Monday, June 18, 2018

Query Critique Winner

Naomi is lucky #8 this month!  Congrats, Naomi!!  Here is her original query:

Dear [Agent Name]:

When Gay rights icon Harvey Milk is assassinated in 1978, he never dreams that he would enter the Afterlife, fall in love with codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing, and together, change the world.

Brash, impulsive Harvey is excited, at last, to love a man whom he can respect as an equal, and who can thrill his mind as well as his body. Sensitive, passionate Alan is delighted to be understood and appreciated by a man who speaks fluent Geek. They seem the perfect match: as lovers who bring out the best in each other and as teammates with the chance to enter an alternate universe and prevent World War II with the aid of robots.

But when Harvey makes a rash move, Alan's insecurity and a jealous ex-lover threaten to destroy the relationship.  Unless Harvey can swallow his pride, he will lose the best boyfriend he has ever had, and the fate of millions will hang in balance.

EVER I SAW YOUR FACE, an HEA adult speculative romance  complete at 115k words, has series potential. It retells a fairy tale like TWO YEARS EIGHT MONTHS AND TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS and incorporates alternate worlds like ALL THE WRONG TODAYS. This story may resonate with you because of your  interest in alternate history, queer voices, and geeky love stories.  

Like Milk I am Jewish-American. Like Turing I am British and Irish. Like both I am Neurodiverse, queer and love math. I have exhaustively researched both men and spent time where they lived. My book DELICIOUS PROSE (Brill, 2018) studies the ancient fairy tale. TOBIT, upon which the novel is based.

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely,
Naomi 

And here is my critique:

Dear [Agent Name]:

When Ggay rights icon Harvey Milk is assassinated in 1978, he never dreamst that he would enter the Aafterlife, and fall in love with code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing, and together, never mind change the world.

Brash, impulsive Harvey is excited, at last, to love a man whom he can respect as an equal, and who can thrill his mind as well as his body. [This sentence reads awkwardly. I would consider changing to something like the following.] The afterlife truly is heaven for Harvey, who is thrilled with his intelligent, passionate lover. Sensitive, passionate Likewise, the sensitive Alan is delighted to be finally understood and appreciated by a the kind of man who speaks fluent Geek. They seem like the perfect match: as lovers soulmates who bring out the best in each other and as teammates with the chance to enter an alternate universe and prevent World War II with the aid of robots. [How does this chance happen?  Expand more here.  Do they come up with the idea/ability to travel back in time together and invent robots to help them right one of the worst wrongs in history or are they assigned this task by someone?  Help us get a better sense of what the plot is here.

But when Harvey makes a rash move, Alan's insecurity and a jealous ex-lover threaten to destroy the relationship.  Unless Harvey can swallow his pride, he will lose the best boyfriend he has ever had, and the fate of millions will hang in balance. [Give us more!  Without becoming overly wordy, I'd love to get more specifics of this situation.  What is Harvey's rash move?  How does Alan's ex factor in?  Without a better grasp of the story line, it is more difficult for the reader to feel truly compelled/invested in the manuscript.]

EVER I SAW YOUR FACE, an HEA adult speculative romance  complete at 115k words, has series potential. It retells a fairy tale like is a fairy tale reimagining similar to TWO YEARS EIGHT MONTHS AND TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS [How is this a fairy tale retelling?  What fairy tale is this based on?] and incorporates alternate worlds like ALL THE WRONG TODAYS. This story may resonate with you because of your  interest in alternate history, queer voices, and geeky love stories.  

Like Milk I am Jewish-American. Like Turing I am British and Irish. Like both I am Neurodiverse, queer and love math. I have exhaustively researched both men and spent time where they lived. My book DELICIOUS PROSE (Brill, 2018) studies the ancient fairy tale., TOBIT, [I'm not familiar with this fairy tale.  I would move this explanation further up in the query and also take a moment to briefly describe what it is, e.g. a quick sketch of the story, origins, etc.] upon which the novel is based.

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely,
Naomi 


This is a very original premise with popular characters whom I am sure would compel reads to dip in!  I really like the idea of Harvey Milk and Alan Turing as lovers in the afterlife, but as you'll see my main issue to fix in this query is drawing out more detail so that we can more fully understand what the story is about.

As I said, this is a super cool idea and a great start, though!  I hope my thoughts have been helpful, Naomi, and best of luck with this!  Everyone, chime in with thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tip Time

This month's tip is inspired by alllllllll the books I snagged at BEA this year:



June's tip is this: read.

