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Tag Archives: YA

Red Planet: Access Denied.

I’ve been leaving out the names of agents and agencies for the most part as I track the query process largely because I wouldn’t want any particular agents to feel bad or attacked for saying no. I do include this blog in my query (that relentless ‘About Me’ paragraph) so I don’t want them to be over concerned about how their response might look.

Anyway, that being said, I think I got the saddest ‘no’ this past weekend.

I hadn’t even realized it existed, but Barbara Bova founded a literary agency that continues on after her passing in 2009. Her husband, Ben Bova, is the President. If you aren’t or weren’t a science fiction fan growing up, you might have missed the amazing talent of Ben Bova. His book MARS, published in 1992, was once of my first realistic science fiction loves. I had that book for as long as I’d had anything.

Sure, they still said no. In fact, they said:

“Unfortunately, your query does not meet our particular need at this time, but thank you for giving us the chance to review your work. Good luck in future.”

It doesn’t hurt my feelings or anything. In fact, I almost feel like I touched a little bit of awesome just having my MS pass through their hands.

It did get me thinking a bit about how personal to get in query letters. I didn’t include anything about how much I loved MARS and I didn’t mention that the book used to sit on my nightstand, anchoring a table lamp with a wobbly base and therefore being the last thing I saw at night for several years. I don’t really think any of that is appropriate in a query because it has nothing to do with the manuscript. That said, I sometimes feel like I could really hook an agent after I’ve read their profile on an agency website. You found THE SILMARILLION to be an enormous and purposefully convoluted time-sink? Omigosh, me too! We should have tea.

I don’t know. Maybe there’s a delicate balance. I haven’t been looking at queries as an opportunity to sell me. I’ve been trying to sell my manuscript. Perhaps it’s high time I gave both a shared space in my query letters. Until then, does anyone else remember having these around? Such a fine line between fantasy and awkward pre-teen spankbank material:

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Weekend Query Crash

Well, I was out at the park enjoying a sweltering Pride Festival when my phone did the musical little boopboopbeep thing it does for incoming email. I probably should have made my way to the booze vendor before checking it, but I have that smart phone OCD that disallows notification icons spending any time on the home screen. Maybe, just maybe, had I waited to get that weird little bucket of innocuously named, red-tinted booze into my hands first, the email would have read differently than this:

 “Thanks so much for letting me take a look at THE COALSLIDES. While I found the concept appealing, I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with the voice as I’d have liked to, and so I’m not the right fit for it. I do appreciate you thinking of me and wish you the very best luck finding the ideal agent to represent you and your work.”

So there’s another query crushed to death. I still have a pretty long list of potential agents to work my way through, so I’m not going to spiral down into some blubbering depression yet, but it’s always a little sad to see your baby punched in the face.

The upside: This agent was honest. If an agent can’t connect with the manuscript then they won’t do the best job selling it to a publisher.

The downside: If the ‘voice’ is the biggest problem my manuscript has, then it has an enormous problem. This is one of those things that are difficult to determine on your own because you read it in the same voice you wrote it in – your voice. If that voice isn’t connecting to a reader, then the problem is much more difficult to fix than grammar, spelling, inconsistent tense, character development, or any of the myriad other reasons an agent may hate what you write.
Personally, I will choose to believe that though this agent did not connect to the voice, another will. Maybe the one that this next query is going out to.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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For Summer Solstice, I Will Query More

One of the original queries I sent has now reached 5 weeks with no response beyond the initial auto-generated confirmation that the email was received. From this particular agency’s website:

“How long will it take…
To answer your query letter, up to four weeks. To read your sample chapters and outline, about the same. To read your whole manuscript, overnight to a few months. (If we request it, please check with us.)”

Delicious query looks delicious.

I largely let the fifth week slip in because I’ve been spending more and more time flooding the city with resumes and cover letters. Either way, it seems it is time to send out a new query and consider that one expired, bloated, and drifting down the Mississippi to feed carrion birds and catfish.

The last of the original queries is still floating around out there. It never received an automated email to let me know it was received, the agency’s website is under construction (though somewhat navigable), and they do not list an expected turnaround on queries. Even so, it’s a big agency with a lot of popular talent, so I will probably let it sit for another couple of weeks at least before I count it among the dead.

