Thanks everyone for being patient with me! I'm finally ready to announce the winners of the celebratory writing contest, in honor of A Little Too Far by Lisa Desrochers.

We had 40 fabulous entries and it was so tough to pick a winner! There were several really great ones. Here are my favorites:

Best New Leaf Client Entry
Dan Krokos @ 2:08 pm

Best Priest
Meg @ 10:23 am

Best Use of My Name
Violet Ingram @ 7:40 pm

Made Me LOL
Rochelle @ 3:02 pm

JF @ 5:52 pm

Best Twist
Abigail Johnson @ 2:37 pm

Best Suspense
Ambiguous_A @ 5:44 pm

Best Voice
Ashley @ 10:34 am

Runner Up
Sarah Blair @ 3:49 pm

And the winner is...

Shannon Koga @ 11:57 am

It’s totally Clueless, I know. Falling for your stepbrother. Your stupid, leaves his crappy-art-installations-all-over-the-living-room-floor stepbrother. They’re the kind of portraits that make a priest reach for his cross—hot, wild blurs of every scorned ex-girlfriend he’s ever had, covered in nothing but household objects.

This time it’s Tara, up to her navel in toasters; chords lashing around her ankles, smoke framing her face. Stubbing my foot on her, it’s the literal worst. A cough. I look up, and there he is, much too far, atop the staircase. “That’s for the burn-pile.”

I draw my lips together. “It’s not that bad.”

Shannon! Shoot me a quick email and I'll get you your copy of A Little Too Far by Lisa Desrochers and we'll chat about the critique you won!
As I mentioned yesterday, A Little Too Far, the fabulous new adult novel by the amazingly talented Lisa Desrochers, released yesterday.

If you haven't bought it yet, I don't know what you're waiting for, but...

I'm celebrating this release and accommodating a request for another 100 word writing contest.

Here are the details:
You need to write a short story (100 words or less!) using these five words:


Post your story in the comments of this post by 11:59 pm on September 21st.

What do you win?
A paperback copy of A Little Too Far by Lisa Desrochers


Your choice: either a first page critique or a query critique--good for you or a friend if you're feeling generous.

Can't wait to see what you come up with!
Lisa Desrochers' New Adult novel, A Little Too Far, is out today!

I signed Lisa back in 2009 for a YA paranormal romance (the fabulous Personal Demons). She was one of the first clients I signed and her book was my first sale!

If you've read Personal Demons, you know that Lisa does steamy and romance very well. (If you haven't read it, you should. It's sexy, funny, and fast paced). So when she told me she had written a New Adult novel, I was really excited about it. Then I read it. 

And it blew me away. I swooned and blushed and even wept. 

I'm so excited to be able to share this book now with you. 

I'm so excited to share with you the cover and description for Stacey Kade's new novel.

Here's what Stacey says about Bitter Pill:

Thank you so much for participating in the reveal for Bitter Pill. I’m so excited to be able to share it with you guys! It is one of those incredibly rare books where it almost felt like it wrote itself, and I just had to keep up. Well, the first draft anyway! :D

When I wrote this story, I was desperately homesick for the very tiny town where I lived in junior high. As some of you know, my dad is a Lutheran pastor, so we moved quite a bit during my childhood. For whatever reason, that small town in Southern Illinois really stuck with me. Morrisville is a (very) fictionalized version of that place.

There’s an odd mix of intense gossip and deep reserve that seems inherent to small towns. It’s part of the culture—“We know everything about everybody, but we don’t talk about that.” Certain things were just not discussed, which makes small towns a prime environment for secrets. And secrets are at the heart of every mystery. 

So, when I sat down to write this story, that element of knowing someone well but not really knowing what they might be capable of intrigued me. 

Rennie Harlow is my grown-up version of Nancy Drew, I suppose. Except, unlike cool, calm and collected Nancy, Rennie’s life is a disaster. She’s trying to make it through a particularly rough patch, but she’s flailing and fumbling, and I can so relate to that.  

As for Sheriff Jake Bristol…well, what can I say, there’s something about an honorable man in a tough situation that’s pretty irresistible. :D 

Thank you again for checking out Bitter Pill, and I hope you’ll give it a try!

