Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Top Ten Underrated Books on Goodreads (under 2000 ratings)

So I haven't done a Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish in AGES, but I just had to jump in on this week's topic, which is:

Top 10 Books that have under 2000 ratings in Goodreads

If you'd like to participate in this bloghop, jump on over to The Broke and the Bookish and link up!


NOTE: Okay full disclosure, I may have cheated and a few of these have just slightly over 2K ratings, but not by much!

Also this is more like 20 books, but oh well!


Middle Grade

I have been on a middle grade kick lately. Anyone else know of some great underrated MG reads?


  
 




Words With Wings - Nikki Grimes
I loved this novella-in-verse so much that I had to name-drop it a few times in my latest WIP.  :oD

Heaven - Angela Johnson

Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond - Brenda Woods

Mia's Optiscope - Natalie Rose

Honorable Mentions  (these were "classics" in my house growing up):
The Fairy Rebel - Lynne Reid Banks
The Search for Delicious - Natalie Babbit



Memoir

For fans of Eat, Pray, Love and Wild: some people have normal "midlife crises" some might even might pick up a new hobby like sailing. Most people don't put their life on the line and their new hobby to the test by sailing halfway across the world! I loved this trans-Pacific sailing adventure complete with close-calls and bonus tropical marine biology tidbits for the marine bio geeks like me.

Call Me Captain - Susan Scott





Science Fiction

All of these are really gorgeous and thought-provoking and well, sci-fi FTW!



  

Tin Star - Cecil Castelucci

The Galaxy Game - Karen Lord

Beyond the Red - Ava Jae
(okay kind of cheating because it's a pretty new release, which would account for fewer ratings. But I'm putting it on there anyway because it's one of my favorite reads of 2016)

Bounders - Monica Tesler
(ditto above comment)

Starglass - Phoebe North

Salvage - Alexandra Duncan


Young Adult / New Adult  --- Fantasy & Realistic

Umm... so the only reason I can think that these don't have more ratings is that they are relatively new?? Here we have gorgeous historical of Malcolm X's days before the X, an incredibly immersive and artistic urban fantasy, a super hottt ballet/post-ballet story, a fantastically creepy yet fun Australian fantasy, a high fantasy with a beautifully wrought magic system, and a contemporary about a mixed-race school club that launches a movement.



     


X - Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon

Second Position - Katherine Locke

Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older

Isla's Inheritance - Cassandra Page

Magic's Stealing - Stephanie Flint

The Latte Rebellion - Sarah Jamila Stevenson


Terrifying Reads

Okay. I'm going to go ahead and admit that I am a COMPLETE scaredy-cat and I can't really handle books like this that are incredibly terrfying. BUT it was a really good book. Perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly:

Damage Done - Amanda Panitch







And a couple others in my Soon-To-Read Stack that I've heard GREAT things about but don't have many ratings yet:




This Side of Home - Renee Watson

All American Boys - Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely


What about you? What are some of your favorite, yet underrated books?





Sunday, June 19, 2016

Query Lab #3 - July Giveaway Window Closed

Query Lab #3 Giveaway Closed
image: holdentrils

In case you missed it, The Query Lab is a new monthly feature on my blog!

Each month, I'll open up a submissions window for those interested in receiving a Query & 1st 10 page critique from me. When the sub window closes, I'll randomly select winners and a runner up!

3 Winners will receive a private Query & 1st 10 page critique/consultation from me.
1 Runner-Up will receive a Query-only Critique from me that will be publicly posted on this blog.

      { What does a public crit from me look like?
         Check out my previous YA Query Crit
         & MG Query Crit }


I'm most experienced with YA and MG, as that's what I write. However, I can definitely help with other age categories as well. The only thing I wouldn't be a good fit for is erotica (sorry!!)

{ For more info on The Query Lab, please see the original information post here!
   And check out my Calendar of other opportunities for query critiques.}


The Query Lab

Query + 1st 10 Page Critique Giveaway

Query & 1st 10 Page Critique Winners:
Anonymous, KBarina, and Andrea Roach




>> Submission Window Now Closed <<

Note that The Query Lab will be on a hiatus during August
Please check back here in September
for the next session





How to Enter:

  • Meet the Monthly Focus Criteria:  
    Each month, I will focus on a particular type of submission. This will limit the types of authors and/or manuscripts that are eligible to enter each month. I decided to do this so that my query critiques will be of maximum help to writers preparing for upcoming contests that have a particular genre or focus!



Not sure this applies to you? Check out the #PitchAmérica Website for their guidelines.
And be sure to read more about their upcoming








  • Comment on this Post
        Please leave a comment on this post prior to June 25th 11:59pm Eastern with the following:

    • "Enter Me!"

    •  A way for me to contact you if you win
       (If you aren't signed in with your Google ID, maybe leave a Twitter handle or blog address, or check back here when the contest closes to see if you've won)

    •  IMPORTANT: Please state "Yes, Runner up Public Query crit is OK"
                                 OR "No Runner Up Public Query crit, thanks"
                                 
       Note that the Runner-Up will receive a PUBLIC query critique from me, posted on this blog
        Want to see what that looks like? Check out a Previous YA Fantasy Critique here,
        and an MG Fantasy Critique here.)



  • Check out my past Query Advice:
    Okay, so technically you don't
    have to do this before you enter. BUT I do highly recommend you browse my query tips and apply those that seem relevant before subbing ... because why enter to "win" advice from me that I'm already giving away to everyone??  ;oD

    You'll get better, more tailored tips from me if you're already applying some of the things I mention in the posts below!
     (keep in mind all queries/stories are different so your mileage may vary with some of the advice)



  • Want to know more about The Query Lab, or the upcoming submission theme/focus schedule? Check out the original post here.

