Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Just One Day Hype and the Amazing Writing of Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an amazing writer.

I first picked up her debut novel, If I Stay, one summer, but I couldn't finish it. At the time, it just struck some chord inside me in a way that was really disturbing. Needless to say, reading it was not an enjoyable experience. But some months later, I picked it up again, and that time I was ready. And I am so glad I gave it a second chance.

Forman has this amazing ability to take two characters and have you completely invested in the outcome of their relationship in just one book. She can accomplish in a single novel what people spend multiple books in a series or multiple episodes on a tv show trying to convey. I didn't think I could care more about those characters, but then she released the follow-up, Where She Went. I had a feeling at the end of If I Stay that these characters might not have a happy ending soon after where the book ended. But that was the beauty of the book: it could give these characters that happy ending as far as I, the reader, was concerned. So when I heard about Where She Went, I waffled. Another book by Gayle Forman! About characters I love! But what if she breaks my heart with what she writes for these characters? I don't know if I can spend another book inside Mia's grief-stricken head. And then Forman did something I completely didn't expect: she switched narrators. All of a sudden we were in Adam's head. Again, I waffled. But this is so different from the first novel! There's no magical realism, there's a different narrator...but of course I was silly to doubt, because after reading the book I was forced to utter a phrase rarely ever heard leaving my lips: "The second book was better than the first!"

Where She Went is devastatingly beautiful. To describe it in words other than Forman's own seems futile. And because of my love for those two books, I felt fairly confident Forman's next two book series would be amazing. And after reading the first two chapters on the Facebook page for the series, I can affirm that yes, these books will be amazing. I'm already in love with the chemistry between the two leads, and the condensed time frame of their story is going to make this book extremely intense. I can guarantee Forman is going to break my heart and put it back together again multiple times just in the first book. Tears are guaranteed to be shed. 

I had the pleasure of meeting her at an event at the Word Brooklyn bookstore and although I acted calm, inside I was jumping up and down, squealing with excitement. She's every bit as lovely as you hope she is after reading her books. I told her how much I loved her first two books, and I hope that I get a chance to meet her again and tell her how much I like her next two - because my enjoyment of them is guaranteed. 

Go like the Facebook page to help unlock the third chapter of the book! She's also doing a giveaway for Just One Day - just click the widget on the righthand side of my blog to find out how to enter.

And if you haven't read If I Stay, do yourself a favor and go read it. Just...keep a box of tissues nearby. You're probably going to need it. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Instead of a Portal World, Try Peeling Back the Layers of Our Own

This post about portal fantasies gave me some food for thought. The author of the post is wondering why no agents are interested in representing portal fantasies in the vein of the Chronicles of Narnia. Many agents feel that portal fantasies have low stakes because the danger never affects the protagonist's home world. I tend to agree with that sentiment. I remember that I liked The Magician's Nephew, the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, much better than the actual first book. In the prequel, the White Witch actually comes into the human world and wreaks havoc, while in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the entirety of the action takes place within the portal world. I also find it a bit unbelievable when the residents of the portal world are these amazing, powerful beings who need a human to solve all their problems.

On another note, the author of this post notes that there is little YA fiction that involves space travel and alien planets. I think that is largely because for a long time, those premises were relegated to the hard sci-fi section and as YA doesn't have a ready made market for hard sci-fi, people may have been confused as how to sell these books in the young adult market. However, I think this is changing, due to the popularity of the Across the Universe trilogy and the recently published Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal.

Also, the author suggests that "Maybe the lack of portal fantasy is a metaphor for the belief that modern teenagers don’t want to travel to strange new worlds, even in their reading." I think this whole discussion about portal fantasy ignores the fact that perspective is crucial to the story being told. I have nothing against exploring a strange new world, but I don't need it to be introduced to me via a portal fantasy premise. To me, that seems like an extra step, and I'd like to cut out the middleman. Every time I read a new book, I, the reader, fill the role of the protagonist of a portal fantasy as I enter the world this book is showing me. I greatly prefer straight fantasy because the perspective is from the natives of that world. Some writers might find it hard to introduce their new world and use a portal world as a shortcut, however, for the most part, I find this to be lazy writing and story-telling. In Cinder by Marissa Meyer, for example, Meyer sucked me right into her futuristic Beijing retelling of Cinderella with a cyborg protagonist. I never say "never," so a well-written portal fantasy can certainly suck me in, but for the most part, I prefer a different premise.

