June, 2010

Query Critique #1

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Thanks all for joining in for my first ever query critique.  What I’ve done is some in-line changes and then gave my overall comments at the bottom.  I invite ALL of my followers to chip in and offer suggestions.  Mine is only one opinion and I’m sure this author would LOVE to hear yours as well.  Remember comments are moderated, but as long as they aren’t harsh or deragotory they will go through.  


Dear Ms. Souders,
Normal does not describe Ellyssa.  She is genetically engineered to be faster, stronger, more intelligent, and emotionless.  Not to mention, she’s a telepath.  One of the few lethal soldiers of tomorrow. 
**This sounds a bit dull.  It’s interesting material, but 1) it’s not said in a way that it would catch my interest. 2) it does not sound so much different than other books out there now. 
When I saw the first sentence my thoughts automatically went, “So?  Why should I care that she’s not normal?”  I’m not saying this to be mean, but I think it’s a good question.  Why should I, the reader, care that she’s not normal?  Also, what does being genetically engineered to be all these things have to do with anything?   What’s it mean to the story?  The reader?  The protagonist? 
 I would think about how you can spice this up.  What does all this mean for her.  Why is this important?  Why is this your hook? MAKE this your hook.  Right now, I feel like I’m reading the beginning a documentary.  LOL. 
Think of this as your story in one sentence.  If you were going to pitch this to me in person, but you only got one sentence, what would you say?
But when she crosses paths with a dark-haired prisoner, her world built around the concept of Aryan purity disintegrates. (**How so?**)  He speaks to her. Not vocally, but by pushing his thoughts through her psychic wall and into her mind. (**This kinda sounds painful**) An inconceivable possibility according to her indoctrination.  After all, he is not from her society.
Okay, so, why is this a big deal?  Is she a prisoner too?  Or is he her charge?  What is he to her?  What does he become?  How does she feel about this?  Why is this impossible?  And what does him being from another society have to do with anything? 
I should start seeing a little of the plot here, but I’m not.  I’d like to see why she’s here, what she is, what she’s doing.  I’d also like a bit more detail on him.  What he is, for example.  How does this make your protag feel?  What does this change for her?
Unable to resist the allure of his unspoken words, Ellyssa finds herself in turmoil, feeling emotions and running away from her life.  What’s worse is she isn’t even sure where she is going or why, but what she ends up discovering is that her ideals are more flawed than she was led to believe.
What are his unspoken words?  Is it this that leads her to running away?  Or is it that he loves her?  What?  Why are her ideals flawed and what does this mean for her?  Why would any of this be a problem for her?  What does ANY of this mean for her? What does running away mean?  Is she in trouble?  Does no one care?  Is she going to die? I’m not seeing the plot behind this.  I AM seeing the potential behind the story, but I CAN’T see anything beyond that.  Why do the ideals change?  For the good?  Or bad?
What does this all mean for her?  What’s at stake for her?  Where’s my cliffhanger ending?
Take for instance the HUNGER GAMES.  Katniss has two choices, kill or die.  What’s at stake for the protagonist here?
PERFECTION is a young-adult, dystopian fantasy complete at 99,000 words.
Two things here, I would just say dystopian not dystopian fantasy.  It’s one or the other.  They may say to combine them later when you’re going to sell it, but for now stick to one genre or the other or you’re not going to look like you know what you’re doing.  And 2) You’re bordering on too long for YA.  I would look at your MS and see if there is somewhere at ALL that you can cut or combine, tighten.  See if you can bring it into the low 90s at the very least. But if you ABSOLUTELY think you need this amount of words to describe things, than by all means keep it, but I’ve found the more I write, the better I get at tightening and I end up cutting a lot of stuff I don’t need.  I cut 10k out of my last WIP.  Just saying.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Okay, all in all you’ve done your research on queries, this is in a good format. It’s in a good length.  You’ve got the essentials done.  The part that’s missing is I have no clue what this story is about.  I haven’t seen the plot.  All I know is that there’s a girl, named Ellysa, who’s a genetically engineered soldier that’s had something strange happen that makes her question her ideals. 
I don’t know why that’s happened?  What this means?  Or how she feels about it.  In fact I don’t get much of your voice in this at all. 
I feel nothing for your main character, so I don’t have that WANT to keep reading.  If there were pages attached, I’d probably read further, but I may not.  As I don’t feel vested in your character enough from the query to care. I.E. No Hook. 
Also, it sounds very much like every other girl soldier dystopian on the shelves.  How is this DIFFERENT from everyone else? 
Go back to some books you’ve read lately.  What made you want to read that book?  The book blurb, right?  How did it catch your interest?  Try to capture that and put it in your query.  Good luck! 

