SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 1.28.55 PMWhy, hello there lovely blog friends. It’s been…well…it’s been a SHAMEFULLY long time. Between moving a thousand miles, unpacking, decorating, writing books, revising books, going through the submission process, reading/critting/and beta’ing friends books, researching the ever loving heck out of my new book, and…excuses, excuses. I know. Hope you’re all doing exquisitely on this lovely spring day. Did you do something different with your hair? It looks GOOD. How the heck have you been, huh?

So, one of my very best pals has something awesome going on, and it’s big enough to yank me out of my blog silence. Bethany Crandell’s debut SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS is hitting shelves on April 1st, and I’m not foolin’, it’s hands down one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Even if Bethany wasn’t so near and dear to my 90s music-loving heart, I’d be shouting from the proverbial rooftops for you to all add it to your TBR piles and buy it at your local bookstore immediately. Bethany is an amazing talent. She creates these characters that are SO believable, it’s crazy. If you’re in the market to laugh until you cry, or if you’re a writer and want to see how a master creates characters and emotions, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. Her cover is awesome, the prose is awesome, and Bethany is even more awesome than that.

Oh! But you know what’s even MOAR awesome??? There this BIG FANCY GIVEAWAY going on at the swoony boys podcast. You can win lots of great summertime swag including a copy of SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS! HUZZAH! Go enter. It takes two seconds and you could get free stuff. Pretty. Darn. Awesome.

Here’s the blurb for SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS:

Spoiled, Versace-clad Cricket Montgomery has seventeen years of pampering under her belt. So when her father decides to ship her off to a summer camp for disabled teens to help her learn some accountability, Cricket resigns herself to three weeks of handicapped hell.

Her sentence takes a bearable turn as she discovers the humor and likeability of the campers and grows close to fellow counselors. Now, if she can just convince a certain Zac Efron look-alike with amazing blue eyes that she finally realizes there’s life after Gucci, this summer could turn out to be the best she’s ever had.

Summer on the Short Bus is a very non-P.C., contemporary YA with a lot of attitude, tons of laughs, and a little life lesson along the way.

 

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Blackbirds CoverBook Review: IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Author: Cat Winters

Genre: YA Historical/Mystery with a Paranormal twist

Rating: Five out of Five stars

Back of book blurb:

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Review:

This is one of those books that is so beautifully written you want to go back and immediately reread it. Cat Winters did a spectacular job bringing the haunted feeling of walking around during the Spanish influenza to life. I could actually smell the onions people used to keep the flu away, and feel the gauze suffocating me. The details and historical accuracy really elevated this novel into something otherworldly. I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but hands down this is one of the most breathtaking reads of the year. If you are in the market for something unlike anything else on the shelves this is the book for you.

Mary Shelley Black is a delightful character full of quirks and spunk. She is such a remarkable young woman who deals with everything that’s thrown at her with courage and bravery, and the mystery surrounding the death of her first love kept me turning the pages well into the early morning hours. I’m not a cryer when it comes to novels, I RARELY tear up, but there were two parts in this book that brought on full-blown ugly crying.

MY GOD YOU NEED TO READ THIS. There are so many things I want to chat about so please go buy a copy and make some tea.

Here’s a taste of the first page to whet your appetite:

Portland, Oregon–October 16, 1918

I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way. Gauze masks concealed the passengers’ mouths and noses. The train smelled of my own mask’s cotton, boiling onions, and a whiff of something clammy and sour I took to be fear.

Keep moving, I told myself.

My legs shook and threatened to buckle, but I managed to clomp down the aisle in the brown Boy Scout boots I wore in case I ever needed to run at a moment’s notice. The heavy tread drew unwanted glances and at least one raised eyebrow, but nobody uttered a word.

Praise for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS:

“Winters’s masterful debut novel is an impressively researched marriage of the tragedies of wartime, the 1918 flu epidemic, the contemporaneous Spiritualism craze, and a chilling love story and mystery…Deliciously creepy.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Unconventional and unflinching… More than anything, this is a story of the breaking point between sanity and madness, delivered in a straightforward and welcoming teen voice.”—Booklist, starred review

“Winters deftly combines mystery, ghost story, historical fiction, and romance…the story and setting are atmospheric and eerie.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the tenor of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Cat Winters’s debut novel is creepy good… Mary Shelley, with her Boy Scout boots and penchant for aviatrix goggles, is just plain awesomely odd.” —The Boston Globe

“Words like ‘unputdownable’ and ‘irresistible’ are simply not enough for Cat Winters’s In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Days after finishing this story, it remains the first thought I have in the morning, and the thing that haunts me until I sleep.”—Lauren DeStefano New York Times bestselling author of The Chemical Garden trilogy

Keep up with Cat Winters on the interwebs:

Twitter

Official Website

Facebook

Goodreads

She’s also hosting an international giveaway on her blog RIGHT NOW through July 2nd, so you miiiiiiiight want to check it out.

