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Spring Query Extravaganza #1

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 15 April 2014 · 20 views

It's here!! I'll be doing a limited number of query critiques in the next few weeks to celebrate spring. Right now I have spots open, but that will change fast. If you'd like a spot contact me on twitter quickly and be willing to leave comments for others.

Participants must comment on other Spring Query entries to pay it forward. 


Now to the fine print:

All query critiques are subjective. And rabbits don't come out of my hat, but I'll do my best. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. Buy one and I'll throw in a set of free steak knives, just pay separate shipping and handling fees. Plus, you know, I'm leaving pink comments in celebration of spring so you have to be able to tolerate pink.

As sent to me:


Dear Agent Awesome:

At seventeen, Tashira has spent most of her life exposed to the underbelly of Kaiou. She grew up with her mother in one of the few places people can go and not be overheard by the Shulloran who control the sea with their voices. Through prayers and song, they keep the deadly Kryannians trapped at the bottom of the sea, but they’ve forbidden singing, a crime now punishable by death.

When a cabin boy is accused of singing—of risking everyone’s life should the Kryannians escape—no one comes to his aid. As Tashira watches, the boy proves his guilt by unleashing his voice in song. Instead of Kryannians rampaging through the bay of Kaiou, the guards’ armor turns to stone. The Shullorans never mentioned that songs could affect stone, and Tashira knows lies are never lonely. She finds the Shullorans have plans to break a wall in the mountains holding back another sea. They hope the extra water will keep the Kryannians farther from the surface, adding a layer of protection between the world and the monsters of the deep, but the extra water would flood Kaiou. If Tashira stops the Shullorans, she might unleash the Kryannians, but if she doesn’t, they will flood the city, killing thousands.

THE LAST STORM SINGER, a YA fantasy complete at 80,000 words, is similar to a cross between Avatar the Last Airbender and Pirates of the Caribbean.

With my crazy comments:

Dear Agent Awesome: Yes, they're all awesome! (Here comes the pink.)

At seventeen, Tashira has spent most of her life exposed to the underbelly of Kaiou. (Got it. She's poor. It's rough. She's tough. Good characterization.) She grew up with her mother in one of the few places people can go and not be overheard by the Shulloran who control the sea with their voices.(That's a lot of ideas for one sentence. Not really sure we need to know the mother part. It might be the wrong kind of info. Maybe break it up. She grew up in one of the few places people can't be overheard by the Shulloran. Through song and prayers, the Shulloran keep the deadly crab monsters trapped at the bottom of the sea, but forbid anyone else to sing.)  Through prayers and song, they(I'm having some pronoun confusion. :-( Is this they the Shullorans or Tashira and her mother?) keep the deadly Kryannians(This doesn't give me an idea what they actually are. Better to define them as I tried above.) trapped at the bottom of the sea, but they’ve(Again I'm confused. Who is singing and who is forbiddening it?  I think what you're saying is the Shullorans can sing but no one else can.) forbidden singing, a crime now punishable by death.

When a cabin boy is accused of singing—of risking everyone’s life should the Kryannians(It would help to know what the Kryannians are.) escape—no one comes to his aid. As Tashira watches, the boy proves his guilt by unleashing his voice in song.(Seems kind of stupid of him.) Instead of Kryannians rampaging through the bay of Kaiou, the guards’ armor turns to stone. The Shullorans never mentioned that songs could affect stone (Affect? They affected the metal armor, didn't they? Changed metal, not stone.  Or to stone. Technicalities, right. Also what happened to the boy? His punishment would be a warning to Tashira.), and Tashira knows lies are never lonely.(Isolated? Solitary? I like this sentiment!)  She finds the Shullorans have plans to break a wall in the mountains holding back another('Another' may just muddy the waters. Might not need this additional info.) sea. They hope the extra water will keep the Kryannians farther from the surface, adding a layer of protection between the world and the monsters of the deep, but the extra water would flood Kaiou. If Tashira risks beheading to sing to stops the Shullorans, she might unleash the Kryannians, but if she doesn’t, they city will flood the city, killing thousands. (Nice stakes! I am wondering how she can stop the Shullorans? By singing I'm guessing.)

THE LAST STORM SINGER, a YA fantasy complete at 80,000 words, is similar to a cross between Avatar the Last Airbender and Pirates of the Caribbean. (That's some blending! I want to read that!)



