Query Critique Winner

Monday, December 21, 2015

Before I dive into this month's critique, I have to tell you all my good news!  Santa has come early this year, because these are the presents I've received so far:

1. DEAL! Taylor Zajonc's sequel for THE WRECKING CREW is going to be with Blank Slate again, and I'm so happy that they're excited enough about his first book to tied down the second before anything has even published!
2. WINNER!  Kristin Lenz is the 2015 winner of Elephant Rock's prestigious Sheehan Prize.  Her novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO is going to publish with them and I am so thrilled for her.
3. DEALS! Brianna DuMont has landed a two-book deal with National Geographic and it is the largest advance I've landed yet, so :D:D:D:D:D
4. L'AFFARE!  Thanks to Susan Blumberg-Kason, I now have my first ever foreign deal.  GOOD CHINESE WIFE is going to be coming out in Italian with Newton Compton.  Hooray!

So that puts me way over my deal goal for 2015 and pretty much means I don't need any holiday or birthday gifts this year.

Now down to business!  This month's query critique winner was Cecelia Mecca--congrats, Cecelia!  Here is her original query:

Dear Ms. Pestritto:
I am seeking representation for Border Reiver, a 13th century historical romance novel complete at 74,000 words. In Border Reiver a landless knight and powerful English countess are thrown together, forced to navigate an inevitable clash between their obligations and desires.
Lady Sara Caiser accepts her father’s death as a catalyst for marriage to secure her inheritance, including Kenshire Castle. She is appalled to learn, however, two lawless border reivers will serve as protectors while she awaits the arrival of her betrothed. Sir Geoffrey Waryn, intent on exacting revenge against those who stole his birthright, reluctantly agrees to protect Lady Sara at his uncle’s request.
With a greedy distant relative intent on conquering Kenshire and a powerful earl poised to claim both Sara and her lands, the countess and border reiver must learn to put aside their past in order to forge a new future.
An active PRO member of RWA with degrees in Education, English and PhD in Curriculum/Language and Literacy, I am also the co-owner of a digital media marketing company.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be honored to send you a full manuscript and can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx or via email.
Sincerely,
Cecelia Mecca

And here is my critique:

Dear Ms. Pestritto:
I am seeking representation for Border Reiver [either have the title in all caps or italicize], a 13th century historical romance novel complete at 74,000 words. In Border Reiver a landless knight and powerful English countess are thrown together, forced to navigate an inevitable clash between their obligations and desires. [I think you need something a little more compelling and specific to draw us into the story here.  If this were the back cover copy of your novel, what would it say?  This intro seems a little general to me.]

Lady Sara Caiser accepts her father’s death as a catalyst for marriage to secure her inheritance, including Kenshire Castle [I'm not quite sure what this means here, and I think the word "catalyst" is what's confusing me.  Does she just accept the fact that now that her father is dead, she needs to get married?  I think there is a simpler way to say this, if so.]. She is appalled to learn, however, two lawless border reivers will serve as protectors while she awaits the arrival of her betrothed [Who hires these border reivers?  Doesn't she have any other family or servants who can protect her if she's in a castle?  And what is a border reiver?  This is bringing up a lot of questions for me.]
[Made this a new paragraph and combined with next.] Sir Geoffrey Waryn, intent on exacting revenge against those who stole his birthright, reluctantly agrees to protect Lady Sara at his uncle’s request. With a greedy distant relative intent on conquering Kenshire and a powerful earl poised to claim both Sara and her lands, the countess and border reiver must learn to put aside their past in order to forge a new future. [But why does Sir Geoffrey care about helping Sara?]

An active PRO member of RWA with degrees in Education, English and PhD in Curriculum/Language and Literacy, I am also the co-owner of a digital media marketing company.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be honored to send you a full manuscript and can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx or via email.
Sincerely,
Cecelia Mecca

As you can see, I didn't have a lot of comments on Cecelia's writing, which was good, but a lot of questions about content.  I wasn't incredibly clear what the hook of the story was, or why these characters were invested in each other, or how they come to have their lives entangled.  Something I mentioned, which I think works well in general when thinking about querying, is to think about writing back cover copy for your book.  In a couple paragraphs, you want to entice with me the big points of the story and leave me wanting to read more!