    Got a question? Feel free to drop me a line on Twitter!  ( @carissaataylor )

    Thursday, June 9, 2016

    Query Lab #2: MG Fantasy Query Critique

    Query Lab #2 : MG Query
    Public Critique

    image: holdentrils
    Welcome to The Query Lab!

    The Query Lab is a new feature on my blog. Each month, I host a giveaway and three winners receive a private query & 1st 10 page critique/consultation from me, while one victim lucky runner-up receives a PUBLIC query critique posted right here on my blog!


        {  Watch this space for future giveaway windows. 

            The next giveaway will open June 20  }

    Today's lovely subject guest has a Middle Grade query up for critique. The author said they would love any feedback you guys have to offer as well, so please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on the query. 

    Now, without further ado ... the query critique!

    As I mentioned last time, I do tend to go a bit comment-wild when I crit, so just warning you in advance: be prepared to grab a cup of tea and settle in for awhile! ;o)


    Title: MUCH ADO ABOUT MAGIC

    Genre/Age: Middle Grade Fantasy


    ----- ORIGINAL QUERY -----


    Dear XXX,

    Tiffany has been slaving away all year at the high-pressure middle school her parents chose for her, and now that summer vacation is here, all she wants to do is relax. So when her parents pack her off to stay with her aunt, who runs some stupid Shakespeare festival, Tiffany is furious—until she finds a magical jester's staff with the power to whisk her into Shakespeare’s plays. Soon, she’s stealing Romeo’s heart, falling into Macbeth’s clutches, and playing Scrabble with the Princes in the Tower.

    But when Tiffany and her new festival friends accidentally break the staff, the Shakespeare festival is cursed. Its rehearsals fall into chaos, and its main donor walks out, threatening the festival’s very existence. And Tiffany seems cursed too. Her parents call to tell her they’re enrolling her in an even tougher school program for seventh grade—another step along a narrow path to success that she doesn’t want to be on.

    When the children are pulled into one final adventure inside an unfinished play the festival has commissioned, it’s Tiffany’s chance to save the festival—and unexpectedly, it’s also a chance for her to learn how to stand up to her parents and start shaping her own life.

    MUCH ADO ABOUT MAGIC is a complete, 79,000-word middle grade novel, aimed at the kind of confident reader who would happily dive into a book like The Mysterious Benedict Society.



    ----- "FIRST IMPRESSIONS" FEEDBACK -----


    Overall this is working pretty well for me! One initial hiccup is that I feel a bit uncertain what Tiffany wants. It's mentioned several times that she doesn't want what her parents want ... but it also doesn't seem like she's very much into theater. What does she want? It's not something that necessarily needs to come into play in the query, but it was something that was nagging me a bit regarding that thread.

    For me, the "hook" in this query -- the thing that'd make me say "pages please!!!" -- is definitely the whole idea of being able to travel into plays, and interact with the characters there. Too fun! That concept isn't taking up a ton of space within the query though, and I'm wondering if there's a bit of a missed opportunity there to really excite the imagination around that idea.

    I like that the query is leaving me with questions like "Ooh, how does she escape Macbeth's clutches? Who wins the Scrabble game?" and "How is she going to pull through in her last adventure in play-land?" But there are some questions that I'm left with that I wish I had a little more tangible handle on regarding details. For example: "What IS that last play about? What kind of adventure do they have? What does solving a problem in play-land have to do with standing up to her parents?"

    Particularly in the last paragraph things are starting to read a little more generic. It's mentioned that Tiffany and her friends are pulled into another play, but the moment falls a little flat for me because it's summarized as an 'adventure' without giving any details about the play, or the antics they get up to within it. It'd be great to have even one or two "tangibles" to really re-ground us in the fantastical aspects of the story as the query comes to a close! (in my opinion) :oD

    Relatedly, I thought there was some great 'voice' in the second half of the first paragraph and I loved the peek that gave of attitude & personality of the MC, but in the latter two paragraphs, I wasn't picking up on a lot of Tiffany-isms. It's not a huge huge deal, but I do feel that especially in Middle Grade queries, it can be a really good idea to showcase voice -- if not of your MC, then the overall tone of the novel.

    ----- QUERY WITH FEEDBACK -----

    Edits in orange. Rework suggestions in blue. Comments in purple.


    Dear XXX, Dear XXX:

    Not a big deal, but some agents do prefer a formal, business-letter type greeting. For that reason, I typically recommend sticking to the formal greeting ( Dear Ms./Mr. Surname: ) -- using the colon to close instead of a comma.

    Tiffany has been slaving away [ insert specific &/or voicey bit ] all year at the high-pressure middle school her parents chose for her [ insert specific &/or voicey bit ], and now that summer vacation is here, all she wants to do is relax [ insert specific &/or voicey bit ].

    I think this works okay as a first sentence in terms of setting up the story, but I think it might be a bit of a missed opportunity to reveal more about Tiffany. I'm not getting a strong sense of her voice here, or the specifics about her everyday life and what really she really wishes she could be doing. What does 'relaxing' look like to her? What's her voice like? Is she snarky? Funny? Spunky? Quirky? Prone to exaggeration? Wistful? Sensitive? Sad? If you can use her voice to hint at her unique reaction the high-pressure school and the summer-situation I think you could really make this sentence pop, and help us connect to Tiffany from the get-go! 

    For example, instead of "Tiffany has been slaving away at the high-pressure middle school" maybe something that uses a few voicey-phrases like: "Thirteen-year-old Tiffany's totally done with her snob-school and the 24-7 homework that comes with it."  (I realize her voice might not sound anything like this, but you get the picture, heheh!) And instead of "all she wants to do is relax" maybe something specific like "all she wants is a long summer lounging in the backyard with her books."  [Sidenote: I generally recommend moving away from words like 'slave' employed casually as much as possible, because using them in everyday speech kind of diminishes the horrific reality of those things.