Two New Year’s Releases I Adore

Two amazing things are happening on January 1st that I cannot WAIT to share with you guys. First, Justin Levinson is releasing an EP that’s crazy good. His previous album (with The Valcours) was in constant rotation while I was writing and revising my last book so you know it’s good good good. Justin is definitely a wordsmith worth checking out.

Secondly, A.G. Howard’s debut, SPLINTERED, is hitting shelves everywhere. I swear my heart is growing wings and flapping against my ribcage because it’s THAT excited about this novel.

Justin and Anita are so darn awesome both creatively (and personally) that I wanted to do a little review of each of their projects. That way when you’re looking at those holiday gift cards wondering what you should get, these items are already at the top of your list. If this is how the year is going to start, 2013 is going to be AMAZING. Just you wait.

Justin Levinson Take My Time EP CoverArtist: Justin Levinson

EP: Take My Time

Genre: Folk / Folk Rock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are few things I love more than reading and writing. One of those things is baseball, the other is music. I especially have a soft spot in my heart for folk/folk rock, and Vermont based singer/songwriter Justin Levinson’s latest EP, Take My Time is an exceptionally delicious snack to sink your teeth into.

The three song EP consists of ‘Take My Time,’ ‘Give It One More Try,’ and ‘Bid The Rest Goodbye.’ The overall feeling is moody and atmospheric in the very best of ways. It’s full of lyrics with richly imagined themes of coping with life after love and picking up the pieces of a shattered heart and coming out stronger in the end. Exhibit A:

“Cos’ I will just take my time, go round and round on this ferris wheel ride with my stomach in knots like a mime in a box, I keep singing alone through the gloom.”

Justin writes in a universal language that allows listeners to really connect with the songs because at one point in time, we’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all dealt with the aftermath of a love gone wrong, we’ve all been confused about whether or not a relationship can be saved, and most importantly, we’ve all found the inner strength to move on and try again.

“It takes everything within, not to go back to where I’ve been. It’s takes everything within cause I get so lonesome, forget what’s right and the facts they get distorted and I think to myself we could give it one more try.”

The song that best shows this graduation from heartbreak to finding your way through the darkness is the title track, ‘Take My Time’. The lyrics are evocative of someone who is determined to make their dreams come true. Whether it’s love, career, or a personal journey, the person in the song is willing to push themselves — even if they’re afraid. That’s something everyone can aspire towards…being brave even when we don’t feel so sure anymore. It’s a pretty great message.

“I keep myself steady though I fear what’s ahead. I’m set in the moment it’s the best way to live.” 

The composition of these songs is SO good my meager words won’t do them justice. There are violins and acoustic guitars and MORE wonderful backing instruments, and Justin’s vocals are the perfect lighthouse to guide you through the storm. If you’re looking for music that’s got smart lyrics, infectious melodies, and atmosphere for days, this EP is so for you. I know I’m going to be listening to it over and over again.

Check out this video of ‘I Was So Wrong’ off his last album, This Side of Me, This Side of You for a hint of what Justin Levinson offers:

I Was So Wrong Official Music Video – Justin Levinson & The Valcours

Here’s where you can keep up with Justin Levinson online: 

Website: JustinLevinson.com

Twitter: @jxlevinson

Facebook: Justin Levinson Music

9781419704284_p0_v1_s260x420Author: A.G. Howard

Book: SPLINTERED

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads Book Blurb:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Praise for Splintered:

“Attention to costume and setting render this a visually rich read…”–Kirkus Reviews

“SPLINTERED is simply a delicious, disturbing, mad, wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” –Melissa Marr, New York Times Bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I will *try* to contain myself and not openly gush like the inner fangirl inside of me is dying to do. A.G. Howard is very dear to my little heart for multiple reasons. (One of them being she was in the query trenches with me when we were both looking for literary representation.)

