Friday, December 5, 2014

Queries: What Not To Do, From Someone Who Did It Wrong

Recently, I was cleaning out my email and happened upon an old folder called "Queries." A folder that used to inspire fear and panic every time I clicked on it (and used to be called, "Do Not Open Without Chocolate"), as it holds all of my rejections from agents whom I had asked to represent me and my books.

It holds 125 emails.

But the point of this post is not to go over query numbers or how many of those were for my very first, very unready book, or that I know that folder is missing more than a few "no's." The point is, I couldn't NOT blog about being "that person" after I read one of the very first queries I ever sent:

Dear Ms. [redacted],

I am a new author seeking representation for a fantasy adventure novel I've completed at 74000 words. I am targeting a young adult/adult audience, and after reading that you represent fantasy and young adult fiction, believe that my work may interest you.

THE AETHER STONE: DARIEN'S SECRET takes place in a parallel world where wielding one of the four classic elements (Earth, Fire, Water, or Air) is as natural as breathing. That is, for everyone except 18-year-old Water elemental Trey Reaver, who has somehow managed to get the short end of that deal. If that wasn't enough, he's spent his entire life in the shadow of his exceptional sister Andi — an elite Secondary who can use both Earth and Fire — who makes even the most competent wielders look foolish. And despite his parents' encouragement that he is defined by more than the ability to dry off without a towel, Trey struggles to find purpose in a society built around a skill set he lacks.

Things start to change when Secondaries begin to disappear in surrounding towns, and his family is ordered to evacuate for Andi's safety. After a rough journey to their assigned safehouse leaves them questioning who to trust, Trey will get the chance to prove he's more than what he seems, and Andi will come face-to-face with a dark secret that changes all the rules.

THE AETHER STONE is a fresh look at a familiar but magical world, and combines elements from both contemporary and high fantasy. DARIEN'S SECRET is intended as the first book in an open-ended series (I have planned out at least four books; as the story evolves, that may increase).

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I hope I have the opportunity to discuss the project with you further.

In my defense, here are the things I did right:
  • Addressed the agent by name, and got the spelling of it, and her gender, correct
  • Sent one email per agent (no mass emails)
  • Researched enough about this agent to know she represented YA AND fantasy
  • Included my word count and genre
  • The format of the query is pretty standard - though it needs a bio at the end

And here are the things you now know not to do, because I messed them up first:
  • Don't say you're a new author. 
    • Not a huge deal, but unless you've been published, it's best to just say you're seeking representation.
  • Don't say you're targeting more than one age group. 
    • Either you've written a young adult book, or an adult book, or a middle grade, etc. Of course the hope is that your book might appeal to more than one group, but the agent is much more interested in where your book will sit on the shelves at the bookstore. The category your book belongs in largely depends on the age of the main character. If you're not sure what kind of book you've written, research the requirements for each category or confer with your critique partners.
  • Personalization is NOT "I read you represent young adult fiction so I think this YA book will interest you."
    • The agent expects that any queries he/she receives will be in the categories and genres he/she represents. Go deeper. Find an interview the agent did where she mentioned she was looking for books with some specific quality that only your manuscript and a few others would meet. Or mention you enjoy her blog posts and that [this blog post title] was particularly of interest/helpful to you. If all else fails, check her Twitter or her agent profile and find out if you share the same favorite movies (if you can relate it to the book you've written, even better!). You don't have to personalize your queries - the story wins over all - but if you're going to do it, do it better than I did.
  • Vague book pitch is vague
    • And has some rather awkward sentences, to be honest. I'd had a little help from the writing community at this point, but clearly not enough. Also, sentences like these need DETAIL: After a rough journey [What made it rough, specifically?] to their assigned safehouse leaves them questioning who to trust, Trey will get the chance to prove he's more than what he seems [How does he intend to do that?], and Andi will come face-to-face with a dark secret that changes all the rules. [What dark secret? What rules? And most importantly, what are the actual stakes? What happens if Trey or Andi fails?]
    • Basically, add details. And stakes. Stakes are good.
  • Don't use words like "fresh look."
    • Just don't.
  • For the love of all that's holy, do not say you are writing an open-ended series.
    • Unless you are George R.R. Martin, and you are not. (Yet.) Agents are much more concerned with seeing if this single book you wrote even qualifies to stand on its own - series talk comes after you sign with an agent and mention that you have grander schemes. Those grander schemes might include two or three or five books, or an open-ended series, but in a query ... I feel like it made me sound very new (which I was) and unrealistically ambitious.
  • Just thank the agent at the end for her time and consideration.
    • Looking back on it now, I feel like "I hope I have the opportunity to discuss the project with you further" is kind of ... forward. Not a deal-breaker by any means,  but anything you can do to keep from sounding overly eager is a good thing.

