Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Agent Interviews

I think it's time to do a refresher on agent interviews. I've used the same list of questions for several years. I think some of the questions don't need to be asked anymore as the agents say the same thing on them. And there might be new questions that make sense as things are always changing and publishing doesn't stand still.

Here's where you come in. I need to know exactly which questions to take out and suggestions for new questions about query slush or query letters. I need you to leave a comment with numbers you want out, numbers you want to stay, and suggestions for new material.

The list is too long now and I really can't add more questions unless some are removed. Agents don't have time for so many questions and slimming this list down will likely lead to more interviews.

Note: If I don't get any comments or get just a handful, I'm going to assume nobody wants me to do any further interviews and stop petitioning agents for their time. So that's a warning that I need and expect your help.

Here's the current questions:

1. Is there a better or worse time of year to query?

2. Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?

3. Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?

4. Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?

5. Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?

6. If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?

7. How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?

8. 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?

9. Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?

10. 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?

11. 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?

12. Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?

13. How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?

14. 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?

15. 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?

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

17.  What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?

18. What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?

19. What themes are you sick of seeing?

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

21. What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?

22. What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?

23. What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Be Aware of Reader Expectations

I've been wanting to find time for this post from #Pitchwars and have been so swamped with work. But edits are off to my co-mentees and a chapter is finished. Time to blog!

Today, I want to make sure you consider expectations. Whether you know it or not your query letter and your first chapter are setting up expectations in the reader. I noticed it so much more when I went from reading a first chapter to a full manuscript. Writer beware of setting up false expectations.

In Pitchwars I requested to see about ten fulls. I'd hoped to have time for more, but my schedule just got overloaded the last week. Of those, I read all the way through three of them. Not all, but some of the others I stopped reading because the pages after the first chapter didn't match. Some aspect was changed.

I don't think I've ever analyzed this before. But I noticed it pretty heavily in Pitchwars this year. I think that's because in most of the contests I'm involved with, I only read 250 words. It seemed like often what I believed would happen next and what did happen were different somehow, even though I try and keep an open mind when reading.

A first chapter has to fulfill so many goals. It has to start the character arc and work on building a complete character. There has to be some world building while avoiding information dumps. The plot should at least be hinted at in some way. The tone and mood of the story are set in the first chapter. A reader gets a sense of the voice in the first chapter. So a first chapter has to be a tightly woven and complex design. But as you're building characters and worlds, you're also building the readers expectations for what will occur in the rest of the book. And if you're not careful the gap between those expectations and reality will be too wide.

A reader's expectation can be disappointed over the plot, the reader may expect the goal and stakes to head one way and it suddenly veers off to a different goal for the characters. If there's nothing in the query or book blurb to warn of this, such a change can make a reader lay down the book and be done. But plot isn't the only way that expectations can fall short.

The tone and voice of the rest of the book need to match the first chapter. If the reader thinks they are reading a mystery and it suddenly becomes a romance, there's going to be trouble. If you start the book with a certain character and in chapter two that character completely disappears or changes dramatically, why that can cause head scratching as well.

If the first chapter is full of explosions and spying and action and the next thirty percent has none of that and loses a sense of conflict, that can also cause a let down.

For the first time, I really saw why agents don't care for prologues. Because I saw a lot of first chapters that were actually prologues in disguise. It isn't so much what's in the prologue that's the problem. It's that the expectations then might not match. If we jump time periods or character ages in chapter one to chapter two, that can totally throw a reader off, especially if something else about the story no longer matches up. 

So when you're building characters and weaving words, think a little bit about consistence and what the reader might want to see. Does your first chapter match with what comes next or might you be creating an unreliable situation? Be off by too much and you may lose your readers.      

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Getting the Call from Query Kombat with Jim O'Donnell

Congratulations to this year's Query Kombat YA Champion Jim O'Donnell on signing with his agent! More than one host had their eye on HOT SAUCE IS BAD FOR WOUND CARE, and we're absolutely thrilled to share this success story. Take it away, Jim!

Stats time! Everyone loves the stats (God, I know I do). It’s so encouraging when you see those meticulously kept stats on how many queries were sent out, how many rejections were received, how many offers came in… if a writer could quantify their journey seeking representation in number of bowl movements from first draft to agency signing, I’d be here for it!

So now it is my turn to list all the fun stats and… I don’t have any.

Sorry. I just didn’t keep any. Well, there are a few. I wrote four full manuscripts and queried three. And I got plenty of rejections. Hundreds. Thousands, if it makes you feel better. But probably more like a hundred.

