Monday, September 29, 2014

Tracy Townsend - Nightmare on Query Street 2013 SUCCESS STORY!

HOW ABOUT IT? A success story from last year's contest right before our amazing Nightmare on Query Street 2014 contest coming up soon!!!!!!! NoQS is mentioned in the story below (along with some actions we can't say we endorse :D) so this is amazing. It's a fantastic story. Take it away, Tracy!

In the fall of 2012, I accepted a dare from a colleague in the English department where I teach: to join him and a group of our students in NaNoWriMo. Since I’m one of the principle teachers of creative writing at our school (this haven for intellectual oddballs and the gifted, sometimes called “Hogwarts for Hackers”), it made sense. I’d had a loose idea for a world and a story in me for years but never made my own writing – or, really, myself – enough of a priority to write it down. But I knew my characters already, and I knew what was facing them, and the thought of finally getting it out was so appealing.

I could never have predicted how that one, agreeable shrug of my shoulders would lead to such a complicated future.

When Nightmare on Query Street 2013 came around almost a year later, I was a first-time novelist with a complete ms and a fistful of loyal CPs found through the hope and happenstance of AgentQuery Connect (I’m looking at you, Michelle and Pete). I had a query letter they’d kicked up and down cyberspace for weeks, a synopsis, some spiffy first chapters, and …

A word count problem. Like, to the tune of an adult fantasy manuscript 134K strong. By the time Michelle, Mike, and S.C. made the all-call NOQS entries, I’d already racked up a month’s worth of rejections and some detailed CP notes, all chorusing “cut this thing down, and maybe it’ll go somewhere.” Encouraged by my writer-friends to give the contest a go, I wrote my “MC’s greatest fear” paragraph, squinted fussily at my query, spit-shined page one, and sent it all off.

Then I sat down to make good on my submission’s claim that the project was actually 125K.

I know what you’re thinking: “You … lied about your word count?”

Well, sort of. No. Not “sort of.” Yes, I did. (Not-so-subliminal message: DO NOT do this!) I had a strategy planned out: I would submit with that word count, dive into my CP notes, and start editing down. By the time I knew if I’d made the contest, the ms would be the promised length, and really, that tightening needed to happen either way. I had been reluctant to cut for months, insisting I had already taken out as much as could go (it had been 146K, once upon a time – STOP LAUGHING AT ME). Creating this sense of urgency would make me do the job at last. (Do not do this… Do not do this… Play with fire and you get burned… Look both ways before you cross the street… DO NOT DO THIS. Please.)  [SC: Do not do this!!!!!!!!!!! XD]

Poking about the NOQS forum on AQC, I saw Mike tease about dropping his final pick for another spotted at the last minute – a really interesting adult fantasy he couldn’t pass up. And then, a day or so later, lo and behold: I – or, my manuscript, THE NINE, rather – was a Monster. The actual manuscript was only down to 130K at this point, not the advertised 125K, and so, even as I gabbled on Twitter with the other contestants and our growing, cheerful fan bases, I worked furiously behind the scenes to cut, cut, cut.

By the end, I had one ten page, three fifty page, and one full request. Twenty-four hours after the contest closed, I was down to 122k and sent my beastie off, praying after its electron trail.

Time passed. By December, two of those partials became fulls. The original contest full lingered out there, unanswered.

In February 2014, still haunting the Twitter pages of two agents from NOQS who hadn’t yet decided on the full, I discovered #MSWL. There, I found a request tweeted by Agent Overwhelming: funny, charming, unfailingly polite personage with an impressive sales streak. I had long since decided that querying there was out of my league, but the #MSWL message sounded just enough like my work…

I gave it a shot.

Three hours after I sent the query, it turned into a request for a full. Nine days later, I was talking to Agent Overwhelming on the phone, going over ideas and details for an R&R. I babbled. Lord knows how I must have sounded. Agent Overwhelming, though, was completely clear: these kinds of phone calls are rare, and serious, but not a guarantee. No promises from Overwhelming that writing the revision meant representation – and so, no expectation that the revised ms would be an exclusive, either.

That, as it turned out, would prove as important to my eventually getting an agent as NOQS itself.

It was just six months after I’d started querying, and I had an R&R. I planned it down to the finest detail and set aside my entire upcoming summer break to tackle the job. In early June, it dawned on me that I really should take advantage of the non-exclusive agreement offered. I contacted all the agents who had read the previous full or had it in hand then (including a small press who had offered on a prior version) and let them know a new copy would be available soon, if they wanted it.

One of the first agents to respond to that offer was Agent October, the agent whose request – even though it wasn’t a full – had had me the most excited during NOQS. I’d had a stack of raggedy post-it notes in my desk drawer for months prior to actually beginning querying, written in more or less my fantasyland order of “agents I wish would sign me.” (These were, naturally, also the agents I was most afraid of querying.) Agent Overwhelming and Agent October’s names were written side by side, with slashes separating them, top of the list. Imagine my surprise when Agent October responded to the revision offer, confirming that she actually had just recently finished reading my ms.  She’d had some misgivings about it and thought a re-read was in order. I described the changes I’d discussed with Agent Overwhelming, and she felt they largely addressed her concerns. She added two points of her own, which I quickly included in my to-do list. Then I powered on, completing a first draft, CP rounds and notes, and a final draft all by the first week of August 2014.

I sent the revision – practically a speed-skater at 114K (STOP LAUGHING) – to several interested agents, the small press, and (of course) Agents Overwhelming and October.

I waited, but not for very long. When the small press editor came back with yet another offer, I sent the word around and found myself on the phone with Agent Overwhelming again. Not wanting to endanger the small press as an option by making them wait overlong, Overwhelming vowed to finish reading by the following Monday and get back to me. Other agents followed suit. Mercifully, the school year was starting again. I threw myself into the distraction of class prep.

Monday came, bringing no news with it. By lunchtime Tuesday, I felt the small press deadline closing in and nudged Agent Overwhelming for a status report.

The response came less than one minute later.

Agent Overwhelming had not been overwhelmed. The email was polite, professional, encouraging. Sympathetic. It ended with an invitation to share future work, and best wishes. None of that stopped me from sitting slack-jawed at my desk, staring at the screen as if I could will the message away. It wasn’t that I assumed I was already in. I am extraordinarily good, actually, at not getting my hopes up. I had written the revision, telling myself all the while that the reason to do it was because I believed the advice given would make a better book. Everything beyond that was hope – less than hope, it was a guess, a stab in the dark. It was that dream-list on a raggedy post-it note.

That well-ordered, rational thinking didn’t console me much.

I wondered how I could have fooled myself into thinking I was in anybody’s league. Anything other than bush-league. I was a first-time novelist, a lifelong writer with a career of putting my own ideas aside in favor of teaching others how to excel. I was a living embodiment of that horrible adage about how those who can do, and those who can’t, teach. I remembered the small press offer, but now, as I researched the costs associated with a good publishing attorney to review documents, it seemed the billable hours would equal or exceed my probable earnings. Whatever THE NINE earned would be almost entirely through my own marketing, something I knew nothing about. I was in over my head and had been from the start. I was finally getting my cosmic punishment for my word-count gamble. I had dared, and gotten close, and it was just that I should get my smack-down now. Simple as that.

My sadness gave way to a dull sense of foreboding – an absolute conviction that the next 24 hours would be parade of “no”s from the remaining agents. Instead, at 3:30 that same afternoon, my email winked with a message from Bridget Smith. Agent October, the first agent to ever request my full manuscript based on reading a partial. The first agent to want more of my work, knowing what it was really like. The first name, side-by-side with Agent Overwhelming’s, to have made my dream list.

