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July 2019
A Message from Kristin Nelson

12 Trends in the Query Inbox

Kristin Nelson

This Saturday, I’m going to be at the Colorado Writing Workshop, and I already know I’m going to be asked what’s hot or trending. So to get a jump on the weekend, Angie, Maria, and I put our heads together to create a handy list of what we’re seeing in the query inbox. Let me preface this though:

Writers, don’t read too much into this list. 

If your current WIP fits into one of these trends, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It just means that you are not alone in playing with these concepts/tropes. It also means that it’s harder to stand out in the query slush pile. That’s just a fact. So you have to work at really spotlighting what makes your novel with these elements special and unique so as to entice the query reader to find out more. Why is this one worth reading over the ten other queries that might have come in the same day with a similar premise?

A tough question, I know! But one worth answering in your query, even if none of the below describes your WIP.

1. The main character is dead or can see dead people. We’re seeing this concept in submissions for both the adult and young adult markets.

2. The main character is trapped in a book, game, or virtual reality. We’re seeing this a lot in adult SF submissions and also some in the YA world.

3. The main character is being sent to live with a relative (aunt, uncle, grandparent), whether for the summer or on a more permanent basis. Lots and lots in middle grade, but also appearing in YA submissions.

4. WWII…still getting tons of queries for WWII stories. Almost all the submissions we’re seeing in this space are for the adult market. For the record, I love stories set in this time period. After all, E.R. Ramzipoor’s THE VENTRILOQUISTS releases in August. Still, it has to be a standout story.

5. Lots of queries for stories set in ancient Rome, or in secondary worlds based on the aesthetic of ancient Rome. Interestingly, we are seeing in both YA and adult market submissions that fit this bill.

6. Lots of villains who are thinly veiled portrayals of our current president. Feels like in every submission we are receiving…but this is cropping up most often in dystopian submissions.

7. Lots of queries featuring pirates. Aye, Mateys! Whether the pirates are fun and whimsical, serious and historical, or speculative (like air-ship pirates or space pirates), we’re seeing pirates galore in middle grade, YA, and adult fantasy.

8. Retellings seem to be slowing down compared to, say, a year ago. But we still see them on a regular basis. Fairy tales, folk tales, classic literature retellings—across all genres for adult and children’s.

9. Teens recruited, conscripted, or otherwise forced to train as assassins, soldiers, spies, etc. I think you guess for which market this is!

10. Teens who must compete in trials or games to save themselves or a loved one, to determine their place in society, or as a means of matchmaking. No extra comment needed here!

11. Main characters who are bullied or abused, or who are survivors of bullying or abuse, and there isn’t another story line to create depth/complexity or to truly drive the plot of the novel. We see most bullying in middle grade, though it shows up in YA submissions as well, while survivor narratives abound in women’s fiction.

12. Post-apocalyptic stories, many of which take place in the aftermath of a plague or virus, or some climate-related catastrophe. Seeing this in the adult and children’s market still.

Happy writing! If you are early into a WIP based on a trending concept, spend some time thinking about whether it’s worth continuing or whether you should tackle a different, more brilliant idea you’ve played with. You might decide it’s better to get cracking on that one instead. 

Recent News
Think Like an Agent

What to Consider When Looking for an Agent

By Quressa Robinson

Many of you are probably querying or preparing to query. Maybe you’re between agents. Whatever the case, I wanted to give a bit of an overview of the things you should keep in mind as your writing career progresses. Much like any relationship, finding the right agent, editor, publisher, etc., can be hit or miss. Everyone has the best intentions and hopes things will work out, but no one can predict the future. We enter into what we hope will be longterm partnerships after a phone call and a series of questions, questions that can never address every possible scenario. Sometimes, the partnership just doesn’t work, which is fairly common in publishing. Regardless, here are some things to consider.

Editorial vs. Non-Editorial Agent. At this point most, if not all, agents are editorial. It has become a significant requirement that agents polish clients’ manuscripts before taking them out on submission. Still, there are a variety of editorial styles. Some agents just edit the first 50 to 100 pages and then include big-picture notes. Some do extensive line and developmental editing and also include an edit letter. Some may only do an edit letter. You can ask an agent what their editing style is, but their answer won’t really matter until you know what style works best for you. Try to get a variety of peer edits in various styles. If one works better for you than another, you know exactly what you’re looking for. If they all work, excellent!

Brainstorming/Concept Collaboration. How involved in the creative process would you like your agent to be? When we go out on sub, I have my clients send me five ideas for their next project. I then give them feedback and tell them which idea(s) make the most sense to pursue based on the market and what editors have told me they’re looking for. My help in walking through a concept is one of the reasons my clients chose me as their agent. Is this something you would need as well? Would you also want feedback as you draft—say, on the first 50 pages so you know you are headed in the right direction? If so, then ask potential agents if this is one of their strengths.

Career Management. In addition to helping with concept building and brainstorming, some agents also give career-management advice. This is helpful if you want to switch gears, perhaps moving from adult to YA or vice versa. An agent can guide you through that career transition, which might include rebranding you as an author or launching you under a new pen name.

