (query + first page) publicly and of course asking for partials and fulls of any entries she likes....just like what she does with her inbox. You need to write YA, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance to be eligible. She will take the first 20 entries submitted on 6/27/11 at 4pm EST, so have that cursor hovering over your send button at 3:59!
Check out Susan Dennard's blog to read my query for Stormland and provide feedback. Thank you to Susan for posting it and to everyone who comments! I can't wait to find out if my 100 or so revisions have made at least some improvement. :)
And if you're visiting The Blue Word from Susan's blog - Welcome! Thanks for visiting.
Update: Some people (including me!) have had trouble viewing and posting comments for the Stormland post on Susan's blog. If you are unable to comment, you can also leave your feedback as a comment on this post. Thanks!
Ever thought it would be great to attend a 2 week seminar taught by published authors that includes a critique of your first ten pages and query? Yeah me too, but I am not one of those high rolling unpublished authors who can spend hundred of dollars willy nilly. I use my money to buy food (and of course high speed internet).
But seriously....this one is FREE!! There is a catch, you have to be one of the first six people to sign up on either Susan or Sarah's blogs on 6/27/11at 5pm EST (4pm CST, 3pm MST, 2pm PST). I doubt you will make it in after about 5:01, so set an alarm!
This opportunity is for YA manuscripts with at least 50 completed pages only!
Kari ofA Good Addictionis hosting a contest/critique opportunity to promoteA Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young. The theme of the contest is acts of kindness and to enter you must commit one! The list of eligible acts of kindness that earn you an entry are on the blog post and include tweeting a photo of another author's book or writing a positive Amazon.com review. Based on how much kindness you complete, you earn entries. At the end, winners will be drawn to win one of sixteen prizes, which range from critiques to signed books. Deadline 6/28!
I am writing this post in part to retract a statement from a previous post. I regret that I stated a fact without thoroughly verifying my sources. The statement was:"writing a successful query is possible."
Of course, it is possible. People have written good queries. It happens all the time. But I want to warn otherwise awesome people against thinking their query will naturally be awesome too.
You are a good writer. It would be weird if you were a bad writer reading a writing blog. You've probably been an exceptional writer since you picked up a pen. You aced high school English. Probably even knocked a few graduate school research papers out of the park. You've written rocking cover letters that got you good jobs. To top if off, you wrote a book.
You're also smart enough to do your research. You've read articles on how to write a query. Read good and bad examples. You know the correct format and appropriate content. You know all the things you're not supposed to do. You're not some amateur who is going to write some gimmicky unprofessional query on pink scented paper.
With all those things true, are you sure you can write a query? I thought so. But since then, I've learned that even though I thought I knew how to write a query, I didn't. Here are some of the things I've learned:
1) Have people critique your query. Lots of people, preferably people who know what they're talking about. I never considered not doing this, but this is how I know all the other things below, so it's worth mentioning!
2) Your hook should be about your main character. For most people, this may be a given. But especially if you created a really cool world or interesting magical concepts, you might feel like a hook about your unique fantasy would be "hookier". Resist the impulse. Bonus points if your hook is about your character's most important desire.
3) The synopsis part of your query should be about your main character. You should describe what your main character wants desperately and then describe what action they plan to take to get it. Then you say what will terrible thing will happen if they fail. Then stop writing! Hint: If people critique your query and say something to the effect of, "I don't know why I should care about your MC." Don't start crying. It just means you didn't follow tip #3.
4) The synopsis part of your query may make your plot sound ridiculously simple. No subplots is a given, but you will need to leave out most of your actual plot too. Just the barest bare bones. It won't adequately describe your richly-layered plot. Just accept it. The good news is that if you strip it down to the minimum, you have more words available to inject your voice and even world-building details (but only if they directly relate the the approved content in #3).
5) Assign your novel ONE genre. Even if your novel truly is cross-genre, be careful saying that. I read that a lot of agents enjoy novels that bridge genres or at least break out of the tropes of their own. That may be true, but I suggest letting the information in your synopsis show them the different sides of your novel. I didn't really consider describing the genre to be a form of the dreaded "telling," but if you over-do it, it is.
6) Unless you can easily think of good comparison novels, just leave that part out. A lot of agents do want to hear about comparison novels, but if there isn't an obvious choice, don't try. You'll just end up making weird and/or inaccurate comparisons.
7) Come to think of it, don't try to describe your book at all. Except for the obvious things, title, word count, ONE genre, hook, and synopsis as described in #3, don't describe your book. You're not an idiot, you know you're not supposed to say that your novel is "heartwarming" or "compelling," but be careful about saying anything about it. Just the bare bones synopsis. MC's want. MC's action. MC's fate if fails. That's all you get to sell it.