Yay for stats!

I do have one more group of numbers that is important. Not just to me, but to a querying writer as well. That number is: Forty-two. No I’m kidding, but wouldn’t that be cool? The real number is six. Over the course of my querying career, I entered six different contests a total of seven times.

Contest 1: Pitch Slam

I entered Pitch Slam twice with two different manuscripts, first in 2014, then again in 2015, and was selected each time. From my tenure as a Pitch Slam contestant, I received a total of five agent requests and made friends I still rely on. I love this contest so much, I currently help the hosts out as a slush reader.

Contests 2, 3, and 4 were all contests I did not get into. These contests are obviously all wonderful or I wouldn’t have tried to enter. However, not getting in took its toll each time. Getting rejected by agents is one thing, getting rejected by contests is a whole other.

If you are actively querying, the rejections come in so regularly, it gets to a point where you feel lonely when you haven’t gotten one in a week or two. They are a part of the scenery in a writer’s world; like a fern. When’s the last time you read a book where the author focused on, or even mentioned, the ferns? They’re there, they have to be, but dwelling on them is a waste of words. Contest rejections are different. First, there aren’t enough of them to ever be a fern. They are trees, and people write about trees often. Second, they come from fellow writers, and somehow, that makes them hurt so much more. Like I said, these contests are all great, but they are unnamed simply because they hurt the most and I don’t want any of the creators to feel bad about that. The time and energy these people put into the contests for no return other than a couple extra followers and the good feeling that comes from seeing their friends and peers succeed goes above and beyond. Because of this, I really want to say something positive here like, “These rejections gave me the motivation to do better,” or some other inspirational bs like that, but it’d be a lie. The truth is, getting rejected can be crushing, and there doesn’t have to be anything positive that comes from it. Sometimes it just sucks, and that’s all. How you proceed, when you proceed, if you proceed is entirely up to you.

Contest 5: Pitch Wars

The big one! This contest is so big, I actually had an agent send me a DM on Twitter letting me know I got in. At the time the names were announced, people were refreshing the webpage so much it nearly crashed the system, making it difficult to load. It broke the internet. Pitch Wars is Kim Kardashian's ass. In a good way. This agent, however, was so interested in who was getting in (like many other agents), they kept at it, refreshing until the names loaded, and ended up knowing I got in before I did.

And it’s no wonder Pitch Wars is so popular. Agents are willing to scroll through and read the hundred plus entries each year because they know these manuscripts were the best out of the thousands that entered. Not only were they the best of a huge group, but after being picked, they spent months working with their mentors to make those already good manuscripts great. And the results speak for themselves. Exactly a year after PW15 started out, nearly half of us have agents, and new book deals roll in each month. One of those deals was so big, Donald Trump just asked the writer for a loan. Which given the number of bankruptcies he’s filed, isn’t as impressive as it sounds.

From Pitch Wars, I received eleven agent requests and a group of friends who I’d trade those eleven requests for any day. Mostly because none of the requests led to an offer, but still the community is great.

Contest 6: Query Kombat

Query Kombat is by far the most stressful contest I’ve been in. It’s also the one that got me my agent. In all contests, you are competing with other writers. In the submission rounds, you’re competing for a limited number of spots. In the agent rounds, you typically aren’t competing for the highest number of agent requests, but you are competing for each agent’s attention. This is true for all contests. Query Kombat takes it to the next level, says, this level is boring, then bumps it up six levels higher. Not only are you competing in the same anonymous, hardly competitive way as in the other contests, you’re also competing in the one-on-one, nerve-wracking, back and forth, anything-could-change-in-a-second way that I can confidently blame for the decreased volume of hair on my head. I went to a convention while Query Kombat was going on and spent the entire time refreshing the screen on my iPhone. I honestly don’t remember anything from the con other than a friend warning I was missing the entire convention. She was right.

As stressful as it was, it worked. My query was a hundred times better from start to finish, and I walked away with eleven agent/editor requests. Then something weird happened. Requests turned into offers. Offers. With an s. As in more than one. I was (still am) in shock.

In the end, I accepted representation from an agent who requested during Query Kombat, but made her decision to offer based on my work as a whole. This agent’s enthusiasm and willingness to work on all the other projects I'm obsessing over was what won me over.

