Wish List (If I were a Pitch Wars Mentor)

 I’m not exactly sure what got me on this train of thought, but earlier I was wondering what I would put on my wish list if I were a Pitch Wars mentor. So I decided to blog about it. Not sure if anybody will read it, but it was interesting to me at any rate.

If I were a Pitch Wars mentor, I’d mentor YA. Although I read across all age groups, YA has my heart, and I know it the best.

Things I’d like to see:

  • Religious characters, especially if religion isn’t the focal point of the story. Also especially from under-represented religions. If your book had a Sikh MC, I’d be ridiculously happy.
  • Weird mash-ups. Like that dream I had about a zombie apocalypse in space.
  • Superheroes! Always superheroes! 
  • Historical fiction from a less-talked about period or place (Like Ruta Septys’s Between Shades of Gray). I also happen to really dig the 1950s. Doo wop is the music of my soul. And the 1920s, cause flappers. And the French Revolution, because there was some crazy stuff going down.
  • Retellings, unless it’s Snow White or CInderella (Unless it’s like Marissa Meyer’s cyborg Cinderella in Cinder). I’m sort of tired of Twelve Dancing Princesses as well, but think it would be really cool if retold as a contemporary.
  • Something with word play, like Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea. Not YA, but one of my favorite books. Ever. On a similar note, I think epistlatory books are cool.
  • Sassy protagonists. Like Jaron from Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince.
  • A story about an overweight MC. Not necessarily fat. But bigger.
  • Nerd girl MCs. Or just nerds in general. Like the Big Bang Theory of books.

So I guess if you happen to be writing one of these books, you should let me know when it gets published.

Query Critique 18

Dear Mrs. Nelson,

No-nonsense, 19-year-old Violet Mason knows what she wants: she wants to rock college like a hurricane, she wants to take her little sister trick-or-treating, and she wants the nightmares to stop. Vi’s always dreamed of ice and blood, but they aren’t dreams– they’re memories, and they aren’t hers.

When Evie Beware of names that look to similar on the page (in this case Evie and Vi)—beautiful, bubbly, and bloodthirsty—sits down beside Vi and says ‘hi’, things take a turn for the bizarre. There’s the confusing attraction between them, for one. Does Vi know that she’s blood-thirsty? Then, the boy who’s been watching Vi for months attacks her with a strange knife. This seems a little out of nowhere. Also, what is strange about the knife?

Evie saves Vi from being ripped apart by a snake-like monster, Where did the snake-monster come from? Also, what happened with the thing with the knife? and the girls embark on a twisted, deadly road trip across the American southwest. Evie has the dreams, too, and she knows about guns, which is great. Why is that great? What’s less great is that their chance meeting has set off a cosmic beacon that’s drawing more monsters to them. And that boy who tried to kill her? He’s an amnesiac named Toby and might be Vi’s only ally. It’s too bad he’s possessed by an entity that can’t decide whether to kill her or kiss her. There’s a lot happening in this paragraph. I’d like to know more WHY things are happening. What’s causing these things to happen? Also, just smooth the transitions a little.

So here’s Vi’s carefully organized To-Do list: learn to kick ass, or at least bruise it, while on the lam; find out whose memories are in her head and why it’s made her a target; fix an amnesiac, if she can find the time; and, most importantly, stay alive. This paragraph has great voice.

No problem. The body count might be rising, but she’s got this. Also good voice.

VESTIGE is a complete, 87,000 word YA urban fantasy action/adventure novel with strong elements of action/adventure and romance. I’d pick either action or adventure. I don’t think you need both. Also, 19 is a little old for the YA range. Do with that what you will.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Dream Slasher


If you want a little more of my thoughts on New Adult versus Young Adult, check out my post on New Adult.

 

Tricia Levenseller: How to Write Good Sample Pages

TriciaI’m super excited to have Tricia Levenseller guest blogging today. Tricia graduated with a degree in English Language and a minor in editing from BYU. While in school, she interned with me at the literary agency. She also interned for Shadow Mountain Publishing. She currently works as a freelancer for multiple publishing companies, reviewing and editing manuscripts. Tricia also edits books for authors looking to self publish or find agents.

Hobbies for Tricia include watching TV shows (some of her favorites are Firefly, The VampireDiaries, Vikings, Sherlock, and Orphan Black), working on long projects (like putting together 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, crocheting blankets, and writing books), and playing volleyball.

You can follow Tricia on twitter @TriciaLevensell, where she regularly posts writing and editing advice, or at her writing group’s blog: theplotless.wordpress.com, where they talk about writing and the entertainment industry each week.