The other point of this post is to show you we've all been at the beginning of the line. I clearly needed to learn a few more things before this query was ready. And that's fine - it all comes with time. With sending out queries and being rejected. With realizing it's okay to get those rejections because each one is teaching you something new. As I scroll through my old "Queries" folder, I see this query morphing. Slowly I tick off each of the problems I listed above until I start entering a sea of titles that are no longer "Query: THE AETHER STONE" but "Requested Materials: THE AETHER STONE." And when I finally switched projects to DUPLICITY, I start seeing "Offer of Rep".

What are some early query mistakes that you've made?

For examples of successful queries, check out Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query series!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Great Bookmark Giveaway... + Win Signed DUPLICITY Copies!


A lot of them. And they're pretty happy here in their box but they'd prefer to travel, you know?

To celebrate their existence, I'll be signing some and giving them away. All you have to do to enter is use the Rafflecopter below! US addresses only please. 

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: Your new bookmark would look fabulous inside the pages of a signed advanced reading copy of DUPLICITY, which you can enter to win on Goodreads using the link below. The Goodreads contest is open to entries in both the USA and Canada.

I'm excited to share these with you. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

UPDATE: Bookmark winners have been announced and emailed! If you won a bookmark but didn't get an email, please send me your mailing address via this form.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Duplicity by N.K. Traver


by N.K. Traver

Giveaway ends December 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pitch Wars August 2014 - The Aftermath

I briefly went over my Pitch Wars numbers before the finalists were announced in August, and have finally had the chance to post something a little more detailed. You might recall I got 71 lovely applications. Of those 71, I agreed to give feedback to anyone who was not chosen as someone else's mentee or alternate.

That meant I sent 64 responses. It took me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning I spent 32 hours on these emails alone. (In case you were wondering why agents do form rejections. And why you should keep your critique partners close and keep entering contests like Pitch Wars if you're getting said form rejections.)

I had a few trends in my inbox*:

Dreams that become real: 5
Demons: 7
Tarot cards: 4

And the reasons I passed:

Not right for current market: 3
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match for..." list): 8
Started in the wrong place: 5
Writing not ready: 13
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 33
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 7

And just because:

Highest word count**: 100k
Lowest**: 39k
Coolest comp titles: Dracula meets Don Quixote
SCBWI members (yay!): 14
(Hmm, just realized 5 of the 7 the entries I requested more from were SCBWI...)

I learned a few things from being in the slush:

  • Your query letter really is all about the story. Whether this is your tenth novel or your first, whether you have a hundred publishing awards or none at all, all that matters is your pitch and your writing. One of my favorite entries was just the pitch and a "thank you for your time" - no personalization, no credentials. So basically: don't stress over these. Your awesome story won't be overlooked if you haven't been published before. DO add personalization when possible - but it won't be the reason you're rejected or asked for sample pages, either. 
    • Reader taste is ridiculously subjective. This is something I knew before, but I went in expecting epic battles over the top picks and that I'd have to defend my choices Zombieland-style. But most everyone's tops were different, and something I passed on in my first cull got snatched up as someone else's first choice.
    • Great pages can outshine a so-so query, but so-so pages will sink a great query. If you're getting all thumbs-ups on your query, but agents seem to be rejecting after they request pages, take a hard look at your first chapter. I went through this too. Sometimes it's a matter of starting in a different place. Sometimes it's a matter of polishing your manuscript as much as you've polished your query.
    • A lot of you are SO close. Holy cow, y'all brought your A-game this year. I was practically driven to tears by the quality of the stories in my inbox, because I was having to pass on things that were really solid and that I'd normally request.

    I'm ready for a month-long nap now, but I can't wait to see all the "I have an agent!" announcements that are sure to follow, whether or not you were chosen for Pitch Wars. Remember, I didn't get picked as a mentee or alternate when I entered.

    And last but certainly not least, please congratulate my mentee Marisa Hopkins and alternate Alex Brown when you have a chance. They did #TeamTallahassee proud, with Marisa scooping up nine requests for more pages (eight regular requests + 1 ninja agent) and Alex nabbing six in the alternate showcase. They worked SO hard the last two months, and I'm excited to see where these stories take them!

    *I still requested pages from multiple entries containing these themes, but you might consider what you could do differently with yours if your request rate isn't high.
    **Word count alone is not a reason to reject unless it is way under or way over the expected averages here. However, it's always a good idea to check your word count against those expected averages before you query, and try your darndest to get inside them.

    Saturday, October 18, 2014

    DUPLICITY Advance Reading Copies: 15 Book Giveaway!

    St. Martin's Press is giving away 15 advanced reading copies of DUPLICITY on Goodreads! You could be one of the first to read it, five months before it releases. It's also proven to increase your awesome points. So get on it:

    Click here to enter!

    One of these could be YOURS

    Giveaway window closes October 27.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Interview: Chasing the Crazies

    I'm honored to be over at Ms. Amy Trueblood's blog today, talking about queries (shudder), how I knew my agent was The One, and what kept me going when the rejections were rolling in.