8) A query is not like an ad. Yes, we're trying to sell it, but most advertisements make for bad queries. Watched a movie trailer lately? Do you have any idea what it's actually about? Ads use gimmicks, flashiness, and a whole lot of meaningless fluff to get you to buy things. You've seen so many advertisements in your lifetime, these rules may have seeped into your subconscious. Even though you are trying to sell your novel to an agent/publisher, you can only sell your bare bones content and hopefully a little voice you've added in. There are no gimmicks or tricks. You can only sell the core pieces of your story. The only "tricks" that are okay are using your connections (mentioning the bestselling author who is your best friend and refers you to the agency) and learning a little about the agent and mentioning why your book matches their needs.
Thanks to the people ofAgent Query ConnectandSusan Dennardfor teaching me those lessons. On 6/22/11, you'll get to see what query I've come up with after learning the lessons above when it's posted onSusan Dennard's blogfor community critique. I have the feeling I still have a thing or two to learn, so check it out and tell me how I did!
My manuscript doesn't know where to sit in the cafeteria. It knows it goes to science fiction and fantasy high school, but should it sit with the swooning girls at the paranormal romance table, the dark, serious kids at the dystopian table, or the nerds at science fiction table? It was even once told to leave the urban fantasy table by those snarky, city kids, because it's not set in the "real word". Based on the definitions I've read, a city similar to a real modern city still counts! But I don't want to fight with urban fantasy kids. They are tough.
After a lot of research, I've determined that my manuscript can call itself low fantasy and no one will tell it has to move. But my manuscript has a secret hope that it will discover a lesser known genre or at least a few comp buddies that it fits in with perfectly. In my search for lesser known genres, I will share my findings in my post series, "For the Genre Confused."
My first post is about...Cozy Catastrophe
Yes. That is a thing. Adapted from the cozy mystery genre, a cozy catastrophe is an upbeat dystopian novel. R.E.M. defines the genre by saying, "It's the end of the world as I know it and I feel fine."
The term was coined by British author Brian Aldiss shortly after WWII, and the term continues to show up most frequently on British websites. Like a cozy mystery, cozy catastrophe downplays the violence and death and highlights the characters who survive the apocalypse and end up building a better world than the one that was destroyed.
Jo Walton says that cozy catastrophe is formulaic and the books that made the genre popular in 1950s Britain were usually about how everyone from the working class has dies and the middle class survives and creates a better world through technology. Formulaic is the nicest thing you can say about that storyline. It sounds like the premise appeals to people who really would prefer it if all the poor people died, but feel more comfortable with a catastrophe that conveniently commits the genocide for them.
However, as you can see from my examples in the photos above a loose definition of cozy catastrophe can include books and film which portray the apocalypse in a light-hearted, or hilarious, manner. This type of cozy catastrophe is promising. The media is so saturated with dark apocalypse scenarios. Yes, yes, the world is going to end violently any minute...we get it. I see no reason why we couldn't put a little more hope and fun into catastrophe.
My query terrifies me. The 70,000 word novel that I've been lovingly writing and editing for two years could easily be destroyed by a 250 word query that I write over the course of a few weeks. It is the atomic bomb that could destroy my fantasy world and all the lives within.
Okay, maybe I'm being a little dramatic. On a more uplifting note....while obsessively searching the internet for magical query solutions, I found the blog of Susan Dennard. After I read her blog post, The Parts of a Good Query Letter, and the article she directed me to at Agent Query, I was struck by a radical notion...writing a successful query is possible.
The basic formula is:
I can do that....I think.
Susan Dennard has a great opportunity on her website called Query Day. Once a month, Susan will critique ten queries. Two randomly chosen queries are also posted on her blog for extra feedback. To participate, you need to be one of the first ten people to submit a query after she calls for submissions. The window closed in about twenty minutes in June, so watch that blog! The next Query Day will be in July. So far, all Query Days have opened in the first week of the month...that's an observation, not a rule, so be prepared for Query Day to come any time.
Getting a critique from Susan is a big deal. She knows queries. Susan posted, "Out of the 12 agents I queried, 9 requested a full or partial manuscript." Whoa. That's insane.
So, it may actually be possible for a competent writer who does their research and their edits to write a good query. But the other side of the coin is...it's possible for a competent writer who does their research and their edits to write a good query...so I won't be the only one sending in good queries. There is an "X-factor" to good queries that's harder to achieve. It could be that your story matches market trends, agent preferences, or it's just plain great.
Susan's "X-factor" may have been all of the above, but she also added to her edge by great research. Check out her other article, How I Got My Agent (Part 2: The Prep). I have been Googling prospective agents for a while and it's a great idea, although at some point I feel like a stalker. If I know an agent's opinion on Hangover: Part II, I think I've gone too far (thank you Twitter).
Back to seriousness, I want to thank Susan Dennard for giving me hope with her non-threatening and to-the-point advice on writing a good query.