Are you ready for the cover? Okay here it is...

scroll down




I just love this model and her black dress and pink roses in the graveyard. 

Here's the official description:

The truth is a bitter pill... 
Rennie Harlow is having a bad year. She had a handsome husband, a good job, and a renovated condo in Chicago. Now, thanks to one "exotically beautiful" paralegal, she’s divorced, faking her way through a writing career, and living above her hypochondriac mother's garage back in Morrisville, the small town she couldn't leave fast enough at eighteen. On top of all of that, she just found Doc Hallacy, the local pharmacist, dead behind his counter. And the worst part is, he's the third body she’s stumbled across this year.  
Jake Bristol has lived in Morrisville his whole life. A former bad boy turned sheriff, he doesn’t believe it’s just Rennie’s luck or timing that’s the problem. He thinks she’s too nosy for her own good. The last thing he needs is her messing around with his murder investigation so that she can freelance for the Morrisville Gazette.  But as they both delve deeper into Doc's death, they find that things don't add up. This isn't a robbery gone wrong or the work of a desperate junkie. Someone has a secret they're killing to keep. The only question is—who's next?

Bitter Pill will be available 10/28! Add it to your goodreads here and don't forget to enter the giveaway!

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Recently on tumblr, one of the questions was about queries (shocking I know). The author said she loved her book but hated her query and had written and re-written it an endless amount of times but couldn't seem to figure out how to get her novel across.

Naturally this made me want to look at it. With her permission, I'm going to share the query and then my thoughts on it here.

The query:

At 8:00AM, sixteen-year-old Aly Shapiro sketched the world she has dreams of on her desk. At 10:00AM , she accidentally pushed Zurich, the weird transfer student, into a car, after he antagonized her about the sketch. And at 11:30AM, Aly and Zurich traveled to Prithium, the place he claimed she dreams of. But, sometimes boys with violet eyes and magical worlds aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
The first thing Aly witnesses in Prithium is a public execution put on by the Protectors: a group of arachne that control the citizens. Then, the victim’s body disappears into thin air. Aly thinks she's finally gone crazy. That is, until the protectors accuse her of tampering with the murder and pursue her for the crime. Prithium is more corrupt than Aly could have imagined. Infants are born only in pairs and are deemed either virtuous or maleficent at birth. The latter are banished to a dissolute place called the Badlands.
But, Aly’s presence here may not have been by chance. She discovers she can harness energy and create portals to transport anywhere she wants- an ability only someone from Prithium can possess. She is warned to keep the truth hidden because it can mean certain death by the Protectors. But when conflict grows and her family’s lives are threatened Aly’s secret could end up saving those closest to her …or it might destroy her.

Here are my thoughts:

First, formatting. It sounds lame, but it really helps. More white space makes it easier to read.

At 8:00AM, sixteen-year-old Aly Shapiro sketched the world she has dreams of on her desk. 
At 10:00AM , she accidentally pushed Zurich, the weird transfer student, into a car, after he antagonized her about the sketch. 
And at 11:30AM, Aly and Zurich traveled to Prithium, the place he claimed she dreams of. But, sometimes boys with violet eyes and magical worlds aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

In theory, I like this opening. It's slightly non-traditional and I love the lead up (Josin McQuein pitched her novel Premeditated this way and it was stellar). However, I don't think it works here. None of these things are high stakes enough, and the different actions don't build the way that they should. I was interested in her sketch, but then I expect something BIG to come of it. Pushing a transfer student into a car after he antagonizes her isn't big enough. In fact the way it comes out is kind of weird. Then they travel to this other world, which makes me think it's a "trip into a portal fantasy" which is probably what would make me pass. That's not to say it's not good the way it's executed in the novel. It could just sound that way. The best part of this paragraph is the last line.

The first thing Aly witnesses in Prithium is a public execution put on by the Protectors: a group of arachne that control the citizens. Then, the victim’s body disappears into thin air. Aly thinks she's finally gone crazy. That is, until the protectors accuse her of tampering with the murder and pursue her for the crime. Prithium is more corrupt than Aly could have imagined. Infants are born only in pairs and are deemed either virtuous or maleficent at birth. The latter are banished to a dissolute place called the Badlands.

