Monday, January 26, 2015

Ask Me Anything: The Call

Here's the question:
I've seen a lot of articles about what writers should ask agents during, "The Call," but what do agents usually ask writers during "The Call?" Thanks in advance!
Ooh, good question and not one that I think I've seen before. I'm happy to lay it out. Just know that every agent is different and "The Call" can vary depending on projects and the author as well.

Anyway, here's how they typically go for me.

After we say hello, I usually try to exchange a few pleasantries. I'm excited to talk about the book, of course, but this is also my chance to get to know the author. I might ask about where they live, or talk about the weather (I know, but come on, this weather!), or ask about the author's day job if they mentioned it.

Then as we move to the book, I'll usually start with all the things I really love about it. 

Some of my book related questions:

What was your inspiration? or How did you come up with the idea?

When did you write it? How long did the first draft take you?

If I have notes, I'll also mention them, or if I emailed them to the author, I'll ask if he/she has any questions on the notes.

Then I move to bigger/wider scope questions:

What else do you want to write? What are some of your WIPs that you're hoping to work on next?

Have you thought about the kind of career you want? Are there other genres/age groups that you want to write in?

What are you looking for in an Agent?

If it sounds like we'll be a good fit, I'll officially offer representation and tell the author more about me, New Leaf, and next steps. 

Then I'll end with "What questions do you have for me?"

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ask Me Anything: Go With My Gut vs. Pay Attention to Criticism

Here's the question:
I just got some harsh feedback from a freelance editor on the first three chapters of my book. I found some good suggestions embedded in the advice and revised it further. He made a strong comment about style & my main character (MC) that I don't agree with. Ultimately, I think his reaction to my MC was rooted in a personal issue. I've worked hard on this novel and finally feel like it is polished & ready to send out, but now I'm worried. Should I go with my gut or pay close attention?


This is a really good question.

I heard Steve Barry speak at a conference one time and he talked about his critique group and how one of the things he struggled with was determine which editorial feedback they offered was gold vs. not so gold.

I'm going to try to answer this by asking you more questions:

Who has read these chapters? You mention you and the editor. You're both at odds.

What about others? Do you have beta readers or critique partners? Have you entered any contests or gotten feedback from other writers? (And people other than family or friends or yes people).

There are times when one opinion might not reflect a majority (just check out some of the 1 star reviews for Game of Thrones and Hunger Games). But if you have multiple people offering the same critique (even if it isn't as harsh) then you might have a legitimate concern.

Who is this editor (or the person giving you the feedback)? Think about who it is that's reading the work and what their credentials and professional background mean to your work.

For instance, if the editor has worked successfully on books that would appeal to the same audience as yours, you want to pay attention. If it's your mom donning an editorial hat or someone who never reads MG (and your book is MG), then maybe you want to seek another opinion.

Another thing to think about is underneath whatever harsh notes or suggestions there are, what is the underlying issue? I have certainly sent notes to authors before and offered up possible suggestions that they didn't want to take. That's okay! But usually there's some kind of underlying issue in there, some reason that I stopped reading in order to write down a note. That's what has to be addressed.

I'm not sure what your notes said, but you mention that you think the reaction to the MC is rooted in a personal issue. Does this mean you think the editor doesn't like your MC? Perhaps examine whether the MC is likable or sympathetic or at least compelling.

In the end, you don't want to ignore your gut, but you also don't want to be stubbornly blind to any issues. I think getting a second opinion is going to be the way to no for sure, where you are.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Happy Release Day!!

The sequel to one of School and Library Journal's Best Books of 2014 has arrived!

Polaris by Mindee Arnett is out today!


It's no secret that I'm a huge Mindee Arnett fan. And this book is no exception. The writing is amazing. Jeth is amazing. The twists (!)... I just have no words. And of course, it satisfies my deep need for an awesome space opera in my life. 

If you haven't read Avalon yet. The paperback is out today too. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Example Query: MarcyKate Connolly

Okay, sit up and pay attention. This is quite a good one:
Dear Ms. Townsend, 
Most people remember their first crush, first kiss, and first day of school. Kymera remembers none of that. But she will never forget her first breath.

When Father recreates her from the parts of her broken body, the wings of a raven, the tail of serpent, and a cat’s razor-sharp vision, he gives her life without memories or pain.

But not without a mission.

Kymera knows who murdered her. A wizard in the city of Bryre who is sacrificing the girls of the countryside one by one. He is monstrous and now Father has created a monster to stop him.

