Time for Another Live Blog!

July 28th, 2009 • Kate

live-blog-2It’s been a while since we’ve done this, and I have just over 50 queries in my inbox to get all caught up on, so I figured it’s time for another live blog! As always, my goal here isn’t to be mean or petty, but to give my brief comments on what about each query makes me say yes or no, in as an anonymous manner as I can. Hope it’s informative!

1. I like the idea of this, but the writing seemed unnecessarily gory, and I worried about the likability of the MC.
2. Not really my genre — call it lad lit, if you will.
3. Women’s Fiction that takes a pinch of multiple cliches and combines it with a dash of spiritualism. Not for me. I’ll admit the use (and lack thereof) of commas was a deterrent as well.
4. Again, writers, it’s more than ok to round up or down your word count. 58, 979 can be 59,000. For reals. Otherwise, this just seems like too much to me.
5. I feel like I’m seeing a lot of past lives/time travel romances. Is that just me? The writing on this didn’t sell me on the difficult concept to nail.

6. Another trope — the teen girl who moves to a new school, finds mysterious boyfriend, gets involved in something paranormal. Not saying it can’t work, but it needs to be SPECTACULAR, not just reminiscent of other books.
7. I imagine it’s tough to query me on women’s fiction — I’ve read a lot, but represented few. I do know I prefer humor to pathos, and would rather read something happy than sad. This is a little too much of the later.
8. This should interest me, but for some unable-to-quantify reason, just doesn’t. Totally not the author’s fault. Just goes to show how very personal this business is.
9. Another time travel romance, this one women’s fiction. Feels more category than break-out to me.
10. I’m afraid the writing just isn’t up to par in this memoir.

11. Once again, authors, don’t pitch your book by demeaning other stuff out there in the marketplace. No one likes the guy who snarks on everyone. I’m all about the positivity, please.
12. Sure, it’s possible that you’re so overwhelmed by the pressure of writing a good query that everything you learned about grammar and spelling go out the window. But I want to work with authors who consistently know how to write.
13. Interesting idea, but completely overwritten. Be wary of extra adjectives, and try not to go crazy with the thesaurus, ok? Rexroth has a favorite quote: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
14. Recovery memoir. Definitely not for me.
15. Also out of my interests. Well, I suppose this could be considered women’s fiction, in a pinch, but it’s again on the depressing side of things.

16. An offer of a revised manuscript, which I decline. Unless I specifically ask to see a revision, trust me, you’re better off taking my no as final, and taking your revised manuscript on a fresh, new round of submissions.
17. A first novel that feels like exactly that. Very rough, and the author could use the benefit of knowledge that SCBWI offers to its members to learn how to submit, as well as the boundaries of certain categories within the children’s book world.
18. Please don’t tell me about the lessons the characters learn. Tell me about the story.
19. A request! Middle grade with a voice that jumps off the page. It may help that I can perfectly picture the scene the author sets in the first few pages, having been where she describes, but it’s the voice that entices me to read more.
20. Again, this decision is based on voice — in this case, the narrative voice doesn’t work for me.

21. I think some authors use a Mad Libs formula to draft queries. Take one [orphaned/abandoned/lonely] teen who moves to a new [school/town/country] and always felt [ordinary/overlooked] until [he/she] suddenly discovers [special powers/love/secret mission/destiny]. Rinse and repeat. Yes, ok, you could use that formula to tell the story of several very popular novels — but you want yours to STAND OUT, right? So be original!
22. Action thriller. Not for me.
23. Repeated query for a screenplay, which I declined last week. Also, I don’t represent screenplays.
24. I think I’d like reading this book for fun, but I’m not in love enough to represent.
25. I imagine there’s more than a few agents on the lookout for wacky Southern fiction. If that’s al it is, however, I don’t think I’m one of them.

26. Just didn’t feel the writing was where it needed to be in this YA novel. Also, authors should beware the ellipses, except in speech — and there, use it only sparingly.
27. I like the writing here, but the plot feels like it’s been done to death already, with comparisons to a couple of books I didn’t exactly love.
28. An interesting idea, but the writing’s not where it needs to be.
29. Beginnings are tough, but that’s where you can win or lose a reader. This one didn’t nab my attention.
30. I feel like I’ve seen this plot a dozen or more times recently, and the writing doesn’t stand out enough for me.