A really good way for me to talk about this is to discuss a recent YA book I've read and loved: Croak by Gina Damico. This is a book that introduces the reader to a strange new world while still keeping the stakes high for the "real" world. In this novel, Lex is sent to live with her uncle after a recent run of delinquent behavior. Little does she (or her parents) know that her uncle is a Grim, someone who sends departed souls to the afterlife. Lex arrives in the little isolated mountain town of Croak, one of a few places where Grims live and work together. Non-Grims don't see these places for what they are, and the magic of the places send them away confused. The Grimsphere is another layer to our world, and Grims can still move freely through the rest of the world. One of the Grims goes rogue and starts Damning criminals (preventing their souls from reaching the Afterlife), but soon the Grim starts Damning innocent people as well. The eternal souls of the entire human world hang in the balance, which gives this story high stakes and makes it so compelling.

All in all, when I was younger, I read a fair amount of portal fantasies, but I've since left those stories behind, and I look with excitement to the future of YA fantasy. I'm only a lowly intern at the moment, but someday down the road when I'm an actual agent, I would love to represent something like Croak. For those interested, there are currently two books in the series with a third on the way. Add it on Goodreads here. By the way, how cool is that cover?

Friday, December 7, 2012

You Are Not Entitled to a Successful Publishing Career

Part of this post really resonated with me. Alvina Ling talks about an encounter she had with a writer at a SCBWI conference:

"'The problem is, agents and publishers aren't knocking on my door.'

I didn't have a response for this, and we were already walking away from each other, so I just continued on my way. But later I replayed the conversation and marveled at the woman's attitude. It was as if she felt she was somehow entitled to be published, that it shouldn't be so hard.

I don't know the woman's background--perhaps she'd been coming to conferences for years and was just speaking from extreme frustration. Or maybe it was her first conference, and she was disappointed by what she had learned. But I'm really not sure what that woman wanted me to say. That it should be that easy? Did she want me to somehow feel guilted into publishing her? That I'd say, without having read anything she'd written, that I'd publish her book?"
The nature of my job as a literary agency intern means I have to reject a great deal of people every week. I work at a smaller agency (in terms of the number of agents, not clients), and we receive about 400 queries a month. I've been here 4 months, and out of all those queries, I've probably requested about 25 full manuscripts, and of those 25, I've actually reported on about eight I felt were good enough to show to one of the agents. And of those eight, they've taken on exactly...none. Since I've been there, I think the agency has signed two new clients. As a small agency, most of their time in the office (like other agencies) is spent on their existing clients. They talk to their authors, they call editors they think are a fit for the manuscript they're shopping, they discuss foreign rights, they talk to Amazon about problems with their authors' ebooks, they read their authors' new manuscripts, and type up editorial notes and pitch letters, among other things. Most of their reading is done outside of the office. Your manuscript may not be bad, it may be just good - instead of great. For an agent to spend their precious time reading your manuscript, it has to really pique their interest (I think it's safe to say every agent wants to find that manuscript that makes them miss their subway stop).

So you can start to see how hard it is to get published. 

There are plenty of reasons why an agent will pass on your manuscript that have nothing to do with the quality of your plot or writing. I've passed on things because they're too similar to books my agency already represents. This is a huge problem. I see a lot of queries where people gush that they love X author or X book that we represent, and then proceed to pitch something that is almost exactly the same. I'm glad that you have the same taste in books as our agents, but there's not room on our list for something that's exactly the same as what we always represent. Selling both books would become a problem.