I will also say that although I absolutely LOVE historical fiction, I've been seeing many of my historical fiction authors get push back on stories that aren't "near historicals," meaning later than the nineteenth century.  If you aren't writing about a person that's well-known, i.e. Cleopatra or Queen Elizabeth, or have a character that someone connects with those well-known figures, it can be hard to have a historical fiction from an earlier era.  One exception right now, of course, is Scottish historicals or romances!  So I think that for BORDER REIVER, it's also important to let us know why we want to read about this time period.  What happens and who is in the story (directly or tangentially) that we might be familiar with?

I'd love to know what you think, too, so please feel free to comment below.  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

Have You Met Kirsten??

Monday, December 14, 2015

I had to keep this on hold to do the query critique and Nicole's pub day interview, but I'm starting this week off with an interview from Prospect's newest agent, the awesome Kirsten Carleton!!!

Kirsten Carleton

How did you become an agent?

I’ve wanted to be in publishing since seventh grade, when I decided to be a writer. Over the years, I took loads of writing workshops and gradually realized that what I loved most was giving editorial feedback and helping other writers with their work. After graduating, I did the Columbia Publishing Course, where I got a great overview of the industry, and then started at Sobel Weber as an assistant, where I got a great overview of the agenting process. Eventually I struck out as an agent myself, first at Waxman Leavell, and now at Prospect. I love being the one in the author’s corner, championing their work and getting others to fall in love with it the way I have.

What genres are you looking to build your list with, and are there any dream projects that you hope to see?

My focus is on literary, thriller, and speculative fiction for YA and adults. Great writing is a must, as is a plot that grabs my interest early on. I’ve got a strong interest in stories that feature diverse characters and feminist themes. A couple specific things I’d love to see: epic fantasy based on Journey to the West and featuring Monkey; historical fiction about Ching Shih, the undefeated Chinese pirate queen; murder mystery set in space.

What is one of your favorite projects so far that you've worked on?

I’m super excited about The Duke of Bannerman Prep, a contemporary YA by the incredibly talented Katie Nelson that’s forthcoming from Sky Pony. It’s a clever retelling of The Great Gatsby in which blue-collar debate star Tanner is recruited to an elite prep school, where he’s partnered with a larger-than-life playboy everybody calls “The Duke.” They’re an odd couple at first, but Tanner eventually gets sucked into the Duke’s glitzy lifestyle, only to find that he’s more conman than caviar. I love the depth of Tanner’s character: he’s devoted to his single mom and disabled brother, but winning Nationals means a ticket to Stanford and it’s easy to see how playing the Duke’s games seems worth the risk if they’ll get him there. The Duke is marvelously ambiguous, and as we learn more about him, every revelation feels both surprising and inevitable.

Any advice for aspiring authors or writers looking to query you?

It may sound like basic stuff, but professionalism goes a long way towards making you stand out as someone with whom I’d like to work. Research any agent you’re querying (if you’re reading this interview, you’re already on the right track), and make sure you’re only submitting books in genres I represent. When you’re putting together your query letter, make sure you that you’ve covered the basics: introduce the character and the setting, show me the conflict, establish the stakes, and give a hint about what the character will do next.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you?  Quirky facts are always fun to know!

Hmm, random facts about me! I have an awesome dog! I’m a big Buffy and Veronica Mars fan! I used to do archery and am kind of getting back into it! I think I’ve used too many exclamation points!

Also, a bunch of you have been asking, so here are some of the photos from our wedding :)
  • ✧・゚: *✧・゚:* Wedding Pictures *:・゚✧*:・゚✧







Happy (Belated) Pub Day!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Happy pub day to Nicole!  Because of Thanksgiving and wedding malarkey, I forgot to send her the interview questions in time for her December 1 release, so this is a little behind the times.  But as is tradition, here is her interview about writing and GIRLS WHO TRAVEL!


Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am an American ex-pat living in London, and more often than not, you can find me writing, reading, or drinking red wine and daydreaming about where to go next. I’ve been obsessed with travel for as long as I can remember, so it was a natural theme for a fiction book.

How did you end up writing GIRLS WHO TRAVEL?
I wanted to write something uplifting and fun—a beach read, but also something with a bit of resonance and inspiration; something that would make you want to go out there and live! Girls Who Travel was born out of those sentiments. I wanted to write a book for all the other girls like me with their heads in the clouds and big beautiful adventures on their Pinterest boards.

