Thursday, December 29, 2011

Danny's Writing Resolutions O' Doom!

Man, it feels like forever since I've posted here, but then I think back over the holidays and they're really just a blur. Much like this video I've prepared for your viewing displeasure!



So yeah, what?

**********************

Daniel Marks is currently dancing with tears in his eyes. When he's not hammering out schlock on his Macbook, he's curled up in a corner rocking some comfort into his ailing frame.

Oh the sadness.

Comments help!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Laura Ellen's New Year Writing Resolutions

I haven't quite figured out how to juggle everything in my life and write too. I used to think I was really good at it, back before I had an agent and an editor and a book about to be published. That's because back then, I only had myself to answer to in my writing life; I could make up my own deadlines and adjust them when stuff came up with the kids or the house or whatever. Back then, no matter what, I always found time to write.

But now I have an agent, an editor, group blogs, my website, marketing, book edits, blog tours, and so on -- each with their own deadlines and commitments. I find it harder to adjust these deadlines and commitments when things come up (and they ALWAYS come up!) and I end up juggling stuff around to accommodate everything EXCEPT my actual writing -- which creates stress and chaos because I LOVE writing and that truly is my 'real' job, right?  I vow to change things in 2012. Here are my 2012 writing resolutions:

1) SCHEDULE EVERYTHING!!! A big part of my problem is that I don't always have a plan when I get up, but I know all too well what has to be done -- which gets overwhelming and . . .  I end up on the couch eating leftover pizza and watching Law & Order SVU marathons instead of at the computer writing.

2) On that schedule, I will commit to writing at least one hour every day on my Work In Progress.

3) When I pencil in all my critique group meetings and my group blog posting dates, I will also pencil in dates for my blog/website posts. I have a tendency to make sure my commitments to everyone else are filled and I neglect mine, so pretending I am someone else may help :)

4) Get on the treadmill every day no matter what!! -- I always end up choosing between working out or my WIP, but when I work out, I think about my WIP which then motivates me to write. So I need to make them both part of my schedule every day rather than an either/or.

5) Schedule the house work for the weekends! All those people with office jobs don't duck out on their bosses to head home and do the laundry, why should I?

5) Load the fridge with quick HEALTHY snacks so that when I leave the computer like a zombie to go search for food, I am fueling up with the 'good' stuff  rather than the not-so-good-for-me good stuff :)

6) And my last resolution for 2012? Don't beat myself up when something doesn't get done. Being a Mom and a wife and a writer is a hard gig -- if I drop the ball, it is OKAY!

Happy New Year!
_____________________________________________


What if a classmate went missing right after you fought with her at a party and she was later found dead? What if you couldn't remember anything after that fight? Not even how you got home? Would you tell the police the truth? Or would you lie about what you remember until you could find out what really happened that night?

16-year-old Roswell Hart finds herself in this very predicament in Laura Ellen's YA thriller, BLIND SPOT (Fall 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
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Monday, December 26, 2011

Willa Fox's Christmas Wish List

In Pretty Crooked, Willa Fox does a lot of shopping, but most of the items she buys are gifts for her specially chosen recipients—girls who are not as fortunate as she is. That being said, Willa's got an eye for nice things, too. In fact, I think she's got excellent taste. Here are some things I think she'd like for Christmas next year.

1. This hoodie has all of the qualifications for Willa's everyday wear. It's comfy, it's got a bit of edge and it blends into the night.












2. These sneakers are shiny and fun, perfect for those times when you just need to run and still look stylish.










3. This bag is nice and roomy—good for, I don't know, fitting lots of stuff.









4. I'm pretty sure she'd dig these sunglasses, for when she needed to keep a low pro.









5. Last but not least, she would love to have a donation to Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Loveable You), an anti-bullying organization, made in her honor.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What the LIES BENEATH Families Want for Christmas


"So, it's Christmas Eve," I say. My characters are gathered before me. I press on. "Target will be closed in two hours. What the heck do you guys want for Christmas?"


Calder White rolls his eyes.


"I'm serious," I say. "Give me a clue."


“Freedom," he says, a teasing smile twisting at this lips.


I put my hands on my hips. I don't have time for this.


"What?" he asks. "Too intangible? Okay, I’ll take a new car and a full tank of gas."


"Seriously," I say.


