Friday, August 6, 2010


Today's guest blogger is Jen K. Blom, the wonderful author of POSSUM SUMMER.

You all remember the rules right? Go read her blog, become a follower, and only then may you return to read this amazing post!

Also don't forget how this works. Jen's thoughts are going to be in blue (she asked for red but I was worried that would be too confusing - also I am the mad professor here and I will not give up the power of the red pen for anyone, mwah hah ha ...).

Yeah, where was I? Oh yes, my own comments will be in red so try to keep that straight, okay?

Take it away Jen!

First off: The Story. I'd just decided to query my recently completely revised manuscript. I had two agents I wanted to try I'd loved long and long, and one that had shown previous interest in my writing. I'm a member of Publishers Marketplace (**highly recommended!**) and they had a short blurb on Marlene branching out on her own when I went in to see what was selling that day. (Common knowledge but still > an agent with a new business is a hungry agent. Plus you'd be at the top of their client list, which was also a nice idea).

The blurb on Marlene came out New Year's Day. I queried her that day, as well as the two other agents I had in mind. The next day all three asked for partials - then fulls the next day - then all offered that week! It was a week full of LOTS of angst! But I made a great decision, and Marlene recently sold my debut novel POSSUM SUMMER to Holiday House books for a 2011 release. (I'm on Goodreads - friend me there!)

Hmm, I'm not sure I'm aware of a more awesome story, POSSUM SUMMER must be quite good!

But let's go on...

Dear Ms. Stringer,

It's so hard to know if they're married or not. And you don't want to P-O an agent over something so silly as a Mrs. Ms. Miss. etc - and I didn't want to email her "Yo, Marlene"!, either. So I went with Ms.

What a good point. Back when I queried terribly over a year ago I would address agents by their first name. This is passable I guess but it really is more professional to use Mr. or Ms. Jen is spot on about it being a good idea not to insult anyone, so I think she gives good advice here about using the universal Mizz.

First off, congratulations on your new agency! Two thumbs up on the webpage too, it's quite classy.

This way I thought she'd know I was savvy to the relevant information outlets available for non-pubbed (and non-agented) writers. It's always good to appear like you know what you're doing - even if you don't! I also went to her website and snooped around. It was nice. Succinct, elegant, and full of info. Since I'm a succinct sort of girl myself, I appreciated this. Plus I was a bit irreverent without being cheeky. Cheeky is bad.

I had never really thought of this but I don't suppose it's all that different from saying: I read your blog daily and thought you would be a good fit for my novel because ...

Of course this kind of personalization is not going to earn representation for a poor story or bad writing. Story, voice and good writing are still requirements, but if you've got all three of those, along with a dash of work ethic and a pinch of uniqueness, there's no reason something like this would hurt your chances.

Princess is a die-hard tomboy growing up in the middle of the Oklahoma plains with only two friends in a thirty-mile radius: her best buddy Mart and her mutt, Blackie. Her dad's off to war and her mama is gone all day working, so she's in charge of the farm and all the inhabitants living on it for the summer. When she finds an orphan opossum kit in the ragged remains of a possum her dog just killed, she has a real tough decision to make.

I wanted the query to be in the style of the voice in POSSUM SUMMER, so I wrote it out in 1st POV and then switched it to third. It took many different attempts before I got the sense of loneliness and responsibility down that I wanted to hook the agent in the first sentence.

Well this is certainly different. Remember what I was saying about uniqueness? This story sounds very intriguing. You've got a unique setting, a sympathetic character, and a scenario of conflict that I've certainly never heard of before. No wonder agents took an interest.

Save him against her father's wishes? Or let him die?

I deplore rhetorical questions, but sometimes I think a good question or two can make the agent's mind wander to the possibilities inherent in a book. Since mine didn't have explosions, vampires or a love triangle - unless you counted a dog and a possum - I thought this was a handy way to bring them into the world my protag resides in. :-D

We're all well aware of the hate for rhetorical questions among some but I think this works just fine here. Jen quickly introduces further conflict by mentioning the father's wishes but leaves us wondering exactly what she means, which is just fine in a query.

From the moment she looks into his eyes h er - ACK! A typo! Er, don't do this HA HA *gasps* heart is lost, and she decides to try it - no matter the cost to her. But when Ike the possum's cover is blown and tragedy strikes, she struggles to find the power in herself to get past the price he has to pay.

Cliche are so cliche, but I wanted to turn one on its nose and have a little word play at the same time.

I don't really see the cliche here. I mean yeah "price to pay" is a pretty common phrase but applying it to a possum's cover being blown is pretty darn new and different if you ask me. I love that the conflict at the heart of this story is really pretty simple. Girl feels sympathy for an adorable dying animal and saves its life against her better judgment. This kind of thing sounds perfect for MG.