I think this query just needs a little cleaning up to clarify who is doing what or forbidding what in the first paragraph. 

I'm not exactly sure how 'not being overheard' really comes into the rest of the query. And if they can't be 'overheard' how did they hear the cabin boy? Maybe 'ignored' is a better way to introduce this part. They were ignored until the Shullorans forbid singing and a cabin boy sang out. 

This query does have great stakes that sets up a unique concept.  

  




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Interview with Danielle Jensen, author of STOLEN SONGBIRD

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 14 April 2014 · 15 views

One of the recent fantasy releases I've really enjoyed is STOLEN SONGBIRD. I love fantasy and so many books of what's considered fantasy lately has been strong on the romance and light on the fantasy, to the point where the fantasy is pretty iffy. Not so with STOLEN SONGBIRD. This book has a full and inventive fantasy world.

I'm so happy that the author Danielle Jensen had time to answer a few questions for us.



For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

So much about Stolen Songbird is unique. The underground city. The magic of the trolls. The addition of repressed half-bloods. But did you base some of it on a certain fairy tale or fable?
Danielle: I didn’t write Stolen Songbird as a retelling, but a lot of people have made comparisons to Beauty and the Beast. I think certain themes, tropes, and plot lines are extremely prevalent within literature, and it is pretty rare to see a completely original idea. I really like retellings – I’m reading Cruel Beauty right now – but I haven’t had an idea for one worth pursuing.

I think this is a book that will appeal to fantasy and romance readers. Most fantasy readers (me) like a little romance, but you’ve beefed up the romance without it feeling like the romance is taking over. There’s a nice balance of the two in Stolen Songbird. Was that intentional?
Danielle: I wrote the novel to create a balance of romance, fantasy, and political intrigue that suited MY tastes as a reader. But there isn’t a balance that suits ALL readers. Some people tell me there is too much romance. Some people tell me that there is too much politics, and that they skimmed those parts. Some people tell me that the balance was just right. That’s one thing you learn quite quickly as a writer – that it is impossible to please everyone.  

As a main character, Cécile holds her own in this book, being a strong female character. I admire that she may be in love, but she’s still her own person. There’s room in her head and heart for more than a man. What is your favorite trait of Cécile’s that you might even envy a little?
Danielle: Her optimism. She sees the best in people and circumstances, and I…don’t J

He’s not mention in the blurb, but I have a soft spot for Marc, the hero Tristan’s right hand troll. His is a sad backstory. I’d plug for him have a Happy Ever After in the sequels. Who’s your favorite character and why?
Danielle: Everyone loves Marc, and I’m no exception. I adore him because even though his life has been NOT GOOD, he still has such a kind heart. You mention his sad backstory – I actually wrote a love letter from him to his dead sweetheart, which you can read here [http://bewitchedbookworms.com/2014/03/big-love-letter-event-dear-penelope-marc-stolen-songbird-danielle-l-jensen.html]  It’s my first love letter, so you all have to tell me how I didJ

There is a very rich sense of world-building in Stolen Songbird. I felt like I was actually confined underground while reading it. Why an underground city, and what research did you use to fill in all the details you invented? Is it based on any real places you’ve visited?
Danielle: Stolen Songbird was inspired by a dream I had about a city buried in rubble, and the bulk of the world-building is stuff that wandered out of the bottomless pit that is my imagination. I did draw some inspiration from France (as you may have guessed), and I had Versailles in mind when I wrote about the palace. Forsaken Mountain is based on a very real mountain in the Canadian Rockies that really did break in half. I’m writing a post about that which will be out in early April, and once the snow quits falling, I’m going to do a video post starring me at mountain.  

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the book was the specific sense of history to the trolls. You gave them a very detailed past and a layered political structure. How did that come about, and I have to know if you have a soft spot for books with political overtones. 
Danielle: I love intrigue, and politics is a great way to insert intrigue into a novel. So yes, I have a big soft spot for it.
One of the questions that runs through Stolen Songbird is whether past behavior predicts future behavior, and that is something that Tristan and Cécile really bump heads over. Because that question is so important, I, by necessity, needed to put a fair bit of thought into the trolls’ history. What happened in the past is really important to these books, and if I took out that detail, a lot of the plot would dissolve.  

