Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vague Plot and/or Stakes in Query

As soon the feedback letters will start going out, I wanted to expand on some of the issues I saw in Pitchwars on a larger scale. Give a little more reasoning behind my decisions. I want to first remind everyone that this is my opinion only and is totally subjective to how I made choices for Pitchwars. I had over seventy entries and could only take one and a half. I was forced by circumstances to look for reasons to say no.

By far the most numerous tag I put on entries was vague stakes and plot in the query letter. And I saw quite a bit of talk about this subject on twitter also. What is vague stakes? Why does it hurt your chances? Let’s see if I can fumble my way to an explanation. (I’ll use my own query letters as examples.)

To me the term vague stakes or plot means putting cliché terms in place of specific details about the story. Cliché terms like dangerous situation, family secret, dark troubles, deadly danger and so on. That tells me something is happening, but really leaves me groping for what.  It was like having parts of a puzzle, but being left to fill them in myself.

For example—pulled off the top of my head: John must find the dark secret or face everlasting doom.  That leaves me going, ‘What secret? What doom?’ It tells me little about what John must actually do or face. Not enough of the puzzle has been filled in.

Now I’ll use my query letter for Kindar’s Cure and take out the details.

Princess Kindar of Anost dreams of playing the hero and succeeding to her mother’s throne. But dreams are for fools. Reality involves two healthy sisters and her own sickness. When her elder sister is murdered, Kindar is in a deadly situation.
But she’s tough.  A novice wizard, Maladonis Bin, approaches with a vision that could help her. As choices go, a charming bootlicker that trips over his own feet isn’t the best option, but beggars can’t be choosers. Kindar escapes with Mal and several longtime attendants only to have her eyes opened that her country faces dark times.

As Mal urges her toward his visions, suddenly, an ally turns traitor, delivering Kindar to a rebel army. With danger getting closer, she must escape the army and move forward with Mal or let her country down.

Here you can sort of see what’s happening, but it’s all very vague. What visions? What dark times? The stakes involve a vague danger and letting her country down. Letting it down how? I think you can see that, without details, this query gives just the barest idea of the story. It's too much like a puzzle with missing pieces.

Now here is the same query with the details back in it:

Princess Kindar of Anost dreams of playing the hero and succeeding to her mother’s throne. (character motivation) But dreams are for fools. Reality involves two healthy sisters and a wasting disease of suffocating cough that’s killing her by inches. (what’s stopping her.) When her elder sister is murdered, the blame falls on Kindar, putting her head on the chopping block. (more what’s stopping her.)
No one who survives eighteen years of choke lung lacks determination.  A novice wizard, Maladonis Bin, approaches with a vision—a cure in a barren land of volcanic fumes. As choices go, a charming bootlicker that trips over his own feet isn’t the best option, but beggars can’t be choosers. Kindar escapes with Mal and several longtime attendants only to have her eyes opened that her country faces dark times.

Her mother’s decision to close the prosperous mines spurs poverty and joblessness, inciting rebellion and opening Anost to foreign invasion. As Mal urges her toward a cure that will prove his visions, suddenly, an ally turns traitor, delivering Kindar to a rebel army, who have their own plans for a sickly princess. (setup and specific details of plot)

With the killer poised to strike again, the rebels bearing down, and the country falling apart, she must weigh her personal hunt for a cure against saving her people. (the choice she faces.)

Not perfect, but you’ll notice the query doesn’t tell the ending. Instead it leaves us with the CHOICE the main character must make.

Many times I hear that the stakes are left vague in a query to avoid giving away the ending. But the stakes are not the ending! Repeat: The stakes are not the ending. 

What the main character does about the stakes is the ending. The CHOICE the main character makes, the DIRECTION he/she goes--that is ending! You want to leave the reader with a clear vision of what sort of choice is forced upon your character. What bad thing will happen if she/he gets it wrong? What good result can come if it's done right?

By leaving the stakes or plot vague, you take away what is unique about your story. It makes it much harder to entice a reader into wanting to know more.

So many times I hear, but I don't want to spoil the surprise twist inside the story by giving it away in the query. But if the query doesn't entice, will the agent ever read the story? 