Kymera sneaks into Bryre each night, rescuing the captive girls and doing her best to avoid the city’s human inhabitants. Then one night she meets Ren, the king’s page boy, and her resolve weakens. Her nightly missions take on a dual purpose—save the other girls and steal a few moments with the boy who has yet to see her without her cloak.

As she lingers each night, Kymera begins to overhear things: a snide remark about Father, rumors of a hideous beast, and whisperings of a black market dealing solely in live, human goods. Ever since that first breath, she’s known exactly who she is, but now she is forced to ask who is the real monster here—the wizard, her father, or worse, herself?

MONSTROUS, a YA fantasy complete at 85,000 words, is Frankenstein meets the Brothers Grimm told from the viewpoint of the monster as a teenage girl. I believe it will appeal to fans of Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Graceling. I have a MS in Arts Administration from Boston University and as the former marketing director of a professional theatre, I can actively promote my work. My futuristic YA short story “Connected” was recently published in the Spring Fevers Anthology by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press.

I understand you’re looking for young adult fantasy novels and I thought you might be interested in MONSTROUS. Per your submission guidelines, the first 10 pages are enclosed below. I would be happy to supply additional sample chapters or a full manuscript upon request.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Regards,

MarcyKate Connolly
There's a lot to love about this query.

What struck me first, admittedly was the fact that only two days after she sent me this query, MarcyKate followed up to say she had an offer. So when I read the query, it came with an offer. But I've passed on things with an offer.

This one I had to request because it sounded hauntingly beautiful. Right from the beginning.

One thing that can be hard to queries is figuring out what details are the right ones to include. Here, MarcyKate includes the exact right details. If you look at the first paragraph, those details about people remembering their first crush and first kiss, set up the undertone of romance as well as the loss. Kymera will never have those things.

The writing on a pure language level is gorgeous. This query shows that no matter what's going on plot-wise, MarcyKate Connolly can write. I mean, the way she describes Kymera: created "from the parts of her broken body, the wings of a raven, the tail of serpent, and a cat’s razor-sharp vision"! That imagery gives such a clear vision of our main character that makes her very unique.

The structure is also great. It builds in intensity. Not just within the whole query, but also within each paragraph. The last line in each paragraph adds some new piece of information that makes you want to keep reading.

I knew probably by "But not without a mission" that I was going to have to request this and read it overnight. And I did.

What's also crazy about this query and this book, is that MarcyKate breaks several rules. First, in the opening scene, Kymera wakes up--not just from sleep but on the first day of her life.

And of course, now it's a middle grade novel rather than a YA. But it works. This is an example of when you can be an exception to the rule.

Look for it Tuesday, February 10th!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Ask Me Anything: Revise and Resubmit

So the question is:
First off, thanks for answering all of these questions. It's a huge help! What does a writer do when faced with two requests for revise/resubmit from separate agents within one week? Should the writer be open and honest with both agents, or should the writer simply choose between the two agents and move forward?
Here are my thoughts:

I'm a big fan of open and honesty, but what you do in your next steps depends.

If you receive two R&Rs from two different agents, you also have two different potential situations.

1. Both agents have generally the same notes. They could have different suggestions for changes, but they could be looking at the same underlying issues with the manuscript.

In this case, I'd suggest being open with both agents and letting them know you also got an R&R from someone else too. In that case you'll want to discuss with them (separately) your planned changes and give them an opportunity to weigh in.

If they were asking for an exclusive, you can tell them, you'll only give the revision to the two of them (again correspond with them separately) first but that since they had similar notes, you can't pick one over the other.

2. The agents are taking the manuscript in different direction. The agents have different notes and different issues within the manuscript, reflecting a different editorial vision for the project.

I think this situation is harder and easier at the same time. You can't do both. I'd suggest going with your gut--which vision resembles your vision more closely. Go with those edits. Revise and resubmit and move forward. But also politely let the other agent know that you're thankful for his/her feedback, but you think you want to take the manuscript in a different direction.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy Release Day!

Tracers by JJ Howard is available today!


Tracers is a pretty unique book. It's a book, and it's also about to be a Taylor Lautner movie (March 2015). 

Jen, the fantastically talented author, wrote the book on an insanely fast schedule, and then we made her keep mum about it until it could be all announced. But now it's here and we can tell you all about it!

