Successful Queries – Day 3 – Brianna Shrum

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 the ever interesting Brianna Shrum is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Brianna writes YA and NA fiction and she’s represented by Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary.

Brianna Shrum

QUERY

Dear…

The kidnapping was a quiet one. In fact, most people mightn’t even have called it a kidnapping. You see, the victim went willingly, and his captor was only a child, a child the world knows as a hero.

On James Hook’s thirteenth birthday, Peter Pan entices him away to Neverland, a world made of adventure and built from children’s dreams. But very soon after, Peter Pan reneges on his promise to take James back home after his holiday. Trapped in Neverland under the harsh care of Peter, and faced with a future of shattered make-believe, little James can do nothing but break Peter’s number one rule: No growing up.

When Peter can no longer deny that James has rapidly grown into a man, Pan sentences him to death. James escapes and finds refuge among a band of pirates, stepping naturally into the role of their Captain. Despite that, James is obsessed with only one thing: returning home. Something Neverland does not wish him to do. His single-minded endeavor is thrown off course when he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Tiger Lily, a woman whose heart is torn between the pirate Captain and Pan, the boy Neverland has destined her to love.

Trapped against his will in a place where love is twisted, children are happily heartless, and dreams are killed, Captain James Hook struggles to not become consumed by hatred and revenge, and to survive as a man in a world that hates men.

Currently, most of my work has been hastily scribbled on a chalkboard and speed-read by the students in the middle and high school writing classes I teach.

Drawing from J.M. Barrie’s darker Neverland, NEVER, NEVER is an upmarket retelling of Peter Pan from Captain Hook’s perspective. It is complete at 78,000 words.

The full manuscript and synopsis are attached, as per your request.

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

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I wrote the first draft of this query in a day, but then it went through maybe two or three more drafts, I think, before it ended up like it is now. So, all in all, probably a few days.

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

I did have CP’s and betas. A couple CP’s, then a couple peeps on Twitter who were rockin’ enough to exchange queries with me. Plus, I entered Pitch Wars, and my lovely, fizztacular mentor gave me some pointers on this query. So yeah, safe to say I had some help 😉

What was the hardest part to get right?

Hmmmmm. The hardest part to get right…I’d say plot. There is kind of a lot going on in this story, and in this query, I had to get across the whole, “Hey, so, Peter Pan is a totally psychotic kidnapper, not a beloved little elf-guy, trust me,” thing, and get across an unfamiliar backstory to a very familiar character. The love story was important to me too, but I didn’t want to clog it with excessive stuff. Definitely getting enough details to intrigue, but not so many that it was cluttered, was tricky, and something pretty much anyone who critted it brought up.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Number one, research. Research agents, research their books, research alllll the query resources you can. Two, don’t be afraid to ask people for crits! Mine was soooo much better because of it, and more often than not, people, especially writers, are cool and wanna help out. Last, don’t. Give. Up. On the day after New Year’s of 2013, I distinctly remember getting a rejection from a dream agent, and just bursting into tears. Well, my dad was a wisdomous dude, and he said, “Someday, you’re gonna get an agent, and you’re gonna love that agent so much that you will be glad this one rejected you. Three weeks later, I signed with Bree, and learned that my dad was absolutely right. So, ya know, what he said. To you.

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

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Brianna 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 inlude the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 9th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 2 – Amanda Foody

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 the very talented Amanda Foody is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Amanda writes Young Adult Fantasy and she’s represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management.

Amanda Foody

QUERY

Updated 27/05/17: Amanda’s first book in the Shadow Game series, ACE OF SHADES, will be published by Harlequin Teen in April 2018. To avoid spoilers, her query for the book has been removed from this post. But you can read the blurb and add ACE OF SHADES on Goodreads here!

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

It took me ages to write the query. I tend to write queries very early on, before I’ve even fully plotted a book. It helps me with direction. So, that in mind, I was in the middle of writing the ms around WriteOnCon, so I submitted it there. Changed it a few times. Finished the book. Changed it more. Got an R&R that required me to change it yet again. So countless, countless times with countless, countless reviewers.

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

Oh yes. My CPs read my query for me, plus I entered workshops with other sorts of pitches. Also, anonymous readers for queries are great since they’re not familiar with your story.

What was the hardest part to get right?