It sounds super basic and kind of like a cop-out tip, but I promise it's not!  It's an incredibly important one!  Reading current and bestselling books in your genre is an essential way to do many important things:
  • learn about trends in the market
  • see what kinds of themes and tropes are commonly used in the genre you write in
  • gain insight into how different authors successfully achieve different things (e.g. creating two distinct POVs, walking the line between sparse worldbuilding and micromanaging the readers' imagination, transitioning between chapters, creating tension, etc.)
  • see what has already been done so you don't try to send out a project that already exists
  • and more!


It's important for agents to stay on top of what's selling well, too, so I completely understand that a task as simple as "read" can still be hard to do. I often need to stop and force myself to do it!  It's easy to get sucked into your own projects and forget to take the time to read a book that has already been published and is not connected to you in any way.  There's always so much to do as an agent and as an author, which means taking the time to just READ can induce strong feelings of guilt--but then I tell myself that I'm making essential updates to my current market knowledge...♫ and then I don't feel soooo baaaad! ♫ 



This tip is actually similar to last month's tip, which involved reading deal reports on Publishers Marketplace and setting up camp in your local bookstore--it's all about staying informed!

Being ahead of the curve is a big plus for querying authors, and making sure that you read in your genre helps and are aware of what's selling in it ensures that you won't waste time pursuing an out-of-date trend and can even help you figure out how to get ahead of the next wave!  And as I'm sure you know, the more you read, the better your writing gets!  You get to kick back and watch NYT bestsellers and other writing wizards build three-dimensional characters or perfectly utilize showing moments to evoke a particular feeling/idea and then implement their tricks in your own work.  

So be sure to take time to productively relax (one my favorite things to do) and take a free master class with a great book!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Taylor Zajonc's thriller THE MAW, which Booklist called "a top-notch genre-blender."  Eeeee!!!!  

One of the things I love about Taylor is that his books always make me feel like I'm at the movies--he does a fantastic job of creating tension, keeping a fast pace, and creating amazing characters.  Be sure to buy a copy of the book and also check out his Wrecking Crew series!



First off, tell us about THE MAW!

THE MAW is the story of Milo Luttrell, a young Georgetown history professor whose career and personal life have fallen to tatters. Redemption comes with a mysterious invitation to the recently rediscovered mouth to the largest cave system in Africa. A team of elite cavers has assembled to map the cave, and, with Milo's help, discover why famed British explorer Lord Riley DeWar was drawn to the deep--and why he never left. 

Your previous books, THE WRECKING CREW and RED SUN ROGUE, partially tie into your real-life experience as a maritime historian and deep-sea salvage diving.  Did you draw on any past adventure when writing THE MAW?

Of course! Back in the day, I went through months of pretty extensive Wilderness Search & Rescue training. We practiced underground technical rescues, and I joined my new S&R buddies for some pretty rad caving and canyoneering trips. The world of caves and caving became a fascination for me, and the basis of this novel. 

Besides your own experience, where else did you draw inspiration when it came to writing the characters and plot? 

I'm an obsessive researcher; and spent months combing through modern and historic materials about deep cave expeditions to bring this story to life. I think readers will be captured by the allure of the deep from the first page to the final revelation, just as I was. 

What is your favorite plot twist in the book?

My favorite plot twist in this book struck a very personal tone. Protagonist Milo Luttrell finds out he wasn't asked to join the expedition just for his expertise in a missing explorer. His highly accomplished ex-girlfriend, the expedition's doctor, pushed hard to include him and give him one last chance to redeem himself in academia and resurrect his career. On one hand, it's a devastating blow to learn he was invited because she felt sorry for him. But on the other hand, her unflagging faith pushes him to become rediscover himself and solve an incredible mystery. 

What was is like getting back into submission mode with publishers again?  Did you feel more relaxed or confident this time around?


Would it be terrible of me to say I don't remember ... ? My son was just turning one when this was on submission, and a lot of that time period was a sleepless blur. I have some vague memories of the usual mix of excitement and dread, but beyond that it's mostly lost to me at this point.

​​
What is some fun promotion you've done for the book?  Anything upcoming we should be keeping our eyes or ears out for?
 

My favorite promo for this book was a photo shoot in a subterranean lava tube at the base of Mt. St. Helens. I met up with cave photographer extraordinaire Josh Hydeman (www.joshhydeman.com) for the session. He's just back from a National Geographic Adventure assignment to a massive cavern system in Mexico, the guy is the real deal and a monster talent behind the lens. He had me doing some really awesome stuff - long exposures, multiple flash, even jumped in for a swim in an underground river. Verdict? It was January, and it was very, very cold, but I loved the excuse to throw a little adventure into all the promotion I'm doing. 

