Monday, September 25, 2017

Query Critique Winner

Hi, everyone!  Here is this month's query critique winner:


Dear Carrie,

“The Boundaries Between” is a YA fantasy novel. At 96,000 words, it is LGBT inclusive, diverse, and the first in a series.

Selia spent her childhood testing the sprites' patience by wandering through their woods. When she becomes 16 years old, she must confront the rare magic within herself that could be fatal. The boundaries between her body and the world around her slip away as she grows. She can pull energy into herself from the earth, or feel her own being drained away in a passionate kiss. She must master her abilities before she kills herself or someone else.

In this land, where the prevailing magic uses music to do everything from lighting candles to destroying castles, there is no shortage of those who would come to Selia’s aid. Still, she doesn’t know if they are offering her help or grooming her for their own purposes.

Everyone around Selia has their own secrets: the headmistress who kidnaps Selia for her own good, the sparring instructor with the wry grin, the sprites who are following her and the grief-stricken king whose people are suffering from neglect. In a world of unreliable loyalties and unknown motivations, Selia must  discover who she can trust and how to reclaim for herself the power that others would exploit. Ultimately, Selia must choose between leaving this all behind, taking a throne for herself, or fighting to help people she has never met.

I’ve been an avid hiker since I could walk and feel the most at home when I’m in a forest, especially among the redwoods or on top of a mountain. In high school, I discovered singing, culminating in receiving a Music Minor in college, which included studying at a conservatory in Italy for a semester. My BA is in English and World Literature, I worked as a Senior Editor on an activist website, and am currently a freelance writer and editor. I’ve been profoundly influenced by the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin and Patricia McKillip.

My novel has a similar lyrical quality to Novik’s “Uprooted” and shares the rebellious character qualities of Dennard’s “Truthwitch.” I look forward to your thoughts.


Sincerely,
Laura Burge

And here is my critique:

Dear Carrie,

“The Boundaries Between” is a YA fantasy novel. At 96,000 words, it is LGBT inclusive, diverse, and the first in a series. 

Selia spent her childhood testing the sprites' patience by wandering through their woods. [This is starting in the wrong place.  If you're going to talk about sprites at the start of your query, they should be integral figures.  However, we barely hear about them again and it seems like Selia's main conflict has nothing to do with them.] When Selia she [Before delving in to the plot, tell us a bit about who Selia is and why we want to read about her.] turns becomes 16 years old, she must confront the rare magic within herself...a magic that could be fatal. [Why does she need to do this?  Why does she have magic?] The boundaries between her body and the world around her slip away as time passes she grows. She can pull pulls energy from the earth into herself without meaning to from the earthand can or feel her own life force drain being drained away in a passionate kiss. She must master her abilities before she kills herself or someone else. [This sentence feels too generic.  What specifically drives her to get this under control?]

In this land, where the prevailing people use magic uses music to do everything from lighting candles to destroying castles, there is no shortage of those who would come to Selia’s aid. Still, she doesn’t know if they are offering her help or grooming her for their own purposes. However, there is no way of knowing if their involvement would truly help or lead to Selia's deadly powers being used for their own ends.

Everyone around Selia has their own secrets: the headmistress who kidnaps Selia for her own good, the sparring instructor with the wry grin, the sprites who are following her and the grief-stricken king whose people are suffering from neglect. In a world of unreliable loyalties and unknown motivations, Selia must discover who she can trust and how to harness and reclaim her for herself the power for herself, without being exploited that others would exploit.  The paths to get to this point, though, each have their own dangers: should she run away, take the king's throne, or fight to help people she has never met? Ultimately, Selia must choose between leaving this all behind, taking a throne for herself, or fighting to help people she has never met.

I’ve been an avid hiker since I could walk and feel the most at home when I’m in a forest, especially among the redwoods or on top of a mountain. In high school, I discovered singing, culminating in receiving a Music Minor in college, which included studying at a conservatory in Italy for a semester. My BA is in English and World Literature, I worked as a Senior Editor on an activist website, and am currently a freelance writer and editor. I’ve been profoundly influenced by the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin and Patricia McKillip. [Because this doesn't include relevant information re: your platform, I would suggest cutting.]

