Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Querying

Okay, here's today's question:

The feedback I've been getting from my Query, runs something like this: Really interesting. No thank-you. I'm not sure if that is polite-speak for it sucks, or, simply not their thing. So, how to get a foot in the publishing door: A) Pound harder; B) Open a window (i.e. write a different genre/category book entirely); C) Quit: it's too hard.
Here are my thoughts:

This is most likely a form rejection.

This could mean:

A. Your query does suck (sorry, it happens, they're hard!)

B. Your concept is overdone (ie the genre is dead)

C. You're not querying the right people (hey I get a lot of queries from screenwriters so this happens)

What you should do:

1. Have some critique partners/beta readers/friends who write (etc) read your query. Get some feedback. Figure out if it's your query or if it's your book.

I'm going to say that if you've gotten 0 requests it's your query. If you had a good query, a few agents (especially new agents or agents who really love a genre) will request.

2. If it's your query, revise accordingly. You want your query to make people sit up and say "Oooh and then what happens?"

3. After you've resent your queries, start working on something else that's completely different.

4. Never quit. :)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Example Query: Kara Taylor

I have another query that worked to show you. This one is the query the fabulously talented Kara Taylor sent me a little over four years ago.
Dear Ms. Townsend,

Seventeen-year-old Maggie’s job selling hot dogs at the beach is the epitome of unsexy, but it’s not like she wants to hook up with a guy wearing something a few inches shy of a Speedo anyway. Then she realizes Andy, the head lifeguard, isn’t visiting her three times a day because he forgot ketchup. Maggie finds out there’s more to him than his gorgeous abs, and their summer fling turns into a real relationship.

Then Casey, Andy's ex, calls to tell him her birth control failed.

It doesn’t help that Casey has graduated from pushing Maggie on the playground and making fun of her absent father to leaving Andy’s old love notes in her locker. But Maggie’s done with Casey’s bitchcraft. She won’t let her ruin Andy’s pre-med plans or the only relationship that’s felt real to her since her family dissolved.

The only way to coax Casey into choosing adoption is to earn her trust, even if it means opening up to the girl who knows how to hit Maggie where it hurts. But her plan backfires when she starts to empathize with an unborn baby more than the idiots who made it. Even worse, finding out the real reason Casey is willing to trade her ballet slippers for stretch marks reveals something within Maggie that terrifies her: sympathy for her worst enemy, and the realization she might not be so different from her after all.

SILVER MEDAL is a contemporary young adult novel complete at 62,000 words. I chose to query you because I too fear I may never love my future children as much as I love my dogs. I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript, hoping you will like to read more. Thank you for your time and consideration.
I received this query at a time when no one wanted contemporary YA--back in 2010. (That's when everyone was buying paranormal and dystopian). But I couldn't resist requesting this.

Contemporary stories can sometimes seem hard to write queries for. If they aren't plot heavy stories with really high stakes it can seem daunting to try to make it sound exciting. Here's what I love about this one though.

The twist on stories I've read before. This isn't a high school pregnancy story from the POV of the pregnant teen. It's about the new girlfriend of the teen dad.

It's more than just a romance. Sure there's a romantic element, but there's a lot more to this story. If the main character is empathizing with the baby and realizing that she has more in common with her high school enemy than she though--there's a deeper story there. I love that.

I also love the writing and the voice here. There's potential for humor and a flawed protagonist who makes mistakes but will figure it all out by the end (my favorite kind).

Now the title of this manuscript changed, and I didn't sell it. (Contemporary was a tough sell then remember). But it got us working together and since then, Kara has written three contemporary mystery novels and a TV pilot. And she has a lot more coming down the pipeline. And I still love this book and Maggie, it's wonderfully flawed and hilarious heroine.

1_29_PrepSchoolConfi#8BF92DWICKEDLITTLESECRETSCoverDeadly Little Sins (FINAL COVER)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Release Day!!