Many of my readers are also writers themselves. Would you share some of your publishing journey with us? What path led you to being published with Angry Robot?
Danielle: Stolen Songbird is the forth novel I completed, and the third novel I queried. All my queries were rejected, but my pitch and first 250 words made it into the MSFV Baker’s Dozen contest, where my agent ‘won’ my manuscript. She read it, and told me if I was willing to revise certain aspects of it that she would look at it again. It took me about six months to make those changes, but not long after I resubmitted, she called and offered me representation. We then went through another five months of revision, and in January 2013, it went out on submission. It sold to Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry in March 2013.  

Pantser or Plotter?
Danielle: Pantser.

What are you working on now?
Danielle: Stolen Songbird’s sequel.

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I live, work, and write in Calgary, Alberta, primarily in the company of my quirky labradoodle named Elmo.
Unlike many writers, I didn’t grow up imagining a future where I would closet myself away for hours writing stories. Although I have always been an avid reader, after high school I decided to go to business school and ended up with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Calgary in 2003. I spent the next six years toiling away in the oil and gas industry, but it was also during this time that a friend and co-worker suggested writing a romance novel. After all, how hard could it be?
Really hard.
In 2006, I started several epically-terrible category romance novels before eventually turning to my favorite genre, fantasy. I slaved away at it during my free time, but refused to tell anyone what I was doing. Needless to say, it came as a great surprise to everyone when I finally confessed that I was nearly finished writing my first novel (in goes the wine, out comes the truth). That was in December, 2008.
By April, 2009, I was sending out my first query letters and coming to grips with the fact that while writing a book was hard, getting it read was even harder. It was also during 2009 that I was forced into a position that caused me to re-evaluate what I was doing with my life.  At that point, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was also clear that writing wasn’t going to pay my bills.  I decided to take a leap of faith, and registered to go back to university to get an English degree. To make it happen, I took a job as a waitress at a sports bar.
For almost three years, I juggled going to school full-time during the day and working full-time at night, writing during my very limited bits of free time. In June of 2012, I graduated from Mount Royal University with a Bachelor of Arts English (Honours).  A little over two months later, I got THE CALL, and accepted representation for my YA fantasy novel, STOLEN SONGBIRD. After more rounds of revisions than I care to count, STOLEN SONGBIRD finally went out on submission to editors in January 2013.


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Pictures from Arizona

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 11 April 2014 · 35 views

Visiting the Grand Canyon is not so easy for someone with fear-of-heights issues, but it gave me an opportunity to face the sort of fears I force on my characters. Here's a picture from the edge. It doesn't seem real, does it? Just so much vast size to take in. The river is buried down in that crevice in the center.



In this shot you can see the switchback trail going down from the South rim. And the tiny dots near the bottom of the first section are people. (There's also a small piece of trail visible below it.) I couldn't believe how many people and mules used this trail to get down to the river. My hubby was eager to try it, but we didn't have time and I didn't have the nerve. 


I like the sections where you can see parts of the Colorado river. It helps give perspective and the color contrast is beautiful.  See how it corkscrews around on the left.



Built to look old, the WatchTower gives a great view from the eastern side of the South Rim. The North Rim was still closed for the winter. 



We also stayed farther south in Tucson where it's much warmer. My dad winters there. This is a saguaro bloom, one of only three we found blooming. Over 15 years in Tuscon and my dad had never seen one before as they always bloom while he's heading like a snow bird back home.

Hearing how dry it is there doesn't adequately substitute for actually experiencing the hot, dry weather for yourself. Now I can truthfully place characters in such a situation having lived 1 percent humidity. Nothing like experience to make a book feel real.



The views aren't bad in Tucson either! Lots of tall saguaro's in this picture and the smaller cactus too. 



On the cute side, a visit to the Desert Museum gave me this shot of a hummingbird on its nest.



And what would a vacation be without some BOOK RESEARCH!!! My wip is set in a Spanish theme, perfect for Arizona. We got to visit a restored 200 year old Spanish mission church that is still in use. San Xavier gave me lots of ideas. 



You can't see it so well, but the top figure on the right has a knife in their chest. How can that not spark a story!




Beautiful amid the thorns, that's my memory of Arizona! It's given me loads of inspiration!