For the book, at the stage of querying, definitely world-building. Before this query, I had gotten a major R&R that changed my entire world. For the query, it was a mixture of world-building and plot. I have a dual POV but never felt like I gave enough of Levi’s separate plot line my query, but some things just need to go to make room.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Don’t get ‘trigger happy’ with queries. It will be very tempting to send out to every agent that exists in your first batch, but of all batches, your first batch to be the smallest to gage reception. Maybe 10 agents. If you’re not getting a lot of positive response, try to reevaluate your query and opening pages and determine what can be improved. Also, do something to take your mind off querying. Work on a new project, especially (not your book’s sequel). Even if it’s silly and not meant for anyone else’s eyes, do something that pulls you away from refreshing your inbox every five minutes.

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

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 1 – Summer Heacock

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 the ever-wonderful Summer Heacock (aka Fizzygrrl) is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Summer writes Women’s Fiction and she’s represented by Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency.

Summer Heacock

QUERY

Dear Sarah,

I am seeking representation for WITH A SHAKE OF HER HAIR, a women’s fiction manuscript complete at 81,000 words.

Ellie Donahue is drowning in Suburbia.  She is driving a beige mini-van and wondering where the twenty-year-old version of herself disappeared to.   The version that didn’t give a crap about high-fructose corn syrup and thought ramen noodles and beer was a balanced dinner.

Stuck in a predictable rut of routine Sunday night sex and Thursday night chicken, Ellie’s biggest concerns are running into meddlesome Sancti-mommies at the grocery store, or being forced by her nudist mother-in-law to listen to an AC/DC cover by her band, ‘The Noody Blues’ and trying to ignore the fact that they are indeed naked while singing it.

When confronted by her husband’s infidelity with a coworker, Ellie is forced out of her rut and into a reality where she is torn between the temptation of an affair of her own with her daughter’s delicious soccer coach or fighting for her rapidly crumbling marriage. With her life upside down, Ellie struggles to determine her next step, and finds herself longing for the predictability of Thursday night chicken.

I have been writing for fifteen years, and for the last eight years have been featured in the local paper, “Our Home Town”, as the head writer for the Reviews and Opinions column.  While my training is in Psychology and Creative Writing, I have a strong background in Theater and Stand-Up Comedy, a combination of experiences that I have found very helpful when writing.  I am a stay-at-home-mother of two and in the process of writing my next novel.

I thank you very much for your time and look forward to hearing from you soon!

Sincerely,

Summer Heacock

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

When I first wrote a query for this book, over five years ago now, it was a horror show. That’s not an exaggeration. It was the worst thing possibly ever. I knew nothing about queries and didn’t do more than a few Google searches for research. (Don’t be like me.)

An agent I queried at the time took pity on what I assume was the worst wuery she had ever read in her entire life and actually emailed me back and forth for a whole day, guiding me through what the query could be. I realized the errors of my ways, bought some pitching books, and got to work. There were at least fifteen versions of that query…

My next query had a great request rate, but the book wasn’t nearly as polished as it needed to be. Again, I was a total idiot and had no idea what I was doing. (DON’T BE LIKE ME.)

This particular query came four years after the original. I tinkered with it after spending time reading other queries online and asked a CP for some advice. It took me an afternoon to put this one together and it stuck.

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

I did have betas and CPs! My biggest help when I was writing this version was Brenda Drake (who every writer should know because she is an angel.) and a writers group called TwitWits. That group was the best support possible for a querying writer, and great to get critiques.

I can’t sell the importance of a core group of trusted readers enough. Trust is the key word. You have to know they will be honest. And find people who are good at what you suck at. I am terrible with mechanics and finding grammar and spelling errors. I just read in a different way. So I make a point to have CPs who excel in those areas. When we trade, I can give them content and story ideas they might not have had on their stories, and they can punch me in the face for continually misusing lay and lie in mine.

It’s the same way when we work on pitches together. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses makes everything a lot easier. Otherwise you’ll spend more time fighting with yourself than you will successfully writing. (In case that didn’t translate, this is me hinting at my stubbornness during my first querying attempts five years ago…)

What was the hardest part to get right?

The plot. The freaking plot. I still have a hard time putting my own pitches together without using some kind of cliché to explain it. I am good at helping other people with pitches, but for some reason with my own? I’m the actual worst. I can’t ever seem to see my own writing in a clear way.