A Middle Grade novel complete at 55,000 words, "Possum Summer" would appeal to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kate DiCamillo, and Wilson Rawls. I'd be happy to forward at your request.

Genre! Word count! Title! Easy author placement! And the "I'd be happy..." I got from Janet Reid. I figured if the agent had gotten this far I wasn't gonna blow it with a long-winded About me section.

Great advice! Keep the housekeeping succinct. As long as your word count isn't 400,000 or your title POSSUMS GONE WILD, none of this matters THAT much anyway. Just make sure these details aren't ones that would blow it.

Yours sincerely,
Jennifer Blom

I included my blog addy after my name and used a stock generic ending for that last bit. Plus, I'm not a really windy writer at all, and short and sweet is how I roll, baby.

Awesome. So what do you guys think? I think this story sounds incredible. The simple idea of saving the life of a needful animal, without magic, vampires or telepathy sounds pretty powerful to me. This kind of story takes me back to my childhood and the kind of stuff I used to read like Where the Red Fern Grows, The Red Badge of Courage, or Danny, Champion of the World.

I haven't read Jen's book but it sounds like it will be really touching and just the kind of thing a young girl like my 9 year old daughter would love to read. Any questions? Did you forget to follow Jen's blog? Shame on you.


JKB said...

Matt - You are the best! Thanks for having me and POSSUM SUMMER (tho I'm REALLY leaning towards POSSUMS GONE WILD now!!) on your fabulous blog!

Many, many thanks again! <3

Joanne Brothwell said...

Great post, guys! Jen, this story sounds wonderful, and your query is perfect.

I'm going to head over to check out Publishers Marketplace. Thanks!

Matthew Rush said...

You're most welcome Jen! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Christina Lee said...

Wow what a story! And you're right Matt, the simplicity of the story probably drew everyone in! Thanks for sharing!

Jess said...

This is exactly the kind of book I can picture reading with my daughter when she gets a little older--thanks so much for sharing your amazing story and query!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great query. Wonder if Jen wants to write my now. ;)

I think the cliche part was "From the moment she looks into his eyes her heart is lost." But it works because she isn't talking about some sexy bad boy. She talking about a possum.

As always, thanks Mathew for posting these awesome queries. Maybe they'll eventually rub off on me. :D

Candyland said...

Nice. And awesome about all the offers! *jealous* :)

Alison Stevens said...

I've been wanting to sneak a peek at the query that netted you three offers... ;)

Thanks for sharing this, Jen! And thanks Matt, for sharing Jen's query on your blog.

Creepy Query Girl said...

sounds very fresh and original and at the same time wholesome. I think the fact that the mc is mature, determined, and beats to the tune of her own drum despite her father's wishes will intrigue young readers. Thanks so much for sharing!

aspiring_x said...

nice query! nice analysis! nice story! thanks for the education!

Hilary Wagner ~ Debut Author said...

This would be a fantastic query if it weren't about possums--ick! Ha, ha! Jen, you know I love you and it's a brilliant query from a brilliant writer!

Of note: JKB is my best writer bud and keeps me sane at all turns, even all the way from Germany! I HEART HER!

Great post, Matt! And Jen, congrats on your deal! I'm so glad we're in this together and can talk each other off the ledge! ;)

xoxo -- Hilary

Justine Dell said...

HAHAHA--possums gone wild! I would read that. Kidding. ;-)

This story sounds cute, Jen and it's wonderful see the positive experience you've had! Congrats!


Alissa said...

Thank you Matt and Jen for sharing this. I loved seeing a query letter for a story that wasn't all explosions and vampires and such with a tone that matched the tone of the novel. Possum Summer sounds great!

Shelley Sly said...

Excellent query, and very helpful to a fellow MG writer! Thanks for posting, Jen and Matt!

JKB said...

Joanne, I hope you like PM! I've found it's just invaluable!

Matt, you are still the bomb. That is all. (HUG)

Christina, thanks for the props! :-D

Jess - make sure and get a copy! Heck, get two! *wiggles eyebrows*

Stina - I won't write it, but I'll crit it for nothin'. Just email me!

Candyland - soon, soon my pretty it shall be your turn!

Alison - You saw it! :0DD

Creepy QG - I particularly wanted a classic sort of feel and a girl that knew her own mind. P is definitely that!

Aspiring - Thanks! :-D


Justine - So that's a second vote for POSSUMS GONE WILD.... XD

Alissa - Thanks! You rock! I can guarantee there are no vampires or supernatural elements in my story!

Shelley, glad to see another MGer! Chin up and good luck!!

