Monday, January 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--Fantasy Favorites (plus a giveaway!)

Yay--Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday is back--and it's BACK WITH A VENGEANCE!!!! (If I do say so myself.)

I'm giving away, not one, not two, but THREE middle-grade books--and the winners even get to pick which prize they win!

Be. 

Excited!

Only thing? I'm not hosting it here. Instead, I've taken MMGM on a little road-trip today, over to the group blog I contribute to, From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

The Mixed-Up Files is a must read blog for all you middle-grade fans, and I couldn't think of a better way to get you guys to go check it out than to bring MMGM there for a day. (I swear, it has nothing to do with me being too busy to write two completely separate posts for today.) (Okay...maybe it does--a little.) (#Shannonfail)

So please. Go THERE. Check out the amazing list of middle-grade fantasy books I'm featuring. Then make sure you enter for a chance to win your pick from the list. It couldn't be easier. Plus, did I mention there will be THREE WINNERS???? What are you waiting for?

Oh, and while you're hopping around the internet, make sure you check out these awesome blogs, also featuring MMGM's today:

- Shannon O'Donnell--practically my 2nd in Command at this point--always has an MMGM on her blog. And she has amazing taste in books, so make sure you go THERE and check it out.


- The fabulous Sheri Larsen also makes her MMGM debut this week with a feature on The Samantha Granger Experiment: FUSED, by Kari Lee Townsend. Click HERE to see her post.


- The lovely Joanne Fritz has another recommendation for us as well. SEASON OF SECRETS by Sally Nicholls. Click HERE to read all about it.


- The awesome Aly Beecher also has an MMGM. This week she's featuring BABYMOUSE #13: CUPCAKE TYCOON, by Jennifer L. Holm. Go HERE to hear her thoughts.

And--as always--if you've done a MMGM on your blog today and would like me to link you, drop me an email or let me know in the comments and I will happily link you. Together, we're all giving middle-grade a tiny piece of the attention it deserves. Go us!

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Better Late Then Never

So...oops. This time I really DID forget to post the winners. Been a crazy week guys. Sorry for the #Shannonfail.

Okay, so the winners of the Query Critiques from both myself and Matt from the QQQE are...


and


Yay!

*tosses confetti*

And my precious ARC of  THE LIAR SOCIETY, by Lisa and Laura Roecker goes to...

*sobs a little*


*sniffles while tossing confetti*

:)

So if that's you, check your email--you have one from me with further instructions (and if it's not there, please email me at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com.  I don't want you to miss out on your prize.)

Thanks to everyone for reading and entering. Sorry I can't give prizes to everyone. But keep checking back. I always have some sort of contest going on. There's always next time. :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The things I do for my friends...

So last week--as I'm SURE you've heard by now--my friend, and fellow Bookanista, Beth Revis, debuted at #7 on the New York Times Bestseller list for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.

*pauses to squeal and toss confetti and sparkles*

ahem.

Naturally, we were all pretty ecstatic in Bookanista-land. A MOUNTAIN of congratulatory emails were exchanged. It was like a party in my inbox. So much fun--and SO happy for Beth.

*tosses more sparkles*

But after that...someone decided we hadn't celebrated enough. And while this lowly Cali girl slept, over on the other side of the country, shenanigans were afoot. By the time I woke up the next morning I had dozens and dozens of emails titled "Happy-Dance Vlog for Beth" (imagine my reluctance to open them...) and the decision had already been made--before I could voice my YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME--I HAVE TO DO WHAT???? dissent.

*grumbles about time differences*

So the result is this:


Beth, if you EVER needed proof of my friendship, the fact that I WILLINGLY participated in this is it. I may only be in it for a few seconds (thank goodness--I shot a LOT more footage but DARN, it didn't make the cut). But they are FILLED with Shannon Shame. Only for you girlie. Only. For. You.

HUGE CONGRATULATIONS BETH!!!!!

You deserve every ounce of praise and celebration--and more!  And you better remember the little people when you take over the world. Some of us DANCED for you! :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bookanista Cover Love: Hourglass, by Myra McEntire

OMG I cannot TELL YOU how long I've been waiting for this day.

Well...actually, I can. I got a sneak peak back in THE BEGINNING OF NOVEMBER and have been stuck sitting quietly by ever since.  Longing for the day I could SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS HOW MUCH I LOVE IT!!!!

ahem.

That day is finally here. So without further ado, I present the cover of HOURGLASS, by my good friend--and fellow Bookanista--Myra McEntire.



I'm not sure if you've figured it out yet. So I'll just let you scroll back up and stare at it until you really see it.

*waits patiently*

*whispers: turn your head*

*smiles as you go, OHHHHHHH!!!!!!*

Yeah. I mean, how gorgeous--and COOL--is that cover? I don't think I have words to describe it's sheer awesomeness. So I'm not even going to try. 

All I'll say is that I love when great covers happen to great people. And Myra is seriously one of my favorites. So please make sure you stop by HER BLOG and tell her how much you love her amazing cover. Then hop over to Twilight Lexicon to watch the beautiful teaser-trailer and enter to win an ARC. 

And start counting down the days until you can experience HOURGLASS yourself. As someone who's been lucky enough to read it, I can promise it's every bit as awesome as the cover. But we'll talk more about that when I do my review. For now, we'll just bask in the beauty of that image. 

*scrolls back up to admire some more*

For more incredible book recommendations, check out what my fellow Bookanistas are buzzing about:

Christine Fonseca freaks for THE FAMILIARS

Jen Hayley  and  Scott Tracey swoon over ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS


LiLa Roecker dies for DESIRES OF THE DEAD with a fabulous giveaway!


Elana Johnson loves THE LOST SAINT


Shelli Johannes-Wells is over the moon for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE


Carolina Valdez Miller loves THE LIAR SOCIETY, complete with a signed ARC giveaway!


