Friday, May 28, 2010


Okay everybody, without further ado I am excited to announce the guest post of Elana Johnson, the Queen of the Query and the Darling of the Blogoshpere. If you don't already know how awesome she is you are about to be smacked in the face ... with sauce.

Please be sure to visit Elana's blog, the QueryTracker blog, and Elana's website. If you're not already following her then what the hell are you doing here? If you think she's brilliant (I do) and you need help with your query she sells an awesome e-book, called From the Query to the Call. And guess what? It's only $9.99 and comes with a free critique of your query so it pretty much pays for itself right then and there.

She is so smart and so skilled at crafting a query that I don't want to muck her post up with much of my own commentary but just in case her thoughts are in red, purple for emphasis, and my own will be in blue. I know that's a bit different than usual, but she's the teacher here, let's all just sit back and learn.

Her thoughts and query:

I break the query down into four parts and work on them separately: Hook, Setup, Conflict, Consequence. Then there’s Everything Else your query needs. So I’ve identified the parts, and given some commentary as to why I’m including what I include. You’ve only got a few words, so you want to use them all to propel the agent through your letter and get them to request your novel. I mean, that’s the goal of a query letter: to generate requests. Not to tell every thread of the novel. To generate a request.

Truer words have never been spoken, well maybe they have, but not by me. It's like a mantra: the point of the query = to get the agent to read (more) pages.

Dear Ms. Andelman, (Agent Name Spelled Right in Personalization)

I read on your AgentQuery profile that you’re “drawn to fiction with a unique voice.” Because of this, I believe you would be interested in my young adult novel, POSSESSION. (Introduction – I did this if I could. Interestingly enough, I didn’t have anything for my agent. So I simply said, “I believe you would be interested…” and went from there. Basically, I want to do two things up front. 1. Let the agent know that I KNOW what they want. And 2. Tell them I’ve got what they want.)

That is interesting. Personalization is always important, when possible, and proves you have the work ethic to do the proper research. After all what is writing but hard work, right? That being said it is fun to see that Elana proved that as usual, rules can be broken.

In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. (Hook)

After committing her eighth lame crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), ((details = Vi dislikes Rules and breaks them, world building = the Rules are lame)) Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. ((world-building)) She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) ((details = Vi is snarky)) and exiled to the Badlands. ((world-building = exiled to another land))

This is so concise and such great advice/analysis that I'm not sure I can add anything. I will say that Violet Schoenfeld is a damn cool name, but Jag Barque is even cooler (sounding).

The voice also shines like a spotlight on amphetamines right here; so I'm sure that helped.

Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She busts out of prison with sexy Bad boy Jag Barque, who also has no intention of fulfilling his lame sentence. ((catalyst to the conflict = exiled to the Badlands with a (hawt) Bad boy))

(Okay, right here I wanna say this: So far this is all Setup. But I think I’ve hooked you with the first sentence. And I’ve given you the details of my character and world – oh and I’ve used the same voice as the novel. You’ve got to infuse your query with voice. My tip: Write it in the viewpoint of your novel. I wrote my query in first person and switched it back later.)

Man that's a great idea! *Runs off to change his query letter* Can't believe I never thought of that!

Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. (she’s got problems. Lots of them.) Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. (Whoa. She’s important? How so?)

This is great hinting, just enough to entice without giving anything away or going on too long.

When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled. (Ooh, what will it be? You’ll have to read to find out…)

And we will, boy will we.

A dystopian novel for young adults, (genre) POSSESSION (title) is complete at 75,000 words. (word count) Fans of Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar dystopian elements, and a strong teen voice. (Market Comparison)

This is just housekeeping, of course, but Elana does it quite well.

I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author of the QueryTracker blog by night. (Author Bio: BRIEF) If you would like to consider POSSESSION, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you. (Invitation – not a question, not a gushing-fest) I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript in the body of this email. (Conclusion)

You guys wanna guess how many requests Elana got when she couldn't include pages? Based on this query I'd wager the numbers are pretty high. Yes it only takes one, but even more is more fun!

I always included the first ten pages (my first chapter) in the body of the email – unless agents specifically said “Query Only.” I wanted them to read my writing, even though I thought my letter was 100%. It’s all about the writing, you know?

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Elana Johnson
(address/phone number) (Contact Info)

Wow. Have you caught your breath yet? Does it seem possible that one person can have so much knowledge and insight and still not have any books published yet? [POSSESSION is set to be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) in Summer 2011] Do you wonder whether Elana is blessed with some kind of Alien Intelligence? Does she scare you?

I'll admit I was a little intimated by Elana's fame and experience at first. It took a nudge from our mutual friend Michelle McLean to get me to even email her to ask if she was interested in doing this post. But you know what?

Elana is just about the nicest person you could ever meet (online or otherwise). Not only is she always willing to help out just about anyone but she is friendly, upbeat and incredibly funny. Go read her blog. Follow her. Love her (giving nature) and for god's sake don't be afraid to email her. Not only will she make you laugh but you'll probably learn something.

NOTE: Candace from The Misadventures in Candyland is holding a contest. Guess what some of the prizes are? That's right, query critiques by THE Elana Johnson!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Unicorns and False Hope - Part II

First of all I must say that the show of support yesterday was incredible. You people (writers) are amazing and the level of understanding and solidarity that you brought to this topic was both uplifting and inspiring. I have really learned a lot since those clumsy old query days and it means a lot to me that we can look back and laugh at this stuff together.

The second half of this post may make you laugh as well. More likely it will make you scratch your head and say, huh? Hopefully it won't make you cry.

If you missed the first half of this epic tale for some crazy reason you can find it here.

Moving right along here is my continued correspondence with agent (editor?) X:


First of all let me just say thank you very much for having an interest in my work. It is very exciting to have an opportunity to share my narrative voice with a professional in the industry. I am attaching an .rtf file which includes the first three chapters of my book as well as the intro/prologue chapter and a few title pages. I have edited it so that it complies with your requests (except that the title pages are still single spaced because they look really awkward otherwise).

I'm not sure how or if the rules apply to this kind of situation, but normally you don't send title pages to an agent. Not at first. I'm just sayin.

I do want to warn you about a couple of things. First of all this story is very long but one of the main pieces of advice that I am seeking is whether I should rewrite it into two separate books (which could easily be done), or whether I should try to cut this story down to a more marketable size, or perhaps if you think it is good enough to sell as is. Secondly I would like to point out that two of the first three chapters are flashback chapters which, though important for introducing the reader to the protagonist, do not develop the plot and may need to be edited so that they are not so long. If you would like to see the three chapters that occur after these, in which the plot really begins to develop, please let me know and I will send you those instead. Another thing is that the fantasy elements (magic, fright away. I did not want you to think that I categorized this story into the wrong genre just to get you to offer to read it.

This is strange. I mean this is poorly written and certainly proves to my now more experienced mind that my MS was not ready to be read by agents, but the odd thing is that from the things I was saying it looks like an editor is exactly what I was looking for. Funny.

Other than that I really look forward to hearing your opinion about the story, the characters and the writing and I really appreciate you taking the time to give my project a look.

Thank you,


Her honest (and most normal) reply:

Mr. Rush,

Thank you so much for considering REDACTED Literary Services. Having reviewed your manuscript and deliberating over the possible target markets for it, we have determined that your project would be better suited to a larger agency. We wish you the absolute best of luck placing this manuscript elsewhere but are certain you will have no difficulty with that.

Incidentally, everyone here who read it felt this would be a good fit for either a television series or possible script for movie. You might want to look into that.

Thanks again for considering us and have a beautiful week!

Always Sincerely,

This is pretty cool I suppose looking back. I mean it does make it clear that she was not the wolf in sheep's clothing of an editor masquerading as an agent that she first appeared to be. She also has some good points about the larger agency for such a long MS but I'm not sure about the TV/Movie comments. I mean sure, I love the story, and I think it probably could work in those mediums, but how could she possibly know for sure after reading only 3 chapters?

And where the hell am I going to learn how to write a screenplay?

