2016 Sun vs. Snow Contest for Writers

Hello gentle reader,

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In February, the fantastic Amy Trueblood and Michelle Hauck are hosting the Sun vs. Snow contest for the third time. And this year, they’ve been kind enough to ask me to be one of the mentors for the contest. I’m very excited to join in the fun, and I’m very much looking forward to helping a talented writer polish their entry.

Below you’ll find a brief summary of what this contest is about, but all the details for the contest can be found on Amy’s and Michelle’s blogs. Please do read them and follow both Amy and Michelle if you’re interested in participating.

Who is this contest for?

Querying writers with a completed and polished manuscript.

When can you enter the contest?

The submission window will open on 1st February at 4 pm Eastern time. Only the first 200 entries will be accepted.

How can you enter the contest?

You’ll need to send your query and first 250 words to the contest email address. More info on how to format your entry can be found here. Please do read Amy’s advice on how to submit your entry so you’re sure not to be disqualified.

Which categories and genres are accepted?

All MG, YA, NA and Adult genres will be accepted, excluding erotica.

Who are the mentors?

There are 12 mentors, divided into two teams, and you can find out all about them here and here. I’m part of Team Sun, on Amy’s blog.

Who are the agents?

 There are 17 amazing agents ready to read the selected entries, and you can find out all about them here and here.

Anything else you should know?

Yes. You manuscript can’t have been in the agent round of any other contest. Only one submission per person is allowed.

Any other questions?

Please feel free to contact Amy and Michelle via their blogs or on Twitter. You can find Amy here and Michelle here. If you tweet about the contest, don’t forget to use the hashtag #sunvssnow. Please note that on Friday 29th January (this Friday!), Amy and Michelle will be hosting two Twitter chat sessions with the mentors at 3 pm and 9 pm EST.  Do stop in and ask all your questions to the mentors. I’ll be there, so don’t hesitate to contact me @emcastellan.

And if you have questions for me before Friday, feel free to ask in the comments section below!

Recent posts – The Great Noveling Adventure

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Hello gentle reader,

I’ve recently posted twice on The Great Noveling Adventure blog. Maybe you’d like to check out what I wrote about Publishing in France here or my pointers on How to Prepare for a Twitter Pitch party here.

Have a great weekend!

On Querying and Originality in Fantasy

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in January 2014, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

If you’re a writer in the query trenches now or if you’re planning on looking for an agent and getting traditionally published in the future, you know that getting rejections is part of the process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume the Querying Writer has done her research, finished and polished her manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of relevant agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines.

There are many, many reasons for an agent to send the Querying Writer a rejection, and for nearly every single one of them there’s a solution. Sometimes, the agent will tell you what’s wrong with your submission: it’s called a personalized rejection. Other times, the agent won’t tell you why she’s rejecting your manuscript: it’s the infamous Form Rejection.

Thankfully, a few agents use Twitter to reveal the most common reasons why they reject a submission. They use the #10queriesin10tweets or #tenqueries hashtags. And one reason that keeps popping up when it comes to Fantasy manuscripts is this one:

sara-megibow-tweet

The premise isn’t unique/original/inventive enough.

In a sea of submissions, agents and editors are looking for a Unique Concept. Or a Familiar Story With An Unexpected Twist. They want the Unfamiliar. They want to be Surprised. As we do, as readers.

So how do you avoid being rejected for lack of originality? Here are a few pointers:

  • Research the industry: find out what’s on the shelves right now or what will hit the shelves in the next 18 months. This will give an idea of what agents/editors have already seen and aren’t looking for.
  • Avoid tropes in your writing: I recommend this website to find out which writing devices have been overdone.
  • Read: writing a Fantasy book requires reading Fantasy books, to avoid the annoying predicament which consists in writing a book that already exists.

Are you worried about how original your manuscript is or isn’t? Have you had rejections stating your premise felt too familiar? What have you done to ensure your book was as original as possible? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Querying and the request for an exclusive submission

Hello gentle reader,

While querying, you may be faced with the situation of having an agent request “an exclusive”. It’s when you send your manuscript to this agent alone and stop querying other agents until she gives you the green light.

Does this happen often?

According to a completely unscientific Twitter poll of my own doing, it seems to happen more often than you might imagine. Therefore if you’re querying, you might want to think about what you’ll do if/when faced with this situation.

How do you respond?

First, you celebrate, because this is a request!

Then you have three options. Panicking isn’t one of them.

Option 1: Your manuscript is already on the desk of one or several agents, so you can’t actually grant this exclusivity. In this case, you have to inform the agent who requested an exclusive and she’ll decide whether she still wants to read your manuscript or not.