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I don't just write about explorers - I am one. I'm a member of the Explorer's Club and helped discover and identify a number of lost deep sea shipwreck. Part of my mission as an author is to bring my sense of wonder and fascination with history and the natural world to readers. The best way to do that, I believe, is to write a helluva good story. 

Any advice you want to share with your fellow thriller writers?
Thrillers are propelled by tension. It's your job to provide that tension. Take away your character's security blanket. Show that they're vulnerable. Put them into impossible situations. Make their brilliant solutions backfire. Give them multiple critical problems to solve at once. Failure is always an option, and things can always get worse. Every victory, big or small, must come with an unbearable cost or sacrifice. By using these narrative techniques, you force your characters to become their true selves, which is the only way they'll get out alive. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Query Critique

Happy Memorial Day and happy query critique time!  For everyone who enters (and those who don't) spread the word so that even if you don't submit a query, you encourage others to read and comment.  Thanks :)



If you're not familiar with how to enter, take a look at my previous post to read the rules.  Good luck!  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Tip Time

It's Tip Time!  This month I thought I would talk about how to nail your genre.  



I see a lot of queries where authors get their genre wrong or in an abundance of caution, classify their manuscripts using the broadest possible strokes, e.g. "I am querying you because you represent fiction."  

This is a mistake because even though you may have a fantastically written manuscript, being too broad or just completely getting your genre wrong shows agents that you don't really know the marketplace, which is essential knowledge to have, since as we all know, promotion efforts will definitely fall on your shoulders when your project publishes, regardless of where you land.

To familiarize yourself with different genres, I strongly suggest taking the time to cruise Publishers Marketplace, to see the kinds of deals that are being done each day and note which projects are similar to yours and how they are being classified (you can either sign up for a subscription or receive a free newsletter).  For instance, you might think that your historical fiction about Highlanders belongs in the historical fiction category, but after scrolling through several pages, you'll probably see that anything about Highlanders pretty much automatically belongs under romance and that labeling it as anything else will be more of an uphill battle, both for you and for a potential agent.

Another easy thing to do is to just park yourself at a Barnes & Noble or your local library one day and walk the shelves.  You might see that instead of calling your book an adventure story, you should really label it as a thriller or that since your protagonist is going off to college, your book is really more New Adult than YA.  Looking at comp titles is also a great way to see where your book fits into the publishing landscape!

Doing this will help give an agent a favorable impression when you query them and help you determine which agents you should send to when looking at what genres an agent does and doesn't represent.  We're always glad to see authors who know what they're talking about and have clearly done their research!

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Ardently Want Your ROMANCE Submissions

As we get closer to summer, I am realizing I am SUPER hungry for romance subs to read on the beach or during those long-haul airplane rides! Since they haven’t been appearing in my inbox as much as I’d like I thought I’d write a blog about exactly what I am looking for! 

damsel in distress feminism GIF 

I am interested in pretty much all romance sub-genres, except for Christian. I love contemporary romances that are adorable without being predictable, sassy, funny characters, LGBTQ, historical, steamy/erotica, paranormal, and anything in between. Romance authors who are savvy and have great platforms already will definitely catch my eye!

More specifically, I am always looking for a romance about baking or food (think GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF!), but if you have a millennial romance about young graduates figuring out life, with diverse characters, or involving technology, that is also on the top of my romance wish list, so please send it to me! I tend to gravitate toward quirky romances with strong, spunky heroines and guys that don’t brood too much! I want plots that aren't purely romance-driven but have a storyline involving transformation for the main character outside of her relationship.


Recent reads:

SILVER trilogy by Kate Valentine

ONCE UPON A TIARA series by Carolyn Hector

THE HATING GAME by Sally Thorne

ALL SOULS trilogy by Deborah Harkness

ROYALLY ROMA by Teri Wilson

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT by Beatrice Williams


I am NOT interested in romances about naive wallflowers who are swept off their feet by domineering (leaning towards abusive) men. In contemporary romance, think more Alexa Martin or Sophia Kinsella, and less Nicholas Sparks. I always wish steampunk would take off in the market, but it just doesn’t seem to sell, so it’s sadly not for me!


Here are some of my romance authors, whose books I LOVE:

Lauren Smith

Suzy K. Quinn

Alana Delacroix

Nicole Trilivas

Suggested by Farin Schlussel on Facebook.

