Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday Reads: The Darkest Night

The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter, was a little too heavy on the romance for me (didn't keep me from sacrificing my sleep to finish reading it all in one day, however).  The romance was well done, of course, from a master like Showalter (site here), it's a guaranteed success.  The plot is what hooked me.  The Underworld Lords are each plagued with a different demon from Pandora's box (you find out in the first chapter, I promise I'm not giving anything away), they are immensely powerful, and an age-long enemy wants them dead--again.

His powers -- Inhuman
His passion -- Beyond immortal . . .
All her life, Ashlyn Darrow has been tormented by voices from the past. To end the nightmare, she has come to Budapest seeking help from men rumored to have supernatural abilities, not knowing she'll be swept into the arms of Maddox, their most dangerous member -- a man trapped in a hell of his own.
Neither can resist the instant hunger than calms their torments . . . and ignites an irresistible passion. But every heated touch and burning kiss will edge them closer to destruction -- and a soul-shattering test of love . . .
Though they carry an eternal curse, the Lords of the Underworld are irresistibly seductive -- and unimaginably powerful . . .
First Sentence: "Every night death came, slowly, painfully, and every morning Maddox awoke in bed, knowing he'd have to die again later.  That was his greatest curse and his eternal punishment."  Wow.  Talk about getting straight to the point.  The first chapter can bog down in places with a bit of back story, but it's mostly well done and with enough forward momentum to keep you going forward.  It's powerful, emotional sentences like the first one that propels you forward. 

Beefs: Like I said, the Romance was a little heavy.  I don't really buy the love/lust and tingly sensations at first sight.  Not that it doesn't work.  Not that it isn't a great Paranormal Romance.  But there were times that I wanted to shove the romance out of the way to get to the paranormal, because the plot was gold.

Brownie Points: Two, actually, and both are characters.  Firstly, Ashlyn.  She can't read minds.  She hears conversations.  Place her in a room and she hears every conversation to ever take place there.  Unique right?  And undeniably handy--and annoying of course.  She's a very interesting character, with a great character arch.  Secondly, Torin, keeper of disease, causes widespread plague any time he touches someone.  How heart-achingly beautiful/horrible is that?!  I want to read his book (though, unfortunately, there isn't one yet).

Ending: What do you expect?  It's Paranormal Romance, and like all Romances, it has a good ending.

Recommendation: If it's your thing, read it.  It does contain explicit sex and (at times) eye rolling yukky love stuff, so approach at your own risk.

Would I represent it? A bit heavy on the romance for me.  It reminded me a lot of The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward, which is Paranormal Romance, but I think the plot, character, world, and paranormal side of it was better developed in Ward's.  Something like that, I definitely would represent.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Dark Side

I'm being swayed to the Dark Side of the Force... er, that is, e-readers.

A few months ago I nearly disowned my mother for owning a Kindle.  Last week I found out my best friend ONLY reads on her e-reader now.  I've been as resistant to change as Anakin Skywalker.  I vowed I would only get a fancy gizmo one day if I was travelling a lot, it would help me keep up with my work, and I could download documents to it to read manuscripts on the go.

Thanks to a tip on Twitter (more gray than dark on the scale of evilness), I found out that I could download manuscripts to my (mom's) Kindle!  I figured it out, thanks to Google, and spent all day on my couch reading, without being weighed down by my laptop.  Who knew it was super comfy to read Kindle on the couch?  Makes Snuggies obsolete too, you can hold and control the pages without freeing your hands from the blanket.

While I will still refuse to buy a book (unless I go on an extended trip) for the Kindle, preferring to buy it or borrow it, I'm not super anti-Kindle anymore. However, I really don't need an e-reader that can read my mind or tie my shoes, so don't expect me to have anything super fancy if you see me on the street (or conference).

