August 30, 2010

Gah, they stole my idea!

A few months ago, my brain bestowed upon me a Shiny New Idea for a young adult novel.

*Happy dance*

I was pretty giddy about this grand idea and I wrote a quick one-sentence summary that made me even giddier:

"In a world where nobody ages past 30, fifteen-year-old Ellie Snow isn't sure if she wants to stay forever young."

I thought my idea was so exciting! So interesting! So original!

Alas, then I discovered something...

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an upcoming movie called "Im.mortal." Here's a quick summary:

"The film will focus on the idea of a society where people are unable to age past the age of 25, with those who wish to live longer having to buy extra time to extend their life."

Justin Timberlake has already signed on. As well as Amanda Seyfried.

*Dies*

My Shiny New Idea!

So much for originality...

August 27, 2010

How in the world do you finish a book series?

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead! No Mockingjay spoilers, but I do spoil the endings of Harry Potter, Twilight, The Age of Innocence and Lost. You have been warned!***

After finishing Mockingjay a day and a half ago (yes, I am STILL thinking about it!), I've been mulling over how various series have ended. Harry Potter. Percy Jackson. Lord of the Rings. Twilight... Actually, scratch Twilight. I never read Eclipse or Breaking Dawn and I don't know if I ever will. (Baby clawing out of Bella's belly? Uh, gross!)

Some of these series have ended with a bang.
Others with a sad sigh.
And others with a "WTF?! I wasted hours of my life for this?"

And I've been asking myself how. How do some authors write a satisfying ending to their beloved series? And how do other authors leave you with that disappointed and unsettled feeling after you've finished the last page? Is there some sort of special formula out there?

Here a few of the do's and don'ts I've thought of.

1.) Don't make it contrived. None of that "It was all a dream!" crap. Because then I will hate you FOREVAR!

Case in point: Lost. I know, I know, Lost isn't a book series but it was one of my favorite TV shows--and I absolutely abhorred the final episode. It made me angry actually. For the entire last season, I was led to believe that the parallel storyline was, you know, real. It was a place where the cast could continue on with their lives while their island counterparts died bizarre and awful deaths.

But then...the show pulled the rug from under me! The whole parallel storyline was some sort of afterlife where the cast could reunite as ghosts? What?! It didn't make any sense! First, aren't there easier ways to hook up in heaven? Like, asking an angel for assistance? And second, the twist simply blindsided me. There were no clues leading up to it. No hints. I needed something to help me bridge the gap to this afterlife conclusion. Instead, I was left treading in the water, wet and angry. Damn you, Lost!

2.) Don't tie up everything in a neat and pretty bow.

I think writers sometimes love their protagonists a little too much. I mean, I can't really blame them for that. After all, I would feel enormous sympathy for a character if I had written three or four or five books about him. BUT sometimes this sympathy goes too far and the author decides to write a happy ending for the protagonist because he's been through so much--and doesn't he deserve some happiness? And this, inevitably, leads to an unsatisfying ending.

You know where this is going, right?

Harry Potter.

Yep, the beloved HP. I do love me some HP and I think J.K. Rowling is bloody brilliant, but the ending to this series? Hmm, it just didn't ring true to me. It seemed like Rowling was holding back on the darkness because she didn't want to hurt Harry anymore. Didn't he deserve a break? How many more people could he bear to lose?

Yet in protecting Harry, Rowling lost me with the ending. It felt too shiny. The whole epilogue was like a dream sequence in Happy Harry-ville rather than reality. Because in reality, wouldn't Harry's oldest son have become a goth kid who despises his dad's celebrity status? And wouldn't Ron and Hermione have some marital problems because she's such a nag and he's such a lazy puss who doesn't aspire to anything outside of his boring Ministry of Magic job?

Or maybe I'm just a cynic...

3.) Do...be real.

If you've finished a novel, then you probably remember that strange feeling when your book becomes its own entity. All of a sudden, your characters start doing what they want to do and ignore your direction. Your plot meanders at its own discretion and your beloved characters get hurt or *gasp* even die. Somehow you, the author, becomes the medium who narrates the story rather than the one controlling it.

I think this is key in creating a satisfying ending. We as writers have to be true to where the story is leading us rather than impose where we want it to go.

For instance, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. (It's totally not a series but bear with me!) At the very end of the novel, the protagonist Newland Archer has the opportunity to reunite with the woman who he has pined for for years, the Countess Olenska. Archer waits outside of her building in Paris...but he doesn't go in. He leaves. Not even a hello.