"Fine, fine. Something simple... how bout a nice pair of wool socks, or maybe a coffee mug that says World’s Greatest Son. What about you, Lil? Tell Anne what you want."


Lily shrugs. “You don't have to get me anything."


"I insist," I say. "You guys have made this the best year ever. It's the least I could do."


"Well, if you insist," says Lily Hancock, considering her options. "A new journal and a real pen and ink set...y’know...the kind with an actual ink well? That would be cool.”


Maris White butts in. "If you're giving gifts, I'll take a little cooperation. For once in my life. That would be a real treat.”


"Anne is shopping for real gifts," says Pavati. She furrows her brow, deep in thought. “I’ve never really thought much about Christmas. My father celebrated Pancha Ganapati. But . . . I’d never turn down a gift. Maybe something shiny?”

"Shiny," I say, writing it down on paper. "What about you, Tallulah?"


Tallulah steps between Calder and Lily and says, “Something sentimental and romantic would be nice, particularly if it came from someone who matters.”


I suspect she's not referring to me. Tallulah never cared for me much. "Jack?" I ask.


He glowers at me from the corner. “You can’t give me what I want.”


"Never mind him," says his sister, Gabby. "Here’s my list." She shoves it into my hands. "I’ve made copies. A 4G phone, a pre-paid credit card, and a bus trip to the Mall of America. A digital camera, those boots that everyone’s wearing, Jimmy Choos, diamond studs, and permission to get a nose ring. Also, I like those chocolate Santas, but the solid kind. Nothing hollow.”


I'm about to leave, when I see a small figure playing in the corner. "Sophie," I say. "I didn't see you there."


She barely looks up. “Christmas Barbie and a scientific experiment kit. Thanks.” And then she's back to whatever she was playing, and I'm out the door to Target. There's only a little time left.


________________

Anne Greenwood Brown, author of LIES BENEATH (Random House Children's Books/Delacorte; June 12, 2012) A Lake Superior tale of revenge, love, and murderous mermaids.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Most Given Books

So this week we're supposed to blog about what our characters want for Christmas, but I already did that as part of YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday (It's a Very Hemlock Christmas). Instead, I thought I would post a list of the three books I've given most often as gifts.




Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

When I've given it: As a get well gift and a fortieth birthday gift. Why I've given it: The end of the world as told by Gaiman and Pratchett really is a laughing matter.




Looking for Alaska by John Green
When I've given it: Christmas and as a random "Thanks for being awesome, now go be more awesome and start reading YA" gift. Why I've given it: If you have to ask, then you probably haven't read it. You should go fix that.



When I've given it: Twice, people have borrowed my dad's copy and not returned it (I, for some reason, feel bad about this) and once a coworker mentioned wanting to read it and was having a bad day (I'm kind of awesome, like that). Why I've given it: Because the end of the world is no laughing matter. Also, because I am thoughtful. Sometimes. Occasionally. At least when it comes to giving books.

That's it for me! What book (or books) have you found yourself giving more than once?


---


Kathleen Peacock is a semi-reformed vampire addict and unapologetic geek who has taken to writing about werewolves and who wants to marry the Wizard Howl. Her debut, HEMLOCK, will be published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on May 8, 2012. Visit her website at www.kathleenpeacock.com.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

my super awesome Holiday Gift Guide!


Or, last minute presents we can all enjoy. 




1. For the Jane Austen lover. It's subtle but still shows a serious sense of pride. Get it? 




2. For the writer with all the darkness. Also, because there is not enough Edgar in the world.



3. For the aspiring writer. I think this is the Australian cover? I like it better than the US one. Still, the stuff inside is what matters and seriously changed my life. 



4. For the playful writer. #$%*(() Aww how cute. 



5. For your lush writer. Ahem. Really, I'm the worst influence you'll ever have. 


6. Because you've always wanted to try absinthe-something, but don't want the hallucinogenic part of it.

7. For your gentleman writer. And by gentleman, I mean me. I love this stuff. Really, I'm a dirty old white man on the inside. 



8. For  the writer who wants to take a step back and jot down some notes. 



9. For the write who loves banned books! 


and finally, but actually because I have to go to sleep: 

10. For the writer you joke with. Half man, half pillow. And also, because you've always wanted to sit on Edward's face. 





Merry Christmas! 


Nominate Your Favorite Teen Books of 2011!

