Tag Archives: queries

On Handling Rejection

14 Nov

Fact: Everyone gets rejected at some point in their life.

Fact: Rejection stings.

Fact: Some people need to think before responding to said rejection.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen many a rejection letter. I’ve gotten them myself when querying, or applying for internships and jobs. I’ve also written them in regards to all sorts of submissions. And you know what? Neither is enjoyable. Nobody likes to open their email to find a pile of rejection letters that have stacked up over the course of a few hours’ sleep. Also not enjoyable? Having to tell someone their work isn’t right for you. I like to think I’m a nice person, so I really hate having to tell people their material isn’t good. You have to be honest, but as we all know, the truth can sometimes hurt, and nobody wants to be the one doing the hurting.

Here’s the thing, though. In my time working in publishing, I’ve seen many an author act before they took the time to think things through. It’s resulted in some incredibly embarrassing emails on their part, and frustration on mine. And every other intern/assistant/agent/editor out there, for that matter.

So here’s what I propose — some handy dandy step-by-step instructions on how to handle that rejection letter.

1. Open letter.

2. Read letter.

3. Re-read letter.

4. DO NOT RESPOND TO LETTER. I REPEAT: DO NOT RESPOND.

5. Take a deep breath.

6. Go do something else. Preferably something non-literary. Like mudding. Or watching mindless hours of television (British, preferably).

7. Re-read letter again.

8. DO NOT RESPOND.

9. Cross off magazine/journal/agent/editor from your list.

10. Move on.

If you didn’t catch my subtle hints, I’d suggest not responding to rejection letters. Make a note on your chart that someone passed and move on. The worst thing you can do is to write a response that’s mean-spirited, condescending, judgmental, and angry. You’re giving the person you queried yet another reason why they shouldn’t work with you, not to mention the fact that you’re giving yourself a bad name. People talk, and if you make a big deal out of one lousy rejection letter, it’s fairly likely that other people are going to hear about it and won’t be so interested in working with you. Publishing’s a relatively small community, and trust me, word gets around.

The only time it’s really acceptable to respond is to send a quick note thanking the person for their time, especially if you met them in person, they gave personalized feedback, or you were referred to them by someone else (ie: one of their clients). Aside from that, it’s best to just move on. A lot of agents have interns who handle their email, so chances are they may not see that response you send anyway. Unless it falls under the category of majorly unprofessional, in which case I can guarantee they’ll see it.

So, when it comes to professionalism, the bottom line is you need to maintain it at all times. Even when you’d rather not, it’s always best to think before you speak.

~~~

A former agency intern and lit mag manager, Sammy Bina is now the literary assistant at N.S. Bienstock in New York City. In her free time she’s busy rewriting her YA novel DON’T MAKE A SCENE. She tweets a bunch and has a new blog, which you can visit here.

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The Great Big Post of Querying

12 Aug

So, recently, a reader emailed me asking me how I went about querying and finding my agent. I’d actually meant to put up a post about this a long time ago, but the old post included my actual query, which, now that I look at it, is rather spoilery…

I will, however, go through some of the tools I found most helpful and give a basic outline of how the process went.

I started writing my query letter literally a month or so before I sent out my first email (I didn’t snail mail any queries), and then I revised and revised and revised and revised some more. I sent it to critique partners, read it to friends, etc, until I’d whittled it down to about three paragraphs that made sense, got to the heart of the conflict, and gave the reader just enough world building. 

During this time, I was collecting a list of agents I’d like to work with, too. Many of these names I got from blogs, since I’d spent so much time reading agent blogs to figure out how to put together a query letter in the first place. Some I got from contests (I got my agent Emmanuelle’s name from Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest!).

 Wherever I got the names from, I checked to see if they had blogs or twitter or anything like that. Not everyone does, and that’s fine if they don’t, but if they do tweet or whatever, sometimes you can get an idea of what they’re looking for. I know the internet’s not the best way to make a judge of character or anything, but sometimes you can get a sense of how someone’s like to work with.                                                      .
.
Also, a check on querytracker (I did a whole long post about that here) never hurt, either. There’s also www.agentquery.com, but I didn’t use that as much. However, they usually list a number of links to interviews and such that the agent has done, and those can be really helpful. 

Publisher’s Marketplace does require a subscription fee, but it’s not too bad and if you have a membership, you can see what’s been sold by whom and to whom. Which is handy if you’re looking to see who has, say, a really good track record in cozy mysteries or something. Not all sales get reported to PM, though, and some are reported late, so it’s not an end all be all source. 

The Absolute Write forum (or water cooler, as they call it) can be very helpful, too. Many agencies have their own thread in the Writers Beware subforum, and you can search a particular agent’s name to see what sort of experience other writers have had with them in the past. Often, you’ll even see a few people announce that they’ve recently signed on with said agent. The smaller agencies sometimes have rather lackluster, seldom-visited threads, though…which doesn’t at all reflect on the quality of the agency. 

Finally, I got a TON of help from just other writers. The girls at LTWF were an enormous help, as were other friends I made online, who gave me advice about everything from manuscript formatting to query-letter-writing.

I sent out queries in really small batches, since my overall list was pretty small. I ended up signing with Emmanuelle after about two months (longest two months of my life. Truly, lol), but I suppose if I hadn’t gotten any offers after a long while, I would have had to widen my search a little. 

In the end, everybody talks so much about query, and there’s a ton of advice out there (even about the best day of the week or the best time of day to send a query—as a literary intern, I’m just going to say…at least at the agency where I work, this is not going to matter in the least), but in the end, there’s only so much you can do. And writing a really strong story trumps most of the other stuff anyway 🙂

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

The Querying Flowchart of DOOM

17 Mar

by Kat Zhang

~~~

No, silly, it’s not actually “of DOOM,” but sometimes querying feels like it, no? (And besides, as writers, we’re obligated to be dramatic, right? What, that’s actors, you say? Pshaw!!)