And here's the interesting part: Wharton initially wrote the scene so Archer and Olenska do reunite. After twenty years apart, they finally get back together. But...it didn't feel right to Wharton. She tried and tried to make their reunion work, but it never came together. So, she finally let the story tell it how it was--which meant the two lovers never crossed paths again. It's an incredibly bittersweet ending, but I think it matches the tone of the book perfectly and it also wags its finger at the Victorian ideals that kept Archer and Olenska apart.

So what do y'all think? What makes for a satisfying ending? What are some series with satisfying endings? What are some series with endings that make you want to gnash your teeth?

August 26, 2010

My Life in Suitcases and Bulletpoints

Oh, my neglected little blog! How I have ignored you! Many apologies, little blog. Forgive? Can we be friends again?

So my trip to New York was great, albeit very tiring! Lots of eating. Lots of walking. And lots of talking with my friend Amanda, whom I first met in the seventh grade. We bonded in our science class and now we're planning her wedding. Aieee! How fast time travels...

Here's a quick recap of my trip in bulletpoints:

* Justin and I ate our way through New York. Forget about the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building or Central Park! Instead, we gobbled down pizza, gelato, Spanish tapas (mmm!), Malaysian food, guacamole with mango and pomegranate seeds (surprisingly yummy), manchego mac & cheese, etc. Whew! I'm still stuffed from it all.

* Hangin' out with Amanda was awesome. I only get to see her once or twice a year so our time together is always precious to me. My favorite part of our trip was going to the Cloisters (medieval art rocks!) and helping her choose the save-the-date cards for her wedding (they are SO cute!). I love weddings. *Sigh* But I have to wait a whole year until hers rolls around next September!

* Goat cheese ravioli, hot chocolate as thick as a milkshake, and... Whoops! Still thinking about the food.

* One last note about food: my lunch with Jim went well! Phew! We chatted about the Met, his recent trip to Chicago, books (of course!), and our excitement about Mockingjay. Jim was incredibly nice and funny and he didn't laugh at me when I dropped my fork on the floor. (Eek, so embarassing!)

* And speaking of Mockingjay... I finished it last night and I'm still trying to process it all. I figure a lot of you might still be reading it so I'll wait to post my review, but I'm really eager to see what others think about it.

* Oh, I also slept for an epic 17 hours yesterday. Yipes! I took some dramamine in the morning before our flight to Indianapolis (yes, we are back in Indy. I am t-i-r-e-d from all of this traveling) and the medicine knocked me out cold. I was like a zombie! A drooling, sleepy zombie.

That's it for now! Onto revisions...

August 18, 2010

A lazy post since I am very tired

For some reason, I am exhausted tonight.

Ex-haus-ted!

Justin says it's from the stress from our recent family emergency, which might be true. More than likely though, my tiredness stems from the crack-of-dawn hair appointment that I had this morning. Haha.

So here goes:

1.) Yeah, my hair... It's, um, not what I really wanted. It makes me look like a twelve-year-old. Or a perky soccer mom. (Is this combination even possible?) And even weirder, my hairdresser told me that my new 'do makes me look Korean. Huh? I did not understand her comment.

2.) After the disastrous hair-cutting, my family took our annual outing to the Montgomery County Fair. Wahoo! As always, we bypassed the rides and games and made a beeline toward the food aisles. Mmmm...turkey legs and funnel cakes and sugary sweet lemonade! Afterward, we spent over an hour strolling through the 4-H animal stalls and taking pictures of an enormous hairy rabbit named Muffin. What can I say...we're a quirky family!

3.) I'm heading to New York tomorrow--and it'll be Justin's first time in the city! Can you believe it? Interestingly enough, we probably won't spend too much time together. See, Justin's hanging out with some of his high school buddies so that means I'll be spending most of my time with my own high school BFF. (Did I just write "BFF"?!) Fortunately, my friend just got engaged so we're going wedding dress shopping! And we're going to gorge ourselves on cupcakes.

4.) Eek, I'm meeting my agent while I'm in New York! Eek! Eek! I'm so afraid I'm going to say something nerdy or snort when I laugh or spill soup all over his shirt. Eek! (Note to self: do NOT tell Jim about my obsession with "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Make it so!)

5.) To get ready for my big NYC trip, I have smeared depilatory cream over my upper lip to get rid of my facial unsightliness. (TMI, huh?) I'm so attractive right now! With my beautiful hair cut and my moustache cream, I think I might make it onto People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful List"!

Yep, time to take some benadryl and go to sleep...

Adios!

August 16, 2010

I don't know how y'all do it...

Egads!

It's 8:00PM and I really want to go to bed.