I write contemp so world building isn’t as big of an issue to me as it was when I was working on a fantasy story a few years back. Querying a fantasy MS taught me I have no business writing fantasy.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

DO RESEARCH. All of it. There are a million resources out there to help. The first place that comes to mind is The Query Shark ran by the stellar Janet Reid. You can’t do better than that site for query help.  CPSeek.com is a great place to meet and hang with other writers. Dahlia Adler has a blog that should be bookmarked by anyone trying to get into publishing.

Spend a lot of time reading other queries. Find what works. Learn what doesn’t.

Have friends who will read your stuff and tell you when it sucks. It’s nice hearing your work is great, but you want someone who will tell you what’s good, but what is crap too. That’s crucial.

Find a non-deadly vice and roll with it. I choose to mainline Jelly Bellies. My teeth might fall out eventually, but I figured it was a fair trade since I can’t have caffeine.

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

Any questions? Ask below!

Querying and Getting The Call(s)

Hello gentle reader,

In my previous posts, I have talked at length about the querying process. Today I’d like to share with you a few pointers about what comes at the end of the querying process: namely, The Call.

What is The Call?

It’s the moment when an agent offers representation by means of a phone call.

It’s both a very exciting and important time, because it’s when you assess whether or not the calling agent is actually the right agent for you. Hopefully you’ve done some research before The Call happens and you have an idea of the agent’s working style and goals. However the only way to be certain you can have a long-time working relationship with an agent is to talk to her. Hence The Call ritual.

What should you do before The Call?

 You should prepare. When you’ve been querying for a long time, getting The Call may seem like a mirage. You’re so focused on getting an agent’s attention, you don’t even think about what will happen once you finally get it.

So it’s very important to start preparing for that phone call as soon as you receive the long-awaited “We need to talk” email.  Sometimes, like in my case, the agent will say “I want to offer representation” in her email. Other times, the agent will only say “I want to talk to you about your manuscript”. In the second case, it may mean the agent only wants to discuss an R&R (Revise and Resubmit), so beware. But in the first case, you need to be ready to ask the agent the right questions.

What questions should you ask?

There is a lot of advice on this topic out there.

My advice is: don’t prepare a million questions. Chances are you can find a lot of answers online before The Call. Finding out how experienced the agent is, how many clients she has, what professional organizations she’s a part of, if she handles film rights/foreign rights/audio rights, what her percentage is, if she’s a hands-on/editorial agent… all this is usually available online. My suggestion is therefore that you focus on YOU, YOUR BOOK and how THE AGENT fits in with both.

Some of the topics you can discuss are:

  • The editing process for your manuscript (what does the agent want you to work on, in what timeframe, etc.). It’ll help you decide if you and the agent share the same vision for your story.
  • The submission process (to which editors the agent is planning on submitting your manuscript, according to which timeline, etc.). It’s especially important if you have multiple offers of representation. You’ll want to go with the agent who has connections with the editors you’re interested in.
  • The long-term relationship (what the agent thinks as a good working relationship with her clients, what will happen after your first book sells, what her vision is for your career, etc).
  • Lastly, I’d suggest asking for a copy of the agency agreement. Just to make sure everything is in order before you say yes.

What won’t be discussed during The Call?

Even if I was prepared for The Call when it came, I still wasn’t 100% sure of what the agent would want to discuss with me.

I expected questions about my online presence, there were none. Agents are interested in YOUR MANUSCRIPT and YOUR WRITING. If that’s good, the rest can follow. Not the other way around.

I expected questions about my private life (I have an unusual background and day job, and I thought the agents might want to know about it). They weren’t THAT interested. Those questions came later, once I signed with my agent and she became curious. But at the time of The Call, all that mattered was MY MANUSCRIPT and MY WRITING.

Are we noticing a theme here? Yes. In my experience, The Call is about making sure the agent and you share the same vision for your manuscript and your writing. If you do, then the rest will usually follow.

Any questions?

On Querying , Subjectivity and Getting Contradictory Feedback from Agents

Hello gentle reader,

I’ve blogged before about the Querying Process and the 4 Stages of Rejections. In my previous post, I explained Stage 4 as the moment when you’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections.

Today I’d like to expand a little bit on this type of rejection.