Over the summer I had the privilege of reading SPLINTERED and even if I didn’t know Ms. Howard, I’d be obsessed with this book. It’s unlike any retelling I’ve read because it’s not really a retelling as much as a re-imagining. Howard has completely transformed the Alice In Wonderland story you remember into something much much much darker. If you think you’re getting anywhere CLOSE to the Wonderland you knew, oh my oh my oh my, you are WRONG. So very, very wrong. This book comes alive with new characters. I ADORED the setting, fast-paced plot, and Howard’s beautiful writing style. SPLINTERED has got voice for miles, with unexpected plot twists and turns that will keep you turning pages, and a slew of crazy/mad/wonderful characters that you’ll immediately fall in love with.

This unique take on the sinister side of Wonderland is delightful and I can’t encourage you enough to run to the bookstore on January 1st and buy a copy. TRUST me, you won’t regret it. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and two swoon-worthy guys that you’ll have a tough time choosing between. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, so I’ll leave you with a taste of A.G. Howard’s sweet prose to whet your appetite.

Reading the opening is all you need to get sucked down the rabbit hole:

“I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

Some of my victims line the walls in shadow boxes, while others get sorted into mason jars and placed on a bookshelf for later use. Crickets, beetles, spiders…bees and butterflies…” Oh, you want to read more? Oopsie. You’re going to have to grab a copy on January 1st!

Keep up with A.G. Howard online by visiting the following places:

Website: Author A.G. Howard

Twitter: @aghowardwrites

Blog: A Still and Quiet Madness

Facebook: Author AG Howard

Goodreads: A.G. Howard

Query Letter Critique (YA Contemporary)

Original Query:

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music.

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour, Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true.

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling.

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses.

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens (the name isn’t necessary right here) takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music. (This doesn’t really add anything or propel your query forward.)

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour (how?), Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true. (How? Don’t be vague here, this will help the reader understand the stakes. Is there a potential record deal? A label coming to their show?)

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling. (Wait…how is Jonathan here? In the previous paragraph you said she had to sacrifice a summer with him. I’m missing the connection to how she’d have to sacrifice, if he can tour with them.)

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses. (But why would one bad show destroy her confidence, when technically, the battle of the bands was bad if she tried fainting? What is the catalyst that makes it SUCH a bad show that she’s retracing? I think strengthening that a teeny, tiny bit more will make a big difference.)

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS. (Perfect closing!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The aftermath:

Let me start by saying I really like your voice…but…I’m not fully grasping what the actual stakes are here. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a good story and I totally get that she’s trying to find out who she is and become a confident, strong, girl..but what happens if she fails? What major choices does she have to make and how will that affect the people around her? I think beefing up some actual conflicts will help build the tension in the query. That’s really what’s missing.

In one way, there’s almost too much going on and the focus gets lost in the series of events that are listed. (Interesting as they are.) For example: We know there’s a battle of the bands and Charlie’s trying to sabotage it, and there’s something going on with Jonathan…then she’s on tour, and magically loving the rockstar lifestyle and partying and fighting and Jonathan is suddenly here and she’s making a move on him, then a bad gig happens and she falls apart. But those aren’t stakes, they’re kind of like a powerpoint presentation of mini conflicts.

What is the main focus of your story? What is the HUGE thing laying on the line? See if there’s a way for you to pick the BIG conflict and pull that out.

If there’s something at that bad gig that’s life-changing for everyone in the band – go into that! Tell us why that’s so important and why it’s so devastating when/if she screws it up. Is there an A&R person there, ready to sign them if the show goes well? Is there a music journalist that could write a review that’s a career changer/destroyer? 

What makes that the crucial turning point in your manuscript? I can already picture conflict for daysssssssss there. THAT is the conflict that needs to shine in your query. My god, my god, my god if Charlie messes ____ up it’s not only the dreams she’s come to desire, but all of her bandmates hopes that could be crushed FORVER. AND she could lose ________ as well. The tension and stakes are building simply by bringing your focus into a bull’s eye. 

Mini conflicts and subplots are great in books, we just need more core stuff in the blurb. Try leaving some of the smaller subplots (and list of events) out, get into the bad show part sooner, and show us what’s at stake.

Thank you so much for braving the query critique and for sharing your work on my blog! I really hope my notes are helpful and my goodness, this sounds like a fun read. Keep up the amazing work!!! :)

 

Query Critique (Non-fiction)

The Original Query:

Address

Address

Address

To Whom This May Concern,

GO BLOG YOURSELF!