After watching my niece for most of the day, I am TIRED! The sad thing is: we didn't even do that much today. I made her breakfast. We watched two episodes of Dora. I made her lunch. We went for a walk and watched a strange show called "Yo Gabba Gabba." (So weird!) And I made dinner for her. Not a busy day, but I am pooped!

Honestly, I don't know how mothers (and fathers) do this day in and day out. And I don't how you guys fit in time to write as well! You are all super-moms and I bow down before you. Seriously. Please, tell me your secret! Ginseng? Naptime? Full-time nannies? I need to know!

At some point in the nearish future, Justin and I plan on having our own little munchkin, but until then I'm going to take a long nap. A super long one...

August 13, 2010

Query Tips & Suggestions, Part II

Okay, I'm really sorry for the long delay in posting this! Fortunately though, the craziness in my life has died down somewhat so now I can tackle this overdue post.

Anyway, I wrote down most of my main querying tips in "Query Tips & Suggestions, Part I" but I figured I'd add a few more bullet-points that I found helpful during my search for an agent. So here goes nothin'!

1.) Minimize the names.

Since a query letter is only 200 to 300-words, try not to bog it down with too many characters. You should definitely name your protagonist and antagonist, but you don't need much beyond that. (Unless your story has a heavy romantic element. Then you should probably mention the love interest.)

For my own query, I tried to keep things simple by naming only two characters: Danny (my protag) and Abaddon (my antag). I do mention Danny's mother as well, but she keeps a low profile and I don't actually give her name--only her relation to my protagonist.

So...two names are fine. Three names can get a little crowded. And four names are (usually) a bit too much.

2.) Stay away from those cliches!

When I first started drafting my query, I peppered it with phrases that I thought were really clever. "Danny's life gets turned upside down!" "He's the Earth's last hope!" That sort of thing.

Then I read a bunch of queries on Absolute Write and I noticed a lot of them had the very same wording as my own query. Hey, not fair! Those were MY phrases!

But they weren't my phrases. They were cliches! And I can only imagine the number of cliches agents must read in a day...

So...try to purge your query of cliches or try to put your own spin on them. For instance, the last sentence of my query is a bit cliche but I tried to personalize it for Danny's situation. Instead of saying, "The future of the Earth is on the line," I tried to put my own spin on it by saying, "The future of the Earth--and his mom--are on the line." It's only a slight difference, but I think it's an important one.

3.) White space is your friend.

This is one of my little writing quirks, but I think it applies well to queries. You see, I love short paragraphs. They make me happy. I get bored when I encounter a huge block of text--my eyes start drifting and my brain starts wandering--which is why I appreciate a lot of white space in the stuff that I read. It keeps me intrigued.

So...avoid big blocky paragraphs in your query. Break them apart. Be nice to the agent's eyes!

4.) Sweat the small stuff, but not too much.

Spelling and grammar are pretty important in a query. After all, this is your first impression to an agent and you want to make it a good one. I'm sure one or two typos can be easily overlooked, but five or six? Ten or more? Most agents probably reach for the delete button at that point.

BUT! There is a but. Please, don't worry too much about the small stuff. We're human. We make mistakes. We all have a story about sending out a query and then discovering we did something horrid, like spell a word incorrectly or send the wrong manuscript (yes, I actually did this!). And it's okay! Agents understand. They're human too (albeit wonderfully magical human beings who sparkle in the sunlight!)

I'll be honest... When I queried Jim, I had a typo in my FIRST sentence! Ack! I didn't catch it until I had sent it out and I was mortified. Mortified. But you know what? Jim overlooked it! So...don't freak out if you accidentally leave a typo in a query. You'll be fine!

5.) Query widely but do it smartly.

I write mostly MG so it was a bit tough to find agents who are looking for middle grade projects. It seems like everyone wants YA, YA, YA nowadays so I felt a little restricted in my agent search. *Sniff*

When I compiled my big list of agents, I added the agents who represent MG and I crossed off the ones who only wanted YA. But I was still left in a quandary. What about the agents who rep YA but don't say anything about repping MG? Should I send them a query anyway?

So this is what I did... I googled these agents to see what they had represented in the past. If the agent's list skewed more toward upper-YA or contemporary YA, then I'd skip them. But if the agent's list skewed more toward tween novels or included one or two MG titles, then I'd add them to my query list. Easy as that!

Actually, this is why I ended up querying Jim. Jim's list consists mostly of YA and adult works, but I noticed he repped a middle grade fantasy series a couple years ago. And so, I figured I might as well query him. I really didn't think anything would come out of my query since Jim doesn't rep much MG or science fiction, but I guess something clicked! Plus, it also helped that Jim started to look for more MG right when I sent him my query. So luck was on my side.

