Monday, September 26, 2011

Calling All Picture Book Writers!


MeeGenius is a digital publishing company that does picture book apps for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Google TV, and the web. They're a fast-growing company, and in addition to publishing original digital picture books, one of their goals is to become a community for children's book writers and illustrators; a place for them to get to know each other, learn more about publishing, exchange ideas, and get published online! To that end, they're launching a "Book Challenge," and are inviting writers to submit manuscripts. 

They're looking for The Next Great Children's Book Author.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Peek Into a Pitch Letter

Yesterday, the fabulous Mindee Arnett posted her query as well as some query tips which she felt helped her find me and get my attention.

(Check out the query and those tips when you get a chance, I told myself I wasn't going to sign new clients or go out with new projects this summer unless I found something that Blew. Me. Away. and Mindee certainly did.)

But this got me thinking (I do a lot of that), and I asked Mindee for permission to post the letter I used when pitching to editors.

The Fabulous Mindee


The first thing I did when preparing for submission was make a submission list--I made a list of the editors I thought would love Mindee's writing style and the character's voice, as well as be hooked by the story. Then I looked at some of their (or their imprint's recent acquisitions) and pitched the project to a few colleagues for practice and some of them said "Oh, put this editor on your list."

Once I had my submission list, I was going to send to 10 editors.

So I made the calls.

For THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR, which I pitched as Paranormalcy meets Hex Hall, I explained to editors that I got Mindee's query right before a conference. While there I read the whole thing, and then I called her the Monday morning I left for New Zealand, because I knew it couldn't wait until I got back.

Everyone eagerly requested to see the manuscript, and I sent it to them with this letter:

[Editor],

Here it is--THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR by Mindee Arnett. I hope you love it :)

16-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare. Literally. Dusty is a magical being who feeds on human dreams.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder. The setting is Arkwell.

And then it comes true.

Now the Dusty has to follow the clues--both within Eli’s dreams and out of them--to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

Mindee Arnett’s debut novel, THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR (80,000 words), is Paranormalcy meets Hex Hall. Mindee lives in Ohio with her husband, two children, four horses, four dogs, and a plethora of cats. Her short stories have appeared in various magazines, and she has a Master of Arts in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She also blogs and tweets--and she’s hard at work on her next novel.

Best,

Suzie Townsend


So if you check out Mindee's query, this is a little different, but I definitely used her query as a springboard.

And for those of you who like statistics, THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR officially sold to Whitney Ross at Tor Teen in 16 days.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Read for Relief!

In case you haven't seen it, a group of fabulous authors--including Erin Bowman whose novel THE LAICOS PROJECT is fantastic! and the lovely Sarah Enni who I had the pleasure of meeting during BEA this year--are doing an auction to support the Red Cross after Hurricane Irene left a lot of devastation in her wake.

You can Donate Directly--or you can bid on a number of fabulous items up for auction.

Such as...

A critique from the brilliant Sarah Goldberg. (I know how brilliant she is, trust me.)  Her notes on manuscripts are even better than mine. Saturday 9/17 is the last day to bid.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gay Characters in YA

Yesterday I read an article in PW about agents asking authors to make gay characters straight.  And it got me thinking. There's maybe another side to this story.

I have to say my favorite books with gay characters are books that are Great Books first and books that just happen to have characters who are gay.

Take Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz. It's brilliant. And yes, Hannah is my client, but I have a confession--this might be my favorite Hannah Moskowitz book. But it's a fabulous story set during the DC sniper shootings of 2002, with two teenage boys trying to make sense of their lives and falling in love in the process.

One of my favorite series to read as a YA fangirl is The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Without any spoilers for those who haven't read it, there's a fantastic character who's a little in love with his best friend. And the longing, the tension, the heartache that those feelings aren't returned...it's all so real and amazing. (And who doesn't know what it's like to have a crush on a friend, who really doesn't feel that way back?")

