Friday, January 31, 2014

More Query Critique

Just found another chance for a query critique I wanted to tell you all about:


This one's a raffle, and you can earn up to 4 chances to win the critique.

Your critiquer: Joshua David Bellin:

Josh is a member of the Pub Hub team (formerly YA Stands for those of you who already follow that blog). He debut novel, the YA sci-fi Survival Colony Nine, comes out in fall 2014. He's repped by Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

So, enter!! As Yoda says, (in Bellin's hands, above) "There is no try. There is only do."

I'm definitely entering my YA ms query - would love more eyes and more thoughts about how to make it the query that changes my life. :)

Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Query Contest

I've been calling it the #querytrenchblues because the query process feels intimidating and sometimes a little dark. It can be a brain-melting loop of edits to sharpen and shine your ms, especially the first 10, along with endless attempts to encapsulate your brilliant novel in that one-page-come-hither flirtatious wink that is the query letter.

Of course, there comes a time when you have to just swallow hard and submit. Whether you're offering up the 4th or 5th or 20th revision, the act of hitting "send" feels like mustering the courage to fall in love again after your heart's been broken.

And this is why query contests rock -- because there's so much support here to help you find the courage to try again and - bonus! - provide crowd-sourced wisdom to help you make this next effort the one that will work.

A month ago, I never thought I would enter any contests because I felt nervous about sharing my work - even a query - with such a big group of people. I mean, betas, definitely, CP's, yes! But the WHOLE TWITTERVERSE???? Then I dipped my toe into  #Pitmad and discovered something wonderful. The online writing community and the amazing authors who host these contests are SO GREAT!!!!

I come from a gloves-off, casual-cruelty-is-the-norm business, so this kind of earnest, sincere support actually, literally brings tears of relief to my eyes. It's so civilized here in this world!! #Happy.

So for those of you still on the fence about trying one, like I was,  I wanted to tell you, go! go! go! Try one!! To make my point more elegantly, I am thrilled to share with you some comments from the hosts of #sunvssnow, Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood.

 Heather: How did Sun vs Snow come about?  

I couldn't help noticing the contrast between the weather where I live in Indiana and the warmth of my friend Amy Trueblood's area of the country, Arizona. I wanted to do something to liven up the bleh of winter and a query contest taking advantage of the different winter weathers seemed perfect! Agents said yes and the rest is history.  :-)


The contest is actually the brain child of Michelle Hauck. She approached me in late October, 2013 and asked if I'd be interested in hosting a contest with her. Michelle and I have known each other for a while and I respected what she did with both Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, so agreeing to host was a "no-brainer" for me!
Heather: What are the benefits of participating in Sun vs Snow or any of the other query contests out there?

Querying is a daunting business. I mean even successful querying results in 80 percent rejection. Besides the expected benefit of getting some writers requests from agents, anything to add fun to the grim business is very welcome to my mind. Plus, contests help create a sense of writing community by bringing people together. That's a benefit that can last long after the contest is over. And Sun versus Snow in particular has the advantage of mentors helping writers improve their queries and first pages for the long haul.
There are three benefits I think:

1) Getting great feedback from seasoned writers who can help you refine your work.

2) Networking within the writing community. Before Michelle and I even put up the submission details, there was already a group swapping queries and pages and working on their entries together. It's really cool to get to bring people together like that!

3) Getting the opportunity to stand apart from the slush pile which can be very helpful!
 Heather: What was the best  "learning moment"  for you that came out of this contest? 
There are always learning moments. Reading so many queries (212 this time) certainly teaches me what works and what doesn't stand out so much in a query and first page. It also gives me a taste of what agents experience on a daily basis and gives me that much more respect for them. 

First, I love this question. Second, I think that all work is subjective. One person may LOVE your work, while another may not be so enthused. The key is to look at the feedback as a whole and decide what makes the most sense for your characters and plot.
Heather: Is there a "season" for query contests, or are they held year round?
They've pretty much become year round. I try to space mine out in order to draw new material with each contest.  I co-host Query Kombat in May/June, Nightmare on Query Street in October, and now Sun versus Snow in January/February

I'd say most contests are year round. And there are some great ones out there:

Cupid's Blind Speed Dating
Writer's Voice

Just to name a few.
 Heather: Any quick bits of advice for aspiring writers?  
Don't be afraid to try things out of your comfort zone. Don't hesitate to interact with your fellow writers and form friendships that will help you forever. Never quit.
Don't send out your work until you've had it vetted by other writers in your category and genre. Another set of eyes can help you see where your plot is failing or where your voice is inconsistent. Nothing can replace having a great stable of beta readers and critique partners to help you polish your work.

Heather: Last question - do you plan to publish the "Alternates" that didn't make the teams?  
Actually Amy and I have permission from our two alternates to post their queries right after Sun versus Snow ends. Which opens a Critique Workshop opportunity for anyone who entered Sun versus Snow. They can comment with feedback on the alternates' posts and in return I'll post as many of their entries as I can manage. The success of the Critique Workshop will really depend on writers leaving feedback for each other. I'm sure I can depend on that. I've found that writers love to help other writers! 

Yes. At the conclusion of the contest, Michelle and I are going to post our alternates and work with them on feedback.