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is this: don't be afraid to take a few chances! Sometimes we get so bogged down with query do's and don'ts that we might miss out on a great opportunity. So...go ahead and take a risk! You never know what might happen.

August 12, 2010

Is it time for the Second Coming?

Update: I'll be in Indianapolis until Tuesday. Fortunately, my father-in-law is getting stronger by the day! He's going to kick some pneumonia ass!

My husband was in the Army for five years, which meant he had to shave his face EVERY SINGLE DAY. He hated it. And complained about it. A lot.

And so, when Justin got out of the military a few weeks ago, he was determined to throw away his razors and to grow a beard. He's mighty proud of it too. Oftentimes he turns to me and asks in a very serious voice, "Do you know what's awesome?" *Pause* "My beard."

Below, you will see an example of said beard (pardon my cleavage):



Anyway, we picked up Justin's sister and niece from the airport yesterday and our niece Rowan was a bit confused by Justin's beard. See, she's only two-years-old and we haven't seen her since Christmas so it takes a little while for her to adjust to us.

Luckily, it didn't take long for Rowan to start calling me "Auntie Caroline" but I think she was still a bit confused about Justin. Who is this guy, huh?

But Rowan is a smart one. She figured him out soon enough.

"Jesus!" she called to him. "Jesus, come look at this!"

Hahaha.

Apparently, Justin bears an uncanny resemblance to the drawings of Jesus in Rowan's "Bible for Beginner's" book. Justin has a beard...Jesus has a beard...they must be the same person!

Yep, that means I'm married to Jesus! How cool is that?

:o)

August 10, 2010

We apologize for this delay in posting...

Hey everyone!

Caroline here.

I'm really sorry about the delay in posting my "Query Tips & Suggestions, Part II." Due to a family emergency, my husband and I had to fly out-of-town yesterday, which means my blogging will be a little spotty for the next week or so. Fortunately, everything seems to be okay with the family! Whew! Huge sigh of relief.

Anyway, I have a quick random question for y'all...

What is your preferred reading material on a flight?

I was thinking about this yesterday during our two-hour flight from DC to Indianapolis. The guy to the right of me was reading a magazine (I think Rolling Stone) while the guy to the left of me was reading an old hardcover book. As for me, I was reading the most recent copy of O Magazine. I rarely read magazines at home--aside from Entertainment Weekly and National Geographic--but I kind of devour them on airplanes. They're fast and entertaining reads, which is what I need on a boring flight. Plus, I love me some Oprah!

So what do you guys read on planes? Or do you prefer to doze through the flight?

August 6, 2010

Query Tips & Suggestions

As you can see from my query drafts this week, I kind of suck at writing queries! It took me a long, long time to figure out how to distill my 60,000-word manuscript into a concise 300-word package. It's kind of embarassing how long it took me to write something halfway decent!

But during my year-long search for an agent, I learned A LOT about query writing. I learned about formatting and salutations. I learned about hooks and voice. I learned about what I should do and what I certainly shouldn't do. And I learned it all through a lot of trial and error—plenty and plenty of trial and error.

So without further adieu, here are some of the tips I learned along the way:

1.) Read successful queries.

This is hands-down the most helpful thing I did to craft my query. I've always been a person who learns by example and query-writing has been no exception. You can preach to me all day about the do's and don'ts of querying, but nothing will really sink in until you show me some real-life examples.

And so, if you're like me, make sure to read a bunch of successful queries to see what has caught an agent's eye. Study them. Dissect them. Look for what they have in common. Not only are successful queries a great learning tool, they're super inspirational as well!

Where to look for these queries? Check out this thread at Absolute Write. And this one too. Also, you might want to read the "Success Stories" at Querytracker.net.

2.) Get a copy of Elana Johnson's e-book, "From the Query to the Call."

Seriously. This book helped me SO much. Before I read Elana's book, I had received ONE full request out of 25+ queries. But after I read the book, my request rate went up! Way up!

Basically, Elana breaks down the query into four essential components (the hook, the setup, the conflict, and the stakes) and gives advice on the whole querying process. Additionally, the book offers numerous examples of successful queries, which I found to be invaluable.

At the end of the day, you don't have to order this book—after all, many writers find ways to craft a great query on their own. But if you've been pulling out your hair in an attempt to write a query, then I'd highly recommend it. It's a fast read and it's very helpful!

3.) Spend time on that hook!

I mentioned this yesterday, but I'll say it again—spend time on your first sentence! Since agents read dozens of queries everyday, your first sentence needs to shine like a 90-watt lightbulb. I went through multiple hooks before I found one that worked:

Attempt A: "The sixth-grade sort of sucks for Danny Singer."

