Monday, December 19, 2016

A Query Kombat Success with Sarah Janian

 Many authors frame their origin story in childhood.  They describe epic novels scrawled in notebooks, or a sense of knowing they were predestined for the glorious (cough) work of authoring.
Not so for me.  I was an avid reader, but I avoided creative writing at all costs, until I became an elementary school teacher and had to teach it.  At first, I felt like a fool and a charlatan, but eventually, this work of helping children find their voices helped me to find my own.

A science fiction premise came to me one day, one I thought had a strong enough hook to be worth the toil of turning it into a novel.  So I sat down to write it six years ago, thinking I would have it agented and sold in a year.

In a turn of events that will shock no one, I struggled with the logistics of an 80ish k novel, since the longest thing I had written post-grad school was a short story for my class.  So after a couple years of writing and rewriting, I decided to hold off on the SF and try my hand at a middle grade fantasy. 
That manuscript wrote itself in a few months, and I enthusiastically pitched it at several SCBWI conferences over the next couple of years.  In each case, agents gave me the same feedback: “There’s a lot to love here, but this book isn’t publishable.” 

I was devastated. 

I complained, I cried, and I sulked, but then I tried again, this time writing a contemporary MG about a girl struggling with her parents’ bitter divorce.  Although the subject matter is realistically dark, I infused it with humor and lighter moments too.  I was really excited about it.

Then I got pregnant, and I became very, very sick for almost a year.

Then I had a colicky baby and became very, very sleep-deprived for another year.

Writing went out the window during these years.  One day I realized that the vague depression and gnawing angst I was feeling, in part, was because I hadn’t made it a priority.  Armed with the MG partial-manuscript, I started setting my alarm to 4:30 (am) and writing in the mornings.  It was liberating!  It was intoxicating!  Sometimes it was excruciating.

But I did it.  I finished the manuscript when my daughter was about a year-and-a-half, even though my husband was working long hours and we didn’t have any babysitting help at the time.

Just as I finished the book, now tentatively titled THE SIXTH GRADER’S GUIDE TO DIVORCE, I happened upon an announcement about a contest called Query Kombat.  It looked brutal—each query is pitted against another and judged publicly—but it seemed like a great opportunity if I could make a team.

I should admit something here.  In hindsight, I probably wasn’t ready to enter. Unbeknownst to me, my manuscript had some issues, because back then I didn’t know about critique partners or beta readers.  It was just me and my screaming toddler and my computer.

And coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.

I wrote a query right before the deadline, sent it to Michelle, and stalked Twitter.  Oh yes, I also joined Twitter.  Even though I’m a borderline Millenial, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with social media, but QK convinced me to take the plunge.

I remember reading over the team announcements with my husband, not even breathing.
Making Laura Heffernan’s team was the first real writing victory I experienced in almost six years.  It was amazing.

The contest proved even more brutal than I had realized. I pored over the blogs as the votes rolled in for and against me.  In the end, I advanced through the first round to the agent round, but I was crushed in the second round. The good news: during the agent round I got a bunch of agent requests, another first for me!  I also used the feedback from the QK judges to strengthen my query.
Then s**t got real. 

I frantically revised while new QK friends beta read my manuscript.  I also made the very savvy decision to hire Laura outside of QK to do a developmental read of my MS and give me her feedback. 

After sending out the full and partials to the QK agents, I began sending small batches to other agents as well.  I sent out a query to Andrea Somberg very early in my querying because her longtime client, Sarah Beth Durst, is one of my favorite authors, and I had remembered Sarah mentioning her in various interviews.

Then I waited.

Andrea responded within a few days. (She is a master of her inbox, which is not always the case with agents.)  She said she enjoyed my pasted pages and asked for a full.

My hands literally shook as they read the message on my phone.

At the same time, Laura got back to me with her thoughts, and another agent approached me with some revision ideas.  Just as I sat down to rework, Andrea finished reading the manuscript and loved it.


I had been reading the blogs enough to know that this is often, but not always, a signal that AN AGENT WILL OFFER.