Nominate Your Favorite Books of 2011 for the Teen Choice Book of the Year!

Of course, here at THE NIGHTSTAND we're a little biased. Might we suggest two paranormal titles to nominate? In no particular order, The Nightstand's own:
Leanna Renee Hieber with - DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul

Shop Indie Bookstores
and fellow APOCALYPSIES Gretchen McNeil with her 2011 title POSSESS
Shop Indie Bookstores

the rest of the fields are up to you. :)

Thanks in advance for your vote and support of paranormal and fantastical YA fiction!


(Don't worry that neither DARKER STILL nor POSSESS is listed on their list, write them in, the list is hardly comprehensive of all 2011 titles)

Cheers! Happy reading, happy haunting, happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don't Forget Teachers & Libraries This Holiday Season


I love being a writer, but first and always, I’m a mom. I have a teenage son and daughter, and both of them know they’ll find books under the tree.



My son has always hated my daughter's dolls,
so I thought he'd appreciate this book ;)


Being a mom also means shopping for my children’s wonderful teachers. My neighborhood has housed at least six teachers over the years, ranging in grade level from pre-school to high school, so when my son was young and I was stressing over that special something for his pre-school teacher, I took a poll … what do you like to get for the holidays? #1 favorite thing … a gift certificate.

“A gift certificate to where?” I asked, which was a silly question, because if there is one thing teachers universally love, it’s books. (Can a teacher ever have enough books?  Pffft … no!) And a gift certificate doesn’t have to break the budget – gather a few of your fellow parents and kick in a few dollars each and voila …  you have a useful gift that your children's teacher will be thrilled with.

By the time your child reaches middle and high school, they generally have different teachers for each subject, so the gift giving tapers off, but the need does not. If you want to honor your child’s school during the holidays, consider donating a book to the school library. Purchase a book that you think the kids would love, or one that teaches something that you feel is relevant. Don’t worry if they may already have a copy because books bounce around from school library to school library within a school district, so it’s good for the district to have more than one copy.

 Some suggestions ~

Fiction! Fiction! Fiction! If it’s something that you or your kids love, share it with your school. I hesitate to suggest one title over another because there are so many great titles out there and whatever you choose, someone is bound to love it. The one fiction title I will recommend because I think every library should own it, is IT’S A BOOK by Lane Smith




Non-fiction titles I love:


D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire
                The quintessential guide to the gods … especially for those Rick Riordan fans

Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students by Mignon Fogarty
                Grammar rules presented with a little more fun and flair

Can You Feel the Force by Richard Hammond (DK Publishing)
                The basics of physics are fascinating in this book

Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee
                Yes, it’s a silly title, but I guarantee you will be amazed!

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary - The Ultimate Guide to Characters and Creatures from the Entire Star Wars Saga
                A favorite among reluctant readers – every elementary school library should own more than one copy of this book.


Sports books – anything to do with sports (including sports like motorcross) is a welcome addition to any library!!

Most libraries (both school and public) are on a first name basis with their local indie bookstore’s children and teen bookseller, so ask for suggestions. And libraries love gift certificates, too!


Wishing you and yours a merry, happy holiday season!



Gina Rosati is the author of Auracle (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan - August 7, 2012). She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two teenagers. Her Christmas tree is still not up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geek Out for Christmas


I could tell you my top ten books to give this holiday season, but I'm going to throw this out there instead--anyone have other WRITERS to buy for? Aspiring, published, prepublished, starry-eyed teen?

Even the obsessive reader!

These people probably have already burned through all the books they want to read--or at least, they already have them loaded up on their Kindle. So sometimes you can't buy them books, because they've beaten you to the punch.

This list is for YOU.

1. Free Stuff from Giveaways
Writers love stuff from other writers. It's inspiring and fun--because authors, probably more than readers, love to geek out. To this end, BETH REVIS is having a crazy massive giveaway on her blog (to the tune of 200 gifts to give away!)

2. Awesome Things Going on in the Writers Community
Like Don't Forget to be Awesome (CDs! TShirts! Awesomeness!) and YA Saves

3. Support Really Cool Organizations
For example, Artists for Humanity (I've been doing workshops with my local Boston branch) is an organization that gives young artists a stipend and a space to work and in turn teaches them entrepreneurial skills. I just bought a bunch of their tshirts for Christmas presents--it's original and a cool story! Another great one is Girls Write Now--I know writers that, rather than accepting gifts, ask for donations to be made to organizations like this one (here's the Class of 2k12's donation page).