“The Boundaries Between” is a YA fantasy novel. At 96,000 words, it is LGBT inclusive, diverse, and the first in a series.  My novel has a similar lyrical quality to Novik’s “Uprooted” and shares the rebellious character qualities of Dennard’s “Truthwitch.” I look forward to your thoughts.

Sincerely,
Laura Burge

This is an interesting query, but the writing feels choppy, with large chunks of information and description missing that is really needed to draw the reader in.  As it progresses, it becomes more compelling, but anything involving fantasy always needs descriptive much world-building!  Laura, I hope this critique was helpful to you and wish you the best of luck with this.  Everyone else, chime in with thoughts below!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mine Eyes Have Seen...


I was hitting a bit of writer's block about what to post this week, but then I realized that Twitter is the world's best polling forum and asked what you would be interested in hearing about and the answer is...industry trends!



I always get a bit nervous when talking about trends, because what I see may not be what the rest of publishing sees, so hopefully no bigwig comments that's I'm out of my mind, but this is what I've been noticing in the genres I rep via my own inbox, submissions, and sales (I'm leaving PBs out of this list, because I only rep a very specific subset):

MG
  • Trend: This has technically been a trend for awhile, but I'm really seeing a lot of diverse stories in MG, which is awesome.  One big example of that is a really good book called GINNY MOON, which I heartily suggest everyone read.
  • Inbox: In my own submission inbox, I've noticed that a good chunk of my MG queries involve stories with POC, LGTBQ MCs, or MCs who are disabled or on the spectrum, as well as really fun, unusual premises.  I really love getting stories like this, so keep them coming!
  • No More!: I'm personally getting a little tired of seeing MG stories where children find a magical object and are whisked into another world.  Looking for world-building that is a bit more complex, even though I'm a big fan of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE!
YA
  • Trend: In YA, I'm seeing more of a move towards big, sweeping epics and very high-concept plots involving a love interests a la Cora Carmack's ROAR.
  • Inbox: As I discussed with one of my interns recently, I don't get that many YA submissions in my inbox for whatever reason, and I'd looove to see more!  I love YA, so if you have something, feel free to send it to me.  In general, I love high-concept YA (so I am also on trend!) and am looking for awesome fantasy, contemporary, and diverse stories.
  • No More!: In the same breath, getting YA fantasy is an incredibly tough thing to do.  You need something original with detailed, fresh world-building.  I've seen enough YA fantasy trying to ride the coattails of something else that recently published and became a bestseller, but I'm more interested in the next thing!

COMMERCIAL FICTION
  • Trend: I would have to say that I've seen more introspective novels in on the commercial fiction shelves, lately as well as super dark thrillers like Riley Sager's ammmazing FINAL GIRLS.
  • Inbox: Because I like chick lit, I see quite a few of those kind of commercial fiction submissions in my inbox.
  • No More!: I don't really have a no more for commercial fiction that I can think of.  I really enjoy the genre and would love to rep a wide range!

HISTORICAL FICTION
  • Trend: Most historical fiction that I see involves a famous figure, often seen through the lens of an Everyman character that the reader can connect to (think MRS LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKERCARNEGIE'S MAIDTHE SECOND EMPRESS, or my own author's project THE WARDROBE MISTRESS!).
  • Inbox: In my inbox, I see a lot of historical fiction that is generational family sagas or set during "unpopular" time periods.  Although I myself love reading about eras and times outside of the evergreen Tudor period, it is VERY difficult to sell historical fiction that stray outside of those kinds of boundaries, e.g. is set during a popular period in time, or is a recent historical (1880s on), or involves a famous historical figure
  • No More!: I am personally not a fan of family sagas or of historical fiction set in the 1960s and '70s.  I actually get a lot of submissions for that time period, but I'm not the right agent for it!