I'm frustrated with the hit you over the head books that sound preachy or books with gay characters that feel like that's their only characterization, like they exist in the story just for the sake of hitting a hot topic. I want more books that are just great stories, stories with complex characters I identify with because I know what it feels like to have to let go of an ex in order to fall in love with someone new, stories that present characters as real fully rounded people who just happen to also be gay, rather than cliched, one dimensional, or "token."

What are some other books with Great Stories and Great Characters (that happen to be gay)?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Page Shooter #12

Word Count: 50,000

Original Text:

Guys have been known to do some pretty dumb shit because of women. Take the Trojan war, for example--Coach Wilder, who’s also our literature teacher (budget cuts) is making us read the Iliad this year. Basically, before Homer’s story begins, some king gets pissed because this other guy steals his girl. And to make a long story short (which the Iliad does not do), all hell breaks loose. All because some gods want to settle an argument. Just goes to show, gods make mistakes, too. I should know. My brother, Jupiter, is one. A high school god. Or at least he was one. Which made me like a demi-god or something—no, more like Hades. The unseen one.

As of right now, I’m not sure what I am. Or what my brother is for that matter. Presently, he’s standing on the sidewalk on the cross streets of Main and Fourth—right outside Jabberwocky Hardware. And as me and the other guys on the hockey team walk past the Butterfly Café towards Dick’s Burgers, I don’t recognize him. But when I do, I notice is his feet before I notice anything else—or more accurately what’s on his feet. He’s wearing roller skates. Roller skates.

And the freakin’ skates aren’t even the half of it.

His legs are encased in black fishnet stockings. His muscles—muscles defined by years of hockey--look different—womanly—underneath the twisted nylon. Over his Stadium High gym shorts, he’s wearing a black-and-green-colored tutu.

With Suzie's Comments:

Um, I love this. Just have to say that to start.


Guys have been known to do some pretty dumb shit because of women. Right here, I know I love the voice. This first line made me sit up and pay attention. I've known some guys who did some dumb shit too.


I think this would be even more readable with some more paragraph breaks so that's why I've inserted them.

Take the Trojan war, for example--Coach Wilder, who’s also our literature teacher (budget cuts) haha, love it is making us read the Iliad this year. Basically, before Homer’s story begins, some king gets pissed because this other guy steals his girl. Excellent teenage summary :) And to make a long story short (which the Iliad does not do) awesome!, all hell breaks loose. All because some gods want to settle an argument.

Just goes to show, gods make mistakes, too. I should know. My brother, Jupiter, is one. A high school god. Or at least he was one. I love this introduction to Jupiter. For a second I was afraid he was going to be a real God.  I was happy to see he's a high school one and I'm excited to read more about Jupiter's fall from godhood if that's what's coming. Which made me like a demi-god or something—no, more like Hades. The unseen one. I like this, and I'm also guessing at this point that our narrator is also a boy. I wasn't quite sure, though I was leaning towards "boy" but now I'm more convinced.

As of right now, I’m not sure what I am. Or what my brother is for that matter. Presently, he’s standing on the sidewalk on the cross streets of Main and Fourth—right outside Jabberwocky Hardware. And as me and the other guys on the hockey team walk past the Butterfly Café towards Dick’s Burgers, I don’t recognize him. But when I do, I notice is his feet before I notice anything else—or more accurately what’s on his feet. He’s wearing roller skates. Roller skates.

And the freakin’ skates aren’t even the half of it.

His legs are encased in black fishnet stockings. Do teenage boys know what fishnets are? His muscles—muscles defined by years of hockey--look different—womanly—underneath the twisted nylon. muscles defined by years of hockey sounds out of voice for me--it sounds like something one of my parents would have said, but not a teenager. Same with womanly.  I'm not sure how old our MC is yet, but I think it might say his brother is wearing tights and his legs look girlie or something less well-thought out, if that makes sense. Over his Stadium High gym shorts, he’s wearing a black-and-green-colored tutu.