Shana Silver has fallen for FALL FOR ANYTHING


Kirsten Hubbard is blown away by BLOOD MAGIC


Myra McEntire reveals her amazing cover for HOURGLASS


Carrie Harris celebrates XVI


Jessi Kirby is mesmerized by A BLUE SO DARK


Rosemary Clement-Moore marvels over MATCHED

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Query Letters--Shannon Style (Part Four: The Rest--and a giveaway!)

YAY--the last post on query letters, are you as excited as I am??????? 

(Um...I doubt it. These posts have been HARD to write!)

In case you missed it, I've covered Query Letter Format, Writing the Hook, and Writing the Body of the Query letter. And today, we'll be covering, "the rest."

Now, you might be wondering: um...what's left? Surprisingly--a LOT.

First: You need to know who to send your query to. And no--YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BLANKET THE ENTIRE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY WITH YOUR QUERY, NO MATTER HOW FABULOUSLY WRITTEN IT MAY BE!!!!!!

ahem.

I KNOW researching agents is boring and complicated and time consuming. But you HAVE to do it.

Why? Respect for agent's time, for one thing. Saves yourself a lot of unnecessary heartache and rejection for another. But mainly: the agent-client relationship is an important and complicated part of your career. You need to find someone who not only loves your project, but someone you can really work with, and in order to do that you need to know as much about the agent as possible. Plus, a lot of agencies only want you to query one agent at their office (I know my agency is particularly big on that) so how else are you supposed to decide who you should send your query to?

You have to do your research. And two of the best resources I've found are:

and

It's also well worth the time to do a good, old-fashioned Google search. Check the agent's website. Their blog, if they have one. Their Facebook or Twitter feed. Any online interviews they've given. I know it can feel stalkerish, but they wouldn't put it out there if they didn't want you to connect with them. And it's amazing how much you can learn.

I'm also a HUGE proponent of Writer's Conferences. I know they're expensive, so they might not be an option for you. But if you can, they are definitely an investment worth making. And if you can't afford a conference--not to sound like shameless self promotion here--but the WriteOnCon website is quickly becoming an incredible resource:

Replays of all of our live panels/chats can be found HERE
And an archive of the entire 2010 Conference can be found HERE

And we add more to it every month.

Another bonus to doing all this research? It gives you something you can put in your query to personalize it for the agent. Something to let them know you queried them because you're really interested in working with them and think you would be a good fit for each other. Not because you started at "A" and are working your way through "Z" or because they're a mega superstar and the only agent you've heard of.  Remember, this is your career. Put the time in and do it right.

Which brings me to my next point: getting help with your query.

I would have been lost without the Query Workshop I took--LOST I tell you!

I'm sure there are lots of them out there, but the one I swear by is run by the lovely and talented C.J. Redwine. Trust me on this when I say it was--hands down--the best $55 I've ever spent. I believe in it so much, it has a blurb from me on the site. It's a 2 week course and seriously, it's amazing. Go THERE. Check it out. And if you can, take the class. You will not regret it.

(Incidentally, CJ also offers a Synopsis Workshop, and a Plotting Workshop. Both are awesome and well worth the money.)

For those who can't afford an online workshop, there are some wonderful online query resources, like KT Literary's "Ask Daphne" About my Query FeatureQuery Shark, and Elana Johnson's From The Query To The Call ebook (now free!). But one of my absolute favorites is the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, run by my friend Matthew Rush.

Not only does he post and analyze a ton of Successful Queries (and yes Matt, I do realize I owe you mine. Someday!) He also humbly shares his own Querying Mistakes so everyone can learn from them, and has a regular Query Critique Feature, where real queries get posted and analyzed to make them better. If you're not following his blog, you need to be.

Which brings me to the giveaway part of this post. I mentioned last week how important it is to have your query letters critiqued--by friends, critique partners, beta readers, whatever. The more eyes on it, the better. And since I'm all about paying it forward (and my own, lightning fast, ridiculously easy querying process leaves me A LOT to pay forward) I wanted to end this series on queries with a giveaway. 

So in that vein, I've decided to give away 2 personal, query letter critiques to 2 commenters on today's post!!!!! 

BUT--as I've said a million times throughout this series--I'm hardly an expert at this. So fortunately for us, my good friend Matt from the QQQE decided to back me up. Which means the lucky winners will get not one, but TWO sets of eyes on their query. Mine and Matt's. Double feedback. Double advice. Sweet deal, right? Yeah...I thought so too.

To enter is simple: make sure you follow my blog AND Matt's blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PST on Friday, January 28th. Winners will be announced on Saturday, January 29th. Oh, and you might want to make sure you leave me some way to contact you if you win, so I can let you know how to send in your query. Okay?

Okay.

And...go!

Oh, and make sure you stay tuned next week, when I start a new Shannon Style series on my blog. This time I'll be tackling REVISION. It's...going to be interesting. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Exciting things at WriteOnCon!

Hey guys!

Slight change of schedule this week. I've canceled Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (I promise I will make it up to you next week) because there's just too many exciting things going on with WriteOnCon that I NEED to update you on.

First, and foremost:

We've set the dates for our 2011 Conference!!!!!

*squeals*

*tosses confetti*

(Seriously guys--you have no idea how many emails it took)

Sadly, we're not ready to share them yet (we need some time to prepare an EPIC announcement) so I know that's kind of a tease. But we wanted you guys to know that wheels really are in motion around here. Exciting things are happening, and we are working very hard behind the scenes , plotting and scheming all kinds of awesome. So stay tuned. 

Also--in case you haven't heard--today (maybe even as you're reading this!!!)--we're hosting our first Live Event in 2011. And we were lucky enough to score three amazing agents willing to participate in the panel. Here's the details:

Who: Holly McGhee, Elena Mechlin, and Joan Slattery of Pippin Properties, Inc. 
When: Monday, January 24th, 2011 at 5:00 PM EST

In case you didn't notice, the event is scheduled a little earlier than you might be used to, so make sure you make a note of the time and don't miss out. The chat will go up about 15 minutes to 5:00 here on the homepage, and can also be found under the "live events / chat" tab.