Here's the official book description:
An action-packed romance—now a major motion picture starring Taylor Lautner! 
Cam is a New York City bike messenger with no family and some dangerous debts. While on his route one day, he runs into a beautiful stranger named Nikki—but she quickly disappears. When he sees her again around town, he realizes that she lives within the intense world of parkour: an underground group of teens who have turned New York City into their own personal playground—running, jumping, seemingly flying through the city like an urban obstacle course. 
Cam becomes fascinated with Nikki and falls in with the group, who offer him the chance to make some extra money. But Nikki is dating their brazen leader, and when the stakes become life-or-death, Cam is torn between following his heart and sacrificing everything to pay off his debts. 
In the vein of great box-office blockbusters, the high-stakes romance here sizzles within this page-turning thriller that will leave readers feeling like they are flying through the streets of New York.
And if you like visuals (or Taylor Lautner), here's the movie trailer:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy Release Day!!

Congratulations to Alexis Bass whose debut novel, Love and Other Theories, is out today!


Chances are you may have already heard me talk about this fantastic novel. It's one of those books that feels achingly real. When I first read the manuscript, I was absolutely obsessed with it, and I was terrified that I would lose Alexis to another agent. Thankfully I didn't. 

And now, I'm not the only one talking about how amazing this book is:

“Warning: Bass’s debut novel will ignite ALL your feelings!” (Wendy Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of the Sweet Evil trilogy)

“I loved LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES. Alexis Bass writes a compelling critique of the ways society expects girls to behave in their relationships, the lies girls tell each other--and themselves--to keep from getting hurt, and, when all is said and done, how only the heart knows the truth.” (Kristin Halbrook, author of Nobody But Us and co-founder of YA Highway)

“Alexis Bass masterfully captures all the complexities of high school relationships. A lovely debut.” (Amanda Maciel, author of Tease)

“A bold debut that authentically captures the frenzy of love, lust, and senior year of high school!” (Julie Murphy, author of Side Effects May Vary)

“Careful, subtle and aching. ” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Love and Other Theories challenged my assumptions, dared me to thinkdifferently and burrowed into my heart. A heart-achingly beautifulstory about whether it is better to protect your heart or to take thebiggest risk of all.” (Daisy Whitney, author of The Mockingbirds)

In her debut novel, Bass provides honest, incisive, and sometimes uncomfortable insights into the complicated intersections of friendship and romance, the ways sex can be wielded as a weapon, and the measures some teens take to protect themselves from pain. (Publishers Weekly)


Monday, December 15, 2014

Happy Release Day!!

Cora Carmack has a new book out

It's new adult, but it's also paranormal.


Kalliope lives with one purpose.

To inspire.

As an immortal muse, she doesn’t have any other choice. It’s part of how she was made. Musicians, artists, actors—they use her to advance their art, and she uses them to survive. She moves from one artist to the next, never staying long enough to get attached. But all she wants is a different life— a normal one. She’s spent thousands of years living lie after lie, and now she’s ready for something real.

Sweet, sexy, and steady, Wilder Bell feels more real than anything else in her long existence. And most importantly… he’s not an artist. He doesn’t want her for her ability. But she can’t turn off the way she influences people, not even to save a man she might love. Because in small doses, she can help make something beautiful, but her ability has just as much capacity to destroy as it does to create. The longer she stays, the more obsessed Wilder will become. It’s happened before, and it never turns out well for the mortal.

Her presence may inspire genius.

But it breeds madness, too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Release Day!!

When I was a baby agent, the second author I signed was Kristin Halbrook. 

And it was for this book:


Back then it was titled something different and it's gone through several rounds of revisions since then, but it was a beautiful book about flawed and real characters, and I loved it. 

It's been a long journey, but the book is finally available to readers, and I couldn't be more proud.

Here's what it's about:

Katie Sawyer has spent the past three and a half years cultivating the perfect UCLA experience. She has the perfect boyfriend: a football star. She has the perfect social life: she's President of Delta Gamma. But her perfect best friend, Chelsea, just drowned. Worse, the body tumbled out of the closet in Professor Griffin's chem lab.

Katie's fairy-tale façade hides a past she would like to forget, but Chelsea's death brings every old emotion to the surface. If she's going to move on from her hurts, Katie has to pull her not-so-perfect self together and search out the identity of Chelsea’s killer, even if it means turning to Josh Hunter for help. It's not easy. Josh infuriates her. Once upon a time, they were next door neighbors and best friends. They were confidants. They were even teenagers fumbling and exploring each other in the dark. He knew everything about her. He owned her heart. That was before things changed.

