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Query Kombat Submission Instructions 2016

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 15 April 2016 · 45 views









Bloggers Laura, Michael, and Michelle are back again to bring you the fourth annual Query Kombat tournament.

The Basics

Query Kombat will host 64 kombatants in a single-elimination, tournament style query-off. Entries will go head to head(one on one) with one another until only ONE entry remains. There will be a total of six rounds in Query Kombat. 64 entries in round one, 32 in round two,16 in round three, 8 in round four, 4 in round five, and 2 in round six.

Unlike traditional tournaments, we won't be using tournament brackets. Entries will be matched up based on target audience and genre. We'll continue grouping that way until it's no longer possible.

If you secure a spot in the tournament, your query and the first 250 words of your manuscript (to the end of a complete sentence) will be pitted against another query and first 250 words. Judges will read each match-up and vote 'Victory' on the best entry. Remember, this is subjective. Considering last year, votes may come down to personal tastes.

The entry with the most ‘victories’ at the end of the round will advance to the next round until only one champion remains.

The agent round will be held after the first round. That mean the top 32 entries will make it to the agent round.


Of course, there's a twist!

The agent round will be conducted in secret. And by secret, we mean TOP SECRET. Entrants won't know who requested what—or how much—until that entrant has been eliminated from the contest.

On the plus side, winners of the first round will be able to submit and updated entry prior to the agent round. So, any feedback the judges give can be implemented before the agents see your work.

Who’s Invited to Submit:


The Query Kombat tournament is open only to unagented writers seeking representation. Your manuscript must be complete, polished, and ready to submit.

If your manuscript has already been in the agent round of another contest in the last six months, you are not eligible to participate in Query Kombat. Please don’t try to sneak in. The QK team includes about fifty people and a few hundreds of spectators. Someone will notice and inform us. Submissions for MG, YA, NA, and Adult works will be accepted. (Sorry no picture books or chapter books this year.) Only one entry per person. Do not attempt to submit more than one entry by using different email accounts. Again, the QK family is huge. Someone will notice.



Submission


The submission window will open May 16th at 9:00 AM Eastern time and close on May 20th at Noon.

We will have email confirmation. If you don't receive it within an hour of submitting your entry, contact us via twitter and let us know. Kontestants will be revealed on May 27th, and the tournament will kick off on June 1st.

IMPORTANT: The Query Kombat team reserves the right to disqualify any entrant at any time for any reason.If an entrant is disqualified before the agent round, an alternate will take its place. If an entrant is disqualified after the agent round, the opposing entry will automatically advance to the next round. The only time we will ever disqualify an applicant is if you say or do something to blemish the spirit of query contests. Query Kombat is supposed to be fun… 

http://mylittlefacewhen.com/media/f/img/mlfw903_1318180342933722.gif

So none of this!


In order to enter the contest you MUST follow formatting guidelines, and submit during the contest window. All entries that follow said guidelines will be considered. 

In the event that we receive more than the available 64 spots (this is highly expected), Michelle, Laura, and I will savagely attack the slush pile in attempts to build the best team. We will pick (and announce) three alternates in case a submission is disqualified.

Entries should be sent to:  QueryKombat (at) gmail (dot) com.

Formatting Guidelines:


Font: Times New Roman (or an equivalent), 12pt font, single-spaced with spaces between each paragraph. No (I repeat: NO!) indentations.
 
Subject line of the Email: A short, unique nickname for your entry [colon] your genre (audience included). Do not skip this step or your entry will be deleted. (ex. I Fell in Love with a
Ken Doll: Adult Erotica)

For the nickname, make it as unique as possible so that there are no duplicates. These will be the names used in the tournament (or an abbreviated version if it's too long) so keep it PG-13 and try to have it relate to your story in some way.

In the body of the email (with examples):

Title: Eunuchs and Politics
Name: Michael Anthony
Email address: myboyfriendwasbittenbyashark (at) gmail (dot) com.
Twitter Handle: @Michelle4Laughs


Entry Nickname: I Fell in Love with a Ken Doll
Word count: 68K
Genre: Adult Erotica

Query: 

I FELL IN LOVE WITH A KEN DOLL tells the harrowing story of Barbra B. Doll, a US senator who goes against country, family, and the Illumaniti to be with an amateur surfer with no genitalia. 

First 250 words:

Words, words, and more words.


Don't include the chapter title and please, don't stop in the middle of a. Do not include a bio or comp title.

All queries submitted are FINAL.
We will not edit them in any way, shape, or form. Please read, reread, and rereread your submission before you hit send. You have several weeks to polish your work. Take advantage of it. Competition will be fierce.


Host Blogs:

Because the immense amount of work ahead of us, the tournament will be hosted on three separate blogs. In order to enter the contest, you MUST following Michael, Michelle, and Laura's blogs (Twitter is cool too). All three blogs will host the first round and agent round. The second round will be hosted by Michelle and Laura. The third round will be hosted by Michael. The fourth round will be hosted by Laura. The fifth round will be hosted by Michelle. The final round will be hosted by Michael. Have no fear, each blog will have links to all rounds so you will not get lost.

Agents and judges will be revealed soon. (As of now we have 22 agents and 34 judges!)

Questions can be left in the comments and I'll answer them as quickly as possible.



