Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Query Tips

I'm slowly working my way through the query onslaught after last week's post. The creativity and dedication of writers never ceases to amaze me, so thank you to everyone who submitted their query for critique. Since I tend to be direct and have been giving a lot o' feedback on the queries so far, I was a little worried about upsetting people. Instead, I've been inundated with amazing emails of gratitude and kindness. You all blow me away. I need to give a special shout-out to the awesome TIANA SMITH, who put the pretty tabs and follow buttons on my blog for me...even before I sent her the critique!

Okay, after reading a bunch of queries, a few common things stood out so I thought I'd give some general query tips. NOTE: None of these examples are from actual queries sent to me--they are my own creations, but you get idea.

1) Avoid cliche terms. e.g. "When 'x' happens, his world turns upside down."  Anyone's world 'crumbling,' 'falling to pieces,' etc. is cliche. Be specific as to what happens.
Better: "When the space monkey lands in Evan's bedroom and injects him with a strange substance, Evan must find a cure within twenty-four hours or he will become a monkey himself." 
(Does Evan's world "turn upside down?" Hell, yes, but an agent is going to be way more interested in something specific like this--unless they hate space monkeys, in which case you don't want them as an agent anyway.)

2) Start with the hook. DON'T START with something like, "This book is about love and loss, family and betrayal, beginnings and endings." You've just described approximately 50 bazillion books, and the agent will already be moving on. Start with a one-sentence killer hook about what your book is about. See space monkey example above.

3) Avoid questions when possible. You don't want the agent to answer your questions in a way that doesn't benefit you. e.g. Will the heroine save the world in time from the onslaught of possessed elves? Potential agent response: I'm guessing so or you wouldn't have written the book. Granted, that might just be my response because I'm sarcastic by nature, but still. You want the agent to read the last line of the query and think, "Holy hell. I must get my hands on this book NOW!" The best way to end the query IMHO, is to finish with the highest stakes possible. What is the worst thing that will happen to the MC or to their world, if they do not overcome their obstacle?
Better: "She must defeat the army of possessed elves before they enslave all humanity and harvest their pets for food." 

4) Follow the agent's submission guidelines. I figured that people wouldn't be as formal sending their query to me as they would to an agent, but I was a little surprised by the number of people who didn't follow the guidelines (not attaching the query as requested, using a different format than requested, etc.) For me, it doesn't matter. I'm critiquing all of them because I'm nice like that, but if you're submitting queries to agents--FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES! It's not that agents aren't nice (in fact, most of them are quite lovely), it's that they're incredibly busy. Also, you don't want them to think that you can't (or won't) follow directions, because they are considering you for a long-term business relationship. Yes, many of them have different guidelines, so you will have to do your research, but it's worth it in the end.

UPDATE: I'm now offering professional Query Critiques for those who need help with their query. Simply click on the Query Services button to the right to get all the details.

So, those are my query tips thus far. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below, and thanks again for participating!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Query Critiques for All

Hi there! Welcome to my fancy, new author blog. Okay, it's not so fancy, but it's mine. Chances are you found me through my other writing blog Sisters in Scribe. I'll still be posting over there on Tuesdays, and will post here whenever the mood strikes. In continuing the celebration of signing with my awesome agent, I'm paying it forward and giving away query critiques to any and all who want one. WARNING: I tend to be very direct and picky with my feedback--though in an encouraging way--so this wouldn't be a good fit for super sensitive types.

The only RULES are that: 1) I get the query by midnight ET tonight (Tues. 1/24), and  2) the query is not longer than one page. If your query is longer than a page, you don't need a critique--you need to google "How to Write a Query Letter" and go from there. 3) Send your query as either a .doc or .rtf attachment to the address at the end of this post (I use track changes and would like it as a separate document).

TOTALLY OPTIONAL THINGS THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO BUT WILL BRING YOU GOOD KARMA: I'd love to hear feedback on the layout of my blog, etc. as it's a work in progress. Please leave any suggestions/etc. in the comments below. Also, if you subscribe to the newsletter, I promise to only send out super important, top secret info. I have no such info at the moment, but you never know. Finally, if you subscribe to the posts via either email or RSS, I'll send you virtual hugs. I'd give you a real hug, but you might think it a bit creepy if I just showed up on your doorstep. Thanks and I can't wait to read your query!

My email: Send your queries to drhelvig (at) yahoo (dot) com. 

Contest Monday

Happy Monday! Here are a few contests I've found around the blogosphere--feel free to add any I missed in the comments.

Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations is giving away copies of Love? Maybe. and The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler. Included in the prize are those awesomely yummy conversation hearts (seriously, the pink and white ones rock). Enter by Jan. 31st.