Option 2: You don’t have any material out but you want to keep your options open, i.e. keep querying. This is what’s usually advised. Granting exclusivity means you stop querying for at least a couple of weeks, which many see as a waste of time, especially since there’s no way to predict the exclusivity will result in an offer of representation. In this case, be honest and let the agent know you’re not willing to grant anyone exclusivity. Again, she’ll either choose to request anyway or she’ll step down.

Option 3: You don’t have any material out but you’re willing to grant to the requesting agent the exclusivity she asked for.

Now, why on earth would you do this?

Since the consensus seems to be that granting an agent an exclusive isn’t to your advantage, when and how should you decide to say yes to this request?

  • The agent is your Dream Agent: in this case, you might not want to risk saying no to her. You might decide granting exclusive is worth it, even if the agent ends up rejecting your manuscript.
  • The agent is from a Big Agency: there are agents from big/famous agencies who ALWAYS request exclusives and refuse to read if this exclusivity isn’t granted. On the plus side, it often means they request material they’re really excited about: they believe in it and they want to have the chance to make an offer before anyone else. It’s flattering. On the downside, they might not make an offer in the end and you’ve wasted time. Again, it’s up to you to decide if you think it’s worth it.
  • If you grant exclusivity, make sure you set a deadline of no more than 4 weeks and make sure the agent agrees to it. If you haven’t heard from the agent after 4 weeks, nudge and feel free to start querying again (unless the agent replies and asks for more time… or makes an offer!).

Whichever the case, GRANTING AN EXCLUSIVE SHOULD FEEL LIKE THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE TIME. Dahlia Adler has a great post on querying red flags, and she explains that if it feels like an agent is making an unreasonable request, they most likely are making an unreasonable request.

To finish this post on a personal note, here is my own experience with exclusives:

I had one request for an exclusive in my querying life. I said yes. Here is why:

  • I had no material out at the time. I hadn’t even started querying. I met the agent at a writers’ conference. She read the first 10 pages of my manuscript, and asked for the rest – as an exclusive.
  • She was from a Big Agency, and she was used to requesting exclusives when she loved a project.
  • She was one of my dream agents.
  • I asked for a 4-week deadline. She replied to me within 2 weeks.
  • She didn’t offer representation, but she did give me valuable feedback.

To this day, I don’t regret granting this exclusive. So my advice on this topic is: do what feels right and what you think is best for you and your manuscript at the time of the request.

What do you think? Have you experienced a request for an exclusive while querying? What did you do? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Successful Queries – Day 8 – Marieke Nijkamp

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Marieke Nijkamp, aka The Queen of Queries, is sharing her advice on how to write an outstanding query. Marieke writes YA and MG fiction and she’s represented by Jennifer Udden of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Marieke Nijkamp

GUEST POST

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m one of Those People who loves to write queries (and occasionally, even synopses *gasp*). I love the clarity in brings when you have to sum up a story in roughly 250 words, when you have to force yourself to get to the very core of a tale. I love the structure of queries and synopses, I love writing them, and I love critiquing them. I’ve probably critiqued close to a thousand over the years.

I know. Annoying, isn’t it?

But I also love to talk about queries, so when Eve asked me to talk about advice for querying writers, I knew I couldn’t pass that opportunity up.

First of all, learn the formulas

Query formulas are amazing to understand what works, and why. Whether it’s by perusing the archives of Query Shark, subjecting yourself to AbsoluteWrite’s Query Letter Hell, or workshopping queries at a conference, you have to get an ear for queries. Know the rules, read a lot and critique more, because all those things will help you a great deal in writing your own perfect pitch.

Second, less is more

Once you’ve figured out those bare bones, the easiest step is to try to fill the out with the entire story. Far too often, I see queries that try to do and be everything. Introduce ALL the characters. Explain ALL the plot points. Mention ALL the themes. And often it’s a matter of overkill—and of the writer overthinking it.

I love specifics that make the story come to life, but if you pick up a book in the bookstore, do you want the blurb to explain everything that happens in minute detail? Stick to what entices.

Thirdly, trust your readers

The best way to know if a query still makes sense and hits the right spots? Ask a CP or beta who’s read the manuscript. The best way to know if a query entices? Ask a reader who hasn’t.

So take your time, reach out and get feedback. And revise it until it shines.

And finally, break the rules

And with that in mind… trust your own gut, too. Because formulas are amazing. But, sometimes, when we turn them into a tight set of rules, they can get very overwhelming. Use a tagline. Don’t use a tagline. Start with personalization. Don’t even bother. Use comp titles. Have a good bio. Explain the story in one paragraph, three paragraphs, two, four… When really, formulas are also just a means to an end.

In the end, your main goal is simple and very straightforward: to hook your reader. Nothing less, nothing more.

