Thursday, May 26, 2016

Query Lab #2 - June Giveaway Closed

Query Lab #2 Giveaway Closed
image: holdentrils

In case you missed it, The Query Lab is a new monthly feature on my blog!

Each month, I'll open up a submissions window for those interested in receiving a Query & 1st 10 page critique from me. When the sub window closes, I'll randomly select winners and a runner up!

3 Winners will receive a private Query & 1st 10 page critique/consultation from me.

1 Runner-Up will receive a Query-only Critique from me that will be publicly posted on this blog.

      { What does a public crit from me look like?
                            Click here to see! }


I'm most experienced with YA and MG, as that's what I write. However, I can definitely help with other age categories as well. The only thing I wouldn't be a good fit for is erotica (sorry!!)

{ For more info on The Query Lab, please see the original information post here!
   And check out my Calendar of other opportunities for query critiques.}


The Query Lab #SFFPit Edition

Query + 1st 10 Page Critique Giveaway

Winners: Lee Gomez, Ben Langhinrichs, & EmilyKBee

The random number generator has also chosen a runner-up
Please check back in a couple weeks when the runner-up's
public query critique will be posted!


Also! Note that next month's theme will be #PitchAmérica manuscripts,
check back here toward the end of June for that
announcement and entry window!



How to Enter:

  • Meet the Monthly Focus Criteria:  
    Each month, I will focus on a particular type of submission. This will limit the types of authors and/or manuscripts that are eligible to enter each month. I decided to do this so that my query critiques will be of maximum help to writers preparing for upcoming contests that have a particular genre or focus!

    June Focus: #SFFPit

    (Sci-Fi & Fantasy)



    And be sure to check out the #SFFPit Website to read more about the upcoming
     SFFPit Twitter Pitch Contest 



  • Comment on this Post

    Please leave a comment on this post with the following:
    • "Enter Me!"
    •  A way for me to contact you if you win
       (If you aren't signed in with your Google ID, maybe leave a Twitter handle or blog address, or check back here when the contest closes to see if you've won)
    •  Note if you are willing to be a Runner-Up
       (Runners-Up will receive a PUBLIC query critique from me, posted on this blog
        Want to see what that looks like? Check out a Previous Critique here.)
  • Check out my past Query Advice:
    Okay, so technically you don't
    have to do this before you enter. BUT I do highly recommend you browse my query tips and apply those that seem relevant before subbing ... because why enter to "win" advice from me that I'm already giving away to everyone??  ;oD

    You'll get better, more tailored tips from me if you're already applying some of the things I mention in the posts below!
     (keep in mind all queries/stories are different so your mileage may vary with some of the advice)

Want to know more about The Query Lab, or the upcoming submission theme/focus schedule? Check out the original post here.

Got a question? Feel free to drop me a line on Twitter!  ( @carissaataylor )

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Query Lab #1: YA Urban Fantasy Query Critique

Query Lab #1 : YA Urban Fantasy Query
Public Critique

image: holdentrils
Welcome to The Query Lab!

The Query Lab is a new feature on my blog. Each month, I host a giveaway and three winners receive a private query & 1st 10 page critique/consultation from me, while one victim lucky runner-up receives a PUBLIC query critique posted right here on my blog!


    {  Watch this space for future giveaway windows. 
        The next giveaway will open May 27  }


My first lovely subject guest is MonTanna, with her YA Urban Fantasy query. She said she would love any feedback you guys have to offer her as well, so please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on the query. She'd really appreciate it!

You can find MonTanna on Twitter here. Drop her a line and say hello!*

   *Note for future participants: You do not have to have any personal info posted in the public query critique,
     but MonTanna thought it would be fun to connect with y'all, so that's why it's here!!   :o)
     If you'd prefer to be completely anonymous, that's totally fine too!


Now, without further ado ... the query critique!

