The Writer's Voice 2015: Query and first 250 words

May 20, 2015

I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity. I've been a fan of The Writer's Voice for years, and I'm excited to finally have a chance to participate. 


Dear Awesome Agent,

Ten-year-old Drew Horrible has always been a failure in his father’s eyes. As the son of the High Chancellor of Evil (who sometimes turns people into mice and feeds them to his cats—and that’s when he’s in a good mood), Drew is expected to follow in his father’s mean and nasty footsteps and one day take his place as ruler of the Outlander Realm. Unfortunately, Drew was never that good at being bad. Hoping to redeem himself, Drew sets off for the Outlander Academy alongside his perfectly evil twin sister. But even there, he struggles to pass his cutthroat classes—and if he drops too far in the school scoreboards, it could mean a lifetime of squalor and public shaming.

And, quite possibly, dragon poop-shoveling.

But when a deadly sickness spreads through the Outlander Realm, Drew learns a secret that could lead to a cure, but cost him future as heir—even evil Outlanders don’t tolerate treason. Looking to escape a future as Dragon Poo Drew, the villain-in-training finally has the chance to prove himself the rightful heir to the throne—if he can embrace his own kind of Horrible.

DREW HORRIBLE is an MG fantasy with series potential, complete at 64,000 words. Fans of THE WITCH’S BOY, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON might also enjoy DREW HORRIBLE. 

First 250 words:

Drew Horrible pulled his robe tighter around him. He clutched a small crumpled paper in his left hand as a chill snaked down his spine. The light from the cave ceilings above had dimmed to a soft glow, taking its warmth with it. But it was more than the frosty night air that set his teeth chattering.

“Fangs of Apollo,” Drew sighed, surveying his war-torn appearance. The hem of his new robes were torn to muddy shreds. His father would not approve, and now he’d have to sneak into the castle through the kitchens to avoid a vicious scolding, and he was already late as it was.

He gripped his paper tighter, taking cover behind a precariously leaning orange tree. Its fruit looked more purple-ish than orange.


Something else for his father to gripe about.

From Drew’s spot in the garden behind the scentless fruit trees, the castle’s eastern wall stood clearly visible. Light poured from the row of windows, where the banquet was surely almost underway.

Ugh. The banquet.

Drew brushed his hair from his eyes. Ever since he’d received his note that afternoon, a dull ache had clamped on to his head with relentless tenacity. Un-crumpling the note, he read his father’s words for the hundredth time:


All eyes will be on you tonight, so look sharp, and take care not to slouch like a Commoner, as you are so often in the habit of doing. Also, I have a surprise announcement concerning you, so you’d do well to pay attention.

Slush Pile: Behind the Scenes with Jaida Temperly

May 11, 2015

Hey everyone, and happy May! Glad to have you stop by. 

I'm extra excited to have Jaida Temperly of New Leaf Literary join us today! I've had the pleasure to correspond with Ms. Temperly a few times, and she's always been extremely polite and encouraging (did I mention I'm excited to have her here?). And now, settle in and join me for a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on as agents are sifting through their query inbox, reading submissions, and, of course... signing a new client!


MR: What is your query-reading process? Do you read them as they come in or do you designate certain times of the day? Do you sort them out, or just plow through all at once?

It depends on my schedule. But I usually try to review queries on Friday and then read through requested query manuscripts on the weekends or during after-work hours.


MR: If you request a manuscript, do you always request a partial first, or do you sometimes ask for a full right away (and why?).

This differs from agent to agent but I usually request the full manuscript right away. Part of this is because if I do end up falling in love with the ms., I want to be able to keep reading (and not have to email the writer / wait for their response). But the other part is because I like being able to see the full arc of the story. (For example, I’ve seen many manuscripts that weaken after p. 50 but then pull it together a few chapters later. But I can’t see this improvement if I only have a partial.)

MR: Do you read manuscripts in the order they’re received or in order of what looks most appealing?

This depends on the turnaround timeline. For example, if I’m backed up on reading requested materials, I’ll read in order so I can get a response to the author on time. But if I have a few weeks to play with, and if something really caught my eye, I’ll read out of order. You can’t deny the power of a stellar query!

MR: After reading a MS do you know right away that you want to represent that author or is there a certain process you go through to reach that decision?

 I’ll usually set up a phone call with the author to get a sense of who they are as a person, because to me, their writing is just as important as their personality. I also like having phone calls so we can make sure that we’re both on the same page for revisions, career trajectory, communication style, etc.  

New Clients:

MR: What happens after you sign a new client? What's the next step for that author?

It depends on the status of the manuscript. Sometimes the ms. only needs light editing; sometimes it needs a full round of revision. (This is all discussed via the phone call.) But ultimately the goal is to polish the ms. to its full potential and then submit it to editors.