Anyway, in order to ease the beginning querier into the query process, I’ve made a handy-dandy flow chart. Yes, it’s a very condensed version of the pre-query checklist…mostly because I only have so much patience with making little multi-colored text balloons. Also, there are no arrows. I know. Sadness. But look at it as a test of thy skill, young querier! If you can not master the maze that is the Query Flowchart of DOOM, then see it as a sign that you need more training before daring to enter the lair of the dragon–I mean confront Darth Vader–I mean query!

Are you ready to begin your test of skill??

Enter at thy own peril…

So? Did you make it? Are you ready to send out those queries? 😀

…and did you notice the two missing bubbles?

…because I totally did that on purpose as a further test of your skills.

yup

that’s my story, and I’m STICKIN’ WITH IT!

D:<

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–is currently on submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

The Parts of a Good Query Letter

28 Feb

by Susan Dennard

~~

I have a popular post on my personal blog that’s part of a series I did called How I Got My Agent.  I thought I’d take out the “good bits” from Part 1, and share them with you here.

Much like in the How to Write a 1-page Synopsis, I’ve drawn up a “worksheet” that you can use to format and write your novel’s query letter.

And if you’re interested in reading about WHY my query worked from my agent’s point of view, you can read about it on the NCLit blog.

~~~

The Query

I started querying on October 6, 2010.  But before that, I spent a loooooooong time honing my query letter.  Like, I took workshops, read books, and got feedback until my eyes bled.

But it all paid off!  Out of the 12 agents I queried, 9 requested a full or partial manuscript.  WEEEEE, right?  (Note: part of my success rate has to do with my research, but I’ll talk about that in Part 2: The Prep.  Nonetheless, a good chunk of my success was thanks to my kick-booty query.)

The thing about query letters is that there is a general standard for what should be in a query and how it should be presented. Above all else, you must include a summary of your book — you must show your book’s plot. Next, you need to keep the query professional.  This is a business letter — remember that!

A few other rules to keep in mind:

  1. Be brief, be brief, be brief! Your goal is to snag the agent’s attention immediately and only share enough information so they want to read more.  Keep the story summary under 250 words.
  2. Do not tell the ending! The purpose of a query is to show an editor/agent that you can tell a story from beginning to end, but you want to leave the end unknown. This is much like the back of book – you want to sell your story and entice them to read more.
  3. You must lay out,
    1. the MC’s goal,
    2. why the MC is choosing to act,
    3. what’s at stake if the MC fails.

The Parts of a Good Query

Below, I have written out the building blocks of a strong query letter.  I’ve filled the formula in with my own query, and I hope you find it useful!

Opening lines — Why are you contacting this agent/editor? What is the title, genre, and word count of your novel?

(I’ll get into this more tomorrow and explain why I suggest starting here.)

I read in an interview that you seek strong female leads as well as steampunk.  As such, I thought you might enjoy my 90,000 word young adult novel, THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS.

Hook — What is a one sentence zinger that introduces the MC, sets up the stakes, and is (most importantly) concise?

After her brother is kidnapped, Eleanor Fitt – a sixteen-year-old with a weakness for buttered toast and Shakespeare quotes – must leave the confines of corsets and courtesy to get him back.

Summary Paragraph 1 — Briefly describe the ordinary life of the MC. Follow this with the inciting incident and why the MC must pursue it (i.e. what is at stake?).

It’s 1876, and Philadelphia is hosting the first American World Fair, the Centennial Exhibition.  It’s also hosting rancid corpses that refuse to stay dead.  When one of those decomposing bodies brings Eleanor a hostage note for her brother, she resolves to do anything to rescue him. But to face the armies of Dead that have him, she’ll need a little help from the Spirit-Hunters.

Summary Paragraphs 2 & 3 — List/show in 2-3 sentences what the MC must do to solve the problem before him/her. What choices must he/she make? Be sure to end these  paragraph with a sentence explaining what will happen if he/she fails.  You want to leave the agent with a perfectly clear idea of why this story matters.

The Spirit-Hunters, a three-man team hired to protect the Exhibition, have a single goal: return the Dead to their graves. Yet, what began as a handful of shambling bodies has escalated beyond the team’s abilities, and time is running out. Whoever rules the Dead is losing control, and when the leash finally snaps, Philadelphia will be overrun with ravenous corpses.

Now Eleanor must battle the walking Dead and deal with her growing attraction to the team’s inventor, Daniel, an exasperating but gorgeous ex-con. From the steampunk lab of the Spirit-Hunters to the grand halls of the Exhibition, Eleanor must follow the clues – and the bodies – to find her brother and stop the Dead before it’s too late.

Conclusion — List your qualifications as a writer (societies, publications) in one sentence. If you can, try to find 2 works similar to your own (this shows the agent what audience you believe will read your novel).  Then thank the agent for his/her time.  Sign off.

Though the novel has been written as a trilogy, it can stand alone.  I believe it will appeal to fans of Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy or Cassandra Clare’s CLOCKWORK ANGEL.  I’m an active member of RWA, SCBWI, the Online Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, and YALitChat.  I live in Germany and am working full-time on my next YA novels.  You can learn more about me at http://susandennard.com.

So there you have it: a simple way to start building your query.  Again, I hope you can use it.  Be sure to read Part 2: The Prep — or all the preparations needed prior to actually mailing your queries.

BOTTOM LINE: A good query can do wonders and instantly pull you to the surface of the slush!

Do you have any tips to share?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

Query Critique 10: Mark of Thorn

11 Feb

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? In my  young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin. Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living. She escapes the world of the wealthy and petty to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life.

Crippled by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion. One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for. As the revolution unravels, Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment, before all of her memories are wiped. Torn between her upbringing and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the role she plays in the Queen’s scheme for supremacy. Three rivaling countries compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop.

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

[Credentials]

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Summer Wayland

~~~

Today we have a special guest post by CA Marshall!