There's too much information in this paragraph about Prithium. The details feel all over the place. Focus on what is absolutely necessary to the main plotline. Backstory and worldbuilding can be left in your book. It's also losing sight of Aly a little and that's not good. We want to feel compelled to follow her through this story. Also WHO IS THIS DREAM BOY? You caught my interest with that and then there's nothing about him.

But, Aly’s presence here may not have been by chance. She discovers she can harness energy and create portals to transport anywhere she wants- an ability only someone from Prithium can possess. She is warned to keep the truth hidden because it can mean certain death by the Protectors. But when conflict grows and her family’s lives are threatened Aly’s secret could end up saving those closest to her …or it might destroy her.

Be careful of grammatical errors. I'm the first to admit that my grammar sometimes blows. But this is important. Commas go before conjunctions not after. Little things like this feel like glaring mistakes to us. Anyway, back to the content--in this paragraph we discover a little more about Aly, except it feels a little cliche. She discovers she has a power and it's special. That sounds like every other YA book I've read lately. What makes this one different--you have to show that. I do like the implication that she is actually from Prithium. However, this is again introducing too much information and maybe not enough of the right information. Reading this paragraph, I asked myself these questions: Can' everyone from Prithium use magic? If so why is it a secret, if not why can she? Who are the Protectors really? And wait they're arachne, like spiders? What conflict is growing? How are are family's lives threatened if they're back on earth? So I'm not hooked because I'm still focused on what I don't know rather than what I do know. I'm also still asking myself what happened to Zurich the weird transfer student who disappears from the query after the first paragraph and WHO IS THIS DREAM BOY?

So here's what I would do with this query.

Start with Aly. She's sixteen but tell us something else about her. Show us who she is. Then give us the catalyst: traveling to Prithium. The first paragraph would look something like this. (And yeah, keep in mind I'm making this up). 

For sixteen-year-old Aly Shapiro, the dream has always been the same. It starts with the sun on her face and a feeling of power that comes from within her, some kind of magic that makes her strong. Someone takes her hand, the feel of his fingertips sending shivers up her arm. She turns to him--a boy with violet eyes--and she feels like melting into him. The perfection doesn't last that way though. The dream is a nightmare, and she always dies at the end. Then she wakes, still feeling the burn of the rope around her neck and gasping for air. When reality and her dreams collide, Aly realizes that beautiful boys with striking eyes and magic aren't all that they're cracked up to be.

Okay this is a little long--too long--but it's the best I can do off the cuff. You can cut a sentence or two from that first paragraph, but it sets the scene and gives a quality to Aly (I went for wistfulness because I'm a romantic and then a threat to her life because come on that's exciting). I also implied that the dream world is magical and different without making it sound like she tripped and fell into a portal. Because that's a turn off.

In the next paragraph introduce the direct threat she faces in Prithium as well as a few key worldbuilding details. And introduce this boy with violet eyes.

Prithium is the world of Aly's dreams, but it's more than that. The events of her dream, they're real, and they're happening to her now. Damon, the boy with of her dreams, makes her feel lightheaded with his touch and his devilish smile. She has a strength that she didn't know was inside her, a magic that died out with the massacre of the royal family fifteen years ago. A magic that's now illegal.

But things aren't perfect. Damon is one of the leaders of a rebellion against the ruling protectorate of the city. He wants to use her and her magic to put his uncle on the throne, someone that despite all logic makes Aly want to cringe. She has to help them though. If she's exposed the protectorate will execute first and ask questions later, something Aly has witnessed firsthand. She needs to figure out the truth of who she is and where her magic comes from, and she needs to pick a side. Because she knows how this dream ends: with her death.

There are still some cliches in here. (Missing royal heir and rebellion). And over all I don't think this actually is the story of the query, so it's just an example. BUT it introduces a love story (Damon), the choice she faces (should she use her illegal magic to aid the rebellion), and the potential consequences (exposure, execution).

