Query Critique

Monday, February 20, 2017

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!  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

Happy Pub Day!

Monday, February 13, 2017

This month's query critique has been moved to next week because tomorrow is the pub day for Suzanne Kamata's THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN!  Check out the gorgeous cover (and be sure to buy a copy of the book!)... I'm excited to be interviewing Suzanne and incorporating some of the questions you told me you'd most like to have answered by my authors!





First off, how did you come up with the idea for THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN and where did you draw inspiration for the characters and plot?

Originally, I wanted to take the material at hand -- my bland Midwestern upbringing -- and turn it into something magical. I grew up in a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, and by the time I was in high school, I couldn't wait to get out of there. One of my teachers told us that one day we would realize what a great place we lived in. I didn't believe him then, but after I'd left, I did start to feel nostalgic for everything I'd left behind - the dunes, the lake that was as vast as a sea, the musical fountain, the summer Coast Guard festival, and the iconic lighthouse.  I guess I started with the setting. The characters are loosely based upon people that I knew, but it's not an autobiographical book.

I tend to throw everything I'm interested in at the time into the story or novel that I'm writing. I've always had an interest in mermaids, for instance. While on foreign study in France, I became fascinated with the Rom women who tried to read my palm in front of the train station in Avignon, and the communities of Rom in Camargue. Later, I was excited to read about female wreck divers on the Great Lakes, so I found a way to incorporate one into the story.

For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.

I started writing stories as a child, as a lot of us do, and never grew out of it. I wrote for my high school newspaper, took a creative writing class in college, and wrote a couple of never-to-be-published romance novels in my spare time. After I studied literature in college, my writing became more "literary." I didn't really start sending out my work until I found myself living in rural Japan. I'd come here to teach English "for one year," and then I fell in love with a local guy. Before I could commit to living on a relatively remote island in the Pacific, I decided that I had to figure out whether or not I could somehow have the literary life I'd always dreamed of. I started a literary journal for expats in Japan, wrote and published my own short stories, and started writing for English-language newspapers and magazines in Japan.

What has your experience been like after finding an agent (shopping to publishers, dealing with contracts, etc.)?

Having an agent allows me to concentrate on writing. I also really, really appreciate your editorial feedback! Also, I'm basically a non-confrontational kind of person, so it's good to have someone else on my side who's willing to follow up on things and deal with contracts.

What was the hardest part of getting your book published that most people don't realize?  Also tell us a bit about your publisher!

I actually wrote the first draft of this book before the publisher, Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, even existed! When I thought it was finished, I sent it out to a bunch of agents and regional publishers. I got a lot of encouragement, and helpful feedback, but I didn't really know how to revise it at the time. Every now and then, I would dig it out of the drawer, slash some pages, and add some more. Still, it took a while for the perfect publisher to show up. Nancy Cleary, at Wyatt-Mackenzie, acquired and published a nonfiction anthology on multicultural mothering that I put together a while ago. At the time, she wasn't publishing fiction, but over the past few years she's published some interesting novels with touches of magical realism, such as Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri, and Piper, Once and Again by Caroline E. Zani. As it turned out, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan fit right in! Nancy is really fun to work with because she has a lot of energy (like you, Carrie!) and is always pursuing interesting publicity opportunities. Thanks to her efforts, my anthology was featured as a movie prop!

What kind of marketing have you done for THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN?

I reached out to maritime and historical museum gift shops and some bookstores in Michigan, and I've also set up a blog tour.  I presented the book in Tokyo at an SCBWI event earlier this month, and I expect to do more talks, and hopefully a bit of a tour to brick and mortar stores this summer.


Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process (e.g. do you have to write at night or while wearing lucky socks)?

Not really. I used to think I needed an entire day of peace and quiet to write, but after having kids, I can write just about anywhere, and in any situation.

Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?

Well, if I can get published while living on an island in Japan where hardly anyone speaks English, you can, too! Be persistent! Read and write a lot! Believe in yourself! And connect with other writers. In the early days, before there was Internet access in Japan, I connected to other writers via the literary journal I started. Now, I meet up with writers on-line and at conferences.  