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? [Nix hypothetical questions.] In my young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. [Why not tell us here that she can see the future? Why wait until the next paragraph? Waiting makes this sentence vague] The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin.[What does this sentence have to do with anything? It feels out of place] Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living. [So? Does being able to see the future make her a sorcerer, then? Do her parents know about her ability? If not, how has she hidden it for so long? Make this clearer.] She escapes [Is she being held against her will?] the world of the wealthy and petty [Nix the “and petty”] to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life. [Does she know she’s different? If she doesn’t know her “true origin” how could she have suppressed it? Also, the last half of the sentence reads awkward. Try moving the age to a different place, like the beginning.]

Crippled [why is it crippling?]by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters [Does she run away? Do the sorcerer’s find her?] a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion.[Awkward phrasing] One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for.[Cliche. If there’s a romance here, play it up. Smexyiness sells]

[Insert paragraph break]As the revolution unravels[Does it fall apart? What causes its downfall?], Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment, before all of her [Willow’s or her mom’s?]memories are wiped. Torn [Why is she torn? The phrase is cliche, too]between her upbringing [What does he upbringing matter?]and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey[To where?] that opens her eyes [cliche]to the role she plays[What role?] in the Queen’s [Who is the queen?]scheme for supremacy. Three rivaling countries [Which countries?]compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop. [Why must she be the one to stop it? What happens if she doesn’t? What are the stakes?]

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping[Nix “gripping”] novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

[Credentials]

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Summer Wayland

General notes: Watch for vague and/or cliche phrases. Agents want to know what they’re getting into, don’t hide info. Make sure your plot is clear and to the point. If you allude to something, the agent/intern reading quickly may miss it and your query will seem confusing, which could count against you. Where’s the voice in this? I don’t get a sense of who Willow is, what kind of a person she is, or what she thinks about all of this happening to her. You have to do just as much world building in your query as you do in your book, so be sure to explain things clearly. You may know the details of your world, but we don’t.
All the best,

Cassandra
camarshall.com

~~~

I like this concept, but I also feel somewhat lost. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the query that I figured out that Willow is probably a sorcerer, though in the middle you played her up to be a psychic. In the beginning you said she had abilities but didn’t mention specifically what they were at all.

Rivaling countries and political battles need to come up earlier, I feel, for this query to have more of an impact. It’s a really great idea: An adopted sorcerer growing up in a family that kills sorcerers, hiding her abilities from everyone, at times even herself. Love it. You just need to let it shine though.

I’ve heard that lots of agents are sick of queries opening with ‘what if?’ You might consider changing your opening.

I’m also verrrrryy interested in Thonatos, and would like to hear more about that.

Best of luck!

-Savannah J. Foley

 

My comments are below in blue!

Dear Agent,

What if the daughter of prominent officials was a changeling? There’s a lot of advice against starting with rhetorical questions. It seems to be a turn off for some agents, so I’m not sure about opening like this. In my young adult fantasy novel, MARK OF THORN, Willow Coulter fears her special ability What special ability? I’m in agreement with Sav that your query, while composed of interesting elements, left me feeling confused. I think you need to be up front about this ability, otherwise the query loses the added tension it could receive. If we don’t know what it is, here (although you explain it later), you can’t explain to us why she fears it being discovered,—one she’s been keeping secret—will be discovered. The strange mark on her arm tells her nothing of her true origin. Her parents are Hunters, those who murder suspected sorcerers for a living.   She escapes the world of the wealthy and petty to face the identity she’s been suppressing for the sixteen years of her life.

Crippled by her ability to see the past and the future, Willow encounters a gang of runaway sorcerers, teenagers with abilities like her, who aim to start a rebellion I don’t understand why they’re rebelling, or what they’re rebelling against. When this query first started, I was leaning towards a more urban kind of fantasy. I think you need to work in some world building from the start (not much, just a sentence or two and then head into the plot. Perhaps give Willow’s motivations – ie the problems with the government, the three rival nations – for getting away from her parents, and then tellus what happens after that). One of the members doesn’t trust her, a boy who her feelings are growing for Make it more personal! This is all really interesting, but it feels kind of bland. I want to know this guy’s name, at the very least, and what sparks her feelings for him would be good, too. Basically, I’d like to get a sense of his character.. As the revolution unravels You haven’t set up the revolution actually happening, yet, so this threw me for a second, Willow must rescue her birth mother from Thanatos, the lands of imprisonment this plot thread comes from out of nowhere and it feels like it might be the main conflict. Could you maybe hint at her mother being imprisoned earlier? Lands of imprisonment sounds great, though. Is that where the Hades and Persephone bit comes in? Is this like the Underworld? Sounds fantastic!., before all of her memories are wiped. Torn between her upbringing and the insurgent sorcerers, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the role she plays in the Queen’s scheme for supremacy We also haven’t heard anything about a Queen. This all sounds super interesting, but perhaps  give us more, and earlier so that we really understand the context and significance of it. Three rivaling countries which countries. I feel like these conflicts need to be established better compete in a battle for domination, one she must stop. Or else what….The stakes could be a little bit more tense if you added that detail.

MARK OF THORN is a 59,000-word gripping don’t call your own novel gripping, it can sometimes appear as bragging. Instead, make the query so gripping that everyone just assumes your novel is equally so 🙂 novel that alludes to the tale of Hades and Persephone, apocalyptic myths, and Western European folklore All these things are awesome and I think it’s wonderful that you incorporated them in your story. My completed manuscript is available at your request.

Overall, I just wasn’t getting a clear sense of what the central conflict was, here. Was it the rebellion, or the quest to get her mother, or the three nations battling for domination. Which of these is the focus for your novel, and which are the backdrop elements? You just need to establish that, and clarify all areas of your query.

In addition, I’d really like to see more of what your protagonist actually does, the way that she operates within and effects the plot.For instance, you tell us that she escapes from her wealthy life, but how does she escape? What does she do to rescue her mother? How, exactly, does she have to oppose the principles instilled in her during her childhood? (I like your internal conflict, by the way. It seems really great).

This is a great concept! Best of luck 🙂

-Vahini Naidoo