[Ok, taking a break for lunch and errand-running. Will do my best to finish my queries later this afternoon.]

[And we’re back!]
31. Quirky, funny voice, but it feels similar (in tone if not in plot) to a current client’s work. No, but something I could easily see getting picked up elsewhere.
32. Just not compelled by the plot, and I’m put off by a narrator that speaks directly to the reader.
33. Middle grade plot with possibilities, but the writing felt a bit like talking down to the audience.
34. The writing isn’t polished enough, and the plot feels like a mishmash of several other MG tropes.
35. I tripped over the hook on this queries, which featured a plethora of incompatible verb tenses. I’m not the world’s best copyeditor, but do be sure to read your query aloud before sending it off, and make sure it sounds right.

36. Chick lit that feels somewhat like the Shopaholic books — in that the hapless heroine seems to fall into all sort of manner of scrapes. I like reading the books, but all too often they leave me feeling too frustrated for words.
37. I’ve been sitting here trying to express how to work my reason for declining this one, but nothing comes to mind. it’s fine, I guess, just doesn’t do anything for me.
38. I do usually like post-apocalyptic stories, but I didn’t love the voice in this one.
39. A big ole “no” on many levels: illustrated, self-published, handwritten, with blurbs from readers… please don’t make me go on.
40. Funny: this is the second query in a week featuring a MC with the same rare condition. I requested the previous one, which was YA — this is adult, and doesn’t quite measure up.

41. Getting near the end. Woot! The language in this MG just feels slightly awkward, and again features the lone child who can save a world.
42. Query from an obviously accomplished writer, but it’s literary fiction, and not for me.
43. You’d think an English teacher would catch an obvious mistake in the first sentence of their query, but you’d be wrong. I’d debate the point that just because you work with kids, you know how to write for them. It helps, certainly, but it’s not the only qualification.
44. Ok, so no one’s saying you can’t take a concept someone else may have tried and make it your own. But I would steer away from using familiar “x meets y” analogies to describe your story when someone else has already used them. The Luxe is known as Gossip Girl in the Golden Age, for instance. Find another way to tell me about your pitch.
45. Great concept, but the writing doesn’t keep up.

Ok, so a few short of 50, but the other emails in my query inbox were either questions of a different sort, repeat queries, or response from Intern Jenny on requested partials (she’s reading along with me, but all final decisions are my own). As always, I hope this is helpful! And for those of you keeping track at home, out of 45 queries, I requested one partial.

And I can now report that I am ALL CAUGHT UP, so if you’ve sent an email and did not receive a response, please check your spam filter, and if you still haven’t heard from me, do feel free to resend your query (with a note that it is a resubmission) and I’ll get to it within two weeks.

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23 Responses to “Time for Another Live Blog!”

  1. Joy D. Wilson Says:

    Man! I think I sent you my time travel story. I didn't know it was so popular. How can you find out if your genre is big or not? I know the Time Traveler's wife will be out soon, but my book has a different type of time traveling; but is it really all the same?

  2. Teh Awe-Some Sauce Says:

    Oh, I recognize mine. It's not really that gory…and the MC gets more likeable…okay, maybe not.

    Well, at least I know it's not the writing.

  3. Kate Says:

    Try not to spend too much time figuring out which query yours could be in the above. I guess that's one of the hazards of being deliberately vague.

    But to recap — this isn't a game to try to figure out which query you are — this is about getting a better sense of what works for me, and what doesn't, with a little bit of why.

    (And Sauce — don't know if you want to hear this or not, but you're wrong.)

  4. beth Says:

    So…should I bother mentioning I'm an English teacher in my query? Or will it make me look presumptuous?

  5. Kristy Says:

    I've debated on whether or not to query you in the future.

    What sort of women's fiction do you enjoy reading? (to the point that you'd rep. if given the option)

  6. talshannon Says:

    >>17. A first novel that feels like exactly that. Very rough, and the author could use the benefit of knowledge that SCBWI offers to its members to learn how to submit, as well as the boundaries of certain categories within the children’s book world.