I've passed on things because their premise is too similar to projects that have over saturated the market. For example, I will almost always pass on something with vampires, unless the query really grabs me. Sometimes a project just doesn't fall under the scope of what the agency represents. For example, short story collections, poetry, and books written for an academic audience are not a good fit for our agency. Also, every agent has their personal list of things that make them groan when they see them in their inbox, because it's just not their cup of tea. I'm just an intern, so I don't take my personal preferences into consideration, but personally, I groan when I see a story with fallen angels or a story where the protagonist is 'fated,' 'destined,' or 'bound' to their love interest. However, if the author makes me like the manuscript despite my biases, that shows they are a strong writer.

I see the attitude she's talking about a lot in queries. There was one query in particular where the author felt compelled to inform me that even if I pass on their work, they "intend" to get published. The people who praise their own writing in their query, or who blog about how easy it should be for them to get published (I do google you, authors, I do), really turn me off. If you send me a strong query, and your sample pages deliver on what was promised in the query, that's all you need. It's cool if you have writing credits, degrees, and memberships in various writing groups, but none of those are relevant if I'm not compelled by your story and your writing.

Not everyone is going to be a successful writer. Just like not everyone is going to be a successful doctor, lawyer, actor, artist, musician, etc. My family members joke around and ask me, "How many dreams did you crush today?" However, not everyone should be a published writer. For the most part, I'm confident when I reject people that they will keep writing for fun even if they never get published, or that even though they're not right for our agency, someone else will publish them. Fact: some people are just not good writers. Some people will never get better, and some people just need to write a couple more manuscripts to develop their skills before they query again.

Most published writers have day jobs, and only a very small percentage of writers can live off their writing. Even the most successful authors didn't get that way overnight. Meg Cabot has talked about the hundreds of rejection letters she received before she got published, and even then, her books weren't that successful. It wasn't until the Princess Diaries movie came out that she was able to republish her old books, and they became successful as well. John Green, arguably one of the most popular and talented writers in YA, wasn't a best-selling author at first, and he worked really hard to earn a devoted following that is largely responsible for his current overwhelming success.

Bottom line: Getting published is hard. Getting published is a business. Agents want to represent good writers and stories, and editors want to publish them, but nobody owes you anything. You have to work for it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Want to Be John Green When I Grow Up

I'm pretty open about the fact that I love John Green and think he's a genius. I saw him at the National Book Festival back in September, and it was the highlight of the festival for me. He was very humble despite his extreme popularity. As soon as he realized that he had been announced a little prematurely and everyone was waiting for him, he jogged up onto the stage. My mother, who is a librarian, was not prepared for the amount of screaming that accompanied his arrival. It's very rare for authors - YA or otherwise - to get that kind of reception, and it's because John Green engages so intensely with his audience, cares so deeply about world issues, and treats his teenage readers as intellectual equals that he  is met by screaming fans everywhere he goes. It also doesn't hurt that he's not afraid to make a fool out of himself for our entertainment on occasion.

He is just as well spoken in person as he is in his videos. He spoke beautifully about his belief in the intelligence of teenagers and how thankful he is to have the opportunity to make communities and effect change through the platform he has as both a bestselling YA author and a Youtube sensation. When there was a question and answer section, a teenage girl asked him a question about whether he subscribes to the postmodernist belief that "the author is dead." As soon as she said "postmodernist," a lot of people in the crowd sort of snickered and I could tell they thought this girl was trying too hard to ask a question that was really pretentious. I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I guess a lot of people were confused by the question. John was a completely amazing human being, as per usual, and he showed his usual belief in the intelligence of teenagers and their questions and answered it as if it was the most important question he'd ever been asked. He clarified the question for the audience and launched into a thought-provoking answer about how his Internet presence has affected his books and career in ways he never could have predicted when he first started writing, before he was famous. I could go on and on about how much I love John Green, and how he's a beautiful human being, but maybe I'll save that for another post.