Guys, she did. :)

It was one of the most wonderful and surreal conversations in my life.  Andrea convinced me that she loved my manuscript as much as I did, her editing vision gelled with mine, and her submission plan sounded fantastic.  I also got to speak with Sarah Beth Durst by phone, who proved lovely and gracious and very tolerant of my fangirling.

After that came an insane week of notifying the other agents with my partials and fulls that I had been offered rep.  Not much is written about this because it’s all very hush hush, which is too bad, because you learn a lot about how agents handle things like deadlines and communication.  In the end I had multiple offers and had to make a difficult choice, however one that I have not regretted for a second since signing with Andrea.

Although I did not get my agent through the QK agent requests, I am SO grateful to QK and to the hosts Michelle Hauck, Laura Heffernan, and Michael Anthony.  Because of their generous work making the competition happen, I improved my query, built up the confidence to try again after “failure,” and made some wonderful writing friends.  I want to thank Laura, in particular, for being a wise, funny, and inspiring friend and mentor.   Words cannot express my gratitude to her for her many, many kindnesses.

Sarah Janian is a teacher-turned-sahm who earned her B.S. from Swarthmore ('05) and her M.Ed. from Bank Street ('09). Currently she lives in Philadelphia with her family.  Follow her on Twitter @see_sahm_write to win one of her query and MS critique giveaways. Sarah is represented by Andrea Somberg at the Harvey Klinger Agency.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


From December 13-20, I'm excited to be participating in the HOLLY JOLLY FACEBOOK PAGE HOP, with dozens of authors offering prizes worth more than $1,000! Prizes include books, ebooks, gift cards, and there's even a Kindle for one lucky grand prize winner. The hop is sponsored by Inklings Literary Agency, which happens to have some amazing agents. If you're a querying writer, you definitely want to check them out.

Visit my Facebook page to start the hop and enter to win a $5 gift card for the e-reader of your choice. Then click through to the other sites.

Thanks for dropping by! I probably won't be blogging much through the end of the year while I work on the last two books of the Reality Star series (and even try to relax a bit if I can remember how), but I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season.

Here's to a wonderful 2017!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Friendsgiving Feedback Critique 2:

To help distract us from the world around us and pay forward the help we've received over the years, several published and pre-published authors are giving away query critiques. The feedback will be posted on our blogs throughout the next two week, with a Twitter chat Friday, Dec. 2. Join us at 4 and 8 pm EST on #FFChat.

Genre: YA dark fantasy

Dear (Agent),

Seventeen-year-old Nora Gallagher has spent the last five years dreaming the same dream:[1] a starlit sky, a luminescent beach, and a hooded man who calls himself the Sandman. Logically, Nora knows he can’t be real, but when people close to her start dying gruesome deaths in their sleep, the Sandman is the only one with answers.[2]

Hidden deep within Nora’s dreams is the secret to the Weaver’s freedom, and the Lord of Nightmares[3] will do anything to escape his prison.[4] Even if that means traumatizing Nora until the Sandman’s protections shatter under the weight of darkness.[5] But, when the Weaver takes Nora’s sister, she throws that logic out the window.[6]

Entering the Nightmare Realm is nothing if not terrifying but, when she gets separated from the Sandman, Nora will have to must navigate the deadly realm on her own.[7] Everyone she loves will be lost to the shadows if she fails to stop the Weaver, but success comes with unexpected dark consequence of its own.[8]

SPLINTERED meets NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET[9] in a YA Dark Fantasy, THE DREAM KEEPER, complete at 70,000 words.[10]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Amber Riley[11]