So, be nice to the agents you are querying.  Make sure your file is compatible to sending to those handy E-Readers (word or rtf or lol or wtf... ok, so I don't actually know them all).  How else are e-readers going to change our world?  Not just the world of readers either, but of how the behind-the-scenes people (agents, editors, etc) conduct business?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday Reads: Grave Witch

Grave Witch by Kalayna Price was outstanding.  Not sure how much clearer than that I can get.  (Did you notice?  It's not YA!!  Yup, moving up in the world.)

Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say . . .
As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around . . .
To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life . . . and her soul.
First Sentence: "The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother's medical chart at him.  As far as first impressions went, I blew it, but I was five at the time, so he eventually forgave me."  I know, I know, I broke my rules again.  Gave you two sentences.  The first one alone is hilarious.  Immediately you know what her temper is like, that Death is not just an idea, but a man, and her mother was sick/dying at some point.  The second sentence puts the time frame in perspective, and you hear more of her voice.

Brownie Points:  Skipping the Beefs this week, because I really don't feel like making one up.  I loved how Price took a pretty ordinary world with witches and faeries and whatnot, and made it a little more interesting.  Alex is a Grave Witch, which means she can raise shades (or memories of the deceased) and talk to them, which is very helpful in the courtroom, or for people challenging a will.  She can also switch to her "grave sight" which means she sees the world of the dead.  And it leaves her partially blind after using it.  If you didn't know already, weaknesses make main characters interesting (much like Superman and Kryptonite).  Oh, by the way, Alex has a Chinese Crested.  I never know that adding an ugly dog to a novel makes it funnier, or the main character more likable.

Ending: Oh, it was good.  We know how she left things (in the spiritual realm and in the romantic one), but it left room for enough ambiguity to lead us on wanting more.

Recommendation: If you like Paranormal Romances, this one should be on your list, especially if you like slightly more Paranormal than Romance, but with good Romance and good Paranormal, neither too thin nor too thick.  (Not sure that made sense, but it sounded good in my head.  AKA, read it.)

Would I represent it?  Great humor. Great story line. Twisted enough from the usual "I'm a witch, hunky man wants me, world in chaos, people want me dead" story line.  YES! I would represent it.  I'm looking for Paranormal Romances all the time, but it has to be unique, with good voice, good plot, and good pacing.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Titles Can't Suck

Ever browsed a bookshelf and just HAD to pull out a certain book just based on its title?  I'm sure everyone's done it.  What other way can we navigate bookshelves?  Read each and every back cover blurb?  Well, while that's essentially what an agent does (query letters are basically back cover blurbs), if I'm swamped with query letters, I'll peruse the email subject lines until something catches my eye.  If something has a title that I just can't look away from, I'll go ahead and read that one, even if it wasn't the first in my queue to read (I read from oldest to newest).

The point is, your title can't suck.  Not only are you trying to get the attention of your readers once the book is finally published and you have a pretty cover (a subject all its own), the first step is getting the agent's attention.  Easier said than done, I know.  I suck at coming up with titles.  But the time you put into it will be worth it.  And make sure you research the title you would like to use: if it's been used, over used, will remind readers of something completely different, etc.

For your pleasure (and procrastination) here is a compilation of the best book titles (I'm a fan of 6, 10, 16, and 25, though the others shouldn't be discounted).

Which are your favorites?

What books have you picked up based solely on their titles (not on the list above)?

If you could title a book anything (doesn't have to be written, yours or otherwise) what would you title it?

Happy writing!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rejection Rate take 2

This past month, starting on Dec 13 and ending today Jan 13, I've kept track of queries responded to, rejected, and requested.  In the past month, I have responded to over 300 queries.  Based solely on the query, I rejected 72% of those.

Wow do I feel like a sucker.  Some writers out there got creative and just plain good at query letters.  A few months ago, I reported my rejection rate at 86%.  However, what isn't good news, is the amount of full manuscripts I have requested based on those partials (20-50 pages depending on my mood): I'll give you a hint.  It's less than five.

Those number still sounding really high to you?  Freaked out?  Ok, here's an example that will hopefully put it into perspective for you.