Happy Pub Day!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Tomorrow is the pub day for the second book in Shana Figueroa's Valentine Shepherd series, RETRIBUTION, which follows Valentine Shepherd, a Seattle P.I. who can see the future by using a very unusual paranormal talent.  Take a look at Shana's interview below and be sure to get a copy of the book!!



This is the second book in the Valentine Shepherd series.  Tell us a bit about it and where it picks up the story.

When VENGEANCE ended, Max and Val were, sadly, broken up due to Val’s inability to deal with the turbulent future she knew they’d experience if they stayed together. They’ve both tried to move on with their lives, but they’re failing miserably at it. Then Val gets a case only Max can help her crack, and though the two try to keep things between them professional, of course it doesn’t stay that way…


How was writing this book different than writing the first?  Now that you are writing under contract, do you have to think differently at all?

Whenever you write the second book in a series, you need to make sure someone who hasn’t read the first can pick it up and understand the basics of what’s going on. In practice, this means you need to reintroduce the characters and summarize the major plot points of the first book without turning it into a jarring info-dump. It’s harder than it seems. JK Rowling is the master at this, so I tried to emulate the way she did it in her Harry Potter series. Writing under a contract isn’t different than the way I wrote before. I got contracted to finish stories I was already working on, and I write constantly because it makes me happy. I’m lucky in that I don’t need to rely on my writing for a paycheck. I always write what I want to write.


How do you think your manuscript and/or series has changed since you started working with your editor?

My editor does a very good job of telling me things I don’t want to hear. From her, I get a better understanding of things my readers might not like, and I have the option of choosing to keep those elements in the story or not. For instance, in RETRIBUTION, both Max and Val become involved with other people while they’re broken up. Val in particular falls into a cycle of self-destructive behavior that includes less-than-romantic relations with a, well, less-than-savory character. I knew I was taking a big risk giving Val significantly more flaws than the average heroine, and my editor told me so. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to take the risk because it was true to the character. I tend to write very flawed, very strong characters, especially heroines. You won’t get any Mary Sues from me. I know some readers won’t like it, but that’s who I am as a writer. It’s part of my brand. Take it or leave it.


What is one of your favorite plot twists in the book?

Toward the end of the book, things are looking up for both Max and Val. They’re ready to leave all their (many, many) problems behind and run away together to finally have their HEA! …Until Max goes back to his condo alone to pack his bags for their trip, and then—well, you’ll have to read the book to see what happens, but my editor wrote “OMG NOOOO!!”


You've gotten some great reviews for the first book, VENGEANCE!  What has been the most fun thing about seeing reader feedback?  The least fun?
My favorite thing about reader feedback for VENGEANCE were all the comments about how different the book was from anything they’ve read before. I wanted to give people a story they’d never experienced, and based on the feedback it seems I succeeded. The least fun thing is not yet having the opportunity to engage with my readers (except for my friends, and my mom). So far, my reader engagement has been pretty one-sided; I’ll write stuff on my blog or on Facebook, and no one will respond. I’d love to interact with my readers, find out more about what they like and what they didn’t, or where they’d like the story to go…but I guess my author brand isn’t big enough yet. I’ll admit—I suck at social media. But building a fan base takes time, so I’m being patient.


Are you doing any exciting promo that we should keep an eye out for?
I’m considering doing some kind of giveaway for an advanced copy of RETRIBUTION, or a $25 Amazon gift card, something like that, in exchange for people signing up for my author newsletter…Yes, I have an author newsletter now! It’s probably the best author newsletter you’ve ever read, if I’m being honest. You can sign up for the newsletter on my homepage: www.shanafigueroa.com!


Tell us what's coming next with Book 3!