How has its genre changed along the way and what has that meant to the book and to you?
I always intended on writing a chick lit book even though chick lit has been fighting off a bad rap for a while. That said, I do think the genre is at a place where it's finally more respected. 

So far it's been kind of a magical ride.  You signed with Jackie Cantor at Berkley and have been getting pretty fantastic reviews for the book from bloggers and from places like RT.  Tell us what that has been like!
At the risk of coming off like an uncool fangirl: it’s been freakin’ amazing! I couldn’t ask for a better editor or more finely tuned publishing house. I hope I get to work with them again in the future.

What else are you working on?  Anything next for Kika?
I’m half-way through another travel-centric romcom set in the Alps. 

Any advice for writers you'd like to share?
It took me many years and many books to get to this day. Don’t compare your journey to anyone else's. You do you.

Be sure to pick up a copy of the book--and if you do, let me know how you enjoy the read!  I always love hearing peoples' reactions to projects I work on!  

We're keeping it very Q&A at Literary Carrie right now, because next week I am finally going to post the interview with Kirsten I've been promising (and wedding photos)!!!

Query Critique

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hi, everyone!  I'm back to work after a whirlwind of slightly dangerous Black Friday shopping with my mom.  There are no pictures of my Thanksgiving dinner, because, sadly, my first attempt at Thanksgiving ended with John bringing home turkey and potatoes from the restaurant...


Anyways, it's 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!

T Minus 3

Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy almost-Thanksgiving!  This holiday is going to be a weird one for me, because I'm not going home.  My mom has decided that she wants to go Black Friday shopping in the city with me, so she's not doing Thanksgiving for the first time in my memory.  They're going to my cousin's on the day of, instead, but since John is working at the restaurant, I have no idea what we're going to do.


Well, I had no idea what we were going to do.  After obsessing about having a solitary Chinese-food Thanksgiving in the apartment, I went on the Cooking Channel and found a bunch of two-person recipes for roasted turkey breast, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc. and am going grocery shopping tonight.  I don't know if John is going to fully appreciate a surprise, mini Thanksgiving when he gets home after midnight after being surrounded by turkey all day, but that's what I'm doing!

Admittedly, I'm no Mark Bittman, but he's cooking in a kitchen about my size.

Also, our wedding photographer (who is not John Lennon) promised to have all our pics ready before the holiday, so hoping that mini Thanksgiving at midnight is going to be followed by lots of pictures of me looking beautiful!!!!  

I hope everyone else has a great holiday, and I'll be back next week!  If I remember in time (and if they're not all of me breaking down in tears over the stove), I'll post pictures of my tiny cooking adventure :)

P.S.  It's not official yet, but DEAL #9!!!!!!!!!!!  That news made me feel sooo much better after losing out on a Pitch Wars author I had been working with revisions on previously and that I really wanted to rep.

Real Life

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Back to real life and working hard to get in some more deals before the end of the year!  I also participated in Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars and requested a lot of great manuscripts to read during all the holiday traveling that is to come.

I was busy canceling Connecticut wedding stuff that is now obviously no longer needed and sadly learned that the Norwich Inn doesn't do deposit refunds.  That frustrated me about as much as opening joint checking and realizing that I have to go to the DMV and SS office for new IDs.  Marriage is a joy, but...

Switching gears, in very exciting news, I'm so happy to report that Sara Joiner's AFTER THE ASHES was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Teachers Association!  Congrats, Sara!


Prospect Agency has also added another wonderful agent to the fold: Kirsten Carleton, formerly of Waxman Leavell.  Like me, she is an Amherst alum!!  Linda and I are going dinner with her tonight, and I'm hoping to have an interview with her to share with you guys next week.  Til then!

Query Critique Winner

Monday, November 9, 2015

Lee Kelsall is the winner for this month's query critique!  Yay for Lee!  Here is her original query:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,

Separated by one hundred and fifty years, tragedy will bring two young Australian women together, seeking to fulfil a promise which echoes across the centuries.

2016, and seventeen-year-old TAYLOR knows she’s completely normal. Actually, maybe a little better than normal; she’s hooked up with the hot lead singer of Stoned Drifters, there are only four weeks until graduation, and most days her thighs don’t resemble cottage cheese. Her parents’ impending divorce is sure as hell not her problem—until Mum drags her fifteen hundred kilometres across the country. And the haunting dreams start.