I still have more than a month until I can expect to hear back from the agent that has the entire manuscript, so there isn’t much to do in that direction. In the meantime, I’m reworking my fantasy novel, Blood of a Godkiller, to pick up the pace, deepen some characters, and really smooth it out overall. After completing The Coalslides, I was better able to see some of the shortcomings my first completed manuscript was facing. Luckily, it had a general sort of success in drawing interest when I was sending queries out for it, so I’m confident that sorting out the ms itself will do wonders for its viability.

So, that’s that. I’m off to find a new agent to replace the one that I haven’t heard back from.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Third Response: A Nibble

So, my third query return today was from the most recent I sent. That means that two of the original three are still out in limbo awaiting a response. Even so, this little nibble is step one! Certainly there is no guarantee that this particular agent will take on the manuscript, but she is a lot closer to it since she’ll be reading the whole thing.

After I gave myself a little pat on the back and sent the entire MS on, I received a reply that was pretty much as I imagined it would be: “Thanks. My response time is woeful right now (about two months) so I appreciate your patience.” Chances are that the agent has teetering stacks of manuscripts waiting a good thorough read. Last in gets shuffled to the bottom, so I’m looking at a good long wait without word. Or, possibly, this agent shares a single eye with two other agents and they have a tendency to fight over who gets it for reading time.

Should another agent contact me to look at the manuscript, I will give myself the same gentle back pat and add another chunk of waiting time to my calendar. The only possible problem arises if two or more agents, after having read the whole MS, decide they would like to represent me. This is a problem I would take on with as much glee as I could without looking like an absolute ass. For now, I’ll keep on as I have been and send another query in place of this response so that I’ll maintain three active queries.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Second Response: Quick and Painless

Well, that was probably just about as fast as I imagine a query can die. It took less time for this agent to turn me down than it did for me to research their particular interests and preferences. Even so, this just means I’m on to the next one.

(15 minutes from query sent to query killed)

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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First Response: DOA

So, I had absolutely no expectations that my first query response would be the one that sold the book. I might have hoped for a request for more chapters, but I’m a realist. If anything, I think this is the nicest and most convincingly non-form letter response that I’ve seen. Not that this means it wasn’t a form letter response. It just reads rather nicely so I’m choosing to believe it wasn’t.

When I was sending out queries for my fantasy manuscript, I received a similar response in that the story just didn’t fit the agent’s wishlist. This particular agent does list both YA and Steampunk as areas of interest, but may not have an interest in YA Steampunk. Or may prefer Offworld Steampunk, or older age-group YA, or non-American Steampunk. The genre lends itself to a lot of different areas, so who knows. Not every fish likes the same sort of worm, you know?

Of course, there is always the chance that this response is a blow off and that the content of the sample is what failed to interest the agent. If you want to keep your sanity, however, it is best to not read more into the response than is truly there. Agents can (and should) be brutally honest about quality. There is no point in sparing my feelings if the writing is bad, so I can only assume that they would say exactly that.

Anyway, I have a list with another agent at the top, so I will be sending out another query today – keeping my total to three in the wind at a time.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Middle Grade, Young Adult, Confused Gen Xer

Yesterday was a big day for me. I completed all the edits on my Untitled Steampunk (yes, I know) and considered it ready to shop to agents. It’s been about a year since I last shopped out my Blood of a Godkiller manuscript to agents and I’m ready to get back to actively trying to sell a book. The elation, the pride, the self-satisfaction. I had a solid, worthy manuscript on hand.

For about 10 minutes.

Some little brain worm burrowed itself into my grey matter within moments of giving myself an internalized huzzah. The completed manuscript is 43,504 words. Prior to really getting involved in writing this story, I reread some of the books I read growing up. I needed a little experiential instruction on the YA format, so I read these familiar stories with a different eye. I looked more closely at character development, pacing, and content. I even looked at word counts. I felt confident. So where had this insatiable brainworm come from and why was it siphoning off this newfound confidence with such gusto?

Careful dissection of the nefarious beast revealed two things. First, is this manuscript intended to be YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade)? Second, does the admittedly sparse word count greatly affect which category this manuscript can be considered for? See, I’m not overly familiar with the MG classification as I had intended this story to fall into YA. Now that I wasn’t so certain, I had to do a little research.

According to Colleen Lindsay at the swivet, my manuscript falls just shy of expectations at the lowest end of YA (45k) and just over the highest end for MG (40k). Okay, that isn’t entirely disconcerting. It is acceptable to have some variation, I’m sure.
Well, then I read at www.fromthemixedupfiles.com that  YA generally starts around 55k words. Even so, they still classify MG as topping out around 40k, so there must be some shady grey area where anything between the two resides.

