Saturday, August 23, 2014

Another Successful Quiet Query

Since yesterday's successful query post seemed so helpful (I feel your pain, quiet contemporary writers!) I thought I'd post another. This was a previous manuscript that did not get me my agent - but it did get me 13 requests. So it did what a query is supposed to do - got the agents to read more. 

It also shows you how I focused the query on one main character, though the manuscript is, in fact, dual POV. (That is made clear at the end of the query.) I had one version of the query that focused on both girls, and it also got requests, but ultimately I preferred this one. Let me know if you have questions!

Twelve-year-old Marisol Higgins never really thought all that much about her mother’s homeland of Guatemala. But when she discovers that her dearly departed mom might not be so departed after all, Marisol has got to find out more. Especially when all signs indicate her mom must be in Guatemala.

So when Marisol finds out her dad is about to turn down an opportunity to study Guatemalan volcanoes for a year—complete with an invitation for her to tag along—she goes ninja and makes it happen. What better way to find her mom and get some answers? (Even if Marisol’s dad keeps acting like the peanut butter jar on the mantle really is filled with her mother’s ashes.)

But finding her mom isn’t as easy as Marisol thought it would be. Once she’s in the land of the Maya, she’s confronted with language barriers, attack kissers, unpredictable downpours, and the harsh realities of the Guatemala City slums. Not to mention a father who seems determined to keep her away from her own mother—if she can ever find her, that is.

NOWHERE BIRDS is a 40,000-word contemporary novel for middle grade readers, which interweaves Marisol’s story with glimpses into the life of Luz, a girl journeying from the Guatemalan slums to Marisol’s Southern California town. Eventually, their vastly different worlds collide.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Query That Got Me My Agent

Okay, I tried to post a link to the query that got me my agent on the #pitchwars thread, but people had difficulty opening up the Absolute Write thread. So here it is - I especially wanted to share it because quieter contemporary stories can be a little tricky to query. The stakes aren't as dramatic, but they still have to be clear and compelling. This got me eleven requests and one amazing agent. Let me know if you have any questions!

When eleven-year-old Natalia is chosen as a special guide to new girl Winnie, she’s thrilled. She’s never singled out for anything, unlike her siblings, who are all prodigies at something, even if it’s just being adorable (like two-year-old Claude). But now Natalia gets to show Winnie around, and Winnie’s not just new—she’s also blind.

Winnie’s blindness is soon the least interesting thing about her. Winnie and Natalia both love show tunes, hate snobby Hayden Marcos, and Winnie doesn’t even seem to mind Natalia’s chaotic household (complete with constant bagpipe practice, a boy named Rat, and a glass bottomed boat in the backyard).

When it comes time to choose an Afterschool Annex class, Natalia’s ready. She’s been yearning to do Dance Team for years. But then awful Hayden starts closing in. If Natalia doesn’t choose an activity she can do with Winnie, Hayden will swoop in and steal her away, just like she stole Natalia’s previous best friend. If Natalia seizes the chance to shine like her siblings, she may risk the best friendship she’s ever had.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pitch Wars 2014 - Gimme Your Middle Grade! (Also, hi, how are you, I'm Joy)

 I’m so excited to be back for my second year as a Pitchwars mentor!!! I had the best time last year and I can’t wait to dig into your awesome submissions. And why should you grace me with your middle grade submission??

First of all, because I HAVE BEEN WHERE YOU ARE. My agent search was epic. You can read about it HERE. But here’s the short version: three+ years, 5 manuscripts, 290 queries, 47 full requests, one offer from one of the absolute best agents there is: Sara Crowe.

So if you are in that place where you are SO CLOSE YOU CAN TASTE IT? I’ve been there. And gotten to the other side. And I want to help you get there too.

Making this Harry Potter quilt took almost as
long as it took me to find an agent.
(Okay, not that long.)
I’m going to pick something I love and really want to dig into, whether or not it is likely to be contest-friendly. That’s what I did when I picked Laura Shovan’s gorgeous contemporary verse novel last year, and it worked out pretty well, since she signed with Stephen Barbara and sold (at auction) a two-book deal with Wendy Lamb Books. So if you’ve got a manuscript you think might be “too quiet” for a contest, I’m interested. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also send me something rollicking and splashy—I’m into those, too!)

Whatever it is, I’m going to dig in. I’m not here to nitpick your grammar and word choices – though we will shine those up if they need it. But if you get as far as being chosen for Pitchwars, you’ve probably got the mechanics of writing down. Competition was TIGHT last year, you guys. My focus is going to be on story. How can we make your story the most compelling it can be, whether it’s a high fantasy or quiet contemporary? I’m likely to hone in on big story elements that need to be changed/strengthened/added. So don’t apply to me unless you’re ready to get down to some serious work.

I love helping writers. I work as a freelance editor and ghostwriter, helping people craft and hone the stories they envision, and I’ve done this for fifteen years. For ten of those years, I did classroom arts residencies in K-12 classrooms as a playwright, helping young writers find their voices and express them.

A recent library haul.
I’m a contributor to the MG group blog Project Mayhem. I am an active critique partner and beta reader to a whole host of wonderful writers, and all of my close CPs have gotten agents and deals with major publishers. I also work as an assistant to a NYT bestselling MG author.

HERE’s my post from last year on why you should pick me. And HERE’s a Project Mayhem post I wrote about the things I learned from last year’s Pitchwars slush, which may help you prepare your submission.  You can read more about me AT MY WEBSITE, and read an interview with playwright me HERE and mentor me HERE.

So what am I looking for? My tastes in middle grade are pretty broad, but my very favorite categories are contemporary and magical realism, with bonus points for diverse stories. There are exceptions to all of these, but here are the things I’m not as wild about: high fantasy, sci-fi, gross-out humor.

And here’s a list of some of my very favorite MG books (excluding the obvious, like Rowling, Cleary, Dahl, etc.):

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Splendors & Glooms AND A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
Wonder by RJ Palacio
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
The Tale of Despereaux, Flora & Ulysses and Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshish
Walk Two Moons and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
The Winnie Years series by Lauren Myracle
Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle
The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
May B by Caroline Starr Rose
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

My crazy-eyed dog Athena says you should apply to me.
Hopefully I'm a better mentor than a dog trainer.
So what’s next? Go to Brenda Drake’s website for all the details about submission. You can also check out the amazing agent list, plus all the terrific mentors waiting to dive in and support your work!

Contests are about the relationships, and I can’t wait to get to know you!

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