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

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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.

Query:

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.

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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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mira Bartok: Write The Most Extraordinary & Beautiful Thing Possible

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Mia Bartok, author of THE WONDERLING. Winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, Mira Bartok is an artist and writer living in Massachusetts. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been noted in The Best American Essays 1999 and other anthologies. She is the author of over 28 books for children and author/illustrator of the New York Times bestselling memoir and ALA Notable book, THE MEMORY PALACE, published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A little bit of both! I’m a planner, but am always open to sudden change. 

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

Since this is my first one, I guess there’s nothing typical about it! It took me about 2 ½ years from start to finish, including all the illustrations and rewrites. Long days of writing and intense nights of drawing! 

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

If a project is huge, like The Wonderling, I go full steam ahead on that project. However, I always have other things going on in different stages for the times when I have breaks. Right now, I have several things in the queue: a book of stories for adults, the start of a collaborative illustrated novel with a friend, a YA trilogy that’s part graphic novel, and several picture books that are half finished. And then…there’s that poetry book that’s in the drawer….and the series of collages with strange monsters….a couple podcasts and…and…now I’m nervous I won’t live long enough to finish them all!

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

I wrote the first draft of nonfiction book on the history of wonder (called The Book of Wonder) right after my memoir, The Memory Palace and before I began The Wonderling. I felt a lot of pressure to write another nonfiction book and so I gave it a rather unenthusiastic try. I knew it was time to stop when my agent left me this message, after reading some of my short stories: “Mira, I get it now. You’ve been trying to write about wonder— but these stories are wonder. You should do what’s in your heart, and it seems like what’s in your heart is fiction right now.”

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

My agent is Jennifer Gates from Aevitas Creative Management in NYC. I knew her a little before she was my agent because her ex-husband and my husband used to play in a band together. I never thought to ask her about representation because I didn’t want to seem opportunistic. (I know. That was stupid!) I called her up after I finished my first draft of The Memory Palace because I needed advice on how to gently and kindly fire my first agent who was lovely, but just not right for me. Jen gave me great advice and then immediately asked to see my manuscript. I thought she was just being nice. She wasn’t. ☺ She read it overnight and the rest is history. I simply adore her!  

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

Although I never had to query agents, I would say, knowing the business like I now do, writers really need to do their homework. They need to know what kind of work the agent represents, and also, send the most polished sample they have. There are so many great websites and books out there on this process. It’s worth taking one’s time and researching the info. Also, I know a lot of writers meet great agents at writing conferences, like Bread Loaf or other places. If you take a long time to write a book, your book deserves the same care to find the right person to represent it.

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

I had four books come out simultaneously, all nonfiction books on ancient and living cultures for middle grade children from a series I created from 1990-98. Suddenly, I saw them in every bookstore window in Chicago, my home town. I just couldn’t believe it! I had never intended to write books, so it felt like a very strange surprise. I also had another feeling, which was: who am I now? I had always been a working artist in the avant-garde gallery world and now suddenly I am writing children’s books? So I suppose I had mixed feelings. Happy, confused, concerned…but mostly happy.

How much input do you have on cover art? 

I’ve had a lot of input on every single cover. Lucky me! 

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

I learned that illustrating one’s own book is one of the hardest things on this planet! 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I used to have a blog but don’t anymore. I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I do as much as I am able to handle while living with a brain injury. I get overwhelmed by too much input, especially online. But before a book comes out, I do do a lot on Facebook and Twitter, and also send out emails. 

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

I have always approached making books not from building a platform or having a brand (I kind of cringe when I hear those words—sorry!) but from the belief that one should write the most extraordinary and beautiful thing possible. That is the most important thing of all. A strong, lyrical voice and a story full of heart come first. The rest is secondary. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership? 