It's not perfect. I don't know that I would request this as I've rewritten it. YA is so crowded and I don't know that it's quite different enough (dream worlds as a concept are tough), but I would scroll down and look at the pages and check out the voice. And if it sucked me in I would request.

Those are my thoughts on the query. Let me open it up to everyone else. What are your thoughts on the original query?
You probably know by now that I’ve become a champion of New Adult. Well, I've been talking about it with readers and writers and people in publishing. Because New Adult is relatively “new” and it’s been skyrocketing in popularity, a lot of people seem to have a lot of questions about it. I took to twitter and asked for the most pressing questions they had, and put together the most frequently asked ones together.

Then it occurred to me that it might be better to have more than just one opinion so I’ve asked a few friends to share their thoughts in addition to mine to help give you answers.


Gordon Warnock, Foreword Literary
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary
Kathleen Ortiz, New Leaf Literary
Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary

What does New Adult mean to you?

Gordon Warnock: "OMG. I'm an adult. Now what?" in any genre. Like YA, it concerns a lot of first-time issues and struggles, but they're what most people face in/after college rather than in high school. It's a different focus and a different mindset. Repeat after me: NA is not sexed-up YA.

Kathleen Rushall: In a sense, New Adult is similar to YA in that it can cross subject matter, but whatever the plot, it’s defined by general themes of what the characters are going through. However, those themes are different for New Adult than they are for YA. Where in YA we find characters trying to find their place in the world while still struggling with restrictions or being under someone or something’s control (be it parents, guardians, the government, etc.), NA is a step beyond that age. Generally, NA focuses on characters that are free from those kind of restrictions for the first time in their lives. They are finding their path, whether it’s experiencing love, experimenting with something in a way they haven’t before, discovering a career path, or leaving home for the first time. NA is all about beginnings and the challenges that can bring.

Kathleen Ortiz: NA isn't just YA with sex or an adult romance with some teens. It's about the experience of going from teen to adult -- and then realizing you're not quite as mature / adult as you thought you were. It's that turning point in life where you don't have the shelter of your parents and where you're 110% responsible for your actions.

Suzie Townsend: What I love about New Adult is that it’s so representative of the way we stumble through our college years and our early twenties, trying to find a place in the adult world, even though we still don’t feel like adults.

Does a New Adult manuscript have to have a romance?

GW: No, but that's the bulk of what's doing well right now. The presence of a romance is often appropriate, considering how much of an issue that is at that age, but it isn't necessary. One NA that I sold before NA was a thing didn't have a romance. The author and I discussed it during edits, and we decided against it. It just wouldn't have worked.

KR: I think it’s a very important component, yes.

KO: For now, NA needs romance. It's certainly found its biggest audience through romance readers, so it does help to have the strong romance plot.

ST: I’m not sure how it will be for other agents, but for me, I need the romance. It doesn’t have to be sex--it can more of a hint of romance.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into New Adult?

GW: It really has to be something you're passionate about writing. If you're looking to simply crank out a quick manuscript in a hot genre, we can tell, because it's usually going to be shit.

KR: Don’t write for a trend; write what you love.

KO: Read read read. Just like writing in any genre, know what kind of stories sell in this age group, what has worked and what hasn't. Write your own unique story that will appeal to this age group.

ST: I’m going to echo what everyone has already said. Read in your genre, write what you love, and be patient.

Do you see growth potential in other New Adult genres (ie science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc)?

GW: Oh, yes. A million times, yes. It pains me that Amazon lists NA as a subcategory of Romance.

KR: Absolutely. I think we’re on the brink of New Adult covering other genres in addition to contemporary romance. As I mention above, it’s not just about attending college or a contemporary love story: it’s about conjuring that sense of liberation, excitement, and sometimes unease that is often associated with that age, or the college years. The story doesn’t necessarily have to take place at a university (or even in this world or time period) to do that.

KO: Definitely potential for these other genres. Just a matter of time! (though I do feel they still need a strong romance line)

ST: I think there’s potential for growth, but we’re at a pivotal moment for the age group. As we move forward we will need to see a successful New Adult title in a genre other than contemporary romance in order to see the expansion. (Here are my expanded thoughts).