    So when her parents pack her off to stay with her aunt, who runs some stupid Shakespeare festival, Tiffany is furious—until she finds a magical jester's staff with the power to whisk her into Shakespeare’s plays. Soon, she’s stealing Romeo’s heart, falling into Macbeth’s clutches, and playing Scrabble with the Princes in the Tower.

    This is my favorite part of the whole query for sure! I'm loving the voice in the phrase "some stupid Shakespeare festival," and the whole idea of this jester's staff that teleports her into Shakespeare plays. Awesome hook.

    The only slight hiccup for me here was that the Romeo line made me wonder how much of a role the "stealing Romeo's heart" aspect plays into the novel. It makes me question a little whether or not this story would fit firmly into the MG category, or if the romance aspect will make it read more YA. It's not something that I personally would be overly concerned about if I were the agent reading, but for some agents, especially if they were on the fence about things it *might* be a bit of a red flag. If true to the story, you might think about tweaking the wording a bit to something to show what Romeo and Tiffany actually do together ("sneaking around Verona" etc) rather than focusing on the romance aspect.

    But when Tiffany and her new festival friends accidentally break the staff, the Shakespeare festival is cursed. Its rehearsals fall into chaos, and its main donor walks out, threatening the festival’s very existence. And Tiffany seems cursed too. Her parents call to tell her they’re enrolling her in an even tougher school program for seventh grade—another step along a narrow path to success that she doesn’t want to be on.

    I think this works pretty well, but again, I'm feeling like it wouldn't hurt to have a bit more voice here, particularly in the last line. Phrases like "threatening the festival's very existence" and "along a narrow path to success" sound a little more formal than I'd expect from a contemporary Middle Grade. If your MC *is* pretty formal/old-fashioned sounding in her speech, that's totally fine too but in that case I'd maybe run with that a little more -- amping it up to the next level of formality throughout the query so that we can see that it IS the MC's voice, if that makes sense?

    When the children Tiffany and her friends are pulled into one final adventure inside an unfinished play the festival has commissioned, it’s Tiffany’s chance to save the festival—and unexpectedly, it’s also a chance for her to learn how to stand up to her parents and start shaping her own life.

    For streamlining purposes, I think you could probably afford to ditch the "the festival has commissioned" line. Nothing wrong with it, but I'm not sure it adds much to the query. It might be more meaningful and add more flavor if instead you mentioned the theme of the play.

    I'd love to get a better sense of what you mean by "final adventure" here. I think if you're going to go the optimistic/upbeat route for the last line of the paragraph (see below), you may want to think about revealing the specific goal of this final mission/adventure in play-land. We do have a bit of a taste of what's at stake, which is good (future of the festival, and Tiffany's life), but what does Tiffany have to do to "succeed" on this new adventure? Adding even just a word or two to hint at the plot or what they end up doing in the play would be a nice tangible thing to leave readers with. That is, if you can do it concisely :o)

    I'm a bit on the fence about the last line. It ends on a hopeful/upbeat note, and that's not something you see queries doing super often. More often, there's an ominous "MC must or else" or a "now the MC must choose between X and Y" sort of darker feel to the end. I do think going the hopeful route for the last line fits okay here because it helps complete the arc of Tiffany's character journey, which is nice. But I wonder if it could be a bit punchier. As it stands it's a little vague. How does it help her learn to stand up to her parents? Is there a specific choice she has to make? A skill she learns in play-land that she can translate back to the real world? Is what's happening in play-land somehow influencing the real world?

    MUCH ADO ABOUT MAGIC is a complete, 79,000-word middle grade fantasy novel, aimed at the kind of confident reader who would happily dive into a book like The Mysterious Benedict Society.

    So the word count here is pretty high for a Middle Grade debut, and that might make some agents a bit leery. It is Fantasy, so you have a bit more leeway there than you would with a realistic Contemporary or Historical novel, but if you can get it under 70,000 words or close to that, you might be doing yourself a big favor in the query trenches. I always like to point people toward agent Jennifer Laughran's post on the topic: Wordcount Dracula.  Also, you may or may have not seen, but I recently did a blog post of "successful queries" (queries that resulted in agent offers) and some of their "stats" in a spreadsheet. Of the 16 middle grade sci-fi/fantasy queries I found, the average (median) word count was about 50,000, with the highest being 70,000. It's a small subset of data, and also not to say that agents won't sign things outside the 'norm'  ... but it's something worth considering, as word count can definitely play a big factor for many agents. You'll have the best odds in the query trenches if your manuscript is kicking around within the typical word-count range.

    The middle chunk that I've highlighted orange above is a little bit wordy and unclear. Instead of "aimed at the kind of confident reader," it's clearer and more concise to just say "upper middle grade" in place of "middle grade" earlier on. I also wasn't super clear as to the connection between your book and The Mysterious Benedict Society. The way this is worded, it almost sounds like the main link is the reading level. That's fine if true, but *if* there are other reasons you chose this comp title, you might want to lay those out instead, since you can get across the reading level info more succinctly. Are there similarities in tone/style? Plot? Themes? 

    Effectively, maybe this final "housekeeping details" paragraph could look something like this:

    MUCH ADO ABOUT MAGIC is a complete, 79,000-word upper middle grade fantasy novel. It should appeal to readers who enjoy fantastical and theatrical mysteries in the vein of The Mysterious Benedict Society.


    CLOSING THOUGHTS:

    Like I mentioned earlier on, overall this is working pretty well for me! I do think it could be a bit "hookier" with a little more voice added and few more specifics so we delve deeper into Tiffany's character in the query. I also there's some missed opportunity to delve into the specifics of their last mission/adventure. But if I were an agent, I'd definitely be requesting to see pages!


