Word Counts

“MANUSCRIPT TITLE is complete at 76,000 words…”

You’re all used to seeing that word count in query letters. But let’s just talk about it a little.

For those of you who are unsure, yes you can round your word count. I say round it to the nearest thousand. In fact, it’s a little weird to me if the word count isn’t rounded at all.

I mean, I’d never say, “Wow, your book is 57,322 words long. Good thing, because if it was 57,323 I wouldn’t read it.” Also I never compare the word count of the actual manuscript to what the query letter says (“What do you mean this manuscript has 64,342 words? The query letter says it only has 64,340 words. How dare they!”)

Basically, the word count is just to give the reader a general feel for how long the book is. Honestly, I don’t even notice it unless it’s abnormally high or low. If it’s too long, I worry that there are too many unnecessary details slowing up the plot. If it’s too short, I worry that the author has hurried through the manuscript and that it will be confusing.

Just what range is normal depends on the age group and genre. For example, 35,000 is reasonable for MG, but would probably be short for a YA novel. Likewise, I’m not surprised to see fantasy novels be longer than contemporary.

So check what range is normal for your age group and genre. If your novel seems to fit, just round the number and don’t worry about it. There are more important parts of the query for you to focus on.

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Query Critique 14

So how about that Twitter contest Saturday? I know I was impressed by some of the pitches. I’m also impressed by this query letter.


Dear Agent X,

Three years ago Sabina Delacruz walked away from her criminal family. Goodbye to breaking and entering, stealing, and confidence tricks. Hello to life on the right side of the law. Now Sabina’s life is filled with art history papers, roommate disputes, and preparing for her final year of college. But when an old friend from Sabina’s past shows up at her apartment, her new life is endangered before it’s barely begun. If the story is NA, I’d like to see that indicated in the first paragraph, either by mentioning her age or the fact that she’s a college student. Also, the friend is a little distracting. Are they just there to give her the news, or are they actually important in the story?

Sabina discovers her twin sister, Serafina, Sometimes having two names that are really similar (start with the same letter) can be confusing for readers. has gone missing. Complicating matters is the fact that she vanished while on a job. Not just any job either but the con of a lifetime: infiltrate a crew of thieves set on stealing a priceless artifact and then when the heist is complete, steal the score from underneath their noses. This sentence feels long. Is there to break it up without making the flow feel clunky? It would make sense to declare the con a bust except Serafina’s employer does not like being disappointed and there are bodies to prove it.

To protect both her family and the life she’s built, Sabina assumes her twin’s identity and rejoins the thieves. Not only does she hope to complete Serafina’s job and deliver the artifact, she also intends to locate her missing sister. But fooling her new partners is the easy part. As Sabina slips further back into the life she left, she finds it harder to face the prospect of saying goodbye a second time — especially when she finds herself dangerously attracted to one of her fellow thieves, who believes she’s someone else.

BAD GIRLS LIVE FAST is a 75,000-word contemporary are other subgenres like suspense or thriller appropriate? NA. I like to think of it as an older, multicultural Heist Society with the contentious family dynamics of The Curse Workers. This is really good.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

The Infiltrator


No overall comments. This is looking pretty polished to me!

 

Contest Winners!

First of all, can I just say I’m totally humbled by how this contest went? And by humbled I also mean overwhelmed. Sorting through slush is hard, because sometimes I get more good stuff than I can request. The Twitter contest is like that. On steroids.

I want to give you all a big virtual hug. And I don’t mean that in a just wanting to make you feel better because you lost sort of way. I mean I’m really impressed with the quality of tweets, and if I didn’t have to do pesky things like sleep, I would give away so many more critiques. Next time I do this, I’m going to invite (coerce) some of my very talented friends into helping so that we can have more winners.

That said, I do have to choose winners. Without further ado, the winner of the five page critique is Kimberly with her pitch

YAF: Grace craves sanity how some girls crave chocolate. But falling for one of her hallucinations might lead to the psych ward.

Our fan favorite is S.A. Mats:

12yo Simon must clear his name before hes convicted of the kidnappings. MG:Fantasy Rondald Dhal meets Diagon Alley

Runners up (will receive first page critique):

Rebecca: The spy in Rachel’s best-selling book is the man of her dreams…until he shows up at her door.She blew his cover.Now he’s pissed.