Attempt B: "Twelve-year-old Danny Singer has never stepped foot on the Moon."

Attempt C & D...

Attempt E: "Twelve-year-old Danny Singer doesn't think aliens are real—until he finds one standing on his front porch."

A and B aren't terrible, but they're not the most attention-grabbing of hooks. Of course, Attempt E isn't perfect either, but I think it does spark some interest. An alien knocking on a sixth-grader's door? Whaa? Sounds weird! Maybe I should read on...

That's the reaction you're aiming for. What hook will make an agent want to read more? Just remember to keep it short: around 40-words or less.

4.) Try to keep it between 200 to 300 words.

I know that 300-words doesn't sound like a lot—and that 200-words sounds even worse—but try to keep your query short and concise. I think 300-words should be ample enough room to 1.) hook the agent, 2.) introduce your MC and conflict, and 3.) tell a little bit about yourself.

During my own querying process, I tried to break my query into thirds: 2/3 to tell to the story and 1/3 to tell about the book and myself, (ie short bio, word count, genre, etc.). There's no need to include a paragraph about the themes in your novel or what your Aunt Edna said about it. Stick to the story and you'll be fine!

Funnily enough, my last query ended up being 315-words (I tried so hard to cut out 15 words but I couldn't!) so it's okay if you go a little over or a little under... Just not too much!

5.) Get your query critiqued.

I'm gonna tell you a big regret of mine: I never had my query critiqued. (Okay, maybe I asked my husband to read it but he doesn't count!) Frankly, I was too scared and too wimpy to post my query for review on Absolute Write or the Blueboards. Which is probably why I struggled so much to get my query just right—because I was doing it all on my own!

So don't make the same mistake I did! Post your query for review online. Or take it to your critique group. Writers are nice and they want to help!

Okay, stay tuned for tomorrow for more tips! I'm very long-winded so I don't want to bore you with an encyclopedia-like post!

The Evolution of a Query Letter, Part V

Ah, beloved Query #5! We have finally arrived!

My journey thus far:

Query #1
April to mid-May 2009
6 queries, 0 requests

Query #2
mid-May to June 2009
15 queries, 1 full request

Query #3
late-October to November 2009
7 queries, 0 requests

Query #4
December 2009 to early February 2010
13 queries, 3 requests (Woot!)

When we left off yesterday, I was telling you guys about how EXCITING it was to finally get partial and full requests...and then how DEPRESSING it was to receive form rejections on said requests. Fie, fie!

I cried a lot after those rejections. A lot, a lot. Many tears were shed from my small brown eyes!

But after the tears washed away, I knew I had to work on fixing my manuscript. And so, I got to work. I cut out 7,000 words. I rehauled the first chapter. I edited and revised and rewrote. A lot, a lot.

Which brings us to Query #5! Although Query #4 had received an okay response, I knew it could be better. Plus, my manuscript was freshly revised and thus I thought it deserved a fresh start. This is what I came up with (Note: this is the actual query I sent to my agent Jim McCarthy!):

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

Since you represent one of my favorite YA authors, Carrie Ryan, I hope you will consider my manuscript for your list. THE COSMIC CHRONICLES OF DANNY J. SINGER is a MG science fiction novel, complete at 61,000-words. An excerpt of this book received the grand prize in the Maryland Writers' Association's 2009 Novel Contest.

Twelve-year-old Danny Singer doesn't think aliens are real—until he finds one knocking on his front door.

Obviously, Danny freaks out about this intergalactic visit. After all, he’s about to get abducted, right? But weirdly enough, the alien isn’t interested in abductions or the typical take-me-to-your-leader stuff. Instead, it insists on delivering an urgent message.

In a matter of weeks, a swarm of gigantic space bugs—the Locusts—will devour the Earth as their next meal. And even worse? The Locust King, Abaddon, is coming straight for Danny and his mom.

Yeah, Danny starts freaking out again, but he has to pull himself together. To protect his sick mother, he agrees to join the Titanian Knighthood, a society of alien warriors who defend the solar system. His training starts immediately and Danny soon discovers why he's on the Locusts' most-wanted list. Turns out, Danny's dead father was once a Knight himself—in fact, he was the one who stopped Abaddon from conquering the galaxy fifteen years ago. Now, Abaddon is back for revenge and he has a few bones to pick with Danny's family.

Armed with a mystical sword, Danny must defeat the Locusts before Abaddon destroys him. Failure isn’t an option: the future of the Earth—and his mom—are on the line.