Thanks for having me, Kyra! I’m excited to be on Thoughts from the Agent Desk. You do a wonderful job discussing query letters, and all your followers are lucky to have your great insight every week.

Since you’ve got query letters covered, I thought I would talk to viewers today about sample pages—those pages that agents often request be sent along with a query when writers first submit to them. I’ve seen agents request anywhere from three to fifty pages, and regardless of the length, my goal is to help writers understand how to make those beginning pages the best they can be.

The short answer is to be INTERESTING and ORIGINAL. This is how you will stand out. But since it is difficult to know if you’re being interesting, we’ll go into this in more detail. First, let’s talk briefly about first lines. Believe it or not, as writers, you can draw in readers with your very first line. The trick is to make readers ask a question that forces them to read the second line. For example, look at Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil: “Sophie had waited all her life to be kidnapped.” Upon reading that, you immediately ask yourself Why had she waited to be kidnapped? This is interesting, yes? Original? Absolutely. Does it encourage you to read the next line of the book?

Now I want to point out right away that you don’t have to be writing a fantasy book to have an interesting first line. Consider Elizabeth Scott’s Something, Maybe, a YA contemporary romance: “Everyone’s seen my mother naked.” Does it make you ask a question? Is it still interesting and original?

There are easy things that you can do to help out that first line. I tell everyone that starting out with setting is a sure way to send people into snoozeville. Don’t start out by saying it was a dark and stormy night. Or that the leaves floated toward the ground like butterflies. Draw people in to the story before you describe the scene. If you have only five pages to draw in an agent, don’t waste too many words describing the setting. TELL THE STORY. But, as with most things, there are exceptions to everything. Look at Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn “Ash fell from the sky.” Is that a common setting description? Does ash normally fall from the sky? No. It’s still interesting and original, and it makes you ask a question.

Personally, I adore opening books with a one-sentence paragraph that’s fun and jarring, but not everyone has to do this to be interesting. In fact, one of my most favorite book openings, from Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass, does not start out with a one-sentence paragraph:

After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point. Most of the thousands of slaves in Endovier received similar treatment—though an extra half-dozen guards always walked Celaena to and from the mines. That was expected by Adarlan’s most notorious assassin. What she did not usually expect, however, was a hooded man in black at her side—as there was now.

Still interesting and original even though it uses four sentences instead of one? Still make you ask questions to encourage you to keep reading? The other trick that Maas uses here is helping us quickly get invested in her main character. Getting readers attached to your characters is a great way to be interesting, and there are three simple ways to do this. You can make your characters good at something. You can make readers sympathize with them. And you can put something new and unexpected in their lives. I quickly learned that the reason why I love the opening paragraph to Throne of Glass is because Maas uses each of these three things right from the start. Celaena is the best assassin. She’s lived as a slave for a year. And now there is a hooded man at her side. Talent. Sympathy. Newness. BAM.

So once you have your beginning paragraph, then what? Answer: keep up the pacing. Continue to draw in readers. There are simple rules to follow in order to do this as well.

1. Don’t info dump. Nothing will slow down the pacing more than you talking about the history of your world or explaining your magic system or giving your character’s entire backstory or pausing to talk about another character, etc. Your writing is a river. The added information are all the big boulders in the stream. Each time you hit one, the water has to veer around it before continuing downstream. A little information is good. It adds character. A lot is bad. It slows everything down. Give a little information here and there. Don’t dump it all in at once.

2. No flashbacks. At the beginning of your story, you should not be using ANY flashbacks. If information dumping consists of all the boulders in the water, then flashbacks are the dams that the little beavers are building. Doing a flashback brings the story to an abrupt halt. Then you have to get the reader’s interest AGAIN once you’re done, assuming you didn’t lose them once the flashback started. If you feel that your flashback is absolutely essential to know at the beginning of the story, then you started your book in the wrong place. Yeah, start earlier, BUT…

3. NO PROLOGUES. In keeping with my river analogy, using a prologue is like starting your book in a jungle and expecting readers to find the river. If you’re starting your book with a prologue that nobody but you can understand, TAKE IT OUT. There is absolutely no point to a prologue if it isn’t directly relevant to the story. And if it is directly relevant to your story, make it your first chapter. It’s as easy as that. There are so many agents that detest prologues. Usually because they’re not necessary. And you should always start your story with relevant information. But as I mentioned before, there are exceptions. If you’re writing epic fantasy for adults, a prologue is often expected—but for the love of writing, make sure it is relevant. If you’re thinking right now, Crap, I have a prologue. What do I do now? Look at Sara B. Larson’s Defy. She starts out her book with a “Before” heading. Then below chapter one, the heading says “After.” I’m not trying to say that calling the prologue something different will make it okay. I’m trying to say that Larson’s “Before” is directly relevant to the story, and it’s only three pages long. It’s short, to the point, and it doesn’t interrupt the pacing. In fact, it helps it. But the takeaway is to just start with chapter one. If your scene is relevant to the story, there’s no reason not to just start the book there.