I do tend to go a bit comment-wild when I crit, so just warning you in advance: be prepared to grab a cup of tea and settle in for awhile! ;o)


Title: TITLE REDACTED

Genre/Age: YA Urban Fantasy


----- ORIGINAL QUERY -----


Dear Ms. Taylor,

All Demons are different. Adeline Ellsworth knows. Not only because she can see them, but because they’ve spent more time in her body than she has. Some are kind and quiet while others are abusive, overbearing and manipulative. But they all have one thing in common. The urge to possess her.

Roderick Lyle doesn’t understand. His whole life fits in his accordion case, his friends are nonexistent, and this strange girl is telling him that Demons exist. These things all make perfect sense. What he doesn’t understand is why humans have such outrageous issues with murder. Death is natural. If he really wasn't supposed to kill anyone, they wouldn't have died. Nobody even noticed the bodies anyway.

Nothing is invisible to Stein; Demons, aliens, emotions. His addled mind may interpret things a bit differently but he can see it all. Everything but the last fifty years of his life. Some things he forgets how to remember.

But Adeline remembers every moment that hasn't been stolen from her and is determined to stand up against the Demons. With Roderick, the first person to ever offer her help, and Stein, the only one able to see the way, she sets out to confront the Demon’s creator. Even though something else seems to have found the creator first.

And it only looks like an Angel.

I would love to offer my novel, BOOK TITLE, for you to consider publishing. It weaves a dark layer of fantasy through our modern world, placing complex and diverse characters in a realm only seen by the creatures hidden within. BOOK TITLE laces together our instinctual fears of the unknown, our learned distrust of those around us, and our constant strain against the evil inside us all.

Born in Kansas eighteen years ago, I graduated high school just before turning fourteen and have spent my time since then traveling, reading, and writing. BOOK TITLE is a YA Urban Fantasy approximately 108,000 words long and is the first in a series. It is told from the viewpoints of Adeline, Roderick, and Stein, allowing the reader to explore events in a multifaceted way. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear back from you.



----- "FIRST IMPRESSIONS" FEEDBACK -----


After reading through the query I'm intrigued by the story and characters, but feeling like the query is pulling me in several different directions. It brings up three different MCs and hints at a few subplots, and I'm having trouble getting a good handle on how everything ties in to the central storyline.

Queries for multiple POV novels are such tricky things. In a query you have limited space. In that space you have to get the reader to connect to your main character and be drawn in by the conflict they're thrust into. When you introduce two or three characters' stories in that limited query space, it makes it harder and harder do justice to each of their storylines.

Right now, I'm feeling like I'm not getting a clear enough picture of Adeline beyond the fact that she's possessed by demons. How old is she? Is she in school? Working? What are her dreams and aspirations? What does she do when not demon possessed? What do the demons force her to do when possessing her? In what ways have they ruined her life? This isn't to say that all these questions need to be answered in the query, but adding in a bit more detail could really flesh out her storyline.

Roderick has a fascinatingly creepy backstory and set of morals! This is great, because I'm going to remember him long after I finish reading this query. But ... I feel like I'm missing a key piece of info: how does this outlook on life (and death) play into his dynamic with Adeline, and ultimately the central plot? If there is a way to weave this in more clearly (or at least hint at it), that would be awesome. 

My initial instinct would be to cut Stein's POV for the purposes of streamlining the query. Then use that space to delve more deeply into Adeline's story, and how Roderick plays a role in it. I also think a few of the sentences in the query are bit on the vague side. I'd love to see a few more specific details. Use every opportunity to highlight what makes your story unique! (I'll point out some places I think might work well for this in my comments below.)


----- QUERY WITH FEEDBACK -----

Edits in orange. Rework suggestions in blue. Comments in purple.


Dear Ms. Taylor, Dear Ms. Taylor:

Not a big deal by any means, but there are agents out there who prefer a formal, business-letter type greeting at the opener of a query. For that reason, I always recommend authors stick to the formal greeting ( Dear Ms./Mr. Surname: ) -- using the colon to close instead of a comma.