Kelly Fiore's second novel, the fabulous Just Like the Movies, is out today!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Ask Me Anything: How Many is Too Many

Here's the question:
I've heard many people say that an agent rejection doesn't mean your manuscript is bad - it's just not a fit for that agent - but how many rejections does it take before a writer should start to reconsider their manuscript and either rewrite or abandon?
This is a good question.

What you've heard is true. And agent rejection doesn't necessarily mean your manuscript is bad. The same with editor rejections. We've all heard the great stories about books that are super successful and got a lot of passes.

But you're right to start thinking that perhaps a certain number means a pattern.

The tricky thing is that there is no set number.

When I go on submission I send to a group of editors. If they all pass, I look at their reasons. If there are similar reasons, then I'll revise with the author and then submit to new editors. Then we might do the same thing again. The whole time, I tell the author to keep writing something else.

You want to do something similar with queries.

Query 10 agents. If you don't get requests, revise your query and first pages. Then query 10 more. If you get requests but then passes, have a beta reader read and send you some notes. Then revise your manuscript. Then query more agents, etc.

All the while, work on something else.

If you don't get an agent and you exhaust your query options and you feel like it's time to put this manuscript in the trunk, hopefully you've already got a new something else that's ready or almost ready to be queried.

This is a long process. I know that sucks, but you're in it for the long haul.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Example Query: Lori M Lee

It's been a while since I shared a client query, but if you're looking for a good example, I have one for you. This one was written by my fabulous client, Lori M Lee.

A few weeks ago, Lisa Desrochers sent you some pages from my YA cyberpunk fantasy HARBINGER, and I was thrilled to hear you were interested in taking a look. I'm honored to have Lisa's referral, and I hope you'll enjoy the story. I wasn't sure how many of my pages Lisa sent you or what I should send now, so I figured I would just submit what's listed in your submission guidelines. 
People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta. Like the rest of the citizens, seventeen-year-old Kai pretends not to notice. With her own survival to worry about, she doesn't have much concern to spare. But when her brother vanishes, Kai will do whatever it takes to find him, including using the ability she promised her brother to keep secret—Kai can see and manipulate the threads of time. 
With the help of an annoying and distracting friend—distracting because he's beautiful, and annoying because he knows it—Kai discovers a secret war between Ninurta's governor and a rebel named the Black Rider. The Rider has been kidnapping Ninurtans and transforming them into cybernetically enhanced soldiers called Golems. 
Kai sets out to find the Rider and discovers a shocking secret: the Rider is actually the Harbinger of Famine. And Kai? Not as human as she thought. Now, Kai will have to face down the Harbinger and uncover the link between herself and the secret war before her brother gets sent for dehumanization. 
Equal parts sci fi and fantasy, HARBINGER is complete at 75,000 words. An excerpt from HARBINGER also won first place in the San Francisco RWA Heart-to-Heart contest in the YA category, and Adam Wilson at Harlequin Teen expressed interest in seeing the full manuscript. He informed me that while he recently moved to Simon&Schuster, he would still like to see the manuscript and wants to forward it to Harlequin Teen. 
I included the first chapter below. Thank you so much for your interest, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing from you.
This is interesting because there's a referral in the first line. It's important that if you use a referral that it's a real referral though. Every once in a while I get a query with a referral from one of my clients--and the client has no idea who the author is. So don't lie--you might get caught.

Lori's referral was in fact true and I was very happy to receive her query.

What I love about this query is that it's a really great example for a fantasy novel--or any novel with a lot of worldbuilding. Rather than start with her main character, Lori starts with a problem in a way that grounds me in the world: People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta.

This query is predominantly about Kai. I get a strong sense of her personality and who she is in this world (and what she can do!) in a very quick span. Obviously this is a fantasy world, but it's Kai and her missing brother that I'm most interested in.

