Friday, July 21, 2017

I Need You for Signups for Steadfast Cover Reveal

Signups have begun for a cover reveal for the last book of my Birth of Saints series, Steadfast. If you have a blog, a tumblr, instagram or facebook, I'd love your help with a cover reveal blitz on July 31st.

A bit about Steadfast:

Against an angry god whose only desire is to wipe out all life, what hope is there to survive?

The army from the north has left a trail of burned and captured cities. In trying to stop them, Claire and Ramiro unleashed the northern god, Dal, but now they face two monstrosities and no amount of honor or hope can stop the killing as Dal grows in power.

Searching for a miracle, Claire finds the elders of the Women of the Song, who might teach her a thing or two about using her voice magic to fight back—if they can put aside their own problems first—while Ramiro searches for truth in his dreams, leading him to the northern priestess Santabe, the only one who could share her knowledge of Dal and the mysterious magical Diviners. 

Claire must unite the Women of the Song in the face of utter destruction, and Ramiro must decide how far he will go to get the answers he needs to defeat the rampaging god.

It will take nothing less than a saint to rise and face the leviathan before they all become martyrs.

Query Questions with Sarah Landis

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.

Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a series called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers from the real expert--agents!

Query Questions is back with a fresh set of questions and more agents. The people have spoken and let me know which questions should stay and which could go. We've got a few brand new situations that writers would like clarified.

I'm happy to bring you a very new agent, Sarah Landis of Sterling Lord Literistic with her answers to your questions about querying and information about her wishlist. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Most agencies are closed the last week in August and the last week in December. I find the notorious “sleepy months” (July/August and January) in publishing are great times to reach out!

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I always dip into the pages because some great authors write terrible pitches (and vice versa!). But a well-written pitch with good comps will catch my eye and take top-priority.

How open are you to writers who have never been published?
Very! I love working with debut authors. And as a former book editor at large NY publishing houses, I can advise on all stages of publication, from first draft to marketing & publicity at a house.

The dreaded rhetorical question in a query. Are they as taboo as the rumors say?
Not always. They can be done in a clever way… but they can also get annoying fast.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query? Are movie/tv reference okay as comp titles?
Very important. It shows me that the author has done his/her research and knows what genre they are writing in. Movie/tv comps are good too. Anything that makes the pitch seem relevant.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
I don’t think so. But fun/funny personal details in a bio are never a bad idea.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
I’m brand-new so BRING ON the queries! I’m looking at everything and getting back to people quickly.

How do you feel about writers nudging on full/partial requests? At what point is it appropriate? 
I think it’s fine if writers follow-up after 3 weeks. 1 week is too soon!

When a writer nudges with an offer, what length of time is helpful to give you enough time to consider? A week? Two weeks?
Two weeks is best, but I understand if things are moving faster than that.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?
I think an active social media presence is a bonus but not something that is going to sway me either way. I mostly work on fiction, and while a platform is lovely, it’s not always realistic. But I would always advise writers to start connecting with other authors on line. Twitter may not be their thing, but it’s so helpful to be active in their writerly community.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested? Does it make a difference if the changes are from an R&R with another agent?
I think only if material was requested.

What themes are you sick of seeing?
Issue books that are preachy. Copycats of blockbusters (cough Hunger Games). But I don’t want to close the door to any theme (even Vampires!). If it’s well-done it can rise above.

Do you look at trends or editor wishlists when deciding to sign a manuscript?
I try not to. If I feel passionate about a manuscript, I’m confident others will too!

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent? Does a manuscript have to be sub-ready or will you sign stories that need work?
Absolutely! I was an editor for over 15 years on the adult and children’s side of the business. I love nothing more than working with an author on the page and brain-storming story ideas.

What is your biggest query pet peeve? Is there anything that automatically sinks a query for you?
 I don’t think I have one yet. I’m too new!

