Friday, September 23, 2011

September 2011 Contests & Critique Opportunities - Part II

Reading this in your feed?  You're missing my pretty new "blue storm" blog background.


Agent's Inbox Contest: This one is such a great learning experience.  Entrants post their query and first 250 words and an agent publicly says what they think!  Scary?  Yes.  But such a great opportunity.  The September installment is for YA & MG only.  The call for entries will post on 9/26.

Baker's Dozen Agent Auction:  I don't even know where to begin to describe this one.  But if you are ready to query, you must check this out.  It's going to be epic.  All genres.  First critique round starts 9/27.

The Best-Writer Buddy Blog Contest: To win you enter a comment "about your best writer-buddy and how she/he inspires and encourages you."  The contest is going on at http://yascribe.blogspot.com, and  You can enter at all three places for a chance to randomly win a query critique from agents Molly Jaffa or Katie Grimm. YA/MG only.  Due 9/30.

YA Confidential Launch Contest: The new blog YA Confidential celebrates it's launch with the opportunity to win a query critique from Sarah LaPolla or a 5-page critique from Vickie Motter.  All you have to do is follow and enter at this post for a chance to randomly win.  YA only (presumably).  Deadline 10/7.

Pitch Contest with Mandy Hubbard:  Details aren't available yet, but this contest should occur in about 2 weeks.  Follow (like you're not already!) to get the details when they post.

Hook for Your Book Contest: Post a 50 word pitch to be judged by agent Jeanie Pantelakis.  The one for fantasy will run from 10/10-10/17.


Beta Match at Rach Writes... - Are you looking for a beta reader or critique partner?  Check the comments to find a match for you.  Or even better, just contact me, because I'm looking too!  :)

Miss Snark's Logline critique - What a great idea.  I have been writing loglines all over the place for contests, but to be totally honest, I actually never really thought about getting them critiqued.  You will be able to submit your logline for critique on 9/27 (wait for call to entries).  "It will be a lottery with a large submission window."

Killer Characters Blogfest  - 10/24-10/28.  Write posts about your favorite "killer" characters on your blog to participate.  You can win critiques from author Elana Johnson.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Manuscript says to query, "It's not you, it's me."

As writers I think we prefer to believe that the query is nothing but a necessarily evil.  Our story is too big and complicated to really be summarized in less than 250 words.  Of course, to some extent, this is true.  It is easy to fail to due your book justice in a query.  But your query may actually say more about your book than you would like to believe.  

When I was on Agent Query Connect getting feedback on my query, I would sometimes be annoyed by people critiquing the novel and not the query, such as "your MC isn't likable enough"  or even "you're telling the story from the wrong point of view."  When I heard things like this, I took it to mean that I had written the query in a way that had failed to demonstrate the awesomeness of my manuscript, and did not consider that something was actually wrong with the manuscript itself.  After all, an author getting ready to send out queries doesn't want to be told to re-write their manuscript from another POV.  They were quite bold to make such an assertion after only reading the query.  My beta readers didn't say anything like that, and they had read the book.  

In retrospect, I realized that someone who has read only my query may be able to catch on to things that someone who read my book may not.  Sometimes you can't see what's right in front of your face.  My beta readers, and certainly myself, were too distracted by the details of the book to notice such a basic problem.  When you write a query, you lay out just the basics.  MC.  Motivation.  Conflict.  You can use some voice, but you don't have much room for flash or flare.  The simplest version of your plot shines through, for better or worse.

So, be a query whisperer and pay attention to what your query critique says about your novel and not just about your query.  The query is smarter than you think.

The challenge is that you can write a bad query for a good book.  So, how do you know when you need to set aside your query and make changes to your manuscript?  Here are some clues I noticed:

1.  You've worked HARD on your query and it's still not as good as you'd like it to be.  It's almost impossible to work too hard on your query, but it's possible.  I think I did.  You should read as much as you can about how to write a query, get tons of feedback, and re-write your query many, many times.  But if you have done all that and your query is still not working for you, pat yourself on the back for a job well done on your query, and then get back to work on your manuscript.