Now the title of this novel changed and in revisions it became much more of a straight fantasy, but it's now called Gates of Thread and Stone and will be released in August!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Comp Titles

Here's the question:
I'd like to offer comps in my query, but (honestly) I haven't read anything like my story in same or similar genres. How close do comps have to be?

Here are my thoughts:

I sort of hate this question. (It's not your fault, don't worry)

But here's the thing. There's a huge problem with saying you haven't ready anything like your story. Taken literally, this means you're not very well read. OR there's nothing out there for a reason.

I'm betting that what's actually happening is that you're a little too focused on comps and not thinking about it quite right. So that's what I'm going to address. You don't have to have a THIS MEETS THAT comparison (like Graceling meets The Selection which is how I pitched Victoria Aveyard's upcoming novel RED QUEEN).

Instead you can have a "For fans of THIS and THAT" comparison. (For Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass, I pitched it for fans of Sara Zarr and Nina LaCour).

So. Think about audience:

Who is going to read your book?

Fans of what books/authors will also be a fan of you/your book?


Cross off books and authors that have surpassed the mainstream tipping point and become a franchise (like Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, Hunger Games, John Green, etc). Those are exceptions since they're read by the non-reader population.

You have to be able to come up with something in terms of a comp. Otherwise, you're book is too different and won't have an audience.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ask Me Anything: The Slush Pile

The question:

I hear a lot of mixed things about slush piles. What is the real, behind-the-scenes story of the submissions process? :)

What kind of mixed things could you be hearing--that sounds scandalous!

It's actually pretty simple.

Writers send queries either via email or mail.

The queries are read either by the agent him/herself or an assistant.

If the agent loves the manuscript/non-fiction proposal, they'll call the author (mostly likely after stalking the author online). As long as that goes well, they'll offer representation.

Some NL specific details:

We still get a few snail mail queries but I'd say 99% of our queries come into our email (query[at]newleafliterary[dot]com). If that's an option I'd say email is the way to go. It's cheaper and faster.

You don't have to be referred. About 95% of our clients have come to us from just a query and those first pages.

Triple check your draft and read it aloud before you hit send. I always get a couple queries (each week!) where someone has replied with a desperate apology about spelling my name wrong or having a typo in the first sentence or not following directions.

Secret: you want the assistant to be the one reading the queries. They request more. They're new and not jaded and exciting about finding a good project, even more than the agents like me who sometimes sit down to read queries at 1 am and think I have too much to read already! The assistants are also terrified of passing on something big and getting fired. (Ok that might sound extreme, but the last thing any assistant wants is to be the assistant that passed on The Hunger Games). 

At NL we share manuscripts and projects we want to take on with the team. We talk foreign rights and film/TV and market and everything as a group. We like sharing expertise.

I have decided to pass on manuscripts before because of either the phone call or online presence. This is a business and I work closely with all my authors. Even if that author could somehow guarantee that the project would make millions of dollars (which is impossible by the way), it wouldn't entice me to work with someone who is on the wrong side of crazy or a terrible human being. There are so many writers out there who are lovely and wonderful people. And I'd rather work with them.

Got any slush pile myths you want to run by me? Leave them in the comments and I'll let you know if they're fact or fiction.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Happy Release Day!!

Chelsea Fine's newest novel is out today: Perfect Kind of Trouble

I signed Chelsea several books ago for her YA novels, but every book she writes I like even more than the last one. This new adult book is a stand alone but set in the same world as Best Kind of Broken and the upcoming Right Kind of Wrong. 

Chelsea does characters and relationships that make me laugh and tear up and smile, all in the same book. I'm so honored to be a part of this whole series. 





Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Interpreting Rejections

So it's really hard to interpret rejections. This is partly because you might be getting form rejections (even on full manuscripts) and that could mean anything from "I just don't love it" to "Your ms fell apart and I stopped reading at page 65."

Here's the question I got recently:

I've had a few agents read partials and say the writing was strong but they didn't fall in love with it. What does this really mean? And should I revise the pages or keep submitting to other agents?