What better way to showcase concrete research on blogging as a legit form of writing for students then to place it next to blog entries from the researcher, and teacher, herself?

My book, GO BLOG YOURSELF, would include entries from two of my blogs (a teaching blog and private blog, started in the spring of 2002) intermingled with chapters that include blogging research I’ve conducted over the years. Due to the recent nature of blogs this book would fill a much needed void of concrete research connected with blogs for academics, as well as attract recreational readers of blog and bloggers alike.

Through the process of becoming an Associate Professor (in North Dakota!), I’ve kept up with several blogs, and I’ve co-published an article* on blogging with Dr. X and Y, both professors at _____. In addition, I’ve taught using blogs (class blogs, too) since the spring of 2002 at NDSU and, currently, at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, ND (a hour south of Fargo). Within the last few years, I’ve also given presentations on how blogging has worked in my classrooms.

I believe GO BLOG YOURSELF would be suitable for the ___ Corporation. Enclosed, you’ll find a Table of Contents and a sample chapter of GO BLOG YOURSELF. A SASE is included for your reply. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

*That article can be found here: (Redacted)

The Critique:

Address

Address

Address

To Whom This May Concern, Dear Ms. Agent, (Make sure you’re researching agents and personalizing your query letter. This is someone who’s going to (possibly) be your business partner, so include their name. I’m sure that you aren’t sending out letters “To Whom This May Concern” but for the purpose of the critiques, I have to point that out.)

GO BLOG YOURSELF! What better way to showcase concrete research on blogging as a legit form of writing for students then to place it next to blog entries from the researcher, and teacher, herself? (As an opening, this isn’t working for a couple of reasons. The first being it almost comes across as an “As Seen On TV” infomercial (sorry!). Yes, you want a sales pitch, but it doesn’t have to be over-the-top. Query letters, whether they are for fiction or non-fiction, should start with your hook. And in order to have a successful hook, you want to remove the question element altogether. STATE what this book is about and why it’s unique and why readers are going to pick it up. Here’s what I mean…let’s say you’re at a dinner party and your friend asks you what your book is about. You probably wouldn’t answer them with a question, you’d explain it in a sentence or two.)

My book, GO BLOG YOURSELF, would include entries from two of my blogs (a teaching blog and private blog, started in the spring of 2002) intermingled with chapters that include blogging research I’ve conducted over the years. Due to the recent nature (maybe insert what recent nature of blogs here, because leaving it so open-ended could mean anything. Are you talking about the recent downfall of blogs? The relevance of blogs? How blogs have changed/evolved? Don’t be afraid to spell it out – it’ll only take a word or two to clarify what you mean) of blogs this book would fill a much needed void of concrete research connected with blogs for academics (how?), as well as attract recreational readers of blogs and bloggers alike. (If it’s research about blogs for academics, why would it attract recreational blog readers?)

Through the process of becoming an Associate Professor (in North Dakota!) (Why is this here? It doesn’t add to your query, save the space for more pertinent information relating to your platform and what exactly your book is about. By this point, I’m still not sure who your target market is (Students? Teachers? Readers? Bloggers?) and what exactly your book is going to cover), I’ve kept up with several blogs (you’ve followed several blogs, or you personally keep several blogs? And if it’s blogs you just read, that’s not really telling the agent about your proposal. If this is the research part, how reliable are the sources?), and I’ve co-published an article* (This is one of those parts where you want to tell the agent your credits. Where was this published? National, local, print, academic journal, e-format? Don’t be vague with your credentials.) on blogging with Dr. X and Y, both professors at _____. In addition, I’ve taught using blogs (class blogs, too) since the spring of 2002 at NDSU and, currently, at the North Dakota State College of Science. in Wahpeton, ND(a hour south of Fargo) (Again, this is unnecessary, tell the agent more about why this book? Why you?) Within the last few years, I’ve also given presentations (How many? To whom?) on how blogging has worked in my classrooms. (How has blogging worked in your classrooms?)

