Friday, April 29, 2016

Introducing the 2016 Query Kombat Judges!

Time for our AMAZING lineup of judges for this year's Query Kombat tournament. Many of them were contestants in prior contests. We've worked hard to find authors that form a diverse group of opinions, talents, and specialties from all categories and genres.

Query Kombat would not be possible without the wonderful people who donate their time to help. For this month-long contest, we've recruited thirty-six industry professionals to critique entries and vote for a winner of each matchup. Each and every one of these judges is participating out of the kindness of their heart, so please join the QK Crew in thanking them for volunteering.


Remember that the best way to thank judges for their time is to buy their books. Michelle has compiled a Goodreads list to make finding the judges' books easier, and they've written some great stuff. Also be sure to follow the judges on Twitter. On May 11, we'll be hosting a Twitter chat, where writers can reach out to the judges and ask questions about their entries, writing, querying, etc. Join us at 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. EST on #QKChat

There are so many judges this year, we're breaking the bios down across all three host blogs. Go here to see them all: Mike, Laura, and Michelle. For a rule refresher, click here. To donate, click here.

Now, without further ado, I'd like to introduce one set of judges for Query Kombat 2016.

Betsy Aldredge

Betsy Aldredge is a former magazine editor turned communications professional who writes about quirky YA, NA, and Adult characters. Betsy and her co-writer, Carrie DuBois-Shaw, were named Grand Champions of Query Kombat 2014 for their YA Contemporary Romance, Sasquatch, Love, and Other Imaginary Things. The entry, nicknamed “Shalom Sasquatch,” led to signing with the wonderful Christa Heschke at McIntosh and Otis. 


Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and SF/F author living in St. Louis, Missouri. He works at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University, where he and his colleagues use next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to uncover the genetic basis of inherited diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. He has co-authored more than 60 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. His debut novel The Rogue Retrieval -- about a Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world -- was published in March 2016 by Harper Voyager. 

Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into Missouri’s dense hardwood forests to pursue whitetail deer and turkey with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and three children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard. Find him at

Rena Olsen

Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a school therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, will be available from Putnam 8/9/2016. She is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

Twitter: @originallyrena

Instagram: rosmiles

Elizabeth Roderick
ELIZABETH RODERICK is a West Coast girl, currently living in a one-room, off-grid shack in Washington State. She is the author of Love or Money, a romantic thriller about a young woman trying to escape the drug trade, and The Other Place Series about a young man with schizophrenia trying to make it as an artist, and a young woman addicted to heroin just trying to make it. The first installment of that series releases on 5/31/16.
Elizabeth has several other YA, NA and Adult novels in the writing and editing process. She writes across most genres, but her books have a common theme: they are the stories of people who are generally ignored, shunned, oppressed or outright reviled by society. Those are the stories she finds the most beauty in.  
In addition to writing, Elizabeth is a freelance editor of most fiction genres, and is a musician and songwriter. Find her on her website, blog, Twitter, Amazon, or Goodreads.
Twitter: @LidsRodney

Layla Reyne

Attorney by day, writer by night, Layla Reyne was raised in North Carolina and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her scientist husband and three smushed-faced dogs. Growing up surrounded by generations of Southern storytellers and at the knee of her soap opera loving grandparents, she began writing at an early age. Now writing romantic suspense and contemporary romance, Layla is inspired by her coast-to-coast experiences and delights in weaving the people she’s met and places she’s been into her stories for readers everywhere to enjoy. Layla is a PRO Member of Romance Writers of America and its Kiss of Death, Silicon Valley and Golden Network chapters. She is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency and is a 2016 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist for her romantic suspense novel, Four Tragedies.

Natasha Raulerson

Natasha Raulerson grew up as a tomboy hanging with the guys, getting skinned knees, and swimming in the South Florida sun.Though she’s more inclined to wear dresses now, she still prefers a good pair of chucks and comfy pair of jeans. Tattoos, Jack Daniels, and hanging at the pool are three of her favorite things. An author of adult romantic suspense, by day she writes about the characters driving her imagination wild. By night she enjoys a good book, hanging with her hubs and getting snuggle attacks from her two spoiled pups.

She is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency

As the firstborn of a sports enthusiast, Holly soon learned the only games she'd ever learn to conquer involved consoles and controllers. Whenever she wasn't battling virtual monsters or racing on digital tracks, she was usually working a story. Eventually, her passions converged and she started writing about the future of gaming. The result is her debut novel ARENA, released April 2016. She's currently at work on its sequel. She still plays video games, except now she gets to say "it's for research."