In 1876, seventeen-year-old ANNA rises at four each morning, milking the cow before fetching water from the creek and stoking the oven. Maybe if her parents stayed in Europe, instead of moving to the wilderness of South Australia, things would be different—civilized, as Mother likes to say. But if that happened, she never would have met handsome fellow settler, LUKE HARTMANN. Nor would she bury four siblings and face a raging bushfire, her reputation as blackened as the burnt-out scrub.
Taylor knows she is sliding into madness, the dreams of a life almost two centuries earlier so vivid she has trouble distinguishing them from reality. But Anna’s minimalistic, often harsh life seems appealing compared to the fraught drama of her life.  Yet, when tragedy tears apart Anna’s world, Taylor must discover if there is any truth behind the dreams, or her own heart—and possibly her mind—will remain broken.

Told in alternating chapters from Taylor’s 21st Century and Anna’s 19th Century perspective,  OUT OF TIME is a 80,000 word YA Contemporary/Historical Timeslip.

Best,

Lee

And here is my critique!

Dear Ms. Pestritto,
Separated by one hundred and fifty years, tragedy will bring two young Australian women together, seeking as they seek to fulfill a promise which that echoes across the centuries.
It is 2016, and seventeen-year-old TAYLOR knows she’s completely normal. Actually, maybe a little better than normal;--she’s hooked up with the hot lead singer of Stoned Drifters, to the envy of all her friends, there are only four weeks until graduation and freedom, and most days her thighs don’t resemble cottage cheese. [The part about her thighs usually not looking like cottage cheese doesn't quite work here.  I suggest saying something about her body/body image in a different way--maybe something like "...and she's just been voted one of the finalists for Miss Michigan State."]  Her parents’ impending divorce is sure as hell not her problem [Why not?  Does it really not affect her or does she pretend that it doesn't?  What is her relationship with her parents like?  From what we have before she, she sounds a little shallow.]—until Mum drags her fifteen hundred kilometres across the country. [Say something describing it country and how different it is.] And the haunting dreams start.
In 1876, seventeen-year-old ANNA rises at four each morning, milking the cow before fetching water from the creek and stoking the oven. Maybe if her parents stayed in Europe, instead of moving to the wilderness of South Australia, things would be different—civilized, as Mother likes to say. But if that happened, she never would have met handsome fellow settler, LUKE HARTMANN. Nor would she bury four siblings and face a raging bushfire, her reputation as blackened as the burnt-out scrub. [I'd like to see more detail here.  At first, it sounds like Anna is happy she is not in civilization because of Luke, but burying four siblings and facing a bushfire is definitely not a positive.  Why do burying her siblings and having to deal with a forest fire ruin her reputation?  Give a stronger hint here of what happens and what people think, while also making it clear that although living in wild South Australia has its charms for Anna, there are definite cons.]
Taylor knows she is sliding into madness must be going insane,. tThe dreams of a life almost two centuries earlier so vivid she has trouble distinguishing them from reality. But Anna’s minimalistic, often harsh life seems appealing compared to the fraught drama of her life drama going on in hers [It sounds here like Taylor isn't having any problems distinguishing Anna's life from her own based on their vast differences.  Where does the gray area of reality come into play?] Yet, when tragedy tears apart Anna’s world, Taylor must discover if there is any truth behind the dreams, or her own heart—and possibly her mind—will remain broken or risk losing her grasp on her mind and her heart forever.
Told in alternating chapters from Taylor’s 21st Ccentury- and Anna’s 19th Ccentury-perspective,  OUT OF TIME is a 80,000 word YA Contemporary/Historical Timeslip.
Best,
Lee


What do you guys think?  This sounds like a fantastic read to me, full of intrigue and tension that will keep the reader glued.  Once some of the ruffles in the writing are ironed out, this query should be good to go!  Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

I Got Married

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Surprise!!!!  John and I eloped over the weekend.  Our immediate families came down to the city and went with us for our ceremony at City Hall, and then out to dinner afterwards.  It was the perfect day, with so many wonderful memories.  I am very happy to say I am now Mrs. Houlihan!  Or rather, because of a slight moment of feminist panic, Mrs. Pestritto-Houlihan.  Not sure if that's going to stay, though...it's a very long signature.