Anyway, that was all to preface this interview with John Green that I wanted to share. The whole interview is worth reading, but I think this bit underscores the point I made above, that John Green truly values the input of teenagers and is interested in making them feel like they can make a difference in the world:

SH: If you could handpick the ideal reader for your book, how would you describe that reader?
JG: Thoughtful, intellectually curious, self-conscious 17-year-old. (That is to say: all 17-year-olds.)

Now go forth and read something by John Green (if you haven't already. But really, what are you really waiting for?).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Oyster to Create the Spotify of Books? I'm Dubious.

I don't know how I feel about this news about Oyster deciding to try to make the Spotify or Netflix of books. I'm sure it works out well for publishers, but I'm not sure how agents and authors would feel about this model. I'm not sure how much money this would really give agents or authors (probably not a lot). I'm not sure how it would affect ebook sales (I'm sure it won't touch print sales, since not everyone is an avid ebook reader). I'm sure that's a question they'll have to worry about once they launch this to the general public.

It definitely sounds like it's targeted toward people who don't read a lot and want recommendations. I feel like people who read a lot and are active in their reading selections either have a Goodreads account or they have friends with whom they can exchange books and book recommendations. Since you're paying a monthly fee, I guess the extent to which people get their money's worth out of this depends on how fast they read. This is also targeted toward people who primarily read ebooks. I can't imagine paying a monthly fee to only read ebooks. I read books from a variety of sources and in a variety of forms. As a literary agency intern, I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts on my laptop. I also read books I get from the library. I read physical books I purchase. I also read ebooks I get from the library. I don't think I'm the target audience for this ebook library project, so maybe I'm not the best person to comment on this, but I just wanted to throw in my two cents before this actually hits widespread distribution. It's something I'll be keeping an eye on - we'll see how successful it becomes.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure Gets New Life

Seeing this news story on Galley Cat made me nostalgic for my childhood days spent reading Choose Your Own Adventure novels as well as the Give Yourself Goosebumps novels. If tablets had existed when I was a kid, reading these books would have been so much easier! I wouldn't have had to bookmark the pages to go back to and then get upset when I lost track and had to start all over. Look at that beautiful format! Ah, to be a child again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

HarperCollins Picks Up Webcomic (and Thoughts on Graphic Novels)

I was really excited to hear this news over on Comics Beat about HarperCollins picking up the webcomic Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. She blogs here and tumbles here and you can read Nimona starting here.

The webcomic is great, but I also just love her random comics, particularly the ones about the Hunger Games:

The rest are here.

Since she just writes great comics in general, I think her agent (and HarperCollins) made a great decision taking her on, as she clearly has plenty more great ideas and a promising career ahead of her.

I also think it's great that so many people these days are able to launch their careers via their personal web presence, build up a fan base, and then gain official representation and publication by a traditional publishing house. The Coquette did it as well, and I think the way is being paved for many other creative types to launch their careers this way. It's also cool to have followed these people when they were just getting started on the web and finally see them get published. 

From a publishing perspective, graphic novels (or any other book with a nontraditional format) are harder to sell, and so most agents are reluctant to acquire them. But I think graphic novels are rising in popularity, and the general public is becoming aware of them as not existing solely for the "geek" community or hardcore comic fan (not that there's anything wrong with the geek community; I myself am a card-carrying member). The visual element adds a rich layer to the storytelling that just can't be achieved in a standard novel. Look at the success of the Scott Pilgrim series. The creators of Avatar: the Last Airbender series had great success continuing their stories in the graphic novel format as well. I hope graphic novels continue to get the exposure they deserve, and with the changing nature of the publishing industry, I think graphic novels are only going to do better from here on out.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holden Caulfield is Here to Stay (Whether You Like it or Not)