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Can I only pick three?! Fantasy set in a world I haven’t seen. YA Stephen King (hey, a girl can dream!). Middle grade mystery with lots of heart. Contemporary romance that takes place during a summer. But most of all, narrative risk-takers!
What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Favorite childhood books that date me: A Wrinkle in TimeITThe WitchesLittle WomenBridge to Terabithia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  
Favorite movies: GigiMy Fair LadyWizard of Oz (really, any musical from the 50s and 60s), LaLa Land, Pride & Prejudice   

Before joining Sterling Lord Literistic in 2017, Sarah worked as an editor for fifteen years, holding roles at G.P. Putnam Son’s, Hyperion Books, HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. Over the course of her career, Sarah has had the pleasure of editing many talented authors including the likes of: Jodi Lynn Anderson, Kasie West, Claudia Gray, Michael Buckley, Eileen Cook, Erin Summerill, and Megan Shepherd. Sarah is looking for middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction across all genres. She is particularly drawn to middle grade fantasy and contemporary with heart, humor, and magic. In the young adult space, she has an affinity for southern voices, high-concept plots, sci-fi/fantasy, historical, mysteries & thrillers, and emotionally compelling contemporary. Sarah graduated with a BA in English from the University of Virginia. Sarah accepts email queries at

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pitchwars Mentor Bio/Wishlist 2017

Photo of myself, wearing goofy hat and made as small as possible. And yes this post is recycled.


And so begins the brag-fest. Let's get this part over:

First, the oh-so-astonishing and exciting bio:

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two college-going kids. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Picture Book Party, and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints trilogy, starting with Grudging (November 17, 2015) and Faithful (November 15, 2016) and Steadfast (December 2017)  is published by Harper Voyager. Another epic fantasy, Kindar's Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing.

Find me on twitter at @Michelle4Laughs

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I'm a fan of all things SFF. I'm into Star Wars, Star Trek, Hunger Games, all the Marvel movies and even the DC movies. I mourned when Agent Carter got cut and laughed my ass off at the first Sharknado. I'm your girl for a Terminator marathon or Firefly or Supernatural. I'm a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan and don't care what it costs to go to the World Series (again). I love football--BEARS!--but turn up my nose at basketball unless my son is there. I'm a bookworm and always have a book going. 

As for music, I'm more on the classic rock or even current rock side rather than pop. I like Styx and Billy Squier, Robert Plant, Theory of a Deadman and yes, even Nickelback.   

Moving on.

I'm not going to fill this post with gifs. I'm not going to shout and boast. Simply put, I know contests. I know agents--lots of agents. I've hooked many writers up with their agents through contests--or helped them on their way so they could do it themselves.

Many of them are now PitchWars mentors. They are very talented writers, and I'm thankful I happened to spot them.

If you don't know, I'm the host of Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, New Agent and Sun versus Snow as well as Picture Book Party. I also post interviews with agents on my blog to help querying writers. I've been running contests for five years.

My contests have resulted in dozens of success stories and many books. Check out this Goodreads list of books that came out of my contests. I've read thousands of entries and know what works to catch an agent's eye in contests. I can spot unique.

All four of my adult mentees from two years of Pitchwars have signed with agents. (They are with New Leaf and The Kimberly Cameron Agency). 

I'm an expert with query letters. I can help you polish it and give it voice that will help you long after the contest is over. Let's face it, adult-age entries don't do so well in contests (that's proven), but that's a different story when it comes to querying after a contest ends. I know what to do if you get an offer and I can help you while you're on submission.

You want the real-deal mentor, then you want me. (Sorry other mentors.)




Enough said. I humbly drop the mic and walk away.

My Editorial Style:

I prefer to work by email or chat. I'm not a fan of talking on the phone. I don't ask for a synopsis, but you will need one for the agents. I always remember that this is your baby and the ultimate decision on changes is yours.

I tend to ask for partials and then a full during submission. This might hurt me, but I won't be giving feedback unless I request addition pages. I just don't have time because of my other contests.

You can probably tell from this post that I'm pretty straightforward. I'll come flat out and tell you what I think needs improvement.

I usually start my final mentees with line edits and big picture notes on the full manuscript as their first task using track changes in Word. We do as many rounds as necessary. Then we move on to working on query letters and pitches as those take less time.

I'll stick with you after the contest is over to get you signed with an agent. I can offer advice when you do get that Call. I'm also looking for mentees that become critique partners and help mentor my contests. 

What am I looking for?

This year, like last, I am mentoring in the adult category. 

And I'm being very selective in what I'm looking for: fantasy and a few types of science fiction (light science fiction, dystopian/post apocalypse).

I want adult fantasy and especially adult epic fantasy, though I'll look at all other kinds of fantasy. (And truthfully, only one of my three picks over the lasts two years has been an epic fantasy.) That's urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, magical realism, steampunk, gas-light, dark fantasy each and every kind of sub-genre of fantasy. If you have a thriller or mystery with strong speculative fiction elements, I could go for that (and have two years ago).


