Thursday, May 16, 2013

Introducing Team Krista 2013! (Plus a Few Thoughts on the Entries)

And here's my awesome team (in alphabetical order)!

Alexa D. and FUTURESHOCK (#19)
Catherine Lo and THIS IS HOW IT ENDS (#136)
Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski, and MYSTIC COOKING (#35)
Jenny Kaczorowski and THE EXTRAORDINARY ART OF FALLING (#41)
Jerilyn Patterson and WISHING (#94)
Jessie Oliveros and A PRETTY PIRATE PICKLE (#14)
Laura J. Moss and WATER LILY (#127)
Mackenzi Lee Van Engelenhoven and DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER (#124)

with Ashley Turcotte and LUMINARY (#3) as my alternate

That gives me two MG projects and six YA projects, with a YA alternate. Interestingly, that breakdown matches last year's breakdown almost exactly (though I did have a few adult projects on my team last year as well).

To be honest, I found redeeming qualities in a lot of entries (though I did spot problems, too). In the end, it came down to my personal tastes, which is what it's always going to come down to. Hopefully, you'll find an agent--and especially an editor--whose tastes will match your own, but if you don't, there's always the next manuscript. That was my mantra for so many years: "There's always the next manuscript" (assuming, of course, you really want to go traditional, which, admittedly, not everyone does, and that's okay).

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 things that stuck out to me as I was reading through the entries (in the order that I wrote them down):

1. There was a lot of fantasy in this group, and the queries didn't always match the first pages. A lot of the summaries seemed to describe high fantasies, but when I got to the pages, they were obviously set on our world, in our time. That disconnect was jarring and made me worry that the writer didn't really know what they were writing.

2. The plot points in a query need to build on each other. This is especially true for contemporaries. Real life is something we can all relate to, but contemporary stories still need to have an inciting incident, rising action, a climax, and a denouement. Of course, you don't need to summarize all of these plots points in your query, but you do need to show a strong cause-and-effect relationship between the events you do mention.

3. It was weird when a query would summarize the whole plot in a few sentences at the beginning, then go back and summarize it again in another two or three paragraphs. I know some agents and industry sites encourage writers to develop loglines, but I don't think you're really supposed to squish loglines and queries together. (Some queries do start off with taglines, one-sentence (or less) hooks of the sort you might see on book covers. I'm not a huge fan of these, either, but at least they flow a little better with the query itself.)

4. Several of the entries suffered from what I call the bait-and-switch. The queries described one project, and then the first pages seemed to start another. This is related to point one above, but it's not restricted to fantasies. You want your query and first scene to flow together. Readers should be able to immediately see how they relate.

5. Some concepts blended fantastical and normal elements for no apparent reason, and I had a hard time getting excited about those. That's mostly just my own personal preference, though I do think everything in a query--and a manuscript--should serve a specific purpose. If you can't show how the pieces fit together in the query, then it makes me think you haven't put them together in the manuscript very well, either.

6. I noticed a lot of ghosts and a surprising number of werewolves in this batch of entries. That's not necessarily good or bad; it just means you're going to have to compete directly against all the other people writing about ghosts and werewolves, so your project has to be that much better.

7. I came across several well-written projects that I actually loved; the only problem was that they were several years too late. In one case, the premise was too similar to a recently popular book (and movie), and in several others, the genre was off. It's all but impossible to sell a dystopian right now, but then, you wouldn't want to launch a dystopian series at the moment, as it would look kind of derivative and probably not sell many copies.

That's it from me! What stood out to you as you perused the entries?


Noelle Henry said...

GO TEAM KRISTA!!!! What an awesome, awesome lineup this year. Krista sure knows how to pick 'em! I was on Team Krista last year and we kicked butt. Just saying. Team Krista rocks! ;)

I'll be cheering you all on and hoping for many many requests!

Jessie Oliveros said...

Go Team Krista! I'm looking forward to next week!! :)


I was also surprised by the numbers of ghosts and werewolves and gypsy/circus fantasies. It has also been very instructive to see which ones were picked. I do still think that trends and sub-genres don't matter as long as the story has fresh elements and is really well written. A good story is a good story. Just when someone says dystopian is impossible, there will be a new twist on the genre that will work. Good luck to all the teams!!

Carrie-Anne said...

