Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Which I Introduce Team Maries and Share Some General Thoughts

The teams are set, and #TeamMaries is looking pretty great:

Clarissa Hadge and JETSTAR FIGHTER PILOT (#109)
Fataima Ahmad and THE SHAPE OF THE MANGO (#169)
Katelyn Larson and WHISPERMAGE (#29)
Kristin Reynolds and THE LAST PAPER DAHL (#69)
Maria Hebert-Leiter and REVELATION (#81)
Sarah Adair and THE DREADFUL GOOD (#67)
Triona Murphy and MONTANA GOLD (#140)
Wendy Daughdrill and TRUE NORTH (#159)

And last but not least, the other half of #TeamMaries, Anna-Marie McLemore, my brilliant guest coach!

That gives us two MGs (a fantasy and a contemporary), five YAs (a sci-fi, a fantasy, a historical, a mystery, and a romantic adventure), and one adult project (which is literary fiction). I always try to spread my teammates' entries out on the age/genre spectrum, but I was especially pleased with how this group turned out.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I'm not an agent, so I'm in no way an expert on queries, the market, or publishing in general. In other words, 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:

1. A good comp title can signal that you know the market, but an overused one may do just the opposite. Quite a few of the YA fantasies in this batch compared themselves to GRACELING or THRONE OF GLASS, so it wasn't long before my eyes glazed over every time I spotted one of those titles. The best comps aren't so obscure as to be unheard of, but they probably also aren't the best-selling books in your genre.

2. It's really easy to sum up your characters or underscore your themes at the end of your query, but resist the temptation! If your summary's done its job, you won't have to tell agents what your story's really about. You might also want to avoid laundry lists of plot points. If we can't tell how the pieces will fit together, we probably won't care about them as much as you think we should.

3. I thought there was a ton of intriguing sci-fi in this bunch. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's good to be aware of what other people are writing so you predict how the market might shift.

4. I'm still leery of anything that smacks of dystopian. If your futuristic thriller mentioned a revolution, it probably didn't make it onto my lists. Which isn't to say futuristic thrillers can't sell-- they've just got to bring a new hook to the table. It seems like a rebellion should immediately raise the stakes, but because we've seen so many, they typically serve to LOWER a story's stakes. There are a thousand and one other ways to inject conflict into a plot, so at least for the time being, pick one of those. Seemingly small, deeply personal stakes can often end up being the biggest stakes of all.

5. There were quite a few entries I was really excited about--until I discovered that they'd been in three other contests. Overexposure is real--agents get ornery if they have to keep reading the same entries over and over--so picking and choosing your contests might be a good idea.

What stood out to you as you went through the entries?

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