-I do like some romance, but I'm not your person if your story includes tons of it. If the MC bats her eyes and moons over guys/girls a lot, it's not for me. I don't like romance as the main plot in fantasy. I do enjoy it as a sub-plot. 

-The romance I do like tends to be a will they/won't they attraction. Think Luke and Lorelei in the early seasons of Gilmore Girls. 

-I'm not your person if your word count is over 130,000 or under 70,000.

-I'm probably not your person if you have vampires or werewolves or Fae as the main plot, but you never know. I picked a book about Fae that I loved for a contest and it sold in a Big 5 deal! (Yep shamelessly namedropping.) So I'm not a huge fan of paranormal.

-I prefer no love triangles unless they are done very well, low-key, or have a unique take. I like romance stories but I don't mentor them.

-I'm not a big fan of ghosts or assassins but a small amount of them in a plot can be fun.

-I'm fond of anti-heros and rascal (especially male) characters, but I'm not your person for whiny/bitchy or complaining main characters. Save that for YA.

-I'm not your person if you believe your manuscript is practically perfect as is. You have to be willing to revise--not huge, rewrite-the-whole-thing revisions, but some. That could mean cutting chapters or whole sections.

-If you have graphic sex scenes and aren't willing to tone them down, please try someone else.

-I'm okay with killing off characters. I do that, too. I'm not okay if they are your main (POV) characters.  I quit GOT in the second book because when Ned Stark bit the dust. It is about the characters for me, not the country.

-Extremely dark fantasy is probably not for me. Nor is very intense emphasis on a modern-type military. I prefer my military of the more historical type. 

-I'm probably not going to spend time checking out a mentee bio. I just get too busy for that unless I request a full.


-I do want unique concept and settings. Something that stands out of the crowd. That can mean diversity! (I hope!)

-Some romance is great. As long as it isn't the MC's only focus.

-I keep a special eye out for diversity--any type of diversity and ownvoices. I will be tagging entries with diversity and passing any that aren't for me to other mentors, if this is allowed.

-I will consider dystopian or post apocalypse, but I'm not the best for other types of hard science fiction as I don't read as much of that. I've seen a few space opera that I loved but let other mentors have them.

-I want magic and big worlds. Though my own magic systems are usually subtle.

-Humor will hook me every time. I love characters who joke during the bleak times. (I probably should have put this first.)

-I want characters with secrets they're hiding and lots of backstory that comes out gradually, not in the first chapter. (Also really key for me.)

Some of my favorite authors include: Brandon Sanderson, Kate Elliott, Michael J. Sulllivan, Robert Jordan, Kristen Britain, Jim Butcher and more.

If you have something like the Green Rider series, I want to see it. If you are into WoT (if you know what this means, you're my kind of writer) and The Dresden Series, I want to see it. 

Please make sure you are sending adult fantasy my way. Don't waste a mentor slot sending YA or MG fantasy. Due to the contest structure, I'm restricted to the adult category. I'll just delete any YA or MG or NA.

On a side note, I know it's hard to pick a mentor when you only get to send four or six subs. It will be difficult to pick just one mentee. I'm looking for something I really love as I MUST stick to one mentee this year. (Someone stop me if I try and go for two.) I hope you'll choose me to help you.

If in doubt or you want to know more about my editorial style, ask me on twitter (@Michelle4Laughs) or in the comments. 

Here are the "other" adult mentors:

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting the Call with Ash Van Otterloo

My favorite type of success story--one that came from our contests! Let this bit of inspiration follow you into Pitchwars and the fall contests. Here's the story from Ash.

I put the finishing touches on my MG fantasy manuscript CATTYWAMPUS in late May of 2016, spent July-Sept in rounds of revisions with notes from my beta readers and critique partners. Right before I started my first round of queries, on a whim, I noticed a blog schedule for #NoQS and entered the story. Having entered contests a few times before, I knew it would be a fun experience and hoped to snag helpful feedback before I leapt into the query trenches.

When my name popped up on Mike’s team list, I promptly exploded with excitement. My second stroke of luck was being paired with the clever Kate Foster as my mentor, who I’d received a bit of constructive feedback from in a past contest with a shorter project. (A good reminder to us all to receive constructive criticism gracefully, even in rejection!) We polished my query and pages, and it got a significant amount of requests.

