Monday, October 15, 2018

Query Critique Winner

This month's lucky #8 is Paulette!  Congrats on winning the query critique!  This is her original query:

Dear Carrie, 
 Put kids and a piano together and someone is bound to play “Chopsticks.” Yet hardly anyone has heard of Euphemia Allan, the 16-year old Scottish lass who probably wrote it. 
 Euphemia published “Chopsticks” under a male pseudonym. When her identity was discovered, researchers doubted she could have composed the song herself. But so far, no one has offered any other explanation.  
CHOPSTICKS: A MUSICAL MYSTERY is a 500-word non-fiction picture book for ages 5-9 that explores the origins of the song. Readers also receive instructions for playing “Chopsticks” themselves, and learn about the version Russian children play.  
I’m a pianist, librarian, and writer. My non-fiction writing for children has appeared in magazines including HighlightsCricketSpider, and Ladybug. I’m a member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. 
 I have other manuscripts available upon request, including a picture book biography of 19th century German pianist Clara Schumann. 
 Thank you for considering my story.  
Sincerely,  
 Paulette


And here are my notes:


Dear Carrie,  
Put kids and a piano together and someone is bound to play “Chopsticks.” Yet hardly anyone has heard of Euphemia Allan, the 16-year old Scottish lass who probably wrote it.  Euphemia published “Chopsticks” under a male pseudonym since no one would have wanted to publish music written by a woman in those days. When her identity was discovered, researchers doubted she could have composed the song herself, since it was thought that women did not have the cognitive abilities to write music, let alone young girls[With these edits, I'm trying to build out a greater sense of context for the reader about why Euphemia had to publisher her song under a pen name and why people had such a hard time believing she could have written it.  Feel free to change if necessary, but you get what I'm going for here.] But so far, no one has offered any other explanation.
 
  
 CHOPSTICKS: A MUSICAL MYSTERY is a 500-word non-fiction picture book for ages 5-9 that explores the origins of the song. Readers also receive instructions for playing “Chopsticks” themselves, and learn about the version Russian children play.  This story will appeal to the same audience that loved John Smith's THE MYSTERY OF MOZART and be attractive to early educators and parents looking to help their child develop musical skills. [I'm just making stuff up here, but the point that I'm trying to make is that you need to add comp titles and other information to show agents that there is a market for this book and who the audience is.  Does this involve STEM in any way?  Would it be able to be used in classrooms in some way?  Have other similar books about musicians won awards?]  
I’m a pianist, librarian, and writer. My non-fiction writing for children has appeared in magazines including HighlightsCricketSpider, and Ladybug. I’m a member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. 
 I have other manuscripts available upon request, including I love introducing young readers to famous figures, especially musicians, and am also working on a picture book biography of 19th century German pianist Clara Schumann. [I think it is a good idea to take out the part about having another ms available upon request and just focus on hocking this one, as it were.  I think a better way to phrase things is to say that you have other related projects with potential in order to whet an agent's curiosity.] 
 Thank you for considering my story. 
 Sincerely,  
Paulette


Right off the bat, I have to say that this query is in totally awesome shape.  Paulette, you've done a great job!!  You draw the reader in right away and get them curious about the story behind the composition of "Chopsticks" and offer interesting, relevant information about what the story will do/offer and what your background is.  I love the clear, concise language you use to deftly get the job done.

With my edits, I mainly wanted to provide more marketing context for agents about how other comp titles have sold and if there is a market for this book.  I hope my thoughts are helpful and if anyone else has any other ideas or questions, be sure to chime in below in the comments section!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Tip Time

I recently did a fun Skype Q&A with Wordsmith Workshops, where attendees had a chance to ask me whatever they were interested in knowing.  One of those questions about my pet peeves re: query letters inspired this month's tip about how to write a good query letter.