I wrote back to her, clumsily:


Thank you very much for taking the time to review my project. I appreciate your honesty and do believe that you are probably right. I have certainly thought about the film and television possibilities and think that my story would probably make a great anime like Naruto or Avatar. I have decided though that I would like it to be published as a novel first. However, most of the large new york agencies have rejected my project based on a short query letter alone, and without having read any part of the manuscript. I do have a couple of other smaller agencies who are currently reading partials but if I cannot get an offer of representation from anyone I may contact you again in the future just to seek your advice about what my other options might be. Thanks again for your consideration and for taking the time to read the part of my book that I sent you.

Thank you,


And this is where things got weird.

Her reply:


Thanks for understanding. Anytime you need help with your manuscript, we'd love to do it when time permits of course. I'll shop the concept and see what we get. If anything comes up on this end, I'll let you know. Until then, just keep trying. You have a very descript writing voice. The language and imagery is lovely. I think the beginning is a bit long and might need some trimming. The verbage could use a little tweaking as well, but over all, your story is really good. We feel here that with a little clean up and the proper presentation the work could easily be marketed. You just keep working on it, and we're sure something wonderful will happen for you.

Thank you again for thinking of us and feel free to submit anything anytime.


Looking back now it is not QUITE as strange as it sounded at first, but this is still not normal. A reputable agent does not "shop the concept" before offering representation to a writer. They offer to represent you based on their passion for the story and writing and THEN they convince editors to love it as they do. Shopping the concept to see if it will sell first is not professional, not allowed by the AAR and just kind of underhanded.

That may not be what she meant. Reading the entire paragraph now it seems as though she meant she would consider it again, after heavy revision, but the wording is not very clear. One thing that is of course wonderful is that she had some very nice things to say about my writing, which was encouraging then and is encouraging still ... I'm just not sure exactly how to feel about it since it's not clear exactly what her motives might have been or what kind of agent/editor she was.

Looking back now I get the feeling that she was just a brand new agent just getting started out in her own agency at the time. She probably also did not have much experience working as an assistant or intern at any real agencies. Who knows how she came to the decision to try her hand at being an author's literary representative.

Needless to say I'll be looking to work with more experienced agents once I begin querying my novel again.

So what do you guys think? Is this what you expected? What would you have done had you experienced this kind of thing at my level of ignorance? What would you do now?

Leave your thoughts in the comments and more importantly don't forget to come back tomorrow for Elana Johnson's actual query for CONTROL ISSUES.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unicorns and False Hope - Part I

In honor of Elana's upcoming Friday mega post (as in mega awesome, not mega long) I'm going to do something special today. *smiles and winks devilishly*

Today I'm going to share my first successful query ever. It is a strange one, as you will see. The query is still pretty bad, but I think it was the high level of personalization that made it work (at first).

This post is going to have to stretch into two parts, because, as you will discover, the correspondence with this agent is long. I will post part one today: the query and her initial request to read more. Tomorrow I will share part two: our continued correspondence, and you'll see how things really got weird.

Before I begin I must point out a couple of things about this agent. She is listed in Predators & Editors. She is not recommended but is not listed as "not recommended" either. She did have confirmed sales to a major publishing house but it is still not clear whether she is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives or AAR. Much of this should have been a warning sign had I known more about this kind of thing at the time. Now it's all just hindshight.

So on to the query:

May 29th, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult fantasy-adventure novel, which has the working title WARRIOR-MONKS and is complete. Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader as well.

Okay obviously this part is still terrible. That much should be clear. No need to break it down any further than that.

My novel is about a school in Northern Idaho where troubled teens are sent but which turns out to be a unique place where the students learn things like calligraphy, Aikido, Kenjutsu and Meditation while discovering a bit of magic and mysticism on the way. The main character is a teenaged boy named Lee who is from a broken family and is sent to this school by his cruel aunt and uncle after his mother dies and his father is incarcerated. Incidentally there just so happens to be a Unicorn in the story too, but she isn't really discovered until almost the very end (I promise I didn't write this part just for you).

Gawd, this is really bad too. Hokey as hell. Her website does mention a love of Unicorns, and there is one in my novel (sort of); but I really didn't write that in just for her and I thought it was an interesting enough coincidence to point out to her. I suppose it worked but looking back at this now it's kind of pathetic. Oh well.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book. I am 32 years old and live north of Atlanta with my girlfriend and our two daughters, Kylie age 13 and Madison age 7. I work for a technology company but my dream is to be a published author. I don't care about getting rich but I feel that I have written a novel that will touch people and I really just want an agent who will help me get it out there to the readers. Making some money along the way wouldn't be bad either and I certainly understand that your agency is a business and I am willing to do whatever it takes to help you help me sell this book.

Wow. This is more uncomfortable than a boil in the ass crack. That paragraph is tough to share with you guys. Embarrassing. I don't normally write drivel like this but her submission guidelines insisted that I share something about myself and why I wanted to get published. I hate it when they do that but in the future I hope I can put something better than this nonsense together.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

That's not my real number BTW Giles, but thanks for your warning last week! Good lookin out.

I believe you can call 555-1212 from any area code and get directory assistance. That's why they use it in some movies.


Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

Her strange but somewhat wonderful (at the time) reply:

Dear Matthew,

Unicorns? We're hooked! (Kidding of course) All of that aside...

What we'd like next is the first three chapters in addition to whatever pre-chapter material you may have, such as forewords, intros, prologues, etc. If you have a lexicon and difficult names in the body of the text, feel free to pass that along as well.

Makes sense.

We typically prefer that our clients attach the aforementioned articles to an e-mail as one document, saved with a rich text format (.rtf) file extension. The name of the manuscript/your name should appear in the upper left corner of each page, and the page number should appear on the right upper hand corner of each page. We like one, to one-and-a-half inch margins with double spaced lines and paragraphs indented on the first line. Acceptable fonts are 12 point Times New Roman, Courier and Arial.

This is typical, except for the Arial font allowance, but I loved her for it.

At REDACTED Literary Services we are not interested so much in whether our authors have written the best thing since they invented the wheel, or even that they have the most lucrative writing career in the world. Our company in fact, is set up to help people who have not enjoyed a vast list of publishing accomplishments. What we want is a good solid, salable story and authors who don't mind rolling their sleeves up to work alongside us, and who don't cry when we have to send the work to editing.

This sounded great at the time, but looking back it sort of makes you go hmmm?

We realize that authors, editors and agents don't always agree on what looks best on paper when it comes to the writing aspect of the work, but the authors here who have an open mind, are always more prosperous. We too realize that we can be wrong.

This is cool but seems really unnecessary in this opening correspondence, not sure what her point was at that ... point.

Recently, we had a discussion with an author who had written an entire book in passive voice. When this was brought to his attention, his response was that he wanted the reader a little dislocated from the story because it turns out to be a dream of the "omen nature" at the end. Rather than argue, we re-read the manuscript, had meetings about it, hung this author's picture in the break room and threw darts at it for a few days, then called him back.

Okay, cool story, but TMI. What does this have to do with anything?

We struck up a compromise to add SOME detail, correct SOME of the voice, and we sold his manuscript last month. Was it an easy sale? No. Pulling healthy teeth would have been easier but the important thing is that it sold and he now takes a little constructive criticism well. We learned that sometimes we can be wrong. This guy is going to be offered a speaking platform at the comic con in New York next month! Who knew?

That pretty much hooked me since I am a total nerd. I'm not like obsessed with comics or anything, and haven't owned any since childhood, but man would I love to speak at Comic Con.

So... here we are. If for some reason, you cannot possibly attach the requested material to an e-mail you may feel free to use the United States Postal Service, so long as you follow the general guidelines for submission listed above. Please print on one side only and make sure to write the words "Requested Material" on the envelope somewhere. You may submit in this form to:

The REDACTED Literary Services Agency
ATTN: Senior Editor REDACTED

Senior Editor? I didn't even notice that at the time, but what does that mean? I thought she was an agent.

Thank you so much for your time and for considering REDACTED Literary Services for placement of your manuscript. We look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerest regards,

Of course I was ecstatic. She wanted to read my novel! Or at least part of it. We'll go into more about that tomorrow.