I don’t really know. I know I’ve connected with some people on social media, but most of my deeper connections have happened in person—at book events, conferences, bookstores, and through friends of friends. Most of the people I connect with on twitter are medievalists, climate change scientists, folklorists, and mapmakers—all things I’m interested in. I don’t know if a single one would read my books. As for Facebook, it’s a huge mix, and probably I have many more readers there. But my favorite way to connect with readers is through the ancient art of telling someone a story, face to face. Now, that’s magic!

#PitchWars Critique: LINKS AND LIES


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.

Query:

I am submitting for your consideration LINKS AND LIES, a 95,000-word YA science fiction novel suited for fans of Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM and Beth Revis’ ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. It is a standalone novel with series potential. You've got good comp titles here, but I always say to put this info at the bottom of the query. Anyone querying has a title, a word count, and comparisons. Put what makes you YOU first.

Seventeen-year-old Brynn anticipates being cryogenically frozen for her future spouse, Why would she have to be frozen for her spouse? Is the spouse not born yet? but after watching the brutal freezing of her best friend, she is desperate to avoid the same fate. The government’s match-making program, the Linking System, no longer seems as wonderful as she once thought. I think you'll need to explain how the Linking System does, in order for us to understand why you'd have to be frozen in the first place.

Instead of being frozen, she’s accidentally How does she know it's an accident? linked to Matthew: the first boy ever frozen, the son of the man who created the Linking System, and the poster boy for the Romantics, the rebel group fighting against the system. When he’s thawed, they commit to exposing the four-hundred-year-old mystery behind the system’s creation — the mystery Matthew’s father kept secret by cryonically silencing his own son.

When Matthew assists in a massive thawing orchestrated by the Romantics, he’s arrested for treason. With war looming between the Romantics and the government, Brynn must uncover the proof that reveals the flaws in the Linking System before the boy she’s grown to love is hanged and she’s frozen. But secrets that stay hidden for four hundred years aren’t easy to find.

This sounds really cool. I like it! But I think we need to know what the secret is in order to understand what Matthew and Brynn are fighting against. You've got a good setup here, but a query isn't meant to be coy. Let us know what the major issue / flaw with the Linking System is, so that the agent can get behind the plot.

1st Page:

I avert my gaze as Jack removes his clothing. My eyes fall on my dad, or what I can see of him beneath his cryo suit. I shiver from the cold and pull my cardigan tighter around my waist. Jack doesn’t have the same luxury inside the lab. So they're separated? She's watching through glass? Or a camera? Give us a little more of a visual on the setting.

I can’t decide if I’m glad Dad’s the one performing Jack’s freezing or if I hate that he’s bringing about Jack’s greatest fear. My side of the observation glass ok cool, but I think put this up in the first para is just as pristine as Jack’s tomb-like quarters, but it feels more spacious without the cryo chamber and monitors. If I feel boxed in, his claustrophobia must have already triggered.

Jack whimpers and I squeeze my eyes shut. He had a four in five chance of being frozen. We all do. But it’s still not fair. I force my eyes open again because he’ll need to see me calm. I place a palm on the glass and will myself to take in every detail, knowing it’s the last time I’ll see him. Ever.

Dad taps codes in the computer, ignoring the shivering boy next to him even though they’ve been neighbors for seventeen years. The newest model cryo chamber rests horizontally on an exam table, and Jack sits in its chamber, visible from his waist up.

So far, so good.  I would say make sure in the next few paragraphs that you are clarifying why Jack is being frozen - b/c of the Linking System and what it is for.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

THIS DARKNESS MINE Release Day Giveaway!

It's release week for my sixth novel! Every book I write has an alternate title in my head, usually something pithy and funny that I can throw at people to get a giggle out of them. THIS DARKNESS MINE has always been - to me - Fight Club In the Band Room. It makes sense if you read it.

And now YOU CAN because it's releasing TODAY! Check out the trailer below, and make sure to enter to win a signed copy along with bookmarks of all my previous titles and some bookish swag like a George Orwell pin and some literary tattoos.