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The cost of having an agent

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Yesterday on twitter several people, including myself, participated in a lively debate on how a change to how agents earn their money might be necessary. You can check it out at hashtag #agentpay.   It started off with a simple question posed by Uber Agent Colleen Lindsay.  She asked, “How would publishing change if agenting moved from commission-based payment to billable hours?” (Now to give her and the other agents who participated credit, it was a hypothetical question.  Not one of the agents was asking for an immediate change and not many really wanted it–from what I could tell, but it did raise some good points.)


Agents are doing A LOT more than they were 20, 10, even 5 years ago and a lot of people including the authors of these agents feeling agents are getting underpaid for all that they do.  I happen to agree with this.  My agent has gone above and beyond her job duties to not only read my query in the first place, but when she signed me she already had a ton of awesome notes on how to make my story better.  She still continues to help me get my mss into the hands of the perfect publisher.  


No I’m not one of those people who “agent worship,” but I do believe that my agent has earned every percent of her commission and really she does deserve more money for doing it.  


Now onto the question of billable hours vs commission.  I’m not a proponent of it.  For various reasons.  At this point, I could go on and on why I’m not, but I’m going to direct you to the awesome blog of Victoria Strauss.  I agree with EVERYTHING she’s said here and she’s said it better than I ever could.  


After you read it come back and I welcome you to share your opinions here.  But please no agent bashing.  I will delete it.  I will listen to both sides, but I don’t want to hear about money grubbing agents, k?  Thanks.   

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To take advice or not to take advice. That is the question.

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Several times now I’ve stressed the importance of getting beta readers and crit partners, but I’ve never talked about how to decide what advice to take.
If you’re just starting out and you haven’t found your voice yet, there’s no shame in taking all the advice and trying it out.  You’ll learn quickly what works for you and what doesn’t. 
And there’s also absolutely no reason TO take all the advice you’re given.  Unfortunately everybody is going to have a different vision of where you’re going.  Some will agree with yours, others won’t. 
The best thing I can tell you to do is to read ALL the advice and sleep on it.  Take as long as you need to really digest what they’re telling you.  Even if you completely agree with the advice, take some time.  You’ll find that you may not agree with it, or not completely, after you’ve thought about it for a while or just the opposite, you’ll find that that advice you thought was complete bunk was PERFECT. 
Sometimes you may even find that the advice is great, but it’s just not going to work with your story.  Sometimes you need an unreliable narrator or you want to have a hero/heroine that’s unlikeable. 
There is no cookie cutter in writing.  Everyone’s story should be different.  SO while you should take in all the advice you’re given the true skill to writing is determining which advice to take and which to leave on the wayside.

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Another Blog Award.

> This award is the Versatile Blogger award and it comes with a few rules.

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order…)
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award.

Seven random things you may or may not have wanted to know about me:

1. I’m a military veteran and served in the second Iraqi War.
2. My favorite anime is The Ouran Host Club.
3. My second child came into the world after only 7 minutes and the doctor almost didn’t make it.
4.  I’m TERRIFIED of clowns.
5. I wanted to be a Marine Biologist since I was 10, but I’m afraid to swim in the ocean.
6. I was a theatre/band geek in middle and high school (but I didn’t join my high schools marching band)
7. I’m freaked out by spiders, centipedes and roaches, but I LOVE reptiles, especially snakes.