For now this is what I sent her right away:


Thank you so much for your interest in my project. I am at work and cannot attach the file from here but I will send it to you as soon as I get home. I look forward to working together in the future.

Thanks and have a great weekend,


Confused? Ticked? Rolling your eyes knowingly? I know, something was a little rotten in Denmark, but don't judge her (or me) too harshly. At least not until Part II, tomorrow.

And more importantly, don't forget to come back for Elana!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I know I said I wouldn't post on Tuesdays or Thursdays anymore but I'm still trying to feel this schedule thing out. This week I am posting everyday because I want to honor Elana's awesomeness and make sure that her guest post gets as much traffic as it deserves (yes she rules but I'm sure it's obvious there is a selfish motive in here too, I'm not ashamed).

So mark your calendars! Set a reminder in outlook! Tie a string around your finger ... yeah who does that besides Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life?

Great film by the way, I'm not afraid to admit that I cry every time. My daughters call me a tear dropper.


I was listening to NPR on the way to work this morning as I always do. Don't you love NPR? Isn't the greatest source for news, books, arts and entertainment? I agree. So yeah I was listening to NPR and they were talking about Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new book NOMAD.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction but I did read her last book INFIDEL. It was chilling and inspiring, much like her life experiences. I won't go on about either book or her story because it's one of those things that if you are familiar with it you would know exactly what I was talking about and if you weren't well ... I don't want to alienate anyone on this blog.

Suffice to say you should read her books. Or at the very least you should read about her. Ayaan has had an incredible life and is doing amazing things to try to support the rights of women around the world.

Some Ayaan Hirsi Ali links:
The Daily Beast

A great quote about women from the historian Bernard Lewis:
“Women are half the population, and mothers of the other half.”

So perhaps this is a little late for Mother's day and what Ms. Ali is trying to accomplish isn't just about women anyway, but really human rights. If you are interested look her up. If not that's fine, just make sure you come back for Elana's guest post on Friday!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Girl who played with Awesomesauce

So I couldn't come up with anything to write about over the weekend and finally decided I would just wing it on Monday morning. Then I got to work this morning and I had another trainee waiting for me at my desk. At 6AM! Where do they get these people? Don't they realize I need my early morning hours for blogging? The nerve of some people.

Anyway she's gone now so I will go ahead and vomit out a post. I came up with this silly name for a post so that I could discuss two things: One is Elana Johnson. If you don't know who she is you probably stumbled across this blog accidentally and can feel free to leave now without hurting my feelings. If you ARE a writer, and you ARE here reading this blog on purpose and you DON'T know who Elana Johnson is, what's wrong with you?

Okay, let's assume there is nothing wrong with you and you're just new to this whole thing. Elana Johnson is one of the most prolific writer/bloggers on the interwebs and she is famous not only because she is brilliant but because she is so awesome and SO giving. She's shares her knowledge and advice quite freely and has probably helped literally hundreds of writers find agents. She's an expert on queries and even has a very useful little e-book called From the Query to the Call which is really, really useful for novice writers. You can also read more about her on her wonderful blog, the Query Tracker blog, or her website.

Why am I highlighting her today you ask? Well she is going to be sharing an actual query of hers that landed her an agent on this blog this Friday! Be sure to mark your calendars and come back because this is going to be query/submission gold folks! She is also going to add some of her own insightful analysis (I'll probably say a few stupid things too).

How does this all tie in with the title of this post? It doesn't really. The title is sort of a mash-up between Awesomesauce which is a fun word that though Elana did not invent, she certainly made cool, and the title of the sequel to the book I'm reading: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the sequel is called The Girl who Played with Fire).

The one I'm reading is quite good but it does beg a question about the current state of publishing. I keep reading about how if you want to get published your story cannot start out slow, cannot begin with much backstory, and must not wait very long to introduce the most important characters. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo breaks all these rules. I'm over 100 pages in and things have only barely started to happen. The MC is very cool and unique, but she has only actually occupied perhaps 10 pages and the majority of the content so far has been backstory. Sure it's pretty good, twisted backstory and it does set things up nicely but I suppose it just proves again that rules are meant to be broken.

Or maybe this book gets away with things that others couldn't because it was written in Swedish and translated later into English? Who knows?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

EDIT: Elana got a book deal! Apparently she posted about it this weekend and I didn't see the post. Well that's not entirely true, because I did "borrow" that picture up there from it, but I guess I didn't really read it all the way because I had to read Jen's blog before I saw the announcement. Sheesh!

Yay for Elana! Yay for Jen! Yay for writing! and ... yeah you get it.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Holy crap! Yesterday (as you know) I put my flash fiction up on Byran's (Ink's) blog, Alchemy of Writing and it was a pretty big success! Now all of a sudden I have nearly 200 followers. Wow. You people in the blogoshpere are amazing. This has literally changed my life.

A few months ago I had basically given up on writing or at least getting published. Now I correspond with other writers, published authors and even agents all the time.

*end gush*

Today's guest blogger is the amazing, hilarious, inspiringly optimistic Candace Ganger from Misadventures in Candyland. She is my BFITB (Best Friend in the Blogoshpere) so make sure you don't piss her off. Just kidding. But seriously, go visit her blog, follow it, comment on it, and just love her in general. She'll let you feel her up on Fridays (virtually guys), and who could resist that, right?

Anyway she is sharing with us the query for her novel 9:59 REWIND. The premise is really unique so prepare to be intrigued.

Today, just for fun, her thoughts will be in purple and mine will be in green.

Her query:

Dear Agent, Easier than REDACTING !!!

At 9:58 pm, a national broadcast of The Next Big Rock Band airs sixteen-year-old Thursday Night Scum starlet, Caty James Greyson, catching a bullet to the chest, but at 9:59 pm, she presses rewind.

Even though it's a little long, this hook is what seems to be working. It's the easiest way to explain the setup without over explaining (which I tend to do!) and seems to have piqued curiosity, at least a little.

Umm, yeah, either Candace doesn't realize how cool this hook ACTUALLY is or she's just being humble. Probably the latter.

Were you aware that this hook won Candace the one line Chris Richman contest over at Query Tracker? Now you are. Well not won, I guess, but it did get her nominated.

Between her bio dad's mysterious death and pain-in-the-ass brother's kidnapping, both by someone she knows, it's no wonder C.J's got issues. When she almost, sort-of, kills herself (totally on accident), it's only through a rockin' granny and her love of music with a sweet-as-icing kindergarten crush, does she find the courage to live in the now, instead of the past. Just moments before her shooting, at 9:59 pm, C.J comes full circle with the one person responsible for it all, erasing her chance to rewind, forever.

After dozens of revisions, this paragraph (which used to be two longer paragraphs) sums it all up, I guess! It still reads long to me, but many attempts have gotten me to this description which is all important info.

And then then tension, conflict, voice and mystery build even more right after the hook! This is crazy, like crazy awesome. Yes, there are a couple things here that leave you wondering what the heck? But there's nothing wrong with that in a query. Remember: the point of the query is to make the agent HAVE to read more.

Loosely inspired by true events, my edgy, contemporary young adult novel, 9:59 REWIND, is complete at 57,000 words and tells of one girl's determination to uncover the truth, and her dreams, at all costs.

You know, the usual.

Good Housekeeping.

I’m a freelance journalist, daily blogger and finalist in the Sourcebooks/Teenfire Writing Competition. My five-year experience as a professional musician and small town socialite provides the foundation for 9:59 REWIND's track-inspired chapters.

On YaLitChat, we were advised not to use the Sourcebooks cred, because it's thought the agent might not want to think about repping someone who could possibly be turned away from the publisher for whatever reason. BUT, I've found it's helped, so I've kept it in there. Also, it's good to show WHY you're the person to write your book, even if it's fiction. In this case, my book deals a lot with music: something I know about:)

I don't know. Nathan Bransford says don't do it, but here I think the proof is in the pudding, if it's working (earning requests) it's pretty hard to argue against that.

I do have a question for Candace. What do you mean by track inspired chapters? Do you mean like tracks on an album? If so that is freaking awesome. Are chapters 3 and 7 like the hit singles?

