Monday, February 19, 2018

Query Critique

Happy Presidents 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, February 12, 2018

Tip Time

It's Tip Time!  This month, I thought I would talk a bit about deciphering rejectionshow to figure out what something means and what to ask yourself when you see certain comments.  I figured this would be a good tip since I often get emails from authors asking for clarification on passes and also spend a lot of time analyzing editor feedback with my authors when we get rejections on our submissions.



The most common feedback that I see from editors:

1. The voice/story isn't quite working for me.
This usually means the writing isn't engaging enough.  When I see comments like this, I go back through the manuscript with the author to see if we're telling too much instead of showing, if we are using dynamic language that creates a connection between the reader and the character, and if the story line falls flat anywhere and doesn't keep the plot moving forward/feeling compelling.

If you see a comment like this, ask yourself if your MC's POV is feels fresh and three-dimensional, if your plot is moving at the right pace, and if there is enough going on at all times to keep the reader interested and turning the page.
2. I'm having a hard time connecting to the characters.
Similar to the first comment, this can mean that there is too much telling of how a character feels/reacts instead of showing moments that let us get inside his/her head.  A lot of times, I see manuscripts from writers where I am constantly told that a character is scared or is thinking XYZ instead of been shown through sensory description that makes me feel like I am scared or thinking XYZ right along with that character.

Is that language there and is the character fully fleshed out and three-dimensional?  Is there's a perspective that is exciting or one that is too familiar for the genre?

3. I just didn't fall in love/the story didn't grab me.
When I see this comment several times from several editors, it usually means I have to talk to my author about how to make the plot more standout and high-concept to break away from other books in the genre.  Are we telling a narrative that needs to be told and are we telling it in the right way or are we rehashing a story line that has already been done? 

When you see a comment like this, ask yourself how your story is different from its comp titles.  What makes it unique and hooky?

The most common questions I get asked when I pass on an author's submission:

1. Can you give me examples about XYZ thing that you said?
I should start by saying that I do my best to give helpful, thoughtful feedback on everything that I request.  For instance, I may tell you that the voice sounded too young for the genre or plot.  When agents tell you something isn't working, they may not have time to give you specific examples of what they're talking about, so it's important to be able to pinpoint what they mean, which usually means research.

If an agent tells you something like your voice is too young, to gain more clarity, a good idea is to read comp titles for your manuscript to see the kind of language those authors use and how mature their characters are to give you a sense of where you stand and bring clarity to where you need to age things up.

2. Can I send this to you again?
l will specifically invite authors to try me again with a project if I want to continue seeing it.  If an agent doesn't ask you to resend once you revise, it doesn't mean that the project isn't good, though.  It may be that they don't feel passionately enough to take it on, even in its best form, or that they just don't have enough time.

Not being asked for an R&R just means that agent isn't the right match for that particular project.  If you're getting a lot of helpful suggestions for revisions, but no R&Rs, then I advise doing your homework to make sure you are submitting to agents actively looking for stories in your genre or potentially deciding that you need to put this project on the back burner and see if the next one brings you to the next level.

3. What does "publishing is very subjective" mean?
I know that a lot of writer see this as a stock line, but it's true!  It can be easy to feel deflated by a rejection, but a pass from one agent doesn't mean your project doesn't have merit, but that it's not right for that specific person.  

Publishing really is truly subjective, which can make it feel like trying to hit a moving target, but it does really come down to having the right project at the right time and sending it to the right people.  As an example, I just don't like stories set in the '60s or '70s.  I don't know why--I just don't.  So if you send me something that takes place during that time period, I won't be as intrigued as another agent and my rejection and feedback may not carry as much weight.

Well, that's my tip for February!  Let me know if you thought it was helpful or if there's anything you wish I'd explain further...or any rejections comments you've gotten that you want to decipher!!

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Day in the Life of a Literary Agent Intern

Hi, everyone! This week, my blog is being taken over by one of my other interns, the wonderful Bea, with a special guest post...here she is!!