Twitter: @HollyN_Jennings

Sarah Glenn Marsh

Sarah Glenn Marsh writes young adult novels and children's picture books. An avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life, she’s been making up words and worlds ever since. She lives in Virginia with her husband and four rescued greyhounds. When she's not writing, she's often painting, or engaged in pursuits of the nerd variety from video games to tabletop adventures and dungeon crawls. Her forthcoming works include Fear the Drowning Deep (Sky Pony, October 4th 2016), the Reign of the Fallen duology (Razorbill/Penguin, date TBD), Anna Strong: Daughter of the American Revolution (Abrams Kids, date TBD), A Campfire Tail and Selfie Sebastian (Sterling Kids, Spring 2017 and Fall 2017 respectively). Her young adult works are represented by Lucy Carson at the Friedrich Agency, and her picture books by McIntosh & Otis Literary. Visit her online at


Angie Sandro

Angie Sandro was born at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Within six weeks, she began the first of eleven relocations throughout the United States, Spain, and Guam before the age of eighteen. Friends were left behind. The only constants in her life were her family and the books she shipped wherever she went. Traveling the world inspired her imagination and allowed her to create her own imaginary friends. Visits to her father's family in Louisiana inspired this story. Angie now lives in Northern California with her husband, two children, and an overweight Labrador.

Shari Schwarz

Shari Schwarz lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado near the Rocky Mountains with her husband and their four boys. TREASURE AT LURE LAKE (April 12, 2016) is her debut middle grade novel which reflects her love for a good survival adventure story. When she’s not reading or writing, Shari can be found freelance editing, weight-lifting, gardening or watching her boys play various sports. She frequently daydreams of exploring Oregon Coast beaches or plotting out her next children’s book.

Amy Trueblood
A devotee of reading and writing from a very young age, Amy Trueblood grew up surrounded by books. After stints working in entertainment and advertising, she began writing her first manuscript and has never looked back. Her published work has appeared in The Fall and Summer's Edge short story collections as well as Pen & Muses' first Dark Carnival collection. Currently she is a freelance editor with Wild Things Editing. Her work is represented by Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. To learn more about Amy, check out her blog, Chasing The Crazies, or follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.

Max Wirestone is the author of the geek-themed Dahlia Moss mystery series, the second of which--- ASTONISHING MISTAKES-  will hit stores in February of 2017. Max is a Query Kombat alum with a penchant for zippy query letters, expansive JRPGs, and overcommitting his schedule. Check out his website at or follow him on twitter at @maxwires.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Query Kombat 2016 Meet My Slush Reader and Enter to Win a Free Pass!

Query Kombat is back! 

First things first: You are all so very talented, you make picking extremely difficult for me. And since there's no cap on entries this year, I decided to enlist the help of a very talented writer (and excellent critique partner) to sift through everything for me. Meet Kara!

Kara Reynolds is a stay-at-home mom of three who likes to spend her nearly-non-existent free time writing novels. Her weaknesses include James T. Kirk, lightsabers, and anything TARDIS-blue. She writes contemporary and light speculative YA novels. She is clearly a gigantic nerd, and if she could go back in time, she would tell her teenage self to embrace her inner geekiness. While Kara lives in Wyoming, she is not of Wyoming. But it's growing on her.

Kara writes for Operation Awesome, providing ideas and inspiration for getting over writer's block. She also critiques query letters and Twitter pitches those days, so if you need a fresh set of eyes on your week, be sure to comment on her Tuesday Museday posts! To connect with Kara, you can also visit her blog or find her on Twitter.

This year, I'm offering each of you a chance to bypass the slush and go straight into the contest where you will receive judge feedback and an opportunity to make the agent round. You'll still have to knock out your competitor in Round 1, though, so make sure your first page and query (and the entire manuscript) are as polished as you can get them before you submit. 

To create some excitement and spread the word about the contest, I'm following Michelle's lead and raffling off one of the spots on my team. 

My Free Pass contest will be open until May 5. On May 6, I'll draw one lucky winner at random, and post the results on this blog.

To enter the contest, answer the following question in the blog comments, using 50 words or less: What weapon/skill does your main character use to fight for his or her dreams? Please include your Twitter handle so I can notify you if you win.

Make sure you use the Rafflecopter and don't just leave a comment. The Rafflecopter is choosing the winner, so you must get your name in it. For bonus entries, follow me and Kara on Twitter or visit my Facebook author page.