Are you seeing a lot of New Adult submissions? What would you like to see more or less of in terms of submissions in the genre?

GW: I see a fair amount, and I'm personally sick of the virgin angle. That's been done. Give me something new. I'd personally love some NA non-fiction.

KR: I’m interested in seeing New Adult submissions that are authentic, gripping stories with characters that are real and engaging. Just because it’s labeled “New Adult” doesn’t mean it will be something I feel compelled to read. Like anything else, the writing must be there. It will need a strong voice, great characters, and intriguing hook.

KO: I'm seeing way too many NA submissions that are simply YA with sex. That's not NA and that's not what I'm looking to add to my list. I want to see more novels about the experience of being NA. Unsure what this is? See my definition in GIFs here.

ST: Yes. I’ve seen a huge spike in my queries for NA and for all kinds. In terms of what I want, this is going to be sort of a lame answer, but in contemporary, I want something that I don’t feel like I’ve seen before. Right now, a lot of the contemporary romance submissions I’ve received lately seem like stories that I’ve already read. In other genres, I want New Adult submissions with really strong characters that feel authentic to the New Adult experience (as opposed to just older YA).

So those are the agents’ takes.

And because there are people with an even better perspective out there, I also reached out to a few editors as well.


Priyanka Krishnan, Random House
Margo Lipschulz, Harlequin
Megha Parekh, Grand Central
Junessa Viloria, Random House

Does New Adult have to have romance?

Priyanka Krishnan: To put it simply, yes. At an editorial meeting, if you can talk about the wonderful, sexy, heartwarming, hilarious, believable, fresh romance in an NA submission, that’s the fastest way to get people to want to read it. And I think as far as the NA audience goes, the majority of the readers are coming to these books looking for a great romantic plotline. That said, does every other page have to be devoted to sexytimes? No! In fact, I don’t think these books need to have explicit sex scenes, and I hate the idea that people are writing off this genre as “erotic YA” or something along those lines! (What does that even mean?) Ultimately, I think the most important thing is that the romance feels true to the characters and true to the moment in life the author is trying to depict. I mean, when I was in college, I wasn’t having crazy, Fifty Shades-style sex (contrary to what that sentence implies, I am also not having crazy Fifty Shades-style sex now. I know you were wondering); but at that time, for me, relationships were more dramatic, more innocent, more passionate, more awkward, more cringe-worthy, more turbulent, and more heartbreaking than they have been at any other point in my life. So, capture that. Or capture what it was like for you. Just remember, whatever you’re capturing, the romance should feel authentic. The characters and situations might be imagined, but the emotions need to be real.

Margo Lipschulz: All of the New Adult novels I've read and enjoyed have included a central romance that's integral to the storyline and to the main characters' growth. I think that intense relationship drama--watching the protagonists navigate the ups and downs of a love that is different from anything they've experienced before--is part of what draws readers to this genre. That said, there doesn't necessarily have to be a traditional happily-ever-after ending to their romance--since these characters are young (college-aged or early 20s), they're not necessarily thinking about marriage, babies or a house in the suburbs. An assurance that they're happy for now, that they've worked out their immediate issues and hope to stay together in the future, can be just as emotionally satisfying to the reader as a marriage proposal at the end of the book.

Megha Parekh: Yes. For New Adult, the romance is what drives these books. All the New Adults that I have read revolve around the hero and the heroine, and how their relationship makes them stronger as individuals or heals them.

Junessa Viloria: I think readers expect some element of romance in a New Adult book, and personally, I do want to see romance in a New Adult manuscript. New Adult is all about self-discovery in that wonderful period between adolescence and adulthood, and I think love and romance are a big, delicious part of that time.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into New Adult?