[1] Avoid using “dream” twice in one sentence. You can also streamline a little by flipping it around “For five years, seventeen-year-old Nora experiences the same dream:…” (And we don’t need her last name. I know it’s a preference, but to me, unless the last name is a hint at diversity, it doesn’t add anything.)
[2] Does Nora have some way of communicating with the Sandman? “is the only one with answers” raises a lot of questions for me, like, how would she even know that? Doesn’t the Weaver also have answers? Tell me about Nora and what she does. If she’s communicating with the Sandman, let me know that.
[3] I’m confused. Are the Sandman, Weaver, and Lord of Nightmares all referring to the same person? Add a sentence before this explaining who the Weaver is. Why is the secret to his freedom hidden within Nora’s dreams?
[4] Elaborate. Why is Weaver locked up? Do we want him to escape? Maybe the Weaver is this poor old guy who was falsely accused…Maybe they don’t like him because he rescues stray kittens. Don’t make me guess what happens. I’m a bad guesser.
[5] I know you’re trying to by mysterious here, but this sentence is so vague that it’s basically meaningless to me. Avoid clich├ęd phrases like “until the Sandman’s protections shatter” and “under the weight of darkness.” I want to know who these people are, what they’re trying to do, and what happens if he succeeds. Why is he taking Nora’s sister?  
[6] Why does the Weaver take Nora’s sister? Does he need a tennis partner for doubles? Add details to make your story stand out. Every agent you’re sending this to gets dozens of YA fantasy queries a day (if not more). You want to make them remember yours. The other thing is, this whole paragraph has kind of a generic movie trailer tone to it. Make sure your query reflects your writing voice. Use words Nora would use to describe her situation.
[7] You could add some good voice by cutting this into two sentences. Sentence 1: how scared is she? Sentence 2: She gets separated from the Sandman and reacts by….?
[8] This is too vague. I love that there are bad things happening whether Nora wins or loses, but tell me what’s at stake. What happens if Nora fails to stop the Weaver? And I have the same comments about voice here as above. Is this how Nora would describe her situation? Give me a hint of her voice so I know what to expect in the pages.
[9] Good comps
[10] I worry that this is a little low for YA fantasy with a 17yo main character. You may want to explore places where the story could be fleshed out a bit or places that could use more description/emotion/character development. I worry more because the details of the query are so vague, it makes me wonder if the book itself is vague or a bit too bare bones.
[11] The first thing I noticed about this query is that it’s pretty short. The plot summary is only 164 words, which isn’t really enough to get across the intricacies of the plot. I need to know what makes this book different from other YA fantasies, because there are thousands of them. Why should I read this book instead of a different one? To do that, I need to know what happens. The plot summary should always be at least 200 words, preferably closer to 250. Tell me enough to make me desperate to read this book. 

You've got what could be a really interesting concept, but after reading the query, I'm not sure I could tell anyone what's going to happen in this book. Give me more. Go deeper into the plot. Help me connect with Nora and feel the stress of her situation. Don't give away the ending, but don't hold back what happens in the earlier parts of the book. That's what will take a query from no to maybe or maybe to yes.

Monday, November 28, 2016



Let us know what you think of the cover for Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2) by Brenda Drake which releases February 7, 2017!

This cover reveal is brought to you by Entangled TEEN & YA Interrobang!

Brenda Drake's thoughts on the cover:

I had an idea of what I wanted the cover of Guardian of Secrets to look like the entire time I was writing the story. I was delighted (I might have screamed) when the cover showed up in my email and it was EXACTLY what I’d imagined. I love that it’s blue since part of the setting of the book takes place in a cold climate. I’m thrilled the couple is on it, too. They resemble the characters I’ve created in my mind perfectly. The cover is so beautiful, and I’m beyond excited to share it with everyone!

About Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2):

Being a Sentinel isn’t all fairytales and secret gardens.

Sure, jumping through books into the world’s most beautiful libraries to protect humans from mystical creatures is awesome. No one knows that better than Gia Kearns, but she could do without the part where people are always trying to kill her. Oh, and the fact that Pop and her had to move away from her friends and life as she knew it.

And if that isn’t enough, her boyfriend, Arik, is acting strangely. Like, maybe she should be calling him “ex,” since he’s so into another girl. But she doesn’t have time to be mad or even jealous, because someone has to save the world from the upcoming apocalypse, and it looks like that’s going to be Gia.

Maybe. If she survives.

Want to read more? Pre-order your copy of Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2) by Brenda Drake today!

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Amazon CA | Amazon UK

Brenda Drake grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the continual new kid at school. Her fondest memories growing up is of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write stories with a bend toward the fantastical. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).