We had an amazing photographer, Jon Lemon, come and take our pictures.  This one is just from someone's iPhone, so I'll share more when I have them from him!

Halloween News

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Happy Halloween!  Ken Smith, Co-Host of the Mancow Muller Show for 97.9 The Loop in Chicago, is going to be interviewing my author Jeff at 7:00am (CENTRAL TIME) on Thursday, the 29th, for a Halloween special!  Tune into hear about Jeff's book GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS, and enter the Goodreads giveaway, starting this Friday, to win a free copy!  Also, please check out this great review--it made me so happy!


As for me...

Spongebob - Back next week... With a surprise!

Also, if you can't tell, I've discovered memegenerator.net.  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

Query Critique

Sunday, October 18, 2015

It's 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!

Positivity

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Columbus Day!  I was thinking about what I wanted to write about this week, and realized that I wanted to talk about one of the roles of being an agent: pep talker extraordinaire.  Given the amount of exclamation points I use, it's probably not hard to think of me as a great cheerleader, and I've been doing a lot of that lately.  In a lot of ways, writing is such an insular activity and when you throw your manuscript out into the world and have to deal with editor feedback, rejection, horrible covers, promotion woes, or just anxiety about having strangers read your work, it can be hard to stay positive.  That's where I come in!  


The key thing I have my authors keep in mind when they get overwhelmed or frustrated is that publishing is a journey (sometimes a long and winding one), that I am here to help them, and that everything is a stepping stone to the end goal.  If you get passes from editors, their feedback is the stepping stone to revising your manuscript and getting into better shape.  If your editor sends you a horrible cover, it opens up a conversation about the elements you don't like so that we can get the cover to be something you're happy with. If you're not getting the publicity you were hoping for from your publisher, you at least know what they will be doing for you and you can plan how you are going to fill in the holes and supplement their work.

Being an agent means, in part, that you help your author see the big picture.  Having worked with hundreds of manuscripts and been a part of many deals, I know what is normal and what is a disaster.  For instance, I recently had an author freak out that everyone in her first submission round passed on her project, but when I told her I've had authors who have gone through dozens of submissions rounds, it helped her put things in perspective and stay positive.  I use the stepping stone speech a lot, and find that it really helps authors calm down and think about the bigger picture.    


Also, for #IHAVEAQUESTION, thanks, Diane, for being the first to ask!  She wanted to know, "How do you approach a publisher about a book? Is this a casual lunch or a bustling happy hour?"  

Despicable Me Minion - You have a question? I have an answer!

There are a myriad of ways to approach publishers about books!  You (and by you, I mean agents) can do it while networking at events or when out to lunch or drinks.  For me, though, the most common way I talk to editors about books is via email.  I write a pitch similar to what authors write when submitting to agents, and tell them about the project or, if I know them really well, write a quick note about the book and say that I think they would love it.  The editors I email are people I already have a relationship with 80% of the time, although it is not unusual for agents to research an editor's interest and email them out of the blue!

#IHAVEAQUESTION

Monday, October 5, 2015

Gahhhh, thanks, September, for that parting kick in the teeth! I had jury duty for the first time ever last week (which wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be but still was not fun), and am continuing to deal with the horrendous situation in my bathroom.  Apparently having my bathroom be a construction zone for almost a month doesn't qualify me for any special consideration from my landlord or from the fates.


https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/1c/7c/0f/1c7c0fcc0cbfd77b822de6f1de89b1f5.jpg

Half of my brain was focused on those not-fun things, and the other half was trying to do all the work I normally do, of which promo was a big part.  I had a lot of authors deals with publicity/marketing for their books, either with their publishers, on their own, or putting things together in the planning stage.  And it made me think of something I want to do for this blog to turn September's slap into October's (and forever's) boon!

I love hosting my query critique contest and also want to have an opportunity for authors to ask me any writing, marketing, or publishing questions they may have.  So from now on, if you want to ask me a question, type it in the comments section of the current week's post with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION (you don't have to the do the purple part, I just did that for fun).  If there are any questions, I will pick one and answer it in the next week's post!

http://cdn.meme.am/instances/500x/61039213.jpg

Query Critique Winner

Monday, September 28, 2015

This month's query critique winner was Chris Owens!  Below is his original query letter:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,

If being shy around girls were a serious disease, sixteen-year-old Jason Martyr would be on the critical list. When Lorelei Quinn shows interest in him, it seems too good to be true – and it is. Their first date ends with Jason drugged and abducted.