Want to see me in person because I'm a ton of fun? Cool. Check out my appearances below and, if I'm near you, come say hi!



Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure that her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved.

But suddenly there’s a fork in the road, in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it, and she relishes the smell of him—smoke, beer, and trouble—all the things she’s avoided to get where she is. Even worse, every time he’s near Sasha, her heart stops, literally. Why does he know her so well—too well—and she doesn’t know him at all?

Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending another’s: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. As Sasha loses her much-cherished control, her life—and heart—become more entangled with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.

Edgar Award–winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a dark and gripping psychological thriller about a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.





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Monday, October 9, 2017

New Podcast Episode, Packing For LA, & Mindy Tries Yoga

It's release week for THIS DARKNESS MINE, something that always seems to creep up on me. Kind of like Christmas. I'm super involved in drafting right now, as well as keeping the blog updated daily and producing a podcast episode once a week. One could argue that I overwork myself.

With that in mind I tried yoga for the first time yesterday. My kickboxing instructor has gone to get a Masters degree (yes, really), my personal schedule has kept me away from circuit training for the past two weeks, and a friend recently started teaching yoga. So I thought, okay, let's do this.

And I did it. I'm past the point in my life where I care about my butt sticking up in the air, but I have not, apparently, matured to the point where I don't find it amusing when someone accidentally farts. No, it wasn't me. If it had been me I would've gone ahead and laughed really loud and made sure everyone knew it happened. But it wasn't me, and no one claimed it, so I had to try really, really hard to not laugh or smile or otherwise shake with mirth while in the downward dog. It's hard. Try it.

Tomorrow morning I leave for LA and the Epic Reads tour that I'll be doing along with some amazing fellow authors, including Kendare Blake and Lauren Oliver. I've never been California, so I'm looking forward to that. I'm even looking forward to the super long flight because I'm on deadline and drafting a super-secret project that hasn't been announced yet.

Keep up with me on Twitter to follow along with the California shenanigans, and check out the newest episode of the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast below, with guest Elsie Chapman. We talk about the different pressures of writing for yourself versus writing under contract, what should and should not be expected of a writer for marketing, and the ever-present issue of trends.




#PitchWars Critique: CRYPTOZOO


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.

Query:

Cleo’s life has been unusual, even by cryptid standards, being a blood-drinking Chupacabra adopted and raised by the forefather of all Sasquatch. I think it's a good hook, but you'll have to make sure you're targeting your agents correctly and that you're approaching ones who will know these terms. But Cleo must abandon her life in the wild southwest deserts when her papa vanishes and the powerful Mothman prophesizes his disappearance “into the Lands of Man” threatens not only the entire Sasquatch race, but all cryptid species. Rearrange this sentence a bit. Right now it sounds like the Mothman's prophecy is about the disappearance - which already happened - not the extinction of cryptids. It makes sense when you get to the end of the sentence, but a little tweaking will help. 

Volunteering to start the search, she Cleo reluctantly teams up with JD, the one and only Jersey Devil, an old friend of her papa’s Cleo she has head-butted with before. Setting aside their differences, he teaches her how to adapt to the concrete jungle of Manhattan by using glamour to pretend to be human—the greatest threat to cryptidkind Cleo has already had traumatic experience with. As Cleo struggles to pass as human and hunts the trail of the missing Sasquatch, encountering hidden cryptids, budding cryptozoologists, and closet cryptid hunters, she learns humans are more complicated than she could have imagined—and the cryptids closest to her have dangerous secrets of their own.

Give us a little bit more here - humans are complicated. Does that mean she begins to see a good side of them? Some of the cryptids are maybe not so great? That sounds like your actual plot - you need to elaborate some more.

I was born on a beach where dolphins played, grew up in an enchanted forest filled with deer, and studied Studio Art and Creative Writing at Hollins University, home to many crafty squirrels. My artwork and stories have been featured in literary magazines such as Strangelet and The Cyborg Griffin, art shows, solo exhibitions, conventions such as Illuxcon, and my block print of the Grimm’s fairytale “Godfather Death” won a national contest hosted by Richeson & Co. and Blick Art Materials. That's cool and all, but you're not asking them to represent your art. 