Minor spoiler – by the end of Book 2, Val and Max are together again, living in holy matrimony (they finally get their HEA!). As Book 3, RECKONING, begins, they’re enjoying their new lives of domestic bliss…except for Val’s lingering thirst for vengeance, that is. She can’t forgive and forget the people still walking free who killed her fiancĂ© and terrorized her and Max not that long ago. When a string of mysterious deaths cuts too close to home to be a coincidence, she knows her enemies have finally returned, and she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her family.


Any advice that romance author hopefuls can learn from your experiences so far?

Don’t despair. I mean this in more ways than one. I’m currently serving in Afghanistan, fighting what many might call an unwinnable war. On one convoy outside the wire, we drove by a garbage truck. “Hey, look at that,” one of my veteran squadmates said, pointing at the truck. “You didn’t used to see those here.” The US has been in Afghanistan for fifteen years, and a garbage truck is a major sign of progress. The internet is so terrible here, I can barely communicate with my family. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember what my daughter’s hair smells like. Around Thanksgiving, my stepbrother got terminal cancer. Then I watched Donald Trump become my new boss and leader of the free world. What I’m saying is, sometimes you have big dreams for a better world or a better life, and you have to watch those dreams get crushed to a fine powder underneath the foot of harsh reality. The worst thing you can do is give up. When one dream goes up in smoke, don’t despair. Move on to another. Always have lots and lots of dreams to fall back on, and work—fight, dammit!—every day to make those dreams a reality.


What's a fun fact about yourself?

I’m planning on running for office when I retire from the military. Yes, I’m serious (for some reason people always think I’m kidding). I’ll probably return to my hometown of Seattle and run for mayor, or governor, or Senate, or something. I’m very passionate about making the world a fairer and more just place. I write romance because I believe in the power of love, and I want to bring that power into the real world. I’ll be the sword and the shield of the destitute, the downtrodden, the good people who get stomped on by the powerful. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak, and I want to continue doing my duty long after I’ve hung up my uniform.

Who's Got Questions?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hi guys!  Normally when I put together pub day interviews, I choose questions out of a pool that I keep handy.  Because I want these interviews to be as interesting and informative as they can be, I wanted to reach out to you this week to ask:

What questions would you like to see answered by my authors in their interviews?  What do you want to know about the publishing process or their individual journey?  Are you curious about the path they took to land their deal or would you rather hear more about the nuts and bolts of what comes after a contract?  Do you like genre-specific info?



Post your questions in the comments below, and I'll add the best to my rotating stable!

Query Critique Winner

Monday, January 23, 2017

Congrats to Suzanne, who was lucky #8 this month!  Here is her original query:

Dear Carrie,

ONCE UPON A WITNESS is an upper middle grade of 60,000 words. This fairytale mashup is ELLA ENCHANTED meets SHREK, in which an enterprising ex-princess discovers that the Organization of Fairy Godmothers is using the Island of Witness Protection to dispose of anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a happily ever after.

When Princess Esme finds herself unjustly banished to the Island of Witness Protection by her manipulative Fairy Godmother, she’d do anything to return home. But her trouble is only getting started. While digging into the Island’s secrets, she learns that her frenemy has taken over her kingdom and imprisoned her friends, and that her Fairy Godmother has no plans to bring Esme back. Unfortunately, getting off the Island without her Fairy Godmother’s help seems impossible. The Maphea (Magicians Against Princesses Happily Ever After) guards the secret, and Esme’s only allies are the reportedly evil creatures a nice princess wouldn’t claim as friends. As her misfortunes grow—she’s chased by wraiths through a dungeon, her pocket dragon tries to kill her frog prince friend, and she unwittingly unleashes the magic of a deadly basilisk mirror—Esme wonders if her Fairy Godmother could be right. What if she doesn’t deserve a happily ever after?

In addition to writing middle grades, I work as a content editor for Red Adept Publishing. I also write romantic suspense under the pseudonym Lily Black. My debut, Storm of Attraction, will release from RAP in February of 2017. My MG novel NinChicks took third place overall in the SCBWI Carolinas 2013 fiction writing contest, and first among middle grades. I was previously represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis, but have amicably parted ways with her.  ONCE UPON A WITNESS is a new project and has not been subbed. However, it was requested by Jill Davis of HarperCollins after our meeting at a SCBWI conference a few months ago, and she is reading it now.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you,Suzanne


And here is my critique!