Make sure you come armed with plenty of your most pressing questions about query writing and what Pippin is looking for. We'll be spending 30 minutes on each. And to help you better figure out what to ask, here's a little more info about these lovely ladies:

About Holly:
Holly McGhee founded Pippin Properties in 1998, after seven years as an Executive Editor and Associate Publisher at HarperCollins, and four years in adult trade marketing.  She still can hardly believe that she gets to work with books every day, and she firmly believes that you can learn just about everything you need to know in life from children’s books.  She is honored to have spent more than a decade representing talented authors and artists such as Kate DiCamillo, William Steig, Harry Bliss, David Small, Doreen Cronin, Kathi Appelt, and her very own sister, Alison McGhee, as well as many other amazing people.  In her personal life, Holly writes under the pen name Hallie Durand and she likes spending time with her three kids and husband, going bowling, grocery shopping, and taking care of her nineteen year old dinner-plate aurelia tree, the best plant on Earth!

About Elena:
After a few years of bopping around the publishing industry, Elena finally found the perfect position from which to pursue her love of all things children’s literature at Pippin Properties. At Pippin, she loves reading queries and loves the treasure hunt that ensues! A uniquely collaborative agency, Pippin represents publishing greats such as Kate DiCamillo, David Small, Peter H. Reynolds, Kathi Appelt, and Doreen Cronin, among many others. Elena loves funny picture books, is typically averse to rhyming texts, likes goofy middle grade, and is on the hunt for some hot YA! She spends much of her free time enjoying New York City on foot.

About Joan:
Joan Slattery joined Pippin Properties, Inc., as a literary agent in November 2010. Prior to that, she spent nearly twenty years editing fiction and picture books for Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House). As an editor, she had the pleasure of working with Philip Pullman, Jerry Spinelli, Jane Smiley, Cynthia Voigt, Adele Griffin, Shelley Pearsall, Jen Bryant, Laura McNeal, and Tom McNeal, among many others. She also holds great admiration for librarians (and their sway over the children’s book industry) and received her own Masters in Library Science while working as an editor. Joan lives with her husband and twin five-year-olds in a suburb of New York City.

You can learn more about Pippin and their fabulous clients at www.pippinproperties.com

So yeah. Three lovely agents. One whole hour of question time. Does it get more awesome than that?

Hard to say. But I do know we already have our February Live Event booked, and it's going to be epic as well. We're *almost* ready to announce the details for that, so make sure you check back for that.

And I get this question all the time: how do I stay up to date with WriteOnCon? 

Lots of ways. For one thing, all of the founders post major announcements on our blogs. So following us is a good idea. But we also highly recommend you follow WriteOnCon on Twitter and "Like" us on Facebook to make sure you don't miss any of the smaller stuff (and we're really making an effort to keep those updated). But, we know not all of you use those networks, or don't check them very often. So we've added a newsletter to the WriteOnCon website!!!

If you'd like to subscribe (and we definitely recommend that you do) go HERE and look for the link on the right.

Oh--and in case you missed it (and are a tech/forum savvy person)--we've also put out a call to add a new member to our WriteOnCon Committee. A Forum Community Manager. For details on the position (and how to apply) check out the post HERE.

*Phew*

That was a lot of updates. And as you can see, we've been VERY busy back here in the trenches. Lots of brainstorming. LOTS of emails. Lots and lots of awesome things. We promise to share them as soon as we can. In the meantime, make sure you either stop by today's live event, or catch the replay later. Sure to be a WEALTH of information to glean from it.

And, for those of you desperate for awesome middle grade book recommendations (as well you should be) 

The amazing Aly Beecher has an awesome MMGM over at her blog on TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer L. Holm. Make sure you hop over THERE and check it out. 

And the ever-reliable Shannon O'Donnell always has a fabulous MMGM recommendation at her blog as well. Today she's featuring a book I ADORE, THE TAIL OF EMILY WINDSNAP, by Liz Kessler. Make sure you STOP BY


Happy Monday everyone!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Can't forget about the Winners!

And yet--I almost did. Sorry guys. I don't know where my brain is. And I have three lucky winners to announce.

Okay, first up, the LUCKY winner of the ARC of LIKE MANDARIN, by the amazing Kirsten Hubbard:


And the winner is...


Yay!

Tosses Confetti!


And, the two lucky winners of THE EMERALD ATLAS ARCs (HUGE thanks again to Natalie Aguirre for donating the second copy) are...




and


Yay!

*tosses sparkles and streamers*

So, if you see your name there, make sure you check your email. You have one from me begging for your mailing address. And if you didn't get that email, make sure you email me at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com because you do not want me giving away your prize to someone else.

Huge congrats to the winners. For everyone else, keep checking back. Next week will be a slightly different blogging schedule, thanks to our WriteOnCon live event, but I promise there will be a few giveaways in the mix. Make sure you don't miss them. :)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bookanista Review: The Liar Society, by Lisa and Laura Roecker--AND AN ARC GIVEAWAY!!!!

Yes--you're reading that title right. I finally, FINALLY get to do a Bookanista review on THE LIAR SOCIETY, by the lovely and talented Lisa and Laura Roecker--aka LiLa--aka Blogging Royalty. (And yes, I'm also giving away my ARC--but we'll get to that in a minute. I have some very important gushing to do first!)

So let's start with the recently released cover:


I LOVE IT!
Who doesn't want to get to know this pink-haired, pearl-wearing hottie?
(You can try to deny it, but come on--who are you kidding?)

And here's the blurb from the publisher:

Best friends don't send emails once they're dead. Kate Lowry may wear fake pearls and shorts so tiny that Nancy Drew would blush, but she's on the trail to prove that Grace's death was no accident. Along for the ride are a couple of knights in (not so) shining armor: the dangerously attractive bad boy, Liam, and her love-struck neighbor, Seth. Together they discover a secret lurking in the halls of their elite private school that threatens to destroy them all.

So cool, right? I've been dying to find out how a dead best friend can send email for over a year. In fact, I feel like I've been waiting FOREVER to read this book.

