Wednesday, June 29, 2011

7 Query Resources

I recently won a query critique from an agented author in a charity auction. The feedback that I received was very positive. That made me feel fantastic. The author had a few notes for me (of course), but thought I was almost there. Yay me!

How was I able to achieve such positive results? First, I've written the query at least a bajillion times (not a precise number), trying out different approaches until I felt I finally nailed the main question of my book in the shortest amount of words. (Hint: queries are about setting up the question of "what happens next" ... it doesn't give away the whole story).

Second, I've had my critique group go over it, giving second and third and fourth pairs of eyes to help me see things I had missed.

Third, research, research, research. There are a bajillion (again, not a precise number) different blog entries, websites, tweets, etc. about queries. Going through it all is time-consuming, so I've narrowed down some of the best for you.

Writing the Query

YA author Elana Johnson has done mankind an invaluable service by offering an ebook titled From the Query to the Call. Great info to be had for FREE.

Rewriting the Query

This will take the bulk of your time (and frustration). Just like writing your novel, it's vital to get feedback. Your critique partners should be your first stop, but these resources will also help.

Absolute Write has Query Letter Hell where you can submit your query for feedback. You need to become a member to access the forum, but membership is free. (They do request donations if you are so inclined.) If you're too shy/vulnerable/terrified to submit, reading what others submit and the responses will educate you on what does and doesn't work.

If you're superbrave, you can submit your query to Evil Editor or Query Shark. Don't expect any hand holding here. The cold, bitter truth is what you'll find on these websites. If you can't muster the courage to submit, you can still learn from other people's mistakes.

A kinder, gentler version of query critiques is available in this recording of a live query event given by agent Roseanne Wells. Again, seeing what other people are doing, no matter what genre you're writing in, is a huge help in figuring out how to write the perfect query.

Submitting the Query

When you're finally ready to submit, you need to know who the right agents are to send it to. Agent Query is an excellent database of agents, giving their interests, preferred form of submission, client lists, and links to their websites.

And once you start sending your query, QueryTracker will keep track of your submissions. You can also share your submission experiences with other writers, giving some query karma back to the universe. There are both pay and free memberships available, and the free membership covers most of what you need.

Hope this information helps you on your query journey! Please share some of your favorite query resources.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One World, Many Stories - Film Edition

Summer reading programs are starting and as I've mentioned before, the theme at the libraries where I work is One World, Many Stories.

In addition to the books that I've previously listed, there are also some fabulous movies with multicultural stories that you might be interested in.

Bend It Like Beckham: A Pakistani teen in London defies her parents by playing soccer.

The Chorus (Les Choristes): At a school for troubled boys in France, a music teacher changes their lives.

Empire of the Sun: A young English boy tries to survive in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.

Into the West: Two Traveller brothers find a mysterious white horse in their Irish slum.

Osama: A 12-year-old girl disguises herself as boy after the Taliban takes over Afghanistan.

Quinceanera: Magdalena gets kicked out of her home when she finds out she's pregnant, but finds a new home with her grandfather and gay cousin.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Three aboriginal girls escape government custody and attempt to walk across Australia to reunite with their families.

The Secret of Roan Inish: A 10-year-old girl believes that Selkies (seal creatures who can take human form) have taken her baby brother.

Spirited Away: A young Japanese girl must save her enchanted parents from a bevy of hungry spirits.

Whale Rider: A Maori girl fights tradition to become chief.

Some of these movies are heartbreaking to watch and may be best for older children and teens (I'm looking at you, Osama and Rabbit-Proof Fence). But they are also good places to start to make others (including adults) aware of how children around the world live as well as different cultures and myths.

I've made my recommendations based on movies that I've seen. What are some of your favorite multicultural films for children?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Possession Book Review

Title: Possession
Author: Elana Johnson
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1442421257
416 pp.

Reading copy from publisher via Galley Grab

I don't give stars for my reviews, but if I did, I'd give 3 out of 5 for Possession by Elana Johnson. It fell in the middle for me ... somewhere between Across the Universe by Beth Revis, which I L-O-V-E-D and Bumped by Megan McCafferty, which I didn't finish.

The basic story is that Violet (aka Vi) lives in the Goodlands, but she doesn't think much of being a Goodie. She breaks the rules of this particular dystopian world and ends up in prison with Jag, the swaggering and sexy Baddie from the Badlands. She breaks out of prison with Jag and finds out there's a Resistance, which she may or may not want to join. And then there's Zenn, the boy Vi was matched with back when she was a Goodie. He may be trying to help her, or he may be keeping her away from Jag. Vi doesn't know who to trust or what do, especially since she's discovered that she has many of the same powers that the Thinkers who control the Goodlands have.

There's lots to like in Possession. Vi is a sassy, snarky kick-ass character. There's lots of well-written action. There are twisty turns that nicely set up the sequel.

But where it fell flat for me was the world-building. It was generic, even in the naming of the places (Goodlands, Badlands, etc.). There really wasn't a breakdown of the hierarchy or the history of this world. There's a conversation very late in the novel about what the different types of powers are and who has them, but it would have helped to have this information sooner. It would have helped me as reader understand the world and it would have helped build character in Vi because she could have had a stronger arc on how she learns what her abilities are and how she can use them.

The characters were a little generic, too. Cute Boy #1 and Cute Boy # 2 didn't seem that different from each other. And Vi didn't have that much depth to her. She's all id, all action, all emotion. She's not very reflective. For instance, in one scene she manages to take out a team of people using her new found power. When it's over, she doesn't think, OMG, I did that!?! What else am I capable of? Or any other sort of deeper thought. Instead, she yells at Jag about something else. If all id is her character, I hope in the sequel that Vi grows up a bit and learns more self-awareness.

So 3 out of 5 stars it is. I would recommend Possession to readers who enjoyed Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin or Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

Bonus Video: Elana Johnson talks about Possession with YA Highway

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - May Update

One thing that I've realized doing the challenge is that it's okay to make changes on the fly. I started this as something fun to do and I wasn't very scientific on how I chose what titles to read. So if one title wasn't readily available, I would switch out with a title that was. Which is why Entwined was my May read instead of How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend.

And really, I'm behind a month. There was no April read. But I figure if I read 12 debut books by the end of the year, I'm good. Right? (Please say right.)

To complicate matters more, I'm itching to read Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, which isn't YA or debut. But Sarah Vowell is pretty awesome and the book is sitting on my coffee table looking all wistful and lonely, like a older cat at a pet adoption who isn't even going to try to compete with the kittens.

To complicate matters even more, last year I started a summer reading program for myself to get out the fiction/nonfiction rut I was in. I mentioned that to a friend of mine, and her response was, "What's there beside fiction and nonfiction?" By that I mean poetry, plays, and graphic novels. June is plays, July is poetry, and August is graphic novels. I really, really want to be able to read at least one of each this summer. Because I believe the more you read, the more well-rounded as a writer you are.

What are your reading goals for the summer? Juicy beach reading? Scary stories around a campfire?


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