She was glad to have read the revision, because she really liked it. She felt more confident about it, reading it slowly, carefully, taking time to “admire [my] skillful writing”! Could we talk tonight?

Yes. Let’s talk now.

A half hour later, my phone rang, and the whole world changed. I told myself not to listen with rebound-ears. There was a chance this might not be a fit. I shouldn’t jump at acceptance because I was still stinging from rejection.

But it was a fit – a perfect fit. Bridget had noticed things about the manuscript, details of character and world-building that I had put in almost as Easter eggs. I’d never counted on a reader finding them, but she had and she got them. She had insights into the culture of my world, daring suggestions about shoring up storyline, and authentic curiosity. She was the perfect blend of enthusiastic and genuine – never gushing or putting on a show. And she didn’t shrink from my toughest questions. She had some editors in mind for submission and felt that the book could go bigger than the small press who had offered to me. She was ready to really work her experience in the sf/f market. As the conversation wound to a close, I told her I needed to let the other agents know of the offer – and she asked about Agent Overwhelming.

Was it just my imagination that she didn’t sound terribly disappointed about Overwhleming’s decision to pass?

When my cursor hovered over “send” on my first query back in August 2013, to predict where I’d be in a year, I would never have mapped out this strange, winding road. I certainly wouldn’t have imagined it would lead right back to the beginning – to my first and fondest hope.

People tell you patience is key to querying, and they’re right. October 2013 to August 2014 kind of patience. Luck is part of it, too. The luck of finding amazing CPs, for one: Michelle, and Pete, and eventually Maura. The luck that opens the doors to opportunity: Mike’s taking a second look at my entry and swapping it in. There’s an absolute, full-frontal nudity of the ego when querying, and entering contests, and being rejected. You can’t know when you start if or how you’ll reach your goal, or how many expectations will be broken along the way. You can’t predict which gambles will pay off and what paths will cross, or how they’ll all suddenly come together, as if it were meant to be.   As if you’d written the end of the story on a scrap of paper before you even began.

You can’t know. That’s why we try.

Tracy Townsend lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois and teaches English at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. She has studied at DePauw University, the National University of Ireland (Galway), and DePaul University, where she obtained degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric. She is a member of the Science Fiction Research Association and other academic organizations, which has allowed her to write very long things and read them aloud to people who are obliged to behave politely. Her background as a lapsed Catholic, an assistant martial arts instructor, a comic book fangirl (Make Mine Marvel!), a tabletop role-player, and an obsessive hound for obscure mythologies inspired her writing of The Nine. Inexplicably, other uses for that resume have yet to present themselves. She is represented by the strikingly elegant and classy Bridget Smith of Dunham Lit.

Tracy devotes time she doesn’t have to cooking, gardening, writing, and seriously pondering the treadmill in her basement. She is married to her high school sweetheart, with whom she shares two remarkable children. They are – naturally – named after characters from books.

You can find Tracy on Twitter more often than she really ought to be.

I really enjoyed this story. It's real and honest, and shows that getting an agent isn't some fairy tale with a path paved of gold. It doesn't come easy, it doesn't come fast. We all know it, but we can always hear it again. Thank you so much Tracy for sharing! Make SURE to congratulate her on Twitter and thank her for sharing. And Nightmare on Query Street 2014 is coming up soon! If you want to win a free pass (skip the slush pile and make it directly on our teams) click here for details.

Congrats Tracy!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Which Writer Means the Most to You? (NoQS Contest Free Pass Opportunity!)

I'm not asking who is your favorite writer. I'm not asking which writer you think is the greatest writer ever. I'm not asking which writer you wish to emulate. I'm asking which writer means the most to you -- and the answer to all these questions can be different writers and can also all be one writer.

For me, my favorite writer and the writer that means the most to me have the same answer: JK Rowling (surprise surprise!).

I do not own this picture.
The answer to this question is deeply unique, so it is personal story time. Gather around the fireplace, everyone. *gather gather* My story will be short and vague because it's personal, so I apologize for that.

I started reading JK Rowling years and years ago. I loved her (who didn't?) but I wouldn't say she meant the most to me. She hadn't affected me in a deep level yet.

That came years later, when I was going through a tough time and I just didn't know what I could do. How could I get out of the feeling I felt? How could I release whatever I was feeling? I'd been reading for a long time before that and dabbled a bit in poetry and short stories, but nothing serious at all. Writing was a conscious decision for me; I looked at JK Rowling and thought, "I could write myself out of this darkness." So I wrote. And I wrote. One of the most deeply autobiographical novels I've written (and so, the worst novel I've written). But it was necessary. I needed to see myself on the page, have the character go through what I was and through the character's emotions and actions, release my same frustrations.

It helped. More than I can say. I'm scared to think what state or situation I'd be in if I did not have JK Rowling. She showed me writing could be my greatest form of expression because without expressing myself, I was on a sure path to implosion. In me, she sparked the journey to become a writer, one of the (if not the) best gifts a stranger has ever given me -- and much greater than most gifts I've received from people I know. She means so much to me because she has changed my life for the better. I am a writer because of her. Whether I would have been a writer without her, I'm not sure. Maybe I would have, who knows? But at that crucial time, she was there for me. She set off something so deep in me because much of my present life revolves around writing. Some of my long-term goals are writing-related. And she sparked it. I'm a changed person because of her.

Writing and writers can create revolutions in people. Now I want to know which writer means the most to you. Is it a writer like Jo Rowling? Is it a family member? Friend? Anyone, I'd love love to know.

(If you're participating in the query contest Nightmare on Query Street (please do, it's amazing!) the answer to this question will be your submission to a free pass from me! If I pick your comment as the one I loved the most, you'll automatically skip the dreaded slush pile and have a spot on the SC Spooks - my team. If you're submitting for the free pass, please just say "Free Pass" before you start your answer because I'd love to hear from writers not submitting to NoQS as well! If you're not submitting for the free pass, just don't mention "Free Pass" in your comment :) I'll pick the answer that is most in depth, personal, honest, meaningful, etc. as my winner but I'll probably end up picking in a very subjective manner; you guys always have amazing answers. What'll raise your chances is if you Tweet out your answer to this question, add #NoQS, link to this post, and mention me @SC_Author! It won't guarantee a spot (and is definitely not a requirement) but if things are close, I'll look into Tweets. Deadline is October 4th, I'll announce the winner on the Monday after! Visit Michelle's and Mike's (he might have his up soon) blogs for their passes.)

So how about it? Which writer means the most to you?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Do Cupcakes Inspire You?

Just look at that cupcake below.


Yea. I'm having late-night cravings thanks to Wendy Nikel. She asked if eating them makes me feel inspired in respond to a cry on Twitter wondering what I should blog about.

THIS IS A CHALLENGE! I must somehow incorporate writing with cupcakes!

But now I'm just so dang hungry and really want a cupcake with frosting and cakeyness. Argh. I'm hungry. But it's 1 AM. No way I can run out to buy cupcakes, that's just weird. 


This oddly plays so well with those sudden bursts of writing at the worst possible times. Like, "holy crap I need to write, but I have to be up by seven tomorrow and it's two am. BUT I MUST WRITE!"

I must have that cupcake!! Should I wait until I wake up? But I know myself, and I know that if I go to sleep, when I wake up I will no longer have my cupcake craving. My inspiration will fade away and I won't be as cupcake-passionate.