One last thing and this is new: 

Contests are very time-consuming (we've already spent hours of time), and in order to continue hosting each year, we’re asking everyone who enters to give a $5-$10 donation when submitting. Asking for donations is one way to ensure we’re able to give you the time needed to carefully consider every entry. Chosen Kontestants receive feedback from up to 30 agented/published writers on their query and first page, plus the ability to query agents they otherwise may not have connected with. Some agents even read requested contest entries before the rest of their slush pile! Everyone, chosen or not, receives free slush tips from the hosts and the camaraderie that develops from entering contests together. Many writers find life long critique partners and good friends from these contests (I did).


Because of this, we are holding the sub window open much longer and no longer restricting the number of entries.

Donating this year is strictly voluntary. Giving a donation
does not increase your chances of being picked. Giving less than $5 or more than $10 will also have no impact on your chances. Donating will not affect how many rounds a person makes it through if chosen. People who are not able to donate will not be disqualified.


Please see the blog sidebar for the link to donate. Also note that a percentage of the donations will be given to Flint Kids to help the children of Flint. 

Thanks for your understanding.
Best of luck in the tournament!




If anyone finds this Easter Egg, contact me on twitter and I will send you a free paperback of GRUDGING. 






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Spring Query Extravaganza 2016 -- 2

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 13 April 2016 · 7 views

Here we go with another query warm up for Query Kombat.

Please remember these are my thoughts only and I'm just one subjective opinion. Others may feel differently on how to shape a query. 

My next victim willing participant:


Dear Ms. Hauck:

Revin always imagined she would raise her son in the only home she’d ever known; she’d watch her younger sisters graduate and get married; and she’d be there for her aging parents.  So when her husband urges her to take their son and flee the besieged city of Kobani, Revin resists as long as possible. When watching her husband and entire family get shot down in front of her finally pushes Revin to escape into neighboring Turkey, she finds herself confronting not only the devastating consequences of the Turks’ prejudices towards Syrian Kurds, but she is also forced to face her own prejudices towards Turks and Armenians.  More urgent is the danger that comes with being a lone woman on the road in a strange country.

Once she believed that fleeing into Turkey would solve her troubles, but here Revin watches her son die as they attempt to make their way to Greece. Drowning in despair, and on the edge of starvation, she gets sucked into prostitution as the only way she can see to survive. When an Armenian man risks everything to save her from being sent back to war-torn Syria, Revin finds a second chance at love, but she must decide which pull is stronger: the desire for safety, or her desire to return to Syria to fight for her home and the autonomy of her people, threatened by genocide and tyranny.

 The horror of her journey is tempered by the surprising discovery of the love of an honorable man, and exacerbated by the rage of her controlling and abusive husband, still very much alive. Now it’s not just the freedom of her homeland that is on the line, but her freedom as a woman as well. When the lives of her lover and her husband are threatened by a jihadist with a grenade, she must decide which life she will save, and her decision will shatter all of their lives. Prejudice can have terrible, far-reaching consequences, but women everywhere want the same things, and Revin draws on her inner strength to find peace and meaning in a war-torn world.

Here is a novel built around a contemporary issue that features a strong woman who must rise to the challenges she faces, a heroine who has universal dreams and can be understood and admired by women everywhere. I hope that this novel fits in with your other women’s fiction. As requested, there follows the first five pages of my novel.

I am a high school English teacher.  Being a mother and a widow, with family living in the Middle East, gives me the confidence to tell Revin’s tale.  Thank you very much for your consideration of Where You Go, a novel complete at 119,000 words.

Sincerely,

With my comments added:

Dear Ms. Hauck: (So far so good.) 

Revin always imagined she would raise her son in the only home she’d ever known,; she’d watch her younger sisters graduate, and get married,; and she’d be there for her aging parents.  So when her husband urges her to take their son and flee the besieged city of Kobani in Syria, Revin resists as long as possible. When watching her husband and entire family get shot down in front of her, it finally pushes Revin to escape into neighboring Turkey, . She finds herself confronting must confront not only the devastating consequences of the Turks’ prejudices towards Syrian Kurds, but she is also forced to face her own prejudices towards Turks and Armenians.  More urgent is the danger that comes with being a lone (You might change "lone" to unprotected or unescorted as she isn't exactly alone. Apparently, her son is with her.) woman on the road in a strange country.

Once she believed that fleeing into Turkey would solve her troubles, but here Revin watches her son dies as they attempt to make their way to Greece. Drowning in despair, and on the edge of starvation, she gets sucked into prostitution as the only way she can see to survive. When an Armenian man risks everything to save her from being sent back to war-torn Syria, Revin finds a second chance at love, but she must decide which pull is stronger: the desire for safety, or her desire to return to Syria to fight for her home and the autonomy of her people, threatened by genocide and tyranny.

 The horror of her journey is tempered by the surprising discovery of the love of an honorable man, and exacerbated by the rage of her controlling and abusive husband,--(I'd use a dash here.) still very much alive. (And here's how it gets worse/escalates! Nice! You always want some kind of escalation in the second or third story paragraph.)  Now it’s not just the freedom of her homeland that is on the line, but her freedom as a woman as well. When the lives of her lover and her husband are threatened by a jihadist with a grenade, she must decide which life she will   to save, and her decision will shatter all of their lives. Prejudice can have terrible, far-reaching consequences, but women everywhere want the same things, and Revin draws on her inner strength to find peace and meaning in a war-torn world. (This isn't the typical sum-up stakes. Instead it is more telling than anything else, but I think it fits with the rest of the query. Normally, I'd say to change it--not this time. It has a real honesty.) 