4. Go Indie
I'm SUCH a big fan of Indiebound--while you're looking up your local indie to buy your favorite books from (yay, local economy! yay, supporting handsellers that LOVE books!)--you can now get a tshirt and other gear to proclaim your awesomeness to the world.

So...you know...if anyone wants to get ME a present....any of those will do.

Just sayin'.

Happy Holidays!

xAC

ps--if you REALLY want book recommendations, check this out.



AC Gaughen is the author of Scarlet, a retelling of the Robin Hood legend that reimagines Will Scarlet as a butt-kicking girl. Check it out February 14th, 2012 from Bloomsbury|Walker. Or just come visit her website. Or come stalk her on Twitter.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Anne's Writing Space

I have a writing space. It's a loft--wide open to the rest of the house. This works for me because I do most of my writing between the hours of 5:00 am and noon on Saturdays and Sundays. Everyone else is asleep. So the fact that I have no door on my "office" is not a big deal. Once they wake up, however, I pick up my laptop and move.






This is my pile of "things to get around to" and Mermaid Barbie, who is even creepier than she looks.










The beauty of writing, though, is that you don't really need a space. Last week I wrote chapter four to Book 3 on the back of several utility bill envelopes that I was too afraid to open. I've even texted myself entire scenes while riding in the back of a cab.

I guess my real "writing space" is the space between my ears.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jess's Office

Last fall, my husband and I decided to make our guest bedroom into an office. I didn't know at the time that I'd be writing full-time soon, but considering how often we have overnight guests vs. how often I stay up into the wee hours typing furiously and working toward a deadline, it turned out to be a really good decision. Space is at a premium in DC row houses!




I never actually use my desk. That's an old picture -- notice my old netbook. I am now firmly a Macbook Air girl. A current picture of my desk would show you several empty tea mugs, some post-its, some stickers, and an assortment of candles.

I actually do most of my writing on this loveseat.



But not in the mornings. In the mornings, it gets great sunlight and it belongs to Monkey. He and Mr. Sunbeam are BFFs. Notice his disgruntled look. I have disturbed his basking.






This is the newest addition to the office. I stole Erin Bow's genius idea of rewarding herself with a sticker for every 1k. November's stickers were super-cute owls. (Note the scarcity of owls in the first half of November, when I was on vacation in CA. And then I finished my draft of book two on November 29!) It was surprisingly motivational!


Hope you enjoyed the tour!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Messy Desk

TBH, my writing room is pretty dull. The most interesting thing in it is the wall where the whiteboards live, and that's the one part of the room I CAN'T show you (given that you'd see most of book two drawn out in red and blue dry erase marker).

Soooo... In lieu of having any other ideas, I took a few pictures of my desk.



This is my desk. It is not glamorous, but it is, nevertheless, where I spend a crazy amount of time.







---

Kathleen Peacock is a semi-reformed vampire addict and unapologetic geek who has taken to writing about werewolves and who wants to marry the Wizard Howl. Her debut, HEMLOCK, will be published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on May 8, 2012. Visit her website at www.kathleenpeacock.com.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Tour of Laura Ellen's Writing Crib

I am trying to ease into the whole vlog thing, so I decided to vlog my 'Writing Crib' instead of blogging about it  with pictures. Sorry it is not in a wide screen format - my camera is a bit archaic :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Query Critique O' the Day!

Dear Super Secret Anonymous Writer,

Congratulations for getting to the query step! It's a huge achievement to complete, revise and ready a manuscript for the market! I enjoyed reading your query letter and hope you find the critique valuable to your process!

Some logistics. I'm going to post the query in its entirety, first then follow that up with a sentence by sentence critique. My comments are in blue.

[Agent's contact info]

Dear Ms. [Agent]:

[This letter is individualized for a certain editor, but I did want to disclose that information, so I can have feedback on the content and not who I am writing to.] Upon researching for agents to query, I found you to be an impeccable choice when I learned that you have represented both of these authors and also because of the diverse genres that you happen represent. I have completed a manuscript that is approximately 90,000 words and falls into the paranormal-fantasy genre and I am willing to offer it to you in exclusive terms.