And here are the 15 blogs that I’d like to recommend to you:

The girls from Oasis For YA:

* Jessie  at The Daily Harrell
* Sheri at Writer’s Ally
* Nikki (who gave me this award) of her self-titled blog
* AE Rought at Love, Light and Shadows

My Fave bloggers:

* Liz Czukas at her self-titled blog
* Larissa Hardesty at Larissa’s World
* Jaclyn Dolamore at her self titled blog
* Kristi LaPointe at Mommy Barbie
* Adventure’s In Children’s Publishing
* Leah Crichton at her self titled blog
* MJ Heiser at Dispatches from Jaenrye
* Slushpile hero
* Jody Hedlund at her self-titled blog
* Lynn Rush at Catch the Rush
* Jordan Deen at her self titled blog

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Bring a little real life to the imaginary.

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Today’s post.  Taking our characters from those nearest and dearest to us.  Or those we just happen to pass by.
Most writers are observers.  My husband calls it nosey, but I’m sticking with observing.  😀  We people watch.  Listen in on conversations. Study how people interact with each other.  For most of us, we’ve done this our whole lives without even realizing it.  Others it’s taken some getting used to, but if you’re a writer, you’re going to do it at one point or another.
Take for instance, the day my husband and I were waiting in the hospital’s laboratory for my daughter to get some blood drawn.  I was taking care of my daughter—making sure she didn’t run away.  :D—when my husband pokes me in the side.  “Look over there,” he said and tilted his head in the direction of an elderly lady being pushed in a wheelchair by a radiology tech.
That, of course, wasn’t the part that was funny, it was the fact that the woman was talking at the top of her voice—I say talking because I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean to be so loud.  Anyway she’s asking the tech why they always do that to her and why couldn’t they just leave her be.
At first I felt sorry for her, here she was probably about 80 or 90 and she was getting poked and proded when all she wanted was to be left alone.
But the more she and the tech “talked,” I realized it wasn’t that at all.  It was the fact that the elderly woman (we’ll call her WW from now on) was upset about being pushed to the waiting room after her procedure.  She wanted to go talk with the woman who checked her in.
Now I have to give credit to the tech.  She never once got angry or nasty with WW, no matter how much WW dished out.  The tech quietly explained that WW had to wait there so the transport company would pick her up. And no she couldn’t see the lady who checked her in because she was with other patients. 
She told her she’d be right back and she was going to call the transport company and then locked the wheels on the chair.  She turned to the receptionist behind her and asked for her to watch WW.  The receptionist wasn’t happy about doing it, but nodded and the tech took off toward radiology again, presumably to get the transport company’s number from WW’s chart. 
The minute the tech disappeared, WW unlocked the wheels and propelled herself toward the check in lady–who was done the hall in one of the three rooms designated for it. The receptionist paid no attention to her.  I’m not sure if she didn’t care or just didn’t notice–honestly I don’t think she liked working there.  She wasn’t really all that nice.
 Since WW was still talking very loudly I heard her plainly tell the check-in woman that she hadn’t been seen for her test yet.  All she’d had done was moved from one side of the waiting room to the other, which of course wasn’t true.  I saw the tech wheel her in from radiology. 
I don’t know what happened after, because we got called in for bloodwork, but I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.  My husband was the same.  It was hilarious.  It really was. 
And I knew I’d have to use that lady in a book.  She was too funny not too. 
On the other hand, the other day I was shopping and I had a full cart and two screaming kids.  I was embarrassed and frustrated so I went up to the first cash register and waited.  The minute I got up to him, he took a look at my cart, then me (with my hair standing up on end, I’m sure) and took out his closed sign.  “Sorry, Ma’am,” he told me.  “I’m closed.  You’ll have to find another register.”
I’ve worked in retail so I know this was a big “no-no,” so I said, “ You can’t do that.  You were just open.  You have to wait until you’re finished with the line.”
He smiled.  “I’m closed.  Go somewhere else.” And then he walked away. 
Needless to say I was pissed.  I did go to another register, but I made sure the poor woman running that one knew exactly what happened.  I was still polite about it, but what I really wanted to do was rant and rave.  Instead, I’ve decided to write him into a murder mystery I’ve been playing around with and use him as one of the victims. 
I’m not a violent person, but boy did I come up with a great opening scene for that book.  😀 
What real-life experiences have motivated you to tweak them and use them in a book?    

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