By the end of October, I found myself on the phone chatting with the incomparable Lauren Spieller. I’ll admit it: I had instant agent-crush. Besides being fun to chat with, she asked all the clarity-bringing questions about plot development, was enthusiastic and straightforward (swoon), and asked for an R&R, along with suggestions for sensitivity reads. Why, hello, sweaty palms. Obviously, I was eager to give it a whack.

I worked hard on revisions, found some amazing sensitivity readers, and resubmitted in March. Another R&R. And y’all. I am so grateful for last round of revisions, too, because that’s where I truly found my protagonists (and discovered an underground bunker of feelings to pour into the manuscript.) I re-submitted and got a phone call. THE phone call. (Dun, dun, dunnnnn!)

When I answered my cellphone, Lauren offered me representation with Triada Us. Only barely did I manage to refrain from shrieking directly into the receiver. As before, Lauren was supportive and excited about the story, and had great thoughts for final revision notes. After recovering from a round of omygodomygodomygod, I was eager to accept. I’d researched agencies and MG agents thoroughly, and this was indeed my dream representation. A couple of days later, I officially accepted the offer and went out with my family to celebrate with pizza.

My final thoughts: Writing can be lonely, sometimes. There are moments (months) when you have to be the one who believes in your work, even though part of you worries you might be wasting your time. And when the opportunity to make a helpful connection comes, even in the form of a constructive “no”, tackle it and suck every bit of wisdom from it. Learn, and be kind to yourself. And don’t give up.


Ash Van Otterloo lives just outside of Chattanooga with her long time best friend and four wild forest-children. She's regarded fondly by her two cats, and, like a cat, she enjoys people who offer her good food regularly. Whether or not she's a witch is a topic for gossip among her neighbors. The ones, at least, that she's not yet turned into newts.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Roundup of Posts with Writing/Editing/Querying Advice

I've done a lot of posts filled with advice. Some of them are rather old. Most were written after I noticed trends from a contest. All are completely buried and hard to find unless you use the editing label. But all are still relevant. 

So I thought I'd make a general list of the different blurbs on writing and querying advice. 

I highly recommend the posts on filtering and hyphens. Also the post on punctuation for a tag or beat. Those are problems I see on entries every year. 

I hope these are helpful! 

General Advice:
Quick twitter advice
Reading in your Genre
List of SFF subgenres
Subjectivity of the First 250 Words

Editing/Writing Advice:
Writing in Layers
Be Aware of Creating Reader Expectations
Comma Mistakes
Making Characters Likable
Character Motivation
Tips for Writing a Strong Fantasy
Ellipses and Em Dashes
Compound Adjectives- hyphens
Types of Conflict
Avoid Filtering
Throwing Crutch Words in the Trash
The Difference Between a Tag and a Beat
Qualifiers Weaken Your Sentences
Plugging Plot Holes
Editing Tips for the Big Picture

Query Advice:
Nix the Rhetorical Questions
Frequent Query Mistakes
Creating a Super Query
Vague Plot in a Query

My blog also has close to 80 interviews with literary agents (you can also find them in the blog sidebar.) old and new and a host of Getting the Call stories meant to inspire and inform about querying. 

Summer Query Extravaganza 2017 Number 8

Welcome to the Summer 2017 Query Extravaganza! 

In honor of Pitchwars and summer, I thought I'd do a few query letter breakdowns. Call me crazy, but I love to dig into a query letter.

Please remember this is just one person's opinion. It's also subjective as everything is in publishing. I'm pointing out what jumps out to me. Others may catch other things.

I'm finishing up the critique marathon with two more as the mentor blog hop starts on Wednesday!  

The query without my notes:

Dear [Agent]:

Seventeen-year-old Ilycia Robert is no stranger to losses from the centuries-old curse which put the Princess Rose to sleep, crippled her village by drought, and imprisoned the kingdom within a wall of thorns. Her brother led the excursion to break the curse four years earlier and never returned. Ilycia has a family to feed and can't be bothered to wait for a suitor to save her.

With help from her best friend Val, she earns money by masquerading around the kingdom as the knife-throwing La Marque. But after her win at an illicit tournament goes awry and Ilycia and Val are caught by armed forces, Val is forced to lead the next excursion.

Now Val's on his way to certain death. Ilycia falls apart until Val's brother Emeric devises a plan to help Val through the magic-ravaged kingdom. Too bad Emeric is the boy who once charmed his way under Ilycia's skirts and dumped her shortly thereafter. What's worse, Emeric's plan requires both Ilycia and his new fiancée.