EDIT: Candace asked me to add in her reply to the question about the chapters. Which is of course appropriate:

AWESOME! I was so excited to read it! Maybe it's the coffee!!! Maybe it's the exclamation points!!!!!!! You're so freakin' sweet and we're def. BFITB! I wouldn't change a thing, unless you want to add my response to your question about the tracks (my Word program is on the fritz).

*When I say "track-inspired chapters" I mean each chapter is titled "Track 1: Namesake," Track 2: Secrets," etc. And it has one line of the song. So it would look like this:
"What am I to you but a name? Tie the lie a little tighter and leave me to hang"

Every chapter revolves around a song that my protag wrote, and eventually appears on her debut album. That's how I imagine it, anyway. Like a CD case where the tracks are listed on the back and the front is the album art, etc. I know, I've put waaayyyy too much thought into the final product. Guess I better get an agent first :/ *

Now do you see why Candace is so fun and awesome? And why we are BFITBs?

Thank you for your time and consideration. Manuscript is available at your immediate request. I look forward to hearing from you!

The usual!

Candace Ganger
The Misadventures in Candyland

Some of the responses she's received:

Sounds intriguing! Please send me the first 30 pages + synopsis + SASE at my address below. I look forward to reading your material.


Hi Candace,

Thank you for your query. I would love to read 9:59 REWIND. You may send the entire ms. as an attachment via email.

I look forward to reading your work!


Dear Candace,

I'd be happy to take a look. Please email a synopsis and the full
manuscript—a Microsoft Word document would be best—to REDACTED.

I look forward to reading more of your work.


Thank you for submitting your query to REDACTED. We read it with great interest and would like to see the full novel as well as a 3-5 page synopsis describing the book.

So what do you guys think? This query is obviously working, plus the hook was good enough to be nominated for a contest being judged by Chris Richman.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section and be sure to thank Candace, and visit her blog to become a follower. You will NOT regret it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The World in Miniature

So I got a surprising but awesome email from Bryan (Ink) yesterday. He is going to post my flash fiction piece on his blog today. I know I said I wasn't going to do a post today but asking you all go read it and comment on his blog letting us know what you think doesn't really count, does it?

I'm not sure what time it's going up but if it's not up by the time you generally read blogs please try to remember to go back. I'll edit that link above to point to the actual post once it's up.

This is the first piece of real (creative) writing that I've shared with my fellow bloggers so I'm a little nervous but I know it's good so I suppose I'm proud of it too. Please be honest when you let me (and Ink) know what you think.


EDIT: Here is the link to the actual post. Please use the link above to visit Bryan's awesome blog in general.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don't Feel

Today I'm going to share another bad query letter because I promised myself I would do at least one each week. They were the original impetus for this blog and I don't want to go back on that. Still, I am running out of funny things to say about them, mostly because they are each so similar. Sometimes I almost want to make up some new terrible ones, just so we can all have something (or someone, me) to laugh at together.

I won't though. As much as I'm tempted I do believe honesty is the best policy. So, today's is going to be one of the shortest ever. The rejection certainly is short and sweet. The reason for this (in addition to my laziness) is that I was interviewed by Jessica AKA The Alliterative Allomorph today. Well, actually it was a couple of days ago, but she's posting it today. So be sure to head over to her blog and read it.

Oh, also if you don't follow Jessica, what's wrong with you? She is a very funny blogger, an excellent writer, and an Aussie living in Greece; so there is really never a dull moment over there. For that matter if you're here, reading this and you don't follow me (or my blog rather) what's wrong with you? Please follow us both we'll love you for it forever.

Now, the query:

May 29th, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, which has the working title WARRIOR-MONKS and is complete. I feel obligated to inform you that this is not an exclusive submission and although I do not yet have an offer of representation there are several other agents who have requested and are currently reading full or partial versions of the manuscript.

Hey, here is a new thing I can point out, not sure why I never thought of this before: there is no point to saying "working title". Every title is just a working title until it's approved by the publisher, or at least your agent. In my correspondece with the Roecker sisters they shared a story with me about how their agent suggested they change the title of LIAR SOCIETY. She told them the previous title they had selected was "wet".

The admission of non-exclusivity is okay. I mean the idea is good. It is professional and polite to be honest about these things but the way I worded it sounds pretty arrogant reading it back now.

The book is about a teenager named Lee, who is from a broken family and who eventually ends up being sent to a unique reform school in Northern Idaho after he is expelled from a normal boarding school and kicked out of his aunt and uncle's home. He is very worried about what will go on at this school but eventually discovers that he enjoys the curriculum. They teach him things like Aikido, Meditation and Calligraphy and take him and several other students camping and backpacking in the mountains in Montana as he grows and puts his self-conscious and shy tendencies behind him. It is an introspective and character driven novel in which the plot is not necessarily the focus but still has enough interesting occurrences to move the tale along as the reader comes to know and love the characters.

This is very blah. I mean it's better than some earlier examples but it all sounds very dry and boring put this way. Probably because it's all telling. Give it some voice for god sakes man!

Oh, was I talking to myself? Sorry.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

Yeah ... don't do this. Is you must make comparisons at least don't do it this way. See earlier query/rejection posts for more details if you don't already know why.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:


Not necessary.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

Her reply:

Thanks for your submission query. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel it is one for me.

Best wishes


I actually like this rejection a little. Just a little. I mean a rejection is a rejection is a rejection, why waste any more time than necessary, right?

You didn't like my idea? Okay, forget you, it's your loss, let's move on.

Okay, it's not quite that simple, but trust me, if you never give up one day you will look back on all your rejections with this attitude.

So that's it. Go here and read the interview I gave Jessica NOW. Please? It's really fun. I promise you'll enjoy it.

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Schedule & Sushi

I'm not sure yet whether I'm going to make it permanent or not but this week I will only be blogging on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I've started a critique group with some of my fellow writers and I want to give it the time that it deserves. Plus I need to write more so that I have something to be critiqued.

I also will be interviewed by Jessica, The Alliterative Allopmorph, on Wednesday so although that won't take much time at least my presence in the blogoshpere will remain somewhat constant.

So, now that I've updated you all I want to write about something that I enjoy very much: eating Sushi.

Sushi is a fun eating experience and when enjoyed properly can even give a sneak peek into the culture of Japan, another thing I enjoy very much.

I've lived in four major cities in the U.S. and visited several others but have never been to Japan or enjoyed Sushi there so please don't consider me an expert. That being said, I have taken the time to research Sushi and Sushi culture so I do probably know a little bit more than the next guy.

So here are some basic suggestions about eating Sushi:

- Go to a tiny place. The best Sushi spots are in the big city, are very small, and only serve Sushi. The highest quality Sushi restaurants will use real Wasabi which is not just horseradish died green.

- Sit at the bar. One of the best parts about eating Sushi is getting to observe the skill with which it is prepared.

- Talk to your Sushi chef (Itamae). A big part of the enjoyment of eating Sushi is to engage with and be entertained by your Sushi chef. This is part of the reason to go to a small place too. If you are at one of those Sushi Bar/Hibachi Restaurant places and the chef looks really busy you might not want to talk to him.

- Ask him to suggest certain items or special rolls, as he will know what is the freshest, and to suggest beers or Sake that will accentuate your order.

- Make sure not to ask explicitly what is fresh because you do not want to imply that anything is not.

Here are some suggestions about what to order and how to eat it:

- Order Sushi directly from the chef unless it is the type of place that has paper orders for you to fill out. Drinks, ginger salad, gyoza, tempura or anything that is not Sushi or Sashimi should be order from the waitstaff.

- Start with Nigiri (examples pictured above). Nigiri is the style of Sushi which consists of a finger or so of rice, topped by a thick piece of raw fish (or cooked shrimp or crab). The best ones are Tuna (Toro or Maguro, Toro is better), Salmon (Sake), Red Snapper (Tai), and Yellowtail (Hamachi).

- At the higher quality Sushi joints the chef will place the correct amount of Wasabi under the fish and you do not need to add any to the soy sauce that you pour into the shoya dish. At lower quality places it is fine to put some Wasabi in the soy sauce.