Here are more blogs you must follow if you're querying: Query Shark - This blog scares me a little...I'm not sure if I have the courage to submit. She's like the Simon Cowell of query critique. But I've learned so much from reading it! BookEnds, LLC - Jessica Faust, agent of BookEnds, LLC has a blog segment called "Workshop Wednesdays" where she critiques a query. It's pure gold. Nathan Bransford - Agent turned author Nathan Bransford hosts Query Thursday on his blog.
Shelley Watters is rapidly becoming my new best friend. She is hosting another agent-judged first page contest. The due date isn't until 6/27 so you have plenty of time get your first page to it's maximum awesomeness level for agent judge Victoria Marini. Happy Birthday Shelley!
Considering the fact that this post is illustrated with the titles of popular dystopian novels from as far back as 1932 (Brave New World), dystopian literature has been part of our social consciousness for a long time, and it's not likely to go away completely anytime soon...at least not until we're actually living in a dystopic world where books are not allowed.
I am biased, however. I love dystopia. Brave New World, 1984, and The Handmaid's Tale were three books I most enjoyed being forced to read in high school. Later, I feel deeply in love with Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and recently, much like everyone else in the world, I loved the Hunger Games trilogy. On top of that, my novel, Stormland, has a dystopic bent (although not a true dystopia), so I am personally invested in dystopia staying hot.
What makes me nervous is that most of the articles on the web about the trendiness of dytopia were written last year. On Aug. 24, 2010, Nancy Parrish, in a guest blog entry for the Guide to Literary Agents blog said, "Suzanne's Collins's Hunger Games series has ignited a craze for dystopian literature." Present tense. So at least then, we know it was hot. Most of the articles about dystopian literature I've found have been from summer of last year.
So did I take one year too long to finish my dystopian novel? Maybe. In a very blogged about article by Mandy Hubbard, The Epic Post on Trends (YA & MG), she states that, "the buying craze for Dystopians is waning, but new projects still incite bidding wars when they are really, truly original. A couple of editors said point blank that they have not yet bought a dystopian and would be happy to discover a great one, but they do think it needs to be relatively soon."
Of course, a year wouldn't really have made a difference, it would have needed to be more like three to four years. With the amount of time it takes to write and polish a novel, plus the two years or so for your novel to actually be published after it's accepted by a publishing house, how does anyone follow trends? Is it pure luck, or evidence of the ablility to see the future and/or time travel?
Honestly, I'm not that worried about my dystopian-ish novel and you shouldn't be either. Trends are good for novels who fall into specific categories of hotness, but if your novel is original, it won't be subject to the fickle desires of the public (and publishers). Mandy goes on to say that, "In general, editors love the projects which can’t be easily pigeon-holed into a "dystopian book" or a "paranormal book", but rather sort of blended genres (and/or "floated above" them). This is a REALLY good place to be, because an editor (and sales force) can adapt their pitching/spin depending on where the market is when your book, you know, actually hits shelves." Based on my research about the preferences of agents, this is very true. Many agents want to see manuscripts that transcend or straddle the genre line. In interviews, I often see comments along the line of, 'I still want to see a [insert trend here] novel if it is truly original and breaks out of the tropes of the genre.' So, all we have to do is write a novel that is different from the other million novels on the shelves and totally brillant and it will all be okay. No problem. ;)
I'm hoping that Stormland can be marketed as crossing genre lines. At least I know that I am very genre confused at the moment, so hopefully that's actually a good thing. One of the awesome commenters on my Made of Awesome contest submission said my entry reminded them of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I thought, "Stormland is nothing like The Road...unless it's The Road narrarated by Sookie Stackhouse." Lightbulb moment. How is that for a totally weird but hopefully memorable pitch?
In conclusion, I would like to say...in my completely unbiased opinion with absolutely no alterior motive...that dystopian novels are still cool. At least at this very moment. The Butterfly and the Flame, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, and Wither, are dystopian novels that have come out in the last six months and more are coming. In addition, the Hunger Games movie trilogy is coming out in 2012 and let's be honest...some people don't jump on the bandwagon until after the movie comes out. I did that with Harry Potter. The movie version of Hunger Games could incite increased interest in the Hunger Games books and dystopia in general.
Dystopian literature is a part of our culture. Check out this list on Wikipedia for a well researched list of dystopian novels throughout time, and this more extensive list by blogger Amy Sturgis of recent and forthcoming dystopian novels. This untrendy blogger says that even though the trend might be waning, dytopian literature is timeless, and if written exceptionally well it can be popular now, next year, and in a hundred years.
Krista is giving away a 30 page critique for a finished manuscript. Post a comment to enter and the winners will be chosen randomly. She requests manuscripts with only "light PG-13 material". I'm afraid I won't be entering. ;) Entries due 12pm PST on 6/4.