I am a freelance writer with publications in Highlights and Boys’ Life. I am also a member of SCBWI. I've pasted the first chapter of my novel below my signature. Upon request, I'd be pleased to send you a full manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Caroline Tung Richmond

I sent out 20 queries from March through April...and I received 9 requests for partials and fulls. Holy schmoly! Nine requests! I was completely and utterly blown away by this. I really couldn't believe it!

To be perfectly honest, I'm still a bit puzzled why Query #5 caught the agents' eyes while my other queries tanked. After all, the "meat" of my query (the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs) remained quite similar to what I had before. So...what was the magic ingredient?

Hmm, here are a few of my thoughts:

1.) The first sentence is really important. Like, really really important! Since agents read so many queries each day, a strong hook-y first sentence is vital in my mind. As writers, we need to create a first sentence that makes an agent sit up in his chair and eager to read on! So...spend time on your query's opening. Lots of time, if necessary!

2.) Voice matters. I know, I know! You hear this all of the time. But I think it's important because it adds that extra oomph to a query. For instance, I tried to dial up the voice in my own query with phrases like "the typical take-me-to-your-leader stuff" and the "Locusts' most-wanted list." Sure, maybe they're sort of cheesy (hey, I like cheese!) but I think they're kind of interesting. And they made me query different.

3.) The last sentence matters, too. Your closing paragraph needs to setup the stakes of your novel to entice the agent to request your novel. What does the protagonist risk losing? What's gonna happen if Danny doesn't defeat the Locusts? What's gonna happen if Harry doesn't find the Sorcerer's stone? What's gonna happen if Bella and Edward can't stay together? (Um, Bella goes to college and dates a new guy named Rob and realizes she was a total ditz for wanting to become the undead? Heh...)

4.) Sometimes it's all subjective. I know, I know! Another bout of cliche advice! But it's true--at least it was for me. I queried a few agents who I thought would be perfect for my novel--they liked science fiction and repped a lot of MG--but they rejected me outright. But then I queried agents who I thought would certainly reject me--I never thought Jim would request a full since he doesn't do much MG--but then they'd request to see more. Sometimes it really isn't about you or your query. Sometimes it's just a matter of preference. Honest.

Anyway, this post is getting super long so I'm going to peace out for now. But be sure to come back tomorrow when I give an exhaustive list of query tips that I've learned from my excessively long querying process!

August 5, 2010

The Evolution of a Query, Part IV

Ah, more query letters! What joy!

Once again, a quick timeline of my query evolution thus far:

Query #1
April to mid-May 2009
6 queries, 0 requests

Query #2
mid-May to June 2009
15 queries, 1 full request

Query #3
late-October to November 2009
7 queries, 0 requests

And so begins Query Letter Number Four...

At this point in time (November 2009) I was quite used to getting rejections on my queries. Instead of crying and yanking on my hair each time I received a rejection, I just sighed and deleted the email and ignored the throbbing inside my chest. (Querying was so much fun!)

With no requests from Query #3, I decided to re-work my query yet again. And this time, I decided to break out the big guns. I bought a copy of Elana Johnson's e-book "From the Query to the Call" (which is utterly fabulous!) and I applied all of her wisdom to my query. After tweaking the query for a few days--okay, many many days--this is what I came up with:

When twelve-year-old Danny Singer finds an alien standing on his front porch, he knows his life has just gotten pretty strange.

Even stranger, he has no idea why the eight-foot-tall creature insists on delivering a message—just for him.

And strangest of all, Danny can’t help but freak out when the alien tells him the bad news. The solar system’s most feared enemy, the Locusts, want to devour the Earth as their next meal. And even scarier? Danny may know how to defeat the bloodthirsty bugs—for only he can use a mystical sword that reveals an enemy’s fatal flaw.

Yeah, maybe Danny’s math homework isn’t such a big deal after all…

With the Locusts creeping closer to Earth, Danny knows he can’t sit back and watch the bugs destroy his home. So he agrees to join an army of alien knights, who teach him how to wield his new blade. But figuring out the Locusts’ weakness is a lot harder than he ever imagined.

If Danny really wants to find the bugs’ lone flaw, he’ll have to square off against the Locust King himself. And if he can’t find the courage to do this, he might as well kiss the Earth—and his mom—goodbye.

I sent out about 13 copies of Query #4 from December 2009 through early February 2010. And you know what happened?

I got requests! THREE requests!

I felt like I hit the jackpot. I squeeled. I skipped. I squeaked with joy. Three requests! Oh my sweet goodness! After getting rejected for nearly a year, I was finally on my way! Immediately, I sent out my manuscript (2 fulls, 1 partial) and I eagerly waited. Surely, this was gonna be my moment! SURELY! I waited. And waited...