    Readers: What do you think of the query? Please leave your comments or suggestions below!

    Wednesday, June 1, 2016

    Query Theory 101: Successful Query Database

    Successful Query Letters Database
    Image: Pixabay Vonriesling
    I've talked about Query Anatomy, and the Query Pitch, but for many, the best way to learn how to write a great query is by studying queries that worked. There are lots of places on the interwebs for finding sample successful queries. 

         { Check my Querying Resource Roundup for more on that }

    But sometimes it's hard to find what you want. 

    Maybe you only want to see queries that nabbed agents in the last 2 years, because those formats will be the most relevant. Maybe you only want to see queries that worked in your genre. Maybe you're tired of scouring the web looking for successful query letter examples that fit the bill.

    So I bring you: 

    The Successful Query Database


    Okay, so it's more like a spreadsheet. But ... it's got links to over 370 query letters that worked, with a primary focus on queries that landed agent offers from the years 2010-2016. I'm still adding more, and in future posts in the Query Theory Series, I'll do a lot more detailed breakdowns and analysis. However, for those of you in the query trenches right now, I thought it'd be useful to share the spreadsheet as I've got a fair number of query examples in it already!

    What You Can Do With The Database: Some Ideas :o)

    • Find Successful Queries for YOUR Genre / Age Category / Dream Agents 
    • See how authors with no MFA or Pub credits spun their author bios
    • Check out different formats for Last Lines, Comps, Themes, and Personalization.
    • Probably other cool stuff too!

    The spreadsheet has several tabs so you can see the data organized different ways here. However, if the format is getting too annoying for you (not sure the frozen fields work in all browsers), please feel free to visit the Successful Queries Spreadsheet directly in Google Docs and view or download it (File > Download As) there :o)

    Also be sure to jump down and see the Successful Query Stats after the spreadsheet in this post.


    Successful Queries Database
    2010-2016
     
    (Note: Click to view in Google Docs
    for maximum functionality)

    Please drop me a comment or tweet me if you notice any errors
    or know of any other queries I should add to the database! 




    Spreadsheet Last Updated: June 18, 2016

    *Currently, this database ONLY includes query letters that resulted in an offer of representation from a literary agent.

    **I may later expand this to include queries that got agent requests because ultimately, that is the measure of success of a query, whereas an offer only comes when the manuscript also syncs with the agent. But the definition of success and what constitutes a good request rate starts to get tricky, and data start to get muddy and difficult to find. So for now, the simple definition.

    NOTE: If you can't get the scroll bar to work, try these work-arounds:
    (1) Click on the chart, then use page-up/page-down keyboard commands
    (2) Click on the white space toward the bottom of the scrollbar to scroll down. 
    Dragging the grey bar seems to work to scroll it back up

    Successful Query Letter Stats

    For those of you who are interested in statistics { maybe you were following my stats teaser tweets? ;o) } here are the basics from the original 355 queries in the database (as of June 1, 2016):

    Average Request Rate for a Successful Query:
    26% request-rate to see more material (Median)

    Note: Few authors posted their full statistics, and several mentioned that they didn't want to post because theirs were on the low end, request-rate-wise, so this figure is likely skewed higher than reality. A few months back I did an anonymous poll of over 100 agented authors regarding their request rate from their successful query. It's interesting to see the wide spread there!

    Average Length of the "Pitch" Portion of the Query: 
    198 words (Median)
    Standard Deviation: 51

    Typical Number of Paragraphs in the Pitch
    3 pitch paragraphs (Mode)

    Loglines, Taglines, or Regular Pitch Opening:
    While some used a logline (12% or  n=30), and others used a tagline (14% or n=51) at the start of their query pitch, the vast majority simply opened with their regular pitch paragraph (77% n=274).

    Comps: 
    Of the 284 pitches that included their 'housekeeping details' paragraph (category/genre/word count/title) where Comps would typically be included, most did include Comp Titles (61% or n=173) .... but many didn't include Comparative Titles (40%, or n=111).

    Last Line of Pitch:
    I'm still digging into the nitty-gritty of this, but since last lines are arguably one of the most important parts of the query pitch ... here's a sneak peek at the stats as they are now. While most successful queries used a specific choice or imperative "must-or-else" format (45% or n=157) at the end of the pitch, almost as many went for a more vague, ominous approach that hinted at impending doom, or a dark secret (42% or n=147), and there were some (particularly Romance, Issue Books, MG, & PB) that eschewed doom & gloom altogether and took a more hopeful/optimistic (9% or n=33) or voicey approach (4% or n=3). There's more than one way to end your query on a cliffhanger!

    Personalization:
    Because not all shared queries included personalization, these stats were a little more limited. But for the 197 that showed or at least talked about their personalized-to-agent paragraph, here are some stats:

    The overwhelming majority opted to include personalization (83% or n=164), with just a few opting out (17% or n=33). This didn't necessarily mean they ALWAYS included personalization though. While a few mentioned they always or almost always included a personalized paragraph (5% or n=9), others only personalized 'sometimes' (17% or n=33). Others 'rarely' did -- opting to personalize only when they had a referral or other really strong personal connection to the agent (7% or n=13).

    Most put their personalization before the pitch, right at the opening of the query (75% or n=85) to grab the agent's attention straight away, but some preferred to put it at the end (25% or n=29).


    Author Bio:
    Bios were another aspect of the query letter that not all authors chose to share when posting their successful query letters. However, the evidence seems to indicate that yes: putting an author bio is certainly standard (and probably would cause red flags for some agents if absent).