Anyone in the publishing industry probably started out as an intern, whether for a publishing house or for a literary agency. These internships teach you anything from the ins-and-outs of industry trends to the minutia of royalties contracts. Most importantly, they give you real-world experience in the industry by helping you create a network and see where you fit best in the world of publishing.

20th Century Fox / Via blog.bcm.com.au (Carrie is not a Miranda Priestly)

I began working with Carrie this past August and I have already learned so much! Being an intern for a literary agent means that you have to multitask, make judgement calls, and love reading. You really have to love reading, seriously. Since August, I have read around 50 manuscripts, anything from partials, fulls, to returned R&Rs. That doesn’t include the hundreds of queries we’ve received during the past several months.

books read GIF
Teen Nick / Via https://micdotcom.tumblr.com

So, what do I do on a daily basis for Carrie?

  • I evaluate queries that come in the slush pile and send ones with promise to Carrie so she can request partial manuscripts
  • I read and evaluate requested materials (partials, fulls, and R&Rs)
  • After evaluating material, I write Carrie a reader report with a suggested verdict of reject, R&R, request more material, or, if I LOVE a full manuscript, I let Carrie know she should read herself
  • Throughout the week, Carrie might also want help with contracts, submission guides, client work, and anything else in between

Along with all of this, I am a full-time honors college student (Junior) and work as an editorial assistant for an academic journal.

Here’s an average week at the agency:

Mondays are usually pretty busy at the agency. We see a jump in queries on Mondays after a pretty quiet weekend, of course. And publishing wakes up from its weekend hibernation. Carrie’s usually very busy on Mondays, so my job is help make it easier on her however I can. She might give me a big project like creating her full rights guide, which we send to production companies, publishers, and other entities interested in Carrie’s clients’ works. That may take me a week or longer to complete.

On Tuesday, I’m still working on the full rights guide, but the chaos and urgency from Monday have died down a little, so I might sneak my head into the query inbox to read some submissions. I’ll read between 10 and 30 depending on how urgent everything else is, and I’ll star the ones I think Carrie will like. Anything I’m not sure about or want a second opinion on, I’ll tap in one of the other interns to take a look.

Wednesday and halfway through the week, I want to have made significant progress on the full rights guide, so I’ll spend time on that. But I also try to read at least one manuscript per week, so I’ll start on the next MS in my pile. This week I read an amazing #ownvoices manuscript that takes place in India. I read the first 100 pages and like them, so I request the full.

Thursday, I can’t stop thinking about the MS I read yesterday, so I want to pick it back up and finish it (hopefully the author sent it right away). Most likely they didn’t, so I take a peek in another manuscript. I love the concept and the main character, but it also has voice inconsistencies, so it’s not ready for Carrie. I have a couple of ideas for improvement that I think could really make this one worth her time, though, so I write up a reader report and recommend an R&R. I might also have a Skype call with Carrie and the other interns about contracts or royalties.

Friday, I really need to get that project done for Carrie, so I spend most of my time on that today. When it’s done, I poke my head in on queries and flag a few more. I send Carrie the finished full rights guide and she gets back to me with edits.

Saturday/Sunday, if I have time, I might check submissions again or see if that #ownvoices manuscript came in.


If all of this sounds super fun, then this might be the industry for you!!

the weekend downton GIF


***





P.S.

If you really want to know what the publishing industry is like....

work GIF
Via https://imgur.com/gallery/e9MQoaO

Monday, January 29, 2018

Query Critique Winner

This month's lucky query critique winner is Kristy!  Congrats, Kristy!!

Here is her original query:


Dear Carrie, 

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Andrews fears the color red, inks graffiti in bathroom stalls, and avoids even numbers because they’re too perfect. Yet somehow she’s able to manage her OCD—until her best friend Janice, her beloved art teacher, and two classmates commit suicide, all within a few weeks. Eerily, all of them were artists.