We’ll also begin “big picture” discussions on career goals, working style, communication style, etc.

For fun:

MR: Your ultimate vacation: 

 The Scottish Highlands. If I could live there in a cottage, with a garden, and endless supply of coffee, I’d be one happy lady! (For now, I just watch endless hours of Monarch of the Glen.)

MR: If you could be dropped into any story (book, movie, or tv), where would you want to go, and why?

It’s a tie between Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.

For Lofting, it was my childhood dream to become a naturalist. (I once asked for a microscope, metal detector, and telescope for Christmas.) And I love the whimsical adventures the Dr. Dolittle goes on – it’s so easy to get lost in the story!

For Raskin, I am obsessed with codes, mystery, and logic puzzles. (Escape the Room is my latest obsession.)

MR: Who's your role-model (literary or otherwise)?

My Grandma Sharie. She’s an incredibly smart, strong, and driven woman. She also taught me persistence, which is a necessity living and working in NYC!

What are you looking for right now?

MR:  What would you love to see land in your inbox right now?

I would love to see more Adult and Middle Grade, specifically:

Middle Grade: Just about anything – it’s definitely my favorite age group! But I do tend to gravitate towards stories that are darker, quirky, and whimsical. Some of my favorite titles are:

-          The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
-          The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand
-          Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
-          A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
-          A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
-          Coraline by Neil Gaiman
-          Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Adult: I would love to see more adult queries, specifically those with a mystery, high fantasy, or religious undertone! Some of favorite titles are:

-          The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein
-          Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
-          And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
-          The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
-          Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
-          The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
-          A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
-          The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Prior to joining New Leaf, Jaida moved from Wisconsin to NYC to intern at Writers House. Before that, she had a brief stint in medical school and milked cows on her family's dairy farm. Jaida is currently Literary Assistant to Joanna Volpe but in her down time, you can find her practicing yoga, downing coffee, or searching for the city's secret bars and cemeteries.

You can follow Jaida on Twitter. Submission details to query Ms. Temperly are here.Thanks so much for stopping by. Jaida seems absolutely wonderful to work with, so good luck to all who are querying her!

Revising My Revisions

May 9, 2015

Photo taken from The New York Times, The Writer's Retreat

Erm... hello. It's been awhile since my last post. Sorry. The short version is I've been chin-deep in revisions (a month ago, I would have said knee-deep, but I've sunk to a more precarious depth). After sending my DREW ms out on submission for a few months, the rejections started trickling in. Five agents requested. Five agents rejected. This caused me to take a harder look at my story, and low and behold (thanks to the awesomeness of my CPs) I found a lot of holes.

So I asked all agents who hadn't read DREW yet to please hold off while I went to work on it.

That was February.

Here I am, three months (and three drafts) later, I'm still working. It's been a wonderfully painful three months. I've learned so much in these past months than I have in my five years of writing.

One of the greatest things I've learned is the awesome power of great critique partners. If you don't have CP's, you must get some. You don't know what you're missing. Finding CP's you trust can feel overwhelming, but meeting awesome writers is fairly easy and super awesome. I met almost all my CPs through following the hashtag of writing contests (especially #PitchWars which is coming up in a few months!). After awhile, you find other writers to cheer on (and commiserate with) and then it's as easy as saying "Hey, would you be interested in swapping stories?"

And that's it. Then it's just a matter of learning which person's feedback you resonate with. DREW wouldn't be where it is without the help of other writers.

Another thing I've learned (and continue to learn) is there's a major difference between writing a story, and writing a really good story.

Anyone can write a story.

But writing a good story is what reveals the pro from the amateur. Studying the craft of writing is both exhilarating and exhausting. The more I learned, the more "problems" I found in my story. At first, it was overwhelming. But then, after clearing all the "clutter" like "telly" narration (He was furious) and filter words like "just"... (omg. I can't tell you how many times I used the word just).

I felt like my manuscript was dressed for winter weather in the summertime. After peeling off all the unnecessary layers (and layers!) I was finally able to see the all the "good stuff" of my story underneath.

And so, as I finish out my last few weeks of revisions (hopefully!) before sending it out to agents, I am so thankful for the process of revisions. For the gems that emerge from the refiners fire. 

I'm thankful for writer friends who rally around to cheer me on. 

I'm thankful for K.M. Weiland and her endless resources on story structure and character arc

But most of all, I'm thankful for the all the chocolate brownie thunder that's gotten me through it all. Here's to you, chocolate brownie thunder. May your chocolaty richness always contain the perfect ratio of brownie chunks. 

How about you? What's your revision process like? Do you have CP's along the way? How many rounds of revisions do you usually run through until the final draft?