So, after three years of writing and querying and entering contests, last week, I signed with Victoria Selvaggio of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

I have a lot of people to thank for reaching this milestone, but right now, the ones most on my mind are the hosts of all the contests I’ve entered. Of course this includes the fabulous hosts of Query Kombat and the other contests I was accepted in, but also the ones I did not make it in. Because after about six hundred words worth of thinking, I’ve come up with something positive to say. In every single contest I’ve entered, I’ve made friends. Friends who have critiqued and edited sentences, paragraphs, pages, entire manuscripts. Friends who have inspired me with their own success and set aside their celebrations to make sure the rest of us don’t feel too bad. Friends who have promised me I’d get to this point even when I knew they were lying. And friends who have said nothing at times because they knew silence was what I needed. Thanks to all of these contests, I found the community that got me here. So thanks, hosts, you all rock!

Jim O'Donnell is a father of three (the oldest being three), husband, attorney, and a soon-to-be-retired police lieutenant. If you're wondering why he'll be retired so young, it's because Will Smith is just that good of an actor.

When he's not playing with his kids or trying to convince his work that Will Smith is actually an actor and not a doctor, he writes about teenagers doing bad things. And then his wife threatens to divorce him for spending every second of his free time writing, and after he writes about teenagers doing really bad things. Like murder.

You can find Jim on Twitter @JD_ODonnell. He's also on Facebook at Yeah, that's right, he once ran for Congress. No one ever said he was the smartest guy in the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.

When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .

Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.


This excerpt from chapter 1 offers an introduction to geomancy.

Whimpers and moans welcomed Ingrid to the junior classroom. Nearest to the door, a dozen boys half sprawled over their desks. A blue mist overlay their skin, and beneath that mist were the sure signs of power sickness—skin flushed by high fever, thick sweat, dull eyes. The rest of the class stared, their expressions ranging from curiosity to horror. Some of them still showed signs of very recent recovery in their bloodshot eyes. None of these boys was older than ten; the youngest was a pudgy-faced eight.

"There you are!" The teacher scowled, as if it were Ingrid’s
fault he’d been so inept with his accounting. Biting her lip, she held out the bag. He snatched it from her fingertips.

The chalkboard laid out the terminology of the lesson, one
Ingrid had seen taught dozens of times: hyperthermia, hypothermia, and the quick timeline to a geomancer’s death. These young boys experienced the hard lesson of hyperthermia. The last earthquake noticeable by the wardens had taken place
three days before. These students had been directly exposed to the current and hadn’t been allowed access to any kermanite. As a result, they spent the past few days bed-bound in misery as though gripped by influenza.

Thank God none of them were as sensitive as Ingrid. Another direct tremor would cause their temperatures to spike even more, and could even lead to death.

The teacher adept pressed a piece of kermanite to a boy’s skin. He gasped at the contact. Blue mist eddied over his body, the color evaporating as it was pulled inside the rock.

If she could see the kermanite in the adept’s hand, the clear crystal would be filling with a permanent smoky swirl. It took a trained mechanic to rig an electrical current to tap the trapped magic as a battery. When the energy within was exhausted, a crystal turned dull and dark. Once that happened, kermanite became a useless rock.

The young boy sat up straighter. "Thank you, sir," he whispered,
voice still ragged. It would take him hours to fully recover.

Ingrid looked away, that familiar anger heavy in her chest.
Wardens and boys in training carried kermanite openly from
watch fobs and cuff links, or most any other accessory where
stones could be easily switched out once they were full.

She had to be far more subtle. Her kermanite chunks clinked together in her dress pocket. She had to take care not to touch them today, or the energy she held would be siphoned away.

Ingrid loved this slight flush of power, because that’s what it was — power. It sizzled just beneath her skin, intoxicated her
with how it prickled at her nerves. Certainly, if she absorbed
any more energy, she’d use the kermanite. She didn’t want to feel sick, though she could hold much more power than these boys, or even the wardens. Mr. Sakaguchi said she took after
Papa — that she stored power like a bank vault, while most
everyone else had the capacity of a private safe.

When it came to her natural skill, Ingrid often regarded herself as a rare fantastic or yokai — not like garden ornamentals like the kappas or naiads sold to the stuffed shirts on Market Street — but like the geomantic Hidden Ones Mr. Sakaguchi so loved to research. She was a creature relegated to idle fancy and obscure mythology, and aggravating shoes.