Every agent has personal preferences, of course, so this is not a one-size-fits-all tip, but these first ones are pretty universal:
  1. Personalize your query - Getting a "Dear Sir" email is akin to getting those credit card offer letters in the mail.  Also, if you're asking us to read your sample chapter (and hopefully more) and give you helpful feedback, you should be addressing us personally.
  2. Make sure we represent/are looking for authors writing in your genre - You're not going to convince an agent who doesn't rep SFF that they suddenly *do* want to rep SFF.  Doing your research beforehand shows that, well, you've done your research, and doesn't lead to wasting both your times and ours.
  3. Don't be a car salesman - One of my all-time pet peeves are queries that tell me this is my one chance to get in on the ground floor of an amazing opportunity of what is sure to be a bestseller.  It automatically makes me wonder if the writer is going to be a diva with revisions and if they truly understand the amount of work they and I will have to do if we agree to partner.  Let your writing and your platform speak for itself instead of trying to shove it in an agent's face.
  4. Don't be pushy - I'm always a bit surprised when I see submissions that include something like, "If I don't hear back from you in X amount of days, I'll be sure to follow up."  First of all, that kind of reads like a threat.  Secondly, it is kind of a threat, since reading that immediately makes me think that I won't be fast enough for you and that you'll expect super timely responses 24/7, which is never going to happen.
These next ones are more my personal taste, so it may not work to apply them to every query you do, but I thought I'd throw them in:
  1. Be snappy - One of my interns once nicely described my personal taste as "crisp."  I hate wordy, rambling prose in general, and am drawn in by clear, concise language that effectively draws me in and leaves me wanting more.  I always tell people to think of what the back cover copy on their book would be and use that as a model.
  2. Don't share your bio if it's non-writing related - If you have relevant information to share, like your nonfiction platform or your status as a NYT bestseller, then I definitely want to know!  If you have a YA Asian fantasy, tell me if it's own voices, or if you have a thriller that takes place on a submarine and are a submariner, that is something I should know!  If you decided to be a writer because your local library didn't have enough books to satisfy your cravings, that is less important to me.
Good luck with the querying process!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Anne O'Brien-Carelli's MG historical debut, SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER!!!  I love, love, love this book (partially because I'm a sucker for unusual WWII stories) and it's fantastic premise.  It is about a young girl named Lily, who uncovers secrets of her grandmother's past as a member of the French Resistance while help her evacuate to a shelter in Brooklyn during Superstorm Sandy.  It's told in alternating POVs: Lily during the storm and her grandmother Colette when she was her age in France.  

It's gotten two great reviews so far, which I am super excited about!  PW praised "the warm, complex relationships between daughter, mother, and grandmother," and Kirkus called it "wholesome contemporary survival tale combines surprisingly well with a spy thriller packed with invisible ink, an exploding cigarette case, and all kinds of secret agent gadgets."  I encourage you all to get your copy ASAP! 



First of all, tell us how you came up with the premise for this story!  Did you draw inspiration from anything specific when it came to the characters or the plot?

I was talking to a nurse in Queens, NY whose nursing home had been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. She had to evacuate residents to a nearby armory and stayed with them for three weeks, even though her own house was under water. I was blown away by her dedication. I got off the phone and started researching and writing the book. I had no idea where the story was going to go, but my lifelong interest in the French Resistance emerged as I was typing!

What was your road to publication like? 

Luckily, I had been told by authors that the road to publication is long and bumpy. It is tempting to answer this question with words like potholes, dead end, and slow for construction. But when I hit a detour or closed road I regrouped and kept moving. Thank goodness I found Carrie and she had a map!

After the contract was signed, were there any unexpected aspects of the publishing process that surprised you? 

Once I finally got a book contract, I was warned that marketing would be a crucial task for an author. But I didn’t really comprehend how time-consuming it can be. I’ve discovered on social media an entire world of writers, teachers, bloggers, librarians, etc. who are passionate about children’s literature and eager to promote middle grade books. But I’ve had to establish some limits because I could become involved in book promotion all day, and I need time to write!

How do you think your manuscript has changed since you started working with your editor?

What I loved about working with my editor was that he caught little things that might throw off a reader. Sometimes it was just a word or phrase, but he was meticulous and thoughtful in his questions and comments. It’s hard to see some of those details when you’ve been knee-deep in the manuscript for several months. I did change one section at his request and it made perfect sense. Otherwise, there were no major changes.

What is your favorite aspect of the book that wasn’t present in the original draft?

When I had to change the scene mentioned above, I had to create a new character, Rosie. She cracks me up. I’ve had a number of people mention that they love her character – and she wasn’t even alive in the original draft!

What have you had to do to promote your book?  What kind of social media do you think has been the most important in publicizing SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER?

I’m very active on Twitter (@aobc) because it’s fun to connect with people who love to read and want to get books in the hands of children. There are so many opportunities on Twitter to promote through ARC tours, and to connect with teacher/librarian groups, fellow authors, and book stores. I’m also doing some book signings to meet readers and spread the word.