    Out of 209 queriers that included or talked about their bio, nearly all of them opted to include an author bio (96% or n=200). Only nine queries explicitly stated that they didn't bother with a bio (4% or n=9)

    Of the 112 queriers whose bios I've scoured for more details so far, it's interesting to note that only a few of the authors had an MFA (13% or n=14). Instead, others pointed different selling points:  Some held degrees in other areas, such as BAs in English, MAs, MDs, or PhDs (21% or n=23), many had already published short stories, articles, plays, or poetry (53% or n = 59), others mentioned that their manuscript had won or reached semi-finals in prestigious contests (10% or n = 11), nearly a dozen had already been agented once, and mentioned this in their query (10% or n = 11) some mentioned their editorial background or internships (5% or n=6), others noted a strong social media presence (2% or n = 2), and one mentioned that an editor at one of the Big 5 was already interested in the manuscript.

    Take home message?

    There are lots of  different ways to write a successful query. If you've got a your basic "housekeeping details" (age category, genre, word count, title), a query pitch of 1-3 paragraphs and about 150-250 words, and an author bio of some kind, you're off to a good start.

    Personalization? Probably a good idea, and it seems like the standard place to put it is up front and center before the pitch paragraph. But sometimes personalization is too much of a stretch, and in those cases, it's probably fine to leave it off.

    Loglines & Comp Titles? Do them if they fit (and/or if the agent your querying likes them), but if not? Don't sweat it! And keep in mind that these are the kinds of things that some agents love and some agents roll their eyes at, so YMMV depending on the agent!

    Related Resources:

    Successful Query Letters with Agent Commentary on what worked:

    Writer's Digest - Successful Queries* || YA Highway - Query Series* ||

    Other Successful Queries:

    Query Tracker - Success Story Interviews* (those with interviews often have query at bottom of page)  ||  Quite the Query* || Agent Query Connect - Successful Queries* || Absolute Write Forums - Successful Queries* || YA Reddit - Query Letters that Worked || Query Tracker Forum - Successful Queries || Successful Queries - Carl Hackman's Blog || Queries that Worked - Suzanne Van Rooyen's Blog* || Query Letters That Worked - Sub It Club (Picture Book Queries, mostly)* ||

    * = in my Successful Queries Database (2010-May 2016 queries)



    I'd love to hear from you!

    Know of any other successful queries I should include? Stats that would be good to calculate? What are your thoughts on pitch length/last lines/comps/personalization and/or author bios?
    Notice any errors? It's 2am and I'm getting a bit loopy so there are bound to be some!

    Thursday, May 26, 2016

    Query Lab #2 - June Giveaway Closed

    Query Lab #2 Giveaway Closed
    image: holdentrils

    In case you missed it, The Query Lab is a new monthly feature on my blog!

    Each month, I'll open up a submissions window for those interested in receiving a Query & 1st 10 page critique from me. When the sub window closes, I'll randomly select winners and a runner up!

    3 Winners will receive a private Query & 1st 10 page critique/consultation from me.

    1 Runner-Up will receive a Query-only Critique from me that will be publicly posted on this blog.

          { What does a public crit from me look like?
                                Click here to see! }


    I'm most experienced with YA and MG, as that's what I write. However, I can definitely help with other age categories as well. The only thing I wouldn't be a good fit for is erotica (sorry!!)

    { For more info on The Query Lab, please see the original information post here!
       And check out my Calendar of other opportunities for query critiques.}


    The Query Lab #SFFPit Edition

    Query + 1st 10 Page Critique Giveaway

    Winners: Lee Gomez, Ben Langhinrichs, & EmilyKBee

    The random number generator has also chosen a runner-up
    Please check back in a couple weeks when the runner-up's
    public query critique will be posted!


    Also! Note that next month's theme will be #PitchAmérica manuscripts,
    check back here toward the end of June for that
    announcement and entry window!



    How to Enter:

    • Meet the Monthly Focus Criteria:  
      Each month, I will focus on a particular type of submission. This will limit the types of authors and/or manuscripts that are eligible to enter each month. I decided to do this so that my query critiques will be of maximum help to writers preparing for upcoming contests that have a particular genre or focus!

      June Focus: #SFFPit

      (Sci-Fi & Fantasy)



      And be sure to check out the #SFFPit Website to read more about the upcoming
       SFFPit Twitter Pitch Contest 



    • Comment on this Post

      Please leave a comment on this post with the following:
      • "Enter Me!"
      •  A way for me to contact you if you win
         (If you aren't signed in with your Google ID, maybe leave a Twitter handle or blog address, or check back here when the contest closes to see if you've won)
      •  Note if you are willing to be a Runner-Up
         (Runners-Up will receive a PUBLIC query critique from me, posted on this blog
          Want to see what that looks like? Check out a Previous Critique here.)
    • Check out my past Query Advice:
      Okay, so technically you don't
      have to do this before you enter. BUT I do highly recommend you browse my query tips and apply those that seem relevant before subbing ... because why enter to "win" advice from me that I'm already giving away to everyone??  ;oD

      You'll get better, more tailored tips from me if you're already applying some of the things I mention in the posts below!
       (keep in mind all queries/stories are different so your mileage may vary with some of the advice)

    Want to know more about The Query Lab, or the upcoming submission theme/focus schedule? Check out the original post here.

    Got a question? Feel free to drop me a line on Twitter!  ( @carissaataylor )

    Saturday, May 14, 2016

    Query Lab #1: YA Urban Fantasy Query Critique

    Query Lab #1 : YA Urban Fantasy Query
    Public Critique

    image: holdentrils
    Welcome to The Query Lab!

    The Query Lab is a new feature on my blog. Each month, I host a giveaway and three winners receive a private query & 1st 10 page critique/consultation from me, while one victim lucky runner-up receives a PUBLIC query critique posted right here on my blog!


        {  Watch this space for future giveaway windows. 
            The next giveaway will open May 27  }


    My first lovely subject guest is MonTanna, with her YA Urban Fantasy query. She said she would love any feedback you guys have to offer her as well, so please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on the query. She'd really appreciate it!