Lorelei is the recruiter for a secret government time travel program: Project Rewind. Their scientists believe Jason has a rare genetic ability for time travel. To gain his cooperation, they promise him information about his parents, who are locked up in Gitmo on unspecified charges.

Jason has to stop the Masters of Infinity, a secret society of chrono-terrorists, from travelling back to 1937 and replacing FDR with a fascist dictator. If the Masters succeed, the U.S. might never take part in World War II, setting off a catastrophic domino effect across history.

Jason wonders whether he’s working with the good guys after all when he discovers that his parents are in prison for conducting genetic experiments for the Masters. In 1937, he faces a gang of time traveling mercenaries assigned to stop him. With the future of the world and his own life at stake, Jason must sift through secrets and lies to choose which side of the battle he’ll join.

THE DESTINY MATRIX, a YA Sci Fi novel with a diverse case of characters, is complete at 83,000 words. It will appeal to fans of the Tempest series by Julie Cross, and Roland Smith’s Cryptid Hunters series. It is a stand-alone novel with series potential.

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and MBA with emphasis in marketing, both from the University of Missouri.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Chris L. Owens

And here is my critique:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,

If being shy around girls were a serious disease, sixteen-year-old Jason Martyr would be on the critical list. When Lorelei Quinn shows interest in him, it seems too good to be true – and it is. [Because you talk about Jason being shy around girls, I was waiting for something describing that here.  Talk a little about their first date and how his shyness leads to being drugged/abducted or what his shyness has to do with it.] Their first date ends with Jason drugged and abducted.

Turns out, Lorelei's interest wasn't as innocent as it seemed. She Lorelei is the recruiter for a secret government time travel program: Project Rewind. Their scientists believe Jason has a rare genetic ability for time travel. To gain his cooperation, they promise him information about his parents, who are locked up in Gitmo on unspecified charges. [When did this happen?  This comes out of the blue...I'm also wondering what Gitmo is.  Give us a little lead in and explanation here.  Have Jason's parents never been around or are they imprisoned suddenly after he is kidnapped?]

Jason has to stop the Masters of Infinity, a secret society of chrono-terrorists, from travelling back to 1937 and replacing FDR with a fascist dictator. If the Masters succeed, the U.S. might never take part in World War II, setting off a catastrophic domino effect across history. [Is he working with Lorelei on this?  Or does she only drug in and bring him into the agency, and then he never sees her again? Because Lorelei is mentioned by name in the query letter, it makes me think she is part of the story in a more integral way.]

Jason wonders whether he’s working with the good guys after all when he discovers that his parents are in prison for conducting genetic experiments for the Masters. In 1937, he faces a gang of time traveling mercenaries assigned to stop him. With the future of the world and his own life at stake, Jason must sift through secrets and lies to choose which side of the battle he’ll join. [I love this last sentence, but again, does Jason's shyness come into play with things he has to overcome to save the world?  If not (and if Lorelei isn't a major player either), I suggest cutting the critical disease bit and just say that Jason thinks it's too good to be true when a beautiful, random girl asks him on a date.]

THE DESTINY MATRIX, a YA Sci Fi novel with a diverse case of characters, is complete at 83,000 words. It will appeal to fans of the Tempest series by Julie Cross, and Roland Smith’s Cryptid Hunters series. It is a stand-alone novel with series potential.

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and MBA with emphasis in marketing, both from the University of Missouri.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Chris L. Owens

This is a great query letter!  It draws me into the story and gets me interested to read more, and Chris did an excellent job of using comp titles and saying that the title is standalone but has series potential!  The only thing I really ran up again was assuming that certain things were going to be bigger in the story than they were, only to not hear of them again, namely Jason's shyness and Lorelei.  Other than that, I think this is great!  What do you guys think?  Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below!

Silver Linings Playbook

Monday, September 21, 2015

YESSS!!!  Another deal!  Soooo happy to say that Greg Bruno's BLESSINGS FROM BEIJING, about the current challenges faced by the Tibetan diaspora, is going to be finding it's home with ForeEdge, the trade imprint of the University Press of New England.  I'm definitely soaring on a high of book deals right now...ironically this summer has brought deals left and right when before it brought only automated vacation messages.