Vowing to save Val no matter her personal cost, Ilycia joins the excursion. All they have to do is survive through the magic lands until they reach the castle so Val can bestow a kiss on the princess. But in waking her, the friends find what they think they know about the curse may not be the truth.

REIGN OF THORNS is an 89,000-word young adult fantasy with series potential. A retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it will appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas.  

Thank you for your consideration.


And with my crazy notes:

Dear [Agent]:

Seventeen-year-old Ilycia Robert is no stranger to losses (I was going to say what losses, but you follow up with them. Good.) from the centuries-old curse which put the Princess Rose to sleep, (You might end the sentence here just because it's getting long.) crippled her village by(with?) drought, and imprisoned the kingdom within a wall of thorns. Her (A little unclear whose brother this is. It could be Princess Rose's.) brother led the excursion to break the curse four years earlier and never returned. Ilycia has a family to feed and can't be bothered to wait for a suitor to save her. (I like the personality at the end of this.)

With help from her best friend Val, she earns money by masquerading around the kingdom as the knife-throwing La Marque. (I'm unsure doing what. How does this earn money? Explaining will go a long way to taking away my confusion with the rest of this paragraph.) But after her win at an illicit tournament goes awry and Ilycia and Val are caught by armed forces (So? Is it illegal for women to enter?), Val is forced to lead the next excursion. (But Val was caught too. I assume Val is a woman, short for Valerie. What sort of excursion? I thought they were at a tournament. Those aren't the same? All sorts of confusion here.)

Now Val's on his (Oh, Val is a man.) way to certain death. Ilycia falls apart until Val's brother Emeric devises a plan to help Val through the magic-ravaged kingdom (Oh, you mean an excursion to break the curse. That's the punishment?). Too bad Emeric is the boy who once charmed his way under Ilycia's skirts and dumped her shortly thereafter (I think maybe you should put this part about being dumped into the first paragraph. That way Emeric doesn't appear to come out of nowhere near the end of the query.) What's worse, Emeric's plan requires both Ilycia and his new fiancée. (I'm not sure we need to know this last part. There are plenty of characters already. You don't want character soup. Limit the number to three or four in a query.)

Vowing to save Val no matter her personal cost, Ilycia joins the excursion. All they have to do is survive through the magic lands until they reach the castle so Val can bestow a kiss on the princess. But in waking her, the friends find what they think they know about the curse may not be the truth. (Clunky wording. I'm not sure I can do better. the friends find the curse may not be what everyone expects. Or the curse is more complicated than everyone thought. Or the friends find the curse has an unexpected twist.

 Again you end the query without a choice the mc must face or without what bad thing will happen if she fails. I think you need some sort of choice and stakes here.

I suggest two avenues. You can scale back on outlining the story and make the choice be about whether Ilycia will go on the excursion. Or you can shorten other parts in the query a little and put in the choice Ilycia must make here when the curse is discovered.

I'm torn on which would be better. Maybe try both. On one hand the twist in the curse is your escalation of the plot and the unique part about the story. A very good thing to have. On the other hand, revealing they make it to the princess is somewhat of a let down. You'd have to get to that information sooner(middle paragraph). Maybe take out the whole subplot about knife throwing and just say her best friend Val is forced on the next excursion. No need to explain why. That would save a lot of confusion about that part of the query and get you to the twist in the curse sooner.)

REIGN OF THORNS is an 89,000-word (solid word count number) young adult fantasy with series potential. A retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it will appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas.  

Thank you for your consideration.


Lots of notes here because there is much to discuss.

I think you have a section to this query that just causes a lot of confusion (2nd paragraph and parts of the 3rd). Easier to cut it out and skip over it. A query doesn't have to tell the whole plot. Only the important parts. The important part is her best friend has to go on the next excursion after she lost her brother that way. Of course she'll want to save him. You don't have to detail why.

Then the escalation of your obstacle is almost buried at the end (the curse). And it's also the unique part of your plot. Cutting the second paragraph will give you more room to talk about the twists of the story and let you add some stakes and choices the mc must make.

Don't be afraid to try out a query where you reveal the twist to the curse. It's not that part you want to hide from an agent. It's THE CHOICE the mc makes about solving that obstacle that you want to keep secret. Does she go one way or another at the end. That's the outcome you hide or don't include in the query, along with how it all turns out. 

The real curse is the juicy bit that could make an agent sit up and take notice.

Good luck!