Just when she’s on the verge of breaking down completely, she’s committed to a mental hospital for her obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Lucy’s depressed and anxious, but willing to accept help—until she realizes something isn’t quite right. The art room has no artwork, four classmates have also been committed, and a woman is stalking her.

She’s offered an experimental drug with the promise of being discharged early. Though the drug helps her OCD, it takes away everything that makes her Lucy. As she fights back, threatening to expose the hospital for its sinister secrets, the head doctor threatens to never let her go. Either she does as she’s told and hopes for the best, or she can risk her future by providing the truth before they unmake everything she is.

LUCY COUNTING STARS, a YA contemporary novel, is complete at 91,000 words. It was selected as a manuscript for the 2017 Pitch Wars Contest and it's a finalist in the Serendipity YA Discovery Contest. 

I worked as a middle school counselor for ten years and suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. Therefore LUCY COUNTING STARS is part experience and part research.

Thank you for taking the time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Kristy


And here is my critique!


Dear Carrie, 

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Andrews fears the color red, compulsively inks graffiti in bathroom stalls every time she has to pee, and avoids even numbers because they’re too perfect. Yet, despite the difficulties associated with it, she is somehow she’s able to manage her OCD—until her best friend Janice, her beloved art teacher, and two classmates commit suicide, all within a few weeks. Eerily, all of them were artists. [I'm not sure if this sentence belongs here or if it detracts from the previous sentence.  Unless they did something like all kill themselves in the art room, I'm not sure we need this information now.]

Sent into a tailspin and Just when she’s on the verge of breaking down completely, her family she’s commitsted her to a mental hospital for her obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Lucy’s depressed and anxious and not exactly thrilled about being in a psych ward, but willing to accept help—until she realizes something isn’t quite right. The art room has no artwork, four of her other classmates have also been committed, and a woman is stalking her.

The doctors on staff She’s offered her an experimental drug with the promise of being discharged early if she takes itAlthough Though the drug helps her OCD, it takes away everything that makes her Lucy. As she fights back, threatening to expose the hospital for its sinister secrets [What sinister secrets?  Give specific examples here...do you mean that they're having her take experimental meds or something more?], the head doctor threatens to keep her in the facility for the rest of her life never let her go. Either she does as she’s told and hopes for the best, or she can risks her future by forcing providing the truth to come out before they unmake everything she is.

LUCY COUNTING STARS, a YA, #ownvoices, contemporary novel, is complete at 91,000 words. It was selected as a manuscript for the 2017 Pitch Wars Contest and is it's a finalist in the Serendipity YA Discovery Contest. 

I worked with teens for 10 years as a middle school counselor I worked as a middle school counselor for ten years and also suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, making the writing of. Therefore LUCY COUNTING STARS is part experience and part research.

Thank you for taking the time to read my query, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Kristy

 
This is such an interesting premise for a story and Kristy does a really great job setting up the story so that I stay intrigued and interested to know more.  My edits are mostly to smooth out the flow in certain areas and pump up the drama/stakes, but in general, this query is off to a fantastic start!

Kristy, I really hope you found this helpful and wish you the best of luck as you are querying!  If you think this critique was helpful, please others know on Twitter, etc. so that they enter next month.

Everyone else, please chime in with your own thoughts, suggestions, and questions in the comments below!

Monday, January 22, 2018

When Is the Best Time to Query?

Hi, everyone! This week, my blog is being taken over by my intern, the wonderful Rosiee, with a special guest post...here she is!!



When is the best time to query?

A question every querying writer asks. Some people say not to query during the holidays, and some say publishing is basically dead in August, so don’t even bother during the summer. And still more say to query only during Summer or the holidays because that’s when agents get the least amount of queries because of the former advice.

It all depends on what you want out of querying. Do you want your query given full consideration? Or are you looking for a quick response?

But really, when is the best time to query?

I dove into Carrie’s submission records to find out.

