Monday, August 13, 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, August 6, 2018

Tip Time

This month's tip is how about showing vs. telling, specifically how to eliminate all those flat, telling moments in your manuscript!




I think that "SHOW THIS" is the most common feedback I give my authors.  It's one of those things that worms its way into your manuscript, usually at the start or in any world-building situation where you get tempted to info dump on your readers in order to bring them up to speed.

However, telling moments mean you end up with writing that feels flat and boring--there is no action or immediacy to draw your readers in, and you keep them at an arm's length instead of letting them sink into an immersive experience with your story.

Fixing this can be overwhelming, so what I advise is this: go through the first three chapters of your story with a highlighter and mark each moment where you tell the reader something instead of show them, e.g. "I hated the way Brandon wrinkled his nose when he smiled" or "Kate felt elated as she walked through the park."  

Once you do that, then go back and change 80% of those highlighted areas to showing description that evokes or gives hints that let the reader infer this information, e.g. "I gritted my teeth as another ridiculous grin spread across Brandon's face" or "Kate turned up the music on her headphones and she danced through the park, her mouth fixed with a wide smile."

After awhile, spotting those telling moments will be a lot easier and you'll slowly ramp up your speed as you edit your manuscript.  It's not the most fun part of writing, but it's one of the more important ones and will help bring your story to the next level!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Query Critique Winner

Hi, all!  This month's lucky number 8 was Mandy--congrats!!  Here is her original query:

Dear Carrie,

Aviana Greenwood’s secret ingredient is magic. She uses it to freshen old berries and bake bread to perfection while working in her family’s bakery. It’s kept secret to protect her. In the Kingdom of Falder, any woman with magic is a witch. And witches have no place in society. 
Aviana hates hiding her magic. So when she turns sixteen, she shortens her name to Avi, disguises as a boy, and enrolls at the University. If she gets caught, she’ll become an outcast. If she doesn’t, she’ll study under the best professors in the realm, fulfilling her dream of learning to use magic for more than just baking. 
As the term progresses, Avi stops worrying about getting caught and starts wondering if she should reveal her secret. Women are given a second–class status because it’s believed they can’t properly wield magic. Her friend’s sister is locked up because people think her powers are dangerous. And Avi doesn’t want to live as a man forever. 
If she reveals the truth, she risks her place at school and her place in society. But if she doesn’t, the people of Falder won’t understand that women can use magic as men do, witches will be forced to use their powers in secret, and Avi will always have to hide some part of herself.            
A WITCH AWAKENING is a 94,000 word YA fantasy for fans of the feminist themes in Tamora Pierce’s books and the leading women of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and Jessica Cluess’ A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING. It is my first book. Thank you for your time and consideration.

And here is my critique:

Dear Carrie,

Aviana Greenwood’s secret ingredient is magic. She uses it to freshen old berries and bake bread to perfection while working in her family’s bakery. It’s kept secret to protect her. In the Kingdom of Falder, any woman with magic is a witch. And witches have no place in society. [These sentences are confusing and don't really add anything essential to the query--I changed to the following, but feel free to edit as makes sense.] She practices her craft early in the morning, when no one is around, for fear of being caught and branded as a witch. 
Aviana hates hiding her magic. But even though she knows being discreet is essential to her survival, hiding who she is chafes at her, especially since males with magical abilities aren't punished like girls are who are discovered.  So when she turns sixteen, she shortens her name to Avi, disguises herself as a boy, and enrolls at the Uuniversity. If she gets caught, she’ll become an outcast. If she doesn’t, she’ll study under the best professors in the realm, fulfilling her dream of learning to use magic for more than just baking. 
As the term progresses, Avi stops worrying about getting caught and starts wondering if she should reveal her secret. Women are given a second–class status because it’s believed everyone believes they can’t are incapable of properly wielding magic. Her friend’s sister is locked up because people think her powers are dangerous. [This sentence is too abrupt.  Let is breathe a little bit and expand on what is going on here.] And Avi doesn’t want to live as a man forever. 
However Iif she reveals the truth, she risks her place at school and her place in society. But if she doesn’t, the people of Falder won’t understand that women can use magic as men do, witches will be forced to use their powers in secret, and Avi will always have to hide some part of herself.            
A WITCH AWAKENING is a 94,000 word YA fantasy for fans of the feminist themes in Tamora Pierce’s books and the leading women of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and Jessica Cluess’ A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING. It is my first book. Thank you for your time and consideration.