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Query Questions with Amy Tipton

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 08 April 2014 · 38 views

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.

 



Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a new series of posts called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers for the real expert--agents!

If you have your own specific query question, please leave it in the comments and it might show up in future editions of Query Questions as I plan to rotate the questions.


I'm thrilled to have a fresh interview with Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency. She's your girl for YA and MG, though she's not into fantasy and sci-fy. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
 
Things tend to be slower in the summer so that might be a better time to query--though you run the risk of many on vacation ...



Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
 
Look, we all make mistakes so I say no--if your story is good, it doesn't matter (not to me). But I do hate queries addressed "To Whom It May Concern" (again, that's just a pet peeve of mine--I know an agent who doesn't care how the query is addressed).



Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
 
I hardly read sample pages, even if the query is strong. If the query is strong, I just request it. You know? The only time I do read sample pages is if I'm on the fence about the idea.



Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
 
I don't have an assistant or an intern and I'm such a control-freak that if I did I would check them all anyway!--ha!



If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
 
Again, I hardly read samples but yes--the first five pages mean the first five pages (that does include your prologue).



Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?
 
Sometimes. It has happened.



Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
 
It depends--if they know me (like from a conference or through Facebook or a mutual friend, if they read a book I did, etc) I don't mind chit-chat--but I care more about the book they're pitching, for sure.
 


Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included?
 
I don't give a bleep about word count! Tell me about the book--give me the genre if you want--but again, I do not care about word count!



Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query?
 
It's true. You don't need to give me the name of *every* character in the story--just the main characters and the general idea. I do want a clear query--limiting characters does make it clearer.


 
Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
 
Great titles are, well, great! But titles do get changed so no, I wouldn't sweat it (I've never had one of my characters re-named so I don't know if that happens) but I wouldn't be lazy about your title and not care either--*every* detail should matter. (Just don't get too attached.)



How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
 
I get tons of queries in a week! I'm extremely extremely picky though--so I may not request any in a week. Or I might request to read a lot and not offer to rep any.



Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?
 
I wouldn't say it would tip any scales (seriously, it doesn't matter--*everyone is online*, even my mother) but you should be active online and if you do get an offer the editor and/or agent might request it.



Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive?
 
I'm not easily offended!--ha! You can have any kind of signature you want--it's your signature--but just know I might not go to your links.



If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
 
Again, I'm pretty laid-back so I don't mind--it irritates me but whatever, I'll get over it--some agents do hate--HATE--this though. (Your work should be as good as possible before sending it out so you shouldn't be making changes to it.)



What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
 
Stuff that pertains to the work--if you are an expert in the field you are writing about, if your character has Down's Syndrome and your kid brother also has Down's ...



What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
 
"Just not right for me" could mean a lot of things like I could be looking solely for kid stuff so your adult fiction is not right for me, I don't rep the genre you're pitching, it might be set in the wrong era ... It's not personal, it's just not right for me. (And do you want an agent who is not right for you?--Really?--many authors protest when you say "no" and this is my initial thought ...)
 


What themes are you sick of seeing?
 
I don't want to see anymore vampires/werewolves/faeries/angels/wizards--I don't "do" magic/fantasy/supernatural/paranormal/sci fi stuff. Not even in MG. Sorry. And I'm not the right agent for you if your book takes place in the 1960s or 1980s. And, please, no more "sicklit"--cancer-ridden kids (thanks John Green)!



Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
 
I am very much a hands-on agent. I re-read and re-read and edit the manuscript over and over (if necessary) before sending it out. I love bouncing around ideas, fleshing out characters or character details, discussing plots or settings, etc. Some authors don't need or want much and that's ok too. I am available to my authors, that's the most important thing. 