This is fabulous! I love the voice, and I'm so interested in the dynamic between our MC and Jupiter, and I can't wait to find out what girl has influenced Jupiter into wearing this get up. I'd definitely keep reading.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Page Shooter #11--REVISED

Sci Fi Dystopian 138,000 words

New Text:


General Lucian Devereaux strode the Cliffhanger’s halls with anger pulsing in his temples like a second heartbeat. He paid little attention to the two men in black and their captive who hung his head and dragged his feet as though half-asleep. The men saluted the general as they passed him, then continued to the top of a descending staircase. It whirred to life, taking the prisoner into the abyss that was the concentration camp’s dungeon.

After pausing to straighten the collar of his deep green jacket, Lucian walked on. Despite his rage, he needed to remain presentable for the upcoming conference – as presentable as he was for every event he attended. He tried slicking back that unruly strand of hair that hung over his right eye, but it remained untamable as ever, doing nothing to help his mood. Frowning, the general stepped onto the main staircase and murmured, “Tenth floor.”

Work days at the Hanger were never pleasant, but today’s happenings had nearly driven him to the edge. Lucian tightened his grip on the parchment in his hand.

The tenth floor, like the eleventh and twelfth, was reserved for the most important military figures. He didn't bother knocking before stepping inside the conference room.

Dim lighting rendered Lucian momentarily blind. 3-D projections of paintings flickered inside depressions in the walls, giving the room a muted glow. Two seated military figures awaited Lucian around a table.

“Well?” he asked them.

“No luck, General Devereaux,” said Acker in his high-pitched voice. “Whoever this rebel is, he’s keeping a low profile.”


With Suzie's Comments:


According to the author, we're starting with a different scene as a first one, and we're in the perspective of the main character this time.



General Lucian Devereaux strode the Cliffhanger’s halls with anger pulsing in his temples like a second heartbeat. "Pulsing" gives the same impression as the second heartbeat simile. He paid little attention to the two men in black and their captive who hung his head and dragged his feet as though half-asleep. Again, the image of him is strong without the repetitive figurative language. The men saluted the general as they passed him, then continued to the top of a descending staircase. It whirred to life, taking the prisoner into the abyss that was the concentration camp’s dungeon. The staircase "whirred to life"? I'm confused... After reading this paragraph a few times I think I have an accurate portrayal of what's happening, but it took me a few reads to figure it out.  

After pausing to straighten the collar of his deep green jacket, Lucian walked on. Despite his rage, he needed to remain presentable for the upcoming conference – as presentable as he was for every event he attended. He tried slicking back that unruly strand of hair that hung over his right eye, but it remained untamable as ever, doing nothing to help his mood. Frowning, the general stepped onto the main staircase and murmured, “Tenth floor.”

Work days at the Hanger were never pleasant, but today’s happenings had nearly driven him to the edge. Lucian tightened his grip on the parchment in his hand.

The tenth floor, like the eleventh and twelfth, was reserved for the most important military figures. He didn't bother knocking before stepping inside the conference room.

Dim lighting rendered Lucian momentarily blind. 3-D projections of paintings flickered inside depressions in the walls, giving the room a muted glow. Two seated military figures awaited Lucian around a table.

“Well?” he asked them.

“No luck, General Devereaux,” said Acker in his high-pitched voice. “Whoever this rebel is, he’s keeping a low profile.” 


My main question here, is why did we start with this scene: Him walking to the conference room. Why not start with the conference? Why not start with a scene to show whatever is making Devereaux so mad? I feel like I'm waiting for something to happen.


If this scene is important as a starting point, I'd rather get more of a concrete image of what happens to the prisoner in the first paragraph as well as imagery about Cliffhanger (what does it smell like in a place like that? sound like?--there are a lot of possibilities), and then get right to the conference room.


I'm not sure I care that he's wearing a green jacket or that he needs to be presentable or that he has an unruly strand of hair hanging over his right eye--is this stuff important for an opening scene?


And rather than be told "work days at the Hanger were never pleasant"--I want to see it instead.


Original Text:

It was said that nobody knew how to reach the doors of the black tower from the outside – nobody but generals Acker and Devereaux. Officer Myron Kline had been flown in with a jet, and though the tower's sentries were ordered not to shoot on this occasion, he hadn't felt at ease until making contact with the ground.