All Demons are different. Adeline Ellsworth knows. Not only because she can see them, but because they’ve spent more time in her body than she has. Some are kind and quiet while others are abusive, overbearing and manipulative.

I like this opener, and LOVE your "hook" (demons have spent more time in her body than she has) but I think this paragraph needs refocusing so we learn more about Adeline. I feel like I'm getting a better sense of who the demons are than who Adeline is, and in this first paragraph, I'd really love to get to know herA bit of a sidenote, but I also generally recommend putting the MC's age right up front in MG/YA/NA queries, just so the reader feels nicely oriented. 

You might think about re-arranging and reformatting slightly to focus the paragraph more wholly on details about Adeline.  For example, something along the lines of:

When she's not possessed by demons, seventeen-year-old Adeline Ellsworth spends her days [insert hobby/aspiration etc here]. Unfortunately, that's difficult to do when a demon is [ insert things they do while they inhabit her ] every other day. Pretty soon they'll have spent more time in her body than she has.

But they all have one thing in common: the urge to possess her. 

I'm a bit on the fence about this as the ending to your opening paragraph. I think it's because it's a little vague, and I'm not sure exactly how to interpret it. Is it saying that all demons mysteriously want to possess her (as opposed to other people)? Or is it saying that demons in general have urges to possess people in general? If the former, I think this needs clarification and maybe delving a little further into details (for example, is she curious why she in particular is such a demon magnet)? If the latter, I'm not sure it gives the right amount of punch as a last line for your opening paragraph because it's generally understood that demons possess people. If possible with that last line, you want to highlight a super unique aspect of your story

Before the query launches into the paragraph about Roderick's story, we should have a clear idea of who Adeline is as a person. Also -- if it seems to fit -- it'd be nice to highlight the inciting incident that drives her into the demon-hunting frenzy we see later on. If the inciting incident is actually meeting Roderick and Stein, and realizing for the first time that she might be able to fight the demons I'd mention that! This might even serve a dual-purpose as the cliffhanger-punchline to close out your first paragraph.

Roderick Lyle's  doesn’t understand. His whole life fits in his accordion case, his friends are nonexistent, and this strange girl is telling him that Demons exist. These things all make perfect sense. What he doesn’t understand is why humans have such outrageous issues with murder. Death is natural. If he really wasn't supposed to kill anyone, they wouldn't have died. Nobody even noticed the bodies anyway.

I think Roderick's paragraph works really well to set up his character. I love the details about his whole life fitting into his accordion case, as it shows an interest he had/has, and the fact that he seems to be a bit of a roving loner (and murderer and possibly not human - eep!). What we're not getting here is how he fits into Adeline's story. I'm okay with that for now, but in the next paragraph I'm hoping I'll see more detail on how and why she enlists his help, and how and why he decides to help her. 

Nothing is invisible to Stein; Demons, aliens, emotions. His addled mind may interpret things a bit differently but he can see it all. Everything but the last fifty years of his life. Some things he forgets how to remember.

Like I mentioned above, I'm feeling like we don't really need this much detail about Stein's backstory. He does sound like a really cool character, but there's only so much you can squeeze in a query and now the focus has shifted pretty far away from Adeline and her story. Instead of naming him in the query, I'd just summarize his role in the next paragraph. (See suggestion below)

But Adeline remembers every moment that hasn't been stolen from her and is determined to stand up against the Demons. With Roderick, the first person to ever offer her help, and Stein, the only one able to see the way and a wise but forgetful demon-tracking guide, she sets out to confront the Demon’s Demons' creator.

In this final paragraph, I think we need more details about Adeline and Roderick's relationship. How did they go from being strangers to being quest-partners? How did Adeline convince Roderick to assist her? What does he have to offer her in terms of help finding the demon creator? Do his complicated moral stances on death/killing cause any problems between them? Delve into some of these details here!

