Due to some changing circumstances (which Kristy tells us more about in our interview below), I have to announce that the prize has changed slightly (but I promise it's still very awesome!) The June winner will receive a full manuscript critique from Kristy AND a referral to one of her fabulous colleagues at Writers House!
And here is Kristy's winner of a full manuscript critique and referral:
THE RECRUITED (YA Thriller) by Ellen Rozek
Pitch: Recruited by the government to help fight Renegade terrorists, Naomi must keep her growing friendship with a gang member secret from her employers-and the Renegades themselves-if both of them are to survive.
Congrats, Ellen. Please send your winning entry to Kristy with your query pasted in the body of the email, and your full manuscript attached as a word. doc to kking (at) WritersHouse (dot) com. Please be sure to put "Operation Awesome Contest Winner" in the subject bar.
And we couldn't let Kristy go without asking a few questions. Here are her answers:
1) What are some of your pet peeves for queries?
Hmm…this is a great question because there are so many ways a query can go off-kilter quickly. I tend not to judge the letters themselves too harshly, because I understand how difficult they are to write well. Sometimes it’s the little things, such as not addressing it to me properly (“Dear Mr. King” or “Dear Mrs. Other Agent Who I Queried Right Before I Queried You”), making the letter longer than one page, or not taking the time to personalize the letter in some way, that can make me less disposed to want to read a writer’s pages. And every agent receives an inordinate number of queries each week, so the goal with your query letter should really just be not to give the reader an excuse to move on quickly.
2) What are you seeing too much of in your query inbox lately? What would you like to see more of?
Truthfully, I see a lot of really interesting queries that perhaps have potential but the writer just needs to hone their craft and develop as a writer more fully before they’re ready for publication. I do see a lot of YA paranormal romance which the market is saturated with right now, and those queries always receive a higher level of scrutiny because of that. I think all agents really want to see queries for that book you, as the author, simply have to write – a personal, unique, well-developed story that could only come from this one writer. We also like to be surprised in finding that stand-out project that we didn’t know we wanted – where the voice is so strong or the writing so compelling that we immediately fall in love, even if it’s outside our usual genre interests.
3) You mention on your Publisher’s Marketplace profile that you'd "love to find sharp, realistic and even gritty contemporary fiction, thrillers, or any novel with a unique and compelling voice.” Which published YA novels have you read recently that fit this description?
There are so many, and the voice is always the most important. I love authors like John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) , Laurie Halse Andersen (Wintergirls – which is not that recent but has stayed with me), and Daniel Handler (Why We Broke Up). Books that speak to authentic YA experiences and take their readers to a place of real, emotional depth.
4) Any tips for writers struggling with their one-line pitches?
Pitches are always a struggle – sometimes agents have trouble condensing a novel into that one-sentence pitch, too, so this is something I understand well. My advice is to not take the “one-line” requirement too literally – use two sentences if you need to. Beyond that, I’d suggest playing with a few formats - “When [something dramatic happens to the main character], then [they must go on whatever journey/quest/path of self-discovery/etc] to [learn something important]” or the “If… then…” structure to help shape your pitches.
One??? There are simply too many and the truth is that the “one book” is probably different for everyone. Instead, I would say to become an expert in your genre – read many, many books and explore storytelling in different formats, as well. I think the best books pull something unexpected from a different genre or world and throw them in with something familiar to create something completely new. It’s a heady challenge, but the truth is there’s just not that “one thing” that a writer must do to create interesting works and to succeed in the publishing industry. Do many things, be curious and dedicated, and create good work that is particular to yourself. I think that will get you further than anything else ever could.
In the meantime, I am thrilled to be able to offer a critique and referral to the winner of the contest, and I’m very happy to do all I can to point your other readers in the right direction.