PK: I really hate offering advice because, hey, you could follow my advice down to the letter and get nowhere. Or smirk and think, “she’s an idiot”, do exactly the opposite, and end up incredibly successful. (If it has to be one of the two, I hope the latter happens for you.) But basically, I just want to read something that sparkles. I don’t want a derivative of Losing It or Easy or The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden; granted, the basic premise for a lot of NA might be similar, but convince me your story is a fun twist or a fresh take on it. If it helps, think of me as always having one hand on one of the books above and one hand on your ms—at any point, I can put down your book and go back to the one I already know I love. Don’t give me a chance to do that! But ultimately, the best advice I can give is, don’t write the story you think I want the read. Write the story you want to read, and create characters you really care about. Find the agents who represent the NA books you love and query them. Query the hell out of them. If that doesn’t work, look for alternative methods to get your story out there. I can only speak to what I know, but you don’t have to have an agent to submit to Random House’s digital NA imprint, FLIRT. (*Shameless self-promotion: Tweet at me if you’re interested in that route, @mspriyanka!*) Self-publish on Amazon, put your story up on Watt Pad…do what it takes to get some eyeballs on your book. You probably know agents look at these platforms, but guess what—we do too!

ML: Read the genre! Read until you're satisfied that you understand why people are gravitating toward these stories, and make sure that these stories are what you truly want to write yourself. Don't write New Adult just because you think you'll get more attention than you would writing YA or contemporary romance. Don't try to market your book as NA if it has 20-something characters but doesn't otherwise feature any of the hallmarks of this genre.

MPI would tell them that don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of “conventional” romance a bit. New Adult seems to have become the place where darker or nontraditional themes have been more widely explored. Also, while it’s called New Adult, the key word is Adult. These books are definitely marketed towards an adult audience. I think a lot of people make the mistake of skewing too YA in their subject matter, which an adult imprint can’t publish and a YA imprint also can’t. Write for adults – whether that be with your plot or the sensuality level.

JV: I’d say to read what out’s there and then try to put their own spin on it. I see a lot of manuscripts that are very similar to what’s already out there and I want to see a different take to this genre. I think that now’s the time to experiment, especially since it’s so hot right now.

Do you see growth potential in other New Adult genres (ie science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc)? 

PK: This is a tough question to answer. I would love to see some wonderful historical NA, something with a dash of adventure or mystery thrown into the mix. I think that could be really fun if done right. But that brings us back to the question of what “NA” really is—there’s historical fiction out there with younger protagonists and a romantic subplot. Do we call that NA? Is NA strictly contemporary? I’m not certain. But that’s what’s interesting about it, it’s an evolving category. I’m all for seeing what we can do with it, but it’s also a matter of analyzing what works and what readers want to see more (or less) of. We don’t want to be throwing everything at the wall just to see what sticks.

MLYes, absolutely. I think some of the common themes of contemporary NA--coming into your own, simultaneously dealing with first-time adult responsibilities and with the emotional urgency/intensity of the college (or just beyond) years--can easily translate to other genres as long as the characters and relationships are paramount to any world-building or mystery elements.

MPThere is definitely room to grow in all sub-genres here, as this is such a new genre. Lately, I’ve been seeing paranormal/fantasy New Adult as well.

JV: I think that right now, people are expecting a certain type of read when they pick up a New Adult novel – contemporary with a romance element. However, as more people become aware of New Adult, I do think that there’s room for growth for other New Adult genres, provided that they have similar elements that readers have come to expect from these books. I think that readers would welcome something fresh and original in New Adult and I think other genres could provide that.

Are you seeing a lot of New Adult submissions? What would you like to see more or less of in terms of submissions in the genre?

PK: I am receiving a fair amount of NA submissions, but I would love to see more! Send them to me, send them all to me! (#addict) In terms of what I would like to see more or less of: First, if you’re going to do angst, try to avoid the cookie-cutter brooding bad boy. I’m bored of that guy. Why does he brood so much? (Similarly, while I do like when characters are dealing with weightier issues, not every character needs a tortured past.) Second, don’t neglect the “other” relationships. I’d love to read NA with a great bromance a la Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood, and see more best friends and frenemies getting page space. Because, yes, while I do think NA stories need a compelling romance, that’s not all they need. Falling in love is only one part of the journey. Third, I like funny and I like characters with a sense of humor; I like silly and I like moments where no one is taking life too seriously. I could use more of that, generally!