Imagine you are in a bookstore.  How many books are in there at any given time?  10,000?  Ok, let's go with that number.  You are roaming the shelves.  One in every one hundred you pick up to read the back cover blurb.  One in every ten of those might sound interesting.  You leave the store with one book.  That's basically what agents do.  Except we wade through stuff that isn't ready to be published.  Most of the time though, it simply doesn't intrigue us.  There are plenty of books on the shelf I gloss over because they just don't interest me.

Here are a few personal things about me as an agent, since it may be unclear elsewhere.
  • I do not represent Middle Grade.  YA for me begins at roughly 15, as long as the character has an "older" voice (meaning they don't sound MG).  
  • I do not represent Women's Fiction.  I do however, represent Paranormal Romance which is a subgenre.
  • I do not represent Literary Fiction.  We do, however, have fabulous agents at the agency who do.
  • I do not represent Mystery/Crime or Thrillers.  Cozy Mysteries, however, have a special place in my heart.  Mix Mystery/Crime/Thrillers with paranormal and I'm a happy camper.
  • "road trip" -  reminds me of the very acidy trip Where the Buffalo Roam.   So it's a no.
  • I don't do "sub-real" or "experimental" or anything else that can describe Gravity's Rainbow or House of Leaves. You will, actually, make my day a little worse if you mention them.
  • Chuck Palahniuk.  See above.  His stuff freaks me out.  And not in a good way.  (great respect for all four authors and books, it just isn't my cup of tea)
Here are a few pointers to add to my previous post's list.
  • I love when writers are trying to build a platform with their websites.  But DO NOT tell me hi, include the link, and expect me to go there.  Still gotta include the query.  And word to the wise, if you have sample chapters on your site, and I'm feeling generous, I will take a look--so keep that in mind if you have no idea why you are getting rejected.
  • Passive voice.  Avoid it.  Especially in your query.  If you use it in your query, you probably aren't aware of it, and therefore it probably runs rampant in your ms.  Dead give away.
  • Don't rely only on spell check (ms or query).  Have someone take a look at it and careful of your homonyms.
  • Very briefly, if you are a debut author, keep your word count within the confines.  I won't look at 280,000 words.  Querying a novel like that only marks you as someone who doesn't know what they are doing.  In the same vein, I'll do the same to a word count I feel is too low.  I like long books, so usually anything under 60,000 words sounds too short to me (actually, 60,000 words sounds too short to me, but I won't judge if the genre is right).  (good guidelines here)
  • Please distinguish your genre very clearly, especially between YA and MG.
Starting this month, every month, on the lucky 13th, I'll report my rejection rate and a few pointers I picked up from query letters that month.  I will not directly reference any query letter nor will I take direct wording.  I respect your privacy as a writer and strive to keep that confidence.  These are general tips meant to benefit everyone.  On a happier note...

Happy writing!

      Wednesday, January 12, 2011

      Wednesday Reads: Beastly

      Beastly by Alex Flinn was one of those surprisingly good books.  It could be described as light fairy tale fluff, but really, what's wrong with that?

      Synopsis: (click here for an excerpt)
      I am a beast.
      A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
      You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.
      Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
      First Sentence: First section starts as a chat group.  "Mr. Anderson: Welcome to the first meeting of the Unexpected Changes chat group."  There are four or five of these chats that go on throughout the book, and you get to see Kyle interact with other fairy tale creatures undergoing changes: Little Mermaid, Frog Prince, a wolf guy I haven't quite placed yet (Little Red Riding Hood maybe?).  These chats are hilarious, but also heartwarming.  They aren't vital to the story or to forward the plot, but you get to see another facet of Kyle and the world at large.

      Beefs: Like I said, it's fluff.  But good fluff.  It was a nice light read that brought me another take on Beauty and the Beast.