That happens to me in writing as well. It happened a lot in the beginning, but I think I've trained myself to be inspired on my own command - and to write even if I'm not inspired. But there was a time....I think late last year, when I just had to write a scene I was mulling in my head before I went to sleep. I usually think about stuff before I sleep (who doesn't?) and I was thinking about my characters, and what if this? what if that? And I felt so passionately about a scene, so riled up, I had to get out of bed and write it. And I did, and I'm so proud of it because I've never felt like that while drafting anything before. It was an incredibly powerful experience (so powerful it made me get out of bed!) and I don't regret it. After all, given months and months, who'll ever regret not getting enough sleep that one night? Unless, of course, it leads to some crazy things the next day and in that case, you're more than justified to regret not sleeping enough.

Do you have these cupcake inspirations? (That's what I'm going to call them from now on :D Thanks Wendy!!) How do these inspirations come - randomly or with a lot of thought - and how do you handle them if the situation is really bad for you to start writing? (I usually text myself some lines or main ideas.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Announcing Nightmare on Query Street 2014!!!

It's back, and it's badder than ever.

IT'S Nightmare on Query Street!!!!!!!!! Don’t have a scary manuscript, DON'T WORRY. Just read on.

A brand new year, a brand new evil.

This contest, as it runs in the Halloween time, is all about FEAR.

The Details:

The submission window opens at 12 noon (EST) on October 15th. The window will close at 12 noon (EST) October 17th or when we receive 225 entries.

MichelleMike, and SC will make twelve picks each, and those twelve picks will go up on our blogs from the 22nd through the 25th, where (SURPRISE, change from last year!) there will be a mentor round. OooooooOOOoooOOooo. We've already got amazing mentors lined up, so know that your entries will be amazingly polished when agents come in on the 28th through the 30th. Then, CELEBRATE! Halloween is the day after :)

We are accepting all age categories and genres, excluding picture books and exotica. But be sure to check our list of agents when it goes live to see if they represent your book's genre.

If you plan on participating in the contest, you have to be following all our blogs (MichelleMike, and SC).

It's pretty simple, actually. 

But there's a catch.

Along with your query and 250, you must write a SHORT paragraph (no more than 100 words) about your main character. This is the question you must answer:

What is your main character's most fearsome obstacle? 

The Format:

Send all your submissions to nightmareonquerystreet (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per email address or person is allowed.

Here's how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded and everything!). Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed.

Subject Line of Email: NoQS: Title, age category genre

Example: NoQS: Pygmy Hazards, MG humor

Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)
Genre: Adult Fantasy (no caps; age category AND genre)
Word Count: XX,XXX

My Main Character's Greatest Obstacle:

My MC's most fearsome obstacles is potatoes. (Please, spend some time on this! I know that I will be looking at this to make up for gaps in the query and 250. It gives us a chance to know your characters better. It doesn't have to be horror-scary. It can be more subtle.)


Here is my fantastic query!

First 250 words:

Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence, even if I hit 252 words.

And that's it! Send in that email during the submission window and you're ready to go :) There will be a confirmation email!!

This should be FUN. This is a Halloween-themed contest, so please please please, spend time on the MC's Greatest Fear paragraph!!!! It should be a LOT of fun. If you're writing a funny book, make a funny twist on the question, or say your MC is scared of strawberries or something. If it's a serious/sad book, you should have a field day, because the MC's fear might be so heart-wrenching.

This is a new way to pitch, so have fun with it (and don't stress out over it like its a query or something).

So go over and follow our blogs (MichelleMike, and SC) and our Twitters (MichelleMike, and SC) (we're Tweeting under the hashtag #NoQS) to stay in touch with all that we're doing. 

I AM VERY VERY VERY EXCITED. So far we've got seven agents on board and a bunch of mentors. I can't wait to see your answers to the question!!!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm Back to Work!

For a while now, I've been doing basically nothing writing-related. Yeah, nothing. No revising, no submitting, no drafting, no nothing. Granted, life has been rather busy lately but I know I can find time to work on writing - I always do.

So now, I've got to get back to work. I don't like this long break of no writing.

This is different than the break that comes after you write your first draft. That break (even though I fought it so hard) is necessary for a fresh go at the second draft. It's hard to force yourself away from your manuscript during that break. That break is a natural pause in the writing process.

But the break I was on wasn't. It wasn't even that I was sick of writing and needed to breathe. That'd justify my break. But no. I just...didn't work on writing. I got lazy? I don't even know.

But yesterday, I finally thought, "What the heck am I doing?" and started some writing-related stuff. I I was in the shower and thinking, "What am I waiting for? A critique or beta feedback? No, I already got it. More revising? No, I did it. What's there to wait for now?" and I realized that my publication goal would have literally no chance of coming true if I didn't, well, try. So I started again! My break is over and it feels good.

Have you ever gone on one of these unintended breaks? How did you get over it?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Holly Jennings - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!!

We haven't had a success story after that absolute avalanche of stories. FEAR NOT! HERE'S ANOTHER ONE!!!

In the summer of 2013, I came across Query Kombat for the first time. All I could think was "I wonder if I'll ever write something good enough to make it into that contest." As a short story writer, I'd tried my hand at novels now and again but didn't have anything worth submitting.

That same summer I started reading New Adult books and loved the "you're 18 now, deal with it" consequences. Shortly after, I came across a documentary about 18-year-old kids dropping out of college and trying to make it as professional video game players. What an idea for a new adult book! The geek in me immediately warped the concept into a future where virtual reality gaming is a national sport and gamers are pro athletes.

But wait. That wasn't right. I wrote short stories. I wrote fantasy. They're what I'd come home to every night for years. But with a juicy premise, a kick-butt female protag, and a hunky male love interest, I just couldn't say no.

Yes. I decided to cheat and it was everything an affair should be: fast, steamy, and unquenchable desire. I'd never had a story come out so quickly. I wrote the first ten thousand words in less than three days and it poured out like fourth draft material. It felt magical. I couldn't ignore the little voice that whispered "hey, this time something's different."

I slowly started entering contests and querying in April 2014. I got invaluable feedback from judges and a few partial requests, which ultimately ended in rejections. But they were personalized rejections from agents about what they loved and what wasn't working. Wow. Personalized rejections! Along with recommendations for improvement, I kept seeing the same comment again and again: "Your concept is unique and really stands out. Someone out there is going to love it."

This sent me into overdrive. I entered more contests. I did workshops for queries and opening chapters. Every spare minute I had went into the novel. Then Query Kombat 2014 rolled around. Just a year before I had questioned if I'd be good enough for the contest. Was I going to try? I closed my eyes and sent my entry in. To my complete amazement, not only did I get in, but also received three agent requests and got knocked out just before the semi-final round.

The next day, I sent out my requests, a few of which were soon upgraded to fulls. After radio silence for nearly a month, I decided it was time to send another round of queries into the agenting world, so I spent the weekend researching and personalizing six letters.

On Monday, I checked my email at lunch and had a reply from an agent who had my full. I cringed. Out of everyone who had requested my material, this was THE agent I was hoping would enjoy the book. But after past rejections, there was no doubt in my mind it would be a polite "loved the concept, but X, Y & Z wasn't working for me..." type of email.

I scanned through the message as quickly as I could until I saw phrases like "I'd be thrilled to represent you" and "are you available for a phone call?" Being at work I couldn't scream in the middle of the office. Instead, I bolted for the women's washroom and happy danced in front of the stalls.