I believe GO BLOG YOURSELF would be suitable for the ___ Corporation (Just one place? I thought from your opening it would appeal to students and bloggers and blog readers, too?). Enclosed, you’ll find a Table of Contents and a sample chapter of GO BLOG YOURSELF. (Make sure you’re researching agent guidelines; find out if the agent you are querying prefers JUST a query letter first. You can say “sample chapters are available upon request” if they don’t ask for material upfront.) A SASE is included for your reply. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Your Name

*That article can be found here: (Redacted)

Okay, so here’s the thing: platform is an essential part of non-fiction. Yes, you mention you’ve got two blogs and have co-published an article, but the agent isn’t hearing about the numbers. Do you promote your blogs on social media? How many followers/subscribers/friends/fans do you have on twitter/blog(s)/facebook, etc. You’ve given presentations, that’s good! How many, and how many do you do a year? Are there opportunities for you to sell your books at these presentations? Are they local, national, etc.? This is your place to SHINE, talk yourself up.

Credentials and platform mixed with a great/unique idea are the basis of what you want to come across in this proposal. I can’t give a more in-depth critique like I can for fiction,  but I can give you a few questions to keep in mind while you’re crafting your next draft.

After reading this several times I’m still not entirely sure what your book is about. Yeah, it’s about blogging and blogging relating to academics (I think), but what exactly are you teaching the reader? How to make money at blogging? How to quit your job and blog full-time? How to grow readership? How to integrate blogs in the classroom?

You mention that it will not only appeal to students, but to bloggers (and readers of blogs) as well. Again, I still don’t know why, because I don’t know much about the book.

I think your title is catchy, and you’ve got a good voice – you just need to hone it into a streamlined pitch that’s CLEAR. You’re the expert on the subject, make sure you “show” your expertise.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my agent, basically you want to answer three questions:

Why you?

Why this book?

Why now?

The questions don’t have to be answered in that order, but they do need to be answered. Find a way to let your voice shine through authentically (without being forced  or over-the-top), and you’ll have a killer proposal. 

Here are some helpful links for non-fiction query letters that you can use as reference guides: (the people who wrote these have stellar advice and are much more in-the-know regarding successful non-fiction proposals.)

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/how-to-write-nonfiction-book-proposal.html

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/03/nonfiction-query-sample.html

http://writenonfictionnow.com/how-to-write-a-query-letter-for-a-nonfiction-book/

http://kidlit.com/2011/07/11/how-to-write-a-non-fiction-query-letter/

MOST importantly: Thank you to this brave author for sharing their query with everyone. You are ten kinds of awesome, I mean it. Critiques are NEVER easy, but I *know* you are going to come up with a kick-butt pitch that’s going to land you some amazing requests. Good luck with this!

Query Critique

Original Query:

Dear (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it.

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain on the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world, they have no choice but to work together, despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And when his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories.

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Critique:

Dear Ms. (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it. (How old is he? We find out it’s YA at the end, but you want to ground the reader (agent) in what kind of book you’ve written up-front. That can be fixed easily by adding: Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old…etc. Also! You can tighten this and make it more present by moving a few words around. Ex: Seventeen-year-old small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.)

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. (This can also be condensed a bit for more impact. It’s a wordy way of continuing to talk about Tristan’s hanging when the reader should be thrust into the action/conflict faster. So far we’ve read a lot about the stuff that happens BEFORE the action. Since most of the conflict occurs after this, flesh that out more.) Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain (this is unnecessary) On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world (since they were sucked through a portal, the “foreign world” part is assumed. You can cut this extra info so you have more wordage to add to the conflict and obstacles) they have no choice but to work together (by saying “they are forced to work together” it conveys the same message and chops extraneous words), despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And When his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories. (Who steals her memories? The henchman or the evil god? It’s a little unclear. A fast way to fix that is like this: When a henchman fails to capture the girl, he steals her memories instead. Or better yet, do we need to know the henchman steals her memories? It might be best to remove that element completely to avoid character soup.)

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god(dess) of Earth. (What conflict does that pose for the evil god? We need a little something here about why the evil god wants her and what the consequence will be if he succeeds. What are the stakes or choices? Will capturing her soul destroy their world?)

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy. (Good ending. One minor tweak; I would say that it’s a stand alone with series potential.)

Thank you for your time and consideration. (Perfect!)

Your Name

Phone Number

Email

Other Contact Info/Website/Etc.

A couple of nitpick-y things: Be aware of using too many words that end in “ly”, there are quite a few that are “telling” instead of showing. I.e. Tightly, accidentally, desperately, suddenly, reluctantly, etc. It’s okay to use some – just know that for a short blurb they start to stand out when they aren’t necessary.