Michelle: Zoe dies in combat and enters The Soul Program. A realm where young souls go to adjust to death. #YA

Nikki: Indian bride left by lover with only henna designs as humiliating souvenirs has to swallow pride and go for arranged marriage.

Jamie: Phantom of the Opera meets youth orchestra when someone tries to help Killian by threatening destruction if she’s not first chair

Joanna: A blind Seer battles a soul-eating shadow-wind while the girl he loves rips a hole between worlds to save him. YAF

I also added a picture book category, because picture books work a little differently than novels. Also because it’s my contest, and I do what I want. The winner of the picture book critique is Sharon.

2 penguins a polar bear & a reindeer joins forces to get Santa out of the hot tub he is stuck in. PB

Thanks to everyone who participated. If you didn’t win a critique from the contest, you can still submit your query letters for critique on the blog. I actually don’t have that many in my inbox right now.

Also, can we just be friends? Because you people are mega talented.

Twitter Pitch Tips

If we’re being totally honest, I think some books are just easier to pitch in 140 characters (or easier to pitch in general). I have two novels nearing the querying stage. One I have three elevator pitches that I think are pretty good. The other novel I have one okay short pitch.

But there are some tips I’ve found that have been helpful. I’ll be using examples for a pitch of a dream I had recently (though I’m starting to think maybe it should actually be a book).

The X meets Y Formula

Who doesn’t love blending two wonderful things into a new, even wonderfuller thing? It’s like the book version of slutty brownies (you know, the ones where you have the chocolate chip cookie layer and the brownie layer with a bonus Oreo layer in between?).

This is sometimes a cross between two books. Lisa McMann’s Unwanteds series is being sold as “Harry Potter meets Hunger Games” and that works for that book.

But a lot of my favorite pitches are more to the effect of one concept meets another. Example: My book is a zombie apocalypse, but in space. (45 characters) People like zombies and space, so why not both together?

But, this formula doesn’t work for all books. So let’s talk about some alternatives.

What’s Different?

Every pitch (regardless of length) you want to focus on the one most unique thing about it. This can be a unique feature of the plot, character, or setting (though I think setting is the hardest to pull off).

For my space zombie novel, I might specify how the character is unique: Cyn never liked her prosthetic leg. Until it saves her from being taken over by body-snatching parasites. (105 characters)

Or plot: Humans enjoyed exploring space until body-snatching parasites began exploring them. (83 characters)

Personally, I find the ones focusing on the uniqueness of the character are often my favorite.

Stakes

This generally takes the form of an if/then statement. Basically, though. What does the character stand to lose?

Example: If 17yo Cyn can’t stop the body-snatching parasites invading her ship, her friends may end up as alien puppets. (111 characters)

I will say I see a lot of “The world will end” sort of stakes. Not that those aren’t important stakes, but I like seeing more intimately how the main character will be affected. That’s why I chose to focus my tweet above on the friends rather than how actually all humanity would be screwed.

Voice

This is sort of a bonus thing, because it’s hard enough to get the basic information down, much less the voice. But if you can, great.  I think this is easiest with sort of sassy characters, but that I might just be because always write sassy characters (they can say things that I’m too polite to say).

Example: Body-snatching aliens are possessing all of Cyn’s friends. Jerks. (65 characters)

Genre and Age Group

Hopefully, this is somewhat clear just from the pitch. If you can say something like “17 yo Cyn” it’s implied that the story is YA, but if I have room I usually put that it’s YA (that’s only two characters).

“YA SciFi” is only 8 characters and would fit onto any of the example pitches with room leftover for whatever hash tag you need. I usually just tack it on to the end or the beginning.

I do try to stay away from abbreviations as they make the tweet seem less professional. But I don’t mind them for establishing age range and genre. PB, MG, and YA are fine. If you don’t specify, I usually assume it’s adult.

These example pitches aren’t perfect. Like I said, they’re from a random dream I had, and I sort of just came up with them on the spot. But hopefully they give you an idea of some of the possible directions you can take your Twitter pitch.

If you’re still struggling, consider purchasing a Twitter pitch critique. See special deals on my Editing Services page.

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Writing your Twitter pitch got you feeling like this? Don’t worry. You can do it!