Another example from my own queries. In my YA dystopian there is a pretty big surprise. The main character is a rabbit. You'd think I'd want to save that. But I didn't. It was the unique thing about my story. Here is that query:

Seventeen-year-old Little Bit hates the magic anklet fastened on her by so-called friend, Garrett. It keeps her on the farm—keeps her from knowing why cows outnumber humans. Nothing gets out. Not even birds can flee Garrett’s enchanted prison.(all what's stopping her.) With no idea of the outside world, Little Bit wants freedom from the chains trapping her and to understand her past. (her motivation) Unfortunately, Garrett is about as forthcoming as the inanimate gold around her ankle. (what's stopping her.)

Confused by her feelings of exasperation and affection for Garrett, Little Bit escapes into a world corrupted by dark magic and scorched by the sun. Twelve years ago, a supernova devastated the Earth, making the sun lethal and awakening long dormant magic. Traveling by night, she seeks answers about herself, but finds mutated beetles and mega-sized possums. Worse, a nursery rhyming cannibal skulks in the shadows as she follows rumors to a human colony in New Chicago.

But she’s learned only half the story—she’s not human. A lonely Garrett transformed his pet rabbit into a girl. Now only the renewal of Garrett’s spell keeps her on two legs instead of four. (plot setup)  She’ll have to accept Garrett’s chains or lose her humanity forever, unless the sun’s deadly rays awakens magic within her. (choices- accept Garrett controlling her, be a rabbit, or find another way.)

My opinion is that it is better to give away more about the story in hopes of enticing. Generic stakes and plot do not keep people reading. Specific details help your query rather than hurt it.

I'm not saying it's easy. Deciding what specific details to add is very difficult. You don't want to sound like a synopsis, which means you walk a fine line. To me, however, it's worth it.

Having specific plot details and stakes does three things. 1. helps to avoid confusion and feeling like pieces of the story are missing. 2. showcases what is unique about your story. 3. lets readers get a deeper insight into the choice the main character must make and a stronger sense of character personality.

In my Pitchwars search, I always read both the query and the first chapter. The query is obviously not a deal breaker. Very strong first pages can make the difference. But that may not always be the case. Some  agents don't read samples if they don't like the query. You want your query to be as strong as possible. 

So how about it? Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Getting the Call with Max Wirestone

I think Query Kombat 2014 was the most successful contest Mike, SC and I ever ran. Eight or nine--I've honestly lost count--entries with agents after this contest! Here's a story from one of our NA entries! I'm sure you remember A COZY FOR GEEKS! (See the agent round entry here.) And I'm feeling you on the awkward phone calls, Max. I hate talking on the phone.

There's a certain "there and back again" quality to my story.

A COZY FOR GEEKS was my first attempt at novel writing, but I had flirted with success at screenwriting somewhat in my twenties.  That experience-- which involved terrifying conversations with agents that led me nowhere-- had ultimately left me limping away from the writing world, a trail of blood and ego behind me.  It was ugly-- although in retrospect, most of my wounds were imaginary.  My confession:  I was afraid of being a Failed Writer-- to the point that was I willing to give it up.   I put it all behind me and instead focused on good, solid life goals:  Husband, Librarianship, Kids, Xbox Achievements.

For a while.

Time passed, and through the magic of aging (and probably parenthood,) I found that I suddenly didn't care if anyone else regarded me as a Failed Writer.  The thirty-something version of me, paunchier, and with considerably less hair, suddenly regarded the twenty-something version of me as some sort of self-involved thick-haired doofus.  And so I started writing again.

I did it completely alone, in secret.  No writing groups.  No community.   When I started submitting, in April, I was sending to ONE AGENT AT A TIME.  I was working through WRITER'S MARKET alphabetically.  

I eventually started following agents on twitter, and I heard about Query Kombat at the last minute.  What the hey, right?  I figured I'd lose in the first round (and Carol Ayer's DEAD PRINCESSES DON'T KISS was stiff competition), but I soldiered through.   I eventually made it all the way to the quarter finals, where I was slain by the fabulous Betsy Aldredge.

Then the requests started.

I got three requests from the contest itself.  But after the feedback from the first round, I had applied changes to my query.  Hot changes!  Awesome changes!  And I wanted to test them out.  So I started querying wider.  Suddenly, I was rolling in requests.  