That night I had the call. Being someone who's extremely shy, I was terrified. But the agent kept gushing over my book so that helped me relax. A little. I told him I was very interested in representation and needed a week to follow up with others.

Then I panicked. I had so much to do!

I contacted the six agents I'd just queried. You know that email I sent you yesterday? Well, oops. I have an offer so please disregard. A few replied with congratulations and more "your premise looks amazing!" comments which shot me from cloud nine right into outer space.

Of the agents with outstanding partials, a few stepped aside. Two immediately upgraded to fulls and asked for a week to get back to me. As the days went by wondering if I'd get another offer, I realized I didn't care. I already had the agent I wanted right from the minute he requested my book through Query Kombat.

So now I can proudly say I'm represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency and it's all because of the contest. Big thanks to Mike, Michelle and SC. Without them, I don't know where I'd be right now.

I can also say I've gone back to fantasy, but this time it's new adult fantasy and I've never felt more at home. 

Holly Jennings is a member of SF Canada and writes from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. Her short work has been published in Daily Science Fiction, AE Sci-Fi Canada, and the Clarion Writer's Craft blog. She now writes new adult speculative novels about being eighteen and lost in fantasy worlds or sci-fi futures. For more, check out her website at or follow her as she attempts to understand Twitter.

CONGRATS HOLLY!!!!!!! Make sure you all congratulate her on Twitter and check out her website. Good luck with everything and your video gaming awesomeness :D

Monday, September 8, 2014

What is Art - and Who Decides?

First, I'd like you to look at the painting below.
Western Field - Oil
One of Jane Hunt's incredible landscapes. Visit her website for more.
This is something almost universally considered art. I'm a huge fan of Jane Hunt - I think her landscapes and especially her use of color are revolutionary.

Now take a look at this.

Barnett Newman's painting sold for $43.8 million.
As Sotheby's describes it, "Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary “zip."" Here's the article with more details on the sale of this piece and its history.

Also, take a look at this piece in the Tate Modern in London, one of the world's most renowned museums. 

Art & Language (Michael Baldwin) ‘Untitled Painting’, 1965
© Art & Language
Untitled Painting by Art & Language (Michael Baldwin). Mirror on canvas.
"Since the Renaissance, painting has often been likened to a window upon the world, with central perspective giving the viewer a sense of surveying what is contained within the picture frame. In a bold gesture, Art & Language turn this century-old convention upside-down by replacing the painting’s surface with a mirror. Rather than look at an image of the artist’s making, viewers are now confronted by themselves, thereby questioning a long-held notion of painting transcending reality."

This post isn't going to be an attack on modern art - in fact, it'll be the opposite.

Why is it that after seeing so many paintings, pieces, and sculptures in the National Gallery and at the Tate a few years ago, the one of the mirror is the one that sticks the strongest in my mind? It's the one I remember straight away from my trip to Britain. If someone asked me what art I saw in Britain, I'd immediately reply with this one (and, secondly, Turner's seascapes - cool story, THERE'S GOING TO BE A MOVIE COMING OUT SOON ABOUT TURNER!!!).

I know some modern art is laughable. A lot of it is a joke, actually. But there are some pieces that are so powerful in the oddest ways simply because it challenges the idea of art. What is art? And who decides?

Is art something that takes an incredible amount of technical skill to master? When we praise art, are we praising the artist or the art? What I mean is, are we praising the technical skills or the impact of the piece? The interesting thing about modern art is that so much of it is so simple, the idea of technical skills being required in art is challenged. What's required more is a sense of creativity, of impact, of a combat between the viewer and the piece.

What stuck to me about the Mirror piece (as I'll call it from now on) is just how true it was. In my mind (something I'm trying to come to terms with is that regardless of what the artist intended, the viewer's take on a piece can be just as true as the artist's, if not more so), the Mirror piece represents what we come into art with. We want to see what we expect to see. We want to see landscapes and portraits and historical battles and then we'll wipe our hands and walk out of the museum, calling it a day without remembering even one piece or one name unless it's a Da Vinci. The Mirror piece is almost a joke, a furious surrender. "You came into the museum looking for yourself, then here, I'm giving it to you. A mirror. Look at your self. Happy? No need to be challenged. Now get out."

So much of art depends on our own perspectives, be it visual art, literary art, musical, etc. Say you read a classic without knowing it's a classic. You're bored and slog through it, and think it sucked. But wait! Now you find out it's a classic. And then you reread and find all the beautiful turns of phrases you missed before, the metaphors, the allegories.

How should we come into art? It's impossibly hard to come in with no expectations at all. The very word 'art' springs forth so many emotions and memories. It's too loaded of a word. If modern art was called something else (not saying that it isn't art) then I feel people, including me, might be more accepting of it. Call it an 'experience' or a 'journey', which I feel is more accurate. Modern art caused me to reevaluate my entire concept of art. Although I still think Jane Hunt's work is absolutely stunning, it's not as powerful as Baldwin's Mirror (for me, at least). It didn't cause a change in my thinking. (I'm not talking much about Newman's blue painting because I just wanted to show how insane the price of it is. But who knows, it's their money, they know investments more than I do (they're millionaires, I'm not)).

So what is art supposed to be? Is it supposed to be about the artist - the technical mastery - or about the piece itself, alone, and unsupported - the impact of the art? Should art cause a change in thinking? Is it required to? If so, Jane Hunt's work would only be considered art for artists desiring to learn her style. Yet it is art in the aesthetic and traditional way.

Few would consider the Mirror piece to be about aesthetics. Yet is it art if it's not about aesthetics?

In this last century, the definition of visual art has changed to a much broader umbrella. Aesthetic quality no longer fences the definition of art. Art has become broader and means so much more than it ever used to, sometimes with confusing results.

I'm no modern artist. I paint landscapes and portraits and I write stories in the traditional sense. I'm trying to think of a way that literature can expand like visual arts has. It's already expanded in terms of experimental literature, a niche which few people know of (the only truly experimental things I've read were in school).

But art is a tricky word. Putting limitations on art (art, people! It has no limits!) stunts its growth. 

Now I really want to know who the gatekeepers are that define art. Because it's true, I wouldn't think of the Mirror piece as art unless it was in the Tate (meaning, someone told me it's Art, go look and find the art in it). And is it truly art if you have to search for the art? Sometimes it is our own perceptions that cloud our visions, and forcing us to search for art in a piece tends to clear the clouds (even if it feels pretentious at times).

Basically, what is art?

Please please discuss! I have no answers for you.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

And Here. We. GO.

One...Two...We are coming for you.

Three...Four...There will be a slush war.

Five...Six...Get your query fixed.

Seven...Eight...Make your first page great.

Nine...Ten...Yes, we're at it again.

Nightmare on Query Street

October 2014

Face the Fear

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hogwarts Express Leaves Today!

It's September 1st, and all you Harry Potter fans (so, basically everyone in the world) know what this means: IT'S TIME TO GO TO HOGWARTS!!!!!!

The train leaves at 11 o'clock precisely. I'll be on it and you guys should be too (unless you're Muggles).


Is it weird that I love a 'fictional' place more than I love some real-life places I've visited? How could something created and a place I've never been to feel like home? I've been thinking about it and it's just weird; how can readers connect so much to the written word that it feels more real than some aspects of life itself?

This happens with the best books, and there aren't a shortage of them. In fact, I think that's the reason we read: to escape into a world. The better the world is, the more we can escape into it, and the better the book is.

JK Rowling said, on the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premiere, that "Whether you come back by page or by the big screen,Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home." The thing is, that quote is so true because Hogwarts feels like home.