Barnes & Noble


Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her newest novel is BREATH OF EARTH. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cover Art for REALITY STAR

Today, I'm excited to share the cover for AMERICA'S NEXT REALITY STAR by Laura Heffernan, which is being published March 7, 2017 by Kensington's Lyrical Shine Press.


Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV.

Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer . . .

Without further adieu, here it is!

America's Next Reality Star Cover

AMERICA'S NEXT REALITY STAR is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play. Click here to add it to your Goodreads shelves.

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off: AMERICA'S NEXT REALITY STAR, the first book in the REALITY STAR series, is coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Press in March 2017. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

Some of Laura's favorite things include goat cheese, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, the Oxford comma, and ice cream. Not all together. The best place to find her is usually on Twitter, where she spends far too much time tweeting about writing, Canadian chocolate, and reality TV. Follow her @LH_Writes.

Laura is represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cover Reveal for Faithful

If you'd like to help host the cover reveal for volume two of my Birth of Saints series, I'd certainly love your help. No blog is too big or small because it's all about creating a wave.

The cover reveal for FAITHFUL will be August 25th and you can sign up here. RockStar Book Tours is creating the reveal and there will be a giveaway of the first book, GRUDGING. Thanks!

Following Grudging--and with a mix of Terry Goodkind and Bernard Cornwall--religion, witchcraft, and chivalry war in Faithful, the exciting next chapter in Michelle Hauck's Birth of Saints series!

A world of Fear and death…and those trying to save it.

Colina Hermosa has burned to the ground. The Northern invaders continue their assault on the ciudades-estados. Terror has taken hold, and those that should be allies betray each other in hopes of their own survival. As the realities of this devastating and unprovoked war settles in, what can they do to fight back?

On a mission of hope, an unlikely group sets out to find a teacher for Claire, and a new weapon to use against the Northerners and their swelling army.

What they find instead is an old woman.

But she’s not a random crone—she’s Claire’s grandmother. She’s also a Woman of the Song, and her music is both strong and horrible. And while Claire has already seen the power of her own Song, she is scared of her inability to control it, having seen how her magic has brought evil to the world, killing without reason or remorse. To preserve a life of honor and light, Ramiro and Claire will need to convince the old woman to teach them a way so that the power of the Song can be used for good. Otherwise, they’ll just be destroyers themselves, no better than the Northerners and their false god, Dal. With the annihilation their enemy has planned, though, they may not have a choice.

A tale of fear and tragedy, hope and redemption, Faithful is the harrowing second entry in the Birth of Saints trilogy.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Getting the Submission Call with Brooke Johnson

Sometimes you just never know until you take that jump. I hope you enjoy this unusual submission story from Brooke Johnson!

The way I ended up signing a contract with a major publisher is not the usual path most authors take. I didn’t have to deal with the agonizing stress of perfecting my pitch, querying agents or submitting to publishers and collecting rejections, hoping and praying that someone along the line was looking for that exact kind of story. It’s a process that can normally take months, even years.

And all I did was upload a manuscript.

Long story short, back in 2012, Harper Voyager, the SFF imprint of HarperCollins, held an open call for submissions. I uploaded my then self-published manuscript, and now, four years later, my third book has been traditionally published under their Impulse imprint.

To be honest, at the time of signing the contract (and even now, sometimes), I felt like I cheated, that by bypassing the headache of querying and submitting to publishers, that I didn’t really deserve to have a three-book deal with a major publisher. I’m slowly overcoming that, especially now that the books are out and garnering positive reviews. It proves that I wrote a good book—a good series—and that there was a little more than just pure luck that landed me the contract. But for a long time, I really doubted myself. Why did I deserve a contract when writers who worked harder and longer than me at querying and submitting hadn’t signed a contract with a publisher yet?

And the truth is… I was very very lucky.

When I submitted, I knew that the odds were against me, that hundreds (if not thousands) of authors would submit their manuscripts, that my book would be one in a sea of many. The chances of my book being chosen were beyond slim, but there was a chance. A simple what if that pushed me to submit despite the odds.

At worst, the publisher would pass me over, and I’d be no worse off than before. I would keep on trying to find my audience as a self-published author, seeking any other opportunities that might help me do that, whether it was with this book or another, an open call from another publisher, or a determined flurry of queries five years from now.

So I polished the various entry components to the best of my ability and made sure I followed the submission guidelines and double-checked and triple-checked that I hadn’t screwed anything up, and when submissions opened, I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and pressed submit.