      Brownie Points: The concept.  Beauty and the Beast told from the POV of a 21st century rich, privileged boy.  POV of the Beast.  And that's delightful.  Truly, truly is.  Rather than a reluctant father who gives up his daughter, you've got a drug addict seeing a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Rather than a castle, you've got a Brownstone in the Bronx, famous ashamed father, blind tutor, and a sweet maid.  Flinn has a way of taking familiar elements, adding updated new familiar elements to it, to make a familiar book we haven't seen before.  If that makes any sense.

      Ending: Loved it.  Turns out how you'd expect.  Though through the last chat session, you get a feeling of unease in the fairy tale world.  Where's SilentMaid?  Do I smell a sequel in our futures?

      Recommendation:  Love fairy tale rewrites?  You'll love this one.

      Would I represent it? Probably not.  I'm not actively looking for fairy tale rewrites.  There are a lot out there, and it has to be spectacular to stand out.

      Happy reading!

      Monday, January 10, 2011

      Why your MS is getting Rejected

      Why do agents request only a few pages to look at rather than the whole manuscript right off the bat if your query is amazing?  Because we can tell what your writing style is like within the first few pages.

      What if you want us to look at pages further in the book because they are better and the first few pages aren't representative of your work?  Then revise your first section.

      I've seen plenty of manuscripts that pick up after fifty pages, but that's fifty pages of work we have to put in (for free, and we have to weigh if the gamble is worth it).  There is plenty of advice out there on first sentences, first pages, and first chapters.  If you read my Wednesday Reads, you'll see how much weight I give to a first line--the ones I really love is when I don't want to stop at the first line, but give you several, or whole pages.

      YA Highway recently did a blog post on the importance of using beta readers, which yes, I'll agree is very important.  But even if you have a professional copy editor edit your work line for line and every sentence is grammatically correct, it doesn't necessarily make for a book deal.  Ever read a textbook front to back without falling asleep?  Grammatically correct?  You bet.  Boring as heck?  You bet.  Why?  Story.  Plot.  Not delving into the anatomy of a whale for fifty pages... Am I talking about Moby Dick now too?  You bet.  Melville's sentences are grammatically correct as well, but I would never suggest a writer in today's market write a half page long sentence using fifteen semi colons (please don't).

      For me, one of the quickest ways to test a writer's skills is to read a section with dialogue.  It needs to flow well, read like a real conversation, include enough description to lend action, have voice for each character, have it's own dialogue arch, emotion, and have a point.  You can't have a conversation for the sake of having a conversation. I also look to see where the first conversation comes in.  If it's ten pages in, I start to worry about back story dump.  Sometimes there will be long breaks without conversation in which the writer tries to move the story forward by summarizing--sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

      So, your friends and computer spell check are probably great resources to go to for grammar and spelling, but beware of people saying "It's good."  Ask for constructive criticism.  Beg for it.  Even published books get scrutinized--or we wouldn't have book bloggers--and the reviews never stop at "it's good."  A good critique group is invaluable.  Having a professional look at it is even better (editors, work shops, industry friends), because they will tell you specifically what works and what doesn't and (hopefully) never leave off at "it's good."

      Summing up, use your beta readers, but don't put all your stock in them.  Use critique groups, workshops, and professional editors (who don't stop at grammar but look at content and pacing).  If your ms is getting rejected after a few pages, you're sure your query is good (you'll know by how many agents request to see samples off your query), and your plot is unique, look at the writing.  It might not be up to par yet.  You might have errors in your ms that have nothing to do with grammar that still scream "Newbie! Newbie! Newbie!"

      Happy revising!

      Friday, January 7, 2011

      At the Agency

      It's been a while since I updated you guys in the world of Agentdom.  The new year has brought a few changes to the agency, and many good things.  As you probably noticed, I'm now listed as a full agent (I have a full inbox to prove it) here.  More on that later, I'll dedicate another post to the whirlwind that is my career (eek!). 

      One (semi) new service the agency is offering is "The First Fifty", in which you get your first fifty pages critiqued by an expert editor in your genre (info here).  This is a fabulous opportunity for any writer to get an unbiased opinion by an expert, and you can be rest assured the editor is qualified and highly experienced (just in case you thought of going to Craigslist for an editing fix--beware). 