Sidenote: are "Demons" different than "demons?" I'm not sure the word "demons" needs to be capitalized ... too many capitalized words in the query can be distracting to the eye.


Even though But something else seems to have found the creator first.

And it only looks like an Angel.


Oooh creepy! I like this ending!

You've already set the stakes up nicely in that we know Adeline must "successfully" confront the demon-creator in order to exorcise her own demons, and for me these final two lines are great because they (1) show that even more devious threats are in her path, and (2) reveal that in really succinct and punchy way. 

I would love to offer my novel, BOOK TITLE, for you to consider publishing.

Sidenote: MonTanna is currently querying publishers, not agents, which is why she has included this line. If this query letter were being sent to agents, then I'd recommend striking the above line. 

It weaves a dark layer of fantasy through our modern world, placing complex and diverse characters in a realm only seen by the creatures hidden within. BOOK TITLE laces together our instinctual fears of the unknown, our learned distrust of those around us, and our constant strain against the evil inside us all.

I'm not 100% sure the information conveyed in this paragraph is necessary in the query. Much of it we were already shown in the query pitch, so we don't need to be told again here. I've read agents say that too much time spent telling the reader about the themes of the book can detract from the query itself (and I'd imagine the same is true for editors/publishers). But I'd go with your gut instinct here. If there are elements you think are particularly important to convey, perhaps just streamline and condense these sentences (skip down to the blue paragraph below for a suggested format re: this!)

Born in Kansas eighteen years ago, I graduated high school just before turning fourteen and have spent my time since then traveling, reading, and writing. BOOK TITLE is a YA Urban Fantasy approximately 108,000 words long and is the first in a series. It is told from the viewpoints of Adeline, Roderick, and their demon-land guide, Stein. allowing the reader to explore events in a multifaceted way. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear back from you.

Is the book the type of book that can only be part of a series, or would it also be able to stand alone? Agents and publishers are getting a bit leery of series-only books to be honest, as it's a big gamble to agree to a series from a debut author. I always recommend -- if you can do so truthfully of course, hehe -- that you say something like the following: "BOOK TITLE is a YA Urban Fantasy complete at 108,000 words. It is written as a standalone, but has strong series potential."

There is another problem here that I feel I'd be a bad critter if I didn't point out. Your word count is pretty high for a YA manuscript. That in and of itself is going to unfortunately make an uphill battle for you in the query trenches. There are a lot of agents/editors who see anything over 100K as pretty much an auto-reject for YA. Again, it comes back to the risk-factor of a debut author, and the fact that the longer a book is the more expensive it is to publish. (Agent Jennifer Laughran's Wordcount Dracula is still the sort of definitive word on this topic, so it's worth a read.)

I feel your pain. I always write books that are on the long side and have to cut back. But I do really, really recommend that you try to get the manuscript under that 100K mark if at all possible. I actually have a blog series I did awhile back on cutting down your word count, because it's definitely what I struggle with as well! (You can find Part I and Part II here, if you're interested!). 

Last, I recommend keeping the "housekeeping details" about the book separate from the Bio paragraph. In the Author Bio you want to keep things short and sweet and most importantly, as focused as possible on your credentials for writing this book. These two websites have some great tips for what to put in your bio if you (like me!) don't have an English degree or an MFA to flaunt: Rachelle Gardner - Author Bio || Writer Unboxed - The Bio Section

Here is a suggestion for reformatting these final two paragraphs so that they are more in the classic query format (Your book's "housekeeping details" first, followed by a bio paragraph): 

BOOK TITLE is a dark YA Urban Fantasy complete at 108,000 words. Though part of a planned series, it could also stand alone. It is told from the viewpoints of Adeline, Roderick, and their demon-land guide, Stein. Through a diverse cast, it explores themes of fear of the unknown, learned distrust, and the battle against the evil inside us all.