The original plan was that Harper Voyager would notify the to-be-published authors by the end of the following January (the submissions window being in October), and so when I didn’t get an email by that date, I just assumed they passed on it, and I promptly forgot about it. I’ve entered contests before and never made it beyond the first stage. I never thought that the book would actually make it through the slush pile and that I would end up with a contract. It was just a hope. A what if. An opportunity.

I think if I had known the truth—that the publisher had received over 4500 submissions and that they were going to respond to every single one and that my book was still in the running for months and months and months—I think I would have literally lost my damn mind. But I never checked for updates. I never wondered who might have signed contracts because of the contest. I had other things to worry about, and it quickly slipped my mind.

Oddly enough, I’m thankful for that. I can’t imagine the sort of anxiety of knowing that my book was still under consideration as the remaining submissions dwindled. It would have occupied my every thought, all hours of the day, until finally, that fated email arrived a year and a half later…

It was a typically ordinary Tuesday afternoon in May (2014 by this point), when the email notification popped up on my tablet screen:

Harper Voyager Impulse offer for THE CLOCKWORK GIANT

I was, for a moment, confused. I think I read the subject like five or six times in the breadth of a second before confirming that yes, it actually did say that, though I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I thought that maybe an email had gone astray and landed in my inbox by accident. Someone else named Brooke Johnson must have written a book titled The Clockwork Giant and given the publishers my email address by mistake, because no way would I get an offer from a major publisher for my already self-published novel.

But I did.

And now, a little over two years later, I have three books published with Harper Voyager Impulse, with the promise of another contract with them in the future. My books are selling better that expected after a year of publication, and I’m now a few steps further along my career path to author stardom. Those doubts I had… they’re fading more and more every day. It’s amazing what can happen in just a few short years.

In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it's treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she's sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian's plans go far deeper than she ever realized ... war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.   



Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving author. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes one day to live somewhere a bit more mountainous.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Notes from the Pitchwars 2016 Slush

I've read through all my entries and have moved on to reading fulls. Thanks to everyone who picked me as a possible mentor. I took the responsibility very seriously and tried to remember how I felt when entering contests. (I was never picked for a major contest, by the way, but got my agent from querying.) So I gave every entry my attention and consideration.

I received one hundred and fifty entries, give or take a few. I read each query. I only skipped reading the pages if the genre was very obviously not SFF. There were five or six of those. Last year I read the entire chapter sent to me. With double the entries to read, I had to nix that practice this year and read at least four pages on each entry, but often not all the way to the end. I wish it were otherwise, but time constraints have to be considered. If the pages held my attention I went all the way to the end.

I used labels in my gmail to help tag each entry. Some tags are for the pages and some for the query. Examples of those for queries are rhetorical question, short query, lacks stakes, interesting concept, tight query, telling, synopsis-like query, confusing. I saw a big increase in the use of rhetorical questions in queries this year. (You might want to reword those so they aren't questions anymore.)

I based my decision much less on the state of the query as reworking queries is one of my strong points.

Mostly my decision was made by the pages. I had many more tags for the pages, such as starts in wrong place, good writing, overdone concept, grammar/punctuation, great characters, can't get close to characters, telling, info dumps, bad dialogue, engaging, funny, head jumping, rambles and several more.

One of my most frequently use tags was "just not for me." I'm afraid with 150 entries and only one pick many times it really came down to my subjective opinion. Is this the kind of story I would want to read over and over? I am looking for the one I love the most, so great interest and attachment to the pages is critical.

Often there was nothing wrong with the pages, and the writing and characters were strong and engaging, but the type of story just wasn't for my tastes. Not really fair, but the nature of contests.

I also consider other things such as will agents go for this concept? Does it have enough unique elements to stand out? Can my vision for revision be completed in time? And to a lesser degree, does it translate well to a pitch. I say lesser on that one because adult entries get less love in contests. Whether that's because more of the agents want YA or other things, I'm not sure. I just know that most of the adult entries are going to find their agent after the contest ends and from querying so pitch-ability is a bonus. 

I've requested a few fulls and will request more shortly. My plan is to read requested pages right up to the deadline, even if I find "the one," with the idea being to give feedback on the ones where I request additional material. I want to be able to send as much feedback as possible. Sadly, I don't think I'll be even able to read all the ones I marked as maybe or yes.  I just promise to do my best and give it as much of my time as possible.

So there's where I am at this time. I found great talent in the slush and great potential. Not every story is at the same level of readiness, just as none of us are in the same place of our journey as writers. 