This query is in really great shape!  Mandy has a really intriguing, original premise and does a good job laying out the story for the reader--there were just a few areas where I wanted to fine-tune the wording and leave room for a bit more explanations here and there.

Mandy, I hope my edits are helpful to you and wish you the best of luck with this!  Everyone, if you have thoughts on my notes or her query you want to share, comment away!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Christina Matula's adorable picture book, THE SHADOW IN THE MOON, which shares a contemporary retelling of the Chinese​ folktale about the Mid-Autumn Festival!  Booklist particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which they called, "[R]eminiscent of Tomie dePaola, with warm reds and yellows effectively used to depict the heat of the 10 suns, while cool greens and blues show the earth’s relief under only one sun. Useful for introducing a significant festival celebrated in Chinese and other East Asian cultures.



I've always been a sucker for anything folktale- or fairytale-related and loved the chance to learn about a story I never knew about before!  I recommend you all go pick up a copy :)



First off tell us about the book and what your inspiration was to write it!


The Shadow in the Moon is about a modern-day family coming together to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a major holiday in the lunar calendar celebrated in many places in Asia, and indeed in many communities in North America with large Chinese populations.

The story begins as the grandparents arrive to celebrate the festival at their daughter’s home, which has been beautifully decorated with lanterns throughout and they bring the traditional gift of mooncakes for the whole family to share.  After dinner, the grandmother (Ah-Ma) tells the story of the ancient legend behind the Mid-Autumn Festival to her two young granddaughters.  She introduces the heroes of the tale - Hou Yi, the young archer, and Chang’e, the Lady in the Moon.
The recounting of the legend by Ah-ma brings the festival to life for the next generation and helps the two girls to have a greater understanding of their own heritage.  

My inspiration to write it was to pass on a bit of my own heritage to my children.  My mother is from Taiwan but I was born and raised in Canada, so didn’t have very strong ties to my Chinese cultural roots.  Now that I live in Hong Kong, it’s been amazing to learn about the different festivals, their origins, and most importantly the associated foods.  When my daughter was in kindergarten, the Chinese teacher told them the legend of Chang’e and Hou Yi.  I was fascinated by this legend, which I knew nothing about.  I ran out to find a picture book about it to read to her, but couldn’t find anything.   So, on a whim, I decided to write one myself.  Initially, the idea was to write a picture book just for my own family, but as it developed, I thought it was something that I would like to share, that would perhaps spark an interest in Chinese culture in young children.

So your path to publication (not to mention finding an agent) was an atypical one, because you previously self published THE SHADOW IN THE MOON in Hong Kong!  Can you share what your journey to being agented and being published was like as a self-pubbed author?

My experience of writing this book has certainly taken me down some unexpected paths.

I shared my original story of the legend of The Shadow in the Moon with family and friends.  One of these friends was Andrea Fessler, who is the founder of Premiere Performances, a classical music outreach charity in Hong Kong.  I showed her a draft of The Shadow in the Moon and she asked if she could set it to music and present it in her family concert series.  She commissioned a Hong Kong based composer, Alexis Alrich, to write the music, which was a beautiful combination of Chinese and Western classical instruments. A few months before the concert, Andrea told me that she’d like the book available for sale at the concert.  So this was the push I needed to retrieve it from the slushpile and just go with it.  I found a local illustrator, Pearl Law, whose edgy and bright illustrations I loved, and less than 6 months later, I self-published the book in Hong Kong!

About a month afterwards, I met with author Susan Blumburg-Kason, who was giving a writing workshop in Hong Kong as part of her book tour for Good Chinese Wife.  One of the tips Susan gave was to make friends with other authors.  So, after her talk, I got up the courage to go speak with her and tell her about my self-published book.   She was so kind with her encouragement and generously introduced me to her agent, which was you!  From my first chance meeting with Susan, she’s become a good friend and mentor.