I was really disappointed but no longer shocked at how I was in a small minority writing historical. One of the other few historical entries stood out to me for the wrong reason, because of a clearly anachronistic character name! There's a bit difference between a historical character with an uncommon name for the era, and a character with a name that just didn't exist or wasn't used on girls in that era.

I also noticed a lot of first-person present tense, a trend I just can't understand the appeal of. I'm really wondering if the majority of YA writers these days think that's expected, and don't realize you can use past tense, third-person, or third-person present tense.

Carrie-Anne said...

Sorry, that should say "big difference," not "bit difference"!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for stopping by, Noelle! Here's to Team Kristas (Teams Krista?) past and present!

Me, too, Jessie! I can't wait to share A PRETTY PIRATE PICKLE with our agents!

Heather, I agree that a good story is always a good story. Unfortunately, there are many, many good stories that don't sell simply because of market conditions. I just think it's best to give your writing every possible chance to find a home and an audience if publication is your goal, and sometimes, that means setting a certain genre aside for a little while. (Though I'm certain dystopian will make a comeback at some point!)

Carrie-Anne, I suspect writers of historicals will always be in the minority, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As Heather said above, a good story is a good story, and it's easier to stand out in a less crowded genre. As for first-person present tense, my husband's not a fan of it, either:) I suspect that's another trend that will eventually fall out of fashion...


Yes, dystopians have been around for a long time (not always called that) and I'm not yet ready to throw in the towel. I may not be calling mine "dystopian" or "post-apocalyptic" any more but I can't abandon ship yet. And Water Lily sure sounds like a great dystopian to me, which you picked. It's a future world and it sounds rather disfunctional. But it's also a thriller and speculative fiction and hopefully fresh enough to be published.

Melodie Wright said...

I love the setting hinted at in GLASSMAKER. And those first pages were an interesting twist on the whole death-as-a-MC trope. Good luck!

Stephanie Garber said...

Yay for Team Krista! It looks like you have an awesome team! I can't wait to see how you all do.

I didn't get the chance to read through a lot of the entries, but I really enjoyed and appreciated your observations. I was surprised to hear there were a lot of werewolves stories.

Anonymous said...

A comment on Point One and Point Four:

Check out the first 250 words of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." There's nothing there hinting at wizards, wands, and Quidditch (although to be fair it picks up pretty quickly after that). The first 250 words of "The Hobbit" is mostly a description of Bilbo's house. Not much there about dragons, or the Battle of Five Armies.

I'm worried a lot of new writers are getting the idea that they have to shoot the sheriff in the first page or else.

A lot of great stories start out with quiet normality, and then move into the meat of the story at a more leisurely place. Is this out of date now?

Am I just the wrong generation?


Tomalanbrosz, I agree totally. It's pretty silly to expect the first page to jump to the core drama immediately. It's a formulaic and arbitrary rule. But if Tolkien were writing today, it might take him a while to find an agent!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Tolkein's "Hobbit" got published the same way J. K. Rowling did: the publisher gave the book to an actual child to read. In Tolkein's case, it was the publisher's 10-year-old son, in Rowling's case, the publisher's 8-year-old daughter.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Heather, I actually think of WATER LILY as more of a pre-dystopian--that is, a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the survivors have not yet decided what kind of new society they're going to have. This story is kind of the pivotal moment for them, the one that will tip the scales one way or the other. It's a cool idea in a very interesting world.

Melodie, I love the setting in GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER, too! And wasn't Mackenzi's writing in that first page SO good?

Thanks, Stephanie! And the number of werewolf stories surprised me, too. Maybe it's time for a reboot?

Tom, if I remember right, the first page of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE is kind of prologue-ish, isn't it? And it has a distinctly fairy-tale feel--which is to say it's written in third person from the point-of-view of a smart, omniscient narrator. So even though the scene doesn't immediately scream, "Magic!" the voice and the tone totally match the concept.

What I meant with points one and four was that several of the entries didn't seem to know what they were. The queries read like high fantasies, with mentions of princesses and prophecies and stuff like that, but then the first pages featured the protagonists doing things like waking up to iPods or their mom telling them it was time to get ready for school. This structure could work for a portal fantasy, I suppose, but the queries didn't always explain that clearly. It just made the reading experience kind of jarring.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow, great post. I really needed it as I am now ready to query my novel. :)

thanks, Krista!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Sharon! Glad you found it helpful.