~~~

Query Critique 9: Vestige

10 Feb

Dear Dream Agent,

(Paragraph about why I am contacting this particular agent eg blog, interview, etc)

Tess Garibaldi is a flight attendant turned Indiana Jones in high heels. Her past collides with the present when she discovers she’s a Vestige–a reincarnated soul sent to protect civilizations. Haunted by the failure in a past life to save her Incan soul mate and his people, Tess sets out to destroy the Trinity Necklace, an Incan artifact that causes death by incurable disease.

To end the destructive powers of the relic forever, Tess must find and stop the enemy from her past and present lives and reunite with her reincarnated Incan lover. With a handsome anthropologist and dodgy ex-husband as the only candidates for mate or foe, Tess must choose wisely. Given her history of disastrous relationship decisions, choosing between the men she loves won’t be easy. But if she doesn’t get it right, Tess will not only lose her soul mate forever, the wrong choice could set off a chain of destruction.

VESTIGE is an 83,000 word romantic adventure manuscript with mythical elements as evoked by Jessica Andersen’s Final Prophecy series, and ancient historical romance reminiscent of Michelle Moran.

I have worked as a mountain guide in Argentina and tour leader in Peru, specializing in Incan history. I am a member of RWA, Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime. I am on the committee organizing the 2011 RWA Australia conference and I write a regular blog on the Novel Adventurers. Currently I am working on a novel set in Argentina.

As per the guidelines of your agency, I have (attached or pasted, whatever the agency guidelines are). Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Alli Sinclair

~~~

First of all, I think your story sounds great! I love a good adventure, and I love a strong woman who can fight in heels. There aren’t enough of those stories, if you ask me.

My first suggestion would be to move your first paragraph (the one about why you’re contacting the agent) to the end. It’s not wrong to leave it where it is, but I think the query would read stronger if you just jumped right in.

I’m a little confused, though. There are a lot of characters hinted at in your query, only one of which is given a name. Tess. Is the man she’s trying to save separate from the handsome anthropologist and her ex-husband? And who is this enemy from her past and present lives? I would suggest focusing the query on Tess and the man she’s supposed to end up with, whomever that may be. It’s important for the reader to identify with the main couple in a romance, so make sure you mention his name in the query.

I like your ‘about me’ paragraph. It shows that you have personal experience dealing with the things mentioned in your book, and it never hurts to be a member of RWA or a similar organization. I would, however, suggest you cut the mention of your current project; you’re trying to sell VESTIGE, not what comes next. Also, in the previous paragraph, you can just say it’s an 83,000 word romantic adventure — the mention of ‘manuscript’ isn’t necessary since the agent already knows that’s what you’re querying.

Overall, nice job! Good luck!

~~~

Notes in blue!

Dear Dream Agent,

(Paragraph about why I am contacting this particular agent eg blog, interview, etc)

Tess Garibaldi is a flight attendant turned Indiana Jones in high heels Love it!. Her past collides with the present when she discovers she’s a Vestige–a reincarnated soul sent to protect civilizations. Haunted by the failure in a past life to save her Incan soul mate and his people, Tess haunted how? does she have flashbacks? nightmares? or is “haunted” used more metaphorically and she just knows about this and thinks about it? sets out to destroy the Trinity Necklace, an Incan artifact that causes death by incurable disease Any specific one? Or does it just cause people to develop a random incurable disease? If the former, even if it’s a made up disease, if there are any unique symptoms (people are turning purple! oh no! :P), then mentioning it might help us get a more visual/tactile feel on the story .

To end the destructive powers of the relic forever, Tess must find and stop the enemy is this enemy a man? a malevolent spirit? from her past and present lives and reunite with her reincarnated Incan lover how does reuniting with her lover stop the relic?. With a handsome anthropologist and dodgy ex-husband as the only candidates for mate or foe, Tess must choose wisely Wait, so one is the enemy and the other is her reincarnated love? Do the men know which is which?. Given her history of disastrous relationship decisions, choosing between the men she loves won’t be easy. But if she doesn’t get it right, Tess will not only lose her soul mate forever, the wrong choice could set off a chain of destruction Bit confused as to how, but if the reason for this is really complicated and long, you might be right in leaving it out.

VESTIGE is an 83,000 word romantic adventure manuscript with mythical elements as evoked by Jessica Andersen’s Final Prophecy series, and ancient historical romance reminiscent of Michelle Moran.

I have worked as a mountain guide in Argentina and tour leader in Peru, specializing in Incan history. I am a member of RWA, Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime. I am on the committee organizing the 2011 RWA Australia conference and I write a regular blog on the Novel Adventurers. Currently I am working on a novel set in Argentina.

As per the guidelines of your agency, I have (attached or pasted, whatever the agency guidelines are). Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Alli Sinclair

Overall, I thought this was great 🙂

–Kat Zhang


Query Critique 8: We Were Broken

9 Feb

Dear Agent:

I am writing to inquire if you would be interested in my contemporary romance novel, WE WERE BROKEN, due to your stated interest in the romance genre (that line will change according to the agent’s sales and whatnot– I’ll always try to mention a book they’ve sold recently). A brief overview follows:

Twenty-one year old Grace Blanchett just wants to forget about the night she found her fiancé sleeping with her best friend.