I found LiLa's blog back in 2009 (yes, THAT'S how long they've been stuck with me) and have done nothing but (im)patiently wait for my shiny ARC to arrive ever since. When it finally did, I pretty much tore the envelope to shreds, plonked down on the couch and started reading right. that. second. And I can tell you right now, I was not disappointed.

Don't worry--I won't give away anything about the plot (I do not want to ruin the surprises for anyone). But I will say that this book is addictive (no really, it's virtually impossible to put down), hilarious (had me laughing out loud and humiliating myself in public places) and yet--more importantly--still has a ton of heart.

Kate's spunky and full of hysterical one-liners and wrapped up in a huge mystery/conspiracy that leaves you wondering OMG-what-is-going-to-happen-next???????? But she's also a broken girl, still desperately mourning the loss of her best friend and struggling to find her identity after the tragedy. She makes you laugh. She makes you ache. And more than anything, you want to spend as much time with her as possible. I already miss her.

But I think what I love best about this book is that it finally managed to fill the void that's been left in my life since Veronica Mars went off the air:...

(Why, Hollywood????? Why did you do it????????)

(*sniffles*)

(ahem.)

There just aren't enough riveting high school mysteries with witty heroines trying to solve them. So thank you Lisa and Laura for bringing Kate into the world. We desperately needed her. And I very much hope there's a book two to follow book one, because I'm not ready to lose another snarky girl detective. DO NOT PUT ME THROUGH THAT AGAIN--I'M NOT SURE I'LL SURVIVE IT!!!!!!

(ahem again.)

Which brings me to the giveaway. I'll confess--I REALLY don't want to share my ARC. I want to keep it and hold it because its MY PRECIOUSSSSSSSSSSSSS. But I know most of you are as desperate to read it as I was. So...*heavy sigh*...I've decided to do the right thing and...*grumble*...share my lovely, precious ARC with one lucky commenter on today's post.

To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PST on Saturday, January 29th. I'll draw a random winner and post their name on Sunday, Jan. 30th. International entries welcome. Good luck!

For more incredible book recommendations, check out what my fellow Bookanistas are buzzing about today:



Katie Anderson raves about THE LIAR SOCIETY

Christine Fonseca applauds Michelle McLean's HOMEWORK HELPERS: TERM PAPERS AND ESSAYS with Signed Book Giveaway

Carrie Harris celebrates THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE

Jen Hayley lauds DELIRIUM

Shelli Johannes-Wells  gives a shoutout to IN LOVE WITH HARLEQUIN

Elana Johnson  recommends Michelle McLean's HOMEWORK HELPERS: TERM PAPERS AND ESSAYS with Giveaway

Jessi Kirby admires MATCHED

Myra McEntire gives some cover love for THE LIAR SOCIETY

Carolina Valdez Miller salutes XVI with Signed Book Giveaway

Megan Miranda gives some love to ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

Lisa and Laura Roecker happy dance for Beth Revis

Shana Silver cheers for HERE LIES BRIDGET

Scott Tracey acclaims DIVERGENT

Bethany Wiggins praises Michelle McLean's HOMEWORK HELPERS: TERM PAPERS AND ESSAYS

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In which I compromise my principles...

Yes--it's true. Swine have most likely sprouted wings and taken to the skies, all because--as some of you already know--I crossed over to the dark side this weekend. I joined Facebook.

Which is especially shocking because it comes only days after I made yet another huge, personal concession and joined Goodreads.

But the reason I caved--and believe me, I did NOT make the decisions lightly--is because I want to support the writing community as much as I can, and because I like to be as accessible as possible, to anyone who wants to reach me. (well...not to the creepers, but hopefully my security settings will keep them away. :D)

So in that vein, I joined Goodreads, because I realize how much it can matter to authors to have their books marked as "to read" or "read" and to have reviews posted on there. The star system still TOTALLY makes me ookey--I keep going back and adjusting them, and am tempted to simply remove them all together. But as a fellow writer in the trenches who will hopefully someday be having my book marked as "to read," I thought it only fair that I give support where I can.

And I joined Facebook because I realize that many of you aren't on Twitter (which, seriously guys--you are missing out!) and I've gotten to the point where I can't "follow back" everyone anyway. Plus I just don't have the kind of blog hopping time I used to. So I wanted to create one more place where I could keep up with what you have going on, and where you can reach me if you need me. (What you could possibly need me for at this point, I don't know. Thoughts on hot guys, perhaps? lolcat pictures? Shannon Shame? I don't have much else...)

But yeah. I've officially crossed over to the dark side. And while it is--I'll confess--not AS bad as I thought it would be (in fact, turns out my agent is even on Facebook--who knew? Yay! A whole new way to potentially drive her crazy!) I am a little worried about the whole TIME SUCK issue, so I'm going to be very careful about balancing my social networking time.

All of which is my longwinded, rambling way of saying:

*herald trumpets sound*

If you would like to "friend" me on Facebook, I *think* you can do that HERE.

And if you would like to "friend" me on Goodreads, I *think* you can do that HERE.

I've been trying to track some of you down and send the invites myself, but I'm still moderately befuddled by the complexity of these websites (oh how I long for the simplicity of Twitter) so I know I'm missing like a bazillion of you. So please, if you want to see what kind of shenanigans I can cause in these new venues (*rubs palms together with an evil smile*) send me a friend invite. I promise I'll accept. Well...unless you're a creeper. But I'm pretty sure that doesn't count any of you. ;)

Have a great day, and watch out for those flying swine! 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Query Letters--Shannon Style (Part Three: The Meat)

Okay, we've talked about Query format (and what I think should and shouldn't be there). We've talked about writing the hook. So now we're down to the body of the query--or the meat, as I like to call it. The part where you have to condense those 300+ pages of awesome manuscript down to one or two killer paragraphs that leave the agent thinking YES--I ABSOLUTELY MUST READ MORE!

I'll tell you right now, it's not easy. But I have a few pointers that helped me, so I will pass them on to you guys.