Next came a "let's chat about your book" email just a few weeks after the competition.  Can I just take a second to say that I found all of these conversations a little weird?  More power to you if you instantly connected with your agent, but I was like a nervous first-date.  I was awkward and bumbling, and that twenty-something version of me who had been rejected by film agents was listening in on my conversation and whispering things like, "run, you fool!  It's a TRAP!"

Despite my ramblings-- I ineptly described my next project as a "comedy about the death of libraries"-- I still got an offer of rep.  I told the agent thank you and that I would get back in a week.  I then DM'd incoherent messages to amazing QK Judges Glen Coco and Omar Comin (N.K. Traver and Tatum Flynn), the content of which was basically: ZOMG!111!!!!1!1!  Only longer.  I may have initially gone over the 140 character limit.  Also there was drinking.

I ultimately got four offers of representation (with a fifth 'let's talk' that came too late,) and so I got to repeat my awkward conversation three more times.  I eventually started prefacing the talk with an admission that I was weird at this.  Not in real-life, just this.  The agents seemed to understand.   Although, by conversation number four, I wasn't awkward at all.  Talking with agents, like querying and synopsis-writing and everything else along this voyage is just another task that practice makes you good at.  

Anyway, the agents were all awesome.  I described them to my husband in byte-sized terms.  Book blogger, enthusiastic new guy, geek enthusiast, editor-turned-agent.  I DMd Tatum Flynn relentlessly, as well as writer friends I had made along the way.  People said things like, "go with your gut," and "trust your heart," which sound good, except that my gut did not have a lot of insight.  Mostly it was hungry.

Then came the awful bit:  I had to pick one of them.  If you've ever had the fantasy that at the end of all this rejection you might get the joy of turning down an agent for a change, I'm hear to tell you:  it's awful!   I liked all four agents.  I would have been thrilled to be represented by any of them.  Of all the things I'd been forced to write on this process, the rejection letters to agents were the most painful.  It's like writing a Dear John letter, only worse.  Blech.  Just blech.  

In the end, I settled with Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates.  Caitlin represented lots of books I have in my own library, had a Hugo winner under her belt, and had given me scads of intriguing and detailed notes about my project.  She also seemed supportive of a double-genre approach, with the sensible proviso that I write quickly.    Now that I've been with her for a few weeks, and have made the first round of changes to my manuscript, I can't imagine having done anything else.

So that's my story.  Shaggy, but true.  And for you twenty-somethings, if things don't work out now, there's always hope a few years down the road.  Worked for me.

You can find Max on Twitter at @maxcrowe.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Query Questions with Michelle Richter

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 new series of posts 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 for the real expert--agents!

If you have your own specific query question, please leave it in the comments and it might show up in future editions of Query Questions as I plan to rotate the questions.

I'm glad to have a fresh Query Questions interview for you. Today we hear from Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
I don't think it matters, because I'll read them when I can, which may be weeks later.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No, but a slew of them does. Or can be the last straw if things aren't looking good.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
Only if the query is strong and intrigues me.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
 It's all me :)

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
I kind of hate prologues, and I only ask for the first 20 pages, so I think writers should think about what best serves their work. But epigraphs should NOT be included.

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?
We only want one agent queried at a time for a work, but if it's good but not a good fit, sometimes we'll email each other and ask "for you?" 

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
If the chit-chat shows someone is responding to an interview I did or meeting at a conference, by all means, include it. Anything to make you stand out. But don't spend too much time on it. I want to hear what the book's about!

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included?
I care more about genre than word count. Because some genres are just wrong for me. If I can't figure out the genre from the description and it's not specified, it's a red flag.

Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query?
 I think if you have more than half a dozen, it may be overwhelming.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
They're often changed by publishers. But a title can make me look at a query out of order. Sometimes because it's great. Or sometimes because it's awful or clues me in that it's a particular genre. 

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
My first week as an agent, it was about a hundred, but now it's between thirty and fifty. My request rate is around 5% right now.

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 it's more important for nonfiction than fiction, but it's not usually going to sway me to make an offer or request.

Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive?
 Frankly, I don't even pay attention to them most of the time.

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Only if requested. 

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
If a non-writing career informs their work, or they have a lot of contacts/went to Iowa/are a journalist or ad copywriter, tell me. I probably don't need to know about family or residence or schooling.