When a harvester, Evelyn Cross, steals a mythical box from the dead city of Rome, it unknowingly sets a thousand-year-old prophecy into motion. It unleashes dark creatures, such as demons that can shape shift, and causes people to obtain supernatural powers that they had never had before.

A man who is also after the box, Malcolm, burns down Evy’s home city, Trinity, to the ground in hopes to also possess the box. Not only has Malcolm stolen her home away from her, but also he proves that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants by killing Evy’s sister right in front of her.

Revenge is Evy’s new favorite flavor. She dedicates her life to avenging her sister’s death and the destruction of her hometown. She is forced to team up with Stephan James, a man she despises, and his team of unworldly beings. To make matters even more unpleasant, she feels obligated to take it upon herself to make sure the fiancé of the man she loves doesn’t get her self killed. (This sentence could use some rewording… More simplistic.)

After several, unfortunate events is when Evy finally gets her chance for revenge. Her plan is simple, she’s going to put a bullet in the head of the man who put a bullet in her sister’s head. An eye for an eye is how she sees it. When opportunity to kill Malcolm presents itself, it turns out to be harder to kill than she anticipated. What stands in her way to Malcolm is a blindsiding betrayal and an army full of Malcolm’s followers.

In preparation for writing this manuscript, I thoroughly researched both the writing and publishing industries. I am in search of an agent for the long haul because that is what is best suited for me. I have already begun on the second manuscript and also have a rough outline for this entire series.

What makes this work special and unique is that it takes all of the elements of what is hot right now and puts it all into one novel. The completed work contains twenty-four chapters, a prologue and epilogue. Writing this manuscript has been has a labor of love that is a tribute to all the authors that have brought magic into my life.

As requested on PublishersMarketPlace.com, I have enclosed the first chapter of my novel and self-addressed stamped envelope. If you would like to read more on Evelyn Cross, I would be more than delighted to send an entire manuscript for your review.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

*********************

[Agent's contact info]

Dear Ms. [Agent]:

[This letter is individualized for a certain (agent), but I did want to disclose that information, so I can have feedback on the content and not who I am writing to.] This is a key element every query should include. Always research the recipients of your queries. Most agencies and publishing houses that accept direct submissions will list out their guidelines for querying on their websites!

Upon researching for agents to query, I found you to be an impeccable choice when I learned that you have represented both of these authors and also because of the diverse genres that you happen (to) represent. I assume that you want to mention that you're a fan of this agent's clients and that you mentioned them. But in a polite introduction to a potential business partner--which is essentially the relationship between an agent and a writer--you want to make sure your grammar is impeccable and your writing, tight and straight-forward. Something like:

I'm a fan of your clients, [insert names], and was impressed with the diverse genres you represent.

I have completed a manuscript that is approximately 90,000 words and falls into the paranormal-fantasy genre and I am willing to offer it to you in exclusive terms. What's the title? That was my first question after reading your query. It's omission is glaring, so even if you're undecided on a title, include your best option or at the minimum refer to the novel as "untitled." For blog readers who don't know, when a writer offers an "exclusive," they're committing to wait for a response from the recipient before they query other agents. It's risky, but it definitely makes a statement. Additionally, this sentence could benefit from some tightening. So for your next line try:

I'm happy to offer you an exclusive look at my novel, [title], a paranormal fantasy complete at approximately 90,000 words.

When a harvester, Evelyn Cross, steals a mythical box from the dead city of Rome, it unknowingly sets a thousand-year-old prophecy into motion. It unleashes dark creatures, such as demons that can shape shift, and causes people to obtain supernatural powers that they had never had before. Some general tightening is necessary to make the hook more punchy, but it already sounds amazeballs! Also, if you refer to your protagonist primarily as Evy, I think it's okay to jut call her that in the hook. Like so:

When harvester, EVY CROSS, steals a mythical box from the dead city of Rome, she unleashes a horde of shape-shifting demons hellbent on destruction and a magic so powerful, regular people obtain supernatural powers.

A man who is also after the box, Malcolm, burns down Evy’s home city, Trinity, to the ground in hopes to also possess the box. Not only has Malcolm stolen her home away from her, but also he proves that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants by killing Evy’s sister right in front of her. Just a comment: that dirty bastard! Now back to critiquing. Ahem. Again, tightening:

(Since you've noted Evy's role as Harvester, if the antagonist has a role: cruel overlord, etc. then include that here for balance). Malcolm [last name] will stop at nothing to possess the stolen artifact. He executes Evy’s sister in front of her and burns her city to the ground.