WOMEN'S FICTION
  • Trend: I've seen much more literary women's fiction selling recently, which I find very interesting.  My tastes are more opposite--I prefer more commercial women's fiction books--although I am on the lookout for more upmarket writers with mss with commercial themes written in a more literary way.
  • Inbox: Most of the women's fiction that gets sent to me involves women going through periods of transitions (e.g. divorce, etc.) and reinventing themselves.  Although I am totally down for mss that center around that theme, I want fresher stories.  The perfect example is one of my client's manuscripts, which is about a transgender woman reconnecting with her ex-wife and children after her ex reaches out explaining she has early onset Alzheimer's. 
  • No More: In previous years, women's fiction pretty much meant stories of women leaving their lives behind to travel and discover themselves (EAT, PRAY, LOVEPANCAKES IN PARIS, etc.).  I still see a lot of submissions like these, but I'm currently feeling sick of them unless they are VERY unique!

ROMANCE
  • Trend: This, I think, is just a me thing, but I've noticed an uptick in editors looking for paranormal romance and authors submitting it!
  • Inbox: I get a pretty wide range of romance submissions, from contemporary to historical, from sweet to erotic.  I'm pretty open to all genres in romance, so that is great!
  • No More!: I have a weird taste in romance.  I don't particularly stick to one genre and enjoy them all--my big emphasis is on story, characters, and chemistry.  If I love those elements, I'm happy to see read anything, be it erotic paranormal, billionaire, or Western.

NONFICTION
  • Trend: I can't think of trends in nonfiction, to be honest, but the nonfiction that catches my eye always is about chunks of time/events rather than someone's entire life story or a whole period in history.
  • Inbox: I've been getting quite a few travel memoirs, parenting books, and inspirational stories in my queries as of late, and none of them have really wowed me.  In general, I'm best with quirky memoirs, interesting, I-never-knew-that biographies, or compelling, issue-driven narrative nonfiction.
  • No More!: I'm not the best agent for memoirs about recovering from illness or surviving disease.  I see a lot of queries about those kind of books and I always feel bad saying no to them, but they're not for me.  Although I am glad for the person who was able to overcome those kinds of obstacles and think it's great they want to inspire others, those stories feel predictable in terms of meta-plot.
I hope that's helpful to everyone!  What kind of manuscripts have you been submitting to agents and have you been noticing more success with one over another?  What trends do you think your stories follow and what are your comp titles?  Are those comps within the last year or are they older?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Workhorse Is Going to the Fair

Whoo!  Has this summer been crazy!  I think it was was the busiest one yet.  Last week, I was on Publishers Marketplace, and noticed I had the following rankings:



That is obviously super cool, but also is DEFINITELY not indicative of my actual agent ranking, since I know there are many other stronger agents with more impressive reputations and sales than me at the moment (someday I might get there!).  What I think this does show is that recently, I have been a total workhorse and it's paying off with lots of deals--yay!  Oh, and that I have absolutely incredible interns, whose help is invaluable.

That's me!

Now that it's fall, I'm hoping the workhorse trend will continue, because I always love new deals, but also that I'll get to relax a bit and enjoy my favorite season.  For the past five summers, I've been telling myself that I'll go to the beach and it hasn't happened, but I am vowing not to let the same fate befall the fall!  I'm going to get back to New England to enjoy fair season no matter what!


Monday, September 4, 2017

Query Critique

Happy Labor Day and 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, August 28, 2017

GIVEAWAY!!!

Hi, everyone!  So it's almost the end of August, which means that it's almost back-to-school time!  I wanted to do a fun giveaway of one of my MG nonfiction books: I AM A SECRET SERVICE AGENT: MY LIFE SPENT PROTECTING THE PRESIDENT by Dan Emmett and Charles Maynard, in case any of you have kids who are dreaming of being in the CIA someday😀

I'll be giving away two copies--to enter, email me at carrie(at)prospectagency(dot)com with the subject SECRET SERVICE GIVEAWAY and your mailing address in the body of the email (US residents only, please!).  I'll pick two winners randomly!

This book came out this past June and so here to do a belated interview about it is one of the authors, Charles Maynard!



Tell us about the project!

Working on I Am a Secret Service Agent – My Life Spent Protecting the President was a blast! I got to know a real behind- the-scenes hero in Dan Emmett. I enjoyed the conversations and email with Dan. Dan’s experiences in the Marines, the Secret Service, and the CIA gave me a renewed respect for all who serve our country.