Here is a novel built around a contemporary issue that features a strong woman who must rise to the challenges she faces, a heroine who has universal dreams and can be understood and admired by women everywhere. I hope that this novel fits in with your other women’s fiction.(I'd do a little rearranging here. Most of this paragraph is telling about themes and such--agents REALLY don't like this in a query--besides, your query has already shown the themes beautifully.) 

Thank you very much for your consideration of Where You Go (WHERE YOU GO I mostly see titles in all caps nowadays. Note: Don't cap your comp titles if you use any-- Only your own title.) a novel Women's Fiction (Whoops. You need some kind of genre here. I brought it down from the above paragraph.) complete at 119,000 words. As requested, there follows the first five pages of my novel. (I would move this sentence to the start of the paragraph and not the end and throw in the sentence about the pasted pages.) I am a high school English teacher.  Being a mother and a widow, with family living in the Middle East, gives me the confidence to tell Revin’s tale.
  
Sincerely,


With so many agents looking for stories with diversity (an excellent change), this query is sure to get some interest. Throw in the fact that you know the audience --having family in the Middle East--and I can see this getting many requests. What it really needed was some gentle pruning to improve the writing style by cutting excess words.

I urge you to take the same red pen through your manuscript and also prune unneeded words and especially filtering (she heard, she saw, she understood, she watch, etc). Even better find a good critique partner to help you look for things to cut. I'm guessing if there was extra words in the query, the same will be in the manuscript. This subject has a great chance of getting picked up if the writing is clean. 

Good luck and I hope this helped! 


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Spring Query Extravaganza 2016- 1

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 12 April 2016 · 9 views

I thought it could be helpful to do a little query feedback before Query Kombat starts next month. It might give a few ideas of what the contest hosts could be looking for in a strong query letter.

Please remember these are my thoughts only and I'm just one subjective opinion. Others may feel differently on how to shape a query. 

My first victim willing participant:


Dear [agent],

[Insert personalisation] REALM OF RUIN is a YA fantasy complete at [word count].

17-year-old Lina is an Aethrian; she can step into the spirit realm. Her bloodline makes her an outcast, and she’s tired of living a sheltered, friendless life. When her adoptive father dies, Lina is devastated - this isn’t the kind of change she had in mind. Rather than taking her chances on the streets, Lina crosses the city to live with the wealthy Vaughn Casimir.

But Lina soon discovers that Vaughn’s riches stem from a sinister line of work, and that he wants to form an alliance with the most dangerous Aethrian alive in order to seize control of Orinthia. And he’s not afraid to blackmail Lina to get what he wants. With the lives of her new friends - and her people - hanging in the balance, Lina must betray her own kind in order to free a criminal from an otherworldly prison. Lina won’t lose the only friends she’s ever had, even if it means she risks bringing the whole world to ruin.

I recently completed a BA in English and Creative Writing. I’ve also written articles for [book festival name]. 


Thank you for your time and consideration.

With my notes added:

Dear [agent], (Works for me, though I always nit-pick that it really should be a colon for a business letter.)

[Insert personalisation] REALM OF RUIN is a YA fantasy complete at [word count]. (The author doesn't have a final word count yet as this is still in revision. But notice there is a place for the word count to go. Thumbs up! Of course, this paragraph won't be needed for Query Kombat. And remember if you have to really dig for a way to personalize, it's best just to leave it off.)

17-year-old (Subjective preference, but it's best to spell out numbers under 100. Digits are fine for pitching on twitter, but I'd go with Seventeen-year-old.)  Lina is an Aethrian;(I think it's trendy to use a dash now instead of a semi-colon. That's the way I go, anyway.) she can step into the spirit realm. Her bloodline makes her an outcast(Why? Her mixed-race bloodline, maybe? Her bastard bloodline?), and she’s tired of living a sheltered, friendless life(Outcast doesn't exactly match with the word sheltered. Which is she? I'd cut "sheltered."). When her adoptive father dies, Lina is devastated - this isn’t the kind of change she had in mind. Rather than taking her chances on the streets, Lina crosses the city to live with the wealthy Vaughn Casimir. (Why would he take her if she's an outcast? I'm guessing he is her original kin, perhaps. But I shouldn't have to guess. This is the place where a third story paragraph can help you out. What motivates her to go there? What motivates him to take her? Is he her age or older? How does it get worse?

You mention new friends later on and a paragraph in the middle would be the place to set them up. Here is a fake example:

Her adopted father always warned her about Vaughn, but if it's a choice between starving and his basement, she'll take the cellar. He can't turn the daughter of his former priest away--not if he wants to keep his place in society--and among the servants of his house she makes her first real friends.)