The Aftermath:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.

Just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky, smashing the gallows and freeing him. While attempting escape in the midst of the chaos, he’s accidentally sucked into another dimension.

On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped, they are forced to work together despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. When his plan of capturing the girl fails, he steals her memories instead. Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the goddess of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It’s a stand alone with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Your Name

Okay…so with this condensed version, you now have extra word space to flesh out the conflict and choices the characters face once they are in the other world MORE. Don’t be afraid to lay the stakes out there for the agent. 

Thanks so much for sharing your query and for letting me dig my little fingers in. Your book sounds like a really fun read, and the query has a great voice!

The Girl with the Green Pen

I know I said I’d post a query critique each Wednesday, but this week I’m bumping it out to Friday (sorry!) to share some news with you. One of my dear friends (and the person I often refer to as “Critique Goddess”) is launching a new website for writers, and I cannot say enough about how awesome her editing skills are. I rarely endorse things here, but if any of my writing pals are looking for a trustworthy editor with a proven track record, then Taryn (in my humble opinion) is the best.

Here are just a few of the things she’s doing: Taryn’s interning with an awesome agency, agented, a personal assistant to the lovely Genn Albin (debut author of CREWEL) and she’s also a college student. What. A. Slacker. ;)

I send her each of my manuscripts and am always blown away by the notes I get back. Seriously, Taryn knows her stuff. Okay, enough gushing!

Without further adieu, here’s a little bit about Taryn–aka Critique Goddess–in her own words.

Here’s my mission statement:

My mission is to guide writers through the daunting task of revision. From idea development to editorial feedback to general publishing advice, I love working with stories and those who create them. As a nationally ranked swimer, I know the value of time, so I believe in quick responses from the first email to the last.

I am not just another freelance editor. Beyond providing an experienced and thorough critique, my secondary goal is to establish a relationship with my clients. I want to support you throughout the stressful submission process and celebrate with you upon any and all good news. Writers may put pen to paper alone, but it is through a community that the book gets finished, polished, and submitted.

Why The Girl with the Green Pen? Why green?

Most edits are made with a red pen. If someone critiques your manuscript, s/he will most likely cover it with red ink, right? Not so much here. I make all my notes in green because I like to reflect the idea of moving forward. Green means go, it means new life. These are ways to think of your revisions, and this is how I like to think of the editing process.

But why are you leaving Teen Eyes?

I founded Teen Eyes in August 2011 to critique your YA manuscript from the perspective of a YA. Since then, I’ve expanded my interest in editing. Plus I’ll be 20 soon, so the “teen” part won’t work much longer. I still love Teen Eyes, but I wanted to do something bigger.

Here’s the link for Taryn’s site: Click here!

Query Critique

The Original Query:

THE LOST STORY, completed at 80,000 words, is the tragic and triumphant story of Danielle (Dani) Caldwell, an American girl who meets a Cuban boy and falls in love, only to find their world-views divided over the Cuban Revolution.

The story opens in 1980.  Dani’s walking through the streets of Manhattan when she sees a man laying in a puddle on Wall Street, looking half dead, while passersby walk over him on their morning commute.  It’s enough to overcome her; to beckon her to the side of a man she doesn’t know.  She steps onto a metal bench, and as if it were her pulpit, pleads with the onlookers in defense of the broken man.

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  The year is 1958.  It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.  Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites descend on the Forbidden City; known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing, until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her.

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts, Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lover’s stars cross as their worlds collide.

Author Bio:

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites.  She writes a monthly column for ____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She holds a master’s degree in converged journalism.

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

The Query Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent’s Last Name,

THE LOST STORY, (what genre is it? i.e. THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical complete at… Maybe even give the agent an idea of which readers it will appeal to.) completed at 80,000 words. is the tragic and triumphant story of Danielle (Dani) Caldwell, an American girl who meets a Cuban boy and falls in love, only to find their world-views divided over the Cuban Revolution. (This is unnecessary “telling.” Your query letter should “show” the agent what your story is about. I’d totally cut this part out. Also, just as a personal preference, I’d put this down toward the bottom and open with your blurb, unless an agent states they like a more personalized greeting upfront.)