You adapted this story from Dan's adult memoir, WITHIN ARM'S REACH.  Can you tell us what it was like to adapt an adult book for an MG audience and what you had to do?

Within Arm’s Length is a good book that I enjoyed. I just loved the title because it is so descriptive of Dan’s life and work, but it was not what the editor chose for the MG book. Obviously, an MG book is shorter than an adult memoir, so there was a winnowing/editing process. It was fun to find the story that would captivate a MG reader while retaining Dan’s original thoughts and experiences.
Also, there were certain points where Dan used references that an adult would know but a Middle Grade reader would not – “June Cleaver” and “Opie Taylor” and others. Nothing major, but some historical references that sometimes needed explanation and other times needed to be cut.
Some of the fun was to put Dan’s work into the grade level of the audience. I actually enjoyed this part. It was a challenge at the end of a chapter to see if it was still on grade level. Dan checked each chapter as we went along to make sure I had not missed anything crucial and that it was all correct.

What was one of your favorite things that you learned from talking with Dan or reading his memoir?

My favorite thing was simply getting to know Dan better. He is an interesting person with many rich (and a little wild) experiences. There were moments when he remembered some details he had not included in Within Arm’s Length, so we got to have a little new material. I was amazed at all that Secret Service agents do. I was surprised to learn that most of the early career of an agent is pretty mundane work. Also, I did homework on the history of the agency itself to put Dan’s service in a wider context of the Secret Service.

I know you love learning about American Presidents and US History--what was it like examining their lives from a different angle?

I knew the public history of the presidents Dan worked with, but his perspective gave me new insights into the person, not just the official persona. Dan’s experiences humanized these presidents. His is not a tell-all approach. Dan is respectful of the office and the person occupying that office, but he still worked with a person. I liked looking behind the curtain to see the inner workings of the daily life of the president. It is amazing that the president is surrounded by Secret Service at all times. So many people work behind the scenes to make everything happen.

What do you think kids will enjoy about this book?

My eleven-year-old granddaughter wrote the best review so far. She sent me a text the night after I had given her a copy. The text came after her usual bedtime. “I love your new book! I can’t put it down!” Dan’s story moves along from his own childhood to his years as a Secret Service agent. I believe that one thing kids will like is reading about a kid who grew up to become a Secret Service agent – his childhood dream from the time he was in the third grade.

Anything else you want readers to know?

I have found some reviewers who did not seem to understand that this was a book for MG readers. That tells me the life of a Secret Service agent is fascinating to all ages. Dan Emmett is a truly interesting person whose life exemplifies following a dream at all costs. He trained hard and sacrificed much to be a part of the elite team that surrounds the President of the United States. I hope all readers catch some of my own excitement for this wonderful autobiography.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Query Critique Winner

Loretta is lucky #8 this time around!  Congrats, Loretta!  Here is her original query:

Dear Carrie,

Fifteen-year-old Annora Genn already knows about curses; dyspraxia is one she’s stuck with for life. Bruises, bumps, falls, spills, and other accidental blunders are daily par for the course. Until she receives an anonymous gift: a pair of magic red shoes that transform her from uncoordinated klutz to graceful swan just in time to impress Holmes, a cute practitioner of the urban movement sport parkour, at the homecoming dance.

The more Annora wears the shoes, the more she explains away things like eerie dreams, strange scratches on her skin, and ghostly apparitions, with increasingly thin rationalizations. One more time, she tells herself as she gives in and wears them again and again. Now that Holmes thinks she’s a veritable ninja like him, she can’t let him find out how clumsy she really is.

When bloody footprints follow her around school and her locker mysteriously catches fire, Annora finally steels her nerves to investigate the shoes’ haunting origins—and unearths a curse. The ghost girl attached to the shoes is using them to possess her, and if Annora can’t solve the mystery surrounding the angry spirit, she will lose her soul to the temptation of becoming someone else.