- Eat Nigiri with your hands. It is perfectly acceptable to pick up a piece of Nigiri with your hands and then bite it in half. When you dip it into the shoya dish try to dip only the fish into the sauce as the rice will soak up too much soy sauce and the flavor will overpower the flavor of the fish.

- Do not eat Sashimi with your hands. Use your chopsticks. Sashimi is raw fish without the rice.

- I would suggest a dry beer like Sapporo or Asahi and simply order the house hot Sake. Hot Sake between bites of Sushi makes the meal most enjoyable and really compliments the cold flavors of the fish. Higher quality Sake is only necessary if you prefer to drink it cold. Do not order wine or cocktails until you are done eating Sushi. They do not compliment the meal and it is considered against etiquette.

- The pickled ginger (Gari) is there to cleanse the palate. Eat it when switching between different types of Sushi so that you can enjoy the full flavors.

- After Nigiri switch to rolls, raw before cooked. These are referred to as Makizushi. Some of my favorites are Rainbow Roll, Hollywood Roll, and Dynamite Roll. Most Sushi places will have special rolls based on where they are located. Make sure to try these out.

- Technically anything with shrimp or crab in it has been cooked. Crab muscles are actually liquid until cooked, however, as long as they are served cold they can be considered raw.

- Finally finish up with cooked rolls and Nigiri. I like to finish with a Spider Roll (Deep fried soft shell crab) and Barbecued Fresh Water Eel Nigiri (Unagi). These are both cooked and are quite filling. Spider Roll should be topped or surrounded with Spicy Mayonnaise and Unagi will be topped with Eel sauce, which is a kind of cross between Teriyaki sauce and Japanese Barbecue sauce. Any Sushi that has its own sauce should not be dipped into soy sauce.

Some basic rules of etiquette regarding Sushi:

- Don't pass food to other diners using your chopsticks. This is reminiscent of a burial ceremony in Japan and is considered very rude. Pass the plate instead.

- Tip the Sushi chef separately from the rest of the staff but do not expect him to touch the money. Most places will have a jar but if you don't see one ask a waitstaff how to tip the Sushi chef.

- Don't rub your chopsticks together. I don't know why but apparently this signifies that you think they are of low quality.

- Don't leave any food on your plate but especially not rice. This is considered rude and wasteful.

- Never ask for a knife. This implies that the food is tough. Most Sushi should be eaten in one bite. Nigiri is supposed to be eaten in one bite and in Japan they make it small enough to do so. In America it's okay to take two bites to finish one piece because they make it so huge.

So that's it. I hope some of you enjoy Sushi as much as I do and maybe now you will try some new things.

If you want to know more there is a great article here. Otherwise what do you think? Have you ever tried Uni (Sea Urchin Roe)? Did I get anything wrong?

Tahereh's Contest

The hilarious but awesome TH Mafi is having a contest! Go visit her post about it here.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Today we have a successful query shared by Katie, the mysterious Creepy Query Girl. Please visit her blog to find out more about her and her writing.

For anyone who is new to these guest posts Katie's query will be in black text, Katie's commentary will be in blue and my own thoughts will be in red.

Let's get to the good part:

Dear (Agent Name),

After having been referred to your agency through (or whichever query search site brought me to them), and having read your website and profile, I believe my manuscript may be of interest to you.

Fourteen year old Gretchen Grey will grow up to be the most famous and sought after medium of the nineteen thirties and early forties. 'The Life and Adventures of Miss Gretchen Grey' follows our young heroine as she travels across the Atlantic after the deaths of her parents. She arrives into the care of her paternal Grandmother; a woman who holds a surprising perception of Gretchen's 'gifts'. This alternate history story is based upon real people and places in historical New England, including characters set within the wealthy Cheney family of Manchester, Connecticut and the little known Spiritualist Camp of Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts. The manuscript in its entirety is 103,000 words. My work should appeal to young adults between the ages of eleven and seventeen.

One of the things I noticed while reviewing other people's queries is that in comparison, mine is pretty bland! It's kind of anti-blurb and is much more to the point. I think its strong points are probably the fact that I put a concise label on it right away- 'alternate history story' - 'young adults' etc.... I didn't give a mini synopsis AT ALL. I don't introduce any secondary characters. So much more happens in this book than I could really fit so I had to bring it down to the bare bones of the matter. But in the end, I think that just giving the overall idea might have prompted the agents to ask for more.

Katie's right that there isn't a lot of colorful voice here but I would disagree about it being bland. The part "grow up to be the most famous and sought after medium of the nineteen thirties and early forties" sounds like an excellent hook to me and the best part is that if you add the characters age (which she obviously did) you have the genre all laid out right there.

Over recent years, interest in the paranormal has spiked and is reflected in television shows such as ‘Medium’ and ‘Ghost Whisperer’ and books such as Meg Cabot’s ‘Mediator’ series. I believe there is a place for ‘Gretchen Grey’ in this market. The story is also unique in that it takes place in a historical setting and contrasts between constrained Edwardian England and the Spiritualist movement in the United States.

This was basically just me trying to convince the agent that there is a market for my book. People are still interested in the paranormal no matter how much is already out there! Notice I didn't compare my books to any of these per se but just basically pointed out that the idea is still popular.

I think Katie does a good job of being subtle here. She doesn't beat the agent over the head with HOW successful the genre has been (as I know you all have seen me do in some past queries), but she does a good job of comparing AND contrasting.

I have always been an avid reader of young adult and women’s literature. Although I began writing my own books and stories at age fifteen, ‘Gretchen Grey’ is my first finished manuscript. The inspiration for this book undoubtedly stemmed from homesickness. After a five year separation from my Connecticut birthplace, nostalgia pushed me to write about the forests and towns of my youth. I am twenty seven years old; a married mother of three, and have been residing in France for the last five years.

I don't have any writing credentials and I've read that if that's the case than the best thing to do is tell the agent why you're the best person to have written this book and what you bring to the table.

Normally for fiction this may not be necessary, but in this case I think Katie does quite well and it is pertinent that she lives in Europe because her book covers the continent in its plot and setting. It's not like you can't write about Europe even if you've never been there but I think the fact that Katie lives there makes it sound like her work will be that much more authentic.

Thank you so much for your time. If you feel that this project holds promise, I will be happy to send the additional material accordingly.


Katie (aka Creepy Query Girl)

She got several requests. Here are a few examples:

Date: Mon, 22 Feb 2010 13:35:46 -0500
Subject: Re: The Life and Adventures of Miss Gretchen Grey


Thank you for querying REDACTED. I would be happy to take a look at your material. Please email me a proposal package (the first three chapters, no more than the first 50 pages, and a 1-2 page synopsis) of your book, as a MS Word doc attachment.

More information on proposals can be found at and by reviewing our blog.

Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns.


Subject: Re: The Life and Adventures of Miss Gretchen Grey
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 11:12:16 -0400


Thank you for your interest in REDACTED Literary. Your manuscript sounds like it is full of possibilities. Could you please send us the complete manuscript as an attached document?

Looking forward to reading your work.

All best,


Dear Katie,

Thank you for your query letter. We would be happy to take a closer look at your project.

Would it be possible to send 50-100 pages either as a Word attachment to, or by mail to my attention?

Thank you very much.

Best regards,



Subject: RE: The Life and Adventures of Miss Gretchen Grey
> Date: Fri, 22 Jan 2010 08:56:16 -0500
> From:
> To:
> Hi. Would you email the manuscript along as a Word attachment? Thanks.

I have to admit I'm quite jealous. A few of these requests are from very prominent and highly coveted (by me) agencies. Katie may think her query isn't great, and sure it could probably be improved (they all can), but it obviously got the job done. Her manuscript is now currently being read by multiple agents and we are all wishing her the best when it comes to receiving an offer for representation, right?

What are your thoughts? I realize this query might be more business and less flair than some but the key here is that it got agents to request pages. The most amazing query in the world won't sell a bad manuscript but luckily a query that's just good enough won't matter if the writing sings.