To learn more about Query Kombat go here. The judges and agents will be posted soon. There will be a Twitter party starting just before the submission date of May 21nd. Watch my blog for more details.

Good luck with the free pass! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, April 15, 2016

Query Kombat 2016: Fight for Your Dreams

Bloggers Laura, Michael, and Michelle are back again to bring you the fourth annual Query Kombat tournament.

The Basics

Query Kombat will host 64 kombatants in a single-elimination, tournament style query-off. Entries will go head to head (one on one) with one another until only ONE entry remains. There will be a total of six rounds in Query Kombat. 64 entries in round one, 32 in round two, 16 in round three, 8 in round four, 4 in round five, and 2 in round six.

Unlike traditional tournaments, we won't be using tournament brackets. Entries will be matched up based on target audience and genre. We'll continue grouping that way until it's no longer possible.

If you secure a spot in the tournament, your query and the first 250 words of your manuscript (to the end of a complete sentence) will be pitted against another query and first 250 words. Judges will read each match-up and vote 'Victory' on the best entry. Remember, this is subjective. Considering last year, votes may come down to personal tastes.

The entry with the most ‘victories’ at the end of the round will advance to the next round until only one champion remains. 

The agent round will be held after the first round. That mean the top 32 entries will make it to the agent round.

Of course, there's a twist!

The agent round will be conducted in secret. And by secret, we mean TOP SECRET. Entrants won't know who requested what—or how much—until that entrant has been eliminated from the contest.
On the plus side, winners of the first round will be able to submit and updated entry prior to the agent round. So, any feedback the judges give can be implemented before the agents see your work.

Who’s Invited to Submit:

The Query Kombat tournament is open only to unagented writers seeking representation. Your manuscript must be complete, polished, and ready to submit. If your manuscript has been in the agent round of another contest within the last six months, you are not eligible to participate in Query Kombat. Please don’t try to sneak in. The QK team includes about fifty people and a few hundreds of spectators. Someone will notice and inform us. Submissions for MG, YA, NA, and Adult works will be accepted (Sorry we aren't accepting Picture books or Chapter Books this year.). Only one entry per person. Do not attempt to submit more than one entry by using different email accounts. Again, the QK family is huge. Someone will notice.


The submission window will open on May 16th at 9:00 AM Eastern time and close on May 20nd at Noon.

We will have email confirmation. If you don't receive it within an hour of submitting your entry, contact us via twitter and let us know. Kontestants will be revealed on May 27th, and the tournament will kick off on June 1st.

IMPORTANT: The Query Kombat team reserves the right to disqualify any entrant at any time for any reason. If an entrant is disqualified before the agent round, an alternate will take its place. If an entrant is disqualified after the agent round, the opposing entry will automatically advance to the next round. The only time we will ever disqualify an applicant is if you say or do something to blemish the spirit of query contests. Query Kombat is supposed to be fun…
So none of this!

In order to enter the contest you MUST follow formatting guidelines, and submit during the contest window. All entries that follow said guidelines will be considered. 

In the event that we receive more than the available 64 spots (this is highly expected), Michelle, Laura, and I will savagely attack the slush pile in attempts to build the best team. We will pick (and announce) three alternates in case a submission is disqualified.

Entries should be sent to:  QueryKombat (at) gmail (dot) com.

Formatting Guidelines:

Font: Times New Roman (or an equivalent), 12pt font, single-spaced with spaces between each paragraph. No (I repeat: NO!) indentations.
Subject line of the Email: A short, unique nickname for your entry [colon] your genre (audience included). Do not skip this step or your entry will be deleted. (ex. I Fell in Love with a Ken Doll: Adult Erotica)

For the nickname, make it as unique as possible so that there are no duplicates. These will be the names used in the tournament (or an abbreviated version if it's too long) so keep it PG-13 and try to have it relate to your story in some way.

In the body of the email (with examples):

Name: Michael Anthony
Email address: myboyfriendwasbittenbyashark (at) gmail (dot) com.
Twitter Handle: @BarbforSenate36

Title: Eunuchs and Politics
Entry Nickname: I Fell in Love with a Ken Doll
Word count: 68K
Genre: Adult Erotica


I FELL IN LOVE WITH A KEN DOLL tells the harrowing story of Barbra B. Doll, a US senator who goes against country, family, and the Illumaniti to be with an amateur surfer with no genitalia. 

First 250:

Words, words, and more words.

Don't include the chapter title and please, don't stop in the middle of a. Do not include a bio or comp title.