 
What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
 
I am desperately looking for a YA about anarchy/anarchist groups/black bloc/homegrown terrorism (similar to that movie "The East")
Same as above, I am desperate for a YA that deals with a cult/religion or some dark/secretive society or weird sorority
Same, I would love a YA about hoarding (even if it's a parent hoarding and the kid living with them or the kid is a hoarder themselves)
BONUS: 
Any overweight main character NOT totally obsessed about weight (can be kinda but don't want to see them worried about fitting in a dress for prom or upset the "hot popular jock" doesn't like them because they're not a size 2)


What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
 
I LOVE movies (obviously, I love books even more but movies alone are tough) so I'll try to do just 3 (but I will say John Hughes, John Waters, Jim Jarmuch, and Hal Hartley are favorites and I won't mention anything by them):
 
1. The Goonies
2. Heathers
3. Girls Town (from 1996 with Lili Taylor--LOVE her)
BONUS:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
But I'm a Cheerleader

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Amy Tipton joined Signature Literary Agency in 2009. She graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received her MFA from New College of California in Writing. She comes to the agency after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. Amy has also worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. She became an agent with Peter Rubie and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to her agenting experience, Amy also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada. Her work is published in the anthology, Controlled Burn, and pieces of her first and second novel can be found in a variety of literary journals.

Amy is looking for both fiction and nonfiction–edgy or quirky, commercial or literary–in particular, she is interested in YA and middle grade.  In nonfiction she is looking for women’s studies/academia, fashion/beauty, and pop culture.
www.signaturelit.com


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Qualifiers Weaken Your Sentence

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 07 April 2014 · 26 views

Qualifiers do exactly as their name suggests--they qualify. They put limits on something within a sentence. They're like throwing in a check to the action. This certain thing is happening in a sentence but you want to explain to the reader that's it's not entirely happening. You're qualify what you wrote.

Ugh. So that's a brain teaser. What the heck does any of that mean?

Qualifiers are words like almost, sometimes, only, very, quite, might, just, enough, maybe, really, a little, less, pretty, and so on. They can also be adverbs like partly, mostly, completely, extremely.

maybe                                   sometimes                                       probably                      just

almost                             partly                                            might                                             often

But what's the problem with that?

Most of the time there's nothing wrong with qualifiers. They're needed and helpful.

It's quite bright out.
The water is too hot.
I"m pretty tired.

But then there's the other side. When qualifiers strip the power from a sentence and make it wishy-washy.

They challenge the validity of your action. Using a qualifier is like throwing up the word 'whoa!' We're charging into the action and then oops, the qualifier stalls you. It makes the sentence weaker--makes the main character less decisive. It steals the thunder from a sentence and leaves you with a paler shadow. Here's an example I'm going to borrow from a manuscript I'm critiquing.

The van swerved, leaving Sarah mostly hanging from the handcuffs.


So she's not completely hanging, she's only partly hanging? You've qualified the character's suffering and made it less. You've mitigated the action. Let's allow Sarah to suffer the full jeopardy.

The van swerved, leaving Sarah hanging from the handcuffs.


Here's another example of a sort I see over and over:

Jim's broken hand hurt almost as badly as a kick to the balls. 

This qualifies Jim's pain and makes less of it. Why are you being so nice to Jim? An MC has to suffer. Give poor Jim the full effect and to hell with the qualifying. Be bold. Be decisive. Have strong sentences.

Jim's broken hand hurt like a kick to the balls.


Here's a little something I could have used for the title of this post:

Qualifiers might weaken your sentence. 

Obviously every qualifier isn't going to ruin a sentence. But this one might. (hehe!) Which title carries more power, makes a reader more interested? Which title works better? I think you know!

Another culprit that can do the same damage is the word 'seem.' Seem says this could be what's happening, but ... meh ... maybe not. It does the same as a qualifier and robs strength from the sentence.

Peggy seemed to be pale and her skin clammy.

Seemed to be? Don't be a wimp. Give Peggy the full Monty. She deserves to suffer. That's true conflict. That's real urgency.

Peggy was pale and her skin clammy. 

What if the Go Go's said We Sometimes Got the Beat? What if the Beatles said I Often Want to Hold Your Hand? Queen didn't go with We're Sort of the Champions.

Not every qualifier has to go. But if they slow down the action and make your sentences wishy-washy, they're hurting the effectiveness of your writing.

Pick and choose when qualifiers are necessary and when they rob your sentence of punch. 

Got a qualifier confession? Which qualifiers trip you?

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Mini-contest with Jordy Albert

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 04 April 2014 · 23 views

Hey all,

I'm off on vacation but why should that stop us from having a mini-contest!

Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Literary Agency has graciously offered a 2-5 page critique to one random winner! That's any person who has signed up for my newsletter using the right sidebar contact form. (You can have signed up at any time. It doesn't need to be in April.)