If you’re in the querying trenches and getting a lot of form rejections, you might think that receiving personalized feedback from agents is great: at last, agents take time out of their busy schedule to let you know WHY they’re rejecting your manuscript and what you can do about it! When I was querying for the first time, I thought so too.

Except that sometimes, the agent’s feedback isn’t as helpful as we hope.

When I queried the manuscript that led me to signing with my agent, I had 19 requests. I received personalized feedback from 16 agents (which, incidentally, means that two agents form-rejected my full manuscript – that can happen too).

Now, if half these agents had given me the same reason for rejecting my work, I would have gone back to the drawing board and revised. But it’s not what happened.

Instead, I received a lot of “I’m not the right agent for this” replies. Fair enough. I understand an agent has to believe in a project with a fiery passion to sell it to editors.

But then I also received the oh-so-confusing Contradictory Feedback (NB: my main character is named Lily):

Agent 1: “I had some trouble with Lily’s voice.”

Agent 2: “I just didn’t find myself to be as hooked by Lily and her narrative voice as I had hoped to be.”

Agent 3: “I thought the voice was great.”

Agent 4: “I’m afraid I wasn’t able to connect to Lily’s voice.”

Agent 5: “I just LOVE Lily’s voice.”

These quotes are not made up. They are straight from my inbox.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes. It’s the Pattern of The Contradictory Feedback From Agents.

Now, what does this tell us? It tells us that when you reach Stage 4 of the Querying Process, it’s likely your manuscript is polished and good enough to find representation. And when agents reject it, it reminds us that the publishing business is subjective.

And it’s an important lesson, because the rest of our publishing journey will also be affected by subjectivity. From editors to readers, we’ll have people who won’t like out story, hopefully not because it’s bad, but because it just isn’t their cup of tea. And it shouldn’t get us down: we can’t please everyone. We just have to be grateful for the people who do enjoy our stories.

And don’t forget…

What about you? Have you been confronted with subjectivity in your publishing journey? How do you deal with contradictory feedback? Make sure to leave me a comment below!

Querying, dream agents and the right agent for you

Hello gentle reader,

This post was inspired by some FizzyWisdom I read yesterday, aka a blog post by the amazing Summer Heacock about what you should and shouldn’t share on social media while you’re querying your manuscript. In her post, Summer explains how oversharing online can hinder your chances of finding an agent. She also mentions the term “Dream Agent”, which is the topic I want to discuss today.

What is a “Dream Agent”?

If you’re a querying writer, a Dream Agent is the agent you really, really want to sign with. This agent is whoever you think will be the perfect match for you and your writing.

Does everyone have a Dream Agent?

Sometimes, it sounds like everyone is talking about their Dream Agent, or asking who your Dream Agent is. I’m going to be very honest here and say I don’t have a Dream Agent. I have maybe 12 Dream Agents. Why? Because I want to keep my options open. Because a Dream Agent, an agent you *think* will be a perfect match, isn’t necessarily the Right Agent for you, that is, an agent who *will be* your perfect match.

How do I go about finding the Right Agent for me, then?

Do your research and find out:

  • if the agent represents your genre and is in contact with publishers interested in your genre.
  • what’s the agent’s style: editorial or non-editorial? Happy to communicate with you often or preferring to get in touch only when necessary? This info is usually available on the agent’s website or blog.
  • the agent’s sales record (how many books they sold, to whom and when): this info is available on Publishers Marketplace.
  • if the agent is an AAR (Association of Author Representatives) member. Sometimes new agents aren’t AAR members but they should work for an agency with AAR members (aka an established agency with a sales record). You can find this info on Query Tracker.
  • where the agent lives:  with Internet, whether the agent lives in London, New York or Los Angeles shouldn’t be an issue for your book to sell. However do check where the agent lives to consider if her/his location will have an impact on your relationship (time difference anyone?)
  • what’s the agent’s personality: this is where things get a bit subjective, but checking an agent’s online presence can help you determine whether she/he is the right agent for you. Twitter is a good resource for this, or agents’ blogs and Tumblr.

But the final decision about whether an agent is right for you or not will be during The Call: when an agent makes an offer of representation. This is when you will be able to judge if the agent’s vision of your book and your career matches your dream. Then hopefully, you’ll decide this agent is the Right one, aka your Dream Agent.

What about you? Do you have a Dream Agent? How do you go about finding out if an agent is the right one for you? Make sure to leave me your comments and questions below!