Check out the last post I made about romance books here or take a peek at my Manuscript Wishlist here.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Query Critique Winner

Hello, all!  This month's lucky #8 is Nina!!  Congrats, Nina!  Here is her original query:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,
 Emerging from an unstable childhood, Mick Hardaway creates a life with his own special family. They share their lives, advise him, listen to his woes, and love him unconditionally like nobody ever has. Only problem? They are photographs.

 
When the twenty-three year old has a shot at a genuine relationship with a sweet intelligent coworker, he tries to ditch the photo family. They refuse to let him go. He fights back by writing them off as imaginary, each a metaphor of his own life, while his ties to the real world grow stronger. When he reaches out and seeks help, the social worker who comes to his aid is a man from of one of his photos. Then a new photo enters into his life, a school picture of a small child. Her stories of escalating violence between the adults in her life sound too much like his own past. And if she is real, he is the only adult who knows she needs to be rescued.
PICTURES OF US is a 78,000 word adult magic realism novel. told from two POVs. Mick’s is the dominant one. Kaitlin, the child in danger, is the other. This novel would appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman and Erin Morgenstern.

 
I’m both a longtime volunteer with Killer Nashville Writers Conference and a contest reader for the Claymore Dagger Award. I am also an active member of Nashville Writers Meetup. An award winning short story writer, my work has appeared in Nashville Noir, Everyday Fiction, Origami Journal, Rose Red Review and 101 Words. I have an upcoming piece in an anthology by Anchala Studios. I currently live in the hills around Nashville, TN with my husband, a slightly odd dog and a passel of scenic chickens.

Thank you for taking the time to consider Pictures of Us.


And here is my critique:




Dear Ms. Pestritto,
 Emerging from an unstable childhood, Mick Hardaway creates a life with his own special family. They share their lives, advise him, listen to his woes, and love him unconditionally like nobody ever has. Only problem? They are photographs. [I feel like you can have a more dynamic start here.  Something like what I added to really draw the reader in...]  Every day, Mick Hardaway wakes up and has coffee with noted chatterbox Lucy.  As he gets dressed, he talks with his stylish friend Tom, and on the bus, he and Professor Kimble share earbuds to listen to their favorite podcasts.  It would be a very fulfilling life if any of these people were real.
PICTURES OF US is a 78,000 word adult magic realism novel told from two POVs: Mick's and a young girl named Kaitlin's. Mick’s is the dominant one. Kaitlin, the child in danger, is the other. This novel would appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman and Erin Morgenstern.[We need clarification about who these photo people are/their origins right from the start so I moved this paragraph.  The reader needs to understand right away whether these are random pictures that Mick imagines into life and if he talks to them in a magical realism sense or in a schizophrenic sense.]
  Riddled with social anxiety, Mick has never been able to talk with people in real life, and instead finds comfort by taking photographs of interesting-looking men and women who cross his path and bringing them to life in his mind. But Wwhen the twenty-three-year old finally has a shot at a genuine relationship with a sweet, intelligent coworker, he tries to ditch the photo family. They refuse to let him go his photo family refuses to let him go. He fights back by writing them off as imaginary, each a metaphor of his own life, while his ties to the real world grow stronger. When, but when he reaches out and seeks help, the social worker who comes to his aid is a man from of one of his photos pictures. Then he meets Kaitlin, a young girl in a school photo a new photo enters into his life, a school picture of a small child. Her stories of escalating violence between the adults in her life sound too much like his own past. And if she is real, he is the only adult who knows she needs to be rescued. 
PICTURES OF US is a 78,000 word adult magic realism novel told from two POVs. Mick’s is the dominant one. Kaitlin, the child in danger, is the other. This novel would appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman and Erin Morgenstern.


 I’m both a longtime volunteer with Killer Nashville Writers Conference and a contest reader for the Claymore Dagger Award. I am also an active member of Nashville Writers Meetup. An award winning short story writer, my work has appeared in Nashville Noir, Everyday Fiction, Origami Journal, Rose Red Review and 101 Words. I have an upcoming piece in an anthology by Anchala Studios. I currently live in the hills around Nashville, TN with my husband, a slightly odd dog and a passel of scenic chickens.

This is definitely an interesting premise.  I like the unique idea behind this story, but felt like the way the query was originally set up brought up too many confusing questions.  As you can see, I did some reorganizing and clarification to make these read more smoothly and comprehensively.  I hope this is helpful, Nina--you have a good start!

Chime in with comments and questions below!