Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Query Tips

I'm slowly working my way through the query onslaught after last week's post. The creativity and dedication of writers never ceases to amaze me, so thank you to everyone who submitted their query for critique. Since I tend to be direct and have been giving a lot o' feedback on the queries so far, I was a little worried about upsetting people. Instead, I've been inundated with amazing emails of gratitude and kindness. You all blow me away. I need to give a special shout-out to the awesome TIANA SMITH, who put the tabs and follow buttons on my blog for me...even before I sent her the critique! NOTE: I haven't actually added content to the tabs yet, which is next on my list, but they are THERE and they are PRETTY!

Okay, after reading a bunch of queries, a few common things stood out so I thought I'd give some general query tips. NOTE: None of these examples are from actual queries sent to me--they are my own creations, but you get idea.

1) Avoid cliche terms. e.g. "When 'x' happens, his world turns upside down."  Anyone's world 'crumbling,' 'falling to pieces,' etc. is cliche. Be specific as to what happens.
Better: "When the space monkey lands in Evan's bedroom and injects him with a strange substance, Evan must find a cure within twenty-four hours or he will become a monkey himself." 

(Does Evan's world "turn upside down?" Hell, yes, but an agent is going to be way more interested in something specific like this--unless they hate space monkeys, in which case you don't want them as an agent anyway.)

2) Start with the hook. DON'T START with something like, "This book is about love and loss, family and betrayal, beginnings and endings." You've just described approximately 50 bazillion books, and the agent will already be moving on. Start with a one-sentence killer hook about what your book is about. See space monkey example above.

3) Avoid questions when possible. You don't want the agent to answer your questions in a way that doesn't benefit you. e.g. Will the heroine save the world in time from the onslaught of possessed elves? Potential agent response: I'm guessing so or you wouldn't have written the book. Granted, that might just be my response because I'm sarcastic by nature, but still. You want the agent to read the last line of the query and think, "Holy hell. I must get my hands on this book NOW!" The best way to end the query IMHO, is to finish with the highest stakes possible. What is the worst thing that will happen to the MC or to their world, if they do not overcome their obstacle?
Better: "Sakahara must defeat the army of possessed elves before they enslave all humanity and harvest their pets for food." 

4) Follow the agent's submission guidelines. I figured that people wouldn't be as formal sending their query to me as they would to an agent, but I was a little surprised by the number of people who didn't follow the guidelines (not attaching the query as requested, using a different format than requested, etc.) For me, it doesn't matter. I'm critiquing all of them because I'm nice like that, but if you're submitting queries to agents--FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES! It's not that agents aren't nice (in fact, most of them are quite lovely), it's that they're incredibly busy. Also, you don't want them to think that you can't (or won't) follow directions, because they are considering you for a long-term business relationship. Yes, many of them have different guidelines, so you will have to do your research, but it's worth it in the end.

So, those are my query tips thus far.Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below. I hope to finish up all critiques within the next week. Also, this query critique thing got such an amazing response that I will make it a regular thing on the blog in some fashion. Thanks again for participating!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Query Critiques for All

Week #3 Celebration: Let the festivities continue! To celebrate signing with my awesome agent, I've held a YA book giveaway and hosted a Q & A with Jessica (aka 'my awesome agent'). This week, I would like to pay it forward and help aspiring writers out there. I'm a query letter nerd--I used to love writing them and still love reading them (I know I'm weird), so I'm going to give a query critique to any and all who want one. Spread the word because I will only take queries through midnight tonight (12am ET). The turnaround time will depend on how many queries I receive, but I'm hoping to get back to everyone within a week.

Details for submitting the queries are on my brand new author blog here. I'll still be here at SIS, but will post writerly type stuff there as well. Thanks, and I can't wait to read your queries!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Contest Monday

Happy Monday! Here are a few contests I've found around the blogosphere--feel free to add any I missed in the comments.

Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations is giving away copies of Love? Maybe. and The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler. Included in the prize are those awesomely yummy conversation hearts (seriously, the pink and white ones rock). Enter by Jan. 31st.

Kai and Tin over at Amaterasu Reads are giving away an ARC of the YA dystopian The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda. Contest ends in 6 days.