The story opens in 1980.  Dani’s walking through the streets of Manhattan when she sees a man laying in a puddle on Wall Street, looking half dead, while passersby walk over him on their morning commute.  It’s enough to overcome her; to beckon her to the side of a man she doesn’t know.  She steps onto a metal bench, and as if it were her pulpit, pleads with the onlookers in defense of the broken man. (I’m going to pause right here. So far this is a GOOD synopsis, but it’s not really a query. You want your query letter to read like the back of a book blurb.) 

What is your hook? Your hook needs to sum up the main conflict of your novel in a way that makes the reader (agent) want to read more…NOW. 

Example: Main Character has everything a sixteen-year-old could want…except for  _____.  (What is the main driving force of your novel? What does your MC want more than anything? What is the major conflict?)

To really show the agent what kind of novel you’ve written, adding a few extra details will immediately let them know what genre your book is. 

Ex: Jane Doe has everything a sixteen-year-old astronaut warrior wants…except for an alien annihilating spaceship.

Now the reader (agent) is grounded in this being some sort of science fiction or fantasy AND we know there’s a major conflict. An astronaut warrior without a spacecraft is quite an issue; how oh how will the MC go about securing themselves a spacecraft and kick some alien invasion butt? We can also assume it’s a YA book based on the MC’s age.

IF your hook is an “American girl and Cuban boy fall in love during the Cuban Revolution,” you’re going to need to flesh it out a bit more. Highlight the stakes and don’t be afraid to really let your conflict shine. Then build from there in the following sentences/paragraphs. SHOW the reader (agent) this amazing world you’ve built. (I.e. Is Dani a mobster’s daughter? If she is, and her family is threatening Jose, then that spells out MAJOR conflict.) 

Here are some helpful hints/questions to keep in mind while working on your blurb:

What is your hook?

What does your MC want?

What’s preventing your MC from getting what he/she wants?

What choice(s) does your MC face?

What happens if he/she doesn’t succeed?

If you can answer those questions your blurb will be in good shape. Moving along…

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for (insert her age here) Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  (Okay. So I really like this paragraph. I’m thinking you can use this as your opening blurb and flesh this part out a bit more.) The year is 1958. It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.  Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites (using both “high-society” and “socialites” is redundant, eliminate one of those) descend on the Forbidden City; (a comma would work better here) known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing (why? I want MORE of her personality to shine through), until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her. (Is Jose her age? Is he a mysterious older guy? It’s unclear.)

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve (how?) and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts (why do the American’s threaten him?), Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lover’s lovers’ stars cross as their worlds collide. (Is she a mobster’s daughter? If she’s not, I don’t really understand the tie-in with the mafia and how it challenges Dani and Jose. It kinda comes out of left field. How are their worlds colliding? Give the reader a hint more here. What happens next? What do they have to choose? End with the choice your MC will have to make. Does she have to choose her family or her love? And what are the consequences of her choices? You’ve got great bones in this section of your query letter, you just need to add more to flesh out the conflict.)

THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical Romance and is complete at 80,000 words.

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has I have written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites. (You might want to include which television shows/episodes, newspapers, etc. That way an agent knows if it’s national or local and the size of readership.) She writes I also write a monthly column for _____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She I holds a master’s degree in converged journalism. (Since this is a query letter, writing your bio in first person works well.)

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

Okay! So I think with a few more tweaks (and fleshing out some of the details) this will really work. Here’s some of it without all my notes so you have a better idea of what it’ll look like. Take what you’ve got here and build up by applying those questions I mentioned earlier:

The query aftermath: 

Dear Ms. Agent,

Some people say a radical is born in an instant, like a crime of passion, but for Danielle, her transformation begins when her mother gives her the gift of travel as a graduation present.  The year is 1958.  It’s the summer before the Cuban Revolution, Eisenhower is in office and there’s still a daily flight to Havana, Cuba.

Each year, a deluge of high rollers, high society and socialites descend on the Forbidden City; known for its legal gambling, glamourous nightclubs and white, sandy beaches. None of which Dani has any interest in experiencing, until she meets Jose Medeiro, a progressive, intelligent store owner who’s smitten with her.

In the heat of the Danze de Amore, under the moonlit skies of the Malecon, Jose breaks down Dani’s walls of reserve and steals her heart.  But when the American mob threatens the future of his family’s storefronts, Jose aligns himself with Fidel Castro, and the two young lovers’ stars cross as their worlds collide.

THE LOST STORY is a YA Historical Romance and is complete at 80,000 words.