So when Grace meets Summer at a coffee shop and learns that the girl has recently become homeless, she offers her the spare bedroom in her apartment. Because Grace needs someone, anyone, who’ll help ease the loneliness that’s crept in since she cut off her old life. An unlikely friendship grows between the two girls. They may be from very different walks of life—Grace from a privileged background, Summer the product of a broken home—but they need each other.

Their new friendship is put to the test when Summer discovers that she’s pregnant. Terrified of following in her estranged mother’s footsteps, she needs Grace’s support more than ever. Summer’s half-brother, River, does all he can to help, but his presence only complicates matters when Grace starts falling for him—even though he’s already seeing another girl. Grace has a decision to make—one that will challenge all that she stands for: should she follow her heart and become the other woman, or once again sever all ties—this time with River—and risk losing Summer in the process.

Written in the third person narratives of the two female protagonists (Grace and Summer), WE WERE BROKEN is complete at 75,000 words.

My passion for literature led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English from Hull University. Also, I passed a Starting Writing Fiction course with the Open University. (Please note this query is a multiple submission. I would be happy to send you my completed manuscript.)

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Laura E. Wardle

~~~

I’m not usually one for contemporary romances, but I really liked this concept (and the title).

Firstly, I think 21 might be too young for your MC’s. Not because 21 is too young to be engaged (I was engaged at 20), but because in the genre I think characters tend to be a little older. Not really a huge deal though; if they’re out of college it would be easy to just up the age if an agent felt like you needed it.

Your opening sentence is great. Already we have tension, and can immediately sympathize with the main character, and we’re not even reading the book yet! I think the transition to the second paragraph is weak though. You say ‘So’, but there’s nothing linking the opening with the action. You might need to add in a sentence about how after losing her fiance and BFF she’s desperately lonely and just wants to move on with her life. SO, when Grace meets Summer…

Second sentence in the second paragraph opens weak, too, in my opinion. Try not to start sentences with Because. If you cut the ‘because’, you could actually move the second sentence and make it the first and fix the problem I was just talking about.

The rest is pretty clean, but I have read a few agents saying they have a problem with the MC deciding to become the ‘other woman’… I don’t know how your ms reads, but in the query you make it sound as if she has the option to have a continuous affair with River, which automatically makes him a scumbag and shows that she has self-esteem low enough to not see this in him. Something to consider.

Best of luck!

-Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Laura! I’m so glad you sent us your query. I’ve been interested in hearing about your book for a while, and having read your letter, am really excited about it!

I think Savannah’s right, though. 21 seems kind of young for a romance. Because fiction is still pretty segregated, 21 falls into that black hole known as “the college years,” and therefore isn’t very prominent in contemporary stories. If it wouldn’t change the feel of your manuscript, I’d maybe change the ages to 25 or 26. That way they’re still young professionals, but far enough removed from that taboo-esque age of 21.

Also, Susan mentioned this last week: A romance novel is a very specific genre in which the heroine and the hero are main characters — the story is from both POVs. Because you mention that your story is told from Summer and Grace’s points of view, it makes me wonder how to actually classify it. From the query, it sounds less like a romance and more like commercial fiction with a little bit of love thrown in. Just something to consider when pitching it.

Savannah covered everything else I was going to say! Except, you don’t need to put that last bit about multiple submissions in parentheses. Other than that, good job!

Query Critique 3: A Steady Wish

2 Feb

Welcome to Query Week! Every day, this week and next, we’ll be publicly critiquing the queries you guys were awesome enough to send us last week. If we don’t publicly post yours, don’t worry, we’ll still email you our thoughts 🙂

See the bottom of our posts for great resources about queries, and use the tag ‘query week’ to see Query Weeks of the past.

~~~

Dear LTWF Bloggers,

The night of their college graduation, Maggie McGregor broke Will Buchanan’s heart. She thought she was doing what was best for both of them. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Neither of them needed to be tied down by the expectations of someone else. They deserved a chance to live their dreams, not compromise them for the sake of each other.

Maggie McGregor is a strong, intelligent college student with her future all planned out when she meets Will Buchanan. He’s everything she’s ever wanted in a man; he’s handsome, funny, considerate, and he’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her. In the safe, uncomplicated world of college, they thought happily-ever-after would be easy. But when faced with the real world, Maggie chooses to go her own way rather than changing her plans for Will. She has spent the past four years studying at Oxford and working to become a successful novelist. Now that she’s succeeded, it’s time to head home and face her past, specifically the man she rejected to pursue her dreams. But can Maggie find her way back to Will Buchanan or has too much time passed for either of them to return to how they used to be?

A modern day tale, A STEADY WISH tells the story of Maggie and Will and their journey back to each other. An adult Maggie’s memories provide the history of her relationship with Will as she moves closer to being able to embrace an adult life with the man she loves. With the help of her friends and family, Maggie realizes that she doesn’t have to compromise her dreams to be with the man she loves.

This romance novel is complete at approximately 90,000 words. A STEADY WISH is a book not only about the love between Maggie and Will, but the problems facing many graduating college students and young professionals today: should I plan my life around someone else? How do I know what will and won’t work out? Am I ready to live with that regret?