What this newsletter would be is a way to get early notice of any contests I might have up my sleeve or any writing news that springs at me like a tiger from the bushes. It will be a heads up that something interesting is going to happen. For example: I might notify you of the release of my newest short story or send you an advance preview of the agents for Query Kombat. (QK is coming in late spring.)

What this newsletter will not be is a weekly or even a monthly thing to clutter your inbox. I plan to only use it sparingly. Nor will the information I collect be used for any other purpose. (Disclaimer Disclaimer Legalese terms here)

All you have to do is fill out the information in the right sidebar. Which means your name and email address, along with any message you want to leave me.

To unsubscribe, leave that message in the same contact widget and I'll take you off the list. Or shout at me on twitter or anywhere else. 

Published/agented writers, if you're interested in being a mentor or judge in a future contest, fill out the form and put mentor/judge in the comment section. My April newsletter will have information on being a judge for Query Kombat 2014!

I'll also add a second winner for the mini-contest to get a query critique from me!

I'll take entries until noon on April 20, 2014. Your manuscript does not need to be completed.
  
So that's it. Thanks everyone! Questions can go in the comments and I'll answer in a week.

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Cover Reveal for CROWN OF ICE

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 04 April 2014 · 10 views

Look at this pretty cover! Vicki Weavil is the nicest lady in the world and I'm so happy to help spread the word on her cover release day!



<tt><br />
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Genre: YA Fantasy, retelling 
Format: Paperback, eBook 
Release Date: December 16, 2014 

Thyra Winther's seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but if she can't reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday she's doomed to spend eternity as a wraith. 

Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away she needs all the help she can steal. 

A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing mirror shards and Kai's childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable obstacles. Thyra's willing to do anything – venture into uncharted lands, outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts -- to reconstruct the mirror, yet her most dangerous adversary lies within her breast. Touched by the warmth of a wolf pup's devotion and the fire of a young man's desire, the thawing of Thyra's frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing. 

CROWN OF ICE is a YA Fantasy that reinvents Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" from the perspective of a young woman who discovers that the greatest threat to her survival may be her own humanity.

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Query Questions with Mackenzie Brady

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 03 April 2014 · 34 views

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.






Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a new series of posts called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers for the real expert--agents!

If you have your own specific query question, please leave it in the comments and it might show up in future editions of Query Questions as I plan to rotate the questions. 


A big welcome to Mackenzie Brady of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. Hold on to your hats fiction writers. Mackenzie has just reopened to queries but is currently only looking for nonfiction. (Yay, nonfiction people. You go!)


Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
For me it's less about a season than it is about how many projects I'm currently juggling. I close to queries when I simply can't take on another project at that time. I announce these periods via Twitter, Facebook and the CSLA website. So, check those channels first and as long as I'm open to queries, I'm actively reading and looking for new clients. 


Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
No. A few small errors won't disqualify a query, but if it becomes distracting I'd most likely pass.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
If the query is strong, I always look at pages. If the query is weaker but still has some sort of interesting hook, idea, or backstory, I may take a peek to see what the writing and voice are like. Some authors know how to write excellent novels but struggle with query letters, so I try to keep an eye out for those cases.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
I often go through queries alongside my interns for educational purposes, but I read all queries that land in my inbox.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes. If the author thinks it belongs in the book, it belongs in the sample.

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?
Always. At CSLA, we constantly pass queries to one another when we feel the subject matter better suits another person, so queries will land on the right desk. Please only query one agent.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
If there is a specific reason why the author is querying me beyond thinking I'll like his/her work and represent him/her well - i.e. a referral from a client, read an interview with me, had a previous correspondence with me, etc - then I'd like to hear about it upfront. Otherwise, tell me about the work!

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included?
Both pieces of information should always be included in the query letter, as they directly affect an agent's evaluation process.

Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query?
Introduce only the characters that have pivotal roles in the plot you've outlined in the query itself. I can discover subplots and minor characters later when reading the manuscript.

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
A great title may hook my interest, but a weak title can always be changed. So, a title is not a dealbreaker in any way.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
It fluctuates a lot and can range from a dozen to hundreds. I probably request 5-10%, but that also fluctuates depending on how many other projects I'm juggling at the time.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?
Crafting an online platform is more important for non-fiction writers than it is for fiction writers, but it certainly doesn't hurt to create an online presence. In the end, it's just one more channel through which readers can discover authors and their work, so I think it's a smart move.

Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive?
Again, I think it's about discoverability, as direct links make it easy for the email recipient to find out additional information about the sender without much effort. Also, signature links are now widely used by many businesses, including publishers, so I personally don't have any issue with them. 

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Typically if I give editorial feedback, I'm hoping that the author will use it and send the manuscript again. But, if ever authors aren't sure about whether or not I'd be willing to take a second look at their work, they should just email me. I'll happily let them know.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
One including any schooling of note, current profession, interesting personal tidbits - I want to know what makes writers individuals beyond their writing.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
I know this phrasing is frustrating to many authors, but for me, it simply means that there was something about the manuscript that didn't fit my personal taste. There are bestsellers that I've HATED and out of print books that I've LOVED. Taste, especially in fiction, is so subjective. And as an agent I have to be obsessed with a project to believe that I can sell it. I have to want to talk about it at every lunch, coffee and drink date. I have to want to read it a dozen times. If I don't feel that way about a manuscript, I wouldn't be able to responsibly represent it. Also, just because something isn't right for me, doesn't mean others won't react positively to it. 

What themes are you sick of seeing?
None. All books revolve around the same handful of themes. It's how originally these themes are treated that keeps me reading book after book. 

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Definitely. It's my favorite part of the job!

What’s the strangest/funniest thing you’ve seen in a query?
Oh, where to begin. The one that I remember most was actually an author's response to a rejection I sent with editorial notes. It began ... "AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHH!" 

Yes, that happened.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
In general, I'm on the hunt for YA novels and Adult NF, but I'd love to find a psychological/domestic thriller, pop-science book in the vein of Mary Roach and an illustrated NF project.   

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? 
Too many to list, of course, but here are my favorite books from the last few years:  

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Just What Kind of Mother are You? by Paula Daly, Wonder by RJ Palacio, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Drown by Junot Diaz, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell, We the Animals by Justin Torres, Autobiography of an Execution by David R Dow.

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Mackenzie Brady  (Currently open to non-fiction queries ONLY)

Mackenzie joined Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency in 2011, after interning at FinePrint Literary Mgmt and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She is currently looking for narrative non-fiction focusing on science, sports, psychology, travel and lost female histories; and compelling contemporary and voice-driven YA fiction. Mackenzie received a B.S. in Microbiology from Penn State University.

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Release Day and Excerpt from IF ONLY

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 02 April 2014 · 25 views

I'm so happy to show off Amy Pine's new book. I've know Amy since the first Query Kombat and wish her all the luck in the world!




Sometimes it takes crossing an ocean to figure out where you belong.

It's been two years since twenty-year-old Jordan had a boyfriend—which means it's been forever since she, well, you know. But now she’s off to spend her junior year in Aberdeen, Scotland, the perfect place to stop waiting for Mr. Right and just enjoy Mr. Right Now.

Sexy, sweet (and possible player) Griffin may be her perfect, no-strings-attached match. He’s fun, gorgeous, and makes her laugh. So why can’t she stop thinking about Noah who, minutes after being trapped together outside the train’s loo, kisses Jordan like she’s never been kissed before? Never mind his impossible blue eyes, his weathered, annotated copy of The Great Gatsby (total English-major porn)…oh, and his girlfriend.

Jordan knows everything this year has an expiration date. Aberdeen is supposed to be about fun rather than waiting for life to happen. But E. M. Forster, Shakespeare, and mistletoe on Valentine’s Day make her reconsider what love is and how far she’s willing to go for the right guy.


Teaser Excerpt 6—Jordan going home with Griffin from the pub.