At the start of this year, my New Year's Goal was to get eight deals in 2015.  Well, looks like I can sit back and relax, because I'm already there!  Okay, I'm obviously not going to sit back and relax, but I have to admit, I am super proud of myself.  I was bummed that I missed my deal goal last year, and am really hoping that I make it up to my 2014 self by surpassing the mark this time around.

I'm going to keep going!

think that I can make it happen, because I still have a ton of submissions out, including Marlo Mack's and Stephanie Twining's, which just went out for their first rounds!!  I also signed an amazing new client, Betsy Thorpe, whose novel THE THIN PLACE, *finally* gets me my own professors-gone-rogue version of OUTLANDER and I could not be happier!

I'm focusing on all these good things, as well as the fact that my wedding venue is officially booked (yayyy!!), because my apartment is a nightmare right now.  There is a giant hole in my bathroom ceiling that has been there for a couple weeks.  Apparently there is some kind of leak that necessitates the hole being made, semi-covered with a piece of plywood, and staying there for a certain amount of time.  Water keeps spurting out of it randomly, along with cement chunks, dirt, and bugs, which means:

a) You really can't shower in there.
b) My shower curtains, bath mat, everything in there is ruined.
c) My whole apartment smells like mildew.
d) I want to kill someone.

I like my super a lot, but I'm really not thrilled with this whole kerfuffle.  My cousin Katie is a real New Yorker and has been giving me a lot of advice on how to deal with this whole situation, so I'm hoping this will all be handled soon and I can stop looking like this:

Happy (Sort Of) Pub Day!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy Rosh Hashanah!  So I thought Sara Joiner's AFTER THE ASHES was publishing in October, but after randomly looking at the Amazon Page, it looks like the book was released at the start of August!  Amazon sometimes just sells books when it receives them, regardless of publication date, so I'm still working out with the editor what is going on.  Since it is out there in the world, however, I've decided to do Sara's pub day interview today!


Tell us a little bit about the story and how you came to write it.  Did your job as a librarian affect how you came up with AFTER THE ASHES?

AFTER THE ASHES is about Katrien, a young teen who lives on Java in the Dutch East Indies in 1883. She loves her home, and she loves exploring the jungle with her friend Slamet, a native boy. Unfortunately, her aunt wants her to be more like Brigitta Burkart, a former friend of Katrien's who is now her detested rival. When Krakatau erupts and giant waves attack Katrien's home, Brigitta is the only one who will follow Katrien to safety in the jungle. The two of them will have to overcome their differences to survive.

You could say my job as a librarian did affect how I came up with the book. The idea came to me while I was reading "The Day the World Exploded: The Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa" by Simon Winchester. While I was reading, I had this vague image of a girl pop into my head. She was exploring the jungle and was interested in science, and I thought she might have an intriguing story to tell.

Of course that meant I would have to develop an interest in science, and that would take a lot of research on my part.

What has your job as librarian you about marketing and publicity for children's books, or about the book world in general?  What kinds of books do you see being the most popular with children?

I've been a children's librarian for 15 years, and the last 13 years I've been involved in collection development -- which is what librarians call ordering new and replacement materials and weeding those materials that have lived their library life. What I've learned is that books with a bigger publicity budget from publishers generally have more copies on order from the book vendors we use. That's an indication that the publisher has high hopes for that particular book and is willing to spend the money to promote it. The types of books that get those kinds of heavy promotion change -- it used to be paranormal books, now it's dystopias.  There is still a discrepancy in promoting children's books versus young adult books versus adult books. That's understandable; marketing children's books is still primarily aimed at the adults who will be buying those books. There are still problems with marketing 'boy' books and 'girl' books and thinking one is more important than the other. That isn't simply a publishing problem, but the publishing industry could help address that issue.

The kinds of books that are popular with children where I work are fantasy and humor. Scary stories -- usually short story collections, in that case -- are also always popular. Teens are reading fantasy and/or science fiction and contemporary fiction.

There are a lot of dark moments in the story.  How did you deal with writing them and what lessons do you hope young readers take away from everything Katrien experiences and learns?

I actually skipped around writing this first draft. I started out writing chapters in order but I wanted to get to the volcano's eruption, so I jumped to that bit and wrote that scene through to the end of the book. Then I went back and filled in the beginning. That probably helped me in some ways because I didn't fully know the characters yet. It wasn't until later drafts that I think the real emotion arrived in the darker moments. So writing those dark moments was a bit easier because I already knew the outcome.