The first step to answering this question is to ask one of my own--Was this a form rejection or was it personalized feedback?

Truthfully there is nothing from a form rejection that means anything. It's a canned response that's essentially pasted into the email. How do you know if it is a form?

It will look something like this:

Dear AUTHOR, 
I finished reading YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Thank you for being so patient while I considered it for representation. I really love your premise. Unfortunately I don't feel it's quite right for my list. I'm regretfully going to pass. 
Please don't take this rejection as a comment on your writing, because it isn't intended to be one. While your novel has merit, I am forced to give serious consideration to the realities of the marketplace when deciding which writers to represent. And I really have to be absolutely in love with every project I choose to take on.

Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors. Due to the volume of queries and submissions I receive, I'm unable to provide a personal evaluation and/or further explanation of my decision. 
Good luck with your submissions. 
Best,
Suzie
There is nothing in this email that is personal to you--other than your name and title which is how you know it's actually me responding and not a robot. If the rejection you have looks like this, it's not going to tell you much. You should keep revising, keep querying, and keep working on something new. Don't let this kind of form get you down.

Now, in terms of personal feedback:

If I do give personal feedback it's usually in between the first and second paragraph and I might comment on characters or the plot or maybe even the writing. I might include more notes at the bottom and I might even invite the author to revise and resubmit--or I might ask them to send me their next project if this one doesn't snag them an agent.

Or occasionally I might say "I just don't love it"--so that writers know this is actually how I feel I usually add a "I know that's not helpful" line. Because feedback that's fixable is always easier to receive, right?

So what should you do if you get a "I just don't love it" type of personal feedback from me or from another agent?

If you've only heard it from one person, WAIT. I know waiting is tough. It is my least favorite thing. But wait it out. If you manuscript is with other agents, wait to hear back from them. See what they say about your book. This business is subjective. There are books out there that I just "haven't loved" and they're published. So someone did love them. It just wasn't me. In the mean time, work on something else.

What should you do if you're getting similar feedback of "I just don't love it" from multiple agents?

Since you're getting requests, that suggests that you have a good concept. This is when you want to think about revising. If more than one person is saying this, that means there's something about your manuscript that isn't doing its job--grabbing its readers. The truth is there are a lot of decent books out there. A lot of books that come across my desk are good. I request them and I read them and I might have some notes here and there, but they writing is good, the development works, the characters and world are all okay. But good or decent or okay doesn't cut it. I can only take on so many clients and so many books.

Think about the stories that you love. What makes you love them? For me, it's usually the characters. I will follow a character that I love anywhere. Truly. I read Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper a few years ago and it is not the typical kind of novel that I read (or it wasn't then, now I'd be happy to read the next Beat the Reaper, keep that in mind!). I loved that book. The writing is fabulous, the voice is amazing, and Dr. Peter Brown, I love that guy! (Past and Present versions).

So if I were you I would start with your characters and see what you can do to make them more alive. Then look at your world--how can you make that more alive. Then look at your pacing--does every scene move the plot forward.  Keep trying to make the book even stronger.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Great Writing Conferences

Someone asked me recently if there were any great writing conferences they should know about. I go to some conferences, but I actually think other writers are going to be best equipped to answer that.

Recently I was at RWA Chicago North's Spring Fling and was super impressed with the conference, especially the "hot night" critique session that I sat in on.

But I also took the question to twitter. The questioner was asking specifically about conferences for YA writers.

Some of the suggestions I got are:

Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers WorkshopThe Western WA SCBWI
New England SCBWI

But let's hear from you. In the comments let me know what are some great conferences that you've been to--not matter what you write.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This is Your Lucky Day

There's not much out there that's better than spending a day with a Cora Carmack novel. Maybe spending a day with this guy...

Only now there's a new Cora Carmack novel that reminds me of the very best things about a show that I loved (family relationships, Texas football, hot guys, strong female characters, etc) and all of the things I love about new adult (romance, college, hot guys, strong female characters, etc).

