Monday, November 26, 2018

Query Critique Winner


Hi, all!  This month's lucky #8 is Teagan--congrats!  Here is her original query:


Dear Ms. Pestritto,

Thanks to her father’s last-ditch attempt, seventeen-year-old Raenalia has been cursed her whole life.

At first, Raen thought being cursed to stay in her own city was bad, but then her city was ambushed and occupied by a subterranean monster race, the Tauren, and now Raen knows that it could still get worse. The Tauren killed many of the inhabitants of her city and the rest have fled, including whatever was left of Raen’s family. Now Raen and the remaining humans are forced into labor. The Tauren are matriarchal, fierce, scaly, horned, and nothing to be trifled with, as they constantly remind Raen with slaps and scratches. After years of patient service, she hears of her father’s plan to retake the city, but simple confrontation won’t be enough; the Tauren are clearly stronger warriors. Raen must be subtle. She, along with her dog and throwing knives, starts working counter-operations. Soon she and a young Scout from her father’s army are running information, releasing prisoners, and sabotaging the Tauren. Because Raen is cursed to stay in her city (or rather, under it), the only way she can be free is if the Tauren are forced out, as impossible as that seems. Raenalia has no choice but to try. 

Bindings, my YA fantasy novel, is a fast-paced adventure, complete at around 100,000 words. It was a finalist in Simon451’s “Student Writing Contest” in 2014. I was born and raised in Minnesota and I am a M.F.A. recipient from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I very much look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,


Teagan

And here is my critique:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,

Thanks to her father’s last-ditch attempt ill-thought-out protection spell, seventeen-year-old Raenalia has been cursed to stay within the boundaries of NAME City her whole life. [This is a confusing start for this query, since the phrase "latch-ditch attempt" is never explained further or referenced again in the pitch.  I edited to make more sense, but feel free to change if I got some of the details incorrect!]

At first, Raen thought being cursed to stay in her own city unable to leave the city was bad, but then her city was ambushed and occupied by when a subterranean monster race, the Tauren, razes NAME, and now Raen knows realizes that it could still get muchworse. The Tauren killed many of the inhabitants of her city and the rest have fled untold numbers of the city's inhabitants, except the rare few who are able to flee, including whatever was left of Raen’s family. Without her parents and a way to fight back, Now Raen and the remaining humans are forced into labor. The Tauren are matriarchal, fierce, scaly, horned, and nothing to be trifled with, as they constantly remind Raen with slaps and scratches. [This detail doesn't add anything to the story, so we can cut it.] After years of patient service, she hears of her father’s a whispered rumor that her father is still alive and has a [I edited this, because doesn't she think all her family is dead??] plan to retake the city, but simple confrontation won’t be enough; the Tauren are clearly stronger warriors. Raen must be subtle. She, along with her dog and throwing knives, starts working counter-operations. Soon .  Filled with hope for the first time in ages, she and a young Sscout from her father’s army are begin running information, releasing prisoners, and sabotaging the Tauren in any way they can. Because Raen is cursed to stay in her city (or rather, under it), the only way she can be free is if the Tauren are forced out, as impossible as that seems. Raenalia has no choice but to try.  But Raen's activities are confined to the city's limits and if she ever wants to make a real impact in the uprising and find her way back to her family, she will have to figure out how to break her father's protection spell and escape from under the Tauren's noses before war breaks out in NAME yet again. [I worked to incorporate a sense of tension here, as well as a bit of a cliffhanger that you might see on back cover copy to encourage reader's to pick up the book and start turning the page.  It's important to have this in a query so that it feels compelling instead of like a mini synopsis!]

Bindings, my YA fantasy novel, is a fast-paced adventure, complete at around 100,000 words. It was a finalist in Simon451’s “Student Writing Contest” in 2014I was born and raised in Minnesota and [Unless the story takes place in Minnesota, we don't need this info here.]  I am a M.F.A. recipient from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I very much look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,  

Teagan

As you can see, the bones of a good query are here, but a lot of rambling, unclear sentences need to be trimmed back to let it shine.  I've said this a million times: writing fantasy is HARD WORK.  Even when it comes to queries, there is the challenge of imparting all the necessary world-building information so the reader feels grounded in the story without micromanaging or causing more confusion than clarity.  I worked on creating some of that clarity with my revisions and ironing out patches in the plot.  I hope my comments are helpful as you revise, Teagan, and wish you luck with this!

If anyone else has any comment to share, post them below!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Tip Time

When an agent you’ve sent your manuscript to asks to jump on the phone, does it fill your stomach with butterflies? Well, fear not, because this month’s tip is about talking to agents on the phone!



I thought of this tip after having a few of my own writer phone calls recently and realizing from some of their questions that they Googled “important things to ask a literary agent” and then printed out what they found.  There are some good articles out there about certain boxes you should make sure to tick when having a conversation with an agent, but in general, those Googled questions drive me nuts! 

A prime example of this is asking how many deals an agent as done in your genre. Definitely something worth knowing, but you can easily find out the answer yourself by looking on Publishers Marketplace or Publishers Lunch!  Other questions that fall into this category are, “Who handles your foreign rights?”, “How long have you been an agent?”, and “Are you a member of the AAR?”.

My advice is instead to do that kind of easy research beforehand and spend your one-on-one time getting a sense of the agent’s personality and work style and how well they gel with your own.  It’s more important to know how an agent communicates and what kind of editorial feedback they will offer!

Another question that I don’t love getting is, “What editors do you have in mind to submit my project to? Do you have connections at all the Big Five?”  I NEVER reveal my thoughts on submission lists to writers who aren’t clients (if you haven’t signed with me, I’m not handing out my thoughts willy-nilly!). Also, barring schmagents, we all know editors at all the major publishing houses, and if we haven’t communicated with a particular editor directly, that doesn’t mean we can’t pitch your project to them!

Instead of asking about submissions lists, I suggest asking an agent about the submission process and also what happens if your manuscript doesn’t sell in the first few rounds. It is helpful to know how long an agent will focus on a given project and if they prefer to work with you on revisions based on editor feedback or move onto something new if there are no bites.

Some other good questions to ask:

  1. What is your editorial style?
  2. How often do you communicate with authors at various stages of the publishing process?
  3. What did you like about my book (although be prepared for incoherent love babble if you ask me that)? What do you think needs work?
  4. How do you approach rejections from publishers?
  5. These are some of my other broad book ideas. What are your thoughts/do they fit into what you were thinking of for my career?
  6. What’s one of your favorite deal stories?
  7. Who is your oldest client? Your newest?
  8. Tell me about yourself!

I usually view these phone calls as windows into authors’ personalities and from that glimpse, try to judge if we will work well together and our visions for the book are the same.  Mostly, these calls are time for me to have a pleasant chat and get to know the person at the other end of the phone! 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lying Down

Do you know that bit in Ali Wong's stand up where she says, "I don't want to lean in!  I want to lay down!"  Girl, I feel you.  



The past month has been an insane blur of work things and life things, many great and a few that I could have lived without.  So instead of using the time I normally devote to writing this post every week to, you know, writing this post, I'm going to go eat a sandwich in the tub.  

Which, yes, I know, sounds super weird and gross, but the next time you're exhausted at the end of the day, I strongly encourage you to try it.  It's the best!  Also, I'm not as bad as this guy... 


Monday, November 5, 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!