ACCIDENTALLY CURSED is a 70,000 word YA retelling of The Red Shoes combining the sweet romance of Everything Everything with the ghostly chills of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall. Both myself and my son have dyspraxia, a neurological condition that causes problems with movement, coordination, planning, judgment, processing, memory, and some other cognitive skills.The disorder is well known in the UK, but often goes undiagnosed in the US where it is still gaining awareness. Thank you for your time and consideration.


And here is my critque:

Dear Carrie,

Fifteen-year-old Annora Genn already knows about curses; dyspraxia is one she’s stuck with for life. Bruises, bumps, falls, spills, and other accidental blunders are daily par for the course. Until she receives an anonymous gift: a pair of magic red shoes that transform her from uncoordinated klutz to graceful swan just in time to impress Holmes, a cute practitioner of the urban movement sport parkour, at the homecoming dance. [I would love to read a little bit more about Annora and Holmes here so we can really relate to them better.  Tell us more about who Annora is, and what she goes through (e.g. is she teased because of her dyspraxia or do people treat her like she is a child?) and WHY she likes Holmes.]

The more Annora wears the shoes, the more she explains away things like eerie dreams, strange scratches on her skin, and ghostly apparitions, with increasingly thin rationalizations. One more time, she tells herself as she gives in and wears them again and again. Now that Holmes thinks she’s a veritable ninja like him, she can’t let him find out how clumsy she really is.  [I'm guessing there is something more than her ability to move well that is motivating her to look past all these scary occurrences, such as being popular or being treated like a star.  Hint at that here, too!]

When bloody footprints follow her around school and her locker mysteriously catches fire, Annora finally steels her nerves to investigate the shoes’ haunting origins—and unearths a curse. The ghost girl attached to the shoes is using them to possess her, and if Annora can’t solve the mystery surrounding the angry spirit, she will lose her soul to the temptation of becoming someone else.

ACCIDENTALLY CURSED is a 70,000 word YA retelling of The Red Shoes combining the sweet romance of Everything Everything with the ghostly chills of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall. Both myself and my son have dyspraxia, a neurological condition that causes problems with movement, coordination, planning, judgment, processing, memory, and some other cognitive skills.The disorder is well known in the UK, but often goes undiagnosed in the US where it is still gaining awareness. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thanks for being so patient waiting for the winner's post, everyone.  Loretta, I think you have the start of a GREAT query here and I love the comps you use in the last paragraph.  As you can see, I really don't have many notes for you, because with a few minor tweaks, I think this will be perfect!  This is such a cool, intriguing idea for a story and I was excited to read the query.  When it's ready to go out, I'd love for you to send it to me!  

And everyone else, if you have comments you want to share, chime in below!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Happy Pub Day!


Tomorrow is the pub day for Meghan Masterson’s debut, THE WARDROBE MISTRESS!  This a book that is near and dear to my heart, partially because I love historical fiction and partially because it was a long (but richly deserved!) road to publication.





Tell us about the book!

The Wardrobe Mistress is historical fiction that takes place during the French revolution. My main character, Giselle Aubry, works in Marie Antoinette’s household as one of her wardrobe women. She had so many clothes and had to dress for so many different functions that taking care of all these garments was a real job. Giselle is asked to spy on the queen, but as the revolution escalates, she becomes torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolutionaries.

You had such an interesting journey to publication…tell us all about how this book came to be!

The first spark of the idea came from a discussion I had with you, Carrie. I’d just finished my second novel since signing with you, and was casting about for a new idea while those other two were still on submission. I remember we started talking about Marie Antoinette, sharing excitement over how glamorous and tragic her life was, and I started to think I could write about her. Plus, we were talking about me writing something a bit more commercial this time, and a well-known historical figure like her seemed like a good fit.

I knew I wanted my narrator to be someone close to the queen, and at first I thought Giselle would work in the kitchen at Versailles. But as I continued researching the French revolution, I discovered that fashion and colour were key signifiers of revolutionary or royalist sympathies. Eventually, it became a law for citizens to wear tricolor rosettes to show their support for the revolution, but even before that, one could hint their support by wearing red, white and blue – or studiously avoiding it. I also read Madame Campan’s memoirs as part of my research, and since she was the first femme de chambre to the queen, she had a lot of fascinating detail about the queen’s wardrobe and household. As soon as I read that, I knew Giselle worked there instead of the kitchen.