I hope that readers understand that we all go through dark times (maybe not as dark as Katrien's), but that we all arrive on the other side damaged but resilient. Even the most horrible events can have a positive effect on our lives and even others' lives. Hopefully readers will embrace that message as they go forward in life.

How hard was it to revise AFTER THE ASHES and how many times do you think that you revised it before it was in the form that we see now?  What kind of things did you end up changing, i.e. theme, structure, etc.?

AFTER THE ASHES was not the first novel I ever wrote. It was actually the sixth manuscript I completed. From the beginning, I thought this one was special. I thought this one was The One, so I made sure I used whatever revision skills I had and ones I could adapt from others.

I revised it at least three or four times before I took it to a novel revision workshop with Darcy Pattison. My critique partners there liked it and were immensely helpful in their criticism and supportive in their praise (Their work was great, too!).

I revised it again using some of the tips and tricks I learned from Darcy's workshop. Then I had some other critique partners read the whole thing one more time. I made a few final revisions and submitted it to about four or five agents.

You requested the full manuscript and suggested some changes. I made those changes, resubmitted to you and then you offered representation. Once I signed with you, we revised it about three or four more times. Then editors had suggestions, so we revised again. Then more editor suggestions and more revisions.

Finally, Holiday House offered to buy the manuscript, and I worked with Kelly -- who is amazing -- to get it in the shape it's in today. I think we had about two or three rounds of revisions.

What does that work out to? Ten or 15 revisions. Whew!

Initially, AFTER THE ASHES had a completely different title and was written as a young adult novel -- Katrien was 15 years old. The change in the character's age was the biggest change. From the beginning, my revisions always added words. I tend to write short and add detail during revisions. The most significant structural change was in Part One of the novel. There was a lot more detail about the relationship between Katrien and her aunt that got cut. The earliest drafts also had a different relationship between Katrien and Brigitta. They were always enemies, but it wasn't until later that it became a soured friendship. Earlier drafts just had Brigitta as a Mean Girl, but early readers wanted more depth to her. So I added characters and changed histories. It was tough to keep all that straight in my head.

What was the most fun aspect of writing an historical fiction like this?  The most difficult?

I love history, so anything that allows me to get inside the head of someone in the past is fun. I love the research and the interesting details and the challenges that arise. When writing historical fiction, you can't have it sound too modern. So you have to look at your writing in a detached way and double-check word usage to make sure what you've written could have been used during that time period by that person in that place, which is why Katrien never refers to the giant waves as tsunamis. How would she know that Japanese word?

The most difficult part, for me, is thinking of descriptions that are historically accurate. I couldn't have Katrien describing the wave hitting her with the speed of a jet plane when airplanes weren't around. I think of myself as pretty awful writing description anyway, so to force that added layer of historical accuracy onto it makes it that much more painful to create. But it's a battle I continue to fight, as I keep writing historical fiction.

Talk to us about your path to publication!  

As I said, AFTER THE ASHES was the sixth novel I completed, but it's the one that got me my fabulous agent and publication. I tried finding an agent for an earlier manuscript and got 100 rejections. When I hit about 85, I promised myself I would get an iPad if I hit 100, which I did.

So don't give up!

There isn't anything terribly unique about my path to publication. Write, revise, query. It's not an original story, but there's some gratification in that. The traditional path works as long as you stick to it and keep trying to improve. Develop a thick skin, and don't take any rejections personally. A lot of publishing has to do with luck and timing, but you can improve your luck by working hard and refusing to give up.

Any advice to new or aspiring MG historical fiction writers?

Read! I know it's something everyone says, but it really is the best advice. It doesn't matter if you read in your genre or out of it; you just have to read. Reading is the best way to absorb how to write (or how not to, in some cases). You're not reading to copy someone's style. You're reading to learn sentence structure, analogies, how to incorporate flashbacks, all those details you will need for your own writing. And, of course, you're reading for pleasure. Because if you don't like to read, why on earth do you want to be a writer?

There you have it!  Take advantage of Amazon's bumble and get the book instead of waiting until October...trust me, it's an amazing read :)  You can also order on Barnes & Noble and IndieBound
 
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