Getting Back to Speed

May 11th, 2011 • Kate

emmastone109486668-419x581So much for being back, huh? As I said, I’m taking it slowly. One thing I have been doing is reading lots of great manuscripts from my clients — the latest version of LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins, which Dutton will publish in September, THE NEW NORMAL by Trish Doller, which Bloomsbury will publish in June 2012, and TRUTH by Julia Karr, which Puffin will likely publish in January 2012.

And editors? I’ve got some fantastic new submissions just waiting to go out to you. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, in honor of those three manuscripts, let’s answer three questions, shall we?

Deserae asked, “I have been wondering, though, what you do look for in those first three pages. Voice, seems to me to be a given, but are there specific turn ons and turn offs that hit you, specifically?”

I actually answered part of this question back in the archives in October. Specific turn-offs include:

  1. The main character waking up.
  2. The MC looking into a mirror to describe themselves.
  3. The narrator telling me how ordinary the MC is.
  4. An opening line that references the weather.
  5. A prologue with characters that aren’t our MCs.

Turn-ons are harder to describe — it’s that old trope, “I’ll know it when I see it.” But in general, anything that makes me eager to know what happens next, beyond those three pages, is a very good thing.

Alwyn asked, “Do you think it’s a faux pas to start a query letter with the same first line as the MS? (Assuming the first line is a general statement/quote and not a line of dialogue or description etc.)”

No, especially not if your opening line is a killer hook. Because that’s what your query letter is for — not just to wow the agent with your writing, but to hook them and entice them to read more. A serious faux pas would be opening with a rhetorical question — no one likes those.

Ella asked, “How important is it to define the genre of a novel? I am struggling to define my MG novel. It definitely has elements of fantasy, but it can also be categorized as action adventure. Can I define my novel as fantasy/adventure?”

Honestly, I have a hard time thinking of fantasy novels that don’t have an element of adventure. If you’re querying, I think the best thing to do is look at your novel in term of the big-picture genres: romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy. There’s tons of sub-genres within each, but genre as a term is really useful at this stage in painting your novel in broad strokes. I think I once advised to keep the hyphenation of classification to a minimum, anyway. Don’t pitch a “middle grade action adventure fantasy with realistic elements,” just call it urban fantasy, or whatever. Keep it simple.

And thanks to the Fug Girls for the image of Emma Stone’s shoes, above. I’m looking forward to reading their YA novel SPOILED!

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5 Responses to “Getting Back to Speed”

  1. Chelsey Says:

    I can't WAIT for Lola!

  2. Anne C Says:

    "A serious faux pas would be opening a query letter with a rhetorical question?" Does that mean ANY type of question or simply a RHETORICAL one? I'm trying to understand: "Why is the sky blue?" is bad, but "What am I going to do with this knife?" is not? Or do you mean that no one likes to read a question in the opening query, period?

  3. Kate Says:

    Anne, I do definitely mean a rhetorical question. A la, "Did you ever wonder what would happen if your dog died?" Or "Did you ever think it would be cool to be a vampire?" You're just giving an agent an opportunity to say "No" to themselves, and immediately move on.

  4. Deserae McGlothen Says:

    Thanks, Kate! I remembered you posted something about it earlier, but I'd wondered if your tastes had changed. Recently, I've been writing with my sisters and we all agree that we don't know anything about this business. We're trying to do our research as we continue to craft the best possible manuscript we can. Still, I can't help but wonder how that works. I've seen duos team up to write a book, but there are four of us, and although only two of us are doing the actual ideas into words, words onto paper part, we're all collaborating. I wouldn't even know how to deal with that when querying.

  5. Eleni Alexandraki Says:

    I just realized I can't query you, now– for fear of the slushpile. Back to revisions!