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

Fun – connecting with other debut authors and promoting their books. I love going into book stores and taking pictures of their books “in the wild” and posting them. There’s a lot of support from other writers out there and I’m glad I discovered it.

Hardest – organizing details for all of the promotion. I’ve done that for years with my business and need a break!

Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences? 

Early on I established a Middle Grade Focus Group that consists of 5 kids ages 10-14 from across the country. I know them from relatives and friends. They have been incredible in giving me feedback about chapters and full manuscripts. They write comments (lots of margin notes!) and we meet in person and on-line to discuss their reactions. They take their job very seriously and can be quite honest! I highly recommend you establish beta readers who will be the actual readers of your book.

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)? 


If there’s lots of noise and activity going on around me, I can still concentrate on my writing. But if there’s music in the background with lyrics, it interrupts my train of thought. I start listening to the words of the song. I have been known to actually type the song lyrics instead of what I’m writing.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Query Critique

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, September 17, 2018

Tip Time

This month's tip a pretty standard one, but it is worth highlighting because I see people disregarding it ALL. THE. TIME: follow an agent's submission rules!!



When I was at Prospect, in order to submit you had to fill out an online form that asked you a bunch of questions about yourself and your manuscript.  Sometimes people would get fed up with the process and email me directly instead...and I would delete their query.  Now that I'm at LDLA, we require authors to submit to us via our query email, but I still get plenty of people who email me directly or do even weirder things like send me a Facebook message...and I delete their query.

You see where I'm going with this, yes?  It might be annoying or a pain to do something other than copy and paste a query into an email or just reach out to the first contact-able thing you can find via Google, but following directions when submitting to agents is key.  

First of all, doing so shows you can follow directions and respect our time, which is huge!  

Secondly, we all have this procedures in place for a reason, not just to see how many hoops we can make you jump through (otherwise, I would have a rule that all queries be accompanied with a box of truffles) and if you vary, it can throw off our system for getting through the XXX amount of submissions we see each day--you can see my intern's guest post for my own query averages.

This is also a snowball situation, where if we let one person break the rules, we begin the descent into chaos where we're allowing people to pitch their novel to us in the bathroom at Whole Foods.  Just kidding...kind of.  I do remember a friend telling me about a conference where the organizers had to specifically instruct attendees not to pitch agents in the bathroom, which I would have thought would be a given.

Anyway, that is my tip for the month.  Use it well! 


Monday, September 10, 2018

Shelf Space

Last week I had a little bit of spare time on my hands, which I used to clean out my bookshelves!  It was a long time coming--as you can imagine, I accumulate a TON of books each year from BEA, editors, shameless asking, etc.  I rarely have time to read them all and every so often, I take the time go to through and choose who will stay and who will go.  The only books I keep are the ones I ABSOLUTELY love and couldn't bear to part with...everything else goes in various donation bins or to friends!

Look at all these books!

Doing this made me think of my client list, which is judged in a similar way.  Because I have a limited amount of time and energy, I need to make sure that each person I work with is someone who I feel like I must have on my list or I'll regret it forever.  A big part of making that list is the following:
  • Being a FANTASTIC writer who doesn't need much nuts and bolts guidance/direction
  • Having great ideas for lots of future projects
  • Being a strong collaborator who is flexible and enthusiastic 
  • Having a strong social media presence and network connections
  • Having an attitude and work style that aligns with my own
  • Being disciplined when it comes to getting things done
I'm pretty sure that most other agents have checklists that are like mine, as well as a limited amount of spots on their list, so keep this in mind when you get rejections from them!  It doesn't necessarily mean you're a "bad" writer--most of the time, it just means that even though we like your story, there just isn't room on our list.  I've read so many manuscripts that I enjoyed but haven't offered on because there wasn't that magical spark that let me know this was one of The Ones to add to the shelf.  

Get it?  "Clients" on a shelf instead of books!  ::cheesy grin::

Monday, September 3, 2018

Query Critique Winner

This month's lucky winner is Kasey!  Congrats to you!  

Here is Kasey's original query:

Dear Carrie Pestritto,   
Ocean’s Call, a middle-grade novel complete at 29K words, is an #ownvoices novel featuring a LGBTQ teen. Ocean’s Call will tug on the heartstrings of any who have faced turmoil in discovering who they are or have needed to overcome past trauma to embrace their present. Those who crave the beach, wished they were a mermaid, or enjoy following the complicated life of someone who has just found out she is different, will love Ocean’s Call. 
 