All queries submitted are FINAL. We will not edit them in any way, shape, or form. Please read, reread, and rereread your submission before you hit send. You have several weeks to polish your work. Take advantage of it. Competition will be fierce.

Host Blogs

Because the immense amount of work ahead of us, the tournament will be hosted on three separate blogs. In order to enter the contest, you MUST following Michael, Michelle, and Laura's blogs (Twitter is cool too). All three blogs will host the first round and agent round. The second round will be hosted by Michelle and Laura. The third round will be hosted by Michael. The fourth round will be hosted by Laura. The fifth round will be hosted by Michelle. The final round will be hosted by Michael. Have no fear, each blog will have links to all rounds so you will not get lost.

Agents and judges will be revealed soon. (As of now we have 22 agents and 34 judges!)
Questions can be left in the comments and I'll answer them as quickly as possible.

One last thing: 

Contests are very time-consuming, and in order to continue hosting each year, we’re asking contestants to give a $5-$10 donation when making their entries. Asking for donations is one way to ensure we’re able to give you the time needed to carefully consider every entry. Chosen Kontestants receive feedback from up to 30 agented/published writers on their query and first page, plus the ability to query agents they otherwise may not have connected with. Some agents even read requested contest entries before the rest of the slush pile! All Kontestants, chosen are not, receive free slush tips from the hosts and the camaraderie that develops from entering contests together. Many writers find lifelong critique partners and good friends from these contests (I did).

Donating this year is strictly voluntary. Giving a donation
does not increase your chances of being picked. Giving less than $5 or more than $10 will also have no impact on your chances. Donating will not affect how many rounds a person makes it through if chosen. People who are not able to donate will not be disqualified. 

10% of all funds raised will go to Our friends in Flint still need our help. It's an uphill battle that the QK Crew is committed to help fight, and we hope you'll stand behind us.

Thanks for your understanding and your donations!

Best of luck in the tournament!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Common R&R Mistakes

Today, I want to talk about the "revise and resubmit," which for those who don't know, is basically what it sounds like: When an agent declines to represent a manuscript, but gives some feedback and agrees to read if the author makes the changes and sends it back. This is NOT a guarantee of representation of the new, revised manuscript. And it's not the same as giving some reasons for turning something down. An R&R carries an invitation to email the revised manuscript back.

 I've seen writers refer to this process as "The Slow No," but that couldn't be further from the truth. Agents want to sign talented writers with amazing manuscripts. When they see something that could be great, but needs a little more work, they want to try to bring it over the line to where they love it. Also, some agents make a habit of always requesting an R&R before signing someone, just so they can see if the author is open to feedback and making changes. (If you do your research before querying, you might have a good idea who those agents are, but either way, don't reject an R&R out of hand without at least thinking about the changes and whether you're willing to make them.)

So, here are some of the primary mistakes I've seen in resubmitted manuscripts.
  1. Rushing. Don't blow your chance. Take your time. Do the revision right. The agent will still be there when it's done. An R&R doesn't need to be returned in a few days. In fact, it shouldn't be. Some agents get nervous when an R&R is done in less than a few weeks.
  2. Ignoring the feedback. Now, if you disagree with a suggested revision, that's fine. You don't have to do it. But if you're going to ignore the very reasons the agent is asking for the revision, why take up the agent's time by sending it back? Let them use those hours to read other manuscripts. I'm not saying that you need to take EVERY change, because it's your manuscript, but if an agent says "There's too much passive voice and a lot of comma errors," make sure you fix those things. 
  3. ONLY making the changes the agent suggested. This is an important distinction. An R&R frequently requires a full rewrite. When there are plot issues, fixing them usually isn't as easy as throwing in a new scene or two. Everything has to flow organically. You need to weave threads that tie the new scenes to old. Plant hints. I understand the inclination to try to just fix with some minor tweaks, but it shows. And don't assume that an agent who didn't mention passive voice in an R&R is OK with it. Really polish the revised manuscript as much as the original.
  4. Not having someone else read it. Granted, I'm only guessing when this happens, but if another writer says "Here's what Agent X said and here's my manuscript," a good reader is going to tell you where the manuscript fixes those problems and what other issues might exist that the agent will notice. So when something comes back with the same problems it had before, it tends to suggest the writer didn't get a much-needed second set of eyes on the revisions.
  5. Don't assume you'll get another R&R. Some agents will give an author a second chance if the revisions bring the manuscript closer, but there's still something missing. My understanding is that most won't. So don't spend a couple of hours playing around and then decide it's close enough. Make sure you're happy with the finished product, whether the agent ultimately accepts it or not.
  6. Making changes you don't agree with. If you hate the idea for the revision, it's OK not to do it. R&Rs take a lot of time, and if you're miserable and don't want to do it, consider whether your efforts are best spent making other changes or writing something new.
When you get an R&R, first be glad! The agent saw something in your work they liked! Then, make notes, think about it, take your time, and most importantly, make sure you love the finished product.