Please don't forget to visit Katie's blog and become a follower. Also if you would like to know more about her book you can visit her other blog to read a synopsis! After that please leave your thoughts/questions/arguments/hopes and dreams here in the comments.

Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Current Query Critique

As promised here is the critique of my current query by the amazing Rachele Alpine of Freckle Head

Don't forget that her thoughts are in blue and mine are in red:

Dear Agent,

Fifteen year old Lee Ruccio is a reluctant (I love the idea of a “reluctant” juvenile delinquent…seems like an oxymoron! Just that term alone made me want to read further) juvenile delinquent who arrives at reform school fearing the worst but soon discovers esoteric mysticism and arcane magic (I got a little lost here. I didn’t know what you met by your description here, and I wonder if agents would get confused. Some may know all of these terms, but you want to keep in mind those who may not) hidden beneath the hard-knock surface.

You have a good hook, but after you have your hook, you usually want to introduce your book. You should do this in the first paragraph so the agent knows exactly what kind of book they are dealing with. I would list your genre and word count in the first paragraph so the agent doesn’t scan through to see if it’s even something they represent.

Rachele makes an interesting point here. Nearly all the advice I read (Query Shark, Nathan Bransford, etc) advises to put the housekeeping data at the end (title, word-count, genre) but I think she has a cool idea. I think it was Roland who made another good point in the comments on Tuesday. Why not put this info in the subject line? I think I will ask Nathan Bransford in his forums, see what he thinks. That being said, Rachele is giving some good advice here. It doesn't make sense for an agent to read all the way through your query only to get to the end to realize they don't rep your genre.

Also I'm really glad people like the reluctant juvenile delinquent phrase. I came up with it very spur of the moment but it really does fit this character.

After the death of his (I would use Lee’s name here instead of “him” so the reader is reminded of who it is…especially if you add something about your genre after the hook) mother, in which his father was incarcerated for her murder, Lee's (here you can switch to “his”) aunt and uncle ship him off to Rocky Mountain Academy, a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho.

Both good suggestions. Lee is certainly the most important character so having the reader lose sight of his identity would be very bad.

Instead of explaining that the death was a murder, you could reword it to say something like, “After the murder of Lee’s mother, in which his father was incarcerated…” This gets rid of the repetition.

That does sound better. I'm actually considering leaving the murder part of the plot out in the re-write, it wasn't really that important except as a device to remove the father from the picture. There are other ways. We'll see how it ends up working out.

At this strange and wonderful school he learns Aikido, Kenjutsu, East Asian Calligraphy and Meditation; eventually developing the ability to manipulate Ch'i energy and defend himself from his Katana wielding classmates with his Bo staff.

Try combining this with the paragraph above; I don’t think you need to separate the two. I wonder if you want to say why they teach him these things. It seems a bit off to me that he would be at a reform school for being a delinquent and they teach the students how to use weapons. Answering the “why” would explain this.

She right about that. There is sort of a leap of logic regarding how the school works and why students end up there. It's sort of a secret even in the novel so I'm not sure how to fix it in the query but I do need to make sure the reader (see: agent) doesn't read my query and think: hmm, that doesn't make any sense.

As he learns more and more about the secrets of life as a warrior monk the industrialized world outside of the sheltered campus continues to fall apart. Elemental Creatures of fire and stone have been attacking mines, oil refineries and other industrial locations for years but as Lee arrives at school the attacks begin to increase dramatically. He and his fellow students are eventually asked to investigate the source of the creatures and their skills come into play critically as they fend for their lives.

I want to know why he was sent to this school. What did he do to get brought to a reform school? This paragraph makes me wonder if he was even at a reform school if he’s suddenly fighting these creatures. This is also the first time the reader gets a sense that this is a world that has creatures in it. You mention magic at the start, but I didn’t really see it as a different type of world until you got to this paragraph. You may want to mention that sooner (and by introducing you genre in the first paragraph, instead of below, you would let the reader know that it’s a paranormal fantasy world).

This part is difficult for me. I have talked more about the trouble that he's gotten into to cause him to get sent away in other queries but that kind of backstory has always ended up droning on for too long and being clunky. I need to find a balance.

WARRIOR-MONKS is a young adult paranormal fantasy with elements of romance and a bit of jaded humor (I've left out the Word Count because I'm in revision, the current MS is still WAY too long). I'm told it sounds like a cross between Harry Potter and Naruto, and though that wasn't necessarily my intent I have to admit it does fit.

I would delete the Harry Potter/Naruto comparison. Let it stand on it’s own. The way you have it worded makes it sound like you discovered a lot of similarities, which makes the book not sound unique (and from the rest of your query it does sound very unique!).

Also, personally I would only mention that it’s a paranormal young adult novel. Fantasy sounds repetitive (isn’t that paranormal) and if you don’t mention the romance or humor in the query summary, don’t mention it in the description.

Great point about the comparison. Comparing anything to Harry Potter sounds kind of pretentious anyway.

As far as the paranormal fantasy I'm not sure. I don't consider them quite the same thing. Paranormal is always fantasy (unless you believe things like telepathy or telekinesis really exist) but fantasy is not necessarily paranormal. That being said she's right that it sound clumsy when describing the novel as both. YA paranormal works better I think because even though there are some creatures that essentially make it fantasy there are no elves, dwarves, knights or princesses so if I was to drop one of the terms it would probably be fantasy.

This is my first novel.

You don’t need to say this. I wouldn’t mention it. I feel like the only time you would mention what number novel it is when you’ve published before.

Makes sense.

I would be happy to submit sample pages of WARRIOR-MONKS upon your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Matthew Rush

So there you go. I want to thank Rachele for her advice; she makes some excellent points and really focused in on what could and should be improved with this query.

Thanks Rachele!

So what do you guys think? Do you agree with Rachele's points? Do you have anything to add?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Today's post is going to be pretty short. I did watch Glee last night but I did not take notes. I was also a bit disappointed with the episode. Where was Sue? Where was Emma? Where was Jessie? Okay, I don't give a damn about Jessie, I'm glad he wasn't there ... but I do care about the rest.

It almost seems like each episode gets a little less glee-like than the last. I mean it's still not bad. It's still much better, much funnier than most TV, but it seems to be getting away from what made it great to begin with: singing. Sure they still sing and they did have a couple of fun songs last night but it seems to me they've really gotten away from the greatness of numbers like "Don't Stop Believin". Heck my daughter's eighth grade choir even covered that song at their performance last night because Glee made it so cool again.

Anyway I don't have a whole lot else to add but I will point you to a story I heard on NPR about the actor who played Finn's disabled friend in last night's episode. Apparently the actor, Zack Weinstein, actually is disabled and was happy to get a role playing someone in that condition, or otherwise. It seems that the actor who plays Artie, who happens to have the same name as the great Celtic, Kevin McHale, is not disabled in real life, even though Artie does not have the use of his legs in the show.

Isn't it great that NPR covers stories like this? Stories you would never hear anywhere else?

I would think that kind of thing might bother a disabled actor, but Zack doesn't have a problem with it. He just wishes that disabled actors could be considered for more kinds of roles, not only ones in which they have to play characters with disabilities. It turns out that he really is paralyzed from the chest down after a spinal injury, but he doesn't see why a person, even as disabled as he is, can't be the strong male lead, even a hero.

So that's it for today's Glee post. I know it's not as fun and I'm sorry, but don't forget to come back tomorrow for Rachele's from Freckle Head's critique of my query, and especially Friday for Katie from Creepy Query Girl's guest post!

UPDATE: I am also training some new hires today at work, so I will not have time to comment on as many blogs as I usually do. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Current Query

So I got my critique back from the awesome Rachele Alpine from Freckle Head last night. I know this is going to sound crazy but I haven't looked at it yet. Normally I would have torn it figuratively open and devoured her feedback but then I decided to turn this whole thing into two posts, because I'm lazy like that.

So, I'm going to share my current query letter with you all, analyze it a little bit on my own, and then read Rachele's critique. I will put her advice up on Thursday because tomorrow will probably be another Glee post if I feel like it.