Also, don't forget to check back here tomorrow for details on how to get your free query critique!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

ENTHRALLED Giveaway Winner

The Research Randomizer has spoken! The winner of the signed copy of ENTHRALLED is:


Congrats! Be on the lookout for an email from me soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Q & A with agent Jessica Regel

Week #2 Celebration: yeah, I'm still celebrating the fact that I signed with my awesome agent. To help me celebrate, my lovely agent, Jessica Regel with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency has agreed to do a Q & A for our readers here at Sisters in Scribe. She will also answer any questions you have in the comments section until 3pm ET today. 

Q & A with Jessica Regel:

1)     Hi Jessica--thanks so much for visiting our blog today! Let's jump right into the questions. How did you first get into agenting?

      I always knew that I wanted to work with books, but I didn’t want to be a writer or an English teacher. In the back of my mind I saw myself opening up my own bookstore someday, but, in the meantime I was getting my undergrad in English Lit and working at my local library. One day, I shelved “The Guide to Literary Agents”. I had no idea what a literary agent was. After doing some research, it sounded like a dream job to me. I sent my resume out to a number of New York agencies and was offered a summer internship at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, which later turned into a full time job. I’ve been at JVNLA ever since and it really is my dream job!

2)      I think many writers believe it helps to have a connection in the industry. As someone who was picked from your slush pile, can you share what catches your eye in a query and makes you request pages?

      Connections don’t hurt—I always love getting referrals from friends, family, colleagues, because you never know where you’re going to find talented writers. However, that said, about 90% of my authors I found through the slush pile. Authors can go to our website at www.jvnla.com to find out how to submit a query to me. I do personally read all queries emailed to me.

      There are three things I ask myself when I read a query:
1) Is it a genre that I represent? At the moment, I’m actively looking for more young adult and middle grade books, so anything that is pitched to me in those genres I’ll pay special attention too. However, I also represent women’s fiction and a select list of non-fiction. You can go to www.jvnla.com to read more about the genres I represent.

      2) Is this story/concept/character unique?

      3) Do I like the writing style?

If the answer is yes to all those questions I will request materials. The final thing that can garb my attention, but isn’t necessary if I answered yes to all of the above, is the author’s bio. If the author has a really fantastic bio (MFA, awards, publishing history, etc.) then I’ll generally request more materials.  

3)      What are you seeing too much of right now? Is there anything on your wish list that you’d like to come across?

I still see a lot of stories about vampires, zombies, demons and angels… a lot of general paranormal that sounds too similar to books that have already been published.

I’d love to see more magical realism, more gothic, more creepiness, more suspense. For example, I loved Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I’d love to find the YA Sarah Waters. I’m also interested in taking on more contemporary stories with unique takes, such as something like 13 Reasons Why or The Hate List.  Finally, I’m also on the hunt for good tear-jerkers and modern love stories.  
 4)   Can you tell us about something coming out from one of your clients that you’re really excited about?
      These are my babies, so I can never chose just one!

      One book that comes out this February that I’m really excited about is Kate Kae Myers’ Vanishing Games. When I mentioned about, that I’d love to see more “Creepiness”, Kate hits this on the money. The Vanishing Games is a suspense that reminds me a lot of Lois Duncan.

      Another book which comes out in February is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, which is a beautifully written coming-of-age. This book has already gotten some great blurbs from Curtis Sittenfeld and Sarah Waters—and three starred reviews so far!

Finally, two books that came out just recently is an early chapter book series by Cecilia Galante called Little Wings: Willa Bean’s Cloud Dreams and Be Brave, Willa Bean. I don’t typically represent this young of an age group (my middle grade list is generally grades 4-6), but Cecilia’s series was too sweet to pass up. It’s about a little cupid angel with a ton of freckles, big curly hair, and an adorable personality.

5)      What is your personal agenting style?

I would say that my personal style is hands on. I don’t like drama, so I always try to make things go as smoothly as possible from day one. That said, I like my authors (and the editors that I work with) to feel really comfortable with me, so that when problems arise (as they tend to do), they can come to me and we can figure out the best approach to fix the problem. I’m an optimist.  I also like to keep things moving—there’s no time to waste!—so I work hard to get things done as quickly as possible. I’m not a big phone-chatter (though my authors are always welcome to call me). I’m a workaholic, so I’m constantly online and my smart phone is always with me. A lot of my authors text me throughout the day, which I’m absolutely fine with. Typically I like to do a round of edits a on manuscript before submitting out to editors, just to make sure that the manuscript is in tip-top shape. And then, I keep my author’s in the loop as things progress. 