Revenge is Evy’s new favorite flavor. I do love this line. I wonder if it's indicative of the voice in the novel and that's a good thing. But if the book is pretty snarky, you might want to include a little more of that here.

She dedicates her life to avenging her sister’s death and the destruction of her hometown. She is forced to team up with Stephan James, a man she despises, and his team of unworldly beings. To make matters even more unpleasant, she feels obligated to take it upon herself to make sure the fiancé of the man she loves doesn’t get her self killed. (This sentence could use some rewording… More simplistic.) Agreed, and tightening quite a bit:

To avenge her sister’s death, Evy must team up with the wretched Stephan James and his team of unworldly beings and take the fiancé of the man she loves under her protection.

After several, unfortunate events is when Evy finally gets her chance for revenge. Her plan is simple, she’s going to put a bullet in the head of the man who put a bullet in her sister’s head. An eye for an eye is how she sees it. When opportunity to kill Malcolm presents itself, it turns out to be harder to kill than she anticipated. What stands in her way to Malcolm is a blindsiding betrayal and an army full of Malcolm’s followers. This is probably the paragraph that needs the biggest edit. It's not necessary to discuss the plan, or how Evy's sister was killed. The reader fills in the blanks that revenge will include Evy killing Malcolm. So try:

Her quest to kill Malcolm is hampered by danger, betrayal and an army of the man’s followers (if these folks are demons, say that instead)...and an army of demons.

In preparation for writing this manuscript, I thoroughly researched both the writing and publishing industries. I am in search of an agent for the long haul because that is what is best suited for me. I have already begun on the second manuscript and also have a rough outline for this entire series. What makes this work special and unique is that it takes all of the elements of what is hot right now and puts it all into one novel. The completed work contains twenty-four chapters, a prologue and epilogue. Writing this manuscript has been has a labor of love that is a tribute to all the authors that have brought magic into my life. I'm not certain I'd include any of this in my query. It provides too much extraneous information and while it certainly has a genuine feel it doesn't do anything to help promote the sale of the story. In particular, rather than suggest that your book is unique because it incorporates "all of the elements of what is hot right now and puts it all into one novel", I'd point out that you're conscious of the continued popularity of the paranormal genre and believe that you have a fresh, original voice. Something like that.

As requested on PublishersMarketPlace.com, As requested in your submission guidelines,

I have enclosed the first chapter of my novel and self-addressed stamped envelope. If you would like to read more on Evelyn Cross, I would be more than delighted to send an entire manuscript for your review.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you. Very nice closing.

***************

You don't need to explain everything for a query letter to be successful. An agent keys in on elements of writing in the letter itself. Concise, tight writing is definitely prized among agents and editors so always go back and excise extraneous words and, PLEASE, check for grammar errors!

Your story sounds awesome!!! But again, I wish I knew the title.

Again, GOOD LUCK!!!!

**************************

DANIEL MARKS is a YA Fantasy Author, Vlogger and General Smart-ass. He is a founding member of the South Sound Algonquin writing group and presents workshops on writing and marketing. His Debut YA novel, VELVETEEN comes out in the Fall of 2012 from Delacorte/Random House Kids. Until then, he's more than happy to dance like a monkey for your pleasure!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Query Critique for ATTACK OF THE DUST BUNNIES

I am pleased to offer this query critique. I hope you find it helpful, although keep in mind this is just one person's opinion. The language from the original query is in black. My comments are in blue.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*Deleted Author Name*

*Deleted Author Address*

*Deleted Author email*


Penguin Young Readers Group

345 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10014


A couple things before we begin...this format makes sense if you’re sending your query by mail. These days, most queries are sent by email, and it doesn’t makes sense to set up an email as if it were a letter. Rather, for an email query, put your contact information in your signature block at the end of the letter, and don’t use the receiver’s address in the email at all.


Second, queries are typically sent to agents at literary agencies, who (hopefully) agree to represent you, and then they pitch your novel to the publishing company, e.g., Penguin. Although it’s not unheard of to query an editor, most big publishers (such as Penguin) won’t look at un-agented submissions, so make sure you’ve done your homework and know that Penguin is accepting queries directly from authors. An exception may be if you met the acquisition editor at a SCBWI conference and he/she invited attendees to query him/her directly.