Naturally word count is hardly the defining factor in classifying a book. The writer at The Mixed-Up Files and Michelle Schusterman at YA Highway take a closer look at content as the dividing factor. Subject matter, naturally tops the list. The overarching theme in my Untitled Steampunk manuscript is self-discovery which, in both cases, seems to best fit into the MG category. However, being an American Steampunk tale, there are issues of ethnicity, class, and politics that are largely linked to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Someone dies. So, unfortunately, I fear that this particular designation is a bit murky as well.
Romance is quite disparate in MG and YA. In MG it would typically involve hand-holding and maybe a first kiss. In YA it can go so far as intercourse and could potentially deal with such subjects as rape and abandonment. Well, I’m not much for romance as a reader or, really, as a writer. Even so, I did include an unspoken adoration between two of the three protagonists. As it is neither central to the theme nor important to the story, it never progresses beyond furtive glances, lingering touches, and the like. So, does this mean it falls squarely within MG?

Finally, and most easily adjusted to suit my needs, is intended readership. While an 8 year-old would not be put off reading about a 13 year-old, it might be less likely that a 13 year-old would read about an 8 year-old protagonist. At present, my protagonists are 11, 11, and 12. Technically, that would place the book into the MG category. If I (or an agent or publisher) felt more keenly that the book should fall into the YA category, I could probably push the characters into the 13 and 14 range, but not much further. I wrote them to be independent and worldly and they are self-sufficient with little interaction with their parents. If I push the 1878 setting to 1880, I may have to change some of the historically accurate names and realign the timeline in reference to events, but I don’t think the characters would be forced to change much. It had always been my intention to give them more responsibility, freedom, and capability than might be expected of children.

So, yeah. I am somewhat deflated in comparison to my brief joy at having completed edits because it seems more work may need to be done. “More work” could include adding another 30-40k words if I decide the manuscript does not easily fit into the YA category.

I think I’ll go ahead and put together a query letter and let the responses I receive determine how much more work I may need to put into it, if any.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Busy Busy Busy

I’m actually on a very nice roll with the editing today, so rather than spend time deciding on a topic, I’m going to give you another excerpt from my still untitled YA steampunk manuscript:

“That hatch up top inside her gullet there is the coalslide, namesake of the whole of the undercity. Folk aboveground dump the coal and we open the slides up to let it in as we need it.” The Furnacemaster paused with a twinkle in his eye. “But there’s a better reason everything got named after them chutes, of course. And I suppose the fastest way to get you where you need to be will help explain that.”

Furnacemaster Joseph Locklear led Oscar and his friends to the room across the hall. If he closed his eyes and gave it a second, Oscar could imagine that this room was identical to the last minus the actual machinery. A black scorch outlined the spot where a furnace used to sit and several open holes in the wall and one in the ceiling marked where the missing furnace had connected to the rest of the system. The most obvious difference other than the missing equipment was a metal track running at an angle from the coalslide to the ash chute cut in the floor. A line of what looked to be upright leather mattresses sat against one wall, looking very out of place.

“First time tends to give folks the shakes, but seeing as how you rode an air duct down here, I think you might enjoy this.” The towering Lamplighter strode to the line of leather mattresses and grabbed one. Walking back to the center of the room, he stopped and yanked on a beaded chain hanging alongside the iron track. A red light flickered on inside the coalslide and was reflected by a second inside the ash chute. Joseph Locklear set the mattress against the tracks. Oscar saw then that the bottom side was fixed with a line of adjustable clamps and small, inset wheels. Moving his large hands with surprising dexterity, the man snapped the clamps loosely over the tracks and gave the whole of it an experimental jostle. It moved smoothly up and down the tracks.

“Now, who’s first?”

Completely clueless as to what exactly he’d be volunteering for, Oscar stepped back slightly, putting himself behind both Billy and Constance. Constance merely shook her head and set her face back to the unreadable mask she’d worn since they met the man. Billy, naturally, stepped forward excitedly. If there were times that Oscar envied him his courage, and there were, this was certainly not one of them.

“Aright then, listen close. Once I’ve got you strapped in, you’ll be moving fast. Keep your arms in if’n you want to keep them and try not to get sick all over the place. The rest of us have to slide through anything you leave behind.” Joseph Locklear gave Billy an earnest look and then a lopsided grin when he realized that Billy was fidgeting in excitement. “In you go then, feet on the brakes and hands on the lights.”