Monday, April 4, 2016

What I Learned Reading for a Literary Agent

For several months in 2015-2016, I read for a literary agent. I loved getting to read a wide variety of manuscripts, but I also gained valuable insight not only into what agents do, but into my own writing. Interning teaches you a lot about your own tastes. For example, I learned that I'm really not a fan of quiet, character-driven works. Give me PLOT. I also learned that I'm not a fan of historical fiction without romance.

Here are some other things I learned from my stint as an intern.
  1. Agents want to love your manuscript. Really, they do. It's so disappointing when a great concept doesn't pan out, or when the writing isn't ready, or a manuscript requires a full developmental edit before it will be ready for representation. Agents don't have the time to give that much attention to potential clients, so the work needs to be ready before they get it. No matter how much something is loved, if it's going to require multiple revisions, "no" comes more frequently than a request to revise and resubmit. And it's unfortunate to see that a lot of writers waste opportunity by sending a manuscript before it's ready. There are so many people out there who are happy to help you get your manuscript ready (either paid editors or as part of a critique swap). Take advantage of them.
  2. Query writing and manuscript writing are very different skills. I've seen some amazing manuscripts attached to terrible queries. It's important to master both of those skills, though, because many agents won't read the pages if the query isn't good. Some agents only ask for a query, with no pages.
  3. Your query has to match your manuscript. I've also read some amazing queries that confused the heck out of me once I got into reading the manuscript. The query should relay the events at the beginning of the book and take me up through the primary conflict. Don't start by talking about the end of the story. If I spend half the first chapter wondering what's going on, I'm less likely to love the book as a whole.
  4. Your main character needs to have agency. I do not want to read about someone drifting along, watching life pass them by, or watching other people do things. I want characters who take charge, evaluate situations, make decisions, and make things happen. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I read where I started skimming, just looking for something to happen. Don't make your reader wonder when the story is going to happen. Give me a character who makes decisions that shape the story. 
  5. "Said" really is the best way to tag most conversations. I do tend to think it's boring to ONLY ever use said. And I've listened to audio books where I found "said" to be extremely distracting. However, as a reader, I read multiple manuscripts that NEVER used plain, unadorned said. Where every single bit of punctuation had a beat instead of a dialogue tag. Where "said" never appears without an adverb attached, or worse, where "said" never appears without a beat attached. Adverbs in dialogue tags should be avoided, and there's almost never a reason to combine a beat with a tag. One or the other, not both. What I realized is that it can be difficult to follow conversations - and distracting - if the author doesn't just let it flow. Sometimes, it's OK to not tag the speaker at all for a few lines. And "said" is a great way to tell the reader who's speaking without adding a bunch of text that will make me forget what the conversation is about. 
The internship also reminded me how very subjective this whole business is. Sure, I know we all hate that word. But you really can be an excellent writer and write a story I don't personally want to read. That's okay. No story is universally loved (not even Harry Potter or Star Wars). I read a lot of manuscripts that didn't have anything "wrong" with them, but just weren't for me. The agent I interned for offered on at least one of those, because we are different people with different tastes. A manuscript isn't bad just because I didn't love it, or because one agent doesn't love it, or even because 100 agents don't love it. Everyone has their own taste. That's why it's important to work on the things you can control - the mechanics, grammar, having a great query letter - instead of obsessing over whether a particular agent might love the finished product.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Query Kombat 2016 is Coming!

Submission: Monday, May 16 - Friday, May 20
Round 1: 64 entries/32 matchups split over 3 blogs, June 1st- 4th
Agent round: June 8-11(Wednesday-Saturday). 32 entries. All three blogs.
Round 2: 32 entries/16 matchups over 2 blogs, June 15-17
Round 3: 16 entries/8 matchups over 1 blog, June 21-23
Round 4:8 entries/4 matchups over 1 blog, June 25-26
Round 5: 4 entries/2 matchups over 1 blog, June 28-29
Round 6: 2 entries/1 matchup over 1 blog, July 1-2