2.  Feedback about your query is lukewarm and nonspecific.  If feedback about your query is negative and has specific suggestions about parts that are confusing or mistakes you've made a about query structure, you should re-write your query.  If people are out of specific criticism but still aren't blown away, or you're getting good feedback from your critiques, but not agents, you might have written your query as well as possible and the problem lies elsewhere.

3.  Laying out your main character's motivation and conflict is anything less than extremely easy.  Part of me knew from the beginning that I had made a critical error when I had trouble describing my MC's central motivation and conflict.  But, I didn't want to believe it.  The fact is that the basics of your plot should be extremely easy to describe, and NOT because it makes for a better high concept Twitter pitch.  If the central conflict isn't well defined (or in my case, is not centered around the POV character), you have a problem with your manuscript.

4.  Describing your genre is anything less than extremely easy.  Okay, this is a tough one for me.  I have re-written my novel to fit more easily into the definition of "contemporary fantasy", but it's still sort of genre hybrid.  I can't make my square peg fit into a round genre hole and I'm okay with my odd-ball manuscript, but ideally, you want to know exactly what genre you're writing in and be able to pick out a few sister novel comps that yours fits in great with.  You'll get an agent a lot faster that way because the agent will know how to market it.  If you can't name your genre in your query extremely easily, you should at least put serious thought into adapting your novel to fit in better and if you can't, be prepared for a tougher road.

Realizing that you need to re-work your manuscript instead of your query is bad news.  After all, as hard as it is to re-write a query over and over, it takes a lot longer to re-write a manuscript.  However, re-writing a manuscript is a lot more fun than re-writing a query over and over.  With all the work getting ready to submit to agents, I had almost forgotten how great it felt to actually write my novel instead of queries and Twitter pitches all the time.

Before I started my next draft, I wrote the query first.  I wish I had known to write the query first before I even started.  But a first time novelist simply wouldn't know to do that.  (That's why you've got to fail a little before you succeed.)  When I wrote my query with the changes I planned to make, it fell in to place easily.  I  knew right away I had done the right thing because the query was so much easier to write.  See?  A query knows more than you think.  The happy ending is that the changes I have made make my story better.  And who clued me in?  My worst enemy...the query.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 2011 Contests & Critique Opportunities - Part I

Photo by Texas Storm Chasers
The Texas wildfires this week made me feel like I was already living in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world.  But in the real world, disasters show us that at the end of the day, humans really care about each other.  Everyone from cupcake bakers to sandwich shops to everyday you-and-me-s donated, time, money and items to help the victims.  The real world is mean, but full of hope.  Fortunately, my family suffered no ill-effects from the fires greater than aggravated allergies from the smoke.

Now on to the contests!

The 1st To Make Our Toes Curl - 9/11-9/17 or first 50 entries.  500 words of the "first romantic experience between your male and female characters" (nothing explicit).  You can win SEVEN critiques of your first 10 pages from all the girls at Oasis for YA.

Operation Awesome's legendary Mystery Agent Contest will be held 9/15.  Follow their blog to catch the entry post.

Can You Hook a Teen? Blogfest Contest - 9/21-9/23.  Post your first 250 words with the linky link to be judged by teens from the Teen Eyes Editorial Services.  You can win editing gift certificates from them.

The Judge and Jury Blogfest - Now through 9/30.  Enter a 300 word "defense scene" which can be any "scene were someone defends themselves against something" and post it on your blog with the linky link.  Winners get gift cards, and everyone gets extra blog views!

Disgruntled Bear Query Contest RSVP - Not live yet.  Katie will be hosting a query contest sometime this fall and wants to know who is interested in entering.

Romance contest updates on Seekerville.

Critique Opportunities:

Critique Sisters First Paragraph Critiques - Post your first paragraph in comments by 9/12 and they will randomly select two for open critique on their blog.

Read for Relief Auction - On 9/12 they will hold an auction where you can bid for query and partial critiques from agents, editors, and authors.  Proceeds benefit victims of Hurricane Irene.

Oasis for YA will now be hosting first 250 word critiques every Thursday.

Cynthia at Random Thoughts hosts weekly synopsis or query critiques.