    You can find MonTanna on Twitter here. Drop her a line and say hello!*

       *Note for future participants: You do not have to have any personal info posted in the public query critique,
         but MonTanna thought it would be fun to connect with y'all, so that's why it's here!!   :o)
         If you'd prefer to be completely anonymous, that's totally fine too!


    Now, without further ado ... the query critique!

    I do tend to go a bit comment-wild when I crit, so just warning you in advance: be prepared to grab a cup of tea and settle in for awhile! ;o)


    Title: TITLE REDACTED

    Genre/Age: YA Urban Fantasy


    ----- ORIGINAL QUERY -----


    Dear Ms. Taylor,

    All Demons are different. Adeline Ellsworth knows. Not only because she can see them, but because they’ve spent more time in her body than she has. Some are kind and quiet while others are abusive, overbearing and manipulative. But they all have one thing in common. The urge to possess her.

    Roderick Lyle doesn’t understand. His whole life fits in his accordion case, his friends are nonexistent, and this strange girl is telling him that Demons exist. These things all make perfect sense. What he doesn’t understand is why humans have such outrageous issues with murder. Death is natural. If he really wasn't supposed to kill anyone, they wouldn't have died. Nobody even noticed the bodies anyway.

    Nothing is invisible to Stein; Demons, aliens, emotions. His addled mind may interpret things a bit differently but he can see it all. Everything but the last fifty years of his life. Some things he forgets how to remember.

    But Adeline remembers every moment that hasn't been stolen from her and is determined to stand up against the Demons. With Roderick, the first person to ever offer her help, and Stein, the only one able to see the way, she sets out to confront the Demon’s creator. Even though something else seems to have found the creator first.

    And it only looks like an Angel.

    I would love to offer my novel, BOOK TITLE, for you to consider publishing. It weaves a dark layer of fantasy through our modern world, placing complex and diverse characters in a realm only seen by the creatures hidden within. BOOK TITLE laces together our instinctual fears of the unknown, our learned distrust of those around us, and our constant strain against the evil inside us all.

    Born in Kansas eighteen years ago, I graduated high school just before turning fourteen and have spent my time since then traveling, reading, and writing. BOOK TITLE is a YA Urban Fantasy approximately 108,000 words long and is the first in a series. It is told from the viewpoints of Adeline, Roderick, and Stein, allowing the reader to explore events in a multifaceted way. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear back from you.



    ----- "FIRST IMPRESSIONS" FEEDBACK -----


    After reading through the query I'm intrigued by the story and characters, but feeling like the query is pulling me in several different directions. It brings up three different MCs and hints at a few subplots, and I'm having trouble getting a good handle on how everything ties in to the central storyline.

    Queries for multiple POV novels are such tricky things. In a query you have limited space. In that space you have to get the reader to connect to your main character and be drawn in by the conflict they're thrust into. When you introduce two or three characters' stories in that limited query space, it makes it harder and harder do justice to each of their storylines.

    Right now, I'm feeling like I'm not getting a clear enough picture of Adeline beyond the fact that she's possessed by demons. How old is she? Is she in school? Working? What are her dreams and aspirations? What does she do when not demon possessed? What do the demons force her to do when possessing her? In what ways have they ruined her life? This isn't to say that all these questions need to be answered in the query, but adding in a bit more detail could really flesh out her storyline.

    Roderick has a fascinatingly creepy backstory and set of morals! This is great, because I'm going to remember him long after I finish reading this query. But ... I feel like I'm missing a key piece of info: how does this outlook on life (and death) play into his dynamic with Adeline, and ultimately the central plot? If there is a way to weave this in more clearly (or at least hint at it), that would be awesome. 

    My initial instinct would be to cut Stein's POV for the purposes of streamlining the query. Then use that space to delve more deeply into Adeline's story, and how Roderick plays a role in it. I also think a few of the sentences in the query are bit on the vague side. I'd love to see a few more specific details. Use every opportunity to highlight what makes your story unique! (I'll point out some places I think might work well for this in my comments below.)


    ----- QUERY WITH FEEDBACK -----

    Edits in orange. Rework suggestions in blue. Comments in purple.


    Dear Ms. Taylor, Dear Ms. Taylor:

    Not a big deal by any means, but there are agents out there who prefer a formal, business-letter type greeting at the opener of a query. For that reason, I always recommend authors stick to the formal greeting ( Dear Ms./Mr. Surname: ) -- using the colon to close instead of a comma.

    All Demons are different. Adeline Ellsworth knows. Not only because she can see them, but because they’ve spent more time in her body than she has. Some are kind and quiet while others are abusive, overbearing and manipulative.

    I like this opener, and LOVE your "hook" (demons have spent more time in her body than she has) but I think this paragraph needs refocusing so we learn more about Adeline. I feel like I'm getting a better sense of who the demons are than who Adeline is, and in this first paragraph, I'd really love to get to know herA bit of a sidenote, but I also generally recommend putting the MC's age right up front in MG/YA/NA queries, just so the reader feels nicely oriented. 

    You might think about re-arranging and reformatting slightly to focus the paragraph more wholly on details about Adeline.  For example, something along the lines of:

    When she's not possessed by demons, seventeen-year-old Adeline Ellsworth spends her days [insert hobby/aspiration etc here]. Unfortunately, that's difficult to do when a demon is [ insert things they do while they inhabit her ] every other day. Pretty soon they'll have spent more time in her body than she has.

    But they all have one thing in common: the urge to possess her. 