I am a writer, book lover, and traveller based out of Kansas, and an active member of several critique groups. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Your Name

CLOSING THOUGHTS:

I know I've written a lot of comments here (I always do!), but I really think you've got a very interesting story here, and there are some excellent hooks (demons having spent more time in Adeline's body than she has, Roderick's "murder isn't bad" ethic). For me the query just needs to be pared back a bit in terms of extraneous details and hone in more on Adeline and her story and how Roderick fits into that. Also keep in mind that of course this is only one opinion, so take any and all of my feedback with that in mind. You know your story best!



Readers: What do you think of the query? Please leave your comments or suggestions below!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Query Theory 101: The Query Letter Pitch as Story

Query as Story
The Query Pitch as Story
{ image by Pexels from Pixabay }
Last time I talked about the Anatomy of a Query Letter, and we sorted out a query's basic components.

But we all know that when it comes to queries, there's really only one thing we want to talk about:

The Pitch. 

Because it's such a stumbling block for us writers, I'll talk about it a lot in this series. If there's one thing I learned in my time in the query trenches, there's no one right way to approach a query pitch, so in this series I'm going to look at it from many different angles and approaches. That way you can experiment and find an approach that works for you!

This first one though, is one of my favorites:

The Query Pitch as Story

We all know how to write a story. I mean if we're at the point where we're writing a query, we've already written a whole dang book, am I right?!?

{ although I should take time out to mention here that there is 


A query pitch is really just a very short story, with one key difference. It ends before the resolution -- on a cliffhanger. 


So that's exactly how you can write it. For me personally, thinking of a query pitch as a story makes it so much less scary.

The Structure:

Thinking of your pitch as a story, if you haven't already, can do wonders for its structure. Here is a basic query structure. A skeleton framework for your query mini-story:

When [ UNIQUE MC ] has their world rocked by [ INCITING INCIDENT ], they must [ ACT OR MAKE A DECISION ] or else [ SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN ]

Fill in the blanks, add specifics, and insert interesting plot points and complications as needed. As you build outward, your query structure may start looking more like this:

When [ AGE/NAME of MC + UNIQUE ATTRIBUTES ]
has their world rocked by [ INCITING INCIDENT ]

The MC [RESPONDS BY DOING SOMETHING]
But there's a [COMPLICATION] and [ANOTHER COMPLICATION]
Now they must [ACT OR MAKE A DECISION ] or else [ SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN ]

And that is the skeleton framework of a basic query for your book! Fill in the blanks and give it a whirl. It's actually kind of fun! Don't like my query structure template? Try this query mad-lib from former agent Nathan Bransford, or agent John Cusik's silver-bullet query-opening formula.


The Scope -- Find your Cliffhanger Moment:

Some people say write your query so that it reveals only the first third of your book. Others suggest writing it right up to the final climax. I say: do whatever makes your query sound the most exciting.

How do you figure out how much of your story to reveal in order to maximize your query's thrill-factor?

Step 1: Make a list of all the climax points and cliffhanger moments in your book.
            Every single time your MC has to make a big decision or overcome
            a massive obstacle, write it down.


{ Need help? Here are some types of cliffhangers  to be on the lookout for}

Step 2: Narrow the list to only those moments where your MC is showing agency.
            That is to say: only the moments where your MC has a clear choice to
            drive/change the direction of the story with their decision or action.

Step 3: Rewrite each of these as a one-sentence *zinger* of a cliffhanger.
            (It totally helps if you use you *duh, duh, duuuhhh* voice when writing these, by the way)                               
Step 4: Which cliffhanger sentence sounds the most exciting?
            (Pick that one! ... if it doesn't work out, pick a different one!)

Once you've got a great, tension-filled cliffhanger of a last line ...
  

Work Backwards:

No one ever said you had to write your query from beginning to end. In fact, I'd argue that when writing your query as a story, it's better to do the opposite. Nail that crucial last line and have every single sentence of the query building up to that final, climactic moment.


Get Voicey -- Write your Query as your MC:

I know, I know. The one thing everyone knows they should NEVER do is send off a query written in 1st person POV in the voice of the book's Main Character. That's fast-track to rejection-land.