And I got rejected. Again. But this time, it wasn't on my query--it was on my manuscript. Oh man. I hadn't felt pain like this. I cried and cried. It hurt so badly. It was one thing to get rejected from a 250-word query, but it was quite another thing to get rejected on a 67,000-word manuscript that I had revised and rewrote and revised and rewrote. For over a year and a half.

So bittersweet, eh? I'd finally written a query that had gotten a semi-decent request rate (at least, it was for me!) but nobody wanted my book. Gah! What must I do to have the writing gods smile down upon me?!

Which brings us to...Query #5! Tomorrow!

August 4, 2010

The Evolution of a Query, Part III

Here is a quick timeline of my query evolution so far:

Query #1
April to mid-May 2009
6 queries, 0 requests

Query #2
Mid-May to June 2009
15 queries, 1 full request

Which brings us now to Query #3...

After my abysmal failures for Query #1 and Query #2, I decided to hold off on querying for awhile. I needed some time to think. Time to lick my wounds. Time to gird my loins for my next foray into querying hell. (Hehe, "loins" is a funny word.)

But before I could girdeth my loins, I hit a road bump. A big road bump. In July 2009, I attended the Highlights Conference in Chautauqua and I had my novel critiqued by an editor there. The editor really loved my prologue, but she wanted me to completely re-write the beginning of my manuscript (basically the first 1/3 of the book). Aieeee! It was really sobering advice, but I agreed with her. And so, I started the long arduous task of hitting delete and filling up the white space.

Which brings us now to Query #3.

Once my re-writing and revisions were complete, I decided to jump into the querying world once again. Starting in October 2009, I sent out about 7 copies of Query #3 and nervously awaited the response. Here's the query:

When twelve-year-old Danny Singer finds an alien standing on his front porch, he realizes his math homework is the least of his problems. For one thing, Danny always thought that aliens could only exist in comic books and “Star Trek” re-runs. And for another, he can’t seem to get rid of the blue-skinned extraterrestrial, who insists on delivering an urgent message.

Unfortunately, Danny is in for some bad news. The solar system’s most feared enemy, the Locusts, are plotting to destroy everything from Mercury to Pluto. And even scarier? Danny may know how to defeat the ten-foot-tall bugs. To his complete shock, he is the only person who can wield a powerful weapon—a sword with the ability to reveal an enemy’s weakness.

Danny decides to ditch his trumpet lessons and join an army of alien knights, who teach him how to use his new blade. But with the Locusts creeping closer to the Earth, Danny must figure out the bugs’ lone weakness before they obliterate his planet. And to do this, he has to square off against the Locust King himself.


I made some big changes to Query #3 since my book had evolved so much since my first two querying attempts. First, no more "smelly bully" to taunt Danny. Second, I completely re-wrote the first paragraph. And third, I changed the focus from Danny's father to Danny's ability to wield a secret weapon. I thought, perhaps, that this weapon detail would catch an agent's fancy.

Turns out, I was wrong.

This query isn't terrible, but it wasn't good enough to get the job done. I received ZERO requests from this query. Nada. Noooooo!

Looking back at it now, I see some weaknesses in Query #3. It needs a catchier hook. It needs a stronger ending (something that makes an agent say, "OMG, what's going to happen?!). And it needs to get to the action a bit faster since the first para kind of drags on and is kind of confusing.

Dejected once again, I decided to re-write my query after I received all of my rejections. Which led to...Query #4!

To be posted tomorrow!

August 3, 2010

The Evolution of a Query, Part II

So yesterday I talked about my first attempt at querying my MG novel.

Which led to zero requests. (Boo! Hiss!)

After I cried and licked my wounds, I decided my query needed a big rehaul. Thus, I read all of the query forums at Absolute Write and I eventually came up with Query #2.

Which took me many hours to write. (Boo! Hiss!)

I was too scared to post my query in Absolute Write or any other writer's forum for feedback (what was I thinking?!) and so I simply entered the query-go-round once I felt happy with the draft.

From late May 2009 through June 2009, I sent out fifteen queries to various agents. Here it is in all of its glory:

Twelve-year-old Danny Singer has never stepped foot on the Moon. He's never whizzed around the asteroid belt in a silver spaceship. And he's definitely never fought in a cosmic battle to save the Earth. Nope, all Danny knows is his dreary sixth-grade existence where he’s pestered by a smelly bully on a daily basis.

But everything changes for Danny when he's asked to join the Titanian Knighthood—a mysterious army of alien warriors who defend the solar system from any harm. Turns out, Danny’s dead father was once a Knight himself (a little fact Danny never knew about) and now the Knighthood has asked him to enter their ranks too.