Another of my manuscripts, an upper-middle grade fantasy titled The Dragon Prince, which received an A+ and Honors status as my English thesis, claimed first place in the 2013 Western PA SCBWI First Page Contest, and has garnered editorial interest. I am also a member of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and the Hollins chapters of Sigma Tau Delta and Phi Beta Kappa. When not hip-deep in writing, reading, or printmaking, I dote on my cuddly rottweilers, wiggly corgi, and squishy axolotl. Mention the shorts that you have placed in lit mags, and your writerly memberships, but other than I think the bio is taking up just as much space as the query. Give your work more room.

1st Page:

Cryptid: (from the Greek "κρύπτω" (krypto) meaning "hide") is a creature or plant whose existence has been suggested but is unrecognized by scientific consensus and often regarded as highly unlikely.
In other words, we’re creatures you don’t think exist. I love the setup you have here of using a definition to educate the reader about terms they may not be aware of, but in the voice of your narrator.

The easiest way I know to find a Sasquatch is to find the Hutch—and the easiest way to find the Hutch is to follow the generator. I think it would be good to explain what the Hutch is? A place where the Sasquatch congregate to hibernate? Also, b/c the generator seems to be easy to locate, can humans find this easily as well? Or is she using her non-human abilities to follow it? I never got lost in the backwoods of the Matilija Wilderness as long as I could pinpoint the gasoline hum through the mountains and the maples. It was still a hike, though, and every sensible critter was slipping into hibernation before the autumn air found its teeth.

Inside the rustic cottage nestled in a copse of velvet ash, I could hear the television murmuring. Of course Papa would be the first one here, and of course he wouldn’t be hibernating during the Steelers vs. Ravens playoffs. Good voice.

I hopped up the rickety porch steps and pawed at the door, adding new nicks over my old claw marks. The whole cabin shook from the heavy footsteps inside and when the door swung open and I was greeted with six hundred pounds of fur, feet, and hugs. Papa hunkered down through the doorframe.

“There’s my Cleo!” He scooped me up, expertly avoiding my spines, and squeezed a healthy dose of love into me.

“Good to see you too, Papa.” I snuggled my snout into the crook of his shaggy arm, breathing in the mossy scent of his russet fur.

I think what you have here is quite good. Watch out for long, unwieldy sentences. You've got a few in your query and bordering on at least one here in the first page. Red flags like that will make an agent think that the manuscript is riddled with them. Read it aloud, and see if you can get a whole sentence out with one breath. If you need to inhale, it's probably too long :)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: THE LAST NAMSARA by Kristen Ciccarelli & FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway

Next week I go on tour, and I have ARCs for two of the lovely ladies I'll be with!

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

*********************************************************************************
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: BLUFF, RAISE, FOLD


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.

Query:

My novel is The Godfather meets Mean Girls in Las Vegas with magic. An 89,000 word Young Adult Urban Fantasy, BLUFF, RAISE, FOLD will appeal to fans of Six of Crows and The Curse Workers series. I really like your mashup and comp titles, but I always advise to put word count and comps at the bottom of the query, and use your hook to get an agent's attention. Everyone who is querying has a word count, title, and comp titles. Start with what makes you different.

Seventeen-year-old Sierra Redstone would kill to rule the Redstone clan—a family of sorcerers secretly ruling Las Vegas. With her ability to shrivel people into raisins, she’s a shoo-in for the throne. Unfortunately, her Machiavellian grandfather doesn’t see it that way and instead appoints her bastard cousin. I think your opening para here is great, especially with her having such an original power. However, I don't know if using Machiavellian will 1) make sense to many people 2) have that much of an impact on the query.