While he spoke, he pointed out the particular pieces of the slide. At the bottom, jutting out from the base of the leather sled-bed, was a pair of peddles intended to slow or stop momentum. He assured them they’d have no need for those as they were going to the last stop where springs and lock-stop gears would slow and halt them. Even so, he pointed out, if someone was hopping in below them, they’d want to slow themselves rather than let the safety stops engage. Just as he’d done when he lit the red lights here, anyone hopping in below would light red lights which would set a stop at the slide above them. If they didn’t brake to slow, the stop would be abrupt. When he said abrupt, he said it with the sort of gravity that strongly encouraged using the brakes.

The lights were a pair of pressure activated electric torches set in either side of the sled, very much like handles. When Billy stepped up on the base and grabbed at the smooth copper grips, twin beams lit at their bases, shining downward toward his feet. It was that moment that it dawned on Oscar exactly what Billy had so readily volunteered for. Constance seemed to arrive at the same conclusion in the same moment. The grimy Lamplighter had just finished strapping broad leather belts across Billy’s chest, waist, and thighs as both Oscar and Constance opened their mouths to protest. A moment too late, their tongues caught as he stepped on a release set in the floor alongside the ash chute.

Both Billy and slide disappeared into the hole with a creak and a hum. As the wheels on the slide carried him along the tracks, further away and deeper into the Coalslides, the low hum slowly faded into nothing. Oscar felt his stomach sink into his knees.

“You’re not getting me on that thing,” Constance said matter-of-factly, verbalizing Oscar’s particular feelings exactly. “There’s no way that is even remotely safe.” At that she set her fists into her hips and furrowed her brow. She looked immovable.

“Ah, well, there’s always the corridors.” Joseph Locklear grinned at the two of them. “If you aim yourselves down and start walking, you’ll find your friend at the bottom come morning. It really is a long walk, though I’m happy to let you make it.” He planted his own considerably larger hands on his hips, mimicking Constance’s own stalwart pose. For a moment, Oscar wasn’t sure who he was more frustrated with, but that settled itself soon enough. It wasn’t the Lamplighter’s fault that Billy had a tendency to leap into dark holes without thinking it through. Even so, he wasn’t excited about what he was preparing to do. Swallowing hard, he stepped to the line of leather-wrapped slides and selected one that looked as sturdy and safe as he could hope for.

“Alright, I’ll take this one,” he jerked a thumb at it and walked back to the tracks. He gave Constance a wry smile that felt like a grimace. “Look, he’s right. We can’t let Billy go in alone. There are displaced folk down there with belowground dispositions.” He emphasized the words the Lamplighter had used to describe some of the Peddlers, hoping that Constance would understand. Not that she wouldn’t understand his meaning, of course. No, he hoped that she would understand why he wasn’t taking her side in this. He was, ultimately, forcing her to take the slide as well.

Constance surprised him with a brilliant smile that lit her eyes.

“Right on, then. I’ll take that slim one at the end; it should get a bit more speed than that old dump Oscar’s picked.” Her wild grin dropped his stomach past his knees and into his ankles. Constance had never had misgivings about the coalslides at all. She’d merely put on an act to give him the opportunity to take the cowardly way out. And he’d fallen for it so completely that he was almost surprised to see himself already strapped against the slide with his hands clenching the grips and his feet already poised to push on the brakes.

“You’re a rat, Constance Scott,” Oscar started when the bottom fell out from under him and his slide rushed into the ash chute at an impossible speed.

If the slide down the airduct had been fun, the coalslide was awful and wonderful and impossible all at once. The moment Joseph Locklear hit the release, Oscar dropped straight into the darkness with gut-wrenching speed. He reflexively grabbed at the handgrips, summoning up the forward lights to illuminate the narrow chute. What he saw in those twin beams was breathtaking.

The rails ran down the center of the chute, twisting and angling their way at a fast clip downward. At irregular intervals, a burst of green light would flash past his head, presumably bulbs meant to mark the route as clear. When he came to the first turn, his heart nearly stopped in his chest. Below him he could see the sharp turn of the track and the flat surface of metal that marked where he would collide if the sled failed to make the curve. He instinctually smashed his foot down on the brake to slow into the turn and the sled slackened its pace to slide around the bend.

Impressed by the clever mechanisms that gave him control over the sled, Oscar grinned and whooped wildly, letting loose the brake. Whatever misgivings he’d harbored before were lost in the pure joy of the reckless ride.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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