    I'm a bit on the fence about this as the ending to your opening paragraph. I think it's because it's a little vague, and I'm not sure exactly how to interpret it. Is it saying that all demons mysteriously want to possess her (as opposed to other people)? Or is it saying that demons in general have urges to possess people in general? If the former, I think this needs clarification and maybe delving a little further into details (for example, is she curious why she in particular is such a demon magnet)? If the latter, I'm not sure it gives the right amount of punch as a last line for your opening paragraph because it's generally understood that demons possess people. If possible with that last line, you want to highlight a super unique aspect of your story

    Before the query launches into the paragraph about Roderick's story, we should have a clear idea of who Adeline is as a person. Also -- if it seems to fit -- it'd be nice to highlight the inciting incident that drives her into the demon-hunting frenzy we see later on. If the inciting incident is actually meeting Roderick and Stein, and realizing for the first time that she might be able to fight the demons I'd mention that! This might even serve a dual-purpose as the cliffhanger-punchline to close out your first paragraph.

    Roderick Lyle's  doesn’t understand. His whole life fits in his accordion case, his friends are nonexistent, and this strange girl is telling him that Demons exist. These things all make perfect sense. What he doesn’t understand is why humans have such outrageous issues with murder. Death is natural. If he really wasn't supposed to kill anyone, they wouldn't have died. Nobody even noticed the bodies anyway.

    I think Roderick's paragraph works really well to set up his character. I love the details about his whole life fitting into his accordion case, as it shows an interest he had/has, and the fact that he seems to be a bit of a roving loner (and murderer and possibly not human - eep!). What we're not getting here is how he fits into Adeline's story. I'm okay with that for now, but in the next paragraph I'm hoping I'll see more detail on how and why she enlists his help, and how and why he decides to help her. 

    Nothing is invisible to Stein; Demons, aliens, emotions. His addled mind may interpret things a bit differently but he can see it all. Everything but the last fifty years of his life. Some things he forgets how to remember.

    Like I mentioned above, I'm feeling like we don't really need this much detail about Stein's backstory. He does sound like a really cool character, but there's only so much you can squeeze in a query and now the focus has shifted pretty far away from Adeline and her story. Instead of naming him in the query, I'd just summarize his role in the next paragraph. (See suggestion below)

    But Adeline remembers every moment that hasn't been stolen from her and is determined to stand up against the Demons. With Roderick, the first person to ever offer her help, and Stein, the only one able to see the way and a wise but forgetful demon-tracking guide, she sets out to confront the Demon’s Demons' creator.

    In this final paragraph, I think we need more details about Adeline and Roderick's relationship. How did they go from being strangers to being quest-partners? How did Adeline convince Roderick to assist her? What does he have to offer her in terms of help finding the demon creator? Do his complicated moral stances on death/killing cause any problems between them? Delve into some of these details here!

    Sidenote: are "Demons" different than "demons?" I'm not sure the word "demons" needs to be capitalized ... too many capitalized words in the query can be distracting to the eye.


    Even though But something else seems to have found the creator first.

    And it only looks like an Angel.


    Oooh creepy! I like this ending!

    You've already set the stakes up nicely in that we know Adeline must "successfully" confront the demon-creator in order to exorcise her own demons, and for me these final two lines are great because they (1) show that even more devious threats are in her path, and (2) reveal that in really succinct and punchy way. 

    I would love to offer my novel, BOOK TITLE, for you to consider publishing.

    Sidenote: MonTanna is currently querying publishers, not agents, which is why she has included this line. If this query letter were being sent to agents, then I'd recommend striking the above line. 

    It weaves a dark layer of fantasy through our modern world, placing complex and diverse characters in a realm only seen by the creatures hidden within. BOOK TITLE laces together our instinctual fears of the unknown, our learned distrust of those around us, and our constant strain against the evil inside us all.

    I'm not 100% sure the information conveyed in this paragraph is necessary in the query. Much of it we were already shown in the query pitch, so we don't need to be told again here. I've read agents say that too much time spent telling the reader about the themes of the book can detract from the query itself (and I'd imagine the same is true for editors/publishers). But I'd go with your gut instinct here. If there are elements you think are particularly important to convey, perhaps just streamline and condense these sentences (skip down to the blue paragraph below for a suggested format re: this!)

    Born in Kansas eighteen years ago, I graduated high school just before turning fourteen and have spent my time since then traveling, reading, and writing. BOOK TITLE is a YA Urban Fantasy approximately 108,000 words long and is the first in a series. It is told from the viewpoints of Adeline, Roderick, and their demon-land guide, Stein. allowing the reader to explore events in a multifaceted way. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear back from you.

    Is the book the type of book that can only be part of a series, or would it also be able to stand alone? Agents and publishers are getting a bit leery of series-only books to be honest, as it's a big gamble to agree to a series from a debut author. I always recommend -- if you can do so truthfully of course, hehe -- that you say something like the following: "BOOK TITLE is a YA Urban Fantasy complete at 108,000 words. It is written as a standalone, but has strong series potential."

    There is another problem here that I feel I'd be a bad critter if I didn't point out. Your word count is pretty high for a YA manuscript. That in and of itself is going to unfortunately make an uphill battle for you in the query trenches. There are a lot of agents/editors who see anything over 100K as pretty much an auto-reject for YA. Again, it comes back to the risk-factor of a debut author, and the fact that the longer a book is the more expensive it is to publish. (Agent Jennifer Laughran's Wordcount Dracula is still the sort of definitive word on this topic, so it's worth a read.)

    I feel your pain. I always write books that are on the long side and have to cut back. But I do really, really recommend that you try to get the manuscript under that 100K mark if at all possible. I actually have a blog series I did awhile back on cutting down your word count, because it's definitely what I struggle with as well! (You can find Part I and Part II here, if you're interested!). 