I am a senior English major, feminist studies and religion minor, at Southwestern University, a small liberal arts university in Texas. I wrote A STEADY WISH over the course of three semesters, while maintaining a 3.5 GPA. Other than a few articles in my school newspaper, I am unpublished. I also have a weekly blog,  tmlunsford.blogspot.com. With A STEADY WISH complete, I am currently writing my next novel, a Regency romance.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Taylor Lunsford

~~~

Sounds like a very romantic story!  Overall, though, I feel like you would benefit from some lessons/articles/books on query-writing.  I say this because 1) this letter doesn’t follow the expected query formula, and 2) you are committing some “no-nos” that are well-known and easy to avoid.

I’m sure these problems are simply problems with the query (and not with your novel).  Therefore, we want to make sure your query doesn’t reflect poorly on your novel!  Queries are HARD to write!  I spent months and months and months honing mine, so don’t despair if it takes a while. 🙂

One rough area I noticed was in the pitch (or story summary).  It seemed like there was a great deal of “telling” rather than “showing”.  Saying Maggie is strong and intelligent isn’t as helpful as showing it.  An example of showing Maggie’s character would be: “The day she graduated from Oxford, Maggie put her love life on hold to pursue her career as a novelist.”  This shows she’s tough (she’s choosing work over love!) and smart (she graduated from Oxford!) and hints at the conflict (love life!).

I felt like another mistake was “set-up” — the query seems to be filled entirely with what happened in the past.  I realize that some of the story is told in memories, but keep in mind that the actual story is what happens in present day.  What the reader cares about (and where the most tension/conflict exists) is in what is yet to come (the possible rekindling of Maggie’s and Will’s romance is the novel’s plot).  Therefore, your query needs to be set in the present.  You need to show where Maggie is NOW, what Maggie wants NOW, and what is standing in her way NOW.  You then have to show where Will is NOW, what Will wants NOW, and what stands in Will’s way.

Finally, I felt like the query failed to show what’s at stake or why a reader should care.  All I know is that Maggie and Will used to be together, but I don’t know why I want them to get back together.  I don’t know why they are once again in each other’s presence for a possible rekindling.  I don’t know what horrible thing will happen if they don’t get back together — like, why does it matter if they stay apart?

Essentially, because I don’t know Maggie’s GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) or Will’s GMC, I can’t tell what’s at stake.  Without knowing the stakes, there’s no tension in the story.  And without tension in the story, there’s no enticement to find out what will happen to the characters.

I highly suggest reading the Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com) to learn the query mistakes to avoid.  To get a feel for the necessary query formula, I’ll direct you to my own link (where I lay it all out): http://susandennard.com/2010/11/29/how-i-got-my-agent-part-1-the-prep/.  Hope this helps, and best of luck!

On a side note: You probably know this, but I want to make sure! 🙂  A romance novel is a very specific genre in which the heroine and the hero are main characters — the story is from both POVs.  From your query, this does not sound like a romance novel since all we hear about is Maggie’s POV, and you specifically say, “An adult Maggie’s memories provide the history of her relationship with Will as she moves closer to being able to embrace an adult life with the man she loves.”  If this IS a romance novel, then you need to offer both POVs in the query.  So far, this sounds like it’s only Maggie’s story.  Be sure to also show what happens in Will’s half of the story.

~~~

Hey Taylor,

I’m a big fan of romance, and I really like your concept.  Looking back and wondering what you could (should?) have done differently is a very common human experience and should have broad appeal.

My biggest problem with your query is that it rambles, repeats itself, and (as Susan said,) tells us less about the action of the story than about the set up.  It could use a lot of tightening.  I’ve marked it up below so you can see what I’m talking about:

Dear LTWF Bloggers,

The night of their college graduation, Maggie McGregor broke Will Buchanan’s heart. She thought she was doing what was best for both of them. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Neither of them needed to be tied down by the expectations of someone else. They deserved a chance to live their dreams, not compromise them for the sake of each other. (I’m not sure you need any of this, since you say it again in the next paragraph.)

Maggie McGregor is a strong, intelligent college student with her future all planned out when she meets Will Buchanan. He’s everything she’s ever wanted in a man; he’s handsome, funny, considerate, and he’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her. (This first sentence is in present tense, but the rest of your query is in past.) In the safe, uncomplicated world of college, they thought happily-ever-after would be easy. But when faced with the real world, Maggie chooses to go her own way rather than changing her plans for Will. (Slipped back into present tense again.) She has spent the past four years studying at Oxford and working to become a successful novelist. Now that she’s succeeded, it’s time to head home and face her past, specifically the man she rejected to pursue her dreams. (I found this part very confusing.  You say she’s spent the past four years studying at Oxford and working to become a successful novelist.  I assumed this meant she was already successful at the time she graduated.  So when you say “now that she’s succeeded,” I thought you meant immediately after graduation, so I assumed she was returning to some man she rejected in order to go off to Oxford.  I think you need to clarify the amount of time that’s gone by since they graduated.) But can Maggie find her way back to Will Buchanan or has too much time passed for either of them to return to how they used to be?

A modern day tale, A STEADY WISH tells the story of Maggie and Will and their journey back to each other. An adult Maggie’s memories provide the history of her relationship with Will as she moves closer to being able to embrace an adult life with the man she loves. With the help of her friends and family, Maggie realizes that she doesn’t have to compromise her dreams to be with the man she loves. (I wonder about the relevance of this last line.  Wouldn’t a realization like this have occurred before the opening of the novel, if the action of the story is her attempt to return to Will?)

This romance novel is complete at approximately 90,000 words. A STEADY WISH is a book not only about the love between Maggie and Will, but the problems facing many graduating college students and young professionals today: should I plan my life around someone else? How do I know what will and won’t work out? Am I ready to live with that regret?

I am a senior English major, feminist studies and religion minor, at Southwestern University, a small liberal arts university in Texas. I wrote A STEADY WISH over the course of three semesters, while maintaining a 3.5 GPA. Other than a few articles in my school newspaper, I am unpublished. I also have a weekly blog,  tmlunsford.blogspot.com. With A STEADY WISH complete, I am currently writing my next novel, a Regency romance.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Taylor Lunsford

My main suggestion, Taylor, would be to pare this down so it is a more concise reflection of what the story is.  If the story is about a successful woman returning to a lost love, I would start the query with that.  As it is now, I started out thinking the book was one thing, then decided it was another, then eventually settled on a third impression of what the book was.  I think some careful decisions about the essence of your story will help a lot.

