Saturday, April 27, 2013

Write On Con Recap -- Part II

As promised (though a little later than I'd planned!) here is the second installment of  The WriteOnCon Pitch Fest Recap. Even if you missed the actual contest, you can learn a lot from what the agents liked/didn't like about the pitches they read!

In this installment, I've collected comments from Jason Yarn, Logan Garrison, Eddie Schneider, Dawn Frederick, Christa Heschke, Brianne Johnson and Amy Tipton.

Also, you can read Part I here.

WriteOnCon Agent Wishlists -- Part II

Read on to see what these agents loved and what they're tired of seeing!
Hopefully these quotes will help you slide your query on the right desk!

Jason Yarn - Paradigm Agency

  • Thumbs Up: Unique names, human villains, characters we care about, strong visuals

  • I like the main character's name - that can be a hook in and of itself in a world of so many similar character names popping up in queries. 
  • Villain that gives us more than the faceless Facility.
  • The environmental message can play well, just as long as we're able to quickly care about those characters/places affected in the pitch.
  • I like the opening hook,the strong visual.

  • Thumbs Down: Lingo/jargon, opening with a question or a logline, faceless villains 
  • Overdone themes: Dystopia, greek gods, elementals

  • Starting your pitch/query with a question ... not an auto reject for me, but it's not something that makes me smile. I think a lot of agents feel the same way - if you're asking me a question I can Yes/No to, and then I do, then I can move on and pass easily.
  • One other issue - using lingo ... is cool for the book, but for the pitch we aren't acclimated to your world yet, so they can be confusing if you don't capitalize them at least the first time we encounter them.
  • There's a villain shaped hole in the middle of your pitch.
  • The opening screams "generic dystopia" ...Dystopias are a dime-a-dozen, so showing what makes yours unique is key.
  • There are a lot of elemental stories being queried
  • First off, the opening paragraph is a Log Line, not a book pitch. What I mean is that it is a generic encapsulation of the story - this is fine to start pitching it as a film, that's expected, but it doesn't usually work (and def doesn't for me) not to get into the characters right away.
  • There are tons of gods/Greek queries and novels, etc.

Logan Garrison - Gernert Company

  • Thumbs Up: Thrillers, mystery,twist on post-apoc, cross-genre

  • I really like the thriller/mystery element
  • An element of post-apocalyptic lit that I don't often see ... shows how people prepared for a coming apocalypse and then survived it, which is ambitious and fun.
  • I really like the idea of a story set during the last days; that you're showing us the impending apocalypse, not just the usual post-apocalyptic fare.
  • Intrigued by the way you incorporate SF elements along with tackling more traditional YA issues, like depression. I think there's a lot of potential for a manuscript that can navigate different genres.
  • I love a super smart female protagonist (even if she makes a lousy boy decision every now and then!)

Eddie Schneider - JABberwocky Literary
  • Thumbs Up: Environmental issues, tight/unique world-building

  • Intrigued by the simple fact MC's charm was Chinese in origin.
  • Reminds me somewhat of Philip K. Dick's UBIK
  • A middle-grade fantasy mystery, where the environment's actually been thought through
  • There's a wrecked environment she's supposed to be using her magic to fix ... caught my attention
  • No ruleless fantasy naming scheme here! Someone has thought through their world building. 
  • I could go in for something like Bubba Ho-tep, which was goofy but had real verisimilitude 
  • Like the idea of a MG fantasy about a somewhat hapless dragon

  • Thumbs Down: 1st person queries, Generic fantasy, generic dystopian, horror/body-snatching, "Chosen Ones", "Common Nouns Made Proper," celebrity caricatures, non-human protagonists in YA

  • Makes it sound to me like there's a bit too much going on, as if the pitcher felt continually raising external stakes is what's going to keep a reader interested, rather than the writing and the characters and the propulsiveness of a focused plot.
  • This is perfectly okay, but falls into the trap of fantasy queries that are perfectly okay.
  • The trouble is, within fantasy, it's not really doing anything to stand out. We get a lot of stock phrases ... clean the query up to reflect your own novel and not read like promo language
  • This draws more from horror, with the body-snatching ... the same suspenseful elements that might pique someone else's interest, where what fell flat for me.
  • Adjective pairing ... the effect is a bit cumbersome to me as a reader. 
  • Common Nouns Turned Proper that I'm not so very fond of personally....(there are a lot of these, in dystopian fiction and fantasy both, and they make my nose wrinkle),
  • Celebrity caricatures aren't likely to do it for me
  • Paint-by-numbers dystopian novel. 
  • Query letters written in first person really turn me off
  • It's better to not have any comp titles than for them to be this all over the place. If you're including comp titles, they should have more than just the lightest similarity.
  • Selling a novel where the protagonist is clearly not human, is a tough row to hoe. 
  • The exceptionalness of the protagonist leaves me cold, personally. ... my internal monologue: Yay. Another chosen one.

Dawn Frederick - Red Sofa Literary

  • Thumbs Up: Southern Gothic, Westerns, civil rights, twist on god stories, Native American, New Age, mobsters

  • Civil rights ... Ella Baker  ... seeing the other side of her appeals to my personal reading taste 
  • Immortal god interacting with humans. It's a formula that has worked many times ... set in Hawaii is a fresh approach.
  • Anything with a southern gothic ambiance is right up my alley ..... comes across as a darker, gothic story. It may be a good idea to mention books that are similar, that have done well. i.e. Darren Shan.
  • I'm esp. digging the Native American appeal of this story.
  • Idea of a plot based on constellations and the zodiac is nice
  • Like the mobster theme,
  • Western/cowboy stories are def. a gem

  • Thumbs Down: Religious and/or Mormon faith, near-Historical novels without an "event" to hook readers into that time period.

