The Two CPs You Should Have

First of all, let me start by saying that I think every writer should have critique partners or beta readers who read stuff before it is sent out the the wolves. And they should be people who will tear the writing apart. A good CP should simultaneously point out everything awful in your work while also telling you how awesome you and your writing are.

I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve had a pretty easy time finding great betas. BYU has a great writing community, and as an editing minor I was able to meet a lot of people in my classes. However, I’ve met great beta readers other places too. Writing conferences or other similar events can be great. I’ve even met several of my favorite betas on Twitter.

Anyway, I know a lot of people who have betas read their manuscript. Your query letter should get the same treatment, if not better treatment. Especially since it’s easier to find CPs for a query letter (it’s not as much of a time commitment). I recently made my writing group look at one of my query letters four times. I’m pretty sure they’re sick of reading it, but it helped me a lot.

I recommend two types of CP for your query letter. At least one who has read your manuscript, and one who as not read the manuscript at all.

The person who has read it will be able to say “this is an important part of the plot, it should be in the query letter.” The person who hasn’t read the manuscript might notice things that make sense to you but don’t make sense to somebody who hasn’t read the story. Both types are helpful.

So do yourself a favor and find some good CPs for both your manuscript and your query letter. Your work deserves it.

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Query Critique 31

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Eleven-year-old Olivia Boogieman’s family makes her classmates thinks she eats PB&J (pancreas, brain, and jugular) sandwiches for lunch.  Why shouldn’t they, at first I thought this they was talking about the family considering her mother is a curse-flinging mummy and her father a hairy, scary, howl-at-the-moon werewolf.

Even worse is living in the shadow of her trouble-making, shape-shifter brother, and having a skeletal little sister that Olivia’s dog sees only as a chew treat. Olivia wishes for nothing more than a normal life, however, ordinary families don’t have pet dragons in their back yards.    This may just be me, but I get a little bored with characters who just want to be normal. Especially since there is other conflict, I would focus on that.

A meddling social worker places Olivia in a foster home, and for once, Olivia knows life with a family just like her– normal.  When horrible, vengeful things happen to girls that pick on her, Olivia discovers she is not as normal as she thinks.  She’s a witch.  This seems like the inciting incident, and if it is, we should get to it faster.

Olivia sneaks out of her foster home to prove her parents snatched her away from her birth mother.  What reason does she have to suspect that they did this? She fights off sentry garden gnomes who protect the entrance to the land of her birth, filled with ogres, trolls, and one mean, nasty little fairy. I say choose either mean or nasty (though nasty is a little stronger). The two are close enough in meaning and having both makes it feel a little clunky.

When Olivia finds her birth mother, she understands her parents stole her for a good reason– her safety.  Olivia’s birth mother wants to destroy any reminder of the child she never wanted.  Using her new powers, Olivia must defeat the evil witch if she ever wants to reunite with the family that loves her.

OLIVIA BOOGIEMAN is a middle grade magical realism novel complete at 40,000 words.  To me, this doesn’t sound like magical realism so much as straight up urban fantasy.

Sincerely,

Not Nasty Fairy


I think this query has some good elements. However, I think it needs to find the core conflict and focus on that more. So get to the inciting incident and main conflict sooner and then stay focused on that.

 

Vague Feedback

I was chatting with a writer friend who had gotten some feedback from agents who had rejected her manuscript. A lot of these comments were sort of vague things like “The pacing is off” or “The character isn’t very relatable” without further explanation.

I was sympathizing with my friend when I realized that I was guilty of doing the same thing to manuscripts I reject. I’ve given a lot of those sort of pieces of vague advice.

Almost all of the partials or fulls I request are at least reasonably well written. That makes them harder to reject. You feel for the author and want them to succeed. You also feel you owe it to them to let them know why you’re passing on their project. Vague advice is annoying, but I think that not having any reason for the rejection would be worse.

And yet, we’re too busy to give an in depth critique. Sometimes I have a hard time pinpointing just what isn’t working, since I don’t have time to comb through the manuscript again. So you give this general, “the character feels off” or some other such thing.

As an author, you have to do what you can with that. Just remember to stay true to your vision of the book and keep writing.