But Lina soon discovers that Vaughn’s riches stem from a sinister line of work (Be specific!! Vaughn's riches stem from blackmail, gambling, and murder. See how that is more interesting--even if it's made up by me.), and that he wants to form an alliance with the most dangerous Aethrian alive in order to seize control of Orinthia.(This means little to the reader. We don't know what Orinthia is. Maybe just say the city. And is this the criminal you bring up below? He needs the help of a most dangerous criminal to seize control of the city. And that's where Lina comes in. Her ability to enter the spirit realm and bring out the criminal from captivity is the answer to his prayer.)  And he’s not afraid to blackmail Lina to get what he wants.(Be clear. How can she give it to him? She's an outcast. Unless you mean she can use her power to step into the spirit realm.) With the lives of her new friends(You don't mention any friends, so maybe cut?) - and her people - hanging in the balance, Lina must decide whether to betray her own kind in order to free a criminal from an otherworldly prison (For Vaughn? Why?). Lina won’t lose the only friends she’s ever had, even if it means she risks bringing the whole world to ruin. (Watch taking away her choice. This sentence makes it sound like her decision is made. The decision of the mc should be uncertain.)

I recently completed a BA in English and Creative Writing. I’ve also written articles for [book festival name]. (My personal preference, but I like this bio information in the same paragraph as the genre/word count sentence so the query letter isn't so broken up into small paragraphs.) 


Thank you for your time and consideration. (My favorite closing!)

I'm not getting a good sense of Lina from this query yet and the stakes are rather vague. I'm not seeing the connections between them clearly enough. Each sentence of the last paragraph should flow to the next. I would suggest a first pass to organize the connections and get the story told in its basic form (after the first paragraph). 

Vaughn takes Lina in. She makes friends there. He's bad in many ways. He needs a criminal from the spirit realm and that's where Lina comes in with her abilities. It's help Vaughn or her friends die.

Then do another pass to add Lina's voice to the wording. Use the slang and curse words you employ in the story to give it voice.  For exampe: By the seven circles of Hell, Vaughn isn't afraid to blackmail Lina with her friend's lives as his playing hand. 

A little bit of structural work to clear up some confusion and some more voice and you'll have a much stronger query. I hope this helps!



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Getting the Submission Call with Shari Schwarz

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 11 April 2016 · 5 views

Edit, re-read, edit. That's many writers journey. Shari Schwarz kept at it until revision paid off. Take a look at her story and then hop over to Amazon to pre-order a copy of her new book! And enter the rafflecopter below for a query critique from Shari.




In my fifth grade diary I have a list of goals written in the back. One is to write a book. And if you know anything about me, you know I love to dream...and I love to work toward my goals.

I started writing my book, THE LEDGE (now renamed to TREASURE AT LURE LAKE), December 10, 2013 after a quick facebook chat with a good friend of mine, Jenda Nye, who is also a writer. She encouraged me to start writing and, bonus! we could be writing partners!

The idea for my story was totally inspired by my boys and Gary Paulsen's HATCHET. But I had NO idea what I was getting myself into when I wrote 'The End' on my first draft in February 2014, or what would happen when I plugged into the amazing writing community on Twitter in March 2014.

At that time, my parents were the first ones to give me valuable feedback and editing suggestions on my first draft, and I will always be so grateful for their support and guidance. Then, I sent out my first queries to literary agents in March 2014. Literally a year too early, but that's what the learning process is all about...making lots of mistakes and learning from them. I'm thankful for each mistake along the way because they all have been a part of the path I'm on to becoming a better writer and story teller.

I entered TREASURE AT LURE LAKE in various online contests like #NestPitch, #JustPitchIt, #PitMad, #PitchSlam, #PitchMas, Operation Awesome, #AgentMatch, #SecretShop, Sub it Club pitch party (and those are just the ones I received requests from agents on) and queried widely over the next six months. Early on in the query process I received two "R&R" (revise and resubmit) requests--one from an editor and one from an agent. While neither of them panned out in the end, they offered sound and generous advice that helped me shape the early drafts of TREASURE AT LURE LAKE.

In the fall of 2014, after getting feedback from at least 30 critique partners, getting numerous rejections from agents and just a couple of bites (requests for fulls), I went to the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference with my friend, Emily Moore, who I also met on Twitter but then got to know in real life! I learned so much at the conference, and Emily really helped me brainstorm ideas for some major changes in the story that got me excited again after enduring so many rejections of my work. It's not easy putting your heart and soul into something and having a hundred people tell you 'no, not quite right.'

One side of wisdom might say it's time to throw in the towel, but this is a hard business to break into, so I kept plugging away. I had so many people encourage me to press on, not give up and try again!

In December 2014, after a couple of close calls with agents, I nearly gave up on TREASURE AT LURE LAKE. I had also finished writing the first draft of a new book and started on another. 

Discouraged and heartbroken, I went for a long hike where I stomped and cried and yelled at God. Why is this so hard? So frustrating? I hated getting my hopes up over and over again each time an agent seemed interested only to be let down and disappointed when they said no.

So, I decided to let go and self-publish. By that time, I knew there were problems with my book, but I just couldn't give up on Jack and Bryce (the boys in the story). I felt free and excited and a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of self-publication!

But then, in January 2015, an amazing online friend and critique partner, Sarah Floyd, told me not to give up and took a once over of the first few chapters of my manuscript. With her feedback, I was inspired to revise again and send out a small batch of queries. Full manuscript requests started to come in. I sent out more queries. More fulls were requested. Lots of waiting ensued!