Query Critique 13

Without further ado… the Kyratique.


 

Dear Ms. Nelson,

In rural Devil Springs, Florida, seventeen-year-old Mesa struggles under her grandmother’s rising religious fanaticism. Going into her senior year, Mesa only wants to have fun with her best friend, Kenzi and help her neighbor, Drew, an incoming autistic freshmen. And then there’s Cody. This transition seems abrupt. She’s determined to ignore Cody – leading scorer of the basketball team and every girl’s not-so-secret crush. But when she needs his help In what way does she need his help? with Drew and sees his kinder side, Mesa’s resolve begins to melt.

Meanwhile, Grandma Avis is buying hope chests and pressuring Mesa to get baptized. Once again I’d find a way to smooth out transitions between talking about talking about Cody and talking about the grandma. Why would Mesa get baptized when she has no idea what she believes? When Kenzi’s crush on the new boy in town turns reckless, Avis is able to enlist the help of Pastor Shepherd, Kenzi’s dad, to drive the devil from Devil Springs. Suddenly the whole town is caught up in Avis-led fervor. You don’t have your sort of comparative title/market pitch sentence. This makes it seem like you could pitch it as a modern version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (or something to that effect). As Mesa tries to understand what’s driving her grandmother, she begins to uncover the demons Avis is so eager to cast out. With the truth set free, Mesa must redefine both faith and family. This is interesting. I think there’s a demand for more discussion on religion in books, particularly in YA.

Devil Springs, All caps! a work of contemporary young adult fiction (not paranormal!), I don’t think you need to specify that it isn’t paranormal. It doesn’t sound paranormal to me.is complete at 70,000 words. As for me, I am a native Floridian who graduated from the University of Florida, which sits about 30 miles away from this fictional town. I also hold an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington where I worked with authors such as Rebecca Lee and Clyde Edgerton.

Thank you for considering my work.

The Devil Went Down to Florida


My overall comment is to work on the flow. There are a couple of intertwined subplots, but there were times that I felt like we were talking about the grandma and then without warning we were suddenly talking about the boy. So just find a way to smooth those out a bit.

My Biggest Query Pet Peeve

I actually have two biggest pet peeves when it comes to query letters.

The first is people calling me sir. Which isn’t a frequent problem, but it does happen. I’m going to assume that you’re too smart for that, though, and focus on my other pet peeve which even smart people do.

I get so many query letters that start something to the effect of “Billy Bob was a normal teenager until…”

I don’t care that Billy Bob was a normal teenager. Really, I don’t. So maybe Billy Bob was a normal teenager until he gained the power to telepathically communicate with sloths. Why don’t you just say “Billy Bob’s ability to telepathically communicate with sloths just might save the world.” More interesting.

Why is this a big deal? You have a limited amount of time in a query letter to grab my attention. Don’t waste words telling me what’s normal. I am going to assume everything is normal until you tell me otherwise.

In linguistics (which is what my degree is in) we would call this a violation of the Gricean Maxim of Quantity. I say that mostly to show off and also because I like to take every possible opportunity to prove my degree is not useless. Basically what it means, though, is that in normal conversation, we don’t waste time by telling people things they already know.

It would be like walking into first period with your friend and saying, “We’re at school.” And you’re friend would give you a funny look and be like, “Duh. Of course we’re at school. Why are you saying that?”

So don’t tell me your character is normal. Even if they are. Focus on the conflict of the story and what makes them unique.

Twitter Contest

I’ve decided to host a Twitter contest this Saturday (July 26th). Here’s how it works:

  • Follow me on Twitter (I’ll be DMing winners, which I can only do if you follow me).
  • Tweet your pitch with the hash tag #kyratique between noon and 4:00 pm MST.
  • Your manuscript does NOT have to be finished in order to compete.
  • I will give a five page critique to my favorite pitch. I’ll also be giving out a handful of one page critiques to other pitches that I like.
  • I will also be giving away a five page critique to the fan favorite (whoever gets the most favorites for their pitch).
  • Winning entries will be posted on the blog.

This is sort of a trial run. I’ve never hosted a Twitter contest before. But if goes well, it’s something I’d like to do again and maybe expand (get guest judges or something). So spread the word and hopefully I’ll see you Saturday!