Thanks so much, Michelle and Amy, for your time and for paying it forward by sharing your expertise with the rest of the community.
If you participated in #SunvsSnow and want to take part in the Critique Workshop, keep following the Twitter hashtag #sunvvssnow.
To get some great advice on what does and doesn't work in a query, I really recommend you read through the queries that have been mentored and are now being critiqued by agents on both Michelle's (#TeamSnow) and Amy's blogs (#TeamSun). And even if you're burned out on queries for now, read the blogs anyway. They each feature helpful agent and author interviews plus other great writerly thoughts.

 Also note that the ubiquitous Michelle is a Bouncer on the Cupid's Blind Speed Dating Contest, which is open for entries until tonight!

Good luck, everyone, and as always, 
Be Brilliant.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Query

No surprise here, the exercise of peeling back my ms to 140 characters was GOOD. I mean, so good, that the Tweets I wrote revealed with painful clarity just how terrible my query letter was. I mean, rancid. UGH. Because it reflected NOT ENOUGH of my book's conflict and only hinted at the catalyzing event.

I was being coy. And it was getting me nowhere. I haven't queried that much, but clearly the letters haven't set anyone's world on fire, so what I was doing wasn't working.

Argh. I want it to be perfect NOW. *Sweats*  Impatient much? Yah. Always. Anyway, I took a hatchet to it, rewrote the thing, and now it's shiny & new. I actually feel cautiously optimistic. I've sent it to one agent (crossing fingers) and am also getting ready for #sunvssnow.

Query Shark is a beautiful thing, by the way:
She's brutal, but it's all so very, very good. I made a few very important changes based on critiques of other queries from this blog, which is exactly what Janet Reid (the shark) intends. She's not interested in seeing your query for critique unless you've read her entire archive - hoping that many will answer their own questions just by reading how others have made the same mistakes.

Another great post on writing a good query:

I think we all  feel frustrated on occasion about the difficulty of writing a good query.
If AgentQ could see past my terrible query, he/she would discover my amazing ms!!

But of course, that's not true. Not at all. The thing about the query is, it really does reflect your writing talent. Because if you can clearly, concisely capture your plot, conflict, and characters, you're in command of your work. And your words. And if you can sell it, you're a good candidate for the partnership that is agent-author.

One more note, a bit of irony for me. In my years as a reporter, one of the things that used to set my teeth on edge about the process of moving from job to job in the tv news biz was that in spite of the quality of my work, the job offers usually came down to whether the news director like my presence. My personality. My FACE. I worked simultaneously on being smart, talented, connected, and photogenic, and that always felt a little wrong.

Now as I reinvent myself in this new career, I am judged ONLY by the content of my writing and it's very unsettling. Because I keep thinking, If AgentA could see how nice I am, how personable -- maybe he/she might like my ms!!!

Change is good. Sigh. *Laughs self-deprecatingly*
Wish me luck with the new letter!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Another contest!!

I didn't make it into the final round of One on One, but in my asking around about it, I heard about #Pitmad.

I've read agents' blogs who don't like these Twitter pitch contests and I've read those who do -- and, as with everything in life, there are good reasons to Tweet or not to Tweet. (Sorry, couldn't help it).

I've decided to go ahead and try, largely because of the amazing support and critique opportunities that come along with it.

If you're wavering, or if you have pitches you'd like to test on other writers for helpful feedback, THIS:

I've already had some valuable feedback about my pitches from "workshopping" my original efforts.

The other reason I decided to try #pitmad is this: it's good for me.

For those (few) of you who haven't yet, try generating a 140-character pitch for your WiP anyway. The practice forces you to distill for yourself the most basic elements of your story, theme, conflict, and plot - a very healthy, if bracing, exercise. Among the benefits? Perhaps a new approach to your query letter, a new understanding of your own work, and a new perspective that might bring on a fresh round of edits. (I know, no one likes edits - but, to keep with the healthy exercise metaphor, no pain no gain, right??????)

Another extremely helpful link for those struggling to write a pitch:

Good luck, everyone! And be brilliant. :)


Saturday, January 4, 2014

One on One

I just entered my first contest.

One on One.

Each contest is different, (see my post on Sun vs Snow).

But with this one, you send your query to the person holding the contest - this one is offered by a writer named Mike Anthony . From the first 50 queries he receives, he will choose the best 10.  He will post those 10 on his blog site, at which time all the writers posted will vote on the best one, and then the winner will get a one-on-one chat with literary agent Pooja Menon for 30 minutes.

So, pretty cool, right?

Not a guaranteed request for pages or anything - but definitely a chance to ask an agent ALL OF THE QUESTIONS. And a chance to see what other writers think of my query.

And THAT is what has my heart racing. Because other than my (amazing, fantastic, wonderful) beta readers, I haven't really put my writing out there for anyone to see.

I mean, I know there's this blog (thanks for reading, Mom!) but this contest is a much bigger forum and a much wider net. Which means I am about to - I hope - receive feedback from the other people out there in the query trenches with me, people who have been doing this longer.

I love the idea of great advice. And I am NERVOUS about the idea of great advice, because, while as a reporter I did grow thick rhino skin to ward off rejection and tough comments, that skin has thinned somewhat since I left THAT business.

It has begun to toughen up a bit since receiving my first agent rejections, but I am still feeling pretty delicate. And just putting out a query letter - not even my ms - brings up ALL OF THE FEARS.

Which is silly, and I'll get over it. But I just had to blog, because did anyone else ever feel like this in the beginning? When you first started putting out your stuff for others to see? When the queries weren't just going to the slush pile but actually subject to LIVE INSTANT COMMENT?