At JVNLA we really consider our authors part of our “team.” It’s a partnership and every agent at JVNLA is collaborative, meaning that we all work together to promote our authors in every way that we possibly can.

 6)   And finally, tell us something random about you.

I have three sisters that I am really close to, so I’m always interested in books that deal with the relationship between sisters. If you also like sister stories you should check out my author Jillian Cantor’s book, The September Sisters. It’s a real tear-jerker! 

Thanks, Jessica!

Have a question for Jessica? Leave it in the comments before 3pm ET today. See you next week for the Week #3 celebration! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

YA Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered the Week #1 Celebration YA giveaway! The Research Randomizer selected the lucky winning comment, and the winner is....EMMA CORMACK. Congratulations, Emma! I'll email you today so think about which YA book you'd like to read next.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when my amazing agent, Jessica Regel, will do a Q & A on the blog and will answer questions LIVE in the comments!

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Book Recommendation: BEAUTIFUL by Amy Reed

Before I get to the weekly book recommendation, just a reminder that this is the last day to enter for your chance to win the YA book of your choice. Just leave a comment here if you want to be included in the contest. My blog Sister, Valerie, is also doing an awesome giveaway and you have until the 17th for that one.

My book pick for this week is BEAUTIFUL by Amy Reed:

Summary from Goodreads:

When Cassie moves from the tiny town where she has always lived to a suburb of Seattle, she is determined to leave her boring, good-girl existence behind. This is Cassie’s chance to stop being invisible and become the kind of girl who’s worth noticing.

Stepping into her new identity turns out to be easier than Cassie could have ever imagined…one moment, one choice, changes everything.

Cassie’s new existence both thrills and terrifies her. Swept into a world of illicit parties and social landmines, she sheds her virginity, embraces the numbness she feels from the drugs, and floats through it all, knowing that she is now called beautiful. She ignores the dangers of her fast-paced life…but she can’t sidestep the secrets and the cruelty.

Cassie is trapped in a swift downward spiral tinged with violence and abuse, and no one—not even the one person she thought she could trust—can help her now.

Kristi's take: I usually go for the books involving strange worlds and sparkly space monkeys, so I was a little hesitant to pick this one up. Once I did, this book did not let me go until I finished. It's gritty, real, disturbing and not an easy read due to the subject matter, but I loved every sentence. Cassie reminded me of many of the girls I worked with in juvenile detention who were smart, strong, and broken all at once. This book won't be for everyone because the issues are not glossed over or sugarcoated in any way--meaning some will find it offensive. However, I found this book to be incredibly powerful and wish I could go back and give a copy of it to all the "delinquent" girls I worked with in the past. If you love contemporary YA, or just want a break from space monkeys, definitely check this one out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

ENTHRALLED - signed YA Anthology International Giveaway!

Kristi and I are on the same wavelength this week! As you know, last week I announced that I will have a short story in the HarperTeen anthology DEFY THE DARK edited by Saundra Mitchell coming out in summer 2013. (squee!) And so, I thought, what better way to celebrate than to give away a signed copy of THIS year's HarperTeen anthology, ENTHRALLED edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong?

If you remember this post, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour this past October and get a paperback copy of ENTHRALLED signed by all the participating authors! Like Carrie Ryan, and Melissa Marr!

And here's the best part, I will send this book anywhere in the world! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below with your email address (spelled out like this: yourname(at)gmail(dot)com to avoid spam.) and tell me which book you're most looking forward to in 2012!

Contest ends 1/17 at 11:59pm ET. I will announce the winner in my post next week on the 18th. For another chance to win, check out my blog, where I'm giving away a second signed copy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Celebration Week #1 with YA Book Giveaway

In my post last week--you know the one where I shouted from the rooftops about my amazing agent--I said I wanted to pay it forward. There are so many amazing and supportive people in the book community, and I'd like to give back. To kick off the festivities, I'm doing a YA Book Giveaway...and you get to pick the book! If you live anywhere the Book Depository ships, you're eligible to enter. You can pick any YA book of your choice and I'll have it sent to you. A few suggestions:
ONCE EVERY NEVER by my agency sister, Lesley Livingston (yes, it's a shameless plug but Lesley is awesome!)