  • The story circulating around finding the Mormon faith is something that may appeal to some folks, but alas I'm not the best person to gauge it
  • Downside is that this MG novel is set in 1960. Kids need things they can appreciate in today's climate. ... The biggest hurdle to overcome is getting today's readers to want to read this book. What is the historical event that makes them want to learn more about 1964 and its events?

Christa Heschke - McIntosh & Otis

  • Thumbs Up: Steampunk, elves, twists on god stories, twists on genie stories, fairytale/folktale retellings, synaesthesia, Indiana-Jones type adventures

  • Most stories dealing with the Greek/Roman gods, are written with the assumption that a god is born a god. I like that you twist this on its ear. Zeus as a regular teenager...very cool! 
  • I'm a fan of steampunk
  • A different take on the genie which is great.
  • Intrigued by her love of storytelling
  • Norse legends/gods
  • Really intrigued by the idea of synaesthesia
  • I would like to see more stories featuring elves!
  • Intrigued by this idea of "mind linking" and astral projection.
  • I am a big fan of new takes on fairy tales, folktales etc.
  • I think there was an episode about man-eaters on Supernatural...great show, great episode and very interesting idea for a novel!
          ***NOTE: Christa just signed this writer (Congrats Rachel!!!)
                             so her list is probably now full in this regard.
  • Being able to smell ancient and magical artifacts is an interesting concept. I certainly am a fan of Indiana Jones type adventure stories, where the stakes are always high and there's always some amazing treasure to discover.

Brianne Johnson - Writers House

  • Thumbs Up: Physics/science geek, witches (though needs to be original)

  • There was something about this that felt fresh to me, and personally, I'm sort of a sucker for a good witchy book. 
  •  I like the physics angle

  • Thumbs Down: Anthropomorphism, Palestinian-American politics, High fantasy, suicide themes Overdone: Bullying stories, "damsel who saves herself," "kid who discovers he's magical," zombies

  • Overall, I'm not a huge fan of anthropomorphism
  • I would be a little concerned about the political ramifications here. It’s a hot button issue [Palestinian-American relations]... it’s important for these issues to be written about for kids, but I personally might step aside for an agent who’s more knowledgeable about the politics here.
  • Feels familiar (strong echoes of A Wrinkle in Time) this isn't a dealbreaker, but the writing would have to be truly spectacular to set this story apart
  • This feels a little too “Mean Girls” to me ... I'm seeing a lot of bullying stories these days--give us an additional plot element that will make this stand out from the pack a bit more.
  • I love the idea behind this (grrrl power, all the way!) .... [but] this feels really familiar to me--the "damsel who saves herself" trope is wearing a bit thin.
  • The "kid who discovers he/she is magical" plot has been done a lot--the writing would have to be really, really strong to work.
  • It's a crowded market for zombie/witch stories at the moment ... 
  • this plotline feels a little familiar (makes me think of Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, and Eragon)
  • A little too high fantasy for my list.
  • I'm personally uncomfortable with suicide as the major theme of a book

Amy Tipton - Signature Literary

  • Thumbs Up: Geeks, thrillers, mystery/sleuthing, overweight heroine, quirky sidekick

  • I like the idea of "geeks" running the school ... that having the latest smartphone, liking role playing games, wearing unfashionable clothes is cool. I think this is fun. 
  • I like me a good thriller/crime/mystery. 
  • I like a quirky sidekick too.
  • I do like a good mystery and I do like the idea of ... sleuthing like Sherlock Holmes
  • Like the idea of an overweight heroine [but] I want the MO for losing weight to be hers and hers alone.
  • I love the idea of reinventing oneself

  • Thumbs Down: Sci-Fi

  • I don't normally like Sci Fi

Hopefully some of this was helpful for those of you querying!

Did you participate in WriteOnCon? What were your favorite parts?


  1. Thanks for this post. This is soooo helpful. Love it!

    P.S. You might want to set your links to open in a new window so people don't have to leave your blog every time they click a link :)

  2. Hey, that's a really good idea!

    I've gotten into such the habit of holding down Ctrl when I click links on the interwebs (to open them in a new tab), that I didn't even think about the fact that I could code my page differently! Is there a setting that switches that?

  3. In the Add Link part of Write A New Post, there's a box you can check to open links in a new tab but I'm not sure if that works for Blogspot.

    You did a great job with this post. Thanks for compiling them all!

  4. Great recap! That's awesome that you went and took note of all these. Thanks for sharing :)

  5. Hi Carissa! Thanks for stopping by and congratulating me. I cannot tell you how great it is to see all the well wishes from wonderful people like you, not to mention the fact I get to stop querying!! Woohoo!!
    ~ Retired veteran of the query battles

  6. Thanks for sharing! So happy to see the shout-out! :)

  7. This is a great compilation of agent feedback. Thanks for sharing it with us. Very helpful! :)

  8. Thanks so much for this, Carissa. This is really fantastic -- a big help.



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