Thirteen-year-old Sheeon has not set foot in the blissful, yet terrifying, water since a near death experience five years ago. When the ocean tries to reclaim her love, her body listens—mutates—to show her where she truly belongs. One night, when she goes to the bakery to help her mother, scales begin growing out of her arms. Fearful that her mother would rush her to the hospital to figure out what was happening to her, and losing the big wedding order, she keeps the mutation a secret.   
When she finally gains the courage to tell her mother, the scales have vanished. Days pass without another incident, and she begins to think that she was imagining the whole thing. But after a day confronting her fear along the beach with the help of her girlfriend, Renee, she heads home to wash the sand off her skin and hair. After filling the tub with warm water, she jumps in and finds out that scales are the only mutation she has. Her legs have morphed into a mermaid tail.  
 Sheeon is determined to keep that she is a mermaid a secret so that it doesn’t affect either her life or Renee’s. With bullies already mocking Renee because of her weight, adding a freak girlfriend will only make things worse. But her worst fear is that Renee will see her as the terrible creature she has become and reject her, causing her to lose her love and best friend.  
 I have a B.S. in Psychology and am returning for get my Certificate in Clinical Psychology from Fielding Graduate University in September. Ocean’s Call will be my debut novel. 
 
Thank you for your time.  
 Sincerely, 
 Kasey 

And here is my critique:

Dear Carrie Pestritto, 
 
Ocean’s Call, a middle-grade fantasy novel complete at 29K words [That wordcount feels a touch short], is an #ownvoices novel featuring a LGBTQ teen. Ocean’s Call will tug on the heartstrings of any who have faced turmoil in discovering who they are or have needed to overcome past trauma to embrace their present. Those who crave the beach, wished they were a mermaid, or enjoy following the complicated life of someone who has just found out she is different, will love Ocean’s Call[There is waay too much telling going on here, especially for an opening paragraph.  Ideally you want to draw readers in with crisp showing moments right at the start that leave them wanting more.  I think you can cut this section and move the remaining sentence to the end paragraph before you tell us about yourself.]  
 Thirteen-year-old Sheeon has not set foot in the blissful, yet terrifying, water since a near death experience five years ago--quite a feat for someone living in a seaside townWhen the ocean tries to reclaim her love, her body listens—mutates—to show her where she truly belongs. [I'm not sure what this means.] But the ocean is about to give her a very different, unimaginable experience that will change her forever...  One night, when she goes to the bakery to help her mother while helping her mother fill a big wedding order at their family bakery, scales begin growing out of her arms. In shock and Fearful afraid to say anything that might lead to her mother would rushing her to the hospital to figure out what was happening to her, and losing the big wedding order, she keeps the mutation a secret.
 
  
 
When she finally gains the courage to tell her mother, the scales have vanished. Days pass without another incident, and she begins to think that making Sheeon wonder if she was imagining the whole thing. But after a day confronting her fear along the beach with the help of her girlfriend, Renee, she heads home to wash the sand off her skin and hair. After filling the tub with warm water, she jumps in and finds out that scales are the only mutation she has. Her her legs have morphed into a mermaid tail.
 
  
 Sheeon is determined to keep that she is a mermaid a secret so that it doesn’t affect either her life or Renee’s. [I think the language here could be more dramatic.  Right now, it feels a little flat.] With bullies already mocking Renee because of her weight, adding a freak girlfriend will only make things worse. But her worst fear is that Renee will see her as the terrible creature she has become and reject her, causing her to lose her love and best friend.  But more than disrupting her loved ones' lives, Sheeon is afraid that being a magical creature will mean that she will lose the best parts of her own life and be forced to retreat to the ocean for good.  [There needs to be something to give more of a cliffhanger ending here instead of just abruptly stopping, e.g. "But when a paranormal investigator shows up in TOWN NAME, armed with a camera and floodlights, there doesn't seem like there will be any other option...unless the ocean has yet another plan for her..."] 
 I have a B.S. in Psychology and am returning for get my Certificate in Clinical Psychology from Fielding Graduate University in September. Ocean’s Call will be my debut novel.  
Thank you for your time. 
 Sincerely, 
 Kasey 

This is such a cool idea for a story!  It makes me think of a MG Splash, which was one of my favorite movies growing up.  You have a great premise, Kasey, and with some smoothing out, I think this query will be great.  Be wary of flat, telling language, and do your best to insert more tension in the query so that we can't wait to read more and know what happens.  I hope my comments help you with that--best of luck!

If anyone has any other thoughts to share, the comments section is for you!