Friday, September 19, 2014

Nightmare on Query Street: Tips on Getting Contest Ready

Carrie and I are thrilled to have been asked to be mentors for the upcoming  Nightmare on Query Street contest.  We really love all contests, but Nightmare on Query Street has a special place in our hearts. 

Last year our YA Paranormal was chosen to be among Michelle’s Minions. We received a few awesome agent requests and met some wonderful people before we decided to…. shelve that manuscript and completely start over. It turns out paranormal is a very hard sell. Who knew? (um, everyone else in publishing). 

However, it’s all about the journey. It’s now less than a year later, and we have written a whole new manuscript, won Query Kombat, and landed a dream agent. So yeah, we know a little bit about the ups and downs of contests. 

Here are our tips for polishing your query and getting it contest ready, based on a whole heck of a lot of drafts of our own.

1.       Come up with a great hook.  Grab us with your first line. Fill it with voice and conflict and character. Easy, right? I didn’t think so. It may take 10 drafts or more to get it right. 

2.       Read winning queries from other contests to get an idea of what goes into a great query. Also take a look at the way your favorite books are described.

3.       Keep it short and streamlined. 250-300 words is about right, but aim for closer to 250. We like to think the first paragraph is the set up: what has just happened to set the story in motion and who your character is and what they want. Then focus on the conflict. What is stopping them from achieving their goals? The third paragraph is the choice. What do they need to do? What are the stakes?

4.       Focus on the specifics. Avoid general stakes or conflicts. i.e. “is in mortal danger” is far less interesting than “will be dropped into the middle of a shark tank.”

5.       Highlight the character’s motivation, flaws, and strengths. It’s hard to do in such a small amount of space, but show us who your character is and what they need.

6.       Don’t tell us the ending. We want to know the choice the character must make and what’s at stake, but you don’t want to give it all away in a query.

7.       Voice, voice, voice. It’s hard because you are writing in third person present while your book may be first person past tense, but try to insert some of your character’s voice to give us a sense of what they are like. 

8.       Make sure the tone of the query matches your manuscript. If you’ve written a funny middle grade manuscript, your query shouldn’t sound like a piece of historical fiction and vice versa.

9.       Don’t blow off the Halloween themed question.  Treat it with the same care as the query. It’s another chance to show off your character’s voice.

10.    Relax. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get into the contest. It’s very subjective, but hopefully your query is now ready for the next contest or for whatever agent you’ve been politely staking on Twitter.  

      Good luck! We look forward to helping our mentees polish their work. For contest details, click here.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Drop Everything and Read This: Breathe, Annie, Breathe

I recently counted how many books I’ve read so far this year. The answer is 62. If you add Carrie’s list as well, I’m sure we’re over 100. Most of the books we read are Young Adult or New Adult, although there has been a smattering of adult books as well. Most of them have been great, so much so that we realized we need to post reviews more often. 

Since we’re clearly behind on our reviews, we decided to narrow our focus to only include books that aren’t on the NY Times bestseller lists, because yes, we read a lot of best sellers that are beautiful and magical (We Were Liars, Isla and the Happily Ever After, Silver Shadows etc.), but you already know about those. 

So here is a wonderful YA Contemporary novel for your reading pleasure.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks (7/15/2014)

In this beautiful book about love, loss, and starting over, the title character, who has never run before, trains for a marathon in memory of her boyfriend. Annie spends the novel training her body, but finds that it is her heart that needs the most work, especially when she meets Jeremiah, her trainer’s brother.  

This book is notable for how poignantly it deals with death, but also for the realistic and well-drawn relationships between Annie and her family and friends. Annie’s romance with Jeremiah builds very nicely from attraction to friendship, then to love, which I also appreciated.  I highly recommend this book, especially to readers just delving into YA Contemporary after reading The Fault in Our Stars. This may be a quieter book, but it is no less heartfelt.

It even inspired me to consider doing the Couch to 5K training program. I figure I’m halfway there. I’m great on the couch.  

Read an excerpt of Breathe, Annie, Breathe here