Negotiations. How does your agent/agency negotiate? You don’t want to work with someone who is too soft and may push back only lightly. But you also might be turned off by someone who is too aggressive. It is fair to ask an agent what kinds of deal and contract terms they might fight for on your behalf and why. You might not care as long as they can get you a solid book deal, but negotiation is a huge part of what an agent does, so it never hurts to be aware of how your potential agent handles it.

Personality. Lastly, is personality important to you? What kind of personality are you looking for in an agent? Do you want someone friendly? Personable? Is it okay if they only contact you when necessary? Do you want someone patient who will answer all your questions no matter how many you have or how often you ask? Do you want a hand-holder? A shark? That’s a fair thing to want to discern. And agents might not know themselves where they fall. Reach out to their clients. Even if you are just querying and don’t have an offer or rep, you might be able to piece together some clues based on what clients say about their agents online or in the acknowledgments of their books.

Now that you know some agent-seeking basics, you can research confidently. There is still no guarantee that you’ll find the perfect fit for your entire career, but this will certainly help you figure out what you really want at this early stage.

Good luck!

Kristin's Book Club

Book Club is basically on summer hiatus. Schedules tend to be complicated with work, evening tennis and other athletics we participate in, child care, you name it. 

So we don’t stress about meeting up until late August. And with all this extra time, you can bet that I’ve already finished listening to the audiobook for our next book-club pick—which is Tara Westover’s memoir EDUCATED. I don’t want to shade anyone’s read, so just a little snippet of what the story is about:

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Happy summer reading!

New Releases

The Downstairs Girl

by Stacey Lee

Some secrets just won’t stay buried.

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. By night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.”

When her column becomes wildly popular, Jo uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.

While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby.

But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.

With prose that is witty, insightful, and heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

Buy It Here:

       

The Ventriloquists

by E.R. Ramzipoor

In this triumphant debut inspired by true events, a ragtag gang of journalists and resistance fighters risk everything for an elaborate scheme to undermine the Reich.

The Nazis stole their voices. But they would not be silenced.

Brussels, 1943. Twelve-year-old street orphan Helene survives by living as a boy and selling copies of the country’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir, now turned into Nazi propaganda. Helene’s world changes when she befriends a rogue journalist, Marc Aubrion, who draws her into a secret network that publishes dissident underground newspapers.

The Nazis track down Aubrion’s team and give them an impossible choice: turn the resistance newspapers into a Nazi propaganda bomb that will sway public opinion against the Allies, or be killed. Faced with no decision at all, Aubrion has a brilliant idea. While pretending to do the Nazis’ bidding, they will instead publish a fake edition of Le Soir that pokes fun at Hitler and Stalin—daring to laugh in the face of their oppressors.

The ventriloquists have agreed to die for a joke, and they have only eighteen days to tell it.

Buy It Here:

       

The Queen Con

by Meghan Scott Molin

What’s a comic book writer’s life without a real-life archnemesis?

MG Martin thought she’d turned the last page on the dangerous Golden Arrow case. The bad guys are behind bars, and the rest is up to her detective boyfriend, Matteo Kildaire.

But when Golden Arrow impersonators start popping up all over Los Angeles, the writer in MG can’t help but be intrigued. Are they impostors, or has the original Golden Arrow returned for another story arc?

A reemergence of drug crime has left the LAPD baffled, and golden arrows are once again being left at crime scenes. Matteo asks MG if she’ll resume consulting on all things geek, and she jumps at the opportunity. No need to mention that she may also do some sleuthing, with her friends’ help, right?

It’s rumored that the Golden Arrow will make a guest appearance at an exclusive queen party, and MG, Lawrence, and Ryan go undercover to sniff out the truth. But the sting goes sideways in a deadly way, and it’s up to their little crew to prove that the Golden Arrow might actually be the supervillain they’re chasing.

Because looks can be deceiving, and every good writer knows the sequel is where the real plot twist happens…

Buy It Here:

       

Bad Axe County

by John Galligan

Fifteen years ago, Heidi White’s parents were shot to death on their Bad Axe County farm. The police declared it a murder-suicide and closed the case. But that night, Heidi found the one clue she knew could lead to the truth—if only the investigators would listen.

Now Heidi White is Heidi Kick, wife of local baseball legend Harley Kick and mother of three small children. She’s also the interim sheriff in Bad Axe. Half the county wants Heidi elected but the other half will do anything to keep her out of law enforcement. And as a deadly ice storm makes it way to Bad Axe, tensions rise and long-buried secrets climb to the surface.

As freezing rain washes out roads and rivers flood their banks, Heidi finds herself on the trail of a missing teenaged girl. Clues lead her down twisted paths to backwoods stag parties, derelict dairy farms, and the local salvage yard—where the body of a different teenage girl has been carefully hidden for a decade.

As the storm rages on, Heidi realizes that someone is planting clues for her to find, leading her to some unpleasant truths that point to the local baseball team and a legendary game her husband pitched years ago. With a murder to solve, a missing girl to save, and a monster to bring to justice, Heidi is on the cusp of shaking her community to its core—and finding out what really happened the night her parents died.

Buy It Here:

       
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