Dear Carrie,

ONCE UPON A WITNESS is an upper middle grade of 60,000 words. This fairytale fairy tale mashup is ELLA ENCHANTED meets SHREK [This is just a knee-jerk reaction, but something that uses SHREK as a comp title seems like it would be more lower MG to me.], in which an enterprising ex-princess discovers that the Organization of Fairy Godmothers is using the Island of Witness Protection to dispose of anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a happily ever after. discovers that she doesn't need to be royalty to totally rule! [Because I don't know enough about the story at this point to know what you're talking about, this is more confusing than compelling.  I suggest altering this to intrigue readers with the heart of the story, but not necessarily involve such specific details, such as what I added in, which of course, is just an example!.]

When Princess Esme finds herself unjustly banished to the Island of Witness Protection by her manipulative Fairy Godmother, she’d do anything to return home. [Explain a little more here.  What is the Island of Witness Protection and how does her Fairy Godmother manipulate her into getting sent there?  Does she set her up in some way?  And does Esme originally think her FG is doing it for her own good?]  But her trouble is only getting started. But it looks like going home may no longer be an option.  While digging into the Island’s secrets investigating the secrets of the island in attempt to leave, she learns that her frenemy has taken over her kingdom and imprisoned her friends, and that her Fairy Godmother has no plans to bring Esme back. [Does her FG not plan to bring her back to protect her from danger or because she is in league with the frenemy?] Unfortunately, getting off the Iisland without her Fairy Godmother’s help seems impossible. The Maphea (Magicians Against Princesses Happily Ever After) guards the secret [The secret to what?  To getting off the island?], and Esme’s only allies are the reportedly evil creatures a nice princess wouldn’t claim as friends [I understand what you're trying to say here, but it reads a little awkwardly.  Reword.]. As her misfortunes grow—she’s chased by wraiths through a dungeon, her pocket dragon tries to kill her frog prince friend, and she unwittingly unleashes the magic of a deadly basilisk mirror—Esme wonders if her Fairy Godmother could be right. What if she doesn’t deserve a happily ever after? [WHEN does her FG say this??  This is the cliffhanger at the end of the story's blurb and it's the first time we're hearing of it.  Definitely invest some space at the start of the query to give us more background on Esme as a princess and her relationship with her FG.]

In addition to writing middle grades, I work as a content editor for Red Adept Publishing. I also write romantic suspense under the pseudonym Lily Black. My debut, Storm of Attraction, will release from RAP in February of 2017. [Because this is a VERY different genre, I suggest cutting.]  My MG novel NinChicks took third place overall in the SCBWI Carolinas 2013 fiction writing contest, and first among middle grades. I was previously represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis, but have amicably parted ways with her.  ONCE UPON A WITNESS is a new project and has not been subbed. However, it was requested by Jill Davis of HarperCollins after our meeting at a SCBWI conference a few months ago, and she is reading it now.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you,Suzanne


Good start with this, Suzanne!  I think you have the structure set up well, but this needs a bit more meat on its bones before it's ready to go out.  You'll see the areas I suggest need more fleshing out: mostly the beginning and certain sections throughout that need clarification.  I hope this is helpful!  

Everyone else, if you have any comments or questions, chime in below!

When It's a No

Monday, January 16, 2017

Recently, I've been reading really great manuscripts.  

And passing on them.  