What does ‘just not right for me’ mean to you?
I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you ;) 

What themes are you sick of seeing?
WWII, political/spy thrillers, sex trafficking or abuse, suddenly single ladies of a certain age reinventing their lives

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
The greeting "Come on, let's date!"

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
1. A novel with friendship at its core, as I've seen from Ann Packer/Richard Russo/Ann Patchett/John Irving
2. A twisty stand-alone thriller with a great cop, bonus if female. Multiple perspectives are also a plus.
3. A thriller with strong sense of the killer's POV

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
My favorite movies tend to be musicals (The Sound of Music, Once, Begin Again), but TV shows may give you a better sense: Elementary, The Wire, Luther, The Killing, The Bridge, Dexter, The Mentalist, Scandal. I love Tana French, Laura Lippman, Tom Perrotta, Richard Russo, RUSSIAN WINTER, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, GONE GIRL, READY PLAYER ONE, MR. PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE.


Michelle Richter has a degree in Economics with a minor in Russian from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and left a career in finance and banking for publishing. She joined St. Martin’s Press’ editorial department in 2006 after obtaining a Masters in Publishing from Pace University. While at St. Martin’s, Michelle edited MELISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL by Melissa Joan Hart, among others, and worked on a variety of fiction and nonfiction.
Michelle is primarily seeking fiction, specifically book club reads, literary fiction, and well-crafted women’s commercial fiction, thrillers and mysteries (amateur sleuth, police procedurals and smart cozies). Her favorite authors include Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, Richard Russo, Tom Perrotta, Chelsea Cain, and Gillian Flynn. For nonfiction, she’s interested in fashion, film, television, science, medicine, sociology/social trends, and economics for trade audiences. She has a soft spot for fiction and nonfiction in and about Boston/Massachusetts, Ireland, and Russia.  

You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @michrichter1.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Arriving at a Pitchwars Decision

I thought I'd put in print the different aspects of what goes into making a mentor pick for Pitchwars.  This might help me to clarify my own thinking and make an impossible decision a little easier. These are the sort of things I see other mentors weighing and also what is running through my own mind. After all, we only get one and that is agonizing.

First off, just let me say how blown away I was by all the slush. Of course there's going to be things that just aren't for you, but everything was so well done. Such great writing. Many, many well-crafted queries. Directions followed so carefully. I really appreciate everyone who put my name on their choice of mentors, and I read each query and each chapter. There were many entries I wanted to request more pages from, but I knew there just wasn't the time. I could only read so much extra.

I said on twitter yesterday that this is like heading to the grocery story for milk, eggs, laundry soap, and toilet paper and being told you could only have one and a half. How are we supposed to choose? Go with what's practical or get off the list and buy chocolate?

Probably the number one thing for me was finding entries I loved. As the agents say, something you won't mind reading over and over. Because like the agents, we will be reading our mentor pick over and over. This means that the biggest weight we're putting on the submissions is personal taste, our picks are going to be subjective. There were many fine entries, but some spoke to me more than others. When I decide on a final pick, it will be something I love.

I had no problem finding entries I loved and that's when more tangible considerations come into play.

Commercial: Is this an entry that is going to appeal to a lot of other readers? Is this a main character readers will build an attachment with? Does the plot hold a reader's interest? Does the voice blow my socks off?

Marketable: Is this an entry that fits the contest agents' wishlists? Are the MG agents looking for this genre? Is it a genre/theme that has gotten tired and over published?

Improve: Is this a story that I see ways to improve? Does this story need my help or is the editing and big picture already tight? Is this an entry that is really close, but could use an extra set of eyes. And yes, if something is really, really excellent a mentor might pass it by as being already set for agents. 

I don't believe I know everything about helping a story, but I have read a lot and an idea or two will just jump out. That's very exciting! Then I'm like: 'Oh! What if the author tweaked this just a little!'

On the other side, do I see too much to fix about this entry? Do I love the concept and the first chapter, but think it falls apart a little after that? There's only such much time a mentor to devote. We all have our own writing, jobs, and families to blend in also.

Competition: Several things on my list were swarmed by another mentor. They really had their heart set on a entry. In that case, I backed off as I had others that I could love more.

Pitch: Is this submission something that will translate easily into a short pitch? Does it have a high or unique concept that will make a pitch zing?

Compatibility: Is the author polite and someone I feel I can work with? Do I think we can build a connection? I don't think this will factor in at all. Everyone I've interacted with has been an absolute joy.