So, back to the revision board...again and again. In March, one of my original critique partners, Sally Hughes Doherty, read through TREASURE AT LURE LAKE and gave me a thorough evaluation of my book which shed bright light on some problem areas I still had. With her brilliant advice, I revised again. A couple of contests and a few more full requests later, I felt like I was on the right track.

By this time, I wasn't as prone to discouragement; my skin had grown thick. Plus, I had started reading manuscripts for a literary agent and could now see firsthand the numerous ways in which a manuscript just doesn't cut it even if it is good writing or an amazing story. The idea of self-publishing became more and more of a possibility to me, and I started to research it.

Then one day, I saw an #MSWL call for submissions by an editor, Ashley Gephart, at Cedar Fort Publishing and decided to send TREASURE AT LURE LAKE to her on May 11th, 2015. By the end of May, I was completely shocked to receive an email saying they had accepted my story for publication! I literally could not believe it at first. I think I read that email ten times before it sunk in that it was real--not spam or a joke or someone who was going to change their mind a few days later.

After researching Cedar Fort, asking a million questions, talking to one of their authors and going through the contract, I'm thoroughly blessed and honored to say that I signed with Cedar Fort's general release fiction. TREASURE AT LURE LAKE is set for release on April 12, 2016.





Twelve-year-old Bryce’s best-laid plans for a backpacking trip with his grandpa seem about to fall through all because his big brother, Jack, is threatening to boycott the trip. But when Bryce stumbles upon a secret treasure map in his grandpa's barn loft, he doesn't mean to steal it or unearth a painful family secret that will explain the root of the brothers’ conflict. Bryce is determined to find the treasure even if it means lying to his grandpa.

As Bryce, Jack, and Grandpa hike to a remote cabin in the Rocky Mountains, sibling rivalry clouds the brothers' judgment, and all Bryce's plans for an epic adventure go downriver. The boys must work together to survive the dangers of the wilderness, and each other, or the treasure and their family's secret may never see the light of day.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Shari Schwarz lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado near the Rocky Mountains with her husband and their four boys. TREASURE AT LURE LAKE (Cedar Fort Publishing, April 12, 2016) is her debut which reflects her love for a good survival adventure story. When she’s not reading or writing, Shari can be found freelance editing, weight-lifting, gardening or watching her boys play football, basketball, cup-stacking, or wrestling. She frequently dreams of exploring Oregon Coast beaches or plotting out her next children’s book.

Twitter: @sharischwarz
Facebook: Shari Schwarz


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Rewind Week: Super Queries

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 08 April 2016 · 8 views

I'm on vacation this week, so I'm rewinding some of my favorite posts about editing:

I won't claim to be an expert, despite hosting many query contests (Query Kombat, New Agent, Sun versus Snow, PitchSlam and Nightmare on Query Street), but I have read a fair share of queries. I've also written my share and critiqued dozens. So these are some tips from a quasi-amateur on what works in a query and first page. 




Much of querying is going to be subjective. Happening to have that concept an agent is on the lookout for. Using the name of an agent's pet cat without knowing it. Setting your story in an agent's favorite vacation spot. Matching the sense of humor of an agent or their love of a dark tale.

Beyond creating a top notch concept which is super marketable, those are things that are serendipity. Entirely based upon luck and for which you can't plan. (Though you can research. Getting to know something about agents will help you gear your query toward an agent.) These are not always things you can write into your query letter and first page. But there are things you can do to make your query stronger. 




The Foundations of a Good Query:

Much has been said about the benefit of a strong beginning hook. A hook is important, but the query will fall apart if the rest of the paragraphs let it down. Here are some other things that matter.

Be Clean: First off, the simplest advice. You want to catch those typos and missing words. You want to be sure your have commas where they belong. Which means get some unbiased eyes to examine your query for mistakes. Mistakes in a query and first page will hurt your chances. (More on first pages in another post.)

Motivation: The reader needs to be able to determine what makes your main character tick. There should be something in the query to show why your character needs to react. What is propelling them forward, instead of sitting at home? Maybe their family is in danger. Maybe they want to regain their memory. Maybe they'll do anything to find love. But there has to be a reason, because that reason tells us something about your character. It's what will make us care about them, or on the other side, hit delete if the motivation is not there.

Stakes: It's not enough to tell us why a character has to accomplish something. You have to tell us what happens if they fail and what happens if they succeed. In other words, nail the worst case scenario and the best. And, the difficult part, you have to be specific when you do this. No generic cliche is going to catch someone's attention among the hundreds of queries out there.

Avoid side plots: Stay away from venturing too far from the main plot/concept. A good book is going to be full of other things that the main character desires and complications that arise. Those should definitely be in the story, but they only make the query confusing. Avoid confusion. Focus on your main problem. The only exception being to include any romance that might be blossoming. That can usually be done in a query without being distracting.

Limit Named Characters: Another way to keep the query on track is to only name a very few characters. Keep it simple with identifying characters. The last thing you want is an agent going who is this guy again? They have enough to remember. 

