Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Seventeen-year-old Zaymie is sick to her soul of living in the super-cramped, domed city that shields humanity from the over-polluted Earth. Cool, good opening with setting and genre very clear. So when she and her two friends almost discover a way to eradicate the contagion how do you "almost" discover something?, the government lets them in on a whopping secret: The pollution is about to finally eat through the dome and annihilate everyone. Impressed by the teens’ genius and dedication to improving humanity, the government selects them for a desperate, top-secret mission of traveling back in time and preventing the advent of the pollution. Wait - so they almost discover a way to fix the problem that is going to kill everyone, and instead of giving them the resources to try and actually fix the problem and use their genius in that way, they instead send them traveling through time? I mean, I get that it's a government solution but this seems pretty backwards.

But shortly after blastoff, so the time machine is like a rocket? Zaymie and her friends’ time machine malfunctions, stranding them in an unknown time filled with giant, mechanical spiders and ferocious, outlandish beasts, including bears with tusks and alligators with shark heads. Without tools to fix their machine so they can resume their mission, the teens climb a mountain in search of intelligent life—only to eavesdrop on a government meeting. Why would they climb a mountain in search of intelligent life? Are they going towards something like a building or a city?

Turns out Zaymie and her friends have been in the current time all along and were dispatched in a deadly jungle, left to die. Apparently the rulers lied to the public about Earth still being polluted, the jungle created by one of the cities’ sadistic rulers out of sheer enjoyment. What about the jungle makes it sadistic? Has it been created to dispatch problem humans? Or is the animal experimentation the sadistic angle? The rulers seek to relish unsure of word choice here planet Earth all for themselves, and the teens are a threat to that. Even worse, the rulers catch the teens eavesdropping on their meeting. Now Zaymie and her friends must make their way back to the domed city and inform everybody of the leaders’ corruption before the rulers liquidize the teens—or worse. Is liquidizing a common punishment? You might want to clarify.

Okay, so, the fakeout of the time machine not being a time machine does clarify some of the questions I had about that being a weird approach in the first para, but it makes more sense as I go. However, it still raises the question of how smart these kids are supposed to be if they are like, time machine - yeah! Sure! I'd consider starting the query with them already having been duped - and realizing it. Right now the query feels confusing, and raises questions about whether or not the manuscript itself is as well.

EXTINCTION DAY is a 65,000-word young adult LGBT light science fiction that will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Briggs’s FUTURE SHOCK. This is a multiple submission. Generally speaking they will assume it's a multiple submission so I wouldn't worry about saying so. My debut young adult dystopian novel, THE FOURTH GENERATION, was released by Clean Reads/Astraea Press on August 2015, with a middle-grade science fiction novel called PICKET TOWN on the way. Meaning it has a publication date, or that you're working on it? Clarify. I have a degree in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University and won the individual award for Outstanding Achievement in Creative Writing. I also obtained an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2013. I interned at Kensington Publishing Corp. in New York City in the Publicity and Marketing departments. Nice - great bio! I would clarify as well if you were formerly agented or if you submitted to the press on your own.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway THE 57 BUS by Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight

Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Margo Kelly On Deleting 10,000 Words

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Margo Kelly, author of WHO R U REALLY? which was published by Merit Press in September 2014 and UNLOCKED which was published by Merit Press in October 2016. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.

Margo loves to be scared … when she’s reading a good book, watching a good movie, or suffering from the hiccups. She enjoys writing thrillers for young adults and hopes her stories give readers the goose bumps or the itchies or the desire to rethink everyday things. Margo is represented by the not-so-scary, but totally awesome, Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Writing the first draft of UNLOCKED is what converted me from a “pantster” (just see where the story takes me) to a “plotter” (detailing major plot points in an outline). I was having a blast writing that first draft of UNLOCKED until I wrote myself into a corner. I stopped and brainstormed for days, wondering where I’d gone wrong with the plot. Once I figured it out, I had to delete 10,000 words. TEN THOUSAND words. Deleted.

That turning point in the story happened when Plug and Hannah stopped to watch the firemen at Manny’s house. In the original draft, Hannah was arrested right there. In the final draft, she’s not. And that one change altered the entire outcome of the story. I will always be an outliner from now on. One of my favorite quotes from the story comes from that very scene in the book. Hannah said to Plug in the story: “We just fled the scene of a crime. … What does that make us?” Plug replied, “Determined.” Really, it was me, the author, feeling very determined in that moment to make the story work.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I can spew out the initial draft of a story in as little as thirty days, however, it’s messy and unfinished. I never let anyone see that first draft. For me, the real magic happens during revisions, and it takes me nearly a year to revise and polish a story. Somedays I feel like the process takes forever, but I know the extra time makes the story better.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?

I used to only work on one project at a time, because it was too hard to keep all the characters and stories straight in my head; however, recently, I’ve stepped away from one project, because I’ve become quite passionate about another. As soon as this new project is in my agent’s hands, I will go back to the unfinished project. Oh. But. I guess that means I can only work on one project at a time. Ha. 