Pretty cool, right? Well, at least for a little while….

Sure, Danny might get a kick out of flying around in a spaceship and learning how to use an ancient scimitar, but he never thought he’d find himself in the middle of an intergalactic war. But when the solar system faces an attack from the dreaded Locusts, Danny must rely on his newfound training to keep the seven-foot-tall invaders from reaching the Earth. And worst of all? He must find out why the Locust King has some unfinished business with his family.


Hahahahaha.

After re-reading this query, the only thought in my head is: "My novel is like Harry Potter, but set in space!"

Case in point:

Smelly bully = Dudley
Invitation to join Knighthood = Letter from Hogwarts
Danny's dead father was a Knight = Harry's dead father was a wizard
Locust King with unfinished business = Voldemort with unfinished business

Yipes!

Surprisingly though, I had ONE agent request a full from this query. Yippee! This was my first request EVAR so I did a little dance around my room and dreamt about my publication glory. But...the agent never got back to me. I nudged him three times. Nothing. Radio silence. Only crickets. *Le Sigh*

Anyway, I don't think Query #2 is horrid but it sounds like an HP copycat and it doesn't grab an agent's attention off the bat. It's all right as far as queries go, but it's not terribly exciting. Plus, there's too much set-up and not enough action. I'm not surprised why most agents rejected it.

At the end of the day, an agent only has a few seconds to read over each query in his inbox. Unfortunately, my query lacked a certain oomph that would make an agent say, "I must request this manuscript right now!" And so, after my fourteenth rejection, I cried once more and gnashed my teeth and headed back to the drawing board.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Query #3!

August 2, 2010

The Evolution of a Query, Part I

It took me a year to write my MG science fiction novel.

[Cue violins.]

It took me another year to write a query that had a decent request rate.*

[Cue sounds of a woman screaming.]

It's sad, but 100% true. It took me a very long time to write a query that piqued the interest of an agent. Any agent. I don't know what it is, people! I just suck at writing these 250-word summaries...

And so, I thought it might be helpful to show how my query evolved over the course of twelve months (from April 2009 to April 2010). All in all, I think I wrote 5 major drafts of my letter (not including the 100 or so mini-drafts within each draft) before I hit a 40% request rate. Not too shabby!

Without further adieu, here is the original query letter I sent out in April/May 2009:

Dear Fantastic Agent (Wo)Man:

The seventh grade sort of sucks for twelve-year-old Danny Singer. He’s the new kid at school. He’s pestered by a big brainless bully. And right before winter break, he’s attacked by a giant praying mantis from outer space.

Yeah, middle school isn’t exactly what Danny thought it would be.

After he narrowly escapes from the seven-foot-tall mantis, Danny's day only goes from bad to worse. Turns out, the bug that attacked him isn’t alone. In a few short weeks, an entire swarm of Locusts will descend upon the solar system to gobble everything in sight. And worst of all? The Locust King is coming straight for Danny and his mom.

To save his family, Danny must team up with the brave Titanian Knights, a group of extraterrestrial soldiers who have sworn to defend the solar system from any harm (and who don’t look too fondly on scrawny pre-teens who've never used a sword before). With the Knights by his side and with a scimitar in his hands, Danny soon finds himself in the middle of a cosmic battle to protect the Earth—and his mother—from utter destruction.

Complete at 72,000 words, STARLIGHT is a middle grade science fiction novel, which should appeal to fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix and Phillip Reeve. [Insert boring bio here.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Most sincerely,

Caroline Tung Richmond


Okay, it's not terrible. But...it's not so great either. I sent out 6 of these queries and I received absolutely NO requests from agents! Fie, fie!

[Insert fist pumping against the sky.]

Ah well.

And yet, I learned a few lessons from my very first query. First, it showed me that my novel itself was a bit cliche. (Yeah, that part about the bully? Definitely overdone.) Second, I learned that I had no idea what I was doing in the query department. Yep, absolutely no-freakin' idea.

So...back to the drawing board I went! I decided to scrap this query and work on a new one. After all, surely my problem lied in my query and not in my novel! Surely! My manuscript was perfect!

[Cue the writing gods shaking their heads.]

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I show you Query Letter, Part Deux!

* Granted, I did more than write and re-write my query from April 2009 to April 2010. (I'm not that pathetic, I promise!) I revised my novel a half-dozen times. I went to a writing conference. I revised my novel again. I went to more conferences. And then I re-wrote the first third of my novel based on an editor's feedback from yet another conference. Aieeee!