I finally got around to reading this article about Mary O'Connell's plan to feature Holden Caulfield in her book, and I just wanted to say I totally understand Salinger's desire to control his intellectual property. He's far from the only author to control his work so tightly. I don't agree with O'Connell's decision to feature Holden Caulfield in a novel. Why not write Catcher in the Rye fanfiction? We quickly forget that it's only recently when it became desirable to write "original" stories (but let's be real, there are no new stories). For a long time, people just wanted to read more stories about the same characters (see the popularity of the Greek myths with their recurring characters). Every time a popular, influential work was published, authors tried to write something similar. She doesn't need to call him Holden Caulfield, just write a similar character. John Green's Looking for Alaska owes a huge debt to Holden, but he doesn't actually drop Holden in his story as a character, because he doesn't need to nor should he. If you need to drop in famous characters to make your story interesting, perhaps you should go work on your skills as a writer before you try to publish something.

I agree with John Green when he said: "I don’t know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likable. Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification with. Books are in the business of creating great stories that make your brain go ahhbdgbdmerhbergurhbudgerbudbaaarr." If characters are likeable, that's great, but ultimately, I want to read about interesting characters, and the fact that this article has been written and people are still talking about this character and this novel mean that they're interesting. There are plenty of stories right now that people are obsessed with (*cough* 50 Shades of Grey) but time will tell which ones we still read in school and write essays about and discuss with our friends.

I think the students who comment, "I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City" miss the point of the story. Holden is dealing with the grief of his brother's death, and the fact that his family has money doesn't solve his problems. Money doesn't keep the people you love from dying. Money doesn't provide you with support when you are grieving. Money can buy you companionship but it can't buy you true friendship or love. I could go on about Catcher in the Rye, but I'll stop here by saying that I like the novel, I think it's great, and I can guarantee we'll still be talking about it after another 60 years.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Outlawed by Amazon DRM « Martin Bekkelund

"Did she violate any terms? Amazon will not tell. Perhaps by accident? Amazon does not care. The conclusion so far is clear: Amazon closed her account, wiped her Kindle and refuses to tell her why. End of discussion. As a long-term writer about technology, DRM, privacy and user rights, this Amazon example shows the very worst of DRM. If the retailer, in this case Amazon, thinks you’re a crook, they will throw you out and take away everything that you bought. And if you disagree, you’re totally outlawed. Not only is your account closed, all your books that you paid for are gone. With DRM, you don’t buy and own books, you merely rent them for as long as the retailer finds it convenient."

This is just going to be my answer when people ask me what I have against Amazon and the Kindle. I want to actually own my books and e-reader. Not to mention all the ways they make it impossible for smaller e-book retailers to compete, etc. Oh, Amazon.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dear Tara: You’re my worst nightmare. How does it feel to fail? | The Tara Tracks

"Writing a good book, even an incredible book, will not automatically score you a successful career in traditional publishing. Anyone who tells you differently is either misinformed or sugar-coating it."

I can't stress how true this is. J. K. Rowling got lucky. So did Stephenie Meyer. They started trends rather than riding on the coattails, and in both cases, it just happened to be the right manuscript for the right agent to sell to the right publishing house, and the reading public was ready.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How it Works: An Intern Reads Your Queries

I just thought I would clear up some misconceptions people might have about querying and how it works at an agency. I can only speak to the way it works at my agency, but maybe it will be illuminating for someone.
We have an email address for submissions, and we start at the oldest email and work our way up to the latest, although we occasionally just skim through to see if there's something that catches our eye.

Generally, I at least read the first few pages of every submission, regardless of how stellar the query letter is. Exceptions are:

1. If English clearly isn't the author's first language. Their best bet is to try to get published in their own country, and then the book can eventually be professionally translated into English.

2. If the query letter is novella length. At that point, I've already spent more time than I would like on that submission and I haven't even gotten to the manuscript yet! And usually when the query letter is that long, I finish it without a clue what their book is about.

Also, I'm only an intern, and we are only allowed to respond with a form rejection letter. There are many times when I would like to give more specific feedback, but I just can't. Anything I say is as a representative of the agency, but not as an actual employee. So don't be offended by the form rejection letter. A lot of agencies don't respond at all, and we really do look at every submission.