Once again though, I MUST point out before we start that, amazingly enough, I'm still not an agent. (nothing has changed career-wise for me these last couple weeks). Nor am I a query ninja or shark or any of those other names donned by the real pros at this. And remember, there's a reason why I'm covering this stuff under the "Shannon Style" label--this is all just my own personal approach. If it differs from something an agent says on their blog or website as far as how they prefer to be queried--please, I'm begging you, don't listen to me. 


(Heh--can you tell I'm nervous about people blaming me for rejections? Yes, I'm THAT paranoid)

I should also point out that for most of us, writing a query letter is a very time consuming process. (There's a few lucky ducks out there who crank them out in a flash, but let's face it, no one likes those people). Yes, it's only a page--and not even a full page at that. But it's a ridiculously important page in which your entire career kind of rests. So yeah, don't expect to bang out this bad boy in a day and ship it off in a mass email to every agent in the biz (and while we're at it, PLEASE no mass emailing!)

Think of how much time and heart you poured into polishing your manuscript, and make sure you make all the same steps with your query. Really push yourself when you write it to get it right. Then revise. Send it to critique partners. Revise and send it to beta readers. Revise again. I'm also a big proponent of online query workshops or professional query critiques (which I will talk more about next week).

Basically: put in the time, sweat, and tears to get it right. I KNOW queries are boring to write. I KNOW they can be so frustrating you want to pound your head into the wall. Believe me, I KNOW. But this is your career--and your dream. Don't cut corners and risk ruining either of them.

Okay, so I'm going to start by breaking this down to lists of "Dos" and "Don'ts" to hopefully make it nice and easy. When writing the body/meat of your query:

DO: 
-Focus on your main character and the main plot of your story
-Keep the sentences short, clear, and specific
-Use enough details to make it very clear what makes this YOUR book, not one of the millions of others out there
-Incorporate the voice of the novel 
-Limit yourself to two paragraphs (three can be okay, but they better be AWESOME)
-End with a "call to action" that leaves them wanting to know what happens next 


DON'T:
-Cloud the waters with too many characters and subplots
-Use gimmicks
-Be vague or generic
-Talk about the lessons or themes in the book. If you explain the plot right, the agent will be able to figure that out on their own.
-Fill this section with rhetorical questions
-Give away the ending


And let's quickly talk about what I mean for all of those.

First, your query letter needs to focus on your main character and your main plot. That's really all you have time for in such a small space. If it's a dual POV or there's another very important character (or even two) you should bring them into the query. But be careful. Dropping too many character names in such a short space can quickly lead to confusion. Remember, you don't have to tell them EVERYTHING about your book. Just enough to peak their interest.

That being said, you need to be specific. I can't tell you how many times I see sentences like: She must find the strength to do what needs to be done. That's a whole lot of words to waste on something that doesn't really tell us anything and can pretty much be applied to any book. HOW does she find the strength? And HOW is she going to do what needs to be done? And while we're at it, WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE? I think I've said this in every one of these posts, but I'm saying it again: the point of a query is to set the agent up to know what to expect from YOUR book, and make them want to read it. You need to be specific to do that.

It's also very important to inject your voice into the query. Sadly, that's not something I--or anyone else--can really help you with. It's your voice. Only you know how to create it. But the difference between a query with voice and a query without voice is night and day so push yourself to work it in there. If you were good enough to write a novel, you're good enough to put voice in your query--trust me.

Try to keep it to two paragraphs (three can work, but two is usually better). Why two? Space, for one thing. But also, it works really well to set up the paragraphs like so (and remember, these come after that awesome hook we talked about writing last week):

Paragraph #1: Establish the main character(s) and their basic situation in the book, so we understand who they are and what their life is like.

Paragraph #2: Introduce the villain or love interest or conflict. Then explain how the main character is affected by this new development and end with their call to action. And by call to action I mean something along the lines of:

As their attraction grows into love, Bella is forced to decide: live a safe life with a safe boyfriend like her many high school admirers--or be with Edward, and hope his love for her is strong enough to deter his thirst for her blood. 


Okay, I KNOW that's not very good--sorry, I'm pressed for time. Hopefully you can at least see what I mean by call to action, how it sets up the climax of the novel, raising questions in the agent's mind about what happens next, without resorting to using cheesy rhetorical questions like: Will true love conquer all?

Obviously there's a million and one ways to vary that (like I've said before, in my own query, I didn't follow that format. But my book is kind of untraditional, so it needed an untraditional structure to the query). But for most books, two paragraphs set up as such works really well.

And just to touch on a few of my other "don'ts": Don't use gimmicks like writing the query as though the character were the one writing it, etc, because they almost always read cheesy. Don't waste precious space with things like: Bella will explore the meaning of true love, and what really defines someone as "human". I mean, how boring does that make the book sound? Not to mention, themes and lessons are supposed to be subtly woven through the entire novel, not beating you over the head with: HERE'S THE THEME I'M EXPLORING. So why do that in a query?

And personally, I say don't give away the ending. In a synopsis, yes--you must. But in a query, I think it kind of ruins the anticipation a little bit. There are some people who disagree with me though, so I would recommend researching the agent to see how they feel, before you send off your query. And I'll talk all about researching agents next week.

Pretty sure that covers the basics, but I'll leave you with one final tip: Writing is reading--and queries are no different. Read successful queries before (and while) you try to write yours. Lots and lots of agents have them on their blogs. Do a little googling and see what you can find (and I'll have a list of some awesome links and resources next week). Reading the cover copy on books helps too. The more you familiarize yourself with the language of short, powerful summaries, the better you'll be able to write one for your book.

*Phew* Okay, I think that's it for today. Did I miss anything? Anyone have any questions? Hit me with them in the comments. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--The Emerald Atlas (plus an ARC giveaway!)

Sorry for skipping Marvelous Middle Grade Monday last week you guys (I'm STILL recovering from ALA, and the head cold I got right after just. won't. quit.) But I'm back today, and--as promised--I'm featuring one of the books that had a WHOLE lot of promotion going on at ALA. In fact, if Random House has any say in the matter, this will be the start of a very big, very popular new series. THE EMERALD ATLAS, by John Stephens.