Sunset was approaching, but the overcast sky trapped the sun's glow between layers of mist. The sea churned under low, thick clouds, licking the sides of a cliff that protruded over the water like a blade of steel. The young officer’s uniform was damp from the sea’s spray, but he barely noticed this as he strode towards the cliff’s peak. There, rising into the clouds, loomed the tower made of lustrous black onyx.

Repressing a shiver, Myron now noticed how closely it teetered to the raging waters below.

On the other hand, he could see the appeal of building the tower on such a treacherous terrain: it ensured a difficult time for those foolish enough to attempt escape. The camp hadn’t been baptized Cliffhanger for nothing, and he was now one of the few who knew the reasoning behind its name. A slip of the tongue concerning the Cliffhanger meant heavy punishment under the orders of General Devereaux, but the young officer had no intention of making such a mistake now that he was in the general’s employment.

He'd already sworn the oath of silence, and those who broke it didn't live to tell the tale.

With Suzie's Comments:

First, a note on word count. 138k is borderline too long.  It does depend on genre, and this one didn't say what it was, but when you have a long word count, make sure that every scene is developing the character and pushing the plot forward. And maybe go through and make sure you are using words to their best advantage. You don't want to be saying something in 20 words when it can be said just as well in 15.

It was said that nobody knew how to reach the doors of the black tower from the outside – nobody but generals Acker and Devereaux. Officer Myron Kline had been flown in with a jet, and though the tower's sentries were ordered not to shoot on this occasion, he hadn't felt at ease until making contact with the ground. I'm not sure I like the first line--I like it in the sense that it's a good line, but I don't like it as an opening. I don't know what the black tower is. It's black and it's a tower and if no one can reach the doors it seems sort of ominous, but because I don't really know enough, I think that I don't feel the trepidation like I should. Plus, two last names of two guys not on page have just been thrown my way right before introducing a third name, presumably the character I'm following. It might be more beneficial to open with a line about Officer Myron Kline and what he sees approaching the black tower--show me what it is please--and then tell me no one knows where the doors are and that's why he's been flown in by jet. Then the introduction of the tower PLUS the sentries orders (omg!) will make me feel as nervous as Myron.

Sunset was approaching, but the overcast sky trapped the sun's glow between layers of mist. The sea churned under low, thick clouds, licking the sides of a cliff that protruded over the water like a blade of steel. The young officer’s uniform was damp from the sea’s spray, but he barely noticed this as he strode towards the cliff’s peak. There, rising into the clouds, loomed the tower made of lustrous black onyx. This is a nice descriptive paragraph, but I still don't know what the tower looks like. How/Where is he striding if he was being flown in? Also, some of the descriptive words here are counterproductive to setting the tone. This seems sort of pretty to me. But if the tower is supposed to give Myron shivers (like it does below), I want a creepy description of the area. It could even be sort of pretty but contrasted with the black toward, it looks wrong.  I don't know but lustrous black onyx says pretty jewelry to me, not creepy ominous tower.

Repressing a shiver, Myron now noticed how closely it teetered to the raging waters below. Raging waters? I thought they were licking the cliffs, that seemed calm to me.

On the other hand, he could see the appeal of building the tower on such a treacherous terrain: I need more evidence of how the terrain is treacherous it ensured a difficult time for those foolish enough to attempt escape. The camp hadn’t been baptized Cliffhanger for nothing, and he was now one of the few who knew the reasoning behind its name. What reason? Did I miss something? A slip of the tongue concerning the Cliffhanger meant heavy punishment under the orders of General Devereaux, but the young officer had no intention of making such a mistake now that he was in the general’s employment.

He'd already sworn the oath of silence, and those who broke it didn't live to tell the tale. I really like this last line--it's in my opinion the best line of the excerpt, and because of it I think I'd turn the page and read one more to see if my interest could be grabbed. This line gives me the sense of danger and intrigue. I want to know what he has to be silent about!

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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?