First off, allow me to introduce my awesome team (in alphabetical order)!
Anna-Marie and THE COIN DIVER (#35)
Ben Spendlove and DRIVERS (#149)
Carla Cullen and THE FALLEN PRINCESS (#152)
Erin Petti and THELMA BEE (#117)
Jennie Bailey and SILO (#64)
Lisa Koosis and THE ROAD OF THE DEAD (#45)
Michelle Mason and DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST (#75)
Noelle Henry and FACE THE MUSIC (#50)
Ryan Hancock and AN UNCOMMON BLUE (#122)
Sarah Henson and PLAYING WITH FIRE (#146)
with Lori Eastep and CHRONICITY (#101) as my alternate
That gives me two MG projects, six YA projects, and two
adult (sci-fi) projects, with an MG alternate. I like the balance of my team,
and the truth is, most of it evolved on its own. I did go in thinking that I
needed to have more YA projects than anything, just because it’s the most
represented category among the participating agents, but these really were the
projects I loved most.
As I was building my team, I originally divided the entries that
caught my interest into two groups--“Contenders” and “Strong Contenders”--then
realized that I was going to have enough strong contenders as it was and that I
didn’t need to keep two lists. I ended up with thirty-nine strong contenders
total, and of those, eleven ended up on my team (obviously), at least five or six on
someone else’s, and another withdrew just yesterday after receiving an offer of
representation. (Congratulations, Andrea Berthot!)
Before I go any
further, a disclaimer: I am in NO WAY an expert on queries, the market, or
publishing in general, so please take all these thoughts for what they are--my thoughts. These are just a few of the things I noticed as I whittled down my list,
and they say a lot more about me than they do about any of the entries.
A few thoughts I had along the way:
1. After reading through a batch of entries (say, twenty or
thirty), I sat back and asked myself, “Now which ones do I remember?” And the
truth was, not many. Quite a few of them
sounded like something I’d read--or heard of--before.
2. And speaking of things I’d read or heard of before, I’ll
admit that words like “guardian,” “demon,” and “angel” immediately made me pull
back. In all of those cases, the writing
really had to stand out to make me take a closer look. Angels and demons
are the new vampires--a lot of agents have blogged/tweeted about how they’re
overwhelmed with those creatures--so you might be facing an uphill battle when
it comes to querying a manuscript with those elements.
3. When I did remember an entry, it was almost always
because the concept had captured my
4. At least in my opinion, writing followed concept. If the concept stuck out to me, the
writing usually did, too. (I’m still trying to decide if that’s because I was
giving the high-concept folks the benefit of the doubt or because the people
who did the best job explaining their storylines were also the best writers.)
5. I passed on several entries--including several great
entries--simply because I knew the writers had been querying them for a while
and worried that our agents might have seen them before. In a few cases, I knew
the writers and their querying histories, but in a few others, the writers
specified in their introductions that they thought the manuscript was on its
last legs. I wouldn’t do this. You want
every agent to think that she’s the first agent you’re querying, so I’d
keep your manuscript’s battle scars to yourself.
6. So many entries seemed to have a good story buried in
there somewhere, but I had a hard time picking it out from all the
subplots/extraneous words in the query. I thought a lot of the queries were
trying to do too much. (“Then this happened, then THIS happened, then THIS
happened, and now here’s a list of all the other interesting elements that I
couldn’t work into the summary.”) If
you don’t think your main plot is strong enough to hook an agent, then your
problem isn’t your query or first page--it’s your manuscript.
7. I noticed a lot of huge stakes without much explanation. Almost
every other query ended with some line about how the world was on the brink. You
can dangle the fate of this world and every other on a string, but if I can’t
tell how exactly the world is in jeopardy--and more importantly, if I can’t tell
why the characters care that the world is in jeopardy--then I’m probably not
going to care, either. As I learned back in high school debate class, you can link
pretty much every story to nuclear holocaust, so huge stakes for huge stakes’ sake might not hook an agent.
8. I sat up a little straighter every time I stumbled across
an entry for a YA or MG contemporary, and to be perfectly honest, quite a few
of these impressed me. However, I
worried that the agents would find most of them too quiet. Quiet novels are
the opposite of high-concept ones, so if your YA contemporary doesn’t have a
strong hook (think French boarding schools for ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS or
backpacking for WANDERLOVE), then even if you do land an agent, he or she is
going to have a hard time selling it.
All right, I think that’s all for now. This post is already
way too long:) What stood out to you as you read through the entries, and which ones
would you have picked?