So don’t be *too* intimidated by those 250 words. It’s only one page! You’re a writer, just tell the story! After all, as a reader, I read to love a story, not to hate it. I only want to know three things:

Who is the main character?

What choice do they face?

And above all, why should I care?

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Marieke is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to THREE lucky winners! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 16th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 7 – Juliana Brandt

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Juliana Brandt is answering a few questions and giving away a query critique! Juliana writes YA Fantasy and she’s represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Literary Agency.

Juliana Brandt

INTERVIEW

Tell us about the manuscript that helped you land an agent…

I signed with Emmanuelle Morgan of the Stonesong Literary agency with a YA dark fantasy titled CADAVER DOG that clocks in at just under 80k words.

How long did it take you to write your query?

I actually went through a gazillion drafts of my query–at least it felt like that many. I queried my novel for about four months before moving on, and during that time, I reworked my query many times depending on what sort of response I was getting (or not getting) from agents. My query actually sat in my agent’s inbox for about six months before she contacted me. It just goes to show that you never know what will happen! The benefit of working on my query so many times is that I ended up having a pretty decent eye for what makes a strong query/pitch.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

Yes! I had many beta readers and CPs check out my query. I entered contests and had writing friends off twitter read it and even sent it to my family to see what they thought. I’m sure that almost everyone I knew at the time read one draft or another of my query.

What was the hardest part to get right?

For me, I think the most difficult part to get right was the world building. Fantasy elements are hard to detail in such a short span of time. Balancing that with not wanting to bog down the query wasn’t easy to get right.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help! The writing community is such a supportive one, there are always people out there willing to give a hand 🙂

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Juliana!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Juliana is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 16th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 6 – Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Rhiann Wynn-Nolet is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Rhiann writes YA and NA fiction and she’s represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit Associates. 

RhiannWynnNolet

QUERY

Dear Agent,

TENDRIL is a dark YA Rapunzel meets The Collector story, set in present day Maine and complete at 67,000 words.

A family curse. Albinism. Hair that moves according to feelings and desires of its own. These are the heirlooms Opal MacBride inherits. The curse is painfully clear on two points—Opal will never find true love, and MacBride men may become indecently obsessed with her magical hair and alabaster skin.

When her grandmother dies, Opal’s uncle becomes her entirely unsuitable guardian. While seeking solace at her grandmother’s grave, she attracts a lonely, angry sixteen year old ghost. Shortly thereafter she meets his equally lonely, slightly sullen living brother. Despite unfavorable first impressions, romance blossoms. Soon she questions everything she was told about love and the curse.

Though the curse may be wrong about love, it is dreadfully accurate regarding Opal’s uncle. His obsession leads to a depraved scheme to make her a prisoner in his lighthouse. To save herself, Opal must foil his plot. To ensure a happy ending, she must choose between the two brothers she loves, and life in this world or eternal life in the next.

 INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I worked on this query during the summer of 2012 and probably had 4 versions (The only one I saved was Query4 in my Word docs).

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query? 

Honestly I didn’t know query-writing advice was available when I started querying. I didn’t know about CPs or betas either. Sad, but true. “Social Media” was on my To Do List right after “Query TENDRIL”. But as soon as I stuck my toe into the Twitter stream, I heard about WriteOnCon 2012. During contests in summer/fall 2012 people gave me feedback. Besides WriteOnCon, there was GUTGAA, a Curiosity Quills contest, Agent Trick Or Treat, and some whose names I don’t remember. Several provided query advice.

What was the hardest part to get right?

Definitely plot. A number of well-meaning advisors told me I needed to figure out what the MAIN plot was—the love story or the MC vs. her creepy uncle. To me both were equally important and inextricably entwined plot arcs. I gave them equal time in my query.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Yes!

 a. Avail yourself of all the “free” help out there, but don’t rush to make every change someone advises. In the end it’s YOUR query, YOUR chance to get an agent’s attention. Analyze who’s suggesting the change, whether it provides you with an “aha!” moment, whether more than one person makes the same suggestion, etc.

b. Experiment with a couple of different versions of your query –send out a small batch of Query 1 and a small batch of Query 2 to see which garners more interest.

c. Query in batches, because if you’re lucky enough to get requests for fulls/partials you can add that in to your next round of queries. In my experience, nothing makes an agent sit up and take notice faster than an indication that other agents are interested. If you find yourself in the enviable position of receiving an offer, then BY ALL MEANS nudge outstanding queries and query anyone you haven’t already (as long as it’s someone you’d like as an agent).

d. There is no “secret recipe” for writing the perfect query, and really your query doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to make the agent want to read the story.

 Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Rhiann!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Rhiann is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Saturday 15th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!