:-D >> JKB

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like that this letter is short and to the point.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

It's funny, I just read Old Yeller with my kids, and this story reminds me of that one. And that's a compliment! If you folk haven't read Old Yeller, get cracking. It's a damn good (and funny) classic.

And the thing with rhetorical questions is you don't want to start a query with one, particularly if it's wacky or far out there.

"Have you ever wondered what having children with a giant green space alien bunny would be like?"

"Um, no."

A query is like a sales pitch: never give 'em a chance to say no. :)

But you can use a rhetorical question later on, particularly if it's pointed - and the one in this query is, very specifically illuminating a particular conflict. It sets up a moral dilemma, rather than asking someone to identify with something difficult.

Nicely balanced query all around - and sounds like the novel is just the same. :)

Heidi Willis said...

I loved seeing the comments of both Jen and Matt throughout this. It's fun to see not just the query, but what it is that works about it.

Having read both the query and Possum Summer, I can say that the query very much fits the voice and style of the book, which is so important!

This book is FANTASTIC and I recommend it to EVERYONE! It reminded me of the things I loved best about Where the Red Fern Grows, only better.

Way to go, Jen!

Falen (Sarah) said...

i didn't think the question was rhetorical at all, since there was clearly conflict with each choice.
i love the writing a query from 1st POV and then changing it

Theresa Milstein said...

I think the question worked because it was anchored to the story. The voice of the manuscript is really strong in this query, which is something I'm striving for.

I think those typos make themselves by magic. How many times do we look at our queries and they're fine? Then somehow there they are AFTER we hit send or lick the envelope.

Lydia Kang said...

I liked that query a lot. It really gave you a feel for the book.
Thanks to both of you for posting and commenting!

Angie said...

That was a terrific query. I am not surprised it landed you your agent. Sounds like a great book!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Congrats to Jen, POSSUM SUMMER sounds fab.

Another great guest post, Matt :)

Hardygirl said...

Congrats to Jen! And, it sounds like a great book. No wonder you had so many agents interested.


Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm officially following Jen's blog. First thing I did. And this sounds right up my daughter's preference. Like Jeb, I did a POV change. Lots of work and I admire her for making a difficult decision and following though. Best wishes for Jen's success.

Stephen Tremp

JKB said...

Alex - Thanks. :-D

Bryan - Thanks a bunch! It's right along the lines of Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc. Make sure to have some tissues handy!

Aw, Heidi. *blush*

Hi Sarah, Thanks for commenting! It did seem to work for me, the POV change. I've heard of others doing it too.

Theresa - I only JUST saw that typo when I was making my comments for Matt! To say I was horrified was a BIT of an understatement! Ha!

Thanks, Lydie and Angie! <3 I appreciate you dropping by!

Lindsay and Hardygirl, well, thanks a bunch. You guys are all making me blush!

Thanks for following me, Stephen! I'll head over and return the favor.

Thank you ALL for commenting! This is SO NICE!

I can't wait to come over here and comment on YOUR success story!

Teresa said...

I'm so glad you talked about researching the agents and being a member of Publishers Marketplace. You really got a foot up on the competition that way -- and of course, by writing a great query.

I hadn't thought of writing my query in first person and going back and changing it to third. What a cool idea. I wish I'd seen this while I was struggling through the query blues last fall.

Great interview and don't pay Rat-Girl up there any mind -- Possums are cool and so are Rats. Play nice!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Wow, now THIS is a thrilling "how I got an agent" story!! Congrats, Jen - and thanks, Matt for sharing!

Z's Back in Business with the Blog!

Lenny said...

hi mr matthew and miss jen! how could a animal lover like me not want to read this book! me and my family saved a baby raccoon and she got to be our pet cause she just wouldnt go live in the woods. ha ha. im learning more about this query stuff. i like this one cause it was real easy to read and didnt say so much stuff that i got lost in it.
...hugs from lenny

Jen said...

Matt I am learning so much from your blog! I look forward to one day showing off my query (given the opportunity to even be showcased on your blog)

Possum Summer sounds amazing so I look forward to checking her blog out further!

JKB said...

Teresa, Im with you. Rats stink! Possums rule! *ducks and runs*

Wow Zoe, thanks for being so fantastic !! XO

Hey Lenny! I hope you get it - and love it! I had a baby raccoon too, I sure loved that baby! (I also had a baby possum - oh, the coincidences!)

Hey Jen! I'm glad you got something out of it, and I wish you MUCH success! I can't wait to read your queryo n here!

Rose Cooper said...

Great post, Matthew! And Jen, this is a terrific query! I love how it's sweet, simple, and to the point. I can't wait to read your book!!