We also get snail mail submissions, and there's nothing wrong with that, but to me, it just seems like a waste of money between the paper, printer ink, and cost of postage. It's much easier for us to respond to email queries.
So, what happens if I like the first few pages? I'll keep reading the full partial, and reevaluate at that point. That's when I ask myself, do I really want to keep reading this? Am I dying to know what happens? Am I invested in these characters? If the answer is no, I send the rejection. If the answer is yes, I request the full.

Then, the full may sit in my maybe pile for awhile before I get to it. I have many other duties as an intern: filing, reading other queries, preparing mailings, etc. A lot of the reading of full manuscripts happens when I'm not in the office. And I'm not even getting paid! I want to read your manuscripts, but it takes time.

But even if I request the full manuscript, two things may happen.

1. I may not finish it. I may get to a point where the plot takes a turn, or it really starts to lag, or characters become inconsistent. I'll send a rejection at that point.

2. Another possibility is that I finish the full.

At this point, there's three possibilities:

1. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't anything special. Form rejection.

2. I liked it a lot, but I'm not quite sure if it has that special something. I'll usually start reading another full, and if I'm more excited about that one, I'll probably reject the first one.  At the end of the day, I have to be really selective as to what I pass on to the agents.

3. I love it, and I want to read the sequel, and I'm so excited about the idea of it someday getting published.

If I really love it, then I'll write a reader's report. I'll start the report with a summary much like the jacket copy on a book. Then I'll write up what works and what doesn't. I'll write about the character development, exciting plot points, similarities to other books, and its potential to be published, among other things. Then I'll send that reader's report and the full manuscript to one of the agents.

Then I have to wait for them to get around to reading it. And the thing is, EVEN if I love it, and EVEN if I write the report, the agents might still pass on it. In fact, they probably will. They're very selective and with good reason. Taking on a new client is a big deal, and it takes away from the amount of time they have to spend on their existing clients.

So I hope that helped someone, somewhere. Time to go bury my head back in the slush pile.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Publishing Basics: Taking the Smoke out of The Smoking Gun - A Bookish Broad

"It is very easy to point fingers at 'the big bad publisher' when a story like The Smoking Gun’s makes the rounds, but without knowing the intricacies of the book business, I’d be cautious about placing blame and think about the broken promises made by authors signing contracts which they do not fulfill."

As a literary agency intern, I get to read contracts, and I've learned a lot about the business side of publishing. And that's the thing: publishing is a creative industry, but it's also a business, and at the end of the day, authors enter into contracts with publishers which are often fiercely negotiated, and just as authors expect publishers to hold up their end of the deal, authors must do the same.

I encourage everyone to write, but I firmly believe that not everyone that tries to will or should be published. And even of those that are, not all of them will be wildly successful. Many published authors have a day job. To be a published author in this day and age, requires a certain kind of personality. They have to be willing to have an internet presence, to do interviews and book tours, and above all, to work hard. You must deliver the goods/services (the novel) that you have legally agreed to provide on the date agreed upon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Love 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth'? 10 other teen reads you can't miss: 'Warm Bodies,' 'Tempest' and more | Shelf Life |

9. Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde: 15-year-old Alys is accused of witchcraft and left out as a sacrifice to a local dragon. Instead of eating her, however, the dragon sets her free and together they plot the perfect vengeance against those who betrayed her. It’s the medieval Revenge, minus the smarmy sidekick, but plus dragons! (Hot dragons — and we don’t mean in the fire-breathing way.)

I was very excited to see Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde on this list. It was one of my favorite fantasy novels growing up, and her other novels, including Companions of the Night, also number among my favorites. I'm glad one of her older novels is getting attention. She's been writing forever, and if you're looking for a solid fantasy novel to recommend to a tween or teenager, you can't go wrong with something by Vivian Vande Velde.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Contemporary/Realistic Fiction | The Hub

"Contemporary is the core of YA fiction. It is what grounds genre fiction because the lived experience allows for building and understanding those stories outside of the real world. Contemporary fiction will never be a fad nor a trend."