I think your story has a lot of potential.  Like Susan said, make sure your query reflects the hard work you put into the novel.  Take your time, dive into some query-writing resources, and you will do great!  Best of luck!

~~~

Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America

Query Critique 2: Letters to Oliver

1 Feb

Welcome to Query Week! Every day, this week and next, we’ll be publicly critiquing the queries you guys were awesome enough to send us last week. If we don’t publicly post yours, don’t worry, we’ll still email you our thoughts 🙂

See the bottom of our posts for great resources about queries, and use the tag ‘query week’ to see Query Weeks of the past.

~~~

Dear LTWF:

When Emily Bell is taken from school into London society, she is miserable. Leaving behind her life of books and magic to please her disapproving Mamma also means leaving charming Oliver Wycliffe, a boy she has known for some time and has come to love. She tries to hide her misery along with her magic, writing only portions of the truth to her best friend and her sister. It is only in her unsent letters to Oliver that she feels she can truly be herself, a self she is rapidly losing amidst the London fog.

Emily is jolted out of that fog when Oliver is turned into a white rabbit and disappears, and an untrustworthy magician by the name of Mr. Stanton asks for her assistance with a spell. She discovers that her spell is to be used for dark purposes, and she is the only one who can stop him. Desperate to find Oliver before she loses her love to a cat, and feeling guilty for her rash decision to help Mr. Stanton, Emily must disobey her mother and use her magic. But it also means leaving the safety of her books and risking everything – and Emily’s newfound strength might not be up to the task.

LETTERS TO OLIVER is a YA historical fantasy in epistolary form, complete at 60,000 words, which I hope will appeal to fans of A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and SORCERY & CECELIA.

I am also working on another YA novel which involves the French Revolution and werewolves.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Caitlin R. O’Connell

~~~

Oooh, I love the premise behind this!  Sorcery & Celia was one of my favorites growing up!

Overall, I think this is good, but I feel like I need to understand the basics of the world for the query to make sense.  Magic…is illegal?  I mean, why does her Mama want her to stop?  What kind of magic is it — wands, pentagrams, or incantations?

I think, to include this necessary information, you’ll need to also tighten your paragraphs (otherwise the query will be running too long).  But tightening will also give you smoother flow and more snap!

For example, paragraph 1 can be condensed to:

“After her mother drags her into London society, Emily Bell is miserable.  She had to leave behind her books and her magic, and worst of all, she had to leave her love — the charming Oliver Wycliffe.

<insert world information, like: The year is ___, and magic is common enough for gypsies and street vendors, but it is absolutely inappropriate for a lady of high society.  And though Emma tries to ignore the magic itching in her fingertips and the aching in her heart, she finds she is rapidly losing herself in the dreary London fog and social demands.>”

Now, with regards to my confusion over the story, when you say, “Emily is jolted out of that fog when Oliver is turned into a white rabbit and disappears, and an untrustworthy magician by the name of Mr. Stanton“, I feel like I need to know WHY Oliver got turned into a rabbit and WHO Mr. Stanton is — why would Emily trust an untrustworthy magician?

Next, you say, “She discovers that her spell is to be used for dark purposes, and she is the only one who can stop him.”  Specifics would be helpful here: what sort of spell and what are the dark purposes?  Without specifics, I don’t know what’s at stake or why I should care. 🙂  What Emily considers dark may not be what I consider dark!  Also, why is Emily the only one who can stop him?

When you say, “Emily must disobey her mother and use her magic“, I got confused because hasn’t she already disobeyed her mother? Didn’t she use magic if she was helping Mr. Stanton?

At the end of the pitch, you say, “But it also means leaving the safety of her books and risking everything – and Emily’s newfound strength might not be up to the task.”  I thought she already left behind her books when she moved to London, no? Also, I don’t think you mentioned Emily developing a strength during the story — so I don’t think you can talk about her “new-found strength”.  I think you can just say, “Emily might not be up to the task.” Then we know she has to build strength or fail. 🙂

Finally, you mention the book you’re working on right now.  Normally, this should not be mentioned.  Unless an agent specifically asks to hear about your other novels (and some do!), then I wouldn’t waste your precious page space mentioning it. 🙂

Good luck with this, and please let us know how your querying goes!

~~~

I have to agree with Susan — this story sounds awesome! I’m such a sucker for history and magic, so combining them is even better! Kudos on an awesome premise!

Overall, your query is good; if you sent it out now, you’d probably get a few nibbles. But as Susan mentioned, tightening up the paragraphs you have, in order to include more relevant information, is key. The thing with queries is that you have to make the stakes high. Right now my interest is piqued, but I don’t feel any urgency, you know? You did a good job in picking three characters to name in your query, but I want to know more about Oliver, and I want to know more about Mr. Stanton. What makes Oliver worth fighting for? And why has he been turned into a rabbit? Is he hiding a secret as well? If he is, mention it! Up the ante. As for Mr. Stanton, what is he up to and why? As Susan mentioned, why is Emily the only one capable of stopping him?

I was also a little confused by this line: “Desperate to find Oliver before she loses her love to a cat…” Are you referring to Mr. Stanton or an actual cat? Since Oliver’s been turned into a rabbit, it’s possible that this cat could be someone else entirely. Never leave room for ambiguity when it comes to things like this.

Also, don’t forget to include a sentence or two about why you’re querying this particular agent. It lets them know you did your research, and you’d be surprised how far that can get you.