This query, as you will see, is 1000 times better than you ones you have read here previously on the blog. That being said it is still not perfect. There is still much room for improvement. I have not worked on it for a few months (since getting some great feedback on Nathan Bransford's forums, here) and don't really know about revising it when the manuscript is in the middle of such a massive re-write. Hopefully Rachele's advice will allow me to tighten and brighten it and then I can mold it to the new manuscript once that is done.

The query:

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent,

Fifteen year old Lee Ruccio is a reluctant juvenile delinquent who arrives at reform school fearing the worst but soon discovers esoteric mysticism and arcane magic hidden beneath the hard-knock surface.

After the death of his mother, in which his father was incarcerated for her murder, Lee's aunt and uncle ship him off to Rocky Mountain Academy, a reform school in the bitter wilderness of northern Idaho.

At this strange and wonderful school he learns Aikido, Kenjutsu, East Asian Calligraphy and Meditation; eventually developing the ability to manipulate Ch'i energy and defend himself from his Katana wielding classmates with his Bo staff.

As he learns more and more about the secrets of life as a warrior monk the industrialized world outside of the sheltered campus continues to fall apart. Elemental Creatures of fire and stone have been attacking mines, oil refineries and other industrial locations for years but as Lee arrives at school the attacks begin to increase dramatically. He and his fellow students are eventually asked to investigate the source of the creatures and their skills come into play critically as they fend for their lives.

WARRIOR-MONKS is a young adult paranormal fantasy with elements of romance and a bit of jaded humor (I've left out the Word Count becuase I'm in revision, the current MS is still WAY too long). I'm told it sounds like a cross between Harry Potter and Naruto, and though that wasn't necessarily my intent I have to admit it does fit.

This is my first novel.

I would be happy to submit sample pages of WARRIOR-MONKS upon your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Matthew Rush

So I didn't want to break that down in between paragraphs because I wanted you all to get a feel for the whole letter, its pacing and whether or not it builds well on itself without interruption. The first three things that I will point out are these:

- This query is lacking voice. There is a hint of it and as I said it's dimensions better than the earlier versions but this NEEDS MORE VOICE!

- This query is lacking conflict. In fact the story lacks some conflict until too near the end. I'm working on this in revision but I need to find a way to work in the rising action of social conflict, the stress of classes and so forth. The real conflict against the creatures is all in the last few chapters.

- This query needs a better pitch/hook. The idea of Lee being a reluctant juvenile delinquent is a great piece of characterization. It connects the reader to him from the get go, but it is not much of a pitch as far as what the book is ACTUALLY about. As Query Shark will tell you over and over ... what the hell HAPPENS in this story?

- The best thing about this query is its length. It is relatively short and sweet. If I could figure out a way to make it shorter and incorporate more voice, more conflict and a better pitch, that would be ideal.

Proofreading my own post it turns out that was four things. Oops.

So what do you guys think? Much better right? Do you agree with my assessments of what needs to be improved? Did I miss anything? Looking forward to Rachele's feedback?

Me too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

On Writing: Updates

Boy do I hate Mondays. Today is even worse because I don't have anything planned for the blog. It's supposed to be about writing. More specifically about querying, but hey one can only take so much talk about querying right?

I'm trying to work out some kind of schedule for this thing, but I just don't know if I'm organized enough for that. We do have two obvious features; one of which is the most awesome part of this blog: The Friday successful query guest posts. They are why most of you are here and the reason I find the energy to keep doing this. Okay, it's not that bad but ... you know. Then we have my own horrible queries that I wrote over a year ago and that I hope other novice writers can learn from without laughing at me too harshly. Actually I don't care, laugh away; some of them are definitely so bad that you pretty much have to laugh.

Other than that I suppose you have Glee Wednesday's but that doesn't really count as official and besides I'm starting to realize that not everyone watches it and I don't want to alienate any readers.

So anyway the bottom line is that I'm trying to figure out a schedule I can stick to. I want to cut my blogging to 3 days a week so that I can spend more time on my WIP but currently I love blogging too much to cut down. Hmm, that kind of sounds like addictive behavior, but oh well.

For now I guess I'll stick to random posts but be warned that some kind of more concrete schedule might be coming. In the meantime here are some updates on all things writing related to me:

- My first 30 pages are still in the hands of Marietta Zacker. I sent them to her on April 12th so it has been not quite one month yet. I am trying to be as patient as I can but I am starting to wonder if she got them. I will not email her for at least another month.

- I was inspired by Tahereh's flash fiction piece over at Ink's Alchemy of Writing blog to write one myself. I submitted it to him this weekend and after a few minor but excellent editorial suggestions he said he thinks he can use it. He'll let me know soon when it's going to go up.

- WARRIOR-MONKS is the working title of my WIP Novel. As many of you know the first draft came in at an unbelievably hefty 477,000 words. This is a major roadblock in my desire to get it published. After months of editing I did manage to cut the MS to 300,000 words but I've recently discovered, with the help of some advice from a beta reader, that the story would do much better with a re-write. So I have begun to undertake the daunting task of re-writing the whole story from another point of view. The first version was in third person, somewhere between omniscient and subjective. I have started to re-write it in first person. Considering the YA target audience this will likely make it much more commercially viable as the reader tends to connect more quickly and easily with a narrator writing in first person. The practical advantage that I have already noticed after re-writing only one chapter is that much of the description can be left out so the first chapter already ended up being only about half as long - so I am hopeful this will make a big difference in my overall word count. Please wish me the best in this endeavor.

- I won a contest a couple of week's ago on Rachele Apline's blog Freckle Head. Hopefully you all will remember her and her awesome query for CANARY. In the contest she was offering a query critique. Considering the re-writes my novel is undergoing I haven't been working on the query lately, but I did send her the current version and hope to share her critique with you all soon.

- Jessica from The Alliterative Allomorph has asked to interview me for her blog. I'm not sure what she could possibly want to know about me that isn't already up on this blog for the world to see but I agreed nonetheless. We've tentatively agreed to do it on Wednesday 5/19 but I'll let you know if that changes.

- Oh and I finally got to 50 comments on a single post! Sure like three of them were my own comments but still, yay! Thanks to Lisa and Laura Roecker for sharing their query with us last week (I'm pretty sure is was more due to their fame than anything).

That's it for now. Let me know in the comments if there is anything you would like to read about (I need topics to post on).

Friday, May 7, 2010


Today the amazing Roecker sisters Lisa and Laura are gracing us with their presence. They rock like a batholith so let's please take a moment to bask in their awesome ...

Now today unlike other guest Friday posts we have a rule: I promised to do all I could to help these twisted sisters reach 1000 followers ASAP. So because of that please stop reading now, go visit their blog, and become a follower. DO NOT READ ON until you have done so.

Just kidding, obviously I can't enforce that but seriously, their blog is so fun you have to read it, and if you're going to read it - why not follow?

They are sharing their query from: LIAR SOCIETY, a quick-witted mystery starring a private-school sleuth with attitude and pearls who receives an email from her dead best friend (Sourcebooks, Spring 2011).

Their agent Catherine Drayton has graciously agreed to allow their correspondence to be shared. If you wish to submit to her or Inkwell Management in general, please see their guidelines. Unfortunately the offer and further correspondence was done over the phone, so you'll have to ask Lisa and Laura to tell you about that.

This will work like all the other quest posts. My thoughts will be in red and LiLa's will be in blue. The only difference is that we won't know which sister is commenting, but that's fine since they're pretty much of one mind and it's more fun to guess anyway.

So on to their query. Be prepared to be shocked into ultimate query amazement syndrome - UQAS:

Dear Ms. Drayton,

Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails. Not even on the anniversary of their disappearance. Of course, that was before this message from Grace appeared in her inbox:

I'm here…
sort of.
Find Cameron.
He knows.
I shouldn't be writing.
Don't tell.
They'll hurt you.

We knew we were kind of taking a risk including the email in our query, but we wanted to hook the reader. We played around with the format and finally decided on italicizing the text. I think it worked to grab a reader's attention and stand out from the crowd a bit. At least that's what we tell ourselves...