Author Bio:

Name Withheld is a wife, mother and writer.  She has written mostly non-fiction for television, newspapers and websites.  She writes a monthly column for ____.com, focusing on lack of sleep, how potty training can save your marriage and other self-deprecating and humorous tales from the home.  She holds a master’s degree in converged journalism.

Thanks again,

Name Withheld

Contact information

Thanks so much to the author of this (AWESOME sounding) novel for sharing your query letter with me. I hope this crit helps–keep up the amazing work!!!

I’ll be posting a new query letter critique each Wednesday from now through December. (With the exception of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.) 

If you’d like me to mark up your query letter (or first page) please send your work to Kerri.writes@gmail.com

Query Letter OR First Page Critiques…

Hey blog friends! LONG time no speak – color me embarrassed. Did I mention you look super cute today? AND CAN YOU BELIEVE IT’S November?! (HAPPY NaNoWriMo!)

As you know I was working on SECRET project, then I was editing SECRET project, then I started critiquing and beta’ing for a few of my friends/agent sisters, AND then there was a little hurricane that plowed through our area (Speaking of…if you’d like to donate please text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 contribution, every little bit helps!) needless to say, shiz got crazy here.

So…I was thinking of ways to make it up to you, my dear interwebs friends. SINCE it’s November and my wee little heart is getting filled with TONS of early holiday cheer, it’s the perfect time to help my writing friends out.

How?

I’m going to critique YOUR work. And, since I’m all about giving choices and options, you can either send me your query letter OR your first 250 words. (In the body of an email.)

Please note! By emailing me your first page OR query letter you are automatically giving me permission to post it on the blog.

Sound good?

If you’re nodding then let’s high-five right this second. Okay. SO…if you’d like me to mark up your query letter (or first page) please send your work to Kerri.writes@gmail.com

Please put “Query Crit” in the subject line. I will send you a confirmation once I receive your email. If you haven’t heard back from me within one day – I most likely didn’t get your email. Reach out to me here and I’ll contact you.

*While I’ll be posting your query letter (or first page) on the blog, all posts will remain anonymous (meaning I won’t be including your actual name or contact information on the blog).

I think that about covers everything, but if you’ve got any questions don’t hesitate to shoot me a comment here or contact me on twitter @KerriManiscalco or you can ask me on tumblr here. And if you know writer-ly types who are looking for an extra pair of eyes on their query letters, send them this link.

HAPPY EARLY HOLIDAYS, FRIENDS!!!!

Special Post: Ask an agent ANYthing and Harper is open to unagented submissions!

A couple of amazing things I had to share with my fellow writing friends…

If you’ve ever wanted an opportunity to ask a literary agent ANY question regarding publishing – now’s your chance! My agent (Barbara Poelle) is doing a monthly column for Writers Digest where she’ll be answering questions from YOU.

No writing/publishing question is off limits. (Unless you’re especially pervy. Then shame on you, Pervy McPervy Pants.)

If you’re uncomfortable with using your real name, Sleepless in Seattle’s are welcome. Or, you know…the more writerly version of that.

If you have something you’d like answered honestly, with good humor and spot on industry info, then direct your questions to:

writersdigest [at] fwmedia [dot] com with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line.

I can vouch 1,000% for how awesome Barbara is.

Here’s part of the announcement from Writers Digest itself:

Have you ever wished you could get advice on your writing life, your pursuit of publication, and everything in between, from an expert source would tell it to you straight, with good humor and grace?

So have we! That’s why we’re excited to announce WD’s new advice column, “Funny You Should Ask,” in which popular literary agent Barbara Poelle—known for her knack for spotting debut talent at Irene Goodman Literary Agency as well as for her approachable, refreshingly honest and sometimes irreverent style of instructing writers—will begin tackling your toughest problems and offering up her best advice for writers in the pages of Writer’s Digest magazine.

For the full article and extra details CLICK HERE.

On to the second bit of writerly awesome! Harper Voyager is going to be open to unagented submissions for the first time in a decade!!! The window to submit your work is only going to be from October 1st-14th.

(That’s starting THIS Monday, kids.)

For submission guidelines check out the link HERE.

 

Lastly, I finally joined tumblr last week. And guys, I’m kinda addicted. If you’re there and want to hang out and share things or ask me questions about writing, or publishing, or kittens, or of I’m team X,Y or Z…here’s where you can find me: http://kerrimaniscalco.tumblr.com/