Now, secrets are surfacing. Chelsea was seeing someone. And she was pregnant when she died. Katie must come to terms with Chelsea’s other life…and face the fact that she has some secrets of her own. Even if it means letting the past--and Josh Hunter--back into her life.

A college Clueless meets Veronica Mars, Kristin Halbrook's new adult mystery is full of sexy romance and twists that will keep you guessing until the end.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Example Query: Alexis Bass

Okay, here's the query:
Hi Suzie,

Seventeen-year-old Aubrey Housing and her best friends abide by the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe when it comes to romance: “A wise girl kisses but doesn't love, listens but doesn't believe, and leaves before she is left.” Following every first kiss with a preemptive strike on future commitment, and giving as little as they know they'll get in return, Aubrey and her friends have made it to the second semester of their senior year heartbreak-free and with their dignity fully intact.

So when Nathan Diggs moves to town he’s no exception. That’s what Aubrey keeps reminding herself. But there’s no denying Nathan is different. He’s oddly caring, polite in a way that isn’t embarrassing, and he happens to have the exact same sense of humor as Aubrey. She tries to shake it – she’s above this – she pities other girls for not knowing better, but it's too late. Aubrey’s already broken the most important rule of all: do not fall in love.

With senior year fading quickly, Aubrey must be strategic if she wants to keep Nathan. She’s seen the failed results when girls want what she wants from Nathan and actually try and have it. But business as usual might mean sharing Nathan, or worse, losing him completely. One false move in either direction could land her a broken heart.

GIRLS EVOLVED is a contemporary young adult novel about letting go, and is complete at 83,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Lauren Oliver, Nina LaCour, or Courtney Summers, and I thought you might be interested in its concept.

The first ten pages are pasted below. I’d be happy to send you more! The manuscript is available at your request.

Sincerely,

Alexis Bass
Here's what I love about it:

The first line. Any high school girl following the wisdom of Marilyn Monroe when it comes to romance, thinks she has it all together, but definitely has another thing coming. I also love the Marilyn quote and the way it's seamlessly incorporated into this query.

The structure. The best queries really build as you read them. This first paragraph tells me who Aubrey is and what she's trying to avoid: a broken heart. The second paragraph raises the stakes and reels me in. That's the point I knew I was going to have to read this manuscript.

Bonus points for the comp authors. Lauren Oliver, Nina, LaCour, and Courtney Summers are all authors I like--and they all can write contemporary YA that feels blisteringly real. And that was exactly what I got with Alexis Bass's debut novel.

The title changed to Love and Other Theories, and of course it comes out next month!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Release Day!!


Jennifer Ryan's novella, Can't Wait, is out today!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Are Agents Gatekeepers?

Okay here's the question:
When agents reply, "It's good, just not for me," isn't that admitting to being gatekeepers to traditional publishing?
And here are my thoughts:

No.

There are a few reasons why. Here's one:

There's a subjective element to books. I might read a book about wereferrets and think "this has a great voice but I don't like ferrets" and another agent might read and love and think "this is the best thing I've ever read."

This isn't gatekeeping because not all agents have the same taste. I've read books before that I probably wouldn't have requested at the query stage. But those books still found an agent and still got published.

Plus, editors do the same thing to us. Let's say I did sign the wereferrets book. Not every editor would want it no matter how good it was. Even huge bestsellers or books that go to auction still get some passes. If it's well written with a good voice, I'm sure they see that, but they also just might not fall in love with the wereferrets.

And it's not just them either. Editors also have to "sell" the books they want to take on to their team--publisher, sales, marketing, etc. Sales might say--sure this is good, but we can't sell wereferrets to the major accounts so no.

And they say that because they're interacting with bookstores and the accounts (major retailers) and those buyers are saying "no we don't want any shapeshifters, we're not going to order any copies of books like that." Or maybe sales remembers how last year they tried to say a book with werebadgers and that book only sold 200 copies because none of the accounts ordered it to carry in store. Therefore they don't think wereferrets will be much different.


And the retailers, they're making that decision based on what they think their consumers want. Which they're determining based on the what the consumers are actually buying--or not buying. If they order 100 copies of a book about werebadgers and only sell two copies, they're not going to want any copies of a book about wereferrets.