Undaunted, Sierra turns to her clan’s enemy for help. Why? Is this pure jealousy or is she in danger from the cousin? It seems odd that she would immediately turn to their enemy. Constance teaches her forbidden magic but the old woman has her own agenda. Sierra knows she shouldn’t trust her mentor, yet her time with Constance forces her to question who her enemies truly are and whether blood is enough to make a family.

Determined to rule the conniving sorcerers but longing to join the sages are Constance's people the sages? who oppose them, Sierra must pick a side. If she betrays Constance, she gains the power she always craved. If she betrays her clan, she earns the acceptance she didn’t know she needed. Either way, she’s a target in the centuries-long war between sorcerers and sages.

I think the question here is - what are the bigger stakes? Is it all just about who Sierra decides to side with? Is there a larger question of who is bad and who is good? And, as I said before, why would her enemy be who she goes to for help? And, I think we need to know more about how the setting of Las Vegas plays into the story.

My short story and flash fiction are published in the UAA Anthology: Obvious Things. I was the Vice President of the Utah Valley Writers and a contestant in Pitch Madness 2017. I grew up in the U.S. Air Force, dabbled in martial arts, and studied psychology. So I can imitate several American accents, put you in a headlock, and diagnose your personality disorders… all at once. That's cute, but unless the novel is written with that kind of voice, I don't know if I would end this way. Also, since the query isn't written with humor, I don't know if the bio should be.

1st Page:

I snatched the keys from the valet’s fingers and strode into the cobblestone courtyard. Another servant opened the door to my burnt-orange Aston Martin and I sighed with pleasure. Ah, Las Vegas, I missed you.

My family estate rested high in the mountains, so I had a commanding view of the city spread out in the valley below. In the morning haze, I could barely make out the tall spire of the Stratosphere on one end of the Strip and the gold towers of the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the other end. The rest of my hometown fit neatly into never-ending squares full of houses, offices, schools—the stuff tourists didn’t bother with.

My family bothered with it. All of it. This was our city to defend, both from rival sorcerer clans abroad and from sages lurking within our borders.

Halfway between standing and sitting, I noticed a classic black limo with silver trim turning off the driveway that led to the garage. I straightened to get a better look as it pulled into the courtyard and rolled to a stop directly in front of me.

The backseat window rolled down, revealing Grandfather’s ruddy face. He leaned one arm out and grinned. “Sierra, my girl, want to play hooky?”

It was the first day of school. I had a million things to catch up on after spending the whole summer in the high desert with no phone. My friends expected me to meet them before class to talk business.
For Grandfather, I’d ditch them all.

I ran the short distance, yanked open the door, then paused. Grandfather’s usual bodyguards sat on the row facing me. Wedged tightly between them sat a short woman with a brown sack over her head and handcuffs on her wrists. Her white business suit had sweat stains around the armpits and the heel of her left shoe was broken. I wondered if that meant she had fought back.

Your first page is great! I like what you've got here. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

LAST STAR BURNING Author Caitlin Sangster With Four Tips For Querying

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Caitlin Sangster, author of LAST STAR BURNING. Caitlin  grew up in the back woods of California and would rather go hiking, running, swimming, or general outdoorsing than just about anything else. She always thought of writing as a silly sort of compulsive habit until she realized that people like reading stories and she liked writing them and there wasn’t much silly about that.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

When I started I was a Panster, but now I’m a mix. I’d say there are fixed points I have planned and I pants it in between.

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

If I’m really focused, then about six months. When I first started writing it took longer because when I was straight up pantsing, going back to make sure everything fit made for a lot of rewriting.

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

I think if I had more time I’d multi-task. In an ideal world, I’d be revising one manuscript and drafting another one, but at the moment, I only have time for one or the other. I don’t think I could draft two at once though, because of voice and the momentum that comes from a first draft. Switching off would probably break my brain.