And those are the major factors that are going into my decision. Which, as I said, isn't made yet. I have a lot of reading to go! And I'm looking forward to it!

I plan on taking time after September 3 (probably a lot of time) to give more detailed feedback on an individual basis. I plan to personalize each letter I send to all my subs, even if it means saying this just wasn't right for me. This could take a lot of time so be patient.  

Feel free to put questions in the comments. And remember not everyone can make it into contests. Most of the time I didn't get in with my stories. That is not a reflection on you or your story but the subjective nature of the game. The true winning in contests is the person who makes connections, learns, and persists.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Get Off My Lawn Con

I love WriteOnCon! I had a tremendous time there last summer. But it's only for YA, MG, PB, and NA writers. You know, those guys with the cute initials to describe them. 

I also write Adult. And I won't say I felt excluded, because I do use WriteOn, but it would be very nice for adult writers to have a place too.

So Get Off My Lawn Con was born. (Thanks to Janet Wrenn for the name.) More formally we are Literary Legals. Follow the hashtag #GetOffMyLawnCon for more info and updates.

There you will be able to introduce yourself, put up your query for feedback, enter your first 250 words. You can make friends and influence people.

I want to thank M. A. Nicholson for her technical expertise and setting up the forum! I also want to thank Diana Sousa for helping with the artwork!

This site is brand-spanking new. There will be glitches. Everything is not completed or perfect yet, but I figured it's better to get started imperfectly than to tinker forever.

Please keep this site positive. It's not a site for writers who were left out of a bigger con; it's a site for a special group of talented people. If you have any trouble with negative comments or snarkiness, please message me or another site administrator before reacting. Let us handle it.

That said, I hope you all enjoy, and we'll see what surprises we can whip up! Follow the hashtag #GetOffMyLawnCon.

Without further ado, here is the link:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Getting the Call with Candice Conner

Another great success story from Query Kombat. Only this one includes more reason to use contests to help you make super connections within the writing community. Congrats, Candice! So happy Query Kombat helped you on your way!

First off, thanks for having me, Michelle, and a huge thanks to you, SC and Ravenous Rushing for all the time and energy you throw in your twitter contests!

I still can’t quite believe I received The Call. I’ve seen so many success stories on blogs and twitter and I’m beside myself to add my own.

I wrote my first real manuscript, a chapter book, beginning my senior year of high school and throughout college as it became part of my senior thesis. I queried small publishing houses and received form rejections. For good reason.

Once I graduated, I worked fulltime and the only writing I did was a column in a magazine and a monthly company newsletter.  But after I had my daughter in 2010, my husband and I thought it best if I stayed home with her. His one stipulation was that I make time to write. So I followed Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way to reprioritize my life. And wrote two YA manuscripts before I had my son in 2013. I revised, hunted for beta readers without really knowing how to go about it, joined a local Writers’ Guild, entered contests and received some agent attention but ultimately, rejections.

Then I saw tweets about QueryKombat. I initially wasn’t going to enter. I mean, SC Author had in BOLD that this wasn’t a contest for the faint of heart or thin-skinned. And it had the word kombat in it.

But my manuscript deserved a chance to fight and Ravenous Rushing picked me for his team. I was estatic. Until I read my combatant's query and first 250. It was amazing; I would have voted for her. I was KO’d after the first round.

By this time, I had made some contacts during the twitter party and one of the judges, Melinda, offered to look at my manuscript after I had put on twitter that I needed help finding ‘plot evolution problems’ as one agent put it. I honestly just expected her to tell me when she grew bored.

But she shocked me by emailing me back that night. She got sucked into my story and had read the entire manuscript.  She’d loved it. She got my characters and best of all, she could see my plot problems.

She mentored me for about a month and toward the end, surprised me by offering to recommend it to her agent. She thought she would love my voice-driven narrative and Southern setting. After her help polishing my query, I emailed it to her agent.

It was the longest sixteen days ever. Then I received an email. The subject said “Representation”. She wanted to set up The Call for the next day.  We had a three year-old’s birthday party to go to that morning so by the time came for the phone call, I was hyped up on nerves and birthday cake icing. I’m not good at phone calls in a normal situation and  even asked “I’m not making any sense, am I?”. Luckily, the agent laughed. She answered all my questions, told me how much she loved my manuscript and then gave suggestions on how to get it ready for submissions. I liked--and agreed--with all her suggestions.