Three is a good number of names to stick to. Too many names and places slow down a query and make it difficult to follow. That's not to say you can't use general identifiers like: her parents, work friends, humpbacked lab assistant. That fixes the relationship with the main character without bogging the query with a lot of names.




Creating a Super Query: 

Beyond the basics what can you do to make your query stand out above the hundreds that are out there? These are the sort of things that make the difference between a strong query and a super query that gets you into contests. 

Voice: The best and most effective way to make your query stand out is to fill it with voice. Let the attitude of your character shine. The query should almost seem to be coming out of their mouth. (Of course you need to stay in third person, which is why this is hard.)

And why is that good? Because it shows us what your main character is like. You know the saying, 'that's a man I'd like to have a beer with.' That's what you're going for with voice. Convincing us this character is someone we want to spend time with. You are putting your character's personality on display by the words and slang you use in your query.

Details: I touched on this in the stakes section, but I can't stress it enough. Be specific in your details. There's nothing more boring than a bunch of cliche lines. She has to save the day. He must rise to the challenge. Save what? Rise to what? Don't be cagey, tell us.

And the details should go beyond the stakes. Why? Because details show about a character. I remember one entry (first page) in Query Kombat that I picked specifically because of a mention of a pink flipflop and the noise being something her mom hated. That shows me something about the main character!

Make sure you use the right sort of details that make your character interesting, that bring out something about them. The wrong sort of details just make a query confusing as mentioned under avoiding side plots and extra names.

Set the tone: This might relate more to me, a subjective thing, but I like a query and/or first page with humor. If you book is humorous then that should be on display in your query. Conversely, if your story is dark, your query should reflect that.

Use the query to set the mood. In a query, the rules about avoiding adjectives don't apply so strictly. A query is short. You need to use the space you have and that means resorting to adjectives at times. They can be useful both for setting the tone and for creating voice.

Unique: Most of the information in this bottom section has been about establishing the personality of your main character and carrying that into the query. Focus on what makes your book unique. Being sure to detail what is unique about your story is another way to enlarge our knowledge about the character, but it can also go beyond characters.

If you story is set in a unique location, make sure you include that. If there is something different about your plot, make sure we know. 

And warning: Don't hide things as a 'surprise' for the reader by keeping them from your query. (Except for endings and big twists.) If your query doesn't hook, there's not going to be a second chance to awe us.

I heard from lots of people that didn't want to give too much away in a query. If the query doesn't hook us, it's not doing it's job. Like using specific details, unique qualities in your story are too important to save for later. 

A super query goes beyond the motivation, plot, and stakes of a story. A super query gives us a sense of personality, mood, and uniqueness. A super query makes us want to know more, makes us care. 

So there you have it. An incomplete--I'm sure--list of ways to make your query stronger. I hope it helps make creating your query a little easier and gives you more confidence.  

What's the best advice you've every had on a query?

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Getting the Call with Aden Polydoros

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 07 April 2016 · 10 views

A ripping success story from Nightmare on Query Street! And I'm going to add that Aden got his call within days! That was just amazing! 




I wrote my first book several years ago. At the time, I believed that the bigger the book was, the better, and managed to inflate what should have been a 70k story to close to 90k words. I sent it out to around thirty agents, probably more, and it received no requests and very few actual responses. Discouraged, I put the manuscript aside.

Over the next two years, I tried to write other novels, but I rarely got past the beginning. I was afraid that if I wrote another book, it would never be published and I would have ended up wasting half a year of my life obsessing over it. (Now I know better—even if a book is never published, you still gain experience from writing it.) Luckily, I had an excellent English teacher who encouraged me to keep writing and told me that one day I would become a published author. With his support, I convinced myself to give it another shot.

In the beginning of 2015, I began working on a YA thriller. I probably went through an entire economy-sized bottle of ibuprofen in the several months I spent writing the first draft. When I was done writing the story and polishing it up, I sent it out to agents. I had done my research this time, and I made sure to personalize my query letters and send the story only to agents who represented its genre. This time, I was a little luckier; after a few rounds of querying, I received some partials and one full. I also sent it to one publisher, Entangled.

I found out about Query Kombat through a link in the Absolute Write forum. I submitted my manuscript and was chosen. Through the contest, I received two full requests and three partials.

One by one, the agent requests were all rejected.

While I continued querying the first manuscript, I wrote a YA suspense novel called The Garden. Out of the several full requests I received, one was a R&R. The agent told me the protagonist was inactive. I cut out over 30k words (i.e. half the book) and rewrote the story so that the MC was less passive and had more at stake. Several months after finishing the revisions, I submitted The Garden to Nightmare on Query Street.

One of the two agents to ask for a full request in NoQS was Mallory Brown. I sent the manuscript to her on October 30th. On November 1st, while eating dinner at the school dining hall, I checked my emails on my phone. When I saw Mallory’s email, I thought I was going to break my previous record for # of rejections in a day. Then I read the subject line: OFFER OF REPRESENTATION.

I arranged to speak with Mallory the next day. Because of my class schedule and the difference in time zones, I woke up at 4 AM to call her at 5. I was extremely nervous and probably made a stuttering fool out of myself. By the time we finished the call, I half-expected her to rescind the offer and file a restraining order against me—okay, exaggerations aside, the call didn’t go that bad. I was thrilled to hear how much she liked my story, and glad to know that we shared the same vision for it.