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

Oh my goodness, yes. I was mostly afraid of what people would think of me if they ever read what I wrote. Writing YA novels is so much fun, but I sort of assumed anyone who read it would think I was writing my own personality and take on the world rather than my characters. I also worried that I didn’t know enough about what I was writing and that it would be a wasted effort. But then I started having fun and didn’t care so much.

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

I was lucky enough to get an agent with my first book. Seriously. Lucky.

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

I’ve only really quit on one manuscript. Mostly because it was just not good enough. I might go back to the concept and start over, but the work I did put into it wasn’t holding my attention. Usually I think abandoning a project is poor form because writing is hard and of course there are moments when you want to quit. This particular project was my first (and only) attempt at NaNoWriMo, which is a great thing for some writers, but not me. Every word I wrote, I knew I was going to have to go back and fix because I was going too fast for my writing process. Whenever I went back to reread what I had, I just didn’t like it.

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

My agent is Victoria Wells-Arms, and she is so awesome! (I’m singing that in my head, Jack Black style. Which is weird. But she really is great to work with.) I sent her a traditional query right when she first opened her agency after leaving Bloomsbury.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I’d been querying for about ten months. 

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

First: Remember that it is subjective. I know everyone says that--even the awful canned rejections they send you say that--but it’s true. Just because someone isn’t madly in love with your book doesn’t mean it’s bad. Agents only take things on if they Love them with a capital L, and you can’t expect everyone to be that passionate about your book. Don’t take it personally.

Second: Look at your results. If your query isn’t getting any bites, change it. If it’s your partial or full MS that’s getting rejected, send it to more readers and revise. If you get feedback from more than one agent that says something in your book isn’t working, listen. Revise. Keep trying.

Third: Write something else. Get excited about a new project. Not the sequel to the project you’re querying, either. Something new.

Fourth: While you are querying, have something else in your life that you don’t have to depend on anyone else to succeed in. I trained for a half marathon while I was querying, and it saved my sanity. I could decide how far I was going to go and how fast, and a specific goal to accomplish: thirteen miles by the time my race date came around. With querying, it’s a rollercoaster and you don’t have much control, so having something else that is positive and goal oriented that you can progress in without regard to anyone else is helpful.

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

My book is up for pre-order now, does that count? It’s sort of surreal, actually. My book will be out there for anyone to read! Sort of scary, but also makes me want to jump up and down with excitement.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Conceptually I didn’t have any input. They did, however, check in with me to make sure they got things right. There’s this really awesome arch on my cover that is very important to the story, and they wanted to make sure it looked the way it was supposed to.

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

For some reason I was surprised by just how many people were involved. So many people got to mark up that manuscript, including on the very last pass when somehow ALL OF US had missed that I’d accidentally said a statue was “in a pose of mediation” rather than “meditation”. Also, I was surprised by both how slowly and quickly it moves at the same time. There were months at a time where nothing seems to be happening, and then suddenly I’d have copy edits to go through or something cool like my jacket proof would come in the mail.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I’m not quite to that part of things yet. I set up my own launch and a blog tour and stuff, but that’s because I’m antsy and wanted to make sure those things happened the way I wanted them to.  My website was super fun to make: caitlinsangster.com and you can find me on Twitter @caitsangster

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

A platform is always a positive thing, so if you’ve got the time an means to start, awesome. I wouldn’t say it’s essential before going after an agent, though.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Honestly, most of the people I network with on social media are adults. It’s great for meeting other writers and finding fun opportunities in the writing community, but I don’t know about building readership among actual teenagers. The few I have met who are librarians or teachers might help getting my book into teenage hands, but aside from that, I feel like social media mostly helps me keep up with other writers, editors, etc., rather than connecting me directly to my target audience. I’m not that great at social media though, so it might just be me!

Monday, October 2, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: AZORIA


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.