Melinda had advised me to trust my gut, so I did and signed with Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary.

Ya’ll, contests are the best way to meet other writers and authors. It amazes me how folks are willing to help you succeed. I’m so glad I entered QueryKombat and put my work out there.


Bio: Candice Marley Conner is a mom by day and a writer by naptime. She loves all fairy tales and has to take turns with her three-year-old daughter on who gets to be the evil queen. She feels most at home near water so her characters do too. She has articles published in the Wiregrass Living Magazine, Good Taste Magazine, Tanning Trends and has poems and short stories in Oracle Fine Arts Review. Her YA mystery, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL is available for submission.

Twitter: @candice_marleyc

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ideas for a Successful Blog

Mia Celeste, former contest entrant and friend, asked me to share a post about my blog over at her place. I thought it over and tried to come up with some coherent way to describe how I grew this site.

Maybe some will find it useful.

You can find it here.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review of Stitching Snow

I always love getting books before they release. It's even better if the book is by an acquaintance. Thanks to Net Galley for providing access to more great fantasy and science fiction reads. Stitching Snow will be available in October.

Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

Preorder on Amazon

My thoughts:

Honestly, this was one of the best books I've read in young adult for a long time.

So many things stood out about Stitching Snow for me that it's hard to put my finger on just why I liked it so much. The whole plot line isn't apparent from the first chapter, but it's allowed to build and develop so naturally. The characters acted like real people and not heroines in the making. It wasn't a case of instant love or instant hate between the two mains, and the romance grew after we got to like the characters. There’s was just the right amount of science fiction elements without getting too technical.

It was far enough away from the whole Snow White story to keep from feeling like an echo. In fact, I had to dig for similarities at some points. I really liked that the dwarfs were robots. The evil queen was suitable evil. There was one part with the king that I really could have done without—but we can’t have everything.

Essie has the bad-ass main character role down. She tough, independent, and sometimes … wrong. She doesn’t win every fight. She stubborn and frail and fragile in a way, but stills gives as good as she gets. And I like her because she smart, and not snarky or whiny as has become the trend so much in YA. 

I would have liked to see the other characters built up a little more and gotten more of an inside look at what went on from the bad guy perspective. First person point of view does limit you to only what the main character knows. A drawback that you can’t do much about.

A highly recommended read. Four stars from me! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Busy Times

I just want to give a little notice that the blog will slow down for the rest of August. School is starting back. One of my teens is heading to college, and my work resumes. Plus, I'm really trying to finish my work in progress. Those last few chapters take a lot of brain power to tie everything together.

There will still be posts and things happening on the blog, but I probably won't post daily for a few weeks. Hopefully, I can come back in September with something new and fun. I've got lots of plans! Contests. Giveaways. Interviews. Critique workshops. 

Enjoy the rest of your summer for the Northern hemisphere peeps. And wish me luck on my WIP!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pitchwars Submissions

This is the officially scheduled day for the Pitchwars submission. Brenda Drake went ahead and opened them early to give the mentors more time. See all the info at her blog here

Basically, Pitchwars is a writer contest, where writers submit to four possible mentors. Mentors being writers with book deals and/or agents. These mentors then choose one entry to spend the next two months helping their owner to polish. In November comes the agent round.

I'm a mentor for MG, that being Middle Grade stories! You can find out what I'm looking for in this post. Do make sure you pick mentors that are looking for your age category and don't waste picks sending to someone who has to reject your submission.

Whether you are chosen or not, contests are a great way to learn about writing, meet other writers, and generally have fun. 

Give Pitchwars a try and join the hilarity on twitter under #Pitchwars.  Did you enter?

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Always happy to give space on my blog to authors I've met online! Look at this sparkling new artwork!

Genre: new-adult romance with paranormal elements
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Date of Release­­: to-be-confirmed
Cover Artist: Alexandria Thompson



Cadence awakes in a hospital to find her husband and daughter dead, killed in an earthquake. So when her guardian angel appears and offers her a chance to go back in time with all the knowledge she has, she accepts, desperate to prevent their deaths.