Kai and Tin over at Amaterasu Reads are giving away an ARC of the YA dystopian The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda. Contest ends in 6 days.

Also, don't forget to check back here tomorrow for details on how to get your free query critique!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Book Recommendation: BEAUTIFUL by Amy Reed

Before I get to the weekly book recommendation, just a reminder that this is the last day to enter for your chance to win the YA book of your choice. Just leave a comment here if you want to be included in the contest. My blog Sister, Valerie, is also doing an awesome giveaway and you have until the 17th for that one.

My book pick for this week is BEAUTIFUL by Amy Reed:

Summary from Goodreads:

When Cassie moves from the tiny town where she has always lived to a suburb of Seattle, she is determined to leave her boring, good-girl existence behind. This is Cassie’s chance to stop being invisible and become the kind of girl who’s worth noticing.

Stepping into her new identity turns out to be easier than Cassie could have ever imagined…one moment, one choice, changes everything.

Cassie’s new existence both thrills and terrifies her. Swept into a world of illicit parties and social landmines, she sheds her virginity, embraces the numbness she feels from the drugs, and floats through it all, knowing that she is now called beautiful. She ignores the dangers of her fast-paced life…but she can’t sidestep the secrets and the cruelty.

Cassie is trapped in a swift downward spiral tinged with violence and abuse, and no one—not even the one person she thought she could trust—can help her now.

Kristi's take: I usually go for the books involving strange worlds and sparkly space monkeys, so I was a little hesitant to pick this one up. Once I did, this book did not let me go until I finished. It's gritty, real, disturbing and not an easy read due to the subject matter, but I loved every sentence. Cassie reminded me of many of the girls I worked with in juvenile detention who were smart, strong, and broken all at once. This book won't be for everyone because the issues are not glossed over or sugarcoated in any way--meaning some will find it offensive. However, I found this book to be incredibly powerful and wish I could go back and give a copy of it to all the "delinquent" girls I worked with in the past. If you love contemporary YA, or just want a break from space monkeys, definitely check this one out.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How I Got My Agent

Happy 2012!! I hope everyone had a wonderful, fun and relaxing holiday. We were fortunate enough to have a white Christmas here near Denver, complete with ice-skating, sledding, and snowman building. The only downside to the last two weeks was eating my weight in cookies and chocolate fudge, but I've got a whole year to lose the weight before the holidays return!

While I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, I do love setting new goals for the year. In reviewing my writing goals for 2011 (see last year's post), I had a variety of objectives I wanted to achieve. One of those goals was written exactly like this: SIGN WITH THE PERFECT AGENT FOR ME. (Apparently, the key to goal attainment is stating them in bold, all-cap lettering.) I'm going to try that with my 2012 goal of: HAVING THE PERFECT PUBLISHER BUY MY BOOK.

I signed with my awesome agent in mid-December, and she had her entire edit letter to me THE NEXT MORNING. Seriously. You can't get more perfect for me than that. I've also spent several weeks trying to say "my agent" without breaking into a ridiculous grin, but have failed so far. I feel so fortunate, lucky, and thrilled to say that I am officially represented by Jessica Regel from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. This is Jessica:

This is me with my signed agency agreement:

As far as details go, I was pulled straight from the slushpile. I knew immediately after speaking with Jessica that she was a great fit, but I had other fulls out there and felt I should notify those agents out of professional courtesy. Jessica was very understanding, and when I received another offer of representation the next day, she said she wasn't surprised because my "book rocks." I'll admit that hearing that from an agent was one of the coolest writing highlights of my year. I loved Jessica's enthusiasm, confidence, and game plan for my book. Speaking with one of Jessica's current clients validated everything my gut told me--they raved about her dedication, competence, determination, and overall awesomeness.

One huge reason I'm convinced I obtained representation when I did is because of something I did not do from my goal list in the link above. I had originally planned to attend a writing conference that I'd gone to in the past, but then had my arm twisted to go to a week-long writing retreat instead. I said at the time that it was the best writing-related thing I'd done in in my life, and it's true. The feedback from editors was priceless, and I am forever indebted to one editor in particular for the confidence they gave me. After coming back from that retreat in October, I had renewed determination and tore my book apart (again), put it back together in November, and decided I would send it out into the world until somebody said 'yes.' I also started working on a new ms in order to preserve my sanity during the wait.
I have a bunch of query posts planned about the whole process, but I also want to pay it forward and give back to the wonderful community of writers and readers out there. I'll be doing a query critique day for writers, a book giveaway for readers, and my awesomesauce agent, Jessica, will be doing a Q & A on the blog.

What are your goals for 2012? Feel free to use bold, all-caps like I did--it can't hurt!