The true benefits of a contest isn't agent requests but learning new skills as a writer and making contacts with other writers. We all continue to learn and grow no matter our place in the journey.       

Monday, August 1, 2016

Getting the Call with Laura Rueckert

Fairy tales can come true. They can happen to you. Sorry, for some reason this song got stuck in my head. Read this story and you'll see why! Congrats Laura!

I've heard sometimes when you get to the point where you consider giving up, something good will come about. That's exactly how it was for me. A lot happened before The Call...and The Call, and The Second Call, too (don't worry, it'll make sense soon).

2012: After years of on-again/mostly off-again writing, inspiration strikes and I begin writing once more. This time, I don't stop.

October 23, 2015: I have six trunked manuscripts, a ton of progress in my writing, a truckload of rejections and a pretty thick skin. And a seventh manuscript I really believe in, a YA Fantasy called A DRAGONBIRD IN THE FERN. I start querying. Again.

March 7, 2016: the day of emotional whiplash

6:00 am: I wake up to a detailed rejection from an agent I'd been really excited about. It basically means I need major revisions, so I spend the day moping about making the same writing mistakes for the past four years and doubting whether I'm ever going to improve. Maybe this is The Final Sign that I should stop wasting so many hours pounding away on my laptop. (See also "Where did that thick skin go?")

5:30 pm: I made the agent round of Pitch Madness! First, elation, then—holy smokes, isn't my manuscript a mess? Panicked, I DM my CP. Should I withdraw to avoid wasting my chances with these agents and revise instead?

6:30 pm: One of my kids is throwing a temper tantrum, and I'm still trying to decide what to do about Pitch Madness, when my e-mail dings with a response to one of the very first queries I'd sent, back in October 2015. I force myself to open the inevitable bad news.

The agent I queried had passed my full onto Agent Z...who now wants to talk to me. My child's screams in the background, I re-read the e-mail over and over trying to let it sink in.

My mouth goes dry. Agent Z wants to talk to me! But wait, I tell myself, it might be an R&R. We set a date for a couple of days later, and I start researching Agent Z.

March 9: the Pitch Madness agent round goes live, but the requests will be kept hidden until March 11.

March 10: For The Call with Agent Z, I perch at my daughter's little kid desk because I don't have one myself. I listen to what Agent Z loves about my story (swoon!) and what she envisions (yippee!). Then I ask my (ahem) long list of questions.

Agent Z offers to represent me! It's so exciting! But I keep calm and tell her I'll get back to her by March 23.

Since the agent round of Pitch Madness already began, I decide not to withdraw. I send the other agents who have my queries and requested materials OFFER OF REP e-mails. Over the next twelve days, I happily send a couple more fulls and collect very nice step-asides that don't feel so bad anymore.

March 11: Pitch Madness requests are revealed, and I have two! I send the requested materials with the subject line PITCH MADNESS - OFFER OF REP. That feels pretty cool.

March 12: A Ninja Agent at Pitch Madness adds another partial request!

March 13: Just after midnight, Ninja Agent writes to say she's ten chapters in and is adding her offer to the table!

Four hours later, she writes again saying she's finished reading and loves my story. I'm living a dream!

March 16: The Call with Ninja Agent. It's a very thoughtful, wonderful conversation. And oh, how I love what she has to say about my manuscript!

I spend the next days researching like mad and communicating with happy clients of both amazing agents. DMs fly as my CPs and writer friends also help me out with their opinions and experiences.

March 21: Agent Z sends me another note to remind me how much she loves my story. She says if anyone else has offered, she'd like A Second Call to try to convince me to go with her! Talk about making me feel wanted!

March 22: Agent Z calls me again. We get into the nitty gritty details of a couple of questions I'd forgotten, despite my well-prepared list. Agent Z is absolutely not pushy. In fact, she even offers to extend the deadline for my decision in case I'm still not sure. But I'm a woman of my word; I'm sticking with March 23.

March 23: Both agents are truly terrific, and I've agonized over it for days, but I feel great about my decision.

I'm absolutely thrilled that I am now represented by Agent Z: Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners!


Laura grew up in Michigan but dove into a whirlwind romance just after college, which meant moving to southern Germany without a job, but with a lot of love. She and her husband married a blink of an eye later, and they've now lived there happily for more years than seem possible. By day, Laura manages process and system projects, and she's a mother of two. Nights and stolen daytime hours are devoted to living in her head: writing YA science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, and her work is represented by Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners.