Monday, September 28, 2015

Query Critique Winner

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!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Silver Linings Playbook

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:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy (Sort Of) Pub Day!

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

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Query Critique (...Better Late Than Never?)

Ahhh!!!  It slowly dawned on me this weekend that I didn't do a query critique for the month of August--sorry for anyone who was waiting for it!  I'm posting the call to enter now since tomorrow is Labor Day.  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!