Because along with Harry, we experience the process of finding a home? We are new to the world and so is Harry, and thus we're both immersed into the world and find homes at Hogwarts?

Maybe it's because that's where Harry experiences so much. It's where he grows and learns and goes through incredibly tough times and also great times. Basically, it's home. And the fact that the series centers around this castle that is so detailed and thought-out makes it a home for us. More than that, it's because Hogwarts is Harry's escape, it is also our escape from the real world. Through the third person limited POV, JK Rowling did all this. Is it as technical as that?

Probably. But when it boils down to it, home never feels technical. It's a passion and an emotion. It's why we read.

What do you look for in a book? Why do you read? In what book do you find home?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Max Wirestone - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!


There's a certain "there and back again" quality to my story.

A COZY FOR GEEKS was my first attempt at novel writing, but I had flirted with success at screenwriting somewhat in my twenties. That experience-- which involved terrifying conversations with agents that led me nowhere-- had ultimately left me limping away from the writing world, a trail of blood and ego behind me. It was ugly-- although in retrospect, most of my wounds were imaginary. My confession: I was afraid of being a Failed Writer-- to the point that was I willing to give it up. I put it all behind me and instead focused on good, solid life goals: Husband, Librarianship, Kids, Xbox Achievements.

For a while.

Time passed, and through the magic of aging (and probably parenthood,) I found that I suddenly didn't care if anyone else regarded me as a Failed Writer. The thirty-something version of me, paunchier, and with considerably less hair, suddenly regarded the twenty-something version of me as some sort of self-involved thick-haired doofus. And so I started writing again.

I did it completely alone, in secret. No writing groups. No community. When I started submitting, in April, I was sending to ONE AGENT AT A TIME. I was working through WRITER'S MARKET alphabetically.

I eventually started following agents on twitter, and I heard about Query Kombat at the last minute. What the hey, right? I figured I'd lose in the first round (and Carol Ayer's DEAD PRINCESSES DON'T KISS was stiff competition), but I soldiered through. I eventually made it all the way to the quarter finals, where I was slain by the fabulous Betsy Aldredge.

Then the requests started.

I got three requests from the contest itself. But after the feedback from the first round, I had applied changes to my query. Hot changes! Awesome changes! And I wanted to test them out. So I started querying wider. Suddenly, I was rolling in requests.

Next came a "let's chat about your book" email just a few weeks after the competition. Can I just take a second to say that I found all of these conversations a little weird? More power to you if you instantly connected with your agent, but I was like a nervous first-date. I was awkward and bumbling, and that twenty-something version of me who had been rejected by film agents was listening in on my conversation and whispering things like, "run, you fool! It's a TRAP!"

Despite my ramblings-- I ineptly described my next project as a "comedy about the death of libraries"-- I still got an offer of rep. I told the agent thank you and that I would get back in a week. I then DM'd incoherent messages to amazing QK Judges Glen Coco and Omar Comin (N.K. Traver and Tatum Flynn), the content of which was basically: ZOMG!111!!!!1!1! Only longer. I may have initially gone over the 140 character limit. Also there was drinking.

I ultimately got four offers of representation (with a fifth 'let's talk' that came too late,) and so I got to repeat my awkward conversation three more times. I eventually started prefacing the talk with an admission that I was weird at this. Not in real-life, just this. The agents seemed to understand. Although, by conversation number four, I wasn't awkward at all. Talking with agents, like querying and synopsis-writing and everything else along this voyage is just another task that practice makes you good at.

Anyway, the agents were all awesome. I described them to my husband in byte-sized terms. Book blogger, enthusiastic new guy, geek enthusiast, editor-turned-agent. I DMd Tatum Flynn relentlessly, as well as writer friends I had made along the way. People said things like, "go with your gut," and "trust your heart," which sound good, except that my gut did not have a lot of insight. Mostly it was hungry.

Then came the awful bit: I had to pick one of them. If you've ever had the fantasy that at the end of all this rejection you might get the joy of turning down an agent for a change, I'm hear to tell you: it's awful! I liked all four agents. I would have been thrilled to be represented by any of them. Of all the things I'd been forced to write on this process, the rejection letters to agents were the most painful. It's like writing a Dear John letter, only worse. Blech. Just blech. 

In the end, I settled with Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates. Caitlin represented lots of books I have in my own library, had a Hugo winner under her belt, and had given me scads of intriguing and detailed notes about my project. She also seemed supportive of a double-genre approach, with the sensible proviso that I write quickly. Now that I've been with her for a few weeks, and have made the first round of changes to my manuscript, I can't imagine having done anything else.

So that's my story. Shaggy, but true. And for you twenty-somethings, if things don't work out now, there's always hope a few years down the road. Worked for me.

Inline image 1
Max Wirestone can be found on Twitter here!

CONGRATS MAX!!!! Great job, seriously. Everyone, make sure to congratulate Max on Twitter. Good luck with everything!

Monday, August 25, 2014

An Indian's Reaction to the Racism in "The Goldfinch"

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt has taken the literary world by storm since its publication. It won the Pulitzer, has been hailed by Stephen King (although derided by higher literary critics), and became a bestseller. So I decided to give it a go and read it. I loved the prose, thought it was fantastic. And when I finished the book, I thought it was good, but Pulitzer-worthy? Maybe, if there weren't any better contenders. Frankly, it was underwhelming. The prose won me over, but the story and especially that last chapter didn't seem like the work of a master. But I was beyond glad I read the book, because the book revolves around art's immortality. As a writer and a painter, I loved hearing Theo talk about The Goldfinch (painting) and about how much it meant to him. The fact that art, in itself, is everlasting, which is the reason we do it. I've never read a book that talked about art in such a personal way. I loved it.

But then someone on Twitter linked me to a post which was picked up by Salon here. Please read the post and come back, because I can't explain it better than the post does.

Of course, unless Ms. Tartt tells us herself, we can't ever truly know what her intention was with the novel. We can simply make our best guess using the evidence she gave us. If you read the post, I believe you've read some pretty strong evidence.

It's a novel filled with stock characters of color and with, when explained, painfully obvious racist themes. The Goldfinch is a nostalgic lament to a past filled with art, culture, beauty, while today's modern world of multiculturalism and diversity is, supposedly, sad and distasteful. As an Indian who is part of the multicultural hoopla Tartt finds sad in the present world, I was furious to realize that this book won the Pulitzer prize. This book. This book, these 800 pages from one of the world's most cherished authors, won the Pulitzer even though any literary scholar could realize the theme instantaneously (I'm no scholar, I couldn't realize it without explanation). The Pulitzer committee must have realized the theme. Is this not another Gone With the Wind? No, it's even worse, because Gone With the Wind is not focused on racism, it's focused on the complete upheaval of a society of which race-relations was one of many changes. The Goldfinch is very much about the decline of white supremacy. I was pissed. Upset and disgusted with the path English literature took with giving this book the Pulitzer. A racist, backwards novel - beautifully written - is being hailed as the greatest modern work? Have we moved forward in society or no?

So imagine my surprise when I was asked what my favorite books are, and The Goldfinch accidentally sprang up in my mind before my anger took it back down.

Why did that book come up to my mind so fast? 

It's the beauty of literature. Even though I - as an Indian - should be upset by the book, I realize now that I still love it with all its faults. The book is Tartt's lament, yes, but it's a beautiful lament. Who am I to insult someone's deepest feelings? One of the main reasons I fell in love with literature is because through books, I can learn about people different than me, people who think differently than me. This book and its message are Tartt's thinking. The reason I was so upset about the book was because of the themes, and to me that's not right. I can dislike a book because of its prose, its characters, its shoddy craftsmanship, etc. but I try hard not to dislike a book because of its message.