      While it's not my book, the entire agency is excited about it.  SPCA is backing a book written by Terri Crisp, dog rescuer extraordinaire, about the rescue of dogs and cats befriended by our troops in the middle east.  (Operations Baghdad Pups here) The book is due in February and we are all pitching in to get it spotless (and each chapter has me closer to tears). 

      Just before Christmas, Whidbey Island local Marie de Haan, and Just Write regular, had a book release party to celebrate her self published memoir "Cancer is a Funny Thing: A Humorous Look at the Bright Side of Cancer... And There Is One" (info here) (at Amazon) (look for my review in Wednesday Reads in the next month).

      On January 15th, Andrea is holding an all day writing retreat on beautiful Whidbey Island (info here), at which she'll run writers through a few exercises, answer some questions, but mostly it's a quiet, beautiful retreat at which to write. 

      Just Write on the Pier is still every Wednesday at the pier in Coopeville.  If you're in the area, stop by from 2-4 to meet with other writers, Andrea, write, and take in the beauty off the pier (and have some very delicious coffee at the cafe). 

      Happy Writing!

      Wednesday, January 5, 2011

      Wednesday Reads: Ruined

      Ruined by Paula Morris is essentially a ghost story.  Set in post Katrina New Orleans, infused with snobby elitist debutants, old money, and secret murder cover ups.  The characters or voice isn't anything spectacular, but the writing is good, and the plot intriguing.

      Rebecca couldn’t feel more out of place in New Orleans, where she comes to spend the year while her dad is traveling. She’s staying in a creepy old house with her aunt. And at the snooty prep school, the filthy-rich girls treat Rebecca like she’s invisible. Only gorgeous, unavailable Anton Grey seems to give Rebecca the time of day, but she wonders if he’s got a hidden agenda. Then one night, in Lafayette Cemetery, Rebecca makes a friend. Sweet, mysterious Lisette is eager to talk to Rebecca, and to show her the nooks and crannies of the city. There’s just one catch: Lisette is a ghost.
      A ghost with a deep, dark secret, and a serious score to settle.
      As Rebecca learns more from her ghost friend — and as she slowly learns to trust Anton Grey — she also uncovers startling truths about her own history. Will Rebecca be able to right the wrongs of the past, or has everything been ruined beyond repair?
      First Sentence: "Torrential rain was pouring the afternoon Rebecca Brown arrived in New Orleans."  That's the first chapter.  I skipped to the first chapter because the first line of the prologue is even more uninteresting, just a place and date.  Nothing spectacular here, just sets you up for what's happening.  The first chapter isn't boring, it's well written and has good pacing.

      Beefs: The only problem really, is that the book isn't spectacular.  Really, it's a good book.  Text book good.  Pacing, plot, characters, intrigue.  I read all the way through without getting bored.  Other than the descriptions of the Mardi Gras parades, it's almost forgettably good.

      Brownie Points: The end.  Morris does something I think few authors would want to attempt.  Can't give it away.  But basically, what everyone is afraid of happening, happens.  And that's cool.  It made me happy.  The other great thing is the plot--the driving force behind the novel.  You meet this ghost, and at first you think Rebecca just found her new ability that she can talk to ghosts.  Well, she can only talk to the one ghost, and for a reason that shocks you.  And I love the depictions of the dead world living with ours.  Rebecca literally takes a walk with a ghost and sees what no one ever sees.  Uniqueness and originality, ten points.

      Ending: As you'd expect.

      Recommendation: If you like ghost stories, or New Orleans, or want something original, read it.  It's not a waste of time.

      Would I represent it?  The jury's still out on that one.  I like the originality.  And I'm finding that I'm fond of books that are very regionalized, depicting one town or city in all it's glory (or ruin, considering the lasting effects of Katrina).

      Happy reading!