4. Don’t introduce too many new/made up terms at once. These are your “muggles” and “hobbits” and other words you make up in your story. Readers can accept and remember a couple, but if they have to remember too many things at once, it’s going to distract from the story and encourage them to stop reading. How many is too many? How fast is too fast to introduce new terms? There is no definite answer. Have a friend read the beginning of your book and tell you what they could and couldn’t keep up with.

5. Show don’t tell. Everyone hears this, but it’s so true. Telling instead of showing is just as bad as info dumping. At some point in the future I will be doing a post on how to do this on my blog. For now though, just know that you should show your beginning as much as possible. Tell rarely.

6. Avoid clichés. Don’t start your book with a dream. In fact, avoid any dream scenes in your book if you can. Don’t have your main character look in a mirror and describe themselves to the reader. We don’t need to know what your character looks like right away. This can be an info dump if you’re not careful.

7. Always blend the familiar with the new. For example, if you’re writing a YA contemporary, don’t write the familiar school scene. We all know what a biology classroom looks like. We know what it’s like to be in P.E. We know what lockers look like and how that popular girl acts and what those jocks smell like. Do not describe things that people are familiar with. Describe what’s interesting and unique about that familiar scene. If there’s nothing interesting and original about that scene, you should not be writing it. If you want to read an interesting and original beginning school scene, take a look at Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush.

Okay, I think that covers the main points, and if you only take away one thing from this post, I hope it’s that you should be interesting and original in your beginning pages (and the rest of your book for that matter). If anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to answer questions posted in the comments. Also, I will be giving a five-page critique to one lucky reader of this post.

Thanks again for having me, Kyra!


And here’s the link to the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Is New Adult a Thing?

Is New Adult a thing?

The short answer, I think, is yes. New Adult is a thing. But nobody knows what that thing is.

It should be pretty simple. New Adult books are books that focus on twenty-something protagonists. Some people have said NA is YA with more sex, but I don’t think that’s true. At least not in all cases.

At any rate, every agent approaches the emerging NA category differently. Some embrace it fully, while others won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. A lot will look at it, but only if it could cross-over into another category (like women’s fiction, fantasy, or even young adult).

I see a lot of people out there writing NA, and I think there is a demand for it. I’ve seen plenty of it from indie publishers and on sites like Wattpad.

And it is getting published traditionally, though usually not under the NA banner. For instance, I would say Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is more NA than YA, even though you’ll find it on the YA shelf at the bookstore.

That said, I would expect to see NA become more recognized, even to the extent that I think you’ll be able to find a NA bookshelf at Barnes & Nobel in the nearish future.

Until then, though, what do you do with your NA book? How do you pitch it?

I think the top of your pitch list should be the agents who are very open to NA. If they aren’t interested, decide which genre would be the next closest fit. The pitch it to agent’s who represent that genre and let your query letter show the market potential.

I’d consider something like, “Novel X is a NA romance, but could be sold as women’s fiction.” It’s good to have some versatility in how the book can be marketed.

And as always, keep writing. If the book never sells, write something else and pitch that while you’re waiting for NA to become the hot thing that everybody’s after. More manuscripts=More publishing opportunity, after all.

Query Critique 17

Dear Agent:

Six months. That’s how long sixteen-year-old Lesha Clement figures she has left to live if she remains on Earth. Her once-green planet has withered so fast it’s as brown as the color of her skin. Save a couple words by just saying “As brown as her skin.” I think it sounds a little less awkward too. She dreams of growing old in an unpolluted world and escaping the clutches of Riley, her possessive Relocation Instructor. With Operation Abandon Earth in full swing, Lesha flees to Eris, a colonized planet halfway across the galaxy. The ship veers off course and crashes in a wasteland, stranding her with seventeen survivors, including Riley. With no chance of rescue, they head toward a distant mountain range, hoping to find shelter or locate the colony.