This book beautifully presented the feeling of retreat that many like Tartt must have felt when people like my parents entered this country. As non-European immigrants and children of these (incredibly hard-working) immigrants, we see people (sadly and too often) show us their hostility in ways not nearly as peaceful as Tartt does, and not nearly as beautifully. And while there's no way in hell we're leaving (frankly, we've earned our place several times over), there's never a perspective that deserves to be ignored.

Nowadays, controversy is no longer being an activist for the gay community but being against it. Controversy is not being pro-diversity but against it. In a time where such true controversy is avoided, it's stunning to see a writer with such huge expectations take such an incredible risk with her writing by revealing her inner self. That, by any account, is to be commended. There's rarely anything nowadays that presents the condemned side of an argument in such an amazing light. I'd take The Goldfinch over Fox News any day.

Due to The Goldfinch, even as a son of an immigrant I can understand, sympathize, and (due to Tartt's use of first person) sometimes even empathize with the sadness of the dwindling prestige of white supremacy. That's not to say at all that I agree with it. That's not the point. The point is to listen, and if we can't even do that, our bigotry will be the true mark of a degrading society. I'm willing to bet there are a lot of other people who silently agree with Tartt's views but are too scared to speak because of the possibility of backlash. Yes, I'm aware of how ironic it sounds but so many times, we who are progressive and for equal rights condemn our opponents just as strongly as they condemn us. Why can't we speak our minds and let others do the same? If we are truly progressive, we'd let everyone speak in an embracing environment. 

I also think I like this book because of that horribly amateurish last chapter. The whole rest of the book is good, (mostly) free from cliché. It's almost painful to see Tartt work so hard - and when she finally lets go, so to speak, in the last chapter, it humanizes the whole story. It's accessible. The reader smiles at the faults, almost laughs, and thus breaks the hard ice of 'sophistication' that caked the rest of the novel. Now it's a novel, a good old novel and no longer a Novel. And in that way, it's become my friend. A friend that I want to punch, yes. Inflict pain on because of how much it's been wrongly praised. But then hug right after because I still do grudgingly love it.

Do I think it's a good book? Even apart from the themes, not really. Do I really really really like it, almost love it? Yes. It hit a personal spot for me with its love for art.

It still shouldn't have won the Pulitzer though.

What did you think about The Goldfinch? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Candice Marley Conner - Query Kombat SUCCESS STORY (Yes, Another!!!!)

Can it be? ANOTHER success story? I post on Monday's and Friday's and I haven't done one of my normal posts for a while because of all these awesome success stories!! I secretly kind of like it: makes me not have to work as hard, just copy and paste and read awesome stories :D Also, I didn't visit blogs this week but I will today!

ON TO THE STORY!!! I like this one :) (I like all of them, though.)
I still can’t quite believe I received The Call. I’ve seen so many success stories on blogs and twitter and I’m beside myself to add my own.

I wrote my first real manuscript, a chapter book, beginning my senior year of high school and throughout college as it became part of my senior thesis. I queried small publishing houses and received form rejections. For good reason.

Once I graduated, I worked fulltime and the only writing I did was a column in a magazine and a monthly company newsletter. But after I had my daughter in 2010, my husband and I thought it best if I stayed home with her. His one stipulation was that I make time to write. So I followed Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way to reprioritize my life. And wrote two YA manuscripts before I had my son in 2013. I revised, hunted for beta readers without really knowing how to go about it, joined a local Writers’ Guild, entered contests and received some agent attention but ultimately, rejections.

Then I saw tweets about QueryKombat. I initially wasn’t going to enter. I mean, SC Author had in BOLD that this wasn’t a contest for the faint of heart or thin-skinned. And it had the word kombat in it.

But my manuscript deserved a chance to fight and Ravenous Rushing picked me for his team. I was estatic. Until I read my combatant's query and first 250. It was amazing; I would have voted for her. I was KO’d after the first round.

By this time, I had made some contacts during the twitter party and one of the judges, Melinda, offered to look at my manuscript after I had put on twitter that I needed help finding ‘plot evolution problems’ as one agent put it. I honestly just expected her to tell me when she grew bored.

But she shocked me by emailing me back that night. She got sucked into my story and had read the entire manuscript. She’d loved it. She got my characters and best of all, she could see my plot problems.

She mentored me for about a month and toward the end, surprised me by offering to recommend it to her agent. She thought she would love my voice-driven narrative and Southern setting. After her help polishing my query, I emailed it to her agent.

It was the longest sixteen days ever. Then I received an email. The subject said “Representation”. She wanted to set up The Call for the next day. We had a three year-old’s birthday party to go to that morning so by the time came for the phone call, I was hyped up on nerves and birthday cake icing. I’m not good at phone calls in a normal situation and even asked “I’m not making any sense, am I?”. Luckily, the agent laughed. She answered all my questions, told me how much she loved my manuscript and then gave suggestions on how to get it ready for submissions. I liked--and agreed--with all her suggestions.

Melinda had advised me to trust my gut, so I did and signed with Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary.

Ya’ll, contests are the best way to meet other writers and authors. It amazes me how folks are willing to help you succeed. I’m so glad I entered QueryKombat and put my work out there.

Candice Marley Conner is a mom by day and a writer by naptime. She loves all fairy tales and has to take turns with her three-year-old daughter on who gets to be the evil queen. She feels most at home near water so her characters do too. She has articles published in the Wiregrass Living Magazine, Good Taste Magazine, Tanning Trends and has poems and short stories in Oracle Fine Arts Review. Her YA mystery, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL is available for submission.


Congrats Candice!!!!!! Good luck with everything and thank you so much for sharing! Everyone, make sure you all congratulate her on Twitter.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Interview with Nikki Roberti - Become an Agent WINNER!

I'm very very excited because here, for you today, is the awesome Nikki Roberti. She recently won the Become an Agent Querypalooza (as we've renamed it). And today is Pitch Wars submissions day, too. Hopefully this interview will help keep your mind off of it as you press the submit buttons!

The interview is seven questions because seven is awesome Harry Potter number and so it has to be seven :)

1. Fun facts about you: name three!

1) I am a pretty gnarly balloon sculptor. Once made a full size bike as a bribe for a kid at summer camp.
2) When I was 18, four of my theatrical pieces I wrote were performed at the Kennedy Center in DC
3) I once got punched by a photographer while covering a Michelle Obama event in DC as a journalist because I had the better spot.

2. Tell us about your writing/publication experience. How did the drafting go? How do you cope in the querying process?

My writing/publication experience is pretty varied with most of it being 12 years of published journalism experience (which I still do as a writer at an international non profit). After years of interviewing people, I started channeling my familiarity with dialogue into plays. I've had short pieces performed from coast to coast with a monologue also being performed in a studio off broadway in NYC. I took a break from playwriting to focus on my journalism career, but in 2012 I needed a creative outlet again and started writing full-length novels.

I've written four complete novels so far, but THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES is the first one I've really felt struck a chord within myself and even among other people who have volunteered to read it for me. I started writing this while working with Stark Contrast Editing on my light sci fi, THE CURED, because I was 1) learning so much about what I did wrong with my other book and 2) and I just needed a break. I was dealing with some pretty serious frustrations on numerous levels and worked it into this YA contemporary. My goal was to apply what I learned working with my editor on my other book and see if my writing improved.