But hear me out for a minute.

It's also the best way to give your query voice ... which is the one thing that agents say can really push a query over the edge from being "meh" to "gimmie!" ... especially if your protagonist has a very strong voice.

So write the query in 1st Person. Off-the-cuff. As if your MC were chatting up their friends, detailing the drama that is their life right now. Just don't send that query. Instead:

Convert the 1st person query to 3rd person. Are there any parts of it you like? Any phrasing your MC uses that could be worked into your "real" query? Do it! Weave those voicey bits in!

So. Those are my tips for writing your Query as Story. What do you think about this approach? Pros/cons? What are your favorite query letter writing approaches?

Also: Stay Tuned for more posts on how to write your query letter in the Query Theory series!



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Discussion: Even if we "get the rep right" ... should we write "the other"?

I'm here today on the blog to pose a question I've found naggingly absent from all the recent discussions on diversity in books.
Even if we get the representation right,  should we write the other?
Even if we get the representation right,
should we write the other?
{ image : pixabay }

Even IF non-marginalized authors "get the representation right" .. should they be the ones writing it?

To what extent is this helping diverse books at the expense of diverse authors?


Is there a difference between writing a diverse cast of characters and writing a diverse MC? Between writing realistic vs. sci-fi/fantasy?


Okay. Bear with me a bit. I want to unpack that a little more. And I want us to discuss. I feel like it's a question that too often gets skirted around, and those who try to suggest that the answer might be something we don't want to hear?  They're often run off the internet.

But this is too important a topic to ignore.

We need to discuss it. And I really hope that some of you'll do so in the Comments section of this blog post. I want to hear your stories and your opinions! It's also important to me that this be a space to share your perspectives without fear of having your own twitter/tumblr etc filled with people attacking you for your opinions. So please feel free to comment anonymously. 

Before we discuss, let's unpack:

There's an enormous diversity gap in literature. Very few books are published each year featuring Main Characters who are natives or persons of color, who are disabled, or are LGBTQIA+, who live with mental illness, or are members of marginalized cultures/religions. This is a problem. We need diverse books. But what do we do about it?

As readers, educators, and social media-lites, the answer is clear: we read and promote more stories featuring traditionally marginalized characters. We help expand the market.

But we're also writers, and the writer side of us wants to help too. 

So naturally, our first instinct (if we feel confident enough about our ability to do the work needed for this), is to write books featuring non-white, disabled, LGBTQIA+, mentally ill, and/or otherwise marginalized or diverse protagonists. Even when we, ourselves, are not these things.

Because do we really need another story with a straight, white, abled protagonist? Not really, right?
Because the end goal is to get more books on the shelves with diverse protagonists. Right?
More mirrors for those who haven't had them and more windows for the rest of us.
More opportunities for a child to see themselves in a story.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Often, the first thing we ask when deciding to write outside our lane is How? How do we do this well? How do we get the representation right? In fact, I wrote a very long blog post on one aspect of this topic:



But there is still the one question I keep coming back to, something only skirted around in all this discussion. And that is this:


Even if we "get it right" ...

Even IF we do our research
Even IF we hire sensitivity readers
Even IF we aren't being tokenistic, don't culturally appropriate, or fall into lazy stereotypes
Even IF we work so hard and we "get the representation right"*
                                              { *or at least "good enough" ... assuming, as someone pointed out,
                                                    that this is even possible,  which is probably a topic for another blog post!! }


Are we really helping? 

As we know, Publishing is Overwhelmingly White, Female, Cishet, and Abled.

We also are becoming increasingly aware that it's likely precisely because of this that marginalized authors often hear "your work is not a good fit" because editors "just don't identify with the character."

Agents can only sign so many new authors a year. Editors only acquire so many books. 

We know that they don't sign things that are "too similar to other projects on their list."