And today, it's here.


The first book in the Rusk University series, All Lined Up, is one of my new absolutely favorite novels. I know I'm biased, but it's amazing. 

I mean it when I say you're going to love this book. Even if you know nothing and/or don't love football.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ask Me Anything: YA Protagonists

Okay this week's question is:
I'm working on a high-concept YA drama which I'm excited about. An industry person said if I changed the main character from a 16 year-old boy to a 16 year-old girl it could mean the difference between a hit and a massive hit, presumable because of THE HUNGER GAMES's and DIVERGENT's success with female leads. What do you think? Does it matter? FYI In my book's case, even though the lead is male, the three other main characters are female. GRACIAS!
Well I'm all about high-concept YA drama so yay for that!

The advice this industry person gave you is interesting. The Hunger Games and Divergent are good examples of series that have been a massive hit--and they do have female leads.

But there are a few things to think about.

First I want to address something that's not really part of your question: what is the difference between a "hit" and a "massive hit"?

I'm not exactly sure how you define either--I imagine a lot of people have different viewpoints/thresholds. Regardless of the definition though, I think this is the wrong thing to focus on. The truth is that as an author a lot of the publishing process is out of your control. A lot is even out of the publisher's control.

I can think of a number of books that got a big push from their publisher, that I saw everywhere, that I heard someone say "This is the next Hunger Games!" and whether the books were good or not, they did not reach "Hunger Games level" in terms of sales and fan mania.

If you go into publishing looking for your book to be a massive hit, you're bound to be disappointed.

But back to your question. At the root of it, you're asking will your book be more commercial if your protagonist is female.

The answer is: possibly.

I would like to say that it doesn't matter. After all, I'm interested in books that have male protagonists. I like them. I want there to be YA novels for teen boys out there. And I have a problem with telling anyone they should change the gender/race/sexual orientation of their main character for the sake of being more commercial.

But the truth is that right now YA fiction is dominated by female protagonists, because it's also dominated by female readers.

Hunger Games and Divergent have female protagonists as you mention. So do TwilightThe Fifth Wave, A Fault in Our Stars, Shatter Me and The Selection. Even in Cassandra Clare's novels, which have an ensemble cast, arguably the main characters are the female characters: Clary (in Mortal Instruments) and Tessa (in Infernal Devices).

There are of course some exceptions. The Maze Runner and Beautiful Creatures both had male protagonists. Perhaps if John Green had written A Fault in Our Stars from Gus's perspective, it would be just as much of a "massive hit" as it is today. Or perhaps not--it's just not something that I can answer for you. There are a number of really amazing books with male protagonists that didn't take off the way maybe they should have. If I could wave a magic wand, Holly Black's White Cat series would have a movie adaptation and topping the bestseller lists (I loved those books!).

In the end, you'll have to decide what to do with the gender of your protagonist yourself. If you want to think about it from specifically a strategic and commercial angle, I would suggest having a few beta readers, read the ms and get their feedback on whether they would have liked the plot more if the protagonist was female.

Also as them to keeping the following things in mind while they read:

Is this male protagonist a guy that YA readers can love?
Are there some amazing other female characters who are strongly represented throughout the story?

As much as I like money (I do), I'm in this for the love of books and the love of reading and storytelling. If I were you, I would think about what it is that made you fall in love with the story and what made you originally tell a male character's story. Then decide what you think you need to do for this story.

Hopefully you're in this for the long term which means you can always write more books after this one. This feeling that success has to come overnight isn't accurate. After all, both Suzanne Collins, Rick Yancy, and John Green had wonderful books before they perhaps hit the "massive" level of success.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy Release Day!

I have been a Sarah Frances Hardy fan ever since I had the chance to see the picture book dummy for Puzzled by Pink.

So I'm so excited to let you all know that her new book, Paint Me, is out today! (It's also the first picture book that I sold, so it's an exciting milestone for me too!)


