Tag Archives: critique

What I’ve Learned: Querying… Again

A few years ago, I attempted to query my first novel. It was nowhere near ready, but I wasn’t enjoying my job and took solace in the idea that I could find an agent, become a writer, and then quit! While the fantasy was not realistic, it was satisfying and I embarked on an elaborate querying process that yielded no results.

Now, I’m entering the query process again with a much more polished manuscript for my third completed- but fifth overall- novel. This process has inspired me to pull out my old excel charts and query drafts to get an idea of where I went wrong and how I can do better this time, besides the fact that I’ve simply written a better book. My last novel was a little dry in the beginning, not nearly as edited, and more stereotypical YA fantasy. Querying resulted in only a few requests for a partial and nothing beyond.

I’m very early on in the query process now (drafting my query and writing my synopsis while my beta readers read my novel), but I’ve already learned so much from doing this process again, and doing it right this time.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. Before you even write the book, look at what agents DON’T want 

If you’re writing a dystopian- stop. If you’re writing fantasy with a european inspired setting- maybe stop. Every agent I’m looking at now is asking for multicultural or non-european settings. This is something to consider seriously for us YA fantasy writers, who are in a flooded market.

Pay attention to the way the market is moving. Do a little research before you put your heart and soul into writing a novel. If you just read 5 fairytale retellings, probably don’t write one. After Cinder came out, literary agents were all asking for a fairy tale retelling, and boy did they get them! Within a year or two, the market was fully saturated. By the time you’re reading them off the shelves at Barnes and Noble, agents have moved on. Do a google search for literary agents and see who wants what to get an idea, but just remember that these things can change rather quickly.

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2. Really- and I mean reaaaaaallly- edit your novel.

No ones first draft ever popped out perfect. Hasn’t happened. Will never happen. Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, has talked a few times about how she hates writing first drafts, because she just wants to get to the editing. I thought this was hysterical, because I love the first draft, and the editing- not so much. But I’m guessing the reason why she loves editing was the reason why I didn’t like it- you see all your mistakes! You see the inconsistencies, the typos, and the characters who disappear from the story.

This is the time to fix those plot holes, make sure everything is tight and that no boring chapters remain! I was merciless with this novel, cutting out whole chapters and serious conversations because I didn’t want to read them when I was editing. If you don’t want to read them, then agents sure as hell won’t want to read them either!

3. Choose your beta readers carefully.

What I did wrong the first time was give out a copy of my book to any friend or family member who said they wanted to read it. What I learned? Some of my friends asked me several times for a copy of my book- then never read it. Don’t get me wrong, my first unedited novel wasn’t good, but it still stung. Then I also asked a family member to read it who gave me silly, rather insulting advice. She compared my main character to Katniss for reasons I still can’t understand. If she’d said my novel was super slow or needed some serious plot changes? Then sure, I’d get that.

A new critique partner of mine shared this awesome video with me, by writer Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about how you need to be so careful what readers you ask for advice, because often they will “diagnose” and “prescribe” things for your novel without understanding. She cautions us writers against listening to this and recommends beta readers focus on the feelings they get, rather than getting too specific about problems and fixes.

I learned the hard way that my beta readers should be: 1) people who actively read your genre and will give you the kind of advice you’re asking for. 2) people who write your genre! I found some awesome new beta readers through twitter and the lovely hashtag #ontheporch. I recommend giving it a try!

4. Don’t avoid the synopsis.

Last time, I didn’t want to write a synopsis so I started by querying agents who didn’t require one. This is a) lazy and b) silly because some of the best agents ask for a synopsis! And other agents might ask for a synopsis with their partial request.

Also, writing a synopsis is great exercise as a writer. Condensing 90,000 words into 500 is hard! It was incredibly painful cutting out all my subplots and side characters (some of my favorites!), but it was an important exercise to see if the main story and main characters can stand on their own. Guess what? They can!

5. Have a hook in the query letter.

My first query letter went the standard route of introducing the book without any hook. Well, as I’ve mentioned, the story I was telling was dry, so I had a hard time summing it up into anything exciting. So I just didn’t. I didn’t take the hint that maybe the novel wasn’t ready. I just decided to write a not-so-good query letter with no hook.

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   6. Make sure your opening pages are your best pages.

Polish up those first pages that agents are asking for. Ask betas to spend extra care on the first 50 pages, but the MOST care on the first 10 pages. And when you’re done with listening to your betas and editing those pages, go over them again. And again.

One day, I’ll probably dust off that first book and fix it. It had some real gems within it, but overall it’s not great. The first pages are particularly slow. I was so tired of that book at that point that I just wanted to move on to something else. I wrote a few other novels in between, before I wrote this one. I knew writing this book that the first pages had to hook the reader. So I did! And after a year of working on it, I went back and added even more excitement to the opening pages, because I could and knew I should. I start off big, with a dramatic moment that sets the tone for the whole novel. And so far, my beta readers have loved it.