 BLOODROSE by Andrea Cremer (Nightshade #3). I haven't read this one yet, but LOVED the first book.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs. I had to throw in a scary one, plus I plain loved this book.

The rules are simple. Just leave a comment below and tell everyone about a YA book you've read recently that you would recommend. That's it. A random number generator will pick the winning comment. Leave your comment by this Friday, Jan. 13. Also, make sure to include your email, but use (at) and (com), so the spam bots don't hunt you down and start offering you performance enhancing drugs (don't ask.)

For those writers out there, get those queries polished, because a free query critique day is coming soon! :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Contest Monday featuring: editor pitch contest

If you are participating in the 2012 debut author challenge (DAC), then you are eligible to participate in a contest over at The Story Siren. Kristi is giving away a signed copy of CRACKED by K.M. Walton to one lucky winner.

YAUtopia is hosting an awesome pitch contest, featuring SIX editors (they added two more) from Entangled Publishing. Check out the post for details on what each editor is looking for. For tips on creating a great pitch, see our post here. The pitches will occur in the comments on Jan. 25th, so get ready.

If you have a contest that you'd like to promote, feel free to enter it in the comments below.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Exciting News!


In an effort to avoid double posting, today I'm sharing my exciting news, (think HarperTeen!) on my blog.

Please check it out here:
New Year, New News!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How I Got My Agent

Happy 2012!! I hope everyone had a wonderful, fun and relaxing holiday. We were fortunate enough to have a white Christmas here near Denver, complete with ice-skating, sledding, and snowman building. The only downside to the last two weeks was eating my weight in cookies and chocolate fudge, but I've got a whole year to lose the weight before the holidays return!

While I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, I do love setting new goals for the year. In reviewing my writing goals for 2011 (see last year's post), I had a variety of objectives I wanted to achieve. One of those goals was written exactly like this: SIGN WITH THE PERFECT AGENT FOR ME. (Apparently, the key to goal attainment is stating them in bold, all-cap lettering.) I'm going to try that with my 2012 goal of: HAVING THE PERFECT PUBLISHER BUY MY BOOK.

I signed with my awesome agent in mid-December, and she had her entire edit letter to me THE NEXT MORNING. Seriously. You can't get more perfect for me than that. I've also spent several weeks trying to say "my agent" without breaking into a ridiculous grin, but have failed so far. I feel so fortunate, lucky, and thrilled to say that I am officially represented by Jessica Regel from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. This is Jessica:

This is me with my signed agency agreement:

As far as details go, I was pulled straight from the slushpile. I knew immediately after speaking with Jessica that she was a great fit, but I had other fulls out there and felt I should notify those agents out of professional courtesy. Jessica was very understanding, and when I received another offer of representation the next day, she said she wasn't surprised because my "book rocks." I'll admit that hearing that from an agent was one of the coolest writing highlights of my year. I loved Jessica's enthusiasm, confidence, and game plan for my book. Speaking with one of Jessica's current clients validated everything my gut told me--they raved about her dedication, competence, determination, and overall awesomeness.

One huge reason I'm convinced I obtained representation when I did is because of something I did not do from my goal list in the link above. I had originally planned to attend a writing conference that I'd gone to in the past, but then had my arm twisted to go to a week-long writing retreat instead. I said at the time that it was the best writing-related thing I'd done in in my life, and it's true. The feedback from editors was priceless, and I am forever indebted to one editor in particular for the confidence they gave me. After coming back from that retreat in October, I had renewed determination and tore my book apart (again), put it back together in November, and decided I would send it out into the world until somebody said 'yes.' I also started working on a new ms in order to preserve my sanity during the wait. 
I have a bunch of query posts planned about the whole process, but I also want to pay it forward and give back to the wonderful community of writers and readers out there. I'll be doing a query critique day for writers, a book giveaway for readers, and my awesomesauce agent, Jessica, will be doing a Q & A on the blog.

What are your goals for 2012? Feel free to use bold, all-caps like I did--it can't hurt!
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