Interestingly, several weeks after signing with Mallory, I received a response from the publisher I had sent the first manuscript to. This month, I signed with them for a two book deal.

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


Aden Polydoros grew up in Long Grove, Illinois, and now lives in Arizona. He is a writer of young adult fiction. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys reading and going on hikes in the mountains. Aden's first book, PANDORA FROM THE CLAY, is due for Summer 2017 from Entangled Publishing. @AdenPolydoros 




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Rewind Week: Commas with Interjections and Direct Address

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 06 April 2016 · 24 views

I'm on vacation, so I'm rewinding some of my favorite editing posts:

Commas. Just when you think you've found where they all belong, there's another rule to confuse things.

Most people seem to know about using commas in a list (the Oxford comma), or including commas before conjunctions (or, but, and, so, if) connecting two independent clauses. But you also need commas when your sentence directly addresses someone or contains an interjection.


Some examples.

"Look out for that giant boulder, Rodger!"
"Rodger, look out for that giant boulder!"

Assuming the speaker took the time to say all this, they are directly addressing the soon-to-be-squished Rodger. A comma is needed before or after his name depending on the location of the name. Also notice that the people or person being addressed don't have to be called by name. A comma is still required even if the object isn't named.


"Everyone, look out for that giant boulder!"
"Look out for the giant boulder, everyone!"

"I love you, my little squishy face."
Butt head, that's my toe you're standing on." 
"Rodger never gets squished by boulders at home."

Conversely, here the speaker is only talking about Rodger, not to him, so no commas are needed.

"Geez, Mom, you're embarrassing me."


This sentence has two reasons for commas. First, you have an interjection that requires a comma and second this sentence is addressing someone. When the person being addressed is in the center of a sentence, they are offset by commas.

"Cool beans, Rodger, on becoming the next Flat Stanley."

An interjection is an add-on to the front, middle, or end of a sentence used to exclaim, protest, or command. Depending on how strong the exclaimation, it may or may not be its own sentence.

"Gee, that's swell."
"Hooray! That's swell!"
"Shit, Rodger was squished by a boulder."
"Oh, it got my toe, too!"
"Ow! It got my toe, too!"
"Being flat may be useful, but it's hard to kiss that way, isn't it?"
"Yes, I'm going to Rodger's funeral."
"Rodger should have listened to me, right?"
"Indeed, that was a bad day for Rodger."
"Well, he's at peace now."


Interjections can be a great way to break up your sentence structure and avoid monotony. Addressing characters in your sentences can help avoid confusion when multiple speakers are involved. Just remember the commas!


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ReWind Week: Make Your Characters Likable

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 04 April 2016 · 7 views

I'm on vacation, so I'm rewinding some of my favorite editing posts:

So at the beginning of your novel, your main character is a bitch or a bastard, is selfish or whiny, is bratty or works at an immoral job, or is just plain mean. Maybe they're an antihero, maybe they have a character arc to fulfill before they can join the human race. How do you keep readers from turning away in the first chapters? Some tricks can help you build a connection between your readers and your character and build sympathy. A few tweaks can get people to keep reading.

Here are the ideas that occur to me or that I've used myself:

1. Love something passionately Your character is selfish. They don't have any friends or very few. They're bitter and closed off. Give them something they do love and care about. A famous example of this is Katniss Everdeen from the opening of The Hunger Games. Deep down you know she's not a very sympathetic person. She thinks about her and her family and nobody else. But she loves her sister and so do you. Who couldn't love her after the duck thing with Prim's shirttail. Just make sure the audience also loves this person or pet. Yep, pets are great for this.

I've used this myself in Kindar's Cure. Kindar can't get along with her hateful family. She argues and speaks unkindly to her younger sister. To protect herself she must stay closed off and not reveal her feelings. But she loves her royal staff and does what she can to shield them from her mother's wrath. And she is also fond of her older sister.

2. Act of kindness Your character is a jerk. They're not very thoughtful. Like the shirttail episode between Katniss and Prim, have your character do an unnecessary act of kindness. They're awful to anyone and everyone, but they hold the door open for an old lady. They stop a kid from running into the road. They give up their seat on a bus to a handicapped person. They pick up some litter or do the dishes at home. They do something that makes a reader consider this character may be redeemable after all.

I've used this also. After a fight with her family, I have a character do the dishes as a goodwill gesture. Small sure. But maybe just enough when combined with the other tricks listed here.

3. Experience doubt/remorse Your character argues constantly with their parents or your character does has an immoral job- assassin, spy, thief. Have them experience some doubts about their choice of action. Put some question into their thoughts. "Am I doing the right thing?" Have them feel bad about fighting or being disrespectful--at least in their own thoughts--even if not voiced aloud. Maybe they still believe they are in the right, but they don't feel happy about their actions.

What could be more human than to have doubt and remorse. We all do it and can connect with it. Even as she fights, I had the character in number two feeling bad about the arguing. She stands by her belief that she's right, but she's not happy to have hurt her family.

4. Make them interesting If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Your character is evil brought to Earth and has no good qualities. So make them fascinating. They do the unexpected. They keep the reader guessing. They have a compelling and attractive voice that stands out in a crowd. They'd make the cover of Time with their sheer unpredictability and gotta see what they do next.