I realized I wanted to write about that this week after doing my potential client match quiz, in order to hopefully encourage people who have had a rough time with something they've gotten positive feedback on, because, sometimes even though I think a manuscript is great, I don't end up making an offer for the following reasons:
  1. I'm not 100% in love
  2. I am in love, but I know that there are already too many similar books out there
  3. I need something more polished and don't have the time to get it there myself (this is usually something that results in an R&R)
  4. I recognize that the manuscript is fantastic, but it's not my cup of tea (e.g. adult high fantasy, really angsty teen lit, and so on)
In regard to #3, a lot of the reasons I am being more selective than I was a few years ago is that my client list is starting to fill out and I just don't have as much time to work on revising as I used to.  I still love being involved in helping shape my clients' manuscripts and consider myself a hands-on agent, but, for instance, I used to send line edits each and every time I read a draft of something, whereas now I usually send detailed editorial letters with suggestions and examples.  I also have wonderful interns who help me out!

Regardless, I know it's a bummer to told you have something worthy but still get a pass, which is why I wanted to write this post.  If this is something that has happened to you, you should know that you have the start of something with potential that you can work on and bring to the next level--either by pushing forward and continuing the submission process until you find the right agent, or looking critically at your manuscript (hopefully with helpful agenting feedback) and figure out what you need to do get your book over the edge into "super special" territory.

I almost always am willing to re-read projects like this or to look at other projects by the author once I have a memo in my brain that they are solid writers, so when you get feedback like that from me, don't write me off your list!  

Have you ever gotten a rejection from an agent that said your story was great but...?  Were their comments helpful?  What kind of feedback do you want to receive when you have a good project that just isn't getting an offer?

And Happy MLK Day, everyone!

Potential Client Match Quiz

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hi everyone! Since we are starting a new year, I know for a lot of people that means beginning a fresh round of queries. I decided to make a fun quiz to judge your potential relationship juju with me based on my interests, the way I work, etc.


  1. What genre/category does your writing fit into?

  2. MG or YA
    Commercial fiction, women's fiction, or historical fiction
    Memoir, other adult nonfiction, or mystery/thriller
    Fiction picture books or adult sci-fi/fantasy
  3. Do you enjoy working collaboratively?

  4. Not really
    I am willing to listen to other opinions, but want to have the final say
    I like having a back and forth, and am fine with compromise
    I love working with others to shape my manuscript
  5. How do you view the writing process?

  6. As something that I alone should control
    I work alone until I have a finished product and then share that with others to get their thoughts
    My process is to talk ideas over with others first, and then choose the best one to write
    As a creative back and forth that allows me to bring my writing and stories to the next level
  7. How often do you want to be in touch with your agent?

  8. Never
    Just when I have questions or there is something to say
    I like to have scheduled dates to check in
    All the time
  9. Are you comfortable with voicing concerns?

  10. Noooo, I get too scared
    I second-guess my concerns but will eventually share them
    I will speak out if my agent prods me first
    I have no problem expressing myself
  11. Do you believe in dabbling in different genres or sticking to one to build a reputation?

  12. I want to write in multiple genres because I want to write whatever strikes my fancy
    I write in two or more different genres and want to build separate author brands in those areas
    I mainly write in one genre, but am interested in dabbling in tangential genres, too
    I want to focus solely in one genre with my writing
  13. What do you want your agent's role to be?

  14. The person who sets deadlines and tells me what to do
    Just to focus on selling my books/the business side--I don't want them to be involved creatively
    I self publish, so I just want someone to handle subrights and maybe a new project here and there
    An advocate, sounding board, and person whose opinions I trust
  15. Are you interested in getting to know your agent's other authors?

  16. No, I don't think it's important
    I'm not against it, but I'm not really interested in it
    It would be cool to be able to talk to other authors in my genre that my agent works with
    Yes, I love the idea of having a community of authors agented by the same person
  17. What will you do if you have a hard time selling your first project?

  18. Give up and die
    Give up and die for a few days, but then bounce back to revise or try something new
    Keep pushing and revising on that first project until it sells
    I know publishing is subjective, so as long as my agent and I have a strategy convo, I'll be fine
  19. How do you feel about marketing, publicity, and social media?

  20. I think those areas are things my future publisher should focus on, not me
    Ehh not super interested. I think focusing all my energy on my writing is more important
    I know a bit but am eager to learn/do more in those areas
    I'm all about it
I hope this was fun and informative! Happy querying 

 
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