    You totally piqued my curiosity with that one! What do you mean by "boundaries?" Age range? Inappropriate subject matter?

  7. Ashley Says:

    I'm in here. I found mine pretty quickly. But that's okay, though! It's early in my query process, so the rejections don't sting quite as badly as I'm sure they will eventually.

    I know you don't like "thank you" e-mails, so I'll thank you over here!

  8. Kate Says:

    Beth — I do consider English teacher as a good qualification to mention, and no, it's not presumptuous. What I found so was the assumption that because an author teaches English to high school students (or middle graders) they know exactly what will resonate with them. They might, certainly, but it's not a guarantee.

    Also, think about how you felt about your teachers when you were in school. Did you think all of them were cool? Some of them — a couple — maybe. But I doubt all.

    Kids today most likely feel the same.

  9. Ashley Says:

    Geez, it takes me so long to type on my iPhone that I forget I typed words and then my grammar is terrible! Ignore the "though" at the end of my first sentence :-/

    I'm wondering: what would set apart something with past lives for you? Or is there some specific aspect of the idea that just puts you off entirely? I'm not asking only because it's mine, but because I don't find many books with the past lives theme, but people have responded well to the concept.

    Ignore me if I'm being annoying. Sometimes I don't realize it.

  10. Kate Says:

    Kristy — I love women's fiction that gets me (in all honesty) hot, horny, and laughing. That's the trifecta. I feel like Jennifer Crusie is an almost perfect example, but so is a lot of Nora Roberts (without the woman-in-jeopardy storylines).

  11. Kristy Says:

    That's the honesty I like! Ha, not sure I fall into that category, but it'd be fun to be in your book club.

  12. Kate Says:

    Tal — I try not to get too specific, but a writer for children's books should be aware of what age ranges different categories fit — picture books, early chapter books, middle grade, YA — each has a rough age range associated with it, and some tropes. For instance, you wouldn't submit a dummy with illustrations for a middle grade novel.

    That's the kind of information membership in a writers organization can provide.

  13. Kate Says:

    Another note — one of the queries above used an epithet for sexual persuasion as a verb on the first page (practically first paragraph) of a book about 13 year olds. That wasn't the only reason I said no, but reading that immediately took me out of the story.

  14. Kate Says:

    Ashley – As for past lives, I have to admit, part of my feeling like I've seen this before is because I have an author who's got a past lives plotline in her WiP.

    Otherwise, I don't feel like past lives are as "done" as guardian angels or vampires, for instance, but the point to bear in mind is that they are being written, and you need to make sure yours stand out for a good reason.

    Hope that helps!

  15. Ashley Says:

    Yes, that definitely helps!

    Thanks!

  16. Jerry W Stewart Says:

    This is the first live blog I've read on your site. I love the idea. I love the idea and the insight into what you're looking to represent. Thank you.

  17. Leslie Ann Says:

    I wish my query was in there so I could know what's wrong with it. Oh well.

  18. Jerry W Stewart Says:

    Oops. I just realized I wrote "I love the idea" twice on my previous reply. Too bad I can't edit the first reply. 🙂

  19. Writing Roundup, July 31 « Jen’s Writing Journey Says:

    […] Time for Another Live Blog Agent Kate Schafer Testerman live blogs her reactions to query submissions. She has some great nuggets of wisdom that you can use to help your query stand out. […]

  20. Links plus Business Name Registered! | Website of Megan Burke Says:

    […] best news ever: over on Ask Daphne, Kate’s done another Live Blog! YAY! For those of you who are not familiar with Ask Daphne and/or Live Blogs, it’s basically […]

  21. @KaraLambo Says:

    If you envision your story to be a trilogy (for example) should you mention that in your query letter, or is that being a bit presumptuous?

  22. DaphneUn Says:

    The problem with doing so is that you have to sell the first book first — otherwise the next two books won't ever see the light of day. You can say that you see it as a trilogy, but do make sure that first is strong enough to carry a series.

  23. @KaraLambo Says:

    Thank you for the quick reply.
    Better get back to work then 🙂