Right now, I have a couple of full manuscripts on my to read list for my internship that are YA contemporary. I'd really like to find good YA contemporary because I've become so inundated with urban fantasy lately. This isn't to say that fantasy can't be realistic - some of the highest concept books feature characters whose struggles are so vivid and so relevant to our own lives - but there's nothing I like more than reading about the trials and tribulations of characters I feel could be my next door neighbors or my best friends.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Intern's Thoughts on Queries (Maybe Pick One Genre, Not Fifteen)

I came across this post about categorizing your manuscript in the query letter and it made laugh, since it definitely makes me think of things I've seen while reading the slush pile at my internship. Especially when she talks about the mistake of categorizing your manuscript too specifically. My fellow intern once read a query that said their work had fifteen genres. I also agree with her about having "killer pitch" and "tight, great polished writing in the actual ms." Regardless of genre, we all just want to read something that piques our interest and is also well-written.

She's also right about it not being true that agents just reject queries because of minor formatting issues or because you categorized your manuscript "incorrectly." Believe me, I have gone on to read the sample pages from queries that had more than just formatting problems wrong with them. Unless you sound like a stark raving lunatic in your query letter, I will probably read your sample pages. To me, I'd rather read a short and to the point query letter with a couple of typos than a novella length query - at that point, I feel I've invested all the time in your work that I can possibly afford.

"Agents are just people. People who love books, and who want to help facilitate the making of books. People whose job it is to advocate for authors."

This is so true! Like in any profession, I know there are agents out there who aren't the best, but the ones I work with truly love their authors and work really hard to sell their books all across the globe, to play hardball and get them the best possible deals, and most of all, they love discussing their authors' manuscripts around the office.
My basic, basic tips on querying fiction would be to read the jacket copy on every book you come across. Make a note of what works and what doesn't. When I read your query, I should know who the main characters are, what the inciting action is, and what complications will arise over the course of the novel.

So get out there and send out well-written queries, authors! And please have someone read it over. Writing is a passion, but getting published is a career, and you need to be professional. You wouldn't send out a cover letter without looking it over ten times; the same should be true of your query letter. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review: Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Lacey wakes to a beautiful summer morning excited to begin her new job at the library, just as her mother is supposed to start work at the grocery store. Lacey hopes that her mother's ghosts have finally been laid to rest; after all, she seems so much better these days, and they really do need the money. But as the hours tick by and memories come flooding back, a day full of hope spins terrifyingly out of control...


I loved The Chosen One, another book by Carol Lynch Williams, so I had high hopes for Miles from Ordinary. Williams did not disappoint. She knows how to get into a thirteen year old girl's head and convey the conflicting thoughts and emotions the protagonist, Lacey, feels as her mother continues to decline to the point of no return. This book was a quick but gripping read, a harrowing look into the life of a young girl tasked with handling huge problems on her own, fearful of involving anyone who might not understand. Williams presented a fairly unbiased view of the situation, resisting the temptation to demonize Lacey's mother. This book's ending was both happy and sad; I like that Williams didn't take the easy way out and try to force a cheerful ending to such a suspenseful and moving book. Carol Lynch Williams is the master of serious novels about thirteen year old girls; no one else need apply.

Add Miles from Ordinary on Goodreads

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tantalizing Future YA Releases!

This is a feature started by Eleni at La Femme Readers to showcase upcoming and exciting YA releases.

A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine #1) by Jaclyn Moriarty (PanMacmillan Australia, 9/18/12)

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini (Balzer + Bray, 9/25/12)

All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin (Random House Children's Books, 10/9/12)

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton (Poppy, 10/9/12)

Ask the Passengers by A. S. King (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 10/23/12)

Blind Spot by Laura Ellen (Harcourt Children's Books, 10/23/12)

Venom (Secrets of the Eternal Rose #1) by Fiona Paul (Philomel, 10/30/12)

Reached (Matched #3) by Ally Condie (Dutton Children's Books, 11/13/12)

Middle Ground (Awaken #2) by Katie Kacvinsky (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 11/20/12)

Why We Broke Up: a movie?