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

No. The first time I sat down to write a novel, I had no fears because I was clueless. I had no idea there were so many things I did not know. 

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

One. And I still love that story. Maybe someday it will see the light of day. Maybe not.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I stepped away from my first manuscript, because I recognized after a gazillion rejections that I needed to start over with a new idea. I took everything I’d learned from the process of writing that first manuscript and everything I’d learned from studying the craft of writing and began again.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

Brianne Johnson of Writers House is my agent, and I connected with her through the traditional query process. I sent her a query letter along with the first ten pages of the manuscript. She requested the next fifty pages; then the whole manuscript; and then a phone call. During the phone call, we discussed revision options, and I loved her ideas. After working together on the revisions, she offered me a contract.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I queried for over two years before signing a contract. That time period included querying my first manuscript and my second. My second manuscript, WHO R U REALLY?, is the one that got me an agent.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Don’t quit. Rejection is part of the publishing process, but dejection is a choice. Let yourself be disappointed sometimes, but put a time limit on it. Do a day of pajamas, Netflix, and ice cream (or whatever works for you). Then get back to work. Make sure your manuscript is as polished as possible and when you receive feedback from agents or editors, consider the advice carefully and improve your manuscript based on the feedback you’ve received. Then throw yourself back into the querying trenches and keep at it. It takes time to connect with the right agent.

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Seeing my debut novel in a bookstore for the first time felt like I’d released a breath I’d been holding for years. Huge sigh. Then a fist pump. And then I rearranged the shelving so my book would sit at eye level for the customers. (At the time, I didn’t realize the books were arranged alphabetically, and I’m sure an employee corrected it after I left, but it felt great to see it at eye level.)

How much input do you have on cover art?

Zero. The fabulous Frank Rivera designed both of my book covers. I had final approval on both covers but zero input on their design.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

Writing can be such a solitary experience, and I was honestly surprised by the sense of community I found with other writers. Fellow writers can provide excellent moral support. One of the best things about the publishing industry is the people. Other writers are going through the same things I am, and being able to discuss issues with them has been a huge blessing in my life. Critique partners, agency siblings, and publishing siblings—these are some of the people with whom I’ve aligned myself. They bolster me up when I’m feeling dejected, and they cheer me on when I’ve received good news.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I have participated in online book blog tours, contests, giveaways, and local in-person events. The publisher has also done marketing efforts, including sending advance reading copies to industry reviewers and providing giveaways. You can also find me on my site, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads, or sign up for my email newsletter!

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

It’s important to connect with fellow writers and readers, but it’s also important to focus on the act of writing your novel. So make sure you balance your time appropriately. Of course, if you’re writing nonfiction, you must build your platform before trying to get an agent. With fiction, the size of your platform is not as essential to getting an agent or a publishing deal.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Maybe. Coming from the business world, I know statistics show that typically someone needs to see something seven times before finally saying yes to it. So if potential readers see me or my books online because of social media, then theoretically, it should increase readership. Maybe.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: WILD ONES

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green. Echoes are highlighted in blue.


WILD ONES is a YA fantasy novel in the same vein as Legend of Korra and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Complete at 83,000 words, it features an #ownvoices protagonist who is queer and chronically ill. Normally I say to put this at the end of the query, b/c everyone has a title and word count. But I like your #OwnVoices angle so I would say this is an exception.

Ror flees the cracked earth and yellow grass of home, traveling to forbidden territories to hunt for food. But in the forest, Ror meets a monster, sunken within folds of strange, wrinkly skin, and hears more crashing through the forest. A hunting party, and she is the prey. Right now you're using your query more as a narrative, not as a query. It's reading like fiction, in other words, which is the wrong setup for a query.

Ror turns to run, but her body is wracked by a transformation. Limbs lengthen, knees bend backwards. Pale hands grow like bony spiders tethered to her arms.

She has become one of the monsters. She has become… human.

She’s brought to a city- an infestation of humans. Everyone seems to think she’s someone else, Why would they think this? Who do they think she is? and she’s imprisoned by the priests who control the city.

Humans are complicated, and their dark religion terrifies her. A few of them seem capable of kindness, but they all have their own agendas. As Ror struggles to escape, she discovers secrets that shatter her identity and threaten the priest’s iron grip on the populace. Ror must discover who she is, and decide whether to return to the forest, or stay and join the revolution. This is the first paragraph where you have it phrased the way a query should be, but it's coming way too late.

WILD ONES is told from three P.O.V. – Ror, the reluctantly human, Vega, a tech genius, and Leo, a young soldier invited to join a military coup against gods. So there are three POVs which I assume all get equal page time, but the entire focus of the query is only on one? That's not a good angle. 

WILD ONES is written as a stand alone, with the option of being the first of a trilogy.

This is the first novel to escape my “work in progress” drawer. I’m a member of multiple writing groups through SCBWI and attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in 2015. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m grilling my high school students for YA book recommendations.