Query:

17-year-old Johanna dreaded her summer fated to help Gramps at the diner. It meant long hours with zero beach time and no umbrella in her drink. But when a booming pillar of light crashes into the sea, and the Angel of Death (known as Nefro) asks for her help, she's got way more problems than snotty customers. The first two sentences in this query are in past tense, which makes it less dynamic. Then the next two sentences are in present tense, which is confusing.

Nefro warns her that a war is brewing between the angels of life and Death. Death is capitalized but not life? But before Johanna faces all this angel drama, she must tap into her angelic past self to reawaken as a leader of the Angels of Life. But the Angels of Death will stop at nothing to keep her from regaining her powers. I feel like a lot of this has to be unpacked in order to be understood. So she was an angel in a past life, and needs to regain her powers to become a leader now? It's in there, but it might need to be clarified a little more. 

Meanwhile, training with Nefro's no picnic. Johanna must learn to control her burgeoning powers, fend off a dangerous spy, and deal with her growing affection for the mysterious boy. Because Nefro is clearly hiding something about their past. Reclaiming the centuries old-secret might be enough to kill her, but if she flees from the truth, the precarious balance between life and death will be shattered into chaos. What centuries old secret? Confused.

When Nefro is kidnapped by the very angels of Death he used to lead, Johanna must decide between her duty, and her feelings. To save the boy who has broken her heart twice, or claim her place as leader of the Angels of life and saving the universe. So, Nefro no longer leads them? I feel like this needs to be said earlier since he's part of the group that she's supposedly leading against, yet he's training her. Definitely confusing. Also, why is the fate of the universe at stake here?

AZORIA is a young adult fantasy novel and is completed at 90,000 words. Technically it's not fantasy, since it's got one foot in the contemporary world. I think urban fantasy is a more accurate tag, but I understand why you'd try to avoid it.

Right now the query needs clarification on points mentioned above. We've got Death vs. Life, with some Romeo & Juliet style love story going on, reincarnation, power reclamation, and "chosen one" aspects, none of which bring anything new to the table. What is it about this story that is different from others that have these same themes? 

1st Page:

The first rule of being a waitress: smile. And keep smiling. Even if all you want to do is punch someone in the face. That snooty couple giving me looks at Table Seven are at the top of my list. Followed by those surfer dudes at Table Nine checking me out. Voice is good. One thing to consider in terms of the query as well is that the diner and the contemporary side of the setting is completely dropped after the first line. Is that an accurate representation of the novel itself?

"Young lady, how many times do I have to tell you?" Gramps pulls his mouth into a smile. "See? We have customers and they don't want to see a sourpuss serving them."

I grimace, showing teeth. "Like this?"

He nods, returning my freak smile with a genuine one. "Much better,” he says sarcastically. “Now get this drink over to that lady over there." He hands me a cup of coffee, and gestures to a woman in office apparel, sitting under a bad Mona Lisa print. “And remember…” Gramps flashes me his teeth.

Yeah, right. Like faking a smile is gonna get me more tips, or bring them back to dump more money in the place. But I came here to help Gramps over the summer, so I do my best to grin and bear it.

“Hey blue-eyes! Can I get them digits?” shouts one of the douchebags at table nine. Unless these guys are from the 1940's and hitting on her, this dialogue isn't ringing very true.

Grrr. I can do this. I carefully make my way to the table with the lady in a red dress and blazer, a vast difference from the bikinis and swimsuits every other customer seems to be wearing. She's yapping on the phone and clacking away at her laptop.

"Here’s your coffee, miss." I “smile”' but she  shooes me away without sparing a look.

Wonderful.

I put the coffee down and turn to go, but she pauses. "Excuse me?" Finally looking up from her phone, she points to the cup. "I ordered a coffee. It's supposed to be served hot, not cold. How hard is that?”

Not as cold as your tone. I roll my eyes, then turn back and smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I'll get you another one." I grab the cup. “Go get you some nice hot poison," I mumble under my breath.

The only thing I'll add is that right now every single person in the diner is being a major asshole. I know waitressing is a thankless job, but this feels like overkill.