Thanks to your support, we were delighted to find the perfect partner in Charlesbridge Publishing.  Writing this book has been such an exciting journey - from the original idea of capturing the story for my children, through to today when you can buy a copy all over the world.


This book was doubly unusual, because there was also a long lead time between when you signed the contract and when the book was published.  What was that like?

The original plan was to have the book published in summer 2017, which was two years from when we signed the contract.  However, the publisher had to move some of their launch dates, meaning my book was pushed to a winter launch date.  As Mid-Autumn Festival happens around September/October time, the book needed to be published close to these months, so it was moved so it would come out at a more relevant time.  The news was disappointing at first, but the extra year has flown by and has given me more time to work on marketing for the launch.

Is the Charlesbridge version of the picture book different from the self-pubbed version in any particular ways?

I really enjoyed working with my editor, Julie Bliven.  She kept my original story and the illustrations as they were, but helped me enhance my writing.  She also encouraged me to add more of a character arc for the main character and a bit more context to the festival.  So now there is a richer story around the young sisters in the story and additional beautiful illustrations to go along with it.


What is your favorite part of the Mid-Autumn Festival?

In many ways, Mid-Autumn Festival is a bit like Chinese Thanksgiving, bringing together friends and family in celebration.  My favourite part of the evening is having a picnic in the park or at the beach with friends and family, lighting our lanterns, and most importantly eating mooncakes!  My favourite ones are the red bean ones.  My kids love the snow-skin mooncakes, which are like mooncake-shaped mochi.

What is the most exciting/fun things you've done to promote the book so far?

I love going into schools and reading the book to students and having them share their own connections to the Mid-Autumn Festival or similar cultural festivals with me.  It’s a really satisfying feeling having a couple of hundred students waiting for you to turn the page and find out what happens next.  I’m planning to visit several schools as well as public libraries in September in the US and Canada and cannnot wait to share my story with the children there.

What do you hope readers enjoy most about the book?

The story takes place in an urban setting, but it could be the tale of any family in any city in any country.  For those readers with Chinese heritage, I want to share that fascinating legend that makes the Mid-Autumn Festival so special.  But for any reader, I hope they will not only be drawn into the charming tale, but also in observing their own parallels with the religious and cultural festivals that their own families celebrate.


Anything new authors can learn from your experiences?

Go out and get involved in local writing groups and attend workshops, such as via SCBWI.  This gives you a chance to meet people trying to get published, so you can share your experiences and give each other support, or meet established authors, who can be very generous with their words of advice and encouragement.  I’ve had the chance to sit down and chat with exceptional writers this year with my SCBWI group, most notably Grace Lin and Jason Reynolds.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tip Time

This month's tip is about how to choose an agent, whether after an offer or querying!  I feel like it would be better to figure this out during the querying stage (always better to be ahead of the curve!), but this tip is also helpful if you've also just received an offer of rep.



When I was in college, my career center advisor gave me a really great tip for how to determine what kind of job I wanted.  She told me to write a list of all the things I wanted and all the things I didn't want in a career...basically a pros and cons list.  What I ended up with was something like this:

I Want…
I Don’t Want…
To work with authors
To do the same thing every day
Something that utilizes analytical and creative skills
To work in a super corporate environment
Flexibility with work hours
To travel regularly
Something that can feel moderately competitive
Something that requires me to hit a certain goal (e.g. with sales, etc.)
Something fairly autonomous when it comes to day-to-day work
Something phone-heavy

In a similar vein, I think it is essential to work out the things you do and don't want from an agent.  For example:

I Want…
I Don’t Want…
Someone who shares my vision for my books/career
A project-by-project agent
Someone moderately editorial
Someone who shelves a project after one round
Someone who communicates mostly over email
Someone who isn’t open to me writing in other genres
Someone with an open communication-style
An agent who isn’t open to occasional brainstorm conversations on the phone
An agent with a strong record of sales in my genre
An agent at a small agency
Willing to try different things, e.g. Radish

A POC agent


Organizing your thoughts and gleaning what you want from interacting with agents can help you realize what kind of person you want to team up with.  It's always best when an agent and an author have a similar working style and aligning goals, and sorting out what those are up-front can save you a lot of heartache or wasted time down the road.  I hope this tip was helpful--happy list-making!

Monday, July 2, 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!