Dear Mr. XXX,

Twelve-year-old Jessie Pullman is absolutely and horrendously terrified of dust bunnies. I really love this first line! However, you may want to ditch the heavy adjectives; in my opinion they take away its punch. Also your main character’s name/gender is confusing. The next sentence uses the pronoun “he” so I see that Jessie is a boy, but “Jessie” is usually the female spelling and “Jesse” is the more typical male version. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, but confusing the reader in the first sentence is not a good idea.


He has been since he was just a little kid. Why? And it doesn't help much that his friend Amanda is making him help clean their teacher's classroom on the last day of school. Why does Amanda have to clean it instead of the school janitor? Why does she have the power to MAKE Jessie do anything?


Classrooms = too many dust bunnies to handle! And if that isn't enough, the dust bunnies in this classroom aren't exactly... normal. They have minds of their own, and before the kids know it, hundreds of dust bunnies are escaping the school to take over the entire city! This is good stuff, but it has me asking myself more questions: why are they dangerous? What is the central conflict to your story? Do dust bunnies spread disease? Are they into mind control? Are they turning humans to dust? Being clear with the CONFLICT is the number one job of the query letter. Tell the reader why he/she should care that dust bunnies are on the loose.


Now it's up to Jessie and Amanda, along with a few characters they meet along the way, to take the evil critters down before time runs out. The “time runs out” bit is very nice in that it adds tension and a sense of urgency, but you could add more explanation. For example, why is it up to Jessie and Amanda to take the bunnies down? Why isn’t it up to the police? It’s not like Jessie and Amanda have shown themselves to have any special ability to control the bunnies. After all, they’re the ones who allowed them to escape. So tell us why they're special and skilled!


But they’ll need to get passed the mastermind of the dust bunnies first, the one who has the ability to make the creatures do terrible things... but how can they defeat this malicious person if they don’t know who it is? I think you mean “past the mastermind”. And rhetorical questions are generally not a good technique in a query. What terrible things? I'd like to hear more detail about what happens in the book.


The novel described above, Attack of the Dust Bunnies, is a 50,000 word humor/adventure story aimed at children ages 8-12. “Humor/Adventure” may describe your novel, but it’s not a defined genre. What you mean to say is: ATTACK OF THE DUST BUNNIES is a 50,000 word MG novel. (I’m guessing based on the age of your protagonist and your potential readers’ age range that you’ve written a Middle Grade (MG) novel.)


I have been writing this book for six years. It has gone through revisions, critique groups, more revisions, and even a full rewrite… and then more revisions. Now that I have it where I want it, I thought it was time to send the book onward. My whole life, I have dreamed of being a children’s author, as cliché as that sounds, but I literally have had this goal since I was three-years-old. To stalk down my dream, I took a college writing course in my freshman year of high school from The Institute of Children’s Literature, a branch of Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. I also joined a local writing forum to get advice and critique from other writers. I am currently in college majoring in Liberal Arts. Lose all this! Other than the title and word count, this paragraph doesn't say anything about your book so it’s not relevant to a query. The fact that it took you 6 years to write 50k, is not a selling point, and revising before submitting is a pre-requisite. It’s assumed (or at least hoped for), and doesn’t need to be said. The fact you’ve written a novel is HUGE accomplishment! It already speaks to your personal goals, so there’s no need to go into your “dream.” I think what you’re trying to do is fill that bit of the standard query where you say something about yourself. This is the place to list your publishing credits. If you have none, don’t despair! Every published author once had no credits to list.


My novel is sure to please any young reader looking for a fun and wacky story with lots of twists and suspense tied in. It’s also a good mystery, and I think it will keep them asking the whole time: “Where did these dust bunnies come from, anyway?” This is probably all true, but it's not for you to “blurb” or editorialize your own book; it’s up to others to describe it as “sure to please,” or “fun and wacky” with “lots of twists and suspense,” or even “good.” Telling the agent or editor how great your book is is the kiss of death in a query letter.


Enclosed is a SASE for your reply. Again, no need to mention a SASE if it’s an email query. Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.