Good luck!

~~~

Again, like yesterday, my notes are in blue! 😀

Dear LTWF:

When Emily Bell is taken from school into London society, she is No need to cut out contractions in a query. In fact, unless you’re going for a rather formal air (which could be what you’re going for since this is historical), I’d say use those contractions. I think they make your writing seem less formal and stuffy–more inviting miserable. Leaving behind her life of books and magic why’s she leaving behind her magic? Did she go to a magic school? to please her disapproving Mamma also means leaving charming Oliver Wycliffe, a boy she has known for some time and has come to love “has known for some time and has come to love” doesn’t seem strong enough for me. Emily is miserable. Her feelings are strong. Try to infuse some of her voice into this. How does she feel about leaving Oliver behind? What will she miss about him? “Charming” is rather vague. There’s nothing wrong with it, but imagine how much character and voice you could add if you were a bit  more specific. She tries to hide her misery along with her magic, writing only portions of the truth to her best friend and her sister. It is only in her unsent letters to Oliver that she feels she can truly be herself, a self she is rapidly losing amidst the London fog. I like that imagery!

Emily is jolted out of that fog when Oliver is turned into a white rabbit and disappears, and an untrustworthy magician by the name of Mr. Stanton asks for her assistance with a spell Are these two related? If so, may want make the connection clearer. She discovers that her spell is to be used for dark purposes bit vague, and she is the only one who can stop him. Desperate to find Oliver before she loses her love to a cat, no need for this comma and feeling guilty for about her rash decision to help Mr. Stanton, Emily must disobey her mother and use her magic. But it also means leaving the safety of her books and risking everything – and Emily’s newfound strength might not be up to the task.

LETTERS TO OLIVER is a YA historical fantasy in epistolary form, complete at 60,000 words, which I hope will appeal to fans of A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and SORCERY & CECELIA.

Overall, sounds like a great read 🙂 I think you need to make the main conflict a little more clear, though. Mr. Stanton sounds like the Big Bad, but I need to know more about what he’s up to. “Dark purposes” just doesn’t cut it 😛 What are the stakes if Emily fails to stop him? How is all this related to Oliver?

I am also working on another YA novel which involves the French Revolution and werewolves.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Caitlin R. O’Connell

~~~

Helpful Links

Queries and Cover Letters, from the Elaine P. English literary agency blog

Query Letter Mad Lib, from literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog

How to Format a Query Letter, also from Nathan Bransford’s blog

Query Shark, where literary agent Janet Reid tears apart your queries and puts them back together

AgentQuery gives their advice on what makes up a good query letter

A Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, a good article from Science Fiction Writers of America

Intern Tips: The Query Edition

13 Jan

One of my very first posts on LTWF was about how NOT to query. Today will be in a similar vein, but the theme is what not to put IN your query. As an intern, I mostly read submissions rather than queries. I see a lot of partials, very few fulls, and an endless supply of synopses (but we’ll save those for another day). I was in D.C. the last two weeks and spent a few days at my internship reading queries. I thought I’d spend today imparting on you some helpful tidbits I picked up!

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Don’t start your query with a rhetorical question (ie: Have you ever felt the nagging urge to lop off your arm, tie it to a rock, and throw it in the ocean as a way to get over your ex?). It isn’t just a personal pet peeve – most agents will tell you they despise the rhetorical question as well.

2. Don’t use a quote before your query. Especially if it’s unrelated to your book. Even if it is related, it isn’t necessary.

3. Don’t send unsolicited attachments. Especially if your query is IN the attachment. It will never see the light of day.

4. I’d generally advise against using smiley faces.

5. Never, ever, ever address a query as follows: Dear Agent, To Whom It May Concern, Dear Sir/Ma’am, etc. Use their name. And be sure to spell it correctly.

6. If you send a hasty query and later realize there’s a typo, don’t send the query again, apologizing. (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this one.)

7. This is just a suggestion, but you should probably take it to heart: don’t send queries using your email address from 1995 (you know the one – kittykatmeowmewo2137@iheartbabyanimals.com). Go to gmail.com and set up an account using your actual name. Much more professional.

8. Don’t you dare send out a mass query! [Waves finger] That is a major no-no.

9. A synopsis is not a query. Ex-agent superhero, Nathan Bransford, has a great article on how to write a good query.

10. Don’t send a letter that’s all about your qualifications (or lack thereof) for writing your book, but never actually saying what said book is about.

11. It’s fine if this is your first book. Everyone has to start somewhere! But don’t give the entire history of how long it took you to write it.

12. Inserting random sentences from your manuscript isn’t the best way to sell it.

13. Do NOT just send a list of characters and how they relate to each other.

14. Do not send a marketing proposal.

15. Please don’t compare your books to the Bible, Harry Potter, Twilight, or anything by Nicholas Sparks.

16. Make sure you send everything the submission guidelines ask for. If an agent asks to see the first five pages pasted beneath your query, do it. Similarly, don’t send pages if an agent doesn’t ask to see them.

17. If you’re rejected, don’t respond to ask for the names of other agents you could send your query to.

18. Don’t send queries for three different books within the span of five minutes. Query one at a time.

19. Always check for typos. Sometimes we make mistakes, but if your query is riddled with them, no one is going to request to see more because they’ll assume the same of the manuscript.

20. Always wait at least six weeks before checking in to see if an agent has read your query. (Unless their submission guidelines say they don’t respond to those they aren’t interested in. Then you shouldn’t bother.)

Here’s some other generalized information that might make you querying writers feel better: roughly 70-80% of the queries that come in are rejected based on things like: they were sent as an attachment, they were for things the agent didn’t represent, they were just horribly written. So if you follow the basic guidelines, you’re already ahead of a large amount of the population. So keep trucking, and don’t forget to send us your query letter for our upcoming query week(s)!

~~~

Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is taking a break from querying to revise her latest project, a YA dystopian entitled SILENCE. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.