I think this is awesome. I read (and write a lot of bad) queries and I have never seen one like this. I've noticed a trend with many new novels containing either mixed media or innovative type of prose, letters, fictional blog posts, and so forth but I've never seen this kind of thing in a query. I think it's not only innovative but brilliant.

Most girls would ignore the warning and go straight to the police.

But Kate isn’t most girls.

Instead, she decides to channel Nancy Drew, pearls and all. Of course, Kate’s pearls are faux, her skirts are way shorter and she’d take everyone's favorite teen detective in a girl fight, but you get the idea.

One thing we've learned is to include your voice! No one wants to read a dry query for fear that the actual manuscript is dry too! Voice is what will separate your manuscript and while not everyone will respond to it (we're in the most subjective business ever), hopefully some agents will.

This is so TRUE. I want to shout about it because not only is it incredibly important, but it can be difficult to accomplish, at least it is for me. This is technically a business letter, so it feels counter intuitive to be colorful with the voice of your writing, but it really makes a difference. I know this sounds impossible - but have fun with your query.

The e-mails continue and Kate’s quest to solve the mystery takes a dangerous turn when her confrontation with Cameron, Grace’s addict boyfriend, almost gets her killed. Good thing she finds a couple of knights-in-(not so)-shining armor in sexy bad boy, Liam, and her awkward neighbor, Seth... Armed with her newfound sidekicks, the investigation continues, uncovering a secret lurking in the halls of their elite private school that threatens to destroy them all.

This paragraph took a lot of reworking. We knew we needed a general plot overview without going into too much detail or introducing too many characters. This is SUCH a fine balance and while we unload a lot of information here, I think it's done in a way that is relatively straightforward. Well to us anyways.

I can't really speak to this. I mean my own queries are really bad at this part. The need to go over all the cool parts is so strong, but really doesn't help. I think Lisa and Laura do a great job here of setting up the conflict without giving too much away ... and introducing just enough setting and characters to give the agent an idea of what they'll be looking at. Remember: the point of a query is to get the agent to request pages.

Kate knew finding Grace wasn’t going to be easy, but figuring out who to trust is more difficult than she ever could have imagined.

After all, everyone’s a suspect.

We LOVE endings--chapter endings, ending-endings, you name it, we'll end it. Naturally, we wanted our query to end with a bang. We were hoping that agents couldn't NOT request. Now, that's a tall order (obviously) but a good goal.

This is great. Sure it's a little vague, but that's a good thing. It hints at adversaries without going into detail about each character the reader will have to guess about. And, it sets some pretty high stakes without giving too much away.

We are sisters-turned-writing-partners. LIAR SOCIETY is a 73,000 word YA Mystery. We have pasted the first chapter below for your consideration. Upon your request, we are prepared to submit the complete manuscript. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lisa and Laura Roecker


We pasted the entire first chapter into the body of the e-mail. We always followed agents query guidelines, but if they didn't specifically list whether or not to include a sample, we pasted the first chapter below our query. We figured the sooner they saw our work the better. They were either going to like it and request more or reject it. Oh, and no, you don't get to see the entire first chapter :) If you like the first few paragraphs you'll have to buy LIAR SOCIETY when it's out next year! We're sneaky like that.

That's not sneaky that's smart. Okay it's a little sneaky too, but these girls are like that. And as far as pages great idea. If the guidelines don't say not to, put em in. What can they do? Reject you?

Opening excerpt:

Her e-mail was bold-faced in my inbox. It didn't move or disappear or do any of the creepy things I'd expect an e-mail from a ghost to do. It was just there.


With trembling fingers, I clicked on Grace’s name.

Sent: Sun 9/14 11:59 PM
Subject: (no subject)

I'm here…
sort of.
Find Cameron.
He knows.
I shouldn't be writing.
Don't tell.
They'll hurt you.

I didn't think dead best friends could send emails. Not even on the anniversary of their disappearance. Cue the men in white coats because it was entirely possible that I had lost my mind.

I should have been screaming or crying or something, but instead, my legs, my arms, my heart went numb.

Ooh, haunting. This is a great teaser and really makes me want to read this novel. Lucky agent got to read more.

So that's it. Short. Sweet. Super-awesome. What do you guys think? Have you ever seen anything like this? Are you going to change your own query at all now (please don't copy their email idea, I've already copyrighted that)?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Intrigued by the Setting

Here is yet another example of a bad query. This one is much better than the others, as you will see. That's great because we have Lisa and Laura sharing one of the most awesome queries ever tomorrow and I don't want to look like any more of a schmuck than I already do.

So without further ado on to the query:

May 29th, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, which has the working title WARRIOR-MONKS and is complete. Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader as well. I also feel obligated to inform you that this is not an exclusive submission and although I do not yet have an offer of representation there are several other agents who have requested and are currently reading full or partial versions of the manuscript. That being said I really liked what you had to say about yourself and your representation on the about page of your website and I imagine that I would love to have you represent my project.

Hi Ms. Agent lady. Do you have a Master's Degree? Yes? Okay. Have you been working in the publishing industry for years? Yes? Okay. Have you represented dozens of authors before and have a pretty good idea of what you're doing and where the market is going? Yes? Cool. Would you like to be told how to do your job by a first time novelist?

That is basically what that part about YA readers buying books in droves says. This is BAD BAD BAD. Of course she already knows that, it's probably why she represents the genre. In fact it's probably why almost every agent out there reps it right now.

Anyway take that one sentence out and you've got a half way decent paragraph. This business stuff can and should go at the end but some agents don't mind it first and a few prefer it. The admission of non-exclusivity is not really necessary but it is polite and professional to let them know if your MS is already on request to other agents. That way they can decide if they have the time to read a little more quickly.

Mentioning her website is great. Agents love it when you actually take the time to research them. I should have been more specific though.

Wow that was a lot of analysis for one paragraph. Whew.

The book is about a young man named Lee, who is from a broken family and who eventually ends up being sent to a unique reform school in Northern Idaho after he is expelled from a normal boarding school and kicked out of his aunt and uncle's home. He is very worried about what will go on at this school but eventually discovers that he enjoys the curriculum. They teach him things like Aikido, Meditation and Calligraphy and take him and several other students camping and backpacking in the mountains in Montana as he grows and puts his self-conscious and shy tendencies behind him. It is an introspective and character driven novel.

Hmm. This is not horrible. Actually it is pretty bad but I say not horrible because you should have seen some of the earlier versions. What this lacks is voice, conflict, more of what happens, and a reason you would give a shit about this character or his choices.

I wonder if she would have read more if this had been a better query.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

This is crap. Again: the agent knows that first time authors write great books, in fact if an agent takes unsolicited submissions they are probably counting on it. Don't insult their intelligence. Instead compare and contrast your project to something similar that has found success.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:


Email address is sufficient. The rest is only necessary if representation is offered.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

P.S. Here is a sample of the intro/prologue chapter of the book which is honestly just slightly over ten pages long:

She requested the first ten pages in her guidelines.


Her reply:

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for your query. Warrior-Monks sounds extremely interesting and I am very intrigued by the setting of Montana.

Unfortunately, I need to focus all my time and energy on my current clients. I wish you the best of luck in shopping around your project.



This is awesome. I know, I know, it's a rejection. But there is proof that it is not form! I bet if the query hadn't been so suckalicious she might have requested more pages. The opening chapter wasn't great then, but it was good enough that if she liked the premise and the setting she might have wanted to see more.

Or maybe she really did have a client list that was that full. I suspect that she was telling the truth. If not why write a personalized rejection? We'll never know of course, but this one did give me hope at the time. And of course I had another agent reading a partial so that helped too.

So that's it. Hopefully you can see some improvements even though this is still nowhere near good enough. I promise we'll get to better queries soon but I have to do at least one of these bad ones per week until they've all been thrown kicking and screaming into the digital graveyard of the internet ... uh yeah, anyway.

I hope you are as excited as I am for Lisa and Laura's guest blog post tomorrow. They are going to be sharing the innovative query that landed them representation for LIAR SOCIETY so mark your calendars and be sure to come back!