So really it's the consumers that are driving the stores, and the publishers, and the agents. That's not to say that there aren't readers out there hungry for a story about wereferrets--it just means they're not buying books like that at traditional retailers. Maybe they're only buying ebooks. Or maybe they're reading fanfiction and pirating ebooks. Maybe they're only buying books from shapeshifting fandom conventions. I don't know (this example is getting out of control, but I hope you see what I'm saying).

Now here's another reason:

"This is good, but it's not for me" might not be the truth. There might be a harder truth, like "This is good, but it's not good enough."

I really like clothes. I get one of those monthly boxes that sends you a few clothing pieces and an accessory. Last month, it included a pair of earrings that were gorgeous and I really liked them. But they were $50 for just a little pair of earrings that weren't anything super special. So I liked them, a lot, but I didn't $50 like them.

Sometimes manuscripts are the same way. I've said I really like fantasy. Let's say I request a YA fantasy. I might read to the end, I might think, "that was a good read" but I do a lot more for my clients than just read their books once. There's the reading and the editing, but there are meetings and phone calls and strategizing and a lot of hours that go into that client's career and their books.

And there's only so many hours in a day. I can only take on so many clients. So I might read that YA fantasy manuscript and think, this is good, but it's not good enough for me. Maybe it's the characters or the pacing or the writing. Or maybe it's not even anything I can put my finger on. Maybe it just doesn't stay with me after I've put it down. Whatever it is, I don't love it the way I loved Gates of Thread and Stone or Red Queen. So it's not for me--because I only have time for things I love that much.

Sometimes it's hard to articulate that to authors. Even us agents don't like to discourage people or hurt people's feelings--and there are a lot of agents, maybe someone else will see something I don't or they'll have the time.

So that's a long answer to your question. I don't think we're gatekeepers. I know it's hard to get a book traditionally published--and that it's hard to get an agent. But the internet has made it easier than it was. Keep writing. Write a great book that you're passionate about--even if the characters are wereferrets! Then write another book. And keep going. At some point, you'll get there.

Happy Release Day!

You might not know this about me, but I'm a Friday Night Lights fan. It's less the football and more the characters that I loved. 

Which is why when Cora Carmack had an idea for the Rusk University series, I was super excited.

I loved All Lined Up

But All Broke Down is even better. I know I say this a lot, but this book is my new favorite Cora Carmack novel and that's saying a lot. 


For me, this one line says it all: She fights for lost causes...he is one.

Silas Moore has everything I loved about Tim Riggins. And there was a lot to love about Tim Riggins.


And the romance. Oh my god.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy Release Day!

So by now, you probably know the story. I was adamant about the fact that New Adult was not a thing. Then I read Cora Carmack's Losing It and changed my mind.

After that I read a lot of New Adult. In fact I read just about whatever I could get my hands on. I loved it! But because I read so much of it, sometimes the stories started to feel a little similar. I got a lot of submissions (which was a good thing!) but after a six months to a year, I started wondering if this was it, if I could find more NA that I really loved, or if I had about all the NA clients that I needed.

Then I got a query from Renita Pizzitola. And I was reminded what I love about NA so much.

Just a Little Crush by Renita Pizzitola is a beautifully authentic college story. It reminded me of how it felt to think that I had everything together, that I knew exactly what I wanted out of life only to find out that it was the things I was wrong about--and the hot mess mistakes--that worked out best in the end.

So.

Happy release day to Renita!


Monday, October 13, 2014

Ask Me Anything: How Literal was I...

Okay, here's the question:
I remember Suzie always states that she keeps reading a manuscript if the first line catches her, then the second, the third, and so on. I don't know if I should take this literally, but if you come across a line that needs work, do you stop there even if you were interested in what was before? Are you willing to forgive that single line (or lines) and keep going?
This is a good question. I do say this a lot. I wasn't the first agent to say it. I heard it from a wiser more experienced agent on a panel back when I was a baby agent.

So here are my thoughts.

You do have to take that literally...to a point. For the first 25-50 pages or more until I'm hooked, each line really has to grab and hold onto me.

Once I'm hooked, I can overlook things and keep reading.

Now, here's the thing. When you mention a "line that needs work" though, it makes me think we might be talking about different things.

When I mention that the first line catches me, I'm not talking mechanics. I'm talking voice and storytelling.

Have you seen this?

I started reading that manuscript on a Sunday afternoon. I could not stop. Even though the manuscript turned out to be 168k words. It had some issues. I gave some notes. There was probably a typo or two. But the voice and the storytelling had me by the end of the first chapter. There was no way I was going to stop reading.

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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?