Sincerely,

NAME


To conclude, it sounds like you’ve got a very fun concept that you’ve fine tuned to the point that it’s ready to query, but you’re only allowed a limited number of words in this letter, and you’re wasting them on the wrong stuff! If I may take the liberty to try a re-write, you could do something like this (of course I’m making up all the details so it’s just a rough example):


Dear Mr. XXX,


We met at the SCBWI conference in Big City last September, and you invited me to query you directly. Please consider my MG novel, ATTACK OF THE DUST BUNNIES, which is complete at 50,000 words.

Twelve-year-old Jessie Pullman has been terrified of dust bunnies ever since he overheard two talking under his bed. Of course, no one ever believed him--that is, until the dust bunnies at his school conspired to take over the town. Now they’re on the loose and causing havoc, stealing cars, overtaking the mayor’s office, and consuming all the chocolate milk they can get their paws on. When the dust bunny commander attacks Jessie’s mother, he has to overcome his fear to save her--not to mention his whole dusty town.

Enclosed is a SASE for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.


Sincerely,

NAME


Best of luck to you!

-----------------------------------------

Anne Greenwood Brown is the author of LIES BENEATH, a paranormal revenge story about murderous mermaids on Lake Superior.
(Random House/Delacorte June 12, 2012)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Query Critique: YA Fantasy

Dear Agent,

Kanis Luthorn is your typical lost soul. As one of the last pure humans, he Kanis Luthorn should be maintaining his secrecy from the vampires that hunt his people, but one can only hide for so long [This is a better hook! But what specific event pushes him to fight? Is it when they catch and murder his family? Be specific about the catalyst.] before being pushed to fight. The path of liberty is not an easy one: the vampires catch and murder Kanis’s family, he almost dies crossing a desert, and he is pushed into a revolution bent on freedom, torn from the only girl he’s ever loved. [I would cut this – it reads like a list of things that happen – and expand on the important parts below.]

He becomes one of the few human members of a militia of mutated misfits with nothing to lose. They are not afraid to fight the vampires, for they carry the secrets of an ancient philosophy. The mutants train Kanis to become a lethal spear man, teaching him to lose his fear of death and open his mind [How?]. He meets an un-mutated [human?] girl named Sahanna, and is over come by his feelings for her. The two start to fall in love, but their adoration for one another is halted when they are forced to attack the vampires on their home turf. [I’m not quite sure what this means – are they physically separated when they go attack the vampires? Does only Kanis go?] It is in the In the heat of battle when Kanis realizes he’d rather die than go back to hiding, as he embraces the warrior within himself, vowing to only rest once the king of the vampires is dead. [Maybe add one more sentence here about how Kanis plans to do this and what he risks? Does he have to leave Sahanna behind? Does he want revenge for his family? The stakes are clearly huge here; bring that out more.]

A CALL TO ARMS is a proposed three-part young adult paranormal fantasy with series potential, complete at 93,000 words. With a full scale map, a variety of never before seen creatures, and a plot in the tradition of Stephen Kings’s, THE STAND, this novel will entertain anyone who has ever been thrilled by an epic fantasy and rejoiced upon reading of alien beings. [This is well-written, but I feel like it’s a really lofty comparison. Can you compare to some contemporary YA fantasies to show you know the market?]

Since I was ten years old and my father read me tales of Ulysses and the Cyclops, I have been hopelessly devoted to heroic stories. After majoring in history in college, I went on to work as a volunteer coordinator in a homeless shelter in 2009. In 2011 I was awarded first place in an essay contest from The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. The essay can be found at: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/night-of-vonnegut-writing-contest-winner/ [I would cut all of this, since it’s not relevant to YA fantasy. Also, be sure to add details about why you are querying this particular agent. Do you love other YA fantasy she reps, her blog, etc?]

Thank you for your consideration.

Notes: Queries are tough. I think you know the bones of your story, and it sounds like a great adventure with a compelling hero. But to catch an agent’s attention, I think you need to tighten it up and be more specific about Kanis’s journey. I hope my notes are helpful to you. Thanks for sharing this with me and the Nightstand readers!

Jessica Spotswood is the author of BORN WICKED, the first book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, coming Feb. 7, 2012 from Putnam. She likes reading stories about independent girls who still get in a fair amount of swoony kissing, so that's what she tries to write. She lives in Washington, DC with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey.


Currently on her nightstand: PRETTY CROOKED by Elisa Ludwig.