Query Critique 30

Dear Ms. Nelson,
A VOICE AMONG THE THORNS is a 71,000 word contemporary YA novel.
Seventeen-year-old Jersey Alexa (Jax) Mason is allergic to drama. But that’s what she gets when her boyfriend dumps her on a crowded dance floor. I sort of think these two sentences could should be combined into one compound sentence, but that might just be personal preference. She would have preferred a text message. Amanda Rosenbaum’s reappearance and rumors of her time in the “looney bin” help take Jax’s mind off the break-up thing. This seems a little abrupt, since we’ve been given no clue to who Amanda is before now. I know it’s explained in the next paragraph, but the transition here could be a little smoother. Maybe say something like “Luckily, local runaway Amanda Rosenbaum’s reappearance…” The luckily connects it to the drama mentioned before a little more smoothly and the local runaway would explain briefly who she is.
Amanda ran away when she was seventeen and Jax was four. Thirteen years later, Amanda returns to their sleepy town of Rudds Mill to live with her mother. Jax escapes to Amanda’s moss-covered patio when things get tense at home. She’s drawn to the fragile, unstable Amanda despite the fact that they spar over everything. Amanda has one foot in this world; the rest of her lives in a dark place inside her mind. But she’s aware of things that Jax has never considered. Important things about hope and life. And she knows all about the secrets Jax hides. How can someone so lost in her own world see inside of Jax’s?
Ethan, the new guy in town, starts hanging out on Amanda’s patio too. Chemistry sparks between him and Jax, but Amanda cryptically predicts they’re not meant to be. They try to blow her off. Amanda’s crazy after all. And she can’t always be right. As summer marches towards autumn, Amanda slips deeper inside herself, battling her mysterious past. Jax and Ethan need to save her before she disappears altogether. This is good. It establishes the stakes. The wording seems a little abrupt maybe? Maybe just a little transition word in the last sentence, or something.
I’m aware that authors need to promote and market themselves. In addition to writing a blog and maintaining a Facebook author page and Twitter account, I’ve hosted A Voice Among the Thorns Gab Sessions for teen girls at a local coffee shop to get their perspective for the novel. I successfully raised $5000 through crowd-funding on Indiegogo in order to attend a writers’ conference in New York. This campaign also introduced many people to my work.
I strive to improve my writing by attending conferences and workshops, and taking college level courses in creative writing. I enjoy facilitating the Lake St. Clair Writer’s Group of Metro Detroit and am a member of SCBWI. My husband and five children keep me sane amid the insanity of writing. I’d maybe find a way to trim down the bio part while still keeping critical information. It’s sort of a small thing, but two paragraphs of bio is pretty long, even though it has relevant writing credentials.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Warmest Regards,

Every Rose

Pep Talk

Hey you! Yeah, you!

You are awesome! Your book is awesome!

Okay, maybe your book isn’t awesome. Yet. But it will be. Only if you keep writing it.

Take a minute and focus on your book. Don’t think about the other million aspiring authors on Twitter. Don’t think of the undeserved success of some big shot author. Just think about your book. Think how awesome it will be when you are finished. Think how accomplished you’ll feel.

I know it feels like everyone and their dog has written a book. But how many of your actual friends have written a book? How many of their dogs have actually written books? Not that many, I’m guessing. That sort of puts you in the elite class of crazy people who write down the stories in their head and expect other people to read them. That’s the best kind of crazy.

Think of your word count goals as a giant bildshnipe. And then go kill that bildshnipe to death with your pen or other metaphorical weapon of choice. Because word counts, like bildshnipe, are terrifying. And… and… my brain is NaNoed out, and I can’t think of a good way to continue this metaphor. I just thought that the bildshnipe would be a good comparison.

How many times did I use the word bildshnipe in the last paragraph?

Anyway, go out there and knock that book out of the park. Write til your fingers fall off. Imagine until your brain explodes of splendorousness.

And keep being awesome.

Query Critique 29

Dear Miss Nelson,

“Be wary, my friend… death follows on swift wings when a Raven smiles.” I’d work a little on the hook. It doesn’t grab me as much as I would like. I like seeing something in the hook that is very specific to the character, plot, or setting of the novel discussed.

Shadows and darkness are home to The Raven, who kills without thought and takes pleasure in solitude. Hunting men for the sake of coin consumes his waking hours, but when the flood of requests for his services come inexplicably to a halt, the Hunter needs to know why. Is the Hunter the same as the Raven? And is the Raven a human or an actual Raven? Or something else? Seeking answers to unknown questions, This phrase confuses me a little, as I generally don’t seek answers to questions I don’t know I have. Raven becomes the unlikely savior to a girl who promises truth, in exchange for her life. Now, the black-hearted assassin finds himself caught in a torrent that carries him away from the comfort of death, and into the world where he is forced to fight to hold on to his edge of darkness. Rework the way this last sentence is phrased, as it’s a little confusing.

Torrent is a simple serving maid. Lowly and invisible in her castle home, the girl is ill prepared for the dangers that pursue her when she unwittingly witnesses the unfolding of a conspiracy which threatens the very existence of her beloved King. For some reason the “very existence of” is rubbing me wrong. Maybe just say it threatens the life of. Forced to run from men who will take her life to protect the intricate web of secrets which are poised to crumble an empire, Torrent escapes with the knowledge that only she can warn the monarch of his impending demise. Frightened and alone in a world that seems bent on her destruction, Torrent finds herself face to face with The Raven, a creature who most whisper is death itself.

Complete at 100,000 words The Raven, is the first novel in an epic fantasy series which will captivate readers of all ages. The Raven, will appeal to fans of, Game of Thrones, Villains By Necessity, and Pitch Black the Chronicles of Riddick.

My work, is dark, thick with character development, and (though it is in the genre of fantasy,) does not contain characters pertaining to zombies, vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, witches, warlocks, or any other supernatural beings. I would say this paragraph is unnecessary. It’s better to focus on what the novel has rather than what it doesn’t. You don’t need to mention character development, because it should be apparent in the writing, and it’s expected that any author querying has adequately developed their characters (though many haven’t). And I think the query adequately portrays that the tone is dark.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Nevermore


A note on capitalizing titles from a previous blog post.

 

Meet My Villain Contest Winners!

Remember forever ago when we had that fun blog hop and contest? Well I am (finally announcing the winners)!

Drum roll please.

I’m choosing Leslie Ann Boyden and Natasha Raulerson. Yay! Please email your query and 5 pages for critique to thoughtsfromtheagentdesk @ gmail

Thanks everyone for participating! Everyone has such cool ideas. It makes the reading fun and the choosing difficult.

And if you didn’t win this time around, stay tuned. Methinks there will be a Twitter Pitch party (or other contest) later this month.