She shoots back eleven years to her fourteen-year-old self, and faces high school all over again. She is determined to do everything better, including preventing the loss of her best friend and not dating any of her original, drama-inducing boyfriends. Her main focus is on her future husband, who she won’t meet for several years.

But James Gordon crosses her path. While she wishes to remain single, the bad boy pursues her. He threatens to disrupt everything that is to come as she begins to develop unwanted feelings for him, and distract her from her original goal: to save her future family.



Born and raised in Australia, Katie’s early years of day dreaming in the “bush”, and having her father tell her wild bedtime stories, inspired her passion for writing.

After graduating High School, she became a foreign exchange student where she met a young man who several years later she married. Now she lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, and their dog.

She has a diploma in travel and tourism which helps inspire her writing. She is currently at school studying English and Creative Writing.

Katie loves to out sing her friends and family, play sports and be a good wife and mother. She loves to write, and takes the few spare moments in her day to work on her novels.

Website ( | Facebook ( | Twitter ( | Goodreads ( 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Getting the Call with Judy Clemens

Such a joy! Not only did the Grand Champions of Query Kombat end up with an agent, but also the Runner up. I'm so happy to share Judy's story, and a long and winding one it is. What a great reminder that the road goes ever on and has its highs and lows. (See the agent round entry for Tag, You're Dead here.)

My non-tech process for figuring out the timeline of TAG, YOU’RE DEAD. Sometimes computers just aren’t enough!

When I entered Query Kombat I came to it with a different background than most of the other Kombatants. I’ve been in the business a while. My first book, an adult mystery called TILL THE COWS COME HOME, came out with Poisoned Pen Press in 2004 after years of writing (at that point I had only two manuscripts in a drawer, compared to today when there are…a lot). This sale came through my own submission, after a bad experience with an agent who sent the book to three editors before dropping me like a bad cell phone connection.

COWS, a book about Stella Crown, a Harley-Davidson-loving dairy farmer, was nominated for the 2004 Anthony and Agatha Awards for Best First Novel, which was awesome and wonderful. PPP published a second book in the series, THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET, and I was approached by a lovely agent who wanted to represent me. She did for three books…and then retired.

Having become a part of the Poisoned Pen Posse, I no longer needed an agent to sell them books, and they published five more of my novels, including a sixth Stella book this past December, and a four-book Grim Reaper series before that. PPP is a lovely community to be a part of, and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.

However, my heart had taken a detour to a different place. YA novels. MG novels. Writing for that younger audience. I love to read those books, and I love to write them, but I had no luck getting them published. Eventually I found myself in a place where I wasn’t even enjoying writing anymore. Finally, I stopped myself to ask, “Where is the joy?” and I remembered that the joy should be in the writing, not solely in the final result. I loved the characters and worlds I was writing about, and needed to let that be enough. I wrote more books, and searched for agents, and realized anew what a tough business this is. But I tried not to let it get me down.

And then I thought of the concept for a new book that got me really excited. After spending Nanowrimo (link on the book, I had my first 50,000 words. A writers’ retreat in January got me the next 25,000, and I had a first draft. The next few months were spent revising and working with beta readers, and then the next stage of work began...searching for an agent. Again.

I sent out query letters like anyone, and got involved on Twitter after encouragement from Dee Romito (link:, who told me what a great way it is to learn about the industry and enter writing contests. I started following writers, editors, and agents and received a completely up-to-the-minute feel of what was going on with them. And then I found Query Kombat! I entered and was picked for Michael’s team (yay!) and made it all the way through to the championship round. Along the way people gave great feedback on my query, and I received several agent requests. And then the waiting began!

But not for long.

Within two hours of receiving my email, Uwe Stender of TriadaUS contacted me, requesting the full. I sent it, and less than a week later I answered the call every writer dreams of getting.

“I love your book!”

Cloud Nine, anyone?

So now I am a part of the TriadaUS family, and couldn’t be happier. But this didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a decade of learning, fun, misery, disappointment, support, discouragement, friendship, frustration, and excitement. It’s all wrapped up in there. But writers gotta write, and if we want to get published, we persevere.

And we find the joy.


Judy Clemens lives in rural Ohio with her husband and two children, two cats, and a gerbil named Watson. She is the author of the Stella Crown and Grim Reaper mysteries, and a stand-alone entitled LOST SONS. She loves the people in the writing industry and is excited to be heading out on this new adventure.