And yes--for those of you who recognize the name--that is the same John Stephens who wrote for Gilmore Girls and The O.C. was the executive producer for Gossip Girl. But don't let those very YA-ish credits fool you. This is true middle-grade through and through, and while the length and complexity of the plot elevates it toward the upper end of the middle grade spectrum, I'm sure younger readers who are not afraid to tackle a 432 page story will love it.

Here's the blurb from the publisher:





Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem. And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The Emerald Atlas brims with humor and action as it charts Kate, Michael, and Emma's extraordinary adventures through an unforgettable, enchanted world.


Sounds good, right? It is!

In fact, I'll confess--I'm usually not AS big of a fan of books with the third person omniscient POV, mainly because I tend to have a hard time connecting to a character when the book keeps switching which character I'm following. And yet, I loved this book--and I have no doubt kids are going to love it even more.

It kind of has something for everyone. Magic. Time Travel. Wizards. Monsters. Dwarves. (I'll even forgive it for all the Elf slams--I'm personally partial to the pointy-eared mythical creature variety) There's big, climactic battles and quiet, character scenes. Laugh out loud funny moments and moving moments and edge-of-your-seat moments. Just the right mix of everything to keep everybody satisfied. And the writing is top notch to boot. Well done Mr. Stephens. Well done. And please hurry up with the next one, you TOTALLY left us hanging!

I'd been planning to save my review until the release drew a little closer (THE EMERALD ATLAS doesn't hit stores until April 5th) but then I snagged an extra ARC at ALA and thought I'd pass it on to one of you. 
Ooo...pretty!
(and mind the weird shine marks from the flash)

To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PST on Saturday, January 22nd. I'll chose one random winner and announce their name on Sunday, January 23rd. International entries--as always--are welcome.  Good luck!

**UPDATE** The INCREDIBLY generous Natalie Aguirre has offered her ARC up for this contest as well. So that means there will be TWO lucky winners being drawn. Your chances of winning just doubled!!! Thank you Natalie. You = awesome!

Want to hear about more awesome Middle-Grade?

The always fabulous Shannon O'Donnell is featuring THE UNICORN'S SECRET series, by Kathleen Duey. Hop over to HER BLOG to see what she has to say.

The lovely Myrna Foster also has a MMGM spotlight on a favorite of mine--Tony DiTerlizzi's THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA. Go HERE to read all about it.

UPDATE: The ever-awesome Joanne Fritz is featuring another lovely middle-grade on her blog: WORDS IN THE DUST, by Trent Reedy. Make sure you stop by THERE to read her review. 

And if you've done a MMGM feature on your blog, please, drop me an email or let me know in the comments. I'll happily provide linkage! 

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Abundance of Winners!

Wow--I had a lot of contests ending today. Did not realize that. So I have four--yes FOUR winners to announce today. Which means I really should get to it.

First up, the signed copy of FAIRIES AND THE QUEST FOR NEVER LAND, by Gail Carson Levine:


And the winner is...

*drumroll*


*applauds*

*tosses confetti*

Okay, and now for the three ACROSS THE UNIVERSE prizes. The winner of the SIGNED hardcover and AtU swag is...



And the two winners of the swag packs plus AtU ARCs are...


and


Yay!

*tosses buckets of glitter*

If you see your name there, check your email. You have one from me asking for your mailing address. And if for some reason you don't get my email, please email me at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com. Would have to have to give your prize to someone else. 

For everyone else, I know I say this every time, but don't give up. I have LOTS of contests in store--thanks to my mountain of ALA ARCs--so keep checking back. In fact, I have one starting tomorrow. Don't miss out. :)

Hope everyone's having a great weekend!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bookanista Review: Like Mandarin, by Kirsten Hubbard--AND AN ARC GIVEAWAY!!!!

Okay you guys, I'm nervous about today's Bookanista Review, because it's one of those books that's SO lovely and amazing, I'm pretty sure there's nothing I can say to do it justice. (Bonus: the author is a member of the Bookanistas so I'm pretty sure she'll see this.) So yeah, gotta find a way to explain the wonder of this absolutely gorgeous book--without saying "lovely," "beautiful," or "Wow" too many times. Not going to be easy. But I'll do my best!

Today I'm talking about LIKE MANDARIN, by the insanely talented Kirsten Hubbard.

I love the simple beauty of the cover:


And here's how the publisher describes it:

It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

Which is a pretty good way of explaining the plot. But definitely does not fully convey what makes this book so incredibly amazing.

It's THE WRITING! Kirsten's elegant way of putting words on a page. 

Reading this book kind of feels like sitting in the sun on a breezy day, sipping lemonade. You drink in the tart, sweetness of every word, soak up the warmth of the characters and still feel refreshed by the soft, steady rhythm of the story. Every sentence is perfect. The way she describes the wildwinds, and the badlands, and the dusty, small town, and the pageants--and MANDARIN. Oh man, she totally makes you understand why Grace wants to be like Mandarin. And she manages to keep Mandarin's sense of mystery, even as we get to see more sides of her.

(The only downside to that was that by the end, I kind of wanted to throw my laptop off a bridge and just accept that I would never, EVER write that well.)

Basically, this book is wonderful. Real and honest and heartwarming and amazing. I don't like to put undo pressure on a book, but I have to say I see GREAT things coming for LIKE MANDARIN. The story, writing, and characters are all worthy of awards, and I can't wait to see which lists and honors it manages to snatch up after it debuts. And from this point on I'll pretty much read whatever Kirsten decides to write. Yeah...it's THAT good.

But don't just take my word for it. See for yourself. When I was at ALA I managed to snatch an extra ARC from the lovely people at the Random House booth--and I'm giving it away to one of you! 

To enter, just follow my blog and leave a comment on today's post by 11:59 pm PST on Saturday, January 22. I'll draw one random winner and announce the name on Sunday, January 23rd. International entries welcome!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What it's like to be my CP

I was feeling nostalgic over the weekend (okay, fine, I was also totally procrastinating on a chapter that's driving me CRAZY) so I went back through some of the hundreds and of emails/texts/DMs/chats my CPs and I have exchanged since we started swapping pages and OMG--you do NOT want to be my CP!!!!!!!