Right now this query isn't working. We don't have a sense of why Ror was being hunted in the first place, what happened that made her turn human, why she would continue to be hunted as a human, why the priests would keep some humans prisoners but not others, what the secrets are that she discovers, what the revolution is, who is leading it and why, and we know virtually nothing about the other two POVs. Also, you say that it's #OwnVoices b/c of chronic pain and queerness, but there is nothing about pain or attraction in the query. 

My advice is to go back through some of the queries I've reviewed here on the blog using the #PitchWars tag and see how others have setup their queries. Look at them as a model and answer the questions I asked above, as well as get your other two POV's in there.

1st Page:

Ror looked at the cliff in front of her. You definitely need a better opening sentence, something that will get attention rather than show us something that could start just about any novel.        

"Remember that time mom found us right before we jumped from the high rock?" Orion asked, glancing over.

She was trying to avoid thinking about their parents. She and her brother had slipped off two days ago, claiming they were going hunting. They had barely stopped moving since. They ran away? Why? 

Orion nudged her. "Do you remember?"

Ror turned. "Grandfather said that broken bones heal stronger. We had this idea that if we broke all of our bones, we'd get super strength." I like this line.

Orion grinned. "So if we fall on the way down, let's just hope our theory was right." So they are at the top of the cliff, not the bottom? Opening line is ambiguous.

Ror squinted, trying to find a path. "Is this the stupidest thing we've ever done?"

"Your idea as usual."        

She paused to gaze at the ocean glittering beyond the isle. Then a few pebbles slid underneath her, and she half slipped, half ran down the mountain.

Her muscles sang with joy. For so many years she had silenced their cries of “Further! Faster!” At night when she slept her legs mimed freedom. Her body dreamed of wandering.

Now her muscles shouted, hoarse with happiness. She couldn’t quench her thirst to see what was just around the bend, just over the hill. It burned her to know she would eventually reach the edge of the isle. Maybe she could learn how to swim and continue forever, chasing the sun.

Overall not a bad opening, but you need a stronger first line and also to explain why they are out, away from home. And... judging by the query Ror is not a human at this time, right? You definitely need to get that out there. Readers are going to assume that your narrator is a human if you don't say otherwise.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Carla Dubrov has taken the lives of many immortals, but the one that will forever haunt her was given. Maybe insert "willingly" here?

Bad blood has always run between the Dubrovs and D’Carteys. The Dubrovs and their kind, the Shadows, feed on human misery. They can manipulate a human’s mind, forcing him use "them" assuming that they can also manipulate females to kill, or hurt himself themselves and others. The D’Carteys, and their kind, the Luminaries, have the power to soothe humans, heal their suffering, and it is their responsibility to make sure no innocent dies at the whims of their enemy. Is the Shadow power something that is specifically of use to the plot? Right now humans don't come into this story at all, according to the query. Do their powers matter in terms of the query? Right now, they don't - which means you can trim everything after "human misery."

Despite the feud between their families, Carla falls in love with Anthony D’Cartey. When their love is discovered, her father condemns her to death, but Anthony gives his life to save her. His murder turns the smoldering feud into the war Carla’s father has long yearned for. Shattered by Anthony’s brutal execution, Carla’s grief turns her into the very killer her father wishes her to be; a killer he molds into his most lethal weapon. Great para here.

Carla barely escapes from under her father’s control, and manages to stay hidden for two hundred years. Okay, so that's a really long time and it raises the question of how that's handled in the plot in terms of pacing. Is it necessary for her to be gone that long? Are you just using a scene break and then saying Two Hundred Years Later.... But when she learns Anthony has a brother, Jason, she must resurface. Why? Her father wants nothing more than to bring D’Cartey to his knees by killing his second son as well. Now, Carla can finally honor Anthony’s sacrifice by saving his brother. But a sense of duty isn’t her only motivation. His kind, strong heart reminds her of Anthony, and no matter how hard she fights against it, Carla starts falling in love with Jason. Her feelings for him fill her with guilt of betraying Anthony’s memory, but even so, they are impossible to stop. Honestly I'd slice a lot of this extra verbiage as obvious. You can simply say, she finds herself "struggling with her feelings."
As her father’s assassins close in, Carla realizes she is the ultimate target. Her father used Jason to lure her out of her hiding and into his trap. If he kills Jason, her heart will be shredded again, and her grief will push her back into the darkness controlled by her father. He will use her against the very ones she's trying to protect. Humans? Or D'Carteys?

But before facing her father, Carla must find a way to silence the dark voice inside her head. The voice that craves the same things as her father: death and destruction. Her Shadow’s voice. This is the first indication that she isn't entirely against everything that her father stands for, the first indication of an internal struggle. If this is pervasive throughout the ms, it needs to be so in the query as well.

SHADES OF DARKNESS: THE LIGHT is a fantasy novel with series potential, complete at 83,000 words.

So, you're calling it a fantasy but it sounds more like urban fantasy. You mention humans, but I have no feel for setting. Is this on Earth? Is this high fantasy, but there are regular humans present? You'll need to clarify the genre and setting.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE SPEAKER by Traci Chee

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance.

Want to help me with mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.

a Rafflecopter giveaway