The government was dead wrong when they labeled Eris safe. If lack of food and water doesn’t kill them, flesh-eating snakes just might. Don’t all snakes eat flesh of some sort? Maybe man-eating snakes? Fellow survivor, Malik Romero, fights the snakes off and vows to get the group to safety, or die trying. His smoldering eyes pull Lesha in as much as his savior complex pushes her away. His over-protective attitude clashes with Riley’s obsession. So when you say Riley is possessive/ has an obsession, is that Lesha? I’m a little confused why Riley is not supposed to be a likable character. Also, is Riley male or female? Too bad for them. Who is “them” supposed to be here? Having lived through famine and riots back home, Lesha can take care of herself. She’s come too far to assuage any guy’s ego. Again, when we talk about “a guy” who are we talking about?

After someone goes missing, Lesha immediately suspects Riley. Finding the teen’s mutilated corpse in a desert shrine proves his so Riley is male. innocence but reveals something’s stalking them. Something predatory. Something deadly. Something else. If they have any hope of reaching safety alive, Lesha must put aside her feelings and work with Riley and Malik. Or risk being picked off one by one until they’re morbid decorations in some sick psycho’s shrine. This paragraph is the best at setting up the stakes for the story.

Complete at 86,000 words, PHOENIX RISING is a young adult science fiction thriller, you call this a thriller but the middle paragraph seems to focus a lot on the romance aspect. The third paragraph is the only one that screams thriller to me. Consider playing that part up more. a mix of William Golding’sLord of the Flies and the film, Predator. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

FANGirl


Focus is important. If the novel is being pitched as scifi, focus on the scifi rather than the romance. Which isn’t to say don’t mention the romance. Just don’t let the romance distract from the scifi elements.

Yet this does sound wonderfully creepy.

 

Not Getting Requests

I’ve been going through a ton of queries the past couple weeks. One came with a note that caught my interest.

I participated in an Agent One-on-One boot camp, and a well-known agent critiqued my submission package. She said that the first two pages of my ms were “flawless” and gave me a few tweaks to make to my synopsis and query. I made the revisions and sent out twelve queries. After receiving three rejections and no requests, I revised once more and sent out twelve more queries. I’ve gotten two rejections and nothing else (it’s only been a week). The agent was so positive about my submission package and I had high hopes, but there is obviously something wrong with it. I’m hoping you can tell me what it is.

I have a very talented writer friend who has been pitching a book and not getting any requests. I’ve read her query, and I think it’s perfectly sound. So why isn’t she (or the author above) getting requests?

I talk about this some in the video I did for the YA WordNerds, but I’ll expand a little here. The quality of your writing is only one of many factors affecting whether or not you get a request. Of course, it’s a very large factor but not the only one.

Maybe you’re writing about something that the agent is tired of or just doesn’t like. Maybe the agent is hangry. Maybe the agent is just really busy. Maybe somebody else just sold something similar recently.

That said, if you aren’t getting requests, there might be something wrong with your query. But if you’ve done revisions and had good critique partners look at it, then don’t worry too much about not getting requests. 

And I know I say this a lot, but there’s always the next book. Waiting isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Query Critique 16

THE HIDEAWAY is 88,700 words of contemporary women’s fiction. The novel tells the story of two women—Margaret Van Buren, known to most as Mags, and her granddaughter Sara. When Sara takes over The Hideaway, Mags’s tumble-down B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama, she discovers her eccentric grandmother led a life of passion, bravery, and bold choices Sara never imagined. I’d like a solid one-line hook somewhere in this paragraph. I do think the part about passion, bravery, and bold choices would be a little strong if shown rather than told.

After the unexpected death of her grandmother Mags—her only remaining family—Sara goes home to The Hideaway expecting to tie up loose ends and quickly return to her busy life and successful shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed her The Hideaway and charged her with renovating it—but that’s only the first surprise. A box in the attic containing clues to Mags’s real life, a motley crew of elderly B&B residents, and a handsome contractor named Crawford I almost feel like you don’t need the name. Like not saying his name makes him more mysterious and intriguing. Especially since we already can tell he’s the love interest. tie her to Sweet Bay in ways she didn’t expect. When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and new family she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but lonely life in New Orleans. So this paragraph has all the right information in it. It establishes setting, character, and conflict. It is really long, though. I wouldn’t necessarily say cut information, but can some of it go in the first paragraph? 

In my former career, I published many articles in regional magazines and in Southern Living. I currently write a monthly column in The Homewood Star, our community newspaper that reaches 14,000 readers each month. This is my second novel; the first is in a box under my bed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Belle of the Ballpoint Pen


My overall comment on this one is to say not to underestimate the power of white space in queries (or in general. I love white space). A paragraph may be very well written, but if it’s long, my brain decides it doesn’t want to read it before I’ve even gotten to the first word.

Of course, this is hard when you’ve already been asked to strip your novel down to the bare bones. But then, is anything about querying easy?