5. Make everything else interesting In the vein of the last idea, your main character is a putz that nobody is going to like, but your world and plot is going to keep people reading. You make your world building so new and unique that nobody gives a crap that they hate your character. Or your plot is so nonstop that there's no time to pause in reading to consider if they like your protagonist.

Give readers something always new and fast paced and hope that's enough for them.

6. Paint them in a corner Your main character is no Mother Teresa, but you put them in such danger or into such a tight place that readers are instantly rooting for them. Get readers hoping your character makes it out alive and you've won half the battle.

I also did this in Kindar's Cure. I hit Kindar with one terrible thing after another in the opening chapters until she was literally forced to flee her home.

7. They ain't the worst Hand and hand with number six, goes this tip. Your character is unsympathetic but all the other character are even more distasteful. Your character looks good by comparison. I've seen this done a lot in darker stories. I'm guessing this is a GRRM tactic.


Many of my main characters seem to start out as not the most reader friendly. So there are the ideas that rattle around in my noggin or that I've employed without even thinking about it. Consider using one or a combination of these for your own characters.

Or maybe you have your own tricks and tips. What have you used or noticed being used to make a character likable?


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Query Kombat 2016!

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 01 April 2016 · 12 views

IT'S COMING!







FIGHT FOR YOUR DREAMS
BATTLE TO THE DEATH
BE THE SOLE SURVIVOR!



Submission: Saturday, May 21 - Sunday, May 22



Round 1: 64 entries/32 matchups split over 3 blogs, June 1st- 4th
Agent round: June 8-11(Wednesday-Saturday). 32 entries. All three blogs.
Round 2: 32 entries/16 matchups over 2 blogs, June 15-17
Round 3: 16 entries/8 matchups over 1 blog, June 21-23
Round 4:8 entries/4 matchups over 1 blog, June 25-26
Round 5: 4 entries/2 matchups over 1 blog, June 28-29
Round 6: 2 entries/1 matchup over 1 blog, July 1-2



21 AGENTS AND CLIMBING!




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Getting the Call with Ellie Moreton

  Posted by Michelle4Laughs , 31 March 2016 · 9 views

I always feel bad when an entry doesn't get any requests in a contest, but it's far from the end of the road. There's so much more to contests! I'm so glad Ellie picked herself up and kept moving forward. Now, she gets to share her success story. 




When I first started writing the book that got me my agent, I was in a slump from giving up querying my first MS. I trunked it and felt so empty inside. I had worked on that first manuscript for years, it was my baby, and I just didn’t know how to fix it. I had a few ideas for a new MS, but nothing really SPOKE to me. Nothing was shiny enough. Nothing SPARKLED.

Until I had a dream. It was only a short scene, but the feeling it gave inspired my new MS. I started thinking about the feeling and imagery. I started questioning what was going on, why, who? Until my mind was consumed with this world and the characters. I started writing it in May 2014. I finished it in December and sent it off to CPs and Betas.

I started querying and joined The Writer’s Voice contest. I got picked for Monica and Stephanie’s team, and was so ecstatic. When the agent round came, I didn’t get any requests. None. But I made a lot of great friends, and continued my journey.

In late October, after a good  amount of requests and an even larger abundance of Rejections, I got my first offer. I was ecstatic. I flailed and messaged all my CPs and friends and flails some more. 

Then I put on my professional pants and asked for two weeks, Nov 4th, for other agents to get back and to contact their other authors. This was a bit of an odd circumstance because the agent couldn’t talk to me on the phone between their scheduled events at the time, and was also talking to me through an assistant.

The following week, I got my second offer! This was an agent who only had my query when I followed up with my offer of rep. She immediately asked for the full. (This is why it’s so important to send out notices to all the agents, even those who have just your query.)

We talked on the phone and I was super awkward. Everything in my brain just dumped out and I was so scared she would realize that I was a flailing phony and walk away slowly. She asked me if I wrote anything else, and I was like ‘no’ and then immediately remembered I co-write a space opera on wattpad and facepalmed a million times. My brain was just mush. The questions I researched and printed out were a garble of words in front of me.

But she didn’t back away! The notes she gave and what she told me about her vision for the book just made me feel so… good. She loved my Manuscript! My words! She liked them! She really liked them! I felt like this was how it should be with an agent, and that was pretty much when I made my decision to go with her.

On November 4th. I emailed and accepted her offer. Within the week, I had signed and emailed back the contract and was officially represented by the wonderful Christa Heschke at the McIntosh & Otis Agency!

It took me 7 months to write my book. And then another seven months to get my agent. Let’s see if the future brings some more lucky 7s.

_______________________________________________


Born and (mostly) raised in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Ellie was usually found outside, building forts and having stick fights with the neighborhood kids. (She always won.) After majoring in graphic design in High school, with the dream of becoming a manga-ka, she went to college for Media Arts & Animation in Brookline, MA, where she got her Bachelor’s degree before she found a job in Accounting, (Yeah, weird) and also started to seriously read and write. She still doodles and draws on random scraps of papers, sticky notes, and whatever else is around.

She currently resides right outside of Boston with her boyfriend and Cat. 

Twitter: @ByEllieM




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