I came across this news item awhile ago, and I felt compelled to express my vehement disapproval of turning Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler into a movie.

This book is a novel length letter and relies entirely on that format to create a compelling story. The beauty of this book is in the details that Min provides about why she and Ed broke up. It charts their entire relationship from flirtation to ending, and points out all the little signs along the way that their time together would never last. It is a complex look at relationships, as breakups are hardly ever quite as simple as they are portrayed in most movies or television shows. One person hardly ever betrays the other person in an irreparable way; the far more likely outcome is that two people simply grow apart, they want something or someone else, they want to be single again, they don't want to make sacrifices with you, they're tired of arguing, and on and on. Often two people are perfectly good people they just aren't good together, and Min shows both sides of her time with her ex, the good and the bad. No matter how much you end up bashing an ex, there were always good times, too; you were with them for a reason. This book is a celebration of all the little quirks and moments that attract you to a person and an exploration of how all those little pieces don't always add up to a successful relationship.

I just can't see how they would take this novel and turn it into a movie, because movies are such a visual medium, and this book although lyrical, is not about scenes. This book is all about the words, Daniel Handler's beautiful words: "It was a secret time and place, you next to me, untraceable and out of this world." The illustrations before each chapter of the items in the box Min is giving to her ex gives you the feeling that you have found a failed relationship in a box, and they lend an intimacy to this novel that would be lost on screen.

I really hope this project never goes anywhere, because I simply can't bear to see another book I love ruined on screen (see the movie version of It's Kind of a Funny Story).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

First book review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Everyone else in the world has a book review blog, so I figured I would post some book reviews on here. Recently, I read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This was an amazing YA novel. It was not what I was expecting - it was better. For those of you that don't know, the book tells the story of two teenagers living on a small island which annually draws in tourists to the famous Scorpio Races. This event is very dangerous, as people catch capaill uisce (fantastical, vicious, deadly water horses) and tame them to ride in the races. Only men traditionally ride, and Kate Conolly (Puck) defies convention by entering. The narrative alternates between her voice and that of Sean Kendrick, another contestant in the races. Most of the book follows the preparation for the race; the actual race occupies very little space in the novel. Sean Kendrick was not as interesting a character for me, but I did feel that I had a very good sense of who he was and what he wanted out of life.

However, the best thing about this book is that despite it containing elements of fantasy, at its core, it is a story that conveys universally relatable themes. It is a story of a girl trying desperately to do whatever she can to keep her family together. It is a story of a boy who wants nothing more than to be able to own the horse he loves. There is a strong friendship that promises to blossom into romance very naturally. I like that Puck is a strong female character and yet Maggie Stiefvater does not attempt to make her "bad-ass." She has parts of her that are strong and bold, and yet, she still has vulnerabilities and fears. These weaknesses make her real and make it hard not to root for her. I loved her relationships with her brothers, and I felt the island of Thisby was a very well-developed setting. Stiefvater also managed to explore class tensions and the clash between those who cannot live the island life and those who cannot imagine any other way, particularly within Puck's own family.

This novel was thrilling, funny, and written in a very strong voice. I would like to read more novels with characters like Puck. Reading this book made me very excited to read Stiefvater's upcoming novel, The Raven Boys, which has a release date of September 18th.

Add The Scorpio Races to Goodreads

Add The Raven Boys to Goodreads

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The New Me

As I approach the end of my senior year, I feel compelled to take stock of my life and organize a web presence that will help me move into the next phase of my life. This blog is part of that attempt. I’ve tried blogging before, and failed, although I post prolifically on Tumblr. This blog will probably be part personal blog, part book review blog, and part commentary on interesting articles or issues that get me riled up. Stay tuned.