I turn my eyes to Griffin, sure I don’t want to watch what comes next with Noah and his logical choice.
                “I thought you were joining us for shots. In fact, I thought you were buying.” He leans down to where I sit and kisses me on the cheek.
                “I was,” I say. “I mean, I did. Buy the shots. I drank mine at the bar with Elaina. Let’s say vodka and I have been introduced, and it didn’t go well.”
                “Ah, yes. I do remember Elaina coming by and mentioning something about a pussy lightweight. Does that ring a bell?”
                I roll my eyes, too exhausted to protest. Noah and Hailey head toward the group. I watch them walk away, waiting for Noah to turn back, but he never does.
                Griffin puts his hand on my cheek and squats down beside the end of my booth. He kisses me gently, repeatedly. To hell with logic. I lean into him, run my fingers through his hair and kiss him harder. His lips are soft. I ignore the spice of whisky still on his tongue and let it through my parted lips. I feel myself letting go, letting Griffin’s kiss fill the space I’ve kept empty, kept at a distance. But allowing him do this means to break the rules of our agreement. He must know that. So when he smiles against me as I grab his collar, I take it as a sign, pulling him closer.
                “Wanna get out of here?” he asks, his voice heavy with desire.
 My ragged breath disguises the reappearing tremor in my voice. “Yes. I want to get out of here.”
                “Where to?”
                Elaina’s warning replays in my head. Our walls are paper thin.
                “Can we go to your place?”
                He nods, pulling me up from the booth, his mouth still on mine.
Noah and Hailey stand at the large, round table where the night began. As soon as his eyes catch mine, I turn away, leaning into Griffin.
“Take me home,” I plead.
 And so he does.

GIVEAWAY:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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AJ writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend those hearts with a happily ever after…maybe. The first book she wrote was YA, but now she’s two-timing her first love Pine4BWwith NA. She’s always in the middle of reading two to three books, adores online shopping (everything from groceries to shoes), and she still loves vampires, whether it’s Eric Northman or the Salvatore brothers. When she’s not writing, AJ is sneaking off to her day job as a high school English teacher or hanging with her husband and kids in the Chicago burbs.

AJ’s debut NA novel, IF ONLY, releases with Entangled’s Embrace line on March 24!

Representation: Courtney Miller-Callihan at SJGA.

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My Writing Process--Blog Hop

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 31 March 2014 · 17 views




I'd like to thank Susan Keogh author of the Jack Mallory series for inviting me to join this blog hop. Susan has two excellent books of historical fiction in The Prodigal and the sequel The Alliance. Check out her post here.

And here are my answers about my writing process:


1) What am I working on?

I'm working on a YA fantasy titled Grudging

To follow his brother into the pelotónand earn his beard as a fighting man is all seventeen-year-old Ramiro ever wanted. Until Ramiro's home is surrounded by the innumerable armies and siege machines of the Northerners. Cut off from allies and outnumbered behind their walls, their lone chance at help lies to the west in the acre after acre of swamp inhabited by their ancient enemies the witches. To win a witch over, he must speak with her, but the girl's voice could prove to be the last thing Ramiro hears.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to fill my stories with twists and the unexpected so I can catch my reader off guard. Characters who may not be what they seem and the event you didn't expect to happen. And though I write about civilizations that are far from modern, I do like to make my characters speak and act as if they were from 2014. 

3) Why do I write what I do?

I guess I write what I prefer to read. Fantasy has been my favorite read for as long as I can remember. I've always been drawn to worlds unlike our own and problems involving magic, sword play, and heroes in shining armor finding their way to win over all. Escapism from the realities of the everyday world is what interests me. 

4) How does your writing process work?

I'm a slow writer (pantser, not a planner) and I usually take about a week to punch out a chapter. I may but no good for NaNoMoWri, but that chapter is usually pretty clean with little editing required. I take my time and my first draft is quite close the final draft. Trying to push myself to achieve a certain word count doesn't work for me. It has to be all there in my head, waiting to go on the page before I can write.

Morning is my favorite time to write just because my brain seems more awake then. I get my best ideas when cleaning or taking a walk. Activities where my brain can go someplace else and plot and plan. 

I usually exchange chapters as I finish them with my CP Carla and send the whole thing off when it's finished to the rest of my wonderful CPs. Then I mope and take a long lazy break from writing because a single book can take me a year to finish and I get so invested that it's hard to move on to something new. 


Now I get to invite three others to join the hop and share their writing process:

SC Author:  SC is a huge Harry Potter fan who is currently writing an Adult Contemporary. He hosts fun contests on his blog, scwrite and can be found on Twitter @SC_Author.

Heather Murphy Capps: Heather is a teacher, writer and former tv reporter. She blogs at Cue My Muse and is on Twitter @HeatherMC66.





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