I *might* be the biggest pain on the planet. Need proof? Here's a sample of some of the obsessive/confusing/whiny/crazy emails they get from me:

Sent to Sara:
So...I'm having a blonde night, and just realized I sent you the wrong pages AGAIN. So, disregard the first file I sent, and the one I sent tonight, and the email I just sent (yes, I realize that's three wrong batches of pages). THESE are the right pages. (does this even make sense? I think my brain is tired.) Anyway, I will stop spamming your inbox now. Sorry for all the confusion.

Sent to Sarah:
Okay, I know I just sent you a very long email wherein (amongst other ramblings) I said I wouldn't be touching the query right away. So what do I go and do? Yep. I worked on it. I made different yet similar changes from what you suggested. Bad decisions? Good decisions? Thoughts? Am I making it worse? (I'm AWESOME at making things worse). (Oh, and I put some comments in, about the things I'm not sure of and I'm attaching the first one, in case you want to compare the differences.).

Sent to Sara:
Yes, I will probably panic about every remotely exciting thing that happens to me these next few months. Get ready for it. Shannon Querying is going to be a roller coaster ride of stress and panic!

Sent to Sarah:
If you get a desperate email from me later you'll know why. Or if I get so frustrated with my stubborn, too-smart-for-her-own-good, refuses to react like a normal person MC I may track you down so you can convince me it's not a good idea to kill her off 1/3 of the way through the book. 

Sent to Sara:
I'm not sure I have the reactions and emotions right--and it feels kinda talky talk talk to me (yes, talky talk talk. Sometimes I don't think that I deserve to be called a writer) :) 

Sent to Sarah:
Since you already have like 2 emails from me demanding your attention, I thought, why not one more? Yay-here we go!

Sent to Sara:
I'm so tired. I'm not sure if I've ever been this tired in my life. So who knows what a mess this is. Sorry if it is. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sent to Sarah:
Oops--I hit send before I adjusted the email for you (I wrote it for the other Sara, and then I was PLANNING to copy, paste and edit for you...and then accidentally clicked send too early) So...um...sorry that some of it is repetitive and sorry that some of it is talking about you being on vacation when you're not on vacation. just...um...pick and choose what applies and call the rest a #shannonfail

Sent to Sara:
Okay, I'm nervous.
But I'm sending it.
I am.
AHHHHHHHHH!
Okay, clicking send
For real this time.



Sent to Sarah:
Okay, I'm so excited now, I can't really sit still (which is bad because I'm at work) so I'm going to go hide in the bathroom and giggle for a few minutes--for realz). *runs away with flailing muppet arms*

Sent to Sara:
I can't tell you how much I hate this chapter I'm sending. I can't tell if it's because it sucks or because I've read it so many times I can't feel anything other than dread when I read it. You'll have to tell me if it's the suckfest it feels like it is.

Sent to Sarah:
I'm finally replying! #yay #beexcited #ormaybeafraid #probablyafraid

Sent to Sara:
So I decided to make an alternate file, full of highlighting and notes and all KINDS of fun stuff (it's also 2am right now, so you can imagine how my brain is--I actually considered sending this to Laura. Fortunately I'm still thinking clearly enough to nip that idea in the bud and send it to you instead. Lucky you!!!!). Basically: helllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllp. :)

Sent to Sarah:
Reporter: So, Shannon, you just finished your manuscript re-write/first round of edits. What are you going to do now?
Me: I'M GOING TO....Obsessively check my email waiting for response from the one CP I sent it to whilst biting my nails and NOT working on the synopsis I should be writing.
Reporter:............................
So that's MY day. How's yours?


Um yeah...I don't know why they put up with me. Perhaps I need to send them presents. Lots and lots of presents...

What about you guys--any of you drive your CPs as crazy as I do? *crosses fingers that she's not the only needy one*

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Query Letters--Shannon Style (Part Two: Hooks)

Last week we talked about the basic structure and organization of a query letter--or at least how I personally like to structure and organize them. (incidentally, if you missed last week's post, you can find it HERE)

And I'd promised I would talk more in depth about writing some of those parts in further posts, so I'm going to TRY to tackle one of them today (emphasis on try--this one's tough). Today we're talking about the hook. (dun dun dunnnnnnnn)

(and remember, just like last time, I'm NOT an agent, or an expert, and I am also quite silly and blonde so, yanno, take all of this with a grain of salt)

Okay, so...to me a hook is one (or two, if you really need it) KILLER sentences that grab the agent's attention right from the start.

Whether you follow my suggestion and have the hook be the first sentence of the query, or whether you start with the stats sentence and follow with the hook, YOU NEED TO HAVE A HOOK. It will probably be one of the hardest sentences you ever write, but push yourself to do it because it makes such a difference to the quality of your query.

Basic tips for hook writing:

-Start with your main character
-Give details/specifics that establish a major aspect of the plot of your book
-Feature something that sets your book apart from everything else
-Don't be vague or coy
-Keep it short and powerful
-Use words that let you showcase your voice


And I know what you're probably thinking right now: wow--that's a LOT of stuff for one (or two) sentences--and you're right. You can't do EVERYTHING with a single hook. But this is where you start--your list of goals--and then you whittle things away to make the sentence more powerful as you go.

I base this partially on personal taste, and partially on something my agent--the lovely Laura Rennert--always recommends. She says that for pitching a project, the ideal is: Who, What, Where, and Why should I care? And since a query is basically a written pitch, and your hook is the very first part of that pitch, you want to cover as much of that in your hook as you can.

Now to me, the most important part of that is the: Why should I care? Which so often seems to be forgotten in the hooks people write.

I can't tell you how often--when I critique queries--I see a hook that goes something like this:

Harry Potter always wanted to find somewhere he belonged.

or

Eleven-year-old Harry Potter hates living with his cruel Aunt and Uncle, the Dursleys.

Are those bad sentences? Not necessarily. But they're TERRIBLE hooks!