This data will vary from agent to agent, I’d imagine, but here are some stats from Carrie’s inbox:

In 2017, Carrie received a total of 2,202 cold queries, not including queries/materials sent from contests or conferences.
The monthly average was 184
The daily average was 6
She received the highest number of queries in October.
She received the lowest number of queries in December

What does this data tell us? Not much, to be honest.

The difference between the highest volume month and the lowest volume month was 73 queries. While that comes out to a couple of hours work for me (or one of Carrie’s other super cool interns), it really doesn’t make that much of a difference in how busy Carrie is. On that particular note, there’s not any specific time of year that Carrie is likely to be faster at responding to queries than any other based solely on query volume.

For Carrie, her response time is much more dependant on other variables--for example, how many manuscripts has she already requested recently? How behind is she on requested material or work for her clients? Is she sending out new client projects to go on sub? Is she negotiating a contract? Did she recently participate in and request and boatload of contest submissions?

These could all slow down her response time--because she’s busy, but also because she’s a kind and generous boss who doesn’t want to overload me, Bea, and Tarie with too much all at once.

The reality is, there’s no best time to query for all authors and all agents. There’s only the best time for you to query, and that’s when your book is finished and ready. It doesn’t matter if we get your query in Spring or Fall. If it’s good, and if Carrie likes it, she’ll request. She may not request it right away, but it’s almost always better for her to read submissions when she doesn’t have to rush. And it’s definitely better for her to read submissions when they are polished and ready.

There is no magic time of year for querying.

And if you’re really just looking for a quick response… maybe pick a different career path. Publishing is slow. Really really slow.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tip Time

Hello!  I have decided to do a new monthly feature on my blog, in addition to the query critiques--Tip Time!!



The plan is to share something interesting I've learned or seen throughout the course of the month that I think will be helpful for you all to read about.  If you have any other suggestions for kinds of tips you'd like to read or what you want me to talk about (tip-wise or otherwise!), let me know in the comments section.

For January, after reading lots of requested manuscripts and opening chapters of queries, my tip is: really put thought into where you start your story.

The opening of a story is the most important part--it needs to draw us into the world, connect us to the characters, and keep us intrigued enough to keep turning the pages.  I know that's a tall order, but in addition to all that, it needs to start in the right place.

I've seen several manuscripts recently that suffer from that problem and there is no general cure-all for this.  You have to really consider your story and your audience.  I will give two examples to illustrate what I mean (hopefully)!  
  • Awhile ago, I read the beginning of a YA WWII story about Jewish refugees who board a cruise ship to Cuba to escape the Third Reich but risk being turned away and mutiny in the middle of the ocean.  Super fascinating, with a plot that I'd never heard about before (and you know how much I love unknown history).  However, the beginning of the story was bogged down with backstory about Nazis, Kristallnacht, and the treatment of German Jews.  
It wasn't the most captivating start, since I already knew the background of the situation and was eager to jump right to what happened on the cruise ship.  With things in the historical fiction genre, starting right at the meat of the story is more important to me than getting all the backstory out right away--I'd rather that be sprinkled in throughout the first half.
  • I also read a MG spy adventure that had the opposite problem.  We were dropped into the action right away and I felt really confused!  There was a kid fighting masked men and dodging through alleyways and I had no idea why.  With something like this, where there isn't a readily grasped context, such as the Holocaust or an easily recognized situation, I like to see stories start slower and spend more time in the character's mindset so that we have time to acclimate to the world we are in and then move on to the meat.
This all goes to show that there is no one "right way" to start a manuscript that works for every genre.  You have to consider if your readers need background information to understand what's going on or if you're writing a well-known period of history or circumstance; if the most compelling way to draw readers in is to start at a tense scene and then flashback or to move forward chronologically; the best way to create a connection between your readers and MC; how to build tension and keep the pace moving, etc.  There are so many important things to get right! 

But when you do, you have something really wonderful that agents, editors, and readers can get excited about!!  I hope this was a helpful tip--since this is my first time doing this, I'd super appreciate feedback and thoughts!  Thanks, everyone!

Monday, January 8, 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!