 

I wish all of you luck with your own querying process! I’ll share updates as I go!

*******

Cameryn

Thoughts on Plots: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses came out a few weeks ago, hitting the New York Times Bestseller list at Number 2. As a fan of Sara J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, I had to read it. It is a fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast – or at least the first half is. The book takes a serious U-turn about halfway through and becomes something very different. But never fear, it is still excellent! Here are the pros and cons.

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Pros:

1. Characters that you root for. From the first chapter, I understood and liked Feyre as a character. She’s smart and says what’s on her mind. Tamlin, the Beast to her Beauty, is perhaps a more simple character, but very enjoyable to read. He’s the tortured, responsible warrior type. Lucien, the third primary character, is very dynamic, as his painful honesty is very enjoyable to read! Lastly, there’s a wonderful redemption arc involving one of Feyre’s sisters that I did not see coming at all! (I love it when I don’t see things coming!)

2. Pretty sexy. These books take the steam level up a few notches from Maas’s Throne of Glass series. No fade to black in these books! The romance is exciting and believable, but readers should be at least 16 to indulge in this book.

3. Gets you amped up for Book 2! The way the book ends has me DYING for Book 2, which won’t hit the shelf for at least a year. After surviving all of her tests and torments, Feyre’s life has changed in several key ways (no spoilers, don’t worry!) She has plenty to worry about for the next book, after she was forced to cut a painful deal that involves her becoming a regular plaything of the Night Court’s High Lord.

Cons:

1. Not another love triangle! (But I secretly love it).- In the end, Feyre gets the man she loves, but there’s another attraction brewing with a man who has ability to enter her mind. She’s intrigued by him, but she will be forced to spend a lot of time with him in the next book! It seems pretty clear that it’s going to be an intense love triangle with Feyre pulled between a straight-laced warrior and a dirty politician. While I’m definitely tired of the Gale/Peeta crap that will never end, I really like the characters and appreciate the unique situation that Maas created for the triangle. It’s not another Katniss whining ‘I can’t make up my mind!’ At least, not yet.

2. Felt like two different books. (Part 1: life at Fae court. Part 2: life in a prison/fight to the death) The first half, Feyre is getting to know the magical Fae world. She’s falling in love with Tamlin and struggling to get over her former life. The second half, she is plunged into a prison and forced to serve as a maid/exotic dancer while competing in three Herculean tasks where she’s expected to die. Whaaaaaaat? And side note, in Part 1 she kills a Fae in cold blood and only feels slightly bad. She doesn’t brood on it at all. Then in Part 2, she kills two Fae and now she says that those deaths will haunt her forever. I don’t see why they would be so much worse than the first one. (Thoughts? Let me know!)

But, what can I say, I still loved the book and am really excited for Book 2! There’s no official word on it, but it’s clear that it will have a Hades/Persephone element!

What do you think? Will you be picking up a copy of A Court of Thorns and Roses?

Thoughts on Plots: Red Queen

Red Queen, the debut novel by Victoria Aveyard, is an exciting YA fantasy that came out in February 2015. It was one of the biggest YA hits this year, becoming an instant New York Times Bestseller. Elizabeth Banks is already in talks to direct the movie!

It’s about a dystopian society where a poor, starving girl is brought to the big, fancy city and is forced to participate in a society she doesn’t understand, where she must fight in a series of games. She’s caught between an old, loyal friend who is attracted to her and a new love that she meets, who she must cling to for self-protection. Sound familiar? With the plot having some remarkable similarities to other novels you might have read, you won’t be surprised to learn that Red Queen has made a killing this year! What can I say? The formula works!

redqueen

I bought Red Queen when it hit the shelves, partially because of the awesome cover, but also because I’d heard so much hype. I read it as part of my 50 Books Challenge and found it very readable and fun, though I often found myself picking out pieces of other popular YA novels, like The Selection and, of course, The Hunger Games.

What I will say for this book, as an individual, is that it has really cool, unique magic. Awesome magic always gets me to read a series, even if the plot is a little basic. The premise is that the wealthy elite have silver blood, and the poor have red blood. The silver-blooded elite have supernatural abilities in varying forms, while the red-blooded poor have none. When Mare is discovered as having both magical powers and red blood, she is forced to join the silver-blooded society and live under the tyrannical control of the evil Queen, who passes her off as a long-lost silver blood. She plans to marry Mare off to her son to keep the whole situation quiet. Mare finds herself in between the two princes, Cal and Maven, not knowing who to rely on or who to trust, as she works to assist the rebellion of the Scarlet Guard from inside the silver-blooded society.

The Pros:

– Unique system of magic that is very interesting and fun!

– Enjoyable, quick read. I read it in a day!

The Cons:

– The plot has a lot of similarities to other popular YA novels.

The final verdict: An enjoyable and easy read, but don’t expect too much from the story.