As far as querying goes, I've learned a lot since I wrote my first book. I've had some nibbles over the past two years, but no agent yet on those projects. THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES is still new, so I haven't really put it out there yet. I'm hoping maybe this one will grab some attention. When it comes to coping...lots of chocolate, and my therapists named "Ben & Jerry" (Phish food is the best flavor ever).

3. What/Who keeps you going on this quest for publication, especially if you feel like giving up some times?

It's definitely discouraging at times, but writing is what I'm meant to do, and it's who I am. I can't imagine not writing. And since it's such an integral part of my life, rejection has no ability to tear my determination away from me. It will happen when the time is right. In the meantime, I'll keep at it.

4. What is your favorite book? Genre? Author? Also, what writer would you most love to be compared to?

I love ALL YA. I just love reading teen books because it transports me to a time I want to escape to. Favorite book is so hard!!! I'd have to say "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman. I nearly used excerpts in my wedding, I loved it so much. It made me laugh and feel things in a way nothing had at that point in my life.

I don't know which writer I'd want to be compared to. I have such a huge respect for so many, but at the same time, I hope one day I can just be known for my work. If I had to pick one, I'd say John Green because of how he can make people laugh in dark situations, and that's how I've always tried to focus my books on even before I ever read one of his.

5. What are your long-term and short-term goals, writing-wise?

Short-term, my goal is to make my deadlines at work this week! Kidding aside, I really hope to query THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES more this year and see where it goes into the New Year.

Long-term, I want to eventually freelance full time instead of having a day job. I freelance for various magazines and websites now while writing my books when I get home, but I would love to have an office at home where I could focus on my projects and editing clients more.

6. How was your experience in Become an Agent? What part of the contest did you find the best, and what part did you find the hardest? Anything to tell the other entrants?

My experience with Become an Agent was an interesting, but definitely a beneficial ride. I really appreciated the thoughtful critiques people gave me. But I was very confused by some of the conflicting notes and by the fact that for some reason, more people commented in general on mine than any others. At one point I thought maybe I had both more nos than anyone too. But overall, it really taught me how subjective the industry is and how people can have a strong reaction either way-- but that's better than no reaction at all. I'm definitely going to mull over a lot of the constructive feedback I received and see if I can apply it before Pitch Wars, but I also definitely learned that in the end, I have to trust my gut since people will be split.

To the other entrants, thank you for your thoughtful critiques and good luck on your projects too! I loved reading your entries, and it was so hard to only vote Yes on two. You all are so amazingly talented, and I predict good things for all of us in the future.

7. What would be a dream review for any of your books? Meaning, what would you LOVE for someone to say about your writing/stories?

I actually got a review from a beta recently that made me all sorts of weepy in a way I don't think I'll ever see again (or at least, I can't fathom happening any time soon). While my book is not Christian lit, my main character in THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES is a Christian who is widely persecuted by other Christians. However, as she struggles outwardly and inwardly throughout the plot, she remains true to herself and what she believes in. The plot is not reliant on this piece of characterization, but one beta approached me later saying that it really resonated with him how awful the supposedly "nice Christians" were to her, and it made him start visiting churches again since he saw that there is a difference between mainstream religion and personal faith. The idea anything I write could help people on their journey to asking questions or finding out more about themselves in any way is a privilege I don't even feel honored enough to accept. But it meant the world to me that he said my book helped him want to take steps toward learning more about something that had been weighing on him for some time.

Nikki Roberti Miller has more than 12 years of published journalism experience spanning newspapers, magazines, newswires, and more. Currently, she is a full-time writer for an international relief non profit and a freelancer for various magazines and websites including Engagement 101, and As an editor, she was invited to present her theories on the mentor-mentee writer relationship at the 2011 International Writing Center Conference and also started her own online magazine, REALITY Check Girl, back in 2009. For fun, she's a recreational balloon sculptor who loves to cook and go to the theater with her husband.


I loved loved those answers. Thank you so much Nikki for submitting and doing this interview! Good luck with everything and be sure to tell me if anything exciting happens.

This is also a call for EVERYONE that submitted/participated in Become an Agent. If you get a success story because of the Querypalooza, I WANT TO HEAR IT! Make sure you Tweet me, email me, anything, because success stories make my day :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Judy Clemens - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!

WOOT WOOT WOOT!!!!! Today we have Judy Clemens, the author of TAG, YOU'RE DEAD, in Query Kombat. I've had the honor of reading her book, and it is honestly a thrill ride. I was up at 3 am reading it. A success story WELL DESERVED!

When I entered Query Kombat I came to it with a different background than most of the other Kombatants. I’ve been in the business a while. My first book, an adult mystery called TILL THE COWS COME HOME, came out with Poisoned Pen Press in 2004 after years of writing (at that point I had only two manuscripts in a drawer, compared to today when there are…a lot). This sale came through my own submission, after a bad experience with an agent who sent the book to three editors before dropping me like a bad cell phone connection.

COWS, a book about Stella Crown, a Harley-Davidson-loving dairy farmer, was nominated for the 2004 Anthony and Agatha Awards for Best First Novel, which was awesome and wonderful. PPP published a second book in the series, THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET, and I was approached by a lovely agent who wanted to represent me. She did for three books…and then retired.

Having become a part of the Poisoned Pen Posse, I no longer needed an agent to sell them books, and they published five more of my novels, including a sixth Stella book this past December, and a four-book Grim Reaper series before that. PPP is a lovely community to be a part of, and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.

However, my heart had taken a detour to a different place. YA novels. MG novels. Writing for that younger audience. I love to read those books, and I love to write them, but I had no luck getting them published. Eventually I found myself in a place where I wasn’t even enjoying writing anymore. Finally, I stopped myself to ask, “Where is the joy?” and I remembered that the joy should be in the writing, not solely in the final result. I loved the characters and worlds I was writing about, and needed to let that be enough. I wrote more books, and searched for agents, and realized anew what a tough business this is. But I tried not to let it get me down.

And then I thought of the concept for a new book that got me really excited. After spending Nanowrimo on the book, I had my first 50,000 words. A writers’ retreat in January got me the next 25,000, and I had a first draft. The next few months were spent revising and working with beta readers, and then the next stage of work began...searching for an agent. Again.

My non-tech process for figuring out the timeline of TAG, YOU’RE DEAD.
Sometimes computers just aren’t enough!
I sent out query letters like anyone, and got involved on Twitter after encouragement from Dee Romito who told me what a great way it is to learn about the industry and enter writing contests. I started following writers, editors, and agents and received a completely up-to-the-minute feel of what was going on with them. And then I found Query Kombat! I entered and was picked for Michael’s team (yay!) and made it all the way through to the championship round. Along the way people gave great feedback on my query, and I received several agent requests. And then the waiting began!

But not for long.

Within two hours of receiving my email, Uwe Stender of TriadaUS contacted me, requesting the full. I sent it, and less than a week later I answered the call every writer dreams of getting.

“I love your book!”

Cloud Nine, anyone?

So now I am a part of the TriadaUS family, and couldn’t be happier. But this didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a decade of learning, fun, misery, disappointment, support, discouragement, friendship, frustration, and excitement. It’s all wrapped up in there. But writers gotta write, and if we want to get published, we persevere.

And we find the joy.


Judy Clemens lives in rural Ohio with her husband and two children, two cats, and a gerbil named Watson. She is the author of the Stella Crown and Grim Reaper mysteries, and a stand-alone entitled LOST SONS. She loves the people in the writing industry and is excited to be heading out on this new adventure.