Historically, publishing houses have been hesitant to acquire many works with diverse MCs { though I hope, hope this is shifting??! }

Whites already write most of the books featuring protagonists of color. If "we" -- non-marginalized authors -- write "outside our lane" and submit those works to agents and publishing houses, are we helping the cause of diverse books, or:


Or are we simply taking up #ownvoices' seats at the table?
  • Are we effectively "elbowing in" on a slot an agent's client list or a publishing house's acquisitions plan that could have gone to a marginalized writer?
  • Are we getting a story into the hands of a reader who needs to see themselves represented NOW, or are we mostly just vying for a seat at a table that isn't really ours anyway?

Whew. I typed it.        

You can see why it's hard to talk about this.


Are there situations where it is more helpful? More hurtful?

Are there situations, stories, and genres where non-marginalized authors writing "outside their lanes" is more helpful? Less helpful?

For example: 

          - A Contemporary "Issue Book" vs. A Contemporary "Fun Book"
          - Contemporary/Historical vs. Sci-Fi/Fantasy
          - Writing a diverse cast of characters, but not the MC
          - Marginalized perspectives that are very rare (book-wise and author-wise) vs.
            Marginalized perspectives that have a lot of #ownvoices ready to tell their story already

In which situations are we helping by "writing outside our lane"? In which situations are we actually just hurting #ownvoices?

Okay. That's a lot to think about. Honestly guys ... I just don't know anymore. Am I overthinking this? Underthinking this? That's why I want us to discuss. If you want to read some more before jumping into the discussion, here are some links to other articles:

Further Reading:
Please keep in mind that many of these posts/threads are old articles.
The original posters likely don't have time to engage in new conversations about them
Be respectful of their time and read/listen only. 


Apologies in advance. For many of these articles, the bits most directly relevant to the current discussion may be buried. That's part of the reason I want to have this discussion. I don't see it being discussed enough:

Why I'm Not Writing POC POV Anymore   ||   "I Just Don't Identify with the Character"   ||   Your Manuscript is "Not A Good Fit"   ||   "Well, we Already Have One Black Writer on our list ..."   || Reasons NOT to ||   Dear White Writers: Just Because WNDB, Doesn't Mean YOU should write them   ||  "The Burden Can't Just Fall to Writers of Color" ||   "We Published Lesbian Last Issue"   ||   Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing   ||   Who is "We?" -- & "Already have a Korean-American Writer"   ||   Diversity is Not Enough -- "What if they don't get what I'm doing?" and "We didn't Connect with the Character"   ||   What's in a Number -- Or ... What Happens if we wait for change to happen "organically"   ||   Narrow-Minded Marketing & How White People Can Respond   ||  "There are quotas in effect -- literally"   ||   "It is infinitely harder for the work of POC to be heard/seen/recognized in the marketplace"   ||  White Writers: Don't Write Diverse Books. Read Them.  ||   "We Don't Relate to the Character" -- It's not yours to relate to!   ||

Must-Read Twitter Threads on this Topic:
Please keep in mind that these threads are dated. 
The original posters likely don't have time to engage in new conversations about them.
Be respectful of their time and read/listen only

When NOT to
Write-In-Your Lane: Differences between New vs. Established Authors & Marginalized vs. Non-Marg


So. Let's Discuss:

Note: I would like to keep these comments open and unmoderated for people to express their full thoughts and feelings on this (the exception being that spam / off-topic material will be removed). 

Because of this, I'm not asking anyone to play nice. I do ask that if you're about to post something that could be construed as aggressive or rude, you think about the effectiveness of your argumentation techniques, but I don't want you to feel restricted. It's a tough and potentially heated topic. Feel welcome to post your comments anonymously, if that's more comfortable for you.

tl;dr? Please let's not tone police or derail here.


The Questions Again:
  1. Even IF non-marginalized authors "get the rep right"... How much are we/they really helping?
  2. To what extent does writing the other help diverse books at the expense of diverse authors?  (By taking up #ownvoices' seats at the table)
  3. Are there situations where "writing outside your lane" is more helpful? More hurtful?