I think the most important lesson for me in this book’s journey is to be persistent. It’s the third book that you and I submitted, so at times all the submissions could feel discouraging, but in the end we got a deal with a Big Five publisher! I still love the first two books we worked on, but I believe The Wardrobe Mistress really was the best one for a debut.

What part of the publication process has been the most interesting/fun? What part has been the hardest?

It’s all been interesting and exciting. I think seeing the cover for the first time might have been one of the best parts – it made it feel real. And getting to hold a copy of the book for the first time was amazing! I had to do a fair amount of revisions – I cut down about 15K words from the original draft – and that was a lot of work, but still interesting and I think the book is better for it.

I guess the hardest is that it’s too late to change anything now. Sometimes I glance through the pages and wish I could swap a word or polish a scene a little differently. Publication is also quite a long process, so sometimes it was tough to be patient. We sold the book in April of 2016 but it didn’t come out until August of 2017, so there’s a lot of waiting in between bursts of things happening. At first it was hard to shift between writing a new book and jumping back to working on edits or promotional things for this one, but it does get easier with practice.

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

I wrote a short story called “The Diamond Deception”, which takes place a couple of years prior to the start of The Wardrobe Mistress and is about the Diamond Necklace Affair, which involved the theft of a diamond necklace under pretense that the Marie Antoinette was buying it in secret, when in fact she knew nothing about it. It’s a free story for my newsletter subscribers, and you can sign up at this link.

I’m also sharing 18th Century fashion items on Instagram (and cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter), so anyone who follows me there can see what kind of garments the characters would be wearing. So many of the items are so intricate and beautiful, but also so impractical compared to what we wear today. I might match some of the outfits up to specific characters, too. I’ve also got lots of Marie Antoinette themed posts on my blog. If you’ve ever wondered if Marie Antoinette really said ‘let them eat cake’, I’ve got the answer to that and lots more!

There’s a Goodreads giveaway coming up later this month too – stay tuned for that! I will post about it on social media when it’s live.

People (me included!) always talk about the difference between publishing with a smaller press vs. one of the Big Five.  How do you think having this book with St. Martin’s or with your particular editor has made this journey unique?

I’d always hoped to be with one of the Big Five – I guess probably most authors going the traditional pub route do! St. Martin’s was actually always right at the top of my list since so many of my favourite books have been published by them. Obviously I was over the moon when they wanted to acquire my book! In my experience, being with one of the Big Five has a lot of benefits for marketing support. For example, I know some small press authors who had to do a lot of the legwork, like building a street team to mail books to in exchange for early reviews, etc, and I didn’t have to do much in that area since St. Martin’s handled distribution of early copies, both through Netgalley and in galley format. They also managed an early Goodreads giveaway. I think sometimes there’s the worry that a Big Five publisher won’t have time to give every author much individual attention, but I’ve never felt like that – everyone is really professional and helpful.  

My particular editor is absolutely amazing. Lauren Jablonski is so wonderful to work with, and is endlessly patient with all my debut author questions. Her vision for the book made it easier for me to do all those revisions, and the book is so much stronger now because of her editorial expertise. Plus, we both love Harry Potter!

Now fun question!  If these books were turned in to a movie (or movies ::salivates::) who would you cast to play the main characters?

First, I must admit this was the most difficult question to answer. Even though this is imaginary, it’s a good thing I’m a writer and not a casting director because I had no idea! I spent a lot of time going over random IMDB lists and sending my mom snapshots of celebrities, which was really weird because that’s not our usual conversation style.
Anyway, I picture my main character, Giselle, as looking kind of like Anna Popplewell. Her love interest, Léon, has dark eyes and hair like Tyler Blackburn. Giselle’s best friend Geneviève looks exactly like Eleanor Tomlinson. This one might be a bit surprising, but I would absolutely want Sarah Michelle Gellar to play Marie Antoinette. And for Robespierre, I’d go with Eddie Redmayne.