MLI'm definitely seeing an increase in NA submissions, but not all submissions that are billed as NA actually fit my definition of NA--character age alone is not enough! I'd love to see more NA featuring characters with a fresh, unusual backstory--i.e. if the protagonists are each bringing deep emotional baggage to their relationship, I'd hope it would be baggage that I haven't encountered in many NA books already on the market.

MP: I have been seeing a lot of New Adult romance, mostly contemporary, which I absolutely love. I’m definitely looking for an original New Adult series. But I would love a great New Adult suspense as well.

JVI’m seeing a good amount of New Adult submissions. I’d actually like to see more debut New Adult submissions, rather than things that have already been self-published. I like angsty reads, but sometimes I just crave something fun and lighter than some of the new adults that have been released lately.

So to some all of this up, I think a lot of people are really excited, not just about New Adult, but also all of different the possibilities and growth that could be coming next within the genre.
Two summers ago I got a fabulous query from Sara Polsky for her debut novel. Now I'm going to share that query with you and the reason I requested it.

Dear Ms. Townsend:  
Sophie Canon has just started her junior year when her mother tries to kill herself. Sophie has always lived her life in the shadow of her mother's bipolar disorder, monitoring her medication, rushing home after school to check on her instead of spending time with friends, and keeping her mother's diagnosis secret from everyone outside their family.  
But when the overdose lands Sophie's mother in the hospital, Sophie no longer has to watch over her. She moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, from whom she has been estranged for the past five years. Rolling her suitcase across town to her family's house is easy. What's harder is figuring out -- with the help of an after school job and new friends -- how to build her own life.  
I'm seeking representation for WHAT COMES AFTER, a completed 60,000-word YA novel. I'm querying you because of your interest in character-driven YA and strong female protagonists. I wrote WHAT COMES AFTER in Micol Ostow's YA novel writing class at Mediabistro.  
My credentials include short fiction in Fictitious Force and Behind the Wainscot and non-fiction in The Christian Science Monitor, The Forward, and Poets & Writers. I'm a writer and editor at Curbed, a popular New York City real estate and neighborhood news blog. In spring 2010, I was profiled in a New York Times article on emerging bloggers. The first 10 pages of the manuscript are below. Thank you for your consideration.

Sara Polsky

Here's what I love about the query:

The first line. It gives me the character, her age, and the main problem that she has. This query is well structured and well written, and even though it's a coming of age novel, it compelled me to read further. So I looked ahead to the pages.

And here's the first line:

On the fourth day of junior year, sometime between the second bell marking the start of chemistry class and the time I got home from school, my mother tried to kill herself. This is how I find her:

Here's what I love about it:

It's well written and it packs a punch. Sophie is a protagonist with a strong voice and I easily fell in love with her. The book was compulsively readable right from that first line and it didn't let up until it had me weeping.

And of course, I wasn't the only one who thought so. The title has changed but this is the book Sara queried me with.

I've wrapped up the Query Contest!

We had 616 queries and I finished answering them last night at 11:05 pm.

For everyone who participated, I hope it was helpful! If it wasn't or if you couldn't participate, I'm going to give you a quick rundown of the most common truths I gave out. Hopefully that will be helpful.

Before we start, you should know that I don't read the whole query or the all of the pages. (I suspect this is true of most if not all agents). I read until I know what my decision is. Which means, I might know within the first line of the query it's a no. I might know based on the query and the first few lines of the pages that I want to read more and it's a request. This is why it's so important to be concise in your query and to know that every word counts.

So in your comments, if I mentioned your pages it's because I got to them--that means your query worked. If I don't specifically mention your pages, your query didn't work for some reason. Hopefully my answer explains that reason.

The Truths (I'll start with the easiest ones first)

I just don't. There's nothing wrong with papering the town, but in the end chapter books sort of elude me, same with picture book text, and business books, and inspirational non-fiction. I wouldn't even know if the manuscript is good because I don't read the genre.

If the query lost me or confused me then I didn't have any desire to read more and I passed.

This is the truth that no one likes and I get that, but here it is. A manuscript that's too long or too short is going to get rejections based on that alone.