    Last, I recommend keeping the "housekeeping details" about the book separate from the Bio paragraph. In the Author Bio you want to keep things short and sweet and most importantly, as focused as possible on your credentials for writing this book. These two websites have some great tips for what to put in your bio if you (like me!) don't have an English degree or an MFA to flaunt: Rachelle Gardner - Author Bio || Writer Unboxed - The Bio Section

    Here is a suggestion for reformatting these final two paragraphs so that they are more in the classic query format (Your book's "housekeeping details" first, followed by a bio paragraph): 

    BOOK TITLE is a dark YA Urban Fantasy complete at 108,000 words. Though part of a planned series, it could also stand alone. It is told from the viewpoints of Adeline, Roderick, and their demon-land guide, Stein. Through a diverse cast, it explores themes of fear of the unknown, learned distrust, and the battle against the evil inside us all.

    I am a writer, book lover, and traveller based out of Kansas, and an active member of several critique groups. 

    Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,

    Your Name

    CLOSING THOUGHTS:

    I know I've written a lot of comments here (I always do!), but I really think you've got a very interesting story here, and there are some excellent hooks (demons having spent more time in Adeline's body than she has, Roderick's "murder isn't bad" ethic). For me the query just needs to be pared back a bit in terms of extraneous details and hone in more on Adeline and her story and how Roderick fits into that. Also keep in mind that of course this is only one opinion, so take any and all of my feedback with that in mind. You know your story best!



    Readers: What do you think of the query? Please leave your comments or suggestions below!

    Tuesday, May 10, 2016

    Query Theory 101: The Query Letter Pitch as Story

    Query as Story
    The Query Pitch as Story
    { image by Pexels from Pixabay }
    Last time I talked about the Anatomy of a Query Letter, and we sorted out a query's basic components.

    But we all know that when it comes to queries, there's really only one thing we want to talk about:

    The Pitch. 

    Because it's such a stumbling block for us writers, I'll talk about it a lot in this series. If there's one thing I learned in my time in the query trenches, there's no one right way to approach a query pitch, so in this series I'm going to look at it from many different angles and approaches. That way you can experiment and find an approach that works for you!

    This first one though, is one of my favorites:

    The Query Pitch as Story

    We all know how to write a story. I mean if we're at the point where we're writing a query, we've already written a whole dang book, am I right?!?

    { although I should take time out to mention here that there is 


    A query pitch is really just a very short story, with one key difference. It ends before the resolution -- on a cliffhanger. 


    So that's exactly how you can write it. For me personally, thinking of a query pitch as a story makes it so much less scary.

    The Structure:

    Thinking of your pitch as a story, if you haven't already, can do wonders for its structure. Here is a basic query structure. A skeleton framework for your query mini-story:

    When [ UNIQUE MC ] has their world rocked by [ INCITING INCIDENT ], they must [ ACT OR MAKE A DECISION ] or else [ SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN ]

    Fill in the blanks, add specifics, and insert interesting plot points and complications as needed. As you build outward, your query structure may start looking more like this:

    When [ AGE/NAME of MC + UNIQUE ATTRIBUTES ]
    has their world rocked by [ INCITING INCIDENT ]

    The MC [RESPONDS BY DOING SOMETHING]
    But there's a [COMPLICATION] and [ANOTHER COMPLICATION]
    Now they must [ACT OR MAKE A DECISION ] or else [ SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN ]

    And that is the skeleton framework of a basic query for your book! Fill in the blanks and give it a whirl. It's actually kind of fun! Don't like my query structure template? Try this query mad-lib from former agent Nathan Bransford, or agent John Cusik's silver-bullet query-opening formula.


    The Scope -- Find your Cliffhanger Moment:

    Some people say write your query so that it reveals only the first third of your book. Others suggest writing it right up to the final climax. I say: do whatever makes your query sound the most exciting.

    How do you figure out how much of your story to reveal in order to maximize your query's thrill-factor?

    Step 1: Make a list of all the climax points and cliffhanger moments in your book.
                Every single time your MC has to make a big decision or overcome
                a massive obstacle, write it down.


    { Need help? Here are some types of cliffhangers  to be on the lookout for}

    Step 2: Narrow the list to only those moments where your MC is showing agency.
                That is to say: only the moments where your MC has a clear choice to
                drive/change the direction of the story with their decision or action.

    Step 3: Rewrite each of these as a one-sentence *zinger* of a cliffhanger.
                (It totally helps if you use you *duh, duh, duuuhhh* voice when writing these, by the way)                               
    Step 4: Which cliffhanger sentence sounds the most exciting?
                (Pick that one! ... if it doesn't work out, pick a different one!)

    Once you've got a great, tension-filled cliffhanger of a last line ...
      

    Work Backwards:

    No one ever said you had to write your query from beginning to end. In fact, I'd argue that when writing your query as a story, it's better to do the opposite. Nail that crucial last line and have every single sentence of the query building up to that final, climactic moment.


    Get Voicey -- Write your Query as your MC:

    I know, I know. The one thing everyone knows they should NEVER do is send off a query written in 1st person POV in the voice of the book's Main Character. That's fast-track to rejection-land.

    But hear me out for a minute.

    It's also the best way to give your query voice ... which is the one thing that agents say can really push a query over the edge from being "meh" to "gimmie!" ... especially if your protagonist has a very strong voice.

    So write the query in 1st Person. Off-the-cuff. As if your MC were chatting up their friends, detailing the drama that is their life right now. Just don't send that query. Instead:

    Convert the 1st person query to 3rd person. Are there any parts of it you like? Any phrasing your MC uses that could be worked into your "real" query? Do it! Weave those voicey bits in!

    So. Those are my tips for writing your Query as Story. What do you think about this approach? Pros/cons? What are your favorite query letter writing approaches?

    Also: Stay Tuned for more posts on how to write your query letter in the Query Theory series!



    LinkWithin

    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

    ShareThis