It's an absolutely incredible story, your success story AND your novel. Thank you so so so much for sharing, it was a joy to read. Make sure to congratulate her on Twitter! Good luck with everything in the future!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

'Become an Agent' Revision GUIDELINES

Read this post before you criticize revisions!

Pitch Wars is coming up very very soon. I had the September deadline for votes to be on Tuesday at 9 pm but since I'll be away from the Internet starting Wednesday morning until Sunday (VACATION TIME !!!!) I thought I'd bump it up to make room for revisions .

The new deadline is today, Monday, 6 pm EST.

Most of You have Already done your votes so thank you! If You Have not done it and can not get it done in the time frame, do not worry about it, just do it before 9 pm Tuesday. I'll tally up the votes and post the winner on Tuesday.

Starting at 6 pm EST, I'll edit each post and replace  the entry with a review that you 'guys can send me at the same email, same format, same everything, except  in the email's subject line, say 'Become an Agent Post # __ '(whatever post number you are).

Everyone That PARTICIPATED in the contest have the opportunity to submit a revised version of Their query and 250 The revisions will come from the feedback gotten From this contest.

That Those revisions have posted, I'll list below. (I'll try to do it as fast as possible: D)

Revised List of Entries

Post 1
Post 2
Post 4
Post 5
Post 6
Post 9
Post 11
Post 17
Post 18
Post 19
Post 20

The quicker you send me your revisions, the quicker I ll have them up! Already I've got a few.

Same rules apply for  voting etiquette , except now you can give as many as you want Yes's (way too hard to track with a changing number of revisions). And, more Importantly, say if the review was an improvement or not! 

So, still give the 'Yes' and 'No' (sorry, it might feel a lot more brutal to get No's now after revisions, but honesty is the best, in my opinion). But Also say, "Improvement" or "Not Improved".

As always, be  constructive.  brutally Do not be harsh. There's a smaller number of entries now so take your time to tell them what they 'did right In Their query and 250 as well :) I feel That it's almost as Important as Knowing Knowing what's working what's not working.

Be sure to return the please if your review gets to criticize! posted If You Have to revision and are critiquing someone else's review, make sure to include your number in your post so the writer has criticized An Easier time finding your post.


Now That the contest is over, it's the time for feedback for  me.  In the end, all I want to know is:  How was the contest? Any suggestions for the next time?  Be as honest as you need to be.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Betsy and Carrie - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!!

I'm very very excited about this. Betsy and Carrie are Query Kombat 2014's GRAND CHAMPIONS (they won the whole freaking thing!) and already have an agent! Plus, Betsy named her daughter after a Harry Potter character. That's awesome. I love this story, so read on!

Close friends from NYU, we’d worked together on a variety of creative projects through the years. Some have been more memorable than others, like the time we produced and performed in a dystopian version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in an old store front on the Lower East Side, but we’d always planned on writing something original together.

One Halloween, while on a ghost tour of Greenwich Village, we came up with an idea for a YA Paranormal novel. We passed chapters back and forth, just for fun, over the next two years. Once we had written about 40,000 words, we decided it was time to get serious about finishing the book and enrolled in a MediaBistro online class with writer Micol Ostow, which started in January 2013. The class was just what we needed at that time to push us to finish and revise the manuscript. Plus, we met other writers, learned how to work under deadline, how to give and accept feedback, and how to query agents.

After a few more re-writes, we started writing and re-writing queries and sending them out. We even made it into the Nightmare on Query Street contest and got some requests from that along with requests the old-fashioned way. In total, we probably queried 30 people, most of whom were pretty positive. But one theme stuck out over and over, even among those who liked the manuscript. No one was buying paranormal anymore. A couple of very nice agents told us to write something else and to be in touch. That was all the encouragement we needed.

After a crazy brainstorming session in August 2013, we came up with a wacky idea, to write a YA contemporary romance about Bigfoot hunters. We still had queries out for the other manuscript, but rather than refreshing our inboxes every two minutes, we got excited about writing again. We drafted, revised, and worked with our critique partner and a couple of beta readers, until we felt it was ready.

Then we heard about Query Kombat and thought it would be a great way to test the waters with this manuscript and get some valuable feedback from other writers before wading into querying again. We wrote and re-wrote our query (sense a theme here?), with insight from a few professionals (thanks Lauren Spieller, Kate Brauning, and Taryn Albright).

We know how competitive pitching contests are, so when the hosts announced they were giving away free passes, we entered, and won one from Mike, who loved our short pitch. Phew! We were so relieved to be able to skip the slush and go right into the contest.

We figured the competition would be stiff and we’d be lucky to just get past the first round and get seen by agents. But something happened along the way. We kept winning. At the top of each round we assumed this would be the last round for us – that we would be eliminated. But it never happened. Before we knew it, we were the grand champions and had received 10 agent requests! We were completely floored that so many folks liked our pitch and writing sample so much.

During the contest, we also sent a handful of queries to other agents who were on our short list, a few of them responded asking for partials as well. We expected that it would be a while until we heard anything, but within a few days we had an offer of representation on the table from Agent A who loved the manuscript. We quickly went back to everyone who had a full, partial, or query, because you never know. We heard from all but one agent. Most requested the full and said they would read our manuscript before our deadline. Only a couple bowed out right away, and a few agents came back later on saying they really liked it, but weren’t quite in love. Then two more offers came in from Agents B and C!

We had a long phone conversation with each agent who offered. They were all great in different ways, but we were undecided. Then, two days before we were going to make a decision, we got a fourth offer. We quickly set up a call with the fourth agent, knowing our decision deadline was around the corner. However, before we even ended the call, we just knew, “the way you know about a good melon,” to quote When Harry Met Sally. This was our agent, the one we wanted to represent us. She really seemed to get what we were trying to do and had great ideas to make our manuscript even better. We knew we would enjoy working with her and that she would be a rock star champion for our novel.

So now, we are thrilled to say we are represented by Christa Heschke at McIntosh & Otis, who was one of the agents who requested our manuscript during Query Kombat.

If we had to offer some advice, based on our story, we would say to keep writing. You never know if the manuscript you are writing now is the one that is going to get you an agent, or the one that is going to teach you how to write the one that gets you the agent. Also, working on a new project keeps your mind off of all those queries out in the world.

Thanks to all the Query Kombat judges, and especially to Michelle, Mike, and SC for playing literary matchmakers and for creating such a wonderful community!


Betsy Aldredge (on the right in the picture, while Carrie is on the left - SC) is a former magazine editor turned museum professional. She’s worked at a library and at two independent bookstores including Shakespeare and Company. Born a book nerd, she is happy to pass on the tradition. Her four-year-old daughter is named after a Harry Potter character and already insists on sleeping with piles of books in her bed. She lives and works in New York.

Carrie DuBois-Shaw has had two plays for young audiences produced in New York City and spearheaded the new play development program at The New Victory Theater, a performing arts venue in Times Square dedicated to engaging and entertaining kids and families. She recently relocated to San Francisco, where she is enjoying the abundance of independent bookstores, sour dough bread, and fog.

Betsy and Carrie are members of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). They met at NYU where they lived in a haunted dorm, studied theater, and were secretly delighted to be mistaken for English literature majors.

Check out their blog and congratulate Betsy and Carrie on Twitter!

CONGRATS BOTH OF YOU!!!! Can't wait to see how everything turns out. Keep us informed, and good luck!