I love this little girl and I love her dog who is just as mischievous and cute as she is!



Monday, May 5, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Voice

I've recently gotten two questions about MG voice.

Here they are.
I've been told by agents who've looked at a couple of my MG manuscripts such things as: "it was a little too ... juvenile" and the "character sounded a little younger than her age." If it's a middle grade novel, how do you as an agent determine if a MS has struck a balance between not sounding too young and not sounding like what it is: written by an adult? I know that's a tough, subjective "voice" question, but I'm hoping you can shed a little light based on your experience.
And
This may be a tough question to answer, but when it comes to an MG voice, have you ever read manuscripts that are TOO young-sounding or juvenile for your tastes or for the intended audience? If so, what are some things in the ms that made you decide that?
This is a tough question to answer. Because it really revolves around voice.

To address the questions, I will first say that if you're getting similar feedback from multiple sources, it's probably an issue.

That out of the way, an agent determines whether the voice works in a MG ms (not too young, not like it's written by an adult) by being well-read in the genre. Most readers who are wide read can start reading something and know immediately whether the voice feels authentic or not. Unfortunately something that feels too young feels inauthentic.

I have absolutely read manuscripts--and turned them down--where the voice has been the turn off. I've read manuscripts with a boy protagonist that don't feel like a boy. I've read MG manuscripts that have felt too young.

MG voice is tricky. I think it's one of the hardest voices to "nail" but there are some important factors that go into it.

Who is your intended audience?

Think realistically about what readers are going to pick up your book. So leave out books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Your voice is going to be different if you're writing something for readers of Of Ice and Giants by Shelby Bach than it is if you're writing Wiley and Grampa's Creature Features by Kirk Scroggs. They're different audiences.

What POV are you using?

There's also a huge voice difference between a book like When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. As an author you need to think about the POV you're using and why you're writing the story that way.

Diction, Syntax, and All Things Writing

Another thing to consider is your word choice and sentence structure. Are you avoiding "big words" because you're worried kids won't know them? Do you have too much onomatopoeia or exclamation points which can make your writing seem immature?

My recommendation is to read, read, read. And write, write, write. The more informed you are and the more you practice, the easier it will be to nail your voice.

Some New Leaf reading recommendations with great voice (in addition to the ones mentioned above):
Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Sway by Amber McRee Turner
Chained by Lynne Kelly
Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Termination

Today the question is
How do you know when to switch agents?
This is a tough question because when dealing with human relationships things are always bound to be complex. I also imagine other writers might have more or different advice since they're coming from a different place. But here are my thoughts.

Hopefully you'll never have to switch agents. In an ideal world, the agent you sign with with be your partner forever. Which is why I would say that if at any point in your writer-agent relationship you're feeling unhappy or dissatisfied that you open the lines of communication and discuss it with your agent. This is a tough business and there are a lot of ups and downs. Your agent can be your partner and best advocate and sometimes just talking things out can solve a lot.

But if you have that conversation and you're still unhappy with your agent, you can part ways. This happens. To answer this question, I'd say there's a big sign for me that the agent/author relationship isn't working and it might be fixable or it might not and it's no one's fault.

Ask yourself, do you trust your agent?

You really have to trust your agent. They're your partner and advocate and they're managing your career. If you don't trust them, your communication will really suffer. As an agent, I expect my clients to trust me. I expect them to listen when I offer them advice and I expect them to come to me with questions when they have them. I expect them to keep me looped in one what they're doing. We have to trust each other and be on the same page for us to make the most of our working relationship.

After you talk to your agent, if you feel like the relationship has run it's course then you need to find a new agent.

To do so, you'll need to check your agent agreement. There will most likely be some kind of termination clause that explains how you can terminate the agreement (does it need to be in writing, sent via certified letter?) and what that means for projects that have been sold or that are on submission, etc.

No matter what, you will need to terminate first, before querying other agents.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?