They don't tell you ANYTHING about the book, and they completely leave out the why should I care?  The first example could pretty much be applied to every. single. middle-grade or YA book. And the second example, while being a little more specific, focuses on a relatively unimportant part of the story. Neither of them do any justice to the amazingness that is Harry Potter. And neither of them make me want to know more. Neither of them make me care.

So why do I usually see hooks like that in people's queries?  

Hooks like the second example tend to appear because the writer got stuck in "the chronological zone." The: my plot starts with my character at point X so my query needs to start at point X.Which is not the best reason for choosing where to start your query, believe me.

Mind you, your novel should be starting in the most interesting place possible (if it's not, you need to revise). But that still doesn't mean that you should start your query in the exact same place your novel starts--but we'll get to that in a minute. 

I see hooks like the first example above, because really what the writer is doing is setting up for their next sentence. In which case the query might read something like: 

Harry Potter always wanted to find somewhere he belonged. So when a half man, half giant named Hagrid appears one stormy night with an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry feels like his dreams have finally come true.

Which...isn't HORRIBLE. But it's not GREAT either. Plus its LONG.

And even if you polish up that rather awkward second sentence, I still personally feel like the first sentence is a total throw-away--and why would you want one of the first things an agent reads to be a total throw away? Personally I'd rather find a way to combine those two into one, much more powerful sentence. 

But there's another reason those two sentences aren't a great hook (in my opinion), and it ties into the reason the other example was also a bad hook. You're skipping the: why should I care? You're leaving out the stuff that makes the agent think: Ooooooooooo, that's interesting. I want to know more. 

Think about Harry Potter. What REALLY made it an interesting story? Was it that he lived with his cruel aunt and uncle? Nah--lots of kids do that. Was it that he went to a wizarding school? That's better. But still, there are other books about wizards and magic schools.

To me, what made Harry Potter interesting was who he was--the tiny baby who survived an attack from the most powerful dark wizard ever. So if I had to query Harry Potter (and oh mans do I wish THAT had been the book I'd written--even if I would've been like 12 when she wrote it) I would've written a hook somewhere along the lines of:

(and bear with me here, I didn't have THAT much time to come up with these so I'm sure they could be better. If anything, this will show you that you can't just crank these bad boys out--they take a lot more time than slamming together a quick blog post)

Harry Potter is the boy who lived.

or

Harry Potter had always wondered how he'd gotten the strange, lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead. 

Personally I'd go with the first one, because to me, MAN does that peak my curiosity. What do you mean "the boy who lived"? Did he almost die? And how did he live? Why? 

You've got my attention. Not to mention, the term "the boy who lived" is unique to Harry Potter's story, and so dang cool sounding. 

But if you're the kind of person who likes a few more details in your hook, the second one also works, because it also makes you think: Cool--a scar shaped like a lightning bolt? What would cause that? And why doesn't he remember?

Basically, you want to get the agent asking questions. The first two examples I gave didn't do that. There's no need to ask why Harry doesn't belong. ALL kids feel that way, for the most part. And there's no need to ask why he hates living with his cruel Aunt and Uncle because you told the reader: they're cruel. You're just stating obvious facts, not grabbing their attention. 

Do you see the point?

If not, here's a few more bad vs better hooks I've invented, just to try to make this clearer (and I'm trying to pick books I'm fairly certain most of you will have read, if not all):

Bad: Isabella Swan hates living in the soggy town of Forks, Washington.
Why: Who cares? A "soggy town" sounds like a horrible place to me too! Especially one named Forks.

Bad: Isabella Swan has never met anyone like Edward Cullen
Why: Too vague. You could swap out the character names and apply this to pretty much any book.

Better: Isabella Swan always joked that she was a "danger magnet," but when she catches the eye of Edward Cullen, she has no idea how true that is.
Why: Okay, the wording needs work, but at least this hints at the plot and makes you wonder wait, why is he dangerous?

Better: Bella Swan knows three things: that Edward Cullen is a Vampire, that there's a part of him that wants to kill her, and that she's hopelessly and irrevocably in love with him.
Why: Um, how could you not be at least *a little* curious about that? (also, I can't take credit for writing that one. I stole it from the cover copy and simply tweaked it a little)

Bad: Katniss Everdeen will do anything to protect her little sister Prim.
Why: Kind of a throw-away. Clearly just a set-up for the next sentence, and would be better off being reworked into something more powerful.


Bad: Katniss Everdeen has always been a fighter.
Why: Again, this is one of those "set-up" sentences. And is just too darn vague.

(incidentally, it's REALLY hard to write bad hooks for THE HUNGER GAMES. That book is just too darn fascinating)


Better: Katniss Everdeen knows there's only one rule in The Hunger Games: kill or be killed.

Why: Who doesn't want to know more about that?

Better: Katniss Everdeen does not plan to survive The Hunger Games.

Why: Immediately makes me wonder, why? What are The Hunger Games? What will happen to her?

Now, I know, none of my examples are perfect--it takes a LONG time and a lot of tweaking to write a good hook and I just didn't have that kind of time today. So yeah, they still need some serious polishing. But I hope you can at least see the basic idea. 

You want your hook to have specifics. Details that arouse questions. Hooks that apply to your story and your story alone. That spotlight your character and hint at your plot in the most interesting way possible

And above all else: make the agent CARE. Make them want to keep reading instead of sending a form rejection and moving on to the next query flooding their inbox. This is your one chance to really impress them, right from the first word. Put the time in and do it right.

I'll talk more next week about how to write the stuff that follows the hook, and in the week after I'll cover some other querying bits and pieces, like researching agents and why it's so important to get help and critiques on your query. But I think that's enough for today.

And remember---you are WELCOME to disagree with me on any of this. Don't forget this series on Queries is part of the "Shannon Style" series. This is all part of my own personal approach to query letter writing, and I'm hardly an expert. So if you have a method you like better, by all means: Ignore me! :)

What about you guys? Any questions? Suggestions? Concerns? Lay them on me in the comments.