    For example:
              a. A Contemporary "Issue Book" vs. A Contemporary "Fun Book"
              b. Contemporary/Historical vs. Sci-Fi/Fantasy
              c.  Writing a diverse cast of characters, but not the MC
              d. Marginalizations that are very rare (book-wise and author-wise) vs.
                  Marginalized perspectives that have a lot of #ownvoices ready to tell their story already




I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Please feel free to post your comments anonymously.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Query Theory 101: The Anatomy of a Query Letter


Query Components: Some Assembly Required
{ image: pixabay }
This is Part I in my new
Query Theory series! **

The Anatomy of a Query

Ahh the dreaded query. Back when I first started querying my novels, it seemed so insurmountable. But it really doesn't have to be such a scary thing. First, it's best to break querying down into its parts, so today we're going to stick to the basics. The first question we have to ask is...

What's in a query letter? 

** sidenote: props to Laura Rueckert, who -- in addition to writing gorgeous books -- also came up with the name for this blog series and for the Query Lab!


Query Anatomy 101

A query letter is really nothing more than a nice, single-spaced, one-page letter (about 250-350 words) with a single mission:  pitch your book in a way that grabs the agent's attention.

Here are the basic components of a query letter:


  • Email "To" Field:      - OnlyOneAgentPerEmail@Agency.com

  • Email Subject:          -  Query: SPACEBOOK - YA sci-fi

  • Greeting                      - "Dear Ms. AgentName:"

  • Personalization        - "I read on your blog that you are looking for XYZ,
                                                 so I think you'll like my YA sci-fi which is XYz"

  • Hook (Pitch)             -  THE PITCH FOR YOUR BOOK
                                                (AKA THE MEAT OF THE QUERY)
                                                 WRITTEN IN 3rd PERSON PRESENT TENSE


  • Book (Details)        - "SPACEBOOK is a YA sci-fi, complete at 75,000 words."

  • Cook (Bio)                - "I am an active member of SCBWI,
                                                  and avid watcher of The 100..."

  • Closing                      - "Below, please find the first 10 pages of the manuscript as per
                                           your guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration."

  • Contact Info             - "Sincerely,
                                                 [Name, email, phone number, blog address etc]"



    ... and in e-queries: no attachments unless requested!

Doesn't look quite so scary now, does it? If we think of each component on its own, it gets just a little bit less daunting. If you have all these components, even in rough draft form: relax.

You're already halfway there.

{ Note, for example, that one agent ran the numbers and found that 25% of query letters sent to him were improperly formatted. While this isn't a dealbreaker for all agents, they do get tired of seeing the same problems over and over, and basic query mistakes can add up. That's why it's so important to give them what they want. If you've got the key parts of the query, you're well on your way! }

If you're not, don't panic.

... Okay, you're saying, that's all really nice, but what exactly do you put in each of these sections?  ... and how do you arrange them? Is that really the best order? ...  also: is there a difference between a hook and a logline and a pitch and a blurb and a synopsis? ... and dang it, why does my pitch suck? Can we please talk more about the pitch? ... and also maybe bios, comps, and personalization?

Well, all those things will be the topics of soon-to-come blog posts in the Query Theory series, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's some extracurricular reading ...

Resources -- Basic Parts of a Query Letter:

Query Letter Mad Lib - Former Agent Nathan Bransford || Query Letter Checklist -  Agent Janet Reid (aka The Query Shark) || Query Letter Basics - Agent Query || How to Format Your Query - Agent Carly Watters || Querying Agents - Helen Ginger || How to Format a Query Letter - Former AgentNathan Bransford || No one right way, but basic parts  - Former Agent Mary Kole || Down and Dirty Query Letters - Agent Nephele Tempest || How to Write a Query Letter - Agent Rachelle Gardner || How to Write a Query Letter in 5 Easy Steps - Writer Unboxed ||

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