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!  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Happy New Year, everyone!  I'm start the year off right with an awesome series being published!  Tomorrow is the pub day for the first two books of the Major Eights series, written by Rie Neal as Melody Reed.  Yayyy, Rie!  Everyone, check out her interview below and be sure to pick up copies to ring in 2018!



First off, tell us about the books! 
Ok! The Major Eights are a band made up of four 8-year-old girls, and are an early chapter book series perfect for ages 6-8. Jasmine, Scarlet, Maggie, and Becca have been jamming together in each other's basements for a while, but decide now that they're ready for the big time! 

In the first book of the series, Battle of the Bands, Jasmine (the keyboardist) talks them into entering their town's Battle of the Bands, but when the band wants to do a silly song they made up themselves, she has second thoughts, worrying they won't be taken seriously. In Book 2, Scarlet's Big Break, Scarlet (the singer) wants to try being a soloist, like her aunt, at the school's talent show. But the band doesn't know this, and Scarlet can't work up the courage to tell them. When they find out about the show, they're eager to enter. Scarlet is tasked with signing them up, but when she gets there, only one spot is left. Scarlet needs to decide whether she's going to do what her friends are hoping for or strike out on her own and risk losing their friendship. 

The books are all about girl power and working together through differences. Each book follows a different girl's perspective. And there are four more books releasing in the series throughout 2018!

For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
Sure. I'm a kidlit author in general, but especially love writing middle grade and young adult sci-fi. I've always loved to write, but only started writing in any kind of serious way about two years ago. My grandpa, a lifelong NASA employee/fan, had just passed away. Inspired by his devotion to all things skyward bound, I started to research what it would be like to live on Mars, what challenges would have to be overcome, how scientists were already thinking of addressing them, etc. Characters and a plot grew out of that, and then an outline and a rough draft. I joined Twitter and found the writing community there. I entered contests, and I revised and revised and revised. I reconnected with my childhood best friend, too, who had just become a published author, and she helped guide me through the process. We both signed with agents within a month of each other!

How did you come to write the Major Eights series?
A couple months after I signed with Carrie, she sent an email to her kidlit authors with notice of the opportunity. Little Bee Books was looking for someone to write an early chapter book series about a girl band. I have a background in music--I was a band rat all through middle and high school, and I've done choirs and worship teams and musical theater, too. I also have two kids, and my daughter was the age of the Major Eights (um... eight) at the time, so I felt like I could get a bead on the target age range. I sent in a sample (through Carrie) to be considered for the project, and they chose me to write the series! 

After working on this series, tell us what you have learned about IP projects and what you think of them.  How is it different from working from books whose plot, topic, etc. you think of yourself?
Hmm... good question. (IP = 'intellectual property,' for anyone who doesn't know. It means that the publisher chooses the concept, and sometimes more (characters, plot, etc.), and then looks for an author to write it. They then retain ownership of the whole thing.) On one hand, IP projects move quickly, because there are some things already decided for you. Little Bee already had the concept, basic ideas for the characters, and plot ideas for the first book. So I didn't waste any time second-guessing these details and was able to move on to character and plot development rather quickly. In some ways, that's kind of freeing. But on the other hand, you have to stick to what the publisher wants in terms of ideas, edits, etc., so you may not get to write the book you want to write. In truth, though, good writing is such a collaborative business anyway--even when writing your own concept, where you theoretically have control of everything, you still have to listen to your beta readers, the market in general, your agent, your editor, your readers... and you have to be willing to take feedback from all those sources. So it hasn't really been a problem for me. I've gotten along well with the editors at Little Bee that I've worked with, Jenna Pocius and Kristin Zelazko. They've both had great ideas and have guided the books in smart ways. I'd say in general that if you find an IP concept you're excited about and if you're willing to collaborate on it, an IP project can be a good thing. 

Did you feel like you were involved in the various stages your book went through?  What kind of input did you have and do you think that if might have been different if you were working on a non-IP series?
I don't have much else to compare it to yet, but I actually had a fair amount of creative input with the series. They had already developed a basic idea for the plot for the first book, but after that, I've worked with my editors on the plot for each book, and they've encouraged my ideas every time. Typically, Jenna (now Kristin) will shoot me an idea or I'll shoot her one. We'll discuss it briefly over email, and then I'll work up an outline. They send me back notes on the outline with suggestions for changes, most of which I say yes to, because ... they own the series, after all. (But ownership aside, they have great suggestions!) And then I work up a draft, edit it like crazy (including simplifying language for young readers!), and send it. They send back edits, and I either make or okay the edits, and send it back. I don't usually see it again after that point. They handle the copyedit phases without me. I imagine I'd be more involved in those latter parts of the process if it were a non-IP series. I also don't usually get to see the illustrations until the public does. I know authors often have little to no say in that department anyway, but I think we got lucky here; I absolutely LOVE Emilie Pepin's illustrations!

What else are you working on?
Oh, so many things!! Books 3 and 4 are due to release later in 2018. And last summer, Little Bee also extended another contract, for Books 5 & 6, which amazed me, because the first two books weren't even out yet! I'm now finishing up Book 6. I've also rewritten that first middle-grade novel of my own (the one set on Mars) extensively, and it's back out on submission. I'm working on getting my website up and running, too, and my current project is a young adult sci-fi that has to do with cochlear implants and string theory.

What's a fun fact about yourself?
I play all of the Major Eights' instruments EXCEPT THE DRUMS. I had to connect with a drummer friend for some expert help on that one.