Too Short
I was reading a query that sounded good and I was ready to jump to the pages when I saw that it was only half of the length that it should be. Right then and there I passed. Here's why: I can only sell that to small or e-only publishers. That's the same amount of work as a regular submission but less money. On top of that, it's hard to sell something that length for foreign rights unless the author is established. Even if it's really good it means there needs to be more plot or more worldbuilding which will mean editing and a lot of work for me to guide the author to get there. It's not worth my time.

Too Long
Again, anything that's too long (especially by 25k words or more) means it's going to be a lot of work. We're going to have to do a lot of editing together in order to get the ms down as much as we can in order to sell it. Two separate times I took on a manuscript that was entirely too long. Both times, those manuscripts were some of the best writing and pacing and characterization that I'd ever read. They were just too good to pass up. But at the same time, I had to do a lot of work with those authors to get the word count down and then the editor took it a step further and got it down more. That means if I don't have the time to do the work, I'm going to pass. And if it isn't the best thing I've ever read, I'm going to pass, because again it's not worth my time.

I'm just sick of them. Angels, werewolves, fairies, dystopian, aliens and clones--I've just seen so much of it lately and it all feels the same.

*There will be exceptions of course, like if you write like Laini Taylor or have pacing like Suzanne Collins I might change my mind. :)

Some of these are just obvious, others are harder to pin down. A number of people got responses where I said, "there's nothing wrong with this, but..." and in the end it just didn't feel like something I wanted to read. I knew zombies creeped me out (yes, I said that to someone) and mermaids creeped me out. Here are a few other things that I realized just aren't really to my taste:
  • Star stories: rockstar, movie star, TV star, country music star, celebrity, socialite, reality TV star, etc...something about them seem cheesy to me.
  • Silly, over the top, or satirical humor. Apparently I'm just not that into funny right now. I'll say that I love books with a good sense of humor (anything by Maureen Johnson is fabulous) but I don't want the humor to be overwhelming or to be more prevalent than the plot, that's just not really me. 
  • Historical time periods that take place before the middle ages
*I have eaten my words about my tastes before. I've always said zombies creep me out and yet I love Hannah Moskowitz's Zombie Tag so there's a chance that you could do something and put a spin on it and I might have to go, um nevermind what I said.

There a number of people that have responses where I say something about the pages. I couldn't get into them or I didn't feel engaged or they didn't stand out. First, congratulate yourself. Your query got me to your pages. Now roll up your sleeves for the hard work. Because if I couldn't get into your pages, it's the writing that needs work. This doesn't mean the writing is bad or that you should quit (don't be dramatic), it just means the writing in this pages needs editing. Sometimes it could mean you're not starting in the right place or it could mean that you need more characterization or your pacing could be off or you could be infodumping worldbuilding or it could be something else. Workshop these pages--it'll be insanely helpful.

There's a great line in one of my favorite books ever (Jellicoe Road by the brilliant Melina Marchetta, if you haven't read it yet, you need to):
“What do you want from me?" he asks.What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.More.” 
More. MORE! This applies to queries. It doesn't work if something is just good. For me to want to spend a few hours reading a manuscript it has to feel like it's going to be great. So there are a number of times when I look at the plot or the concept or even the writing and there's nothing bad about it, there's not really any advice that I can give except to say that it doesn't feel like it's enough. It needs that elusive more that will make me have to keep reading. That could be solved by looking at character, pacing or the concept in itself. It could mean a lot more work or going on to a different project.

Yes there were requests. I have no idea how many because with that many queries, I just didn't keep track. I can think of four right now in particular but I think there was at least 2 more that I'm forgetting now. One in particular was so good that I went around stalking the author online for a few minutes--it was a good break from reading queries.

I would say that requests were higher in quantity that a usual week, but that's not unusual with how many queries I was choosing from.

One of the most beautiful novels that I've ever read is out today: This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky.

I owe Sarah Goldberg for finding this amazing book in my slush pile two summers ago. She read it on a bus and emailed me to say that she WEPT on a crowded bus. She told me I had to read it.

I did. And I wept too. But I also smiled and ached and couldn't turn the pages fast enough. 

Sara Polsky is an incredible writer, and I am so ecstatic to share this breathtaking novel with all of you.